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Act of Valor: Propaganda for the US Navy in the Form of an Action Film
Don’t let the packaging fool you, Act of Valor is a recruitment video and a propaganda piece for the US Navy; not the benign slice of entertainment it makes itself out to be. For one, the film’s cast is made up of a mix of actors and real life Navy SEALs and while it makes for a cool gimmick – real life action heroes and all that – it just makes the propaganda feel that much more potent. On the whole the actors are pretty decent however they lack comfort in front of the camera. Their lines are kind of stilted, not enough to ruin the film but enough to prevent you from connecting with the characters.
The film deals heavily in clichés, the biggest of which being its choice of villains. It ingeniously lumps together America’s two biggest threats historically - Russians and Islamic ‘Jihadists’- giving us two bad guys; a Russian drug dealer name Christo (Veadov), who isn’t above murdering children; and Shabal (Cottle), his childhood friend who converted to Islam and promptly became an Al Qaida type of terrorist. And just to balance out the scales, the lead is also a complete cliché. He’s a goodhearted Caucasian, with a pregnant wife, whose idea of having a good time is hanging out on the beach surfing with his Navy SEAL buddies and their families.
The film milks his situation for all it’s worth; focusing on the fact that he’s protecting his country despite the danger involved and despite the fact that he may never see his unborn child. It’s a noble sentiment but not when it’s forced down your throat and not when it’s in such a biased context. The film is so out of touch with reality that during an interrogation scene, the US commander promises Christo that if he doesn’t cooperate, he’d be locked up but not harmed physically. His only punishment would supposedly be missing out on his wife and daughter’s lives. While we weren’t expecting the film to portray the evils of the American military system, a little nuance of the truth would’ve been nice.
On the bright side, the film has some pretty decent action scenes which make up most of the story. The film’s basic setup revolves around retrieving a kidnapped CIA agent who uncovered the link between Christo and Shabal. Once they get her back, they discover that the duo are smuggling a gang of suicide bombers into the US, wearing high tech explosive vests that can pass through metal detectors without setting off the alarm. Their mission evolves into finding and preventing the gang from entering the US and setting off a national hysteria reminiscent of 9/11. While there’s a ton of the usual gunfights and stakeouts, if the film’s portrayal of the Navy SEALs’ activities is anything to go by, skydiving is apparently an integral part of their lives and it honestly looks pretty sweet. The action sequences are full of close ups and over the shoulder shots designed to make it feel more real and, for the most part, it succeeds.
Despite the decent action sequences, it’s impossible to ignore or overlook the film’s politics. In this era of the ‘War on Terror’ you just can’t get away with things that are blatantly untrue. It’s quite unsettling; the film rewrites history and glorifies war to a completely unacceptable degree.
Let’s dive in and get to the point; there is little-to-nothing new or innovative about Mark Neveldine’s young-woman-possessed-by-a-demonic-spirit offering in The Vatican Tapes – a generic and uncreative horror entry that fails to inspire, move or frighten.
The film begins with a brief video scene showing a possessed woman named Angela (Taylor Dudley), before switching back through the plot’s timeline to find the main character preparing to celebrate her birthday with boyfriend, Pete (Amedori). After unexpected visit from her God-fearing father, Roger (Scott), and a minor accident that sends her to the hospital, Angela begins to show some troubling signs of aggression and unusual behavior. We come to learn that this is the beginning of a systematic demonic takeover, which soon catches the attention of Father Lozano (Pena), who subsequently takes the case to the Vatican when he begins to suspect that Angela may have been chosen as a vessel for the Anti-Christ. Are you still with us?
The Vatican Tapes marks the very first horror film for the director of the Crank film series, Mark Neveldine whose seeming inexperience in the genre is evident throughout. Written by Christopher Borrelli and Michael C. Martin, there’s very little to the story – it’s as basic, straightforward and predictable as you can get – and its clumsy execution only goes on to exacerbate. Possessed (ha!) by a level of incoherence, the film and its undeveloped and plain uninteresting characters make it near impossible to invest in the film.
Told in flashbacks and with the shaky found-footage format that just refuses to go away, the plot never really finds its footing and seems rushed, making it awfully difficult to figure out what’s actually going on at times. Similarly, the acting suffers, especially the picture’s biggest name, Michael Pena, who seems uncomfortable in his own skin throughout.
With a reported budget of $13 million, the film has thus far only made $900,000 return and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the production failed to recoup its expenditures. But then what can you say for a film that, in some scenes, looks like it came from a Wayans brothers’ horror spoof in a sub-genre that hasn’t produced a film to top the one that started it all off, The Exorcist?
Like it or not, the Terminator franchise holds a special place in Hollywood history – thanks in part to Arnold Schwarzenegger. The once great franchise is arguably Arnie’s most iconic role and despite being three year away from his 70th birthday, the former Governor of California doesn’t look half-bad in the fifth, but far from final, instalment in the franchise.
Terminator Genisys is the first of what has been described as a new, standalone trilogy, but if the first film is anything to go by, fans will most likely be throwing their hands in despair at what’s to come.
Set initially the year 2029, the film’s main device is time travel and the butterfly effect – concepts that are becoming increasingly difficult to keep fresh and original. While co-creator, James Cameron, has unabashedly put his support behind the Alan Taylor-directed flick –going as far as to say that it has reinvigorated the franchise – Genisys only served to further dilute a series that just can’t keep up with contemporarily conceived sci-fi action.
The story opens with A.I. system, Skynet, all but defeated by the freedom fighters, lead by John Connor (Jason Clarke). In one last attempt to defeat the resistance, a T-800 Terminator is sent back to 1984 to kill John’s mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke), who is of course under the protection of the Guardian (Schwarzenegger). What happens from then on is a bit of mystery.
Possibly the biggest problem of the film is that it tries far too hard to maintain elements of the original series and fails to do so well. While staying faithful to the films that have made the Terminator franchise so iconic is commendable, all references and lines of continuity feel forced and unsubtle, as if to say, “hey, look – we haven’t forgot the original!”
Seeing Arnie don the Terminator character once more is, in itself, a novelty – especially after the horrendous CGI used to resurrect him in 2009’s Terminator Salvation. But outside of that, you come away with very little when the end credits start to roll. The two Clarkes starring in the film hot the right notes in their performances, but suffer the convoluted script more than anyone.
While reboots, remakes and distant sequels have generally found success in the last few years – some commercially, some financially, some both – the fact that the film has only recouped half of its budget, which includes a marketing budget of at least $50 million dollars, speaks volumes about how tame and just plain unexciting this endeavour has been.