Tag Archives: mark wahlberg

Review: ‘Uncharted,’ Trapped in a Video Game

Do not miss the opening scene, especially if you risked your life during a global pandemic to see this movie on the biggest screen possible. (On IMAX it looks truly phenomenal!)

The movie proper begins after the in media res opening scene and a flashback, which sounds like a long way to travel, simply to start a mindless movie based on a video game, but it sets up the sequence of events to follow and succeeds in making one anxious to watch the next action scene, whatever it might be, because it promises to relieve the tedium of sitting through yet another narrative exposition, which really doesn’t matter anyway, since this movie is all about the action scenes. 

Did I mention it’s based on a best-selling series of video games? 

I’ve never played any of the games in question, which began with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, released in 2007. Per Wikipedia: “The main series of games follows Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter who travels across the world to uncover various historical mysteries.” 

Well, that’s basically the plot of Uncharted, the live-action movie, directed by Ruben Fleischer, known especially for good-hearted comedies, starting with Zombieland (2009) and the extremely zippy, if less-heralded 30 Minutes or Less (2011), followed most recently by the larger-scale action pictures Venom (2018) and Zombieland: Double Tap (2019), which both played down to lowered expectations. 

Displaying lovely busy backgrounds in an artificially-enhanced atmosphere that doesn’t feel like the world in which we currently live, Uncharted follows Nate Drake (Tom Holland), a big-city bartender who makes a modest living, boosted by his earnings as an expert pickpocket. One night, Sully (Mark Wahlberg) enters his life, offering the Kid an opportunity to join him on a mission to hunt down the greatest treasure ever known. (The movie is not short on a steady supply of self-applied superlatives.) 

Sully also teases the possibility that he knows what happened to Nate’s beloved older brother, who disappeared some 15 years before. (Watch the early flashback for pertinent story details.) With that possibility in mind, Nate agrees to join Sully, but first an adversary or two needs to be introduced, along with another friendly collaborator who cannot be trusted.  

Tati Gabrielle adroitly portrays Braddock, a sleek, mysterious and deadly figure; Antonio Banderas plays Santiago Moncada, an heir to a fortune who speaks Spanish, which makes him immediately suspect; and Sophia Allie embodies the winsome Chloe Frazer, whose true motives remain unknown, yet highly suspicious. 

Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg manifest their charming, friendly, and winning personalities as though they were on the longest red carpet in the world, which makes their constant, occasionally amusing banter the rightful center of the wildly uneven action adventure. 

In the screenplay, which is credited to Rafe Judkins (the recent Prime Video series The Wheel of Time) and the team of Art Macum and Matt Holloway, who also produced, and are known for writing Transformers: The Last Knight and Men in Black: International, Uncharted doesn’t explore new territory so much as it reimagines a modern adventure movie. The film is quite open in its unspoken admiration for the great action classics that have come before, and even proudly name-checks one. 

Its focus, though, is on imagining ever more outlandish and outrageously elaborate action sequences. Slender as it is, the slender plot-line is only intended to connect, somehow, the dashing, incredibly involved, daring-if-they-were-real sequences, which are deliriously unrealistic and unmoored to any sort of recognizable human reality. 

The plot holes are big enough to hurl a flying pirate ship through, with room to spare for anything else your heart might desire to see on a big, big movie screen. The more, the merrier. 

The film opens Friday, February 18, only in movie theaters, via Sony. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Transformers: Age Of Extinction,’ The Best Movie Ever … If You’re 9 Years Old And Can Stay Awake

'Transformers: Age of Extinction'
‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’
Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction is not a movie in the traditional sense of the word, though “movie” will have to do until a new word is coined to describe the maximum sensory experience that Bay consistently delivers.

More so than any entertainer in the world today, Bay is intent on immersing audiences in that experience. A short promotional feature proudly advertises that the fourth installment in the Transformers franchise utilizes the new IMAX 3D Digital Camera for many of the action sequences, which comprise more than half of the 165-minute running time. That further clues in first-time Bay-watchers to his priorities: the action sequences are lengthy exercises in chase and pursuit, destruction and death, escape and trap, defeat and triumph. They are, frankly, an end unto themselves.

During one such apparently endless sequence, I wondered if it could be excised entirely without affecting the overall experience. As the closing credits finally, mercifully began to roll, I realized my idle thought was correct.

Still, I’d be a hypocrite if I denied enjoyment of individual sequences, especially those in the first half of the experience, much of it set in and around Paris, Texas (though it was actually filmed in and around Austin). The wide open spaces provide picturesque backdrops for the story to unfold, and for Bay and cinematographer Amir Mokri to indulge their love for lens flares and ‘magic hour’ photography, whether captured in-camera or in post-production. Transformers: Age of Extinction looks terrific, and the artistry involved in the extensive computer-generated imagery is top-notch.

I’d also be a hypocrite if I denied my love for action movies that skimp on the plot. Earlier this year, I very much enjoyed The Raid 2, which runs 150 minutes and is devoted almost entirely to action sequences. The difference, and it is a major difference, is that The Raid 2 features a stunning variety of action, from vehicular to martial arts to sword play to gun battles. For all that Michael Bay clearly loves action sequences, the fighting between giant CGI robots becomes routine far too quickly to sustain an experience of this length.

One of the reasons that the earlier scenes work — to the extent that they do — is the placement of humans in peril within those sequences strain, but do not break, credulity. Out of an evident desire to raise the stakes, the “human peril” element becomes ludicrously extreme, and then we’re back to watching robots bash one another.

While the experience does not lack humor, much of it is either front-loaded — in the person of the annoyingly grubby T.J. Miller — or back-loaded — in the more capable hands of Stanley Tucci. By that point of the action, however, Tucci is reduced to reaction shots, joking asides, and even he can only do so much. The rest of the picture relies on tired, ancient humor fantasizing that Mark Wahlberg is an old-fashioned father who doesn’t want his 17-year-old daughter (Nicola Peltz) dating boys. Of course, she’s been secretly dating an older Irish hunk / race driver (Jack Reynor) who is entirely too conversant with Texas statues about dating underage girls.

Transformers: Age of Extinction revolves around an upper-echelon CIA chief (Kelsey Grammer) and his determination to wipe the Transformers off the face of the earth. Of course, he has ulterior motives, and the good Transformers, led by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) must decide if they want to help mankind against the evil Decepticons. Fans will know the difference between the good robots and the bad robots; for everyone else, it’s a matter of watching pixels fighting pixels, in glorious IMAX 3D Digital Camera photography at tremendous volume.

Help yourself.

The experience opens wide in theaters throughout the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex on Friday, June 27.

Review: ‘Lone Survivor,’ In The Hell Of Battle, Do Not Ask Questions

'Lone Survivor'
‘Lone Survivor’

Holy cow. War is hell.

A very sincere and heartfelt tribute to the American military, Lone Survivor is at its best when it’s recreating the terror and physical reality of battle. It’s less effective when it deviates from that spirit and indulges in myth-making and hero worship.

As the son of a military veteran who provided me with a decidedly irreverent (and off-the-record) perspective on the armed forces, I can respect the intent of Lone Survivor. Director and screenwriter Peter Berg sets a high standard for his own film to meet by beginning with a lengthy sequence of what appears to be documentary footage of Navy SEALs undergoing rigorous training. That segues into a scene of a medical team treating a battered and bloody soldier who is fighting for his life. That, in turn, leads to a ground-level view of the preparations for a SEAL team mission in Afghanistan in June 2005.

By its title, its opening sequences, and the knowledge that the movie is based on the real-life experiences of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, we know that the outcome for the SEAL team will be disastrous. Just how dire, however, is what Berg and his team seek to recreate.

The SEAL team members and their comrades all have a similar appearance: male, often bearded, and very, very fit. Out of this group, four men emerge who will take the lead on the mission: the medic, Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg); the leader, Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch); the radio guy, Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch); and the crack shot, Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson (Ben Foster). They’re all extraordinarily competent, and share a similar sense of humor and readiness to fight; under their camouflage, though, it’s sometimes difficult to tell them apart.

Mark Wahlberg in 'Lone Survivor'
Mark Wahlberg in ‘Lone Survivor’

And that’s especially the case when their mission to capture or kill a Taliban leader goes horribly wrong. It’s a matter of time and chance; they’re in a thickly forested mountain range where communications with their headquarters is spotty at best, and when they come under fire, they are on their own against an overwhelming number of well-armed and well-trained enemy forces. Under fire, the SEAL team fights hard and doggedly, even when they are forced to retreat by (repeatedly) falling off the side of the mountain.

Those breathtaking scenes are exceedingly painful and distressing to watch, as we know the SEALs are breaking bones and opening gashes in their bodies, on top of the bullet wounds they have already suffered — and then they have to prepare instantly to defend themselves by taking cover and trying to kill the enemy fighters.

As acknowledged, we already know the fate of the men, and their actions have already proven themselves courageous under fire. By that point of the movie, their heroism is abundantly clear. So it feels like Berg and company are manipulating emotions when the end-point for each member of the team arrives and their final moments are drawn out in agonizing detail. It’s as though Berg doesn’t trust that the audience will understand on its own and reach the conclusion that he desires.

On the other hand, Berg doesn’t hesitate to plunge ahead with dialogue that is thick with unexplained military jargon and action sequences defined by military strategies, given without much context for the non-military viewer. In sum, it felt to me that the film skimps on explaining the military’s intent and double-downs on universal emotions that are blindingly obvious, resulting in a queasy and unsatisfactory ‘trust us, we’re the military’ conclusion.

Nonetheless, Lone Survivor is a very strong and stinging movie that provokes tremendous empathy and respect for the men (and women) who valiantly give of themselves for what they believe.

The film opens wide throughout Dallas and Ft. Worth on Friday, January 10.

Review: ‘Pain And Gain’ Warns Against the Abuse of Drugs and Too Much Style

Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson in Michael Bay's 'Pain & Gain'
Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson in Michael Bay’s ‘Pain & Gain’

Michael Bay takes a daring, creative approach to Pain & Gain, a story based on real life: he makes it look as unreal as possible.

Not that he’s doing much of anything that’s different from what he’s done with his previous nine films. He applies his distinctive, pumped-up style — constantly roving cameras, unusual angles, staccato editing, saturated colors, disharmonious performances — with great verve, if little variety and a off-kilter rhythm. Occasionally, it meshes well with the look and sound of Miami, Florida, where Pain & Gain is set, but that almost seems to be accidental, as though Bay kept swinging a baseball bat every five seconds, no matter if a pitch were thrown or not.

Still, Pain & Gain is a step away from what has become ordinary for Bay, and closer to his first feature, 1995’s Bad Boys. That too was made on a relatively modest budget, featured two men who played by their own set of rules, and was set in the Miami criminal world. Whereas Martin Lawrence and Will Smith were cops, however, Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson are criminally-inclined bodybuilders. (Note, however, that the new film is based on events that took place in late 1994 and early 1995, i.e. the same time period as Bad Boys.)

Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg) works as a personal trainer at a gym he has made successful for owner John Mese (Rob Corddry). But Daniel wants more: he wants the American Dream, which to him translates into gaining as much wealth as possible while doing as little work as possible. He becomes convinced that personal success guru Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong) has the right idea, and somehow translates Wu’s platitudes into a scheme to kidnap Victor Kershaw (Tony Shaloub), a new client, and soak the rich bastard dry.

To accomplish that, he first enlists the help of his fellow personal trainer Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and then drafts newly-paroled bodybuilder Paul Doyle (Johnson) onto his team. Their scheme is wild and reckless and stupid; after kidnapping Kershaw, they discover that he’s unwilling to cooperate by signing over everything he owns to them, so they begin torturing him in the abandoned warehouse where he’s been stashed.

“Stupid” is the operative word here. The three bodybuilders are so dim that it’s a wonder they can tie their own shoelaces. Beyond their lack of intelligence, their core personalities are despicably self-centered and avaricious. Kershaw, as more than one character observes, is so unpleasant and temperamental that it’s difficult to pity his horrid situation.

To compensate, the film offers … not much more than a weak sense of humor and a strong sense of style.

The only vaguely moral character, a retired private detective and former cop (Ed Harris), arrives far too late to offer much ballast. The idea that “truth is stranger than fiction” is pounded into the ground. The attempts to puncture Daniel Lugo’s version of the American dream ring hollow. Even the personal success strategies sold by Johnny Wu fall flat as either satire or commentary.

Really, Pain & Gain plays best as the most stylish and overblown cautionary tale about substance abuse in movie history. The bodybuilders’ abuse of steroids and other drugs is depicted early and often, and so perhaps that can serve as a warning sign.

Pain & Gain opens wide across the Metroplex on Friday, April 26.

Review: ‘Contraband’

Mark Wahlberg and Ben Foster in 'Contraband' (Universal Pictures)
Mark Wahlberg and Ben Foster in 'Contraband' (Universal Pictures)

In Baltasar Kormákur’s terse thriller Contraband, Mark Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, a career criminal who’s gone straight. He’s happily married to Kate (Kate Beckinsale), loves his two growing boys, and is content to be a small business owner in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans. But then his young brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) screws up a drug deal, and it’s up to Chris to fix it.

Andy’s mistake is compounded because his “employer,” Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), is a merciless sleazeball. Briggs took advantage of the void created when Chris quit the business and is now running things. When Chris tries to negotiate a settlement, Briggs refuses to accept anything less than full price in exchange for the drugs that Andy was supposed to smuggle into the country.

To save Andy’s life, Chris comes up with a new plan that doesn’t involve drugs, but does require a smuggling trip to Panama via a container ship. Chris takes his good friend and trusted ally Danny (Lukas Haas) along with Andy, leaving behind his best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster) to guard his wife and children from Briggs.

Kormákur produced and starred in 2008’s Reykjavik-Rotterdam, directed by Óskar Jónasson, which serves as the basis for Contraband. I haven’t seen the original, but [fellow Twitch writer] Swarez gave it a positive review, while acknowledging, for example, that the script “might not be the most original.” The remake, with a screenplay credited to Aaron Guzikowski, changes the locales and some of the other relationships between characters, but otherwise appears to follow the same pattern.

True enough, Contraband is not the most original thriller. But as far as delivering a movie that moves quickly through its paces while rarely insulting your intelligence, Kormákur and his team of collaborators come through with flying colors.

— From my review at Twitch.

‘Contraband’ opens wide across the Metroplex today.