Captain Phillips: a tense tale on the high seas

captain-phillips01That Paul Greengrass eh? He’s a sort. That shaky handheld camerawork, the subtle and compelling way he draws you into his films, making you feel his worlds are believable ones, absent Hollywood’s sheen for the most part.

Tonally to me, this feels part United 93, part Bourne, inasmuch as the action feels real. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Captain Phillips, for those that don’t know, is the real life tale of an American cargo ship captain, whose ship gets boarded by pirates off the coast of Somalia.

The pirates underestimate the crew’s desire to hang on to the ship and decide fairly quickly to leave. But not before taking the captain hostage in a life raft. What follows is a Greengrass masterclass in tension.

Following Hanks having a whale of a time playing dress up on Cloud Atlas, this seems to be his penance. There’s no light-hearted moments here (except a couple of probably accidental ones), captain-phillips-poster-3Greengrass gives us about 15 minutes to settle in before twanging on our ‘fight or flight’ reflexes, like some sort of sadistic puppet master.

Hanks (as usual) is perfectly cast. Whilst he plays these everyman characters so well, that’s not to say he’s coasting in the slightest. It’s a considered, intelligent performance, one which he ensured was never showy, giving his Somalian counterparts room to do their thing too. Indeed, first time Somalian actor, Barkhad Abdi as leader of the pirates, was somewhat of a surprise. An intriguing blend of menace, intellect and compassion.

If I had a criticism it would be that there’s too much ‘America saves the day’, with navy seals, helicopters, and warships galore in the final third. Whilst still rooting for Phillips, Greengrass had cranked the ‘America, hell yeah!’ dial a little too much. To the point where I was slightly rooting for the pirates to be honest. Perhaps that was his aim. He’s a wily director, I wouldn’t put it past him to divide our sympathies.

Tom HanksHowever, to that end, perhaps more focus on the Somalis early on wouldn’t have gone amiss. Still, he gave them more screen time than many directors would and it’s a minor niggle in the grand scheme of things.

Ultimately this is a bold, uncompromising and thoroughly tense film from Greengrass, with another bravura performance from Hanks. Worth your time, just ensure you do something happy and uplifting afterwards in a safe environment, you’ll need to.

Take your ass back to the trailer park

jennifer lawrence american hustleBun pun intended, as the title in this case refers to a little vignette of trailers for upcoming films that, to me, look amazing. So I’d like to share them with you. Looks like the rest of the year promises much in terms of movies that stir our soul and entertain. Will they deliver?

American Hustle (2013)

David O. Russell is going from strength to strength. What with The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook, this almost feels like a reunion: bringing together Christian Bale and Amy Adams from the former and Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro from the latter; plus the excellent Jeremy Renner, in this ’70s set tale based on the FBI Abscam operation.


The Counselor
(2013)

Reuniting Penelope Cruz with Cameron Diaz (from their time on Vanilla Sky) and Javier Bardem (Vicky Christina Barcelona), along with Brad Pitt and the mighty Michael Fassbender, this film has a killer cast. Ridley Scott takes the helm as director, with an original screenplay from Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men), delving into the world of greedy lawyers and drug trafficking.


The Dirties
(2013)

Described by filmmaker Kevin Smith as ‘the most important film you will see all year’, a fresh, compelling, semi-comic take on bullying. Largely improvised in terms of script by the two leads, one of which (Matthew Johnson) is a recent graduate from York University film school. Impressive stuff and worth your time. Although likely to only be available in a limited number of screens across the country. Seek it out.


The Wolf Of Wall Street
(2013)

Martin Scorsese is cinema. Indeed, he’s one of its greatest living directors. That’s a fact. This film marks the latest in an ever-growing list of outstanding collaborations he’s had with Leonardo DiCaprio in recent years. It tells the tale of corrupt New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort and, along with DiCaprio, features the talented Jonah Hill as well as a man in the midst of a renaissance, Matthew McConaughey.


Anchorman 2
(2013)
So…the legend of Ron Burgandy lives on. Big question is, was the first film lightning in a bottle? Steve Carrell is a much bigger star now, will he unbalance the group dynamic? And more importantly, will this film give us more of the same or take Ron and the team to places new? Ideally we’d want both. Pleasingly the trailer looks to provide just that, with Ron and team now in the ’80s, looking to re-form the team with a 24-hour news channel.


There’s obviously a lot more films with great trailers I’d like to talk about, but I’ll stop here. Ok, maybe just a quick mention of some. Hunger Games: Catching Fire looks really good and gives us yet more of the beautiful Jennifer Lawrence this year, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug looks epic and intense and sees Peter Jackson really get into his stride. Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks and directed by Paul Greengrass looks to be a thoroughly engrossing tale, and finally, How to Train Your Dragon 2 sees Hiccup and Toothless return in what could potentially be another sweet and uplifting tale. There’s loads more but, as Shrek says, ‘That’ll do donkey, that’ll do.’

Cloud Atlas: the Wachowskis’ magnum opus?

Aaah, the old books to films conundrum – in this day and age are any novels truly unfilmable? In the last ten years or so the industry has brought a myriad of literary tales – all widely considered unfilmable – to the big screen: Lord of the Rings, Life of Pi and Watchmen all spring to mind as critical and commercial successes.

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Which brings us to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – possibly one of the hardest books to adapt. Officially described as ‘An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.’ Mitchell constructed the novel as a series of six stories set across different periods, with multiple characters connected in small but significant ways. Here’s a quick run-down:

  • The first is set on the high seas of the South Pacific in 1849, with American lawyer Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) being poisoned by the ship’s corrupt Doctor Goose (Tom Hanks)
  • Set in Cambridge in 1936 we then have the tale of budding composer Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) being mentored by cantankerous composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent)
  • Then a 1973 conspiracy thriller in San Francisco, with reporter Luisa Rey (Hallie Berry) being hunted down by CEO Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant) and enforcer Bill Smoke (Hugo Weaving)
  • Next, in 2012, is a comedy tale of bungling publisher Timothy Cavendish’s (Jim Broadbent) nursing home break-out, after a trick by his brother Denholme (Hugh Grant)
  • Leaping forward to Korea (called Neo Seoul) 2144 we then find out about fabricant Somni-451 (Doona Bae), a clone who breaks out of her slave-like existence with the help of activist Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess)
  • Finally, on The Big Island in 2321 – after the fall of civilisation – lives tribesman Zachry (Tom Hanks). He meets Meronym (Hallie Berry) and agrees to help her reach Cloud Atlas – a communication system – to signal off-world colonies to rescue what remains of their people

Cloud-Atlas-Movie
So there they all are. Enough for at least three movies you might think, or at least a mini TV series. Despite the sheer number of stories and characters we’re being asked to get our heads around, the film does work on many levels.

In the book these stories are told in a sort of linear/cyclical fashion. Going from the 1800s to the post-apocalyptic future then back again revisiting each story, returning to the conclusion of the first tale at the very end. This wouldn’t have worked cinematically, so all six tales have been masterfully edited together to flow back and forth, constantly linking themes and characters to keep the audience hooked throughout.

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This works, to a degree. The problem lies in the fact that cross-cutting between all these different stories for three hours can wear the audience down somewhat. Within the space of a typical ten minutes we’re being asked to feel so many emotions it becomes rather numbing. Perhaps I’m just emotionally stunted. That said, I can’t see any other way to put all these tales together into one sitting without it being an undertaking on some level.

In terms of whether you’ve read the book or not, I don’t think that’s a big issue. If anything it may be a blessing, as you go in fresh and unburdened. You can allow yourself to absorb all the film has to offer, without the constant mental comparison of book versus film, something with which us avid fiction readers often have to contend.

Granted, this sort of film will divide people, heavy going for some and a joy for others. Either way, it’s an admirable effort by the Wachowski siblings – one that definitely deserves credit, for both their ambition and execution. In the way that Life of Pi was a story about stories and the nature of belief, this too, is a tale that deals with big themes: how our actions last longer than our lives, with their effects rippling across time and space to inspire future generations.

On that note, Cloud Atlas is very much worth your time and, if you put in the effort, you’ll come away exhilarated and refreshed with your head full of big, positive thoughts. Plus you’re pretty much getting six films for the price of one – a bargain by any standards!

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Top ten performances of Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks BigI’m somewhat regretting starting this – I mean, TOM HANKS! The consistently high standard of films in which he’s starred, where do I start?

In terms of cinematic living legends he has to be in the top ten right? It’s worth noting that – as of 2012 – his films have grossed over $4.2bn in the US and $8.5bn worldwide, making him the highest-grossing box office star of all time.

Furthermore, with 73 films on his CV to date, this list is going to be a challenge to whittle down. Let’s get started!

  • Big (1988)
    His whimsical dance up and down the piano left a lasting impression for many and represented Hanks at his frivolous and comedic best, during his rise to stardom in the 80s.
  • Forrest Gump (1994)
    hanks forrest gumpQuestion is, did he seek out Downey Jr for advice on not going full retard? If so, it paid off, resulting in an epic performance which won him a second Oscar.
  • Apollo 13 (1995)
    Hailed as both a critical and commercial success, this film was a high point for director Ron Howard. Hanks delivered a stand-out, yet understated performance as astronaut Commander Jim Lovell.
  • Toy Story (1995)
    As puppet cowboys go, Hanks convinces on every level, with an outstanding performance. Following a string of dramatic roles, this represented a triumphant return to comedy.
  • Saving Private Ryan (1998)
    hanks saving private ryanHaving successfully carved a career as the titular everyman, here he gives a masterclass in a subtle performance, as a normal guy dealing with the horrors of war as best he can.
  • The Green Mile (1999)
    Another film elevated by an unerringly good Hanks performance. Here he plays death row prison officer Paul Edgecomb. The dynamic between Edgecomb and the late Michael Clarke Duncan’s John Coffey was the heart-wrenching soul of the movie.
  • Castaway (2000)
    Can I just shout ‘Wiiillsonn!’? Does that mean enough? For those of us that have watched a blood-stained volleyball float agonisingly further away, it means a lot. Hanks deserves huge credit for building our sympathies with his fight for survival.
  • Road to Perdition (2002)
    hanks road to perditionPlaying a little against type as Irish mob enforcer, Michael Sullivanan anti-hero of sorts – Hanks teams up with director Sam Mendes and screen legend Paul Newman, to deliver a moody, sobering gangster flick.
  • Catch Me If You Can (2002)
    Hanks and Spielberg – has there been a more profitable partnership in modern cinema? Throw in DiCaprio and you get an enormously enjoyable cat-and-mouse tale of FBI man Hanratty chasing elusive fraudster Abagnale. 
  • The Terminal (2004)
    Aaah, fictitious Krakozhia. A bit of a leftfield offering with Hanks playing an Eastern European, trapped in the airport terminal. The touch of naivety and optimism in his portrayal of the character was masterful and surprised many.

So what’s next?
By his own standards he’s been fairly quiet in the last few years. However, he’s back soon with the forthcoming Cloud Atlas. A massively ambitious tale, taken from a complex yet popular book by David Mitchell. Featuring multiple plots across six different time periods, the theme being how actions of individuals have great impact across the world and throughout the past, present and future. Here’s the trailer: