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Weekend Watch: Smaller Films Trump 'Expendables 3'

Skip the latest action spectacular and check out one of this week's stellar indie films.

Magnolia | Lionsgate | A24

The novelty of a big budget action film starring every action movie star alive wore thin sometime around the middle of the first Expendables movie. But here we are four years later staring down the barrel of a third (and mercifully final) edition. People keep paying to see these movies, and that's fine, entertainment is entertainment, whether it's Mozart or poorly-written action films. But there are some movies out there this weekend much more worthy of your attention.

Along with The Expendables 3 are two other wide releases (Let's Be Cops, The Giver), but neither one is very exciting. The flicks to look out for are the limited releases. The first, Frank, was a Sundance favorite this year and it stars Michael Fassbender wearing a giant fake head like Jack from Jack in the Box. I will reserve any further description because, frankly, that's enough to get me in the theater. 

The other two new limited releases are the sequel to The Trip, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon's buddy comedy, and Life After Beth, the new horror/comedy from Jeff Baena. Baena wrote I Heart Huckabees once upon a time and has done nothing since, so Life After Beth is hugely intriguing for that reason alone. Huckabees, for whatever it's worth, was a seminal film and Baena's script was its star. So before you head to the theater this weekend, consider your options. The hidden gems are much shinier than the utterly expendable Expendables 3.

Expendables 3

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Glen Powell

Barney (Stallone) infuses his team with new blood for a personal grudge match with Conrad Stonebanks (Gibson), the Expendables co-founder and infamous arms trader. He wants to wipe out Barney and every single one of his associates, but the Expendables will have something to say about it. You know what you're getting here: high-adrenaline action sequences, huge explosions, and a ton of macho posturing. Fans of the series won't be let down. This third installment actually looks like the best one. But that's not saying much. See it? No.

Weekend Watch: Smaller Films Trump 'Expendables 3'

Let's Be Cops

Starring: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans Jr., Rob Riggle, Nina Dobrev, Andy Garcia

Johnson and Wayans star here as best buddies who dress up as cops for a costume party and realize they get quite a bit of respect when that uniform goes on. Taking full advantage, Wayans goes after his dream girl (Dobrev), Johnson buys a cruiser on eBay, and they continue the charade for the laughs and benefits. But they bite off more than they can chew and become targets for the mob and real crooked cops. On the surface, this may seem like a strange pairing, but Johnson gets along with just about anyone onscreen and this is an old school hard R comedy that men will probably be down with. Ladies? Not so much. See it? Sure.

Weekend Watch: Smaller Films Trump 'Expendables 3'

The Giver

Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Alexander Skarsgård, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush, Taylor SwiftCameron Monaghan

Based on Lois Lowry's classic young adult novel, The Giver takes place in a seeming utopia where pain and suffering have been taken out of the equation and replaced with "Sameness" which comes at the expense of true emotion. The story follows Jonas (Thwaites), a young man who inherits the position of Receiver of Memory, the person who keeps all of life's history before the "Sameness." But Jonas struggles with the job as he experiences all those feelings we take for granted every day. The ambitious story and big special effects make The Giver a compelling watch, but it will be a challenge to convey the novel's big ideas. See it? No.

Weekend Watch: Smaller Films Trump 'Expendables 3'


Starring: Michael FassbenderDomhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy, Moira Brooker, Paul Butterworth, Phil Kingston

Jon (Gleeson) discovers a strange new world of inspiration when he joins a new band fronted by a mysterious dude named Frank who never takes off his giant fake head. Frank is enigmatic, wild, but he also might be some kind of genius. Jon sends Frank, and his skeptical bandmates, into a frenzy when he announces they've booked the South by Southwest Festival in America. Is the world ready for Frank? Lighthearted, funny, and featuring a one of a kind performance from Fassbender, Frank is one of the strangest most original movies you'll see this year. See it? Yes.

Weekend Watch: Smaller Films Trump 'Expendables 3'
Magnolia Pictures

The Trip to Italy

Starring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Rosie Fellner, Claire Keelan

2010's The Trip found Coogan and Brydon playing versions of themselves and traveling together to the fine restaurants of England. This sequel presents the same scenario except the boys go to Italy and mangia up and down the Boot. Coogan and Brydon's fans are well aware how funny these two can be and The Trip to Italy is funnier than the first. Expect more impressions and more dry British wit. "Where do you stand on Michael Buble?" "His windpipe?" See it? Yes.

Weekend Watch: Smaller Films Trump 'Expendables 3'
IFC Films

Life After Beth

Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Dane DeHaan, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Anna Kendrick, Cheryl Hines

After his girlfriend dies, Zach (DeHaan) is inconsolable, but when he visits her grave he finds nothing but a hole in the ground. He learns she's come back from the dead, but his initial elation is deflated when she starts eating people and setting things on fire. Zombie Beth is not the girl he fell in love with. Equal parts insanity and hilarity, Life with Beth is not your typical love story and it has a much funnier edge than the last movie that tried mixing zombies with romance, Warm Bodies. See it? Yes.

Weekend Watch: Smaller Films Trump 'Expendables 3'

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