There are a few interesting summer of ’91 movies – STONE COLD, THE ROCKETEER, HARLEY DAVIDSON & THE MARLBORO MAN – that I skipped in this series because I’d already reviewed them in a form I felt satisfied with. If I had more time I would’ve like to revisit them for completism, but you know how it is.
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY is one I wrote about in 2007 (with a pretty good comparison to E.T.) and more definitively in 2017 on the occasion of its 3D re-release. But when I decided to do a summer of ’91 series I knew it was the summer of T2 and it had to be included. So this is meant as a supplemental review about its place in 1991, but I think I’ve come up with some pretty meaty stuff to discuss (in addition to silly stuff about toys and video games and crap if you’re more interested in that).
The only review I’ve written of the original THE TERMINATOR was in 2007 – so out of date it was combined into a review of the “trilogy” and framed as a response to THE TRANSFORMERS. There are some good observations and funny lines in that review, but I’m a smarter person now and I think there’s way more to say about the movie. So I thought I should take another crack at it before we get to its sequel in this Summer of ’91 retrospective.
In the fall of 1984, director/co-writer James Cameron exploded into filmgoer-consciousness with a stylish and imaginative little sci-fi chase movie called THE TERMINATOR. Made on about a fifth of the budget of the recent hit GHOSTBUSTERS and released by outsiders Hemdale (VICE SQUAD, TURKEY SHOOT) and Orion Pictures (MAD MAX, THE HAND, ROCK & RULE), it nevertheless immediately announces itself as a force to be reckoned with. The quiet, world-establishing text, the nightmarish glimpses of futuristic combat between man and machine, the absolute all-timer of a theme by Brad Fiedel (JUST BEFORE DAWN) and the slow reveal of the logo (title design by Ernest D. Farino, who later did GODZILLA 1985, CRITTERS, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS, ALIEN NATION, THE ABYSS and NEMESIS) all set the mood for a genre movie of unusual ferocity. Not bad for a guy who had only directed PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING. (read the rest of this shit…)
I love THE TERMINATOR, but I loveTERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. To me it’s one of the all time greats of sequels, summer event movies, action movies, movies in general. It came into the world at the right time to knock me on my ass, and has only grown with me. We’d never seen a movie like it; the technology had not existed for a character to do the things that the liquid metal T-1000 did, and no woman, not even Ripley in James Cameron’s own ALIENS, had returned to the screen as thoroughly transformed into an indelible badass as Sarah Connor.
At the time it seemed like the biggest, loudest, most over-the-top and technologically advanced action spectacle we’d ever seen. Now there’s a certain quaintness and groundedness to it. The then-show-stopping computer effects are only for a little bit of morphing – now we notice the huge amount of real stunts involving a semi-truck, motorcycles, a helicopter and various pyrotechnics that would never be so real in a modern movie. And the story is built on characters and emotions in a way that’s much more resonant to me than most subsequent movies of this type. (read the rest of this shit…)
In the part of my brain dedicated to Favorite Movies, James Cameron’s TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY sits on the top shelf with all the best and strongest. It was the definition of knock-you-through-the-back-of-the-theater summer blockbuster when it arrived in 1991, and my love for it has only deepened in the intervening quarter century.
Some big budget FX movies arguably get by on technological gimmicks that lose power as years pass, but not this one. It matters nothing that the groundbreaking, reality melting digital effects of the liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick, THE MARINE) no longer cause jaws to drop, because in fact T2 is more impressive as a document of the time before computer imagery largely replaced old school stunts and sets and locations. No matter how many times and ways people and vehicles and buildings and cities and countries and planets have been elaborately destroyed by computers in the summers since, the thrill of T2 is not gone. For example the semi vs. motorcycles, helicopter vs. truck and other attempts to quash the relentless pursuit of the T-1000 are still exhilarating.
Rewatching every few years doesn’t wear out T2’s spectacle. Instead it amplifies the themes that animate the movie’s soul. (read the rest of this shit…)
When we look at Arnold Schwarzenegger, who will turn 70 next month, we can’t help but remember the 20 year old Mr. Universe Arnold Schwarzenegger, or the thirty-something CONAN THE BARBARIAN Arnold Schwarzenegger. When he fearlessly shows an aging, sagging ass and chest getting out of the shower in his new drama AFTERMATH, my mind couldn’t help but flash to his naked arrival in THE TERMINATOR thirty-some years ago. These days he looks like a muscular old dude, but not a machine from the future’s overblown idea of the perfect human body, and there are many people who don’t want to see their action heroes face the inevitability of getting old. They shame him for not permanently retaining his own unattainable body standard. They make hacky jokes about geriatric Expendables and Terminators in nursing homes.
Fuck ’em. They’re wrong. Arnold in his late ’60s is still Ah-nold, but now with a little Charles Bronson, a little Clint Eastwood, a little former governor of California who’s paying for his mistakes but making the best of it. I like his old man action movies, especially SABOTAGE, and I hope he doesn’t give up on them. If there was a constitutional amendment that allowed him to run for president my main concern would be that we wouldn’t get any more of those. But I’m also impressed that he’s doing small dramas like AFTERMATH and MAGGIE, where he shows that yes, a guy with muscles and a thick accent can still do a very good, very emotional acting performance. (read the rest of this shit…)
BATMAN & ROBIN is 20 years cold, and CHILLED TO PERFECTION!
“There’s nobody else to blame but me. I could have said, ‘No, I’m not going to do it.’ I just hope whenever I see a list of the worst movies ever made, we’re not on it. I didn’t do a good job. George did. Chris did. Uma is brilliant in it. Arnold is Arnold.” –Joel Schumacher to Variety, 2014
It was June 20, 1997, and I thought BATMAN & ROBIN was the stupidest, most tasteless, worst big budget movie ever made. After the wholesale awfulness of BATMAN FOREVER went over well with audiences willing to sanction its buffoonery, Warner Brothers allowed director Joel Schumacher to go full Schumacher for the next one. It’s the same admirable, director-friendly approach that led to Tim Burton’s BATMAN RETURNS, and the bean counters would come to regret it once again. Schumacher’s purest artistic vision is like the aftermath of a rainbow sherbet fight in the costume storage warehouse for an ice skating troupe. He keeps the moody Elliot Goldenthal score and themes of mourning and vengeance, but buries them in a day-glo fantasia of overacting, bad puns, fetishistic rubber costumes and theme park stunt show style super hero battles. For me it became Exhibit A in any argument against the “It’s Not Supposed To Be Shakespeare/Check Your Brain At the Door” school of summer blockbuster permissiveness.
I wasn’t wrong. But twenty years later to the day, after many truly great summer movies, some of them even starring Batman, it’s easier for me to appreciate the uniqueness of BATMAN & ROBIN – the outrageously tacky designs, the subversively in-your-face homoeroticism, the laugh-out-loud ludicrousness of the plot and dialogue and settings and action, and especially the spectacle of Arnold Schwarzenegger in a bulky metal costume and glittery blue makeup as Mr. Freeze, playing like a simultaneous parody of over-the-top Batman villains, blockbuster excess and his own penchant for groan-worthy one-liners. He makes more than two dozen ice or cold related cracks without losing his boyish, gap-toothed Arnold charm.
Today I am prepared to admit that I own BATMAN & ROBIN on Blu-Ray. And have watched it twice in that format. And on purpose.
Note: if you know nothing about this movie, this review has lots of spoilers. However, every major twist is given away in the advertising, one of them even on the poster.
There’s a cool, clever idea near the beginning of TERMINATOR GENISYS. We start out in the post-Judgment Day future, where the resistance leader John Connor (now played by Jason Clarke of ZERO DARK THIRTY) is about to destroy Skynet and its army of machines. But Skynet has just sent a T-800 (played by a body double with a digital-young-Arnold-Schwarzenegger head) back to 1984 to kill his mother Sarah Connor (now played by Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones, not to be confused with Lena Headey from Game of Thrones, who played her on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) before she conceives him. So John sends his best soldier (and secret father) Kyle Reese (now played by Jai Courtney from JACK REACHER and who would have been in the fifth DIE HARD if they had made one but there is not one in my opinion) back in time to protect Sarah. You know, the plot of THE TERMINATOR.
And then it goes and re-creates a few scenes we recognize from the first movie: the man in the garbage truck seeing the Terminator arrive naked in a ball of lightning, the homeless man in the alley seeing Kyle, the Terminator approaching three punk rockers (none of them Bill Paxton) and demanding their clothes. Except then, all the sudden, there’s another, older Arnold Schwarzenegger there, attacking the young one, with the help of Sarah. And we learn that this is a different timeline, not the one from THE TERMINATOR that we and Reese expected. This older Arnold is a Terminator who was sent back to when Sarah was 9 to protect her and raise her. So she’s not a clueless waitress who he has to convince, she already knows about the future and her son and how to shoot guns and everything. (read the rest of this shit…)
MAGGIE did not go over well with the other three people in the theater. One made a big show of stomping out before the halfway mark. Two loudly yawned. One of those hatefully grunted “Fuck. Garbage!” to himself (or the back of my head) when the credits rolled.
As you know I have a policy of seeing every Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone or Jason Statham non-comedy theatrical release. This is an odd case because it also came out on V.O.D. and iTunes, and although I always prefer the theatrical experience I can see how this one will probly never play better with an audience, if there ever is one. It’s not just not a normal Arnold movie, and not just not a normal zombie movie, it’s also just very slow, quiet, uneventful and sad. It’s an indie drama, the gloomy kind, not the kind with all the sunny days and lens flares. It’s pretty much humorless and visually color-less. It’s not for everybody, or every mood. But I kinda liked it. (read the rest of this shit…)
Do you guys remember how LAST ACTION HERO was the big ticket for ’93?
Okay, probly not. That was the tagline on some of the posters though. See, they knew this was destined to be a huge event movie, the movie of the summer. Fuck JURASSIC PARK. But also the plot involved a magical ticket that transports people between the worlds of reality and fiction. It’s a double meaning. They put alot of thought into this thing, just not the right kind maybe.
This is at least the third time I’ve watched and attempted to truly like this movie. That’s a strike out, so it’s time to sit on the bench and accept it as a kinda interesting, kinda terrible movie. Not as good as HUDSON HAWK but a bit of that same clever/awkward cocktail. Unique enough to keep coming back to, not good enough to be 100% sure it was worth it. (read the rest of this shit…)
THE EXPENDABLES 3 is another Expendables movie, like any other. It’s got a cast that indicates it should be the ultimate action movie, but ends up being penultimate at best. It’s a weird mix of satisfying appearance of favorite faces and tropes and disappointing execution of these elements. I call that feeling satisppointment, or expendablation. Just like the others I enjoyed it, but with a nagging feeling that this should be something actually great.
But the first stretch had me thinking it might blow the other ones out of the water. It opens mid-mission as our old Expendapals Barney (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), Gunner (Dolph Lundgren) and Toll Road (Randy Couture) are in a chopper chasing after a Russian prison transfer train to bust out an original team member who’s been locked up for 8 years. That prisoner is none other than Wesley The Daywalker Snipes as “Doctor Death,” and it’s an excellent welcome home party for the man. He’s got a crazy beard and hair and a spaced out look in his eye, and instead of going with the rescue party he runs across the train, does a slide and a bunch of acrobatics, kills a bunch of his captors and causes the train to crash into the bastard in charge. (read the rest of this shit…)