Image A Sound A- Extras B-
starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro
screenplay by Andrew Knauer
directed by Kim Jee-woon
by Walter Chaw I think, and I don't say this lightly, that South Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon is a genius. His landmark A Tale of Two Sisters is lush and at times unbearably frightening; his A Bittersweet Life is an elegiac crime saga with the best, most innovative knife-fight in a movie until the naked scuffle in Eastern Promises; his The Good, the Bad, the Weird (which his latest most resembles) is a dizzy, hilarious take on the Spaghetti Western; and his I Saw the Devil is the slickest, and stickiest, exploitation serial-killer/torture flick I've ever seen. He's his country's Takashi Miike, its Quentin Tarantino. And his American-made, English-language debut, unceremoniously dumped in the middle of the deadly first quarter of 2013, is, I guess you could say, at least better than John Woo's Hollywood baptism, Hard Target. The tragedy of it all is that the picture will be more ballyhooed not for the arrival of Kim on our shores, but for the return to the action genre of one Arnold Schwarzenegger (Expendables cameos notwithstanding), here cast as a soft-around-the-middle aging lawman in the Stallone-in-Copland mold who stands up against a cabal of snarling baddies in defense of the AARP and the NRA in one fell, sometimes ironic, swoop. I've never not liked a Kim film, but he's testing me. Ultimately, it's impossible to completely hate a movie that references, in addition to all the pictures Schwarzenegger's made, one--Paul Verhoeven's forever-gestating Crusades epic--he never got to.
Armed with nothing like innovation or intelligence at the script level, Kim lards The Last Stand with several inspired visual gags that culminate in a chase through a cornfield and one frozen, bird's-eye shot that gifts the film with a kind of wit it doesn't deserve. The picture's prologue, meanwhile, is economical and tense, and various touch-points along the way--including a sly indictment of the Amendment 2 whackos who proclaim, as one did at my screening, that the events depicted in the film are exactly the reason private citizens should own military weaponry--point to an accomplished director slumming to get work in the United States. The hoots of approval attending the reveal of a highly-illegal 1939 Vickers Machine Gun and some sentiment expressed about how the government doesn't need to know it's in civilian hands says a lot about the Red Dawn wish-fulfillment that The Last Stand projects. It's sort of like a dream, isn't it, for Grandma to get the chance to shoot an Asian guy out of her crap shop and back into the Old West? I have a hard time believing that someone like Kim, who makes films like A Bittersweet Life and I Saw the Devil, films so eloquently about the consequences of violence both real and cinematic, doesn't see the irony in a vintage gun-fetish shoot-'em-up starring the aging poster-child of homoerotic manmeat wielding cold, hard, gunmetal dicks in defense of his adopted land. What I'm saying is that The Last Stand is a good version of a bad movie and that I hope Kim doesn't end up like John Woo did in Hollywood--or if he does, that he has the sense to go home a couple of movies sooner than Woo did.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Released on Blu-ray by Lionsgate in the U.S. and eOne in Canada, The Last Stand docks on the format in a glossy 2.40:1, 1080p transfer. In the extras, director Kim Jee-woon says via translator that what drew him to the project was its analog (Ah-nuld and WWII-era weaponry) vs. digital (Cortez and his supercar) subtext, and that's reflected in a film that looks at once plastic and old-fashioned. Greenscreen dominates countless shots, for instance, but however much the technique has been refined over the years, the seams show here as if in some compositing homage to rear-projection. Nevertheless, the Alexa-generated image is, however perfect, not altogether uncinematic, thanks to relatively diffused focus, saturation, and contrast. The 7.1 DTS-HD MA track--which I listened to in a lossless 5.1 downmix--has one minor issue: the dialogue is balanced low against the robust music and effects. Forest Whitaker is practically inaudible at reference level, but raise the volume at your peril, as gunshots can be sudden and piercing. Perhaps full 7.1 would make all the difference in unpacking the centre channel. For what it's worth, the ricochet sounds that scatter across the room are some of the most convincing I've ever heard.
The four HiDef featurettes on board the disc are snooze-worthy to varying degrees. "Not in My Town: The Making of The Last Stand" (28 mins.) sends a lot of love both Schwarzenegger's and Kim's way; everybody's excited to work with everybody. The best part breaks down the zipline sequence, which took the action coordinators forever to figure out but is probably the kind of thing Kim could've knocked out in his sleep in Korea. We learn that downtown Albuquerque subbed for Las Vegas in a jarring reminder that Vegas has a government sector somewhere among the casinos and bordellos. "Cornfield Chaos: Scene Breakdown" (11 mins.) goes into gratifying detail about the 1000-horsepower Corvette the baddie drives in the film, while "The Dinkum Firearm & Historic Weaponry Museum Tour" (11 mins.) interviews the geeks who stocked the production with vintage guns and ammo, including a Magnum that thoroughly emasculates Dirty Harry's .44. Lastly, "Actor-Cam Anarchy with Johnny Knoxville and Jaimie Alexander" (11 mins.) intercuts P.O.V. footage captured by the two eponymous stars as they give us an above-the-line talent's-eye view of the set that mostly entails hugging/embarrassing camera-shy crew members.
A 14-minute block of "Extended Scenes" (HD) proved indistinguishable to me from anything in the finished product, save for a gash on Schwarzenegger's forehead that was subsequently erased in post. The 8-minute block of "Deleted Scenes" (HD) is slightly more interesting, revealing a greater emphasis on Ray's age (he's introduced applying Ben Gay to his legs) as well as the impetus for the Rodrigo Santoro character's arrest, which, perhaps too depressingly for this film, suggests he is in a losing battle with addiction. The eOne platter we received for review does not come with any additional copies of The Last Stand.