Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Expendables 2

I remember a couple of years ago reviewing the first Expendables film and, amazingly, thinking that not only was it a piss poor film but that it failed to deliver on what it originally promised. To hell with the likes of Statham, Li, Crews, Couture and Hemsworth, I want to see all the action stars of my youth blowing everything to kingdom come! I wouldn't have cared how bad it was, I just wanted to see Sly, Arnold, Bruce, Jean-Claude, Steven, Dolph, Weathers etc sharing the screen and bringing home the glory. Alas it was not to be and the first Expendables film was more than a let down. So comes the sequel and my eyes roll once more...

In what roughly resembles a plot, Barney Ross (Stallone) and co are sent into hostile territory to recover lost maps which lead to unused Soviet nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, in the dastardly European role once reserved for Jeremy Irons or Alan Rickman, Jean-Claude Van Damne and his mates find them first and what proceeds is a brutal and epic battle full of violence, swearing and some nicely timed puns and references to past glories.

Hats off to Stallone for still trying to compete with the Bournes, Drives, latter day Bonds of the 21st Century action genre. He and the majority of the cast in this film are part of a by-gone era of films which, even in the 80s, are rarely done well anymore - one of the very few modern exceptions being 2012's The Raid. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean they don't have the ability to raise a huge nostalgic smile when they're attempted by the men who made them famous.

With The Expendables 2, Stallone has seen the error of his ways and given the audience what they originally wanted. And that's much more of Arnie - it's like he was never away. More Bruce - yippie! Less Statham - even better! And even added the aforementioned Van Damne and, quite possibly the star of the whole film, one Mr Chuck Norris, playing an exact replica of the caricature of the cult Internet phenomenon he has become over the last decade. With rumours of Steven Segal, Clint Eastwood and Harrison Ford for the third, there may be a place yet for this sorry saga of past action heroes who can't grow old gracefully.

The action is loud, gory and very satisfying. The dialouge was hilarious when it was trying to be serious, and serious when it was trying to be hilarious. Actually, truth be told, the best parts were when the likes of Arnie, Sly and Bruce etc were essentially ripping the piss out of each other's past films. There's more than a few nods to Rambo, Terminator, Die Hard, Rocky, Good Guys Wear Black amongst other. Yet unfortunately none to JCVD's Coors Light adverts. You could make a decent drinking game out of how many times Arnold makes reference to his iconic phrase, "I'll be back."

Final Thoughts
Absolutely awful and completely bloody essential. Though vastly superior to the original and surely a money-making hit with anyone over the age of 21, I can't even pretend to suggest The Expendables 2 is a good film. It's not even the best film I've seen this week never mind this year. However I'd be lying if I said people of a certain age won't find some sort of nostalgic delight out of seeing Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Norris, Van Damme etc blowing each other straight to hell...and the bargain bin of Tesco's DVD section.


The Expendables 2 is in cinemas everywhere now.

Monday, 6 August 2012


Pixar's Brave is quite a departure from the near untouchable animation company's recent output. For a start it's the first since Up that wasn't a sequel. More significant perhaps was the film marked their first exploration into the fairytale genre made so famous by their parent company Walt Disney Animation featuring ancient fantasy and the customary princess heroine. But as always with Pixar, there has to be some sort of twist right? Eh, right?

Brave tells the tale of Celtic Scottish princess Merida (Kelly MacDonald), a free spirit with a love for archery and the maddest hair you'll see on a animated princess possibly ever - bare in mind Disney only gave the world Rapunzel early last year. Her world is turned a little upside down when her meddling mother (Emma Thompson) and father (Billy Connolly) decides to wed her off to the first born princes of the neighbouring kingdoms. Objecting to this she encounters a witch (Julie Walters) - if Shakespeare taught us anything, never trust a Scottish witch or witches - who agrees to change her mother in an attempt to change her world. And of course this doesn't go quite to plan, setting Merida off on an adventure of peril, comedic buffoonery and wonder.

The voice acting had perhaps the most impressive ensemble of A-Listers Pixar has put together since they first gave the world Toy Story. Kelly MacDonald is about as Scottish as they come, even when she's trying to be Irish in Boardwalk Empire. Nevertheless her princess was full of heart, innocence, quick witted, occasionally cheeky and extremely relatable to any girl who has ever had a clash with their mother, and this is where the film rises to the heights of Pixar's best.

Strip away the fantastical settings and mystical characters, as well as the stunning Scottish highland renderings (the Scottish Tourist board really got their money's worth from the co-financing of the feature), the film is a moving tale about the bond between a child and their parent. For every fight and petulant tantrum, there's laughter, warm embrace and forgiveness. There's good times and bad. And sooner or later, especially for the parent, the realisation you have to let your children go and live for themselves, even if it's not the road you set for them.

You'd be forgiven for thinking Pixar have maybe taken one too many cues from their Disney partners or Dreamworks competitors and not stuck to their guns with their own traditions of pushing the boundaries of storytelling better than anyone in their field. However only purists would begrudge them this as a criticism as the film is a fine tribute to the House of Mouse where the majority of these animators probably fell in love with the medium in the first place and perhaps most telling is the film pays homage to the budding working friendship Pixar has with its Japanese counterparts, Studio Ghibli. The film's story doesn't have the epic scale or imagination of Princess Mononoke but the influence is evident throughout.

The score by Patrick Doyle (who wrote the score for Mavel's Thor last year) is what you expect from a film set in ancient Scotland, it's very heavy on the Celtic folk overtones and beautifully performed if you're into that sort of thing. However the way the actual songs, performed by Julie Fowlis and not any of the characters themselves ala Disney, are placed throughout the film hits all the right notes in for their catchy hooks, pulling the heartstrings and raising the smiles.

Final Thoughts
Some say Pixar's Brave wasn't brave enough in carrying the high traditions and standards the company have set in their all too brief lifespan. But not me. See it as a tribute to past greats of Disney & Ghibli, see it as Pixar doing a traditional fairytale animation the only way they can; masterfully. Its animation is beautiful, its humour is honest and innocent, its supporting characters endearing and likeable, its heroine heroic, bold and sweet, its emotion powerful, its end result simply; a Pixar film.


Oh and if this doesn't convince you, its worth the price of admission alone for the customary and genuinely fantastic short film before the feature rolls, La Luna (5/5).

Brave is in cinemas everywhere throughout the UK now. 

Friday, 3 August 2012


If you were to look at the film poster above, you would be forgiven for thinking 360 was some tense, against the clock thriller. Which makes the shock of the type of film it actually is all the more baffling. Especially when you consider Fernando Meirelles' previous work, most notably one of the best films of the last 10 years, City of God.

360 tells the tales of several people stretched across the globe; from London, to Vienna, to Paris, to Colorado, to briefly Meirelles' homeland of Brazil. It strives to get across the idea that we're all connected to each other in some way, shape or form. Furthermore it shows the impact this domino effect has on our lives, along with the relationships towards the people close to us. Sadly for 360 a lot of it felt a bit too familiar, not a million miles removed from the basic concept of the Richard Curtis cheese-fest, Love Actually. Or the star-studded features like New York, I Love You and its sister movie, Paris, Je T'aime.

Where it comes into its own however is in its more mature, darker tone along with several compelling performances, including Jude Law, Rachel Weisz and a personal favourite of mine Jarnel Debbouze (probably best known for his supporting role in the modern French classic, Amelie). The best example of this interconnectedness was Ben Foster's newly rehabilitated sex offender from Colorado caught in a compromising position with Brazil's Maria Flor's wandering traveller after a chance encounter in an airport. Much praise must also go to Anthony Hopkins journey as recovering alcoholic who is dealing with the pains of grief and regret and how it can become a choke hold on your life.

That's not to say the film is all doom and gloom as it has some rather sweet moments, while not being detestably cringe worthy like the aforementioned Love Actually. One stand out moment involves the utterly bonkers situation of a mob thug encountering the charming, educated sister of a prostitute and both deciding on a whim to ride off into the sunset together.

360's main problem however, or perhaps just my problem with these types of films, is it felt like Meirelles had several potentially brilliant stories that he just couldn't decide which one to make first. So he clumsily mashes them all together and hopes for the best. To his credit sometimes it worked, others might leave the audience thinking it's a bit too rosy or ridiculously convoluted. Nevertheless the dialogue was well scripted - jumping seamlessly between the adult subjects covered, while still allowing itself to be slightly whimsical and optimistic - and beautifully shot at times. But then you'd expect nothing less from the man who made City of God.

Final Thoughts
While the performances are mostly compelling and the presentation was tidy, when the credits eventually role  on 360 you'll be left thinking you've seen it all before. The darker and more mature themes makes it stand out against its like minded features but ultimately 360 is a mostly forgettable experience. But sadly like the film's core theme it's a genre which will come full circle time and time again.


360 is in selected cinemas across the UK now. Belfast readers can see it in the Queens Film Theatre from Friday August 10th, 2012.