Sometimes it’s a dilemma: what DVD should you rent or what movie should you stream or order-on-demand? Do you want a date flick, an action caper, or a goofy comedy? Weekly Surge is here to help with our reviews of recent at-home movie releases, which we’ve watched from the comfort of that favorite recliner.
Woody Allen has done a film per year since the ‘70s. Most of them go unnoticed by normal audiences except for some New York circles and Oscar voters. But everyone still wants to work with Allen. He can bring in the finest actors in the business. This time it’s Cate Blanchett. She’s played an elf, a queen, villains, Katharine Hepburn and about a dozen other hard-to-pull-off performances. Why shouldn’t she throw in as one of Allen’s female leads? And what would she do with the role? She fucking nails it. She’s a crazy tornado of acting, and it’s a blast to watch. Sally Hawkins also hits the mark as Blanchett’s unlikely sister. Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Andrew Dice Clay and Louis C.K. play various love interests. Each scene plays a certain dynamic between these actors as they work in a frantic rhythm. Allen may not be everyone’s favorite director, either morally or technically, but these acting skills are undeniable. It pulled down four Oscar nominations and Blanchett is an odds-on favorite for a win – worth a watch.
This isn’t your typical true story. Yes, the film is based on the real Captain Richard Phillips’ book about the 2009 hijacking of an American cargo ship by Somali pirates. But really, it’s about two men from totally different backgrounds trying to survive. There are no black and white issues here. Director Paul Greengrass has a history of dealing with complicated and political issues in an entertaining way. Just look at his two entries into the “Bourne” trilogy or “Green Zone” or “United 93.” Tom Hanks plays the title character, and if you haven’t heard by now, he got robbed by not receiving an Oscar nod. But the film did get six nominations, including in the Best Supporting Actor category for Barkhad Abdi, who was born in Somalia. This was Abdi’s first acting gig. When he was cast, he was working as a chauffeur. In a month, he could be an Oscar winner. The performances of the veteran Hanks and the new-comer Abdi make for a compelling and human experience – worth a watch.
Director Rick Rowley has become the documentarian of conflict. The titles of his past films say it all – “The Fourth World War,” “This Is What Democracy Looks Like” and “Zapatista.” This time, he teams up with investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill to uncover the parts of the Afghanistan War that most people usually don’t get to see – covert operations, night raids and kill lists. Scahill wrote the internationally bestselling book “Blackwater,” and he’s known to be a shit-stirrer. Plenty of shit gets stirred here as he interviews villagers in Afghanistan, ex-soldiers and higher-ranking military officers. But it doesn’t stop at isolated incidents of military misconduct; it delves into the laws of war and offers examples of politicians turning blind-eyes. Nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar, it may take a powerful angle toward its subject, but it’s also passionate, fearless and worth a watch.
Derrick Bracey, for Weekly Surge