The Last Stand

2013review_action

I’ve always been far more partial to action accomplished via choreography than with CGI shenanigans. There’s a place for both, obviously, but I’m more impressed by the agile movement of bodies than I am by the placement of pixels. Unfortunately, fight scenes unassisted by CGI or wire-work are becoming a bit of a rarity these days. That said, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with action scenes, big or small, that are created with the aid of technology or that eschew fisticuffs all together for exciting gunplay or vehicular hijinks. This year’s best action films are a mix of all of the above and include both domestic and international movies. What’s not included? Movies featuring superheroes. It wasn’t an intentional slight, believe me, but when it came time to rank which films offered up the most legitimately exciting and visceral thrills the thirteen below beat out the likes of Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, and others. Remember, this isn’t a ranking of movies but of the action in the movies, meaning while these aren’t all necessarily great films they do represent the best action to have hit screens this year. To that end, keep reading for a look at our choices for the Best Action Movies of 2013.

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goodfellastable

This week’s list of movies to watch is not inspired by a single new release, because there isn’t anything big enough out this weekend to warrant such a focus. Instead, I’ve got a year-end feature for you inspired by the entirety of 2013 in film. I can’t sum up every title released this year with only ten recommendations, but the movies I’ve selected are, I believe, the best representatives of the more notable titles and trends seen in the past dozen months. Most of the selections are familiar. Chances are you’ve seen more than a few. But obviously this edition has to involve more popular fare because they have to be influential movies to have informed so much of this year’s crop, even if unintentionally. Just take it as a call to watch them again, along with whatever you haven’t seen before, as a special sort of year in review of the most important movies of 2013 released before 2013.

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discs murderer lives

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. The Murderer Lives at 21 (UK release) A murderer is stalking the streets of Paris, and his only calling card is a literal calling card bearing the name “Monsieur Durand.” The police are getting nowhere fast, but when a petty criminal offers evidence that the killer resides in a local boarding house a top detective goes in undercover to ferret the murderer out for arrest. Hilarity ensues. I’m not kidding about it being hilarious either. Director Henri-Georges Clouzot would go on to make Wages of Fear, Diabolique and others, but his debut film shows an assured hand with both the visual style and a fantastic tonal balance between the mystery and the laughs. The dialogue moves at a ’40s screwball comedy pace, and it’s loaded with wit, smarts and innuendo. Even more impressive is the film’s final shot… especially knowing it was shot during the Nazi occupation of France. [UK DVD extras: Interview]

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The Last Stand Arnold Schwarzenegger

Well, Arnold Schwarzenegger did say he’ll be back. In fact, he said it in pretty much every movie he did after The Terminator. It lasted well into the 90s. Now, he really is back as small-town sheriff Ray Owens in the action film The Last Stand, and he is the only thing standing in the way of a ruthless drug cartel kingpin escaping to Mexico. The Last Stand was a bit of a flop in theaters. (Okay, let’s admit it: It was a huge flop in theaters.) However, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film. It’s one of those entertaining popcorn movies that actually works well for home viewing, and it’s small-town charm lends itself to being watched with a beer in hand. While this won’t live on as one of Schwarzenegger’s greatest movies, The Last Stand is still a lot of fun to watch and offers a cool nod to his early action films. Did we mention the beer part?

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Kim Jee-woon is one of South Korea’s most exciting directors, but as is too often the case with foreign filmmakers his Hollywood debut was a bit of a let down critically and commercially. There were bigger things at stake with The Last Stand than just Kim’s American career though as it was also the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger to the big screen in a leading role. The film still has plenty of fun moments, and while many of them are in the action department it’s both interesting and entertaining to see Schwarzenegger playing a role that doesn’t try to hide his obvious age. Sheriff Ray Owens is undeniably old making him far more human than the characters he’s used to playing. Check out this brief featurette below with Kim and others talking about what drew them towards working with the last action hero himself, Mr. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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last stand 23

You probably missed Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback. Most people did. The Last Stand was supposed to be the former Governor’s mighty return to movies, but instead it grossed a paltry $12 million domestically and now marks Schwarzenegger’s lowest grossing movie ever (factoring inflation). It’s a shame, because those who (really should) take the opportunity to give The Last Stand the second chance it deserves on video will discover that it’s not just an enjoyable burst of Golden Age action cinema filmmaking, but a meta narrative that makes it far more intriguing than it appears. Most comeback movies dutifully pander to fans’ nostalgic expectations by just giving them more of what ain’t broke. Exhibit A: The Expendables series, which recreates for its actors (including Schwarzenegger) the roles they’ve always inhabited while exhibiting an “Oorah! We still got it!” enthusiasm about bringing back its aging heroes. The Last Stand, however, isn’t interested in simply rebooting its star into his old plot and character archetypes. Instead, it offers Schwarzenegger a comeback movie with a character — Sheriff Ray Owens — with a comeback narrative of his own. What’s more, because it biographically grafts Ray to Arnold, The Last Stand turns its fictional character’s journey from former to restored hero into one that parallels the very re-ascension Schwarzenegger is undergoing with this film.

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On Demand: Jack Reacher

Back after a week of self-reflection, our patented, custom-built supercomputer known as the Video On Demand Power Ranker is back in action. This week it’s all crime thrillers, time-lapsing epics and stories about people with a screw (or seven) loose. And a movie about your uncle’s favorite band, The Eagles.

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The Last Stand Arnold Schwarzenegger

In the summer of 2002, an action film was released that declared itself a new kind of spy movie. It said goodbye to the archaic days of Pierce Brosnan’s tired, nostalgia-mining James Bond in favor of something more 21st century. And in 2002, that meant a lot of nu-metal and X-Games stunts. That film was the absurd xXx, which turned out to be a minor hit before Vin Diesel’s action star career went into near-permanent stall mode for the better part of that decade. However, it was a much less arrogant film that ended up changing the spy genre. Doug Liman’s The Bourne Identity made Matt Damon into the unlikeliest of action heroes. He proved that American action stars didn’t need to look and talk like professional wrestlers. Damon’s lean, agile, reserved, and intelligent character didn’t require obvious quips, unquestioning jingoism, or a money shot of him walking away from a sea of explosions to be a threatening bad ass. As the first three Bourne films were released to an exponentially bigger cult of admirers, the brute action stars of old faded into obsolescence. Arnold was a politician, Sly was nowhere to be seen, and a post-Shyamalan Bruce Willis took seemingly every part he could get his hands on, good or bad, only briefly returning to his action movie roots with a PG-13 muzzle. Then, at the end of the decade, with the release of The Expendables, the brute action hero nostalgia machine kicked into high gear. And promptly went […]

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Gangster Squad

Hollywood is used to being a scapegoat for acts of violence. Automatically implicating movies in the wake of unimaginable acts of atrocity has proven to be an easy way of pursuing closure without actually having to investigate anything; if we blame the fictions put on our movie screens made by people we don’t know somewhere else, we don’t have to feel the responsibility to do anything more, or accept the notion that incomprehensible events can’t be pegged to a singular determining factor. In contrast to collective reactions to prior tragedies, assertions that movies are directly “responsible” for gun violence seem to carry significantly less weight in the current national conversation about gun control. However, entertainment media has been and will continue to be part of this conversation. As Scott Beggs pointed out last month in the wake of Newtown, if we’re going to have a comprehensive conversation about guns and gun violence, then movies should by all means be a part of it – that is, part of an ongoing, dynamic critical dialogue rather than an assumed singular scapegoat.

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The Last Stand

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s full fledged return to the big screen in this weekend’s The Last Stand isn’t triumphant by any measure, but it is a pretty fun action film which is all the more impressive considering the star is 65 years of age. Raking in an estimated and meager $6.3 million three-day total, the film was handily out-grossed by Mama, Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook, Gangster Squad, A HAUNTED HOUSE, Django Unchained, The Hobbit, and man the list just keeps on going. I mean, seriously, did you see that A Haunted House, a movie that likely shouldn’t have even gotten a theatrical release, beat out The Last Stand at the movies? That’s disgraceful. I’m glad to see the success of Mama and many of the other films are Awards Season hold-overs, but this weekend should have been one for Arnold to win. If you’re an action film, I’m here to tell you: you’ve got to see action films in theaters or we’re screwed.

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laststand19

As written, The Last Stand is not an interesting movie. It’s a simple modern-day western as action flick with dialogue that’s nearly 100% expositional and a plot that offers nothing in the way of surprise, suspense or subtlety. It could really have been made at any time and starred any major or minor actor and been roughly the same as what we’re looking at this weekend with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the leading role. But The Last Stand is arriving now and indeed with Schwarzenegger’s name on the top of the marquee, his first starring vehicle in ten years. That makes the movie of note all by itself, in such a way that it might as well be actually titled “The Return of Arnold Schwarzenegger.” Or “Arnold is Back,” although this would imply that it’s an opportunity for winking bits of self-awareness. Surprisingly, there’s not a lot of silly references to the Arnie classics and signature lines. He thankfully got the obvious “I’m back” shtick out of his system in last year’s The Expendables 2.

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The Last Stand Movie

Despite the stellar filmography of The Last Stand’s director Jee-woon Kim and the excitement surrounding its star Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to acting, the film doesn’t seem to be building all that much buzz online. To be fair, it seems to tell a rock simple story, there haven’t been any mind blowing action scenarios in any of the trailers, and when its advertisements go for humor it’s more of the “Is Johnny Knoxville making fun of handicapped people?” variety than the actually funny variety. To this point, it hasn’t been clear if there was any reason to really give The Last Stand a chance other than its director’s reputation. The debut of its red band trailer finally gives us a reason to root for this one though. And that reason is—plain and simple—over the top, bloody violence. We get to see Schwarzenegger tear people in half with a chain gun, we see a dude blown apart with a grenade launcher, and there’s even a well placed F-bomb that gets you juiced up to take in the final fight.

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Gangster Squad Reshoots

2012 is over. Gone forever. Never coming back. Based on our staff picks for the best features of 2012, it was far from a bad year. We had all kinds of good-to-great films, and we’d be lucky to have another year like it. Considering what we’ll see this year, 2013 could match 2012, as we’re getting movies from Martin Scorsese, Danny Boyle, Sofia Coppola, Edgar Wright, Jonathan Glazer, Steven Soderbergh, Park Chan Wook, and, most exciting of all, Adam McKay. Plenty of pictures to get excited over this year, and, to the start the year off, we have about 5 to build some anticipation over. Here they are:

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The Last Stand

When The Last Stand hits theaters in a few months it will finally put an answer to two congruent question marks. One, can Arnold Schwarzenegger still carry an action film? And B, can Kim Ji-woon manage the same level of quality with his American debut that he’s enjoyed with his Korean films? The first teaser for the film gave us little to judge (aside from too much of co-star Johnny Knoxville), but now a true trailer has debuted. It fleshes out the supporting cast to include Forest Whitaker, Peter Stormare, Luis Guzman and Jaimie Alexander (who was kind enough to bring along the tiny town from Thor), but the story remains similarly simplistic. A high-profile prisoner escapes federal custody and makes for the Mexican border in a souped-up sports car and protected by a small army of thugs. The only thing standing between him and freedom? A small-town sheriff, his ill-equipped deputies and the guy who pretended to be mentally handicapped from The Ringer. Check out the full trailer below.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Expendables 2

Just like a cybernetic killing machine from the future, Arnold Schwarzenegger just can’t be stopped. Sure, he can take long breaks between sequels or be a two-term Governor of one of the biggest states of the union, but he’ll always be back. Now that his political tenure has come to an end, Arnold is going back to doing what he does second best: acting. First best is lifting heavy things, of course. Aside from his cameos in The Expendables and Around the World in 80 Days, Schwarzenegger has been absent from the big screen for around nine years – his last leading role was Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. If your life somehow felt more meaningless in that period, you are not alone – and relief is coming as we break down Schwarzenegger’s upcoming confirmed and rumored film appearances.

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The Last Stand trailer

Kim Jee-woon is currently six for six as a director, and that’s pretty goddamn unprecedented. He’s made six features, and none of them are any less than “very good.” He’s also shown considerable range moving from dramatic comedy (The Foul King, The Quiet Family) to horror (A Tale of Two Sisters) to awesome (A Bittersweet Life, The Good the Bad the Weird, I Saw the Devil), and now he’s coming to America. We’d be lying if we said the announcement of his intent to make a Hollywood film didn’t feel us with fear and trepidation because many brilliant foreign directors have crossed our borders only to see their talents sucked away by the studio system. The addition of Arnold Schwarzenegger as his new film’s lead helped a little, but the worry was still there. The Last Stand is about a small town sheriff on the Mexican border whose quiet day off is shattered when he gets word that a drug kingpin has escaped from an FBI convoy and is headed straight for the border… by way of Schwarzenegger’s sleepy little town. The villain has a cadre of heavily armed friends helping his run, and the former California governor is all that stands between him and freedom. Peter Stormare, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Luis Guzman, and Jaime Alexander are all along for the ride. Check out the trailer below.

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What is Movie News After Dark? It’s a nightly movie news column that’s a little tired, a little wired, and it thinks it deserves a little bit of appreciation around here! We begin this evening with a shot of Luis Guzman, Johnny Knoxville, some old burly man and Thor’s Jamie Alexander on the set of The Last Stand. It’s good to see that The Governator hasn’t lost that charming expression.

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