Tuesday, August 31, 2010

From the Vaults: Blogorium Review - Snakes on a Plane

I did not like Snakes on a Plane.

Half of you are now saying "Gee, I'm shocked." with the sarcasm that just doesn't translate when typed, and some of you are probably saying "Really, but it has to kick ass!" with all of the enthusiasm of someone smart enough not to watch the finished product.

Oh, it's true; Snakes on a Plane could be a movie as dumb as its title, but it's not. This is the kind of movie that tries too hard to be a stupid action thriller, so instead of getting an Exit Wounds, we get a Half Past Dead. (for those curious, Exit Wounds was a Steven Seagal / DMX movie that was so stupid it was hilarious, but when they tried to do it again with Steven Seagal and Ja Rule in Half Past Dead, it was just stupid.)

Snakes on a Plane desperately wants to be Con Air with Snakes, and with a title as dumb as Snakes on a Plane, you try to convince yourself it is. But it's not. This is a movie that doesn't have the guts to amp the stupid up to 11, and instead hovers around 6 for most of the movie, throwing you the scraps of the kind of movie it should have been.

When I first heard about Snakes on a Plane, there was no Samuel L. Jackson attached to it, so I assumed it was a Steven Seagal direct to dvd movie (with the following ending: Seagal has parachuted out of the plane which explodes above him, and out of the explosion comes a snake, which he somehow does a mid-air kick to with his snake skin boots, and then says "That's what I call some hot snake on snake action." Roll Credits) but instead Sam "the Man" Jackson got involved, and everyone assumed that we'd have a movie of Dave Chappelle's Sam Jackson, all screaming and cursing.

Which would have been the movie they wanted to make, but even when they went back to get that R rating, it still doesn't work the way they planned it. Yes, he says "I'm tired of these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane", but it's so late in the movie and at a point where it just doesn't make sense to say it. It's not the beginning of an inspirational speech, or at least, it shouldn't be. But it is, so instead of Sam being the man and wiping the floor with snakes immediately before and after that line, we instead get passengers strapping in.

Snakes on a Plane looks like the retarded fun action movie that the Seagal's and the Van Damme's are more than happy to pump out four times a year, but instead it comes up short, making the only enjoyable part of the film the scene with Kenan Thompson and Sam Jackson in the cockpit, where the line "is it playstation or x-box" becomes unexpectedly hilarious thanks to the disgust in Jackson's voice. Sorry folks, this movie is bad, but not in a so-bad-it's-good way, just in a "boy, I wish Michael Bay had made this between The Rock and Armageddon.", because that's the movie you're looking for, not a watered down Passenger 57 with venom.

It was suggested to me that this movie is nothing without the proper audience, but since I saw The Grudge and The Ring 2 with the same "proper" audience (which is to say the screaming dimwits who are more excited than they really should be) and those movies still sucked, I sort of doubt it.

Thoughts from 2010: Strangely, when I think back on Snakes on a Plane, a movie I haven't given so much as a passing glance to since first watching it on DVD, I'm reminded of Hot Tub Time Machine. Both movies share a concept boiled down in a ridiculously under-complicated, tell-you-exactly-what-you're-getting title, and yet both films fail to deliver the absurd promises they make. Hot Tub Time Machine comes a little closer in execution, but I still think that it, like Snakes on a Plane, is a better movie in your imagination than it is in reality.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Addressing Directors Who Could Care Less

Pointless question directed to M. Night Shyamalan:

Why call the new movie Devil? I realize you didn't direct Devil, but you came up with the story and produced the film, and the trailers have your name and credentials all over them, so why not use some of that sway to change the title to something people would really be interested in?

Something like, oh say, Devilvator? Or Evilvator? (strangely, neither title is in use at IMDB)

You see, Mr. Shyamalan (who will never read this but let's stick with the premise he is), I watched The Happening, which you abruptly shifted in description from "Thriller" to "B Movie" when people started laughing at how awful it was. I saw the movie twice in theatres, bought the Blu Ray, and then showed it to people again. Yes, it's a terrible, terrible movie, but it was a lot of fun. Devil, aside from being about the Devil (one assumes) looks like it's also designed to be some kind of "B" horror movie, but unless you've seen the trailer, no one really knows what it is. Even if you have seen the trailer, all you know is that it looks like "one of the passengers on this elevator is the Devil," and I can't say the title has me very interested. The pun-based opportunity, however, would push Devil over into a "must-see" category.

I realize that they may seem stupid - or awesome - but a really off the wall title like that sets you apart and gives the audience incentive to go see the movie. Which, from the people I've talked to, Devil does not. Eventually, somebody will capitalize on the Devilvator / Evilvator title and make a really bad / great horror movie about an elevator to hell or a "devil on the elevator" or just human-eating elevator, and I don't know that Devil is going to be anybody's first choice when they're side by side at the video store.

---

Ah, James Cameron... I try very hard not to go back to the well of "things I don't like about James Cameron" in the Blogorium, because the Cap'n is clearly in the minority when it comes to the director of Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Titanic, and Avatar. So I keep my opinions to myself, until something like this pops up:

Vanity Fair: Was there any sense of nostalgia when the Piranha movie came out last weekend?

Cameron: "Zero. You’ve got to remember: I worked on Piranha 2 for a few days and got fired off of it; I don’t put it on my official filmography," he explained. "So there’s no sort of fond connection for me whatsoever. In fact, I would go even farther and say that... I tend almost never to throw other films under the bus, but that is exactly an example of what we should not be doing in 3-D. Because it just cheapens the medium and reminds you of the bad 3-D horror films from the 70s and 80s, like Friday the 13th 3-D. When movies got to the bottom of the barrel of their creativity and at the last gasp of their financial lifespan, they did a 3-D version to get the last few drops of blood out of the turnip. And that’s not what’s happening now with 3-D. It is a renaissance—right now the biggest and the best films are being made in 3-D. Martin Scorsese is making a film in 3-D. Disney’s biggest film of the year—Tron: Legacy—is coming out in 3-D. So it’s a whole new ballgame."

I could stick up for Piranha 3-D, but since the studio was so impressed with the positive critical reaction that they've greenlit a sequel (and to be perfectly clear, Scott Pilgrim fans, Piranha 3-D didn't exactly light up the Box Office either), so no, the movie doesn't exactly remind me of Friday the 13th Part 3* or Jaws 3 or T2 3-D: A Battle Across Time. It reminds me that since 3-D movies have been making money - whether it be A Christmas Carol, Spy Kids 3, Clash of the Titans, Beowulf, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Hannah Montana Live, The Final Destination, Alice in Wonderland, Up, Monsters vs. Aliens, or Avatar - that every studio wants to slap 3-D on to their movie in order to cash in. Call it whatever you want, the major studios still see it as a gimmick that gets audiences into theatres. When it stops making money, they'll stop making them.

And oh yeah, not to undermine your point about the 3-D "renaissance," but it was a really bad idea to use "Disney's biggest film of the year," Tron Legacy, as the final example. Considering that Disney is hoping that the 3-D will be the icing on a cake to their sequel to a 28 year-old movie that didn't do very well when it came out. I was going to see Tron Legacy whether it was in 2-D or 3-D, and while I know several people who also are, it's not an overwhelming amount of folks. Despite my excitement for a new Tron movie, Cameron is actually undermining his own point about sequels reaching for 3-D to get "blood from a turnip," a desperate act.

This will be my final point, I swear, but which side of the coin do House of Wax and Creature from the Black Lagoon fall on? Renaissance or Last Gasp?




* Wait... how many Friday the 13th movies were there? The third film was the end of its financial lifespan???

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Exploit-o-Rama-Rama Trailer Sunday


Evil in the Deep


Santo contra Ivasion de los Marcianos


The Junkman


The Frozen Dead


Exterminators of the Year 3000


Curse of the Crimson Altar

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Blogorium Review: Dark and Stormy Night

By now, I'm guessing that at least half of the regular visitors to the Blogorium have heard the Cap'n mention The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, if you haven't also seen it yourself. Some people love it, others loathe it, and I fall right in the middle. On the one hand, I enjoy the knowing send-up of cheapo 50s sci-fi B-movies; on the other hand, I admit that it occasionally lapses into the very territory it lampoons and becomes a little boring in the middle. I've heard arguments that the lags hurt the movie, and others argue that Skeleton is merely keeping true to the tradition of those films, but either way I like, not love, The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.

For the past six years, I hadn't thought too much about Skeleton or writer / director / actor Larry Blamire, so imagine the Cap'n's surprise to hear about The Lost Skeleton Returns Again, which is now out on DVD. Since I hadn't realized that Blamire had continued working in the interim, it never occurred to me a Lost Skeleton sequel could be in the cards (or his similarly themed Trail of the Screaming Forehead). Naturally, having enjoyed the first film, I went on a hunt for The Lost Skeleton Returns Again. I didn't find it. But I did find the simultaneously released Blamire joint Dark and Stormy Night.

If there's one thing I enjoy more than low-rent Science Fiction from the 50s and 60s, it's "haunted house" movies. Whether it's a simple murder mystery, an Abbott and Costello variation, or my own personal favorite, James Whale's The Old Dark House, if the throwback feels right, I'm on board*.

Blamire's Dark and Stormy Night is a send up of such films, and rendered very much the way Skeleton was: attempting to recreate the style of dialogue, camerawork, and plot machinations with a "just over the top and stupid but not too stupid" sense of parody. Dark and Stormy Night is as much of genre it's poking fun of, so the ribbing never feels to mean spirited or snarky.

The film exaggerates the size of "spooky house" ensembles to at least twenty speaking roles, characters with names like 8 o'clock Faraday, Billy Tuesday, Jack Tugdon, Seyton Ethelquake, Sabasha Fanmore, Archie Folde, Happy Codburn, Teak Armbruster, and Mrs. Cupcupboard. When the comically overloaded cast ends up at the estate of the last Sinas Cavinder to hear his will (some family friends, some domestics, money grubbers, relatives, total strangers, doctors, reporters, safari guide, lost travelers, a Cabbie looking for his fare, and at least one Gorilla), the Cavinder family secrets come out, and the Cavinder Phantom AND Cavinder Strangler wander the halls, picking off guests one by one. Will the reporters be able to save the day? Is there a 300 year-old witch fulfilling her curse? Is an escaped mental patient assuming the identity of one of the guests? Will the Cabbie get his thirty-five cents?

With an almost impossibly large cast of characters to keep track of, Blamire manages to keep the chaos reigned in for most of Dark and Stormy Night. The result is a frequently funny mystery with occasional horror touches (including nods to The Old Dark House, House on Haunted Hill, Invisible Ghost, The Haunting, The Most Dangerous Game, His Girl Friday, Great Expectations, The House of Mystery, The Haunting, and yes, Hillbillys in a Haunted House**). There are more than a few chuckles, if not outright laughs, especially from Blamire's Ray Vestinhaus, an unassuming, deadpan stranger who drops non sequiturs left and right when you least expect it.

The kills are generally stabbings, chokings, and the ironic "Safari Guide Head Mounted to the Wall" gag. Dark and Stormy Night is not surprisingly bloodless - as its antecedents were - and keeps the mystery in place until a suitably goofy conclusion that half makes sense. The only downside is that Dark and Stormy Night, like The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, tends to drag in the middle. For a 93 minute movie, it certainly feels longer than that, which hurts Dark and Stormy Night overall. If you aren't already familiar with the films Blamire is sending up, I can't imagine you'd make it through the entire film.

That said, if you've seen any of the movies listed above (or thought of half a dozen I didn't mention), and you enjoyed The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, I suspect you'll be pleased with Dark and Stormy Night. The opening and closing make up for the drag in the mid-section (starting around the 40-minute mark) and while not every joke works, more than enough will keep you chuckling all the way through.

As for the Cap'n, I look forward to watching it again, possibly as a Horror Fest supplementary film, and once I can locate a copy of The Lost Skeleton Returns Again, I look forward to reviewing that for you. And Trail of the Screaming Forehead, which sounds like something worth looking into.



* Honestly, I'm willing to include such disparate films as Murder By Death and The Haunting in this category. ** At least, that's where I choose to draw the gorilla from. Oh, sure, House of Mystery is 33 years older, blah blah blah. Hillbillys in a Haunted House. Get used to it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Blogorium Review: Monsturd

"Cap'n, you watched a movie called Monsturd?!"

Sometimes, gang, you eat the bear. Sometimes, the bear eats you. The Cap'n had been gently prodded in the direction of watching the movie Monsturd for a few months by Professor Murder, and despite my normal inclination and enthusiasm for "trash cinema", I'd held off on seeing it for one reason. You see, in the past people have suggested that the Cap'n will watch literally anything. I've mentioned this before when explaining that there are, in fact, movies I do not have any inclination of seeing (The Human Centipede, AvP:R, The Back-Up Plan, and Avatar for varying reasons).

It gets hard to defend this case when in the last month, I willingly paid money to see Predators, The Expendables, and Piranha 3-D. One Inception does not outweigh three movies that are at best an uphill battle in justifying. Did I enjoy all four movies? In different ways, certainly. Do I really want to get in a "high art" vs. "low art" debate again? Well, not yet; I'm saving that for next week. Am I perfectly willing to admit that by the standards of "high" and "low" even within the genre that Piranha 3-D or The Expendables are not going to be the "top" of their respective lists? Pretty much.

Look, I could point to a dozen reviews in the archives that aren't movies I'd have to fight to get you interested in. I could point to another dozen reviews of truly shitty movies. The Cap'n can do both, and I probably should review more of the "good" movies I've seen. But in the spirit of "pun intended," they don't get much shittier than Monsturd.

After a smidgen of "frame narrative" involving a frightened daughter who can't sleep telling her father a "scary bedtime story", we're introduced to Butte County, California, where Dutech Industries is experimenting with genetic material when all goes horribly awry. Dr. Stern (Dan Burr) decides to dump some of his highly volatile concoction into the sewer system, not long after Butte County prisoner / serial killer Jack Schmidt (Brad Dosland) has escaped. When Schmidt falls into a mixture of waste and the volatile concoction, he becomes the Monsturd, a creature capable of sneaking into people's houses through their toilets and continuing to murder (plus leave terrible puns smeared in feces all over their bathroom). Can Sherriff Duncan (Paul Weiner) and his deputies (writer/directors Dan West and Rick Popko), along with FBI Agent Hannigan (Beth West) stop Schmidt / Monsturd before Dr. Stern uses the mutant to his own evil ends?

Yeah, Monsturd is that kind of movie. In addition to being in Butte County, or naming the evil corporation Dutech, or even having a villain named Jack Schmidt, Monsturd manages to throw in just about every terrible and obvious scatological joke or pun you can think of. There's another character named Johnny Waters (get it? John Water! Ha!) and the cops get their coffee at the Morning Due Cafe (actually a real place according to the credits). If there's a cheap poop joke, don't think that West and Popko avoid it.

In all fairness, Dan West and Rick Popko made a reasonably watchable slasher movie with next to no budget. What little budget they did have was spent on the alternately cheap and disgusting Monsturd suit, which is constantly dripping brown liquid on its victims and generally pulls off the impression of a shit monster on camera. If I hadn't already seen Dogma, the Cap'n would hope he'd never have to write that last sentence, but the Monsturd is actually probably grosser than Kevin Smith's Golgothan. Talk is cheap, and a picture is worth a thousand words, so here's the Monsturd at its absolute cheapest, but it gives you some idea how gross the effect is when dripping... ugh.


When I say most of the budget went to the Monsturd suit, I can prove it by showing you folks the opening shot of the film, which is the house our frame story takes place in:


and for good measure, here's the alternate poster artwork, which does suggest how gross a shit monster could look:


I'm not proud saying that Monsturd was at least better than most of the DTV horror films I've seen, even if it is the weaker half of a Thankskilling / Monsturd double feature. I chuckled a few times, was pretty grossed out by the Monsturd kills, and groaned a lot. It's definitely an acquired taste, and maybe not as corny or as shitty as the Cap'n wants to make it out to be (see what I did there?), even if the heroes fill Supersoakers with Pepto Bismol and put diapers on as protective armor (don't get me started on the "millions of flies" that a scientist delivers in a dog carrier).

Could it be enjoyed? Maybe by some of the hardcore horror fans I know that have a tolerance for the combination of "very low budget" and "bad jokes involving fecal matter," and there are maybe two of you out there. So check it out, but don't tell anybody you did. Don't make the same mistake the Cap'n did...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Video Daily Double (with 80% less Star Wars)

Yes, dear readers, the Cap'n did say "80%" less Star Wars. Normally, after two consecutive weeks, I'd say "!00%" less Star Wars, but our second video clip contains just a smidge of A New Hope, and my own perverse sense of humor is leading me to keep the Lucas quotient up for a bit. On the other hand, if you find the second video in any way funny (and not totally dated - already), then it'll make sense why Star Wars gets a hat trick in the Video Daily Double.

Popular consensus is making it clear that I will, begrudgingly, actually write the words "Blogorium Review: Monsturd" on Thursday. The upside is it may be the first time anyone ever reviewed Monsturd (just kidding, and here's the proof). I shall endeavor to do justice to the Monsturd experience.

On to the videos!

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Both videos today involve some audio trickery in order to turn one film into another.

Our first video weds a series of movies that the Cap'n doesn't really like with a recent movie I didn't see (and by this weekend's receipts, neither did most of you). In all likelihood, this will be the last time I mention Scott Pilgrim vs. The World in the Blogorium:



Our second video is.... well, I don't care how late to the party this is. With a YouTube title like "Mel Gibson: Script Doctor," and increasingly well selected clips, the Cap'n is happy to be behind the comedy zeitgeist:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

From the Vaults: Blogorium Review - Equinox

(Return to) Equinox: A Journey (Back) Into the Supernatural


Weird times call for weird movies, so in a movie that makes sense only to the Cap'n, I gravitated back to Equinox: A Journey into the Supernatural.

Once upon a time, I wrote this about it:

Equinox: A Journey Into the Supernatural is a very interesting film...

wait.

let's take that back a step. It would be a great film if it weren't for the actors, who often deliver stilted dialogue that just barely matches their lips and sounds like it was recorded in someone's bathroom.

That being said, the premise and much of the execution of Dennis Muren and Mark McGee's 1967 movie is very promising. They set things up quickly and try their damndest to keep things interesting until a kicker of an ending, and the idea of a book that unleashes demons from hell is always fertile ground to explore. (speaking of which, the thought that Sam Raimi hadn't seen this movie before he made The Evil Dead is right up there with Terry Gilliam never having read 1984 before making Brazil)

In a nutshell, four (presumably) college age students are headed to a party up in the mountains, and decide to visit one of their professor's in his cabin, only to discover a mysterious castle and a book that monsters really want to get their hands on. But it's wrapped up in such a way that the frame story brings the dread fast and pays off in a way that must've seemed very clever in 1967.

Muren has much love for King Kong and Ray Harryhausen, and he cooks up some pretty impressive stop motion beasties to populate the set pieces, as well as a practical but very cool vision of the afterlife and hell. Knowing what he's done since certainly doesn't hurt matters, but as a start this was pretty keen.

This is not to say the movie's a-ok, cast aside. It could stand to be twenty
minutes shorter, and it's only 71 minutes as is. Inordinate amounts of time are spent with our four leads saying "you're probably right" or "that sounds best" after questioning the thing they were going to do in the first place. The middle of the movie would be best served by some tightening, but for a first timer, the promise outweighs the stumbling blocks.

Of course, this is assuming audiences ever saw Muren and McGee's version. See, they sold it to Jack Harris, the B-Movie producer who made The Blob a hit, and he sat on it for three years, before hiring Jack Woods to recut and reshoot parts of the film and release it as Equinox in 1970.

So how is the Jack Woods cut of Equinox?

Awful. Unbearably terrible, and missing everything that works about the
original. For one thing, they felt audiences wouldn't be able to follow the movie, so at every opportunity, there's voice-over or ADR to explain every mundane plot point until it's readily apparent what's going to happen. This is ignoring the new footage, of course, which also serves the purpose of explaining plot points, and replacing the central plot about the book's power and replacing it with Director Jack Woods playing as wizard named Asmodeus who exists in the movie only so the director could molest his female lead.

The cast does their best to blend old and new footage together, and since they don't appear to improved as thespians, you generally don't care. But by condensing the opening and losing much of the location and dread, the movie derails any payoff later, and instead changes the ending into "bad guy chases the kids" and dulls the impact of the final shot. Oh, and the voiceovers... Yeesh!

Criterion's done a nice job with both cuts of the film, with the 1970 cut looking the better of the two. The newer footage stands out over the original material, but overall it isn't as rough as the 1967 version, which suffers from heavy print damage and what looks like three or four scenes culled from a beaten up VHS version of the movie. That being said, they're both perfectly
watchable, provided you're interested in this kind of thing
.

I agree with most of this, but will add the following caveats having listened to the commentary:

1) I hadn't realized that the movie was made on 16mm film stock and shot silent. This explains a) the lack of overlapping dialogue and b) why the audio sounds so strange. Most of it stays close to the script but was likely ADR'd in less than ideal conditions. The movie does get props for using a theremin though.

2) The pacing can be wildly erratic. Since they only had 30 seconds worth of film for each shot, the editing is actually pretty good, although Muren admits that "if I had been able to, I would have removed one or two frames from the beginning and ending of each scene".

Still, the opening moves at a pretty quick pace and sets up a mystery you'd like to know more about. Unfortunately, it takes a long time (in a short movie) to get back to the monsters. Once the stop motion gets kicking again, the relatively young filmmakers do keep things well integrated and it is fun. That second act just drags a bit much.

3) While I still think that The Evil Dead perhaps unconsciously borrows from Equinox, the co-writer admits the "book from hell" came from Jacques Tourneur's Night of the Demon. I suppose that all of this could have been floating around in the ether when Sam Raimi headed to Tennessee, but Equinox and Evil Dead share a number of intertextual links, and as the "Dead" series go on, it adds onto the "professor in the cabin unleashes a book of the dead" with a frame story (Army of Darkness) and more stop motion monsters (Dead by Dawn). The "other dimension" sequence also visually presupposes Phantasm by almost ten years.

4) The Jack Woods cut / extended version is as sleazy now as it was when I reviewed it the first time. One gets the impression Woods was trying to mimick the Roger Corman "cheapie" formula but got mixed up. There's none of the T&A but all of the lecherous older man on younger woman action. In that regard it's a little more like the Al Adamson films of the 70s. It takes away some of the punch of "a dimension you shouldn't meddle with" by adding Woods' sorcerer character to boot, but no one says you have to watch it. The picture is just better.

It's fun to go back to something you reviewed two and a half years ago and take what you've learned in the interim. Equinox is unfortunately not the kind of movie that would work in a "group" atmosphere, ala Horror Fest, because of its erratic pacing. It is, however, enjoyable to watch by yourself if you have a soft spot for home-made horror.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Teaser for a Review I Hope Never to Write...

Forgive the Cap'n for a lack of posting today, but I just couldn't find it in me to subject you folks to a review of Monsturd. I know; I'm not proud of myself, but in order to talk Professor Murder into watching Thankskilling, Monsturd was part of the package.

If there's actually a demand for it, I might reverse this decision and write one up on Thursday. Surely someone is interested in a movie featuring the cheapest / most disgusting shit monster in horror history and really weak crap related puns, right?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Unnecessary Sequel Trailer Sunday!


F/X 2


Piranha 2: The Spawning


More American Graffiti


Queen Kong


Another Stakeout


Dinocroc vs. Supergator


The Lost Skeleton Returns Again!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Blogorium Double Feature Review: Piranha and Piranha 3-D

Designed to be a Jaws-ripoff, Piranha has the benefit of fond memories on the part(s) of kids who saw it on TV during the 1980s. It doesn't hurt that producer Roger Corman, screenwriter John Sayles, and director Joe Dante are held in high esteem among geek culture, so 1978's Piranha tends to get a "pass" without much need for revisitation. After watching the film again yesterday (for the first time in years), I'm afraid that the Cap'n is going to have to be the Grumpy Gus that ruins that nostalgic glow.

The story is reasonably simple: after two teenagers (Roger Richman and Janie Squire) go missing, "skip tracer" Maggie McKeown (Heather Menzies) is sent to find them along a mountain stream. She enlists the help of hermit Paul Grogan (Bradford Dillman) and unwittingly sets loose a pack of genetically modified piranha from a disused military base. Warned by Dr. Robert Hoak (Kevin McCarthy) of the danger these piranha pose to the summer camp and water park downstream, Maggie, Paul, and Hoak travel in a homemade raft in a race against time to stop the piranha.

They're blocked in their efforts by the military - including Colonel Waxman (Bruce Gordon) and fish expert Dr. Mengers (Barbara Steele) - local police, and overbearing camp director Dumont (Paul Bartel), as well as the impending opening of the Aquarena, a water park on the other side of the dam. The piranha are moving all over the place, and seem to always be right ahead (or behind) our heroes, who take a while to get where they're going (reasons why are not limited to being arrested, being held in a military camp, being stuck on the raft, and driving through town in stolen vehicles).

It isn't that Piranha is awful by any means; it's just that for a movie about killer piranha, there's surprisingly little killing, and between the (mostly off-screen) kills, there are long stretches where people wander around, or where the audience is continually introduced to new characters (this happens at least six times in the last thirty minutes).

Mind you, the characters are mostly worth keeping up with, it's just that the ones introduced near the end (particularly Dick Miller's Buck Gardner) don't actually do much but stand around during the chaos. I could understand if Miller's sleazy businessman (who insists on opening the Aquarena water park despite warnings of impending piranha attacks) got more comeuppance than wandering around, dazed, after the massacre, but that doesn't happen.

Considering the three main names behind the camera (Dante, Sayles, and Corman) one would expect Piranha to be a) funnier, b) more subversive, or c) more titillating than it is. There's a handful of exposed breasts, two or three good gore shots, and the occasional shot at authority, but more often than not there's a lot of chatter and very little piranha action. Almost all of the kills take place underwater, so the audience is left with shots of blood bubbling up from below the surface, punctuated with a stop-motion or puppet piranha every now and then.

There are weird touches, like an air-breathing fish with legs that sneaks around Hoak's lab for no reason (while the camera continually cuts away to the stop motion creature, it serves no purpose in the narrative), or an animated shot of a piranha opening its eye when the teenagers dangle their fingers in a military test pool (the best place to go skinny dipping!).

On the whole, though, Piranha is a bit of a patience test when one considers that it comes from the producer of Death Race 2000, Humanoids from the Deep, Rock N Roll High School, and Galaxy of Terror. It has enough going for it not to be terrible, but Piranha is certainly slower than your expect (or remember) it being. There's a lot of waiting for something to happen and not enough happening to in Piranha, which keeps it from being better than it could be. While it's watchable, even if purely for nostalgic reasons, you might want to consider checking it out yourself before inviting over the gang.

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Piranha 3-D, on the other hand, wastes no time on giving the audience what it came for: nudity and gore, at first alternating but eventually combining them. If the Aquarena in Piranha was the set piece for carnage, the Wet T-Shit contest elevates it to grand guignol levels: gallons of blood, missing limbs, porn stars cut in half, faces ripped off by boat engines, an Eli Roth head explosion, and more than one back torn open (an image lifted directly from the original).

Sensing that audiences wouldn't have the patience for long sequences of chatter, punctuated with the occasional suggested piranha death, Alexandre Aja packs the 89 minute running time of Piranha 3-D with the cgi devils, chomping, stalking, and tormenting an exponentially larger crowd of college students. And of course, this time they deserve it; compare to the Aquarena, Lake Victoria (joke no doubt intended) may as well be Sodom, and the ancient piranha a wrath visited upon Spring Break co-eds.

The truth is that Piranha 3-D falls somewhere between the realm of Skinemax and USA Up All Night and doesn't aspire to do much more. Oh sure, there's the proverbial "bone"s thrown to horror theorists: a strong female protagonist (Elisabeth Shue), semi-defined character types (more on this in a second), and a not-even-implied castration of Joe Francis-esque Derrick Jones (Jerry O'Connell). While it's not my favorite castration related joke in a horror movie (that still belongs to Black Sheep), the Cap'n can say with certainty that he's never had a 3-D severed member spit in his direction before Piranha 3-D.

Speaking of which, the post-conversion 3-D is put to reasonably good use. The abundant nudity and gore gets the lion's share of "third dimension"-ing, but there are also a handful of very nice underwater perspective shots that benefit from a better sense of depth. Most people will point you in the direction of the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan-esque all nude underwater sequence featuring Kelly Brook and Riley Steele, but that should give you a very good idea who the target audience for Piranha 3-D is: thirteen year old boys. Unfortunately, I have no idea how they're supposed to sneak into the movie without 3-D glasses.

While the film delivers on the gratudity and gore, there's not much in the way of character development. Most members of the cast don't even have time to be "types", since the film is in such a hurry to get to the piranha gone amok action. Richard Dreyfuss barely registers in a cameo before he's fishmeat, and Christopher Lloyd has two scenes to make an impression (which, admittedly, he does). There's a lot of talking and not much character development, which some might argue is the point in a movie like Piranha 3-D, but if that's the case, why even suggest that Danni (Kelly Brook) might be competition for Kelly (Jessica Szohr) in winning Jake (Steven McQueen)'s affections? Danni actually turns out to be one of the more decent characters in Derrick Jones' entourage, so when she (is this even a SPOILER) dies late into the picture, it's slightly more surprising than it should be. Adam Scott, Ving Rhames, and Elisabeth Shue do a lot of reacting and riding around, and there are at least two more deputies that simply show up during the Wet T-Shirt massacre.

I sense that lots of Piranha 3-D is sitting in storage somewhere, waiting for an UNRATED release on home video. Not that the film feels like it's holding back, but there are clearly scenes in the trailer that aren't in the movie as it was released. Unless I missed something, Paul Scheer's character disappears completely from the movie without explanation, and Ving Rhames' death left a lot to be desired. It seems like the mantra (probably from Aja) was to keep it short so it doesn't wear out its welcome like the original Piranha did.

To that end, Piranha 3-D is exactly what it sets out to be: dumb fun. It won't change the world or make you feel better about yourself (unless you're a teenage boy watching Piranha 3-D on home video) but it's not even trying to be high art. I hate the term "critic proof", but a movie like Piranha 3-D isn't something you're going to win people over to seeing or scare them away from. Either they were on board from the get-go or it's a lost cause. Those inclined to enjoy its dumb pleasures will have a field day with the last minute, "holy shit that's the end of the movie?" sequel tease, which may or may not ever come. As it stands, it's a great way to close out Piranha 3-D, which has the good sense not to stop once it gets rolling, a mistake Piranha made more than once.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Snark

The Cap'n is going to keep this very brief because a) I haven't seen Scott Pilgrim vs. The World*, and b) I've already spent the better part of Thursday reading blogs, Facebook posts, internet analysts, and reviewers get into why it doesn't matter that Scott Pilgrim made 10.5 million dollars in its opening weekend, because The Expendables will be forgotten and isn't any good blah blah blah.

Everybody who reads this already knows how I feel about The Expendables (in short: it's a good but not great movie that was entertaining and mostly achieved what it set out to do), and you've already seen how I reacted to the dismissive or quasi-disappointed reviews. You also know that I frequently make jokes about the way that Box Office performance equates to the quality of a film, and on occasion have stuck up for movies that I didn't feel like got a fair shake**. So I get where people are coming from.

That being said, there is a very simple reason that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World came in fifth last weekend (not third, which is how some people are framing it, as though The Expendables and Eat, Pray, Love were the only movies Pilgrim came in behind. The Other Guys and Inception were third and fourth, respectively): the vocal contingent online didn't go see the movie. It's that simple. That could always change in the coming weeks (I mean, Avatar didn't light the world up in its first weekend), but people didn't turn out to see the greatest movie this year (etc). Period.

And to be clear about something, this is not a movie where exposure was strictly online; until last Friday, TV viewers were bombarded with ads for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. At least three times during practically every show I watched last week (and that includes Futurama, Louie, Sportscenter, That Metal Show, and Man vs. Food, so it's not strictly "geek"-centric) there was an ad for Scott Pilgrim. There was an 8-foot standee at the Regal 14 in Santa Fe, and posters everywhere. It's not like folks didn't know this movie was coming out August 13th. They simply chose not to see it.

Frankly, the Cap'n was surprised: I fully expected that when we went to see The Expendables on Friday night that we'd be in the less crowded theatre. It sure seemed like every other person we saw in line was going to see Scott Pilgrim, but I guess that wasn't the case.

I'm fine with people speaking out on Scott Pilgrim's behalf. What I don't really like is people shitting all over the competition (not necessarily the article in question, but the comments to be sure) because the movie "underperformed" - and believe me, the studio is looking at it that way, even if the fans aren't. I've lamented many a film in the past that "underperformed" - Grindhouse, MacGruber, Crank: High Voltage, and Serenity, but I try not to blame it the other movies (the glaring example is in the footnotes). I have, in the past, ribbed fans of Watchmen and Kick-Ass or lamented the (to me) inexplicable popularity of Transformers and Friday the 13th, but there's a simple rule that wins the day: if people don't go to see a movie, however good or "groundbreaking" it is, and it was marketed out the wazoo, people are going to ask "Why?"

Instead of being unhappy that Scott Pilgrim vs. The World didn't "perform" as well as four other movies last weekend and accordingly bad-mouthing the other films (especially The Expendables, which is its own punching bag for other reasons), do something about it. Go see the movie this weekend. Tell all of your friends and take them to see it. Look, the Cap'n HATED Kick-Ass, and I may have relished a bit too much that nobody went to see it, but I openly admit that it has a devoted fan base of people who are buying it on DVD and Blu Ray, and I myself saw the light about Drag Me to Hell and couldn't be happier that it found its audience on home video.

In short, it's time for some tough love: stop your whining and do something about it. If you think Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is the best thing since sliced bread, mobilize your readers and excite your friends about the movie. Fans of Avatar did it, so surely you can too. Just don't ask the Cap'n to join, because I think I'll be watching Piranha 3-D this weekend, and I'm really not in the mood to hear about how that movie is "inferior" to Scott Pilgrim if you don't get off of your asses and put your enthusiasm to good use.


p.s. Just so the Cap'n is not accused of simply "making this up," I refer you to a handful of post-mortems or reviews, including a discussion thread from referring to MTV's article, a much more reasonably disappointed reaction from someone who watched both films, the DVD release list page from Ain't It Cool News where Harry bemoans the success of Miley Cyrus' The Last Song compared to Scott Pilgrim, C.H.U.D.'s review and box-office take on Scott Pilgrim, and Vern's review of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, which directly addresses Hitfix, Ain't It Cool News, and C.H.U.D. I also recommend you check out comments, forums, and talkback areas, including the Hitfix one listed above to see what the general fan reaction is.

* I like Edgar Wright. I like everything I've seen Edgar Wright make, including Shaun of the Dead, Spaced, Hot Fuzz, "Don't", and the student film he made that's an extra on Hot Fuzz. Nothing about Scott Pilgrim makes me want to see the movie, despite the above sentence.
** For example, I gave the Zac Efron vehicle 17 Again some guff for beating out Crank: High Voltage, even though there's honestly no reason to be surprised that happened.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Another Video Daily Double from a Galaxy Far, Far Away

As I promised on Monday, here's the final Blu Ray release news (which you more than likely already know): the Star Wars films will make their high definition debut in 2011. Since almost everybody who cares is going to ask, no that does not include the original, unfettered cuts of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

Quoth the Lucas:

“You have to go through and do a whole restoration on it, and you have to do that digitally,” he added. “It’s a very, very expensive process to do it. So when we did the transfer to digital, we only transferred really the upgraded version.”

“We’ve been working on them for quite a while,” Mr. Lucas said, “but still, there are pipelines. Unfortunately, the recent releases get priority over what we call the classic versions of things.”

Do I smell a double dip? Eh, probably, but this time Lucas is at least suggesting that the "classic versions" will get a better shake than their last DVD outing. Still, don't hold your breath, kiddos.

On the other hand, the Blu Ray set is finally going to have the deleted scenes we've been hearing about for years, including a few a Star Wars geek like the Cap'n didn't know existed...

Enough of the boring crap, they say! Make with the videos, they say!

As you wish.
---

Our first video has the clever idea of presenting The Empire Strikes Back as a silent film, and it actually works in a way I wasn't expecting. At first, the Cap'n thought this would be some kind of "premake" trailer (see the Ghostbusters trailer for that, or, for that matter, The Empire Strikes Back), but it's exactly what is promised. Check it out, I think you'll like it:



Our second clip has already been pulled down various times after making the rounds this weekend, but what the hell. It's the deleted opening for Return of the Jedi, involving Vader's meditative link to Luke and the oft-discussed "building the lightsaber" scene. Enjoy it while it lasts:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

From the Vaults: Blogorium Review - Igor

The cruelest thing you can say about a movie is that it's inconsequential. There are a lot of ways to damn a film with faint praise, but the harshest one I can think of is to say that all of the effort behind the camera amounts to something that's neither really good or really bad: instead, it's of no consequence.

It takes a degree of passion to love or to hate a movie. Even to like or dislike something means the film had some impact on you. You remembered it enough to give it a pass or warn others to steer clear. I have a handful of those coming along later this week, but there are movies that just have no impact on you at all. The instantly forgettable films that litter the closet of your mind, gathering dust in the corner.

Sadly, Igor is such a film. That bums me out to say it because clearly the makers of the film had their heart in the right place. Igor is trying to be to classic horror stories what Kung Fu Panda is to chop sockey films: a gateway for kids. But where Panda succeeds, Igor merely lumbers along, faintly entertaining until it ends.

Part of the problem is that you can tell a story about Kung Fu and still be "kid friendly" while appealing to adults. Igor is trying to strike the balance between scaring children (something they love, by the way) and still playing it safe enough so that parents won't turn the movie off. And it plays it a little too safe. The fights in Kung Fu Panda have consequences for the characters. Igor may be the tamest movie to feature a suicidal rabbit and a brain in a jar, and that does it no favors in the long run.

On paper, the story sounds pretty good: in the country of Malaria, Mad Scientists spend all year working on evil creations and then show them off in front of the world as ransom ("Pay us or we'll unleash them on you"). You're either born a peasant, a scientist, or an Igor. Since Igors are the lowest class, they only exist to help the mad scientists and to be recycled into spare parts. One Igor (John Cusack) has dreams of his own, and when Dr. Glickenstein, his scientist, is accidentally killed, he gets the chance to make his own "evil" creation.

Since his earlier, secret, experiments, Scamper, an immortal rabbit with a death wish and Brian/Brain, a brain in a jar with a robot arm, don't need to hide anymore, they help. Of course, since Igor isn't all evil, his ability to create life from death backfires, and Eva is born. She's sweet, and that just won't do. In the background, the evil Dr. Schaudenfreude (Eddie Izzard) is looking to take over Malaria and wants to steal Eva to do it.

It's not hard to guess how this all plays out, along with some other background details about how Malaria came to be the home of Mad Scientists or what Eva's story arc will look like. The predicability isn't the problem though. Most kids movies aren't hard to work out, and Igor throws in some nice touches about the day to day workings of Malaria, like a brain washing facility. It's just that the movie only really does enough to skate by and nothing more.

Nobody in the cast is doing anything wrong either: John Cusack gives the title character that "everyman" he brings to all of his roles, and Steve Buscemi is fine as Scamper, the aforementioned bunny who can't die because he's immortal. The rest of the cast does so well that I honestly didn't recognize the voices of Sean Hayes, John Cleese, Jennifer Coolidge, Christian Slater, Arsenio Hall, Jay Leno, or Molly Shannon. In fact, I had no idea Molly Shannon was playing Eva until the credits rolled.

Have you noticed how much of this is just recap? I can't honestly thing of things that sway me one way or the other about Igor. The budget was clearly pretty low, since there are times where Dr. Schaudenfreude's face doesn't move at all, other than his mouth. I liked the tiny references to movies like Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and The Fly, but ultimately Igor is just inconsequential. I can't imagine ever wanting or needing to see it again and a mere 24 hours later I'm already forgetting the movie.

It's damning, but true: some movies amount to nothing. There's nothing particularly wrong with Igor, nor is there anything particularly right. Their hearts were in the right place, but the movie doesn't work. It's just "meh", and that bums me out. I could've done something more productive with my time, even if it was a movie I hated. Such a shame...


Thoughts from 2010: Another way to look at Igor is to compare it directly with Monsters vs. Aliens, which is the Science Fiction equivalent of the film. Both are relatively entertaining while you're watching them, but utterly forgettable hours later. It's not that they're doing anything wildly wrong, it's merely that the end result is so formulaic that they fail to be the genre deconstructions they set out to be.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Releases, Announcements, and Things of That Nature

I usually put up reviews on Monday of movies the Cap'n and Doctor (nee Professor) Murder saw, but since Saturday saw a review for The Expendables (and the subsequent addressing of specific criticisms directed at the film), today's entry will focus on upcoming releases of interest to all.

For example, tomorrow brings a Blu Ray release for Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet (review here), which means that for the first time since it played in theatres, it'll be possible to watch Hamlet from beginning to end without switching tapes / discs/ etc*.

Tomorrow also brings the release of season four of Dexter, something I've been trying to follow all year to no avail (streaming faltered consistently during episode three, so I'm two and a quarter episodes in). Seeing as the BIG TIME SUPER SPOILER has already been spoiled for the Cap'n (coupled with ads for No Ordinary Family that functionally sealed the deal), what remains is to figure out HOW that happened. Oh, and to see more of super creepy John Lithgow...

Moving a bit further out, Criterion announced their November releases, and it's some very exciting news:

While I'm done eating crow, Antichrist is finally on the list of Blu Rays coming out, along with The Night of the Hunter, Chaplin's Modern Times (a sign that Criterion may be slowly replacing the Warner / Mk2 releases), and a boxed set that has my attention piqued, to say the least - America Lost and Found: The BBS Story. If you've read or seen Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, you already know who Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider, and Steve Blauner are, but to folks not steeped in the move from studio controlled films to the independent spirit of the late sixties and early seventies, BBS are responsible for some of the best known "new wave" American films not coming out of AIP**.

The boxed set has seven movies, a few of which I'm familiar with and the others I've heard of. That all of them are under the Spine Number banner makes the Cap'n very happy. They are:

Head - The Monkees' psychedelic answer to A Hard Day's Night and Help!
Easy Rider
Five Easy Pieces
Drive, He Said - Jack Nicholson's directorial debut.
A Safe Place - Orson Welles, Tuesday Weld, and Jack Nicholson, directed by Henry Jaglom.
The Last Picture Show
The King of Marvin Gardens - Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, and Ellen Burstyn.

It's hard to topple a list like Antichrist, The Night of the Hunter, and Modern Times (coupled with The Thin Red Line, Paths of Glory, The Magician, Hausu, and a Blu Ray The Darjeeling Limited) but Criterion really outdid themselves with this boxed set. It's a collection of movies that existed in various forms on DVD (and Easy Rider on Blu Ray) but puts them together in a way that serves as a historical document of the "independent" movement one reads so much about. Count the Cap'n in.

Additionally, there are regular Blu Ray releases coming for Back to the Future, Apocalypse Now, The Evil Dead, The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, that massive Alien Anthology box, King Kong, the first season of The Twilight Zone, Time Bandits, Mars Attacks, Forbidden Planet, Mona Lisa, The Last of the Mohicans, The Exorcist, Psycho, Grindhouse (as one movie!), Seven, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Oh, and that announcement about next year's big Blu Ray release. I'll save that for Wednesday, when I answer the question "could he possibly do two Video Daily Double posts about the same thing???"

Stay tuned.


* technically speaking, since there was an intermission during the theatrical release where one can assume the projectionist had to switch platters (a 4 hour movie would be a massive amount of film to put on one platter), it will be the first time you can watch it beginning to end with no interruption whatsoever.
** American International Pictures is probably best associated with Samuel Arkoff, James Nicholson, and Roger Corman, and launched more careers than you can imagine. Check out a brief description via Wikipedia.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Random Shuffle" Youtube Trailer Sunday


Hannah and Her Five Sisters


Quadrophenia


Maximum Overdrive


Good Burger


The Shop Around the Corner


The Eiger Sanction


Street Trash

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Expendables post-script

I realize that it's very easy to beat up on The Expendables, for reasons mentioned in the review (there's basically no story to speak of, unless you count the Missing in Action by way of Commando story arc) and it's true that expectations are almost impossibly high for people who are going to see this (believe me, I just read a review that essentially argues the exact opposite position of what I wrote), but I still don't necessarily feel like arguing from expectation is necessarily fair. I brought up Snakes on a Plane in the review because Snakes on a Plane DOES NOT deliver on its ludicrous promise at any point in the film. It just doesn't. And I was not kind to Snakes on a Plane, but it wasn't because of the expectations, but rather from the fact that the movie was so uninteresting from beginning to end.

The Expendables has, admittedly, issues: while the car chases and intercut fights between Austin / Stallone and Li / Statham / Daniels are handled well, half of the Jet Li / Dolph Lundgren fight is a blurry mess of legs and foreground objects and Terry Crews is criminally underused (the reasonably bad acting by Randy Couture can be overlooked because of how little of the film he's in). I disagree, however, that Eric Roberts needed to play Munroe as a scenery chewing ham, or that this movie is really intended to be some kind of "send off" for the action films of yonder (or its cast, for that matter).

Since I actually know the person who wrote the aforementioned review (or at least, had a few classes with him), I'm not going to suggest that he's missing the point of the Schwarzenegger scene (which is, in fact, the "wish fulfillment" moment people assumed the running time of The Expendables was to constantly provide), or that Rourke's unfortunate speech is less about providing subtext in a ham-fisted way and more in keeping with Stallone's propensity to have one mopey speech (at least) since Rocky Balboa. Yes, it is a groaner, but I also knew it had to be there in the wake of Rambo, which balances speeches and crowd pleasing gore better. There's at least less proselytizing in The Expendables.

I also know that the reviewer is a big fan of the Crank movies - as the Cap'n is too - but where we differ is that I think they work too hard to undermine the tropes of action films in order to appear "better" than their subject manner. I brought that up in my Expendables review because Stallone isn't making a movie that's trying to be postmodern action; he's simply making an action movie that most people feel like they've outgrown. That being said, this is a theatrical extension of the so-called (and sometimes justifiably called) "inferior" DTV action film movement.

I get that it's not cool to enjoy a movie that relies on recycled tropes and that doesn't always deliver on something the ads promised ("Some movies have one action star. This movie has THEM ALL"), but it's hardly as bad as what passes itself for "action" most of the year. I get that Shoot 'Em Up, The Transporter, Crank, and the Bourne movies are where it's at now, but Rambo was as good as many of them and better than some. The Expendables may not be there, but I'll take a little irony-free action every now and then, warts and all.

Blogorium Review: The Expendables

It's been said that "action movies" should be held to a different standard than other types of films (perhaps only "horror" as a blanket genre is given the same carte blanche in terms of excuses made for the relative comparisons to "other films"), and even the Cap'n will admit that a movie like The Expendables isn't something you're going to have an easy time comparing to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Eat, Pray, Love (it's competition this weekend). You can't even really compare it to an action movie disguised as sci-fi high art (Inception) or the typical "summer blockbuster" like Iron Man 2. It just doesn't work that way.

While I could compare The Expendables to Predators, I'm not going to for one simple reason: The Expendables isn't a sequel. It isn't a remake. It's not even necessarily an homage to the bygone era of 80s "machismo" films. It is a type of action movie that isn't necessarily made anymore, mostly because studios don't generally think audiences want an action movie that isn't dripping with irony or swimming in Looney Tunes physics. The Expendables is shamelessly "old school" while feeling essentially timeless. This movie - save for one joke make at Arnold Schwarzenegger's expense - could take place just about any time.

Normally speaking, you know that I don't go easy on movies that adhere to a formula without some kind of fresh take, and while Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables doesn't do anything new (at all) with the "action movie" formula, Sly came up with a better way of keeping things exciting: including as many of the biggest names from various "guy" arenas as he could in one movie.

Action movies generally fall into one of two categories: "men on a mission" (typified in something like The Dirty Dozen or Predator) or the "one man killing force" (Commando, Die Hard, They Live, Escape from New York). Occasionally, there's such a thing as the "team up" variant, usually a variation on the "buddy cop" Lethal Weapon / 48 Hours formula (The Last Boy Scout is a good example, or to a degree Universal Soldier), but The Expendables does something a little different. It's a hybrid of the first two, taking the "men on a mission" frame but granting every main character the indestructibility of a "one man killing force." In that regard, The Expendables is a total misnomer for this movie; despite the fact that that's the name of the team, (SPOILER) every single character introduced in the "pirate" sequence lives to the end of the movie.

So yes, you could (and should) call this movie The Indestructables, but it doesn't really matter. The appeal of The Expendables is seeing a movie that joins Sylvester Stallone with Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, former UFC light heavyweight champion Randy Couture, Terry Crews, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Eric Roberts, Gary Daniels, and Mickey Rourke. Oh yeah, and then there's that scene with Sly, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

That's the core of the cast, filled out with Dexter's David Zayas as General Garza, the leader of a fictitious South American country (and puppet of Eric Roberts' ex-CIA agent Munroe), Giselle ItiƩ as Garza's daughter, who helps The Expendables get into Vilena, and Angel's Charisma Carpenter as a love interest for Lee Christmas (Statham). Oh, and Lee Christmas isn't even the best name of the team: there's Mickey Rourke's Tool, Couture's Toll Road, Jet Li's Ying Yang, and my personal favorite - Terry Crews' Hale Caesar.

And at this point I should have chased away every person who wasn't going to see The Expendables from the moment they heard about it. Like Predators and the upcoming Machete, The Expendables is appealing to a male demographic anywhere between 15 and "old enough to have seen Predator in college." The story is just this simple: mercenary Barney Ross (Stallone) and The Expendables finish a mission, return to hang out at Tool's tattoo parlor and await their next mission. The mysterious Mr. Church (Willis) hires them to take out General Garza, Munroe, and their goons. And they do it.

I don't have to tell you anything else because when I explained "The Indestructables" concept, you know exactly what happens from there on out, so the only question left is "does it deliver?"

Yes it does. Many of the negative reviews of The Expendables focus on what the movie should have been rather than what it is. Of course it would be "cool" to see 103 minutes of carnage and explosions, just like it would be nice to see Samuel L. Jackson fight some muthafuckin' snakes on a muthafuckin' plane, but that's not what we get. In The Expendables' case, there's precedent for that not to happen, even if everyone assumed it would. There is carnage (oh goodness, and when there's carnage it delivers in spades) but the kind of movie The Expendables fits into has breaks in between the action and gore.

Every single one of them has as much (if not more) downtime between action scenes, and that includes the dumbest, loudest, and beloved-est (by the Cap'n anyway) of them all, Commando. Yes, he takes out an entire army by himself, but first Arnold has to figure out where his daughter is and how to get there. People tend to forget this and focus on the puns and one-liners, but you can go down the line and find the same amount of "bonding" or "guys talking" in any of the 80s action movies that The Expendables is invariably compared to.

Honestly, the movie works because of the meshing of styles. You have your 80s and 90s action icons teaming up with a Hong Kong martial arts legend, the best of the "new breed" of action stars (and Jason Statham is that to be sure) a UFC legend, a WWE Superstar, former stars turned DTV staples that got a second career wind (Roberts, Rourke), and Terry Crews, who appears in more comedy than action films but oozes charisma (no pun intended to Charisma Carpenter, who is just fine in a role that exists so that Statham can beat up six guys on a basketball court).

You get clashes of styles that no one really thought they'd see: Jet Li fighting Dolph Lundgren, Sly and Steve Austin having a beat-down, Randy Couture and Austin wrestling, Statham in a knife throwing contest with Mickey Rourke, and Terry Crews cleaning out rooms with a shotgun that fires explosive rounds. All the bases are covered: car chases, throat slicing, neck snapping, kung fu smackdowns, bodies blown to pieces, and of course, the Sylvester Stallone post-Rocky V trademark - a speech about losing your humanity because of the job (delivered by Mickey Rourke this time).

Nothing might actually top the three-way "macho" fest between Stallone, Willis, and Schwarzenegger, though. Stallone shoots the sequence like a Sergio Leone showdown, and each manly man of the Planet Hollywood trifecta refuses to give ground to the other one, resulting in one liners, stare-downs, and a sneaky acknowledgment of Arnold's political aspirations that generated the biggest laugh in the entire film. The only thing that comes close is a scene between Dolph Lundgren (who has quite a good performance in the film) and Steve Austin, two guys that I wouldn't want to be on the "bad" side of.

I will set a few things straight though: Terry Crews and Randy Couture are barely in The Expendables. There's a reason that Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, and Jet Li are listed before the title and everybody else comes afterward: Couture and Crews are in the beginning of the movie and the end of the movie, and that's it. Mickey Rourke and Steve Austin are in more of the film than the last two-fifths of The Expendables. Don't expect much more than Statham or Stallone in the protagonist on-screen ratio for the first half of the film. When Jet Li joins in as a main character, he gets a chance to shine, but even that's second fiddle to the co-leads.

And to address some of the "where was ____?", I'll just say that there's nowhere that Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal would have fit in The Expendables that I saw. There's not really a role for either of them that'd make sense, even if JCVD had Jet Li's role (which is of "the short guy," and wouldn't have been as funny with the "Muscles from Brussels"). Stallone mentioned that he reached out to Kurt Russell, James Woods, Ben Kingsley, Forrest Whitaker, 50 Cent, and Danny Trejo, and that things didn't work out for various reasons. While I have no idea if there will be a sequel to the film, the ending certainly leaves things open enough to include more former members, new members, or rivals in another installment, so who knows.

By now all the Cap'n can do is help swing your decision to see it one way or the other. "Serious" reviewers (of which I clearly can't be for my taste in horror and action films) are going to scoff at anybody recommending this that isn't pouring a six-pack down their throat and butting heads as a greeting, but if you have an inclination for an action film that's not going to drive you crazy with badly edited fight scenes or feel the need to undermine itself whenever possible, or just an honest to goodness action movie with people who look like they could do the ridiculous things demanded of them, The Expendables will be the breath of fresh air you need.

Stallone doesn't re-invent the wheel, but he puts a frame around it that keeps you interested for an hour and forty five minutes that brings some of the best names together and doesn't insult you for buying a ticket. Is it comfort food for guys in the same way that Eat, Pray, Love is for gals and Scott Pilgrim is for geeks? Yeah, but at least it's good comfort food for a change. Even if there aren't any puns (that I can remember).