Tim Grierson on the Return of Arnold Schwarzenegger


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The Arnold Schwarzenegger comeback begins in earnest on Friday. That’s when his new movie, “The Last Stand,” opens. It’ll be the first film in 10 years in which he’s the primary star and leading man. Even when he showed up in the “Expendables” movies or had his likeness used in “Terminator Salvation,” he was merely a periphery player. If people pay money to see “The Last Stand,” it’ll be because of Schwarzenegger (with all due respect to fans of Johnny Knoxville and Luis Guzman, of course). It’s been a long time since that was the case.

Schwarzenegger’s comeback is unique among Hollywood stars because he’s not coming back in the usual way. He hasn’t recently recovered from addiction. He isn’t trying to rebuild his image after a tabloid scandal. He didn’t make himself a pariah by spewing scathingly inflammatory and offensive comments about minority groups or women. No, he’s just been busy serving as the governor of California. (Although, yes, he has had to apologize for some of his past behavior. And he’s no stranger to the tabloids. The man is certainly not a saint.) He’s not coming back in a kinder, gentler, changed form. He wants to be the same Arnold, albeit (as his character jokes in the “Last Stand” commercials) a slightly older model.

Before Schwarzenegger took office thanks to the fall 2003 recall election of then-Governor Gray Davis, he remained a popular star — a faded one, but a star nonetheless. Before that summer’s “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” — the year’s eighth-biggest hit — he had been in a series of box-office misfires (“Collateral Damage,” “The 6th Day,” “End of Days”), and even the $100-million hit “Batman & Robin” was seen as an underperformer, not to mention a campy fiasco. It would be incredibly simplistic and glib to suggest that Schwarzenegger’s move into politics was a savvy career transition. (Becoming the governor of the country’s most populous state brings with it far more stress, challenges and real-world consequences than anything faced in Hollywood.) But from a movie-business perspective, it allowed him to potentially bypass the commercial-wilderness years that eventually befall all action stars. No lame reality show, no halfhearted stab at showcasing his “serious side.” He just left.

But you got the sense that he never fully closed that door: His cameo in 2010’s “The Expendables,” which opened five months before he would leave office, proved that. And then when he was free of the governorship in early 2011, he made it be known that he would immediately start considering movie projects, including proposed remakes of “Predator” or “The Running Man.” At 63 and after seven years as governor, he wasn’t going to slow down and enjoy life. He clearly wanted back in to Hollywood.

Of course, that plan got derailed when it was revealed that he fathered a child with his family’s maid a decade earlier. But that derailment was brief: Soon, he was signed up for “The Last Stand,” the English-language debut from South Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon, who previously had made “I Saw the Devil” and “A Tale of Two Sisters.” He also came aboard “The Expendables 2” for a larger role than in the original. And “The Last Stand” isn’t his only upcoming film: He’s going to be in “The Tomb” with his “Expendables” costar Sylvester Stallone in the fall; and “Ten,” with Sam Worthington, is set for an early 2014 release. He seems incredibly determined to make up for lost time.

Clearly, Schwarzenegger is hoping to hit the reset button with his fans after many years away. It’s difficult to find an analogous Hollywood star to compare to his situation, so it might be more appropriate to look to the music world. In the last few years, several rock bands who were big in the late 1980s and early ‘90s — Jane’s Addiction, the Pixies, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots — have reunited, finding success with concertgoers who are happy to revel in a little nostalgia. It’s worth pointing out that none of those bands have delivered much in the way of compelling new material — they’re just recycling the past. It seems to be the same for Arnold: His comeback isn’t some kind of redemption story like so many of his peers’. He just wants back into the limelight, offering the same bill of goods as before.

As the “Expendables” films have proved, there’s definitely an audience for bygone action heroes who are willing to crack skulls and blow stuff up like in the old days. So why not Schwarzenegger? The early reviews of “The Last Stand” haven’t been so good, and it seems unlikely that this movie on its own will catapult Arnold back into the ranks of the A-list. But considering how unusual his comeback scenario is, it would also be foolish to predict just how it’s going to play out.

You can follow Tim Grierson on Twitter.

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Documentary Now! Robert Evans Mansion

The Reel Deal

Everything You Need To Know About “Mr. Runner Up” Inspiration Robert Evans

Watch the two-part finale of Documentary Now! this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

In its upcoming two-part finale, Documentary Now! spoofs the crown jewel of docs: The Kid Stays In The Picture. It’s the autobiographical documentary about Robert Evans, the unlikely Hollywood mogul whose mix of self-aggrandizing bravado, classic good looks and extremely circumstantial good luck took him from being a salesman to an actor to the head of Paramount Pictures.

If you’ve never seen the film, it’s totally worth it. Rotten Tomatoes agrees, with a staggeringly-high approval rating. Watch it before, or watch it after — doesn’t matter. You’ll appreciate it whenever.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of background that will come in handy…

Robert Loves Robert

Robert Evans desk

USA Films/Everett Collection

Robert Evans is the ultimate Robert Evans fan. The movie was narrated by Robert Evans and based on his memoir of the same name. It is totally unbiased.

He’s Kind Of A Big Deal

Robert Evans, Chinatown
Paramount Pictures

Evans produced some of Hollywood’s true classics: Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Love Story…the list goes on. Totally legit and amazing movies.

He’s Also Kind Of A Joke

Wag The Dog
New Line Cinema

Evans has been parodied in TV shows and movies like Entourage and Wag The Dog. He is the quintessential “producer” you already have in your head.

So Wrong He’s Right

Robert Evans Slap
20th Century Film Corp

Robert Evans is a notorious narcissist whose love of self is so blind and sincere that it’s actually adorable.

There’s Something Missing

via Giphy

Entire sections of Robert Evans’ life are left out of the documentary. Maybe it’s because of timing. Maybe it’s because real life isn’t a tidy narrative. Who knows.

He Blew It

Spider coke

Evans had a pretty spectacular fall from grace. He was convicted of cocaine trafficking in the early 80’s, and was connected to a contract killing during the production of The Cotton Club. Oops.

Losing Is For Losers

Everett Collection
Everett Collection

In the Robert Evans mythology, all tragedies are just triumphs in disguise, and every story has a happy ending…for Robert Evans.

Bill Hader Jerry Wallach

With these simple facts in hand you are now prepared to thoroughly enjoy the two-part finale of Documentary Now! starting this Wednesday at 10/9c on IFC.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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