Reel Critics: Two very different takes on death

Arnold Schwarzenegger gave up his A-list movie credentials to become the unlikely governor of California. Leaving office with a notorious sex scandal under his belt, Arnold now returns to his real occupation. He's back as an actor in lowbrow B movies full of random violence, silly dialogue and major gun battles.

In "The Last Stand," he plays an LAPD cop who leaves the big city to become the local sheriff in a small Arizona town. But the nasty reach of urban criminal life follows to his sleepy outpost. A drug lord on the lam from the FBI chooses Arnold's border town to make his high-speed escape back to Mexico.

The bad guy careens across the desert in a supercharged Corvette. There are several impossible car chases and buckets of bloody violence. Arnold and his band of misfit deputies are the only obstacle in his path. Guess who wins?

Forest Whitaker adds some gravitas as a serious FBI agent. But this is really a predictable Wild West shoot-em-up. Like a hundred other cookie-cutter action films, it's mindless, bloody fun for those who like this sort of thing.



A surprise Best Picture and multi-Oscar nominee this year is "Amour" ("Love") which gives an unflinching, poignant look at a marriage "in sickness and in health."

Georges and Anne are a French couple in their 80s, still vital and content in their own private world, when Anne becomes seriously ill.

Anyone who's ever been a caretaker will find this film especially difficult to watch as Anne's condition deteriorates with heartbreaking realism. Credit director Michael Haneke with showing us the process of dying as it really is, not by Hollywood standards. The messiness and daily challenges are met squarely, without noble speeches or sentimental music to make us cry on cue.

Oscar-nominated Emmanuelle Riva gives a physically and emotionally challenging performance as a still-beautiful, intelligent woman all too aware of how her body has betrayed her.

Veteran actor Jean-Louis Trintignant is equally good as a husband quietly taking care of his wife without need to cry or complain to his self-absorbed daughter (Isabelle Huppert). Whatever pain Georges must certainly be feeling, he knows it will not change the outcome and has no patience for drama. What's most important to him is to keep that vital connection with Anne for as long as possible.

"Amour" shows us true love — putting someone else's needs above yours, and giving them all the tender devotion they deserve. A love so strong, the words are unspoken, but understood. And it's here for us to behold in all its simple beauty.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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