PATRIOTS DAY (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Realistically Graphic Injury Images, Language throughout and some Drug Use

Directed by: Peter Berg

Written by: Peter Berg, Matt Cook & Joshua Zeturner

(based on the book BOSTON STRONG by Casey Sherman & Dave Wedge)

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, J.K. Simmons, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, Michelle Monaghan, Vincent Curatola, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, James Colby, Jimmy O. Yang & Melissa Benoist

On April 15, 2013, the United States was shaken by the biggest domestic terrorism attack since 9/11. Three people were killed, fourteen lost limbs, and over 200 more were injured. The city of Boston was shaken as an annual running marathon became a horrifying site of carnage and destruction. The aftermath that immediately followed was an intense investigation/manhunt that lasted for four days. When there’s a tragic event, there will almost always be a movie dramatizing that event. Peter Berg, who already filmed a Navy SEALs mission gone horribly wrong in LONE SURVIVOR and an explosive oil disaster in DEEPWATER HORIZON, takes the reigns of this big screen version of the Boston Marathon Bombing and it’s powerful stuff.

This film takes place on April 15, 2013 through April 19, 2013. Instead of simply showing the bombing and then the investigation/manhunt, the screenplay (written by three people, including Berg) has different plotlines interconnecting throughout the story. We see the police departments’ perspectives as well as the FBI investigation and the bombing’s life-changing affect on survivors. There are also disturbing windows into the two monsters who committed this atrocity. It would be very easy to exploit this tragedy for the sake of entertainment, but Berg seems remarkably respectful in his fact-based approach to this film. PATRIOTS DAY is the equivalent of UNITED 93 for the Boston Marathon Bombing, meaning that it approaches the touchy subject matter with careful sensitivity and a great deal of emotional weight.

The performances are stellar across the board and the cast mostly look like their real-life counterparts. John Goodman is well-cast and bears a striking resemblance to Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis. The same can also be said for J.K. Simmons as Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese and Kevin Bacon as FBI officer Richard DesLauriers. Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze play the two piece-of-shit terrorist brothers. Also, Melissa Benoist will make you want to punch her (in a good way) as the head bomber brother’s complacent wife, though one character points out that we’ll never be able to prove how much she actually knew about the planned attack.

The one face that doesn’t match his real-world counterpart is Mark Wahlberg as Sergeant Tommy Saunders, because Saunders doesn’t exist. He’s a fake person that was a composite of a lot of different police officers who were vital to the investigation/manhunt. I know that combining these real-life inspirations into a single character was probably a handy storytelling tool, but it almost seems like a slap in the face of the many officers who had a hand in making this manhunt successful. With so much attention being given to the real-life people in this tale, Saunders’s creation seems disingenuous. This doesn’t affect Wahlberg’s performance though, because he’s just as great as he was in Berg’s previous two dramas.

PATRIOTS DAY manages to do justice to a number of things. The bombing sequence is appropriately chaotic and feels like a dark mess, kind of like how the actual event itself probably felt to the people who were there. This sequence instantly transforms a sunny street into an ash-laden warzone. The effect is chilling and the long aftermath painted by the rest of the film is equal parts harrowing and moving. The former comes in the initial investigation as cops and FBI agents slowly put the pieces together and hesitate to release information for the sake of possibly igniting unwanted hatred towards two possibly innocent people. This painstaking process is likely to make viewers want to throw their TV out of the window from sheer frustration.

Besides capturing the painstakingly detailed investigation of the bombers and the aggravating manhunt for them, PATRIOTS DAY also captures the sense of community that is usually felt after a terrorist attack. The sense of people working together and citizens doing their damndest to aid in the capture of these two monsters is uplifting. During the final moments, the viewer will likely want to cheer right alongside the clapping lines of people in the streets. This film also tastefully includes some pre-credits brief interviews with the real-life heroes of this story and is all the better for it.

PATRIOTS DAY is a tough viewing experience because it reignites feelings of panic and fear that erupted with the Boston Marathon Bombing. Some may argue it was a tad too soon for this film to get made, but this movie also showcases the sense of community and everyday bravery that ironically erupts in the aftermath of terrorism. This is a stark contrast to the intentions of radicalized monsters. Much like UNITED 93, PATRIOTS DAY is a therapeutic viewing experience. Expect to feel a whirlwind of emotions. You’ll be horrified that such evil exists in the world, but also impressed that these evil deeds are combated by an overwhelming sense of good and normal folks transformed into courageous heroes.

Grade: A

ANIMAL HOUSE (1978)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: John Landis

Written by: Douglas Kenney, Chris Miller & Harold Ramis

Starring: John Belushi, Tim Matheson, Peter Riegert, Thomas Hulce, Stephen Furst, Bruce McGill, James Widdoes, James Daughton, Mark Metcalf, Kevin Bacon, John Vernon, Donald Sutherland, Karen Allen, Mary Louise Weller & Martha Smith

The 70’s changed the face of cinema in many ways. Graphic violence, on-screen sex, complex anti-heroes, gritty dramas that didn’t have happy endings, and the concept of summer blockbusters became mainstream during this decade. Another kind of film emerged in the 70’s, the hard R-rated sex comedy. 1978’s ANIMAL HOUSE is a classic that holds up perfectly and has often been imitated in many modern comedies. Films like REVENGE OF THE NERDS, SUPERBAD, AMERICAN PIE and many more raunchy flicks wouldn’t exist without ANIMAL HOUSE. This first National Lampoon cinematic outing is well-written, well-acted, well-executed and a hilarious riot the whole way through.

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The year is 1962. Faber College has numerous fraternities, but two houses stick out on the campus. Omega Theta Pi is a prestigious snobby institution, while neighboring Delta Tau Chi is a rundown retreat for drunken slobs and sex-crazed jerks. Stuffed-shirt Dean Wormer (John Vernon) isn’t thrilled about Delta’s existence and begins to do everything within his power to expel them from the school. His plan begins with placing Delta house on “Double Secret Probation.” This doesn’t stop the Deltas from partying their asses off, drinking kegs upon kegs of beer, having gratuitous sex, and making a mockery of the college system. It’s all great fun as the movie feels like one big party.

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I’ve summarized the film’s overarching story, but this story is actually made up of smaller plots. We see the Deltas uniting against Dean Wormer, provoking the Omegas, and partying…but the script frequently focuses on individual Delta members. Nice guy Boon (Peter Riegert) is being pressured to grow up by his girlfriend (Karen Allen). This subplot runs on a down-to-earth progression and satisfying climax. Overweight Flounder (Stephen Furst) is frequently abused by ROTC commander Neidermeyer (Mark Metcalf). This storyline has one of the funniest scenes in the entire film. New pledge Pinto (Thomas Hulce) has an equally great plot thread involving a fling with a supermarket clerk (Sarah Holcomb). Notably, the character of Otter (Tim Matheson) helped introduce mainstream audiences to the concept of a “MILF” (with obvious help from THE GRADUATE) and grizzled D-Day (Bruce McGill) is a colorful presence in the film.

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ANIMAL HOUSE remains remarkably raunchy today. Audiences in the 70’s were shocked by the onslaught of sexual humor, drunken chaos and rowdy fun…and they obviously loved it, because the film made its budget back 47 times (totally just over 141 million dollars in its theatrical run). Though many SNL cast members (including Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Dan Aykroyd) turned down roles in the film, John Belushi stars as the scene-stealing Bluto and became one of the biggest comedy stars of the time. Lesser-known performers in the rest of the main roles add an unexpected sense of realism, though Kevin Bacon and Karen Allen went on to have successful film careers. Meanwhile, Donald Sutherland has three great scenes as a down-to-earth English professor who doesn’t adhere to a strict code of conduct.

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The key to ANIMAL HOUSE’s success and charm is that the film is fun from start to finish. The jokes don’t only revolve around profanity, sex and drinking. Instead, the script makes clever choices that come out of left field (I hadn’t seen this film before. Shame on me. I know). An alcohol-fueled toga party, a road trip to a certain bar and Otter’s attempt to pick up a blind date all provide fantastic laughs. The memorable finale is a satisfying sequence of chaos that caps the entire experience off. Besides moving at a rapid pace and bringing a variety of different jokes to the table (ranging from visual gags to great dialogue to uncomfortable situations), ANIMAL HOUSE also has a great soundtrack that perfectly matches its proceedings and adds to the overall jovial tone.

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ANIMAL HOUSE is a fantastic comedy that introduced the R-rated humor frequently seen in the decades following its release. The film has believable characters, great writing that balances a number of different types of humor, goes into raunchy places with hilarious glee, and is 100% pure fun! ANIMAL HOUSE is rude, crude, lewd…and revels in those qualities with talent that easily cements its status as a classic comedy. This film has been celebrated and should remain celebrated for decades to come. If you haven’t seen this film yet, then sit back with a group of a good friends, grab a keg of beer, maybe put on a toga and enjoy a classic that still influences comedies to this day!

Grade: A+

BLACK MASS (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Brutal Violence, Language throughout, some Sexual References and brief Drug Use

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Directed by: Scott Cooper

Written by: Jez Butterworth & Mark Mallouk

(based on the book BLACK MASS by Dick Lehr & Gerard O’Neill)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard, David Harbour, Rory Cochrane, Julianne Nicholson, Adam Scott & Juno Temple

Going into this year, there have been a handful of films that I’ve been ecstatically excited to watch. BLACK MASS is one of these films. This biopic crime-drama about Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger certainly had an interesting real-life story to adapt. Of all the gangsters in U.S. history, Whitey Bulger is among the most notorious. Having now seen the film, I feel that it’s almost perfect and might have benefitted from a longer running time. BLACK MASS sports stellar performances from an ensemble cast, a sense of rising tension and should satisfy most fans of crime cinema.

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Kicking off in the 1970’s, Whitey Bulger is a violent gangster running a small-time operation in Boston. FBI agent John Connolly, Bulger’s childhood friend, has returned to his hometown. Connolly is interested in cleaning up the city, particularly the mob, and turns a reluctant Whitey into an informant. However, this plan backfires in a horrifying way as Whitey uses his newfound status to take down rival gangs and rise to the top as a vicious crime lord. While fellow agents are breathing down Connolly’s neck, Bulger is running rampant with crimes that range from drugs to extortion to murder. This movie jumps throughout notable years in Bulger and Connolly’s dark relationship.

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BLACK MASS is told in a faux docudrama style, which intersperses clips of various interviews from Whitey’s former associates. Though this style could potentially wreck suspense in lesser hands, I felt it worked extremely well here as Bulger’s crimes span across 30 years. Obviously, not every little detail could be included, but screenwriters Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk knew which points to hit. I really liked how this film didn’t glorify gangster lifestyle too. Whereas GOODFELLAS sets up its true story in a way where you might become enamored by the benefits in a life of crime, BLACK MASS revels in the dark, ugly underbelly hiding underneath that skin-deep glitz. The violence here is particularly disturbing and grisly, even for a gangster film, as I felt myself wincing during some of the execution scenes. Seeing as this movie focuses on a mob boss who happened to be an informant for a couple of shady FBI agents, we also see the gripping storyline of corruption progressing in the FBI offices.

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Johnny Depp is absolutely amazing as Whitey Bulger. Make-up transformation aside, he disappears into the role of this psychopathic gangster. People who knew the real Whitey Bulger apparently made trips to the set and said that Depp captured how the man walked, talked, and carried himself with frightening accuracy. I don’t doubt it. He’s terrifying in that he seems like a rabid dog who’s always waiting to pounce on whoever might rub him the wrong way. Joel Edgerton (who was fantastic in THE GIFT) also disappears into the slimy scumbag that is John Connolly. You get the sense that Connolly came to the city with a sense of purpose and then all of his morals and ethics were wiped away when he reunited with Bulger. The supporting cast is fantastic as well and each performer stands out for various reasons. Benedict Cumberbatch adopts a convincing Boston accent as Bulger’s senator brother. Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott and Corey Stoll star as FBI agents looking to bring down Bulger, while David Harbour stars as a too-far-gone agent. Rory Cochrane and Jesse Plemons are Bulger’s intimidating associates. Meanwhile, Dakota Johnson (as Bulger’s wife), Peter Sarsgaard (as a cokehead hitman) and Juno Temple (as a prostitute) don’t receive a ton of screen time, but all receive memorable scenes. Every performance is stellar.

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Director Scott Cooper (OUT OF THE FURNACE) constructs a rising sense of tension as the story goes from bad to worse over the course of each passing year. This movie jumps between Bulger’s crimes and Connolly’s deceptions in a way that feels slightly procedural, but engrossing nonetheless. Interactions between the characters (including a dinner scene that’s so tense that you could hear a pin drop in the theater) feel genuine. With all this praise, my only problem with BLACK MASS comes in a somewhat rushed ending. I felt that the final minutes (complete with title cards revealing the fates of each character) were somewhat anti-climactic. I wonder if part of that comes from squeezing what might have been a 2 hour 30 minute potential masterpiece into a mere 2 hours (counting credits). It’s a slightly underwhelming spot in an overall great film.

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If you’re a fan of crime cinema (especially films based on real cases), then BLACK MASS should more than satisfy. The movie moves between Bulger’s and Connolly’s storylines nicely, while jumping through the former’s most notorious crimes and the latter’s downward spiral into corruption. This movie has a ton of scenes that I simply cannot get out of my head and doesn’t shy away from grisly details (all for the better). Depp’s performance is possibly a career best as he disappears into Bulger’s skin. Though the last minutes might feel rushed, I pretty much loved BLACK MASS for 95% of the movie. Highly recommended!

Grade: A

COP CAR (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language, Violence and brief Drug Use

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Directed by: Jon Watts

Written by: Jon Watts & Christopher Ford

Starring: Kevin Bacon, James Freedson-Jackson, Hays Wellford, Camryn Manheim & Shea Whigham

When I first heard about COP CAR, I thought to myself, “Really? How could you make a feature-length film with that premise?” Even with positive word of mouth and an intriguing trailer, I was still a bit skeptical. Having now seen COP CAR, I am happy to say that it’s a mean-spirited little thriller. This movie largely succeeds thanks to Kevin Bacon stealing the show and a finale that didn’t go where I was expecting it to at all. COP CAR is a cool little indie that will hopefully gain a large fan base over time.

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Travis and Harrison are two 10-year-old friends who have run away from home. While walking through a field, they pull the usual shenanigans you would expect young hooligans like this to do. These mainly include reciting cuss words and poking around in potential snake holes. Their journey escalates when they come across a seemingly abandoned cop car. Soon enough, the boys are behind the wheel of said vehicle and careening through a desolate stretch of highway. Little do the boys know that the cop car they’ve just stolen wasn’t so abandoned. In fact, it belongs to the corrupt Sheriff Kretzer, who isn’t above breaking the law and putting others in danger to get his car (packed full of incriminating evidence) back.

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COP CAR uses two storylines with entirely different tones for its first half. The first storyline follows the two runaway kids and I have to say that these characters annoyed me. It may have been partially because the talent of the child actors varied from scene to scene, but I mainly blame the writing on this one. These kids are stupid. That sounds obvious, especially because the plot revolves around them stealing a cop car…but I really, truly hated these characters for the first half of this film. A few montages of them toying around with semi-automatic guns and crime scene tape just felt unneeded and didn’t quite pull of the dark comedy factor off very well. The second half of the film is where I actually started feeling sympathy towards the kids and that’s because the latter half becomes an all-out road thriller. The tension (from constant threats around them) is probably the only thing that made these child characters tolerable to me. However, something more than makes up for their annoying hijinks in the first half. That something is…

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Kevin Bacon! This man has acted as a variety of different characters over his career. He’s played good guys, hardened vigilantes, and also a few villains. Sheriff Kretzer is one of the more morally reprehensible villains of Bacon’s filmography. He’s a slimy, corrupt-to-the-core guy who’s in a desperate hurry to cover up this situation brought on by a couple of 10-year-olds. While the kids goof off in the first half of this movie, we also keep cutting to the Sheriff frantically hiding his tracks, destroying evidence, and being a generally creepy guy. We know that he’ll confront the two boys at some point in the film and a sense of unease rises as to how that encounter might end. Kevin Bacon oozes menace off the screen in every scene he’s in and makes for one hell of a memorable corrupt cop on film.

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As I mentioned before, the first half of COP CAR cuts between two storylines. The first quickly gets annoying, but the second more than makes up for that. The goofy tone becomes lost when things take a hard left turn into all-out thriller territory during the latter half of the film. Running at just under 90 minutes, the movie barely has any time to wear out is welcome. Though it starts off slowly (much like the kids driving their stolen vehicle at 35 mph), it fully kicks off in the scenes with Bacon and leads to an ultimately satisfying finale. COP CAR is a tense little thriller that should entertain those looking for something a little out of the ordinary.

Grade: B

FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

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Directed by: Sean Cunningham

Written by: Victor Miller

Starring: Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon, Harry Crosby & Laurie Bartram

Before it became a pop culture phenomenon, FRIDAY THE 13TH was merely a title without a script behind it. Filmmaker Sean Cunningham had made a few flops and needed a surefire box office success to pay the bills. So he decided to make a movie called FRIDAY THE 13TH. Through a simple one-page magazine ad, Cunningham was able to garner enough interest to get the movie made…cheaply, I might add. Though Cunningham claims that the hastily written screenplay was based on things that scared you as a child or teenager, it’s clear to anyone with a half-functioning brain that the movie was a cash-in on the slasher formula that John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN popularized. As it stands, the first FRIDAY THE 13TH is cheap, silly, clichéd fun that’s not technically a good movie, but can be enjoyed as a guilty pleasure or a wave of spooky nostalgia for those who grew up watching the series.

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Twenty-one years after the gory double-murder of two promiscuous counselors, Camp Crystal Lake is reopening. Teenagers have been hired on as camp counselors and must renovate cabins before the children arrive in two weeks. It turns out that the teenagers aren’t the only ones in the woods on this gloomy Friday the 13th. Somebody is killing off the potential new counselors left and right. Strong-willed Alice watches as her friends disappear one by one, only to find that she could be the next victim. This is a slasher movie after all and it’s not a particularly complicated one. The plot serves as an excuse for a few jump scares, a number of gory kills, and easy money for the producers.

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FRIDAY THE 13TH is recognized as one of the earliest slashers and was made long before the subgenre turned into the ridiculous gorefest that it is today. That’s not to say that FRIDAY THE 13TH isn’t ridiculous or dumb, because it’s very much both. However, it’s not quite the gorefest that some have hyped it up to be. It’s also not a film featuring Jason Voorhees as the killer. Instead, we get someone else in his place and this person lends a lot to the later mythology of the series. My roundabout point is that people without a prior knowledge to exactly what this first entry in the series is will be surprised that it’s not at all what they’re expecting. Though there are plenty of deaths, about half of them occur off-screen with the victims’ bloody corpses seen later on. For the kills we do see, the practical effects by Tom Savini haven’t exactly aged well, but hold a cheesy charm to them. This is especially true of Kevin Bacon’s demise which is easily the most memorable kill of the whole film.

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As far as the production values go, Sean Cunningham was aiming for cheap and easy…rather than good and complex. The budget was at just over half a million and that’s very apparent in the poor lighting and amateurish camera quality. The acting is terrible from just about everyone and Betsy Palmer seems embarrassed for her brief appearance (which she admittedly signed up for in order to pay for a new car, thinking that nobody would pay to see the low-budget horror flick). It should also be noted that FRIDAY THE 13TH seems to have invented some of the more annoying slasher movie clichés including dumb victims who you could not give a shit about, a harbinger of death (in the form of an old kook named Crazy Ralph), and people who don’t know how to run from the killer (only to end up tripping several times in a row). This all being said, there’s something intrinsically fun to be gained in watching this silly 1980 slasher flick. It’s stupid, but it’s still enjoyable when taken on its own merits.

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FRIDAY THE 13TH is only essential viewing for those who are deep into slasher films or want to see all of the horror classics. Is it a good film? Hell, no. However, it’s an entertaining guilty pleasure for those who grew up with this cash-grab franchise. Those who have the built-in nostalgia factor for this series will always have that special place in their heart for Camp Crystal Lake. I may have bashed this film a bit in this review as a cheap cash-in, but there’s no denying FRIDAY’s influence on the massive outpour of slasher flicks during the 1980s. I have a bit of that special nostalgia in my heart for this silly slasher series (I distinctly remember watching most of them on AMC’s Fear Fridays). FRIDAY THE 13TH is a guilty pleasure, but remains a pleasure nonetheless.

Grade: C+

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