The Expendables

Posted on November 23, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Five minutes into this movie, which means five minutes into its first action sequence, one of its stars explains to his colleagues he is about to fire off a warning shot. He then blows a guy’s torso into what another character will later refer to as “red sauce and jello.” And then we have a lot of shooting and a lot of stuff blowing up and hand-to-hand combat, and thousand yard stares and boy, do we have a lot of red sauce and jello.

“The Expendables,” is a mash-up of action stars and action movies. It would take less time to explain who is not in this movie (Stephen Seagal and Jean Claude Van Damme, who both declined) than who is: Sylvester Stallone (who co-wrote and directed), his “Rocky IV” nemesis, Dolph Lundgren, WWE superstar Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ultimate Fighting Champion Randy Couture, martial arts master Jet Li, former NFL player Terry Crews, “Iron Man 2’s” Mickey Rourke, and “Transporter’s” Jason Statham — plus brief appearances by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Here is the plot: there are some bad guys. The good guys go after them. It doesn’t go so well at first. Bros before hos. Chases and explosions. Very big guns (the muscle kind and the weapon kind) and very big knives. Airplanes, trucks, motorcycles, and various other symbols of manliness. And a lot of red sauce and jello. It’s Tarantino without the irony.

The chases and explosions and shoot-outs are well-filmed, as are the big fight scenes, especially a brutal battle in a tunnel and the opening sequence where Somali pirates suddenly find the thin red beams of automatic weapons touching many parts of their bodies. But the most satisfying moments come from seeing these guys do what they do best, one on one. Couture takes on Austin. The very compact Li takes on the giant Lundgren. “Bring it, Happy Feet,” the big man tells Li. Statham takes on a bully. And then his pals.

Stallone as co-writer, director, and star manages to keep the tone light and affectionate for the genre and its fans without getting meta or condescending. These action heroes take their fun seriously without taking themselves seriously. They have time for some commiseration about the faithlessness of females and some manly banter as they load their weapons. One explains how he got his cauliflower ear and another tells the story of when he lost his capacity to care about anything or anyone. But mostly it’s just red sauce and jello, macho bonding, and silly character names: Hale Ceasar, Toll Road, Lee Christmas.

Following the Somali pirate hostage rescue, our heroes are up for three jobs. “Two are a walk in the park and one is to Hell and Back.” Guess which one they take? Option 3 is a country called Vilena, with an evil Gringo and a puppet general who has a mercenary army. There’s also a brave and beautiful young woman. Various characters are chased, captured, and rescued and a lot of stuff gets blown up. Which, after all, is what we came for.

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Mars vs. Venus at the Box Office Next Week

Posted on August 1, 2010 at 8:17 pm

Thanks to my son, Ben for suggesting this fan-made trailer for “The Expendables” that challenges all those XY chromosome types out there to make sure the Stallone/Li/Statham/Austin/Crews/Willis/etc. stunts and explosions movie opens up a can of whup-ass on the Oprah-approved, Julia Roberts-starring “Eat, Pray, Love.”

Any predictions?

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Comic-Con!

Posted on July 23, 2010 at 12:03 am

IMG_9884.jpgMy visit to Comic-Con 2010 began with a press conference for one of the most celebrated and anticipated films previewing here, the long-awaited sequel to the pioneering 1982 Disney film, about people getting sucked into computers, “Tron.” Steven Lisberger, who wrote and directed the original, told us that the first film was about what they anticipated computers could bring about; this one recognizes that audiences are only too aware of how pervasive computers have become in our lives. Stars Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner were there to compare the experience of acting in the first to the new one. The suits in this one are high-tech, molded around each actor’s body, threaded with fiber optics that light up (and create a buzz that drove the audio technicians crazy). After actor Michael Sheen (“Underworld,” “New Moon,” “Frost/Nixon”) described the way that even the actors would be so amazed by the glowing light from the suits they would forget to start acting, Boxleitner pointed out that in the original film, their wardrobe was “spandex and magic marker.” Jeff Bridges had something to add: “And dance belts!”
IMG_9886.JPGThen I met with Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz, creators and stars of the cult comedy hit British television series, Look Around You, shown on The Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” and out on DVD for the first time this week. “Our show is such a weird, weird show,” Serafinowicz said happily. “It’s creepy and bleak and not much happens and it is very slow.” “It’s super-surreal,” agreed Popper. Inspired by the over-serious and under-engrossing science films they saw in school when they were kids, Popper and Serafinowicz created hilariously demented parodies, with white-coated scientists explaining how ants build igloos, for example. Their affection for Monty Python and “Police Squad” is evident in the free-form looniness of the shows. And the DVD release has extra commentaries from some of the show’s biggest fans, including Michael Cera and Jonah Hill.
Later, I attended a panel discussion on “The Expendables,” written and directed by Sylvester Stallone and featuring just about every action star he could find. He appeared, along with co-stars Dolph Lundgren, Ultimate Fighting Champion Randy Couture, WWE’s Steve Austin, and former football player Terry Crews — plus a surprise appearance from Bruce Willis, who is in one scene in the film along with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
They talked about filming in Brazil, where they were allowed to use more explosives than permitted in the US, and about getting banged up in the stunts and fight scenes. Stallone, whose neck was broken by Austin in filming, said he did not mind getting hurt making films. “I didn’t get hurt in ‘Rhinestone’ or ‘Stop or My Mom Will Shoot,” and those did not turn out well.”
Couture told us that his biggest challenge was the very first scene filmed, a monologue he worked hard to memorize and to develop his acting skills. And then, when he arrived on the set, Stallone had rewritten it and given him a different monologue instead. Lundgren said what was hardest for him was the scene where he had to tell a joke. Stallone made him do it over and over — and then used the first take. Crews and Austin told the crowd about some explosives that went off faster and closer than they expected. “There’s no such thing as movie fire,” Crews told us. It was real and it was dangerous. The clips they showed were every bit as exciting (and gory) as anticipated.
But perhaps no film is as Comic-Con-friendly as next month’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” described on the poster as “an epic of epic epicness,” and based on the popular series of graphic novels. Director Edgar Wright brought a dozen of his stars including Brandon Routh, Alison Pill, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Michael Cera, who wore, throughout the entire presentation, a Captain America costume. It had nothing to do with the movie, but it was fun to see. The crowd went wild over introductory clips to show us all of the characters and nearly levitated out of their seats when Wright told us that he was going to show the entire film. I was not one of the lucky ones selected to be walked over to the theater with Wright, but can’t wait to see the movie.
IMG_9954.JPGI have also enjoyed my visits to the Exhibition Hall, filled with every possible kind of display for every possible kind of product relating to what the Comic-Con folks call “the popular arts,” including games, collectibles, books, movies, television shows, DVDs, original art, t-shirts, and, yes, comics, plus people to help you store, organize, and insure your collection. I had a nice talk with Dino Andrade, a voice-over actor (“Pop” in the Rice Krispies commercials, the Scarecrow in “Arkham Asylum”) who founded an online dating service for Comic-Con types called Soul Geek. It is a tribute to his late wife,
Mary Kay Bergman, who provided all of the female voices for “South Park” until she died in 1999 at age 38. He spoke to me very movingly about what they had shared and his hope of creating a place where other geeks, freaks, and fanboys and girls could find each other.
I also saw the first episode of “Nikita,” a new television series based on “La Femme Nikita” and the American remake, “Point of No Return,” about a woman assassin trained by a CIA-type organization who escapes. It stars the sensationally gorgeous and brilliantly talented Maggie Q. And I got a kick out of a new line of Hallmark greeting cards with themes from “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” and “Twilight.” And the costumes, better than ever.
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