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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.
The Step Up franchise is known for one thing and one thing only; the choreography. Forget the formulaic plot lines, stiff acting and the predictably cheesy romantic set-ups; it’s the moves and the spectacular dance routines that keep the fans coming back for more.
Written by John Swetnam and Duane Adler, Step Up All In takes us back to the streets of L.A, where Sean Asa (Guzman) and his dance crew, the Mob, have been struggling to make it big in the City of Angels. After failing to pass the auditions and receiving one too many rejections, the crew decide that it’s time to pack up their bags and head back to Miami, leaving a still determined Sean behind.
Luckily, he soon comes across his old-buddy Moose (Sevani) who - just like his pal - hasn’t been able to earn a living from dancing and, as a result, has decided to take on a steady and a relatively boring job as an engineer. After running into Jasper (Jones) and his obnoxious crew of dancers, the Grim Knights, Sean stumbles on a Las Vegas dance competition online – hosted by the unnecessarily eccentric Alex (Miko) - called the Vortex, where the winning dance crew earns a three-year dance contract at Ceasers Palace.
With no crew by his side, Sean turns to Moose for help who decides to call on his old-buddies for help, including the hot-headed and talented Andie (Evigan). Can Sean pull it together for the final dance-off and win the opportunity of a lifetime?
Detested by critics, but seemingly loved by fans, it’s very hard to ignore the amount of absurdity that surrounds Step Up’s super-cheesy and predictable premise. On the other hand, it’s equally hard not to be at least a little impressed with the elaborate choreography. Directed by Trish Sie – a well known music-video choreographer – Step Up All In goes all out to impress and it manages to dazzle its way through all the way until the big finale.
On the downside, the 3D is once again pretty futile and the acting, is still pretty abysmal; it’s lucky that Sevani, as the goofy and always-game Moose, is there to pick up the pieces.
For what it’s worth, Step Up All In will be welcomed by fans an impressive addition to the series. Who cares if they can’t act; at least they can dance.
Stepping away from its single-setting format, the unnecessary sequel to 2013’s disappointing but surprisingly profitable home-invasion thriller, The Purge, moves its story out of the house and into the streets where once again James DeMonaco’s intriguing but equally mind-boggling ideas are damaged by clumsy pacing and feeble performances.
The twelve months have passed since the last Annual Purge and the residents of a urban, dystopian LA are once again preparing themselves for the bloody ritual; an annual ceremony where any crime – including murder – is made legal for one night.
The story kicks-off with three story strands which come together early on in the film; married couple, Shane (Gilford) and Liz (Sanchez), are left stranded and vulnerable to attack, when they’re car breaks down under suspicious circumstances. Meanwhile, struggling diner waitress, Eva (Ejogo), and her daughter, Cali (Soul), fight for their lives when they’re wrist nightmares come true and they’re house is broken to. They’re eventually saved when a group of paramilitary personnel intervenes, killing their drunken attacker. However, they drag Eva and Cali out to the street, where they plan to execute them. Luckily for them, Leo (Grillo) – a policeman looking to avenge the death of his son by a drunk driver – saves them. Little does he know, however, that Shane and Liz have taken refuge in his car and, after some heated words, the group end up navigating the Annual Purge together.
Even the most cynical of filmgoers has to admit that, despite how ludicrous and seemingly implausible the idea of The Purge actually is, there’s something genuinely disturbing and deliciously unnerving about it. The idea of a legalised ‘personal cleansing’ ritual – which has supposedly managed to cut crime and poverty by half – definitely sounds like something worth exploring onscreen. However, as it is the case with so many interesting concepts it’s the quality of the execution that counts and, even though the film does manage to build tension and offer some thrilling action set-pieces, the execution is left wanting.
One of the main reasons lies behind the acting, or lack thereof, from a group of actors who look – and sound – like they’ve stepped straight off of a soap-opera set; Ejogo and Soul are utterly unconvincing and Gilford and Sanchez are unnecessarily theatrical, though Grillo keeps things together.
All in all, The Purge: Anarchy is a half-baked sociopolitical ideology and a semi-exciting thriller that, once again, lacks character and a solid spine.