Movie review: 12 Strong

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of another January release. This time around, it’s 12 Strong!

IMDb summary: 12 Strong tells the story of the first Special Forces team deployed to Afghanistan after 9/11; under the leadership of a new captain, the team must work with an Afghan warlord to take down for the Taliban.

Writing

12 Strong – a biographical action drama – was written by Ted Tally (adapted The Silence of the Lambs all those years ago) and Peter Craig (wrote both parts of Mockingjay and the upcoming Robin Hood and Top Gun 2), based on the non-fiction book ‘Horse Soldiers’ by a journalist Doug Stanton. Overall, the film’s script was very much ‘by the books’ but it also had a couple of original and unique ideas.

The movie’s set-up was typical. It included: a reminder that 9/11 happened (and simultaneously situated this film in a the war on terrorism timeline), a couple of scenes with the family members of the soldiers (and no other character development, except maybe a few bonding scenes with the other soldiers), and a single scene to introduce the villain (and honestly, his actions in the said scene were so despicable that that one scene was enough).

The ideas, which I found original, were few but present. I really liked the warlord’s speech about the difference between a warrior and a soldier. I’ve always thought about these two words as synonyms that meant the same, but, now, I see that they do slightly differ in the reasons for fighting (whether for survival or as a job). The warlord’s (whose beliefs were presented as very Western – was that an authentic feature or did the filmmakers wanted to make him more sympathetic to the Western audiences?) concluding statement, about the US becoming just another tribe in the Middle East rung very true, knowing the events that followed the ones of depicted in this picture. I really wish that the movie had more of a ‘looking back’ perspective like the one expressed in that monologue. Lastly, some questions that this movie (like all the others of this genre) raised but didn’t necessarily answer, for me personally, were: how do the followers of Islam balance their own culture and the human rights (that’s mostly a women right’s question that is interpreted wrongly by some Muslims)? And how can the West help that region achieve freedom and peace without imposing Westernization upon them?

Directing

12 Strong was directed by Nicolai Fuglsig – Danish filmmaker and photojournalist. This was his American film debut and he certainly didn’t do a bad job. Action/terrorism movies are a hard sell and they only really capture the audiences’ atention when they have some awards backing (e.g. The Hurt Locker or, more recently, American Sniper). Fuglsig’s picture didn’t have any big names attached (Hemsworth is only a draw if he is Thor) and it’s coming out in an unfortunate month. Still, the film was quite okay. The shoot-outs were well constructed and intense. The movie aslo did a good job of visualizing the new kind of warfare by showing the choppers in the clouds and the combat on horseback combat.

 

Acting

12 Strong assembled a cast, full of quite well-known actors. Leading them was Chris Hemsworth (Thor 3, The Huntsman, Ghostbusters, In The Heart of The Sea, Avengers 2). He was joined by Michael Shannon (Midnight Special, Nocturnal Animals), another Marvel family member Michael Peña (Ant-Man, The Martian, Collateral Beauty, The Lego Ninjago, Murder on the Orient Express), and the up-and-coming Trevante Rhodes (who got everytbody’s attention with Moonlight and will soon appear in The Predator). A bunch of other actors played the other 8 (of the titular 12) soldiers but, as they didn’t really have a character arc, I don’t see the neccesity to mention them. Navid Negahban played the warlord ally of the American troops: he has played a similar role before multiple times. His next project is a bit different, though – he will be the Sultant in next year’s live-action Alladin.

In short, 12 Strong was a mediocre and by-the-numbers action/drama with some good performances and a few intersting ideas.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: 12 Strong trailer

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Movie review: Sully

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of a film, which the majority of the world saw in September, but here in the UK, we had to wait for it until December. It’s Sully!

IMDb summary: The story of Chesley Sullenberger, an American pilot who became a hero after landing his damaged plane on the Hudson River in order to save the flight’s passengers and crew.

Sully has already received and won some smaller awards and I also think that it will get nominated for a few of the bigger ones too (because of who is involved in front and behind the camera). This film might also be the most mainstream and the most financially successful awards contender this year. Also, one last note before I actually start reviewing the film – I don’t recommend watching it before a flight – I did that mistake and I’m now kinda nervous about my trip next week.

Writing

Sully’s script was written by Todd Komarnicki, based on the memoir book Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters by Chesley Sullenberger (Sully himself) and journalist Jeffrey Zaslow. I absolutely adored the writing for the film – I loved the not entirely linear narrative structure. All the flashbacks were not only interesting by themselves but super effective in raising the emotional stakes of the story.  I liked how the film focused more on the investigation rather than the actual event. The themes and commentary that sprung up from this incredible story were amazing too: the focus on the humanity or the human factor in the age of technology and computerization was refreshing and appealing to me as an anthropologists-in-training. In addition, the dichotomy between the facts and the context the was great too. The way the film showcased and explored the feeling of self-doubt was interesting as well.

Even though the event/the accident was not the main focus of the film, the picture still managed to represent it from a variety of both inside and outside perspectives. I enjoyed seeing the stories of some of the passengers (forming an emotional connection – raising the stakes). It was also cool to see the reactions of the flight attendants, the NY waterways workers, the policeman, and etc.

Lastly, I loved the dialogue of the film, particularly two clever and subtle lines. One of them came at the end, as a joke, when Eckhart’s character mentioned that he would do everything the same but in July rather than January. Other clever and much more serious mention was the one about the good news, New York, and airplanes – I took it as a reference to 9/11.

Directing

Clint Eastwood directed the picture and, not surprisingly, did an amazing job. I, personally, haven’t seen a lot of his films: I’m neither familiar with his work as an actor on a variety of highly regarded Westerns, nor have I seen his earliest films as a director. However, I did enjoy two of his recent award winners Million Dollar Baby and American Sniper. His newest film – Sully – might be my favorite out of the three, though. I loved how emotional and intense the drama was without being obvious. The pacing and the build-ups, as well as the sequences of the actual water-landing, were great. I enjoyed that scene so much and I’m super happy that they showed it twice. Plus, the hearing sequence was as intense as the accident. I also appreciated the accuracy with which this event was recreated – the film’s shots looked exactly like the real life photos which were displayed during the credits. I also liked the fact that the filmmakers managed to included the real life Sully, the crew, and the passengers in the videos during the credits. Sully was truly n emotional rollercoaster of a movie but at least it did have a sort of happy and satisfying ending.

Acting

  • Tom Hanks was brilliant in the role, which is not surprising. I think I already mentioned this but I will repeat it again – to me, Hanks seems like one of the greatest and the most reliable actors of our time. It would take me a whole separate post to list his movie recommendations, so I’m just gonna name a few: I’ve noticed that lately the majority of his films have been inspired by real events, so I suggest you watch them: Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks, and Bridge of Spies (whose review I published exactly a year ago today). A Hologram for the King and Inferno, both based on books, weren’t bad either.
  • Aaron Eckhart was also really good in the picture, I especially liked his scenes with Hanks, as they had great chemistry. This is probably one of Eckhart’s best performances that I have seen, if we are not counting his work in The Dark Knight. He was quite good in the Olympus (and London) has(ve) Fallen franchise.
  • The supporting cast of the film was also really good, it included: Laura Linney (Genius, Nocturnal Animals), Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad), and Mike O’Malley (Concussion, Glee) among others.

In short, Sully was an emotional and entertaining drama, with great writing, good directing, and amazing acting. It is definitely my favorite non-franchise film of this year.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Sully trailer

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Movie review: War Dogs

Movie reviews

Hello!

Another buddy comedy has hit theaters, so let’s review it!

IMDb summary: Based on the true story of two young men, David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, who won a $300 million contract from the Pentagon to arm America’s allies in Afghanistan.

War Dogs is kinda similar to the other to buddy comedies of this summer – The Nice Guys and Central Intelligence, in that they all have a contrasting duo in a lead. The film also shares some topical similarities (greed) with Pain & Gain and even The Wolf of Wall Street.

Writing

War Dogs was written by Stephen Chin, Todd Phillips, and Jason Smilovic, based on Guy Lawson’s book Arms and the Dudes, which was inspired by true events. The film’s narrative was fine – it had a few clever things to say about war, mainly, that was is an economy. It also explored the greed of people and portrayed it as the biggest flaw of humanity. Lastly, the movie touched upon the performative aspect of communication – War Dogs showed how specific individuals can read other people and modify their own manners and appearance to fit the vision that the others have of them.

The first act of the film felt a bit choppy – I couldn’t figure out where the story was going, but in the middle of the 2nd act, everything started to flow nicely. War Dogs also had a lot of narration and, while, to my mind, it worked well, to a lot of movie-goers it is a bad thing. The picture’s ending was a bit abrupt, though. I did not feel that there was a full resolution and I also thought that the two criminals got away way too easily.

Directing

Todd Phillips of The Hangover trilogy was at the helm of this picture and did a good job. War Dogs was quite a slow but really well made and entertaining film. I wanted to see a bit more action but I guess they decided to go the drama route and explore the relationship between the two characters. The intro montage set the stage for the upcoming story neatly and explained the premise clearly and concisely. I also liked the structure of the feature – how it was divided into a bunch of  vignette-like parts. The names of these vignettes, which were just random lines of dialogue, were also cool and perfectly summarized the main ideas of these specific pieces of the film. The soundtrack wasn’t bad either.

Acting

The two leads of the movie were played by Jonah Hill and Miles Teller. Their characters were both clever idiots, only Hill’s character was the more crazy and greedy one, while Teller’s character was presented as the protagonist, the everyday-man that the audiences are supposed to root for.

Hill was amazing as the selfish Efraim Diveroli, the only element of his performance that annoyed me slightly was that laugh. He played a similar character in the already mentioned The Wolf of Wall Street. In addition, Hill isn’t new to the buddy comedy genre – his big break was in Superbad (the teen comedy about two guys), while in the recent years he has returned to the genre with Changing Tatum and 21+22 Jump Street. Now, Hill replaced Tatum with Teller but, thankfully, Hill’s and Teller’s chemistry is as good if not better.

Miles Teller was also great in the role of David Packouz. I’ve told you numerous times that I’m a fan of his and was extremely soud after Fantastic Four turned out the way it did. I hope that Teller will start clicking with the audiences soon, because he is a really talented actor. If you don’t belive me, just watch Whiplash. He was also good in small comedies 21 and Over, Two Night Stand and That Awkward Moment. Going forward, Teller has a boxing movie coming up as well as a drama and an action flick. I don’t know if he will return to the Divergent franchise as the last installment of that series is still up in the air and will probably go to the TV.

An important supporting role was played by Bradley Cooper who also produced the picture. Cooper was fine in the movie but I was actually much more interested to find out that he produces basically all his big films like Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, and American Sniper. Going forward, he has a few voice roles for Marvel/Disney and Universal.

In short, War Dogs was a fine summer picture that had a great release date – if it would have come out earlier in the summer, it would have probably been burried underneath the big blockbusters. The film had okay directing and writing, while the standout feature of the movie were the performances of and the chemistry between the two leads.

Rate: 3,5/5

Trailer: War Dogs trailer

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