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


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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.

 

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Spider-Man: Homecoming Slings In With Two Official Trailers


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It’s been rumored that the Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer will appear in front of Rogue One: Star Wars Story. It’s logical considering Sony has let Spider-Man to play in the Marvel Cinematic Universe sandbox which also happens to share spot in the Walt Disney Empire with Lucasfilm. Yet, we don’t have to wait for next week’s Rogue One to see this trailer. Like all superhero blockbuster films the trailers themselves get their premiere on-line (after a live premiere on Jimmy Kimmel Live) and this is no different with the first official trailer for Spider-Man: Homecoming.

So, without further ado, here’s not one, but two trailers for Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Domestic: this one definitely focuses more on the high school aspect of Spider-Man’s life.

International: this one a bit more action-packed with a focus on Spider-Man’s heroics and more time showcasing the villains.

Playing Catch-Up: Aloha (dir by Cameron Crowe)


Well, Christmas is over and soon 2015 will be over as well!  And our long time readers know what that means — its time for Lisa to desperately try to get caught up on reviewing all of the films that she’s seen this year!  After all, it will soon be time for me to post my “Best of” and “Worst of” lists and who knows?  Some of these films might make a list!

Anyway, with all that in mind, let’s take a quick look at Aloha!

Say what you will about Aloha as a movie, I would have loved to have been a part of the production.  Not only is the cast full of performers that I absolutely adore (Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, John Krasinski, Bill Murray, Rachel McAdams, and Danny McBride, just to name a few) but the film itself was shot in Hawaii, which is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.  And let’s give director Cameron Crowe some credit for capturing some truly beautiful images of Hawaii.

As for the film itself, it’s a bit of a self-indulgent chore to sit through.  Aloha feels like a dozen different films, all mashed together and the end result is something of a mess.  Bradley Cooper is Brian Gilchrest, a defense contractor who is haunted by a mistake that he made while in Afghanistan.  (It’s the equivalent of Jerry Maguire writing that memo and Orlando Bloom making those shoes in Elizabethtown.)  Disillusioned and cynical, Brian is now working for a billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), who wants to build his own private space center in Hawaii.  Brian’s job is to get the support of the native Hawaiians.

Brian’s Air Force liaison is Alison Ng (Emma Stone) and she’s as idealistic as Brian is cynical.  Brian and Alison are soon falling love but, at the same time, Brian has also reconnected with his ex-girlfriend, Tracy (Rachel McAdams).  Tracy is now married to Woody (John Krasinski), an Air Force captain who has difficulty expressing his feelings.  Tracy also has a 12 year-old daughter and Brian might be the father.

That may sound like enough for any movie to deal with but Aloha also wants to be a political satire as well as a relationship dramedy.  So, of course, there’s all sorts of ethical questions about the satellite that Carson wants to launch and, as a character, Carson is so incredibly inconsistent that you’re just happy that he’s being played by Bill Murray, one of the few actors who can make inconsistency charming.

Aloha is such a frustrating film, largely because of all the talent involved.  With that cast and all the beautiful scenery, it should have at least been an enjoyable lark.  Instead, it’s a huge and self-indulgent mess.

And, naturally enough, it features Alec Baldwin.  Baldwin always seems to show up in films like this and, as I watched him bellow his way through Aloha, I found myself wondering how Alec Baldwin can be so good in some films and so amazingly awful in others.  Baldwin’s a talented actor but, when a director allows him to go overboard, he can be difficult to watch.  In Aloha, Cameron Crowe lets Alec Baldwin go totally overboard.

When Aloha was first released, there was a lot of controversy over Emma Stone playing a character who supposed to be a quarter Chinese and a quarter Hawaiian.  At the time, Cameron Crowe stated that: “As far back as 2007, Captain Allison Ng was written to be a super-proud one-quarter Hawaiian who was frustrated that, by all outward appearances, she looked nothing like one. A half-Chinese father was meant to show the surprising mix of cultures often prevalent in Hawaii. Extremely proud of her unlikely heritage, she feels personally compelled to over-explain every chance she gets. The character was based on a real-life, red-headed local who did just that.”  That’s something that I — as a pale redhead who happens to be very proud of being a fourth Spanish — could relate to so it didn’t particularly bother me that Emma Stone was playing a character named Alison Ng.

Instead, what bothered me was that Alison Ng was never really allowed to emerge as an individual character with her own hopes, dreams, and ambitions.  Her character pretty much only existed to give Brian a reason to believe in life again.  Emma Stone’s a good actress but, as a film, Aloha lets her down.

Still, at least she got to spend sometime in Hawaii!