Movie Review: “Patriots Day”

Starring
Mark Wahlberg, J.K. Simmons, John Goodman, Kevin Bacon, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Michelle Monaghan, Jimmy O. Yang, Melissa Benoist
Director
Peter Berg

Over the last few years, director Peter Berg has carved out a nice little niche for himself making unapologetically patriotic films about real-life heroism in the face of adversity. Much like “Lone Survivor” and “Deepwater Horizon,” Berg’s third collaboration with Mark Wahlberg doesn’t really have anything important to say politically, but it’s their finest movie to date and perhaps their most meaningful one due to the actor’s close ties to the city of Boston. Though some people will question whether “Patriots Day” arrives too soon after the true events that inspired the film, Berg does the story justice with his gripping yet tactful retelling of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the five-day investigation that followed.

The movie begins on the morning of April 15, 2013 and introduces several of the key players involved in the tragic event, including Boston cop Sgt. Tommy Saunders (Wahlberg), Chinese exchange student Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), Watertown police officer Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese (J.K. Simmons) and the bombers themselves, Kyrgyzstani-American brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff and Themo Melikidze, respectively), who detonate the homemade bombs about four hours into the race and then return home to watch the ensuing chaos on TV. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials work together under the guidance of FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) and Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) to recreate the crime scene and comb through hours of video surveillance in order to identify the suspects, eventually leading to a manhunt through the streets of Boston and the surrounding suburbs to capture them.

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Movie Review: “Sing”

Starring
Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Seth MacFarlane, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Nick Kroll, John C. Reilly
Director
Garth Jennings

Illumination Entertainment prints money. Their three most recent films (“Despicable Me 2,” “Minions” and “The Secret Life of Pets”) have raked in just under $3 billion combined, with an average budget per film of $75 million (which is roughly half what Disney and Pixar spend on their films). As business models go, it’s hard to come up with a better one. On the other hand, those Illumination films range in quality from aggressively mediocre to downright bad, and in 10 years, they’ll all be forgotten. If Pixar films are a blue chip stock, Illumination films are day trader profits; it’s all about the now, hence the emphasis on merchandising over story.

“Sing” appeared to be aiming (slightly) higher than its most recent predecessors in terms of quality, but it falls victim to the same trappings as the others, namely a script that feels as though it wasn’t touched by human hands until the third act. The first hour is a laundry list of overused tropes, including a few that are so outdated that their presence here beggars belief.

Koala bear Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is a theater owner in desperate need of a hit. He decides that his newest show will be a singing competition, and when the grand prize amount is moved two decimal points to the right thanks to a series of events both gross and absurd, Buster is surprised to see that he has a bevy of talent to choose from at auditions (but doesn’t yet know why). The ones to make the final cut are classically trained mouse Mike (Seth MacFarlane), hausfrau pig Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), German pig Gunter (Nick Kroll), sensitive gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton) and teen punk porcupine Ash (Scarlett Johansson. Yes, Scarlett Johannson plays a teenager). Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant with pipes for days, went to audition but is terrified of performing in front of an audience and is bullied off stage by Mike. She goes to audition a second time, and Buster asks her to be his stage hand without ever hearing her sing. This turns out to be a very good thing for all concerned, for obvious reasons.

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Blu Tuesday: The Magnificent Seven and Sully

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 social media with your friends.

“The Magnificent Seven”

WHAT: When the villainous Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) takes over the small mining town of Rose Creek, vengeful widow Emma Cullen (Hayley Bennet) hires a group of mercenaries – including bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), drunken gambler Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt) and Confederate sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) – to put an end to Bogue’s tyranny.

WHY: Remakes are rarely as good as the original, but Antoine Fuqua’s “The Magnificent Seven” succeeds where so many have failed by retaining the spirit of its predecessors while also distinguishing itself just enough to stand on its own, beginning with its refreshingly diverse ensemble. Their camaraderie, and the chemistry among the actors themselves, is what keeps you engaged even during the few lulls in the story. Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt are perfectly cast as the film’s leading men, but it’s the supporting players who steal the show, especially Ethan Hawke and Byung-hun Lee’s delightful double act. Although the first half of the movie is surprisingly light on action save for a well-staged standoff between the mercenaries and Bogue’s men, Fuqua makes up for it with the climactic finale, which delivers everything you could possibly want from a large-scale Wild West shootout. Its unmistakable “Fast and Furious”-like flavor won’t go down well with fans of the original Western, but much like the long-running franchise, “The Magnificent Seven” is good pulpy fun that’s far better than anyone expected.

EXTRAS: In addition to an interactive feature called Vengeance Mode that intercuts the film with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast and crew, there are six featurettes and some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“Sully”

WHAT: On January 15, 2009, commercial airline pilot Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) safely landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the middle of the Hudson River when the plane struck a flock of geese shortly after takeoff. While Sully and his crew were hailed as heroes by the media, the National Transportation Safety Board quietly launched an investigation into the incident to determine whether it was reckless, casting a shadow of self-doubt on the experienced pilot.

WHY: Clint Eastwood’s latest biopic may not have enough narrative meat to warrant a feature-length film, but it’s such a fascinating story that it survives on the sheer awe factor and a solid performance by Tom Hanks. It’s hard to imagine a more fitting choice to play the modest and mild-mannered pilot, and although he doesn’t get a lot to work with from a character standpoint (Sully is extraordinary only in his ordinariness), the actor makes the most of even the smallest moments. For as great as Hanks is in the role, however, the real highlight is the movie’s gripping reenactment of the Miracle on the Hudson, which is hands-down one of the best sequences of the year. Eastwood doesn’t give up the goods right away, holding back the set piece until nearly an hour into the film’s lean 96-minute runtime, but he revisits the harrowing event multiple times, revealing new details and perspectives. Though “Sully” borders on syrupy sentimentalism at times and could have easily been undone by its own simplicity, the movie ultimately succeeds as an effective and enjoyable tribute to everyday heroism.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a profile on Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, a retrospective on the Flight 1549 incident with Sullenberger, copilot Jeff Skiles and air traffic controller Patrick Harten, and a behind-the-scenes look at creating the movie’s pivotal set piece.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

Movie Review: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Starring
Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tuydk, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang
Director
Gareth Edwards

With “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” director Gareth Edwards has made an entertaining and intense, if mildly frustrating, war picture set in a galaxy far, far away. As a huge blockbuster, its tone, morally ambiguous characters and often bleak resolutions set it apart from standard studio fare. The first standalone Star Wars picture is sometimes as admirable as it is enjoyable, but it also has some glaring problems that are clearly holding the movie back from reaching its full potential. The good news is that it’s still a fine start to this new branch of standalone Star Wars stories.

The story opens with a young Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) seeing her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), being taken away by the Empire’s Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) in order to complete construction on a powerful space station called the Death Star. After her father is kidnapped, Jyn is raised by rebel-turned-extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a standout character who’s barely human. Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s script then cuts to an older, more dangerous Jyn in custody of the Empire. She’s been living much of her life under pseudonyms until she’s intercepted by Rebel forces and commanded to lead them to Saw Gerrera. Leading the mission are Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who doesn’t trust Jyn, and a quippy, rewired Imperial droid named K2-SO (Alan Tudyk), who calculates that the odds she will betray them are strong. In the end, however, Jyn agrees to join the small band of rebels in an attempt to steal the plans for the Death Star.

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Blu Tuesday: Suicide Squad 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 social media with your friends.

“Suicide Squad”

WHAT: When a powerful witch named Enchantress (Cara Delevingne) escapes captivity and sets out to destroy the world, A.R.G.U.S. director Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) enlists no-nonsense soldier Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to lead a covert team of the world’s most dangerous criminals – including sharpshooter assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), the Joker’s deranged sidekick Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and pyrokinetic gangster El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) – to stop her.

WHY: Following the disaster of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” moviegoers looked to “Suicide Squad” to get the DC Extended Universe back on track. Unfortunately, while there’s a lot to like about the basic setup, it’s too often hindered by the film’s many flaws and surprising conventionality. The movie doesn’t disappoint when it comes to its colorful roster – especially Will Smith, Margot Robbie and Jared Leto (as a very different iteration of the Joker), all of whom deliver great work in their respective roles – but while it’s packed with some great character moments, they’re spoiled by the lame plot and even lamer villain. There was a much better story to be told, or at the very least, a better way to tell it, but “Suicide Squad” gets so caught up in trying to compete with DC’s bigger properties that the film loses sight of what made it such a unique and exciting idea from the outset. Although it’s not quite the post-“Batman v Superman” pick-me-up that many people were expecting, there’s enough good to be salvaged from David Ayer’s original vision that it’s not a total failure, either.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a series of featurettes on the characters, boot camp training for the cast, filming the action sequences and the Joker/Harley relationship, as well as a gag reel and the extended cut of the movie, which runs about 13 minutes longer.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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