Movie Review ~ The Expendables 3

expendables_three_ver18

The Facts:

Synopsis: Barney augments his team with new blood for a personal battle: to take down Conrad Stonebanks, the Expendables co-founder and notorious arms trader who is hell bent on wiping out Barney and every single one of his associates.

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Victor Ortiz, Glen Powell, Kelsey Grammer

Director: Patrick Hughes

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 126 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: I believe that part of being a balanced critic is to a) see most every film that comes your way and not just the latest blockbuster and b) being able to view a film for what it is and try to put yourself in the place of its intended audience. As a child of the 80s that grew up with action films featuring the headliners of these films, I was amped to hear they’d be brought together for The Expendables. When I finally saw the much-hyped film in 2010 I was awed by how ugly a film it was and how its one-joke premise stalled out before the first reel was done. Though 2012’s The Expendables 2 showed signs of improvement, it too faltered when it came to being more than the sum of its muscly, scar-tissued parts. It would be great to report back that the third film of the franchise finally knocked it out of the park but it’s actually a step backward, proving that logic, decent effects, and convincing performances are the true expendables on display.

Clocking it at an astounding 126 minutes and devoid of the CGI blood that pushed the first two entries into silly R-rated territory, The Expendables 3 feels neutered into a PG-13. Nothing much happens and nothing is truly at stake for our rag-tag bunch of mercenaries and certainly not for audiences. At least its predecessors had a little bit of loss to overcome…here the overstuffed script just puts everyone through the motions while making sure that every one of the hardly recognizable yet oddly familiar action star faces gets at least one zinger in.

Stallone (Escape Plan, and looking like he’s getting into character to play the title role for a live-action Droopey Dog) is as mush mouth as ever as the leader of The Expendables who are found as the film opens racing alongside a prison train to free Doc (Wesley Snipes). It’s one of the least exciting openers of any action film I’ve seen, though director Patrick Hughes tries to flash it up with a lot of flying fists, kicking legs, and a whopper of an explosion.

Hurtling into another mission that puts the crew face to face with a turncoat from their past (Mel Gibson, gleefully camping it up, whether you like it or not), Stallone and his men spend the rest of the film waxing nostalgic about the past, lamenting the fact that they’re getting older, and taking to task some new whippersnappers that are the next generation of Expendables…all the while being fired at by thousands of armed men that continually miss their shots.

Shot in Bulgaria (and numerous cockpit sets that appear lifted from a mall arcade), the film isn’t as dreadful to look at as the first film but achieves a new dullness thanks to lame green screen effects (I’m positive several of the big name stars weren’t in the same room when they filmed their scenes) and a non-existent visual style that renders the film almost black and white. Everything on screen feels cheap, from the cardboard sets to the CGI effects…leading me to believe that most of the budget went to the star salaries.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t have a few things that keep it from being total crud. Snipes is a refreshing addition to the cast and he gets a nice moment of self-mockery that you’ll see coming but still enjoy. While it may have been a coup for Stallone to land Gibson and Harrison Ford (Working Girl), their presence is more of a curiosity to see than anything really exceptional. Speaking of exceptional, Antonio Banderas (Haywire) should get substantial credit for nearly walking away with the film as a hilariously eager strong-arm for hire. The rest of the gang and especially the new recruits are better left unmentioned, lest they take it as encouragement to continue in their acting careers.

With a built-in audience I expect we haven’t seen the last of The Expendables…and as the film dragged on I started to think of names that could be tossed around to star in future installments. I’ll keep those to myself so I can check off my own personal list, but if the goal is to continue to feature faded names from the past…Stallone is just getting started.

Movie Review ~ Alive Inside

alive_inside

The Facts:

Synopsis: Dan Cohen, founder of the nonprofit organization Music & Memory, fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it.

Director: Michael Rossato-Bennett

Rated: NR

Running Length: 78 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: It would be highly advised to have a box of tissues handy when taking in this moving documentary.

Looking into how the power of music can open doors to people locked away in their minds as they battle Alzheimer’s disease, Alive Inside maybe would have been better as a short subject feature because it tends to stall out when it moves beyond the people and into issues related to the system behind nursing homes and elder care in the US.

Thankfully, the film is short enough so that the tangents are few and we have more time to spend with the people director Michael Rossato-Bennett captures over three years as he follows Dan Cohen into nursing homes with his Music & Memory program. Using the music from iPods, Cohen finds out about the time these patients grew up and selects music that would speak to them in some way. Soon, audiences literally see people wake up to the world and the effect is the stuff of goosebumps and watery eyes.

Rossato-Bennett’s look into the creation of elder care and where our country is headed in terms of ages across generations provides some nice backgrounds, but the introduction of politics into the discussion seems a little gratuitous and out of alignment with the revelatory awakenings that give strength to the rest of the film. Pushed too far, the success stories can start to feel like supporting documentation for an agenda rather than inspiration for others to act in their own community.

Still, that may be reading too far into the situation and for the most part Alive Inside stirs the kind of emotions within that ring true and go deep. If you are headed to the theater to see this, check and see if they are participating in the iPod recycling program. It’s something you can do for your community that will benefit Cohen’s Music & Memory organization.

Movie Review ~ What If

what_if

The Facts:

Synopsis: Wallace, burned out from a string of failed relationships, forms an instant bond with Chantry, who lives with her longtime boyfriend. Together, they puzzle out what it means if your best friend is also the love of your life.

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Rafe Spall, Megan Park, Mackenzie Davis, Oona Chaplin

Director: Michael Dowse

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 102 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: Though I am appreciative that Daniel Radcliffe (The Woman in Black) continues to push himself out of his Harry Potter comfort zone, I’m less inclined to think of him as a romantic leading man…especially after seeing his awkward effort in the daffy rom-com What If. Points for trying, though.

Radcliffe’s off the mark performance isn’t the only thing wrong with What If, an adaptation of the play Toothpaste and Cigars, but it is the most troublesome in comparison. Romantic comedies live and die by their casting and if you don’t believe in one or both of the leads, the film has an uphill battle to climb. Reminding me more than a little of the breezy charm of (500) Days of Summer, What If tries to capture that same tone but only half makes it…succeeding (like Summer) mostly on the strength of its female players.

As is standard, Radcliffe’s Wallace meets cute with artist Chantry (Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks) at a party thrown by his friend/her cousin Allan (Adam Driver, Lincoln, with his Salvador Dali face). He’s heartbroken and single, she’s sorta happy and dating (Rafe Spall, Prometheus) yet a friendship blossoms. With a dash of trying to buck the When Harry Met Sally… stereotype that men and women can’t be just friends, Wallace and Chantry somehow make it work…until both are honest with themselves to see that there may be something there.

There’s a good nugget of a film here and I honestly think if Radcliffe and Driver had switched roles the film would have been better for it. Not that I’m a fan of Driver at all, he’s essentially playing the same obnoxious character from Girls, but at least he’d have been able to make Elan Mastai’s script hum along better than Radcliffe’s forced conversational approach.

As it is, Radcliffe is lucky that he’s paired with Kazan. Though I haven’t seen her in much, I was struck by how perfectly cast she was for the role. Showing that flawed and vulnerable doesn’t equate to weak, Kazan makes the character charming and offbeat enough in that twee sort of way that isn’t aggravating but earnestly winsome. She saves the film every chance she gets.

As Chantry’s sister, Megan Park is a nice dose of comedic relief and Mackenzie Davis (That Awkward Moment) actually convinces us that Driver is appealing as the yin to his yucky yang. Spall gets the raw end of the deal playing the boyfriend with an arc that reads like a laundry list of bad boyfriend clichés (jealous, manipulative, etc)…it’s so much more interesting if the girl isn’t choosing between a louse and a Lancelot, right?

Another thing to note is that though the film has a playful edge as evidenced in a nice opening and closing animated sequence, it’s obsessed with toilet humor in a way that becomes unnerving. With its multiple references to excrement in various forms and textures, I half wondered if the original title wasn’t Everyone Poops.

Best, ahem, digested with an at-home viewing, What If is a pleasant flick to be sure but is unfortunately hampered by a miscast lead, an obnoxious supporting character, and fecal humor more suited for an Adam Sandler film. Will leave you asking “What if this was a better movie?”