Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies playing in area theaters:
In April 2009, four impoverished Somali fishermen hijacked the Danish container ship Maersk Alabama, loaded with 2,400 tons of commercial cargo and 200 tons of food aid, in the Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa.
The ship's 53-year-old American captain, Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), was taken hostage by the ransom-demanding pirate leader, Muse (Barkhad Abdi), igniting a dramatic five-day siege involving a U.S. destroyer, Navy SEAL snipers and FBI negotiators.
Phillips' prescient wife (Catherine Keener) was concerned about his safety as he left their Vermont home for Salahah, Oman, to take command of the enormous vessel bound for Mombasa, Kenya. Worried about a possible attack, Phillips held a security drill as they approached the Somali basin, so that when raiders first approached in small wooden skiffs, they were able to use evasive maneuvers. But the next day, when the unarmed transport was boarded, Phillips ordered his well-trained crew to hide in the engine room.
"Relax," says machine-gun toting Muse, upon reaching the bridge. "No al-Qaeda here. Just business."
Despite being abducted, bound and trapped in a metal lifeboat, resourceful, resilient Phillips, a veteran merchant mariner, is stealthily determined to out-maneuver Muse and his squabbling, bedraggled cohorts, feigning mechanical failure and offering cash from an onboard safe.
Inspired by Phillips' own memoir and tautly adapted by Billy Ray ("Breach," "Shattered Glass"), the film is directed by Paul Greengrass, who dealt with critical urgency before in "United 93" about the 9/11 hijacking, "Bloody Sunday" about a British massacre in Northern Ireland, and "Green Zone" about the Iraq War, with Barry Ackroyd's hand-held cinematography adding claustrophobic veracity. Above all, the suspense is anchored by Hanks' authentic, subtly nuanced everyman performance, one that should earn the two-time Oscar winner another nomination.
FYI: According to a 2012 Oceans Beyond Piracy report, over the past 20 years, there have been nearly 100 similar hijackings, resulting in a loss of $18 billion annually from the global economy.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Captain Phillips" is a tense 10, a relentless, edge-of-your-seat action thriller.
Writer/director Nicole Holofcener ("Friends With Money," "Please Give") examines the pitfalls of middle-age romance as vulnerable, emotionally conflicted, single parents cope with the "empty nest" in this dramatic comedy, the second-to-last movie made by the late James Gandolfini ("The Sopranos"), who died of a heart attack in June at age 51.
Energetic Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a massage therapist who totes her bulky table around West Los Angeles, making house calls. She's divorced and bemoaning the fact that her beloved teenage daughter (Tracey Fairaway) is departing to enroll at Sarah Lawrence College. At a cocktail party, Eva meets two pivotal people: Marianne (Catherine Keener), a cool, chic, yet condescending poet, and Albert (Gandolfini), an easy-going, down-to-earth divorced father whose daughter (Eve Hewson) is heading to Manhattan to study fashion design.
Eva soon becomes Marianne's confidante, dutifully listening to her bitter litany of complaints about her former husband, and Albert's girlfriend before she realizes that Marianne is Albert's ex-wife. Deceptions abound because she doesn't tell either one of them. Plus, there are subplots that intertwine Eva's daughter's confused best friend (Tavi Gevinson) and Eva's BFF (Toni Collette), a shallow, self-absorbed therapist riddled with her own issues.
Under Nicole Holofcener's guidance, Gandolfini delivers a sympathetic, self-deprecating performance, capturing the sensitive nuances of a dedicated TV historian who truly loves his job yet tenderly yearns for someone he can love. In contrast, Louis-Dreyfus all too often relies on facial grimaces and sit-com timing, artificial quirks quite familiar from her work on "Seinfeld" and "Veep," while playing a sassy, savvy woman who says and does stupid things. And that, in turn, makes the pacing uneven.
It's also unavoidable not to wince with sorrow as Gandolfini gobbles guacamole and a tub of buttered popcorn, noting, "I'm planning on losing some weight. I really need to." Gandolfini's final film, "Animal Rescue," is set for release next year.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Enough Said" is a contrived yet sincere 7, an insightful, wryly amusing social comment-ary about compatibility and contemporary suburban anxiety.
"BATTLE OF THE YEAR"
Inspired by his documentary "Planet B-Boy," which presented break-dancing teams from 18 nations competing in Braunschweig, Germany, filmmaker Benson Lee fictionalizes the same concept, obviously trying to follow in the footsteps of the "Step Up" franchise of dance movies.
Jason Blake (Josh Holloway, best known as Sawyer on TV's "Lost) is a former street dancer and widower who has become an embittered alcoholic following the death of his wife and teenage son in an automobile accident. He's chosen by his hip-hop mogul pal Dante Graham (Laz Alonso) to coach an all-American underdog "dream team" of 13 disparate break dancers from different street crews who are preparing for a top-tier tournament in Montpellier, France, hoping to bring the championship back to America for the first time in 15 years.
With only three months to train, it's a formidable task, particularly since two of the top dancers -- rivals Do Knock (Jon Cruz) and Rooster (Grammy-winning recording artist Chris Brown, even more notorious for his history of domestic abuse) -- are feuding.
Scripted by Brin Hill and Chris Parker, it's crammed with cliches, like "There's no `I' in team," and predictable from start to finish, even with the split-screen training montages, choppy editing and inherently intimidating South Korean team.
On the other hand, the incredibly athletic dance sequences are amazing, whether viewed in digital 3D or traditional 2D -- with credit going to real-life choreographer Dave Scott ("Step Up 3-D," "Stomp the Yard"), along with Rich and Tone Talauega.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Battle of the Year" is an all-too-familiar 4, filled with fancy, if frenetic footwork and a set-up for a sequel.