If you grew up on a steady diet of action movies if your bones hardened every time a muscle-bound guy dove away from an explosion in slow motion if you hit puberty the first time you saw the hero of the hour bed his scantily clad damsel in distress then it’s impossible to resist the allure of a movie like The Expendables. It’s the superband version of an action movie. It was created by an action star its cast consists almost exclusively of action stars and the only reason it exists is to put a smile on the face of action fans. And invariably it will do just that.
The question is how wide one’s smile will be. The answer depends on how forgiving one is willing to be of The Expendables' faults and there are many. It’s a little slow-going at first the characters are very thinly defined some of the acting is spotty and on the production front Sylvester Stallone’s knack for action scenes is thrown under the bus by a ton of visual shortcuts (CGI blood being perhaps the most egregious) that belie the film’s obvious low budget. That said Stallone’s knack for gory ultraviolent action is indeed so strong his mind so tuned to the quirks and cliches that make action movies beloved despite their faults that The Expendables kicks more than enough ass by the time credits roll to be worthwhile beyond just the novelty of seeing Stallone Statham Li Lundgren Austin Rourke Couture Crews Willis and Schwarzenegger all under one explosion-filled roof.
That was actually my biggest concern at the offset of the film that the only ace up star/co-writer/director Stallone’s ripped sleeve was his cast but the best thing about The Expendables is that it could have worked with a roster composed entirely of no-name actors. It’s fantastic to see some of these action movie titans go head to head (particularly so in the case of Lundgren) but the headliners surprisingly neither make nor break the movie. The script which involves a gang of mercenaries overthrowing a South American dictator who has become a puppet of a rogue CIA agent isn’t particularly strong but no one goes to an action movie expecting it to be a David Mamet-scripted battle of wits. The story just needs a firm enough framework to allow for enough scenarios for our heroes to punch kick stab shoot and explode an army of bad guys. To that end Expendables could have been given to a cast and crew of newcomers and still stomped in tons of face.
What actually hurts the film the most is that it is filled with veterans and promises of a return to old-school action an era where the only thing bigger than the heroes’ muscles was the body count left in his wake. The only thing wrong with the body count in The Expendables is that it takes too long to begin piling up whereas the rest of the movie feels too small too amateur hour considering its cast of pros. Nu Image the chief studio financing Stallone’s grand endeavor is known primarily for making low-budget straight-to-video movies; sadly The Expendables isn’t going to shake that image any time soon.
There is a disappointing amount of poorly-rendered CGI blood and flames throughout the film which completely goes against the “do it old-school” mindset one expects from all involved. It’s hardly unwatchable but there are times where the look of the film brings to mind the Syfy channel and as any brave soul who has ever wandered into a Syfy Original Movie knows all too well that is rarely ever a good thing.
However even with lackluster production values The Expendables still manages to be a wild throat-slashing elbow-dropping grenade-throwing trigger-pulling and limb-dismembering good time. The last forty-five minutes alone are packed with more carnage than most action movies today can dream of delivering throughout their entire run time. The slow beginning gives way to a glorious orgy of death that generates a body count that would warrant UN intervention were it to have occurred in the real world. And since fictional armies getting absolutely obliterated by a fictional team of the manliest men on the planet is all anyone really requires from The Expendables it’s easy to turn your back on the few obstacles that stand in the way of that holy goal.
Based on E.B. White’s enduring children’s story we meet Wilbur the Pig (Dominic Scott Kay) a runt who is saved from the axe by a little farm girl named Fern (Dakota Fanning). She raises Wilbur from infancy but eventually she has to send Wilbur over to her uncle’s neighboring farm since there’s no room for a pig in her house. There in the barn Wilbur meets the assortment of colorful animal characters: Betsy (Reba McEntire) and Bitsy (Kathy Bates) two pessimistic cows; motherly goose Gussy (Oprah Winfrey) and her henpecked hubby Golly (Cedric the Entertainer); Samuel (John Cleese) an uptight sheep; the skittish horse Ike (Robert Redford); the self-serving rat Templeton (Steve Buscemi); and of course sweet Charlotte (Julia Roberts) a spider with a heart of gold. When the naïve Wilbur finds out he might be Christmas dinner Charlotte makes a promise to her new friend that she’ll do everything in her power to make sure Wilbur sees the Christmas snow—and everyone ends up helping her out. What could be more fun than to voice a barnyard animal? Winfrey and Cedric’s geese banter is like an old married couple. Cleese gives Samuel the sheep a certain upper-crustiness. Redford is actually pretty funny as a horse who’s deathly afraid of spiders (“I’ll listen to you but I just can’t look at you”). Buscemi is a particularly nice choice as the sneaky rat Templeton who only thinks about filling his belly with food (no typecasting there we swear). For pure comic relief there are also two crows voiced by Andre Benjamin and Thomas Haden Church who just can’t quite get around the whole scarecrow thing. And as Charlotte Roberts has a truly soothing and loving tone sort of how you’d imagine it from the book. As for the human aspect Fanning continues to do what she does best playing Fern with the right amount of youthful innocence spunkiness and determination. Just wondering how we are going to handle it when this amazing little actress grows up and starts doing like adult things. Actually it is sort of a shame they couldn’t get a live-action version of Charlotte's Web made before Babe. Sure there was the 1973 animated cutesy film but a live-action adaptation of this timeless tale really should have been the standard by which all computer-generated talking farm animal movies would follow don’t you think? Instead Charlotte's Web pales ever so slightly in comparison. Oh well water under the bridge. Director Gary Winick (13 Going on 30) still manages to invoke the wonderful and uplifting spirit of the novel keeping faithful to the text in all ways. Visually the film is crisp and flawless in its execution particularly in the beauty and splendor of how Charlotte spins her webs and emotionally hearts will indeed swell and tears will flow. Charlotte's Web is the perfect family movie to inspire the next generation of young readers and viewers as well as for the rest of us who fondly remember the childhood classic.
On the surface Stay seems to be a straightforward psychological drama about a psychiatrist Sam Foster (Ewan McGregor) who is trying to keep a mysterious patient Henry (Ryan Gosling) from killing himself. But the deeper we get into it the decidedly weirder it gets. And not necessarily in a good way. Sam and Henry seemed to be inexplicably connected. While his girlfriend and former patient Lila (Naomi Watts) looks haplessly on Sam’s lightly held grip on the rational world begins to melt away. He can no longer figure out what is true and what is happening only in his head--all climaxing in a titular confrontation between life and death. Twilight Zone’s Rod Serling would have loved this one. Although he was surprisingly good as the romantic lead in The Notebook the usually somber Gosling is best known for playing quiet psychotics in such films as The United States of Leland and Murder By Numbers. In Stay he’s back to his old tricks as the suicidal Henry. Pale with mournful eyes and a perpetual cigarette in his mouth Henry is certainly a tortured soul looking for some relief. On the flip side Watts brightens the otherwise dismal surroundings as Lila but there’s also a tinge of sadness about her. The only weak link is McGregor. He can’t quite pull off playing the dedicated psychiatrist slowly losing his mind--but the Scottish actor sure has mastered the American accent (ditto for the Australian Watts). Director Marc Forster (Monsters Ball Finding Neverland) seems a bit out of his league with this jumbled-up hard-to-understand psychological fare. Granted the visuals are arresting. Forster strives to create a world which at first seems real but then little by little turns into a wildly shifting dreamscape in which scenes blend into one another seamlessly. The real problem here is the script by David Benioff (25th Hour). It tries to say “Look how clever!” by throwing you for loop after loop--except the loops don’t make much sense. You eventually stop saying “What the hell?” and start to get a pretty good idea how Stay is going to end up. And when the final twist is handed down it’s surprisingly not all that disappointing.
The Crusades were a series of religious wars in which the Christians tried to reclaim Jerusalem from the Muslims who had conquered the Middle East in the 7th century. With the battle cry of "God wills it! " thousands of Europeans answered the call and were able to retake the fabled Holy City in the 11th century. Kingdom of Heaven begins in 1186 between the Second and Third Crusades. A fragile peace prevails mostly through the efforts of Jerusalem's enlightened Christian king Baldwin IV (Edward Norton) and the military restraint of the legendary Muslim leader Saladin (Ghassan Massoud). But it's difficult to maintain the peace. There are extremists within the Christian brigades--known as the Knights Templar--who want to wipe every Muslim off the face of the Earth. On top of that King Baldwin's health is failing. Once he's gone war is sure to follow. If ever there was a need for a hero this is the time. Enter the young French blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) who is in deep despair over the loss of his family. He joins the Crusades after the father he never knew Godfrey (Liam Neeson) comes back from Jerusalem and convinces him it's a quest worth fighting for. As Godfrey passes his sword to his son he also passes on that sacred knightly oath: to protect the helpless safeguard the peace and work toward harmony between religions and cultures so that a kingdom of heaven can flourish on earth. No pressure or anything though.
Orlando Bloom carries his first major motion picture very well easily handling the chores of being such a gallant conscientious and morally upstanding knight. As Balian the Troy costar plays the gamut. He broods over his lost wife and child has father-son epiphanies upholds his knightly duties on a regular basis falls in love with a beautiful but troubled princess and finally bravely defends the Holy City from the encroaching Muslim army thus becoming a legend. Not bad for a day's work eh? There are even times especially toward the end when Balian is standing before the denizens of Jerusalem urging them to fight when you swear you can see a little of Bloom's The Lord of the Rings alter-elf Legolas creep in. The supporting cast also does an adequate job painting a picture of some trying times. Chief among them: Jeremy Irons as King Baldwin's right-hand man Tiberias; Marton Csokas (The Bourne Supremacy) as the evil leader of the Knights Templar; Massoud as the great warrior Saladin; and lovely Eva Green (The Dreamers) as Princess Sibylla King Baldwin's sister who captures our hero's heart but makes some bad choices with dire consequences.
Even if these sword-and-armor epics are all blending together you've got to give props to the directors who make them. These films are massive undertakings and Kingdom of
Heaven with the expert Ridley Scott at the helm is no exception. The Oscar-winning director of course has had his fair share of recreating history first with the classic Gladiator and then with the contemporary Black Hawk Down. But in recreating the Crusades Scott faces his toughest challenge to date and takes on the responsibility very seriously. He is painstakingly meticulous with details even as he is building a 12th-century Jerusalem or corralling 2 000 heavily costumed extras for the colossal climactic battle sequences. And it is always a good thing when a historical film can teach you something you may not have known like what the heck the Crusades were really all about. No Kingdom's biggest obstacle is timing. While it certainly has more substance than Alexander it is not nearly as intense and stirring as The Lord of the Rings trilogy or the granddaddy of them all Braveheart. Too many of its ilk has come before and the concept has unfortunately worn thin.
Top Story: J.Lo Denies She's Crying a River
Jennifer Lopez denies she gave an interview to Star magazine in which she was quoted as saying she was "extremely brokenhearted" over her breakup with fiancée Ben Affleck, The Associated Press reports, and that Lopez felt she had put "enormous effort" into the relationship with Affleck, but had to end it so she could put her "personal and professional life back together." According to a representative for Lopez, she was never interviewed by Star magazine's reporter Victoria Gotti, AP reports, but the tabloid stands by the story.
Crowe TKO'd on Boxing Film
Actor and new dad Russell Crowe suffered a dislocated shoulder while in training for his new film Cinderella Man, Reuters reports. Crowe is training for his upcoming role as world heavyweight champion James Braddock, a poor, local fighter who went on to beat reigning champ Max Baer in 1935. Universal Pictures told Reuters Crowe, 39, would immediately undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair the injury in Australia, followed by intense physical therapy.
Singer Manilow Suffers Chest Pains
Crooner Barry Manilow was rushed to the hospital Saturday night in Palm Springs, Calif., after complaining of chest pains, Reuters reports. Manilow, 57, was hospitalized after returning home earlier in the day from New York, where he "endured two of the most grueling days of arbitration" in a lawsuit in which he and co-writer Bruce Sussman are fighting to regain the rights to their stage musical Harmony, publicist Jerry Sharell told Reuters. Sharell said Manilow would remain in the hospital to undergo various procedures and tests.
Trebek Resumes Jeopardy! Post After Accident
Alex Trebek will resume his Jeopardy! hosting duties Tuesday after escaping serious injury when he fell asleep behind the wheel of his pickup truck Friday, AP reports. The 63-year-old game show host was driving in central Calif. near the town of Templeton when his truck drifted off the road, sideswiped a bank of mailboxes and sailed over an embankment into a ditch. Trebek was not hospitalized and was not cited, AP reports.
Real World Creator Dies
TV producer Mary-Ellis Bunim, who pioneered the age of reality programming by co-creating MTV's The Real World, died Thursday in Los Angeles after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 57.
Press Want Cameras at Jackson Hearing
News organizations asked a judge on Friday to allow cameras into an upcoming Michael Jackson court appearance Feb. 13, claiming the chaotic mess of Jackson's arraignment Jan. 16 on molestation charges should be countered by images of orderly proceedings, Reuters reports. Lawyers for Court TV, Fox News Channel, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and AP stated in a written motion that Jackson's arraignment undermined the court system. "The public did not see Mr. Jackson plead not guilty but instead saw only Mr. Jackson's dramatic entry into and exit from the courthouse followed by his interaction with a large crowd of supporters from atop an SUV and his invitations to a party at Neverland Ranch," the court papers said. It was not immediately clear how Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville would handle the request, AP reports.
It's All About Timing, Says Miramax Chief
Miramax Films co-chairman Harvey Weinstein blames timing for Cold Mountain's failure to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. In an interview with Time magazine, Reuter reports Weinstein said, "With the early (Oscar voting) this year, we fell short. There's a lot to do for Academy members and I don't know how many members we got to. We just plain ran out of people who had seen this movie." Even though Cold Mountain garnered seven nominations, including a nod to Jude Law for lead actor and one to Renee Zellweger for supporting actress, it is the first time in 12 years Miramax has not had a Best Picture contender. The studio did get the most nominations, however, with 15 in total, including nods for the Brazilian film City of God. But Weinstein says Miramax has learned its lesson, telling Newsweek the studio plans to move up the release of J.M. Barrie's Neverland starring Johnny Depp, to October, as well as releasing Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, in November rather than December.
Religious Groups Plan Counter Against Passion
Jewish and Christian groups alike are planning lecture series, interfaith talks and other programs to try to deal with the perceived impact Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion of the Christ will have, AP reports, which is being released Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25. The American Jewish Committee, who viewed the film last week, said they believed it contained destructive stereotypes about the Jewish role in Christ's death "It's part of something larger, which is a hardening of religious conversation. It is such an absolutist movie. It undermines the progress that we've made in this country toward mutual respect and religious pluralism," Rabbi David Elcott, the American Jewish Committee's interfaith director, told AP. Meanwhile, several prominent conservative Christians, including the Rev. Billy Graham, said the film was among the most powerful depictions they'd seen of Christ's last hours. They plan sermons and lectures related to the movie, and have even produced special Bibles that contain images from the film, AP reports.
Iommi Tops Greatest Guitarist List
Black Sabbath's guitarist Tony Iommi was named the No. 1 metal guitarist of all time by Guitar World magazine, Reuters reports. According to Guitar World editor in chief Brad Tolinski, the criteria for the l