Old School Action Flick Fans Will Enjoy Lionsgate’s Latest Expendables Outing

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Lionsgate’s new action flick The Expendables 3 is one of the best new movies of 2014. The third installment in the studio’s fan favorite franchise, it held its own quite well against the rest of the annual summer blockbusters that filled theaters this year. While it might not have exactly performed as expected domestically in theaters, those numbers mean nothing. The only reason that it didn’t pull in the numbers of its counterparts from Marvel Studios and others is that it didn’t have the notoriety of those properties. This is despite the fact that it was front loaded with some of the greatest names in the world of action flicks. That in itself is actually one of the reasons that audiences who haven’t yet seen this movie will enjoy it. It will be discussed later. The central reason for the movie’s enjoyment is its writing. This includes the movie’s story and its dialogue. Both elements are classic action flick elements in every sense of the word. Together, they make for plenty of reason for every lover of the action genre to watch The Expendables 3. The acting on the part of the cast adds even more reason for audiences to check out this throwback to Hollywood’s golden era of action flicks. Last of note to the movie’s positive is its pacing. The movie’s run time is just over two hours. To be precise, it is listed at two hours and six minutes. Over the course of that time, the story’s pacing rarely lets up. The rare times when it does it is only in moments that help to advance the story. The end result of that solid pacing coupled with the cast’s wholly entertaining acting and the movie’s writing overall is a movie that is one more great trip down memory lane for any fan of classic action flicks. In turn it proves itself to justifiably be one of the best new movies of 2014.

The Expendables 3 is, on the surface, just one more sequel among seemingly countless others churned out over the course of 2014. While few if any of the sequels thrown out there this year were really worth seeing, Lionsgate’s The Expendables 3 is an exception to that rule. This movie is a fun outing for any lover of action movies. It is especially so for anyone that grew up in the golden age of action flicks. It proves to be so fun thanks in large part to its writing. At the heart of the movie’s writing is the movie’s story. The movie’s story is a time honored element that any classic action flick fan will appreciate. It sees Barney and his team having to hunt down former Expendables co-founder turned bad guy Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) for war crimes. Believe it or not, this is something from which writers seem to have increasingly strayed in the current era of film making. Whether it be action flicks, dramas, or otherwise, writers today seem to be trying to outdo one another in who can churn out the most convoluted and overly busy script possible. It’s nice to see that lead actor Sylvester Stallone and co-writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedict were able to work together and keep the story behind this movie so simple. It’s also nice to see other classic elements incorporated into the story such as the script’s dialogue.

The story that was crafted by Stallone, Rothenberger, and Benedict is a full-on old school action flick story. The story itself isn’t all that’s old school about the trio’s script. The dialogue that is incorporated into the script is a throwback in itself. There are classic one-liners peppered throughout the course of the movie’s run time. And then there is also Stonebanks’ equally classic soliloquy explaining his motives for having gone rogue. Conrad explains that he joined the bad guys’ side because of his hatred for the people that sent The Expendables to clean up their messes and the human cost associated with said missions. That is within itself another throwback. It is a throwback to so many classic action movie villains before. Considering the classic action flick dialogue and the equally classic story line that are used in The Expendables 3’s script, one can’t help but make a slight comparison to another movie released this year. The movie in question is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The reason for the aside is that where that movie teased old school Ninja Turtles fans with references to their childhood favorite series and movies, The Expendables 3 has done the exact opposite, which is why TMNT failed and The Expendables 3 succeeded even if it didn’t do as well as hoped at the box office. It didn’t tease audiences with references to the golden era of action movies or the action movies that some audiences grew up with. It goes for the jugular, giving audiences of all ages another example of what once made action movies so great and what can still make them great again.

As if the direct throwbacks to the action genre’s old days wasn’t enough for audiences, there is one more element to the script that solidifies its success. That element is the commentary on the place of the classic action star in today’s movie market. At one point, the commentary makes for some great self deprecating humor with the younger members of the team throwing out verbal barbs at the team’s older members and vice versa. At another point before that, Barney ruminates on the place of himself and his team mates in their line of work. This is in essence the other side of that discussion on whether or not the old school action star still has a place in today’s action movies. It is a rather interesting moment especially when juxtaposed against the more light-hearted moment that later follows. The ultimate revelation is that there is and always will be a place for action stars of the past and of the future in today’s world of action flicks. Stallone and company don’t come right out and say it with these moments. But it’s pretty obvious that this existential discussion of sorts is what they were using. It just so happened that it worked both as its own discussion and as part of the story in whole, too. And it is a nice addition to the movie’s script. Together with the previously noted factors, it helps to prove once and for all why the writing behind The Expendables 3 is the most important aspect to the movie. While it is the most important aspect of the movie’s success, it isn’t the only factor that makes the movie enjoyable for lovers of real action flicks. The work of the cast in terms of its acting is just as notable to the movie’s enjoyment.

The writing behind The Expendables 3 is a solid foundation for the movie’s success. Resting just as easily on that foundation is the cast’s acting. The cast’s acting is just as enjoyable as the writing. Watching Barney (Stallone) and Hunter (Schwarzenegger) go was itself like watching a time capsule being opened up. At no one point do either of the duo’s portrayals feel forced. And even Drummer (Harrison Ford) is entertaining in a supporting role. Audiences that grew up watching Ford as Indiana Jones and Han Solo will be pleased that Ford wasn’t entirely relegated to the back burner in his role. And Blade himself, Wesley Snipes was just as entertaining in his portrayal of Doc. Watching Doc is just like Watching Blade, especially early on when he is first broken off of the train. While the performances by Snipes, Ford, Stallone, and Schwarzenegger were each impressive in their own right, it is Mel Gibson’s portrayal of Stonebanks that is most notable. Gibson has his own experience in the action realm. But his portrayal here is peculiar. That’s not to say that Gibson did a bad job. Rather, he walks a fine line throughout the movie. He never really goes full classic, hammy action movie villain. Nor does he go the route of say Heath Ledger’s Joker a la The Dark Knight or any other villain. It’s almost like he tried to really channel certain classic action movie villains and those of recent years all into one for his portrayal. While a little bit uneasy, the end result is still a villain that remains believable enough. And set against Stallone and the rest of his team, Stonebanks becomes even more entertaining. The rest of the team is just as enjoyable in its own right. But it really is these core actors that make the acting in The Expendables 3 so enjoyable and an important part of the movie’s enjoyment.

The writing and acting that went into The Expendables 3 are both important in their own right to the movie’s overall success and enjoyment. The last element that makes the movie work as well as it does is the movie’s pacing. Over the course of the movie’s two hour run time, the movie rarely lets up. The only time at which it slows even slightly is when Barney is telling his team mates about breaking up the team. Even in a later moment when they–Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Doc (Wesley Snipes), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), and Toll Road (Randy Couture)–sit ruminating on the development, the pacing doesn’t let up. It would have been so easy to go over the top with this moment. But Stallone and his co-writers don’t allow that to happen. They keep the story moving, allowing for the bulk of the story to be spent on its more important moments. And it is because of this that the movie never loses a step. Because it never loses a step, it allows for more enjoyment of the cast’s acting and of the elements incorporated into the movie’s script. It connects everything, making the movie complete and proving once more why it stands out proudly among Hollywood’s current forgettable crop of prequels, sequels, and remakes.

Hollywood’s current crop of prequels, sequels, and remakes is largely forgettable. They are movies that were churned out by Hollywood’s Power Five studios more for the sake of making money than actually entertaining audiences. The Expendables 3 is not one of those movies. It has proven through the combination of its in depth writing, the acting by its cast, and its pacing, that it actually sets out both to make money and to entertain audiences. It succeeded in both areas thanks to its global ticket sales total and despite being largely covered up by the rest of the blockbusters churned out this summer. Those flash-in-the-pan flicks will largely be forgotten. But this modern blast from the past is one that every true lover of action flicks will remember and want to watch again and again proving once and for all why it is one of the best new movies of 2014.

The Expendables 3 is available in stores and online now. It can be ordered on DVD + Digital via Lionsgate’s online store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com/search_results.asp?Search=The%20Expendables%203. More information on this and other releases from Lionsgate is available online at:

Website: http://www.lionsgate.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lionsgate

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Liberty’s Kids Makes History Fun For Viewers Of All Ages

Courtesy:  Mill Creek Entertainment

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment

Liberty’s Kids is a wonderful way to get young audiences into history.  The series follows a group of youths through America’s formative years, from the days of the Revolutionary War to America’s eventual full independence.  While its key audience is youths age 7 to 14, even teachers and parents will enjoy it because it does more than just focus on names and dates.  Rather, it takes those names and dates, and puts them into a visual format for young eyes and minds.  It obviously wasn’t going to last too long, considering that it was based on America’s younger years.  But even in lasting only forty episodes, those forty episodes are still episodes that teachers and parents will want to use for more years than it took for America to go from Declaration to full independence.

The very first factor in the success of Liberty’s Kids is that it takes history out of the classroom.  Though, it can be used in the classroom.  Rather than just sitting at their desks, writing down notes, teachers can pop in the four discs that contain the show’s forty episodes, and use them as a way to reach their students.  Parents can even use the set in their homes regardless of whether their children are home schooled or are in public school.  That dual use is a major positive, especially considering what is currently happening with public schools today.  It takes all the names and dates, and puts them into short half hour episodes that can be used over the course of nearly an entire school year, using one episode per week. A couple of weeks might require a couple episodes to make it fully pan out right.  That at least applies for schools not on block scheduling.  Children need every educational aid that they can get to get them interested in history.  Because its episodes are short, and have writing that reaches its intended audiences, it already has two checks in its favor.

The ability of Liberty’s Kids to relate to its audiences through its writing and being an equally wonderful visual aid is key in the success of this short-lived children’s educational series.  There is more to consider in what makes it worth more than a couple watches, though.  So many of today’s children’s “cartoons” are cartoons in name only.  That’s because they are brainless shows based in CGI, rather than true animation.  The thing is that because so few children’s shows are hand drawn today, that when they do show up, very little thought is given to them.  Liberty’s Kids is one of those rare modern cartoons that keep the art of actual art alive.  Given, its style is much like that of the more modernized take on Archie.  But it still manages to maintain some identity separate from that cartoon, and other Cookie Jar titles.  It serves as one more reminder for today’s young audiences how much work goes into bringing hand drawn art to life on screen, and how important it is to have said style of art versus the colder, stale and soulless computer generated children’s shows that are out there today.  Again, it is one more positive to this set that makes it worth more than just a couple watches.  Sure, it’s a minor factor in the grand scheme of things.  But it is no less important to consider in the set’s success.

The animation involved in Liberty’s Kids is a minor factor in the grand scheme of things.  But it is no less important than any other factor in the show’s success.  The same can be said of the guest voice talents that make appearances of sorts throughout the series.  Throughout the show’s forty episodes, veteran actors such as: Dustin Hoffman, Michael Douglas, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg make appearances as famous historical figures from America’s infancy.  One might ask how in the world veteran acting talents are important in the success of a children’s cartoon.  The answer is quite simple.  The inclusion of such big names will potentially influence parents to sit down and watch the show with their children.  Most adults won’t admit it to themselves or others just how much they have lost since their own school days.  So maybe the use of big Hollywood names will be enough to get parents interested and in turn, refresh their own knowledge of American history.  The latent effect of this interest is that it could serve as a starting point for parents to discuss the actors and actresses that make appearances and their film histories both good and bad.  And perhaps when those young audiences that watch Liberty’s Kids today grow up to be adults themselves, they will have an appreciation for movies that will be in their time classics.  So in a roundabout manner, this is a far more important factor in the success of Liberty’s Kids than any viewer would have otherwise realized.  Along with the other factors that went into bringing it to life, it’s one more factor that makes Liberty’s Kids a hit both in the classroom and the living room.  And chances are, it will be for many more years to come.  It is available now in stores and online and can be ordered direct via the Mill Creek Direct website at https://www.millcreekdirect.com/liberty-s-kids-the-complete-series.html.

Parents and children can keep up with all of the latest family friendly releases from Mill Creek Entertainment online at http://www.MillCreekDirect.com and http://www.facebook.com/MillCreekEnt.

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The Expendables 2 Is A Great Escape

Courtesy: Lionsgate

The Expendables 2 is a man movie, hands down.  Yes, it’s another sequel.  But it’s more than just that.  It’s an escape.  It’s exactly what a big budget action blockbuster should be.  Just as was the case with the action movies of the 80’s to which this franchise pays homage, it’s a chance for the intended audiences to turn off their brains and get away from the real world if only for about an hour and a half.

On the surface, The Expendables 2 is just another bang-bang shoot-em-up action flick aimed at one specific audience.  But in watching the bonus feature, “Big Guns, Bigger Heroes:  The 1980’s and the Rise of the Action Film”, audiences see that it’s more than just that.  As the individuals interviewed in this feature note, the action flick of the 1980’s was exactly what audiences needed in comparison to everything going on around them.  Having come off the back end of the political upheaval of the 1970’s, the 1980’s offered its own share of changes.  So the action franchises of the 80’s (and 90’s) and their stars became more than just figures on screen.  They became these larger than life figures who lived up to the reputation of the title, “Hero.”  They were figures to whom their audiences could admire.  Audiences of the 80’s needed heroes, just as today’s audiences need them, too. 

The political and general world climate today openly necessitates the need for the movies in The Expendables franchise and their heroes.  Stallone and company shine just as brightly in this franchise as they did in the respective franchises discussed in the movie’s main bonus feature.  They are just as much the heroes today as they were in the movies discussed in this movie’s main bonus feature.  They are still those larger than life figures.  And there’s no doubt about them being heroes.  Unlike so many of today’s movies, there are no flawed, conflicted, anti-hero types.  The Expendables 2 presents Stallone and company as classic style heroes.  To add to that clarity, audiences are also presented with a cut and dry story here.  Everyone knows right off the bat who the good guys are.  And it doesn’t take long for the script to reveal Jean-Claude Van Damme as the evil psycho bad guy.  His intentions are made clear pretty quickly, too.  Considering that this movie (without credits) runs just shy of the two-hour mark, the quick establishment of the cast and story make the rest of it fast moving and fun.  It’s not meant to be taken seriously, as is evident with all the classic one-liners.  It’s just a chance for audiences to escape the stresses of the outside world for a little while just as the classic action franchises of the 80’s were meant to do.  Keeping that in mind, anyone who wants to get away from it all for a couple hours (bonus features included), then The Expendables 2 is a very good way to do just that.  It will be available next Tuesday, November 20th, just in time to beat the holiday shopping rush.  For those who want to get away from the shopping rush, it can be ordered online direct via the Lionsgate store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com.

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Prometheus Puts A New Fire In The Sci-Fi World

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox’s new Alien prequel, Prometheus is one of the biggest and most underrated movies of the 2012 Summer blockbuster season.  What director Ridley Scott and writers Damon Lindelof and John Spaits have crafted in this movie is a story that works not only as a standalone alien based action flick, but also a movie that connects the early Alien movies to the more recent Alien vs. Predator movies.  Add in spectacular special effects and audiences have a movie that is not just one of the Summer’s top movies, but also one of the year’s best.Prometheus has largely been received to mixed reviews.  But one has to wonder if those who had their doubts about the movie had any experience with the previously mentioned movies.  Those who have any knowledge about the original franchise and the comic books will recall that the aliens were created by the predators.  Thus the movies in the AVP franchise.  Now it’s obvious that the engineers in Prometheus look nothing like the predators from the early movies.  But Scott and his team of writers do make it clear that the aliens were created by something.  So that being noted, they at least made the attempt to keep some form of continuity in the alien universe.  Fans of both franchises should be impressed by this.

While the “engineers” in Prometheus likely have no connection to the predators, it is noted that they were created.  The difference here is that in the case of this story, Scott and his writers put in a classic story of aliens intending to invade Earth.  Essentially, the “engineers” created the aliens in question to destroy humans.  So it leaves the question wide open, did the “engineers” really create humans?  Or did they only create the alien species just for the sake of taking over Earth.  Late in the movie, Elizabeth (played by Noomi Rapace) mentions to David that she still believes the “engineers” created humans.  And that she deserves to know why they changed their minds and decided to kill them.  But David’s retort was does it matter why she wants to know why they changed their minds and decided to kill the human race?  This generates the whole theological versus scientific discussion concerning where man came from.  Even in the twenty-first century, there are those who believe that man was created not by God, but by other beings from other worlds.  It’s an interesting topic.  The way in which Scott and the writers approached the topic for this story, made the movie that much more interesting.

Adding to the interest of the general story is the bonus deleted and extended scenes feature on the new Blu-ray and DVD release of Prometheus.  At one point, audiences are offered an extended version of the aforementioned discussion between Elizabeth and David.  It goes into more depth about the whole back story of the alien origins and the belief of whether or not the “engineers” really created man or if it was God.  The deleted and extended scenes feature (especially with the additional commentary) are proof positive of how much bonus features can do for a movie.  Seeing all of the noted scenes adds an extra level of depth to the overall viewing experience.  Perhaps those who criticized the movie while it was in theaters will have a different view and appreciation for Prometheus after watching it again at home along with the bonus features.

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ESPN Kicks Off New Online Series

Courtesy: ESPN

The first of the new features from ESPN’s 30 for 30 Shorts has officially premiered.  “Arnold’s Blueprint” follows the life of bodybuilder/actor/politician Arnold Schwarzenegger.  It focuses primarily on Arnold’s teenage years in the Austrian army.  The twelve minute short—directed by Michael and Jeff Zimbalist (The Two Escobars)—tells how Arnold’s time in the Austrian army would eventually lead to his beginnings in the world of bodybuilding.  The short can be watched here:  http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/8424161/the-first-short-new-30-30-documentary-series.

ESPN’s 30 for 30 shorts are presented in partnership with Grantland.com.  The thirty part digital series will be similar in format to the network’s famed 30 for 30 TV series of specials.  Each short will be presented from the vantage point of its director and how each mixes the story with his or her own style of film making.  Grantland.com will feature one new 30 for 30 Short each month.  Each feature will be accompanied by a written feature and extra material to add context.

“Arnold’s Blueprint” is accompanied by a written article by Brian Phillips.  Phillips’ article will focus on George Reeves.  Reeves was Arnold’s bodybuilding coach turned movie star.  Other 30 for 30 Shorts that fans can expect to come include:  “Silver Reunion”, “The Arnold Palmer”, “Holy Grail:  The T206 Honus Wagner”, and “Tommy and Frank.” 

To keep up with the latest entertainment news and reviews, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can keep up with the latest entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.