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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.
Considering its controversial and much talked-about source material, Fifty Shades of Grey – Sam-Taylor Johnson’s adaptation of E.L James’ best-seller – is surprisingly safe, shockingly uninvolved and tediously uninventive for a movie that was supposed to deliver – and show – so, so much more.
The story is centred on a young literature student Anastasia Steele (Johnson) who agrees to step in for her sick roommate, Kate (Mumford), and do the interview with handsome and the mysterious twenty-seven year old billionaire, Christian Grey (Dornan).
The two are quick to connect and it’s pretty clear that both of them are immediately taken by one another; she likes his good-looks and raw aura of masculine intensity and he is intrigued by her innocent beauty and clumsy ways. After being stalked and rescued from a drunken night out Anastasia realises that there is no escape from his peculiar – and intrusive – charms and soon gives into the idea of being seduced by the handsome young tycoon.
Dakota Johnson – the beautiful offspring of actors Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson – is definitely the only success of the entire production. Gutsy, beautiful and surprisingly funny and her innocent-like ways – not to mention her gorgeous baby-blues – and she carries her side of the story relatively well. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the handsome Irishman and ex-Calvin Klein underwear model, James Dornan. Physically, he is the perfect casting choice, but his monotonic, almost robotic, delivery is unconvincing and what on paper should be a complex character is never really explored. It’s something that maintains a certain air of mystery, yes, but leaving such little room to explore his motivations isolates the character in a way that doesn’t allow auciences to truly ingest his relationship with Anastasia.
In its adaptation from book to screen, Fifty Shades of Grey never really knows what it wants to be and its lack of drive, focus and identity. Lying somewhere between a romantic comedy and soft porn, the script is as hollow and instead of grabbing the story by its horns and allowing it to dip a little further towards the darkness, it ends up taking a more safer-route, ultimately, boring us all in the process.
In its adaptation from book to screen, Fifty Shades of Grey loses the drive and identity that made the book one of the most divisive best-sellers of the decade. Lying somewhere between a romantic comedy and soft porn, the script fails to embody the book. Granted, said book shocks much more than it incites reflection, but the film even fails on that.
It was just a question of time before E.L James’ fictional smash-hit found its way to the big-screen; few books have stirred as much controversy in recent times. It’s rare that a film adaptation has the potential to better than the book on which it is based – this was the case here and, while it can be argued that it is indeed better, it’s still a less than satisfying viewing experience.
Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s chillingly and satirical short story, The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, Brad Anderson’s madhouse thriller serves up a star – studded cast frolicking in plenty of morbid fun in the unnerving but equally flimsy, Stonehearst Asylum.
Written by Joe Gangemi, Stonehearst Asylum is set in late 1899 and is centred on Edward Newgate (Sturgess); a recent medical school graduate of Oxford University who is looking to gain clinical experience at the titular mental institution. Arriving there on Christmas Eve, Edward soon meets the establishment’s mad superintendent, Dr. Silas Lamb (Kingsley), whose unorthodox way of providing care bemuse Edward. Lamb’s methods – which allow for his patients to seek their own healing methods and do whatever they see is a fit – doesn’t sit well with the fresh grad and he finds himself in more than one awkward situation with patients.
All soon becomes clear, however, when Eddie discovers hostages locked in the basement and a grave secret that he must admit no knowledge of in order to help rescue the imprisoned.
Shot in Bulgaria, the film carries an unnerving energy. Sadistic electroshock treatments, violent rapes and random patient sedations are just some of the tools of torture which Stonehearst Asylum is using to induce fear and horror and for the most part, it does accomplish its goals.
However, although its costumes and set-design – not to mention its sprawling landscape – are a nice example of a period-piece done well, there is a problem with the suspense and this nagging little feeling that it could have been all a little bolder and a little scarier.
Luckily though, its A-list cast which includes the scenery-chewing Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine help elevate the film and it’s only the over-the-top antics of Kate Beckinsale and the fragile performance of Jim Sturgess that let the side down.
Adapting Edgar Allan Poe is no easy feat, but Stonehearst Asylum uses a very particular type of British black comedy well, providing a fun, if underwhelming, viewing experience. On the back of cult successes like Session 9, The Machinist and The Call, Anderson carries a reputation for creating eerie and subtly sinister worlds in his films. He achieves this here, to an extent, but beyond the aesthetics exists an occasionally flat film.