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After leaving his LAPD narcotics post following a bungled operation that left him wracked with remorse and regret, Sheriff Ray Owens (Arnold Schwarzenegger) moved out of Los Angeles and settled into a life fighting what little crime takes place in sleepy border town of Sommerton Junction. But that peaceful existence is shattered when Gabriel Cortez (Noriega), the most notorious, wanted drug kingpin in the western hemisphere, makes a deadly yet spectacular escape from an FBI prisoner convoy. With the help of a fierce band of lawless mercenaries led by the icy Burrell (Peter Stormare), Cortez begins racing towards the US-Mexico border at 250 mph in a specially-outfitted Corvette ZR1 with a hostage in tow. Cortez' path: straight through Summerton Junction, where the whole of the U.S. law enforcement, including Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) will have their final opportunity to intercept him before the violent fugitive slips across the border forever. At first reluctant to become involved and then counted out because of the perceived ineptitude of his small town force, Owens ultimately rallies his team and takes the matter into his own hands, setting the stage for a classic showdown. (From Lionsgate’s official synopsis)

Last Stand, The
The majority of American film audiences were made aware of The Last Stand as being an elderly Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen in a lead capacity (following some extended cameos in the Expendables films), but those of us more obsessively concerned with world cinema were excited to see South Korean filmmaker Kim Ji-Woon’s Hollywood debut (or ‘Jee-Woon’ as he’s credited in the English language credits here). Kim is one of the top film directors to come out of the Korean New Wave (sometimes ‘Korean Wave’) – an era that includes a series of important films and general increase in Western awareness of South Korean pop culture, including K-Pop musical icons, like Rain and Psy. When discussing the best of modern Korean cinema there are two names usually thrown about – Park Chan-Wook ( Oldboy, Joint Security Area) and Bong Joon-ho ( Memories of Murder, The Host). Both directors found crossover success in the Western world, which has lead to some comparative over exposure (if there can be such a thing). Other talented regional filmmakers include the likes of Ryoo Seung-wan ( Crying Fist), Jang Joon-hwan ( Save the Green Planet), and Park Kwang-hyun ( Welcome to Dongmakgol), but I’d personally complete the New Wave ‘trifecta’ with Kim, who is likely the most eclectic of any current South Korean filmmakers. Kim isn’t quite the intellectual Park is and he isn’t quite the consummate experimenter Bong is, but he’s proven his sharp sense of humour ( The Quiet Family), his baroque sense of class ( A Tale of Two Sisters), and that he has energy to burn ( A Bittersweet Life). His biggest breakthrough outside of Asia is likely The Good, the Bad, the Weird – a rock ‘em, sock ‘em action flick on a scale that would make Sergio Leone proud.

What’s particularly exciting is that The Last Stand isn’t the only 2013 Hollywood release directed by a top-tier Korean filmmaker. Park Chan-Wook’s Stoker, a psychodrama starring the likes of Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, and Mia Wasikowska, was met with good reviews and Bong Joon-ho’s Snow Piercer (co-produced by Park), an ambitious sci-fi allegory starring Oscar winners/nominees John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, and Ed Harris, is set to be released later this year. Both Park and Bong seem to have taken what I’d like to refer to as the Ang Lee (or maybe Wong Kar Wai) approach to the a Hollywood crossover. Meanwhile, Kim appears to be taking the John Woo approach. Woo had the skill set to make a real impact on Hollywood, but he chose to start things off with a B-picture built around an established action star (in this case, Jean-Claude Van Damme, who served more or less the same purpose for Ringo Lam and Tsui Hark when they stumbled into their English language debuts). I’d like to think that, while working as the governor of California, Schwarzenegger was spending his nights watching South Korean New Wave movies, but it’s more likely that someone handed him a copy of The Good, the Bad, the Weird and he watched enough of it to know Kim knew what he was doing. Whatever actually brought Schwarzenegger and Kim together for a modestly budgeted action flick isn’t important – it’s just cool that it happened. Even if The Last Stand would’ve been an utter failure, the combination is still unique enough to celebrate.

Last Stand, The
Stylistically speaking, The Last Stand is the movie The Expendables should’ve been. Obviously, The Expendables was a more ambitious concept, but Stallone kind of missed the boat by making his ensemble throw-back so modern. The only nostalgia is found in the casting choices, not the imagery or the impact of the heavily CG-assisted, over-edited action sequences. At its base, The Last Stand is a western. Screenwriter Andrew Knauer (whose only other feature credit is a comedy/horror quickie called Ghost Team One) doesn’t try to hide this influence and draws upon some of the genre’s most popular and commonly adapted classics, including Rio Bravo, Rio Grande, and High Noon. Kim had already successfully dabbled in re-tooling western themes, most obviously with the The Good, the Bad, the Weird, but also with Bittersweet Life – a gangster film brimming with classic and revisionist western tropes. The screenplay suffers from quite a bit of awkward exposition (most of which is, thankfully, delegated to the first act), has issues with overlapping, yet hard-to-differentiate characters, and over-complicated technical aspects that don’t really serve any purpose (try not to ask why the villains are doing anything they do – you’ll just get a headache), but the whole thing serves the basic needs of a modest production. That’s a low bar, I admit. Perhaps even too low.

Despite being Kim’s largest movie to date in terms of raw budget, The Last Stand never feels as big as The Good, the Bad, the Weird. Part of this is the structure of the story, which is something of an anti-epic (not to mention the fact that a dollar goes a whole lot further in Korea than it does in Hollywood), but, even though I understand the intended limitations of the scope, I still find myself a little disappointed that Kim’s skills haven’t been unleashed on a truly massive scale. I fear that The Last Stand’s disappointing box office (clearly an indication of the public’s disinterest in Schwarzenegger’s come-back over an indication of their disinterest in the director) means I still won’t get to see an appropriately epic, Kim-Ji Woon blockbuster anytime soon. Limited by the region or not, the director never drops the ball in blocking and cutting his dynamic action sequences. Even the most convoluted action sequences have real physical weight and make geographical sense. The handheld sequences aren’t indiscernible, the editing is clear, and the camera movements aren’t arbitrary or counterintuitive.

Last Stand, The
This is certainly an ‘Americanization’ of the director’s aesthetic, but his personality is not lost in the exchange – it’s merely a minor ‘censoring’ of his likeable oddball tendencies. He only really ‘fails’ when it comes to making the film’s few dramatic moments land, which isn’t really much of a problem, since he’s dealing with an action/comedy that takes place in a universe of action movie clichés. I think it’s important that The Last Stand is a comedy, not only because so many of Schwarzenegger’s best films were anchored in ironic humour, but because humour plays such an important role in Kim’s Korean films, even those that aren’t easily categorized as ‘funny’ ( I Saw the Devil in particular). In the larger scheme of things, modern Korean cinema is largely defined by tonal shifts and a willingness to find comedy in absurdly violent and tragic situations. The Last Stand mixes satirizing Arnold’s return to form with unabashed jokery and particularly Kim-flavoured laughs at the expense of graphic violence.

Arnold is cast for his strengths, obviously, and generally plays straight man to the entire rest of the cast, unlike his part as one of many clowns in Expendables 2. He’s stiff and tired, but it works for the material. This cast of clowns includes Johnny Knoxville and Luis Guzmán, both of whom can single-handedly sink the comedy value of an entire film if overexposed. Fortunately, both appear in a pretty limited capacity, despite several of their gags appearing in the film’s trailer. In smaller doses, these guys work very well. Other Hollywood character actor favourites surrounding Schwarzenegger include Harry Dean Stanton, Forest Whitaker, and Peter Stormare. Stormare is characteristically fantastic, but Stanton has such little screentime that he’s, sadly, a non-entity and Whitaker is wasted as a caricature of a character he’s been playing for years and has already spoofed on a handful of episodes of American Dad. Kim’s cast is rounded out with some international flavour with Brazilian Rodrigo Santoro (recently seen in the vastly undervalued I Love You Phillip Morris), Alejandro Amenábar favourite Eduardo Noriega, who is, sadly, also mostly wasted as the film’s ‘big-boss’ villain who spends 95% of the movie in a car. The overly-busy cast does the most damage to the female characters, however, as Telenovelo star Génesis Rodriguez and Jaimie Alexander exist only as weak and reactive witnesses to the stuff the men do.

Last Stand, The

Video


The Last Stand was shot using Arri Alexa digital cameras, but wasn’t made to look particularly digital-y. I believe this is Kim’s first foray into the world of digital HD, though cinematographer Kim Ji-Yong used Red Epic cameras for Hwang Dong-Hyuk’s Silenced. Regardless of Ji-Yong’s experience, he and the other Kim (no relation) don’t bend over backwards to adjust the crisp and filmic look developed over the director’s other films. This 1080p, 2.35:1 Blu-ray image is clean, without more than hints of compression noise. The cleanliness doesn’t lead to that smooth look that curses some digital HD productions. The gradations are plenty fluid, especially in the more colourful and less in-focus backgrounds, but contrast levels are strong and the textures are consistently complex throughout the foregrounds and backgrounds. There are minor sharpening effects on some of the most harshly cut details, but there’s generally nothing notable in terms of edge enhancement. During the busiest action there are some ghosting/doubling effects, but these are likely an inherent part of the source material. The colour palette is reasonably eclectic, but tends to skew golden in an effort to make things look more desert-y (some scenes are practically monochromatic). These hues are strong and pure without blocking and work very nicely against the high contrast blacks and blown-out white highlights. Some of the darker shots (mostly those taking place in Vegas) are not as attractive, utilizing that weird amalgamation of yellows, oranges, reds, and teals that every generic action and crime flick uses these days (skin tones are yellow, blends are teal or green, and highlights are almost exclusively red), but, even here, the overall detail levels aren’t obscured by the processed look.

Audio


This disc features Lionsgate’s usual DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack. Surprisingly, I found the overall mix to be pitched a little low volume-wise than expected. This isn’t an issue for the more aggressive moments, but is a slight annoyance when characters are talking too each other too softly. Those aggressive moments are pretty consistent, though. The punchy shootouts include a wide array of calibres, including poppy machine guns, booming hand cannons, and crunchy shotguns – all of which crackle with the appropriate dynamic range and directional enhancement. The track comes most loudly to life anywhere the Corvette ZR1 is concerned. The sound designers treat the car as a character in its own right, leaving the driver obscured by tinted glasses and giving its roaring motor something of a voice. The vehicle moves noisily from channel to channel and increases in volume power every time the driver changes gears. Other vehicles also give the LFE a workout, especially the weird plow-truck that appears, flips the cop cars, then disappears. The musical score, composed by Mowg (who also worked with Kim on I Saw the Devil and Doomsday Book), is lively without overstating itself and quite eclectic in terms of style. Mowg’s music rarely lets up entirely and also fills in quite a bit of ambient space during those occasionally overly-quiet talking scenes.

Last Stand, The

Extras


The extras begin with Not in My Town: Making The Last Stand (28:10, HD), a basic behind-the-scenes featurette covering the film’s old western themes, hiring Kim, re-introducing Arnold to movie audiences, stunts, casting, the complications of Kim directing through a translator, production design, cinematography, special effects, and a bunch of car stuff. The Dinkum Firearm and Historic Weaponry Museum Tour (11:20, HD) takes us through the weapons cache Knoxville’s character maintains in the film with the prop masters and cast. The disc also includes a breakdown of the cornfield chase scene (11:20, HD), Actor-Cam Anarchy video log footage with Johnny Knoxville and Jaimie Alexander (10:30, HD), six deleted scenes (8:20, HD), seven extended scenes (14:10, HD), and trailers.

Interview subjects throughout the featurettes include Kim, producers Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Guy Ridel, second-unit stunt coordinators Darrin Prescott and Wade Allen, production designer Frank Carbone, special effects coordinator David Waine, weapons prop master Brent Andrews, aerial photographer Tad Firchau, and cast members Schwarzenegger, Johnny Knoxville, Forest Whitaker, Rodrigo Santoro, Luis Guzmán, Jaimie Alexander, Peter Stormare, and Eduardo Noriega.

Last Stand, The

Overall


The Last Stand isn’t great. It might not even be good or a deserving American debut for Kim Ji-Woon, but it does scratch an itch that’s been bugging me since The Expendables failed to deliver. With a little more quirk and comedy and maybe a few less obvious genre clichés, it could’ve been something special. The third act is almost enough to make up for the shortcomings, at least for a single viewing. The cornfield sequence alone is a good enough time to justify the entire film. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray looks sharp, sounds good, despite some low volume levels during dialogue-heavy sequences, but, unfortunately, doesn’t feature much in terms of extra features.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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