“Expendable” Movies – “The Expendables” (2010) / “The Expendables 2” (2012)

 

And now, we’ve come to the end of my bone-breaking groundbreaking, critical condition critically-acclaimed “Expendables” project. Though it was intended to conclude on August 17th (i.e. the release date of “The Expendables 2”), the project was held back by a number of priorities that I was forced to handle during the past week (bills to pay, kids to feed, wife to spend time with – all of which I did in “The Sims 3”). Just kidding, guys!  Anyways, without further ado, here’s the long-awaited finale of ‘”Expendable” Movies’.

 

According to film critic Michael Jeck, “Seven Samurai” (1954) (arguably the greatest Japanese film ever made, in case you were wondering) was the first movie in which a team was assembled to carry out a mission. After Akira Kurosawa’s magnum opus was remade by Hollywood into the brilliant 1960 western “The Magnificent Seven”, numerous action, war and heist films were fashioned around the revolutionary concept of a team of main characters. Come to think of it, every decade gave birth to at least one movie ensemble. The 1960s had “The Dirty Dozen” (a war film that your dad is guaranteed to know about); the 1970s, “The Wild Geese” (a war film that your dad may have heard of), the 1980s, the Marines from “Aliens”, the 1990s, the ill-fated bank robbers from “Reservoir Dogs”; the 2000s, the star-studded cast of “Ocean’s Eleven” (and its were-they-really-needed sequels “Ocean’s Twelve” and “Ocean’s Thirteen”). The list goes on and on.

 

And now in this decade, this age-old trend continues with “The Expendables” and “The Expendables 2”, two films dedicated to the glory days of early 1980s to mid-90s action films (before they got all “twisty” and “turny” like “Mission: Impossible”, “tear-jerky” like “Saving Private Ryan” and “brainy” like “The Matrix”) , where muscular action stars (primarily American) used brawn, blades and bullets instead of brains to kill defeat their enemies (primarily rich, military-oriented and/or non-American), always making sure to say at least one memorable one-liner before or after they do so (“You’re a disease, and I’m the cure”; “SCREW YOUUUUUU!!”; “Why couldn’t you put the bunny back in the box?”), and of course, leaving a path of property damage, dead bodies and single-parent households (“My daddy got shot by Steven Seagal. He’s dead now.”) in their wake.

 

What? You weren’t expecting something more profound in a review about “The Expendables”, now were you?

 

“THE EXPENDABLES” (2010)

In 2010, when men around the world were being dragged by their girlfriends to watch “Sex and the City 2” on the big screen, they prayed earnestly to the heavens for one movie:- one movie that will answer their burning questions: “Why am I here? Why am I still alive? Why am I watching ‘Sex and the City 2’ when I could be looking at Friday Night Smackdown instead? Wrestling’s not really fake, is it?”.  When “The Expendables” finally hit theaters, those questions weren’t answered, but the male-oriented dream of seeing the best action superstars together in one film finally became a reality. And at long last, those same men were able to drag their girlfriends to see a movie they wanted to see. Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it? Anyhoo, “The Expendables”, directed and co-written by Sylvester Stallone, focuses on a team of mercenaries (Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and Terry Crews) led by Stallone (“Barney Ross”). When they’re not blowing shit up and killing nameless extras, they ride their motorbikes through the streets of New Orleans and hang out at a tattoo parlour owned by the mission coordinator of the Expendables: Tool (Mickey Rourke). One day, a CIA agent called Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) hires Barney and a rival mercenary leader named Trench Mauser (Arnold Schwarzenegger) for a mission: go to the island of Vilena and overthrow the dictator General Garza (David Zayas). It’s later revealed that Garza is financially supported by James Munroe (Eric Roberts), an ex-CIA agent who uses Garza’s army to protect his drug-running operation. After a brief (and quite funny) scene of shit-talking between the three action movie legends, Barney is given the job. With the assistance of Garza’s daughter Sandra (Gisele Itie), Barney and his rag-tag team of ex-soldiers proceed to blow shit up and kill nameless extras, all for the cause of saving the people of Vilena from the corrupt men controlling their island home.

 

From the film’s opening action sequence, you’re given a taste of what to expect with “The Expendables” – over-the-top violence done in cartoonish gleefulness, dialogue laced with machismo, and ever-increasing levels of testosterone. The action set pieces in the film are viscerally exciting and fucking AWESOME – especially the final shootout which, judging by the amount of firepower, explosions and crumbling buildings shown onscreen, must have cost half the film’s budget to execute. The performances are good by action-movie standards – which actually works for a film like this. Eric Roberts plays a mean S.O.B. of a villain who comes equipped with a batch of witty comeback lines. Ex-WWE wrestler Steve Austin and kickboxing action star Gary Daniels (who play the henchmen of Eric’s character) play their roles well enough (all they do is look tough, say a couple of threatening lines and beat people up- that’s it). Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham (who plays knife expert Lee Christmas  – side note for those wishing to write an action film: when coming up with main characters, think of names that are easy to remember: Barney Ross, Lee Christmas, Tool – who can forget a name like Tool?) get the most screen-time as they play the unofficial “buddy-team” in “The Expendables”. They laugh, bicker, shoot and stab their way out of a number of scenarios throughout the film. Mickey Rourke (“Tool”) delivers the most profound performance in the film, as his conversation with Stallone in the second act brings a sense of unexpected depth to the film’s admittedly thin plot.  Though he appears only a few times, he stands tall as the best actor in the whole movie. The other Expendables get their moments to shine. Jet Li (“Yin Yang”) proves once again why he’s one of the best Asian action stars in the movie business and Dolph Lundgren (“Gunnar Jensen”) plays the same hulking, remorseless character from “Rocky IV”, except with guns and bad dialogue (in one scene, he tells Jet Li: “What do you wear, size 3? Bring it, Happy Feet”). WTF?! Randy Couture was aight as the “intelligent” Toll Road, who’s always shown reading a book in his spare time (when was the last time you saw the star of an action movie READ A BOOK?!), but try as he did, he just wasn’t that memorable. But the stand-out character, believe it or not, is Terry Crews (GASP!). His character of Hale Caesar is as cocky as you’d expect from a guy named HALE CAESAR, but it’s his appearance in the final shootout where he walks in with an AA-12 combat shotgun, BLASTING THE SHIT out of anyone getting within a 2-mile radius of him, that has already cemented him in the annals of action movie history. The ear-splitting sound of the rounds going off will make your jaw hit the floor instantly! Ultimately, though the film takes itself a little too seriously at times, “The Expendables” is everything it sets out to be – mindless, wholesome action entertainment- and nothing more. Recommended like subtitles for Sylvester Stallone’s dialogue.

 

“THE EXPENDABLES 2” (2012)

In 2012, when men around the world were satisfied that they lived long enough to see a movie like “The Expendables”…. and “The Avengers”and “The Dark Knight Rises” as a matter of fact, they prayed earnestly to the heavens for one movie:- one movie that will answer one burning question: “When is “Expendables 2″ coming out?”.  Last Friday, that question was answered, and those same men ran to the nearest movie theater to see “The Expendables 2”. Their girlfriends, having suffered through “The Expendables”, chose to stay home and watch a 24-hour “Sex and the City” marathon on E!  That was not a true story. And I swear, this will be the last time I mention “Sex and the City” in this post. Pinkie swear.  Directed by Simon West, director of “masterpieces” like “Con Air” (“Why couldn’t you put the bunny back in the box?”), “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” and “The Mechanic”, and co-written once again by Sylvester Stallone, “The Expendables 2” follows the continuing exploits of everyone’s favourite team of mercenaries. Much has changed during the past two years. Barney Ross’ amphibious seaplane has a built-in cannon, Gunnar Jensen is revealed to be knowledgeable in chemical engineering (a slight nod to Dolph Lundgren’s actual master’s degree in the same course), and there’s a new member in the team – former military sniper “Billy the Kid” (Liam Hemsworth). As before, Barney is hired by Mr. Church to do a job – in this case, the retrieval of an item from a safe located in a downed airplane in Albania. Assisting the Expendables is a Chinese technical expert named Maggie (Yu Nan). But the relatively simple retrieval job turns difficult when the vicious Jean Vilian (where the fuck do they come up with these names?) – played by Jean-Claude Van Damme – steps into the scene. With the assistance of his mercenary group (the Sangs), Vilian escapes with the item. Maggie confesses that the item is actually a computer which contains a blueprint of the location of five tons of abandoned plutonium. The Expendables must now prevent this plutonium from getting into the wrong hands, and they’ll do whatever it takes to stop Vilian – provided, of course, that they don’t run out of ammunition.

 

Similar to the previous film, “The Expendables 2” opens with a fast-paced, gorily violent and mindless action sequence that literally prepares you for the rest of the film. The story is better written than the original and the performances, yet again, are good by action-movie standards. Even though it’s still a bit cheesy (which is okay, since the film is a tribute to 80s action movies), the dialogue has been improved greatly from the first film. This is evident with Dolph Lundgren (GASP!) who’s actually given (GASSSSPP!) pretty good dialogue. Matter of fact, he delivers some of the film’s funniest lines. And this is where “The Expendables 2” excels. Simon West acknowledges the fact that the film was never meant to be taken seriously, and as a result, he’s added moments of laugh-out-loud moments that lighten the film’s grim tone.  There’s no Oscar-worthy performances here, as Mickey Rourke is virtually non-existent, but we do get a couple of brief “character depth” moments – the main one involving Stallone and Liam Hemsworth. Speaking of which, Liam pulled off an okay performance, but with the amount of 40-plus year old actors getting in his way, it’s obvious that he’s only there to please the 18-35 female demographic. Randy Couture stands out a little more here, but is still overshadowed by Terry Crews and his AA-12 combat shotgun (spoiler alert – he gives away the gun to someone -who that someone is, I won’t say – but I will say, he deserved it!). Arnold Schwarzenegger returns in “The Expendables 2”, and along with Bruce Willis, he finally gets the chance to return to his native action movie roots, complete with distinguishable one-liners (“I’m back!”) and heavy artillery. Jean-Claude Van Damme delivers a great (ASTONISHING!) performance as the main villain with his sunglasses, big knife, trademark roundhouse kicks and overall bad-guy swagger. But the stand-out performer here is….you guessed it…. CHUCK NORRIS! When he appears for the first time in the film, you’ll either be cheering in praise that the mythical Chuck Norris has resurrected resurfaced into the world of Hollywood, or laughing at the fact that a 72-year old man is walking in cliched slow motion – or both. Playing a retired military operative (and “lone wolf”) named Booker, Chuck has the penchant of appearing when the Expendables need him the most. His appearances, his dialogue….fuck it, his PRESENCE is reason enough to go see this film! If you don’t go apeshit when he shows up, then the patrons sitting in front of you certainly will! In the end, “The Expendables 2” is a high-octane shoot-em-up/stab-em-up/blow-em-up that’s just as entertaining as the original but a lot more fun. Recommended like a 24-hour marathon of “Sex and”….oops, I mean “Walker, Texas Ranger”.

 

“THE EXPENDABLES” & “THE EXPENDABLES 2” – 3 1/2 out of 5 stars (both are “worth a look”, and both are DEFINITELY worth seeing back-to-back)

 

– Matthew

“Expendable” Movies – “Rocky IV” (1985) / “Snatch” (2000)

 

For the three of you who’ve been keeping track of my posts for the past week, this is the third part of my critically-acclaimed four-post project dedicated to the best films of the main stars of “The Expendables” and “The Expendables 2” (now in theaters). Having already mentioned Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger (see: first post), Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Jet Li (see: second post), this write-up will focus on only two Expendables (YAAAAAY! Only two!)- Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham.

 

First, a bit of history on each actor.

 

Dolph Lundgren, born in 1957, is a Swedish actor, director and martial artist (he holds a rank of 3rd dan black belt in Kyokushin karate). After graduating from the University of Sydney in 1982 with a master’s degree in chemical engineering (living proof that he’s a lot smarter than the world – myself included – thinks) , he became a bodyguard for the androgynous-looking (which made her look like a female equivalent to Mr. T) Jamaican singer-turned-actress Grace Jones. They even began a relationship (think about that for a few seconds – and if you haven’t yet ran to the bathroom to throw up, please continue reading). But thanks to her, he managed to score a brief appearance in the James Bond film “A View to a Kill” (one of the SHITTIEST Bond movies ever made)which also starred Grace Jones. After deciding to pursue a career in acting, Dolph’s next role will become his most famous. In 1985, he starred alongside Sylvester Stallone in “Rocky IV” (which I’ll be reviewing in a bit) as the Russian boxer Ivan Drago. From that point on, he starred in a slew of action-oriented films, from box office flops like 1987’s “Masters of the Universe” (Dolph Lundgren played HE-MAN!!  I’m not fucking kidding here!) to moderate successes like 1992’s “Universal Soldier” (where he played the antagonist to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s character). But it was his appearance in “The Expendables” that re-introduced Dolph Lundgren to a new generation who either didn’t know or didn’t give a fuck who he was – not to mention, resurrecting his career from straight-to-DVD hell.

 

Jason Statham, everyone’s favourite bone-crunching, ass-kicking British leading man, was born in 1967.   A member of Britain’s National Diving Squad for twelve years, Jason became a model for the UK-based fashion wholesaler French Connection (FCUK). After being introduced to Guy Ritchie (i.e. the director of “Sherlock Holmes” and its awesome sequel “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”), Jason was cast in his first feature-length film – 1998’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”.  His past profession as a black market salesman (i.e. a “hustler” (American term) or a “spranger” (Trinidadian term)) secured him the role of the wise-cracking “Bacon”. The film was an international success, and it introduced many into Guy Ritchie’s world of storylines full of twists and turns, criminal-minded characters, Tarantinoesque dialogue and violence and, of course, stylized slow-motion. But it was Guy’s next film, “Snatch” (which I’ll also be reviewing in a bit), and Jason’s appearance in that film, that put them in the Hollywood spotlight.  Since then, Jason has starred in a number of thrillers like “Cellular”, “The Italian Job” and “The Bank Job” (not a sequel) and action films like the “Transporter” trilogy, “Crank” and “Crank: High Voltage” (both the visual equivalent of drinking two cartons of Red Bull).

 

In keeping with my penchant for writing about movies with a similar theme, the following films are based on the wonderful sport of boxing. Ah, boxing – the one sport in which the term “sore loser” is taken both literally and figuratively. But in the words of Mr. T (the antagonist of “Rocky III”), I’ve been talking a whole load of jibber-jabber! On with the reviews!

 

“ROCKY IV” (1985)

 

It was only a matter of time before I included a “Rocky” movie in my “Expendable” movie list.  And while it is the most successful entry in the Rocky franchise in terms of box office revenue, it’s also one of the weakest.  Written and directed by Sylvester Stallone himself, “Rocky IV” continues the exploits of the “Italian Stallion”, world heavyweight champion Rocky Balboa. He has a wife and son, he’s still friends with Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) – his opponent in the first two Rocky films and trainer in the third, and he’s financially secure enough to enjoy his retirement. He even buys his brother-in-law Paulie a robot for his birthday. I SHIT YOU NOT! He buys his brother-in-law a ROBOT for his birthday! Talk about being a rich bastard. Anyhoo, a Russian boxer named Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) and his wife Ludmilla (played by Brigitte Nielsen, a.k.a. Stallone’s ex-wife, Flavor Flav’s ex-girlfriend, and Dr. Drew Pinsky’s ex-patient) head to the United States to promote Ivan’s athleticism as part of showing off their Soviet superiority to the world. Apollo is offended by Ivan, as he believes “he’s trying to make Americans look bad”. Seeking to prove to himself that he’s still a great boxer, he challenges Ivan to an exhibition match. Not surprisingly, Apollo gets the SHIT beat out of him, and dies during Ivan’s onslaught. Rocky’s life turns upside down. After reminiscing of the times he spent with Apollo (in a montage set to an 80s rock song, of course), Rocky decides to fight Ivan. The match will take place on Christmas Day in Russia. Will he win? Will America prove to be better at boxing than Russia? Look at the poster above you and your questions will be answered. In retrospect, it’s amazing to see how the Rocky films evolved from a powerful story of an underdog boxer finally achieving victory for the first time in his life, to a simplistic story of good versus evil. Rocky is good, because he has a family, and friends, and a fucking ROBOT – and he’s an American. Ivan is bad because he looks threatening, and he beats his opponents to death without any remorse – and he’s a Russian. And this is the main problem with “Rocky IV”. American propaganda runs rampant in this film – from Apollo’s American-themed entry into the boxing ring to the American-themed ending speech by Rocky Balboa.  There’s hardly any depth to these characters. Apollo sounds foolish when he tries to reason with Rocky as to why he should fight Ivan, and so does Rocky when he does the same thing with his wife. However, the film does work as a generic sports film from the 80s (which it actually is). The training montages with Rocky and Ivan are entertaining as shit! You can’t help but root for Rocky when he lifts logs, runs through snow and shouts “DRAGO! DRAGO!” on the top of a mountain. And the film’s climatic bout is as epic and engaging as you’d expect it to be. Dolph Lundgren shines as Ivan Drago. His stern face, tough-as-nails personality and even his lines, few as they are (“I must break you” is his best line), makes him arguably the most memorable character in the whole film.  In the end, “Rocky IV” is an okay addition to the Rocky franchise, but could have been way better had it not been for its predictability, two-dimensional characters and heavy-handed propaganda.

 

“SNATCH.” (2000)

Watching this film is one thing, but talking about it – that’s a different matter. It’s not that “Snatch” is confusing. It is fairly comprehensible, even with the Cockney English accents spoken throughout the film. But it’s the intertwining of two seemingly distinct plots – similar to the aforementioned “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” – that makes it problematic to properly explain the events in the film. And no, I’m not even going to attempt to explain everything in “Snatch”. What I can safely say is that the film involves unlicensed boxing promoters (“Turkish” and Tommy), an ex-KGB agent turned arms dealer (Boris “The Blade”),  an American professional thief with four fingers (smartly named Frankie “Four-Fingers”), an elderly diamond dealer (Doug “The Head”),  a New York jeweller (“Cousin Avi”), three small-time crooks (Vinnie, Sol and Tyrone), a toughened mercenary (“Bullet-Tooth” Tony) and a ruthless crime boss (“Brick Top”). The two intertwining storylines are centered on a Gypsy boxer named Mickie (played by Brad Pitt) and a stolen 84-carat diamond respectively. Even though Jason Statham doesn’t bust any heads or shoot anyone in “Snatch”, he does deliver a solid performance as the sarcastic protagonist, constant shit-talker to his partner Tommy, and voice-over narrator “Turkish”. Similar to Guy Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock…”, “Snatch” combines bad-ass gangsterism with British-style comedy. And it shows with the dialogue and characters. The dialogue is so sharp, witty and well-delivered that you can’t help but laugh. And the characters appear to be so intimidating and tough, yet they manage to be genuinely funny without themselves knowing it. The story, while complex and challenging with its twists and turns, is exciting, frenetic and fun to watch. And what’s a review of “Snatch” without mentioning Brad Pitt? Mr. Bradgelina literally steals the fucking show, with his portrayal of a bare-knuckle brawler with an outlandish and almost incomprehensible Gypsy accent (in one memorable scene, he pronounces dogs as “dags”). Long story short, “Snatch” is an entertaining-ass movie that takes the genre of the British gangster film to a greater level. And like Guy Ritchie’s previous film, it’s undoubtedly one of the best British films ever made. Highly recommended like drinking two cartons of Red Bull….and then watching “Crank” and “Crank: High Voltage” back-to-back!

 

“ROCKY IV” – 3 out of 5 stars (“It was aight”)

“SNATCH” – 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Definitely see this movie”)

– Matthew

“Expendable” Movies – “Way of the Dragon” (1972) / “Bloodsport” (1988) / “Fist of Legend” (1994)

 

For those who haven’t read my previous post (it’s okay if you didn’t….*sniff*.. it’s fine…*snifffffffff*. Damn, ran out of coke – just kidding), this current four-post project is dedicated to the best (for better or worse) films of the major stars of the action flick “The Expendables 2”. Even though I’ve excluded Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Liam Hemsworth from the first three write-ups for the simple fact that they haven’t reached the “action hero” level like the rest of the cast, their performances will be mentioned in the final post (which will review both Expendables movies). This post, however, will focus on three actors who’ve  become synonymous (in different ways) to the martial arts film genre: Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Jet Li.

 

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Martial arts?! URRRGH! That’s not a real film genre. It’s just about badly-dubbed English and fighting sound effects that can be emulated with your mouth (DRAGON FIST …. ‘BEEEESHK’!!) along with moronic subplots about vengeance, secret fighting styles and avenging the death or poisoning of the protagonist’s master.  And I will admit there are some martial arts films that are just that – and nothing more. But there are others that transcend themselves far beyond a generic formula.  Movies like Gordon Liu’s “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”, Jackie Chan’s “Legend of Drunken Master”, Stephen Chow’s “Kung Fu Hustle” and Donnie Yen’s “Ip Man” told great stories that contained comedy, action, drama and philosophy. These films, along with many others, are recognized worldwide as classics of Hong Kong action cinema.  But the international recognition of the martial arts film would not have been possible if it wasn’t for one man – the late, great Bruce Lee.

 

Born in America, and raised in Hong Kong, Bruce Lee made the transition from playing the sidekick Kato in the “Batman” spinoff “The Green Hornet” and the original creator of the cult classic TV series “Kung Fu” (which became famous for the casting of the late David Carradine as the Chinese monk Kwai Chang Caine) to a major Hong Kong action superstar and influential martial arts instructor. Apart from his charisma and amazing fighting skills, Bruce was one of the first martial artists to display real acting capabilities. Yes, ladies and gents, Bruce was an ACTOR! He achieved major success in the box office with the Lo Wei-directed “The Big Boss (a.k.a. Fists of Fury)” and “Fist of Fury (a.k.a. The Chinese Connection)” in 1971 and 1972 respectively. For his next film “Way of the Dragon (a.k.a. Return of the Dragon)”, Bruce assumed the roles of actor, screenwriter, fight choreographer, producer and director. In late 1972, he began work on the ill-fated “Game of Death” (which became famous for his on-screen confrontation with basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a former student of Bruce). Production came to a grinding halt when Warner Bros. offered Bruce the opportunity to star in a film produced jointly by Warner Bros. and Golden Harvest, the studio behind his three previously-completed films. This film was “Enter the Dragon”, the first Chinese martial arts film to be produced by a Hollywood studio. Tragically, it was also Bruce’s final performance, as he died on July 20th 1973, six days before the film’s release.

 

Again, I know what you’re thinking. What the fuck does Bruce Lee have to do with the Expendables? Well, you see, the following three films are, in their respective ways, influenced by Bruce Lee. While “Way of the Dragon” stars Bruce Lee (DURRRHH!!), “Bloodsport” draws its inspiration from the plot of “Enter the Dragon” and “Fist of Legend” is a remake of “Fist of Fury” (not to be confused with the American title to Bruce’s first feature film). See? I know what I’m doing. Don’t worry.

 

Anyhoo, like any good martial arts film, enough of the exposition! Let’s get to the action, shall we?

 

“WAY OF THE DRAGON” (1972)

 

Ranked #95 in Empire Magazine’s 100 Best Films of World Cinema (which is a huge fucking achievement for a martial arts film), “Way of the Dragon” is the first and only film in which Bruce Lee had full control of its production. The premise is simplistic at best: a Hong Kong martial artist named Tang Lung is sent to Rome to help his friend’s niece whose restaurant is targeted by a Mafia boss and his group of thugs. At first, the film feels like a fish-out-of-water comedy, with the first 20 minutes or so focused on Bruce’s adjustment to a new environment. But when he starts kicking ass, then you’re reminded why he’s ranked among the greatest martial artists of all time. The force of his kicks, the speed of his hands, even his superb use of his signature weapon – the nunchaku (spoiler alert: he uses TWO in this film! WOW!!) are showcased in perfect form in this film. But the main reason why this film is mentioned here is the final showdown between Bruce Lee and…. (drumroll please) CHUCK NORRIS! Yes, I said it…. Bruce Lee fights Mr. Walker: Texas Ranger himself, and the subject of over 100 tailor-made facts (my favourite has to be “Chuck Norris threw a grenade and killed 50 people, then the grenade exploded”). And in case you were wondering what he has to do with this film, Chuck plays Colt, “America’s best” karate expert. He’s hired by the same Mafia boss to defeat Bruce. What results is a fight that takes place in the Roman Coliseum (what better place is there to kick some ass anyway?). There’s a reason why that sequence ranks among the best fights in martial arts film history – it’s fucking EPIC! Not Maximus vs. Commodus in “Gladiator” epic, but epic in the sense that two martial artists in their physical prime bring their individual A-game to the table.  While Chuck does look a bit goofy with his thick sideburns and hairy-ass chest, he ultimately shines as a worthy competitor to Bruce.  But what makes his appearance in this film significant is that he’s KILLED (GASP!) by Bruce at the end of the fight!  Chuck Norris who, like Steven Seagal, is always portrayed as being incapable of dying, is killed by Bruce Lee! How he’s killed, I won’t say, but it’s really awesome. If that isn’t a reason to watch “Way of the Dragon”, I don’t know what is. While it isn’t the GREATEST Bruce Lee movie of all time (that title belongs to “Enter the Dragon” in my opinion), it’s still a classic martial arts film that deserves your time and viewership – if only to see Chuck Norris get his ass kicked for the first time in his film career!

 

“BLOODSPORT” (1988)

 

Now I must admit – I am NOT a fan of the “Muscles from Brussels” (a shitty nickname Jean-Claude Van Damme had back in the days). And trying to figure out his “best” film (like I said – for better or worse) was a huge task in itself. So, through the help of Wikipedia, IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, Google, and my memories of childhood which involved watching anything which resembled a martial arts film (*cough*Walker, Texas Ranger*cough), I found – or should I say – rediscovered “Bloodsport”. One of his most successful films (according to Wikipedia) and one of his most memorable (according to the devoted JCVD fans in IMDB), “Bloodsport” is based on the real-life exploits of Frank Dux (pronounced “Dukes”), an Army captain who goes AWOL and flies over to Hong Kong to take part in an illegal, underground martial arts tournament called the Kumite. While in Hong Kong, he meets an American brawler named Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb), pretends to be Richard Kimble from “The Fugitive” by running away from two ACID (Army Criminal Investigation Division) officers (Norman Burton and a young Forest Whitaker) trying to arrest Frank for desertion, and falls for an American journalist named Janice Kent (Leah Ayres) who’s trying to uncover the mystery behind the secretive Kumite tournament. As I mentioned earlier, “Bloodsport” is inspired by “Enter the Dragon” (I really don’t want to call the film a rip-off since it’s inspired by true events). Both involve a martial arts tournament, with fighters from “all over the world” participating in it. Also, Bolo Yeung stars in both films. Who’s Bolo Yeung, you may ask? Well, he’s an Asian martial artist who played a vicious, brutal son of the bitch in “Enter the Dragon”. Here, he plays Chong Li (not to be confused with the female Street Fighter character of the same name), who’s also a vicious, brutal son of the bitch. Yes, I said “son of the bitch”. The Asian guy who helps Frank and Ray in the film says this phrase, and believe me, it sound hilarious when he says it! Speaking of ‘phrase’, the dialogue in the film is as cheesy as a 1980s action movie – which is funny, since “Bloodsport” is, in essence, a  cheesy 1980s action movie. And like cheesy 1980s action movies, the acting isn’t great – not terrible, but just not great. Van Damme tries his best to deliver a decent acting performance, but fails nearly every time. He does pull off a complete split though. But then again, you don’t watch a Van Damme film for Oscar-worthy acting or splits that’ll put a female gymnast to shame. You watch it for ass-kicking – and boy, is there ass-kicking in this film. The fights in this film are fast, furious (like the movie of the same name) and bloody, and a variety of fighting styles (from karate and muay thai to sumo wrestling and the monkey fist) are showcased. And yes, Van Damme and Bolo Yeung confront each other in the film’s finale, and the fight itself is EPIC! The movie excels in these fight sequences, and for a Van Damme film, who could ask for anything more? In the end, I left the film with a dumb grin from ear to ear, not because I got a silly, unintentionally funny and intentionally bad-ass martial arts film experience, but because I heard Stan Bush’s “Fight to Survive” (a song that’s so 80s in its sound, lyrics and overall cheesiness that it’s a shame it wasn’t a Top 40 hit) in the soundtrack. I placed a link to the song on the bottom of this post. Listen to it only if you love the 1980s, or if you’re looking for a good laugh. Trust me on this!

 

“FIST OF LEGEND” (1994)

 

Now I must admit – I AM a fan of Jet Li. Even though I don’t quite fancy his American action films (“Romeo must Die” and “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor” comes to mind), I do enjoy most, if not all, of his Hong Kong action films.  While his earlier films, like “Once Upon a Time in China” and “Fong-Sai Yuk”, became box-office successes in Hong Kong, it was “Fist of Legend” which placed him in the international spotlight. Hugely considered to be his best film (although my personal favourite is still 2002’s “Hero”), “FOL” gave Western audiences a glimpse into Jet Li’s extraordinary fighting abilities. As mentioned earlier, it is a remake of Bruce Lee’s 1972 classic “Fist of Fury”.  Jet Li plays Chen Zhen, a Chinese student studying at the Kyoto University in 1937. The Japanese army have occupied his hometown of Shanghai and as a result, the Chinese are looked upon with scorn in Japan. Chen feels this scorn one day when Japanese karate students storm into the classroom where’s he studying, challenges him to a fight and even threatens to harm his Japanese girlfriend Mitsuko. It’s revealed that she’s the niece of the karate students’ sensei Funakochi. He informs Chen that his master, Huo Yuanjia (who’s an actual historical figure, by the way), was killed during a fight with a Japanese martial artist. Chen packs his bags, tells Mitsuko he’ll return, and jumps on a ship heading to Shanghai. Now back home, he returns to Jingwu, a martial arts school founded by Huo Yuanjia. He rebuilds the reputation of the school, despite the efforts of the Japanese to shut down the school. But in his heart, Chen swears to find out the truth behind his master’s death and to take revenge against the men responsible. While “Fist of Legend” is not as politically-charged as “Fist of Fury” (where nearly every Japanese person was portrayed as villainous), it achieves the same feats as its predecessor. It tells a strong story with heart and depth, and it also delivers great performances from its cast. And the fight scenes, most involving Jet Li himself, are exciting and expertly-choreographed. The fight choreography, handled by the legendary Yuen Woo-Ping, was so well-done for its time that it inspired the Wachowski brothers, or should I say brother and sister… (*ahem*) , to hire Woo-Ping to choreograph the fight scenes in The Matrix Trilogy. Yes, ladies and gents, he’s the guy who made Keanu Reeves do kung fu. In short, “Fist of Legend” is a must-see for anyone who calls themselves a fan of martial arts movies. And if you still think these films are all about badly-dubbed English and fighting sound effects that can be emulated with your mouth (BITCH SLAP …. ‘WHOOPSSSHH’!!), then you’ll be pleasantly surprised that “Fist of Legend” delivers so much more. And did I mention that the final fight in this film is one of the greatest fight scenes ever put to celluloid? No? Well, now I did.  Now go forth and watch this movie already!

 

“WAY OF THE DRAGON” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

“BLOODSPORT” – 2 1/2 out of 5 stars (“See it if you really have to”)

“FIST OF LEGEND” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

“FIGHT TO SURVIVE” (by Stan Bush) – 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (“You have GOT to listen to this shit – unless you truly hate 80’s music”)

 

 

– Matthew

“Expendable” Movies – “First Blood” (1982) / “Die Hard” (1988) / “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)

 

Having recently accomplished my first four-part series of posts dedicated to a particular theme (the live-action Batman movies), I’ve decided to challenge myself with another four-parter. In this case, I’ll be reviewing the best movies (for better or worse) of each of the major stars of the action flick “The Expendables 2”, excluding Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Liam Hemsworth. Even though they’re part of the new Expendables line-up, they haven’t yet achieved the title of action hero,  as compared to their co-stars. But don’t you fret, you fans of UFC, “Everybody Hates Chris” and “The Hunger Games”. Their performances will be mentioned in the upcoming reviews of both “The Expendables” and “The Expendables 2”.

 

Due for release on August 17th of this year (mark your calendars), “The Expendables 2” is the long-awaited (mostly by guys) sequel to the 2010 ensemble action film “The Expendables”. The original film, directed by Sylvester Stallone (the one actor who knows a shit-ton about directing action movies than most of his peers), took a boyish fantasy of seeing one’s favourite action heroes together on the big screen and made it into a grown-ass, testosterone-fueled, bullet-riddled reality. But what really made the film special was its line-up of stars. Action heroes of the 80s and 90s like Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Dolph Lundgren were teamed up with those of the last decade like Jet Li, Jason Statham and, to a certain degree, Steve Austin. Randy Couture and Terry Crews, two guys who appeared in a few action movies before “The Expendables”, were also included in the film.

 

Lionsgate, the company behind “The Expendables”, promised to show the world “the greatest action heroes together for the first and only time”, as the voice-over guy in the trailer stated so dramatically. As fucking ridiculous as this promise is in retrospect (i.e. a movie with the greatest action heroes together for the FIRST AND ONLY TIME – followed by a SEQUEL WITH THE SAME ACTORS), it was a rather smart marketing ploy to reel in audiences, and the film became a commercial success. However, it received mixed reviews for its thin plot, two-dimensional characters, wooden dialogue and mindless action. Fortunately at that time, action movie lovers (myself included) didn’t give a fuck about the critics. We knew what the film offered, and that was exactly what we received. We lapped up the bloody shootouts, brutal fistfights and ginormous explosions like thirsty dogs. The mindless action (which was done so well, I must say) somehow managed to overshadow the other aspects of the film that pissed off critics.  While I did enjoy “The Expendables”, the possibility of a sequel was far from my mind.

 

By late 2011, a teaser for “The Expendables 2” came out, and jaws hit the floor (mine included) when the line-up was shown: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris! JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME?! CHUCK NORRIS?!! Together for the “FIRST AND ONLY TIME”?!!! I was definitely sold! Ever since the release of the trailer, I was eagerly anticipating the film’s official release. It was announced at the beginning of 2012 that directing duties were appointed to Simon West, the guy behind “Con Air”, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (remember that shit?!) and “The Mechanic” (which starred Jason Statham). Rumours were spread that “The Expendables 2” would be rated PG-13 instead of the original film’s much-deserved R-rating, apparently due to Chuck Norris’ demands that the swearing present in the script be toned down. Fortunately, it achieved its R-rating just in time for its upcoming release. Time will soon tell if Schwarzenegger will say his line from “The Terminator” (“Fuck you, asshole!”) for the second time in his movie career or not. More importantly, the world will soon know whether “The Expendables 2” was actually a superior sequel or a retread of the original.

 

This post is dedicated to the best films of the three most popular stars of “The Expendables 2” – Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Whether you care about the Expendables films or not, there’s no denying that the following films are timeless classics in the action movie genre. Not only did they define what an action movie can be and should be, but they’ve re-defined the term “action hero”. Besides, if it weren’t for these three films, “The Expendables” would remain nothing more than a boyish fantasy. Capiche? Then, let’s get started.

 

“FIRST BLOOD” (1982)

 

Now I know “Rocky” (1976) was the film that placed Sylvester Stallone in the Hollywood spotlight. He was nominated for Best Actor and Best Screenplay (believe it or not, Ripley – he wrote the screenplay) at the Oscars, and the film itself managed to nab the Best Picture Academy Award. But it was his performance in “First Blood” that truly made him an action superstar. Here, he plays John Rambo, former member of an elite U.S. Army Special Forces unit that served in the Vietnam War. When he sets foot into the town of Hope, Washington, to look for one of his friends from his unit, the sheriff of the town, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy), gives him a hard time. Rambo is warned by Teasle (who doesn’t want “drifters” in his town) to leave, but he refuses. He’s arrested, hauled off to the police station, and violently harassed by officers. Unbeknownst to the officers, our hero was a P.O.W. during the Vietnam War and suffered cruel treatment from his captors. Plagued by memories of that time, Rambo’s mind finally snaps and he proceeds to KICK ASS! The officers are beaten up and Rambo escapes. He even pulls a guy off a motorbike and rides off with it (GTA, motherfucker!!).  What follows is a manhunt within the nearby forest of Hope, where Rambo uses hunting and survival tactics to evade – and kill – the men hunting him down. Even though the plot of “First Blood” is rather straight-forward, it’s the underlying theme of the psychological effects of the Vietnam War that gives the film a surprisingly emotional depth. Stallone delivers an amazing performance as John Rambo. His character wavers between hero and anti-hero.  You root for him when he escapes his predators, but you also cringe when you see the ways in which he traps and kills them. And in his climatic meltdown, you can’t help but feel sorry for the poor guy. Richard Crenna, who plays Colonel Sam Troutman (the man who trained Rambo), also delivers an amazing performance in the film. Serving as advisor to the police, Crenna’s character warns the police about Rambo’s primal mindset. In one memorable scene, he scares the sheriff shitless with quotable lines like “You send that many (men), you don’t forget one thing – a good supply of body bags”.  The story is fast-paced, the action is raw and the tone is dark and sombre. The result is an action film that’s engaging, powerful and unforgettable. As a rugged action flick, a social commentary of a post-Vietnam War America, and the establishment of Sylvester Stallone as an action movie icon, “First Blood” excels on all levels.

 

 

“DIE HARD” (1988)

 

“Die Hard”, the film that propelled Bruce Willis into the A-list of Hollywood superstars. Set during Christmas Eve – the wonderful time of the year dedicated to last-minute shopping, this film tells the heartwarming story of  New York cop John McClane, and his quest to save the occupants of a company building (including his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia)) from a group of East European criminals.  The leader of this group of grinches is Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman, well-known for his role as Severus Snape in the “Harry Potter” film series). Assisting John is Sergeant Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson a.k.a. Carl Winslow from “Family Matters”) who maintains contact with him from the outside, while the police and the FBI try desperately to get inside the building. Directed by John McTiernan, “Die Hard” is a textbook example of an action film done right. The story is well-written, the dialogue is sharp and witty (the most  iconic line in the film is still Bruce Willis’ “Yippee-kai-yay, motherfucker”), the performances are top-notch (especially from Willis and Rickman) and the action scenes, while bloody at times, are exciting and stimulating. This film was both a critical and commercial success, and spawned three decent (though not as near-perfect as the original) sequels. A number of subsequent films copied “Die Hard’s” then-original formula of one-man-saving-hostages-from-bad-guys such as Wesley Snipes’ “Passenger 57” (remember that shit?!), Steven Seagal’s “Under Siege” (his most popular movie), Keanu Reeves’ “Speed” (another great action film) and the little-known (most likely ’cause it’s bullshit) 2002 TV movie “Christmas Rush” which starred Dean Cain (“Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”). You don’t need to know how I remembered that film. Just know that I never watched it. Anyhoo, “Die Hard” is action-packed escapism at its finest, and a classic Christmas movie as well. Ironically enough, it’s actually better than most of the action films of recent years. As a matter of fact, Entertainment Weekly recently voted it the best action film of all time. While I won’t even bother debating their pick for the top spot, I still think that the following film rightfully deserves that position.

 

 

“TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY” (1991)

 

The “Citizen Kane” of action movies….or should I say “Vertigo”  since the kind folks at Sight and Sound recently replaced Orson Welles’ masterpiece with the most colourful of Alfred Hitchcock’s films in their “Top 50 Greatest Film of All Time” list. Before Arnold Schwarzengger cheated on his wife with his then-50-year-old housekeeper (eeeeeww), and way before his career was nearly terminated with 1997’s “Batman & Robin” (*pukes*), he was a well-established action superstar with films like “Conan the Barbarian” (one of my all-time faves), “The Terminator” (another all-time fave of mine) and “Predator” (or as I call it, “First Blood” with a Rastafarian alien) under his belt. But it was “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” that turned Arnold into a cinematic legend.  Here, he plays….well, the Terminator – a cyborg who, in the first film, was sent from a post-apocalyptic future to assassinate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the mother of the leader of the Human Resistance, John Connor. Now, he’s been sent again from the future, but this time, to protect Sarah and her 10-year old son John (Edward Furlong) from the vicious, and more advanced, T-1000 (Robert Patrick). Directed by James Cameron of “Titanic” fame and acclaim, “T2: Judgment Day”  takes all the elements thatmade the first film great and multiplies them by FIVE! It boasts a massive budget, strong performances (with stand-out performances by both Schwarzengger and Hamilton – who’s a fucking bad-ass in this film), phenomenal action sequences and revolutionary visual effects. But it’s the story that makes this film shine the brightest among its competitors. It is so superbly written that no scene feels out of place. And the characters are so well-developed (even the Terminator, a machine, has character depth) that you can’t help but connect with them on an emotional level as they seek to avoid Judgment Day (i.e. the death of three billion humans and the rise of the machines) from occurring. I’ve seen this film many times over the years, and surprisingly, it still holds up to this day. It’s everything that a sequel should be (bigger and better than the original), everything a sci-fi movie should be (intelligent, well-written and visually spectacular) and everything an action movie should be (fast-paced and highly entertaining with characters that you care about).  Long story short, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is, in my honest opinion, the greatest action film ever made. If you’ve seen “T2” before, don’t hesitate to see it again. If you haven’t, check it out as soon as possible – before the machines start taking over. Seriously.

 

“FIRST BLOOD” – 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

“DIE HARD” – 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Definitely see this movie”)

“TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY” – 5 out of 5 stars (“See this movie before you die”)

– Matthew