Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Holidays in the Sun

Captain Phillips: adapted from non-fiction books by Richard Phillips and Stephan Talty by Billy Ray; directed by Paul Greengrass; starring Tom Hanks (Captain Richard Phillips) and Barkhad Abdi (Muse) (2013): Solid hostage drama drags a bit towards the end, with one too many false endings, but nonetheless manages to makes its characters sympathetic. The movie shows the dreadful conditions that lead Somali pirates to hijack an American-registered cargo ship, though the narrative focus remains squarely on Tom Hanks' salt-of-the-earth common-man hero throughout.

As a thriller, the movie especially shines in the first hour, as the cargo ship attempts to repel the boarders before being seized. The second half alternates between the claustrophobia of the life boat the pirates have seized, along with Captain Philips as a hostage, and the U.S. Navy's efforts to secure the cargo ship, the pirates, and Captain Phillips. Trimmed by about 15 minutes, the film could have courted greatness. As is, it's eminently watchable, suspensefully directed and written, and strongly acted by all involved, especially the mostly untrained actors playing the Somalis. Recommended.


We're the Millers: written by Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders and John Morris; directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber; starring Jennifer Aniston (Rose), Jason Sudeikis (David Clark), Emma Roberts (Casey Mathis), Will Poulter (Kenny), Ed Helms (Brad Gurdlinger), Nick Offerman (Don), and Kathryn Hahn (Edie) (2013): I laughed a lot during this uneven comedy hit. I cringed sometimes. And I scratched my head at one incredibly off-base bit about giving a Mexican cop a blow-job that's both tremendously unfunny and painfully drawn out.

It's ultimately a studio comedy, so We're the Millers has to have its characters Learn Better. Thankfully, the cast is good enough to pull the movie through the bad parts. Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn help a lot in supporting roles as a loveable, right-wing couple whom the 'family' meets as they're trying to smuggle a couple of tons of marijuana from Mexico back to Colorado. As the fake family created to smuggle that pot, Sudeikis, Aniston, Roberts, and Poulter do some sharp work.

Freed from playing a nice lead, Aniston manages to be funny, and Poulter as the nerdy teen-aged 'son' may be the most consistently funny actor in the film. Sudeikis seems a bit miscast, possibly because his dialogue sounds as if it were all written for Danny McBride. Despite some rough patches, We're the Millers is that modern rarity, a funny studio comedy. Recommended.

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