Monday Morning Critic – Captain Phillips, Tom Hanks and The Problem Of “What’s Next?” – Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain on DVD

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You know what interests me the most about people who hit a very high level in any profession; maintaining any sort of peak or edge. It’s why this week’s most intriguing thing to me is Captain Phillips, the latest star vehicle for Tom Hanks. More accurately it’s his ability to continually pick quality roles, and maintain his status as an elite level actor, nearly two decades after what arguably could be considered his peak.

Hanks was a comedic actor who Hollywood shoved down people’s throats until he became accepted. It was a different time when Hanks became popular and the fame machine got behind him. Hollywood gives up on talent pretty quickly these days; it’s hard to get a number of chances to become a star in modern Hollywood on your own merits. Hanks was an actor who failed, not spectacularly though, to find an audience early in his career. His films didn’t make money but he was knocking out those necessary reps. Splash was a success that got him into the fame lectern and Big put him on it fairly permanently.

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Everything since then has been fairly good, sometimes great, and he’s managed to do what no one else has done in the modern era of Hollywood: win back to back Oscars. Christoph Waltz is the only in recent memory who’s gotten close, with both of his separated by two years, but the fact that Hanks pulled it off back to back is pretty remarkable.

Usually Hollywood doesn’t do that in anything; there’s always time between awards for any number of reasons.

After his second Oscar Hanks didn’t have anything left to prove. It’s been nearly twenty years since then, crazy enough, and yet Hanks hasn’t completely mailed it in like a lot of other actors has. You could argue he’s a better actor, taking more interesting and difficult projects, now than he was 20 years ago when he was atop the acting landscape at its highest peak.

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Hanks has been an actor that never has stopped trying to be as good as he can, never taking a paycheck film, because of how much he loves his art. That’s the clear thing from his cinematic resume: this is an actor who uses his capitol to never stop challenging himself. Sometimes the results don’t come through … but Hanks has done such a variety that you can’t fault him for trying something out of his wheelhouse. He’s still trying, which is something a lot of successful actors can’t say.

I love Jon Voight, Al Pacino and Christopher Walken but all three have mailed in substantial portions of their career for a big paycheck. Ben Kingsley, too, and Robert De Niro has done it spectacularly. Gene Hackman stopped with Welcome to Mooseport but the disease of famous actors stopping to care about their craft once the paycheck hit’s a certain amount of zeroes is profound. Always has been, too, as it explains a lot of the awful decisions of many talented people.

It’s why Hanks is the most respected actor among fans, film buffs and movie types alike: he never stopped thinking of trying to challenge himself. He didn’t try and tank part of his career to give his son one, ala Will Smith, either. There never was an After Earth for Colin Hanks and if someone deserved that sort of career tanking it would Tom’s son. Hanks showed up for a brief moment in The Great Buck Howard but that’s been it for the most part; the younger Hanks has had to find his own path.

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The fact that Tom Hanks would still be taking a part that’s as challenging as Captain Richard Phillips, and that situation, is something that is intriguing about Hanks. Whether it’s producing or acting he still keeps trying to do different things. He even tried to become a franchise action star with Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, which was incredibly successful, and had a solid (if forgettable) comeback into comedy with Larry Crown.

Captain Phillips may not earn Hanks another Oscar … but the fact that he’s still taking roles of that caliber says everything you need to know about him. He answered the question of “What’s next” by going for more than just staying the same.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

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This Week’s DVD – Pain & Gain

The one thing I’ve never gotten is the sheer hatred for a guy like Michael Bay. Many other directors continually make garbage, and in Harmony Korine’s case a film about humping garbage, and yet Michael Bay is seen as a pox upon cinema. To hear some film geeks’ rant about the man it seems like if he stopped making film altogether we’d enter an era of film that would be magical and amazing.

Michael Bay is just a director who’s embraced the commercialism aspect of film-making more than most. Bay’s film-making philosophy seems to be that if you can’t say something personal … blow the ever-loving shit out of something. With Pain & Gain he opted to try and do the former.

It’s a story that’s so bizarre it could only be true. Danny Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a con man who also really loves bodybuilding. Not being all that bright, he’s jealous of those who have more than he does. So he gets Anthony Mackie and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to take what they feel is rightfully theirs. Victor (Tony Shaloub) is a complete jerk who just happens to be rich: Danny’s plan is to kidnap him, take his stuff and then live the good life off it.

And from there it gets significantly darker.

It’s hard to do dark comedy and I’ll give Bay credit: his particular cinematic style gives this film a kind of surreal quality. With so many real life, bizarre things happening his sort of wild-eyed style of editing and cinematography lends a sort of surreal effect to the proceedings. The fact that the events actually happened, and were even more bizarre, makes the film that much more note perfect. When Michael Bay can’t take a real life story and make it feel normal-ish then you know something good just happened.

I reviewed it in theatres and loved it there … but was worried it wouldn’t translate to DVD as effectively. It does and still ranks as one of the best films of 2013. The Miami New Times piece is a perfect “slow time at work” article, as well, and the whole bizarre situation is something else.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at Emil’s

Captain Phillips – Tom Hanks gets captured by Somali pirates and has to survive until some Navy SEALs save him.

See it – Hanks is getting Oscar buzz and that’s good enough for me.

Machete Kills – Machete has to save the world from Mel Gibson.

See it – Danny Trejo will never be the headlining star in any other movie but will still kick more ass than nearly 90% of headlining actors ever will. Enjoy this while it lasts.

Romeo and Juliet – Another retelling of the Bard’s tale of tragic love, this one in limited release.

Skip it – The tale’s been told so many times I’m waiting for it to just happen in space so we can kill off film adaptations of it once and for all.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane – Amanda Heard is the titular Mandy Lane and everyone loves. Except the slasher who’s killing her friends, apparently. In limited release.

Skip it – The Weinstein Company is finally releasing this after nearly six years in the can. That’s not a good sign in any aspect; TWC is good at getting its library out there and the fact that this was held onto for so long, and now being dumped into a limited release, shows exactly how little faith they probably have in it.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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