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This photo released by Universal Pictures shows Ben Foster as Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson in a scene from the film, ‘Lone Survivor’. (AP)
Superb action scenes anchor ‘Survivor’ Wahlberg in strong & moving performance

With all the talk about fact-based films and how accurate they should or shouldn’t be, it’s worth noting that some stories are best brought to screen as simply and purely as possible. This is especially true with a film like “Lone Survivor,” Peter Berg’s expertly rendered account of a disastrous 2005 military operation in Afghanistan. War is messy, and politics are messy. But Berg has wisely chosen to focus pretty squarely on the action, and to present it as straightforwardly as possible.

And he’s executed that approach with admirable skill, down to using autopsy reports to get the number of wounds a soldier suffered exactly right. “Lone Survivor” doesn’t have nearly the sweep of a major war film like Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.” But the action scenes —  basically, one protracted, harrowing firefight —  feel as realistic as any we’ve seen on the screen for some time. That firefight, for those unfamiliar with the story (Berg also penned the screenplay, based on the memoir by former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell), took place on June 28, 2005 in the craggy mountains of Afghanistan’s Kunar province.

As part of Operation Red Wings, Luttrell and three fellow SEALS were positioned on a hillside, tracking a Taliban commander in the village below, when they suddenly encountered a few local shepherds. Their agonized decision on what to do with those shepherds, one of them a teenager, led to a string of events that ultimately resulted in 19 American deaths.

Of course, the title, “Lone Survivor,” and the fact that Luttrell is played by the movie’s star (Mark Wahlberg, in a strong and moving performance) tells you much of what’s going to happen from the get-go. But that doesn’t hurt the film’s immediacy and power. In fact, you may have a hard time sitting still. Berg opens with footage of real Navy SEAL training and the extremes it reaches —  some might call it unnecessary and overly worshipful, but for people who don’t know a lot about the SEALS, it’s helpful and effective.

We’re also given a sense of the lighthearted camaraderie at the military base, in between operations, as the men joke about wives and girlfriends back home, or compete in foot races. One of the SEALS worries about how to afford a wedding present for his bride. The veterans engage in a little good-natured ribbing of a new arrival —  involving some silly dancing. But all lightness disappears suddenly, and for good. Soon, Luttrell is hunkered in the mountains with his comrades: Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Matt “Axe” Axelson (Ben Foster). All seems to be going well until the moment they encounter the villagers; the ensuing debate is a painful one. Do they let them go and risk certain discovery? Or do they “terminate” the problem? The men also touch on a heavier question: what connection, in a deeper sense, do these shepherds have with the enemy?

But a decision comes, and then the battle, with the men literally falling down the mountainside, smashing repeatedly into rocks, their bodies gashed and broken. Several of them fight while shot and gravely wounded. One virtually sacrifices himself to call for help. A rescue effort goes catastrophically badly. And then comes the amazing end to the story: How, and with whose help, Luttrell manages to survive to tell his tale. Though it’s a matter of record, we’ll keep the suspense alive here. At the end, we see photos of the actual casualties of Operation Red Wings. It does not seem gratuitous, and no further explanation or exposition is given, or needed. Again, the best thing about Berg’s work here is its simplicity. “Lone Survivor,” a Universal Studios release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “strong bloody war violence and pervasive language.” Running time: 121 minutes. Three stars out of four.

The producers of “Lone Survivor” Remington Chase and Stefan Martirosian are convicted cocaine dealers and have ties to Russian oil and an alleged contract murder, according to an investigation by the LA Weekly. Hollywood financiers Remington Chase and Stefan Martirosian carry separate convictions for cocaine trafficking from 1993 and that’s hardly the most colorful — not to say sinister — part of their backgrounds, according to the article by LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus. This includes Chase’s history as an FBI informant, and Martirosian’s alleged involvement in a contract killing in Russia. But they really want to make movies. The two burst onto the Hollywood scene in September 2011. From the story: They had set up a company, Envision Entertainment, along with a $250 million fund to produce films in partnership with two low-budget action producers, Randall Emmett and George Furla. In 2012, another announcement boosted the fund to $525 million.

The announcements were not exactly true. There was no “fund,” and the numbers were chosen for effect more than accuracy, according to Grant Cramer, an executive VP at Envision. But the pair was pumping serious money into production. Soon they were getting executive producer credits on big-budget films.
The producers admit to having lost more than $50 million on the dozen movies they have backed so far, including “2 Guns,” with Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington, and “Escape Plan,” starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Among their projects now in development are movies based on two Hasbro board games: Monopoly and Hungry Hungry Hippos

“We have invested over $50 million that we don’t expect a return on,” Chase said in the interview. And Martirosian says they’ve learned from early mistakes: “If we’re going to do a film, we have to control it, A to Z. We cannot be passive investors. That’s out of the question.” In Hollywood, there is no shortage of colorful money men writing the checks for big movies (“Fight Club” producer Arnon Milchan recently admitted to being an Israeli spy, for instance), but they don’t get much more Day-Glo than this. Martirosian’s past with cocaine is detailed in court papers, according to the story:

In May 1993, he arranged financing and traveled to Costa Rica to check on suppliers. Unfortunately for him, the DEA had infiltrated the suppliers. Over the course of several meetings with an undercover agent, Martirosian agreed to help transport 800 kilos to St. Augustine, Fla. They agreed that Martirosian would send $200,000 from LA to Colombia, and that the cocaine would be shipped from Colombia to Costa Rica and on to Florida. Instead, in September 1993, he was arrested in a St. Augustine hotel room.
In all, nine people were indicted. In Costa Rica, the head of the federal police held a press conference and announced that the group had controlled much of the Costa Rican drug trade, according to an article in La Nacizn.

A spokeswoman for the producers declined to comment to TheWrap, but both men say that they were never involved in the drug trade despite the convictions. They claim they were wrongly ensnared by law enforcement officials who at one point caught Martirosian with a duffel bag filled with four kilos of cocaine and a Russian newspaper on a bus outside a Texas border patrol checkpoint.
“I’ve never seen any cocaine in my life,” he told the LA Weekly, blaming it instead on a group of Egyptian travelers.

They’re also caught up in an investigation into the killing of Kasca Kalandarishvili, a Russian oil and gas businessman, who was shot in the back of the head in 2009 while walking his dog in Moscow. A convicted murderer named Istvan Kele tells the alt-weekly that he was offered $100,000 for the murder and that Martirosian gave him two guns to do the job.

Meanwhile, Chase acknowledged that he was an FBI informant in the case of the killing. “ and his team were going to come there, murder whoever was in the condo and take the money,” Chase says. “When I learned of the events, I contacted the FBI. Let me ask you: What would you do?”

As for the business end of the story, even though Chase and Martirosian racked up credits on films such as “End of Watch” and “2 Guns” through a partnership with producers Randall Emmett and George Furla, their relationship was misrepresented. Cramer says that a $525 million fund Envision announced with Emmett/Furla never existed. Those figures were “chosen for effect more than accuracy,” the story claims. A spokeswoman for Emmett/Furla declined to comment. (AP/RTRS)

By Jocelyn Noveck

By: Jocelyn Noveck

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