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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: The Expendables

'The Expendables' aims to come back -- but with Stalllone in a different guise

March 8, 2011 |  4:58 pm

Stall
EXCLUSIVE: Fans of 'The Expendables" have been clamoring for a sequel since the final round of alter kocker gunfire went off last summer.

Now it looks like they'll get their wish-- but without Sylvester Stallone behind the camera.

The follow-up movie is a priority at producer Millennium Films, where it's being developed by  Stallone, the creative force behind the original. But Stallone, who both starred in and directed the 2010 summer hit, isn't, at the moment, planning on helming the new movie. Instead, he's been meeting with directors to tackle the sequel, said a person who was briefed on the project but was not authorized to speak about it publicly.

The script for the new movie has been written by David Agosto and Ken Kaufman, the latter of whom counts the Clint Eastwood adventure "Space Cowboys" and family comedy "Curious George" among his credits, said the source. (Stallone co-wrote the script for the original with David Callaham.)

A spokeswoman for Millennium declined to comment.

Made essentially outside the studio system and distributed by Lionsgate, "The Expendables" became a $275-million global grosser on the strength of an action-hero ensemble cast that included Stallone, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and Steve Austin. In the movie, a motley crew of action heroes gather to overthrow a South American despot. There's no word yet on the mission in the new movie.

Stallone has been talking about an "Expendables" sequel since before the first movie opened, telling 24 Frames last August that he "had an idea ready to go," and adding that he's "going to try to do something that's quite radical." He's subsequently said he'd like to dial in new characters and reduce the role of  older characters.

Some of the casting speculation for a possible sequel has centered on Bruce Willis getting a larger role, fueled by Stallone's tweet last summer that he wanted the actor as a "super villain." But maybe more intriguing is the prospect of Arnold Schwarzenegger making an appearance: The former governor had a walk-on part in the first "Expendables." But he has a lot more time now that Sacramento has made him, well, you know.

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

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Photo: Stallone & co. in "The Expendables." Credit: Lionsgate

 


Is the success of 'The Expendables' a novelty or a sign?

August 16, 2010 |  7:30 am

  Expen

Talk to anyone involved in the action-movie glory days of the 1980s and the first thing they'll say is that it's time to bring those days back. "In today's world. we need heroes," Aaron Norris, brother of Chuck and an important behind-the-scenes figure in that heyday, told us when we interviewed him recently. "Our action movies have gotten too artsy."

Artsy sort of left the room this weekend, when Sylvester Stallone's "The Expendables," which assembled a team of muscle-bound mercenaries to fight indisputably evil (but ideologically harmless) enemies in far-off lands, got audiences excited, to the tune of $35 million.

Until this weekend, old-school action movies -- defined, for argument's sake, as films with a slew of explosions, a shortage of moral ambiguity and a triumph of physical effects over digital ones -- had seen better days. It's been nearly two decades since pictures of this sort were produced with any regularity by the studio system, and a lot longer since they were stateside successes. Many of the attempts in recent years have been, at best, mid-budget passion projects with circumscribed audiences (Stallone's own "Rambo," which topped out at $42 million domestically) or post-modern winks (the French-language "JCVD" from 2008, a hostage movie in which Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a version of himself). The few large-scale attempts, like "The A-Team," underperformed. (The biceps-and-bullets remake grossed $77 million domestically, a number that will likely be easily surpassed by "The Expendables.")

But the Stallone picture -- with its hard-charging, take-no-prisoners patriotism unbothered by the vagaries of the real world (it takes place in a fictional country, for starters) and its caricature of freedom-hating enemies ("We will kill this American disease," as the TV spot enticed us) -- planted itself squarely in the old-school genre. And this weekend, the movie showed that there's life in that category yet. That "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," the tongue-in-cheek, pop-culture-referential, decidedly 2010 creation -- the one for, of and by arch fanboys -- trailed well behind "The Expendables" only drove home the point more loudly.

On one hand, it's understandable that a movie of easy American heroism (OK, first-world Western heroism) would catch on. In fact, it's surprising it didn't happen sooner. Apple-pie-patriotism already is behind the success of a cable news network and supports large sections of the contemporary country music industry. Why not a film hit too?
 
But among all the factors to which one might point in explaining the success of "The Expendables" -- a cast harvested from so many demographics and eras; a moviegoer backlash to 3-D and CG effects -- it somehow doesn't feel that the demand for neat heroes and villains is one of them.

Norris and his ilk would submit that in our current period of ideological and geopolitical upheaval, in a time of blurry lines between enemies and friends in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, that black-and-white heroes slake a patriotic thirst (and that, indeed, the movie-going world can support a lot more of them). But history argues the opposite: Those movies succeed when the culture at large is filled with clear-cut distinctions. On the other hand, when the zeitgeist is more cloudy, an entirely different kind of cinema prospers.

The post-WWII era and its mainly straightforward distinctions between good and evil, to take an example of the former, yielded a flowering subgenre of movies with morally uncomplicated gunslingers. And 30 years later, the ideological simplicity of the Cold War and its larger-than-life Evil Empire gave rise to the very action movies on which "Expendables" is modeled (not to mention the ultimate in us-versus-them confections, "Rocky IV." Yes, there's a Stallone-ishness to all of this). There are plenty of reasons why these types of movies faded from view in the 1990s, but the fall of the Berlin Wall and the the Soviet Union certainly played a part.

The examples are just as abundant on the other side. The ambiguities of the Vietnam War and the counterculture in the late 1960s and early 1970s undoubtedly offered up the moral murkiness of "Easy Rider," "Midnight Cowboy" and scores of others. In the post-9/11 world, meanwhile, movies like "The Dark Knight" -- with its themes of a destruction-bent enemy that can't be bargained with, and the question of what constitutes an acceptable ethical compromise in fighting that enemy -- have captured our imagination. You can throw "Avatar" in there too, to the degree the movie was a contemplation of Western interests in the Middle East.

Political eras are, of course, rarely just one thing or another, and the movies we want to see in a given period are hardly monolithic. But as tempting as it is to infer that the success of "The Expendables" shows a deeper cultural need, it may well be the wrong inference. When times are confusing, we want movies to reflect that confusion, and even to make sense of it. But we probably don't want to pretend that confusion doesn't exist.

-- Steven Zeitchik
http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: A scene from "The Expendables." Credit: Lionsgate

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Are men or women more obsessive about movies?

August 6, 2010 |  8:12 pm

Eatpra
There are plenty of theories about which gender is drawn more to the movies, and how they make their decisions about going to them. For a number of years it was all about the young males, then, after "Twilight" and "Sex and The City," all about groups of women, we were told.

According to the MPAA's research, when it comes to overall attendance, the genders are actually about even. In 2009, the organization found that the moviegoing audience in this country was 52% female and 48% male, pretty much reflective of the breakdown among the U.S. population as a whole, which is 51% female and 49% male. (Women did purchase tickets at a higher rate (55%-45%), but that's a purse-strings statistic more than a filmgoing one. )

But it may not be that simple. With nearly every other form of entertainment (sports, books, you name it) one gender takes the lead in determining which products are successes and which are consigned to failure. Movies should, all things being equal, follow the same pattern.

It's almost impossible to get a real-world snapshot of the battle of the sexes at the box office -- most movies appeal at least a little bit to both genders -- and there are usually other movies crowding theaters in a given weekend anyway.

But a rare experiment will take place next weekend when the testosterone-heavy exploits of Sylvester Stallone's "The Expendables" goes up against the journey of female discovery that is Julia Roberts' "Eat Pray Love."  It's as close to a laboratory environment as you can get, since the two films' subject matter and intended audience couldn't sit on further ends of the gender spectrum. "The Expendables" contains few romantic interludes, while "Eat Pray Love" doesn't feature many mercenary gunfights. Julia Roberts is interested in discovering a foreign country. Sylvester Stallone wants to blow one up.

Other factors, meanwhile, are controlled for. Both are mid-budget studio films coming out in the dog days of August. Both were made with the goal of pleasing crowds more than critics. Both pictures are driven by one huge-name star accompanied by a host of smaller ones. And the two are going head-to-head with very little competition. ("Inception" should have finally lost some steam; the more modest "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" is the only other wide opener.) The film that wins the weekend should provide one gender with bragging rights and settle the box-office question (a point made amusingly in the below fan trailer for "The Expendables," which implores men to turn out for the film next weekend to take back the mantle for all of masculinity).

We won't know the results of the experiment for nine days, but the tracking already suggests some interesting lessons.

Although both films are tracking at roughly the same rates -- in electoral terms it's a dead heat -- there are more women out there who want to see "Eat Pray Love" than there are men who want to see "The Expendables." There are several potential factors behind this, but the most logical is that men just can't get worked up about a movie as women can, no matter how much a particular film is aimed squarely at them.

But that's not the only pro-female statement the tracking makes. While women are more enthusiastic about "Love" than men are about "Expendables," the two movies remain in a dead heat. So where does "The Expendables" make up ground? With women.

"The Expendables" is tracking better with females than "Eat Pray Love" is with males. That's an even more potent statement, Women, it turns out, aren't just more excited than men about movies that lie in their sweet spot, but they're more excited about movies that don't.

Yes, we know, these are just two movies in a sea of them. And all gender-related theories are inherently general; certainly there are plenty of men who remain enthusiastic and omnivorous filmgoers, willing to see a romantic comedy as much as they are a superhero picture.

But we've heard for so long that movies can succeed by aiming at one group or another, and certainly can succeed if they lock down one gender. But according to the pitched battle between "The Expendables" and "Eat Pray Love," that isn't entirely true. One gender does hold an edge when it comes to determining a film's fate. Women get more excited about movies, and they're more willing to see movies that don't specifically target them. Men, for their part, are more lukewarm and less flexible.

Even when a male-centric movie outduels a female-centric one, it turns out that it might well do so with the help of an unlikely group: women.

--Steven Zeitchik

http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Julia Roberts in 'Eat Pray Love.' Credit: Sony Pictures

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Comic-Con 2010: Who swam, who sank and who treaded water

July 26, 2010 |  7:30 am

Snyder

What would happen if every day was Comic-Con? For one thing, we'd probably lose our minds. The show's hype is like lead paint -- a small amount is tolerable, even sweet, but too much leaves you prostrate and numb.  For another, if every day was actually Comic-Con no studio executive would ever lose his job. Every movie is a hit in Hall H, that magical place where dreams come true and where creators and executives can always turn for a validation fix. Thousands of people are cheering and taking cellphone pictures -- how can a film not be a blockbuster? (Here's the link, by the way, to the complete compendium of Comic-Con stories from our sister blog Hero Complex. Some more specific URLs below.)

Yet while a movie's reception at Comic-Con isn't predictive of either the very broadly oriented releases ("Avatar," which drew a mixed reaction last year) or the very fan-centric ones ("Kick-Ass" played extremely well in San Diego but struggled upon release), for the many movies in the vast middle, it can presage plenty. There's cheering and there's cheering; how loud the cheers come, and from whom, does indicate plenty about a movie's prospects.

With that in mind, we decided to run down a batch of movies from the show and offer a few thoughts about how, from where we sat, they all fared.

"Cowboys and Aliens"

The Pre-Con Status: Intense interest in Jon Favreau, the original graphic novel and the genre-jumping premise overcame some early distaste caused by Robert Downey Jr. jumping ship.

The Play: Emphasize the Harrison Ford of it all, let the panelists say very little (they're at a relatively early stage of production) and allow the hybrid-y extended footage (atmospheric period western turns into an explosion-heavy UFO-attack movie) do the talking.

The Payoff: The weird truth of Comic-Con is that sometimes the earlier you are in production, the better off your chances with fans. That helped here.The footage was also different enough from anything else that plays Comic-Con (or the multiplex), helping to make it one of the best-received of the studio panels. There was also plenty of good feeling from Ford's presence, though that's precisely the kind of Comic-Con moment that's long forgotten when a film finally comes out.

"Sucker Punch"

The Pre-Con Status: Zack Snyder could no wrong after "300." Then he did "Watchmen." His new film came into San Diego in an uncertain place.

The Play: Emphasize the "300"-esque stylized violence -- and the bombshell female cast, as about a half-dozen on the actresses joined Snyder for a panel.

The Payoff: The footage sometimes looked as slick and kinetic as "300," and this could be the rare Snyder films that brings in women. But the director wasn't hugely articulate/compelling in his own comments, and  while fanboys always like a whip-snapping woman hero, the panel might have played a little too pink-hearts-and-rainbows (hello, Vanessa Hudgens) to snag the all-important young-male demo. Women, for their part, could be an equally tough sell.

"The Green Hornet"

The Pre-Con Status: Questions about Seth Rogen's ability to pull off the superhero character -- not to mention similar questions about the film's tone -- have bedeviled this serio-comic take on the radio and TV character for a while now.

The Play: Let Rogen trot out his stoner comedy and lock down the slacker segment of the "Knocked Up" crowd, while simultaneously redefine him as as a swaggering hero.

The Payoff: The panel was vexed by the same problem as the trailer: the inability to choose, or find the right space, between comedy and the more serious business of superhero mythology. This one made few inroads at Comic-Con.

Continue reading »

Comic-Con 2010: 'Expendables' swim in testosterone, 'Battle: Los Angeles' burns our retinas, and Jeff Bridges really doesn't like Arrowhead

July 22, 2010 |  8:34 pm

Tron

We're down at Comic-Con, in the land of Batman capes and Chewbacca-Storm Trooper fights, writing primarily for our colleague Geoff Boucher's Hero Complex blog. But at the end of a long day of dodging the costumed masses, we wanted to offer a little sample of what's been happening in and around the grounds of the San Diego Convention Center.

Earlier today, we watched as the cast of "Tron: Legacy" offered some motivations for the new film. Star Jeff Bridges and original "Tron" director Steven Lisberger described the need for "new myths," with Lisberger also citing the prophetic qualities of his film.  "The generation that grew up with 'Tron' accepts it as the founding myth of the Internet and technology that's theirs," Lisberger said. "The story came true."

A surreal moment -- Dude-like, even -- came when Bridges took a turn to talk about the "darker side of technology,"  that is, how he's repulsed by the use of plastic water bottles. (He held up an Arrowhead bottle, called for the product's elimination, and directed attendees to a website offering information about the cause.) The Hall H panel also saw an unusual moment in which the entire crowd, numbering about 6,000 people, was asked to quiet down, and then instructed by some text on a giant screen to shout out various catchphrases and stomp their feet in unison. We could have sworn it was an elaborate psychological experiment of group behavior, but director Joseph Kosinski said the idea was to mix some of the sound into the final cut so the Comic-Con attendees would essentially become vocal extras.

Meanwhile, as our colleague Alex Pham wrote, Jonathan Liebesman's "Battle: Los Angeles" showed itself to be a kind of first-person shooter with a heavy dose of destruction porn. Readers who live in Los Angeles and are feeling a little self-flagellating might relish the latter; as Pham writes, "Angelenos who enjoyed watching their city crumble in '2012' will be treated to scenes of its sandy beaches, concrete freeways and skyscrapers blown into smithereens in this upcoming movie from Sony."

Almost as explosive was a panel for "The Expendables," what with its footage of half of Brazil getting blown up, lots of talk of how Sylvester Stallone, Steve Austin, Randy Coutoure and Dolph Lundgren all broke each other's necks on the set; indeed, there may have been more testosterone on that panel than there is anywhere outside of a BALCO lab.

If attendees' retinas were burning after watching all that footage, they were glowing as Angelina Jolie made a rare Comic-Con appearance to promote "Salt," in a gambit that has the studio trying to flog a movie that opens in just 24 hours.

An odd moment came with the day's biggest news: that Guillermo del Toro would direct a movie based on Disney's Haunted Mansion theme-park attraction. (It was considerably more exciting than the other bit of fanboy news: Joss Whedon's announcement he would direct "Avengers," which everyone and their cousin knew.) The Del Toro news came at the "Tron" panel, after another surprise, a Johnny Depp video teaser for "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," which itself came after the "Tron" panel. A good number of fans were filing out before they realized the genre legend was on stage talking about his vision for the haunted house.

Some of the the biggest non-surprises, meanwhile, came when two big personalities didn't show. Despite teasing of same, neither Brad Pitt nor Arnold Schwarzenegger turned up for the panels for their respective movies ("Megamind" and "The Expendables"). "Megamind" co-stars Tina Fey and Will Ferrell brought out a cut-out of Pitt, but the actor never turned up. It was a rare moment of absence in a day filled with over-the-top presences.

-- Steven Zeitchik
http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: "Tron: Legacy." Credit: Walt Disney Pictures



Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.

MPAA takes down 'Expendables' fan trailer; will filmmakers re-cut?

July 14, 2010 |  3:46 pm

Apparently we weren't the only ones taking note of that fan ode to"The Expendables" trailer.

The "Call to Arms" homage -- which impressed us and plenty of other YouTube viewers with its brilliant use of an Andrew W.K. song and its playful call to arms for men to take back the box office -- has been taken down at the request of the Motion Picture Assn. of America.

Our first thought was that Lionsgate, perturbed that a fan trailer was showing up its own marketing material (there were nearly 200,000 views for the fan piece in less than two days), may have made the request. But the studio didn't contact YouTube.

The MPAA, however, did, and though the group doesn't typically get hot and bothered about fan trailers, it did in this case. "We don't normally get involved, but there was a shot in the trailer that suggested it had been submitted for approval by our advertising review board, and it hadn't," a spokesman told 24 Frames. (The shot in question is that screen you probably see but barely notice at the front of all trailers stating that the trailer has been approved by the MPAA for a given audience.)

That screen also featured a green all-audience message here for a trailer that quickly flashes an obscenity at the end; the spokesman said that combination was a small factor in the MPAA's decision but "not the main reason."

All of that probably means that a trailer re-cut without the MPAA screen would pass muster. We're imagining a call to arms for a new "Call to Arms." [UPDATE - 10:37 am Thursday: Looks like producers The Monocular Group have indeed recut without the offending screen, and the trailer is alive and doing well.]

-- Steven Zeitchik

http://twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Fans make Lionsgate trailer expendable

Terry Crews took an unusual path to The 'Expendables'

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Fans make Lionsgate's Stallone trailer expendable

July 13, 2010 |  7:35 pm

Often the moviegoing public looks at how a studio is marketing a movie and says "We can do better." And then, sometimes, they go out and do just that.

There’s nothing painfully wrong with Lionsgate’s trailer for “The Expendables,” which you can see here. But there’s nothing especially good about it either. There’s far too much wind-up before it gets to the action shots for a movie that mainly appeals to men, and certainly far too much pseudo-patriotic mumbo jumbo. (“They must make the ultimate sacrifice for a chance to change history.")

Not so for the imaginative fan trailer above, which is starting to get some nice traction on the Web. The rave-up Andrew W.K. song, the cut-straight-to-the-testosterone pacing (and the quick cuts when it gets there) and, most of all, the good-natured battle-of-the-sexes, take-back-the-box-office conceit. Moviegoers don't necessarily shell out $10  to make a statement of masculinity. But the play to that sentiment is brilliant -- it's exactly what the movie does, after all -- and far more persuasive than the tepid, hit-all-the-right-focus-group notes.

Studios aren’t about to turn over the marketing keys to fans. But sometimes the fans take it anyway, Stallone-style. And when they do, it can be a beautiful thing.

--Steven Zeitchik

Twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Video: Fan trailer for "The Expendables"

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