Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor is a stupendous movie. Remarkably shot, very well acted, and the story does a lot.

The people saying it’s a pro-war, bloodthirsty, pro-American empire, movie didn’t watch the same movie I watched. It’s pro-soldier, pro-sacrifice, pro-comradeship, pro-military, and as anti-war as a movie can get.

I wept as I left the theater.

You will enjoy Lone Survivor if you liked:
Saving Private Ryan
The Grey
The Impossible
Thin Red Line

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released January 10, 2014

Written by Peter Berg. Based on the book by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson.

Directed by Peter Berg

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch, Eric Bana, Alexander Ludwig, Yousuf Azami, and Ali Suliman.

Rated: R

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Mike Murphy (Kitsch) and his team of Navy Seals are sent on operation Red Wings. This mission will take the Seals to a remote region of Afghanistan, where they are to find and either capture or kill Shah (Azami). The Seals are a tight group and an opening montage shows how Seals are trained– spoiler: it’s completely insane.

Marcus Luttrell (Wahlberg) is one of the four Seals sent on the mission. The other two are Danny Dietz (Hirsch) and Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson (Foster).

Their commander is Erik Kristensen (Bana), which is, interestingly, yet another role that Eric Bana is playing where his character’s name is similar or the same as his. In Hannahis character is Eric. In The Incredible Hulk, his name is Bruce Banner.

Anyway, back on task.

A new addition to the Seal team is eager to go on the mission, but Shane Patten (Ludwig) is left behind in order to help coordinate communications. He will likely go on the next mission.

So these four hike to a mountain above the village where Shah has been spotted. They get eyes on him and settle in for the day, waiting for night to fall before they go in and get him. They are surprised to see that Shah has a veritable army with him, as opposed to the ten guys they were expecting.

Then some goats show up, followed by some goat-herders. The four Seals capture the men, but are faced with a dilemma, let the prisoners go or kill them so the operation isn’t compromised– along with the Seals safety. The Seals know for a fact that these men will go and tell Shah immediately about the American soldiers in the mountains.

The Murphy, the boss of this team, makes the decision: let the villagers go and hightail it out of there, trying to outrun Shah’s army.

But Shah’s army not only catches up to them; they get ahead of the Seals. Now we have an extended, visceral, extraordinary gunfight. Two-hundred or so Taliban soldiers against four Navy Seals.

And the Seals are incredible. With almost no shots wasted, the Seals start methodically taking out the Taliban soldiers. But the Seals are flanked and they have to get out of there. Each one takes hits: to the leg, shoulder, abdomen. They keep going.

And they keep going.

And not all of them make it, but they keep going until biology takes over their incredible will and training and shuts them down.

Luttrell is the last one and he winds up needing the help of locals and a rescue team to get out alive.

Critique

Lone Survivor doesn’t go wrong. It starts slowly enough that we can come to know and appreciate these soldiers. The movie establishes authenticity with the right jargon and the right procedural practices. We feel the casual excellence that these soldiers embody early on, and we are made privy to the limitations that training and technology have.

The acting is outstanding, with Kitsch, Hirsch, Foster, and Wahlberg each being distinct and sympathetic characters. We want Foster to win the argument over what should be done with the goat-herders that were captured, but we know that his position is wrong, although it’s the only one that keeps them safe. Bana and Ludwig do a great job in their support roles.

And the production value is fantastic, although there are a few moments where the body-abuse noises are a little too much. But we are with them, with the camera work not shaky-cam, but immediate and present.

Peter Berg has delivered a spectacular movie about heroism, sacrifice, camaraderie, and specifically the extraordinary force that is the Navy Seals. It doesn’t overdo drama– it simply presents the events as they were described by Luttrell in his book.

That said, what exactly does this movie glorify? Does it glorify violence? War? American imperialism and nation-building abroad?

Nope. For the majority of the movie, these issues aren’t even raised. The film makes sure we know Shah is a truly bad guy, as we see the guy executing an Afghanistan man. Thus, we have a villain. We have good guys going after a bad guy, and then the good guys have to fight for their lives.

Should the good guys even be there? Not addressed. Directly. Do the villagers who shelter Luttrell support the American mission? Also not addressed.

But at the end of the movie, we see the effect this conflict is having on families. This might have been done with the intent of demonstrating the sacrifice, but it serves rather as a statement against war and a demand that any war that these extraordinary people get sent to, and that their families have to suffer due to, be very careful, very justified, honest, and truly right.

Their sacrifice, training, sense of duty, love, life, and determination are sacred– and must not be wasted.

In the end, the tragedy of war is laid bare. We weep at the loss that war brings and we hope that the people sending these soldiers off to war find a way to avoid war as much as possible.

Whether you agree with the current conflicts aside, war is tragic and these lives and families are sacred. That message is brought home with power at the end of the film. Go see this movie so that you are re-sensitized to the need to diminish war on a global scale and specifically for American men and women in the military.

Content warnings: Plenty of profanity, lots of visceral violence and injuries. High, high body count.

Writing: 4.5          Acting: 5          Overall: 4.5

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42

42 does precisely what it sets out to do: tell the story of a great baseball player who happened to be black and who had to become a great man in order to live his dream and open the door for others to do the same. It’s well-crafted, well-acted, and altogether a very enjoyable movie.

If you haven’t seen it yet, rent it this weekend.

You’re going to enjoy 42 if you liked:
Miracle
Remember the Titans
Big Miracle
War Horse

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released April 12, 2013

Written by Brian Helgeland

Directed by Brian Helgeland

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Melonie, Alan Tudyk, T.R. Knight, John C. McGinley, and Lucas Black.

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Branch Rickey (Ford) is the boss of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and he knows that change is coming. He wants to embrace that change and force his sport to do the same. He is sure it’s time to integrate baseball, bring Black players onto the field, and start providing same and equal resources to fans.

So he’s looking for an exceptional Black baseball player who is will to- ahem- step up to the plate. His team’s manager/coach, Leo Durocher (Melonie), is leary but will follow orders and he is soon able to buy into the vision.

Jackie Robinson (Boseman) is an exceptional baseball player who is Black. He can run, hit, throw– and he’s got fire and vim. Branch recruits him, to many people’s ire and shock. And Robinson plays all right, but he’s under a lot of pressure. At the same time, he’s romancing a smart, driven woman named Rachel (Beharie) who, after some soul-searching, throws in with Robinson’s journey. The interaction between these two is very, very good.

Now Robinson needs to learn to cope with the constant vile stuff people are saying, awful fans who want him gone, unsupportive teammates, and still play some good ball. And it turns out that playing ball really can bring people together.

Critique

The performances are the biggest highlight of 42. This movie moves slowly, taking its time to savor the outstandingly recreated time and atmosphere of this racially-tense era. It savors the characters too, giving Branch opportunities to show us why he is so insistent on forcing change. It lets us see Leo, the Dodgers’ manager, steadily come to the conclusion that the institutionalized racism he’s surrounded by is patently immoral.

And it lets us watch the journey, certainly somewhat fictionalized and dramatized, that Robinson has to go on from a simple desire to just play baseball to the certainty that he has a role to play and it will take all he has to break through the walls around him. Boseman is, in a word, perfect.

Great dialogue, great acting, excellent writing, an understated score, and just very well crafted emotional climaxes make 42 a very enjoyable movie experience. It’s not really a sports movie, guys, it’s more of a person movie. And it’s far and away a better movie than Lincoln.

Content warnings: Some salty language- mostly racial epithets, some mild violence.

Writing: 5           Acting: 5           Overall: 5

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Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World is strong on story and action and enhances the characters of some previously under-developed folks. It’s got fun dialogue as well.

It doesn’t have quite the spark and heart that the first one had, but it’s still solid entertainment.

You will like Thor: The Dark World if you had fun at:
Thor
Iron Man
Marvel’s The Avengers
The Amazing Spiderman

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released November 8, 2013

Written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Don Payne, and Robert Rodat. Based on the comics by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby.

Directed by Alan Taylor

Starring Jaimie Alexander, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Tadanobu Asano, Anthony Hopkins, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, Stellen Skarsgard, Idris Elba, and Chris O’Dowd.

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Thor (Hemsworth) first came to Earth, meeting Jane (Portman), Darcy (Dennings), and Eric Selvig (Skarsgard) and working with them to stop Loki and other baddies from taking over the world. Then he left, promising his beloved Jane that he would return.

But the Bifrost (the bridge between realms) was destroyed in the battle with Loki and Thor couldn’t return, although he did show up in New York City with the other Avengers a while back.

Now Thor has been trying to bring peace to the nine realms, along with his compatriots Siff (Alexander), Volstagg (Stevenson), Fandral (Levi), and Hogun (Asano). After finishing one major battle that opens the film, they think they’ve achieved their goal.

But the Convergence is coming– a time period in which the realms are very close and portals and the like open up between them. These portals cause laws of physics to go haywire on Earth, and Jane– ever the curious scientist– goes with her intern Darcy to investigate one. She stumbles through one of the portals, encountering a seething red/black substance called Aether. She is possessed by it, and this awakes some real baddies: the Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Eccleston).

These creatures want revenge on Asgard for the destruction of their planet, and they go right to it, wreaking great havoc and bringing lots of death to Asgard, at the same time that Jane is there with Thor after he went to find her. See, he’s been keeping tabs on her through Heimdall (Elba), but when she encounters the Aether, Heimdall can’t see her. So Thor goes and gets her.

Now Jane is going to die if the Aether doesn’t get out of her, but the only person who can get the Aether out is Malekith, and we don’t want Malekith to have it because it will make him unspeakably powerful and then he will proceed to destroy Midgard (Earth) and Asgard and probably more realms. Besides, Malekith is already ruthless and very powerful– he strikes at the very heart of Asgard with almost no effort.

So Thor has to get Loki’s help– and Loki has been in an Asgardian jail cell for a while now. These two can’t trust each other, but it sure is great to have them together.

So while Thor is trying to stop Malekith, Jane and her colleagues find a way that might make Malekith vulnerable and actually help save the realms. With all kinds of great visuals and solid set-pieces, we get an extended and very cool showdown.

Critique

Thor: The Dark World tells a solid, complex story that is driven by people following their hearts and getting into trouble or making deliberate trouble because of it. It’s a good, satisfying story. What would make it more satisfying is more risk for Thor, less overacting for Anthony Hopkins, more scenes between Loki and Thor, and a greater understanding of Malekith and the Dark Elves.

Highlights abound, however. There is some great humor, some of it very finely tuned and timed. Tom Hiddleston knows Loki through and through and steals every scene that he’s in. Portman can do better work than this, but she is frankly not given enough to do. Her moments with Dennings are delightful, though. Skarsgard is just great. His fragile hold on sanity makes him all the more interesting. Eccleston doesn’t get enough screen time, but he is menacing and great also.

The production values are high, of course, and the pace is wonderful- the movie feels shorter than it is, which is always a good sign.

A little more heart, a little more time spent for some characters, and Thor: The Dark World would have been the equal of the first installment. As it is, it’s worth your time and money.

Content warnings: Some minor salty language, plenty of wham-bang-destructo comic violence.

Writing: 4          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 4

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Frozen

YES! For anyone who has ever thought, “Come on, Disney princess, save yourself,” or “Wow. That’s kind of simplistic,” FROZEN is here to give you hope.

This is not only a hilarious movie that has heart, it tells a story of complex people making hard choices about being true to themselves and it is about two sisters who you just want to be friends with.

FROZEN is a spectacular movie. Thank you, Disney, for getting this movie made and doing it so right. And thank you also for casting incredible voice talent and writing simply outstanding songs.

You’re going to love FROZEN if you liked:

Beauty and the Beast
The Heat
Wall-E
Tangled

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released November 27, 2013

Written by Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, and Shane Morris. Based on the faiy tale “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen.

Directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck

Starring Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, and Alan Tudyk

Rated: PG

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Anna (Bell) and Elsa (Menzel) are sisters in the kingdom of Arendelle. As little kids, they were the best of friends, and they had fun playing with Elsa’s (the older of the two) power: she can freeze things and can create incredible frozen shapes. But one night, Elsa accidentally seriously injures Anna with her power, so the decision is made to remove Anna’s memory of Elsa’s power and keep the two sisters separate.

Elsa is told she must keep her power in, restrain it, not touch anybody, and live a life of isolation so as to not put anyone in danger. Anna is confused at her sister’s sudden isolation and she becomes quite lonely, despite her unflagging optimism about the world.

Of course the parents die, leaving the two sisters to be raised in the same palace, but essentially living separate lives in an isolated, closed-off home. When Elsa becomes of age to be crowned queen, the palace’s gates will be opened for the day for the festivities. But Elsa is in constant battle with her powers, and the celebration goes south after Anna meets Hans (Fontana) and they fall in true love and decide to get married.

Now Elsa decides that as long as she is separate from everybody, she can let her power go and live life on her terms. But when Elsa lets go, the entire kingdom is covered in a blistering winter. So Anna has to find Elsa and find a way to stop the threatened eternal winter. During her journey, Anna meets Kristoff (Groff) and Kristoff’s trusty reindeer, Sven. They also meet Olaf (Gad), a snowman that might be from the sisters’ childhood.

In the meantime, Hans is managing the kingdom while the Duke of Weselton (Tudyk) seems to have it in for Elsa and also seems to have a hankering for money and power.

When Anna finds Elsa, she discovers that Elsa has no idea how to stop the deadly winter. At the same time, a group of soldiers shows up and, once again, Elsa puts Anna’s life in danger by putting ice in Anna’s heart.

Now Anna needs an act of true love to save her before she becomes eternally frozen. And Elsa has to move past her guilt and anger to find out how to control her power.

And these two sisters have to do this for themselves, although they have some help along the way.

Critique

I’m not going to give anything away in my critique. No spoilers.

But you have to know that this movie features acts of true love, courage, and sacrifice that finally open the door on the meaning of the phrase ‘true love.’ You also have to know that something a goofy snowman says will absolutely make you tear up. You should also know that this movie is driven ENTIRELY BY TWO WOMEN WHO ARE DOING THEIR BEST TO FOLLOW THEIR HEARTS AND THE ENTIRETY OF THE PLOT IS DUE TO THEIR CHOICES.

So thank you, Disney. You wrote a great story.

Now. Two songs:

“Would You Like to Build a Snowman” sets the tone early: you’re going to cry. It’s so wonderful but then heartbreaking. And Kristen Bell does her own singing.

“Let it Go” is mind-blowingly powerful. It’s conflicted, beautiful, rocking, and Idina Menzel should always sing it.

Both of these need Oscar nominations and “Let it Go” needs to win. And FROZEN should win best animated picture for 2013.

It’s funny, charming, heart-rending and warming, ultimately very satisfying and hopeful, and the animation is very nice indeed. I wouldn’t mind female protagonists who don’t have caricature-level tiny, upturned noses and big eyes, but that’s a little thing.

For a movie covered in winter, ice, and snow, FROZEN is warm and powerful.

You will love this movie. Give Disney your money.

Content warnings: None. Unless you have a problem with the word ‘butt.’

Writing: 5         Acting (voice): 5         Overall: 5

Send this review to people who haven’t seen FROZEN yet and help them see the light.

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