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The Book of Life (PG)

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The winner this time ‘round was The Book of Life, a children’s movie centering on a Mexican holiday called The Day of the Dead which falls on November 2nd. I was cautiously optimistic going into this one and I’m happy to say that the film exceeded my expectations and rates a solid ‘good’ in my book. It doesn’t offer many surprises during the journey but it shows great visuals, likable characters, and an excellent look at the concepts of strength and courage. All in all it’s everything I’d hope for in a children’s movie. Except for the music, there’s really no redeeming the soundtrack they picked for this thing.

In my Boxtrolls review, I mentioned not really liking Claymation much. Despite my opinions of Claymation and stop-motion animation, I’m a huge fan of CG and traditionally animated films. I like the technology that goes into them, the effects they can pull off with so much more ease than a live-action, and just the general feel that you get when watching them. What I don’t like is when studios use the excuse that it’s okay that the plot was weak or the characters generic because “it’s for kids.” That’s just lazy and frustrates me every time because there are so many examples of great movies for children that remain entertaining to this day. Good news is that today’s film gets to be added to the pile of worthy films for children rather than just a cash grab to distract the offspring for an hour and a half while you nap.

I’m a sucker for good effects and this film didn’t disappoint. The animation shines most during the scenes of the Land of the Remembered (essentially Heaven). Everything is bright, vivid, and joyous, with all colors of the spectrum radiating from the screen. The last movie that transported me so effectively was Guardians of the Galaxy and they had three times the budget and the full might of Marvel Studios behind them. By visuals alone this is worth seeing on the big screen.

From here on watch yourselves because there are spoilers laying in wait!!!

The main characters aren’t quite as stunning as the setting. Manolo, our main protagonist is absolutely a character you’ve seen before. He’s charming enough, but doesn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps. He enjoys the spectacle of bull fighting but cannot bring himself to perform the final act of killing the bull (they also gloss over the fact that the bull would normally have numerous spears thrust into it during the fight before the actual killing blow because that would’ve likely damaged the PG rating). He’s a disappointment to his father and family, but still catches the eye of Maria, the love interest of the film. He eventually overcomes adversity, accepts himself for who he is, and ultimately wins the day. It’s a stock tale, but one told well enough to keep from feeling too stale.

His counterpart Joaquin is his childhood friend and the other one vying for the hand of Maria. He’s big, he’s brave, and he has a spectacular mustache. He is absolutely the model of masculine awesomeness. He also has a magic medal gifted to him by the semi-villainous Xibalba (played by the always delightful Ron Perlman) that makes him utterly immune to damage, death, stubbed toes, and any other inconvenience that mere mortals have to contend with. He’s a hero of the people and, well, a bit of an idiot when it comes to recognizing what Maria wants in a man.

Finally we’ve got the real star of the show: Maria. I like how she doesn’t fall victim to typical movie clichés. A frequent trope that films fall for is having the token tomboy tough girl. In this trope, the woman spends the entire film aggressively arguing that she’s every bit as tough as a man, until ultimately needing to be saved by one because he’s the hero and she’s not. Maria, on the other hand, simply acts when she feels things aren’t going the way she approves of them. She calls out both of the boys when they’re behaving like morons, but obviously cares about both of them. She wastes precious little time demanding to be treated as an equal and simply behaves as one regardless of what those around her are treating her as. Ultimately she does get caught by the generic bandit leader Chakal, but she isn’t a damsel. She just rolls her eyes at the development.

We see a handful of other characters in the Land of the Remembered that are colorful, witty, and entertaining. Just enough of their stories are told to make us want to know more but not to the point that it crowds out the main three. The gods Xibalba and La Muerte are ever present, their interest in the trio revolving around a bet for control of the Lands of the Remembered and the Lands of the Forgotten. Instead of simply making the darker Xibalba an outright villain, he comes across more as a grumpy husband, in love with La Muerte but bitter that she gets the finer things. Certainly not an admirable character, but not hateful either and the film actually ends on a kiss between the two deities rather than the typical wedding kiss you would usually expect.

Ultimately the movie is about balance rather than good overcoming evil as we tend to see with this type of movie. Manolo comes to terms with who he is rather than simply what his family wanted, Joaquin learns to be a hero without his magic medal of invincibility. Maria, well, she pretty much understood the shape of things from the outset and gets to marry the man she loves. All in all, thoroughly enjoyable.

But that music, gah. To say it is bad would be an understatement. Not only do they butcher classic songs and resurrect songs best forgotten, even their original songs play as trite and unnecessary. Manolo’s other love in life is music, he constantly has a guitar at his back or in his hands, and everything he plays is god awful. In another movie this would be a minor gripe but they made music a heavy part of his character and then used consistently lousy music. Make no mistake: The Book of Life is a good movie, but that soundtrack holds it back from being great. Absolutely worth a watch, especially if you have kids, you just may be wishing for a fast forward button when Manolo starts singing about his feelings.

 

Hope you enjoyed the review and here’s hoping you guys pick a great movie for me to see next week!

 

Dracula Untold (PG-13)

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I admit that I was dreading this one. Hollywood and company have pretty much milked the essence of the vampire film to death at this point. Drained it of all the vital fluids it once possessed. Left it as a barren husk, a shadow of its former self… you get the idea. After the advent of the sparkly vampire, well, I was quite ready to be done with this particular form of monster.

Color me surprised to have to admit that this film was pretty decent. Nothing groundbreaking or original, but good popcorn fare (preferably with white cheddar flavoring). It paid tribute to the original Dracula and gave him a solid character arc. It clashed with what I understand of the actual historical figure, Vlad of Tepes, but liberties must be taken when depicting a man famous for making human shish kabobs. The movie also suffers from a serious lack of memorable characters (besides Dracula), but it doesn’t let the focus shift away from him so that weakness is somewhat forgivable. If you want to see a film where a vampire runs around killing Ottoman soldiers you could do worse than Dracula Untold, though in my opinion this film would have benefited from an R Rating so they could show proper violence.

That concludes the portion of the review that can be considered spoiler free. From here on out, I won’t be rushing to guard my thoughts on specific scenes. That being said, there’s really not a lot to spoil.

The trailer pretty much established everything that goes down: the Ottoman Empire was a bunch of jerks, they demand child soldiers, including Vlad’s son, Vlad kills some guys,  then has to go become a vampire to have a chance at surviving a ludicrous amount of enemy soldiers. The only real twist is the fact that he’s given a three day window in which, should he resist the urge to drink blood the curse will be lifted and he won’t become the monster everyone knows and loves. Not that we believe for an instant that things will play out that way, it’s just a nice little piece that establishes some stakes throughout the adventure.

Frankly this movie had a shot at being a lot better than it was. For every favorable thing I have to say about it there’s something to hold it back. Most of the battles are fun but the first one abuses shaky cam to the point where I had to look away several times. Dracula himself is a broody anti-hero who I tend to like, but every other character is boring and forgettable, even the woman he’s madly in love with. The Master Vampire is an impressively intimidating monster, a perfect example of ancient power to be feared, but he talks far too much, spoiling a fair amount of his fear factor.

Nowhere does the film show its weakness more than with the antagonists in the film. They embody the mustache twirling villain of old, with no character or desires beyond evil for evil’s sake. Most troublesome is Sultan Mehmed (whose name I had to look up because I didn’t care enough while he was on screen to remember his name). Judging from the dialogue we get between him and Vlad early in the film, they grew up together, fought numerous battles together, and outright considered each other brothers (not that they share even the barest examples of history beyond saying that they have it). No real reason for his desire for 1,000 children to turn into soldiers is given beyond him wanting more troops. Even then it doesn’t truly feel like he wants them to aid in further conquest, he just… wants them. In an action movie a hero is defined by the villain he faces and Dracula’s villain is, at his most aggressive, still just a chump.

All my griping aside, I still say it’s a serviceable film, provided you’re looking to flip your brain off for a couple of hours. If however you want more dramatic fare there’s better stuff out there right now. For pure junk food film, this one hits the mark quite nicely. The PG-13 rating does detract from the mystique of the vampire mythology a bit, but it also makes things somewhat more tolerable if you want to bring your (teenage) kids along.

Well, we’ve got a new crop of movies out this week as well as plenty of old ones to pick from too. So cast your vote below! Comment on the FOX 28 Facebook (facebook.com/fox28spokane) if you have other movie suggestions.

The Maze Runner (PG 13)

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PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Greetings people of the Internet, I’m back! Apologies for the absence, but I’ve spent the last two months holding two jobs, followed by acclimating to the new one, and having precious little free time to go watch movies or have fun in general. The paychecks have been nice though.

Anyway, I’m getting back into the swing of things with a movie that’s been out for a little while but I’d only just gotten to see: Maze Runner. Based on a book by a guy I’ve never heard of, it’s a series that I know nothing about. With that in mind, I can only judge it by its own merit and how much I wanted to flip a table by the end (spoilers: less than TMNT, more than Guardians). While I try my best to keep my life spoiler free, I had heard some mediocre things about this one so I had already come in with lowered expectations. As a result, I had a mostly pleasant experience with the film…until the last ten minutes.

The basic plot, as set up by the trailer that you’ve probably seen if you’re thinking about watching it, is that there are a bunch of kids trapped at the center of a maze for unspecified reasons. There’s running, there’s a maze, and there are terrifying creatures to ramp up tension at every turn. And honestly, it is for the most part a decent romp…until the last ten minutes.

The main character, Thomas, wakes up on an elevator with no clue what’s going on. Right out the gate the movie does a good job of setting up terror and confusion and intrigue. He’s greeted by a group that I was mentally calling “The Lost Boys” for the whole run of the movie. Antics ensue and you get the typical run of impressive set pieces, decent CGI, and occasional child murder. It’s a mostly entertaining romp with many questions raised and precious few answered. The actors do their jobs well enough, you mostly buy into the setting, and you get a good show for the price of admission until… you get the idea. There are still better films out there, but if you’ve got nothing better to do with your afternoon it’s not a terrible way to kill a few hours.

So that’s the spoiler free version. From this point on, I’m going to assume that you either don’t care about spoilers or have already seen the movie and are curious whether a stranger on the Internet agrees with you or not.

Read on at your own peril and amusement.

I’d have to say the movie would have ranked as a solid “Good” in my notebook if not for that ending, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The primary issue that this film has is that while it’s great at setting up mysteries, it’s less great at delivering the payoff. A sticking point for me is that it maintains some of those mysteries by having characters behave like morons. From the very beginning it’s made clear that the Maze is dangerous, a place not to go and such. Instead of having someone simply explain that the gates shut themselves every night and anyone trapped outside will be ripped to shreds by giant techno-spider death machines, we get to see the main character tackled by the guy who’s totally not going to be an enemy by the end of the film. Even after the tackle (kudos to the effects team btw, I half felt like I was the one hit by it) they don’t actually say that’s what happens, they just wait ‘til the gates close and then act like Thomas was an idiot for not expecting that to happen.

That was a lot of words to complain about a single scene, but the basic issue throughout is that no one questions obvious things they should be questioning. I haven’t read the books and it’s entirely possible that that’s the exact point the author was trying to make. But all I’ve got to go on is a movie full of characters not asking very obvious, very relevant questions, and by the end It’s outright angering to me that some things are allowed to slide. To me this movie has the exact opposite problem that a lot of films have: it’s actually lacking in exposition. Showing, rather than telling, is how the medium is supposed to work and it’s hard to fault a movie for emphasizing that approach to storytelling. However, when we have no clue what’s really going on by the end of the movie unless we’ve already read the books, something’s failed in the telling.

The Maze itself is awesome to look at, though I can’t really accept the excuse for them not climbing to the top being that the vines didn’t grow tall enough. There were plenty of trees inside the vale; they could have built a proper scaffold to get to the top. The Maze shifts daily, making every run a little different. Mostly it’s an excuse to have several cringe-inducing moments of Thomas nearly getting pancaked. The Maze monsters, called Grievers, are pretty horrifying to look at, but slightly head scratching in light of the revelations at the end.

And that ending, hoo boy. So, the bulk of the movie is high paced, heart pounding, and even occasionally properly scary. Then we get to the big reveal of what’s really going on. The whole point of this massive maze is science. Not just any science, of course, science to save the human race from extinction. A phrase repeated often enough you’ll be rolling your eyes every time you hear it gets even more ridiculous when you hear what it actually stands for “Wicked is good.” Wicked stands for World In Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department.

Congratulations, you’ve just made the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division sound a whole lot less silly.

Apparently this group is tasked with testing exceptional children with an immunity to some sort of super virus (though the infection can be forced it seems), and to do that testing, they must construct a colossal environment for the express purpose of putting them at extreme stress to alter their brain chemistry or some such nonsense. It’s asinine, it’s out of far left field, and nothing about it real. THEN it’s revealed that something else entirely may be going on because the woman who finished explaining all this and then shot herself is revealed two scenes later to be alive and well and then the credits roll. It’s all well and good if the characters are clueless as to what’s going on, but I don’t like it when I feel obligated to look up the source material just to understand what I just watched.

So yeah, those are my closing thoughts on The Maze Runner. Coming up next a movie that should be a bit more fun: The Boxtrolls.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (PG 13)

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There wasn’t much of a chance that I’d enjoy this film, and until I signed on to do review blogs for this website, I had fully intended to skip it. That being said, I did have some expectations going in based on past experiences with Michael Bay and my own childhood love of the series. Somehow the movie managed to disappoint me on both fronts.

 

I’ll say from the outset that they didn’t do everything wrong with this film; there are genuine moments of humor to be had. The problem is that for every minute of entertainment or every glimpse at an interesting idea, thereare ten minutes of boredom and an idea so stupid that it negates any cleverness they’ve achieved (with the exception of one scene that I will explain at the end). The net result is something that’s somehow more disappointing than a full on train wreck that has convinced me to never watch a movie associated with Michael Bay again.

 

Enough stalling, on to the review. Chances are you know what you’re getting into at this point. I doubt there’s a movie-goer out there that hasn’t heard of the Turtles, it was a cornerstones of my childhood built on a single stupid song. Four pet turtles get infected by magical science goop and become nighttime vigilantes battling against the evil Shredder and his Foot Clan. It’s a silly premise that’s pretty tough to take seriously and to the film’s credit, it doesn’t spend much time focusing on drama and moping.

 

The film fails in much the same ways that Bay’s Transformers franchise fails: not enough focus on the title characters. It’s nearly 20 minutes before we actually get to see our four pizza addicts, and they fade into the background for even more time after that. No, this is a story about April O’Neil, the frequent Damsel in Distress of the show. It’s a good choice in direction to make her an actual capable character who doesn’t need much saving throughout, but any points gained there are lost by the fact that she’s boring as heck and gets like no funny lines. Her sidekick is even worse. Played by actually amusing actor Will Arnett, it’s painful to watch him fail at every step to get a laugh. These two basically bumble around the movie checking off boxes in Generic Action Flick Bingo while failing to draw out more than a small chuckle or smirk at a particularly awful bit of dialogue.

 

The Turtles themselves do fare slightly better and often feel like actual characters, albeit hideous monstrosities that are in no way fun to look like. Many, though definitely not all, of their interactions are fun and the one scene that I’m gonna put at the end for spoilers is honestly rather brilliant. Michelangelo is obviously the one that got most the attention here, getting most of the funny lines and if you’re laughing hard during this film it’s probably because of him. He also gets the creepiest lines and frequently says things to and about April that go way past the realms of good taste and into restraining order territory.

 

Then there’s the villains and we get the one thing in the movie that actually takes me from bored to angry. Shredder was the single most memorable villain from my childhood and they turned him into the most generic of mechanical foes with a penchant for posing like Wolverine. Except for the one scene where you see him without the armor you never really feel like he’s a threat or even like a character. He just struts around the film growling and shooting swords that never hit anything important.

 

The only real saving grace in the movie for me was William Fichtner. He plays billionaire genius playboy philanthropist Erick Sacks, financier/lackey to Shredder. Fichtner hams it up in every scene, having fun with an obviously stupid plot and coming across as a man with a plan. Unfortunately, most of the fun to be had with Sacks falls apart when his motivations are revealed. This man is rich enough to build an unstoppable suit of power armor that launches magnetically controlled swords that instantly inflict slow-mo on the audience and never hit, has a skyscraper in the middle of New York City capable of supporting a generic final confrontation battle, has deep ties to the NYPD and no doubt plenty of congressmen in his pocket already and ya wanna know what his great motivation in all this is? He’s going to make money off of selling a cure to the horrible chemical weapon he’s going to release on the city that will be initiated at his own building. Nope, no way that plan could go awry.

 

Here are my final thoughts:

 

The movie bounces from boring scene A to boring scene B, with occasional clever references or painfully obvious comments about turtle soup that feel less like homages and more like weak fanbaiting. The characters are ugly, boring, or both and the only thing I have to say about Splinter is that he’s possibly the ugliest creature in the whole film. It’s nice to see them make April something other than a Damsel, but they forgot to include personality into the new character design. It suffers from a severe lack of actual ninja action and stealth, but that’s somewhat understandable since the only tool the team seemed to have to go off of was the teachings in a random self help book on ninjutsu that washed up in the sewers one day. Bottom line, avoid this movie in theaters and at most pick it up as a rental.

 

Now for the one thing I really did enjoy in the movie that I feel worthy of the spoiler warning, don’t read this bit if you want to have something to hold on to during the doldrums of much of the movie.

 

Last chance.

 

All right, so late in the movie, shortly before the final boring battle atop the skyscraper, we are treated to the surreal scene of a still shot with the titular characters all crammed into an elevator. There’s no dialogue, just the frequent ding of the elevator passing each floor. For no obvious reason Mikey starts smacking his nunchucks together in a beat, slightly awkward but a bit amusing. Instead of berating him into silence as has been the case for most of the film, Raph actually joins in, clanging his sai together in a counterpoint. Don and Leo join in and we’ve got a tiny little band playing in this cramped elevator and for one moment it’s entirely my turtles, the door reaches the top, opens up, and the boys charge out to meet their foe.

 

Then we’re back to the schlock that made up the rest of the movie and I’m back to wishing I was watching Guardians of the Galaxy again.

Guardians of the Galaxy (PG-13)

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WARNING: Plot Spoilers Ahead!!!

Greetings Fans of Fox, I’m Dan, the new movie review blogger on this little chunk of the Interwebs. Full disclosure: this is actually the second movie I’ve gone to see for the sake of reviewing, the first was Lucy and that didn’t go so well. Suffice it to say that I didn’t enjoy it and I strongly suggest watching something like Hercules instead.

Today we have better fare: Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that made it completely clear in the trailers that it doesn’t take itself seriously. That’s an important trait in an action movie where two of the leads are a talking raccoon demolitionist and a sentient tree that only speaks three words. After a brief intro scene of dramatic back-story that makes you wonder if you’re watching the wrong film we’re launched forward 26 years to the present day to see what’s become of Peter Quill, our protagonist. What follows is something I’ve never actually seen on the big screen that completely destroys any lingering melancholy from the intro.

Guardians is not a complicated movie. Scrappy outlaws band together to fight a big bad. The motivations and personalities of every character is clearly established early on: Quill is essentially Han Solo and every scoundrel hero you’ve ever seen, Gamorra is the femme fatalle badass with a tortured past she’s bottled up, Rocket is the victim of inhumane experiments that left him with a huge chip on his shoulder and a bit of an inferiority complex, Drax is a musclebound wrecking ball who takes every sentence literally, and Groot is Groot. Much like The Avengers, Guardians spends much of the early acts having the characters spend more time fighting each other instead of working against the actual genocidal fanatic reaping a swathe of destruction in his hunt for them and the mystic mcguffin they’re carrying (spoiler to pretty much no one: it’s an Infinity Stone).

Also standing out is Michael Rooker as Yondu, Quill’s abductor/surrogate father/secondary antagonist for much of the movie. He’s a sort of pirate king running a band called Ravagers that’s apparently large enough to be known to the galaxy as a whole yet small enough that the entire fleet can spend its time running after a single renegade member. The relationship between Yondu and Quill is hilariously twisted, with Yondu repeatedly bragging about how he didn’t let his men eat the younger Quill when they first picked him up (though it’s revealed that they were actually there because they’d been hired to abduct him as cargo for his father).

I’ve spent four paragraphs avoiding talking about much of the plot because, honestly, there isn’t a whole lot of it. Good guys acquire the mcguffin, they figure out what it is, bad guy gets the mcguffin and gains phenomenal cosmic powers, good guys band together to get the mcguffin back, save the day and kill the bad guy. Along the way we get some fantastic set pieces, ridiculous outfits, and hilarious one-liners, as well as a jaw-dropping after credits cameo that’ll probably leave half the viewers scratching their heads in confusion as to who the character is, and the other half simply confused that they chose to have him show up.

All told, this movie is 121 minutes of ridiculous fun with one of the better soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It gets my full approval and you should go watch it. Also, it has Karen Gillan, which is more than motivation enough to see it in my book.

THE LEGO MOVIE (PG, 2014)

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I was going to start this review with “I can’t believe I liked a movie based on a toy,” but then I remembered that I enjoyed TRANSFORMERS.

So… I can’t believe I liked another movie based on a toy.

Emmet (Chris Pratt) is an anonymous construction worker in a perfect (vaguely fascist) Lego metropolis where the coffee is $37 and the number one sitcom is “Where’s My Pants?” Every day is choreographed to an excruciatingly catchy Tegan and Sara song and overseen by the Orwellian President Business (Will Ferrell), sold separately. When Emmet stumbles onto a mysterious artifact, he sets in motion an ancient prophecy that could save – or destroy – not just his Lego universe, but all of them. He soon allies with an ensemble cast including Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), and Batman (Will Arnett). And Abraham Lincoln. And pirates. And a unicorn-cat thing.

I promise, it’s funny.  Funnier than anything I’ve seen in a long time. THE LEGO MOVIE boasts a razor-sharp script and a canny sense of the absurd, hurling joke after joke and challenging you to keep up. Chris Pratt’s empty-headed but sincere hero is a standout comedic performance in a cast full of them. Who’d have known a movie about a toy brand would have more laughs than both HANGOVER sequels?

Visually it’s stunning, although not always for the right reasons. Every inch of the Lego world is lovingly animated, right down to the authentic smudges and imperfections on the pieces. Even the dust and smoke is made of tiny bricks. It’s imaginative and vibrant, but also a little overwhelming. Every frame is crowded with so many small touches of genius, and it’s all edited so blisteringly fast, that THE LEGO MOVIE sometimes looks like a colorful headache. But it’s a headache worth having.

This excess of creative passion is why I like this movie so much. It overachieves. It works hard. The plot is lightyears ahead of competing fare, eventually launching its third act into a sort of CABIN IN THE WOODS-ish meta-narrative. Few movies are brave enough to even try this, and even fewer stick the landing. To be fair, THE LEGO MOVIE does stumble a little bit toward the end, when the cleverness reaches a sort of critical mass, the fourth wall falls, and the story grinds to a halt so we can be force-fed a moral about the importance of individuality. Cue the hugs.

The real moral is “buy Legos.” It’s the funniest, best Lego commercial ever.

stars

 

By: Taylor Adams

LONE SURVIVOR (R, 2014) Review

LONE SURVIVOR (R, 2014)

Directed by Peter Berg

85695 The centerpiece of Peter Berg’s LONE SURVIVOR is a 40-minute running gunfight down the jagged cliffs of the Hindu Kush. It’s one of the most effective and bruising action sequences I’ve ever seen. This is both good and bad; nothing else in this sincere but clumsy film comes close to matching its power.

12Based on the memoirs of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell (same title), LONE SURVIVOR dramatizes the disastrous 2005 Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan.

Through faulty equipment, a thorny moral dilemma, and simple bad luck, Luttrell and three other SEALS find themselves cut off and vastly outnumbered by Taliban fighters on unforgiving terrain. By the end of the day, nineteen American lives have been lost.

5656Berg honors them all by exposing the meat grinder of modern combat in the film’s middle act. Bullets snap off rocks and thunk into trees. Ears ring.  Shattered bones pierce skin and lungs gurgle with blood. It’s visceral, intense, and merits comparison with the famous D-Day landing sequence in Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Prepare to wince. A lot.

And that’s the point. This film renders the battle so convincingly, it’s impossible not to be in awe of the real-life heroes that fought it. Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and the supporting cast hit the right notes here (sharp-eyed viewers will note the real-life Luttrell appearing in an early cameo). Particularly impressive is the sound design and stunt work, which makes you feel every onscreen injury.

With such a powerful depiction of combat, it’s too bad that the rest of the movie is only good. The script is workmanlike, bookending with clumsy voice-overs and an unnecessary framing device. It opens post-battle and recounts it via flashback, which tells us nothing that the title LONE SURVIVOR didn’t already. These bells and whistles unfortunately dilute some of the impact.

But the film’s biggest misstep is the third act. Anyone who’s read the memoir (that’s your cue to read it) can tell you the final leg of Luttrell’s true survival story is a fascinating example of local Afghan heroism. This is still included, but Berg also injects an unneeded climactic battle. Cars explode, AK’s are fired, and bad guys are stabbed in the nick of time, per Hollywood timing. Inventing a gunfight that never happened isn’t necessarily bad, but here it takes the focus off something that did happen. Whether the studio forced Berg’s hand or not, it’s a cheesy piece of revisionism on a true story that didn’t need revising.

Still, at its worst, Lone Survivor is watchable. At its best, it’s unforgettable. That’s a fair trade. After all, on the drive home, no one will be talking about the uneven storytelling – it’s the heroism of the men of SEAL Team 10 and the Afghan tribesmen that lingers long after the credits.

stars

 

By: Taylor Adams

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