Lone Survivor (2013): Based on the failed June 28, 2005 mission "Operation Red Wings". Four members of SEAL Team 10 were tasked with the mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd. Marcus Luttrell was the lone survivor.
Did you see what I did there? I used the title of the movie to describe the movie! That's why it's not a spoiler, plus if you still think it is the first scene after the opening credits tells you that Marcus is the lone survivor, so bite me. It's hard to review this without at least hinting at it, which I why I am saying so right from the beginning. Ok so onto the movie! Can you say Oscar bait? I can say Oscar bait. Sometime soon I'm going to do a brief writing on the Oscar bait movies that come out every year, particularly the war movies that try to take advantage of their subject matter to win awards. My perfect example of this is The Hurt Locker from a few years ago. It paved the trail for all of these movies. Some are good, some are bad. (cough cough Zero Dark Thirty) But this would fall in that former category. It was a good movie. It was brutally realistic, fun to watch, and pretty emotionally gripping. It was well written, well acted, and well directed. But there were definitely a lot of flaws as well.
So let's talk pros. First the acting. Mark Wahlberg puts in yet again another incredible performance. Definitely Oscar-worthy. Though I don't know yet whether he will win it but I fully expect him to be nominated. He is absolutely stunning in the role of Marcus Luttrell, expressing determination and fortitude and really selling his will to survive through the conditions he is thrown into. He had great comedic timing when it was time to throw in joke just to keep the film from being overly serious. But when it was time to be serious, man was I absolutely riveted by the persona Wahlberg created. At the end of the day this was his movie, as virtually every other soldier and villain was interchangeable. The other three members of the team got time to flesh out their characters a bit, particularly Emile Hirsch's (The Girl Next Door's male lead) character, another great actor I might add, but I just couldn't tell any of them apart. Like at the very end of the movie they are showing pictures of all the soldiers that lost their lives in the operation, and I could not even remotely begin to tell any of them apart or ID them until they showed Marcus. Now I was able to identify faces for the four main guys, so there's that. I guess I just didn't connect with anyone other than Marcus to really feel emotionally moved by the end. I know that's a terrible thing to say because these men gave their lives in the line of duty in real life, and every one of them are heroes in my book, but they need a better movie than this one to truly commemorate their ultimate sacrifice upon the altar of freedom. I just could not get myself to be truly moved like I did in a movie like Saving Private Ryan.
Speaking of Saving Private Ryan, another thing that this movie did really well, at least in the first two acts, was portray this situation very realistically. Honestly the war scenes here are some of the best action scenes I've seen since the legendary D-Day scene of Saving Private Ryan. And equally brutal. This movie is not for the feint of heart. There are some very gruesome and cringe worthy moments, like watching someone pull shrapnel out of their leg. And as I said it started out being very realistic. The military jargon was very much in full force here, and the movie did very little to let you catch up and thus at times I just could not understand what they were saying. This may have contributed to my lack of emotion by the end. So the biggest strength was the biggest weakness as well in terms of the realism. Additionally it led to some great moments that built a lot of tension before the initial encounter, as the SEAL team moved very slowly and deliberately, as well as induce the best scene of the movie when they capture two children and their father in the mountains from the town that they were heading towards. Figuring out what to do with their POWs was a very powerful and moving scene. The other thing was that the movie did show signs of Hollywood in the third act, with some in the nick of time rescues that weren't really necessary. But that is a rather trivial complaint. After all every movie has to have some Hollywood in it right?
The Critique: A brutally realistic war movie has Wahlberg at his finest, despite it's many flaws.
The Recommendation: action fans and Wahlberg fans rejoice. This is for you. Everyone else? May be too graphic. Oh and guys, for the love of God, do NOT take your girlfriend to this if she is even remotely squeamish. She will be none too happy with you. You have been warned.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 6/10 Above Average
Oscar Nomination Predictions: Best Actor (Wahlberg), Sound Editing, Visual Effects, Production Design (maybe)
Still stand by this after the rush of the Oscar season. Plus my critiques are rather similar to that of the actual movie critics. You heard it here first!
Cloud Atlas (2012): An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.
Cheated this time once more with the IMDB description. But seriously, how do you describe a movie like this? How do you review it? Man I have no idea. But I'm going to go for that second part. Or at least make an honest attempt at it. So this is a Wachowski clan film. Remember can't say brothers anymore. Most notably known for The Matrix trilogy, as well as the unsuccessful Speed Racer movie that came out a few years ago (remember that?) this movie very much feels like a Wachowski clan film, right down to the part where Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith in The Matrix) plays six different villains. Not even kidding. But I must say: the idea here is incredibly bold. The Wachowski clan swings for the fences here more than anyone else has with a movie since Inception. But they do it by seamlessly integrating and connecting six different stories spanning the course of about five hundred years worth of human history. Including creating two different future worlds from scratch with their own issues and environments. It's bold. Really really bold. The problem I had was that I had trouble seeing the underlying theme they were creating: showing us how we are all connected and how events of one lifetime can impact that of another. Regardless, I was still very emotionally tied to a lot of the individual storylines here. A lot more than I would've thought. The ending of the 1930s storyline actually brought a tear to my eye. But this is in large part because Ben Whishaw just steals the show for me for the most part.
Now there is a lot of makeup here. And fake accents. I mean at one point Hugo Weaving is playing an evil female hospital nurse. Things like that are all over the place here, leading to some pretty cool identification moments at the credits when you realize all the major A-list actors in here that you may have missed. Honestly the actors in this movie must really really enjoy what they do because they are all asked to do so much in this movie. Almost every single one of the major leads are in each story in some way or another. And each story is pretty well written to make you feel like the characters of them are fleshed out, which in turn does make you emotionally connect to them and be concerned with what is going to happen to them. But some and not all of the stories worked for me. Two in particular failed in my eyes. I did not appreciate the distant distant future story, as well as the one that takes place in present day. That one might be rather surprising, as the reason why the distant distant future didn't work was because the accents and lingo were just too distracting. Obviously this problem was not there in the present day storyline. But that one just...it just didn't work. I didn't really see it's point for being. Of course it was there for a reason but I just couldn't find said reason. I mean it was relatively well-written but I just didn't make the connection it had to the other five stories. But the other four worked for me. They created characters that I cared about and had them go through various problems that I did care about. And thanks to the great editing I was able to get a feel for how they were connected. Somewhat.
The editing. The stories here are not vignettes. They are all cut and edited to be together with every story simultaneously, and I felt that this was a stroke of genius from the Wachowskis. Doing this allowed the emotional level to grow with each story more so than it would have if they had been told as vignettes. The energy and tension level from each story built on each other, and by the end the stakes were higher because they were intermingled. From an exercise in filmmaking standpoint this is a really impressive and genius move that I'm sure will be seen in many film classes and I wouldn't be surprised to see more of this style slowly but surely become integrated into future films.
In conclusion, this movie is unique. It is worth watching just because of this fact. Though the 172 minute runtime might get a little long, I say it's worth it. If nothing else admire the stories within and appreciate what it took to recreate (or create from scratch in the future's cases) the worlds they are set in. If you can engage with it intellectually as well as hit the crescendo with the movie at its big aha! moment at the end you may call this one of the greatest movies of recent years. However neither of these things happened for me. But I still had a lot of fun just admiring. Also the Cloud Atlas Sextet is absolutely beautiful. It is played in various forms throughout the movie and is an absolute masterpiece in terms of movie themes.
The Critique: A fun and wildly imperfect movie that threw a bunch of ideas against the wall to see if any would stick. Some did, some didn't. Four of the six for me stuck.
The Recommendation: any fan of moviemaking should definitely put this one at the top of the list, as well as fans of the Wachowskis, Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, as well as intellectualists. Everyone else should check it out but you won't be any worse for the wear if you don't.
Rewatchability: Moderately Low
The Verdict: 7/10 I usually say good here for a 7 but it wasn't good. It was great, but had so many flaws that it just didn't deserve an 8 in my book. So I'm giving it a 7 and then my final phrase to describe it is great.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012): Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in David O. Russell's film about two people with various mental and social problems who are put together for a dance competition as Cooper tries to win back his ex-wife. And of course a relationship between them grows in an intriguing fashion.
Skyfall (2012): Daniel Craig returns for his third James Bond movie to take on Mr. Silva, played by Javier Bardem, who has some not-so-nice intentions for Bond's boss, M. (Judi Dench)
Ok for those that know me, you know that I am a HUGE Bond fan. To this day Goldfinger (1964) is one of my all time favorite movies, and the discovery of the girl painted in gold is one of the best cinematic moments of all time. In my humble opinion, of course. But I'm here to tell you that Skyfall is the best Bond MOVIE to date. Note how movie is in all caps. Why? Because BOND movies and Bond MOVIES are two very different things. A BOND movie follows a very specific and predictable formula: opening action sequence, Bond gets new assignment, Bond gets gadgets from Q branch, Bond meets girl, and so on.These last three movies have all strayed from this established formula, attempting to bring Bond into the 21st century. But this is the first time that a Bond movie has really gotten you to emotionally connect with these well-known characters. I mean really emotionally connect and feel for them. Bond is not the charming invincible guy we've grown accustomed to over the years. Sure he still has his one liners, but he shows a vulnerability here that actually makes you buy that he could be a real human being. As a result, this is not a popcorn flick. This is legitimately the first Bond movie that is not one of these. Which is also why I think this movie will stand the test of time, which most of its predecessors have not been able to do up to this point.
So acting. Holy crap acting. The Bond girls are great here, with Naomie Harris leading the way. But the real star here from the females is Judi Dench. She gets an extended role in this one, and she takes full advantage. She is absolutely brilliant and shows multiple emotions throughout the movie and makes you buy every single one. It only took six movies with her as M for them to realize that they have one of the greatest British actresses in cinema history playing this role. But hey better late than never right? And then there's Javier Bardem. It's been years since a truly menacing Bond villain was on screen in front of us. I'd argue Jonathan Pryce in Tomorrow Never Dies was the last great Bond villain, though some may argue you have to go back even further. But Bardem puts in an incredible performance as Mr. Silva. He's terrifying, menacing, unpredictable, and flamboyant. Very flamboyant. Ya he's gay. There's very little doubt of this to me. Some idiots took offense to this fact, obviously, but I think it really adds to his character. But I would legitimately say watch this movie for Bardem if nothing else. He's that good. Oh and Craig is good too! But he can get a little lost behind Dench and Bardem.
If you don't want to see this movie for Bardem, see it because it is breathtakingly beautiful to look at. I usually will just touch on cinematography, but this time it gets a small plug. Roger Deakins is one of the greatest cinematographers in our history. Yep that's twice I've used that phrase in this review. But if you IMDB his resume you will see what I mean. Like The Shawshank Redemption? Roger Deakins. That shot of Tim Robbins in the rain that is another great moment in cinema history? Ya that was from the mind of Deakins. But this movie is absolutely gorgeous to look at, with beautiful wide shots of the various locations this movie is shot at, including and especially London. I want to live in London now after this movi
Great writing, acting, editing and cinematography all come together perfectly here, creating one of the best movies of 2012. I'd probably rank it second on my list only to Argo personally. Even though I have not seen Silver Linings Playbook. But that should change very very soon. Like immediately after I'm done writing this that's what I'm watching it kind of soon. Honestly I have very few complaints here. I guess it just doesn't resonate with me enough to give it a 10/10. I mean it's emotionally pulling and a damn good movie, but there's just something missing to add it to that very exclusive list of my perfect 10s. (Haha funny joke right?) Still, I strongly STRONGLY recommend it.
The Critique: The best Bond MOVIE to date. An emotionally-pulling action-packed piece of cinema.
The Recommendation: There is something here for everyone. Well maybe if you hate everything British you won't enjoy this as much but that's about it.
The Verdict: 9.5/10 Damn near perfect
Thor: The Dark World (2013): Thor, Loki, and Jane Foster and the gang are back in the sequel to 2011's Thor. This time, a force that was believed to be dead has returned and of course, thanks to the totally creative and original once-every-thousands-of-years-circumstances circumstances, tries to end the universe! But Thor and only Thor can stop it.
So I kinda just poked fun at the movie's story there obviously but despite that, I actually did enjoy myself. The story plays it 100% safe and doesn't stray from the superhero formula that has been established over the years at all, but it was still fun! It delivers exactly what you would want from a superhero movie nowadays. Fun action, a great girl to admire, and some comedy to balance it all out. Even though here the comedy claimed my second favorite actor in the Thor world of the Avengers, Stellan Skarsgard, or Dr. Erik Selvig, who's delegated to the guy who's just insane but is somehow comical in his insanity. Even though his character wasn't like that at all in the original or in The Avengers. Pacific Rim did this type of comedic relief and nailed it with Charlie Day/Burn Gorman and their crazy scientist characters, but Thor 2 doesn't get it quite so well, mostly because Skarsgard doesn't have the comedic timing that Day and Gorman have. But I digress, as this part is not really important to the story. So.... the girl! Well I guess there are two great girls here. Personally I adore Natalie Portman. She is gorgeous and resilient as ever in this. And Kat Dennings is good too as the other girl. Her role is reduced to the right amount, because a little bit of Dennings does go a long way. And Chris Hemsworth is once again fantastic as Thor. They absolutely nailed that acting choice for Thor. Like almost as great as casting RDJ as Iron man. He looks like he's made out of chiseled marble, he's charming, and he's charismatic. In exactly the way that you would picture Thor being. Like RDJ has become Tony Stark, Hemsworth is really becoming Thor in my eyes.
However it's Thor's "crew" that gets pushed to the side here. Their roles are practically nonexistent, and they get even less time to flesh out their characters than the thirteen dwarves do in The Hobbit. Yes The Hobbit is an hour longer but there's more than twice as many dwarves! And Bilbo! And Gandalf! And yet each individual dwarf gets more time than Thor's company. That's ok though because, since this movie is well within the Avengers universe, this really feels (like Iron Man 3) like another sequel to the Avengers. In this sequel the big question that's answered is Loki's fate. As a result Loki gets a lot of screen time and is why Thor's crew gets pushed to the back burner. Which is great for many fans of this movie series. I know a lot of people love the Loki character of this whole thing, and so they'll be glad to see him back in full force. However this is also my single biggest complaint of the movie. I borderline HATED Loki's character arc. I can't talk about it without doing spoilers, but I'll just say that there were several things here that I didn't buy at all. One great moment with his character surrounded by a lot of not-so-great moments. It makes me sad because this was the one part where the movie started getting out of the safe zone and making things interesting, just to be like LOL JK. Not going in this cool direction! Just going to play it safe. Again. (If you think I just did a spoiler, I didn't. You have no idea what I'm referring to if you haven't seen this.)
So I spent a lot of time talking about characters, but that's because there really isn't a whole lot else to talk about. The effects were great. Probably not Oscar-worthy but still good. Asgard was absolutely beautiful to admire, and the cinematography did a great job to make sure you had plenty of time to admire the world created here. I want some side-by-sides of 2011 Asgard and 2013 Asgard, because I think this one may look significantly better than the first one. The costumes are also fantastic, worthy of a mention obviously, as once again Asgardian clothing is beautiful. That's really it. Oh can I just say that the final boss fight makes no sense at all? Like Iron Man 3 and most of the Marvel movies, they create their rules like your supposed to do but then just say screw it! And throw all logic out the window for the final battle. Still, trivial complaints. I mean this movie is exactly what you'd want from a superhero movie, as I said earlier, and is far better than the 2011 original, but I'm still waiting for those elements that Christopher Nolan found in his Batman movies that really make his movies "immortal" to cross into Marvel's world. The only one that has achieved this thus far was The Avengers, but it got a significant amount of help from the fact that nothing like that had ever been attempted before in movie history. Oh and when you remind yourself of the fact that this is in that same universe, you get a lot of plot holes. Like, where was SHIELD when the universe was about to explode here? Or any of the Avengers? One single Avenger makes a very brief appearance in this one, but in a reference sort of way. Which was more than what happened in Iron Man 3 where the only thing we got was a post-credit scene with Stark and Banner having a conversation when it comes to reminding us that all these superheroes are in the same world. But the post-credits sequence here will keep the comic nerds happy more so than Iron Man 3's did with what we are going to see in The Avengers 2. But I'm going to wait for Captain America 2 because that one looks like it's going to explore what happens to SHIELD after The Avengers. As in, they will be around when whatever is threatening the world in that movie is threatening the world. In short, what Marvel is doing is clever, but there are still a lot of flaws. And as time progresses these flaws are going to get worse if they don't plug them up in upcoming movies. And it makes me slightly worried because I feel like they aren't going to be able to plug up these flaws as instead they are expanding the universe with these Netflix exclusive shows. But we'll see in time. Right now it's just speculation.
So that was a lot of writing and kind of turned into a tangent on this entire Marvel universe. Sorry. But ya if you are going to see this movie, you will enjoy it. Just don't analyze it like I am. If you do it may not be as enjoyable. Mindless action. That's a good way to describe it.
The Critique: a stereotypical popcorn flick. Safe and secure, mindless fun.
The Recommendation: comic fans and action fans alike should find something fun here. Oh and Chris Hemsworth takes his shirt off at one point! That brief clip should satisfy the ladies for this one if they hate action movies. But guys, go see About Time if you're looking for a date movie this weekend.
The Verdict: 7/10 Good
Oscar Talk: Don't really see anything coming out of this one, but there may be a nomination for effects.
Ender's Game (2013): The International Military seek out a leader who can save the human race from an alien attack. Ender Wiggin, a brilliant young mind, is recruited and trained to lead his fellow soldiers into a battle that will determine the future of Earth.
So that's the IMDB synopsis. It is one of the longest synopsis I have ever seen for a movie. And see this is the movie's main problem. It is too big for it's own good. This is a classic example of a sci-fi movie that bit off more than it could chew. There's just too many unpolished ideas that don't go anywhere and too many jumps in the convoluted story to really get from point A to point B in a credible fashion. Here's a perfect example: the movie does not even remotely give you the sense of Ender moving up through the ranks. One minute he's a new recruit at battle school then the next he's on the best team within the battle school war games groups then he's commanding his own unit then he's at commanders school being told that he's going to command the entire human fleet! Just like that. Obviously this also creates an awkwardly paced movie with no sense of time whatsoever. A countdown clock is showed at one point but you see it exactly once. But you're supposed to just believe that he's smarter than everyone else he's competing against. Which are the best and brightest that our planet has to offer. I can't forgive this. There could be an entire movie just on the section where he's commanding his own unit, an island of misfit toys, and the turnaround they have. Quick PS by the way I don't feel these are spoilers, because after all the whole premise of the movie is that this is Ender's game against the alien force. Get the name? And I can't even remotely begin to voice and describe my complaints without letting unimportant parts of the story slip. And believe me...the movie views them as unimportant. There's about 15 minutes of movie (if that) with him commanding his own unit.
Let's talk about themes. I've noticed Facebook has been talking a lot about and complementing the fact that the movie nails the main genocide theme that it has throughout the movie. Which is quite true. There was general heartfelt moments (probably the best points of the film) when Ender is questioning the morality of his actions. The problem is that this is not the only theme Orson Scott Card, writer of the novel (of the same name) that this movie is based on, which I have actually read, is trying to convey. Now it is a movie adaption, so I'm definitely expecting many things to be lost here, but that's not the problem. The problem is that they are not lost. There are about seventeen additional themes here that get touched at one point or another: fighting back against bullies, living away from home and feeling homesick, the bond between brothers and sisters, violence in video games, and just the general morality of having kids run the war that they are in, to name a few. Oh that's another thing I should mention....I saw the first possible showing that my theater had of this movie, and it was relatively full. There were a rather significant amount of people that just could not take the fact that the children were talking like adults seriously. And it wasn't just one group or anything. No it was probably about half the room. There's only about one joke in this movie (it is a very dark and serious movie) and yet the room was laughing quite a bit at the characters. That just tells me that this theme of the morality behind using kids to fight our wars was just completely lost on the audience, simply because they just didn't have the time to touch on it in the 114 minute film.
But it's not all bad. The movie is great from a visual standpoint. The fighting sequences are the calling card of the movie, just as they were for the book. While some of the war games games were a little hard to follow and rather chaotic, the later fights are pretty spectacular and gave me chills. This movie is a who's-who for acting talent, and everyone puts in great performances. Even Harrison Ford! The role he was playing actually required some acting, which of course Ford provided. As opposed to the cash-ins that some of his more recent films have been. (I'm looking at you Indiana Jones 4!) However there was almost no character development in anyone. Actually no....there was no character development at all! Ben Kingsley's character is the perfect example. In the book, he's my favorite character, but here he gets next to no screen time. To the point that you can forget that he's even in the movie were it not for a few dramatic stares from him to Ender at various points. However Asa Butterfield (most known for playing Hugo in Martin Scorsese's Hugo) as Ender puts in a fantastic performance, and Abigail Breslin (Zombieland, Little Miss Sunshine) and Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) also put in spectacular performances. I really look forward to seeing what more these three great child actors have to offer in future movies. But still, this movie is just too murky. Fans of the book will be able to follow, but I fear that those who have no idea what the book is about may find themselves getting lost and asking those with them who have read the book what's going on. Which did happen with me. I went with a friend who had never read the book, and while she did enjoy herself being a fan of sci-fi, she did ask me a few times what was going on because a technical aspect of the film was confusing. And obviously outside of the sci-fi fan base I would definitely say stay away. You will not be able to appreciate what this movie is trying to do if you don't appreciate sci-fi.
The Critique: a sci-fi movie that bit off more than it could chew (didn't I say that earlier?)
The Recommendation: a must see for those who like the book and a solid recommendation for those who like sci-fi. For everyone else though, avoid like the plague.
The Verdict: 5.5/10 slightly above average
Oscar Talk: probably a nomination for Best Visual Effects but I say Gravity beats it out still. Like it will everything else (at least in this specific field)
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