The Expendables 2 Review – Macho Mayhem


Director: Simon West

Writers: Richard Wenk, Sylvester Stallone

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis


Release date: August 17th, 2012

Distributor: Lionsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes


 

3½/5

Best part: The action sequences.

Worst part: The comedic moments.

Strapping on the pistols, knives and corny dialogue once again, The Expendables 2 loudly expresses that the revered elements of 80s action cinema are still valuable. Despite this series already feeling the pinch of a discerning modern audience, this instalment is a clear step above its underwhelming yet still enjoyable predecessor.

The Expendables.

The Expendables.

The super group known as ‘The Expendables’ has survived the deadliest assignments in the harshest environments on the planet. But after one of their own – Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) – is killed on the job, the team must stop the dastardly plans of Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a terrorist hell-bent on world control. Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), under the orders of a higher CIA power (Church (Bruce Willis)), must overcome his emotional restraints, gather his muscle-bound friends – rounded out by knife specialist Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), martial artist Yin Yang (Jet Li), Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), Hail Caesar (Terry Crews), and Toll Road (Randy Couture) – and save the world yet again. Along the way, the Expendables are joined by alluring, tech-savvy security expert Maggie (Yu Nan), spec-ops badass/troublesome loner Booker (Chuck Norris), and Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Carrying over many problems from the original, we still spend little time on anything more than the team’s killer attributes. Stallone and the gang are simply cyphers of their most famous characters, asking a lot of an audience who might be unaware of their previous work. Despite being built around the most obvious action film cliches, it provides a clever spark of confidence with the advantages of its A-list cast and glowing sense of nostalgia. Simon West, a director with prior experience in the genre with Con Air and The Mechanic  remake, pulls back and allows guns, martial arts and weird accents do the talking. The team of both old and new action greats is expanded from the original with satisfying results. Side by side through every gun shot, explosion and catch phrase, the muscle-bound elephant in the room fades away as the ensemble evolves into an enjoyably chummy group of friends. The dialogue unfortunately falls into failed sitcom delivery with the regular use of petty insults, references and one liners drowned in a cheesy fondue. Despite this, the wink and nudge style illustrates the worth of these great actors. Here they pay homage not only to each other, but all forms of influential and violent genre cinema with its modernised Magnificent Seven narrative.

“Why is it that one of us who wants to live the most, who deserves to live the most dies, and the ones that deserve to die keep on living? What’s the message in that?” (Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), The Expendables 2).

Arnold Schwarzenegger & Bruce Willis.

Arnold Schwarzenegger & Bruce Willis.

Despite problems as glaring as the veins covering Stallone’s triceps, it’s still one of the most likeable action flicks of the year. Unlike many of 2012’s spineless action extravaganzas including Battleship and Total RecallThe Expendables 2 delivers on its most promising of opportunities. The chemistry between this dynamic ensemble of iron clad heroes delivers the energy needed for any entry in the ‘men on a mission’ sub-genre. Stallone and Jason Statham provide the most charisma as team leaders, with Stallone using his emotional range seen in films such as Rocky and Copland. Yu Nan is charming as the crew’s token female, while Dolph Lundgren, the always hysterical Terry Crews and UFC fighter Randy Couture are enjoyably silly yet underused as the bickering comic reliefs. Everyone provides a satisfying payoff in the film’s many jaw-dropping and bloodthirsty action set pieces. With the likes of Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris and Schwarzenegger partnered with the violence and stylish choreography of the most popular and exploitative action flicks of their day, The confusing, quick cut style of the original is thrown out for the greater good.

If Norris making a Chuck Norris joke or Jet Li hitting villainous soldiers with pots and pans sounds cool to you, then The Expendables 2 is a real treat. Increasing the action, charm and cheesiness of the original, this reunion of seasoned action heroes is a flawed yet enlightening homage to an immortal genre.

Verdict: The manliest and most enjoyable nostalgia-based flick in recent memory.

Total Recall Review – Taste Eraser


Director: Len Wiseman

Writers: Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback (screenplay), Phillip K. Dick (short story)

Stars: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston


Release date: August 3rd, 2012 

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


 2/5

Best part: The action sequences.

Worst part: The generic plot.

The problem with both 2012’s Total Recall and many remakes of its type, is that they ask the audience to endure a completely useless and unoriginal experience. Straight from the Hollywood cash machine, this interpretation of  Phillip K. Dick’s short story ‘We can Remember it For You Wholesale’ is ironically forgettable and lifeless despite its interesting and relevant premise.

Colin Farrell & Jessica Biel.

Colin Farrell & Jessica Biel.

Borrowing straight from the original 1990 film at every turn, Total Recall presents a familiar story with shallower ideas. factory worker and loving husband Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) is sick of being the average workaholic struggling to move around a cluttered, favela-like environment. Working for the upper class in one of two remaining districts on Earth at the end of the 21st century, his trip to a memory recall clinic reveals more to his life story. A spy in hiding now brought back to the surface, His deadly conflict with wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) and ongoing war with Cohaagen (the ubiquitous Bryan Cranston) over both cities will reveal Quaid’s importance in the crumbling remains of 21st century living.

Kate Beckinsale.

Kate Beckinsale.

This action packed yet dull and humourless interpretation loses both the campy fun and thought provoking subtext of the Paul Verhoeven satirical version. Total Recall is a strange broth of other Phillip K. Dick adaptations, CGI effects, action set pieces and wacky mise-en-scene, none of which congeal to create a worthy sci-fi entry. The film represents the problem with most sci-fi flicks in modern Hollywood; it loses the grit, violence and ambiguity of its 80s and 90s predecessors. without the witty humour, brutality and mutant-filled weirdness of the revered original, the film creates a lurid feeling with every multi-layered green screen sequence. While the lack of emotional depth throughout this chase story leads to a confused and bland final third. The settings of Blade Runner, chases of Minority Report and The Fifth Element, and plot twists of I, Robot  create nothing but this prime example of derivative and uninspired blockbuster filmmaking. Len Wiseman (UnderworldDie Hard 4.0) directs with eyes set on visual flair but sorely forgets brains, brawn or heart. The ambiguity behind Schwarzenegger’s character “gettin’ his ass to Mars” created a puzzling and entertaining sci-fi actioner once before.

“Trust me, baby, you’re gonna wish you had three hands.” (Three-breasted woman (Kaitlyn Leeb), Total Recall).

Bryan Cranston.

Bryan Cranston.

Wiseman, however, loses this tone, explaining everything to you in its simplest, spoon-fed form. Quaid is a character simplistically lost in existential crisis, struggling to create emotional resonance between every thrilling car chase and gun fight. Awkwardly proposing Inception-like questions separating reality from fantasy, this version loses every chance at tension and grit with Quaid’s gruelling search for identity. Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bill Nighy, Bokeem Woodbine and John Cho try their best with the tiny character development given to their bland, small roles. While Farrell, suitably intense in dramatic roles from films such as Tigerland  and In Bruges, struggles here to maintain any charisma, attained comfortably by Arnie in the original. This noisy and explosion-friendly version also loses the thematic subtlety significant to the sci-fi genre. The two districts themselves create visual metaphor as obvious as a man’s attraction to a three-breasted woman. Featuring a war for living space between an over-populated and decaying society known as ‘The Colony’ (‘cleverly’ representing Australia) and the United Federation of Britain, Bryan Cranston’s Cohaagen is nowhere near the only over-the-top, underused and stupid aspect of this unnecessary and simplistic questioning of reality itself.

Sadly, despite the exorbitant budget and A-list performers thrown at this production, the Total Recall remake is a bland, cumbersome creation. With Len Wiseman’s hack direction sinking this space craft, adaptations like Minority Report and A Scanner now look a helluva lot better!

Verdict: Yet another spineless sci-fi remake. Yawn.

Article: Indie Redemption


CinefestOz_D2_Bunbury_Thurs-1-of-301Article: INDIE REDEMPTION 

The Bourne Legacy Review – Spy Slip-up


Director: Tony Gilroy

Writers: Tony Gilroy, Dan Gilroy (screenplay), Robert Ludlum (books)

Stars: Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach


Release date: August 10th, 2012

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 135 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Jeremy Renner.

Worst part: The wavering pace.

It’s hard to believe that four years ago Jeremy Renner was a character actor working through small roles, trying desperately to achieve A-list status. His career post-Oscar nomination for The Hurt Locker has deservedly paid off; now with his first blockbuster lead role in action thriller The Bourne Legacy. His talent however far succeeds the material here as this latest instalment in the Bourne franchise is a missed opportunity.

Jeremy Renner.

Continuing the dislodging of covert operations Treadstone and Blackbriar at the conclusion of The Bourne Ultimatum, Jason Bourne’s actions have set off a deadly turn of events for everyone involved in the programs. The CIA however fails to stop Aaron Cross (Renner) from acquiring the strength, agility and intelligence needed to escape his handlers while covering his tracks. His actions collide with Dr. Martha Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a scientist with knowledge of his much needed resources. The unlocking of his genetic biology will hopefully find them an escape from the special forces hunting them across the globe. Along the way, as Cross and Shearing run across the world together, we become trapped the clutches of CIA dark-horse Eric Byer (Edward Norton), US Navy admiral Mark Turso (Stacy Keach), and agency director Ezra Kramer (Scott Glenn).

Rachel Weisz.

This instalment shares many flaws with the similarly underwhelming and overrated original, The Bourne Identity. Tony Gilroy (co-writer of the original trilogy, director of Duplicity and Michael Clayton) replaces action with political intrigue; removing the distinct thrills and tight pacing of The Bourne Supremacy and Ultimatum. The loss of Paul Greengrass’ kinetic, claustrophobic style loses the quick pacing, energetic action-set pieces tension filled story-telling needed for a post-9/11 thrill ride. Legacy is unevenly paced, with a dull narrative and multiple elements unimaginatively taken from previous instalments. The film skirts between reality and implausibility, with tracking from CIA and FBI headquarters stretching credibility and interest, while scarcely providing a threatening antagonist. Action is sparse here, with time spent mostly on the blowout from Jason Bourne’s controversial actions. Unfortunately, this provides nothing but confusing exposition and small appearances from characters important to the original trilogy. It’s an unnecessary instalment, only expanding this universe of covert agents around the globe to a small extent. Knowledge of the previous trilogy is important, with the Bourne scandal uncleanly presented in this story of political betrayal in the face of a post-9/11 media-based democracy.

“Now, I’ve got a plan, and it’s just not that complicated. What I’m going to do is wait for the next person to show up to kill you. Maybe they can help me.” (Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), The Bourne Legacy).

Edward Norton.

Edward Norton.

When the action does kick in, it delivers a much needed boost to Legacy‘s proceedings. the quick cuts, brutal hand-to-hand fight sequences and motorcycle chases, though derivative of previous instalments, establish the importance of this series in the genre. While the science lab shootout is chillingly effective for this gritty survival story. The heavily debated issue was how Renner was going to successfully take over the series without Matt Damon or the titular character. He continues his impressive string of performances here with the same intensity brought to similar roles in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and The Avengers. Having already proven his worth with both action and drama, his dialogue sequences with the likes of Oscar Isaac and Norton, as determined USAF handler Eric Byer, are electric, as his charisma, along with physical presence and agility in his many fist fights and rooftop chases, creates an impressionable lead actor. Rachel Weisz also succeeds as the sympathetic victim and Cross’ contact/aid, thankfully sporting a character with greater depth than the other female characters in this series and providing some much needed emotional force for this toned down instalment.

Undoubtedly, the Bourne franchise set the bar for modern action-thrillers and film franchises. Sadly, however, this series now appears to be cannibalising itself. Despite Gilroy’s efforts, this franchise seems outgunned and outmanned without its titular hero.

Verdict: An occasionally thrilling yet underwhelming fourth instalment.

Cosmopolis Review – Curmudgeonly Cronenberg


Director: David Cronenberg

Writer: David Cronenberg (screenplay), Don DeLillio (novel)

Stars: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon, Kevin Durand


Release date: August 17th, 2012

Distributor: eOne Films 

Countries: USA, Canada, France, Italy, Portugal 

Running time: 109 minutes


3½/5

Best part: The pulsating cinematography.

Worst part: The unintelligible messages.

David Cronenberg’s style screams of psycho-sexuality and disgusting yet symbolic imagery. The Canadian director of such sci-fi classics as The Fly and Videodrome has changed genres over the last decade to create subtly violent dramatic thrillers. So its both welcome and strange that his latest film Cosmopolis combines elements from his two genre styles in a unique yet polarising fashion to create an alarming vision of our near-future economic infrastructure.

Robert Pattinson.

Cosmopolis illustrates the entrapment a crumbling corporate America has on its citizens. Sleazy businessman Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) enjoys a shallow life in his limo/office. His debauchery however takes a turn for the affecting worst as his trip downtown for a haircut leaves him in the traffic jam from urban hell. With frequent encounters with slimy friends and business associates close to his sinful actions, his role as a vital part of the corporate chain will be violently cut off. Both subversive and confusing simultaneously, Cosmopolis never goes beyond the visceral heights of its marketing. Its jarring whenever dialogue suddenly turns into freaky love making and sickening violence, as these tonal shifts provide obvious visual stimulus for old school Cronenberg fans. These moments however are not only alarmingly masochistic but darken the struggle for Pattinson’s character to stay on top.

Juliette Binoche.

Juliette Binoche.

Cronenberg’s visual metaphors create many beautiful and tension filled moments. With rats symbolising the creation and power of money, tiny details aid the execution of crumbling corporate-run characters and psychotic yet thought provoking sequences similarly to Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. The film, much like Cronenberg’s previous psychoanalytic drama A Dangerous Method, creates the temperate, dialogue based structure of a stage production. A number of small sets, obtuse camera angles and extended Tarantino-esque tension filled dialogue moments provide a prominent feeling of pathos for this slick story of survival in a socially and economically crumbling New York City. Despite the film’s slow pace, the contrast between common New York settings and cool limo interior succinctly illustrates the isolation of Pattinson’s disturbed character. He somehow lives the enviable life over one day in his ride. Business meetings with a strange array of associates, adulterous sex with older women, Colonoscopies and casual cruising of the stock market from the comfort of his futuristic, blue streaked limo provide visual characteristics of Pattinson’s selfish and morally ambiguous character.

“The logical extension of business is murder.” (Eric Packer (Robert Patinson), Cosmopolis).

Paul Giamatti.

Paul Giamatti.

The film’s social commentary is sadly lost in the anarchic struggle for survival in a torn down wall street. While providing the point of the ‘occupy wall street’ movement  and the economic breakdown across the globe, its never explains why they’re terrible for Pattinson’s  suit-clad anti hero or how they should be resolved. What is also unexplained is the moral status of Pattinson’s sleazy business type. Constantly contradicting his every smart move with adultery, violence and self centred preaching of his own trauma, Cronenberg’s ode to the anti-heroes of French New Wave provides a frustratingly alienated figure void of empathy or emotional depth. However prevalent character actors in small roles, including Jay Baruchel, Mathieu Almaric, Samantha Morton, Juliette Binoche, Kevin Durand (channeling Christopher Walken as Packer’s bodyguard/ limo driver) and Paul Giamatti as a sweaty, obsessive type, provide necessary life for this cold story of a heartless, economic, upper class society forced into facing its own consequences.

Cosmopolis may not be the most revelatory genre film in Cronenberg’s resume, but its kaleidoscopic visuals and ambiguously tense dialogue sequences create a corporate espionage drama worthy of his prowess.

Verdict: A polarising yet delectable mix of old and new style Cronenberg.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – Hack, Hacky & Hackneyed


Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith (screenplay & novel)

Stars: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Rufus Sewell, Mary Elizabeth Winstead


Release date: June 22nd, 2012

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 105 minutes


 

2½/5

Best part: The action sequences.

Worst part: The hammy villains.

The 16th President of the United States was far from the bearded profit and liberator of The Union as he is known today. This is what Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is presenting at least, as this bland, derivative actioner fails to do justice to either Honest Abe or even the concept of genre-hybridity.

Benjamin Walker.

A timeline of Abraham Lincoln’s life is presented over this narrated ‘dear diary’ type of story. A vengeful Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) is taken in by determined mentor Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper), to train  him in the art of war with the un-dead. Lincoln has murder engraved on his ideology of existence and leaves him cold to the prospects of humanity. However his stone-like resolve cures his sins and leads him to the concept of unity within a civil war-torn land. His Presidency then becomes dependent on the north’s victory over the south and the freedom of slaves from their blood thirsty rulers. With a screenplay by the novel’s author Seth Grahame-Smith, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter scarcely surpasses the stupidity of its strange concept.

 

Dominic Cooper.

Dominic Cooper.

Choosing to side with visceral thrill over a connection to this beloved hero of US history, this contrived story skims over major plot points to become a bizarre collaboration of Blade and Amistad. Director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted), a mimic of Guy Richie without the comic edge, clearly illustrates a lack of care with the thematic or narrative importance of this genre mash-up. A lack of believable character interaction and a large timeline skipping hastily through history leaves only clunky flashbacks and awkward scenes of exposition between every intense action set piece. The slight characters are aided greatly however by charismatic performances from this generally young cast. Newcomer Walker, essentially a younger-looking Liam Neeson, provides the inner strength and agility needed for his pivotal role as Lincoln. Dominic Cooper plays his Robert Downey, Jr.-like bravado up to a new level as Lincoln’s scorned mentor. While Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Anthony Mackie are left stranded, given a sore lack of development as important allies in Lincoln’s story.

“A guy only gets that drunk when he wants to kiss a girl or kill a man. So which is it?” (Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter).

Rufus Sewell.

Rufus Sewell.

Having already successfully created violent vampire stories with his breakout hits Nightwatch and Daywatch,  Bekmanbetov continues his unoriginal and abrasive visual style here. Despite several thrilling action set pieces scattered throughout, opportunities for unique ideas are wasted by his penchant for quick cuts and repetitive slo-mo. A martial arts style of axe-wielding is introduced with beautiful effect, yet is sadly lost in the action scenes with several being shot too close into each axe-swing, sepia tone setting and blood splatter. The mythology of vampire killing is created and continually written over when convenient. A missed opportunity for sure, montages of Lincoln in training and combat with his trusty multi-purpose axe become rare clever points in this silly popcorn flick. The vampires themselves only slightly change the mythology of vampire lore. Leaving the Twilight  bloodsuckers in their sparkly midst, they’re an effective cross between the smarmy Eurotrash from Blade and the ravenous blood stained horde from 30 Days of Night. With an execution greater than similar big-budget shlock such as Jonah Hex and The league of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the film’s stupidity and constant plot and character flaws however leave it in the dust of last year’s polarising genre-hybrid Cowboys and Aliens.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has the ingredients of something special, yet its straight faced execution of silly material delivers a rushed adaptation of this unique spin on Lincoln’s historical relevance. If you are looking for an alluring and subversive cinematic take on history, stick with Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.

Verdict: A visceral vampire flick sorely lacking bite.