Best Double Feature Ever: Expendables & Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (2010)

How weird is it that on April 17th of last year, I wrote a post about how excited I was about Expendables and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and now, lots and lots of months later, I got to see both flicks in the theater on the same day? At least sort of weird.

I actually cleared my work schedule earlier this week so I could go see Expendables at the first showing in my town. It was the 11:20 show at the Destinta and I had an amazing time. The movie, which combines all the best action stars ever (okay, maybe there were a few folks not in the movie, but there’s never been a movie with this many of them) as a team of mercenaries doing jobs. The actual Expendables consist of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Stahtham, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Dolph Lundgren. They’re going up against a drug kingpin (played by David Zayas of Dexter fame!) who’s working with Eric Roberts who has Steve Austin as a body guard. Stallone got the job from Bruce Willis when Arnold Schwarzenegger doesn’t want the job. Oh and Mickey Rourke used to be an Expendable but he retired. I think that covers everyone.

I’m not going to get into the plot too much because, let’s be honest, who cares? If you haven’t seen the movie what you’re wondering is “Is it a solid action movie or a bunch of old men playing war?” It’s a solid action movie. Period. I had a ridiculous amount of fun sitting in the theater watching the flick. There’s all kinds of cheesy one-liners (to be expected), awesome team-ups and fights I never expected to see (seeing Stallone and Statham pall around is like a dream come true) and, as I hope you were expecting, tons of blood, explosions, punches, bullets, knives and body slams (not in a cheesy “hey look we’ve got wrestlers in the movie!” way, but it a way that makes sense).

Speaking of the fighting, I really like how each guy has his own specialties and sticks to them for the most part. Li’s obviously the martial artist, but Statham’s got moves of his own mixing knife and gun play. Stallone uses an array of weapons, Lundgren uses his caveman bulk and Couture just kicks ass. It’s fantastic. I will say that the fight scenes get a little shaky/jumpy, but I just kind of opened my eyes real wide and absorbed as much as I could. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything, but I still want to watch the movie again so I can absorb even more of it.

It’s funny because a few years ago the ToyFare guys and I created a group called The Manly Men of Action which was a generational grouping of action heroes starring Arnold, Dolph, Stallone and Bruce as the 80s team. We also dreamed up groups from the 60s and 70s, skipped the 90s and went on to the 00s which was the whole plot of the first story (check out some rad wallpapers here). So, it’s pretty awesome that Stallone reads ToyFare and turned our idea into a movie, but would it have been so bad to ask us to cameo? Just saying. Oh, also, the movie hints at a long history for this team and previous incarnations and I would be completely down for sequels and prequels and comic book adaptations and an animated series and anything else.

I was actually less excited about Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, but that’s only because my love of 80s action movies goes back further and is much deeper than my love of Scott Pilgrim. In fact, I’m not that huge a fan of the series and haven’t even read the last installment yet. I was really more excited to see what director Edgar Wright would do with the source material and how he would bring a comic book aesthetic to film. And he did it using some crazy jump cuts, lots of sound onomatopoeia on screen, lifting elements from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s panels and creating some truly epic fight scenes.

The story, as most of you probably know, is about clueless Canadian loser Scott Pilgrim falling in love with Ramona Flowers and having to defeat her seven evil exes to be with her. Like aside, the fights are numerous as are the video game references (coins fall from defeated enemies, weapons appear from seemingly nowhere and people glow red when they’re close to death). But I wonder if that makes the movie a little too inside baseball for your average viewer. I went with the missus to see the flick and she hasn’t read the books nor did she play Nintendo much as a kid, so a lot of the elements I was laughing at along with my fellow audience members (there were actually more people at the mid day Expendables than the 7:50pm Scott) went right over her head. She said she dug it and I asked her to write a post about it, but we’ll see.

But, you might be saying, “Who cares what the newbies think, if they don’t get it, screw ’em.” Okay, fair enough, I guess. But, from a business standpoint, you’ve got to imagine that people like me were already pretty much guaranteed to see the movie, but people like her (norms as I call ’em) aren’t. If she goes to work and tells her friends she didn’t really get it, then they might not go. What I’m saying is that it might have made a little sense to explain some of the video game elements earlier in the movie so that EVERYONE gets the gag. There’s even a scene where Scott and his then-girlfriend Knives play a Dance Dance Revolution-type fighting game, but if the elements were foreshadowed there, I didn’t notice. I was just watching the crazy game.

Another complaint–though a minor one–I had while watching the movie is that sometimes, the fight scenes seemed a little stagey, like Michael Cera (playing Scott) was responding to the next move in the series of moves before the attack was coming. It’s a minor complaint because, frankly, the fight scenes mostly moved pretty quickly, but I definitely got that vibe a few times which was a bummer.

Speaking of Cera, I really had my reservations about him playing Scott in the movie. Like I said, I’m not a die hard fan of the books, but in them, the character is kind of an infuriatingly dull loveable loser who just doesn’t understand most of what’s going on around him, while Cera’s awkward movie persona didn’t really jive with that. I’m still not 100% sure on it, as the movie sometimes felt wobbly as far as Scott’s characterization, but that’s how things were in the book. You really like him one moment, then he does something stupid and you want to give him a wedgie. Overall, I dug his casting and everyone else, so good on Wright and Company for that.

Two more quick complaint and this one actually goes back to the books. First off, like in the first volume, I think it takes too long for the rules of the world to get established. You go from normal people to crazy superhero/video game fights in the blink of an eye without much of a warning. The other problem is that the books felt like they were running out of steam and rushed towards the last couple volumes (I can’t speak to the 6th volume). I mean, come on, two of the exes are twins? I guess it’s not necesarrily a bad thing that we spend time with the character of Scott before he and Ramona start dating, but some of the exes just feel rushed.

Okay, enough bitching. The effects are awesome as is the music. I think I might actually go out and buy the soundtrack (though as a music geek I’ve got to call bullshit that Scott can afford one of the most expensive basses around–the kind you have to call Musician’s Friend just to get the price off–and Steven gets such a good sound out of an acoustic that doesn’t look to have a pick up anywhere inside it). I LOVE the bass battle.

All in all the movie’s a lot of fun (at least for 20-something dudes) and, from what I can remember, follows the comics pretty well (though I wonder if deviating a little more might have helped make the story more accessible to non geeks). Anyway, if I had to choose one movie between Scott and Expendables to see again this weekend, I would definitely go with Expendables. I walked out of that movie just feeling awesome all over, but I’m really glad I got to see both movies in the theaters on opening day. I haven’t done that for just one movie in quite a while!

Death: One Mack Daddy You Don’t Want to F*ck With

I hope you get the reference in the title of this post. If not, it’s okay, I forgive you, but you should really do yourself a favor and watch my favorite horror trilogy (soon to be a whatever-four-movies-is) of the past 10-ish years: Final Destination. Candyman says it to the girl with split personalities from Heroes and the dreamy Devon Sawa.

For those of you who haven’t see these movies, there’s a basic formula. 1. A high school student sees a highly complex, devastating and graphic accident and freaks out when events in the vision start happening. The student saves him/herself and others. 2. Even though they didn’t die with the others, the survivors start dying in really crazy ways, usually involving seemingly natural events. 3. The main character comes upon the idea that death has a plan and death, as noted above, is not one to mess with. Even with that being said, apparently there’s a formula to things which the main character tries to decipher. 4. The main character and someone of the opposite sex try to convince the surviving survivors what’s going on to varying levels of belief and success. 5. Bad things happen (a lot). 6. It ends.

I’m sure a far more detailed map could be laid out for these movies, but I don’t want to ruin too many aspects of the films. And, even though all three are very similar in structure, it doesn’t really bother me because these movies aren’t really about the characters. Yes, I do think they’re fairly well-rounded and like/dis-likeable, but the real hook for these movies are the highly complex and usually gory death scenes that are amazing if you’re a gore fan. Sometimes they do get a little mean (the strangulation in 1 and the tanning bed in 3), but overall, I’d say they’re highly enjoyable in that way that you feel kind of bad about liking. I watched 2 and 3 on the train (1 was on Netflix instant, 2 I own and 3 I got as a disc from Netflix) and found myself being briefly exasperated, laughing, saying “Oh shit” and then looking around to see if my fellow commuters were looking at me funny. The knives in the first one, falling glass in the second and weights in the third are among my favorites, but they’re really all fantastic. This series also showed me my first bus-hit and cut/slide movie moments (1 and 2 respectively).

I also have a history with these movies, well at least the first two. 1 came out in 2000 when I was still in high school and I distinctly remember watching it in a darkened living room at Steph Knisely’s house and laughing hysterically when Tony Todd (Candyman), playing the older, vague guy explaining things to a small extent (he’s even a mortician named Bludworth) said the above quote. Even though I hadn’t seen the movie since that night, it made quite an impression, which is pretty impressive considering how many horror movies I’d seen up to that point and after. The second one (2003), I think a group of my high school friends and I went to see in the theater. I remember having the same kinds of reactions in the theater that I did on the train (something I didn’t remember until I was actually on the train). I definitely got some funny looks. I would have sworn I saw 3 (2006) at some point, but I think I only watched a few of the kills.

Aside from the gore, I like how much these movies make me think. And I don’t consider these things plot holes because we’re dealing with human interpretations of supernatural events without anyone or thing coming in and explaining things absolutely. So, Bludworth may have his theories and the kids extrapolate from there, but we don’t know if they’re right (especially taking into account the ends of each movie). So, does death have some kind of plan? It would seem so. But why does it go through such complex motions to get back on schedule? Why not just stop a heart, especially considering death seems to be able to manipulate living things (birds, rats, maybe even people). So, what are death’s rules?

Also, if death has a plan and is some kind of force of nature, what is the force acting against it? See, the visions have to come from somewhere right? And we’re not just talking about the main visions in the beginning of the movies, our heroes see other signs all over the place, as if they’re being given the information to help their friends or maybe just toyed with. In 1 Sawa a fan-chopped magazine spits out the name of his friend Tod, but by the time he gets to Tod’s house, dude’s dead. So, was Sawa just not fast enough or was he being messed with (like how Michael Myers toys with his prey)? I’m going to guess there’s an opposing force to death, maybe it’s as simple as being life, I don’t know, but I like to think about this kind of stuff.

So, you really get the best of both worlds: the best kills in recent memory and a larger story that really makes you think (at least I think so, but I’m not a mack daddy above being f*ucked with). I’m really excited for The Final Destination (I appreciate the finality of a title that already includes the world “final” like “seriously, THIS is the FINAL destination”) mostly for the ability to see this bad boy in 3D. I missed out on that with My Bloody Valentine 3D, but now my local theater has 3D capabilities thanks to some kids movie! I’ll have to sneak away to see it sometime, but it’ll totally be worth it.

Train-ing Video: Death Proof (2007)

I was incredibly excited for Grindhouse and planned on seeing it in the theaters, but it wasn’t meant to be. The marketing folks decided that this Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino jam fest should come on, when else, but Easter weekend? Well, I had to go to New England, so I missed it while all my friends, who were still here, went. Soon enough, Grindhouse wasn’t in theaters anymore and I had to wait until the movies came out on DVD as Death Proof (Tarantino) and Planet Terror (Rodriguez). I checked them out, dug Planet Terror and was left feeling lukewarm towards Death Proof, which bummed me out cause I’m a big Tarantino fan. I gave it another shot on the train yesterday and, unfortunately, was left with the same feeling.

The first time I watched DP, I actually fell asleep just before the big switch in main characters, so I didn’t realize how it would take a Psycho-like turn and follow completely different characters for the rest of the movie. Something very similar happened to me when I first watched Usual Suspects.

Anyway, I don’t have any problem with that switch, what I do have a problem with is the tone. I understand that the film was shot to look like an old grindhouse movie and is written to match, but the problem from me comes from the inconsistencies I noticed. See, the first group of girls all seemed pretty real and fleshed out even when they’re spurting out some of Quentin’s clunkiest and most repetitive dialogue. But then, the second group of girls flips the script and happen to be these caricatures of humanity who have no problem beating a man to death and leaving their fried by herself with a highly suspect individual in the middle of nowhere. I understand them wanting revenge and maybe the two stuntwomen being a little off their rockers, but why does Rosario Dawson’s character want to kill him so bad, going so far as to kick his head in? I didn’t get it. And the “It’s like a grindhouse movie, duh!” argument doesn’t hold up when the first half of the movie didn’t reflect that aesthetic.

I also found Kim to be incredibly annoying. I get it, she’s from the street, I don’t need to be reminded of it with every single piece of dialogue she spouts off. Other than Kim, though, I really liked the rest of the characters and would like to know what happened to Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character (and why she was wearing a cheerleader costume throughout the whole thing, I don’t buy Dawson’s explanation).

But that’s not all, I also hated how much of a pansy Stuntman Mike turns into. Kurt Russell did SUCH a great job of making him likable at first, but then completely terrifying, but then, as soon as he gets shot, he starts crying? Seriously? I like the idea of flipping the script and putting him at a disadvantage, but seeing him be such a bitch just makes me want to see him dead NOW and you’ve got to sit through a long car chase to get there.

In a weird twist of fate, we got the fourth disc of Alias Season 1 today, which boasts a two part episode called “The Box” (2002) which stars none other than Tarantino himself. This was during a few year period where he would pop up with a different TV project every now and then. Anyone else remember his episodes of CSI where the dude who would voice Captain Atom in the JLU cartoon was buried alive? Good stuff. It looks like he only acted in the part in Alias, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he wrote his own dialogue as well because it definitely has that Tarantino vibe to it.

I’ll get more into my thoughts on Alias when we’re done with the first season, but this was definitely one of the better episodes and Tarantino does a great job of playing an unhinged man.

And, of course, even with all the above things I disliked about Death Proof I’m still crazy-excited for Inglourious Basterds which drops in a few. Never let it be said that I’m a fair weather fan!