Universal via Everett Collection
Lone Survivor isn't a film for the faint of heart. It's a film that beats you down and only lets you up for a few precious moments before the credits roll, but that emotional throttling is what helps make the film such a powerful experience.
Peter Berg's Lone Survivor tells the story of Operation Red Wings, primarily focusing on a group of four Navy SEALs who are sent to the mountains of Afganistan to capture or kill a member of the Taliban. The plan goes wrong, and the team has to fight for their lives to escape the enemy-infested area. The film does a marvelous job of ratcheting up the tension before collapsing into its main action sequence, one that is as thrilling as it is unsettling. The long sequence brings forth memories of the infamous D-Day opening of Saving Private Ryan, except this film's fire-fight stretches out the violence like a medieval torture device. The langourous scene is, at times, hard to sit through. Each moment slips by in coiled tension. It's undoubtedly uncomfortable, and the film makes a point to never make the violence fun or enticing. The action isn't consequence-free, and every bullet fired carries weight, making the scenes brutal and unrelenting because of it. The film takes on the aura of a horror movie that wants you to feel every second that ticks by, and director Berg makes sure that a pressing hopelessness starts to weigh on the viewer just as it does on the soldiers.
Mark Wahlberg is plenty capable as Marcus Lutrell, a member of the SEAL unit that is sent on the mission. The supporting cast plays its parts admirably by believably infusing a diverse set of personalities and values into the soldiers, while still keeping them in tune with the same military culture that governs much of their thoughts and actions. There's a great scene where a difficult decision has to be made, and the viewer gets to see the different directions to which some of the character's moral compasses are tuned. Sometimes the right thing can mean different things to different people when the risk of death is on the table. The real standout in the cast is Ben Foster, whose SO2 Matthew Alexson swirls with barely contained fury. He is darkly intense and has electric screen presence that really starts to manifest when the bullets star flying and things become dire.
Universal via Everett Collection
For all the good will that the film builds up in its first and second act, the final third of the film hits some snags as history demands that the story take itself to a different location, sacrificing some of the tension that it has built up. In the last 30 minutes of the film, there are some odd tonal choices that don't gel with the tension brimming in the first half. A comedic scene involving a language barrier stands out in particular.
The movie makes a point to steer clear of any political judgment, and it doesn't try to lay blame for the botched mission on any one head. And while the film never outwardly states and opinion on the conflicts that America found itself embroiled in during this time period, the searing brutality depicted in the movie highlight that no one should be subjected to the pain that these men were faced with. Made abundantly clear is the soldiers' willingness to drop everything and serve their country the best way they know how. Lone Survivor tries to honor the soldier, but not glorify war.
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Lone Survivor is at its best when it makes you feel the worst. It gives soldiers their due reverence by showcasing the true terror of the battlefield, and while the film does start to sag a bit in its third act, it's still more than worth the experience in order understand the consequences of war, and its toll on the people in the trenches.
A kids’ movie without the cheeky jokes for adults is like a big juicy BLT without the B… or the T. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted may have a title that sounds like it was made up in a cartoon sequel laboratory but when it comes to serving up laughs just think of the film as a BLT with enough extra bacon to satisfy even the wildest of animals — or even a parent with a gaggle of tots in tow. Yes even with that whole "Afro Circus" nonsense.
It’s not often that we find exhaustively franchised films like the Madagascar set that still work after almost seven years. Despite being spun off into TV shows and Christmas specials in addition to its big screen adventures the series has not only maintained its momentum it has maintained the part we were pleasantly surprised by the first time around: great jokes.
In this third installment of the series – the trilogy-maker if you will – directing duo Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath add Conrad Vernon (director Monsters Vs. Aliens) to the helm as our trusty gang swings back into action. Alex the lion (Ben Stiller) Marty the zebra (Chris Rock) Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) are stuck in Africa after the hullaballoo of Madagascar 2 and they’ll do anything to get back to their beloved New York. Just a hop skip and a jump away in Monte Carlo the penguins are doing their usual greedy schtick but the zoo animals catch up with them just in time to catch the eye of the sinister animal control stickler Captain Dubois (Frances McDormand). And just like that the practically super human captain is chasing them through Monte Carlo and the rest of Europe in hopes of planting Alex’s perfectly coifed lion head on her wall of prized animals.
Luckily for pint-sized viewers Dubois’ terrifying presence is balanced out by her sheer inhuman strength uncanny guiles and Stretch Armstrong flexibility (ah the wonder of cartoons) as well as Alex’s escape plan: the New Yorkers run away with the European circus. While Dubois’ terrifying Doberman-like presence looms over the entire film a sense of levity (which is a word the kiddies might learn from Stiller’s eloquent lion) comes from the plan for salvation in which the circus animals and the zoo animals band together to revamp the circus and catch the eye of a big-time American agent. Sure the pacing throughout the first act is practically nonexistent running like a stampede through the jungle but by the time we're palling around under the big top the film finds its footing.
The visual splendor of the film (and man is there a champion size serving of it) the magnificent danger and suspense is enhanced to great effect by the addition of 3D technology – and not once is there a gratuitous beverage or desperate Crocodile Dundee knife waved in our faces to prove its worth. The caveat is that the soundtrack employs a certain infectious Katy Perry ditty at the height of the 3D spectacular so parents get ready to hear that on repeat until the leaves turn yellow.
But visual delights and adventurous zoo animals aside Madagascar 3’s real strength is in its script. With the addition of Noah Baumbach (Greenberg The Squid and the Whale) to the screenwriting team the script is infused with a heightened level of almost sarcastic gravitas – a welcome addition to the characteristically adult-friendly reference-heavy humor of the other Madagascar films. To bring the script to life Paramount enlisted three more than able actors: Vitaly the Siberian tiger (Bryan Cranston) Gia the Leopard (Jessica Chastain) and Stefano the Italian Sealion (Martin Short). With all three actors draped in European accents it might take viewers a minute to realize that the cantankerous tiger is one and the same as the man who plays an Albuquerque drug lord on Breaking Bad but that makes it that much sweeter to hear him utter slant-curse words like “Bolshevik” with his usual gusto.
Between the laughs the terror of McDormand’s Captain Dubois and the breathtaking virtual European tour the Zoosters’ accidental vacation is one worth taking. Madagascar 3 is by no means an insta-classic but it’s a perfectly suited for your Summer-at-the-movies oasis.
Nearly midway through last night's bittersweet Season 4 finale of Parks and Recreation, titled "Win, Lose or Draw" Andy uttered what sounded like a dreadful foreshadowing: "This is the worst thing to happen in Parks and Rec history." Of course, Andy wasn't talking about the results for Leslie Knope's campaign for City Council (he was talking about his wife April's monumental work flub, but more on that in a bit.) But for an episode that was going to be the culmination of a season of holding our breath for our beloved Leslie, those words resonated like some sort of awful premonition.
But before we get to whether or not Leslie's election results turned out to be "the worst thing to happen in Parks and Rec history" lets start from the very beginning. (I've been told this is a very good place to start.) Leslie and Ben met with Jennifer (Kathryn Hahn, don't go!) at a voting committee meeting to discuss yet another unfair Bobby Newport trick in this election. This time around the Newports made candy-dispensing voting booths that treated voters for picking Bobby and asking Knope supporters if they were sure of their vote and cried when they didn't change their mind.
Even with all their tricks and bamboozles (clearly the Newports knew not of Leslie's victory in the art world) Leslie was only separated from Bobby by a "razor thin" margin. And, even though she was on the "verge of a nervous breakdown" (in her exhausted state she almost ate her cell phone with cream cheese) Leslie, as always, had her head in the game. Still, even the most determined and headstrong, like our own lovely Leslie can't help but eventually feel the brevity of what's happening to them. After a puzzling meeting with Bobby (her endlessly hopeless rival earnestly told her he was voting for her because voting for yourself is "illegal") and an even more puzzling conversation with her boyfriend/campaign manager/Sexy Elf King Ben.
Her partner-in-crime revealed that Jennifer had offered him a position as a coordinator in Washington, D.C. for a congressional campaign for a Senator. Oh, and he'd be gone for six months and he'd have to make a decision in two days. Leslie could have eaten an cell phone with cream cheese and waffles (mmmm) and it would have been entirely understandable.
But Leslie had to put all those distractions aside: She had to head into the voting booth and fulfill her lifelong dream of seeing her name on a ballot in Pawnee. Teary-eyed and overwhelmed with pride a joy, Leslie voted for herself. And when Leslie Knope cries tears of joy, the whole world cries tears of joy. (Or at least I definitely do.) And when Leslie Knope cries "My dream is dead....oh, f**k" after she finds out that Bobby Newport beat her in the hard-fought election by 21 measly votes, the whole world cries "Oh, f**k" right along with her. What a gut punch that moment was as Leslie watched her lifelong goal be handed to her undeserving foe.
Speaking of people crying "Oh, f**k," April was back at the Parks and Rec office freaking out after she erased all the files from all the computers. ("You did the right thing by hiding under the table," her husband reassured her.) After some plans to run away and start a new life (Andy suggested they burn acid on their fingertips and switch faces, if need be) Donna, as always, came to the rescue and saved the day. Turns out, she created a backup system because Gerry does it all the time. Dammit, Gerry!
Back at the Jermaine Jackson Suite (ha!) things were taking a turn for the better, too. After encouraging Ben to follow his dream and go to Washington (if anyone can survive a long-distance relationship, it's these two) and waiting out a recount, beautiful Ann came back with news: It was still a victory by 21 points. Only, those 21 points were won by the new City Councilwoman Leslie Knope. Victory speeches were made (Ben, sweetly, didn't even bother writing a concession speech), happy tears were shed, and Leslie hung her photo up on the wall with pride. (As well she should, she was the only woman up there.)
While its Thursday night brethren Community and 30 Rock have already been picked up for new seasons, Parks and Rec still hangs in the balance. But, if this were to be the very last episode of the series (weep!) not even silly side plots like Chris hooking up with Jennifer or Tom and Ann getting back together can take away from how wonderful this was for Leslie. (Michael Schur, thank you for going with your gut.) I hope more than anything that our wonderful friends at Pawnee return. Ron may always want things to stay the same (after all, he turned down Chris' position) but life doesn't always grant us that. If we don't see you again Leslie, just know, we'd jump off that cliff with you, too.
Some of the other best lines and moments from "Win, Lose or Draw":
- The Jermaine Jackson Suite (He visited Pawnee once!)
- Tom referring to Ben as an "uptight nerd who shall remain nameless."
- Andy's list of dream locations to move away with April: Winterfell (!), South Africa (home of Andy's hero Dave Matthews), U.S.S.R. (Russia), the moon, Florida (Everglades), Key Largo, Montego, Cocomo.
- Andy trying to fix the computer X-Box style: By blowing on it and swatting it off the table.
- April's dream job is to be a dentist/medium so she "can clean people's teeth and tell them when they're going to die."
- April's worst fear after losing her job: Getting another lecture from Leslie on the importance of responsibility.
- Ron's motto: "I've never been one for meeting new people or doing new things, or eating new types of food, or traveling outside of Southern Indiana. I've had the same haircut since 1978, and I've driven the same car since 1991. I've used the same wooden comb for three decades. I have one bowl. I still get my milk delivered by horse." (I love you forever and always, Ron Swanson. Never change.)
- Ben spitting out the dark drink Ron, who was 11 whiskeys in, ordered him.
- Ben, trying to change the subject with Leslie: "Where can I buy some jeans?" (Her response: "You have plenty of jeans!)
- Leslie almost being swayed out of a recount with the promise of Joe Biden's phone number.
- Bobby Newport described by Perd Hapley as an "amateur go-kart champion."
- Bobby playing with the boom mic and later getting ink all over himself in the voting booth.
- Bobby's concession speech: "Honestly, I've never been more relieved in my entire life."
- The return of Jean Ralphio! Cleared of insurance fraud charges and wearing a jaunty scarf!
- The return of Drunk Ann!
- Gerry forgetting to vote and Ron ratting him out at the very end. Dammit, Gerry!
- The idea of Officer Andy Dwyer. FBI Agent Bert Macklin would be so proud.
- Leslie's promise to Ben: "We'll do it all over Washington."
- Leslie celebrating with "victory waffles" and to "stay up all night talking about our lives and our feelings." (I love you forever and always, Leslie Knope.)
What did you think of the finale? Are you relieved Leslie won? Do you fear this was the very last ep ever? Sound off in the comments section.
[Photo credit: NBC]
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