Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016)

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If you put one foot in front of the other you have less chance of losing both feet when we hit an IED. That’s one of the pearls to take away from Robert Carlock’s adaptation of Kim Barker’s embed memoir of her time in Kabul from 2003. We catch up with Kim Baker (inventive!) (Tina Fey) as an unmarried childless TV news producer which makes her obvious fodder to drop into the danger zone. It feels somewhat bitty, even though the mainly comic (if pretty low key) first hour is entertaining and Fey’s whip smart retorts to her situation and Billy Bob Thornton’s comments in a supporting role as a marine general are pointed. Margot Robbie is the sex-starved Ozzie BBC reporter who knows her way around and Martin Freeman is the lecherous Scots photographer with whom the newly single Kim becomes embroiled whilst fending off her sexy security guy. That’s when she’s not dealing with the incoming Attorney General (Alfred Molina) running the Talibanesque Interior Ministry who shows her the bed behind a curtain when he learns of her boyfriend’s cheating back home: Fey’s reaction is great. She gains the trust of the soldiers who share their stories onscreen and she gets the stories the channel needs. There’s a really good sequence when she dons a full mailbox rigout to shoot material at a Taliban gathering in Kandahar. The going gets tougher in the second hour and we’re really not very prepared for an affecting drama so while on one level it’s a fascinating insight into the addiction to chaos that drives war reporters it never gets to be the real McCoy. WTF indeed.  Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa.

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Rock the Kasbah (2016)

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Richie Lanz (Bill Murray) is an unsuccessful rock tour manager whose achievements are a lot less than he likes to tell people. He coasts on the line, “I discovered Madonna,” when of course he did nothing of the sort. He scams money off wannabes who finance his dissolute lifestyle which includes a young daughter permanently living with his ex-wife and helped by another wannabe Ronnie (Zooey Deschanel) who performs covers at terrible bars. There’s an opportunity for her to play for the troops in Afghanistan but she freaks out on the terrifying flight and loses it completely arriving to lock-down at Kabul following an attempted assassination on the prime minister. So she legs it, with his money and passport, and the help of a mercenary, Bombay Brian (Bruce Willis) who wants to commit his experiences to a book. Richie is broke but two war profiteers, Danny McBride and Scott Caan, have a scheme to get him back on his feet while a hooker (Kate Hudson) promises to do things to him that are illegal in all civilised nations as well as promising him some money. Then he hears a spectacular voice, that of a Pashtun teenager Salima Khan (Leem Lubany) who performs Cat Stevens songs in English and whom he helps become the first female to perform on TV’s Afghan Star which of course makes the Taliban very unhappy just as he thinks this is his chance to resurrect his own music business … Written and produced by Mitch Glazer, directed by  Barry Levinson, with this kind of talent (inspired by the true-life example of Setara Hussainzada, the subject of the 2009 doc Afghan Star) this should have been a lot sharper. It feels as tired as Bill Murray looks and doesn’t really exploit any aspect of the promising themes or settings with conviction. Shareef don’t like it!

Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)

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What a pleasure it is to watch actors at the top of their game performing a humdinger of a screenplay  (by Aaron Sorkin) directed by a man who knows how to handle material (the late Mike Nichols). George Crile’s titular book documented the unknown team behind a covert op in Afghanistan in the 1980s to help the mujahideen against the Soviet invaders. Hanks is brilliant as the party-hard Texan Congressman with a team of hotties (including Amy Adams), Seymour Hoffman is the hilariously touchy CIA undercover guy keen to go in and Julia Roberts is fantastic as the multimillionaire bankrolling them to assist the locals. It’s a serious-minded, highly enjoyable film about a subject that history has judged … To quote Wilson, ‘we fucked up the end game.’ No shit, Sherlock.