Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Kevin Bacon”

Patriots’ Day

Patriots’ Day recreates the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013 and the real-life manhunt by law enforcement that ensued. It stars Mark Wahlberg as a composite character of several police officers who were instrumental in the case. These facts, and the film’s title which inevitably provokes caution in a non-American audience for whom “patriot” can feel like a dirty word, may have you shaking your head and rolling your eyes.

But the film also evokes the nail-bitingly brilliant United 93 in its assiduous use of facts and its ability to create extraordinary tension around an event with which we are already familiar. It stars John Goodman, J. K. Simmons and Kevin Bacon who portray real players in the game of cat and mouse. And it manages to be desperately moving, respectful and exciting, all in one movie.

Director Peter Berg acted for many years before launching a career behind the camera which produced many of my lowest cinematic moments, notably Battleship and Deepwater Horizon. Remarkably, Patriots’ Day eschews the cheesy script, soaring horns traditional in patriotic American soundtracks and bland acting, and instead puts out a truly heart-pumping thriller which lacks judgement of its baddies and only shuffles a wee way over the line in terms of glorifying its heroes.

Like United 93, the front end of the film focuses on setting up the fateful day and introducing us to the key players: the terrorists and the civilians whose lives will be irreparably changed in the space of 12 seconds. This scene-setting is handled really nicely, particularly the private moments between newlyweds Patrick and Jessica, and the fascinating introduction of a young Chinese app developer Dun Meng (played by Silicon Valley‘s Jimmy O. Yang) whose pivotal role does not become clear until well into Act 2.

Of course, Wahlberg has to have his moments, and while I’m not the big fan of Marky Mark that I have been in the past, he acquits himself fine as a no-BS Bostonian cop who acts as the thread between what otherwise might have felt like a series of vignettes about the days. While some have objected to his composite character, the respect Berg has paid to all involved in the tragedy (including inviting survivors and law enforcement on-set and asking for advice and detail to preserve authenticity) more than makes up for a slice of artistic licence.

Principally, it’s a thrilling ride which seamlessly incorporates documentary footage into the fabrication as the day unfolds, tragedy occurs and justice is eventually served. Moreover, it’s an illuminating glimpse into how the investigation was handled, including a gripping sequence in a warehouse where the crime scene has been reconstructed in which Wahlberg’s cop uses his knowledge of the streets to predict which CCTV cameras may have captured the perpetrators’ moves. Similarly, the gunfight which halted the terrorists’ plans makes for a sensational scene worthy of any fictional Hollywood action movie, and all the more exciting because you know this one has (had) real stakes.

Simmons, Goodman and Bacon play real people whose photos and interviews appear, with those of some survivors, just before the closing credits role – an effect which some viewers may feel re-injects the saccharine into an otherwise admirably matter-of-fact telling. But this coda is indisputably moving, and a necessary conclusion to a harrowing story which delivers a message of indomitable spirit and community at a timely moment in American history.

 

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X-Men: First Class

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 5th June 2011

Hollywood is often criticised lately, not least by reviewers, for rolling out remakes and sequels in lieu of original stories.  Occasionally, however, it throws us a prequel that is actually worth its squillion dollar budget and the inevitable marketing hype.  Christopher Nolan took the Batman franchise to new heights with Batman Begins, and J.J. Abrams honoured the Star Trek legacy – giving us the crucial backstory to explain a character’s subsequent emotional make-up, and the early, often hilarious, attempts at costuming and weaponry.

The first X-Men movie leapt from the pages of a comic book onto cinema screens in 2000, special effects blazing as it dramatised the story of genetic mutants fighting to be accepted by humankind.  It laid out the core dilemmas (to fight or acquiesce; to use powers for good or evil) and set up the enmity between Professor Xavier and Magneto.  Following a few sequels and a trip down memory lane for key cast member Wolverine, the film-making powers that be finally fill in the gaps leading up to the earlier story, allowing Layer Cake’s Matthew Vaughn to take the helm .

Taking snippets from the original opening scene set in a Nazi concentration camp in 1944, X-Men: First Class wisely carries on from that moment, following young Erik Lensherr (the Ian McKellen role here played principally by an intense Michael Fassbender) on his trajectory to embittered, avenging action hero.  Fast forward to 1960s Oxford, and a beer-sculling Charles Xavier (James McAvoy a boyishly arrogant Patrick Stewart prototype) is using nerdy chat-up lines on young women at university.  The CIA gets involved, other mutants are conscripted, and off we go.

But wait – we need a baddie for our X-Kids to fight.  Suffice it to say, Kevin Bacon’s deceitful little face (so charming, but with such underlying evil) is rather suited to his role as the German/Russian/American-speaking Sebastian Shaw.  Like a wannabe Bourne movie, the film tries to be as clever as its protagonists by having actors speak several (non-native) languages and relying on subtitles for a significant portion.  The locations are plentiful and the jet-setting James Bond-like in its execution, helped no doubt by the 1960s outfits and appropriately lo-fi technology (the prototype for Cerebro is amusingly unsophisticated).

For the most part this prequel is fun, and it satisfies our curiosity about how things came to be, eking out the revelations right until the end.  The story perhaps strives a little too hard to be clever by using the Cuban missile crisis as a backdrop for dastardly actions, and it lags towards the end of an overlong running time.  Rumour has it this is to be the first of a new trilogy, so after a promising start we must simply hope it doesn’t going the way of the later Star Wars

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