Cobra: Marion Cobretti – essentially a paramilitary policeman – comes across his scummiest scumbag yet, but he believes this is more than just a one-off. This is a spin-off from when Stallone walked away from Beverly Hills Cop to make something more violent! It’s essentially an ‘Arnie Film’ but with a different star, and more than most of the Arnie movies around this era, this has a really nasty streak through it – the baddies are a fairly nihilistic, ruthless bunch working under the name “Night Slasher” – although their back-story & motives could have done with fleshing out. Stallone’s Cobretti is unnecessarily cool – Car, Shades, clothes, attitude – it’s laughable at times, but Sly always does this. The action scenes are all pretty good – including a superb car chase that feels straight out of the Fast franchise, a lot of shooting, a boss fight in a suitably 1980s industrial setting (a foundry) and even a cheeky homage to the Shining’s famous door-smashing scene. There’s also flakes of social commentary (particularly the failing justice system), and an under-appreciated ‘anti Christmas movie’ vibe throughout. While Cobra is absolutely nothing new, it’s all fairly enjoyable if you appreciate cheese, big action, and lots of hard-18 violence – although if it does require subtitles to comprehend Sly.
Escape Plan: a security expert that escapes from prisons for a living is betrayed and put in an ‘INESCAPABLE’ prison – which he has to team up with Arnie to escape from. Inescapable FAIL. Even as a huge fan of ‘supercheese’, I’ve had enough of these Stallone vanity projects in which he portrays himself as a super-human, super-intelligent (has he heard himself speak?) super-cool guy that women just want to bang 24/7. You’re past you’re prime, and an average actor at best – so please stop these dude! For a no-brainer action flick about a prison-break starring two action legends it’s at least 30 minutes too long, (far too much backstory) and feels around 3 hours long. The only time it comes to life is when Arnie is on the screen – peaking in “Arnie firing a massive gun at dozens of guards and exploding shit”, and “Arnie losing his shit, in German” scenes. The director’s vision of a futuristic jail was cool (touch of Face/Off); the guards sufficiently evil-looking (touch of 300); and the main villain was suitably theatrical (touch of ridiculousness). It feels like Stallone insisted on having far too many ego-massaging, but wholly unnecessary, boring scenes into what should have been a 90-minute brain-free, action-laden, danger-zone, and Arnie’s left save this cliffhanger from falling into the pits of terribility.
Bullet to the Head: a career hitman and police detective team up in order to bring down a corrupt politician. From the opening scene (and every other frame of the duration) this is 100% a shameless Sly Stallone action vehicle – making him out to be as cool and badass as possible for the duration – which, let’s face it, a 66 year-old action hall-of-famer, doesn’t really need to do. His voice sounds like a sub-sonic stroke victim – so close to requiring re-dubbing or subs. Almost every minor character (wannabe models and actors) seem to be using this film as nothing more than exposure. The action scenes are poorly handled; but even blurry focus, fast cuts and shaky cam can’t spice up what’s clearly shit fights! To make up for this Sly and Walter Hill cram as many other things from the action B-movie checklist as possible: big loud guns, sexy cars, booze, nudity, drugs, tattoos, broads and more fights – and it never aims higher than that. The bi-racial ‘buddy’ element (90% of the film) reeks of 1980s – and generates cheap ‘cultural misconceptions’ and ‘hilarious’ misunderstandings RE: opposing work-ethics. The final talking point is some in-yer-face product placement – namely cars and Bulleit Burbon. While The Expendables (& #2) takes everything that was awesome about 80s action films and cranks them up past 11, up to 15; Bullet to the Head feels like a typical action B-movie with one big star and half a budget, and in the end, it’s not a bad film, but despite their best efforts, this is nowhere near Stallone or Hill’s glory days.
The Expendables 2: when they’re ambushed during a simple job the team have to avenge a fallen comrade… and shoot the crap out of anything that gets in their way. First off, the costume department deserve a medal; these guys are going in to action with cardigans, wooly jumpers, trench coats, French berets, designer jeans, cashmere scarves – they’re the most metrosexual mercenaries on the planet! The action is a whole other level of ace… blood, guts, explosions, limbs flying, heads exploding, bullet-riddled bodies dropping everywhere – only downside is that everything from the weapons to entire set pieces feel like copy/paste jobs from recent Call of Duty games. The majority of the runtime is like eating a cheese sandwich, made with cheesy bread whilst drinking mozzarella brine, but in a totally knowing, tongue in cheek fashion – like Willis and Arnie mocking each others characters and catchphrases. Lundgren should be singled out as a great sport, being the butt of almost every scene & joke. My only
real petty concern is that there’s only one big/famous baddie – and considering some of the iconic action villains over the years, it’s the only thing they could really have done with upping. Having a real director makes such a big difference – everything is improved, although the comic timing is so far out that it’s embarrassing to watch (but does help add to the cheese-effect). The Expendables is essentially the male equivalent of Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve – an ensemble of big names that puts an entire demographic’s bums on seats, and where everything else is secondary. In saying that, there’s still something inherently satisfying and watchable about seeing Willis / Arnie / Norris and co firing big guns at things. Expendables 2 is a highly enjoyable Action/Comedy romp – it’ll be difficult to top.
Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel. What do Francis Ford Coppola, Sylvester Stallone, Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Dennis Hopper, Joe Dante, Robert De Niro, David Carradine, Pam Grier, and Ron Howard (to name but a few) all have in common? …give up? They all got their first break from one man; Roger Corman. Much like the majority of his movies, Corman’s career feels like fiction; as a story reader at 20th Century Fox he singled out the script for The Gunfighter, added some suggestions and got no credit for the film’s success, so he left the company in 1955 and self-funded his first movie – he hasn’t stopped working on films ever since. The biggest weapon in this film’s arsenal is Corman himself; he’s fascinating and a very watchable presence – intelligent, unassuming, genuine, happy, modest, energetic, amiable… to be honest, I’d have been happy with a more in-depth 90 minute conversation. His relevance and importance through the decades is truly eye-opening, which is nicely contrasted with Corman’s penny-pinching / budget maximisation methods that have seen him direct and/or produce well over 300 movies and almost never make a loss. The doc does lose some steam and focus around the hour mark, and in patches it feels like a sugar-coated, rose-tinted fanboy piece, but they’re minor complaints. Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel does a decent job of covering the highlights of an amazing +50 year career in 90 minutes, letting the audience know how his surname embodies an entire genre. Most importantly, I sat with a smile on my face for most of the runtime
The man. The Legend. Roger Corman. Doesn’t look like an exploitation master!
The Expendables: A band of gruff mercenaries feel up to the task of overthrowing a corrupt Latin-American dictator. First thing’s first: this film has the action cast to end all casts – while it’s not 100% perfect, you just don’t see this many huge names in a film these days. It’s hard to describe but seeing star after star after star is spectacle in itself. Then there’s the action, which is awesome – and although CGI heavy, it’s great fun watching henchmen get mauled by fists, blades, bullets, fire and grenades; watching anything and everything get blown up; watching all the standout musclemen fight each other; and watching set piece after set piece. Little else is particularly noteworthy, but little else matters in a film like this; the script’s terrible laughable, the plot is contrived beyond belief, the acting’s utterly forgettable (everyone’s on auto-pilot) and even the ‘hot chick’ was a bit of a dog. Essentially a B-movie with an A-star cast and massive budget, this isn’t a homage to 1980s blockbuster action films, this is a 1980s blockbuster action film. It’s also an action film for action fans, and it does the big scenes way better than anything else I’ve seen recently. I laughed, I cringed, and I shouted ‘Holy Shit’ (usually while clutching a limb that’d just been snapped on screen) about 20 times. What can I say? I’m a sucker for big names, big guns, big explosions and big set pieces. Roll on the Expendables 2!