Everything You Need to Know About The Expendables 2

At this point, you’ve already decided whether or not you’re going to see The Expendables 2 (or you’ve already seen it). The movie basically doesn’t need reviewing in the traditional sense. All I’m going to do is answer some questions you may have in the back of your mind.

  • The action is shot much more clearly than in the first movie. No shaky cam. You actually get to see everyone doing their moves.
  • Jean Claude Van-Damme does perform some high kicks.
  • Chuck Norris recites a fact about himself.
  • There are several shots of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Sylvester Stallone standing side by side firing big guns.
  • The movie takes itself much less seriously than the first one. Randy Couture, Dolph Lundgren, and Terry Crews basically serve as the quip chorus.
  • Schwarzenegger, Willis, Stallone, and Norris all share at least one scene together.
  • Newcomer Yu Nan is a perfectly plausible action heroine. It helps that she doesn’t fight fair and is just as likely to shoot someone as kick him in the face. Also, while she is undeniably attractive, the movie doesn’t make a big deal out of it.
  • Basically, The Expendables 2 takes every criticism you may have had about the first movie and fixes it.

Thor: Sound And Fury Signifying A Little Bit

I said yesterday that I was starting to get tired of comic book adaptations. Thor does nothing to relieve my cynicism with the genre, but it at least didn’t make me feel as if I’d wasted my time. This is probably the best movie that could have been made about Thor. The problem is Thor is still pretty weak material. There’s a reason why so few people read his comic series. Thor is respected more as one of Stan Lee’s original characters and as a founding member of the Avengers than as a superhero in his own right. And there’s a reason for that. He’s pretty literally a god, and that inherently makes him a much less interesting character than the more human Spider-Man, Iron Man, or Batman.

Anyway, director Kenneth Branagh clearly sees something Shakespearean in this tale of gods and giants fighting in faraway lands. The history of this world stretches back over a thousand years to when Odin, father of Thor and Loki, drove away the frost giants from Earth and left behind tales for the Norwegians to pass down through the generations. In the present day, Thor is about to ascend to the throne when he is provoked into an ill-advised raid against the frost giants which shatters their fragile truce. To teach him some humility, Odin banishes Thor to New Mexico and casts the hammer Mjolnir down with him, not to be taken up again until Thor has learned his lesson. At this point, Loki launches a plot to take over the throne, motivated by sibling rivalry and a craving for approval from his father. Meanwhile, Thor learns about the lives of mortals with his human love interest, an astrophysicist named Jane Foster.

The court intrigue in Asgard is the more interesting storyline in Thor, so it’s a good thing that the movie spends most of its time there. Asgard is an entirely CGI world, but it looks so grand and fantastic that I didn’t really care. People who have seen Kenneth Branagh’s full length adaptation of Hamlet already knew that he had an eye for beautiful scenery, so it’s nice to see that he can work with computer generated backgrounds just as well as with set pieces. Loki ended up being the most interesting character to me because of his backstory. To be sure, he does cause a lot of death and mayhem, but once we find out all the details of his past, it’s hard not to sympathize with him a little.

More impressively, Thor himself manages to avoid being a bland ubermensch. A major share of the credit goes to Chris Hemsworth’s performance which can only be described as “star-making.” Hemsworth certainly has the physical presence of a god among men (and his transformation since we last saw him as Kirk’s dad in Star Trek is very impressive), but he also has charisma to match. Thor is a boisterous and cocky character prone to smashing mugs on the ground if he likes his drink. He gets away with it because he is clearly well-intentioned and very friendly when he’s not whacking people with his hammer. Hemsworth ably guides Thor’s character development from an arrogant borderline jerk at the beginning of the movie to a much more thoughtful future ruler at the end. He also turns out to have pretty good comic timing as his fish-out-of-water moments on Earth are genuinely amusing without being overplayed.

Unfortunately, Thor and Loki are really the only characters with any development at all in the movie. What traits we attribute to the characters come entirely from the actors playing them. The most notable is Sir Anthony Hopkins as Odin, but we also have Colm Feore as the king of the frost giants, Stellan Skarsgard as Jane Foster’s mentor, Rene Russo as Thor’s mother, and Idris Elba as Heimdall. All of these talented actors are entirely wasted in their roles, but I suppose lesser known actors would have turned them into enormous blank slates. Then we have Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster. A big part of the plot hinges around Thor’s relationship with Jane Foster but it comes across as entirely obligatory instead of heartfelt. It’s hard not to snicker a little bit when they have a makeout session while the metaphorical clock is ticking down. The movie also makes the odd choice of showing Sif, a female Asgardian warrior, gazing significantly at Thor on a few occasions and generally looking like she might be carrying a torch for him.

It doesn’t help that Jane Foster is really kind of a jerk. We meet her in the beginning as she stumbles across the storm that Thor makes when he is thrown to the Earth. She decides to drive her truck towards it which is reasonable enough except when her driver starts to get nervous about coming so close, Jane physically grabs the wheel and steers them even closer. Dude, not cool! And then when she accidentally hits Thor with the truck, her first reaction is, “Please don’t be dead!” It made it a little hard for me to see why Thor pined for her so much when he has a perfectly nice Asgardian comrade (who looks like Jaimie Alexander) right there beside him. None of this can be blamed on Natalie Portman or Chris Hemsworth. They might have great chemistry for all I know, but their relationship is too underwritten.

So Thor is much better than I expected it to be, and it will earn its inevitable humongous box office opening. Nonetheless, it still represents a trend that I can’t celebrate. The recent superhero renaissance began with Spider-Man, Batman, and the X-Men, all characters defined by their humanity and flaws. Their stories are designed to be relatable on a human level even when ridiculous things like flying monsters and energy blasts are appearing around them. Superhero movies have been pretty good about maintaining that human connection up until recently. Iron Man 2 took a sudden sharp turn into a full-on alternate universe which doesn’t even pretend to resemble ours any more. Thor has continued that trend, and later in the summer we are going to have Captain America which, besides looking like a steroids commercial, has an alternate version of World War II and uses Hitler as a villain. I just don’t care about any of it.

By all means, see Thor. It’s a rip-roaring good time and a visual spectacle to boot (even if the action sequences aren’t really anything to write home about from a choreography point of view). It’s just that I can’t help feeling as if the talented actors in this movie are just barely holding the greedy corporate bloodsuckers at bay.


Hanna is an exercise in style over substance without being quite as obvious about it as most thrillers. Comparisons to the Bourne trilogy are inevitable and not entirely inapt. The broad strokes of the plot are the same except in this case the main character is a teenage girl who has spent the entirety of her life living in the woods and has never seen so much as a light bulb. The whole movie is (deliberately) summed up in its first scene in which Hanna hunts down a deer with her bow and arrow and then is ambushed by her father who is training her how to fight and survive. It not only gives you a snapshot of what the whole movie is about, it also provides some stunning location shots which give you an idea of director Joe Wright’s careful camera placement and love of geometry. It also made me think about the rather abusive implications of this kind of relationship and how it really deserved more thought and exploration with Hit Girl’s character in Kick-Ass.

Like Hit Girl, Hanna is a Laser Guided Tykebomb, but her mission doesn’t quite work out as expected. She then embarks on a long road trip across Morocco and Europe with dozens of CIA operatives in pursuit. And at this point I would be spoiling the story if I revealed any more although you will probably be able to guess most of it as the movie runs along. The main CIA agent played by Cate Blanchett is clearly a bad person as she murders several people in cold blood, but there are questions about Hanna’s father as played by Eric Bana as well.

But anyway, this movie is all about the look, the action, the sound, and how everything is just a little bit off center. Although Hanna herself is clearly the most unusual character in the movie, there are hints at oddities and quirks in all the other characters (what is with Marisa and her toothbrush?). Most of them are never explored. They simply exist there for us. The camera work is unusual enough to call attention to itself without quite becoming pretentious, and everything is framed clearly enough that we can appreciate the tightly choreographed fight scenes which convey the brute efficiency of elite agents battling each other. Equally important is the thumping techno score by the Chemical Brothers infusing almost every scene and laying a sense of dread and urgency over everything. The whole movie feels strange and unpredictable even though after the fact you may realize that nothing should have surprised you. The movie also makes an effort to lend a magical, fairy tale quality to the proceedings. There are the overt references to the Brothers Grimm, and astute viewers will occasionally realize that the way a scene is shot places characters in inconsistent or impossible positions.

The whole movie is grounded in the performance of Saoirse Ronan whose 16-year old (!) shoulders prove completely capable of carrying the film all the way through. Through her, we see that Hanna is a little socially maladjusted as you’d expect but not cruel or mean-spirited. She kills because that’s what she’s been trained by her father to do all her life, but she also appreciates social interaction and music when she is exposed to it. Most of the film’s scant humor is derived from Hanna’s fish-out-of-water reactions to every day occurrences in modern society. And most surprisingly, Ronan is completely credible as an action badass. This will especially be a shock to those who have seen her equally excellent performances in Atonement or The Lovely Bones. Ronan is so fascinating to watch that we are willing to forgive some of the absurdities of the plot for her sake. She receives solid support from Cate Blanchett as the big bad and Eric Bana as her father although Blanchett suffers a bit from an inconsistent southern accent. She would have been just  fine adopting a neutral American accent.

There’s nothing revolutionary about Hanna on paper. The film’s producers have tried to claim that it is really a drama film with action scenes in it, but even then it is still a pretty standard one. However, it is elevated by Saoirse Ronan’s outstanding performance and Joe Wright’s direction which turns the whole piece into a surreal whirlwind of movement and sudden violence. And that’s worth seeing.

Ask Xantar #5

Dear Xantar,

I’m an attractive (not to sound narcissistic, but you’ll understand as I continue) 26-year-old female and have been dating my boyfriend for five years. He never, EVER tells me that I’m attractive. Not in bed, not when we’re at weddings, not when we go out on dates. I have talked to him endlessly about it, and he says he thinks it but he just can’t say it. Sometimes he’ll try, and it’s pretty obvious that he’s only doing it so he doesn’t get yelled at later, but then he’ll stop until I have to remind him again. I need to be told that I’m attractive, not because I have low self-esteem, but because it makes me MORE attracted to him. I’m at the point where I don’t want to do anything in bed with him because he doesn’t make me feel sexy. Plus, it does hurt when I hear him talk about other attractive people (actresses, people we know, random strangers on the street). He also doesn’t do the cute things guys do, like send me a cute note about how much he loves me or get me flowers when I’m having a bad day. … Fine, I watch too many rom-coms, but still, he doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary to make me feel special. He seems to be happy with doing pretty much nothing and watching a lot of football. I love him, but I don’t know what to do. Is this something I should accept as his personality or a byproduct of being in a long relationship? Am I just overreacting, or is this a relationship deal-breaker and I need to get out?

You know what’s a good way to ensure that a man doesn’t find you attractive even if you are objectively very pleasing to the eyes? Actually, there are a lot of ways to do this, but a good start would be to nag him constantly that he’s not paying you enough compliments. It would be enough to drive off Pepe Le Pew.

Now admittedly it sounds like your boyfriend has gotten a little lazy and is taking you for granted. That’s not often a good sign. But I’ll tell you a stereotypical but true fact about guys: we don’t often like to vocalize our attraction. For one thing, modern mores tell us that a woman should not be judged on her looks. For another thing, years of Hollywood depictions have taught us to associate complimenting a hot woman with “hitting on her” or trying to get her into bed. In other words, it’s insincere. You just don’t see a guy saying, “You are so beautiful to me” nowadays without an ulterior motive, or at least that’s the way we’ve come to think of it.

Presumably, if your boyfriend still finds you attractive, his body language will do the talking, if you know what I mean. Otherwise, you may have bigger issues that you need to work out.

Dear Xantar,

I am currently in a relationship with a great guy. He is sweet and caring, and we get along very well. There is, of course, one problem that has existed for quite a while but is really starting to bother me now. I am very ticklish, and I hate being tickled. He found out about this weakness when we first started dating, and since then, barely a day goes by when he doesn’t try to tickle me. Whenever we are lying on the couch or in bed together, he will start tickling me, and when I react he gets on top of me and pins me down so that I can’t defend myself. I have repeatedly told him that I hate being tickled, that it makes me feel vulnerable and no longer in control of my body, and when he continues to do it, it is disrespectful. He insists that because I laugh, I must enjoy it. He adds that I need to learn to master my mind, and once I “convince” myself that I am not ticklish, then I won’t panic when he tickles me. What should I say to him that gets my point across?

I am never going to understand these “my significant other is great, caring, kind, and wonderful but we have one problem…” questions. That one problem always seems to be a pointer for some really big, unrecognized issues.

Take this chap, for instance. Most of us have learned by second grade that when somebody tells you not to touch them, you shouldn’t touch them. But he likes to tickle you and then when you complain, he says that you need to convince yourself that you’re not ticklish. And sometimes he pins you down so you can’t defend yourself. Do you see a problem here? It’s a good thing you two are only boyfriend and girlfriend. That means you are under no obligation to put up with him or try to rehabilitate him.

So here’s a quick way to deal with this. Grab a rolling pin when he’s unaware and whack him on the balls. When he yelps in pain, tell him that since his expression looks similar to his O-face, he actually really enjoyed it. Then some other time when he’s sleeping, sneak up on him and tie him down. Then whack him on the balls again. Tell him that he really needs to learn to master his mind and that if he tries hard enough, he can convince himself that he doesn’t actually mind being hit in the crown jewels. If he can’t do that, tell him good-bye. Then whack him on the balls one more time just to make sure he won’t reproduce.