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msia91

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Old dogs learn new tricks, 14 August 2014
7/10

Patrick Hughes' "The Expendables 3" is an odd action film. Starring nearly the entire roster of '80s to '90s action heroes, coupled with a few unknown young faces desperate to be the next big action star, it bears the mark of a bloated mess. That its PG-13 restrictions not only abandons its core fanbase but also leads to rushed editing at times that leave slightly sour aftertastes after each kill, only adds to the negatives, apart from some truly dreadful CG effects. That it all boils down to another Stallone film, as he uses said action icons merely as back-up fodder to appease his egotistical lead character.

And yet, despite all of that, I enjoyed it as much as the first two. How on Earth did that happen?

Firstly, "The Expendables" franchises are what I like to describe as "fanboy" movies. There is no need for a plot, as long as it appeases the core fanbase, with every one liner, every weapon of choice, down to the costumes they wear. One might argue that the vastly overrated "The Avengers" as well as other Marvel films fall under that same category - it appeals to the fanbase.

"The Expendables 3" is an attempt to bridge the gap between the old and young generation of action, but Stallone and the "Olympus Has Fallen" co-writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt swerves back the direction back to "you know what, we need the old band after all". This isn't merely in the film's story, it's also outside - the blending of styles are uneven at first, but somehow come together well in the preposterously over-the-top stunt-filled finale, with both young and old getting caught into the frenzily-edited chaos. The absence of the old guards in the film's second third merely underlines the fact that we need these icons more than ever, because none of these modern day "stars" can carry a movie by themselves because their combined charisma is miles away compared to icons like Schwarzenegger, Gibson or Snipes alone. I don't mean this as an insult, I was amused that I managed to see what Stallone was trying to do (or perhaps I've seen way too many movies).

I would strongly agree however that this film was not meant for PG-13, in many parts due to the annoying editing. No one can ever disguise R- rated tendencies as PG-13. Yes, there are a couple of sensational action sequences (particularly in the climax), but the level of violence is so clearly neutered down that one would just go "If only". Well, we'd have the Unrated blu-ray for that. Disappointing, because these action sequences truly have the potential to be among the best in the franchise, courtesy of Hughes and stunt coordinator Dan Bradley of the Bourne series. Ah well, Blu Ray shall await. I'm not going to mention the dreadful CGI (that thankfully weren't that abundant), but I've seen people complain of a lot of shaky-cam in the film. I didn't notice many, so kudos to that for making most of the action well-shot and framed.

And yet, why did I still enjoy the film? It's because of Patrick Hughes. Only his second film (following the solid Aussie western "Red Hill"), Hughes approaches the story with a dead-on seriousness that makes the action sequences more fun when they do come, and takes his time to invest in Barney's plight into replacing his old team with new ones, following the near-loss of one of his own, and in the hopes that the new team will subdue the villain Stonebanks with less complications. All of this is essentially a build up to a stunt-filled, sensational climax involving an abandoned hotel and an entire army against The Expendables. And also some shoddy CG helicopters.

The 2nd act is a pale imitation of Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai", though Kelsey Grammar is surprisingly good in the role he's given. In fact, most of the actors seem to have a grand time in the film, especially Gibson and Banderas, the former delightfully and menacingly ravishing each second he's on the screen like a King Cobra, and the latter akin to a screw-loose monkey that borders on being the Jar-Jar Binks of the franchise (but not quite). Ford and Schwarzenegger seem to be game in the film, but the old gang comprised of Statham, Lundgren, Couture, and Crews look tired. Again, it's great to see Wesley Snipes back in action and having some funny moments on his own, but Jet Li is again underutilized, this time more so than the previous one (though it can't be helped that his disease is worsening at this stage).

"The Expendables" franchise is one which never quite satisfies its core audience and never reaches its full potential - it's too ironic for older fans to appreciate yet it's too old-school for the new generation to "get it". This presumably final one ambitiously attempts to fill the gap, and although it doesn't quite succeed, when all is said and done it does get the job done very well when all one is looking for is some good old-fashioned action and mayhem. Don't be surprised though when the extended cut does in fact arrive. It should be even more polished than it is now.

Boyhood (2014/I)
14 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Ebbs and flows, 28 July 2014
9/10

The key factor in Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" is that it relies on life as its main plot point, not just the characters and their motivations. Like life, they change as the years go by – in spirit and in goals. For young children coming of age, their youth is a turbulent time – full of raging hormones and confused emotions, questioning themselves about their place in this life – you only live once, so they say.

Life never favors other people. There are others who seem to have it all and there are others who are always struggling. Mason's parents are the perfect example – they separate on amicable terms, and one seems to be more successful than the other, but then it shifts so gradually that their fates balance each other's out, making it unavoidably fair. Unpredictable, that life.

So it goes with little Mason's youth. We first see him as a kid, gazing into the sky, wondering about life at an age where he is supposedly carefree. His sister with an attitude constantly teases him in a realistically annoying manner, and their single mother is struggling to find a better life for them all. Man men enter their lives, most unfortunately alcoholic and troubled. Mason, like most boys in that situation, logically seeks out advice from his father from time to time. He never really says it, but he's feeling confused and needs proper guidance.

We've all been in his shoes. We were (some still are) all confused, lonely, trying to comprehend this thing call life. We were all spoilt brats with attitudes that would make our parents tear their hair off their heads. We were all their bundles of joy whenever we succeeded in something. Yet they are still human like us, and at their age are still trying to find out where life is taking them, for better or for worse. Linklater perfectly captures that essence, and spreads it out perfectly across nearly three hours of condensed life. He does the rarity - create an experimental film that sounds well enough to perform well with indie audiences, yet retain the emotional energy of classic Hollywood melodramas down to its barest, realistic form and lays it all out in front of the audience to see.

That's the beauty of his film, it isn't one-sided. It ebbs and flows with the current, and surrounds the audience with its unforced, genuine emotions. I did not feel much empathy for Mason as much as I did feeling LIKE Mason as he went through this crazy, subtle adventure. I felt moved and touched with every poignant scene Mason has to go through, enlightened whenever his father gives him some advice, as bewildered as he is at life.

We don't have many movies like this anymore nowadays. Few movies are willing to evoke the senses purely, both independent and mainstream – one either cops out and goes for audience sentimentality (and Oscar votes) while the other becomes pretentious fluff that thinks its art but it isn't, just an artist on a stage full of sound and fury. "Boyhood" is that rare gem that isn't – an incredibly beautiful film with many layers that provoke the mind and emotions, and left me feeling bittersweet with a tidal wave of nostalgia and poignancy, but ultimately left me feeling optimistic about the future.

Mason's journey has been quite the ride, indeed. That this was filmed in 12 years is no easy task by itself - this is a film that speaks of our time perfectly, defining the current generation with aplomb where so many other modern filmmakers grasped. If you are, or are parents with kids who were, born within the 1990s and early 2000s, you owe it to yourself to see this film.

One mean neo-noir (2 minute review), 19 July 2014
9/10

This is one mean movie. It seduces, wraps your arms around you, and they guts you and leaves you stunned. Directed with striking precision and focus by Stephen Frears ("Philomena", "The Queen"), and written by Donald E. Westlake, one of the literary princes of crime fiction, and based off pulp author Jim Thompson's pulpy novel, in a manner so intricate with detail, so hardboiled that it cracks under the weight of each step it takes, one twist of the knife after another.

It's all too good to be true for this neo-noir, even when Martin Scorsese's producing it. Then comes the actors – and my word, are they fantastic in their roles – John Cusack is sly yet undeterred in a role that is a slightly more edgier variation on Humphrey Bogart, with a cross of Lee Marvin, to boot; Annette Bening is simply drop-dead sexy as the woman who thinks she knows it all, yet is a timebomb waiting to explode. The real star of the show is Angelica Huston in a well-deserved Oscar nominated performance, perfectly balancing the ruthless, desperate act with a honest, focused, motherly concern that doesn't feel cliché at all.

Who knew modern day, sunny Los Angeles and Phoenix can be the backdrop of so seedy a neo-noir, perhaps the best since Chinatown? Frears, Huston, Cusack, Bening, Westlake, cinematographer Oliver Stapleton and composer Elmer Bernstein deserve all the praise they can get for creating something so seedy yet starkly beautiful in retrospect.

Relevant more than ever, 19 July 2014
9/10

30 years down the road, James Cameron's "The Terminator" remains an enthralling science fiction thriller, perhaps now more relevant than ever. By now nearly everyone would have heard about how Cameron miraculously made such an excellent film on a miniscule US$6 million budget or so, or perhaps how the eponymous character turned bodybuilder- cum-actor Arnold Schwarzenegger into literally Hollywood's next big thing. It is a testament to Cameron's genius into crafting his unique vision despite and because of his budget limitations, and perfectly casting his stars to suit said vision.

We all know the drill by now, so let's talk quality. Linda Hamilton portrays Sarah so well as a normal young woman, confused by this sudden chain of events, that she has logically no choice but to buy into Reese's story. Michael Biehn fits Reese to a T with a gruff yet youthful look, a perfect look for a determined soldier fighting a war he wants to end badly, despite his limitations. Though it's under a relatively short amount of time, Cameron takes his time for the audience to really get to understand both Sarah and Reese's predicaments – to have characters to root and care for, to see them find a way out despite the odds. And a romantic twist is added by Cameron that surprisingly doesn't feel forced, yet somehow perfectly (and ironically) completes the time travel loop that secures John's existence. We're dealing with a romance that transcends both time and space, and Cameron handles it so well, he would revisit these romantic traits with greater detail in his future megalith "Titanic".

What makes the film work more than it should is Cameron's genius in casting Schwarzenegger as The Terminator. A former Mr. Olympian, Schwarzenegger is renowned for his sculpted body – straight out of a Greek stone garden – more than his acting prowess. No matter, his manner of speaking less, and frighteningly intimidating stare clearly unnerve the hell out of audiences, and they still do today. Say what you will about Schwarzenegger's career as an action icon/live-action meme, the man still has a stare that can kill. His strong, iconic Austrian accent works wonders with the machine-like delivery that Cameron was intending. With Schwarzenegger's casting, the stakes are higher for both Sarah and Reese to escape this monstrosity.

Because time-travel is involved and explained in an easily digestible way (physics be damned), and because Cameron directs with such efficiency and confidence it might as well be made today, the film has aged exceptionally well despite some cornball stop-motion effects that show off its low budget – all due praise to the late Stan Winston though for his remarkable, if not grotesque, make-up effects and design that add to the sheer horror aspect of the film. It is a testament to Cameron's genius that he has managed to combine great talent both in front of and behind the camera, into creating one of the seminal and memorable films of the '80s decade, and one that will spawn a successful sci-fi franchise with a dedicated fanbase. Make no mistake that the basic framework of "The Terminator" essentially represents a B-movie at its surface (Cameron did tutor under B-legend Roger Corman, after all), but Cameron pulls off more tricks up his sleeve. There is a lean, mean atmosphere that permeates each scene throughout, making 1984 Los Angeles seem like a lurid fever nightmare, but that's secondary compared to the hellish, poverty-stricken future he has envisioned for us humans. Brad Fiedel's metallic, iconic score seeps through every alley and night- painted street with a sense of dread and gloom, the synthesized, electronic score complementing Adam Greenberg's cyan-tinted, industrial cinematography to make it feel all the more nightmarish.

Most people back than would have balked or be amazed at a wireless internet connection for everyday use, as if we are surrendering our will to technology for it to take over our lives. And I'm seeing it being endorsed in many a commercial or article. Is the development of technology a bad thing? Not at all. But a good servant can be a bad master, especially if left out of control. Cameron had a fear of that, saw the vision, and ran with it all the way. If we were to leave our household chores to artificial intelligence, or the military leaving unmanned drones to scour the battlefield, what's there to say that eventually artificial intelligence would be used to secure nuclear weapons? Or that they might even become sentient - Cleverbot and Siri may be precursors to Skynet, and Japanese technology is developing robotic humanoids that can deduce for themselves in the near future. The war shown in the film may take place in 2029, but Judgment Day can still happen. Better never than late, I say.

"The Terminator" may be surpassed by its immediate successor in terms of scale and action sequences, but this is a leaner, meaner film, and its initial allegory remains superior and more clear-cut; in the realms of science fiction it remains unmatched, as a bleak reminder of the future and technology gone wrong, perfectly represented by its unstoppable, merciless eponymous monster of a character, but also that of humanity's undying spirit to create their own fates. Cameron might have come a long way since then, having helmed two of the most expensive and highest- grossing films in history back-to-back with some truly groundbreaking visual effects technology implemented in both, but this only highlights his original, cautionary vision for the future, one that we are all far too willing to embrace wholeheartedly.

Godzilla (2014)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Return of the King, 16 May 2014
8/10

There is a scene in Gareth Edwards' "Godzilla" that made my skin crawl. It is the HALO jump sequence, promoted heavily in the teaser trailer, accompanied by György Ligeti's hair-curling orchestral piece "Requiem", made famous in Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" when Dave Bowman entered that portal. The sight of minuscule soldiers falling down into apocalyptic clouds as they see destruction all around them with gigantic, moving shadows is a work of terrifying, spectacular beauty; one of the best recent film sequences I've seen and heard. To experience it in IMAX 3D adds to the nightmare fuel.

Some other startling bits involve numerous disaster sequences that so closely echoes various natural disasters of the past decade. Viewers may be reminded of terrible events like the tsunamis and earthquakes of 2004 and 2011 and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Scenes like these will definitely strike a chord in those who fear mother nature's wrath, but of course they play second fiddle to the real star of the show, who like Colonel Kurtz in "Apocalypse Now", doesn't show up until the latter half of the film, but one can definitely sense its brooding, commanding presence.

Yes, 60 Years since it laid waste to Tokyo, the King of the Monsters triumphantly returns to the big screen after a 10-year sabbatical in this mammoth-sized entertainment that shifts the Big G into summer blockbuster territory, obliterating Roland Emmerich's turkey into smithereens.

Like last summer's "Pacific Rim", "Godzilla" features gigantic-scale action set-pieces and crowd-pleasing moments, though in large part due to Edwards' skillful and intelligent direction, it entirely eclipses the latter film. Edwards (in only his second directorial feature following the 2010 microbudget "Monster") probably felt the same thing a lot of people did in "Pacific Rim" - too much action sequences that were dragged out for the purpose of pleasing its core audience. He is wise to limit Godzilla's appearance until the second half of the film, and even so limit his presence until the explosively entertaining climax, taking a page or two from Hitchcock and Spielberg's "Jaws" about restraint. The film was made with a "spectator" point of view - the audience sees Godzilla as if they were really seeing him, be it the TV screen or while avoiding the unrelenting chaos around them. Edwards didn't just learn from Spielberg as much as he pays a glowing tribute ala J.J. Abrams' "Super 8". See if you can spot the references to "Jaws" and "Close Encounters" in this review. There's even references to "War of the Worlds" and "Saving Private Ryan", among other movies.

Not that it isn't a real film. Whilst "Pacific Rim" is a film tailor-made for fans of the kaiju/mecha genre, in the same mold that most Marvel superhero films and 'Expendables' films cater to their target audiences, "Godzilla" is made like an old-fashioned blockbuster, down from its gripping, foreboding opening to its doom-shrouded action-packed climax that provides a well-earned catharsis to the ominous buildup from the previous 90-minutes. The action sequences are a combination of the classic kaiju franchise with the ominous Biblical paintings of Gustave Doré, especially in the final 30 minutes. Seamus McGarvey's tactful cinematography and Alexandre Desplat's brooding, wildly unleashing orchestral score complement some truly awesome visual effects perfectly to make for the most visually stunning outing of the King yet.

Not that there isn't a plot. Max Borenstein's screenplay details something too spoiler that even the mere mention of the basic plot will give away too much, so I won't But the trailers do a damn good job about hiding the true plot of the film, which I must say is formulaic on the human characters' side, but pretty well-written and frenetic for the most part.

Oh right, there are other cast members in the film too, all A-listers, ranging from a brief Bryan Cranston giving a combination of Roy Neary and Walter White, Ken Watanabe looking as wise and mournful as the great Takashi Shimura in the original, and a military David Strathairn giving heavy-duty exposition as usual. Add Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins and Elizabeth Olsen as obligatory female characters and we have ourselves a heck of a cast that is severely underused. But we didn't come to see a Godzilla movie for a cast surely deserving of an Oscar Bait film. Pretty much the only human who takes center stage is tough, stoic military vet Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson of "Kick-Ass" fame), who defiantly holds his own against all odds and comes off as a character who demands attention as to what his next plan of action is as chaos rumbles all around him.

Bottom line is, I liked what I saw, and Edwards has done a truly bang-up job resurrecting the King of the Monsters from cult fascination. If possible, watch it in IMAX 3D to savor the visual effects and sheer scale, and to hear that famous, mighty roar in terrifying rumbles. It's been a long time coming, but the King is back, and the monster movie is replenished with a vengeance. Would Toho/Legendary mind if I request a future outing?

Walkabout (1971)
Back to nature, 6 April 2014
10/10

Nicolas Roeg's "Walkabout" seems like an extraordinarily raw survival adventure at first glance, what with the tale of two youngsters duking it out in the Australian outback with only an Aborigine lad separated by his tribe as their only hope. What it fully explores, what resolutions it conjures up – I can only explain briefly here as I am still pondering myself. Had Hollywood made this film they would have transformed it into an overly simplistic and pretentious tale that ends with both sides learning from one another – the children learning about nature and its 'holiness', and the indigenous lad picking up a few modern skills or two, and of course he and the girl get together. This is not that movie.

I've been away from home for about two years now, studying abroad. I wouldn't consider myself an actively social person – not in the slightest. During my time abroad I have met countless people – all of them interesting, some of them I have trouble communicating at first. It isn't just that I find most of these situations awkward – there are some beliefs and ways of people that I simply cannot comprehend about them – and for that matter, I wouldn't blame them for feeling the same way towards me and others too. We all have our own opinions, thoughts, beliefs, dreams, hopes – we all pick different variations towards those. If we were to meet a person who is willing enough to understand us without compromising their own beliefs, then we are blessed. "Walkabout" is about the failure of this communication system. None of these characters are able to fully understand one another, even though two of them are brother and sister. At the end of the movie all three are ultimately lost, one way or another, and will never return to the way things were.

How they get lost is presented in a series of thought-provoking thematic explorations Roeg and his writer Edward Bond concocted (in a mere 14 pages reportedly), basing off a novel by James Vance Marshall. The two children are abandoned in the Outback by their suicidal father, having been corrupted by and finally given up on modern civilization. Now as nature seeks to claim these unprepared youths, a lone Aborigine male who happens to be wandering the wilderness stumbles upon them.

This boy sees them and is intrigued, and they as well. The little boy imitates the young man in certain survival skills – the girl does not communicate and is aloof with her own thoughts, naively unaware of her blooming sexuality that is now captivating the young man, and perhaps her father too, in the wrong way. The failure of communication becomes complete when the girl rejects the boy flatly as he performs a mating ritual in front of her, in a desperate act to charm her.

A quick internet search also reveals the meaning of the title 'walkabout' – a rite of passage where adolescent Aborigines go on a journey into the wild for about half a year in order to attain a certain level of spirituality. The film examines this by asking whether such enlightenment can be destroyed by the presence of a toxic communication. The boy and girl were raised by civilization, the young man by nature. Both clash, both fail to understand each other, and ultimately both end up getting more lost than before, because once they were lost in a sea of ignorance and presumptions, now they are forever lost in uncertainty and wonder, permanently changed, never being able to return to the way things were – haunted by the very idea that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

In between the main plot we have side-views of how mankind has completely lost their touch with nature – one shows a research team who loses a weather balloon, another shows a plantation. Roeg's cinema- verite camera makes these scenes and people in it feel pessimistic and unwholesome – I believe that was on purpose and helped prove the point that the future has overwhelmed the past and left their people confused and lost. One of the plantation workers even sees the young indigenous man, but he does not respond. The film wisely refuses to answer the question 'why did he do that?'

Roeg was a cinematographer before he made this film, and his unique cinema-verite style gives the wilderness scenes a raw edge that shows off the Outback as a place of unforced beauty. There are random shots of animals in the outback, none of them taken in a cutesy-manner, and shows them as graphically nature would – survival of the fittest. There are some brilliant sequences where Roeg and his editor Antony Gibbs juxtapose the hunting and slaughter sequences with random shots of a butcher simultaneously chopping meat. Times have changed but some things stay the same, even if the tools are different.

Roeg's film is profoundly beautiful, unmatched by many, but also deeply pessimistic. It is a tale of losing yourself into nature, but not one where the outcome is positive. The stakes are much higher than a matter of life and death. It's about living and wondering, whether we can truly understand what it feels to live in an environment where nothing makes sense to us, and can transform us in ways that makes us fail to appreciate what we have left. A brilliant thought, yes, but very, very depressing for the lonely and misunderstood.

Sabotage (2014/I)
16 out of 41 people found the following review useful:
And then there was Arnold, 25 March 2014
7/10

One of Arnold's darkest performances highlights nihilistic, gruesome, occasionally incoherent who-dun-it.

If there is any indication that present era needs an aging, post- gubernatorial and post-scandal Arnold Schwarzenegger, David Ayer's "Sabotage" is the real deal - a no-holds-barred return to form for the Austrian Oak as a ruthless, dangerous being. If that doesn't convince you, then a shot showing a brooding, hooded Arnie will.

This isn't an all-out action bonanza, it's a riveting crime thriller with book-ending action sequences that aim to shock rather than awe. Watching an Ayer film otherwise would be missing the point. Like the superior "End of Watch", "Sabotage" has flawed human beings as the protagonists - trying to survive in a world where they think they understand.

Ayer uses the admittedly repetitive Agatha Christie-inspired whodunit plot as a background to explore the character of the protagonist John Wharton ("Breacher" to his comrades). He is regarded as some sort of legend in the DEA and a father figure among his dysfunctional team (a strong ensemble cast made up of Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Terrence Howard, Max Martini, Josh Holloway and Mireille Enos), albeit with a reputation as notorious as his conquests. The opening shot sees the hulking figure stare ominously towards the laptop screen as the video of his wife getting brutalized and eventually murdered by a drug cartel plays in front of him. Stealing 10 million dollars from a cartel bust months later, the team gets picked off one by one. They succumb to their vices and let the paranoia and money go in over their head; this suspicion of each other effectively destroys the brotherhood. Wharton, already walking down a lonely path refusing to let the killings of his family go, is made subsequently worse with the offing of his team members.

Already with this shot the film's nihilistic message about the futility of the war on drugs is already established. There will be no winners or losers, just evil acts and their survivors. When he unsuccessfully tries to track down his family's killers, it haunts him to the point where it corrupts his soul, making him less gung-ho and more of a suicidal man on a mission. The suicidal factor becomes complete when he discovers that his actions may have led to the subsequent killings of his own team members in increasingly ghastly ways, pushing him even further down the brink as he tries to grasp that he's failing to protect the next thing that matters to him the most – his brotherhood.

Ayer and his team have crafted a dark, nightmarish and cynical world to the point of borderline nihilism. The few women shown in this film are either brutalized, objectified or corrupted – with the exception of two very interesting characters: the character of Lizzy with her coked-out bravado in a scene-stealing performance by Enos (TV's "The Killing"); and Investigator Brentwood (Olivia Williams with an over-the-top Southern accent more ludicrous than Schwarzenegger's) as a tough-as-nails detective that brings a strong foil to Arnold's character - the two make for an unusual but effective action duo near the end.

All of these themes were explored in various movies before, for better or worse. This concept was concocted by Skip Woods, whom you may remember butchered the last "Die Hard" film. Of course one can see the flaws of Woods' story through some inane plot plodding, but Ayer's drastic rewriting of Woods' script fleshes out these themes as an examination of machismo to go along with the beefcake story. Adding more muscle to the film is Ayer's handsome direction that strongly echoes Walter Hill and Sam Peckinpah in terms of rough-tough violence, which keeps the film feel like a strong sense of realism even as the deaths become increasingly graphic and macabre. With a frantic eye from cinematographer Bruce McCleery displaying the raw gritty look; and a mean, equally moody score by David Sardy, the film looks and feels so modern it *almost* makes you forget you're watching a Schwarzenegger film – because as few as the action sequences come, Ayer delivers on the thrills and doesn't relent on them once they start. This is the most violent Schwarzenegger film I've ever seen. I'm not talking about the body count - the extremely graphic and methodical ways the team members get offed take center stage in the violent department - even involving some completely innocent blood. Trust me when I say that this is not a film to bring your kids into - some of the gory content reach "Saw" levels. The film also has the most gruesome and horrific end to any car chase I've seen.

"Sabotage" ends up slightly weaker than "End of Watch" due to some plot issues and some really hackneyed writing, and not because of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who I honestly think is a strength for the movie: in a subtle, subdued performance, he nails the role for the most part – he looks like a guy who's been through hell and seen it all, and has more or less succumbed to the dreary lifestyle accustomed with his job. A lot of people are quick to write off his acting due to his thick, iconic Austrian accent and inability to act in something serious.

Arnie proves that he can act well if he wanted to, providing that audiences are willing to see that. Not an easy task when the heavy accent proves hard to take him seriously, but pleasantly, gone are the gung-ho self-awareness and ridiculous one-liners; here he becomes a ruthless, desperate character that creates unease rather than pleasing the crowd. For him, this could be the start for more challenging, dramatic roles - accent be damned. It could be the perfect coda to Arnold's action career, like an Austrian cowboy riding off into the sunset - providing that he doesn't do any more franchise or action work later.

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"Organic. You're a good man...", 26 January 2014
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Peter Hyams' "Enemies Closer" begins with a crash and ends with a bang, and nothing more or less. The crash belongs to a plane flying below the radar between the US-Canadian border, conforming my belief that Hyams hates aircraft following the odd destruction of helicopters in "Narrow Margin" and "Sudden Death" (I jest), but also setting off a chain of events at the nearby national park involving two war veterans at odds with each other and a deranged vegan-eco lunatic mercenary hell bent on killing anyone who gets in his way and eating wild fruit from the forest.

It's the simplicity of Eric's and James Bromberg's cornball script that caught my attention - most big budget films today tend to be somewhat pretentious in their depiction of certain themes. "Enemies Closer", made with a budget of only US$ 5 million but looks and feels about 4x as much, is about as straightforward as a bullet to the head, without a hint of self-awareness or pretentiousness. It takes itself so seriously, you'll swear you're back in time between the late 80s and early 90s.

Hyams may never be considered an auteur filmmaker in his lifetime, but he is undeniably a skilled craftsman - able to make films of various genres with considerable flair despite not having his own artistic trademark, save for his lush and underrated cinematography (a skill that he is supremely better at than directing) which works wonders for this film as it makes the film look more expensive than it is. Lovely stable shots of dark shadows and silhouetted fight scenes illuminate throughout the last two thirds of the film, stitched together nicely by Hyams' son John (director of the last two "Universal Soldier" films, both equally directed with considerable skill and crisp timing). Special mention goes to Hyams regular production designer Philip Harrison for making the Bulgarian local look and feel like a genuine Canadian-US woodland.

Tom Everett Scott and Orlando Jones are the protagonists in this one. Scott portrays an everyman park ranger who is an ex-soldier haunted by his past (as always), and Jones is the vengeful brother of a soldier who was killed under the ranger's past command. While they will never be considered as real action stars, both Scott and Jones do a believable job with the material they are given, and best of all, NOT annoying.

Both lock horns and one is about to kill the other when a group of French Canadian mercenaries led by the psychopathic Xander crash the party to steal a stash of heroin from the downed plane. This Xander, he is a real piece of work. He is played by Jean-Claude Van Damme, and boy is he having fun with this role.Borrowing bits and pieces from Silva from "Skyfall" and Heath Ledger's Joker, complete with an outrageous hairdo, bizarre mannerisms, and a penchant for badmouthing everything that isn't "green", Van Damme steals every scene he's in with his oddball yet energetic performance. Ever since "The Expendables 2", he looked as if he could have a second life playing great villains. With this movie, it probably could reboot his career if others are willing to see it. His exit from the movie alone deserves a perfect 10/10.

Look, this is not a great movie, not by a long shot. It's corny, it's cheesy and it sounds cheap (the music is pretty bad). However to quote Van Damme, "let's not think about the negatives". The strengths outweigh the flaws, and somehow Hyams, Van Damme and the rest of the cast and crew manage to make this movie work. An efficiently made, straightforward action thriller that pulls no punches, and does what it sets out to do. Now if only the producers at EON could see this and consider JCVD as a Bond villain...

1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Cash, debauchery and the pursuit of narcissism, 24 December 2013
8/10

A third into the film, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) walks and talks to the camera as it tracks along the Stratton Oakmont office floor showing the exaggerated and frantic goings-on in just another day's work. Belfort tells to the audience that the office is about to release an initial public offering stock (IPOs) and proceeds to smugly lecture them about the term, but halfway through he cynically asks that we probably "didn't understand what he said", smiles, and disappears within the rabid office crowd.

It's this stone-cold cynicism that defines Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street", and it permeates throughout nearly the whole movie up until the final 15 minutes. We watch and wince in parts awestruck, in shock and in double takes (sometimes all three at once) as we witness the rise and fall of Belfort as he confidently narrates and provides commentary on the current situation being shown. Like two of Martin Scorsese's more popular films, "GoodFellas" and "Casino", "Wolf" relies on a cynical narrator who comments dryly on interesting situations. Like both movies, it has the protagonist working his way to the top for the first half of the movie - "Wolf" chronicles his beginnings by being advised by his boss (a brief but hilarious Matthew McConaughey) on his first day of work on the benefits of drugs and sex on the job; selling penny stocks for thousands after said job didn't turn out well; opening a firm with his ragtag pals and new partner Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill); and dumping his caring first wife (Cristin Miloti) and goes after a gorgeous fashionista (Margot Robbie). Once Belfort hits the top with the release of an IPO, in typical Scorsese fashion, it all goes downhill from there. The feds start paying attention, with one no-nonsense agent (Kyle Chandler) hot on his tail. Cracks are shown in the organization, especially Belfort and Azoff. Suddenly the hedonism inconspicuously transforms into the critical, and the actions of Belfort and his crew are then placed upon the judgment of the Feds and us, the audience.

All of these sequences are directed, written, shot and edited with a hedonistic glee and critical eye, never bucking down to genre conventions and techniques, always on the move. Scorsese hasn't been this lively since "Casino" and it shows with the terrific and brisk direction, extreme content and perfectly-timed and well-chosen music to go along with the madness that is Stratton Oakfort. To be able to contain such an impressive cast without them outweighing the real center of the film - DiCaprio - as well as juggling acts of debauchery with a critical eye on the desires of human beings - that is the feat of a great filmmaker. To be able to do so with such gusto and energy with a boldness not seen since the '70s, that is a remarkable part on Scorsese to not buck under the political correctness of today. If it happened like that, then it happened like that, why the need to neuter? This is not just on the part of Scorsese, but the very well-written screenplay by Terence Winter which crackles with whip-smart and sharp dialogue throughout; and Rodrigo Prieto's camera-work which bursts out a wide array of colors in every scene, going against the current norm of bleached, gritty looks in films and concerns itself for making the film look as vivid and lurid as Belfort's mind.

"Wolf" doesn't slow down the moment the film starts. What follows for a whopping three hours are one cynical and narcissistic act of debauchery after another. Not that the film uses its suggestive content (sexuality, nudity, drug use and language combined border on the hard R side) to wildly bombard the audience with excess, but a key role in ensuring the film is never boring is the editing by Scorsese's editing muse, the great Thelma Schoonmaker, who paces these acts so accordingly they seem like circus troupes of insanity lining up one after another for a performance.

The center of the whole film, not just the editing, nor the writing, nor even the direction or the amazing ensemble supporting cast (which includes Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau, Jon Bernthal and Jean Dujardin among others already mentioned), but the absolutely brilliant performance of DiCaprio as Belfort. Like Scorsese here, DiCaprio goes completely for broke in this performance, playing a despicable man so self-obsessed that both his best friend and worst enemy is himself. DiCaprio makes it a miracle to actually make us laugh at this character with his insane Nicolas-Cage-like performance (there is a 15-minute sequence involving DiCaprio and Hill, both coked out and arguing, that had the entire audience rolling with laughter throughout). He drinks, he parties hard, he snorts cocaine, he has wild sex, he gets a drug-induced trip, even in one scene he gets a candle put in an, err, interesting place. And the next day he's off to work in a suit after a snort of cocaine, as if nothing happened the previous day.

Like all great actor-director collaborations, they always work off each other's strengths to create something exceptional, and DiCaprio's and Scorsese's tandems bounce off each other perfectly, creating exceptional entertainment and an in-your-face look at how depraved the human obsession can really get. This is the kind of lifestyle that the brilliant documentary "Inside Man" told us about, but were afraid to show us. Now I know how it feels like, and although it is hilarious, it is also very, very startling.

115 out of 181 people found the following review useful:
Roll Jordan Roll, 18 October 2013
9/10

A random and encounter has led Solomon Northup from living freely in New York to being kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana, getting handed over to various slave owners. There, Solomon witnesses numerous acts of cruelty that no man should ever face.

As I stared at the movie screen with full dread, I was reeling back at certain scenes I had just witnessed. There were good films and television shows about slavery before, and they had various nuances at how to tackle slavery. This film is part of said resurgence of the sub- genre, hot on the heels of "Django Unchained" and "The Butler". But while the former relinquishes on Spaghetti Western entertainment more than attempting to address the issue in a political light as the latter, Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" shuts those two up, and perhaps the entire sub-genre, for good. I doubt any future slavery-themed film will be as harrowing as this one was.

Steve McQueen is a fearless filmmaker, continuing his streak of unfiltered brutality within human depths. He frames his actors' faces in extreme close-up, the eyes staring into despair, the nostrils fuming in aggression. Naked flesh are shown not because of erotic content, but rather because of desperation and futility. Long takes and wide shots are not uncommon in his films, and here they showcase a plethora of fantastic scenes and performances that work to discomfort the viewer as much as possible. McQueen doesn't just allow the audience to tackle slavery, he guts the audience and leaves them for the consequences. This is an extremely uncomfortable film to watch. Beautifully shot locations are placeholders for unsettling sequences before and after, contemplated by Hans Zimmer's poignant and at times horrifying score. This all works to create a nightmarish time and place where hell walks on Earth.

Central to all of this is the performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon. Ejiofor showcases that he is a natural force to be reckoned with in this film, after a decade of mostly supporting characters. He spaces out in despair as the camera lingers onto him for solid minutes, not a word spoken. Another sequence shows him mourning the death of a fellow worker, in which the singing of the surrounding group compels him and shakes him down to tears. These scenes follow earlier ones where he is a classy, free man in the upper states, mingling happily with the crowd and partaking in fanciful music sessions. It is a tour-de-force performance.

A fine ensemble of established and up-and-coming actors surround Ejiofor in his limelight - Paul Dano, Paul Giammati, Alfre Woodard, Sarah Paulson, even Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch, but none so ferociously as McQueen regular Michael Fassbender as the despicable, sadistic plantation owner Edwin Epps. So excellent and terrifying is Fassbender's portrayal of such a merciless and barbaric person, that the mere sight of him will either cause audience members unfamiliar to him to flinch.

I was left speechless as the credits rolled. A lesser film would have added tacked-on sentimentality/exaggeration and politically influenced claptrap. Not this one. This is a movie to watch as a reminder of how powerful the human spirit can endeavor, and how lucky all of us have grown past that dreadful time in history. The full effect of it has not been felt in movies before, until now.


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