FlixChatter Review: SABOTAGE

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Just like his pal Sly Stallone, Arnold Schwarzegger is trying to reclaim his glory days as the box office king of the 80s and 90s by starring in action films again in the 21st century. So far though, both them have had more duds than hits and I’m afraid this trend will continue with Arnold’s latest action thriller.

The movie opens with a group of elite DEA agents being lead by John “Breacher” Wharton (Arnie) raiding on some drug dealers’ fancy mansion. They found at least $100mil cash stashed away in the lower level of the mansion and the team decided to steal $10mil of that money and burn the rest so no one at the DEA will know they took the cash. Of course things didn’t turn out as planned, when they tried to retrieve the cash later, it’s nowhere to be found. Things got worse when the DEA found out that the $10mil is missing and they accuse Breacher and his team of stealing the money. All of them were under investigation and Breacher lost his team. About six months later, the DEA couldn’t find enough evidence to build a case against Breacher and his team, so the case will be close.

After the good news, Breacher tracked down his old teammates and try to get them back to doing what they do best, kill lots of bad guys. Unfortunately things didn’t come back to normal for the team, three of them were killed and this lead to the involvement of a homicide detective Caroline (Olivia Williams). Caroline suspects the drug cartel is behind the killings but Breacher and his team aren’t willing to help her with the investigation. The trailers let us to believe that this was a non-stop action adventure but it’s really a procedural thriller with some shootouts and a car chase. Not the usual Arnold’s flicks from the past.

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The script by Skip Woods and David Ayer was pretty good, nothing too deep or over the top. Instead of giving us one liners after another, some of the dialogs were quite witty and Arnold delivered them perfectly. The script might think it’s smarter than it’s actually is but I went along with the plot. Ayer made a name for himself by writing Training Day and the first Fast & Furious film, so don’t expect anything new or original from this movie. I’m not the biggest fan of his directing style though, he basically incorporated the look and feel of his last movie (End of Watch) into this one. I’m sort of getting annoyed by some directors who think that by shooting their movie digitally, they think it will look more “realistic”. I don’t get why they couldn’t add some effects in post production and make the movie look more cinematic, I can’t stand watching a movie that looks like it’s shot with a home camcorder. Despite the flat and uninspired cinematography, Ayer did shoot some good action scenes, particularly the climatic car chase and shootout.

Performance wise, I thought Arnold did a pretty good job, again it’s Arnold we’re talking about here so don’t expect an Oscar caliber acting. Olivia Williams pretty much played the second lead and I thought she’s good in the role, I couldn’t remember the last time I saw her in a movie. The rest of the cast including Sam Worthington (I guess he’s already lost his leading man status now), Mireille Enos, Terrence Howard, Joe Manganiello and Josh Holloway did a serviceable job in their respective roles.

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For a movie like this, I think most people expect to see lots of shootouts and explosions, so it’s a nice surprise that it does have some sort of a plot and kept my attention without something blowing up every 10 minutes. I think I might give it a higher rating had Ayer and his team made the movie look more like a real movie instead of home video. But I’m glad they didn’t scale back the blood and violence, I think this is a good rental.

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What do you think of Sabotage?

Weekend Viewing Roundup and World War Z review

Hello all, hope you have a great weekend. Today is the Autumnal Equinox, that is the first day of Fall! I’m sooo lovin’ the crisp, cool air of Autumn! 😀 So did you hit the theaters this weekend? Perhaps you went to see PRISONERS, billed as the first adult drama of the Fall season. If you’ve read Ted’s review from Friday, sounds like it’s worth a watch despite the long running time of more than 2.5 hours! As for me, I’d rather rent that film later on because of that running time.

Gravity_ThumbnailI did see Gravity last week and this is my quick thought on that film:

It’s perhaps THE best 3D film I saw all year and it’s one of those films that’s best to experience on the big screen or even IMAX. I can’t review it until its US release date of October 4 but let me just say it lives up to the hype. Always nice when that happens!

HTTYD_ThumbnailI also rewatched How to Train Your Dragon, which was as much fun as the first time I saw it. This is the fourth time we watched our Blu-ray, so the re-playability value is great. It always made us regret that we didn’t get to see this on the big screen! So when the sequel comes out next year, we’ll make sure to catch it on IMAX. The flying sequences with the Night Fury a.k.a. Toothless is spectacular!

Now here’s my review of…

WORLD WAR Z

WWZ_banner On Friday night, we managed to watch the unrated version of World War Z. I had been curious about this movie for some time and I heard complaints from people the fact that the film has a PG-13 rating. Now, having seen the unrated version which shows some of the really brutal scenes, including a hand getting chopped off with blood spluttering all over, I’d think that the film would probably make less of an impact in its toned-down version. Ted has posted his full review a few months ago so I’m not going to rehash the plot again. Besides, all you need to know is that a virus has somehow turned a large population of the world into the undead and it’s quickly spreading as every person who got bitten immediately turns into a flesh-eating zombie! Now, as a non-fan of the Zombie sub-genre, I wasn’t too keen on this film initially. But the more I read about it, including the numerous production issues and multiple rewrites, I’m curious how this film would turn out. Well, I actually quite like this one. I think the scale of just how catastrophic the zombie attacks are, devouring major cities in a matter of minutes, is pretty well-done. The personal story of Brad Pitt‘s character and his family isn’t as compelling as I had thought, and I agree with Ted that Mireille Enos‘ role who seemed intriguing at first ended up being nothing more than just the worried wife as her husband is out saving the world. WWZ_stills The film also has a pretty strong third act at a W.H.O. facility, which gives us a nice break from the herd of zombies as a small band of human survivors try to outsmart remaining zombies in a deserting wing of the UN building. Interesting to see Scottish actor Peter Capaldi as “W.H.O. Doctor.” As you know, a couple of months after the film’s release, the BBC announced he would be portraying the title role in Doctor Who. Pretty uncanny, huh? [SPOILER ALERT – highlight text below to read] One of the gripes I have with the movie is regarding the demise of the young virologist Andrew Fassbach who’s on mission to South Korea to find the source of the zombie outbreak. I mean seriously, with all of those zombies all around him, he actually perished when he tripped on the plane’s rear door and accidentally shot himself!! Unbelievable! Is this one of those last-minute rewrites that they didn’t even bother to figure out a decent way to go for the doctor?? I thought that was pretty lame that it took me out of the movie for a bit. Anybody else bothered by that?? I also heard that this finale is a result of one of those rewrites, which gives the audience a more hopeful ending. My impression is that the finale is a bit too good to be true, but I guess it’s got a perfect set up for a sequel. Props for Marc Forster for delivering an action-packed zombie thriller that’s both thrilling and suspenseful. Instead of a typical monster horror flick, World War Z is more in the vein of Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion which also deals with an infectious disease that spreads quickly. I think the scariest part is that those two films make me think that this kind of calamity is perhaps not so implausible. Maybe we should give this CDC article a read then, you just never know, ahah.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Well, that’s my weekend recap. What did YOU see this weekend?

New Releases Double Reviews: World War Z & White House Down

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WORLD WAR Z

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Based on a popular novel by Max Brooks, this big budgeted film was plagued with troubled production and ran well over its original budget, reportedly somewhere around $170-200 mil (the original budget was set around $150 mil). The film was scheduled to open last December but because of rewrites and reshoots of the film’s third act, it got delayed for six months. Now it’s ready for audiences all over the world to see. I want to mention that the film doesn’t have anything to do with the book, besides the title and premise the film has nothing to do with its original source. Just thought I mention that for fans of the novel.

The film opens with Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) and his family going to some family trip. While stuck in traffic on the streets of Philadelphia, suddenly chaos broke out. If you’ve seen the countless trailers and clips, you already know what happened. The scene was pretty intense and exciting to watch. Gerry and his family was able to escape and drove all the way to New Jersey.

Later on Gerry got a call from his former colleague, Theirry Umuntoni (Fana Mokoena), he explained what has been happening all over the world and needs Gerry’s help. Gerry agreed and Theirry told him to wait somewhere overnight and in the morning he’ll send over a helicopter to pick him up. Gerry and his family found a refuge with a family who still lives in an apartment building in New Jersey. After Gerry and his family were rescued, they were flown to a ship outside of the States where the US Navy set up their command post. He found out that US President was killed and most of the government officials have either died or missing. Since Gerry has experience in working all over the world, he’s been asked by the US Navy Captain to help them find out what cause the outbreak. First he was hesitant because he didn’t want to leave his family but after the Captain told him that the only reason he and his family are on the ship was because he’s useful to them, if he doesn’t want to help, he and his family have to leave. I don’t like to give out too much plot points on my reviews so I’ll just say that for the rest of the film, Gerry went on an adventure trying to find out what cause people to turn into zombies.

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As I mentioned earlier, the film doesn’t have anything to do with the book, but they did include sequences that were similar to some section from the book, some fans might appreciate that, I know that I did. I’m not the biggest fan of Marc Forster but I thought he did a really good job of staging some really cool action set pieces and even made me jump a few times. I thought the first half of the film was pretty great, I was involved in the story and thought it could one of the best films of the summer. Unfortunately the film’s second half was a letdown.

There were five screenwriters who were credited on this film and I blame all of them for the lackluster second half. Apparently studio folks weren’t too thrilled with the first cut that Forster had delivered to them and hired Damon Lindelof to rewrite the ending and order re-shoots. Unfortunately what he came up with was pretty lame in my opinion, of course I won’t spoil it but it’s clear they want sequels. In fact, Brad Pitt said in an interview that he wants to turn this film into a trilogy. I think had they stuck with the original ending, the film might work out better. I hope they include that original ending on Blu-ray/DVD or better yet, integrate it into the eventual director’s cut release. If you want to find out what the original was like, go and read this excellent article that chronicled the film’s troubled production.

Performance-wise, Pitt was pretty decent in the lead role. Make no mistake, this is his film. He appeared on the screen pretty much 99% of the time. Mireille Enos who played his wife had some good scenes in the first 30 minutes or so but unfortunately her role was reduced to just being the worried wife while her husband was out saving the world. The only other major character in the film was an Israeli soldier played by Daniella Kertesz, she sort of became Pitt’s sidekick throughout most of the film.

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I was a bit disappointed that they decided to make it a PG-13 zombie movie. I’m not a gore freak but I expected to see blood and some gore when it comes to film about zombies. I know that when they agreed to turn the book into a movie, it was under contract that it couldn’t be R-rated, that’s one of the reasons why they had to change the original ending. Apparently it’s too violent and the film would’ve gotten an R-rating. I understand it’s done for financial reasons but seriously, there was a scene in the film where Pitt’s character chopped another character’s hand off but we didn’t see anything because they had to cut away. Also, if you cut someone’s hand off, there would be blood everywhere! The film couldn’t show that of course. Just a minor complaint though, there were many intense scenes that worked despite its PG-13 kid friendly rating.

Even with the lackluster second half and lack of blood and gore, I still recommend it. I think some of the big spectacle sequences should be seen on the big screen and the 3D effects were pretty good. This coming from a guy who doesn’t care about 3D. Also, I thought the soundtrack was pretty great, especially the theme song by Muse.


3 out of 5 reels

WHITE HOUSE DOWN

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The second film about the White House under attack this year is now ready for audiences everywhere, the first being Olympus Has Fallen which opened back March. This one stars Channing Tatum as the reluctant hero who has to save the day and Jamie Foxx as the POTUS. The premise is pretty much the same with exception that the villains in this film were domestic terrorists while the bad guys in Olympus were foreigners. I would say White House Down really reminded me of Michael Bay’s The Rock, which was basically Die Hard at Alcatraz.

The setup for these kind of films are pretty similar, we were introduced to the main characters who will be involve in the story. There’s the hero John Cale (Channing Tatum), he’s basically a bodyguard to The Speaker of House, Eli Raphelson (Richard Jenkins). Then there’s the President (Jamie Foxx), head of the security in the White House Martin Walker (James Woods), secret service agent Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Vice President Alvin Hammond (Michael Murphy) and Cale’s daughter Emily (Joey King). The story begins as Cale is taking his daughter to the tour of the White House, we learn that he and his daughter aren’t that close and she’s sort of hate his guts. So in order to impress her, he told her that he’s being interview for a position as secret service agent. You see his daughter is somehow crazy about politics and she even has her own political blog and she also loves the President.

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Once they got to the White House, Cale got call in for the interview and found out Carol will be the one who’s interviewing him for the job. Apparently the two of them had some of history back in college and she thinks of him as a loser. Of course he didn’t get the job but he lied to his daughter that he might get it. By now we get to see some of the potential bad guys have also arrived at the White House and gearing up for their attack. The group’s leader is Emil Stenz (Jason Clarke). Later on, the bomb went off at the Capitol Building and Emil’s group started killing all the security people at the White House. During this attack, Cale was able to rescue the President and the film became sort of buddy action. There were lots of shoot outs, hand to hand combats and of course big explosions. If you’ve read my reviews on this site then you know I don’t like to give out plot points and you know what, the plot for these kind of films aren’t that important. You’ve seen them many times before and you just have to go along with the ride and I can tell you it’s a fun ride.

The film was directed by Roland Emmerich who seems to love to blow up Washington DC buildings in many of his films and well he did the same thing here. But unlike his other disaster spectacle films, this one was his first shoot’em up action flick since Universal Soldiers. I thought he did a great job of building up the tension and staged some really cool and fun action set pieces. There’s a big car chase that took place in front of the White House’s lawn, it’s the most ridiculous action scenes I’ve seen in a while but it’s fun nonetheless. He also understands that he’s making an action movie so he kept the tone light and not make it overly serious.

As for the actors, I thought everyone did a good job, although Foxx tried a bit too hard to imitate our real President Obama. Tatum was good as the not-so-smooth action hero, he’s more goofy than most action heroes. I was surprised Cale’s daughter played a big role in the movie and the young Joey King did a pretty good job as the know-it-all kid. I give the casting director big props for finding a young actress who actually looks like Channing Tatum. The rest of the cast did pretty well too, again thanks to Emmerich’s direction, none of them took their part too seriously.

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So how does it compare to Olympus Has Fallen? Well in my opinion this one was a much better film because it didn’t try to be more than an action summer flick. I thought Olympus took itself way too seriously, it tried too hard to be dark, edgy and violent as opposed to just being an action movie. Also, the effects in this film were much better than Olympus’, well to be fair White House Down has a bigger budget. But still Olympus’s budget was around $80mil and yet the effects in the film looked like something from the late 90s.

Of course there were some flaws in this film, I was expecting some new motivations from the villains, not the same old thing we’ve seen in the past. Even though I enjoyed the action scenes, I thought the hand to hand combats were badly-staged and the always bloodless violence sort of bug me a bit. When people get shot or blown up, there should be blood everywhere. Also, there’s a scene during the climax of the film that involved Cale’s daughter and a flag that was kind of odd and I wish they’d rewrite that sequence. I think people will either laugh out loud or just go WTF!? I think you might agree with me when you see it.

Overall I thought the film was a lot of fun and it’s one of the best action films I’ve seen in a while. If you’re a fan of Die Hard, The Rock or Olympus Has Fallen then you’ll enjoy this one.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


– Reviews by Ted S.


Have you seen either one of these? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

FlixChatter Double Reviews: Gangster Squad

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Ted and I went to this film screening last Tuesday and once again we pretty much agree on our take on this one. Is it worth a watch? Well, read on.

Ted’s Review

Gangster Squad is a film that has big ambitions and it tried hard to be something more than it was. With a pretty good size budget ($75mil) and a solid cast, you’d think this could be a great period gangster film, unfortunately the people behind the cameras didn’t know what they were doing. The script is full of clichés from other better films, while the direction was all over the place.

The film starts out with a rogue LA detective John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) who is sick of crimes in his city and wants to clean it up. Being a WW2 veteran, he knows combat and will sacrifice himself to get rid of the bad guys. Unfortunately he’s a one man army going up against a ruthless mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) who’s trying to create his own empire in the west. O’Mara is one of a few cops who are not on Cohen’s payroll and it’s difficult for him to even get help from his fellow detectives. One day he got call in to the chief of police office, Chief Parker (the not-aged-well Nick Nolte), Parker also wants to take down Cohen and gave O’Mara the freedom to do whatever it takes to do so. The only down side is no one will know about his mission and O’Mara won’t get any credit for it. O’Mara agreed and with the help of his wife, they started recruiting his team of rogue detectives.

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The film then becomes a generic good guys versus bad guys fill with shootouts and explosions. O’Mara’s team consists of misfits including a young detective Wooters (the totally miscast Ryan Gosling), electronics genius (Giovanni Ribisi) and three officers (Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña and Robert Patrick). Their plan is to take out Cohen’s operations one by one, sound familiar right? Yeah it’s the same plot as The Untouchables. As mentioned earlier, the script is full of clichés and a forced-romance between Wooters and Cohen’s lover Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) just didn’t fit into the plot whatsoever. The film is supposed to be about Brolin’s character and his mission to take down Cohen but by forcing these two characters into the plot, it just didn’t make sense to me.

Performances wise, I thought Brolin did a good job and his token characters (Peña, Mackie, Patrick and Ribisi) were pretty descent too. Sean Penn look bored, I’m not even sure why he accepted this role since he doesn’t like to star in big-budgeted films. Again I thought Gosling was total miscast and his character is totally unnecessary, while Emma Stone was on the screen for pure eye candy.

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Director Ruben Fleischer must’ve watched a lot of Sam Peckinpah’s and John Woo’s films before started working on this film. I love slo-mo action sequences but when a director decided to glamorizes those sequences then I think they don’t add anything to the film or even look exciting. Fleischer even followed the formula of action film to the teeth. Rouge heroes, check. Big car chase, check. Explosions check. Big climatic shootouts, check. The hero goes mano-a-mano with the villain at the end, check. Now I don’t mind if a film is very generic, heck I thought Jack Reacher was a pretty generic action thriller but it was well made and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I can’t say the same about this film, I think Fleischer just doesn’t have enough experience or talent to make this kind of genre; remember his previous two films were comedies.

I think with a better script and director, this could have been a very good period gangster film. But unfortunately the talents behind the cameras aren’t great and what we got here is a forgettable turkey that belongs in the dead winter season.

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2 out of 5 reels


Ruth’s Review

When I first saw the poster above, I thought boy, it couldn’t get any cheesier. Everybody looked like a mannequin doing corny poses and paired with an even cornier tagline. Well, it certainly sets the tone for the movie.

The story can’t be more straightforward, made even more mind-numbingly simple by Josh Brolin’s narration explaining things. Basically Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is the arch villain, a Brooklyn-born gangster who owns Los Angeles in the late 40s. Practically all of the town’s politicians and cops have been bought with the money from all of Cohen’s shady businesses of drugs, guns and prostitution. The Gangster Squad is formed in order to stop Cohen’s quickly-expanding empire, led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin). The start of the movie is basically a long exposition on how the squad was formed, how O’Mara recruited each member of the squad.

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Inspired by a true story (Cohen is like the Al Capone of the West Coast), there’s a lot of wasted potential here. Seems to me that director Ruben Fleischer is so enamored by the gangster era that he glamorizes everything about it, forgoing character development and a biting story. As one would expect in a gangster movie though, the violence is pretty brutal and there’s a constant onslaught of shootout after another, filmed in the most exasperating slo-mo style that lessen the impact of what’s going on instead of enhances it. Thus, despite the amount of violence, I feel that the characters don’t seem to be in any real danger. Even when they’re in peril, such as being burned alive, the way its depicted on screen is so stylized it’s hard to really feel anything. It also doesn’t help that most of the characters are so one-dimensional, which is such a waste of the talents involved.

Truth be told, to say that I’m not a huge fan of the three main actors (Brolin, Penn and Gosling) would be putting it mildly. But I realize they’re quite popular and most people consider them very talented actors. Not that this movie would actually change my mind about any of them, well except for maybe Brolin who’s actually pretty good here as his character was given the most to do. Still it could’ve been developed better to rise above being a one-dimensional hero. My bafflement about Gosling’s popularity continues as his supposedly-suave ladiesman style annoys the heck out of me. Reportedly he deliberately uses a higher-pitched voice for this role, for what purpose I’ll never know! He’s pretty much just the pretty boy here, whose romance with Emma Stone‘s Grace Faraday is so cheesy and utterly unnecessary. I generally like Stone, but though she looks good in her period gowns, she’s lacking any kind of believability or conviction to portray a femme fatale. I wish they’d just focus on the love story between O’Mara and his wife Connie, played by Mireille Enos. I’ve never seen Enos before but she impressed me here and Connie is perhaps the only character I give a hoot about.

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As for Sean Penn… oh, where do I begin? As if the characters weren’t cartoon-ish enough, his make up is just plain bizarre. I mean he’s already looked pretty scary on his own anyway, what’s the point of all that goop? I was thinking that if they wanted an actor with a ‘boxing face,’ they should’ve just hired Mickey Rourke! Anyway, I think The Huffington Post sums it up nicely in this article, Penn’s overacting style is off the charts.

It’s the supporting actors who actually manage to ingest some fun, even if they’re all as stereotypical as they come (but hey, they fill the ‘diversity’ quota). Anthony Mackie and Michael Peña, two supporting actors who should get more lead roles as they’re always so fun to watch, plus Giovanni Ribisi as the ‘brain’ of the squad operations and Robert Patrick as the no-nonsense gunslinger. Nick Nolte was appropriately grizzled as the only police chief who hasn’t been bought by Cohen.

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Ultimately, Gangster Squad is just a sleek but soulless and shallow endeavor. Every single thing one associate with the gangster lifestyle is on display here as if we’re going into some kind of Gangster ‘Disneyworld’ of sort. The production design and 1940s costumes are great to look at but in terms of depicting the real demons and darkness of the gangster world and what’s really at stake, this movie falls way short. I wouldn’t even call this movie a suspense thriller as there’s barely any real tension and the deluge of stylized violence grew increasingly dull. Heck, the scene where the toys tried to cross the highway in Toy Story 2 has more nail-biting moments than this entire movie!

So if you’re into this genre, don’t expect any kind of depth, complexity or nuances of L.A. Confidential or Untouchables. It may resemble those two in terms of story, but the similarity ends there. It’s a gritty story without any grit in its depiction, there’s just no immersive quality nor sense of realism as the whole thing feels like one giant ‘gangster-ized’ set.

2.5 out of 5 reels


So, do you agree or disagree about our assessment? Well, let’s hear it!