Rating: The Ugly – 60 Genre: Action, Crime Duration: 109 mins Director: Baltasar Kormákur Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster
The modern thriller is a tired animal indeed what with the scarcity of original plots and mind numbing dialogue that, instead of building character, is simply a vehicle for tying scenes together and abiding by an MTV archetype of cool. However, if you must turn one of these scripts into a movie then a watchable cast and able director are bare minimum prerequisites. Contraband just about pulls this off with Ben Foster and an always enjoyable Mark Wahlberg starring as a couple of drug smugglers and Giovani Ribisi as a slightly deranged wannabe tough guy attempting to pull their strings along the way. Yes, the plot swings between predictable and confused and, yes, it’s bloated with the contradictory ideas of a script writing committee but there’s some fine gunplay and car chasing to complement the cast’s chemistry. If you’re stuck for something to watch, this one will fill the void adequately.
Rating: The Ugly – 60 Genre: Action, War Duration: 121 mins Director: Peter Berg Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch
Highly dramatised account of a Navy SEAL team’s desperate attempt to escape dozens of Taliban during a compromised mission in Afghanistan. Peter Berg is a curious director. A glance at his CV and he could look like simply another journeyman director. But every now and then he pops up with a film that seems uniquely his. The fact that Lone Survivor counts as one such movie is both good and bad for Berg. Good because we have a movie with its own personality but bad because the cheesiness and fundamental idiocy of the plot must therefore reflect largely on him. Far from being an unashamed propaganda movie, Lone Survivor is a crudely veiled one. It doesn’t focus on the skill of the soldiers as a more straight up propaganda piece would. Instead, it’s an attempt to appeal to the emotional bonds that exist between the them. By placing them in a hopeless situation and having them shepherd each other to safety, bullet-ridden and broken… but never beaten. Of course, most propaganda films will play on the audience’s heartstrings aiming for emotional resonance. But Berg doesn’t simply play on them. He bounces on them – trampoline style. Some action fans will forgive this. Many won’t – and the truly awful dialogue during these gut wrenching moments won’t help them to in the slightest.
But for those who can forgive it’s more ridiculous qualities, there are rich rewards to be had in the action department. For Lone Survivor is a relentless shrapnel cloud of an action film, more visceral than most. The final hour is an excruciating embellishment on the levels of pain and punishment these men supposedly volunteer for and, as the opening scene alludes to, even crave. Sure, we recently had a rather complex analysis of this peculiar personality in the The Hurt Locker and, in contrast, Berg’s more exaggerated and fallow depiction of war addiction seems all the more disrespectful to the actual men and women of combat. However, what it lacks in subtlety and insight it makes up for in thump by putting us right in the middle of his imagined experience. An experience that amounts to a discombobulation of close quarter hillside combat interspersed with bone crunching mountain tumbling and lung bursting falls.
If the film is let down by a lack of believability in the action stakes, it’s not making up any ground in its character development. The four SEALS are introduced briefly in the beginning but any notion of building on that gets lost once the bullets start flying. And when two of those guys are played by Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch, it’s an unforgivable waste. Needless to say, the bad guys, to specify, the Taliban, are even more one dimensional. Strangely bedecked with ‘Ming the Merciless’ inspired makeup (just in case their slaughter of unarmed civilians didn’t make them seem mean enough), the story would’ve been made at least somewhat substantial if they were given even a modicum of personality. So extreme are they in their badness that the inclusion of a village of kind Afghans towards the end seems all the more conspicuous and, worse, tokenistic. A painful coda dedicated to their real life contribution to the SEAL’s escape only compounds this.
Where Berg truly fails however is in confusing his audience with respect to how he frames his heroes. We’re asked to sit in awe of their dedication, skill, and courage yet the tactical ineptitude that these supposed elite soldiers demonstrate is mind boggling. Their decision making, rationale, and professional comportment appear rather sloppy even to the layman. In the absence of any commentary on this supposed true event, we are left scratching our heads as to how this could’ve happened. Who knows how much liberty was taken in the adaptation but Hollywood is usually guilty of overplaying their heroes not underplaying them let alone leave the audience uncertain as to how much respect they deserve. What is for certain is that we miss much of the action as we ruminate on it. Given that the action is the solitary virtue of this movie, that’s all the more unfortunate.
Rating: The Ugly – 60 Genre: Action Duration: 124 mins Director: Johnathan Hensleigh Stars: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Samantha Mathis, Ben Foster
Standard enough action fare as Tom Jane does the best he can with a fairly unadventurous interpretation of comic book hero Frank Castle aka “The Punisher”. There are some good actors on show here with John Travolta and Will Patton playing the bad guys and the late great Roy Scheider in a cameo appearance as Castle’s father. Ben Foster in an early appearance gives a good turn as Castle’s nervous neighbour. The story is predictable enough and the tension slips around the beginning of the final act but it nonetheless remains an entertaining watch.
Rating: The Good – 73.4 Genre: Horror Duration: 113 mins Director: David Slade Stars: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster
For a genre as tired as the vampire one, films that push the boundaries and enter new territory are always welcome. Such is the case with the sensational 30 Days of Night, an atmospheric tour de force about an extremely northern Alaskan town that is invaded by a horde of vampires during the 30 days of darkness it experiences at the height of winter. A major strength of this film is its original depiction of the vampires with regard to how they look, sound, and behave – much more animal than human. Director David Slade skillfully uses the geographical isolation of the town to augment the sense of desperation and panic and outdoes himself with a truly inspired aeriel shot of the town as it’s being massacred. The acting is uniformly excellent with Danny Huston giving us one of the most memorable and nasty vampires in the genre’s history. The most impressive performance, however, is undoubtedly Ben Foster’s portrayal of the desperately needy and grotesque vampire stooge. No review of this film would be complete without mentioning Jo Willem’s remarkable cinematography and Brian Reitzell’s inspired mechanical score. The ending gets a little Buffy-the-Vampire-Slayerish and really should’ve stayed closer to the ending of the graphic novel but the rest of 30 Days of Night is so entertaining you’ll forgive it.
Rating: The Good – 76.6 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 108 mins Director: Christian Alvart Stars: Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, Cam Gigandet
One of those rare non-Hollywood science fiction vehicles that defied low-key expectations and caught everyone by surprise with some top-notch production values and nail-biting action. Pandorum is a terrific ship-based sci-fi about a handful of crew members who wake up out of stasis to find terrifying human like creatures stalking the massive ship and preying on the other 60,000 humans who are still in stasis. The opening half an hour slowly lures you in and when it has a hold of you, it hits you with some genuinely scary sci-fi horror. Ben Foster doesn’t waste his opportunity to take on a more straightforward heroic role than usual and brings a quiet intensity to the part. Dennis Quaid is his usual safe pair of hands as his senior officer and Antje Traue is more than decent in an above average female action role. The action sequences are shot in an appropriately frenetic style by Christian Alvart and come at just the right points in the movie. Though Pandorum is a uniformly excellent piece of film making, it’s the creatures that make it so memorable. This is largely due to some insightful concept and design, but also Alvart’s use of sound and the hugely innovative way in which he captures their movement (especially in the earlier scenes). Suffice to say, if you like proper deep space scariness, this is the film for you.