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By midlandsmovies, Jul 21 2018 07:00AM



Escape Plan 2: Hades (2018) Dir. Steven C. Miller


Sylvester Stallone’s Escape Plan (2013) was a straight-to-video b-movie where Sly’s ‘prison consultant’ was double-crossed and sent to a facility he needed to, well, escape from. With a cameo from Arnie during his post-Governor period, at best the movie was considered a guilty pleasure for the elderly comeback duo. More of the same here right? A resounding “no” actually.


Whatever that low budget film had going for it is lost here in an unbelievably bad (and unintentionally hilarious) mish mash of dull action, bad acting and sci-fi! Yes, sci-fi. The plot sees his colleague Shu Ren (Huang Xiaoming) end up in a prison that is more Tron: Legacy and Running Man than it is a modern prison.


Neon lights, smoky corridors and laser doors (!) replace any sense of even a semblance of reality and by the mid-way mark I half thought the ending would reveal them to be in space. The sets are small, badly lit and cheap looking and the lighting is abysmal.


It’s strange Stallone can arrange the production of a film as good as Creed and something as dreadful as this movie. The prison’s nickname is “the zoo” – a metaphor of caged animals so simple it’s something a child would come up with – and ex-wrestler Dave Bautista shows up but brings none of his great Guardians or Blade Runner 2049 charm.


Additionally, he and Stallone are barely in it – the two stars are support at best – and the ridiculousness continues with prison guards who look like Daft Punk. With the inclusion of lightning bolts that flow through prisoners like the three storms from Big Trouble in Little China and a robot doctor (seriously??!!) it’s perhaps one of the funniest films of the year. But no one’s laughing WITH it I can assure you.


“It’s bad to be back”, Sly says in an action one-liner which means nothing – yet summing up this film to perfection.


3.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Mar 5 2018 08:35PM

The Greatest Snow Movies


For a huge majority of people, namely adults who’ve tired of freezing to death while building an inadequate snowman, snow is a massive inconvenience. Filmmakers on the other hand love the stuff. Since the earliest days of celluloid, when it was an obvious way to give visual distinction to black-and-white landscape shots, snow has been a far more persistent phenomenon in the movies than meteorological reality.


In no particular order…




Fargo


Goof and gore were the sideshow to a main event of snappy dialogue and Oscar-worthy acting. Frances McDormand is phenomenal as the tenacious, heavily pregnant sheriff who has to investigate three murders when a kidnapping goes very, very wrong. Was the claim that it was a true story fictitious? Oh, you betcha, yah.


Fact - Filming took place in the winter of 1995, when the region was experiencing its second-warmest winter in 100 years. Filming of outdoor scenes had to be moved all over Minnesota, North Dakota, and Canada, and a lot of the snow was artificial.




Frozen


Yes we’re all sick & tired of the songs, and lots of women worldwide who could make money by putting on a blonde wig, green dress & sing in an American accent, have long since stopped earning money on the side at birthday parties. But for a film where the snow is such an indelible element in the story, it’s hard to beat.


Fact - Much of the U.S. had a colder than average winter in 2013, prompting many jokes about the powers of Elsa and Disney's marketing department.




The Thing


The Thing is a masterpiece of relentless suspense, gore soaked and outright, nihilistic terror, placing 12 men at an Antarctic station while an alien shapeshifter takes them over one by one. The snow only heightens the feeling of paranoia & hopelessness. There's not even a happy ending. In fact there's no conventional ending at all, just two men, alone in the icy dark one, or both, of whom may not be all they appear.


Fact - To give the illusion of icy Antarctic conditions, interior sets on the Los Angeles sound stages were refrigerated down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, while it was well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside.




The Grey


Liam Neeson leads an unruly group of oil-rig roughnecks when their plane crashes into the remote Alaskan wilderness. Not only must they battle the deadly elements, they must also combat a pack of rouge wolves. What could've been gung-ho, B-Movie schlock is given serious gravitas by director Joe Carnahan's script, and Neeson's stoic performance.


Fact - According to Liam Neeson, the temperatures were as low as -40 degrees Celsius in Smithers, British Columbia, where the film was shot. The snow storms/scenes were actual prevailing weather conditions, and not a cinematic illusion produced with CGI. The cast wore thermals under their costumes for additional protection.




A Simple Plan


The late, great Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton play polar (get it!) opposite brothers who’s lives unravel when they, decide to cover up the discovery of $4 million in a crashed plane. Sam Raimi reins in usual bag of tricks to deliver a taught, low-key thriller.


Fact - Sam Raimi learned some techniques about shooting in the heavy snow from the Coen brothers, friends of his who had been responsible for Fargo (1996), which Billy Bob Thornton appears in the TV spin-off of.



Groundhog Day


Cantankarous TV weatherman Bill Murray has to endure 2nd February in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania over, and over, and over, and over, and over again, and over, and over again, and over, and over again, and over, and over again in the greatest metaphysical, philosophical, romantic comedy of all time.


Fact - The ice sculptures featured in the movie (called Winged Victory) were carved by Randy Rupert, a.k.a. The Chainsaw Wizard. Randy is actually a Punxsutawney resident, and has a shop downtown. He can be found in the city park every Groundhog Day carving and selling his wooden sculptures




The Shining


Jack Nicholson, has never been more Jack Nicholson-y than in Stanley Kubrick's horror classic. Technically, there is no better film in the genre. Its chills are less direct (until Nicholson's character Torrance finally throws off the shackles of sanity that is), rather something that creeps under the skin to unsettle and disturb. Ambiguous to a fault, the story is open to many interpretations; in fact the excellent documentary Room 237 exploring several of them is almost as good as the film itself.


Fact - The "snowy" maze near the conclusion of the movie consisted of nine hundred tons of salt and crushed Styrofoam.




Die Hard 2


Of cause it’s not as good as the original (what is?), and it’s not as fun as the one that followed, but Die Harder is still a great action movie. At the time, Renny Harlin’s film was the most expensive ever made at $120m, but all the money is right up there on screen.


Fact - The confrontation between John McClane and William Sadler on the airplane's wing took several nights to shoot. Huge fans were used to blow in the fake snow in the background because of lack of real snow.




Cliffhanger


Another Renny Harlin joint sees Sly Stallone’s mountain rescue ace take, on Euro villains trying to escape the Rockies with $100 million. A superb pre-credit sequence kicks off the solid action template: from explosive, vertigo-inducing set-pieces, to a script chock full of obvious one liners, burning a pile of the stolen money Sly mumbles "It costs a fortune to heat this place".


Fact - Sylvester Stallone played Rambo, in the film franchise of the same name. In the novelization of this film, Stallone's character is referred to as "Rambo on ice".




Alive


Long time Spielberg collaborator Frank Marshall's second film tells the story of a young rugby team taking desperate measures to survive after being involved in an air crash that leaves them stranded in the Andes for ten weeks. Despite the survivors of the crash resorting to cannibalism to survive, this isn't a gory shlock-fest, but a triumphant tale of heroism in the face of unaccountable odds. It helps that the story is peppered with some incredible action scenes; with the initial air crash ranking as one of the most realistic and terrifying ever filmed.


Fact - The film's main location was the ski town of Panorama in the Canadian Rockies. To get all 150 cast and crew members to the location every morning took a fleet of five helicopters.


Jake Stevenson

By midlandsmovies, Jan 15 2016 04:33PM

CREED (2016) Dir. Ryan Coogler

Having seen the legendary actor Sly Stallone wax lyrical about his career during “An Audience with” event at Sheffield Town Hall in early 2015, one of the things that stood out was his assertion that he was leaving the UK having just filmed part of the new Rocky film. Already having doubts for the seventh (!) instalment, he didn’t allay my fears when he said he and his entourage were returning to Philadelphia after completing scenes at Everton’s Goodison Park football ground (!)


So far so weird but what could this entry cover that six films could not, you ask? Well, after Rocky Balboa which covered the final fight by Stallone, the aging actor has wisely put himself to one side avoiding a pensioner-aged return to the ring. So, we pick up with Adonis Johnson (Michael B Jordan), who is the wayward offspring of Apollo Creed who after stints in juvenile facilities is adopted by Anne Marie (Phylicia Rashād). She's Apollo’s widow and although she is not Adonis’ mum she chastises him after he leaves his comfortable office job to pursue his dreams of becoming a boxer. Tracking down his father’s old friend/rival, Rocky in Philly, Adonis convinces the retired heavyweight to train him up.


Adonis also begins a relationship with up and coming singer Bianca (a terrific Tessa Thompson) whose artistic temperament contrasts with his workmanlike exercise regime but the unlikely couple find solace in their differences helped by great performances from both actors.


Later Rocky has to confront his own problems with his broken body and deal with medical issues that begins another kind of fight outside the sporting world. Facing issues of race, life, love, mortality and relationships, Creed is an unusually deep film and by far the best film since Stallone’s debut. Michael B Jordan removes any memory of the frankly awful Fantastic Four with a heartfelt performance that is both bruising yet complex with a wonderful honest delivery.


Hints of nostalgia are littered within Creed as past characters and events are mentioned and whilst there is no over-the-top 80s cheese (Rocky IV) the film can’t help itself from doing a musical training montage. Still, it’s done with panache and a subtleness the other franchise films were nowhere near. And still it’s Michael B Jordan who holds the film together with a great central performance showcasing how Adonis wants to make it on his own – where even a mention of his father’s legacy instils violent outbursts.


However it is that infamous name which allows him a shot at world light heavyweight champion "Pretty" Ricky Conlan. The strong accent from the scouse antagonist was quite a shock to hear in such a large Hollywood film but made a nice change from the norm and their rivalry is a believable mish-mash of cultures and backgrounds.


With Stallone turning in his best performance in 20 years, we see something we have not really seen from him before - vulnerability. The curl of his lip as he recounts sad stories from his life brought a lump to my throat. Stallone has already won Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes and received an Oscar nomination for this role too and in many ways the film mirrors his true life tale as well, as he comes back full circle to rejuvenate a career fallen from grace.


For the fans, all the ingredients of the Rocky formula are there with a focus on the characters you have grown up with but the drama is so well crafted there is plenty for those who know nothing about the journey so far. This means that Creed is a filmic feat, an emphatic return to form with an individual voice from director Coogler that amounts to a knock-out triumph.


8/10 Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Aug 9 2015 11:05AM

Why Demolition Man is the most accurate version of the future in the movies


Midlands Movies Mike


Let’s get this out the way... I love Demolition Man. Although as a 13 –year old I appreciated the action and silly back and forth between hero John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) and psychotic criminal Simon Phoenix (a never better Wesley Snipes), the film’s themes and mix of comedy and action has got better and better over the years.


For me, the parody and satire on the dystopian and oppressive future makes the film an underrated classic which has gained a better reputation given its history. As time has passed, the presentation of the future has seemed more and more prescient as many once-frivolous and throwaway comments have actually turned out to be strangely correct predictions of the future. Released in 1993 and with a brief prologue in 1997 before setting the majority of the movie in 2032, this 22-year old movie (good lord!) also alludes to Huxley’s A Brave New World.


In addition, the film’s director is Marco Brambilla who is more famous as a Milan-born, New York City-based video collage and installation artist, known for his elaborate recontextualizations of popular and found imagery! No wonder there’s a bit more to this film than the superficial Stallone flicks that came before.


So, in research for this feature I have already seen a few other articles briefly listing the prophetic nature of the film, I hope to add to the many strange coincidences that appear in this seemingly innocuous 90s action shoot ‘em up.


So, be well folk and take a read of the following bizarre forecasts from the movie itself.


Self Drive Cars, voice activation and GPS

Once Stallone’s character John Spartan is thawed he is given a temporary police badge and tries to exert his machismo over Sandra Bullock’s Lenina Huxley by demanding to drive. However, after getting in the front seat he’s confronted by a myriad of buttons and technology that he has no idea how to use and sheepishly returns to the back seat of the cop car. It is here where we see the ability to put the car into “self-drive” mode which has seen recent gains in development from Google - http://www.google.com/selfdrivingcar In addition to this, the command is given by voice with the car “speaking” back to the driver to inform them of the result of their command much like Siri on an iPhone. Finally, the same voice informs the driver where they are in San Angeles predicting both Google Maps and GPS in general.


Smoking, junk food and swearing bans

Almost immediately after waking from cryo-prison, Stallone requests a cigarette from the cops only to be told they are now banned completely. In the UK, smoking was banned from enclosed workspaces (even public accessible ones) in 2007, the age to buy them raised to 18, before a subsequent ban on displaying tobacco packets AND finally a bill demanding plain packaging due to come into force in 2017! The rise of e-cigarettes too has seen this once accepted pastime confined to the history books. The banning of food bad for you is also now being seen in the UK as popular supermarkets have since outlawed sweets and junk food from checkouts and whilst sugary drinks have also recently been cracked down on as this link shows - http://www.thedrum.com/news/2015/07/24/sugar-debate-rages-tesco-pulls-ribena-and-capri-sun-aisles


Although swearing has continued to be allowed, the punishments for bad language in professional sports have increased whilst some comedians like Frankie Boyle have been censored from TV owing to their colourful language and controversial style.


Schwarzenegger Politics

A brief reference in the film alludes to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Presidential Library – which was no doubt added as a less-than-subtle in-joke by his fellow Planet Hollywood partner as Stallone was also briefly featured in a poster for The Terminator in the alternative reality of Last Action Hero. Again though, this off-the-cuff remark played out many years later as Arnie ditched his film roles and embarked on a successful political campaign with him ending up as Governor of California. Who would have thought it?


A love of nostalgia

One thing consistent with the future as we’re experiencing right now is a huge love of nostalgia. Just this year we have seen remakes/reboots of Terminator, Jurassic World, Point Break, Mad Max, Poltergeist and Fantastic Four. In the film, a running joke sees Bullock referencing films and language of the past only to get them slightly wrong resulting in innuendos and misunderstandings. Both her office and apartment are filled with a strange mix of eclectic antiques and trinkets from the 90s (including a Lethal Weapon poster) and with films like Pixels referencing 80s video games and Stallone’s own Expendables franchise reviving 90s action stars, a love of nostalgia is as strong now as it’s ever been.


Virtual Sex

At one point, Bullock and Stallone’s relationship develops and begins to get intimate and as they “agree” to have sex, Stallone prepares himself for a night of hot passion with the attractive Bullock. Little readies him for the “sex-helmet” liaison he has though which uses a Wi-Fi-style connection between himself and Huxley to get themselves off. Not much to add here other than the rise of sexting, mechanical sexual toys and I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but there’s some sexual material on the internet. Apparently.


Video calls

After the above sexual encounter goes awry, Stallone sits down to knit (part of his rehab process) and is soon interrupted by a wrong number coming from a video phone call. Although an obvious attempt to include some naked boobs (I’m not complaining), the film again shows how something they’ve invented for the script is now a regular technology used by people via Skype and Face-time to connect folk from all over the world.


Wesley Snipes jail time.

Wesley Snipes spent three years in prison for a crime. Self explanatory.


Criminal tagging

“What do you think you're scratching, caveman? You really surmise we'd let you out without control? Your code was implanted the second you thawed”.

In Demolition Man’s vision of the future, everyone is tagged to give the authorities a thorough knowledge of the people in the society they monitor. However, nowadays law enforcement agencies have since taken up this technology to monitor and track criminals using GPS. Now a routine part of the criminal justice system, its use has been regulated (and abused) by Dr. Raymond Cocteau – played creepily by Nigel Hawthorne.


On the spot fines

The most obvious use of this in the film is Spartan’s profanity that is constantly causing the automated surveillance technology around him to issue him paper fines for swearing. In the 90s and 00s in the UK, a huge increase in the amount of crimes covered by fixed penalty laws meant people could be issued a notice on the spot without further process for infringements of mainly anti-social behaviour. Although I can’t imagine Spartan being held to account for his many violations, he does utter a tirade of abuse at one point to get issued enough “toilet paper” for his bathroom visit as he does not know how to use the “three seashells”.


Franchise wars

Huxley mentions that Taco Bell was the winner of the franchise wars (sounding not so dissimilar to the Clone Wars, ha ha) resulting in all restaurants being Taco Bells. Not so far from this is the modern phenomenon of a Starbucks on every corner and where would we be without the one-franchise-to-rule-them-all that is Apple Corp? Probably better off. (Says I, the Android user).


Tablets, webinars and streaming video

At one point, it is very clear that the police chief is chatting to Huxley on a mobile device the size of a table mat. In other words, a tablet or iPad. These devices are expanded on when Dr. Cocteau holds a virtual “webinar” with a group of his advisors who are screened on various chairs in a meeting room. In addition, when the police attempt to apprehend Simon Phoenix after his spree of “Murder Death Kills” (MDKs) the primary officer follows a video lesson on a handheld device he’s carrying somewhat comparable to a host of instructional videos over at YouTube.


Wealth gap

The society Spartan enters seems idyllic at first glance with diseases eradicated, bad things outlawed and crime at a low but the film soon deconstructs these impressions by highlighting how these “advances” have curbed freedom of choice so much that an underclass has developed. Housed beneath the city in sewer systems, the film turns a satirical eye towards the differences in wealth (both financial and moral) between those in power and those in lower classes. From their rat-burgers to Oldsmobile cars, Spartan finds a connection with the group known as “Scraps” and its problems with the lack of choice is echoed in a speech from their leader Edgar Friendly – played by loudmouth political comedian Denis Leary.


As well as the specifics above there are a whole host of general areas as well that the film taps into. Other points include the increase of advertising (that become so prevalent the characters in the future now consider them legitimate songs) as well as a gun museum which the NRA seem to have stolen for their Washington museum built in 1998. Also, non-violent weapons (modern tazers), cryo freezing (just embryos right now rather than people) and eye-recognition security also make an appearance.


Some things that are no longer relevant and they didn’t get right? Well, Japanese fashion still looks a bit strange as well as the shots of mini laser discs which are now as obsolete as Benjamin Bratt’s career. However, that particular actor did rejoin Bullock in Miss Congeniality as well as Snipes reteaming with a beret-clad Stallone in The Expendables 3.


In conclusion, my love for this film hasn’t diminished one bit and the strange coincidences from the film’s vision of the future seem more relevant than ever. A staple of my growing up, Demolition Man continues to be both futuristic and fun and even allows me to wallow in my own favourite quotes (“hire a maniac to catch a maniac”) and appetite for a nostalgic action classic.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, May 6 2015 02:17PM

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014) Dir. Mark Hartley


Following Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus who in the 1980s bought low-budget scripts to make even lower budget films, this documentary explores the ups and downs of their business and with the amount of nudity in their features, the ups and downs of their stars too! Remembered for B-movie action “classics” such as the Death Wish sequels as well as Delta Force, the film actually exposes some of the creative risks (but still with no money) the cousins took as they tried to reflect, and sometimes create, the trends and fashions of the day.


The documentary itself has interviews with many of their directors and cast members (neither cousin sadly appears) but with hilarious stories from Olivia d'Abo, Bo Derek, Michael Dudikoff, Elliott Gould, Tobe Hooper, Dolph Lundgren, Franco Nero, Molly Ringwald and Franco Zeffirelli amongst many others, you get gossip direct from those involved in the turbulent whirlwind of their production schedule.


Attempts to cash in on Rocky (Over the Top) and Rambo (Missing in Action) whilst releasing as many films as they could, saw quality dip below any modern acceptable levels but with up 40+ productions in a single year, the cousins went for quantity when fare like Masters of the Universe (1987) failed to live up to its tag as the “Star Wars of the ‘80s”.


The hilarious failure of Superman IV (whose limited budget was slashed in half) led to financial woes that they were unable to come back from and although they owned cinema chains across Europe they were subsequently investigated for their large debts. The film doesn’t do anything spectacularly new and most of the interviews and simply crosscut with archive footage and clips from their films. Given that, there are plenty of clips of their films’ explosions, bad special F/X and nudity (lots and lots) as well as round-house kicks and punches which reflect the tone of the films they were producing.


As the dream collapses, the final Jean-Claude Van Damme film Cyborg is made with leftover sets and costumes for another film and franchise rights were sold to fund the wind-down but the journey seems to be the lingering aspect. They made entertaining, amusing yet ultimately quite dreadful films but despite the low-low budgets, the sense of fun and the ridiculous stories retold help fill out the documentary’s lack of innovation. Ironically, much like the Golan-Globus empire itself.


If you’re either a fan of the schlocky pictures the company specialised in or just enjoy the sub-Hollywood stories of an alternative branch of the blockbuster tree, then this film will give you a comedic look on how not to run a studio. However, it does so with such manic stories and hilarity that you can’t help but be swept up by its cheap charms even when actors describe their less than safe working conditions. Delta Force 4 anyone?


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jan 27 2015 09:28PM

An Audience with Sylvester Stallone in Sheffield


With queues around the block when we arrived, it was a cold Sheffield evening on Sunday 25th January when Yorkshire was treated to a bit of Hollywood glitz and glamour as living legend Sylvester Stallone came to town.


The megastar was performing in an “Audience With...” format and there were fans aplenty who wanted to find out more from their Rocky and Rambo hero.


After a short wait outside, the throngs were let in through the large doors of Sheffield’s City Hall venue and then into the main auditorium I went with my girlfriend Lucy, who as the biggest Stallone fan I know, was literally bouncing off the walls with excitement.


The theatre was sold out and I grabbed the complimentary souvenir brochure from the seat (which was a refreshing change to see but was much needed given the high price of tickets) and read about Sly’s life before seeing an Alan Partridge-esque couch and interview chair on stage. The magazine explained Sly was to be interviewed by Mike Read – wasn’t he caught up in the Saville-storm I thought before realising that actually no, he was “merely” caught doing a anti-Europe song in cod-Jamaican patois – who would post the questions. Righty ho!


A strange choice I thought but I guess that they had arranged the format for this thing a while back but before I could “read” any more into this, the lights dimmed and the real Read walked into the spotlight. Our seats in the second tier were a fair distance but gave us a superb central view of the entire stage and he began by introducing a cinematic montage of Sly’s best moments on the big screen. The soundtrack? Obviously the Rocky theme.


After a few minutes of scenes from Rocky, Rambo, Demolition Man, The Expendables, Cliffhanger and many more, the electric-charged atmosphere was unbearable and the man himself was welcomed to the stage. The venue had cameramen strategically placed throughout and the first sight of him was actually on the screen on stage as we could see him walk from his backstage room to the front of house...just like...a boxer heading to the ring.


But this wasn’t to be a hard sweaty slog but more of a champion comeback with Sly entertaining the crowd with his pleasing hooks and jabs about his upbringing, Hollywood, workout regimes and much more which were turned out to be all big hits with the crowd.


Starting from humble beginnings like all good underdog stories, Sly waxed lyrical about all of his accomplishments without ever bragging or going over too-familiar territory. Adoring fans would no doubt be already aware of some of these stories but for the rest of us (including myself); each tale opened another door to the Sly story.


From playing Polo with Prince Charles to family struggles, I was informed by a close friend before I went that there would be more behind the man than the brainless macho action films and he was so right. The shallow persona that we have seen ever since his dumb 80s action starring roles has long followed him around but Sly is much more articulate than many a young actor in the same genre. Early on, his discussions involved talking about art (a creative endeavour he encouraged anyone to take up) whilst his struggles as a penniless actor would make a great film in his own right.


As he grew up he was offered low budget porn skin-flicks which he unashamedly said were easy money for little work. Although Party at Kitty and Stud's was hardly a breakout role, Sly acknowledged that he still needed to pay the bills and when he came up with Rocky (a film that included only a little boxing in it in its first draft) he soon realised he had a winner on his hands.


The now New York based actor was offered a 6-figure sum for his plucky new sports script and despite the vast amounts of money involved, the struggling actor/writer insisted he must play the lead character role himself. This headstrong decision was the first of many big choices Sly threw at the audience, saying we only get a few each lifetime and you have to pick them carefully but playing safe is not always an option. Lucky for him, United Artists took a chance and the rest is cinematic history.


In fact, Sly told us that it has also become sporting history as he (as Rocky) was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame making him feel highly embarrassed that his fictional character was placed amongst the other real-life esteemed alumni. Sly told us that Mohammed Ali was an inspiration and that he also admired British boxing legend Henry Cooper. However, when asked about his real heroes he mentioned regular doctors and nurses. Sly went on explaining these everyday heroes were unsung and helped both him and his daughter with their respective heart conditions.


Quickly informing everyone that he was jealous of (“the perfect 6 foot five Adonis with a chemistry degree”) Dolph Lundgren who once hit him so hard, the hospital thought he had been in a vehicle accident, Sly also made the audience laugh as well as think.


Adding to this was a story about how he couldn’t afford to feed both himself and his dog, Butkus (yes, that one from Rocky) so he originally sold him for $50 but the very next day was offered the Rocky contract. Attempting to get the dog back, the new owner wanted $2000 (!) so he paid him and the dog was cast in the film. Another anecdote followed a young man in his 20s that could barely speak English who was outside his mansion one night. The man was doing the splits across his driveway but Sly kindly offered the man a lift and dropped him off nearby. 9 years later and the young foreigner became a huge star in his own action films. The man? None other than Jean Claude Van Damme.


Sly’s thoughts on religion were touched upon – he downplayed the God angle (thank goodness, this isn’t the American Mid-West) and focused more on personal development and using whatever spirituality you have to better yourself by helping others. We also got glimpses of a selfish streak that all good business people have as he explained that you needed a thick skin to deal with criticism and to forget those who don’t believe in you. This reminded me of Arnold Schwarzenegger whose biography I recently read which was less “actor’s studio” and more real-estate weightlifting zealot!


Sly mostly skipped over his mother’s appearance in UK’s Celebrity Big Brother a few years back however he left the audience in hysterics over his embarrassment at her interest in “Rumpology” (a form of psychic butt reading – yes, really) which showed mums can still bring you down a peg or two.


As we neared the end, Sly explained about his new film “Creed” which is to star Michael B Jordan (“Chronicle”) as Apollo Creed’s son and is a spin off from the Rocky franchise. Stallone went to great lengths to explain that it wasn’t a cash in and that he will be taking a very light supporting role in the film. He also explained how he was recently at Everton Football Ground to film crowd scenes for the movie and he was to fly back that very evening to start filming in the USA the next day.


Finally a Q & A from the audience showed the real appreciation that Sly still holds over young and old alike. From fawning ladies who almost got booed such was their length of their sonnets of love to Stallone to the film-geeks, Sly kindly responded to each request like a pro. Mike Read mentioned a Tweet that had been received from an audience member challenging him to an arm wrestle which he gladly accepted and graciously lost to a female fan (echoes of Over The Top). Another lady asked if he could repeat his famous “You’re a disease, I’m the cure” line from Cobra which he did too without batting an eyelid. And to top it all, one lady said her boyfriend would only ask for her hand in marriage if Sly could do the asking. Well, what else could the Italian Stallion do? The couple came to the stage and Sly asked on behalf of the man and boom! A dream was made.


And that was what it was all about. For nearly 40 years, Sly has been making Hollywood dreams and from classic action films to the plucky underdog stories to the recent re-imagined thrills of The Expendables, Sly has always fought against the tide and for film and fight fans, he’s a personal hero to many people and from this knock-out live performance, you can easily see why.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Dec 30 2014 11:46PM

Okay, so The Expendables 3 has come out and although it is far better than 2 for me (despite its 12A rating) it is not quite as good as the first one. My dislike for The Expendables franchise is pretty clear and the main reason is the same as why the Transformers franchise also no longer works. For me, each film was best experienced as a one-off oddity that would have worked as a cult film. Audiences my age couldn’t wait to see their childhood memories of Optimus Prime and co come alive on screen whilst The Expendables brought back memories of those great films starring the Hollywood beefcakes of the 80’s in what appeared to be a dream action hero cast.


So what went wrong? Well, Transformers went nowhere and after the initial awe at the photo-realistic CGI, the film had nothing else in its bag of tricks whilst I’ve already stated that The Expendables is neither funny enough to do the Hot Shots-style pastiche or serious enough to be a good action film.


My reason for this list then is that since 2009/10 when the first Expendables was made and released I believe there are better examples of guilty pleasure 80s/90s high concept films that relate far closer to the types of films these guys were actually making. Many will undoubtedly argue I’ve missed the point but I don’t want to see Arnie/Sly/Bruce take the p*ss out of themselves (age, out of shape-ness, catchphrases etc) as to me they never did that in the past. The closest they got at spoof were the duds like Hudson Hawk and Last Action Hero.


If you really want to capture the “essence” of that period, you have to look at a wider range of films. Predator wasn’t a comedy. Terminator wasn’t a comedy. Die Hard wasn’t self referential. They were more over the top actioners with a new twist on an established formula. Sure, they weren’t the most original concepts and the leads were the reason for much of the inevitable success but they have stuck around longer andit's why, for me, The Expendables is not catching that vibe at all. I thought Escape Plan was much more on the money from the geriactioners we have to date.


So – with all that in mind, the rules I’m trying to stick by are that the films are a) made at the same time as the Expendables franchise (which is 2009/10 onwards) and b) do not star the actors from the Expendables themselves and finally c) a (very subjective) decision that they have a 80s/90s vibe about them. My mantra, if you like their films of the period – watch these, you’ll be more satisfied!


80s buddy cop comedy (Lethal Weapon, Red Heat, 48 Hours)

The Other Guys and 22 Jump Street both riff on the clichés of the genre but have good action, clever set ups, some actual plot (although very slight) and are all the better because of it. The cops from opposite sides teaming up (young/old, black white, jock/nerd, USA/Russian) is a conventional set up but with charismatic actors and some more up to date jokes and sequences, both films nail the comedy/action balance perfectly with a genuine sense of friendship, laughs and criminal chasing and shooting throughout.


The cops versus criminals terrorists (Die Hard, Under Siege, True Lies, Air Force One)

Well, you’ve got the cop(s) ready to take on the terrorists in one place (building, boat, plane) which keeps the action contained but also creates tension as we are not distracted by other story strands and allows us a more intimate look at the characters as well as the cat-and-mouse dynamics that help push the plot along. So, for those who prefer flying fists I would recommend the ultra violent crime-fu pic The Raid whilst those into guns and bullets should check out Dredd (a graphic novel franchise Stallone already had a go at once and fluffed up beyond belief) whilst finally, those who want more of the Die Hard wise-cracking vibe of a visiting agent caught up in by accident in an attack then check out White House Down – a film that should have been the 5th Die Hard with a better concept and was far superior than what Willis eventually delivered.


Man and machine (Terminator 2, Universal Soldier)

Michael Bay’s 80s toy reboot Transformers proved that big dumb machines were clearly an audience puller but Del Toro showed him how to do it with his neon-drenched Asian-influenced Pacific Rim which put men (and women) at the heart of the machines but without scrimping on the effects budget one iota. With the Terminator learning more about humans and family bonding in Cameron’s sequel, the relationship between generations and a father-son dynamic was front and centre in Real Steel which used the concept of boxing robots to convey its message. The film is also fun if you’re a fan of Rocky and the classic underdog, broke father figure and comeback narrative which permeated that franchise.


Mind (and body) bending Sci-fi + Aliens attack (Total Recall, Predator)

Well there’s plenty to choose from in this genre with Repo Men depicting a future trading in body parts whilst Neeson in Unknown is essentially a Total Recall remake!


The genre crosses over in the amazing District 9 where aliens and body modification are centre stage in this analogy of South African apartheid whilst a more gung-ho army blast-fest was seen in the 80s style Battle Los Angeles where a group go into the urban jungle a la Predator to destroy human-hunting aliens.


Time related travel (Timecop, The Terminator)

Jumping in a machine and putting right what once went wrong was the cornerstone of many a film and TV series from the 80s/90s and one of the best modern movies to tackle the subject was Duncan Jones’ Source Code which played like an episode of TV classic Quantum Leap. In Time, starring Justin Timberlake was closer to Logan’s Run but it had a number of time-based concepts that did nothing new with the genre but was inoffensive guff in a Saturday night popcorn flick kind of way.


One man army (Desperado, Rambo, Commando)

Definitely one of those “of the time” genres that do not particularly hold up these days but Liam Neeson in Taken 1 & 2 shows that a man on a solo revenge can still be done in this cynical age given the right impetus – in this case, the kidnapping of various family members. If you prefer it in a more comedy style then Robert Rodriguez’s Machete is clearly in the same vein as The Expendables but with a more grimy grindhouse feel. Finally, a serious take was Eric Bana and Saoirse Ronan in the criminally underrated Hanna which replaces grizzled machismo with an adaptable young girl.


Historical action film (Indiana Jones)

Harrison Ford has already ruined one beloved franchise and we hope he doesn’t do it again in the Star Wars sequel, however, my first choice for a similar fun jaunt though history chasing after important artefacts would be the Nic Cage starring National Treasures but they don’t count being made before 2010 so I’m going to chose Sherlock Holmes 2 which improved upon Guy Ritchie’s first film and once again had the audience following a fighter and a thinker across the globe.


Prison or on-the-run films (Lock Up, Demolition Man, The Fugitive)

From Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) to Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) the prisoner escape film is a perennial fave (Stallone has at least 4 entries here) but the guiltiest of pleasures is the modern update of Law Abiding Citizen – a complete nonsensical film of one dimensional characters, OTT acting and explosions galore but done with a pace that doesn’t allow too much time to analyse the gaping plot holes. In a similar vein, Elysium showed Matt Damon as a future prisoner trying to free himself and the entire population (a la Demolition Man) from an unequal future we’ve stumbled into.


Transport troubles (Passenger 57, Die Hard 2, Under Siege 2)

Often terrorism related but sometimes just pure accident, the violence on vehicles was seen in many an 80s action film and decent flicks that updated the premise include Non-Stop (with strapping Laim Neeson again) and Denzel Washington in runaway train movie Unstoppable. In an apocalyptic future, Chris Evans and Jamie Bell tackle Orwellian-style tyrants in 2014’s Snowpiercer which sees them battle from carriage to carriage within a train that is circling the globe during a future ice-age. The movie is an all out old-style action flick with a serious tone from Asian director Bong Joon-ho.


Apocalypse Films (Mad Max)

With a remake of Mad Max with Tom Hardy soon to be released, Denzel Washington channels the apocalyptic vibe in the brilliant The Book of Eli with a story twist, great action and the hunt for a book replacing oil whilst Tom Cruise’s Oblivion covers similar territory but with floating iPod style robots and a big conspiracy to uncover.


Sports rivalry (Rocky, Driven)

Finally, it would be easy to go with The Fighter or Warrior as a companion piece to Rocky but these two films are far too serious for the action fest of Sly and his buddies so if you want a fast cutting, high octane sports rivalry film then you better check out the adrenaline fuelled biopic Rush - you’ve done it again Howard!


Midlands Movies Mike



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