FlixChatter Review: Captain Phillips

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I’ve been seeing quite a bit of biopic feature films this past year but obviously not all are created equal. I think the BOATS (based-on-a-true-story) sub-genre is best handled when it focuses on a certain period of time and this is a great example of one. The title refers to Captain Richard Phillips, based on his book A Captain’s Duty which detaills his harrowing ordeal aboard cargo ship Maersk Alabama that was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009.

The film didn’t spend much time on land, there’s perhaps only 10 minutes or so of exposition as the Captain was leaving to the airport with his wife. In the car they talk about their children and that they’re growing up in very different worlds from theirs. It shows that Phillips is just a regular family man who has the same worries as everybody else, and it’s just another day heading to work for the experienced mariner. Then the film contrast that scene with life in a coastal village in Somalia. A young, skinny Somali man is awaken by the ruckus outside his tiny hut of a home, it turns out the mercenaries are upset that the villagers haven’t gotten them any goods for their boss. That young man is Abduwali Muse (Barkhad Abdi), and soon he gathers his team to go out to sea in search of a ship to hijack. It’s an intriguing slice of life of a community that’s rarely portrayed in film or the media, which actually paints these teenage pirates as destitute and desperate people who think they have no other way to make a living.

UK Director Paul Greengrass is no stranger to making an effective thriller, both fictional and non-fiction, but this one is perhaps one of the most gripping thriller I’ve ever witnessed. Right from the time the ship departs its port on its way to Mombasa, Kenya, there’s an eerie feeling that something bad is about to happen. Now, of course we know the horror that lies for the crew of 20 aboard Maersk Alabama, but it doesn’t lessen the sense of dread. Tension keeps mounting from the time the two skiffs show up on the radar and it never lets up until the end.

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The brilliant script by Billy Ray highlights the relationship between Phillips and the pirates leader Muse. He amusingly calls Muse ‘Irish’ after he tells him he’s of Irish-American origin. Hanks and newcomer Barkhad Abdi couldn’t have a more different acting background, but both of them give such a tour-de-force performance. Abdi was plucked from obscurity when he won the role amongst 700 applicants in a casting call in Minneapolis, yet the Somali actor has the chops to goes toe-to-toe with the two-timed Oscar winner on his first feature film role ever. I like the fact that this film gives a layer of complexity to his character, not simply painting him as a one-dimensional devil incarnate but a desperate individual who’s in over his head and nowhere else to go. The other pirates, as well as the Maersk Alabama crew (notably Michael Chernus as Phillips’ first mate) also give a decent supporting role.

As for the main name on the marquee, Hanks puts forward one of his best roles in recent memory. It’s a raw and emotional performance but not without his reliable charm and wit. The third of the film when Phillips was being held hostage in a tiny lifeboat made me feel claustrophobic and I felt my palms getting sweaty during the negotiations scenes. It was at times way too intense for my comfort level, but it was worth seeing Hanks’ in one of the finest acting I’ve seen all year. He captures the human psyche of a man in his darkest hour. Even with all the courage he could muster, it’s obvious Phillips’ mental state is quickly in disarray and it was quite an experience to watch such a convincing, nuanced depiction.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hanks name in the Oscar’s Best Actor roster once again, as well as the talents behind the taut, cerebral thriller. I applaud Paul Greengrass‘ work here, his kinetic style makes me feel like I’m part of the action without rendering me dizzy. He employs some shaky-cam style but he does it well that it doesn’t make the experience unbearable. With the help of an astute script by Billy Ray‘s, meticulous cinematography by Barry Ackroyd and atmospheric score by Henry Jackman, this film offers us a lot more than just dynamic action. It’s interesting to note that Greengrass also work with real life (retired) SEALS for the rescue scenes, as well as the nurse towards the end. Those who have seen the film might enjoy this article.

So if you like your thrillers nail-biting, with white-knuckle tension and fine character study thrown in, then don’t miss seeing this one on the big screen.


4.5 out of 5 reels

What do you think of this film? I’d love to hear it!

FlixChatter Review: Jobs

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The main draw for me about this film is not the talents involved, but the subject matter of one of the most revered innovator of the 20th century. As a huge fan of Apple products, naturally both my hubby and I knew quite a bit about Steve Jobs’ life. My hubby more so than I am as he’s read a lot more stuff on him, including the Walter Isaacson’s official biography that’s published shortly before his death. There is another biopic in the works that’s going to be based on that book, currently in the development stage with Aaron Sorkin as the writer. Now, THAT is the biopic I’m looking forward to, which I read recently has gotten the blessings from Steve Wozniak. THIS film on the other hand, was made with no involvement from Apple whatsoever, Steve Wozniak himself would not recommend the film, saying he was ‘turned off’ by Jobs’ script (posted in the comment section of Gizmodo.com review the film.

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This film focuses on the early years of Apple, how Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak first came up with the first personal computer. It began with one of Job’s famous keynotes (or Stevenotes) in 2001 when he unveiled one of Apple’s masterpiece iPod, which forever changed the way people listen to music, and the music industry itself. Then it wind back about 30 years with Steve sleeping on a sofa at Reed College, Portland, unsure of what he wanted to do with his life. It was shot in a whirlwind of vignettes with the Hippy-looking Jobs getting high with his friends, a trip to India to find ‘enlightenment’, working at Atari where his insolent work ethic clashes with his co-workers. All of this happens relatively fast, but I felt like the movie sort of got off in the wrong foot for me as even 10 minutes in, I already found it to be tedious, even grating. To be honest, despite their physical resemblance, I’m not exactly fond of Ashton Kutcher‘s casting. He just gets on my nerves and seeing him portraying Jobs behaving badly just accentuates that.

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To be fair, as the film went on, I found that Kutcher’s portrayal isn’t the worst part of the film. I actually think he did his best with imitating Jobs’ gestures, the way he walked, etc., trying earnestly to shed the image of the dimwitted Kelso from That 70s Show. Unfortunately, there’s more to a compelling portrayal of a real-life persona that mere physicality. On top of that, the superficial, ‘episodic’ script from first timer Matt Whiteley doesn’t do him any favor. Once in flashback mode, the film pretty much tread along in a linear fashion.

Still, it was amusing to see how he and Wozniak ended up building Apple computers out of Jobs’ parents’ garage. Seeing what Wozniak (Josh Gad) came up with, which he didn’t seem to think much of, Jobs was inspired to combine a typewriter with a TV, and that’s how Apple II was born. Then came Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney – who’s good here though he looks nothing like the real guy!), a former Intel engineer who came on board to fund their business. Apple II ended up being a hit at the San Francisco’s West Coast Computer Faire (Jobs was only 21 years old at the time) and the rest is well, history.

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I think people who are familiar with the story of Apple would recognize right away the supporting characters in the film: Matthew Modine as CEO John Scully (which Jobs personally recruited from Pepsi), J.K. Simmons as Apple Board leader Arthur Rock, as well Kevin Dunn as CEO Gil Amelio which Jobs ousted in 1997 in a boardroom coup as Apple stocks continued its downward slump.

Yet the dramatization just isn’t all that compelling. In fact, for a biopic about one of the most creative brains of this century, the way his story is told lacks creativity. Director Joshua Michael Stern often tries to hard to be imaginative with his camera angles and whatnot, i.e. blurry effect before a scene comes into focus, but it feels too gimmicky to me. All the details about Jobs’ quirks (being a fruitarian, lack of physical hygiene, his temper tantrums, etc.) are well-covered here, but the film never really captured the ‘essence’ nor the ‘heart’ of the character. It seems that the film is far more concerned about portraying the ‘genius’ aspect of Jobs, completely glossing over his personal life. It’s never explored how he went from being a complete jerk to his pregnant girlfriend to being a family man with Laurene Powell up until the day of his death. Not sure how he got around to naming the first Apple computer after his first daughter after he vehemently rejected the idea that he was the father.

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In the finale, when Jobs recited his most famous quote for his Think Different campaign, I didn’t feel that this film earned it. I remember being so moved when I first heard that quote years ago that ends with “… because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Yet hearing it at the end of this film didn’t quite have the same impact. Perhaps because the Steve Jobs as portrayed in this film failed to connect with me. If anything, it makes me long for the other biopic that I mentioned above.

Final Thoughts: Subpar script, lackluster direction and that Kutcher’s lack of dramatic chops contribute to something that looks more like a TV movie. Heck, even the decidedly made-for-TV Pirates of Silicon Valley that focused on the parallel lives of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs got a much better critical reviews. I really think the people involved in this film tried to bite more things than they can chew, perhaps it might’ve been better if they had narrowed the scope of the film and focused on a certain period of Jobs life instead. So yeah, this one certainly would NOT end up in my list of favorite Biopics.

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2 out of 5 reels

Well, what do you think of this film and/or Ashton Kutcher in general?

Follow-up Question of the Week: Favorite FICTIONAL biopics?

Hello everyone! As I’m still working on my review of Lee Daniels’ The Butler that’ll be up tomorrow, biopics are still on my mind this week. Thanks to Chris from Terry Malloy Pigeon Coop and Nick from Cinematic Katzenjammer for bringing up this topic on the comments of yesterday’s post on favorite biopics.

When I did my post, I excluded documentaries from the discussion but I didn’t think of fictional biopics, which are actually made quite often in Hollywood. I do think it’s a separate sub-genre than straight biopics that are based on real life individuals. Nick brought up Forrest Gump, in which Tom Hanks winning an Oscar for playing the fictitious protagonist, and Big Fish in which Albert Finney & Ewan McGregor plays a fantastical character Ed Bloom. I’d think that The Great Gatsby is a fictional biopic on a larger-than-life character Jay Gatsby.

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Of course I can’t leave out my own personal favorite, Ben-Hur. Perhaps one of the most epic of all fictional biopics, shrewdly mixing the fictitious Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur with historical events, i.e. Christ’s crucifixion. As far as music-themed ones, you might consider Velvet Goldmine a fictional musical biopic as the character Brian Slade is based on David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character. It’s a bizarre and amusing film for fans of Christian Bale and Ewan McGregor, and a must for Bowie fans too naturally.


So for today’s question, what’s your favorite FICTIONAL BIOPIC(s)?

Question of the Week: What’s your favorite biopic(s)?

A biographical film, or biopic (/ˈbɵpɪk/; abbreviation for biographical motion picture), is a film that dramatizes the life of an actual person or people.

JeannedArcThis week I saw two press screenings (The Butler and Jobs) that are both based on real-life characters. So I thought I’d blog about one of Hollywood’s favorite genre [or is it sub-genre?]. There are a plethora of biopics getting made every single year. I mean, if you look at this list of biopics in Wikipedia, the number is in the thousands, dating all the way to the year 1900 with short, silent film Jeanne d’Arc by Georges Méliès — clearly Joan of Arc is a popular subject that’s been filmed time and time again. Just in 2000s alone, there are nearly 500 biopics in just one decade! I think biopics have become a favorite for actors to portray, perhaps because they tend to be popular come award season. A bunch of actors have won Oscars portraying real-life characters, as Daniel Day Lewis did most recently playing President Lincoln.

Obviously, just like any genre/sub-genre, there are good and bad biopics, and there’ll never be a shortage of them in the years to come. I for one don’t mind them, especially when the subject matter are intriguing and even inspiring. I prefer biopics that focus on a certain period of the person’s life instead of an overarching biography, just because it’s so challenging to do the latter and make it compelling. I’m excluding documentaries for this post, as it’s kind of a whole different genre entirely.

If I were to choose my top 10 favorites from what I’ve seen, it’d probably look something like this (in no particular order):

  1. Schindler’s List (1993)
  2. Veronica Guerin (2003)
  3. Ray (2004)
  4. The Insider (1999)
  5. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  6. Elizabeth (1998)
  7. Hotel Rwanda (2004)
  8. Amazing Grace (2006)
  9. The Queen (2006)
  10. Walk The Line (2005)

5 Honorable Mentions: Amadeus, The King’s Speech, The Fighter, Nowhere Boy, The Aviator

I say ‘favorite’ because a large part of how well we receive a biopic is how much we care about the subject matter. I mean, I’m fascinated by royal families (esp. British), but I know some people don’t and they probably aren’t going to be keen on films about them. Of course another big thing is how well we think the actors portray the real-life persona on screen, physical resemblance notwithstanding. Keep in mind I haven’t seen some of the essentials like Gandhi, Citizen Kane, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Ragging Bull, etc.


So my question to you two-fold… do you like Biopics and which ones are your favorite?