A strikingly confident, likable film from writer/director Sean Anders, Instant Family is a story about adoption that doesn’t sugar-coat the potential problems, even if the climax is as warm and fuzzy as you could ask for. High-flying house-flippers Ellie and Pete (Rose Byrne and Mark Wahlberg) decide to adopt, but end up getting three kids instead of one. The also go against the advice of experts (Tig Notaro and Olivia Spencer) by adopting a teen, but since the kids come as a set, what chance do they have? Anders has adopted himself, and it shows; the anecdotal evidence offered up here depicts child-rearing in messy glory, from domestic feuds and accidents, to instances where Pete and Ellie clearly overstep the mark (their pursuit of a potential sex-pest is particularly amusing). Isabella Moner makes a big impact as Lizzie, the oldest girl, and Byrne and Wahlberg manage to centre the story on their own relationship, and how a circle of trust and understanding was expanded from two to five. Instant Family has cause and purpose as a film; it’s a straight-up advert for adoption, and will likely touch heartstrings for some time to come.
It feels like Ridley Scott’s take on the John Paul Getty kidnapping has never been mentioned without a comment on Kevin Spacey and his replacement with Christopher Plummer after the initial shoot was completed. That’s a pity, because the central focus of a film should not be about an actor who doesn’t appear. Plummer does such a good job as Getty, a billionaire who lives so frugally that he washes his own socks in the sink of his hotel room, that no explanation is required for his casting. Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg are both solid as the kidnapped boy’s mother and the security guard who helps her get her boy back, but it’s a director’s film. Scott conjures up Italy in the 1970’s with great style, and there’s several tense sequences that have just the right Poliziotteschi feel. It’s a real shame that All the Money In the World ended up turning audiences off due to marketing disasters; it’s Scott’s best film in 20 years.
Mark Wahlberg is a kick-ass action hero, and working with director Peter Berg, he follows up on the true-stories of Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day with a fictional account of secret-agent action that’s packed with action. After an explosive intro, the first section of the film establishes CIA operative James Silva (Wahlberg) as the go-to guy for solving tricky situations. That kind of problem comes in the form of asset Lee Noor (Iko Uwais from The Raid), who may or may not be a double-agent, but need extracted from a unnamed Asian city. From about forty minutes in, Mile 22 hits a high gear, quite literally delivering an all action scenario for the final hour as Silva and Noor tear up the streets, motorway and cafes against a seemingly endless supply of villains. The action is graphic, including drone strikes and a gruesome neck-slitting using the shattered glass of a car door. If you like explosions, tough-guy attitude and spy-driven mayhem, Mile 22 goes the extra mile to satisfy.
Not-unreasonably maligned on release, Ted 2 is a far inferior product to the original talking bear movie, but has a few hidden virtues. When so many sequels are reverent and respectful of the original property, in the hope of spinning a franchise, Ted 2 is a more old-fashioned sequel in the it’s completely slapdash and careless; it’s in the spirit of Smokey and the Bandit 2, and even as a few similar action sequences in the unrated version. Ted 2 also has an interesting idea, as Ted (Seth Macfarlane) and John (Mark Wahlberg) engage lawyer Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) is fight in court to prove that Ted should have ‘human’ rights. While the original was on-point and engaging, the sheer randomness of the in-jokes is the appeal here, with everyone from Liam Neeson to Morgan Freeman pulled in, unwarranted and self-indulgent musical breaks and lots of really filthy humour in the auteur’s patented style.
Like most true stories, Deepwater Horizon takes liberties with a true life story; BP are painted blackly as baddies here, mainly though John Malkovich’s sneering exec, and the oil-workers are all blue-collar cannon fodder, braving the deadly mistakes foisted on them from upstairs. A quick check of the facts reveals a different story, but it’s hard to blame director Peter Berg for playing to the gallery. Mark Wahlberg and Kurt Russell are ideally cast as the rig-workers who find the pressure mounting as a drill-operation goes wrong, and the intensity is well developed until the explosive finale. As with The 33, a far more upbeat story, the public stayed away in droves; a shame, because the film’s sympathy with the plight of ordinary people, risking their lives to make a living, shows that it’s heart is in the right place, even if the facts are slightly askew.
Pre American Hustle work from David O Russell, this Gulf War drama with a difference is a key film in his canon, demonstrating that he could deal with big stars and action while retaining his indie style. Russell and star George Clooney reportedly came to fisticuffs during filming, but if there was on-set tension, it doesn’t show in this heist film with a difference. Archie Gates (Clooney) and Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg) are US soldiers who gets wind of a stash of hidden gold. She soldiers have selfish motives for their adventure, but the find themselves politicalised, and end up helping a group of Iraqi insurgents who are rebelling against Saddam Hussein. David O Russell makes this tale of mercenaries turned freedom fighters into a comic parable, staging one action sequence to the strains of Chicago’s If You Leave Me Now and there ‘s also a notable torture sequence in which Troy is made to drink oil but his captors. A forerunner of Clooney’s Monuments Men, Three Kings is a war film that doesn’t reply on patriotism, but attempts to establish a common good across racial and international borders.