Sunday, October 20, 2013

"Captain Phillips" (2013) - Movie Review

Paul Greengrass can shorten the span of a long, progressive and nasty violent situation into short span of time without compromising the gravity of it. He can simultaneously provide the real time action in the utmost gritty realism it would have happened. The Bourne series are an example of former while “United 93” would be the latter. In “Captain Phillips” he picks up the pieces from both and provides an intense thriller. In all sense, if you retell the story by every minute and second, one can say that for majority of the part nothing is happening other than waiting on the next move but the tension of each of those is heightened by the not so known supporting crew with the able lead of Tom Hanks in the titular role.

The authenticity of story telling drawn upon from the account of a person is always a challenge to be precise. It is hard to come clean and claim victories over whole account of it. One can only hope that it captures the essence of it and not completely falter. I think I feel obligated to take a stand on what the film’s accuracy states. I am sure people can throw darts at it till the end of day. Hence any film that takes a stab at the retelling of true story can never satiate everyone. What is important as a film, is that whether it achieves the purpose it started out to and in that “Captain Phillips” almost succeeds.

If it was any other director approaching this story as thriller it sets out to be, they would waste no time in formalities and directly focus on the action. There will be convenient dropping of the cheesy relationships within the crew and with the Captain followed by several campy sacrifices Hollywood generally makes a mockery of. This is Paul Greengrass and even when he provides a tiny slit of view towards this man’s personal life, it is the apt amount set to tell just enough for the purpose of the film. When we see Phillips driving to airport with his wife (Catherine Keener), there is a relationship very strongly established even in the most mundane talks. The usual worries of working away and the couple stepping into empty nest phase. Similar take is done on the Somali pirates as they are demanded to head back to sea by their warlords. In that is Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and he is driven but unguided. He recruits people and has a bad rapport with his colleague. That does not play much but the analogy of these two primary characters in the film is intriguing.

One thing is quite certain about the film is that we see Captain Phillips on his complete entirety through this crisis. He is as any boss not a popular guy amongst crew. He enforces the regular drills and moves on as any other day. I liked the way screenplay maneuvered through that. Greengrass does not boast the enormity of this ship’s journey. The ship Alabama embarks from its port in Oman like any other day. No grand importance is given on the system’s enormity but a regular feat. We see the monstrosity of this being but are only impressed by that than no aid by the director to make it a grandeur start.

It is Tom Hanks Vs the new comer Barkhad Abdi through the course of the film. They consistently dance around the possibility of some kind of relationship beginning to formulate between their characters but always fall short of it as it would have in the real life. What I was little let down is some kind of backstory between the two by their own words which happens very minimally without having any solid moments to see the nature of survival between them. Muse is showed ruthless but also sympathetic. He is a mercenary but there is a layer more to him which does not come off fully. While it seem like a fair move to keep the film purely on the situation than anything else, we are left with a tiny void.

“Captain Phillips” is a pure adrenaline thrill and Tom Hanks shoulders the role as usual making it look easy. The best performance of him comes in after the fact of the chaos than during it. That tells what kind of a performance actor Hanks is and how easily he fools us into thinking that he plays himself in a way. The emotional punch line for the film does not happen till that moment and when it does it emotes the pure and unadulterated truth about this entire story. That is where Paul Greengrass differentiates with thumping confidence amongst the other directors of this genre. He knows when to take the emotional part of a character out of the film and put in its purest form when needed. “Captain Phillips” is not a complete winner but it is one of the better films out there.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Gravity" (2013) - Movie Review

Watching “Gravity” reminded “Moon” which as this film deals with a human in space all alone but more than that, it struck similar tone with another brilliant film “The Grey”.  The survivors of the plane crash in “The Grey” while are on Earth can very well be called in a different element of space which is unforgiving and unpredictable as much as in the space in “Gravity”. As the wandering debris in “Gravity”, the wolves in “The Grey” are determined to get the gang of Liam Neeson out of their territory. Joe Carnahan’s film and Alfonso Cuaron’s portray this obvious but unnoticeable tenacity we have on the hope in desperate situations.

“Gravity” in a piece of paper has the simplest story. It could have been the destructive porn in the hands of Rolland Emmerich (whom I do like in “Independence Day” and with some guilt in “2012”) or Michael Bay (not much so as Emmerich), but Cuaron polishes in a way that resonates beyond a thriller. The imminent danger is real and felt that creeps in flesh and bones in every suspended moment in the space. With a breakneck duration of 90 minutes, “Gravity” is the kind of film that satiates a hardcore movie goer and a regular entertainment seeking crowd alike. The pay off for both are the same but to carry that knack is a work of a master.

By now all of you have heard the glorious nature of this film that has single handedly launched out of nowhere and took over the crowd. Hence when I sat down in the IMAX 3D this movie was supposed to be seen, I was cautious and open to it, a rare state of mind for any movie going experience now a day with trailers and media splashes. Yet as Sandra Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone, the Mission Specialist alongside George Clooney’s veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski go through the first hit by the debris, I was definitely drawn in. Not be quick to judge and I moved on with the skepticism as how long they will be able to sustain this for the rest of the film. Then comes the second close call for the characters for which I was mesmerized on the intensity and when the third instant happens, I was overwhelmed. Hardly you would come across a person who would not use the word “intense” to describe “Gravity”.

There are three quintessential things of same magnitude that makes “Gravity” from a much simpler film of an astronaut’s struggle to survive in to a much larger play of thematic references and visual enigma. They are (1) Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki (2) Sandra Bullock’s perfect performance and (3) the director Alfonso Cuaron. It is not a shocker on the effectiveness of Emmanuel Lubezki as he is the sought out cinematographer for Terrence Malick and seen his works in well known (Cuaron’s “Children of Men”, “The Tree of Life”) and not so well known features (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” and Rodrigo Garcia’s “Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her”). There is not enough adjectives and accolades I can dictate out here for his work other than the simplest statement that he puts us in space.

Then it is Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone whom we get to know a little bit of her past and details in very short span of time. To understand her we need George Clooney’s Matt Kowalski, a man who is nothing but a charmer which easily draws from Clooney himself. Who else would you have out there in the space struggling for survival than the reassuring, comforting, charming and comical Clooney? Yet it is Bullock who claws us in with her terrifying feeling to both survive and give up at the same time. Much as John Ottway in “The Grey”, Dr. Stone has lost a loved one and there is not much left in life other than the deadly silence and darkness offered in the space. That seems to be comforting than what Earth has provided and had to offer if she makes out of this. Bullock is key in keeping this film humanized and at every struggle, the possibility of her life ending is very much so there because her character is in deep sadness and is a waking struggle to breathe up the existence and move on.

And finally the Captain of this space adventure who had the visual future to make it beyond a regular feat of thrill sequences of weaved in predicaments provides the proof that a story that appears pedestrian in its genesis can grow up into something not alone awe inspiring thrills but intellectually sound in its presentation. There is very little time for us to be allowed on the state of the protagonist but with Bullock’s performance and cinematographic excellence, the motivations or the lack there of from Dr. Stone is resounding and crystal in us.

Possible Spoiler - The only qualm I have was that it would have been resoundingly poetic and apt to finish the film right at the moment after Dr. Stone launches the shuttle back to Earth. It is the similar kind of finish that made “The Grey” or “Inception” into a great film. The spirit of the film would  have sustained beyond a known result. This is the third film after “Lincoln” and “The Dark Knight Rises” wherein not knowing the end would have made it to a much more enjoyable experience but as those films, I would not put it down just because of this reviewer’s preference. “Gravity” is one of the best films I have seen this year.