The Last Stand (2013) The Western Revisited

The Last Stand Movie Poster

Despite the poor reviews that this film has garnered, I could not wait to see it. I wanted to see it in the cinema, but due to low viewing figures, by the time I could see it, it’s run in the theatres had finished.

This film felt like a reworking of two “classic” westerns. High Noon and Rio Bravo. Borrowing from the High Noon script of the bad guys (or guy) who  are coming in on the train (or via the road in a super duper corvette) and I/we need to stop him works well for the continuation of the story. Then it borrows from the Rio Bravo bit of the sheriff trying to get himself sorted out to defeat the baddies and having the help of his deputies, new and old and a bit of help from at least three citizens from the town.

But maybe I am wrong about my allegations of film similarities, but, it certainly felt that those touches were in there, albeit much more modern that the settings of the previous films. There were no horses, jangling spurs or Duke Wayne or even Gary Cooper. Ahnold will never be mistaken for either of these two cinematic western heroes, he doesn’t even wear a stetson, but he does a pretty good job.

Kim Jee-Woon does a brilliant job on his first US feature. He shows that the brilliance that he’s shown in his South Korean films aren’t just something he is capable of in his native country. This man is talented and gifted no matter where he directs.

I’ve guessed that part of the “mixed” reviews this film got was more because Arnold Schwarzenegger was the lead (and maybe Johnny Knoxville had a part to play in the negative viewpoints as well) more than anything else. I think that no matter what film that Arnie had chosen would have gotten him mixed reviews.

Jee-Woon has shown that he can direct films written by  folks than himself and he’s done well with this modern day western.

The film has a good cast, despite the fact that Ahnold is making his “comeback” in the film, it has enough other talent to take that sting in the tail out. I will hold my hand up and admit that I still like the ex “Governator’s” films. I like him less as a person since reading his autobiography (which I talked about in an earlier post) but I do still like him on the big (or in this case, smaller) screen.

But back to the cast.

How can you not like Peter Stormare as the big bad guy’s number one “bad-guy” helper;  Jaimie Alexander as one of the deputies; Forest Whitaker as the head FBI guy; and the legend that is Harry Dean Stanton as the grumpy, and possibly homicidal, farmer in a brilliant cameo. (A cameo that is miles too short)

Harry Dean Stanton

The plot, despite the holes that do occasionally make an appearance, is pretty straightforward. Ex cop from the big bad city of  Los Angeles  has set himself up as the sheriff of a small one horse town near the Mexican/Arizona border. Drug cartel super villain escapes from FBI custody and heads straight for the border. The villain blows any opposition away by using a lot of muscle hired by a lot of drug money.

The villain is making a bee-line for the small town and its tiny police force.

I’m not going to make a lot of observations about the holes, existent or not, or about whether this whole thing is unrealistic or not. If you want realism in your cops and robbers stories watch the nightly news, not a movie. If you cannot take off your disbelief hat at the door, why the hell do you watch movies anyway?

The biggest obstacle you have to get over is why would the citizens of this small, pokey, out in the middle of nowhere town hire a sheriff whose command of the English language keeps him from using the correct syntax when he speaks. Once you get past that one, the rest is easy.

As a debut film for the genius that is Kim Jee-Woon it’s good. He’s proven that he can deliver an entertaining American Hollywood film. One that has humour, pathos, a smidgen of death, shoot-outs, and car chases. The body count isn’t that high (under…say…20?) and only the fact that this was Schwarzenegger’s come-back vehicle kept it from doing better in the cinemas; in my honest opinion.

This is a cracking film. I enjoyed the hell  out of it and I’ve watched it about three times since it came in the post today. My mood is quite up in the area of films at the moment with two western films in my collection of such recent vintage, (In case you’ve forgotten the other western is Django Unchained – see previous post.) it gives me hope that the genre might be making a comeback.

Only I hope it’s better received than Arnold’s comeback.

5 out of 5 stars, cause it’s a Kim Jee-Woon film, man!

Kim Jee-woon
Kim Jee-woon

The Expendables 2 (2012): Twice the Fun

For pure escapism and a plot that has more holes in it than a hunk of Swiss cheese, you cannot beat The Expendables 2. But damn it, it’s  entertaining and fun and who can complain about that?

Is it realistic? Hell no, no more than The Guns of Navarone or The Wild Geese was.

Are they similar? You bet.

All three films feature heroes past their prime facing outlandish, impossible odds…and winning. Sure the big bad has changed. In Navarone it was the Nazi’s and in Geese it was an African government; in each case though the bad guys were bad.

To the bone.

So are the bad guys in both The Expendables and The Expendables 2. The first film featured a villainous Eric Roberts and the second one featured Jean-Claude Van Damme as an egotistical greedy and downright nasty villain. Both men had an equally nasty cohort and a plethora of arms toting men.

Van Damme as the Vilain…

But despite the similarity in plot and the difference in directors – Sly directed the first one and Simon West directed # 2 – the film covers familiar territory and features almost all of the guys from the first film.

Conspicuous in his absence is Mickey Rourke (who says he only did the first film as a favour to Stallone anyway) and Jet Li is missing for 99% of the film – a massive disappointment as I adore Li – and Charisma Carpenter has an even smaller cameo than in the first film, but none of these things take away from the enjoyment of the actual film.

Instead we have both Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger in bigger cameo roles and they both get to shoot copious amounts of ammunition and kill absolute legions of baddies. Chuck Norris shows up for the party and it just doesn’t get any better than that.

I could almost forgive Chuck for endorsing Mitt Romney (almost but not quite) and it would have been nice to see more Jet Li, but hey; we got Nan Yu to represent the Asian member of the team and a “new” member in Liam Hemsworth as the ultimate eagle-eyed sniper “Billy the kid.”

Now for the plot, did I say, plot? Do you really care? Of course you do, no matter how ropey and loose it is, plot is important. But before we go there let’s talk about the opening of the movie.

New temporary Expendable member Maggie.

Expendables 2 opens just like Expendables did, with a hostage being rescued by the guys. Everyone infiltrates a terrorist hideout that is heavily armed and looks to be pretty impregnable. Except that these are the Expendables and they can go anywhere they like.

This time the hostage is a Chinese fellow who was supposed to be protected by Trench (Schwarzenegger) who is also a hostage. Just like the first film, our heroes kill all the bad guys and release Trench and they take the Chinese chap back home. Mid-air they put Yin Yang (Li) in charge of him; he attaches the man to himself and his parachute and they leap out of the plane. Li says that he may or may not return.

Once they get home and are celebrating in their old watering hole, Billy (Hemsworth) tells boss man Barney Ross (Stallone) that at the end of the month, he is quitting and going back to his French girlfriend. Barney leaves and heads back to his plane where he finds Church (Willis) who tells him that he has not forgiven him for stealing 5 million dollars from his organization and that Barney owes him one last mission.

Barney also finds out that he has to take a woman on board for this mission, Maggie (Yu) and over his objections that is just what he does. Their mission is to retrieve a valuable object from a plane that has been shot down in hostile territory. They accomplish this but get the object stolen by Vilain (Van Damme) – villain get it – but the bad obvious joke aside, Vilain is not a joke and he kills one of the Expendables to prove a point.

With the smell of revenge thick in their nostrils the guys and Maggie go to take down Vilain.

There are enough bullets shot and cartridges expended that the lead and brass companies could retire from the weapon’s business. There is enough blood spilt to sink the Titanic and while the violence is slightly over the top (a sniper bullet can take a man’s head right off) it is not in your face; hence the rating of 15.

With everyone making fun of their own acting careers (with the possible exception of Chuck Norris because really it is hard to tell with him) the chuckles keep coming. The cast do their usual good job in their interaction with one another and the “new girl” Maggie.

For the record the “guys” are: Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham, Terry Crews and Randy Couture. I just thought I’d mention it, you know, in case you forgot.

Bruce and Arnie, car-pooling.

The film is a great big bundle of action-man (and action-woman) fun. The nods and the winks keep coming and the action is practically non-stop. Even though the aim of the film was to do a pastiche of the 80’s action films that made all the big names in the film famous, Sly and director Simon West have gone back even further.

Years ago, when silent films were all the newest rage, there was a cowboy star who would kiss his horse rather than kiss his leading lady (nothing strange, trust me) and Stallone does something similar at the end of The Expendable 2. Well in spirit at least.

It is not often these days that a sequel is just as good as, or better than, the original but that is this case here. Maybe the secret is in not having a too cohesive plot or not caring too much about plot; either way it works and it is pure entertainment.

Just don’t take the film seriously and you will love it.

The “Lone Wolf” aka Chuck Norris. Seriously though, how old is this guy?