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.

Lone Survivor 1

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.

Lone Survivor 2

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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August 2-4 Box Office Predictions

The Smurfs 2“The Smurfs 2” is being released two days early to beat the rush. Now, that worked wonders for “Despicable Me 2,” but didn’t do anything for “Turbo.” After families have emptied their pockets out on legitimately good animated movies like “Monsters University” and “DM2,” their budgets for movies are running on empty (as shown by the soft first weekend for “Turbo”). (That’s okay by me — because this and the summer’s last animated movie, “Planes,” don’t peak my interest.) Movies similar to “The Smurfs 2” open to an average $25.96 million. 2011’s “The Smurfs” opened to $35.6 million. Two years between the original and the first sequel isn’t so bad. Families might have grown a bit wiser in that time – though. For the three-day weekend, I’ll predict this at $26.5 million; and for the five-day frame, I’ll predict it at $39.34 million.

2 Guns

“2 Guns” is the other major release this weekend. It’s an action comedy starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, so it already has an appeal with the cast. The last major buddy comedy, “The Heat,” was aimed at women; so now it’s time to show that men still like their action comedies. This still has an appeal to women, as well, because buddy comedies usually do well. “The Heat” had an $39.115 million debut, so this actioner should open roughly in the same neighbourhood, maybe a bit lower since this film’s marketing campaign wasn’t as aggressive as the campaign of “The Heat.” And since “The Wolverine” will have a good holdover, my prediction is $33.8 million.

Title: Prediction
1. “2 Guns”: $33.8 million
2. “The Wolverine”: $27.15 million
3. “The Smurfs 2”: $26.5 million (Five-day: $39.34 million)
4. “The Conjuring”: $12.85 million
5. “Despicable Me 2“: $10.1 million
6. “Turbo”: $8.56 million
7. “Grown Ups 2“: $6.96 million
8. “Red 2”: $5.26 million
9. “The Heat“: $4.844 million
10. “Pacific Rim“: $4.035 million

Pain & Gain (2013)

Pain & Gain

Pain & Gain

Release Date: April 26, 2013

Director: Michael Bay

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie

Runtime: 130 min

Tagline: Their American Dream is Bigger Than Yours

Michael Bay doesn’t have a good reputation. He’s that one director that is best fit to movies that have gigantic budgets and simple plots. Some may call him a director of stupid blockbuster movies, but he’s hardly the worst director in the business. That’s McG. A guy whose movies are stupider than his name. Anyway, back to Bay. While he is best known for huge, popcorn movies (Transformers, Pearl Harbor) he surprises with Pain & Gain, a movie made for $26 million.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is the charismatic manager of Sun Gym, a fitness centre where muscled guys lift weights and fatties might as well be the plague. Lugo has a very specific philosophy (taught by motivational speaker, Johnny Wu, a tiny role for Ken Jeong). He’s a do-er, and if he believes he deserves it, the universe will serve it. He just so happens to believe he deserves everything local rich guy, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), possesses. He enlists the help of Sun Gym buddies Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to do so. Together, these juice monkeys envelop themselves in a extortion ring and kidnapping scheme that goes terribly awry.

These guys are truly willing to go the extra mile to achieve the so-called American dream. The movie shows how far people might actually go to achieve what they desire, and these extreme lengths can be shocking. It’s also shocking to learn this film follows the true story upon which it is based (a three-part series entitled ‘Pain & Gain’ by Pete Collins) very closely. If you think you had a hard time believing Bernie (where Jack Black plays the titular Bernie who strikes up a relationship with a wealthy widow and when he kills her, he has to go to great lengths to creat the illusion she’s still alive) was based on a true story, you haven’t seen anything yet. This is so strange and bizarre that, during the movie, we’re reminded that “this is still a true story”.

A violent true story is written into a hilarious action comedy, so the audience could easily admire that, or be easily offended. The case is, Hollywood is once again exploiting something awful and making it into something entertaining that will make money. Though, this story about the Sun Gym Gang (that takes place between the latter end of 1994 through June 1995) really should be known. Still, the writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely pen a great black comedy, even if it is lengthy. Everyone should see this just to see where they stand on the film, much like the other 2013 movie set in Miami, Spring Breakers. This is truly one of the most bizarre and strangest movies of all-time, but it’s also one of the most memorable and entertaining of 2013 thus far.

Michael Bay’s movie has some great production design and writing, and it’s nice to see that he’s directing a passion project; and it also helps that the closest thing to Optimus Prime are fancy cars and riding lawn mowers. Some of the characters, though, are only a little more emotional than robots, mostly because the three main protagonists are money-hungry sociopaths. The characters’ actions are so moronic that it’s hard to care what might happen to them. We don’t really feel compassion for charismatic sociopaths, like they wouldn’t for us. The sociopath that shows the most human emotions is Paul Doyle (mostly for Jesus or Kershaw) and Doorbal. The dark comedy really produces laughs, and the offbeat humour is right on the money. Wahlberg and Mackie are great in their roles and everyone has great comedic timing, but the real star here is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Johnson has played badasses in the past (like Mathayus in The Scorpion King, Chris Vaugh in Walking Tall, Luke Hobbs in Fast Five), but this is one of his strongest performances as an egotistic moron who happens to think he’s a badass. He’s hilarious and very charming as the criminal who hits rock bottom, finds Jesus, and then becomes hooked on cocaine once again when they find wealth. He steals every scene, and right now, I can’t think of a time where Johnson delivers a more entertaining performance.

Ed Harris is great as the main investigator working for Tony Shalhoub’s Kershaw, even if he might not be extremely memorable. Rebel Wilson also shows some sultry emotions, mostly during her sex scene with Anthony Mackie, where she brings her own nun-chucks to spice things up. The versatile Shalhoub performs well, and he gets more than a few laughs as the victim. Everyone’s chemistry is ideal. It’s hilarious when his character is trying to manipulate the weak link, Paul Doyle. Their relationship is very funny, mostly because Doyle calls Kershaw, “Pepe”, and he nicknames himself “El Dad”.

This is sure to be one of the most outlandish and entertaining movies of 2013, and it’s an incredibly pleasant surprise. It is also hilariously twisted and its originality is deadly. The movie is stylish and colourful, but the movie is rather unbelievable and it is about ten minutes too long. Still, it’s bound to become a cult classic. The ensemble cast is great (Rob Corddry is also in the movie, among everyone else aforementioned). The majority of men will surely be entertained and laugh at this great black comedy of violence, inarguably moronic choices and chasing the American dream. If you’re a female, or a male who is really in touch with their feminine side, you might not enjoy it as much. Yes, that may sound sexist (forgive me), but it’s kind-of the truth with such a violent tale. One thing’s for sure, Popeye would approve of this movie.

83/100

Fear (1996)

FearFear

Release Date: April 12, 1996

Director: James Foley

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon, William Petersen

Runtime: 97 min

Tagline: Together forever. Or else.

As far as stalker flicks go, they can be great experiments in cinema or they can ultimately fail. Some good ones include Fatal Attraction, Disturbia or Cape Fear. They can be awful like The Roommate or; they can be missed opportunities like Obsessed or; and they can just be mediocre, like this one.

Nicole Walker (Reese Witherspoon) is an innocent, pretty little 16-year-old gal who dreams of making love to the sound of “Wild Horses” by The Sundays. All of this happens when she meets a polite and charming boy, David (Mark Wahlberg). They soon fall in love, and everything’s a picture perfect relationship, until David shows his psychopathic side. As David sees it, the only thing standing in the way of their love is Nicole’s overbearing father, Steve (William Petersen).

Fear is a formulaic stalker feature that goes through the motions, but it is slightly fresh. This apparently is considered a horror flick, but the only scary thing about it is the realistic concept of all creepy stalker features. The performances are solid and the thriller kept me on the edge of my seat for the most part.

It is fresh because Nicole has a tight-knit relationship with her soon-to-be-stalker, and it starts out as an innocent romance. One of the creepiest things of a stalker feature like this, is that it can really happen to anyone. As a young person, many are just looking for the one, or a way to have fun. No one can know the person well enough within a week, and their charming side might just be a cover. That’s one of the only fresh things that it has going for it, however; it is also a piece of the recipe in all other creepy stalker movies. There’s always one dreamer of a gal who’d fall for a guy like that, the charmer with a thoroughly dark side. And screw up her family life by, oh I don’t know, give the boyfriend the alarm code to the house… (Seriously, you dumb, gullible pretty little thing, why didn’t you tell your parents sooner?!) The ending sequence feels reminiscent of Straw Dogs, but it gives it a modern thriller edge. With more silly characters, especially Alyssa Milano’s Margo Masse.

Screaming your damn head off really defeats the purpose of turning off all the lights in the house. You don’t want the baddies to detect where you are in the home, and a high-pitched scream is a pretty big give-away. You silly woman, Margo! There’s also one silly cliché where a character walks into the forest, as if saying “Oh David, I welcome you to kill me.” How ever silly some protagonist characters may be, the antagonist is made challenging and psychopathic. He isn’t brilliant because he does do dumb things, but Wahlberg does a fine job of making him chilling. He challenges the father mostly, because he sees him as a main thing that stands in his way of happiness with Nicole. He doesn’t comprehend that Nicole merely sees him as bat-shit-crazy. I didn’t think Wahlberg could be this insane, and it’s worth the watch for his performance as a fairly brutal psychopath… Especially in his post-Marky Mark days, serenading a twenty-year-old Witherspoon with a naughty good time, perhaps on a car or on a rollercoaster.

The thing with stalker features is we know exactly where they’re going. This did often keep me on the edge of my seat, especially in scenes of suspense or when David was displaying his dark side. Sometimes I couldn’t take the feature seriously, because it’s just unintentionally funny to me when “Wild Horses” is playing on the soundtrack while they’re getting it on…

In a nutshell: Fear is a traditional stalker feature with silly characters, some unintentionally funny moments, and a fairly chilling turn from Walhberg.

Did you know? The rollercoaster featured is called “The Coaster,” one of the biggest attractions at Playland, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

60/100

 

Ted (2012)

Ted

Release Date: June 29, 2012

Director: Seth MacFarlane

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane (Voice)

Runtime: 106 min

Seth MacFarlane hits the big screen with Ted, and it’s actually rather good.

The film opens in a small Boston town on Christmas Eve 1985, where John Bennett is having a rather difficult time making friends. On Christmas morning, he receives a teddy bear, which he grows highly attached to. He makes a wish that Ted would come to life, and voila! he does.

Then the film skips to when John is thirty-five years old, living with his girlfriend of four years, Lori, and still his thunder buddy, Ted.  The film is about John, Ted and Lori’s relationship – and Lori is starting to get really fed up with Ted, and he has to try to receive a taste of the real world.

The movie actually has many laughs. It’s definitely funnier than you might think a buddy movie could ever be about an immature grown man’s relationship with his real life teddy bear, which consists of much pot smoking and movie watching.

When there are laughs, they’re really big; granted, the film does have some dull areas, as it suffers from maintaining comedic momentum throughout the entire feature (the most laughs are at the beginning and near the end). The factor of MacFarlane’s comfort zone being a 22-minute slot (as he created Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show) should definitely be considered as a factor for the lack of momentum. The film also suffers from having numerous antagonists, but I can look over that.

The film is actually quite the fun ride, has great quotes, laughs, pop culture references, a great voice-over narration (by the British voice styling of Patrick Stewart at the beginning and end of the film), and even when it is at its dull areas of the feature, it isn’t completely boring.

It also stars Joel McHale as Rex (who is just painfully unfunny) Lori’s horny boss, Giovanni Ribisi as the crazed Donny, and Patrick Warburton as the drunken co-worker, Guy.

The character of Ted is actually really funny and intriguing, the on-screen chemistry is grand, and it’s a comedy that should be cherished – as it is one of the funniest films of 2012 thus far.

88/100