12 Strong

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There is a simple formula that most comedians use to gauge whether or not something can be talked about in a humorous light.

Tragedy plus time equals comedy.

That was all I could think about during my screening of 12 Strong. Well, that and the fact that it looks like it physically pains Michael Shannon to smile.

Everybody remembers where they were the morning of September 11th, 2001. I’d played hooky from school — I was in my sophomore year of high school — and woke up to the answering machine in the other room. My mother was leaving a message about a plane and a building. My father was still working in downtown Chicago then, so I leapt out of bed to grab the phone but missed her call.

My sister happened to be home that day as well, and naturally, we started bickering about the other being home when they should have been at school.

I phoned back to my mom to rat out my bratty sister and she answered the call, “Turn on the television.” I tried to carry on about the cage match that was going down in our living room and she only repeated herself.

The sibling rivalry waned when we watched, live on television, the second plane hit the other tower.

12 Strong follows the twelve men who were deployed to Afghanistan after those attacks on what seemed an impossible mission. Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) who led his team into a hellscape to go head-to-head with the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies.

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The film is based on Doug Stanton’s telling of the tale, Horse Soldiers. Nelson along with Chief Warrant Officer Cal Spencer, Sergeant First Class Sam Diller, Sergeant First Class Ben Milo (Michael Shannon, Michael Pena, and Trevante Rhodes, respectively) and eight other men would meet General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) of the Northern Alliance.

Unsure of whom to trust and with the well-being of his country, his team, and his family as his primary concerns, Nelson had to make unthinkable decisions. Their battles were fought on horseback, incredibly enough. Odd and a bit off-putting to see big heavy guns toted on the backs of such beautiful creatures.

I have a hard time with 9/11 because my opinions on that day tend to spark argumentative discussion. I don’t do well with war movies either, because all we’re seeing is a retelling of events that took place. I always wonder how much of the heroics are italicized for the sake of Hollywood pandering.

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Either way, 12 Strong pulls off the ol’ razzle dazzle as well as it can while telling a story that drudges up frightening memories. I feel that it steps outside of the box and has a lighter feel than the typical war film fare. Granted, it’s got Chris Hemsworth and Michael Pena — two very familiar faces — as its safety net should things go wrong.

The reason I brought up tragedy plus time equals comedy is because 12 Strong delivered a few well-timed laughs. Imagine my surprise when, in the face of bombing the Taliban, we get a quick chuckle.

Everyone remembers that day in their own way. 12 Strong tells the story of how twelve brave men rode into combat for the welfare of our country. If you’re in the market for a major testosterone boost, a heartwarming tale of kinship across enemy lines, and very minor but brave female characters, check it out!

 

Insidious: The Last Key

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The tagline for this movie — which I was calling ‘The Final Key all day yesterday — is “Fear Comes Home.”

I thought it would be very funny to talk about how this could have been a holiday movie if they’d only added “for the Holidays” to the tagline. That way, they could have also been considered for the 2018 Academy Awards.

I took those brilliant insights, slapped ’em on a photo of the screen promo for the film at the theater last night, and put it on Twitter. Then I tagged producer James Wan.

Over coffee this morning, I was browsing my Twitter activity and saw that Mr. Wan “liked” my tweet. In other words, I’ll never work in this town again.

Anyway, in this fourth installation of what could have been a trilogy or even just a crappy sequel, Elise (Lin Shaye) is going back to dark, echoey places where jump scares lurking at every turn.

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After a nightmare about her childhood house — she doesn’t call it a “home” cause that’s not what it was — revealing her torrid past, Elise gets an ominous telephone call asking for help. Remarkably, the call comes from a man currently residing at the house she grew up in. Its location? Five Keys, New Mexico.

Do you understand the gravity of this? Five Keys. Five fingers. Well, four fingers and a thumb. So, four key fingers and a key thumb. It makes five.

Un. Real.

Elise is apprehensive to return to that place, given the memories she carries, but if she didn’t go, there wouldn’t have been a movie.

I don’t recall there being arrangements with a dog sitter for her adorable, old pup, which is infuriating and irresponsible, but that’s not what we’re here for.

Tagging along are her ghost-hunting, well-intentioned but endlessly bumbling sidekicks, Tucker and Specs (Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell, respectively).

Arriving in Five Keys, Elise meets the new owner of her old abode, Ted (Kirk Acevedo), who yells at the ghosts to make them go away, but ghosts don’t respond to that kind of thing. They don’t care. They are deceased.

Needless to say, his stern talking-to doesn’t work, hence the phone call to Elise.

They sure did try got cram a lot of movie into this little guy. Elise’s back story, her recurring nightmares, the new trouble, a reconciliation with her brother whom she abandoned as a teen, meeting his daughters who don’t look old enough to be daughters to a 90-year-old which is about how old he looks, and processing secrets that she hadn’t figured out until now.

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I am most perplexed, however, at the decision to name and bill the key-handed monster of the movie KeyFace. The character is listed on iMDB.com as KeyFace. I didn’t catch it in the credits after the movie, but I’m looking at the iMDB page currently and it’s right there.

Additionally, even though I was calling it The Final Key and was proven aggressively wrong by theater staff, the name leaves me with the impression that they’re done making them. The Last Key/The Last Straw?

Nope! Definitely left wide open for another. I am not on board with this decision, but nobody asked me. So I guess I’ll see you all at the theater for Insidious: We’re Definitely Making Eight More of These. Love you James Wan!

 

The Post

post1Monday, December 18th was Steven Spielberg’s 71st birthday. To celebrate — and as an assignment — I went to screen his new picture, The Post. My affections for Senor Spielbergo were blossoming before I was even born.

I wouldn’t enter this world until nearly a decade after Steven directed my favorite film of all time — Jaws — and was subsequently ROBBED by the Academy Awards when they announced nominations for Best Director. To be fair, Milos Forman won for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which I GUESS is okay…

But I digress.

It’s safe to say that Steve-o Spielberg has an impressive track record. He’s since picked up seven Best Director statues from the Academy, so he bounced back just fine.

In The Post, Kay Graham (Streep) has inherited The Washington Post — previously run by her father and then her late husband. In the Vietnam era, written word and the free press had the final say in goings-on around the world. Practicing caution in their outspokenness with a desire to deliver the truth to the news-hungry citizens of the world, Kay struggles with the pressures of maintaining the success of the paper.

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While The Washington Post wasn’t the most sought out paper on the stands, it was a publication whose team was earnest and hard-working.

Kay’s hard-nosed, no-nonsense editor, Ben Bradlee (Hanks), is always scrambling to break the next big scoop before The Times or any of their many competitors.

When one of their journalists, Ben Bagdikian (Odenkirk), gets wind of a lead on a huge story involving scandal that spanned over two decades — and details ways in which the United States sorely mishandled relations in the Vietnam War — The Post will be faced with a nearly life or death decision.

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Running an operation that had previously only been governed by folks of the male persuasion, Kay has the final say in whether or not The Post will show the world the truth or not, and run the Pentagon Papers.

This movie boasts a robust cast and a hearty dose of feminism. As much as I enjoyed those two things, however, not even seeing David Cross and Bob Odenkirk side-by-side on-screen could jostle me from my yawning.

It’s a slow mover telling an important story that doesn’t quite engage the audience until we near the crux.

Believe me when I tell you that Steven Spielberg and John Williams have enriched my life immeasurably. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are two of our most precious resources and should be protected at all costs. Cross, Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Allison Brie, Pat Healy — the players are heaven!

The story just didn’t grab me by my lapels and shout, “Can you believe this?!” in my face, which tends to happen in most movies bearing Spielberg’s name. I do understand that they can’t all be Jaws, and will say that after we get into Act III, things amp up in a rapid fashion.

While The Post isn’t my favorite of the year, it does tell a rather interesting story, integral to our country’s past and even newsworthy here in 2017. See what I did there? Anyway, the movie will hit theaters in January. So if you need your Streep/Hanks jollies and would like to see the millionth film in the history of time to feature a scene with soldiers in Vietnam set to a classic rock song, check it out!

 

All the Money in the World

allmoneyWhen I was growing up, my mom used to tell me to marry only for love… but specifically to fall in love with a rich doctor. It was in jest, but there was always this fire in her eyes that said, “you’ll thank me later.”

I’m 33-years-old now, and I can’t imagine living off of someone else’s fortune.

THAT SAID. Some days, ya get to thinkin’…

I’m kidding. I’m happy being the strong, independent woman that I am. We’re seeing more and more of those in the movies, too. Finally. That was one of my biggest gripes about Wonder Woman. You’ve got this incredible gal who grew up on an island of amazons and her final power move is driven by the loss of her boyfriend.

That, my friends, is a story for another time.

All the Money in the World is the newest from Director Ridley Scott. It tells one of many stories from late billionaire Jean Paul Getty’s life. The film depicts a tale of supposed true nature.

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When Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) is nabbed by some men in a van one night, his mother, Gail (Michelle Williams) is asked to pay a rather handsome ransom of $17 million; a request that Paul the first refuses. Receiving mail from strangers on a daily basis asking for charity, Jean Paul (Christopher Plummer) is wary of giving away a penny of his massive fortune.

Young Paul’s mother, Gail (Michelle Williams), is incredulous at her former father-in-law’s unwillingness to help. Her ex-husband, J. Paul Getty II (Andrew Buchan) — having spent the last who-knows-how-long in a drug-induced haze — is of zero help, so OG Getty’s head of security, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) will velcro himself to Gail in an attempt to locate her son.

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Unable to pay the ‘nappers what they’re asking and being stalked by the media, Gail is steadfast in the pursuit of her son’s safe return home. Efforts to appeal to the billionaire are futile at best, but Paul III’s captors — becoming desperate and exhausted themselves — begin to lower the price on Paul Jr.’s head.

It’s fascinating the way the very wealthy think. My stepmom is an interior designer and has done some extravagant homes. She’s told me stories and — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — rich people do weird shit. Jean Paul Getty — in real life — published a book called ‘How to be Rich’.

When Plummer’s character named the title of the book, I thought it was a joke. I was wrong.

But, then, having millions of dollars is something that I can’t relate to. It’s pressure that I don’t understand. And, as Biggie Smalls once said, Mo Money, Mo Problems.

Fortunately, Gail was never in it for the money. She only wanted her son back and would go to almost any lengths to get him.

Director Ridley Scott hit a bit of a hiccup when controversy forced him to replace the original actor cast as J. Paul Getty — Kevin Spacey — and re-shoot all of his scenes with Plummer. While Plummer plays the disenchanted billionaire quite well, I couldn’t help but wonder what it looked like with Spacey under all of those elderly prosthetics.

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The star of the show, Williams, is a Transatlantic dreamboat. She rivals Joyce Byers for concerned mother of the year. But then, I’ve never seen her in a performance that was less than sublime.

All the Money in the World is a fascinating story of greed, the reach of a mother’s love, and more family drama than your family’s holiday dinner. If you’re anything like me, you’ll particularly enjoy Charlie Plummer’s Hanson-esque good looks — cheers and happy holidays!