MEEK AT THE MOVIES : Captain Phillips ( 2.5 STARS )

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^ Tom Hanks as pirated cargo captain in Paul Greengrass’s “Captain Phillips”

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Back in 2009 the whole world watched rapt as an American cargo ship was seized by pirates off the coast of Africa. To save his crew, the captain offered himself up as hostage and was subsequently cordoned off in a lifeboat pod with a posse of armed and anxious pirates looking for a multi-million dollar ransom. Eventually the US Navy and SEAL Team 6 got involved and brought about a quick resolution. It made for great drama then and would seem a natural fit for film, but though harrowing, “Captain Philips” never quite gets below the surface of the whole ordeal.

All of this might come as a bit of a surprise because “Phillips” is directed by Paul Greengrass, who adroitly chronicled the intrepid doings of the doomed 9/11 passengers in “United 93.” His poignant insight and meticulous care for every passenger’s story and plight rang through cleanly and affected with a genuine earnestness. Here that acumen feels lost or at best, severely muted.

“Phillips” begins rather no-nonsense with the captain (Tom Hanks) and his wife (Catherine Keener) driving to the airport and bantering about how their children are growing up in a harsh world where being righteous and diligent isn’t enough anymore (perhaps an omen of what’s to come?). Shortly after, Phillips and his crew load up food aid for Africa in the Arabian Peninsula and do a once over of the Maersk Alabama. Phillips is working with a new crew that aren’t quite up to his standards and neither is the ship, which ominously has unsecured ‘pirate gates.’

As a result of such shabbiness, once underway around the Horn of Africa, Phillips insists on drills, but just as he sounds the alarm, two speeding skiffs packed with armed men come at the enormous cargo carrier. The Somali pirates fail in their first strike, but have a trailing mother ship to refuel at, and are back nipping at the Alabama the next day.

Three things drive these men on the high seas, money, mind games and stimulants. The pirates, who can speak English, imposter the Somali Coast Guard, while Phillips, knowing they are listening in, pretends to call in an air strike and later, after the Alabama is boarded, lies about the operational condition of the ship. The Somalis, gaunt, angry and hard to tell apart, all gnaw on a narcotic stimulant known as khat and when offered thirty thousand dollars to just be gone, they laugh and whimsically mention that their last take was six million dollars, to which Phillips asks, “Then why are you doing this?” It’s a good question that unfortunately never gets adequately addressed.

Phillips’s men too, see the whole situation as a transaction and don’t want to take on the task of repelling the pirates (they use a series of high power water cannons) because they’re not getting paid enough and ultimately end up hiding in the hold while Phillips deals with the armed intruders.

There are some intriguing bits of chicanery deployed by Phillips and his crew to stem the pirates, but eventually Phillips ends up in the survival capsule with the armed men and the US Navy on their tail, and that’s where the film breaks down — or goes on too long. It becomes an endless loop of the pirates debating whether to kill Phillips and the Navy eternally searching for the right seam to let loose its mighty hammer. One thing is given : the US will not allow the Somalis to take Phillips ashore alive.

The film based on Phillip’s memoir, “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs, and Dangerous Days at Sea,” has recently come under fire by crew members who claim it’s a gross fictionalization of what really happened. Complaints, too, have come from the company which allegedly sent the Alabama through pirate infested waters as short cut to save on fuel costs.

The recent Danish film “A Hijacking” also covered a similar real-life arc with great palp and soul by burrowing into the lives and motivations of those in peril as well as their captors. Here Greengrass (who registered much respect with his guttural Bourne films) wows with gorgeous oceanic vastness and crisp, taut editing, and Hanks, on his game, conjures up a thespian tempest; yet without the charts and logs to deepen the now, the full force effort labors as much under the weight of its shallow effusiveness.

—- Tom Meek / Meek at the Movies

BOSTON MAYOR FINAL : THE ITALIAN VOTE ? YES INDEED

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^ Two Sal’s Two : John Connolly receives the Yes — at Warren Prescott School in Charlestown

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Today at 1:30 PM John Connolly received endorsement from two Sal’s : State Senator Sal DiDomenico, representing Charlestown and parts of Allston-Brighton, and District One City Councillor Sal LaMattina. Aboard the Connolly campaign they join State Representative Carlo Basile of East Boston, former District One Councillor Paul Scapicchio, District Nine Councillor Mark Ciommo, the North End’s State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, Susan Passoni, and top Menino fundraiser Vinnie Marino of Roslindale.

Yes, dear reader, as you can see, there is an “Italian vote” even in supposedly Irish Boston. And it counts. But first, indulge me in a little trip through Boston social history :

1. Voters of Italian name continue to reside, chiefly, in most of the Boston places that their grandparents lived in : much of the North End; half of East Boston; Readville; one precinct of Ward 6 in South Boston; a significant scattering in Roslindale, Fairmount Hill, and West Roxbury; and a tight little area hard by Brighton Center, to which Italians from the region of Frosinone and San Donato came, three generation ago, to work in quarries. They amount to about 14 percent of all Boston voters.

2. Because the ancestors of most Boston voters of Italian name arrived in Boston later than the forbears of most Bostonians of Irish name, voters of Italian name still show some connection to ethnicity.

3. Since voters of Italian name proved strongly outnumbered by those of Irish name, the custom grew in Italian-name neighborhoods of backing for Mayor not an Italian candidate –who was presumed unlikely to win — but an Irish name candidate who would make a deal with the Italian communities — by way of their political leaders. Italian-name voters tended to vote as a family group; and, not knowing particularly well the Irish-name candidates — who almost always lived elsewhere in the city — they followed their leaders’ recommendation. More than once, the “block” vote in Boston’s Italian-resident areas won the Mayor’s office for the Irish name candidate -chosen by those leaders. It was stupendously true in 1959 — when Collins beat Powers -and importantly so in 1967, when Kevin White beat Louise Day Hicks.

Scroll forward again to now. We have John Connolly and Marty Walsh. Walsh lives in Dorchester, far from any Italian-name neighborhood. John Connolly lives in West Roxbury, at opposite remove from most Italian-name sections of the City. It is a very 1959 situation.

Yes, via social media and a flood of news sources almost every italian-name voter of 2013 knows at least something about both men. Yet few voters know them well. In this voting situation, sponsorship by a trusted local leader can still make a difference. One or two such sponsorings might not turn many heads in this the internet era; but six or seven leaders of same heritage banding together — plus an issue; in this case, school reform — surely will turn lots of noggins.

There was an issue in today’s Sal and Sal endorsement. The event took place outside Charlestown’s \Warren Prescott school, and both Sal’s talked of their working together with Connolly on school reform agendas.

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^ LaMattina — Connolly — DiDomenico

Connolly’s band of Italian name pols may even arouse the really BIG Italian name I have yet to mention, a guy you are probably already thinking : Tom Menino, the only Italian-name Mayor that Boston has ever had. What will he do in this election ? Will he do ANY thing at all in it ?

I think that he will. I think that he is already doing it. The events taking place seem to prove that he is involving himself mightily. They cannot be an accident. One endorsement, maybe. Seven ? Not just chance. Menino is indeed involved. And not just among “The Italian vote.”

Did I say “just” the “italian vote” ? It matters a lot more than “just.” Come to the Columbus day Parade this Sunday as it winds through the North end, and you will see much. Come to the after-party at Filippo Restaurant (hosted by Philip Frattaroli, who was a City Council candidate this year). But most of all, think of the families that stand out. In Brighton, Salvucci, Mummolo and Cedrone; in the North End, Passacantilli, Anastasi, Coppola, Anzalone, Langone; in East Boston, Buttiglieri, Aiello, Aloisi, Mangini, Lanzilli, Faretra, Marmo. Readville : Scaccia, LoConte and Pulgini. Fairmount : Pagliarulo and of course Rob Consalvo. From Roslindale, Vadala, Iantosca, and Ferzoco; from West Roxbury, Settana. And the Iannella’s….

So what’s it all add up to ? Pretty basic if you ask me. Yes, the race between Walsh and Connolly is turning into a battle of economic classes (as we all knew it would be). But not every Boston voting bloc identifies by economic class. The “Italian vote’ has almost always — as my list above shows — identified by family and neighborhood. John Connolly is smart to pursue, in this matter, the strategy that won the 1959 race for John Collins and the 1967 race for Kevin White.

Come to think of it, Kevin White looked a lot like Connolly, lived in the same area, pursued a “new Boston vision” just as Connolly is doing, talked the language of “downtown,” and — again like Connolly — came from a family long involved in Boston politics. And had the good sense to court East Boston’s Mario Umana. For the Kevin White of 2013, it’s “so far, so good.” Only 26 days remain until we know if it’s good enough.

Tomorrow : The Walsh strategy

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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^ City Council colleagues : LaMattina and Connolly