A Slasher Movie Disguised as an Action Flick

Unpleasant.

That’s the best word I can use to describe Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest movie, “Sabotage.”

Other words that would be appropriate include “icky,” “gross,” “bleah,” and “I never want to watch that again.”

2014 movies sabotage

Arnold plays John “Breacher” Wharton, the head of an elite DEA anti-cartel task force, or something like that. On one of their drug busts, they attempt to steal $10 million of drug money. But when they go to where they stashed the money, they find it gone. A few months later, members of the team start getting picked off one by one.

It’s a decent enough premise, one that was allegedly inspired by Agatha Christie’s classic novel “And Then There Were None”, although the movie has nothing to do with the book aside from the basic premise of a specific group of people being picked off one at a time by an unknown/unseen killer.

Generally I like the movies I see in theaters. I’m pretty good at knowing what kind of movies I’ll like, and most of the time when I write about a movie on this blog I’m pretty positive about it.

There is very little to be positive about with Sabotage.

Where to begin? Let’s start with the characters. All of them (with the possible exception of Arnold’s character) are either completely unlikable or have little to no personality at all.

This sucks for a whole bunch of reasons. First off, they’re all played by pretty good actors, so it’s a shame when they either get nothing to do, and/or are so unpleasant that you just don’t like any of them. This means that it is extremely hard to care when they all start being killed in various gruesome ways, which robs the movie of any sort of emotional connection.

Now, I get that people in real life aren’t always nice. Not every person you meet in life is going to be a very likable person. It’s a fact of life. I get that. But the problem with the unlikable characters in this movie is that in order for the plot to work on any sort of emotional level, you have to at least be able to sympathize with them. And none of this movie’s characters (with, again, the lone exception of Arnold’s character) are remotely sympathetic. They’re cocky, arrogant, foul-mouthed jerks. You’re almost glad when they start getting killed, because it means there’s one less asshole around to drag the movie down.

Surprisingly enough, Arnold himself actually gives what I thought was a pretty good performance. He’s very believable as the leader of a group of badasses (as douchey as all those badasses may be), and it’s not hard to believe that the group would fall apart completely if he weren’t around to keep them in line.

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He’s also the only remotely sympathetic character in the movie, which is mostly due to his backstory. His wife and son were kidnapped by the drug cartels and horribly tortured to death.

And this leads us to the movie’s other biggest problem: the violence. You might want to grab a raincoat or something, things are about to get messy.

This movie has enough gore to easily rival just about any horror movie. I have a high tolerance for violence in movies and video games and the like, but even I found much of the violence in Sabotage to be completely repellent.

For starters, Arnold’s character has a video of his family being tortured to death, which he views multiple times throughout the movie. Literally the very first scene in the movie is of him watching his wife being tortured and killed. The first sounds of the movie are of a woman begging for her life.

And it only gets worse from there: entrails hanging from the ceiling, multiple grisly autopsy scenes, and a refrigerator that gushes blood when opened are just a few of the horrors on display. Early on in the movie, I started wondering when my Arnold movie turned into Saw. Seriously, I want entertainment, not torture porn.

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There are a couple of decent action scenes, including a couple of close-quarters shootouts and a pretty good car chase. But even those are splattered with an excessive amount of the red stuff, which makes them not very much fun either.

The movie was directed by a guy named David Ayer, who made a movie called End of Watch a couple of years ago, which was a very good cop movie anchored by a pair of solid performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as the two main characters.

end of watch poster

It’s a really good movie. If you like cop movies you should check it out. It has good acting, good dialogue, and really great chemistry between the leads. So I had reasonably high hopes for Sabotage, none of which came to fruition, aside from Arnold himself.

Sabotage is just a dirty movie. It’s relentlessly gruesome, it has a triple-digit F-word count, it’s covered in so much grime and filth that I wanted a shower when it was over and I gratefully left the theater. There’s a place for violence in movies, and it’s certainly not impossible to make a movie with unlikable characters still be compelling (Brian de Palma’s Scarface comes to mind).

But in Sabotage, there is no redemption, no emotional connection, and no hope. Just a river of gore and a bad taste in your mouth.

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Prepare for Gory!!

I think that any review of 300: Rise of An Empire can best be summed up as follows: if you liked the first movie, you will like the new one. If you didn’t, you won’t. It really is that simple.

So thanks for joining me here at the Zombie Room, I’ll see you all next time!

Haha, no, just kidding.

Amazingly, it’s been eight years since 300 came out and became a surprise hit in 2006, kickstarting the careers of Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, and director Zack Snyder. Most people are probably familiar with the name Gerard Butler, which is 100% due to 300 (he went on to squander his newfound name recognition by appearing in a whole bunch of completely forgettable movies since then). Lena Headey went on to play the duplicitous queen Cersei in Game of Thrones, and Zack Snyder went on to direct Watchmen and Man of Steel (and Sucker Punch, but the less said of that one, the better).

And who doesn’t know lines like “Tonight we dine in hell!” and “THIS. IS. SPARTA!!!” even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve probably heard those lines. They’ve become part of the landscape of popular culture, frequently parodied but never quite equaled.

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It was also a very divisive movie. Some people loved it, some people hated it. And I have to say, both reactions are entirely valid.

The movie is full of stylized visuals, over-the-top acting, slow-motion blood-splattering, and lines of dialogue just begging to be quoted and parodied.

And abs. Can’t forget those abs.

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You either like this kind of thing, or you don’t. Love it or hate it, chances are you probably remember it.

Personally, I dig it. I like the stylized visuals, the alternately sped-up and slowed-down battle scenes, and the sort of heightened sense of realism that pervades the movie. It’s a manly, badass movie, and I always watching it. It never fails to get me fired up.

People say it’s cheesy. Yes, it is. But I don’t mind.

People say it’s not historically accurate. Well, it’s based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, so it probably isn’t very historically accurate. But I don’t mind.

People say it’s one-sided, and that it portrays the Spartans as heroic and awesome and the Persians as pure evil. Absolutely true. 300 is a film with pretty much zero subtlety. But I don’t mind.

People say the acting is over-the-top. Also true. But it’s not entirely dissimilar from something like, say The Avengers. The acting in that one is also pretty over-the-top, if you think about it. But if you think about it some more, that starts to make perfect sense. The Avengers is a movie where a billionaire with a flying suit of armor, a scientist who turns into a monster, the Norse god of thunder, and a couple of secret agents whose base is on a flying aircraft carrier band together to battle an army of aliens led by the Norse trickster god.

Sounds pretty ridiculous when you put it that way, doesn’t it? Of course it does, since none of that could ever happen in real life, because real life is boring.

What I’m saying is that when the situation is heightened, the style needs to be heightened. 300 does this perfectly. So I don’t mind the hammy acting. In my opinion, it suits the movie perfectly.

The point of that whole discussion was to emphasize how similar the experience of watching the original movie is to the experience of watching the sequel, and how similar the movies themselves are.

 300-Rise-of-an-Empire

Stylized visuals? Check.

Over-the-top acting? Check.

Slow-mo blood splatter? Check.

Lack of subtlety? Check.

Abs? Check.

If you liked all of these things in the first movie, you will like them here. If you didn’t, you should probably see something else.

The sequel follows two main characters. The first is Themistokles, an Athenian general and strategic genius.

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Themistokles is played by Sullivan Stapleton, an Australian actor who plays one of the main characters in one of my favorite TV shows, Strike Back. I could go on for a while about how awesome Strike Back is. If you love action movies like I do, you owe it to yourself to check out Strike Back, every ten-episode season is like five two-part action movies. I love it so much.

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But I digress. Stapleton’s experience in Strike back gave him two very important skills, both of which come in handy in 300: Rise of An Empire.

Those two skills are as follows:

Skill number one: kicking ass.

Skill number two: scoring with the ladies.

The film’s other main character is Artemisia, played by Bond girl Eva Green, who is officially the Zombie Room’s Best Villain of 2014 So Far (both of those skills will come in handy with her, if you know what I mean. Wink, wink).

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She’s scary, sexy, and awesome. Artemisia is the commander of Xerxes’ army, and Eva Green effortlessly pulls off all the things this character needs in order to work. It makes sense that, despite being Greek by birth, she hates the Greeks enough to lead a huge army against them. It makes sense that she’s smart enough to handle being in command of an entire army, and it’s plausible that she’s so fearsome and badass an army of men wouldn’t hesitate to do what she says.

I guess you could say that the movie is maybe a bit more balanced than its predecessor, since it spends a fair amount of time giving background to Artemisia, and shows some of the events that happened prior to the events of the first movie (like the battle of Marathon). It’s kind of a quasi-sequel in that sense, since some of it takes place before or during the first movie, although most of it takes place afterwards.

But enough about characters and story and background! How’s the action? How’s the badassery? Is there as much carnage as the first one?

The answer to that last question is a resounding yes. I think it’s safe to say the overall quantity of blood spilled in this movie easily tops that of the first movie.

 300 blood

This is a movie where every slash, every stab, even every punch and kick produces great gouts of thick red blood. To be honest, it almost looks less like blood and more like strawberry jam. The overall effect is kind of cartoonish. But the numerous battles are well-staged and choreographed, and suitably badass.

The movie wasn’t directed by Zack Snyder, but new director Noam Murro emulates Snyder’s style so closely that it may as well have been. As with all things 300, this is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

I don’t really have a whole lot more to say about the movie. If you liked the first one, you should see the sequel. I’m fully aware that both 300 movies are from perfect. They do have many flaws, although most of those flaws don’t really bother me. I enjoy them for what they are, which is entertainment. They’re not good history. They’re not in any way subtle. But they are full of spectacle, and sometimes a little good old-fashioned spectacle is really all you need.

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And Eva Green. Every movie could benefit by having her in it. Later this year she’ll star in another adaptation of a Frank Miller graphic novel, as the titular dame in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, so keep an eye out for that.

Hehehe, I love the word “titular.” It sounds dirty but totally isn’t. My inner 12 year-old insists I use it as much as possible.

Hehe. “Titular.”

Taken On a Plane

Liam Neeson has real presence. I think that’s part of why I like him so much. He has this uncanny ability to get you to take him seriously, no matter how far-fetched the movie surrounding him may be.

Such is the case with Non-Stop, Neeson’s latest far-fetched but thoroughly entertaining action flick.

 2014 movies non-stop

Neeson plays Bill Marks, an Air Marshal who starts getting threatening text messages in the middle of a transatlantic flight. He determines that the texter must be on the plane with him, and takes it upon himself to find the culprit. This becomes more complicated when the passengers’ suspicions are aroused as Marks’ methods become more extreme, and more and more evidence starts to point to him as having something to do with the whole situation.

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The text messages appear as little word balloons, kind of like in a comic book. The director, Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously directed Neeson in Unknown, has some fun with this visually. When the plane shakes, the texts shake. When Marks’ concentration falters, the texts get blurry. When he reads texts from a broken cell phone, there’s a big crack down the middle of the word balloon (that also helps to conveniently censor a bad word).

I really liked this effect, it provides a little variation, since reading all those texts up on the screen runs the risk of getting boring after a while, and for me it enhanced the realism of the whole scenario by helping to put the viewer in the characters’ shoes.

The review of the movie in my local paper said it was generic, but I don’t agree. Well, I kind of do, but not really. The whole “hunting for a terrorist” thing has been done before, sure. And there are some clichés about Neeson’s character (he’s an alcoholic whose daughter died of cancer when she was like eight and he wasn’t around because he was always working, and later he has to save a little girl from being sucked out of the plane and it’s kind of like he’s vicariously saving his daughter blah blah blah). And there are some missed opportunities (recent Best Supporting Actress winner Lupita Nyong’o is also in the movie, although she gets barely anything to do, which is a shame). And the big villain reveal was a little underwhelming.

But despite these flaws, I still really liked Non-Stop. For the most part, it really kept me guessing, and the suspense was palpable throughout. Of course it goes without saying that Neeson gives a good performance (despite the aforementioned clichés) and there are good supporting performances from Julianne Moore as a passenger and Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery as one of the stewardesses.

And I find it impossible to dislike any movie where this happens:

 Non-Stop-Liam-Neeson

Interestingly, almost the entire movie takes place on the plane, which provides a limited perspective. We discover things along with the characters, since there is no outside perspective. I’d imagine that a one-location movie like this isn’t easy to pull off, but in my opinion the filmmakers did the job admirably. There are also some nice touches to remind the viewer that this is all happening on a plane, like the omnipresent hum of the plane’s engines in the background.

The movie is kind of a midair murder mystery, like if Agatha Christie wrote a book that took place on a jetliner. So yeah: really good movie, despite some flaws. It gets The Zombie Room’s seal of action-movie approval.

A word of warning: if you have a fear of flying, you should probably not see this movie. Seriously, between this and The Grey, I’m starting to think Liam Neeson should avoid planes entirely.