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

Silver Linings Playbook (2012): Almost Old Fashioned Fun

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I still remember the moment I saw the trailer for this film. Bradley Cooper is “speed” reading a book; he finishes, slams the book shut; looks at the book, looks up and says, “What…the…f***!” The next shot is the book flying through a closed window. If I remember correctly I spat out a mouthful of coffee and had a combined choking/laughing fit.

“This,” I said, “I’ve got to see.”

I then forgot all about it.

Then, I decided I didn’t want to see it.

Why? Because Jennifer Lawrence was in it.

Now hold on! Not because I don’t like this amazing young actress, but at that point she seemed to be in everything. The law of averages dictate that when you’re in that much stuff you are going to ‘suck big time’ in at least one role. It’s the law of averages, baby; it happens to them all.

Then on a whim, I watched the film.

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence: Pat and Tiffany trying to bond.
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence: Pat and Tiffany trying to bond.

What can I say, I was wrong.

Directed and adapted by David O Russell from Matthew Quick‘s novel of the same name, Silver Linings Playbook is principally about Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) and Pat’s family Pat Sr (Robert De Niro) and mom Dolores (Jacki Weaver).

Film score by Danny Elfman.

The film is also about family, coping, living, adapting, and trying. It is also about realisation and taking chances.

Pat is in a bad place in his life at the start of the film. He has been institutionalised and put on medication after he comes home and finds wife Nikki in the shower with a teacher colleague. He, quite understandably to my mind, freaks out and beats the shit out of the guy. While all this is going on, the music that played from his and Nikki’s wedding reception.

This music is a “trigger” for Pat and when he is upset or just hears the song, he gets very stressed and violent. The episode with Nikki culminates not only in his incarceration, but a diagnosis of Bi-Polar Disorder (what used to be termed Manic Depressive) and put on medication.

Pat gets released from the institute and his mom collects him. Pat is invited to an old friends house for dinner where he meets Tiffany, a young widow and the sister of his friend’s wife. She suffers from a mental disorder as well after she went “off the deep end” when her policeman husband was killed on duty.

Chris Tucker rocking it as Danny. Great Cameo, we missed you Chris.
Chris Tucker rocking it as Danny. Great cameo, we missed you Chris.

The rest of the film deals with Pat’s obsession with Nikki and his (almost) undying belief that they will get back together. Along the way, he is trying to reconcile with his parents, especially his OCD dad, and attempting to understand Tiffany. Meanwhile, he’s learning a dance routine with Tiffany for a contest.

This could have been a giant leap backwards in terms of film, it almost felt like the old romantic comedies of yesteryear. The only “new” element of this “RomCom” was the device of mental disorder affecting three of the main characters. I fell in love with all the characters, especially Pat and his family and Tiffany. All the actors really sold their roles and Chris Tucker in his cameo role as Danny rocked it.

Just a quick word about De Niro; he really did well as the OCD addicted gambler dad. He’s been “sleepwalking” a lot of his roles lately. It’s nice to see you wake up Robert; welcome back.

And another quick word about Jennifer Lawrence, she made me think of a young Angie Dickenson. If the powers that be ever decide to remake Rio Bravo, she could and should play Feathers.

This movie made me laugh, cringe, think and cry. It is no wonder that Lawrence won an Oscar for her performance and that this film got so many nominations (and a BAFTA). It is that good.

An easy 5 out of 5 stars for a film that delivers it all. A word of advice have tissues handy you’ll need them, I did.

Lawrence getting that well deserved Oscar.
Lawrence getting that well deserved Oscar.

Westerns

When I lived with my parents, in the long ago days before video and DVD players, it was a family tradition to watch any westerns that came on the television. This usually occurred on the weekend, most specifically on a major TV network (NBC I think) on Saturday Night At The Movies.

It was on Saturday nights that I sat with my folks, and later my bother as well, watching The Duke,Gary Cooper, and Robert Mitchum.  In fact, all the old actors who had moved into the genre when they got too old to play romantic leads any more.  We popped lots of popcorn and then rushed in to watch The Sons of Katie Elder, Rio Bravo  or some other John Wayne “Americana” western. Or indeed whatever western happened to be on.  If we didn’t watch westerns on the television, we saw them at the Drive-In.

It was at the Drive-In that I first saw Sergio Leone‘s “Spaghetti Westerns.” Specifically the “Man With No Name trilogy. I was enraptured and captivated by this anti-hero. I was so enthralled by this character that I lost the tendency to emulate The Duke and began to squint a lot and speak softly through gritted teeth. This was at the ripe old age of ten. Oh I never fell out of love with the John Wayne westerns  or old Duke’s characters.  I could still do the swagger and do the “Well, Pilgrim” drawl like a trooper.

I remember staying over  at a cousin’s house and horse riding for hours, wearing the standard western uniform of cowboy boots and hat, riding for about three days straight from sun-up to sun-down. We were both so saddle sore it was hard to sit in a chair let alone walk. But every minute spent in the saddle was a minute spent recreating our favourite scenes from westerns of the day. I believe we were both about twelve.

I remember at the ripe old age of seventeen, playing “Spaghetti Western” with my younger (and only) brother. We would strap on toy guns in the fashion of Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef to do battle as “Blondie” – The Good –  and “Angel Eyes” – The Bad –  oddly neither of us had the urge to portray Tuco (the Ugly); even though Tuco was the more “overblown” and fun character to emulate. I mean really, who doesn’t admire actor Eli Wallach’s  portrayal of “Bandito’s?”

It wasn’t just “film” westerns I was infatuated  with either. I also devoured every book I could read by the authors Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. Zane Grey was my fathers perennial favourite. I liked old Zane, but, didn’t care for his colloquial dialogue that he insisted on using. All his characters said words like pahdnuh and  mistuh just to name a couple. They were all spelt just like that, it could drive you to distraction after a while. L’Amour’s characters talked in the archaic language of the cowboy without the colloquialism’s.

Unfortunately Hollywood stopped making decent westerns just after the bumper crop year of 1969.  1969 saw great westerns like The Wild Bunch, True Grit, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to name but three out of the many that were released that year. Then “The Dream Machine” started making psychological westerns instead of  traditional or spaghetti westerns. These were a complete waste of celluloid. One such film did not have one gun in it. What kind of western is that?

I knew though, that if I waited long enough that Hollywood would start making  decent westerns again. I was right. My old Man-With-No-Name hero came out with the odd gem now and then.The Outlaw Josey Wales, High Plains Drifter  and Pale Rider (really just a re-working of Drifter, but still good) and then…Unforgiven.

Unforgiven showed that not only did old Clint still have the chops as a “western” actor, but that he was still one hell of a director as well. I still feel that Unforgiven was the “last hoorah” of the genre. I know I still like the cross genre westerns and some of the “modern” westerns (No Country For Old Men being the best thus far) and I even enjoyed the True Grit re-make that came outin 2010. But I do miss the old fashioned westerns as well as the “anti-hero” ones that came out in the late 60’s.

Now  I watch my old favourites via the DVD player and remember how much I loved them the first time I saw them. Watching them makes me feel simultaneously young and old. They also make me feel like strapping on my guns and looking for my brother to see if he remembers our gun battles and also feels young enough to have a go again. I think I might even want to play Tuco.