Patriots Day

January 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman
Directed by: Peter Berg (“Lone Survivor,” “Deepwater Horizon”)
Written by: Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”) Matt Cook (“Triple 9”) and Joshua Zetumer (“RoboCop”)

Reliving real-life, recent historical events through the eyes of a single character in a film is the hallmark of the docudrama. Think Tom Hanks’ in “Sully” or, well, Tom Hanks in “Captain Phillips.” These two lead characters are portrayed as rather ordinary people thrust into incredible drama, and as an audience we identify with them, we relate to the events through their eyes. So, what if they didn’t exist, made up to heighten the tension, to put the audience in the shoes of someone who was “there” without really being there? In “Patriots Day,” that’s Mark Wahlberg’s put-upon Boston police officer Tommy Saunders, a super cop who has the ear of the commissioner, the FBI, and the governor while also being on scene for every major development in the Boston Marathon bombing, from being at the finish line when the bombs go off to each step of the manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers. It’s a strange action movie cliché that somewhat mars an otherwise solid and high-tension retelling of the worst act of domestic terrorism (sadly, since eclipsed) since 9/11.

Everyone knows the story: on April 15, 2013, two homemade pressure cooker bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring more than 260 others. After scouring security footage, two suspects dubbed “white hat” and “black hat” were identified, and the release of the photos sparked the duo, Chechen brothers Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff, all spooky, clueless Millennial disaffectedness), to go on a crime spree on their way to Times Square. In the process they killed an MIT police officer (Jake Picking) while trying to steal his gun and carjacked and kidnapped a Chinese exchange student (Jimmy O. Yang) before engaging in an explosive-fueled shootout with police. Tamerlan is killed in the standoff after being run over by the fleeing Dzhokhar, who became the target of an unprecedented manhunt that shut Boston down and brushed the edge of martial law. He was ultimately located, hiding in a sailboat in a suburban backyard.

If you can look past Wahlberg’s fictional cop who never sleeps, director Peter Berg has put together a fantastic ensemble piece that never loosens the screws, even if along the way it ends up painting law enforcement as maybe a bit too infallible. One scene in particular, featuring Tamerlan’s American wife Katherine (Melissa Benoist) being interrogated—after we’re told explicitly she wasn’t read her Miranda rights—by a mysterious hijab-clad government agent (Khandi Alexander) who questions her commitment to Islam, comes closest to breaking that streak, though. The FBI special agent in charge (Kevin Bacon) and Boston police commissioner (John Goodman) look on in wonder as the extra-legal interrogation takes place, but the feeling we’re left with is this—and the virtual lockdown of Boston—is for the greater good. “Patriots Day” isn’t interested in questioning those ideas, but it could have been a much richer experience had it done so.

Deepwater Horizon

September 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Gina Rodriguez, John Malkovich
Directed by: Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”)
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan (“World War Z”) and Matthew Sand (“Ninja Assassin”)

“Deepwater Horizon,” a film that tells the heroic story of the individuals who survived a massive explosion on an offshore drilling rig in 2010, is an emotionally surface-level drama for a majority of its run time. That doesn’t mean, however, the true story isn’t compelling and executed with an effective approach by director Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”). Most people will know this event simply as the worst oil spill in U.S. history, but by adding a human aspect to it like Berg is able to do for the most part, the dynamic intensifies the entire narrative.

Mark Wahlberg leads the cast as Mike Williams, a veteran oil driller who helps his comrades escape the rig when catastrophe hits. Behind schedule by 43 days and budget by $50 million, the drillers are pressured by the big wigs from multimillion dollar oil company BP to get the job done as fast as possible. Mike’s supervisor Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) is concerned with what he sees as cutting corners and making their work more dangerous. Of course, Jimmy’s fears are warranted when a blowout occurs forcing the drillers to find a way off the rig before it sinks.

Focused mostly on the hero of the story (but never coming off as ridiculous as Wahlberg’s other true-life survival story “Lone Survivor”) “Deepwater” stays engaging despite the lack of a real emotional hook until the very end. Kate Hudson does a fine job as Mike’s worried wife Felicia at home, and Gina Rodriguez provides some strong acting chops as the lone female on the rig. Other secondary characters, however, feel hollow, especially Dylan O’Brien’s character.  His role as a young driller on the rig feels like it was edited down to nothing. Then there’s John Malkovich, a “villainous” BP executive, whose Louisiana accent is distracting to say the least.

Although some of the characters are thinly written, the overall storytelling of “Deepwater Horizon” is done very well. This isn’t just a generic action film where Wahlberg jumps through flames (although he does jump over a fire once) and carries three men on his back to safety. Sure, sometimes films like this can fall too deep into “hero worshipping” (see the aforementioned “Lone Survivor” or something like “American Sniper”), but Wahlberg keeps everyone grounded without sacrificing the impression of true bravery.

Lone Survivor

January 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch
Directed by: Peter Berg (“Battleship”)
Written by: Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”)

Overblown action sequences and ridiculous stunts spell disaster for “Lone Survivor,” a true-life war film that turns what should be a serious narrative about military brotherhood into a farfetched, trigger-happy experience where courageous American soldiers are somehow transformed into camouflaged superheroes. The only thing director/writer Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”) could’ve done to make these men on the frontlines more absurd is allow them to regenerate body parts.

In “Lone Survivor,” four members of the Navy SEALs are sent out to capture a Taliban leader in the mountains of Afghanistan. When the covert mission does not go as planned, soldiers Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster), find themselves stuck in the rocky terrain with very few options. When they run into a family of goat herders and decide to release them, the SEALs are forced to abort the mission and get back to safety before the Afghans blow their cover.

As bullets begin to blaze once the enemies lock each other in their crosshairs, “Lone Survivor” refuses to let up even when the action gets downright unbelievable. Sure, Navy SEALs are some of the toughest military personnel the U.S. has (we saw some great cinematic examples of this in “Captain Phillips” earlier last year and in 2012’s “Zero Dark Thirty), but Berg crosses the line when he basically gives these men the resiliency of a cartoon coyote.

While Berg does present a heartfelt story about the camaraderie shared between men in the military, the action is dumbed down enough to take audiences out of that more interesting storyline. Berg may try to humanize these men, but he does them a disservice when he gives them inhuman abilities. By doing so, Berg has, unfortunately (and probably unintentionally), sensationalized a tragedy instead of honoring the bravery of these heroes. Berg’s heart might’ve been in the right place, but translating that into an emotionally-telling war movie could’ve been done with a lot more sensitivity and realism.

Battleship

May 18, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson, Rihanna
Directed by: Peter Berg (“Hancock”)
Written by: Erich Hoeber (“RED”) and Jon Hoeber (“RED”)

I never actually played Battleship when I was a kid. By that I mean I played a game called Sea Battle, a wonky electronic knock-off sold by Radio Shack. My sister and I would play, entering the locations of our fleet into the game’s screwy memory. The idea was that you’d punch the coordinates into the game while announcing them out loud, and the game would reference its two kilobytes of memory and register a hit with the sound of a bomb whistling followed by an explosion; a miss would be the whistle followed by silence. As was the case with all the battery-powered garbage Radio Shack sold, it rarely worked correctly…a trait I had no idea would prepare me for a movie that wouldn’t be released until 25 years later.

Based on the Hasbro board game of the same name, “Battleship” begins with a block of text detailing The Beacon Project, an effort by scientists to contact a distant planet capable of sustaining life. High-powered satellites blast beams of energy into deep space and receive an answer in the form of a relatively small alien invasion. After one of their ships crashes into Pacific near Hawaii, the U.S. Navy is sent to investigate. The aliens react by attacking and erecting a force field around three ships, forcing the sailors on board to engage the enemy in combat without the benefit of reinforcements.

Perhaps recognizing that the movie’s source material is nothing but a plot-less guessing game that happens to feature naval vessels, Hasbro and director Peter Berg (“Friday Night Lights”) have decided that the solution to that problem is to make “Battleship” look and sound as much like Michael Bay’s  “Transformers” movies as possible. Berg apes Bay so relentlessly, from sweeping shots of military equipment to the incomprehensible close-ups of spinning and whirring alien technology to everything being SO GODDAMN LOUD, you’d swear that the invading aliens would turn out to be farting racial stereotypes.

Thankfully Berg avoids Bay’s penchant for terrible humor, but in the end he’s still managed to turn in just another brain-dead destruco-porn alien invasion movie. A paper-thin premise (that would be that battleships exist and shoot things) is gussied up with a metric ton of summer movie crap with no regard for how little sense it makes. Space-faring aliens versus a sea-faring battleship? Why the hell don’t the aliens just fly away?

On the bright side, Taylor Kitsch (of mega-bomb “John Carter” and Berg’s TV version of “Friday Night Lights”) scores a red peg, bringing moments of charm to the otherwise routine role of “impulsive hothead wasting his potential suddenly thrust into character-defining action,” and he earns real laughs breaking into a convenience store during an otherwise unnecessary prologue. The same can’t be said of the rest of the cast of white pegs, however. Liam Neeson is simply cashing a paycheck, with only about 10 minutes of screen time spread out over the entire movie. Singer Rihanna is stuck in drab fatigues for the entire movie, thus hiding her only real talent. Model Brooklyn Decker is at least given skimpy outfits to wear, but she’s also supposed to be playing a character that isn’t a model, so the whole thing falls apart. And real-life former soldier and double amputee Gregory D. Gadson stretches his limited acting ability and dignity to the breaking point when he ends up in a fistfight with a CGI alien.

Some clever touches warrant a smile or two, such as the aliens’ weapons or the impromptu grid system set up to track and attack them resembling aspects of the board game. But the empty stupidity ultimately is too powerful to overcome, sinking this “Battleship.”

Hancock

July 2, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman
Directed by: Peter Berg (“The Kingdom”)
Written by: Vincent Ngo (debut) and Vince Gilligan (“Home Fries”)

With Marvel and DC Comics reaping all the superhero glory over the last few years, it was about time someone else came in to attempt to claim their position in the genre again.

While “The Incredibles” was successful in doing it for animated films in 2004 and “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” failed to do it for action-comedies in 2006, someone else was bound to try again before another textbook “Hulk” or “Spider-Man” made a return to the big screen.

Enter two-time Academy Award-nominated actor Will Smith as the rough-edged superhero title-character in “Hancock.” What Hancock possesses in superhuman strength, speed, and flying ability, he lacks in people skills and finesse. While Superman will fly in to save the day with style, Hancock would rather cause more unnecessary damage to the city streets of L.A. before actually saving lives.

Because of his misguided acts of heroics, the citizens of L.A. view him as more of a public nuisance than a superhero. When Hancock saves Ray Embrey (Jason Bateman) from getting hit by a train, the struggling public relations specialist decides he will thank him by helping revamp his image into one that is more clean-cut and praiseworthy. He does this as his wife Mary (Charlize Theron) cautiously looks on with a few reservations about the whole situation.

Although the premise is a unique take on superhero mythology and could have probably filled an entire film on “Hancock” himself, screenwriters Vincent Ngo and Vine Gilligan throw a wrench in the second half of the film after the first half proves to be spiffy fun. You’ll know when this unjustified twist in the story takes place because “Hancock” becomes amateurish in storytelling as it veers off inside the writers’ heads and onto the script when it should have been more up-front and humorous.