When the first Expendables came out, I was completely on board, in theory. Aging supergroup of action heroes acknowledging that their viability as action heroes is starting to run out? That’s a concept with serious potential. In practice, The Expendables was bloated, too self-serious, and downright boring. But reviews for the sequel have been significantly more promising, suggesting that the film may have exactly the fun, self-aware tone that was so sorely lacking in the first installment, and which is entirely necessary to make this kind of movie work. Which may still not make it good, but should at least make it the sort of watchable throwaway fun that’s often all that’s needed for a good summer action flick.
Sylvester Stallone still has a hand in writing this one, but cedes the director’s chair to action veteran Simon West (Con Air, The Mechanic). Stallone plays the leader of a mercenary group that includes Chuck Norris, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, and the not-yet-too-old Jason Statham, going up against a rival group led by Jean-Claude Van Damme. Bruce Willis returns as the CIA agent doling out assignments, and Arnold Schwarzenegger takes his cameo from the first film and expands it into a full supporting role. If ever a film warranted a trip up to Baltimore to catch it on the big drive-in screen at Bengies, this is probably it—though it’s not on their schedule yet, one has to guess that it will be, as drive-in-ready as this feature looks.
Norway’s film industry has been firing on all cylinders of late; if you haven’t yet caught up with recent titles like Turn Me On, Dammit!, Headhunters, or Trollhunter, they’re well worth looking for; the last is streaming on Netflix. One of the most acclaimed of the past year is the second film from Joachim Trier, which screened at Cannes last year, was an award winner at the Stockholm Film Festival, and was Norway’s Academy Award submission for Best Foreign Film. Trier’s film follows a drug addict on a day’s leave from his rehab center, ostensibly to interview for a job. But he uses the time to revisit all the old people and places that represent the damaged life he’s trying to leave behind.
If you’re a little weary of Jeff Daniels’s self-righteous and thoroughly Sorkinized Will McAvoy on The Newsroom (I know I reached that point by halfway through the pilot), a trip to the AFI for this palate cleanser may be in order. It’s a reminder of just what an excellent performer Daniels is, able to blend comedy and tragedy with ease, bringing emotional depth even to comedic moments that border on slapstick. To look at the poster for Jonathan Demme’s 1986 film, it feels immediately of its time: the pastels and the crazy type of the title scream madcap ’80s comedy. And it’s funny, to be sure, but there’s a thoughtful edge here, and Demme blends road movie stereotypes with a classic screwball comedy-style oil-and-water love story, as Melanie Griffith’s kooky Audrey (a textbook illustration of the way to employ the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope effectively) leads Daniels’s straitlaced yuppie on an adventure that starts eventually turns to dark, life-or-death seriousness.
French actor/writer/director Julie Delpy follows up her well-received 2007 directorial effort, 2 Days in Paris, with this sequel following that film’s central character, Marion (played by Delpy), back in New York and now living with her boyfriend (Chris Rock), and each of their children from previous relationships. Her dad, sister, and sister’s boyfriend drop in from France for a visit; hilarity and poignant analysis of relationships ensues.
Stop-motion animation studio Laika follows up its 2009 feature film debut, the excellent Coraline, with another macabre take, this one about a zombie uprising in New England. Due to a curse, all manner of ghouls are on the move, and it’s up to the titular Norman, a kid who talks to dead people, to try to avert disaster. Kodi Smit-McPhee, of The Road and Let Me In, voices Norman, and is joined by a voice cast that includes Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, and John Goodman.
DVD Pick of the Week: Kill List
British director Ben Wheatley’s sophomore effort initially seems to be cut from the same general cloth as his acclaimed debut, Down Terrace, a darkly funny look at the personal lives of gangsters that felt like a UK spin on The Sopranos. But what starts with two temporarily retired hitmen at a dinner party quickly evolves into showing the pair jumping back into the fray before introducing a number of exceedingly creepy mysteries on the way to a completely bonkers conclusion that owes more to British cult horror classic The Wicker Man than The Godfather. The film is unapologetically messy, raising more questions than Wheatley feels inclined to answer, and frighteningly violent. While the brutality of the main character—who has anger issues galore—borders on excessive, it’s never gratuitous, and is essential to who he is. The film’s final minutes solidify the notion that dances around the edges for the entire movie: that this isn’t a gangster flick at all, but really a horror film from start to finish, and a devastatingly effective one. Fans of cinematic unease and queasiness will find plenty to give them all the discomfort they crave here.
Special Features: Two commentaries, one with Wheatley and writer Amy Jump, the other with three of the actors; interviews with Wheatley and two of the film’s producers; and a making-of featurette.