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Expendables 3

Expendables 3 has hardly begun before the titular crew of mercenaries is massacring prison guards to liberate murderer Wesley Snipes. Typically for the series, the film simply expects the viewer to take for granted that the “good guys” would never shoot anyone undeserving of death. (Speaking of which, no Expendables review would be complete without the obligatory reference to how close to death some of these guys appear. “Relax. You’re gonna give yourself a stroke,” Stallone is warned before his upcoming adventure.)

This entry in the franchise does, however, evince more of something approximating a heart or emotional center in its plot involving renewed conflict between Stallone and treacherous ex-partner Mel Gibson, whose presence does much to enhance part 3. Gibson, now an arms dealer, has been deemed a war criminal, and CIA honcho Harrison Ford, in a role alluding to his turns as Jack Ryan in Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994), hires Stallone to retrieve him from Central Asia for trial at the Hague.

What ensues is tons of dumb fun, with better action scenes that dispense with the gallons of CGI gore on display in the previous outing. The viewer almost forgets what villains the heroes’ real-life counterparts are. A campy charm attaches itself, admittedly, to the wince-worthy scene in which Ford, providing air support for the beleaguered Expendables and obviously embarrassed by the unimaginative dialogue, half-heartedly mumbles, “Drummer’s in the house.” Expendables 3 is worth a rental for that moment alone.

4 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Expendables 3 is:

7. Disingenously anti-torture. In one of the movie’s biggest unintentional laughs, CIA creep Harrison Ford complains that Gibson is responsible for the torture and killing of two of his men. As Gibson later says of Stallone’s character, “He thinks he’s the good guy.”

6. Pro-drug. There is a lighthearted feel to a scene in which Kelsey Grammer’s flying is impaired by his drunkenness. The Expendables get together to drink in celebration of a successful mission, while Dolph Lundgren, whose combat readiness is unaffected, just likes to drink for the picturesque hell of it.

5. P.C. Snipes objects to Stallone using “spook” with reference to a CIA agent.

4. Feminist. Ronda Rousey plays a tough-as-nails bouncer-cum-soldier whose looks conceal deadly fighting prowess. “Men,” she huffs with contempt before fatally shooting a man.

3. Anti-family. “If you’re lookin’ to go the family route, it’s the wrong job for you,” Stallone admonishes Rousey. “There are different kinds of family,” she replies. “And when my life is on the line, that’s my family fighting with me.” In other words, a gaggle of ragtag cutthroats is no less valid a pillar of personal and national stability than some old-fashioned assemblage of the biologically related.

2. Multiculturalist. In addition to two black Expendables and an Asian one, this third installment adds a Latino as a nod to that group’s demographic ascent, with Antonio Banderas providing some odd comic relief as a lonely acrobatic weirdo desperate for an excuse to machine-gun people.

1. Neoconservative. Like the other Expendables films, this third entry continues the work of conditioning the American male to accept overseas hellraising and mass murder as an exciting career opportunity, or at least as something deserving of their patriotic admiration. “I am the Hague,” Stallone says in triumph, alluding to his famous line from Judge Dredd (1995). In other words, the United States as the indispensable superpower and global force for gay, is exceptional in that it constitutes in itself – and even through the acts of its lowliest mercenaries – the world’s judge, jury, and executioner. “Very tribal,” Gibson says of the Expendables’ penchant for ritual murder – leaving the viewer to determine which Tribe he has referenced in his remark. As usual with this sort of movie, too, there is a dig at nationalist Russia, with Gibson spending some time there and giving the impression that Putin’s New Nazi Germany Russia is some sort of haven for evildoers.

The CIA no longer even cares if Americans know it conducts dirty wars through mercenary proxies. “This one’s off the books. I’m not even here,” says Ford, clearly thinking himself very cute. Those incorrigible Central Intelligence scamps! Oh, well – boys will be boys. Maybe a couple of decades from now, Hollywood will be making action movies celebrating the “ISIS” scam and the takedown of the evil Assad regime. “We killed a lot, but we saved more lives than you can possibly imagine,” Gibson excuses his days as a hired assassin for the Company. Whatever.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

Expendables 2

Those left craving another helping of the limp-fisted one-liners, geriatric jollies and follies and apeshit aviation stunts, the genocidal body counts, computer-generated gore, and wanton devastation of exotic locales served up by the first Expendables film will find more of the same in this second wholly superfluous jaunt from the old folks’ hangar. So much blood splatters with such fetishistic tedium during the too-slick opening raid sequence that soldiers appear to be erupting with so much crimson jizz on themselves. Should viewers really be surprised when the credits come up and attribute the script to somebody named Richard Wenk? The self-lover’s screenplay has Stallone’s ragtag team of mercenaries venturing into Eastern Europe to stop satanic jack-of-all-villainies Van Damme from getting a cache of old Soviet weapons-grade plutonium into the hands of “the wrong people” – Muslims, presumably – and avenging a fallen comrade in the process.

Unfortunately, with such a surfeit of 80s dynamite nostalgia – with Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and others all crammed into Expendables 2’s star-studded cast – the result is a textbook case of a whole being less than the sum of constituent parts. The saturation of superpower, with heavyweights like Schwarzenegger and Norris confined to a couple of cameos, has the effect of mutual neutralization bordering on trivialization for all of the A-list actors involved, so that each of the heroes appears diminished and relatively dimmed. New female teammate Yu Nan, meanwhile, adds nothing of worth to the Expendables formula.

In its defense, The Expendables 2 does feature a hair-raising last-minute takeoff, a passable time bomb countdown sequence, and a brutal blade-and-chain-wielding climactic confrontation between Van Damme and Stallone. Norris, more defiantly deadpan than ever, has the only genuine laugh in the movie when he tells a campy snake attack anecdote, while the gratuity of Willis and Schwarzenegger swapping famous catch phrases with each other during a firefight holds a gay but admittedly irresistible fascination for children of the 80s – as does the sight of oldster Arnie effortlessly ripping the door off a car instead of simply opening it like a regular wimp. The CGI action sequences lack the tactile macho magic of the old days, and the forced attempts at human interest are similarly artificial, but such gripes will hardly dissuade those who already know this is their kind of film.

3 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Expendables 2 is:

7. Anti-marriage. Jason Statham’s fiancée is a “half-cheat”.

6. Feminist. Unfeminine and consequently uninteresting Maggie (Yu Nan) is “combat-proficient”.

5. Pro-drug. Lundgren picturesquely drinks from a flask, while others opt for bottles of beer.

4. Pro-torture. “We’ll beat the truth out of ‘em,” Stallone says of a bar full of tough Slavic strangers, but surgical blades wielded with oriental prowess end up doing the job more efficiently.

3. Multiculturalist/pro-immigration. Stallone asks Maggie if she knows how to carve a turkey. In other words, all arrivals are welcome as long as they promise to ape the superficial rituals of Americanness.

2. Pro-miscegenation. Lundgren spends the movie slobbering over the homely Chinawoman, who, however (with an eye to Stallone), professes to “like Italian”. Even so, Lundgren would “really die for some Chinese.”

1. Neoconservative. As in Chernobyl Diaries, the Red Dawn remake, and the equally unworthy A Good Day to Die Hard, the Cold War’s weary specter is roused from its mothballs to put fear of the Russians back into American moviegoers. CIA operative Church (Bruce Willis) spooks in top-secret, mysterious ways, so better do what the gentleman tells you! Then, too, there is the omnipresent danger of weapons of mass destruction. Billy the Kid (Liam Hemsworth) is a veteran of Afghanistan who expresses regret that his comrades (and dog) are “dead for nothin’”; but such brief dissimulation of antiwar sentiment serves as little more than a proprietary fig leaf for the Blackwater-as-Superman agenda of a movie determined to teach little American boys how cool it is to go off raising Cain in foreign countries in order to save and police the benighted regions of the world. One almost suspects that any disapproval Expendables 2 evinces toward the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan stems not so much from the insufficient warrant to go to war in the first place, but from the fact that America’s forces failed to splatter enough intestines loudly and brashly enough.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

Ride Along

Ice Cube plays straight man to clownish Kevin Hart in Ride Along, a decent urban action-comedy set in the mean streets of Atlanta, Georgia. School security guard and police force aspirant Ben (Hart) is in love and intends to marry his girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter). Unfortunately for him, Angela’s hard-nosed top cop brother James (Cube) thinks Ben is a punk with no potential. Ben hopes that admission into the police academy will change his prospective brother-in-law’s opinion of him, but James is having none of it and decides to take Ben out for a ride along, a training day of sorts, with the intention of scaring the piss out of the weasel and getting him out of his life and away from his sister for good.

Ride Along benefits immensely from stone-faced, masculine Cube’s presence in the driver’s seat, while his smoldering, in-yo-face attitude makes the perfect foil for Hart’s lightweight ridiculousness. The latter’s antics grow on the viewer over the course of the film; but Hart still comes across as something like a poor man’s Chris Tucker, so that one wishes a livelier, more monkey-like, and facially animated performer like Tucker or Marlon Wayans had been cast in the key comic role. Laurence Fishburne collects a paycheck in a smallish part as crime kingpin Omar, while third-billed John Leguizamo (thankfully) has even less screen time.

3.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Ride Along gets extra brownie points for including an Action Jackson reference and that it is:

7. Pro-family. James is fond of his sister and puts Ben through hell only out of a sense of protectiveness.

6. Drug-ambivalent. The morphine pumped into Ben to treat his gunshot wound is played for laughs, and Cheech and Chong are visible on a television screen in another scene. Alcohol, however, is bad news and could prevent a brother from playing basketball.

5. Feminist. Damsel-in-distress Angela frees herself from her bonds and gives some assistance to the boys with her frying pan. She also proves to be a natural at Ben’s first-person shooter game.

4. Neoconservative and anti-Slav. Ben does his part for the War on Terror by fighting the Taliban in his favorite video game. James is out to stop some Serbian gunrunners from providing Omar with the firepower he needs to take over Atlanta.

3. Statist/anti-gun. Ben, demonstrating Hollywood’s contention that the average Joe has no business with a gun in his hand, makes a fool of himself with a shotgun, giving the lie to the pro-gun poster behind him at the firing range. Security at the range is overly lax and Ben walks out with one of their guns. James, presumably the sort of government agent who, in Ride Along‘s view, should have the benevolently despotic monopoly on firearms, does his badge proud by engaging in a bit of glorified police brutality, slamming a shopkeeper’s head into a counter for no good reason.

2. Anti-police. Half the Atlanta police force is crooked, which would seem to conflict with the message intimated in no. 3.

1. Black supremacist. “I’m the brains. You’re the brawns,” James informs two fellow officers. White kids are a bad influence on an impressionable black youth, who could easily grow up to be a wino just by hanging out with them, Ben admonishes.

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