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Film Review: Sabotage


written by Michael Dequina

sabotage posterIn his prime, unlike a lot of his action-movie star brethren, Arnold Schwarzenegger always made a bit of an effort to work with filmmakers of caliber, from John McTiernan to Paul Verhoeven to, of course, James Cameron.  Since making his full-time return to Hollywood, he seems to have continued that tack for his solo vehicles, first working with Kim Jee-Woon for his comeback vehicle The Last Stand and now, with Sabotage, David Ayer.

Being a writer first and director second, Ayer has crafted a yarn that is less a traditional action film than a more involved mystery/thriller that happens to contain action as members of a disgraced DEA team led by Schwarzenegger are picked off one by one not long after they’re reinstated to duty.  As is the Ayer norm, there is a lot of brutal violence, muddied morality, but even more proudly profane macho posturing along the way (even by the female characters)–and it’s the latter that too often initially gets in the way.

Ayer ramps up the four-letter-word-laden trash talking to a degree of obnoxious self-parody, with what should merely be comic enhancement just becoming tiresome and irksome distraction that keeps the main mystery hook from gaining traction and tension, especially when some (notably, Mereille Enos as the lone female in Schwarzenegger’s team) try way too hard in their tough guy line delivery.

sabotage stillAround the halfway mark, having beaten to death the point that all characters, whether the morally questionable DEA agents or the nominally more noble law enforcement, are all full of blustery braggadocio, Ayer wisely reduces the wisecracks from main course to occasional seasoning, and the plot finally starts to build some suspense.  Schwarzenegger, appropriately looking even more weathered than he did in The Last Stand and the Stallone buddy flick Escape Plan, still can crack wise with expert timing, and while some in the ensemble make the most of rough, change-of-pace roles (Olivia Williams is especially good as the cop investigating the murders, and Sam Worthington is virtually unrecognizable as one of Schwarzenegger’s team), other talent, such as The Best Man series co-stars Terrence Howard (as another team member) and Harold Perrineau (as Williams’s partner), go underused.

Ultimately the film is reasonably entertaining, but it takes near-self-sabotage to get there.

Michael Dequina

Sabotage is released in the UK on May 7th 2014


Film Review: The Raid 2: Berandal

written by Michael Dequina

It would have been easy for writer/ director/ editor Gareth Evans to rest on his laurels and simply duplicate the style and general format of his 2012 Indonesian action extravaganza The Raid for the film’s sequel–in fact, it would have been wholly understandable and maybe even expected, given the original’s instant cult classic status. But much like how the first film proved to be far from an average action film, with the ambitious and wildly satisfying The Raid 2: Berandal, Evans further proves that he is far from the typical action film director. Not only is he a filmmaker of tremendous technical talent, but equally impressive intelligence–a virtue overshadowed, quite forgivably if unfairly, by his expert way with action, which he somehow takes to even more electrifying heights of creativity and excitement this time out.

This installment does take a little more time to get to the action goods, not to mention takes extended breathers before the set pieces, which actually points up to that aforementioned intelligence.  Evans recognizes that it would have been foolhardy for him to try to match, in the most literal sense, the original.  A cinematic landmark of relentless kinetic energy and visceral excitement (and my hands-down favorite film of all of 2012), The Raid is such a literally non-stop thrill ride would be difficult if not impossible to sustain for a second film, and certainly not with the same degree of shock-and-awe satisfaction. So at the risk of turning off the original’s existing rabid cult of fans, roughly the first half of The Raid 2, action takes a more secondary position to setting up the new story elements.  But unlike most action sequels, this is not just “the next adventure of…” its hero, rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais), but rather a continuation and organic expansion of plot seeds planted in the previous film, picking up mere hours after that film’s conclusion. Beyond even that, Evans is also not one to let the status quo safely settle, for the very first scene not only dramatically changes the game but adds uncommon resonance to both the previous film’s conclusion and Rama’s ongoing internal journey. Now with an intensely personal motivation to fuel his ongoing mission to weed out corruption within the police force, he accepts a dangerous, extremely deep-cover assignment to infiltrate one of the major local criminal organizations.the_raid_2_berandal

And so, no longer confined to the derelict building of the first film,  Evans builds out his dark and dangerous world, most immediately apparent  from the varied looks of the locations, from dank prisons to glitzy clubs, from lush green rice fields to the blood red walls of upscale restaurants.  But beyond the greater freedom to show off a striking sense of production  design, the larger canvas allows Evans to reveal a vivid and compelling  grasp of narrative and characterization.The basics of Rama’s assignment is  to warm up to Uco (Arifin Putra), the hothead son of crime boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo), while in prison, and then once out use his position within the mob to uncover their law enforcement connects. But almost immediately, the mission turns out to be far more complicated than initial appearances. What Rama tells his wife is only a months-long operation stretches into years before it’s really even begun, but the greatest complication comes in Uco, whose ruthless ambition and volatile ways not only causes tension with his father  but also threatens to upset an already unsteady peace between the city’s crime syndicates.

With this film’s meatier story and characterizations, Evans proves to have writing and directing chops that go far beyond being an expert orchestrator of movie mayhem, for The Raid 2 remains just as compelling when no one on screen is kicking ass.  The performances are especially effective, with Bruce Campbell lookalike Putra delivering a breakout turn as the destructively selfish Uco; a far less showy but possibly more fascinating character is Bangun, whose levelheaded rule over his empire is lent some palpable pathos by Pakusadewo’s work; one feels the world weariness and loss that has led to his realization that the most important weapon in maintaining power is to simply offer respect.  Uwais, already a naturally likable and charismatic presence, also ups his acting game here as the darkness and deceit takes an increasing emotional toll on Rama.  But the added depth does not come at the expense of added fun, with Evans coming up with two action icons for the ages in a pair of assassins, the names-say-it-all Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman) and Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle).

And those two are reflective of the even greater giddy abandon Evans displays in The Raid 2; that Hammer Girl uses *both* ends of her hammer equally when going about her bloody business shows how Evans consistently goes that extra mile.  As with the first film, there’s not only a nice balance between flashy shoot-’em-up and down-and-dirty martial arts action, and once again the type of action organically fits the context of the given scene.

But with a world’s worth of locations now at his disposal this time around, Evans lets his imagination run wild, and how.  Yes, there is now literal room to stage bigger and more elaborate sequences such as a car chase, but it’s not the size and scale that makes Evans one-up his Hollywood ilk but his creativity; after all, a car chase is a car chase, but for it also to be a shootout *and* a martial arts fight at the same time?  The now-series’ bread and butter of the pencak silat fight scenes are also more impressive than ever, and as before Evans shoot and edits the scenes in a way that’s kinetic and visually clever *without* being incoherent, always capturing the moves and hence the athletic abilities of Uwais and the other performers with utmost clarity–thus making them that much more awe-inspiring and astounding.

It’s no hyperbole to apply those two words to both the whole of The Raid 2 and the gifts of Evans, who proves that he is operating at the top echelon of not merely action filmmakers, but filmmakers, period, advancing his preferred genre to a well-rounded pinnacle as generous with engrossing character and story (and, it must be said, run time–it’s 148 minutes long, but without a second wasted) as it is with adrenalized excitement and exhilaration.

Evans has gone on record to say a third installment is on the way, but as much as I anticipate that film, I am even more excited about what other boundaries he can most assuredly obliterate in unrelated, and perhaps even non-action, movies.


Michael Dequina

to watch the trailer, click here

Michael Dequina is a film critic with his own website ‘The Movie Report’.



The Butler: Michael Dequina Film Review


Written by Michael Dequina © 2013

Upon the most brief and superficial of glances, it’s easy, if not somewhat understandable, to approach Lee Daniels’ The Butler with some trepidation.

After all, history be damned, another high profile Hollywood film about African-Americans doing domestic service work?  But to dismiss the film off hand is to not give director Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong their proper due for the value of the story they tell–and not necessarily speaking in terms of its notable fact-based story: that of a White House butler who served under seven presidents from the 1950s to the 1980s.

The fact that said butler, here in fictionalized form named Cecil Gaines (played for most of the movie by Forest Whitaker, with a strong assist from Michael Rainey Jr. and Aml Ameen as younger incarnations), was a witness to such revolutionary eras of socio-political change, particularly for African-Americans, in such close proximity to the nation’s commanders-in-chief is indeed remarkable.  However, for all the monumental signpost events touched on and recognizable actors taking on the roles of various iconic figures (such as, for a start, Robin Williams, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, John Cusack, and Alan Rickman are seen as Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan, respectively; Nelsan Ellis as Martin Luther King; Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan), what ultimately registers and resonates most strongly is *not* the film’s brisk and showy tour of 20th Century American history, particularly in terms of racial politics.

Where Daniels and Strong truly engage is in the uncommonly seen story and experience of a late-in-life self-actualization, following the intimate, gradual internal journey as Cecil slowly, inevitably grows away and out from the comfortable silence of servitude to an awakening and awareness of his own value, place, and identity as an individual in the world and, above all else, within his own family.   But this is all painted in a more complex way than merely an arc of a silent bystander discovering his voice and strength.  Rather, it’s one in allowing his strength to develop and evolve with the times; one witnesses how adopting such an outwardly passive role from an early age was a necessary and rather brave survival tactic in the era of his youth, especially after witnessing the brutal loss of his father (a briefly seen but effective David Banner) as a child; and as times progress, so do prevailing attitudes shift from one of remaining in sheltered safety to daring to take the risk of proactive self-expression.

Serving as both a counterpoint and unexpected complement to Cecil’s journey is the rising political consciousness of his eldest son Louis (a terrific David Oyelowo).  His more militant trajectory naturally causes conflict within the more traditional values of Gaines household, but if Cecil is able to ultimately take from his son inspiration to be more assertive, Louis learns from his father’s example that one can still fight the existing power without compromising his own by being constructive rather than destructive.

As Cecil’s loyal but often neglected wife Gloria, Oprah Winfrey reminds that not for nothing did she first win major widespread attention as an actress, and her natural empathy that has made her such a multimedia phenomenon over the decade’s works to her advantage in this return to the screen.   If some of her darker struggles, such as her oft-mentioned but only momentarily seen struggles with alcohol, are somewhat glossed over, Winfrey effortlessly connects the viewer to those ups and downs.  But no one connects as strongly, powerfully as Whitaker. Cecil is a deceptively simple and exceedingly difficult part to pull off, what with his relatively few words and placid inaction for most of the film; but appropriately for a film that follows a lead character whose largely a witness, Whitaker’s ever-observing, ever-expressive eyes tell the tale of how he actively processes, thinks, and feels even if outwardly he may appear as nothing more, as his job requires, than a virtually invisible bystander.

Daniels’s measured, deceptively unadorned direction works in a similar fashion.  Far removed from the brash, in-your-face, go-for-broke approach that has largely characterized the films he’s thus far either directed or  produced, he exhibits a mature restraint not only in terms of his own body of work but in terms of decades-spanning historical films, with broader melodrama often sidestepped in favour of a more straightforward,  matter-of-fact depiction.  If, as the film bounces from historical event to historical event, this may feel somewhat routine as a moment-to-moment to viewing experience, it effectively places the viewer squarely in Cecil’s literal and figurative vantage point–not only as a fly-on-the-wall observer to the stream of events, but also how the effect of the experiences build to a far-from-routine cumulative catharsis that one could not so easily foresee. Much like the butler by the end of his film journey, a still, silent viewing audience is moved, perhaps to a surprising degree, by the totality of the entire experience, and maybe even enlightened and inspired by discoveries not so much about the world than what the events of it illuminate about oneself.

Michael Dequina
The Movie Report: http://themoviereport.com

The Butler is in UK Cinemas Now
More info Here

Academy Conversations: The Cast & Director of The Butler in Conversation