It's hard to think of another film that leaves us quite so out of breath. Adapting his short film, first-time feature filmmaker Damien Chazelle grabs hold of the audience and never lets up, pounding us into submission with an exhilarating pace, blistering performances and never-flagging energy levels. It's an astonishing movie that reminds us of the visceral power of cinema in a story about the tenacity required to make it to the top.
At the centre of the storm is Andrew (Miles Teller), an aspiring drummer who is attending New York's most prestigious and cutthroat conservatory. His goal is to get into the elite jazz band led by Professor Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), whose brutal reputation is well-earned. A demanding, often cruel teacher, he belittles students with vein-popping diatribes. And he seems to have an extra well of bile just for Andrew, who is willing to put up with anything to be in his band. The question is whether Fletcher is trying to break him or push him to achieve even more. If Andrew hopes to survive, he might not be able to maintain a relationship with his new girlfriend Nicole (Melissa Benoist). But maybe it's worth the pain.
This is the blackest comedy imaginable, so harsh that our only response is to laugh bitterly at every hideous insult Fletcher heaps on his young musicians. Chazelle directs the film with such a brisk pace that it sometimes feels difficult to hang on for the ride, and even though some of the plot turns feel rather contrived, it's moving so quickly that we don't have time to worry about that. The entire film charges forward with the rhythms and energy of a powerful jazz riff, and even though it's often terrifying the ride is so much fun that we don't want it to end.
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With an attention to documentary detail that makes everything viscerally realistic, this film grabs hold and never lets go, cranking the suspense to nearly unbearable levels and then tightening its grip even further. Like director Greengrass' United 93, this is a film that makes us forget our daily routine, sending us on a harrowing journey that feels more like a life experience than watching a movie.
It's based on true events from March 2009, when Richard Phillips (Hanks) took a routine job captaining a cargo ship filled with food aid from Oman to Kenya. Then off the coast of Somalia, they're attacked by the tenacious pirate Muse (Abdi) and his three cohorts (Abdirahman, Ahmed and Ali). These aren't terrorists, they're desperate young men who take violent action only because they have to. But their demands for money go unmet, and the stand-off escalates as Phillips' crew fights back against the armed intruders. Then the American Navy responds with overwhelming force, trying to calm the situation without getting Phillips killed.
Aside from one background sequence in Somalia, we watch the entire story through Phillips' eyes, which makes us feel like we are right in the middle of it. Greengrass insists on realism, refusing to indulge in digital trickery when he can get real ships and helicopters out on the ocean instead. This gives the film a jolt of authenticity that's impossible to re-create in a studio, as we can feel the isolation of the expansive sea as well as the dangerous claustrophobia in the pod-like lifeboat where the climactic scenes play out. And there isn't a false note. Even with a well-known actor like Hanks in the central role, we are completely drawn in.
Continue reading: Captain Phillips Review
There's a subtle blast of righteous anger in this pointed drama, which finds present-day relevance in a true story that's more than 30 years old. The focus is on normal people who are caught up in an unjust system that leans toward ignorance and bigotry even if child's life is in danger. And watching them muster the strength to fight back is utterly riveting, because they're flawed and daunted exactly like we would be.
It takes place in 1979 Los Angeles, where Rudy (Cumming) works as a nightclub drag artist. When his hard-partying neighbour (Allman) abandons her Downs Syndrome son Marco (Leyva), Rudy steps up to take care of him. But he needs to find a longer-term solution, so he turns to Paul (Dillahunt), a divorced lawyer who has barely admitted to himself that he's gay. Rudy and Paul have only tentatively started a relationship, so Paul is reluctant. But Marco needs a guardian, so he helps Rudy get foster custody and moves them into his own home to help improve their legal status. But as they become a family, it becomes increasingly difficult for Paul to remain closeted, and when his sexuality emerges the court takes Marco away.
Even when the film shifts into a courtroom drama, it balances the drama with real-life humour and authentic emotional intensity. Watching these two compassionate men face systematic homophobia is pretty shocking, but filmmaker Fine never lets this become an issue movie: it's an involving story about people standing up for what's right. And by anchoring everything in the relationships, the film remains warm, relaxed and likeably awkward. This is mainly because Cumming and Dillahunt make such an unusual couple as the unapologetic queen and the strong-but-silent repressed guy.
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Captain Richard Phillips was in command of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama cargo ship on its voyage to Mombasa, Kenya carrying around 17,000 tons of cargo. However, a routine shipping turned into a deadly nightmare when a group of gun-toting, seafaring pirates from Somalia hijacked the vessel, easily avoiding the jets coming out of the fire hoses on all sides, and took the Captain hostage. With only minutes to spare before he came under attack, the brave Captain ordered his crew of 20 to hide, knowing full well that his life was under enormous threat.
Continue: Captain Phillips - International Trailer
Captain Richard Phillips never dreamed that his venture on board the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama cargo ship would turn into a perilous hostage situation when a savage group of seafaring Somali criminals sped towards the vast but markedly unarmed vessel in a bid to seize control of the goods on board. When the brave Captain was held at gunpoint in the first case of piracy in two centuries in 2009, he did everything within his power to ensure the safety of his crew while heroically risking his own life.
Continue: Captain Phillips Trailer
The events later known as the rape of Nanking happened quickly, over just six horrific weeks at the end of 1937 and into 1938, and because the city was so cut off at the time and the war went on for eight more years, much of the story went untold for decades. It wasn't until writer Iris Chang documented the tragedy in her 1998 book The Rape of Nanking that the true scope of the horror was made apparent. It was that book that inspired Nanking, a highly effective documentary that uses interesting techniques to tell its remarkable story.
Continue reading: Nanking Review
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It's hard to think of another film that leaves us quite so out of breath....
With an attention to documentary detail that makes everything viscerally realistic, this film grabs hold...
There's a subtle blast of righteous anger in this pointed drama, which finds present-day relevance...
Captain Richard Phillips was in command of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama cargo ship on...
Captain Richard Phillips never dreamed that his venture on board the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama...