A Quickie Review: The Expendables (dir. by Sylvester Stallone)

Lisa Marie has already done a wonderful job of reviewing Sylvester Stallone’s latest action vehicle, The Expendables. I’ll keep my review to a quickie format since her review went into detail and my thoughts ran at a similar path.

To start things I will say that despite the obvious gigantic leaps in logic one may have to take to buy into Stallone’s latest once that leap has been taken then The Expendables becomes a piece of mind-numbingly loud, fun and entertaining piece of popcorn cinema. Yes, this film is not going to break any new grounds in cinematic history (though in terms of piecing together a cast so manly and testosterone-fueled it may). Stallone will not have found his inner-Bergman or even his closeted-McTiernan. What The Expendables has shown would be how Stallone knows exactly what his core audience wants to see.

His film is quite lean to the level of anorexic when one has to describe it’s plot and characters. The film’s main plot involves Stallone and his band of expert mercenaries (using the film’s title as their name) being hired by a Mr. Church (Bruce Willis in an uncredited cameo) who wants them to overthrow a certain dictator-general who rules a small South American island nation called Vilena. Stallone and his writers try to add some complexities to this set-up of past CIA dealings with the general and rogue agents (sounds like rogue CIA agents are the villains of the season for 2010 with The Losers and The A-Team also having their own rogue agent) and daddy issues. But all that was just gristle that could’ve been taken out of the porterhouse that this film ended up being.

The Expendables works best when bought into it as being a throwback, meat and potatoes type of action flick. It definitely owes much to the many action flicks that got churned out for film and direct-to-video in the hundreds during the 80’s. Even the casting brings to mind the typical casting list of 80’s action. Take the most recognizable (then move down the tiers) action stars of the day, put them together, add guns and explosions and you got yourself an actioner. And boy does this flick have tons of explosions and a veritable buffet table of weapons on-hand. My favorite has to be the AA-12 assault shotgun carried by Terry Crews’ character Caesar. A character who seemed written just someone will come into an action scene firing this most awesome of weapons. When Crews’ Caesar does put the AA-12 into use the theater I was in erupted in cheers (yeah, cheering nameless soldiers getting shotgunned off their feet seems tackless, but oh so fun!).

I really don’t need to go too much into the plot in detail. What I had mentioned earlier and what Lisa Marie has already written pretty much explains everything. The film’s cast of past and current action stars have chemistry together. Though I will say that the chemistry may be just due to the fact that they all are in on the joke while making the film. They seem to know not to take the screenplay seriously and just go with the flow of the action. We’re not watching a film about Stallone’s character interacting with Statham’s or Rourke’s or Li’s. We’re watching Stallone shooting the shit with the others and there just happened to be cameras around them rolling. The only thing missing from the non-action scenes between the cast members were stripper poles, dancers and a few Hell’s Angels bikers doing boucner duties (maybe the director’s cut edition of the dvd/blu-ray will put those back in).

Now, what would a Stallone flick be without talking about the action. While the action scenes are not revolutionary and not even stylisticly different the way the action in The Losers and The A-Team were shot again Stallone stuck to 80’s meat-and-potatoes. The action scenes were reminiscent of scenes from Commando, Rambo: First Blood Part II and Die Hard. It was a by-the-numbers, point a to point b style of filming an action scene that audiences will accept with a nostalgic smile or dismiss as being boring and been-there-done-that. The one thing Stallone added to these scenes which made them feel somewhat fresh and new was the brutal and gory way people reactedwhen their clumsiness made them get in the way of the thousands of bullets, shotgun shells and explosions. Stallone first showed this in its over-the-top glory in his previous film, Rambo, and he uses the same style in a slightly more subdued way in this film.

I will like to point out one particular action sequence which was brief but done with a certain panache that convinced me that Stallone should just crank out action flicks for the rest of his career. I’m talking about a point in the middle section of the flick when Stallone and Statham use their team seaplane to strafe then firebomb the waterfront docks in Vilena. Part of me knew what was going to happen when they began their run but by the time it ended I was smiling like a goofy 8-year old kid watching his first rated-R action movie. Yeah, The Expendables definitely plucked the nostalgia strings in this film-fan’s heart.

One other way to look at this flick is to compare it to Stallone’s Rambo which also had a mercenary team who unwittingly becomes sidekick to Rambo by the film’s end. I, and more than a few other reviewers, where actually interested in seeing a film with Rambo and said mercenary team in a film together. While such a film would’ve been one of the most violent if not the stadard bearer if ever made we’ll just have to settle for a more tame version with The Expendables. Maybe this flick will make that particular spin-off happen down the line.

I would like to say that The Expendables had more to offer than the guns, explosions and overwhelming aura of testosterone, but I’d lying if I did. That’s all one needed to know going into the theater to watch this flick. To expect anymore, even a decent dialogue, would be asking for sauteed mushrooms and artichokes when all that’s needed is that porterhouse cooked just above rare and a six-pack of brews. Just think of The Expendables as that kind of meal and one will enjoy the bloody fun being had by all on the big-screen.

Review: The Walking Dead Volume 2 (by Robert Kirkman)

[Some Spoilers Within]

Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead Vol.2 – Miles Behind Us puts together issues 7 through 12 into one collection. The first six issues introduce the reader to the main character of Rick Grimes and his discovery of a world turned upside-down and inside-out as the legions of undead walk and prowl the streets, fields and by-ways. The rest of that first volume reunites Rick with his wife and son and a ragtag bunch of other survivors just looking for a safe place to stay. I loved how Kirkman used the backdrop on a world of the undead to tell a story of survival and how extreme situations can have surprising and lasting effects on those left behind.

In Miles Behind Us, Robert Kirkman’s story has a new artist in Charlie Adlard. Adlard’s style has a different look to that of previous artist Tony Moore. Where Moore’s pages and panels had a smoother and more cinematic feel to them, Adlard’s rougher, sketchy style actually fits the mood and feel of the story Kirkman is writing. I love Moore’s work and the gory detail he put in the first issues, but Adlard’s just seems to resonate a bit more with the subject matter of survival and doing what it takes to survive. There’s certain scenes in Miles Behind Us where its hard to tell the difference between the survivors and the zombies. I like this technique in how it shows that the zombies and the survivors may have alot more in common after all in relation to the title of the story.

Kirkman introduces in this volume quite a bit of new characters to the group Rick is leading as they leave the campground at the outskirts of Atlanta. They’ve lost three of their numbers in the previous volume. Two of them to the predations of the undead who stumbled into their campground and another to the stress and jealousy that weighed on the mind of one of their own.

Miles Behind Us brings in two groups of survivors. One is a father, his daughter and the girl’s boyfriend. Tyrese is an interesting character right from the get-go and hints of problems with the daughter and boyfriend are gradually doled out to help bring in new conflicts to the group dynamic. The other group is a farmer and his children and some neighbors from down the road. The introduction of Herschel and his family helps in showing how not everyone reacted the same way to the undead crisis. To say that Herschel’s reaction and temporary solution to how to handle the undead crisis was a bad idea all-around was an understatement. Hershel’s actions helps lead to the biggest sequence event in this volume and how far-reaching its ramifications are. While new characters are introduced some of the people in Rick’s group fall by the wayside as their search for a safe place to stay in becomes more and more dangerous and people are lost and/or nearly lost along the way.

I agree with the assertion that The Walking Dead is really not all about the zombies and the gore (it helps that it has them in abundance), but that its about the effects of extreme events and situations on the personality, psyche and behavior of those left behind trying to survive. From the Dale (the oldest) all the way down to Carl (one of the youngest), the survivors are affected right down to their bones with all that has happened to them. Sometimes the result makes each individual stronger and at times it just leads to conflicts and brings out the baser nature of man as an individual.

Miles Behind Us continued to impress me in how well Kirkman has taken the zombie apocalypse theme and ran with it. It’s a testament to his storytelling and imagination that I consider The Walking Dead series as equal to anything Romero has done. I think from fans of zombie and apocalyptic stories that’s high praise indeed.