Movie Review ~ Last Flag Flying


The Facts
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Synopsis: Thirty years after they served together in Vietnam, a former Navy Corpsman Larry “Doc” Shepherd re-unites with his old buddies, former Marines Sal Nealon and Reverend Richard Mueller, to bury his son, a young Marine killed in the Iraq War.

Stars: Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne, Yul Vazquez, Kate Easton, J. Quinton Johnson, Cicely Tyson

Director: Richard Linklater

Rated: R

Running Length: 124 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: It’s not lost on this reviewer that the director behind the tin-eared Last Flag Flying is Richard Linklater.  Linklater has built a career on authentic sounding/feeling movies like Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight, not to mention his career high of Boyhood.  Following that up with the enjoyable Everybody Wants Some! which was seen as a spiritual sequel to his earlier Dazed and Confused, Linklater seemed like he was entering a mid-career golden zone of easy-going character driven films.

So you’ll forgive me for being pretty surprised that he’s at the helm of Last Flag Flying, a phony baloney film that not only wastes two good actors (and one mediocre one) but your valuable holiday time as well.   A kinda-sorta sequel to 1973’s The Last Detail (which, full disclosure, I have not seen), this is a long trip with a short premise and it all goes nowhere.  I’m usually fairly forgiving with movies that limp out of the gate if they can finish strong but this one falls flat from the very beginning and never gets back up again.

On a cold night in 2003, a Larry Shepherd enters a dive bar in Virginia.  The man (Steve Carell, Freeheld) strikes up a conversation with Sal, the guy behind the bar (Bryan Cranston, Godzilla) and reveals himself to be an old Vietnam war buddy the bartender hasn’t seen in decades.  With lingering guilt over a crime Sal was involved with that Larry took the fall for, Sal agrees to accompany Larry on a day trip to a church nearby.  That’s where they meet up with former comrade in arms Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne, Passengers), who has transformed from a war-time wild man to a man of the cloth.

Larry has tracked down these two men because he recently lost not only his wife to a long-term illness but has just learned his son was killed in the Iraq war.  Would these men accompany Larry as he buries his son in Arlington Cemetery, you know, for old times sake?  Mueller was also involved with the indiscretion that saw Larry serving time in custody and while Larry doesn’t explicitly say the two men owe him one, the suggestion is that this small favor is something they can do to right a past wrong and clear their conscience.  It also helps Mueller’s wife forces him to go.

Thus begins a road trip that stretches across multiple states and forms of transportation as the three men bring the fallen solider home to his final rest.  Along the way old war wounds are opened and the guys must come to terms with what they did and how that changed the course of everything they’ve done since they returned to the states.  There’s even a chance for some small redemption with a stop to visit with the mother (Cicely Tyson, Alex Cross, excellent with limited screen time) of a soldier killed in Vietnam.

All of this should have panned out to a rewarding experience, but the movie is so faux in thought, word, and deed that I never warmed to anyone or anything on screen.  I never once bought that the three leads were former military, nor that they would ever in a million years be friends.  I know war makes friends out of enemies but there’s no authenticity in the performances or in the script from Linklater and Darryl Ponicsan.  While Fishburne is the most believable, he’s also the one least invested in the movie.  Carell continues to be an actor with interesting depths but struggles with a role that asks him to emote in all the wrong ways.  As usual, the actor that has the greatest trouble is poor Cranston who proves again that he’s an actor probably best suited for television.  Cranston’s performance (much like his hammy Oscar-nominated performance in Trumbo) is all hot air and booming voice; when you place it aside Fishburne and Carell who are trying to find their own arcs he just crumbles under the pressure.  It’s a memorably forgettable performance in a movie that’s equally a huge write-off.

I can think of a half-dozen actors that could have pulled these roles off better but at the heart of the movie’s problems is a meandering script and poor pacing – that falls squarely on Linklater’s shoulders.  There’s a kernel of an appealing movie at play but before we’d even reached the halfway mark I was waving the white flag of distress.  Skip it… Now it’s time for me to go seek out The Last Detail.

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.

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.