Captain Phillips. A-. I never got around to seeing this film in the theaters last year, but it received nominations for Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor, so I figured I would see what the buzz was all about. Good grief, this was a surprisingly riveting movie. When it started and I realized that it was about the Somali pirates raids on U.S. ships off the coast of Africa, I tensed up, thinking that I probably wasn’t going to be all that enamored with the film. Wrong. The film draws you in as it sets up the scene for a raid of the US MV Maersk Alabama. This is the telling of the true story of the 2009 hijacking. Captain Richard Phillips is played by Tom Hanks. Hanks’ performance is so amazing that I totally got lost in the fact that it was Tom Hanks and I felt like I was right there with him during every tense moment. I am really surprised that he didn’t at least get a nomination for Best Actor out of this one. The story is a good one and with a good outcome. Even if this were fictionalized, the suspense of the story would make it a good movie to see, but knowing that it is based on true events makes it all the more incredible. I recommend this move whole-heartedly.
Fury (A-). It is April 1945, and the American army is driving deep into the heart of Nazi Germany. But the Germans are continuing their desperate resistance, and military and civilian casualties are piling up at a sickening rate. In Fury, we join the five-man crew of an American tank (nicknamed Fury), and we get a grounds-eye view of the final days of the war. Brad Pitt (12 Years a Slave) plays the savvy sergeant in command, and Logan Lerman (Noah) plays Norman, the green recruit who has been plucked out of a clerk assignment to become the tank’s assistant driver. There is mud and gore aplenty as Fury chugs along from one battlefield to the next, and we see how the war coarsens Norman as it has already brutalized the rest of the crew. The battle sequences are truly top-notch, especially a pitched battle at close range between three American tanks and one far superior German tank. A scene in which the Americans conquer a German town is also fascinating as we watch to see if the Americans will treat the vanquished as badly as the Nazis did. Director David Ayer (End of Watch) is definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye on, as only a few “Hollywoodized” and unbelievable moments mar this intense film. Rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout.
Downton Abbey – Season Two (B). Season one of Downton Abbey ended with the outbreak of World War I; season two opens in 1916, in the thick of that conflict, and it ends in 1919. I won’t commit any spoilers here (even though I’m so far behind the times that it would probably be safe to do so). Let’s just say that season two seemed even more soap-operatic to me than season one did. Heir-apparent Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens, A Walk Among the Tombstones) is mostly off at the western front, but back home he has gotten engaged to someone other than Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery, Hanna). Noble valet John Bates is still trying to be rid of his viperish wife so he can be with his true love, the sweet and lovable Anna. What’s-his-name, the politically radical Irish chauffeur, is still in love with Lady Sybil. And life at Downtown Abbey is turned upside down when it becomes a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. Some excessively soapy touches slightly diminished my enjoyment of the season, but all in all I still liked it very well. On to season three!
From The Movie Snob. (For Mom Under Cover’s review, click here.)
Gone Girl (B). I’m not quite sure what happened here. I loved the novel this movie was based on. The movie, directed by David Fincher (The Social Network) is well made and faithful to the novel (from what I can remember). The casting and performances were good, or even great. So why didn’t I love the movie? I’m not sure, but I think the tale just seemed more far-fetched up on the big screen. Anyway, I definitely liked the movie, and if you want a knotty little mystery movie you should definitely give it a try. Of course I must avoid spoilers, so I’ll just repeat the minimal factual synopsis all the reviewers are using. Ben Affleck (Argo) and Rosamund Pike (The World’s End) star as Nick and Amy Dunne, a married couple who used to be NYC glitterati but who are now downsized schmoes living in Nick’s nowhere hometown of North Carthage, MO. As the movie opens, it is the morning of the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary, and Nick discovers that Amy is missing. There are strange, minimal signs of foul play in the house. What happened to her? Did Nick have something to do with it? Suffice to say, secrets will be exposed. Affleck and Pike give fine performances, but even the actors in the smaller roles shine, especially Carrie Coon (TV’s The Leftovers) as Nick’s twin sister and Kim Dickens (Thank You for Smoking) as the skeptical detective Rhonda Boney.
Mrs. Doubtfire (B-). This was my first time to see this 1993 flick, starring Robin Williams (Night at the Museum) and directed by Chris Columbus (Adventures in Babysitting). It was not at all as annoying as I expected it to be. Williams plays Daniel, a voice-over artist who is as hyper and as entertaining as, well, Robin Williams. As one might expect, this much energy could take a toll on a marriage, and we aren’t too deep into the movie when Daniel’s wife Miranda (Sally Field, Lincoln) gives him the boot. But he can’t bear to be separated from their three kids, and when Miranda advertises for an after-school nanny for the kiddos, Daniel gets his make-up artist brother to create the perfect disguise—a matronly British woman who applies for and gets the job. The hijinks that follow are reasonably entertaining and occasionally exhausting. A very young-looking Pierce Brosnan (Mamma Mia!) shows up as the new fella in Miranda’s life. I’m not sure why Columbus felt obliged to include a bunch of tacky sexual references in the movie, thereby tipping it over into PG-13 territory and really making it less enjoyable all the way around.
The two kids who played Robin Williams’s daughters have retired from acting and have blogs now, if you’re curious:
Harold and Maude (B). Once again I ventured out to The Magnolia Theater for Tuesday night’s “The Big Movie,” this time for the 1971 cult classic Harold and Maude. All I really knew about it was that it was about a relationship between a young man and a much older woman. It was that, but it was also much, much stranger than I was expecting. Harold (Bud Cort, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) is a pallid and very odd young man of about 20. He is obsessed with death and likes going to funerals. Oh, and he drives a hearse. His dad is nowhere around, but he lives with his very wealthy mother, who affects not to notice how odd her son is and tries to set him up with various marriageable young women. Then Harold meets Maude, a woman of almost 80. Maude (Ruth Gordon, Rosemary’s Baby) also likes going to funerals, but she is Harold’s opposite in every other respect—outgoing, scampish, full of wonder at the world around her, and basically life-affirming to the nth degree. If you have a high tolerance for outlandish movies about outlandish characters, this might be the movie for you. I got a kick out of it, but I must say that I thought the ending was not consistent with what had gone before, and it lowered my opinion of this movie a tad.
St. Vincent (A-). Okay, the grade may be slightly inflated, but what can I say? I fell for this sappy little movie about a cranky old boozehound and the little boy who moves in next door and gets taken under his wing. Bill Murray (Moonrise Kingdom) plays Vincent, a cranky old boozehound with a Russian stripper girlfriend (Naomi Watts, The Impossible) and a serious debt problem. Melissa McCarthy (The Heat) plays the woman who moves in next door to Vincent. She’s going through a tough divorce and works long hours, so she gets Vincent to watch her young son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher, in his first movie) after school. It’s Murray’s movie, but young Lieberher also turns in a great performance that really makes the movie work. Chris O’Dowd (Calvary) has some good one-liners as a Catholic priest and teacher at Oliver’s school. I described this movie to The Borg Queen, and she said, “It sounds like About a Boy.” And you know, there is some similarity there, although I don’t think I’ve ever cried watching About a Boy. Anyway, I’ll be curious to see if Murray gets an Oscar nom for this one.