Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Expendables 2

I have an idea, you as fans may not like it, but I really think it needs to be done here. Our friend Sylvester he needs your help. A lot of actors well most of them, live in fantasy worlds. It's easy to get caught up in it and it's got to be damn hard to let it go once you've inhabited that world for a little while. Well as you all know Sylvester Stallone has inhabited this fantasy world as a tough grid iron bad ass for over 30 years now and he was glorious in that time. But someone, anyone needs to tell him that that time may be over and he needs to recognize his age. I want to reiterate that he is three years older then my Dad at the very young age of 66. Don't get me wrong the guy looks great for his age, he's in great physical shape, but you know what so is my Dad and he would look pretty goofy running around with a 50cal avoiding explosions and attempting to beat up Jean Claude Van Damme. I'm sorry Sly taking the grey out of your hair is not going to really make you look younger or make you look less sad when you hit on women thirty times your age. So I think, after watching the latest action flick from Stallone, that it's time we did him a favor and like in Don Quioxte put the mirror in front of his face and politely tell him he's not chasing dragons it's a fucking windmill it's time to put the sword and shield away or pass it along to your younger successor, whoever that may be. Please do it now to keep your legacy in tact, oh and one other tiny thing, please stop writing your own movies. Pretty Please?
I know the above paragraph was harsh and a strange way to start a review, but come on, we all know what a review of the Expendables 2 looks like and it isn't very good. The first film was also not very good but it was shot pretty well and the action match ups were pretty damn good and worth the price of admission. The one that sticks out to me is the Couture Austin fight. That was and still is in my mind one of the best action sequences in the last ten years or so. I loved it. The rest of the movie was goofy and a little strange but at least we had these great matchups with these great titans of war. Right off the bat in this sequel we are swimming in heroes. The first time it was a curiosity seeing Stallone, Willis and Arnie all in the same movie. When I was a little kid I always thought it would be fun and it was very cool the first time to see them all together sharing the screen even if it was probably 15 to 20 years to late. For the sequel we get what we all got when we were 9 playing on the playground at recess. You and your good friends all fighting over who is going to be a good guy and who is a bad guy. I guess poor Van Damme had to draw the short straw, and he is the only one. Newcomer Chuck Norris as bad ass loner wolf Booker doesn't play bad guys, duh, that's only in real life. Arnie as Trench and Willis as Church return to their roles in a larger capacity. Not to mention the return of the regulars Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), Toll Road (Randy Couture), Yin Yang (Jet Li) & Gunner (Dolph Lundgren). Throw in a few young newbies Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) and Maggie (Nan Yu) and that's pretty much about it. Anyway, Van Damme is playing a guy not so cleverly named Vilain and he's after some uranium to sell to the highest bidder and it's up to the Old Man and his crew to stop him.
I can't say enough how much Stallone needs to stop writing his movies this isn't the 80's dude you can't get away with some of the dumb incomprehensible lines and puns nowadays without some collective groans from the audience. Almost all of Arnie's lines are one-liners he tried to be meta about it but it backfired horribly and he just looked even worse. The best scene with Arnie is when he ripped off the door to the tiny car and climbed in with Bruce Willis, I'm not saying it was a great scene because of the action but it was a little funny. The rest of his scenes were just ridiculous and just...old, again do any of these people realize the 80's happened 30 years ago? Chuck Norris fares the best of the team as he shows up out of the blue gets a couple of funny lines ripped from the internet that add to the lore of Chuck Norris and then he disappears for a bit. The action scenes were short and horribly lit, it was impossible to see anything. I expected the story and dialogue to be shit but I at least expected to see some beautiful explosions, unfortunately, I was denied again. The opener was pretty fun as the team was fucking stuff up on a separate mission and I thought the action was a bit tighter. But once they start after Van Damme everything goes dark and choppy, which should be blamed on Simon West and his inability to frame up. Van Damme wasn't terrible as the one and only villain, he didn't have very much to do but I liked what he brought to the table.
Which brings me to one of the worst parts of the film which was the one and only versus fight in the film between Stallone and Van Damme. Basically it boils down to Van Damme getting in a few signature kicks and Stallone just beating the shit out of him in what has to be the most unrealistic display of Stallone basically telling Van Damme, my court, my ball, my rules. Your ass goes down in the third. Stallone's at least twenty years older than Van Damme who still looks like he's in pretty great shape. Why not have Statham fight Van Damme that would have been awesome. But what can you do he's following the 80's script. The Number 1 hero has to fight the number 1 villain and the Number 2 hero has to fight the number 2 villain. Which wasn't honestly a bad fight but who the fuck was this number 2 villain anyway? I don't know but it would have been cooler if it was Van Damme instead. Also thought it was tedious as characters would show up and disappear solely for us to ooh and ah at their presence. It's a little insulting and lazy. So if you really really must do an Expendables 3 please hire Shane Black to write and direct. He can right the ship honest and he may be able to let these old geezers look like they belong in an action movie again. I'm not trying to be insulting to Stallone and company I love the guy and wish him well to make some awesome movies in the future but he needs a dose of some reality and he needs it stat!
Grade: 1 and half buckets

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Campaign

 Will Farrell has picked a pretty good time to get political as the Conventions are about to get under way and silly attack season is starting to hit a crescendo. So far in the battle for the real elections we've had sniping over gaffes, lies about the opponents policy and all out class warfare.  You would think that the insane shenanigans of a Will Farrell movie would be completely removed from reality but unfortunately this is politics and a good number of things that happen in the movie that seem ridiculous and insane have actually happened for real and in some cases the dumb ass that either slept with prostitutes or was caught driving under the influence was still able to win. Only in America I guess. Or at least in North Carolina.
Democratic Incumbent Cam Brady (Will Farrell) is seeking another term in a largely uncontested county in N.C. He's a shameless corrupt dumb ass who is running pretty fast and loose. He enjoys the lifestyle of a politician without doing very much for his constituents. He is shortly challenged by the son of Jesse Helms' campaign manager Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) who pulls off a perfect nasaly North Carolina accent. Marty is a naive weirdo who has been co-opted to run in order to be controlled by two Puppet master brothers the Motch Brothers (Dan Aykroyd & John Lithgow). These bad brothers are looking to sell off the county to the Chinese and they need Marty to sign on the dotted line once he's elected. Marty and Cam engage in warfare for votes that are hilarious and at times insane.
This was overall a funny flick and a good return to form for Will Farrell, who in my opinion, has started to hit the Adam Sandler wall into obnoxiousness. I mean there have been times lately where I want to punch him in the face but mostly for just playing the same dumb amoral jackass character he keeps playing. In this case he does the shameless politicking pretty good. It seemed like he was playing with the looks and scandals of real Senators David Vitter and John Edwards. I caught a couple jokes there about his 9,000 dollar hair cut. I thought that Jason Sudekis' campaign manager really made the funny scenes sharper and kept it a bit more grounded then it had any reason to be. But once he's off screen Will Farrell takes over and cranks it up to 11 which is where this thing went off the rails a bit. I really do enjoy good satire and this certainly was a good attempt and again if they would have tamped down Farrell it really could have resonated as such. But I mean the whole thing about making ads with Farrell trying to boink his opponents wife is not, I repeat, not going to really help him in the polls. I think they went too silly especially when the corporate puppeteer angle was so solid the hijinks near the end of the movie almost ruined the larger point. Dylan McDermott's fixer lurking behind the scenes and bullying the feminine Marty were some of the best parts of the film, who knew he could be so funny. Which brings us to the Motch Brothers stuff. I can see now why the inspiration for the brothers, the Koch's, were not so happy. It points out not so subtlety that thanks to Citizens United were going to have a lot more Boss Tweed type representatives. These Corporate bozos are really spending Billions on this election and if their guy wins they are going to be looking for their pound of flesh. If you want to know what kind of damage these brothers are looking to do if Romney wins, please click here. You'll get all the info you need on these guys and hopefully you'll be able to sleep well tonight after reading it. OK, promise I'm stepping off the soap box.  So go and check out the flick if you are looking for a funny satire. It didn't seem to do as well as the usual Will Farrell flicks so I suggest you see it soon. You'll enjoy it much more than the Conventions, and at least it's fiction.
Grade: 3 Buckets

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bourne Legacy

So last week I did a review for the reboot of Sony's Total Recall and in a nutshell I left disappointed. Recall had a lot of potential to be great but, in my mind, was a failure because they just didn't change it enough from the previous film. Even though it was darker and they put more into creating the world they just couldn't shake the previous one and I think in the end it's what kept audiences away. So here we are at another Reboot, although to be more accurate it's probably a Reboot/sequel. Recall and Bourne are similar in some ways as they both are about spies who have lost their memories and are desperately trying to re-invent themselves as heroic after they learned they might not have been so in their previous lives. That is what was so compelling about the Bourne Identity with Matt Damon where he can do all of these incredible things yet his greatest worry is the horrible things he must have done before he lost his memory. Also it helps that it's a pretty kick ass action movie with some incredible chase sequences. So this new Bourne is attempting to continue the series but reboot with a new character to replace Jason Bourne named Aaron Cross. Will this turn out to be another Total Recall reboot? Thankfully no, writer/director Tony Gilroy is able to, with a few bumps, take us from Jason Bourne to Aaron Cross in a very fun action thriller that presents a few new areas to explore.
After the third Bourne film we are left with a Black Ops program Treadstone/Black Briar under heavy scrutiny after Jason Bourne uncovers damning information about how these programs are being used and the puppet masters controlling them. Pam Landy (Joan Allen), an ally of Bournes within the CIA is now the catalyst of the investigation. With help from Bourne she has been able to provide proof of wrongdoing and a hearing is called.  This film takes place in between all of the drama of the third film. Bourne is on the run and missing. We find new shady heads of the program in Retired Col. Eric Byer (Ed Norton) and Retired Admiral Mark Turso (Stacy Keach) who are freaking out about the investigation as we learn there are many programs like Treadstone that are currently active. In order to protect their most fragile operations they decide to destroy the evidence linking Treadstone to the larger organization. Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) is one of those loose ends they want to eliminate and boy do they try. Cross is similar to Bourne in many ways without the memory loss but with other problems. He is sort of a Super Soldier as he takes Blue and Green meds that heighten his physical and mental capabilities. The problem is he's running out of meds and he can't go ask the people trying to kill him for some more. He saves one of the scientists, Dr. Marta Shering (Rachel Weisz), tasked with providing his meds with the hope that she will get him back on a regimented schedule. 
This was a fun movie and a decent start to what is obviously a new trilogy continuing the Bourne legacy, but it wasn't nearly as good as the previous three. There were some pretty substantial problems with this one so let's get to it. First of all let's start with Aaron Cross himself. I don't envy Jeremy Renner to have to come into this franchise and take over where Matt Damon left off. What made Bourne interesting from the beginning was just that, his lack of a beginning, the mystery of who he was and now who he was going to become. Because he had lost his memory there are all of these questions about how he knows what he knows, how he ended up face first in the water and what is he going to do about it. This mystery was able to sustain three films ably, amping up the action every film. Aaron Cross does not have this problem he knows who he is, who he used to be and through the course of this film he begins to understand why they are trying to kill him. More importantly we as the audience know it too and a lot of the suspense is sort of chucked. Yes they get into the meds and Aaron's weakness for them but for me that was the least interesting thing in the film. Don't get me wrong I thought Renner was great and he did the best with what he had but his character at this point isn't nearly as interesting as Jason Bourne. Thankfully though he is a different character he has the ability to be charming and conniving when he needs to be where Bourne was more cold and efficient. I'm sure there are plenty of things to learn about Cross as the series continues and I look forward to that but from what they gave us so far I'm definitely not as intrigued as I was with Bourne.
Every Bourne film peels off a layer to find another layer in this case Treadstone grows bigger and more global with more puppeteers behind the curtain. But all of this unveiling is meaningless unless there is a point to all of it. I'm not feeling it just yet, but the general plot I'm starting to take away from this series is Bourne/Cross vs. the C.I.A, and the C.I.A. is the bad guy. Are they all evil? Let's take a look back through the series: Conklin (Chris Cooper) Pretty Bad if not evil, Ward Abbott (Brian Cox) started out as a bureaucrat in the first Bourne turned into a pretty bad asshole in Bourne Supremacy, Noah Vossen (David Strathairn) turns out to be a self righteous asshole without much compunction for killing people even innocent people, Ezra Kramer (Scott Glen) the head of the friggin C.I.A seems shady at first and in Ultimatum and Legacy shows what a pretty evil scumbag he is, Pam Landy (Joan Allen) way to much of a Girl Scout to be a member of the C.I.A. but she's honorable and certainly not evil. So if I were to recap the heads of the Covert world in the Bourne series we have a whopping one person of authority who has any morals. Yeah I know these movies area about the grey area but damn some of these guys are beyond grey.
Which brings me to the problem with this film, if you strip away some new details at the end of the day, just like Bourne, Aaron Cross is just avoiding death from the same organization that trained him. It's the same damn plot and to the casual observer it might seem like a small thing but if you really enjoy this series and the trajectory they have taken then your going to be at least a little disappointed in the delivery of this last film as a rehash of what we have already seen in the three previous films. Thankfully there are enough new elements added to enhance the scope of these movies and to open up the possibility for more interesting plot lines in the future they were just woefully undeveloped in this film . But overall I did enjoy the movie and I really liked Aaron and Marta and I thought she brought something a little different to the series in that she may have a bit more knowledge about Aaron's situations then she may be letting on, it was subtle but it was there. There is more to her then meets the eye and I want to find out what that is in the next installment. The first half drags a little but once the action sets in the pace begins to pick up and it's non-stop until the unnecessarily abrupt ending. Yeah that ending was kind of terrible not in what we see but how it just sort of happens. Your just getting into the action and the story and then you start to hear that Bourne music they always use and credits role. WTF Gilroy? If you like the Bourne series I recommend you see it, if you enjoy a smart action flick then this is also up your alley. If you are hoping for an improvement in the Bourne series you are going to be disappointed for sure, but there is potential for them to fix the problems in this film and make a successful trilogy with Aaron Cross and I will be first in line when that happens.
Grade: 3 Buckets   

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Total Recall (2012)

What is it the last few years with this glut of remakes and reboots? I know Hollywood has consistently re-made and rebooted things over the last 50 years or so but it seems even more prominent now. From Casino Royale to Total Recall, the reboot has become the easy way out for studios. The amazing thing is 9 times out of 10 it works out. Casino Royale is a great example of a successful reboot, while crapfests like Footloose (Paramount) fail to make big enough box office. For some reason though studios are obsessed with recreating the 80's and 90's.  Fox has the reboot of Red Dawn coming out soon and along with Total Recall Sony has Robocop & Evil Dead on the way. And I'm sure they aren't going to stop there. It's a shame that no one can get a string of original ideas going but that's what happens when finance people try to dictate entertainment it's all about fast, cheap and easy.  I will say that fast and easy seem to be the key factors here in the new Total Recall but cheap is certainly not one of them. I've heard estimates between 200 and 250 million for this flick and you can definitely see it on screen. Between Colin Farrell colony hopping between massive sets chock full of automated soldiers and flying cars, it is impressive even though it looks like a cross between Blade Runner and Minority Report.
Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) seems to have an average blue collar life in the not to distant future. Apparently our world has been devastated by biological warfare and the only inhabitable parts of the world are Great Brittan and Australia. They are the last areas with air clean enough to live in. Quaid has to travel between colonies in a pretty cool tunnel elevator that goes through the core of the earth to his job at the automaton factory where he works on the factory floor making soldier bots for the government. Quaid feels trapped as he wishes his life were different. Which is a little strange given how extremely hot his wife Lorie (Kate Beckinsale) is. Yet he is having weird nightmares about being an action hero and being with another hottie Melina (Jessica Biel). So he finally builds up the courage to act on his dreams and reaches out to this company that makes dreams come true called Rekall. If you've seen the original you know what happens after he goes to Rekall and the adventure opens up.
I really wanted to love this I really did. Visually it's pretty fantastic and the action sequences were fun but overall it just felt like a clinical exercise treading over well known ground and in the end proving to be anti-climactic. To start the cast was pretty great from Colin Farrell to Bryan Cranston as the evil Cohaagen. Bokeem Woodbine as his best friend Harry really tried to ground this thing a bit and enhance the element of what is real and what isn't. The problem is it's Total Recall if you know the original film from 1990 then all the twists and turns in this new one are not going to be new for you. In fact you'll be able to predict exactly when each twist is coming. Yes there are some changes for one this isn't as goofy or bloody violent. Secondly they don't go to Mars so that whole plot point is gone. They do try to make an effort to focus on Quaid and his attempt to understand who he is and what he is supposed to do and this is an improvement from the first film but the problem is we've seen all of this before and done much better in the Bourne Trilogy. The three breasted chick is in this one, but since we aren't introduced to Mutants in this new one, it sort of feels out of place and more of a wink to the much better original. Which begs the question why remake this film if you don't have anything new to say? The first Recall is a classic action flick why toy with that unless you want to take a risk and change things up which unfortunately they didn't do enough here. The frustrating thing is they seem to be on the verge of speaking to something that could be relevant to today with the separation of the working class and the rich elite but it's only touched upon briefly and never really fleshed out.  The main appeal of Total Recall is the Inception like quality, what is real and what isn't and if it was in front of you would you be able to tell the difference. The problem is I never felt almost the entire film that that was an issue for the audience to understand. It was very clear from the beginning what was and what wasn't real. For Quaid maybe it wasn't so clear, but when you always seem to be ten steps ahead of the protagonist and are able to predict what is happening next with precision then something is definitely wrong with the narrative.
Why the hell was Bill Nighy in this movie. He appears to be a pivotal character and then he has a meaningless speech and then he's done. What a colossal waste of time for such a great actor. This issue plays into the overall problem with the film there isn't enough backstory to this world and how it functions. I wanted to understand Cohaagen's motivations rather then think of him as just some evil dude. I felt like the movie was trying to give his character more but either they didn't know how or they cut a bunch of stuff that may have helped to flesh him out and make him a more rounded character. Instead you are left with stock characters; Cohaagen is evil and Melina is good. I mean hell even in the original Total Recall you get to see a different side to the protagonist, Quaid/Hauser, as he shows he may not have been such a good dude and it was good thing he lost his memory. In this new film it's not entirely clear that's the case because he is a spy and is able to play all the angles. We never see the other Quaid/Hauser in this new movie so we have no reference to what Cohaagen is talking about when he says he wants his friend back. And trust me this isn't a spoiler cause it's in the trailer but Quaid's wife Lori suffers even worse from this problem. She of course pretends to be the doting wife and it turns out she is also a spy and has been merely portraying his wife through the film. Through the remaining 80% she is attempting to track her hubby and his girlfriend and kill them.  Director Len Wiseman had an opportunity here to make Lori interesting rather then some frenetic evil bitch. Sharon Stone's Lori from the original was pretty bland as she just wants to kick the shit out of Quaid/Hauser and put him down for the count. In this new film, again it looks like they want to give Lori more development but then they just gloss right over all of that so she can manically kill Quaid/Hauser and his girlfriend, just cause she can. It's just disappointing because this is an interesting story and can be told in many different ways while still being true to the themes of the previous film. It unfortunately just doesn't quite get there.
If you are looking for a relatively harmless film that you may have already seen before in a different incarnation then sure go and see Total Recall but if you are a fan of the original I'm not sure you're going to get what your looking for in this remake. I give Len Wiseman credit for making a decent sci-fi action film with truly solid action set pieces and visual effects but the story has nothing new to offer and it left me disappointed.
Grade: 2 and half Buckets