The Expendables 2 (2012) a (mildly) belated review

So you have this old friend who tells you a new story involving people from your youth.  This story plays on nostalgia and features plenty of old faces in familiar situations.  By the end of the story, you smile.  You’ve enjoyed yourself perhaps a little more than you would have because of the nostalgia value.  The story presented, after all, wasn’t all that earth-shattering or, to be blunt, particularly good.

But the nostalgia had you.

That’s the way I felt about the first Expendables film released back in 2010.  It wasn’t a great film, in fact I felt that the almost concurrently released The Losers featured roughly the same concept (a motley group of modern warriors) but, in fact, had an overall slightly better story.  Still, I enjoyed The Expendables more because, again, of the nostalgia.  I loved seeing Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger share the screen together, even if their collaboration in the film amounted to about five minutes of movie time, if that.

With the success of The Expendables, a sequel was a natural, and this time around a greater effort was made to show more of what the audience demanded.  Thus, instead of a few minute cameo, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger share considerable more screen time (and actually fire weapons!) in The Expendables 2.  And if that wasn’t enough, the movie increased your ’80’s action stars quotient by adding Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme (effectively menacing as the movie’s villain, a character named…Vilain) to the mix.


It didn’t work as well for me.  Despite the fact that I feel The Expendables 2 is an overall better movie than the first Expendables, that nostalgic feeling I had has since dissipated and I’m left focusing more on the film before me rather than the thrill of seeing all these older actors together.

And, frankly, the film only worked in spurts.  The opening was pretty good, if a little too (CGI) gory.  Then we get a long slow buildup to the main story and…well…there’s not much there there.  Something about plutonium buried away and forgotten and the villain trying to get it out in a hurry (no real explanation for why) which leads to the heroes chasing said villain until a final, bloody, confrontation.  It all plays out like a video game, with the bad guys having a near army of red shirts ready to bite the dust with no real repercussions felt (bad guys, after all, have no family or friends!).

The Expendables 2 is a mediocre action film, alas, a return trip that may charm (if that’s the right word!) those who still have those feelings of nostalgia for the heroes of the ’80’s.  Others may have less patience.

Killdozer (1974) a (very) belated review

I saw Killdozer exactly one time before yesterday.  Back when I first saw this film, I was an 8 year old boy and it aired for the first time in 1974 on television.  Despite the fact that thirty eight (OH MY GOD!!!!) years have since passed, I still had memories of this film.

When I got my DVR setup, I put the film under the que, to record whenever it might show up.  A couple of years passed and the film never did show up on any channels.  Then, a few days ago, I casually made a search of the film on Amazon and, to my surprise, the film was available as a “manufactured on demand” DVD via Universal.

After thirty eight years (CHRIST I’M OLD!!!), I had a chance to finally see this film from start to finish.

Would it live up to my childhood memories?  Would it still be the suspenseful film that eight year old enjoyed so much back then?

Frankly, I was expecting the worst.  I had a couple of memories of the film -three to be exact (including the ending)- but I couldn’t help but fear that this long-forgotten-by-most film might not have aged particularly well over time.

As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised.

No, Killdozer isn’t one of the best of the “machines gone homicidal” suspense sub-genre…I still feel the Steven Spielberg’s 1971 breakout movie (and probable influence to KilldozerDuel is the best of the lot there, but the movie is still quite entertaining.

Based on a short story (and teleplay) by noted sci-fi author Theodore Sturgeon, the plot of Killdozer is simplicity itself:  On an island off the coast of Africa a group of six construction workers have been tasked with clearing a section of the island.  The group is led by Lloyd Kelly (Clint Walker, still as tall and massive as a mountain), a man who drives his workers perhaps a little too hard.  There is some resentment among his men, but nothing terribly serious until their main bulldozer rams a meteorite and Mack McCarthy (a very young Robert Urich in one of his earlier roles) is fatally burned by the radiation (or whatever) emitted by bulldozer slamming into the rock.

Things go from bad to worse quickly as the bulldozer begins operating on its own.  Isolated on this island, the construction crew rapidly comes to the realization that the bulldozer has a homicidal mind of its own and that they must somehow stop the machine before it kills them all.

As I said before, I came into watching Killdozer after all these years (whimper) fearing the worst.  I’ll grant you that modern audiences may find the pace of this film wanting.  Further, this being a TV movie there is virtually no gore (and not a single drop of blood) at all to be found.  Still, the implied brutality of various crew members’ deaths shocked me as a child (particularly the first person to actually fall to the “kill” dozer).

All in all, I’d recommend this film to those who, like me, have a fondness for these type of films and are forgiving toward the pace of films from the past.  Killdozer may not quite live up to Duel, but it is worth a look-see.

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) a (very mildly) belated review

Having caught up with many of the “must see” films recently released, I had a chance to explore some recent vintage films that were a little farther down on my radar yet intrigued me.  None did so more than the 2012 romantic comedy/sci fi (?) film Safety Not Guaranteed.

Written by Derek Connolly and directed by Colin Trevorrow, Safety Not Guaranteed concerns a (at first) obnoxious journalist for a Seattle magazine who takes two geeky interns off to a nearby coastal town to find and investigate the man who posted a strange notice in the want ads concerning looking for a companion to time travel with.  The second to the last line of the want ad states that “safety not guaranteed”.

Without giving too much away, we quickly find that the outwardly obnoxious lead journalist, Jeff (Jake Johnson) could care less about this assignment and, in reality, asked to do it so that he could reconnect with an old love of his that lives in that town.  Thus the main investigator of this story becomes the shy and (possibly) damaged Darius (Aubrey Plaza) who, after finding and befriending Kenneth (Mark Duplass), the man behind the mysterious ad, begins to wonder if perhaps he’s not quite as crazy as he seems.

I really liked most of this movie.  It had a great independent vibe to it and, despite presenting some of the typical “romantic comedy” tropes (in particular the “main character gets close to other main character for secret reasons and falls in love but when the secret is revealed will love survive?!”), the movie nonetheless delivers plenty of fresh material and oddball situations to keep us involved in the story’s progression.

If there’s a complaint to be made, and it is a minor one to me, it is that the film’s ending felt a little too…obvious.  I wish that instead of giving us such a concrete ending the filmmakers had instead offered us a more ambiguous conclusion that hinted to the possibility of Kenneth being right but also left the door open to him maybe being…off.  In the end, love can still conquer all.

Having said that, let me reiterate:  It is a minor complaint and Safety Not Guaranteed is certainly worthy of your attention.  Recommended.

Dreams and reality…

Had a dream -more like a nightmare- this morning, couldn’t really tell you all the details as they’re rapidly evaporating, but it involved some kind of hostage situation and, of course (!), some kind of road race I was involved in.

The bad guy of the dream piece, like bad guys in all major fiction tend to be, was one step ahead of everyone involved in the situation, and when the good guys thought they had him cornered, not only did it prove not to be the case, but the bad guy set up a new, very stringent demand.

To prove he wasn’t playing around, the bad guy told us we had to comply with his new order(s) in “5…4…3…2…1…”

And just as the bad guy was about to say “zero” -and I swear I’m not making this up- the alarm clock goes off!

Just goes to show how incredible the human mind is, to calibrate a countdown in a dream  to the literal second that my alarm clock is about to go off!

The Unknown (1927) a (ludicrously) belated review

A few days ago I reviewed the “recreated” version of the Tod Browning/Lon Chaney lost film London After Midnight (read the review here, if you are curious).  Yesterday I finally saw the film the duo made just before that film, The Unknown.

The Unknown, running a mere 63 minutes, is probably one of the most twisted love stories you’re likely to run up against.  Director/Writer Tod Browning was known to make some pretty bizarre films, and while this one isn’t quite as bizarre as, say, his 1932 film Freaks, it certainly falls within the ballpark, at least with regard to setting.

For The Unknown, like Freaks, features a circus setting.  In this case, there are no actual “freaks”, though Lon Chaney stars as Alonzo, a man seemingly without arms who specializes in trick shots and throwing knives…with his feet.  Mr. Chaney’s work in the film is nothing short of astonishing.  I doubt there are many actors today who could portray Alonzo as well as he did and with as much dexterity in the use of his feet as surrogate arms.

As for the plot of the movie, Alonzo is in love with his assistant/target, Nanon, played by legendary actress Joan Crawford in one of her earlier roles.  My own personal greatest exposure to Ms. Crawford was through her work from roughly the very late thirties/early forties and on, so it was pretty eye opening to see her in her formative years.  Ms. Crawford’s Nanon is the object of affection to the scheming Alonzo, who we quickly find out is a criminal on the lam that actually has both arms.  In one of the movie’s greatest scenes, we are given a look at how Alonzo (and Chaney, of course) “hides” his arms and makes it appear he is armless.

Alonzo loves Nanon but Nanon has feelings for the Circus’ strongman, Malabar (Norman Kerry).  However, she also has psychological issues regarding men.  She hates the way men try to “paw” her with their arms, and therefore feels safe around Alonzo (who, as noted, appears not to have any arms and therefore cannot “touch” her).  Meanwhile, whenever Malabar tries to take her in his arms, she is repulsed.  One gets the feeling, purely by implication, that Nanon suffered some kind of sexual abuse in her past and it may be why she has such trouble “giving in” to her love of Malabar.  Of course, this opens the door for Alonzo to try to gain control of her, acting as a friend to Malabar and Nanon while working to keep them apart and ultimately bring Nanon to his side.

Pretty wild stuff.

I don’t want to get into the big plot twist toward the later half of the film, but suffice to say it is a doozy and shows the lengths Alonzo goes to to try to win Nanon’s heart.  Though he is clearly the “bad guy” of the feature, Lon Chaney’s Alonzo winds up being surprisingly sympathetic, especially in the scene where Nanon announces her love (and upcoming marriage) to Malabar.  The mix of grief, anger, and, yes, utter madness shown by Mr. Chaney in that one take is a thing of acting beauty.  Though Mr. Chaney may be known to some more for his incredible make up work in features such as London After Midnight or The Hunchback of Notre Dame or The Phantom of the Opera, there is little doubt he was an extraordinary actor.

Do I recommend this film?  To film fans, absolutely, though I recognize modern audiences may find it difficult to sit though this relatively short film because it unwinds at a much slower pace to modern films.  Regardless, if you’re curious to see the great Lon Chaney at his most devious and Joan Crawford at her most beautiful, by all means give The Unknown a look.

Skyfall (2012) a (right on time) review

So, the new James Bond film Skyfall:  Good or bad?

Would you believe…both?

Usually when I settle down in my theater seat and watch a film, I tend to soak in what’s going on before me.  I try not to be too terribly judgmental of the things going on…unless, of course, there’s just no way to avoid critiquing them.

In the case of Skyfall, it is a credit to director Sam Mendes, Daniel Craig, and all those in front of and behind the cameras who delivered a movie that it moved as well as it did.  In fact, so well did it move that with one exception, it wasn’t until after the movie was over that I realize the screenwriters delivered a truly underwhelming, ultimately silly story.

How silly?

Well, to get to that I do have to go into…


Still here?

All right, here goes:

The entire plot of the villain of Skyfall, Javier Bardem’s Silva, is to kill Judi Dench’s M.

That’s it.

That’s all.

OK, if you want, you can add to the fact that Silva also wanted to destroy her career as well.  But that secondary goal was achieved fairly early on.  No, she wasn’t completely repudiated in the MI6 circles, but she was already being pushed into retirement as a kindness by her superiors.  Her career was effectively done.

Thus, when Bond shows up unannounced in her flat (so much for security!), it could just as easily been Silva there to kill her.  Had he been there instead of Bond, the film would have been over close to two hours earlier!

Still, at that point we as viewers weren’t aware of Silva’s endgame.  Instead, we get some great scenery as Bond gets back into the service after being thought dead (death and rebirth are a big subtext within this film).  He follows an assassin and winds up meeting the beautiful Severine (Bernice Marlohe) who eventually gets Bond to Silva.

Severine’s story winds up being the one truly sour element of the film to me while first watching it and before realizing what the whole story entailed.  Her total screen time runs to little more (perhaps even less!) than ten minutes and Bond’s flippant comment following her death was needlessly cold (he showed more emotion to the loss of his Goldfinger Aston Martin car than to her!).  Yet in that brief time with her I felt she should have had far more to do than be a tragic messenger delivering Bond to Silva.

What a missed opportunity!

But getting back to the film in general:  Yes, the plot/story ultimately is so small scale and full of logic flaws that I can’t blame some for hating the film outright.  Yet I can also sympathize with those who love the film because the fact of the matter is that this film moves like lightning and entertained me to the point where I only considered most of its defects after the fact.

In the end, I recommend Skyfall.  It may not be among the all time best of the Bond films and the villain’s goal may be underwhelming, it is nonetheless a pretty good ride.

Best and Worst of James Bond

With the release today of Skyfall, the latest James Bond film, there have been plenty of internet bandwidth devoted to exploring the best and worst of the James Bond films.  Some of the sites include:


I find the lists intriguing as I’m a bit of a contrarian regarding at least on of the Bond films many view as a disappointment:  Diamonds Are Forever.  This film, which was the last “official” outing by Sean Connery as James Bond, also seemed to set the template for much of the Roger Moore films that followed:  Campy, jokey (at times), while delivering some good action and wild scenery.

But many others, it seems, aren’t as taken in by that film as I am.  I happen to love the lighter tone and found the entire work a fun film.  No, it certainly wasn’t one of the “serious” Bond films…not by a long shot, but I enjoyed it for what it was.

For what its worth, my all time favorite Bond film is probably From Russia With Love, the second Bond film made.  However, Goldfinger, the film which followed this film and is considered by many as THE best Bond film of the lot, is also extremely high on my list.

Of the Roger Moore films, The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only are my two favorites but I also really enjoyed the wild stunt-work (and tongue in cheek attitude) present in Live and Let Die.

As for the others, I like Timothy Dalton’s first foray into Bondian territory, The Living Daylights and felt Pierce Brosnan’s first Bond film, Goldeneye, was likewise his best.  Similarly, Daniel Craig was damn good in Casino Royale and, while I was disappointed with the follow up film, am curious to see him in Skyfall.

Which leaves us with the one oddball (IMHO) Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  There are those who consider this, George Lazenby’s only outing as James Bond, one of the best Bond movies of them all.  I’m not one of them.  Yes, there are some good action sequences, but overall the film doesn’t do it for me.  George Lazenby is not that bad, but on the other hand he doesn’t quite project the charisma needed for a James Bond.  Again, IMHO.  Further, the plot I always found confusing.  Why doesn’t Blofeld (Telly Savalas) recognize James Bond -and vice versa- right away when they meet in this film?  After all, in the previous Bond film, You Only Live Twice, they confront each other in that film’s climactic conclusion yet in the follow up act as if they don’t know who each other is.

Very strange, continuity wise.

As for the worst Bond films?  Of the Connery ones, I’d have to go with the already mentioned You Only Live Twice.  It was a little too much gadgetry and not enough humanity, despite some interesting elements which would be reused in the far superior Spy Who Loved Me (that film was essentially a remake of You Only Live Twice!).  Of the Bond films, the worst include The Man With The Golden Gun (perhaps the greatest potential wasted…having the great Christopher Lee as the villain should have alone made the film a knockout.  Instead, the film moves around lifelessly), A View To A Kill (Roger Moore was really looking waaay too old for the role by then), and my least favorite, despite a pretty good opening act, Moonraker.  Too much silliness.

Ah well, let’s see if Skyfall lives up to the hype and proves to be one of the better ones!