Tag Archives: Terrorism

“13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

Hell in half a day.

Here are the facts. On Sept. 11, 2012, the same day as another infamous tragedy, a U.S. compound in Benghazi was attacked. Four Americans were murdered that day, one of them being ambassador Chris Stevens. The rest of the on-site personnel fought for their lives for over 13 nightmarish hours against an enemy as cruel as they were relentless. This much is indisputable.

In the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks, there were accusers from all sides looking for someone to blame. The Republicans blamed the Democrats for being ignorant to the threat in the middle east. The Democrats wrote off the Republican’s criticisms as embellishing the truth. In their accusations against the other party, both forgot about the party that mattered the most: the American survivors. They didn’t care about left-wing or right-wing democracy. They cared about one more gasp of breath, the next plane that was flying out, how soon they could see their families again, maybe even hearing their voices one last time. You can talk politics about the situation all you want, but you cannot deny the 13 hours when someone’s family members were stuck in that hellhole.

I myself do not care about two party politics. They distract from the larger issues at hand, such as the growing anti-American sentiment in the middle east or getting our own citizens back home to us. Michael Bay apparently shares my emotions as he brings us 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, an exhilarating and heart-racing look at the soldiers fighting on the front lines, not the politicians making speeches from behind them.

In this adaptation of the real-life tragedy, 13 Hours follows the Global Response Staff (GRS), a team of ex-military operatives assigned to protect a U.S. compound based in Libya. Keep in mind, this is not an official embassy. Technically speaking, the U.S. isn’t even supposed to be in Libya. But legalities haven’t stopped the U.S. from operating outside the law before, and it’s not very likely to start now.

There are six men assigned to the GRS task force. One of them is Jack Silva (John Krasinski), a father of three with another one on the way. The rest of the team members aren’t so different from Jack. In one pivotal scene before the aforementioned events take place, all of the soldiers are on phones and videochats, talking to their wives, sons, and daughters back home, all whom are eagerly waiting to see each of them again. In this very important moment, we see these soldiers not as killers, but as human beings.

And of course, you already know what happens from there.

The best thing about this movie by far is the action. That’s so unusual for me to say, because most of the time, the action is the most overused part of any movie. Here though, the firefights are so exemplary, chaotic and explosive all at once, throwing our heroes through nearly impossible stakes that keep building as the movie goes on. The one thing Michael Bay is excellent at directing is action, and the firefights get so intense and on-edge that you question if our heroes can make it out multiple times.

But that’s not all Michael Bay does well here. Surprisingly, he exercises excellent restraint in slower-paced moments as well. In one early scene, Jack and fellow team member Tyrone Woods (James Dale) are at a standstill with a Libyan militia. I think I counted eight men training their guns against the two of them in their car. Woods tells them that a drone is flying over, and if anything happens to them, it’ll launch an airstrike against him and his men. After a narrow escape, Jack asks if they really had a drone on this assignment. Woods scoffs. “What do you think?”

I didn’t notice any obvious political motives from the film. I don’t care about them if they are in there. As a film critic, I’m not looking for those. What I am looking for is emotion, pacing, timing, things that help build the mood of the scene and help further implicate the ideas the movie is expressing. The best movies combine entertainment with relevance, and 13 Hours does that stunningly well. Think of a movie blending the paranoia of Zero Dark Thirty with the violence and grit from Black Hawk Down, and you get 13 Hours.

I’ve been very critical of Michael Bay in the past, and I think rightfully so. His Transformers movies have long plagued Hollywood with its stupid writing and absent-minded, overblown action sequences, while Pain and Gain was as offensive to its real-life subjects as it was to its movie theater attendants. With 13 Hours, however, Michael Bay finds himself in the zone, expressing his own style while at the same time spreading awareness on real-life issues. Thank God for those six men that found themselves fighting for their lives in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012. Without them, those 13 hours could have gone a lot worse.

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“WHITE HOUSE DOWN” Review (✫✫1/2)

You’d be crazy running for a second term, Mr. President.  

Now here’s a movie that would give President Obama a heart attack.  White House Down, much like a film released earlier this film called Olympus Has Fallen are both about the same thing.  The white house is under attack by a group of professional terrorists, the president is in danger, and our brawn yet brave hero must step in to save him.  All you need is a ripped shirt, a clean-shaven face, and a lot of guns on this guy (not just automatic) and you’re all set.

Unfortunately, that’s all the information I can give you.  This movie is so thinly written that that’s the deepest I can go without giving any spoilers.  The only other information I can provide that could give you any clue on to what this movie is like is that the brawn, brutish hero is played by Channing Tatum,  the president is played by Jamie Foxx, and Tatum owns a daughter portrayed by the sweet and talented Joey King.

I’m going to get this out of the way: Channing Tatum should never play the lead in any movie ever.  He cannot act.  There is no sincerity in his voice, no fluid movement of his body, no expression on his face to show he’s feeling anything except for when he’s shooting at something.  The fullest his acting capability reaches in the movie is the eyedrops you see in his cornea when he’s “crying” for his daughter. I’m not even kidding.  His acting is so terrible, the only use Tatum is in the movie is to provide meat for the female viewers in the audience.

(And I will admit my jealousy here: I will never look as good as Channing Tatum does.  I don’t think its possible for any man to).

Where was I again?  Ah yes, Tatum’s acting.  As always he is a stiff, awkward, and uncomfortable actor, a perfect reason why he should never be the lead character in a movie.  Admittedly though, the dialogue isn’t helping him much.  His best lines in the movie involve something like: “You have to go out there and be President”, or “If this guy keeps making those sounds, I’m going to start looking at him.”

If the above description makes this movie sound appealing to you, you should see it.  White House Down is a big case of what-you-see-is-what-you-get: a movie filled to the brim with excessive action, big explosions, cheesy dialogue, and mediocre acting, with the minor exception of Jamie Foxx, who has the most patriotic and humorous dialogue out of any other character in the movie.  In one scene, he’s reciting the history of America so beautifully to his secretary of defense over the phone that one could mistaken him as a Lincoln who underwent skin surgery.  In another scene, he’s following Tatum up an elevator shaft to evade capture when this exchange happens between them:

Foxx: What you do, I do.

(Channing Tatum ninja moves across elevator).

Foxx: I ain’t doing that.

Foxx’s character was the most appealing, the most intelligent, and the most charismatic character out of the entire movie.  Everyone other character was overly charismatic and grossly unrealistic.  One radical baddie is so stereotypical and so overpumped with tattoos, facial hair, ego, and steroids that I expected him to rip off his skin and reveal that he’s the Terminator.  A tour guide portrayed by Nicholas Wright is more worried about fine china and precious artifacts than he is about his own life and well being.  Tatum’s daughter, however, is probably the most frustrating.  She comes off as annoying, careless, and extremely absent-minded in this film.  You might say this is because she’s a child, but tell me something: how realistic is it that a teenage girl like this is smart enough to run her own youtube channel and know more about the white house than the tour guide, and yet, she doesn’t know when to stay in the bathroom or to leave a building when its going to blow up?

I remember an argument I had with a friend of mine in my first year of college.  He was an experienced videographer who understood more about the film industry than any of the professors did in that department.  We were arguing about the differences between film and art, and he told me a direct yet simple statement:

“Film is not an art” he argued.  “Film is a business.”

While I desperately want to prove him wrong through films such as Inception, Life Of Pi and Beasts Of The Southern Wild, it is movies like White House Down that remind me that the industry does in fact exist and operate like a business intended for profit.  At least Roland Emmerich didn’t release this film in 3-D: that wouldn’t have helped my side of the argument one bit.

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