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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.
Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist can rightly claim to be one of the most successful haunted-house tales ever told and so a reboot of what is probably one of the scariest films of all time makes sense in that money-grabbing Hollywood kind of way. But as with so many reboots, Gil Kenan’s uninspired take on the 1982 classic proves that it’s no easy task.
The story is centred on the Bowens; a family of five who, due to the recent recession, have been forced to downsize their home and move to a more affordable neighbourhood. Having recently lost his job, Eric Bowen (Rockwell) and his wife, Amy (DeWitt) have been struggling to keep up with the mounting debts and finding the perfect home for themselves and their three kids; teenager Kendra (Sharbino), her younger brother, Griffin (Catlett) and their youngest sibling, Maddy (Clements) hasn’t been easy.
Settling on a semi run-down estate in a town where the pricing seemed to be just right, the Bowens are excited to get settled into their new surroundings. However, things soon go bumping in the night and both Griffin and Maddy – the latter of whom doesn’t seem to be at all bothered about making new ‘friends’ in the closet – begin noticing strange occurrences. Griffin is the first to voice his concern, however his parents think that he is just being overly-anxious about his new home – that is until Maddy goes missing only to resurface as a voice inside the family’s television.
Written by David Lindsay-Abaire – see Rabbit Hole – the script stays very faithful to its source material. It’s something to be commended, yes, but the horrors of old just don’t have the same effect as they did back then and this reboot lacks freshness, creativity and that extra little oomph needed to bring it into the 21st century. Subsequently, it’s difficult to assess as to how loyalists to the original will receive the film; on one hand, it stays close to the original, but on the other hand, there’s nothing new – no new angle, no new pull.
Luckily, the acting is solid and everyone involved turns in relatively convincing and connecting performances. One of the most versatile actors working Hollywood right now, Rockwell turns out to be a decent choice for the role of the troubled father and Clements - although, nowhere near as powerful as her predecessor - is creepily endearing.
In the end, though, Poltergeist 2015 is too weak to stand up to the original. One of the things that made the 1982 version the iconic horror it is today is that unnerving atmosphere and the unsettling energy which followed the story from beginning to end. For what it’s worth, Kenan’s keen eye and roaming camerawork manages to keep his audience on the edge of their seats, but the predictable jump-scares only serve to take away from tension.
Arriving fourteen years after the last Jurassic Park entry, the fourth film in the twenty-two-year old franchise is finally here with Trevorrow’s Jurassic World; a thrilling, but flawed, addition to the series that never really recapture the magic of the original, but still manages to excite and serve as a fitting summer blockbuster.
Picking up twenty-two years after the events of Jurassic Park, the story is centred in and around the dinosaur amusement park on Isla Nublar, belonging to billionaire Simon Masrani (Khan), who has taken the idea from the late John Hammond and turned it into a multi-million dollar reality. Responsible for managing the park’s security is rigid operation manager, Claire (Howard), while her impressively knowledgeable colleague – and love interest - Owen (Pratt) is in charge of training the park’s dinosaurs.
As one might expect when playing god, things quickly go wrong when the genetically engineered Indominus Rex – the park’s latest attraction – escapes from its enclosure leaving Simon and his team of soldiers – led by Vic (D’Onofrio) – to fight of the giant monster.
Having spent over a decade in development limbo, there’s a certain amount of satisfaction to be found in the realisation of what, at times, like a pipedream for diehard fans. Though reception has been mixed, Jurassic World proves to be a thrillingly visualised world. The park and all of its bells and whistles – including a petting zoo and a triceratops ride – are designed with careful detailing and the film succeeds in communicating a sense of awe and wonder.
However, in the harsh light of day, the film just doesn’t have the same impact, when considering the fact that the plot isn’t all that fresh – in fact, the skeleton of the story is the same – scientists play god, things go wrong, step forward hero. Granted, the dinosaurs being substantially larger and smarter adds a grandeur to proceedings, their human counterparts aren’t so lucky.
Performances by both Pratt – channelling his inner Indiana Jones – and Howard are solid, however, most of the characters aren’t explored or fleshed out enough to make you care about the outcome, leaving the mass destruction the hub of enjoyment – and it’s simply not enough.
Considered by some quarters to be Spielberg’s biggest contribution to Hollywood, Jurassic Park has a timeless quality about it; a quality that stacks the odds against a successful sequel even more so. This is a top popcorn movie, so to speak, but just lacks the sheer magnitude in ingenuity of the original. But then again, it has broken several box office records.