Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, August 24, 2015

Bangers n' Mash 71: Horror Hosts

Halloween is getting closer. This may seem like an absurd sentence to some of you reading this. "But Zack," you may say, "Halloween is over two months away!" But anybody who has been reading this blog for any period of time knows that my Halloween festival begins on the 18th of September. It's so close now that I'm beginning to get really excited, despite the summer heat still lingering on outside.

In order to commiserate the ever-approaching Halloween season, the Bangers n' Mash Show will be returning to more strictly horror-esque topics. The first of which is a short and sweet episode about horror hosts. You know, those people who present the monster movies that used to be shown regularly on TV. We discuss the likes of Elvira, Joe Bob Briggs, Svengoolie, Mister Lobo, and even Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the Crypt Keeper. It's a good time.


Friday, August 21, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: The Expendables 3 (2014)


Part of the fun of “The Expendables” series is dreaming about who will show up in these movies next. Nobody does this more then Sylvester Stallone. For “The Expendables 3,” he threw out many names he had no intention of following through on. Nicolas Cage, Steven Seagal, and Clint Eastwood were all mentioned at one point. Despite these unfulfilled promises, the film did deliver on some big stars: Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas, and the baffling Kelsey Grammer. Most of the excitement for the third entry in the all-star series was bungled when its rating was announced. The sequel was going to be rated PG-13. Fans lost their shit. Further controversy arose when the film leaked to the internet early. Basically, a number of factors combined to make “Expendables 3” the lowest grossing film of the series and jeopardize the future of the franchise.

After rescuing an original member of the Expendables, known only as Doctor Death, the team of mercenaries get a new mission. They are tasked with capturing a weapons dealer, selling illegal weapons to warlords. Barney Ross gets a surprise when he spots the seller though. It’s Conrad Stonebank, an old friend turned sworn enemy. Stonebanks injuries a member of the team. Fearful for his friends’ life but determined to have revenge, Ross recruits a new generation of Expendables. When they are captured, he and the old team most reunite.

By the third film, the cast of “The Expendables” has bloated up to 16 central characters. Some established members get the shaft. Terry Crews is written out early on. Dolph, Randy Couture, and Jet Li aren’t given much to do. These are the flaws of an ever-growing ensemble. Some additions, however, are worthwhile. Crews’ part was originally written for Wesley Snipes. Now free of debtor’s prison, his addition to the cast feels natural. Snipes’ brings a lot of crazy energy to the part, livening the film, and has a cute rivalry with Statham. Antonio Banderas similarly peps up a thin part with some eccentricities, making Galgo a motor-mouth who likes to dance and seduce women, even in the heat of battle. Harrison Ford, stepping in for a greedy Bruce Willis, proves surprisingly fun. Not once does Ford seem like a grouchy old man. He seems to genuinely be having a good time. Lastly, Mel Gibson plays Conrad Stonebrooks. Gibson oozes hatred and wild-eyed bitterness, commenting on his real life troubles. Though he’s no Jean Vilain, he’s still one of the better villains the series has produced.

When focused on the old guys doing their thing, killing hordes of nameless henchmen, “The Expendables 3” works reasonably well. However, a lengthy section in the middle of the film focuses on Sly recruiting a new team. Since the whole point of the series is watching established action icons together, focusing on new-comers seems counter-intuitive. Worst yet, most of the new kids are not up to their mentor’s standards. Glenn Powell, as arrogant tech expert Thorn, is totally worthless. Victor Ortiz adds nothing to his character, who is the most thinly defined one in the bunch. A part presumably written for Milla Jovovich went to Ronda Rousy. Rousy has since become especially famous for beating the shit out of people. Sure, she’s good at that. But Rousy has no charisma. She’s stiff as a board, reading her lines monotonously, while her muscled body lacks screen presence. Really, the only member of the New-spendables that’s interesting at all is Kellen Lutz’ Smilee. Lutz already has some action credits to his name. Out of the new guys, he gets the coolest stunts, like flipping a dirt bike through the air. Lutz also has a molecule of acting talent, making him more compelling. Still, “The Expendables 3” is too focused on these new guys. Their recruitment and first mission take up far too much screen time.

Once the kids gets captured, and the old guys are reassembled, “The Expendables 3” finds its footing once again. With so many damn characters, the film has no shortage of things to do in its last act. Isolated in an abandoned hotel, the expanded team faces off against a literal army. Statham punches a guy into a wall. Rousy falls through the ceiling while spinning fools through the air. Dolph and Couture drive a fucking tank. Snipes assassinates baddies with his blades. Banderas joyously dances while capping enemies. Ford pilots his helicopter in improbable ways and Arnold tosses a guy into a wall. Through it all, there’s Sly, doing his thing. He screams, fires his pistol, and makes a daring leap onto a helicopter. His climatic fist fight with Mel is a bit short. However, the sheer number of guys killed in “The Expendables 3” is impressive. Honestly, the bloodless carnage doesn’t bother me any. Is it any better or worst then the CGI blood-fest the first two were? The film is no less thrilling.

“The Expendables 2” was satisfied with filling its margins full of in-jokes. And that was fine. Part three has its fair share of in-jokes too. Schwarzenegger commands people to get to the choppa’. Just by playing a pilot, Ford recalls Han Solo. Mel’s character is quite mad while Snipes is said to have been put away for tax evasion. My favorite joke is one of the most out-of-the-blue. Zooming pass decades of gay subtext, “Expendables 3” seemingly makes two of its heroes literally gay. I’m surprised that didn’t get more press. Yet the film has thematic concerns as well. The plot, of old Sly recruiting a bunch of younguns to replace his team, is ripe with real world echoes. Age and becoming irrelevant is definitely on the film’s mind. That the new team aren’t nearly as interesting or effective as the classics is something the script seems unaware of addressing.

On one level, I understand while fans were so antagonistic towards this one. Sly’s continued attempts to appeal to a wider audience, with the younger cast and the softer violence, seems misguided. For its’ flaws, I still had a good time with part three. Though its’ opening weekend numbers were dispiriting, “Expendables 3” still made money. There has been talk about continuing the series. I won’t regale you with my “Expendables 4” wishlist. (Nic Cage, Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, and Michael Jai White are all near the top, I assure you.) If a fourth is even made is currently unknown. But I’ll see it. What the hell else am I suppose to do? Getting a bunch of washed-up action heroes together hasn’t lost its appeal to me, at the very least. [7/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 4 outta 5]
[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Isolated Mercenary]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling 




Aside from the possibility of an "Expendables 4," Stallone is now more focused on returning to his other trademark characters. Sly continues to enthusiastically discuss a fifth and final Rambo movie, even going so far as to actually title it "Last Blood." If that gets made probably depends on the performance of his next movie. "Creed," the unexpected Rocky spin-off, hits theaters this fall and looks surprisingly good. Is watching Stallone still do his thing as he gets further into his old age still exciting? Actually, kind of, yeah. That's the thing about Sylvester Stallone. The man never gives up. The man will keep fighting, keep trying to find the eye of the tiger and go the distance, until the day he dies. There's something to be admired about that.

Thus concludes the Sylvester Semester. Thank you for reading.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: The Expendables 2 (2012)


Before the first “Expendables” came out, some people wondered if it would be a success at all. Sure, Stallone had pulled off something of a come-back in recent years. But would people really march out to the theaters to see a bunch of washed-up action stars and a few action unknowns? “Yes” is apparently the answer to that question, as “The Expendables” became a hit. Almost immediately, Stallone went to work on “The Expendables 2.” Promising more eighties icons and bigger action, the sequel corrected many of the mistakes the first film made. The result was a more fun and satisfying flick.

The Expendables are still up to their old tricks, rescuing a kidnapped millionaire from some banana republic in the opening action beat. They have a new teammate, a young sniper named Billy - wait for it - the Kid. Mr. Church isn’t done with Barney Ross though. He drafts him for another mission, to retrieve a computer containing sensitive information from a crashed airplane. After carefully rescuing the computer with the help a female agent, a mysterious villain steals the box. He also kills Billy. This time, it’s personal! The Expendables plan to track, find, and kill Vilain for revenge. Along the way, they may stop the bad guy’s plot too.

My biggest reservation about the first “Expendables” was the shaky action and overly grim tone.  Sylvester Stallone traded directing duties with Simon West, the “Con Air” filmmaker. The result is a film with much clearer action and a much lighter tone. With the exception of an overly chaotic plane crash, the action scenes are shot in the classic style. Henchmen are blasted away, punches land brutally, explosions result, and we can all tell what’s going on. The opening tank chase through the town is rightfully ridiculous. A motorcycle landing in a helicopter is only the most absurd moment. My favorite beat is Jet Li fighting off guys with frying pans. The following plane chase is fantastically orchestrated. A shoot-out in an empty town is clear and fun, as is a scuffle with goons in the European village. The action is as huge as the first film’s but it’s far more satisfying to watch.

The sequel also juggles its ensemble cast better then the original. Despite adding more cast members, the original Expendables are given more to do. Barney and Lee’s friendship is developed more. We see Ross teasing Christmas about his girlfriend. The camaraderie among the Expendables is focused on more. His betrayal of the team seemingly forgotten, Dolph Lundgren’s Gunner evolves into the goofball of the team. Lundgren’s real life history as a chemist is brought up, paying off nicely. Terry Crew’s Hale and Randy Couture's Toll were underserved last time. Crew becomes a boisterous body-builder who is slightly unhinged. Couture becomes somewhat sensitive and brainy. Though Jet Li exits the movie early on, even he seems better utilized. Over all, it seems Stallone and his team had a stronger understanding of the characters and the cast.

The additions to the cast are mostly welcomed. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis only had cameos last time. In part two, they graduate to proper cast members. Arnold and Willis get involved in the action, helping the main heroes out and telling jokes. Speaking of jokes! Chuck Norris drops in as Booker, a mysterious uber-badass who helps the team out. Despite Norris being in his seventies, the character plays into his Internet legend as the ultimate badass. When not killing people, Norris shows the easy-going charm that has always been his appeal. Newcomer Yu Nan plays Maggie Chan, a part I suspect was written for Michelle Yeoh. Despite being a complete unknown, Nan works well with the team, bringing humor and humility to her part. Really, the only newcomer I don’t care for is Liam Hemsworth as Billy. A performer I’ve taken to calling the Lesser Hemsworth, he's performance is flat. The biggest question is, “Why is he here?” What business does a teeny-bopper heartthrob like him have doing here? Furthermore, it is obvious Billy was born to die. The character might as well have a target on his back.

Of all the actors added to the cast, the bad guys are the most important. Stallone courted Jean-Claude Van Damme for the original “Expendables” but he declined. Obviously realizing he was missing out, Van Damme signed up for the sequel. Perhaps it was for the best. Jean-Claude plays the villain, Jean Vilain. The part plays to JCVD’s strengths. He brings an eccentric quality, dancing and making dramatic hand gestures, while maintaining an intimidating body language. Considering Van Damme’s evolution into a fine dramatic actor, he makes the character sadistic, intellectual, and just cold enough not to care about the people he kills. He provides a distinct villain to the piece and really helps bring “The Expendables 2” together. Another fine addition is Scott Adkins as Vilain’s main henchman. Adkins may be the modern equivalent to what Van Damme was back in the late eighties so it’s a smart choice.

Though action-packed throughout its run time, “The Expendables 2” really piles it on in the last act. The heroes corner the villains in an abandoned airport. At this point, the movie explodes into an unrelenting celebration of action movie violence. Everyone gets a stand-out moment. Stallone, Arnold, and Bruce Willis blast away bad guys together, fulfilling a dream action nerds have shared for decades. Later, there’s a great gag between Arnold and Bruce involving a tiny smart car. Dolph kicks a guy off a balcony. Terry Crews and Randy Couture employ tossed razor blades. Statham and Adkins share a bloody, immensely satisfying fist fight. Norris swoops in and takes a few more names. The final fight between Sly and Van Damme could have gone on longer but still provides some awesome moments of ass-kickery. I mean, JCVD does two spinning roundhouse kicks!

“The Expendables 2” is the movie the first one should have been. It’s a light-hearted action-fest that piles on the callbacks and in-jokes, while nicely balancing its extensive cast. Not only does it feature many stars of eighties cinema, it actually feels like something that could have been made in the eighties. Perhaps it’s not high art. Yet it’s hard to deny a film that is this much pure fun. [8/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 3 outta 5]
[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[] Shows Off Buffness
[] Social Outcast
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: The Expendables (2010)


When “The Expendables” was announced, I happily declared it the Best Idea Ever. It was an all-star action epic, strictly in the eighties mold, and featuring legendary action heroes of yesterday and today. As a fan of eighties explosion-fest, it was an idea I gladly supported. When I saw the film, it was in the middle of an all-day movie marathon. Sandwiched between “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and a midnight screening of “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter,” the film came off as a disappointment. Maybe it was because I got lousy seats. Maybe it was because the friend I saw it with was acting like an asshole all day. Now that “The Expendables” is an established series, and seen in the comfort of my own home, the first film plays slightly better.

Barney Ross is the leader of a team of super bad ass mercenaries called the Expendables. When hostages need rescuin’, regimes needs topplin’, or bad guys need killin’, these are the guys you call. Yet the team has its problems. Gunner is an unstable drug addict. Lee is trying to mend his relationship with his ex-wife. Yang wants a pay raise. And Barney is beginning to question the morality of what he does. When a mysterious agent offers him a job – stop a rogue CIA agent running a drug empire out of a central American dictatorship – Ross thinks it's just a job at first. When he becomes involved with a beguiling woman there, he realizes more might be at stake.

“The Expendables” professes to be a throwback to eighties action movies. I mean, it’s obviously meant to be. Stallone even grabbed Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis for cameos, getting the three biggest action stars of the decade on-screen together. A retro-style flick was clearly Sly’s goal. Then why does “The Expendables” look like a modern film? The action scenes are frequently shaky and hard to follow. The opening shoot-out on the boat cuts between rough zooms and distracting inferred shots. A car chase veers and crashes all over the place, making it difficult to follow. There’s a three-way kick fight between Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Gary Daniels. That should’ve been awesome. But the direction is so incoherent, it’s hard to know who is kicking who. Aside from the shaky action, the movie is shot with a drab, dark, moody color palette. “The Expendables” neither looks nor feels like an eighties action film.

Action films aren’t known for their deep character work. In an ensemble action flick, characters generally have a single defining trait. Some members of the Expendables don’t even get that. Terry Crews’ Hale Caesar really loves his gun and his straight razor. Randy Couture’s Toll Road is seen reading a book once, mentions a shrink, and talks about his cauliflower ears. Jet Li’s Yin Yang gets picked on for being short and wants a pay raise. Aside from their awesome names, that’s it. The characters are mostly just there to raise the body count and add to the action. Crews is funny in his brief role but Couture is obviously more of a fighter then an actor. (It doesn’t help knowing those guys were last minute replacements for Wesley Snipes and Van Damme.)

There are some upsides to the ensemble though. First off, it allows Sly more people to bounce off of. He has a decent rapport with Jason Statham. Both are best known for being movie murder machines but have better chops then that. Occasionally, they’ll get to show it. The expanded cast also gives some room to the bad guy. Eric Roberts, himself a veteran of eighties action, plays the delightfully sleazy villain. Roberts is a classic action bad guy, wearing a suit, pointing guns at innocents, and generally being a greasy bastard. It’s hard to balance action and character development. Maybe because of the bigger action or the bigger cast, “The Expendables” doesn’t do it the best.

Then again, maybe too much character development is also a flaw, at least for movies like this. “The Expendables” is hassled with some truly useless subplots. Dolph Lundgren’s Gunner is a recovering drug addict who betrays the team. This leads to an extended action scene, where he chases Barney and fights Yang in a factory. Admittedly, seeing the towering but slow Lundgren fight the small but agile Li is fun. But the subplot ends up adding nothing to the film. Also adding nothing to the film is Statham’s relationship with Charisma Carpenter. He goes and beat up her abusive boyfriend on a basketball court. Again, it’s unrelated to the main plot and does nothing to develop either character. Lastly, the girl Sly endeavors to rescue is the daughter of the dictator. Sly the Director tries to incorporate a theme here, about fighting for something versus fighting for yourself. It’s clumsy though and, again, seems like another needless distraction.

Now, not all the action in the film is poorly framed. A rough-and-tumble scuffle Sly and the Stath have with some baddies is decently put together. This leads to a daring airplane escape, which climaxes in a massive explosion. That is probably the most fun scene in the film. The last act rotates between incoherent action and clearer violence. Crews exploding two watch tower is amusing. So is the utterly ridiculous scene where Sly blows up a helicopter with a hand-tossed cannon shell. The fight between Couture and Steven Austin’s Paine was obviously designed to answer the debate of who would win a fight between a wrestler and a MMA fighter. The last half hour of “The Expendables” is an orgy of explosions, muzzle flash, and bloody squibs. I’m not made of stone, people. It could be more clearly directed but there’s still some awesome stuff there.

“The Expendables” plays better separated from my initial expectations. It’s not the ultimate action throwback. At times, it feels distressingly modern. Sly’s pretensions about making the movie something more then an in-joke filled battle collection also drags the final product down. Still, it’s not all bad. Any movie that gets Stallone, Willis, and Arnold on-screen together can’t be all bad. As a series debut though, it could’ve used some more work. [6/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 4 outta 5]
[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[] Social Outcast
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

Music, film and photography on Clowdy.com

Monday, August 17, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: Avenging Angelo (2002)


“Eye See You” wasn’t the only Sylvester Stallone movie to go straight-to-video in 2002. That same year, “Avenging Angelo” was unceremoniously dumped on DVD with little press and no fanfare. Unlike “Eye See You,” where there’s some information on what when wrong with the movie and how it ended up released like it was, there’s no behind-the-scenes info on “Avenging Angelo.” No one involved with its production, including Stallone, have much to say about it. Nowadays, it may be the least talked about thing the actor has ever appeared in. This side of “The Party at Kitty and Stud’s,” “Avenging Angelo” seems to represent the lowest point in Stallone’s career.

Crime boss Angelo Allieghieri has a secret. Years ago, he fathered a daughter. Fearful for the girl’s life, due to all the people trying to kill him at the time, Angelo gave her up for adaptation. For years, Angelo has observed Jennifer’s life from afar. The man doing that watching is Frankie Delano, a mob tough guy and Jennifer’s unnoticed body guard. Once Angelo is murdered by some hitmen, Frankie decides to inform Jennifer of her secret parentage. Together, the two go off on a journey to survive the world of organized crime.

This is it, guys. We’ve hit the bottom. “Rhinestone” was more goofy then bad. “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot” was fascinating for its grotesque miscalculations. Even “Driven” had some moments of unintentional comedy. “Avenging Angelo,” meanwhile, is entirely worthless from beginning to end. The film is a dire mob comedy in the mold of “Married to the Mob” or “Mickey Blue Eyes.” There’s a bunch of lame jokes, like a scene of Sly disposing of a flatulent dead body or him scarring off the girl’s unfaithful husband. One moment that you can see coming a thousand yards away is when Jessica attempts to seduce an elderly mob boss. The movie is startlingly free of laughs. There’s seems to be moments that are meant to be jokes. Yet none of them register. Furthermore, the film says nothing new or interesting about the mob genre.

In addition to being a limp attempt at the mafia comedy, “Avenging Angelo” is also a romantic/comedy. It’s only slightly better as a rom-com. From the moment Frankie and Jessica appear together on-screen, you know they’re going to end up together. Despite the obviousness of this, the movie slowly forces the two together. Frankie likes Jessica but is too respectful to pursue her. Jessica slowly warms up to the guy, touched by his devotion. Madeleine Stowe is alright as Jessica. She’s decently charming, even if the script gives few chances to show her comedic skills. About the only saving grace of the film is the mildly amusing romantic chemistry Stowe has with Sly. There’s nothing compelling about the romance. The pay-off is assured and the characters are too thin to care about. Yet, in the ocean of crushing mediocrity that is “Avenging Angelo,” it's something.

Since nobody gives a shit about it, I went into “Avenging Angelo” knowing nothing about it. The DVD cover art makes it look like a normal crime flick. Even the title is misleading, as you assume Stallone is the Angelo, doing the avenging. In truth, the character is avenging Angelo’s death. Despite being an oppressively lame comedy for most of its run-time, the film still gets weirdly serious at the end. The plot is a collection of convoluted mob movie clichés. There’s a web of grudges and murders driving things. It’s not really important. Anyway, the movie has a barely worth mentioning subplot about a romance novelist Jessica likes. It brings the two plots together awkwardly at the end. Turns out the romance novelist is the film’s true antagonists, Sly rushing in to save the day soon after the reveal. These moments are completely sincere and feel totally at odds with the film’s overall tone.

As a comedy, “Avenging Angelo” is never funny. As a romance, its love story is entirely functionary. As an action movie, it provides nothing thrilling. Finally, Sylvester Stallone seems incredibly bored throughout the entire thing. This is something he has in common with the audience. “Avenging Angelo” isn’t a fiasco. It is something worst then that. It’s a sleep-inducing apathy machine, a film totally lacking in anything interesting, entertaining, thoughtful, or compelling. It's my official vote the worst movie Sylvester Stallone has ever made. [3/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 3 outta 5]
[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[] Social Outcast
[] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling

Sunday, August 16, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: Eye See You (2002)


I first read about “Eye See You” on a long-gone website called UpcomingMovies.com. The movie had a troubled production. There were re-shoots. It was re-titled a few times. Its original title, “D-Tox,” is the name it was released under in most of the world. Domestically, the whodunit sat on the shelves for three years before finally being released straight-to-video. I remember the VHS popping up on my local video store’s walls. It was both kind of sad and somewhat inevitable that Sylvester Stallone would wind-up headlining direct-to-video movies. This was where his career had been heading for a while. Because of its video exclusive releases, “Eye See You” is probably one of Stallone’s least seen works. Is it any good?

Jack is a FBI agent getting ready to propose to his long-time girlfriend. He is currently on the trail of a brutal serial killer. The killer executes what he sees as the dregs of humanity, mutilating the corpse’s eyes. The killer murders one of Jack’s friends before claiming his fiancée. Traumatized, he starts to drink himself to death. His boss shifts him off to an icebound rehab center for trouble cops. As a harsh blizzard rolls in, people at the facility start to turn up dead. Jack soon realizes the murderer has followed him to his new location, looking to settle the score.

“Eye See You,” or “D-Tox” or whatever you want to call it, is not as dire as its direct-to-video release suggests. It’s actually a mildly clever fusion of a cop thriller, a whodunit, and a slasher flick. The rehab center is located in an old military bunker, which makes for a cool setting. The wintery backdrop is used well, creating a good sense of isolation. The scenes of the killer stalking and attacking people in the snow, while wearing a face-concealing parka, hits this slasher fan’s sweet spot. A shot of a knife dripping blood onto the snow is pretty cool, for example. The gruesome surprises the killer leaves behind are straight out of any slasher, as well. (The director, Jim Gillespie, previously made “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” So he was clearly experienced in this territory.) As a whodunit, the movie is alright too. The story keeps you guessing who the killer is until just about the reveal. “Eye See You” is never scary and I don’t even know if it’s supposed to be. However, it’s mildly satisfying as a gory murder mystery.

Since “Eye See You” is essentially a slasher film, it has a fairly large cast. Stallone doesn’t even do much in the first third of the middle section. Instead, that time is spent developing the rest of the cast. Charles S. Dutton has some fun as Stallone’s eccentric superior. Kris Kristofferson plays the owner of the facility and brings his expected crusty charm to what winds up being a small part. Robert Patrick has one of the showier parts as Noah, a shouting asshole with a mustache. Jeffrey Wright, looking skinnier then we’re used to seeing, plays an especially unhinged addict. Wright and Patrick both go over-the-top, playing their characters rather broadly. Robert Prosky plays a kindly old Mountie while Stephen Lang shows off his crazy eyes as the film’s most blatant red herring. There’s even more cast members, most of them with even less development then this.

As a Sylvester Stallone movie, “D-Tox” is alright. The early scenes of him bonding with his wife don’t affect the audience much, since we know she’ll be dead soon. At least it allows Sly to show his humorous side for a bit. After spending the next half-hour brooding silently, he finally gets to do some stuff again. I like the scene of him snooping around a room with a book of matches, putting the pieces together. After most of the supporting cast is slashed through, “Eye See You” develops into a game of wills between Sly and the psycho. At this point, the movie begins to resemble “Cobra” or some of Sly’s other cop vs. psycho movies. The super sweaty climax was apparently the result of reshoots and that’s obvious. However, there’s still something satisfying about watching the hero so effectively dispatch the bad guy.

I’m not saying “Eye See You” is a masterpiece or anything. Lowered expectations will probably help you appreciate it more. As a snow set slasher, it’s relatively amusing. As a murder mystery, it keeps the audience’s attention. As a Stallone vehicle, it doesn’t give the thespian too much to do but will probably satisfy. The supporting cast has got some decent actors in it. I don’t blame anyone for overlooking the film but, given the right circumstances, you might have a good time with it. [7/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 4 outta 5]
[] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[X] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[X] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Traumatized Alcoholic]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling


Saturday, August 15, 2015

THE SYLVESTER SEMESTER: Driven (2001)


I think “Driven” was the moment when even Sylvester Stallone realized he was washed-up. I remember seeing the trailers for the film and thinking it looked lame as hell. A movie about open wheel racing? Who gives a crap about that? Stallone’s presence did not make the movie any more exciting. To teenage me back in 2001, it seemed like an attempt by an actor far pass his peak straining to stay relevant. When the film failed spectacularly, all of these thoughts seemed confirmed. Even the video game version was bad. While my thoughts back then were unfair towards the star, they weren’t entirely wrong. “Driven” may well be the low point of Stallone’s long career.

Jimmy Bly is a hot-shot, up-and-coming race car driver. Bly’s manager, who is also his brother, is counting on his brother’s success. His team owner, Carl, is worried about the boy’s driving skills. Bly’s biggest rival, Beau Brandenburg, is determined to regain his lead. Jimmy also harbors feelings for Sophia, Beau’s on-again/off-again fiancée. Entering into the middle of this is Joe Tanto, a retired driver Carl brings in to mentor him. Tanto attempts to bring the best out of his protégé, as the racers head into a hard season full of drama and tension.

Stallone wasn’t the only person involved in “Driven” hoping for a come-back. The film was directed by Renny Harlin. A former top action director, Harlin was now stained as the man who made monster-bomb “Cutthroat Island.” “Driven” did not resurrect Harlin’s flagging career. And there’s good reason for that. What the fuck is wrong with the direction in this thing? The film is full of melodramatic slow-motion, distracting quick cuts, tacky overlaid graphics, and ridiculously overdone composition. The movie is packed full of off-putting music, blaring nu-metal and rap/rock songs that frequently drown out what’s happening on-screen. Worst yet, Harlin and his team frequently employ some incredibly soft CGI. A quarter, manhole covers, dislodged wheels, and raindrops smash into the screen, floating through the air in obviously fake ways. Not only is “Driven” immediately dated as an artifact from 2001, it is poorly put together and hilariously overwrought.

Not helping matters is the soap opera worthy screenplay. Jimmy Bly is a horribly unlikable main character. Entitled, moody, and cocky, he comes off like a spoiled teenager. The quiet moment he has, such as admiring his girlfriend while she’s in a pool or recovering from a broken leg, seem utterly unearned. Kip Pardue is deeply unappealing in the part. The romantic triangle between Beau, Bly and Sophia is hackneyed stuff. I did not care which driver the woman ended up with. Estella Warren, though lovely, seems utterly lost with the material. Another disposable subplot is about Sly’s ball-busting ex-wife, played by Gina Gershon. Every time she saunters on-screen, the film screeches to a halt, overwhelmed by cheesy drama. The bathroom confrontation between Gershon and Stallone’s current love interest is horribly bitchy. Even Burt Reynolds is horribly unlikable, as the wheelchair bound team manager, who spends the whole movie sniping at people.

It would seem like the race car sequences should be the saving grace of a movie like this. Sometimes they are. When the camera is positioned behind the car’s steering wheels is the only time Harlin’s frantic direction comes even remotely close to working. The few times the movie has real cars smashing into each other, spinning around or exploding, it generates some decent cheap thrills. Too often though, “Driven” relies on terrible CGI to bring its car crashes to life. When a car smashes into a wall, it becomes bad CGI. Another time, a shitty CGI car flips head-over-heel across the field. Later, two vehicles collide, one flying over the other. Again, the worst kind of rubbery, flippy-floppy computer graphics are employed to create these stunts. Car stunt enthusiasts frequently bemoan the lack of actual car stunts in modern movies. “Driven” is a good indicator of how CGI can rob on-screen car crashes of their danger or excitement.

In the middle of it all, there’s Sylvester Stallone. He plays Joe Tanto as a variation on latter-day Rocky. The driver is totally washed-up. When introduced, he’s been away from racing for quite some time. Many people on the field dismiss him as out-of-place, a loser past his prime. Despite the lame screenplay and the tawdry direction, Sly maintains his dignity. There’s even a certain grace to the character of Tanto, who accepts defeat so a younger racer can win. After a ludicrous race through the streets of Chicago, Stallone delivers an overdone but thoughtful speech to Bly, about winning and loosing. I even kind of like the romance between Joe and Lucretia, the sports-writer sent to profile him and played by the cute Stacey Edwards. If Joe had been the main character of “Driven,” it might have been salvageable. Despite his top-billing, Sly is only a supporting character, one of many faces lost in the chaos.

It’s not Stallone’s fault that “Driven” bombed. If anything, Sly is probably the best thing about it. His fading star power certainly didn’t help the movie at the box office. But even if it had starred a blockbuster actor in their prime, I don’t think “Driven” would have been successful. The script is drippy. The effects are laughable. The direction is hideous. The music is intrusive. I’d make some racing pun, something about waving a checkered flag or the movie not making it across the finish line, but the film doesn’t even inspire me that much. It’s a flop, through and through. [4/10]

[THE STALLOWNAGE OF SLY: 3 outta 5]
[X] Frank Stallone or Frank Stallone-esque Inspirational Music
[] Incapacitates or Kills Someone With His Body
[] Shows Off Buffness
[X] Social Outcast [Washed-Up Race Car Driver]
[X] Sweaty, Veiny Yelling