PEOPLE's critics weigh in on what to see and what to skip this weekend at the movies.
See ThisCaptain Phillips
Ostensibly about the real-life hijacking of an American freighter by Somali pirates in 2009, Captain Phillips is actually a smart, intriguing dialogue about two Americas: the carrot and the stick.
Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, United 93) delivers a corker of a thriller, complete with an award-worthy performance from Tom Hanks as Richard Phillips, the Maersk Alabama skipper kidnapped by the pirates. But Greengrass isn't going to let us slip out of the theater without considering our nation's role in the world, both as a beacon to people desperately dreaming for a better life, and as one hell of a baseball bat, striking fiercely at those who would dare to cross us.
In this case, the enemy is a crew of four desperately poor, delusional Somalis who manage to hijack a floating warehouse with a few guns and a surfeit of audacity. They buzz toward the Alabama like a fly pestering a cow, slipping past the freighter's high-pressure hoses to board the ship. It's gritty stuff, but the real tension comes when they decamp to a lifeboat with Phillips as their hostage.
The conversations between Phillips and pirate captain Muse (the intensely compelling Barkhad Abdi) are riveting. Muse is a thug, no doubt, willing to terrify, and possibly harm others to collect a fat payday. But when he starts to dream out loud about moving to America with his ransom money, you can feel the desperation fueling his delusion. He's more pathetic than menacing, his petty power gone the instant the Navy SEALs show up to shut him down.
How it all ends is no surprise, but still viscerally startling. What happens afterward, though, is stunning – the best part of the film and some of the most beautiful acting Hanks has ever done. It's a denouement that will shake you and stay with you, whatever you think about the way our government handled the crisis. Still, politics aside, Captain Phillips is one heck of an adrenaline rush. – Alynda Wheat
Skip ThatAll the Boys Love Mandy Lane
This weak slasher film has been sitting on a shelf since 2006. As far as I'm concerned, it could've stayed there. Amber Heard stars as Mandy, a teen who blossomed over the summer and now attracts the attention of her horndog male classmates. There's such an orchestrated campaign to deflower her that a weekend in the country is organized so the boys can take their shots. Only someone else is aiming at them, picking the teens off one by one. You'll know immediately who the killer is, not that it matters.
The deaths are boring, the killer's rationale is boring, even Heard is boring. If you really dig her, check her out as a beauty queen/spy in the grindhouse sequel Machete Kills, opening this weekend, also starring Danny Trejo, Sofia Vergara and Mel Gibson. High art it isn't, but at least Machete director Robert Rodriguez embraces the silliness in creative, fun ways.
– Alynda Wheat
But seek this outThe Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete
The summer of 2012 starts bad for Mister, the surly survivor at the center of The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete. First he fails eighth grade, then when he comes home to the tenement apartment he shares with his drug-addicted mom, he finds that there's no food, and that annoying neighbor kid Pete is hogging his PlayStation. As you can surmise from the title, things get considerably worse for Mister and Pete. Mom is arrested and taken away, so Mister spends the rest of the summer swelter dodging housing police and neighborhood bullies while trying to keep his and Pete's bellies somewhat full.
It's melodrama for sure, but done without a drop of sentimentality. The central performance by newcomer Skylan Brooks is anything but kid-actor cute: He refuses our sympathy until the film's heartbreaking conclusion. Jennifer Hudson melts into the part of Gloria, a mom who realizes that she needs to be there for her son, but is simply unable to overcome her disease. In fact, Mister's periphery is dotted with great performances: Boardwalk Empire's Jeffery Wright as a homeless vet, and the seemingly everywhere Anthony Mackie as a neighborhood pimp.
The movie is buoyed by its sly humor and Mister's indomitable spirit: He does a great reading of Steve Buscemi in Fargo, and feigns an Oscar speech when he gets out of paying for some groceries. It also feels right to be reminded around the holidays that food security is not a given for all of us. – Oliver Jones