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.
On last night’s Celebrity Apprentice, we were treated to two banal firings. Banal because the first “star” sent packing, Teresa Giudice, was one we knew was bound to leave us prior to the final three, and the second “star” sent to the elevator of shame, Lisa Lampanelli, went out in a blaze of warm fuzzies, disappointing any viewer hoping to see the Celebrity Apprentice mean girl depart amidst a flurry of verbal slurs.
So, yes, the firings might have been banal, but the more important question is: Were they deserved? For one, despite the CHI and Elle executives’ beliefs to the contrary, Teresa actually should have bagged a victory for their task — though the Real Housewives of New Jersey star has proved to be a bumbling and boring Project Manager (you know it’s bad when Eric Trump can steal your spotlight), Unanimous’ ad campaign, complete with a hysterically self-promoting Aubrey O’Day as a model, was far superior to Forte’s hardly strong treatment of the hair dryer. You could tell even the producers thought so — we were offered a mere glimpse or two of Forte’s unattractive, confounding, and wordy advertorial, making it difficult, but not impossible for the viewer to tell it was far weaker than Teresa’s team.
But Trump couldn’t fire Lisa for the CHI task — otherwise, that would rob the episode of its final half-hour intrigue. (Teresa acing a final interview is about just as likely as Eric Trump not taking a bite out of your neck to suck up your soul.) So Trump enforced his no-rules-but-my-inexplicable-rules policy and bumped Teresa, making the final half hour anyone’s game. The final four was nearly Celebrity Apprentice’s strongest (it would have been more of a nail-biter had Penn Jillette not been fired weeks back) — Aubrey, Lisa, Clay Aiken, and Arsenio Hall all could have easily earned spots in the final two. So after Marlee Matlin and John Rich both fulfilled their contracts to return to Celebrity Apprentice to kiss Trump’s ass interview the final hour, Trump’s final decision was surprising, considering how much Marlee and John bonded with Lisa.
John, for one, was easiest on the dirty comic — he appeared to develop a stronger bond with Lisa than with his own cowboy hat, despite tearing apart the other three for a) not stepping up enough (Clay), b) not incorporating high-powered friends into the challenge (Aubrey, though, despite his insistence otherwise, I’m guessing John has not seen Making the Band), and c) not winning enough money for their charities (Arsenio, though that’s likely because this season of Celebrity Apprentice has featured far fewer rolodex challenges than previous seasons). But though Trump loves drama more then a beautiful woman half his age, he also has a history of cutting emotional trainwrecks (see: Meat Loaf) just prior to the finale. (After all, why give them a shot at the win when you can invite them back to instill terror in the top two’s final task?)
So out went Lisa, with surprising class and sans verbal fireworks. Disappointing for anyone who enjoyed watching her spar with Dayana Mendoza, but — just like our favorite wide-shouldered and vicious Terminator — she’ll be back.
But who will she be helping in his or her final challenge? Trump has so many possible combinations to consider: Trump has a soft spot for Arsenio, and how could he resist forcing the comedian to face off against his greatest enemy in the game, Aubrey? Then again, Trump has never been tied to gender equality in Celebrity Apprentice — perhaps the good-hearted Clay and Arsenio are the best twosome for the finale. But on the other hand, it would make sense to pit Clay and Aubrey against one another — after all, they have played against each other twice as Project Managers, both winning once. Best two out of three? And it wouldn’t be a satisfying Celebrity Apprentice finale unless Aubrey takes credit for the winning task, the Trump empire, Barack Obama’s presidency, Two and a Half Men’s absurdly high ratings, and Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.
With which combination would you most be at peace with the future of Celebrity Apprentice? And should Unanimous — with Teresa as Project Manager — have lost the Chia challenge?
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[Image Credit: NBC]
Celebrity Apprentice: Now THAT’s What I Call a Boardroom!
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Celebrity Apprentice: How Has Lisa Lampanelli Lasted This Long?Celebrity Apprentice
Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
A Latin lover (played by yummy Eduardo Verastequi) can't seem to keep track of all the girls he's dating. There's Cici (Sofia Vergara) a flamboyant dancer from Miami who makes a passionate partner in more ways than one; there's Lorena (Roselyn Sanchez) an intellectual do-gooder lawyer from Chicago who appeals to his mind; and then there's Patricia (Jaci Velasquez) a whiney princess from New York whose poor-little-rich-girl act inspires Papi's rebellious side. As expected the women eventually find out about one another via a contrived plot device that doesn't bear mentioning except to say that it leaves Papi in a tranquilizer-induced sleep that lasts for much of the film. In his waking moments he claims to be in love with each girl for a different reason an explanation with dubious implications: Does it take all three types to make one man happy? The women require no explanation at all; they're satisfied by their understanding that he three-timed them because "he's a man"--enough said--so the trio are content to bide their time until he can wake up and pick one of them to be his true love. While they're waiting they mistake a sexy FBI agent (Carmen Rivera) for another of Papi's conquests--not a difficult mistake to make since she wears hot leather pants sports large fluffy hair and oozes a tough sensuality that--needless to say--Papi finds extremely appealing when he finally meets her. (Remember: He's a man; he can't help himself.). Liking the odds better with just the three of them the women flee taking the comatose Papi on a wild ride through the streets of L.A. and inadvertently become involved in a shady counterfeit ring.
Chasing Papi's opening credits which feature cartoon versions of the main characters offer a cute but telling commentary on the movie itself since the live versions of the characters are so cartoonish. Vergara's Cici is the most clearly drawn which makes her the most interesting to watch--and also the most troubling. With her hot pink plastic jacket precariously high heels and vigorously rolled Rs she's in touch with the movie's ideal of achieving both inner and outer "Latina"ness. She's essentially playing Charro and as such first-time director Linda Mendoza focuses the camera mainly on her long legs gorgeous blonde hair and abundant cleavage while the story hones in on her "spicy Latin temper." Sanchez's button-down Lorena on the other hand is hiding her "true Latina essence" behind spectacles and a suit and tie and she only discovers her natural beauty when she stands in for "Miss Puerto Rico" in the Miss Latina America beauty contest. From this subterfuge women viewers learn a very valuable lesson: there's nothing like a low-cut blouse to make people listen to what you have to say. Velasquez's Patricia makes her transformation more simply. Since she goes to a lot of trouble to look "white" (she even wears blue contact lenses and carries a little lap dog with her everywhere in a Louis Vuitton bag) all she has to do is shed these accouterments and move out of her daddy's mansion. Voila! Instant ethnicity.
Chasing Papi tries and fails to make an entertaining story out of several much overused jokes and a series of contrivances. A counterfeit ring that will play a key role is conveniently mentioned each and every time a TV or radio is turned on. The hotel where the girls try to stay in L.A. is conveniently playing host to the Miss Latina America pageant. The coordinator of said pageant conveniently mistakes Lorena for Miss Puerto Rico earning the girls a free suite--convenient again since Patricia's mummy has cut off her platinum card. The girls' speeches at the end of the film solidify the nagging sense that the whole movie has been an elaborately contrived exodus designed to get us to these trite little sound bites about the value of going it alone without a man. But by the time we get there we already know that what this film's missing is even more elemental than detailed characters and a believable storyline--it lacks relevance. Despite its positive final message that you don't need a man to be happy the movie makes the clichéd assumption throughout that the modern Latin woman--even a spunky passionate dancer or a rich New York socialite or an intellectual attorney--will need to be convinced of this fact. Reality check: she probably won't and if she wants to explore womanhood in her culture we'd recommend renting last year's insightful Real Women Have Curves instead of shelling out eight bucks for this pap.