Movie Review: “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

Starring
John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Max Martini, Dominic Fumusa, David Costabile, Toby Stephens
Director
Michael Bay

Michael Bay has wasted the better part of the last decade making “Transformers” movies, each one more awful than the last, so it’s always refreshing when he takes a break from the blockbuster franchise to produce smaller films (comparatively speaking) like “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.” Based on Mitchell Zuckoff’s book about the 2012 attacks in Libya, “13 Hours” is an exhilarating and surprisingly apolitical military thriller that reconfirms why Bay is one of the best action directors in the business. Though the movie isn’t without the typical Bayisms (from the overuse of slow motion and lingering shots of the American flag, to the corny dialogue), it thankfully plays more to his strengths as a filmmaker.

John Krasinski stars as Jack Silva, a former Navy SEAL who has reluctantly resorted to military contractor work to help pay the bills. He’s the newest member of a six-man security team – the innocuously named Global Response Staff (GRS) – tasked with protecting a small group of CIA operatives working out of a top-secret outpost in Benghazi. Tensions within the city are already boiling over following the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, so when U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens (Matt Letscher) makes a peace trip to Benghazi and insists on staying in a nearby diplomatic compound instead of under CIA protection, the GRS is placed on high alert.

The rest, as they say, is history. On the evening of September 11, 2012, Islamic militants attacked the poorly guarded compound where Ambassador Stevens was residing, and while the GRS – comprised of Silva, team leader Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale), Kris Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), Dave Benton (David Denman), Mark Geist (Max Martini) and John Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa) – was ready to mount a rescue attempt within minutes, they were forced to stand down by the CIA chief in charge (David Costabile). When the team finally arrived at the compound, the damage had already been done, but it was just the beginning of their hellish night as they returned to the CIA annex to defend against wave after wave of rebel attacks until support arrived.

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Blu Tuesday: The Martian and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Martian”

WHAT: During a manned mission to Mars, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind by his crew after he seemingly dies in a storm. But when it turns out that Watney has survived, he must use his skills and intelligence to keep himself alive on the barren planet long enough to make contact with NASA and await rescue.

WHY: Although it’s the third film in as many years about astronauts in distress, “The Martian” is a smart, captivating and humorous adaptation of Andy Weir’s bestselling novel that covers very different narrative and emotional territory than “Gravity” and “Interstellar.” For starters, it’s a lot more uplifting than most sci-fi fare, eschewing the usual doom-mongering for a story about the power of optimism and perseverance that also doubles as one heckuva recruitment video for NASA. (Who knew science and math could be this much fun?) Matt Damon is perfectly cast as the Everyman astronaut forced to “science the shit” out of his seemingly impossible predicament, while the supporting cast – including Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejifor and Jessica Chastain – is absolutely stacked with talent. This is hands down Ridley Scott’s best movie since “Gladiator,” and it owes a lot to Drew Goddard’s screenplay, which takes a lighthearted approach to the high-stakes drama in order to produce one of the most purely entertaining crowd-pleasers in years.

EXTRAS: In addition to a pair of production featurettes, there are some fictional promo videos made for the film and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Mr. Robot: Season One”

WHAT: Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), a cyber security engineer who suffers from social anxiety disorder, is recruited by a mysterious hacker named Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) to help take down an evil corporation that he believes is destroying the world.

WHY: USA Network hasn’t garnered much acclaim with its recent crop of original series, so when “Mr. Robot” debuted last summer to rave reviews, audiences were quick to stand up and take notice. Though the psychological thriller isn’t quite as groundbreaking as many have suggested – largely because its big twists have been executed better before – it gets off to a strong start thanks to Rami Malek’s breakout performance and a solid supporting cast. The hacker elements are really compelling, but once the show starts to dive more into Elliot’s psyche, it begins to unravel. Not only is Elliot an incredibly unreliable protagonist, giving the writers free reign to do whatever they want with little consequences, but the drastic change in direction midway through the season is so sudden that it feels like creator Sam Esmail got impatient allowing the story to develop organically. He burns through nearly two seasons’ worth of story in only 10 episodes, and while some viewers will appreciate that type of gung-ho attitude, a more disciplined approach would have resulted in a more rewarding payoff.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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R.I.P. David Bowie

David Bowie was one of the most unique and innovative artists of the 20th century. It wasn’t just about his incredible music, but the man was a true showman who reinvented himself and his look over and over again.

Bowie passed at the age of 69 after a battle with cancer, yet the news was a shock to most people who had no idea he was ill. He had just released a new album and I was just thinking the other day if Bowie had yet another influential turn in his career that would have an impact on music, style and popular culture.

Ten years ago we published our David Bowie Deep Cuts list as part of our ongoing series of looking back on the music of great artists. Check it out and you might be introduced to some great music from Bowie that you haven’t heard before.

His list of hits is long of course, and I wanted to post a great video, but “Rebel, Rebel” is one of my favorite Bowie songs so that seemed appropriate, though the video here just includes one classic Bowie photographed. Bowie was a rebel who will truly be missed.

  

Leonardo DiCaprio having fun at the Golden Globes

Here’s a great shot of Leonardo DiCaprio at the Golden Globes as Lady Gaga walks by to accept her award . . .

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to January

january

As if the winter months weren’t already miserable enough, the January movie slate definitely won’t be one to remember. Though recent years have seen a slight increase in the quality of films being released during this time, 2016 will remind audiences why it’s long been considered a dumping ground for bad movies. There a few potential surprises from the likes of Michael Bay and Gavin O’Connor, but you’d be better off catching up on all the awards contenders (and maybe seeing “Star Wars” a third or fourth time) instead.

“The Forest”

Who: Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa and Eoin Macken
What: A young woman searches for her twin sister in a Japanese forest, only to find herself surrounded by paranormal forces.
When: January 8th
Why: Believe it or not, “The Forest” isn’t a remake of a Japanese horror flick, but rather an original story whose makers somehow thought it would be a good idea to cast mostly white actors in a movie about a real-life problem in Japan. Cultural insensitivity aside, “The Forest” looks like your typical supernatural horror film circa 2005, when retooling Asian genre movies for American audiences was all the rave. Though it’s nice to see Natalie Dormer in her first Hollywood leading role, the “Game of Thrones” actress is far too talented to be wasting her time on low-rent projects like this.

“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

Who: John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Pablo Schreiber and David Costabile
What: An American ambassador is killed during an attack at a U.S. compound in Libya as a security team struggles to make sense out of the chaos.
When: January 15th
Why: Michael Bay’s “smaller” movies always interest me more than his effects-driven blockbusters, like this adaptation of bestselling author Mitchell Zuckoff’s book about the 2012 Benghazi attacks. Though Bay’s romanticism of the U.S. military can be a little irritating at times, he’s one of the best action directors around, and “13 Hours” is shaping up to his own personal “Black Hawk Down.” The film also boasts a solid ensemble cast led by John Krasinski and journeyman actor James Badge Dale, but its success will depend largely on whether Bay can tone down the pro-American flag-waving and just focus on telling a good story.

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