Friday, October 25, 2013

Captain Phillips

Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi, Faysal Ahmed, Catherine Keener
Director: Paul Greengrass
Running Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes
Rating: PG-13

What “Gravity” did to your desire to go into outer space, “Captain Phillips” will do to your desire to go out to sea. The true story of Captain Richard Phillips’ survival after being kidnapped by Somali pirates is unbelievable, and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t follow the story more closely when it happened in 2009.

We meet Captain Phillips on the day of his departure. The hand-held camera gives you an uneasy, wave-like sensation from the beginning. If you get motion sickness in films with hand-held shots, sit on the back row. As his wife, the unrecognizable Catherine Keener has about 2 minutes of dialogue with him. Producers could have saved the cash for that role – we don’t even see a straight shot of her face. Actually, the camera follows the cast from the back for the majority of the beginning. I like seeing the characters walking towards me, rather than following them. I noticed this in the first 30 minutes, but became quickly engrossed when the hijacking occurs. Your brow will stay furrowed the entire rest of the film.

Barkhad Abdi makes his film debut as Muse, the Somali pirate leader. This is spot-on casting, and the chemistry between Hanks and Abdi is undeniable. Muse is a brilliant villain. In the first 10 minutes, we see the pirates’ motivation to rob ships – in fact, we see that they have no choice but to do it. It’s heart-breaking, how these men are forced into robbery as a lifestyle. In one scene, Muse tells Phillips that “maybe in America” you get a choice in what you do with your life. The cat and mouse dynamic between them is so tense and frightening. It’s a constant game of outsmarting one another. Just when you think Phillips has a checkmate, Muse spins the game in his favor.

Once Captain Phillips is kidnapped, the hellacious ride on the lifeboat soon spirals out of control, as the crew gets hungry, dehydrated and even more nervous. One line Muse kept telling Phillips was “Everything gon be ok. Everything gon be alright.” We believe that as dark-hearted as Muse is, he truly didn't want to hurt Phillips. He was just in it for the money. It’s “just business,” after all. Muse is the only one who understands that Captain Phillips must be kept alive if the pirates have any shot at getting ransom money. Najee is the most volatile of the pirates, like a cannon ready to erupt. His crazed eyes almost pop out of his head and into your popcorn.

The rescue took forever. Days. The Navy kept thinking they had control over the situation, when really, they had none at all. By having Captain Phillips, the pirates had the power. Discussing the rescue scene is really no secret, though to watch how they finally executed it was intense. Phillips actually went back to sea the very next year. Real life members of Phillips’ crew are calling the film “blasphemy,” that Phillips was no hero, in fact, an asshole. Regardless, this is definitely one you should see on the big screen. It will make you happy to plant your feet on dry land. 


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Blue Jasmine

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Louis CK
Director: Woody Allen
Running Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Rating: PG-13


Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” is yet another one of his masterpieces that focuses on a fallen woman, set in one of the world’s most eclectic cities: San Fran. Cate Blanchett should look for an Oscar nod as Janette, who changed her name to Jasmine in an attempt to make a better life for herself. Cate nails this neurotic, depraved character. And she looks like a J. Crew model in every scene. As her money-scheming ex-husband Hal, Alec Baldwin gives you little to like, though Jasmine isn't much better. The film bounces between present day and flashbacks, as we see Jasmine trying to get back on her own two feet, and what made her fall in the first place.

In the first 60 seconds, we can tell that Jasmine is uptight, uber-wealthy, and a bit wacko. She moves in with her sister Ginger, played by the adorable Sally Hawkins (where has this woman been all my life?) As the antithesis of Jasmine, we really care about Ginger and her strained yet sweet relationship with Chili (Bobby Cannavale, aka “funky-tasting spunk” guy Samantha "dated" on “Sex and the City.”) The tension between Jasmine and Chili is apparent from the start, and we kind of encourage him to continue pushing her buttons.

Photo Courtesy Sony Pictures Classic; Cate Blanchett Fan Blog
I'm not sure if Allen or Blanchett deserves more credit for this, but we somehow pull for Jasmine to succeed, even considering how unlikable she is. Jasmine is like a ticking time bomb, full of Ketel One and Xanax. I became anxious just watching her. When it’s finally revealed what made her crack, you can’t help but wonder if she was always a little unstable. It was engrossing to see the meltdown build up in the flashbacks.

I would have liked a few extra scenes with Louis CK, who has a brief flirtation with Ginger, but I’m glad he didn’t stick around too long; at the end of the film, you just want to hug Chili and Ginger. These two, though not wealthy or necessarily hygienic, they seem to have this love thing figured out. This is one of Allen’s darker stories, and the few bits of comedic relief don’t shine too brightly. Blanchett’s performance makes it worth watching, though it may leave you feeling “blue.”


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Gravity

Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Director: Alfonso Cuar¤în
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Rating: PG-13

Seeing “Gravity” will kill any desire you have of wanting to go into space. For 90 minutes, you’re paralyzed with anxiety, as you watch Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski’s (George Clooney) hellacious and frightening attempt at survival after their space shuttle gets blasted and ruined by debris. You're truly along for the ride. Seeing it in 3D is visually spectacular, though I’m not totally convinced that it was necessary. I would have preferred to see it in 2D, but for my fellow weak stomachs out there, the additional dimension and glasses didn’t bother me like I thought it might.

My colleague likened Sandra Bullock in “Gravity” to Tom Hanks in “Cast Away” meets “Apollo 13.” Bullock nails this role. And she’s totally ripped. The Academy really should have saved her Oscar for this role, instead of wasting it on “The Blind Side.” Memories of Stone's daughter, and a monologue that has her wondering if anyone will mourn for her if she doesn’t survive, will bring you to tears. It’s a good thing I was wearing those 3D glasses.

As Kowalski, Clooney’s quips are expected but appreciated. His confidence in space balances her apprehension. Saying that the cinematography is stunning is an understatement. Seeing from Stone's POV, namely from inside her astronaut helmet, is an awesome perspective, one many of us will never have. When her O2 levels drop, you suddenly feel short of breath as well. Throughout the film, you wonder how many breaks Stone won’t get. Her character is a fighter, and the climax is nothing short of extraordinary.

This is unlike anything I’ve seen before. I’ve heard it’s supposed to be the next “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but I don’t think that’s necessarily accurate. This is on a different level of scary. It’s spectacular.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Ethnosh: Da Sarang

Ethnosh is the brainchild of Face to Face Greensboro, Triad Local First and BlueZoom Advertising. It aims to “guide you to the most delicious ethnic food in your area, garnished with the stories that bring the flavor to life.” I was sold when I heard the description. New friends – foodies, nonetheless – ethnic cuisine, and for only $5 a plate? Sign me up.

The first Ethnosh took place last month at Pho Hien Vuong, a Vietnamese hole in the wall that serves a mean Egg Soda. I couldn’t attend, but was thrilled with the second Ethnosh pick: Da Sarang. I was a Korean food virgin, and couldn’t wait to try authentic Kimchi.

Six serving dishes displayed beautiful items, and I asked to sample everything. Naturally, the Kimchi was the first item I tried. Spicy, vinegary cabbage – this is like crack to Korean BBQ taco fans. A little goes a long way, and it’s definitely better paired with something, especially when that something is Bulgogi. Holy Bulgogi. I couldn’t get enough of this savory, tender, slightly sweet meat, cut like a skirt steak. I relished each bite.

Cellophane Noodles are fun to eat, especially when you slurp them. They lacked heat and a huge punch of flavor, so it was a nice contrast to the crazy pop of Kimchi. Seaweed Salad and Bean Sprout Salads are also nice palate cleansers. The Bean Sprouts provide a nice crunch and texture, and the Seaweed is topped with White Sesame Seeds. My favorite preparation of seaweed to date!

Spicy Zucchini is reminiscent of a dill pickle, but crazy spicy. Sticky Rice is a staple, and wonderful with a bite of Bulgogi. My favorite of the evening though, had to be the Kimchi Pancakes. These are the bomb. I caught a glimpse of the recipe, consisting of Kimchi, flour, water, and very little else. These sound pretty simple, surprisingly, and are texturally like a sweet potato. I believe it’s Korea’s answer to the latke. The spiciness settles down and is really wonderful here.

I can’t wait to see where the next Ethnosh will be! I hope it’s somewhere that I can get sweet, sticky rice with mango, but if not, I hope it’s something I’ve never introduced my palate to. Come out and go with me!