Friday, August 17, 2012

What, no Sven-Ole Thorsen?

(Update 8/19/12 -- I made a Tony Scott comment in these ramblings, and today I found out about what happened to the poor guy. What a fucking bummer. I've decided to leave my stupid joke/critique about him as I had written it, just keep in mind it was written two days before what happened, and that it was written by a fan, not a hater. 

Anyway, after reading this, go watch True Muthafuckin' Romance, The Last Muthafuckin' Boy Scout, or Muthafuckin' Revenge (either version) in honor of the man. The guy made some muthafuckin' awesome flicks in his career and it's sad to know that he won't be around to make more. Even sadder is knowing why he isn't around anymore. I'll miss your 360 Dolly Shots, my man.)

Some films were meant to be seen at a theater full of rowdy action fans and played through a sound system that makes you feel every punch, gunshot, and explosion to the point that it actually starts to overwhelm your senses and make you feel slightly ill. That was the case with The Expendables 2, and the Italian Stallion is back with his crew of fellow action film stars as mercenaries who I'm sure all achieved their peak physical conditioning in a completely natural way, and this time they're on a new mission that doesn't so much pay as it keeps them out of Gitmo for the bullshit they pulled in the last one.

Yup, Bruce Willis' Mr. Church character is back as well and he's even creepier and sinister-er than in the last film, until the final act when all of a sudden he inexplicably starts acting less like Shadowy CIA Guy and a little more like Former Pitchman For Seagram's Wine Cooler. Also, remember the former governor of California who took a bad thing and made it worse and us Californians have no one to blame but ourselves because we thought it would be cool to have Conan the Barbarian running shit? He's in this too, in a bigger role.

So, the mission involves jacking something from a safe on a plane and I'm guessing Samuel L. Jackson was on that flight and declared that he's had it with these muthafuckin' safes on this muthafuckin' plane, because when they find the plane it's long been crashed and if you'll excuse me, I'm going to put a bullet into my fuckin' head for writing that shit about safes on a plane. Somewhere along the way, shit doesn't go as planned and our heroes will have to improvise with the help of many automatic weapons and incendiaries.

Tagging along for the ride (even though she'll give you a look if you say she's tagging along) is some Chinese chick and I guess I'm not up on my Chinese cinema because I'm probably supposed to be all fuckin' geeked out about seeing her in this movie, only I'm not, because I don't know who she is. She's kinda like Michelle Rodriguez in that she's a tad butchy as an action gal, but I'm sure she has definite hottening-up potential if she cleaned up, got herself a nice dress, and found herself a man who will appreciate her for the delicate flower inside -- which sounds kinda pervy, but I didn't mean it that way.

I know Stallone is old now, but it didn't really hit me until watching this film that the motherfucker looks really old, like he doesn't look so much like Stallone anymore and the way-too-dark hair implants are kinda distracting and I swear some close-up shots look like they were softened up in post or maybe the projectionist's heavy breathing from looking at all the manly beef was fogging up the glass and it just looked that way.

The old look must be getting popular, because Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis show up here wearing that same facial fashion; Arnold's hairline is not what it used to be and his flat-top is less a overpopulated city and more of a brand new suburban housing development, while Willis' face is now starting to show some wear and tear. This is not me mocking them, just pointing that shit out (and for the record, they at least got to enjoy another 25 years of thick hair and smooth faces, whereas my shit started going south a couple years ago FUCK YOU GOD I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE 25 FOREVER), because I realize I'm (we're) probably going through the same shit that moviegoers way back in the day went through while watching guys like John Wayne get old. I mean, Wayne was already old (not to mention dead) when I first knew about that guy, Charles Bronson was never a pretty boy, and Clint Eastwood was already kinda getting there, so I never felt reminded of my own fleeting existence on this planet like I'm being reminded now by watching these 3 dudes slowly succumb to the realities of time. Shit, even Crank McTransporter is showing some age here.

Perhaps Stallone is starting to feel his age and didn't want to spread out his energy by wearing different hats on this project (besides, he's busy enough wearing that fuckin' beret), so he got someone else to direct and farmed out the writing gigs to some other dudes and only took a co-screenwriting credit this time. The other writers consist of the dude who wrote 16 Blocks and the guy who wrote Space Cowboys, the latter making total fuckin' sense because that's a movie about a bunch of oldsters doing some young man shit and doing that shit right. Take that, you young bastards with your hair and your clothes and your civil rights for gays. 

Simon West directed this, and I thought I was supposed to hate him because of that awful Tomb Raider movie, not because of Con Air (which I thought was fun) or The General's Daughter (which I liked in a pulpy airplane read sort-of-way), which apparently everyone else hates him for. I was kinda underwhelmed by his work on The Mechanic remake but I thought he did a good job here; while the first film's action was a blend of shakycam, epileptic editing, and goofy CGI, the action in the sequel is a bit more old school with a lot more tripods and dollies being employed and the cuts even have some occasional rhythm, just like a honky being forced to dance at gunpoint by Dolemite.

There's a part in the opening sequence where Jet Li owns a bunch of dudes with the use of a frying pan, and it's mostly done in one long dolly shot. Now compare that to the fights in the first one, where at times it felt like every single move had it's own camera set-up and was cut so quick that it made a motherfucker feel like he or she was having an acid flashback to that one time he or she was fighting Gary Daniels under some South American dictator's crib, rather than watching someone fight Gary Daniels under some South American dictator's crib. I wonder if the change of style was Stallone answering the critiques of the first film (even if he didn't direct the sequel, I'm sure he had a strong creative pimp hand), or maybe even Simon West himself put his foot down and said Fuck That Shit, I want people to understand what's going on -- but not too much, because I am Simon West, after all.

The cinematography is a lot more atmospheric and textured, which I dug. It's got that Eastern European direct-to-video blueish tint for most of it, but D.P. Shelly Johnson makes up for it by employing lots of shafts of light through smoke, like Tony Scott used to do back in the day (then Tony Scott left that faithful companion and hooked up with that harlot mistress that is the 360 Dolly Shot). To me, this one looked more "classical" in its style, just because it wasn't being predominately shot in the way most action films today are shot. Not every movie has to be shot like The Bourne Supremacy, but you know how it is, that movie was a hit so obviously that's what the audience wants to see so let's make every other action movie ape that shit, but you really have to be Paul Greengrass or some-fuckin-body to pull that shit off right. Shit, some would argue that even Greengrass didn't get it right.

Muthafuckin' Jean Claude Van Damme shows up as the main villain (named "Vilain", pronounced "Vi-lane"), and I really dug him here. He's really good playing such an unlikable prick; he's the kind of guy who wears sunglasses most of the time, even though it really isn't necessary -- and he knows it. That's the kind of asshole he is. Even his body language is all Euro-Cunty and it's obvious my man is having a blast acting this way. And why not? He's been given a big role in a huge action film that's actually gonna play in theaters all over the world, rather than just a few select markets before hitting the Redbox, which has been the fate for most of his films for the past few years. He even gets to pull off some of those kicks that deliver maximum Van Dammage to people. The only way that shit would've been more full of Win is if they cut to multiple angles of those kicks, like in the good ol' days. Also, I would've appreciated one of those slow-motion stretched out yells he'd give out while delivering said multiple-angled kicks. But you can't have everything.

Scott Adkins plays Vilain's Number Two and he's fun to watch here with his bad accent. If you don't know who Scott Adkins is, then you just don't know, but don't kick yourself over it. His role is about as (not so) big as Gary Daniels' similar part in the first flick, and like that dude, he gets to have a nice fight scene near the end -- which ends in a manner that may or may not be an intentional tribute to a particular death in a rather infamous Steven Seagal film. It's like the filmmakers thought that since they'll probably never get Seagal in the third one (because of some drama between Fats Aikido and the producers of this film), the best they can do is jack a death from one of his flicks.

Also, both Van Damme and Adkins look like the main bosses from some 16-bit Final Fight/Streets of Rage type of game. This is a plus, in my book.

My favorite character here is Gunner, played by Dolph Lundgren; he's recovered from whatever near-psychosis he had going on in the last one and is now kind of the goofy comic relief, which means that he's the only Expendable who received any character development between films. He has a couple moments that I can only describe as Oh, Dolph! moments and as a result, he's a lot better here than he was in part one. They even mix in some real life Dolph stuff into his character by not only bringing up his Swedish heritage, but his former life as a Fulbright scholar with a master's degree in chemical engineering.

Which brings up another thing about this flick; there are a lot of jokey references to past performances and/or real life shit with these actors. (There's also a ton of mainstream film soundtrack standards in this film. If you've ever heard a song in a movie, it's probably in this film as well.) Remember that moment in Tango & Cash where Kurt Russell says something to Sly about having coffee & Danish, and Sly responds with "I hate Danish" and we were all supposed to laugh because in real life Stallone had recently divorced Dane Brigitte Nielsen? I guess Stallone thought that this film needed a lot more of that, so in this film we have to accept the most awkward, shoehorned callbacks to taglines as funny.

And you know what? It is funny, in the way that the lame jokes your grandfather told you were funny -- funny because he thinks they're funny. Either that or Gramps was the original Anti-Comedian, one who could show these Tim & Eric and Neil Hamburger whippersnappers a thing or two about a thing or two. There's also an odd moment during one of the fight scenes, where it looks like it's going to end after a very brief scuffle, and then one of the fighters says something like "Is that it? What a ripoff!" which might be some kind of meta-comment on what the audience might have been thinking at that moment or I'm just looking way too much into what was probably just a throwaway line.

One reference/joke managed to step across the border from Lame into Genuinely Funny; Chuck Norris shows up for no real good reason other than the filmmakers thought it would be awesome to see Chuck Norris show up (and they're right; the audience I saw it with -- myself included -- cheered when his character arrived). For some reason, they play the theme to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly whenever he's in a scene -- which I guess means that they'll play the theme to The Delta Force if they manage to score Eastwood for the third one. Anyway, he gives a line during his first appearance which is a reference to those Chuck Norris Facts, and I swear, the way he delivers that line is quite possibly the greatest performance in all of Mr. Norris' career -- which I understand isn't saying much given that it's Chuck Norris, graduate of the Acting School for Lumber, but I thought it sounded perfect coming from him.

With these Expendable flicks, I think a lot of people wanted something more akin to a Walter Hill or John McTiernan or Paul Verhoeven movie in terms of action storytelling quality and they were disappointed; in other words, they wanted Terminator 2 and got Commando instead. Except I liked Commando, and judging by that standard, I liked The Expendables part 1 and I think the sequel is a definite improvement; the story is still something that is just as rote as tales told by previous Millenium Films/Nu Image productions made as far back as the mid-90s for a tiny fraction of the budget, but the filmmaking is better and the action is bigger and includes even more bloody ownage than its predecessor (but far less Jet Li -- he's to The Expendables 2 what Margot Kidder was to Superman III -- I'm just trying to save you from disappointment if that's who you came to see).

It really comes down to this -- there's a shot during the climax where Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis fill the entire 2.35:1 frame, standing side by side, blasting away the opposition with their automatic rifles and shotguns. That's all I ever wanted to see since I was a kid, these dudes working together in solving the world's problems in the only way we as human beings have been solving problems since time immemorial -- by killing the shit out of other human beings. And with that gloriously composed shot, that's what I got with The Expendables 2. Fuckin' A.