Friday, 27 August 2010

The Expendables

A team of elite muscle-for-hire mercenaries are tasked with going to a remote island in the Gulf of Mexico to overthrow its Latin American dictator, General Garza. But, once there, they find he is being funded by an ex-CIA agent and, so, must overcome the force of Garza's army of loyal soldiers and the might of the American money backing them in order to free the country. But, more importantly, can they also rescue the general's daughter before it's too late?

Be under no illusions, this is not some clever parody of all the action films you've ever seen. This is just another action movie, but this time, all those people who you grew up watching, shooting bad guys and saving the day, are all together shooting bad guys and saving the day. Although, there are a few new additions thrown in, but I'll get to that. With this, there's no messing around. You get exactly what you pay for. A host of famous and familiar faces, everything gets shot and blown up, everyone leaves the cinema happy. Sort of. You do get all that, but it still feels a bit underwhelming. You see, the problem is, they tried to put a story on top of everything to thread it all together. It's pretty basic really: Evil dictator takes over foreign place backed by the good old American dollar, good Americans go in and kill evil dictator and evil Americans, righting the image of the American hero once again. This, however, just doesn't seem to fit. It seems like an unnecessary way to link all the car chases, explosions and people dying everywhere.

This film is smug. It knows it has a cornucopia of action heroes on display, even if some are mere snide cameos, and my God does it overplay it. What's Arnold Schwarzenegger's problem? "He wants to be President". Ha ha ha, it's funny because they're talking about Arnold and not his character. We get it. It's desperately tried to be self-deprecating and all-knowing but it's really turned out looking quite proud of itself when, frankly, it has no reason to be. At the end of the day, it really is JUST another action movie with the same people we've been watching do this stuff over the last 25 years.

Let's break down The Expendables here: Sylvester Stallone. This guy wrote and starred in Rocky, winner of Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1976. Here, he's now 64 and wrote, starred in AND directed the so-called 'ultimate action movie'. The man can't let things go! He brought back Rocky, he brought back Rambo and now he's here, still determined he can be an action hero. Please stop. The dialogue's wooden and the directing is nothing special. Jason Statham. The current all-action hero from The Transporter, Crank and various others. This was about standard for him, I suppose. Jet Li. Martial arts legend. He's Asian, therefore he is small. Thanks for telling us, Sly. Randy Couture. UFC Hall of Famer, included just in case the kids watching don't know the others. Terry Crews. The token black guy, filling the role previous given to Wesley Snipes, Forest Whitaker and 50 Cent. The inbetweener, Dolph Lundgren. Nice to see him in a secondary role as a goodie/baddie junkie. Very interesting to see him as something other than 'the Russian guy'. Then, our bad guys. Eric Roberts. When Hollywood needs a man to play an evil businessman, Hollywood now turns to Eric Roberts. A surprisingly good turn in The Dark Knight led to this, where he's come crashing back to Earth. His lead henchman, 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin. Question: Why is he the bad guy? Millions of kids AND adults spent nearly ten years cheering the hell out of the guy while he was a wrestler?! Still, at least this was something different, and cements his place as one of Hollywood's emerging tough guys.

Let's not forget our cameos, of course. Mickey Rourke as tattoo artist Tool, who acts as the go-between for The Expendables and the people who wish to hire them. That's about it really, other than the fact he can throw a knife with accuracy and 'is human'. Bruce Willis as Mr Church, assumed to be with the CIA and hires The Expendables in the first place. Lots of swearing, certainly, but he's definitely not John McClane anymore. And, of course, big Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California with dreams as high as The White House. He can barely act, how is he supposed to run a country?

Overall, it's only an hour and a half, and you get exactly what you pay admission for. Everyone gets shot, everything blows up, our heroes save the day. It's not big, and it's certainly not clever, but hey, who said it was? More than anything, I see this as a passing of the torch from the likes of Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis to Statham, Austin and Couture to take over where they left off. If this film has any message in it at all, it's something like this: If something is bad, shoot it until it dies or blows up. Oh, and goatees are back in fashion.

Rating: **

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim is a 22 year old slacker living with a gay friend, trying to make a living with his average band Sex Bob-Omb and dating a 17 year old high schooler. But when he meets the girl of his dreams (literally), Ramona Flowers, he sets out to win her over and begin dating her instead. However, before he can do that, he must defeat Ramona's Seven Evil Exes, who have banded together to control Ramona's love life and are determined to stop Scott from living out his fantasies at any cost...

Earlier this year, I watched and reviewed Kick-Ass and found that to be a really refreshing take on the comic book superhero genre. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World may not be a superhero film of sorts, but it is most certainly a comic book film and upon finally seeing it after eagerly anticipating it for so long, I can only describe it thus: Mindblowing. This film is phenomenal in carrying out its adaptation of the graphic novel. I feel confident to honestly say that this is as close to a true comic book film, in its most basic definition, you are ever likely to see. The film is a comic book. The comic book was a manga. The manga was a computer game. The film is the resultant hybrid comic book/manga/computer game. It's confusing, but my god it works.

Right from the very beginning, you know it's going to be something different when you're given the Universal ident 8-bit style. From there it just goes on, staying as close to its source material as possible, creating a world that feels like a true-to-live video game. From Scott and his friends being introduced by name tags which appear in screen, to Scott's enemies exploding into a shower of coins and points once defeated, even down to Scott's band's name. The graphic novels took their cues from the world of Nintendos and Manga, and writer/director Edgar Wright has done his best to keep it true to that, and has succeeded at every turn. From the OTT fighting, to the 1960's Batman style fight words complimenting, it is a comic book film in every sense of the term. Every shot looks like a frame from a comic book, meaning the fight scenes become a cross between The Matrix and Mortal Kombat and let's face it, who HASN'T been waiting for that combination?

Michael Cera has come of age in 2010, carrying Youth in Revolt through a somewhat dodgy script and has come into this and delivered his strongest performance yet, which was vital as he absolutely carries the film through. It's hard to think that only 7 years ago, he was George Michael Bluth in Arrested Development, one of the best TV shows of the last decade.This, of course, meant I personally rejoiced when Scott battled Evil Ex Number 4 aka Roxy Richter aka Mae Whitman aka Ann from Arrested Development aka George Michael's girlfriend. Follow that? No? Well, it was a good moment seeing those two together again and makes the prospect of an Arrested Development movie all the more mouthwatering. But I digress... Mary Elizabeth Winstead is only OK, but then Ramona Flowers is a tricky character to play as she rarely expresses any real emotion. The Evil Exes are proper comic book villains with powers and dress senses to match. Scott's bandmates provide some laughs as well. But it's Scott's most recent ex, high schooler Knives Chau, and Scott's gay roommate, Wallace Wells, played by Ellen Wong and Kieran Culkin respectively, who are the strongest supports in the film and are gifted with some of the film's best/funniest lines. Oh, and as lovely as it was to see Anna Kendrick, she shouldn't have been cast as an 18 year old, or even just someone supposedly younger than Michael Cera. No.

I simply think this is just the ultimate geek film, truly. The number of computer game references is astronomical, from the blatant to the subtle. The use of Scott Pilgrim artwork as a flashback device was clever in a self-knowing way but it still fit into the film's aesthetic. Sex Bob-Omb's music was written by Beck. I mean, come on, that's just cool. It's truly entertaining and laugh out loud funny. It's also a touching romance story. It's also a great action thriller. It's also a phenomenal comic book adaptation. It's also the perfect video game movie. Ironically, after all the Resident Evils and Silent Hills we've been given, the best video game movie we now have in the world isn't even a video game.

Overall, there just aren't words to describe how good and entertaining I found it to be. Earlier in the year, I did say that I hold Watchmen to be my most perfect comic book adaptation so far. Scrap that, this is. Earlier in the year, I said Kick-Ass was the best film of the year. Scrap that, this is. Yes, even after Inception. I honestly cannot recommend this film more highly enough. Truth is, I completely and utterly lesbians this film.

Rating: *****