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: The Emoji Movie (dir by Tony Leondis)


 

The Emoji Movie is basically Inside Out, except instead of taking place inside of an awkward teen’s head, it takes place inside of an awkward teen’s phone.  Instead of sharing a universal story about the pain of growing up, it shares a universal story about the pain of having too many lame apps on your phone.  Instead of featuring a melancholy voice performance by Richard Kind as a forgotten toy, it features an annoying voice performance from James Corden as a forgotten emoji.  Instead of being really wise, funny, and sad, the Emoji Movie is dumb, stupid, and idiotic.  Otherwise, it’s just like Inside Out.

Gene (voiced by T.J. Miller) is a Meh Emoji.  He lives in Textopolis.  His job is to look like he’s always meh but instead, he’s always full of emotion and positivity.  His boss, Smiler (Maya Rudolph), says that Gene must be a malfunction and therefore, he has to be deleted.  Gene says, “No, I must discover who I actually am!”  With the help of the forgotten hand emoji, Hi-5 (that would be James Corden), Gene flees from app to app.  (It’s kinda like The Lego Movie but not funny, touching, or clever.)  They track down a hacker named Jailbreak (Anna Faris) and, at one point, they’re all rescued by a blue bird that comes flying over from the Twitter app.  They’re all chased by a bunch of bots and I have to admit that I liked the bots just because they were trying to destroy Gene and Hi-5.  Anything that would have ended James Corden’s lameass Ricky Gervais imitation would have been fine with me.

Nobody (or, at the very least, nobody who writes for this site) is as enthusiastic a capitalist as I am but the naked commercialism of The Emoji Movie really tested my patience.  Essentially, it’s just an 86-minute advertisement with a vapid “Be yourself!” message tacked on.  (If The Emoji Movie was sincere in its message of individuality, it wouldn’t celebrate the idea of people communicating exclusively in emoji.)  Early on, when Gene and Hi-5 escaped into Candy Crush, I rolled my eyes.  Later on, when an awed Gene said, “This is Spotify?”, I nearly threw a shoe at the TV.

(I did enjoy the scene where the Just Dance app got deleted, just because the dancer — who was voiced by Christina Aguilera — let out a terrifying scream as the app collapsed around her.  I’ve always imagined that’s what happens whenever I delete anything.)

Usually, I try to force myself to come up with at least 500 words for every review that I write but the really does seem to be more effort than this movie deserves.  (I was actually tempted to write this review exclusive in emoji but then I realized I was just be playing the movie’s game.)  I will say this: children will like The Emoji Movie because children are stupid.  Ask them again in five years and this will be their response:

 

Back to School #73: 21 Jump Street (dir by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)


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Though the TV series that its based is a bit before my time, the 2012 comedy 21 Jump Street is a personal favorite of mine.  The film tells the story of how nerdy Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and popular but none-too-intelligent jock Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) first met in high school, went to the police academy together, both turned out to really bad cops together, and then returned to high school together.

Why did they return to high school?  Because they’re both working undercover now!  As part of a recently revived program from the 80s (and that would apparently be the original television series), young cops are being sent undercover into high school.  As all the other cops involved with the program appear to be super cops, Capt. Dickson (Ice Cube) has every reason to believe that Schmidt and Jenko will be able to discover who is responsible for dealing a dangerous new synthetic drug known as HFS.

One of the things that makes 21 Jump Street work is that, at no point, does the film pretend that either Channing Tatum or Jonah Hill could still pass for a high school student.  One of the film’s best moments comes when a drug dealing environmentalist/student named Eric Molson (Dave Franco, brother of my beloved James) tells Jenko that he suspects that Jenko may be a cop.  “Why?” Jenko asks.  “You’re taste in music. The fact that you look like a fucking forty-year old man,” Eric replies.

Not surprisingly, Jenko and Schmidt prove themselves to be fairly clueless about how high school has changed.  One thing that I’ve always found interesting about high school films is that often times, regardless of when a particularly film might be set, it still feels like it’s taking place ten to twenty years in the past.  That’s largely because most high school films are made by directors who are trying to relive their youth and, as a result, they end up making a film about a high school in 2014 where all of the students look and act as if they’re living in the 90s.  The truth of the matter is that things change pretty quickly.

That’s one reason why I haven’t set foot back in my high school since I graduated.  As much fun as I did have in high school and even though I’ve been told that I can still pass for high school age (and I still constantly get asked for ID), the fact of the matter is that it’s no longer 2004.

When Jenko and Schmidt return to high school, they do so expecting to have to return to their previous teenager personas.  That’s good news for Jenko and not so good news for Schmidt.  However, once they arrive (and after their class schedules accidentally get switched), they discover that high school has changed.  Jocks like Jenko no longer rule the school and Schmidt is now one of the popular kids…

Before I saw 21 Jump Street, I knew that Jonah Hill was funny.  But the film’s big surprise was that Channing Tatum is just as funny.  Throughout the film, Tatum shows a willingness to poke fun at his own image and proves that he can deliver an absurd one-liner as masterfully as just about anyone else working today.  There’s a lot of reasons why 21 Jump Street is a funny film.  It’s full of funny lines and the movie features a lot of very sharp satire of both the action and the teen genres.  But the true pleasure of the film comes from the comedic chemistry between Tatum and Hill.

It’s just a lot of fun to watch.

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Trailer: 22 Jump Street (Red Band)


One of the biggest surprises for 2012 was the fact that a remake of an 80’s TV show on the fledgling Fox Network ended up being a major hit for the year. The show was 21 Jump Street and the film that stared Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill was a laugh riot from beginning to end.

So, just like any hit that comes out of Hollywood there’s bound to be a sequel and the producers were quick to make it happen. This is why in the summer of 2014 we will get the sequel to 21 Jump Street which will be called 22 Jump Street. It would seem the Korean Catholic Church being used in the first film was sod so now they move across the street to the abandoned Vietnamese Catholic Church on 22 Jump Street.

Will this sequel catch lightning in a bottle once again? Will Channing Tatum finally realize that his true calling is to be a comedic action star?

22 Jump Street will answer all these questions and more you probably didn’t realize you had on June 13, 2014.

Trailer: 21 Jump Street (Red Band)


Ok, I have to admit that I was a huge fan of the Fox Network early 90’s cop show 21 Jump Street. What can I say other than it was a show about cops who looked like teenagers so using TV logic they go undercover in high school as students to catch bad guys. I mean the show gave birth to Depp and Grieco, nuff said.

It’s been twenty years since that show first first premiered and now we have the long-awaited, much-anticipated film adaptation of said show set for spring of 2012. It’s going to be an action-comedy but still using the same premise as the show, but instead of taking the original characters from the show and just having new actors play them the film just returns to the 21 Jump Street program with a new batch of recruits. So, instead of Johnny Depp and Richard Grieco we get Channing Tataum and Jonah Hill instead. I did read that Depp will appear in this film in a major cameo. Now, here’s to hoping they’re keeping Grieco’s appearance as a major secret.

The first trailer has been released and it’s in glorious red band. So, as I look at the trailer I will assume that this film will either be a very hard PG-13 or a soft R rating.

21 Jump Street has a release date of March 16, 2012.