When Paul Greengrass directs a thoroughly dramatic tale based on true events and Tom Hanks takes on the title role, you think you know what to expect. But just you wait — the piercingly realistic “Captain Phillips” will exceed your expectations.
The story of the six days that Richard Phillips, captain of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, spent in April 2009 first trying to avoid a gang of Somali pirates and then as their restive captive, this film does an impeccable job of creating and tightening the narrative screws. The result is so propulsive that you may find yourself looking at your watch not out of boredom but because you’re not sure how much more tension you can stand.
Harking back to “Bloody Sunday,” Greengrass’ first international success and the film that revealed his gift for based-on-fact dramas, “Captain Phillips” has also managed to include some subtle but unmistakable social commentary that speaks, the director has said, “to the larger forces shaping our world today.” Tense drama, top acting, topical relevance and thoroughgoing realism, this is a film that reminds us what we’ve been missing, and does it all without breaking a sweat.
Few actors are better known than two-time Oscar winner Hanks, who, after an unfortunate “Cloud Atlas” detour, is back in his wheelhouse here as the above-average average man who possesses the kind of everyday heroism it’s easy to both identify with and believe in. As good as Hanks has been in the past, there are moments here, especially near the conclusion, that are deeper and more emotional than anything we’ve seen from this actor before.
Except for a brief cameo by Catherine Keener as the captain’s wife, no one else in the almost exclusively male cast will be known to most moviegoers, but this works to the film’s advantage by increasing believability across the board.
This is especially the case with the quartet of Somali Americans — all without acting experience and all discovered in the Minneapolis area by casting director Francine Maisler and her Minnesota colleague Debbie DeLisi — who play the pirates who bedevil the Maersk Alabama. They are a sepulchral bunch, thinner than thin every one and, especially the leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and his enforcer Najee (Faysal Ahmed), initially looking scary enough to be capable of anything.
Hanks and the Somalis did not meet each other until the moment the pirates, looking like men from another planet, storm the Maersk Alabama’s bridge. “The verisimilitude was just incalculable,” Hanks comments in the press notes. “The hair stood up on the back of our necks.”
Before that “when worlds collide” moment, both sides have been carefully introduced to us, Phillips in some regular guy moments at his Vermont residence and the pirates, in sequences not in the book, in their home in the seaside town of Eyl, Somalia.
It’s there that we get the crucial sense of why these men — impoverished former fishermen without prospects and under the thumbs of armed and dangerous warlords — do what they do. “Captain Phillips” in no way condones piratical behavior, but it does want us to see the men as feeling trapped into roles they would not have otherwise chosen.
As much a personality as any of the men is the Maersk Alabama, an enormous 508-foot vessel capable of holding close to 1,100 railroad car-sized containers. Greengrass, a bear for authenticity, moved the production to Malta to be able to shoot on the Maersk Alexander, the Alabama’s sister ship, just as he moved everything to Norfolk, Va., to get access to the appropriate U.S. Navy vessels.
The initial nautical chase is involving, and it gets more so when the Somalis, in the image that is the film’s poster art, succeed in scaling the skyscraper-like side of the ship without aid of stuntmen or CGI.
Once they take over the weaponless vessel, the armed pirates begin an intricate game of cat and mouse with Captain Phillips that begins when Muse, the only English speaker in the group, announces: “Captain, relax, nobody gets hurt. No Al Qaeda here. Just business.”
As the back and forth between Phillips and Muse continues through more tense permutations than it is possible to list — one man determined to save and protect his crew, the other focused on getting the payday this has all been about — they come to have a wary and grudging kind of understanding of the profound ways their lives differ.
All these strands come together when an exasperated Phillips says to Muse, “There’s gotta be something other than being a fisherman or kidnapping people,” and the Somali replies after a beat, “Maybe in America.” It’s yet another moment to ponder and savor in this altogether exceptional film. Kenneth Turan/LA TIMES
Danny Strong very loosely adapted Lee Daniels’ The Butler from a 2008 Washington Post article by Wil Haygood, detailing the life of Eugene Allen, a black butler who served at the White House for three decades. In the film, Allen is fictionalized as Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), whose career as a White House butler, beginning with Eisenhower, is charted through flashbacks and voiceover and framed around a meeting he waits to have with President Obama. In actuality, the film is about two lives, that of Cecil and that of his son, Louis (David Oyelowo), an equal-rights and, later, black-power advocate who, as an adult, runs for state office. Daniels plays up their generational friction throughout, most dynamically in a montage, soundtracked by Shorty Long’s infectious “Function at the Junction,” wherein glimmering visions of Cecil preparing and serving at a swanky White House dinner party are juxtaposed with Louis and his friends getting walloped during a sit-in at a whites-only lunch counter.
The sequence strikes at the heart of Cecil and Louis’s philosophical quarrel: to be a servant in a world of unimaginable power and luxury or to be a leader against racism in an unforgiving, deadly terrain, two occasionally opposing visions of what defines progress and work in the black community. Witnessing his father’s (David Banner) sudden execution, Cecil sees how just one word, in a slightly elevated tone, can work as justification for your murder, and is then almost immediately imparted with a sense that his safety is guaranteed by ensuring the comfort of white people. Cecil’s livelihood is in entertaining people, keeping them at ease, whereas Louis, spared the horrors of his father’s youth, passionately embraces the spirit of the civil rights movement and aggressively tries to push people out of complacency.
Daniels places an interesting emphasis on the nature of performance, most potently in Cecil, who, in the wake of his origins, sees entertaining, like acting, as a form of survival. The director’s ability to lead his actors into unbridled areas of themselves has been a constant in his career, and The Butler feels unleashed from its narrative partially because of its dazzling cast. This goes especially for his depiction of the U.S. presidents Cecil served under, among them a troll-like LBJ played by Liev Schreiber and a pretty straightforward JFK played by James Marsden. All the “presidential” actors lean on careful, focused caricature rather than historical or physical accuracy, and the results are discombobulating, in the best sense of the word. John Cusack’s Nixon starts off as a goofy narc, but quickly hardens into an unsettling, paranoid bigot, out-creeping Anthony Hopkins with only a handful of scenes, and Robin Williams, with even less screen time, gives Eisenhower the graceful air of vast wisdom. Through these performances, period detail, and rowdy yet exact camerawork, Daniels illustrates the surrealism of Cecil’s station in life, his defenses reverberating in the film’s rambunctious aesthetic, as if a response to the blunt political atmosphere that perpetually frames the man’s life. Toward the end of the film, Alan Rickman’s Reagan coldly insists that he will veto any sanctions against South Africa for Apartheid as Cecil works in the background, and in response to the Kennedy assassination, the filmmakers offer two deeply unnerving images: Cecil, quivering, muttering, “They blew his head off,” and Jackie Onassis (Minka Kelly), isolated in the White House, her husband’s blood settling into the fibers of her coat.
Cecil’s private life is mainly defined by his bumpy relationship with his boozing, Faye Adams-loving wife, Gloria, played by a phenomenal Oprah Winfrey. She brings the ache of age and the pain of a compromised life out of her character with as little as a disinterested glare toward her man on the side (Terrence Howard). When Gloria is entertaining, however, Winfrey brings out her own manic social energy, and she’s electrifying.
The Butler concludes amid the 2008 presidential election, simply and joyously, if also just a bit on the nose. On the surface, Daniels tells a stock tale about creating and surviving the civil rights movement, but the director wrenches the tired sentimentalism and past-tense detachment that defines similar projects apart with an experiential urgency, part of what is quickly becoming an inimitable style. Following The Paperboy, a surprisingly effective hit of tawdriness, Daniels here cleverly and quietly pushes his talent for hashing out visceral, violent emotions into unexpected dramatic terrain, creating an alluringly anxious film out of a life of slowly decaying compliance. That’s exactly what makes the film’s final moment, in which Cecil snaps at a White House staffer for presuming to tell him where the oval office is, so immensely satisfying. After biting his tongue for so long, Cecil discards his carapace, if only to tell someone that he knows what he’s doing. Chris Cabin
At the start of Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, the elegant and refined Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is coming undone — she’s a babbling, panicky, Xanax-popping mess. Jasmine has flown from New York to San Francisco to visit her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). She claims she’s flat broke even though she flew first class (“You know me. I splurge from habit.”) and needs a place to stay while she reinvents her life.
In periodic flashbacks, we start to understand what’s ailing Jasmine. Her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), was a wealthy financier who operated a Madoff-style scheme, stole millions of dollars from his clients and was sent to prison. Jasmine, who claims to have had no idea what Hal was up to, lost everything that defined her — the fancy Hamptons getaway, the sprawling Fifth Avenue penthouse, the social status, the philanthropic causes. She lost her son Danny (Alden Ehrenreich), who was so humiliated by his father’s arrest that he quit college and left home in a fury.
Jasmine even lost her mind. Pursued by persistent whispers that she must have known about her husband’s shady dealings, she flees to the West Coast in the throes of a nervous breakdown. She’s horrified by her sister’s working-class lifestyle, starts drinking too much and passes judgment on everyone she meets. Eventually, reality starts to settle in: A pampered trophy wife for much of her life, Jasmine realizes she has no marketable skills or job experience. She doesn’t even know how to use a computer.
Jasmine’s disruptive intrusion into the lives of her sister and her boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale), her manic delusions and her arrogant sense of entitlement are all evocative of A Streetcar Named Desire (Tennessee Williams was an obvious inspiration here). And Blanchett, who previously played Blanche DuBois onstage to great acclaim, attacks the role of Jasmine with a feral intensity. This troubled woman has disdain and snobbery engrained in her genes she’s forced to take a job as a receptionist at a dentist’s office, her humiliation is palpable (Allen turns the screws by making the dentist, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, a leering creep). When she meets a suave, rich widower (Peter Sarsgaard) who aspires to run for political office, she sees a way out of her unstable situation. Her new beau promises glamour, wealth, travel. So what if she must lie about every aspect of her life to keep him from running away?
Blue Jasmine, which is easily Allen’s best and most powerful movie since 2005’s Match Point, is filled with terrific performances, including Hawkins as the sweet- natured Ginger, a woman raising two kids who works at a grocery store and is content with the simplicity of her life, until hurricane Jasmine blows in, upending everything. In a small but critical role, Andrew Dice Clay is a revelation as Ginger’s blue-collar ex-husband, rocking a Members Only jacket to Jasmine’s silent disgust and punching holesthrough the affected pomposity of the privileged in a blunt but honest manner.
But the movie belongs to Blanchett. She’s both sympathetic and repellent as a woman who can no longer live in denial, but who can’t handle reality, either. It drives her insane. Blue Jasmine has a funny, comical tone during its first half, but a darker mood gradually takes over the film, building to a haunting, troubling resolution. Although the bulk of his work has concentrated on wealthy Upper East Siders, Allen has always portrayed himself as an outsider to that culture, and he’s never been more critical or disdainful of the disparity between classes than he is in Blue Jasmine. Just when it seemed like Allen was going to settle for cranking out a comic bauble every year for the rest of his career, he comes up with a vital and vibrant knockout of a movie. In other words, Woody’s back - again - and he’s in peak form.
THE GREAT GATSBY
Has it been a while since you dusted off your glittering flapper dress or dapper suit & boating cap for and a night partying with reclusive millionaires?
If so, you’re in luck, as the Revue is hosting Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby this month, and you’re cordially invited to witness all of the 1920s fun in 3D – it’s almost like being there! (And dressing accordingly can’t hurt the experience)
Based on the classic 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gatsby tells the story of would-be writer Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) who moves to East Egg (a fictional part of Long Island, New York) in the spring of 1922, and finds himself living next door to a mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), who throws notoriously extravagant parties. Soon after making Gatsby’s acquaintance, Nick discovers that Gatsby is eager to rekindle his relationship with Nick’s cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan), a past love who is now unhappily married and living nearby. As Nick attempts to bring the two together, he finds himself immersed in a world of deceit, hopeless love, unforgiving illusions, and unbreakable dreams. In the end, Nick’s role as a quiet but participating observer leaves the viewer pondering the questions of where we belong as individuals and which of our experiences are truly formative in creating our identities.
By blending an over-the-top Jazz Age aesthetic with a distinctly modern flair, Baz Luhrmann’s version of Gatsby sweeps its viewers into the world of the super-rich in a way that is both unsettling and wonderfully satisfying. Despite all the sparkle and spectacle on the film’s surface, Gatsby demands to be looked at more deeply. Fitzgerald’s characters are notoriously complex and difficult to play, and the subtleties that make the novel so compelling are hard to capture off the page. But with a powerful cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan, you can expect something a bit special. Look a little more closely at Leo’s smirk, Tobey’s awkwardness and Carey’s lofty voice and you’ll find that there’s incredible depth to each performance that aren’t quite covered up by all their layers of decorum.
On the surface stunning and intoxicating, and at heart tragic and desperate, Gatsbytells the definitive tale of the every-man and his pursuit of the American Dream. So come join us for an evening of Gatsby in 3D– the Revue after all, was operating in the 1920s, when any number of Gatsby-like men could have strolled through our doors. This party should definitely not be missed.
We’ll see you then, old sport.
Today, Wed, December 11, 2013
Tomorrow, Thu, December 12, 2013
Dir: Abdellatif Kechiche Starring: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche