Monday, November 26, 2012

Blu Ray Reviews: THE EXPENDABLES 2 & A Stallone 3-Fer

THE EXPENDABLES 2 (Dir. Simon West, 2012)

Sylvester Stallone and his army of aging action movie icons are back in this big noisy sequel that’s actually better than the first one. Don't get me wrong - it's a bad movie, but it's a much more gloriously stupid experience the second time out.

2010’s THE EXPENDABLES only had a grasp on half a formula, but the follow-up is full on formula and much more big dumb fun. 

It also tops the first one by having much more of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis, who both just put in cameos in the original, and it has a lot more explosions - the first 10 minutes feels like it’s packed with more explosions than in Michael Bay’s entire career! There’s a lot more CGI-ed blood splatter too.

This time, Stallone along with Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Terry Crews, (Steve Austin doesn’t return, and sadly there’s no Mickey Rourke) are taking on Jean-Claude Van Damme as an evil arms dealer. 

There’s a new Expendable, the young Liam Hemsworth, but the second he starts talking about one last mission before he goes home to his girlfriend we know he’s going to die (my wife called it, and she was on her laptop not even really paying attention to the movie).

As if Stallone, along with co-writer Richard Wenk, knew that there was way too much testosterone on the screen, we’ve also got the addition of Chinese actress Yu Nan, as a CIA agent brought in by Willis. Nan is in charge of the movie’s MacGuffin, a computer that contains the location of tons of plutonium, but is it any surprise that the plot doesn’t matter?

It’s just an excuse to get all these guys together for a bunch of shoot-outs, stunts, quick-cut instances of hand to hand combat, and, yep, ginormous explosions all set in Foreign locales (Bulgaria, China).

The film really falters in its downtime when we are reminded that these guys aren’t great actors, something the horribly written dialogue immensely highlights. 

Willis, maybe the best actor here, is given what’s possibly the single worst line of 2012: “For all this male pattern badness I’ve got to put you in the deepest darkest hole at Gitmo.”

There’s more humor here than before too, albeit some is unintentional, like when Chuck Norris in what amounts to a cameo, throws a bad guy out a window yet still fires his machine gun at him. 

Also there’s a bunch of shout-outs to the principal’s previous roles - Schwarzenegger, who is told that he may be terminated, mocks Willis’ “Yippee Ki Yay” catchphrase from DIE HARD, Rambo is mentioned, and Norris’ nickname is “Lone Wolf.” That’s fine by me, these guys can self reference all they want, it only adds to the film’s awareness that it’s a colossal collection of action movie clichés, a thorough homage to the genre’s ‘80s heyday.

Stallone was right to hand over direction duties to Simon West. West (CON AIR, the first LAURA CROFT) is no wunderkind, but his handling of all this noisy spectacle, along with veteran action cinematographer Shelly Johnson, comes together much more cohesively than Stallone’s ham fisted helming of the first one.

My biggest complaint is that for a Blu ray of a new movie, the image is really grainy, grimy even, and out of focus at times, but I’ve read that it looked that way in theaters. Maybe that’s just keeping in line with how crappy visually the ‘80s action standards this movie apes were, but I doubt it was that intentional.

Special Features: By far the best of the bonus material is a half hour featurette called “Big Guns, Bigger Heroes,” which puts THE EXPENDABLES movies in their proper context by examining the rise of the action film genre in the Reagan era. Other features include an audio commentary by Simon West, featurettes entitled “Gods of War,” “On the Assault,” “Guns For Hire” (about real life government mercenaries for hire), a couple of minutes of deleted scenes, and a gag reel.

Bonus Blu ray review:

Released last August right when THE EXPENDABLES 2 hit theaters, was a 3 film collection of Stallone titles: RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD, COP LAND, and the lesser known LOCK UP.

I’m not usually a fan of those DVD or Blu ray deals that you see for sale in supermarkets or big- box stores that package random films together or in this case, three films by a well known actor, but if you’re a fan and are running out of shelf space, maybe they’re ideal. It doesn’t bode well that the Blu ray cover sports an image of Stallone with a mustache and shades that’s not from any of the films in the set (it’s from GET CARTER), but the movies aren’t bare boned like in other packages; they feature all the bonus materials that accompanied their DVD special editions.

Makes me wonder why they didn’t just package the first 3 Rambo movies together, but I digress. The first Rambo film, originally just titled FIRST BLOOD (Dir. Ted Kotcheff, 1982), holds up as Stallone as his sweaty best as a dead-eyed Vietnam vet taking on the entire police force of a small town in Washington, largely because the local hard-ass Sherriff (Brian Dennehey) is an asshole.

Dennehey thinks Stallone is just an aimless drifter, but a grizzled Colonel (Richard Crenna) corrects him: “You don't seem to want to accept the fact you're dealing with an expert in guerrilla warfare, with a man who's the best, with guns, with knives, with his bare hands.” So Rambo builds traps, destroys a lot of property with a machine gun, and blows up buildings (there were a lot more explosions than I remember when I saw it as a kid), but actually doesn’t kill anybody.

Stallone, who co-wrote, gives a crazed cried-out speech at the end, that plays the sympathy card for Vietnam vets who got a raw deal for what it’s worth, then a laughably dated power ballad (“It’s a Long Road,” written by Jerry Goldsmith, sung by Dan Hill, whoever that is) plays over the end credits. Great cornball stuff through and through that’s been satirized a zillion times yet still packs a whallop. Funny how the picture quality of the FIRST BLOOD Blu ray is a lot sharper than THE EXPENDABLES 2 Blu ray too.

Special features include the alternate ending in which Rambo dies, a half hour featurette (“Drawing First Blood”), and 2 commentaries – one by Stallone, the other by writer David Morrell.

An odd choice for this 3 Blu ray set, is James Mangold’s COP LAND (1997), which Stallone himself described as a more thoughtful film than he had been known for when he hosted SNL to promote the film’s release. It is, but despite its amazing cast, including Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Janeane Garofalo, Michael Rapaport, Robert Patrick, Peter Berg, Arthur Nascarella, and John Spencer, and cool premise (the town of Garrison, New Jersey is run by corrupt New York City cops who reside there), the movie isn’t fleshed out enough to really make an impact, and it comes off like second hand Scorsese.

Still, it’s one of Stallone’s best roles: Freddy Heflin, the schlubby (he gained a gut for this part) good guy Sheriff of Garrison, who’s pushed around by just about everybody, as he pines for Annabella Sciorra (married to one of the corrupt cops). I love that the guy falls asleep drunk on his beat up couch listening to Springsteen’s “The River.” For once, Stallone pulls off a performance of pained powerlessness with none of his trademark alpha-male-isms. It’s also cool to see De Niro and Keitel sparring in their last film together, along with almost every Sopranos bit player you can think of on the sidelines. Plus it has a great well paced bloody ending, so, hmm, maybe I'm selling this one short.

Special Features: Commentary with Stallone, Patrick, Mangold, and producer Cathy Konrad, a 15 minute featurette (“Cop Land: The Making of an Urban Western”), and deleted scenes.

Lastly, there’s John Flynn’s 1989 prison thriller, LOCK UP, which puts Stallone behind bars under the evil eye of Warden Donald Sutherland. This is the cheesiest of the Stallone offerings in this set, with a supremely cheesy score by extremely cheesy film composer Bill Conti. A skinny Tom Sizemore (it was his 3rd film) is on hand for comic relief as a fellow inmate, and Sutherland (mostly spending his role looking menacing out the window) has a great hammy speech (“This is Hell, and I’m going to give you the guided tour”), but this is a by-the-numbers rundown of prison movie clichés, that wears out its welcome really fast.

Special Features: Only a 6 minute “making of” featurette, the theatrical trailer, and a lame Stallone profile, but that’s just as well.

Okay! I think I’ve had as much as I can take of “The Itallian Stallion” for now.

More later…


Cara Eaton said...

As a fellow movie blog critic, I found this interesting as it combats my personal movie guide Rotten Tomatoes. Expendables 2 received a 66% on their rating scale, to which justifies it as a 'fresh' and relatively well received movie. However yet to see it myself I would have been misled into believing that Expendables 2 would be more than just another star-studded action movie affair based on that rating. However post-reading this I question Rotten Tomatoes freshness scale as many other critics including a vast amount on their own site highlight their lack of satisfaction from the film despite its hype. It makes you really realize how objective movie ratings are, regardless of whether from a popular site or not. Perhaps small time bloggers like you and I are more to trust-- although harder to find--they add a personal touch to the movie critic industry.

ביקורות said...

One of my latest favourite movies. Thank you very much for this review!

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