Tag Archives: Mark Wahlberg

Road to Nowhere

Joe Bell

by Hope Madden

In April of 2013, Joe Bell explained his walking trek from Le Grand, Oregon to New York City. He was doing something. Those who watch bullying and do nothing about it are as guilty as the bullies themselves.

It makes sense, then, that Reinaldo Marcus Green’s film Joe Bell is more interested in what Joe did and did not do when confronted with his son’s bullying than it is in the bullying and victimization themselves. Because the truth is, this walk is as much a penance as anything.

Mark Wahlberg plays Joe, volatile but loving husband and father just trying to fly under the radar and still accept, as best he can, his oldest son Jadin’s (Reid Miller) sexual orientation. Joe’s a blue-collar guy in a blue-collar town, and neither Wahlberg nor writers Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry (both of Brokeback Mountain) let him completely off the hook for the misery Jadin faces.

Wahlberg performs admirably as a man who’s trying and failing, but the breakout here is Miller. Warm, bright and brimming with life, Miller’s work the highlight of the film, although Green puts together a solid ensemble including a heartbreakingly understated Connie Britton.

Though an early film contrivance threatens to sink things before they can even really swim, the film eventually finds its lonesome way, more or less. The examination here is culpability, and it’s uncomfortable, messy terrain.

Wahlberg’s performance is raw and emotional. He lets the character struggle, sometimes sinking under the weight of loss and culpability, sometimes accepting the easy balm of celebrity in lieu of real change. His interactions with Britton offer the most complex and satisfying suggestions that Green and team recognize the wide and shattering reach of this kind of trauma.

The film Green builds around Wahlberg never stoops toward easy epiphanies or patronizing catharsis. There is a simmering anger and barely checked pain beneath the surface of this narrative, and no cliched structure or manipulative storytelling gimmicks can entirely cage that.

In the end, Joe Bell does break through the contrivance of familiar storytelling because this story doesn’t fit neatly or cheerily into that package.

Write What You Know

Instant Family

by George Wolf

The comedy output of writer/director Sean Anders has ranged from decent (Hot Tub Time Machine, We’re the Millers) to disaster (That’s My Boy, Daddy’s Home 2). His latest works as well as it does thanks to leaning more on heart than humor.

That’s most likely because Anders is telling much of his own story here, and a warm authenticity buoys even the film’s most ridiculous moments.

Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne are Pete and Ellie Wagner, a California couple who run a home renovation business and remain undecided about having children. A flippant remark from Pete leads Ellie to investigate foster parenting, which then leads to three young siblings moving in.

There is, to put it mildly, an adjustment period.

Yes, Anders’s parallel of renovating homes and families is plenty obvious, but it goes down easier with his commitment to sincerity about an important topic. The film doesn’t shy away from pointing out the difficult aspects to foster parenting, utilizing an odd-couple pair of case workers (Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro, playing nicely off each other) as an effectively organic vessel for reminding us that “things that matter are hard.”

The laugh quotient rarely rises above a good chuckle, and you can expect some obligatory music montages and family comedy trappings, but some well-drawn characters and a likable cast keep that sizable heart beating.

Byrne continues to show the timing of a comedy MVP, Wahlberg seems more comfortable with the genre than usual, and Margo Martindale breezes in with memorable support as Grandma Sandy, but Anders, speaking from experience, makes sure to remember it’s about the kids.

He doesn’t use children just to be cute (although they are), but as real characters at the core of this arc. This is especially true of oldest sibling Lizzy, thanks to the standout performance from Isabela Moner (Sicario 2), a true young talent.

Always more fuzzy than consistently funny, Instant Family offers plenty of good feels backed up with some lived-in comfortability.





The Loud American

Mile 22

by Matt Weiner

Equal parts John le Carré and John Carpenter if both men were lobotomized and then let loose with typewriter and camera, Mile 22 spends most of its brief running time trying to figure out if it has something meaningful to say. All the while, it stacks a public body count up so high that it’s impossible to see how the clandestine force responsible is going to stay secret long enough to become a film franchise.

And while the movie has ambitions at creating new intellectual property around the paramilitary Overwatch program introduced in the film, it’s a bit of a head fake for this first outing. For all its spy vs. spy setup and technobabble, director Peter Berg uses espionage as window dressing for a simple action setup that’s all about brute force.

Mark Wahlberg heads up the CIA team as James Silva, a prickly leader whose instability is used as a stand-in for self-effacing humor. Silva’s team springs into action when a local source Li Noor (Iko Uwais) surrenders to a U.S. Embassy claiming to have information that can help stop a nuclear attack. Silva’s team of elite operatives are tasked with escorting Noor safely out of the country, which becomes a lethal mission when Noor’s own intelligence agency works to stop the extraction at any cost.

To call Silva’s team ragtag would do a disservice to stereotype—it actually would’ve been nice if anybody rose to some level of quirkiness, or any distinction apart from fungible cannon fodder. Ronda Rousey comes close to having a compelling hook, which is: look, it’s Ronda Rousey! But the main emotional labor falls to The Walking Dead star Lauren Kerr as Alice, whose defining character trait is that she has a daughter waiting for her back home.

Thankfully, the team—and the film—have a secret weapon in Uwais. The Indonesian martial artist and choreographer best known for The Raid series gets to show off his captivating fighting style that’s a ballet of bone dislocation. The downside is that he goes underused for so long that his breakout set pieces serve mainly as a reminder that you’d be better off watching The Raid.

There’s a ludicrous nihilism underpinning the film that is almost refreshing for a Berg/Wahlberg pairing. But the script (written by Lea Carpenter) is so humorless it’s genuinely difficult to make out how much of this is Berg and company trying to make a statement about the War on Terror and how much is just the inevitable byproduct of a tight 90-minute cut that only comes alive during the brutal one-on-one fight scenes. John Malkovich’s arch turn as an anonymous and ultimately meaningless government agent, for example, is far more vital—and still relevant—under the direction of the Coen brothers in Burn After Reading than it is here, even though the two roles share an uncanny echo.

Mile 22 doesn’t offer up much replay value as anything more than a fun but forgettable live-action video game level. Although as far as meta-commentary on espionage thrillers goes, this strange blend of individualism and irrelevance might be all we have to look forward to for a while.

 

 





The Abyss of Freedom

All the Money in the World

by George Wolf

The eleventh-hour replacement of Kevin Spacey wasn’t just a boldly genius play by legendary director Ridley Scott – it was the only play, a cinematic Hail Mary that elevates All the Money in the World as a curiosity, a statement and a filmgoing experience.

Christopher Plummer steps in as the legendary J. Paul Getty, delivering a terrific, gravitas-rich performance that anchors Scott’s dramatic retelling of events surrounding the 1973 kidnapping of Getty’s teenaged grandson Paul (Charlie Plummer).

Scott digs in to a meaty script from David Scarpa (adapting John Person’s book) to deliver a highly engaging film filled with tension, insight, stellar performances and crackling relevance.

As Paul’s mother Gail Getty, Michelle Williams is award-worthy fantastic. Gail, no longer a “real” Getty after divorcing Paul’s father, must negotiate with both the kidnappers and her former father-in-law for her son’s safety, and Williams makes Gail’s mix of frustration, desperation and disgust emotionally genuine.

While refusing to pay the 17 million-dollar ransom, J. Paul enlists the help of former CIA agent Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to recover his grandson. As the hunt intensifies, Scott gracefully balances the extremes on opposing sides of the boy’s fate, each one consumed with profits and losses.

Wahlberg again shows how effective he can be under a strong director, and Fletcher’s search for Paul becomes a taut nail-biter while the elder Getty -“not just the richest man in the world but the richest man in the history of the world“- shells out millions on the black market for a masterpiece canvas.

Getty’s defense of his interest in things over people is just one of several passages from Scarpa that are weighty with resonance. His script is full of biting, memorable dialogue, such as Getty’s explanation of an “abyss of freedom” that comes from extreme wealth, without ever succumbing to grand speechifying.

The “erasing” of Spacey is incredibly seamless, but long after those headlines fade, All the Money in the World holds plenty of capital. As both a fascinating historical drama and a telling reminder of what we value, it’s a film that can stand with the best of Scott’s storied career.





Who’s Yer Granddaddy?

Daddy’s Home 2

by George Wolf

It’s weeks from Thanksgiving, but already the hot toy this season seems to be the onscreen Christmas countdown, marking off time until the big day.

We saw it just last week, to disastrous results, in A Bad Mom’s Christmas, and now Daddy’s Home 2 arrives carrying stockings with slightly better surprises inside.

By now, macho Dusty (Mark Wahlberg) and sensitive Brad (Will Ferrell) have settled into a comfortable “co-Daddy” arrangement with their blended families, so much so that they’re planning one big blendy Christmas this year. The kids won’t have to run from place to place. It’ll be great, right?

Enter Dusty’s mas macho dad (Mel Gibson) and Brad’s uber sensitive pop (John Lithgow), and we’re all headed through the woods to a luxurious mountain cabin for some contrived, snow-covered shenanigans boasting rampant ridiculousness and only scattershot payoffs.

Writer/director Sean Anders returns from the first film with the standard playbook for lazy comedies: a series of zany skits loosely connected with little regard for logic or continuity. We’re prodded to laugh at Brad’s suitcase being left at home, and then again when Brad has to wear a women’s bathrobe since he has no clothes of his own!

Moving on, Brad has an endless supply of wardrobe changes the remainder of the film.

Anders’s resume features solid comedic work (She’s Out of My League, Hot Tub Time Machine, We’re the Millers and Horrible Bosses 2), but also embarrassments (Dumb and Dumber To, That’s My Boy). DH2 can manage only a few sequences that recall his creative peaks.

A fight over the cabin thermostat leads to some inspired laughs, as does Brad’s attempt to prepare a young boy for life in the friend zone, and Ferrell’s natural comedic gifts are able to squeeze a chuckle or two from Brad’s constant attempts to prove his parental worth.

With the additions of Gibson and John Cena (as the ex of Dusty’s girlfriend) the sequel ups the ante on the crises of masculinity that anchored the first film. The female characters are still afterthoughts, and some of Gibson’s antics (considering his rep and the current revelations coming out of Hollywood) seem awkwardly ill-timed.

By the time a completely over-the top-production of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” (“I love that song! I play that song in August!”) is happening, Daddy’s Home 2 seems content to aim no higher than the guilty pleasure aisle.





The Longest Knight

Transformers: The Last Knight

by Hope Madden

Have you ever wondered what kind of chaos would ensue if both Optimus Prime and Megatron just disappeared?

Nope? Well, what if we could work the Transformers story and the King Arthur story into one?

No interest?

Cars, robots, explosions, needless sentiment and a girl who looks alarmingly like Megan Fox in tight clothes?

Let’s be honest, either you’re going to see Transformers: The Last Knight or you are not. Nothing I say is going to sway you one direction or another. But I had to see it. So I’m saying some stuff.

The latest installment in Michael Bay’s toy franchise might actually be more palatable than any of its predecessors. The story borders on being coherent. The action is far more clearly presented than usual. The racism is somewhat muted. There’s less sentimentality.

Also, Bay – not known to have a sense of humor at all – flirts with self-referential comedy now and again. Sure, he steals whole cloth from Alien, Terminator, Star Wars, Short Circuit – but he jokes about it, so it’s cool.

There’s also a strong female character – Vivian (Laura Haddock). We shouldn’t question her strength just because she’s convinced to do something when a male character yells, “Do it. Now!”

Twice.

But the costume changes have to raise an eyebrow. In the car ride she wears one outfit, she gets out of the car in another, goes back home to change, goes directly to a submarine in another outfit, gets off the submarine in another outfit – where are all these clothes coming from?!

And, in case you’re betting, Michael Bay is not above shooting down the shirt of an under-aged girl (Isabel Moner – here playing Needless Emotional Youngster).

All of which could have been almost tolerable, until it occurred to me that we were 70 minutes in and the plot had still not been explained. Then more than 90 minutes in and the hero (not Mark Wahlberg, the real hero) hadn’t joined the cast.

Transformers: The Last Knight is long.

So.
Fucking.
Long.

So needlessly long. So unendurably long. It’s a movie about toy trucks that turn into robots who fight with each other. For the love of God, can we cap it at 2 hours?

Nope.

Verdict-2-0-Stars





Strong

Patriot’s Day

by George Wolf

If director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg are on a mission to salute America’s unsung heroes, they’re doing a damn fine job. After Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, they bring a similar formula to Patriot’s Day and achieve even more satisfying results.

A chronicle of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the frenzied search for terrorist bombers that followed it, the film employs a breathless timeline and confident pacing to triumphantly salute the courage, compassion and dedication of a city under siege.

As he did so well in Deepwater Horizon last year, Berg opens with quick snapshots of the many lives involved (terrorists included), efficiently creating a layer of humanity and emotional depth. The explosions are sudden and jarring, presented with a compelling mixture of chaos and carnage, as bloody limbs and shell shock bring us uncomfortably close to the suffering.

The ensuing manhunt is nothing less than thrilling, with the rock-solid ensemble cast (including Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan and a fully committed Wahlberg) illustrating the harried teamwork of first responders and government agencies.

Strong and sturdy with undeniable spirit, Patriot’s Day stands as a fitting tribute to both individual heroes and an entire city itself.

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 

 





Safety Dance

Deepwater Horizon

by George Wolf

With a nice throwback vibe, crackling tension and terrific ensemble acting, Deepwater Horizon is a surprisingly compelling package. Director Peter Berg, surpassing his similar work with Lone Survivor three years ago, is again all about making sure a tragic true-life tale is told with proper respect for the heroes involved.

This tragedy was the worst in U.S. oil .drilling history, as the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana in 2010, killing 11 crew members and exposing a scandalous gap in safety protocols from BP.

Berg, armed with a crisp, economical script from Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand, introduces us to the souls involved with a rapid succession of quick vignettes from their day, just hours just before boarding the rig. Mike (Mark Wahlberg, as good as he’s ever been) gets frisky with his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson), while Andrea (Gina Rodriquez from TV’s Jane the Virgin) can’t get her car started and has to hitch a ride to the airport from her boyfriend, and so on.

Snapshots of crew members’ lives crisscross each other, and the film needs minimal screen time to get us invested in multiple personalities. This is a roadblock for scores of films that Berg and his writers sweep away. They give us people to care about, and they increase the chance that events to come will resonate. Extra points for providing helpful primers on drilling practices in ways that feel organic, such as Mike’s daughter rehearsing a classroom presentation.

The tension builds steadily, with a single bubble of air escaping from an undersea drill line, and leads to a spectacularly staged string of explosions that engulf the entire structure. Berg has long shown his skill as a tactician, and here he gets us breathtakingly close to the chaos with an authenticity that’s refreshingly unencumbered by CGI effects.

You may be reminded of more recent movies (especially Wahlberg’s own The Perfect Storm), but Deepwater Horizon has a retro kinship with classic disaster films of the 70s, along with an in-the-moment humanity that salutes the real players whose lives hung in the balance.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 





Hold ‘Em, Fold ‘Em and What Not

The Gambler

by George Wolf

“I tell the truth, that’s all I got.”

So says Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) in The Gambler, an intermittently tense thriller that doesn’t feel all that truthful.

Bennett is a college literature professor with a secret: he’s a high stakes gambler, and he’s deep in debt to the kind of people you shouldn’t be deep in debt to. Jim borrows from everyone and his mother (Jessica Lange) to get out, but his compulsion leads to a deeper and deeper hole.

If it all sounds familiar, then you remember the original 1974 version starring James Caan, a film that doesn’t exactly beg for a re-do. Still, if you’re going to do it, the writer/director team of William Monahan and Rupert Wyatt is a pretty good building block. The exciting, well-paced opening sets the hook for a more effective crime drama than the one that materializes.

Monahan wrote The Departed, and Wyatt helmed Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which makes The Gambler‘s resulting missteps all the more surprising.

Though John Goodman and Michael Kenneth Williams make solid gangsters, you never believe Jim is in any real danger if he fails to pay up. Sure, they rough him up a bit, but Jim just keeps on cracking wise like he’s in Lethal Weapon 6 and someone who’s too old for this shit is coming with the cavalry.

Even worse, when Jim gets involved in a point-shaving scheme, the resulting basketball footage makes you wonder if Wyatt has ever watched even five minutes of an actual college game.

Still, there are stretches that suggest The Gambler could have been more of a contender. Wahlberg is always better with a confident director, and he realizes Jim’s self-loathing without letting it become a caricature. Brie Larson is equally fine in an under-developed role as a student who has seen Jim’s dark side.

There are characters here that are ripe for exploring, amid the stylish depiction of a seedy underbelly worthy of illumination. It’s been done well before, but doing it well again requires hedging your bets with a few risky moves, and The Gambler is just too quick to fold ’em.

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 





Just Keeping It Real

 

by George Wolf

 

From the opening moments of Lone Survivor, it’s clear writer/director Peter Berg kept one goal above all others: honor the Navy SEALS at the heart of this harrowing true life tale.

By most accounts he’s done that, and his adaptation of the 2007 memoir by SEAL Marcus Luttrell emerges as a single-minded war movie of both power and intensity.

In 2005, “Operation Red Wings” sent a four man SEAL team into Afghanistan to eliminate a  senior Taliban leader. The mission was compromised, a firefight ensued and an attempt to rescue the team turned tragic. Only Luttrell was left alive.

It’s a riveting tale, and Berg (Friday Night Lights/The Kingdom) anchors it with the brotherhood among the men involved, and the unflinching devotion to their duty. We don’t get intimate profiles of any of the characters, but we get enough to feel we know them, and more importantly, we see how deeply they identify with each other, with their team, and with their respective places in it.

Though Mark Wahlberg stars as Luttrell, Berg wisely does not tilt the screen time in his favor, and we fear for each member of his team equally, even though we already know what the eventual outcome will be. Credit Wahlberg, and co-stars Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, and Emile Hirsch with solid performances that are able to resonate collectively, yet still illustrate the anguish of a fallen comrade.

Berg’s touch with the battle scenes is equally focused, filming with an intentional frenzy full of gut-wrenching stunt work.  Keeping these sequences nearly absent of background music or superfluous pageantry, the unmistakable aim is to present this hellish scenario as the men themselves knew it.

Of course, as a war film, Lone Survivor carries instant baggage, seemingly destined to be labeled either jingoistic, un-American or misinformed. Clearly looking to avoid the “that’s not how it’s done” barbs slung at Zero Dark Thirty, Berg spent a month embedded with a SEAL team in Iraq, and his film offers no apologies for its abundant machismo or respectful salute.

The catch-22 is, this approach works at the expense of a layered dramatic narrative that makes movies such as Zero Dark Thirty so compelling.

To be fair, though, Lone Survivor never aims that high. It is a film that mainly wants us to understand what it takes to do a job that most of us can’t even fathom.

Consider that mission accomplished.

 

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars