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Movie Breakdown: Oculus

April 10, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing lead us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Something something scary mirror.

The Reality:

If you’re a fan of horror flicks like Sinister, Insidious or The Ring, then Oculus is going to delight your insides  The well-made film features two interlinked stories (one set in the past, the other in the present) that tell an elaborate tale about a mirror that seems to be connected to a lot of terrible things.  There’s a few jump scares, some gory bits, and a whole hell of a lot brain bending theatrics that constantly have you trying to work out what is or isn’t real.  It’s actually this last part that I liked quite a bit, as the constant “what is really happening” element kept Oculus interesting and fun throughout its runtime.  I definitely recommend grabbing a friend and hitting up a late night screening somewhere.

The Lesson:

I like it when you mess with my mind.

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Movie Breakdown: Draft Day (Noah)

April 10, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing lead us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Kevin Costner is on a tear now that he’s old and any film where he’s talk sports is usually a safe bet. That said, nothing about any of the promotional material has pointed towards this being anything more than a bland, loosely sports-related romantic comedy.

The Reality:

Maybe I just love sports films, but you know, Draft Day was pretty solid. Set entirely between the hours of Midnight and Midnight on Draft Day 2014, the film follows Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) as he tries to negotiate to make the Cleveland Browns a viable team, prove himself as a competent manager in the daunting wake of his father, and to (pretty lamely) mend his personal life. The film wants to be the Aaron Sorkin version of the NFL Draft, but Ivan Reitman only really gets around to the fast-talking and deal-making in the last 20 minutes or so of the film. Instead the film is sort of a slow burn kind of story that focuses on Sonny Weaver Jr. dealing with the immense pressure of being the main decision maker for a professional football team. The film is chock full of a sort of homespun wisdom and charm, with Costner’s gruff but loving General Manager doling out life lessons left and right, and his hard-headed staff of lovable coaches filling in the gaps with decidedly PG humor.

What’s strange about the film is that as much as it wants to be about the solid character that makes up the core of professional football, everything about the production design is polished to an almost unrealistic sheen. The Cleveland Browns’ stadium and facilities seem to have never seen dirt, and every player is a strapping lad pulled from the pages of GQ. I don’t need every sports film to be about down-on-their luck characters rising from the ashes, but Draft Day is so squeaky clean, it’s easy to forget at times that the film is talking football. Couple that with the fact that film is almost entirely a character study of Costner’s Sweeney Jr. with football as a backdrop (a scene where a handful of actors playing coaches try to “talk shop” is particularly awkward) and this could be a godawful film, but Reitman manages to keep the ship solidly on course, crafting a behind-the-scene sports flick that doesn’t reinvent the wheel but ably keeps it rolling.

The Lesson:

Costner + Sports = Enjoyment.

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Movie Breakdown: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

April 2, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing lead us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Captain Rogers gets a second solo adventure. The sequel does not appear to feature more of the retro, pulpy good times that filled the first film in the series.

The Reality:

While there’s a dash of the lighthearted fun that’s been prevalent in all of Marvel’s previous movies, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a film that’s pretty much all business.  For some, I imagine that the change of tone won’t be something that’s smiled upon.  After all, aren’t the solo films supposed to be fun, one-off adventures that simply setup the next Avengers movie?  Well, apparently not.  In The Winter Soldier characters are constantly put in the way of real danger, and the structure of Marvel’s cinematic universe is rattled and re-worked throughout the film.  For the first time I felt like I got something from Marvel that had real weight to it.  I didn’t watch a setup film or a quirky side story.  No, The Winter Soldier just aims to be impressive all on its lonesome, and it does that in spades.  I think it currently ranks as Marvel’s best film (even over The Avengers), and I highly recommend that you see it as soon as possible.

The Lesson:

The level of quality that comes with the Marvel logo is unmatched.

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Movie Breakdown: Cheap Thrills (Noah)

March 27, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing lead us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

If it’s released by Drafthouse Films, which it is, it’s going to be weird and quite possibly very, very good.

The Reality:

Cheap Thrills, which I watched slightly intoxicated on my friend’s couch, was one of the most unnervingly amazing film experiences I’ve had in years. Starring Pat Healy and Ethan Embry (who is very good in this film) as old high school friends who get pulled into an absolutely brutal game of sort-of-Truth-or-Dare by a super wealthy guy (David Koechner) and his almost non-existent wife (Sarah Paxton), Cheap Thrills starts small and creepy and goes relatively big and creepy. If anything, Cheap Thrills is a testament to what a well constructed story can do. E.L. Katz crafts a series of “bets” that lead from the mundane (“who can take a shot faster?”) to the absolutely ridiculous (and I won’t spoil any of them) but they always feel steeped within the current context of the characters. This is a story about two losers on the edges of normal society and what the draw of money, and the power it brings, can do. Pat Healy and Ethan Embry are both amazing sides of the loser coin, truly down-on-their-luck humans who are just trying to drag themselves back in to the black. It’s really David Koechner who steals the film though. Katz has tapped in to the manic, sad, always-on-the-edge humor Koechner is renowned for, but turned it to the darkest levels. Koechner hums with energy, the good, the bad and the ugly, and his presence, and the subtle way the script drags you down the rabbit hole, had me squirming in my seat. It’s surprisingly funny, in the grimmest most pitch-black way possible, but at its heart, Cheap Thrills is a film about the edges of society, and what we’ll do as human beings to pull ourselves off of it.

The Lesson:

Trust Drafthouse Films. Also, never go to a person’s house in the middle of the night after getting punched in the face and start doing ridiculous things for money. I mean it.

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Movie Breakdown: Cesar Chavez

March 27, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing lead us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Diego Luna directs a movie about Cesar Chavez, grape connoisseur and civil rights activist.

The Reality:

I did not like Cesar Chavez.  It is a film loaded with contrived, overly dramatic speeches and actions that repeatedly fall flat when it comes to actually making what’s happening on the screen matter.  In fact, I just kept wanting Cesar and his followers to hurry up and get what they wanted so that I could escape the theater before I succeeded in rolling my eyes directly out of my head.  If you want to learn about Cesar Chavez, just read his Wikipedia page. It’s better in all aspects.

The Lesson:

Go easy on the drama.

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Movie Breakdown: The Raid 2

March 27, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing lead us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Writer/Director Gareth Evans rallies up a sequel to The Raid, one of the better action movies of the last decade or so. Expectations are rightfully high.

The Reality:

The Raid 2 does what any good sequel to an action movie should do – it aims to thoroughly outdo (not repeat) the film that came before it.  I knew the movie would be action heavy and I thought there might be more of a story this time around, but I was actually surprised at how thick The Raid 2 ended up being.  It’s nearly two and a half hours long!  Action flicks shouldn’t have run times like that, but this one does and it utilizes every second.  There’s a plethora of wild, epic action sequences and the film features a twisting (and also somewhat convoluted) plot that’s essentially about a cop turned criminal who wants to root out various levels of corruption.  It might honestly all be too much for one movie, but I loved every bit of it.  If you have an obsession with the action genre, then The Raid 2 is going to please you to no end.

The Lesson:

Bigger is better.

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Movie Breakdown: Muppets Most Wanted (Noah)

March 21, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing lead us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

I wasn’t the only one who gave the first of the new Nicholas Stoller-involved Muppet films a positive review. It was funny and light and the music was good, so I’m actually relatively excited for a second go-around. That said, the deep dark niggle of sequel blues does rest in my gut …

The Reality:

Wow, this is not a great film. Admittedly, The Muppets aren’t the easiest franchise to play around with. You basically have a mildly adult, heavily meta version of Sesame Street. You’re playing in the sandbox of a bunch of felt toys so you want the kiddies to be able to watch it, but if you follow in the true tradition of the Muppets and their vaguely ground-breaking television series, you also want it to be at least reasonably palatable for adults. Muppets Most Wanted never really figures out which side of the line it wants to sit on. It has the requisite musical numbers (the producers of the film should thank their lucky stars that Bret McKenzie was on-board to make them the highlight of the film), a ton of cameos (most utterly worthless, and/or so fast that you don’t even register the appearance) and a hacked together story about a world tour, a criminal mastermind who looks exactly like Kermit and a Russian Gulag. To be frank, the movie doesn’t work. It bobs along at a snail pace as the Muppets, sans Kermit for almost the entire running time run wild (if the half-assed shenanigans in the film can be thought of as “wild”) in Europe. Ricky Gervais, as Dominic Badguy, plays a watered down version of his usual smarmy self and Tina Fey (another solid part of the film) plays a sexually frustrated Russian guard in love with Kermit. Sure, the film has a little bit of meta-commentary and sure it has a little bit of the near-adult humor of film’s past, but it also has abysmal slapstick, some truly bad dialogue, and meandering plotline that seems tailor made for snot-nosed children to sort of understand. The film never clicks, it just slides along resting on the laurels of its franchise. I’m not a huge Muppets fan, but films like this certainly aren’t going to push me in that direction.

The Lesson:

My childhood means nothing to the awe-inspiring suck of the sequel.

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Movie Breakdown: Non-Stop

February 27, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing lead us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Liam Neeson does his usual thing where he shoots and punches people, BUT THIS TIME HE DOES IT ON AN AIRPLANE. OVER THE OCEAN. AS AN AIR MARSHALL.

The Reality:

Non-Stop is one of those films that’s fairly solid as long as you just out-right refuse to turn your brain on.  Liam Neeson, as always, is entertaining to watch, and there’s enough suspense throughout the movie to keep you checked-in to what’s happening on the screen.

With all of that being said, it’s hard for me to tell you to actually see Non-Stop.  It’s not anywhere near as good as Taken or The Grey but it’s also not as bad as Taken 2 or Unknown.  The film just sort of exists, and while it could definitely be worse, it feels like a waste of Neeson.  He deserves better.

The Lesson:

Quality control is important, Mr. Neeson.

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Movie Breakdown: Non-Stop (Noah)

February 27, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing lead us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

The Age of Old Man Action Star Liam Neeson continues!

The Reality:

I don’t know what director Jaume Collett-Serra hates more: modern day commercial flights, the falsities of the American political system or Liam Neeson’s bruised, potato sack of a head. I’ve never seen Liam Neeson look as bad as he does in this film, which is fine considering he plays an alcoholic, ex-cop-turned-air-marshall who has to search out a killer at 35,000 feet. Non-Stop is built on the tradition of “man-stuck-in-location-with-secret-terrorist” films like Air Force One or even Die Hard; there’s a bomb and a hidden bad guy that’s going to kill someone every 20 minutes if Bill Marks (Neeson) can’t get 150,000,000 dineros dropped in a bank account. Serra plays with the concept a bit, toning down the rough-and-tumble action in favor of a sort of working class thriller with Marks fighting against not only an airplane-killer (a killer on an airplane, not a sadistic person who kills airplanes) but also the perceptions of the disgruntled passengers (“oh c’mon we have to put our arms on the seat in front of us for five minutes so you can catch a killer?”) and his slowly unwinding life. Sure, there’s a few Neeson Elbows to go around, but in general this is a mundane sort-of who’s-doing-it peppered with a tiny bit of politic introspection on the part of the baddies. Which is really the problem with Non-Stop – it doesn’t know what it is. Is it a thriller? An action flick? An Oxbow Incident style piece about mob justice and one man trying to do what’s right? Who knows. What I do know is that it’s a mess of a film, occasionally enjoyable, but for the most part just another film to drop down the drain of the early-2014 doldrums.

The Lesson:

Three Oscar-nominated actors in one film doth not always equate to a masterpiece.

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Movie Breakdown: The Pretty One (Noah)

February 21, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing lead us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Zoe Kazan is a bit of an up-and-coming indie star and prior to hearing about The Pretty One I had no idea what she even looked like. If she’s in it though I’m pretty sure it’s one part twee, one part pretty, and all parts quirky.

The Breakdown:

The Pretty One battles with the same problems all indie films do – it’s too quirky for it’s own damn good. The story of an awkward, stay-at-home twin who steps in to the shoes of her prettier, cooler twin sister after a terrible car accident isn’t bad by any means. Far from it actually. Director Jenee Marquet has a beautiful, almost fairy-tale-like aesthetic and she applies it liberally in the film. The colors are beautifully saturated and the very unique Zoe Kazan seems to pop off the screen. Kazan herself puts in a fantastic performance, one part awkward cuteness, one part broken sadness, that raises her above the sort of muddled thematic tones of the story. If anything, Marquet doesn’t know exactly what to do with her attractive palate and solid cast (Jake Johnson is particularly good as Laurel’s (Kazan) bookish neighbor and paramour) throwing them all together in a story that wants to be about loneliness and loss and learning who one really is, but never really gets above it’s twee-ness. It might actually be that Marquet tries for too much, introducing a wide cast of characters and situations that muddle the narrative arc of Laurel and her family. It’s only Marquet’s first film though, and if anything, it promises a director who with the right script and cast could put together something really stunning.

The Lesson:

Keep an eye on Marquet, she’s got something special, she just hasn’t made it yet.

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Movie Breakdown: Pompeii (Noah)

February 21, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing lead us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

It’s the middle of February, the final twilight before the “Road to Summer Blockbusters” kicks off, and a film by Paul WS Anderson about a love affair amongst the devastation of Pompeii seems pretty ripe to be well, awful.

The Reality:

I can’t honestly say if Paul WS Anderson is intentionally trying to make b-movies. I don’t know if the man has the knowledge or capability as a filmmaker to actually shoot to pay homage to any film that has ever come before it (though Pompeii certainly swipes more than a few scenes from some of the bigger, more A-List blockbusters of the last 20 years). And I don’t know if Paul WS Anderson is intending for his films to be the future fodder of stoners and b-movie cinephiles, but let’s be extremely frank, they will be. And as is the way with b-movies some are outstanding because they’re good, some are outstanding because they’re bad and some are just terrible. If you see Pompeii as a b-movie (which it certainly is), this is a pretty good flick. A Celtic slave and a Roman, uh, rich person, fall in love in Pompeii just days before the volcano explodes and sends 180 degree ash clouds over everything and everyone. Things get complicated. Kiefer Sutherland shows up as a pervy Senator who just wants to kill and fuck. Jared Harris and Carrie Anne-Moss show up as well as nervous parents trying to secure a future for the town. Things explode, there’s some sweet, if not horribly shoot, gladitorial action and a lot of horses jumping over things. This is not a good movie, at all, but it’s fun in the worst kind of way. Sure, Kit Harrington and Emily Browning have about as much acting chops and chemistry as a pile of Roman horse dung, and sure the movie looks like it was entirely filmed in one hallway, and the computer graphics are sub-par video game quality, but regardless if you’re coming to see this film because you want high art, well, you’ve got bigger problems. Instead, why don’t you wait two or three months, pack your portable vaporizer with a frosty nug (I just learned that word from Snoop Dogg’s Instagram) and then watch this movie at 3:30 in the morning when you’ve got nothing better to do. Then you’ll like it, I promise.

The Lesson:

A film that combines Titanic, Gladiator, and Dante’s Peak is actually better then it sounds.

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Movie Breakdown: 3 Days To Kill

February 21, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing lead us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Kevin Costner stars as Liam Neeson in Taken 3: Days To Kill.

The Reality:

Oh McG, what have you done?  3 Days To Kill is the all-out family version of Liam Neeson’s Taken films, and it’s just not good.  What’s bizarre though, is that it’s not the “soft” stuff that wrecks the film.  Those parts, while definitely sappy and overdone, actually have some heart.  Surprisingly, it’s the action that feels tacked on and uninspired.  McG’s direction in each of those scenes is so lackadaisical and oddly comical that they just carry no weight at all, and then that’s made worse by Kevin Costner, who manages to make shooting and hitting people look like a chore.  Skip 3 Days To Kill.  Unless, of course, you like tonally challenged films that are instantly forgettable.

The Lesson:

Somebody needs to restart the return of Kevin Costner.

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Movie Breakdown: The Monuments Men

February 6, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing lead us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

An all-star cast tries to find art stolen by the Nazis during WWII.  George Clooney directs.

The Reality:

I was hoping The Monuments Men would be another Clooney directorial effort on the level of Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind or Good Night, And Good Luck, but it’s more like the sort of okay Leatherheads.  Clooney clearly finds the story he’s telling to be interesting and of note, but he never bothers to make you actually care about anything happening on the screen.  I honestly can’t recall any of the character’s names in the movie.  This is partly because none of the actors bothered to develop a character and instead choose to just play themselves, but it’s mostly due to the unfortunate fact that nothing about The Monuments Men is memorable.

On a related note, I think The Monuments Men would make for a stellar TV show.

The Lesson:

Maybe next time, George.

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Movie Breakdown: The Monuments Men (Noah)

February 6, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing lead us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

First impression: George Clooney, 1940s war movie, impressive cast – sold. Second impression: film gets the bump from December to the doldrums of February, trailers are flat and boring – less sold.

The Reality:

The Monuments Men isn’t a great film by any means. George Clooney, self-proclaimed novice director, gathers together a loose script about an important subject and a whole bunch of talented actors and just sort of slams them together into a tonally deaf, but still pretty entertaining film. In WWII Hitler and his Nazi friends destroyed a lot of amazing art, and he would have destroyed a lot more if not for the work of the so-called Monuments Men, a group of American soldiers who’s only task was to find and protect the great art of Europe and beyond. This is the story Clooney is trying to tell, but instead he tells a semi-rollicking tale of a bunch of old guys who go to war to save some art. The film struggles narratively, never really heading towards any specific “ending-like” event and sort of meandering along between a few stories before sort of bringing the band back together and gluing on some significance to one particular piece of art. Still, weak script, totally lacking characters – I still found myself enjoying the majority of the film. Sure, none of the actors in the film (Bill Murray, John Goodman, and such) ever act as anything but the people they are, but who cares? It’s a bunch of great actors chewing the fat in the Second World War with a little bit of story and a whole lot of schmaltz. This is a mess of the film, but you know, sometimes a mess can still be pretty enjoyable.

The Lesson:

George Clooney is a very okay director.

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Movie Breakdown: Lone Survivor (Noah)

January 9, 2014

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People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing lead us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Peter Berg isn’t exactly on a winning streak right now, what with Battleship cluttering his resume, and then this, some sort of uber-realistic take on the hard-fought battle that lead to the death of, well, a lot of Navy Seals, he just feels further and further away from Friday Night Lights.

The Reality:

There is a much much longer piece that I can, and will, write about how much I hated this film. Four Navy Seals, in all their ab-tastic glory, stumble in to a battle they can’t fight, bullets fly, a lot of wounds are taken, a lot of people die, there is, and I don’t think this is a spoiler, just one survivor. It sounds like any other action film, but Berg tries to steep it in the reality of the trappings of war. Every gun is perfect looking, every bit of camouflage properly painted, we spend seemingly hours with these guys just silently trekking through the woods of Afghanistan, because this is a movie about realistic war. Until it isn’t, until Mark Wahlberg and Taylor Kitsch are saying things like “I’m just sorry we couldn’t kill more of these motherfuckers,” until a little Arab boy is getting confused by the American language and bringing a duck instead of a knife, until the big bad Arab boss character looms large like a one-dimensional monster and we all cheer when someone finally kills him. Lone Survivor isn’t a bad movie, it’s a mediocre one, but Berg takes a step over a pretty important line by taking the benefits of making a realistic film about the horrible casualties that war inflicts upon those we love and marrying it to the silly lines of an action film.

The Lesson:

God I hope this isn’t indicative of the rest of 2014.

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