Military disasters have provided some fruitful material for cinema, and Lone Survivor, about a US Navy SEAL team mission to track and perhaps kill a top Taliban leader that went awry, has thematic echoes from the 1999 Bravo Two Zero, though in that case it was an British SAS that was caught on the run in Iraq. Lone Survivor is also much less low key; written and directed by Peter Berg and starring Mark Wahlberg, supported by Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Eric Bana, the whole thing is a much bigger production, much more on the scale of Black Hawk Down, with which it also resonates. All these films seek to explore the dynamics of highly trained men put under extraordinary mental and physical strain in a combat situation, often against unbeatable odds. It does honor to the servicemen, but in the case of Lone Survivor, it seems almost to exult in the tragedy of the wearing down of an elite team by sheer force of numbers, and some critics have drawn parallels with Mel Gibson’s 2004 film The Passion of the Christ in the unrelenting savagery to which the actors are subject.
The Monkey King (西遊記之大鬧天宮)
The story of Sun Wu-kong, the magical monkey who is a central character in the Chinese classic tale of The Journey to the West has had many manifestations on the silver screen, and this latest iteration brings the tale into the realm of top-tier 3D and CGI effects. The technical aspects of the film are all but overwhelming, with flying cities, flame spitting dragons, magical combat, divine powers, armies of shape changers, and more and more, and all this does not leave much room for a story. Perhaps the filmmakers thought that most people would be familiar with the tale anyway, so they could dispense with anything as mundane as storytelling. The cast sports Donnie Yen (甄子丹) as the Monkey King, showing off his kung fu moves, along with A-list stars such as Chow Yun-fat (周潤發), Aaron Kwok (郭富城) and Gigi Leung (梁詠琪). Sadly, the film is so over-produced that these veteran performers never actually have to engage in anything as exotic as acting. The stars mug for the camera, and leave the rest to the technical crew. More confirmation, if it was ever needed, that special effects alone do not a good movie make.
The Lego Movie
Ok, we all know about product placement in movies. It is part of the cinematic landscape these days. But when the product name is actually in the title! And yes, it’s exactly what you would expect. Lego characters in a Lego world, and ordinary Lego kind of guy who suddenly finds that he is the one who might save the world of Lego from an evil Lego tyrant who wants to glue the universe together. The most extraordinary thing about the movie is the stellar cast who have been recruited for this project, which includes Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Will Ferrell. None of them has much material to work with, as the script seems to be virtually humor free, and the story cherrypicks from every other animated movie you have seen in the last few years. It is of course in 3D, but that too is just a gimmick that fails to divert attention from the film’s profound lack of originality.
Instructions Not Included
Instructions Not Included is yet another father and child bonding movie, one of a slew that have come out in recent years. This one is from Mexico and is directed by and stars Eugenio Derbez, who plays the role of Valentin, a man who makes a new life for himself when his daughter Julie is left on his doorstep after her mother disappears to the US. The new life, and his relationship with his daughter, is threatened when Julie’s mother suddenly returns after a six year absence. Much of the film’s development is predictable, but it is saved by the delightful chemistry between Derbez and pint sized co-star Loreto Peralta. There are some nice moments, but there is no excuse for such a slight piece of comedy to drag on for over two hours, and the turn toward tearful sentimentality at the end taints the charm of the early parts of the film.