Richard and CP24 anchor Nneka Elliott talk about Michael Bay’s latest, the action film “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” a buddy cop flick called “Ride Along 2” starring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart and the Edsel of the animation world, “Norm of the North.”
Richard and “Canada AM” host Marci Ien talk about the Michael Bay action film “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi,” the buddy cop flick “Ride Along 2” with Ice Cube and Kevin Hart and a contender for worst film of the year, “Norm of the North.”
Making a war movie is hard work with long hours and tough conditions. According to 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi star Pablo Schreiber making a war movie with Michael Bay is extra difficult.
“Everyone who has worked with Michael Bay has told me the set can be a challenging place to work,” he says of the Transformers director. “I got all these stories to prepare but ultimately nothing anybody says can prepare you for that experience. He works faster than any director working. We do about 75 set ups a day, which is massive especially when each of them is like its own action sequence. It’s an insane amount of work. He demands a lot from you. It’s very necessary that you come prepared, that you are ready to perform any piece of the movie at any given time.”
The Canadian born actor and winner of the We Love to Hate You Award at the 2014 Young Hollywood Awards for his work as George “Pornstache” Mendez on Orange Is the New Black, says Bay took him by surprise during the 2015 shoot in Malta.
“There’s a scene at the end where a convoy is rolling in and we don’t know if they are friendly or bad,” he says, “and it is one of the emotional peaks of the movie. For me it was a scene I had checked off as an actor as one I had to be ready and prepared for. Then he shot it a week before we were supposed to shoot it. I had about five minutes to prepare. He said, ‘Let’s go on the roof and get that last sequence.’ He started setting up cranes. To be ready at any moment for whatever he’s going to throw at you is very important. As actors all six of us ended leaving there feeling like if we had gotten through that experience we could deal with anything.”
When I ask if the chaotic set conditions were Bay’s way of not so subtly exposing his actors to the same kind of unpredictable situations their characters were dealing with, he laughed.
“I’m not sure how much forethought was put into that vibe, but it was definitely effective and it works. As actors we were constantly disoriented and didn’t quite know where we were and didn’t know where we were going to be on any given day.”
Schreiber plays Kris “Tanto” Paronto, a former U.S. Army Ranger who was one of six CIA security contractors working in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012 when when well-armed Libyan militants—using weapons pilfered from former Prime Minister Muammar Gaddafi’s abandoned arsenals—invaded the American embassy. Their attempt to rescue ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and Foreign Service Information officer Sean Smith led to a harrowing thirteen-hour battle.
The thirty-seven year old actor met Tanto and says he felt a great responsibility in playing a real person who was on set and would eventually see the film but adds that director Bay tried to keep show the humanity of the story’s heroes.
“Michael Bay made this movie and he normally make these big extravaganzas but this is not a superhero movie,” he says. “This is a movie about very, very real human beings who behaved extraordinarily under the most difficult circumstances.”
The word subtle is never used in reference to Michael Bay. On film the “Transformers” filmmaker has never left a bullet unfired or ever met a building he didn’t want to blow up. His films are frenetic odes to carnage and his latest one, “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” takes a page out of the recent past and gives it the Bay Bias.
Based on the 2013 nonfiction book “13 Hours” by Mitchell Zuckoff, the bulk of the film takes place on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Rone Woods (James Badge Dale), Jack Da Silva (John Krasinski), Oz Geist (Max Martini), Bub Doherty (Toby Stephens), Tanto Paronto (Pablo Schreiber) and Boon (David Denman) are tough guys with 1000 yards stares. They are former Navy SEALS, Marine Force Recon and Army Special Forces now working as CIA security contractors in in Benghazi, Libya in a top-secret facility so undercover it doesn’t officially exist.
The city is a hellhole known as the most violent place on earth. When well-armed Libyan militants—using weapons pilfered from former Prime Minister Muammar Gaddafi’s abandoned arsenals—invade the American embassy the contractors, located about a mile away from the attack, want to help but are ordered to stand down by their on-site CIA chief. As the fighting intensifies they spring into action—“Things change fast in Benghazi,” they snarl.—launching a rescue mission for ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and Foreign Service Information officer Sean Smith.
There’s more—things blow up and bullets fly—and it is public record, but there will be no spoilers here.
“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” is a fast and furious look at an event the ripples of which are still being felt today, but this is a Michael Bay movie so it is unburdened by the weight of controversy. Instead the politics are downplayed—there is no mention of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or President Obama—and it is presented as an action film.
On that level it works. Bay knows how to build tension and entertain the eye. He indulges his artier side with some beautifully composed photography and throws in some interesting details to bring the action alive. For instance, the city is such a chaotic place the locals barely notice the mounting violence as they watch soccer as buildings explode just down the block. “Just another Tuesday night in Benghazi,” says Da Silva.
Unfortunately Bay is so in love with his images he drops the ball on the story. This is a tale of men who stepped up and put their lives on the line despite bureaucratic interference. The contractors should be complex characters, balancing their stateside lives with their training as warriors and while the movie tries to explore that divide, it does so in the most Michael Bay way as possible. Instead of investigating the things that drive them we are treated to an sketchy subplot regarding Da Silva’s family that sheds little light on how his job affects his wife and daughters or vice versa. No amount of scenes showing these men Skyping with their families or lovingly gazing at photos of their babies will do enough to humanize them when they are so underwritten. Bay emphasizes the action in Benghazi, but choses to ignore the emotional side except in the most superficial of ways.
“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” could have been a fascinating and timely study of men juggling their jobs with complicated families lives but instead it is just another Michael Bay movie.
Chances are you saw the footage on the news. On November 15, 2013 San Francisco transformed into Gotham-By-the-Bay as Batkid, accompanied by Batman, rescued a damsel in distress, threw the Riddler in jail and saved Lou Seal, the Mascot of the San Francisco Giants, from the grips of Criminal Mastermind the Penguin.
It was Make-A-Wish’s largest ever event, a city-wide happening to grant five-year-old cancer survivor Miles Scott’s request to be a superhero for a day. The Batkid—who was still in diapers when he was diagnosed with leukemia—drew crowds in the tens of thousands, earned a twitter message from President Obama and was given the key to the city by San Francisco mayor Ed Lee.
London, Ontario-born software engineer Mike Jutan was given a front row seat to the action when his friend, inventor and acrobat Eric Johnson, asked him to play Gotham’s greatest villain The Penguin.
“Eric Johnston asked, ‘What are you doing on November 15… just say yes.’ So I said yes and then asked him what I just agreed to.
“As a good Canadian boy I like peppering community service stuff in amongst the many things I already do,” says Jutan, who now lives in San Fran and works for Industrial Light and Magic. “I always thought I’d like to do something with Make-A-Wish.”
A new documentary, Batkid Begins, details how the event bloomed from a small experience into a heart-warming media sensation.
“To me it was exciting it was getting big because I think it is inspiring to other people. As it got bigger and bigger I felt like we had a responsibility to stand for what Make-A-Wish stands for but also stick a big flag in the ground as the city of San Francisco and say, ‘This is the most insane, crazy thing that can happen when people work together, when people skip work on a Friday for the good of a little kid.’”
To prepare to play The Penguin Jutan “started obsessively watching the 1960s Batman. I watched them over and over and over, studied Burgess Meredith’s character to get the walk down and the laugh and some of his quips. I wanted to get an idea of his personality so any die hard Batman fans there would also enjoy it,” but, he adds, “our only real goal was to make sure Miles had a great wish and that we succeeded in helping him save Gotham.”
The cynical film critic in me feels obliged to point out that “Batkid Begins,” the documentary about a young cancer survivor who wanted to be a superhero for a day, is about as deep as a lunch tray. But as I type those words it’s through tired eyes, my peepers watery and bleary as a result of the documentary’s feel good emotional rollercoaster.
At the center of the story is Miles Scott, a northern Californian boy still in diapers when he was diagnosed with leukemia. The lively little boy underwent daily, then weekly chemotherapy and by the time he was five was in remission. Enter the San Francisco Make-A-Wish Foundation who asked Miles what he wanted to make himself feel better. “I wish I could be Batkid.”
Before you could say, “Holy make-a-wish Batman,” Miles’s request ballooned into a city wide event that saw San Fran become Gotham by the Bay as Batkid, accompanied by Batman (acrobat and all round swell guy Eric Johnston) rescued a damsel in distress (Sue Graham Johnston), threw the Riddler (Philip Watt) in jail and saved Lou Seal, the Mascot of the San Francisco Giants, from the grips of Criminal Mastermind the Penguin (Mike Jutan). In what became the most elaborate Make-A-Wish stunt ever, the Batkid drew crowds in the tens of thousands, earned a twitter message from President Obama and was given the key to the city by San Francisco mayor Ed Lee.
“Batkid Begins” isn’t a hard-hitting documentary from a news point of view. Occasionally it plays like an ad for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which, given the good work they do is fine by me. It is, however, hard hitting on an emotional level. It’s one of those stories that shows people at their best and reaffirms your faith in humanity. Don’t expect an in-depth look into why tens of thousands of people took the day off work to support Miles—the movie suggests it was an out of control social media campaign—or anything much about what happened to Miles when the crowds went home. Instead director Kurt Kuenne lays out the story via a minute-by-minute timeline, by and large following the action in a linear way. Could there have been a deeper, more meaningful movie made about San Francisco’s outpouring of love for Batkid? Absolutely. Would the emotional impact of the story been heightened? Probably not.