Movie Review – “12 Strong”

the real stars are the four-legged variety and this aspect is barely covered once the team mounts up and moves out…which is too bad, because I think the horse soldier revelation was one of the most surprising stories coming out in the weeks following 9/11…”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania, the American people anxiously awaited the for our nation’s powerful response to these sick perpetrators and their leader (Osama bin Laden). But who and how would U.S. resolve to bring justice to al-Qaida in the Taliban stronghold of Afghanistan be implemented?

Within only a few weeks following 9/11, remarkable photos of U.S. military special operators riding horseback in enemy territory were released and explained by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. These horse soldiers were executing the last few thousand meters of American national security policy. Now, based upon Doug Stanton’s best-seller Horse Soldiers, moviegoers are reliving those early minutes, hours, days, and weeks after that fateful September 11th day.

Danish first-time feature film director Nicolai Fuglsig delivers the inside narrative on one of the U.S. military’s greatest feats. “12 Strong” rapidly tells the story of a dozen U.S. Army special operators assigned to ODA 595, a unit given the responsibility to insert itself deep inside terrorist-controlled Afghanistan and assist the Northern Alliance in defeating the Taliban and al-Qaida.

“12 Strong” does an admirable job of displaying the selflessness and patriotism of those who wear the U.S. military uniform. There are, however, several missteps and underdeveloped subplots that don’t squarely hit the mark. Over-the-top acting by Chris Hemsworth, William Fichtner and comedian turned-actor Rob Riggle get the film off to a poor start. Thankfully, two other supporting cast members keep the film moving to higher ground: Michael Pena (“CHiPs”) as the satirist within the heavily armed group and Michael Shannon (“The Shape of Water”), the unit’s old-school Chief Warrant Officer who gives the movie any semblance of authenticity and realism.


Easily the movie’s best parts were the team’s initial embed with Northern Alliance, the American military interactions with a CIA agent already established in-country, and the visual look of Afghanistan’s sheer mountains on the big-screen (thank you, New Mexico!).

Besides the subpar overall acting, this story lacks the sustained excitement and concern for these guys caught in a tough spot and isolated. Both “Lone Survivor” and “American Sniper” capture these emotions much better than this true story. Additionally, U.S. Air Force combat controllers will find the depiction of B-52 close air support too dumbed down for civilian consumption. Yes, there’s some “danger close” terminology mixed in after Lat-Long coordinates are given out over the radio. But the overall homing of bombs using leading-edge laser targeting designators is blatantly missing. Important? Well, it was that battlefield magic which helped secure closer ties between the Northern Alliance and our clandestine military members.

Lastly, the real stars are the four-legged variety and this aspect is barely covered once the team mounts up and moves out…which is too bad, because I think the horse soldier revelation was one of the most surprising stories coming out in the weeks following 9/11 and our initial boots on the ground in Afghanistan.

Grade: B

“12 Strong” is rated R and its running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes.

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Movie Review – “Small Town Crime”

“Clever. Shocking. One of the best crime dramas in recent years.”

-Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

This latest film by writer/director brothers Ian and Eshom Nelms takes viewers on a frantic murder investigation by an alcoholic ex-cop trying to prove that he can still make a difference. Stellar acting throughout the cast delivers a solid script in this high-stakes crime drama.

Long-time character actor John Hawkes (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) steps up into the lead film role as dismissed police officer Mike Kendall, who discovers a severely injured and dying teenager on the side of a road. Armed only with beer and an occasional cup of black coffee, Hawkes must find the homicide suspects before other young women fall victim to the brutal killers.

“Small Town Crime” is a smartly written, fast-paced story about so much more than just good detective work. Hawkes, teamed with a sensational Anthony Anderson and the powerhouse Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer, magnificently transforms himself from a law enforcement outsider into a determined and relevant private investigation insider.  

This film’s deeper story goes back to the death and destruction left in the wake of Hawkes’ past police work. The dark circumstances surrounding his former line of work play out for us in a series of shocking flashbacks. The ex-cop’s alcoholism only masks his underlining problems—unemployment and strained relations with his friends, family, and old coworkers.

The story’s best feature is the growth of Hawkes personal relationships and regained crime-solving mojo. His character’s struggles are real and remain so until the end—never completely erased or hidden from view of the audience. The movie’s other main character roles are nicely explained and fully invested into the bigger picture…bringing clarity and passion to the audience.    

In easily his finest performance to date, Hawkes shines in this crisply told whodunit. A clever, shocking, tightrope drama, “Small Town Crime” perfectly establishes the hardships and issues faced by the ex-police officer turned private investigator. The superb supporting cast moves this action-packed thriller at a brisk pace coupled with timely bouts of humor. Violent scenes are earmarked by seconds of warning, sidestepping any jumpy moments for viewers.

One of the best crime dramas in recent years, “Small Town Crime” mixes old-fashion police work with one’s struggle to get back on his feet. Hawkes effortlessly carries the film with this breakout headliner performance. A muscle car and rough edges can’t hide Hawkes’ good heart or his attempt to make a difference in others’ lives.

“Small Town Crime” opens in theaters and on Video On-Demand this Friday.

Grade: B+

 

“Small Town Crime” is rated R for strong violence, language, and some sexual references. Its running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

 

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Movie Review – “The Post”

“A yawner.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Longtime fans of Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Meryl Streep will find their latest political collaboration a misleading yawner. The Academy Award-winning trio attempt to bring suspense to the true-life discovery of classified marked Pentagon Papers, dating back 50 years to the Vietnam War. When “The Post” isn’t trying hard to manufacture drama in the Washington Post’s editorial room, Spielberg mischievously prosecutes the Republican Nixon Administration for the military and political sins of two Democratic presidents…John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Under the disguise of Katharine Graham’s (Streep) remarkable rise to publisher of the Washington Post (the first-ever for a female at a major U.S. newspaper), the film articulately spells out the systemic lying to the American people on the secret expansion of the U.S. commitment in Vietnam and the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Laos. These lies, combined with years of Pentagon assessments, acknowledge that despite numerous increased American troop levels Vietnam was a lost cause from the start. For political and reelection reasons, however, the papers disclose that the Kennedy and Johnson administrations continued to tout success as if victory were soon at hand.

The dubious retelling of history in “The Post” leaves viewers believing that Richard Nixon was the true culprit for the secret war in Vietnam as well as all the emboldened lies contained in the internal Pentagon study. Between cocktail parties or sidebar admissions from Bruce Greenwood’s character (Robert McNamara) and numerous shots of President Nixon on his Oval Office phone clamoring for the newspapers to not print the contents of the Pentagon Papers, the audience gets misled. Defense Secretary McNamara served during the Kennedy and Johnson years, with his successor, Clark M. Clifford, receiving the completed Pentagon Papers five days before Nixon’s inauguration.

Once the rampant government deception is laid at Nixon’s White House, “The Post” congers up a simplistic noble journalism narrative in stark contrast to the rogue Republican. Tom Hanks’ plays Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, who gets completely scooped by his largest competitor, the New York Times, on the newly leaked 3,000-page military study. From here the film tries too hard to establish a strong moral compass for journalism while at the same time highlighting the press’ willingness to print just about anything…as long as they’re first.

Ultimately, “The Post” doesn’t place newspapers or the media in much of a positive light. Only one true journalist with old school investigative talents is shown. Instead, in a fight to see which publication can go out to the public first, we watch Streep’s Graham character and Hanks’ Bradlee struggle with two simple demands of journalists—report the truth and don’t reveal any classified material that could affect our national security. Both requests manageable and reasonable.

Grade: C-

“The Post” is rated PG-13. Its running time is 1 hour and 55 minutes.

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What Have We Learned From 2017’s Superhero Movies?

Last year was another great year for superheroes, with seven superhero films making their way to the silver screen: Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Justice League, and The LEGO Batman Movie. Two of the aforementioned movies, in fact, made REEL BRIEF’s “Top 10 Films of 2017” list–with Wonder Woman placing eight and The LEGO Batman Movie coming in at ten.

Here are some of the takeaways from a super year for superheroes:

“Spider-Man” as Popular As Ever

After five Spider-Man movies, you’d think that spider fatigue would have set in by now. Wrong! Your friendly neighborhood spider remains as popular as ever, with Spider-Man: Homecoming grossing $880 million worldwide, making it the biggest superhero film of 2017.

Star-Lord and Company Are For Real

Guardians of the Galaxy came out of nowhere in 2014 to gross over $700 million worldwide. Star-Lord, Raccoon, and the rest of the gang proved in 2017 that their initial success was no fluke, as they teamed up yet again in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to rake in upwards of $860 million globally.

Thor Can Be Witty and Funny!

Thor: Ragnarok was action-packed and surprisingly light-hearted, thanks in part to Thor’s quick wit and comedic timing. Kiwi director Taika Waititi managed to tap into the character’s comic potential and make the fifth onscreen outing for the character feel fresh and new.

The Hulk has a . . . Soft Side

For all the seemingly uncontrollable rage The Incredible Hulk has shown through the years, the soft side he showed in Thor: Ragnarok was an unexpected curveball. It was, nonetheless, refreshing, and a gentle reminder that there are layers to the character beyond that vaunted berserker anger.

Wonder Woman Can Hold Her Own

Wonder Woman broke the curse of superheroine films as it was both a commercial and critical success. It earned over $830 million worldwide, and was widely praised by critics, with the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern effusive in his praise of the film. He even claimed that Wonder Woman “puts the super back in movie heroism.”

With the film’s smashing success, a sequel is now in the pipeline. The character was also the highlight of the Justice League film, outshining both Batman and Superman.

The Genre is Still a Moneymaker

The seven aforementioned superhero movies combined earned more than $4.5 billion. That is undeniable proof that the superhero genre is a certified moneymaker, and that the genre is currently at the zenith of its popularity.

The genre has such a large fan base that companies have started to create their own heroes inspired by the official Marvel and DC characters. Such inspiration is apparent in Foxy Casino’s slew of games inspired by today’s superheroes.

One such game is Dragon Kingdom which is a nod to Wonder Woman as it features a character who closely resembles the Amazing Amazon. The fact that Themyscira’s Champion has inspired a slot game isn’t too surprising, as she has been inspiring fans since she first appeared in All Star Comics #8 back in October 1941. It is a testament to the character’s status in pop culture that companies now only need to allude to Wonder Women and fans will instantly recognize the connection.

Logan will be Missed

Logan without doubt is one of the most popular superheroes ever, and he went out with that proverbial bang, saying goodbye to the silver screen in the most Logan-esque way possible: By fighting like a madman until the very end.

Make no mistake…fans will miss the man with the adamantium claws.

 

Article by REEL BRIEF contributor Ethan Mills Dixon

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Movie Review – “Molly’s Game”

“Molly’s Game is a fascinating story of boldness, charisma, and integrity. A Top-5 film of 2017!”

-Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

Making his directorial filmmaking debut, Academy Award-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin deals moviegoers in on the true-life exploits of poker game hostess Molly Bloom. Portraying Bloom, the Olympic-class skier turned moderator of high-stakes underground gambling, is the always reliable and razor-sharp Jessica Chastain (“Zero Dark Thirty”).

In “Molly’s Game”, we find Chastain’s Bloom character caught up with the law and facing federal gambling charges and in dire need of a competent, straight-shooting lawyer (Idris Elba). It’s this dynamic attorney-client relationship between Chastain and Elba that truly benefits from Sorkin’s frantic filmmaking and rapid-fire script. The more we get to know Molly Bloom, the more we like her and her integrity.

Based on the Bloom’s memoir “Molly’s Game: From Hollywood’s Elite to Wall Street’s Billionaire Boys Club, My High-Stakes Adventure in the World of Underground Poker” the film takes viewers back to Bloom’s childhood and skiing under the watchful eyes of her trainer and father Larry Bloom (Kevin Costner). It’s here that we find the fabric to Bloom’s fierce independence and meticulous personal drive.

Dialogue heavy but fast-paced, “Molly’s Game” is a fascinating story of boldness, charisma, and integrity. The rapport between Bloom and her lawyer evolves into a mutual respect…neither compromising their beliefs along the way. Instead, they find common ground and begin there.

Two memorable scenes stand out among many great give-and-take sessions in the movie. One, Elba’s powerful case he presents in Bloom’s defense to the prosecuting attorney while seeking a plea agreement. And, second, Costner’s condensed therapy session to his daughter (Bloom) near the film’s ending. Both dramatically highlight the film’s tight script and the amazing supporting performances of Elba as Bloom’s legal rep and Costner as her repentant father.

“Molly’s Game” is sensational film about a young woman unwavering in her drive for redemption and to prove her success. A headstrong female driven and independent, she’s willing to take on all competitors and stereotypes. She’s also fine standing pat, playing the cards dealt to her and facing those consequences.

The film’s blistering pace delivers triumph and tragedy like cards being dealt from a dealer’s hand. One minute we’ve got a winner, the next a loser folding his life away. Along the way, a tenacious young woman is gambling to make a name for herself…to achieve success in a family of successful achievers.

A Top-5 film of 2017, “Molly’s Game” opens in wide release on January 5.

Grade: A

“Molly’s Game” is rated R for language, drug content, and some violence. Its running time is 2 hours and 21 minutes.

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Movie Review – “All the Money in the World”

“All the Money in the World” is a fascinating chess match between family and money!

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

By now, most moviegoers are aware of the multiple sexual assault allegations leveled at Netflix’s “House of Cards” star Kevin Spacey. While many tabloid headlines covered the television series’ formal break-up with the actor in November, fewer Hollywood watchers may have noticed the rapid-reaction and recasting of Spacey prior to this Monday’s release of the movie “All the Money in the World”.

The film’s director (three-time Academy Award nominated Ridley Scott) and the movie’s production studio (Columbia Pictures) immediately made the proper decision to recast veteran Christopher Plummer into Spacey’s role of true-life billionaire J. Paul Getty. The studio’s bold move, made with less than 30 days before the film’s release, required the reshooting of 22 scenes in Europe with costars Michelle Williams and Mark Wahlberg…both of whom left their families during Thanksgiving and flew to Europe for additional filming without asking for even a dime in compensation.

It’s difficult to watch this real-life story on the 1973 kidnapping of J. Paul Getty’s grandson without staring at Plummer’s remarkable job as the oil magnate. He outshines both Williams and Wahlberg with ease…and neither are acting pushovers on the big-screen. But with over 5 decades of filmmaking on his resume, it’s easy to see why Ridley Scott had originally penned Plummer into the tycoon role before settling on Spacey.

“All the Money in the World” is a fascinating chess match between family and money. We see how blackmail techniques and stiff demands aren’t solely used by the kidnappers seeking a hefty ransom. Rather, glimpses into the harsh Getty family dynamics and hierarchy evoke as much shock in viewers as the film’s criminal elements.

The film successfully balances the emerging danger to the missing 16-year old grandson with the tenuous relationship between the world’s richest man and his daughter-in-law–the grieving mother Gail Getty (Williams). Both subplots are interesting to watch fester and boil over, but perhaps none more so than seeing Plummer and Williams in the same room. Their rapport and respect for each other, ebbing and flowing with high stakes tension.

With an abundance of high-caliber holiday films to watch, it would be easy for “All the Money in the World” to get lost in a galaxy far, far away. Plummer’s miraculous last-minute lineup change, however, deserves notice. This film’s a satisfying crime thriller about blackmail and misfortune from several directions…a worthy storyline despite the absence of Jedi moves.  

Grade: B+

“All the Money in the World” is rated R for language, some violence, disturbing images and brief drug content. Its running time is 2 hours and 12 minutes. The film opens in theaters nationwide on Christmas Day. 

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Top 10 Films of 2017

Here are the year’s best films in storytelling and performances:

  1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Superb acting performances highlight this crime drama depicting a grieving mother seeking answers for her daughter’s brutal murder. The brilliant screenplay slowly unmasks the film’s key players, shining a spotlight on how each character’s past and present are interwoven into this chilling storyline. 2017’s best ensemble!

  1. Patti Cake$

I have deep respect for rappers as artists, but their music won’t find its way into my iTunes playlists. Naysayers vs. struggling musician doesn’t come close to describing this emotional rollercoaster. I did not, however, see this sensational underdog story coming. I was floored by “Patti Cake$”…and you will be too. The year’s best ending!

  1. Darkest Hour

A historic masterpiece that covers the politically troublesome and potentially devastating four-week period for Great Britain from the remarkable perspective of Winston Churchill. History buffs won’t find a better film in 2017.

  1. Mudbound

Depicting 1939 race relations along the Mississippi Delta farm lands, the film tells the powerful story of growing hostilities that form between the white McAllan family and the black Jackson family. Sensational performances abound, notably from Mary J. Blige and Jason Mitchell.

  1. Molly’s Game

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s debut in the director’s chair is mesmerizing as Jessica Chastain plays a former Olympic skier turned poker party hostess. Phenomenal acting and a razor-sharp script brings comparisons to 2015’s dialogue heavy “The Big Short”. Arguably, this movie is even better.

  1. The Glass Castle

As amazing as Woody Harrelson is in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, he’s even better in this a riveting look inside a dysfunctional, nomadic family. This film shakes moviegoers with inspirational pep talks and heartbreaking results.

  1. The Hero

Veteran actor Sam Elliott plays an iconic Western movie star named Lee Hayden, who hasn’t had a quality film in 40 years. The film engulfs us with the same vulnerability and real-life problems that age throws at everyone. It even gets us to contemplate our achievements over a lifetime.

  1. Wonder Woman

The year’s second highest grossing domestic film is energetic, fast-paced, and funny. The stellar chemistry between its two main characters, former Miss Israel Gal Gadot and Star Trek captain Chris Pine—is equally impressive.

  1. Good Time

A distraught 24-hour, post-bank robbery ride by a pair of brothers (Robert Pattinson and Ben Safdie) provides us with one of the most thrilling and crazy days captured on film in 2017. Pattinson’s performance alone makes this movie a must-see!

  1. The LEGO Batman Movie

KAPOW!  After two dreary, less fulfilling gambits last year in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad”, leave it to this animated action pleaser to pump much-needed life back into DC Entertainment.

Congratulations!

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Movie Review – “Darkest Hour”

 

“Darkest Hour” is a top contender for Film of the Year! – Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

In a historic masterpiece, “Darkest Hour” presents us with a battle-weary England on the verge of collapse at the evil hands of Adolf Hitler in World War II. Covering a politically troublesome and potentially devastating four-week period for Great Britain and her King, this stunningly shot film delivers a remarkable look inside Winston Churchill—a trusted parliamentarian with an abrasive personality and a penchant for cigars.

Selected by King George VI to replace ineffective wartime leader and prime minister Neville Chamberlain, Churchill faces steadfast opposition from nearly every direction. With Hitler and his German forces quickly invading European countries with growing ease, Churchill must convince his Parliament peers that are pushing appeasement towards Hitler to fight for outright victory instead.

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, left, and Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI  (Jack English/Focus Features via AP)

A strong argument can be made that “Darkest Hour” outshines this year’s earlier film “Dunkirk” in dramatizing the military significance and heroic civilian flotilla rescue of British soldiers facing certain death on the shores of France. While “Darkest Hour” focuses mostly on political infighting and those challenging Churchill’s “Victory” at any cost rallying cry, the film does a wonderful job of instilling a sense of peril from Hitler’s approaching troops.

The film’s best feature is the behind-the-scenes, intimate look at Churchill as he interacts with his political roadblocks, supportive wife (Kristin Scott Thomas), British commoners, and personal secretary Elizabeth Nel…perfectly played by British actress Lily James (“Baby Driver”). Look for this sensational cast to compete strongly with “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “Mudbound” for Best Ensemble honors in 2017.

This incredible British drama about one man conjures up rich comparisons of greatness and political power found in the mesmerizing 2012 American story “Lincoln” – which earned the most Oscar nominations (twelve) that year. I suspect, and truly hope, Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill garners as much critical acclaim and reward as Daniel Day-Lewis’ role achieved playing the sixteenth president of the United States…earning the Academy Award for Best Actor.

History buffs won’t find a better film in 2017. With an exceptional cast, splendid cinematography and intricate look at the charisma and leadership inside one of the best orators in modern times, “Darkest Hour” delivers exquisite movie flair to moviegoers.

This Oscar game-changer goes wide release in the U.S. on December 22. Just remember how to properly do the “V” for victory hand gesture!

Grade: A+

“Darkest Hour” is rated PG-13 for language. Its running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes.

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Best in 2017: Actor in a Leading Role

Congratulations to these nominees! The winner will announced in my “2017 Best in Film” article later this month.

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Best of 2017: Best Actress

My finalists for 2107.

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