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

To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

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Kruger, Wahlberg Give New Life To Paramount’s Transformers Franchise

Courtesy:  Paramount Studios

Courtesy: Paramount Studios

Paramount’s big screen Transformers franchise has been the center of a lot of discussion ever since the series kicked off seven years ago.  Ever since the series’ first installment was released in 2007, the reactions from fans and critics alike have been either hate or great.  There has been no gray area at all from audiences.  The reason for that clear division is that unlike other action flicks past and present, the Michael Bay-led series has ignored up to this point any real story and substance in favor of an overload of the action genre’s other standard elements.  Where those works fell, Transformers: Age of Extinction actually makes up for its predecessors if only slightly.  The reason that it works is the same reason that those movies didn’t work.  It doesn’t sacrifice story for standard action fare.  And perhaps the biggest reason of all for that is that writer Ehren Kruger had sole control of the movie’s script.  Kruger actually included some interesting elements to the story to balance out the standard action sequences and elements.   On the other hand, while Kruger’s writing actually made Transformers: Age of Extinction work better than the previous movies in the Transformers franchise, it also did just as much damage to the end product, too.  Making up for that is the surprisingly enjoyable acting on the part of lead actors Mark Wahlberg and Jack Reynor.  The duo’s back and forth makes for its own share of laughs as an occasional break from the more brainless elements of this flick.  If not for those more lighthearted moments Transformers: Age of Extinction might not have actually turned out to be as bearable as it did.  Thankfully though, that wasn’t the case.  It’s one more way in which Transformers: Age of Extinction outperforms its predecessors and proves to be worth at least one watch.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is an interesting work.  In comparison to both its own predecessors and all of the other prequels, sequels, and remakes that have been churned out this year, it surprises.  It actually proves to be a movie worth at least one watch.  The central reason for this is its writing.  Perhaps the biggest reason of all that the movie’s writing actually succeeds (even remotely) is the fact that only one person handled the movie’s script.  All three of the movies that came before this one in Paramount’s rather divisive franchise were developed by teams of writers, rather than one single person.  This time, Ehren Kruger, who also played a role in the franchise’s third film, was the sole individual handling the movie’s script.  The end result is a movie that has all of the trappings of the series’ previous installments, but also adds actual substance.  The story’s substance comes in the form of both Optimus’ and Cade’s own inner struggles.  Cade is struggling with having to let his daughter grow up and move on with life all while trying to keep from losing his family’s farm.  One the other side, Optimus must come to terms with his own feelings toward humans as a result of the events post Chicago (taken from the series’ third film).  While Yeager’s own personal struggles have no direct link to the movie’s central story, it serves as a nice diversion from all of the constant standard action flick elements.  The same can be said of Prime’s own struggles.  The only difference is that Prime’s personal struggles are directly linked to the story and do quite a bit to help him and the story evolve.

The addition of the inner struggles on the part of Cade and Optimus is one part of Kruger’s writing that makes this story work.  Another reason that the movie works as well as it does is that audiences aren’t made to feel like they have to have invested themselves in the series’ previous films.  Yes, it makes mention of the series’ third installment.  It also makes light reference to the events of the series’ first two films.  But thanks to Kruger’s writing, the movie actually standsjust as well on its own two proverbial feet as it does as part of the whole series.  This is something that every viewer will appreciate in this movie.  It also goes to show how right things can go when only one person has his or her hands in the pot.

Kruger did a lot right with the script for this latest installment in Paramount’s Transformers franchise.  For all of the positives to the movie’s script, there were also some blaring negatives, too.  the most obvious of the script’s negatives is the overt use of the standard action fare.  The nonstop chase scenes, fight scenes, and explosions are all there.  So is the standard damsel in distress figure.  This is the 21st Century.  America has come a long way since the days of women’s liberation.  So audiences should be offended (especially female viewers) that a female lead is once again shown as being helpless, cowering in fear, and in need of being saved while the men go out and save her and the universe.  Such writing does only a disservice to a story that otherwise is actually relatively enjoyable.  Hopefully if Micheal Bay and Paramount come to terms on another installment in the Transformers franchise, this is something that will be taken into account for said story.  If not, it would be no surprise if audiences take notice and start speaking up even more.

Paramount Studios and director Michael Bay giving full creative control of Transformers; Age of Extinction’s script was the best thing that could have happened for this movie and the franchise in whole.  Sure, the standard elements that weighed down the series’ previous movies are still present here.  But Kruger actually injects some real substance into this movie with the personal stories centering on Cade and Optimus.  Those stories add at least some depth to the movie.  Adding even more enjoyment to the movie’s enjoyment is the constant back and forth bickering between Cade and his daughter’s boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor).  It adds a little bit of a buddy comedy element to the story to help lighten the story’s otherwise rather tense mood.  Those that have seen Wahlberg’s work alongside Will Ferrell in The Other Guys will see a little bit of that same chemistry with Reynor here.  Taking into consideration Wahlberg’s other overly serious roles, this rare comedic take is a welcome breath of fresh air from Wahlberg.  Even in the movie’s big fight scenes, the pair still find time to bicker between one another.  Those moments make for some rather interesting moments that believe it or not are entertaining in their own right.  Their acting along with Ehren Kruger’s writing more than make up for this movie’s biggest downfalls.  The end result is a movie that will leave audiences agreeing that should Paramount not take another chance on the Transformers, Age of Extinction makes up for the series’ previous films and is a good way for the franchise to go out.  If Paramount should take another chance on the franchise one can only hope that Paramount and Michael Bay will bring back Kruger and Wahlberg once more as the pair has given hope that there is still life left in this franchise.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is available now in stores and online.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Wings: Seasons 3 & 4 DVD Set Is Fun But Flawed Re-Issue Set

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment

Television today is a virtual wasteland of programming.  If one takes the time to examine the current programming lineup for the “Big 4” and even the cable spectrum reveals that dramas and reality shows are the biggest draw for most of those networks right now.  The comedies that are there sadly lack the heart of the comedies crafted from television’s golden era up until about the mid to late 90s.  They have all become oversexed and dumbed down.  And the news magazines all seem to be dominated by stories about murders.  Taking into consideration what has happened to television today, Mill Creek Entertainment’s re-issue of Wings: Seasons 3 & 4 early this year becomes quite the welcome box set.  Seasons 3 and 4 offer plenty more laughs for viewers.  For all of the enjoyment offered in the box set’s five discs, the set isn’t without one glaring fault.  It is the same fault that has hindered each of Mill Creek’s box sets.  Luckily, that one fault isn’t enough to take away from the one other positive to this season, which is the inclusion of a young Tony Shaloub to the show’s cast as well as celebrity appearances from members of the Cheers cast and other well-known figures.  The good and the bad taken together here, Wings: Seasons 3 & 4 proves to be an easy candidate for a spot on this critic’s list of the year’s best new box sets for grown-ups.

Mill Creek Entertainment’s release of Wings: Seasons 3 & 4 is an easy candidate for a spot on this critic’s list of the year’s best new box sets for grown-ups.  The main reason for that is the show’s writing.  The series, which was co-created and produced by Cheers staffers David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee, proves in its third and fourth seasons to still have more heart than any of the sitcoms currently on television today.  A look at the writing in these two seasons proves that.  The series’ writers managed to do something in these two seasons that few if any writers have managed to do in recent years.  They managed to balance the series’ story lines so as to not let its serial side overpower its standalone side.  That balance is just as visible in Cheers.  So it should come as no surprise that it is just as stable here.  In terms of the show’s more serial-centered side, the relationship between Helen and Joe will keep viewers laughing through every episode.  ‘Ladies Who Lunch” is one of the best of those episodes.  Helen and Gail, Joe’s ex and his current girlfriend hang out and end up becoming friends.  Ironically, Gail ends up breaking up with Joe in the process.  On the other side of things, there is the two-part story arc that sees Antonio trying to get his green card.  That arc is made up of the episodes “Marriage, Italian Style” and “Divorce, American Style.” The two episodes together make up what is a time honored storyline used in so many sitcoms before and after. As many times as it has been used even before this case, these two episodes are just as funny as those of any of those noted series. The ability of the show’s writers to balance the series’ serial elements with its standalone elements is just one part of what audiences will appreciate in its third and fourth seasons. Audiences will appreciate the writing itself in terms of its jokes and story lines.

The jokes and story lines incorporated in the third and fourth seasons of Wings should not be omitted in examining what makes these seasons work so well. Audiences will enjoy the writers’ homage to I Love Lucy in Season 4’s episode “I Love Brian.” Brian badmouths I Love Lucy because of the show’s writing. Yet he ends up taking part in an equally bird brained scheme in order to meet country singer Clint Black (who makes a guest appearance for the episode) and impress a woman. In “Goodbye, Old Friend,” Lowell loses a dear friend. Even in his grief, he provides his own share of laughs as he goes through the five stages of grieving in a matter of a minute if that. The timing of that moment along with Brian’s (Steven Weber) statement that Lowell would go through the stages over months makes it an especially lighthearted moment. At the same time though, Lowell is still struggling with his feelings at having lost such a friend. His final gesture for his friend makes the episode whole and will warm any viewer’s heart. These are just a couple examples of how the actual writing in Seasons 3 & 4 makes these two seasons even more welcome additions to the library of anyone looking for a break from all of the over sexed and overly violent programming out there today. Together with the writers’ ability to balance the show’s serial elements with its standalone elements, it is even more a welcome respite from those shows.

So much was done right with Wings in its third and fourth season n terms of its writing. For all of those positives, this recently released box set is not without one glaring fault. That glaring fault is the box set’s packaging. All five of this set’s discs are set one on top of the other on a single spindle inside the case. This creates a certain amount of difficulty in pulling the disc of choice by viewers. It also increases greatly the likelihood of the discs scratching themselves. This is a major issue that Mill Creek has yet to address even to this day. And until it fixes the problem, that poor manner of packaging is going to continue to cause Mill Creek to trail its “big brothers.” Luckily, it isn’t enough to take away too much from the overall enjoyment taken from the series’ writing or the last factor worth noting in this set. That last factor is the celebrity guest appearances made throughout Seasons 3 and 4.

The celebrity guest appearances made throughout the third and fourth seasons of Wings round out the package in whole and make these two seasons all the more worth the watch. Seasons 3 and 4 see some of the cast members from Cheers make appearances along with other celebs. Kelsey Grammer and Bebe Neuwirth make an onscreen appearance as Dr. Frasier Crane and his wife Lilith in one episode, while fellow Cheers alumnus Kirstie Alley also makes an appearance alongside country superstar Clint Black in “I Love Brian.” Oliver North and William Hickey (Prizzi’s Honor, The Nightmare Before Christmas) also make appearances. The fact that the series could garner such star power was by itself a major statement of faith. It was a statement of faith in the series. That faith combined with the series’ solid writing to make it just as much a fan favorite then as it will be now in its latest re-issue by Mill Creek. And audiences will agree to all of that when they purchase this five-disc set themselves.

Wings: Seasons 3 & 4 is available in stores and online now. It can be ordered now direct from Mill Creek’s online store here. More information on this and other releases from Mill Creek Entertainment is available online through the official Mill Creek Entertainment website and Mill Creek Entertainment Facebook page. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to the Phil’s Picks Facebook page and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog.