Captain Phillips and Machete Kills

Captain Phillips
 
Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is captaining the merchant ship Maersk Alabama through the dangerous waters off the coast of Somalia.  While running a piracy drill, two skiffs are fast approaching his ship.  Phillips calls naval authorities who tell him to follow his protocols and that they are probably fishermen.  Phillips doesn’t think so and when they get close enough, he can see the eight or so men are armed with semi-automatic rifles.  Phillips gets on the radio and fakes a conversation with the US Navy and manages to scare one of the boats away.  The other continues to approach but the rough wake caused by Phillips evasive maneuvers is too much for the small craft and it breaks off the pursuit.  The next day, equipped with a second outboard engine the pirates once again approach.  On the radio, they claim to be from the Somali Coast Guard and order the Alabama to stop.  Captain Phillips has no intention of stopping and begins the same maneuvers along with activating fire hoses that pour heavy streams of water down on the boat.  Despite his best efforts, the pirates are able to hook a ladder to the rail and come aboard.  Phillips orders his crew to hide in the engine room while he and two other crewmen man the bridge.  The pirates led by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) take control of the bridge just as the engineer manages to shut down the engines, leaving the Alabama dead in the water.  Muse wants to search the ship to find the crew and Phillips is able to use his walkie-talkie to covertly warn them of the pirate’s plan.  While searching for the crew, Muse is captured and a trade is arranged for Captain Phillips to be freed and the pirates to leave the ship in the life boat.  Just as Phillips is about to exit the boat, he is struck by one of the pirates with a rifle butt and forced to leave with them.  The US Navy responds to the kidnapping with explicit orders to prevent the life boat from reaching the Somali coast by any means necessary.
 
From the moment the Somali pirates board the Maersk Alabama, “Captain Phillips” has a constant air of tension.  The safety of all the men on board the ship and Captain Phillips once he’s on the life boat is constantly teetering on a knife’s edge.  The rash and unpredictable Somalis appear ready to kill Phillips at any time.  The only thing keeping him alive is the possibility of a $10-million ransom.  The only goal for Captain Phillips is staying alive and what he feels is necessary to achieve that end evolves as his situation becomes more and more desperate.  Even though this is based on a true story with a widely known ending, you’ll have some doubts about whether the captain lives to the end of the closing credits.  It’s a masterful bit of movie making.
 
Tom Hanks is fantastic as Phillips.  As he usually is, Hanks character is an every-man who works hard to provide for his family, worries about his son’s future and misses his wife every time he sets off on another job.  Hanks plays Phillips a bit stern and humorless, a no-nonsense ship’s captain with a clear sense of duty who is able to make his displeasure known merely by saying the most innocuous phrase with a bitter tone in his voice.  He isn’t the most loved captain among his men but his sternness and adherence to protocols proves to be what allows the crew to survive the attack unharmed.
 
The rest of the cast isn’t given much to do but sit back and be taken to school by Hanks’ performance.  The only actor to have as pivotal a role as Hanks is Barkhad Abdi as the pirate leader.  “Leader” may be a bit too strong a term as Muse has at best tentative control over his three fellow marauders.  Muse, who is often referred to by the nickname Skinny, looks like a skeleton with skin stretched over it.  His face is as much skull as anything else.  He is a unique looking individual who doesn’t seem all that threatening until he points a rifle at your head.  Abdi is a deceptively good actor.  While on the surface his performance may seem stiff and unpolished, he is able to alternately make you feel sympathy for his unfortunate lot in life and anger as he throws out threats and insults towards Phillips.  He’s a far more complicated character than just your usual movie bad guy and Abdi does a great job in the part.
 
“Captain Phillips” is rated PG-13 for sustained intense sequences of menace, some violence with bloody images, and for substance use.  Guns are held to people’s heads with countdowns being announced to their execution along with other times when threats are made.  We see one of the pirates step on some broken glass with bare feet causing a great deal of blood.  There is a great deal of blood splattered on a character after a shooting.  Phillips is beaten more than once.  A plant known as kaht is apparently the substance abused.  Foul language is infrequent.
 
If you have an Oscar nomination pool in your office you can confidently pick Tom Hanks as a likely contender.  A scene near the end of the film will break your heart and make you want to see Hanks win his third best actor statue.  It’s a riveting performance that needs to be seen by everyone.
 
“Captain Phillips” gets five guitars out of five.
 
Machete Kills
 
ICE agents Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo) and Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba) are busting up an arms sale between US Army soldiers and a Mexican drug cartel when Sartana sees a tarp covering something in the back of a truck.  She pulls the tarp off and sees what appears to be a nuclear missile.  Just then a masked man sneaks up to her and shoots her in the head, killing her instantly.  Machete is taken into custody by Sheriff Doakes (William Sadler) and is about to be hanged when a call comes in from President Rathcock (Charlie Sheen billed as Carlos Estevez) ordering Machete to the White House immediately.  Rathcock tells Machete a Mexican terrorist named Mendez (Demian Bichir) has a nuclear missile aimed at Washington, DC and will launch it unless the President launches an attack against Mexico in an effort to clean up the drug cartels.  Rathcock wants Machete to find Mendez in Mexico, kill him and prevent the missile from being launched.  His contact for the mission will be an undercover beauty pageant contestant, Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard).  San Antonio informs Machete that Mendez has a favorite prostitute named Cereza (Vanessa Hudgens) who works for her mother, Madame Desdemona (Sofia Vergara), in a brothel in Acapulco.  If he finds her, she will lead him to Mendez.  Machete is able to get to Mendez but discovers two things:  First, Mendez has a split personality that is either a civic minded and caring person or a complete psychopath and two, Mendez has wired the missile directly to his heart so if he dies, the missile will launch in five minutes.  Machete abducts Mendez with plans to bring him to the United States and have the kill switch removed from his heart; but this triggers a $10-million bounty on both men’s heads, bringing out hired killers from all over the world including El/La Chamaleon (played by Walton Coggins, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Lady Gaga and Antonio Banderas), a hit man who changes his face after every murder so he can never be identified.  Once Machete gets Mendez back to the US the pair is ambushed.  Mendez is beheaded and Machete is shot several times.  He wakes up in a small pool and sees billionaire industrialist Luther Voz (Mel Gibson) looking down at him.  What is the next twist in store for Machete?
 
If you thought that plot description was long and convoluted, you should see “Machete Kills” to understand the insanity that is writer, director, editor, scorer, visual effects coordinator, et al Robert Rodriguez ode to exploitation cinema.  The sequel to “Machete” which started life as a fake trailer in Rodriguez’ “Grindhouse,” is an insane trip through ridiculous territory that is only partially redeemed by its acknowledgement of just how absurd it is.  Rodriguez knows we’re all in on his joke and doesn’t worry about the story or the characters making any sense.  Sadly, this joke wears thin about a third of the way through as Rodriguez decides to throw everything into the film including the kitchen, bathroom and half bath sinks.  I’ve seen subtler efforts at humor by circus clowns.
 
“Machete Kills” suffers from not having a serious core issue to play with.  In “Machete,” Rodriguez tackled the very timely and controversial issue of illegal immigration.  While it was used as the base for numerous shootings, beheadings and stabbings, it still was something to ground the film in a semblance of reality.  “Machete Kills” takes a half-hearted stab at terrorism and manipulation of the public by people with money, but it’s obvious the same heart and foundation just isn’t there.  This shaky base makes “Machete Kills” just bunches of shootouts, sword (or machete) play, female objectification and pop culture winks that feel about 15 minutes out of date.  Machete doesn’t kill, it dies.
 
“Machete Kills” is rated R for strong bloody violence, some sexual content and language.  Numerous limbs and heads are lopped off with swords and machetes.  Several shootings are shown with a lot of blood.  More than one person gets thrown into the spinning blades of helicopters.  The sexual content is fairly brief, very mild and played mostly for laughs.  Foul language is common throughout the film.
 
I enjoyed “Machete” when it came out in 2010.  It was insane but still kept one foot loosely in reality.  “Machete Kills” goes completely off its meds and dives head first into the cuckoo bin.  While I can admire Rodriguez for pulling out all the stops, he needed to think a bit more and stop himself from time to time.
 
“Machete Kills” gets two guitars.
 
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