As Simon Lam gets older, he gets better. The veteran actor has appeared in such in seminal HK action films of the 1990s as Once Upon a Time in China (opposite Jet Li) and Bullet in the Head (directed by John Woo); in the aughts, he graced audience and critical favorites Election and Ip Man.
Lee Van Cleef enjoyed a secondary career in Italy cranking out spaghetti
Westerns, with little regard to quality. However, 1972’s Grand Duel — aka The Big Showdown — is deserving of its Grand label. No wonder Quentin Tarantino borrowed its sweeping theme song by Luis Bacalov for Kill Bill; you'll recognize it in two notes.
Early in The Last Stand,
the small-town sheriff played by Arnold Schwarzenegger says, "It's my
day off. Should be a quiet weekend." That's the new way of saying, "I've
got one week to retirement," because it signals — with flashing neon
and everything — that life is going to royally upend those plans.
One of the most inconsistent franchises in movie history is the one beget by Tobe Hooper's 1974 classic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. How does one follow all those less-than-beloved sequels? Lionsgate's latest in the series — the seventh — has a solution: Ignore 'em.
In general, I prefer the films of Guillermo del Toro that he doesn’t
direct (“The Orphanage,” “Splice”) to the ones he does (particularly
“Hellboy” and its sequel). That holds true for “Don’t Be Afraid of the
Dark,” which he only co-wrote and co-produced, ceding the director’s
chair to newcomer Troy Nixey.
But let’s give credit where credit is due: This is a remake of a fondly remembered, made-for-TV movie in 1973. Although effects have come a long, long way, baby, I still prefer the original.
Living underneath the new-to-them Rhode Island mansion of architect Alex (Guy Pearce, “Animal Kingdom”); interior-designer girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes, TV’s “The Kennedys”); and his daughter, Sally (Bailee Madison, “Just Go with It”), are demons. Little, hairy demons who live for hundreds of years and crave children’s teeth.
In its first half, the movie is sufficiently creepy, holding two good jolts (albeit due to the increasingly lazy practice of really loud sounds on the soundtrack). But plot holes as large as the house keep it from being this season’s “Insidious.” To reveal minor but ultimately insignificant spoilers, at no time does Sally, who’s the only person — still alive, at least — to see these creatures, demand that adults look at her proof. She takes Polaroids of them she could shove into her father’s face, but doesn’t; she even kills one by smashing it between two bookshelves, yet fails to inform the room crowded with adults of the resulting mess, much less the disembodied appendage on the floor in front of them.
I also could have done without its drawn-out, pointless epilogue, thus neutering the balls of its climax. So toothless does it become that its title continually reminded me of Edgar Wright’s hilarious fake trailer, “Don’t!,” stuffed in the middle of “Grindhouse.”
The lone victor of the experience is young Madison. Now all of 11, she gives quite a grown-up performance, free of the amateurish tics of most child actors. But I was also distracted by how much she looks like Holmes, yet isn’t playing Holmes’ daughter. The resemblance is uncanny; that it’s yet another “duh” moment that del Toro and company missed is baffling. —Rod Lott