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Review: 12 Strong Tells Compelling Story With Formulaic Delivery

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12 Strong

A story so remarkable as that of twelve American soldiers beating tanks and missiles with little more than horses and guns deserves a spotlight. It certainly deserves a better film than what Nicolai Fuglsig could provide. He plays it way too safe with staging a based-on-a-true-story military action film, throwing in all the tropes of a typical action blockbuster. But in trying to assemble his movie more like a gun than a narrative, he forgets a few components to make everything work and what we’re left is a surprisingly disappointing film of one of the most significant operations in the Afghanistan war.

It begins with news footage leading up to the September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers to get the patriotic revenge fuel bubbling. Eager to get into the fight with the Taliban is Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), a man with no significant experience in combat, but a strong enough leader for dangerous missions. He recently had his team dissolved, but quickly begins the process of regrouping his unit to fight the war in the Middle East. His team consists of Michael Shannon as the quippy soldier, Michael Peña as the lovable quippy soldier, and Trevante Rhodes as the black quippy soldier. They all kid around with each other, but there’s no time for character development when there’s a dangerous job to be done.

12 Strong MovieSpoon

Nelson’s men, dubbed Task Force Dagger, are assigned one of the toughest missions in Afghanistan. To overtake a Taliban occupied village, the team will be dropped near the area and work with General Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Northern Alliance and his army of horse-riding warriors. Backed up only by a handful of airstrikes that require the utmost accuracy in coordinates, Nelson and Dostum must contend against a seemingly unbeatable force of Taliban soldiers in the rockiest of terrain. They ride into battle on horseback, firing rifles and rocket launchers as they best tanks and missiles. It’s not every war picture where you see soldiers on horses, running a bloody gauntlet of blazing bullets and explosions.

In trying to tell this unique and declassified story, Nicolai’s approach falls somewhere between Tom Clancy storytelling, more concerned with dates and weapons than characters or narrative, and a Jerry Bruckheimer action bonanza. This creates many conflicting tones in trying to hit all the necessary beats. When setting the stage for the military strategies, the dialogue is about as dry with exposition as the desert, regularly punctuated by humorous jabs that never feel natural. When the big battle begins, it’s a fast-edited frenzy of large-scale violence with a guitar-heavy soundtrack and some of the worst CGI blood effects I’ve seen in quite some time. And, wow, did I get tired of the grossly overused sequences where an explosion goes off close to the soldiers, the sound drops out, and soldiers wearily recover in slow-motion as the sound returns. Can we finally retire this trope from military movies?

As a result of this uneven style, much of the story’s more exciting moments feel incredibly underwhelming. I should be feeling something for Nelson’s desire to make it back home to his wife and child, but it’s reduced to brief clutches of his wedding ring and a picture of his daughter. I should be excited when the American soldiers first mount their horses, most having never ridden one before, but it’s quickly skipped over as if it’s a minor hurdle, despite one of the soldiers suffering a significant off-screen injury from riding one of them.

The film fluctuates between so many different war films that it ends up being an underwhelming pastiche of better war films. Nicolai focuses so much on the specifics of the military operation, flooding the screen with endless time cards and scenes of army procedure, that he forgets to make us care about anyone involved. If he wanted to avoid character cliches and pointless banter, akin to Christopher Nolan’s approach to Dunkirk, that’d be fine. But, no, the film still resorts to the most tired of dialogue between battles, with soldiers cracking lame tension-lifting jokes and lots of formulaic dialogue about honor and duty as the music swells.

Everything in 12 Strong feels so middle-of-the-road that it ultimately goes nowhere. It’s boring in its dissection of the mission specifics and brainless in its depictions of combat. Regarding being a mindless action picture, it’s certainly competent in that arena with its abundance of big scenes of war, complete with a scene-wrapping death for the lead Taliban villain.

But should a movie based on a real military event where many people died and risked their lives in the toughest of campaigns be treated with such a broad brush of action cliches? Perhaps that’s enough for some audiences to quench their patriotic thirst, but I couldn’t shake how gross this notion seemed in an intimate scene where Dostum urges Nelson to be more like a warrior by using more of his heart than his brain. The brain certainly wasn’t being used much here with a picture where we learn more about how airstrikes are coordinated than who these twelve heroes were.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]


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Review: “Incredibles 2” is a Fantastic and Fresh Return to Form

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Oh, how we waited so long for that sequel to Pixar’s The Incredibles, arguably their most exciting, inventive, and dynamic of animated films. Sure, they could have tossed it off to another director to deliver a film in 2009 or maybe even craft an animated series in 2012. But they didn’t. And so we watched and longed as Pixar churned out sequel after sequel to other properties; some brilliant (Toy Story 3), some mild (Finding Dory), and some confoundingly conceived (Cars 3). The good news is that patience for Brad Bird’s return to the franchise as writer/director was not in vain. He has returned to give us something fresh, bold, and intelligent out of a franchise that deserves nothing less.

While the Incredible family was last seen bonding while bashing robots, they still have some issues to solve. Socially, there’s a disconnect between working together and taking responsibility. Role-wise, there’s an unease of trust when shifting duties. And legally, superheroism is still a big no-no in their society. Naturally, the immediate problem is trying to lift the ban on superheroes, and it’s going to take careful consideration to ease the public trust. That’s where Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) comes into play, teaming up with a tycoon (Bob Odenkirk) to reshape perceptions of heroism with her body-reshaping superpowers. And since Bob Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) pulled the solo hero path last time, he takes on the more onerous task of maintaining a household. Being a stay-at-home isn’t so bad, but it’s a draining nightmare when dealing with his speedster son Dash (Huck Milner), his emotional daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), and the baby Jack-Jack that is more of a hodgepodge of powers than he was in the last film.

While Incredibles 2 both mimics and restructures the focus on family dynamics, it’s amplified more than enough to be its own thing rather than a retread. Elastigirl’s crime-stopping crusade pits her against the hypnotizing villain Screenslaver, a masked and technological terrorist that may be a pawn in a bigger conspiracy. Bob’s new mission of raising the kids on his own is not a mere mess of parenting malaise, but as much of a hilarious and visual feat as Elastigirl’s cityscape adventure. There are relatable challenges of Dash’s homework and Violet’s troubled love life at school, but how many dads have to stop their infant from fighting raccoons outside with laser eyes?

Everything in the film has been expanded to the degree where this world is more open, dwarfing the previous film’s scope. Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) returns and has far more to do than chill between acts. The same is true for the world of superheroes that blows up to include Owl-men, lava-lurchers, and interdimensional portal weavers in the film’s explosive climax. We see more of the cities and their striking 60s deco design of wonderment, from old-fashioned TV studios to state-of-the-art trains of the future. The film even goes deep into Bird’s love and inspiration of Jonny Quest with a multitude of Easter eggs, including literally playing Jonny Quest on nearby television sets.

There’s a unique balance of adult themes and engaging storytelling where the superheroes feel as though their perspective has been warped by misplaced perceptions, political bureaucracy, and a fear of the new manifesting in cultural roles. If this all seems a little heavy for the kids, worry not. The standout attraction is the adorable Jack-Jack, showcasing what appears to be an endless series of superpowers. Among his many attributes, he can set himself aflame, transform into a demon, hop through dimensions, and duplicate himself. This makes him troublesome, but all funnier for his adorable nature. Even the usually snooty hero-fashion designer Edna (Brad Bird) can’t resist the little scamp that she’s willing to be called an auntie.

For the basest of thrills, Incredibles 2 doesn’t let down in the animation department, boasting plenty of gorgeous action sequences that involve everything from splitting motorbikes to missile-launching cars to runaway hydrofoils. But what makes Incredibles 2 just as strong for the second go is that it never loses the charm and smarts with the themes of struggling parents in every aspect of their lives. So strong is this writing that the heftier abundance of fights and feats never feel like filler for such a rich story. It seems fitting that the Incredibles would return amid the recent surge in superhero films, where an animated film fit for the family would be aptly timed. True, but, as with Marvel’s most box office shattering pictures, it returns with a purpose and precision that aims to give fans and families more than capes and cowls. Edna hates capes, after all.


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Box Office

Ocean’s 8 Snatches Box Office Top Slot

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Box Office Report June 8-10, 2018

Ocean’s 8, the all-female remake of the heist picture Ocean’s 8, made a strong debut for its first weekend. The film starring the likes of Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, and Anne Hathaway brought in $41.5 million. Considering the budget of $70 million, the movie still has a few weeks to go before breaking even.

Summer tentpoles are still lingering and are certainly not going to be leaving the top 10 any weekend soon. Solo: A Star Wars Story, despite a surprisingly low debut gross, remains at #2 with a weekend gross of $15.1 million, bringing its total to $176 million. Not bad for your average summer film, but significantly disappointing for a Star Wars movie that usually brings in a hefty sum. Just beneath it in the rankings is Deadpool 2, the superhero satire starring Ryan Reynolds, making $13.6 million for a total so far of $278 million. And Avengers: Infinity War continues to stay in the top 10 with another $6.8 million, adding to its already epic total amount of $654 million. It may be well on its way to toppling 2018’s other superhero blockbuster, Black Panther, which as it happens is just one million away from making $700 million domestic. Infinity War is, however, only $2 million away from reaching $2 billion worldwide.

The two other new films this weekend were lost in the dust, though they may gain a small following. Hereditary, a surprising new horror form studio A24, debuted in under 3,000 theaters but came in at #4 for the weekend with a $13 million gross. Considering the good word of mouth the film has been getting, and an electrified ad campaign of being the “scariest movie ever”, it may be sticking around in the top 10 for quite some time. Also debuting much lower is the sci-fi noir picture, Hotel Artemis, coming in at #8 with a small $3.1 million take.

Read the full top 10 below:
Ocean’s 8 ($41,500,000)
Solo: A Star Wars Story ($15,154,000)
Deadpool 2 ($13,650,000)
Hereditary ($13,037,336)
Avengers: Infinity War ($6,836,000)
Adrift ($5,050,000)
Book Club ($4,200,000)
Hotel Artemis ($3,151,118)
Upgrade ($2,220,000)
Life of the Party ($2,105,000)

Next weekend’s new films will include Pixar’s long-awaited superhero sequel The Incredibles 2, the based-on-a-true-story comedy Tag, and the modern remake of blaxploitation classic Superfly. Considering the wealth of fans for The Incredibles, the 4,200 theaters it will be debuting in, and the projected massive take, it’s clear as crystal who will be next weekend’s winner of the top slot.


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Review: An All-Star Cast Makes “Hotel Artemis” Worth Checking In

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We don’t know too much about the chaotic future of Los Angeles in Hotel Artemis. We know there is a water conglomerate, a city-wide shutdown of water services, and violent riots in the streets. That’s about all Jean Thomas (Jodie Foster) knows and all she wants to know. She resides at the titular hotel on the top floor as the nurse for her secret hospital for criminals. It’s dangerous work and she finds herself overbooked on the night of the city’s most massive riot, where several unsavory people converge for hushed healthcare. It’s a recipe for disaster, but for Nurse Thomas, it’s just another Wednesday.

Sofia Boutella and Charlie Day in HOTEL ARTEMIS.
Photo credit: Matt Kennedy / Distributor: Global Road Entertainment

The rustic hotel becomes a stew of colorfully conspiring characters that will feud and toy with each other, despite the hospital rules of not killing the other patients. Sterling K. Brown plays a robber that needs some help for his brother (Brian Tyree Henry) after a botched robbery. Sofia Boutella plays a femme fatale assassin that always seems to be on the clock in her fancy dress, skilled with using coffee cups as deadly weapons. Charlie Day is a rich snob that can’t wait to get out of the city and look on the lowlifes rather than receiving the same bedside manner. And even more guests will show up including a cop (Jenny Slate), a ruthless mob boss (Jeff Goldblum), and the boss’ eager-to-kill son (Zachary Quinto). If it weren’t for the muscle-bound assistance of Everest (Dave Bautista), the Artemis wouldn’t last long with its failing power, rickety elevators, and blood-stained sheets.

Thomas is overworked and crippled with guilt and anxiety, but brushes off those questioning her with her standard response: “Busy night at the Artemis.” That’s an understatement. There is so much going on in this ensemble-filled enclosure that the various arcs wobble and topple all over each other. The trailers made the plot seem so simple with Sterling accidentally stealing a pen that contains million-dollar diamonds, belonging to Goldblum’s character that is quite strict with his punishments for pilfering. And yet that’s not the reason Goldblum stops by, as he has need of medical services and becomes intertwined in the many messy affairs. Some of the characters have contracts to kill from within the hotel, some have guilt they’re trying to get over, and some have past relationships that rekindle. The film can’t seem to settle on a central story with the same indecisiveness of the allegiances of the occupying scum.

Sterling K. Brown in HOTEL ARTEMIS.
Photo credit: Matt Kennedy / Distributor: Global Road Entertainment

There’s an all-star cast on parade for this fast and frenetic futuristic crime tale, and they become the glowing center of this decadent ride. Jodie Foster is adorable as the slick-talking nurse. She has enough experience with lawbreakers to not only enforce her domain but do so with a knowing smirk and biting commentary. In any other film, she’d be present for a few minutes before stepping aside for lukewarm heroes, but Foster is a full-timer here, hobbling between rooms in her comfy nurse outfit and continuously checking her tablet to keep tabs on patients. Brown makes for a charming robber with his straight talk and ease of swagger. Bautista is as likable as always even when he’s not showcasing his tattooed muscles. Armed with a slick and to-the-point script, all of the actors have a genuine nature to them, even for the understated performances of Jenny Slate and Jeff Goldblum.

Hotel Artemis has a bafflingly crowded assembly with too many plot irons are in the fire, an unfilled relationship between the remaining players, and an ending that I suspect may have been retooled with reshoots. But it’s firmly glued with a stellar cast in top form, dashes of dazzling sci-fi tech (including a brilliantly brutal misuse of a 3D printer), and an intoxicating atmosphere amplified by golden synth from Cliff Martinez. All of this makes the film an exhilarating original film that you certainly don’t see every Wednesday.


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