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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.
Taking its cues from David Memet's provocative play, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, About Last Night is a remake of a 1986 Edward Zwick film. Being the latest romantic comedy claiming to take a deeper looks at the age-old subjects of love, sex and relationships, it holds just enough charm and humour to make it an admirable addition to cinema-cheese.
Set on the sunny-streets of L.A, the film follows two best friends; businessman Danny (Ealy) and his motor-mouth best friend, Bernie (Hart). Like many other men their age, the duo’s measure of success lays in how many women they hook up with and they naturally have no interest in looking for or finding ‘the one’.
However, things soon change for them both when Bernie meets the sexy and equally feisty, Joan (Hall), while his best-bud strikes up an immediate connection with Joan's beautiful roommate, Debbie (Bryant).
Time passes by and each couple have shared a fair amount of ups and downs in their respective relationships; Bernie and Joan's hot-headed union is on rocky grounds, while Danny and Debbie – who have moved from a one-night stand status to a full-blown live-in relationship – are questioning whether their relationship will weather the storm of uncertainty and returning exes.
The cast is well-fitted to this type of comedy and, thanks to their on-screen presence, they manage to convey their day-to-day hardships in a way the audiences can easily relate to. Vibrant and infectious, Hart – recently seen alongside Ice Cube in the buddy-cop comedy, Ride Along – puts his over-the-top energy to good use, whilst the dynamics shared with Hall is the movie's key draw. Meanwhile, Ealy's and Bryant's more sedate alliance - told through a gushy, overly-sentimental eye for romance – is satisfying as the meat of the plot, but not as exciting.
Directed by Hot Tub Machine's Steve Pink, the film’s premise is fairly familiar; boy-meets-girl, they share one night of steamy passion, fall in love, move in, before the inevitable question "am I ready for this?" reels its ugly head. However, despite its somewhat conventional and unsurprising setup, the script - written by Bachelorette's Leslye Headland – keeps things relatively light, humorous and, at times, even emotionally stirring.
About Last Night manages to put its own spin of realism and good-natured humour on the forever-entertaining, battle-of-the-sexes; forgettable yet extremely engaging, the dialogue, along with the cast's biting chemistry could easily set this as the best date-movie of the year, thus far.
Zack Snyder wowed audiences back in 2006 with his super-slick fictionalised retelling of the infamous Battle of Thermopylae in 300. Now, the long-awaited sequel is here; bloodthirsty and unforgiving, it's safe to say that 300: Rise of an Empire will not disappoint fans of the first film.
Serving as both a sequel and a prequel, 300: Rise of an Empire takes its attention away from the Spartans and their army of noble men, this time putting its focus on the origins of their enemies and the wider ramifications of the events from the first film. The story is centred on Athenian General, Themistocles (Stapleton); a fearless warrior who, during the Battle of Marathon, fatally injured King Darius I (Naor), the great leader of Persia and father of God-King-to-be Xerxes (Santoro).
Ignited with anger and an incredible desire to spill Grecian blood, Greek-born Persian warrior, Artemisia (Green) plans to transform Prince Xerxes from a fearful Prince into a Persian God-King, to ultimately guide their people into war with the Greeks.
Ten years later, Xerxes is ready to send his troops into battle, concurrently engaging King Leonidas and his 300 Spartan men in the overwhelming Battle of Thermopylae, as well as General Themistocles, who goes on to battle Artemisia's naval army at sea. The fate of Greece lies entirely with Themistocles, whose army is once again devastatingly outnumbered, but whose determination and courage go a long way in their fight for freedom.
Santoro returns to reprise his role as the towering giant that is Xerxes and although the character’s backstory is one of the most engaging elements of the film, the Brazilian actor fails to offer any depth to the complex kind. As the lawful Queen Gorgo, Headey retains a very royal pride intensity as the wife of the fallen Leonidas, while Stapleton – as the film’s lead – delivers just enough to score a passing grade, but ultimately lacks the charm and presence of Gerard Butler.
On the other hand, adding Green into the picture is arguably one of best decisions that the filmmakers could have made; as the trouble-brewing Artemisia, she steals the show.
Sticking to the same visual aesthetic, 300: Rise of an Empire is just as absorbing as its predecessor, with director Noam Murro given the freedom to paint on a much larger – and bloodier – canvas.
Although the thrust and energy of 300 seems like an awfully difficult feature to replicate, there are still plenty of adrenaline-pumping moments behind the blood-stained battles to make 300: Rise of an Empire an enjoyable follow-up.