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Out in Theaters: ‘TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT’

Just like kicking your little brother in the nuts isn’t a movie, Transformers: The Last Knight isn’t a movie. A blatant “fuck you” to audiences stupid enough to buy a ticket to this next go-round – one that Universal and Hasbro have positioned as a “launching pad” for a Hasbro Cinematic Universe (and yes, the existence of a Hasbro Cinematic Universe makes me question my place on this Earth and will to live) – this inept fivequel is a brain-numbing series of endless explosions and rinkadink chase sequences and imbecilic exposition and sparks farting through the air and adolescent titties bouncing in slo-mo and Mark Wahlberg hollering fucking nonsense and racist robots with gold-plated teeth and snobby British ladies gathered for high tea. Trans5mers is all those things and so much less. It’s a retard-robo-fantasy masquerading as a film that lacks any of the stuff that actually makes a movie a movie, replacing substance with middle fingers extended curtly at those in the audience expecting one iota of sense. A flaming effigy of not giving a single fuck, Transformers: The Last Knight spits in its haters’ face and asks you to thank it.  Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘PATRIOT’S DAY’

Michael Bay catches a lot of flack for his bombastic tendencies behind the camera. The portmanteau Bayhem refers to the distinctly American director’s excessive inclinations behind the camera; his impulsive need to aggrandize nothingness through dynamic camera movement and, of course, ‘splosions. It makes for busy filmmaking the equivalent of a massively oversized pair of fake breasts bouncing up and down in front of your face, whacking you in the nose with each rise and fall. There’s so much happening at any given moment and from one scene to the next that there is little to no contrast. Just a constant thwacking of the noggin. Everything is turned up to 11 so that even the legitimately intense moments are overshadowed by other elevated humdrum. Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘DEEPWATER HORIZON’

Oil. We use it every day. It fills our gas tanks. Warms our homes. Even makes up the roads we drive. In Deepwater Horizon, the coveted resource turns on man 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana, becoming a nightmarish force that ends the life of 11 crew members onboard the fated vessel and torments the slurry of survivors racing to escape its scarlet abyss. With all the fury of a possessed malevolent entity, the routine drill site turns to fire and brimstone one fated evening, Dante’s inferno is brought roaring to life, and a brave few must do all they can to save as many as they can. Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘DADDY’S HOME’

There was an age of Will Ferrell where just about anything the slapstick buffoon did would conjure a hearty laugh from me. His performances in Anchorman, as the verbose, showboating newsman Ron Burgundy, and Step Brothers, as perma-man-child Brendan Huff, send me into a goofy rage of hacking cough fits to this day. But it’s been a hot minute since Ferrell has been able to lock himself and his signature non-sequitors into a winning project and Daddy’s Home continues that losing streak. Read More

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Director Face/Off: Paul Thomas Anderson Vs. Quentin Tarantino (Part One- Tell Offs)

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This time, Director Face/Off pits two legendary visual storytellers against each other: Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino. While some may disagree, the two have some stuff in common – both directors were obsessed film fanatics at very young ages, broke into the industry humbly by way of short films and co-written screenplays, and then went on to make cinematic staples like Pulp Fiction and Boogie Nights. Both directors make solid, intriguing films held up by foundations of strong, colorful characters, nonlinear narrative continuity and plenty of violence. Who does it all better, though? 


Read More

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Out in Theaters: TED 2

Prepare for weed jokes, hairy sight gags, unbridled misogyny, celebrity cameos, unchecked homophobia, Goose Island product placement, wiener jokes, sperm jokes, boob jokes, period jokes, Bud Lite product placement, lame-brained pop culture references, more weed jokes, mean-spirited black people jokes, more Goose Island product placement, slut shaming, nerd lampooning, Boston jokes, ASU jokes, and a near gleeful amount of hate because Ted 2, the somehow anticipated sequel to 2011’s near awful foul-mouthed CG teddy bear buddy comedy, is finally here. It is also, without a doubt, the worst film of the year. Read More

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Out in Theaters: TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

Einstein said that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

You have to be insane to be a Minnesota Timberwolves fan. Heading into tonight’s NBA Draft, I was resolved for the worst, because you can expect nothing more from one of the worst professional franchises in sport, an organization that’s run like a penny-saving ma’ and pa’ store with Enron savvy.

This is a team that’s drafted a guy they vowed not to draft because they hadn’t planned for a scenario where they wouldn’t get the guy they wanted. This is a team that puts players they don’t want into a so-called “S Box.” This is a team that drafted a 21 year old player who turned out to be 26 years old. This is a team run by Flip Saunders, a GM/Owner who hired himself as coach and wrote down his draft pick on a sheet of paper like Kevin Costner in Draft Day. And yet, here I was thinking we could get it right this time around.

We ended up getting Zach LaVine, a Point Guard from UCLA who didn’t start this year and seems to have all the qualities that would make one good at being a gazelle, and none of the talent that lends to being an actually good basketball player. He responded to being drafted by banging his head on the table and saying “Fuck me,” then proceeded to call Minnesota a “great city.” This guy’s a gem.

Somehow, I expected something better from Transformers: Age of Extinction—something sane. Maybe because Director Michael Bay’s on his fourth installation in the franchise, maybe because Mark Wahlberg is starring in it, maybe because the girl that plays Wahlberg’s daughter, Nicola Peltz, is super hot. Instead, Bay’s two and a half hour robokkake elicits the same response as Zach LaVine: “fuck me.”

In Transformers: Age of Extinction, Bay spends his seemingly endless time pouring salt on the barren wounds left by Transformers 1, 2 and 3, but this time it’s with a smirksome eff you to the audience. Everything is turnt up past 11 in this $165 million film: the jean shorts shorter; the sweat sweatier; the muscles more rippling; the cars more decadent; and worst of all, the Transformers are souped up. Dinosaur. Transformers.

Thankfully, we don’t have to struggle through another Sam Witwicky slog because Shia LaBeouf and his head-sack are nowhere to be seen. This time, we’ve got Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) as a ripped inventor whose inventions don’t work. He fixes up neighbors’ old trash for cash and builds malfunctioning robots that explode and combust, like a guard dog that couldn’t guard Zach LaVine.

He’s also an overprotective father of a gorgeous 17-year old (don’t worry I checked: she’s actually 19!) because he knocked up his wife when he was 17 and doesn’t want the same problems to befall his soon-to-be-graduated daughter. Turns out she’s hooking up with an incredibly handsome Irishman behind his back, Shane (Jack Raynor), who races cars for Red Bull. T.J. Miller (HBO’s Silicon Valley) is Wahlberg’s comic relief buddy who quickly gets burnt to a literal crisp and displayed on-screen as a carbonated trophy for a traumatic twenty seconds.

When Wahlberg finds an old rickety truck and discovers that it’s Autobot leader Optimus Prime in disguise (gasp!), the story starts to unfurl. The good Transformers who fought to save the world in Transformers 3: Revenge of the Bots are almost extinct as the government—headed by evil agent Harold Attinger (a bearded Kelsey Grammer)—tries to kill them all. Now there’s only five left.

In the mind-numbing two hours of battling and running and slow-moing and close-upping that follow, Wahlberg and friends team up with Optimus and his crew (notably John Goodman voicing a fat cigar-smoking Transformer and Ken Watanabe as a super-offensive NinjaBot) to ride some dinosaur Transformers and fight Kelsey Grammer, Stanley Tucci, a bomb called “The Seed,” a Transformer whose face is a huge gun, and some mechabot thing called Galvatron. None of this shit made any sense to me either.

MY FACE IS A GUN!!!

Granted, visually, this film is probably the most gorgeous thing that’s ever graced a silver screen. To his credit, Bay has perfected the Transformer graphics to the point that now he’s just playing with it like an infant with a toy chest of action figurines. Explosions boom in IMAX 3D. The cars, planes, alien ships and Transformers glimmer and shriek as they come apart and fit back together. The gun-head Transformer and the DinoBots are definitely the craziest, most preposterously incredible creations Bay has ever come up with. Bugattis and Ferraris flip and twist into robots. It’s astronomically cool.

Despite the glorious IMAX 3D monster that Bay’s created to top the box office charts for months, this flick reeks of #2. He’s trolling us now: Victoria Secret ads are blown up, US Banks are crushed under a Transformer’s boot, and Wahlberg stops in the middle of all the chaos to drink a Bud Light. There was even a quick intro before the movie where everyone involved just talked about how awesome Michael Bay is. Really, Age of Extinction is one big commercial, and the product placement made it seem like Transformers had accidentally wandered into a GQ photo-shoot and just decided to blow everything up.

Optimus Prime is awesome as usual, but there’s just so much crazy and absurd stuff happening to really get anything more than a headache. Plot points are brought up then completely dropped, like when Optimus is said to need repairing and then just magically repairs himself. Close-ups of actors were too jarring in 3D, and Bay too often forces the shots in. Though Tucci and Grammer are outstanding in their villain roles, it’s problematic when you find yourself hoping the good guys lose.

Though Mark Wahlberg is great at playing Mark Wahlberg, anything involving him, Peltz and Raynor is utter garbage. We’re subjected to almost three hours of “you can’t date boys until you’re 18” discourse that never ends. Peltz’s outfits get increasingly tighter, so much so that they look—as the country-folk say—painted on. Luckily she’s really hot, which distracts from how utterly annoying the overprotective Dad shtick gets. Otherwise, my main complaint comes with hotty racer Raynor: why couldn’t he be fat and nerdy and play League of Legends? Why do these guys always have to be way too good-looking?

Age of Extinction is just too long. It’s arduous work just watching because so many things are crammed in. This film could have been an hour long, and it might’ve been fantastic. Too often it dragged out unnecessary plot and confusing battles. There’s a Jaw-like wait just to see the DinoBots. Wahlberg amps up the Wahlberg, and seems to be made out of the same stuff as the Transformers.

At the end of the night, you wonder how you ever expected anything more. History repeats itself and so does Transformers, ad nauseam. One has to wonder if Flip’s “S Box” stands for “Shit Box.” If so, cram Age of Extinction in an S Box and never let it out.

D

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Out in Theaters: LONE SURVIVOR

“Lone Survivor”
Directed by Peter Berg
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Alexander Ludwig, Jerry Ferrara
Action, Biography, Drama
121 Mins

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It’s a certifiable shame that I didn’t see Lone Survivor a few weeks ago because if I had it surely would have made it into my top five movies of the year. So while I sit here and debate whether or not to amend my list, hold onto it for next year’s crop (it opens wide today, making its inclusion in 2013 or 2014 somewhat debatable) or just silently stew about it, one thing is for certain: Lone Survivor is a great film. And no matter how much I’m kicking myself for not holding off on making my Top Ten List until I saw Lone Survivor (I had a feeling this might happen) I’m certainly glad that it was what it was. And what it was is one of the best war movies out there.

Through the thousands of war movies brought to the big screen, accounts both true to life and inventons of fiction, we’ve learned the genre is inherently difficult to pull off right. Between remaining true to the actual events, creating compelling and rich characters that all get enough screen time to make a lasting impression, and bringing a sense of gravitas and dignity to these often harrowing situation, a lot of efforts belly flop. And for good reason. War films have to be a potpourri of drama and action. We need to care for the fate of these characters and wish their well being. We must, more than anything, be absolutely invested.

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This is where Peter Berg ought to stand proud. With Lone Survivor, he’s given us a sense of brotherhood and camaraderie that’s as organic as they come; a far cry from the whitewashed hooah inlaid in many lesser band of brothers films where we only vaguely know the characters crying out for their mamas as their intestines sag from their bellies. And though we don’t spend a tremendous amount of time with each character individually, Berg, as a director and screenwriter both, gives each enough traits for us to identify with them and understand them as people, not just soldiers.

Group leader and celebrated hero Mike Murphy (Taylor Kitsch) debates buying his wife-to-be an expensive Arabian horse as a marriage present. Axe (Ben Foster) reveals he’s a rough-hewn pragmatist willing to make the hard calls. Danny (Emile Hirsch) is no newbie to war but he is very much the baby of the group and his relationship to the others is as earnest as it is heartbreaking.

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Ironically enough, it’s Mark Wahlberg‘s lone survivor, Marcus Luttrell, who is the least distinct of them all. While Foster, Kitsch, and Hirsch are busy putting in some of the best performances of their careers, Wahlberg is a step behind. And while he hardly detracts from the overall impact and certainly serves as a suitable hunk of meaty marble for the role, once again he’s the rock from which other actors vault. It’s hard to say whether Wahlberg is just an excellent go-to guy for blander role or if he is just incapable of elevating his character to a place of transcendent complexity, but even here, he’s miles away from proving he’s a “great” actor.

But even more important than the characters, Berg has created a visceral experience unlike any other. As these four brave men find themselves surrounded by death, we feel like we’re right in the shit with them. Bullets fly from behind locales, singing around their heads, sometimes meeting flesh and erupting in red burps, and the sense of confusion is almost as terrifying as the fact that they’re getting shot at and struck. It’s like we’re amongst their ranks when the camera surges back and forth, tracking where the enemy might come from next. Transportative in effect, each scene is so alive with chaos and enveloped in a sense of dread that you’ll be reaching to squeeze the armrest. A series of sequences in which our heroes take a leap of faith is so gut-wrenching that you feel each and every bump and slam they encounter on their way down a mountain side. Truly, there hasn’t been action this game-changing since Stephen Speilberg‘s Saving Private Ryan.

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Even if you’re not aware of the true story behind this tale, Berg opens the film with the aftermath of this failed Afghanistan mission. All the men are dead, save for one. But even the fact that the set-up reveals the fate of these frogmen doesn’t diminish the sense of white-knuckle stakes so much as it amplifies them. By expecting their coming demise, we know that life-and-death hangs in the balance of each instance. So as their bodies collect more and more bullets, our jaws hang as we wonder what will materialize as the ultimate deathblow.

Backed up by blinding cinematography from Tobias A. Schliessler and an agonizingly plucky score (a throwback to Berg’s Friday Night Light days) courtesy of a Steve Jablonsky, Explosions in the Sky collaboration, Lone Survivor is the closest equivalent to an artsy war film we’ve seen. Also commendable is Berg’s sensitive attention to “the other.” There is no attempt to stir the crowd into a “fuck the Taliban” frenzy. It doesn’t even feel like us vs. them. It just feels like hell.

A

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