November 28, 2012

The Expendables 2 (2012)

IF YOU TOLD ME 20 YEARS AGO that Rambo, John McClane, and The Terminator were in the same movie, I would’ve pulled a muscle in my sprint to buy a ticket. But now that the men behind those three action icons have finally joined forces in this year’s The Expendables 2, the experience is hollow, anti-climactic, and two decades too late.

Not that Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger share equal screen time. Like the 2010 original Expendables, this is Stallone’s show, with Bruce and Arnold in supporting roles (though larger than their opening-and-gone appearances in the first film). Here, Stallone’s Barney Ross leads the same team of mercenaries – Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, and Terry Crews – plus two new team members: young sniper Billy (Liam Hemsworth) and weapons specialist Maggie (Nan Yu).

The Expendables 2 opens with a spectacular attack and rescue sequence (despite cheesy CGI blood sprays and poor ADR). This ultimately leads Ross and his team to bad guy Vilain, played by Jean-Claude Van Damme, who’d be more intimidating if you could understand half of what he’s saying. Vilain and his small army plan to steal stockpiles of plutonium from an abandoned Russian mine and sell to the highest bidder, but not before Vilain kills one of Ross’ men. Judging from the pecking order of the cast, you can probably guess who it is (rhymes with “Shmemsworth”).

No one’s looking for high art in the Expendables films or the blow-‘em-ups of yesteryear they hope to emulate. But The Expendables 2 is dumb and ridiculous even by ‘80s standards. Cheesy one-liners elicit more groans than laughs, there are hackneyed references to the stars’ classic action characters and their catchphrases, and every other scene seems to be our heroes walking in slow motion to the “dum-da-da-dum” score by Bryan Tyler.

Essentially, The Expendables 2 is an exercise in missed opportunities. Li disappears after the opening sequence, Mickey Rourke (who had the most poignant scene in the original) does not appear, Van Damme and Lundgren never square off in a possible Universal Soldier rematch, and Chuck Norris’ cameo is pointless and uninspired (he’s basically the Mighty Eagle to the Expendables’ Angry Birds).

And yet again, not one member of Ross’ original team (despite the overwhelming odds) is killed or even seriously injured. Stallone and co-screenwriter Richard Wenk could have really upped the audience involvement by bumping off someone like Statham, Li, Lundgren, Couture, or Crews and made us thirsty for Van Damme’s blood. We can only hope that if the rumored Expendables 3 happens, Stallone and the filmmakers will take a chance and show just how expendable these kill-‘em-all characters truly are.


Is it suitable for your kids?
The Expendables 2 is rated R for “strong bloody violence throughout,” and they ain’t kidding: shootings, beatings, stabbings, dismemberments, and immolation, to name a few. In addition, many, many things – from bridges to tanks to planes to buildings – are blown up, crashed, or demolished. Strangely, there is very mild use of profanities (though one use of “retard”).

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Highly, highly unlikely. Between the awful dialogue, bloody violence, and aged action stars, I think she’ll feel that what’s not expendable is 103 minutes of her life to sit through this.

Yay, we won! Orange whips on me!

The Expendables 2
* Director: Simon West
* Screenwriters: Richard Wenk, Sylvester Stallone
* Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Liam Hemsworth, Scott Adkins, Yu Nan
* MPAA Rating: R (strong bloody violence throughout)

Rent The Expendables 2 from Netflix >>

November 13, 2012

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

WHAT IF YOU WORKED at the same job for 30 years, with no change in your routine or position, and no acknowledgement from your co-workers – ever? Would you look to break free and find a better life?

That’s the premise of Wreck-It Ralph, Disney’s 52nd animated feature film. Tired of smashing buildings for 30 years as the bad guy in the arcade game Fix-It Felix, Jr., Ralph (John C. Reilly) leaves and explores other games in his arcade, in search of being a hero. After stealing the medal from the first-person shoot-‘em-up Hero’s Duty, Ralph frantically escapes and lands in the racing game Sugar Rush, with Felix (Jack McBrayer) and Hero’s Duty’s Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) in hot pursuit.

Gamers from Generation X and younger will drool over the abundance of game titles and characters that pop up in the first act of Wreck-It Ralph, especially during the 30-year time lapse of Ralph’s arcade (titles go buzzing by) and the early scenes of Game Central Station, where characters from arcade games old and new cross paths on their way home from work.

What’s largely missing from the second act of Wreck-It Ralph is what Pixar seems to have sucked from Disney’s films over the last two decades: character development. For quite a while, the film is largely plot-driven, as we sit back and watch Ralph jump around the various video game worlds and meet all walks of digitized life, including Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a glitchy little girl from Sugar Rush who has dreams of being a racing champion. As two kindred misfits, she and Ralph make a deal to help each other get what they want, and the action continues…

…until the third act, which begins with Ralph doing something that seems devastatingly cruel to Vanellope, yet makes us leap to where we should be in terms of caring for the characters. We hope Ralph will learn the truth about Sugar Rush’s mysterious past and help Vanellope achieve her dreams before the finale, which culminates in a one-two punch of a fantastic car race (including a huge reveal of the film’s true villain) coupled with the impending destruction of Sugar Rush from a horde of giant cyber-bugs Ralph accidentally brought in from Hero’s Duty.

Looking back on all the buzz that preceded Wreck-It Ralph’s release, there was no way for it to live up to the hype. But it still delivers in terms of pure entertainment. Some name-calling and poop jokes aside, it’s hopefully another solid step in Disney’s emergence from Pixar’s shadow and back to the quality animated storytelling they hinted at with Bolt a few years back.


What did FilmBoy and Jack-Jack think?
FilmBoy loved Wreck-It Ralph – he and I couldn’t stop talking about it as we left the theater. His affection for video games and their characters surely played a part. Jack-Jack thought the film was “weird,” but couldn’t elaborate. The plot details and continuous action may have been a lot for him to process as a 6-year-old.

Is it suitable for your kids?
Wreck-It Ralph is rated PG for “some rude humor and mild action violence.”
Violence/Scariness: Heavily armed soldiers shoot at giant cyber-bugs, some of which grow machine gun arms and shoot (no one is hurt). A character comically pulls a zombie's heart out of his chest, then puts it back. In another comic scene, Calhoun punches Felix several times, giving him black eyes, broken teeth, and bruises (they heal immediately when he touches his face with his magic hammer). In a brief flashback, a character is eaten by an alien bug. Calhoun and Ralph occasionally punch others and destroy their surroundings. Vanellope drives her car into a wall and comically spits out a tooth (no blood). Mean girls tear apart Vanellope’s car, which Ralph helps rebuild but then destroys himself because he’s told that racing it could kill her (she sobs and calls him names). The film’s villain makes a final appearance in a mutated form that could be scary to young children. A little girl transforms into a princess and tells other girls they will be executed for being mean; she then says it was a joke. There’s talk about characters dying permanently outside of their own video games; a few scenes show characters in life-threatening situations.
Language: There’s frequent use of insults and name-calling, including “I hate you," "shut your chew hole," "pussy willows," "doody," "numbskull," “moron,” “idiot,” “dumb,” “stupid,” “diaper-baby,” “stinky brain,” and my personal favorite, “Miss Fartfeathers.” Rude humor includes mentions of “puke,” “butt load,” and a running joke about Hero’s Duty (as in “doody.”).
Alcohol: A character pours himself a martini. A scene takes place in a game called Tapper, in which characters drink root beer from beer mugs. Characters are also briefly seen drinking at a dance party.
Adult situations: Two characters exchange a passionate kiss in two different scenes.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Even if she’s not a serious gamer, she’ll love Wreck-It Ralph: endearing characters on a fantastic adventure, with several tender moments served up along the way. (Also, Disney, if you’re reading this: My wife said she would love to play the game Sugar Rush for real. Get on that, please.)

In one of these hands, I’ve got Q*Bert.
Go ahead…guess.

Wreck-It Ralph
* Directors: Rich Moore
* Screenwriters: Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee
* Stars: John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Sarah Silverman
* MPAA Rating: PG

Rent Wreck-It Ralph from Netflix >>

November 12, 2012

Westworld (1973)

MENTION THE NAME “MICHAEL CRICHTON,” and most people think of the best-selling author of thrillers such as The Andromeda Strain, Congo, Disclosure, and Rising Sun.

But in the early 1970s – after witnessing the animatronic people at Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride – Crichton wrote and directed his feature-film debut, Westworld.

In the near-future of Westworld, people can spend $1,000 a day to visit Delos, an adult-themed amusement park where guests live out their wildest fantasies. Comprised of three worlds (Medieval World, Roman World, and Westworld), Delos is inhabited by robots who look, act, sound, and even bleed just like the human guests. Like Disney World, Delos is supported by an elaborate underground control center, where a staff of technicians controls the robots and the scenarios, and provides repair to robots damaged in the action taking place.

It’s Westworld where our leading men are headed: manly man John (James Brolin) and nebbish Peter (Richard Benjamin). Once they arrive, the two have lots of fun with saloon whiskey, loose women, bar fights, and jailbreaks. They even engage in shootouts, often with a steely-eyed troublemaker dressed in black (Yul Brynner). Everything’s good-time, rootin’-tootin’ fun – until the robots start malfunctioning and killing the guests.

Throughout Westworld, Crichton teases at the potential breakdown of the Delos parks: the supervisor (Alan Oppenheimer) voices his concern, a malfunctioning robo-rattlesnake bites John, and a Medieval World wench (Anne Randall) refuses a guest’s seduction. These minor glitches soon develop into to deadly attacks on the guests, with a fatal swordfight in Medieval World, a violent riot in Roman World, and Brynner’s gunslinger coldly gunning down a Westworld guest.

While Brynner is in Westworld for less than half its running time, his robotic gunslinger steals the film. In an homage to his character from The Magnificent Seven (he even wears the same outfit), Brynner portrays the perfect blend of ice-cold killer and calculating humanoid, with a piercing stare made extra chilling by Brynner sporting light-reflecting contact lenses.

After shooting one of our leading men dead, Westworld’s gunslinger methodically pursues the survivor through all three Delos parks – thumbs hooked in his gun belt, eyes fixed on his target, and using thermal vision (shown in POV) more than a decade before Predator.

Yes, Westworld has its plot holes, it dips into camp on occasion, and a lot of the dialogue (especially between Brolin and Benjamin) is disposable. But it’s still a very entertaining film that’s essentially the blueprint for Crichton’s more ambitious themepark-run-amok story: his 1990 novel Jurassic Park.


Is it suitable for your kids?
Westworld is rated PG, though if it was released today it may have been PG-13.
Violence/Scariness: Several people and robots are shot or stabbed, with blood pouring from the wounds; a robot is set on fire and fully engulfed in flames; John and Peter shoot a robotic rattlesnake; the Delos technicians suffocate after the park’s breakdown cuts off their air supply.
Sex/Nudity: John and Peter sleep with robot hookers at the saloon; one of the hookers is shown topless from the back.
Profanity/Language: Two occurrences of “God damn it.”

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Westworld feels like a film you’d enjoy by yourself, with friends, or possibly with your tween or teen son. Unless your FilmMother is a sci-fi fan, or a Crichton fan who wants to see his filmmaking debut, I’m guessing she’ll pass.

Boy, have we got a vacation for YOU!

* Director: Michael Crichton
* Screenwriter: Michael Crichton
* Stars: Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, Yul Brynner, Dick Van Patten, Alan Oppenheimer
* MPAA Rating: PG

Rent Westworld from Netflix >>

November 10, 2012

November 1, 2012

Win a copy of the book RAIDERS!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made!

YOU COULD WIN a copy of the new book RAIDERS!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made by Alan Eisenstock with Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos!

Book synopsis:
In 1981, Chris Strompolos and Eric Zala met on a school bus. They shared Chris’s Raiders of the Lost Ark comic book and Chris asked Eric to help him remake the movie. Seven years and many clunky 8mm cameras later, they finished what they called Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation. By then, they’d nearly burned down Eric’s house, torched Eric, survived their families’ financial turmoil, parents’ divorces and remarriages, and finally the collapse of their friendship. What held them together, barely, was their movie. RAIDERS! tells the story of how these guys made their film, purchasing props with their pooled allowance money and scant savings, and how they created the big effects (Indy being dragged behind the truck) and big props (the boulder) using their resourcefulness and creativity. Steven Spielberg himself discovered and embraced the film, saying, “To this day [it’s] still the best piece of flattery George (Lucas) and I ever received.”

How to Enter:
Comment on this post by November 9, 2012. I will pick one comment at random and post the winner soon after. (The winner will have to e-mail me their mailing address to receive their prize.)

  • You must have a link to your e-mail address on your Blogger profile page. If not, you must provide your e-mail address in your comment.
  • Prize is available to United States mailing addresses only. (No P.O. Boxes, please.)

View the book trailer:

Watch the first 10 minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation:

Good luck!


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