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.
If San Diego Comic-Con is the Frodo of pop culture gatherings, than New York Comic-Con is its Samwise Gamgee. Or, better, if San Diego Comic-Con is the Professor X of pop culture gatherings, than New York Comic-Con is its Cyclops. OK, ok—if San Diego Comic-Con is the Han Solo of pop culture gatherings, than New York Comic-Con is its Chewbacca…is this making sense?
We here at Hollywood are always ready to channel our inner fanboy when it comes to comic conventions, sniffing out the latest and greatest in movies and TV geekery. We braved the crowds of this year's San Diego Comic-Con and we'll do it again this coming weekend, October 14 - 16, to tackle SDCC's east coast companion, New York Comic-Con.
Whether you'll be in attendance or not, you'll want to take a look at what's in store for your favorite properties, as news will be flying from the panels and booths all four days. Here's Part 2 of our NYCC Preview (click the links to find out times/locations):
Saturday, October 14:
Green Lantern: The Animated Series World Premiere Screening
Superhero animation overlord Bruce Timm returns to debut his latest half-hour creation, a CG-animated Green Lantern toon. NYCC audiences will be the first to see the premiere!
Red Tails: A Dogfight from All Angles
George Lucas' decade-in-the-making aerial battle movie heads to the convention with a rep from the legendary special effects team ILM, who will walk attendees through the process of conjuring up an exhilarating dogfight.
Attack the Block
The British alien invasion flick that won over audiences across the country this summer is coming to Blu-ray and director Joe Cornish will be on hand to promote the release. Expect an behind-the-scenes look at this awesome sci-fi flick.
A Liar's Autobiography
The Monty Python troop comes together for a 3D animated film celebrating their late fifth member, Graham Chapman. The film features the voices of all the original members and director Bill Jones (son of Python's own Terry Jones) will be on hand to discuss the film. A real treat for Python buffs.
2012 is shaping up to be a big year for the Dark Shadows franchise. A third volume of the the classic comic book will premiere at the Con and star Kathryn Leigh Scott will be on hand to talk about the show. Expect a few hints at what to expect from the Johnny Depp feature film.
New-Gen with Mark Hamill
Luke Skywalker himself will be in attendance to discuss his latest film New-Gen, plus anything and everything under the two suns.
Smallville: The Complete Series Retrospective Premiere
NYCC gets the exclusive premiere of the 100-minute Smallville documentary that will come paired with the November release of Smallville: The Complete Series DVD.
The movie studio that brought us Batman Begins, Superman Returns and 300 takes a stab at producing its own comic books and graphic novel mainstay Frank Miller will be in attendance to discuss the spin-off company's first ventures.
New York Comic-Con welcomes back stars Maggie Q and Shane West who will be on hand to discuss the next season of the show. Expect plenty of gunfire.
John Landis & Monsters in the Movies
Renowned director John Landis (Americna Werewolf in London, The Blues Brothers) arrives to Comic-Con to walk attendees through the history of movie monsters, which will include a look at hisnew book Monsters in the Movies.
Head of Marvel Television and acclaimed comic writer Jeph Loeb takes the podium to reveal Marvel's upcoming TV plans. Audiences will get their first peak at the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon plus plenty of other reveals.
MTV creeps into the horror genre with Death Valley, a Reno 911-style comedy that throws in a few zombies for good measure. The panel will feature cast members and creators talking up the unique, new show.
Creators of the crazed Cartoon Network show arrive to NYCC to discuss the show and screen never-beofre-scene footage.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
We got their first taste of the new Ghost Rider at this year's San Diego Comic-Con and now it's New York's turn to feel the fury of the flaming skull superhero. Directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (Crank, Gamer will be on hand to unleash the madness, which should prove itself quite different then the first movie.
The Walking Dead
One of the highlights from last year's NYCC was AMC's Walking Dead panel and this year they're following up with even more momentum then before. Creator Robert Kirkman and producer Gale Anne Hurd will attend the panel to discuss what to expect from Season Two as well as preview new footage from the upcoming season.
Marvel's The Avengers
The superhero team-up is the culmination of years of cinematic planning—but the end product is finally on the horizon. Iron Man, The Hulk, Captain America and Thor join forces and New York Comic-Con will be first to see footage from the massive undertaking. Special guests are expected to appear on the panel, making this one of the Con's hottest tickets.
Beavis and Butt-Head
Creator Mike Judge will preview the latest incarnation of his much-loved animated series, which will see the two deadbeats ragging on everything from current music videos to Jersey Shore to MMA. No topic left un-chuckled over.
Based on the cult blaxploitation starring Michael Jai White, Cartoon Network debuts its animated version that promises to translate the movie's violence and comedy with little to no sacrifice. White and the show's creators will be on hand to screen new footage and take questions. Just don't ask anything silly—Black Dynamite doesn't like silly questions.
Sunday, October 16:
Conan Spolight with Jason Momoa
Conan the Barbarian and Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa brings the rest of his Conan cast, including Rose McGowan and Stephen Lang, to NYCC for a round of bloody fun. No word on whether Momoa will sport a little hat (the man loves little hats).
IFC's Portlandia and Increasingly Poor Decisions
IFC's quickly becoming the premiere place for off-beat humor and, as proof, it's bringing two of its funniest shows to Comic-Con. Two back-to-back panels will host stars David Cross and Fred Armisen, as well as debut new footage from the upcoming seasons. An appearance by laughter confirmed.
Cartoon Network continues its domination of NYCC with a double panel of Adventure Time and Regular Show, each with cast and footage in hand.
Lucky NYCCers will get an advance screening of one the creepiest indie flicks on the horizon. Grave Encounters takes everything you love about ghost hunting shows and turns it into the episode you always wanted to see...
Head Here to See Part 1 of Our New York Comic-Con Preview!
Walt Disney animation’s first foray into 3D ‘toon making isn’t just a technical triumph it thankfully also tells the clever story of Bolt (John Travolta). He’s a superstar TV canine who believes the superpowers he displays weekly on his series are for real --especially when it comes to the protection of his master and co-star Penny (Miley Cyrus). One day however the dog is accidentally shipped from his Hollywood soundstage to New York City. Lost alone and confused on the streets of the Big Apple Bolt is still living the show vowing to get to Penny who he believes has been kidnapped by the “green-eyed man.” And so he embarks on a cross-country journey to L.A. to save Penny. Along the way he is joined by an abandoned wily housecat Mittens (Susie Essman) and a TV-loving hamster Rhino (Mark Walton) who believes everything he sees on the tube is ALSO real. Of course Bolt is in for rude awakening when he finds out he is just a regular dog but he still needs to get to Penny -- even if it means she might not be there for him when he returns. Disney is not a studio that generally depends on superstar voices for their animated films but in casting Travolta and tween queen Cyrus they have scored a bullseye. Travolta’s Bolt is a delightful cross between the self-assured superstar and a pooch in denial. The actor doesn’t phone it in but instead creates an original and loveable dog that stands proudly in Disney’s large canon of canine greats. The action scenes created for Bolt’s TV series are lots of fun and the interactions with his traveling companions are choice. As Penny Cyrus is sympathetic sincere and she even gets to sing a duet with Travolta “I Thought I Lost You ” which she co-wrote. The show is nearly stolen though by comedian Susie Essman (Curb Your Enthusiasm) as Mittens -- a smart determined and emotionally wounded pet cat abandoned by her owners and forced to wander the streets alone. And by Mark Walton as the hilarious Rhino the obsessive fanboy hamster who rolls around in his ball. Walton is actually an animator in real life who happened to be so good at voicing Rhino during tests they just gave him the job. Disney vets Chris Williams and Byron Howard capably usher the venerable Disney label into the brave new world of 3D animation and the results are promising -- putting the audience right in the center of Bolt’s universe. The TV series action set pieces are particularly effective in using the technology. It’s not even necessary to see the film in 3D because the whole CG process has come a long way in a few short years and Bolt is one of the best looking most accomplished animated films in memory -- glasses or no glasses. Williams and Howard expertly blend humor pathos and blockbuster-style action scenes effortlessly giving “Bolt” an appeal beyond just the target kid demo.
Playing second fiddle to a more famous sibling can be rough. Just ask Fred Claus (Vaughn) a regular guy who has had to grow up under the shadow of his little brother Nicholas Claus (Paul Giamatti) aka Santa. That’s a big shadow to say the least both figuratively and literally. As an adult Fred has pretty much steered clear of his family but when he finds himself in dire need of some fast cash he calls his brother. Pleased as punch to hear from him Nicholas nonetheless makes him a deal: If he comes up to the North Pole for a visit and to help out the few days before Christmas then Fred can have the money. Fred reluctantly agrees and soon he’s being whisked off in Santa’s sleigh by head elf Willie (John Michael Higgins). But once Fred gets to the North Pole nothing seems to go right and soon he is the cause of much chaos--which unbeknownst to Fred causes Nicholas even more stress since his North Pole operation is one step away from being shut down by a cold-hearted efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey). Can Fred quit being bitter in time to save his brother’s livelihood? Of course he can. Hmmm Vince Vaughn minus the R-rated Wedding Crashers/Old School irreverence? It’s a stretch. Seeing the comic actor playing it PG is a little weird but you might enjoy how Vaughn infuses his unique energy into Fred Claus. From getting all the elves to boogie down in Santa’s workshop to going on one rant after another (on his brother: “He’s a clown a megalomaniac a fame junkie!”) to pilfering money on the street and then being chased by Salvation Army Santas it’s all good. Giamatti too seems a little out of his comfort zone as the saintly St. Nick. The actor who usually plays such endearing sad sacks has already played against type to great effect this year as the maniacal bad guy in Shoot ‘Em Up but he isn't nearly as successful in doing the flipside of that in Fred Claus. And what the hell is Kevin Spacey doing in this? As the villain of the film he fills the shoes nicely but he is almost too good at it (natch) for such a feel-good family film. Even Higgins--a character actor who is usually so hilarious in films such as The Break Up and all of Christopher Guest’s movies—has to shed the cheekiness and sugar himself up for Fred Claus. There’s also Rachel Weisz as Fred’s beleaguered girlfriend (you heard right) and Kathy Bates as the Claus boys’ mother who always sees Fred as inferior to her other son to fill out a cast of big names doing family fare. Director David Dobkin is a Vince Vaughn favorite having directed him in Wedding Crashers and Clay Pigeons but like his muse Dobkin seems a little out of place guiding this material. Granted Dobkin creates a pretty magical North Pole complete with an entire city of little dwellings a Frosty Tavern and a huge domed Santa’s Workshop. The montage of Fred delivering presents on Christmas Eve—falling down chimneys stuffing cookies in his face zooming around in the sleigh—is also well done. But overall Fred Claus is a Vaughn vehicle—even as sugary sweet and family-friendly as it is--and all Dobkin really does is turn the camera on and let the man do his stuff. Dan Fogelman's script is also so very bland full of any number of holes and only picks up once Vaughn starts to improvise. Bottom line: If you’re looking to take the kids to a sweet Christmas movie and are a Vince Vaughn fan then Fred Claus is for you.
A perfect husband a devoted father a loyal friend a successful architect—yes Steven Burke (David Duchovny) is the kind of flawless family man we only encounter in hankie-soaking Hollywood melodramas. He exists solely to be killed off just so his friends and family can become better people through their loss. So it comes as no surprise that Steven dies a Good Samaritan's death while on his way home—of course—from buying ice cream for his two kids. If that won’t get you crying nothing will. Steven’s death leaves his wife Audrey (Halle Berry) a mess. She can’t look after herself let alone her daughter Harper (Alexis Llewellyn) and son Dory (Micah Berry). Instead Audrey turns to Steven’s best friend Jerry (Benicio Del Toro) for help. Not really the smartest choice—Audrey despises Jerry for squandering his life and career on drugs. But Audrey’s desperate for a shoulder to cry on so she inexplicably invites Jerry to stay at her home while he tries to clean up his act. Quicker than you can say “rest in peace ” Jerry’s dispensing words of wisdom to Steven’s kids and in a moment of unintentional hilarity spooning with the lonely Audrey in her bed. Audrey naturally comes to believe that Jerry isn’t the strung-out leech she’s considered him all these years. Still we can’t help but count down the minutes until Jerry slips back into his old habits. Or wonder how long it will take for Audrey to kick Jerry out of her house when the inevitable happens. Things We Lost in the Fire serves an important purpose: to make clear that Halle Berry’s performance in Monster's Ball wasn’t a happy accident. As a widow unable to function without her soul mate Berry shakes up the otherwise maudlin proceedings with a rage and intensity that’s honest and fearless. Never afraid to present Audrey as occasionally cold and unsympathetic especially in regards to her treatment of Jerry and her children Berry nevertheless always makes us feel Audrey’s burning love for Steven without resorting to Joan Crawford-like histrionics. Too bad Audrey is defined only by her role as a wife and mother—Berry never receives the chance to show that Audrey has a life outside her family. She does share a good rapport with the typically brooding Benicio Del Toro whose ravaged face reveals more about Jerry’s lifetime of self-inflicted pain and suffering than words ever could. But there is a slight spark to be found in Del Toro’s sleepy eyes which gives us the impression that Jerry has what it takes to live one day at time with the support of his new friends. David Duchovny doesn’t do much beyond smiling like he’s just been named Father of the Year for the 10th time. Not that Duchovny needs to exert himself to make Steven charming and likeable—Steven is as happy and uncomplicated as Duchovny’s Californication philanderer is as sad and screwed up. Alexis Llewellyn and Micah Berry (no relation to his onscreen mother) nail the anguish confusion and profound sense of loss that comes with grieving for a dead parent without being annoyingly precocious. How disappointing it is to discover that not even the usually calm and collected Susanne Bier can turn Things... into something more than the standard Lifetime TV weepy of the week. The Danish director’s Hollywood debut is very much like her earlier character-driven dramas in that it is preoccupied with how established family dynamics shift in the wake of a life-altering event. After the Wedding and Brothers managed to be poignant without getting too gushy but Bier cannot keep Things... from drowning in its own sentimentality. The problem clearly lies with screenwriter Allan Loeb’s emotionally manipulative script which fails from the start to convince us Audrey would open her house to her late husband’s drug buddy. Ignoring Loeb’s hard-to-swallow premise Bier does an excellent job of establishing the relationship between Audrey and Jerry. Theirs is a well-presented study in co-dependency which results in an insightful—though occasionally obvious—exploration of drug addiction the grieving process and the pursuit of personal redemption. Things... smartly avoids making much of its interracial marriage—it would only overcomplicate matters—or taking Audrey and Jerry down a path that would led to an ill-advised romance. If only Bier and Loeb showed some guts in the way they portray Steven. Surely he had at least one skeleton in his closet to make him seem more human. Everything we learn about Steven—especially about the fire referenced in the seemingly cryptic title—merely reinforces the notion that he was too good for this world. Or at least the world Hollywood thinks we live in.