Sabotage Review

Sabotage (2014) directed by David Ayer and written by David Ayer and Skip Woods. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington and Terrence Howard.

Synopsis: The story begins with John “Breacher” Wharton’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) wife being tortured on camera by members of the cartel as he watches in distress. His son is also killed, however, this is not seen on the tape.

The story jumps to 8 months later as Breacher and his team of Special Ops DEA agents raid a cartel warehouse. They consist of: James “Monster” Murray (Sam Worthington) and his wife Lizzy Murray (Mireille Enos), Joe “Grinder” Philips (Joe Manganiello), Julius “Sugar” Edmonds (Terrence Howard), Eddie “Neck” Jordan (Josh Holloway), Tom “Pyro” Roberts (Max Martini), Bryce “Tripod” McNeely (Kevin Vance), and “Smoke” Jennings (Mark Schlegel). The team have conspired to smuggle 10 million dollars out of the warehouse, but things go terribly wrong after the money goes missing on completion of their mission.

Due to the missing money gaining the attention of their superior Floyd Demel (Martin Donovan), he suspends them after stringent questioning. After several months, Demel tells Breacher that he can have his team back.  However, their previous actions do not go unnoticed as they begin to be killed off one by one in horrible ways. This gains the attention of FBI Investigators Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) and her partner Darius Jackson (Harold Perrineau). Nobody is safe, and Breacher tries to get to the bottom of it as well as seek retribution for what happened to his family.

My initial thoughts of this movie are of mixed emotions. I really like the work of David Ayer, and the writing of Skip Woods too. To date, Ayer has an impressive repertoire of movies such as: Harsh Times (2005), Street Kings (2008) and End of Watch (2012) under his directorial belt. That is not to mention Training Day (2001) and The Fast and the Furious (2001) as a writer too. Therefore, I have come to expect big things when I watch one of his movies.

However, this really was not his best work. Ayer always keeps to what he does best and writes/directs what he knows. He seems to always explore similar themes such as corruption, drugs and law enforcement. This is not a bad thing because he does them really well; however, this was certainly not a Training Day or End of Watch and just never really took off for me. It is a shame because there is an impressive cast in this movie.

To firstly discuss the supporting cast, Sam Worthington is virtually unrecognizable as James “Monster” Murray and I had to double take when I realised it was him. With a skin head and bushy beard, he is a million miles away from his usual appearance.

Terrence Howard also features as Julius “Sugar” Edmonds but I feel he is wasted in this role. Howard is capable of great things, and I was surprised the Oscar nominated actor took this role. The same can be said about Worthington despite the fact his performance was not disappointing.

The stand out performance for me, however, was Mireille Enos as Lizzy Murray. She did a good job of showing the volatility of her drug addicted and troubled character, and ultimately stole the show for me.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a fan favourite and will never really win anything for his acting. Whenever I see him in a role, I always struggle to take him completely seriously. As a result, I was surprised he was cast by Ayer. His cheesy one liners from previous 80s and 90s action movies seem unsuited to Ayer’s types of movies.

Overall, this was not a bad movie but just not a very good one. It certainly is not a movie I will see again.

By Robert Spence

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Under the Skin Review

Under the Skin (2013) directed by Jonathan Glazer, and written by Jonathan Glazer and Walter Campbell.  This movie stars Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy McWilliams, and is based on the novel Under the Skin by Michel Faber.

Synopsis: Scarlett Johansson plays an alien femme fatale who inhabits the body of an attractive female in Scotland. She travels around in a white van, and tempts men into her van. She then takes them to a remote location where she kills them.

The story begins with a man riding on a motorcycle (Jeremy McWilliams). He retrieves a woman’s body from a field, and then Johansson strips her of her clothes. She then begins exploring to find items to beautify herself – i.e. a shopping centre and purchases make-up.

In a series of scenes, we see her white van pulling up, and her speaking to men in a flirtatious manner. She uses an English accent which clearly elucidates that she is not local. Captivated by her beauty, the men get into her van and she drives them to her lair. Once they get there, the men strip off and become immersed in a sea of liquid and unable to escape; much like the way spiders catch their prey in their webs. During her capture of these men, the enigmatic motorcyclist is never too far away.

Despite this, there is a scene where she captures a physically deformed man and takes him to her lair. She then decides to set him free – only to then be captured by the motorcyclist and bundled into a car. This clearly states that the motorcyclist is having a clear influence on proceedings, but also that there is more to Johansson than her temptress ways.

As the story progresses, the act of snaring unsuspecting men takes a turn with more focus being on adapting to life as a human. We see her trying to eat like a human, and also see her trying to have sex with a man who takes care of her.

This is not a mainstream science fiction movie by any means, and this needs to be noted before viewing. It is weird, and definitely not to everybody’s taste. The movie is also very slow, and not a lot happens. However, having said that, an interesting story is at the heart of this movie.

Ultimately, this is a story about an alien trying to adapt to human life, and the various aspects that come with this. Having not read the novel, I cannot comment on how true this adaptation was; however, the writers achieved what they set out to do in making a decent movie pertaining to these themes.

This movie does not telegraph its revelations, and remains quite ambiguous. For instance, the motorcyclist character is very mysterious, and although he seems to be assisting Johansson along the way and generally being a strong presence, it is never revealed what/who he actually is. Is he an alien too or some kind of human accomplice?

Having said that, the ambiguity works and the characters are believable. From research, the men who she invites into her van were not actors and had no idea they were being filmed at first. This adds an element of realism to the story, and was very effective.

Johansson was also intriguing as the story’s protagonist. This is definitely not with the mainstream roles she has featured in of late which was refreshing to see. I even rooted for her at a certain scene towards the end where a man tries to rape her. Despite the fact she killed a group of men earlier on, I cared for her which clearly shows the filmmakers got her characterisation right.

With regards to setting, this was filmed practically on my doorstep. Being from Glasgow, the gritty locations they chose were instrumental in creating the sense of unease and tension that were so integral to the movie.

Overall, this is an interesting movie which does the job despite having a very limited budget. Science fiction can definitely be done on a small budget, and I would recommend this for something out-with the norm.

By Robert Spence

Extant – Season 1 Episode 1 – Re-Entry – Review

Extant (2014) is an American science fiction television show created by Mickey Fisher and executively produced by Steven Spielberg. The show stars: Halle Berry, Goran Visjinic, Pierce Gagnon, Camryn Manheim, Hiroyuki Sanada, Grace Gummer and Michael O’Neill.

This episode was directed by Allen Coulter and written by Mickey Fisher.

Episode Synopsis: Molly Woods (Halle Berry) is struggling to adapt to life after 13 months on a solo mission aboard a space station. She is still receiving flashbacks from her time there, and concern is raised from her son Ethan (Pierce Gagnon). She lives with him and her husband John (Goran Visnjic) who is a robotics engineer heading the Humanichs Project (a project specialising in Artificial Intelligence).

Early on in the story it is established that their son Ethan is a robot who the couple have been raising as their son due to problems conceiving a child of their own.

Due to Molly’s time in space, increasing concern is raised from Hideki Yasumoto (Hiroyuki Sanada), Molly’s employer. He heads the Yasumoto Corporation, and John’s Humanichs Project is desperately seeking funding from this. Yasumoto’s concern stems from the fact that some footage from Molly’s mission has been deleted, with Molly claiming she did this accidentally.

During the episode, Molly finds out that she is pregnant. She claims this is impossible because she is unable to have children. We then gain insight into an incident that occurred on her mission in which she encounters an apparently deceased astronaut who she used to be romantically involved with named Marcus Dawkins (Sergio Harford). After appearing unable to talk much and touching her face, she blacks out with Marcus standing before her. Later, when inspecting the camera footage she notices that he does not appear whatsoever and it looks like she is touching thin air. In a panic, she deletes it.

As a result, Molly is clearly hiding something, and Yasumoto has funded the Humanichs Project in an attempt to get closer to the family.

Due to this being the first episode of the series, there is a lot of world building occurring. Not only are we being introduced to new characters with their respective stories, but we are also being introduced to a new world; a world where technology is much more advanced than now.

This episode is nicely written and directed. There is enough twists and turns to keep the viewer interested, as well as questions raised to entice the audience for the rest of the series. It is also clear that Steven Spielberg’s touch is all over this show.

Halle Berry does not disappoint as Molly, and neither do the other actors in the cast.

There is some strong themes running through this episode; for instance the difference between humans and robots. This is mainly manifested in the Wood’s son Ethan, and whether he truly can experience human emotions such as love. Morality is another prevalent theme. Is creating robots in this manner morally right, and what are the repercussions of playing God as such?

To conclude, this is a show in which I would recommend. I was taken in by the world that has been created and the characters in it. The fact this also features Oscar winning actress Halle Berry and the legendary Steven Spielberg is enough to warrant further interest.

By Robert Spence

In the Name of the Father Review

In the Name of the Father (1993) directed by Jim Sheridan, written by Terry George and Jim Sheridan. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlethwaite and Emma Thompson. This is an autobiographical story adapted from Proved Innocent: The Story of Gerry Conlon of the Guildford Four by Gerry Conlon.

Synopsis: Gerry Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a young Irish rogue living in Belfast during the 1970s. After a run in with the IRA, he is narrowly saved by his father Giuseppe Conlon (Pete Postlethwaite). Gerry is sent to live in London with his aunt as a result. However, instead he takes this opportunity to explore the city with his friend Paul Hill (John Lynch). One night, there is an explosion at a local pub which kills a number of people and injures many more. After returning to Belfast, Gerry is implicated as being involved in the bombing and is sent to prison along with three others. His father Giuseppe is also sent to prison along with some more of Gerry’s relatives, and in this time father and son have to deal with the harsh realities of a life in prison despite their innocence. Gareth Peirce (Emma Thompson) is the lawyer campaigning for their release.

Movies based on true events are always risky because staying true to the source material is always at the forefront. Gerry Conlon is a massive figure in Irish history, and his story is one of the major miscarriages of justice in the contemporary world. Therefore, I was very curious to see the results. However, I thought this was great.

Daniel Day Lewis gives arguably his best performance, and I was gripped throughout with his portrayal of Gerry Conlon. This movie received seven Academy Award nominations including Best Actor in a Leading Role (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Pete Postlethwaite), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Emma Thompson), Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. Therefore, this validates the universal critical acclaim this movie received.

Pete Postlethwaite’s portrayal of Giuseppe Conlon was also great, and his onscreen chemistry with Day-Lewis was very effective. As they spend a large portion of screen-time together, the father/son relationship is extremely convincing. Postlethwaite died in 2011, however, this is a performance he should really be proud of.

Emma Thompson is equally as effective as Gareth Peirce, and she bounces well off Day-Lewis. I have yet to see her in a bad performance.

For me, I can tell a bad movie by the fact it does not provoke any type of emotional response. With this, I found myself becoming very frustrated throughout the story at the harsh treatment of some of these characters. I was emotionally invested all the way through this story.

I recommend this to anybody. Day-Lewis is one of the acting greats of our time, and this movie effectively illustrates this.

By Robert Spence

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) directed by Bryan Singer and written by Simon Kinberg. Starring  Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Nicholas Hoult, Shawn Ashmore, Peter Dinklage, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart.

Synopsis: The story begins in a dystopian future where mutants are fighting antagonistic robots called Sentinels. Their main purpose is to destroy mutants and human beings who possess the genes to carry on the mutant race. A small band of mutants including Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and Bobby Drake/Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) fight the Sentinels. This is when we see their true destructive abilities. After successfully eluding the Sentinels, they converse with Storm (Halle Berry), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), and Magneto (Ian McKellen). They decide that in order to prevent the eradication of mutants and to prevent this dystopian world, they send Wolverine’s consciousness back to 1973. This is to prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) murdering Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the creator of the Sentinels as her DNA is used to give them their abilities. Wolverine will seek help from the likes of the younger Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to assist him.

I was quite impressed with this instalment of the X-Men franchise. After watching X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), I was quite disappointed with the way the trilogy ended. However, after watching X-Men: First Class (2011) and the latest Wolverine (2013) movie, I feel the franchise has been invigorated. There are a number of reasons as to why I found this latest instalment enjoyable.

Firstly, there is a lot of humour in this movie. One great character for comic relief is Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters). The way he uses his superhuman speed is very comedic, and compliments the story well. The majority of this occurs when they try and break Magneto out of prison. Wolverine also has numerous funny one liners as usual which introduces some comedic elements to the story. He was always my favourite character growing up, and Hugh Jackman seems to play this character effortlessly.

Peter Dinklage plays antagonist Bolivar Trask well, and is the paradox of his Tyrion Lannister character in Game of Thrones (2011). This really secures him in the top flight of television and movies.

With regards to the story, Mystique has been made the main focus. She is of extreme importance due to her genes holding the key to forming the deadly Sentinels, and is also the object of Professor Xavier’s/Magneto’s affections. This was also part of the last instalment’s story.

This movie ticks all the boxes for me because it not only has a good storyline, but also involves all of the integral X-Men characters without feeling too crammed. I felt that with X-Men: The Last Stand, there was so much going on which was detrimental to the storyline. However, this does not happen with this movie. This also appeals with its nostalgic elements because we gain insight into Professor Xavier’s mutant academy, and see all of the initial characters from the original movies. This really brought that element of catharsis which I felt the series needed. I urge anyone to check this movie out as you will not be disappointed.

Hannibal – Season 2 Episode 13 – Mizumono – Finale – Review

This episode was directed by David Slade.

Synopsis: This episode begins with Jack telling Will that Hannibal has requested his company for dinner. Jack states that he will be wearing a wire.

Hannibal visits Jack’s wife Bella’s (Gina Torres) bedside. She asks him to save Jack for her when she is gone.

Freddie Lounds discusses her resurrection with Will; however, this may be short lived as Hannibal’s keen sense of smell may be a foil in her plan. Meanwhile, Dr Alana Bloom unmasks the truth about Hannibal.

Kade Prurnell, an investigator for the Office of the Inspector General (Cynthia Nixon) places Jack onto forced compassionate leave as she feels his plan to snare Hannibal is entrapment. However, will this put a stop to his plans?

This episode begins high in tempo as the season draws to its climactic conclusion. With Jack’s invitation to dine with Hannibal, we are now full circle; this point in the narrative was conveyed at the beginning of the season.

We also finally see Hannibal revealing his true murderous self, which is a mere sample of what is yet to come. As previously mentioned, the show is now reaching territory depicted in the Hannibal movie series and books.

This episode is not without twists, and some past faces make an appearance here. Ultimately, this is a very good episode and this has perfectly prepared the viewer for season 3 of the show. From the way this has been built up, season 3 will be the true unmasking of Hannibal. He is not hiding in the shadows anymore.

By Robert Spence

Fargo – Season 1 Episode 6 – Buridan’s Ass – Review

This episode was directed by Colin Bucksey.

Synopsis: The episode begins with members of Fargo’s Crime Syndicate having dinner. They mention the murder of Sam Hess, and reiterate that Mr Numbers and Mr Wrench are dealing with finding the killer. The leader states that he does not just want the culprit apprehended but dead.

With the continuation of the Milos blackmail still underway, Malvo gets Chumph (Glenn Howerton) to read a note over the phone to Milos. He gives Milos instructions on where to meet up with the money. After this happens, Malvo knocks Chumph out and ties him up. He also tapes an unloaded shotgun to his hands.

As Molly drives, the radio predicts stormy conditions are upon the town. She continues to work with Gus in order to get to the bottom of what happened the night Lester’s wife was killed. Gus tells her that his neighbour saw Malvo in his street, and has a plate number for the car he was driving.

Lester is still in hospital, and is recovering from his hand injury. However, there is a police officer waiting outside for him. As a result, he makes a daring escape plan involving another patient.

My initial thoughts of this episode are that this has some nice twists and turns. Malvo’s blackmail plan is in full swing but is not without complications. I also noticed some parallels with the original Fargo movie. For instance the Milos blackmail plotline in general.

Some characters meet a bitter end this episode, and in quite a gruesome way. Therefore, be prepared for some blood and plenty of gun firing.

By Robert Spence