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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.
Expanding from his 2006 short film, Oculus: Chapter 3- The Man with a Plan, director Mike Flanagan – along with help from writer Jeff Howard – approaches the subject of the supernatural with a considerable amount of imagination and manages to deliver some scares in the relatively unnerving ghostly thriller, Oculus.
The story follows the troubled lives of Tim (Thwaites) and Kaylie Russell (Gillan); a pair of siblings who witnessed the brutal death of their parents over a decade ago. Tim is convicted of the murders and is sent into protective custody and a psychiatric hospital, while Kaylie remains in a pit of despair without her family.
Years later, Tim is released on his twenty-first birthday and is now looking to rebuild his life and move away from his turbulent past. However, Kaylie has become convinced her brother was innocent and that something unnatural is at play.
Kaylie, who works at an auction house, has recently come across the very same oversized, 400 year-old mirror that she believes is responsible for their parents’ deaths. Moving back to their old house and installing surveillance equipment, Kaylie and Tim hope to record evidence of the supernatural being.
A Blumhouse Productions creation – the same people who brought you Paranormal Activity – Oculus, as luck would have it, steers clear of the increasingly overdone found-footage approach, despite what its trailer might suggest. Instead, director Mike Flanagan seems inspired by the horror films of the 70’s and 80’s, like recent flicks, The Conjuring and Sinister, and paints the mood of the film with a slow-burning tone of dread and an ominous fear of the unknown. The film transitions between the past and present wonderfully, all while keeping you on the edge of your seat.
Gillan, the Scottish-born actress known for her role in TV’s Doctor Who, proves to be a relatively solid lead and manages to paint Kaylie with an equal blend of self-determination and fear, while Thwaites’ doe-eyed qualities comes across as a little too sappy.
Sadly, Oculus is not without faults. The film is never fully realised as a story and although it provides its share of scare, it’s all really rather forgettable.
The follow up to Carlos Saldanha’s vibrant animated feature, Rio – a film that grossed over half a billion dollars at the box office - finds the Brazilian-born filmmaker returning to the pulsating streets of Rio Di Janeiro, before setting off into the wilderness of the Amazon.
Picking up some time after the end of the first film, Rio 2 finds the Blue Macaws, Blu (voiced by Eisenberg) and Jewel (Hathaway), happily married and living a carefree life while raising their three hatchlings, Carla (Crow), Bia (Stenberg) and Tiago (Gagnon), at the Blue Bird Sanctuary.
However, their children’s overly-domesticated habits begin to worry Jewel, who is fearful that her children are slowly losing touch with nature and what it means to be a bird. So, when she hears that there may be a flock of Blue Macaws living in the Amazon rainforest, the family decides to fly across for a vacation and a bit of an investigation.
Once there, not only does the family discover that there is more of their kind in the world, but that the flock is led by none other than Jewel’s long-lost father, Eduardo (Garcia). Jewel soon finds herself toying with the prospect of moving her family there for good, while Blu – who now must prove himself to Jewel’s apathetic and unconvinced father – isn’t too sure whether he’s ready to give up his life in Rio. Meanwhile, Blu’s lifelong nemesis, Nigel the Cockatoo (Clement), who is no longer able to fly, follows the family to the rainforest in search of revenge.
Eisenberg and Hathaway return to reprise their roles as the lovable Blu and Jewel and, although their shared chemistry can still be felt throughout, it seems that their second outing is not as charming as their first. Clement is hilarious as the grouchy Nigel, while all of the supporting characters, excluding Chenoweth’s hysterical performance as Gabi – a poisonous frog hopelessly in love with Nigel – aren’t given much of the spotlight, apart from indulging in a few impromptu sing-offs, including yet another cringe worthy rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.
Just like the original, Rio 2 dazzles with its vibrant and bubbly tone; the opening scenes of the New Year’s Eve celebration on the bustling streets of Rio Di Janeiro are breathtaking and Saldanha, succeeds in adapting the alluring and captivating magic of Brazil.
The story, unfortunately, is not as engaging the second time around and Saldanha seems to have sent the story on a downward spiral the minute he decided to step out of Rio and move his flock of birds into the back woods of the Amazon rainforest.
There are still plenty of thrills and spills, but had it not been for the infectious Brazilian music and a handful of interesting characters, this would have been a complete washout.