Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Last Stand

Directed by: Kim Jee-woon

Produced by: Lorenzo di Bonaventura

Screenplay by: Andrew Knauer
Jeffrey Nachmanoff

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger
Forest Whitaker
Johnny Knoxville
Rodrigo Santoro
Luiz Guzman
Jaimie Alexander
Eduardo Noriega
Peter Stormare
Zach Gilford
Genesis Rodriguez

Music by: Mowg

Cinematography by: Kim Ji-yong

Editing by: Steven Kemper

Studio: di Bonaventura Pictures

Distributed by: Lionsgate

Release date(s): January 18, 2013 (United States)
January 24, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 107 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $30 million

Box-office revenue: $48, 330, 757

Well guys, despite having a busy week of work in various places, for a change I've actually managed to keep my promises in getting some movies looked at. Along with this, I will one for Bullet To The Head, A Good Day To Die Hard and at least one other film looked into before November's over and I do my review of the month. With the Oscar season more or less here, I've to start getting to work on my own Best and Worst of the Year, which be out before the Academy Award ceremony in February. During this time, I will also be posted a variety of articles, including one on Dario Argento, a favourite 'coming-of-age' films article and this year's selections for my hall of fame, so, for all the latest and greatest regarding the movies, keep your eyes posted.

Today's film under the knife (surgical purpose or edible substance, pick your metaphorical poison) is The Last Stand. The film was released in January of this year, and was notable for being the first lead role of Arnold Schwarzenegger since 2003's Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, for aside from a cameo in Sly Stallone's The Expendables, he was busy with duties in his eight-year tenure as Governor Of California. In the past, I've made my feeling known about action movies from the 1980s, how I have a real fondness for anything resembling them, and the fact that Arnie played to the title role in The Terminator, which I feel is the greatest film of all time. Also, The Last Stand is the English-language debut of Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon, who made his name in his home country with the likes of A Tale Of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life, The Good, The Bad, The Weird and I Saw The Devil, the latter two of which I reviewed and won a couple of awards from me over the years at my annual Best and Worst ceremonies (if I may be so bold to call them as such). So, plot synopsis, Schwarzenegger stars as Ray Owens, the Sheriff of Sommerton, Arizona, a small and quiet border town that doesn't see much activity, aside from the odd cat getting stuck up a tree and what have you. However, when a local dairy farmer misses his delivery and is discovered murdered, the trails lead to a parallel plot involving FBI agent John Barrister (Forest Whitaker), who is on the tail of escaped international drug lord Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega). All loose ties end up in Sommerton, where Cortez is heading is cross the border by way of a bridge being built by his henchman Thomas Burrell (Peter Stormare), whose gang is building a bridge over a narrow valley for Cortez to escape to Mexico. Get it? Shall we dance? Voulez-vous? (Shut up, Callum...)

Starting with the good, I like Arnold Schwarzenegger, I've always liked Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I still like Arnold Schwarzenegger, and it a pleasure to see him back on the big screen. As we can see in his work as Sheriff Owens, what separated him from the rest of the action stars of the 1980's is that he had a sense of humour and didn't take himself too seriously. He brings the same charm and good wit to this part that he always does, but most importantly, Arnie has aged, and with that comes its own nuances. He's a bit slower, a bit more haggard, and carries a not insignificant paunch, but the fact does not change that he is still Arnie. Frankly, I like this Arnie who is one of the few action stars that, like Clint Eastwood, acts his own age and not like a thirty year old renegade. The movie, while nowhere near the quality of something like Eastwood's Unforgiven, has that same element of playing off of the mythology created by Arnold's onscreen persona. When Owens talks about having seen too much bloodshed, it's hard not to remember him hunting Sarah Connor like a shark, wrecking havoc in Val Verde and covered in mud, roaring into the forest night like a primeval beast. Also, he makes reference to his own status as an immigrant, having been known for many a moon as the Austrian Oak, which is a nice touch. If I sound like I'm fawning over Arnie, it's cause I am, okay, so you'll have to excuse me if you consider that a transgression of sorts. In the acting department, although their roles are far less significant in the bigger scheme of things, you have a solid part from the mighty Forest Whitaker (who can gain your interest in just about any part), an amusing one from Luis Guzman and a manic one from Johnny Knoxville. Also praiseworthy is the direction of Kim Jee-woon. As mentioned, this is his English-language debut after a two decades working in Korea. While this is for all intents and purposes a director-for-hire work, Kim still brings his trademark flair to the table. Although he's not an overt auteur in the way, say, his contemporary Park Chan-wook is, the genre-hopping Kim has always been a director with a terrific sense of timing, and The Last Stand is a good addition to his back catalogue that is stylistically reminiscent to The Good, The Bad, The Weird. Typifying Kim is his sharp pacing of a movie, among the best in contemporary cinema, and helping with that is the tight editing by Steven Kemper. Also, Kim Ji-yong, a past collaborator of Jee-woon, is in the mix as this film's cinematographer, and gives it a crisp, clean look that goes well with the editing. Finally, the movie, like it's director and star, does not take itself too seriously. This is the first time in recent memory (apart perhaps from said Good, Bad, Weird and White House Down) I can remember seeing a really kitschy and camp kind of action movie, when they used to be abound every month or two for about a decade. It's a good piece of b-movie schlock that reminds you how fun an action movie can be.

Now, getting to criticisms, because while I enjoyed The Last Stand, I must say that problems do exist. Lets start with the first, but not the worst issue, and that is some of the production decisions. I've no problem that this is quite obviously a studio-shot cardboard backlot movie, if you will, and that goes well with the camp sensibilities of the picture. However, though this is meant to be a quiet small town, I'd expect this small town to have some sense of life and more vibrancy to it, as opposed to the occupants of a diner, an old cat lady whose craft seems to be knitting or embroidery and a dairy farmer (played by Harry Dean Stanton) who's shot within a minute and a half of being onscreen. I know I've criticised Lorenzo Di Bonaventura in the past, but another $5 million on the budget would have done wonders for the film. Also, I know it's not meant to amount to much and just be a silly action movie, but the script is a weak point. As I mentioned, the idea of any sort of population inhabiting Sommerton is nonexistent, but even in the characters that do exist, they are all (bar Schwarzenegger) the basest of the cardboard cutout tropes that you can find. The only reason that there are other actors in this film is simply to maintain a quota that this is a basic narrative piece, as according to some people a Samuel Beckett-esque one-man modernist piece with Arnie wouldn't be interesting (yes, I would watch it, and yes, I've lost my mind!). The movie also has some poor basil exposition dialogue that does nothing for the movie. Furthermore, when it comes to one-liners, zingers that the big man has made iconic entries into the lexicon of popular culture, the most that we get in that regard is "Welcome To Sommerton." There's an unbearable silence after this quip, which presumably is there as an audience cue to laugh, but instead it was like I had fallen down a deep chasm.

The Last Stand undoubtedly has problems. I mean, the script is highly generic and middle of the road, both in terms of nearly nonexistent trope-based characterisation and bland dialogue. Also, the production itself probably needed a bit more effort in terms establishing a personality for Sommerton. When I think of well-established film worlds, I remember my awe at first seeing Jill McBain's arrival in Sweetwater in Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West, at that wonderful crane shot, watching her pass through the train station, moving over the top and with the swell of Ennio Morricone's score, witnessing such a vibrancy and life to the film. These things being said, I still enjoyed this movie a good bit. The return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to the big screen is more than welcome, delivering a strong performance in the part of Sheriff Ray Owens. Furthermore, what Kim Jee-woon brings to the table, with his collaborators, is an impeccable sense of timing, delivering what is a well-paced and entertaining film. It's camp as hell, but it's nice every now and again to see an action movie that doesn't take itself too seriously and is just a lot of fun. The Last Stand is no Leone masterpiece, but I still say it's a damn fine yarn.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool (for all intents and purposes. Working on a plan for 2014 creatively, so believe me, as they say in France, c'est interessant.)

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