Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

While Instant Family might have the look of a routine family comedy, it is anything but: This movie is funny from start to finish, and it packs a couple of emotional punches, too.

Couple Pete and Ellie (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne), might, just might, want kids, so they decide to look into adoption. Their quest lands them a 15-year-old foster child named Lizzy (the excellent Isabela Moner) and her two younger siblings, Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz).

Everything goes just fine … until one hilariously apocalyptic scene, when Pete and Ellie are given a nice dose of parenting reality, and realize they have much to learn. Turns out Lizzy is a bit of a rebel; Lita is a screamer; and Juan is a sensitive, accident-prone little chap. Will they be willing to adopt the kids in the end?

Wahlberg excels in this sort of comedy—he and director Sean Anders also teamed up on Daddy’s Home—and Byrne is definitely carving out her own comedic niche with films like this and Neighbors. The kids are great; the script has a lot of surprises; and this one turns out to be a genuinely good time.

Instant Family is available via online sources including iTunes and, as well as DVD and Blu-ray.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

On this week's LeBron James-free weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World tries to figure out why the current moment is so alarming; Jen Sorenson brings politics into real life; The K Chronicles honors a literary great in a classic comic; Red Meat forms an alliance with the Almighty; and Apoca Clips quizzes Trumpy about Scott Pruitt.

Published in Comics

Transformers: The Last Knight gets the dubious distinction of being the worst in the series.

That is a major accomplishment. It’s not the easiest thing to look at this collective pile of movie manure and decipher which of the five is the worst. It’s like going to a frat house during the first week of a semester at Dickhead University, and trying to pick out the dumbest, drunkest douche in the place. All of the qualifiers are terribly, criminally lame.

I’m giving Transformers: The Last Knight the award of Franchise Worst, because it’s clear that every participant in this enterprise, from director Michael Bay right on down to the production assistant who smeared glycerin on Mark Wahlberg’s pecs, is jaded, tired and played out. Nobody really wants to be in this thing. The stink of, “Who gives a shit … just pay me!” hits your nostrils with Wahlberg’s first line delivery.

Yes, Wahlberg, who has the honor of being Shia LaBeouf’s stand-in, returns for his second go-round, and he looks embarrassed. He should be embarrassed. He’s publicly declared that this is his last Transformers movie, and his performance and demeanor indicate that he checked out the day cameras rolled on this mess.

Also along for the ride is the formerly acclaimed Anthony Hopkins, acting all nutty, like he did in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula—with the big difference being that this is a Michael Bay film, as opposed to a Coppola film. Acting all nutty in a Michael Bay film offers the impression that you have given up and thrown any kind of reason to the wind.

I can’t really explain what happens in this flick. I know Optimus Prime was floating toward his home planet all frozen and shit, and he gets sucked into some sort of scheme to betray his race and all humans. His part is kind of like Vin Diesel’s in the last Fast and Furious movie—that of the pawn in somebody else’s evil scheme who probably won’t go rogue for the entire film. The big difference here is that Optimus Prime doesn’t get to mush his mouth all over Charlize Theron. However, it goes without saying that Optimus Prime has a greater acting range than Vin Diesel.

The best part of this movie happens when Hopkins inexplicably goes to Stonehenge to witness a robot battle, and then gets blown up, leading to the silliest death scene ever. Yep … I just issued a spoiler: Anthony Hopkins dies hilariously in this movie. I hope this spoiler pisses you off so much that you don’t go see the movie. Be mad at me for the next 10 years, but I know I did you a favor.

Other around is John Turturro, whose, “I’m in a Transformers movie, but it’s OK, because I’ve sold out in an unorthodox, hip sort of way!” shtick got tired four films ago. Meanwhile, the film features the voices of John Goodman and Steve Buscemi. That’s actually three-quarters of a The Big Lebowski reunion. I’m surprised they didn’t throw some money at Jeff Bridges to deliver a few lines. That would’ve been the most novel thing in the movie. Eh, they probably needed the cash for Mark Wahlberg’s tanning and body-hair-removal bills.

Transformers: The Last Knight plays like a Worst of Michael Bay sizzle reel: It’s 2 1/2 hours of things smashing into each other in fast-cut fashion, accompanied by bombastic music and lots of crane and slo-mo shots. In other words, it’s exactly what we’ve come to expect.

Picking a time to go see a Transformers movie is like picking a time to have dysentery. Protect yourself, and your innards, by choosing to do something better, like punching yourself in the face until your eyes pop out.

Transformers: The Last Knight is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

The new collaboration between director Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg, Patriots Day, is not only a valuable tribute to the victims and heroes of the Boston Marathon bombings; it’s a solid, meaningful, gritty look at what it took to take down the terrorist Tsarnaev brothers.

Wahlberg plays Sgt. Tommy Saunders, one of those fictional composite characters that often show up in historical dramas. You will forgive the two Bergs for this kind of artistic license, because the goal of Patriots Day is to take you through the entire drama, from the bombing itself, through the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Alex Wolff) inside a boat in somebody’s backyard. There wasn’t a single person who was at all of the events leading up to the ultimate capture of the final living suspect in the bombings, so it’s best to just view the Wahlberg character as a representation of the heroism and diligence that led to that arrest.

The film begins with Saunders bitching about being on street-security detail for the Boston Marathon, as he serves out a probationary period on the Boston police force. He shows up in the “clown suit,” takes some ribbing from fellow cops and detectives, and generally sports a good attitude, doing the gig with an admirable level of conviction. The marathon itself gets his spirits up a bit—and then, as runners are crossing the finish line, the bombs go off.

The film doesn’t shy away from the carnage caused by those bombs—and it shouldn’t. It earns its R rating. The movie dives into the bombing aftermath, then straight into the investigation and tense standoffs that occurred in rapid succession.

Wahlberg has done some of his best work in Berg films (Deepwater Horizon and Lone Survivor), and this film represents the apex of their collaborations. True, the character he’s playing isn’t totally real, but it’s an honorable deviation.

Wolff is on target as the baseball-cap-wearing douche who doesn’t know how to say no to his brother. There’s nothing sympathetic about the portrayal of this certain brand of evil in this movie. He’s a cold-hearted, ignorant villain, and Wolff captures that essence. As Dzhokhar’s older brother and bombing mastermind, Tamerlan, Themo Melikidze delivers a chilling depiction of radicalism and psychotic egotism.

Michelle Monaghan is effective as Saunders’ wife, as are John Goodman as police Commissioner Ed Davis and Kevin Bacon as FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers. J.K. Simmons is hard-edged and a little bit funny as Sgt. Jeffrey Pugliese, who took part in the showdown that claimed the life of Tamerlan. Jimmy O. Yang is memorable as the man the brothers carjacked.

This is definitely one of 2016’s better ensemble casts. (While the film is getting a wide release now, it got a limited release last year to qualify for awards.) Berg, like Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special, Loving), had two good movies in 2016, with this and Deepwater Horizon. He’s no stranger to historical drama. Ever since Berg nearly derailed his promising directorial career with the abysmal Battleship, all of his big-screen films have been historical dramas: Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and now Patriots Day, all Wahlberg collaborations, are based on real life events. Much to Berg’s credit, all of those events are represented with great detail, emotional honesty and integrity. They are also very entertaining. Right now, he’s kicking Steven Spielberg’s ass in the historical-drama department.

The film is about heroes—the heroes who worked to find the perpetrators, and the selfless, persevering heroes who were standing close to explosive devices when they went off. You’ll walk away from this movie thinking that Berg, Wahlberg and co. did all of these good people justice with Patriots Day. Most importantly, it’s a moving tribute to those who lost their lives.

Some might say “too soon” for the existence of a film such as this one. I say it’s never too soon to honor the good people of Boston and their ability to recover from such a horrific day.

Patriots Day opens Friday, Jan. 13, at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I think my shockingly lustrous eyelashes got singed watching Deepwater Horizon, director Peter Berg’s harrowing account of the worst oil-rig disaster in American history.

Berg’s film drops viewers into a situation where fire and explosions are so realistic that it seems like you can feel the heat and disorientation of the 2010 disaster, which claimed the lives of 11 men and led to an oil spill eclipsing all other oil spills.

Mark Wahlberg is first-rate as Mike Williams, a real man who was on the rig at the time of the disaster. Kurt Russell equals Wahlberg’s power as Jimmy Harrell, a man who questions the integrity of the rig—and then proceeds to have the worst cinematic shower since Janet Leigh had a showdown with Anthony Perkins.

The setup is a doozy: Williams and Harrell head out for a three-week stay on the Deepwater Horizon along with a couple of BP stuffed shirts. Much to their amazement, men who were supposed to be conducting all-important tests leave shortly after their arrival without conducting anything; that gets Russell’s Harrell all riled up. Seeing Russell all riled up is always fun.

The lack of testing leads to a showdown with a sleazy BP employee, played by a slithery John Malkovich. Some backward reasoning leads to the acceptance of some bad drill results, and Deepwater Horizon is cleared to start up. Unbeknownst to the higher-ups and technicians, there’s a cataclysmic clog, and mud explodes upward. You probably know the rest.

Berg puts his film together in a way in which the mere sight of mud oozing from a pipe is terrifying. When the disaster goes into high gear, Deepwater Horizon is as scary as any horror film to hit screens this year—and there have been some pretty good horror films in 2016. The staging of explosions and fire, many done upon an oil rig built exclusively for this film, are award-worthy.

There’s a true sense of isolation and disorientation when the action goes full-throttle. Props to the editor for creating a sensation of being utterly lost in the mayhem that escalates until the final two survivors jump many stories to the ocean below.

It’s not all about the fire and explosions, as Berg, his writers and his performers all give the movie a true heroic element—one that results in heartbreak after the film plays out. Some good people perished in this disaster, and the movie pays solid tribute to them, including a nice epilogue featuring real footage and photos of the victims.

Kate Hudson plays Williams’ wife, who is having a Skype conversation with him when everything starts to go south. Hudson has always been good for waterworks, and she gets an opportunity to show off that talent here. Other standouts include Ethan Suplee as one of the men in the ill-fated drill command center, Gina Rodriguez as an employee who must endure the incompetence of a co-worker, and Dylan O’Brien as a drill worker who couldn’t have been closer to the initial stages of the disaster.

To call this a disaster film similar to those put out by Irwin Allen in the 1970s is both a compliment and a bit belittling. (Some of those where pretty great, including The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno.) While this film follows a similar, schlocky blueprint at times, it has a little more substance and heart than those goofy blockbusters.

Berg and Wahlberg, who also collaborated on the very good Lone Survivor, aren’t done in 2016. Somehow, they worked it into their schedules to deliver Patriots Day, a film about the Boston Marathon bombing, on Dec. 21 in limited release, before an expanded release in January 2017. These guys are busy with their true-life epics.

Deepwater Horizon is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The second pairing of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg isn’t as funny as The Other Guys, but Daddy’s Home is still funny enough to warrant a look.

Ferrell is in bumbling mode as Brad, the husband of Sarah (Linda Cardellini) and the stepfather to a couple of kids who hate him. Just when the kids are starting to hate him less, Sarah’s ex-husband, Dusty (Wahlberg), comes back into the picture in a boorish bid to win back his ex’s love, reclaim his children and get Brad out of the house. This provides a setup that sees Brad subjected to various forms of humiliation and injury, including a calamitous trek through his house on a motorcycle, and a rendezvous with electrical wires after getting some impressive air off a half-pipe.

Ferrell and Wahlberg are funny together, and the movie does a decent job of making them both likable idiots. Thomas Haden Church steals scenes as Brad’s obnoxious boss at the smooth-jazz radio station, as does Hannibal Buress as a handyman who winds up crashing on Brad’s couch.

The film is nasty, but it’s neutered a bit by its PG-13 rating. It’s clear this is being marketed at families—but that’s a mistake right there. I’m sure there’s a nastier cut of this movie, and this movie suffers because it doesn’t go all the way with its sinister message. It pulls some punches, keeping it from being the dark comedy it deserves to be, and making it more of a feel-good film with some sinister undertones.

Still, I laughed enough, and the film is recommended to fans of Ferrell and Wahlberg.

Daddy’s Home is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Somebody needs to take Seth MacFarlane aside and tell him to calm his ass down. He’s still funny, but he’s getting egregiously carried away in his movies—to the point where he is wrecking them.

The original Ted was the oddest of charmers: It starred a profane teddy bear saying some of the most disgusting stuff ever said in a mainstream movie, and Mark Wahlberg in dumb-puppy-dog mode. It proved to be a winning success.

Then came last year’s A Million Ways to Die in the West, MacFarlane’s bid to become the next Mel Brooks. Some great jokes were buried in a movie in which he miscast himself in the main role, and went far overboard with the running time and production values.

Now, with $20 million extra to spend over the original Ted, director MacFarlane has gone crazy again, with a 115-minute movie that feels five hours long. It’s way overstuffed and often ill-conceived, including a worthless, old-Hollywood dance number that plays during the opening credits. There are no laughs here—just Ted dancing with a bunch of glitzy dancers while eating up a lot of budget money.

Ted, in a bid to be recognized as human, winds up in a courtroom. MacFarlane actually compares Ted’s plight to slaves and Dred Scott. I’m not wild about courtroom movies, and this movie does courtrooms badly—just as badly as in that movie that came out last year featuring Robert Duvall shitting himself.

Another subplot involves Ted trying to have a baby with his new wife, Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). This part of the film is far more successful, with Ted and “thunder buddy” John (Wahlberg) trying to get sperm out of Tom Brady while he sleeps. A sperm-clinic visit that winds up with John suffering through the worst bukkake scene ever is, surprisingly, also good for some laughs.

There are actually a lot of good laughs in this movie. A running gag involving candy dishes had me laughing out loud, and celebrity cameos involving a box of Trix and bathroom sex did the same. God bless Amanda Seyfried as Ted’s stoned lawyer (replacing Mila Kunis as the female lead), who isn’t afraid to take on a barrage of Gollum eye comparisons.

As funny as the film can be at times, it torpedoes itself with the running time and courtroom scenes. MacFarlane falls victim to that need to make a sequel bigger and grander than the original. A simpler film that relied more on the gags and less on bullshit sentimentality would’ve been just fine. There’s no need for 75 percent of this movie to exist.

I love the character Wahlberg has created for these movies. John is mean-spirited dimwit who gets away with being terrible by acting sheepish and innocent. Wahlberg is gifted with some major comic timing, and the vast majority of his gags hit the bull’s-eye.

MacFarlane is a great counterpart as the voice of Ted. The best scenes in this film are the simpler ones, including a classic fight between Ted and Tami-Lynn in their tenement apartment. It makes you wish the film had simply focused on Ted’s domestic troubles and pot-smoking, rather than trying to make a grand statement about the plight of teddy bears as property/pets.

MacFarlane needs to step back, realize his strengths, and try to be something other than Mel Brooks. Brooks became unfunny at some point, seemingly overnight, and I fear the same could happen to MacFarlane if he doesn’t scale back. It’s indie-film time.

Wahlberg, Seyfried and MacFarlane make for a funny trio. Too bad that funny trio is stuck in a film that’s too big for its britches. Dred Scott? Really?

Ted 2 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I missed the latest Mark Wahlberg extravaganza—a remake of the 1970s James Caan movie The Gambler (NOT the Kenny Rogers TV movie)—when it ran in theaters early this year.

Wahlberg lost a lot of weight to play Jim Bennett, an author-turned-college professor who hates life, for some reason. The film never really delves into why Jim is so miserable, and why he has developed such a nasty gambling problem.

His problem is so bad that he can’t resist gambling even when his rich mom (a strong Jessica Lange) takes out a large loan to bail him out with criminal types. He just takes the loan and gambles some more, spiraling further downward.

John Goodman has a couple of good scenes as a loan shark who has no tolerance for weakness. Brie Larson gives a strong performance as the student who inevitably pulls Jim into a relationship, and George Kennedy makes a brief appearance as Jim’s dying grandfather.

This is a good showcase for Wahlberg, who takes his character into quite a dark place. Bitterness oozes from Jim’s pores—and I like how the roots of that bitterness remain a mystery until the end of the film. The ending is a bit predictable, but it doesn’t take away from the work of Wahlberg and Lange—two pros who make The Gambler worth your while.

Special Features: There are a bunch of behind-the-scenes featurettes and some deleted and extended scenes.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Transformers: Age of Extinction is an embarrassment of overindulgence. Director Michael Bay seems to be taunting his haters by taking all of the things that sicken his detractors to despicably disgusting levels.

It’s as if, with this movie, the director is saying, “I’m Michael Bay, and I’m going to get away with cinematic murder! You will buy the toys! You will swill Bud Light out of those wacky blue aluminum things! You will leer along with me at this girl’s ass in slow motion! I AM MICHAEL BAY!”

For starters, this damn movie is two hours and 45 minutes long. I’m OK with long movies when they’re at least decent. This thing has no right for a single tick past the 90-minute mark. Had Bay knocked it off with his slo-mo shots, he probably could’ve shaved a half-hour. Had he gotten rid of every inane line in this donkey shit, he could’ve brought the whole thing in at 30 minutes.

Replacing Shia LaBeouf, who was too busy losing his mind to participate, would be Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg plays Cade Yeager, a crazy robot-inventor living on a farm with his smoking-hot daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz).

In between stints trying to make clunky robots (there’s actually a sequence during which Wahlberg lovingly tries to show a newborn robot how to paint), Cade is busy trying to stop his daughter from having sex. He also threatens real-estate agents, showing his soon-to-be-foreclosed-upon property by chasing them with a baseball bat. He, simply put, is the worst movie father in years.

The action picks up four years after the annihilation of Chicago, which has apparently been restored, because Bay includes shots of some cranes picking up beams and stuff. The Autobots are on the run, because Frasier Harold (Kelsey Grammer) has decided that since they are aliens, they are the enemy. Michael Bay is getting political!

Yeager buys a beat-up truck, and soon discovers it is Optimus Prime. He nurses the robot back to health with the help of buddy Lucas (T.J. Miller), much to the chagrin of Tessa, who trolls about pouting while wearing impossibly tight denim shorts and high heels. She’s upset, and she’s going to look damn good being upset.

A black-ops government team commanded by Frasier eventually winds up on Yeager’s lawn, and one of the only reasons to watch this movie is killed off. The focus, if you can call it that, then goes to Stanley Tucci as Joshua, a Steve Jobs-like tech mogul, and his army of Autobot clones.

The real Autobots will eventually face off against the fake Autobots, and we’ll see ads for Chevy cars, beer, China, denim ass porn and Texas along the incredibly long way. (During the film’s running time, I celebrated five birthdays, took an online computer course in psychology that I failed because the professor was such a bitch, and managed to construct a scale replica of the Brooklyn Bridge using toothpicks and Dots candy. That was just during the first third!)

The Transformers themselves are looking cool, especially when they transform (although Bay, even with his mega-budget, cuts corners by showing an Autobot in one shot, and then the vehicle in the next—skipping the transformation). There’s also a sequence in which some characters have to walk on a high wire between an alien ship and a skyscraper that is pretty good.

That’s about all of the nice stuff I can say.

Bay is saying this is the first film in a new trilogy. If you should choose to see part one, make sure all of your bills are paid; the dogs are fed; and you’ve winter-proofed your house before you sit down, because you aren’t getting out of that theater for a very long time.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Lone Survivor, an explosive passion project from writer-director Peter Berg, takes an unrelentingly gruesome look at Operation Red Wings, the failed 2005 mission in Afghanistan that claimed the lives of 19 American soldiers.

Autopsies and first-hand witness accounts have revealed that three Navy SEALs were brutally killed by bullets and the rugged countryside tearing them apart. As for the other 16 soldiers killed, they died when a Taliban rocket-propelled grenade struck their helicopter and sent them crashing into a cliff.

Most of the movie centers on the four Navy SEALs dropped into hostile territory, and how an unfortunate civilian encounter and communications problems led to a massive gun battle with insurmountable odds.

In a performance that stands among his best, Mark Wahlberg plays Marcus Luttrell, the Navy SEAL who co-wrote the book upon which this movie is based. (The real Luttrell actually has a cameo early in the film; he acted as a consultant.) Luttrell and fellow Navy SEALs Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) and Matt Axelson (Ben Foster) were performing reconnaissance for a mission meant to capture or kill a notorious Taliban leader when a trio of goat herders stumbled upon their camp.

In a powerfully acted scene, the four men debate whether or not they should let these prisoners go, or “terminate the compromise.” Their decision ultimately leads to a skirmish wherein they are far outnumbered.

This is where Berg and his stunt-and-effects crew really go to work. Aided in part by Greg Nicotero, who does the makeup effects for The Walking Dead, Berg shows injury after injury; it’s a true horror show. When the actors take hits in this movie, they sound very real—and extremely painful. This is especially true during two sequences in which SEALs must evade bullets by jumping off cliffs. These plummets feature stuntmen crashing into rocks and trees with a ferocity that looks positively deadly. Berg seamlessly injects edits of the actual actors falling as well.

There’s a story circulating (told by both Wahlberg and Berg) that the first stuntman to leap off a cliff for Lone Survivor broke a bunch of ribs, punctured his lung and had to be airlifted off the set. When you actually see how jarringly realistic this movie is, you’ll be shocked the stunt guy’s injuries weren’t worse.

The last act of the film depicts how some sympathetic Afghani villagers found one of the SEALs and sheltered him from Taliban forces until Americans arrived. Don’t think this part of the film represents anything near relief, because the SEAL endures plenty of pain and near-death episodes during this stretch, too.

This film features one of the best acting ensembles of the last year. Wahlberg leads the group with fury, as well as the occasional—and much-needed—humorous touch. Kitsch, who recently headlined the Berg stinker Battleship and starred in the ill-fated John Carter, experiences a complete career resurrection here. He offers a strong, sympathetic presence as Murphy.

Hirsch, so good in the recent Prince Avalanche and The Motel Life, breaks hearts as Dietz, who loses his drawing hand during a battle. Foster is perhaps the most powerful of the bunch as a man who actually gets shot in the head, yet keeps on fighting.

Lone Survivor pulverizes the senses and features good actors at the top of their games, giving the film the sort of emotional anchor sorely missing in too many military-based movies. The men here don’t die waving American flags accompanied by “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” They die some of the hardest, loneliest deaths you will ever see—and that fact is all the more horrifying because these deaths are steeped in reality.

Lone Survivor opens Friday, Jan. 10, at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

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