The Last Stand (2013)

The Last Stand (2013)

How often do you hold people to their word? You know, when someone says something to you and they really pull through a bit later down the line. It might be “I’ll call you soon”, or “we’ll definitely go on another date”… sometimes these hopes are cruelly dashed and date number two never comes (oh what could have been!). But one guy has really been true to his oath. Way back yonder he told us all “I’ll be back”, and you know what? He is! Sure, it might have been his catchphrase for more years than it should have been, but here he is. Back once again for the renegade master us all in The Last Stand

Yessiree, Arnold Schwarzenegger is back. And not just in a cameo role… no, he’s back in the lead heading up an action movie. He may have had some personal things to take care of (being a Governor, fathering illegitimate kids), but he’s doing a Sylvester Stallone and relaunching his Hollywood career. But he’s doing it different to Stallone. You’d expect Predator 3 or Terminator X, surely? But here we see him take on an original film. Well, I say original… it’s not quite the most unique film you’ll see this year…

The Governor's back... he said he would be...

The Governor’s back… he said he would be…

Arnie plays Ray Owens – the county sheriff of the sleepy town of Somerton. And he’s old. He’ll tell you this a few times, as will other people. Remember: he’s old. Anyway, his town’s going to get a whole lot less sleepy as fugitive drug cartel leader Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) is heading to Ray’s town to plough on through to Mexico. On his tail he’s got the FBI, headed up by Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) and everything they do seems to fail… but can Cortez make it past Ray (who’s forgot that he’s The Terminator) and his rag-tag bunch of deputies, including Luis Guzmán and Johnny Knoxville?

As you can see, it’s not the most remarkable plot. It’s a pretty by-the-books action movie where you already know the eventual outcome and can probably even take a guess at any twists and turns. But that’s not the point – this is classic action movie territory. It’s got more car chases than you can shake a stick at (and I can shake my stick at a hell of a lot of cars), an explosive array of weaponry and yes, a good dose of humour. Whilst the film is strangely lacking the “big” Arnie lines of yesteryear, he still manages to throw in a quip or two. Nothing in Dr. Freeze territory, but a nice smattering nevertheless.

The Last Stand (2013)

I’m also pleasantly surprised to see a good supporting cast in the movie. It seems that nowadays when big action heroes make their return, they return very much alone without any other stars in the cast. Yes, yes, we can overlook The Expendables and The Expendables 2 because that was the whole point of those films! It was refreshing to see Forest Whitaker taking a role in the film. Sure, it wasn’t one of his most memorable performances, in fact you’ll probably forget it, but you can’t deny that the guy is a great presence on-screen. Similarly it seems that Johnny Knoxville has found his niche as the slightly unhinged Lewis Dinkum. He can just totally let go and go as crazy as he likes and it works splendidly. One could argue that Knoxville out-acts Arnie when on-screen, but I guess that’s the point – Arnie’s an old guy who’s been burnt before – he’s world-weary.

I just felt that sometimes it was as if Arnie wasn’t 100% on the set. Maybe I’m comparing him to 1990’s Schwarzenegger when we last really saw him regularly on-screen. This is a different character. It may have been intentional, but I’d have liked some more nostalgia in there. I wanted a witty kill line. I wanted him to get to a chopper. I wanted him to scream “nooooo” in his Austrian-American accent. It seems that fellow comeback King Sylvester Stallone is only too happy to engage in some fan service in his outings. Time will tell whether Arnie will follow suit or will plough on in a resolutely “same but different” approach.

Who doesn't love a CORNY car chase? Yeah, we can pun too...

Who doesn’t love a CORNY car chase? Yeah, we can pun too…

Where the film falters for me is that it sometimes felt a bit too “fast and loose” and some of the dialogue and scenes were entirely superfluous or screamed “PLOT EXPOSITION”. It also had a hell of a lot of plot holes in there too. Sorry, but how in the world does Cortez’s car go for so long on one tank of petrol considering it’s 1000 horse power? That’d need refilling every 16 miles! Also, there’s this whole “race against the clock” theme… but how in the sweet name of Dr. Freeze does all of this happen in the space of 90 minutes of “in film” time? They’re incredibly organised in Somerton it’d seem. OK, maybe they’re not crushing holes, or even really holes, they’re just flawed logic. But I guess this is an action movie… we can suspend our disbelief.

The Last Stand marks Arnie‘s return to the big time in Hollywood. It probably isn’t the bona fide classic return to form that many were hoping for, and many of the funniest parts are in the trailer, but it’s a solid start for his return. I’m just keen to see where he heads next. Casting my eye over his upcoming schedule hints at a return to the Arnie of yesteryear… I just hope that he does it gracefully so that he doesn’t come off as the old man that The Last Stand wants to paint him as.

So he is back. He said he would be and he is. Well, at least he’s back in body. His quippy, slightly larger than life ego is still yet to show up. Please, for the love of god put him in a film that includes helicopters, a crazy plot and a lot of people dying in gag-filled ways… DO IT. DO IT NOW!!

Phage Factor:

3 Star

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Total Recall (2012)

Forget me not.

We’ve so often been told what the future’s going to look like that I’m beginning to think it’s going to be pretty boring when I first get in my flying car. I’ll have seen everything there is to do in one by then. And I’m still waiting on the hoverboard that Back To The Future promised me would arrive this year. One thing I’ve yet to see in the future is a device for implanting memories into my head, so this is exciting. Total Recall , set in that familiar future that looks a bit like Tokyo at night time tells me it could go horribly wrong though. Damn!

Name sound as familiar as the setting? Yes, this is the big-budget reboot of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle. This is a movie much beloved by many… but me? I’ve never seen it. OK, lambast me all you like, but as I said in my Expendables 2 review, I was never really a fan of movies from that era. That and I was a bit young at the time to care too much. Does this influence my review? Well, it may do, as I can look at this movie objectively with a clean slate and not be sucked into the Reboot Zone debate (again and again)

Colin Farrell couldn’t ever hope to replicate Arnie’s not at all over-the-top facial expression…

This incarnation of Total Recall takes place in the late 21st Century where us Brits have seemingly survived a toxic holocaust to create the United Federation of Britain (UFB), and through some amazing feat of engineering, have linked ourselves with Australia (called “The Colony”) by drilling through the middle of the Earth. The Colony is essentially the ghetto of the UFB. A bit like Australia is the UK’s poor cousin… with beaches… and surfer girls and guys… and better weather. Damn. The plot revolves around Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) – a drone of The Colony who’s fed up with his hum-drum life. So he goes to Rekall – a memory creation company to spice things up by getting some espionage memories implanted. And naturally, things go wrong and he finds himself on the run from the Government. Cue a spy story with lots of twists and turns.

It may sound a bit confusing, but the film copes with the plot’s convulsions well. What’s more confusing is why in future Britain and Australia no-one speaks with a British or Australian accent. Seemingly, in less than 100 years, we’re all going to speak with a US accent. Even the Irish Colin Farrell and British Kate Beckinsale lose their native tongue. But we are not to reason why…

“Fess up Farrell!! Where the HELL have you hidden all the British, Irish and Australian people?! And stop with that fake yankee accent will ya?!”

Visually, the film is a treat for the eyes. I know the future will be dark and neon-tinged, but these future countries look like Tokyo… on smack. A true cyber-punk sheen has been applied ala Bladerunner, or if you’re into video games, Deus Ex. The only gripe I have with the visuals is Len Wiseman‘s (director) obsession with screen flares. These are digitally generated, fake lens flares. They’re done ad nauseum and I have no idea what they accomplish. Some would argue “to look nice”, but by flare 15, at ten minutes into the film, I was over them. I’m also not entirely sure what to make of a scene where we see Farrell drop into the London we’re all familiar with, complete with wheeled cars that look remarkably 2012… If someone could chime in in the comments and clarify it, that’d be grand.

Get used to that facial expression. There’s a lot of it!

What of the acting? No real complaints here. Farrell is a bankable actor in an action film. The genre doesn’t really require an actor to run the gamut of emotions over a film’s running time. Similarly, Beckinsale and Jessica Biel are serviceable in their roles. There’s nothing outstanding about either, and Beckinsale‘s heavily made-up eyes in “mean girl stare” mode got old pretty fast. Although she comes across as a fine action woman (and who wouldn’t after three unnecessary Underworld sequels), you can’t help but feel she’s becoming a very one-dimensional actress, much in the same way as Mila Jovovich. And both of their husbands direct the money-making franchises in which they star… A coincidence or correlation?

And finally… what of my old friend, the plot? Overall: great concept. The premise, as I’m sure you’re aware if you’ve seen the trailers / the original, is that Quaid comes to question who he is. Is he an outlaw? Or is he still in fact sitting in the memory implantation machine at Rekall? Make no mistake, this is no new plot tool. Films like Vanilla Sky and eXistenZ have both employed the tactic and The Matrix opened with the premise of reality vs. illusion. But it’s done well. I found myself constantly looking out for signs to try and figure out whether he was or wasn’t in reality before the film revealed the answer.

Having said that, the final act started to feel forced and it appeared that the plot had run out of steam but was being dragged kicking and screaming to a longer run time. It’s here that the film fell down slightly for me, and no amount of lens flares could startle me into remaining alert. It finished satisfyingly enough, but that final road was an arduous one to trek.

With my inability to compare this version of Total Recall to what has gone before, I’ve got to say that I enjoyed what I saw. It’s a futuristic action / thriller – nothing more, nothing less. The first 2/3 of the film make for a great cinematic experience; albeit one with some rather one dimensional female leads. Although Farrell probably isn’t an Arnie, I don’t think that was his, or Len Wiseman‘s, intention to begin with.

However, if you’re really attached to the 1990 original, I don’t know what the film offers for you. Maybe you’d benefit from a trip to Rekall, so you can have those cherished memories dashed, or at least temporarily forgotten. And whilst you’re there can you book me in? Not to forget this version of Total Recall… it’s just that I don’t want to keep clinging to these hopes of a hoverboard popping up in the next three months.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

The Expendables 2 (2012)

Everyone likes to have a go at fan-fiction: where you pit two or more icons against one another to see who’d win. It’s like an elaborate, imaginary form of Top Trumps. Who’d win in a fight between a polar bear and a great white shark? Who’d win in a battle between Batman and Iron Man? Who’d win if my dad fought your dad? It’s true that most of these revolve around the “fight” premise, and many of them will never come to realisation; unless you have a particularly violent dad who just likes fighting. But 2012 is thus far shaping up to be the year that fan-fiction comes to realisation. We’ve had The Avengers, and seen Thor, Captain America and Iron Man fight one another on-screen, and now we bring in the Last Action Heroes, The Demolition Men, The Universal SoldiersThe Expendables.

If you’ve been living under a rock, or if you’ve spent the past few years trying to wrestle a polar bear towards Cape Town for the epic bear vs. shark fight, then The Expendables united some of the 1980’s and 1990’s biggest action heroes into one big gunfight back in 2010. You had Stallone and Lundgren combined with some of the genre’s biggest modern stars like Jet Li, Jason Statham and… erm… Randy Couture? The first outing for The Expendables was fun, but about as deep as a puddle. It had its moments but you sensed it was missing something. It had its big names, and its cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it was lacking.

The Expandables 2 adds new names to the roster, such as Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme, as well as expanding on the roles for Willis and Schwarzenegger, to almost provide the quintessential who’s who of action heroes. But does it deliver where its predecessor tripped over itself? Most certainly.

Some of the who’s who of action movies are in The Expendables 2… as well as some just plain “who?” too.

Make no mistakes, this film is never going to be nominated for an Oscar, nor is it going to receive any awards from any magazine, but it’s a lot of fun. I’ll lay it down here that I was never an avid watcher of the 1980’s action classics; I know of them and their premise, but I in no way attest to having watched all of them. Therefore I’m in no way, shape or form a “fan-boy” of the 80’s. I was more a fan of every-man John McClane than the one man army that is John Rambo and his ilk. But I still really enjoyed this.

The premise of the film essentially revolves around Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his motley crew of mercenaries being tasked with recovering some data for US Government bod Mr. Church (Bruce Willis). Clearly, things don’t go as planned and the data falls into the hands of the villain with the inspired name Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme), then boots are put to asses. The plot is nothing special, but I don’t think it’s intending to be that either. It’s a straight up action film – true popcorn fodder, and at this it excels. However, I take umbrage with critics saying that this is “excusable” because “it’s only an action movie”. Why can’t a film like this have a riveting plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat? Die Hard: With A Vengeance for instance had a great plot that played out as a thriller as much as an action movie. I don’t accept that cop-out excuse.

Pure fan service: The Terminator, Rambo and John McClane, united at last.

What you do have is a fun, self-referential, action-heavy movie sure to please fans of the genre. There are so many nods to the stars’ previous films, from Van Damme‘s roundhouse kicks to Chuck Norris‘ accompanying intro music that plays every time he appears. Hell, there’s even a reference to the played out Chuck Norris jokes we’re all familiar with. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek and genuinely fun to behold. Much like The Avengers I’d actually argue that some of the most entertaining parts are when the guns aren’t firing – it’s the back-and-forth and banter between the guys that is most engaging. It really looks like they’re all having fun with the script and relishing those wisecracks. Well, except for Statham who is given a number of “one liners”, but none of them hit the mark. Better luck next time Jason.

Although on paper the cast list appears to be too full, it’s good to see that not everyone is on the screen at all times, as this’d make for a horribly messy film. Some of the big names are reduced to cameos: Jet Li especially, who has about two minutes on-screen overall. However, I still don’t see the need for Randy Couture in the team. He’s a brilliant MMA fighter, but an actor he is not. And despite being part of the “core” group, he probably has five lines in the whole runtime. He’s probably the most expendable of The Expendables.

Can Stallone pull off the treble? Film Phage wants to see some of these guys in The Expendables 3…

If you’re unaware of the rumblings in Hollywood, then know that The Expendables 3 is a very real proposition and I’d anticipate it landing amidst explosions and gunfire sometime in 2014. Here’s hoping that Stallone can bring in some of the last remaining action players, such as Wesley Snipes and Steven Seagal, as well as other less obvious choices like Liam Neeson, Nic Cage and even Mel Gibson… Now that’s a film I’d love to see.

The Expendables 2 fires into cinemas with the expected combination of testosterone and guns. What was less expected was the self-referential humour and light-hearted quips that really made the film feel much more fluid and complete than its predecessor. Its only weakness is that the franchise is still lacking something in the way of cohesive story. I’m not looking for Memento with action heroes… just something a little different to spice things up. I know the franchise is capable of ratcheting it up that last notch.

Thankfully the film turns out more like Time Cop than Kindergarten Cop and I’m already baying for the announcement of the role-call for the inevitable third entry in the series.Then the fan-boys will get some more of their all time most wanted duels up on screen, which may not solve any of the “versus” arguments, but will no doubt entertain once again. And for the record Iron Man would hammer Batman… and my dad would also kick your dad’s ass. Fact.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star