Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sabotage - 3 stars

Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Breacher, the leader of an elite DEA squad.  These guys are so tough, they have nicknames like Monster, Sugar, Grinder, and Neck.  The movie opens with them conducting a raid on a drug cartel's mansion where they steal $10 million from the cartel.  They stash the money, kill all the drug dealers, and when they return to collect the money they find it missing. 

Over the next six months, the team is interrogated by Internal Affairs.  IA knows they stole money from drug dealers, but they can't prove it and the team doesn't crack.  Once the investigation is over, the team gets back together and goes back to work.  Then, one by one, members of the team start showing up dead in more and more gruesome ways.  Who's killing them off?  The cartel?  Is it one of them?

This movie is a strange clash of styles.  At times, it's really funny.  The team has a lot of fun hurling insults at each other.  A couple of detectives start investigating the murders, and they are a lot of fun together, always busting each others chops.  One of the detectives is played by Olivia Williams, and it's interesting to hear her doing a southern accent.  She actually steals the movie.  I enjoyed watching her get in Schwarzenegger's face and not being intimidated by the team.

When the movie isn't being funny, it's really dark and serious.  This doesn't feel like typical action movies.  The kills are more gruesome, and there are consequences to every action.  In most action movies, you see a car chase and you know it's not realistic.  In real life, there would be crashes and people would be killed.  But in most movies, everyone gets away unscathed, unless it's a principal character and the script requires them to be hurt or killed.  In this movie, innocent bystanders are hurt.  At one point in the car chase, someone is in a car shooting at another car, and a random driver his shot and killed.  A minute later, the car hits a bicycle and the rider's head is smashed in the windshield.

The brutality of this movie is at times a little much.  There were quite a few times when the entire audience gasped in shock, and everyone was silent for a minute.  It's like we're used to our action movies being kind of sterile and this movie just rubs our faces in the brutality.  For some people, this movie will be too much.

But I enjoyed it.  I liked that it was a little out of the ordinary.  I thought the story was interesting and the characters were compelling.  When we find out who is behind the killings, the movie doesn't treat it like a huge reveal.  Instead, it's like the movie says this person is the bad guy, now on to the next scene.  It didn't feel like the movie was counting on us to be really surprised.  It was just another part of the story.

The story doesn't really hold of very well if you think about it too much.  Some of the character's motivations don't make a whole lot of sense, but that wasn't distracting enough to bother me while I was watching the movie.  Another thing I liked was how unlikeable the characters were.  We know from the beginning that Breacher and his team are stealing money.  They're stealing from drug dealers, but all the same, they're not honest cops.  And they don't trust anyone outside the team.  Even though the detectives are trying to solve the murders of their friends, the DEA team abuses the detectives every chance they get.  The only redeeming characters in this movie are the detectives. 

This is a movie that will divide people.  If you're like me and you like good action movies with a good story, but are tired of predictable stories and unrealistic action scenes, you might enjoy it.  But I have talked to several people who absolutely hated the movie.  So, fair warning.

Bad Words - 2 1/2 stars

Jason Bateman stars as Guy Trilby, a 40 year old who enters a national spelling bee.  All other contestants are under 12, but Guy found a loophole in the rulebook that allows him to enter. 

Guy isn't an easy character to like.  He has no filter and if he doesn't like someone, he'll say the worst thing he can think of to them just to get them to leave him alone.  But he meets his match with Chaitanya (Rohan Chand), an Indian boy who wants to be Guy's friend.  At first Guy just insults him, but nothing bothers Chaitanya.  He just smiles and keeps asking Guy questions.  Finally the two become friends.

The movie is really funny in spots.  I couldn't believe some of the things Guy says and does, including the ways he tries to psych his competitors out.  The best scenes in the movie are between Guy and Chaitanya.  The two have great chemistry together and it's nice to see this lonely kid with no friends form a bond with Guy, even if he is the worst role model a kid could ever have.

But one problem with this movie is that there isn't much to it.  Guy's reason for joining the spelling bee are kept secret for most of the movie, and when we find out what the reason is it's a letdown.  There are far too many scenes of Guy and Jenny (Kathryn Hahn), a reporter who is writing a story about him.  Every time they are together, Jenny is trying to interview him and he's always blowing her off.  After a couple of these scenes, it gets tedious.

Since we don't know what's motivating Guy, it makes it hard to root for him.  There's nothing wrong with a flawed character, but we need something to help us empathize with him.  In this movie, he's just a horrible person who hates everyone.  It's really funny at times, but I found myself getting really bored with the movie anytime the jokes let up.  It's one of those movies where the best parts are all in the trailer. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Divergent - 2 stars

I'm getting tired of these YA novel adaptations that only exist to cash in on the success of Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games.  I'm especially distrustful when the book came out within the last few years, and it's the only thing that the author has ever published.  It doesn't necessarily mean the author isn't a good writer, but it does suggest they were trying really hard to create another YA franchise.

Anyway, like Beautiful Creatures and Mortal Instruments, Divergent is the latest Twilight / Hunger Games ripoff.  Set in a post apocalyptic world, humanity is now grouped in five different factions.  There's Abnegation (selfless), Amity (kind), Candor (honest), Erudite (intelligent), and Dauntless (brave).  The idea is keeping everyone in a different group will help keep the peace.  The idea is everyone picks a faction at age 16, and they stay with that faction for life.  Not sure exactly what each faction's role is in society.  Dauntless is the soldier / police force, I think Abnegation is the ruling class, and Erudite is the scientists.  Not sure what the others do.  If you want to know whether a dress makes you look fat, you go find a Candor.  And if you need a shoulder to cry on, you find someone from Amity.  I really got a kick out of the idea that one faction is perfectly content to work in the field all day.

Anyway, Tris (Shailene Woodley) takes her test and finds that she is a divergent.  That means she is too strong willed or something, and she doesn't fit into any of the groups.  She has to keep it a secret, because if they find out she's a divergent, she'll be cast out and be factionless (homeless).  So she joins Dauntless and starts training to be a soldier.

That's the first two hours of this movie.  In the last 20 minutes, a plot actually develops.  It involves Candor wanting to take power away from Abnegation, and use the Dauntless soldiers to kill a bunch of people.  Something like that.

This movie was really boring.  It only exists to set up the next two movies, which of course are already green lit.  There is no reason the movie can't do that and also work as a good movie on its own, but the writers aren't interested in that.  The first half hour is basically nothing but history and exposition.  The movie tells us instead of shows us what the world is like.  The characters weren't well developed, so I had no interest in what Tris was going to decide, or whether she would be discovered.

The training is set up as being incredibly difficult, but it turns out to be pretty weak.  The first time Tris fights another new recruit, they're told that they have to fight until someone can't continue.  We see Tris get punched a time or two, and then the movie cuts to the aftermath.  She only has one bruise on her cheek and seems okay.  So much for brutal combat.  The only tension for most of the movie is seeing whether she'll score high enough to stay in Dauntless.  It's like if the entire plot of Harry Potter was whether Griffindor would score enough points to beat Slytherin. 

There's nothing much to like in this movie.  I did enjoy the scene where she zip lines across the entire city, and the last 20 minutes was somewhat exciting.  But that may have seemed more exciting because of the dullness that preceded it.  Yeah, I'd say you can skip this one.

Friday, March 7, 2014

300: Rise of an Empire - 2 stars

300: Rise of an Empire takes place before, during, and after the events depicted in the movie 300 (2006).  The focus is on the Battle of Artemisium, with the Greeks being led by Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) and the Persians led by Artemisia (Eva Green). 

Gerard Butler doesn't technically appear in this movie, unless you count the few brief scenes from the first movie, seen in the prologue.  Stapleton does a pretty good job, but he's not as much fun to watch as Butler was.  Luckily, Eva Green is here to pick up the slack. 

The scenes with her are the most enjoyable in the movie.  Artemisia's back story is her family was killed when she was a young girl, and she was held as a prisoner for many years.  Eventually she was freed and adopted by the father of Xerxes, or something like that.  As portrayed by Green, she is incredible fierce and ruthless.  In one scene, she takes out her sword, cuts off a man's head, then kisses is full on the lips.  She also has a very violent sex scene with Themistocles during a brief truce between the two sides.  I thought they might kill each other before they finished, and it was the highlight of the movie.

Unfortunately most of the movie is like watching someone else play a video game.  The battle scenes consist of mostly the same stuff over and over and it gets dull.  It also doesn't help that every sword strike is shown in slow motion, so that we can see the blood slowly fly in our faces. 

There is a story here, but it amounts to maybe 10 minutes of screen time.  The characters aren't developed enough for me to care about them, and I just got numb to the action.  I really just don't care about this movie or what happens to any of the characters.