Lina Lamont

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

Archive for the tag “Mark Wahlberg”

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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2 Guns

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 6th October 2013

Now we have no more Tony Scott, it falls to the likes of Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur (Contraband) to pair up Denzel Washington and some young buck to play the odd couple who fight crime, one another, and shoot stuff up. Here, the whippersnapper is the middle-aged but eternally buff Mark Wahlberg, somewhat faxing in his usual performance of buffoon-meets-brute but nonetheless delivering some snappy lines and indisputable chemistry as these two movie stars vie for screen dominance.

The “big reveal” in the story is treated lazily but I shall still protect you from any spoilers, in the hope you’ll get more enjoyment by knowing less. Suffice it to say, criminals may not be criminals, and goodies may not be good. The mildly confusing plot with flashes-back and –forward isn’t quite interesting enough to care about, but then suddenly there are pockets of serious acting which manage to keep you engaged.

It’s Déjà Vu all over again as Washington is reunited with Paula Patton as his on-off love interest, Patton surprisingly reduced to topless scenes and showing none of the chutzpah in her previous role (which was under Tony Scott’s direction). More impressive is James Marsden, a million miles from Hairspray and 27 Dresses, as the buzz-cutted naval boss.

The gold-toothed Washington plays it a bit like his Oscar-winning crooked cop in Training Day, but unfortunately the limits of the script and story mean this is mainly just a guns and gags movie. Fun but forgettable.

Pain & Gain

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 11th August 2013

Whoa, whoa, whoa! I know I’ve been singing the praises of Dwayne Johnson lately, and I usually give Mark Wahlberg a pretty long leash, but they both need to stop and take a deep breath before picking up another script.

Michael “Explosions” Bay is to blame for directing this outrageous piece of utter drivel, shot like an over-produced music video and written like a 12-year old boy’s underdeveloped fantasy.

Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, a “fitness evangelist” whose idea of the American dream is steal it off somebody who’s already made it. He teams up with a daft Anthony Mackie (The Adjustment Bureau) and an even stupider The Rock, and the trio of buffoons embark on what was probably pitched as a comedy of errors, but plays out like someone held a gun to Bay’s head and said “Make ’em laugh”.

Far from being funny, the film is laughably awful – as grotesque in its physical cruelty (tortured victims are then graphically run over; bodies are hacked and limbs burned) as it is in its misogyny (it’s all boobs and “bitches”), its “ironic” racism, tired mockery of Christianity and even its passing disrespect of dwarves. About the only person who gets through unscathed is Australian comedienne Rebel Wilson. Otherwise most characters are repulsive, failing to amuse as they rattle off whip-fast lines that ought to get a giggle except they’re missed as the action jump-cuts from the nonsensical to the tedious.

OK, so the film is beautifully photographed and… well, that’s it.

But tonally, the film is a mess. Like those children’s flip-books where you composite a body from mismatched parts, Pain & Gain looks stunning, sounds crass and thinks it’s a comedy without even scraping the Tarantinian heights required to successfully mingle wit with violence. Bay wastes his otherwise talented cast (even Ed Harris is in there) in a film that rates even lower than Battleship. While that film was lame, Pain & Gain is actually objectionable. That it is based on a true story is distasteful enough but its execution is 50 shades of pointless.

Broken City

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 17th March 2013

Wahlberg and Crowe! Big names touting high hopes for a movie that turns out to have an embarrassingly low IQ.

Directed by Allen Hughes, whose most recent film is an 8-minute short starring Eninem and Dr Dre, Broken City plays out like a Wednesday night DVD rental from the bargain bin. A corrupt mayor. A shady police commissioner. A disgraced cop reduced to making his living sorting through life’s trash as a private investigator.

The novice screenplay boasts a paper-thin plot as Mark Wahlberg’s emotionally-burdened Billy Taggart (nothing like as gritty and interesting as his Scottish namesake), is employed by Russell Crowe’s mayor to follow his possibly duplicitous wife (a mercifully underused Catherine Zeta-Jones). The scene in which the mayor gives the PI his orders is shot with the camera swirling relentlessly around the actors as they spout every cliché in the book. Perhaps this is an attempt to convey drama that is otherwise completely lacking in the lame script, but instead, the aesthetic fail may just make you feel sick.

Key plot exposition is relayed by phonecall, with the obligatory signposting: “But Billy – be careful“. Quite why the leads got involved is anyone’s guess, but the heroes of Boogie Nights and The Insider have plummeted in my esteem. Perhaps they just can’t resist a dare.

The Fighter

All fun and games till someone loses an eye

Boxing seems to be the perfect sport for the movies.  Whilst football in its variations has provided the dramatic backdrop for films from Jerry Maguire to The Damned United to (ahem) The Blind Side,  nothing encapsulates the rise of the underdog quite like a spot of pugilism.  This isn’t team sport – this is one man against poverty/circumstance/prejudice.  A woman who pushes him/supports him/begs him to give it up. And a fight to end all fights in the final reel.  The majority of boxing movies seem to be based on true stories, thus giving even more pathos to the inevitable challenges our hero (or heroine – let’s not forget the excellent Million Dollar Baby) must overcome in the face of adversity.  Add to this fascinating documentaries like the recent Tyson, where the misunderstood “monster” speaks softly and (mostly) articulately about all manner of subjects, and it’s little wonder there is a whole industry within an industry.

At first glance, The Fighter risked being an also-ran in this oeuvre, just another rise-to-the-top tale about someone most of us have never heard of: Micky Ward, a fighter in the mid-80s whose brother Dickie Eklund once knocked-out Sugar Ray Leonard, before descending into a white trash life of crack addiction.  Micky has many obstacles to face if he is to reach the heights he aspires to, with his big brother/trainer in prison, an overbearing mother/manager (the brilliant Melissa Leo from Frozen River and soon to be seen in Conviction) and conflict with his family over his burgeoning relationship with barmaid/college-dropout Charlene (Amy Adams – prettier than Micky’s 6 ugly sisters, but eschewing Hollywood glamour for a healthy dose of social realism). 

However, while the trajectory proves to be familiar, there are several things that make this movie a stand-out in its genre.  Director David O. Russell (from the wonderful Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees) concentrates on the terrific characters bequeathed by the dysfunctional Ward-Eklund family, and gives his actors the roles of their lives.  Mark Wahlberg is fine as Micky, a likeable, decent sort of fellow, but Christian Bale steals every scene as the off-the-rails Dickie.  When you see footage during the end credits of the two brothers in recent times, you realise Bale’s performance is horrifying real and not at all hyperbolised.  Adams is good, Leo is superb, and the supporting cast adds colour to every interaction. 

Russell adds panache by shooting the documentary scenes and boxing bouts on grainy video, conjuring up an authenticity which mostly matches the occasional use of genuine footage.  There are a few nice swirling shots à la Goodfellas, and despite my being a huge boxing fan, the fight scenes were mercifully minimal, serving only to advance the story rather than simply set the character up in a “this is what he does” way.  That said, the fights are well-shot such that there were genuine edge-of-seat moments for me, and the audience knows enough by then to watch out for the “head-body-head-body” shot that we know might win our hero his title.

The Fighter marks itself out as focusing on good acting, the moral dilemmas inherent in family dynamics, and a well-told story, without hitting you between the eyes to make you appreciate it.

The Other Guys

The Other Guys

It’s interesting that my favourite Will Ferrell film is Stranger than Fiction, doubtless one of his more serious (well, certainly more deadpan) roles – and Mark Wahlberg, who I adore in anything, proved his dramatic chops in fare as varied as Boogie Nights and The Departed.  (Albeit with tongue wryly in cheek in both of those films.)

Here, the comedy genius and the stereotyped cop do a great job of playing “the other guys” – loser cops whose awkward partnering provides plenty of conflict as they seek to replace legendary police Danson and Highsmith (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson, clearly having the time of their lives, and setting the tone of the film with an outstanding opening.)

Self-propelled on various missions, often without the blessing of their new-age, touchy-feely boss (a comforting return from Michael Keaton – man, since Christian Bale took over I can’t believe this guy was the first modern Batman!…) – police department accountant Gamble (Ferrell) and shamed officer Hoitz (Wahlberg), notorious for once shooting the city’s top baseball player, become embroiled in a kidnapping/corruption plot that could prove their making – if only they don’t mess it up.

Inititially, I feared that this latest Will Ferrell vehicle from the maker of Stepbrothers, Anchorman…, and Talledega Nights had all the markings of a film whose trailer feeds you all the funnies and leaves you feeling cheated.  But, no!  The Other Guys proves a welcome exception, a movie that can put its villain’s lottery money where its protagonist’s big mouth is.  It is replete with genuine belly laugh moments and plenty of opportunities for a quick wry smile as you listen carefully for the next subtle joke.  There are “ridiculous” set-pieces, and some paper-thin running gags, but the tone is infectious.  Notably, there are terrific supporting performances from Eva Mendes, personifying every guy’s dream wife, and Steve Coogan with his usual Englishness a perfect foil to the bombastic American nonsense.

Which isn’t to say it’s perfect.  There are patches where the audience comes up for air and has to go on a ridealong with the characters as they bounce from one plot point to the next.  However, afterward I racked my brain to recall the last comedy I would consider to be consistently hilarious all the way through.  (The Naked GunThis is Spinal Tap? right now I can’t think of any that are faultless.)  To that end, The Other Guys is definitely worth a trip to the cinema rather than a sneak down illegal download lane.  Detective Gamble would no doubt be pleased.

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