A.C. at the Movies

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The Last Stand:

Arnold’s back with a very big bang

FOUR OUT OF FIVE STARS

This movie is rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, and language

When it comes to action movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger is definitely royalty.  For a decade from the mid 80’s to mid 90’s he was king of the action movie, and gave action fans some classic films that will always be loved.  However, Schwarzenegger moved on to politics, then a nice little scandal, oh, and in the process, he got old.  But he’s back now, hoping to regain his Hollywood glory, and while The Last Stand is fantastic, it really has very little to do with Schwarzenegger.

A few years back, I flipped over a South Korean action movie called The Good, The Bad, and The Weird.  It remains one of the best modern action films I’ve ever seen, and ever since I’ve eagerly anticipated the American film debut of the director, Jee-woon Kim.  So if you, like many others, are asking how in the world The Last Stand can be any good, the answer is Jee-woon Kim, because he’s the one that elevates this from regular action film to delightful action mayhem.

The film is simple enough, as most action movies are.  Schwarzenegger is the sheriff of a sleepy town on the USA/Mexico border.  A powerful and dangerous drug cartel leader busts out of FBI custody in Nevada, and he and his gang of thugs make a run for the border, putting them on a collision course with Schwarzenegger’s little town and his quirky deputies.

One of the great things this movie does early is establish a level of silliness.  Sure, it’s violent, and there are some dark moments as heroes face death, but the movie is over the top enough to give it a special spark.  It feels more like a comic book than a serious 90’s action film.  This gives the movie the freedom to just do whatever it wants, throwing together a series of ridiculous action moments and huge gun battles, leaving the audience with little to do other than sit back, munch on some popcorn, and enjoy.

Anyone who saw The Good, The Bad, and The Weird knows that Jee-woon Kim is amazing at setting up action scenes.  The action in The Last Stand is definitely a step above what you see in most modern action movies.  The gun battles, in particular, are where the movie shines.  There are a few shootouts in particular that are awesomely executed and definitely among some of the best action we’ve seen in recent years.

Ultimately, Schwarzenegger has some charm as the over the hill sheriff who still knows how to kick butt, but honestly, it could’ve been any aging actor in the role and the movie would’ve been just as good.  The smartest casting is actually with the allies they surround Schwarzenegger with, as Johnny Knoxville, Jaimie Alexander, Luis Guzman and Zach Gilford are all really good in the film.  Add in the grumpy FBI agent Forest Whitaker and career bad guy actor Peter Stormare, and you’ve got a really solid supporting cast.

I’ve long been a fan of movies where you can just shut off your brain and have a blast, and if you’re into action movies then The Last Stand definitely falls into that category.  Schwarzenegger does a decent job, but South Korean director Jee-woon Kim really shines here with some amazing action sequences that light up the screen.

This Weekend at the Theater

Three new movies release this weekend as the January explosion of new films continues.  The first new release is Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.  Starring Jeremy Renner, this over the top action movie is about the two fairy tale characters Hansel and Gretel, only now they’ve grown up to be witch hunting experts.  The movie definitely looks pretty silly, but could still be a lot of fun.

Next up is the Jason Statham action movie Parker.  All of Statham’s films blend together these days, and he doesn’t help that by once again portraying a hard to kill criminal with a heart of gold.  Jennifer Lopez co-stars here, but don’t expect this one to do much more than any other Statham film does.

The final new release this weekend is the spoof movie Movie 43.  The trailers give you zero idea of what the movie is actually about, but it’s clear that a lot of big stars agreed to be a part of this ludicrous looking spoof.

Releasing on home video this week is End of Watch.  

Home Video Spotlight

The Hunter

THREE OUT OF FIVE STARS

This movie is rated R for language and brief violence

Willem Dafoe is one of those actors that I always want to see more of.  He doesn’t pop up all that often, but every time he does I’m drawn in by his amazing performances.  So when I heard about this movie that he starred in, I gave it a shot and was very glad I did.

In the film, Dafoe portrays a methodical, cold mercenary who is hired by a biotech company to go into Tasmania in an attempt to track down the last remaining Tasmanian tiger.  While most believe that the Tasmanian tiger is long since extinct, the company has heard of sightings of one final one and wants Dafoe to harvest its DNA.

Arriving in a backwater area of Tasmania, Dafoe moves in with a local family and pretends to be a professor from a college who was sent to the area to study animals.  This is where some of the great tension of the film starts to build, as the locals are none too pleased with his presence.  There’s already unrest in the region, as environmentalists are making life difficult for the local logging company.

Your enjoyment of this movie is going to depend entirely on your ability to appreciate the pace of it.  This is a very quiet, very slow film.  I would understand if it seemed boring to some people, but I was really drawn into the world of it.  Dafoe just has a magnetic presence, and even watching him march around in the wilderness is somehow entertaining.

Perhaps because of the slow pace, when things do start unraveling, it packs a mighty punch.  Dafoe’s character gradually starts to care about the people around him, and the company that hired him gradually starts to lose their patience with his lack of success in tracking down the elusive tiger.  It makes for a great final act that really puts a cherry on all the slow buildup the film has done.

In today’s world of whizbang Hollywood blockbusters, The Hunter is definitely a throwback to a different kind of movie.  It relies more on atmosphere, pacing, and the kind of quiet, intense performances that few modern actors are capable of pulling off.  Dafoe shines in the role, and whether he’s tussling with locals or setting traps in the woods, he keeps you interested.

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