"...the main purpose of criticism...is not to make its readers agree, nice as that is, but to make them, by whatever orthodox or unorthodox method, think." - John Simon

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity." - George Orwell

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

DVD of the Week: The Expendables

For fans of action films from the 1980s and early 1990s, it has always been a pipe dream to see their favourite action stars team up or, better yet, battle each other. Think of it as the cinematic equivalent of fantasy football. With The Matrix (1999), the heyday of muscle-bound action stars like Sylvester Stallone was well and truly over as more normal-looking (physique-wise) actors, with the aid of cutting edge CGI, started doing their own stunts. Former marquee stars like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Segal were relegated to direct-to-home video limbo.

However, over time, people began to look back at that era of action films with nostalgia and Stallone wisely capitalized on it by resurrecting two of his most popular characters, Rambo and Rocky, to critical acclaim and respectable box office. The success of those films culminated in Stallone’s penultimate film, The Expendables (2010). Using his rejuvenated clout and reputation, he cast veteran action stars like Dolph Lundgren and Jet Li, bad boy character actors Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts, and ultimate fighters and professional wrestlers like Randy Couture and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The real coup for Stallone was coaxing two of the other popular action stars from the ‘80s, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, to appear in the same scene with their fellow Planet Hollywood owner. The end result is an action film fan’s wet dream.

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) is the leader of an elite group of mercenaries and, in a nice nod to current events, we are introduced to them wiping out a gang of Somalia pirates with plenty of cheeky one-liners, swagger and ultra-violence, including a cool bit where the good guys eliminate some baddies via night vision. Soon afterwards, the enigmatic Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) hires Ross and his crew to take out a ruthless dictator who controls a small, South American country. It turns out that the dictator is just a puppet for James Munroe (Eric Roberts), an ex-CIA operative now corrupt businessman. Ross and his crew of four men are forced take on a small army. The odds sound about right and much carnage ensues.

The cast of The Expendables is uniformly excellent. Mickey Rourke shows up as the guy who fixes Stallone and his gang up with jobs and we get a nice scene where the recent Academy Award nominee, in all of his Method acting glory, banters with Stallone and Jason Statham. Bruce Willis, complete with his trademark smirk and steely-eyed stare, plays the mysterious Mr. Church. Stallone shares a scene with him and Arnold Schwarzenegger that is the action film equivalent of the famous scene between Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in Heat (1995) – an understated meeting between legendary movie stars sharing the same frame. Eric Roberts gets to play a deliciously evil scumbag with just the right amount of suave menace complete with slicked-back hair and expensive suits.

All of the action stars get a chance to strut their stuff with Stallone and Statham getting the bulk of the film’s screen-time as if the former was symbolically passing the torch to the latter. One of the film’s most pleasant surprises is Dolph Lundgren as a psycho junkie ex-member of the Expendables who ends up working for the bad guys because Ross didn’t approve of his sadistic killing methods. Lundgren even gets a very cool fight scene with Jet Li.

There hasn’t been a decent men-on-a-mission film (a la Dirty Dozen) in some time. Inglourious Basterds (2009) could have been that film but Quentin Tarantino mutated it into something uniquely his own. Stallone goes for a meat and potatoes approach with The Expendables that has a refreshing old school feel to it. It has everything you could want from a film like this: bone-crunching violence, tough guys cracking wise, lots of earth-shattering explosions, and bad guys you love to hate. For fans of ‘80s action films, this is a dream come true and one hell of a fun ride.

Special Features:

There is an audio commentary by actor/director Sylvester Stallone. He talks about how he established his character and his crew visually with very little dialogue. He also defends the sparseness of dialogue against criticism that it wasn’t very well-written. Stallone praises Mickey Rourke’s performance and how he only had the actor for 48 hours because he was making Iron Man 2 (2010) at the time. Naturally, Stallone talks about the logistical nightmare of getting Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis to have time to do their scene together. Stallone speaks eloquently about the nuts and bolts aspects of making the film and what his intentions were for a given scene.

“Before the Battle – The Making of The Expendables” is an excerpt from an upcoming feature-length documentary called Inferno: The Making of The Expendables that is on the Blu-Ray version. He narrates over behind-the-scenes footage about how The Expendables came together. He talks about his motivation behind casting all these famous action stars and athletes. We see Stallone take all kinds of physical punishment, including a nasty injury as the result of a fight scene with Steve Austin.

There is a deleted scene which is just a bit of extra footage early on where Dolph Lundgren tells a bad joke needlessly reinforcing the craziness of his character. Yeah, we get it.

“Gag Reel” is an amusing blooper reel of the cast flubbing their lines.

Finally, there is a theatrical trailer, T.V. spots and posters.



  1. Hi J.D.:

    Great review of The Expendables.

    I have not seen the film yet (it's in the queue and should be here in a few days, I guess...) but I am now very enthusiastic to watch it.

    Sounds like they really got it right, and that's not always an easy trick in Hollywood.

    I am very curious/enthused to see the team-up scene of Stallone, Willis and Arnie, especially since you describe it as an action movie version of that famous moment with DeNiro and Pacino in Heat. Sounds terrific...

    Can't wait!


  2. Glad you liked it J.D.!

    That scene between Stallone, Willis and Arnold, though amusing, felt kind of robotic, and Arnold shows more then ever that he hasnt been acting a while, you could tell he wasnt even trying.

    He had that grin on his face, like he was just laughing inside at the whole thing, as if saying "isnt this fun??"

    I know he died and all, but I think it would be cool if Lungdren would return, for me he was the coolest thing in the whole flick. Him and Rourke.

    Did you like RAMBO J.D.? I saw it this past saturday and found it to be even better then The Expendables! I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed that one.

    Stallone is a filmmaker wanting to speak about the evils of the world, he did it with The Expendables, and he did it in Rambo. That opening sequence with real life news footage was chilling to the bone! Gonna review it sometime this week.

  3. I was surprised at how much I liked both ROCKY BALBOA and RAMBO, so I'll definitely take a peek at this to see if Stallone can continue his streak. I don't have any expectations except to have fun, so I don't think this will disappoint.

    PS - rather than unwrap my DVD of Heat I decided to give it away since today I found the Blu-ray on sale for 9.99. Hope to have it watched, digested and written by the end of the week!

  4. John Kenneth Muir:


    I think you will enjoy this one. And I think that this film works so well because it was made outside of Hollywood, harkening back to the way action films used to be made by the major studios but no longer.

    The Film Connoisseur:

    What saved that scene between Arnie, Bruce Willis and Stallone was Willis' smirky delivery that then turns all serious and menacing one Arnie leaves. He makes that scene. But, for me, it was just a lot of fun to see these action film titans all in one scene together, forced or not.

    I have not seen RAMBO yet but have good things and heard that it is even more violent and gory than THE EXPENDABLES! I am curious to check it out. I agree that it's cool to see Stallone trying to impart a socio-political message in his films, mixing it up with the blood and guts and explosions but it's still there.


    I think that is the key to enjoying THE EXPENDABLES - to have no expectations except to have fun and enjoy the experience.

    Good to hear that you got HEAT on Blu-Ray. I am looking forward to reading your thoughts on it!

  5. Loved this movie even though everything in the fiber of my being said not to.

    I put the Arnold-Willis-Stallone scene on par with *gasp* Pacino-DeNiro in Heat (not dramatically, of course, but in terms of awesome moments and cinema history).

    Stallone, to me, is 2 for 3 in recent years with his directorial efforts. I thought Rocky Balboa was a stunningly beautiful film about a character we used to love. A great story with great things going on.

    Rambo, on the other hand, is one of the worst films I've EVER seen in my life. But I won't go into here. . .

    Expendables is such a good time and doesn't try to become more then it is meant to be. A qualified success for sure!

    There's a gag reel where they flub their lines???? They had dialogue in this movie!!!!???? ;)

  6. Glad you liked this, J.D.. I really loved it and thought that it was exactly the movie that it should've been. A lot of reviewers seemed to prefer Machete as the better throwback to the action films of yesteryear but while I enjoyed Machete for the most part, I thought it was like a Mad Magazine version of an action movie whereas The Expendables was just a straight-forward action pic that wasn't too fancy or sardonic.

  7. I loved The Expendables. Excellent choice!

  8. I saw this on my birthday when it opened and enjoyed the hell out of it! Nicely paced and directed by Stallone. CASABLANCA or THE THIRD MAN it's not. But for action flick fans, it's a bit of 80s nirvana. Great DVD review, my friend.

    @JKM: get this now, and turn up the volume ;-).

    @The Film Connoisseur: I'd agree with you about cool he and Rourke were in the film, but Lundgren's Gunner Jensen character doesn't die here. You see him return to the fold at the tattoo parlor by the end of the film.

    @Chris: IMHO Stallone definitely continued his streak, my friend. Good catch with the BD of HEAT. It's one of the best discs I own.

    @Will: it's an awesome scene, alright. But, I'm with Chris with how much I enjoyed both ROCKY BALBOA and RAMBO.

    Thanks, guys.

  9. J.D.: Yup, RAMBO is even more violent, that one scene where he picks up a machine gun and blows away all the bad guys, holy moly! Bodies explode into showers of blood, it gets crazy!

    Agree, seeing those three on one scene was a treat however it turned out.

    @leopard13: You are absolutely right, sorry bout that! I do remember a scene where he is struggling to stay alive and almost dying, and revealing secrets to the good guys. I guess I forgot he makes it out a live, I definetly want to rewatch this one soon.

    That is actually great because it probably means he will be returning on the sequel! Lungdrens character was so ambiguous, he was kind of a good guy, kind of a bad guy...

  10. Will:

    "I put the Arnold-Willis-Stallone scene on par with *gasp* Pacino-DeNiro in Heat (not dramatically, of course, but in terms of awesome moments and cinema history)."


    So, you didn' think RAMBO was all that, eh? I still haven't seen that one but I am still curious...

    Hah re: the Gag reel. It is actually quite amusing to watch.

    Jeff Allard:

    I will admit to initially thinking that MACHETE was the superior film to THE EXPENDABLES but now I'm not so sure... You're right that Rodriguez's film tends to wink at the audience while Stallone plays it straight. Different strokes I suppose but both are quite different in tone and style as well.


    Thanks for the compliment!

    The Film Connoisseur:

    I heard about that machine gun scene. That DOES sound crazy! Have to see it, though. heh.

  11. @J.D.

    Sorry to whore myself on your site but here was my review of Rambo, or as I dubbed it, Rambo: Nihilism.


    A quote from my review:

    "Also known as Rambo: Nihilism, Sylvester Stallone has decided to make sure that we, as human beings, realize that the world is a terrible place where only terrible things happen and that we should take our terrible souls and go throw ourselves on a sword. . .that’s resting on a land mine. . .on top of a nuke. . .on top of a black hole."

  12. Great DVD Of The Week review JD. So much great input and writing on this one and great comments.

    It sounds like a must see film. It's indubitably been one of THE MOST TALKED about films of the year.

    I may have to give it a shot.

    I know one thing for sure, I will enjoy your new Marisa Tomei banner for weeks to come. Nice pick!

  13. Will:

    Thanks for that excerpt of your RAMBO review. I will have to check it out in its entirety.

    The Sci-Fi Fanatic:


    I think you will dig this film, esp. if you like old school action films.

    And thanks for the compliments on this month's banner. Festive and featuring one of my fave Marisa Tomei performances...

  14. Here here to that Marisa Tomei banner. God damn, that's a sexy pic I can just stare at. . .

  15. Will:

    I always liked her and it's great to see her get a career resurgence with THE WRESTLER and the Lumet film she was in...

  16. Great Review! The Expendables rocked. Happy i found this site! We just started following you via google and we put you in our links! Also check out our review:


  17. Ty:

    Thanks! I will do the same for your site.