Deepwater Horizon Review: Rolling in the Deep


Director: Peter Berg

Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Matthew Sand (screenplay), David Barstow, David Rohde, Stephanie Saul (book)

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez

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Release date: October 6th, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 107 minutes


3½/5

Best part: The strong performances.

Worst part: The slimy BP characters.

Docudrama/disaster epic Deepwater Horizon chronicles one of the 21st Century’s most devastating true stories. The Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig explosion and fire, on April 20th, 2010, killed 11 people and spilled 210 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The investigation pointed the finger at petrol conglomerate BP’s lackadaisical actions before and after the incident.

Director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg, re-teaming after 2013’s docudrama Lone Survivor, deliver the second in their unofficial based-on-a-recent-true story trilogy. Later this year, the duo re-team again for Patriots Day – based on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and seceding manhunt. Here, Berg and co. divert their attentions to oil drilling. The plot chronicles the professional and personal lives of driller Mike Williams (Wahlberg). Kissing his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) and daughter goodbye, Williams hits the Deepwater Horizon for a mission seemingly like any other. Supervisor Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) scalds BP supervisor Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) over dangerous shortcuts. Engineer Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) looks after the nitty-gritty details. In addition, youngster Caleb (Dylan O’Brien) and Jason (Ethan Suplee) protect the drill itself.

Deepwater Horizon, from start to finish, delves into core drilling’s ins and outs. Screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand drew inspiration from Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hours (written and researched by three people). Clearly, they and Berg became infatuated with the event in question. Like Lone Survivor, Berg’s latest effort is almost too infatuated with the topic. It pars down the drilling and engineering jargon for a wider audience (the A to B to C explanations are worthwhile). However, slower pacing was still required. The walking-down-hallways moments see characters bounce jargon off one another. Although realistic, the gobbledygook is difficult to comprehend. With that said, the effort is greatly appreciated. In fact, the first half shows every square inch of every department on said monolithic structure.

However, modern audiences aren’t interested in engineering discussions or BP representative/stock market drivel. All hell breaks loose once the second half ticks over. Berg – an action-direction master thanks to Welcome to the Jungle and The Kingdom (and difficult to trust after Hancock and Battleship) – ratchets up the tension to 11. Of course, this story deserves respect (Hollywood gleam is a little unsettling here). However, the explosive moments are worth the admission cost. The second half/final third is one extended rescue mission. Gripping set-pieces and solid practical effects turn it into edge-of-your-seat entertainment. Berg and the cast pay respects to all involved. Wahlberg expertly portrays the everyman hero. Russell, back with a vengeance, is at his charismatic best. Rodriguez and O’Brien overcome generic characterisations. However, Malkovich lends his bad-guy schtick to an already absurd role.

Deepwater Horizon is almost a great movie. The action, special effects and direction got me excited for Patriots Day and Berg’s ongoing future. More so, the cast sink into their roles and pay tribute to all whom served. However, broad characterisations and messages almost ruin good work.

Verdict: A tight, taut docudrama.

The Gambler Review: Marky Mark’s Millions


Director: Rupert Wyatt

Writer: William Monahan

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Michael K. Williams

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Release date: December 25th, 2014

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 111 minutes


 

3½/5

Review: The Gambler 

2014’s Blockbuster Season: Conquerers & Wimps


Article: 

2014’s Blockbuster Season: Conquerers & Wimps

Transformers: Age of Extinction Review – Broken Parts


Director: Michael Bay 

Writer: Ehren Kruger

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz


Release Date: June 27th, 2014

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 165 minutes


 

 

 

1/5

Best part: The CGI-fuelled slo-mo shots.

Worst part: The egregious run-time.

Throughout Hollywood’s latest bowel movement, Transformers: Age of Extinction, we are subjected to idiotic characters who know more about pop-culture and filmmaking than anyone involved with the production itself. At one point, a senile retiree complains about Hollywood’s infatuation with sequels and remakes. At another point, the comic relief pokes fun at this franchise’s infamous foibles. Afterwards, another character defines a ‘flaw’ as a “serious failure”.

Mark Wahlberg.

Obviously, this would mean something if this series had been placed in the right hands. Unfortunately, all we can do now is sit back and watch the collapse of blockbuster cinema under the terrifying reign of multi-billionaire hack Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbour). Marking itself as the defining point of ‘big-budget schlock fatigue’, Transformers: Age of Extinction relies on shrieking families and hormonal teenagers. Beating his audiences to a pulp, Bay knows that a single person conveys significantly more intelligence than a large group of people. Rushing into the cinema, said crowds have made this instalment the year’s most profitable movie. I used to defend this franchise for being “fun” and “exhilarating”. Nowadays, I look back on my younger self and laugh at his overwhelming stupidity. Of course, for my loyal readers, I should at least make an effort to describe this instalment’s underwritten and overcooked story. I know, words like ‘narrative’ and ‘subtext’ don’t belong anywhere near this series. However, to launch into my searing hatred of Bay’s latest cinematic slip-up, I should point out just how dumb everything is about it. First off, I’ll delve into the ‘human’ aspects of this horrific mess. On the modest side of this disastrous flop, we have farmer/roboticist/man-child Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg). Living by his stupid name, his immature antics threaten he and his daughter Tessa(Nicola Peltz)’s livelihoods. With eviction and embarrassment looming over them, Yeager’s aspirations clash with major obstacles.

Stanley Tucci.

In a better world, this story-thread would’ve fit perfectly into this monstrous action flick. Sadly, with Bay at the helm, this sequel’s narrative sluggishly transitions from bad to worse. Don’t get me wrong, I love blockbusters of all shapes and sizes. I regularly review Summer tentpoles to gain an informed perspective on pop-culture and modern entertainment. However, I can’t possibly defend anything as hackneyed, pointless, and dumbfounding as Transformers: Age of Extinction. In fact, with my laundry list of criticisms in tow, it’s difficult pinpointing anything even remotely worthwhile here! From the opening frame, Ehren Kruger’s wafer-thin script becomes lost in a barrage of questionable concepts, trite character arcs, and hokey emotional beats. Within the first third, the familial drama turns this gargantuan extravaganza into a cheesy and stupefying miscalculation. In addition, along with the Marky Mark’s family woes, the movie throws several more plot-lines into this bloated and inconsistent concoction. An elite task force called Cemetery Wind – headed up by alien bounty hunter Lockdown, CIA agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), and spec-ops ‘badass’ James Savoy (Titus Welliver) – has been assigned to kill the remaining Autobots and Decepticons. In addition, egomaniacal tech-head Joshua Joynes(Stanley Tucci)’s has developed a new element labelled, you guessed it, Transformium. Like the preceding Transformers sequels, these narrative threads are cumbersomely and nonsensically thrown together.

“I think we just found a Transformer!” (Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), Transformers: Age of Extinction).

Optimus Prime doin’ his thing!

Used specifically to jump from one action sequence to another, this instalment’s bloated plot delivers more plot-holes and irritating moments than two M. Night Shyamalan disasters and Prometheus combined. Why are Tessa and her boyfriend bound by Romeo & Juliet laws? Why do Yeager and co. tag along with the Autobots? Why are US Government forces killing some robots whilst creating more powerful ones? Seriously, this review could just consist entirely of these questions! However, pathetically, people turn out see gigantic CG-driven creations smash into one another for interminable periods. At a whopping 165 minutes, the question must be asked – does a Transformers flick really need that much time to gestate? No, of course it doesn’t! Protecting our annoying lead characters, the Transformers themselves are given short shift. Pushed literally and figuratively into the background, our Autobot buddies are defined by phoney speeches, heavy-duty weapons, and dated stereotypes. Along with Optimus Prime and Bumblebee (both poorly represented here), the movie throws in a cigar-chomping truck (John Goodman), a Samurai/helicopter (Ken Watanabe), and a trench-coat/wing-donning Aussie-bot. Beyond the glaring flaws, including the hit-and-miss CGI, Bay still delivers a few inspired shots and set-pieces. Infatuated  with explosions and product placement, the coked-up buffoon is let off the leash in the final third. The China set-piece, set up specifically to attract an asian demographic, provides some relief for this otherwise damaging experience. Bafflingly so, however, the marketing-drenched Dinobots show up late to the party – given only 15-20 minutes of screen-time.

Can you believe $210 million went into this irritating and exhaustive schlock?! Nope? Well, neither do I. Sadly, beyond our control, the studios are throwing, and will continue to throw, money at Bay and his ongoing ‘vision’. Bay, with all his bigger-is-better gusto, has delivered the ultimate example of overcompensation. Destroying his already damaged reputation, Bay’s latest effort proves his worth as little more than an Independence Day fireworks show technician.

Verdict: Bay’s catastrophic descent into director hell. 

Lone Survivor Review – Fallen Brothers


Director: Peter Berg 

Writer: Peter Berg (screenplay), Marcus Luttrell, Patrick Robinson (book)

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch


Release date: January 23rd, 2014

Distributors: Universal Pictures, Foresight Unlimited

Country: USA

Running time: 121 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The visceral action sequences.

Worst part: Its unsettling agenda.

Here’s a fun question: what do The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Devil, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno have in common? Give up yet? Ok, i’ll just tell you. The answer: their titles reveal major spoilers. This is a problem for multiple reasons. Assuredly, the studios must think their audiences are stupid. To attract multiple target markets, filmmakers and studios reveal their movies’ greatest secrets. Sadly, Lone Survivor is up there with the aforementioned releases. Lone Survivor harms itself thanks to one tiny detail – it’s based on a true story. Unquestionably, this issue is most problematic when dealing with docudramas. Despite the obvious marketing troubles, it’s still acceptable to look past these issues and lap up this confronting thrill-ride.

Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, & Emile Hirsch.

Whether they’re PR stunts or debacles, these movies carry a duty to inform but not spoil applicable and potentially groundbreaking stories. This movie’s production history is a tumultuous journey in itself. Based on Marcus Lutrell and Patrick Robertson’s book about these harrowing events, certain facts, figures, and opinions were changed to suit a ‘standard’ narrative structure. Causing controversy on all fronts, the book has been translated into an exhilarating yet morose action flick. Despite Luttrell’s blessing, the movie sits uncomfortably on shaky ground. This story, though exponentially impactful, needed a significantly more objective and accomplished writer/director. The first half presents these courageous figures as war-obsessed men of honour. Lutrell (Mark Wahlberg) is a grizzly soldier unafraid of death and disparity. Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) awaits his upcoming wedding with baited breath. Matthew Axelson (Ben Foster) revels in his profession’s most masochistic aspects. Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) is the tough-as-nails rookie with a heart of gold. Spoiler: three of these people aren’t making it back to base. Introducing its tough-guy caricatures, the first half boasts an awkward and bafflingly unimpressive sense of humour. Making up reconnaissance and surveillance unit SEAL Team 10, these US Navy SEALs head up an important mission called Operation Red Wings. Their mission revolves around murderous Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. Responsible for the deaths of 20 US Marines, Shah must be captured or killed by any means necessary. Dropped into the Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush region, the team sneak through this harsh and unending forest region. Unfortunately, within the first few hours of this mission, the team’s cover is blown by innocent civilians. From this point on, the movie’s Call-of-Duty-esque conflict kicks into gear. 

Eric Bana.

Lone Survivor, despite the marketing and narrative flaws, is a tight, tense and visceral thrill-ride. Mixing varying genre elements into one confronting and egregious concoction, the movie wholeheartedly praises these real-life heroes. Transitioning from gripping war-action flick to horrifying survival thriller, Lone Survivor delivers several tremendous highlights. Pandering to this movie’s agenda would be wrong. But, then again, it would be cruel to attack writer/director Peter Berg for choosing this story. Oh boy, treading this line is difficult! Anyway, though I respect Berg’s intentions, his movie becomes an obvious and one-sided war flick. Berg’s career is peppered with intelligible action flicks (The Kingdom, Welcome to the Jungle) and disgracefully forgettable blockbusters (Hancock, Battleship). Obsessed with the US Military, he becomes infatuated with these all-encompassing tough guys. Here, his blockbuster ticks and war-drama tropes awkwardly clash. Beyond his hit-and-miss filmography, Berg’s inept screenplay turns a potentially compelling concept into indulgent and ineffectual material. Returning to the big screen after Friday Night Lights‘ ongoing success, American prosperity and foreign policy are tools at his disposal. Using military technology and soldiers for the movie’s overwhelming production, Berg’s commendable intentions are overshadowed by his distracting political agenda. Painting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in black and white, Lone Survivor develops a one-sided and imbalanced portrait of this harrowing conflict. Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly respect the US military’s efforts to build monumental infrastructures across the world. Unfortunately, movies like Lone Survivor refuse to deliver detailed viewpoints. Praising the US’ stranglehold over smaller territories, heartfelt moments transition into trite and uninspired sections. Bookended with archival footage of Navy SEAL training, and pictures of these heroic figures, this right-wing action extravaganza should’ve retreated to safer ground. Going all out, Lone Survivor transitions into a confused and questionable commentary on the past decade’s aforementioned conflicts. 

“You can die for your country, I’m gonna live for mine.” (Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson (Ben Foster), Lone Survivor).

Ali Suliman.

Given the thumbs up by Glenn Beck himself, Lone Survivor hurriedly became a red-white-and-blue box office success story. With LA Weekly critic Amy Nicholson’s review panned by the debilitating media commentator, this potent war flick is an obvious and mean-spirited right-wing fantasy. However, overcoming its irritating and one-sided agenda, Berg’s action direction bolsters this terrifyingly graphic and intense action-thriller. Stepping into the four soldiers’ shoes, the movie examines its characters’ identities. Driven by manliness, ego, and focus, the movie, despite telegraphing certain characters’ demises, comments on every soldier’s immense will to succeed. Lone Survivor, despite the glorious attention to detail, gives thanks to Zero Dark Thirty, Platoon, Black Hawk Down, The Hurt Locker, and Three Kings. A long list for sure, but these movies are infinitely more thorough and responsive. Like The Kingdom, the punishing violence and gore elevate this hokey and conventional war-docudrama. Depicting this conflict’s most intensifying moments, bullet wounds, bruises, and shrapnel cuts stand out. In fact, opting for practical effects is the movie’s ballsiest choice. Berg’s attention to detail and action-direction develop several enthralling set pieces. With our lead characters going head-to-head with Taliban forces, the second two-thirds deliver brutal and ever-lasting gunfights. Despite the one dimensional enemies, the visuals and stunt sequences elevate this middling war-drama. The cliff sequences – in which our lead four hit every rock and tree on their way down – are shockingly gruesome. In addition, Tobias A. Schliesser’s cinematography throws the audience into this atmospheric and saddening situation. His distinct camera movements and angles heighten each set pieces’ intensity and emotional impact. Treading light ground, the performances also elevate this underwhelming and heavy-handed action flick. Wahlberg, carrying multiple action flicks last year, is suitably intense as the team’s determined leader. Left with the most responsibility, Wahlberg’s magnetic presence bolster’s this thrilling survival tale. Kitsch, recovering from a disastrous 2012, is energetic as the cocky second in command. Hirsch and Foster, known for disturbingly honest turns into low-budget dramas, excel in this moody war-drama. Rounding out this eclectic cast is Eric Bana as Lieutenant Erik S. Kristensen. Bana, coming back into the spotlight, is a welcoming presence as the leader manning the all-important military base.

I know I should be respectful to Lutrell and his fallen comrads. In fact, to be clear, I’m specifically attacking Berg for transforming this story into something it’s not. Turning this brave story into an explosive romp, Berg’s aura delivers an underwhelming effort reeking of wasted potential. However, thanks to Berg’s action direction and attention to detail, this engaging war flick overcomes its brash agenda and underwhelming cliches. More movies about this subject should be made, just not like this. 

Verdict: A brutal yet overbearing war-docudrama.

2 Guns Review – Straight Shot


Director: Baltasar Kormakur

Writers: Blake Masters (screenplay), Blake Masters (graphic novel)

Stars: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton


Release date: August 2nd, 2013

Distributors: Universal Pictures, Entertainment One, Foresight Unlimited, TriStar Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 109 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: Washington and Wahlberg’s chemistry.

Worst part: The excessive number of characters.

Have you ever heard the saying: “don’t judge a book by its cover”? Unfortunately, despite being a convincing resolution, it’s still exceedingly tempting to do so. However, something we could be so brashly judging may just catch us by surprise if we delved deeper. With a poster featuring two big-name actors, guns, helicopters, and flaming currency, it’s believable that 2 Guns could’ve turned out to be a forgettable, by-the-numbers action flick. Thankfully, it provides many effective kills and thrills along the way.

Denzel Washington & Mark Wahlberg.

Elevated by an enthusiastic cast, ingenious action sequences, and crackling dialogue, 2 Guns may become 2013’s biggest surprise hit. In a year filled with sci-fi blockbusters, comic-book extravaganzas, and ultra-popular ensemble comedies, a standalone action-comedy like this is infinitely refreshing. It may not bring the buddy-cop genre back into the spotlight, but it’s an enjoyable example of what these movies can accomplish with the right resources. Similarly to our plucky heroes, this movie, unfortunately, may be overlooked in favour of significant financial rewards elsewhere. In typical action-comedy fashion, slo-mo, cheesy one-liners, and masculine characters kick-start the narrative. Burning down a diner to cover their infamous tracks, Michael ‘Stig’ Stigman (Mark Wahlberg) and Robert ‘Bobby’ Trench (Denzel Washington) believe they have set up the ultimate heist for the bank across the street. After getting close to grimy Mexican mobster Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos), the wisecracking duo pull off the robbery with seemingly flawless execution. However, their antics reel them into the CIA, DEA, and NCIS’ lines of fire. After each discovering their true identities and allegiances, Stig and Bobby must reluctantly work together to discover who their dangerous $43 million haul belongs to, while treading lightly to avoid Naval Intelligence commanding officer Harold Quince (James Marsden), DEA handler Deb (Paula Patton), and vicious badass Earl (Bill Paxton).

Paula Patton.

Since the late 80s and early 90s, buddy-cop movies and Quentin Tarantino knock-offs have come thick and fast. Aiming to be as memorable and entertaining as their influences, many crime-capers fail to deliver the emotional depth and visceral sensations required. Screenwriter Blake Masters, adapting Steven Grant’s Boom! Studios comic book, has delivered an appropriate and engaging mix of character development and wittily bombastic comedy. From the opening sequence, the movie delves into this convoluted plot and attempts to unravel its many intriguing strands. Here, the cards are dealt and played at opportune moments to keep audiences engaged. In this topsy-turvy narrative, our characters come across multiple twists and turns that throw them, and the audience, for a loop. In spite of its charms, the story wears out its welcome by the end of the second act. By then, too many characters, factions, and codes of honour have been set up and moved around the movie’s hostile environment. Despite the engaging personalities, each motivation and betrayal becomes increasingly silly and uninteresting. Also, despite its lightheartedness, 2 Guns takes an aggressive stab at government agencies. Depicting the CIA to be as despicable as the Galactic Empire, the movie’s message awkwardly fits into this otherwise diverting experience. Here, director Baltasar Kormakur (Contraband) takes leaves out of many books. Fans of men-on-a-mission movies like The Losers and The A-Team will savour 2 Guns‘ wavering logic and overt masculinity. Kormakur is also immensely infatuated with, and borrows ideas from, seminal action-comedies like Lethal Weapon and 48 Hours. Fortunately, the movie sizzles whenever the dialogue flows. Similarly to William Monahan and David Mamet’s material, each expletive-filled insult and intriguing anecdote efficiently sums up each scene’s value. Thanks to the kinetic rat-a-tat dialogue on display, lines like: “you never heard the saying: “don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in 3 counties”?” become spun gold.

“You never heard the saying: “never rob a bank across from a diner with the best donuts in three counties?”” (Bobby (Denzel Washington), 2 Guns).

Bill Paxton.

Despite the third act’s excessive reliance on action set-pieces and stupefying plot-twists, the movie assuredly maintains an appropriate tone and solid pacing. Throughout this amusing buddy-cop movie, Kormakur throws everything he can at the screen. If you didn’t know this was a comic book movie, the slo-mo, tough-guy posturing, and distinctive character types will immediately fill you in on the details. Thanks to the punchy action sequences, 2 Guns adds up to the sum of its parts. Each set-piece ratchets up the much-needed tension and excitement. Before the last bullet is fired, Kormakur increasingly ups the ante with each gun-fight, explosion, brawl, car crash, and Mexican stand-off. In particular, the Point Break-esque bank heist sequence is enjoyable and climactic. Within this scene, the anticipation builds as one obstacle after another is encountered and conquered. Also, the car chase, in which Stig and Bobby frantically wrestle for control over one another, is pulsating and amusing. When it comes to the colourful and violent characters, the cast elevates this sorely conventional material. Like Tarantino’s array of seductive yet scummy anti-heroes, 2 Guns‘ characters sport many distinctive aesthetic and internal qualities. Definitively, the movie’s comic book-like cartoonishness comes from its wild personalities and frenetic stylishness. Washington’s hardened DEA agent role doesn’t stretch the actor’s immense talents, but his energetic screen presence still elevates the character. He brings his own pizzazz and charm to the role – sporting gold teeth, funky fedoras and a can-do attitude. Similarly, Wahlberg’s charisma boosts his been-there-done-that role. His character’s foul-mouthed/trigger finger persona provides many big laughs. Patton is stranded in a ball-busting (in more ways than one) yet two-dimensional role, and Paxton is enjoyably slimy as the amoral freewheeling villain.

From the snappy, insult-fuelled dialogue to the wacky action sequences, 2 Guns is significantly more intelligible and entertaining than exploitation-king Robert Rodriguez’ recent efforts. Washington and Wahlberg develop a substantial amount of chemistry despite the conventional material. There is one thing I can confirm without spoilers: there are way more than two guns in 2 Guns.

Verdict: A hilarious, enjoyable yet convoluted action-comedy.

Pain & Gain Review – Bay’s Bonkers Bash


Director: Michael Bay

Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (screenplay), Pete Collins (articles)

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub


Release date: August 8th, 2013

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 129 minutes


3/5

Best part: Dwayne Johnson.

Worst part: The Michael Bay-isms. 

Remember the 1990s? It was a far more peaceful time – back when boy bands ruled the airwaves, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air skyrocketed to mega-popularity, and Internet Explorer was still relevant. As a 90s kid, I look fondly back on this time and continually find more glaring similarities and differences between then and now. In the 90s, Miami, Florida was home to one of the most shocking crimes in US history. Action-comedy Pain & Gain is the ‘Michael Bay-directed’ account of this tragic event.

Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson& Anthony Mackie.

I used quotation marks in the previous sentence to make a specific point about this movie. Bay (Armageddon, the Transformers trilogy) is one of the most controversial directors in tinsel-town history. Many blame him for the death of modern cinema (Pearl Harbour was undoubtedly a huge misstep!) and continually criticise his ear-and-eyeball-shatteringly-brash style. However, his bombastic popcorn flicks have supported many careers and studios (dammed with faint praise). Since his filmography is a mixed bag (to say the least), Pain & Gain may just be his magnum opus. This hauntingly vile yet exciting and visceral action-comedy repeatedly states that it’s ‘based on a true story’. In the first three minutes, we see body-builder Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) impressively performing sit ups shortly before running from a barrage of policemen. The movie then steps back a few months, and Lugo is working for the man. Lugo, an over-worked yet optimistic personal trainer at Miami’s Sun Gym, is forced to work with high-paying client Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Inspired by self-help guru Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong), Lugo asks work-mate Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) to help him kidnap Kershaw and steal all his worldly possessions. However, their incompetent plan is met with hostility from Kershaw, former detective Ed Du Bois III (Ed Harris) and Miami’s steamy criminal underbelly.

Tony Shalhoub.

What follows is a tale of violence, tyranny, anguish, emotional turmoil, and dream chasing. Yes, this movie is a stew filled with chases, enviable settings, disturbing violence, and A-list actors (you know, the ‘typical’ Hollywood movie ingredients). However, Pain & Gain startlingly deviates from what a standard run-of-the-mill action-comedy would do. Turning this horrific yet though-provoking true story into a relentless farce is a bizarre premise in itself. Here, Bay throws preconceptions of all kinds out the window. His idea of the ‘American Dream’ is clichéd and shallow, but it makes for a topical, discomforting, and enthralling movie-going experience. Pain & Gain clearly suggests that life is not worth living unless you have reasonable goals, a can-do attitude…and enviable possessions. In keeping with these pessimistic messages (such as they are), Bay’s superficial world (seen in all of his movies) is depicted here as a lugubrious, slimy, and morally weak black hole. Bay’s mean-spirited and chauvinistic creation knowingly points out the dangers that come of economic turmoil and unadulterated obsession. Thankfully, the familiar yet refreshing crime-thriller aspects keep this controversial movie in check. Throughout Pain & Gain, Bay alerts us to that split second when the lead characters go from laughably bumbling morons to villainous, delusional, and selfish delinquents. Despite the aforementioned abrupt tonal shifts, Bay makes sure the audience can ably laugh at, but never with, the three anti-heroes.

Ed Harris.

Ultimately, Bay proves with Pain & Gain that he has the potential to create gleefully satirical, dark, and multi-layered action flicks (and who on Earth saw that coming?!) Despite Pain & Gain’s glowing positives, Bay’s sexist, racist, homophobic, manic, and atmospheric directorial ticks are on display once again. His crass/frat-boy-like filmmaking style/sense of humour overshadows everything he touches. Bay’s repetitive and abrasive approach may test well with audiences, but he needs to branch out if he wants to be treated like an adult. If Hollywood were a high school, The Coen Brothers would be the popular, talented kids whilst Bay would be the nerdy youngster with a creepy yet obvious crush. In fact, Pain & Gain, conceptually and narratively, draws major comparisons to Burn After Reading and Fargo. However, whereas those crime-dramas are consistent, intelligent, and punchy, this movie fails to come up a clever, original or subtle stylistic choice. Bay delivers yet another blood, sweat, and expletive-filled universe. The 90s, by this movie’s standards, glistens with jaw-droppingly gorgeous bodies, bright lights, bold colours, and stereotypical comic reliefs. For some reason, many shots zoom through bullet holes and around characters. I’ve also never understood his obsession with low angles, explosions, and gratuitous slo-mo. Unequivocally, It’s the Bay-isms that distract from what the movie is trying to say about wealth, masculinity, power, and friendship.

“Jesus Christ Himself has blessed me with many gifts! One of them is knocking someone the f*uck out!” (Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), Pain & Gain).

The Sun Gym gang.

If you find True Romance/Out of Sight-esque crime-capers annoying and pretentious, you should probably check out Now You See Me instead. Like Now You See Me, the A-list cast elevates the mediocre material. Unlike that movie, however, Pain & Gain isn’t entirely brainless. Aided by the enjoyably silly yet unique narration, this movie highlights the aesthetic and magnetic qualities of its performers. Wahlberg’s enigmatic and captivating screen presence elevates his strange yet fascinating role. Used to playing hard-nosed cops and criminals, Wahlberg could’ve done this in his sleep. However, his wacky character is a steroid-filled shot to this movie’s heart. Emulating such masculine figures as Tony Montana, Rocky Balboa and Michael Corleone (“I watched a lot of movies Paul, I know what I’m doing!”), Lugo believes his muscle-fuelled lifestyle will bolster his ridiculous and disgusting get-rich-quick scheme. Despite his dim-wittedness, Lugo’s blissful ignorance and persistence are, at points, hilariously charming traits (similarly to his Boogie Nights character). The Stand out performer here is Johnson. Coming off G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Fast and Furious 6, Johnson has established himself in 2013 as the next Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sylvester Stallone-type action hero. Able to inject charisma, physicality, and grit into any role, Johnson in Pain & Gain balances wit, magnetism, and an inhumanly muscular frame to turn in a nuanced performance. His hysterically zany character, obsessed with Jesus and Cocaine (what a combination!), is a truly affecting and disturbing creation. I hope we see more of Mackie after his enjoyable performance here. Shalhoub, Jeong, and Harris deliver charismatic turns in small roles. On the other end of the spectrum, a little of Rebel Wilson’s ‘comedy’ goes a long way!

Turning this impactful true story into a pulsating action-comedy would’ve been an ambitious and incomprehensible task. However, Bay has done a remarkable job with allowing us to laugh at these absurdly dumb characters. Pain & Gain is an outlandish, insane, and lurid movie about the American Dream.

Verdict: A relentless, punchy yet bizarre action-comedy.

Broken City Review – City Slickers


Director: Allen Hughes

Writer: Brian Tucker

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffery Wright


Release date: January 18th, 2013

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minutes


3/5

Best part: Russell Crowe’s intimidating performance.

Worst part: Its ham-fisted messages.

Many people, in some way or another, were hit by the global financial crisis. A few years have passed, and Hollywood has since made a stack of films focusing on this hot button issue. Broken City avoids the bombastic nature of many post- economic crisis action/crime flicks to deliver a subtle and old-fashioned crime-thriller.

Mark Wahlberg.

It’s a dark and gritty film noir that reminded me of what Hollywood used to be. Sure, it has its drawbacks, but I was still able to grab onto this engaging story. Detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is arrested and tried for the alleged murder of a young black man. He is released from his shackles after a controversial hearing. His victory, however, is short lived. The mayor, Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe), and Taggart’s superior, Capt. Carl Fairbanks (Jeffery Wright), persuade Taggart to quit the force. Seven years later, Taggart is running a small business as a private investigator. Running out of money (despite his forceful nature), he pushes himself to take an assignment given to him by Hostetler. Hostetler believes that his wife, Cathleen Hostetler (Catherine Zeta-Jones), is cheating on him. Afraid that her debauchery might affect his upcoming re-election campaign, Hostetler asks Taggart to tail her. From that point on, multiple threads intertwine as Taggart gets into one bad situation after another.

Wahlberg & Russell Crowe.

Despite some juicy plot developments in the film’s second half, it’s still a by-the-numbers crime -thriller. The film lacks a sense of urgency and style. Every so often, the slow pacing would dull the film down to an extraneous extent. I don’t think it should’ve been a mindless action flick, but it needed a little less conversation. Having said that, it’s a narrative that is easy to connect with and enjoy. It may be typical on many levels, but sometimes that is a good thing. It, however, is still not as smart as it thinks it is. At points, it feels like the director and screenwriter are hammering nails into your head. Over and over again, we are reminded of how scummy politicians, cops and ‘one percenters’ can be. The use of symbolism and metaphor isn’t subtle in any way. It’s a film that lambasts how New York City has evolved over the past decade. The rich look down on the poor, race relations are at an all-time low, and people are too afraid to help one another. It discusses these issues without acknowledging Rudolph Giuliani’s beneficial time in office.

Crowe & Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Brian Tucker’s script falters on many levels. This is a formulaic thriller that lives on the strength of its cast and director. This is Allen Hughes’ first directorial effort by himself. He and his brother, Albert, have directed many influential action/thrillers together since their debut feature Menace II Society. He pushes every plot twist and turn on the audience without excessive force. Despite the film’s slow pace, Broken City is terrifically tense and punchy at points. The problem with the direction, however, is that Hughes focuses too much on the messages without giving the film a sense of style. The Hughes brothers have created kinetic visuals for many of their movies. From Hell placed us into a shiny Victorian-era London at the time of Jack the Ripper. Meanwhile, The Book of Eli, despite its flaws, had a sumptuous post- apocalyptic visual sensibility. Broken City is nothing but, for all intents and purposes, a very moody thriller. Whereas Gangster Squad heightened its visual style to a cartoonish extent, this film doesn’t push it far enough. Some of the costumes and hairstyles give the film a nuanced 70s look, but these stylistic elements are very slight.

“There are some wars you fight and some wars you walk away from. This isn’t the fighting kind.” (Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe), Broken City).

Wahlberg, Crowe & Jeffery Wright.

This film is very enjoyable, particularly if you are interested in film noir. If you look closely, you can spot elements of many influential crime films such as L.A. Confidential, Klute, and Chinatown. It contains many film noir clichés, yet it leaves the trench coats, fedoras and cigarettes behind. It relies, to a certain extent, on the strength of its characters and performances. Wahlberg plays the down-on-his-luck lead character. He is an old-school private eye and a brutish male with several understandable weaknesses. Women and alcohol are continually waved in front of him. The banter between him and his cute blonde assistant is funnier than you think it would be. They embody small business owners hit by the troubling economic situation. Wahlberg has made many hits (The Italian Job, The Departed) and stinkers (The HappeningMax Payne). Not only does he play cops or criminals in most of his movies, but he plays all of them with the same intensity and range. He is still a charismatic on-screen presence. He brings toughness to this already intriguing role. Russell Crowe steals every scene he’s in as the slimy and vindictive mayor. Zeta-Jones, however, is under-utilised as NYC’s scheming first lady.

Broken City suffers from a lack of originality and style. Despite this, it’s a subtle and likeable take on a classic film noir story. The cast and director pull a rabbit out of a hat; creating an enjoyable, witty and intensifying crime-thriller. Thanks to Wahlberg and Hughes’ collaboration, Broken City scrapes by on being pure, unadulterated comfort food cinema.

Verdict: An enjoyable yet problematic crime-thriller.

Ted Review – Bear-able!


Director: Seth MacFarlane

Writers: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild

Stars: Seth MacFarlane, Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Joel McHale

 


Release date: June 29th, 2012

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The charming characters.

Worst part: The sitcom-esque story.

With a successful string of raunchy animated TV shows to his name such as Family GuyAmerican Dad and The Cleveland Show, Seth Macfarlane has now successfully converted his controversial comedic style to the big screen. Fans of his popular TV creations will happily devour Ted, while sensitive types will be lost in the referential and explicit comedic translation.

Mark Wahlberg and Seth MacFarlane’s character.

As a young boy, John Bennett was a lonely outsider desperately wanting a personal connection. With everyone, including the victimised Jewish kids in his Boston neighbourhood, refusing to associate with him, John’s desperation comes to fruition after his Christmas present, a cuddly brown teddy bear, comes to life. His new ‘thunder buddy for Life’ soon becomes a child star due to this Christmas miracle. The fame eventually wears off and 27 years later, John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted are pot-smoking, immature slackers. With John’s long-term girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) wanting him to escape the clutches of his fluffy friend, John’s desperation leads him to find a new, independent life for Ted, but not without being continually drawn into Ted’s wild antics.

Mila Kunis.

Mila Kunis.

Macfarlane’s comedic style is not for the faint of heart. His intelligent satirical comedy and quick wit are delivered with the comfortable tones of his thick accent. Voicing Ted much the same as Peter and Brian Griffin on Family Guy, his beloved style will appeal to fans and teenage film-goers, but may inadvertently push away anyone else. Macfarlane isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of skewering popular culture. Much like Ricky Gervais hosting an awards ceremony, everyone is on the chopping block as insulting remarks are thrown at celebrities such as Adam Sandler, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry. Jokes illustrating his stance on religion, ethnicity, politics and society are split between being hilarious, inappropriate or repetitive. The jokes are fired at the audience likes bullets out of a machine gun, with every hit met with a devastating miss, eventually losing the subtle satirical edge delivered in every episode of his hit animated TV comedies. Spelling out jokes as they pass, with Family Guy inspired flashback sequences, constant questioning of cultural practice and disgusting sex humour, feels like Macfarlane’s strong opinion and notorious style being forced upon an objective audience looking for another gross out hit like The Hangover and Bridesmaids.

Giovanni Ribisi.

Giovanni Ribisi.

The many references calling back to Macfarlane’s childhood influences, though important to the theme of transitioning between childhood and adulthood, won’t stick with certain audiences due to an intense reminder of the important artistic works of the 80’s. The many unnecessary references quickly become tiresome by the third Star Wars joke (clearly an already established influence). Macfarlane’s control over his artistic vision qualifies him as a unique auteur. Along with his in-your-face comedic hijinks, his transition from animation to live action has created a fun comedy balancing sensitivity and explicit humour. Using the Marcel Duchamp method of creating artistic meaning out of inanimate objects, his creation of Ted through producing, directing, writing and performing (through motion capture) the titular character has created a satisfying character study out of this unique premise. The direction is clearly influenced by popular directors such as Sam Raimi, Steven Soderbergh, and Oliver Stone. Ted‘s quick cut action and dialogue sequences and fast steady-cam shots are simple yet effective tricks used by Raimi and Macfarlane to create intensity and fast pacing. While Macfarlane’s use of bright colour to create dulcet tones is reminiscent of Soderbergh’s stylish colour coordination.

“No matter how big a splash you make in this world, whether you’re Corey Feldman, Frankie Muniz, Justin Bieber or a talking teddy bear, eventually, nobody gives a shit!” (Narrator (Patrick Stewart), Ted).

More of MacFarlane's animated gold.

More of MacFarlane’s animated gold.

Macfarlane obviously references his influences through cameos from many famous faces synonymous with popular culture from different generations. Ted and John’s fascination with the sci-fi cult classic Flash Gordon leads to a cameo from Flash himself Sam J. Jones, extended long enough to outstay its Welcome. While clever cameos from Ryan Reynolds AKA ‘some Van Wilder looking guy’, Tom Skerritt and Jazz Singer Norah Jones, as a former lover cleverly referring to the lack of private parts on Ted, create culturally relevant humour subverting our idea of celebrity. The ever reliable Wahlberg and Kunis create a charming couple in their charismatic dialogue moments, quickly developing an alluring distraction from the predictable narrative. Community lead actor Joel McHale proves his comedic talent as the slimy boss pining for his female workers. While dramatic actor Giovanni Ribisi is suitably disturbing as Ted’s stalker, essentially re-enacting the Kathy Bates role from Misery.

Macfarlane’s animated TV comedy redefined the expression of a comedian’s perspective on societal/political issues and popular culture. His opinion is expressed in Ted with quick wit and smart direction, but his overwhelming views on important issues may prove costly for a wider audience outside his already huge fan base.

Verdict: A unique, charming yet sickening and over-whelming farce.