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Entries in taylor kitsch (3)

Thursday
Jan092014

Lone Survivor

Last year’s “Battleship,” directed by Peter Berg, was hands down one of the worst movies of the year. It was a stupid idea based off a simplistic board game that was full of enormous amounts of cheese and patriotic grandstanding. While pride in one’s country is certainly not a bad thing, the ridiculous alien invasion story that surrounded it made such grandstanding laughable. When you combined that with lazy dialogue, contrived plot points and horrific performances, particularly from real life war veteran Gregory D. Gadson in one of the worst performances ever put to screen, you got something that was practically unwatchable. Berg is now back with “Lone Survivor,” another “Go America!” film that shares a fair amount of rough dialogue and cheesy moments, but these moments are offset by real actors giving gritty performances and action scenes that are truly intense. It’s not perfect (and it’s highly unlikely its limited release shoehorning into the last week of December is going to give it any awards recognition), but this is a major step up from Berg’s previous travesty. This is actually quite good.

Based on a true story, “Lone Survivor” follows SEAL Team 10 on a mission dubbed “Operation Red Wings.” Their goal is to capture or kill terrorist leader Ahmad Shahd. After a smooth drop into the nearby mountains, they identify their target on the grounds below. However, some unexpected civilians show up to put a kink in their plans. They have one of two options: they can either let them go and risk exposure or kill them and continue on with the mission. Refusing to kill civilians, they decide to let them go. Unfortunately, their radio equipment is malfunctioning and after those civilians notify the terrorists below, they find themselves in a firefight in the mountains.

“Lone Survivor” is not a pleasant film. Despite all the action, this is not a fun, stand-up-and-cheer “Rambo” type of action movie. It’s intense and scary and, for a while at least, a slow-burner. This doesn’t open with a slam-bang introduction, nor does it end with a high-flying conclusion. Instead, it starts out slow before finally erupting into violence. And when the bullets start flying, they don’t stop. The action never lets up, so the grip the film has on you stays there until the end. Slow beginnings like these require good acting to keep things interesting and this talented cast, which includes Mark Wahlberg, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster, among others, is up to the task. Despite the cloying music and sentimental dialogue about their loved ones back home, they create real people out of these characters. By the time many of their inevitable deaths come, they mean something.

One of Peter Berg’s biggest deficiencies as a director, at least in regards to “Battleship,” was that he went too big. Everything was bombastic and in-your-face. He smartly goes the opposite route here. Much of the action consists of pop-and-shoot gunplay which requires a more focused approach than an explode-y Avengers-esque film, where the visuals can make up for a lack of substance, and he manages to pull it off. The sole flourish he occasionally includes are down-the-barrel shots, similar to a first person shooter video game, which feels a bit out of place in the context of both the story and style he implements elsewhere.

Bizarre stylistic choices similar to that are easily the film’s biggest problems, including an over usage of slow motion, which is supposed to be dramatic, but instead only serves to pull you out of the otherwise gripping and realistic action. But the movie’s intention is to highlight the heroic actions of these men who risked everything to live up to a well-intentioned moral code. They did the right thing and it cost almost all of them their lives. These men are to be applauded and remembered because even though their job required them to be violent, they carried out that violence only when necessary and they valued the lives of the innocent, and the lives of their fellow soldiers, above their own. That’s a noble thing. It’s still a bit too Hollywood to resonate and that aforementioned patriotic grandstanding is so heavy-handed that it threatens to derail it, but in the end, “Lone Survivor” strives to tell a simple story of courage and nobility and it does it well.

Lone Survivor receives 3.5/5

Thursday
May242012

Battleship

A movie based on a board game with no real discernible story is clearly the last sign of desperation from Hollywood studios that are bankrupt of ideas. With Candy Land, Monopoly and even a Ouija Board game on the horizon, cinema lovers can’t help but feel like their passion is on a decline. When I first heard of this week’s board game turned movie adaptation, Battleship, I, like so many others, thought, “There’s no way this will be good.” But I never imagined it would be this bad. There isn’t a single moment of Battleship that works the way it’s intended to. It’s an aggressively loud, utterly incompetent film without a single redeeming factor. If the film isn’t a stone cold lock for a Worst Picture Razzie nomination (along with a handful of other equally deserving category nominations), then I don’t know what is.

The film, in as far as a departure from its source material as it could possibly go, follows Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), a former slacker who was coasting by on the generosity of his brother, Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgard). However, after meeting and falling in love with Samantha Shane (Brooklyn Decker), daughter of Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), he cleaned up his act and joined the Navy. Old habits are hard to break, however, and his rambunctious behavior eventually gets him in hot water. He has just head out to sea to participate in the Naval War Games, but because of his transgressions, he is told that once he arrives back on shore, he’s going to be kicked out of the Navy. While out there, though, the participants in the game see a fleet of spaceships crash into the ocean. Upon closer examination, the ships fire upon them and the planned war games turns into an all too real war against intergalactic space travelers who are planning on wiping out the human species.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because this same exact story has been told so many times, it’s practically ingrained in our heads. Only the most cinematically ignorant will be unable to map out what’s going to happen far before it actually does. But the derivative path it takes to the post-movie credits is so clumsy, hokey and nonsensical that other similar (arguably terrible) films suddenly look like picturesque masterpieces, including Michael Bay’s Transformers series. Yes folks, the definition of “suck” has been redefined.

Battleship is a movie that doesn’t just fail in what it’s trying to do, however; it actually manages to achieve the exact opposite of its intention. For instance, when it attempts to be funny, it fails and when it attempts to be serious, it’s funny. Any and all laughs to be had in this void of mental bankruptcy are of the unintentional type, but they make the film no more enjoyable. Its staggering inaptitude isn’t isolated, though, and spreads throughout every facet of its production, including the performances. Taylor Kitsch, in his second bomb in only a little over two months, is lifeless and boring, completely incapable of carrying a film. Liam Neeson, who’s barely in the thing in the first place, looks bored. One can only imagine he received the offer for the part after a long night of drinking and was coaxed into accepting. The most egregious offender, though, is first time actor Gregory D. Gadson. A real life soldier who lost both his legs to a roadside bomb in Baghdad, he plays Lieutenant Colonel Mick Canales, a war veteran who is struggling to cope with his disability. And boy is he awful. While certainly worthy of praise for his selfless actions and sacrifice for our country, he nevertheless has no business starring in movies. Despite the cornball dialogue he’s forced to recite, his performance is one of the worst (starring or supporting) I’ve seen in a big Hollywood movie in a very long time, maybe ever.

The film, perhaps because it felt obligated to, forces in some nods to the classic game. The most obvious comes in a scene where the characters measure water displacement from computer monitored buoys to determine where the ships are. Shaped like a “Battleship” grid and marked with letter and number coordinates, the characters stare at a screen and fire missiles at the most likely location of the ships (“E-11!” someone shouts at one point, to which a response comes, “It’s a miss!”). It’s both clever and contrived; clever because it actually pertains to the story at hand, but contrived because there’s no logical reason to keep the alien invaders tied to the ocean. If you’ll remember, these are spaceships that crash into Earth, not marine vessels. They can fly wherever they want, but instead “jump” from buoy to buoy. It’s a gap in rationality that simply can’t be overlooked.

Then of course there’s the alien species’ motivation. Despite their supposed desire to destroy all life (which is helpfully and unnecessarily deemed an “extinction event” through expositional dialogue), they tend to attack manmade structures more often than they do actual men, which includes bridges, cars, ships and more. When they have the chance to dispose of one of us, like in a scene where a scientist wanders directly into the middle of their camp and comes face to face with one of them, they instead leave us alone. The reason behind their actions is left hazy, not that you’ll care one way or the other while watching. They could kill all humans or the humans could discover their weakness and bring them down; whatever will end the movie quicker. Battleship is a waste of money, resources and theater screens. Watching it is a waste of life. It’s lose-lose no matter how you cut it.

Battleship receives 0/5

Friday
Mar092012

John Carter

Money doesn’t make a movie. A big budget film can still be hackneyed and derivative (see Avatar for that) and a movie with a low budget can be wonderfully imaginative with richly drawn characters and thought provoking subject matter (like Gareth Edwards’ Monsters, which was made on a budget of well under one million dollars). This week’s John Carter, with its purported budget of around $250 million, is a clear example of the former. No amount of money could save its abysmal script, uninteresting and hopelessly convoluted story, bad acting and generic action. If early predictions are correct, John Carter could end up being one of the biggest flops of the year, perhaps of all time. Based on what I’ve seen, such failure wouldn’t only be justified. It would be worth cheering over.

The story revolves around the titular John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) a Civil War veteran who one day stumbles upon a fabled cave. There he finds a medallion which transports him to Mars. Upon arriving, he is greeted by a species of tall green creatures led by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), who is initially interested in John’s ability to jump vast distances (due to the different gravitational pull of the planet), but soon finds his rebellion untrustworthy. John becomes their prisoner, but soon a war breaks out between the planet’s different factions and he is called upon by Princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) to help stop Matai Shang (Mark Strong), the leader of a race called the Therns, who, I don’t know, control the planet’s destiny or something.

As with most movies that are too complicated for their own good, it’s not difficult to get the gist of what is happening in John Carter—an ordinary man is placed in an extraordinary situation and must help defend Mars’ inhabitants from an approaching evil—but specifics are difficult to decipher. Much of this is due to the fact that it’s far too hard to even distinguish between characters, much less figure out their motivations. The aforementioned tall green species, for example, all have four arms, tusks growing out of their heads and nearly identical skin tones. I’m sure you could spot tiny differences from alien to alien, but the baffling story will most likely keep you from caring enough to do so.

Such a lack of imagination permeates not just in those creatures’ design, but through the entire film. Although Mars is indeed nothing more than surface rocks in the real world, such bleak, dreary visuals are unbecoming for a science fiction film. When Carter first arrives, his surrounding environment looks more like a Western than anything else, only without trees and with a redder hue. There are aliens other than those generic green people on the planet too, but they’re nothing more than humans with tattoos on their faces and silly costumes that look like they were made out of plastic. In a sci-fi world set on Mars, there needs to be more. It’s too simple to make half of the creatures human and the other half humanlike, only with two more arms and green skin.

Such blandness begs the question: where did that $250 million go? The effects are good, though not always effective, and most of the actors aren’t recognized enough to demand too high of paychecks. It shows too. Taylor Kitsch doesn’t have the chops to carry a big action film such as this and he annoyingly speaks in a whispered monotone, similar to Jack Bauer in TV’s 24, which South Park so brilliantly lampooned in Season 11’s “The Snuke.” His love interest, played by Collins, is similarly poor. If you look through her filmography, you’ll see that she’s been in well known films like Bug, The Number 23 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but chances are you won’t remember her in any of them. Something tells me there’s a reason for that.

Twenty minutes into John Carter, I was ready for it to end, but then it went on for another two hours. That’s a long time to sit through a movie with almost nothing going for it, including its shoddily up-converted 3D effects that remind us, even after Scorsese utilized the format so beautifully in Hugo, that it’s little more than a cash grabbing gimmick and rarely useful in the telling of a story. Simply put, John Carter lacks the vitality of the science fiction genres most beloved films. It’s a waste of time of money.

John Carter receives 1/5