Talking Movies

May 24, 2012

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part IV

Filed under: Talking Movies — Fergal Casey @ 5:27 pm
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As the title suggests here are some short thoughts about the movies which aren’t quite substantial enough for each to merit an individual blog posting.

Active Valour
I was quite taken aback after giving a qualified thumbs-up to Act of Valour a while ago to see the critical pasting it took elsewhere, accompanied by some veritable frothing at the mouth about American foreign policy and how this movie, as propaganda, was complicit in propagating the ethics of Al-Qaeda. Firstly, regarding the ethics of terrorism, equating a man jumping on a grenade to save the lives of his comrades with a terrorist setting off an explosive vest to kill civilians isn’t a valid comparison. To say that the American soldier being praised for giving his life for his country, his comrades and his cause is ethically the same as an Al-Qaeda terrorist who gives his life for his religion, his comrades and his cause is not just invalid, it’s insane; it requires ignoring the fact that one man is killing himself to save other people, while the other is killing himself to kill other people – and if you’re willing to ignore that crucial difference in your own case-study comparison then there’s almost nothing you wouldn’t ignore to make your case. Secondly, Chill everyone, it’s just a movie. I’m not as exercised as other people by the propaganda element because I just don’t think it’s that important. I’ve written before about how the rise of China is being accompanied by a decline in the ability of America to project its power, or even to agree on what to project courtesy of deadlock in D.C. Other people look at Act of Valour and see American soldiers rampaging around the world breaking international law and fume at being expected to endorse this as heroic. I look at all the hardware; the submarines, aircraft carriers and jets stationed all around the world to enable this rampaging; and just see endless dollar signs. It’s awfully expensive to maintain that sort of military infrastructure, and it’s inevitably not going to be maintained at that level in the near future because America simply won’t have the money to spare. So this is effectively the last cinematic hurrah of how that sort of world used to operate, and endorsing it or abjuring it is, really, irrelevant. Stand-up comedian Christian Finnegan did a very droll routine on Conan about just relaxing and enjoying America becoming just another regular country. Perhaps rabid haters of Act of Valour need to do likewise.

Avengers ‘Assemble’
And yes, it’s time for another bit of Avengers bashing hereabouts. It’s occurred to me that not only is the British and Irish title remarkably clunky, but that assembling, as a concept, isn’t very exciting. It’s certainly nowhere near as exciting as the marketers appear to think. The TV spots proclaim “Get ready to….” and you’re waiting for “ROCK!” or something of that order to appear next on the screen only to get the word “Assemble” thrown at you. Thing is assembling isn’t exciting, it’s like queuing; it’s a preparatory stage, unlikely to excite anyone except Arthur Dent.

March 22, 2012

Act of Valour

Weapons technology and American patriotism fetishist Tom Clancy presents a movie from Kurt Johnstad (co-writer of the bombastic 300) starring active duty Navy Seals. Surprisingly, it’s actually pretty damn good.

If you watched David Mamet’s The Unit you’ll recognise this world of American Special Forces popping up all over the world to orchestrate mayhem. The film opens with a truly horrific car-bombing in the Philippines, before trotting through retaliatory operations by our heroes in Costa Rica, the Horn of Africa, and Mexico, with a detour for the audience to meet the villains in Ukraine. Directors Scott Waugh (a former stuntman) & Mouse McCoy (a former motorcycle champion) developed the movie from talking to Navy Seals, and then decided to just cast them. So Lieutenant Commander Rorke and his best friend (and deputy) Special Warfare Operator Chief Dave lead Seals Ajay, Ray, Mikey, and Weimy into action. Actual actors opposite them include Roselyn Sanchez (Without a Trace), Nestor Serrano (90210), and intense Broadway star Jason Cottle as Jihadist villain Abul Shabal.

If Sam Worthington is the baseline of competency in film acting Rorke and Dave are discernibly just beneath his level, not least because of incredibly thick accents unpolished by acting school. However, bar a couple of awkward emotional scenes, it actually doesn’t matter as they really do bring it as soon as they’re required to banter and blitz. The best actor among the Seals is unsurprisingly Senior Chief Van O (a dead ringer for Bill Murray’s Steve Zissou), the eternally calm centre of this storm. Van O improvised from notes an entire interrogation scene with Alex Veadov’s opportunistic drug-smuggler Christo, thereby adlibbing the movie’s funniest line, “You’ve never seen Star Trek?! Oh, that’s just insane”, as he alternates charm and cruelty. The movie’s impressive action scenes were similarly actually choreographed by the Seals themselves from scripted notes by the directors.

The stealth attack on a Mexican village, frontal assault on a Mexican drug cartel stronghold, and a bloody subterranean battle are all incredibly authentic as a result. Canon’s ultra-light 5D digital camera is frequently mounted on helmets to provide a Doom-style immersion, with a Bourne-style fist-fight featuring a disturbing first-person POV as a heroine is thrown through a glass table and kicked in the head. A frenetic car-chase that culminates in a ‘hot extraction’ is this year’s best action sequence to date; the live fire (!) employed making it jaw-dropping. Presumably DP Shane Hurlbut wasn’t freaked because having been the victim of the Bale-out on Terminator: Salvation nothing scares him anymore. Importantly Act of Valour isn’t propaganda. It showcases a stunning act of self-sacrifice, and the presence of a wheelchair, eye-patch and coffin in the closing scenes attest to these missions’ cost.

What could have been a mere curiosity is elevated beyond its basic scripting by tactically canny action to become a good movie.

3/5

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