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.

Teaser Trailer – Sicario 2: Soldado


2015’s Sicario snuck up on audiences with a quiet October release and a big impact. Strong performances and great visuals (by way of director Denis Villeneuve and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins) lead the way on the film. I loved that movie. Personally, I didn’t expect a sequel to this one, but am a little curious about where Sicario 2: Soldado may go. Neither Emily Blunt (Girl on the Train) nor Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) appear for this one, but it’s okay. Academy Award Winner Benecio Del Toro reprises his role as Alejandro, an agent who is more than what he seems, as he and Josh Brolin’s Matt Graver are on the hunt against drug cartels.

Something surprising I found out about this. Both films were written by Taylor Sheridan, who also had a stint on FX’s Motorcycle crime drama Sons of Anarchy (one of my favorite shows), where he played Deputy Chief David Hale. Sheridan was also earned a Best Original Screenplay Nomination for 2016’s Hell or High Water. With most of the acting team and the writer on board, Soldado could work out.

Stefano Sollima, best known for Italy’s crime series Gommorah, takes over the directing duties here. Dariusz Wolski will be handling the cinematography, fresh off of Ridley Scott’s last four films (All the Money in the World, Alien Covenant, The Martian and Exodus: Gods and Kings).

Sicario 2: Soldado opens in June 2018.

The Detroit Film Critics Nominate James Franco!


On December 4th (see, I told you I was running behind!), The Detroit Film Critics announced their nominations for the best of 2017!  The winners will be announced tomorrow and you can see the nominees below!

Patrick Stewart picks up a nomination for Logan, which may not make a difference as far as the Oscars are concerned but which is still extremely nice to see.  Also nice to see?  That best film nomination for James Franco’s The Disaster Artist!

BEST FILM

  • The Disaster Artist
  • The Florida Project
  • Get Out
  • The Shape of Water
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
  • Sean Baker, The Florida Project
  • Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
  • Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
  • Jordan Peele, Get Out
  • Geuillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water

BEST ACTOR

  • Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
  • James Franco, The Disaster Artist
  • Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
  • Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
  • Robert Pattinson, Good Time

BEST ACTRESS

  • Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game
  • Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
  • Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
  • Saroise Ronan, Lady Bird

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
  • Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
  • Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Patrick Stewart, Logan
  • Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me by Your Name

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip
  • Holly Hunter, The Big Sick
  • Allison Janney, I, Tonya
  • Melissa Leo, Novitiate
  • Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird

BEST ENSEMBLE

  • The Big Sick
  • Lady Bird
  • Mudbound
  • The Post
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

BREAKTHROUGH

  • Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name (actor)
  • Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman (actress)
  • Tiffany Haddish, Girls Trip (actress)
  • Caleb Landry Jones, American MadeThe Florida ProjectGet Out, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (actor)
  • Jordan Peele, Get Out (writer/director)

BEST SCREENPLAY

  • Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor, The Shape of Water
  • Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
  • Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick
  • Liz Hannah, Josh Singer, The Post
  • Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Jordan Peele, Get Out
  • Taylor Sheridan, Wind River

BEST DOCUMENTARY

  • The Defiant Ones
  • Human Flow
  • Kedi
  • Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond
  • Step
  • Strong Island
  • Whose Streets?

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

BEST USE OF MUSIC

Here’s What Won At Cannes!


Here’s what won at this year’s Cannes Film Festival!  As always, the list is full of intrigue and surprises.

Also, as always, it’s debatable whether any of this will actually effect that Oscar race.  To be honest, other than The Tree of Life, it’s hard to think of any recent Oscar nominee that was undeniably helped by a victory at Cannes.  During the Festival, both Robert Pattinson and Adam Sandler (yes, Adam Sandler) started to receive some Oscar buzz but neither of them — nor their films, Good Time or The Meyerowitz Stories — were honored.

(As enjoyably weird as it would be for Adam Sandler to become an Oscar nominee, I imagine The Meyerowitz Stories will be ignored come Oscar time because it’s a Netflix film.  If the Academy couldn’t even give one nomination to the previous Netflix contender — the powerful and important Beasts of No Nation — I doubt that they’re going to surrender their bias for a film starring Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller.)

That said, I am very, very happy to see that one of my favorite artists, Sofia Coppola, was honored!  I can’t wait to see The Beguiled!

Here’s the winners:

2017 Main Competition winners: 

Palme d’Or: The Square (Ruben Ostlund)
Gran Prix: “BPM (Beats Per Minute)” (Robin Campillo)
Jury Prize: “Loveless” (Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Best Director: Sofia Coppola — The Beguiled
Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix — You Were Never Really Here
Best Actress: Diane Kruger — In The Fade
Best Screenplay: “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou) and “You Were Never Really Here” (Lynne Ramsay)

OTHER PRIZES

Camera d’Or: “Jeune femme” (Montparnasse-Bienvenüe) (Léonor Serraille)

Short Films Palme d’Or: “Xiao Cheng Er Yue” (Qiu Yang)

Short Films Special Mention: “Katto” (Teppo Airaksinen)

Golden Eye Documentary Prize: “Faces Places” (Visages Villages) (Agnès Varda, JR)

Ecumenical Jury Prize: “Radiance” (Naomi Kawase)

2017 Un Certain Regard winners: 

Un Certain Regard Prize: Mohammad Rasoulof – A Man of Integrity
Best Actress: 
Jasmine Trinca – Fortunata
Best Poetic Narrative:
 Mathieu Amalric – Barbara
Best Direction: 
Taylor Sheridan – Wind River
Jury Prize:
 Michel Franco – April’s Daughter

2017 International Critics Week winners:

Nespresso Grand Prize: Emmanuel Gras – Makala
France 4 Visionary Award: Fellipe Gamarano Barbosa – Gabriel and the Mountain
Leica Cine Discovery Prize for Short Film: Laura Ferrés – Los Desheredados
Gan Foundation Support for Distribution Award: Fellipe Gamarano Barbosa – Gabriel and the Mountain
SACD Award: Léa Mysius – Ava
Canal+ Award: Aleksandra Terpińska – The Best Fireworks

2017 Director’s Fortnight winners:

Art Cinema Award: Chloé Zhao – The Rider
SACD Award: Claire Denis – Let the Sunshine In, Philippe Garrel – Lover for a Day
Europa Cinemas Label Award: Jonas Carpignano – A Ciambra
Illy Prize for Short Film: Benoit Grimalt – Back to Genoa City

Here’s The Trailer for Wind River!


Here’s the trailer for Wind River, a crime thriller that has gotten good reviews at both Sundance and Cannes.

Here are a few things to know about Wind River:

First off, a lot of people are pointing out that it stars two members of the MCU, Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen.  At this point, however, the MCU is so big — with the movies and Netflix and the tv shows — that it’s hard to think of a recent or upcomng film that doesn’t feature at least one actor from the MCU.  At this point, MCU actors running into each other in non-MCU movies is no longer as big a surprise as it may have once been.  It’s kind of unavoidable.

For me, the most intriguing thing about Wind River is that it is the directorial debut of Taylor Sheridan, who previously wrote the amazing screenplays for both Sicario and Hell or High Water.  I’ll be curious to see if Sheridan is as good and unpredictable a director as he is a writer.

Here’s the trailer!

The Hawaii Film Critics Society Embraces La La Land


la-la-land

On January 16th, the film critics of Hawaii (and who wouldn’t want to be a member of that group?) announced their picks for the best of 2016!  They really, really liked La La Land!

BEST FILM:
La La Land

BEST DIRECTOR:
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
BEST ACTOR:
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
BEST ACTRESS:
Viola Davis, Fences
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water (tie)
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
Tom Ford (Based on the Novel by Austin Wright), Nocturnal Animals
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:
Linus Sandgren, La La Land 

BEST EDITING:
Tom Cross, La La Land
BEST ART DIRECTION:
Austin Gorg, La La Land 
BEST COSTUME DESIGN:
Madeline Fontaine, Jackie
BEST MAKE-UP:
Bill Corso, Deadpool
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:
Arrival (tie)
Doctor Strange
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:
Justin Hurwitz, La La Land 
BEST SONG: 
Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, “Audition (Fools Who Dream),” La La Land  (tie)
Lin-Manuel Miranda, “How Far I’ll Go,” Moana
BEST ANIMATED FILM:
Kubo and the Two Strings (dir. Travis Knight) (tie)
Zootopia (dir. Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush)
BEST DOCUMENTARY:
OJ: Made in America (dir. Ezra Edelman)
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:
The Handmaiden (dir. Chan-wook Park), (South Korea) (tie)
Neruda (dir. Pablo Larrain),  (Chile)
BEST HAWAII FILM:
Moana (dir. Ron Clements, Don Hall, John Musker and Chris Williams)
BEST NEW FILMMAKER:
Dan Trachtenberg,  10 Cloverfield Lane
BEST FIRST FILM:
10 Cloverfield Lane (dir. Dan Trachtenberg)
BEST OVERLOOKED FILM:
Hell or High Water (dir. David Mackenzie)
BEST SCI-FI/HORROR FILM:
Arrival (dir. Denis Villeneuve)
BEST STUNTS:
The Magnificent Seven 
BEST VOCAL/MOTION CAPTURE PERFORMANCE:
Charlize Theron/ Kubo and the Two Strings
WORST FILM OF THE YEAR:
Fifty Shades of Black  (tie)
Zoolander 2

Oscar Season Continues with the Denver Film Critics Society!


oscar trailer kitties

Well, with the Oscar nominations due to be announced next Tuesday, there’s just a few more precursors left to consider.  And, since nomination voting has been closed, it’s debatable whether any of these remaining precursors matter.

But you know me.  I love three things: movies, lists, and awards.

So, let’s get things started with the Denver Film Critics Society!  On the 17th, they announced their picks for the best of 2016.  And here they are:

Best Picture: “Moonlight”

Best Director: Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”

Best Actor: Casey Affleck, “Manchester By the Sea”

Best Actress: Natalie Portman, “Jackie”

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis, “Fences”

Best Animated Film: “Zootopia”

Best Science Fiction/Horror Film: “Arrival”

Best Comedy: “Deadpool”

Best Original Screenplay: Taylor Sheridan, “Hell or High Water”

Best Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”

Best Documentary: “O.J.: Made in America”

Best Visual Effects: “Doctor Strange”

Best Original Song: “Drive It Like You Stole It” from “Sing Street”

Best Score: Justin Hurwitz, “La La Land”

Best Foreign Language Film: “Toni Erdmann”