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There Are No Walls in the House of Jearl Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Infernal Jeer" journal:

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October 26th, 2015
07:58 am


Mystery DVD #252
The Rapture
Needing meaning in her empty life, promiscuous Sharon (Mimi Rogers) becomes a born-again Christian. But when an apparent apocalypse nears and God demands Sharon perform an Abraham-like sacrifice, she makes a choice that could change her life forever. What will become of her husband Randy (David Duchovny), her daughter and her devotion to her chosen religion? Michael Tolkin directs his own screenplay.

What a strange movie. The blurb writer didn't know what to make of it either.

This is part three of a women-in-the-throes-of-a-disastrous-religious-experience trifecta with Mad Cowgirl and Antichrist. The former was lurid, the latter was horrific. This one was just very weird and sincere, with Mimi Rogers doing most of the work, since the screenplay seems to demand that all other characters be calm, polite, and reasonable, even in the face of infanticide.

I mean, it's a trifecta so far. Please don't make me watch Eat, Pray, Love ever again.

Spoilery synopsis and thoughts follow, in case you want to see this for David Duchovny's 1991 abs and Mimi Rogers' awesome performanceCollapse )


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October 12th, 2015
07:54 am


Mystery DVD #251
The Bling Ring

Based on fact, this comic thriller tracks the saga of the Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch, who used the Web to time their robberies of stars' homes. The teenage band stole millions in cash, jewelry and other items from victims including Paris Hilton.

Marc and Rebecca meet in high school and bond over fashion magazines. He has an absentee dad in some kind of movie-creating role and wants to be a stylist! She wants to be a designer and is nice about sharing her drugs! Together, they do crime! Well, Rebecca does crime and Marc helps because she's very confident and he's pretty needy. Rebecca's kind of awesome, she clomps around in these huge boots and boosts unlocked cars like nothing could ever come of it. But she's a BAD PERSON, I guess, BAD.

Sofia Coppola has a strange way of telling a story. She just sort of puts this film out there, like gently rolling a ball down a hill and leaving the viewer to keep up or not. We start with a break-in towards the end of the Ring's spree, see the aftermath of them getting bested, and then jump back to the beginning for a very quick introduction to our two main thieves, Marc and Rebecca. Characters aren't really introduced so much as added in, and we get to know them a little bit, eventually. Burglar Number Three, Nicki-- her situation is the most clearly spelled out -- maybe because the real person from whom the character was drawn was especially available for study, I don't know. The film did seem to go out of its way to gawk especially at Nicki, with her gross, "The Secret"-believing mom and best-friend-mom both trying to give her media interview for her. Or maybe Nicki was so prominent because they had Emma Watson in the role. I wasn't even sure of all the kids' names until about two thirds of the way through. The thing is, I sort of enjoyed having to do this extra work! It certainly made me pay close attention to who knew what and what extra kid was brought along on what heist.

But still, I guess I wanted more motivation, more ability to understand them. OK, Nicki's weird because her mom thinks "The Secret" is both a spiritual program and a sustainable lifestyle. But Rebecca's the driving force of the ring, and Marc's the main point of view character, and there's never any attempt made to justify why those kids did what they did or why they are the way they are. They're not made sympathetic or unsympathetic -- Marc is lonely and insecure but he also goes along with whatever Rebecca wants with barely any show of resistance, and he's the one shown trying to actually monetize their loot. Rebecca comes off as a little more sociopathic, if only because we're given nothing, it's like you have to feel out that she's obsessed with Lindsey Lohan because she doesn't talk about it... There are two sustained moments that seem like the movie's trying to show us something -- Marc smoking pot and dancing by himself, in night vision, like he's trying to psych himself up for something that never happens, and Rebecca at Lohan's vanity table, looking like she's having a religious experience. The kids give so much weight and meaning to these celebrities and at the same time feel totally entitled to break into their homes and take their stuff. They want the look, that's all. The person doesn't exist.

What am I meant to think when I can't tell if the film wants me to sympathize with its entitled little monsters or to judge them? Nicki's household is held up practically as a circus exhibit. I feel like I'm supposed to side with Marc and hate Rebecca, because I'm shown everything from Marc's point of view, his misgivings, his occasional requests to be more careful, and I'm shown Rebecca clearly not giving a shit, trying to play dumb when the jig is up, but she's not careful enough to be an actual evil mastermind. She just wanted pretty things. They all did, and none of them seemed to care or even understand that it wasn't all just theirs to take. And the thing is, the film doesn't make much of a case that their crimes mattered either. Shouldn't it matter, a little bit, that they repeatedly paw through Paris Hilton's closet?

The soundtrack is great, in fact I liked the overall use of sound a lot. Coppola's very good at shifting from an objective point-of-view to Marc's inner emotional voice. But as a movie, and I feel like I say this a lot, but I don't know if this is actually good. I guess I sort of liked it? In a frustrated way? It was a strikingly weird form of storytelling and I couldn't even say if it was deliberate. Paris Hilton is a real sport.


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September 17th, 2015
07:26 am


Mystery DVD #250
Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Oh, shoot, I forgot to type up the blurb before I sent the disc back. I remember it was very apologetic about not being the TV show. Understandable -- it's hard to look at the movie, in the shadow of the Buffy series, and then Angel, and Firefly, and Joss Whedon's work in general! I saw it when it came out, and I remember thinking it was dorky and campy, and how the heck did they have Rutger Hauer, Donald Sutherland, Luke Perry and Paul Reubens in the same movie, and my boss at the newspaper and I would quote Kristy Swanson saying "You threw a knife at my head" at each other a lot for some reason. Then the Arranger sent it, right around the time Age of Ultron came out, and I was excited to be able to sort of bookend these two Whedon milestones. But AoU made me sad and frustrated, and threw off my whole momentum. I didn't have anything to say. I kept not having anything to say, and began to feel like maybe I just don't know what fun is anymore, maybe I have forgotten how to enjoy explosions. Feelings are hard to look at. Thankfully Mad Max: Fury Road came out a few months later, which alleviated at least some of those concerns. I love you, explosions.

BUT WHATEVER. Kristy Swanson is Buffy! a high school cheerleader in Southern California, and life is awesome. She's dating the captain of the basketball team and her friends are the most stylish girls in school. But she has creepy dreams about being another girl who fights a smirking Rutger Hauer all the time. A strange man appears and flirts with Buffy, and then his friend gets eaten by vampires. A second strange man appears, who insists that Buffy is a warrior of destiny against the vampires. He knows about her dreams, and also throws a knife at her head, which she effortlessly catches, because of super destiny powers. Convinced, Buffy struggles to maintain her modern suburban lifestyle while also training to battle creatures of the night. They are led by Lothos (Rutger Hauer), who seems to make a hobby of grooming vampire slayers before murdering them, and his lieutenant Amilyn (Paul Reubens), who exists so Buffy's love interest Pike (Luke Perry) has someone to fight. Her grumpy trainer, Merrick (Donald Sutherland), is slowly won over by her California charm, only to be murdered by Lothos. Buffy just wants to feel normal again, so she dresses up nice and goes to her high school Senior Dance, only to get all rejected by her normal friends and attacked by vampires anyway. They are super rude and do not respect the principal's authority. The film goes Full Camp and there's a long bewildering fight scene in a basement, where Amilyn gets a stake to the chest but refuses to die, and Lothos doesn't understand Buffy's modern ways, and she kicks his ass in her sweet gown, and then she dances with Pike and rides off on a motorcycle and a bunch of TV reporters come and try to make sense of it.

Then I got bummed out by Age of Ultron, because I used to like Joss Whedon stuff so much and now maybe I don't. Then I watched the movie a few more times. It's not very good, but it's really not bad, either. It's just too hard to see it for itself and not be tracing all the bones that get fleshed out in the TV show later. Especially stuff like Sensitive Principal Steven Root, who would have been so doomed to be eaten by hyenas. Weird blend of good, well-thought-out battle scenes in the middle, followed by terrible, weird chase scenes in cramped sets, the hard veer into camp, and the Not Final Death of Vampire Paul Reubens in the end. That stuff isn't Whedon's fault, he just wrote the script, and it was apparently rewritten to be goofier. But Mean Girl Hillary Swank! Sheepish Basketball Player Ben Affleck! I don't know. The last twenty minutes are kind of terrible but I think it's still worth the ride.

So what am I going on about with this "long shadow of TV Buffy," anyway? That 23 years ago the goofy cheerleader movie was, unexpectedly, the shape of things to come, and we got a generation of quip-based sorta-superheroes, laughing at the flaws in our culture while defending it from things it couldn't understand. Pointing out the flaws with sarcasm and occasional longing to be "normal." And suffering. The preternaturally strong girl, suffering for us. We see this again and again and it was good the first two or three times. But something creepy was happening too. The superhero girl was Chosen, she was never permitted to Choose. Buffy begat River who begat Echo, and in a parallel universe we get an interpretation of Black Widow who was raised from childhood to be what she is, modified and molded against her will, like in prehistory, an anonymous girl was infused with demonic power to begin the line of Slayers. Our new badass quips better than a god of lies, she's an Avenger and the movie makes a bazillion dollars -- geek culture ascendant! Only in this parallel world the super-girl doesn't even get to be on the T-shirt with the boys, the ones who (for the most part) signed up for this of their own accord.

And I'm willing to blame Disney for that last insult, but the thing is sour to me all the same. What if Buffy got to choose to be Buffy? You don't see that too much anymore. Let's look back at the comics, it all comes from there. Who's a fun lady superhero? Captain Marvel is pretty great, but if you ever look into Carol Danvers' backstory you're gonna want to pack your best headdesking pillow and maybe a bottle of whiskey. Jennifer Walters loves being She-Hulk, but she still got that way by accident. To find a woman who Chose, you have to reach back to the Wasp, or to Batgirl, and there's literally an editorial mandate that no one in the Bat family can be happy, so. Oh! oh. I forgot about PATSY WALKER, HELLCAT. Yes. She was a teen model who got a job as Beast's lab assistant and randomly rescued all the Avengers one day. After that she runs around with terrifying space lesbian Moondragon for awhile and marries the son of Satan. Yeah, some Woman-in-comics shittery happens to her too, but she never stays down. Not even after going to actual hell. What happened to all that? Why are super heroines so fricking doomed nowadays?

But back to Joss Whedon and the Chosen Ones. I can't help but think a bit uncharitably of his latest endeavor -- "Twist" -- "girl vigilante in Victorian times" -- lots of rooftop jumping and no doubt charming, quip-based Batgirl action. But, but, but... she'll still be protecting a world that doesn’t understand or deserve her and that refers to her by an cutely period-appropriate slur. What, was Whedon so pleased about getting "mewling quim" into The Avengers that he wanted to top it by putting the insult right in the title? I'm sure he means no harm, it's how it works! It's part of the edge, the reminder that this world is the monster all along, the one we can never escape. The one that has to survive and persist and never change, even if it keeps Black Widow and Gamora off the lunch boxes, it has to stay alive and clearly in the background at all times, or why bother Choosing any girls anymore?

Even in all this maundering I still have had Giles' song from that awesome 4th season dream episode stuck in my head all week.

(P.S. PATSY WALKER, HELLCAT movie, please.)
(P.P.S. aaaa!)


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February 19th, 2015
01:20 pm


Mystery DVD #249
Director Jonathan Lynn's board game-inspired campfest finds six colorful dinner guests gathered at a mansion, where they all become suspects in the death of the house's owner, who had been blackmailing each of them.

There's no reason to not see Clue, just find Clue and watch it, you have probably seen this movie like four times in cumulative chunks randomly playing over a bar, or on a TV you dozed off in front of. It's not a masterpiece, but it's comfortable. It's goofy. Christopher Lloyd is in it and flails a lot. Tim Curry is in it and scampers about a lot. Madeleine Kahn is in it, exuding subtle menace and occasionally suffering a dignified pratfall. Michael McKean is in it and his storyline is kind of homophobic but it was 1985 and they probably honestly thought they were being inclusive. Just... fair warning, it is to cringe a bit.

The blurb has the plot covered: Who Killed Mister Boddy? How? Where? It's really faithful to the board game, down to rooms with the right names and secret passages and a candlestick, a revolver, the whole nine yards. Take that, Battleship. You did not line up those pegs even once. The DVD offers the movie as it was shown in theaters in 1985, with a random ending, or with all three endings strung together 'home movie' style. From what i understand, the choice of showing only one out of three versions in each theater doomed Clue when it came out -- audiences weren't keen on wondering whether they would get the best ending. And they were right -- I watched it the first time random-ending style and I got the most plausible but also least funny scenario. I could have gone through my whole life thinking Clue was mostly dumb and cheesy with a really frenetic Tim Curry holding it together. You have to see this with all three strung together to be properly warmed up for the utterly bugnuts final ending with Madeleine Kahn improvising a trembling rage-fugue. Completely worth the price of admission.

Netflix Arranger Pattern Matching: This is at least the second DVD based on a board game! How many are there? Was Clue the pioneer? Do we count Jumanji? Also, we've seen the mayor from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" a couple of times now.


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February 8th, 2015
12:09 pm


Mystery DVD #248

After their child dies, a therapist (Willem Dafoe) and his wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) flee to their cabin in the woods, where they hope to mend their emotional wounds. But the grief-stricken couple watches their troubles multiply when very strange things begin to happen. Acclaimed Danish auteur Lars von Trier divides this tale into multiple narratives, revealing a surreal, horrific psychological adventure about the evils of nature, humanity and desire.

So I’ve been having a hard time writing a review of Lars von Trier’s Antichrist. For starters, I really, really, didn’t want to watch it. I was afraid of it. And I was afraid of writing a bad review. Then I did watch it, and it’s a pretty strange film and I had a lot of thoughts but it’s hard to find a straight line through them, which means, maybe it’s not a good movie? or it's supposed to be confusing and unsatisfying, in which case, great job? But I realize, the Arrangers never asked me for reviews. They just want reactions from me. They know, I think, that it’s hard for me to express myself without an explicit invitation, and that this fun little game that’s been going on all these years has given me a scaffolding to do that on without being too self-conscious about it. But I’ve still grown to take this experiment too seriously, and I made reviews a thing I thought I should do, so I started reviewing instead of reacting, and worrying about making them good, about what people would think, because I’m always worrying what people will think.

Lengthy and personal digression followed by all the spoilersCollapse )
It’s breathtaking piece of work, truly. It may or may not be appallingly self-important, I can't tell. It’s certainly often ugly and unsettling. Maybe you want to see it. Charlotte Gainsbourg acts her freaking brains out, I’ll tell you what.

If you’re one of the Arrangers, you may be asking yourself if this is me saying no mas, and it’s not. I’m just trying to explain.


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December 1st, 2014
07:57 pm


Mystery DVD #247
Escape from Tomorrow
On the last day of a family vacation at Disney World, Jim White learns that he’s lost his job. Soon thereafter, he begins to lose his mind, wandering through the artificial phantasmagoria and becoming obsessed with two perky French girls.

So, it's been awhile. I missed talking about movies. I just could not figure out what to say about this one. And I was procrastinating pretty hard with regard to the next one. You'll see why. Anyway, Escape from Tomorrow. I couldn't figure out what I liked or didn't like, and I didn't feel like I could finish writing about it until I knew, or at least think of some jokes, but, dang, it's been like five months and it’s time to punt.

This was made at Disney World -- the cast and crew just pretended to be tourists and shot most of their footage before being gently asked to knock it off. So there's that, and it's a pretty good stunt. Jim White is a forty-something white guy, getting a little chunky, with a wife and two small children. The mood's already wound kind of tight, because small children traveling, and out of the blue Jim's boss calls and tells him he's fired, for no reason. Jim keeps this to himself, to not ruin everyone else's day, and off they all go to the park. Jim starts seeing weird stuff out of the corner of his eye, puppets with evil faces, his own children with black demon eyes, his wife Emily laughing at his distress. There are signs everywhere warning of a dangerous flu strain. Emily starts picking up the weird vibe and generally everything they do starts out fun and turns ugly, every single thing they interact with turns out to be rotten under the surface, but they all soldier on because it's this relentless theme park machine, and it's easier to go along with it than stand still and think. They keep running into two  teenage Parisian girls and Jim enjoys watching them with rapidly decreasing subtlety, which doesn't help. He's surprisingly hard to sympathize with, despite all this undeserved crap happening to him. Eventually the drinking hours arrive and things get very weird, very fast and to describe would be to spoil... and also I just don't think I can. Weirdness piles on weirdness and then explosions and maybe robots? It got kind of awesome? In a way that will bug you for five months.

I think this film couldn’t decide what it wanted to do and just spun out all of its plot threads without firmly relating them to one another. There was the French Kids/Cat Flu thread, the Demonic Faces thread, the Creepy Rude Family thread, the Jim is a Robot(?) thread, the Princesses Turn into Witches thread… The Is My Son Evil thread. I think it was a mistake to have Emily also experience the weirdness. When it was all just happening to Jim, you could say it was all in his mind and come to some conclusions from that. Maybe kind of hackneyed conclusions, to be fair. But to have Disney World really be haunted and sinister is unsatisfying somehow. Perhaps because some of the plots really did seem to be just in Jim's head, and mixing them with things that were really happening kind of undercuts both. Leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions about the ending is fine, but you can leave too much up for interpretation, you can turn your movie into a big box of questions and it’s just not satisfying.

I don't know if this comes across much, but when I watch a movie, I try pretty hard to like it. (Oh man, especially if they're trashy. Too bad this one was earnest instead.) It's not a conscious decision, I can't help it. Despite the Arrangers' sometimes strange sense of humor, I don’t ever come at these things like they're new targets to savage, not even when they send me a legendary piece of shit. I think Escape from Tomorrow kind of bent my head a little because there were many things in it to like, and it is legitimately a cool project, but somehow it all came together in this uncomfortable wrongness. Robots, maybe! Surrealism! Feminism sidebar! Creeping horrors only glimpsed sideways... I love all that stuff. Was it just that the main character leading me through the story was kind of a cruddy dude I didn't like? If that's all it takes for a movie to fall apart then it seems like a miracle that any ever hold together.


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July 4th, 2014
03:04 pm


Mystery DVD #246
Mad Cowgirl

Director Gregory Hatanaka's decidedly twisted thriller stars Sarah Lassez as Therese, a health inspector whose progressively delusional psyche leads her on a surreal -- and bloody -- odyssey. To cope with her marital split, Therese takes up with a slimy televangelist (Walter Koenig), indulges her appetites for sex and beef, and obsesses over a kung fu TV show. Meanwhile, her meat packer brother (James Duval) may have infected her with mad cow disease.

I think I need to warn you that if you watch this film you're going to be seeing something completely different than what I did. It's just that kind of thing. The blurb is so accurate for once, it's difficult to expand on it, and Mad Cowgirl defies synopsis, it's so surreal and jumps back and forth in time so much.
Here are the facts as we can understand them:Collapse )
I liked it. It's not exactly enjoyable, though, it's just... fascinating.

DVD Extras: Kung Fu training, for Sarah Lassez and the actress playing Thunderbolt Kick Woman. Adorable.


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June 24th, 2014
01:19 pm


Mystery DVD #245
The Room
Uninhibited by cinematic convention, this quirky cult favorite about lust and duplicity delivers nonstop laughs from beginning to end as the film's central character (writer-director Tommy Wiseau) discovers that his foxy fiancée, Lisa (Juliette Danielle), is bedding his best friend. Adding to the hilarity are Greg Sestero, who plays the backstabbing buddy, and Carolyn Minnott as Lisa's materialistic mom.

There is so much pure agony packed into that blurb, but they tried. They tried to help. "Uninhibited by cinematic convention" is the most shameless euphemism I have seen in many years. But the pain shows through. "Quirky cult favorite" is blurbwriter code for "Run! run away! they have my family..." I feel bad about what is about to take place here criticism-wise. Surely all of this has already been said about this poor benighted artifact. It's so sincere.

Peer into the human mystery that is The RoomCollapse )


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June 2nd, 2014
12:23 pm


Mystery DVD #244
A struggling artist who lands a job as a department store window designer falls in love with a beautiful, realistic-looking mannequin who just so happens to be a reincarnated Egyptian princess.

Emmy (Kim Catrall) is from 3000BCE and she wants to see the world and do awesome things. Her mom just wants her to get married. They have a big argument in a temple, and the gods reward Emmy by setting her unstuck in time, kicking off a cartoon introduction of her bopping around throught the centuries to 80s pop. I don't know how this became a thing but Netflix keeps sending me movies with cartoon intros now, I'm starting to like it. She bounces through time as a series of inanimate objects who are alive only to the person that made them, I guess? Somehow Christopher Columbus is one of those people; they don't put a lot of effort into making it make sense, and honestly, it's fine. Be silly, silly romcom. Be as silly as you want. I guess that's the gods granting the mother's wish too -- Emmy's going to be stuck with one guy one way or another. Maybe Columbus carved a sexy figurehead that turned into Kim Catrall.

In the far-flung future of 1987, Jonathan Switcher is a sculptor working in a mannequin factory, who spends weeks on the perfect wooden lady. Since he's supposed to be turning them out by the day rather than by the month, he gets fired. He goes on to lose many other jobs; his passion for craft just isn't appreciated anywhere. He catches a lucky break when he saves a department-store owner, Claire Timkin (Estelle Getty) from getting crushed in an accident, and she gets him a stockboy job at her struggling old business, Prince and Co. His mannequin is there! He goes to reminisce at it one evening, and it springs to life! and they have a nice long talk about how he's not crazy and in the morning they have designed an attention-getting window treatment. Emmy and Jon become artistic collaborators and suddenly the store is getting customers again -- yeah this town is so boring that department store windows can draw crowds. To my surprise, they actually back this plot up with some really ingenious decoration skills. Emmy is alive whenever Jon's the only one who can see her, so he spends a lot of time smuggling her around the store and having to pretend he's talking to himself. No one is fooled. A rival department store starts creeping around trying to steal Jon, but he is loyal as balls to Ms. Timkin. You don't turn your back on a Golden Girl. Hijinks and corporate espionage ensue. Jon's erstwhile girlfriend, Roxy, works there, and she is first concerned, and then appalled, by Jon's burgeoning relationship with his favorite dummy.

Jon's other main ally is Hollywood (Mesach Taylor) another window designer at the store -- he's unfortunately a cringe-inducingly clownish stereotype of an 'artsy' gay man and it makes me want to apologize for the Eighties, even though it's not like I was in charge of them. I was alive and I didn't burn everything down forever, sorry for that, world of today. Sorry for so much. But anyway, he's an awesome supportive friend and he doesn't judge even though it's clear to everyone at the store that their star designer is sneaking around making out with a mannequin in all the back rooms. They're all very protective of their new champion, but not too protective to eavesdrop.

It's not great, but this thing is way more entertaining than I expected -- it's just so goofy and random. I only distantly remember Andrew McCarthy as playing the rich kid from Pretty In Pink. He didn't get to really be a character in that one, just this object of desire who kind of sucked, so I expected him to suck in this. He doesn't -- he's playing a daffy, head-in-the-clouds romantic surrounded by similarly cartooney people, and he does it with applaudable openness. I feel pretty bad for Roxy though -- she ends up taking a lot of shit for someone whose only sin was being a bit too ambitious. Yes, she does try to feed Emmy into an industrial shredder in a fit of spite, but come on, she was made of wood at the time.

James Spader plays a weaselly manager spying for RivalStoreCo.; thankfully he is thoroughly concealed in a terrible haircut and stagey affectations, so my Spaderphobia wasn't too big a distraction. (Something about the shape of his head makes my organs try to climb out of my body.)

Netflix Arranger Pattern Matching: James Spader, cartoon intro


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May 27th, 2014
10:06 am


Mystery DVD #243
The Expendables 2
In this high-octane thriller, Mr. Church brings the Expendables back together for an easy job -- but things go wrong, and one of the mercenaries is brutally murdered. Now the band of hired guns goes on a mission of revenge in hostile territory.

I haven't seen the first one, so here's my best interpretation of who the Expendables are and what their deal is. We meet them in Nepal, invading some paramilitary base to bust out a kidnapped Chinese billionaire, who they push out of a plane over China (no time for visas) followed by Jet Li, who bids farewell to this star-spangled shitshow with grace and style. They are a group of hard men led by Barney Ross (Stallone), who travel the world killing hundreds and hundreds of people for money, generally because someone was paying them to be standing there holding a gun. Most of the group are old veterans, but they are accompanied by a fresh-faced sniper (Liam Hemsworth) whom they all admire for his steady hand and taut young ass. They all stand and stare at his ass in awe when he runs up a hill, I'm not kidding around. Basically they're all like, "He's too good for this world, he should get outta this business" so yeah, he has to die. I mean, it's the most telegraphed death ever -- from the Blu-Ray menu on. Dudes posing with guns: STALLONE. SCHWARZENEGGER. STATHAM. VAN DAMME. WILLIS. WAIT, WHAT IS THAT, IS THAT A PUPPY? WHAT'S HE DOING HERE? GO HOME PUPPY, THIS MOVIE ISN'T SAFE. They even establish that this is his one last job and then he's going to retire to Paris with his girl. Stop talking, Sniper Puppy, they'll find a way to kill you twice.

Anyway after killing all the kidnapper goons and blowing up bridges, smirking at each other like they were past-it rockstars putting on a Greatest Hits Medley, their celebration is interrupted by a grumpy CIA man (Bruce Willis) who wants them to do a make-good on some past botched job.They are to retrieve a hard drive that contains the plans to an old Soviet mine containing buried weapons-grade plutonium. They are ambushed by other mercenaries, led by I shit you not, his name is Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme). They have Sniper Puppy! Barney surrenders and gives up the hard drive! Vilain kills Sniper Puppy for no reason! and then the bad guys all laugh and pants the surviving Expendables and leave. So now It's Personal and the Expendables run all over a weirdly empty Bulgaria stealing trucks and holing up in other old Soviet military installations. Basically the timeline diverged in 1986* and history stopped. It has always been 1986, it will always be 1986, forever and ever, lasciate ogne speranza.

There's no point trying to critique this in any meaningful way. It'd be like arguing with an Internet troll; just to engage with it loses the fight. It's unapologetic, like a drunken frat boy you catch taking a shit in your yard. There's no point telling him that's vile, because he knows that already. He knows there will be no consequences. Sometimes I praise movies for being this unapologetic, when they have a real vision and focus on it relentlessly, but this… it's like they sat around a table coming up with the most macho scenarios, trying to top each other. They wrote down every hackneyed, predictable thing any of them had ever done or said in an over-the-top action movie and used it as a checklist. At least Statham insisted on a couple of ludicrous knife-fight scenes he could dig into.

When I'm watching something that's supposed to somehow be in the real world, or refer to real historical events, but does so in a way that diverges wildly from reality as we know it, I like to pretend the story is set in post-apocalyptic New Zealand. You know, like Xena, Warrior Princess. This lets me shut up about Xena fighting both Goliath and Julius Caesar, and just enjoy all the leather pants. I think in The Expendables 2 I've finally encountered a setting too ridiculous to be contained in far-future New Zealand or in anyplace on Earth at any time. There don't appear to be any functioning state actors, there are only good soldiers of fortune and bad soldiers of fortune. The good ones rescue people from small armies, presumably for money. The bad ones enslave whole towns full of meek Eastern Europeans to dig up plutonium to sell to other...who? Who in this world is there to buy weapons-grade plutonium, and what would they use it for? Destabilize something? The world appears to be in utter chaos as it is. Pure nihilism? That seems to be all that's left since this dark 1986 of the soul is a libertarian utopia, where money concentrates somehow, or maybe just grown in suitcases, and occasionally men kill hundreds of other men to slightly change its distribution. There's a CIA but that doesn't mean anything, they're practically their own country in this reality. The Expendables are constantly destroying or abandoning their own equipment, as if it is customary to constantly buy a new everything, a pure consumption economy.

I promised my therapist that I would veto further excursions into this franchise.

* In this timeline, George H W Bush retires and Oliver North is appointed President by Constitutional amendment. Co-President Chuck Norris manages the devolution of all federal agencies to private management. A grateful nation drinks itself to death.


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