Film Review: Sabotage

He’s been Mr. Universe, The Terminator, a professional politician, at the centre of scandals; but has Arnold Schwarzenegger got what it takes to be the star of a modern action movie anymore? Well, if Sabotage is the test case, the answer to that is clear.

Arnie plays John Wharton, aka “Breacher”, that head of an elite, if oddball, team of undercover DEA agents. His team of misfits include Terrence Howard, Mireille Enos, Sam Worthington and Josh Holloway. When the team decides to get paid for what they do, it all goes wrong. The $10 million they took from a drug cartel goes missing, the team are benched for six months due to an investigation and although they get back to work, one by one they start to get picked off by the cartel. To say the plan’s gone awry is an understatement.

This is a near-perfect modern version of the action movies we all knew, loved and thought were the greatest. We have people who can actually act, but who stay within the realms of the script, action sequences that are dynamic but not flashy or extravagant and dialogue that is awesome, punchy and eminently quotable. I’m being really serious on that last part, not only the banter between the team, but Olivia Williams being sarcastic in an American accent is something you’ll hear from your friends from now until the apocalypse.

Everything does not blow up. Are you paying attention Michael Bay? They key to a good action flick is not to detonate more cubic feet of TNT than was required to put man on the moon. It doesn’t have endless amounts of parkour-fu, the current STD of the action genre. It just has some good honest violence as part of its core and the good guys storing their bullets in the body parts of the bad guys is all I want from this type of movie.

There’s also some actual moviemaking in here, there’s a recurring device of intercutting between crimes taking place and their investigation, which makes for an excellent framing device and some very economical filmmaking, there’s not a dull moment.

Can Arnie be the star of a modern action movie? Yes. However it’s only true if he’s surrounded by people who are actually making an action movie anyway, and aren’t expecting his mere presence to turn a film conceived on a napkin into a blockbuster. Sabotage is an action movie first and foremost, Schwarzenegger is icing on the delicious cake they’ve got all the ingredients for and have baked to perfection. For action fans it’s a must-see. For the rest of the world, if you’re after an honest popcorn movie, there’s not much better to spend your beer tokens on.

– Taylor Iscariot

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Film Review: Transcendence

The Director of Photography for Christopher Nolan, the reason all his films look superb, takes the big step into the director’s chair for the first time with this sci-fi drama. Hotly anticipated ever since it was announced, the question remains, is his only talent in pretty visuals? Or can he use those to build a complete film?

25 seconds into the future Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) lives on the bleeding edge of computer research, the goal; to create a real and functioning A.I. When a technophobic domestic terrorism group try to take out everyone in the field, Depp survives… barely. Given only weeks to live, the decision is taken to map his brain and effectively upload him to a computer. Although successful, his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany) manage to upload something, there’s that niggling doubt of whether it really is him.

It’s a sci-fi film, but a fortnight into next year sci-fi, not space planes and laser cannons sci-fi. The effects as you’d expect are outstanding, and most importantly used fairly sparingly. In fact the most obvious use is digital camerawork at a couple of points and not the nanomachines repairing objects in front of your eyes. If you’re wanting Transformers, this isn’t the film for you, the CGI is used in service to the plot rather than the other way around.

On the acting front, you’d be hard pressed to find a film with such acting potential and delivery from its cast. Depp is back on What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? form, which we haven’t seen in years. Hall has always been highly underrated in my opinion and it’s about time she’s given the spotlight opposite people that can actually match her. Bettany’s ability is well-known and I won’t waste your time singing his praises. In the supporting cast you’ve got Morgan Freeman, Rooney Mara and Cillian Murphy, which means this film has a better supporting cast than most films have lead role stars.

Some people will say that this is boring, I would opine that such people have the attention span of roadkill. It is a slow burn, but the pay-off is there in the end. It’s a human drama, and your life doesn’t have gunfire, car chases and explosions every five minutes, does it? While some may not enjoy it, for those hat think a plot isn’t an optional extra on a film should see this for what it is, a very solid first film from Pfister. It would have been easy for him to make a formulaic film, but maintaining his visual flair and tackling something most directors would shy away from is something to be commended.

Should you see it? The majority of the population shouldn’t, they won’t get it. However the same can be said of a lot of the Nolan movies Pfister worked on, and that doesn’t make them any less great. If you like to think about a film rather than just sit there while it’s played in front of you, I think you’ll get on with this.

– Taylor Iscariot

Film Review: Captain America, The Winter Soldier

The first of two films from Marvel this year, the second being Guardians of the Galaxy due in August, is the return of star-spangled shield bearer, Steve Rogers, to the big screen. The really big screen in this case since there’s the option of IMAX.

After the events of Marvel Avengers Assemble, it’s set after Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World but you don’t need to have seen either, Steve Rogers is attempting to adjust to life in the 21st century. While catching up on 70 years of culture he’s also got a day job, leading covert teams of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on black ops missions – we all need something to pay the bills, right? Unfortunately for Steve, spies aren’t as trustworthy as the men he used to work with in the army and alternate agendas start to come to a head, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Now let me be succinct, for those of you who really want to know, it’s fine. It’s a better than your standard popcorn action flick. There’s fight scenes, explosions, tense scenarios and epics showdowns, everything you’d want from an entertaining evening at the moving picture house. If all you wanted was that confirming, off you go to the cinema.

Now for those of you that are still with me, the major problem is the film has an incredible amount of potential, which it then avoids as if it had an infectious disease. A film about domestic espionage and double-crossing, even in a world of superheroes, really needed a ratings increase to pull off what it was aiming at. Spending the first half of the film exploring different moral approaches to bad guys just to abandon it in the second half so Cap and his crew can bludgeon endless people about the head because they just happen to on the other side is the mark of sacrificing plot in the name of another action sequence.

Merchandising also rears its ugly head in the form of a new character who brings nothing to the film other than lengthening the action-y bits, and Cap seems to change his outfit every 21 minutes in order to sell a differently painted action figure. When the Black Widow, a mistress of disguise, has less costume changes than your musclebound hero you begin to wonder if you’re watching one of those awful reality shows that feature the wilfully ignorant sponsored by Top Shop.

You will see it if you’ve seen the other Marvel movies, and if you like a good action flick, but I’d recommend against IMAX. The size of the screen and the 3D cause a lot of motion blur during action sequences and there aren’t enough expansive shots to warrant the uplift. See it in normal 2D as a temporary fix until Avengers: Age of Ultron hits screens next year.

– Taylor Iscariot