Terminator Genisys

Release: Wednesday, July 1, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Laeta Kalogridis; Patrick Lussier

Directed by: Alan Taylor

He’s back . . . but is he better?

Of course the answer to that one is pretty easy. Arnie himself admits it, deflecting by describing himself as “old but not obsolete” in key moments where the action lulls and the characters just have to say something. Terminator Genisys is not nearly the disaster its predecessor was but doesn’t that feel more like a kick to the metallic groin than anything else? Alan Taylor’s follow-up is more complicated than any cyborg’s internal structure, it’s frenetically paced and pretty long but it does make good on reintroducing the franchise’s iconic T-800 in his (now-creaky) glory, as well as providing some unexpected comic relief that plays on both the franchise’s longevity and Genisys‘ conceptual convolution.

This film, as much as it likes to tout the return of Arnie, is primarily concerned with the prevention of Judgment Day, as John Connor (Jason Clarke) leads the final charge against the machines amid the dire apocalyptic wasteland of the present-day established in Terminator Salvation. Seemingly having just watched X-Men: Days of Future Past, Connor believes humanity’s last hope is to send someone back in time to 1984 to kill Skynet before it becomes . . . you know, all corrupt and stuff. Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) volunteers for the mission, desperate to meet up with Sarah Connor (Khaleesi Emilia Clarke) who will be instrumental in the preventative attack. Naturally, all does not go according to plan as a cyborg in the “present” makes it known that no matter what kind of effort humans will put forth, Skynet will come out on top.

Genisys spends much of its time weaving together parallel timelines, one in which Kyle Reese has existed and another that is completely foreign to him. Given the narrative structure, it’d be a great idea to refresh yourself on your history. I didn’t, and my head hurt because of it. While the mission itself is relatively straightforward — prevent Genisys, a Google-esque “app” capable of syncing more than just your nifty devices, from coming into being (a countdown clock helps in pinpointing our position relative to the dreaded ultimatum) — the execution requires real brainwork. Genisys, more simply put, is the physical means through which Skynet would eventually spread globally in computer servers.

In some senses it’s refreshing to be in the company of a blockbuster that makes you think but there are so many throwbacks to the original and T-2 that sighing and giving up halfway through becomes inevitable when one too many fight sequences occur between the real T-800 and his digitized forms, not to mention a T-1000 reminiscent of Robert Patrick’s shape-shifter. There’s a distinct Jurassic World insipidness about the way in which the film can’t break free from the pre-established, and yet new twists abound, the details of which I won’t reveal in order to keep some of the confusion sacred for those wanting to stay in the dark. Needless to say . . . well, actually it isn’t needless but I’ll say it anyway: Matt Smith plays a role in Genisys‘ major deception.

What’s most impressive about Alan Taylor’s revisitation of these hallowed grounds is his ability to skirt around the events of the third and fourth installments. While it does use Salvation‘s final rally against Skynet as a launch pad for its intricate time traveling plot, Genisys feels more inspired by James Cameron’s world building. We quickly leave the present behind (the year is 2017 — I think) and join forces with a younger but less brash Sarah Connor and an aging T-800 who is trying to blend in more with society, at least according to Sarah. In Genisys everyone’s favorite Terminator is wittier, talkier, more conscious of those around him. The essence of the character remains in tact though a mainstream appeal has certainly been foisted upon him. It’s a credit to Schwarzenegger that his identity isn’t lost in the shuffle; he is still very much a good reason to see this film.

More difficult to embrace is Jai Courtney’s blank-slate Kyle Reese who is reminiscent of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s soldier in Godzilla, for all intents and purposes an everyman slotted right in between two significant character arcs: Sarah’s relationship with the Terminator and with her son John, but ironically and unfortunately Courtney’s ill-equipped to carry the burden. His Reese won’t be any more, though probably not less, memorable than Anton Yelchin’s from 2009. And despite her best efforts Emilia Clarke doesn’t fare much better as the former-waitress-turned-gun-enthusiast. Together these steadily rising talents are meant to uphold Taylor’s vision of a world where humanity has its best chance of breaking Skynet’s brutal grip but they simply feel out of their depth in a story this large, especially when standing beside Schwarzenegger.

Of course, this is a franchise steeped in fascinating science fiction rather than award-winning performances. It’s getting old but it’s not quite obsolete. Not yet anyway. There’s plenty to enjoy for diehards. But with an emphasis on action and metal-on-metal showdowns it’ll prove challenging even for those viewers to juggle story and spectacle for two-plus hours. Taylor doesn’t have a good sense of pacing and seems far too eager to move on to the next set piece, which he’ll soon destroy for good measure. That becomes very problematic when dealing with timelines functioning in the present, past and future.

“Be quiet Arnie — Jai and I are trying to have chemistry.”

Recommendation: Alan Taylor manages to justify lengthening the Terminator saga, but barely. There’s a ton of narrative clutter in this film and it will leave a great many scratching their heads on their way out the door. But for simple pleasures, like seeing Arnie back in action, and crazy big explosions, the film delivers. There is a post-credits scene that nearly everyone in my screening missed out on by leaving too soon so be sure to stick around for that! 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 125 mins.

Quoted: “I’ve been waiting for you.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Maggie

Release: Friday, May 8, 2015

[iTunes]

Written by: John Scott III

Directed by: Henry Hobson

In defense of a very deliberately paced, melancholic film misleadingly billed as a thriller, Maggie serves as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s finest hour (and a half).

Of course, describing Arnie’s role here as the best thing he’s ever done may seem a relative compliment. There has been no shortage of instances in the past where he has invited parodical criticism without trying. Admittedly memorable, if not slightly comic phrases — most lasting no more than five words or so — have come to define the hulking Austrian and his career as an actor.

It’s just as understandable that many would automatically dismiss as fruitless any attempt he might make to go another direction; to not use his accent as a term of endearment or his muscular bulk, now slipping a bit in his older age, as a force to be reckoned with. When it comes to Henry Hobson’s directorial debut all that remains of the familiar Arnie is his larger-than-life physicality, but even that is somewhat tempered by Claire Breaux‘s suitably understated wardrobe selection.

Rather than obliging himself as some sort of perceived menace or spectacle he’s simply Wade Vogel, a father who must sit and watch as his only daughter succumbs to a deadly virus that converts the living into flesh-craving zombies. Broad shoulders slump; a tough face wrought with wrinkles brought on by wariness. A spirit broken by the knowledge that the ugliness of this apocalyptic event has hit home since Maggie was somewhere she should not have been.

Triumphing over the ubiquitousness of a zombie apocalypse is the love Wade has for his daughter (Abigail Breslin). The relationship is front-and-center, making the film steadily more challenging to endure. Maggie takes its time in tracking the virus as it takes hold of her, though the slow burn isn’t done any favors by the ‘thriller’ classification. There are as many thrills in Maggie as there are desperate pleas from Arnie for his family to get to a chopper. Still, where there isn’t much in the way of action and excitement there also isn’t really a place for it in this deeply personal examination of a family in crisis.

It almost goes without saying that Arnie’s young co-star delivers a heartrending performance as well. This isn’t quite as memorable a lead as her beauty pageant hopeful in Little Miss Sunshine, yet Maggie is a role she can be truly proud of. Breslin embraces a thoroughly challenging character arc, effecting a personality that’s easy to empathize with. Of course, she is a teenaged girl and this is the apocalypse, so who knows what she’d be like under different circumstances. That’s beside the point, though. Together, Breslin and Schwarzenegger make for a fantastic duo that instantly gives this story heft.

There is something to be said for Maggie‘s relentlessly bleak outlook. This isn’t a happy movie. A conclusion seen a mile away, there isn’t a great deal anyone (least of all Wade) can do except hope to be as prepared as possible when the illness takes over completely. A hauntingly beautiful score permeates deep, draped over many a scene like a dense fog, arguably contributing further to the sense of futility in fighting the inevitable.

Though the scene is a zombie outbreak, the allegory isn’t exactly hiding. Maggie’s torturous transition from human into something less than so — more accurately, Wade’s refusal to turn her over to the authorities, preferring to care for her as long as he can — undoubtedly reflects the strength of families afflicted by cancer and similarly devastating diseases. In that context especially, Schwarzenegger doesn’t seem to be the go-to guy. But he’s brilliant. He carries the burden of this tragedy so well it’s difficult to believe this was at one point (and soon to be again, apparently) the Terminator.

Recommendation: An emotionally devastating piece that doubles as a fascinating spin on the ever-popular zombie genre, Maggie isn’t for the casual watcher. This one takes a little determination, but the reward is watching Arnie transition from a physical to a true actor, and witnessing the chemistry he and the young and talented Abigail Breslin have together. That’s how I’d recommend the film: for great characters. I’d also recommend a couple tissues, they might come in handy. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 95 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: End of Days (1999)

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HAPPY NEW YEAR PEEPS! My friends, get used to using the time stamp ‘2015.’ Because it is a brand new year, I think it’s definitely time for TBT to stage a comeback. I’m finally feeling refreshed on this thread, and I have quite a ridiculous number to blabber on about today. What’s tall, strong and rhymes with Fwarzenegger? That’s right, the star of

Today’s food for thought: End of Days.

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Haunting viewers half-assedly since: November 24, 1999

[DVD]

Schwarzenegger. Satan. Squaring off at the turn of the millennium.

Sounds great, right? And I mean, really, how much blame can one put on me for thinking the idea might lead to a pretty sweet movie way back when? (When was that ‘when?’ Let’s just go with whenever.) Well last night I discovered, amidst a haze of celebratory hellfire-and-brimstone smoke, that I had approximately 120 minutes’ worth of blame to assign myself for thinking that this lame supernatural thriller from Peter Hyams could cut the mustard.

Well that mustard must have been thick, or the un-cuttable kind, because that so didn’t happen. For a movie set at the height of anti-tech-based fear-mongering before the year 2000, this bloated production feels more obligatory than optional. Insipid instead of inspired. End of Days, despite a suitably ominous opening title sequence, winds up as a rather flaccid, albeit topical, film that yields very little in the way of scares and even less in terms of convincing performances. We’re surely not going to look to the big guy (for clarification, I mean Arnie) for the acting chops — he’s not exactly going to seduce the devil with a rousing performance independent of those spectacular pectorals. But if anyone else involved could have at least pretended that they looked at a script before signing on, that wouldn’t have been the worst sin committed that year.

Arnie can get away with looking more morose than he ever has because we wouldn’t want it any other way. Not when the Spawn of Satan is threatening to share potential screen time with him. The stakes have got to be high. So Arnie does. Tattered and torn by a past that still haunts him, Jericho Cane currently bides his time as an operative of a high-tech security team after throwing in the towel with the NYPD. The similarly jaded Bobby Chicago (I’m not making these names up), played by Kevin Pollak, functions more as a shadow and less of an independent character. He is plotted along a thoroughly predictable and entirely unoriginal character arc that only serves to contribute to a deep pool of genre cliches that gains great depth towards the end. Standing side-by-side with Jericho in a vast majority of scenes, he offers moral support for a man clearly in psychological peril. Jericho is a man who doesn’t believe in God anymore, but he better get his shit together quickly if he’s to save the world — more importantly, the party in Times Square — from what the title of this movie suggests.

On the last day of the first 1,000 years, it is said that the “ultimate personification of evil” shall rise and roam the Earth, searching for a lover to help create his offspring with. The consummation would in effect bring about the apocalypse. For all of this to work, the demon spirit will inhabit a human body to disguise itself until such an opportunity finally presents itself. Enter Gabriel Byrne, who has a hell of a time exercising his satanic side (though Al Pacino’s John Milton would like to have a sit-down with him as to how to properly effect unease in another without having to go full-on nutso). At least Byrne is one of a few involved who seems to be able to maintain the illusion he’s not dismayed by such an amateurish script. In End of Days, even Satan is predictable and boring.

I’m going to suggest something now that might read a little weird, but . . . shouldn’t Satan be precisely the opposite? Byrne tries mightily, but it’s to little avail. Every major moment his angry little man has recalls a much more inspired one Pacino had when interacting with Keanu Reeve’s heavily conflicted Kevin Lomax. It is a little unfair to make these comparisons but when it’s been done so much better only a couple years prior the inevitability is hard to fend off. However, where Byrne isn’t provided the story structure (and character development) required to provocatively suggest his supernatural power, he is given opportunity aplenty to graphically display his volatility.

End of Days makes sure to fulfill a certain quota. Blood and gore should garner nominations for their collective performance, attempting to cover up the film’s surfeit of shortcomings through sheer shock value. Outside of being paced like a snail, unnecessarily ambitious and poorly acted — with Robin Tunney at the center of that discussion — this is an often jarringly violent slog but at least the smatterings of bloodletting shock us into consciousness every now and again. They remind us of a story that is actually developing, but developing at such a languid pace it doesn’t really matter.

At the end of the day, Hyams’ film just isn’t very competent. I don’t mind (or much remember from the first viewing) the rehashing of elements from superior films in its genre, nor the laughably bad dialogue. Far more offensive is the fact it fails to develop any of its characters, or to even give much of a reason for anyone to do anything. I can get over the fact that Arnie haphazardly becomes the target of The Man in his apartment one evening. Hey, should you choose to spurn Satan’s advances he will become understandably pissed. I am even willing to overlook the inherent ridiculousness in early CGI rendering — with one sexually-charged scene coming to mind that seems destined to land on worst-shot scenes of the 20th Century — because, after all, this was before we knew it was ridiculous to think the world would cease to be after midnight on that night.

It’s a good thing that never happened, else I wouldn’t be able to continue enjoying my Arnie films like I have. His films haven’t really improved much but I frequently find myself enjoying them more freely than I was able to here. The lowering of one’s own standards is really put to the test in End of Days; that’s if you’re a fan of Mr. Universe butting heads with the Lord of Darkness in Times Square.

"Uh . . . Get to . . . the choppa?"

“Uh . . . Get to . . . the choppa?”

2-0Recommendation: Frustratingly End of Days squanders its promise of delivering a taut and thrilling, action-packed story by meandering into too many genre cliches in an attempt to give color to a rather colorless environment. It features a likable enough cast who surprisingly show up for work without having really read any of their parts, save for Gabriel Byrne who is quite fun. Save this film as a last-resort option if you are in the spirit for watching New Year’s Eve-centered stories. This isn’t anywhere near as good as I once had remembered it being. Whoops.

Rated: R

Running Time: 121 mins.

TBTrivia: The role of Jericho is the first bit of work Mr. Schwarzenegger was able to get after receiving heart surgery following his role as Mr. Freeze in Batman & Robin, two years prior. The actor had supreme difficulty finding studios willing to hire him in a “weak” state and it took a few days of shooting End of Days before insurance agents and studio execs finally backed away from the set, satisfied enough that Arnold was indeed healthy enough to shoot action sequences once again.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.fanart.tv; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: Jingle All the Way (1996)

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This particular usage of the former Mister Universe is so much fun I almost want to dedicate all TBT‘s this month to Arnie. Although I would simply love to analyze his endearing accent to death all month long, it is December after all and, let’s face it — I couldn’t really get away with not seeking out all movies mistletoe-y and Santa Clause-y. These films are all going to be movies that I flat-out love (though the critical score at the bottom may not always show it), and the goal here is to start with my “least” favorite-favorite, and move towards what I believe is the film that defines this particular season; coincidentally it’s one of my favorites ever made. Despite premature Christmas jingles being more annoying than having your prized action figure snatched out of your hands by some overzealous mail delivery dude, there’s nothing wrong with getting into the spirit of things early by diving headfirst into the season via movie reviews. . . right? I don’t think there is, anyway. And now that I’ve got that out of the way, IT’S TURBO TIME!!! 

Today’s food for thought: Jingle All the Way

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Release: November 22, 1996

[VHS]

Arnie and Sinbad team up to provide a holiday comedy that is nearly too silly for it’s own stockings. Both star as fathers turning to desperate measures to obtain their kids’ Christmas gifts, which just happen to be this year’s mega hot item. And yes, it may look like a fictitious rip-off of a Power Rangers action figure, the Turbo Man doll is actually the coolest, most awesome gift you could get your child this holiday season. Unfortunately, Arnie, as Howard Langston, always puts work before family and is consequently not involved in his son Jamie’s life too much. He has this one opportunity, though, to prove A) he’s not a completely absentee dad and B) that he can maybe even avoid divorce, as his relationship with wife Liz (Rita Wilson) isn’t exactly great either.

Sinbad plays a similarly desperate father. Myron has poor relationships with family too, and after spending all day determined to get a hold of this special Turbo Man doll, he insists that he and Howard are the same person deep down. More than Howard cares to admit. The two chuckleheads come across one another while waiting for stores to open on Christmas Day, because both have appropriately procrastinated in getting their precious doll until now. Surrounded by a mob of equally crazed shoppers, Howard and Myron start off exchanging pleasantries until it becomes clear to Howard that this guy might be mentally unstable.

It turns out not to be such an easy task, claiming one of these highly sought-after plastic toys. Situations slowly get out of hand as despair changes from the mob mentality to becoming a personal battle between Myron and Howard. While it’s difficult to say whether Myron and Howard’s relationship was really legit from the start, as the day progresses things get hilariously more hostile between the two.

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I don’t recall Arnie starring in a Christmas-zombie film, but this looks spectacular.

Along the way they bump into some other caricatures that help set Jingle All the Way a few mistletoes apart from other Christmas comedies. I can’t go as far as saying there’s material in here that’s offensive, but a few moments — particularly the Santa showdown scene — offer up lines that adult viewers will find more comical than the film’s necessarily younger, less mature target audience, and more importantly, worthwhile sitting through this Christmas farce.

Fortunately, this is mostly “for the kitz,” as Howard would say in his thick Austrian accent. The movie’s slapstick humor conveniently and, for the most part, successfully diverts the viewer’s attention away from the fact that this movie skimps on character development, dialogue and story, and more towards just having a good time. Oh, what fun it is to ride in Howard’s SUV as he charges around the city finding someone who will sell him a little plastic action figure. And to also poke fun of all the ways in which selling Christmas is downright kitschy. Indeed, this is a film that oftentimes shows the dark side to what is otherwise perceived as the happiest, brightest time of the year.

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Buzz Light-who? Sinbad as the Dementor is far more classic. . .

Naughty List:

  1. The Mall of America scene. Bad Arnie, don’t you know people generally frown upon grown men chasing children (who are not their own) through an indoor playground? The little kid may have the lottery number you need, but you’re lucky all you got was beaten by angry mothers and their purses.
  2. Feeding reindeer beer. Shame on you, Mr. Langston. That’s sick.
  3. Sinbad’s bomb in the mail trick. Sure, it was only grumpy Officer Hummell, but this particular gag might have been a bit overreaching, particular in light of recent national tragedies. Still, it was kind of funny at the time.
  4. Not showing up to your kid’s karate class graduation.
  5. Sinbad as the Dementor. What a bully. Was it just inevitable that he wound up symbolizing evil after all he and Howard go through together. . .? Methinks not.

Nice List:

  1. Justified violence as comedy. Fighting counterfeit toy-makers disguised as Santa Clause(s) was actually an act of self-defense and thereby justifiable. Otherwise, this would go on the Naughty List because who in their right mind would sucker-punch St. Nick?!
  2. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. Literally. More justified violence in the form of hot coffee in the face may become necessary when your name is Ted and you’re knowingly making inappropriate advances on Howard’s wife.
  3. Howard eventually does offer an apology to Officer Hummell. . .dressed as Turbo Man.
  4. “. . .AND A ROCK-EM, SOCK-EM JETPACK!!!”
  5. Jamie gives the doll to it’s rightful (?) owner at the end, because he’s got the real Turbo Man at home!

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I’ll leave you with this.

3-0Recommendation: Kudos to director Brian Levant for trying to parody Christmas shopping and the stress it puts on people, even if it goes far and beyond reasonable at times. Jingle All the Way cannot be viewed as anything other than a silly 90-ish minutes to gather family around and watch Arnie get his over-sized body out of bizarre situations. One of my favorites from my childhood, I shamefully have not returned to this for years.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 88 mins.

Quoted: “Put that cookie down. NOW!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Escape Plan

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Release: Friday, October 18, 2013

[Theater]

What do the Terminator, Jesus, Jurassic Park, 50 Cent and prison break all have in common? The answer: director Mikael Håfström’s beyond-ludicrous Escape Plan.

That may be the weirdest lead-in ever written, but ultimately it’s what you are going to pay for in this latest battle between Hollywood’s biggest brand name actors. Arnie and Sly team up as they try together to break out from the most highly-guarded and technologically advanced Chuck-E-Cheese (a.k.a. prison), with Sly being an expert at jailbreak — it’s sort of his career choice — and Schwarzenegger simply being the help from the inside Stallone will require to break out this time. If there is indeed a plot to this movie, that’s it and that’s as complicated as it gets, too, making the film open for big, dumb and entertaining fights and, not to mention, undoubtedly a whole lot of criticism.

As a sucker for Schwarzenegger schtick (can anyone NOT like the Austrian posed as the sheriff of a sleepy midwestern town, I mean come on!), and a moderate fan of Stallone’s, I have come to semi-defend this movie. But there’s only so much that can be said this time around. Needless to say, Escape Plan is unapologetically over-the-top and is far from taking itself seriously. The story is as loosely structured and simplistic in concept as possible to ensure that most attention and entertainment value is concentrated on the fight scenes, scenes which feature the big guys in even grayer and wrinklier form than when we last saw them. As per the usual formulas of Arnie/Stallone’s movies as of late, dialogue is equally dumbed down.

It was pretty easy to gather all this from trailers, though, so what exactly, if anything, does the Swedish director do here that makes his film appealing, worthy of your ticket purchase?

To be completely honest, there were only slivers of moments in this movie which felt original and which were truly worth seeing the film for, even if you’re only likely to catch it on DVD. (I don’t blame those who are going to pass right on over this, as the film doesn’t have much character.)

If you were to combine the popcorn-n-soda satisfaction of Arnie’s last movie, The Last Stand, with the dark and brooding atmosphere that Stallone likes to skulk about in for most of his (Bullet to the Head being the most recent example) what you would get is this product. Escape Plan, like its main characters, plays things extremely safe and does everything by the book.

A few introductions might help make this film make more sense to you, as well as it might clarify that opening sentence of this review. So. . .first things first. What’s Stallone’s beef this time? As it turns out, his Ray Breslin is one of the foremost authorities on safety standards as it pertains to prison securities. He’s written a book on the matter and has garnered respect for his ability to break out of any prison he’s ever been put into. He works in a tiny agency that is staffed by three others — Amy Ryan (The Office, Dan in Real Life), along with Curtis Jackson/50 Cent, work with Breslin under the supervision of Vincent D’Onofrio’s Lester Clark. (Horrible name, even worse performance.)

Breslin is informed of one last assignment he could take up; entering and then attempting to break out of a prison called “The Tomb,” a facility that is purportedly inescapable. This horrendous place is run by an evil man named Hobbes (played by THE Jim Caviezel from The Passion) who likes to refer to the inmates as “assets,” and who also speaks in quiet, menacing tones. Caviezel, it needs to be said, is actually pretty good in this film and his presence stacks up quite well against that of Stallone’s and Arnie’s.

Of course, when Breslin agrees to undertake this latest challenge. . .things go awry, and soon it becomes clear that his incarceration will be more permanent than anyone previously had hoped. His attempts to be tracked by his agency are quickly exposed and rebuffed by the brutal prison staff. His transportation methods are questionable at best, and seem to go differently than how Breslin had planned them to go. Has he finally taken a job that he can’t get himself out of?

Not before long Breslin comes across a similarly gargantuan, gray-haired man who introduces himself in a thick Austrian accent as Rottmayer. And, if you’re going to make friends in the joint, it may as well be with Mr. Universe, right? The usual tropes come into play as the two start drafting up a plan to bust out — each one sacrifices things for the benefit of the two of them, and so on and so forth — and these trials will inevitably come to involve the efforts of several other inmates along the way.

Reiterating: this by no means is a good film, but the enjoyment is derived purely from the comforts we find in the aging Schwarzenegger and Stallone, who still possess great on-screen chemistry. The affairs surrounding them are as buffoonish as ever, but this particular conceit serves them pretty well on a number of occasions. There are more than a few shamelessly dramatic reaction shots of Arnie and Stallone which caused uproarious laughter in my screening. I believe just this happening alone certifies this movie has done its job.

ESCAPE PLAN

3-0Recommendation: Plan on Escape Plan being the most generic plan ever. If you come in with the most tempered of expectations and an appreciation for supreme cheese, you’ll probably enjoy this movie. Although it does get off to a slow start, it’s exactly what you would expect once Stallone crash lands in what appears to be Schwarzenegger’s stomping grounds. There’s also a good bit of nostalgic value to be had here as well, for any who have been long-time followers of these legendary action stars. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 116 mins.

Quoted: “You hit like a vegetarian!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Last Stand

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Release: Friday, January 18, 2013

[Theater]

If there were a chopper in this film, yes we would all be getting to it!!! I guess the closest thing we have is the schoolbus. But in some ironic twist of fate, Aahhnullld turns even THAT into a weapon. Which is why you need to see this movie.

Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his debut back to the big screen for the first time in a decade with The Last Stand. (I don’t really count his cameos in The Expendables.) He has a much more important mission in 2013 here: to protect his town, and look good while doing it. And will somebody bless this man already, because his accent just becomes more and more iconic with each role he turns in, it seems — no matter how those individual roles stack up in the grand scheme of everything. In the grand scheme that is his acting career, perhaps nothing has defined him more than that Austrian accent of his. Not even his arms that are wider than my head.

Regardless of the man’s age or his more dignified career as of late as the Governator, he is back at it in a surprisingly hilarious shoot-em-up that at once makes fun of as well as pays homage to the old westerns of the 50s and 60s. Replace the horses with some badass cars (the Corvette ZR-1 gets more than its fair share of product-placement ops); the ‘hills o’er yonder’ with Las Vegas; Billy the Kidd is now some guy named Gabriel Cortez, one of the most feared druglords in the world at this moment. Most noticeably, a good amount of the weapons here won’t fit into the gun holsters of the old days. The Last Stand is essentially a John Wayne classic with a contemporary veil thrown over it, then splattered with blood.

It focuses on a town and its heroic law officials — headed up by a more humbled Arnold Schwarzenegger as Sheriff Ray Owens and his seemingly inept deputies (Luis Guzman as Mike, Zach Gilford as Jerry, and Jaime Alexander as Sarah) — as they try to fend off a recently escaped and mercilessly cruel drug cartel boss by the name of Gabriel Cortez (played by I swear to God, Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers, but really it’s Eduardo Noriega). He is using the Sheriff’s sleepy little nook of Sommerton Junction, Arizona as a gateway into Mexico. How’s that exactly? Well I’m glad you asked.

The lone drug dealer ain’t alone. He never is. In this case, Cortez has the help of a group of technology-savvy thugs led by a shadowy figure named Burrell (Peter Stormare) to create his perfect escape route out of the United States and back into Mexico. The mob’s function is to build a temporary bridge for Cortez to cross a particularly narrow section of a gorge near this town, and since they are his most realistic shot of getting away a free man, they also become a major fixation in this film. Indeed, they stir up a lot of dust and fire a lot of lead at innocent people. But the Sheriff ain’t gonna let all this go down without him fighting back. Not on his Austrian wristwatch.

One thing that really grabbed me with The Last Stand was its ability to balance what was to become obvious later as a bloodletting farce, with a good deal of laughs. Leave out one element and you no longer have a Schwarzenegger film. Leave out both, and well, you’d just be a loser. I’m not going to sit here and say that this was the most brilliant plot ever concocted — no, in fact there were some moments that were as cliché as cliché has ever been — but I’d be remiss in not acknowledging director Kim Jee-Woon‘s eye for capturing all the things that made Arnold endearing to us before he went on his political walk.

The Last Stand is a ridiculous plot. Ridiculous. You can’t tell me there aren’t at least thirty different places along this river valley outside the town of Sommerton Junction that this villainous drug bandit and his crew could have gone where they wouldn’t need to encounter other people — even if the ones they do end up stumbling upon seem to be unable to efficiently defend themselves. I guess if that were the case though, there’d be no movie. But there are other areas of flimsiness in the script: aside from some passion delivered by the consistent Forest Whitaker (who plays Schwarzy’s “higher-up” as an FBI agent) the dialogue is not impressive. It’s funny. But it’s not sophisticated enough to ultimately make us truly afraid of what faces the Sheriff and his town.

But perhaps that’s a good thing. I hope I speak for more than myself here but I had a great time watching the movie. It is a very, very fun action movie that does not take itself too seriously. I believe a lot of critics are having issues with where the FBI and small-town hero story merges: it all comes to a head in a rather anticlimactic fashion, but bullets sure are flying and bodies are dropping. The town is once again safe, and all the people you want to have survived, well….they survive. What more does one need to expect from a Schwarzenegger film? If one does need more, then they are S.O.L. in this film because we do get the bare-bones.

What sells this film over it’s elementary dialogue and character developments (one formerly imprisoned guy — Frank — gets redemption when Sheriff Owens realizes he’s short-handed to face the oncoming mob, as he frees him from jail and then deputizes him) is the film’s wonderful acting chemistry. Frank (Rodrigo Santoro), along with the local gun-nut Lewis (Johnny Knoxville) are brought in to the fold to help defend the town. Together with the clumsy Jerry, the teddy-bear Mike (Guzmán), and the only female deputy Sarah, they form what comes to be a rather likable bunch of representatives of this blip on the map. Actually, it’s so small it may not even be that. But this only adds to the hysterically comedic effect that this movie maintains successfully, one that will largely be overlooked or under-appreciated. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a Sheriff of a town of this size? Really?

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The Last Stand is not a fraud of a movie. It delivers simply what it promises to deliver: a “no-strings-attached” experience where you get to see Arnie doing just what he did before, coupled with some pretty vicious action sequences complete with the blood and guts, not to mention with some awesome car chases that end in some pretty interesting places. There is certainly plenty of bang for your buck in this welcome-back role for the big man.

"I'm the Sheriff."

“I’m the Sheriff.” You’re goddamn right you are!

3-5Recommendation: Fans of Schwarzenegger are apt to be taken easier than non-fans. Still, the very foundation of what going to see a movie is about, is very much there. I absolutely had a lot of fun watching it, getting to see Schwarzenegger interact with Johnny Knoxville and a new set of young actors. Knoxville is definitely there doing his usual thing, but it still fits this film without being obKnoxious. I wouldn’t say this is a ‘feel-good’ film, but it’s as close as you’re going to get with this many bullets.

Rated: R

Running Time: 107 mins.

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