Film Review: 12 Strong (dir by Nicolai Fuglsig)


12 Strong begins with a montage of terror.

The World Trade Center is bombed in 1993.  Planes are bombed.  Ships are attacked.  Bill Clinton gives a speech in which he impotently condemns Al-Qaeda.  Finally, we reach September 11th, 2001.  Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) is playing with his daughter when she suddenly looks up at the TV behind him.  “Look, Daddy,” she says.  Nelson turns around and sees The World Trade Center on fire.

Even though he’s recently announced his intention to retire, Nelson reports for duty.  Despite the skepticism of his commanding officer (Rob Riggle), Nelson and 11 others are sent into Afghanistan.  Their mission is to meet up with a warlord named Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) and to capture territory from the Taliban.  Nelson is initially given 6 weeks to complete this task.  Nelson replies that he’ll get it done in three, before the harsh Afghan winter makes it impossible to move through the mountains.

Among the actors who make up Nelson’s team: Michael Shannon, Trevante Rhodes, Austin Stowell, and Geoff Stults.  Fortunately, the cast is made up of familiar faces.  Even though you might not learn everyone’s name, you still feel as if you know them because you’ve seen all of them playing similar roles in other movies.  (After his performance in Moonlight, it’s a bit disappointing to see Trevante Rhodes playing such a minor supporting role in his follow-up but still, he’s a charismatic actor and he has enough screen presence that he definitely makes an impression.)  Somewhat inevitably, Michael Pena plays the funny member of the team.  It’s not a 21st century action film without Michael Pena providing comedic relief.

(That’s actually a little unfair to Michael Pena, who is a good actor and who gives a pretty good performance in 12 Strong.  It’s just that he’s played this role so many times that it’s almost become a cliché that every action movie will feature Micheal Pena making jokes.)

When the team first meets up with Dostum, there’s immediate tension between the supposed allies.  As Dostum puts it, the United States only cares about getting rid of the Taliban but they don’t care about what will happen afterward.  When Dostum looks at Nelson, he immediately announces that Nelson does not have killer eyes.  Everyone else on the team has killer eyes but not Nelson.  Dostum and his men are even less impressed when they see the Americans struggling to ride the horses that are required to get through the mountains.  Will Nelson win Dostum’s respect?  Will he develop the eyes of a killer?

You probably already know the answer to that.  There’s really not a single moment in 12 Strong that you won’t see coming.  As soon as Dostum says that Nelson needs to prove himself in battle, you know that he’ll get a chance to do just that.  As soon as another soldier talks about home, you know that he’s going to be seriously wounded.  When you first spot the child soldiers among Dostum’s forces and you see one of them give Nelson a nervous smile, you know that child’s probably going to be one of the first casualties of the attack.

12 Strong is a predictable movie but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad one.  It’s a well-made film, with the cast all giving strong performances and director Nicolai Fuglsig doing a good job with the battle scenes.  My heart was racing during the film’s final battle.  New Mexico doubled for Afghanistan and the film features some truly stunning shots of the mountainous landscape.  The film even makes a point about why, after 17 years, there still doesn’t appear to be any end in sight to the War in Afghanistan.

Clocking in at 2 hours and 9 minutes, 12 Strong is probably about thirty minutes too long.  It’s a predictable movie but it’s well-made and the fact that it’s based on a true story does make it a bit more poignant than it would be otherwise.  It’s not a bad war film, particularly for January.

Film Review: Furious 7 (dir by James Wan)


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Regardless of what you may think about the rest of Furious 7, the final ten minutes will make you cry.  They made me cry and, before I saw Furious 7, I wasn’t even really a fan of the franchise.  It’s not a spoiler to tell you that Furious 7 ends with a tribute to both the character Brian O’Connor and the actor who played him, Paul Walker.  While Dominic Toretto (played, of course, by Vin Diesel) says goodbye to Brian, we see a montage of clips of Brian throughout the previous Fast and Furious Films and it’s so poignant to see how Paul Walker transformed over the course of the series, going from being a somewhat bland teen heart throb to becoming a genuinely charismatic leading man.  Watching the montage, you can see that Paul Walker was still growing as an actor and you’re reminded of just what a shock it was when we first heard the news of his death in 2013.

And, of course, we’re very aware that, as Dominic is saying goodbye to Brian and we’re saying goodbye to the actor who played him, Vin Diesel is saying goodbye to his friend.  That Diesel and Walker were friends on-screen and off is no secret.  In fact, that friendship has always been one of the big appeals of the Fast and Furious franchise.  The films are about a group of people (mostly men) who care about each other and who aren’t ashamed to admit it.  When Dominic delivers the film’s final monologue, it’s really all about Vin saying goodbye to Paul.  By the time the words “For Paul” appeared on the screen, there was not a dry eye in the theater.

The death of Paul Walker adds an undeniable poignancy to Furious 7 and it’s sometimes hard to separate the real-life tragedy from what we’re watching on screen.  But here’s the thing — Furious 7 works as both a heartfelt tribute to Paul Walker and as a wonderfully over-the-top and fun action movie.  Furious 7 is a burst of pure adrenaline and style that epitomizes everything that you could possibly want out of an action movie.

Jason Statham plays Deckard Shaw, a former government assassin who has a personal vendetta against Dom, Brian, and practically everyone else who has ever been a Fast and Furious movie.  Statham isn’t in a lot of scenes but whenever he shows up, he kicks ass and watching Furious 7 was probably the first time that I’ve ever truly understood Statham’s appeal.  How impressive is Jason Statham in this film?  He puts Dwayne Johnson in the hospital, that’s how impressive he is.  And what’s amazing is that after watching their fight scene, you totally believe that Jason Statham could put Dwayne Johnson in the hospital.

Another government agent, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell, having a great time), offers to help Dom take out Deckard but first, Dom and his crew have to do a favor for Mr. Nobody.  They have to rescue a hacker (Nathalie Emmanuel) from an African warlord (Djimon Honsou) who is obviously based on Joseph Kony.  That hacker knows about the location of a device that will allow the government to track down Deckard but the device has already been sold to a billionaire who lives in Abu Dhabi….

Ultimately, the exact specifics and logic of it all doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Chris Bridges, Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez, and Dwayne Johnson are all back and they’re all a lot of fun to watch.  What matters is that the cars look good and the stunt work is just as amazing as you were hoping.  What matters is that the film features things that you never thought you’d see — like cars parachuting down to a mountain road and jumping from skyscraper to skyscraper.

This is an exciting film.  It’s a fun film.  It’s an entertaining film.  It’s a stylish film.  And, ultimately, it’s a film that will make you cry.

What more can you ask for?

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Trailer: Furious 7 (Extended)


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We saw the Super Bowl trailer of Furious 7 (formerly known as Fast & Furious 7). Well, here’s the extended version of it with more Jason Statham mayhem added to the mix. We also get The Rock get beatdown by Statham. Then again we’re all pretty much aware that Statham probably is the only person can put a beatdown on the Rock.

It looks like the summer blockbuster season starting out earlier and earlier with each passing year. Furious 7 is set for an April 3, 2015 release date.

Trailer: Furious 7 (Teaser)


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To much fanfare we finally have the teaser trailer to the latest adventures of Dominic Toretto and his band of misfit drivers.

Now officially titled as Furious 7, the latest film in the franchise goes further away from it’s street racing roots and into the spy thriller and superhero genres it drifted into with Fast Five. Even the title alone sounds like a superhero team straight out of Marvel Comics. It’s almost as if I expect to see Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Daredevil and Elektra plus three other furious heroes fighting the good fight.

The teaser pretty much teases the sort of over-the-top, physics-defying action scenes we’ve come to expect from this franchise. It’s almost as if with each new film they up the ante as to how much universal laws Dom and his crew will break in order to entertain it’s massive fan audience.

Furious 7 is set to ride and die this April 3, 2015.

Quick Review: Fast & Furious 6 (dir. by Justin Lin)


url-6Thinking back on the original Fast & Furious film, I still find it hard to believe it’s done so well over the years. The longevity of the films owe a lot to the Saw series, which seems fitting considering that the original director of that film will take over the reigns for the next installment. Both series have managed to take events from all of their films and weave this strange tapestry with it. Once you think one story is over, the writers somehow jump back to an earlier scene and pull out a new thread for everyone to follow. Gimmicky? Perhaps, but it works, at least for this tale.

To sum up Furious 6 in a nutshell, Dominic Toretto’s team has to help Hobbs (the lawman who was after them in Furious 5) stop a former SAS agent who is using cars to facilitate his acts of terror. Why get involved, one asks? Hobbs sweetens the deal by showing Dom that his formerly believed dead girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is…wait for it….not dead, and is working with these bad guys.

It’s like General Hospital with Cars. I’m such a sucker for this franchise.

If you’re new to the Furious films, the opening credits sum up the last 5 movies in a Spider-Man 2 like montage. You have your main heroes, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Connor (Paul Walker), who are kind of like criminals only they take down bad guys to better others (or themselves). Along with them is Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), who is the mother of Brian’s baby boy, Jack (not to be confused with Jack Jack from The Incredibles). Then there’s the crew, made up of most of the characters from all of the Furious films leading up to 6:

From 2 Fast 2 Furious, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Tyrese Gibson return as two friends of Brian’s. Tej (Bridges) is the team hacker (wouldn’t be complete without one) and Roman (Tyrese) is the comic relief.

From Tokyo Drift (the 3rd and my personal favorite) comes Sung Kang, who plays Han. While he met his end in that film, every movie after the 3rd takes place somewhere before this film, believe it or not. This makes the ending of Tokyo Drift a little baffling when you see Toretto at the end of it. No matter what the writers decide to do with future installments, they’ll eventually have to circle back to how Dom got there.

From Fast & Furious. (No. 4) – We have Gal Gadot as Gisele, a former IDF member who was an accomplice to a drug cartel leader. Ironically, Gadot actually did some work with the Israeli forces, which I found interesting. She is the only member of that film to come back to the series as Don Omar and Tego Calderon sat this one out.

And finally from Fast Five, you have Hobbs (The Rock) and his former partner from Brazil, Elena (Elsa Pataky).

So, you have the setup. One of the things to understand about this (and some of the earlier ones) is that you’re working in a “Popcorn Reality”. The action’s all well and good, but in the course of all the driving, you’ll almost expect to see at least one or two action scenes or stunts that just don’t make any kind of practical sense. These GTFO moments are in great supply in Furious 6 – A runway chase that lasts a good 15 minutes, yet seems impossibly long for any plane to actually use for a take off. A “flip” car with the ability to send other cars launching into the air. In any other movie, most people would scoff and walk out. For this, it’s almost the norm and if you don’t care, it’s actually fun. Lin has been able to take the chase scenes about as far as they can possibly go, and I can’t really imagine what else they could try to push things, really.

Of particular note is Luke Evans, who plays the villain, Shaw. I didn’t really care for him in Tarsem’s Immortals, but  was good here, trying to be as much a Bond baddie as he can. Another addition is Gina Carano, who takes the place as Hobbs partner this time around. She’s a bit more light hearted here than she was in Haywire, and gets to showcase her fight skills. However, in a movie that’s already packed with stars performing particular roles, she doesn’t really have much to truly do other than to be Michelle Rodriguez’s sparring partner. Not a terrible thing, just something I noticed.

Is it worth it? Well, considering that most of the movies that came out since Fast & Furious 6 was released haven’t fared too well (Yes, I’m looking right at you, After Earth), it’s a safe bet if you also understand that this all revolves around cars driving very smooth and fast with near unlimited shift points. If you don’t like cars or racing, this might not be your cup of tea. There’s a lot of shooting at some points, which might  round things out for action fans. It’s a quick way to burn 2 hours. If you also managed to see at least the last film in the cinema, then this is a given – though you’ll probably be able to put 2 and 2 together before the story’s half done.

Also, do stick around once the credits start, as there’s a scene that will come up to help lay the groundwork for the next installment.

Trailer: Fast and Furious 6 (Extended First Look)


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During this year’s Super Bowl XLVII one of the films whose trailers were premiered was the latest and upcoming entry to the Fast and the Furious series. Since that day a new and much more extended look and version of that trailer has been released by Universal Pictures for everyone to look over.

When I say extended first look I mean extended. This trailer is over 3 minutes long and pretty much acts like a major sizzle reel that’s usually reserved for special screenings at conventions or trade shows. I was mistaken from the earlier post when I said the film has an M-1 tank in it to ramp up the epicness. It looks more like the newest French main battle tank, the Leclerc. I shall keep my opinion about the French Leclerc to myself….

Now, enjoy the extended first look of Fast and Furious 6.

Trailer: Fast and Furious 6 (Super Bowl Exclusive)


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Fast Five was a big surprise when in came out in 2011. The franchise finally broke away from the street racing template of the previous entries in the series. The huge success of Fast Five meant it had given the franchise a new template by which to keep it going for the foreseeable future.

Fast and Furious 6 continues the action film rebirth of the Fast and Furious franchise by dumping all the street racing aspect of the series and just going all out action. We have Justin Lin back as director with the cast of Fast Five returning en masse. Joining this group is Luke Evans, Gina Carano and Michelle Rodriguez (thought dead after the fourth film). From the Super Bowl tv spot that just got released it looks like Fast and Furious 6 will be even bigger than the previous film.

M1 main battle tank and C-5 Galaxy transport plane means way bigger than a bank vault.

Fast and Furious 6 is set for a May 24, 2013 release date.

Quickie Review: Fast Five (dir. by Justin Lin)


It would seem that the summer blockbuster film season starts earlier and earlier with each passing year. It used to be that the film which premiered during the Memorial Day weekend was the one which began the season, but now films which come out first weekend of May get to have that honor. Then 2011 decides to change things up and herald the summer blockbuster season not in May but the last weekend of April. The film which gets to do the honor this year looks to be Justin Lin’s fun and very action-packed fourth sequel to the undying street-racing franchise which began with 2001’s The Fast and The Furious. This fifth entry in the franchise was simply titled, Fast Five.

The series had always been about the world of illegal street-racing whether it was set in Los Angeles, Miami or Tokyo. There was always that aspect of the story which tied all four previous films together. It would have skilled, beautiful women who followed the scene and, of course, the fast cars themselves. Things began to change a bit with the fourth film, Fast and Furious, as the street racing became not the main focal point of the story but just an aspect of it. The franchise began to take on an action-thriller role. While it was good to see changes to the franchise that began to get stale that fourth film didn’t pull off the necessary changes as well as it should’ve. It would seem that Justin Lin was just testing the waters and finally got what he wanted with Fast Five.

This latest film in the franchise barely has any street-racing in the film. There’s a short sequence 2/3’s of the way in and Lin also inserts a couple of obligatory slo-mo scenes of street-racers gathering to show-off their rides and women, but Fast Five is more of a caper film than a street-racing one. It actually owes a lot more to the Ocean’s 11 films than anything else. We have returning character in Vin Diesel’s Dominic Torreto and his sister Mia (played by the radiant Jordana Brewster). Paul Walker as his erstwhile ally Brian O’Conner returns as well. It’s these three who anchor the heist team which would include returning characters from the previous four films. There’s the hothead Vince (Matt Schulze) from the first film. Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) come in from the second film. Sung Kang’s character Han from the third film appears so does Gisele, Tego and Rico from the fourth film. These returning character make-up what I would only call as Torreto’s Ten.

Fast Five begins just as the previous film ended as O’Conner and Mia break Dom out of the prison bus taking him to prison. From there the film moves to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where these three fugitives take on a job to earn themselves some money only to realize that they’ve inadvertently gone to work for Reyes, Rio’s most powerful crimelord (Joaquim de Almeida), who now has his sights on Dom’s crew. Not to make Dom’s life any easier is a Federal Task Force sent in to take him back to the U.S. in the form of Hobbs (played by Dwayne Johnson) and his elite team of agents. Dom and his crew will now have to escape not just Reyes and his thugs but Hobbs and his men. It’s the plan to do just both that make up most of the film’s story.

Justin Lin does a great job in not just explaining the details of the heist beforehand, but he does so without getting the film into too much of an expository exercise. He shows just as much as tell the job Torreto’s Ten must pull off if they’re to ever win their freedom. It’s the set-up to the heist and the execution of it which tie-in all the many, well-staged action sequences the film has. While street-racing has been relegated to just obligatory short scenes this film doesn’t lack for exciting carmeggedon and mayhem. From the prison bus escape to begin the film to the daring train robbery which follows it right down to the bank vault heist which takes up the last 10-15 minutes of the film. That sequence alone makes this film worth seeing as we see a 10-ton bank vault being hauled at high-speed through the streets of downtown Rio. Buildings get totaled and cars get tossed and smashed like tinker toys. Yet, as the PG-13 rating would point out we don’t know or see if anyone actually dies.

It’s that rating which keeps this film from ever joining the exploitation and grindhouse pedigree of such car mayhem films as Vanishing Point, Two-Lane Blacktop and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. But despite the limitations a PG-13 rating puts on Justin Lin’s Fast Five the film ends up becoming a very fun and exhilirating action-heist film that gives some new life to a franchise that was down to fumes. It helped that we get some good performances from most of the leads (Paul Walker still can’t do anything outside of performing as a surfer from California). It was also the addition of Dwayne Johnson as Federal Super-Agent Luke Hobbs which gives the film some of it’s fun. Johnson was able to match Diesel’s Dominic Torreto for the title of most badass in the film. In fact, the fight between the two was one of the highlights of the film (even though I still think Johnson probably would kick Diesel’s ass 100 out of 100 times).

Fast Five doesn’t disappoint and more than earns the honor of starting up 2011’s summer blockbuster season. Justin Lin has delivered a film in this franchise which stands out from the rest and more than likely reboots the series from a street-racing one and into just a plain old action series. His work in this film and how he handled the action also adds some credence and justification in him being given the next film in the Terminator franchise. He may just be the one to bring back some life into that dying franchise. So, strap on the seat belt and grab onto to something because Fast Five may just be one of the few films this summer that delivered on everything it promises in terms of action and fun.

Fast Five (Super Bowl TV Spot)


I know that the Fast and Furious franchise has been milked for as long as decent, but this latest tv spot for the fifth film in the series has made me rethink about not seeing it when it first comes out.

It looks to be concentrating more now on the action and less on how cool the cars are though from the looks of it they’re still driving around i some cool ass cars. Plus, this fifth one has the Rock back. I don’t mean Dwayne Johnson, but the Rock. Ever since he dropped the Rock moniker he had relagated himself to family-friendly films. He was truly cool on-screen when he was just the Rock.

Fast Five comes out this April 29, 2011.