I am doing this early for medical reasons. I have not missed one yet and don’t intend to here. But health issues are pushing me to do it earlier (might do the week after on Monday just to be on safe side), I can’t say baby where I will be in a week. Now that that ugly business is out of the way.
The Expendables 2 is rated R, thank God. Stallone handed over the direction this time (after scoring hits with Rocky, Rambo and the first of this series). Since I did not love the first film (only the concept of it) and did not love the way it was shot (too dark and with off putting angles) I am okay with this decision. Chuck Norris is in this, so I am going. JCVD is in this so I am going twice, even if it sucks. This is what i like about Summer, stars (not special effects).
Paranorman from the makers of Coraline, goth weirdness for goth weirdness sake (have not loved a film like it Since Nightmare Before Christmas). I will let variety do the talking.
Few movies so taken with death have felt so rudely alive as “ParaNorman,” the latest handcrafted marvel from the stop-motion artists at Laika (“Coraline”). Drawing on a deep affection for horror movies and a keen sense of spooky, snarky fun, British helmers Sam Fell and Chris Butler spin an imaginative patchwork tale of a boy who sees dead people, a witch’s curse and a small-minded township reeling from a zombie uprising. Probably too morbid for moppets, the Focus release won’t command rabid B.O., but its singular sensibility should captivate older kids, teens and adults, spelling a healthy homevid afterlife.
From its clever opening scene — a droll riff on horror-thriller conventions, framed in boxy pan-and-scan with a boom mic intruding clumsily on the action — the picture evinces a sly, sophisticated wit and an easy familiarity with the sort of old-school creature-features that once defined the reputation of Focus’ parent studio, Universal. Maintaining a similarly high level of knowing humor, the material here could theoretically have yielded a fine film in any style of animation; still, it’s hard to imagine a more intuitive fit than stop-motion, a process whose demand for painstaking perfectionism at every stage appears to have extended upward to Butler’s wicked-clever screenplay.
No less than 2009’s “Coraline,” “ParaNorman” is classic adolescent-misfit stuff, serving up an immediately empathetic character in Norman Babcock (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee), a bright but unpopular kid with earnest blue eyes and a tall, hedgelike shock of brown hair. Living with his family in the New England town of Blithe Hollow, Norman has the very “Sixth Sense”-like ability to see and commune with the dead, carrying on a relationship with his late grandmother (Elaine Stritch) and other invisible, ectoplasmic beings who have left behind unfinished business.
While it’s presented to viewers as no big deal, Norman’s gift worries his skeptical parents (Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin), annoys his teenage sister (Anna Kendrick) and gets him in trouble with a school bully (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). It also earns Norman the attention of another local outcast, the overgrown Prenderghast (John Goodman), who warns him about an ancient curse that will soon take effect, causing the dead to rise again.
In a setup that merges zombie-thriller and teen-movie tropes, Norman and his reluctant allies — who include chubby classmate Neil (Tucker Albrizzi) and his jockish older brother, Mitch (Casey Affleck) — must fend off an undead army in a dark forest, a pitchfork-waving mob and a witch with a 300-year-old grudge (voiced with memorable shrillness by Jodelle Ferland).
As derivative and occasionally belabored as the proceedings are, they’re enlivened by a steady stream of smart sight gags and one-liners that occasionally favor viewers with an irreverent wink, but never stoop to jabbing them in the ribs; even when “Tubular Bells” pops up on the soundtrack, the yuks feel entirely of a piece with the universe Fell, Butler and their ace team of designers and animators have constructed. Indeed, there’s a sharp, acerbic edge to the humor that turns out to be no mere laughing matter; churning beneath the story is a core of genuine rage at the idiocy of the mob mentality, the collective impulse to terrorize or ostracize those who refuse to blend in.
“ParaNorman,” then, insists on the importance of weirdness, idiosyncrasy and personal distinction, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the continually stimulating and mercurial visual style concocted by Fell (who directed “Flushed Away” and “The Tale of Despereaux”) and rookie helmer Butler. The intrinsically unstable look of stop-motion rendering, with its putty-like puppets and wobbly, frame-at-a-time rhythms, has long been suited to the nightmare realms inhabited by directors like Tim Burton and Henry Selick, and the effect here is at once eerily enveloping and gloriously, unabashedly cartoonish.
The ramshackle houses and colonial-style architecture of Blithe Hollow, modeled on early-Massachusetts townships like Salem and Concord as well as the photography of William Eggleston, convey a striking sense of place accented by the autumnal hues of Tristan Oliver’s widescreen cinematography. Lensing is as agile and resourceful as that of any live-action production, from the mobile camerawork (achieved with rigs that only compound the degree of difficulty of individual shots) to the use of old-fashioned rack focus.
The persuasiveness of the story’s milieu provides an anchor for its more fantastical images, such as a witch’s face leering malevolently down from the skies, a vision that might have been rendered in artfully crinkled tissue paper. Only the climax, a blinding-white vision that sticks out from the rest of the film, reps a visual disappointment, albeit one compensated for by the sequence’s sheer emotional force.
Although the 3D isn’t deployed quite as impressively as it was in “Coraline,” it’s done with a similar degree of taste and artful restraint. Voicework is topnotch, particularly Smit-McPhee’s winning underdog turn, and Jon Brion’s playfully creepy score nails the pic’s tone.
Camera (color, widescreen, 3D), Tristan Oliver; editor, Christopher Murrie; music, Jon Brion; production designer, Nelson Lowry; art directors, Francesca Berlingieri Maxwell, Phil Brotherton; set designers, Yvonne Boudreaux, Curt Enderle, Polly Robbins; costume designer, Deborah Cook; lead animators, Travis Knight, Jeff Riley, Payton Curtis; animation supervisor, Brad Schiff; character designer, Heidi Smith; supervising sound editor (Dolby SR/SRD/DTS/5.1), Ronald Eng; sound designers, Steve Boeddeker, Tom Myers; re-recording mixers, Tom Myers, Juan Peralta, Stephen Urata; visual effects supervisor, Brian Van’t Hul; visual effects producer, Annie Pomeranz; associate producer, Matthew Fried; assistant directors, Dan Pascall, Ime Etuk; casting, Allison Jones. Reviewed at RealD screening room, Beverly Hills, July 25, 2012. (In Melbourne Film Festival.) MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 96 MIN.
Sparkle is a 60s girl group movie. I don’t understand Spark’s appeal and we have seen it all before even if it is Whitney’s last project.
Now this sounds interesting. The director of Pieces of April and Dan in Real Life has made a film of a myth I find interesting (growing a child). I am a Thomas Hardy fan and it would be nice to see him be appealing in a well done kid’s film.
There must be some of you out there excited about Expendables 2 and even Paranorman
I think Paranorman looks cute. May or may not spend the money to see it in theatre though. It just depends.
I need to see the first Expendables, but this second one looks pretty bad ass.
@dennis: JCVD is the only reason why I’m gonna see Expendables 2 without having seen the first one. The inner child within me is a fan of his work, so I just have to see Van Damme kicking ass again in a major motion picture (or getting his ass kicked, in this case).
The Expendables doesn’t really interest me, and there’s nothing here I want to see on a big screen either. I like the ideas behind The Odd Life of Timothy Green and ParaNorman, but not enough to see them in theaters.
So far ParaNorman is slated to be shown at the Mid-Week Movie Series at the University SUB late in fall semester. I think it’s totally reasonable to see that movie for $2. I’ll see it then, unless it gets dropped, then I’ll keep my eye out for second run.
no Pieces of April. Dan in Real Life fans?
ParaNorman looks like something Tim Burton would have put together in his pre-Depp days
“ParaNorman looks like something Tim Burton would have put together in his pre-Depp days”
Well what’s weird about that is, acknowledge:
Nightmare before Christmas was directed by Selick and only produced by Burton, as was James and the Giant Peach. Coraline was directed by Selick with the company that is making ParaNorman but had nothing to do with Burton. What Burton DID direct is Corpse Bride, which sucked. But now Burton has directed Frankenweenie which actually looks kind of good (though his original live action short was awesome). So even though all of these movies get wrapped in this whole “Well it’s Tim Burton” association, he’s had a little to do with the kiddie goth genre. He sort of set it off with his original Nightmare designs, but the only one he actually directed that’s been released so far ( Corpse Bride ) is the worst of the lot.
well that is why I said put together and not direct.
I guess I could have said produce
Sellick without Burton= Coraline and Monkey Bone (two of my least favorite things)
no matter how bad I think monkey bone is, I still like it.
Didn’t notice this thread until now. First, get well, Den!!
I want to see ParaNorman . Definitely taking the brood out for this one.
And of course I’ll be seeing Expendables 2 .
Timothy Green looks horrifying. I probably will skip it.
Horrifying in what sense, Bijoux?
Every sense. You know how a few years ago it was fun to remake trailers of non horror films and make them look like scary movies?? This trailer would really only need a change in music, I think.
Three weeks of these threads to be added by the weekend, going into surgery soon and must stay caught up
Good luck with your surgery, Dennis!! What kind of surgery is it? Do you mind me asking?
I have colon cancer (only 1000 people in USA get it a year at my age).
I am going to do a blog about what I am going thru soon, (as it might help someone else that is young going through the same thing).
Does this mean I have to like 50/50?
Like the first one Expendables 2 runs 100 mins
long enough to showcase everyone and not wear out its welcome.
Green runs 2 hours, seems a little long but maybe it will be fine.
The first Expendables 2 review is in and its not promising (from whatculture.com)
The Expendables was a grand work of wish fulfilment on the part of writer-director-star Sylvester Stallone, bringing together a veritable who’s-who of action stars both old and new for a violent and riotously entertaining time, even if it did take itself a little too seriously. Though many will be relieved that Simon West’s take is far more humourous and cartoonish, it’s also surprisingly light on set-pieces, and keeps its more intriguing stars off screen for far too long.
The Expendables 2 begins promisingly, however, with a tremendously energetic and violent action scene, which sees the titular band of heroes assailing a small village full of non-descript soldiers, in order to rescue Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and a Chinese national he is attempting to extract. However, at the climax of this scene, as Jet Li’s Yin Yang parachutes out of a plane, declaring that he has to “go home”, the film’s momentum and sense of excitement departs along with him. Also absent from the sequel is Mickey Rourke’s philosophical tattooist character, with no explanation given for this.
Plenty of effort has been made to compensate for the disappearing acts, though; joining Schwarzenegger in supporting duty is a returning Bruce Willis, as the CIA agent who calls in a favour from Stallone’s Barney Ross and his intrepid crew, Chuck Norris as a literal one-man army, and Jean-Claude Van Damme as the film’s antagonist named, with little sense of irony, Jean Vilain. Lesser-known actors padding out the crew include a young soldier, Billy “The Kid” (Liam Hemsworth), and a new female Expendable on loan from the CIA, Maggie (Nan Yu).
It would seem easy work to make a fun action film out of these ingredients, and thus, the blame has to lie less with director West – who has proven himself capable on underrated vehicles like Con Air and his recent remake of The Mechanic – and more with co-writers Stallone and Richard Wenk (16 Blocks, The Mechanic). After the exhilaration of the initial rescue sequence, things grind to a winding, expository halt, as we’re painstakingly introduced to the new characters one-by-one, and like the last film, it indulges in one too many dreary monologues for a film that should be snappy and light on its feet.
What really disappoints, though, is the lack of action in the middle of all the gassing; after the opening shooting gallery, the next full set-piece isn’t for roughly 45 minutes, by which point the film is basically two-thirds done. This does allow for one of its most inspired moments, though, as we’re introduced to Chuck Norris’ character Booker, appearing in a winningly self-aware manner that fully accepts his stature as a popular Internet meme. Similarly, due attention is paid to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s iconic status, such that he’s given a good share of the zingers, though one dialogue exchange that actually name-drops Rambo feels too on-the-nose. The banter between the group is generally well-formed, and the new additions all slot into the fray effortlessly.
Another problem, then, is that the more savoury attractions are used in a manner closer approximating a glorified cameo than a co-starring role. Chuck Norris’ first appearance isn’t for almost an hour, while Schwarzenegger is kept off-screen for a good three-quarters of an hour after his initial showing. Van Damme also doesn’t show his face for the entire first act, and when he finally does, he tends to drop in and out of the film quite indiscriminately. Though he is probably the most in-shape of any of the legend-tier action stars in the film, we’re not given much time to buy into Van Damme’s menace, as well as his vague quest for dominance, and a peculiar, superfluous sub-plot in which he exploits a small town’s mining operation.
The film loses its footing after ten minutes and really never regains itself, only excelling again during the climactic set-piece, a wild, messy sequence which has all of the film’s biggest stars converging for a full-throttle orgy of carnage that amasses a colossal body count. And of course, we get a thrilling bare-knuckle showdown between Stallone and Van Damme, yet are its brief measures of brilliance enough to compensate for what largely feels like a missed opportunity? The answer for most will likely depend on how much esteem and nostalgia the viewer has for these stars’ best works – and how much you’ve had to drink first – yet speaking as a huge fan of most all involved, it still underwhelmed thoroughly.
Nobody was expecting great art – and in fact, nobody wanted great art – but one would expect the film to succeed as an action-packed extravaganza; rather, there are only two full-length action scenes, with a padded hour-long chunk of dialogue and very occasional action sandwiched in-between. For a film running in at merely 102 minutes, the pace needs to be faster to give all of these stars their due; instead it feels malnourished and sloppy compared to the confidence of the first Expendables. The moments that do thrill are wonderfully composed, full of graphic gore and an exaggerated, thoroughly ridiculous style that reflects the better action films of the 1980s, but they are too few and far between for a film that should probably have an action-to-dialogue ratio reflecting something like The Raid.
While it’s unquestionably great to see Arnie again totting a giant gun, The Expendables 2 fails to make the most of its game cast, and most surprisingly of all, is quite lacking in the action department. That said, count us curious enough for part three.
and from Harvey Karten compuserve:
“There’s something you ought to know about me,” says the title character, Timothy Green (Cameron “CJ” Adams). Yes, this Green kid is a ten-year-old, but other than his would-be parents, are there people in the audience at the edge of their seats to listen into the big secret? Could be. I don’t know how the small fry will react to this Disney production. Maybe only the target audience should be reviewing the picture. But it seems to me that this Hallmark Hall of Fame-type of comedy-tear-jerker may not go down any better on children than on the parents who drag them to the movie. CJ Adams is a fine young actor who carries the part well, for a kid who’s just about sixty pounds, four feet six inches high and I’d guess about eleven years old. The theme, though, is a cliché—that it’s OK to be different. Yet from the way this Timothy kid does everything wrong— for example can barely kick a soccer ball more than two inches without falling, yet makes a huge blooper when finally taken off the bench and put on the field—you’ve got to question whether different is good. He is invited to perform on a musical instrument right after the sister of his adoptive mother bragged about her child’s performance in a chamber music group but can do little other than tap a chime. His parents then take over at the concert to dance and sing to the child’s beat in the most embarrassment segment of the story.
Contrary to the view of those who might criticize how sanitary this PG picture turns out, it deals with matters that some parents would not want their 10-year-olds to hear. Death, for example. We not only see Timothy’s “uncle” in the hospital after suffering what looks like a heart attack, but see his dead body laid out for witnesses. We hear how Timothy’s adoptive parents “tried everything” to have a child but were told that there was no hope. “Mommy, mommy, what does she mean that she “tried everything”?
The story finds the depressed couple Jim Green (Joel Edgerton—wearing a large, dark-brown rug) and Cindy Green (Jennifer Garner) despairing so poignantly that they cannot have a biological baby that some in the audience will wonder whether she’ll pull a Yerma. Yerma, meaning “barren” in Spanish, is the woman created by Federico Garcia Lorca who kills her husband because he will not give her a child. The couple plant some notes in a box in their garden stating the attributes that their child would have and, voilà—on a dark and stormy night the ten-year-old appears in the bedroom full of dirt, a happy child who insists on calling the two adults Mom and Dad.
The entire story unfolds during a conference that Jim and Cindy have with Evette (Iranian-born Shohred Achdashloo), an official of an adoption agency who challenges the couple to prove they have the qualifications to adopt. They tell her the story, which she finds nutty but unrealistically believes—and for that matter nobody in the movie truly wonders whether this kid was either kidnapped or had run away, picked up and informally adopted up by Cindy and Jim.
In trying to prove that it’s OK to be different, writer-director Peter Hedges (“Dan in Real Life”) has Timothy bond with Joni (Odeya Rush), whose birthmark proves that she is likewise unusual, but she apparently does not have the same fantasy background as Timothy, whose leg sports green leaves that cannot be cut or removed in any way but which fall out, one by one, as their green color fades.
The story is populated by such colorful characters as Ron Livingston, terrifically funny as Peter Gibbons in Mike Judge’s “Office Space,” in the role of the boss of the Stanley pencil factory, which is on the brink of bankruptcy; M. Emmet Walsh, who laughs for the first time in years when listening to Timothy; Dianne Wiest as a witch of a woman who is Cindy’s boss in a pencil museum; and David Morse as Jim’s dad, a man who simply “wasn’t there” when Jim needed him. Common pops up as a soccer coach who gets so excited during a small fry game that you’d think he’s handling the NY Giants.
The photography is perfect as we’ve come to expect from Disney productions, and we do get to see how pencils are manufactured.
Oh geez Dennis! I hope everything goes well. We’ll all be thinking about you, I’m sure!
thanks I already am getting more support than expected.
if anyone finds a positive Expendables 2 review please post Flick Philosopher wrote: makes The A-Team look like it was written by Sun Tzu), want to hear some good things, seeing it either way of course
slant magazine which usually hates a lot of films liked Exp 2:
Even more so than its 2010 predecessor, The Expendables 2 feels like a juiced-up wish-fulfillment fantasy. The second go-around for Sly Stallone and Avi Lerner’s super franchise is nothing if not a colossally silly indulgence—as much for its padded out cast of (mostly) over-the-hill action movie icons as its target audience of backward-looking genre nostalgists.
Having established the dynamic between the half-dozen above-the-title stars (none of whom proved to be actually expendable), The Expendables 2 opens not with a mere bang but a symphony of booms, blasts, and exploding heads, as action cinema’s over-the-hill Avengers crash through Asia on track to extract a hostage from a pirate/terrorist hideout. The film’s lengthy opening prologue rumbles with more blazing, edge-of-the-seat energy than any of this summer’s more respectable blockbusters. As realized by Simon West (seizing the directorial reigns from Stallone himself), The Expendables 2’s fiery opener is giddily violent crap filmmaking of the highest order, exploding like a surge of pent-up testosterone. It’s as much a credit as a demerit to West’s capable direction that the film can’t improve on it.
Having laid (and lit up) its scene, The Expendables 2 reintroduces Willis’s Mr. Church, a high-level government agent harboring a grudge against Stallone’s mush-mouthed Barney Ross and his crew of for-hire hatchet men (Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, and the rest). He tasks Stallone’s squad—now rounded out by new recruit Liam Hemsworth, playing a soured Afghan war sniper (essentially recuperating the trauma of the war in Afghanistan as nothing more than another action-movie trope)—with retrieving a computer from a downed airplane. Yu Nan also tags along as Maggie, a safecracking whiz whose inclusion scans as a hilarious bid at gender equity, amounting to little more than a modest rumple in the film’s leathery, hyper-masculine fabric. (In one of the film’s funnier bits, Stallone and Crews combine their brawny efforts to valiantly hold a door open for her as she hacks into a safe.)
The team’s routine in and out is foiled by a perfectly menacing Jean-Claude Van Damme (whose character’s name is, for real, “Vilain”) and his company of guerillas, who have designs on the captured hard drive. Gunfire, roundhouse kicks, and steely glares are exchanged in turn, until Stallone, Statham, and company are chasing Van Damme into post-Soviet Eastern Europe to shut down his massive plutonium mining operation.
Where The Expendables played out as a re-skinned update on Commando (heroes dispatched to Central American any-island to put down a military dictatorship while getting the girl), the sequel paints its lively panoramas of violence with a considerably broader palette. All the globetrotting serves to superficially advance the film, with its various chases, urban assaults (one in an ersatz mock-up of New York City built by Cold War-era Soviet operatives), and mineshaft sieges broken up by plenty of burly male bonding. As in the original, the uneasy bromantic interludes are an embarrassing attempt to contemporize the attitudes of the film’s knowingly outdated male icons.
When The Expendables 2 really fires on all cylinders, its aging supermen (including expanded roles for Willis and Schwarzenegger, and an entirely too ironic Chuck Norris) combining their efforts like some kind of fleshy Voltron, all the wink-nudge genre nostalgia seems entirely validated. Where the original erred toward grim self-seriousness and Stallone-scripted sentimentality (recall Mickey Rourke’s jarring monologue about not intervening in a woman’s suicide), the sequel tends to overcompensate with flat meta humor. Schwarzenegger and Willis especially behave as if they’re little more than pull-string versions of themselves handily locked and loaded with various catchphrases (“I’ll be back,” “Yippee-ki-yay,” and so on).
Still, the film’s obvious stupidity is the point; its premise is to invest the proceedings with big-budget, devil-may-care, “let’s put on a show” boldness. At its best, The Expendables 2 plays out like a series of wet-dream scenarios (especially the climactic macho-a-macho showdown between Stallone and Van Damme), performed by a cast of vintage action figures battered and broken from overuse, bleached and slightly molted from sitting in the sun too long. As ludicrous as it is to see this troupe of largely past-prime action-movie icons manically reassert their own box-office primacy, there’s enough empty calorie fun to be had in humoring their shared fantasy that they’re not getting too old for this shit.
Redundant, bombastic and cheekily self-aware, “The Expendables 2” is also savvy enough to supply its own auto-critique. “Male-pattern badness,” in the words of Bruce Willis, whose own smooth-shaven pate lends the joke an extra curl of irony. With Willis, Sylvester Stallone and roughly a dozen B-through-Z-movie icons returning for sequel duty, plus Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris for good measure, this muscle-bound meathead extravaganza is a sometimes blissfully cretinous endeavor, delivering the maximum firepower and zero brainpower its target audience expects. Surprisingly junkier-looking than its hit predecessor, the Lionsgate release should still land in the same commercial ballpark.
Having directed himself and his brawny ensemble with more energy than coherence in 2010’s “The Expendables,” Stallone turns over the helming reins to Simon West, well prepared for this gig based on his past experience shepherding burning planes (“Con Air”) and Jason Statham (“The Mechanic”). On a visual level, West seems to have taken the idea of “down-and-dirty” rather too literally; from its initial blowout to its climactic slugfest, this is one ugly tank of a movie, shot in murky shades of brown, gray and yellow that suggest the actors were afflicted by an outbreak of jaundice.
As scripted by Stallone and Richard Wenk, the pic isn’t much better to listen to. What it does offer, in spades, is the sort of self-referential humor that labors at every turn to make clear that the actors — chiefly Arnold Schwarzenegger, who doesn’t give a performance here so much as a recitation of “Terminator” references — are in on the joke, the idea being that all the good-natured winking and ribbing will somehow translate into viewer enjoyment. And from time to time, with all the reliability of the gang’s creaky old seaplane, it does.
After a fairly exciting and completely irrelevant 15-minute opening salvo in Nepal, ringleader Barney Ross (Stallone) and his hardened crew bid a hasty farewell to their token Chinese member, Yin Yang (Jet Li, in and out), only to inherit another, Maggie (Yu Nan), a skilled codebreaker who joins them in their next mission. Alas, said mission costs them one of their best and brightest, a sensitive young sniper (Liam Hemsworth) mercilessly slain by a crime kingpin so villainous, he’s actually named Vilain (Van Damme).
Clearly, it’s payback time. Or at least, it will be once the pic dispenses with a few draggy character-building scenes and painful one-liners, as when Swedish meathead Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) fixes Maggie with a meaningful stare and murmurs, “I’d really die for some Chinese.” This is followed by an ostensibly more chivalrous bit of male-female interaction in which Barney warns Maggie to keep her emotional distance, lest she, too, become a victim. Maggie, we’re told, is good with a knife, but her weapon of choice here is the contemptuous smirk, the assumption being that the bold gesture of adding a woman to the cast precludes the need to give her anything interesting to do.
Far deadlier are newcomer Booker (Norris), a lone-ranger assassin whose dynamic entrance occasions a cheesy blast of Ennio Morricone, and Barney’s trusty No. 2, Lee Christmas (Statham), who can be counted on to turn an airplane propeller into a handy decapitation device. As for the other men on the team, they all emerge from the experience with little more than scrapes and bruises, spraying their nemeses with almost as many catchphrases as bullets. “I got this!” grunts Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) right before firing off a few thousand rounds, allowing the actor to distinguish himself a bit from his virtually interchangeable co-stars Scott Adkins and Randy Couture.
In their closing bout, Stallone and Van Damme come to resemble two swinging sides of beef — both tough, leathery and flayed almost beyond recognition, but not quite. Recognition, indeed, is the chief and perhaps sole pleasure this picture is selling: It’s the ostensible thrill of seeing all these action-movie avatars trying to outmuscle each other onscreen, never mind how many lapses in logic and pointless plot contortions were necessary to bring them together in the first place.
Pic generates some unique production value from its mostly Bulgarian locations, and the hyper-violent action sequences more than earn their R rating, though their impact is disappointingly mitigated by the quick, haphazard editing and a grimy visual scheme that turns blood the color of mud. The high volume of deafening explosions necessitated a great deal of distractingly post-dubbed dialogue, also forced to compete with a hemorrhaging score and an insistently nostalgic soundtrack of ’60s and ’70s tunes.
Camera (Deluxe color/Technicolor, widescreen, HD), Shelly Johnson; editor, Todd E. Miller; music, Brian Tyler; music supervisor, Selena Arizanovic; production designer, Paul Cross; supervising art director, Adam Makin; art directors, Keith Pain, Sonya Savova, Ivan Rangelov, Alexei Karagiaur, Ivaylo Nikolov; set decorators, Pauline Seager, Valya Mladenova; costume designer, Lizz Wolf; sound (Datasat/Dolby Digital), Vladimir Kaloyanov; special effects supervisors, Pini Klavir, Alex Gunn; visual effects supervisor, Ajoy Mani; visual effects producer, Scott Coulter; visual effects, Worldwide FX; supervising stunt coordinator, Noon Orsatti; stunt coordinators, Chad Stahelski, Stanimir Stamatov, Diyan Hristov; fight coordinator, Don Theerathada; fight choreographer, Allan Poppleton; associate producer, J. Celeste Salzer; assistant directors, Nick Satriano, Petya Evtimova
As a remake of a cult ‘70s musical developed as a star vehicle for a former “American Idol” winner, “Sparkle” would seem to have all the makings of a low-rent “Dreamgirls,” perfectly serviceable if sometimes hopelessly scattered. Or at least it would have been that vehicle, were it not saddled with the unfortunate significance of featuring Whitney Houston’s final performance, having wrapped mere months before her sudden death in February. A film with foundations this slight can’t help but crumble under such a burden, although it’s precisely the interest in Houston’s swan song that should all but ensure decent business.
The 1976 original, which featured music from Curtis Mayfield and a script by a young Joel Schumacher, focused on a trio of sibling singers in 1950s Harlem, stitching together a zany patchwork of great music, overheated melodrama and risible social commentary. Director Salim Akil’s remake tones down its predecessor’s incipient weirdness, and relocates the action to late-’60s Detroit, where mousy young church singer Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) is eager to break into the soul scene exploding all around her.
An “Idol” alum whose career has been idling for the past few years, Sparks should see a healthy Q-rating bump from her first starring role here; she’s cute as a button and can belt with the best of ‘em, even if her range of expression is mostly limited to the extremes of either ecstatic well-being or lip-quivering sadness. She’s certainly likable enough, and it’s not her fault that she frequently disappears from view in her own movie.
Sparks is tasked with playing the wallflower in a family full of forceful personalities, which does the inexperienced thesp no favors. Her wild-child older sister, Sister (Carmen Ejogo), is a sort of Motor City Ishtar, a tsunami of melisma, swiveling hips, sex, drugs and violence. Her other sister, Dolores (Tika Sumpter), is a proto-Black Power firebrand who takes on potential record-industry grifters like a ‘60s Wendy Day. And Houston plays the family’s iron-fisted, churchgoing matriarch, Emma, whose own rough experiences with the music business and men cause her to deny both to her progeny.
What Sparkle does have is a knack for songwriting. Surreptitiously penning songs for Sister to perform at sweaty clubs, Sparkle catches the eye of fellow church member Stix (Derek Luke), whose romantic intentions dovetail conveniently with his dreams of becoming the next Berry Gordy. Assembling the sisters into a Supremes-style trio, Stix somehow navigates them to a spot opening for Aretha Franklin before their mother has even begun to wonder where they’ve been every night. Meanwhile, Sister has traded the affections of a sweet local boy (Omari Hardwick) for conk-haired, diamond-flashing local celebrity Satin (Mike Epps), a slithering viper who sets about destroying all familial harmony.
“Sparkle” deals in such well-worn rise-and-fall music-bio tropes that it’s hard to blame it for simply coasting on narrative shorthand at times. But the lackadaisical storytelling can inch toward outright laziness, with a number of key plot points elided from view while whole scenes are wasted on foreshadowing character developments that never actually develop.
Of course, all eyes are bound to be on Houston here, and her performance registers as a success in its mere normalcy: She looks her age and no more, delivers her lines crisply and has adequate chemistry with her co-stars. Aside from one gasp-inducing line — “Is my life not enough of a cautionary tale for you?” — ghoulish gossipmongers eager to scour the screen for hints of her own personal troubles will thankfully leave the theater empty-handed.
For her one onscreen number, Houston performs the century-old gospel standard “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” and it’s a bit of an odd one. Backed by a seasick piano and a choir arrangement that never quite taps into the rhythm of the song, Houston sounds a tad hoarse and uncharacteristically sticks to the lower end of her range. But given the funereal mood of the scene in which the song appears, it can’t help but be affecting.
Ejogo seems to be channeling Beyonce’s interpretation of Diana Ross more than the genuine article, though she puts in a solid shift all the same, as does the ever-reliable Luke. The best performance comes from comedian Epps: Evoking a strange crossbreed of Morris Day and Patrick Bateman, his Satin manages to be genuinely chilling in his dead-eyed sociopathology while still earning the film’s biggest laughs.
R. Kelly serves as executive music consultant here, producing tasteful covers of several Mayfield tunes, and penning a few new ones himself. Much like his own retro projects “Love Letter” and “Write Me Back,” Kelly’s contributions mingle the compositional framework of ’60s R&B with the quiet-storm smoothness of the 1980s, producing some climactic numbers that sound right, yet feel inescapably off.
Akim directs with professional flair during the music sequences, journeyman adequacy during the domestic scenes and amateur shoddiness during his few overreaching attempts at auteurial flourishes. Editing is a bit ragged, though most other tech specs are pro.
Camera (color), Anastas Michos; editor, Terilyn A. Shropshire; music, Salaam Remi; executive music consultant, R. Kelly; production designer, Gary Frutkoff; art director, Gary Myers; costume designer, Ruth E. Carter; set decorator, Tina Tottis; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/Datasat), Steve Morrow; supervising sound designer, Jay Nierenberg; re-recording mixer, Jonathan Wales; visual effects supervisors, Efram Potelle, Paul Linden; visual effects, Dilated Pixels; special effects coordinator, Russell Tyrrell; stunt coordinator, Ele Bardha; choreographer, Fatima Robinson; assistant director, Darin Rivetti; casting, Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd. Reviewed at Sony Studios, Culver City, Calif., Aug. 15, 2012. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 112 MIN.
As an action fan, I had zero desire to see the first film. Ditto the second film. I guess if the film was a completely crazy satire/spoof, then I might be interested in—maybe directed by John Carpenter or by someone even nuttier.
Jazz this is a film made for action fans (for the sequel they have contacted Ford and Eastwood).
I think you are more of a thriller fan with elements of action thrown in.
Saying you are an action fan with zero interest in this
is like saying you love civil war era romantic epics but have zero interest in Gone With the Wind.
Honestly, I think you could argue that I’m not an action fan—or a sci-fan or even a fan of thrillers—because I’m probably not interested in 90% of the films in those genres. I just have difficulty find films in these genres that I really enjoy—but I’m always looking for good ones. And when I find them, I’m really stoked. (Did you see 13 Assassins? I loved that!) I’m a big fan of good action films, but not action films in general.