The Expendables 3

expend2WEvery year Hollywood releases several movies aimed specifically at an older demographic. I’m not talking about Academy Award nominated films like 2013’s, “Nebraska”, which had a broad audience appeal, but more like this year’s “And So It Goes”, with Diane Keaton and Michael Douglas, “Red 2”, with Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren, and now, Sylvester Stallone’s “The Expendables 3”, a slightly dusty, yet mostly enjoyable action feature.

“Expendables 3” continues the exploits of a “mature” team of mercenaries, led by Barney (Stallone, who wrote the story, and co-authored the screenplay). The guns-for-hire include Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren and Arnold Schwarzenegger, with an assist from Harrison Ford, who takes the place of original cast member, Bruce Willis, cut when he demanded too much money.

The plot really doesn’t matter, it’s more of an excuse to get a bunch of 80’s action stars together to run around and blow things up, and isn’t that pretty much all we want from these guys?

In this installment, the team comes face-to-face with Conrad Stonebanks (a gleefully ham-fisted performance from Mel Gibson), who years ago co-founded The Expendables with Barney. Stonebanks subsequently became a ruthless arms trader and someone who Barney was forced to kill… or so he thought. Stonebanks, who eluded death once before, is now making it his mission to destroy The Expendables.

“Expendables 3” has several things going for it that elevates it above the 2nd installment: an infusion of younger players including mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey, and heartthrob, Kellen Lutz (“Twilight”) and the very smart additions of Wesley Snipes, whose character’s absence from the previous films is explained by the fact that he has spent eight years in a Third World prison for “tax evasion” and Antonio Banderas – who steals the show as a manic new member of the gang.

“Expendables 3” is mindless summer entertainment. It’s fun to see the old gang blowing things up, and showing up some of the younger cast, and it’s delicious to see Mel Gibson’s manic and maniacal performance as the over-the-top bad guy.

The Bottom Line: “Expendables 3” won’t win any awards, but it’s a nice break from the summer heat. Sure, it’s violent, but the action is cartoony violence, and you can’t make a movie like this without blowing stuff up. Don’t bother to bring the kids or grandkids, they’ll be bored silly.

Rated: PG-13, for violence, including intense sustained gun battles and fight scenes, and for language. Runs 2 hr. 6 min

1/2

Edge of Tomorrow

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It’s déjà vu all over again, at least for Tom Cruise, in the exciting new Sci fi, action blockbuster, “Edge of Tomorrow”.  Part “Groundhog Day”, part “Saving Private Ryan”, “Tomorrow” takes place in a near future in which an alien race has hit the Earth in an unrelenting assault, unbeatable by any military unit in the world. Cruise plays William Cage, an army Major/PR Flack, who has never seen a day of combat when he is unceremoniously dropped into what amounts to a suicide mission. Killed within minutes, Cage finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time loop, forcing him to live out the same brutal combat over and over, fighting and dying again…and again. Like a video game, with every death the character “resets”, starting over from the same spot. But with each new battle, Cage becomes able to engage the adversaries with increasing skill, alongside Special Forces warrior Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt). And, as Cage and Rita take the fight to the aliens, each repeated encounter gets them one step closer to defeating the enemy.

Based on a Japanese novel written by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the movie’s setting looks remarkably like the beach at Normandy, where the earthling infantry must endlessly repeat the brutal landing to face an onslaught of aliens who bear a resemblance to giant, metallic spiders. By the way, should you doubt the filmmaker’s intention, you might note that the movie is being released on June 6th, the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Cruise is well-cast as the overly sincere advertising exec – turned PR soldier – who becomes a reluctant hero. Emily Blunt offers a great casting-against-type, kick-ass performance as Vrataski, a war hero whose nickname (depending on who says it) is either ‘The Hero of Verdun’ or ‘Full Metal Bitch’. Director Doug Limon, wisely keeps any hint of sexual tension out of the picture, and the duos on-screen partnership is a blast to watch. Bill Paxton, as Cage’s CO is a delight as well, taking a big bite out the scenery every time he’s on screen.

The Bottom Line: “Edge of Tomorrow” is a solid departure from this summer’s glut of superhero sequels, and hits the blockbuster trifecta: terrific edge-of-your-seat action, special effects and originality. Don’t wait to rent it, the film looks best in 3D, on the biggest screen you can find, in IMAX if possible. The over-the-top violence is reminiscent of a video game, so it’s best to exclude any kids who aren’t old enough to play games of this sort at home.

PG-13 for intense scenes of sci-fi action and violence, language and suggestive material. 1 hr. 53 min.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-WThe X-Men (and Women) are back, in a non-stop, roller coaster ride of a movie, guaranteed to thrill the hearts of any fanboys (or girls), and to convert non-believers into fans.

It’s a challenge to sum up the story arcs of the mutant characters. There have been 5 X-Men movies, plus an “Origins” and standalone movie about Hugh Jackman’s wildly popular character, Wolverine, but here goes:

The X-Men are a team of mutant superheroes in the Marvel comic book universe. The basic concept of the X-Men is that under a cloud of increasing anti-mutant sentiment, Professor Xavier created a haven at his Westchester mansion to train young mutants to use their powers for the benefit of humanity, and to prove mutants can be heroes. Xavier recruited Cyclops, Iceman, Angel, Beast, and Marvel Girl, calling them “X-Men” because they possess special powers due to their possession of the “X-gene,” a gene which normal humans lack and which gives mutants their abilities. Interestingly, the comic was partially inspired by the African-American civil rights movement of the 1960s.

The current film’s story is set in a dystopian future where huge robots called Sentinels, have nearly destroyed both mutants and their supporters. This time, the ultimate X-Men ensemble fights a war for the survival of the species across two time periods. The beloved characters from the original “X-Men” film trilogy join forces with their younger selves from the past, (as seen in “X-Men: First Class,”) to fight in an epic battle that could save our future. How do they do that? By sending Wolverine back to 1973 in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants. (Those of us of a certain age will be particularly amused by scenes from 1973, including a spot on performance from Mark Camacho, as Richard Nixon.)

The “X-Men” franchise have always had distinctive differences from other superhero comic-to-screen adaptations, with compelling storylines, spectacular special effects, and an impressive ensemble, and “Days” does not disappoint. Most surviving “mutents” return, including the ever dependable Patrick Stewart as the present day Professor Xavier, and James McAvoy as his 70s counterpart, Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender, as the once and future (sometimes good guy, sometimes bad) Magneto, Halle Berry as Storm, Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde, Nicholas Holt as the younger Beast, and of course, Jackman as Wolverine. The always terrific Jennifer Lawrence returns, as the chameleon-like Raven/Mystique who may hold the fate of the world in her blue hands. New characters include Dr. Trask (Peter Dinklage “Game of Thrones”), and Quicksilver, (Even Peters “Kick-Ass”), a time-bender, who has “Matrix-like” moves that will blow your mind. My hope is we will see more of him in the next installment, 2016’s “X-men: Apocalypse”.

The Bottom Line: “X-Men: Days of Future Past” deserves to be viewed on the biggest screen possible, in 3D digital projection. Those in the Sacramento area will want to see it in the Regal Natomas Marketplace’s new RPX Digital 3-D Theater. The film is a blast, but it also has extended action/comic-book humor, with many characters injured and killed, guns, explosions, fire, some graphic and disturbing images, some strong language, brief nudity and very revealing attire. Parents and grandparents should use caution with sensitive younger teens.

PG-13, for sequences of intense sci-fi violence, some suggestive material, nudity and language. 2 hr. 11 min.