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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.
Loosely based on Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography of the same name – a book that was approved but never actually read by the man himself - the life and work of the late Steve Jobs is once again brought to life on the big screen, this time, in Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle’s engaging, but niche biopic, Steve Jobs.
The story begins with Steve Jobs (Fassbender) getting ready to launch and share the Macintosh home-computer with the world. As he awaits, rather impatiently, backstage for the auditorium to fill, marketing manager, Joanna Hoffman (Winslet sporting a sporadic and an uneven American-Polish accent) is working hard on containing the pandemonium involving a possible failure-to-launch scenario.
Jobs is soon approached and confronted by ex-lover, Chrisann Brennen (Waterston), and his five-year-old daughter, Lisa (Ross) – whom he refuses to accept as his own – who wants to discuss paternity issues, while Apple co-founder and old-time friend, Steve Wozniak (Rogen), is eager to argue the possibility of Steve actually sharing the credit for their success. Meanwhile, Apple CEO, John Sculley (Daniels) has his own bone to pick with Steve, who, by this point has demonstrated that his blinding ambition and drive to succeed will not be hindered by anyone.
Much like its titular character, Steve Jobs is not an easy film to love; those expecting a more straightforward approach to the story – and an in-depth account of the company’s history and a deeper insight into the man who brought it success - might well be disappointed with its minimal setup. However, those who find time to appreciate Danny Boyle’s unique storytelling, which covers three very distinct Apple product launches - debut of Macintosh, NEXT and the iMac which transpired in 1984, 1988 and 1998 respectively – will see that most of the movie’s strengths lie with its somewhat claustrophobic – albeit intimate – and theatrical setup. Padded with a few flashbacks, Steve Jobs is not interested in portraying the ‘early’ years; instead, it attempts to highlight Jobs’ personality and the interactions that occurred between him and his closest associates during a time which was deemed most critical for the company and, of course, for Jobs himself.
Capturing the often sociopathic and ruthless behavior when dealing with colleagues – friends and family not excluded - and his obsessive attention to detail, Fassbender offers a subtle but deeply-layered performance, completely devoid of any mimicry or impressionism. Meanwhile, Rogen manages to strip off his funnyman suit and deliver a poignant portrayal of the Apple I designer, while Winslet is surprisingly unnoticed as a loyal assistant.
It’s a decent biopic that offers a compelling glimpse inside the head of a man who is often referred to as a pioneer and a visionary of the digital age. The film doesn't exactly portray Jobs a nice man, that’s for sure, but stresses on his importance as one of the most famous figures of our time.
Steven Spielberg’s latest cinematic offering has ome in the form of a surprisingly tensionless and tame courtroom-drama- come-spy-thriller, Bridge of Spies. Written by newcomer Matt Charman and polished by the always-reliable Coen Brothers, the story, although still effective in terms of mood and acting, is not Spielberg’s best thanks to the lack of suspense and overall excitement.
Set in the late 1950s, Bridge of Spies takes place during the height of the Cold War and it begins telling its story with the arrest of a suspected Russian spy named, Rudolf Abel (Rylance) who is placed on public trial. In order to make sure that the US justice system appears to be fair, Abel is appointed defence in the form of a hand-picked insurance-lawyer, James Donovan (Hanks), who hasn’t quite got to grips with what he’s gotten himself into.
While it’s becoming very clear that everyone - including the judge himself - would like to see Abel hang for his crime, Donovan’s idealistic nature compels him to push even harder to ensure that his client receives fair treatment even if it means that his very own reputation as a lawyer could be placed at risk. After a lengthy battle, he manages to keep his client away from the death row, just in time when an U.S military pilot, Frances Gary Powers (Stowell) is shot down over the Russian territory in his U-2 spy plane and placed in Russian custody.
It’s hard not to get excited about a film project which finds one of the most respected and successful filmmakers in Hollywood, Mr. Steven Spielberg, rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Coen Brothers - see No Country for Old Men, Fargo. However, even though the film is still relatively engaging, there is very little meat on its narrow and bony structure to stand alongside either Spielberg’s or the Coens’ past cinematic triumphs.
Luckily, Tom Hanks is there to pick up the pieces and the Oscar-winning actor is once again as reliable as ever, while his Russian client, played by talented British stage actor, Mark Rylance, is quietly brilliant and perhaps one of the strongest aspects of the entire film.
In the end, the two filmic personalities seem to produce a clash of styles; the blend of Spielberg’s old school and grand approach to storytelling and the Coen Brothers’ downplayed quirkiness, results in a rather peculiar mix which doesn’t always sit right. In addition, the importance - and the horrors - sitting behind its Cold War backdrop is illustrated in a rather lazy and stage-like manner, contrasting Spielberg’s typically spot-on detail.