Double TTC feature: “The Expendables,” “Piranha 3D”

(Rare it is that not one but TWO films come along that duke it out for top billing in Terrifically Terrible Cinema. But “The Expendables” came along, and then “Piranha 3D” — it was a perfect storm-like convergence of events — and both are so awesomely bad that they must stand together as the most fun you’ll have in what’s left of summer 2010.)

“The Expendables”
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke

Sly Stallone the director and writer, with a few exceptions, does not do subtlety. This is a foreign and unwelcome concept to him, kind of like sap is to Quentin Tarantino. So anyone who waltzed into “The Expendables” expecting anything more profound than a messy, magnificent orgy of testosterone, guts and violence deserves, quite frankly, to be disappointed. In short, “The Expendables” is a certain kind of movie for a certain kind of person: a person who likes to see things — and people — get blown up in large and exhilarating and nasty ways. That’s Stallone’s plan, and he sticks to it using a time-honored formula that requires enjoyably overexaggerated bad guys (a hearty high-five to Eric Roberts for looking so suave while being so evil) to bump heads with quippy, sweaty, rough-edged hero types — “the other guys.” This gaggle of mercenaries who accept suicide missions includes former SAS soldier Barney Ross (Stallone); Lee Christmas (Statham), aces with a blade; martial artist Yin Yang (Jet Li); Gunnar (Dolph Lundgren), a sniper dangerously frayed around the edges; Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), a weapons specialist; and Toll Road (Randy Couture), a demolitions expert. Their newest mission is their most perilous yet: These comically named specialists must overthrow Mexican dictator General Garza (David Zayas), whose outrageous accent and furrowed brow fairly scream Very Bad Guy. But all too often behind every ferocious dictator there is an even more deadly financier, and so it is with CIA agent-gone-rogue James Munroe (Roberts), who is positively Idi Amin-like in his greed and lust for power. Barney, Lee and their pals, of course, really loathe such men – especially because they are qualmless about abusing beautiful women (Giselle Itié) with a lot of spunk – and mean to punish them as slowly and painfully as possible. This is where “The Expendables” excels, because Stallone knows deep in his burly soul how to make things explode in ways that will elicit a collective “HELL yeah!” from his viewers. The fight scenes – like Stallone’s throwdown with Steve Austin , or Li’s faceoff with Lundgren – are thrilling, while Crews’ gun should be the basis for a new world religion. Other facets of the movie aren’t quite so impressive, like Stallone and Couture’s forced performances, but Statham, Roberts and Mickey Rourke (an ex-Expendable who now gently weeps over his tattoo needle) are a hoot and a half. And that’s just what summer 2010 needed.

~~~~~~~~~~

“Piranha 3D”
Starring Elisabeth Shue, Steven R. McQueen, Christopher Lloyd, Jerry O’Connell

The tagline for Alexandre Aje’s gory bootyfest “Piranha 3D” really should have read: “It’s your only chance this year to see a penis get devoured by a fish — in 3D.” There are many other similarly ludicrous things that happen in this remake of a remake of a remake, but the penis-as-a-palate-cleanser signals the film’s intentions. They are not honorable; in fact, they are not even in the town housing the ballpark of honorable. Aje has one goal and one goal only in this raucous, raunchy sendup to horror film cliches, ham-fisted dialogue and even worse acting: to entertain. And entertain he does, in nearly every way imaginable. “Piranha,” besides being a gem of a 3D film (who wouldn’t rather a piranha explode off the screen than watch sweaty kids shake their moneymakers?), is a barrel of laughs — some goofy and stupid and crude, others highbrow, or at least middlebrow, jabs at films like “Jaws,” “Deep Blue Sea” and “Titanic.” There’s also an unusual ensemble cast with a few surprise cameos. The screwball plot, as it were, goes like so: An earthquake rocks Lake Victoria, setting loose a school of prehistoric piranhas trapped in deep caverns below. Because Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor and impeccable timing, this happens during Spring Break, when teeming throngs of drunk, nubile young hardbodies fill the waters with vomit and pheromones. Sheriff Julie Forester (Shue), Deputy Fallon (Ving Rhames) and a team of seismologists must get medieval (tee hee) on the tushes of these man-eating relics to save the lives of these hormonal horndogs, including Julie’s straight-laced son Jake (McQueen), his smokin’ crush Kelly (Jessica Szohr), a leering Joe Francis wannabe (O’Connell, an explosion of zeal and sleaze) and his bikini-clad, balloon-chested leading ladies. Oh, and there’s even time for Doc Brown himself to swoop in, though not even a DeLorean can save these teens from becoming shrieking bait worms. There’s not a thing serious about “Piranha,” not even half a teaspoon of nuance, but that’s why it clicks. With everyone – even the normally reticent Shue, who’s clearly suppressing some grins – delighting in this smorgasbord of cheese, it’s hard not to get hooked. (For the real hard-sells out there, a penis gets eaten in 3D. Unless porn goes 3D, answer opportunity when it raps on the door.)

My thought on today

The Big 2-9

Aside from the fact that this day sealed my fate as the “Never Gets a ‘Happy Birthday’ from the Teacher or Your Classmates Because School’s Out for Summer Kid,” June 28 never seemed like a terribly interesting day to be born.

Until I realized that’s also the day sublimely talented actors Kathy Bates, John Cusack, the late Gilda Radner and the late Pat “Wax On, Wax Off” Morita headed toward the light of the birth canal. June 28 also gave King Henry VIII to England (bet that’s one pregnant lady the Great Holy Aardvark wishes he could have uninseminated). And June 28 happens to be the only day every year where the month and the day are different perfect numbers*.

But really, the only reason I ever get all jacked up is because the 28th of June is when the World’s Greatest Director — the reason I love movies and the reason I have such a warped, wacko sense of humor — Mel “Lepetomane” Brooks classed up Planet Earth’s population.

This year, though, looks be far more exciting because Andy at Fandango Groovers hatched a brilliant idea: Write a post listing favorite films for every year I’ve been breathing. Later in 2010 Andy’s planning a blog event on this theme, so start thinking about your choices, readers. Without further adieu, here are my favorites from 1981-2010:

Ash will saw off your nose.

1981: “The Evil Dead” — Maybe directors did horror-comedy before Sam Raimi’s cult classic, but those movies did not feature the unstoppable Bruce Campbell as erstwhile hero Ash, who would later go on to coin the phrases “boomstick” and “hail to the king, baby.”

1982: “First Blood” — The first in the Rambo franchise, Sly Stallone’s “First Blood” combines jaw-dropping action, buckets of bloodshed and a surprisingly poignant message about the treatment of Vietnam vets in America.

1983: “The Big Chill” — College pals Glenn Close, Tom Berenger, William Hurt, Kevin Kline and Jeff Goldblum reunite to mourn a friend’s suicide. This much acting talent on one set is a recipe for goodness.

1984: “Blood Simple” (full review) — The fact that this is Joel and Ethan Coen’s first film is almost as astounding as the film itself. Almost.

1985: “The Breakfast Club” — The late John Hughes showed us, in this poignant ode to real teen issues, that lurking inside everyone there’s a princess, a jock, a brain, a basket case and a criminal in search of connection. And a little doobage.

1986: “Aliens” (full review) — Twenty-four years later and Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) remains a female action hero with smarts, guts and muscles. What a novel idea.

1987: “The Untouchables” — Most gangster movies offer plenty of bloody shoot-em-ups, slick double-crosses, dark double-breasted suits and bank accounts stuffed like you wouldn’t believe. Brian De Palma’s “Untouchables” also has something else: a conscience.

Velcome to vaxwork...

1988: “Waxwork” (full review) — There are crappy films, and then there are films that revel and delight in their own crappiness. Guess which kind “Waxwork” is.

1989: “Heathers” (full review) — No matter how cruel the queen bees in your school were, they don’t hold a candle to Idi Amin wannabe Heather Chandler.

1990: “GoodFellas” (full review) — Powered by the performances of Joe Pesci, Paul Sorvino, Lorraine Bracco, Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta, “GoodFellas” set the bar for gangster movies impossibly high.

1991: “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” – The follow-up to Cameron’s impressive “Terminator,” the sequel blasted the volume up to 11, boasted some thrilling chase scenes (the semi rundown is iconic) and reached the level of Whoa, I’ve Never Seen That Before! with its ice-cool villain T-1000 (Robert Patrick). 

1992: “Reservoir Dogs” (full review) — Quentin Tarantino gives the Cuisinart treatment to the traditional caper-gone-wrong and ends up making one of the most inventive films of the ’90s.

1993: “Schindler’s List” — Steven Spielberg’s sweeping, horrifying and heartbreaking retelling of the story of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) mission to rescue Jews during the Holocaust is emotionally punishing, but it’s a film that must be seen. It can change your life if you let it.

1994: “Pulp Fiction” (full review) — It’s got John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson as hitmen, a booty-shaking soundtrack and scene about Christopher Walken wearing a watch up his ass two years. That’s all you need to know. 

Will the real Keyser Soze please stand up?

1995: “The Usual Suspects” (full review) — Not only does Bryan Singer’s noirish, twisty thriller feature a killer-good ensemble cast (Kevin Spacey AND Gabriel Byrne AND Benicio del Toro AND Chazz Palminteri), “The Usual Suspects” also has the best twist ending. Ever written.

1996: “Fargo” (full review) — Dear Coen brothers: Thank you for showing me that it’s never impossible to take an old formula (best-laid plans gone to hell) and put a devious, violent spin on them. Sincerely, M. Carter @ the Movies

1997: “Chasing Amy” – Too few directors of romantic comedies have no interest in showing relationships as they actually are. Kevin Smith is not one of these directors. His “Chasing Amy” is raw, frank to the point of crudeness and deeply heartfelt, and it examines the problems all lovers — gay and straight — face.

1998: “The Opposite of Sex” – “The Opposite of Sex” is the best black comedy you’ve never seen. Don Roos puts the screws to the traditional narrated film formula with Dee Dee (Christina Ricci), a heroine who may be plucky but isn’t the least bit lovable. She’ll ransom your dead gay lover’s ashes and not think twice about it. 

Move Milton's (Stephen Root) desk to Storage Room B and see where that gets you.

1999: “Office Space” (full review) — Mike Judge takes a maze of cubicles and turns it into a feature-length film that’s the personification of Dante’s limbo, then sets it to a fantastic rap soundtrack. It’s good to be a gangsta.

2000: “Quills” (full review) — No other actors slips so effortlessly into the part of the villain as Geoffrey Rush can, and that mirthful, slightly evil glint in his eyes makes him the perfect (and only acceptable) choice to play the infamous Marquis de Sade.

2001: “The Believer” – Based on the true story of Dan Burros, a Jew who became a Neo-Nazi, Henry Bean’s “The Believer” looks unflinchingly at all aspects of faith and features what may be Ryan Gosling’s most gripping performance. Ever. 

2002: “City of God” – Fernando Meirelles’ crime drama plays out like an elegaic marriage of the best parts of Martin Scorsese’s “GoodFellas”  and Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” capturing the bloody, grim realities of a life lived in Brazil’s rough Cidade de Deus (City of God) favela.

2003: “Mystic River” – Author Dennis Lehane understands, deep down in his soul, the rhythms of Boston’s shady, bleak underworld. Director Clint Eastwood understands the people who have fallen through the cracks. Together, “Mystic River,” about three childhood friends dealing with a murder, they make an unbeatable team.

Javier Bardem's performance is anything but bleak.

2004: “Mar adentro” (full review) — Is it possible to make a film about a quadriplegic (Javier Bardem) who wants nothing more than to die and have that film turn out to be an affirmation of life? Look to “Mar adentro” for the answer.

2005: “The Constant Gardener” – Taut political/medical conspiracy thrillers ordinarily don’t offer emotions as complex as the plotlines. But director Fernando Meirelles etches characters (Rachel Weisz, Ralph Fiennes) who matter to each other, and so they matter to us.

2006: “The Lives of Others” (full review) — Movies about Big Brother rarely take the time to humanize the enemy, but director Henckel von Donnersmarck finds humanity even in the most ardent supporter (Ulrich Mühe) of suppressing free will.

2007: “No Country for Old Men” (full review) — Call it the Coens’ Law: Every time you think they’ve made their best movie ever, they top themselves. How they’ll top this gritty, violent and blackly funny caper is something this reviewer has gotta see.

2008: “The Dark Knight” – With “Batman Begins,” Christopher Nolan single-handedly revived a years-ailing franchise; in the inspired sequel — part Greek tragedy, part action flick, part sweeping character drama — he let Heath Ledger reinvent the iconic Joker in the spirit of creation.

Get in my bell-ay, Jew Hunter!

2009: “Inglourious Basterds” (full review) — In terms of sheer imagination and cojones, almost no director working today can match Quentin Tarantino, who in this misspelled epic rewrites the ending to WWII and gives cinema one of its greatest villains (Christoph Waltz).

2010: So far? “Shutter Island.” The predicted winner? “True Grit.”

*It’s my birthday and I’m giving you a math lesson. Can you say “nerd”?

One to Watch: “The Expendables”

Probably the best we can hope for, in a movie like “The Expendables,” with Stallone directing and starring (he’s kind of a Streisand), is a few tongue-in-cheek lines and wagonloads of burnt-crispy stuff (and bodies!).

But as long as it blows up awesome, who cares?

Terrifically Terrible Cinema: “Over the Top” (1987)

7977262“The world meets nobody halfway. When you want something, you gotta take it.”
~~Lincoln Hawk
 

First things first: Let’s go ahead and agree that this movie scribble is going to file “Over the Top,” a lesser-known Sly Stallone gem from the late 1980s, in the supremely overstuffed folder titled “Splendidly Bad Epic ’80s Flicks” (because if the ’80s produced a movie that was not epic in scope and soundtrack, I did not see it). For a movie about the National Arm Wrestling Championships in Sin City that also manages to include oodles of dad-like advice, big burly-man semis and a man who chugs Valvoline belongs nowhere if it does not belong in that manila folder.

With its screenplay co-written by Stallone, “Over the Top” (heed the title; it’s damn fine nutshelling) has but one thing to offer its highly specific audience of Sly fans and connoisseurs of Terrifically Terrible Cinema: a marvelous and total lack of sophistication. For Demolition Man, “subtlety” is nothing less than a deplorable dirty word — always has been, save for a “First Blood” here and a “Rocky Balboa” there — and it shows. Not one single element of “Over the Top,” from the smallest father/son moment to The Really Big, Really Intense Showdown, is understated. (Remember about the title? I told you it was important.) Metaphors are painted with big, messy glops and slops; the sweeping montages showcase “Eye of the Tiger”-styled music so loud it drowns out the (ha! as if!) dialogue; the dying mom has a bad case of Sick People Teeth and Too Much Gray Eyeshadow; Robert Loggia acts like his very life hinges on line overdelivery.

There’s bad, alright, but this? This is the kind of movie that’s so bad you have to watch the whole thing.

But more on this plot, so awful it seems overripe for a remake by Trey Parker and Matt Stone: Long-haul trucker Lincoln Hawk (Stallone) discovers his ill wife Christina (Susan Blakely) is rapidly approaching her expiration date and she wants him to have a relationship with Michael (David Mendenhall), the son he left behind. Christina’s underhanded father Jason Cutler (Loggia), who long ago branded Hawk a — gasp! — “loser,” has done his part to keep father and son separated. But soon enough Cutler learns three important lessons: 1) Hawk drives a semi big enough to obliterate fancy porcelain fountains, so don’t piss him off; 2) If you see Hawk’s hat turned backward, he’s already pissed off, so run away; and 3) National arm wrestling competitions are petri dishes that breed entire populations warm, fuzzy dad-and-son moments.

Herein lies the pure trashy fun of “Over the Top”: It’s exactly the movie you expect it to be, only moreso. Everything is loud and bright and dumb and epic and so overdone as to be hysterically funny. Hawk’s arm wrestling competitors alone are priceless, from Grizzly the Valvoline-swigger (Bruce Way) — who learns the only appropriate follow-up to Valvoline is Alka-Seltzer — to the philosopher Bull Hurley (Rick Zumwalt), a man of simple tastes who lives by an easy-to-remember credo: “I drive truck, break arms, and arm wrestle. It’s what I love to do, it’s what I do best.” Hawk himself is something of a soothsayer, a deliverer of gloriously unsubtle advice (refer to the opening quote), and there are moments when Stallone appears to have slipped into a communicative coma while playing him. Mendenhall and Loggia take the opposite approach, injecting so much passion into their Big Speeches that they threaten to become touching. But they do not, and thank Valvoline for that; it would ruin this movie!

So, no, “Over the Top” is not great work of art, or even a paint-by-numbers ripped from Highlights. But it is the finest movie ever made about arm wrestling, and sometimes, well, that’s enough.

An action trifecta is born!

They’re gonna give us a war we can’t believe.

Yep, the rumors have been confirmed by Daily Variety: Rambo, Jet “I Punched You 32 Times in 5 Seconds” Li and The Transporter/Jason Statham will pool their collective acting talents (so it’ll be more of a wading pool, really) in “The Expendables.”

Stallone, not surprisingly, is pulling a Streisand — these days we might call it a “Clint Eastwood” — and writing, directing and starring in the what is certain to be an explosion-heavy, plot-lite tale of mercenaries out to overthrow a South American dictator. Filming (in Louisiana and Costa Rica) starts in February.

Mark me down as “stoked.” (Remember: This is the chick who hates chick flicks.) Stallone, Li AND Statham in the same movie? It’s a harmonic convergence of events that’s “Perfect Storm”-like in its strange and frightening beauty. Explosions? Check. Shootouts? Done. Bodies riddled with bulletholes, chopped up with machetes or blown to McNugget-sized proportions? Please.

But a word to movie critics: Don’t ruin it for the rest of us by tossing out words like “plot” or “dialogue” or (cue violent shudder) “character development.” You want a complex moral quandary, an existential crisis of sorts? Rent “No Country for Old Men” and shut your trap.

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