The Post — Review

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Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in a scene from Steven Spielberg’s The Post

3Star

“Even its most splayed-out moments play their part in the thrilling value of watching professionals do their jobs right.”

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Captain Phillips – Review

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3-5Star

by Ken B.

The unrelentingly intense Captain Phillips is a showcase of acting and storytelling. Based on events collected in a memoir, regardless of how true or untrue they may be, Paul Greengrass’ film is another example of the director’s frequency in crafting atmospheric movies about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations, and doing it very well.

Tom Hanks is at his finest as Richard Phillips, who was captaining the cargo ship Maersk Alabama when it was hijacked by Somali pirates in April 2009, by a team led by Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi). They had been warned about this, now was the time to act. The rest of the crew is hidden in the depths of the engine rooms. He’s able to hold them off for a little while. Muse wants millions of dollars, but the ship only holds packaged food and $30,000. No matter. They force Phillips into a lifeboat and they’re off. During the nightmarish period that follows, the U.S. Navy becomes increasingly aware of what’s going on, and the film concludes during a desperate attempt at a rescue.

This is a very good movie. Not only is Hanks excellent, Barkhad Abdi gives a brilliant performance, certainly worthy of his Oscar nomination. Greengrass’ cinéma vérité style sometimes does give a convincing mood, but the shaky-cam method is occasionally done to excess and threatens temporary incoherency. However, such incidents are rare. Barry Ackroyd does a much better and cohesive job here as a cinematographer than he did on Parkland. The mood of the film is precise. It’s restless. It’s exhausting. It’s draining. Normally, these adjectives would be applied negatively, but when describing a film about a hostage situation, such ideas are no less than absolutely required. Captain Phillips perfectly meets these descriptors. We know how the story ends before going in, but there are true moments of mortality realized within the confines of the picture. The last scene features some of the greatest acting I’ve seen in a while.

Captain Phillips doesn’t push any politics. It would have been astoundingly easy to turn this into a jingoistic and sickening product, but this never happens. This is not a tired and failed depiction of misplaced and misportrayed patriotism that trips so many other stories of the like. There’s a heavily promoted scene that occurs during the initial hijacking, where Muse pulls Phillips aside and says “I’m the captain now.” Truly this event had been building up for some time before. There was a shot inserted earlier when both men look at each other through binoculars as the Somali speedboat approaches the Maersk Alabama. All of this leads to one fair conclusion that Greengrass accurately portrays: It’s force against force, man against man, captor against hostage. This also makes the film ultimately more compelling.

You’re probably going to feel pretty tired when Captain Phillips’ 134 minute runtime draws to a close. You have just played witness to an incredible display of cinematic craft. You will have seen something worthwhile, something poignant, something brave. Push aside the accusations of inaccuracies – this is a movie, and a great one at that.

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray

Captain Phillips

Saving Mr. Banks – Review

 

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3-5Star

by Ken B.

Sometimes, a movie that plays to the masses in an unashamed and unadulterated away is just what you need for awards season viability. Saving Mr. Banks is a bit too emotional at times, but it’s quite credible in how it works for the rest of its 125 minute runtime, complete with stunningly good acting and a touching story that admittedly could have done a little bit better with reflecting the facts.

1906: The girl who would become Pamela (P.L.) Travers is played by Annie Rose Buckley, who moves with her family to a new house, complete with a cow and chickens. The patriarch (Colin Farrell) loves his family, but is in jeopardy with his job at a bank due to his alcoholism. The struggles that ensue because of her father play a large part in shaping the young girl’s life, and eventually the book (and its sequels) that she will one day write, Mary Poppins.

1961: P.L. Travers, now played by Emma Thompson, has time and time again denied Walt Disney Pictures the film rights to Mary Poppins. She is afraid of what will happen (“He’ll make her [Mary] sparkle…”), but eventually agrees to visit Los Angeles and allow the production to go forward under the condition that she’ll have script approval. We learn that Mrs. Travers (that is the only way to properly address her, she says) is, to put it nicely, defensive about her writing. To put it honestly, she exudes a stubbornness that is of an astronomical extent. She’ll reject any idea that is thrown about, and it is up to Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) to convince her to sign over the rights.

So maybe it is a bit worthy of suspicion that a movie that essentially praises the existence of a Disney film would be so shamelessly distributed by The Walt Disney Company. So maybe the film is a bit long. So maybe the ending of the film reflects a sunnier disposition that occurred in real life. Never mind that. This is still a quite marvelous picture. Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith’s screenplay, an inhabitant of the 2011 Black List, should be commended for skillfully splitting between the two periods of time it depicts, although perhaps the 1906 segments do not carry the same overall flow from a storytelling perspective as the 1961 segments.

The acting is top notch, as one would expect from such a high caliber cast. Thompson is extraordinary as P.L. Travers (born Helen Goff). During the initial production meetings, she ensures that there is never a moment where we cannot understand where the character is coming from in her comments, even if we are left to gape in disbelief in many of the demands themselves. Hanks, playing Walt Disney himself, had the benefit of hours of television footage to base his performance on. A largely underdiscussed performance here is Colin Farrell’s as Helen (Pamela)’s father. It’s a tragic character, instilled with conflict over a genuine care for his wife and children, but weighed down with the alcoholism that quickly deteriorates his health. The supporting cast is solid, from Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman, respectively, to Paul Giamatti as the talkative driver, the chauffer of Travers during her visit.

There’s a moment in the film where Walt Disney vocalizes the reasonable belief that Mary Poppins is a character to save the Banks children, and Mrs. Travers scoffs at the very idea. At the moment it occurs, we brush it off as a simple example of her snobbery. By the end of the movie, we understand what it means, and why she found the idea so juvenile. Saving Mr. Banks is filled with a lot of nice moments like that, thanks to its well crafted screenplay. Here is a wonderful movie that, despite its shortcomings, still provides a warm and great experience.

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray

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Saving Mr. Banks – Trailer Reaction

(read the full review here)

by Ken B.

“Woody…..is Walt Disney? IS ANYBODY ELSE GEEKING OUT OVER THAT?!?!?! :D”

– YouTube comment from “nintendogamer75”. And to respond, yes, I think a

lot of people are (including myself).

Disney makes a movie about Walt Disney… or maybe that’s technically not true. The first trailer for Saving Mr. Banks was released today, July 11, and features Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, and Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. This movie will apparently follow the life of Travers, and her relationship with many aquantences, and this will include Mr. Disney.

It looks entertaining. I admire the production design, at least based on the three minute clip. Slated for an Oscar season release, I could see myself reviewing this one, and will consider it as more information (but as few trailers as possible) becomes available.

Forrest Gump – Review

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3-5Star

by Ken B.

The more something enters the public lexicon, the harder it becomes to view it from an impartial standpoint. However, I feel that regardless of its stance, Forrest Gump is a poignant, if not sometimes occasionally overemotional piece of American cinematic fiction. This is the story of Forrest Gump (TOM HANKS), a plain spoken Southern man, who tells his life story on a bus stop bench to strangers that pass by. Despite the fact he tells it in an unremarkable tone, he has had a hand in some of the key events in mid 20th Century Americana. He was raised by his mother (SALLY FIELD), was in the Vietnam War, with a shrimping expert named Bubba (MYKELTI WILLIAMSON), and a lieutenant named Dan (GARY SINISE).  Back home, he proves himself an excellent ping-pong player, and gains considerable fame (for someone who’s a ping-pong player, that is). He embarks on a couple of business ventures with Lt. Dan, but his thoughts are never far from his childhood friend, Jenny (ROBIN WRIGHT).

Looking over at that last paragraph, I wonder if I even did this sweeping plot any justice. Covering time from the 1950s to the 1980s, footage of Hanks is digitally implanted in archival footage, involving notable historical figures and events. From beginning to end, this is a beautiful story, highlighted by incredible performances and a script to match. By the second half of the movie, we are reduced to three main performances. Hanks gives us a naturally likable man, who never becomes inflated over his achievements, possibly because he doesn’t realize them himself. Sinise, as a hardened veteran, is brilliant, clearly absorbed by the character he is working with, and Wright, given a character that must tumble through tumultuous periods of history, does so with a convincing polish.

There’s a term, “Hollywood magic”, which is typically used to denote the long-passed sensation that a truly good movie could bring to it’s viewers. Forrest Gump brings a bit of that feeling back, a euphoric, feel good experience that sticks with you as a slice of inspiration, lodged within your memory. I find it personally disheartening that so few movies can do that today that a movie like this seems like some sort of gold by comparison.

There’s music – oh! There’s music. Along with Alan Silvestri’s memorable, albeit overdone score, selections from arguably the best eras of American music are featured in this movie, while doing little to notably advance the film itself, are still a highly appreciated addition.

Forrest Gump has gone on to be imprinted in American culture, probably due to its own infatuation with this. This is an admirable movie, astonishing in the way that it can work on numerous levels. This is also an unapologetically emotional movie, maybe showing too much emotion at times, but these occasions are few and far apart. Regardless of any flaws, while watching Forrest Gump, you’ll be reminded of a kind of mystical feeling that cinema rarely gives.

Buy from Amazon: Book / DVD / Blu-ray

Forrest Gump