Sunday, December 15, 2013

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi
Catherine Keener

"Out here Survival is Everything"


Muse (Somali pirate): Last year I took a Greek ship. 6 million dollars.
Capt. Richard Phillips: 6 million dollars? So what are you doing here?
Muse: Shut up, Irish. Too much talking.
Capt. Phillips: The problem is not me talking. The problem is you not listening. 

The quote above truly defines in essence why there is a surge in piracy going on in the Horn of Africa waters.  

Paul Greengrass's masterful direction exposes this rampant situation through his film adaptation of a book written by the real Captain Richard Phillips.    Tom Hanks did an excellent job portraying the ordeal that the Maersk Alabama captain went through when he was captured and used as pawn by 4 Somali pirates.

The first part of the film presents the tension filled action sequences. From the high speed chase as the pirates relentlessly pursue the large cargo ship to the time when they actually board and hold the crew and its captain hostage.  

But the actual 'acting' comes into play once the pirates have captured Capt. Phillips and take off with him on board a steel enclosed lifeboat towards Somalia.  They plan to use him as a bait to hike up their ransom demands. The exchange between Capt. Phillips and his captors reveal a lot of insights into the real motives behind their horrific acts.  

The head of the Somali pirates, Muse nonchalantly declares that after everything has settled, he plans to go to America and buy a car.  He says it like it is some matter of fact information that he merely throws out there, totally oblivious to the bigger picture. That what he does for a 'living' is a crime which is punishable by any court in every country. Although his statement was genuinely said, it was also quite tragic to hear and made me shake my head with disbelief.

It also presents the personality of the veteran Captain who tries his best to fathom the ideals of the 'fishermen'.  Despite being brutally captured, he still exudes a lot of humane qualities towards his aggressors. He even helps to clean the wound on the foot of the youngest one from the group.  He also tries to tell them in not so many ways that their efforts are totally futile especially since the US Navy would do everything in their power to rescue him.  He tried to appeal to their moral sense by saying that the cargo he was carrying was going towards a feeding program for African kids.  But it fell on deaf ears!

It also has to be said that naturally the film is biased against the captors.  It is a given that 4 hapless yet fully armed Somali pirates cannot win against the mighty US Navy.  Muse even says "I came too far, I can't give up" - basically resigned to the fact that he is in a no win situation yet persists till the end. 

On the other hand, Captain Phillips himself also realizes that they are not merely fishermen as they claim but hardcore terrorists. They are manipulated and controlled by perhaps some syndicate who may or may not work for the Somali government.  Of course, it is difficult to make accusations without any concrete pieces of evidence yet that is the sense I got from this film.  

A well crafted movie that served as a good vehicle for Tom Hanks to once again amuse us with his brilliant acting. It also exposed a real global crisis that is sadly getting way out of hand.

Friday, December 6, 2013

GRAVITY

Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

"Don't Let Go"

The rookie and the veteran.  

That's how I describe Ryan Stone and Matt Kowalski. It was supposed to be a routine mission where medical engineer Stone (Sandra Bullock) was going to attach a prototype device she spent months developing in her lab.  Unfortunately, disaster struck.  Space debris from a satellite obliterates the space shuttle Explorer aka their ride.   An ultimate nightmare situation ensues as the two 'astronauts' end up drifting aimlessly in the deep dark abyss of outer space.

But let's face it. The view from up there is absolutely fantastic. The picture perfect shot one tends to post on one's Facebook page as their cover photo.   It also helps that you are stuck in space with a charming and quite engaging astronaut named Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) who keeps regaling you with stories of his space missions as well as his adventures in planet Earth. 

Kidding aside, I was quite drawn to the movie although at first I was pondering how a film with only two characters could sustain my interest.   The cinematography is breathtakingly vivid and top notch.  The details were quite authentic from the ISS, the uniforms of the astronauts (American, Russian and Chinese) to the language found on the buttons inside the space shuttles. I even noticed a table tennis (ping pong) racket floating about in the Chinese space shuttle.

But "Gravity" goes way beyond than just being an outer space movie, it extensively explores the human psyche and how it deals with any type of disaster. Then eventually evolves into a tale of survival, self awareness and the triumph of the human spirit.

Capt. Kowalski is the calming presence. A space veteran on his final mission, he is able to put Engineer Stone at ease even though the audience can clearly see for themselves the impending doom.  He is able to draw out the essence of her personality even though she is now and rightfully so in total panic mode. "Why is she named Ryan?"  "Is there a Mr Stone waiting for her?"   Simple questions which reveal a lot about her character.

Ultimately it is Sandra Bullock's film. Her Ryan Stone character more than makes up for all the dumb goofy characters she tends to saddle us with, mercilessly. And I am truly thankful for that and really praise her brilliant performance in this movie.

Finally, I know it would have been awesome to see "Gravity" on the big screen where everything is clearly magnified in all its splendid glory.  Unfortunately, I had to settle by viewing it on my laptop but it is certainly worth every nanosecond.

Monday, December 2, 2013

LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER

Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey,
Cuba Gooding, Jr, Lenny Kravitz, David Oyelowo

"One quiet voice can ignite a revolution"


First of all, let me just say, I don't know why the director Lee Daniels needed to put his name on the title of this film. In case, we forget who directed it?  I don't know, I just don't see the logic, really.

But having said that, I believe he did an excellent job in presenting the life story of Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), the African American butler who worked for 8 US Presidents in the White House.

Beginning in the early 1920s as a young boy whose family is employed in a white household up to his elder years upon his retirement as a butler in the White House, "The Butler" is a clever depiction of the valuable service of one man to his nation.

The role is played brilliantly by Forest Whitaker, one of the most underrated actors of his generation.  His personification of a man who bore so much hatred (just because of the color of his skin) in his childhood then grows up to be a passive man who resists any form of confrontation is subdued yet expressive.

A witness of history as the American Civil Rights Movement gains momentum to the onslaught of the Vietnam War, he remains in the background (literally) as he serves the man in the highest office of the land.

I like how the film showed how some of the most powerful leaders of the free world would occasionally ask Cecil his input on events which unfolded in America during those tumultuous times.  And even though he is quite reluctant to share his opinions, somehow his 'comments' would bear some weight on the decisions made by these US Presidents.

But the different cameos roles of talented actors portraying these US Presidents was a bit distracting. You tend to focus on the physical similarities of the actors to the actual Presidents than the events which occurred during their tenure in office.  But I also understand the main essence of Lee Daniels in presenting these scenes, if only to show the audience how Cecil Gaines' opinions on current events were in some very small manner quite influential in the decision making processes of the Presidents.  

On the other hand, in his private spectrum Cecil faced a lot of resistance from his oldest son Louis (David Oyelowo) who defiantly joined the Civil Rights Movement.  The huge generation gap between the passive father who prefers to avoid conflict, and his son who cannot fathom the fact that his father is still so subservient is eloquently played out. Their scenes together make up some of the most poignant encounters in the film.

In conclusion, "The Butler" is a well acted, cleverly executed story of one man's struggle to uplift himself through harsh times. A story that transcends through various historical events and their significant impact in the life of Cecil Gaines. An ordinary man who endured and survived extraordinary times.
 

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