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Movie Review: ‘12 Strong’

In the days and months following the September 11 attacks, a small U.S. Special Forces unit led an offensive against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. They worked in harsh conditions alongside a local warlord and his men, an uneasy alliance at best, and, even with all the technology and money of the U.S. military, executed the successful mission largely on horseback.

The operation — Task Force Dagger — was classified for years and explored later in Doug Stanton’s 2009 book “Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan.” It provides the basis for “12 Strong,” a long-in-the-works adaptation from producer Jerry Bruckheimer (“Black Hawk Down”) and director Nicolai Fuglsig, a Danish photojournalist who has shot the War in Kosovo, a Levi’s short film, and a Coca-Cola spot in his eclectic career.

Films about U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have a somewhat dicey track record. They can veer from too sentimental to too macho and bloviating depending on who’s in front of and behind the camera. But “12 Strong” is, while perhaps not the deepest entry, a very solid movie with an engaging story, script and cast led by Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth.

Only slightly camouflaged behind a modern haircut and some manicured stubble, Hemsworth is Capt. Mitch Nelson, who is on leave with his young daughter and wife (played by his real-life spouse Elsa Pataky) but springs into action at the sight of the World Trade Center falling on the news. He raises his hand to assemble a team and get over to Afghanistan as soon as possible.

Before that happens, however, we must sit through another obligatory farewell-to-the-families sequence to remind us that many of these guys have wives and children to get back to — some of whom are withholding sex as incentive for a quick homecoming and others who couldn’t be any crueler to a member of their family whom they very well might never see again. (There must be a way to make these scenes feel less rote.)

It’s when the men get to the Middle East that the film becomes truly gripping, thanks to an ominous score, a hair-raising helicopter ride that rivals moments in Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” and the inherent tension of a mission that, as Nelson puts it, has no playbook. Their task is to meet up with Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum (an excellent Navid Negahban) who may be equally motivated to fight the Taliban if properly persuaded.

Dostum and Nelson form a tenuous bond that is tested throughout the film, as they trade the shield of modern technology for horses and mules to cross the treacherous landscape (New Mexico plays Afghanistan here). The action sequences are riveting, if a little numbing at times, and their evolving mission is engaging throughout.

What separates “12 Strong” from the pack, however, is its ability to introduce and stay with a band of brothers worth caring about. In addition to Hemsworth, they are played by Michael Shannon, Michael Pena, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, Thad Luckinbill, Austin Stowell, Ben O’Toole, Austin Hebert, Kenneth Miller, Kenny Sheard and Jack Kesy. The dialogue (Ted Tally and Peter Craig have screenplay credits) is more crackling than standard wartime action pic fare, and actors like Hemsworth, Shannon and Pena make it their own too.

Politics and consequences, both before and after this mission, are of little interest to the filmmakers beyond wistful musings of Dostum, who makes passing comments about how Afghanistan is the “graveyard of many empires” and how the U.S. forces will be cowards if they leave and enemies if they stay.

But stirring and solid, “12 Strong” is the kind of film that might make you think twice about January releases, and spotlights a riveting story in our recent history that many Americans might not know.

“12 Strong,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “war violence and language throughout.” Running time: 130 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

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MPAA Definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

DuVernay, ‘black-ish,’ ‘Power’ win at NAACP Image Awards

The Free Press WV

A jubilant Ava DuVernay was named entertainer of the year at an NAACP Image Awards ceremony that focused on the black community’s power to create change.

DuVernay lauded other black artists from the stage as she accepted her award, naming writers and directors such as Shonda Rhimes, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Kenya Barris and “Black Panther” Ryan Coogler.

“This is our time,” DuVernay said. “We can say we were here when all this gorgeous art was happening, and that we supported it — that we lifted each other up, that we did as Dr. King said we would do: Live the dream. We’re the dream.”

Anthony Anderson hosted the ceremony at the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California, on what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 89th birthday. While his politically tinged monologue poked fun at the presidential administration and Omarosa Manigault, others used their time onstage to encourage more civic involvement and the fight for social justice.

Producer Will Packer took a dig at President Donald Trump’s recent comments about immigration as the producer accepted an award for “Girls Trip,” which won for outstanding film.

“Sisters, especially the ones from Haiti and Africa, we love you as your brothers,” he said.

Kerry Washington, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laverne Cox, Jurnee Smollet-Bell, Lena Waithe and Angela Robinson set the tone for the evening when they emerged onstage holding hands to dramatically issue a get-out-the-vote call.

The six women declared support for the Time’s Up initiative to stop sexual harassment and gender discrimination and urged viewers to speak up at the polls as well.

“The midterms are a perfect moment for us to use our voices,” Robinson said. “If we can take back a senate seat in Alabama…”

“Then we have the ability to shift the imbalance of power,” Smollet-Bell said.

Barris’ show “black-ish” was the night’s big winner. The ABC hit was named best comedy series and took acting honors for stars Ross and Anderson.

“It’s an extraordinary thing to be able to show what a beautiful black family looks like on television,” Ross said as the cast accepted the comedy series honor.

“Power” was named best drama series, and star Omari Hardwick won for dramatic actor.

Other winners included “Gifted” actress Octavia Spencer and “Empire” star Taraji P. Henson, who were both absent, and Daniel Kaluuya, who won for his leading role in “Get Out.”

The British actor was clearly delighted at his victory.

“I don’t think you’re allowed to beat Denzel Washington in acting competitions,” said Kaluuya, who bested Washington for the prize. The 28-year-old actor thanked his mom and “Get Out” writer-director Jordan Peele.

“So many people didn’t believe in me, and you did, and you made all of us feel included,” Kaluuya said. “Thank you so much for letting us be seen.”

NAACP president Derrik Johnson asked viewers to text in their pledge to vote in 2018 before presenting the President’s Award to Danny Glover.

Glover was recognized for his professional and philanthropic contributions, particularly his work with the United Nations and his advocacy for labor unions.

Glover spoke specifically of a Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, where 80 percent of employees are black, that has yet to organize.

“Civil rights and labor rights have always been one and the same,” he said.

The special awards provided some of the night’s most poignant moments.

Halle Berry talked about the significance of presenting the NAACP Image Awards on Martin Luther King Jr. day.

“We need to take heed to his eloquent words: ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter,’” she said. “Today is an affirmation that we will never ever, ever, ever be silent again.”

She presented the Music Makes a Difference award to Charlie Wilson, who talked about his road from addiction and homelessness to musical success and philanthropy.

He said he prayed and promised that if he could survive the streets, he would return to serve others. Wilson said Monday that he has been sober for 22 years and is focused on helping homeless addicts.

Labor organizer William Lucy received the Chairman’s Award for his more than 40 years of service. Beyond his union leadership, Lucy was also an activist who fought apartheid in South Africa.

He dedicated his award to the Memphis sanitation workers who went on strike in 1968, several of whom were in the audience at the Image Awards. King spoke to the striking employees the night before he was assassinated.

Another arresting moment in the show came during singer Andra Day’s chilling performance of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” Rapper Common joined her for their song “Stand Up for Something,” and the whole audience rose to its feet.

Early winners at the 49th NAACP Image Awards

The Free Press WV

Early winners at the 49th NAACP Image Awards, as announced a pre-telecast gala dinner in Pasadena, California:


FILM

Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: Idris Elba, “THOR: Ragnarok”

Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture: Tiffany Haddish, “Girls Trip”

Independent Motion Picture: “Detroit”

Documentary: “STEP”

Writing: Jordan Peele, “Get Out”

Directing in a Motion Picture: Jordan Peele, “Get Out”


MUSIC

New Artist: SZA

Male Artist: Bruno Mars

Female Artist: Mary J. Blige

Duo, Group or Collaboration: Kendrick Lamar feat. Rihanna

Jazz Album: “Petite Afrique,” Somi

Gospel/Christian Album: “Greenleaf Soundtrack Volume 2,” Greenleaf Soundtrack

Music Video/Visual Album: “That’s What I Like,” Bruno Mars

Song - Traditional: “That’s What I Like,” Bruno Mars

Album: “DAMN.,” Kendrick Lamar

Song - Contemporary: “HUMBLE.,” Kendrick Lamar


TELEVISION

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series: Jay Ellis, “Insecure”

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series: Marsai Martin, “’black-ish”

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Joe Morton, “Scandal”

Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Naturi Naughton, “Power”

Television Movie, Limited, Series or Dramatic Special: “The New Edition Story”

Actor in a Television Movie, Limited-Series or Dramatic Special: Idris Elba, “Guerrilla”

Actress in a Television Movie, Limited, Series or Dramatic Special: Queen Latifah, “Flint”

Directing in a Comedy Series: Anton Cropper, “’black-ish”

Directing in a Dramatic Series: Carl Franklin, “13 Reasons Why”

Directing in a Television Movie or Special: Allen Hughes, “The Defiant Ones”

News/information Series or Special: “Unsung”

Documentary: “The 44th President: In His Own Words”

Talk Series: “The Real”

Reality Program/Reality Competition Series: “The Manns”

Variety or Game Show Series or Special: “Lip Sync Battle”

Children’s Program: “Doc McStuffins”

Performance by a Youth (Series, Special, Television Movie or Limited Series): Caleb McLaughlin, “Stranger Things”

Host in a Talk or News/Information Series or Special: Roland Martin, “News One Now”

Host in a Reality/Reality Competition, Game Show or Variety Series or Special: LL Cool J, “Lip Sync Battle” (Spike)

Character Voice-Over Performance: Tiffany Haddish, “Legends of Chamberlain Heights”

Writing in a Comedy Series: Janine Barrois, “Claws

Writing in a Dramatic Series: Gina Prince-Bythewood, “Shots Fired”

Writing in a Television Movie or Special: Abdul Williams, “The New Edition Story”


LITERATURE

Fiction: “The Annotated African American Folktales,” Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Editor),Maria Tatar (Editor), (Liveright Publishing Corporation)

Non-Fiction: “Defining Moments in Black History: Reading Between the Lies,” Dick Gregory

Debut Author: “No One Is Coming to Save Us,” Stephanie Powell Watts

Biography or Autobiography: “Becoming Ms. Burton, From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women,” Susan Burton and Cari Lynn

Instructional: “The Awakened Woman: Remembering & Reigniting our Sacred Dreams,” Dr. Tererai Trent

Poetry: “Incendiary Art: Poems,” Patricia Smith

Children: “Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History ,” Vashti Harrison

Youth and Teens: “Clayton Byrd Goes Underground,” Rita Williams-Garcia, author and Frank Morrison illustrator

Horror master Stephen King to receive PEN America award

The Free Press WV

There’s a whiff of horror about PEN America’s new Literary Service Award winner — it’s Stephen King.

The literary and human rights organization will honor King with the award May 22 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The Bangor, Maine, resident’s new novel, “The Outsider,” is being published on that date.

The award is handed out every year to a critically acclaimed writer “whose body of work helps us understand and interpret the human condition, engendering empathy and imagination in even the darkest hours.”

King’s books include “It,” ″The Stand” and “Misery.”

Other writers who have won the prize include Stephen Sondheim, J.K. Rowling (ROHL’-ing), Tom Stoppard, Salman Rushdie (SAHL’-mahn ROOSH’-dee), Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood.

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