Archives for posts with tag: sheriff

Monster Trucks

Somewhat surprisingly, given that this is a Cuckelodeon production, Monster Trucks is a mostly child-friendly and fun adventure film. Distractingly cute young costars Lucas Till and Jane Levy star as high school students who find themselves caught in the middle of a corporate conspiracy when they discover a tentacled, subterranean creature that lives on oil (a literal gas-guzzler!) and enjoys embedding itself under the body of a truck like a hermit crab. Rob Lowe appears as the head of the nihilistic oil company that, through unscrupulous drilling practices, has inadvertently brought these creatures to the surface and now seeks to apprehend them, with Thomas Lennon toadying in a comic supporting role. The film is endearing, the digital animation is brilliant, and even adults should be entertained by this one.

4 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Monster Trucks is:

5. Inclusive, allowing diverse token gimp Danny Glover to take part in the heroics.

4. Class-conscious. The male protagonist’s chief rival at school is a “rich boy” with fancy wheels.

3. Family-ambivalent. The hero’s absentee father is an untrustworthy drunkard, but the troubled young man’s reconciliation with his mother’s rugged beau does at least leave him with a responsible male authority figure at home. The teen male and female leads join hands as they witness the touching reunion of a monster family, the implication being that they will be inspired to marry and start a family of their own.

2. Anti-corporate. Townsfolk, while recognizing that their small community’s economy is dependent upon Terravex’s presence (“All the money in this town comes from Terravex Oil”), also resent the inordinate and quasi-governmental clout that the company wields. “The company I work for employs everyone in this town – and that includes you,” a corporate representative arrogantly informs the sheriff. Company scientist Thomas Lennon also admits to falsifying environmental reports. (Subverting the anti-corporate messaging, however, is the film’s product placement for brands like Beanitos and Chrysler).

1.Green. The problems begin with a sin against nature – “like the earth got mad and let something bad out”. Had Terravex – which, as its name indicates, molests the earth – taken more care not to disturb an unfamiliar and misunderstood ecosystem, it could have avoided its hour and a half of difficulties. Somewhat disappointingly, it seems not to have occurred to the writers what a godsend the existence of oil-gobbling monsters would be in the case of an oil spill. More likely, an oil concern would want to keep such potentially useful creatures on retainer rather than try to destroy them. There is, too, something not quite kosher from an environmentalist perspective about the idea of turning America’s gas habit, visualized by the creatures’ appetite for oil, into something cute, cuddly, and endearing, albeit cartoonishly monstrous.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

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bone-tomahawk

Bone Tomahawk is the real deal: a gritty, unapologetic – or, anyway, not overly apologetic – portrait of a time when western civilization’s future was secured with sacrifice and with blood and when subhuman savagery met with the requisite repercussions. Patrick Wilson, in a winning and physically demanding role, plays Arthur O’Dwyer, an injured cowboy whose broken leg is the last thing on his mind when wife Samantha (Lili Simmons) is abducted by “troglodytes” – a pack of cannibalistic cave-dwelling Indians straight out of a horror movie.

Joining O’Dwyer on the ride into savage territory to rescue Samantha are rock-solid Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell, more mature but just as badass as in Tombstone), gentleman Indian killer Mr. Brooder (Matthew Fox, who thankfully has a more dignified role than as the honky serial killer hunted by Madea in Alex Cross), and elderly, slow-witted backup deputy Chicory (Killing Them Softly’s Richard Jenkins, filling the Walter Brennan type sidekick role). Kurt Russell is Bone Tomahawk’s star power, but Jenkins practically steals the movie with his endearingly goofy interpretation of Chicory. Lili Simmons is perhaps never entirely convincing as a woman of the nineteenth century; but every member of the ensemble cast is entitled to ample applause.

Bone Tomahawk is as fine a contribution to the western genre as the present century has made; but viewers hoping for something as wholesome as Shane or even The Searchers are likely to find that Bone Tomahawk makes some fairly extreme demands on audience stomachs with its graphic and gory depictions of the troglodytes’ atrocities. This astounding outing was written and directed by S. Craig Zahler, a man whose slim résumé would hardly suggest that his first movie as a director would be such an undisputable masterpiece. “I believe those fleas are alive – and talented,” Chicory says in fond remembrance of a flea circus he once attended; and similar words could characterize this grumpy reviewer’s experience of watching Bone Tomahawk – which, if nothing else, demonstrates that the perverted parasites of the movie industry can from time to time still create a thing of actual beauty and earn the money they grab from the goyim.

5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Bone Tomahawk is well worth seeing and:

4. Flat-Earther! The flatness of the terrain crossed by the posse causes Chicory to give voice to his doubt about the roundness of the planet.

3. Pro-marriage. Bone Tomahawk presents multiple touching examples of loving marriages. It is O’Dwyer’s devotion to his wife that drives him to drag himself to the end of his adventure.

2. Christian. Characters dismissive of faith are disproportionately the ones who meet with unpleasant ends. “You can always sell ‘em to some idiot,” doomed thief David Arquette says in defense of the Bible. The likable Chicory is a Christian, as is O’Dwyer, who calls on God for strength as he drags his tired body toward what threatens to be a suicidal raid on the troglodytes’ lair. “This is what I prayed my whole life for – for help right now.” He crosses himself on finding his wife still alive, his faith in God’s existence seeming to have been confirmed. Sid Haig’s bandit, who hypocritically demands that the Bible be treated with respect while he goes about cutting sleeping men’s throats and steals their possessions, does, however, illustrate that mere profession of Christianity is no definite indication of merit.

1. Racist! The only advantage the “four doomed men” of the posse have against the troglodytes, Sheriff Hunt announces, is that they are smarter than the subhumans. The cave-dwellers are grotesque, with animal bone piercings, and, in addition to being cannibals, blind and incapacitate their females, using them only for reproduction. This is implicitly contrasted with the comparatively high standing women have enjoyed in western civilization. The men of the frontier town of Bright Hope are respectful toward Mrs. O’Dwyer, who has even been able to study medicine and doctor the locals. Women of the twenty-first century, Bone Tomahawk would seem to suggest, would probably not be wise in welcoming white men’s eclipse in the world. Perhaps to mitigate the white-vs.-brown premise, the troglodytes appear smeared in a whitish clay pigment; while, in another ass-covering gesture, the movie includes a distinguished Indian character called “The Professor” (Fargo Season 2’s Zahn McClarnon) who explains that the troglodytes are inbred and “something else entirely” from typical Native Americans.

Brooder, who remains an arrogant but nonetheless likable character throughout the film, shoots two Mexicans who approach the posse’s camp, suspecting them of being the scouts for a raid. “Mr. Brooder just educated two Mexicans on the meaning of Manifest Destiny,” Chicory explains to O’Dwyer, who asks if they deserved it. “I don’t know,” Chicory answers with meaningful ambiguity. An ethnomasochist in the audience at a question-and-answer session with the cast and crew (included on the DVD as an extra) refers to Brooder as a psychopath; but nothing whatsoever in the film suggests this. Brooder is a good and ultimately selfless man in spite of what Chicory anachronistically characterizes as his “bigotry”. There is an awareness and an appreciation in Bone Tomahawk that in the construction of civilizations, unpleasant actions must sometimes be taken so that the greater good can be secured.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

The Ideological Content Analysis 30 Days Putsch:

30 Reviews in 30 Days

DAY NINE

Swelter

Saddle up for another hipster riff on the western … Out-of-place big names Jean-Claude Van Damme and Alfred Molina pick up shameless paychecks for supporting roles in this sub-Tarantinoid dose of direct-to-streaming dreck. The actual leading man viewers get stuck with is a tedious congoid, Lennie James, who plays Bishop, the sheriff of a sleazy backwater outside Las Vegas that finds itself invaded by a gang of prison escapees searching for a cache of hidden loot. Van Damme, his accent thicker than ever, plays the implausibly named “Stillman”, one of the gang of psychotic outlaws, which also includes Cole (Grant Bowler), who discovers he has a score to settle with Bishop when he finds him shacked up with ex-girlfriend Carmen (Catalina Sandino Moreno). Annoyingly slapdash, with no sympathetic characters, Swelter is as uninviting, drab, and exhausting as its title advertises, with Van Damme’s charisma criminally underutilized. The great character actor Tracey Walter does add some much-needed color to a few scenes, however, in his role as “Old Man Henry Johnson”.

2.5 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Swelter is:

4. Anti-police. Van Damme’s gang gets the hip Reservoir Dogs slow motion stroll treatment as they shoot down the officers manning a roadblock.

3. Anti-gun. Bishop’s deputy Ronnie (Alan Simpson) is a klutz. Bishop himself refuses to carry a gun until circumstances force his hand. Asked why he performs his duties without a sidearm, he replies, “I’m afraid I might shoot somebody.”

2. Anti-white and pro-miscegenation. White men are vicious, sadistic poison to women. “It’s your DNA,” says Carmen in rejecting Cole’s renewed advances. She prefers the dusky embrace of Bishop. Van Damme also kisses a mutt.

1. Obamist. Swelter unfolds against the backdrop of the upcoming election of a new sheriff. After electing Bishop, a man with a mysterious past, just to rid themselves of the previous power, the townsfolk have grown impatient with what they perceive as Sheriff Bishop’s moralistic stifling of free enterprise and are itching to vote for his lame white deputy as a replacement; but Bishop, the righteous black man of destiny, rides in, rises to the occasion, and manages to protect the townspeople from a descent into white barbarity. (cf. American Hustle)

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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Cannibal Mercenary

Mercenary aka Cannibal Mercenary (1983) ****

This Thai film, titled to capitalize on the success of then-recent Italian gut-munching horrors Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Cannibal Ferox (1981), finds a ragtag team of sleazy and mentally damaged mercenaries venturing into VC-infested territory to assassinate a drug kingpin who commands an army of “Draculas”, cannibal tribesmen sort of like Indochinese hillbillies.

Clearly inspired by Apocalypse Now (1979), Mercenary opens with post-traumatic battle flashbacks intermingled with a shot of a ceiling fan like the one that transfixes Martin Sheen. After a little hokey, English-dubbed melodrama to set the plot in motion, Mercenary gets down to business – and brutal, nasty business it is, with the outnumbered protagonists encountering the Viet Cong, quicksand, booby traps, and (speaking of booby traps) a treacherous, manipulative jungle bitch who threatens the cohesiveness of the group.

Idiosyncratically edited, Mercenary has scenes of high-stress, noisy, tension-ratcheting quick cuts that appear to be designed to strain the viewer’s nerves to the breaking point, such as when a henchman threatens to waste a whining kid and initiates a death countdown. Standout imagery includes a beheading, eye-gouging, maggot-eating, face-urinating, a skull being split open by a spike, and subsequent hungry brain-gobbling. Horror watchers will also enjoy the tacky, uncredited appropriation of Goblin’s music from Dawn of the Dead (1978). Recommended to cannibal movie videovores and other perverts, who, however, should not get their hopes up about seeing the pictured Aryan super soldier spring into battle, as no such figure appears in Mercenary, an all-Asian affair, alas.

4 out of 5 stars.

Devastator

The Devastator (1986) ****

Directed by low-budget action specialist Cirio H. Santiago, a master of what Joe Bob Briggs has termed the “exploding bamboo” subgenre, The Devastator is yet another generic 80s ‘Nam vet vigilante movie – or, in other words, a classic! Richard Hill, better known for playing the title part in Deathstalker (1983), stars as Deacon Porter, a vet who just wants to get on with his life, but finds himself thrust back into the fray when his old commanding officer is murdered. In the rural California community of King’s Ransom, drug lord Carey (Crofton Hardester) rules his roost with a hell-raising paramilitary force and even has the sheriff (Kaz Garas) on his payroll. When Deacon and a few of his ex-soldier buddies assemble in town, however, Carey’s days of 80s drug tyranny are numbered.

Not much in the way of plot, The Devastator is primarily wall-to-wall action – largely set to chintzy synthesizer music – with some truly impressive stunt work along the way. The most fun, however, is probably to be had from Deacon’s burly compatriot Ox (Jack Daniels!), a growling party animal who greets his old teammate by punching a hole through his door (!) and who clearly delights in over-the-top mayhem for the kicks. The villain has a healthy, thriving marijuana field, which, when Ox assaults it and sets it on fire, results in an even more humongous marijuana holocaust than the one in Up in Smoke (1978) – that, and a funny variation on Duvall’s famous line from Apocalypse Now (1979), with Ox taking big, deep breaths of the stuff and exulting like some victorious barbarian.

Rock-jawed Hill is only so-so in the charisma department, but with his muscular build the actor definitely has the look of the all-American action hero. Jack Daniels, as noted, is quite the hoot as Ox, while foxy item Katt Shea, who co-stars as Hill’s love interest, spunky gas pump attendant Audrey, would go on shortly after The Devastator to become a director of some note, creating stylish thrillers like Stripped to Kill (1987) and Streets (1990). The Devastator would make a perfect double feature with funky Gary Busey actioner Eye of the Tiger (1986), an entry to which this programmer bears a thematic resemblance. 

4 stars. Check it out!

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Street Wars

Originally a two-part episode of the TV series True Justice, this ersatz “movie” has over-the-hill kicker Steven Seagal playing the chief of a special sheriff’s task force in the Seattle area. He becomes concerned when clueless clubbers start dropping like flies from a new drug making the rounds of the local rave scene. (Indicative of the depressingly meager budget of Street Wars is the fact that the psychedelic effect of the drug is conveyed by choppy editing, strobe lights, and a close-up of a water bottle being shaken.) “This is gettin’ bad, man. This is gettin’ bad. We gotta do somethin’,” the enlightened law enforcer decides. The investigation will lead his team into a tangle of mob hits and federal corruption, none of it particularly interesting.

Seagal, sporting a plastic Dracula ‘do and a few extra pounds around the midsection, characteristically whispers his way through police procedural gobbledygook and action epilepsy shot nearly entirely in gimmicky ADHD jerkvision to disorient the viewer and try to shock life into this video corpse. Speed-up/slow-down annoyance, generous expenditures of ammunition, and quick cuts (to distract from Seagal’s relative lack of mobility) were never so boring. Ever. The bleak non-entertainment that is Street Wars is probably best summed up by one of the hefty, greasy-faced hero’s lines of dialogue: “I mean, you gotta be kidding me, man. I ain’t got time for this.”

1.5 out of 5 stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Street Wars, in addition to sucking, sends mixed political signals and that it is:

9. Sexist! Workplace flirtation (i.e., verbal RAPE) goes unprogressively unpunished.

8. Pro-wigger. Seagal is given to occasional black affectations, calling people “y’all” and saying things like, “We ain’t suppose to be babysittas.”

7. Pro-family. “If I could turn back the hands of time,” Seagal says, “I’d spend a lot more time with my wife and kids.”

6. State-ambivalent. Street Wars accepts the validity of the War on Drugs, but depicts the DEA as corrupt and favors local law enforcement as more effective, honest, and caring. “If you think you’re going to make the government care about these [impoverished] people, you’re crazy,” Juliet (Meghan Ory) says, presumably with reference to the federal government. A visit to the site of Camp Harmony, part of Uncle Sam’s system of WWII Japanese internment camps, resurrects the specter of a belligerent, racist, authoritarian state. Later, when a conflict arises between federal law and the needs of the Seattle task force’s investigation, Sarah (Sarah Lind) asks, “You know this violates half a dozen federal laws?” “Rules went out the window when they tried to kill Gates, right?” Juliet bristles. “I hate to rationalize breaking the rules,” Sarah replies, “but, yeah, you’re right.”

5. Diversity-skeptical. Seattle is racially and politically polarized. “These people, the good and the bad,” says filmmaker Savon (Byron Chan), “are products of the environment that the government created.” “But do you understand that none of this is interesting to people like me?” Juliet sasses back. “And if your audience doesn’t consist of us young white Republicans, uh, you’re not really gonna get the advertisers, right?” Savon objects, saying, “An investigative piece is made as food for the brain – not for advertisers’ dollars”, to which Juliet snaps, “Yeah, well, I guess my brain just doesn’t, uh, eat what your restaurant is serving.” (see also nos. 1 and 3)

4. Anti-slut/anti-miscegenation. A ditzy hedonist (Annette Tolar) lets a black thug (Matt Ward) stuff dope in her mouth. “One of these and your whole world will change,” he says as he removes his pooplike finger from her lips. The pair dances briefly until she collapses, foams at the mouth, and dies. Street Wars would seem to be more tolerant of white guy/Asian girl hook-ups, however. “It’s so sexy when you get all technical like that,” Gates (Kyle Cassie) tells Sparks (Elizabeth Thai).

3. Conservative. Street Wars features a caricature of a left-libertarian social justice weenie in the annoyingly named Savon, a documentarian making a propagandistic film about the homeless with the cooperation of local authorities. Savon, an Asian nerd with a pretentious British accent, is convinced that a legacy of government oppression of minorities and the poor is to blame for society’s woes. Tough cookie Juliet identifies as a Republican.

2. Anti-drug. Few will envy the brain swelling, dementia, convulsions, and death.

1. Racist! Seagal’s black lackey (William “Big Sleeps” Stewart) calls him “Boss”. “Did you see that?” Sarah asks after Seagal has subdued a mulatto culprit on the run. “That was like trying to corral a monkey on crack!”

 

 

Homefront

Viewers are encouraged to do what they can to endure a disorienting first five minutes or so of prologue material shot in spazvision, as Homefront quickly shapes up to be an exciting suspense vehicle for leading limey Jason Statham. Screenwriter-producer Sylvester Stallone has written a human and involving winner for his fellow Expendables  alumnus, who profits in presence by playing something more substantial than Rambo’s globe-trotting sidekick.

Statham is quietly tough in his role of recent widower Phil Broker, a veteran of Interpol and the DEA who tries to make a new life for himself and his daughter Maddy (Izabela Vidovic) in a rural Louisiana community. Unfortunately for them, a schoolyard incident escalates into a dangerous situation involving meth manufacturer Gator (James Franco) and one vengeful ghost from Broker’s past.

At stake throughout and uppermost in the audience’s apprehensions is the safety of the innocent Maddy, so that portions of Homefront recall Cape Fear or Taken with its story of a loving but serious-minded and violently protective father. As in Taken, the hero is rather too impervious – getting shot, beaten up, nearly drowned, and car-wrecked are only momentary setbacks for the formidable Broker – but Homefront‘s momentum is such that its excesses might just as well be the sparks of its incendiary potential.

James Franco is as scary as Gator as he was as Alien in Spring Breakers, while Kate Bosworth fumes with bitchy toxicity as Cassie, the meth-head Lady Macbeth of the piece. Izabela Vidovic is a sophisticated young actress and deserves credit for making the little girl at the heart of the story an interesting character. Also in the cast is Winona Horowitz (alias Ryder), who appears to skanky effect as Gator’s main squeeze Sheryl.

4.5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Homefront is:

7. Racist! Sacrificial Negro rules of survival are clearly in effect.

6. Feminist. Maddy handily dispatches a big boy bully at school.

5. Anti-police. A corrupt sheriff (Clancy Brown) turns a blind eye to Gator’s business.

4. Pro-gun. A solid stock of firepower comes in handy when a man has to defend his castle.

3. Anti-redneck/pro-N.W.O. The locals are throwbacks to hillbilly days, complete with feuding clans. What they need is a good dose of civilized one-world-government whoop-ass from somebody with a foreign accent!

2. Pro-family. Notwithstanding no. 6, Homefront does showcase a touching father-daughter relationship.

1. Anti-drug. Drug dealers appear as deplorable people. Gator, the dastard, has even turned his own sister into an addict.

Part IV of The Filthy Films of Adam Sandler

In Ideological Content Analysis:

A Cranko-Politico-Critical Retrospective

Of the ICA Institute for Advanced Sandler Studies

AdamSandler

The number five film at the box office in 1998 and the number two adult-targeted comedy of that year (after the juggernaut There’s Something About Mary), The Waterboy was another major hit for Adam Sandler, here reteamed with Wedding Singer director Frank Coraci.  From the beginning The Waterboy makes its intentions clear, breaking with opening credits tradition in proclaiming itself “A Frank Coraci Movie” rather than the conventional rendering “An [insert director’s name] Film”.  In other words, The Waterboy is self-conscious and unashamed popular entertainment, preemptively thumbing its nose at whatever the critics might say about it.  As such, the movie is more or less a success – an energetic, upbeat, and stupendously stupid sports comedy aimed at the proverbial lowest common denominator.

Sandler, in a turn reminiscent of his “Cajun Man” Weekend Update bit from Saturday Night Live, creates one of the most memorable comic characters of the decade in Bobby Boucher, a 31-year-old rube still toiling as a college football team’s waterboy.  Boucher is socially awkward, lacks confidence, wets his bed, and is still a virgin; but he is not, as might at first appear to be the case, mentally retarded.  Even more shocking, it turns out the loser has real rage inside and potential as a psychotically brutal offensive lineman whenever somebody makes Boucher angry enough.  Down-on-his-luck Coach Klein (Henry Winkler, in a wry performance indicative of his range beyond the Fonz) knows a star player when he sees one; and, against the wishes of Boucher’s fanatically protective Mama (Kathy Bates), gives the beleaguered waterboy the chance to lead the South Central Louisiana University Mud Dogs to glory.  The climactic team win peculiarly lacks the expected comic punch, but enough in the film is endearing and funny for its shortcomings to be forgiven.

3 out of 5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Waterboy is:

9. Anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn).  A black player pictures a football as a Klansman’s head so as to motivate himself to kick it especially hard.

8. Feminist.  Distractingly sexy Fairuza Balk plays Boucher’s tough love interest, blade-wielding car thief and potential murderess Vicki Vallencourt, who can handle herself with ease against any would-be oppressor.

7. Mildly anti-South.  The hicks who populate the film are good sorts for the most part, but stereotypically ignorant white trash nonetheless.  One of Boucher’s college professors, a Col. Sanders look-alike, is brutally tackled in a moment of humiliation for an absurd visual representative of the plantation-infested Old South.

6. Drug-ambivalent.  “Don’t smoke crack,” says famous cocaine user Lawrence Taylor to a group of children.  Drinking humor occurs throughout, however, with even the Mud Dogs’ mascot imbibing.  The big game at the end is the Bourbon Bowl.

5. Anti-Christian.  Mrs. Boucher represents conservative Christians as fundamentalist twits obsessed with avoiding an omnipresent evil which lurks in unexpected places.  “Little girls are the devil,” she warns her son; also “Ben Franklin is the devil,” and she even mumbles about the Prince of Darkness in her sleep.

4. Pro-gay.  A sheriff and his deputy answer their door shirtless, the implication being that they have been in each other’s arms.  Misunderstanding Boucher to have said he is bisexual, a party tramp remarks, “I think that’s sexy.”  Coach Klein is seen wearing women’s shoes in a flashback.

3. Statist.  Decent vocabulary notwithstanding, homeschooled Boucher, with his lack of worldliness and social skills is essentially a walking, whimpering endorsement for public schools.  Knowledge-hungry Boucher, when given the chance, is eager to have a university education.  Nevertheless, The Waterboy inadvertently undermines the audience’s confidence in state-run education when the Louisiana high school equivalency examination is shown to include the following inaccurate question: “Ben Franklin discovered electricity.  In what year did this happen?”  (Ben Franklin, despite what unqualified Louisiana teacher union apparatchiks might teach the rustics, did not discover electricity.)

2. Pro-slut.  Tattooed floozy Vicki is all too happy to flash her breasts at the virginal football hero and flirts shamelessly with him in front of his disapproving mother.  (See also no. 4)

1. Family-ambivalent.  Boucher’s love for his mother is consistently touching, but her smothering affection is ultimately an obstacle that must be overcome.  Boucher’s father abandoned his family, and the son, in a triumphant moment of self-assertion, rejects his attempt at reconciliation.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has substandard luck with would-be blockbusters titled Last.  1993’s Last Action Hero, released a mere two years after the megahit Terminator 2: Judgment Day, is widely regarded as marking not only the end of Schwarzenegger’s reign at the box office and in audiences’ hearts and minds, but the demise of the larger-than-life 80s action film itself.  Now, in 2013, comes The Last Stand, a lively outing that ought to mark the muscleman’s triumphant return to action adoration, but which, alas, as it turns out, is just another relative flop.

Combining elements of High Noon and Vanishing Point, The Last Stand, with its southwestern flavor, brings Schwarzenegger full-circle in a way, considering that one of his earliest roles was in the western comedy The Villain.  Here Schwarzenegger is Ray Owens (sic), Sheriff of Sommerton County, Arizona, on America’s southern border.  His sleepy rural community is about to get more than its usual share of excitement when escaped drug cartel kingpin Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) hatches a plan to use Owens’s own unsuspecting town of Sommerton Junction as the end point of a sure-fire escape route to Mexico.  Making matters more difficult for federal and local authorities is the fact that Cortez is driving a futuristic and seemingly unstoppable thousand-horsepower Corvette.

The Last Stand is an unapologetically lightweight, nostalgic, high-testosterone crowd-pleaser, but no less pleasing for its lack of originality or depth.  Lukewarm box office notwithstanding, an Arnold Schwarzenegger gunplay-and-explosions vehicle – even a second-tier, self-consciously geriatric one – is something of a national treasure.  Schwarzenegger’s acting gives little evidence of having improved during his years in government, and may in fact have gotten worse; but nothing can mitigate the thrill of seeing this man in heroic action.

While he probably deserves a more iconic or physically imposing foe than lanky Eduardo Noriega or weird Peter Stormare (winner of this year’s Most Awkward American Accent Award), the supporting cast does much to enhance Schwarzenegger’s presence through humorous contrasts.  Luis Guzman and Johnny Knoxville are especially noteworthy in the comic relief department, and Forest Whitaker turns in an intensely invested performance as harried G-Man John Bannister.  The only thing The Last Stand may be missing is Schwarzenegger’s leading lady, as deputy Jaimie Alexander is too young to be the appropriate recipient of anything but his paternal affection.

4.5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Last Stand is:

6. Anti-drug.  Drug dealers, in the finest tradition of 80s action films, are the bad guys.

5. Pro-military.  An Iraq veteran ex-Marine is a key figure in the hometown defense.

4. Immigration-ambivalent.  Americans are reminded of their perilously porous border with Mexico when Cortez points out the irony of Owens trying to prevent him from returning to his own country when 12,000 Mexicans cross in the opposite direction every day.  “You make us immigrants look bad,” Owens tells Cortez.  It is unclear whether by saying “us immigrants” he identifies with the 12,000 mentioned by Cortez or only with the law-abiding variety.

3. Multiculturalist.  The Last Stand celebrates the contributions to law enforcement of blacks, Hispanics, women, Austrians, Asians, and dweebs.  Cortez, though the villain of the piece, represents Mexicans positively as a criminal mastermind and expert race car driver.

2. Pro-liberty/pro-gun.  Eccentric gun collector Lewis Dinkum (Johnny Knoxville) provides the firepower that allows the sheriff and his deputies to defend themselves against Cortez’s private army.  Notably, Dinkum offers a very useful “Nazi killer” machine gun he has kept in working order against the wishes of the government.  Elderly citizen Mrs. Salazar (Lois Geary) picks off one of Cortez’s mercenaries with her personal firearm.  Farmer Harry Dean Stanton is also admirable in attempting to defend his property with a shotgun.

1. Localist/traditionalist.  Sommerton Junction is a friendly, wholesome, peaceful place rather than the usual rustic nest of hateful Hollywood hicks.  FBI agent John Bannister underestimates the competence of the local sheriff’s department (significantly, an Arizona sheriff’s department).  He is humbled when Owens does his job for him and when the FBI is found to have been compromised by internal corruption.

Mutant aka Night Shadows (1984) ****1/2  I’ve always remembered the one-word review of Mutant in Mick Martin and Marsha Porter’s hateful old Video Movie Guide.  “Idiocy” is all it said.  Far from making me shy away from the reputedly rotten film, however, the condescendingly curt review only made me more curious about it.  I’ll confess to having been somewhat disappointed with Mutant the first time I saw it; but, having subsequently become a full initiate into the fun that is Wings Hauser appreciation, I’ve changed my mind as Mutant has grown on me with age.  My initial response to Mutant was largely a problem of false expectations.  Whereas I went into it wanting another Dawn of the Dead, Mutant is far less ambitious in action, scope, gore effects, and substance, and functions primarily as an eccentric Wings Hauser vehicle.  The plot, which has Hauser and tippling lawman Bo Hopkins running afoul of toxic rural zombies, is a total blast.  Don’t expect a Romero-style cannibal zombie epic, though.  This is all about the Wings Hauser experience.

Nightmare at Noon aka Death Street USA (1987) ****  Vacationing lawyer Hauser and ex-cop Hopkins are joined by sheriff George Kennedy, again up against a small town full of toxic zombies.  Hauser plays a considerably less likable character than usual, and Hopkins emerges as the genuine badass in this one.  Kennedy is priceless, convincingly selling his character’s reluctant zombification, and low-key villainy courtesy of 80s-90s VHS action stalwart Brion James doesn’t hurt the movie at all.  There’s really no way not to have a good time with such a stellar B-movie ensemble working for Nico Mastorakis, the producer/director who brought us the unsung horror winners The Zero Boys and Grandmother’s House.

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