Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Director Report Card: Edgar Wright (1995)

Here's a potentially stupid thing I'm going to say: Edgar Wright is the successor to Quentin Tarantino's movie nerd throne. It's a stupid statement for many reasons but mostly because the two directors' make very different films. However, Wright's obvious love of cinema and his ability to remix and combine those influences into something new and energetic is comparable. Wright is one of the most reliable cult filmmakers of the day. His movies are incredibly smart, meticulously detailed, and build most of their humor upon solid character work. That I'm a big fan of the guy should be no surprise. As much as it pains me, I'll be excluding Wright's TV work because I don't usually talk about TV here. The blog is Film Thoughts after all. However, I was able to track down a copy of Wright's rare debut film, which opens the Report Card.

1. A Fistful of Fingers

To us nerds here in North America, it seemed like Edgar Wright emerged out of nowhere with “Shaun of the Dead,” a critically acclaimed film that is rightfully beloved by most everyone. To fans of British television, Wright wasn’t an entirely unknown name. “Spaced,” the TV series precursor to the Cornetto Trilogy, had a following. Wright had done even more work in British comedy before that. Yet even this wasn’t the beginning of his career. Wright had been making movies since he was a kid. His feature debut was a shot-on-video parody of westerns called “A Fistful of Fingers,” made in 1995 with friends and for next-to-no money. Never given a proper release and still obscure to this day, the film is nevertheless interesting as a display for Wright’s developing skills.

In the days of the wild west, a stranger wanders into town. Calling himself the Man with No Name, he seeks a bounty on the town’s most wanted fugitive, the Squint. The first confrontation with the Squint leaves No-Name’s beloved horse dead. Teaming up with an Indian named Running Sore, he seeks out the villain. It’s not quite simple, as the bad guy has a whole den of villainy backing him.

It’s must be made clear. “A Fistful of Fingers” was a low budget production. “No-budget production” might be an more apt description. The film was basically a college student film and was made with all the money that implies. Accordingly, the production values were practically non-existent. The film was shot on video, so the colors are washed out and the picture quality is grainy. Most of the movie takes place in a forest while the sets are dingy empty buildings. The actors are all non-professionals. If you go into “A Fistful of Fingers” expecting it to look like a Hollywood movie, you’ll be disappointed.

Even though it was only his first feature, “A Fistful of Fingers” still shows Edgar Wright as a knowledgeable student of film. From the title alone, it’s apparent that Wright is making a loving parody of the films of Sergio Leone. The lead character dresses like Clint Eastwood. One sequence parodies the infamous television opening of “A Fistful of Dollars,” with the bounty hunter confronting the town legislator. The last act features a hilarious riff on the ending of “Once Upon a Time in the West.” A hidden treasure references “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Though he was just getting started, the director proves that he wouldn’t be making fun of these things unless he loved them.

As a parody, “A Fistful of Fingers” is surprisingly funny. The film is full of inspired gags. The quick-tempered nature of the western protagonists is mocked, with the character’s tendency to punch down people who seem to insult him. A bar full of low-lifes and thugs freezes when the main character is inside it. The edge of a cliff is marked with a sign reading “Edge of Cliff.” (It’s followed by a sign that reads “Edge of Frame.”) People flee when the hero rides into town, knowing that trouble is coming. Both the hero and the villain claim to have killed over four thousand people. The hero encounters a mysterious gun-fighter that does nothing but stand and glare. The Man with no Name reveals his true name as… Walter. Moments like these and more show the film’s irrelevant approach to the western genre.

And then there are gags that are just plain silly. When the hero chases the villain, he drops a banana peel. The Man with No Name leaps dramatically over the peel. While talking to the robotic bar tender, a hand pushes a can of Coke into frame. During the middle of a gun fight, after emptying his revolver of bullets, a gunfighter pulls out a modern pistol. The gun-fighter’s morning routine is interrupted, causing him to shave while being pursued by an attacker. After bouncing a bullet off a pail, a group of soccer players leap out to encourage the hero. My favorite of the movie’s many goofball gags is the love affair between the hero and his horse. After the horse dies, leaping off a cliff after a carrot, there’s a brief musical interlude, showing the cowboy’s love affair with the horse. Also of note is that all the movie’s horses are played by inflatable props, with realistic sound effects play overhead.

Just for the hell of it, the movie even throws in a few animated sequences. In a pitch-perfect parody of “A Fistful of Dollars,” the movie begins with animated credits. Against a red background, we see a black silhouette of the hero murder an entire town full of bandits. Midway through the film, the Indian sidekick delivers some backstory about his tribe. Suddenly, paintings on a wall leap to life. One tribe slaughters another in comical fashion. For one example, an arrow pushes some dentures through someone’s face. While the sequence doesn’t add much to the movie, it shows “A Fistful of Fingers” was willing to experiment with all types of film making. The animation is pretty good, all things considered, too.

Befitting a broad parody like this, there are many meta gags in “A Fistful of Fingers.” At one point, while wandering through the forest, the hero and his sidekick are joined by the boom mic operator. The gun fire sound effects ramp up even more, each bullet sounding like a small explosion. The movie fulfills the promise of its title near the end, when the characters duel with middle fingers. After saving the day, the gang of heroes are presented with a televised award presenter, which may be a reference to some British TV show I don’t recognized. The meta gags tend to be less amusing but “A Fistful of Fingers” keeps a tradition, one that dates back to at least “Blazing Saddles,” alive.

One of the rules of a parody is that it carpet-bombs the audience with gags. Not every gag is going to land but, don’t worry, another one will be around soon. Accordingly, there are a few jokes in “A Fistful of Fingers” that drag. A long sequence has the main duo being blocked by an Indian mystic. He says “None shall pass” but, it’s soon revealed, actually means “Nun shall pass.” Cue comical cross-dressing on the heroes' behalves. This leads into the men being picked up by a pair of clueless rednecks, an especially long-winded scene. There’s a rather uncomfortable joke about the Indian sidekick romantically hitting on the male hero. The end features the Man with No Name stripped nude by bullets, which seems to hope the “Naked people are funny!” troupe will be enough. While the film has dead spots, “A Fistful of Fingers” is amusing more often then not.

The cast in “A Fistful of Fingers” is strictly non-professional. Some of the performers are better then others. Graham Low as Walter the gun-fighter has better-then-average comedic timing. He does a good job of copying Eastwood’s whispered growl while maintaining a goofy edge. Martin Curtis as the Indian sidekick is more subdued. Its hard to tell if he’s just really committed to his Tonto-style character or if he’s merely a flat actor. Oliver Evans is mildly amusing as the Squint, mostly playing it straight as the film’s absurd villain. Though there are many other names in the cast, all the others are bit parts. It’s honestly impressive that Edgar Wright was able to get this many people together for such a tiny production. (By the way, the director has a cameo himself, where he is quickly shot.)

“A Fistful of Fingers” apparently originated as a short film. Like many expansions of shorts, the film awkwardly pads the story out to feature length. Even at only 78 minutes long, the movie drags at times. The middle third of the film is mostly devoted to the main characters wandering around a forest. An entirely new character is introduced who contributes nothing to the plot. This may very well be the joke but I’m still not sure why he’s there. For a while, the movie becomes three characters in search of the plot. “A Fistful of Fingers” never quite comes to a halt. However, it’s clear that the director was stretching thin material out to be longer.

When watching the obscure debuts of famous directors, one is always on the look-out for his emerging stylistic trademarks. The comedic quick-cutting that would define Wright’s later work appears in its infancy. The camera will quickly ricochet between character’s faces, usually to indicate they’ve just fired their guns. One moment switches between people’s heads as the hero delivers an insult to all of them. It’s evident that Wright was aiming for a specific style. You can see the thinnest outline of what would become his brand. It’s also clear that he wasn’t quite able to make it work yet. Whether this is due to a lack of money or skill is hard to say.

“A Fistful of Fingers” is probably a lot better then you’d expect a quasi-student film to be. As a spoof, it obviously knows its target. The laughs come quickly and loudly for the first half-hour. After that, the film starts to stumble a little, as the pace slows. However, the jokes are still there, up until the end. His skills were still growing but the sense of humor and stylistic choices that characterize Edgar Wright’s later film are present, even at the beginning. The result is an uneven but mostly funny bit of silliness which fans will surely enjoy. [Grade: B-]

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Bangers n' Mash 72: What is Horror?

When you've been in the horror fandom for as long as my co-host and I have, you start to think about certain questions. Why do I like this stuff so much? Why does the horror genre, and all the grotesque and macabre qualities that come with it, appeal to me so much? Before answering these questions, we have to decide on what horror even is.

These were the sort of things on our minds when we agreed to do this episode. The resulting forty minutes that followed digressed in some interesting ways. JD and I even found ourselves talking about big philosophical issues like death, the afterlife, the existence of the human soul, and hands ghosting through walls. It's an interesting episode and a digression from the sort of thing we usually do. Give it a listen!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bangers n' Mash 71: Horror Hosts

Halloween is getting closer. This may seem like an absurd sentence to some of you reading this. "But Zack," you may say, "Halloween is over two months away!" But anybody who has been reading this blog for any period of time knows that my Halloween festival begins on the 18th of September. It's so close now that I'm beginning to get really excited, despite the summer heat still lingering on outside.

In order to commiserate the ever-approaching Halloween season, the Bangers n' Mash Show will be returning to more strictly horror-esque topics. The first of which is a short and sweet episode about horror hosts. You know, those people who present the monster movies that used to be shown regularly on TV. We discuss the likes of Elvira, Joe Bob Briggs, Svengoolie, Mister Lobo, and even Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the Crypt Keeper. It's a good time.

Friday, August 21, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: The Expendables 3 (2014)

Part of the fun of “The Expendables” series is dreaming about who will show up in these movies next. Nobody does this more then Sylvester Stallone. For “The Expendables 3,” he threw out many names he had no intention of following through on. Nicolas Cage, Steven Seagal, and Clint Eastwood were all mentioned at one point. Despite these unfulfilled promises, the film did deliver on some big stars: Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, and the baffling Kelsey Grammer. Most of the excitement for the third entry in the all-star series was bungled when its rating was announced. The sequel was going to be rated PG-13. Fans lost their shit. Further controversy arose when the film leaked to the internet early. Basically, a number of factors combined to make “Expendables 3” the lowest grossing film of the series and jeopardize the future of the franchise.

After rescuing an original member of the Expendables, known only as Doctor Death, the team of mercenaries get a new mission. They are tasked with capturing a weapons dealer, selling illegal weapons to warlords. Barney Ross gets a surprise when he spots the seller though. It’s Conrad Stonebank, an old friend turned sworn enemy. Stonebanks injuries a member of the team. Fearful for his friends’ life but determined to have revenge, Ross recruits a new generation of Expendables. When they are captured, he and the old team most reunite.

By the third film, the cast of “The Expendables” has bloated up to 16 central characters. Some established members get the shaft. Terry Crews is written out early on. Dolph, Randy Couture, and Jet Li aren’t given much to do. These are the flaws of an ever-growing ensemble. Some additions, however, are worthwhile. Crews’ part was originally written for Wesley Snipes. Now free of debtor’s prison, his addition to the cast feels natural. Snipes’ brings a lot of crazy energy to the part, livening the film, and has a cute rivalry with Statham. Antonio Banderas similarly peps up a thin part with some eccentricities, making Galgo a motor-mouth who likes to dance and seduce women, even in the heat of battle. Harrison Ford, stepping in for a greedy Bruce Willis, proves surprisingly fun. Not once does Ford seem like a grouchy old man. He seems to genuinely be having a good time. Lastly, Mel Gibson plays Conrad Stonebrooks. Gibson oozes hatred and wild-eyed bitterness, commenting on his real life troubles. Though he’s no Jean Vilain, he’s still one of the better villains the series has produced.

When focused on the old guys doing their thing, killing hordes of nameless henchmen, “The Expendables 3” works reasonably well. However, a lengthy section in the middle of the film focuses on Sly recruiting a new team. Since the whole point of the series is watching established action icons together, focusing on new-comers seems counter-intuitive. Worst yet, most of the new kids are not up to their mentor’s standards. Glenn Powell, as arrogant tech expert Thorn, is totally worthless. Victor Ortiz adds nothing to his character, who is the most thinly defined one in the bunch. A part presumably written for Milla Jovovich went to Ronda Rousy. Rousy has since become especially famous for beating the shit out of people. Sure, she’s good at that. But Rousy has no charisma. She’s stiff as a board, reading her lines monotonously, while her muscled body lacks screen presence. Really, the only member of the New-spendables that’s interesting at all is Kellen Lutz’ Smilee. Lutz already has some action credits to his name. Out of the new guys, he gets the coolest stunts, like flipping a dirt bike through the air. Lutz also has a molecule of acting talent, making him more compelling. Still, “The Expendables 3” is too focused on these new guys. Their recruitment and first mission take up far too much screen time.

Once the kids gets captured, and the old guys are reassembled, “The Expendables 3” finds its footing once again. With so many damn characters, the film has no shortage of things to do in its last act. Isolated in an abandoned hotel, the expanded team faces off against a literal army. Statham punches a guy into a wall. Rousy falls through the ceiling while spinning fools through the air. Dolph and Couture drive a fucking tank. Snipes assassinates baddies with his blades. Banderas joyously dances while capping enemies. Ford pilots his helicopter in improbable ways and Arnold tosses a guy into a wall. Through it all, there’s Sly, doing his thing. He screams, fires his pistol, and makes a daring leap onto a helicopter. His climatic fist fight with Mel is a bit short. However, the sheer number of guys killed in “The Expendables 3” is impressive. Honestly, the bloodless carnage doesn’t bother me any. Is it any better or worst then the CGI blood-fest the first two were? The film is no less thrilling.

“The Expendables 2” was satisfied with filling its margins full of in-jokes. And that was fine. Part three has its fair share of in-jokes too. Schwarzenegger commands people to get to the choppa’. Just by playing a pilot, Ford recalls Han Solo. Mel’s character is quite mad while Snipes is said to have been put away for tax evasion. My favorite joke is one of the most out-of-the-blue. Zooming pass decades of gay subtext, “Expendables 3” seemingly makes two of its heroes literally gay. I’m surprised that didn’t get more press. Yet the film has thematic concerns as well. The plot, of old Sly recruiting a bunch of younguns to replace his team, is ripe with real world echoes. Age and becoming irrelevant is definitely on the film’s mind. That the new team aren’t nearly as interesting or effective as the classics is something the script seems unaware of addressing.

On one level, I understand while fans were so antagonistic towards this one. Sly’s continued attempts to appeal to a wider audience, with the younger cast and the softer violence, seems misguided. For its’ flaws, I still had a good time with part three. Though its’ opening weekend numbers were dispiriting, “Expendables 3” still made money. There has been talk about continuing the series. I won’t regale you with my “Expendables 4” wishlist. (Nic Cage, Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, and Michael Jai White are all near the top, I assure you.) If a fourth is even made is currently unknown. But I’ll see it. What the hell else am I suppose to do? Getting a bunch of washed-up action heroes together hasn’t lost its appeal to me, at the very least. [7/10]

[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Isolated Mercenary]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling 

Aside from the possibility of an "Expendables 4," Stallone is now more focused on returning to his other trademark characters. Sly continues to enthusiastically discuss a fifth and final Rambo movie, even going so far as to actually title it "Last Blood." If that gets made probably depends on the performance of his next movie. "Creed," the unexpected Rocky spin-off, hits theaters this fall and looks surprisingly good. Is watching Stallone still do his thing as he gets further into his old age still exciting? Actually, kind of, yeah. That's the thing about Sylvester Stallone. The man never gives up. The man will keep fighting, keep trying to find the eye of the tiger and go the distance, until the day he dies. There's something to be admired about that.

Thus concludes the Sylvester Semester. Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: The Expendables 2 (2012)

Before the first “Expendables” came out, some people wondered if it would be a success at all. Sure, Stallone had pulled off something of a come-back in recent years. But would people really march out to the theaters to see a bunch of washed-up action stars and a few action unknowns? “Yes” is apparently the answer to that question, as “The Expendables” became a hit. Almost immediately, Stallone went to work on “The Expendables 2.” Promising more eighties icons and bigger action, the sequel corrected many of the mistakes the first film made. The result was a more fun and satisfying flick.

The Expendables are still up to their old tricks, rescuing a kidnapped millionaire from some banana republic in the opening action beat. They have a new teammate, a young sniper named Billy - wait for it - the Kid. Mr. Church isn’t done with Barney Ross though. He drafts him for another mission, to retrieve a computer containing sensitive information from a crashed airplane. After carefully rescuing the computer with the help a female agent, a mysterious villain steals the box. He also kills Billy. This time, it’s personal! The Expendables plan to track, find, and kill Vilain for revenge. Along the way, they may stop the bad guy’s plot too.

My biggest reservation about the first “Expendables” was the shaky action and overly grim tone.  Sylvester Stallone traded directing duties with Simon West, the “Con Air” filmmaker. The result is a film with much clearer action and a much lighter tone. With the exception of an overly chaotic plane crash, the action scenes are shot in the classic style. Henchmen are blasted away, punches land brutally, explosions result, and we can all tell what’s going on. The opening tank chase through the town is rightfully ridiculous. A motorcycle landing in a helicopter is only the most absurd moment. My favorite beat is Jet Li fighting off guys with frying pans. The following plane chase is fantastically orchestrated. A shoot-out in an empty town is clear and fun, as is a scuffle with goons in the European village. The action is as huge as the first film’s but it’s far more satisfying to watch.

The sequel also juggles its ensemble cast better then the original. Despite adding more cast members, the original Expendables are given more to do. Barney and Lee’s friendship is developed more. We see Ross teasing Christmas about his girlfriend. The camaraderie among the Expendables is focused on more. His betrayal of the team seemingly forgotten, Dolph Lundgren’s Gunner evolves into the goofball of the team. Lundgren’s real life history as a chemist is brought up, paying off nicely. Terry Crew’s Hale and Randy Couture's Toll were underserved last time. Crew becomes a boisterous body-builder who is slightly unhinged. Couture becomes somewhat sensitive and brainy. Though Jet Li exits the movie early on, even he seems better utilized. Over all, it seems Stallone and his team had a stronger understanding of the characters and the cast.

The additions to the cast are mostly welcomed. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis only had cameos last time. In part two, they graduate to proper cast members. Arnold and Willis get involved in the action, helping the main heroes out and telling jokes. Speaking of jokes! Chuck Norris drops in as Booker, a mysterious uber-badass who helps the team out. Despite Norris being in his seventies, the character plays into his Internet legend as the ultimate badass. When not killing people, Norris shows the easy-going charm that has always been his appeal. Newcomer Yu Nan plays Maggie Chan, a part I suspect was written for Michelle Yeoh. Despite being a complete unknown, Nan works well with the team, bringing humor and humility to her part. Really, the only newcomer I don’t care for is Liam Hemsworth as Billy. A performer I’ve taken to calling the Lesser Hemsworth, he's performance is flat. The biggest question is, “Why is he here?” What business does a teeny-bopper heartthrob like him have doing here? Furthermore, it is obvious Billy was born to die. The character might as well have a target on his back.

Of all the actors added to the cast, the bad guys are the most important. Stallone courted Jean-Claude Van Damme for the original “Expendables” but he declined. Obviously realizing he was missing out, Van Damme signed up for the sequel. Perhaps it was for the best. Jean-Claude plays the villain, Jean Vilain. The part plays to JCVD’s strengths. He brings an eccentric quality, dancing and making dramatic hand gestures, while maintaining an intimidating body language. Considering Van Damme’s evolution into a fine dramatic actor, he makes the character sadistic, intellectual, and just cold enough not to care about the people he kills. He provides a distinct villain to the piece and really helps bring “The Expendables 2” together. Another fine addition is Scott Adkins as Vilain’s main henchman. Adkins may be the modern equivalent to what Van Damme was back in the late eighties so it’s a smart choice.

Though action-packed throughout its run time, “The Expendables 2” really piles it on in the last act. The heroes corner the villains in an abandoned airport. At this point, the movie explodes into an unrelenting celebration of action movie violence. Everyone gets a stand-out moment. Stallone, Arnold, and Bruce Willis blast away bad guys together, fulfilling a dream action nerds have shared for decades. Later, there’s a great gag between Arnold and Bruce involving a tiny smart car. Dolph kicks a guy off a balcony. Terry Crews and Randy Couture employ tossed razor blades. Statham and Adkins share a bloody, immensely satisfying fist fight. Norris swoops in and takes a few more names. The final fight between Sly and Van Damme could have gone on longer but still provides some awesome moments of ass-kickery. I mean, JCVD does two spinning roundhouse kicks!

“The Expendables 2” is the movie the first one should have been. It’s a light-hearted action-fest that piles on the callbacks and in-jokes, while nicely balancing its extensive cast. Not only does it feature many stars of eighties cinema, it actually feels like something that could have been made in the eighties. Perhaps it’s not high art. Yet it’s hard to deny a film that is this much pure fun. [8/10]

[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[] Shows Off Buffness
[] Social Outcast
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: The Expendables (2010)

When “The Expendables” was announced, I happily declared it the Best Idea Ever. It was an all-star action epic, strictly in the eighties mold, and featuring legendary action heroes of yesterday and today. As a fan of eighties explosion-fest, it was an idea I gladly supported. When I saw the film, it was in the middle of an all-day movie marathon. Sandwiched between “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and a midnight screening of “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter,” the film came off as a disappointment. Maybe it was because I got lousy seats. Maybe it was because the friend I saw it with was acting like an asshole all day. Now that “The Expendables” is an established series, and seen in the comfort of my own home, the first film plays slightly better.

Barney Ross is the leader of a team of super bad ass mercenaries called the Expendables. When hostages need rescuin’, regimes needs topplin’, or bad guys need killin’, these are the guys you call. Yet the team has its problems. Gunner is an unstable drug addict. Lee is trying to mend his relationship with his ex-wife. Yang wants a pay raise. And Barney is beginning to question the morality of what he does. When a mysterious agent offers him a job – stop a rogue CIA agent running a drug empire out of a central American dictatorship – Ross thinks it's just a job at first. When he becomes involved with a beguiling woman there, he realizes more might be at stake.

“The Expendables” professes to be a throwback to eighties action movies. I mean, it’s obviously meant to be. Stallone even grabbed Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis for cameos, getting the three biggest action stars of the decade on-screen together. A retro-style flick was clearly Sly’s goal. Then why does “The Expendables” look like a modern film? The action scenes are frequently shaky and hard to follow. The opening shoot-out on the boat cuts between rough zooms and distracting inferred shots. A car chase veers and crashes all over the place, making it difficult to follow. There’s a three-way kick fight between Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Gary Daniels. That should’ve been awesome. But the direction is so incoherent, it’s hard to know who is kicking who. Aside from the shaky action, the movie is shot with a drab, dark, moody color palette. “The Expendables” neither looks nor feels like an eighties action film.

Action films aren’t known for their deep character work. In an ensemble action flick, characters generally have a single defining trait. Some members of the Expendables don’t even get that. Terry Crews’ Hale Caesar really loves his gun and his straight razor. Randy Couture’s Toll Road is seen reading a book once, mentions a shrink, and talks about his cauliflower ears. Jet Li’s Yin Yang gets picked on for being short and wants a pay raise. Aside from their awesome names, that’s it. The characters are mostly just there to raise the body count and add to the action. Crews is funny in his brief role but Couture is obviously more of a fighter then an actor. (It doesn’t help knowing those guys were last minute replacements for Wesley Snipes and Van Damme.)

There are some upsides to the ensemble though. First off, it allows Sly more people to bounce off of. He has a decent rapport with Jason Statham. Both are best known for being movie murder machines but have better chops then that. Occasionally, they’ll get to show it. The expanded cast also gives some room to the bad guy. Eric Roberts, himself a veteran of eighties action, plays the delightfully sleazy villain. Roberts is a classic action bad guy, wearing a suit, pointing guns at innocents, and generally being a greasy bastard. It’s hard to balance action and character development. Maybe because of the bigger action or the bigger cast, “The Expendables” doesn’t do it the best.

Then again, maybe too much character development is also a flaw, at least for movies like this. “The Expendables” is hassled with some truly useless subplots. Dolph Lundgren’s Gunner is a recovering drug addict who betrays the team. This leads to an extended action scene, where he chases Barney and fights Yang in a factory. Admittedly, seeing the towering but slow Lundgren fight the small but agile Li is fun. But the subplot ends up adding nothing to the film. Also adding nothing to the film is Statham’s relationship with Charisma Carpenter. He goes and beat up her abusive boyfriend on a basketball court. Again, it’s unrelated to the main plot and does nothing to develop either character. Lastly, the girl Sly endeavors to rescue is the daughter of the dictator. Sly the Director tries to incorporate a theme here, about fighting for something versus fighting for yourself. It’s clumsy though and, again, seems like another needless distraction.

Now, not all the action in the film is poorly framed. A rough-and-tumble scuffle Sly and the Stath have with some baddies is decently put together. This leads to a daring airplane escape, which climaxes in a massive explosion. That is probably the most fun scene in the film. The last act rotates between incoherent action and clearer violence. Crews exploding two watch tower is amusing. So is the utterly ridiculous scene where Sly blows up a helicopter with a hand-tossed cannon shell. The fight between Couture and Steven Austin’s Paine was obviously designed to answer the debate of who would win a fight between a wrestler and a MMA fighter. The last half hour of “The Expendables” is an orgy of explosions, muzzle flash, and bloody squibs. I’m not made of stone, people. It could be more clearly directed but there’s still some awesome stuff there.

“The Expendables” plays better separated from my initial expectations. It’s not the ultimate action throwback. At times, it feels distressingly modern. Sly’s pretensions about making the movie something more then an in-joke filled battle collection also drags the final product down. Still, it’s not all bad. Any movie that gets Stallone, Willis, and Arnold on-screen together can’t be all bad. As a series debut though, it could’ve used some more work. [6/10]

[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[] Social Outcast
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

Music, film and photography on

Monday, August 17, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: Avenging Angelo (2002)

“Eye See You” wasn’t the only Sylvester Stallone movie to go straight-to-video in 2002. That same year, “Avenging Angelo” was unceremoniously dumped on DVD with little press and no fanfare. Unlike “Eye See You,” where there’s some information on what when wrong with the movie and how it ended up released like it was, there’s no behind-the-scenes info on “Avenging Angelo.” No one involved with its production, including Stallone, have much to say about it. Nowadays, it may be the least talked about thing the actor has ever appeared in. This side of “The Party at Kitty and Stud’s,” “Avenging Angelo” seems to represent the lowest point in Stallone’s career.

Crime boss Angelo Allieghieri has a secret. Years ago, he fathered a daughter. Fearful for the girl’s life, due to all the people trying to kill him at the time, Angelo gave her up for adaptation. For years, Angelo has observed Jennifer’s life from afar. The man doing that watching is Frankie Delano, a mob tough guy and Jennifer’s unnoticed body guard. Once Angelo is murdered by some hitmen, Frankie decides to inform Jennifer of her secret parentage. Together, the two go off on a journey to survive the world of organized crime.

This is it, guys. We’ve hit the bottom. “Rhinestone” was more goofy then bad. “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot” was fascinating for its grotesque miscalculations. Even “Driven” had some moments of unintentional comedy. “Avenging Angelo,” meanwhile, is entirely worthless from beginning to end. The film is a dire mob comedy in the mold of “Married to the Mob” or “Mickey Blue Eyes.” There’s a bunch of lame jokes, like a scene of Sly disposing of a flatulent dead body or him scarring off the girl’s unfaithful husband. One moment that you can see coming a thousand yards away is when Jessica attempts to seduce an elderly mob boss. The movie is startlingly free of laughs. There’s seems to be moments that are meant to be jokes. Yet none of them register. Furthermore, the film says nothing new or interesting about the mob genre.

In addition to being a limp attempt at the mafia comedy, “Avenging Angelo” is also a romantic/comedy. It’s only slightly better as a rom-com. From the moment Frankie and Jessica appear together on-screen, you know they’re going to end up together. Despite the obviousness of this, the movie slowly forces the two together. Frankie likes Jessica but is too respectful to pursue her. Jessica slowly warms up to the guy, touched by his devotion. Madeleine Stowe is alright as Jessica. She’s decently charming, even if the script gives few chances to show her comedic skills. About the only saving grace of the film is the mildly amusing romantic chemistry Stowe has with Sly. There’s nothing compelling about the romance. The pay-off is assured and the characters are too thin to care about. Yet, in the ocean of crushing mediocrity that is “Avenging Angelo,” it's something.

Since nobody gives a shit about it, I went into “Avenging Angelo” knowing nothing about it. The DVD cover art makes it look like a normal crime flick. Even the title is misleading, as you assume Stallone is the Angelo, doing the avenging. In truth, the character is avenging Angelo’s death. Despite being an oppressively lame comedy for most of its run-time, the film still gets weirdly serious at the end. The plot is a collection of convoluted mob movie clich├ęs. There’s a web of grudges and murders driving things. It’s not really important. Anyway, the movie has a barely worth mentioning subplot about a romance novelist Jessica likes. It brings the two plots together awkwardly at the end. Turns out the romance novelist is the film’s true antagonists, Sly rushing in to save the day soon after the reveal. These moments are completely sincere and feel totally at odds with the film’s overall tone.

As a comedy, “Avenging Angelo” is never funny. As a romance, its love story is entirely functionary. As an action movie, it provides nothing thrilling. Finally, Sylvester Stallone seems incredibly bored throughout the entire thing. This is something he has in common with the audience. “Avenging Angelo” isn’t a fiasco. It is something worst then that. It’s a sleep-inducing apathy machine, a film totally lacking in anything interesting, entertaining, thoughtful, or compelling. It's my official vote the worst movie Sylvester Stallone has ever made. [3/10]

[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[] Social Outcast
[] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling