Sunday, August 8, 2010

Why The Expendables will be the best movie I see this summer

No, there's no logical reason for the title to this post; this is going to be strictly emotion-based. Next Friday The Expendables – a B-level action movie that seems to be so retro that it has no place being released in theaters in 2010; rather, it would be more appropriate to have it be shown between the hours of 12:45 am and 4 am on Showtime – will be released nationwide. Sylvester Stallone's recent labor of love is an attempt to bring people back to the action movie; people who have become disillusioned with the shaky-cam, CGI-fests that plague theaters and call themselves "real" or "gritty" action films. Stallone is shamelessly trying to tap into a sense of nostalgia with his latest film by casting virtually every action star from '80s and '90s (and more recent tough guys like the always great Jason Statham) from the likes of Dolph Lundgren to Bruce Willis to Jet Li to a cameo by the Governator himself. Sadly Steven Seagal (my personal favorite of the '90s action stars) and Jean-Claude Van Damme turned down the opportunity to be in the film; the former because of a dislike for the producer (seems fair enough), and the latter because – and I'm not joking here – he felt like his character wasn't developed enough. You know, like his well developed characters from such classics as Nowhere to Run, Double Impact, or Hard Target. But I digress...

When the film comes out next Friday, I plan on seeing it in the theater. No, not with my brother to make fun of it (although I'm sure we'll do that at some point), but I plan on shelling out 10 dollars for a movie that could just as easily be a straight-to-DVD movie because I want to see it with my dad. You see, my dad and I used to go see bad action movies every Monday night when I was a kid (Monday night was the all day matinee here in Oregon). Yup, every Monday my dad and I would head out to one of our three favorite theaters (a total of about 15 screens combined) depending on where the movie we wanted to see was playing. You had Southgate Cinema, a small, rundown theater with four screens and really bad popcorn (they mostly played horror flicks); you also had Lancaster Cinema, a bigger theater (it had a large main auditorium that played family films) that catered to families, but always held a few auditoriums (again only about four or five total) for smaller films, sci-fi/horror, or blockbusters that had been out for more than a few months. My favorite, though, was Keizer Cinema. This tiny theater in my small hometown of Keizer was home to every bad action movie and horror film; this was my preferred spot (over the newer theater that had been built downtown) as I fell in love with the dinginess of the theater which appropriately reflected the kinds of films they showed. My favorite feature of Keizer Cinema was their wallpaper; yes, wallpaper…lined throughout the theater was a collage of old movie posters for B-grade horror films and action films. When you waited to go into their "main" auditorium, you could look to your left and see shrunken posters for films like Jaws 3-D, Visiting Hours, Time After Time, Xtro, The Vindicator, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 all pasted together. As an adolescent, these images (and the movie posters they would display throughout the theater) were not at all unlike my love for roving through the video store and studying coverboxes, trying to decide which movie I was going to take home with me; I ate that stuff up (I was easily pleased).

The best part, obviously, was the movie-watching. Each Monday my dad and I would decide on what to go see: should it be the latest Van Damme, or a sci-fi flick? Do we venture into horror, or stick with a bad action movie? We ran the gamut in those handful of years, as off the top of my head I can think of going to see the following films with him: Sudden Death, Demolition Man, Stargate, Species, Under Siege, Under Siege 2, True Lies, Speed, The Arrival, Alien 3, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Judge Dredd, Independence Day, New Nightmare, The Shadow Conspiracy (yeah, look THAT one up), Executive Decision, The Last Action Hero, On Deadly Ground, Universal Soldier, Hard Target, Broken Arrow, Face/Off, Timecop, Eraser, and (I'll end the list here) Passenger 57. Yes, that's quite the list of films, and even though I enjoyed these as a kid (and some of them I still love: for nostalgic purposes, but also because it points to a time when action films were simple formulas and could be entertaining, 90 min. popcorn films instead of 120+ min. chores) I would obviously grow out of these films as my palate would be fine-tuned over the years, leading to me becoming a full-fledged cinephile (I told that story a little over a year ago).

What's interesting about the release of The Expendables is that is that it didn't just bring back a flood of memories that my dad and I used to share (my parents live in the same city as me, and we're extremely close, so it isn't like this is my only link to my dad), but it made me think about how awesome my dad was in nurturing my love for cinema. My dad always let us choose movies to rent at the video store, or he let us kids (there were three Olson boys in that house growing up, each of us very opinionated…I don't know how my parents negotiated those times) have input on what movie we should see as a family, and if one disagreed, then more often than not they would let us go see a movie by ourselves at the same theater, as long as it would get out around the same time as the movie the rest of the family was seeing. My parents gave us options at the cinema, and I think that's a big reason why I have the love for film that I have today. 

The Monday night excursions my dad and I would go on (not to mention the movie "festivals" we would have when my mom went out of town with her friends, where we would rent tons of movies for the weekend) definitely led to my further interest in "serious" film. After we would watch the latest action movie, we would dissect it in the car ride on the way home, talking about the best action scenes and how cool they were. I would go home and write mock reviews to those movies. I didn't realize it at the time, but my dad was a major influence on me forming opinions about movies. I remember the both of us laughing and groaning through Species, a film that this youngster had to close his eyes throughout because my dad was unaware that it was essentially a softcore porno; I remember having to sift through some emotions after a viewing of Edward Scissorhands because I didn't understand why they hated him simply because he was different (hey, I was young!), and my dad sitting in the car with me in the parking lot talking about the film and what happened in it; I remember us beginning to see the end for aging action stars like Van Damme (we were both unimpressed with Sudden Death) and Seagal (On Deadly Ground) and discussing the various way we would make their films better. All of that led to me giving my input on us maybe seeing other movies. When I got older, I still loved action movies, but I started to explore the cinema more, and I started reading more (Ebert's review books and Glenn Kenney's reviews in Premier Magazine were huge influences) and watching shows like Siskel & Ebert; so, what started out as going out to the theater to see something like Under Siege 2, now became an experiment of sorts: I would try to up the cinematic ante.

I was always good at convincing my dad – a very agreeable fellow – that maybe we should try seeing something different. I owe a lot to his agreeable nature and innate ability to be a good sport, for I convinced my dad one night to head to Keizer Cinema, and instead of seeing the latest action movie, to try out Jackie Brown. I knew the film had crime elements and interesting characters my dad would enjoy, but I also knew it was a gamble because it was a 140+ minute film with very little conventional action; let me put it this way: it wasn't whatever the alternative was (which was probably the last theatrical release of a Van Damme movie, or something along those lines). I was a freshman in high school at this point, and my love for action films evolved into my love for a different kind of cinema (the link: an interview I read with John Woo where he claimed that the inspiration for his The Killer – my favorite action film – was Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai; from that moment on I started seeking out a different kind of film), and I was more than happy to have my dad along for the ride; however, as most things do when you're growing up as teenager, the family tradition fizzled out. I still loved my dad, of course (I was never one of those teenagers who was embarrassed by their parents), but the Monday night trips slowly died down. 

Shortly after seeing Jackie Brown, Keizer Cinema closed for good. Sadly, they turned our favorite movie spot into a car dealership. It was definitely an apt omen for what was happening to the Monday nights my dad and I looked forward to. It sucked. And to add to the suckiness, our favorite local video store, Video Rama, had to shut their doors because the owner, who was looking to build a new store, got duped by a crooked contractor who took her money to build that new building and left town.  I saw how my parents reacted to this news, and it helped me realize how I should react, too. My parents were not happy and they felt incredibly sorry for Betty, the owner of the video store. I thought it curious that they would feel so strongly about a video store, but I soon realized why they reacted the way they did: Betty had been the purveyor of our family entertainment for so many years, and now that role had been taken away from her. Her store was the place that our family would often decide how we were going to spend the next 2-4 hours together on a Saturday night. Around that time I began to see, as cheesy as it sounds, the power of movies.

It wasn't the same after that. My junior and senior years in high school were a perfect storm of my old movie-life dying and my new-found enthusiasm for art films and independent features (more "challenging" work, you could say) growing. As I was getting older, my tastes were definitely changing, and it just so happened that as I began driving out of town to see movies that now interested me, the cathedrals of my adolescence were all closing down (Southgate would close at the same time as Keizer, and Lancaster would close down a few years later).

That was in 1999, my senior in high school, and even though I still went to theater a lot with my parents (that year I convinced them that we should go see The Insider and Magnolia), those are usually the years of teenage independence, and it was no different for me as I began driving myself to different kinds of theaters (there was only one, single screen, art house theater in Salem when I was growing up) to find a different kind of film. I started driving to Portland more and more, and with that independence – as great as it was – came the death knell for the Monday night traditions that I held so dearly and treasured so greatly; the traditions with my dad that definitely had an impact on the kind of filmgoer I am today. The last movie I remember heading out to theater to see with him on a Monday night was Wes Anderson's Rushmore; yes, I had successfully transitioned (my dad loved that movie) from On Deadly Ground to Rushmore.

There were other action films that my dad and I would go see in the "nicer" theater in Salem (the new theater downtown had 7 auditoriums!); films like: Speed, The Rock and Con Air. But it wasn't the same as when we saw them at Keizer Cinema. Besides, the aforementioned films were too polished; sure, looking at them now it's easy to say "they don't make 'em like they used to," but back in '95/'96 you could see the difference between a Seagal or Arnie action film and the Bruckheimer/Simpson brand that was churning out stuff like The Rock. I remember initially watching The Rock in the theater on a Saturday afternoon, and being bored to tears. Why was an action film so long and filled with so much unnecessary stuff? Subsequent viewings have more than warmed me up to the film's "charms," but I remember thinking back during the film's theatrical run that it was a different kind of action film. And sure enough, I think you can point to those early Michael Bay action films as the sign of the genre changing (of course, September 11th was the major culprit in the shift in tone of modern action films). It was also the sign of everything else changing, and even though that change was wonderful, it was bittersweet, too, because I knew that the kind of films I would sharing with my dad were better than anything we had watched on those Monday nights; the films may have been better, but the experience of seeing those films was certainly different.

Kudos to my dad for putting up with me during those formative years. I'm not sure what he always thought about the kind of movies I recommended we go see, but he was always a trooper (my mom, too), and it was always a fun experience to sit in a theater with him and know that I get to share the experience with the one person who most nurtured the obsession I had with film at a young age (I used to get told by teachers in elementary school that I couldn't write or talk about movies all the time). I never thought I would be able to take my dad to another action movie and have it feel the same as it did during those oh-so-prolific years between 1989-1996. But when I heard about The Expendables being in the works last year, I was giddy with excitement. I knew at that moment that is was going to be my favorite movie of whatever season it was going to be released during. Finally there was a movie that was going to have the right casting, the right tone, and the right look that justified taking my dad to the theater to see a film that would transport us back to those wonderful, action-packed and blood-soaked Monday nights in Keizer.

So, on Friday night when The Expendables hits theaters, I will have the biggest grin on my face; oh, not just because I'll be able to enjoy it on some tongue-in-cheek level, but because I can't wait to take my dad to see it Monday night. No action movie released in the last 10 years has compelled me enough to think back on those Monday night trips to the theater with my dad, and even though I'm sure Stallone's film will be goofy, inane, and perhaps even tedious, I won't care because I'll be reliving one of my fondest memories with my dad. It'll be a blast walking into that theater on Monday night, watching my dad get a much-too-large tub of popcorn, and plopping down in our seats to watch a classic action film that will no doubt remind us of the mid-'90s when those very films acted as the catalyst for my love of cinema. Thanks, dad, I'll always appreciate it, and I can't wait for next Monday and the subsequent conversation we'll have on the drive home (where we will no doubt rehash the better action movies the actors of The Expendables were in). I know that this is a personal anecdote that for everyone not related to me still doesn't really justify the claim of this post's title, but I genuinely mean this: there is no other movie that I am more looking forward to this year than The Expendables. I have no doubts that it will be the best movie I see this summer.


  1. Stallone. Fuckin A.

    I'm so there....

  2. I'm with you brother. Stallone would have to jump off the screen and spit in my face for me to give this one a bad review. And even then...

    PS: Thanks for sharing your memories.

  3. I love this post, it's so awesome. I too had movie nights with my father, unfortunately not on a weekly basis as we'd watch all the BATMAN films that would come out, then when Shumacher ruined the franchise and BOND returned to theaters we switched to those (to the point that the first Craig one I came home early from Chicago to thanksgiving so we could see it together). We watched action mostly from dubbed copies off TV, or when HBO would show them.

    I like your recollections on the dying of the mom and pop type VHS rental places... many an action and horror fan were born from our generation via these institutions, as those genre's offered such a wealth of direct to video releases (to quote Kramer "that makes me the premiere"). Also Kramer: "Oh man, we're missing the Death Blow!"

    I can't think of my younger days without thinking about the 'real' AIP (Action International Pictures) where the great David A. Prior pumped out like 5-8 films a year, he had such a 'who's who' to work with of B action: Wings Hauser (still my favorite), David Carridine (sp?), Frank Zagarino, Ted Prior, Oliver Reed, ect.) wow. I have a similar affection to buddy-cop movies, still (maybe) my favorite genre-within-a-genre, I'm hoping THE OTHER GUYS delivers when I see it in a few days. Maybe after the horror countdown we should do a 'bad it's good action' countdown... but do it here, to promote more traffic to this great blog.

    I still claim DEMOLITION MAN is the first movie you should watch when you are down, or feel a cold coming on, it cures all.

    I too will be watching THE EXPENDABLES in it's first weekend, here's to it smoking THE A-TEAM.

  4. What a beautiful post -- an ode to movies, to the moviegoing experience, to coming of age, to the bond between a father and a son. Great job!

  5. This is an awesome and heartfelt post that really struck a chord with me. I have the same kind of relationship with my father and have fond memories of seeing films like COMMANDO and PREDATOR with him as a kid. We'd go see all the films my mother wouldn't go anywhere near - all the cool-looking sci-fi, horror and action films whose trailers I would see on TV and get my dad to take me too. Very few films were off-bounds. Hell, we even saw Lou Ferrigno's take on HERCULES. Now THAT'S dedication!

    Anyways, I can totally relate to what you're saying about how your father helped nuture your love of films. I too, can't wait to see Stallone and co. kicking ass in this new film.

  6. Outstanding stuff here, brother. You and dad always did have that movie going thing (apparently I was too cool, going out with my high school friends, or off at college) and I think it's entirely appropriate that you go see THE EXPENDABLES together. I'm sure in four months we'll be watching it with Brandon and making fun of just how awesomely dumb it is.

    Other comments:
    -- That poster mural from Keizer Cinema was a work of art. Other films on there I remember were KRULL and DEAD-END DRIVE IN. I just remember being constantly fascinated by all of the films on that poster and wanting to find out what all of them were.

    -- Yeah, the death of the mom and pop video store sucked. I remember all the fun we had perusing all the cover boxes at Videorama, or Movie Shack, or Alligator Video. But hey, we still have Sid's :P

    -- One movie that always sticks out to me when Mom went away and we watched an action film with Dad is SPLIT SECOND. I can't really tell you much about the movie other than it had Rutger Hauer and was a PREDATOR ripoff, but I distinctly remember being excited to watch it.

    -- As for Van Damme, I didn't feel he really nailed a character until his turn as Guile in STREET FIGHTER. He really got to the essence of "sonic boom."

  7. Van Damme's greatest film moment has to be when he does the splits on the counter--in tight silk boxers-- to avoid be electrocuted/turned to ice. It's that futurist film he made with the huge budget. I forget the name.

    it's so homoerotic, bizarre, and narcissistic. In other words, quintessential van damme.

    then there's the fight he has with the penguins mascot in SUDDEN DEATH.

  8. Thanks for the kind words, everyone. This was a lot of fun to write and reminisce about.

    Tony: Your comment made laugh out loud. That's a great way to describe your excitement for the film. I'm glad you enjoyed the personal slant I put on this post...I'm not always fond of doing that, but I felt compelled to share my story as I imagined a lot of us have somewhat similar stories with a parent or guardian growing up.

    Jamie: That's a great "Seinfeld" quote. That DEATH BLOW episode is one of my favorites. I'm glad this post resonated with you. The one thing I love about the blogosphere is how so many of us had similar experiences growing up. I was glad to be able to share that with you.

    Jason: Thanks. You're too kind, my friend.

    J.D.: I was too young to see COMMANDO and PREDATOR in the theater, but I remember watching those on video with my dad. PREDATOR 2 was one of the first action films as I remember being disappointed by.

    Troy: Ah yes, SPLIT SECOND. Remember POPCORN, HARDWIRE, and DEATH WARRANT? Probably not as I think you and I had enough at one point and left dad to his straight to video movies as we went outside and played a few games of basketball with Greg. After that, though, it was plenty of PREDATOR 2 and ALIENS.

    I forgot about Alligator Video! That place was great. I think we should go back to Sid's to see if we set off a "code blue" again.

  9. Jamie:

    That was TIMECOP. I remember seeing that in the theater. Ron Silver played a good smarmy bad guy...but yeah, that movie was pretty awful.

  10. No words to express for this great movie with full of great people. hats to Sylvester as well as he has proved that he is a good director as well along with good actor. The Expendables is a movie that its star cast can never ever forget about it in their whole life.

  11. Your review was really nothing less than hillarious! you should stop writing reviews and consider a job as a critic / comedian!