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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.
Trying to recapture the heart, wit and all-round musical grandeur of its 2012 predecessor, Pitch Perfect 2 sees actress-turned-filmmaker, Elizabeth Banks, sit in the director’s chair for her very first feature film. But as is so common with sequels, Banks’ directorial debut is a little off-key and not or as comically refined.
Following their success and three consecutive wins at the A Cappella U.S nationals, the Barden University Bellas are riding high. Led by Beca Mitchell (Kendrick) and Chloe Beale (Snow), the Bellas have been travelling the country on a victory tour, which also happens to include a very special stop at the Kennedy Center, where the group performs for President Obama and other a cappella enthusiasts.
However, things don’t go exactly to plan and when a rather unfortunate wardrobe malfunction involving Fat Amy (Wilson) labels the group as a national disgrace and the Bellas are mortified to learn that they will no longer be allowed to compete or admit any new members to their ensemble as a result.
Devastated by the outcome but equally determined to regain their former glory, the Bellas – who have been currently replaced by their rival team from Germany called Das Sound Machine on the victory tour – are now left with only one choice; win the global a cappella championship or be cast aside forever – dramatic gasp!
Delivering bigger and bolder musical numbers, Pitch Perfect 2 ticks the boxes on the musical entertainment front and the cleverly-constructed mash-ups seen in the previous film will leave any loyal Barden Bellas fan giddy with joy. However, the script isn’t without its problems, written by the 30 Rock’s Kay Cannon, the plot is unfocused and unpolished; everything feels a little overstated and the humour – especially those involving Das Sound Machine –
doesn’t seem to be as focused or as polished as before and although, there was plenty of reason given for the story’s comeback to the big screen, it feels a little overstated and the jokes – especially anything involving any Das Sound Machine member – are quite crude. Even the character of Fat Amy, who was the comedic heart of the original, becomes worn early on. Essentially, there seems to have been little or no character development and, generally, it's too much of the same.
It also doesn’t help that Kendrick’s role has been somewhat downsized in order to make room for Steinfeld who plays Emily Junk; an eager freshman hoping for a place in the squad.
If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that Pitch Perfect 2 will still score big at the box-office and many will be able to turn a blind eye, and a deaf ear, to its inoffensive, but equally infuriating, flaws. Don’t be surprised if a Pitch Perfect 3 comes to fruition.
Having spent decades in the making, Mad Max: Fury Road finds seventy-year-old director, George Miller, returning to the vast and the beautifully deranged Australian wasteland and anyone lucky enough to be invited for the ride, will immediately recognize its undeniable prowess and action-classic qualities that have been missing from the world of cinema for quite some time now.
Set in the heart of a post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland, Fury Road is once again centred on former-cop-turned-drifter, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy stepping in for Mel Gibson) who, after failing to stay ahead of his pursuers is caught by ‘The War Boys’; an obsessive and a gasoline-loving cult working for a ruthless warlord and ruler named Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne) who controls everything, including the desert’s water supply.
Forced to serve as a human blood bank, Max soon crosses paths with Imperator Furiosa (Theron); a formidable war rig driver who, during a routine fuel run, decides to go off course in an attempt smuggle Joe’s most precious ‘breeders’, aka The Five Wives, out of captivity. However, Joe’s army is hot on her tail, leaving her with no choice but to befriend the rugged Road Warrior who might be the only person to help her out of the mess.
One of the most striking things about Fury Road – and there are plenty – is how unapologetic and relentless the film is from the very first minute. The story – storyboarded way before even a script was realised – is conceived as one long chase scene and the experience of watching the truly great George Miller at work – who has bravely refrained from using much CGI- is awfully difficult to put into words. Wonderfully bizarre, shamelessly violent and mind-blowingly exciting, the film spends very little time introducing us to the story or the characters; the action does all of the talking and, although some might have a little difficulty connecting, the film doesn’t rely on any gravity to its plot and doesn’t apologise for doing so.
Everything is in the visuals and the gorgeous cinematography – zesty orange by day and steely blue at night – is one of the most arresting things about the entire production. The same can be said for the performance of the forever-flawless Charlize Theron, is captivating in her performance as the fearless Furiosa. Sporting a shaved-head and a bionic arm, you can argue that it is, in fact, Theron who drives the plot forward – we won’t get into the popularised notion that the film is a ‘feminist masterpiece’ here, but Hardy’s intended minimal dialogue and man-of-action persona in embodying Max, leaves room for Furiosa to emerge as the hero of the piece.
There’s nothing complicated about Mad Max: Fury Road; but in the landscape of the modern action genre, few films of this kind have been met with such wide acclaim. After years of anticipation, Miller and co more than met expectations. Bravo.