The Last Stand Review (Kirk Haviland)

Photo Courtesy of Eone Entertainment
Photo Courtesy of Eone Entertainment

The Last Stand (2013)

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Eduardo Noriega, Rodrigo Santoro, Johnny Knoxville, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzmán, Peter Stormare and Genesis Rodriguez

Written by Andrew Knauer, Jeffrey Nachmanoff and Goergeo Nolfi

Directed by Jee-Woon Kim

Making his first starring bow since leaving his office as Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger returns this week with his new film: The Last Stand. The film also marks the English language debut of Korean director Jee-woon Kim, the director of atmospheric thriller “I Saw the Devil” and the western homage “The Good, The Bad and the Weird”. But will Jee-woon’s frenetic style mesh with the action veteran Schwarzenegger’s own signature style?

Sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) moved out of Los Angeles and settled into a life fighting what little crime takes place in the sleepy border town of Sommerton Junction. But that peaceful existence is shattered when Gabriel Cortez (Noriega), the most wanted drug kingpin in the western hemisphere, makes a spectacular escape from an FBI prisoner convoy. With the help of a fierce band of lawless mercenaries led by the icy Burrell (Stormare), Cortez begins racing towards the US-Mexico border at 250 mph in a specially-outfitted Corvette ZR1, a hostage in tow. Cortez’ path is straight through Summerton Junction, where the whole of the U.S. law enforcement, including Agent John Bannister (Whitaker) will have their final opportunity to intercept him before the violent fugitive slips across the border forever. At first reluctant to become involved, Owens ultimately rallies his team and takes the matter into his own hands after a tragic encounter, which sets the stage for a classic showdown in the middle of Sommerton Junction.

Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment
Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment

The Last Stand is a film that knows very much what it is meant to do and who the film is targeted at, and boy does it delivers. Arnold is in classic mode here, with many sequences feeling like he is winking directly at the audience, all that is missing is an actual wink and an already lit stogie. The film title sequence is a broad animated sequence that lasts about 30 seconds as just when you are ready for a full out sequence it ends as abruptly as it started. This just sets the tone for an all-out, action packed 107 minutes of bullets and blood that will satisfy any action fan. Schwarzenegger’s welcome return is flanked by a handful of familiar faces: Knoxville, playing a local gun aficionado who coincidentally has a full arsenal that he makes available for the final shoot out; Stormare, the leader of the mercenary team helping Cortez escape; the always hilarious Guzmán, playing a bumbling deputy; and Forest Whitaker, the agent in charge of the case. Whitaker’s performance is noteworthy as he is full on tongue-in-cheek and hilariously over the top throughout.

Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment
Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment

Jee-Woon is very good at is staging action. The set pieces here all work very well and cater to Schwarzenegger’s capabilities. The sheer amount of blood exploding out of the very ‘juicy’ squibs used for the bullet wounds add a level of comic book mentality to the film and allows the audience to buy into the more comedic tone of the action. Schwarzenegger’s dispatching of a roof top mercenary is a stand-out among the sequences, as is Guzmán’s ‘hero moment’ in the film. The final chase through a cornfield ending on a knockdown, drag out fight on a bridge with traditional fisticuffs facing off against jujitsu is excellently staged and extremely satisfying. Car buffs will love the Corvette of Cortez’s and gawk in awe at how the film uses the vehicle as an escape device as well as weapon. The action here is also more “Expendables” that “Kindergarten Cop” in nature as it is extremely violent and not intended for small children as the 14a rating would suggest, and Jee-Woon revels in the freedom of this choice.

Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment
Photo courtesy of Eone Entertainment

An extremely satisfying North American debut form one of Korea’s rising stars, Jee-Woon makes the most of his opportunity in delivering a film very much influenced by his own “The Good, The Bad and The Weird”, with its western feel being set in a small town and a Sheriff refusing to back down. He is a very astute action director as Last Stand will attest to and with his compatriots in Chan-wook Park and Joon-Ho Bong also set for their English language debuts later this year, 2013 could be a breakout year for Korean cinema in mainstream North America. Full of plot inconsistencies with goofy dialogue and predictable story lines, The Last Stand is ‘technically’ not a great movie, but this film knows all this and plays to it, resulting an film that may end up one of the most fun times in a theatre this year. The Last Stand is a strong recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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The Expendables 2 Review (Kirk Haviland)

The Expendables 2 (2012)

Starring – Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth, Nan Yu, and Scott Adkins with Chuck Norris, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Written by Richard Wenk, Sylvester Stallone, Ken Kaufman and David Agosto based on characters created by Dave Callaham and Sylvester Stallone.

Directed by Simon West

Sylvester Stallone returns with his group of fellow action film heroes known as The Expendables for another bombastic cinematic outing in Expendables 2. This time out Sly passes over the directing reigns to Simon West and brings along Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Scott Adkins, Liam Hemsworth and Nan Yu for the ride, with extended contributions from Willis and Schwarzenegger. So is the second time a charm for this action franchise?

We catch up with our gang as they invade a Middle Eastern country stronghold in search of a Chinese diplomat/businessman who has been kidnapped. Barney Ross (Stallone) along with his compatriots Lee Christmas (Statham), Yin Yang (Li), Gunner Jensen (Lundgren), Hale Caesar (Crews) and Toll Road (Couture)  barge into the compound with guns a blazing and destroy everything in sight. After an unexpected run in with competitor Trench (Schwarzenegger), the crew grabs their target and escapes with the help of the newest member, sniper Billy the Kid (Hemsworth). Once airborne over mainland China they parachute out the target with Yang attached (Li was only available for a limited amount of shooting days) and head back home. But there is no rest for Barney and crew as they are sent back out by Church (Willis), as a means for repaying the lost revenue from the antics of the first film, to retrieve a special package from a crashed plane. Saddled with an expert for the retrieval named Maggie (Yu), the group heads out, but as with all missions from Church, nothing is as it seems. Ambushed by Jean Vilain (Van-Damme) and his crew, including the equally menacing Hector (Adkins), the crew loses one of their own in the process and vows to avenge their fallen comrade. Along the way hundreds die, we meet the “Lone Wolf” Booker (Norris), and even Trench and Church themselves get involved in the fray as they all vow to take down Vilain.

The Expendables 2 is a lot more fun than its predecessor, utilizing an over the top, tongue in cheek attitude that was lacking from most of the first film. Expendables 2 knows it’s going to be silly and violent with deaths galore and rehashes of all of your favourite 80/90’s catchphrases. The script contains some utterly ludicrous dialogue, but that’s not what you are seeing this for, is it? Stallone and crew deliver exactly what you’d expect them to, with a little more character development, but not enough to slow down the explosions. Schwarzenegger is around for pretty much an extended cameo this time around, spouting competing catchphrases with Willis gleefully and blowing away bad guys with a gun liberated from Crews’ Caesar.  New additions Hemsworth and Yu have little to do here as the main good guy crew is already established from the first film and they never manage to fully integrate into the line-up. Jean-Claude is deliciously evil as the antagonist of the film, he’s a real joy to watch on screen, and Adkins is very menacing, while his final fight with Statham is fantastic. But now we come to the real reason to watch this film – Chuck Norris.

With all his scenes probably clocking in at a total of 15 minutes, Norris’ Booker is a complete bad-ass and his presence is mesmerizing. It’s fantastic to see the man who once fought Bruce Lee back onscreen again and his character immediately harkens back to some of his more bad-ass characters from the 80’s, like the “implicated” Lone Wolf McQuaid. Director Simon West keeps the action turning and delivers a crisp film that keeps up the pace throughout. A step up behind the director’s chair from Stallone in the first, perhaps due to the acting/directing split duties, West really delivers here and we can only hope for his return in the inevitable part 3.

Knowing what it is from the beginning until the very end, The Expendables manages to remain loud and bombastic throughout and thoroughly entertaining in the process. The Expendables 2 is a definite recommend for those who love a good action flick.

The Expendables 2 open in theaters nationwide Friday August 17th.

Till Next Time

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films and festivals in Toronto.

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