War movie cliches.
By Michael Phillips
FILM: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
CAST: John Krasinski, Pablo Schreiber, James Badge Dale, David Denman
DIRECTION: Michael Bay
Everything in director Michael Bay's cinematic vocabulary -- the glamourising slo-mo, the falling bomb point-of-view shots, the low-angle framing of his heroes with blue sky, fireballs or an American flag in the background -- suggests not real life, or the way things might have happened, but a Michael Bay movie.
It's true of the Transformers movies and it's true of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Bay's latest is a mixed-up blend of truth and distortion. Parts of it deliver a punch, and a jolt, and ripples of earnest (and even complicated) emotion. Then the characters, some of them composites or fabrications, start talking again. The cliches tumble out. And Bay gets preoccupied with delivering audience-baiting "kill shots", engineered to appease our bloodlust and avenge our enemies.
At such moments 13 Hours becomes less convincing in its interpretation of what happened Sept 11-12, 2012, when terrorists attacked two Central Intelligence Agency compounds (one official, one unofficial) in Benghazi, Libya. The key figures here, the men who helped Mitchell Zuckoff write the account on which Bay's film is based, are members of the CIA's sub-contracted GRS, or Global Response Staff. Six members of what was known as the Annex Security Team were hired to protect CIA staffers at the compounds.
Photographed in Malta, doubling for Libya, 13 Hours begins with the usual introductions of the six GRS security personnel soon to be under siege. John Krasinski plays Jack Silva, the most amiable of the guys, who has left a wife and children behind to make a living, keep the adrenaline going and serve a higher cause in a dangerous place. James Badge Dale portrays the stalwart Tyrone "Rone" Woods, a natural leader and a bull-headed adversary to the snivelling CIA base chief (David Costabile) who symbolises everything wrong with foreign policy, in Bay's eyes, under the Obama administration. Screenwriter Chuck Hogan leaves nothing to chance, as Costabile's soft-bellied Ivy League punk looks one of our protectors straight in the eye and says: "You're not a first responder. You're the last resort." Such moments push 13 Hours far, far into movieland.
But of course 13 Hours is a movie, and movies owe their subjects and the audience something larger than the facts. The characters refer to other films: Black Hawk Down, The Bourne Identity, Tropic Thunder. At his shrewdest, Bay handles the action swiftly and well. --Chicago Tribune/TNS
A loving tribute
By Katie Walsh
FILM: Hail, Caesar!
CAST: George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum
DIRECTION: Joel and Ethan Coen
The Coen Brothers' latest comedy Hail, Caesar! is a loving tribute to the era of classical Hollywood, meticulously crafted with layers of reference, inside jokes, and tidbits of history that will excite any film buff.
Not to fret if you haven't caught up with every episode of the Hollywood history podcast "You Must Remember This" (although you should), Hail, Caesar! is every bit as fun and entertaining regardless of whether you're picking up on every true life tale.
The Coens have created a film that is at once a meta commentary on Hollywood's studio system, while also indulging in the pure pleasure of visual spectacle that marked many films of this period.
With a star-studded cast, Hail, Caesar! belongs primarily to Josh Brolin, who plays Eddie Mannix, a studio fixer at Capitol Pictures. The real Eddie Mannix was a studio fixer at MGM Studios from the 1920s to 1940s, but that's where the obvious biographical element ends.
The stars with whom Brolin's Mannix tangles are lightly fictionalised mashups of real celebrities, with scrambled personal histories. Scarlett Johansson's DeAnna Moran is an Esther Williams-esque swimming superstar, with a Brooklyn accent to beat the best, and a pregnancy pickle to rival Loretta Young's.
The film follows a day in the life of manic Mannix, as he rushes around the lot, putting out fires big and small. The biggest involves Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of the epic Hail, Caesar! who's been drugged and kidnapped by a shadowy organisation known as the Future (consider the paranoia of the late 40s and early 50s, and you might be able to hazard a guess as to the Future's motives). The group of nefarious, nebbishy intellectuals are a classic Coen bunch of deadpan delights.
While Mannix tries to scare up a ransom for Whitlock, he's also working on the career trajectory of country-fried cowboy star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), and his love life; battling off the twin terrors of gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton); and trying to contain DeAnna's increasingly troubling ambiguous marital status.
Hail, Caesar! while poking fun at old Hollywood, pays tribute as well, by yielding to its sheer entertainment. -- TNS
Focus on the father-son relationship
FILM: The Confirmation
CAST: Clive Owen, Maria Bello, Patton Oswalt, Spencer Drever
DIRECTION: Bob Nelson
A down-on-his-luck carpenter (Clive Owen) is forced to take care of his estranged eight-year-old son (Jaeden Lieberher) while his ex-wife (Maria Bello) and her new husband (Matthew Modine) attend a retreat.
He does have a job coming up, at least until his specialised tools are stolen from the back of his truck. That means the pair are going to have to spend much of the weekend hunting them down, hoping that the various rogues that occupy the local carpentry community are more eccentric than dangerous.
Filmmaker Bob Nelson is making his directorial debut here, although the material isn't necessarily that far off from the work he's likely best-known for; shift the father-son relationship up a generation and make the quest a bit more quixotic, and you've got the bones of Nebraska.
That path often seems to be between a fairly simple sweetness and occasional pessimism, and the general tendency of the film to lean toward the former is sometimes its greatest weakness.
There are few people in it that are even superficially bad, to the extent that situations occasionally deflate because the desire to be helpful seems fairly universal.
Jaeden Lieberher and Clive Owen do a nice job of giving the film a strong foundation. -JS
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