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Captain Phillips

Enough Said & Machete Kills

October 17, 2013

Captain Phillips (***)PG-13

I’m glad someone saw fit to give director Paul Greengrass the task of helming Captain Phillips. Under his guiding and masterful hand, the compelling story of the invasion of the cargo ship Maersk, Alabama, by Somali pirates, is the tense and exciting film that one would expect the true-life source material might provide.       
Greengrass has previously shown a flair for dramatizing real-life events, as evidenced in such films as Sunday, Bloody, Sunday and United 93. In those films he chose to use a docudrama approach, but surprisingly Greengrass doesn’t do that here. He instead chooses the more straightforward approach he brought to bear in both The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, which he also helmed.

In the early scenes of Captain Phillips, I wasn’t sure if that straightforward dramatic approach would work. I sensed what Greengrass was going for but still wasn’t convinced this was a story best suited for that particular style. Eventually it comes to work wonders in the film’s favor.

Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips

If the film does seem to be treading on somewhat familiar territory during those introductory scenes—and it does—all is forgiven during the film’s final act which exhibits some of the most intense, powerhouse filmmaking of its kind that I’ve witnessed in quite sometime. I suppose it would be better if one didn’t know the ultimate outcome of Captain Phillips’ fate in real life but it doesn’t hurt the film. The way that Greengrass stages things makes it a trip worth taking, regardless of what you know or don’t know.

I’ll reiterate the basic details in case anyone happens to be only vaguely familiar. Captain Richard Phillips (wonderfully brought to life by Tom Hanks) and his crew of 20 are hijacked by a group of five Somali pirates intent on returning home with a big payoff. The amazing part is that these five Somali men, traveling in what is basically a motorized rowboat, are able to overtake Phillips and his crew in the first place. Allow me to digress by saying that if it weren’t a true story one might be required to suspend disbelief, but happen it did. At any rate, Phillips scrambles to protect his crew and offers to give the pirates the money sitting in the ship’s safe if they’ll take it and leave in one of the cargo ship’s rafts. They take they money and leave but also decide to take Captain Phillips with them, which opens a Pandora’s Box chock full of all sorts of problems, leading to the film’s exciting climax.

One other thing that must be mentioned here is the way that the film’s writer, Billy Ray, manages to humanize the two main players in this story. We, along with Captain Phillips, come to understand head pirate, Muse (Barkhad Abdi), and his motivations for doing what he’s doing. We may not agree with Muse but we come away with an understanding and it’s only of the many great things this film has going for it.

Enough Said (*** ½) PG-13

The experience of seeing the Julia Louis-Dreyfus/James Gandolfini vehicle Enough Said proved to be a sad one on more than one occasion during its unspooling. The first time James Gandolfini appears in director Nicole Holofcener’s latest film, I found myself overcome with an unshakeable sadness, knowing that the actor is no longer with us. It was a sadness that made it hard to get back into the rhythms of the film for a bit. Eventually it sadness dissipated and I was able to get on with the business of spending ninety odd minutes with the characters.. Then when the credits began to roll, the sadness returned, although it was a different sadness. Different because Gandolfini’s work here is so good and filled with promise and it’s a promise that will go unfulfilled. I felt like it was a turning point in the former Sopranos star’s career but, alas, it’s something that can only speculated upon. Fate unfortunately intervened in the form of Gandolfini’s untimely passing and heartbreaking is the word that comes to mind.

Enough Said is the type of film that intelligent adults will welcome. The people in the film have real and honest conversations.

Enough Said: Gandolfini & Louis-Dreyfus

They’re smart, witty, interesting and are unafraid to articulate what they need and want out of relationships and life itself.

These are the kind of people I not only enjoying seeing onscreen but welcome the chance to spend time with in real life—interesting people with interesting things on their mind.

The plot concerns Eva (Louis-Dreyfus), a self-employed massage therapist who’s divorced and soon to be facing an empty nest with the impending departure of her college-age daughter. When Eva meets another soon to be empty-nester named Albert (Gandolfini) at a party, she isn’t attracted to him at first. She thinks he’s too fat and isn’t afraid to say so; but not to him, of course. Eventually she agrees to go out with Albert anyway and realizes they have more in common than she first thought but begins to have doubts courtesy of a plot twist that comes mid-film and which I won’t reveal here.

I realize I’ve spent a large amount of time in this review heaping praise on Gandolfini but he’s not the only one who deserves to be singled out. Julia Louis-Dreyfus also deserves every bit of the acclaim that her work in the film is sure to bring her. Much like Gandolfini being pigeonholed to a certain degree by his years spent on The Sopranos, Louis-Dreyfus had something similar happen to her as a result of her time spent on Seinfeld in the 1990s. Enough Said should prove, once and for all, that the actress is worthy of more juicy film parts than she’s been offered in her post Seinfeld years. Though Gandolfini isn’t alive to parlay the work he’s done here into a new phase, let’s at least hope that his co-star gets her fair shake.

Machete Kills (** ½) R

I’ll confess that I heartily enjoyed director Robert Rodriguez’ 2010 film Machete, a film inspired by a fake trailer accompanying the filmmaker’s earlier exploitation experiment, Grindhouse. The original Machete gave character actor Danny Trejo a chance to shine as the title character, a former Mexican Federale who takes on the assignment of killing a morally bankrupt senator (Robert DeNiro). It also featured lots of great character actors doing what they do best, among them Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin, Jeff Fahey, and Tom Savin. It wasn’t a film of substance, mind you, but it sure was fun.

One of the things I really dug about the original Machete was its over the top violence. The film was undeniably bloody and disgusting but the violence was presented in a way that was not rooted in any sort of reality and elicited many laughs from yours truly. A good example of this would be the scene where Machete slices a guy open and uses his entrails as a rope in order to swing out a window and escape his pursuers.

I thought that scene from the earlier film was quite something, but the film’s sequel, Machete Kills, manages to outdo that sequence by having Machete rip a guy open and tangle his entrails with a spinning helicopter blade.

Danny Trejo & Demian Bichir in Machete Kills

You can only imagine what the end result is. I mention this only as a way to help you determine if Machete Kills is the kind of film for you. If that doesn’t sound like your kind of fun it’s a safe bet that you’d be better off with something tamer. If you’re reading this and laughing aloud, I would say Machete Kills is probably, at the very least, worth the price of a matinee ticket.

The latest Machete installment picks up pretty much where the first one left off. Machete was teamed up at the end of that pic with federal agent Sartana (Jessica Alba). As Machete Kills opens, Sartana and Machete are attempting to infiltrate a Mexican drug cartel, a mission that doesn’t end well. This sets into motion the plot, which consists of Machete being offered a job by the current US president (Carlos Estevez a/k/a Charlie Sheen)—a sign on his office door reads The South West Wing, wink, wink, nudge, nudge—to stop a Mexican drug lord who has a nuclear device aimed at the US.

Along the way, Machete is reunited with Luiz (Michelle Rodriguez) from the first film, locks horns with a face-changing assassin (Cuba Gooding Jr./Lady Ga Ga) and, ultimately, a power-mad billionaire (Mel Gibson), intent on conquering the world.

The film sets us up for a sequel, which will have Machete launching into outer space in order to save the world and there’s even a fake trailer for the next installment before this film’s opening credits. Machete Kills isn’t as good as the original film but if you’re in a certain goofy frame of mind, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Both Captain Phillips and Machete Kills are playing at the Carmike Theater in Hickory and area theaters. Enough Said is playing at several theaters in Charlotte.

Questions or comments? Email Adam at



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