Captain Phillips (2013)

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The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years. (IMDb)
An effective and well-acted thriller in three parts: First, two contrasting settings slowly converge as the dread grows and the inevitable capture happens. Second, the captains clash in a burst of tense negotiation while Phillips and his crew attempt secret subversions. Finally, a hostage situation pushes characterization beyond bad guy and good guy and builds to a striking epilogue (see Phillips’ breakdown; the subtle theme of American dominance in Muse’s arrest: “All your friends are dead.”)
8/10 (Great)

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

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A murder inside the Louvre and clues in Da Vinci paintings lead to the discovery of a religious mystery protected by a secret society for two thousand years — which could shake the foundations of Christianity. (IMDb)
Everyone likes a good treasure hunt, and the one here intrigues from the beginning (a murdered man’s cryptic last words), with a fugitive plot adding extra urgency and excitement, even if Hanks and Tautou don’t wow. But as the clues and twists pile up and the pivotal secret is elaborated upon ad nauseum (the exposition gets excruciating) it all starts to just “sound so stupid”, to quote the film’s Sophie. What began as a decent adventure thriller becomes bloated and self-important schlock.
6.5/10 (Alright)

Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

A drama based on a Texas congressman Charlie Wilson’s covert dealings in Afghanistan, where his efforts to assist rebels in their war with the Soviets have some unforeseen and long-reaching effects. (IMDb)
If it wasn’t for Hoffman’s delightfully abrasive Gust there wouldn’t be much to really latch onto in this scattered political drama/comedy: The offbeat bureaucratic humour is good and works fine with the jumpy direction and quick run-time, but when more serious war themes are inserted into the mix the film starts to feel a little messy and rushed–with the abrupt switch from the provoking “Zen master” final thought to the cliche and sappy string-laced conclusion being the worst example of this.
6.5/10 (Alright)

Philadelphia (1993)

When a man with AIDS is fired by his law firm because of his condition, he hires a homophobic small time lawyer as the only willing advocate for a wrongful dismissal suit. (IMDb)
Great elements here are held back by little snags: Beautiful editing (see the Springsteen- and Young-backed bookending montages) and unique shots by long scenes that drag a tad; compelling courtroom drama by its abrupt conclusion that doesn’t follow its build-up; the intriguing central relationship by Miller’s unclear character development. That said, the film’s bold approach to its subject matter–led by Hanks’ and Washington’s stellar turns–puts the focus on its pros instead of cons.
7.5/10 (Really Good)

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Author P.L. Travers reflects on her childhood after reluctantly meeting with Walt Disney, who seeks to adapt her Mary Poppins books for the big screen. (IMDb)
A wonderfully crafted screenplay carries this touching character-driven drama:The present-time tale of rude and uptight P.L. Travers as she struggles with her book’s film adaptation is broken up by beautifully-shot scenes of her tragic childhood that gradually seep into and enlighten the current story as the complexity of her character is unraveled. Standard bits of sentimentality and humour shine bright amidst this deep script and round out a well-acted and thoughtfully written film.
8/10 (Great)

The Green Mile (1999)

The lives of guards on Death Row are affected by one of their charges: a black man accused of child murder and rape, yet who has a mysterious gift. (IMDb)
A unique film that shifts to and from dark comedy, supernatural thriller, and poignant drama, presenting a fascinating look at a cell block of condemned prisoners and the five guards that oversee it. Unexpectedly cordial relationships between prisoners and guards exist as an unwritten moral code is upheld along with legal obligations. Themes of death and judgment and characters devilish and angelic all develop with increasing impact throughout this remarkable well-acted and story-focused film.
8.5/10 (Amazing)

 

Toy Story (1995)

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A cowboy doll is profoundly threatened and jealous when a new spaceman figure supplants him as top toy in a boy’s room. (IMDb)
The imaginative “living toys” premise is milked for all its worth here, with a diverse set of memorable (and superbly voiced and animated) characters (from a fearful T-Rex to a self-drawing etch-a-sketch, to the uptight Woody–a refreshingly imperfect lead), lots of sharp situational and self-aware humour and wildly fun adventures in the giant human world, and even some emotional toy existentialism (see Buzz’ delusion and Woody’s insecurities). It truly is a cinematic treat for all ages.
8/10 (Great)