Thursday, January 30, 2014

Movie Review: “Captain Phillips”

   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.

The Cast

   There shouldn’t be much I have to say about Tom Hanks. Either you like his work or you don’t, as I find him to be pretty consistent. Here he portrays real life Captain Richard Phillips in the retelling of the hijacking of the container ship Maersk Alabama. Hanks is convincing in his role, as expected, and really delivers later in the film in  ascend that separates the good actors from the great ones.

   Barkhad Abdi plays Muse, the leader of the pirates. He gives us a brief glimpse into the life of a Somali pirate, or more accurately, a Somali with little hope for a future and thus, resorting to a life that further diminishes that hope. He is very believable in the role, having fled Somalia in real life and thus able to channel real life feelings into the role.

   Faysal Ahmed plays Najee, another one of the pirates in the crew of Muse, but from another village. Picked for his size, Najee becomes an antagonist to the antagonist in the film. He was very real and convincing, again, being able to channel real life experiences, but he goes a step further and is able to induce real fear as the nature of his character is unstable and unpredictable…yet intelligent and focused.

The Plot: 
   Captain Richard Phillips has accepted responsibility for transporting cargo for the container ship Maesrk Alabama, on a route that is particularly prone to pirate attacks. Wanting to get the job done, he embarks on his mission, with a bit of trepidation. 

   Muse is a Somali with little options for making money, so has turned to piracy as a way of life. Answerable to others with more men and bigger guns, he assembles a crew to search for plausible targets to hijack. Among his four man crew is Najee, a man from another village that has come looking for work and the opportunity to make money, through piracy. 

   When Muse targets the Maersk Alabama because of it’s lone position and close proximity, he refuses to be deterred from his goal. Captain Phillips recognizes the threat, but all his efforts cannot stop the inevitable, and all his fears are realized when the Maersk Alabama is finally boarded.

   What follows is a riveting account of both crews trying to survive, one trying to survive the pirates, and the other…the pirates, trying to survive the only way they know how. Eventually, it comes down to Captain Philips, alone doing all he can to get back to his family as the situation deteriorates and only gets worse as the US Navy becomes involved…and they only have one way to resolve the situation.

The Verdict: 
   Although I found this film to be entertaining, I did feel that there was some inevitability to it. I say that to express that for me, I felt as there were no surprises in it. I knew the pirates were going to get on board. I knew they were going to have Phillips in a situation that he couldn’t overcome alone. I knew it wasn’t going to end well for them.

   Knowing all that, I was really surprised by the acting of Faysal Ahmed in particular as he was the one that always stole whatever scene he was in because you never knew when his loose cannon character was going to finally explode. His look of madness and utter contempt for his hostage is what gave you the sense that something bad could happen at anytime…and that he might be the catalyst for breaking the predictability feeling of the film.

   Tom Hanks is always an excellent actor to watch, but it isn’t until the last five minutes of the film do you see why he is thought of as great, instead of just good. Kudos to Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Danielle Albert for making the final scene the most memorable of the film…delivering three and a half cinnamon sticks, out of five, in my cup of tea.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Good Guys Don’t Wear Badges (Part 1)

   There was a time when being a police officer commanded respect from the public…because officers conducted themselves with professionalism, and gave respect to those they have sworn to serve. Yes, there was a time, but that time has long since passed. Now we live in an age where the police are reviled because they have no respect for anyone but themselves, and act like criminals.

To say I’m angry would be a gross understatement. I’m so angry that I’m physically sick. As a father of four young men, I can’t imagine the grief Ron Thomas is feeling at having to hear the screams of his son, crying out for him and begging for his life, while the police continue to kill him. Richard Sherman (an NFL player) gives an emotion-filled trash talking interview and people call him a thug. I find this ridiculous, especially when you compare it to true thuggery as displayed by the Fullerton Police Department.

   I’m almost inclined to believe that there must be something in the water cops are drinking these days that is driving them insane. I grasp at that straw because what other explanation can there be for such clear and obvious disregard for procedure? From Fullerton to Oklahoma (Part 2 of this post) to anywhere USA, cops have lost their minds…and we are letting them remain lost. It’s disgusting and vile and must be stopped.

   In the case of Kelly Thomas, I can’t understand how any reasonable person comes to any conclusion to the culpability of Thomas’s death other than the Fullerton Police. Anyone watching the video can clearly see where it all goes wrong, and who is responsible for that shift in direction. For those that can’t, let me explain. Officer Manuel Ramos’s was looking for trouble. Let’s put aside that he’s obviously not trained to deal with mentally ill people, and focus on his inexplicable agitation for a man trying to comply with the ridiculous orders he’s giving. Then lets focus on the obvious police procedure of putting on latex gloves, and telling the person you are questioning that with the hands in those gloves, you are going to f@#k them up. I’m sure this is in every police manual in the country…since it makes perfect sense and is a necessary step in serving the public.

Forgive my sarcasm, but what idiot can’t understand that is the moment of accountability? Especially when a few seconds after that, Officer Ramos hits Thomas, inciting a chain of events that lead to the death of an innocent person. This was a clear case of assault and battery…assault being the threat of violence, and battery being the violence itself.

   The video is heartbreaking to watch, but everyone should watch it (especially with the text added by the court for clarity) and understand what is happening. I suppose it’s too late for the jury as they have found the cops not guilty. Kelly Thomas just died, out of the blue, with no indication that the police had anything to with his medical condition prior to his final heartbeat. The rest of us understand that the incredible physical trauma was directly responsible. At the VERY least, it’s manslaughter.

   Ask yourself some questions as you watch the video. Officer Jay Cicinelli admits on film to smashing Kelly’s face to hell. Is this also a procedure to be followed after a suspect is subdued? One officer comments that Kelly has defecated himself. Watching the video, I can’t say when that happened, but if it was prior to Kelly going silent, I’d chalk it up to fear. If it happened after he was quiet and motionless, then I’m reasonably sure the cause is death.

   In fact, I’m more than reasonably sure as the medics that arrived described Kelly as cyanotic and said there was no rise and fall in his chest, indicating that breathing had ceased.

   Kelly Thomas was described by cops as being “on something” as an explanation of his strength in trying to preserve his life. I submit that Kelly was a man fighting for his life…and knew he was going to die. He was in this state because a cop told him that he was going to be the victim of violence, and then began beating on him. Toxicology reports showed Thomas wasn’t on anything, but I know differently. I know he had extreme amounts of adrenaline going through his system. It’s part of the fight or flight reaction the human body experiences in life altering situations.

   There is no excuse for this heinous crime, no excuse for such excessive injuries. Kelly Thomas committed no crime and should have simply been told to go about his business. But because the good guys don’t wear badges anymore, just the sanctioned criminals, Thomas was killed when he could have either been freed or arrested.

   There needs to be justice for Kelly Thomas. Every cop involved that decided to depart from their training in favor of murder needs to be held accountable. The only people that can make that happen are the good people that recognize the criminality of these cops. Keep asking yourself the obvious questions, no matter how difficult the answers are. Then ask yourself one final question: What would you do if it was your son that died that night?

   Now, go do it…before it is.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Stranger Within

   Live life long enough and it will amaze you. Live longer still and that amazement will become a gateway into bafflement and shock. The nature of people is always something to observe and explore because it never gets old, just increasingly curious. Granted, I’m putting a soft spin on it because there are a whole host of other adjectives that can be used to describe the feeling one gets when they find out that someone they thought they knew, was really a stranger all along.

   I don’t think there are enough words that can adequately describe the feeling that the Twilight Zone is a real place, and that in an instant…you have stepped into it. One moment life is “normal,” or comparatively so as that state of being is relative to how you live and what your views are, and the next it’s completely un-normal (not a real word, but “different” doesn’t quite cover how opposite things can get).

   Shock is the usual description to discovering that you have been a captive audience to a show you didn’t even know was being performed. However, the word seems so mundane for making a discovery that forever alters your life. Life altering events aren’t always bad, I mean….winning the lottery would be a good thing right? At least, it would be a good thing for me. I’m still trying to figure out how such a great stroke of luck can destroy lives, but there is no denying that some people just can’t handle the blessing.

   No, I’m talking about the type of alteration you never wanted to have, and never saw coming. Till this point I haven’t been specific, mostly because I really don’t need to be. As you read this, if you have had such a thing happen to you…then you know exactly what I’m talking about. It doesn’t matter what you’ve discovered or about whom it pertains…just that the discovery has forever shaped the days that are to come and “pleasant” isn’t the word you will be associating with those days.

   I say that because none of us share the same story. Everyone walks in their own shoes, and often on their own stretch of road. The commonality being that somewhere on that road, we have discovered the stranger within. We have discovered that hidden person that was always there, standing in front of us…but never being presented. We have been deceived, lied to, mislead, fooled, played…however you wish to describe it, the bottom line is that a surprise party has been sprung…and the truth wasn’t invited.

   What happens next is the process of rebuilding. The arduous task of putting back together something that has been shredded, shattered, ripped, pulverized…utterly destroyed…or not. Sometimes that which has been broken, stays broken, and we simply build something new elsewhere. We simply keep moving forward, the only interest in rebuilding being the small pieces of ourselves that we invariably lose when we invest a little of ourselves in another.

   It’s a story as old as time…no matter the different forms it takes. The news is replete with stories of people discovering the strangers within others. I sometimes wonder if such a stranger lurks within all of us, just waiting for the right moment to emerge. I wonder if one stands in front of a mirror long enough, will it reveal or reflect something different than what is being seen? I think one of the greatest things a person can do is learn and intimately know thyself. So many of us are oblivious to who we really are and the shock of discovering our own inner stranger can be even greater than when someone else reveals theirs.

   The stranger within leaves us with so many questions, and answers that never seem to be adequate. Perhaps it’s better if we simply don’t ask any questions, but accept that a stranger is just that…strange. Something not meant to be understood but instead, meant to impart one of life’s important lessons. Perhaps the reason for it all is for us to learn something important about ourselves, but revealing how little we thought we knew about someone else.

   I don’t have all the answers, in fact…I don’t have any. I just know what it feels like to discover the stranger within, and understand that as tumultuous such a discovery can be…stranger things have happened.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Racial Face of Film

   This post will discuss the authenticity of movie material converted from pop culture literature and thus, delve into the often touchy, but unnecessarily so, subject of race. People tend to get defensive and put their guard up when the subject of race surfaces which, to me, is ridiculous. Clearly we are of one race (human) with many ethnicities and cultural diversity. To always hinge on this fact is pointless, but that said, there are instances when it needs to be discussed and I think film is one of them.

   If you are not familiar with my other blog, The Boxed Office, then please treat yourself to an awesome site. Every character I’m about to discuss has appeared in films exclusively discussed there (that is to say that blog is specific in genre). The reason I’m discussing it is because it seems to be a hot button issue with many fans and I’ve not seen anyone anywhere really lay the cards on the table and express what the beef is all about.

   Now, I’m familiar with those hardcore fans that want complete authenticity when it comes to converting comics to film, and wish Hollywood would do a better job of attaining it when casting decisions are made for certain characters. I’m one of them…sometimes. However, because I’ve also not seen a single character come to the silver screen unaltered in any way from the original material, I’ve become accustomed to looking the other way and accepting what I’m being fed. I’m not saying this is the right way to be because clearly in many instances, it’s not. Each of us must choose when, and if, we are going to accept such circumstances. 

   The latest buzz to get the race card pulled is Jamie Foxx as Electro. Yes, Maxwell Dillon is a white man, in both the mainstream and Ultimates Marvel Universe. In fact, most characters at their time of inception in comics were white. To stick with the material means the actors portraying them should also be white. I can understand this reasoning, especially if wanting authenticity with the original material. What I don’t get is the visceral reaction, especially when a character is changed from white to black.

 Kudos to Hollywood for knowing how to get the buzz going and get a rise out of people…for ticket sales. Shame on us (the public) for not realizing the game. I’m not a particular fan of Electro, so it doesn’t really bother me. However, as a fan of Wilson Fisk (The Kingpin), I had an issue with him being changed to a black man (RIP Michael Clarke Duncan). My preference has nothing to do with any personal racial bias (I’m a black man not wanting to see another black man play the Kingpin), but from a love of the character I’ve been reading for years.

   Now, anybody can use that argument to justify their outrage at Hollywood’s racial changes, but I find it hard to believe there were so many with deep character affection for such minor characters as Perry White (played by Lawrence Fishburne) or Heimdall (played by Idris Elba). If being absolutely true to the source material were the goal of moviemakers, aside from some extras scattered about, everyone in the cast of Thor would have been white…as I have yet to see a single black Asgardian in the comics. I wouldn’t have had issue with that, but Elba did do an excellent job in both films…just saying.

   There are two instances where I am staunch in my opinion on ethnic authenticity. One still ended up being an great performance, and the other…not so much. Khan Noonian Singh, the uberman from Star Trek, classically portrayed by Ricardo Montalban is one of my all-time favorite fictional characters. Benedict Cumberbach did a wonderful job as Khan…classic in his own rite. But with all the good  Indian actors inundating Bollywood, I very much wanted (and still want) to see Khan finally played by the ethnicity as written. I understand why it couldn’t be done in the 1960’s, but there’s no excuse today.

   There’s no excuse for Johnny Depp’s ridiculous portrayal of Tonto in the Lone Ranger. I know there are capable Native American actors available, but Hollywood, true to form, likes to go with name recognition for sales. Didn’t work so well that time. Now they say the Lone Ranger is based off a black man…go figure.

   I really can’t speak on anyone’s reasons but my own for wanting to see the material strictly adhered to, in those rare instances that I do. What I see though seems to be Hollywood trying to cash in with their version of playing the race card, and those of us still harboring racial tension using their play as an outlet for venting. No matter where you stand on the issue, it appears further discussion is still warranted. Here is your invitation.