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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.
Formidable, heartfelt and elegant are just a few words one can use to describe Julianne Moore’s Oscar-winning performance as woman coming to grips with Alzheimer’s in Still Alice. Based on Lisa Genova’s novel of the same name, the devastating truths behind this silent yet deadly disease are passionately explored by the writing-directing duo Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, whose uncomplicated and honest portrayal provides the story with plenty of grace and power.
As a highly successful and respected professor of linguistics at Columbia University, the fifty year old Dr. Alice Howland (Moore) has always held a high regard for communication and the intricate workings of the human mind. There are only two things in life that she treasures the most; her sense of intellect – a part of herself that is constantly fed – and her husband, John (Baldwin), and their three children, Anna (Bosworth), Tom (Parrish) and Lydia (Stewart).
During a visit for a lecture, Alice soon begins to notice signs of memory loss after words fail her during her speech. A series of memory tests soon confirm the worst; a particularly rare Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease with a genetic component, meaning her kids might have it, too.
Eating away at her one small bite at a time, Alice is determined not to let her disease erase everything she holds dear. However, as she descends further and further into her own absent-mind there is nothing anyone can do except sit and watch her disappear.
Still Alice’s story is straightforward, refreshingly honest and doesn’t play on sympathy in its approach to the lead character’s personal sense of shame and indignity as she falls further and further away from everything that has helped shape her into what she is today. Moore’s towering performance – a sublime and authentic one at that – carries the film and watching her confront this alienating illness is touching and heartbreaking.
It’s by no means a perfect film and its shortcomings, if you can even really call them that, come in the shape of the two-dimensionality of the other characters; Baldwin is a little plain as the caring but overly passive husband and Stewart is her emotionless self as the rebellious black sheep of the family.
However, whatever their weaknesses may be, the focus is on Moore and her riveting and beautifully-layered performance which ultimately, makes Still Alice a grand and striking drama.
Rough around the edges and not as ‘focused’ is it could be (ha!), the team behind entertaining, but flawed, 2011 rom-com, Crazy, Stupid, Love, apply the comedy treatment to action flick, Focus.
This is not by any means an intellectually challenging film, but, no matter how predictable and fluffy its premise may be, it still boasts plenty of energy and holds enough charm to maintain engagement.
Jess Barrett (Robbie) is an inexperienced grifter, who – after trying and failing to con the ultimate conman himself, Nicky Spurgeon (Smith) – insists that he take her under his wing.
As Jess slowly proves herself, she is recruited by Nicky and his crew, though their business relationship briefly turns into a romantic one; but after a successful one million dollar heist during the Super Bowl in New Orleans, they part ways, leaving Jess heartbroken.
Three years down the line, the story moves to Buenos Aires where Nicky is preparing another huge con – so huge in fact, that he seeks out Jess once more.
Slick and glossy, Focus is best enjoyed if you don’t think too much about its inner-workings; if you do allow yourself to get way inside its shallow mechanisms, however, you’ll almost certainly walk away feeling a little underwhelmed with the entire experience. The dialogue is quite often sharp and witty, but the film isn’t in the same mould as the recent heist-clicks like Ocean’s Eleven; there’s more of a focus on the two main characters and their evolving relationship and it can be argued that this is one of its biggest mistakes for the simple reason that there just isn’t enough room for complex arcs in a film that brings a very particular type of action movie together with comedy.
Despite this, there are still plenty of memorable set-pieces and, as the dexterous and charming Nicky, Smith is his usual magnetic self, though he doesn’t stray far from his usual routine. Standing strong by his side is his equally magnetic Aussie co-star, Margot Robbie, who once again proves that she is capable of holding her own amongst some of Hollywood’s biggest names. The pairing, though seeming inapt at first, carries the film through to be a one-hundred-and-four minute of easy watching – it’s a typical cinema-and-popcorn movie that doesn’t try to be more than it is.