Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis
Writer(s): Sylvester Stallone & David Callaham
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Release: 13 August 2010
Lionsgate, 103 mins., Rated R
Plot: Bunch of muscle dudes kick your teeth in!
What one action movie of the summer did I expect to be pretty much awesome? Yeah, The Expendables. Well, it wasn't. Not like it matters much now - the film made its box office gold, and a sequel is all but inevitable. So where, for me, is the downside of this movie? A movie that's main purpose is to pay homage to the 1980's action films with lead men featuring muscles bigger than my head, a movie that immerses itself in the blood and guts blowy-uppiness. Where I find fault is the story and characters, honest to God. And yeah, I'm sure someone would cry fowl, saying, 'It's a freakin' action movie, dude!!!' And normally I'd mostly agree, but we're not talking about any such writer/director at the helm. We're talking about Sylvester Stallone, a man who delivered two great movies previously - Rocky Balboa and Rambo. Two movies that are, at their heart, pure action movies [Rocky not as much as Rambo, 'course]. But what Sylvester Stallone managed to do in BOTH movies was establish a very real human element to the story, that even though Rocky and Rambo get back into the action game by outside forces, it's their decision and their character that makes them want to do it.
Whatever Sylvester Stallone's characters name is in this movie - it's quite unimportant, and the ads don't care, either - he is a stone character who shares one scene with Mickey Rourke, this singular scene meant to set-up his emotional state and why he's about to embark on this seemingly suicidal mission. Rourke's monologue is excellent; really, really awesome. Hell, I'd recommend it for theater courses. So we get a real sense of Rourke, but Stallone's character, the crux of this movie and main protagonist [next to Statham, who has nothing near something like a character choice other than to leave his gal Charisma Carpenter.....(Charisma freakin' Carpenter!!!)] is left mostly a blank slate. This is what I gather of the guy: he's confused why this girl he was trying to save chose to stay behind, and his soul is beginning to be sliced up too badly he might not have any sort of redemption. Well, fine, OK. But here I would say: show, don't tell. And I do recognize that this isn't a piece of literature, but it's a actors job to convey the written script through emotion and performance, both of what Stallone did not do, too preoccupied with making sure the squibs would blow up on Que.
Does that make sense, anything I just wrote? Or am I sounding like too much of a nitpicker? I just want a strong motivation for my characters to go out and do what they do. Arnold fought the Predator to survive, Dwayne Johnson retried Sean William Scott so he can be done with his business, Matt Damon destroyed tons of city blocks trying to figure out who he was...all I'm asking for is more emphasis on characters - even if it adds a whole 'nother 5 minutes of running time, dudes.
Now about the action, which, obviously, is the main point of The Expendables. When it happens, it's utterly batshit crazy. Not as bonkers as Rambo, somehow, but still batshit crazy. There's this gun thingy that one of big black guy uses which is so damn powerful and insanely used, I just don't get why he wasn't killing baddies with it before; it looked he nabbed about three people for the price of one bullet! Oh, and before I conclude this review - Eric Roberts (The Dark Knight) continues his awesome streak of Big Bads, and David Zayas of Dexter fame plays the dictator of the land Stallone and crew blow up and stuff; just thought that'd be worth mentioning.
Overall, The Expendables delivers in the action department, but the human element is severely, severely lacking. That being said, Mickey Rourke's three solid scenes in the movie were worth the price of admission alone. Sorta recommended. If you want action, I'd still gladly recommend Rambo or Hot Fuzz, but, eh, that's my preference, this just may be yours.
The Girl Who Played With Fire
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Peter Andersson, Georgi Staykov
Writer: Jonas Frykberg
Based on the book "The Girl Who Played With Fire" by Steig Larsson
Director: Daniel Alfredson
Release: 9 July 2010 (US)
Zodiak Entertainment, 129 mins., Rated R
Plot: Lisbeth Salander is implicated in the murder of a journalist and his girlfriend, and on the lamb, reluctantly calls Millennium journalist Mikael Blomkvist for help.
Surprise of the decade: there's this dude named Steig Larsson, and his books, published posthumously, are nationwide best-sellers. You possibly may of heard about them, it's nicknamed "The Millennium Trilogy" and each title has "The Girl Who..." as a beginning, kinda like "Indiana Jones and the...", y'dig? Well, fresh off the heels of the U.S. release of Steig Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo on DVD, the Swedish The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second of the series, arrives in independent theater chains. And since I gave up on the books a long, long tiem ago, my interest in the movies have been renewed. The first movie was pretty good - a little shaky with the running time here and there, could have used some trimming, but there is absolutely no denying the powerhouse performances that movie featured. Noomi Rapace has given probably one of the most emotionally naked performances since Heath Ledger threw away all resemblance of himself and literally turned into The Joker. I'm sure this is old news by now, but Noomi Rapace is this series. A wonderful casting choice, and if wasn't for this actress, I doubt I would even seven licks of a Kit Kat candy-bar about this sequel.
As it just so happens, I dug this successor. I dug the storyline far more than the previous film, though I wager because it was more personal and had The Bourne Supremacy undertones - what with the main character having to clear alleged charges of murder and all. On her own, Lisberth Salander is a enigmatic, unpredictable wild card, but add in the fugitive-of-the-law on-the-lamb equation, and you got yourself one badass sorta/kinda emo chick you won't hesitate to land a bullet in between your eyes. So before going any further, yes - I absolutely loved that Lisbeth was wanted by the authorities, and I loved her 'Oh, shit!' reaction to it, and I loved how the entire movie ended up having a very dear, very personal connection to her. It grounds things and creates a bigger epic-er scale than just, say, Lisbeth accidentally being a part of all these miscellaneous investigations.
Mikael Blomkvist, the protagonist from the first movie, plays second fiddle to Lisbeth, but it's understandable. Moreso than the first, this is her movie, and thus time needed to be shifted accordingly. So Mikael gets tasked with the investigation, trying to find out who is behind framing Lisbeth for the murders, and exactly why did someone want these two people murdered anyway? Something else worth mentioning - our antagonist is a seven foot tall blond haired guy who is not too dissimilar to the "Yarp" dude from Hot Fuzz. Imposing but humorous all at the same time!
Overall, The Girl Who Played With Fire is a good addition to the trilogy; I liked it, I dug it, and I plan on buying the set when they're all available on DVD. If there's anything outright negative to be said for the film, it's just that there's so much happening, that the plotlines and subplots end up frakking with each other, and at points I got confused. There were I believe two elements of the story, one of those 'well, why did...?' questions and a 'that doesn't make sense in context of...' statement, that I had when the end credits rolled, but that being over a month ago, I don't remember what it was.
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Eliofor
Writer(s): Kurt Winner & Brian Helgeland
Director: Phillip Noyce
Release: 23 July 2010
Columbia Pictures, 100 mins., Rated R
Plot: Is Evelyn Salt a terrorist? Is she complicit in a giant plot to kill the President and nuke the U.S of A? Why did her hair change of blond to black? I liked it blond! All this and more...in Salt.
In the long line of movies that came out this summer, Salt was thrown out and dragged. Within two weeks, the title had all but disappeared from existence in my area. Luckily, I took a long shot and decided to see it the day before it went bye-bye, y'know, get one of those Spidey-Sense feelings that it was going away in the relatively immediate future. Good thing I did, because Salt is a really, really damn good action flick that genuinely had me guessing and eventually going back and forth between two different theories until a unexpected reveal in the final reel. It accomplishes everything I want from a summer action movie: it featured a actor/actress that can bring on the kickassery and do it absolutely 100% convincingly, and if Mr. Tom Cruise passed on the role [which people say], than I can't honestly think of anyone better [next to Matt Damon] to assume the role than Jolie, who did phenomenal work in Wanted a few years back. Jolie is great at toying with my perspective of her - one moment I firmly believe she is a woman emotionally distraught that something bad will befall her husband, and the next moment I firmly believe she's a cold-hearted bitch that deserves the death penalty pronto. The greatness and deserved kudos of that not only extends to Jolie, but the writing team as well.
Kurt and Brian wrote a simple story, but crafted it in such a way that the entire movie is a guessing game of 'who's right?' and 'who's playing who?' for nearly the entire running time. That's just genuinely marvelous; I love those type of movies. Once all the sides are revealed in the final 20 minutes of the movie, the stakes are high, and the plausibility of Jolie able to take out everyone she's taken out and get near enough to [SPOILER] nuclear codes [END SPOILER] just gets tossed out the window. And then there's the ending, leaving room for a sequel - SALT II: THE FUGITIVE. We already have Chiwetel Eliojor (Serenity) playing the Tommy Lee Jones character from the Harrison Ford masterpiece, why not fully cement it with the sequel?
Jolie is awesome as Salt, as I said, and Liev Schreiber - well, you know him, I know him, there's not much else to say about the guy. It's Liev Schreiber. Sorta like how Timothy Olyphant is Timothy Olyphant, man! [or "Olyfantastic", according to Kevin Smith] All do their jobs well, all deliver the sometimes cringe-worthy dialogue just fine, and at the end of the day, the audience gets to see some bad guys get their just rewards. About that sequel - well, I'm torn. Through and through, Salt was a deliciously fun and entertaining action movie, and yes, I do want to see more of the Evelyn Salt character and the continuation of that storyline, but simultaneously I was thinking to myself exiting the theater, Do we really need yet another sequel in the market? And is this really worth the money, no matter the good first film? Whether or not this storyline continues, I'm glad to say Salt is a immensely enjoyable time spender.