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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.

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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]

Izzy

Movie Magic: The De-Aging Technique of The Irishman

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Robert DeNiro de-agedHave you read Izzy yet? If so, you know that Izzy makes the apples that give the Gods their youth and immortality. It also seems Robert De Niro discovered one of Izzy’s apples too… In Martin Scorsese’s upcoming biographical film, he stars as Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, a labor union leader and alleged hitman for the Bufalino crime family. The trailer for the movie, which will premieres NEXT WEEK (!), also features a “de-aged” De Niro. “We’re so used to watching them as the older faces,” Scorsese said in an interview on the A24 podcast. “Does it change the eyes at all? …If that’s the case, what was in the eyes that I liked? Was it intensity? Was it gravitas? Was it threat?…How do we get that? I don’t know.” Some might consider this magic and I for one can’t wait to see the impact of Izzy’s apples on screen for myself. ????

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“Captain Marvel” Retains Top Slot at the Box Office

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It’s no surprise that in its second weekend, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe of 2019 is still riding high. Captain Marvel, the latest in the MCU with Brie Larson starring as the lead, generated another $69 million over the weekend, placing its domestic total at $266 million. Tallying up the international box office, the film’s global total to date is $760 million. Despite the online controversy, the film is looking to be another strong box office smash for Disney and Marvel.

As for the premieres for the weekend, and there were plenty, they were all over the map. Just below Captain Marvel was the animated adventure Wonder Park, bringing in $16 million, another film with controversy when the director’s name was removed from the picture after sexual harassment charges. Five Feet Apart, the dying teen drama about a romance amid cystic fibrosis, only came in at #3 with a weekend gross of $13 million. And debuting the lowest in the top 10 for debuts was Captive State, a sci-fi dystopian tale, only making $3 million. The film debuted so low the little film No Manches Frida 2 was able to sneak about it at #6 with a gross of $3.8 million.

Drops were fairly low all around for the returning films, mostly because Captain Marvel was dominating the previous weekend. The only milestone worth noting is that The LEGO Movie 2, after six weeks at the box office, finally cracked $100 million. And the sun is now setting on Green Book’s post-Oscar run by coming in at #10 for the final weekend of its top 10 run over the past few weeks.

View the full top ten weekend box office results below:

Captain Marvel ($69,318,000)

Wonder Park ($16,000,000)

Five Feet Apart ($13,150,000)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($9,345,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($8,085,000)

No Manches Frida 2 ($3,894,000)

Captive State ($3,163,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($2,135,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($1,900,000)

Green Book ($1,277,000)

Next weekend, Captain Marvel may very well have some competition when Jordan Peele’s new horror film Us hits over 3,600 theaters.

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“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back

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With little competition for the weekend, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third in the animated fantasy saga, was able to secure the box office once more. In its second weekend, the animated epic made $30 million to push its domestic total to $97 million. So far the film has done about the same as the previous film and is on track to stay in the top 10 for a few more weeks in March.

Debuts this weekend were small with one big exception. Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film, A Madea Family Funeral, naturally made a relatively big splash with its dedicated audience. Starting at #2, the film made $27 million for its first weekend. No word on the budget yet but it’s most likely on a budget as most Tyler Perry productions are, so it’s safe to call this a success, especially for debuting with a box office so close to Dragon.

The rest of the premieres were not as strong at all. Greta, the new thriller starring Chloe Moretz, debuted all the way down at #8 with $4.5 million box office. To be fair, however, the film was in a constant battle for its spot as three other films also reported earnings around $4 million for the weekend. Of note, Green Book, fresh off winning the Academy Award for Best Picture one weekend ago, splashed back into more theaters to arise even higher in the top 10 with its domestic total now sitting at $73 million. Don’t count on it remaining there long as bigger blockbusters will be swooping as we plow through the last remnants of winter movies.

Check out the full listing of the top 10 box office weekend results below:

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($30,046,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($27,050,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($7,000,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($6,615,000)

Green Book ($4,711,000)

Fighting With My Family ($4,691,284)

Isn’t it Romantic ($4,645,000)

Greta ($4,585,000)

What Men Want ($2,700,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($2,516,000)

Next weekend is once again all about Marvel as their latest superhero solo film, Captain Marvel, will be appearing in 4,100 theaters.

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