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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Toronto After Dark 2012: Doomsday Book Review (Robert Harding)

Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2012

Doomsday Book (2012)

Starring Doona Bae, Joon-ho Bong and Ji-hee Jin

Directed by Jee-woon Kim, Pil-Sung Yim

Doomsday Book features a trio of tales regarding the end of the world. While the apocalyptic turmoils are not new (zombie outbreak, asteroid impact, and robot uprising) the way this film goes about telling them might be.

Doomsday Book is an anthology of three short films or chapters. None of them relate to each other short of the fact that each deals with end of the world scenarios. “A Brave New World” kicks off the trifecta with a zombie outbreak brought on by tainted beef a la mad cow disease gone bonkers. I found this segment of the film to be rather annoying at times. From the characters to the editing and the way the story was told, many of the aspects of the segment made it hard for me to really get involved with the film and enjoy it. What saved this piece for me were the little bits of humour and the fact that while it’s a zombie film on the surface, under the skin it’s actually a romance.

The second chapter is “The Heavenly Creature” which is a very “enlightening” piece of filmmaking. It is a common subject that when robots, or in this case a particular robot, become self-aware, humans get a little frightened. This is especially true when technology invades the world of religion as a robot janitor at a monastery finds religion, becomes enlightened, and eventually is believed to be Buddha. The Heavenly Creature is the prettiest looking of the three chapters and possibly the smartest as it deals with the moral complications revolving around robotics (similar to when Data from Star Trek The Next Generation had to prove he was “alive”). But what I enjoyed most about The Heavenly Creature was the robot itself. Through the use of puppetry, physical FX and clever camera angles, this robot is brought to life in an almost magical fashion.

The final chapter is entitled “Happy Birthday” and has the weirdest take on the end of the world via asteroid story I’ve ever seen, read or heard about. Played as a comedy, this film uses loose concepts of black holes, multi-dimensions, and how signals from technologies such as computers, the internet and cellphones could somehow merge  to allow communication with far off places… as in alien worlds. To say anymore would ruin the surprise but it’s this surprise that makes this chapter so funny.

Doomsday Book may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Anthology films aren’t for everybody and are often not very good. Sometimes you can pick one or two parts that are worthwhile but rarely is the entirety of the film truly enjoyable. With Doomsday Book, “The Heavenly Creature” is clearly the best of the three chapters and stands well on its own but when combined with the other two chapters forms an apocalyptic telling like no other. There’s something to be said about coming at already established topics from different angles. Sometimes it works, and other times it doesn’t. With Doomsday Book, all three “films,” while completely different, work on some level. It’s this combined diversity that makes the film as a whole, much better than its individual parts.

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