Tag Archives: Harry Dean Stanton

The Last Stand – Arnie keeps his promise… but only just

Still in command: Arnie is back!

Still in command: Arnie is back!

Arnie always promised he’d be back, and we always believed in him. But then he went into politics, passed the gauntlet on to the likes of Jason Statham and The Rock and vanished, only to reappear in snippets of Sly Stallone’s Expendables films.

Now, aged 65, Arnold Schwarzenegger is back once more, the lead in a boisterous action movie with a threadbare plot. The more things change… eh?

The Last Stand sees Arnie play Ray Owens, the inexplicably Austrian sheriff of the US/Mexico border town Sommerton. Ray is, of course, a former top narcotics agent who saw too much bloodshed in LA, and has opted for peaceful retirement. No such luck.

After a daring escape, cartel godfather Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) flees the FBI in Las Vegas, headed for the border in the world’s fastest car. His goons have already set up a temporary bridge across the gorge that separates Sommerton from Mexico, but the Feds aren’t expecting him to make the crossing there. So it’s up to the aging sheriff and his motley crew of hick cops and volunteers to protect the desert town from the mercenaries and impede Cortez’s getaway.

With a plot that simple, you’d hope The Last Stand could spice things up with plenty of action and comedy, but chances are you’ll be disappointed. The action comes in weak jolts until the eponymous last stand (more on that shortly), and almost all of the one-liners fall flat, revealing the half-heartedness of Andrew Knauer’s script. But if you can stick with it to the final act, action fans will be rewarded.

The English language debut of Kim Ji-woon, the Korean director of the demented comedy Western The Good, the Bad, the Weird and the excellent thriller I Saw the Devil, The Last Stand’s finale is a fine shoot ’em up setpiece. There are some excellent kills in the vein of Good, Bad, Weird, including the most gloriously brutal use of a flare gun since Dead Calm, and there’s enough humour playing on Arnie’s age to earn a few good giggles. The final showdown between Ray and Cortez is thrilling, as the two play a game of cat and mouse in a cornfield, before a punch-up that sees Arnie’s sluggish strength match the villain’s weaker but more sprightly frame.

Arnie, looking a little too much like a wax model of himself with terrible hair plugs,  has command of the unchallenging role, although the dreadful one-liners give him no chance to use the comedic muscles he used to flex so well. Noriega is your bog-standard ethnic villain, but Peter Stormare really cranks it up a notch as his malicious number 2.

Gatling fun: Johnny Knoxville and Arnold Schwarzenegger

Forest Whitaker slums it shamelessly as the FBI chief on Cortez’s trail, while Luis Guzmán gives it just the right amount of silly as Ray’s deputy. Harry Dean Stanton appears all too briefly in a typically fine cameo, while Génesis Rodríguez is in there, somewhere, you probably won’t notice. She’s awful. In the film’s biggest surprise, Johnny Knoxville is actually quite entertaining (or at least not annoying) as local gun-nut Lewis, who supplies the heroes with their heavy firepower in the tradition of the greatest of all desert town defence movies – and no, I don’t mean Rio Bravo, I mean Tremors!

Formulaic to the last, The Last Stand is passable action fluff, but certainly a disappointment when Ji-woon’s past career is taken into account. At the very least, it’s proof that Arnie’s still got it. Of course, at no point in The Last Stand does he utter the immortal line “I’ll be back”, so this time we can’t be sure he will be. With disappointing box office turnout around the world, hopefully this won’t come to be Arnie’s actual last stand. That would be the biggest disappointment of all.

2/5

(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)

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This Must Be The Place – Review

Over the last 10 years Paolo Sorrentino has emerged as one of the greatest of a new generation of European filmmakers. Through films such as The Consequences of Love and his political biopic, and opus, Il Divo, he has proven himself a master of stylish editing and perhaps the finest conjurer of perfectly framed imagery currently in the business.

Because of the praise hurled at him at Cannes and elsewhere, the pressure is on Sorrentino now with his new film This Must Be the Place, his English-language debut. And while it may not be the film that many hoped for, it is, unquestionably, a Sorrentino picture.

The new film stars Sean Penn (who practically demanded Sorrentino cast him in his next project after seeing Il Divo at Cannes in 2008) as an aging former rockstar, hiding from life and responsibilities in Dublin. Cheyenne, equal measures Boy George and The Cure’s Robert Smith, is a man living in the past; he still dresses as he did in his heyday, refusing to grow up, spending his time with friends half his age (if not literally, then emotionally stilted like himself). His character is complex, simultaneously wise and childlike, unable to take responsibility in his own life yet too eager to take it in the lives of others.

Like Hugh Grant’s character in About a Boy, Cheyenne lives off royalties and does next to nothing with his days. His identity crisis is compounded when his elderly father falls ill, and he must return to the US for the first time in decades to face his past. But it is his father’s past he must come to terms with, as he becomes the heir to his father’s lifelong search – to find the man who terrorised him at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. The film takes a wide turn as Cheyenne treks across America in search of this ancient Nazi, finding an idea of himself along the way.

The story of the film is troubled; plot threads in the film’s first (Irish) act are abandoned as the action moves Stateside, and the Nazi-hunting aim feels tacked on, Sorrentino doesn’t seem to care for this in the same way he does about Cheyenne, or feel the same anger he did over the political corruption on display in Il Divo. But that aside, this is a masterful production. Sorrentino’s use of evocative editing, punchy and unexpected musical cues and breathtaking, sometimes puzzling imagery leaves the likes of Drive’s Nicolas Winding Refn in his dust.

From the moment the camera pans down the glacial facade of Dublin’s Aviva Stadium into the relative squalor of a grey Sandymount cul-de-sac, you know you’re in for a visual treat. Sorrentino may be the first filmmaker to find real beauty in modern Dublin. Similarly, his wide, endless shots of American Midwest reveal wonders the likes of which have not been caught on camera since Wim Wenders made Paris, Texas.

There are plenty of delights to be found throughout Cheyenne’s strange odyssey. Kitsch Americana abounds. The strangest of strangers are met, calling to mind the films of the Coen Brothers, littered with their brief, memorable eccentrics. Talking Heads legend David Byrne shows up to dispense advice to Cheyenne and unleash a hypnotic performance of the film’s title track. Harry Dean Stanton, another link to Paris, Texas, appears as a man who claims to have invented the wheeled suitcase.

Frances McDormand puts in a fine performance as Cheyenne’s devoted wife, but with so much of the musician’s history left unexplained, it’s hard to not feel like we’re missing something required to fully understand their relationship. Admirable support is offered up by Judd Hirsch and Kerry Condon, but this is really Sean Penn’s moment in the sun. Playing a character so utterly against type that most of his previous characters would probably want him dead, Penn conjures something familiar and yet confusingly new. He delivers profound, witty, lively comments from the mouth of this zombified goth, and brings surprising depth to a character who borders so precariously on parody.

While the film’s abandoning of its Irish storyline reeks of a bid for tax breaks, there’s no denying a wonderful work of art has been produced here. Sadly, it is not entirely a satisfying one, and the film’s concluding on a number of overly puzzling sequences leaves a sour taste in the mouth unbecoming of what has gone before.

While not the director’s finest work, it is still a noteworthy film, and should launch him swiftly on the international market, while reigniting the career of its star.

3/5

(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)

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