Expendables 2

I really enjoyed the first Expendables movie; I thought it hit lots of right notes on the scale between kitsch and entertaining. Expendables 2 though, I thought was unwatchable. I stuck with it long enough for a villain called Vilain to put Liam Hemsworth down, and that facelifted old homophobe Chuck Norris to do some stuff, and that was it for me. I gave up before Schwarzenegger appeared, which was probably a good thing because he’s tiresomely self-absorbed too.

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Expendables 2 partly filmed in Bulgaria, but witness the sheer arrogance of filmmakers when they get to play in developing countries: the production had to be fined for breaking the terms of its permits and filming explosions, car chases and fires in close proximity to Devetashka Caves. Devetashka is considered one of the most important bat habitats in Europe, home to 15 species of bats – but the sleeping bats were subjected to stress, loud noise from heavy machinery and construction works, bright projector lights and crowds of people which kept them awake during a period when they should have been hibernating. Thugs.

The Mechanic

It’s hard to believe, now that it takes a while to lump my carcass up four flights of stairs, but there was a time in my youth when I was quite the athlete. At 15, I was ranked in the top ten in the UK as a hurdler – which is kind of sad since today I’d have difficulty climbing over the sofa. I recount this admittedly somewhat unlikely piece of personal history because it is the real, honest and true reason that I heart Jason Statham: the way he runs is poetic. And Jase is back and running about a lot, in his sassy new B-thriller, The Mechanic – a remake of a 70’s Charles Bronson movie of the same name. He plays a wily assassin who takes a troubled drifter under his wing, and teaches him to also kill: so, a good family film, then.

It does stand out however because of some cracking casting: Donald Sutherland as the kindly old mentor, Tony Goldwyn as the slick-but-treacherous executive and Ben Foster as the angry young man. They all kind of obvious, and therefore they all fit into place sort of perfectly – and of course Ben Foster does louche, creepoid, dangerous folk on the edge of a nervous breakdown before the rest of us have had breakfast. Throw in some thundering fistfights, some gun slinging, some classical music, a beautiful hooker with a kindly heart – and of course Jason Statham’s staggering torso – and you’ve got the makings of a thoroughly unchallenging but entirely entertaining 88 minutes.

Louisiana is the main location, in and around New Orleans and out in the bayou around St. Tammany Parish. (Tammany was an Indian Chief and not an actual Saint – though I’m guessing if he navigated his Choctaw people through colonisation he must’ve had the patience of one). Visitor info here.

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Death Race

Set in post-economic-collapse 2012, in a privately-operated prison, Death Race is about a whacko prison governor, an innocent man unfairly jailed, and a bloody, to-the-death car race around the grounds of a massive, decaying industrial complex that’s televised via the internet.

Now there’s a lot on line about the range of classic motor vehicles used in the car chases (Emmanuel Levy at his usual best) but very little in fact on the remarkable location of Terminal Island. As it turns out, filming took place in and around Silo #5 – an abandoned grain storage facility in the port of Montréal. (here’s a link to the Neighbourhood Notification sent out by the Production Company.)

A quarter of a mile long and over twenty storeys high, Silo #5 has a total capacity of five million bushels, or enough wheat to make 230 million loaves of bread. The building was constructed in several stages between 1903 and 1958. The newest part of the building was designed to last for generations, however due to changes in the global grain market and to the general trend of de-industrialization in North America at the end of the 20th century, the building became redundant less than forty years after its completion. It looks great on film though. As I always say: the bad guys never want to blow up the Nature Reserve.

As for the movie itself; so-so. Jason Statham again proves he’s the B-Movie hero of the era, and I’m wondering what exactly the fine Joan Allen thought she was doing by accepting this particular script. (I mean, it’s not like she’s chasing a fan base of pumped-up fifteen year olds…..) Anyway, Death Race is ok, but as an experience, it’s kind of like watching someone else play PlayStation; fun enough for a short while but in the end, pretty unexciting.

The Bank Job

The only thing I can actually remember about the Seventies are the electricity blackouts (no homework!), the shooting down of the Viscount Hunyani and ABBA. Evidently I missed the joy of Afros, Swinging, Toffs, Cockney Gangsters and espionage. Fortunately the Bank Job movie starring Jason Statham and an unusually plausible Saffron Burrows recreates the whole Lifebuoy-Nylons-and-no-Deodorant period quite admirably.

In September 1971, petty thieves working on a too-good-to-be-true tip off, tunnelled their way into the vault of a bank in London’s Baker Street and looted safe deposit boxes of cash and jewellery worth millions of pounds. None of it was recovered and nobody was ever arrested. Professing to be the actual truth of what happend – and what was actually hidden in those boxes – Bank Job is a rollicking tale that involve black power, MI6, madams, police corruption and Princess Margaret. Even Lord Mountbatten comes along for the ride. Low tech it may be, but it’s actually great stuff.

The Baker Street scenes were re-created on a purpose-built set at Pinewood Studios which allowed the producers to better control the 1970’s environment. But the scenes from the roof tops were filmed from the site where the lookout actually waited during the robbery itself, and from where his ill-fated walkie-talkie communications were intercepted. I LOVE that about the movies.

Transporter 3

Jason Statham gets his kit off, and gets it on with a Ukrainian redhead, in the latest of the Transporter installments. This is, I guess, what counts for emotional development in the movies, nowadays.

Reprising his role as the taciturn Frank Martin, the lithe, wiry, balletic Mr. Statham is once again forced into service driving a package from Marseilles via Budapest through to Odessa. Factor in a few adrenalin pumping car chases, some well-choreographed fight scenes, and a lot of product placement, and you’ve got the makings of successful movie franchise that shows no sign of slamming on it’s armoured Audi A8 W12 brakes any time soon.

Transporter 3 is a fun and fairly mindless way to spend an evening – if you can ignore the humungous holes in the plot. When Valentina – who at this point has been kidnapped from a sweaty night club in Ibiza, shipped across Europe in the back of a car, peed on the floor of a service station and had sex in a field – leans across and says seductively; “You know what I am thinking about now”, my equally irritating Redhead muttered “A shower??”