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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.
Based on real events, Love and Honor - Danny Mooney’s directorial debut – follows one American soldier in his fight for love. However, with it’s glossy, squeaky clean façade, the romantic drama does very little to stir the emotions within.
Set in the late 60’s, the story opens up in the jungles of South Vietnam where two soldiers, best buds Pvt. Mickey Wright (Hemsworth) and Pvt. Dalton Joiner (Stowell) are making their way through the hidden dangers of the tropical forest. Mickey and his arrogance ensures that Dalton – the more edgy of the two – keeps his cool and stays alive in order to return home to his long-time love and girlfriend, Jane (Teegarden).
After the twosome successfully escape the grips of death, they go on a leave of absence; the idea of exploring the Southeast Asian brothels seems like an appealing idea to Mickey, but after receiving a disturbing ‘Dear John’ letter from Jane, Dalton has other plans. Informing him that it’s better if they go their separate ways, Dalton is desperate to win her back, and decides to go home for the week with Mickey following for moral support.
However, upon their arrival they soon discover that the free-thinking youth movement has taken over, including Jane, who has now decided to go by ‘Juniper’. With their presence immediately causing negative attention, the soldiers claim to be peace-seekers deserters. This lie causes Juniper to rethink her feelings for Dalton, whilst Mickey finds comfort in the arms of her best-friend and fellow flower child, Candace (Palmer).
Pinned up high against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, Love and Honor hopes that the up-and-coming Aussie star, Liam Hemsworth will bring in the much-needed credibility and appeal. However, even he found it impossible to overcome the story’s careless script and mechanical ways. Hemsworth’s presence will undoubtedly leave young teenage fans weak at the knees, but as far as his performance goes, the young actor fails to turn the film into anything more meaningful than just another teenage-romance flick. The same goes for his partner-in-crime Stowell, although he managed to bring a bit more versatility to his role. As the boys’ love interest, Palmer and Teegarden were a little too playful and animated to be taken seriously.
The script, written by Jim Burnstein and Garrett K Schiff, plays out like a wistful and a rather tasteless Danielle Steel novel that would later be turned into a small TV-movie. It’s all a little too obvious and eager to please and everything from the costume department to the all too familiar soundtrack, which naturally includes both “Spirit in the Sky” and “Magic Carpet Ride”.
Love and Honor seems fake and insincere; any chances of it becoming a sweet and lovable romantic drama are completely diminished by its conventional, tasteless ways.
In 1986, Richard ‘The Iceman’ Kuklinski was sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of three murders – just a fraction of the hundreds of murders that he laid claim to.
Following a steady stream of books and documentaries on the notorious killer, Ariel Vromen’s The Iceman comes as the first on-screen adaptation.
Based on Anthony Bruno’s nonfiction book, The Ice Man: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer, the story opens in the mid-60’s with a rather shy Richard Kuklinski (Shannon) on his first date with future wife, Deborah (Ryder). The couple shares a cup of coffee and Deborah innocently falls for his quick-witted ways hidden beneath his otherwise stone-faced demeanour, and the couple soon weds.
Kuklinski’s day job sees him dubbing and selling porn with partner and friend, Dino (Abeckaser). Embarrassed by his line of work, Kuklinski prefers to keep to himself and never allows family or friends – including Deborah – in on his shameful dealings. He’s a troubled and disturbed man, whose off-kilt temperament produces wild bursts of rage. It’s these characteristics that catch the eye of Roy DeMeo (Liotta) – a member of the Gambino crime family – who recruits him as a hired gun.
It’s at this point that Kuklinski embarks on his career as a killer, as he tries to balance his personal and ‘professional’ lives.
No one does creepy better than Shannon and the gifted actor – who was recently seen serving up the goods as the relentless General Zod in Man of Steel – pushes the envelope and delivers a blockbuster performance; unsmiling, pitiless and downright heartless, his presence simply demands attention every time he’s on screen.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the rest of the gang, which include Liotta, Schwimmer and Evans, all of whom fall victims to mobster-movie stereotypes. Meanwhile, Ryder, who hasn’t been seen since her small outing in the 2010’s Black Swan, makes a fine fit for Kuklinski’s oblivious and completely ignorant wife.
Taking cue from films such as Goodfellas, Mean Streets and Donnie Brasco, Ariel Vromen’s The Iceman is crammed with clichés – including Shannon's horrendous handlebar moustache – making the infamous serial killer’s biography a rather wearisome affair.
With one tiresome killing sequence after another, the film does little to penetrate what must have been a fascinating case-study behind a brutal murderer.