Tag Archives: tom hanks

A Pirate’s Life; ‘Captain Phillips’ (2013).

12 Oct

Captain Phillips posterMe nerves! Having just recently recovered equilibrium after the tension-fest that was The Call, I’m called upon to review Captain Phillips and thereby jettison my anxiety levels to another extreme, and not for the right reasons. Why do I do this job?

One could also ask why Captain Phillips (aka Tom Hanks) does his job in this decidedly unpleasant, if absorbing film, which unfortunately forgoes artistic finesse for a gung ho, pro-USA mantra.

The good Captain is a seasoned sailor of the seven seas with a knack for clairvoyance. Following a gratuitous ‘he loves his wife’ opening scene, Captain P sets sail aboard a colossal, Kenya-bound freighter. As the ship approaches the Horn of Africa, a gang of Somali pirates swiftly seizes control before speeding off aboard a sealed submarine-like lifeboat, with Hanks on board. A biopic of the real-life Captain Richard Phillips, this movie draws inspiration from his terrifying 2009 ordeal.

Good docu-dramas aim to underpin what the audience already knows with some revelatory or hitherto unearthed information, as expertly demonstrated by 2013’s Academy Award-rumbling Zero Dark Thirty. Although Captain Phillips concerns itself with atomically smaller stakes (ZD-30 shook us with conspiracies and a likely apocalypse; this has an assortment of skinny men), what really sinks this ship is its unflinching dedication to two-dimensionality.

At dubious loggerheads with the rationale that cargo ships are looted to combat impoverishment, or at least for some mix of socio-political reasons,Captain Phillips paints its pirates as mindless, greedy villains. While the boat’s crew and the Navy SEALS display robotic proficiency at their jobs, and the good Captain himself proves to be the sole benefactor of any characterisation whatsoever, the dead-eyed Somalis behave like hyperactive children on cocaine.

Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the commander of the invaders, is granted a few throwaway lines about the bullying nature of larger nations (who overfish in Somali waters) and his duty to local warlords (who pocket the bulk of the pirates’ plunder), but the rest of his screen-time is spent chewing khat leaves, barking orders and generally acting like a monster. The film submerges any humanising of Muse beneath swathes of inexplicable menace, making Hanks look positively saintly by turn.

Director Paul Greengrass is no blinkered defender of world superpowers – his Bloody Sunday is a thoroughly detailed yet impassioned examination of Britain’s negative legacy in Northern Ireland – but here his portrayal of the heroic white American hero’s immeasurable suffering at the hands of antagonistic African thugs comes off as crass. Sure, the movie sticks to the facts, but the choices Greengrass makes are just embarrassing.

On the surface, Captain Phillips succeeds in giving us two hours of stressfully claustrophobic tension, with the sort of melodramatic ‘old white guy in peril’ role that could guarantee Hanks another coveted Oscar. To deny the movie’s gripping nature would be doing it an injustice, but to label it as much more than star-spangled flag-waving would be an even graver affront to the complex truth that lies behind the growing problem of piracy on the African seas.

Simon says: bring some sea sickness tablets.

[Written for GCN]

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‘Cloud Atlas’ (2012): a science fiction ‘Middlemarch’!

28 Feb

Cloud Atlas-PosterSix different stories, set across hundreds of years and featuring a massive cast of A-list stars spread over three hours is an inarguably lofty and ambitious concept by anybody’s standards. However, if anyone is up to the task it’s Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Paris, je t’aime) and the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix movies, V for Vendetta), the trio handling both the production and direction duties with Cloud Atlas. What could have quite easily been a disaster turns out to be a sprawling, imaginative and very entertaining science fiction epic that will leave you pondering in the aisles.

Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae and many more star in the luminous Cloud Atlas, a grandiose space drama concerned with the transience of love. The film is a quilt interwoven with a sextet of narratives, each wildly dissimilar in terms of plot but possessing a common theme: interconnectivity. Without giving anything away, stories range from the trials and tribulations of a gay couple forced apart by society, to anthropomorphic deus ex machina concerns in a futuristic Neo-Seoul, to a comedy about a bumbling elderly man to a cop drama-style nuclear power conspiracy set in the 70’s. This isn’t even all of them: Cloud Atlas is an enormous movie.

Most of the aforementioned actors and actresses are in each story, and often with incredibly varied roles, as gender and race are switched around like pieces on a chessboard (Halle Berry is an Asian man at one point, a white Jewish lady at another). The movie is so stuffed with actors and actresses that you’ll find yourself exclaiming “Oh look, there’s Susan Sarandon. Is that James D’Arcy? Woah, it’s Jim Sturgess! Is that Hugo Weaving or Kathy Bates?” and the like rather frequently (disclaimer: Bates is not in Cloud Atlas, though Weaving does his most convincing impression). Faces are painted but still recycled, yet not to the point of annoyance and/or confusion. It must be noted that Sarandon is the most effective reverse-drag (king?) I’ve ever seen. Also, you’ll no doubt be pleased to hear that Hugh Grant remains the most contemptible human being ever spawned.

Riding on the notion that love is timeless, transcendental and barrier-defying, the heady and quite spacey concept may seem like the pseudo-intellectual folly of a high twenty-something philosophy student, it all builds up to an intensely satisfying emotional conclusion that truly pays off. This relies heavily on each sub-story working, and though they may vary intensely in terms of dramatic style (the gay couple’s story is eloquently heart-wrenching, while futuristic Seoul features hilariously bad special effects that would make Battlestar Galactica blush), there isn’t a weak one among them. However, a ethereal, post-apocalyptic landscape features both embarrassingly hilarious silly accents and some rather overt Tolkien creature-design pilferage. Basically, there are Orcs.

Broadbent and Whishaw are both excellent in this.

Broadbent and Whishaw are both excellent in this.

The various different stories aren’t played one after another like vignettes; rather, the focus shifts from subplot to subplot, often very jarringly and without warning. Over the course of the movie’s 172-minute duration everything from romantic tragedies to elaborate Prison Break-style escapades take place, via blackmailing composers and laughable prosthetics. One could argue that most of the six stories couldn’t be their own movie; this is a bit of a non-argument, however, as each one compliments the other and contributes to the film’s overall quality. It would be removing a gear from a machine and complaining that it’s not a machine in its own right: nonsensical, and missing the point.

People may baulk at the run-time, but I must confess that at no point was I bored. The film throws you in at the deep end at the very beginning, and you, the viewer, are forced to catch up and piece together what little information you’re initially given to figure out what the hell’s going on. A rather self-deprecating note is given near the start which ironically bemoans the triviality and cliché of flashbacks in fiction; this scene is, rather pleasingly, one of many flashbacks, dreams or memories found in the movie. Comical effects notwithstanding, there are no real major flaws with this film, though I have no doubt many will find the concept of transcontinental and, eventually, inter-planetary love a bit too much. This is not a ‘simple’ movie; it requires a degree of effort on the viewer’s part.

Cloud Atlas is a surprisingly awesome film. The best live action movie that either Berry or Hanks have done in years, it features legions of reputable actors and actresses excelling at their craft. The stories are great and individually fascinating, yet combine to form a rather spectacular cosmic tale. Go watch it now, preferably on the big screen!

Simon says: even the meaning behind the film’s name is explained masterfully. I love this movie!

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