Okay, right up front: I haven't seen Captain Phillips yet. Obviously, it's the best new movie of the week. Its 8 on IMDb dwarfs the three new movies I did see, which average a 5.5. Paul Greengrass is the most unheralded of the mainstream directors at work today, and maybe this will get him some much-deserved herald. But I can't comment. I didn't see it.
You see, my wife wants to see it, and for some reason she wants to see it with me. Since she works very hard to support her film-fan husband, she can't just pick up at a moment's notice and slip off to the movies. And she asks for so little. So when it's a choice between happy wife and a more complete blog, the wife wins out.
This does give me a chance to mention the two new biggies out last week, Gravity and Runner, Runner. Here's what you need to know: You will forget Runner, Runner before you've found your way out of the multiplex. It's a workable premise with a screenplay that has everything break exactly right for its hero, thus allowing him to take down a bad guy who he could never hope to take down in real life. Ben Affleck's bad guy, Ivan Block, is far and away the most interesting character, and Affleck does a good job with him. The movie should have been about Ivan.
As for Gravity, it's No. 1 at the box office two weeks straight. You won't forget it, especially if you see it in IMAX 3-D, as you should. George Clooney is wrong for his role -- a little too smug and cute and, well, George Clooney. (All benevolent paternal fodder spaceship pilots in 2013 should be played by Bruce Greenwood. From The Core to Star Trek Into Darkness, you can't beat Bruce.) As we continue to move into a film world where the Aristotelian elements have been inverted to place spectacle in the primary position, you can't beat Gravity. It looks spectacular.
Now onto this week's 5.5 crop:
Escape From Tomorrow: This one bothers me. As a liberal, cynical blue-stater, I hate to admit I have never quite gotten the mindset that places Disney World at the root of all evil. And I think if you don't walk into Randy Moore's intriguing debut film with that mindset, you might not get it. I certainly didn't. The nightmarish vignettes experienced by family man Jim during his trip to the Magic Kingdom are certainly potent. The black-and-white cinematography was remarkable, but it seems to me that color would have been a better option to capture Jim's sensory overload. In the end, it's kind of like a Total Recall story filtered through the lens of Terry Gilliam's Brazil. And if you were a big fan of Donnie Darko, you are more prone to like this. Then again, I am a fan of Donnie Darko, and I felt a little bit like Mr. Jones in Ballad of a Thin Man. (Okay, that's a terribly obscure reference, but it's a good one, making me come off as simultaneously smug and self-deprecating, not an easy balancing act, not matter how long a run-on sentence you write.) B-
Machete Kills: I wrote a while back that Luc Besson's The Family was a huge waste of time and talent. Robert Rodriguez's sequel to his 2010 Machete is as well, but at least it's more fun. The surprisingly short Danny Trejo reprises his role as the gravel-voiced, canyon-faced tough guy engaged in a ludicrous plot. The overriding ethos is one of homage -- primarily to the Italian Westerns of the '60s (more Corbucci than Leone) as well as James Bond (or maybe Matt Helm) and even a little bit of Strangelove. The film is a textbook example of "hit and miss." Some things, like the cycling through of various big names as the "chameleon" killer work. Other things, like the faux sci-fi part don't. Or, to put it another way: Demian Bichir, good; Sofia Vergara, bad. (Not just bad -- cheap, unpleasant, sexist... terrible.) C
Romeo and Juliet: It's hard for talented people to make a bad version of this because the story is so damn good. And though this misses in some big ways, it is not as bad as some of the reviews I have read. It is beautiful to look at. A lot of the action scenes are exciting. And a lot of the acting is good as well. But there seems to be a serious problem that grows partially out of casting and partially out of direction. At the risk of sounding terribly chauvinistic, isn't Juliet supposed to be more beautiful than Romeo? That is not the case here. It is not that American actress Hailee Steinfeld isn't pretty. She's is. But Douglas Booth as Romeo is gorgeous. What's more, director Carlo Carlei films Booth as though he were Greta Garbo and rarely gives Steinfeld the same treatment. Further compounding the problem is the fact that Steinfeld appears to be acting in a different movie. Where the others are cooking at medium high, she's underplaying, almost mumbling lines on a low simmer. The performance isn't necessarily bad -- it's just not on the same page Damien Lewis, Lesley Manville and Ed Westwick. I really don't think Carlei knew what to do with his Juliet. C-
All in all, a rather dreary week. But here's a happy note from the land of the trailers. If you were a young screenwriter and came to me pitching a comic version of Training Day starring Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, I would buy it on the spot. I have no confidence whatsoever that Ride Along will be any good, but that's great packaging. And in today's world, isn't that what matters?