Thursday, 5 August 2010


About fourteen hours ago my scathing one-star review of Sylvester Stallone's 'The Expendables' was posted at Obsessed with Film. Within hours I was labelled "a joke", a "professional cancer" and "a nobody writer who will stay a nobody writer". My personal favourite? I was also called the "all-time reigning jackass writer" - a quote I will cherish forever, once the crying stops.

The reason for this? Well, in the review I made the regrettable and admittedly foolish statement that not only was the film pretty dumb, but that it would only appeal to extremely dumb people ("hardened dunces" and the illiterate, to name two offended groups). Intended as a frivolous and jokey closing remark, the comment actually ended up inspiring a wave of hate directed at this reviewer and the site at large. Some of it just and reasonable ("isn’t insulting ‘some’ of your reader base considered bad practice?"). I unreservedly apologise to anyone who was genuinely offended by that remark. Believe it or not, that was not my intention and I didn't expect people to take it a) personally ("I for one plan on seeing this film, not because I’m a illiterate meat head like you imply") or b) literally ("Stallone has written Oscar winning films and you’re implying viewers can’t read if they enjoy the film?"). I stand by all of the comments I made about the film itself and feel my review is valid, but insulting an imagined audience (something I thought would be taken in jest) was unfair and perhaps even uncalled for.

Let me get one thing straight: I obviously do not genuinely believe that only the illiterate would wish to see this film. (As every bigot says) some of my best friends have been looking forward to this movie for a long time. I don't believe they are in any way dumb for doing so. I do understand that a lot of the people who want to see this film are simply being nostalgic. Indeed, I felt that I had acknowledged the film's appeal to people other than myself when I wrote that:
I must confess that I am not a particularly big fan of the 80’s action movie and I am fairly sure that everything I hated about this movie is the reason why so many others will love it. There are moments of bone-crunching violence, well choreographed scenes of martial arts, huge explosions and loads of silly one-liners.

What I was really attacking in my review (I hoped, with humour) was the fact that this movie's raw, ideal audience member is a gung-ho moron. Let me explain. Imagine you have never seen 'Commando' or 'Predator' or 'Rocky IV' for a second: would you be leaping to the defence of this movie so passionately? I suspect not. I recognise that a lot of people simply want to see Rocky Balboa alongside Ivan Drago again and long to watch the "Governator" back on the big screen, and this is fair enough. On that score, I am with you. I may not be a huge fan of the 80's action movie, but I am a fan of movies in general and can appreciate a little intertextuality as much as the next man. But if you allow yourself to get sucked into this stunt casting gimmick of a movie, then you encouraging the making of bad movies by giving your money to something of zero substance.

I don't mean "substance" in a poncy, intellectual way either. 'Die Hard' has substance - it was an original and remains a peak example of its genre. 'The Expendables' regurgitates worn out ideas, using worn out icons and serves most as a celebration of human ugliness and Regan-era politics. In-jokes aside, it has nothing to offer.

Another reason for my comment, as pointed out in my editor's generous defence of my review, is that I was trying to redress the balance after female viewers of 'Sex & the City 2' were dismissed as dumb following that film's huge success earlier in the year. To my mind 'The Expendables' is the male equivalent of this and we shouldn't let ourselves off just because we fetishise violence rather than shoes. Arguably the shoe thing is healthier anyway.

I have also been accused of being "biased" and of not being "balanced". I strongly refute this. I go into any movie with an open mind, even if I have a judgement based on the trailer or the poster or the history of the director, I try to watch the movie as if those thoughts didn't exist and judge it on its own merits. This is what I feel I have done in this case. I wouldn't have slagged the film off if it had made me laugh or excited me. I don't have an agenda. And in relation to the question of "balance", this review is only supposed to reflect my opinion. I will not write something which says "on one hand this and on the other hand that" because that would be boring to read. Whatever you thought of my review, I don't get the impression it was a boring read.

A final point: anyone who read my reviews of films like 'South of the Border', 'Capitalism: A Love Story' and even 'Kick-Ass' will know I am an outspoken leftist and often bring that into my analysis of film, whether looking at politics of gender or race or economics. Therefore, a film as vehemently right-wing as 'The Expendables' is always going to grate on me, with it's blatant anti-Chavez message ("everything that comes out of the ground belongs to me" says an evil South American dictator). Perhaps that helps explain why I reacted so negatively towards it, perhaps not.

Anyway, even if you still hate that review or feel you dislike me as a reviewer, I hope you understand my position better now and accept my sincere apology if I upset you with the heavy-handed way I chose to express my opinion in this instance.

Thanks for reading.

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