‘Phillips’ is fantastic, ‘Concussion’ is complex and ‘Machete’ is a misfire

Among the new movies that were released Friday, Oct. 11 at theaters throughout the Valley are a dramatic thriller based on the 2009 hijacking of a U.S. container ship by a crew of Somali pirates, a drama about a woman suffering from a midlife crisis brought on by a blow to her head and a sequel to a 2010 grindhouse-esque actioner.

Captain Phillips

Tom Hanks plays Captain Richard Phillips, the commanding officer of U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama, which in 2009 was hijacked by a crew of Somali pirates. (PG-13 – 134 minutes)

Forget seasickness; “Captain Phillips” is so relentlessly intense that the insanely high levels of stress alone will cause a malaise that is much worse than anything as trivial as a little motion on the ocean. Director Paul Greengrass’s new dramatic thriller will have you digging your fingernails deep into your seat’s armrests and sitting as close to the edge of it as you can without falling off from beginning to end. The nonstop nature of it all will leave you feeling just as horribly discombobulated and emotionally exhausted as star Tom Hanks’s title character is in the film’s final moments. (Breakthrough!)

CBGB

Alan Rickman plays Hilly Kristal who, in 1973, started a groundbreaking Lower East Side club as a home for New York’s dynamic punk rock scene, showcasing cutting-edge bands. Playing exclusively at Harkins Valley Art. (R – 101 minutes)

“CBGB” will likely be sweet music to the ears of anyone who has ever been into the punk scene. Unfortunately, everyone else will likely hear nothing but a bunch of noise. Although the visual aesthetic of the film – especially its use of graphic novel panels, word bubbles and sound effects – is incredibly creative and its seemingly endless parade of recognizable actors who make appearances as some of the biggest names in music is quite amusing, the central plot of Hilly Kristal’s invention, so to speak, is drowned out by all of the chaos of the club. (Thumbs Down!)

Concussion

Robin Weigert plays a wealthy, middle-aged, married, lesbian housewife who, after suffering a blow to the head, walks around every corner of her suburban life to confront a mounting desire for something else and inaugurates a double life as a high-end escort. Playing exclusively at Harkins Shea. (R – 93 minutes)

Movies about midlife crises are nothing new. After all, finding meaning, purpose and passion in a life filled with insipidity, tedium and routine is an extremely common conflict. Therefore, it is only natural that writer/director Stacie Passion sought to spice up the story by making her protagonist in “Concussion” a lesbian who decides to re-light that spark, so to speak, by becoming a high-end escort. Unfortunately, an exciting setup can only take a film so far as Passion’s project goes nowhere – both in terms of plot and of thematic significance. Star Robin Weigert does give a commendably complex performance, though. (Thumbs Down!)

Escape from Tomorrow

Roy Abramsohn plays an unemployed father who, in a world of fake castles and anthropomorphic rodents, sees his sanity challenged by a chance encounter with two underage girls on holiday. Playing exclusively at Harkins Valley Art. (NR – 90 minutes)

For all of the controversy, you would think that “Escape from Tomorrow” would be a bit better than it actually is. Granted, writer/director Randy Moore’s new dramatic fantasy flick automatically earns any film fan’s respect for the way in which it was shot at Walt Disney World – without Walt Disney World’s knowledge much less permission. After all, that takes a little gumption and a whole lot of guts. However, what begins as a haunting and disorienting look at the most magical place on Earth quickly spirals into sheer madness with nothing in particular to say of its subject. (Thumbs Down!)

Machete Kills

Danny Trejo reprises his role as an anti-hero who, this time, is recruited by the U.S. government to battle his way through Mexico in order to take down an arms dealer (Mel Gibson) who looks to launch a weapon into space. (R – 107 minutes)

At first glance, “Machete Kills” looks like it will be just as much fun as its 2010 predecessor – if not more so. However, the new gindhouse-esque actioner possesses very little of that earlier effort’s social commentary and off-the-wall weirdness, trading it in for an incredibly complicated plot. In fact, it is far more convoluted than a gimmick-flick like this has any right to be, leaving viewers who were merely looking to have a fun tongue-in-cheek time feeling a bit dazed and confused. Granted, the film has got its high-points – namely a coming attraction for a sequel set in space – but this movie marks one of the year’s most massive misfires. (Thumbs Down!)

Snow Queen

Jessica Straus plays a young woman who journeys across an icy land, facing difficult obstacles and meeting wonderful new friends, in a quest to set her imprisoned brother (Marianne Miller) free, defeat an ice-cold queen (Cindy Robinson) and save the world from eternal frost. (NR – 80 minutes)

You would be hard-pressed to find a kid who could actually comprehend “Snow Queen.” The plot of the new animated adventure is too complicated and convoluted to be understood by most adults much less the movie’s target audience. It may be inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s timeless fairy tale but somehow the story’s simplicity gets lost in translation. The chilly landscapes look amazing but the characters themselves lack the same visual appeal while the film itself is too loud and obnoxious to charm anyone except children. Then again, those who are attentive enough to follow the narrative will undoubtedly be annoyed right alongside their parents. (Thumbs Down!)

The Summit

Filmmaker Nick Ryan recounts the story of the deadliest day on the world’s most dangerous mountain, when 11 climbers mysteriously perished on K2. Playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview. (R – 104 minutes)

“The Summit” leaves its viewers confused on multiple levels. First of all, the new documentary showcases some spectacular sights, typically only seen – in person – by those who have nerves of steel, yet it tells a tremendously tragic tale of loss. One does not know whether they suddenly want to go mountain climbing or have developed a newfound fear of it. More importantly though, the film fails to organize its thoughts in an easily comprehensible fashion, interweaving the central story of 11 climbers who mysteriously perished on K2 with that of one man’s expedition in the 1950s. (Thumbs Down!)

Sweetwater

In the late 1800s, a fanatical religious leader (Jason Isaacs), a renegade Sheriff (Ed Harris), and a former prostitute (January Jones) collide in a blood triangle on the rugged plains of the New Mexico Territory. Playing exclusively at Harkins Arrowhead Fountains and Harkins Shea. (R – 95 minutes)

From the outside looking in, “Sweetwater” looks spectacularly appealing. After all, who does not love an eccentric revenge fantasy set in the Old West? However, once inside, it is a completely different story as writer/director Logan Miller’s new western is the kind of flick that is so selfishly obsessed with its own exaggerated loquaciousness and far-fetched features that it forgets to actually entertain its audience. It also fails to offer much of a compelling motivation behind its events – aside from the simplest and most obvious one, of course. Its only bright spot is a splendidly sinister performance from star Jason Isaacs. (Thumbs Down!)

Joseph J. Airdo

Joseph J. Airdo is a film critic, producer and on-air personality for Breakthrough Entertainment, a talk radio show airing 10-11 a.m. Saturdays on KPHX 1480 AM and BreakRadioShow.com that shines a spotlight on the practical perspectives of the topics and themes explored in movies. He has a pet duck named Frozen who is as opinionated about movies as he is. E-mail him at joseph.airdo@gmail.com.

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