Captain Phillips – A Review

Last week I was lucky enough to see a screening of Tom Hanks’ new film, Captain Phillips. This was fortunate for two reasons: 1) going to the movies for free and a week before it comes out are always good and 2) it’s probably the only way I would have seen Captain Phillips. Though I like Hanks, the trailers for Captain Phillips didn’t really appeal to me. It looked like the kind of movie that you should see, but not necessarily the kind that you want to see. I call these homework movies; you go to see them because you want to be a serious movie goer, but you don’t have a whole lot of fun while watching them. The whole thing just feels like work.

I also haven’t been a fan of some of Hanks’ more recent films; you all know what a steaming pile of poo that I thought Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was and Larry Crowne seemed like a misstep. I refuse to accept him as Robert Langdon in the Angels &Demons/The Da Vinci Code films and Charlie Wilson’s War was pretty meh. Really, the most recent thing that I have really dug him on was his various talk show appearances. He’s always great on those and even made my dream list of guests. He is regarded as one of the nicest men in show business, but while I adore him personally his career has taken him in directions that I am less enamored with.  He is a tremendous actor and has the hardware to prove it, but he and I haven’t been seeing eye to eye creatively for some time. So I was pretty indifferent to Captain Phillips going into the screening.

Turns out, Captain Phillips is a pretty great film; I really got into it and Hanks is absolutely fantastic. The script and the fine acting on all fronts drew me completely into the story. The film is thrilling, tense and puts you on the edge of your seat. In a lot of ways, the film reminds me of Zero Dark Thirty; not only because both films feature the heroic actions of the Navy SEALS but because in both films I knew the ultimate outcome but was still riveted to the screen.  Captain Phillips is very successful in building tension and anxiety. There are a lot of cat and mouse aspects to the story that serve to ratchet up the stress levels. Some of the scenes in this film caused me more anxiety than most of the horror films that I’ve seen in the last year. That is some good filmmaking.

Captain Phillips is based on the real life incident that occurred in 2009: four Somalia pirates hijacked the Maersk Alabama, a U.S. container ship. Hanks stars as Phillips, the captain of the ship during the assault, who must deal with the pirates and try to keep his crew and cargo safe. The container ship contains no weapons while the pirates were toting AK-47s, so Phillips must use his interpersonal skills and the home field advantage of knowing the ship. The film is really set up to tell the tale of two captains: Phillips and Muse (Barkhad Abidi), the leader of the pirates who takes control of the ship. Their power struggle is at the heart of the movie.

Hanks really gives a tour de force performance as Phillips; for me, this was a return to form for the actor. He brings his average guy likability to the table, but also can be tough and handle the physicality required for the role. There is a scene in the film where Hanks brought me to tears, as this tough and calm man finally breaks under the pressure and strain of what he endures. The moment is handled so subtlety and so beautifully and feels 100% earned. That’s what Hanks brings to the table and this is the best he’s been in years. He doesn’t act in a vacuum, however, and I have to commend the actors that play the pirates as well.  They do a fantastic job and really bring those characters to life and give them some personality and realness. It would be easy for these characters to be cardboard villains, but the movie treats them with respect and actually makes you feel a little sorry for them and their struggles. You can condone their actions while still understanding the desperation and circumstances that drove them to commit these crimes. It isn’t a large chunk of the movie, but I appreciated that the filmmakers chose to tell a well-rounded story.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • Wired has an interesting article from 2012 on the real life Captain Phillips incident if you want some background. The outcome is given away in the title, however, so if you want to go into the movie clean, don’t click on the link until after you’ve seen the film.
  • The Navy SEALS involved in this hijacking were members of SEAL Team Six, who would go on to kill Osama bin Laden. These guys are overachievers.
  • Catherine Keener has a small role as Phillips’ wife.
  • I was impressed with the techniques that the ship used to try and elude the pirates. Since they didn’t have any guns, the crew had to use the size of their ship to their advantage and create a wake that would be difficult for the pirate’s smaller ship to navigate. Science is fun!

Captain Phillips is a highly entertaining and thrilling movie and I really enjoyed Tom Hanks’ powerhouse performance. I’m glad that Hanks and I are back on the same page, however temporarily (he’s doing a third Robert Langdon movie). The cast, writers, director and cinematographer all produced a gripping movie that really makes you forget that you probably know how the story turns out. For me, Captain Phillips was a nice surprise. Though I went into the film out of a feeling of obligation to see the film, I walked out of the cinema having been thoroughly entertained. Captain Phillips is definitely worth going to see and is one of the better movies that I’ve seen so far in 2013.

Talk like a Pirate Day

Ahoy mateys! Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. There are a ton of weird “holidays” out there – Ferris Wheel Day (February 14th), National Doughnut Day (first Friday in June), Groundhog Day – but this one is by far my favorite, even if I don’t really participate, since it is just so ridiculous that it is genius. Plus who doesn’t like pirates (obviously excluding those who they are pirating)? Before vampires, werewolves and zombies became popular, pirates were the popular thing. I’m guilty of getting in on this trend; I used to have a miniature cannon on my desk at work and would occasionally launch plastic cannon balls at people who came into my office and annoyed me. Yup – these are the same people that just promoted me. I must not have “shot” the wrong people.

Talk Like a Pirate Day is the brainchild of two friends, who thought it was funny to talk to each other using the lingo of the raiders of the sea. The holiday didn’t really take off until the pair lobbied humorist Dave Barry to write about it in one of his columns, which he did in 2002. That increased media attention and the rise of the Internet helped spread the word that September 19th was the day to talk like a pirate. The significance of September 19th? It’s the birthday of the ex-wife of one of the founders. I’d be flattered if I were her. That is far better than any of my exes have done for me.

In honor of today, I thought I’d take a look at pirates in pop culture. There have been plenty of memorable pirates over the years in books, television and films, but these are among my favorites:

  • Captain Jack SparrowPirates of the Caribbean franchise

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The Pirates of the Caribbean movies are responsible for the recent resurgence in the popularity of pirates. Though the quality of these movies deteriorated quickly, Depp’s Captain Jack is probably the first pirate that most people think of thanks to his interesting take on the character. He’s so popular that they actually changed the ride to include his replica at Disney World that inspired the movie. The similarity was uncanny – and a little creepy.

  • Dread Pirate RobertsThe Princess Bride

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When Princess Buttercup is captured by Dread Pirate Roberts, she assumes the worst because of his reputation of leaving no one alive. In reality, it is the identity that her true love Wesley has assumed to come save her. Man I love this movie.

 

  • Pirate CaptainThe Pirates! Band of Misfits

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This animated film was nominated for an Oscar last year and that honor was well deserved. It was a very cute film and perhaps the least intimidating pirates to ever sail the seas. Voiced by Hugh Grant, Pirate Captain wants nothing more than to win the Pirate of the Year award. Who doesn’t want to be recognized at their job?

  • One-Eyed WillieThe Goonies

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The legend of One-Eyed Willie looms larger over The Goonies than the actual man, who is long dead by the time he finally turns up in the film. But the lure of his gold is what gives the kids hope that they can save their town and leads them on the greatest adventure of their lives.

  • Long John SilverTreasure Island

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I have never actually read Treasure Island, despite the fact that it is a classic. But I am a big fan of the hush puppies served at Long John Silvers, the restaurant, so the chain’s namesake has to make the list.

  • Captain HookPeter Pan

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Captain Hook is probably my second favorite character with a hook hand (Buster Bluth on Arrested Development is my first). I’ve always found Peter Pan kind of annoying, so I have some sympathy for his arch nemesis. I’d be pretty ticked off if someone cut my hand off.

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers – NFL

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Lots of sports teams have embraced pirate inspired names – the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Oakland Raiders – but none have embraced the pirate imagery quite like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They have a huge pirate ship that shoots cannons off after the team scores, for goodness sake. That is commitment! I adopted them as my playoff team in 2007 (the Bills, obviously, were not in contention) simply because of their stadium. Other teams should take note and commit to the theme more; I was very disappointed that there wasn’t more pirate related items when I went to visit Pittsburgh this summer. Seemed like a missed opportunity.

Enjoy Talk Like a Pirate Day, you landlubbers. I’m going to try to work a little pirate terminology into my day, even if that means telling my co-workers to walk the plank. Sadly, I don’t think they would think anything was amiss if I did so. They are kind of used to my pop culture references by now.

Pop Culture Odds and Ends – It’s Almost My Birthday edition

It’s Wednesday, y’all. We’re halfway through the week! I’m especially excited for this week to wrap up so I can start my birthday celebration. Most people stop getting excited for their birthday sometime in their teens, but I am not like most people. I’m not alone in thinking my birthday is awesome – Earth, Wind and Fire even wrote a song about it:

So while the nation waits with bated breath for the big day to arrive, here’s your bi-weekly roundup of pop culture stories to help kill the time.

  • I also share a birthday with Bill Murray, Nicole Richie, Faith Hill, Ricki Lake, H.G. Wells, Jerry Bruckheimer, Liam Gallagher, Dave Coulier, Alfonso Ribeiro, Leonard Cohen, Larry Hagman, Cecil Fielder and Greg Jennings. Not too shabby.
  • The highly anticipated release of the big screen adaptation of Les Miserable has been delayed 11 days. It will now open on Christmas Day, going head to head with Tarantino’s Django Unchained. Guess which one I’ll be seeing.
  • Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly will debate each other online on October 6th, which has got to be more entertaining than the actual presidential debates.
  • There is a cat running for Mayor of Halifax, Canada. If my cat Pumpkin ever was elected to office, he would make Stalin look like a pushover.
  • Sad news from the world of soaps – John Ingle, who played Quartermaine patriarch Edward on General Hospital, passed away at the age of 84. His last appearance on the soap was September 11th, which was apparently done at the actor’s request so he could play the role one more time. Port Charles won’t be the same without him.
  • I hadn’t even heard of most of the shows on this list of obscure British comedies to watch, but I guess I now have a new project (because I have so much free time).
  • Soundgarden will release their first new album in 16 years this November.
  • Ben Folds Five + Fraggles = Awesome Sauce

Oh Ben Folds Five. How I have missed you.

  • Speaking of a time suck, Google now has a new search tool that allows you to find out how many degrees an actor is from Kevin Bacon. For example, Jon Hamm’s “bacon number” is 2 – Hamm appeared with Rebecca Hall in The Town and Hall appeared with Bacon in Frost/Nixon.
  • Lindsay Lohan was arrested this morning for hitting a pedestrian with her car. Your move, Amanda Bynes.
  • As an unabashed Golden Girls fan, I enjoyed this story about the books written by the women of the cast. I may have to seek one or two of them out.
  • I used to watch The Dick Van Dyke show religiously when it was on Nick at Nite, so I was glad to see this piece on the A.V. Club about the 10 best episodes. One of my favorites (“It May Look Like a Walnut!”) made the list. That was seriously a great show.
  • Ben and Jerry has announced their newest limited edition flavor – cannoli. This will not end well for me.
  • While the iPhone5 is getting all the attention, Nintendo announced their follow up to the Wii console. Wii U will be released in November.
  • Sending well wishes to Kathy Bates, who announced last week that she had a double mastectomy.
  • Also wishing a speedy recovery to Jerry “the King” Lawler, who had a heart attack during the filming of Monday Night Raw. I grew up watching wrestling, so he holds a special place in my heart.
  • While we’re on the topic….Saved by the Bell’s Dennis Haskins (aka Mr. Belding) has decided to try his hand at wrestling. Oh the humanity.
  • I was already excited for the upcoming new season of Parks and Recreation (debuting 9/20), but the news that Jonathan Banks (Mike on Breaking Bad) will guest star makes me positively giddy.
  • I have no idea if Ken Marino really punched Nick Kroll on the set of The League or not, but I’m kind of dying to find out. My gut says he didn’t, but you just never know.
  • Adam Scott is really the best. Here he is last night on Conan, dissecting the lyrics to “Ice, Ice Baby”
  • As a huge fan of Halloween, I hope to someday get to Universal Studios for their annual Halloween Horror Nights. This year they have a maze inspired by The Walking Dead.
  • Well, that was short-lived – the company that brought you “Hologram Tupac” has gone bankrupt.
  • A Breaking Bad/Simpsons mash-up? Sign me up!
  • I love that Rahm Emanuel’s spokesperson had to deny that the Chicago Mayor likes Nickleback.
  • My current album obsession is the new Avett Brothers release, The Carpenter. I’m particularly fond of “I Never Knew You.”
  • There has been debate circulating on the internet about the ending of Titanic, specifically the idea that there was indeed room for two people on the wooden plank that Rose rides to safety on. Director James Cameron disagrees and has enlisted the help of Mythbusters to prove his point.
  • Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Vedder shared a stage in Chicago during the Boss’ concert. I would have killed to see that. My heart hurts just thinking about it.
  • Amy Poehler and Will Arnett have decided to separate after 9 years of marriage. I still don’t think I’m ready to talk about it.
  • Lots of changes at the judges’ tables of two popular singing competitions. American Idol announced their full slate of judges – Mariah Carey, Randy Jackson, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban – last week. Not to be outdone, The Voice announced that Usher and Shakira will replace Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo in the spring edition of the show.
  • I finally finished Justin Cronin’s The Passage and I have to say that overall I enjoyed it. I found that once I was able to sit and read long passaged without interruption; there is a very deliberate pacing that I couldn’t fully appreciate when I was reading short snippets. While I didn’t love the ending, it got the job done and made me very interested in picking up the second book in the trilogy, The Twelve, when it is released next month. Don’t let the vampire angle scare you off – this is very different than Twilight. I’d definitely recommend it.
  • I was already looking forward to the new 007 film, Skyfall, but that has only been amplified with the announcement that Adele will be singing the theme song. There have been some pretty spectacular Bond theme songs (I’m partial to “Live and Let Die,” “Nobody Does It Better” and “A View to a Kill”), but I have a hunch that Adele will be the best of them all.

Have a wonderful week, everybody.