The Silver Bullet ~ Decoding Annie Parker

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Synopsis: Love, science, sex, infidelity, disease and comedy, the wild, mostly true story of the irrepressible Annie Parker and the almost discovery of a cure for cancer.

Release Date: May 2, 2014

Thoughts: Though the cast for Decoding Annie Parker is filled with celebrated actors like Helen Hunt (The Sessions), Samantha Morton (In America), and Aaron Paul (Need for Speed) and surrounds an important subject (searching for cures/causes of breast cancer) I can’t help but feel overall that this is a movie that was originally intended for the small screen. Yeah, yeah, the film is distributed as an indie but something about it reads television movie to me. That’s not to say it won’t work just fine in your local cinema and I’m interested enough in the true life story of the title character to make the effort to catch this one, but will it be one I’ll be happy I left the house for?

Movie Review ~ Captain Phillips

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The Facts
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Synopsis: The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.

Stars: Tom Hanks, Catherine Keener, Barkhad Abdi, Max Martini, Yul Vazquez, Michael Chernus, Chris Mulkey, Corey Johnson, David Warshofsky, John Magaro, Angus MacInnes

Director: Paul Greengrass

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 134 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  For some reason, I resisted seeing Captain Phillips longer than I should have.  Though I had many chances to attend it during its advance screening phase I either found another screening to attend or came up with a reason why I didn’t want to sit through it.  I got the feeling this was one movie that you had to be in the right frame of mind/mood to see and I didn’t want to see it just because it was next on my list.

Finally, in the last few weeks it was the right time and after seeing it I wished I hadn’t waited so long.  Though I knew the basic plot of the film and how it was all going to turn out, I had deliberately distanced myself from further details so I could let the movie fill in the gaps for me as it developed.  I’m glad I did too because Captain Phillips turned out to be one of the more gripping films I’ve seen all year, housing two unforgettable performances.

The film begins with two men heading to sea.  The first man is Tom Hanks (Joe Versus the Volcano, Cloud Atlas, Splash!) in the titular role, an old school sea captain that finds himself taken hostage by Somali pirates when they make their way onto the cargo ship he’s piloting.  The second man is newcomer Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the leader of the pirates who makes a bold play for such a large ship and winds up increasingly over his head as his hurried plans go awry.  Though neither men know it at the outset, both are embarking on a trip that will alter their lives (and the lives of the men that serve under them) forever.

Director Paul Greengrass has staged his previous films (United 93, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum) with a herky jerky handheld camera style that sent more than a few green faced audience members running for the bathroom but thankfully there’s precious little of that here.  The rugged camerawork of Barry Ackroyd perfectly captures the oncoming meeting of the two captains and Greengrass works with editor Christopher Rouse to amp up the tension slowly until the final act of the film turns into a total edge of your seat nailbiter.

Working with a script from Billy Ray (Color of Night, The Hunger Games) adapted from the book by the real Captain Phillips that wisely refuses to make the Somali pirates totally evil, the film gets more interesting as it goes along because we begin to understand why these Somali men have gone after the ship with such vigor.  We know they are in the wrong but without being overly sympathetic to the pirates there is empathy shown that makes the film that much more commanding.

I’ve grown accustomed to Hanks being solid in every movie he’s involved with.  Though I think his genial personality has given him a few more free passes on lousy films than the normal Hollywood star would get, there’s no denying that the man has charisma that only maturity in the business can bring.  I found him to be slightly miscast as Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks with too many aw shuck-y moments but as Captain Phillips he reminds us all why he’s won two Oscars and been nominated for three more.  I had been told that Hanks was particularly effective in the final ten minutes of the movie and while that’s definitely true, I found him to be locked and loaded for greatness from the moment he appeared on screen.

If Hanks hits a home run than Abdi knocks it out of the park.  A former cab driver in Minnesota, Abdi was picked along with three other Somali actors for roles in the film and Abdi delivers one of my favorite performances of the year.  In a role that’s equal parts bravura machismo and childish naïveté to the danger he’s making for himself, Abdi dissolves completely into the role at times alternating between fear and desperation in his quest.  Without giving too much away, I think there’s one decision Abdi’s character makes with the full knowledge of what the outcome will be…yet he makes it anyway because it’s the only choice his character can live with at that point in time.  It’s a haunting performance, totally captivating, and honestly unforgettable…writing about it now I still shudder at several passages of the film he has total ownership of.

This is a great film – don’t be a wuss like me and put it off for so long that your attention is clouded with other less worthy films.  Hanks and especially Abdi do incredible work and if I’ve failed to mention anyone else in the film it’s not because they aren’t great as well…it would just be unfair to single out any one of the talented ensemble that supports Hanks/Abdi deliver the performances they have.

Not to be missed.

Movie Review ~ The Purge

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A family is held hostage for harboring the target of a murderous syndicate during the Purge, a 12-hour period in which any and all crime is legalized.

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder, Tony Oller

Director: James DeMonaco

Rated: R

Running Length: 85 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review: There are times when I’m in a movie theater where I start to bargain with myself before the lights go down.  The internal conversation before The Purge went something like this… “C’mon Joe, it’s your day off mid-week and you don’t really have much to lose taking in a home-invasion thriller with an interesting concept.  At best you’ll be surprised at the (pardon the pun) execution and at worst your eyes will get a nice workout as they roll in your head.  If the movie is half-way good you’ll come out on top.”  Well, The Purge is one half of a good movie, a par-baked pizza of a film that looks nice when you open it but the more you digest it the less appetizing it becomes.

Running a scant 85 minutes, The Purge has a first act that is nothing if not engaging.  Opening with security footage of some very bad people doing very bad things the audience is reintroduced to the concept that most will know going in: in the very near future the US Government has sanctioned one night a year where for 12 hours any and all crime is legalized.  You can murder your boss, make an unfortunate soul fodder for target practice, loot your local Best Buy, or if you choose to you can avoid it all by sitting back in your home under the protection of the latest and greatest security system…if you can afford one.

That’s what the Californian nuclear family at the center of The Purge is doing…and they know they’re secure within the walls of their manse because Dad (Ethan Hawke, Sinister) is the top-selling agent of the top-of-the-line security system on the market.  He’s outfitted their entire gated community, netting quite the bucks for his efforts and early on we see that the neighbors, while thankful for the protection, don’t love the fact that Hawke and his family have benefitted from the cost of their peace of mind.

Like most families the children have a boatload of issues.  Daughter (Adelaide Kane) is boy crazy and unhappy with her dad for keeping her away from her older boyfriend.  Son (Max Burkholder) is at that awkward age when communication comes best through methods that he has control over.  Dad and Mom (Lena Headey) do their best to keep the peace…though nothing is presented that puts any new spin on family dynamics.  Casting wise, the four actors make for a believable family.

When the Purge commences the family goes about their night inside as gunfire is heard and the television shows the horrors happening outside the tightly sealed doors and windows.  Then the son sees a black man yelling for help in the street and before anyone knows it, he’s opened the gates and let the bloodied man in.  It isn’t long before a group of preppy hunters have tracked the man to the house and begin their own attack in their quest for blood.

What happens after that is best left for the viewer to discover but trust me when I say that it’s at this point the movie starts to go downhill in a curiously rapid fashion.  Though the lead maniac (Tony Oller) possesses a chilly charisma that thinly masks some serious crazy there’s nothing distinctive about anyone else that comes knocking.  Actually, the film is edited so that you never get a true idea of how many people Hawke and family are up against.

Even with its short running time, the middle of the movie has some major pacing problems as the family looks for the man who has disappeared into the house so they can give him up to machete wielding psychos at their door.  That’s when you realize that the film has squandered an earlier opportunity to give the viewer an actual layout of the house so we can get our bearings.  There’s a lot of discussion about a new addition to the house and its general square feet but most of the movie looks like it was filmed in one or two hallways and bedrooms.

Though director James DeMonaco’s script raises some interesting questions about violence in our society, suggesting that what the Purge was really designed to do was aid in the further separation of the haves from the have-nots, it chickens out at the end with a lackluster run-of-the-mill final act where seemingly smart people do infuriatingly stupid things.  Morals only come into play when it’s convenient and a soapbox is handy to stand on.  Worse, no one really seems to understand the message that DeMonaco was going for in the first place.  Close but no cigar award goes to Headey who at least makes the most out of a role that doesn’t give her much to fight for.

I’m not sure that the first 45 minutes of The Purge is good enough to make you leave the theater satisfied but perhaps in the sequel (which was quickly greenlit after the low-budget but handsomely made film made back its budget in midnight screenings alone) there could be a better through-line that marries the societal questions on violence with a more thrilling output.

The Silver Bullet ~ Captain Phillips

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Synopsis: The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.

Release Date:  October 11, 2013

Thoughts: Maybe it’s just me but I think that at nearly three minutes this trailer is way too long and is heavy on giving away some major plot points right off the bat.  True, if you read the description or are familiar with the true life story you know what you’re getting into and what the resolution was but there’s something to be said for keeping your cards close to the chest.  Director Paul Greengrass (United 93) has the proven experience to be the right guy to helm a picture like this but I’m not yet sold on Tom Hanks (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Cloud Atlas, Splash) in a role that looks to be chosen mostly for Oscar potential (same goes for his other 2013 film, Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks).  Reservations aside, the final moments of this trailer did make me sit forward in my seat a little bit more…here’s hoping when Captain Phillips is released in October that it’s not waterlogged.