Captain Phillips (2013) – PICK
Casino Royale (2006) – PICK
The Scarlet and the Black (1983) – PICK
One of my top 10 films of 2013 is now on home video: Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks as real-life merchant marine captain Richard Phillips, whose ship was taken by Somali pirates in 2009, leading to a daring rescue effort by Navy Seals. A gripping procedural/thriller from Bourne / United 93 director Paul Greengrass, the film benefits from empathic performances by both Hanks and Somali first-time actor Barkhad Abdi as the pirate captain.
Without undermining the fundamental moral situation, the film highlights the economic and informational powerlessness both driving and handicapping the pirates’ decisions. Forced by ruthless warlords to take ships for ransoms they don’t keep, the pirates are both aggressors and victims, and the riveting finale is both cathartic and emotionally complex. Highly recommended.
Newly available in an inexpensive one-disc Blu-ray edition, Casino Royale is arguably the most essential James Bond movie ever made — and the one that offers psychological and perhaps moral perspective on all the others.
Rather than celebrating Ian Fleming’s ruthless, seductive killer as the ultimate fantasy hero, it’s an uncampy, ultimately tragic origin story that explores how Bond (Daniel Craig in his first appearance in the role) lost his soul. Bond is revealed as a damaged, unromantic man — a "blunt instrument," Judy Dench’s M calls him — who is offered a hope of saving what’s left of his shredded humanity, only to have it ground underfoot, leaving him a more hollow shell of a man than before.
A new edition of The Scarlet and the Black (1983) is always cause to celebrate this riveting, fact-based, pro-Catholic WWII thriller starring Gregory Peck as the "Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican," Msgr. Hugh O’Flaherty, and Christopher Plummer as his Nazi nemesis, Col. Herbert Kappler.
That said, you don’t want the new one-disc edition from Shout! Factory / Timeless Media, with a redacted 138-minute version of the film. The old edition from Lions Gate, still available, has the full 143-minute version of the film. That’s the one you want — and if you haven’t seen the film, you need to. Trust me.
Bonus heads-up: The popular, almost-classic family musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, starring Dick Van Dyke, is now on Blu-ray. I’m not a fan, but for those who are, I perform the service of Thomas More for Richard Rich in the stage version of A Man for All Seasons: "Norfolk: ‘Do you recommend him?’ More: ‘No, but I point him out.’"
Caveat Spectator: Captain Phillips: Sometimes bloody violence; limited profanity and crass language; substance abuse. Teens and up. Casino Royale: Much action violence, sometimes deadly; sexual references and a sexual relationship, including a bedroom scene (nothing explicit); a horrific scene of torture. Mature viewing. The Scarlet and the Black: Some violence, including the assassination of a priest. Older kids and up.