Sunday, 20 October 2013

Captain Phillips (2013)

Captain Phillips - Tom Hanks

Captain Phillips Trailer

Genre: Adventure, Biography, Action
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman
Director:  Paul Greengrass
IMDB Rating: 8.1/10
My Rating: 7/10
Runtime: 134mins

Synopsis: Captain Phillips is a story about an American cargo ship that gets hijacked by Somalian pirates off the coast of Somalia. The long and gruelling tale is a version of true events. 

Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, United 93) knows how to make nail-biting blockbusters and Captain Phillips is no exception. The film has a beautiful pace to it, quickly cutting between the payday hungry pirates and the ill-prepared American crew. We assume that the pirates will eventually board the huge vessel but it's how they will manage it that keeps us interested. The camera-work is largely handheld adding a sense of urgency to the film, however, mixed in are some amazing aerial shots of the shipping fleet which illuminate any sense of claustrophobia. For a film with a relatively simple plot, the story does drag a little, but I'd imagine Captain Phillips felt the same way when he was being held hostage!

An interesting case study would be to compare Captain Phillips to the similarly themed Danish film, A Hijacking (2012). Directed by Tobias Lindholm (The Hunt) and starring Pilou Asbaek and Soren Malling (Borgen), the film is a much more realistic account of how a hijacking would normally play out. A Hijacking focuses on the prolonged negotiations that take place between the pirates and the shipping company whereas Captain Phillips centres around the individual. Both films are high in tension and use local actors to play the Somalian pirates, but the drama contrasts significantly. I can think of no two better films to explain the difference between Hollywood and European cinema. 

For this reason I'd urge you to watch both of them; each film has their strengths and their weaknesses but personally, being against American populism, I much prefer the way the Danes tell the tale.

Irrespective of what actually went down on Captain Phillips' ship, the film is entertaining throughout and looks great on the big screen. I'd recommend it for a fun night out. 

- by Gavin FitzGerald

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Rush (2013)

Rush - Ron Howard - Chris Hemsworth - Film Review

Rush, 2013, Trailer

Genre: Drama, Biography, Action
Starring: Daniel Brühl , Chris Hemsworth , Olivia Wilde
Director:  Ron Howard
IMDB Rating: 8.3/10
My Rating: 7.0/10
Runtime: 2hrs 3mins

Synopsis: Rush tells the story of the great Formula 1 rivalry between English man James Hunt and Austrian Niki Lauda. Hunt is everything Lauda is not - brash, unpredictable, a party animal and a ladies man. Lauda on the other hand is methodical, calculated, hard working and socially inept. They are, however, both fantastic race car drivers and battle it out during one of the most dangerous periods for the sport - the 1970's. The story is a biographical account of the events which took place in the epic 1976 Formula 1 racing season.

It's hard not to compare this film to the wonderful 2010 documentary Senna. Although the characters and setting have changed, Rush feels like the Hollywood version of the film. This is not a criticism, just an observation. Rush has a certain documentary aesthetic, most notably in the cinematography, where D.O.P. Anthony Dod Mantle mimics camera angles you might see on the television. The film looks fantastic, in particular the shots of the Formula 1 cars during heavy rainfall.

This is a film about a sporting rivalry. Director Ron Howard shares equal time with Hunt and Lauda such that, at times, I found it hard to decide who I was rooting for. Both characters have their strengths and their flaws. Perhaps this was intentional? Sports fans are prone to sunshine supporting and Formula 1 is no exception. It's amazing how quickly a crowd can turn on you. If I had to chose which character I preferred, I would have to say Lauda. Daniel Bruhl (Goodbye Lenin) is the stand out performer for me and I'd be surprised not to see him take home an Oscar this year.

The film tries it's best to remain truthful to the events that took place. As a result, there's a section in the middle of the timeline that we could have done without. It's the fourth quarter of the film that really starts to get juicy. Personally, I would have had this turning point come sooner. It must be a very difficult decision to make when writing a biographical film - do I neglect the truth for a better story or do I stay true to events? In some ways, I think Ron Howard tried to do both and, as a result, some parts are better than others. I wonder if a more 'loosely based' true story would have had a better outcome? Either way, Rush is a thoroughly engaging film and you need not have a clue about Formula 1 racing to enjoy it.

- by Gavin Fitzgerald

Friday, 4 October 2013

1979 Gary Numan & Tubeway Army - Replicas

Gary Numan & Tubeway Army, 'Are Friends Electric'

Info: The 1970’s drew to a close with a flood of great albums from household names such as Joy Divison’s Unknown Pleasures, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, London Calling by The Clash, Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall, two Neil Young & Crazy Horse albums, not to mention AC/DC’s classic, Highway to Hell, spoiling music fans in what I deem to be the best decade for music in terms of innovation and sheer volume of what would become timeless albums. So while my final album wouldn’t necessarily be obscure by any means, and the artist certainly isn’t, I’m going to finish up the seventies with Gary Numan & Tubeway Army’s 1979 album, Replicas, as one that is far from the mind in comparison to what else was released that year. 

Gary Anthony James Webb was born in 1958 in Hammersmith, west London and had a fairly uneventful childhood, the well-educated son of a British Airways bus driver he orignally joined the Air Training Corps as a teen and then had various jobs including as a fork-lift driver and office clerk before he became recognised as a serious contender in the late 1970’s on the music scene, only a few short years after his father had bought him a Les Paul Gibson guitar at the age of 15. According to The Little Black Book of Music he was a loner as a child and a bit of a recluse, fascinated by cars, aeroplanes and money, and this personality seemed to divide the UK music press when he was at the height of his popularity, they would regularly ridicule him and categorised him as being uncool. This didn’t dissuade his growing legion of fans who were taken by his detached stage presence. Numan himself states that he changed his name when he saw an advertisement in the Yellow Pages for a plumber named A.Neumann, though I personally don’t think the difference between Webb and Numan would have altered his course drastically. 

It’s safe to say that Numan’s creative powers never surpassed the point they were at in 1979 and the very early 80’s, and this is reflected in the fact that he released his two greatest works, The Pleasure Principle (featuring best known song ‘Cars’) and Replicas, within months of each other that year. With his mythical band Tubeway Army the king of synth creates an amazing sonic landscape where organ-style piano, Moog synthesizers and drum machines come together to give a feel of a dreary, futuristic, industrial world. A definite theme, which is obvious from lyrics and song titles, is the relationship between robots and humans, Numan impersonates a replicant (for want of a better word), similar to the bio-engineered androids of 1982’s Blade Runner, observing the world through his eyes and the cagey, untrusting relationship between him and humans. The album seems to develop into a reversal of humans being in charge of the relpicants, on Track 5, ‘Down In The Park’, the sinister android invites us to ‘Come to zom-zoms, a place to eat, like it was built in one day, you can watch the humans, try to run’. 

We also come across Numan’s paranoia and awareness that he could be terminated by humans at the flick of a switch, on the superb opening track ‘Me! I Disconnect From You’ he pleads; ‘Please don't turn me off, I don't know what I’m doing outside, me and the telephone that never rings, if you were me, what would you do? Me, I disconnect from you.’ Being a sci-fi afficionado I love this type of album, in the same why I love the Alan Parsons Project album I reviewed recently, I Robot, but what’s really great about the album is you don’t have to get hung up on the theme or the message, because the music itself is super. Just listen to the amazing, spacey instrumental that is closing track, ‘I Nearly Married A Human’ or the albums catchiest song in the above video, ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’. Replicas my ‘friends’ is a masterpiece, both enjoyable and haunting but ultimately unforgettable, there is not one bad song from start to finish. 

Track Listing:
1) Me! I Disconnect From You
2 )Are ‘Friends’ Electric?
3) The Machman
4) Praying to the Aliens
5) Down in the Park
6) You Are In My Vision
7) Replicas
8) It Must Have Been Years
9) When The Machines Rock
10) I Nearly Married A Human

Side note: If you enjoyed the above video, you could do worse than joining me at Gary Numan’s live show in Dublin in November, The Button Factory, tickets are only €25 and reviews of his UK tour have been extremely positive