The Expendables 2

WHEN THE FIRST THE EXPENDABLES came out, I had no idea why a lot of people liked it so much. Sure it was an ’80s action movie buff’s wet dream to see Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis together in the same film… but the movie it self was chock full of ridiculousness. The action was unreal, over the top and frankly camp. Then Mickey Rourke showed up and got emotional in front of everyone, while Jason Statham tried to get his bimbo back. Or something like that. That movie took itself so seriously that the macho overdose felt suffocating instead of attractive and I wanted to shoot Stallone in the face for making something like that.

The Expendables 2, though. It was just as cheesy, just as ridiculous and just as nonsensical as the first one… but it now has – and I’m borrowing this term from somewhere else – a self-deprecating voice in its presentation that it becomes a lot more enjoyable to watch. Expendables 2 is a triumph in camp blood splatters, mindless gun duels and explosions as well as hilarious banters.

Also, it manages to shamelessly squeeze in a very effective Chuck Norris joke with a deadpan expression. And it works.

There is nothing to say of the story and the plot – it’s thin, mostly cliche, and not very important compared to the action. Meanwhile, the action is slightly more choreographed – therefore becomes more whimsical – than the first but makes for entertaining results and gives acceleration to the pace of the movie. While this is a huge improvement from the first movie, it was still not enough to give an edge of Stallone’s second venture on male pattern badness.

Luckily, there are plenty of small moments to make us laugh. Chuck Norris aside, the expansion of the cast to include a female team member (Maggie played by Nan Yu) is a welcome sight. No longer does Stallone take up the entire scene alone and each star gets a moment or two. Another plus is Bruce and Arnie’s bigger involvements – they now have more to do than just say a few silly lines in a church. They had one exchange in the climax of the movie that comprised the best line in this entire movie, showing once and for all that poking fun at oneself and each other is the way this movie is ever going to be tolerable.

Jean-Claude Van Damme’s baddie fits the tone of the movie very well. Giving a performance as mercurial as his reputation, Van Damme is definitely still watchable now as he was in the past. Granted, he’s kind of dramatic… but it’s Van Damme. As long as he kicks some ass around, no one is going to complain.

It’s a pity that this movie will only considered as a joke by serious critics… but who can blame them? Arthouse cinema, this is not. But when it comes to bringing to the table something fun at the cinema to close the summer movie season with, The Expendables 2 is doing everything right and nothing wrong.

Yippeekiyay, mofos.

THE VERDICT
An improvement from the first with a tighter plot and bigger action, Sly’s latest reunion with Arnie and Bruce will please the fanboys. Any critics who want to complain should consider running away in a different direction than Chuck Norris’ cobra or else.

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Bourne Legacy: Film Review

THE BOURNE LEGACY IS SITUATED between a rock and a hard place. How could it not? It is clearly a film that is meant to be a reboot of the Bourne franchise that was in a comatose state for the longest time since trilogy director Paul Greengrass and star Matt Damon left. But it is also a reboot that HAS TO be a sequel because there is a need to justify the use of the name Bourne in its title.

If my opening paragraph makes little sense to you, either grammatically or stylistically, don’t worry. Watching the first 30 minutes of The Bourne Legacy will give you the same feeling. I am in excellent company because Tony Gilroy – previously writer of the trilogy, currently director and writer of the reboot – is apparently capable of making such hiccups.

That’s why at this point of the review, I will have to assert this statement: Hollywood, just stick to the books next time. It’s not like The Bourne books are made of papyrus and lost for all eternity for your writers to adapt, you know?

Moving on.

Disjointed is the word I would use to describe The Bourne Legacy. The movie opens with wilderness scenes that intercut with scenes where people react to the events in Bourne Supremacy. But while the idea is acceptable, the execution is not. The editing makes for highly awkward pacing and the camera work makes for highly awkward angels. Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross battles the cold weather, wolves and Oscar Isaac’s stoicism while Edward Norton as the mysterious Rick (or was it Eric?) Byer cryptically goes around, seemingly in circles, dealing with a Bourne induced mess. None of this is coherent enough to remind longtime fans of the story of the previous Bourne film (I should know; I watched the movie with one such fan) or introduce new fans to the greatness of a Bourne film. And it’s long – so incredibly long – that it takes a lot of patience to wade through the muddled waters of this Legacy reboot.

But when Rachel Weisz’s Marta Shearing goes through her own version of a nightmarish office shooting, Gilroy finally hits his stride. There’s less chatter and more movements; he starts to show rather than tell. Admittedly, Gilroy’s narration still falters, such as when he portrays Byer as a prissy douche instead of the cold-hearted bureaucrat he could be, but the engaging scenes and action set pieces he comes up with should keep everyone occupied so that the convoluted plot that can be put aside for a while.

The climax of the story takes place in Manila, the Philippines, where Shearing and Cross does Something Very Important in a lab while Byer and his cronies remain Stateside and monitor the situation through the advanced technology that makes the USA one of the most suspicious countries in the world. The 120 minutes-plus movie culminates in a chase scene – first on top of buildings, reminiscent of Bourne Supremacy (or Casino Royale, if you’re a Bond fan), and later on motorbikes – between another enigmatic secret agent and Cross and Shearing that pump the adrenaline and have us hanging on the edge of our seats. Original, it is not. But thrilling, it is guaranteed.

If the above descriptions still don’t tell you much of the story in this review, then – once again – don’t panic. Watching the movie, you’ll probably come out of the cinema admiring Renner’s excellent performance and his strong chemistry with Weisz (while wishing he had more scenes with Byer) and remembering the great action sequences that Gilroy put together. But you’ll probably have to wait until the DVD comes out, or find the will to shell out yet more money for a second viewing, to properly understand what Bourne Legacy is really saying.

To put it bluntly, The Bourne Legacy will not answer any questions that are carried over from the previous trilogy. It doesn’t even answer its own questions and crop up more of them as the story unfolds. Credit is given to Renner for showing his charm and skills as an actor, but without a coherent story and a strong direction, which Gilroy himself doesn’t have a full handle of, the shadow of Matt Damon still looms heavily. His Bourne films was a journey of identity- and soul-searching. Renner’s Bourne reboot is nothing but a tale of a junkie looking for a fix. And that is, to be honest, the real legacy of this franchise.

THE VERDICT
Not as cerebral as it wishes to be and overly ambitious in its execution, Legacy will please with its thrills and penchant for shocking action. Renner charms but Damon is sorely missed.

Total Recall (2012): Film Review

AH, IT’S THAT TIME of the year again. That time for movie critics and purist fans to lambast The Remakes Nobody Wants Or Needs.

This summer, that title falls to Len Wiseman’s re-imagining of Paul Verhoeven’s Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring movie, based on a Philip K. Dick short called We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, entitled ‘creatively’ Total Recall.

On one hand, I can see where the derision comes from. Verhoeven’s Total Recall is a classic that many people still like to watch. Just like the problem with The Amazing Spider-Man, Sony Pictures does love to raise people’s hackles by making money out of recycling classic stuff. But on the other hand, it’s ridiculous to say that a remake wasn’t necessary. Filmmakers are rarely able to get a pitch perfect portrayal of Philip K. Dick concepts, so as long as the note is still off-key, everybody is welcome to try to polish them to flawless perfection on screen. And I’m glad Len Wiseman took the chance but, really, this so-called remake is not that bad.

There were homages all over the place to the original Total Recall. This is not surprising; Wiseman claimed that he was a fan of the original film. But he chose to set the story on Earth, instead of Mars, and made it as if the event in his film happened for real in the life of his main character, Quaid. These things make the story less fantastical but equally thrilling as the original. I like the ambiguity provided by the original, but the ‘this is real’ sensibility of the story gives the remake added depth.

Neither film came close to interpreting accurately what Dick wrote in his short story. This, too, is unsurprising but if I have to choose which one is closer to the original, I would perhaps pick this 2012 version over the 1990 version. Quaid’s adventure involving Rekall is closer to Quail’s journey with REKAL (although I thought Rekall was severely underused in Wiseman’s movie) and Dick’s concept of dystopian society was more clearly emphasized in this one, without anyone having to travel to another planet (really, nothing says ‘dystopia’ more than a post-apocalyptic Earth). And if the ‘not going to Mars’ factor is the one that worries people most about the story, I would encourage them to stop fretting. Wiseman has, against all odds, created a very cool concept to replace Mars and make the story work through his designs.

And that – the design – is the strength of this remake. Wiseman and his team created a look for their universe that doesn’t only feel plausible, but also cool. Take the hover cars for example. They are ten times more doable for manufacturers to produce in a few decades’ time than the cars seen in Minority Report. The sprawling cityscape of the Colony, with its interconnected buildings, river down the middle and multicultural elements, is also a marvel to look at that. And if that’s not enough, there’s The Fall – it’s Wiseman’s ace in substituting Mars for Earth, which definitely screams ‘science fiction’.

The biggest miss of the movie is the cast. Individually, these actors bring a lot of credibility to their character. Colin Farrell’s Quaid was good enough, Kate Beckinsale’s Lori was a proper badass and Jessica Biel’s Melina was decent. There should be no complaints, except neither of them had any chemistry with each other. I could hardly believe that Lori had a grudge against Quaid and that Melina and Quaid had something romantic going on. Either they were too focused on doing the action scenes rather than making their interactions real, or they were just really a mismatched group of people. There is no doubt that Wiseman had a very good ensemble on his hands; it just seems like he didn’t know what to do with them and would rather focus on designing cool hover cars and other high tech transport systems.

So this film – this remake – is both a hit and a miss. As an adaptation, it works. As a remake, it’s not bad. But as an individual piece of cinema, it’s an incomplete one. It’s probably not going to change the face of genre cinema, nor will it lose the derision of the purists and skeptics, but perhaps it’ll do its job in introducing the Dick/sci-fi concepts to the modern mainstream audience. It’s worth seeing in the cinema but you probably won’t be interested in collecting the DVD.

THE VERDICT
Len Wiseman’s vision of a futuristic dystopian society works in this remake that no one wants. Sadly, while the highest profile project of his career is not hateful, it certainly won’t be loved.

*

The Indonesian version of this review will appear in Total Film Indonesia Issue #35, out in September 2012.

And You Ask Me Why I Hate Reading Tabloids

If there’s one thing that annoys me more than anything, it’s sensationalist journalism. In Indonesia you can find it everywhere – newspapers, magazines, online sites that claim to be reporting the news – and it really does piss me off when it happens.

Earlier today I opened the local cinema website to check out new release schedules and something caught my eye on the left side of the page, which was this headline: Jeremy Renner Tidak Menyukai Perannya sebagai Hawkeye di The Avengers (exact translation: Jeremy Renner doesn’t like his role as Hawkeye in The Avengers)

This headline made me wrinkle my nose because well, my job being what it is and me being an Avenger fan, I would have heard if Renner said that he didn’t like being Hawkeye. In fact, I would’ve probably ranted about it and called him an ungrateful S.O.B. because that movie raised his profile as an actor to high heavens, more than Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol did. But no, I have not heard of this. Although I did know he recently talked to one of the US websites about how he thought he wasn’t given much to work with in The Avengers.

So I searched the interview and found his recent interview with LA Times Hero Complex: ‘Bourne Legacy’ star Jeremy Renner on ‘Avengers’ action and more

And this was the part that apparently got quoted by a million of other news outlets:

HC: In “Avengers,” you sort of get to play both sides. What was that like?

JR: At the end of the day, 90% of the movie, I’m not the character I signed on to play. I’m literally in there for two minutes, and then all of a sudden… All I could really work on was the physical part of it all, because that didn’t change. That was just the biggest challenge to overcome in playing the guy. Also, we’re pretty much introducing a new superhero character to everyone in a movie where there’s a thousand superheroes. So there’s not a lot of back story or understanding we can really tell about who Clint Barton is, or Hawkeye, and is he working for SHIELD or not. There’s a lot of unanswered questions, even for me. And I was OK with that. At least I was still in the movie. And I was glad for that. The closest thing I could really link to was Scarlett [Johansson’s] character, Black Widow, because they have a history. And that definitely plays in the movie, I think. And obviously, you can’t go into too much just because there’s so much story to tell, but you definitely get a sense that they’re connected, and that there’s something really, really important that ties them together. And I could try to summarize it, but it can go a lot of places. That excites me, though, that there’s room for other things.

Very diplomatic, wasn’t he? As an actor Renner probably did feel like his talents were wasted because there wasn’t really enough of anything for him to do. Even when Barton went rogue, he really was mostly acting every inch the action man. The heavy duty emotional drama is left to Tom Hiddleston, who was pulling out everything in his arsenal to piss a lot of people off. I could understand if he wasn’t at all satisfied with that as an actor but my point is, he didn’t say, “I didn’t like playing Hawkeye.”

The 21 Cineplex website mention Contactmusic.com as their source and here is their original article on the piece: The Avengers – Jeremy Renner: ‘I Didn’t Like Zombie Hawkeye In The Avengers’

To me, that headline was also very misleading. The article’s first paragraph that stated that Jeremy Renner hated playing ‘zombie Hawkeye’ was also misleading. Because, once again, he didn’t say it.

HC: Did you prefer playing evil Hawkeye or good Hawkeye?

JR: I prefer the good, because if we go to the evil part, or hypnotized or whatever the heck you want to call it, it’s kind of a vacancy. Not even a bad guy, because there’s not really a consciousness to him. The interesting part was being guilty about the bad things I did do when I was hypnotized. I think he’s already an interesting enough character. To really kind of take away who that character is and just have him be this sort of robot, essentially, and have him be this minion for evil that Loki uses. Again, I could just focus on the task. I was limited, you know what I mean? I was a terminator in a way. So yeah, fun stunts. But is there any sort of emotional content or thought process? No. That doesn’t exist in that time [that he’s hypnotized]. It happens to be for most of the movie.

HC: Are you disappointed?

JR: You know, there are a lot of people in that movie. And a lot of important characters. And my character, I felt like if I can help serve story, then I did my job.

I have no idea where these people who recycle other people’s stories could claim that a certain actor hates something, hates playing something or hates playing in something, without actually conducting the actual interview themselves. Did Contactmusic.com meet up with the Hero Complex folks and actually ask them, “Hey, did Renner sound really bitter and like he was really hating on The Avengers?” (It could happen but I doubt it.)

I just wonder about how it is possible for someone to take an actor’s words out of context and spin it into something that has highly damaging implications. No wonder some actors don’t like interviews. They could so easily be misquoted.

Maybe I’m being naive and idealistic again. After all, this is Hollywood. (Also, it’s just about Jeremy Renner and Hawkeye, not world peace or some shit like that.) But it really is a shame that this practice is common everywhere. There are only a handful of sources that we can really trust for reporting actual news and even then you still have to take everything with a grain of salt. We just can’t believe everything that we’re being told about. There’s always the chance of what is being said has already been recycled and when that happens we need to look for our own facts before you start influencing others.

My complaint here is really for 21 Cineplex. First of all, I am mostly unimpressed by their website. It looks fugly with the clutter and huge-ass graphic. I need the website for one thing and one thing only: find out movie schedules. I don’t need the news part of the website, unless it’s about special promotions and important announcements regarding their operation of the cinemas.

Secondly, since they insist on having news, I thoroughly dislike the way they present the news from recycled sources. Their writing is shitty (again, it’s an example of Indonesian tabloid-style sensationalism) and I don’t trust the content. Case in point: their reviews.

21 Cineplex website has a review section that is often very spoiler-y. I can hardly click on a review without finding out what the movie is all about, down to the last scene of the movie. I hate the fact that they call it a “review” section because all they do is outline the plot synopsis from beginning to end. There’s hardly any critical analysis of the movie. And there shouldn’t be any because it’s not their job to rate movies, but to sell them. The nature of their business beats the purpose of having reviews on their website. If they insist on having reviews, then they should stop calling it ‘reviews’.

And finally, considering their equally crappy and highly inconvenient online ticketing system, M-Tix, I have no idea why they don’t focus on improving it instead of hiring people to write second- and even third-hand news instead. (I may have another post coming up outlining my problems and dissatisfaction with M-Tix but I still don’t have sufficient data so that’s for later. Much later.)

I don’t know why I’m annoyed with this whole situation. Maybe I’m just bitter that people click on this website more often than they buy my magazine that actually contains better, more credible news. Maybe I’m sick and tired of meeting and talking to so-called movie buffs who regard themselves as ‘experts’ by reading news from dodgy sources and then dare to behave like they know better than me. Maybe today is just a really bad day and I had a very bad morning and I am looking for ways to channel my frustrations out.

Whatever it is, this situation is aggravating me and I will continue to complain about it until it changes. So I’m bitchy and a total nitpicker but I simply can’t shut up about it.