Martin R. "Vargo" Schneider finds himself pleasantly surprised by Arnold Schwarzenegger's Last Stand; Joseph "Jay Dub" Wade is unimpressed by Broken City; Sean "Keanu Grieves" Hanson says Mama falls short of its goals; and Vargo feels a bit let down after a trip to Promised Land.
EXPECTATIONS: I am genuinely very excited for this film, as anyone who grew up in the '80s and '90s should be. It feels like Arnold's been anxious to get back to throwing punches and making one-liners, and he treated Expendables 2 like a warm up. But what really interests me is that this is the mainstream American debut of director Jee-woon Kim, whose last two films were some of the most intriguing Korean films of the decade. (If you haven't seen this film, go fix that right now.) This looks to be action-comedy very much in the vein of The Rundown, and god, do we need more movies like The Rundown. We're in mid-January, folks, and that's traditionally where movies go to die, so I could go for some explosion-filled escapism right now.
Of course he couldn't just go bald, Bruce Willis did it first.REALITY: The whole of America has been wrapped up in the argument over gun control this month, and it only took a horrifying, shocking, unthinkable tragedy to do it. As President Obama signed 23 (fairly reasonable) executive orders to crack down on gun crime, even the Current Releases offices weren't safe from hours-long heated debate over what is responsible for America's tendency to murder random civilians, whether it's our access to guns, love of violent media, ostrification of mental illness, or Piers Morgan. Wait, I'm sorry, that last one was part of our "Name the smuggest douche you can think of" argument.
The reason I bring this up is that The Last Stand is a film that perpetuates, epitomizes, and celebrates every conservative "good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun" argument there is. This is a movie where Johnny Knoxville is considered heroic because of his tendency to horde horribly illegal weapons of death in his garage. A movie where an Ex-Marine with a drinking problem suddenly gets his life together when given a chance to shoot people again. This is a movie that actually shows a politely armed society, and of course, being morally opposed to this, I must have hated it, correct? No. I loved every second of it.
The Last Stand casts Arnold as Sheriff Ray Owens, a former LAPD Narcotics officer who now leads a quiet life running a border town in Arizona. When the son of a Mexican Cartel boss escapes from the FBI (Forest Whitaker is the FBI. All of it.), he makes a run for the Mexican border via a tactical bridge that his crew is building across a canyon outside of town. While investigating the murder of Harry Dean Stanton by Peter Stormare (this happens), Ray and his inexperienced deputies (Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzmán, Zach Gilford) get caught up in the crossfire and decide to wage war against the constantly stretching plotline. To assist, they deputize the aforementioned Marine-with-a-drinking-problem (Rodrigo Santoro) and the town gun nut (Knoxville). Then they shove a WWII machine gun into the back of a school bus, and things just get awesome from there.
I may have lied earlier when I said I loved every second of this film. In truth, it takes way too long to develop the sense of fun that I was expecting from the very beginning. It also commits the cardinal sin of "Telling, not showing" in the worst way. In fact, Forest Whitaker only exists so that he can give the audience helpful bits of information, because otherwise how else are you going to tell the audience that the bad guy also happens to be an international car racing legend? Or that Ray had a tragic shootout as an LAPD officer? Or squeeze in many, many, more plot contrivances as quickly as you can without the audience thinking too hard about anything?
These sins excepted, once the film reaches the actual standoff, right around the second car chase, it quickly becomes a ridiculously cheesy celebration of bullets and men exploding like bloody balloons. It reminds us that Arnold was once an amazing pull to theater seats for a damn reason. He's not an actual actor by any stretch of the imagination, but he's just as sincere today as he was 25 years ago. When Arnold delivers one-liners, he doesn't sound like he's trying to be clever, which is good, because his lines never are.
Bang! Pow! Pe-yoooommmm... guns.
So, back to the original point, can you like a movie whose politics and message you fundamentally disagree with? Well, I saw two films this week, and the one I agreed with was a little unbearable. It helps, of course, that Jee-woon Kim actually knows how to film a fight scene. He uses shaky-cam to great effect by only using it to show that a character is disoriented, like after being shot, or being in a car crash. Otherwise, he's not afraid to actually show bullets hitting and punches landing, which is something we've apparently lost sight of in American action filmmaking.
Not only that, but this is an equal-opportunity film that gives Luis Guzmán, professional sidekick, an opportunity to look like a total badass. In fact, no one in this film is shown to be incompetent with a gun, including an old lady who is strongly positive about "standing her ground." I actually appreciate this in my films, and here's why: These are movies. They're not real. I'm pretty sure Harry Dean Stanton is doing okay for a man his age, when the camera stops rolling. Arnold Schwarzenegger is actually a fairly out-of-shape Republican politician, and Johnny Knoxville may or may not actually have a collection of antique machine guns. Movies do not kill people. People kill people, and usually with guns.
The Last Stand is a work of fiction, and a silly one at that. It is not a realistic plausibility that people should consider when making real-life decisions. A big part of why I love this film - why I love films in general - is that it's not realistic. Movies shouldn't be, and I don't know why people insist upon it. So, one more time: The Last Stand isn't real, but it is awesomely entertaining. Just remember, it's just a friggin' movie.
|Beautiful, Beautiful, Implausibility||10/10|
MINORITY REPORT: It's nice to see Luis Guzmán getting a chance to play something other than a greasy, dithering imbecile because he's really a much better actor than he ever gets a chance to prove. As for Arnie, it's almost amazing that his muscle has turned to cookie dough, his accent is now entirely forced and his hair plugs look ridiculous and yet he's still delivering on his charismatic superhuman persona with aplomb. - Ian "Professor Clumsy" Maddison
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