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The Expendables (2010)
Choose your weapon.
Filmmaker(s): Sylvester Stallone

Barney Ross leads a band of highly skilled mercenaries including knife enthusiast Lee Christmas, a martial arts expert Yin Yang, heavy weapons specialist Hale Caesar, demolitionist Toll Road, and a loose-cannon sniper Gunner Jensen. When the group is commissioned by the mysterious Mr. Church to assassinate the dictator of a small South American island, Barney and Lee visit the remote locale to scout out their opposition and discover the true nature of the conflict engulfing the city.

The Expendables (2010)

Sliding Planes

“Speedracer” and the “Transformer” movies, even the second “Charlie’s Angels.”

These are silly or even bad films by the conventional measures. This is too. It is vapid, misogynistic and fundamentalist. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone go unless they know themselves well enough.

But like those other movies, there is a lot of cutting edge filmmaking craft in this and I enjoyed it for that reason alone. I think there must be some separation from Sly the image and Sly the filmmaker. I surely — for example — admire the effectiveness of cable TeeVee demagogues at the same time I find the effect vile.

There are three notable things.

There is a neo-Kurosawan notion of planes, even in the fight scenes. Here is a sophisticated example: The film starts with Sly checking out the mission and deciding to not follow through, abandoning a woman to rape and torture (torture by the way by waterboarding). As in all his combat movies there is a scene where he pensively encounters his conscience and decides to do the right thing, turning into a killing machine for justice. The setup has Micky Roarke in the close foreground giving a story about how he is cursed by not having saved the life of a woman. (What he is doing while giving the speech is cool. The speech itself is pure formula, but the fact that he is painting flowers on an old guitar for a woman who has left him is sweet. He plans to smash the guitar when finished.)

During the scene, Sly is in the background out of focus. This is not the way Akira would do it: he would and back and use a telephoto so both would be in focus. Welles talked about compositing two shots with multiple focal points. But here Sly is blurry; he is further away than he would be in reality. We shift to a closeup of Sly as he meets himself and comes to his decision. It is a closeup. His face fills the screen, but he is still out of focus. What they did was crop the shot to zoom in. It takes a craftsman to even think of this and the cinematic effect it gives. And how it mitigates the worst part of any Stallone movie, that turning point, because he just cannot act. So the camera does it for him by setting planes.

Throughout, we have muted colours, lots of shadows that swallow the scene with piercing lights. This not only makes the thing Eastwood-moody, it allows for strobes and shadows to animate the battle scenes. They are done well if you can allow for the macho silliness and magical powers.

And for every key sequence of scenes, we have a sliding three dimensional camera. Christopher Doyle has changed the world of the eye, bless him. There is a seaplane that glides and swoops like seaplanes do. The camera emulates these movements after showing them to us, and continues throughout much of the movie.

Bruce and Arnie make fools of themselves.

Posted in 2010

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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