TENSE "FINEST HOURS" HITS A HIGH WATER MARK
Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) is determined his open Coast Guard boat will make it through the storm.

That title “The Finest Hours” is a bit misleading. While it implies one of those romantic tales full of shameless melodrama and damp hankies, it is in fact a pretty tense seagoing rescue mission based on some of the U.S. Coast Guard's finest hours – the daring rescue of 32 seamen stranded on a sinking oil tanker during a storm with hurricane-force winds off the coast of Massachusetts in February, 1952.

While the drama and special effects aren't as sweeping as in “The Perfect Storm” or the whaling scenes in “The Heart of the Sea,” they are still pretty darn good. This is a Disney movie, after all,with all the strengths and weaknesses that lineage implies.

On the good side, it is a family film that truly can be for the whole family, from pre-teen adventure seekers through young adults in love with love and their caring parents right on to the oldsters who were youngsters in 1952.

The tension created by director Craig Gillespie (“Million Dollar Arm”) feels genuine with dramatic seascapes dominated by killer waves crashing into a foundering ship that has broken in half, a Coast Guard cutter with four aboard that feels more like a water-logged cork in unforgiving seas and those folks helplessly waiting on shore for good news from deep inside the perils of this terrible storm.

All that tension comes from terrific editing jumping around among the defiant men on the sinking tanker to the cocksure kids barely old enough to be Coast Guardsmen in the rescue boat to the mix of seasoned fishermen, their wives and daughters ashore who care for the cocksure kids.

The set-up provides lead roles for two daring young men – Chris Pine (the “Star Trek” series) as the Coast Guard lad who must prove himself and Casey Affleck playing an engineer with the tanker crew, a quiet man who can apparently MacGyver anything afloat.

The teen love story which fills the movie's first quarter is between Chris and rosy cheeked Holliday Grainger. Together they create a genuine puppy love affection that is quickly matured later on by the intensity of this angry winter weather.

“The Finest Hours” comes with a 3D version that is highly recommended. The storm scenes, in particular those with mountainous ocean swells that can drop a boat into canyons of emptiness then crush it without a second thought, get maximum ominousity in 3D.

Cynical moderns might do well to just skip this pic, but sentimental cineasts with affection for those good old-fashioned movie values of yore won't be disappointed one bit.




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AUGUST WILSON'S "FENCES" PACKED WITH EMOTION
Troy Maxson (David Alan Andersen) and Rose (Kim Staunton) share a rare moment of happiness.

If you love the plays of August Wilson, particularly “Fences” set in 1957, you must see Arizona Theatre Company's new production directed by Lou Bellamy.

High intensity is maintained through the play's full 150 minutes of conflicts and frustrations in the life of middle-aged Troy Maxson (David Alan Andersen), a promising baseball player in the Negro Leagues but well past his prime by the time major league baseball began to integrate in 1947.

As a theater experience this “Fences” is richly rewarding, with the ensemble cast of equally talented actors as focused as a professional ball team to portray the tragedy that is Troy Maxson's life. Anger nourishes this man and Andersen never lets us forget it.

Yet the play's most powerful moment belongs to Kim Staunton as Rose, Troy's determined wife of 18 years. She runs the household and tries to keep Troy from breaking the spirit of their teen son Cory (Edgar Sanchez).

Cory has the talent to be a good high school football player, good enough maybe to win a college scholarship. But Troy refuses to let Cory play, convinced the white people in charge of everything won't give Cory a fair shake.

Just like they didn't give Troy a fair shake when he was a ball player. His hurt and his anger have built a fence between father and son, though Troy does feel a family responsibility to Cory, Rose and Troy's older son from an earlier marriage, Lyons (James T. Alfred), who longs for the life of a jazz musician.

But Troy's sense of responsibility, which could be seen as a good thing, becomes a bad thing because it only increases his anger and unreasonableness in dealing with family matters.

Adding another layer of tension is Troy's pal from prison and now his workmate as a sanitation worker for the city, the better-natured Bono (Marcus Naylor). A bit of mystery and sadness is provided by Terry Bellamy as Troy's addled brother Gabriel, suggesting angelic connections with a bugle hung on a rope around his neck.

All of Wilson's plays come with sizable baggage in the playwright's fulfilled intention to write a play for each decade of the 20th century, examining the unsettled relationship between African-Americans and European-Americans over that 100-year-span.

Cultural changes since the 1960s have been so accelerated, “Fences” now feels more like a period piece. Wilson has been quoted that he wrote the plays to give white people a better understanding of what the black person's life was actually like. ATC's predominantly white audiences will get that.

“Fences” continues through Feb.6, with performances at various times Tuesdays through Sundays in the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets are $23-$63. For details and reservations, 520-622-2823, or visit arizonatheatre.org