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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.
Failing to develop its concept, writer-director James DeMonaco’s final chapter in the horror series, The Purge, the franchise has reached its final destination with a damp squib.
Set in year 2025, it’s once again time for the annual Purge; a government-sanctioned twelve hour period where anything, including murder, is allowed. Designed on the theory of keeping crime down for the rest of the year by letting people let loose, the New Founding Fathers of America - led by Caleb Warrens (Barry) - are big supporters of the occasion and look forward to it every year. However, Senator Charlene ‘Charlie’ Roan (Mitchell) is not exactly on board with the idea and having lost her entire family to the Purge eighteen years before, she’s determined to shut it down and eliminate the practice for good once she is elected President.
Naturally, Roan’s objections to the annual ‘cleansing’ doesn’t sit all too well with the Founding Fathers and order the assassination of the Senator during the upcoming Purge. Protected by Detective Barnes (Grillo), Roan’s security system is soon breached, forcing her and Barnes to flee and head to the streets where the annual violence has already begun.
Playing off of the same concept as the previous two films - except this time there seems to be very little creative direction from DeMonaco - there is an obvious lack of danger present in the mix, with the writing defiantly refusing to explore its premise beyond the aggression masked killers and bloody street violence. What was once a seemingly interesting idea that had theory behind it, now relies on a shock value that has simmered over the trilogy.
Offering a not-so-subtle political viewpoint, subjects such as racism, sexism and religion are integrated into the storyline, but are never really explored in the context of the film’s concept.
Adding to the story’s demise are performances from a cast who fail to evoke any emotion throughout the entire movie, let alone establish a connection with the audience. As the fearlessly-protective cop, Grillo is stiff and ends up taking the material given a little too seriously, while Mitchell is surprisingly hollow as the idealistic politician.
The rules of the game are unclear and the gaps in logic in DeMonaco’s flimsy screenplay are aplenty. Bloody, violent and ridiculously adrift, The Purge: Election Year has failed to cash in on its potential and has settled on a meandering ending to the series, reminding us all that it was probably never really that good to begin with.
Unnecessarily complex and generally lacking in excitement, The Legend of Tarzan is the latest attempt to reignite interest into what still remains a household name. Unfortunately, the legendary fictional characters to exist fails to really register with modern movie audiences in part due an overly complicated and overstuffed premise which never managed to translate into entertaining spectacle it should be..
The film is set in 1980 and it begins several years after Tarzan (Skarsgård) - now going by John Clayton III - has decided to leave the jungles of Africa behind for a life as a British aristocrat, alongside his wife, Jane Porter (Robbie). However, he is soon drawn back into his former habitat when he receives an invitation from King Leopold II of Belgium to return to Congo as a trade emissary for the House of Commons.
Accompanied by American statesman, George Washington Williams (Jackson), the Lord of the Apes soon finds out that his travelling companion actually wants his help in investigating the rumours that King Leopold is using slave labour to colonise the country and exploit its resources.
After agreeing to the mission, Tarzan, Jane and Williams make their way to Congo but soon cross paths with Captain Leon Rom (Waltz); a ruthless leader in charge of overseeing King Leopold’s operations whose devious plan - involving tribe leader Chief Mbongo (Hounsou) - forces Lord of the Apes to strip back and return to his feral form.
Scripted by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, there are far too many illogical hurdles and obstacles thrown at the story which, when stripped down, is the kind of classic hero-coming-to-the-rescue tale you’ve seen before. Set against a flimsy premise, the film boasts a needlessly complicated and a confusing two-way narrative storyline; one exploring the origins of our hero and the other celebrating his superhero abilities in a standard damsel-in-distress setup, all while trying to give weight to the plot with the real-life historic events involving Washington’s investigation into Leopold’s involvement in Congo during the 19th Century.
Directed by Harry Potter’s David Yates, the action sequences are executed well and there is a certain visual slickness in the effects. However, moments of less sophistication and a lack of creativity seep into the mix - the 3D is once again completely unnecessary - giving the movie a seemingly fake and unpolished feel.
Performance wise, all eyes are on Skarsgård, who proves to be a physically fitting choice for the role. However, his inability to evoke many emotions proves to be rather damaging to the picture which, in the end, is not anywhere near as adventurous, funny or exciting as it thinks itself to be.