The Explodables

The Expendables

Stallone, Statham, Li? Together with some of the brawniest macho men of the 80s and 90s? Sounds like a rip roaring, ass whooping fest, ready to pump some testosterone into a veiny bicep… But can there really be too much of a good thing? Absolutely, and in this case it’s become a bad thing, a big lumbering dinosaur of monotonous exposition and zero ingenuity.

So Sly plays Barney Ross the leader of The Expendables, a group of mercenaries for hire. Why do they do what they do? I don’t know they just like it. So they get hired by Bruce Willis in a scene that only exists to put three of the biggest names in action movie history on screen at the same time (They also own a Planet Hollywood together in real life.) Suprisngly it’s probably the best scene in the movie. Who doesn’t like seeing AHNULD and Sly rag on each other? So The Expendables get hired to take down some latin dictator (David Zayas with a bad accent) who is also being manipulated by Eric Roberts, who I don’t know, wants money or something. It may sound cool but everything leading up to that final battle is a bore and even the climax is as forgettable as a Fox sitcom.

If this movie should have aspired to be anything it should of been a non-stop, action packed, tribute to 80s action. A campy but thrilling roller coaster of one liners and “back to basics” effects but no, this movie is in fact the exact opposite. Instead what we get is countless scenes of Stallone slurring out commands intercut with painfully tedious plot and very few if any laughs. I laughed at a couple one liners but it’s more of a laugh of embarrassment followed by a cringe and these characters don’t do much to bring the material alive. Stallone is dry, Statham is okay, Li is hard to understand, Terry Crewes is practically non-existent, Randy Couture has a gross ear, and Rourke shouldn’t be wasting his talent on bull plop like this. Who am I forgetting? Oh yeah Dolph Lundgren, what a freak, I can’t believe he’s an actor. I could barely even tell if he was speaking with an accent or even English for that matter. I liked him in Rocky IV but giving him lines is probably the worst decision a filmmaker can make.

Usually in action movies, (at least in one’s worth watching) you got a beef-headed star usually surrounded by at least one sane or level headed person. Unfortunately this is a whole movie of beef-headed characters, so don’t expect much in the way of compelling dialogue. It didn’t help that there was little to no character development, they just needed to fill us in on the backstory of some who gives a shit, made up island and it’s who gives a shit dictator. I DON’T CARE! I JUST WANT TO SEE SYLVESTER STALLONE SHOOT PEOPLE!

So then the action must of been good right? Well some if it was, the parts that I could see that is. This is just another one of those slick and quick edited action movies that completely leaves you in the dark, unless you have some sort of superhuman keen sense of sight. I remember seeing this fight between Sly and Stone Cold Steve Austin and I couldn’t even tell how it ended between all the speedy mayhem. The gore is worth a chuckle here and there but they really should of ditched all the digital blood. Looked like they had a lot of fun in After Effects with this one.

So yeah, what a disappointment, what a missed opportunity, what a bore. I can’t believe a movie advertising itself as the ultimate action star vehicle could be so devoid of action. Don’t spend your time on this expendable seizure go watch Commando instead, that’s what dreams are made of.

My Girl Wants to Piranha All the Time

Piranha 3D

From the director of The Hills Have Eyes remake and the writers of Sorority Row comes Piranha 3D, a sequel to a largely forgotten late-70s franchise. Not that the series has any sort of continuity to it. In fact, for all I know this isn’t even supposed to be the third in the series, it could be a remake. But let’s face it: that really doesn’t matter. No, the only question we need to ask our selves when facing Piranha 3D is whether the ‘h’ comes before or after the ‘n.’ Let me get the poster. After. Knew it. So where do we go from here? I guess we’ve got to find out if campy B-movie garbage goes well with cutting-edge technology.

So there is kind of a story here. Elisabeth Shue is this sheriff mom who works on Lake Victoria, in Arizona. An underwater cave is accidentally opened up and an ancient species of piranha are unleashed, just in time for spring break! Meanwhile, her son (played by another person named Steve McQueen) gets caught up helping some really creepy Girls Gone Wild people. And her younger two kids get in trouble too. Will she be able to get the kids, as well as all the spring break morons, out of the lake in time? No. No she won’t.

This movie seems to aspire to be the Jaws of the 3D era. I mean, look at that poster. It seemed like it was really going in that direction when it opened with Richard Dreyfuss (playing another character named Matt) dies horrifically. But then Piranha 3D gets sidetracked. It gets sidetracked by boobs. After a thoroughly disgusting opening, I guess the filmmakers felt we needed to be distracted. So they throw scene after scene of girls taking their tops off in your face (since, you know… 3D. It’s like you’re there!). There’s even a scene that I swear goes on for at least a minute of two (I assume) porn stars swimming under a glass-bottomed boat. How do they hold their breaths for so long?

Then, after probably too long, things take a turn. A parachuting porn star looses her lower body to the school of prehistoric piranha. The hunt is on, and there’s plenty of prey. After trying its best to coax a boner out of you, the movie immediately makes you feel weird about it with a lengthy montage of terrible, terrible deaths. People are ripped in half, crushed, and reduced to bone. The movie gets pretty damn gruesome, even going as far as to show the consumption of a dismembered penis.

And that’s about it, really. This is a cheesy B-movie. Of course there’s a lot of nudity. Of course there’s a lot of violence. Of course actors like Jerry O’Connell and Christopher Lloyd ham it up. Of course the rest of the acting sucks and you just want everybody to die. You know exactly what you’re getting when you buy a ticket for Piranha 3D. I respect it for that, at the very least. It’s plenty stupid, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

My only real problem with the movie is that I don’t see what being in 3D added to it. The 3D was executed well, but I don’t think it added anything to the experience but novelty. When I saw Avatar, I was blown away by how immersive the 3D made the world of Pandora. When I saw How to Train Your Dragon, I felt the 3D made the action sequences more riveting. When I saw Piranha 3D, well, I thought it was hard to read the opening credits. I guess that doesn’t bode well for Jackass 3D.

C.A.T: The La’s

The La’s – The La’s (1990)

Everybody knows the catchy 90s hit “There She Goes” but how many folks have ever heard of The La’s? Though they fell of the radar after the release of their one and only album The La’s are today heralded as one of the first important bands of the 90s Brit Pop scene. Influencing such artists as Pete Doherty and Oasis to name a few, this Liverpool foursome has developed a cult following over the years and is still popular among fans of 90s power pop.

Led by the moody yet skilled songwriter Lee Mavers, The La’s spent two years on their debut that appeared doomed from the start. Constantly scraping countless takes and tracks, Mavers was never satisfied with the group’s studio sound. This would go on until 1990 when producer Steve Lillywhite would finally piece it all together and deem it a complete work. Though Mavers was not pleased with the decision, the album turned out to be a critical success even if it failed to make a mark on the charts.

The real surprise is hearing that Mavers was unhappy with the end results. If you ask me you couldn’t ask for much more in the way of catchy “Beatles-esque” songwriting. Sure it’s a little underproduced but these tracks are sensational with the gravelly voiced Mavers belting them out to 60s inspired guitars and tight harmonies.

So who knows what could’ve become of The La’s had they stayed together. Could they’ve gone to great success? Hard to say considering Maver’s perfectionist attitude though he hasn’t recorded anything since this album… Strange. Well all I know is this is a great album and a must have for fans of the Brit Pop genre.

Favorite Tracks: “There She Goes”, “Timeless Melody”, “Way Out”

Imagineer That!

Brian Wilson – Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin

Pop Genuis Brian Wilson is back with this tribute to one of his greatest influences the legendary George Gershwin. Stepping into the studio with his polished backing band, WIlson covers 12 Gershwin classics along with two completions of unfinished Gershwin numbers. Beautifully produced this isn’t as exciting as a new album of new Wilson material but it’s still a pleasant entree into the already prestigious Wilson library.

Initially I didn’t think Gershwin’s tunes would translate that well to rock/pop but I had to remind myself that these were “Re imaginings” and after a good listen I think Wilson put a clever spin on some of these show-tune favorites. Though part of me feels like this is aimed more at Gershwin fans than Wilson fans and in that case my interest wains. I have a lot of respect for Gershwin but as good as his music is it can feel occasionally dated when put to a rock and roll rhythm. Of course you still have the classic surf “Oohs” and intricate arrangements that Wilson has become famous for, but they only go so far with this material.

That aside it’s nonetheless impressive from a production standpoint. Sure it can get overly sentimental with it’s romantic/theatrical broadway feel but I think that was the idea. So in that case it’s nice for what it is but it’s not necessarily my cup of tea. Honestly the moments that sound less like Gershwin and more like Wilson are my favorite parts but I still think it was an intriguing concept. Wilson has already written enough great songs in his career, maybe it was time he reminded us of the talents of another musician.

Favorite Tracks: “Nothing But Love”, “Someone to Watch Over Me”, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”

F-F-F-F-F-Fuckin’ Awesome

I’m not gonna beat around the bush here; this is another Rock Band post. This is probably the most important one yet. That’s because the Rock Band 3 set list has been leaked. Stop. Don’t look it up on Wikipedia. There’s something you need to know first. “In a Big Country” is in the game. So is John Lennon’s “Imagine,” “Good Vibrations,” “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Radar Love,” “Walk of Life” and a bunch of other awesome songs. Now, sure, there are a fair number of songs I’ve never heard by bands that don’t really interest me, but god damnit they got Big Country, Golden Earing AND Dire Straits. Harmonix wins.

Leaked by these guys, complete tracklist at Wikipedia.

Those Crafty Stars

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

It’s been 12 years since the original StarCraft came out. Seven years since development of this sequel came out. Three years since the game was officially announced. Two years since we learned StarCraft II would be split into three releases. A year since the game’s beta began. And 24 days since StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, the first chapter of the StarCraft sequel trilogy, was finally released. Although it seemed like it would never happen, StarCraft II not only came out, but has transformed from novelty to fact of life. Now that the question of when Wings of Liberty would actually come out has been answered, the only one left is: Was it worth the wait?

It’s hard to think of a game with more pressure on it than a StarCraft sequel. The original was one of the most influential RTS games ever. It remained so popular in Korea that it became a sport. With a legacy like that, how do you live up to those levels of expectations? By modernizing the experience. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty doesn’t rewrite the book on StarCraft, it introduces clever new units, a bunch of new singleplayer modes and a streamlined multiplayer experience. Blizzard does enough to make the game seem fresh; familiar yet still worth the wait.

Wings of Liberty is the Terran-focused singleplayer campaign. We’ll have to wait a while to get the Zerg and Protoss thirds, unlike the first game which packed all the stories in one. The sequel gets away with that by putting a lot of work into the Terran story, which picks up a few years after the end of Brood War. Jim Raynor is back, fighting his war against Terran dictator Arcturus Mengsk while dealing with his regrets over the fate of Sarah Kerrigan. The campaign mode covers 29 missions and delivers a satisfying story that ends like what you’d expect the first of a trilogy to end like. The story between missions is made a lot more interesting thanks to the introduction of Wing Commander-esque interactions, Blizzard-quality cinematics, and singleplayer-only upgrades that let you see what an OP’ed Terran plays like. The missions themselves are interesting because they often feature clever gimmicks, like one where you have to defend yourself from Zerg zombies at night, but are free to destroy their bases during the day, since the sun kills them on that planet.

Beyond the campaign, Wings of Liberty has tutorials to help newbies learn how to play and a challenges feature, that is designed to help master gameplay. The player is asked to learn unit counters, build bases quickly, and hotkey everything. After playing the campaign and the challenges, a new player will have a grasp on all the units in the game, base building strategy and micro-management. Multiplayer is probably most players main draw to StarCraft II, so I really appreciate all the effort Blizzard made in making getting into the game easy.

And the multiplayer is everything you could hope it to be. Featuring the new, StarCraft II includes everything gamers could ask for, aside from LAN support. There are a number of modes to play, AI support, party support, leagues, ladders, everything I can imagine gamers are asking for. They smartly make you participate in five placement matches before you really get into the multiplayer, allowing to analyze your skill and match you with similar players. I’m still just getting into the online stuff, but it seems like Blizzard has included everything I need for maximum RTS fun.

When you get to the very core of it, I could see people argue that StarCraft is the ADD generation’s chess. The game requires so many actions-per-minute and tactical strategy, it’s a real change of pace from all the shooters that dominate the market today. And sure, it’s wrapped in space trucking fun, but few games are so deeply rewarding and dangerously addictive.

C.A.T.: The Stone Roses

The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (1989)

Our long trip through the eighties finally comes to an end with an album that definitely pointed the way for the direction rock music would head towards into the ’90s, or at least British rock music. I mean this album is so highly regarded in British music circles that in 2006 NME declared it the greatest British album of all time. I’ll start off by saying it’s not, but it’s still very good nonetheless.

Being from Manchester in the late eighties, The Stone Roses couldn’t help but get lumped in with the whole “Madchester” scene, which was defined by much more dance-oriented music than what you’ll find on this debut. You can see traces of that acid house sound spilling over into some of the songs, especially on the song “Fool’s Gold”, but for the most part this album is all about guitars and poppy songwriting.
Guitarist John Squire creates a pretty unique blend of guitar sounds that combines plenty of acoustic guitars, with a whole lot of psychedelic sounds that made for a sound that was vintage and forward-thinking at the same time. Ian Brown’s laid-back vocal approach makes for a nice foil to the band’s kaleidoscope of colorful sounds, with there being no shortage of catchy melodies. It’s really one of those albums where it’s hard to pick a stand-out track because they’re all so damn tasty.
I’ve always thought of The Stone Roses as the album that in some ways planted the seed for what would eventually would become Britpop, as it heralded a return to a more classic British songwriting approach. In fact, I bet if you listened to this album without knowing anything about it, you’d probably think it came out in the mid-nineties.
Favorite Tracks: “She Bangs The Drum”, “Waterfall”, “I Am The Resurrection”