Movie Review: “Sabotage”

Starring
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Mireille Enos, Terrence Howard, Olivia Williams, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Harold Perrineau
Director
David Ayer

Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t wasted any time since announcing his return from retirement, cranking out movies with the prolificacy of someone who knows that the clock is ticking on his Hollywood career. But despite recent appearances in “The Expendables 2,” “The Last Stand” and “Escape Plan,” Schwarzenegger has yet to make a film that measures up to some of his more iconic roles. The actor’s latest project, “Sabotage,” certainly had the promise to be that movie. Directed by David Ayer, who’s pretty much become Hollywood’s go-to guy for gritty cop films, this modern-day twist on Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” shares the same basic premise used for one of Schwarzenegger’s biggest hits, “Predator.” It also boasts one hell of an ensemble cast for a seemingly generic action thriller, which is why it’s so disappointing that that’s exactly what “Sabotage” turned out to be.

Schwarzenegger stars as John “Breacher” Wharton, the head of an elite DEA task force that’s taken down some of the biggest drug lords in the world. His team is comprised of some colorful characters – each with their own silly codename like Monster (Sam Worthington), Grinder (Joe Manganiello) and Sugar (Terrence Howard) – but they’re the best at what they do, oozing with so much confidence that they manage to steal $10 million during their latest raid on a Mexican cartel safe house. When they go back to retrieve the hidden money, however, they discover that it’s missing, replaced by a single, ominous bullet. Before long, members of Breacher’s team start to get picked off one by one, with homicide detective Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) assigned to track down those responsible. But while the brutal murders appear to be the work of the cartel, the surviving agents begin to suspect that someone from within their own ranks is hunting them.

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A chat with Iko Uwais (“The Raid 2″)

Indonesian-born Iko Uwais may not be a household name yet, but he’s breaking down boundaries as quickly as his characters break bones. Action fans were blown away by his starring role as Rama in the 2011 martial arts extravaganza “The Raid: Redemption,” where he played a naïve cop fighting against a corrupt boss. In the meantime, he also paired with another martial arts icon in last year’s “Man of Tai Chi,” directed by and co-starring Keanu Reeves. This week, he returns in one of the most awaited sequels of the year (sorry, Cap) in “The Raid 2,” written and directed by his good friend, Gareth Evans. He recently sat down to discuss working with Reeves, his relationship with Evans, as well as bringing appreciation of his martial art form, pencak silat, to audiences around the globe.

BULLZ-EYE: How did you go about improving as an actor from your time in the original “Raid”?

IKO UWAIS: I learned a lot, especially from Gareth, because he knows the characters and the role. I took it into my heart, integrated everything and I played along. It happened naturally after that.

BULLZ-EYE: How does the Indonesian martial arts differ from other styles?

IKO UWAIS The basic moves are the same. The difference is that there are many types of pencak silat, Indonesian martial arts in Indonesia. From pencak silat alone, there are many different schools. Thousands of schools. In choreographing for this movie, I combined some moves from different schools.

BULLZ-EYE: How was it working with Keanu Reeves in last year’s “Man of Tai Chi?”

IKO UWAIS: I can’t explain, because I was really happy. I was happy to work with him. He was very wise. He was very friendly and he also directed the movie. He always told me what he wanted. Usually, there’s a relationship between the director and the actors. He approached the actors.

BULLZ-EYE: The fighting in the film is as breathtaking as it is violent. Does pencak silat also stress a spiritual side as well?

IKO UWAIS: Yes, absolutely. In pencak silat, especially, the spiritual aspect is very dominant.

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Blu Tuesday: The Wolf of Wall Street, Veep and The Great Beauty

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“The Wolf of Wall Street”

WHAT: After losing his job on Wall Street following the events of Black Monday, go-getter Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) opens up his own firm selling penny stocks to the wealthy, turning Jordan and his closest pals (including Jonah Hill) into millionaires overnight. Living the high life with his gorgeous new wife (Margot Robbie), Jordan thinks he’s invincible – that is, until he catches wind that the FBI has launched an investigation into the firm for stock market manipulation and other related crimes.

WHY: It’s been a while since Martin Scorsese’s last truly great film, but the director has rebounded in style with “The Wolf of Wall Street,” highlighted by Terrence Winter’s hilarious script and Leonard DiCaprio’s brilliant turn as Jordan Belfort. You’ve never seen the actor quite like this before, and he’s in top form as the notorious stockbroker, delivering what is arguably his best performance with Scorsese yet. The rest of the cast is great as well, especially Jonah Hill in another award-worthy turn, up-and-comer Margot Robbie and Matthew McConaughey in a short but memorable cameo. Loud, flashy and totally obscene, the movie is like a private tour through Belfort’s excessive, hard-partying lifestyle, including easily one of the greatest sequences of the year. (Hint: it involves a highly potent strain of Quaaludes.) Though it’s a little too long for its own good, the characters are so magnetic and the dialogue so fast and funny that “The Wolf of Wall Street” is hard not to enjoy. It’s Scorsese’s best film in years, and one that will only get better with time.

EXTRAS: Regrettably, there’s only one special feature in the form of “The Wolf Pack,” a behind-the-scenes look at bringing Jordan Belfort’s life to the big screen with interviews from Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio and others

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Veep: The Complete Second Season”

WHAT: U.S. Vice President Selina Myers (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her staff navigate the murky waters of Washington, D.C. as she deals with a presidential scandal, crooked congressmen, a government shutdown and more

WHY: The first season of “Veep” showed immense promise, but it was clear that it still had some growing to do behind the scenes, and that growth is evident in the show’s second year. Granted, the situations that Selina and her staff find themselves in are still incredibly ridiculous (and if even remotely close to what actually happens at the White House, a little frightening), but it feels like there’s much more at stake this time around. The ensemble cast has also had more time to gel, and they’re even funnier than before as a result. Every actor plays their part perfectly – from Anna Chlumsky’s loyal chief of staff, to Matt Walsh’s blockhead publicist, to Timothy Simmons’ oddball White House liaison – and you needn’t look any further than Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Emmy speech for evidence of that. The addition of Gary Cole and Kevin Dunn to the cast was also a shrewd move on the part of Armando Iannucci, but the show lives and dies by Louis-Dreyfus’s hilarious performance as the so-called Veep. She’s one of the funniest women in show business, and with the exception of Elaine Benes, this will likely go down as the best role of her career.

EXTRAS: In addition to four audio commentary tracks featuring members of the cast and crew (including creator Armando Iannucci and star Julia Louis-Dreyfus), there are deleted and alternate scenes for each episode.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Great Beauty”

WHAT: For decades, journalist Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) has served as Rome’s self-described king of high society, gallivanting through an endless series of lavish nightclubs and parties with his equally pretentious friends. But on his 65th birthday, Jep begins to look back on his superficial life against the beautiful backdrop of the Eternal City.

WHY: “The Great Beauty” may have won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but there were far better movies released last year. Felliniesque in its self-indulgence and general lack of focus, the film is unable to maintain the high-energy pace of the opening dance party, ultimately succumbing to its sluggish, 142-minute runtime. The root of the problem is director Paolo Sorrentino and co-writer Umberto Contarello’s script, which never seems sure what it wants to say. Characters and subplots come and go with little explanation, including a storyline involving Jep’s childhood love that’s brought up early on and never mentioned again until the very end. Toni Servillo delivers a solid performance in the lead role, but his character is too misanthropic for the audience to care what happens to him, contradicting his supposed reformation every chance he gets. If there’s any reason to invest the two-plus hours watching “The Great Beauty,” it’s for cinematographer Luca Bigazzi’s gorgeous visuals, which capture the spirit and splendor of Rome in such a manner that it comes as a close to experiencing the real thing that some people will ever get.

EXTRAS: The Blu-ray release includes a conversation between director Paolo Sorrentino and Italian cultural critic Antonio Monda, interviews with actor Toni Servillo and co-writer Umberto Contarello, deleted scenes and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Phillip Lopate.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

  

Movie Review: “Divergent”

Starring
Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Zoe Kravitz, Maggie Q, Miles Teller, Ray Stevenson, Tony Goldwyn
Director
Neil Burger

The young adult craze (“Twilight,” “The Hunger Games”) has recently crashed (“Beautiful Creatures,” “Vampire Academy,” “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”), and the media has decided that the fate of future young adult film adaptations will live and die on the box office returns of “Divergent.” This is patently unfair, of course; “The Hunger Games” sold 14 times as many books as “Vampire Academy,” so why should anyone expect anything less with their film adaptations? Answer: they shouldn’t, but somehow this is now “Divergent’s” problem. The good news is that “Divergent” should fare much better than the three ‘crashed’ movies. It’s intriguing, and asks valid questions about when we can reasonably expect a young adult to know who they truly are, and why we tend to punish people who prefer to think for themselves, but it has some issues as well, namely an absurd amount of exposition, a rigid story structure, and a lack of emotional impact.

Set in dystopian post-war Chicago at an undetermined time, all residents of the city are divided into five factions. Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is a member of the selfless Abnegation faction, but she faces a big decision in the next few days. As a 16-year-old, she, along with her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and all other 16-year-olds, will choose whether to remain in their current faction or join a new one. Both Beatrice and her brother defect to other factions, with Caleb choosing Erudite (smart, fact-driven) and Beatrice choosing Dauntless (brave, fearless). As a “stiff” (A derogatory term for Abnegation), Beatrice has her work cut out for her, but she proves to be more resilient than most had expected, and a lot of that has to do with the results of her pre-ceremony exam, where she was found to be Divergent, meaning that she exhibited the qualities of more than one faction. Her examiner (Maggie Q) warns her against telling anyone that she was Divergent, and Beatrice (who rechristens herself Tris in Dauntless) quickly discovers why: the fluid (read: non-conformist) tendencies of Divergents have branded them as the enemy of Chicago’s faction world, and they are hunted and killed when exposed.

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Movie Review: “Muppets Most Wanted”

Starring
Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz
Director
James Bobin

Hats off to the sequel that begins with poking fun at its inherent shortcomings – in a musical number, no less – then proceeds to surpass its predecessor in nearly every way. “Muppets Most Wanted” has a plot that will challenge the kids without boring their parents, better songs (by a country mile), and a healthy dose of self-awareness. The main appeal of the Jason Segel-scripted “The Muppets” was its innocence and a longing for a less cynical time, but for the franchise to remain so naïve to the real world would have been disastrous. “Muppets Most Wanted” finds that ideal middle ground between their world and ours.

The story begins, in a behind-the-curtain manner, at the very end of the previous film, as the first of many cameos calls a wrap on the first film and the Muppets are left pondering what to do next. In steps agent Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais, and he insists it’s pronounced ‘Badgie’), who suggests that the Muppets do a European tour. What the Muppets don’t know is that Badguy is a world-class thief, as well as the right-hand man to Constantine, the world’s most dangerous criminal mastermind and a dead ringer for Kermit the Frog. Constantine escapes from his Siberian prison, while Dominic sets up Kermit to be mistaken for recent escapee Constantine. Kermit is sent to Siberia, and Dominic and Constantine revolve the Muppets’ European tour around the locations of the artifacts that will enable them to pull off the ultimate heist. Strangely, no one suspects that Kermit has been replaced, though certain members of the group smelled a rat from the beginning. Why doesn’t anyone listen to the drummer?

Speaking as a parent, one of the great things about “Muppets Most Wanted” is how it shows kids the dark side of always getting what they want, which is that it comes at the expense of getting what they need. Kermit has always been a father figure to the members of his troupe, and that role is magnified here when he’s replaced with a cold careerist who wins them over by indulging their egos. The plot may mandate that the rest of the Muppets cannot tell right away that Constantine isn’t Kermit, but in their hearts, they know that this newfound freedom and lack of discipline is wrong. Parental win!

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