Sabotage Movie Review 0 17


Having officially jumped back into the movie world post-politics with the likes of The Last Stand, Escape Plan and The Expendables franchise, to varying degrees of success, the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger is back with Sabotage (previously titled Ten and then Breacher), a violent actioner-turned-whodunit from Training Day and End of Watch writer David Ayer.

Schwarzenegger plays Breacher, the head of a tough-as-nails elite DEA task force whose job it is to infiltrate drug organizations and then forcefully take them down. On one mission they seize the opportunity to skim $10m off the top of the cartel’s pile of cash, hiding it in the sewers to collect later. However, they discover that someone has decided to steal all the money for themselves. After a scrutinizing 6 month long investigation, the team are allowed to get back to work. But they soon find themselves targeted one-by-one for the cash that was stolen and suspicions begin to arise between the members of the group. Meanwhile they have a ruthless investigator (Olivia Williams) on their tails.

It’s basically The Expendables meets Traffic by way of Scream, functioning as a sort of macho action equivalent of a slasher movie with the members of the team being picked off by a mysterious killer. It gets more and more preposterous as it goes along, chucking in plot twists that make less sense the more you think about them. But, as has been the case with all of Arnie’s recent cinematic efforts, your best chance of enjoying is to not linger on the logic, or lack thereof.

The action is well staged, with less reliance on shaky cam and more focus on giving the violence impact. It’s indeed a film that falls over the fence into the gratuitous on more than a few occasions, reveling in and lingering on grisly disembowelments and gunshots to the head but one could argue that that more visceral style, gratuitousness and all, is a better alternative than the action without impact approach found so often in safer Hollywood action movies.

It’s not exactly the most sophisticated of films when it comes to dialogue or character. We first see the team members in a fast-paced attack on a drug lord’s mansion before being formally introduced to them in a police interrogation video. Actors like Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Josh Holloway and Joe Manganiello sporting names like “Monster,” “Sugar,” “Neck” and, “Grinder” should give you some idea of the tone the film is going for; at least the film seems to have some sort of grasp on its own ridiculousness. The friendly insult-filled camaraderie that comes along with them kicking down doors and taking out bad guys is what makes this a fun watch among the grisly misery though it doesn’t come close to making you truly care about them to the point of feeling emotion if and when one of them gets bumped off.

Sabotage is a film that feels ill-disciplined, too often spinning off topic into side plots that it can’t seem to keep track of and a general misjudged mix of schlocky action and serious drama that attempts to tackle themes of loyalty and violence begetting violence. But whenever the action kicks in, which is ultimately what matters most in this type of thing, it works like gangbusters; only the extremely disappointing missed opportunity of failing to use the identically titled Beastie Boys song during those scenes dampens the enjoyment. It dials down the po-faced expression and turns up the sly grin enough for it to be enjoyable for those willing to go along with its increasingly ludicrous plot.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 346

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 370

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10