POSTED ON JANUARY 23, 2013:
Cheesy Goodness and Deadly Serious
The rifle and the camera tell quite different stories
It's a little sad that of all the great actors of history, Arnold Schwarzenegger has had such a huge influence on me. It can't be helped. I grew up in the '80s, during a perfect amalgam of the beginnings of HBO, a slew of fantasy and bloody action flicks, and having parents that didn't really give a shit about what I watched, no matter how violent or bare-breasted. Thank you, by the way.
But it's true. From Conan to Commando to True Lies and a dozen other bullet-laden explosion fests in between, Arnie has defined an era not just in America's gun-loving popular culture -- though often as a joke that made his eventual political ascendency so surreal -- but also as a personal film history.
Hopefully, the Austrian Oak's starring return to killing-machine glory, The Last Stand, doesn't live up to its title.
Inexplicably playing an Austrian sheriff named Ray Owens, Arnie, an ex-LAPD cop, has become the care taker of Summerton Junction, an Arizona border burg with a population of roughly twenty people, most of whom are weirdly splitting town for a high school football game. The "douchebag" mayor (Titos Menchaca) conveniently leaves his cherry red, super-fast, new Camaro parked in a fire zone -- because that probably won't become useful later. Reasonably believing he has the weekend off, Owens tries to relax.
While taking in an amiable breakfast at the local diner, Summerton's personal T-800 notices Burrell (Peter Stormare, amusingly trying to affect a Southern accent) acting suspicious for driving an 18-wheeler full of "auto parts." His interest piqued, Owens goes to find his deputies, the very green Jerry (Zach Gilford, Super) and the beer-bellied, Mike Figueroa (Luis Guzman, being awesome) who are killing time shooting sides of beef with Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville) for no other reason than to see if a .50 caliber Magnum (which I'm sure doesn't exist) can make corn beef hash. Owens shames his men into being on the case.
Melting House on the Prairie. The reality of global warming is explored in intense detail in Chasing Ice.
Turns out Burrell is a herald, clearing a path to the Mexican border for an escaped drug lord ("the most ruthless since Pablo Escobar"), Cortez (Eduardo Noriega, Blackthorn), who has stolen a concept Corvette ZR1 and is outrunning the feds and their helicopters while sidewinding through roadblocks at 197 mph. Owens, along with the last five people left in town besides his deputies -- because of the football game -- have to stop Cortez from getting across the border since the feds, led by Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker, constantly on the verge of spitting on someone), seem totally incompetent.
There is so much wrong that is actually right with The Last Stand that it's kind of hard to justify. It succeeds as an '80s, small-town-against-the-world, action throwback, appealing to NASCAR, NRA, and Tea Party factions in equal measure. Not reporting Knoxville's pivotal Gatling gun to the feds winks Second Amendment triumphalism while the supercars add a layer of Top Gear nerdiness that is perfect for anyone that loved shit like The Wraith. At times, The Last Stand amounts to a slick car commercial for B-movie geeks.
Korean director, Kim Ji-woon (I Saw the Devil) often taps a suspenseful action vein. When Owen's clueless deputies, Jerry and desk girl, Sarah (Jamie Alexander, Thor), stumble upon Cortez's plan, the firefight that ensues isn't just a bunch of bullets; instead raising the stakes when the lights go out, pinning the audience's hope on thinly drawn, archetypal characters (by actors working hard to make you care) in what amounts to a yet another remake of Rio Bravo -- if it were filtered through films like Black Moon Rising and Next of Kin.
Ji-woon, a capable and fun director, captures some nice vehicular devastation with visual kinetics that mostly defy the cheesy digital presentation (a few scenes look truly ugly due to the limitations of digital "film") while the script winds up being satisfying amalgam of senseless yet comfortable plotting and bad guy payback bullshit that still defines the best staples of mid-level action movies from the Golan-Globus, mid-afternoon, HBO summer heyday.
But The Last Stand is really about Arnie. He looks old, and the film apes that as much as his familiarity. At its best it also plays to the awareness of his oeuvre. There's no memorable "I'll be back" line and it doesn't really matter, in lieu of his steely-eyed, Botoxed stare, squinting as the body parts fly. Looked at in that sense, this might be his best performance, if only because it's so self-aware and he shares that spotlight with his co-stars well. It seems Schwarzenegger learned as much about acting from being a politician as he did from movies while proving an age-old (paraphrased) Homer Simpson adage: "To Guns! -- the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems."
I feel guilty for not growing up enough to hate The Last Stand. The assholes who want to arm school teachers will totally love it.
So how do you like this drought? And these last two, mild winters? We've had it pretty easy since the ice storms of the late aughts. But now it's getting drier. Summer is longer and hotter than ever. Almost every county in Oklahoma is a federal disaster area. If you've lived here long enough to know what the seasons are like -- the difference in the rains; the length of the summers; the severity of the winters -- then you already know that climate change is real.
But then, even if you are in a bubble, the science should be enough. It's inarguable. I hate to say this to Luddite Oklahoma, but if you think that evolution is in doubt; or that there is no scientific consensus on the nature of greenhouse gasses and their effect on our rapidly-getting-weirder environment -- clearly helped by our carbon-burning society -- then you must indeed pull your heads from your fundamentalist, Jim Inhofe-voting, anti-science, intelligently-designed assholes. You wouldn't argue with a fucking brain surgeon if you had a constitutionally-protected bullet in your head. Why do it to climate scientists?
James Balog is a successful and award-winning nature photographer. He's not a climate scientist, but he spends much of his time shooting impossibly beautiful pictures in the Arctic -- places that are the most inhospitable on the planet. Hence we, who can't visit, don't get to hang out there as much and notice the changes like he does. The Artic is "the canary in the coal mine," Balog finds. His photographic expeditions capture ridiculously gorgeous pictures of blue-ice laden valleys and the monolithic, fortress-like columns of the biggest known glaciers -- that he realizes are getting progressively smaller, collapsing at an alarming rate.
So he decides to mount a project to document, over the course of years, the receding, calving and collapsing of the most integral glaciers on Earth. The results are stunningly beautiful and scary as hell.
Gettin’ Too Old for This Shit. Arnold returns to the big screen as an aging police chief in The Last Stand.
A Herzogian endeavor, Chasing Ice follows Balog, the hale 60-year-old husband and father of two daughters, as he spends five years executing the Extreme Ice Survey. Logistically brutal, the project involves setting multiple cameras at specific, remote and inhospitable points in Iceland, Greenland, and Alaska, triggered on homemade timers (that don't always work) in order to document the receding ice. The end goal is to create a film from the stills that illustrates in detailed, easy to understand terms, the reality of our melting planet.
First-time director, 28-year-old Jeff Orlowski, who fell into the project, captures the events as if he were an old hand, compellingly tying together the science of our demise and Balog's Ahab-like, frustrating pursuit of the iconic image that will make clear to the world what is happening in places where we aren't looking. His plea against short-sighted doubts rings true to the choir, but his goal is to smash the certainty of the indifferent.
It doesn't hurt that Chasing Ice is achingly gorgeous. Otherworldly vistas look as alien as they are impassively beautiful, captured with cold precision. Dreamscapes that exist at the top of the world enchant the eyes, while the story of Balog -- who ruins his body to achieve his goal, ultimately depending on his crew to bring the project over the finish line -- boggle the mind, if only for his singular sense of focus and commitment. The making of the film parallels the difficulty of what Orlowski is filming, the result of which is something you've never seen before -- and benefits from the big screen. When a chunk of glacier the size of Lower Manhattan upends itself into the sea, you'll wish it were in IMAX.
Is it preaching to the converted? Sure. But it's no Inconvenient Power Point Presentation.
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