*NEW* SABOTAGE REVIEW *NEW*

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This was sabotaged from the start.

Members of an elite DEA task force find themselves being taken down one by one after they rob a drug cartel safe house.

From the guys who brought you End of Watch and Training Day. That tagline delivered so much promise BUT failed on so many levels.

From the opening, I felt like I joined the movie halfway through. It certainly grabbed my attention BUT only because I was so bloody confused.

It kept flashing forward as we follow a botched raid on a Mexican cartel safe house and the ongoing investigation after a $10 million overhaul went missing.

Considering the strong cast consisting of; Terrence Howard (Empire), Josh Holloway (LOST), Sam Worthington (Avatar), Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Mirielle Enos (The Killing US) and Arnold “GET DOWN!” Schwarzenegger, I haven’t seen such an UN-interesting bunch of characters in quite some time.

The cliched macho talk and poor banter did nothing to win me over. The cartel stuff was so generic. It was merely used as a poor plot device to hide the inevitable backstabbing that would inevitably happen among the team.

This could have been a perfect platform for Arnie to have a pop at some serious acting. I couldn’t think of anybody better to play the head honcho of a dysfunctional and deadly team BUT I have to say that this was one of his most wooden performances to date. And that is saying something! He made something that should have been a sure thing on paper seem like such a stretch.

After watching Big Love and the American remake of the Killing, it made a change to see Enos play a drug addicted adrenaline junkie on the verge of a breakdown. Tragically, the more we saw of her character, the more annoying she got. So annoying in fact that I prayed for her swift exit.

Worthington’s performance was laughable from his mangled accent to his horrendous beard. A shame, really. His character was the only one that had a little bit of depth. Albeit, a cliched one.

The story line involving corrupt cops should have been writer David Ayer’s forte (by now) BUT alarm bells were ringing at the obvious plot holes – it had to be a team member that stole the payload. Because every other cartel member was butchered.

After a stupid BUT watchable first act, it took a good half hour before anything really happened. My curiousity was finally peaked when (out of the blue) a team member was bumped off in a highly gruesome manner. Olivia Williams’ (Rushmore) introduction was a much needed trigger and certainly got the ball rolling.

BUT I was too distracted by her nauseating accent. Her character was a total bad ass. BUT she caved into Arnie’s “charm” so easily and had a terrible sidekick in Harold Perrineau.

The wafer thin characters and agonizing pace didn’t do the movie any favours and even when the body count rose, my interest sank. The cloak and dagger stuff behind the task force had potential as Williams’ investigation was hindered by red tape.

I don’t mind dodgy and corrupt antagonists BUT I just didn’t care by the end. The Shield (one of my favourite shows) had me secretly rooting for the bad guys BUT the only rooting I did for Sabotage was for it to finish.

It felt like Ayer was poking fun at the very genre that he has been so accustomed to. For all their flaws, Harsh Times and Street Kings were solid efforts by comparison.

A dull story line with poor revelations was thankfully thrown out the window BUT replaced with an even more ridiculous shoot em up and a laughable street chase with incredibly dire techno video game music.

The ending was horrendous. It was supposed to be this big unravelling moment and a huge sombre footnote to the piece BUT it was just terrible. The overlong pace and poor storytelling literally left a stellar cast waiting around for Arnie to show more life than an IKEA table.

I’ve never been so disappointed in a Swarnie flick and it’s not as if the expectations were ever high in the first place.

2/5

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FURY REVIEW

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Feel the fury! Well . . . Sort of.

NO! It’s not another Marvel hero origins movie. Although how good would a Nick Fury movie be? Anyway . . .

David Ayer (Training Day/End of Watch) pens a hard hitting visceral war drama with the aid of a stellar cast.

BUT with an overlong running time and a lagging middle act, it falls short of the greats.

It has been a while since we had a war film and within the last two years, we have been rewarded with several. A little resurgence, almost. Not a bad thing at all. The only problem after so many classics (The Bridge on The River Kwai, The Great Escape, The Guns of Navarone to name a few); is the next film that follows merely a regurgitation?

Saving Private Ryan and the equally brilliant Band of Brothers certainly broke that mould and proved otherwise BUT in the process left a tough act to follow. And I find it hard not to draw comparisons. The Monuments Men felt old before it even got a chance. A rehashed Dad’s Army with little on laughs and little on drama. Fury on the other hand . . .

“Ideals are peaceful. History is violent”.

Let’s start with the good. You can normally bank on Brad Pitt. And he delivers another solid performance. If you’re expecting Lieutenant Aldo Raine from Inglorious Basterds, you may be left feeling a little disappointed. But Pitt certainly brings a charismatic character to life in his expressions and posture alone.

Where Ayer excels is in the little things; the impact the war has had on the soldiers psychologically. Of course, Ayer shows the level of chaos and destruction that has been brought to Germany as the Allies make the final push. An opening sequence in which we have nothing but silence as a German soldier rides a horse over a field of fallen men was both haunting and harrowing.

Ayer makes an interesting commentary on the human condition. The fact that the soldiers no longer see themselves as human. They are simply killing machines, fighting for survival. The meal sequence perfectly demonstrated this. The scene may have dragged nearer the end and lulled what was a suspenseful and tense encounter but the point was still crucial.

Lerman played the part well as fresh meat Norman Ellison, a typist who has been called up to help in the final push. The juxtaposition between him and Collier (Pitt) work brilliantly. His quick lessons of war by Collier hit home.

The meal sequence was a perfect comparative piece as Collier (Pitt) and Ellison (Logan Lerman – Percy Jackson) attempt to have a moment of normalcy in which they sit at a table to have a meal with two German women. The rest of team inevitably crash the party. It was a perfect statement exemplifying that war changes everything and everyone.

That normalcy is weakness but where it was interesting at first, it dragged on far too long. Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) was demented but also quite irritating as his character continued to yammer. Where I felt compassion for the man, I soon prayed for a bombshell to get him off the screen. Terrible to say for such a film.

Shia LaBeouf (Transformers) was an unexpected surprise. After all the controversy surrounding his personal life and the rumours going around about his “method acting”; one particular rumour being that he actually pulled out one of his own teeth to get the feel of the character, he gave a good (and quite normal) performance.

The action was brutal, graphic and violent. It made a change to have a tank warfare film (I can’t recall too many tank movies in particular). The set pieces in which the tanks battle against each other were brilliantly executed.

The claustrophobia and pressure of fighting in a tank was captured perfectly. Ayer allowed for some moments of camaraderie between the rag tag team of misfits and showed how in sync they had to be to survive attack after attack.

To be honest, I was happy to see more of that. The only problem is that the more explosions and battle sequences we got in the second half of the film, they seemed to mesh into one continuous sequence and what didn’t help is that some of the characters didn’t really shine as much as you anticipated. You felt empathy because of what they were fighting for but otherwise . . .

Michael Pena (End of Watch) was highly unmemorable merely repeating other character’s lines and stating the obvious, “That’s five against 300”. A shame considering how talented an actor he is. Bernthal’s indecipherable yammering did my nut in and after a while LaBeouf’s preaching prattled on a bit.

The ending was tragically predictable which is a statement in itself as how many outcomes can there be in a war? I will certainly not forget what those men went through but will I remember this film? I mean Saving Private Ryan had an array of characters with such a simple story line but it had me engrossed, routing for them.

Fury caught my attention but I could feel my eyes wavering over that watch again.

The set pieces are good, if a little repetitive. The cast do their best if their characters are not as rounded as you would hope. Ayer delivers a visceral, if overlong, war drama but it didn’t quite hit it off for me.

3/5

THE EQUALIZER REVIEW

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Denzel + Hit Girl = a dull long winded action flick. Redeemed by a few moments of carnage.

The Equalizer or Man on Fire 2 (if Creasy chose retirement and decided to work in a DIY store) proved one thing. That Denzel Washington is still very much the man.

He provides yet another powerhouse performance proving why he is one of the best actors going. But I fear he may have taken too much on with this one.  Normally you can bank on Washington to carry films that (on paper) may be a little lacklustre but this really did test me.

Washington’s presence certainly makes this just about watchable but it’s still a disappointing mess reprieved by two good performances and some moments of mayhem.

An agonizing coma-inducing opening did not help matters. We get an idea of Washington’s life in a few shots that should have taken up a couple of minutes not twenty. It meandered along as Washington keeps up appearances blending in and trying to maintain a peaceful (and incredibly boring) life.

It was incredibly clichéd and predictable as Washington banters with the staff. That and a tedious subplot in which he helps his best friend Ralphie (Johnny Skourtis) train for his security guard exam. However, his little improvised dance routine is one I will be busting out the next time I hit the town.

Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick Ass) and Washington worked well together. You felt for her character instantly but the constant café meetings to build up a relationship that was clearly established just further slackened things.

I was waiting for the inevitable incident that would activate Washington to take action. An incident that would put Moretz out of action until the closing minutes when she pops back up as a mere afterthought. It’s surprising to see how grown up she has become but anyone could have played her. Anyhoo . . . By the 45 minute marker. FINALLY things got a little bit more interesting with Washington cracking skulls, taking names and dispensing B-movie one liners.

To be honest, every time he glared and tortured someone, I saw Creasy. The frenetic fist-fighting was a feast for any action junkie. The only problem is that the disposing of unmemorable henchmen was dealt with too quickly.

One niggle that irritated me through this. The Equalizer’s thing was his timing. In one particular scene, he threatens to dispose of the East (Or West. Not relevant) Coast Russian mafia in 16 seconds. Washington does his business in a bloody and incredibly violent fashion. BUT in . . . 30 seconds?

This happens constantly. He says 90 seconds to one person and takes five minutes instead. Is Washington getting too old for this shit? I may not have seen the famous TV series starring Edward Woodward (The Wicker Man) but messing up one of his hallmarks does not bode well.

The final 20 minutes made up for a film that desperately wanted to be cooler than it was. The DIY Die Hard sequence offered everything I expected throughout the film . . . NOT just for the ending. I am happy to wait for the violence and destruction.

BUT only if there is enough story or something going on that’s worth filling in that time. 132 minutes is far too long. The action that was delivered was fast and furious. Washington can most definitely still play the hardened action movie veteran.

Antoine Fuqua may have reunited with Washington for their second outing but Training Day, this ain’t. All the other supporting characters were so unmemorable and clichéd that it frustrated me. All except for Marton Csokas (XXX)

He was absolutely brilliant. A worthy adversary to Washington’s peace-keeping protagonist. His lines may have been hammy in parts but Csokas’ expressions and dead pan delivery made him a villain to remember. His presence in every scene created tension and suspense. Something that was much needed.

After commending David Arbour (End of Watch) for his performance in A Walk Among The Tombstones, I found his character in this very dull, passive and generally unnecessary. David Meunier (Justified) made a more memorable turn in just one scene.

I was annoyed that we barely scraped the surface of McCall (Washington)’s past and the only taster we get is a boring encounter with Melissa Leo telling us what we already knew. And Bill Pullman? Remember him? President of America in Independence Day (Or the dad in Casper). A mere chess playing cameo? Terrible.

Washington makes it rain with quality acting, charisma and some fist-fighting, blood curdling violence. Csokas offers a villain that makes up for the lumbering pace. However, all it made me want to do is watch Man on Fire.

It got there in the end but boy, oh boy. If the credits suggested another one in the pipeline, get a better storyline. Or least some more action. Give it a go but me . . . I’m going to get Man on Fire out of the DVD cupboard.

2.5/5 for me.

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES REVIEW

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Or Taken To The Grave? Liam Neeson uses his particular set of skills. No, wait! His acting skills (Remember them?) and his gravelly gravitas for the hardened private eye thrown into the seedy underworld of a 90s New York City.

A return to form for the reformed action hero in a suspenseful, if drawn out, gritty neo-noir. If you’re expecting another Taken, then you may be left disappointed.

Now I loved Taken (the first one) and it was great to see Neeson back in the limelight. But I was afraid that he was going to be typecast in the action role indefinitely. Non-Stop (Taken on a Plane) proves my point. BUT I’ll always commend Neeson for Schindler’s List and Rob Roy.

However, Neeson plays the part to perfection. A grisly Philip Marlowe. To be honest, the 90s setting didn’t really provide anything additional to the film. Other than the fact he uses old computers in libraries and payphones. I don’t really believe in the whole “Based on True Events” spiel. Not since Fargo and every horror film for the last decade.

So what’s it about? Private investigator Matthew Scudder (Neeson) is hired by a drug kingpin (Dan Stevens) to find out who kidnapped and murdered his wife.

Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) is really starting to make a name for himself and plays the part well. But to be honest, his character was a little weak and didn’t really do much until the closing moments.

Astro (Earth to Echo) played Neeson’s homeless sidekick well and the pair worked well together. Some will find his character incredibly irritating and their “bonding” conversations completely unnecessary and unsuited to Scudder’s loner.

At least we won’t be as annoyed as Ruth Wilson (Luther) whose part was completely removed from the film to make Scudder more of a loner. All she has attached to her name is a credit. And yet Astro made the cut? Strange.

However, the real scene stealer and adversary to Neeson’s Marlowe was David Harbour (End of Watch) as the maniacal killer. He was brilliant and sinister as hell. His creepy voice delivery was memorable enough. Olafur Darri Olafsson (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) also made a memorable role as the strange but morally torn middle man.

My main quip with A Walk Among The Tombstones was the length. A zippy opening with Neeson doing what he does best was soon put on a slow boil. The story tries its best to keep you hooked but there isn’t enough to justify the running time.

The story barely scrapes the surface of the sordid underbelly that these dark antagonists lurk from. There are creepy and suspenseful moments and Neeson certainly carries the film but despite all its promise; Mihai Malaimare Jr’s grainy noir-esque cinematography, Neeson’s snappy one liners and Harbour’s menace, it falls short of your expectations.

The story line meanders along with the surprise abduction and punch-em-up from Neeson but it’s all a little by the book. Endless red herrings with leads that go nowhere slowing down and killing what mystery and suspense was brewing.

The finale was certainly tense and made up for the meandering middle act but it was all so predictable. I was little disappointed that it had to go for a big fist fight and shoot em up to keep in and bank on Neeson’s resurged action hero fame.

The first hour was engaging, tense and slow burning but we got to see Neeson do what he does best . . . Act. Don’t get me wrong, there were some decent punch em up moments that Sam Spade would be proud of but it seemed to run out of ideas, go on a bit too long and then end with a big action number to stop bums fidgeting in seats.

If you want Taken, watch . . . Taken. But if you want to see a return (of sorts) for a talented actor and have a taste for noir, then it’s worth a gander.

3/5