We Want Action Double Feature: Sabotage (2014) & Chinese Zodiac (2012)

sabotage french posterI thought about calling this post “We Want Old Man Action’ but thought it might get a lot of the wrong kinds of hits. Well, now that I’ve typed that I guess I’ll get them anyway! But, I’ve got to say, I was very impressed with both Sabotage and Chinese Zodiac which are anchored by stars the 67-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-58-year-old Jackie Chan respectively.

I don’t remember hearing much in the way of good reviews about David Ayer’s Sabotage. After having seen the film, I have a feeling that people didn’t show up because they didn’t want to watch “a Schwarzenegger film.” It’s too bad for them because, this is a tight, sometimes sinister thriller about a squad of DEA agents who tried to steal a ton of drug money, failed and start getting murdered one by one.

Plot-wise, this sounds like the kind of 80s or 90s action movies that don’t live up to the emotional heaviness inherent in their plots, but that’s not the case here. Schwarzenegger’s squad includes Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Terrence Howard, Mireille Enos, Max Martini, Kevin Vance and Mark Schlegel all of who balance the reckless after-hours antics of these agents with the ridiculously serious and proficient way they go about their actual jobs. They each bring different levels of intensity to their characters that, when combined with a breakneck pace, intense moments of violence and cops played by Olivia Williams and Harold Perrineau, make for an incredibly engaging and intriguing film.

Much like with The Last Stand and even Escape Plan to a lesser extent, I thought Schwarzenegger did a great job of being in a film that doesn’t so much rely on him running around and getting into fist fights or blowing people away, but instead lets him do some actual acting work (while also firing the occasional weapon, of course). If that last sentence sounds like crazy-talk to you, just look at Ayer’s other films like End Of Watch, Fury and Training Day and ask if you think he’d make a silly action film.

chinese zodiac poster If you are looking for something a little bit more silly and fun, then I highly recommend Chinese Zodiac which Jackie Chan starred in and also directed. I’ve read that the movie takes some cues from Chan’s earlier films Armour Of God and Operation Condor (or Armour Of God 2: Operation Condor as it’s also known), but I still haven’t seen those all the way through and I didn’t feel like I was missing anything not being familiar with them.

In the movie, Chan plays a master thief who, along with his crew, agrees to steal back a series of Zodiac statue heads that were pillaged from China about 150 years ago. This job sends them all over the world from locales as diverse as a huge mansion to a large boat in the middle of a jungle protected by pirates.

I love the adventure aspects of this movie that felt like they borrowed well from the Indiana Jones films. I also really enjoyed the action elements. Chan handles a lot of them on his own, but his crew also proves to be more than capable fighters and entertainers at the same time. I was a little worried that he might look stiff or that he might use a fill in like Chuck Norris did in the awful The Cutter. Instead, he’s as spry as I remember him which is nice because the last newer Chan movie I watched, Gorgeous, was a big disappointment.

I’m happy to say that Chinese Zodiac reminded me of Chan’s action-comedy masterpiece Police Story and it’s follow-up. In addition to being a fun action movie, it also has an interesting message about the complexity of the world’s relationship with ancient artifacts, especially ones that were removed from one place where they were revered and taken to another place where they became equally important.

While Sabotage and Chinese Zodiac are very different movies, I liked them both very much both because they’re good in and of themselves, but they also show that these two action stars can still do their thing. To paraphrase Stan Lee in Mallrats, if they keep making these movies, I’ll keep watching them true believers!

Quick Movie Review: Terminator Salvation (2009)

I don’t remember hearing anything good about Terminator Salvation, but I actually enjoyed the movie last night. Maybe it’s because my expectations were pretty low from the poor reviews or maybe it’s because I’m just not that big of a Terminator fan to begin with, but I took it for what it was: a stylish, action movie with lots of robots kicking ass and getting their asses kicked. Frankly, I liked it a lot better than Transformers 2, for whatever that’s worth.

The story takes place before the events of the first movie, so we see young John Connor and Kyle Reese, Christian Bale and Anton Yelchin respectively, fighting all kinds of Terminators. You’ve got motorcycle ones, plane ones, the first version of the T-800 (more on that in a second) and a big ass one looking to capture people, all of which looked pretty cool to me.

The movie is interesting because there isn’t necessarily a main bad guy. The enemy is the machines. And sometimes humans (not the only George Romero-esque theme in the movie, by the way), but you do get the good ol’ “boss fights” at the end, one of which SPOILER involves a very T1-looking Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s not actually Arnold, but a stunt man with Arnold’s face composited on his, but I thought it looked awesome.

One other thing I wanted to mention was the camera work/vision that director McG brought to the party. Sure, sometimes basic four-shots seem a little bungled, but there’s this great moment early in the movie where Connor jumps in a helicopter, the camera follows him in, then swirls out to see the action and comes back into the helicopter while it crashes. It’s all one shot and I thought it was great.

Sure it’s a little overblown at times and some of the surprises weren’t all that surprising, though I’m not sure if the whole Marcus reveal was supposed to be TOO surprising (the missus actually guessed it as soon as he popped on screen), but overall I thought it was a pretty fun action movie. Definitely worth the rental and I think I would dug it on the big screen too.

I’m In Like With Avatar

Yesterday, in an unexpected twist, the in-laws and Em decided they wanted to¬† go see Avatar. Em had been making fun of it for months and her mom kept saying she didn’t want to see a sci-fi movie. I mentioned I’d be down for Avatar or Sherlock Holmes and eventually we ended up at the theater wearing Buddy Holly glasses and watching crazy aliens run around on-screen. I had been cautiously optimistic about the movie. Not because I’m a great big James Cameron fan and not because I’m that big of a sci-fi fan myself, but because I wanted to see the next step in 3D and CGI and I hoped it would be good. We walked out of the theater with all three of them singing the movie’s praises and I just felt kind of eh. I liked it and the special effects were amazing, but the movie didn’t really suck me in. I only ever got really absorbed and lost myself in the movie towards the end in the gigantic final battle scene, which not only looked sick, but had me really wondering how they were going to get themselves out of this one.

Again, that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it or find it interesting. I actually found the idea of a planet where every living thing was connected basically by synapses to be fascinating and started catching on pretty early as our main character, Jake, was driving around his blue-skinned, genetically altered Avatar (a mix between human and the indigenous alien DNA) and their footprints were glowing. I also really liked how the CGI made the blue alien humanoids look real. There was only one brief moment where I felt like I was watching a Pixar movie instead of a live action one, but after that it felt “real” the whole way. The animals of the jungle and the plant life were all a lot of fun to look at too.

I guess what bugged me was the story. It felt a little been-there, done-that. Maybe it’s because I’ve read thousands of comics and seen hundreds of movies and cartoons, so the idea of humans on an alien planet trying to take what they want from the “savage” aboriginals isn’t all that new. I was also a little disappointed in the portrayal of the army-like dudes. I know they distinguished early on that these were not government military personnel, but hired guns working for a corporation, but they didn’t really nail it home enough in my opinion. Not that I want things completely laid out for me, but it seemed like a fairly big story point that I had to keep reminding myself of and I kept thinking that these Army guys were dicks. And they were, which is another problem. Everyone wearing camouflage with the exception of Michelle Rodriguez (who I generally hate, but liked enough in this) is a jerk. And not just a jerk, but a lame, one-liner spouting jerk. Had those dudes not been in the movie or at least better written, maybe I would have been more absorbed.

Overall, I guess it was the little things that kept popping me out of the story. I tried avoiding all the hype and press and did an okay enough job. Okay enough that I had no idea Uhuru played the main female alien. In fact, I couldn’t nail down exactly who she reminded me of, but it popped into my head at the very end. She looks just like Uma Thurman. It’s crazy. Anyway, I’m in like with the movie, not love and hope to give it another viewing. We did see it in 3D, which I would recommend, because it’s not really gimmicky (though it probably could have been in a few places early on), it just puts you into things a bit more, kind of like the visual equivalent of surround sound. In the end, I would recommend giving it a shot and in 3D whenever possible. Oh, plus, check out this cool YouTube video of the toys which use a new technology called augmented reality to add a bit of awesomeness in each package!