Review: 'The Expendables 2' pumps up the mayhem and delivers real thrills
Credit: Lionsgate

Review: 'The Expendables 2' pumps up the mayhem and delivers real thrills

HitFix
C
Readers
B+
Second time's the charm for this series

I was no fan of "The Expendables."

In general, I feel like my generation has been made stupid by nostalgia.  We hold on to any terrible piece of crap from our childhoods simply because we recognize it from our childhoods.  I am often startled by the things that people profess love for, and the only explanation for much of it is because recognition has replaced any sort of demand for quality.  With "The Expendables," people seemed willing to excuse a truly awful, uninteresting action nothing simply because of the cast, and I just couldn't hang with it.

I'm also not exactly the biggest Simon West fan in the world.  Just seeing the difference between the scripts for "Tomb Raider" and the film that West eventually released was enough to make me skeptical of his taste as a filmmaker.  I find myself uninspired by his work.  I think he's a competent shooter, and if that's all you need from a director, he's your guy.

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<p>Tony Gilroy seems comfortable having taken over as the lead creative talent on the franchise as we discussed at 'The Bourne Legacy' press day.</p>

Tony Gilroy seems comfortable having taken over as the lead creative talent on the franchise as we discussed at 'The Bourne Legacy' press day.

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Tony Gilroy discusses his 'Flowers For Algernon' take on 'Bourne'

The writer of the series takes over as director and tries something bold

Tony Gilroy is pretty much the model of a working Hollywood screenwriter in the year 2012.  He's crossed over and become a director as well, but when you look at his career path in general, this is a guy who had to define himself while doing works for hire, something that can easily grind up a writer, even a smart and dedicated one.

"The Bourne Legacy" is a long way from "The Cutting Edge," Gilroy's first produced piece of work, and when you look at his '90s credits, he worked on a lot of studio pictures like "Armageddon," "Extreme Measures," "The Devil's Advocate," "Bait," "Proof Of Life," and the Stephen King adaptation, "Delores Clairborne."

It was in 2002, though, that he finally got the main credit on an undeniably big hit, "The Bourne Identity" and building off of that as a starting point, he wrote both sequels and then jumped into directing with two films that he also wrote, "Michael Clayton" and "Duplicity."  The identity he's established for himself as a filmmaker now is that he crafts very slick adult entertainment, movies that are definitely big-studio friendly, but that have a little extra something to them.

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<p>Dolph Lundgren was in such a good mood at the press day for 'The Expendables 2' that he didn't even threaten to break me.</p>

Dolph Lundgren was in such a good mood at the press day for 'The Expendables 2' that he didn't even threaten to break me.

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Dolph Lundgren on folding real life into 'The Expendables 2'

He's fighting on the same side as Rocky this time, and enjoying every minute of it.

Dolph Lundgren has always looked more like a Stan Winston creation than an actual flesh-and-blood human being.

For one thing, he's ridiculously tall.  I'm 6'2", and I'm used to being one of the taller people in any given situation.  When I met Lundgren at the recent press day for "The Expendables 2," though, I was startled to realize he stands somewhere around eight-and-a-half feet tall.

Seeing him in "Rocky IV" when it was first released, I was amazed at how much he looked like a special effect, production designed rather than cast.  He remains the most visually iconic of all of Rocky's foes in the six films, and he's never really had a role that better utilized his particular talents onscreen.

He's a hard guy to cast in anything besides crazy action films, though, because he doesn't exactly radiate human warmth and kindness, and he's not a guy you give a three page monologue to as a performer.  You have to cast him right, and you have to have a role that utilizes the skills he does have instead of pushing him to do things that are outside his range.

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<p>Zach Galifianakis, Jason&nbsp;Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, and Will Ferrell are all completely and utterly out of their minds in 'The Campaign'</p>

Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, and Will Ferrell are all completely and utterly out of their minds in 'The Campaign'

Credit: Warner Bros

Review: 'The Campaign' features familiar character work with plenty of laughs

HitFix
B+
Readers
C-
Joke for joke, few comedies this year have landed this many punches

When we look back at the career of Will Ferrell eventually, it will be important to discuss the work he does with Adam McKay as a distinct chapter of his filmography.

Sure, Jay Roach directed "The Campaign," and it's certainly got his fingerprints all over it, but there is also something new at play here that we haven't seen from Roach before, and there's no mistaking the gleeful insanity that's at play in the way things escalate within scenes and over the course of the movie.  That is one of the signatures of the films that Ferrell and McKay make together, this examination of the way total idiots will dig in on a situation and make things worse and worse simply by force of personality.  "Anchorman," "Talladega Nights," "The Other Guys," "Step Brothers"… even the short film "The Landlord"… all play off the comedy inherent to the escalation between two equally ludicrous parties.  

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<p>Rachel Weisz and Jeremy Renner co-star in this weekend's 'The Bourne Legacy'</p>

Rachel Weisz and Jeremy Renner co-star in this weekend's 'The Bourne Legacy'

Credit: Universal Studios

Review: 'The Bourne Legacy' features nice work but feels like treading water

HitFix
B-
Readers
B
Good performances still can't rescue the film from complete adequacy

Hollywood is obsessed with franchise building, often disregarding logic and narrative coherence in an effort to keep squeezing cash out of a property long after any natural storytelling momentum has disappeared.

The longer the series wears on, the less the "Bourne" films have anything to do with Robert Ludlum's original novel.  That's fine, of course.  The filmmakers are under no obligation to do straight adaptations, and at this point, it feels like they've created something that stands alone, inspired by Ludlum's ideas but only loosely connected to the world he built.  At this point, Tony and Dan Gilroy are the primary architects of this series, and while the overall action aesthetic of the series has influenced most of the mainstream action movies being made these days, what they're doing narratively is sort of unique, and worth closer examination.

Matt Damon's performance as Jason Bourne was a major part of the appeal of the first three films in the series, and he made even the most implausible parts of the films feel possible.  Losing a movie star for a sequel can be disastrous, but thankfully, Gilroy's laid enough groundwork over the course of the series that the switch they make this time to Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) as the new focus of the film feels quite natural.  Cross is part of a parallel program to the one that created Bourne, and he's a generation or two down the line.  Unlike Bourne, Cross is well aware of what he is and how he was created and why, and at the start of the film, he's out in the field, training in the most rugged terrain possible.  This film overlaps with "The Bourne Ultimatum" in terms of chronology, and it is because of Jason Bourne's actions that the people in charge of Aaron Cross and the other members of his program decide that they have no choice but to burn everything to the ground and leave no evidence.

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<p>If Ben Affleck does end up starring in 'Justice League' as well as directing it, I hope he wears this exact same costume.</p>

If Ben Affleck does end up starring in 'Justice League' as well as directing it, I hope he wears this exact same costume.

Credit: Focus Features

Warner Bros reportedly approaches Ben Affleck to direct 'Justice League'

The first possible filmmaker mentioned raises new questions about superhero film

Warner Bros. has got some extreme pressure on them right now to get one film right, and I would argue there are no higher stakes for any film or any studio in town than there are for "Justice League".

We've heard reports about Will Beall, screenwriter of "Gangster Squad," working on a new take on the script, and reports seem to indicate a fair amount of excitement about his take on the material within the studio.  Now it looks like they're approaching a director, and we probably shouldn't be surprised by the name since they've been quite open about their affection for the work of Ben Affleck, with his new film "Argo" preparing to hit the festival circuit prior to its release later this year.

While I'm not sure I get the "only directing films he stars in" thing from the Variety article, since "Gone Baby Gone" was critically acclaimed, kicked off his directing career, and featured nary a shot of his face.  Besides, I have trouble believing that after "Hollywoodland" and "Daredevil," Affleck is in any hurry to put on any superhero costume again.  Still, the notion of Afflect both directing and starring in a "Justice League" film is intriguing.  One of the things I like about Affleck's sensibilities as a director is that he has a very realistic approach to the stories he tells.  "Justice League" could use that, especially since it's going to be a tricky balancing act bringing together Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, The Green lantern, and more for the film.

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<p>Rachel Weisz makes a rare foray into a pure action movie with 'The Bourne Legacy'</p>

Rachel Weisz makes a rare foray into a pure action movie with 'The Bourne Legacy'

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Rachel Weisz brings the brains and the beauty to 'The Bourne Legacy'

What if even your good guys in a film aren't that good?

Rachel Weisz was my second interview of the day at the recent press event for "The Bourne Legacy," right after I talked to Jeremy Renner, and when we walked in, she spotted my seven-year-old son Toshi, who was with me.

She said hello to him, and he smiled, more shy than normal.  I told her that he was probably just recovering from how excited he was to meet Renner.  Toshi was even wearing his "Avengers" t-shirt.

She nodded.  "Of course," she said.  "He's a superhero, after all.  I can't compete with that.  I'm just a weird lady in a leather dress."

Toshi might not understand the appeal of Weisz, but I was certainly pleased to sit down and chat with her again.  The last time I saw her was in Montreal on the set of "The Fountain," and that encounter was a brief one because of how emotionally demanding that shoot was for both her and Hugh Jackman.

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<p>Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep turn to Steve Carrell when their marriage flounders after 30 years in the smart and well-observed 'Hope Springs'</p>

Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep turn to Steve Carrell when their marriage flounders after 30 years in the smart and well-observed 'Hope Springs'

Credit: Sony Pictures

Review: Moving and mature 'Hope Springs' features Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones at their best

HitFix
A
Readers
A
A smart and subtle studio movie for adults in the summer? How'd that happen?

I would love to know how "Hope Springs" got made.

Sure, David Frankel's had a few hits now.  "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Marley & Me" were both down-the-middle studio hits, but his last film, "The Big Year," barely got a release.  It's a shame, too.  It's not a great film, but it's a nice, gentle character piece that featured a restrained, charming performance by Jack Black and strong work by Steve Martin.  Hard film to sell, though, no matter how it all plays in context, because it's not really loaded with the sorts of moments studios count on to help cut a comedy trailer.  "Hope Springs" is even more restrained and quiet than "The Big Year," and it's the best overall film Frankel's made yet.

It helps that Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep are both masters of their craft, and they both are at their absolute best here.  Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Jones) have been married for 31 years, and they've reached a place of quiet stalemate, each day exactly the same.  They barely talk, they sleep in separate rooms, and it's been years since they were intimate.  As the film starts, Kay finally finds the voice to tell Arnold that she's unhappy, and Streep is excellent at playing a woman who is lonely within her marriage but too afraid of shaking things up to find her voice.  Streep plays Kay as this bundle of tension, small eruptions of emotion occasionally flashing across her face before she manages to get them under control again.  Watching the way Arnold moves through their shared life, it's easy to understand how she gave up communication little by little.  He's basically a statue, a ghost who blows through for a few minutes in the morning and then passes out in front of televised golf in the evening.

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<p>He's Hawkeye, he's Tom Cruise's new partner in 'Mission:&nbsp;Impossible,' and now he's the inheritor of 'The Bourne Legacy'</p>

He's Hawkeye, he's Tom Cruise's new partner in 'Mission: Impossible,' and now he's the inheritor of 'The Bourne Legacy'

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Jeremy Renner claims another franchise as his own in 'The Bourne Legacy'

An Avenger, a 'Mission: Impossible' survivor, and now 'Bourne' again

Jeremy Renner is the Bizarro world Ted McGinley.

For years, McGinley had a reputation as a show killer, a guy who would show up on a long-running TV series just in time for the show to drop dead.  It wasn't his fault, but it happened often enough that he got saddled with that for a while, and something like that can be hard to shake.

Renner, on the other hand, appears to be the guy you cast late in the game if you want to extend a franchise.  He was a great addition to the "Mission: Impossible" franchise last Christmas, he hit the ground running in "The Avengers" this summer, and now they've handed over the "Bourne" series to him, and he's managed to once again deliver a performance that feels absolutely like it has always been a part of that world, perfectly picking up where Matt Damon's work as Jason Bourne left off, and I suspect Universal will be amply rewarded for taking the chance on him.

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<p>Oddly, this photo was taken at a barbecue at Sacha Baron Cohen's house when he wasn't playing a character at all.</p>

Oddly, this photo was taken at a barbecue at Sacha Baron Cohen's house when he wasn't playing a character at all.

Credit: Hermann J. Knippertz/dapd

Sacha Baron Cohen sets up a James Bond style comedy with Paramount

The comic actor moves further from his 'Borat' and 'Bruno' background

Sacha Baron Cohen is facing a real turning point in his career, and it will be interesting to see how things progress.

The joy of discovering his early work was due at least in part to the feeling that you were in on a secret.  Watching Ali G or Borat or Bruno interact with real people was amazing because of how seriously people took these insane creations of his.  Even when "Borat" arrived in theaters, there was still a sense that something deranged was happening, something that was amazing to witness.

The one problem with that kind of humor is that a performer can only keep up that kind of ruse as long as he's not famous.  The moment people start to recognize you, it's impossible for you to interact with the real world, and Sacha Baron Cohen is arguably one of the most recognizable comic performers working today.

I thought "The Dictator" was very funny this summer, but for people who wanted more of the "Borat"/"Bruno" school of gotcha comedy, it seemed less exciting than his earlier work.  I think Cohen's got chops as an actor that we've just barely seen demonstrated onscreen, and while he's done nice work in films like "Hugo" and "Sweeney Todd," it still feels like there's more to his talent.

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