Captain Phillips

captain-phillips-international-posterIn movies, certain monikers immediately invoke evil. Hannibal Lechter, Freddy Krueger, Chucky – if you hear one of those names screamed out, chances are you’re in for a bloody good time. But some of the worst offenders aren’t even on the screen; they hide behind the grips and the best boys, silently moving among the crew while whispering things to the cinematographer like “You don’t need that tripod” and “Here, have another Red Bull.” They are an elite group of very jittery men, but there is one who quivers above them all: the Voldermort of directors, the one whose name can only be pronounced with a Slytherin-like hiss: Greengraaasssss.

I was excited when I heard there was a new Tom Hanks film coming out. And then I read it was about a ship taken over by Somali pirates and I was a tad apprehensive because movies filmed on water can be problematic if you’re a little prone to motion-sickness. But I made it through Castaway so I thought I could probably get through this one, too. Until I saw the director’s name mentioned in a review and had a sudden flashback of Matt Damon and his extremely shaky search for his supremacy and it all came flooding back: Greeengraaasssss.

His name is Paul Greengrass and if you look him up in IMBD, there will be a small puddle of vomit next to his picture. Director of The Bourne Supremacy and United 93, his choppy editing style and hand-held camerawork have made him a legend among those of us affected by this kind of movie. And not a legend in a good way – more like a chupacabra who runs up and down the aisles of the theatre and laughs and blocks the exit as you try to run out toward the bathroom.

And yet, even with all the bobbing and shaking and jerking— I almost hate to type this— Captain Phillips is a riveting film. As much as I despise the technique he employs, I have to admit that Greengrass knows how to move the camera so that the tension is ramped up to eleven. I was practically vibrating in my seat, unable to sit still as the pirate takeover got out of hand and became a kidnapping. Even knowing the ending didn’t abate the suspense – the film is based on a book written by the real Captain Phillips, so his odds of survival were pretty good. The relationship between the two captains (Hanks and Barkhad Abdi) is fascinating, and the way the ship prepared for a pirate boarding was a study in failed security.

I’m going to throw in a Spoiler Alert here, so stop reading if you haven’t seen the film. The most remarkable part of the movie was after Phillips had been rescued and brought aboard a Navy ship for medical treatment. You rarely see the results of violence in action films – it’s often portrayed as it would be in a video game, with the collateral damage unseen and the psyches of the victims untarnished. But this film showed that Phillips was completely traumatized by what he had gone through, in shock, barely able to speak and stuttering to answer questions posed by the doctors. It’s a raw, honest look at the after effects of violence, and it will probably garner Tom Hanks another Academy Award nomination.

My symptoms were similar to Mr. Hanks after I emerged from the theatre, but no one is handing me any awards for keeping my popcorn down. But at least the damn chupacabra has stopped laughing at me.

Barf Bag rating: FOUR BAGS At this point, I just automatically assign any Paul Greengrass film four bags. I think he would be insulted if I did not.Four Bags

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Gravity

gravity-posterI thought our time together was over. I warned you as often as I could, but lately things have been on a pretty even keel and I sensed you didn’t need me any more. Directors have moved onto new technology, found new ways to tantalize our senses, and every film I went to was like watching angels ice-skating or majestic condors gliding on air. I was going to slip quietly away into cyberspace; let the Barf Bags pile up on some server in the clouds, uncounted and unnecessary.

But then something happened; this movie started to get a lot of chatter about special effects and floating and space and bad things that can happen if you ever leave your basement and suddenly I realized: You DO need me! Someone has to warn the world about this film! Someone has to stand on the edge of the internet and shout into the void: this movie is going to make you barf!

Gravity has opened to fabulous reviews, academy award talk and lots of positive buzz. The film deserves the press it’s getting and it will probably garner lots of nominations. But this about more than just striking camera work and awesome special effects masterminded by director Alfonso Cuarón; this is about what is going to happen to your lower intestines. While the critics are tossing accolades, you are going to be tossing your cookies.

This movie is ninety minutes of spinning in space; spinning while things fly through the air and smash into stuff, spinning while floating weightlessly through corridors, spinning while tethered to other astronauts and spinning just for the sake of spinning. There is no fixed horizon to latch onto because they are in space, so you end up about as pale as Sandra Bullock does as she tries to hold it together in zero gravity. It’s actually a very clever way to really feel like you are part of the crew in peril, but if I had wanted to be an astronaut I wouldn’t have cut all those algebra classes in high school.

I have to admit that much of the spinning took place in my imagination because I had my eyes closed for a large part of the film, but between the 3D headache and the queasiness from the swirling, it was really the only way to survive to the end to see if Sandy and George made it out alive.

Sandy and George; they’re like old friends, aren’t they? They are so familiar to us as movie stars that in some ways it felt like they were miscast in the film. Sandra Bullock was quite good, and managed to get beyond her popular persona and meld with her character. But George Clooney was George Clooney; I never for one moment thought he was an astronaut. There were times you heard only his voice and it sounded like he was narrating a beer commercial. But I have to admit if I was stranded in space with only one voice to soothe me, his is probably the one I would want. And in return, I hope that he would hold my hair back after what his movie did to me.

Four BagsBarf Bag Rating: FOUR BAGS  This movie joins other four baggers in the Barf Bag Hall of Fame, nestled right between The Bourne Supremacy and Exit at the Gift Shop. As you can well imagine, the Barf Bag Hall of Fame does not smell very good.

Random thought: I’m sure the skimpy tank top and boy shorts that Sandra Bullock wears under her spacesuit are standard NASA issued gear. I would just like to know why we didn’t get to see George in the same outfit.