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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.
Well-deserving of all the attention it’s been getting, James Marsh’s Theory of Everything – an emotional and a rousing look inside the life of one Professor Stephen W. Hawking and his loving but, turbulent thirty-year long marriage to Jane Hawking – is nothing short of wonderful.
Sourced from Jane’s 2008 memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, the story begins in 1963, with an exceptionally charming twenty-one physicist, Stephen Hawking (Redmayne), on his way of pursuing his doctorate from the University of Cambridge.
It is there that he first meets the beautiful literature-major student, Jane Wilde (Jones); a devout Christian whose outlook on life – and science in particular – doesn’t necessarily fall in line with his more agnostic and mathematical assessments of human existence.
Just as the love between the two begins to blossom and Stephen begins preparing for his final thesis, he discovers that he is suffering from motor neuron disease; an illness that will soon begin to take away his ability to walk and talk, amongst other things. Having been given only two years to live, the young and the highly-intelligent physicist – whose thirst for knowledge and passion for life refuses to surrender – slowly begins to challenge his weaknesses. However, as he continues to grow professionally, his life at home with Jane – who is single-handedly carrying his physical limitations on her frail shoulders – begins to show signs of despair.
While this is in fact a biopic – a simple and a straightforward one at that – which celebrates the life and work of Hawking, it is also very important to note that this is not a story that goes deep into his rise to fame as the renowned physicist we know today. It’s a much smaller scale story of love and compassion and a one focuses on human endurance, courage and, most of all, hope.
The Theory of Everything is shot beautifully and a real sense of romanticism and nostalgia – driven by a sensual and a tear-jerking classical score – can be felt throughout. It’s an emotionally-rich drama that, although sometimes can feel a little too sugary, manages to stay grounded. It is, to a large degree, thanks to Redmayne’s extraordinary performance audiences will be able to appreciate what is an insightful and meaningful peak inside the private life of one of the most respected and remarkable minds living today.
There’s quirky and then there is the outright ridiculous. Unfortunately, it’s the latter that best fits Johnny Depp’s Mortdecai performance.
Based on Kyril Bonfiglioli's 1973 book anthology, Don’t Point that Finger at Me, the film follows the eccentric and the unconventional life of swindling British art dealer, Lord Charlie Mortdecai (Depp), who seems to have fallen into a financial rut. His lavish family estate – which he shares with his wife, Joanna (Paltrow) – is now in danger of being taken away from him and his long list of clients have caught onto his deceitful ways.
To make things even worse, Charlie soon finds himself at odds with Joanna, who is refusing to speak to him until he gets rid of the ridiculous handlebar moustache.
It’s not until Inspector Martland (McGregor) – Charlie’s old college roommate – shows up asking for help with a murder case that’s linked to the theft of a lost Goya painting that things begin to look up. Hoping that the finder’s fee will help him, Charlie – with the assistance of his loyal manservant, Jock Strapp (Bettany) – soon finds himself trotting around the globe looking for a painting that is not only valuable, but one that may lead them to a hidden treasure of gold.
Adapted to the screen by Eric Aronson, Mortdecai’s story is overly complex and disjointed to the point of complete and utter breakdown. The pace is relatively brisk and the gags – mainly involving Charlie’s moustache – are aplenty; however, the jokes are forced and never really hit their mark, leaving the whole development of the plot a little exhausting.
Depp – someone who has grown accustomed to odd-ball roles such as this – seems to be happy to step into the part of the eccentric British aristocrat, however, his usual charm and irresistible unconventionality seem to be a little on the off-side. Lacking originality and character, Depp is a babbling mess while Paltrow, McGregor and Bettany, were all a little lost in their respective roles.
Succumbing to a series of cheap gags and an ongoing barrage of humourless quips, Mortdecai – probably best described as Austin Powers meets James Bond – feels like a missed opportunity considering its accomplished and talented cast.