Friday, 13 August 2010

The Expendables - Dir. Sylvester Stallone

Throw together five of the biggest action stars in Hollywood history, garnish with a little of the new breed, and serve up with a glass of freedom ($82 million refreshing gulps of freedom to be precise) and you have a film which harks back to the days of the 1980’s action genre, where films were more concerned with the amount of explosives used and excessive body-count, rather than the story and the rest of those ‘boring things.’ Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) is the leader of the ‘Expendables,’ a group of mercenaries who take the jobs others wouldn’t even dare considering; over-throwing a dictatorship, and battling Somalian pirates is simply part of their nine-to-five routine. Alongside Ross is Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), an expert with anything that contains a blade, Yin Yang (Jet Li) a martial arts specialist, Hail Caesar (Terry Crews) a heavy-weapons professional, Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) a Swedish sniper and Toll Road (Randy Couture) the team’s demolitions expert. With Tool (Mickey Rourke), providing the jobs, arms and tattoos as a former member of the Expendables with his own demons in mind.

When the mysterious Mr Church (Bruce Willis) offers the dangerous job of overthrowing the island of Vilena’s evil dictator General Garza (David Zayas) and removing his American partner (Eric Roberts) and his henchmen in the process (Steve Austin, Gary Daniels), Ross’s former partner Trench (Schwarzenegger) stands aside to allow the Expendables to take on the almost suicidal mission. This in itself, is probably the films greatest scene with many cultural references to all three major movie stars careers and personal life’s being thrown abound (“he just loves playing in the jungle, right?” quips Schwarzenegger to Stallone). Once Ross takes the job, what follows is an explosive-driven finale which sees the Expendables attempt the impossible as they send five men on to the island to battle the General’s cantankerous army of hundreds (or maybe even thousands...) against the American invasion.

‘The Expendables’ is essentially an 80’s action movie. It contains the action stars of past present doing what they do/did best (Stallone attempts a flying armbar, Couture finds the perfect way to apply a bone-crunching kimura, and Steve Austin is characteristically inhuman), a typically weak and clichéd script that does contain a few cheesy gems among the stereotypical macho hype, and plenty (lots, and lots, and lots) of outbursts of aggressive, explosive violence from your typical machete decapitation to the more complex hand-held-semi-automatic-rocket-launcher-weapon-thing. The producers and Stallone have also chosen to employ two editors which is an uninspired choice, as the film constantly switches between the fast, freestyle, hand-held Bourne style of Paul Greengrass (in which very little can be seen or understood), to the normal ‘stand back and admire’ method of the static camera. While the use of close-ups are in full swing, as to capture the lack of emotion in a film of this magnitude, the audience want to see body-parts flying every which way Sunday, rather than the leathery skin of a old, and hard-working Sylvester Stallone.

This film isn’t perfect, nor is it a terrible film which contains more testosterone than sense. It is worth watching alone, just for the scene involving the ‘big three’ which is its saving grace. Aside from that however, it is typical action-orientated fan-fare. Remove the stars and you could have simply renamed this ‘Rambo 4.5’ as it contains the same limb-splintering, unrealistic, yet somewhat invigorating blood-shed that, that Stallone vehicle contained.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Gainsbourg - Dir. Joann Sfar

Lucien ‘Serge Gainsbourg’ Ginsburg. Artist. Writer. Performer. Alcoholic. Smoker. Rebel. Womanizer. Genius? Joann Sfar’s film documents the sporadic lifestyle of the famous French artist Serge Gainsbourg (Eric Elmosnino), whose life contained no boundaries, no objects off limit, and continually tested the patience of those huddled together around him. Beginning with a young Gainsbourg developing his taste for painting aspiring models in Nazi-Occupied France as a mere teenager, the film thereupon concentrates primarily upon his relationships with various beautiful women and his life choices in regards to his ever-changing occupation over his sixty-year-life-span.

What makes this film work so well as a biopic is the truly ingenious performances by both Kacey Mottet Klein (Young Gainsbourg) and Eric Elmosnino (Adult Gainsbourg) who both somewhat beautifully represent such a tragic figure throughout his whole on-screen lifetime. Kacey portrays Gainsbourg as a boy who is maturing faster than those other children around him, so far so, that he explains to one of the schoolchildren the reason that he is good at drawing pubic hairs is because he has had an up-close and personal experience with them before. While he is also shown to be a lonely child, an outcast as Jewish child growing up in Nazi-Occupied France, and thus he develops an affable ‘imaginary friend’ to keep himself company. Born as small, soft head that watches over young Gainsbourg as he sleeps in the woods to avoid the Nazi soldiers, his only friend soon becomes his worst enemy as he matures into a complicated man. His once pleasant ‘imaginary friend’ is now a grotesque being with a large nose, long-thin fingers and an affection for cigarettes and bullying Gainsbourg. He continually berates insults, prods and engages Serge, providing the viewpoint that he himself was his harshest critic, and a critic he could not simply dismiss without entire control over his life.

Aside from the performances, the way Sfar allows the films narrative to flow in a temporal manner with no mention of time, or calendar dates, further draws the audience in to Gainsbourg’s contrived world. The only way to tell when an event shifts forward in his lifetime, is through his own physical deterioration from old age which is heavily dictated by his excessive abuse of alcohol and tobacco. But as Gainsbourg becomes older, his sexual conquests stay the same age; from Elisabeth (Deborah Grall), to Jane (the late Lucy Gordon), and to an affair with the insatiable Brigitte Bardot (Laetitia Casta), before he eventually settles down with Bambou (Mylene Jampanoi), who would be his final partner. These are all young, vulnerable women who Gainsbourg exploits for his own sexual misgivings, and once they become too old, or too boring, he discards them like a child throwing away an old toy to badger his parents for a new, more expensive model.

Joann Sfar beautifully flowing biopic paints Serge Gainsbourg as a shallow, misogynistic, grumpy old man, who once had dreams of becoming famous for doing anything, but once those dreams were realised, greed and narcissism triumphed over his once forgotten ambitions. Utilizing his gift for writing, artistry and music Gainsbourg chose the route of controversy and scandal over that of happiness and family, which is exemplified in his response to the media after he had a heart attack. When the reporters asked what he will be doing now after such a dangerous and life threatening operation, Gainsbourg calmly asserted to those in attendance that he will “continue to smoke many more cigarettes and drink much more alcohol.”