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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.
Disappointingly cartoonish and almost unbearable to sit-through, Barry Sonnenfeld’s Nine Lives - the Wild, Wild West director sinks to a new low here - is just as dreadful as its trailer suggest. The story - shockingly credited to a total of five screenwriters - is lethargic and uninteresting with Sonnefeld’s inability to ignite some much-needed energy or thematic effects into the mix, clearl throughout the entire ordeal.
The story is centred on Tom Brand (Spacey); an outspoken and a hot-headed New York real estate kingpin who is currently devoting all of his hours to putting the finalising touches on the largest skyscraper the world has ever seen. Working alongside his son David (Amell), Tom is a workaholic and his long working hours tend to keep him away from spending more time with his second wife, Lara (Garner), and their daughter, Rebecca (Weissman).
In an attempt to make up for missing out on his daughter’s eleventh birthday, Tom decides to buy her a cat from a mysterious pet shop owner named Felix (Walken). Picking out Mr. Fuzzypants as the gift, things take a turn for the wacky when, Tom falls off a roof and through a glass wall, losing consciousness in the process. Miraculously, he survives the fall but, when he awakes, Tom realises he’s trapped inside the body of Mr. Fuzzypants.
It’s seemingly hard to get excited or find anything nice to say about this latest talking-pet-family comedy that, considering its poorly constructed script and even worse special effects - seventy percent of the movie was entirely computer generated - seems lazy and uninterested in telling any kind of story to begin with. What’s even more surprising about Nine Lives is that it’s produced by Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp - the production company behind hits like Taken, The Transporter and Lucy - making you wonder what possessed them to take on the story of a human trapped inside a body of a feline in the first place. It just doesn’t make sense.
It’s not entirely surprising, though, that Spacey was chosen to play Mr Fuzzypants, with the Oscar winner and House of Cards star’s alluring yet coldly indifferent voice standing in as the perfect match for the role of the cat. However, thanks to a long-series of bad jokes - which of course include plenty of poop gags - lame dialogue and a script that can’t seem to come into its own, Nine Lives has racked up enough points to be nominated as one of the worst films of 2016.
For a Nicolas Cage movie, The Trust not as bad as one might expect, considering the actor’s string of duds in recent years. Playing out like a low-budgeted version of Ocean’s Eleven - except this time it’s the cops who are doing the crime - The Trust has initial promise, but as the minutes begin to unfold, boredom begins to kick in as becomes obvious that the story isn’t really going anywhere.
The film begins by introducing us to two cops, Stone (Cage) and Waters (Woods), who work in the evidence room at the Las Vegas Police Department. Both seemingly tired of their jobs, Stone is hoping that a promotion from his boss will soon come knocking while the prostitute and pot-loving Waters is painfully indifferent about the entire affair. Their lives, however, soon change when Stone accidently discovers large amounts of unexplained cash on bail release paperwork, triggering him to chase a money trail.
Bringing Waters into the picture, their investigation soon leads them to an empty building that was recently fitted with a super-secured - and super-suspicious - meat locker, which they believe is a safe filled with cash. Unfortunately, their plan of penetrating the vault doesn’t go as planned, leading the two to places they never thought they’d have to go to.
Blending flashes eccentricity with deadpan comedy, Nicolas Cage is surprisingly effective and relatively pleasing as the self-loathing cop who stumbles upon a discovery that, although illegal, holds the possibility of a new and a more exciting life. As his partner-in-crime, Woods is equally effective and the two actors play off each other extremely well, sharing a decent amount of onscreen chemistry.
However, their potential - along with the movie’s initial promise of delivering a dark and a relatively humorous caper - is lost with the script’s lack of risks. Co-directed by brothers and first-time filmmakers, Alex and Benjamin Brewer, the film is shot with a surprising amount of grit and visual flair. Though the siblings manage to build a solid amount of tension, there’s an imbalance to the whole film, in terms of tone, especially in the last act.
Still, even with all its flaws - the music could have been a bit more involving throughout for example - The Trust is still a far superior Nicolas Cage film than anything we’ve seen in recent times.