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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.
Wally Pfister’s directorial debut – a slow and relatively complicated take on the world of artificial intelligence – falls short of the type of thrill needed to push Transcendence into the major leagues of sci-fi.
Written by a fellow first-timer, Jack Peglan, Transcendence lends its focus to Will Caster (Depp); a prominent leader of the artificial intelligence research who, along with wife Evelyn (Hall) and fellow researcher Max (Bettany), hopes that computers will one day be able to think for themselves and, inevitably, replace humans and the ill-intentioned ways of mankind.
However, Will’s radical way of thinking soon makes him a target for an underground anti-tech terrorist group led by Bree (Mara), who decide to take out the A.I pioneer by shooting him with a radioactive bullet, leaving him to die a slow and a painful death.
Not prepared to let go of her husband just yet, Evelyn reaches out to Max and manages to convince him that the only way they can keep Will and his work alive is to download his brain – and consciousness – into the system, before his body completely deteriorates.
The experiment is a success, but the new computerised version of Will is not the same man they all once knew, but a cold mechanical shell obsessed with accumulating both knowledge and power. With the help of a renowned computer scientist, Joseph Tagger (Freeman,) and FBI agent Buchanan (Murphy), Max begins to look for ways to put an end to Will, while Evelyn, desperate to hold on to the man she once loved, is hesitant to let go.
Pfister, a long-time Chris Nolan collaborator who served as cinematographer for most of his productions, definitely knows how to work the camera and manages to paint Transcendence with a crisp, pallid polish. Everything from the special effects to the choice of framing looks absolutely superb. However, its steely façade doesn’t make up for the shallowness of the story, which goes from confusing to downright ridiculous pretty early on.
In terms of the performances, the cast struggles with their underwritten roles and, consequently, feel utterly disengaged from the story altogether. Showing off a more subdued side, Depp is relatively passive and indifferent in his performance of a man who quickly loses sight of what’s right and wrong as he begins living in his own creation. Freeman and the rest of the supporting cast are underused, while Hall – as Depp’s despairing onscreen wife – is left with little to build with on the emotional side of the story.
In the end, Transcendence flatters to deceive; from the lack of onscreen chemistry and character development to the absurdity which the story quickly escalates to, this latest wannabe sci-fi blockbuster – although pretty to look at – is just a little too dull to stand with the big boys – so to speak.
Tinker Bell, who made her first appearance in 1953’s animated picture Peter Pan, returns in the fifth installation of her popular Tinker Bell franchise, The Pirate Fairy; an infectious and thoroughly charming story of friendship and sisterhood.
Directed by Peggy Holmes, The Pirate Fairy follows the adventures of Tinker Bell – a.k.a Tink – (voiced by Whitman) and her five fairy friends; the Garden Fairy, Rosetta (Hilty), water fairy, Silvermist (Liu), light fairy, Iridessa (Raven-Seymone), wind fairy, Vidia (Adlon) and finally, animal fairy, Fawn (Bartys).
The girls live in Pixie Hollow; a magical fairy community where everyone has been given a duty based on the talent revealed to them at birth. Life is seemingly peaceful for the five friends but trouble soon comes knocking when Zarina (Hendricks), the new fairy in charge of the production of fairy dust, decides to perform a forbidden experiment with the rare Blue Dixie Dust – an important ingredient used to make the fairy’s gold-blue dust powder – resulting in a near-catastrophe at the lab.
Relieved of her position as the Dust Keeper, Zarina flees Pixie Hollow, only to return a year later for the Dixie Dust. It’s now up to Tink and her friends to pursue Zarina, who they soon learn has become the captain of a pirate ship, and convince her to return to where she truly belongs; in Pixie Hollow. However, Zarina’s new friend, James (Hiddleston), a pretend-cabin boy has other plans for the fairies and the fate of Pixie Hollow altogether.
Serving as a prequel to Peter Pan’s 2002’s Return to Never Land, The Pirate Fairy will please fans of the franchise, who will be happy to see their favourite fairy – and her devoted group of followers – return with their peace-loving ways. It’s a simple story with just enough colour and vibrancy to keep things moving along. Although its animations and overall technical quality is nowhere near the likes of Pixar productions, for example, the story is strong enough to compensate for its drawbacks.
Whitman, who has been with the franchise since the beginning, returns as Tinker Bell and once again shines as the determined and lovable leader of the fairies. However, it’s Hendricks – popular for her role as Joan Harris of the TV’s Mad Men – who steals the show as the feisty and the often misunderstood Zarina who manages to get herself mixed up with the wrong crowd.
Similarly, Hiddleston – better known for his portrayal of Thor’s evil brother, Loki – is superb and deliciously devious as cabin boy James whose destiny as Captain Hook is yet to be fulfilled.
Ultimately, The Pirate Fairy is a story about friendship and understanding. It may not be as big or majestic as Disney’s last outing, Frozen, but it’s still engaging enough to stand on its own feet.