Commentary

October 25, 2013

Fly Over: ‘Captain Phillips’, and ‘Machete Kills’

Capt-Phillips

‘Captain Phillips’

Remember when Tom Hanks could act? Well, thanks to his most recent effort, it appears he’s back.
“Captain Phillips” is the retelling of the true-life events of a 2009 Somali hijacking of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship off the Somali coast.
The recent history captured the public’s attention for the duration of Phillips’ capture, which led to a book, 15 minutes of fame and some controversy.
Hanks stars as Capt. Rich Phillips, an ordinary ship captain on a routine trip hauling cargo through the Indian Ocean along the African coast. He’s nothing extraordinary and even mentions as such earlier in the film when he describes reaching his position of authority through mostly determination and will. But, he shows a great deal of attention to detail while examining the ship and the competence you’d want in an individual in charge of a large shipping vessel.
He runs his crew through drills to prepare them for the possibility of a pirate attack. The Somali coast has been a pirate haven since the collapse of the Somali government in the early 90s following a civil war. Questioned by a crew member about their traveling so closely to the coast – their proximity to the Somali coast is one of the many real-life controversies surrounding the pirate attack – Phillips explains that no matter which direction they travel the probability of an attack is just as likely.
Sure enough, a mother ship and two smaller fishing vessels attempt to overtake the Alabama shortly after the crew entered Somali water. Fortunately, through quick action and a faster vessel the Alabama is able to escape the pirate attack. However, the next day four pirates return with a single, faster vessel and are able to capture the much larger ship through sheer willpower and determination by their English-speaking leader, Muse (Barkhad Abdi).
What I really like about Paul Greengrass’ (“United 93”) film is that they went into detail about why the Somalis became pirates. Throughout the film, Muse reminds Phillips that they’re mere fishermen, which to an extent is true. Many of the coastal villages along Somali’s vast coastline, the largest in Africa, were home to humble fishermen with small, barely buoyant vessels. Shortly after the fall of Somali’s central government in 1991, foreign vessels began to pilfer the rich, fish-filled waters off the Somali coast. According to a Time magazine article, a U.N. report estimates that roughly $300 million worth of fish are stolen from the country yearly, leaving what used to be humble Somali fishermen with no way to earn a living and provide for their families.
Initially, some of these fishermen formed small rudimentary coastguard militias to try and ward off the larger fishing vessels, but to no avail. And now in a country that rivals the lawlessness of Afghanistan, these same fishermen who tried initially to save their way of life have instead turned into pirates who ransom captured ships for large sums of money.
The biggest problem with Muse and his three pirate buddies is that they decided to capture an American. After a series of misadventures and some bravery by the Alabama’s crew, the pirates are driven from the ship. Unfortunately, they were able to take Phillips with them in their life boat. However, the U.S. Navy and Navy Seals quickly became involved. The rest really is history, Google it.
Even though you already know the outcome, the film keeps you on the edge of your seat. The final climatic 15 to 20 minutes is about as tense and enthralling as an ending can get. Hanks does an amazing job depicting the raw emotion you’d expect a captive would demonstrate shortly after their rescue. And furthermore, I want to be a Navy SEAL when I grow up.
This film is rated PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images and for substance use.

 

Machete-Kills-poster

‘Machete Kills’

Along with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s double feature “Grindhouse,” an exploitation of the exploitation films of the 70s, there were several fake trailers that were filmed simply to re-enact the feel of sitting in a grindhouse movie theater. These B-movie trailers, however, soon started getting films of their own, so far including “Hobo With a Shotgun” and “Machete.” The grindhouse style seems to have become more popular with such projects, but with the release of “Machete’s” sequel, “Machete Kills,” it seems to be losing its luster.
After a mission along the Arizona-Mexico border goes wrong, Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) is recruited by the president of the United States (Carlos Esteves) to track down a madman and his Mexican resistance movement. They have a missile aimed directly at Washington and demand the U.S. tear down a newly erected wall along the Southern Border.
Machete, however, soon finds himself in a much bigger conflict than that of terrorism and illegal border activity.
While the plot to “Machete Kills” gets as outlandish as the grindhouse style requires, it fails with its execution. The one thing the audience should not be feeling while watching a man armed with a machete fight his way through Mexico is boredom, and unfortunately, there was never an exciting action scene. Even when Machete sends a speed boat flying backward into a dock full of armed men, the scenes are over quickly and have little intensity.
There were additional entertaining moments as the film went on, including an impossible but brilliant use of a helicopter propeller, but these were few and far between.
Another issue was the characters. There is a colorful Rogue’s Gallery going on with El Camaleón, Madame Desdemona (Sofia Vergara) and Luther Voz (Mel Gibson), and yet none of them, except maybe Voz, get enough scenes to show off their ludicrous shtick. The majority of Desdemona’s best scenes, for example, last about as long as they do in the film’s trailers.
The cast for this film is perfect with faces that most movie goers will recognize, and admittedly this is from where much of the “fun” of this movie comes. Vergara and Gibson are clearly having fun with their villainous roles, and Demián Bichir as the terrorist Mendez seems to be channeling the character of Tuco from “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” which was very enjoyable. Charlie Sheen as the president was also fun to watch. And as little time as they get, Walton Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Antonio Banderas, and even Lady Gaga were fairly entertaining as the multiple disguises of El Camaleón. Everyone else is simply “there,” however, and worse yet Trejo is counted among them. It just didn’t come off that Trejo was really into his role for the second time (fifth if you count the “Spy Kids” films, but the characters are so different it’s kind of hard to tell).
It’s strange that “Machete Kills” does not have the ever-present “aged film” look that “Grindhouse” had. This, combined with some really bad green screen made the movie look cheap instead of “appearing” cheap. The over-use of computer-generated blood effects doesn’t help the exploitation style, and the random cuts or corruptions of scenes simply seem out of place instead of part of the film. It also wouldn’t be surprising if the script went through multiple rewrites, as characters come and go and plot twists that aren’t exactly surprises seem to just appear when they want to. Overall, it just seemed like an actual mess of a production instead of the one the audience is supposed to imagine.
The grindhouse style does have its quirks, but “Machete Kills” fails to pt off successfully. Maybe its upcoming sequel, “Machete Kills Again … In Space,” will have better luck, if it doesn’t over-shoot the mark entirely.
“Machete Kills” is rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language and some sexual content.




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