Video Verdict: ‘Captain Phillips,’ ‘Blue Jasmine,’ ‘Machete Kills,’ ‘In a World…’

Tom Hanks stars in the Academy Award-nominated drama “Captain Phillips.”

Tom Hanks stars in the Academy Award-nominated drama “Captain Phillips.”

Two movies that earned multiple Academy Award nominations lead this week’s crop of new videos.

Captain Phillips

4 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use
Sony
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

Director Paul Greengrass offered a remarkable look at the 9/11 terrorist attacks in his 2006 film “United 93,” and he tackles another real-life event with “Captain Phillips.” The movie, which is terrific in every sense, focuses on the 2009 Indian Ocean hijacking of the cargo ship Maersk Alabama. During that incident, Somali pirates boarded the vessel and then took Captain Richard Phillips hostage.

Greengrass delivers a blow-by-blow account of the pirate attack and receives fantastic performances from his actors. Tom Hanks plays Phillips, and his reading of the embattled captain is so rich and realistic that the work ranks among the best of his career.

Also fantastic is Barkhad Abdi, a first-time movie actor who plays the leader of the Somali pirates. Abdi humanizes the character, allowing viewers to understand the desperation that some young Somalis feel, but he never downplays the man’s dangerous nature. His work was honored with an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.

Although Abdi received the only acting nomination, “Captain Phillips” got a total of six Oscar nods. It was also nominated for best picture, best adapted screenplay, best film editing, best sound mixing and best sound editing. That’s an impressive haul, but the film is deserving of more. Hanks should be in the best actor race and Greengrass’ work is superior to that of several of the Academy’s directing nominees.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include three making-of features and an audio commentary by Greengrass.

 

Blue Jasmine

4 stars
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content
Sony
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

Cate Blanchett received a Golden Globe, a Critics’ Choice Movie Award and an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Jeanette “Jasmine” Francis, the startlingly flawed protagonist of writer-director Woody Allen’s latest film.

Allen is prolific and his movies are hit and miss, but “Blue Jasmine” compares favorably to his greatest achievements. The story begins with Jasmine disembarking from a plane at San Francisco International Airport and moving into a tiny apartment rented by her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). In flashback, viewers learn that Jasmine has always looked down on her sister’s lower-middle-class lifestyle, despite the fact that Ginger is a loving, hard-working woman.

Ginger’s cluttered apartment immediately grates on Jasmine who has, until recently, been living in opulence in New York City. She and her ex-husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), were wealthy before he was imprisoned for fraud.

“Blue Jasmine” is fascinating in that it presents a perspective rarely seen on screen. Politicians spend plenty of time talking about poor and middle-class people with “entitlement” attitudes, but “Jasmine” argues that the wealthy feel just as entitled. Despite being homeless, Jasmine thinks nothing of flying first class and wearing the most expensive clothes simply because that is what she is accustomed to. Furthermore, she takes a job only when it becomes clear that there is no other option.

“Jasmine” avoids the manic dialogue that has become an Allen trademark, but the writing is still crisp, cutting and powerful. The cast is even better. Blanchett’s reading of Jasmine is so nuanced and deep that she should land the best actress Oscar. She takes Jasmine from seemingly strong and in control to the verge of a nervous breakdown in seconds, and the performance is believable and tragic.

Hawkins is also quite good. In fact, she matched Blanchett by landing an Oscar nomination in the supporting actress category. The movie also features solid work by Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Andrew Dice Clay and Peter Sarsgaard.

A lot of great movies reached theaters in 2013, but “Blue Jasmine” would stand out regardless of the competition.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include interviews with the cast.

 

In a World…

3 stars
Rated R for language including some sexual references
Sony
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

Although far from a household name, Lake Bell has been delivering likable performances in TV series and movies for a decade. “In a World…” is her most ambitious cinematic contribution to date, as she holds all of the primary artistic roles: writer, director and star.

The film follows the exploits of Carol Solomon (Bell) a struggling voice coach who has forever lived in the shadow of her famous father, Sam Soto (Fred Melamed). Sam is one of the most sought after voice-over artists in the film industry, and his golden pipes are regularly heard on trailers for huge Hollywood productions. Carol, on the other hand, spends her days teaching better-known actors to refine their vocal performances. And she spends her nights crashing with people who can afford their own apartments.

Carol gets an unexpected break when she is asked to read the voiceover for a blockbuster trailer that begins with the fabled words, “In a world…” To Sam and his peers, the gig represents the Holy Grail because late voiceover superstar Don LaFontaine made those words famous. In their view, the next person to speak them will be at the pinnacle of the industry.

When it appears that Carol has landed the job, it sparks an unforeseen competition between her and her father, and the film has a lot to say about career, ambition and family. Bell also peppers her delightful screenplay with subplots involving Carol’s romantic life and her sister’s marriage.

“In A World…” is clever and dynamic, particularly since it uses an unheralded branch of the film industry as a backdrop for themes that everyone can appreciate.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include deleted scenes, a gag reel and an audio commentary by Bell.

 

Machete Kills

3 stars
Rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language and some sexual content
Universal
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

In 2007, directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino teamed with several other filmmakers to create “Grindhouse,” a frothy tribute to the B movies that influenced them as youngsters. Today, that project has turned into an ongoing franchise with Rodriguez writing and directing a spinoff, “Machete,” and now a sequel to that spinoff.

Like the films that inspired them, these Grindhouse projects are light, goofy entertainments that put an emphasis on sex, blood and debauchery. They aren’t for everyone, but they’re loads of fun for the right audience, particularly since Rodriguez is more skilled than most of the B movie directors he apes.

In “Machete Kills,” Rodriguez again focuses on Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) a former federale who dispenses brutal justice, usually with the weapon that inspired his name. This time, Machete receives an assignment from the U.S. president, played gleefully by Charlie Sheen (billed as Carlos Estévez). Machete is promised U.S. citizenship if he stops a Mexican madman (Demián Bichir) who is threatening to fire a nuclear missile at the White House.

Machete takes the assignment and soon finds himself in a mission filled with beautiful women, double crosses and bloodshed. The plotting is simple and the themes straightforward, meaning Rodriguez spends most of his time refining the film’s goofy, action-packed style.

Trejo, a natural tough guy, is perfect in the leading role, and his talented and eclectic supporting cast includes Mel Gibson, Amber Heard, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara, Lady Gaga, Antonio Banderas and Cuba Gooding Jr. “Machete Kills” is no masterpiece, in large part because it is extreme by design. The movie is, however, good, gory fun, particularly for people who revel in B-movie excess.

Blu-ray and DVD extras include a making-of feature and deleted scenes.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Instructions Not Included”: Eugenio Derbez directs and stars in this comedy about a Mexican bachelor who is forced to care for a daughter he didn’t know he had. The movie – which is presented in Spanish with English subtitles – is the highest-grossing Spanish language film in U.S. history.

“It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”: Criterion Collection restoration of director Stanley Kramer’s 1963 comedy about a group of strangers racing to uncover a stash of buried treasure. The impressive ensemble cast includes Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney and Jonathan Winters.

“La Vie De Bohème”: Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s cinematic adaptation of Henri Murger’s 1851 novel. The Giacomo Puccini opera “La bohème” is based on the same book, and the story centers on impoverished artists living in Paris. Kaurismäki’s film was released in 1992 and it won several awards in Europe. Presented in French with English subtitles.

“NYPD Blue” – Season Five: This ensemble drama ran for 13 years on ABC, winning numerous Emmy Awards. The storylines focus on police officers working in New York City’s 15th precinct. Dennis Franz, Jimmy Smits, Gordon Clapp, Nicholas Turturro and Kim Delaney star.

“Bullet in the Face” – The Complete Series: All six episodes of the short-lived IFC series about a violent hit man who, after being shot face, is given a new look and recruited to work for the police. Max E. Williams and Kate Kelton star.

“Old Goats”: Comedy about three Seattle seniors trying to make the most of their golden years. Britton Crosley, Bob Burkholder and David Vanderwal star. Written and directed by newcomer Taylor Guterson.

“Cat People”: Blu-ray debut of director Paul Schrader’s 1982 horror film about a young woman (Nastassja Kinski) who discovers that her sexual urges transform her into a powerful leopard. Malcolm McDowell, John Heard and Annette O’Toole also star.

“Touchdown Charlie Brown!”: A collection of several cartoons from Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts characters. Included is the short feature “It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown” plus three episodes of “The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show.”

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘Captain Phillips,’ ‘Blue Jasmine,’ ‘Machete Kills,’ ‘In a World…’

  1. smilingldsgirl

    Captain Phillips was an excellent movie. I like the way that he wasn’t really a hero. He was just a man that had this happen to him and survived. The music wasn’t over the top and there weren’t many grand speeches. Felt very real. I sometimes don’t like the shaky cam but in this case Greengrass made it feel like we were a crewmember on the boat making the decisions along with Hanks. Very good movie. I thought it could have been a hair shorter but still very good.

  2. Glad you liked it. I think it’s one of the best released last year. In fact, I gave Tom Hanks my best actor vote in the critics’ organizations I am part of. I think it’s a shame he didn’t receive an Oscar nomination.

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