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

DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Prolonged Intense Disaster Sequences and related Disturbing Images, and brief Strong Language

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Directed by: Peter Berg

Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan & Matthew Sand

(based on the article DEEPWATER HORIZON’S FINAL HOURS by David Barstow, David Rohde & Stephanie Saul)

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O’Brien, Kate Hudson & Ethan Suplee

Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg seem to have a knack for turning tragic true stories into emotional big screen experiences (see 2013’s LONE SURVIVOR and the upcoming PATRIOTS DAY). On April 20, 2010, massive oil rig Deepwater Horizon had a disastrous blowout, which claimed 11 lives and became the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Where there’s an incredible and terrifying real-life event, there will often be a movie adaptation following in the aftermath. Victim’s families and survivors were hesitant about this film, feeling that it might come with a political agenda or change too many details, but Berg’s based-on-a-true-story disaster flick has been lauded for mostly sticking to the facts.

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Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) works onboard the Deepwater Horizon. This massive floating oil rig houses 126 people and is under contract by BP Oil. Though rampant technology malfunctions and broken parts litter the ship, BP Oil sees no reason for putting money towards fixing safety hazards. Despite the warnings of Mike Williams and supervisor Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell), BP Oil big man Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich) insists that the Deepwater Horizon begin drilling for oil. What results is a deadly inferno filled with flying shrapnel, explosions, toxic gas, and hellish stream of flaming oil. Mike Williams, Jimmy Harrell, and the rest of the crew are forced to muster up unthinkable courage and attempt to escape from the fiery, sinking oil rig.

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DEEPWATER HORIZON’s first half is dedicated to building up to the eventual blow-out with mixed bag character development thrown in for good measure. There’s a sense of foreboding and warning signs that tease what is to come, as if you weren’t already expecting it from the actual news reports and the film’s plot. Putting this disaster in context (especially as far as BP Oil’s role in the proceedings) makes everything seem more harrowing and heartbreaking. The film makes sure to let the viewers, many of whom may have no idea about the intricacies of oil rigs (myself included), get a basic idea of how they function and the moving parts of the job. It also showcases how idiotic bureaucracy puts lives in danger by trying to be cheap.

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When the disaster sequences hit, this movie delivers some of the most impressive CGI in years. Shots of the burning oil rig, exploding machinery, and a seemingly endless fiery stream are all believable and terrifying. This is one of the scariest disaster films I’ve seen and it’s made more intense by the characters being essentially stuck on a death trap. A storytelling technique that might have been cheesy in other hands, but works phenomenally well, are shots of the camera entering pipelines to show us what’s occurring within the rig’s malfunctioning machinery. These bits generate suspense towards further chaos and help the viewer understand how/why all of this destruction is occurring. Though the disaster scenes are stellar and made even more realistic with stomach-churning injuries, some messy editing results in moments that seem confusing…though one could argue that crew members likely felt confused during the actual incident.

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With 126 people on board the Deepwater Horizon, the script was only able to select a handful to focus on. The performances of the main characters range in quality, though none of them are bad. Mark Wahlberg plays Mike Williams, whose life-saving actions are slightly exaggerated in this movie, as a charismatic action hero and not much else…though this character is based on a real person. Kurt Russell continues his recent string of great performances as likable rig supervisor Mr. Jimmy. Gina Rodriguez, Dylan O’Brien, and Ethan Suplee are solid as other rig workers. Meanwhile, John Malkovich is so convincing as a scummy BP Oil boss that he made me want to punch him in the face for the entire running time. He’s that great in the role! Finally, Kate Hudson delivers the film’s more heartbreaking moments as she tearfully watches his husband’s workplace burn from news cameras and prays for him to survive.

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Though DEEPWATER HORIZON doesn’t exactly have great character development and suffers from messy editing during a few scenes, this disaster flick is absolutely respectful towards the real-life tragedy victims and survivors. I got so wrapped up in the sheer intensity and action of the blow-out that I wasn’t emotionally prepared for the film’s powerful epilogue that had me on the brink of tears. Small details (like a father freaking out when he can’t find his son or a tearful breakdown) showcase a sad aftermath to a story that’s already upsetting beyond belief. DEEPWATER HORIZON will keep you on the edge of your seat during the disaster, will make you furious at BP Oil’s incompetence (something this movie didn’t embellish), and will leave you an emotional wreck. This is one of the best disaster films in years!

Grade: B+

DADDY’S HOME (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Thematic Elements, Crude and Suggestive Content, and for Language

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Directed by: Sean Anders

Written by: Brian Burns, Sean Anders & John Morris

Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Scarlett Estevez, Owen Wilder Vaccaro, Thomas Haden Church, Hannibal Buress & Bobby Cannavale

Like any other big comedic actor, Will Ferrell has gone through highs and lows. His highs have been hilarious (TALLADEGA NIGHTS), hugely entertaining (MEGAMIND), and surprisingly emotional (STRANGER THAN FICTION). His lows have been bland (GET HARD), disappointing (ANCHORMAN 2), and outright terrible (BEWITCHED). DADDY’S HOME made a splash in last year’s box office and is now Will Ferrell’s highest grossing live-action film. That’s a bit depressing, because this lame comedy is nowhere near Ferrell’s best and actually falls near the bottom of his output. DADDY’S HOME is confused about whether or not it wants to be light-hearted family friendly comedy or the usual crude PG-13 Ferrell fest. The film’s tone suggests the former, while the sex/penis jokes suggest the latter. As a result, DADDY’S HOME is a dull mess that isn’t really aimed at anyone in particular.

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Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell) is a dorky stepfather, who’s overly polite and a total pushover. Despite being happily married to his wife Sara (Linda Cardellini), Brad’s stepchildren Megan and Dylan are understandably reluctant to accept him as their dad. Just when doors seem to be opening up between Brad and the kids, they receive a phone call from their biological father Dusty (Mark Wahlberg). Through a misunderstanding, Dusty invites himself to visit for a week and Brad begins to engage in a full-blown “dad off” between himself and Dusty. Wild and crazy antics ensue, except they really don’t because these jokes feel a bit tame, far-fetched, and outright stupid.

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DADDY’S HOME reveals a big problem in its first ten minutes. Brad seems like a sociopath, even though the movie is trying to portray as a lovable clumsy doofus. Through his opening narration, Ferrell’s stepfather protagonist all but directly tells us that the main reason he even married Sara was because she had kids. Remember, we’re supposed to be rooting for this guy. The script also goes too far in showing us what a geek Brad is. Of course, he works at a slow jazz radio station. Of course, he has uncomfortable conversations with his boss. Of course, he keeps misunderstanding what his step-kids want from him. He’s a dork…but ain’t he lovable? Yeah, not really.

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That’s not to say that Mark Wahlberg’s character is likable either, but at least Dusty is set up as one-dimensional antagonist from the start. The film’s characters act like he has charisma that simply wasn’t evident to me and then slowly pulls back layers to reveal Dusty’s true intentions…like they weren’t obvious from the start. The underhanded tactics that Dusty uses make him completely unlikable, but Brad and Sara still keep him around out of misguided reasons. Even when Dusty invites a random guy (played by Hannibal Buress) to start living with the family, they still allow him to stay in the house…because the film wanted it that way. Dusty also accompanies Brad to work and warms up to his boss…solely because the script called for it.

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Many events in this movie only occur because the script called for them and not out from believable character decisions or a natural story flow. I know these might sound like dumb complaints for a PG-13 Will Ferrell comedy, but there has to be a level of consistency to make any story work. TALLADEGA NIGHTS was far funnier (I truly love that movie) and has more believability than DADDY’S HOME. This bland comedy simply moves from crude set-piece to even cruder set-piece and also tries to maintain a family friendly atmosphere by having the story bring would-be heartfelt messages into the final third. This mix doesn’t work because it’s not well written, particularly funny and the characters are all unlikable scumbags.

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At the end of the day, DADDY’S HOME is bland, forgettable, and not particularly funny. Adding insult to injury, this film tries to shoe-horn in a forced message about what it truly means to be a family and constantly feels like a jumbled mish-mash of two very different movies. To make matters even worse, the wife and children are merely regulated to game pieces that will be won by either scummy Wahlberg or sociopathic Ferrell. Even if it weren’t already a tonally confused mess, DADDY’S HOME would be seen as reprehensibly stupid, unfunny, and intelligence-insulting comedy thanks to a sloppy script. DADDY’S HOME might just be down there with BEWITCHED as one of Ferrell’s very worst films.

Grade: D

THE GAMBLER (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout, and for some Sexuality/Nudity

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Directed by: Rupert Wyatt

Written by: William Monahan

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Michael K. Williams & Jessica Lange

I skipped THE GAMBLER when it hit screens last December for a number of reasons, but mainly because of the poor reception and lame marketing. This movie looked as generic as its title, not to mention that it’s also a remake of an acclaimed 70’s film. On a passing whim, I decided to shell out a dollar to rent THE GAMBLER from a Redbox and I’m pretty surprised by how much I actually liked this film. It doesn’t deserve to win awards and it definitely isn’t for everybody, but 2014’s THE GAMBLER is a decent crime-drama that left me satisfied.

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Jim Bennett is a college literature professor by day and a compulsive gambling addict by night. His inability to control his addiction leads to him owing a lot of money to three very dangerous people. Jim tries to find solace in a burgeoning relationship with one of his students, but finds that his gambling habits may result in him meeting an untimely death and those around him possibly meeting similar fates. Jim tries to concoct a plan to pay off these three loan sharks, but will he be able to pull it off or walk away clean?…

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THE GAMBLER takes a little while to get going. There’s an assured style to the whole film, even if it might seem misguided in a couple of areas during the first act. The visuals are slick. The costumes look nice. There are also a number of really cool song choices on the soundtrack. This movie definitely looks good on the technical side of things, but struggles with messy pacing that sputters to a start and only really takes off in the second half of the movie. The plot as a whole is predictable, but fun to watch nonetheless. There are a couple of points that get unceremoniously abandoned throughout the film, including Jessica Lange being totally underused as Jim’s mother. The script also cheats in a few ways offering easy outs, but I was entertained in spite of these silly coincidences.

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The real reason you should watch THE GAMBLER is because of the performances. Mark Wahlberg does a solid job of establishing Jim as a really hateable character at the start and then turning him into someone you can root for by the end. At the beginning of the film, I really didn’t like this self-destructive protagonist at all and was worried that I would hate the film as a result, but Wahlberg injects pain and honesty into this man suffering from harmful habits that are hard to break. As mentioned before, Jessica Lange is underused, but shines in what brief screen time she does receive (including an honest and heartbreaking moment). Brie Larson is okay as Jim’s love interest, but there’s not a whole lot to her character. Finally, John Goodman and Michael K. Williams shine as two of the villains. This is especially true of Goodman who delivers the single best monologue in the entire film (going on about having a “Fuck you” position in life and using it). Williams is good as a loan shark. Even if his character falls prey to a pit of clichés, he still comes off as threatening despite his familiar character type.

THE GAMBLER, Mark Wahlberg, 2014. ph: Claire Folger/©Paramount Pictures

Overall, I have to give THE GAMBLER credit. This movie was a lot better than I was expecting it to be. On the negative side of things, it’s predictable, has a fair share of clichés and easy-outs, and moves at an uneven pace. On the positive, the performances are pretty great from nearly everyone involved and it winds up being an entertaining crime-drama as a whole. This might not reinvent the wheel of this genre (it’s a remake after all), but THE GAMBLER serves as a decent flick that you can kick back and kill some time with. Not perfect or necessarily great, but still a pleasant surprise.

Grade: B-

MAX PAYNE (2008)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence including Intense Shooting Sequences, Drug Content, some Sexuality and brief Strong Language

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Directed by: John Moore

Written by: Beau Thorne

(based on the video game MAX PAYNE)

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Beau Bridges, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Mila Kunis, Chris O’Donnell, Kate Burton & Olga Kurylenko

MAX PAYNE came out when movies based on video games were a craze. Though it was number one at the box office in its opening weekend and considered a relative financial success, this 2008 actioner has been forgotten over time. There are valid reasons for that as odd casting decisions, a constrictive PG-13 rating (pandering to the widest possible audience), and its one-note story weigh the film down. Watching MAX PAYNE is the equivalent to watching someone else play a video game and never getting a turn with the controller. The visuals are pretty awesome, but the rest of the film lacks a soul.

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Max Payne is a loose-cannon detective who doesn’t play by the rules. Though stuck in the cold case office during his day job, Max’s night life consists of hunting down potential suspects who might be responsible for the homicide of his family. After a failed one night stand with a mysterious woman, Natasha, who winds up dead, Max gets caught up in a ring of conspiracies and murder. As his fellow officers search for him, Max sets his eye on a mysterious street drug that could be related to Natasha’s murder. The web of lies goes far deeper than he initially expected and Max may end up confronting his wife’s killer after all.

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MAX PAYNE’s first major problem is in the story. The film moves at a rushed ADD-addled pace through overly familiar motions. It never settles on letting one plot revelation or point settle before moving on to the next one. The script is a jumbled mess of bland characters and clichés. One of these clichés is insultingly bad as everybody has seen it used before in just about every cop thriller of this kind. The character of Max Payne himself is woefully underdeveloped and I couldn’t have cared less if he were to die within the first 20 minutes. Speaking of which, another cliché that sticks out like a sore thumb are bad guys with terrible aim. There are literally 10 guns being fired at Max Payne in a couple of scenes and nobody manages to even graze him. This is unintentionally hilarious in a moment where two villains are firing at him from a mere couple of feet away all while Max is running in a straight line. This silly action movie trope is nothing new or infuriating, but it’s on full over-the-top display in this film!

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The best praise that I can throw onto MAX PAYNE is in its spectacular visuals. Director John Moore seems to have gone out of his way to bring a dark world to life through colorful visuals and bleak atmosphere. I can praise this stuff endlessly and there are also a couple of good action scenes to boot. Though the bad guys have horrible aim, one shootout in an office building is pretty cool. This all being said, the restrictions imposed by the PG-13 rating are all too clear. If someone is making a gritty and violent cop thriller (based on an M rated video game, no less), the logical thing to do would be use the R rating for its bloody and sexy advantages. The shoot-out scenes are remarkably bloodless in spite of people being killed at point-blank range and a potential sex scene is going out of the way to cover up nudity. It feels like the film was trying to be one thing and frequently hindered by (the studio’s insistence on) a PG-13 rating.

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Besides a lame script and forced PG-13, the casting feels totally off in MAX PAYNE. You’ve got Mark Wahlberg as this vengeance-driven, hardened cop and he just doesn’t sell the role at all. Part of the reason might be a significant lack of character development given to Max, but most of it is that Mark Wahlberg seems to be trying way too hard to seem intimidating. The second major casting mistake comes in Mila Kunis as a Russian assassin and she’s not remotely convincing in her part either. Beau Bridges, who starred in this film at the urging of his children, is serviceable enough as Max Payne’s former cop friend. There’s also the strange choice of casting Chris O’Donnell as a corrupt henchman in a shady organization.

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MAX PAYNE is not an outright failure, thanks to a few good action scenes and strong visuals, but it’s still likely to disappoint fans of the acclaimed video game. The casting feels off for just about every role, especially Mark Wahlberg attempting to sell himself as a violent cop. The PG-13 rating suffocates what could have been a far darker and more violent film, providing that the cliché-ridden script underwent revisions in the process. All things considered, MAX PAYNE is a pretty-looking mess.

Grade: C-

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