THE LAST STAND *** (107 minutes) MA
Another reason in the long list of reasons to love Arnold Schwarzenegger is that the guy knew, long before he read the script for The Last Stand, that the spectacle of a sexagenarian Arnie returning to films as an action hero would raise many a laugh.
So, much like the ethos Sylvester Stallone took into his Expendables franchise, Arnie goes with it, happy to gag about joint twinges and failing eyesight as he takes centre stage as a small-town sheriff trying to stop a drug lord from crossing the border into Mexico.
With a reliable team of deputies - including Johnny Knoxville, Luis Guzman and Jaimie Alexander - and an old-school arsenal of weapons that proudly includes a WW1 Vickers machine gun, Arnie is tasked with having to make up for the deficiencies of the FBI by barricading his streets and arming his team to the teeth to stop the bad guy in his tracks.
Hotshot South Korean director Kim Ji-woon (2008's The Good, the Bad, the Weird) brings a huge amount of style to the car flipping and pyrotechnics, brandishing a love for long takes during action sequences.
As for Arnie, he lurches through the film with a kind of defiant dignity, his signature mixture of self-effacing humour and good ol' tough talk allowing us to buy into the kind of big-screen hero he made us fall in love with all those decades ago.
Yeah, The Last Stand is cheese, but at least it's tasty cheese.
AMOUR **1/2 (122 minutes; subtitled) M
The merciless ravages of old age are given a slow, studious, somewhat strained going over in this critically lauded, emotionally draining domestic drama by Austrian director Michael Haneke, a self-consciously edgy artist whose challenging, often violent works – Funny Games; Benny’s Video; Hidden; The White Ribbon - certainly can’t be faulted for their sentimentality.
Set mostly in a large French apartment, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and his wife Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) are comfortably retired music teachers whose lives are disrupted when Anne suffers a series of strokes.
Make no mistake: this film is Bleaksville. The realities of caring for a loved one and the quiet torture of watching them deteriorate are explored in exacting, often excoriating detail by Haneke, who wrote the film based on personal experience.
Performances are solid - Riva is up for a Best Actress Oscar - and Isabelle Huppert puts in strong work as their daughter.
Though this is not a happy film, it is intended by Haneke, now 70, as an ode to the power of love to withstand everything life can throw at it. In that regard, it certainly works. One automatically feels for the characters and their universal plight.
Yet while Haneke's love of long takes invite you to stare into the corrugated faces of Georges and Anne as their worlds change, there is a leaden quality to many stretches of the film that assume a profundity that simply isn't there.
Sarah Polley's beautiful 2006 film Away From Her also dealt with the downside of aging and is, in terms of entertainment, a better film. Yet it was not subject to the clamour of acclaim that has greeted this film, a festival and critical darling since it premiered at Cannes last year.
Still, Amour's two leads make a magnetic duo and take us on a compelling journey; Haneke, as usual, delivers a knockout ending designed to be remembered.
BEAUTIFUL CREATURES * (124 minutes) M
After the tedium of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows comes another muddled, mediocre slice of supernatural nonsense.
Trying to play on the erotic allure of witches, the film pits Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich), a Southern high school loner who loves reading books banned by his backwards town, with Lena (Australian actress Alice Englert), a teen witch whose powers will kick in when she turns 16 in a few weeks.There's a smattering of not-bad jokes amidst a swirl of occult hokum about spells, magic books and the usual shots of boiling clouds in an overcast sky.
Any hope of tapping into the Twilight vibe is pretty much neutered by the film's haphazard storyline, stuttering pace and inordinate length.
It's painful enough seeing heavily accented version of Jeremy Irons and Emma Thompson wasting away in this mess, but the marvelous Viola Davis (The Help; Doubt) deserves better.
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: WORLDS AWAY 3D *** (91 minutes) G
Thankfully, this luscious 3D treat is not merely a photographed performance piece by the world-famous, design-crazy performing troupe but a real dose of visual splendour.
Using state-of-the-art cameras courtesy of James Cameron (Avatar), director Andrew Adamson (Shrek; Narnia) weaves a series of stunningly captured acts around a wafer-thin story about a waif who wanders into a magical world.
Designed as pure confection for the eyes, this largely wordless fare is perfect for kids (how many G-rated films are there around?) and for any stressed-out office worker eager for something to unwind to. (See our two-part interview with Andrew Adamson).
ROMAN POLANSKI: A FILM MEMOIR *** (90 minutes) M
Sitting with his long-time friend and producer Andrew Braunsberg, director Roman Polanski delivers a vivid, verbal walk-through of his life - from his harrowing childhood surviving the Holocaust (he breaks down several times), to his work in film, to the murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate by the Manson family, to his infamy as a sex offender.
Those familiar with Marina Zenovich's excellent 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired will find little new here, aside from updates on Polanski's legal wrangles. Still, Polanski sure knows how to spin a yarn, whether it's with words or film.