Jet Li & Dolph Lundgren The Expendables DVD

Jet Li & Dolph Lundgren The Expendables DVD

The Expendables

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, David Zayas, Giselle Itie, Charisma Carpenter, Gary Daniels, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Genre: Action, Drama, Comedy
Rated: MA15+
Running Time: 103 minutes

Expendable: capable of being sacrificed in order to accomplish a militaryobjective.

The Expendables is the hard-hitting action thriller about a group of mercenaries hired to infiltrate a South American country and overthrow its ruthless dictator. Once the mission begins the men realize things aren't as they appear, finding themselves caught in a dangerous web of deceit and betrayal. With their mission thwarted and an innocent life in danger the men struggle with an even tougher challenge; the one that threatens to destroy this band of brothers.

Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) is a man with nothing to lose. Fearless and void of emotion he is the leader, the sage and the strategist of this tight knit band of men who live on the fringe. His only attachment is to his pickup truck, his seaplane, and his team of loyal modern day warriors. He is a true cynic who describes what he does as "removing those hard to get at stains". The team behind him is made up of Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), former SAS and a savant with anything that has a blade, Yin Yang (JET LI), a master at close quarter combat, Hale Caesar (Terry Crews), who has known Barney for 10 years and is a long barrel weapons specialist, Toll Road (Randy Couture), a skilled demolitions expert and considered the intellect of the group and Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren), a combat veteran and an expert in precision sniping who struggles with his own demons.

When the mysterious Church offers Barney a job no one else would take, Barney and his team of expendables embark on what appears to be a routine mission; over throw General Gaza (David Zayas), the murderous dictator of the small island country of Vilena and end the years of death and destruction inflicted on its people. On a reconnaissance mission to Vilena, Barney and Christmas meet their contact, Sandra (Giselle Itie), a local freedom fighter with a dark secret. They also come to learn who their true enemy is; rogue ex-CIA operative James Monroe (Eric Roberts) and his henchman Paine (Steve Austin). When things go terribly wrong, Barney and Christmas are forced to leave Sandra behind, essentially giving her a death sentence. Haunted by this failure Barney convinces the team to return to Vilena to rescue the hostage and finish the job he started. And to perhaps save a soul... his own.

About the Production
When Sylvester Stallone put pen to paper, (he writes long hand, no typewriter or computer) he envisioned The Expendables as a teeth grinding action film that was both relevant and poignant; a story with a theme the audience would respond to. "I wanted to revisit a certain kind of feeling, a certain kind of film making, a certain kind of mentality," explains Stallone. "A story about men that were out of sync with the world but who lived their lives by a certain code. They don't have families, their personal lives are a train wreck - all they have is each other. I wanted to give the audience a glimpse into the hearts of these men." For inspiration, Stallone used old school action films like The Dirty Dozen and Dogs of War as his model. Movies where men were men, combat was mano a mano and the story was believable.

"Action is secondary for Sylvester Stallone," explains Kevin King, Sylvester Stallone's long time producer and confidant. "For him the script must have heart and story. Those are the two main things he has taught me. If you don't have heart, you don't have story which means you don't have a movie. For Sly it's not just blowing something up," he adds. And while the action in a Sylvester Stallone film can hit critical mass, in The Expendables the story trumped all. Over the next several months, as Sylvester Stallone continued to flush out the story he kept coming back to theme of redemption and the need to reveal the emotional core of each character. He wanted to explore the pathos of living life on the precipice by exposing their fears and weaknesses. But Sylvester Stallone also was keenly aware that as a writer and director he was entering uncharted territory with this script. He didn't have a known entity like a Rambo or Rocky character to draw upon, therefore the mythology of The Expendables had to build from the ground up. He was also writing for an ensemble cast, the likes, which has rarely been captured on film. On top of it all, his role of Barney Ross, was both physically and emotionally challenging.

Producer Avi Lerner saw the making of The Expendables as yet another formidable challenge in a career defined by them. "Sylvester Stallone is a risk-taker and he always has been," says Avi Lerner. "The first Rocky was a risk for him. So was the first Rambo. And now, to create a new character, to get into the physical condition he's in, to direct and handle this amazing cast and difficult locations; they're all risks. His career is full of taking risks and that's what makes him such an icon. He's not afraid."

By the time Sylvester Stallone had a shooting script he was happy with, he had written over 100 drafts, completely reworked the direction of the film and either cut or drastically reworked major characters. Throughout the writing process, Sylvester Stallone had Jet Li and Jason Statham in mind for the roles of Yang and Christmas. He hadn't worked with either one of them but was a fan of their work and knew what they were capable of. For Sylvester Stallone, having martial arts icon Jet Li in the film was a no brainer. Without ever meeting Sylvester Stallone face to face, Jet Li signed on to play Expendable Yin Yang, a Vietnamese- American trying to live a skewed version of the American Dream. A close quarter combatant who could fly through the air in attack mode, before his opponents knew what hit them, Jet Li plays Yang with quiet intensity. "My character is very straight forward, very simple," says Jet Li. "He constantly thinks about making money so that he can have a real life with a real family. He has a dream."

In Jason Statham, an international action star in his own right, Sylvester Stallone saw untapped potential. "It was a bit of a gamble to cast Jason Statham," admits Sylvester Stallone, "because you never know if the chemistry is going to work. He comes from a totally different culture than me and he is certainly a lot younger. Privately, I saw a side to him that had not been tapped on film and I wanted to use that to expand his character. I wanted him to have a sense of optimism." Even though Christmas is a knife wielding killing machine, he wears his heart on his sleeve and struggles as his relationship with girlfriend Lacey, played by Charisma Carpenter, goes up in flames. "I really liked the concept of these regular guys with all these insecurities and problems of their own", Jason Statham points out, "and at the same time when they're put in these situations, they need to be focused and kick ass, as they say."

From that point on casting became pretty free form as Sylvester Stallone looked for interesting and unique individuals with unique talents. Oscar winning actors Forest Whitaker and Sir Ben Kingsley were tapped for key roles but as the story and characters continued to take on a life of their own, changes were made. At one point, rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson was considered until Sylvester Stallone became concerned he may be going too far in the wrong direction and once again changed course. In the end, Eric Roberts and Terry Crews won the roles.

Terry Crews, best known for his comedic roles in film and television, clearly remembers the day he got the call that Sylvester Stallone wanted to meet with him for a role. "I was flabbergasted and excited," gushes Terry Crews. "For me, working with Sylvester Stallone was the realisation of a childhood fantasy. I was honored." For Dolph Lundgren, winning the role of Gunnar Jensen was a homecoming of sorts. 25 years after tearing up the screen as Russian fighter Ivan Drago, in Rocky IV, Dolph Lundgren found himself once again going toe to toe with Sylvester Stallone. And while he has enjoyed a long and varied career including directing his own features, Dolph Lundgren saw the role of Gunnar as a way of reinventing himself. "Sylvester Stallone created my career with the Ivan Drago character," muses Lundgren. "Now here I am, a little bit older and once again Sylvester Stallone has created a multi-faceted character who is larger than life and kind of iconic. A more complex character that will hopefully allow the audience a chance to see me in a different light."

Describing his character as "a crazy son of a bitch", Gunnar is Barney's best friend and fellow Expendable who can't control his impulses. Too much combat stress and excessive behavior and a little bit of drugs all contribute to his downward spiral. For Dolph Lundgren, tapping into the emotional core wasn't the hard part... it was hitting the humorous beats Sylvester Stallone injects into every script that caused Dolph Lundgren to worry. "I don't mind killing people or crying," laughs Dolph Lundgren, "but at 4 in the morning when I'm burned out emotionally don't ask me to be funny."

Looking for an athlete with fighting skills and star presence was utmost in Sylvester Stallone's mind when casting the role of Toll Road, the thinker of the group who exudes sheer brute force. He found all of it and more in Mixed Martial Arts champion, Randy Couture. "Randy Couture provided a face and a look that is a roadmap to confrontation, battle, discipline, pain," says Sylvester Stallone. "Masculine with a glimpse of sensitivity in the eyes." Randy Couture who sports a 'cauliflower ear' caused by 20+ years of wrestling had to put that sensitivity to the test when Sylvester Stallone wrote a monologue about the ear. "The monologue was in some ways easy for me," relates Randy Couture, "because I was telling the truth. Every wrestler I know will be laughing when they see the scene."

Sylvester Stallone then turned to his old friend, Mickey Rourke, to play the small but pivotal role of Tool, the weary former Expendable who now runs the business of brokering clandestine missions out of his storefront tattoo shop. The shop serves as the de facto headquarters for the guys, a place where souls are bared, truths are told and where a sense of camaraderie and belonging prevails. It is also where the team begins to unravel after Barney decides to take a job the rest of the team sees as suicide. At first glance, Tool seems to have his life under control, but the reality is his life has been a segue way into disappointment. In a 'moment of truth' scene with Barney, it is Tool who ignites a spark of humanity Barney forgot he had. "I'm suffering the pangs of hell," says Sylvester Stallone, "I've basically lost my humanity."

Mickey Rourke, who reintroduced himself to the world in 2008 with a tour de force turn in The Wrestler, and Sylvester Stallone go back a long way. "I'm a little older than him, but we sort of grew up in the business together," explains Sylvester Stallone. "We've had our ups and downs, know the ins and outs of our lives. He's a very sensitive and unique guy, and I thought if he could bring some of that uniqueness to the character of Tool, it would be off the charts."

The Expendables was finally taking shape. As an actor, Sylvester Stallone knew he had to allow the cast to bring their individuality to each role. As a director, he also understood the importance of tailoring ideas to maximise the skills and talents of each individual actor. "Each of them were stars in their own right," explains Sylvester Stallone, "and needed to be served equally." "But," he continues, "I have to say they all came to the table and put their egos aside. Everyone was on board to give 100% to the role. They made my job easy." Dolph Lundgren applauds Sylvester Stallone for his willingness to collaborate. "When I got the script Gunnar was a totally different guy," recalls Dolph Lundgren. "He didn't figure as much into the story. After meeting with Sylvester Stallone a couple of times, we came up with other ideas.

Personally I'm a shy person, I stay in the background and let everybody else run around so Sylvester Stallone wrote that into the character."

The last piece of the puzzle was filling the role of Sandra, the woman Barney and Christmas leave in jeopardy in Vilena when their reconnaissance mission turns bad. Sandra, who unknowingly becomes the catalyst for Barney's change of heart had to be tough, intelligent, beautiful and able to hold her own in a film dominated by testosterone. Brazilian actress, Giselle Itie (pronounced Eet she), who had studied boxing and jiu jitsu but had never done an action film, won the role after a worldwide casting call. For the all-important supporting roles, Sylvester Stallone called on the versatility of actor Eric Roberts for rogue ex-CIA agent Monroe, a man caught up in a trap of his own design. Roberts brings a steely coldness to the soulless Monroe. For the role of henchman and Monroe sidekick, Paine, Sylvester Stallone brought in former pro wrestler Steve Austin. "When I watched Sylvester Stallone direct Eric Roberts", remember Steve Austin, "he knows exactly what he's looking for, knows exactly what he wants his actors to do, how he wants them to do it, and he tells them. He's very clear in his direction and vision."

When shooting a film of this size and scope like The Expendables there were bound to be some problems; those problems can multiply when shooting in a foreign country, especially one that doesn't have the infrastructure in place to deal with the problems associated with a film of this scale. With The Expendables, the producers had to deal with logistically difficult locations, communication and language problems, assimilating with local crew members and adapting to local cultures and customs.

Acknowledging some growing pains while shooting in Brazil, producer Les Weldon emphasises that Brazil provided a great backdrop and just the look the filmmakers needed to create the fictitious island of Vilena. "Filming in Brazil is without question a challenging experience on many levels," says Les Weldon, "but the architecture, the landscape with the fishing villages and jungles and the uniqueness of the people provided us a look we couldn't find anywhere else." And often it is the unpredictability of mother nature that presents the biggest challenge to a production. In Brazil it wasn't unusual for a monsoon like downpour to whip up without notice, causing delays in production. Heat and humidity were also factors with temperatures often topping 110 degrees, with humidity almost as high. Those conditions are tough on the cast, crew and even the equipment.

It all paid off the night Sylvester Stallone, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Randy Couture and Terry Crews, dressed in SWAT gab and heavily armed walked onto the set to shoot their first scene together. "I felt like I'd been invited into the League of Super Heroes," laughs Terry Crews. "I think everyone in the cast was a little star struck, including myself," says Dolph Lundgren. "When you see us on screen together, I think you will see a little extra electricity."

Brazil also provided Production Designer Franco Carbone with a facade that matched Sylvester Stallone's vision of General Garza's palace. Carbone scouted hundreds of locations looking for a majestic piece of architecture before he settled on the 1920s chateau style mansion that serves as the centerpiece for Parque Lage, a public park situated at the base of the Corcovado, the mountain where the statue of Christ stands. This beautiful park, with its English-style gardens and little lakes provided the perfect backdrop for Garza, the villainous dictator played by character actor, David Zayas. After a month of shooting in Brazil and a two week hiatus, the company moved to New Orleans where filming commenced at the Louisiana Film Studios in Harahan.

"New Orleans is an interesting location," explains Producer Avi Lerner. "It has culture, history and excellent talent to draw from. It was the perfect fit for us."

As in Brazil, a majority of filming in New Orleans required practical locations.

And here too, the weather was a factor. While shooting at Fort McComb, a series of catacombs built in the early 1800's and used by the Confederate army early in the Civil War before being taken over by the Union army, a 3-day torrential downpour flooded the location resulting in the loss of shooting days. In the end, New Orleans delivered what it promised, character and color.

Once filming began, it became clear that anything less than total commitment would not be enough. Everyone was acutely aware they had to follow the director's lead, keep up the pace and get the job done. And they had to be flexible. "Sylvester Stallone is a visionary," offers Producer John Thompson, "he doesn't use shot lists. He decides what he wants to do on the day, which makes it a very fluid process. I have never seen somebody with that level of detail." While Sylvester Stallone knows every shot down to the smallest detail, he is known to keep a lot of it in his head until it is ready to hatch. The cast and the crew had to be ready for anything. "In a way," continues John Thompson, "it became kind of a circus, where we were constantly juggling to ensure everyone was ready. It was a huge challenge." For Randy Couture, one of the most interesting aspects of playing Toll Road was how in the moment Sylvester Stallone was when directing. "It's not do as I say," states Randy Couture, "it's this is where you are, this is how you feel and this is everything you are about." "The payoff", he adds, "it makes you a better actor."

Sylvester Stallone, who often used as many as five cameras and a steady-cam to fully capture the scope of the action sequences, relied on Director of Photography, Jeffrey Kimball, when determining the overall style and structure of the frame.

To choreograph and implement the complicated and often dangerous stunts, Sylvester Stallone brought in Supervising Stunt Coordinator Chad Stahelski. They had worked together on Rambo 4 and Stahelski understood Sylvester Stallone's style of working and the importance of letting the action bring out the esthetic of a scene rather than just the violence of it. With action sequences that were varied and specific, Stahelsi needed to recruit stunt specialists from all over the United States. Once the style of action was determined, their job was to give the director options. "Sylvester Stallone is very creative on the day and very collaborative," explains Chad Stahelski, "so we try to show him what is possible while still keeping safety in mind. Then he chooses the direction he wants go in." But Chad Stahelski's hardest job was saying no to some of the baddest guys in the business. A case in point, while filming the huge battle in the palace courtyard with The Expendables storming the palace, Terry Crews must navigate an enormous explosion and a ball of fire. Even though Crews was game to run into a ball of fire, Chad Stahelski saw it as putting an actor in jeopardy for no reason. "The shot was spectacular without the potential for injury," says Chad Stahelski, "and once we explained that to him he understood. We didn't compromise the shot and we didn't put the actor in peril," he adds. "It's a win win situation."

When Sylvester Stallone met with his stunt department to work out details for the scene with Barney and Christmas fleeing for their lives in a 1950's Albatross seaplane he wanted to explore the idea of creating an action hero cinematic moment. "I suggested instead of just a fuel drop that we put Jason Statham in the nose of the plane," says Sylvester Stallone, "and the room fell silent." Sylvester Stallone believed they could make it happen if Jason Statham was game. When Stallone approached him about the idea, Jason immediately loved it. "Sylvester Stallone does all of his stunts and he really bashes himself senseless and bashes everybody around in a realistic, believable way," states Jason Statham, "and unless it comes across that way he doesn't want to put it in the film... and that's music to my ears." After consulting with famed aerial coordinator Fred North, who assessed the plane's mechanical and logistical capabilities, and after safety issues were addressed, Sylvester Stallone was about to get his cinematic moment.

With several cameras rolling, Jason Statham was safe-tied into the nose of the seaplane that flew a hundred feet in the air through billowing smoke and flames. "He was sensational," beams Sylvester Stallone, "I know he will underplay what he did but it was dangerous and he was very, very game".

The scene could have been shot using 'movie magic' but Sylvester Stallone insisted on going back to a simpler time and called upon his actors to do most of their own stunts so the film did not become dependent on technology. "I wanted to shoot it with brains and brawn, not modern technology," explains Sylvester Stallone, known for his attention to detail and his aversion to over enhancing a scene with CGI. He wanted The Expendables to be all about keeping things as real as possible when it came to stunts. "He hates CGI and he uses very little of it," says King emphatically. "Most of what you see on screen is real and the CGI is used as it should be, to enhance."

An admitted adrenaline junkie, Stallone managed to save a little bit of the action for himself. As Christmas gets the plane airborne, Barney, pursued by Garza's army, has no choice but to dive off a floating dock onto the ascending aircraft. With the plane throwing gusts of 30-40mph, Stallone was literally blown into a horizontal position. "I didn't plan on it being quite as intense." admits Stallone. "It turned into a very dangerous stunt."

Not one to sit back and let the guys do all the work, Giselle Itie insisted on doing the disturbingly realistic water-boarding scene. She's a purist," says Stallone. "She definitely has her heart in action." On the day it was shot, Itie spent hours lying prone on a board with a sponge and a towel over her mouth while water was poured down her throat. "We created an actual torture chamber," says Kevin King. "It was a very claustrophobic set." To prepare emotionally for the scene Itie did her homework. "I researched how it feels for the person being tortured because I wanted to understand the sensation of suffocating and the choking. I wanted to understand the emotions in that situation. It was a very exciting challenge and I couldn't wait to shoot it," she adds with a smile.

The Expendables were all experts with various types of combat weapons so having the biggest and the baddest was a major concern for the director. In the AA-12 shotgun, labeled the most powerful weapon in the world by enthusiasts, Stallone found what he was looking for.

Designed in 1972 by Maxwell Atchisson specifically for the military, the AA-12 is an auto assault 12 gauge shotgun capable of delivering 300 rounds per minute. It also has tremendous versatility in terms of ammunition; everything from FRAG-12 High- Explosive rounds to titanium alloy heavy shot. It would become the weapon of choice for Hale Caesar played by Terry Crews, described by Sylvester Stallone as "an untapped wealth of talent, muscle and sensitivity.

Although he had handled weapons before, Terry Crews admits to being a little intimidated when it came to handling the AA-12. "The biggest thing for me," says Terry Crews, was learning how to respect the weapon. You have to be very, very, very careful just loading the bullets. That sucker was total overkill!"

Sylvester Stallone made the 'Arkansas toothpick', a balanced and weighted heavy dagger as the weapon of choice for Lee Christmas. Designed for throwing with a blade anywhere from 12-20" long is carried in a holster across the back. Sylvester Stallone summed it all up when he said "I set out to make one of those films that comes along once in a great while by taking an old formula and making it contemporary. I feel we accomplished that; I'm very, very happy with the film."

Reivew: With an all star cast, (Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, David Zayas, Giselle Itie, Charisma Carpenter, Gary Daniels, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke) for those of you how love Action, this film has plenty of it. Guns blazing, fists flying and then there's Jet Li..... in fine form.

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