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TWO SETS OF CARTOON CHARACTERS
A new Pixar film is usually an event that’s worth waiting for, although last year’s Cars 2 was a fairly weak affair. Brave, Pixar’s latest effort, has had a slightly chequered history, as it lost its original director Brenda Chapman. Despite this, the film, which deals with Scottish princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) and her attempt to live her own life despite the demands of her parents Fergus and Elinor (voiced respectively by Billy Connelly and Emma Thompson), is very enjoyable. Although it’s not up there with the best of Pixar, Brave has heart and visual flair with some talented voices creating the characters and the 3D recreation of Scotland looks incredible. Merida is a decent female protagonist and Macdonald shows that she is well suited to animation. Connelly, Thompson, Craig Ferguson and Kevin McKidd make for a decent supporting vocal cast. It’s not a classic but it is a very likeable film and one that sits well with the Pixar canon. Brave is worth seeing…
Expendables 2 is the follow-up to 2010’s film which brought together a group of past-it eighties action screen figures under Sylvester Stallone’s wing. Despite the fact that it wasn’t actually very good, it made enough money to justify another one. Jason Statham, as the young(ish) turk is back as is Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Bruce Wilis and Arnold Schwarzenegger have bigger parts in this second film. This time around, we also have Jean Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris join the cast. Directed by Englishman Simon West (Con Air, The General’s Daughter), Expendables 2 is one of those films which is pretty critic-proof. It has a fairly stupid script, Stallone looks even weirder than he did last time, there are a few nice comic lines that show that the makers are aware that most of the cast are well past their sell-by date but they don’t really care and it has some well-directed action sequences. If you enjoyed the first one and miss the regular big screen exploits of Van Damme, Stallone, Norris et al, then you’ll lap it up…

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PROS AND CONS OF BEING A JOURNALIST
What I do has its ups and downs. The downside is when work is sparse on the ground, you end up envying people with a regular income. But the upside is that you do get to do some genuinely fun things. Back in August I went along to London’s lavish Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane in Mayfair to meet Sylvester Stallone, director of The Expendables, and cast members Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham. The suite was packed with members of the press as the trio answered questions on the film. Stallone was the most vocal of the three and he admitted that there was a lot of pressure for him.
“Sometimes you come onto a film and you’ve got a major turkey and it’s not even Thanksgiving but this time it’s the other end of it where there’s a great expectancy and you’re thinking ‘jeez I didn’t expect this when we started making it.’ So you begin to think: ‘Is this going to live up to its ideals.’ It’s complex. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”
Statham echoed this. “All the expectations were on Sly. That’s why you choose to work with people who know what they’re doing. A lot of the time we don’t get such a luxury in that choice,” to which Stallone quipped: “You’d better go with Christopher Nolan now!”
Dolph Lundgren agreed with his two co-actors. “This movie is like the World Championships and you feel like you just want to live up to it.”
Stallone and Lundgren appeared together in Rocky IV twenty-five years ago and the conference was wondering whether the dynamic had changed between them and how Stallone prepared to appear on screen with Lundgren again.
“That’s a good question,” Stallone responded. “For the first part, I’ve never trained harder than I did for Rocky IV. Dolph is a world-class athlete so we got to know each other pretty well. Then time has changed. We’ve gone through ups and downs, marriages and then meeting this time was really a pleasure because of all the actors I’ve worked with, he’s remained the most grounded and humble. Plus I’m dying to kick his brains in!”
The conference lasted for around 20 minutes and then they were led out. Stallone stuck around outside the hotel to sign autographs, pose for photos and admire a group of very expensive sports cars that were parked outside the hotel. The charm offensive for The Expendables obviously worked as talk is afoot of a sequel already.

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A ROCKY END?
I went to see The Expendables last week at Empire, Leicester Square in London’s West End. I admit that I was a sucker for some of those stupid Eighties movies starring Stallone and Schwarzenegger, so I was hoping that perhaps the film may have provided a little bit of unchallenging entertainment. Stallone, while not the world’s greatest director, has made a few solid films in the past and is a competent if unremarkable actor. The Expendables of the title are a group of mercenaries who go around the world battling villains like Somali pirates and evil South American dictators. Stallone leads the group which also includes Dolph (Punisher) Lundgren, Jason Statham (Crank, Transporter and Death Race) as the humourously named Lee Christmas and Jet Li (Hero, Romeo Must Die). Also part of the group is Mickey Rourke as their mechanic, the imaginatively-named Tool. So the group is hired by Mr Church (a cameo from Bruce Willis) to take out General Garza, the tyrant who runs fictional Central American island Vilena. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger has a small on-camera appearance. So cue soft-rock and long lingering camera shots of a plane over the sea. The Expendables isn’t the worst film you’ll see this summer as it rarely outstays its welcome with a tight 90 minute running time but the problem is that it takes itself far too seriously, Stallone looks a little weird and Rourke looks stranger and more freakish with each film he appears in. Only Statham and Li work here and they’re significantly younger than Stallone and Lundgren, who is as wooden and stiff as he was in his Eighties heyday. This is a film that will come and go pretty briefly at the cinema and is only really worth watching on a Saturday night with a few beers on satellite TV.