London Has Fallen

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Release: Friday, March 4, 2016

[Netflix]

Written by: Creighton Rothenberger; Katrin Benedikt; Christian Gudegast; Chad St. John

Directed by: Babak Najafi

London Has Fallen was a theatrical release I happened to miss out on and I am glad for having saved that money. Buying a bag of crack cocaine (which is what I did) would have been a better use of that money (and it was).

Gerard Butler reprises his role as Mike Banning, and he’s still President Asher (Aaron Eckhart)’s body guard. The two have now become homies, and you know this because you see Banning jogging backwards alongside the Prez on one of their many morning runs in DC. That’s a skill that’ll come in handy! (Actually that’s not even really sarcasm; the two dudes end up running a LOT in this movie, although you’d have to believe they don’t engage in too much running in reverse — that wouldn’t be practical, unlike driving in reverse.) For director Babak Najafi, apparently this is character development.

Despite the privilege of sharing dude-bro-isms with his Commander-in-Chief, Banning is considering resigning so he can spend time with his wife, with whom he is expecting his first child. But the nursery will have to wait because the British Prime Minister has passed and President Asher and his security detail must attend the funeral in London. Many world leaders show up to pay their respects, but before they can many of them are riddled with bullets when Najafi decides to dispense with the bullshit.

Then the rest of the movie happens, which is, ironically, even more bullshit than the bullshit that came before. Need I address it? Are you really curious for more? Sigh. Alright, well here’s this:

Just when it looks like the good guys are about to get away from what appears to be a developing war zone in the heart of London — ground zero being Westminster Abbey — their chopper is shot down by some assholes on some rooftops because hey, they shouldn’t be able to get away THAT easily. And so ensues 90 minutes of Call of Duty, the map manifesting as a smoldering metropolis castrated of its most famous landmarks. Brainless action sequences follow as do some of the worst lines of dialogue exchanged between actors playing supposedly important characters, men and women of prestige. But that doesn’t stop members in the Situation Room chatting about being partial to the Kardashians (I’m not kidding) as they prepare for what they think is going to be another normal day.

The main objective of the terrorists is to get revenge on the guy who wiped out some notorious Middle Eastern crime lord’s family and they plan to record the assassination live so it can be on YouTube. (I’m also not kidding.) The main objective of the Americans is to kill every last man with dark hair, dark skin and thick beards. The script, penned by four different idiots, is so xenophobic it makes my skin crawl. Unlike in the previous outing, there is zero tension between Banning and the President so ultimately there is no reward in seeing Butler macho his way through another terrible movie. All we really get that’s new is watching Eckhart sling a gun around awkwardly for 30 minutes as circumstances become increasingly dire and as the baddies make communication with friends across the globe extremely difficult.

The story is atrocious but the film’s attitude is so much more cavalier. London Has Fallen doesn’t give a shit about England. It’s more about the greatness that is America than it is about the character and prestige of one of her longest standing allies. What’s more embarrassing is that the basic premise doesn’t even hold up logically: the terrorists claim they are retaliating after Asher ordered a drone strike on a Pakistani fortress two years prior, and yet they make an attempt to eliminate every single leader who happens to be present in London. I guess just for shits and giggles? Meanwhile, Morgan Freeman gets paid to breathe.

This is quite simply one of the most pathetic action movies I have ever seen and if you are looking for logic in a movie like London Has Fallen, I’m afraid you may have made some deeper errors. Indeed, standards have fallen and they have fallen pretty far mate.

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Recommendation: Terrible. And pointless. What’s next, Sydney Has Fallen?* Aside from a few fleeting moments of mindless, distracting action, and plus the fact I do like Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart (they’re easily the best part of this movie even though they both look like they were struggling to take this seriously), there’s absolutely nothing to recommend about London Has Fallen, a most unnecessary sequel made by a very xenophobic director that I’m not sure too many people asked for.

Rated: R

Running Time: 99 mins.

Quoted: “I was wondering when you were gonna come out of the closet.” 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Eye in the Sky

'Eye in the Sky' movie poster

Release: Friday, April 1, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Guy Hibbert

Directed by: Gavin Hood

Eye in the Sky presents an intriguing, if not familiar moral conundrum as a British Army Colonel weighs the pros and cons of pulling the trigger on a drone missile strike that could eliminate top terrorist targets sheltered in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. In the end the results aren’t entirely surprising, so why such a rewarding experience when all is said and done?

Even though it’s Helen Mirren’s intense stare that threatens to burn a hole in the official release poster, Peter Travers is so right: this is one hell of a way for the late Alan Rickman to bow out. Not that Mirren isn’t worth mentioning (she definitely is), but Rickman’s last on-screen performance is so stoic it’s uncanny. It’s almost as if he was trying to make this one count. His Lt. General Frank Benson isn’t the focal point of Gavin Hood’s seventh feature film but the images I’ve taken home with me are those of his face, twisted into a look of total disgust as he awaits critical decisions to be made at higher levels — the whole bureaucratic chess game he finds himself caught in while precious time ticks away taking an obvious toll.

It’s like he’s waging his own private battle with his female co-star to see who can emote more intensely, evoking all of the anguish perhaps a real-life general or colonel might not necessarily publicize in the interest of keeping their underlings as calm, cool and collected as possible. Still, Eye in the Sky‘s script is incredibly stressful and part of the reason the film is so brilliant is we understand precisely why our leaders become so exasperated at times.

The mission in question is to take out three terrorist suspects who rank #3, #4 and #5 on the British government’s list of most valuable assets, and Colonel Katherine Powell (Mirren) hasn’t been this close to capturing them in six years. They have a vantage point from 20,000 feet, a drone plane piloted by relative veteran Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and newbie Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox), both stationed at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. They also have ground control in the form of Barkhad Abdi‘s Jama Farah, who is put into a particularly precarious position remote-controlling a camera built to resemble an insect. He is to infiltrate the house and verify the identities of those inside. The footage he is able to get is chilling: the suspects appear to be donning vests rigged with explosive devices and it also appears that they will attempt to detonate the bombs in a public setting.

Making matters worse is a child who appears on the scene hoping to sell bread for her family. It’s the same child we happen to be introduced to from the outset, a sweet girl named Alia (Aisha Takow) who is being privately educated by her parents and learning to hula-hoop in her backyard, out of sight of the patrolling ISIS guardsmen who have been imposing Sharia Law upon the land. In Colonel Powell’s eyes the mission status, which has changed from ‘capture’ to ‘kill’ since the new intel provided by the bug camera, cannot be aborted simply because of one potential collateral damage concern. While a high-ranking American government official agrees via Skype, others don’t see it the same way.

What makes Eye in the Sky such gripping viewing manifests as a truly collaborative effort between writer and director. Guy Hibbert’s script is provocative, emotional and convincing, but it would mean little without Hood’s ability to attract a diverse cast of international talent and to play to each of his actor’s strengths. There’s no one perspective that dominates; an impressive mix of strong roles and comparable screen time given to each lends the film a relatively comprehensive bird’s eye view rather than attempting to encourage controversy. How are governments able to justify civilian casualties as a byproduct of eliminating terrorist suspects, or, more broadly (and hence less novel an idea): is losing one life worth the price of many? When actions are taken the judgment is left up to us; this was never going to be a win-win situation, but ultimately was the right call made?

Dame Hellen Mirren is front-and-center when it comes to asking that question: is it worth it? As the commanding, intense Colonel Powell Mirren might never have been better. She exudes strength as a woman put into a hell of a position on this day. But support comes from unexpected places, such as Paul’s emotionally conflicted pilot who at one point feels it is in his best interest to challenge his superior when it comes to reevaluating the situation once the girl sets up on this street corner. Consider Steve Watts his finest hour as a performer as he frequently shoulders the emotional burden of having a finger on the trigger. It’s his vulnerability that’s just as frequently in the cross hairs.

Then, of course, is Rickman, seated in the situation room somewhere in London, far removed from the dangers themselves but visibly perturbed by the action — or lack thereof — taken in assuring the British armed forces are legally OK to pull that trigger. On his plate are the repercussions of British-American relations, given that one of the targets is an American who radicalized years ago. That’s to go along with the aforementioned unwanted publicity following a potential killing of an innocent youth. Things become messy alarmingly quickly; the grimace he bears suggesting much about the limits of his own considerable power.

Eye in the Sky works as a taut political thriller as well as a compelling ethics debate. Again, and generally speaking, this isn’t a debate we’re having for the first time but it suits the times we live in, particularly as technology plays a larger role in the armed forces and how nations perceive the character of others as they decide to fire (or not fire, in some cases) on their targets. I may never have been taken by surprise by how things played out, but that doesn’t mean the film failed to earn my empathy. This is a smart, engaging and intense drama whose incisive commentary on the matter is provided by a cast and crew that remind us why they’re getting paid to do what they do.

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Recommendation: A strong cast and a strong(er) script make Eye in the Sky a worthwhile drama seeing unfold on the big screen. I recommend most strongly to fans of Dame Helen Mirren, or those wanting to see Alan Rickman in his final performance — either or works. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 102 mins.

Quoted: “Never tell a soldier that he does not know the cost of war.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Blackhat

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Release: Friday, January 16, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Morgan Davis Foehl

Directed by: Michael Mann

Even with an hilariously miscast Chris Hemsworth, Blackhat is utterly forgettable.

Something that’s less forgettable is its horrendous opening weekend performance. Set against a budget of $70 million, Michael Mann’s cybercrime would-be-thriller brought in a grand total of $1.7 million in its debut, necessarily deeming Blackhat one of the biggest box office bombs in cinematic history given its wide release status.

At best, the pairing of a Hollywood hunk with a predominantly international cast is amusing if for the opportunity to count all the ways in which the film panders to a global audience. If that wasn’t enough, the lack of chemistry between the towering Brit and his computer hacking buddies — Leehom Wang’s Chen Dawai, and Wei Tang’s Chen Lien, who are brother and sister in the film — are the glitches that bring this story to its knees.

Mr. Mann captures some compelling action sequences but the stunt work goes to waste when we’re having trouble even believing the actors in roles that have them staring at computer screens for most of the time. Hemsworth plays Nick Hathaway, a computer hacker serving prison time because he’s a real bastard behind keyboard and mouse. His direct involvement isn’t made clear right away, but two major events occur at the film’s open that we’re meant to pay attention to (but can’t because they’re somewhat trivialized by a confusing series of shots detailing the inner workings of computers): a nuclear reactor in Hong Kong experiences a catastrophic coolant malfunction, while the Mercantile Trade Exchange based in Chicago gets hacked.

Whoever’s clever enough to hack these systems is going to have to answer for the damage, or so say some stern-looking Chinese government officials. They enlist the help of the FBI, in the form of Agent Carol (Viola Davis in an ironic performance; her voice is so monotonous she sounds more of a computer hacker than anyone else) in bringing those responsible to justice. At first, everyone believes these attacks to be the work of Thor. They may as well be. Hemsworth-as-hacker is about as out of place as his demigod was on Earth.

Hathaway’s asked to help solve the crimes together with Dawai and the FBI in tow, but his condition is that his prison sentence be commuted and that he gets to have the cute girl in the end.  Though he does not make the second request, you know this is happening regardless. And how. Talk about some majorly underdeveloped character arcs. The team are soon bouncing all over the globe in an effort to track down the cyber terrorists, who are now aiming to take out more nuclear reactors in order to flood an expansive tin mine in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The terrorists’ goals aren’t exactly revelatory but they work well enough to assume a threat. But in a movie like Blackhat, where more time is spent deciphering code and, apparently, studying the inner workings of hard drives, the real world doesn’t take center stage. Or when the threat finally becomes truly palpable, any audience member not in possession of a degree in computer science has long since tuned out. An error message reads on the front of their foreheads: this does not compute. This does not compel.

The director should be credited for his commitment to getting things right. The focus on the technical aspects, even if excruciatingly boring at times, is impressive. Unfortunately computer screens and staring at endless code sequences — unless we’re in the Matrix — do not on their own make for an interesting product. Then, when we get to the action sequences they’re too short-lived to make much of an impression. I suppose I could keep going here, but the review might get a little mean-spirited. I’m no blackhat critic, out for malicious intent. Out for revenge upon the world just because.

I just happen to think this movie vastly underserves both its audience — on either side of the Atlantic — and its particularly timely themes.

This. A whole lot of this.

This. A whole lot of this. Exciting, right?

1-5Recommendation: Blackhat has grand aspirations but it squanders them in a navel-gazing screenplay that is more interested in getting underneath the keyboard instead of into the minds of some high-profile cyber-terrorists. Fans of Chris Hemsworth will also be wise to stay clear of this one, this isn’t his best effort. I’m not even sure if I can recommend this one to the geekiest of computer geeks.

Rated: R

Running Time: 133 mins.

Quoted: “You are no longer in control. . .”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

American Sniper

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Release: Friday, January 16, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Jason Hall

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

In Dirty Harry’s return to slightly more confident filmmaking, Bradley Cooper is one bad man. I mean, his Chris Kyle is a good man, but a bad . . . ah, never mind.

The Odessa, Texas native is the center of attention in a biopic entrusted to one of the biggest names in the business, but somehow the math just doesn’t add up. Cooper may never have been better, Eastwood never more patriotic, yet American Sniper is a slog and somewhat this. Somehow, following along with Chris as he leaves his family on four separate occasions to go fight against insurgents in Iraq between 1999 and 2008 feels less inspired as it does repetitive. Eastwood’s style here may suit the subject but perhaps it’s the subject that doesn’t really lend itself to major blockbuster filmmaking. Why do I smell a missed opportunity for a heartbreaking documentary here?

There’s another issue at play, one that isn’t necessarily the film’s fault, but absolutely is worth mentioning. American Sniper falls victim to its trailer, a tense two minutes that can’t help but fess up to Eastwood’s most sincere depictions of the kind of pressure that rides on snipers as they determine whether or not to take that shot. I do understand it’s not really fair to judge the film proper on a particularly revealing piece of marketing; after all, one could theoretically ruin their Interstellar experience by watching those clips of Gargantua too many times. But it’s so easy to do just that here, even if there aren’t any black holes in the Middle East. Far be it from me to tell you how to consume your entertainment but if you’ve watched the trailer for American Sniper then you are privy to virtually as much information as those slapping down $10-12 for tickets at the box office.

Eastwood’s directorial touch doesn’t help matters as he provides only a cursory look into the domestic life of an increasingly despondent soldier. A thoroughly masculine figure to begin with, Chris’s former life as a cowboy is halted abruptly by his interest in contributing muscle to the American cause after seeing a story about recent terrorist activity in the Middle East on T.V. He is motivated to the point of signing up for the Navy SEALs, though he is initially rejected. Some indeterminate time later he comes across a gorgeous brunette at a bar. Jason Hall’s script affords a modicum of humanity to this soon-to-be relationship, a level that is somewhat respectable. Sienna Miller would be compelling as housewife Taya but the switching back and forth between Chris’s duties in Iraq and her location in sunny Texas leaves a lot to be desired.

What’s more concerning is that Eastwood’s lazy construction makes mundane the soldier’s return(s) to Iraq. Aside from what’s easily observable — the escalation of violence during each subsequent visit, and the fact that a bounty is put on the head of the most deadly sniper in American history — Tour One looks just like Tour Four. Perhaps that’s how it really is. I have never served; I cannot talk at any great length about that. And I want to be careful in describing how I feel about these sequences as I don’t want to give the impression I don’t respect what multiple tours mean to those who have undergone them. From strictly a creative standpoint, American Sniper wears out its welcome and begins firing blanks much too soon.

Scenes built entirely out of fist-clenching tension, however, do not wear out theirs. And as a corollary, the violence Chris is perpetually surrounded by — and that which understandably upsets Taya the most — is an element Eastwood appears comfortable handling. I guess such is his duty. Reduced in intensity as they may be thanks to the trailers, the hair-raising shoot outs play a large part in defining Chris as a sniper, as a soldier, as a human being. More importantly it gives the film’s version of Chris an obstacle to get over, an enemy if there ever were one. Widely regarded as the “legend” of the Iraq War, his estimated 160 kills via sniping from obscure rooftops function in the film as not simply a plot device but this character’s responsibility to country and to his fellow soldiers. The film does a wonderful job of emphasizing the sniper’s compassion in a time and place where such a quality is rare if existent at all.

It’s the kind of reverence you can easily tie in with Eastwood’s emphasis on fatherhood and the paternal instinct, both evident in his prolific career as a filmmaker in both acting and directorial capacities. It doesn’t factor into American Sniper as much, though the opening scenes featuring Chris with his father together hunting deer in a forest tinged golden from the low angles of the sun’s rays suggest he is still concerned about constructing a layered character study. It’s yet another interesting angle overshadowed by the director’s predilection for predictable story structure.

There’s nothing offensive about the way Clint Eastwood, himself a legend, has put this story together. American Sniper is just not the most interesting version that could have been told, nor is it the most original. Like Sienna Miller in that black nightgown of hers, we wish we could have been shown more. The more testosterone-filled among us anyway.

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3-0Recommendation: Clint Eastwood wears his patriotism on his sleeves and Brad Cooper wears Extra-Large in American Sniper, a very average war film centered around a not-so-average American finding his life’s calling. Between Cooper’s dedication to his character and Eastwood’s devotion to exemplifying courage and obsession in equal measure, the film is not something you should miss if you have served any amount of time overseas (or at home — just not in prison, of course). For everyone else, this is going to be one of the best uses of Redbox/Netflix you’ll have in a while.

Rated: R

Running Time: 132 mins.

Quoted: “I’m ready. I’m ready to come home. I’m ready to come home, baby!”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Just a Quick Thought

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So. Sony has been hacked. And it’s been officially confirmed that Korea did it. Now a movie we all want to watch, nobody will be able to watch because it made some important people very mad.

It looks like it might be time for another Quick Thought, then, eh? Cuz, what the eff is going on now with this: Team America: World Police screenings canceled.’ Word has been trickling out that other unsavory movies might indeed by banned from future theater screenings permanently in the wake of an unusually bitter cat fight between Korean officials and American comedians/Hollywood executives.

Remember when we (or maybe just a lot of us) thought it was a bit humorous that current Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un made no subtle suggestion that he would be steamed if we released James Franco and Seth Rogen’s latest comedy, The Interview, to the general public? (Or really to anybody I guess?) He declared the film release “an act of war.” It seems the joke’s on us now, and it will be more surprising at this point to see this movie actually opening (maybe not on Christmas as promised) out of some sort of grand marketing ploy that had all of us biting our nails, pulling hair out over the thought of the launch of World War 3. All over a movie.

So, to you, dear readers: are these actions to ban the film(s) from being screened justified? Should these things be seen as more than an entertainment package? Does The Interview in particular cross any boundaries?


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A Most Wanted Man

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Release: Friday, July 25, 2014 (limited)

[Theater]

As all good things must, even A Most Wanted Man comes to an end.

And it’s going to take everything in my power to remain on the conservative side here, what with a possible capstone performance to mark the end of a career as towering as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s. Trust me when I say experiencing the final moments of this film is no easy task; that is, if you hold any empathy for the troubled man at all. That’s not to say we won’t be seeing him around in other things, of course. He’ll reprise his role for The Mockingjay: Part 1 this November, and he’s also turned up in the lesser-known 2014 drama God’s Pocket.

But in A Most Wanted Man, here’s where we are obliged to bid adieu to that more significant part of a once-in-a-generation performer. The celluloid here acts as a time capsule, in which Hoffman seems permanently encased. Selfish for us to try, sure, but it’s such a great performance there’s no way we can let this be over. Eventually we’ll have to.

In a somewhat befittingly stressful turn as Günter Bachmann, the leader of a secretive intelligence operation based out of Hamburg, Germany, Hoffman becomes involved in the (mis)handling of a young half-Chechen, half-Russian illegal immigrant named Issa Karpov (an incredible Grigoriy Dobrygin) who’s fleeing from torture and persecution in both his home countries. Bachmann’s methods are not attuned to those maintained by his peers, particularly the snaky Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock) and his office’s roughneck tactics, and Bachmann holds a particular disdain for the Americans given a situation in the recent past. Pale, disheveled and with a cigarette permanently glued to his lips, Günter is the perfect enigma for Hoffman to decipher.

That the film does not become a sideshow to the real-life tragedy involving one of its cast members is almost miraculous. This will be the last of Hoffman’s lead roles, and while proximate his death, his work still remains relatively unaffected. He does, however, look physically exhausted in a number of scenes. But rather than directly confronting us with his sickly appearance, the film uses it for context, making great use of Hoffman’s tired expressions and measured delivery to express an epic character. His physique immediately conjures a lifetime of struggles.

In Anton Corbijn’s film, perspective taints objective reality. We spend our time with this rag-tag group of German intelligence operatives (whose casting includes the likes of Daniel Brühl and Nina Hoss) but does this mean this is the right side of the tracks to be on? Who really ought to be dealing with this suspected terrorist? Is that precisely what Issa is, a terrorist? What could have become an overwhelmingly complex and dense narrative instead is surprisingly simplified without cutting out critical details — the scarring on Issa’s back is very telling of a dark history and helps cement his nightmarish reality.

Highly compelling material adapted from the novel by John le Carré is distributed evenly and effectively across the film’s myriad talented stars. Willem Dafoe steps in as Tommy Brue, the head of a German bank which may contain funds to be inherited by Issa from his father, a man he claims to have raped his mother in front of him when he was much younger, and when Mother was a mere 15 years old. (Again, despite the crowd-pleasing flavor of the thrill, one thing A Most Wanted Man can’t be accused of is glossing over pertinent stuff.) Robin Wright matches her intensity in House of Cards and continues to affirm her spot in the upper echelons of great thespians with a spectacular performance as CIA Agent Martha Sullivan, who comes to Günter’s assistance when he needs it least. Or so he has determined.

A Wanted Man is a fiercely accurate rendering of real-world events unfolding in a period as hectic as the last ten years have been, both in the Middle East and on a global scale. A fictitious account of one man’s journey through bureaucracy in a desperate investigation into what his real identity is — is he terrorist blood or an innocent civilian trying to escape oppression? — here’s a story that at least demands an open mind.

While we revere this strange German’s effectiveness at his duties, it is safe to say we revere the man behind the man more. If all good things have to come to an end, Hoffman’s story has come to a very good ending indeed. He is hands-down the reason to watch this film, and in a masterpiece such as this, that’s relatively high praise.

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4-0Recommendation: One of the very best films of the year, not just as a genre film or from a performance-standpoint, A Most Wanted Man is an excellent way to spend $10. For the Philip Seymour Hoffman fans (of which I believe there are at least one or two), for the Robin Wright fans, for fans of excellent adaptations of books (supposedly. . .I would now like to read this book). For anyone wanting relevance to the ongoing ideological struggles amongst the myriad countries ensnared in violent turmoil in the Middle East currently, and between them and a United States government that insists on making everything its business, you are compelled. . .nay, required to watch this film. It is that good.

Rated: R

Running Time: 121 mins.

Quoted: “We find them. When they’re ours, we direct them at bigger targets. It takes a minnow to catch a barracuda, a barracuda to catch a shark.”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Team America – World Police (2004)

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So, today’s a fairly crowded day on the calendar for yours truly. Somehow this Thursday would become one in which we would be simultaneously celebrating a brand new theme for TBT, as well as my blog’s third birthday/anniversary and, oh yeah, the Fourth of freaking* July! That’s how things go sometimes, I suppose. Call it the perfect storm of me trying to catch up on everything. Now, on to the subject at hand. Given the perfect timing for this new theme, let’s jump right into a movie that is likely to divide my readers straight down the middle (or maybe not). For several reasons. These will become obvious as we start talking about

Today’s food for thought: Team America – World Police

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Force-feeding you your freedom since: October 11, 2004

[DVD]

AMER. . . . .You know what? No. No, I’m not going to even try to open the review that way. That’s just way too easy.

While that beyond-enthusiastic anthem reverberates off the walls of your brain I’ll steer the focus in a different direction. You may recall the kind of frenzy Team America – World Police threw everyone into at the time of release. This was a film — one involving marionettes and toilet humor — that managed to not only make fun of how seriously North Korea’s then-leader Kim Jung Il took himself, but it did so without drawing his ire and possibly waging war with American filmmakers. Or Americans in a much broader sense. Yeah, that would be more likely.

This was a film that banked on audiences being well-adjusted enough to not be completely offended by what is essentially jingoistic porn. And. . .wow. I really mean that quite literally. I had forgotten about that one scene. . .

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“Huuuzzaahhh!!!!”

Team America – World Police is the brainchild of two men who probably don’t need to produce actual offspring. Sorry if that’s incredibly cold, but hear me out. This is Trey Parker and Matt Stone we’re talking about, the parents of South Park. As such, this film spares no expense at sounding, acting and looking (at times) an awful lot like the hit animated show now about to debut it’s one billionth season. The duo’s second theatrical effort, Team America was at once a cult hit whose ‘cult’ has swollen to mainstream-fandom levels. Rightly so, because it occasionally borders on genius. It’s alright if you consider this over-the-top comedy as being subservient to only a niched market, however. This is a loud, proud film that was just begging for everyone’s attention, even if it didn’t ultimately earn it from everyone.

While our fearless — but not stringless — heroes traverse the world stopping bad things from happening and generally being an awesome spectacle to behold, in North Korea a storm’s a-brewing with the nefarious Kim Jong-Il plotting to convert every major city on the planet to third-world rubble. After the team suffers a major loss during their visit to Paris, they must scout a new team member and eventually come across popular Broadway actor Gary Johnston (voice of Parker). Yes indeed, we’re not talking about the fact that they took out both the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, but what we are looking at is a real loss of. . .puppet life.

Following an unfortunate sequence of events, Gary finds himself gutted by the fact his acting talent has led to much chaos and failure despite the World Police’s best efforts to keep America safe and sound. This will eventually lead to second-chance opportunities Gary and the team desperately need. It will also lead to one of the film’s most offensive and downright disgusting scenes. Unfortunately scenes such as these are virtually requisites with anything South Park-related. This “act of faith,” along with one or two other brief scenes, are merely collateral damage for sharing in the duo’s unabashedly vulgar sense of humor.

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“Hold me closer, tiny dictator. . .”

The vulgarity will no doubt continue to repel, maybe even repel more than it has attracted viewers. It’s certainly a hurdle one must get over in order to fully embrace the madness that is this movie. The type of film this is often earns its horrendous reputation in a hurry, and for those certain select scenes it is often a reputation well-deserved. Yet to dismiss Team America: World Police as a pointless exercise in gross-out and an effort to simply stir up controversy (not so unlike the upcoming Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy vehicle The Interview) would be to ignore its intricacies and intelligence. Secondary to the scathing commentary about America’s image overseas is the depravity, the violence, the ugliness.

Not to mention, the silliness.

If you are willing to give a thought to the prevailing ideas herein, you’re sure to find a movie worth turning to again and again any time you find the tumult of the current political climate an unbearable white noise. Pop in the DVD and settle in for some hearty chuckles.

And of course, the song.  F**k yeah!!!

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4-0Recommendation: Fans of South Park have no reason not to have already seen World Police a million times by now. Or at least once through. This is an absolute riot, best served up to those who can stomach some fairly vulgar and crass material. There’s certainly worse stuff out there, but perhaps this section is more useful as a ‘who not to recommend this film to.’ If you’re not a fan of the show, may I suggest spending your Fourth of July with a different patriotic film.

Rated: R

Running Time: 98 mins.

TBTrivia: Upon reading the one-line pitch for the disaster film The Day After Tomorrow, Parker and Stone both found the concept to be absolutely absurd and hilarious, prompting them to get started on spoofing the very idea, using life-like marionettes to up the ante. The plan was to create the film and have it ready for release the day after the official release of said disaster film. It soon was brought to their attention that such a move could prove to be less of a joke as a legal matter. They scrapped the idea and began pitching Team America instead.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Munich (2005)

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And finally we come to the closing ceremonies of the Olympic theme TBT this February. Thank you all for joining in on the fun, and I hope you have enjoyed the spirit of competitive action for the last couple of weeks. Which TBT was your favorite event? Your least? Any surprises? With one entry left to go for today, maybe it’s this one. Despite it not having anything to do with the Winter Olympics, this last installment still touches on the Summer Games, and in a way that no other film has before. Personally, I think I discovered my favorite film of the Olympic TBTs and am very glad I didn’t go with my original choice. 

Today’s food for thought: Munich. 

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Release: My Birthday, 2005 🙂

[Netflix]

May there never be another like the Games of the XX Olympiad in Munich, Germany.

Really, the nation has never had the best of luck when it comes time for them to play host to this global stage of sports competition, since the 1936 Summer Games took place in Berlin during the height of the Nazi regime. Nearly four decades later and the Olympic flame is yet again doused by the murky waters of political tension when two Israeli competitors are murdered and another nine are taken hostage only to be killed later as well. Instead of being known as the Summer Games in Munich, the far more popular term thrown around when referring to the event sadly has become quite simply ‘the Munich Massacre.’

Steven Spielberg was keen on limiting the focus of the better part of the film’s three hours on the Games themselves, instead opting for an increasingly disturbing and suspenseful journey to find the men responsible for the attacks. A counter-terrorist unit was assembled in an effort to eliminate 11 names still at large (a number that would later increase to roughly 20-30) — needles in an impossibly deep haystack. The covert mission, codenamed Operation Wrath of God, was authorized by Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (here portrayed by Lynn Cohen) in order to make a statement that the world would not allow for these acts of terrorism to go unpunished. Vengeful retaliation was the name of the game, and arrest warrants simply would not do.

So a squad of assassins (known as Mossad) led by Avner (Eric Bana) and including sharpshooters Steve (Daniel Craig), Carl (Ciarán Hinds), and Hans (Hanns Zischler) and bomb-maker/diffuser Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz) were tasked with carrying out the highly risky mission, unforeseen challenges and implications lurking around every corner. Perhaps the greatest threat of all that loomed over each and every one of them, though, was the psychological aspect to the activities they would be engaging in over the course of several years. In Spielberg’s masterful recreation of this extraordinary mission, it is Bana’s Avner who suffers this the most. When he finally returns to his wife and newborn daughter, he is overwhelmed with paranoia, traumatized by the things he had seen, and generally unable to separate his personal and professional lives anymore.

This is of course to suggest that the film is broken up into three well-defined phases — the first of which sets the stage for the dramatics forthcoming by bloodily depicting the initial hostage situation in Munich; the second focuses on the Mossad mission itself and the subsequent fall-out and finally the last half hour or so of the film spends its time on the lingering, long-term effects of the Olympic Games on Germany and Israel in equal measure, simultaneously addressing the covert operation’s impacts on its key players. Bana is spectacular in selling the latter.

Grief-stricken by being separated from his family for so long, he is also plagued with horrible nightmares of the terrorist acts and of a much larger-scale vision of what his actions say about his political and religious affiliations. As a German-born Jew, Avner is a complex and morally conflicted lead role who bears the brunt of the film’s emotional component. He may have been the Dr. Banner/The Hulk at one point, but this is a substantially dramatic role that he makes entirely his own. The rest of the supporting characters form quite the entertaining repartee, with Daniel Craig’s Steve often playing the comic relief in a film that’s reticent to take its subject matter lightheartedly.

Though he’d be quick to brush it aside because he is none other than Mr. Steven Spielberg and quite acclimated to receiving praise (and so he should be), much credit still should be bestowed upon this legendary director for balancing the humorous and dramatic aspects throughout. Without touching up what is essentially a horror story with some sense of humor, the tragic and disturbing nature of the contents would be suffocating and difficult to plod through. It’s tough enough as it is.

Munich is, with the obvious exception of Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg’s bloodiest and darkest epic. It also features a level of social and political complexity that might be unmatched by any of his other works. Spielberg is, for lack of a better word, a thoughtful director, evidenced by his unwillingness to draw specific conclusions about the conflict that arose in the midst of these Olympic Games. He paints a horrifying picture of a world gone mad as it pertains to the Israeli-Palestinian disagreement. He doesn’t afford a great deal of dignity to the assassins trying to avenge the deaths of the Olympic athletes, nor does he much care to judge the opposition, either. He walks a tightrope that had to have been intensely difficult to cross, and while the film did spark controversy, Spielberg ultimately managed to strike a balance between Hollywood drama and real-world drama. Without a doubt that would be a very tough challenge to face, something perhaps any other director might not have been able to handle with such aplomb.

What happened in Munich is, in a word, dismaying. Since the events occurred in 1972 there has been no shortage of terrorist activity across the globe, and there’s been no sign of these disturbances slowing down or lessening in their intensity or frequency. We occupy shared space, something that may sound like a simple concept but is inherently not. This isn’t a game of Sims wherein every action is mostly harmless and bears no consequence. People are animals. This isn’t what the movie tried to tell us, but it is a notion I have not only had for some time, but one that has been cemented by an experience like this one.

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4-5Recommendation: Often uncomfortable viewing, Munich‘s existence is also important. Perhaps even essential. Incredibly well-crafted and visually arresting, the scope and depth of the material will most likely appeal to more politically-minded viewers, though it is in no way an elitist film. I encourage anyone who wants to watch a thoroughly engaging film who has yet to see Spielberg’s near-masterpiece to devote some time out of their day to this one. It may even be a new favorite Spielberg film for yours truly. Whatever that may mean to you.

Rated: R

Running Time: 164 mins.

Quoted: “We inhabit a world of intersecting secrecies, living and dying at the places where these secrecies meet. This is what we accept.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imfdb.org; http://www.imdb.com

Lone Survivor

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Release: Christmas Day 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Before we dive into an analysis of this film, let’s first get one thing straight: this is no Saving Private Ryan. The critic who made that comparison probably made it in the (understandably) dizzying buzz after experiencing an early screening of Peter Berg’s war film and felt compelled to give it the highest of accolades to kick off the onslaught of promotional efforts that was to come. In so doing, he was pretty successful in spreading the fire. There has been almost no end to people calling this a modern Spielbergian masterpiece.

Here are a few things the two films have in common: blood. Bullets. Blood. Excessive swearing. Blood. Gut-wrenching deaths. Blood. Blue skies. Blood. Americans and their red blood. But there the commonalities run out.

Lone Survivor is a grisly look at the botched Operation Red Wings, a mission undertaken by four Navy SEALS in an effort to track down and eliminate a high-priority member of the Taliban in the hostile hillsides of Afghanistan. Over the course of roughly 72 hours, the fates of Navy Lieutenant and team leader Michael P. Murphy (here portrayed by Taylor Kitsch), Petty Officers Second Class Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster), and Hospital Corpsman Second Class Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) would be decided by a combination of poor communication and even worse luck. As the film’s title blatantly informs the masses, only one would be living to tell the tale of these extraordinary days. That man was Marcus Luttrell.

Director Peter Berg (Battleship, Hancock) bases his film off of the written accounts penned by Luttrell in 2007. He apparently benefited from the technical support of former Navy SEALS, including Luttrell, to stage a good chunk of the action sequences. The director set a precedent by becoming the first civilian to become embedded with a Navy SEALs team in Iraq for a month while he wrote the script. As a result, Lone Survivor is more than likely technical perfection. But taken as a filmgoing experience, there is simply something missing from the equation that would have earmarked his film for not only inspirational but educational purposes. For reasons that are about to be explained, and though it’s far more graphic, Saving Private Ryan still seems like the go-to option for classroom use.

This really isn’t intended to be a compare-and-contrast review; it’s coming across that way because the claim that this is “the most extraordinary war film since Saving Private Ryan” is an overly sensationalized marketing strategy for Berg’s picture — one that needs to be put into perspective.

The first thing that should be noted in the differences column is that Lone Survivor severely lacks character development and enough chemistry between these Navy SEALS to make the circumstances truly horrific. In the line of fire they call each other brothers but that word is in the script, not in their hearts. We enter the field with machines, not distinct human personalities that we easily can attach life stories to. However, Berg believes its possible to empathize with the performances since this is based on a real occurrence. Based on his direction, the patriotism on display should be more than sufficient to make an audience care. In actual fact, it’s just barely enough. There’s no denying the emotional impact of the film, yet the question still lingers. If we got to know these soldiers as more than just the rough, gruff American heroes that they most certainly are, the aftermath would be even more devastating.

Berg also can hardly be described as the master of subtlety. Lone Survivor ultimately feels like a blunt instrument with which he may bludgeon us over the head, and the lack of character development makes the proceedings even more numbing. During the protracted (read: violent) sequences of confrontation with members of al Qaeda, bullets and bodies fly at random, and often times it’s not the fact that 180 cajillion bullets pierce through flesh that’s painful to watch so much as the environment is unforgiving. Several times over watch in agony as the four guys tumble down the mountainside, smacking into trees, rocks, animals — you name it.

During any one of these excruciating slow-motion edits it wouldn’t be completely surprising to see Berg pop out of a bush, break the fourth wall and ask those in the audience who are still dubious about our presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, “Well what do you think of our soldiers now?!” We get it — war is hell, and the sacrifices these people make are enormous. If that’s the main take away from the film it’s hardly an original one. We can get the same effect by watching the news. More often than not live footage of what’s occurring is more affecting than a movie can ever hope to be.

A third, and lesser flaw revolves around the casting of Mark Wahlberg. The marquee name is just large enough to ensure the others get shoved to the background and that as many tickets to this event are sold. Marky-Mark’s a likable enough actor, but where Spielberg’s epically sprawling film can get away with so many big names (Hanks, Sizemore, Damon, etc.) Lone Survivor‘s disinterest in developing characters or even a great deal of camaraderie between the guys makes Wahlberg’s presence seem awkward and misjudged. Contrast him to Hirsch, Foster and Kitsch — still relatively known actors but at least these three are relegated to the tragic roles that they play.

This is not a terrible film, but it’s not going to end up being the definitive story about what happened during Operation Red Wings — although that may not be possible. There was so much chaos on this mission, as evidenced by Berg’s storytelling here. Truth be told, it’s probably impossible conceiving a film that truly renders the nightmare experienced by this lone survivor. Though Luttrell was on set, often providing advice to Berg on how to best depict what he saw over these few days, the others sadly weren’t able to offer their input. It’s realistic, sure. But a classic film it most certainly is not.

Film Title: Lone Survivor

2-5Recommendation: Though patriotism bleeds through the film reel, there’s not enough here to show why this disastrous mission really mattered. For those who haven’t heard about this mission (or anyone still undecided about seeing this film), the best route to take would be to track down Luttrell’s written account (of the same name) where, presumably, no detail should be spared. There’s detail aplenty in Berg’s film, too, but much of that pertains to the gruesome way in which some of our beloved soldiers have fallen. That’s not noble; it’s just sickening.

Rated: R

Running Time: 121 mins.

Quoted: “You can die for your country, but I’m gonna live for mine.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com