'Captain Phillips,' Jack Kerouac, and the last day on Earth

Paul Greengrass' highest-profile films are probably "The Bourne Supremacy" and "The Bourne Ultimatum," but the director cut his teeth on "Bloody Sunday," a movie that recounts a tragic 1972 massacre of Irish protesters by British troops. In that film, his handheld camera style and unadorned soundtrack help to achieve an approximation of reality that is gripping.

Greengrass also used this strategy to great effect in the neo-realistic 9/11 drama "United 93," for which he received an Oscar nomination in 2007. "Captain Phillips," starring Tom Hanks as an American everyman (who else?) captaining a cargo ship across the Somali coastline, has a similar feel to these movies, even if it ups the Hollywood quotient with a typically melodramatic score and plays a little loose with the facts of the real hijacking, which took place in 2009.

The greatest strength of "Captain Phillips" is that it isn't a one-sided portrait. Barkhad Abdi plays Muse, a Somali pirate under the control of a warlord, and although he and his crew are undoubtedly the bad guys, the screenplay by Billy Ray takes great pains to paint them three dimensionally and give us some background on the kind of desperation that would lead a man to seize ships for a living.

Ultimately, though, the film is too long and doesn't hold up the tension or danger long enough. Hanks lends his Phillips some emotional heft, but the typical heroics of the Hollywood thriller seem out of place in this style of presentation. Once the Navy is called in, there's little suspense around who will prevail, considering American military forces are attacking from the air and sea to try to subdue four young men with machine guns in a lifeboat.

The Danish movie "A Hijacking," released earlier this year and partially based on real events, has a far more intriguing story. Even as it tightens the screws more effectively during the ship's seizure (and through weeks of painful negotiations), it also shines a light on the practical side of business and the moral complexity of bargaining with hostages' lives in order to not sink the company financially.

The suspense of "Captain Phillips" is undercut by the expectations that the movie has laid out in its trailer as well. Audiences know what won't happen plot-wise, and it undermines the drama, especially in the protracted third act. "A Hijacking" proves there is enough room for a multi-layered and tense character drama in this material, while "Captain Phillips" prefers to play it safe.


Director Bryce Young looks through the lens as actors Michelle Davidson Bratcher and Jeffrey Staab perform in "A Man's Tale."

Director Bryce Young looks through the lens as actors Michelle Davidson Bratcher and Jeffrey Staab perform in "A Man's Tale." by Eric Melin

Back in April, I profiled an ambitious web series project from Kansas City filmmaker Bryce Young that involved the creation of 12 short films that were united under one topic: the final day of the Earth's existence.

"Withered World" is now completed and will be shown theatrically, with many of the local filmmakers who worked on the show in attendance. CinemaKC presents the feature film screening of "Withered World" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Screenland Crown Center theater in Kansas City. In addition to seeing the episodes that have been building buzz online for six months, moviegoers will be the first to see the series finale "Waiting in Line," directed by Young himself.

The quality of these shorts is pretty phenomenal and showcases the area's breadth and depth of talent. It also veers wildly from sardonic to sentimental and its interesting to see how many different perspectives a topic like this can actually give birth to. A mixer will take place before the screening, with a Q&A to follow, and because the Screenland Crown Center serves drinks, there will probably be a lot of celebrating!

Gathr Films has a unique way of programming movies into your local theater. You can log on to their website, find a film you want to see, and request a screening. Spread the word through social media among your friends, family, or organization, and if the minimum number of reservations are met, the movie gets a green light, and the screening gets scheduled.

In addition to this Theatrical-on-Demand model, the company is also sponsoring what it calls the Gathr Preview Series, which hosts screenings of the best in independent film in select cities before the films begin their proper theatrical runs.

The Glenwood Arts theater kicks off a month of these indie gems by showing a Sundance favorite Thursday. "Big Sur" is based on Jack Kerouac's 1962 novel, which was an autobiographical account of three trips to a cabin in Big Sur, Calif., that was owned by Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Scene-Stealers.com critic Warren Cantrell raved about the film back in January after seeing it at the Sundance Film Festival.

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