Captain Philips – A Review

Paul Greengrass gets behind the shaky camera this time around to direct Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips based off a true story about a US merchant navy ship that was hijacked by Somalian pirates.

Set in the choppy international waters off the west coast of Africa Captain Phillips brings to screen the real life hazards that the crew of the ships sailing those waters go through on a daily basis. It also tries to put a human face on the pirates giving them a back story and specifying the motive behind the hijackings.

Tom Hanks is in top form as the titular character Captain Philips, maintaining his cool through the hijacking and making sure that his crew remains safe while he tries to get the pirates off the ship. The calm that Hanks maintains throughout the entirety of the movie is only heightened by the much talked about climax scene. However I have a minor gripe and that isn’t with Hanks so much as it is with screen writer Billy Ray and Director Greengrass. The overly cautious opening scenes with Hanks build up the feeling of siege so much that the eventual hijacking kind of feels like an anticlimax, personally I would have preferred for him to be much more good natured and jovial yet methodical till the siege happens and then switch gears to captain cool. Barkhad Abdi who plays Muse is generating a lot of buzz for a supporting actor nom and while he does well to play the Somalian pirate I am not quite sure all of the praise is correctly placed.

Greengrass’s direction has almost always bothered me with his reliance on the shaky camera, here too Greengrass relies on shaky camera when shooting scenes on the high sea but the effect is less nauseous than it was on the bourne movies but still it takes a few minutes to find your sea legs.  Barry Ackroyd behind the camera focuses more on the close up than on the wide panoramic views of the vast ocean and the effect isn’t entirely unpleasant , focusing on the faces of Hanks and the pirates Ackroyd and Greengrass make the encounter personal and way too close for comfort.

Another talking point about the movie is the acting of the real life naval hospital corpswoman Danielle Albert who plays the doctor that tends to Hanks’ captain Phillips towards the end of the movie and while she is wonderfully controlled I don’t understand all the fuss that is being made about her minute-long role with talks of a potential Oscar nomination for support role.

Henry Jackman’s background score while effective is a little too generic  to leave any lasting impression.

Greengrass has used real life marines and navy seals in the second half of the movie and it does lend a authentic feel to the movie.

The movie feels a tad long with some scenes running a bit overlong and the tension and intensity does get a little taxing on you. But this is not a movie to be missed. Tom Hanks is in top form and it is a story that is thrilling and gripping while at the same time very real.

Watch this movie for the return to top form for Hanks and one of the 2 possible nominations that Hanks will walk away with this year in the leading actor category.

Gravity – A Review

Alonso Cuarón directs George Clooney and Sandra Bullock in the space adventure Gravity. Set at 200 km above the surface of the earth Gravity tells the harrowing tale of a crew of spaceship out on a regular mission that gets hit with the debris from a Russian satellite and the horrors that ensue in Zero Gravity.

Gravity has been hailed as the visual masterpiece and the movie event of the year – believe the hype.  From the opening shot till the final closing one not one frame lets you take your eye off the screen. The scenes of the vast open blackness of space interspersed with  stars and other celestial bodies make you realize how tiny we are in the grand scheme of things and at the same time the minute you are on terra-firma the tracking shot shows us what a giant we are when it comes to our existence on earth.

The story is simple – George Clooney plays Matt Kowalski a veteran astronaut on his final mission is joined by the first timer Ryan Stone played by Sandra Bullock. While trying to place the scientific experiment that Dr Stone has been working on in to an orbiting satellite they get news that there is debris from a destroyed satellite headed their way. While they try to abandon their mission and return to safety they get hit by the debris and are set adrift with no communication back to the command center or the international space station. Left with only each other they try to survive in space with depleting oxygen and try and get to a escape pod to return to earth.  Without going into too much details the story is simple as they try against staggering odds to return to earth they get hit by one problem after another and the single shot camerawork draws you into their plight as you stop breathing while they are trying to reach out and grab hold on to a space craft and heave a sigh of relief when they do while getting increasingly frustrated as another crisis looms right ahead.

Sandra bullock in my opinion has never been better. As the harrowed first timer in space who kept crashing her simulator you feel for her and want to her to make safe passage to earth as it begins to appear that the chances are fast diminishing.  George Clooney has a small role to play but he does it like no one else does. There is a certain ease with which he plays every character on screen that no matter what the stakes you are sure he will make it out smiling that smug smile.

But this is a movie that is so much bigger than the big name stars involved. This is a movie which is dead certain to bring Emmanuel Lubezki his first Oscar for his magnificent work behind the camera. Lubezki has been credited with one of the most remarkable scenes ever filmed- the creation of life scene from The Tree of Life for Terrence Mallick. Here he essentially takes the viewer into outer space and spins you around like a sock in a tumble dry washing machine while still allowing you to marvel at the beauty of our planet as viewed from outer space. There are beautiful solitaire sunrises and pulsating Aurelia Borealis. A majority of the visuals are computer generated yet never once do you feel like you are not seeing the real thing. Also essential to the visual experience is the surprisingly effective music by a relative no-namer Stephen Price – however the use of silence is just as effective as is some of the other soaring soundtrack by Price.

There are those who are questioning the veracity of science involved in the making of Gravity and while doing so are missing the point that there are elements that have been exaggerated for dramatic appeal. What lies underneath is the essential human instinct for survival, survival against the greatest odds, odds that sometimes are the demons inside our own mind. Not giving up when there is nothing left to live for and trying with all your might to live to tell your story.

Don’t miss Gravity as it is a masterpiece of why we watch movies – it is to go where few men have ever gone before to be able to experience it for yourself without having to leave the comfort of your plush push-back chairs. Seek out the biggest screen possible and watch it in 3D but put the pop-corn away because when you are not looking there is satellite debris coming your way and you better watch out.

Prisoners – A Review

Denis Villeneuve directs a stellar star cast of Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis Paulo Dano and Melissa Leo in Prisoners a dark and brooding tale of the kidnapping of two little girls and the aftermath that follows.

Villeneuve who directed the critically acclaimed Incendies the 2011 Canadian entry to Oscar under the foreign language category, creates a dark and depressing atmosphere that begs to ask the question how many creeps can one town hold. The story written by Aaron Guzikowski weaves a suspenseful drama that has you constantly holding your breath, biting you fingers and alternating between the edge of seat to the back of it with your eyes covered in horror.

Jake Gyllenhaal revisits the same playground that he made such an impact on in David Fincher’s Zodiac with his detective Loki character but gone are the clean cut boy scout good looks and mannerism instead he is more reminiscent of Viggo Mortensen’s character from Eastern Promises with his tattoos and the nervous tick of eye-blinking.  Hugh Jackman is rage personified as the father who has lost his daughter and the one viable lead suspect is let go because the police cannot bring charges on him.  Paulo Dano plays that creepy suspect who rides a RV that was parked near the house just before the girls disappeared.

Terrence Howard and Viola Davis play the parents of the other girl who gets abducted along with Jackman and Maria Bello’s daughter.  In supporting roles Howard, Davis and Bello are all very good but the surprise comes in the form of Melissa Leo who plays Dano’s Aunt. Just wait for the Third act of the movie to have your Jaws drop and you will know why Leo is known to sneak in award worthy performances when no one expects her to.

Roger Deakins arguably among the best working cinematographer in Hollywood is a genius behind the camera. With his masterful eye the tree barks and the snow tracks take on a life of their own. The movie is richly marinated in darkness and Roger uses every available blimp of light masterfully, the candle lights, the low incandescent bulbs, all throw lights that jump of the tried and creased face of Jackman to show a man driven insane by rage. The close up shots of the characters are unnerving and leave you in need of a shower because of how dirty it gets.

This is a slow meandering story that goes to places that you don’t expect it to. There are twists and turns that will shock and surprise you.  Hugh Jackman is in top form and Dano turns in a creepy performance that has you alternating between hating him to feeling sorry for him and Melissa Leo continues to surprise with her choice in picking roles that really allow her to sink her teeth into and turns in a fantastic performance that in any other year would be getting all the buzz for supporting role. Denis Villeneuve makes his Hollywood debut in fine form almost reaching the greatness of Zodiac and Mystic River. This is a movie not to be missed under any circumstance.