Cinemablend‘s Katey Rich, a sharp reviewer but never a take-no-prisoners Christopher Hitchens type, has torn The Expendables a new one. She’s calling it “a bloated mess, a bunch of guys past their prime punching and kicking each other and pretending its for our benefit, when it’s really just one last self-congratulatory hurrah.
“The giant list of beefy male names is the major draw of The Expendables, but it’s also what kills it. A movie about Sylvester Stallone and Jason Statham‘s lead characters kicking ass and taking names in a foreign country might have gone somewhere, but the movie is utterly overstuffed, making room for a Dolph Lundgren vs. Jet Li fight scene, an entire subplot about Randy Couture‘s cauliflower ear, and worst of all, a 10-minute Mickey Rourke monologue in which he looks mournfully into a mirror, makes up an absurd story about his heartbreak on a previous mission, and silently cries.
“All of these will make for hilarious YouTube clips in the coming months, but they’re frustrating to watch in context as a movie with actual potential constantly kneecaps itself because the director and the cast had no idea when to give it a rest.
“Is The Expendables the manliest movie of the summer? Probably — it is ridiculously violent, fetishizes male strength without being too homoerotic, and treats women as pure, perfect beings who exist to be rescued. That kind of old-school machismo is missing from most modern action movies, and fans of old-school Stallone and Lundgren and company will likely flock to the Expendables with their bros, ready to watch the blood and guts fly. But if you were old enough to love Rambo III un-ironically the first time around, you’re way too old now to be fooled by the dull and desperate Expendables.”
I was in the upper lobby of AMC’s Lincoln Square the night before last when two ushers started dismantling the Expendables standee. “Whaddaya doin’?” I asked. “Takin’ it down…it’s opening, time to take it down,” he said. If I’d been Sly Stallone I would have said, “Wait…whadda ya mean, take it down? Movie doesn’t open for another two weeks!” But I just watched. “Are you trashin’ the figures?” I asked. I thought I could take Jason Statham back to the apartment and put him in the kitchen. “Naah, just the structure part.”
I regret to report that last night’s Film Society of Lincoln center showing of Ken Russell‘s The Devils — a kickoff of a seven day, nine-film Russell tribute — was a disappointment in some respects. Russell attended with Devils costar Vanessa Redgrave, and it was of course delightful to see them sitting together, and to share in the love. But they showed the wrong version of this 1971 classic, the print was less than mint, projection was substandard, and a befogged Russell offered no hard answers about the Devils controversy.
Legendary director Ken Russell, Vanessa Redgrave following last night’s FSLC screening of The Devils — Friday, 7.30, 9:55 pm.
I’m not faulting the 83 year-old Russell for not being a younger man, God knows. What matters is that he’s attending each and every FSLC screening and “making the effort” and so on. But the fact of the matter is that Russell wasn’t very snap-crackle-pop when asked about this and that.
The Devils print looked vaguely cruddy — poorly aligned, underlit, green scratches here and there — and was not the promised 111-minute “rape of Christ” version but the 108-minute version that was originally released in the U.S. This was a massive letdown. FSLC had promised the notorious version, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the room who felt burned.
I asked series programmer (and Film Comment editor) Gavin Smith what had gone wrong, and he said it had something to do with Warner Bros. not “allowing” the unrated print (which is sitting in England) into the country due to some legal blah-dee-blah. I’m still not clear on this. A FSLC screening sells tickets, of course, but isn’t a “commercial” screening as much as a museum-type showing. Will Warner Bros. ever stop messing with this film?
In a post-screening q & a Russell offered no inside explanation as to why Warner Bros. has twice offered and then withdrawn The Devils from commercial release over the last two years. (I wasn’t persuaded that he knew the particulars about the DVD and the iTunes versions being yanked after being announced and/or offered.) All he said was that “they don’t want it shown,” and something about their obstructions more or less constituting the same kind of political repression that is depicted in the film. The whole Warner Bros. thing is just infuriating, I swear.
When I say “poorly aligned” I mean that the image projected last night was too large for the screen — that the “throw” was miscalculated — resulting in a significant amount of the film’s image being cropped by the projector’s aperture plate. Throw in the poor lighting and the green scratch marks and it was indisputably a substandard experience. I love film as much as the next guy, but the iTunes version of the The Devils that I rented for my iPhone? Perfect, brightly lit, immaculate.
I asked Russell after the q & a why Song of Summer, the 1968 BBC film that he considers his all-time career best, wasn’t being shown in the series, and he just looked at the floor. (Maybe he didn’t hear me clearly.) When I asked Smith about this he didn’t seem aware that Russell has called Song of Summer “the best film I have ever done.” My impression is that the FSLC never gave the idea of showing this film much thought.
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