MILE 22 (2018) – Action Film Mired By Confusing Direction, Weak Script

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Lauren Cohan in MILE 22 (2018).

Maggie! Maggie!

Maggie Greene is the character Lauren Cohan plays on TV’s THE WALKING DEAD, and she’s one of the main reasons that I keep watching the show, even though it’s dipped in quality the past couple of seasons.

So, with apologies to Mark Wahlberg, Cohan is also the reason I trekked out to the theater to see MILE 22 (2018), the latest film from director Peter Berg, which stars Wahlberg as an elite American intelligence agent, sort of a Jason Bourne if he hadn’t gone rogue.

MILE 22 has opened to dreadful reviews.  Is it as bad as all that? Let’s find out.

MILE 22 opens with James Silva (Mark Wahlberg) and his elite squad closing in on a Russian safe house where they proceed to kill everyone inside while they confiscate top-secret material. Afterwards, they discover the material they were seeking was in fact not there. What were they looking for? A highly explosive chemical weapon that has the potential for leveling a city with just a few specks of powder. Yikes!

The heat falls on agent Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan) since it was her contact Li Noor (Iko Uwais) who provided them with false information. It turns out that Noor will give them the whereabouts of this deadly weapon but only if he receives political asylum in the United States. After failing to break the codes on Noor’s phone which would give them this information, Silva and his team agree to extract Noor out of the country and into the United States.

To do this, they have to travel a dangerous trek of 22 miles, hence the film’s title, dangerous because Noor is wanted by the government, as in wanted dead, and so there are brutal assassins waiting for them at every turn.

If this sounds stupid, that’s because it is.

One of the worst things about MILE 22 is the film has no sense of place and does a terrible job establishing its setting.  No mention is made of nations or cities, and so half the time the audience has no idea where the film is taking place. This is either sloppy filmmaking by director Berg or a deliberate attempt to capture the shadowy aspects of the plot by keeping everything nameless. Either way, it weakens the story. Without an established setting, things just don’t play out as real.

The film was shot in both Bogota, Colombia, and Atlanta, Georgia, but no mention of where the action is taking place is made in the film.

The actual gimmick of this movie, that the agents have to transport an informant on a 22 mile stretch to get him to safety, is a good one and has potential, but strangely the film fails to take advantage of this.

Director Peter Berg takes a circuitous route telling this story. The editing is all over the place. The thinking behind this movie seems to have been action first, story later. What should have been a straightforward and rather compelling narrative unfolds in a muddled and choppy way. For example, the film continually returns to a sequence where Wahlberg’s character is talking about the mission after it happened, but this doesn’t help the story at all other than reveal that Wahlberg’s character is going to survive.

The action scenes are actually pretty good, and I enjoyed most of them, so if you’re into action you certainly won’t be bored, and it’s not like the movie doesn’t have a story. It does. It just doesn’t do the best job telling it.

The screenplay by Lea Carpenter has it moments, but most of them are drowned out by Berg’s overbearing direction. I liked the basic premise of the story, and I actually enjoyed the two main characters, Wahlberg’s James Silva and Cohan’s Alice Kerr. I especially enjoyed their interactions. Cohan’s character is a strong female lead, and I thought she was one of the best written characters in the movie, even though she is stuck in a thankless subplot concerning a messy divorce.

But there’s no villain to speak of, and this certainly hurts the movie. Oh, there are bad guys here, but they’re not developed at all. Wahlberg and company might as well be combatting nameless shadows.

I usually enjoy Mark Wahlberg, and so it’s no surprise that he’s pretty darn good in MILE 22, although his James Silva character can be cocky and annoying. Silva is a savant, which is supposed to make his arrogance sympathetic, but the trouble is the flashback scenes which explain this are so laughably bad none of it seems real. In spite of this, Wahlberg manages to make the guy someone I didn’t mind rooting for.

On the other hand, he gets stuck with lots of bad dialogue, especially when he spouts off about real world dangers, the fallacies of diplomacy, and how the world is safe only because of people like him. While any of this could be true, as written, it comes off as ridiculous.

Lauren Cohan delivers the best performance in the movie as Alice Kerr. She’s so good she even makes the silly divorce scenes tolerable.

John Malkovich is on hand as the leader of the tech team housed in a top-secret location with his fellow computer geeks as they monitor everything from their agents’ vitals to controlling traffic lights to ordering jet missile strikes. Again, what could have been intriguing becomes laughable here.

Peter Berg previously directed Wahlberg in LONE SURVIVOR (2013), DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016) and PATRIOTS DAY (2016). MILE 22 might be the weakest of the lot. It’s certainly inferior to the far more compelling PATRIOTS DAY.

And it looks like Berg and Wahlberg will be working together again, as the ending to MILE 22 sets things up for an obvious sequel. In fact, rumor has it that Berg and Wahlberg have a trilogy planned. Oh joy.

I tend to like gritty action films, and so I certainly did not hate MILE 22. I’ve seen far worse movies. This one certainly isn’t very good, as it struggles with some confusing editing and a helter-skelter narrative.

But Mark Wahlberg makes for a sufficiently arrogant and annoying lead, not someone you like all that much but because of his good intentions someone you root for, and it would be very difficult for me to dislike a movie starring Lauren Cohan. As expected, she is also excellent here.

So, with Wahlberg and Cohan leading the way, MILE 22, in spite of its directing and story problems, isn’t quite as bad as folks are saying.

Its twenty-two mile trek won’t be the longest ride you’ve ever had to sit through, but it also won’t be the most satisfying.

Perhaps they should have gone with MILE 2.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover

Print cover

For the Love of Horror cover (3)

Ebook cover

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

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PATRIOTS DAY (2017) Solid Yet Uninspiring Re-Telling of Boston Marathon Bombing

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PATRIOTS DAY tells the riveting true tale of the Boston Marathon bombing, which occurred on April 13, 2013, and it tells it efficiently and without any fanfare.

As such, it works better as a docudrama than a suspense thriller.

PATRIOTS DAY follows fictional character Tommy Saunders (Mark Wahlberg), a Boston homicide detective, who finds himself demoted for a day, Patriots Day, where he’s forced to work as a beat cop in uniform covering the finish line at the Boston Marathon.

The rest of the characters are pretty much based on real people.

There’s Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon), Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (Michael Beach), and Watertown Police Sergeant Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons) who plays an instrumental role in the fierce firefight between Watertown police and the bombing suspects in the wee hours of the morning on a densely populated Watertown residential street.

There’s the young M.I.T. police officer Sean Collier (Jake Picking) who tragically loses his life to the bombers.

And then there are the victims.  Young couple Patrick Downes (Christopher O’Shea) and Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan), who both lost limbs during the explosion, as well as others, who are all given some background stories before the bombing, and we follow their plight afterwards.

There’s also Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang) the young Chinese man whose car is hijacked by the bombers, and whose daring escape from the Tsarnaev’ brothers is one of the more exciting scenes in the movie.

Which brings us of course to the bombers themselves, Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze) and his nineteen year-old brother Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff).  While we learn that they are Muslims and have a radical agenda, not much light other than this is shed on their characters.  Nonetheless, both Melikidze and Wolff deliver chilling portrayals of these two terrorists.

Even Red Sox player David Ortiz shows up at the end for his famous address to the Fenway faithful after the ordeal had ended.

After the bombing, the story follows the ensuing investigation and manhunt, and Wahlberg’s Tommy Saunders is there every step of the way, which actually works against the story.  While Wahlbeg is fine as Saunders, it’s really not all that believable that one officer would be there at the finish line for the bombing, and then there again on that fateful night in Watertown for the climactic shoot-out, as well as on hand the following day for the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

PATRIOTS DAY has its moments, mostly because the real story is so horrific and the ensuing manhunt so captivating.  If it were not based on a true story, and the film was to be judged on its artistic merits alone, PATRIOTS DAY would be a far less successful film. And while it does a solid job telling this story, there were times when I wanted more from this movie.

In short, I didn’t learn anything from this film that I didn’t already know from following the story in the news when it happened back in April 2013.

The cast and performances are fine, led by Wahlberg who could play a Boston cop in his sleep.  John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, and J.K. Simmons lend solid star power in their supporting roles, although they aren’t on-screen enough to make too much of an impact.  Of the three, Simmons probably fares the best.

The same can be said for the victims, with the exception of Jake Picking as M.I.T. Officer Sean Collier.  In his brief screen time, Picking really brings Collier to life, setting the stage for one of the saddest scenes in the film, as the officer’s life is cut short by the bombers’ bullets.

And both Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff are chlling as the Tsarnaev brothers.  Melikidze portrays older brother Tamerlan as cold and calculating, completely committed to his jihad agenda, while Wolff plays younger brother Dzhokhar as the follower, doing whatever his older brother asks, when, that is, he’s not texting on his phone or behaving like a nineteen year old.

Their performances are adequate but didn’t wow me.  Perhaps the best thing that can be said of them is that director Peter Berg truly captures what they looked like.  Their resemblance to the real brothers is uncanny.

Not to get political, but in the scene where Tamerlan Tsarnaev spouts off his agenda to his Chinese hostage Dun Meng, talking about how the 9/11 attacks were faked, and that Americans don’t really know the truth about what’s going on in the world, as we are continually duped by a manipulative government and a crooked media that feeds us false news, I couldn’t help but think how his insane banter sounded eerily similar to one Donald J. Trump.

And speaking of Dun Meng, Jimmy O. Yang’s performance is a good one and rather memorable.

PATRIOTS DAY was directed by Peter Berg, whose previous movie DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016) also starred Mark Wahlberg.  That one told the story of the oil rig fire in April 2010 which caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history.  That film was just OK, and I found it all rather superficial.

Berg runs into similar problems here with PATRIOTS DAY, although not as much, and that’s because even though once again the characters are not really that well-developed, it’s less of an issue here because the strength of the film is its story.  And Berg gets the story right.  He does a nice job chronicling events from just before the bombing until the final arrest.

That being said, the film is not as powerful as I expected it to be.  The actual bombing scene isn’t quite as horrific or emotional as I thought it would be, either.

Also, I really expected more regarding the behind the scenes manhunt.  After all, the authorities actually shut down the city of Boston for a night as they searched for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but other than a brief conversation where we see the authorities make this decision, the film has little else to say about it.

One of the best scenes in the movie doesn’t even involve any of the main characters.  It’s the interrogation of Tamerlan’s wife by some mysterious government authorities.  It’s probably the most fascinating scene in the film.

Director Berg, Matt Cook, and Joshua Zetumer wrote the screenplay which does a concrete yet uninspiring job of telling this story.  The facts are all there, even when sometimes the emotions aren’t.

I enjoyed PATRIOTS DAY, but I didn’t leave the theater shaken or upset.. For me, that happened the first time around, watching the events unfold in real-time on television back in April 2013.

That was real.  This is just a movie, and it shows.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016) Struggles to Stay Afloat

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There’s a fine line between having a compelling story to tell, and telling a compelling story.

The recent movie SULLY (2016) is a perfect example of the latter.  It had a compelling story to tell, and director Clint Eastwood knew how to tell it.

DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016), on the other hand, tells the story of the 2010 explosion on the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, an event that led to the worst oil spill in U.S. history.  It’s a memorable story, but the movie struggles to tell it.

The film opens with Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) at home with his family, getting ready to say farewell to them for a few weeks while he returns to work on the Deepwater Horizon.  He’s enjoying time with his wife Felicia (Kate Hudson) and their daughter, and if you’ve seen the film’s trailer, you’ve seen the cute conversation they all share over their breakfast table.  It actually made for a very effective trailer, but here in the film it only adds to a rather slow beginning.

The purpose of these early family scenes is to personalize the story.  Rather than follow the lives of many people on the rig, the film chooses to follow mostly Mike, and to juxtapose his scenes with those of the panicked Felicia back home.  This really isn’t all that effective, and sadly reduces Kate Hudson to being in a series of reaction shots where she doesn’t do much more than look worried.

So Mike goes off to work and meets up with his boss Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) and co-worker Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez).  Once on the rig, Jimmy immediately butts heads with members of the company that owns Deepwater Horizon led by a man named Vidrine (John Malkovich) who has been cutting costs by skimping on routine safety checks because he believes the Deepwater Horizon will work fine without them.  Jimmy, of course, is protective of his crew and refuses to proceed without the necessary precautionary tests.

Unfortunately, Jimmy’s tests are too little too late, as the company had let things slide so badly, that in the middle of one of the tests, the equipment is compromised and there is a gush of mud which overheats the engines and leads to a catastrophic explosion.

DEEPWATER HORIZON gets off to a sluggish start, and even though I was interested in this story, because I knew what it was about, the film didn’t grab my attention.  The early scenes with Mike and his family were okay, and the ensuing arguments between Jimmy and the company were certainly interesting, but there’s a whole rig full of people, and we don’t really get to know many of the characters at all.  Before the explosion, most of the exposition was simple and dull.

Once the explosion occurs, things pick up, but that being said, for a disaster movie, none of the scenes really wowed me.  Most of the action occurs at a rapid fire pace, and the camera is in close, making it very difficult to see what’s going on.  It also doesn’t help that the only character we’ve really gotten to know is Mike, so when the camera is on him, things are captivating, but whenever the action follows someone else, it’s like following a random red shirt on an episode of STAR TREK.

Director Peter Berg does an undistinguished job capturing the action.  The film is begging for an establishing shot, seeing the scene unfold from a distance so we can have a sense of the scope of the tragedy.  While there are some shots of Deepwater Horizon burning, for the bulk of the action, the camera is in way too close and it’s difficult to discern just what exactly is happening.  There’s plenty of mud shooting around, plenty of men slipping and sliding, explosions, fire everywhere, people scrambling, but left out of the whole thing were my emotions.  I didn’t know the people in this tragedy, and the movie suffered for it.

The film also does little with the actual Coast Guard rescue of these folks.  We hardly see what happens at all.  In SULLY, the rescue was one of the movie’s high points.  Not so here.

The screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Matthew Sand was meh.  I didn’t really like the background story of Mike and his family, as it didn’t add anything here.  Again, to compare to SULLY, in that film, Tom Hanks’ character converses with his worried wife over the phone on several occasions, but those conversations moved the plot forward, as they gave Hanks’ character opportunities to question his actions.  The scenes here between Mike and his wife Felicia do not move the plot forward.  They only stall the story.

The dialogue was flat and uninspiring, very generic, except for the one sequence where Mike gets in Andrea’s face and really lays it on her as to why they are going to survive.  It’s also Wahlberg’s best moment in the movie.  The best dialogue belongs to Kurt Russell’s Jimmy, but once the explosion hits, Jimmy takes a back seat to Mike in the story.

Matthew Michael Carnahan was also one of the screenwriters on WORLD WAR Z (2013), a film I liked a bit more than DEEPWATER HORIZON.

Mark Wahlberg is fine here as Mike.  It’s the type of role Wahlberg can play in his sleep, at this point.  His performance is good enough to carry this movie, except that he really doesn’t have a lot of potent scenes in this one.  His best scene comes near the end when he pushes the panicked Andrea to survive.

Actually, my favorite performance in the movie belonged to Kurt Russell as Jimmy.  He really brings Jimmy to life, and you feel from the get-go that Jimmy takes his job seriously and that he will not compromise the lives of his crew.  We’ve been seeing more of Russell in the movies lately, and I hope this trend continues.  The only drawback is that most of Russell’s screen time here occurs before the explosion.

Kate Hudson is largely wasted in a throwaway role as Mike’s wife Felicia.  John Malkovich is okay as one of the cost-cutting meanies from the company, but he’s not really in this one a whole lot.

On the contrary, Gina Rodriguez is very good as Andrea Fleytas, the woman who helms the controls on Deepwater Horizon.  The rest of the cast are little more than interchangeable cardboard cutouts.

The strongest thing DEEPWATER HORIZON has to offer is the true story on which it is based.  This is reiterated during the movie’s end credits, when we see the names and photographs of the men killed during the explosion.

But source material alone isn’t enough to make a powerful movie.  A film needs a strong storytelling component, generated by creative directing and a sharp script. DEEPWATER HORIZON has neither.

As such, in spite of its gripping story, it struggles to stay afloat.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

Worst Movies of 2015

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Here are my Top 10 Worst Movies for 2015:

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10.  GET HARD – ** – Unfunny comedy with Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart.  There was a time when I used to enjoy Will Ferrell movies.  Been a while.

9. PROJECT ALMANAC – ** – a group of teens build a time machine.  After a light start, this silly science fiction movie tries to become a serious thriller but collapses under the weight of its own pretensions.

8. INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 3 – ** – third entry in the INSIDIOUS series is the weakest yet.  I’m also just not that into prequels.

7. JUPITER ASCENDING – **- colorful but utterly preposterous tale of an intergalactic princess (Mila Kunis) seeking her birthright, with ramifications that will affect the entire universe!  Yeah, right.

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6. THE LAZARUS EFFECT – * 1/2- This modern day Frankenstein tale of scientists attempting to resurrect the dead has its heart in the right place—heh heh—but is undone by a very weak story.  There’s no resurrecting this movie.

5. SAN ANDREAS- * 1/2-  a silly disaster film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a chopper pilot who flies all over California— at the expense of the people he’s supposed to be rescuing, I might add!— in order to save his family from a deadly earthquake.  Is that Charlton Heston and George Kennedy I see?  This one is as bad as the epic of all bad disaster movies, EARTHQUAKE (1974).  At least that one had Sensurround!

This one is so bad not even the presence of Paul Giamatti as a scientist can save it.  Yet another story about an estranged married couple who have to put aside their differences in order to save their children from some extraordinary catastrophe.  Sorry, but if you couldn’t make it work during normal times, what makes you think you can do it during an earthquake?  Ugh!

4. SINISTER 2 – * 1/2-  This is as weak and tepid a horror sequel as you can get.  The saddest part of the whole thing is that the SINISTER movies have in them a really cool monster/demon, Bughuul, and sadly he’s not used to his potential in either movie.

Also, in this series, Bughuul makes children both kill their families and film the murder.  The original film had the murders taking place in the past, and so it made sense when the main character uncovered old 8mm films of the murders.  Here, the sequel takes place in the present day, yet the possessed children are still using film cameras to record their crimes.  Wouldn’t they just use a Smartphone or a Tablet?

A silly horror movie sequel, not worth your time.

3. 50 SHADES OF GREY- * 1/2-  This one should have been called 50 SHADES OF BLAH.  Talk about being dull and boring.  As tedious as the films in the TWILIGHT series.  Dakota Johnson is completed wasted in the role of Anastasia Steele.

Also, for a film that is supposed to be graphic and sexual  it’s about as tame as graphic and sexual can be.  I’ve seen more risqué stuff on Benny Hill.

2.TED 2 – * – This is probably the only film of the year that I hated.   While I enjoyed the first TED movie somewhat, I thought this one was a complete waste of time.  Nothing here for anyone over the age of 12.  Juvenile, tasteless, and worst of all, not very funny.  Its idea of humor is to have Mark Wahlberg and Ted sneak into Tom Brady’s bedroom in order to steal his sperm.  Three guesses on how they plan to do it, and the first two don’t count.  Oh, yeah, that’s funny!  No.  It’s flat out weird.

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1.THE GALLOWS – * – I wish my pick for the worst movie of the year wasn’t a horror movie, but alas, it is.  How dumb is this one?  Well, the main plot point is that in honor of the 20th anniversary of a high school play gone wrong— a student was accidentally hanged to death on stage- the school decides to put on the same play again.  Duh!  Needless to say, someone isn’t very happy about this decision, and once again more students turn up dead.  Unfortunately none of them were responsible for the script.

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And that’s my list of the Worst Movies of 2015.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: TED 2 (2015)

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Here’s my Cinema Knife Fight review of TED 2, which appeared at cinemaknifefight.com this past weekend.

—Michael

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  TED 2 (2015)Ted 2 poster

Movie Review by Michael Arruda

(THE SCENE:  A Comic Con in some big city.  Amidst a crowd of enthusiastic fans dressed as their favorite superheroes, STAR TREK and STAR WARS characters, sits MICHAEL ARRUDA at a table next to the LOST IN SPACE Robot.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome everyone to today’s Cinema Knife Fight column.  No, that’s not L.L. Soares dressed as the LOST IN SPACE Robot.  That’s the actual Robot!

ROBOT:  It is I.  The Robot!  Here as a guest on Cinema Knife Fight.

MA:  Happy to have you, and we’re here today because one of the scenes in today’s movie— TED 2— takes place at a Comic Con like this one, and my friend here, the LOST IN SPACE Robot, happens to be in that scene.  It might be my favorite part of this movie.

ROBOT:  Affirmative!  I am the life of this movie.

MA:  Well, I wish you were.  You don’t have any lines or anything, but I was still happy to see you.

ROBOT:  That’s right.  I didn’t have any lines.  What was my agent thinking?  There just aren’t any good roles for an aging robot, these days!

MA:  Well, even you couldn’t have saved this movie.

Yep, today on Cinema Knife Fight, I’m reviewing TED 2, and I’m flying solo this week because L.L. Soares had sense enough to skip this one.

I’m going to get right to the point: I hated TED 2.

ROBOT:  Hate?  Hate is a strong word.  I advise you to avoid using it, Will Robinson.

MA:  It’s okay.  This isn’t a LOST IN SPACE episode.  We can say hate here.  And I’m not Will Robinson.

ROBOT:  Of course you are not!  Did I say that you were?  Eh hem.

MA (to audience):  I think he’s having a senior robot moment.

ROBOT:  I heard that!

MA:  As I was saying, I did not like TED 2 at all.  It’s one of my least favorite movies of the year.  Why, you ask?  Well, read on!

TED 2 is the sequel to the hit movie TED (2012), the Seth MacFarlane comedy about a toy stuffed bear come to life.  I was not crazy about TED, but I enjoyed the foul-mouthed talking bear, as I found him quite funny, and I enjoyed the way he interacted with his best buddy John (Mark Wahlberg).  They were a hoot together.  What I didn’t like about it was its story which I found to be a bore, a tale of John trying to choose between Ted and his girlfriend.  Seriously?  But the bear was funny.

Now comes the sequel, TED 2.  Ted is now married, while John is divorced.  Ted’s marriage is not going that well, so he takes a co-worker’s advice and decides he and his wife should have a baby because having children will bring a troubled couple closer together.  Really?  Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

Ted, of course, since he’s a toy bear, can’t have children, and so he and John concoct a plan to steal sperm from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, in a scene that is flat out weird and way too creepy to be funny.  When their attempt fails, John agrees to donate his own sperm, but then Ted learns that his wife Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) cannot have children, so they decide to adopt.  They are turned down because in the eyes of the law, Ted is not a person and so he can’t adopt a child.

They decide to take Ted’s case to court, to have the legal system declare him a person, and so they hire a young attorney Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) to take on the case.  The rest of the movie follows their efforts to have Ted declared a person, and they have to overcome one obstacle after another, including the return of Donny (Giovanni Ribisi), the psycho from the first movie who was obsessed with Ted, and he’s back again, still trying to tear Ted away from John.

So, why isn’t TED 2 funny?

I don’t think I have time in one review to list all the reasons.

Let’s start with the humor.  It’s pretty much the lowest common denominator of humor.  Drug jokes, bathroom jokes, and sex jokes, and as for the rest, it is simply not creative enough to get laughs.  It’s almost as if Seth MacFarlane thinks his reputation at being a “bad boy in comedy” is enough.  If he’s vulgar and shocking enough, everything else will fall into place. Well, it’s not enough.  The jokes have to be funny, and in this movie, they are not.  And that’s the number one problem with TED 2.  It’s simply not funny.

There are jokes galore.  They’re nonstop, which makes the fact that the film didn’t make me laugh all the more amazing.

The film tries to be creative with its humor, and there’s plenty of star power here, but oddly none of it works.  There’s a cameo with Liam Neeson shopping at the supermarket discussing with Ted if it’s okay for him to eat Trix breakfast cereal since he’s not a kid.  Trix are for kids, get it?  Ha Ha.  Not.  I think I laughed when I first saw Neeson because of the potential this scene had, but then it went nowhere.

(LIAM NEESON walks by the table.)

NEESON:  I understand you didn’t like my cameo.

ROBOT (Points to MA):  He didn’t.  I liked it just fine.

MA:  No.  I didn’t like it.  I’m surprised you even did it.

NEESON:  I have bills to pay.

MA:  Don’t we all.

NEESON:  Maybe you would have liked it better if we used a different cereal.  Fruit Loops, maybe.

MA:  Follow your nose.

NEESON: Are you making fun of my nose?

MA:  No.  It’s the line from the Fruit Loops commercials with Toucan Sam.

NEESON: You might want to be careful with what you say.  I put the last guy who criticized me in the hospital.

ROBOT:  Danger!  Danger, Will Robinson!

NEESON:  Just sayin.  (Exits.)

MA:  Don’t sweat it, Robot.  He’ll get over it.

Anyway, then there’s the conclusion at Comic Con.  This sequence should have been hilarious.  It includes a slapstick fight in which fans dressed as comic book and science fiction characters duke it out, and so we see the Lost in Space Robot tangle with a Dalek from Dr. Who, superheroes and Star Trek characters going at it, and even Godzilla gets in on the act.  It’s a geek’s dream!  But it’s not funny.

Patrick Warburton returns from the first movie, once again playing Guy, and in this film Michael Dorn (Worf from STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION) plays his gay lover.  There’s a gag in the Comic Con sequence where Warburton dresses as The Tick (the title character he played in the short-lived TV series in the early 2000s) and Dorn dresses as Worf, and they go around the convention tripping people and pouring drinks on them all the while insulting them.  This is supposed to be humorous.  It’s not.  It’s painfully unfunny!

(WORF approaches.) WORF:  It is not honorable for a Klingon to poke fun at himself!

MA:  So, you saw TED 2?

WORF:  TED 2?  What is that?

ROBOT:  TED 2 is an American comedy written and directed by Seth MacFarlane.  It stars Mark Wahlberg and—.

WORF:  Enough!  I do not care about such trivial matters as motion pictures!

MA:  So, what were you talking about when you said Klingon’s shouldn’t poke fun at themselves?

WORF:  I was talking about him!  (Points to a Klingon performing Karaoke in front of an audience).  He is a disgrace!

MA:  Yup.  He can’t hold a tune to save his life, but he’s not really a Klingon.  He’s a fan dressed as a Klingon.

WORF:  Klingons do not have fans!  We have adversaries and enemies!  (Exits.)

ROBOT:  He suffers from a maladjusted disposition.  In short, he’s a grump!

MA:  I’m going to continue now with the review.

In the first film, Mark Wahlberg and Ted were funny together.  They’re not here.  All the jokes seem rehashed.  I like Mark Wahlberg a lot.  It was painful to watch him play this role.

Likewise, I’m a big Amanda Seyfried fan, and again, it was excruciating to see her play this awful role.  In one scene for example she’s reduced to smoking pot from a bong shaped like a penis.  Speaking of penises, there’s a running gag about them in this film which has to do with internet searches and what pops up whenever you do a search on the internet.  All I kept thinking is this is the best a guy like Seth MacFarlane could come up with?

It gets worse.

We have to see lots of scenes where Ted argues with his wife Tami-Lynn, and she throws things at him and swears at him nonstop with her South Boston accent.  She’s reduced to a bad stereotype, and these scenes are also painful to watch.

Sam Jones, Flash Gordon himself is back from the first movie, only this time his scenes are as funny as Ming the Merciless.  Also back from the first movie is Bill Smitrovich as Ted’s boss Frank.  In the first film, Smitrovich’s scenes were a highlight and were laugh-out loud funny.  He’s reduced to one scene in the sequel, and it’s a straight scene, no comedy or jokes involved.  Really?

Giovanni Ribisi is back again as psycho Donny.  A lot of people liked Donny in the first film.  I thought his subplot was the worst part of the first movie.  In TED 2 Donny is still out to get Ted, and I still don’t care.

Even Morgan Freeman shows up.  What are all these people doing in this movie?  Does Seth MacFarlane have compromising photographs of these folks?

Freeman delivers a dramatic courtroom monologue about why Ted should be considered a person.  Now we get to one of the most insulting parts of TED 2, the parallels that this movie makes between Ted’s plight and the civil rights movement.

Are we supposed to take this story about Ted seriously?  Absolutely not, which to me, makes the references in this movie to the plight of those fighting for equal rights throughout history, offensive.  Well, maybe offensive is too strong a word, but it just rubbed me the wrong way. TED 2 as a vehicle for social commentary is like having Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels as the poster boys for special education.  No.

Only John Slattery from TV’s MAD MEN comes out okay.  Slattery plays a smooth talking winner-take-all district attorney, and he plays the role straight.  He has his one scene and pretty much makes sense as he makes his case convincingly as to why Ted is not a person.  Slattery might be the only person in this movie who doesn’t embarrass himself.

And regarding the “star” of this one, Ted the Bear, the CGI creation performed by Seth MacFarlane, he was my favorite part of the first movie, but sadly, he’s nowhere near as funny the second time around.  In fact, I found him flat out annoying in this sequel.

I did something during TED 2 I hardly ever do in a movie.  I found myself looking at my watch, and I was shocked to see that only one hour had gone by.  It felt like two.  Worse, TED 2 is a two hour movie, and so there was still yet another agonizing hour to go.

TED 2 was written and directed by Seth MacFarlane, and Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild also contributed to the screenplay.  It gives me no pleasure to write negatively about other people’s work, but there’s not much positive I can say about this one.   It all comes down to laughter.  And I simply didn’t laugh during this movie.

One thing I did like about this movie is a large chunk of it takes place in Boston, and the shots of Boston look good.  But I can drive to Boston on my own and don’t need a movie to show me how good it looks.

Want to watch a funny movie that mixes humor with vulgarity and off color jokes?  Watch an old Mel Brooks movie instead.

I give it half a knife.

And it gets half a knife because I like both Mark Wahlberg and Amanda Seyfried, and also because I can’t give a movie which features an appearance by the LOST IN SPACE Robot 0 knives, no matter how bad it is.

And at half a knife, that makes TED 2 the worst movie I’ve seen this year.

Okay, Robot, we’re done here.  I think I’ll take a stroll and browse around.

ROBOT: A good idea.  May I browse around with you?

MA:  Sure.  Come along.  It’ll be fun.

ROBOT:  We are going to browse around.

MA:  Come on, Robot.  I see some cool LOST IN SPACE merchandise over there.  Let’s check it out.

ROBOT:  This is going to be surreal.

—END—

Thought-Provoking THREE KINGS (1999) Quirky and Intense

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Streaming Video Review:  THREE KINGS (1999)

By three-kings_movie-poster-01

Michael Arruda

 

With the upcoming release of George Clooney’s latest movie, TOMORROWLAND, due in theaters on May 22, 2015, I decided to check out an earlier Clooney film that I had missed the first time around.  THREE KINGS (1999), a movie about the first Iraqi war, starring Clooney and Mark Wahlberg and now available on Netflix Streaming, takes place in the waning days of the Persian Gulf War.

When Major Archie Gates (George Clooney) learns that three soldiers have discovered a map leading to massive amounts of gold which Saddam Hussein had taken from the Kuwaitis, he decides to steal it.  He enlists the aid of these three soldiers, Sergeant First Class Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), Staff Sergeant Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) and Private First Class Conrad Vig (Spike Jonze).  They set out in secret for the gold, but along the way they witness the Iraqi Republican Guard executing an innocent Iraqi, an action which Major Gates can’t let stand.  He retaliates, and in the process, rescues a large group of Iraqi prisoners, a group that includes women and children.

Suddenly, Gates’ objectives change, as he finds himself responsible for this group of prisoners, and he agrees to help them reach the Iranian border, a quest that puts him and his men up against Saddam Hussein’s forces and his own American army.  And then there’s the matter of the gold, which Gates still has no intention of giving up, setting the stage for a thrilling journey through the Iraqi desert as they attempt to escort Iraqis to freedom.

I really enjoyed THREE KINGS, both its story and its quirky tone, which for the most part works as a black comedy.

It was interesting to watch a movie about the first Iraqi war, made before the events of September 11.  So many recent movies have focused on the second Iraqi war and the events following 9/11.  Events depicted in this movie, while still disturbing— it’s a war after all— still don’t play as intense as recent films on the second Iraqi war and the war in Afghanistan, movies like AMERICAN SNIPER (2014) and ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012), and THE HURT LOCKER (2008).  Our collective consciousness is much darker now than it was when this film was made in 1999.

But that’s not to say that THREE KINGS doesn’t have its share of intense moments.  It does.  The execution of the Iraqi woman in front of her young daughter, for example, is a jarring sequence, as is the torture sequence where Mark Wahlberg’s Sergeant Barlow is captured by Iraqi soldiers and tortured with electric shocks and is eventually forced to drink motor oil.  These scenes are not for the squeamish.

I also had to keep reminding myself that this was about the first Iraqi war.  For instance, when the film makes reference to Saddam Hussein and the influence he wields over his Republican Guard, I found myself scratching my head questioning, “Saddam Hussein?  Isn’t he dead?”  Of course, then I’d remember that the objective of this first war was only to oust Hussein from Kuwait, and that he wasn’t removed from power and eventually executed until after the second Iraqi war.

Writer/Director David O. Russell has made a hard hitting war movie that effectively makes its point that although Americans largely viewed this war as a “clean” war, in that not a lot of American soldiers lost their lives, and that its objective was largely met, it’s still a war, and for the people of Iraq, there was nothing “clean” about it.  It disrupted their lives and caused death and destruction.

Russell keeps things from being too bleak with a quirky tone that generates laughter, albeit mostly of the uncomfortable variety.  Spike Jonze’ Private Vig is humorous in his naivety, even though his ignorant views are as sad as they are funny.  His banter with Walberg’s Sergeant Barlow is the liveliest part of the movie.

Russell would go on to make THE FIGHTER (2010), also with Wahlberg, and SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012), two films I liked better than THREE KINGS.  Russell also directed AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013), the overly ambitious 1970s con artist tale which I liked but didn’t love, and I think that while THREE KINGS is a less ambitious film than AMERICAN HUSTLE, I liked it more.

As screenplays go, Russell’s work here with THREE KINGS is very good, as the story remains compelling throughout and actually gets better and more exciting as the movie goes along, and the dialogue is first-rate.  It makes its points about the Gulf War and provides plenty of entertaining snappy dialogue that is riveting and real.  That being said, it’s not quite as good as his screenplay for SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012).  That one was a grand slam.

George Clooney is terrific as Major Archie Gates.  At first, the jury is out on this character, as you wonder what kind of a man he is since he’s willing to steal gold from the Iraqis, but when he steps up to intervene on the innocent Iraqis’ behalf, you see firsthand what kind of a man he is, and he’s all the better for it.  Clooney is effective throughout and makes Gates in spite of his early actions a man you can root for.

Reportedly, Clooney and director Russell feuded on the set, so much so that Clooney declared he’d never work with Russell again.  Not sure if this is true or not, but Clooney’s Gates certainly seems like his he has a chip on his shoulder throughout this movie.

Mark Walberg is also excellent as Sergeant Troy Barlow.  There’s a youthful exuberance about Barlow, a naivety that nonetheless is balanced with a sense of responsibility and leadership.  Barlow takes the even more naïve Private Vig under his wing and looks out for him throughout the story.  It was fun to see a younger Walberg, and while he’s very good in this movie, he’s gotten even better over the years, improving to the point where he’s one of the better actors working today.

 

Spike Jonze is memorable as Private Conrad Vig, although I wanted to give the character a library card and a newspaper with the instructions to start reading.  Vig is a backwards but well-meaning character, and Jonze does a nice job capturing these traits.  Ice Cube is also notable as the religious Sergeant Chief Elgin.  He provides the moral conscience for the group.

Nora Dunn is also very good as reporter Adriana Cruz, who spends the bulk of the movie getting the runaround from Clooney’s Gates, but we get to know her well as she shares her lamentations about the war, wondering what this war was really all about.  And at the end, when Gates needs the help of the press to get his job done, it’s Cruz that he turns to.

I really liked THREE KINGS.  It’s a thought-provoking exciting movie about a war that nowadays has been largely overshadowed by the traumatic events which were soon to follow it.

—END—

YOUR MOVIES LISTS: RUSSELL CROWE

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Russell Crowe as Maximus in GLADIATOR (2000)

Russell Crowe as Maximus in GLADIATOR (2000)

YOUR MOVIE LISTS: Russell Crowe

By Michael Arruda

Last week I unleashed THE HORROR JAR, lists of odds and ends about horror movies. Today I present YOUR MOVIE LISTS, lists of odds and ends about non-horror movies.

Kicking things off is a list of notable Russell Crowe movies. With the release of Crowe’s latest movie NOAH (2014) in theaters this weekend, here is a partial list of some prior Russell Crowe films:

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997) – Kevin Spacey and Kim Basinger were the big names in this one when it came out in 1997, but it was Russell Crowe who generated all the buzz. The first time I saw Russell Crowe in a movie.

GLADIATOR (2000) – The biggie. The film that pretty much made Crowe a household name. His performance as Maximus is one of his best. Great supporting work by Oliver Reed, in what would be his final role.

A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001) – Crowe delivers a top-notch performance as John Nash in Ron Howard’s Oscar Winner for Best Picture. Crowe was nominated for Best Actor but lost out to Denzel Washington in TRAINING DAY.

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (2003) – Crowe plays Captain Jack Aubrey in this rousing high seas adventure based upon the novels by Patrick O’Brian.

CINDERELLA MAN (2005) – Crowe again teams with director Ron Howard, once more with outstanding results, in this bio pic of boxer Jim Braddock.

3:10 TO YUMA (2007)- Crowe’s outlaw squares off against Christian Bale’s rancher in this exciting western which might be my favorite Russell Crowe movie. It’s certainly my favorite Russell Crowe performance. Ben Foster also delivers an exceptional supporting performance as Crowe’s psychotic right hand man Charlie Prince.

BODY OF LIES (2008) – Crowe plays a CIA agent who gives his operative on the ground (Leonardo Di Caprio) in the Middle East the runaround in this Ridley Scott directed thriller. The first time I was less than impressed with a Russell Crowe performance.

THE NEXT THREE DAYS (2010) – Crowe plays John Brennan who takes the law into his own hands to prove that his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is innocent of a murder charge— but is she? A convoluted plot knocks this one down a few notches.

THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012) – RZA’s stylish actioner lacks substance making this one a misfire. Crowe plays an assassin named Jack Knife. Crowe appears overweight and out of shape here.

LES MISERABLES (2012) – Crowe plays Javert opposite Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean in this film adaptation of the stage musical, which is based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Crowe’s singing grates throughout, but when he’s not singing he’s very good as the policeman who won’t quit.

BROKEN CITY (2013) – Crowe is a crooked mayor who tangles with an ex-cop played by Mark Wahlberg in this mediocre thriller. For me, the fifth straight underwhelming Russell Crowe film.

MAN OF STEEL (2013) – Crowe breaks out of his slump by playing Superman’s father Jor-El. His performance is one of the best parts of this mixed bag of a superhero movie.

NOAH (2014) – Crowe plays Noah in this retelling of the famous Bible story, which emphasizes action and melodrama. Crowe really shines here as the man who builds an ark and against all odds saves humankind from God’s wrath.

And that brings us up to date.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael