The Expendables 3 Movie Review 0 92

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The surprising or unsurprising success, depending on how you look at it, of The Expendables back in 2010 meant that sequels were inevitable. While it was never exactly a classic entry into the much-loved genre, the first film found at least some of the right notes to keep action movie junkies happy and begging for more. They followed that with the overly self-aware The Expendables 2, which toned down the on-screen goriness of the action and increased success at the box office as a result of not only building on the first one’s popularity, but also opening it up to a wider (and younger) audience.

Now the gang have returned for a third – but presumably not final – installment in the “geri-action” franchise. The result is no less bombastic than you might expect, but something feels off this time around. It’s neither as bloody as the first one nor as tirelessly self-referential as the second, but rather feels curiously flat and lacking in verve.

The plot follows the group of ageing mercenaries, led by Sylvester Stallone’s snarling Barney Ross, as they come face-to-face with an old friend-turned-foe and arms dealer, the ruthless Conrad Stonebank (Mel Gibson), co-founder of the team way back in the day whom Barney thought he’d killed. Stonebank plans to wipe out the remaining members of the team, so Barney decides to recruit some new, younger blood to help stop him.

It’s an effectively straightforward plot, at least compared to the plutonium and kidnapping nonsense of last time. It should have been a simple layout for some entertainingly over-the-top and, in spite of the age of some of the cast, energetic action to show that you’re never too old to mow down a bunch of bad guys with a giant machine gun. The trouble is the cast just don’t seem to have any passion for the material this time around, almost like they’re getting too old for this crap and really don’t care anymore (surely not!).

Along with most of the usual cast members including Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and Terry Crews, we have some new – or rather old – recruits to add to the list of people we remember from other things coming together to kick ass and take names. As the posters have kept reminding us, the film is packed to the brim with famous, and not-so-famous, action heroes. Unfortunately much of the cast is wasted, particularly Wesley Snipes who has a fair bit to do in the first act when the team bust him out of custody aboard a moving freight train, but disappears into the background for most of the rest.

Antonio Banderas seems to think he’s in some sort of pantomime as he leaps around and incessantly chatters. Kelsey Grammer and Jet Li might as well not have turned up. Gibson is basically a giant blade and a space station away from being his character in Machete Kills. Arnold Schwarzenegger, to be fair, seems to be having more fun than most of the others -though he’s provided better action renaissance in other recent films like The Last Stand and Sabotage. The newly added younger cast members, including Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, Victor Ortiz and MMA fighter Ronda Rousey are extremely forgettable. And as for Harrison Ford, who practically replaces Bruce Willis, he looks utterly bored throughout. “This is the most fun I’ve had in years,” he utters at one point, putting him firmly in the running for least convincing line delivery of the year.

Whereas the first two had a sense of humour about them, this feels far too po-faced for its own good. And when it does attempt humour the timing is way off, particularly disappointing considering the enjoyable banter and half-way witty chemistry between Stallone and Statham up until this one. It throws up the eternal question: where’s Chuck Norris when you need him?

There’s nothing particularly terrible about it when it comes to the nitty-gritty of the action – it’s perfectly okay and just might appeal to fans of the franchise and hardcore action movie lovers that get joy out of the mere sight of their favourite action stars sharing screen-time and fighting random baddies side-by-side. However, by this point, it’s merely going through the motions rather than firing on all cylinders. They should have upped the ante instead of delivering such pedestrian and repetitive action that disappointingly relies too much on CGI. The film is meant to provide old-school no frills action among a sea of superhero and giant robot blockbusters but it just comes off as old hat.

This review was previously published on Scotcampus.

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 418

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 449

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10