Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Captain Phillips (dir by Paul Greengrass)


Here’s an interesting and often overlooked fact:

It has been 17 years since Tom Hanks was last nominated for Best Actor.

When I discovered this fact, I was shocked because Tom Hanks is one of those actors who has a reputation for always getting nominated.  We tend to think of him as almost being a male Meryl Streep, an actor who will be nominated simply for showing up.  But, actually, the Academy last nominated Tom Hanks, for his performance in Cast Away, in the year 2000.

Hanks has given plenty of strong performances since then and he’s continued to appear in acclaimed and Oscar-nominated films.  And you would think, considering his apparent popularity in Hollywood, Tom Hanks would have been nominated for everything from Charlie Wilson’s War to Bridge of Spies.  But no.

Personally, I think Hanks should have been nominated this year for Sully.  But you know what Hanks performance truly deserved some Oscar recognition?

Captain Phillips.

Playing the title role in this 2013 Best Picture nominee, Hanks gave perhaps the best performance of his career.  That he was snubbed by the Academy is not only shocking but it’s actually a bit unforgivable.  Perhaps Hanks was so good that the Academy took him for granted.  Perhaps they thought that since both Hanks and Richard Phillips are decent, down-to-Earth guys, that Hanks was just playing himself.  For whatever reason, Tom Hanks deserved, at the very least, a nomination.

Captain Phillips was based on a true story.  This is another docudrama from director Paul Greengrass, filmed in his signature (and potentially nausea-inducing) handheld style.  (Actually, if any aspiring director wants to understand how to effectively use the handheld style, Greengrass is the filmmaker to study.)  In 2009, a four Somali pirates hijacked the Maersk Alabama and took its captain, Richard Phillips, hostage.  Captain Phillips was eventually rescued by a group of Navy SEALS.  Three of the pirates were killed while their leader, Muse (Barkhad Abdi), was captured and is currently serving a 33 year sentence in a federal penitentiary.

This was a huge news story in 2009 with the rescue being described as being the first major foreign policy victory for the new presidential administration.  When Phillips was rescued, people took to the streets and the “USA!  USA!” chant was heard.  “That’s right,” the media and the government and the chanters seemed to be exclaiming in unison, “America’s back!  We were abused and it’s never going to happen again!”

A lot of that jubilation was because, at the time, the term “Somali pirates” conjured up visions of cinematic villains who would be more at home in Mad Max: Fury Road than in the real world.  The reality of the situation, of course, was that the “pirates,” whose deaths were celebrated as some sort of political victory for the government, were actually poverty-stricken Somali teenagers, the majority of which worked for warlords who remained (and still remain) safely hidden away.

One of the more interesting things about Captain Phillips is that it devotes almost as much time to the Somali pirates as it does to Phillips and his crew.  Rather than presenting them as a nameless and personalityless threat, the film allows Muse and his men to emerge as individuals.  Much as Phillips spends the movie trying to keep both himself and his crew safe, Muse spends much of the movie trying to keep an increasingly out-of-control situation stable.  Both Phillips and Muse are in over their heads.  Barkhad Abdi gives a smart and intimidating performance as Muse.  The film never makes the mistake of excusing the actions of Muse or the other pirates but, at the same time, it does provide a more nuanced view of them than one would normally expect.

But really, this film totally belongs to Tom Hanks.  Captain Phillips works because of Tom Hanks.  It earned its best picture nomination on the strength of Hanks’s performance.  As an actor, Hanks could have easily coasted on the good will that the audience would have already had for him but instead, he fully commits himself to playing not Tom Hanks but instead Captain Richard Phillips.  The film’s final scene — in which Phillips goes into a state of shock and can’t stop talking — is a masterclass in great acting.  How the Academy ignored it, I will never understand.

Captain Phillips was nominated for best picture of 2013.  However, it lost to 12 Years a Slave.


A Movie A Day #38: Fighting Back (1982, directed by Lewis Teague)


The time is 1982.  The place is Hell on Earth, also known as Philadelphia.  Crime is out of control and the police are powerless to stop it.  When deli owner John D’Angelo (Tom Skerritt) and his wife, Lisa (Patti LuPone), confront a pimp named Eldorado (Pete Richardson), he rams his car into the back of their car, causing the pregnant Lisa to lose her unborn child.  At almost the exact same time, John’s mother (Gina DeAngles) is mugged by two thugs who chop off her ring finger.

In the grand tradition of Charles Bronson, John decides to fight back.  But he doesn’t go it alone.  With his best friend, a police officer named Vince (Michael Sarrazin), John starts the People’s Neighborhood Patrol.  The PNP is going to clean up Philadelphia, one street at a time.  The media (represented by David Rasche) make John into a celebrity.  The black community (represented by Yaphet Kotto) suspect that John and the PNP are guilty of racial discrimination.  The Mafia wants to bring John over to their side.  John runs for city council but he still has time to drop a grenade in a pimp’s car.

Fighting Back was one of the many urban vigiliante films to come out after the success of Death Wish.  Fighting Back‘s producer, Dino De Laurentiis, also produced Death Wish but made the mistake of later selling the rights to Cannon.  Fighting Back was not the box office success that either Death Wish or its sequels were, even though Fighting Back is actually the better movie.  That’s because Fighting Back was directed by the underrated Lewis Teague.  Teague does a good job of making Philadelphia look like a war zone and the scenes of vigilante justice are enjoyable but, overall, Teague takes a far more ambiguous approach to vigilantism than Michael Winner did when he directed Death Wish.  As vile as Philadelphia criminals may be, John D’Angelo isn’t always that likable himself.  When Kotto accuses John and the all-white PNP of being racially prejudiced, Teague suggests that he has a point.  Tom Skerritt gives a good performance, playing John as a proud, blue collar guy who wants to do the right thing but gets seduced by his newfound celebrity.

Better acted than Death Wish and smarter than The Exterminator, Fighting Back is an underrated vigilante gem.

Fighting Back is also known as Philadelphia Security and Death Vengeance.

Fighting Back is also known as Philadelphia Security and Death Vengeance.

Cockeyed Caravan: SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS (Paramount 1941)

cracked rear viewer


I’m no expert on Preston Sturges, having seen only two of his films, but after viewing SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS I now have a craving to see them all! This swift (and Swiftian) satire on Hollywood stars Joel McCrea as a successful slapstick comedy director yearning to make important, socially conscious films who gets more than he bargained for when he hits the road to discover what human misery and suffering is all about.

John L. “Sully” Sullivan sets his studio bosses on their collective ear when he tells them he wants to film an adaptation of ” O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, a serious novel by ‘Sinclair Beckstein’. The head honcho balks, wanting Sully to do another comedy, but Sully’s not dissuaded, deciding to see what life among the downtrodden is first-hand. He dresses in rags and sets out on his quest, followed by a gaggle of PR flacks in a bus. Somehow he…

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Music Video of the Day: Push It by Salt-N-Pepa (1987, dir. Ted Demme)

Sorry I didn’t get this post up yesterday. I stupidly set the computer I realistically can only do these posts from to perform an all day and all night task that was both CPU and I/O intensive on Sunday. The last time I tried to interrupt it while doing something like that to do just about anything, the computer glitched out to you-need-to-restart-me levels. I was going to let it go. Of course, Lisa noticed, and jumped into action. I think a thank you goes without saying, but thank you nonetheless.

Okay, so it’s Black History Month. I already did Funkadelic last week. I hope to get in a variety of black artists this month. If I can, I am going to try to do one from all sorts of different genres, along with a few legends that I can find made it into some music videos despite their age. Doing nothing but rap would kind of miss the point of the month. Unfortunately, I can’t find a music video from country artist Charley Pride. Maybe I’ll find a way of sneaking him in anyways as a bonus on another post.

Up till now, I have hit Beastie Boys, N.W.A., and Run-D.M.C. That leaves me with just Public Enemy and Salt-N-Pepa in order to really hit the major groups of what I call the second-wave of post Rapper’s Delight rappers. The very first rap song I remember memorizing was Shoop. I learned it while I was in elementary school, and would have the lyrics playing on an endless loop in my head. Which of course is why I am not doing Shoop, but Push It instead.

The first thing I want to get out of the way is that director Ted Demme is the nephew of Jonathan Demme. This video is Demme’s first music video after starting Yo! MTV Raps, according to a quote from editor Glen Lazzaro on mvdbase.

Now lets get to the obvious. Salt-N-Pepa are known for songs about sex. In 1991 they would do a music video for their song Let’s Talk About Sex and would even follow that up a year later with the song called Let’s Talk About AIDS. That makes the GEICO commercial they did using this song especially perfect and extra hilarious. This early song talking about sex would, without changing anything, become a song about pushing one of the possibilities of sex back out of what this song was talking about putting something into. You have to love that. In fact, Let’s Talk About Sex brings up the possibility of pregnancy if you don’t practice safe sex, so it fits that they would be singing this song in a birthing class at one point.

According to mvdbase, this video was recorded live. It’s a pretty standard stage performance all things considered. You can tell that Demme, like his brother, knew the artists he was filming, and catered it to their style. There’s a little Easter Egg in here. At about 3 minutes and 9 seconds, you can see that they tilted the frame upwards toward the right.

Tom Demme would go on to direct a couple other feature films before passing away in 2002 at the age of 38.

James Neihouse was the assistant cameraman on this and at least two other music videos. He has gone on to do a fair amount of work as a cinematographer. It looks like a lot of them are documentaries such as those you would see on the Discovery Channel.

Glenn Lazzaro has done some work outside of music videos, but they seem to have been his primary thing. He has edited somewhere between 75 and 80 music videos. Not small ones either. We’ll see his work again. In fact, I guarantee we’ll see his work again come March Madness.