Capsule Reviews:

These are shorter reviews of recent films I may not have seen immediately upon release, but caught up with shortly thereafter. Check out all of my reviews (large and small) here: FILM REVIEWS

Wed

06

Nov

2013

Capsule Review: Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips

2013 - 134 minutes

Rated: PG-13

Directed by: Paul Greengrass

Written by: Billy Ray

Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali, Michael Chernus, Catherine Keener

I was a little nervous at the beginning of “Captain Phillips” with the intercutting of Tom Hanks as the titular captain preparing for his next voyage with Somali villagers preparing for a hijacking mission. It felt like a precursor to a heavy-handed juxtaposition of the upper middle-class white American laments with that of the desperate and hungry Somalis. These realities are present, but director Paul Greengrass doesn’t push an agenda to make us side with one position over the other. Instead, he rightfully uses character motivations to craft a rich drama. Everything presented has meaning and informs the film.

 

Greengrass always keeps us in the moment, following the action logically and dials back his shaky-cam technique, but everything still has a handheld, authentic feel. This film is much like his remarkable “United 93” – another gripping true life drama that honestly portrays tension and horror.

 

In “Captain Phillips” there’s no leaving the hijacked vessel for tearful moments with Phillips’ wife. There’s talk of a White House response, but we don’t see any press conferences or expositional news footage. Everything we need is given to us organically. We’re only away from Phillips and his hijackers briefly to follow Navy Officers and Seals as they prepare for and work their way through neutralizing the situation. While the final act of the film does drag a bit in spots – mostly due to one borderline grating performance – it is fascinating to watch the rescue strategy unfold.

 

Tom Hanks gives an amazing turn as Phillips, with his “run a tight ship” mentality that may rub some crew members the wrong way but inspires respect. He knows what to do in the face of a hijacking situation but there’s an uneasiness beneath his snapping of orders. Opposite Hanks, newcomer Barkhad Abdi as Muse, leader of the threatening band of Somalis, does an admirable job of being at times terrifying and often unsure of himself. He’s desperate without us seeing him as too sympathetic. We realize he has his problems, but there is never a question he’s doing wrong. The one performance that stands out as not quite over-the-top but nearing the summit is Barkhad Abdirahman as Bilal, who takes his role of enforcer to almost cartoonish levels. His constant yelling and clenched jaw almost take us into contrivance territory, but Greengrass pulls back when he has to.

 

This is ultimately a fascinating character study looking at what happens when things fall apart. While the hardened Naval Commanders are coldly doing their duty, Phillips and his captors unravel. There is debate on the accuracy of the film as it relates to real-life events, but the sentiment feels true without being romanticized or soppy. There are no war room cheering scenes or tearful reunions on the deck of a ship here after the endgame; only a brutal and gutting Hanks performance of a man in shock that underscores the gravity of this overwhelming experience.

 

© 2013 by Blake Crane

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Tue

01

Oct

2013

Capsule Review: Getaway

Getaway

2013 - 90 minutes

Rated: PG-13

Directed by: Courtney Solomon

Written by: Sean Finegan, Gregg Maxwell Parker

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez, Jon Voight

If you find the Taken films a little too cerebral, Getaway may be just what you’re looking for. Instead of retired CIA agent Liam Neeson barreling through exotic locales to track down bad guys, Getaway has a retired racecar driver barreling through an exotic locale doing exactly what the bad guy is telling him to do. It’s easy to follow, too, because he’s in a car the whole time.

 

Well, not just a car - it’s a souped up Shelby Super Snake Mustang, outfitted with a bevy of cameras and microphones and reinforced with armor rendering it seemingly indestructible. The cameras and microphones so the driver, Brent Magna (Ethan Hawke), can remain under the watchful eyes and ears of “The Voice” (Jon Voight), who has kidnapped the driver’s wife in order to force compliance with his nefarious desires. Outfitted with armor so (literal) run-ins with the Sofia, Bulgaria authorities don’t slow him down. At least the police have the ignorance defense when they keep pursuing this super-vehicle; one of The Voice’s henchmen who should know better decides to futilely shoot a machine gun at it for about five minutes straight.

 

It really isn’t worth getting into the intricate details of the plot, even if it would be possible – we’d just be firing blindly and hopelessly like that unfortunate goon. Bad guy wants capable driver to drive certain places and do certain things so bad guy can execute his plan of stealing something that will net him lots and lots of money. The plan is hazy at first, and is even hazier when it’s revealed, but it doesn’t matter.

 

“The Kid” (Selena Gomez) – I guess the writers used up all of their cool name ideas with Brent Magna – hops in the car when she must to reveal a loose connection she has with the evil plan of The Voice. She also happens to be a computer hacker who can do magical things that nobody would never be able to do on her iPad; doing it all in plain sight and sound of the bad guy, but no bother.

 

The action can make up for the shortcomings of the script and basic common sense, no? No. Shots of squealing tires, cop cars overturning and very serious close-ups of Hawke using the gear-shifter and gas pedal are less than thrilling.

 

There is what appears as almost a moment of clarity for director Courtney Solomon for about 90 seconds near the film’s conclusion. In an unbroken shot, a camera mounted on the Cobra captures the action as it screams after a black SUV through intersections and around curves, gaining on each side until falling back. It really is a remarkable shot that deserves to be in a better movie.

 

Much like the film itself, the performances aren’t much to discuss. Hawke is in constant whiney yell mode; Gomez is in bored unaffected teenager mode; Jon Voight (or at least is mouth) is in monotone, non-descript bad European accent mode. His work on this film has to be the most screentime for just a mouth/lower jaw in cinema history – probably the first performance to ever be totally Skyped in. It would make sense considering the level of ineptitude and lack of thought up on the screen.

 

© 2013 by Blake Crane

 

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Mon

16

Sep

2013

Capsule Review: Jobs

Jobs

2013 - 128 minutes

Rated: PG-13

Directed by: Joshua Michael Stern

Written by: Matt Whiteley

Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Dermot Mulroney, Josh Gad, J.K. Simmons,

Matthew Modine, Ron Eldard, Lukas Haas, Lesley Ann Warren

Odd that a film chronicling a visionary thinker would be so brainless and boring. “Jobs” plays like a movie version of an 8th-grader’s written report on the rise and fall and rise again of

Apple Inc.   After sitting through two hours-plus of rambling, I have no better idea of what Apple was or is or who Steve Jobs was.

 

I know Steve Jobs dropped out of college. I know he and Steve Wozniak started operating Apple Computer from a garage and built it into a huge company. I know Jobs was eventually forced out and that he revolutionized everything when he came back again. Those are the facts, but those facts in and of themselves do not a compelling movie make. But that’s all we get with “Jobs.” It’s as if writer Matt Whiteley looked up ‘Steve Jobs’ on Wikipedia and used what he found there to pen the script.

 

The film is messy in its transitions from one track of the ‘Steve’s Greatest Hits’ playlist to the next. There is no grace to the storytelling, with painfully awkward emphasis on the dramatic moments. Strings of the score begin to swell when Jobs pulls the iPod from his pocket for the first time. In a moment of anger, he pauses to turn closer to the camera and shout “get Bill Gates on the phone!” This typical biopic pandering is rarely successful and is downright awful here as the story itself never pauses, barreling ahead through three decades with no perspective on how events of the narrative are affecting the people involved.

 

In one scene, Steve is struggling with the Apple Board of Directors and is forced out in the mid-1980s; in the next, it’s the mid-90s and Jobs makes his triumphant return (complete with a broken CD player that gets thrown in the garbage – if only there were a better solution to take your music on the go. Wait a minute!). A yell in the car isn’t enough to tell us of Steve’s state during this time period.

 

The only scene that approaches dramatic effectiveness is Josh Gad as Wozniak giving a tearful goodbye to Steve and the company he helped to build. Gad somehow brings the goods despite there being no context to his tearful words.

 

Ashton Kutcher as the title subject is a microcosm of the film – he has the beard (sometimes), the round glasses and the hunched shuffle of a walk, but he remains Ashton Kutcher doing his approximation of Steve Jobs that doesn’t focus on anything of substance.  “Jobs” deals in rough calculation with no awareness of fatal design flaws.

 

© 2013 by Blake Crane

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