Lone Survivor (2013)

Lone SurvivorReleased: January 10, 2014. Directed by: Peter Berg. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster. Runtime: 121 min.

“Lone Survivor” is a war film that truly expresses how far one will go to survive in a life-threatening situation. It’s like that example commonly used where if a parent sees their child in danger, their protective instincts are going to take over, and if the act requires extraordinary strength, they’ll probably get the necessary adrenaline rush to do so. Sometimes the adrenaline rush doesn’t always help, but it helps give people hope for that situation. This film depicts the courage and survival instincts of the men of Operation Red Wing, a US Marines operation to capture and kill a notorious al Qaeda leader Ahmad Shahd, who had killed twenty U.S. marines weeks prior. The operation takes place in June 2005 in Afghanistan.

The group of marines who take part in the operation are Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Lieutenant Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson (Ben Foster) and Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) who go at it alone in stage one in the operation, to recon the area where Shahd is suspected of staying. Their knowledge is that the village has a small group of ten men, but what is really in the Taliban village is a small army. That isn’t the only thing to go wrong on the mission primarily, their position is surrendered when a group of goat herders stumble upon them. The moral dilemma of whether or not to kill them (two are kids) puts them a situation that will put all of their lives at stake.

It’s curious that it’s such a moral dilemma for them, whether or not to kill the two kids and old man who stumble upon them. The Marines didn’t want to commit a war crime, but it sparks a heated debate within the four men about what they should do about the situation. But they are Taliban, and the younger men are trained soldiers practically. One of them is a kid, but one seriously hard-looking one looks about 21 years old, no younger than one Petty officer on the operation. Anyway, at least these soldiers do have morals. I guess they wouldn’t clear their military psychology test if they were unstable in that way.

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They do have to do what’s right for their country, and patriotism is a main theme of the film. It’s a rousing film about men fighting for their country, and that’s why I like war films; and the action make them pretty great, too, of course. It’s cool when they have attempts at humour, as well. This film has a few of them, notably during a scene where it shows how Petty officers gains respect from their higher authorities in the Marine corps. There’s a speech that is given by Alexander Ludwig (portraying Shane Patton, he’s a bit better than he was in “The Hunger Games”) where he tells them why he’s going to be a good Navy SEAL diver. Some of it’s good, some of it’s odd. I like the performances by the main four soldiers on this mission.

They’re all talented actors, really. Kitsch’s character is a big shot because he is a lietuenant; he’s good in my book because he likes “Anchorman”, too. Hirsch is particularly good in one scene, and generally good. I really like Ben Foster as an actor, and he might have one of the best lines in the film as far as I’m concerned. Mark Wahlberg just keeps getting better and better, too; I don’t mean to bore you readers with somewhat generic comments on main performances, but I like to give credit where it’s due. The courage these men they are portraying is so admirable, because they just keep fighting. I’m sure that’s why these talented actors were attracted to the roles.

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That’s probably why so many were attracted to see the film. There’s a lot to like about it, but there’s also some stuff wrong with it. I’d have appreciated a different title so it would allow more suspense to take place. It’s still an effective and emotionally impactful film, regardless. It could have been called “Military Communication Devices Suck,” because they couldn’t call in their position to the base half the time, or even “Operation Red Wing” could have been an effective title.

Anyway, Peter Berg directs the film well, but I don’t like some of his creative choices. He uses slow motion way too much for my liking. He’s unrelenting with it, really. Some scenes are improved with it, for example when the soldiers fall down hills, he uses slo-mo at the beginning of it so it’s an interesting shot. Its effectiveness is hit and miss. There’s an archive footage sequence during the opening credits depicting cadets training to be a marine; it’s cool, but it’s not clear if it’s footage of the soldiers participating in the operation depicted of the film. There’s also a funny thing about this film; some films might start with a scene taken from the middle, but this one starts with a scene taken from part of the end! It’s a silly decision because this surrenders some suspense from the film, as well, but the third act is still stellar.

One more creative decision I wasn’t fond of: During a scene shared between Luttrell (Wahlberg) and Axelson (Foster), Axelson is asking Luttrell for a favour that is quite touching and one of my favourite parts of the film, and just before I can decide “Hey, is this worth a tear?” Berg interrupts it with a loud explosion! Come on, man! For action fans they might appreciate that the drama gets cut short, but it’s so sloppy to me because it was a great scene. It does depict the harsh reality of war and the suddenness of such violence, and how quickly these soldiers have to react to enemy fire. It’s realistic, but sloppy.

There are some surprises with the film, especially how gritty it is. The blood and battle wounds that cover these soldiers is really just heartbreaking. Even though this film is flawed, I think it deserves a re-watch for the great action sequences. One more thing: The sound effects of this war film are truly spectacular, there are explosions and gunfire going off every which way – and it feels like you’re really in the film with the soldiers.

Score75/100

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Grown Ups 2 (2013)

GROWN UPS 2Release Date: July 12, 2013. Director: Dennis Dugan. Stars: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, David Spade. Runtime: 102 min.

The mystery of why Adam Sandler has never previously done a sequel has been solved. “Grown Ups 2” is worst than his average movie, but it’s about on par with “Jack and Jill“. (That’s no compliment if you’ve seen “J&J”.) If Sandler has become one thing lately, it is reliable. We can always rely on him to bring us one of the year’s worst comedies. If anyone was hoping for a Sandler movie game-changer with this one, they’ll only receive something familiar. “Grown Ups” is a guilty pleasure of mine, but I don’t know how anyone could find pleasure in this.

There isn’t any plot. If one has trouble describing the plot of this film’s predecessor in casual conversation, they’ll damn well blow a blood vessel trying to explain this film’s plot. Even the people over at IMDb don’t know what this is about. Even the filmmakers don’t know what this one is about! The IMDb plot is this: After moving his family back to his hometown to be with his friends and their kids, Lenny (Adam Sandler) finds out that between old bullies, new bullies, schizophrenic bus drivers, drunk cops on skis, and 400 costumed party crashers sometimes crazy follows you.

Yup. It’s as stupid as it sounds. It just feels like a bunch of comedy skits thrown together. Just because one’s main cast (Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade) is composed of SNL veterans, does not mean it should feel like a long episode of Saturday Night Live. I have been told that SNL sketches range from bad to good to the occasional great. The sketches here are just plain bad.

This film is at its funniest when Sandler channels mannerisms similar to Billy Madison. It’s also funny when Jon Lovitz shows up as a character that is very similar to the pervert he played in “Little Nicky”. Sandler is showing us that he and his friends can still be funny with their observational humour; so why is there so much god-awful, low-brow humour in here? The good moments are hidden in so much utter dreck, that they are cancelled out. At the somewhat funny jokes later on, I wanted to laugh – but I only could bring myself to smirk slightly. I knew that for that one decent joke, there will be twenty-five pathetic attempts at humour. Seeing Sandler’s comic genius in his recent movies is as rare as seeing the sun on a cloudy day; you might see it once or twice, but then again, your mind is probably just playing tricks on you.

“Grown Ups 2” reaches to the bottom of the barrel for its laughs. There’s many jokes including bodily functions: peeing, pooping, vomiting, masturbation, and a running joke about trying to burp, sneeze and fart simultaneously, coined by Kevin James… I’m not sure why anyone would laugh at it. But then again, some of the people in my audience laughed at the mere sight of the deer in Lenny’s bedroom. (Oh yeah. The thought of a deer being in a bedroom instead of the wild is real hysterical. Since he’s not supposed to be there, it’s an odd occurence that’s supposed to make the audience laugh, apparently!) At least the only recycled joke is someone peeing in the pool and a mist of blue shows up. This time, though, it doesn’t make much sense because 1) it’s a myth, and 2) if there was such a chemical, there’s really no need to put it one’s own private pool.

There are a lot of visual gags to “Grown Ups 2”. Markus has a thirteen year-old son (the terrible Alexander Ludwig) who has a beard. The joke seems to be that Ludwig is supposed to be terrible as a 21-year-old playing a 13-year-old; but there isn’t anything funny going on there. He has a bunch of “tattoos” that are practically permanent marker. It’s ridiculous. I’ll have an easier time believing that Maggie Grace can convincingly play an eighteen year-old. There’s also a main gag where the family of Malcolm (Tim Meadows) is all bald. Everyone is losing their hair. His wife and son have noses that look like they’re made out of Play Doh. I get it. They’re funny looking. They say “Whaaaaat?” whenever they get offended. It’s supposed to be funny. But nothing about them is funny. The joke is rather excruciating.

Since there are so many celeb cameos here, it makes me believe Sandler thinks featuring these celebrities in his movie is a punchline. There are many familiar faces; his buddies Nick Swardson and Peter Dante show up. (MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD, BUT THESE CAMEOS HAVE BEEN IN EVERY TV SPOT.) Shaquille O’Neal has an extended cameo. Will Forte, Andy Samberg and Taran Killam, among others, wash Lamansoff’s car, in a scene where you’ll just want to look away. To the sound of Warrant’s “Sweet Cherry Pie”, no less. Taylor Lautner shows up as an annoying Frat boy who barks, flips around, and has a stupid handshake with Milo Ventimiglia. (Even though he’s good on TV’s “Heroes”, I’ve grown to hate him after seeing him here and in “That’s My Boy“.) (END OF MINOR SPOILERS.) Sorry, Sandler, this won’t make many of us laugh. These people are celebrities. Celebrities are in movies, because they’re famous. It’s nothing new.

There is a line of stupidity movies just cannot cross. “Grown Ups 2” crosses it, and then some. I like stupid comedy. You’ll find a lot of stupidity going on in this god-awful film, but only a limited amount of comedy. Sandler’s latest is the poster child for stupid comedies. It begins with a deer pissing on Adam Sandler and ends with a seriously dumb bodily function joke. If that sounds like something you’d find hysterical; well, then, you might have to re-evaluate your taste in movies.

Score: 12/100

I do usually like Adam SandlerI’m considering watching all of Adam Sandler’s movies, and re-watch the ones I can stand to watch again, and review them. In the meantime, here are my reviews of some Adam Sandler films that have received good scores: 50 First Dates” (2004), “Billy Madison” (1995).

The Hunger Games (2012)

The Hunger Games

Release Date: March 23, 2012

Director: Gary Ross

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

Runtime: 143 min

Tagline: The World Will Be Watching.

 

I favor the book.

The film is set in an America which, after a war, has been renamed Panem in the future.  As a cruel reminder to the people of Panem for a past rebellion, two representatives from each district, one male and one female, are chosen to for an annual lottery (where no one in the lower districts will want to win) called the Hunger Games. The Games are a fight to the death, where twenty-three of the twenty-four young teens die, with one lone victor. The Hunger Games is an annual propaganda-based reality TV show favourite, for the people of the Capitol at least. This 74th Annual Hunger Games marks history for District 12, as it got its first volunteer, Katniss Everdeen. Katniss took her sister’s place and it was a noble act, indeed. She must use her hunting skills/wilderness experience and sense of direction to stand a fighting chance to survive.

It’s a really interesting film that uses propaganda as a main theme, and just shows how corrupt the government has really gotten. For the young adult audience, it’s a very fresh idea; but I have heard that this film feels like a big rip-off of the Japanese film that was released in 2000, Battle Royale. I haven’t seen that one, so it won’t taint my view of this film at all, so it felt like a fresh experience.

A lot of it feels like just a youth spin of Gladiator (which I still have to find the time to watch), and the film sort of reminded me of an old Roman thing, bread and circus. The bread means food which the emperor would give to the people of Rome, and the circus meant entertainment.

In this case, the President would give food the people, and that’s what going on here, as the tributes have the option to put their name in numerous times in the raffle as a way to get more food (even though they should be getting more food in the first place, as it is revealed in the second book [I don’t think it’s a really large spoiler] that the people of the Capitol drink this fluid that makes them vomit, so they can stuff their faces even more). The entertainment is most obviously the Hunger Games, which is a reality television show put on for the people of the Capitol, which is really a heinous occurrence which would be pretty bad if it happened in this day and age (granted, it does make for a pretty interesting film [or book] idea).

The film really is quite entertaining and an interesting experience and has a really great ensemble, with a few great characters (that the writers actually want you to connect in any way with) and very intense sequences. There’s some really memorable action sequences, but don’t expect a full-throttle action thriller. Expect a nice adventure flick with a great heroine (push over, Bella!) with some solid action sequences, and lots of adventure and a bit of dramatic science fiction futuristic material.

Okay, some stuff I didn’t like about it. The first is a spoiler and the second is pretty spoiler, but expected.

                                        *SORT OF SPOILER ALERT*         

I didn’t feel there was enough bonding time with Rue to be shared here. Not solid enough character development for her, as in the book.

I don’t see why Collins, like Stephenie Meyer, just had to add in a love triangle. It seems to be that it can’t be a young adult phenomenon without it. It’s very expected, so I didn’t really care for it; but at the same time is effective.

*END OF SPOILERS*

Okay guys, it’s pretty safe to read here. Some other stuff I didn’t dig about the film is that some of the material is a little unclear for those audience members who haven’t read the book, and I didn’t like that aspect of it. I would have thought that the loose ends of the background information would have been better connected with the actual author of the book (Suzanne Collins) having a writing credit for the film.

I feel that the film just needed a bit more violence to be better appreciated; readers could easily handle the violence portrayed in the book, so why couldn’t there be a lot more of it in the actual film? Sometimes young adult’s imaginations can be even more violent than what is portrayed on film, so I just didn’t care for it in that aspect. It couldn’t have even gone for a 14A rating? Or like a really strong 14A rating that could have been secured without going too far as to get an 18A rating? I know it’s a young adult audience, but seriously; more than half of the tributes were killed off screen.

In some ways it’s not an incredible adaptation, it isn’t quite on the same great caliber as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings but outshines (or should I say… out-sparkles? I’m calling you out, Edward) Twilight by great lengths.

I guess this film review, that’s turning into a bit of an essay, should reach its conclusion soon.

It’s a film with a great heroine, great performances (by Jennifer Lawrence especially, who I wish the Academy will be so bold to nominate her for Best Actress; which I doubt will happen), great action/adventure sequences, and a story that offers a fresh enough cinematic experience. The film is a bit lengthy (with the Games starting about 65 minutes into the film), but of course there must be some background  information to be shared here, which could have been better-developed at that. For Oscars, I think the film should get Academy recognition (or at least large award recognition) for its Costume Design, Make-Up jobs especially, and its Cinematography, and even maybe a Best Picture nomination.

The film has a dynamite cast with Jennifer Lawrence in the lead spot, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Willow Shields, Elizabeth Banks (nearly recognizable, except for her voice, as Effie), Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Toby Jones, Lenny Kravitz, Amandla Stenberg (Rue), Alexander Ludwig (Cato) and Isabelle Fuhrman (Clove; whom I know as the little psychopath from Orphan).

It’s a film with slow pacing at the beginning but gets great when it heats up, has many entertaining sequences, and could have been a better adaptation, as there’s a lot of room for improvement, but is a great experience for both young adults and even some adults can enjoy; and should be enjoyed by those who are willing to accept it for the quite unique adapted experience it offers.

80/100