Release: Friday, May 8, 2015


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.

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TBT: End of Days (1999)


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.


Haunting viewers half-assedly since: November 24, 1999


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.

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The Last Stand


Release: Friday, January 18, 2013


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?

_________________< (Your reaction goes there.)

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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