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NOV 13-19, 2013 | WWW.CONNECTSAVANNAH.COM
its edges. Of course, that’s as much to do with the storyline as with anything else, given that both works center around the drug trade and its nasty practitioners. McCarthy is clearly in love with his own prose, as evidenced by the sizable number of monologues uttered by various characters throughout the course of the picture. As with Mamet or Tarantino, it’s a specialized form of patter, and while there are several clunky passages in the mix, much of it is fresh and fun to follow. Unfortunately, McCarthy spends so much time on the dialogue that he critically neglects the plot - this is a movie where any number of characters aren’t identified and where key relationships are never explained. Consequently, this lack of focus often moves the film past appreciable ambiguity and into unacceptable incoherence.
It’s a routine programmer that’s short on thrills but long on tedium. Sylvester Stallone headlines as Ray Breslin, who’s considered the world’s leading expert on prison security. With Lester Clark (a coasting Vincent D’Onofrio) as his boss and Abigail (Amy Ryan) and Hush (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) as his accomplices, Breslin is hired by states to land himself in their supposedly escape-proof prisons in order to see if he can break out (thus allowing them to ascertain the weak spots and make the necessary improvements). Naturally, his success rate is high, doubtless spurred in part by his fee of $2.5 million per prison. When a government agent offers him $5 million to test a new facility that will be used to hold those undesirables deemed unworthy of trials (terrorists, drug dealers and the like), Breslin reluctantly accepts the assignment. But once inside, he discovers that he’s been set up by someone on the outside (no prizes for guessing who), and that the warden (Jim Caviezel) has no intention of ever letting him leave. Luckily, Breslin finds an ally in another inmate, a hulking, goateed fellow by the name of Emil Rottmayer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and together they plot to break loose. While Stallone and Schwarzenegger both appeared in The Expendables and its sequel, this is being billed as the first time these ‘80s icons are
starring opposite each other in lead roles. But for all the film’s potential, the fireworks never erupt. Despite the shared marquee billing, Schwarzenegger is, as in the Expendables films, still playing second banana to Stallone, who has a much larger role. And while Schwarzenegger is clearly relishing the opportunity to add some eccentric touches to his characterization, Stallone offers nothing new, playing a typically noble-with-acapital-N hero whose only attempts at humor are lamely insulting Abigail’s cooking. Speaking of Abigail, it’s sad to see Ryan saddled with such a simplistic role, but at least she manages to give a watchable performance - the same can’t be said for the hammy Caviezel, one of those actors with the rare ability to underplay and overact at the same time, and the monotonous 50 Cent, who really needs to give up trying to make this whole film-career thing work. Interestingly, Breslin’s opening-act breakout from a regular prison, narratively employed to provide some exposition, offers much more in the way of clear objectives, clever tactics and genuine excitement than the showcase one which takes up the bulk of the film. If it weren’t such a bother, I would suggest audiences simply enjoy this introductory interlude before making their own great escape into an adjacent auditorium.
OOO Thirteen years after playing in the surf with Wilson the volleyball, Tom Hanks returns to the water in Captain Phillips, an involving adaptation of Richard Phillips’ fact-based book A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea. Despite its real-life hook, director Paul Greengrass doesn’t employ the faux-documentary format he used for United 93 (or even Bloody Sunday); instead, this adheres closer to the slick style of the two Bourne films he helmed (Supremacy and Ultimatum). This concession toward Hollywood is OK, though, since it allows Phillips to be played by an A-list actor whose strength is that he generally keeps his head down and his eyes forward when tackling a dramatic role. Hanks has played ordinary guys
forced to be heroes in past pictures (Saving Private Ryan, for one), but here his age and demeanor provide him with a gruffness we haven’t quite seen from him before - addressing his men aboard the cargo ship Maersk Alabama, Phillips demonstrates that while his bark is worse than his bite, he has plenty of both. Once the vessel is hijacked by Somali pirates looking for a big payload, Phillips does everything he can to keep his crew safe, but what’s unexpected is the way he reacts differently to each of the invaders. Most prominent is his relationship with the head pirate Muse (Barkhad Abdi), a wiry man who’s usually smart enough to know when Phillips is misleading him - and definitely smart enough to repeatedly identify himself and his men as “not Al-Qaeda.” It’s a pleasure watching the two actors go head-to-head, with Abdi’s intensity playing off Hanks’ anxiety. But mostly, it’s just a pleasure to see Hanks stay away from the bathetic likes of Larry Crowne and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and ply his trade on something worthwhile.
What Alfonso Cuaron’s film lacks in sociopolitical heft and laser-point characterizations it makes up for in sheer visual spectacle, with a side plate of spiritual musing to allow it to emerge as more than just an industrial light and magic show. Working with director of photography Emmanuel Lubezski and a crack FX team to create a you-are-there environment, Cuaron puts us in the company of Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), two members of the Explorer space shuttle crew. Kowalski is a wisecracking veteran astronaut, so comfortable with his job that he can perform it while regaling the folks at Mission Control with tales of his past exploits on Earth. Stone, on the other hand, is a rookie rocketeer, all frayed nerves and bouts of self-doubt on her first voyage into space. Their patch-up mission is going as planned until the debris from a destroyed Russian satellite heads their way, crippling the space shuttle and killing everyone except Kowalski and Stone. Stone is understandably a panicky mess as she’s free-floating through
space with her suit’s oxygen supply running perilously low; that leaves it to Kowalski to not only offer her the necessary support but also devise a plan that will allow them to safely return to Earth. That’s a tall order, given the nonfunctional status of the Explorer and the fact that the neighboring space station is just a small dot on the horizon, almost certainly too far to be reached when Stone’s diminished air supply and Kowalski’s diminished fuel supply are taken into account. Houston, we have a problem indeed. There’s one shot that’s certain to become a classic on its own: An image of a fetal-positioned Stone, it’s the most significant when it comes to providing the film with a connection to 2001 and its iconic Star Child. Indeed, all of the visuals are so staggering, so awe-inspiring, that they bring up thoughts of the existence of God (or not; take your pick), the mysteries of the universe and the fatal beauty of everything that surrounds us without any need for accompanying text. But we do get that text, in the form of a past tragedy that haunts Stone and informs her every move. On paper, I could take or leave this narrative thread, but Bullock’s excellent performance - the best of her career - makes me glad it’s there, as she navigates the attendant emotions beautifully. While the sparse screenplay cowritten by Cuaron and his son Jonas Cuaron will strike some as suitably thrifty and others as appallingly threadbare, there’s no denying it sports a few moldy conventions. Did Clooney’s Kowalski really have to be an astronaut who’s on his last assignment before he’s set to retire? Does one poignant sequence have to so completely ape one from Brian De Palma’s painful Mission to Mars? And, most crucially, did the Cuarons really have to include a gotcha moment in their film? There’s a late sequence that’s so thuddingly obvious and stupid, it either should have been excised or presented in a different manner. As it stands, it will provide a brief moment of joy for the slow thinkers in the audience while inducing groans from almost everyone else. Overall, however, this eye-popper of a movie demands to be viewed in the spectacular now. CS