Oldboy (2013)

Oldboy (2013)

Raiding Asian cinema is nothing new for Hollywood. Some of the most famous examples are clearly the likes of The Ring and The Grudge. Indeed, these films introduced many to the wonders of Asian horror and Asian storytelling. Now we regularly see adaptations of Far Eastern cinema being adapted for us. No, we’re not going to count 47 Ronin. There’s a difference between aping an Asian style and straight-up translating it for Western audiences. So, on to Hollywood’s latest attempt to steal some of Asia’s thunder with a remake of 2003’s Oldboy – the tale about a guy that gets locked in a room for numerous years (15 if you’re into the Korean version, 20 if you’re into the US version), before being released. Vengeance is his for the taking as he tries to piece together why the hell he was imprisoned… but should Oldboy have remained locked in the room indefinitely? Let’s have a peek through the keyhole…

Oldboy (2013)

To be honest, the plot’s already summed up for you there. There’s not much more to Spike Lee‘s reimagining of Chan-wook Park‘s original. This time, the focus is squarely on “Joe Ducett”, played by Josh Brolin. A drunkard, no-hope father who’s more concerned with getting drunk and womanising than he is with looking after his little girl. So, Joe’s a little perplexed when he wakes up in a sealed room and is plied with vodka and dumplings on a daily basis. Oh, add into that the fact that he’s framed perfectly for the rape and murder of his estranged wife. So, some 20 years later, Joe is released back into the public with a lot of questions and an urgent need to clear his name… Which leads him to a variety of nefarious ne’er do wells, including characters (I won’t spoil anything) portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson and Sharlto Copley.

I’ll make a confession: I’ve not seen the original Oldboy. I know, I know: “it’s a classic”, “how can you review this if you haven’t seen the original”, “your verdict is USELESS you HACK”… some of those criticisms are valid, and I am indeed a hack. Nor have I read the graphic novel it’s based on either… But I’m now able to judge this version of Oldboy purely on its merits and not some sentimental view of a 10 year old film. I therefore can’t comment on what’s missing / what’s included. I can just comment on what works… and what really, really doesn’t.

Oldboy (2013)

Let’s start with the good shall we? The plot. The plot is an interesting concept and is clearly Asian in origin. It did remind me a little of Stephen King’s 1408 insofar that there’s a sense of desperation at being locked inside a room. It also had that torture edge to it that we’ve all become so accustomed to at the cinema in recent years. But then it swirls in the whole revenge angle. This is the type of role that Josh Brolin excels at. He just LOOKS mean and moody all the time in the same way that Ron Perlman looks like he’d break your teeth with a baseball bat. Or play a pirate monkey in Ice Age 4 (we still can’t believe he wasn’t that character!). Physically, Brolin is imposing and does the role justice in our opinion. Similarly, Samuel L. Jackson is bankable and clearly loves lapping it up as a villain. Though thankfully, he doesn’t do it to the same abominable degree that he does in The Spirit.

Similarly, the pacing is frantic and keeps you intrigued. It doesn’t slow down and constantly swirls and lashes at you as the film progresses. We liked this. What we didn’t like though were some of the hammy choreography in those fight scenes.

Oldboy (2013)

Oldboy is a suitably violent film. The body count is high and there’s a good deal of gore / torture to be seen here. Not quite Ichi The Killer levels of gore, but enough of it. Therefore there’s an urgent need for fighting and violence. Some of this works and has the shock value… but some is just so out-of-place and forced. Notably the moments after Joe is released from his confines – the first fight with the football jocks. Why? Why that level of violence? It’s uncharacteristic. Add to that some of the single-framed fights that looked more like a Broadway musical / Benny Hill sketch than anything else. It’s admirable to lock the camera in one place for us to watch what unfolds as opposed to the horrid use of shakey-handicam footage that plagues cinematic fights nowadays. But it felt too rehearsed / video game esque. It just didn’t work.

Now, what was the biggest flaw with this film is actually down to personal preference / favouritism. We’re massive fans of Sharlto Copley at Film Phage. We loved him in District 9, Elysium and even The A Team. No doubt he’ll also be fantastic in Chappie next year. But what’s with that accent Sharlto? You’re South African… why does your villain need to be hammy and English? As a Brit, the accent just grated with me somewhat. Why Spike Lee felt it necessary to have Copley‘s character be British is beyond me. Oh, is it because he’s “posh”? Or is it because of… what… unfolds? I have no idea. Copley himself acts well and had me captivated, so it’s no slight against his acting capabilities. It’s just that damn accent!

Oldboy (2013)

That sounds rather shallow of me doesn’t it? To say that an accent is the reason that the film doesn’t hit the giddy high notes? It’s actually symptomatic of the main problem with this film: it’s unnatural and forced. Some things don’t make sense: love interests developing so rapidly, random violence, THAT accent… the list goes on. It might make sense in Asian cinema, but it didn’t really fit here.

Oldboy is far from a bad film, but it’s also far from a great film. The plot and narrative is its strongest suit. It ably works as a mystery / thriller that has you guessing up until the final beats, but this was already going to be the case based on its source material. Indeed, if you’re familiar with Oldboy‘s plotting, I’m unsure of what pleasure you’ll derive from this, spare an update to 2013 technology (they use iPhones) and the obvious benefit of no need for subtitles…

Whilst not the finest adaptation of Asian cinema, Oldboy is serviceable and will satisfy a moviegoing audience seeking an 18 rated film at a time when animation and family films are King at the box office. Oldboy isn’t a Christmas film; that much is for sure. Unless Santa’d been the one subjected to imprisonment. Then you could have the title as “Oldboy Santa: He Knows If You’ve Been Naughty or Nice”, then have a photo of him covered in tattoos, or like the cover of Bronson, but meaner. Actually, I really want to see that film… someone go write it! He’s coming for you Easter Bunny; he knows it was you, you little bitch…

Phage Factor:

3 Star

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The Butler (2013)

The Butler (2013)

You can almost detect when Oscar season is approaching. It’s not that the leaves change colour, nor is it the appearance of snow, or any media-related hype. No, you can map its arrival by the genre of films that are spewed out by Hollywood. Once the sumemr blockbusters are over, you get the tired out films that weren’t good enough throughout September… then you get the autumnal blockbusters. But then… then you get the dramas. Generally those about real life struggle. War’s quite a hot topic in recent years. But let’s not forget that this is ‘merica… and what do we want from an American film? Probably something either pro-US or heavily US-centric. So looking over the release schedule we can see a lot of movies about war (again), as well as that classic card… race, and slavery. Let’s all welcome The Butler – the first of this season’s retrospective look at black history in the US.

The Butler (2013)

The Butler, along with 12 Years A Slave, represents the tried and true offering of race-based cinema entertainment. It’s Oscar-bait and unshamedly so, one would presume. Will it get this Oscar? Well… I’m not so sure. That’s not to say that The Butler is a bad film; it’s very watchable. But you can’t help but feel a touch of deja-vu. No, not because it retells the real events that occurred in the US between 1951 and the present day in relation to Civil Rights and equality… no, it’s more because it feels like you’re watching Forrest Gump again.

Let me keep no secrets from you: Forrest Gump is a fantastic film in our eyes. Thoroughly entertaining, heart warming and funny on occasion too. All the time set against the backdrop of the big events of the 20th Century. We saw Tom Hanks meet Elvis, fight in Vietnam, help get Richard Nixon impeached and start up Bubba-Gump. Forrest Gump was a very clever film and was shot very, very well. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that The Butler was trying to recapitulate the feelings generated by that film!

The Butler (2013)

The Butler stars Forest Whitaker (see – another Forrest / Forest!) as the eponymous butler, Cecil Gaines. Brought up on a cotton plantation and shaped by his upbringing as a house servant following his father’s death, he eventually becomes hired as a butler at The White House serving President Eisenhower. Gaines stays there through the decades of black oppression that would follow and sees Presidents come and go over time. At the same time, he has to balance his home life with his wife (Oprah Winfrey) and sons. One of whom, Louis (David Oyelowo) becomes deeply politicised and works his way through most of the black power groups of 1960-1980, including the Freedom Riders and Black Panthers. This combination of Cecil and Louis’ lives fills in the bulk of what The Butler is about.

As I say, The Butler is far from a bad film. It’s really enjoyable and it’s delivered really well. This is of course due in no small part to the fantastic ensemble cast, including Robin Williams, Vanessa Redgrave, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., James Marsden, John Cusack and Lenny Kravitz amongst many others. It’s a sensational casting coup and it’s always a gentle thrill to see a recognisable actor appear throughout the 2 hours of the film.

The Butler (2013)

Speaking of run time, the film never really feels bloated either. It flows well and doesn’t dwell too long in any particular era, just like Forrest Gump before it. However, where it fails to meet Forrest Gump‘s high standards is in its ability to make you simultaneously laugh and cry. The smiles are there (just not laughter), but the tears? They fail to form. Forrest Gump‘s finale has every person capable of displaying emotion in tears. You know the bit I’m on about – where Jenny passes away (not a spoiler… the film’s almost 20 years old!). The Butler fails to do this. Indeed, I found the ending particularly hard to stomach.

It all just seemed too saccharine and “go USA!” at its conclusion. For a film that had spent so long highlighting the dirty underbelly of what is essentially “modern” days USA, the end just felt too contrived and forced to give that “hell yeah, we’re a great nation” impression. I get why it was done: things coming full circle, but it felt hammy and literally had me squirming in my seat. It instantly dropped half a Phage for the ending alone. As I say: a really good film, but not without its flaws. These flaws certainly don’t lie in the casting, especially Forest Whitaker who is sublime, as always. It’s just… it’s just not Forrest Gump.

The Butler is a valiant first entry into what is sure to be a crowded pre-Oscars film season. We can wave goodbye to the popcorn marathons and engage in some more lofty sounding films. Whilst I certainly don’t feel that The Butler will pick up any Awards come February, it can stand tall as a solid film. Even if it does come a bit close to mimicking what’s gone before.

Maybe it’s telling that I keep comparing The Butler to Forrest Gump. To me, Forrest Gump feels like it came out yesterday and not 20 years ago. Time flies. But it all seems very “now”. Maybe I shouldn’t be comparing to a film that is essentially over two decades old. But then again, if it quacks like a duck, waddles like a duck and swims like a duck… well, it’s probably a duck. That’s what momma woulda told y’all.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Trilogies. They’re always interesting concepts; sometimes they work (Star Wars), sometimes they fail (The Hangover). Often, the success of these franchises hinges heavily on how compelling the second instalment is. It’s got to glue together the “intro” put down in the first film, but also leave it hanging at the end in order to get you to come back for the final film. See, Star Wars, although not my favourite series of films, did this well. Arguably, The Empire Strikes Back was the best of the three films as it ended on a fantastic cliff-hanger that left audiences walking out saying “What? They can’t end it like that? This is bull****!” – this is the PERFECT response that’ll sucker you back in for the ending. So, how does the middle of The Hunger Games trilogy fare…?

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Hunger Games franchise has picked up a lot of steam over time. The original Hunger Games was a success… a big success. Obviously, it fed off the fandom generated by the set of books, but it also pulled in others that hadn’t read the books (The Phage included). Although at Film Phage, we thought that The Hunger Games was essentially a new version of the Japanese classic, Battle Royale. It was fun, but it wasn’t mind-blowing. If we’re honest, we weren’t that phased by the thought of the second instalment… but we were pleasantly surprised.

Obviously, a lot has changed since the first and Catching Fire. Notably the fact that the star, Jennifer Lawrence, has seen her star rise higher and higher thanks to… you know… that little Oscar she got for Silver Linings Playbook. Now people really care about her. No more crappy roles in films like The House at the End of the Street. Hopefully…

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Anyway, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire picks up where the original left off… Katniss (Lawrence) has won The Hunger Games (a fight to the death to keep her home town alive and thriving) along with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), after they faked their love so that there could be two winners. Now they must continue this premise on the orders of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). But there’s something stirring… a revolution. And Katniss finds herself at the centre of it all as the unintended figurehead thanks to that damn badge of a bird she has!

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a fun ride. As I’ve attested, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original so I didn’t bother to re-watch it in preparation. The film makes no apologies for this, and doesn’t really remind you of what went on before. This can be a bit jarring as you quickly try to recall what was going on. It doesn’t provide a quick little recap like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 did… this is a shame, but I could soon piece together what happened. The film then riots along at a fair old pace. I must say that not knowing the books’ plots makes these films far more enjoyable as I don’t know what twists and turns lie ahead. This is kind of the point of films, so being a fully-fledged fan of the book may not help you.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

I also hear that the book is much more graphic in its depiction of violence than this film. That’d be owing to the PG-13 / 12A rating that THG:CF has picked up. This is neglected somewhat here. It’s not an overly violent film. Sure, people get killed (in a goreless way) and there are some disgusting looking boils on people’s skin, but it’s not a shocker. This isn’t a reason to slight the film though; not in my eyes.

The strength of the film lies in the plotting. Sure, the casting is good and everyone delivers on what you’d expect, but for me the film isn’t there. As I said at the outset, the success of a second instalment rests on it being glue. And Catching Fire IS the glue in this franchise. It develops the plot an absolute ton, sucks you in, then leaves you begging for more at the eleventh hour. I heard a lot of people complaining about the ending, and that was fantastic. They weren’t complaining because the ending was bad… it wasn’t… but it sure does end on a “what the hell?” note. Yes… Han Solo is in carbonite…

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire continues to develop this ridiculously successful franchise. Whilst I found the first outing to be somewhat derivative, this second dose of Katniss and friends (and enemies) sated my appetite and in fact got me excited again. I’m now looking forward to 2014’s next entry: Mockingjay. Let’s hope it can keep up the pace and action. I can already see where the plot’s heading, but I’m hoping I’ll be surprised with developments…

Although saying that, my excitement is tempered somewhat by the sad fact that (Part 1) is attached to the end of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Just like Twilight and Harry Potter, Hollywood can’t help but extend a series by splitting the final book into two… Star Wars this ain’t… or maybe it is… considering we now have parts I, II, III and VII on the way. Only time will tell whether this pays off, or whether audience fatigue will have set in by the time we see The Hunger Games‘ trilogy (or quadrilogy) wrap up.

Phage Factor:

4 Star

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that I love comic book movies. What? You didn’t know? Where have you been hiding for the past year or so? Anyone that’s read Film Phage for a length of time knows that I positively gush whenever a comic book movie is released. Especially when they come out of the Marvel Studios lot. Sure, the Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four (OK, maybe not them… until their reboot in 2015) franchises excite me, as they feature some of my favourite characters, but it’s Marvel Studios that are storming ahead right now. Speaking of storms… it’s about time we heard from our favourite Norse god. One that wields a massive hammer, speaks in a semi-olde world tone… and enjoys taking his top off for at least one scene in every film. Yes, it’s the return of Thor in Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

As is common across all of Marvel’s “Phase Two” films up to present, Thor: The Dark World, like Iron Man 3, picks up after the events of The Avengers. This will be something that we also see happen in next year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but probably not Guardians of the Galaxy. Essentially, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has returned to Asgard with his somewhat devious brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) after the latter tried to take over Earth (naughty, naughty!). So we see Loki sent to the dungeons whilst Thor attempts to deal with the latest threat to the “Nine Realms”… Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Malekith is a dark elf determined to bring about the end of all worlds by ushering in a return to the darkness that prevailed in the universe before… erm… the universe by capturing the Aether. Ok, there’s a lot of oddness in the plot, but this is Thor – anything can happen! He’s a goddamn god… for god’s sake. God! Add into the mix Thor’s ongoing love for Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and we have ourselves a plot!

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor: The Dark World arguably boasts the strongest ensemble cast of any of the individual Marvel Studios movies. With the likes of Hemsworth, Hiddleston, Portman, as well as Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Rene Russo as Friga and Idris Elba as Heimdall. The cast is strong, and this film really showcases that. Each character has more room to breathe and develop. The first film, like so many origin stories, placed a lot of effort into developing who Thor was and how he would become the hero we know in this film. Now that that’s out of the way, Thor: The Dark World can show the Thor world we all needed to see… and it bloody well works!

This is a more fully-realised film than the original Thor. The Asgardian universe feels more fleshed out, the action is more frenetic and the set pieces are far bigger. I mean, who thought that the final showdown in Thor was impressive? It was just Thor versus a set of armour in a small town in the US. This was hardly the super showdown we would want! Thankfully, no battle in Thor: The Dark World is as dull… especially not the final battle between Thor and Malekith. Why did I like it so much? Well, not just because it was set in good old London, but because it was simply entertaining.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Entertainment is high on Marvel’s agenda it would seem. For despite the subtitle of “The Dark World”, Thor isn’t a dark affair. Like April’s Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World features good slabs of humour in the mix. Not all of it hit the mark for me… not in a way that some critics would have you believe any way. This isn’t a comedy film. It has humorous elements (especially in the final battle), but they never distract from what’s actually going on in the film. This is a very good thing.]

I really have to come back to an earlier point to sum up why Thor: The Dark World worked so well: the cast. Chris Hemsworth has really grown into the role in a way that I’d now find it hard to replace him, just as I do with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. I’m eager to see whether Chris Evans‘ turn in next year’s Captain America sequel will do the same for him, as for me, he’s currently the weakest link in the “core” group of heroes. But it doesn’t end there. Tom Hiddleston epitomises what’s so great about Marvel’s casting choices; he’s simply fantastic. Hiddleston clearly loves playing Loki and his chemsitry with Hemsworth is at an all-time high. We need more of this in the future. Please Marvel, please. I could volley the same sort of compliments to the main cast, but I’ll avoid getting carried away. Needless to say – it’s a great effort from Alan Taylor on directing this entry into Marvel’s canon. Just give us more Thor!

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Oh, and a sidenote? That mid-credits “stinger” teaser scene? Thank you Marvel. That’s much appreciated! Just as Thanos’ appearance at the end of The Avengers confused many non-hardcore comic fans, I feel that this one will totally throw you off the scent. But if you’re a comic book fan… and particularly are keen to hear a bit more of the Thanos mythos… it’s worth waiting around for.

Thor: The Dark World is another roaring success for Marvel Studios. Whilst it probably won’t attract the sort of audience that Robert Downey Jr. is capable of pulling with Iran Man films, it certain ranks as one of the best movies out of the studio. Sure, it has a bonkers plot, and Christopher Eccleston is criminally underused, but it’s a great piece of superhero action. Arguably, some might say, the comic book movie of 2013. So now… all eyes are on 2014… where we can expect Captain America: The Winter Solider, Guardians of the Galaxy, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Yes, 2014 looks like a tasty fight!

So, why see Thor: The Dark World? Well, see if you tick any one of these boxes: 1) You like comic book movies, 2) you like lightning, 3) you like Chris Hemsworth‘s massive pecs, or 4) you just like bloody good films. If you’re ticking more than one of those boxes, then why aren’t you at the cinema already? Or at least googling “Chris Hemsworth topless” to know why the ladies love this Austrailian! Oh… you’ve already done that haven’t you? Cheeky!

Phage Factor:

4 Star

 

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (2013)

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

I like food. I like a lot of the things about it, besides the crucial fact that it keeps me alive. I enjoy all types of food from boring breads through to elaborate Michelin-starred cuisine. Well, except tomatoes… I really don’t like those little red “fruit”. Come on – fruit is meant to be delicious and sweet, not filled with rancid juices and seeds that explode in your mouth. Urgh. It turns a Phage‘s stomach! Moving on from food… I also like Jurassic Park. I like a lot of things about that too: from the historically inaccurate Velociraptors to Samuel L. Jackson somehow resisting swearing for the entirety of the film. I also quite liked The Lost World, I won’t lie. So… why do I bother to bring up these disparate topics? Well, what would you get if you smushed together food with the “forgotten world” concept of Jurassic Park: The Lost World? Probably something a lot like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2: Revenge of the Leftovers… damn, that’s a mouthful… mmm… food…

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

Ok, so we’re going to go ahead and just call this Cloudy 2, Meatballs 2, or even Cloudy Balls 2, depending on how the mood takes me. I’m not been on acronyms such as CWACOM2 or CWACOM2:ROTL. It sounds like I’m having a seizure or choking on something – probably a cunningly disguised tomato or some such nonsense. So, for those not familiar with the original Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, the premise is that a young, plucky scientist called Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) invents a machine that can convert water into food. Not just any food, but super delicious food. This all goes a bit awry when the food starts going crazy and attacking residents. This is coupled with crazy meteorological (meAteorological? Ha) phenomena involving food too. Ultimately, Flint, with his Dad (James Caan) friends Sam Sparks (Anna Farris), Brent McHale (Andy Samberg), Manny (Bemjamin Bratt) and his monkey Steve (Neil Patrick Harris) save the world by shutting down this machine.

Picking up immediately after the original, Cloudy 2 finds our cast confronted with the task of cleaning up their food-drenched island. Kindly, the world’s greatest inventor Chester V (Will Forte), head of Live Corp, offers his assistance in the clean-up… but the island comes to life with all manner of crazy animal-food hybrid products. So Chester V charges Steve with the task of travelling back to the island to shut down his old machine which has once again reactivated itself. However… things aren’t always as they seem…

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

Yes, this is a silly plot. Hell, the film is about animated food objects… it’s hardly going to be competing for Oscars’ glory against Captain Phillips is it? But that’s not the point. Clearly, Cloudy Balls 2 is geared towards kids – it’s an animated movie that’s high on colour and high on ludicrous accents. But one thing it does bring with aplomb is whimsy, cuteness and an array of food-based puns. So if this isn’t what you look for for entertainment, it’s probably not going to whet your appetite and have you salivating for more! Indeed, this cuteness even touched the icy rock that is The Phage‘s heart… Yes, I audibly went “awww” after an out-of-hand insult against an animated tomato. Yes, it’s as ludicrous as it sounds. And yes, I don’t even like tomatoes, but it was quite adorable. Scratch that – very adorable.

As is obvious, this film is directed at the kids. In that regard, it will inevitably succeed as it’s ludicrous and colourful enough to sate many young viewers. But for the rest of us? Well… there was an element of drag towards the end of the first act / beginning of the second. It all seemed like it was taking too much time up. I actually found myself feeling slightly sleepy about 30 minutes in. Now, sleep has only been achieved during The Muppets in recent memory. But… I didn’t fall asleep. This is good news, as the film certainly then re-gathered pace towards the end.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2

As is customary at Film Phage, I won’t score people on “acting”, as it’s purely voiceover work. The animation is probably more worthy of mention here. Whilst it’s certainly pretty, I’ve always felt that the style used for Cloudy and Cloudy 2 looks… well… cheap. It’s not as lush as what’s churned out by Dreamworks and Pixar. I guess this is a quirk of the film, but it is a little jarring. I guess I’ve been spoiled in terms of animation quality in recent years… but it doesn’t detract from the success of the film.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is definitely one for the youngsters, or those that enjoyed the quirky humour of the original. Whilst it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it doesn’t rehash all of the old jokes either. You’ll snigger and you might even laugh – whether that’s due to some ludicrous name for a food-animal or some of the dialogue. You’ll also probably go “aww” at some point too… though hopefully not in an audible way, like The Phage…

Cloudy Meat 2 definitely doesn’t leave a rancid taste in the mouth like that disgusting red devil-fruit. No, I’d compare the film more to a waffle – a plain waffle. That initial bite is great… sure, the taste kinda gets a bit samey after a while, and you might get a bit bored… but towards the end, you begin to relish that sweet taste in your mouth and don’t want it to end! Maybe you should add some more chocolate to this film… just to give it that edge!

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

Captain Phillips (2013)

Captain Phillips (2013)

Pirates. They’re a popular topic for Hollywood nowadays; mainly thanks to Disney’s imagining of a rum-drinking Captain that speaks a bit like a Dickensian waif. Yes, that particular teet of revenue has been milked so much that the cow is now in a great degree of pain… but that won’t stop the merciless milkmaid (or milkmouse… as it’s Disney) from draining it further still! But the current film isn’t about those types of pirates. No, this is about real modern day pirates. The ones that manage to hijack huge trawlers using nothing more than a speedboat and some AK-47’s… Introducing Captain Phillips

I think the best send up of the popular depiction of pirates with the gritty real world situation comes courtesy of South Park. Whether you’re a fan or not, I urge you to look up the episode called Fatbeard, where Cartman wants to become a (Captain Jack-esque) pirate, so travels to Somalia – the “home of the pirates”. There he somehow manages to lead the Somalians into a successful pirating gambit. The ending is glibly funny, but the clever commentary by Trey Parker and Matt Stone is spot on. These pirates are impoverished and need to get by in some way or another. One line from Captain Phillips sums this up perfectly for me. When the pirate Captain Muse is quizzed why he doesn’t just do something honest with his life and choose a more honest vocation, he is met with “Maybe you have a choice in America, Irish. Maybe in America.”

Captain Phillips (2013)

But let’s rewind a bit. Captain Phillips is based on the true events surrounding the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama back in 2009 off the coast of Somalia. This freight ship was on a run from Oman to Kenya, delivering a cargo consisting mainly of food and water aid. The titular Captain (Tom Hanks) was charged with leading this vessel through one of the most notorious stretches of sea in the world, owing to the high incidence rate of pirate hijacking. It’ll therefore come as no co-incidence to learn that this film revolves around such an incident occurring when a group of four Somalians, led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) board the ship and take Captain Phillips (aka Irish to the Somalians) and his crew captive. This film recounts that and the ensuing events that unfold.

Let me be straight to the point: I loved Captain Phillips. Everything from the pacing, to the plot, to the acting was on top form. I think this is based on two big points: Tom Hanks’ lead acting (and a superb supporting cast, especially from Barkhad Abdi and Faysal Ahmed), and Paul Greengrass‘ knack for capturing the intensity and edge-of-your-seat tension from the director’s chair. Indeed, the tension truly is unrelenting. For a film that lasts over two hours there’s no letting up in the pace once the Alabama is charting its course through the ocean. I kept a bit of a blackout of the issues surrounding the real events to maintain the level of excitement for me, and it worked a charm.

Captain Phillips (2013)

As I mentioned, one of the true selling points of this film is Tom Hanks. I, like so many others, recognise Hanks as a formidable acting talent. Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Castaway… the man has done a lot of subliminal films in his career. I’d arguably put Captain Phillips right near the top of this roster. Hanks does a fantastic job of selling Phillips’ emotions over the course of the film. Indeed, his final scenes in the film are particularly harrowing and I defy you to not feel some modicum of emotion come over you. This is all due to Hanks. There’s no doubt in my mind.

However, don’t think the film is all “go USA!”, as it’s not. As I mentioned earlier, one of the quotes from the film about “maybe in America”, has stuck with me. This is because the film does a very good job of actually helping you to see what these pirates are fighting for: survival. They have bosses. They have bosses that won’t be happy unless they bring back millions of dollars in capital. These millions feed back to the warlords – not the pirates. The pirates get their paltry sum and must carry on doing this again and again. Just as you or I go to work on a daily basis in our offices and sites, they don’t. They take to the seas. This is where Abdi‘s performance comes to the fore as you can see the pain behind his eyes and you understand why he must go through with the events that unfold in the film. He has no choice.

Captain Phillips (2013)

So: the acting is fantastic, across the board. But the tension and writing keep pace with this most admirably. You could draw vague comparisons between this and films like Zero Dark Thirty or The Bourne Ultimatum, as both of those deal with similar degrees of tension. Arguably, I’d say that Captain Phillips is far more engrossing than either of those films, and I would be surprised if we didn’t see some Oscar nods come early next year. I truly hope we see something here, because if not that’ll genuinely be a tragedy. If Zero Dark Thirty can get plaudits, then so should Captain Phillips.

Captain Phillips is that rare beast: a biopic that has it all. With its ferociously enthralling story, superb characterisation and sterling across-the-board acting, it’s a film that deserves to be seen. Although controversy has recently arisen as to how like the real Captain Phillips Tom Hanks‘ character has been written, it’s nevertheless fantastic. Praise has rightly been steeped upon Hanks himself, although it must be mentioned that all players contribute to this exciting film.

I think I’d rather watch more movies like this than have to endure more hammy Captain Jack Sparrow films, although they’re inevitably incoming in the near future. Yes, that cow will die eventually from an overmilked teet: a savage death. Though there are worse ways to go, I’d imagine. Hell, I empathise more with genuine Somalian pirates than I do a guy that romps around in mascara, rambling on about rum… Who wouldn’t?!

Phage Factor

5 Star

Film Phage's Quarantine Award