MONSTERZERO NJ’S THANKSGIVING EVE DOUBLE FEATURE: EXPENDABLES 2 and EXPENDABLES 3

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I know I’ve covered both these movies before but, I got my copy of The Expendables 3 in the mail and decided to make an Expendables night out of it!

 

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THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012)

Expendables 2 is a fun follow-up to the 2010 eighties action throwback hit that isn’t quite as engaging in it’s quieter moments as the previous flick but, thankfully there aren’t too many of those. This installment finds the gang being sent by the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) after a downed plane in Eastern Europe to recover the contents of an onboard safe. Along for the ride is Maggie (Yu Nan), a tech specialist and new sniper, Billy (Liam Hemsworth). But, they are intercepted by a gang of armed thugs headed by the cold blooded Villain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and henchman, Hector ( Scott Adkins) who take their quarry and kill one of the team. Now it’s personal, as Barney (Stallone) and Co. seek to track down Villain and put him down… for good. Along for the bullet-ridden ride are old rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Mr. Church and legendary ‘Lone Wolf’ mercenary, Booker (Chuck Norris). When the action is flying fast and furious, EX2 is a real blast. It’s great to see Arnold, Van Damme and Norris back on screen doing what they do best. Van Damme in particular seems to be having fun chewing up the Eastern European scenery as the lethal bad guy and he doesn’t get enough screen time, sadly, to really establish the character’s full menace. Aside from an overuse of CGI blood, director Simon West gives us some good, old-fashioned rip-roaring action scenes that fit the retro action icon cast perfectly and some good hand to hand combat as well. Although some of those, especially Stallone v.s. Van Damme, could have gone on a bit longer to give them more dramatic impact. And drama is where West stumbles. The scenes between the action, which should be engaging and strong to keep us involved until the bullets fly again, are rather ho-hum. The dramatic scenes, though few, needed some more energy, more “pop”. The camaraderie between the team members that Stallone captured so well in part 1 is weak here and because of that, we are less forgiving of the cheesy dialog and the characters are less engaging as well. Perfect example is Lundgren’s Gunner, who practically stole the flick first time around. He’s nowhere near as fun as in EX1 and the fun Statham/ Stallone relationship is also weaker. The in-between scenes also had a quicker pace under Stallone’s direction last time and thus we were able to overlook the plot holes easier. But, this is an action film and there is plenty of that and who is in action is why we sat in our seat and on that level, Expendables 2 delivers on what we came to see. I am all for Expendables 3 but, find a director that can put some energy in the drama, give the team their team spirit back and a writer who can give them some livelier banter… as well as deliver the carnage.

3 bullets!

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THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014)

Having grown up in the 80s, I obviously have an appreciation and love for the styles of  movies that came out then. And the 80s action flick is no different. So,no surprise, I am a fan of this series which takes a lot of those 80s action icons and let’s them suit up and shoot it out once more. And maybe I am biased but, I had an absolute blast with the latest installment.

The newest adventure finds Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and crew (Statham, Crews, Lundgren, Couture) rescuing an old Expendable member referred to as Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) from a moving train incarceration and taking him on a mission in Somalia. There, not only does Barney find former Expendables co-founder turned arch-enemy Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) still alive… after Barney himself thought he killed him… but, one of his team is critically wounded. CIA operative Drummer (Harrison Ford) is not happy with the team’s failure and demands they try again. But, Barney realizes his team has been doing this a long time and the next mission may be their last so, he releases his longtime friends to gather a newer, younger team including the headstrong Smilee (Kellan Lutz) and the sexy and quite lethal Luna (Ronda Rousey). But, Conrad Stonebanks is one step ahead of them again and when he takes Barney’s rookies hostage, Barney realizes his mistake and the old team reunites to go into battle once more… maybe for the last time as Stonebanks has an army and is waiting.

I really enjoy these flicks and am certainly cutting them some slack due to the wonderful nostalgia of seeing these icons back in action and this time joined by veterans Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas… who practically stole the movie… and even a cameo by Robert Davi. But, to be honest, aside from some cheesy dialog, some sub-par CGI shots and a few wooden performances, the movie is a lot of fun especially in it’s roller coaster ride of a last act. Stallone’s script with Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt conveys a theme of adding new blood and this carried over to Sly’s choice of Australian director Patrick Hughes (Red Hill) to helm. Hughes directs well and and really brings it during the action scenes such as the exciting opening train assault and the final showdown, which was one of the most exciting extended action scenes I’ve seen since in a while. Hughes gives the film far more dramatic weight then Simon West’s somewhat weaker Expendables 2 but, doesn’t take his material too seriously as to not have a good time with it. The film is never boring at over 2 hrs and while the pace is fairly moderate, it makes the action all the more thrilling when Hughes and his cast crank it up to 11 for the carnage. For those worried about the lesser PG-13 rating, this might have the largest body count yet, so, it’s not a concern. Again, you have to go in knowing this is an old school style action flick and corny dialog and implausibility is to be expected. Sure I didn’t quite buy that Barney would cast away his old team so easily but, you know that’s not going to last and it doesn’t. Along the way there are some corny messages about ‘family’ but, it’s all part of the formula and for me, it works. It’s popcorn action, with a popcorn plot and Stallone and his team delivered the old school smack down once again, in my opinion. Brian Tyler also delivers another exciting score to accent the action and the film is shot well by Peter Menzies Jr.

There is quite a big cast so I will start by saying that Stallone and Expendables regulars Statham, Crews, Lundgren, Couture, Li and Schwarzenegger all give us what we expect from them and seem to be having a really fun time especially, Arnold who hams it up a little more then usual. As for newcomers… Snipes hasn’t lost a beat and it’s great to see him back in action on the big screen. Gibson is simply a great villain and really chews up the scenery in grand style. Antonio Banderas is hilarious and practically steals the show as the screwball Galgo and his scene laying the Latin charm on Ronda Rousey mid-battle was a showstopper. As for Rousey her line delivery is a bit wooden but, it’s her first flick and when she is in action, the girl is poetry in lethal motion. Harrison Ford also seems to really be enjoying himself too and he and Sly seem to actually have a nice camaraderie together. Too bad it took this long to appear in a flick together. Kelsey Grammar gets some nice laughs as Barney’s grizzled recruiter Bonaparte and the also work well together. And rounding out Kellan Lutz, Victor Ortiz and Glen Powell are fine in their parts with Lutz’s Smilee possibly being groomed to take a larger role in future installments. And if there is an Expendables 4… I’m in.

Overall, I really enjoyed this flick. It is definitely better then Expendables 2 and comes close to being an equal to part 1It did take a little time to tell it’s story but, there is no shortage of action and when it comes, it’s fast and furious, especially the all out war of a last act. There were some really enjoyable appearances by action icons absent too long from the screen and the new additions seem like they make a good fit if this series continues. The audience I was with wasn’t full but, cheered louder then any audience I have heard in some time. Everyone seemed to have had a blast with this second sequel and I am definitely one of them. A really fun, action-packed popcorn flick that proves Sly and company still got it. It isn’t Shakespeare… it’s The Expendables!

3 and 1/2 bullets.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: FADE TO BLACK (1980)

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FADE TO BLACK (1980)

Fade To Black is a horror thriller about obsessive movie fan Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher). Binford lives with his crippled aunt (Eve Brent Ashe), who blames him for her affliction, and works at a film distributors barely holding on to his job. Eric meets beautiful young Marilyn (Linda Kerridge) who is the spitting image of Marilyn Monroe but, when she accidentally stands Eric up on a date, he snaps and begins to dress up as classic movie characters to eliminate those he feels have wronged him. And he hasn’t forgotten about sweet Marilyn either.

This 1980 slasher has obtained a bit of a cult following and while it may not be totally deserving, it is one of the more novel slashers of that era and the 80s nostalgia element always adds something if you’re a fan of films of that decade. One of Fade’s biggest drawbacks is it is directed in a very pedestrian manner by writer Vernon Zimmerman. While Zimmerman came up with a fun story idea that should have been perfect for a real entertaining horror treat, he is unable to give it much life from the director’s chair and the film plays very by-the-numbers. The slow pace doesn’t do much in the film’s favor either and scenes from real movies occasionally spliced into the action is about as stylish as this gets. Worse still, is the ending is clumsy instead of suspenseful… and there is little suspense as it is.

What fun we have is watching Christopher, who was so good in Breaking Away, ham it up as the psychotic, movie-loving Eric. Christopher knows better then his director that the material needs a bit of an over the top touch and he does his best to accommodate. He gleefully goes from Dracula to the Mummy to James Cagney while dispatching his victims including a young Mickey Rourke as an obnoxious co-worker and a sleazy producer who steals one of his film ideas. Sadly the rest of the cast are rather bland including Tim Thomerson as criminal psychologist, Moriarty, who specializes in juvenile cases and Ashe overacts but, not in a good way, as his oppressive Aunt Stella. Australian Linda Kerridge is pretty as Marilyn but, doesn’t really have the dynamic personality to make her memorable. That and her character disappearing for a long stretch while Binford has his revenge, doesn’t help get to know her any better.

Despite it’s flaws, it is a strange enough film to warrant a watch if you haven’t seen it, especially if you like 80s slasher flicks, though don’t expect much in the gore department, as there is relatively little blood and a rather moderate body count. At least Craig Safan’s score is very 80s and adds to the nostalgia.

All in all, Fade To Black doesn’t live up to it’s cult reputation and, to be honest, wasn’t that well received when it first came out. It’s one of those films that has gained a following and has been elevated beyond it’s actual worth, though, it is an odd little movie and films like this usually tend to find their audience over time, whether they are really that good or not. A curiosity viewing or if you are an 80s completist but, don’t expect the classic it’s made out to be.

2 and 1/2 psycho film geeks!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE EXPENDABLES 1 & 2

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Since we’ve had so much cool Expendables 3 news this week, I thought I’d take a look back at the previous 2 installments.

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THE EXPENDABLES (2010)

Expendables is a spectacularly entertaining, old fashioned, shoot ’em up action movie that not only brings back memories of the 80’s action flicks but, shows that Stallone and company, including  Jason Statham,  Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Randy Couture and Terry Crews, still got it when it comes to kicking ass. Expendables is the story of mercenary leader, Barney Ross (Stallone) and his team of veteran guns for hire who are recruited to do a mission on a small South American island run by military dictator, General Garza (Dexter’s David Zayas) and rogue CIA agent, Munroe (a slimy Eric Roberts). Of course things don’t go quite as they planned and are further complicated by Barney falling for the General’s rebel daughter (Giselle Itié) and a simple mission becomes a literal fight for life as the ‘Expendables’ have to take on Garza’s entire army and Munroe’s trained killers to get out alive. The Expendables is one of Stallone’s best efforts as a director, he keeps things moving fast enough to cover up the plot holes but, not too fast as to not enjoy some of the commraderie between the characters. And there are some really great scenes from this cast of action icons, especially between Stallone and Statham, who work very well together, and Stallone and Rourke, who has a very poignant dialog scene about half way in. Not to mention a great fight between Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren’s Gunner, who turns rogue after being thrown off the team. Round out some balls to the wall action sequences and a cameo from Bruce Willis and the Austrian Oak, that brought down the house, and you have some rip roaring, testosterone fueled entertainment! Also stars Stone Cold Steve Austin and martial artist Gary Daniels as Roberts’ thugs and Buffy’s Charisma Carpenter as Statham’s girlfriend, Lacy. Fun stuff!

A solid 3 and 1/2 bullets!

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THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012)

Expendables 2 is a fun follow-up to the 2010 eighties action throwback hit that isn’t quite as engaging in it’s quieter moments as the previous flick but, thankfully there aren’t too many of those. This installment finds the gang being sent by the mysterious Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) after a downed plane in Eastern Europe to recover the contents of an onboard safe. Along for the ride is Maggie (Yu Nan), a tech specialist and new sniper, Billy (Liam Hemsworth). But, they are intercepted by a gang of armed thugs headed by the cold blooded Villain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and henchman, Hector ( Scott Adkins) who take their quarry and kill one of the team. Now it’s personal, as Barney (Stallone) and Co. seek to track down Villain and put him down… for good. Along for the bullet-ridden ride are old rival Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Mr. Church and legendary ‘Lone Wolf’ mercenary, Booker (Chuck Norris). When the action is flying fast and furious, EX2 is a real blast. It’s great to see Arnold, Van Damme and Norris back on screen doing what they do best. Van Damme in particular seems to be having fun chewing up the Eastern European scenery as the lethal bad guy and he doesn’t get enough screen time, sadly, to really establish the character’s full menace. Aside from an overuse of CGI blood, director Simon West gives us some good, old-fashioned rip-roaring action scenes that fit the retro action icon cast perfectly and some good hand to hand combat as well. Although some of those, especially Stallone v.s. Van Damme, could have gone on a bit longer to give them more dramatic impact. And drama is where West stumbles. The scenes between the action, which should be engaging and strong to keep us involved until the bullets fly again, are rather ho-hum. The dramatic scenes, though few, needed some more energy, more “pop”. The camaraderie between the team members that Stallone captured so well in part 1 is weak here and because of that, we are less forgiving of the cheesy dialog and the characters are less engaging as well. Perfect example is Lundgren’s Gunner, who practically stole the flick first time around. He’s nowhere near as fun as in EX1 and the fun Statham/ Stallone relationship is also weaker. The in-between scenes also had a quicker pace under Stallone’s direction last time and thus we were able to overlook the plot holes easier. But, this is an action film and there is plenty of that and who is in action is why we sat in our seat and on that level, Expendables 2 delivers on what we came to see. I am all for Expendables 3 but, find a director that can put some energy in the drama, give the team their team spirit back and a writer who can give them some livelier banter… as well as deliver the carnage.

3 bullets!

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STALLONE TWEETS EXPENDABLES 3: CASTING AND OUTDOING ‘THE RAID’ (review included). UPDATE: STALLONE TO CALL SEAGAL!

UPDATE!: Stallone just Tweeted that he is calling Steven Seagal!

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Sly Stallone loves Twitter… and we love that he loves Twitter. Sly has been busy on the social forum to basically confirm the involvement of Mickey Rourke and Wesley Snipes in the third Expendables flick, while not only hinting at the possibility of Jackie Chan and Antonio Banderas, but that he has eyes on the goal of outdoing the Asian action hit ‘The Raid’ which was a balls to the wall action flick and I have provided a review below for those uninitiated. I hope Stallone  succeeds in his goals and the casting rumors prove true!  Stallone_tweets

Source: Twitter

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THE RAID: REDEMPTION (2011)

The Raid is a vicious and energetic Indonesian action flick that tells the story of a squad of heavily armed cops who invade a tenement building run by a big time drug lord. When the raid does not go as planned, the surviving officers must fight to stay alive and try to escape from deep within enemy territory. Writer/Director Gareth Evans does a great job of providing us with numerous action scenes of ballistic intensity. Whether it’s machine guns or knives or when things go hand to hand, we get treated to some crazy and kinetic action that’s back to basics, balls to the wall, kick ass style. No John Woo glossiness here (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Love John Woo). It’s just blood soaked and tooth and nail. It’s like a Shaw Brothers movie on crack…and lots of it. The Indonesian fighting style adds a uniqueness to the fights and Evans’ camera captures all the rapid fire moves of his martial arts savvy cast. And best of all, Evans also knows to back up his action with some good suspense, some strong drama and a few nice plot twists along the way. He also knows to let us catch our breath now and then so we are ready and waiting for the next life and death struggle. And we get plenty of those. Sure there are some flaws and it is vicious and brutally violent, but it also is an entertaining and exhilarating action crime thriller.

A action packed 3 and 1/2 bullets!

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