Saturday, June 25, 2016

NWTE – A Forgotten Blake Lively Movie and The Expendables 2

Not Worth The Effort was conceived in early Fall of 2015 with the aim of succinctly documenting and summarizing movies (and possibly other media) that simply aren’t worth the effort of a full review.  This month’s issue is dedicated to The Shallows starring Blake Lively, which looks to be an amazing big-screen outing for the boys.

Savagess –

I’m trying to think of a movie that has used first-person narration to its betterment.  1st-person voice works well in writing because authors aren’t bound by technical limitations and can place the reader in whomever’s head they desire, but with the exception of the Maniac remake and some found-footage movies to an extent, filmmaking is a 3rd-person medium of storytelling, and throwing voiceover into that formula pretty much always undermines the structure.  Memento pulled it off really well.  Dogville’s omniscient narration was great, and The Lobster and Doctor Zhivago both used supporting characters’ voices to strong effect.  Flipped was decent.  I must be reaching to be talking about Flipped in a movie review.  Please Hollywood, stop using dumb voiceovers to tell us about the world, the characters, and details we can gather from visuals and dialogue.

Savages is all about terrible people doing terrible things to other terrible people.  It’s crushingly dark, depressing, and nihilistic up until the ending scene, when it tries to introduce some black comedy and leaves a nasty aftertaste of WTF in everybody’s throat.  The final ten minutes are an unmitigated catastrophe of filmmaking, a giant middle finger to the audience that basically says, “Yup, none of this was real, gotcha!  All this dream-sequence violence and drama was just a ploy to shove more exciting action shots in the trailer and get you into the theater!”  If you’re going to watch this film, just stop it before the hostage exchange scene.  The worst of all the bad guys gets away without punishment, John Travolta’s corrupt bureaucrat comes out on top, no one lives happily ever after, and Blake Lively doesn’t die as she’s been hinting the whole movie through voiceover.  How are we even hearing her obnoxious voice in the first place?  Did her character “O” (short for Ophelia, which she doesn’t like because it reminds her of Hamlet – ugh, moving on…) record her narration after the events of the film took place?  If so and this is ostensibly a true story, why does the cinematography look so crisp and why does she mess with people by saying she may be dead by the time they’re hearing her?  If it’s truly an inner monologue and fits within a fictional framework, why does she break the fourth wall and address viewers directly like she’s a real person?

Aside from the Blake Lively voiceover lines, which seem like they were written by an entirely different, much less competent person (“Chon ____s; Ben makes love.  Chon is earth; Ben is spirit.”), there’s a lot of good dialogue and characterization that’s enhanced by really powerful acting.  I don’t get why the critical consensus universally held that Taylor Kitsch and Lively were weak links in the casting; the former played his pragmatic, short-tempered Seal veteran to a T, and the latter exuded surprising depth and frailty in the part of a wealthy, emptyheaded Cali-girl slut, or so she describes herself.  The part where she implores her captors to send her some dope and confides that she’s been taking drugs since the eighth grade may be the saddest, most revealing scene of the film.  I guess reviewers had to come up with some concrete, surface-level reasons why they didn’t like the film, and when you can’t articulate any problems with the scripting or direction, making up bad acting and attacking that is an easy cop-out for would-be critics. Salma Hayek is a stupid race-baiting twat, but she’s a stupid race-baiting twat who can act and curse phenomenally, and Benicio Del Toro is also terrific as one of the most revolting and sadistic and irredeemable villains I’ve seen in a long while.

Verily the whole movie revolves around revolting and sadistic deeds, and while there’s a definite place in cinema for films that expose the scum, the desperation, the violence of the real world, Oliver Stone doesn’t infuse Savages with nearly enough philosophical meat, let alone hope for anyone but Del Toro’s Lado, to make it a redeemable use of anybody’s time.  Ben and Chon, who share O as a mutual girlfriend in what Hayek points out is a fundamentally dysfunctional relationship, have occasional verbal bouts over morality and justice, the former guy identifying as a pacificistic Buddhist, the latter as an ends-justify-the-means “Baddest”.  This is Blake Lively’s voiceover evaluating the two.

Screw it.  This just wasn’t very good, at all.  Click here for the Good Parts Version some other blogger made of Savages, and by Good Parts I mean unintentionally hilarious.

Twice As Expendable –

The Expendables 2 is a piece of crap.  Sold on the star appeal if not the acting of its ensemble cast, it relies entirely on nostalgia and cheesy throwback one-liners to cover for its auto-pilot direction, acting, and script, and it sadly seems to have worked, as 66% of critics gave it their stamp of approval.  Like the failed Battleship board game adaptation of four years ago, it feels like an attempt at making a Michael Bay sensory overload but with none of the directorial prowess behind it.  If it had actually been a Michael Bay movie, it would probably have netted a whopping 6%, but that’s just the funny world of double standards in which we live.

The movie opens with a compound infiltration scene straight out of Predator wherein Sly Stallone and his buddies mindlessly shoot hundreds of Bad Guys and spill countless gallons of fake-looking blood before rescuing Schwarzenegger, riding down a zipline while shooting more Bad Guys with perfect accuracy, and jumping into an amphibious plane that completely blows up a worthless bridge just by shooting it three times in the center.  Jean Claude Van Damme kills Gale from The Hunger Games after we’ve known him for some fifteen minutes, which gives Sly and his friends, including “Christmas”, “Gunner”, “Trench”, “Church”, and Maggie an excuse to “track him, find him, kill him”, you know, for revenge.

Along the way they get dragged into a typical Eastwood Western plotline about a helpless village living in fear of an evil El Guapo figure.  Stallone (who technically has a name but isn’t really a character) steers a plane into the Bad Guy’s mine and breaks it in a sequence fraught with shaky-cam effect, all so that his partner can look at him and say, “You’re going to need a different plane.”  Ha ha ha.  Stating the obvious in a dangerous situation is funny.  Arnold Schwarzenegger frees them from the mine and says, “I’m back,” which is another recurring reference – I mean joke.  Chuck Norris, who previously had a one-minute scene establishing that he works alone, shows up unexpectedly to lend a hand and they all converge to cause a chaotic bloodbath at a crowded airport terminal that’s full of innocent travelers who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Stallone confronts Van Damme, who makes the fatal error of mocking his opponent instead of killing him and of forgetting the name of the Expendable he murdered in cold blood earlier.  “His name was Billy!” growls Stallone while twisting the bad guy’s own knife into his stomach, which inadvertently triggers the biggest snorts the movie’s bound to get out of anybody.

There’s not much else to say about The Expendables 2.  Chuck Norris can’t act, Bruce Willis chooses not to, the cinematography looks gray and boring and cheap, action and reaction always happen in separate shots except when Jet Li’s on camera (which isn’t long), and the whole thing comes across a gimmicky pet project that a bunch of friends co-wrote and pulled together over a month.  If you loved Predator with Arnold Schwarzenegger, then you’ll merely like The Expendables 2 with Arnold Schwarzenegger.  If you’ve seen The Raid: Redemption or Saving Private Ryan or Crouching Tiger or something like that, then you’ll only barely be able to tolerate The Expendables 2.


* Editor’s note: Both these reviews were written about a year ago and carefully preserved for a rainy day.  The Author might have revised them but wisely opted not to, seeing as how that would defile the spirit of an issue of Not Worth The Effort.

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