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Review – Captain Phillips (12a) [2013]

Captain Phillips - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Paul Greengrass – Resurrected, Green Zone, Bourne II-III & V

Cast:

  • Tom Hanks – Philadelphia, Toy Story I-III, Saving Mr Banks
  • Catherine Keener – The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Into The Wild, Nailed
  • Barkhad Abdi – Eye In The Sky
  • Barkhad Abdirahman
  • Faysal Ahmed
  • Mahat M Ali
  • Michael Churnus – Love & Other Drugs, Men In Black III, Glass Chin
  • David Warshofsky – Public Enemies, Unstoppable, Now You See Me
  • John Megaro – The Big Short

Music Composer:

Piracy at sea is nothing new. Ships have been hijacked since the dawn of time and the problem is still rife in many parts of the world today. Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips shows us superbly what it can feel like when a ship gets taken over by a gang with guns.

Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) on the look out for pirates... and worried by how quickly they're advancing toward his ship.

Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks) on the look out for pirates… and worried by how quickly they’re advancing toward his ship.

Captain Phillips is based on the true story which occurred in 2009 and the book, which came out the following year called A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, NAVY seals, and Dangerous Days at Sea by Captain Richard Phillips, himself. The film is about when the Maersk Alabama, a large cargo ship, is seized by Somali pirates near the Horn of Africa, and the crew are taken hostage.

The plot for Captain Phillips is straightforward, grounded and gets to the crux within 20 of its 134 minute running time. From them on the film is tense; so tense, one’s heart pounds in sync with the background beats, and one’s arms shake almost as much. Also, as the film is long, one feels as if the situation is being drawn out in real time. This is despite no lawyers appearing in the film, and little attention given to events behind the scenes in instances of hostages at sea (unlike the very good Danish film, A Hijacking).

The pirates on their little speed boat, eager to seize Maersk Alabama and gain a reward for it back in Somalia.

The pirates on their little speed boat, eager to seize Maersk Alabama and gain a reward for it back in Somalia.

That Somali piracy is a current and serious issue enhances the horror of the situation for Captain Rich Phillips and his crew, and the close up shots (Greengrass’ trademark) enable viewers to see the fear of captain and crew at hand. Although, there is a law suit presently being waged against Captain Phillips, claiming that the movie does not portray events aboard the Maersk Alabama in the run up and during the hijacking truthfully, the film feels (for the most part) chillingly realistic. Some may argue that the realism becomes less convincing as the movie goes on; for example, neither captain nor crew complain of hunger throughout the ordeal. But in the main, Captain Phillips seems sincere, irrespective of the outcome of the lawsuit.

Captain Phillips’ genuineness is helped by the pirates looking bloody scary and behaving in a frenzied fashion. Tom Hanks is likely to gain much of the plaudits come Oscar season, and his display is absolutely brilliant as the heroic (though this point is legally being disputed) and beleaguered captain; indeed, the grimmer the situation becomes, the better Hanks performs. However, the actors playing the pirates do just as much, if not more, to make the film as thrilling (stressful) as it is, since viewers are never sure how the pirates are going to react to movement on the ship, or outside of it.

The pirates, having taken the ship and Captain Phillips hostage, telling the captain that they're in charge.

The pirates, having taken the ship and Captain Phillips hostage, telling the captain that they’re in charge.

What is quite remarkable is that the film makes us empathise with the pirates’ predicament. Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed and Mahat M Ali, the four men playing the pirates (lacking all the glamour and savvy of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow or Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean I-IV), show us why some Somalis turn to piracy, as well as the problems that await them should they return home without large sums of money, or at least with a great bargaining chip to acquire large amounts of money. One almost comes to pity the pirates’ plight… but for the small matter of them holding a crew (and Tom Hanks) hostage.

All-in-all, Captain Phillips is a nerve-shredding, finger-biting thriller. Granted, the film almost exclusively focusses upon events on the ship and little else. But the movie is grounded and, regardless of its factual accuracy, it feels honest in every respect. Furthermore, Captain Phillips makes viewers experience the terror of modern-day pirates seizing a vessel at sea.

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Review – The Help (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 4.5/5

John F. Kennedy (JFK), President of America (1960-63), proclaimed in 1963 that “moral courage is a more rare commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence.” He was referring to the civil rights movement in America, when African-Americans, particularly in the south (now known as the ‘Bible-belt’), were discriminated against and did not have the right to vote. The Help magnificently brings to light the inequality that African-Americans suffered in Mississippi in the early-1960s, and that there were some people with the moral courage to put an end to it.

Eugenie ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (Emma Stone) out for a meal with friends, looking fabulous.

The Help is based on the book with the same title, written by Kathryn Stockett. It is not a true story. The film revolves round the aspiring young author, Eugenie ‘Skeeter’ Phelan (Emma Stone – Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Friends With Benefits, Birdman). At a time when the civil rights movement is picking speed in America, Skeeter has become uneasy by the way her friends treat their African-American maids, and so decides to write a book about it. She decides to write her book from the angle of the help in order to highlight Caucasian maltreatment to them in the home.

Skeeter approaches Abileen (Viola Davis – Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Eat, Pray, Love, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close), the maid of her friend Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard – The Village, Spiderman 3, 50/50), for her opinion and experiences. Abileen is a middle-aged woman who has spent her entire life raising Caucasian children, almost from birth, only to see them turn into their parents. Despite being initially reluctant to speak out, due to the fear of violent reprisals, Abileen lets Skeeter interview her. Soon, Minny (Octavia Spencer – The Soloist, Herpes Boy, Girls! Girls! Girls!), another African-American maid, tells her stories too. Then, many more do the same to give Skeeter an all-round picture of what life is like for African-American maids in Caucasian homes.

The Help may be a very slow and far-from-intense film; yet, it is powerful and emotive. The movie may not be factual, but it is based on much truth and reflects the period accurately. In the same way that the works of Charles Dickens and Theodore Dostoyevsky are seen to be more representative of their respective eras than historical narratives, so too can The Help be seen in the same vein. Despite a few minor historical inaccuracies, such as segregation, one could probably learn more about the innate levels of Caucasian racism towards African-Americans in the Bible-belt in the 1960s from this film, and the variety of ways it manifested itself, than from most factual history books.

Abileen (Viola Davis) eavesgropping on a conversation wherein she hears a torrent of racism towards African-Americans.

But for a film about racism, The Help is surprisingly honest. It shows all sides to be human, meaning that all the characters, whether Caucasian or African-American, have decent and defective qualities. This should be applauded since it would have been easier for the director, Tate Taylor (Pretty Ugly People), to have made one side inherently ‘good’, the other side inherently ‘bad’, and one or two instances of crossovers as a cheap façade. That Taylor doesn’t do this makes The Help plausible.

The realism of the film, however, would not be possible without the actors putting in exceptional performances. Indeed, the entire cast, and their accents, are flawless. The pretty Emma Stone demonstrates that she can play intelligent roles with vigour, enabling her to grow more beautiful and appealing in the process. Viola Davis performs so well, viewers can empathise with Abileen’s predicament and cry because of her awful experiences.

Octavia Spencer may not make audiences weep like Davis does; nevertheless, she too plays marvellously as the feisty, loud-mouth and funny Minny. Furthermore, one can even appreciate the performances of the horrible, racist women, portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard, Ahna O’Reilly (Herpes Boy, House Under Siege, Girls! Girls! Girls!), Allison Janney (The West Wing, Pretty Ugly People, A Thousand Words), and the other ladies, or the silly, naive Celia, played by Jessica Chastain (Jolene, The Debt, Take Shelter), as they are all performed with brilliant consistency.

A first day at work for Minny (Octavia Spencer) at the house of the over-excited Celia (Jessica Chastain).

Like the quality of the acting, The Help has been put together superbly. At 146 minutes, the film might feel drawn out, but the choreography has been stitched together smoothly and the cinematography is apt for the locations of the movie. What’s more, the music has been chosen well to enhance the scenes, particularly the heart-rending ones.

All-in-all, The Help might drag, but it is an excellent, touching film. The acting is remarkable and the movie epitomises well the attitudes of people, whether Caucasian or African-American, living in the deep-south of America in the early-1960s. In 1963, JFK proclaimed that the struggle for civil rights “will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetimes on this planet. But let us begin.” The Help, therefore, enables us to measure how far we have come in almost fifty years because of people like JFK and Skeeter who had the moral courage to start changing people’s attitudes towards African-Americans.

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Review – Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part II 3D (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 3.5/5

So, after more than 1,048 mostly tedious minutes, the boy wizard, Harry Potter, finally comes face to face with his arch nemesis, Lord Voldemort, in this epic final volume of the Harry Potter series. Better than the previous seven films by a considerable distance (not that that is much of a feat), Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part II reaches all expectations in predictable fashion.

Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) secretly leading Harry, Hermione and Ron back into Hogwarts.

Part II follows on from where Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part I finished off. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe – Harry Potter I-VII(i), The Woman In Black), Hermione (Emma Watson – Harry Potter I-VII(i), My Week With Marilyn) and Ron (Rupert Grint – Harry Potter I-VII(i)) must find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes. Only by wiping them out will the trio weaken Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes – Harry Potter IV, V & VII(i), Prince of Egypt, Coriolanus) sufficiently for Harry to stand a chance of defeating him, especially now that the former is armed with the powerful Elder Wand.

But the journey to locate the Horcruxes – not to mention battling it out with the fearsome villains – is fraught with perils. All will end where it began for the staff and pupils of Hogwarts: the school itself. What cost will Harry have to pay for finishing the task set for him by his deceased tutor, Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon – Harry Potter III-VII(i), Ali G Indahouse, The King’s Speech)?

Unlike Part I, the plot for Part II moves at a decent pace without being intense. (Although, one is subconsciously urging the film to quicken so he/she can see how the final duel plays out.) There are flaws in the storyline; however, it would be unfair to criticise director David Yates (Harry Potter III-VII(i)) for these because he has a duty to accurately follow the book, written by JK Rowling, that the film is based upon. Indeed, Yates would have been chastised if he had dared not kept to the book almost to the letter.

Voldemort, Belatrix (Helena Bonham Carter – Suffragette) and Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) leading the Death Eaters to the perimeter of Hogwarts, ready to lay siege to the school.

Whilst the plot cannot be criticised, the acting certainly can. Once again, the majority of the cast flatter to deceive. One can clearly see that the position for Hogwarts, besieged by Voldemort and the Death Eaters, is dire for much of the movie. But because the acting is by Radcliffe, Watson and Grint is so poor it is hard to empathise with the situation. (The lack of a moving music score does not help either.) Moreover, if Harry’s return to Hogwarts was supposed to inspire hope in the beleaguered school’s pupils and staff, Radcliffe fails miserably to achieve this. (If one thinks back to how well the actors portray the desperate situations in The Two Towers and The Return of the King – parts II & III of The Lord of the Rings series, – or how much confidence Aragorn, played by Viggo Mortensen, arouses in the peoples of Rohan and Gondor just by his presence, it becomes embarrassing to compare the acting by the cast of those two films to that of Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part II.) And what’s with those spontaneous kisses in the midst of combat? Viewing such kisses was awful and cringe-worthy in Pirates of the Caribbean III: At World’s End, and (unsurprisingly) watching them here was just as awful and cringe-worthy. Yates must have been aware of this, so why did he do it? Surely, there were better places to stick in the smooches than at a time when someone’s head could have been zapped into oblivion?

Voldemort

Voldemort and Harry battling it out one last time with their wands in the ruins of Hogwarts.

Nonetheless, the acting was never going to be the most important aspect of Part II. The success of the film was always going to hinge on the CGI and the final duel between Harry and Voldemort. Neither of these let the viewers down and are highly impressive. What’s more, the 3D adds considerably to the spectacle.

So, the Harry Potter series concludes with aplomb. If the acting by the protagonists would have been better, Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part II may have rivalled The Return of the King. Still though, in Part II, one is treated to a feast of CGI as well as an epic duel that ensures eyes remain glued to the screen. Harry Potter fans and non-fans alike have waited ten years for Harry to face Voldemort. Few will go home disappointed. Finales do not often end on such a high.

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