Riveting 'Captain Phillips'
Owls Head — Captain Phillips (Sony, blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 134 min.). This riveting film recreates the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by Somali pirates. The audience shares Capt. Richard Phillip's harrowing ordeal every step of the way. The picture, directed by Paul Greengrass, keeps the viewer on edge even though the real-life outcome is known in advance. The film earned six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Star Tom Hanks does some of his best work as Phillips -- particularly the scene after his rescue. The film opens with Phillips being driven from his Vermont home to the airport by his wife. As he flies to Oman to meet the cargo ship he will be piloting, we meet the pirates, men for whom seizing foreign ships is simply a job. The leader of the handful who seize the Maersk Alabama is Capt. Muse (Oscar-nominated Barkhad Abdi).
The pirates first try to seize the huge ship with two skiffs, and Phillips and crew win a suspenseful cat-and-mouse game. However, Muse and three other pirates return the next day and finally board the container ship. This is a riveting sequence. Phillips make some smart moves that leads to a standoff. In order to save his crew and the ship, Phillips is taken by the pirates in a lifeboat (fascinating technology in itself), to be held for ransom. As the pirates head for shore, the U.S. military is called in and arrives on the scene, as tensions mount.
The excellent film looks and sounds great. There are not too many extras, but they include thorough audio commentary by director Greengrass and a 59-minute, third-party making-of feature. Grade: film 4 stars; extras 3 stars.
Escape Plan (Summit, blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 115 min.). Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are paired together as leads for the first time in this prison film with an interesting concept. BStallone plays Ray Breslin, whose work is to act as a prison inmate and escape if he can. Schwarzenegger plays Emil Rottmayer, a prisoner in the private, escape-proof prison, The Tomb. The irony of the film is Schwarzenegger, recently the former governor of California, does a decent job here, much less stiff than his usual performance, while Stallone is the stiff one.
The opening is fun as we just see Breslin as a prisoner, not knowing what his occupation is. He is offered his next job by the CIA. It is to be taken and incarcerated in The Tomb, an off-the-books prison. There, Jim Caviezel plays Warden Hobbes and the cells are glass cubes. Again Breslin, with the help of new friend Rottmayer, is able to figure a way out, only to be thwarted by an extra layer of security on the outside. That forces him to come up with a new plan, which is more brute force than cleverness -- and that lets the film down.
Extras include audio commentary by director Mikael Hafstrom and co-writer Miles Chapman; a 22-minute making-of feature; a 22-minute look at real-life prisons; a 15-minute look at the pairing of the two stars; and eight minutes of deleted scenes. Grade: film and extras 3 stars
The Lone Ranger (Disney, blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 149 min.). The main sin of this overly-maligned film is that it is too long. I actually found the film to be a lot of fun, particularly in the banter between Johnny Depp's bit weird Tonto (he wears a bird on his head) and Armie Hammer's Lone Ranger/John Reid.
The year is 1933 and the place is a wild west exhibition in a carnival near the under-construction Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. A young boy encounters a really old Tonto as the Noble Savage and he tells the story in flashback, with several returns to Tonto and the young boy. After seeing Reid and Tonto as bank robbers, we see how they first meet. Tonto is a prisoner on a train next to the soon-to-be-hanged outlaw Butch Cavendish (a disturbing-looking William Fichtner). However, Cavendish is set free, part of an overall plot by railroad builder Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson) to wipe out the Indians because of a huge precious medal find.
Highlights include a train crash that includes a miracle survival; Reid's first shot; and the totally wild two-train finale (which actually was mostly filmed on highways). Extras include Hammer's road trip film of all the classic filming locations; a look at cowboy boot camp for the actors; a look at the train stunt work; bloopers; and a deleted scene in pre-viz format. Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 2.5 stars