13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

January 15, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber
Directed by: Michael Bay (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”)
Written by: Chuck Hogan (TV’s “The Strain”)

When you take a controversial subject based on the lives of real people and real events, the last person you may think of to be at the helm is director Michael Bay. As perhaps the most overt filmmaker of our time, Bay has been making a living blowing up shit for decades with little to no nuance or storytelling prowess. In “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” Bay tackles recent history with varying results.

When a group of Islamic radicals attack an American diplomatic compound, a U.S. Ambassador gets trapped inside. A group of six ex-military security contractors led by Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale) and Jack Da Silva (John Krasinski) are sent in to save those who are there. As the fight moves over to a secret CIA annex, the group of soldiers must hold their ground and wait for reinforcements.

“13 Hours” is easily the most restrained movie Bay has made in many years. While usually known for polished, slick, CG-heavy settings, “13 Hours” is, at times, gritty and visceral, feeling more Michael Mann than Michael Bay. That isn’t to say that there aren’t big set pieces and technical achievements. In fact, the best quality of “13 Hours” is the way in which many of the shootout sequences are shot. Making use of lots of swooping crane shots, slow motion and more, Bay’s visual style (something that hasn’t really ever been questioned) is allowed to at least give the audience something engaging to look at.

Like much of Bay’s work, the script of “13 Hours” is generic and riddled with flat characters and clichés. It is, however, slightly elevated by some OK performances, chiefly that of Dale. The main issue with the storytelling mechanisms of “13 Hours” is that it isn’t really interested in talking about the details and ramifications of what went down over that 13-hour span, but rather show you, in long-winded detail, the firefight that ensued. It is certainly engaging at parts, but more than half of “13 Hours” is filled with gunfire. In fact, it’s almost as if Bay had about an hour and a half of solid action and threw in some back-story and narrative conflict as a complete afterthought.

While it is far from Bay’s worst film, “13 Hours” feels repetitive, drawn out and hollow. There are some high points, especially in the way of tension and action. Still, it’s hard to dig into anything other than the action sequences. With a story that is a lot more complex than what is on screen, it leaves plenty to be desired.

Big Miracle

February 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Ted Danson
Directed by: Ken Kwapis (“The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”)
Written by: Jack Amiel (“The Prince and Me”) and Michael Begler (“The Prince and Me”)

Not counting “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” movies about whales are usually aimed squarely at kids, teeming with mystical mumbo-jumbo about the intelligence of the giant creatures and their special connection with children and the close-minded adults who are too caught up in, oh, I don’t know, providing for their families to actually appreciate the marine mammals. In most cases, appreciation usually comes right before the credits roll. Throw in some big-time movie stars slumming in a movie their kids can watch and a goofy animal friend, like a dog that covers its eyes when something goes wrong or a seal that barks comically at the grumpy old man threatening to shut down the amusement park/aquarium/whatever, and you’ve got yourself a movie any third grader will love. Thankfully, “Big Miracle” avoids this formula.

“Big Miracle” is based on the true story of three gray whales trapped five miles from the open ocean underneath a sheet of Arctic ice and the international effort that arose to save them. Set fairly unconvincingly in 1988, the story opens with   reporter Adam Carlson (John Krasinski) covering the local color in Point Barrow, Alaska. While out documenting a local’s less-than-spectacular snowmobiling stunts, Adam stumbles upon a hole in the middle of the ice, the frigid water inside regularly breached by the rostrums of the aforementioned whales surfacing to breathe. After Adam’s report on the trapped cetaceans goes national, the tiny frozen town is soon overrun with people looking to save the whales (nicknamed Fred, Wilma, and Bamm-Bamm), for both ideological and opportunistic reasons. Leading the effort are Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), a strident Greenpeace activist, her frequent foil, Arctic oil baron J.W McGraw (Ted Danson, not the least bit convincing as an oil man), and the local Inupiat tribe, all of whom have their own motives for participating in the rescue effort.

Director Ken Kwapis, veteran of “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and numerous TV series like “The Office” and “Malcolm in the Middle,” wrangles a large cast full of comedy ringers in tiny roles (Andy Daly, Rob Riggle, and John Michael Higgens, among others) into a surprisingly funny and wry family movie. While other films about sea-faring mammals tend to play down to kids and overdose on the treacle (I’m looking at you, “Dolphin Tale”), “Big Miracle” isn’t afraid to lay bare the real intentions behind the characters’ actions beyond “let’s save these whales!” Barrymore’s Rachel uses the occasion to call into question the environmental policy of the Reagan administration. Danson’s McGraw provides heavy de-icing equipment to put an environmentally-friendly face on his oil drilling operation. Krasinski’s Adam and Kristen Bell’s Los Angeles-based reporter Jill Jerard see the international attention as the big break their broadcast careers need. And the Inupiats see an opportunity to show the world they are more than culturally out-of-touch whale hunters.

While sometimes ungainly with too many characters fighting for too little screen time, “Big Miracle” ends up entertaining nonetheless. The real, honest laughs come from genuinely funny scenes, like an exasperated teacher in a classroom full of students doing identical oral reports on the whales, an icy helicopter ride wherein the pilot’s frozen eyelids are creatively defrosted, or winking reference to Alaska’s favorite idiot Sarah Palin, thankfully not from the typical family movie stabs at humor like a mugging pelican or beat-boxing otter.

Away We Go

June 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph, Allison Janney
Directed by: Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”)
Written by: Dave Eggers (debut) and Vendela Vida (debut)

It’s definitely a different type of relationship dynamic from Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes whose last film was the underappreciated “Revolutionary Road” of last year. In “Away We Go,” Mendes rediscovers his dark comedy pedigree that made him so successful with 1999’s Best Picture winner “American Beauty,” to tell the story of a young, directionless couple trying to find their place in the world.

When the grandparents of their first child decide to move to Belgium, unmarried parents-to-be Burt and Verona (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) realize there’s nothing holding them back from packing up and relocating anywhere they’d like to go. Although they “don’t have the basic stuff figured out” in their lives, Burt and Verona see the spontaneous adventure as a way to start on a clean slate.

Making stops in a few cities where they know people (somehow they can afford a cross-country tour by plane but sulk over a cardboard window in their house), Burt and Verona are interested in seeing how well they might fit in places like Phoenix, Arizona, Madison, Wisconsin, and Montreal, Canada. They meet up with a former co-worker (Allison Janney plays a vulgar mother who accuses her pre-teen daughter of being lesbian) and a long-time hippy friend (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is offended by strollers (“Why would I want to push my baby away from me?”) and believes it is normal to have sex in front of their children.

Needless to say, Burt and Verona have a difficult time connecting to anyone on their trip, especially since first-time screenwriters and real-life couple Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida write the duo like a pair of self-important hipsters who know they’re more intelligent and witty that everyone else on the face of the planet. It’s an interesting characterization because the two are the sanest of the bunch, but there’s always an underlying feeling that if you were to meet the couple socially they’re mellow oddness would wear thin.

That’s what happens in “Away We Go,” but not before a few tender moments and subtle quirkiness. It’s when the eccentricities of the characters become excessively heavy for the screen when Eggers, Vida, and Mendes lose control. The film doesn’t have a lot of unnatural dialogue like “Juno,” which was generally a very likeable movie, but thematically it’s burdened with an overall artificial ambiance that comes off far too cartoonish despite the occasional charm.

Leatherheads

April 2, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: George Clooney, Renée Zellweger, John Krasinski
Directed by: George Clooney (“Good Night and Good Luck”)
Written by: Duncan Brantley (debut) and Rick Reilly (debut)

For a pair of debuting feature film screenwriters, Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly really capture the style and ambiance of professional football in the 1920’s in “Leatherheads.” Although novices in Hollywood, both men were Sports Illustrated reporters for much of their lives, which explains the panache and slight absurdity of their era-based film. When you study something long enough, it starts sinking in.

It’s been 17 years since Brantley and Reilly wrote the screenplay for “Leatherheads” before it was bought by Universal Pictures to go into production. The guys lucked out when it landed in the lap of Academy Award-winning actor and Academy Award-nominated director George Clooney (“Syriana”), whose suave personality and dry humor seems to fit the classic nature of the screwball comedy genre (for gosh sakes, the man started his career in “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” and was the only person outside the Conner family that could match wits in the late ‘80s with Rosanne).

It’s nice to see someone as talented and sought-after in the industry not take themselves so seriously (i.e. Tom Cruise in “Austin Powers in Goldmember” or Jack Nicholson in “Anger Management”). In “Leatherheads,” Clooney lets it all hang out like he did in “O Brother, Where Out Thou?” and it works.

In the film, Clooney plays Jimmy “Dodge” Connelly, the captain of the Deluth Bulldogs, a professional football team in the ’20s. During this era, the sport was not what we know it as today. No one comes to the games and his entire team is made up of “miners, farmers, and shell-shocked veterans.” Although the players have passion for the sport, everyone else sees it as a spectacle more than anything else.

The football games everyone is watching instead are in the college ranks. With young, strapping players like Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) from Princeton, who just happens to be a war hero, there’s more to watch during these games that trick plays and 300-pound linemen trying to kick field goals. Carter is the poster boy for collegiate athletes and everyone wants a piece of him.

This includes Dodge and sparky newspaper reporter Lexie Littleton (Renée Zellweger). Dodge wants Carter to join his ragtag team and invigorate the league when he finds out they are going bankrupt. On the other hand, Lexie has learned of some shocking allegations about Carter’s time in the war and wants to find out if his battalion heroics are the truth or the result of tall tales.

“Leatherheads” is gawky at times, but never fumbles. It’s an entertaining take in the world of sports most of us have probably only seen on black and white photos. Boys will like the football (there’s not much of it) and the silly laughs, while girls will like the way it sort of feels like “A League of their Own,” but on the gridiron. Think of Clooney as the reincarnation of Spencer Tracy and Zellweger as Katharine Hepburn and you’ll do just fine.