Review: The Expendables

Director: Sylvester Stallone (Rocky II-IV, Rocky Balboa Staying Alive, Rambo)
Story: Dave Callaham
Screenplay: Dave Callaham, Sylvester Stallone
Producers: Kevin King, Avi Lerner, Kevin King Templeton, John Thompson
Starring: Sylevster Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Steve Austin, Giselle Itié, Mickey Rourke
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 103 min.

Let the bodies hit the floor! Like any good 80s flick of the genre, The Expendables survive with loads of fireballs engulfing the screen and lead flying through the air at unfathomable levels. Bad guys can’t shoot and attack one at a time while our heroes simply hold down the hair trigger and watch unnamed baddies break in half, fly through the air, crumble into heaping piles of morgue fodder or simply disintegrate. The difference here is that filmmaking has changed over the past twenty years – for the better. So whilst keeping tradition and nostalgia intact, Stallone incorporates 21st century film making (ala 2008’s Rambo) in his return to the big-bang, action picture.

What felt like something I thought was gearing up to be a dumbed down version of Seven Samurai eventually turned into just simply dumbed down. The good guys must infiltrate a seemingly impenetrable fortress, evade or kill (mostly kill) the army inside, duel it out with the head honcho and his hired gorilla (Steve Austin) and cap it off by saving the girl. Explosions. End of plot. Which is exactly how this type of movie should be handled. Kudos for not trying too hard. The story is what it is and the guys do what they do. It works on that level spectacularly.

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Trailer: Freakonomics

The compilation film has been a staple in the multiplex (usually horror anthologies) and on festival circuit for years, recently a number of them have been organized around cities (Paris, New York, Tokyo, Toronto). It is not often that one sees an anthology documentary, but Freakonomics is that documentary. Taking Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s popular non-fiction page-turner of the same name and handing it over to some high profile names in the documentary world – the directors of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (Alex Gibney), Jesus Camp (Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing), Super Size Me (Morgan Spurlock), Why We Fight (Eugene Jarecki), and (a personal favorite) The King of Kong (Seth Gordon) – and connecting the dots with talking heads segments of authors themselves riffing on how simply following incentives (like any good economist) can challenge a lot of the assumptions we hold as sacrosanct.

The trailer is tucked under the seat.

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Trailer: How Do You Know

Love him or hate him, James L. Brooks puts a unique twist on the romantic comedy. Be it As Good As It Gets, Broadcast News, or Spanglish, they are anything but conventional, part of which is why general movie-goers are divided on their feelings for his films. His latest effort seems to continue that trend, which can be seen by the trained trailer-evaluating eye in this terribly edited trailer.

Starring Paul Rudd, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, and Jack Nicholson, How Do You Know is a “romantic comedy centered on the love triangle between professional softball player Lisa Jorgenson, a corporate executive, and a major-league pitcher.” Regardless of how it looks, the cast alone should be enough to get people in the seats. And if you’re looking for a date movie, this might be better than most of the romantic comedy garbage that gets churned out nowadays.

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This is one of the most crowded release weekends of the year, and the wide releases are splitting demographics wildly – Scott Pilgrim for the hipster nerds and gamers, The Expendables for manly testosterone, and Eat Pray Love for the Harlequin/Estrogen set. But opening on a lone screen in Toronto is a light comedy that should have appeal to nearly all demographics. It’s a broad German slapstick food comedy and it is excellent. Opening to funkadelic beats and high gloss cinematography, Soul Kitchen may confuse fans of German/Turkish director Fatih Akin, who is perhaps best known for the energetic and raw drama Head On (Gegen die Wand).

Piling on pratfalls, meet-cutes, wacky neighbors, montage sequences and an abundance of ‘Fox Searchlight’-isms (think of the plots and tone of films from that company: The Full Monty, Saving Grace, Juno) and the old stand by of good food equating to good sex, Akin does not reinvent the wheel, but he does deliver one of the better comedies stuffed to bursting with living-in-the-margins characters. When all of the elements come together this well, it is hard not to surrender to the pleasure of a simple yet well-made dish (Ratatouille if you will).

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Cage Drives Angry

How did I (we) miss this!? Nicolas Cage in more bad-ass, bat-shit craziness? This teaser trailer was posted over two weeks ago but I haven’t heard much buzz about this.

Unfortunately it’s shot in 3D so hopefully there will be a standard version of the film playing somewheres.

Drive Angry is directed by Patrick Lussier, who has put together a whole lot of crap over the past few years, but maybe making something that is supposed to be off the rails and possibly slightly campy will have the director giving of a sheen not shown before. Plus it co-stars William Fichtner, David Morse and Amber Heard – so that’s good enough for me.

Anyone else excited for this? Hits screens next February. Check out the quick teaser below…
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Review: Cropsey

How does a community deal with an Urban Legend that turns into something real? In the new documentary Cropsey directors Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman delve into the story of Andre Rand, the Pied Piper of Staten Island. Going into watching Cropsey I was expecting documentary that plays like a horror film and while there are a couple of moments that play up the horror aspect I became more interested in what the film makers had to say about how urban legends develop and the story of how Rand was convicted.

The beginning of Cropsey deals with the background behind Staten Island and the mental institutions that used to be run there. Just like how the Island became a dumping ground for the actual garbage of New York it also became a place where children who were deemed unstable or mentally unhealthy were discarded. At one point the hospital housed over 6,000 patients. When towns and communities started to develop legends of escaped patients living in the heavily wooded area became common and kids would haunt each other and make dares of entering the woods and the by then abandoned institution.

In the 70s and 80s children started to disappear and while at first no one ties the disappearances together eventually it becomes evident that one person or group is likely responsible. After some initial searching and some coincidental evidence is found Andre Rand is apprehended and brought in. While there is some evidence that points to him being in the area it is mostly just the way that Rand looks that convinced people he was the abductor. While there is obviously something wrong with Rand the documentary does a good job of staying unbiased and clearly points out how he may or may not be the abductor. Rand was convicted and spent much of his life in prison.

Much of the movie is spent interviewing people who “knew” Rand. Some of them are the police that investigated him and others only know him in passing. Many of them seem to have come up with some elaborate conspiracy or story as to why he was abducting children. Tales of devil worshiping cults are talked about. Some believe that Rand was simply the person responsible for gathering children to be sacrificed. In many ways Rand is turned into the bogey man that teenagers told stories about.

While the documentary does have its moments of “horror” what really draws the viewer in is discovering how the people of Staten Island react to the terror of their children being taken away from them and their search for an explanation. I am not really sure whether or not Rand truly is the Pied Piper of Staten Island and I don’t believe that the documentary is trying to prove he is. What it does do though is show how our search for an explanation for tragedies forces people to create monsters out of nowhere. Cropsey does indeed create a sense of fear in me but not that something might jump out at me. I am more worried that one day something bad will happen in the area I live in and average people around will start to make strange connections and see cultists, devil worshipers and other monsters. For me, that is much more terrifying.

Cropsey is showing on Investigation Discovery this Friday night (Jandy’s Film on TV Post). It is definitely worth checking out and while you won’t be jumping out of your seat scared you will be frightened by how bogey man are created.

Cinecast Episode 178 – Do not Bury the Good Stuff at the End!

Welcome to another episode of the Summer Blahs! The Other Guys fails to generate an impression or enthusiasm from Andrew or Kurt, although we talk about it at length. Tangents on Opening Credits and DVD Artwork. We talk a little Timur Bekmambetov, Parkour, Escape From New York-ish Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky and Cat-III HK Cinema, A Malaysian riff on Monty Python, surreal Hungarian hard science fiction, Terry Zwigoff and more. Enjoy!

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

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Full show notes are under the seats…
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Mamo #174: A Fat Lot Of Nothing

The underwhelming summer of 2010 trickles to a close with a triple-header weekend of medicrity: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World Vs. The Expendables Vs. The Women (Who Eat Pray Love). Is it time for TIFF 2010 yet?

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