Exclusive Clip: The Finest Hours — Win a DVD!

Posted on May 18, 2016 at 4:01 pm

We are delighted to be able to share an exclusive clip from “The Finest Hours,” the stirring story of a real-life Coast Guard rescue.

And we’re even more delighted to have DVDs to give away! Send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with Finest in the subject line and tell me your favorite body of water. Don’t forget your address! (U.S. addresses only). I’ll pick a winner at random on May 28, 2016. Good luck!

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Interview: Producer Jim Whitaker on “The Finest Hours”

Posted on February 1, 2016 at 3:57 pm

Producer Jim Whitaker says that when he first read The Finest Hours: The True Story of a Heroic Sea Rescue, “every time it came to a different point in the story it just got more and more amazing. And in my job you try and find great stories that could work for the big screen, that could be movies. But when you can find a story that is amazing and great in the movie story but then it also turns out to be true — to me it’s incredible to be able to have that opportunity. It is an incredible adventure but also is important for the values that the characters represent as well.”

But it was a daunting undertaking, even with modern technology, to try to re-create a 1952 nor’easter storm so massive and powerful that it split not one but two tankers in half, and the small boat captained by 24-year-old Bernie Webber (played by Chris Pine) that rescued 33 men from one of the tankers. “We knew that the key to emotionally experiencing a movie in the strongest way was to put yourself in the position that Bernie and his crew were in going on this incredible journey and accomplishing this incredible feat. And the goal was to have the audience get right in the middle of it and then in a way feel the catharsis of the experience. As always, we start with the characters and their journeys and when you start to build out from there. We break the movie down into its essences which took us on a fantastic journey because we found ourselves building giant parts of steel oil tankers putting them on hundreds of thousands of gallons of water and creating a kind of an amazing reality which was also tied in with the raw circumstances of the actual event with sixty foot waves. We were kind of in a continual wet and miserable state to create the most authentic experience.”

Copyright Disney 2016
Copyright Disney 2016

The 3D effects really take the audience into the heart of the storm. “We wanted the movie to feel completely immersive. Craig Gillespie was designing the movie to feel authentic like you were right in the place where Bernie and his men were. So as you are building the movie you’re constantly thinking, ‘How do I make the experience feel authentic and real?’ 3D allows that in an incredible way. And we wanted the movie to be kind of gut-wrenching in the sense that it sorts of holds you in the gut. And therein lies character catharsis. We wanted to grab you and hold you through the whole experience from both an environmental point of view and a character point of view and I think 3D actually does that very well. As much as it is about size and scope and specs which I think the movie has, in essence it really is the heart and the emotion of the movie to me that’s most powerful. And I think in many ways that’s why you go to the movie,s both to get thrill of the size and scope and then emotionally to just feel the power of these great characters.”

We go back and forth between the rescue boat and what is happening with the group hoping to be rescued, who, first of all, have lost their captain and officers, so they are not sure who is in charge. The one who emerges is played by Casey Affleck. “I think both characters embody, Casey’s and Chris Pine’s characters, is a very humble, quiet nature and then they are both called upon to do something extraordinary. And in some respect they both resisted but you could see that they operate very differently in the movie. But they have the qualities to be able to do it, and you’re just watching and waiting for them to allow themselves to emerge and take control. It shows a message that I feel is very important, that we all have it within us to do extraordinary things. Sometimes we do it in life in very small ways with our kids or our partner or wives and we just do little things that are extraordinary but sometimes you are called upon to do something that is physically and emotionally extraordinary because the circumstances call upon it. In that case for Siebert, Casey’s character and Bernie, Chris’ character, they were both called upon to do extraordinary things and they rose to the occasion. To see on the screen a story that was true of these men, I find it incredibly inspiring and I hope aspirational too, I hope people can take away from it a certain sense of being inspired to do that in their everyday lives. I love their selfless nature. Bernie in particular was very humble and yet he knew that he needed to do the right thing. He did the right thing in the most selfless way and I think it is a beautiful thing to see people who serve other people in very quiet, strong way. They lead by their example in very quiet, strong, humble ways, I love the integrity of both of their characters for that.”

There are some computer graphics in the film, but a lot of the water in the movie is real. And some of the footage of the storm is real, too. “We were determined to make it as authentic as possible so we shot on Cape Cod for a good portion of the film. Of course we are shooting a movie about a nor’easter, a hurricane that comes through and in fact one did. Most often when that happens it’s an interruption to production. But we said immediately, “Okay let’s get our cameras and get out there and shoot.” So a bunch of the stuff that happened on Cape Cod happened in the middle of the nor’easter and that was both complicated and amazing. It was perfect for the movie and pretty exciting to be able to shoot. So that was great, we felt like Bernie had a hand in it.”

As the movie begins, about a month before the storm, Bernie is about to meet a girl he has been talking to on the phone but never seen. Whitaker told me the real story of how they met over the phone. “Miriam was a phone operator. She overheard Bernie telling a young woman that he was supposed to have a blind date with that he couldn’t go on the blind date because he had to go out and go do a rescue. And she was an operator and she overheard it and the gentle and kind of kind way in which Bernie spoke to this woman down immediately made her think that was a guy she wanted to meet and fall in love with. So using that technology she kept calling the Coast Guard station and said ‘There is a guy named Berry or something?’ Finally, Bernie got on the phone and she sort of talked her way around this unusual circumstance of being an operator who listened in on his call and they then spoke over the phone without seeing each other for almost 2 to 3 weeks without ever seeing each other, every day they talked on the phone but they never met up. And so the story begins with them meeting for the first time and Bernie is still anxious because he doesn’t know if the girl of his dreams looks like he imagines.

Whitaker hopes that families will see this movie together. “I want them to talk about the importance of character. These men had they did the right thing for the right reasons, not to get any attention. They just did it because it was their job and they knew it was the right thing to do, no matter how dire the circumstances. It was a suicide mission. They knew that there were other people in need and so they didn’t think about themselves. It’s those qualities, those character qualities that I think are important. And then finally when it got to be the most difficult point for them at their darkest hour they relied on faith. I want people to take away the idea that it’s important to hope.

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Behind the Scenes Interview

The Finest Hours — The Real Story

Posted on January 29, 2016 at 8:00 am

 Left to right are Coast Guardsmen Bernard Webber, who piloted the rescue boat; Engineman second class Andrew Fitzgerald, Seaman Richard Livesey and Seaman Irving Maske.  Photo by Richard Kelsey, Chatham."   Photo credit: Copyright 1952 Cape Cod Community College.
Left to right are Coast Guardsmen Bernard Webber, who piloted the rescue boat; Engineman second class Andrew Fitzgerald, Seaman Richard Livesey and Seaman Irving Maske. Photo by Richard Kelsey, Chatham.”
Photo credit: Copyright 1952 Cape Cod Community College.

“The Finest Hours,” in theaters today, stars Chris Pine and Eric Bana in the fact-based story of the greatest small-boat rescue in Coast Guard history.

In February of 1952, two tanker ships were in distress during a terrible storm off the coast of Massachusetts. They were the SS Pendleton and SS Fort Mercer. Disastrously, both ships split in two within hours of each other, with many crewmen killed and the rest in dire peril, and only three hours before the crippled vessel would sink in freezing, storm-tossed water, drowning the rest.

Copyright US Naval Institute 1952
Copyright US Naval Institute 1952

Coxswain Bernard C. Webber and his crew, Andrew J. Fitzgerald, Richard P. Livese and Ervin E. Maske, all under 25 years old, went out on a 36-foot wooden boat to try to rescue the remaining crew of the Pendleton, and the movie, from Disney studios, is their story. These young men were the ones left behind when the most experienced men were sent in other boats to rescue the crew from the Fort Mercer. Maske was just passing through the station and had never been on a rescue mission before. Fitzgerald was an engine man who joined because Webber’s usual partner had the flu. Another engine man who played a key role was the Pendleton’s Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), who made key decisions that kept the crew alive while the rescue boat was on the way.

Webber’s boat was brutally beaten back by the storm, pushed over so that it was entirely on its site. Its compass was smashed. Communications with the shore and the Pendleton were impossible for most of the rescue operation. Webber and his crew brought back all of the survivors of the Pendleton but one, a man who fell from the rope ladder trying to reach the small boat. The last surviving member of the Pendleton crew was there to visit the set of the film.

And a group has raised a quarter of a million dollars to restore and preserve the boat used in the rescue.

The movie is based on a book by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman called The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue.

Some of the film has been made more dramatic (Webber and his wife were already married when the rescue took place), but the heroics of the men involved are not in any way exaggerated, as this report from the Naval Institute’s Proceedings makes clear.

Webber and his crew arrive back safely at their base with 32 of the Pendleton's survivors on board the Coast Guard motor lifeboat.  EN3 Andrew Fitzgerald is on the bow ready to handle the tie up at the pier. Photo by Richard C. Kelsey, Chatham, Mass.  Photo credit: Cape Cod Community College. Copyright 1952
Webber and his crew arrive back safely at their base with 32 of the Pendleton’s survivors on board the Coast Guard motor lifeboat. EN3 Andrew Fitzgerald is on the bow ready to handle the tie up at the pier. Photo by Richard C. Kelsey, Chatham, Mass. Photo credit: Cape Cod Community College. Copyright 1952
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The Real Story

The Finest Hours

Posted on January 28, 2016 at 5:53 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of peril
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense scenes of peril, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 29, 2016
Date Released to DVD: May 23, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B019PQ0NZG
Copyright Disney 2016
Copyright Disney 2016

“In the Coast Guard they say you gotta go out. They don’t say you gotta come back in.” It was a big nor’easter storm off the coast of Massachusetts. It was February 1952, so communications technology was limited. And not one but two tankers split in half. The most experienced Coast Guard crew went off to rescue the first one. When word came in that a second one was sinking, four young men, all under 25 and two who had never been on a rescue operation, took a small boat out into the storm.

That second ship was the Pendleton. Knowing that they had no more than two to three hours before their half of the tanker would sink into the icy storm-tossed waves, they had to decide who would be in charge. “No officers, no rules, every man for himself,” a crew member says. But they realize they must choose between the man who wanted to take the lifeboats or the engineer they did not know as well who said he had a plan (Casey Affleck, understated and compelling). “They may not like you, but they know to listen to you,” one member of the crew admits.

Based on the true story as told in the book by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman, screenwriters Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson efficiently introduce us to the characters and the challenges they are facing. Chris Pine plays Bernie Webber, a departure from his usual cocky, confident roles. Bernie is a little shy, but very sincere, and he believes in the rules, not in a rigid way but in a careful way. When we first see him, he is about to see the girl he has been talking to on the phone for the first time and he does not want to get out of the car because he is afraid she will not like him.

And of course she does like him. Her name is Miriam (British actress Holliday Grainger, last seen as an evil stepsister in “Cinderella”). Director Craig Gillespie (of the wonderful “Lars and the Real Girl”) gives them just enough time to get invested in their relationship — and to get us invested in it — before the storm comes in.

Gillespie really gets going when the storm does, though, and those scenes are powerful and exciting. We are in the small boat with Webber as the window shatters and the compass is wiped out. The boat is tossed around like a cork, at one point completely on its side, with monster waves crashing down. And we are in the Pendleton’s engine room as seams burst and beams come down. And then we are back on land, as Miriam tries to find out what is going on, tries to get the commanding officer to bring the rescue team back, and then learns what it is to love a man who risks his life as a part of his job.

In a film like this, the most important job of the director is to make sure we understand how daunting, even impossible, the task is, and then to make sure we get to see what goes into surmounting the obstacles. Some of that is missing here, as when we are told that there are too many men on the Pendleton for the small boat to carry, and then somehow it carries them. The compass is out, there’s no communication, and yet somehow Webber’s crew finds the Pendleton. It may be that no one knows how it worked, but it undercuts the drama to skip over some of those details.

The quiet heroism of these characters is movingly portrayed, and these days, when heroes are hard to come by, this is a touching story of selflessness, courage, and dedication, and exactly the kind of story that Disney tells best.

Parents should know that this story concerns a real-life catastrophic storm with many lives lost. There are scenes of very intense peril, some mild language, and social drinking.

Family discussion: How did the men on the tanker decide who should be in charge? How did Bernie decide when to follow the rules and when not to? What did Miriam learn from her visit to the widow’s house?

If you like this, try: “The Perfect Storm” and “The Hunt for Red October”

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Trailer: The Finest Hours

Posted on September 11, 2015 at 8:00 am

A heroic action-thriller, “The Finest Hours” is the remarkable true story of the greatest small boat rescue in Coast Guard history. Presented in Digital 3D™ and IMAX® 3D, the film will transport audiences to the heart of the action, creating a fully-immersive cinematic experience on an epic scale. On February 18, 1952, a massive nor’easter struck New England, pummeling towns along the Eastern seaboard and wreaking havoc on the ships caught in its deadly path, including the SS Pendleton, a T-2 oil tanker bound for Boston, which was literally ripped in half, trapping more than 30 sailors inside its rapidly-sinking stern. As the senior officer on board, first assistant engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) soon realizes it is up to him to take charge of the frightened crew and inspire the men to set aside their differences and work together to ride out one of the worst storms to ever hit the East Coast. Meanwhile, as word of the disaster reaches the U.S. Coast Guard station in Chatham, Massachusetts, Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana) orders a daring operation to rescue the stranded men. Despite overwhelming odds, four men, led by Coast Guard Captain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), set out in a wooden lifeboat with an ill-equipped engine and little, if any, means of navigation, facing frigid temperatures, 60-foot high waves and hurricane-force winds.

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