Monday, October 21, 2013

Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips
seen @ AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, New York NY
10.19.13

I still miss the old Tom Hanks.

This is one of the biggest modern actors whose career I've seen progress almost from the beginning. I mean, I remember watching Bosom Buddies on TV, which seems like a lifetime ago now. Why I watched it, I couldn't tell you, but I remember seeing Hanks go from that ridiculous sitcom to the big screen and making some awesome comedies. Sure, everyone remembers Splash and Big, but where is the love for films like Bachelor Party, or even Dragnet? (Dragnet was a cable staple for years, though I'm pretty sure I saw it theatrically too.)

Hanks had a slightly innocent, or at the very least guileless, goofiness to him that was quite endearing in his comedies. He wasn't a wiseguy like Eddie Murphy or Bill Murray; he wasn't a wild man like John Belushi; and he didn't have the distinctly Jewish charm of Billy Crystal. Hanks brought a sort of gee-whiz enthusiasm to his comedic roles that made you wanna follow him on whatever adventure he was going on, tempered with a humanistic, empathetic seriousness at the same time that made him that much more believable. He's been compared to Jimmy Stewart, but I think early Hanks was much more of a goofball, whereas there always seemed to be a slight sense of self-consciousness in Stewart's early comedies, in my opinion, anyway.


Hanks hasn't completely abandoned comedy ever since he switched to becoming a dramatic actor, and maybe more "mature" roles in films like You've Got Mail and Larry Crowne are the inevitable result of age, but every once in awhile I wonder what his career would've been like had he remained a funnyman. It's not like he was failing at it; Sleepless in Seattle and A League of Their Own were big hits, and he could've easily continued in that vein - especially since his first major dramatic role, The Bonfire of the Vanities, was a huge bomb. After the one-two punch of Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, though, there was no turning back - and this was probably for the best, because we otherwise would've never have gotten to see Hanks give performances like the one he gives in Captain Phillips


In recent years, and this year in particular, we've seen a rise in films based on real-life events, especially ones inspired by recent history. Some say it's the by-product of the 24-hour news cycle, in which information travels quicker than ever before. Could be. I think another factor might be the increasing reliance on properties with name recognition, such as comics or video games or TV shows or young adult books. Like all of those, a true story usually (but not always) comes with a certain level of familiarity, especially if it's something that's been followed on CNN before a worldwide audience. And while you can't make a franchise out of stories such as the hunt for Osama Bin Laden or the creation of Facebook, you can bet that such movies will attract Oscar attention.

So it is with Phillips, which documents the remarkable story of the cargo ship captain whose vessel was raided by a band of Somali pirates in 2009, leading to the captain's abduction and a frantic search. The film doesn't get much into the pirates' motivation behind their actions beyond a terse mention of how America had plundered Somali waters for their fish, leaving the natives with little to none for themselves. 


The focus is on the action, and Hanks perfectly embodies the captain throughout an intense and horrifying situation, and when I say Intense, that's with a capital I. He's had physically demanding roles before, such as Cast Away, but I can't recall ever seeing him this physically and emotionally vulnerable before. The emotional part comes at the very end - it's not a spoiler to say that he gets rescued; this is based on a true story, after all. He had been working so hard to hold himself together throughout the whole ordeal, and when it's over, he just lets go, in a sustained moment of pure emotional overload that is kinda shocking to see.

We never expect really bad things to happen in the movies to superstar actors like Hanks. Yeah, they may get involved in car chases, get shot at by the bad guys, and all that stuff, and we know they'll be alright in the end, but we rarely think about the cost it takes on their characters' mental health. So I'm glad director Paul Greengrass (who did an outstanding job overall) chose to show us this as well as everything else, because it reminds us that Phillips is a real guy, not a cliched action hero out of central casting.


This was the film I used my AMC free pass on, the one I got after the fiasco at the Gravity screening. It gave me an excuse to go back to the Lincoln Square again, since I hadn't been there in awhile. I don't think I've talked about the Lincoln Square. It, more than other modern multiplexes in Manhattan, doesn't provide an old-school movie palace atmosphere so much as celebrate the past through its interior design. All around the place are murals of old movie marquees and images evocative of movie stars of the past, all done in soft pastel-like colors. The entrances to the auditoriums have elaborate facades that again, suggest fancy movie palaces. Even the bathrooms have framed photographs of classic film stars.

I went to high school in the area, and back then, my friends and I would usually schlep either further uptown to what is now the AMC Loews 84th Street, or downtown to Times Square, to see movies. It always irked me a little that the Lincoln Square opened after I graduated, but that's alright. It irks me a hell of a lot more that I would've had to have paid $14.50 without my pass!

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