Film Club: ‘The Expendables’ and Roundtable Recommendations
Checking in on the Testosterone Levels at Theaters
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
On the August Edition of the KPBS Film Club of the Air host Maureen Cavanaugh and film critics Beth Accomando, Anders Wright, and Scott Marks discuss "The Expendables" and make some roundtable recommendations.
Listen to our KPBS Film Club of the Air discussion of 'The Expendables" (currently in theaters) and some recommendations for upcoming events.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. It’s the KPBS Film Club of the Air. Beth Accomando, Scott Marks and Anders Wright are my guests. And we are moving on to “The Expendables.” Action stars past and present combine their efforts in this big budget summer movie. The – It revolves around a group of mercenaries led by Sylvester Stallone. He is commissioned to kill the dictator of a South American Island. On reconnaissance missions before the hit, Stallone and his crew meet a beautiful rebel leader, Sandra, and learn the true nature of the conflict. The crew escapes from the island but Sandra is left behind and now the Expendables must choose whether to risk their lives for something more than money. In this scene, Sylvester Stallone is giving girl advice to Jason Stratham’s character whose name is Christmas. Let’s listen.
(audio clip from the film “The Expendables”)
CAVANAUGH: And that is from “The Expendables.” Has Sylvester Stallone always sounded like that?
BETH ACCOMANDO (film critic, KPBS): Oh, yeah.
SCOTT MARKS (film critic, Emulsion Compulsion): Of course.
ANDERS WRIGHT (film critic, City Beat): Yeah, yeah.
MARKS: Didn’t you see the Rocky films? Of course.
CAVANAUGH: I must’ve forgotten.
ACCOMANDO: He’s always had kind of that…
MARKS: You’re thinking of Frank Stallone. He’s a much better public speaker. And a singer, what a hell of a singer, too.
WRIGHT: You know – You know what’s funny. I mean, there’s so much that’s ridiculous about this movie but you said there, it’s a South American island. Actually, what they say early on is it’s an…
WRIGHT/ACCOMANDO: …island in the Gulf…
WRIGHT: The Gulf of what?
WRIGHT: What are you talking about? Where is this place?
ACCOMANDO: I mean, they want to somehow connect it to Cuba but not really because…
ACCOMANDO: …it’s Latin America and it’s really more like Noriega. It’s like – It was ridiculous. It was a made-up country. It was hilarious.
CAVANAUGH: Now, we’re laughing, okay. Is this film a good time, Beth?
ACCOMANDO: I had a good time. It’s big, dumb and fun, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. I mean, to me, it’s like dating a dumb jock. It’s like you don’t expect sparkling conversation but if some jerk bothers you, you expect that you have somebody who’s going to kick his ass.
MARKS: Yeah, but the sex is terrible.
ACCOMANDO: Not always.
CAVANAUGH: We’re talking about a movie, right?
MARKS: In this film it was. In this film it sure was.
ACCOMANDO: There was no sex in this film.
MARKS: That’s why it was terrible.
CAVANAUGH: Anders, did you like it?
WRIGHT: I, you know, I mean, it’s a fairly standard action movie but it’s R-rated so the violence is so absolutely over…
WRIGHT/ACCOMANDO: …the top.
WRIGHT: I mean, it is one of these things where it’s like if you want to see torsos literally just vaporize under giant guns, this is your movie, no doubt.
ACCOMANDO: Terry Crews.
WRIGHT: Yeah. And everyone has ridiculous names like Toll Road or…
WRIGHT/ACCOMANDO: …Hale Caesar.
WRIGHT: Or – you know, I mean, it is exactly…
ACCOMANDO: Yin Yang (sic).
WRIGHT: …what it is. It makes very little sense most of the time. One of my favorite moments here is where so Jason Statham and Sylvester Stallone go to scout out this island, as you said, which has a couple hundred soldiers on it. They get caught. They fight, and they kill probably 60 guys and they leave and they’re like, there’s no way we can take that island. And it’s like, well, why? You just killed half the bad guys there. Like what would possibly prevent you from doing it? And when they do finally decide to go there, there’s no plan at all. It’s just like, let’s go blow…
WRIGHT/ACCOMANDO: …everything up…
WRIGHT: …and everyone use your special skill to do whatever it is. That means if you’re Jet Li…
WRIGHT: …you kick guys, if you’re Randy Couture, you wrestle with them, if you’re Terry Crews, you banter…
ACCOMANDO: No, no, no, you use that big, huge gun…
WRIGHT: A giant gun.
ACCOMANDO: …that just blows people away.
WRIGHT: Yeah. Yeah.
ACCOMANDO: And blows – I mean, the gun can actually blow down a – knock out a guard tower.
WRIGHT: There’s – It’s just one of these things where it’s just so big and violent and makes so little sense that I…
ACCOMANDO: Big, dumb and fun.
CAVANAUGH: Now did…
CAVANAUGH: No. No.
MARKS: No, no. No-no-no-no-no. When people are telling me that the big – the main virtue of this film is how dumb it is – If you set out to make a stupid film, then this is the greatest movie ever made. Stallone succeeded splendidly. This thing is so badly made. It’s like jazz, let’s bring in these two instruments, we’ll bring in these two bad guys, they’ll fight a scene, let them sit it out, then we’ll bring in the other two. The only reason for seeing this film was Dolph Lundgren in the Telly Savalas role.
WRIGHT: Are you comparing this movie to jazz? That’s really the…
MARKS: Believe me, I wanted to say another word but they’re not going to allow me to do it on the air so I cut that out. But I think, you know, and Stallone has entertained me as a director in the past. I think “Paradise Alley” is a terrific film. Anders and I were talking, that five-minute xenophobic slaughter in the last “Rambo” film, astounding, bayoneted babies, just whatever – I mean, it just – it’s nonstop.
WRIGHT: But it actually played into the story somehow.
MARKS: This film is just – it’s so stupid. It’s badly made. There are – The action scenes are so rapidly edited you can’t even figure out what the hell is going on.
ACCOMANDO: No, I think – I do think the action could’ve been shot a lot better, especially when you’ve got someone like Jet Li, and Cory Yuen did the stunt choreography for him. You know, it’s like watching Gene Kelly do a dance. Just put the camera on a tripod and stand back and watch how good he is. You don’t need to chop it up.
WRIGHT: But so much of the violence is CGI, too. I mean, there’s so much. There’s so many like bodies and limbs and heads exploding.
ACCOMANDO: But not the stuff with Jet Li.
ACCOMANDO: And, I mean, you have somebody there who has a particular skill and they should’ve – they should’ve let him go.
CAVANAUGH: What’s a…
MARKS: No, but instead they had him make short jokes. I am really getting tired of Jet Li. The guy has no sense of humor and I can’t – Jackie Chan—and I know they went to Jackie Chan before this but he was working on “Karate Kid 2” and you sure didn’t want to get away from that. And they invited him to do this.
WRIGHT: Well, but I also think you’ve got all these guys, for the most part, who are past their prime. I mean, they don’t do it the same way. And it’s a movie…
MARKS: Play with that then.
WRIGHT: Right, but I don’t disagree with you but it’s also a movie where it’s supposed to be about all these crazy guys bantering all the time, and these are not guys who are good at banter.
MARKS: Dolph Lundgren isn’t good at banter?
WRIGHT: I mean…
MARKS: Astonishing. He’s the funniest thing in this movie. He is…
CAVANAUGH: What about the allure of seeing these sort of over-the-hill action characters…
ACCOMANDO: It was great to see them put all in the same – I mean, I would’ve been happier if they added Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal.
MARKS: And Mr. T.
WRIGHT: But, you know, they – they…
ACCOMANDO: Mr. T.
WRIGHT: …went to those guys.
ACCOMANDO: They did.
WRIGHT: Yeah, and, I mean, John…
ACCOMANDO: Well, then they had – everybody had…
MARKS: Isn’t Seagal working with DeNiro now?
WRIGHT: J-CVD – Yeah, J-CVD basically said that Stallone went to him and said we’re put – you know, we’re bringing the band back together, you’re going to make a ton of money and, you know, J-CVD, who has been making like straight-to-video moneymakers for awhile was just like that doesn’t sound like I have a character. I won’t have anything to do with this.
ACCOMANDO: Well, he’s – after the…
ACCOMANDO: …film, I mean, he felt…
ACCOMANDO: …like I’m on the road to serious acting.
MARKS: Yeah, sure.
ACCOMANDO: I don’t want to backtrack.
ACCOMANDO: And then Steven Seagal, I heard, had issues with the producer.
MARKS: Steven Seagal can’t lift his leg to kick anyone anymore. That’s why he’s not in. He’s drinking his energy drink.
WRIGHT: Do you know who looked like he couldn’t lift his leg at all in this movie was Arnold Schwarzenegger. He basically – his one scene…
ACCOMANDO: Oh, he looked CGI’d.
MARKS: Yeah. Let’s talk about this thing. Go ahead.
WRIGHT: He was – his one scene, he’s supposed to walk down a – walk down the, you know, the…
ACCOMANDO: Church aisle.
WRIGHT: …a church aisle and he basically looked like he couldn’t make it.
ACCOMANDO: And he looked like he was CGI’d, like the effect they have for Jeff Bridges in “Tron” where he’s been using…
WRIGHT: He looked very unhealthy.
ACCOMANDO: And they did…
MARKS: Obviously, this scene was written well after the fact. They probably put in a call and said, hey, will you do it as a – It’ll take a one-day shoot, and he said yeah. There is no function at all in the film for this scene. There’s no need for it other than the fact that they wanted to get Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the…
ACCOMANDO: Well, there is the -- the, you know, the pretense that this is the guy who hires them.
CAVANAUGH: We gotta move on to your picks for the week. But one more question, Scott, I know that you – Beth and Anders kind of think this is a fun ride, this “Expendable” movie. Am I right about that?
WRIGHT: I mean, it is exactly what it is. I – I – I certain – you know, I…
ACCOMANDO: It doesn’t pretend to be anything else.
WRIGHT: Yeah, I – I mean, I’d be lying if I told you I really liked it. I didn’t.
CAVANAUGH: Right, right.
WRIGHT: It’s just a giant violent like bloodfest and there is a place for those things. It’s not well made. It’s not well acted. It’s very, very dumb.
MARKS: You want to see a good reunion picture, go rent “Original Gangsters.” That’s a much better film and they bring back all the great black action heroes from the seventies and eighties and that’s a very, very well made film.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, you kind – you like – you know, a movie can be bad enough for you to like it, Scott. Is this one?
MARKS: Are you kidding? “The Babe Ruth Story?” “Hot Rods to Hell?” “The Oscar?” Of course.
MARKS: Sure. This doesn’t even come close.
CAVANAUGH: This doesn’t come close.
WRIGHT: And – and I think the idea, though, it’s a throwback to the eighties action films and they literally don’t make movies like that anymore. I mean, and there’s a reason for that. So…
CAVANAUGH: Oh, “The Expendables.” There it is.
MARKS: It sure is.
CAVANAUGH: It’s currently playing in area theaters. Now we move on to our pick of the week. And let’s, Scott, start with you. Scott, what’ve you got for us?
MARKS: Big Lots. My buddy John Dacapias with the San Diego Asian Film Foundation found out that Big Lots sells brand new DVDs in the shrink wrap for like three bucks, three to six bucks. I found Hosho Shin (sp) there, I found Godard, I found Herzog. I found Bob Hope. I found Jerry Lewis. I mean, everything is there. Now I could’ve told you about this three, four months ago but I waited until I made sure that I cleaned out every Big Lots in town. I have what I want. Now go there. And every Big Lots has them and they’re all dirt cheap and they’re brand new.
CAVANAUGH: And so the quality, so you…
ACCOMANDO: Because the DVD is dead.
CAVANAUGH: …you put them in and they…
MARKS: They’re brand new DVDs.
MARKS: Yeah. Well, some of us still like package art. Some of us don’t want…
ACCOMANDO: No, no, no, but…
MARKS: …to have the name of a movie written on the CD in a Sharpie. This is Anders’ modus operandi.
ACCOMANDO: No, but I mean…
MARKS: I got Anders and a scrawl on there. What the hell’s the name of this movie?
ACCOMANDO: The DVD’s going to be a dead format. I mean, they’re not really investing in it.
WRIGHT: But if I could give you a flash drive, that’d be much easier.
MARKS: I want to – Oh, thank you. Thank you, yeah.
MARKS: So that’s a great place and also they have very cheap detergent and tube socks. So, you know, you really can’t go wrong. It’s a mecca for me.
CAVANAUGH: Big Lots is Scott’s recommendation for the week. Beth, what is yours?
ACCOMANDO: A French zombie film called “Le Horde.” It’s available on On Demand at IFC. And I love zombie films but what I find interesting – I’ve always found interesting the way pop culture films, pop entertainment films, like horror films and action films, the way the violence tends to be very reflective of the culture it comes from. And for me, films like “Le Horde” and “District B13,” the way the violence comes out in these films is reflecting what France, I think, is going through right now, which is a lot of racial tension that’s erupting in some riots, and I think if you watch these films, I think you can’t help but think of some of what’s going on. And what’s interesting in this film is it’s basically a revenge story. It’s cops going out after gangsters to kill them because they’ve killed a cop, and zombies kind of get in the way but the zombies don’t get completely in the way. I mean, the violence between the cops and the gangsters continues and violence between the cops themselves and between the gangsters themselves. And, to me, it’s kind of this notion of the – Shakespeare’s notion of, you know, we but teach bloody instructions. It’s like there’s so much violence going on that these zombies almost feel like, well, human race…
CAVANAUGH: We’re at home.
ACCOMANDO: …this is what you deserve, you know. But that…
MARKS: Is this an older film?
ACCOMANDO: It’s 2009.
CAVANAUGH: And what’s the name again?
ACCOMANDO: “Le Horde.”
MARKS: What’s the French zombie film that came out about four or five years ago and it’s really, really good. With – About old people becoming zombies.
ACCOMANDO: Old people becoming – I don’t remember.
MARKS: You don’t remember a zombie film.
ACCOMANDO: I don’t remember the old…
MARKS: Aww, the…
CAVANAUGH: Anders, recommendation.
WRIGHT: All right, I’ve got – I’m going to bang through these.
WRIGHT: Number one, the Maya Independent Film Series, which runs 8/27 to 9/2 at the Gaslamp 15. That’s six different independent films and they’re running all week. Number two, speaking of twos.
WRIGHT: It’s a thing called “2 Everything 2 Terrible 2: Tokyo Drift.” It’s a collection of found footage festivals, usually like old VHS dubs, and they’ll be playing at the Che Café on August 27th. Number three, the Black Light Festival. This is a one-night only short, horribly, horribly gory, gnarly films. That’s playing at the Birch North Park Theatre on…
CAVANAUGH: Beth is very interested.
WRIGHT: Yeah, yeah. You know this one, yeah.
ACCOMANDO: You called it the Black – I thought it was the Black List.
WRIGHT: Black List, I wrote – Yeah, you’re right. I said Black…
ACCOMANDO: Black List Art and Film Festival.
WRIGHT: Thank you.
WRIGHT: Yes, that’s exactly what it is. It’s not Black Light at all, Black List, yes.
ACCOMANDO: I was going, wow, day-glo colors and all.
WRIGHT: Wow, yeah, that’s on August 28th at the Birch North Park. And, lastly, there’s a film that I personally like a lot called “Cemetery Junction.” It’s made by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the guys who did the original “Office” on the BBC and did “Extras.” They’re terrific writers. It never really saw the inside of a theater here in the States but it’s sort of like a Nick Hornby novel, kind of a coming of age story in a small town and trying to get out in the seventies and eighties. And these guys are funny and they’ve really sort of pioneered that kind of theater of the awkward stuff. But when they do it in Britain, it’s so – it’s so cringe-worthy and painful and awful but real, too. It feels so, so real, and I just – When these guys team up and they do it in Britain, it’s terrific and this one comes out on DVD today.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you. Thank you all. Beth Accomando, Scott Marks, Anders Wright, thank you all as we cram out the door and go to Big Lots. I want everybody to know that they can comment on this Film Club of the Air online, KPBS.org/thesedays. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.