July 31, 2013

Mexican Vacation Day 2: THE LAST STAND In An Orthopedic Hell

"You fucked up my day off."
It's ironic that my second movie of the trip was titled The Last Stand, mostly because by the time I turned it on at the end of the day, I could barely walk.

We started with a delicious breakfast of chilequiles, which is basically a pile of fired tortilla chips smothered in a spicy red chile sauce and topped with a fried egg and onions.  Perfection.  The beach was located a few kilometers away, which meant a significant but not totally harrowing walk.  To be fair, we could have driven but we felt that the walk would be a good spot of exercise between bouts of gorging ourselves on piles of the tasty Mexican food we'd both grown so fond of in L.A. but was much harder to come by in Boston.  Now, generally speaking, I find flip flops to be uncomfortable and the sound of a rubber slab thwacking at my heel with every step is incredibly annoying, but I recently came across a pair that I didn't totally hate and figured they'd come in handy at the beach.  But considering the lengthy walk ahead of us with no promise of evenly paved ground, sneakers seemed the wiser option.  So I donned my red hightop Converse All Stars, the lighter weight option of my two pairs of sneakers.  What I did not don, however, were socks.  This was a bad call.

The temperature was flirting with triple digits, so by the time we reached the beach my feet were so sweaty that I had a blister forming on one toe and cuts on the backs of my heels.  I had also shed my t-shirt, as it had become little more than a dark sweat rag by that point.  We found a lovely, quiet spot with lounge chairs and drink service, so we laid outside and soaked up the sunshine for a few hours.  Tulum's beaches are divided into the north and south sections, so after spending the morning on the south side I laced up my Chucks so we could walk up and check out the north.  I realized after a few steps that I simply couldn't continue to walk comfortably in my shoes, but the path was actually paved smooth so I figured, "Fuck it, I'll just walk barefoot."  This was also a bad call.

I had sizable blisters on the balls of my feet before we were even halfway to the northern beaches, and whereas the walk to the south side had seen dozens of cabs passing by and honking to solicit a fare, now the traffic was virtually nonexistent.  Eventually we managed to hail a taxi which took us to a crowded resort/beach club, and while the shore was far less rocky, the sky soon became overcast and far less "beachy."  So after some fairly underwhelming nachos from a surly bartender, we laid on the sand and napped for a while before grabbing another cab (thankfully they were lined up outside the resort) and went back for dinner.  While we dressed and cleaned up, we turned on the local TV and found a plethora of American movies and TV shows dubbed in Spanish, (always entertaining) so we watched a little Scott Pilgrim before heading into town for fresh fried fish, octopus tacos and a small mountain of shrimp ceviche.

The waiter tried to convince us to get a small order instead of a medium, but we ignored his warnings at our own delicious peril.  This was a good call.

We retired back to our room and while Jamie slept I watched The Last Stand, Arnold Schwarzenegger's first starring role after exiting his political life as governor of Kalee-For-Neeya.  Arnold plays a former LAPD narcotics officer who, after a particularly bloody showdown, became the sheriff of a small town just this side of the Mexican border.  When a violent drug lord escapes federal custody and makes a beeline for Arnie's town in a supercharged Corvette, it's up to the sheriff and his ragtag collection of deputies to stop the cartel boss from escaping the country.

There's a lot to love about The Last Stand, so much so that I kind of can't believe it had trouble finding an audience in theaters.  Peter Stormare's bizarre southern accent alone is worth the price of admission, but I'd think the return of Schwarzenegger to action filmmaking would at least arouse some interest.  It probably helps that I'm a total sucker for quasi-elderly action stars embracing their age and making "I'm old, but I can still kick your ass" movies, which is why I love stuff like Rocky Balboa and John Rambo, but get frustrated by the middling quality of the Expendables franchise.  (Also, I heart Stallone.)  Arnie does not disappoint here, maintaining a sort of world-weary tone with the people in his town while giving an "I'm too good for this shit" attitude to the FBI, personified by Forest Whitaker who cruises through the movie in paycheck-seeking autopilot.  (Henceforth I will refer to this as "pulling a Eugene Levy.")  Special props go to Johnny Knoxville as the local gun nut who operates a munitions museum and provides the local cops with all sorts of amusingly anachronistic firepower.  It's the kind of role that Knoxville was born to play, a gung-ho, would-be badass who gives his hand cannon the name Georgietta and shows up for the final gunfight wearing a medieval helmet and shield.  He's excited to use his weaponry but also has no sense of the actual danger involved, like a sort of motor-mouthed Wile E. Coyote.  Luis Guzman gets a few nice moments as Deputy Luis Guzman while Friday Night Lights' Matt Saracen shows up as the sacrificial lamb whose death spurs everyone to action.  (This isn't really a spoiler, as his inevitable demise is telegraphed within his first two scenes.)  Also featured is Harry Dean Fucking Stanton as an ornery farmer for one totally awesome scene, and how can you not love a movie that has the good sense to cast Harry Dean Fucking Stanton?  But make no mistake, it's Schwarzenegger's show and he's just fantastic.  Now firmly entrenched in his mid-60's, Arnold smartly doesn't attempt a lot of physical ass-kicking, although he does have one helluva bareknuckle brawl with the bad guy at the very end.  And even though the fisticuffs directly follow a clever car chase scene through a cornfield, it actually feels like a natural progression to the ultimate showdown, as opposed to so many of this summer's big releases which seem to shoehorn in one boring foot chase or fist fight too many after ten minutes of explosions.

Most of The Last Stand's violence plays out as intense gunfights in the streets of the largely abandoned town or car stunts that rival the Fast & Furious franchise in their clever staging and insanely pliable physics.  The destruction on display is my absolute favorite kind: bloody and bordering on cartoonish, including a few sound effects that are lifted right out of Looney Tunes.  This is the kind of movie where gunshots result in sanguine explosions that knock guys clear across the room.  Aside from the obvious influence of late-stage Tarantino, The Last Stand often feels more like a Korean film which happens to star American actors.  That's hardly a surprise since it's the English language debut of director Kim Ji-Woon.  Much like Park Chan-Wook's Stoker, it's nice to see the Korean filmmaker maintaining so much of his own cinematic voice.  Hell, Johnny Knoxville spends most of the movie wearing the same goofy hat and goggles that Song Kang-ho wore in Ji-Woon's The Good, The Bad & The Weird.  Ji-Woon's obvious fondness for the Western genre makes this simple, modern take a perfect way for him to shake hands with American audiences, but it's the director's playful style that really elevates the material from dreary DTV fare to a solid B+ action tale.  I look forward to seeing where Kim Ji-Woon goes from here.

Oh yeah, and welcome back Arnold.

Title: The Last Stand
Director: Kim Ji-Woon
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Luis Guzman, Jaimie Alexander, Zach Gilford, Peter Stormare, Johnny Knoxville
Year Of Release: 2013
Viewing Method: Redbox DVD

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