June 09, 2013

New Orleans Bachelor Weekend Action Spectacular! COBRA, EXPENDABLES 2, IRON EAGLE And COLOMBIANA


On my first day of high school, I met some of my best friends.  There were about seven guys with names like Heats, Macky, Touchdown and Stoner (who, to my knowledge, has never smoked weed) and luckily for me we liked all the same nerdy stuff.  Sure, I favored Star Trek while they were of the Dungeons & Dragons persuasion, but we quickly bonded over stuff like Monty Python and Mystery Science Theater 3000.  While some of us played sports (football even!) and others did speech and debate, we all ended up spending the majority of our free time in the AV offices where there were movies to be watched, Snoods to be played, and candies to be eaten.  We've all remained friends over the years and try to get together around holidays when most of us find ourselves back in Boston.

Now that we're all entering our thirties, we've officially entered the phase of our lives where weddings are a common occurrence.  I was the first of us to get married and I was fortunate enough to have all the guys in attendance.  The next two, Rob and Cochran are each getting married in the next few months and hilariously enough both are marrying girls who are old college friends of mine.  (I get to claim some credit for a number of relationships within my various overlapping friendship groups, but then again we've always been a bit incestuous in that way.)  I'll actually be officiating Rob's wedding in New York, while Cochran is having a small family-only ceremony on the Cape with a big party for friends in L.A. on Halloween weekend.  Both guys planned out weekend bachelor trips, but my limited time off from work meant I could only attend one.  Since I probably won't be able to fly out to L.A. in October, I decided to go to Cochran's bachelor weekend in New Orleans.

It was only my second time in the city; it's where my wife grew up before moving to Houston, so her family now spends alternating Christmases there.  Last December was my first chance to come along for the ride.  It was a big deal for Jamie because, while I've had plenty of opportunities to show her my hometown and all my favorite places in Boston, she's never had the reciprocal opportunity to do the same in New Orleans.  We were there for about a week and visited a number of different places (mostly delicious restaurants), which was just enough experience to give me the vaguest sense of bearings for my return trip.  This time, as opposed to being with my wife and my in-laws, I was with a group of sixteen guys, most of whom were Cochran's Stanford friends that I'd never met before.  But there were a few of the old high school gang too and the weekend was a fucking blast.  I managed to pace myself remarkably well - I never got stupid drunk despite constantly having alcohol in my hand.  (There are no open container laws in New Orleans, a concept that ruins me for other cities.)  There were plenty of po' boys, gators and, of course, beads.  And somehow I managed to squeeze in four action movies.  It seemed like the appropriate Dude Response.

COBRA

"When this is over I'd kill for some...gummi bears."
My weekend started with a 7 AM flight out of Boston on Friday morning.  (Fortunately I live very close to the airport.)  The first leg of my trip would take me to Nashville where I'd have a three hour layover, but I resolved myself to knocking this first movie out before I got there.  So I settled in at my gate with an orange juice and a breakfast burrito, pulled out my iPad and started the Sylvester Stallone shoot 'em up, Cobra.

Back in high school, a number of us made movies as our final senior projects.  One of them was an action movie starring both soon-to-be-grooms, cleverly told from the perspectives of both the cop (Rob) and the criminal (Cochran).  It was full of chase scenes, fist fights and, of course, a big shootout in a warehouse.  (My dad was a very good sport about letting us shoot at his offices.)  We were emulating the action movies we grew up on, where one lone cop would dish out his own justice, the system be damned.  Cobra might be the purest distillation of that concept.

Stallone plays Cobra, a one man wrecking crew of a police officer who always wears all black, chews on an unlit match, and isn't afraid to take on a mad bomber in a grocery store single-handed.  The guy is fearless, and he doesn't care about the rules of the civilized world.  As the poster says, "Crime is a disease.  [He's] the cure."  When a deranged cult of wackos, who the police department hilariously believes to be one guy they call The Night Slasher, starts to attack women all over the city, Cobra wants on the case.  Eventually a witness, 80's stalwart Brigitte Nielson, comes forward and is attacked and it's up to Cobra to protect her and bring down the Night Slasher once and for all.

I fucking love Stallone in all his forms, but that late 70's/early 80's era is something special.  While the Rocky movies are all kind of amazing in their own way (Rocky V is amazing in how terrible it is) and the Rambo movies are probably the most reductive, indulgent films of that era, I have a special soft spot for stuff like Tango & Cash.  Cobra, on the other hand, was always something of a mystery to me.  It's not a film that anyone really talks about and the only reason I even knew it existed in the first place was because the poster hangs on Judge Reinhold's wall in Beverly Hills Cop II, the symbol of Billy Rosewood's desire to be a "shoot first, ask questions later," take-charge kind of cop.  Now I see why.

Cobra is basically a walking collection of cop/action movie cliches, from his awesome car and his loner mentality to his angry captain and his wise-cracking partner.  Actually, Stallone and Reni Santoni (Poppy from Seinfeld) have a kind of adorable chemistry together and I would've loved to watch another dozen movies starring the perrenial badass and his snack food obsessed sidekick.  This is right in the sweet spot of Brigitte Nielsen's career, right between Rocky IV and Beverly Hills Cop II, but I'll admit that when she first came on screen, I barely recognized her.  That's probably because she had some big 80's hair going on as opposed to her infamous bleach blonde crew cut.  I've never understood Nielsen's appeal, but here I get it; despite her sort of inherent awkwardness, this is easily the sexiest I've ever seen her.  Stallone is credited with adapting the screenplay from a novel by Paula Gosling, and there's really very little to it.  The plot is paper thin but that's almost besides the point.  The story is really just a means of getting from one car chase/fight scene/shoot-out to the next and most of them do not disappoint.  The final battle, which includes dozens of evil bikers who chase our heroes into an old foundry, is pretty boilerplate stuff but well executed, culminating in Stallone killing the cult leader after not one, not two, but THREE quippy one-liners, followed by the revelation that Cobra's real name is Marion.

Perfection.

I finished the movie, landed in Nashville, and proceeded to spend the next three hours drinking at the first bar I could find.  Most of the guys had gotten into New Orleans the previous day and I'd be the last to arrive, so I figured I had some catching up to do

It was 9 AM.  I cleaned them out of Jameson.

I landed in New Orleans with a good buzz going, dropped my stuff at the hotel and met up with the boys on Bourbon St, where Cochran was haggling over the price of tickets for a fanboat ride to see gators the next day.  There was a light rain, but it was also humid as hell so we didn't mind.  We wandered into a series of bars, including one with two old guys playing guitar who claimed to not know any songs by the Doobie Brothers.  We were skeptical.

We swung by the infamous Cafe Du Monde for beignets beneath mountains of powdered sugar, then headed for the hotel.  By then the rain had really started coming down, so we were pretty much soaked to the bone by the time we got back.  The hotel included a dinner buffet and three free drinks every night, so we filled up on food and booze then laid our clothes out to dry before heading for the rooftop pool.  Now that it had stopped raining, the night had turned lovely and an early evening hot tub and beers was just what we needed before rolling out for the night.

We headed back to Bourbon Street which, at night, is basically like the Las Vegas Strip of the south.  The streets were choked with crowds of people, each with a fistful of alcohol, beads or both.  The music was thumping, the drunks were staggering, and there was a bachelor or bachelorette party approximately every 100 feet.  It was a lot of fun and, needless to say, very different from when I visited with my in-laws.

We stumbled back into the hotel room at approximately 4:00 AM, which was precisely the time that I had woken up for my flight that morning.

EXPENDABLES 2

"I'll be back."
"You've been back enough.  I'll be back." 
"Yippee-ki-yay."

Everybody slept in Saturday morning, which meant we skipped breakfast and went directly to lunch at Cochon Butcher.  Aside from having all sorts of incredible fresh cut meats for sale (BRING ME ALL THE BACON!) Cochon is basically the sandwich shop to end all sandwich shops.  I had roasted porchetta on ciabatta with braised mustard greens, garlic aioli and provolone cheese and it was nothing short of miraculous.  And let's not forget that pancetta mac & cheese!  There wasn't a lot of seating at Cochon so we walked down the street and ate on this weird abandoned loading dock.


We walked through the city for a bit until we discovered a bar/arcade and simply had to stop and play some games.  Along with a five foot tall Jenga made of two by fours, they had mostly vintage titles including Centipede, Galaga, Street Fighter II, and even the original Tron.  I pretty much set up shop in front a classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, one of my childhood favorites.  Five dollars and twenty minutes later, I'd secured number four on the machine's high score list.  Proof below:


Yes, my initials spell MAD.

After that it was time to see gators.  All sixteen of us (and a couple of 30 racks) took a bus about 40 minutes out from the hotel and into the swamps.  There we climbed onto one of those big fan boats that require you to wear protective headphones.  We threw marshmallows into the water and the gators swam right up to the boat.  The biggest (and oldest) was about 10 feet long and appropriately named Hercules.  Our tour guide/boat captain instantly put himself into our good graces by declaring that he had no love for local heroes Peyton and Eli Manning, which is an easy way to make friends with most anyone from New England.  By the time we made it back to the hotel we had a few hours to kill before the dinner buffet and another trip to Bourbon Street, so I knew this was my movie window.  While some napped and others went back to the pool, I pulled out my iPad and fired up The Expendables 2.

I don't understand why this franchise isn't more awesome.

The first Expendables was downright boring and barely delivered on its premise of America's favorite old school action heroes coming together to kick some serious ass.  Stallone and Dolph Lundgren are fairly entertaining, but Mickey Rourke is reduced to one admittedly amazing monologue while Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger have about four minutes of screen time between them.  But most of the heavy lifting is done by the younger cast members, and while I like Jason Statham and Jet Li, I didn't watch The Expendables to see Terry Crews and Randy Couture trying to be witty.  Even most of the action was a let down.

The Expendables 2 is certainly an improvement in the area of ass-kicking old guys.  We've lost Rourke, but we've gained Chuck Norris as a lone wolf assassin and Jean-Claude Van Damme as a villain named (I shit you not) Vilain.  That pretty much sums up the level of nuance one can expect from these movies.  Willis and Schwarzenegger actually see some action this time out, but while it's nice to see them contributing to the big finale, it's depressing to see them used as the comic relief.  They basically just drive around in a tiny smart car shooting faceless off-screen minions while riffing on each other's old catchphrases.  (See above.)  It's downright sad.  Norris can't really pull of his old moves anymore considering that he's 73 years old (!) so he's relegated to sniping people from far away, which is fine I guess.  The guy had the good sense to realize he's a perfect fit for this franchise and it's fun having him in the mix, even in a limited capacity.  Really it's Van Damme, a guy who's always been willing to poke at his own self-image, who seems to be having the most fun here.  He chews the scenery with gusto and seems to savor his own silliness.  Hell, he kills Liam Hemsworth by kicking a knife into his chest.  (Not really a spoiler as his early death is telegraphed from pretty much the second Hemsworth opens his mouth.)  When Stallone and Van Damme finally brawl at the end, it's actually a pretty impressive display considering they have a combined age of 116.

But more than anything, these movies prove that familiar faces and decent action simply aren't enough to satisfy.  If there was a remotely interesting plot driving these movies, they could be something really special.  It doesn't need to be complicated, just compelling.  It would also help if it wasn't painfully obvious that every scene takes place in the backwoods of some tiny European country who gave them a decent tax break to shoot there.  If you're gonna have globe-trotting heroes, rule number one is to send them somewhere exciting. (see: Fast & Furious franchise)

Whether we like it or not, Expendables 3 will punch audiences in the face next summer.  While there's no guarantee of a story with telling, there are promises of Wesley Snipes, Milla Jovovich, the return of Mickey Rourke, and most excitingly, Nicholas Cage.  There's even a rumor that Mel Gibson might play the villain.

Jackie Chan is still a maybe.  I don't blame him.

That night we went in search of some good music, so we went to a club on Frenchman street where your typical New Orleans brass band was tearing up the joint.


The group naturally got somewhat fractured as we wandered from bar to bar, but after a short detour at a dance club where one guy hilariously tried to inspire shot girls to turn their lives around, eventually we all ended up on the same balcony overlooking Bourbon and continued to drink the night away.

Iron Eagle:

"Think you can handle the music?"
Sunday was Mother's Day.  A couple of us inexplicably woke up early and decided to take a walk into town.  With some free time on our hands, we ended up spending the morning at the Aquarium.  We saw sting rays, white gators and a crap-ton of sharks. We got back to the hotel, roused Ben awake and packed up our stuff to check out.  Cochran and the remaining Stanford guys were at a local oyster house grabbing lunch before heading to the airport, so Ben, Colin, Sammy and I all bid the bachelor goodbye and went off in search of po' boys.  After a lengthy walkabout, we settled on a hole in the wall joint that filled us with crawfish pie, seafood gumbo and catfish sandwiches.  We soon got word that a shooting had taken place at a Mother's Day second line parade a few blocks from where we'd seen the band the previous night.  It was pretty disturbing news, especially coming only a few weeks after the Boston Marathon bombing.  I figured the story would probably gain a lot of attention, coming on Mother's Day.  I got a few text messages from folks at home checking to make sure I was okay, but it seems like the story soon died away in the national press, which is more than a little maddening.

Colin was heading to Sacramento that afternoon, but Ben, Sammy and I switched to a cheap airport hotel for the night and so we could fly out early the next morning.  There wasn't much to see out by the airport so everyone crashed for a bit and I sat down for movie number three, Iron Eagle.

I almost feel sorry for this movie.

First of all, it's a fighter jet movie that came out the same year as Top Gun, so the viewer instantly draws comparisons that Iron Eagle can't possibly hope to live up to.  For shit's sake, whenever a plane blows up in this movie, it is CLEARLY a wooden model.  You can see the splinters!  And the film's premise is almost laughable: when an American pilot goes down behind enemy lines in a small Middle Eastern country, the Air Force won't mount a rescue mission.  So instead, the pilot's 18 year old son Doug (Jason Gedrick) decides to steal a fighter jet and, with the help of Col. Chappy Sinclair (Lou Gossett Jr.), flies in to rescue his father.

The whole movie feels like some kind of insane, jingoistic reaction to the Iran hostage crisis, where 52 Americans were held against their will and the Carter administration was powerless to secure their release, while the public looked on with a growing sense of impotence.  Iran is mentioned frequently throughout Iron Eagle, especially by Doug and his two best friends Reggie (Lamar from Revenge Of The Nerds) and Tony (Stiles from Teen Wolf).  Reggie even makes a REAGAN COMMENT at one point.  Granted Iron Eagle was released nearly five years to the day after the Iran hostages were released, but even then I'm sure there were more than a few folks who empathized with the idea of jumping into a plane to save the good guys and kill the bad guys, diplomacy be damned.  I can hardly blame anyone for harboring that mentality and at least it's interesting to see a film tackle that point of view head on.  The effect of major current events like the Iran hostage crisis on the stories we tell and the art we create has always been fascinating to me, which is why I'm usually drawn to movies that feel heavily influenced by 9/11, the biggest cultural watershed moment of my lifetime to date.

That said, Iron Eagle is hopelessly silly.  At the beginning, Doug gets rejected by the Air Force Academy and we later learn that it's because he really only flies his best when he can use his custom, leg-mounted cassette player to fill his cockpit with truly terrible 80's music.  (It's like his superpower!)  He's got a ragtag collection of local kids from his flight club who help him and Chappy to secure intelligence reports and equipment (including two fighter jets) from their Air Force parents, implying that security on that particular base is something of a joke.  Admittedly this is probably the single most entertaining stretch in the movie, but it also feels aimed at 12 year olds; at one point two of them set off firecrackers in a barrel to sound like gunshots and distract a platoon of officers on duty.  That kinda stunt would likely get you killed in the confusion, but here's played for laughs.

It's of little wonder that the only one who returns for future Iron Eagle installments is Louis Gossett Jr.  Jason Gedrick was hardly an acting powerhouse and Chappy Sinclair is unquestionably the most interesting character in the movie.  This speech on the tarmac, featuring one of the worst ADR hackjobs in the history of cinema, is not only breathtaking to behold, but it proves that Gossett took this shit seriously.  There are four Iron Eagle movies total, and while most seem to have been largely forgotten by history, Aces: Iron Eagle III sounds from its IMDb page like a must watch.  That might be the most enticing plot synopsis I've ever read.

After Iron Eagle, Sammy and I decided to wander down the highway and look for a dinner option that was more appetizing than the Sonic drive-in next to our hotel.  A block down the street, we found this:


Talk about the perfect way to wrap up a bachelor weekend.

Colombiana:

"Never forget where you came from."
When I made my travel arrangements, I decided I'd fly back into town on Monday and head right into the office for the afternoon so I wouldn't have to take a whole day off.  The good news was that I realized the folly of this plan a few days in advance and decided to just take Monday off regardless.  The bad news was that I was now stuck with a flight that left New Orleans at 5:00 AM.  Thankfully I was a mere ten minute cab ride from the airport, but that still meant I needed to be awake by 3:30, which is around the time I'd been going to bed for the last two days.  Needless to say, my internal clock was knocked all out of whack.  I showed up at the airport so early that the TSA checkpoint to enter my gate wasn't even open yet.  I didn't know such a thing was possible!  After standing in line for about 30 minutes while they set up for the day, I eventually made it into the concourse, grabbed another breakfast burrito and walked onto my plane.

I had a quick stop in Atlanta before finally headed home.  I had figured that, with the afternoon off, I might just wait and watch a movie at home later that day, but I don't often sleep on planes so I ended up pulling out my iPad in search of something to watch.  I had loaded up Caddyshack II for exactly this contingency, but my first generation device is starting to show its age and was giving me serious playback issues.  (In truth, I had some trouble with Cobra too, but this was simply unwatchable.)  So I went to my reserve of backup options and, wanting to keep up the action motif, settled on Colombiana.

Colombiana is a simple tale of a little girl from Bogota who witnesses the murder of her parents at the hands of a cartel boss.  The girl escapes to America where she's raised by her uncle to become a brilliant assassin who seeks revenge for the death of her family.  The film stars Zoe Saladana as the assassin, Cliff Curtis as her uncle, Lennie James as the FBI agent trying bring her in, and Michael Vartan as her boyfriend who makes the audience say, "Oh hey!  I remember that guy!  He used to be on the teevee!"

My only impression of this movie before I saw it was the trailer, with its mantra-esque repetition of the phrase, "Never forget where you came from!"  In my mind, whenever a movie goes out of its way to establish a catchphrase (AHEM Hunger Games...) I immediately think of the Colombiana trailer. Imagine my disappointment when her father says those six words in the first ten minutes and they are never spoken again.  But the theme is still strong throughout the film, even if Saldana's Cataleya goes about her revenge in the dumbest, most reckless manner possible. She kills all of the cartel boss's underlings and leaves a native flower as her calling card. Except she racks up 22 kills before the FBI can figure out what her calling card even means, and as soon as the cartel gets word they immediately butcher her uncle and grandmother. So, needless to say, her plan was flawed. But she does manage some impressive kills, which is the most important part of a movie like this. The opening prison hit is both fun and impressive, plus you've gotta love any assassin who sets up her targets to die via shark attack and angry dogs. 

Zoe Saldana absolutely carries the movie. Yeah, she's hot, but she's also got personality and intensity to spare.  Even in a largely forgettable revenge tale, she manages to imbue a somewhat shoddy character with an emotional depth that demands your attention.  Her work as Uhura in Star Trek is just as impressive; while that character is little more than a romantic foil for Zachary Quinto's Spock, she's so charming and fun that she basically tricks you into thinking the character is more interesting than the material on the page.  Theoretically she'll be appearing in James Gunn's Guardians Of The Galaxy as the film's lead female Gamora and I hear its a pretty kickass role, although I expect she'll be in heavy makeup a la her work in Avatar.  One of these days someone's gonna give her a worthwhile character in a prestige film and she's gonna blow the doors off the theater.

I landed at Logan around noon on Monday, made my way home and collapsed on the couch for the remainder of the afternoon. 

All in all, it was an action-packed weekend.


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Title: Cobra
Director: George P. Cosmatos
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Brigitte Nielsen, Reni Santoni, Brian Thompson, Andrew Robinson, Lee Garlington
Year Of Release: 1986
Viewing Method: iPad



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Title: The Expendables 2
Director: Simon West
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth, Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Year Of Release: 2012
Viewing Method: iPad


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Title: Iron Eagle
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Starring: Louis Gossett Jr., Jason Gedrick, David Suchet, Larry B. Scott, Jerry Levine, Michael Bowen, Melora Hardin, Tim Thomerson
Year Of Release: 1986
Viewing Method: iPad



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Title: Colombiana
Director: Oliver Megaton
Starring: Zoe Saldana, Jordi Molla, Lennie James, Michael Vartan, Cliff Curtis, Callum Blue
Year Of Release: 2011
Viewing Method: iPad