Lone Survivor



Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, and Emile Hirsch

Rating: R

Time: 121 Minutes

Lone Survivor, based off the book by the same name,  tells the story of the failed Operation Red Wings, in which four Navy Seals are ambushed by Taliban forces in the mountains of Afghanistan.  This movie is not for the faint of heart, so be  prepared to see one of the most realistic portrayals of combat that I have ever seen.  Lone Survivor is intense and graphic, but a must see for anyone who wants to see what really is going on in the Near East.

I went into this movie a little skeptical, based on the fact that the last time Peter Berg (director) and Taylor Kitsch teamed up it resulted in Battleship.  Berg has been the force behind the Friday Night Lights television series and also directed the movie, but he has just as many flops as successes.  I was worried that he would over sensationalize such an important story, and thereby lose sight of what the story is actually trying to say.  Berg rose to the challenge of this film and delivered arguably one of the best movies about the United States’ War on Terror”.

Lone Survivor is a story more about the brotherhood that exists between the men who serve in our armed forces, than about the actual battle itself  Four Navy Seals are ambushed by a large Taliban force and are pursued mercilessly through the mountains of Afghanistan.  The films focuses on their struggle to survive and their willingness to fight and die for each other.  As the title states, most of the Seals in the movie end up dying at the hands of the Taliban but all die heroically trying to save on another.  The level of realism that is brought to this film is truly thought provoking and cringe inducing at the same time.  I have not scene battle films this realistic since Saving Private Ryan.

Another challenge in a film like this is portraying non-Americans as actual human beings as opposed to faceless enemies.  This of course is the one part that the film lacks, there is no humanism given to the opposing forces, they are only shown in scenes of battle and are portrayed as brutal fighters.  The Navy Seals are assisted by non-Taliban forces so at least not all foreigners are portrayed as the enemy.  I understand this is incredibly difficult in war films, but some of the greatest ones are able to humanize the enemy.

The acting in this films is superb, the four marines are played by Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster.  All four actors give the characters there all and are able to show the range of emotions they go through facing certain death.  The film is also assisted by Eric Bana who plays the commander in charge of the Seals.  Bana who is no stranger to war films (Black Hawk Down) brings a more mature voice to the movie as the commander who is stuck at base while his troops are under attack.

I would highly recommend seeing Lone Survivor, it is a fantastic film about four amazing men.  The only things that keeps me from giving it an A is the incredibly graphic war scenes.  This movie is really hard to watch at times, the amount of pain these men went through is chilling.  If you cringe at blood and broken limbs this movie is not for you.  They did not pull any punches making this film, all the pain and carnage is shown and it will make anyone who watches it realize the sacrifice that our soldiers go through overseas.

Grade: B+ (Definitely Go)

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoLFk4JK_RM


The Spectacular Now



Starring: Miles Teller & Shailene Woodley

Rating: R

Time: 95 Minutes

I am starting a new feature for my blog, Redbox Mondays.  These reviews will feature movies that are newly available to rent on Redbox.  I understand not everyone can get to the movies, so here is a review for those of you who like to watch at home.  I am going to start with my favorite movie of 2013: The Spectacular Now.

I have a soft spot for any movie that deals with high school or college.  From American Pie to Animal House, I truly love coming of age movies (and party movies).  The Spectacular Now is one of the most honest films about High School that I have ever seen, and is not a comedy.  It stars two of my favorite young actors, Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole, Project X) and Shailene Woodley (The Secret Life of the American Teenager, The Descendants).  This film shows the incredible range these two young actors already have and makes me eager to watch their careers develop.

The Spectacular Now tells the story of Sutter Keely (Teller) the party kid, who has all the potential in the world but seems determined to piss it away and go nowhere.  Sutter is beloved because of his natural charisma and his ability to make any situation fun.  Beneath this demeanor is a troubled young man haunted with abandonment issues and struggling through the beginnings of alcoholism.  Every high school had these guys; the ones you knew could be great but for one reason or another couldn’t keep it together.  They always seemed to be their own worst enemy, and could never get out of their own way.  Teller portrays this role honestly and with a sense of true understanding of the character.

After a wild night of partying Sutter is discovered passed out on a random lawn by classmate Aimee Finecky (Woodley).  Finecky an oddball and outcast at school is working her paper route to help pay the bills for her deadbeat mom.  Finecky and Sutter develop an unlikely friendship that develops into a true relationship.  Finecky attempts to make Sutter a better person, while Sutter’s destructive habits begin to rub off on Finecky.

This isn’t your average popular guy dates nerdy girl high school film, like She’s All That.  This film deals with the issues of becoming an adult and being in a real relationship.  Teller truly shines in this film; his character is at times incredibly witty and at other times sadly self-destructive.  The Spectacular Now is also helped out by small roles played by Jennifer Jason Leigh (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and my favorite TV actor Coach Taylor aka Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights).  Chandler plays a very different role than we are used to seeing him, it is a pleasure to see him step out of the coach/authority role and play a washed up loser.

I cannot recommend this film enough, while it did not do terribly well at the box office I believe that is because it was not properly marketed and not a reflection on the film or the actors.  Sometimes good films don’t catch on, but with dvds we always get a second chance to see one we missed.  The Spectacular Now isn’t for everyone, it deals with some very heavy issues and is not the comedy we are used to seeing out of High School movies (plus no one sings), but I think this film stands a head above the ones that have come before it.   The beauty of movies is that certain films speak to certain people, sometimes you can’t really put your finger on it but you can relate to or truly understand a character.  The Spectacular Now is one of those for me.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Grade: A+

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDTBLSkUmYk

The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street

Starring: Leonard DiCaprio & Jonah Hill

Rating: R

Time: 179 Minutes

I have been looking forward to this movie since reading the book.  I absolutely loved the book; it was such a page turner that I left a dinner party early in order to finish it.  When the trailers for the film starting coming out at the beginning of 2013 I could not have been more excited.

That excitement lasted until stories of editing issues came out, and the release date was pushed back over a month.  This is never a good sign for a movie, especially a movie directed by Martin Scorcese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio.  They could film paint drying and I am sure they would get nominated for something.

I saw the movie the day before with my buddy Ben and we both came away with the same reaction.  In order to be fair to the film I am going to review it in two parts, since with a run time of 3 hours it did feel like two ninety minute movies put together.

The first ninety minutes is everything anyone who read the book expected it to be; hookers, blow, and stock fraud.  This part of the story is so fast paced it feels like it goes by in the blink of the eye, it tells the story of how Jordan Belfort went from a failed stock broker to the “Wolf of Wall Street”.  The fact that he is essentially defrauding his clients to make his millions is easily neglected by the incredibly crazy and depraved hijinks Belfort and his cohorts partake in.  Midget tossing, prostitutes in the office, cocaine and Quaalude binges, and the list goes on.   With everything going on it would be easy for the actors to be overshadowed by all the craziness but DiCaprio and Jonah Hill definitely shined.  DiCaprio as always was incredibly convincing in his role as Belfort, but it was Jonah Hill playing side-kick Donnie who really stood out.  Wearing fake teeth and sporting a ridiculous Waspy accent, Jonah Hill disappeared into the role of an appliance salesman turned stock broker.  Roberth Reiner, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler and Margot Robbie also turned in fantastic performances.  If I had to grade the first ninety minutes I would give it an A-.  But since this is a Scorcese film there was a lot more to come.

The second part of the film shows what happens when you binge on drugs, cheat on your wife, and defraud people of their money.  Eventually the law and your addiction comes calling and it is not pretty.  While not being over the top in consequences, the last part of the film was definitely a downer and the pace of the film drastically slowed down.  I felt like Scorcese could have cut some parts of this part down and should have elaborated more on others.  While still good, it did not keep up with the first part and definitely left me feeling a little let down.  I would give this section of the film a C.

All in all The Wolf of Wall Street is a good film, not great but good.  Many critics complained that it was too depraved and vulgar; I did not find that to be an issue.  I actually enjoyed that the script used the F word over 500 times and showed how wild and crazy these people were.  I did feel that the second half was too slow and did not focus on the right part of the stories.  I also felt that never showing the victims of Belfort’s crimes is a missed opportunity.  It is hard to view Belfort as a real criminal when his crimes are never shown.  I understood why Belfort never focused on this in his book, but I think Scorcese missed an opportunity by not humanizing the victims.  The movie was good, but in the end I feel like it missed its mark.

Grade: B-

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iszwuX1AK6A