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Movie Review: Sabotage


It's funny how some movie titles seem to become self-fulfilling prophecies, allowing their overriding meaning to seep into the film. On the surface, Sabotage is a dark, trashy and intense Arnold Schwarzenegger action thriller with a couple of name stars thrown in for good measure. However, as it builds to a crescendo, it seems as though it's actually working to sabotage itself.

The story follows a special DEA operations task team, who penetrate a drug cartel's lair to steal and split $10 million. When the money goes missing, the authorities start to clamp down on "Breacher" (Schwarzenegger) and his team begin to crack as the circle of trust gets smaller as each member gets picked off.

Sabotage is like a trashier version of SWAT. The tactical team isn't as clean-cut, acting like a band of surly pirates in all their skull tattoo and army regalia. Their crass sense of humour, constant cursing, blood lust and devil-may-care attitude makes them seem like bad guys, but they're killing for the good guys in a similar vent to Elite Squad.

Sabotage has also been influence by End of Watch, which is not surprising since both films come from the mind of David Ayer, the same writer-director, who wrote Training Day. The grisly kills, blood-splattered action set pieces and loose, experimental camerawork hint at this, but the team chemistry isn't as convincing.

"I used to watch The A-Team... a lot."

The Ten Little Indians style mystery propels this clunky actioner, unfortunately the only real sabotage that's happening is self-­sabotage. Just as Ayer reels us in for what has to be an interesting outcome, the cards all get dumped on the table and the film devolves into one character's obscured agenda, which could have been a more interesting perspective to start with.

Then it seems unsure how to end... opting to transplant the story into an almost entirely new scenario. Along the way, this trashy action mystery thriller holds suspense, but drifts into stagnant waters as it tries to make some awkward gear shifts. Having names like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Mireille Enos and Olivia Williams adds considerable weight to the film, yet they don't seem to add up to the sum of their muscle.

Schwarzenegger's more serious than usual and doesn't have that much of his typical wink-wink magic going on. Sam Worthington and his facial hair works surprisingly well in this film, although he seems underplayed. Terrence Howard seems to be out-of-place and throws in a by-the-way token performance. Ironically, the real machismo and tenacity comes from Mireille Enos as the no make up bad-ass of the team and Olivia Williams as a no-frills, married-to-the-job detective.

Sabotage isn't a terrible film - it's laden with great ideas, some serious star power, a compelling bent copper story and is purposefully trashy. The genre mash-up makes for compelling viewing and there's enough dumb fun in the way of dopamine-inducing gore, violence and derogatory humour to appeal to our base instincts. It starts with promise, but the process just doesn't amount to much, making for a disappointing ending.

The bottom line: Trashy

 
Five Documentaries that will Change your Life...


Searching for Sugarman

Rodriguez was and is a household name in South Africa, a performer whose enigmatic persona brought with it a collection of music to rival the likes of Bob Dylan. The man’s disappearing act became something of a legend, until two intrepid South Africans decided to find what became of “Sugarman”.

This documentary is part mystery, part fairy tale and flows like a detective story. Rodriguez’s hauntingly beautiful music lights the way as we learn how one man’s musical talent inspired a nation yet somehow failed to pay the bills. It’s inspiring; it’s deeply moving and will sink into your bones.

It will change the way you support artists.

God Grew Tired of Us

In 1987, 27,000 boys fled from Sudan to Ethiopia on foot, after their Muslim government pronounced death to all males in the Christian South. Of these, 12,000 survived to find themselves in a U.N. camp in Kakuma, Kenya in 1991. God Grew Tired of Us documents the journey of three ‘Lost Boys’, who are repatriated to the United States.

From their humble integration, we discover refreshing innocence as the young men take their first flight out of Africa and try to acclimatize to Western culture. From a seemingly desperate situation, we learn that modern society presents its own equally detrimental challenges.

It will change the way you view modern society.

Food, Inc.

This documentary deals with corporate America’s control over the food industry and explains how international agribusinesses are trying to monopolise food production. The world’s food chain is subsidised by and relies heavily on cheap corn. We eat corn in many forms, it’s a primary source of food for animals and as such, many companies are trying to figure out how to manufacture it more efficiently.

Food, Inc. gives us an eye-opening and unflattering behind-the-scenes on America’s food industry, from patenting genetically engineered seed, and corrupt government officials, to the severe effects this over-reliance on corn has on our health and environment.

It will change your perspective on food.

Exit through the Gift Shop

Banksy is a street artist turned global phenomenon. In his documentary, Exit through the Gift Shop, we discover how the eccentric Thierry Guetta, a former shop keeper and amateur film-maker, tried to locate and befriend the infamous Banksy, before inadvertently becoming the subject of the film.

This funny, thought-provoking documentary gives us an inside look at Invader, Shepard Fairey and Banksy in action. It embodies the cheekiness of its central character, a Frenchman whose underground graffiti quest turned him into Mr. Brainwash. It’s got an Andy Warhol temperament - challenging, subversive and pushing the bounds of what constitutes art and fame.

It will change the way you think about originality, ownership and passion.

Blackfish

Following The Cove’s harrowing revelation in Taijii, Blackfish seeks to expose a chain of marine theme parks. Tilikum is SeaWorld’s notorious Orca bull that killed three people, while in captivity. Blackfish builds a case against keeping creatures in captivity for human entertainment, arguing its point through shocking footage and a series of emotional interviews.

While truly horrific, Blackfish is an important documentary from writer, director and producer, Gabriela Cowperthwaite. She spends some time showing just how emotional and intelligent Orcas are, demonstrating the sometimes devastating effects of keeping them in captivity, and exposing SeaWorld’s desperate attempts to cover this up.

It will change your views on entertainment involving animal captivity.

This article originally featured in the April 2014 edition of TechSmart magazine.

 
Movie Review: All Is Lost


All Is Lost arrives in a year dominated by thrilling survival dramas, Captain Phillips and Gravity. While it hasn't made the same splash as its contemporaries, it's a film that deserves your full attention. You could describe it as Life of Pi without the tiger, Castaway without the island or Gravity at sea... however you relay the basics, one thing holds fast, J.C. Chandor's minimalist action-adventure survival drama is a true original.

The up-and-coming director demonstrated his script-writing ability and directorial strengths with a full ensemble of top brass talent in the financial crisis thriller, Margin Call. The critically acclaimed drama showcased Chandor, giving him license to try something entirely different with his next film.All Is Lost is a complete reversal, stripping down the cast, the characters and the plot to essentially focus on one man's efforts to stay alive at sea.

While much more intimate, it would be a mistake to think thatAll Is Lost is a small film. While the budget, cast and crew have shrunk, the heaven's are the limit for the film's ambitions and themes, pitting a man against the elements. All Is Lost echoes aspects from the Biblical story of Job as wave after wave of misfortune seem to test the mettle of his character.

"Our Man", as Robert Redford is credited, is anonymous. We're never given much information on his past or the source of wealth that allows him to sail solo around the world on a yacht. Hollywood veteran, Robert Redford, is given the challenging task of keeping the film afloat as its only actor. Similarly, Tom Hanks managed to hold our attention in Castaway, yet with a 32 page script, Chandor's film is free of dialogue and Redford doesn't have a volleyball named Wilson.

From bucketing water to resourceful seamanship, we journey with Redford, whose optimistic and knowing performance soaks up the silence with true grit and bald-faced determination. He's able to transpose so much life into the role, giving us glimpses into the sailor's soul as the sea (or life) beats him down. While the performance resonates emotionally, it also works practically. Redford performs many stunts himself and at the age of 77, we believe he can man a yacht alone.

The cinematography is incredible, taking us into the claustrophobic confines of the yacht cabin, tossing us around in the eye of the storm only to zoom out to portray our man's sometimes serene natural surroundings. It has a documentary realism to it, yet captures the devastating beauty and indiscriminate danger of his predicament.

While we adventure with the sailor visually, All Is Lost is an aural expedition in itself. The sound effects are crisp and we feel every reverberation of every action and prop, while the yacht's presence and authenticity is unquestionably real. The integrity of the ocean's sounds are embedded in a haunting score that bellows and beckons with a spiritual sway.

All Is Lost is not for everyone. The anonymity of the lead, the lack of dialogue and dismal order of events make the film's rewards difficult to uncover. However, it's a breath of fresh air to those wanting to watch a film of rare substance and meditative thought. We're encouraged to witness this survival adventure first-hand and without prejudice. It may not be entirely accurate from a seaman's perspective, but you're missing the point if this becomes a hang up.

Watching it from this standpoint, allows you to truly experience the fullness of this character's troubles from a safe distance. Our emotional investment becomes more and more evident as we start to realise just how much we've been rooting for him all along. J.C. Chandor has crafted a powerful and taut deep sea adventure drama that sinks into your bones. Robert Redford's performance is resolute, spirited and honest, and the strong production values bring this vision to life.

The bottom line: Engrossing

 
Movie Review: Blackfish


The Cove sent tremors around the world, exposing the barbaric hunting of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. The film-makers brought the shocking seasonal slaughter into full view, shining a spotlight on Japan and the International Whaling Commission's lax policies around whaling and so-called "research". The Cove's courageous and tenacious film and surrounding activism not only won more than 25 film awards, it helped effect change on a global scale.

The Cove touched on some delicate matters, suggesting that SeaWorld is one of the companies that buys dolphins from these hunts. While these claims are disputed, the focus has not shifted from this entertainment company's business practices. Instead, another deep concern has been raised in the form of a documentary called Blackfish.

Blackfish follows the life story of the Orca, Tillikum, a young bull who was captured and raised in captivity. "Tilly" as he came to be known is now responsible for the deaths of three people, including a top trainer. Blackfish seeks to inform viewers about Orcas and their innate emotional world, raise awareness about their treatment, expose the misinformation at the core of SeaWorld and argue why Killer Whales should be free.

Writer-director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, presents a powerful, eye-opening and moving documentary in Blackfish. The film is a companion piece to The Cove, except it hits closer to home. For many Americans, seeing dolphins being herded and slaughtered in Japan was devastating, yet must have felt like just another international travesty. Blackfish is more personal, in the way we journey with the hero and villain, Tillikum. It's also more local, happening in their backyard at SeaWorld, a place that undoubtedly holds nostalgia for many audience members.

"If these whales could talk."

SeaWorld were unavailable to be interviewed for Cowperthwaite's documentary. However, through interviews with former trainers and staff, we're still able to get an insider's perspective. The trainers are not vindictive. They are people, who were genuinely passionate about their jobs, yet naive and unaware of the ill effects of the industry until it was too late. Their personal stories add a special touch, juxtaposing somewhat haunting footage of their performances with the Orcas.

Blackfish is not for the faint-hearted as the footage is disturbing at times. The Orcas are sometimes aggressive with each other in their little artificial "families" and it's not uncommon for there to be blood and tooth grooves. More horrific is the footage, showing some near drownings, accidents and build-ups to deaths involving trainers. It's not easy-viewing and some of the witness accounts and interviews are truly heartbreaking, but these images and emotions just add clout to this documentary's important message.

Blackfish packs a punch, both emotionally and intellectually. We're forced to face up to something that, like the SeaWorld trainers, just didn't feel right on a number of levels. No one would manage to stay psychologically fit stuck in a bathtub for most of their lives and as well-off as they'd have us believe - the wild is where they belong. Blackfish is an important documentary, one that seeks to uncover an issue that is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore or hide.

The bottom line: Powerful

 
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