Friday, July 8, 2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Blu-ray Review

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a true story based on the life of Kim Baker and her book The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The film was directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa and is now available to own on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD. Journalist Kim Baker saw some crazy things during her time in the region and put it into the best-selling book which was quickly optioned for film.

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
It is the year 2003 and there is a shortage of foreign correspondents covering the war. Kim Baker (Tina Fey) is among the unmarried, childless personnel being asked to head to Afghanistan.  Although she is a producer without field experience, Kim says she’ll think about it.  A week later, she is on a plane bound for the middle east. Her boyfriend is returning from his own business trip and she meets him in the airport to give him a house key to water her plants and say a quick goodbye. Kim plans to return home to New York City in 3 months.

The fact that Kim is not a seasoned world traveler becomes instantly clear. She lets her money fly away outside the airport. US Marine General Hollanek (Billy Bob Thornton) points out the danger and ridiculousness of her orange backpack and one of the first marines she interviews has to explain that the currency is Afghani and the people are Afghan. To say that Kim is unprepared is an understatement. Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie) is one of the first people Kim meets. Tanya is a seasoned reporter, who seems comfortable in all situations. She is also, very beautiful and seems very well adjusted to live in Afghanistan. Thanks to the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan is not getting its due media coverage. All the reporters are looking for big stories and headline news.

The assignments are tough, and Kim has some early troubles finding a bathroom. When the gunfire begins she shows real bravery and earns some respect from the Marine unit she is embedded with.  Kim also learns that Friday is the only day off and Thursday nights see wild parties in the ‘guest houses’ where the media and related staff members live. The reporters party hard using loud music, drugs, alcohol and sex to help them cope with the daily death and destruction they witness. Tanya warns Kim to stay away from war photographer Ian MacKelpie (Martin Freeman) but she grows closer to him as her relationship back home suffers. 

Believe it or not (based on my plot summary), the filmmakers consider this a comedy. It is certainly a very dark comedy. I think of it as a drama with some comedic relief. Tina Fey’s expertly fills the part of the fish out of water reporter and eventually seasoned correspondent.  This is not Tropic Thunder (a comedy within an action film). This is a solid drama in my book, with the laughs lending authenticity to the story. The fact that is produced by Fey and “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels should not steer you to believe that this will resemble an “SNL” skit or anything close to it.  The entire story is seen through Kim’s eyes, and Tina Fey is in nearly every scene of this movie. She shows the subject matter its due respect and the film is dedicated to her late father, a veteran and journalist. Great care was also taken to keep the military aspects accurate without being exploitative.

I could see some people arguing that the film didn’t have enough purpose. I disagree as I like the fact that it’s a snapshot of someone’s life and the adventures (planned or otherwise) she found herself on during a three year period. While I did enjoy the film, I don’t think I would watch it regularly. Once was enough for a while. The depth of the subject matter won’t earn it a place on the shelf of regulars that I view frequently and whenever I can’t think of something I specifically want to watch. 
Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is presented on Blu-ray in 1080p high definition. The filmmakers put a lot of effort into turning New Mexico into Afghanistan and the atmosphere truly sold the switch. The buildings, the streets and even the air appear saturated with dirt and dust. Texture that is apparent in the buildings makes the structures appear worn and aged. The film is not without digital noise but it was not significantly bothersome.
Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
The DTS-X soundtrack is well balanced. The film opens with a party and the song Jump Around makes you feel like you are in the middle of a frat party. Explosions, gunfire and debris flying provides the directionality to bring the action to life. Dialogue is intelligible and consistent throughout the film.
Extras (3 out of 5 stars)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot contains a healthy list of featurettes and other bonus content including:
  • All In: The Making of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (14:12): Cast and crew discuss the importance of authenticity and immersion. We learn that the starring role was written for Tina Fey who jumped at the chance to mix moments of seriousness and comedy while playing the “Liz Lemon of Afghanistan”.
  • War Reporter: The Real Kim (5:15) – Meet the real Kim Baker and hear about her experience meeting and working with the cast/crew and walking on set to find Afghanistan in New Mexico.
  • Embedded in Reality (6:22) – Kim discusses her experiences as a new visitor to the Middle East. The military consulting experience, including Tina Fey’s first helicopter ride is detailed.
  • Wedding Party (5:31) – A look at Fahim’s wedding and the customs and culture in an Afghan ceremony.
  • Laughing Matters (4:24) – Not the typical blooper real you’d expect. Instead, a discussion of how insanity becomes comedy when situations are more than the average person can deal with. Life in the guest houses and the party atmosphere is explained.
  • Deleted Scenes – Four deleted scenes - Kim and Iain, Daymare, Prison and Kabul Zoo
  • Extended Scene – One extended scene - The Wedding 
Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot certainly won’t please every audience. You don’t have to consider yourself a Tina Fey fan to enjoy it but you do need to be alright with her acting and presence because she is in almost every scene.  It’s a snapshot in the life of one newbie war correspondent as she adapts to a world that couldn’t be more unlike what she’s used to. The military played a significant part in making the film and loaned talent and assets to the project, which was amazingly filmed in the US.  The production design team certainly went above and beyond to create the sets. For much of the film, Kim Baker is fairly unhappy and life isn’t always going well. The film won’t leave you feeling like everything turned out perfectly in the end but it does show you a woman at the beginning and the end of a remarkable journey. 

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