“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (or WTF)” movie review

WTFQuite the unexpected surprise from comedienne Tina Fey! Paramount Pictures’ Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is one part self-reflexive film on television news production and one part self-discovery. Unlike the feel of the previews, WTF is not really a comedy–not in the traditional sense anyway. There certainly are moments throughout the film that are funny and will cause you to chuckle, but it is definitely more of a drama. The brilliance of Fey’s acting in this movie is truly showcased by her ability to display that she can do serious just as well as funny. Most of the funny parts are given away in the previews, so don’t think you’re going to get more laughs during the movie. Based on actual events, WTF takes you behind the camera and behind enemy lines to depict what it is like for television news foreign correspondents in a war zone. Although the movie was not what I expected at all, I am very pleased with the story, all be it, slow burning. Beyond the self-reflexive subplot in the movie is the foreground story of self-discovery. Fey represents so many of us who just feel like we are spinning our wheels, treading water,  or even moving backwards. The inspirational elements of the movie come from her willingness to take chances, make mistakes, and get dirty (as the Magic School Bus‘s Miss Frizzle would say).

What would you do? You’re dissatisfied with your job as a television news writer/producer, have a mildly depressive boyfriend, small apartment, and just need to get away. If you’re Kim Barker (Tina Fey), then you head off to Kabul, Afghanistan to become a foreign correspondent during the early days of the War on Terror. After an expedited visa and passport, Barker embarks on her journey as a representative of the U.S. press in one of the most dangerous places on earth. Armed with her laptop, camera, notepad, and two staff members, she sets out to discover the real stories in Kabul and the surrounding areas. Thinking that she is the only girl in a military barracks, Barker is relieved to meet Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) who takes Barker under her wings to show her the ropes of reporting the news amidst a war and hundreds of “thirsty” journalists and military personnel. While covering the stories of the war, Barker concurrently takes a journey of self-discovery that is filled with mountains and valleys.

Let’s be real here. Even if you analyze movies on a regular basis like me, you too were probably thinking that this would be a dramedy (drama/comedy). And yes, comedy is really drama in disguise; but I digress. The previews are certainly cut together in such a way that it looks like a very Fey-esque wartime comedy. I am not going so far as to saying that Paramount pulled a bait ‘n switch–because the movie is of a good quality and enjoyable–but the is no doubt that I went in expecting classic Fey and was presented with her more serious side. Still, through her witty quips and non-verbal dialog, she infuses conventional comedy and self-deprecating humor throughout the narrative. Like many dialog-driven dramas, even ones during a war, this movie has a very slow pace especially in the first act. Some additional comedy probably would have helped in the beginning to hook the audience. Speaking of the hook, that is probably what’s missing from the first few minutes of the movie. I think the studio sacrificed a traditional hook because the hook was Tina Fey herself. Fortunately, the film wastes no times in getting Kim Barker to Afghanistan, and that is definitely a good move. Although we are introduced to several chief characters in the movie, the focus is definitely on the character development of Barker with some minor development and introspect on the other principle players.

There are really two stories here: the foreground story of self-discovery and the background self-reflexive plot. Both are seamlessly married together in order to accurately tell both without sacrificing the other. Although we all know that there are foreign correspondents in war zones, we don’t always get to see what it’s really like to uncover stories, pitch to executives back in the states, and maintain sanity and safety; but through this film, we witness just how hard it really is to be a foreign television news correspondent. From networking, to interviewing, to shooting B-roll and stand-ups, Barker takes us on the journey from concept to delivery of producing news int he middle of a battle zone. Beyond the battle field, Barker is coping with her own personal and professional battles. If it isn’t the cheating boyfriend, it is the network who put her on the hourly plan and gives her no screen time. But, through it all, Barker never gives up and refuses to sit idly by and allow herself to be walked over. Fortunately, Barker does get her big break during the climax of the movie, but you’ll have to watch the movie to see what that is.

If you plan to see just one movie this weekend, I definitely encourage you to see this one. It’s gritty, funny, and inspirational. This is also a great opportunity to watch Fey in a more serious role and decide for yourself if she convinces you that she can play serious just as well as the comedy we all know and love her for. You may have seen other wartime movie, but this one plays out differently in that the focus is truly on the character development of the protagonist with the war merely being the backdrop and conduit through which we see her story of summits and pitfalls.

“13 Hours” movie review

13 HoursAn excellent depiction of what happened on that fearful day, but poorly shown cinematically. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is the latest Michael Bay film. Like a true Michael Bay experience, he wows audiences with spectacular battle scenes, stunning visual effects and sound design, and massive explosions; but, with that comes a sloppily handled ensemble cast, underdeveloped pacing and structure. Even though it was at first surprising that a Michael Bay film was getting a January (cinema graveyard) release, after screening it Tuesday night, it is evident why it received this slot versus a summer release. Although we are still learning about and experiencing the ramifications of what happened on that September evening, even though this movie definitely lacked in overall direction, I feel strongly that with what limited information has been released regarding this tragedy, Bay was able to translate the news footage, transcriptions, and government documentation to the screen in terms of capturing the visceral horror and terror that befell the CIA, special operations teams, and the Libyan Ambassador.

Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is about the tragic events in September 2012 that caused the deaths of an ambassador, CIA personnel, and ex-military special operations stationed in classified compounds in the Libyan capital of Benghazi. Get a glimpse into what it must have felt like to experience one of the most horrific tragedies since September 11, 2001. In this biographical war thriller, go behind radical, militant Islamic enemy lines and follow a band of six soldiers who took the initiative and disobeyed orders in a valiant effort to rescue US CIA and Consulate personnel from certain death.

Given that this is–or at least seems to be–an accurate depiction of the attack on the US Consulate and CIA Annex in Benghazi, one of the most conspicuous absences is any mention of President Obama or then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Obviously this film was not produced to evaluate the actions of the President and Secretary of State, their respective roles in this attach are indirectly an important element to the narrative of the film that should have at least been mentioned. When a filmmaker, especially one of Michael Bay’s caliber, takes on the daunting task of translating a real war-time event to the silver screen, it is important to include the notable individuals who contributed to the success or failure. Knowing that the focus of this film was on the six ex-military special forces, it was not necessary to focus on the Presidential cabinet’s actions, or lack thereof. Still, it should have been included on some level.

Like with any Michael Bay film, you are going to get amazing cinematography, visual effects, sound editing, and EXPLOSIONS; but, this biographical thriller lacks adequate pacing and plot structure. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the audience will feel any strong emotional connection to any of the characters in the ensemble cast. One thing is for sure, most people watching this movie will definitely hate the enemy. But, a movie like this one needs to go beyond a nearly unified hatred of the radical, militant Islamic terrorists and cause the audience to develop strong feelings and connections with the central characters. Despite having a slight connection to one of the soldiers due to witnessing his interactions with his family back in the States, Bay fails to further develop him or the other characters in terms of growing the relationship between the characters and the audience. Although there are deaths of great significance in this movie, it is likely that none of them will be tearful or pull at one’s heartstrings.

I feel that this film had potential to be another American Sniper or Saving Private Ryan but failed to include the emotional connection to the central characters and appropriately pace the film. It really isn’t the narrative in and of itself that is lacking–there is certainly a good story there–but the poor pacing and underdeveloped characters combine to occasionally cause the audience to feel lost in the events. Thankfully the film includes timestamps and locations to help the audience follow the course of events that lead up to the attack on the consulate. The sheer realism of the attack is incredibly impressive. There are even some shots that look very similar to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Bay’s Pearl Harbor. Bay was successful at effectively combining the best of practical and visual effects to create an immersive experience for the audience.

Whether you come from the position that the CIA showed rampant incompetence, coupled with a lack of action from the President’s cabinet or you feel equally strongly that the CIA and President’s cabinet made the best decisions they could with the information they had, this film brings a recent war-time tragedy to life for the silver screen. You will definitely feel like you are in the midst of the action and get a feeling for what it must have been like for the soldiers to go against orders from the CIA to do what they felt was the right thing. For those who appreciate and thoroughly enjoy military or war movies, then this film is definitely for you. Because of the fantastic technical direction of the film, it is one that can be enjoyed by just about anyone. Despite the fact that it definitely has areas in which it greatly lacks, it is definitely visually driven and communicates this attack with realism.