Friday, 31 August 2012

Expendables 2

Let's get one thing straight: Expendables 2 is not a good film. It offers two hours of terrible dialogue, wooden acting and forced cameos. But it's a hell of a lot of fun and the best bad film that you will see all year.

Thankfully, the sequel fixes the mistakes of its disappointing predecessor, which made the crucial error of taking itself too seriously. But Sylvester Stallone has wisely vacated the director's chair for Simon West, director of the ever-enjoyable Con Air, who knows exactly how to approach this type of film. Namely, make the most of the famous faces and low expectations and just have some fun! 

And West succeeds. In fact, the first ten minutes of Expendables 2 offers more cheese, more silliness and more ridiculous action than was found in the entirety of its predecessor. Audiences can leave their brains at the door and enjoy Jet Li dispatching henchmen with cooking utensils, Jason Statham disguised as a kick-ass monk, Sly facing off against Jean-Claude Van Damme and Arnold Schwarzenegger ripping the door off a Smart Car. West knows how to deliver action, as do his veteran cast.

Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your sense of humour), the cast cannot deliver dialogue, nor can Stallone write it. The dialogue is comprised of tough guy talk ('Track 'em, find 'em, kill 'em!'), bad puns ('Rest in pieces!'), worse puns ('I now pronounce you man... and knife!') catchphrases ('Yippee ki yay!'), laziness ('You have an ego the size of a dinosaur'), nonsense ('You've been back enough, I'll be back!'), racism (the Chinese woman's favourite meal happens to be crispy aromatic duck) and lifeless banter ('If you need me, call me, or I'll kill you').

The acting is as bad as the dialogue but you knew that already. The only cast member in danger of doing any acting is Liam Hemsworth but they kill him off nice and early to keep the plot moving. On the other side of the acting spectrum is Yu Nan, as newly-appointed technical expert Maggie Chan, who is just plain terrible. Presumably, she was cast to make everyone else look good and anyone who can make Dolph Lundgren look like Marlon Brando is a very rare find indeed.

Naturally, Expendable 2's biggest draw is its wish-fulfilment casting. Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis are both back with thankfully more screen time and Jean-Claude Van Damme is a welcome addition to the cast as the new villain. He can still pull off those flying kicks. Best of all, Chuck Norris pops up in the most insanely crowd-pleasing cameo ever seen on the big screen. Norris rocks up in a baseball cap, dispatches an army single-handedly, tells an actual Chuck Norris joke (!) and then saunters off into the sunset.

Predictably, Sly isn't done yet. Expendables 3 is due to start filming later this year. Sly has been talking big about rounding off the trilogy and shifting the genre to keep audiences engaged, bless him. But over-thinking it would be a mistake. As ever, the credits will be the biggest draw. And with Sly already approaching Steven Seagal, Wesley Snipes, Nicholas Cage, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood and Jean-Claude Van Damme (who would play the twin brother of his character in this film!), the box office looks set to be bigger than ever.

In the meantime, Expendables 2 offers enough adrenaline-pumping action and laughable lines to keep you sufficiently entertained until their next outing.

And just to reiterate: Expendables 2 is a bad film. But that doesn't stop it being bad-ass.


Only an animation studio with Pixar's reputation could produce a film like Brave and leave audiences feeling slightly disappointed. Whilst the standard of the animation, voice-acting and writing is as high as ever, Brave lacks that one crucial aspect that we have come to expect from a Pixar outing: originality.

Arguably, from a Pixar perspective, the world's greatest animation studio were doing something very original indeed. After all, the past two Pixar films have been sequels and so a host of new characters is a welcome arrival. Brave breaks a lot of new territory never before seen in Pixar's feature-length filmography: a female protagonist, a princess protagonist, a British setting, the use of magic and this is the first Pixar film to be set in the past. In short, this is Pixar's attempt at a fairy tale and they put their gritty, well-researched take on the usual cuddlier fair. 

This is also the first Pixar film to focus on a mother-daughter relationship and therefore acts as a thematic companion piece to the father-son relationship in Finding Nemo. The portrayal of Princess Merida's troublesome relationship with her mother is so smartly-written that even the youngsters in the audience might side with the mother. No doubt, the involvement of Pixar's first female director, Brenda Chapman, was the key to nailing this relationship.

However, whilst all of this might be new territory for Pixar, it is old news for the average cinema-goer.

Audiences have seen plenty of rebellious Princess stories over the years: The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Mulan, The Princess and the Frog, Tangled and those are just the Disney examples. Brave dutifully follows the formula of such films and therefore feels very familiar. It arrives at a predictably tidy resolution and offers few surprises along the way (with the exception of one big metamorphosis twist which, fair play, they managed to hide from the multiple trailers). Who would have thought a Pixar film would ever be labelled formulaic?

Let's be clear. Brave is still the best animation you will see on the big screen in 2012: lovingly-crafted, beautifully-scored by Scottish composer Patrick Doyle and there are plenty of laughs to be had from the bickering Scottish clans. 

But it lacks the courage to challenge the Princess formula and so Brave fails to live up to its title.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012


After a decade of Family Guy and American Dad, Seth McFarlane finally makes his directorial debut on the big screen. However, as with any episode of Family Guy, the reality is a mixed bag of gags, with equal measures of hits and misses.

This is a shame because, on paper, Ted should be an instant hit.

The concept driving the film is a truly original idea: young John's wish is granted and his teddy bear comes to life. But then John grows up (Mark Wahlberg) and he still has his walking, talking teddy bear as a best friend. McFarlane's writing explores the consequences of this scenario, both the dramatic and the comedic: what affect would this have on John's relationship with Lori (Mila Kunis)? How can John act his age with his teddy bear in tow? What would happen when the teddy bear reaches the legal drinking age? Unfortunately, the drama is often handled better than the comedy.

Much of the comedy is hoped to be generated by Ted himself. Sticking with the Family Guy formula, McFarlane aims to produce laughs by having a human partnered with a sidekick that shouldn't do adult things... but does. We have seen this with Family Guy's Brian and Stewie: a dog and a baby that drink, smoke, swear, fight, crack wise and have sex. Ted follows suit. Admittedly, seeing a teddy bear raise its middle-finger, say the F-word and smoke a bong in the trailer was hilarious. But with a feature length film, the joke soon gets old.

The comedy is stop-start. Some jokes land but many fall flat. 

Highlights include Ted's failed attempts to get fired, Mila Kunis picking up poo, McFarlane's trademark pop culture references, Ted squaring off with a chicken and Mark Wahlberg in general, who needs to be given more comedy roles. We also get Sam Jones (the original Flash Gordon) playing himself at a house party, necking shots, snorting cocaine, tripping out, fighting a disgruntled Chinese neighbour ("Miiing!") and overall just being an ageing Hollywood bad-ass.

But the lowlights include Patrick Stewart's opening voiceover which fails to get the film started, a wasted Joel McHale as Mila Kunis' sleazy boss and crude, loud moments such as when John farts in a restaurant. Chaotic, see-what-sticks comedy is fine in a long-running TV show like Family Guy. But with a film, when you only get 110 minutes, you need to have all killer and less filler.

That said, chaotic comedy can work on the bigscreen, as seen with Anchorman and 21 Jump Street (which retains the crown of Comedy of the Year), but only if the gag rate is high. However, McFarlane chooses to give equal weight to the dramatic scenes exploring John and Lori's turbulent relationship. This is not necessarily a bad thing because these scenes are well-written and well-acted. But it does put extra pressure on the comedy, which, as noted, does not always deliver.

Nevertheless, maybe this is being unfair. 

In many ways, Ted is the Avengers of comedy films: highly-anticipated and never going to please everyone. After all, this is Seth McFarlane's first feature film and it was never going to live up to the astronomically high standards demanded by Family Guy fans. As such, it is important to be clear: Ted is a superior comedy. It is certainly funnier than the tiresome rom-coms and formulaic Ben Stiller comedies that are churned out every year. It is just testament to McFarlane's reputation as a TV comedy don that we expected some more belly-laughs.

But McFarlane can walk away from this proudly. And based on the potential on offer here, both McFarlane and Ted deserve another outing on the big screen.