Sully. Disaster At Not Many Thousand Feet.

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Never get on any form of mechanised transport with Tom Hanks. He nearly died after the Apollo 13 Mission suffered catastrophic failures. Nearly died after the FedEx plane he was travelling on crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Nearly died after captaining a cargo ship that was hijacked by Somali pirates. And most recently, nearly died alongside 155 passengers after landing a jet on the Hudson river. The man is a walking disaster-magnet.

You know the story of Sully. On 15 Jan 2009, flight 1549 left New York. Shortly after take off both engines failed following multiple bird strikes. Devoid of power and unable to make it back to an airport, Captain Chesley Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) made the unprecedented decision to land on the Hudson River, heroically saving all onboard against inconceivable odds. A classic case of truth being stranger than fiction. 

So why recount a story we know so well? Firstly, it makes for great cinema. Hollywood loves an airline disaster – few things are quite as terrifying on the big screen as the screams of passengers mixed with the screams of failing jet engines. In a previous life The Sloth used to book movies for airlines and it never ceased to amaze us how many feature plane crashes / vomit-imducing turbulence / nutters running amok onboard and threatening to blow everyone up / unlucky punters getting sucked out of windows. True to form, watching Sully’s plane slowly descend to the soundtrack of an automated cockpit warning system barking ‘Terrain! Pull up! Pull up!’ is almost unbearable. 

Secondly, what you may not know was Sully had to fight to prove his hero status. Sully the movie mostly focuses on the long and drawn out investigation that followed the crash, where he and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) were hauled over the coals by a panel of aviation experts. It’s a fascinating story, as much due to the doubt around his decision to land on the river – computer simulations suggested it may not have been necessary. Coupled with a brisk run time and a reliably solid performance from Mr Disaster himself (plus Eckhart sporting a rather fab 70’s trucker ‘tache), if you want to scare yourself reasonably silly it’s a good bet. Just avoid if you’re planning to jet off on hols anytime soon… 

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Saving Mr Banks. Mary Mary Quite Contrary.

savingThe Sloth went to Disneyland when we were ten. And frankly, our ten year old self could take The Magic Of Disney or leave it – Sea World was far more exciting because they let you pet stingrays.  Saving Mr Banks trades heavily on that famous marketing line, so how you feel about the film will probably depend in part on how you feel about Disney.

PL Travers (Emma Thompson) was the author of celebrated children’s book Mary Poppins. Prickly and truculent, she protected her literary creation with the vehemence of a mama bear defending her cub, most notably against Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) who, having been introduced to the book by his children, spent 20 years unsuccessfully campaigning to adapt Mary for the big screen.  Until one day, money issues forced Mrs Travers hand and she very, very reluctantly found herself on a flight from London to Hollywood, with one unsigned Disney film contract burning a hole in her pocket.

What follows is a mixture of high comedy and high drama, with wonderfully ridiculous battles between the belligerent Travers and the cheery Hollywood scriptwriting team assigned to the film contrasting with flashbacks to her difficult childhood in the Australian countryside with an alcoholic father (Colin Farrell).

For The Sloth, the fun of Saving Mr Banks was in the titanic culture clash between the tweed suited, prim and eye-wateringly acerbic Mrs Travers (God help anyone who addressed her as ‘Pamela’) and the genial, laid back, all-American Walt, scratching his head in bewilderment at this feisty Dame From Hell. With a glimpse into the glamorous world of Old Hollywood thrown in, it’s a sufficiently entertaining premise that doesn’t necessarily need the big emotional back story, but that’s The Magic Of Disney for you – you don’t get the laughs without a few tears. Now imagine if they’d thrown in something involving stingrays…

UK release 29 November 2013.

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Captain Phillips

captainShould the Oscar nominations dry up tomorrow, The Sloth feels Tom Hanks should definitely consider an alternative career in shipping. In Captain Phillips, he could not look more like a distinguished, salty sea dog if he shivered his timbers and danced the hornpipe.

Based on a true story, Captain Phillips recounts the terrifying capture of the Maersk Alabama, a US cargo ship, by Somali pirates in 2009. Sailing on a notorious route from Oman to Mombasa, the ship’s route took it out of the main shipping lanes to sail alone past the Somali coast, leaving it vulnerable to attack.  Boarded by a skiff of armed pirates, Captain Phillips displayed astonishing self possession and quick thinking in successfully protecting his crew from the pirates only for himself to be taken hostage by them in a lifeboat, necessitating the involvement of the US navy in his rescue.

The realism is superb and key to the success of the whole film. Unlike standard Hollywood procedure of shooting water scenes in giant  tanks, director Paul Greengrass – gasp! – shot everything on a real container ship on a real sea, capturing the vulnerability of the vessel despite its immense scale and the terror the crew must have felt on its takeover. Not to leave it there, the actors selected to play the Somali pirates were all non-professionals, picked from an open casting. And this was surely a stroke of genius, for their weathered physicality adds immensely to the tension.

This is being primarily touted as Tom’s big gig and, to be fair, he does a thoroughly splendid job – wait for the final scenes for his Big Oscar Moment. However The Sloth was most impressed by the novice Barkhad Abi as Muse, the pirate captain. By professional standards he is terrific, by non-professional, quite astonishing. Stick a parrot on your shoulder and go see.

UK theatrical release 18 October / UK DVD release 10 February

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