September 8, 2010

The Grind (2009)

SETTLE DOWN, settle down…it’s not a full-length feature of the Eric Nies dance show from MTV.

Nope, it’s a gritty indie that answers the question, “What’s Ponyboy up to these days?”


Luke (C. Thomas Howell) owes a big chunk of change to the Mexican mob. If he doesn’t pay them in eight days…let’s just say he’ll be able to sing soprano quite easily.

His solution? Create a reality-show website featuring “four hot girls in a house” – Sophia (Eve Mauro), Brooke (Lauren Walsh), Naomi (Christina DeRosa), and Alex (Sarah Scott) – then sell the names and credit card numbers of the site’s subscribers to an identity-fraud criminal (Tom Sizemore in a cameo).

At first, the girls aren’t doing anything sexy or exciting, and the site bombs. As incentive, Luke starts offering a cash bonus to the craziest girl each night. But can he pull off the site, sell the customer data, and pay off his debt while keeping everyone involved safe?


In the two decades since he foolishly picked up Rutger Hauer in The Hitcher, Howell’s wide-eyed, boyish good looks have evolved into a weathered face that still commands the screen. He displays overacting and melodramatics at times in his portrayal of The Grind’s two-bit loser Luke, but the presence that made him a star in the ‘80s is still there, albeit behind a salt-and-pepper goatee and a bloodied face (courtesy of the film’s Mexican mob enforcers).

Writer/director John Millea keeps The Grind moving at a steady clip, which almost forgives the uneven performances of Mauro, Walsh, DeRosa, and Scott as the girls in the house. However, he employs far too much shaky-cam in an ill-fated attempt at added grittiness or edginess (the first meeting between Howell and Sizemore is especially nausea-inducing).

Despite a jumbled, rushed ending with a less-than-satisfying twist, The Grind is an above-average indie that’s moderately compelling. If anything, it has one of the best lines I’ve heard in a film recently: When Luke is pitying himself over his situation, his loan shark (A Simple Plan’s Brent Briscoe) says, “It’s called life. And you’re bad at it.”

* Catch the cameo by Danny Trejo (Machete) as the boss of the Mexican mob.
* Millea used to rent movies at a place on his street called Video Archives from a very enthusiastic movie buff named Quentin Tarantino.


Is it suitable for your kids?
No, it’s not. The four girls in The Grind provide ample amounts of nudity and sexually graphic situations with men, each other, and, um, themselves. There’s also a ton of profanity, one character smokes a bong, and two men are violently stabbed. Also, in the opening scene, Mexican mobsters shove Howell’s hand in a garbage disposal. (Maybe that’s why it’s called The Grind – HEY-oh!)

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she has fond memories of Howell and wonders what happened to him, she might be curious to see The Grind…just brace her for how he looks in this film. It’s a far cry from Secret Admirer.

The Grind
* Director: John Millea
* Screenwriter: John Millea
* Stars: C. Thomas Howell, Michael Welch, Tanya Allen, Sarah Scott, Lauren Walsh, Eve Mauro, Christina DeRosa
* MPAA Rating: R

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September 2, 2010

The Expendables (2010)

STALLONE. STATHAM. Li. Lundgren. Willis. Rourke. Schwarzenegger.

To men of a certain age, the premise (and promise) of having all these guys in one film – an old-school love letter to the blow-‘em-up action movies of the ‘80s and ‘90s – seemed like a dream come true.

Or, maybe too good to be true…?


A shady figure (Bruce Willis) hires mercenary Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his crew – including a knife expert (Jason Statham), a martial artist (Jet Li), an explosives specialist (Randy Couture), a loose cannon (Dolph Lundgren), and an all-around badass (Terry Crews) – to bring down a Latin American dictator (a cartoonishly accented David Zayas) who’s backed by a rogue ex-CIA man (Eric Roberts).


On paper – or more specifically, the poster – The Expendables should have been a cinematic savior, a shot in the arm of the summer movie season. Only adding Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, and Jean-Claude Van Damme (who turned Stallone down) would have made it even more awesomely complete.

Yet despite all the action, gunplay, carnage, and stuff blowing up real good, there’s a feeling of detachment from what’s going on.

The script (by Stallone and Dave Callaham), while heavy on macho talk and tough-guy jokes, comes off as less than fluid. It feels more like each character is making statements rather than conversing with their co-stars.

And after an exhilarating, bloody opening scene of Ross’ unit rescuing hostages from Somali pirates, this action film is (gasp!) surprisingly quiet for the next 30 minutes before bringing back the boom. It all ends with a 20-minute assault on the dictator’s palace that plays out like Rambo & Friends, as Ross’ five-man unit decimates an entire army without one of his guys getting killed, shot, or even injured.

Of all the stars of The Expendables, it’s Statham who’s the breakout. He’s an impressive badass with his knife skills, he does some gonzo hand-to-hand combat, and he’s the only character with some sort of background in the form of estranged girlfriend Lacy (Charisma Carpenter).

In terms of The Expendables’ lesser-seen star power, Mickey Rourke is entertaining in his three-scene cameo as a former member of Ross’s crew. But the 5-minute summit between Stallone, Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger feels like a first take (and half of what Schwarzenegger says is unintelligible).

Ultimately, The Expendables lives up to its title: While passably entertaining, it’s highly disposable.


Is it suitable for your kids?
The Expendables’ body count is ironically countless, as dozens if not hundreds of people are killed by the time the credits roll. There are shootings, stabbings, dismemberments, exploding bodies, and broken necks o’plenty – as well as a scene of torture involving waterboarding. Oh, and there are a handful of profanities.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Highly doubtful.

You look familiar. Have I seen you around Planet Hollywood?

The Expendables
* Director: Sylvester Stallone
* Screenwriters: Dave Callaham, Sylvester Stallone
* Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Eric Robers, Steve Austin, David Zayas, Charisma Carpenter, Giselle Itié
* MPAA Rating: R (strong action and bloody violence, language)

Buy The Expendables from (DVD) >>
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