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By James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies

"Mama," produced by that good-natured gourmand of the ghastly, Guillermo del Toro, sees director Andrés Muschetti tell a good old-fashioned horror story, not just in tone and tenor but also in form and filming. After the "found footage" faux-handheld camera work of jostling diversions like the "Paranormal Activity" films and their ilk, it's nice to see a horror film where camera movement and carefully-contemplated camera placement are used as delicately and exquisitely as a surgeon's knife. Released in the dead zone of January films, "Mama" is a sincere shocker — a modern horror film that's as smart as it is scary, as well-acted as it is well-constructed, as capable of coherent story logic as it is capable of egregious jump-scare moments.

We open with four simple words: Once up on a time ... When their father goes off the road, literally and figuratively, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lily (Isabelle Nélisse) are abandoned to live in an old cabin in the woods. With Victoria just five and Lilly a year old, it's just the two of them ... and it also clearly isn't. Flash-forward five years, and the girls are found — almost non-verbal, feral, filthy. After a few months of rehab, their uncle Luke (Nikolaj Costner-Waldau) is ready to take them in, but his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain, with Joan Jett's bangs and attitude on loan) isn't quite sure ... and kindly psychiatrist Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) would like to keep the girls nearby so he can keep checking in on them.

And after moving the freshly-forged foursome into a home owned by the Institute Dr. Dreyfuss works for — rent-free — things settle down, aside from the occasional bumps in the night. Which get louder, and less occasional. The girls both talk about "Mama," a protector-figure psychiatry and logic suggest they've invented in their isolation. But when we see someone — some thing — has followed Victoria and Lilly to their new home to play and visit, it doesn't bode well for Lucas and Annabel. Or anyone.

Bing: Watch a trailer for 'Mama'

In an age of illogical, inconsistent, silly ghost stories and over-shot, under-written horror films like the slapdash, tedious "Sinister" and its ilk, "Mama" stands floating head and dislocated shoulders above its supernatural cinematic peers, in no small part thanks to Muschetti's direction and decisions. Discussing what Mama is or what she wants will ruin too many of the film's pleasures, but let me just note that Mama is terrifying precisely because we can understand her motivations and madness, and while she isn't bound by many of the rules of physics, she is bound by the thoughts and feelings of her cold, dead brain and heart.

As for Chastian, she's exemplary; nothing elevates a B-movie like A-level talent, and she's committed to the cause. When Annabel is apprehensive about creating a pseudo-family for the girls by taking them in, her bandmate notes that all families are "screwed up." Annabel sighs: "But this one is screwed-up and instant." Nélisse and Charpentier also give excellent, smart performances, believable and moving. (When Lilly figures out the difference between Mama and Annabel and conveys it without a word, or Veronica quietly and firmly warns Annabel to not stroke her hair because "She gets jealous," you realize precisely how good the child actors are.)

The script, by director Muschetti and Barbara Muschetti, with credit also given to Neil Cross, gives Chastain and the other characters room to be smart and cautious, and while a few coincidences help things sail along when the ball is rolling, they aren't especially infuriating. And Mama herself — a mix of CGI, practical effects and actor Javier Botet's body, along with many voices — is a distinctive, unique creation made-to-measure for a modern ghost story, not just a recycled off-the-rack blur of CGI and darkness. "Mama" may seem indistinguishable from a crop of other recent, lesser horror films, but if you give it a chance to surprise (and startle) you, it's a superb, spooky, fearlessly fresh film that's not interested in either the easy happy ending or the lazy set-up for a sequel. Instead, "Mama" wants to, tries hard to, and truly does scare you senseless.

Want more Movies? Be sure to like MSN Movies on Facebook and follow MSN Movies Twitter.

James Rocchi has written reviews and articles for print and on-line publications including Total Film Magazine, The Toronto Star, IndieWire's The Playlist, Mother Jones, AMCtv.com, Cinematical.com and more. He's covered film festivals including Sundance, Cannes, the Toronto International Film Festival, SXSW and Fantastic Fest. He's been an on-air reviewer for CBS-5 San Francisco and a reviewer and commentator for CNN, G4, Tech TV and more. He lives in Los Angeles, which is both exactly and not at all like the movies suggest it is."

"Mama," produced by that good-natured gourmand of the ghastly, Guillermo del Toro, sees director Andrés Muschetti tell a good old-fashioned horror story, not just in tone and tenor but also in form and filming. After the "found footage" faux-handheld camera work of jostling diversions like the "Paranormal Activity" films and their ilk, it's nice to see a horror film where camera movement and carefully-contemplated camera placement are used as delicately and exquisitely as a surgeon's knife. Released in the dead zone of January films, "Mama" is a sincere shocker — a modern horror film that's as smart as it is scary, as well-acted as it is well-constructed, as capable of coherent story logic as it is capable of egregious jump-scare moments.

We open with four simple words: Once up on a time ... When their father goes off the road, literally and figuratively, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lily (Isabelle Nélisse) are abandoned to live in an old cabin in the woods. With Victoria just five and Lilly a year old, it's just the two of them ... and it also clearly isn't. Flash-forward five years, and the girls are found — almost non-verbal, feral, filthy. After a few months of rehab, their uncle Luke (Nikolaj Costner-Waldau) is ready to take them in, but his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain, with Joan Jett's bangs and attitude on loan) isn't quite sure ... and kindly psychiatrist Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) would like to keep the girls nearby so he can keep checking in on them.

And after moving the freshly-forged foursome into a home owned by the Institute Dr. Dreyfuss works for — rent-free — things settle down, aside from the occasional bumps in the night. Which get louder, and less occasional. The girls both talk about "Mama," a protector-figure psychiatry and logic suggest they've invented in their isolation. But when we see someone — some thing — has followed Victoria and Lilly to their new home to play and visit, it doesn't bode well for Lucas and Annabel. Or anyone.

Bing: Watch a trailer for 'Mama'

In an age of illogical, inconsistent, silly ghost stories and over-shot, under-written horror films like the slapdash, tedious "Sinister" and its ilk, "Mama" stands floating head and dislocated shoulders above its supernatural cinematic peers, in no small part thanks to Muschetti's direction and decisions. Discussing what Mama is or what she wants will ruin too many of the film's pleasures, but let me just note that Mama is terrifying precisely because we can understand her motivations and madness, and while she isn't bound by many of the rules of physics, she is bound by the thoughts and feelings of her cold, dead brain and heart.

As for Chastian, she's exemplary; nothing elevates a B-movie like A-level talent, and she's committed to the cause. When Annabel is apprehensive about creating a pseudo-family for the girls by taking them in, her bandmate notes that all families are "screwed up." Annabel sighs: "But this one is screwed-up and instant." Nélisse and Charpentier also give excellent, smart performances, believable and moving. (When Lilly figures out the difference between Mama and Annabel and conveys it without a word, or Veronica quietly and firmly warns Annabel to not stroke her hair because "She gets jealous," you realize precisely how good the child actors are.)

The script, by director Muschetti and Barbara Muschetti, with credit also given to Neil Cross, gives Chastain and the other characters room to be smart and cautious, and while a few coincidences help things sail along when the ball is rolling, they aren't especially infuriating. And Mama herself — a mix of CGI, practical effects and actor Javier Botet's body, along with many voices — is a distinctive, unique creation made-to-measure for a modern ghost story, not just a recycled off-the-rack blur of CGI and darkness. "Mama" may seem indistinguishable from a crop of other recent, lesser horror films, but if you give it a chance to surprise (and startle) you, it's a superb, spooky, fearlessly fresh film that's not interested in either the easy happy ending or the lazy set-up for a sequel. Instead, "Mama" wants to, tries hard to, and truly does scare you senseless.

Want more Movies? Be sure to like MSN Movies on Facebook and follow MSN Movies Twitter.

James Rocchi has written reviews and articles for print and on-line publications including Total Film Magazine, The Toronto Star, IndieWire's The Playlist, Mother Jones, AMCtv.com, Cinematical.com and more. He's covered film festivals including Sundance, Cannes, the Toronto International Film Festival, SXSW and Fantastic Fest. He's been an on-air reviewer for CBS-5 San Francisco and a reviewer and commentator for CNN, G4, Tech TV and more. He lives in Los Angeles, which is both exactly and not at all like the movies suggest it is."
Not much to love about 'LUV'
By Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies

At first sight, there's a lot to like about "LUV." (Sorry.) It stars a cast of top-flight performers, headlined by hip-hop artist and actor Common and young newcomer Michael Rainey Jr. Rainey, 11 at the time of shooting, holds his own with his older male co-star and the great Vonetta McGee in the film's opening scene, a slightly tense family breakfast, so there's an initial reassurance here that one's going to be in good company, acting-wise. That feeling holds: Charles S. Dutton, Dennis Haysbert and Danny Glover, among others, turn up as the story goes along, and make the most of their roles.

Bing: More about Charles S. Dutton | More on Common

Also encouraging is the location shooting. The movie's set and lensed in Baltimore, which gets a fair amount of play in television but not much love in the feature-film department, John Waters' opus notwithstanding. Writer-director Sheldon Candis views the town with an easy familiarity but also a good eye for the telling detail. Where "LUV" goes awry is with the story itself. Common plays Vincent, a recently sprung ex-con who's looking to make a move into legitimate business, although he may have to do so by not-so-legit means. Rainey plays his nephew, Woody. On the day "LUV" takes place, after grilling Woody on whether or not he's telling the truth when he brags to his uncle about hollering at the little shorties, Vincent decides to make Woody skip school and come along with him on his rounds of the day, to see what it's like "to be a man."

This can't end well, obviously, which is underscored every time Vincent asks Woody a question like, "You ever shot a gun before?" Candis makes clear pretty much from the outset that he's interested in exploring the tensions and contradictions inherent in urban life in a supposedly "post-racial" America. One of the folks he shows off Woody to says, after giving Vincent instructions on when he can next show up to visit, "Bring little Barack with you, too!" Vincent, as good as his intentions and ambitions are, represents an old-school ethos that, the film argues, needs to go by the wayside. But that ethos isn't dissolving fast enough, largely because real alternatives aren't turning up to replace it. This is a painful thesis that's played out in what are largely dramatically unsatisfying ways. And in the end Candis seems to want to have his didacticism and eat it too. After some plot turns revealing that Woody isn't as naïve as Vincent believes him to be, "LUV" careens out of a harrowing climax and steers into a fantasy-fulfillment ending that not only stretches plausibility, but has the effect of invalidating much of what has gone before. While the work put in by the cast members (particularly Dutton and Haysbert, the latter of whom is particularly subtle in a role that's against type for him) keeps "LUV" watchable throughout, there's not much more of distinction here, and the end result is another average, well-intentioned indie.

Want more Movies? Be sure to like MSN Movies on Facebook and follow MSN Movies Twitter.

Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.

At first sight, there's a lot to like about "LUV." (Sorry.) It stars a cast of top-flight performers, headlined by hip-hop artist and actor Common and young newcomer Michael Rainey Jr. Rainey, 11 at the time of shooting, holds his own with his older male co-star and the great Vonetta McGee in the film's opening scene, a slightly tense family breakfast, so there's an initial reassurance here that one's going to be in good company, acting-wise. That feeling holds: Charles S. Dutton, Dennis Haysbert and Danny Glover, among others, turn up as the story goes along, and make the most of their roles.

Bing: More about Charles S. Dutton | More on Common

Also encouraging is the location shooting. The movie's set and lensed in Baltimore, which gets a fair amount of play in television but not much love in the feature-film department, John Waters' opus notwithstanding. Writer-director Sheldon Candis views the town with an easy familiarity but also a good eye for the telling detail. Where "LUV" goes awry is with the story itself. Common plays Vincent, a recently sprung ex-con who's looking to make a move into legitimate business, although he may have to do so by not-so-legit means. Rainey plays his nephew, Woody. On the day "LUV" takes place, after grilling Woody on whether or not he's telling the truth when he brags to his uncle about hollering at the little shorties, Vincent decides to make Woody skip school and come along with him on his rounds of the day, to see what it's like "to be a man."

This can't end well, obviously, which is underscored every time Vincent asks Woody a question like, "You ever shot a gun before?" Candis makes clear pretty much from the outset that he's interested in exploring the tensions and contradictions inherent in urban life in a supposedly "post-racial" America. One of the folks he shows off Woody to says, after giving Vincent instructions on when he can next show up to visit, "Bring little Barack with you, too!" Vincent, as good as his intentions and ambitions are, represents an old-school ethos that, the film argues, needs to go by the wayside. But that ethos isn't dissolving fast enough, largely because real alternatives aren't turning up to replace it. This is a painful thesis that's played out in what are largely dramatically unsatisfying ways. And in the end Candis seems to want to have his didacticism and eat it too. After some plot turns revealing that Woody isn't as naïve as Vincent believes him to be, "LUV" careens out of a harrowing climax and steers into a fantasy-fulfillment ending that not only stretches plausibility, but has the effect of invalidating much of what has gone before. While the work put in by the cast members (particularly Dutton and Haysbert, the latter of whom is particularly subtle in a role that's against type for him) keeps "LUV" watchable throughout, there's not much more of distinction here, and the end result is another average, well-intentioned indie.

Want more Movies? Be sure to like MSN Movies on Facebook and follow MSN Movies Twitter.

Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.

One scary 'Mama'
By James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies

"Mama," produced by that good-natured gourmand of the ghastly, Guillermo del Toro, sees director Andrés Muschetti tell a good old-fashioned horror story, not just in tone and tenor but also in form and filming. After the "found footage" faux-handheld camera work of jostling diversions like the "Paranormal Activity" films and their ilk, it's nice to see a horror film where camera movement and carefully-contemplated camera placement are used as delicately and exquisitely as a surgeon's knife. Released in the dead zone of January films, "Mama" is a sincere shocker — a modern horror film that's as smart as it is scary, as well-acted as it is well-constructed, as capable of coherent story logic as it is capable of egregious jump-scare moments.

We open with four simple words: Once up on a time ... When their father goes off the road, literally and figuratively, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lily (Isabelle Nélisse) are abandoned to live in an old cabin in the woods. With Victoria just five and Lilly a year old, it's just the two of them ... and it also clearly isn't. Flash-forward five years, and the girls are found — almost non-verbal, feral, filthy. After a few months of rehab, their uncle Luke (Nikolaj Costner-Waldau) is ready to take them in, but his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain, with Joan Jett's bangs and attitude on loan) isn't quite sure ... and kindly psychiatrist Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) would like to keep the girls nearby so he can keep checking in on them.

And after moving the freshly-forged foursome into a home owned by the Institute Dr. Dreyfuss works for — rent-free — things settle down, aside from the occasional bumps in the night. Which get louder, and less occasional. The girls both talk about "Mama," a protector-figure psychiatry and logic suggest they've invented in their isolation. But when we see someone — some thing — has followed Victoria and Lilly to their new home to play and visit, it doesn't bode well for Lucas and Annabel. Or anyone.

Bing: Watch a trailer for 'Mama'

In an age of illogical, inconsistent, silly ghost stories and over-shot, under-written horror films like the slapdash, tedious "Sinister" and its ilk, "Mama" stands floating head and dislocated shoulders above its supernatural cinematic peers, in no small part thanks to Muschetti's direction and decisions. Discussing what Mama is or what she wants will ruin too many of the film's pleasures, but let me just note that Mama is terrifying precisely because we can understand her motivations and madness, and while she isn't bound by many of the rules of physics, she is bound by the thoughts and feelings of her cold, dead brain and heart.

As for Chastian, she's exemplary; nothing elevates a B-movie like A-level talent, and she's committed to the cause. When Annabel is apprehensive about creating a pseudo-family for the girls by taking them in, her bandmate notes that all families are "screwed up." Annabel sighs: "But this one is screwed-up and instant." Nélisse and Charpentier also give excellent, smart performances, believable and moving. (When Lilly figures out the difference between Mama and Annabel and conveys it without a word, or Veronica quietly and firmly warns Annabel to not stroke her hair because "She gets jealous," you realize precisely how good the child actors are.)

The script, by director Muschetti and Barbara Muschetti, with credit also given to Neil Cross, gives Chastain and the other characters room to be smart and cautious, and while a few coincidences help things sail along when the ball is rolling, they aren't especially infuriating. And Mama herself — a mix of CGI, practical effects and actor Javier Botet's body, along with many voices — is a distinctive, unique creation made-to-measure for a modern ghost story, not just a recycled off-the-rack blur of CGI and darkness. "Mama" may seem indistinguishable from a crop of other recent, lesser horror films, but if you give it a chance to surprise (and startle) you, it's a superb, spooky, fearlessly fresh film that's not interested in either the easy happy ending or the lazy set-up for a sequel. Instead, "Mama" wants to, tries hard to, and truly does scare you senseless.

Want more Movies? Be sure to like MSN Movies on Facebook and follow MSN Movies Twitter.

James Rocchi has written reviews and articles for print and on-line publications including Total Film Magazine, The Toronto Star, IndieWire's The Playlist, Mother Jones, AMCtv.com, Cinematical.com and more. He's covered film festivals including Sundance, Cannes, the Toronto International Film Festival, SXSW and Fantastic Fest. He's been an on-air reviewer for CBS-5 San Francisco and a reviewer and commentator for CNN, G4, Tech TV and more. He lives in Los Angeles, which is both exactly and not at all like the movies suggest it is."

"Mama," produced by that good-natured gourmand of the ghastly, Guillermo del Toro, sees director Andrés Muschetti tell a good old-fashioned horror story, not just in tone and tenor but also in form and filming. After the "found footage" faux-handheld camera work of jostling diversions like the "Paranormal Activity" films and their ilk, it's nice to see a horror film where camera movement and carefully-contemplated camera placement are used as delicately and exquisitely as a surgeon's knife. Released in the dead zone of January films, "Mama" is a sincere shocker — a modern horror film that's as smart as it is scary, as well-acted as it is well-constructed, as capable of coherent story logic as it is capable of egregious jump-scare moments.

We open with four simple words: Once up on a time ... When their father goes off the road, literally and figuratively, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lily (Isabelle Nélisse) are abandoned to live in an old cabin in the woods. With Victoria just five and Lilly a year old, it's just the two of them ... and it also clearly isn't. Flash-forward five years, and the girls are found — almost non-verbal, feral, filthy. After a few months of rehab, their uncle Luke (Nikolaj Costner-Waldau) is ready to take them in, but his girlfriend Annabel (Jessica Chastain, with Joan Jett's bangs and attitude on loan) isn't quite sure ... and kindly psychiatrist Dr. Dreyfuss (Daniel Kash) would like to keep the girls nearby so he can keep checking in on them.

And after moving the freshly-forged foursome into a home owned by the Institute Dr. Dreyfuss works for — rent-free — things settle down, aside from the occasional bumps in the night. Which get louder, and less occasional. The girls both talk about "Mama," a protector-figure psychiatry and logic suggest they've invented in their isolation. But when we see someone — some thing — has followed Victoria and Lilly to their new home to play and visit, it doesn't bode well for Lucas and Annabel. Or anyone.

Bing: Watch a trailer for 'Mama'

In an age of illogical, inconsistent, silly ghost stories and over-shot, under-written horror films like the slapdash, tedious "Sinister" and its ilk, "Mama" stands floating head and dislocated shoulders above its supernatural cinematic peers, in no small part thanks to Muschetti's direction and decisions. Discussing what Mama is or what she wants will ruin too many of the film's pleasures, but let me just note that Mama is terrifying precisely because we can understand her motivations and madness, and while she isn't bound by many of the rules of physics, she is bound by the thoughts and feelings of her cold, dead brain and heart.

As for Chastian, she's exemplary; nothing elevates a B-movie like A-level talent, and she's committed to the cause. When Annabel is apprehensive about creating a pseudo-family for the girls by taking them in, her bandmate notes that all families are "screwed up." Annabel sighs: "But this one is screwed-up and instant." Nélisse and Charpentier also give excellent, smart performances, believable and moving. (When Lilly figures out the difference between Mama and Annabel and conveys it without a word, or Veronica quietly and firmly warns Annabel to not stroke her hair because "She gets jealous," you realize precisely how good the child actors are.)

The script, by director Muschetti and Barbara Muschetti, with credit also given to Neil Cross, gives Chastain and the other characters room to be smart and cautious, and while a few coincidences help things sail along when the ball is rolling, they aren't especially infuriating. And Mama herself — a mix of CGI, practical effects and actor Javier Botet's body, along with many voices — is a distinctive, unique creation made-to-measure for a modern ghost story, not just a recycled off-the-rack blur of CGI and darkness. "Mama" may seem indistinguishable from a crop of other recent, lesser horror films, but if you give it a chance to surprise (and startle) you, it's a superb, spooky, fearlessly fresh film that's not interested in either the easy happy ending or the lazy set-up for a sequel. Instead, "Mama" wants to, tries hard to, and truly does scare you senseless.

Want more Movies? Be sure to like MSN Movies on Facebook and follow MSN Movies Twitter.

James Rocchi has written reviews and articles for print and on-line publications including Total Film Magazine, The Toronto Star, IndieWire's The Playlist, Mother Jones, AMCtv.com, Cinematical.com and more. He's covered film festivals including Sundance, Cannes, the Toronto International Film Festival, SXSW and Fantastic Fest. He's been an on-air reviewer for CBS-5 San Francisco and a reviewer and commentator for CNN, G4, Tech TV and more. He lives in Los Angeles, which is both exactly and not at all like the movies suggest it is."
'The Last Stand': Arnold is back
By Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies

From Austrian body builder to improbable action movie hero to California governor to sort of personally disgraced ex-California Governor to ... action movie hero again. 2013 opens with another episode in the both peculiar and apparently irresistible saga of Arnold Schwarzenegger that, among other things, aims to prove that there ARE second and third acts in American lives if you're an immigrant. Or something.

Ah-nuld nerds, and there are, to judge from Internet activity, still a heck of a lot of them out there, have been salivating over the performer's rushed return to front-and-center on-screen terminating (he did show up in Stallone's "Expendables" movies in wink-wink bit parts) for a number of reasons, one of which was that this project had an "interesting" director, Korean Kim Jee-woon of "I Saw The Devil" not-quite fame. Alas, Jee-woon doesn't do much of anything interesting with the very conventional material that makes up "The Last Stand" 's storyline. That material includes a Ruthless Drug Kingpin Who Engineers A Daring Escape From Execution, A Small Time Sheriff Who Used To Be Somebody Whose Little Town Lies Directly In The Path Of The Drug Kingpin's Escape Route, those characters' respective posses (a venal black-clad criminal army on the one hand, a motley band of thrifty, brave, clean and reverent deputies on the other) and a cargo plane load of guns and ammunition, some of it provided courtesy of an eccentric weapons enthusiast played by Johnny Knoxville, who does a nice combo of Daffy Duck and Wile E. Coyote, redneck style, which meshes amusingly with Schwarzenegger's impression of a Teutonic Kaw-Liga.

Let's not be coy here: Schwarzenegger is an atrocious actor and always has been. And he's been away from movies sufficiently long that in the earliest scenes of "The Last Stand," his awfulness registers as just that; we haven't had time to get acclimated to the particularities of his screen charisma. Also, he's, you know, 65. Only four years younger than Keith Richards, although he's likely had a healthier lifestyle. (Those cigars, though.) "The Last Stand" contains a fair number of acknowledgements of Our Hero's advanced age. Not that it matters when it comes to the plausibility of his character being able to successfully challenge the villain Cortez ("what a killer," as Neil Young would say, am I right?) played by Eduardo Noriega, whose resemblance to spaghetti-Western and Euro-thriller stalwart Tomás Milián helps contribute to this movie's sometimes-agreeable B-picture vibe. The plot mechanics maintain an again not-unpleasing "Rio Bravo" meets "Die Hard" feel, and the action sequences, while hardly particularly distinguished, aren't altogether migraine inducing. The getaway car, a souped-up Corvette capable of going over 200 miles an hour, has some novelty value too. But as lively as some of the stuff on display can get, it's not gonna give the producers of the "Mission Impossible" franchise anything to lose sleep over.

Still, "The Last Stand" commits few major sins while indulging all the usual minor (or at least unsurprising) sins (overemphatic blood-and-guts, useless exposition about stuff we don't care about and hardly any explanation of stuff we might actually be curious about). Those sins are ones we've gotten used to forgiving while enjoying our action pablum. But after the hyper-fire-powered standoff in the middle of town, the movie's second-tier climax brings a new definition to the term "corny" and winds up falling very flat. Trying the viewer's patience in this way is apt to have the side-effect of calling attention to the essentially hollow nature of the whole enterprise. At least that was this viewer's experience. The preview audience I saw it with was more taken with the picture, although the presence therein of not one but two goo-gooing and occasionally crying babies did add a peculiar dimension to the experience. This did not inhibit one individual, who rather resembled Cedric the Entertainer in drag (complete with hat), from proclaiming "That movie was DOPE" on the way out of the theater. Just so you know there's a multiplicity of opinion on Schwarzenegger's reemergence. The odds are good that now that he's back, he'll be, um, back.

Want more Movies? Be sure to like MSN Movies on Facebook and follow MSN Movies Twitter.

Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.

From Austrian body builder to improbable action movie hero to California governor to sort of personally disgraced ex-California Governor to ... action movie hero again. 2013 opens with another episode in the both peculiar and apparently irresistible saga of Arnold Schwarzenegger that, among other things, aims to prove that there ARE second and third acts in American lives if you're an immigrant. Or something.

Ah-nuld nerds, and there are, to judge from Internet activity, still a heck of a lot of them out there, have been salivating over the performer's rushed return to front-and-center on-screen terminating (he did show up in Stallone's "Expendables" movies in wink-wink bit parts) for a number of reasons, one of which was that this project had an "interesting" director, Korean Kim Jee-woon of "I Saw The Devil" not-quite fame. Alas, Jee-woon doesn't do much of anything interesting with the very conventional material that makes up "The Last Stand" 's storyline. That material includes a Ruthless Drug Kingpin Who Engineers A Daring Escape From Execution, A Small Time Sheriff Who Used To Be Somebody Whose Little Town Lies Directly In The Path Of The Drug Kingpin's Escape Route, those characters' respective posses (a venal black-clad criminal army on the one hand, a motley band of thrifty, brave, clean and reverent deputies on the other) and a cargo plane load of guns and ammunition, some of it provided courtesy of an eccentric weapons enthusiast played by Johnny Knoxville, who does a nice combo of Daffy Duck and Wile E. Coyote, redneck style, which meshes amusingly with Schwarzenegger's impression of a Teutonic Kaw-Liga.

Let's not be coy here: Schwarzenegger is an atrocious actor and always has been. And he's been away from movies sufficiently long that in the earliest scenes of "The Last Stand," his awfulness registers as just that; we haven't had time to get acclimated to the particularities of his screen charisma. Also, he's, you know, 65. Only four years younger than Keith Richards, although he's likely had a healthier lifestyle. (Those cigars, though.) "The Last Stand" contains a fair number of acknowledgements of Our Hero's advanced age. Not that it matters when it comes to the plausibility of his character being able to successfully challenge the villain Cortez ("what a killer," as Neil Young would say, am I right?) played by Eduardo Noriega, whose resemblance to spaghetti-Western and Euro-thriller stalwart Tomás Milián helps contribute to this movie's sometimes-agreeable B-picture vibe. The plot mechanics maintain an again not-unpleasing "Rio Bravo" meets "Die Hard" feel, and the action sequences, while hardly particularly distinguished, aren't altogether migraine inducing. The getaway car, a souped-up Corvette capable of going over 200 miles an hour, has some novelty value too. But as lively as some of the stuff on display can get, it's not gonna give the producers of the "Mission Impossible" franchise anything to lose sleep over.

Still, "The Last Stand" commits few major sins while indulging all the usual minor (or at least unsurprising) sins (overemphatic blood-and-guts, useless exposition about stuff we don't care about and hardly any explanation of stuff we might actually be curious about). Those sins are ones we've gotten used to forgiving while enjoying our action pablum. But after the hyper-fire-powered standoff in the middle of town, the movie's second-tier climax brings a new definition to the term "corny" and winds up falling very flat. Trying the viewer's patience in this way is apt to have the side-effect of calling attention to the essentially hollow nature of the whole enterprise. At least that was this viewer's experience. The preview audience I saw it with was more taken with the picture, although the presence therein of not one but two goo-gooing and occasionally crying babies did add a peculiar dimension to the experience. This did not inhibit one individual, who rather resembled Cedric the Entertainer in drag (complete with hat), from proclaiming "That movie was DOPE" on the way out of the theater. Just so you know there's a multiplicity of opinion on Schwarzenegger's reemergence. The odds are good that now that he's back, he'll be, um, back.

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Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.

'Broken City': Allen Hughes gets out of movie jail
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies

There's a distinct but not entirely displeasing whiff of anachronism to "Broken City," the new urban drama starring Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe. The story of corruption and criminality at the highest levels of municipal government and the striving underlings who are forced to do the ill-bidding of their bosses has its vision fixed in so many genre conventions that it makes Abel Ferrara's "King of New York" look positively futuristic. And "King of New York," made in 1990, is now old enough to drink.

Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart, a tough cop who puts down both the badge and the bottle after gunning down a vicious rapist under circumstances of perhaps dubious legality, procedure-wise. His actions are praised by New York's slick man-of-the-people posing mayor Hostetler, played by Crowe, and deplored by up-and-coming police bureaucrat Fairbanks. Seven years later, Taggart's eking out a living as a camera in the bedroom private eye, in a static relationship with the woman whose sister's death he helped avenge, and bantering with a sassy but worshipful female assistant. An Irish cop with a penchant for the bottle, a power-hungry politico, a wise-cracking female assistant ... you're getting the idea. This is stuff that wouldn't be out of place in a sale at the Warner Archive. Things get knottier when the mayor gives Taggart a too-juicy assignment on the eve of a major election: investigate the adultery of his disdainful, icy-seeming wife, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. What he turns up is too good to be true: a seeming affair between the mayor's wife and his rival's campaign manager (Kyle Chandler). The operative words are "too good to be true," as the real story is in a stinking-to-high-heaven real estate deal that aims to, among other things, demolish the housing project where Taggart took out that rapist all those years ago.

The elliptical trajectory of the narrative, concocted by screenwriter Brian Tucker (this is his first credited script) is a little on the overly tidy side. And the movie's revelation that even its good guys have their dirty little secrets to hide is not exactly a jaw-dropper. But the pleasures the movie offers in its old-school way are not entirely insubstantial. Wahlberg's a defter hand with dialogue scenes than he's often given credit for, and his verbal spars with Crowe, who's in his understated pit bull mode throughout, are good crackling fun. Director Allen Hughes has, it seems, been in feature film jail for over ten years (his last film, co-directed with brother Albert, was 2001's "From Hell;" Albert made his comeback to the big screen with 2010's "The Book of Eli"), and that's perhaps why the movie plays it relatively safe with respect to visuals. He does do some distinctive work with the visual contrasts of life as it's lived in the city's underbelly versus its penthouses, and declines to go overboard with the frantic cutting during the movie's infrequent action sequences. And he keeps the emotions seething in the confrontations between principles. All of the characters have a lot to lose, until they don't (the movie handles Taggart's drinking issues in a way that's almost diametrically opposed to the recent "Flight," almost showing the character's relation to booze as his path to facing the truth, not avoiding it; difficult to explain without a spoiler, but you'll see if you see it), and Hughes makes sure that each scene keeps sight of that. Which makes "Broken City" a reasonably engaging hour and forty at the movies, even if you think you've seen much of it before.

Want more Movies? Be sure to like MSN Movies on Facebook and follow MSN Movies Twitter.

Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.

There's a distinct but not entirely displeasing whiff of anachronism to "Broken City," the new urban drama starring Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe. The story of corruption and criminality at the highest levels of municipal government and the striving underlings who are forced to do the ill-bidding of their bosses has its vision fixed in so many genre conventions that it makes Abel Ferrara's "King of New York" look positively futuristic. And "King of New York," made in 1990, is now old enough to drink.

Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart, a tough cop who puts down both the badge and the bottle after gunning down a vicious rapist under circumstances of perhaps dubious legality, procedure-wise. His actions are praised by New York's slick man-of-the-people posing mayor Hostetler, played by Crowe, and deplored by up-and-coming police bureaucrat Fairbanks. Seven years later, Taggart's eking out a living as a camera in the bedroom private eye, in a static relationship with the woman whose sister's death he helped avenge, and bantering with a sassy but worshipful female assistant. An Irish cop with a penchant for the bottle, a power-hungry politico, a wise-cracking female assistant ... you're getting the idea. This is stuff that wouldn't be out of place in a sale at the Warner Archive. Things get knottier when the mayor gives Taggart a too-juicy assignment on the eve of a major election: investigate the adultery of his disdainful, icy-seeming wife, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. What he turns up is too good to be true: a seeming affair between the mayor's wife and his rival's campaign manager (Kyle Chandler). The operative words are "too good to be true," as the real story is in a stinking-to-high-heaven real estate deal that aims to, among other things, demolish the housing project where Taggart took out that rapist all those years ago.

The elliptical trajectory of the narrative, concocted by screenwriter Brian Tucker (this is his first credited script) is a little on the overly tidy side. And the movie's revelation that even its good guys have their dirty little secrets to hide is not exactly a jaw-dropper. But the pleasures the movie offers in its old-school way are not entirely insubstantial. Wahlberg's a defter hand with dialogue scenes than he's often given credit for, and his verbal spars with Crowe, who's in his understated pit bull mode throughout, are good crackling fun. Director Allen Hughes has, it seems, been in feature film jail for over ten years (his last film, co-directed with brother Albert, was 2001's "From Hell;" Albert made his comeback to the big screen with 2010's "The Book of Eli"), and that's perhaps why the movie plays it relatively safe with respect to visuals. He does do some distinctive work with the visual contrasts of life as it's lived in the city's underbelly versus its penthouses, and declines to go overboard with the frantic cutting during the movie's infrequent action sequences. And he keeps the emotions seething in the confrontations between principles. All of the characters have a lot to lose, until they don't (the movie handles Taggart's drinking issues in a way that's almost diametrically opposed to the recent "Flight," almost showing the character's relation to booze as his path to facing the truth, not avoiding it; difficult to explain without a spoiler, but you'll see if you see it), and Hughes makes sure that each scene keeps sight of that. Which makes "Broken City" a reasonably engaging hour and forty at the movies, even if you think you've seen much of it before.

Want more Movies? Be sure to like MSN Movies on Facebook and follow MSN Movies Twitter.

Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.

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