Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Where's your Christmas spirit?

Jingle All the Way (1996)
Oddly enough, I have fond memories of this and still enjoyed it upon rewatch.  It's goofy, over the top, unevenly acted, completely reprehensible, but also quite a lot of fun.  On this one, I can just toss the plot out the window, lay aside the horrible role models, and just enjoy the pure Ahnold goodness.

I've become a parent since I first watched this, and just remembered it as being goofy and a fun film.  I'd even been wondering ahead of time if this is one I'm getting close to being able to share with my 7 & 8 year old kids.  No sir.  Not even remotely close.  I must say that the CommonSenseMedia review is spot-on and this movie is largely about a completely delinquent father trying to buy his son's love with a present.  That said, while I won't have the kids watching it anytime soon, I still enjoy it for the Ahnold Cheese.

Arnold gives a pretty rocky performance in this one and doesn't appear to have really been into the character.  I can hardly blame him if he wasn't, but he does at least have a lot of fun with it and that's mainly what I'm looking for in this type of movie.  Quite an impressive amount of "Aaauuuaaaggghhhh" going on for a comedy and I love that they fit in an action sequence involving the Santa Underground Mafia to give him the obligatory fight sequence.  His expressions are excellent and some of the glares at Phil and Sinbad are really fun.

I've apparently not watched this since 1999 as I had one of those "holy crap!" moments when I realized why I have such bad memories of Arnold's kid in this.  Lo and behold, it's f-ing Jake Lloyd!  Ugh, ugh, and ugh.  So if I ever needed any further proof of just how off the deep end George was when he cast this kid, I don't have to look any further than the completely irritating performance he put in here.  Good news is that now his performance in Episode 1 doesn't seem nearly as bad by comparison.

Ahnold Quotient - 8
For a comedy with Arnold keeping his shirt on, there's a substantial amount of Ahnold running through this one.  All the fun and/or goofy expressions are here, there's some good physical acting, and plenty of one-liners. 

Rewatchability - Rarely
It's fun to watch, and I'm happy to watch it once every couple of Christmases, but it's not a particularly well-crafted movie.  I'd be a little skittish to recommend this to anyone other than a die hard Arnold fan, and I'd certainly not suggest it to anyone under age 13. 

Up next is the biggie.  The wall I'm not sure I can overcome...  Batman & Robin.  Pretty much the movie I picture when I think "what the hell happend to Arnold in his later films?" so may have to imbibe in some adult beverages to get through that sucker.  And if I manage that, I get rewarded with having to watch End of Days.  Sheesh.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Awwww damn, did that hurt?

Eraser (1996)
I remember this as a largely forgettable vanilla action suspense movie.  Haven't seen it since the theater, although I did buy the DVD right after I got my first player back in 1998 and it's stayed unwrapped until now.  Interested to see if I missed out on the fun the first time around or if it really was that bland.

As it turns out, yes and no.  There are quite a few good set pieces here, some reasonably good action, and Arnold's quite good.  But then there's James Caan, whom I usually like very much, playing a completely ugh character in a completely predictable plot.  Predictable plots are hardly a rarity in an Arnold movie, but we usually have much more Ahnold to offset that and keep it fun.  I actually like his character in this, he's nicely noble and I applaud never establishing a romantic connection with Vanessa.  Pretty surprising actually.  I like romances as much as anyone, but we don't have to go there just because two people share a good chunk of screentime.

Aligators.  Really?  After Vanessa's been a bad-ass and shot a dude in the leg just for pretending to be Arnold's friend and after Arnold's come to her rescue and shot the hell out of the place, we have to rescue them from the zoo with CGI aligators?  I'm good with using your last bullets to blast out the glass, that would have been a good distraction even without the aligators and I could even handle an aligator taking a bite out of one of the guys, but they had to kill all of them?  While Arnold and Vanessa sit there and watch rather than just get the hell out of there?  It's not like the scene ruined the movie or anything, but it seriously broke the immersion for me and it takes a while to settle back in after that.

Arnold's quite good in this, he straddles the bad-assery with the kindness and protectiveness toward Vanessa with aplomb.  Some excellent "Aaauuuaaaggghhhh" moments in there, particularly the parachuting sequence, and some very fun action at the end.  He's still looking pretty fit and there really isn't much cheesiness in this, he plays it pretty straight up with good style.  But aside from the "Aaauuuaaaggghhhh" bits, it's not an Arnold movie that you find sinking into your brain or running around quoting to your friends afterward.

Highlight of the movie for me was the ending action sequence, but not because of the constant shit blowing up, because the guys playing the union dock workers were just incredible.  Some excellent lines with "Commie bastards!" "They're not communists anymore, Tony.  They're a federation of independent liberated states" being my favorite.  Good stuff and a clever way to toss in some support for Arnold without it getting weird. 

All in all, it's a decent suspense movie with some nice action sequences tacked in and plenty of good moments.  Unfortunately, it's still every bit as forgettable as the first time.

Ahnold Quotient - 7
I might actually put that lower if not for the ample amount of "Aaauuuuaaaggghhhh" and shit blowing up.  He's very cool and heroic, just too confined in the role to really let his inner Ahnold fly.

Rewatchability - Eh
Another one that I wouldn't refuse if it was suggested, but wouldn't go out of my way to watch.  I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys Arnold or action movies, but not as a must watch.  Don't know that I would have any need to watch it on my own again, there are simply better Arnold and better action movies to watch instead.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Does my body disgust you?

Junior (1994)
After a whirlwind 3 weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas prep, and (most importantly) F1 racing, it's time to get back to Arnold.  I guess Last Action Hero had the additional side effect of curbing my interest in watching other Arnold movies for a little bit there.  Yet another knock against it.  Moving onward, we come to another Arnold movie that I've never seen before.  No idea why I took a pass on this one, aside from the obvious oddity of it, since Arnold's comedies are amongst my favorites.  Perhaps this one just seemed a little to heavy handed, but let's see what Reitman was up to with this one...

It's a pretty mixed bag of a film and I found myself wanting to enjoy it more than I actually did.  There are some really clever moments, a very sweet tone overall, and some pretty good one-liners, but the story just doesn't ever really click.  I managed to largely sidestep the plausibility angle on this one and just go with the flow.  If the movie says a man can get pregnant, then I'll concede that to be the case and by and large, they're pretty self-consistent on the subject.  The place where I run into trouble is that I just didn't wind up caring as much as I likely should.  They do a great job with the setup, and there were certainly plenty of sweet moments designed to get you rooting for Arnold to keep his baby, but there's also something stand-offish about the execution.  A lot of that might be chalked up to Devito.  Yet another movie where I didn't really care much for him and he doesn't really bring much unique to this.  Twins at least used their physical and character differences as a fun contrast, but here he's just another doctor and you could have put anyone in that role.

All those issues aside, Arnold is again quite good in a sweet and comedic role.  His character has a reasonably believable transformation from straight-laced scientist to hormonal pregnant person and he does a great job moving toward that with incremental changes in behavior.  He again makes a great romantic lead and the bits between Arnold and Emma are all excellent and some pretty decent chemistry.  The loneliness angle and subsequent love story were the bits that I best connected with and I'd have enjoyed having a little more of that.  He brought in some very fun moments like his outburst and subsequent chat with the other mothers in the fertility clinic waiting room, and I'll remember quite a few of those fondly for some time to come.  All in all, I'd have to say that Reitman did a great job in his Arnold trilogy of bringing out a side of Arnold that no one had really seen before, and I hope they still get a chance to get back together and take one more crack at it.

Special nod to Emma for getting involved in this one.  I've always liked her, and this outing is no exception.  She lends a touch of class and some great comedic timing, and starring with Arnold is a heck of a great 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon connection.

Ahnold Quotient - 5
By design, there's not a lot of Ahnold to be had in this one, which is perhaps where my problem lies.  He gets to raise his voice a few times, and we get quite a bit of subtle acting and sweetness out of him, but aside from occasionally remarking on his size, they don't really play that up. 

Rewatchability - Perhaps
This may very well be one of those movies that gets better upon rewatch, and I'd certainly be up for doing so again.  There wasn't anything that really bugged me about the movie, it just overall fell flat.  I can see going back to this one a couple of times to see if my opinion improves, but it's not one I'd feel confident recommending to anyone.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Rubber baby buggy bumpers

Last Action Hero (1993)
I've been both dreading and looking forward to this one.  Dreading it because I've seen it, and looking forward to it because I was hoping I was remembering it too harshly.  This is a challenging one to try to watch objectively, particularly where Arnold is concerned, owing to how odd the middle of the movie is.  I think the filmmakers accomplished what they set out to do, and I do think this is a very clever idea for a movie, they just needed to have another couple of months to edit and re-shoot a good portion of it. 

I'll sidestep all the usual criticism of the believability, cheesiness, and overall merits of the narrative and focus on the thing that wound up bothering me the most:  This movie is way darker than it should be.  It's particularly noticeable coming off of True Lies, which has a much more even tone throughout and is just damned fun.  You have to work at this one to be entertained and just when you start settling in, they smack you with something else.  The scene where a robber breaks in and handcuffs the kid to the toilet is flat out uncomfortable and for me, doesn't really server the narrative.  There were plenty of other ways we could have gotten a handcuff key into his hands and I don't really need to be reminded that the real world isn't as carefree as the movie world.  I get that they were trying to make a big contrast between the movie and real worlds, but honestly those worlds do that just fine on their own, we don't need to beat the point home with un-fun dark scenes. 

I'd also forgotten how long the movie world section of the movie is.  That really drags on about twice as long as it needed to and we spend way to much time on the completely irrelevant plot details of the movie world.  He's in a movie, I don't care what's going on, I just want fun character interactions.  The plot is getting him home and stopping the bad guy from running amok in the real world.  We didn't need to spend an hour setting that up.  Even within the movie world, things get pretty bleak near the end when we see Arnold at his empty apartment and get both barrels of his disillusionment.  In this movie, of all movies, I'd expect to have some lighthearted fun.  We do get glimpses of that, and there are some genuinely clever and fun moments, they're just lost in the noise.

That's not to say I hated all of it, I really like most of the time when Arnold is back in the real world, and that's where this movie really shines.  Learning how the real world works and the scene with the kid's mom are fantastic and well done.  But then we have to go all dark with Arnold and the kid splitting up and blah, blah, blah...  Sigh.  

How to rate Arnold's performance on this?  That's a tough one.  He's effectively acting in two separate movies, so let's break it out that way.  In the last part where he's come from movie to reality, he's excellent with a very genuine delivery and some real fun and banter.  Perhaps that's again because that gives him a chance to do the fish out of water bit where things don't work quite as they do in the movies.  Regardless, he was very fun and I really enjoyed him in the end of the movie, so it's a little puzzling why I didn't care for him in the majority of the middle.  Given how he was at the end, he's definitely on top of his acting game here as he was in True Lies, so I have to concede that whatever's going on in the movie world part is intentional.  The movie world is heavily satirized, so obviously his character needs to be even more of a caricature and completely over the top, it's just pretty grating to watch.  He's really going full Ahnold through most of the middle and I usually enjoy that, but I think the kid constantly pointing out that he's doing it detracts from the entertainment value.  If we could have redone the middle part with less of that, less of the boring mob plot, and more of the fun kid observations ("I'm a comedy side kick!  It's not going to work!!") I think this could have worked really well.  Would be an interesting exercise to edit down the middle section and see if it's more enjoyable.

Of special note is how well Arnold played himself in the real world.  I'm not an actor, but I have to think that's not necessarily an easy thing to pull off.  He comes across exactly as he does in real life interviews and the bits with Maria are incredibly funny, if a little sad in retrospect now.  Very good stuff and, coupled with the overall fun in the last part of the movie, really gives a nice finish.  It's just a pity that by that point, I'm mostly just waiting for it to end.

Ahnold Quotient - 10
This is a good example that a high AQ doesn't necessarily mean an great movie.  There's certainly no lack of glares, gunplay and explosions, cheesy one-liners, etc.  They pretty much threw it all at the wall to see what would stick, and Arnold does his best to do as he's asked, it ultimately is without much spark and falls flat.

Rewatchability - Er....
If you'd asked me 5 minutes after watching it, I'd have said an easy "no thanks" but even just the time it's taken to write this has me wanting to give it another try.  There's an awful lot going on in the movie and it seems like there's more fun to be had here.  It's just hard to distinguish whether that's wishful thinking on my part or the movie just hasn't yet clicked with me.  I think I'll be back to this one again, if for no other reason than the thin hope that at some point I'll enjoy it more.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Give me the goddamn page!

True Lies (1994)
I was rescued from watching Last Action Hero by a very fortunate turn of events.  My good friend Andrew noticed that one of our Alamo Drafthouses was showing a nice 35mm print of True Lies!  Talk about impressive timing.  Screw Last Action Hero, let's go see one of my favorite Arnold movies instead!  The presentation was excellent as well as this was one of the Drafthouse's "Tough Guy Cinema" showings, and the presenter was really energetic and enthusiastic and he set off pyrotechnics and confetti during key scenes that, rather than distracting from the movie, I found made it all the more fun.  Along with Conan, that now makes 2 Arnold movies I've seen just this year at an Alamo Drafthouse, so thanks guys and keep up the great work!

Special Honorable Mention to Andrew here...  While I've been working my way through Arnold's body of work, he's watched nearly as many of these as I have.  I think to date we've now watched 4 of them together and he's watched at least another 3-4 on his own.  Heck, he even put Hercules on in the background one day.  Has been fun to share the ride with him.

Anyway, back to the movie:  True Lies.  One of, if not the best, movies Arnold has made.  This is right up there with Conan for me.  Hard to pick one of those two as top since they're such completely different movies, but this is pretty much the definitive Arnold movie.  Once again James Cameron really knows how to get a good performance out of his actors and the excellent blend of action, comedy, drama, and Ahnold in this movie keeps it as fresh now as it was when it first came out.  Pure escapist fun and I must have laughed out loud 30+ times during this.  Above all, the level of excellence is very consistent here and it doesn't come off contrived or goofy or any of what I think I'm going to run into quite a bit with Last Action Hero.

Arnold is in top form again and this movie is how I like to picture him.  He's suave as a spy, a smartass with his partner, vulnerable with his family, and blows lots of shit up.  The movie doesn't take itself too seriously, yet manages to still maintain a certain realism that maintains the suspension of disbelief very nicely.  It's very much Cameron's nod to the Bond films and has the humor of a Roger Moore Bond movie without being hopelessly self-serving and cheesy.  Arnold is given many many wonderful opportunities to glare at/kill people, but also a tremendous amount of character depth for an action movie.  One of my favorite moments (I could easily list 20+) is Arnold acting shell shocked after finding out his wife is having an affair.  It's perfectly played and, for added brilliance, is offset by Tom actually being happy for him that he's finally been the victim of an affair as well.  The rapid pace and deft movement between action/comedy/drama across the film is impressive and frequently happens within a given scene.  Great, great stuff.

Special appreciation to Tom here, as he usually irritates the hell out of me in most films, but his character is so perfect a foil to Arnold's, and his delivery is so spot-on, that you can't help but be entertained.  His "What kind of sick bitch takes the ice cube trays out of the freezer" line is inspired, but so are the little exchanges like "Dickhead" "Blow me"...  So much rapid fire fun dialog in there.

We need more movies like this.  I love a good drama, and crying at a film is okay, but when I go to a movie, this is what I'm always secretly hoping for.  Take me on a ride and entertain the hell out of me and I'll be back time and time again. 

Ahnold Quotient - 11
Yep, they cranked the knob to 11 for this one.  It has everything from the nods and winks to the glares to the blowing shit up.  I guess we don't see him without his shirt that I can recall (although he does run around with it open for a bit), but that's more than made up for by the steady stream of testosterone-laden scenes and the crazy number of one-liners.  Only Cameron can cram in that much AQ without dipping it in cheese.

Rewatchability - Yes please
Any time, any place.  If I ever hear someone hasn't watched this, it makes me want to drag them to the nearest screen and have them watch it immediately.  I'm sure it's possible, but I've never heard of anyone not being genuinely entertained by this movie.  We have Cameron and Arnold at their peak of creativity and performance, and I'm so glad we have this wonderful gift from them.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I need a vacation

Terminator 2 (1991)
Turns out it had actually been quite a while since I'd seen this last.  I thought I had seen it in the last few years, but the DVD that's been sitting unopened for 10+ years nicely disproves that.  I'm now up to 6 previously unopened DVDs and counting.  Whoops.  I prefer to look it as having subconsciously been preparing for this all along.

Overall this is still a damn fine movie.  The CGI effects hold up remarkably well considering how many advances have been made since, and the only real issues I had with the effects were how uneven the green screen color matching was.  That's pretty noticeable, but everything else was just fine and still enough actual set pieces to keep it very real and believable.  The entire sequence at Cyberdyne is fantastic and one of my favorite set pieces in any movie.  Gunfire, explosions, one-liners, swat guys, lens flare...  It's got it all and it's a wonderful spectacle.  There's something special about most of that scene being done with physical effects rather than in post-production.  Need more of that these days.

Arnold is again in top form here and it's fun to have him play the Terminator against type.  That gives us some wonderful comedic elements and his conversations are excellent and give some nice depth to the story.  He's playing it considerably less robotic than the first one, and while I do miss that, he's much more charismatic here and that definitely ups the fun factor.  He did strike me as being a little less in character than I remembered, but by doing that he's also more Ahnold and I'm good with that trade.  Arnold has some of his best physical acting here and I do love the way he one-handed cocks the shotgun, uses the grenade and smoke launchers, or hefts a mini-gun around.  There's craft and dexterity behind how he handles weapons and it never fails to put a smile on my face.

Really enjoyed Robert Patrick and his warm/cold manner is great.  The scenes where he's politely talking to civilians give a nice contrast to the many times he nonchalantly kills someone.  Above all, he just looks great in uniform, glaring, or running after someone.  He manages to ooze menace while still looking cool doing it.  The contrast in body styles between Robert and Arnold is used to good effect and makes it much more interesting than if they had put another bodybuilder out there as the bad guy.

Ahnold Quotient - 9
He's once again bigger than life with great one liners, awesome action sequences, and no openly goofy bits.  Even though I might prefer he act a bit more like a machine, there's no denying his charisma and screen presence, and he's obviously committed to the role.  Cameron really knows how to get a good performance out of him.

Rewatchability - Yes please
I think I have to give the nod to the original Terminator being a more thought-provoking pure sci-fi film, but the sheer spectacle of T2 is wonderfully compelling.  It's still a hell of a ride, is wonderfully paced, and very satisfying to watch.  Another Arnold movie I'd be happy to sit down and watch again anytime.

Next up: The Last Action Hero.  I'm trying to not be too negative going into this one, even though I have some seriously unpleasant memories of watching it in the theater and subsequently on cable.  I did pick this up on DVD a while back, but it's another unopened one.  I'm hopeful that I'll find more to enjoy here than I remember, but can't say I'm really looking forward to it all that much.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

It's not a tumor!

Kindergarten Cop (1990)Another fond favorite and I'm not sure how much of my enjoyment of it is looking back on it with rose-colored glasses since I've not watched this one in at least 10 years.  I remember this being hugely anticipated at the time coming so closely to Twins being a breakout hit, but I don't remember it quite as fondly as Twins. 

It's still a very fun movie and yet another good use of Arnold playing against type by putting him in a strange situation.  I found the beginning of the movie where he's chasing down Stereotypical Bland Bad Guy to be rather disjointed and a little off-putting.  I understand the need to establish Arnold as a tough cop who's been chasing Stereotypical Bland Bad Guy for a long time, but they didn't really do much with it.  Granted, it's fun to see Arnold with a beard and tearing around the same mall from Commando, but I keep getting the feeling they're trying too hard to be both gritty and wink-and-nod at the same time and it makes it a bit of a mess.  Probably why I'd forgotten most of this part because it's unfortunately a complete throw-away while waiting to get the the meat of the movie.  Would have been much more effective if we just had a quick 5 minute chase scene and then had Stereotypical Bland Bad Guy kill Arnold's partner and end the scene with a nasty look from Arnold or something.  We're not watching this movie for the crime drama angle.

Thankfully we don't waste too much time on the intro and quickly enough get Arnold in front of The Demons of Kindergarten and that's where the real magic kicks in.  Rather than just have Arnold be cuddly from the beginning, it's very fun to see him losing it when he can't control the kids for more than a couple of minutes.  Some excellent expressions by him here, peaking with an awesome scene where he finds a kid eating everyone else's lunches, picks him up and berates him, then just drops him to the side.  As a parent now, I do have that quick moment of "Child abuse!" but it's still damn funny and I'll allow it.

If they had stopped here and just had him be a gritty cop out of place, it would have been a funny movie, but it wouldn't have been memorable.  The genius of Ivan Reitman comes through again by giving us a sweet side to the story as well and, as Arnold gets to know the kids and finally connects and has some success with them, you can't help but be pulled in with him.  As he did with Twins, he again shows some really nice acting chops when he's acting sweet and he's completely believable in those moments, enough that I find myself rooting for him to stay at the school because he's so obviously happy there.  What the hell am I doing caring about whether one of Arnold's characters stays as a kindergarten teacher?  The mind boggles, but that's how well these scenes play. 

Ultimately the movie reaches it's predictable conclusion as Stereotypical Bland Bad Guy dies a bloody death with bonus points for having it happen right in front of his son.  Arnold and Random Hot Teacher Chick wind up together, he decides to remain a teacher, and presumably his police pension will help cover his son's extensive future counseling needs.  But we're not watching this one for the plot.  It's serviceable enough that it gives some structure and opportunities for Arnold to do his thing. 

Ahnold Quotient - 8

Even though this isn't a standard Arnold movie, there's still plenty of Ahnold to be had.  They're definitely playing up his accent and I swear it's been getting stronger over his last few movies, so I have to think that's intentional.  We are given plenty of bad-ass moments so that ups the overall quotient, even if they're mostly distracting here.  But this movie wouldn't work without playing up Arnold's size and supposed lack of tenderness and both are used to excellent effect.

Rewatchability - Sure

Hopefully I'll not let another 10 years go by before I watch it again.  For a pure Arnold comedy, I'd go back to Twins first because the whole movie works a little better than this, but this is definitely one of my favorite Arnold movies.  Perhaps I should just skip the first 20 minutes and enjoy it more.

Up next - T2!!  About to enter the Era of Arnold where his movies were huuuugely hyped and he was bigger than life.  Pity about the misfire of Last Action Hero, but another Cameron masterpiece coming up after that with True Lies!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Get your ass to Mars!

Total Recall (1990)

I'd actually watched this one not too long ago (decided to rewatch the original rather than go see the remake in the theater) so it was pretty fresh in my memory, but figured I should go ahead and watch it again with more of a critical eye toward the Arnold Factor.  Overall this is still a pretty entertaining movie and has a lot going for it, but I do have to say that it falls kind of flat compared to some of his previous movies.  The action isn't as tense as Predator or as crazy as Commando, it didn't entertain as well as The Running Man, and it's not as funny as Twins.  It's not a bad movie by any stretch, and it does a lot of things, it just doesn't do many of them very well.

Arnold's not quite as "on" as he has been in most everything else.  He's acting pretty well, he just comes across a lot more flat than he has been in his prior films aside from Red Heat.  I'm not sure if that's the result of the complexity of the plot or if he just wasn't as in to the director (or vice versa) as he could have been.  He's not phoning it in or anything, there's just not all that much spark.  That said, he has quite a few excellent scenes, some good over-the-top action/gore, and lots and lots of "Aaarrggghhhaaaggghhh".  I've not touched on that yet, but Arnold's distinctive pain/action yell is as much a hallmark in his movies as "I'll be back" or a hard stare or shooting someone in the head.  I love it and find myself disappointed when they don't manage to fit one of those in somewhere.  It's almost his version of the Wilhelm Scream.  Perhaps somewhere down the line, he'll let a particularly good one become public domain and we can hear it in all sorts of movies for years to come.

After all this time, I'm still not sure exactly how to call the reality of this show.  It's possible that it's exactly like it seems and the attempted trip at Rekall triggers his capped memories and he then goes on a rampage, shoots a bunch of people, goes to Mars, shoots a bunch more people, and then activates an alien device to bring an atmosphere to Mars.  In movie-speak, we call that "plausible" these days.  Also possible that from the moment he goes under at Rekall, we're inside his fantasy and everything from that point forward is us along for the ride on his trip.  There's ample evidence for both... Seeing things going on outside of his experience (chats with the bad guys and whatnot) would certainly make it seem like it actually happened.  The various hints like "Blue Skies on Mars" being the name of his trip or the fade to white at the end could have you thinking they're going all Blade Runner on us and trying to get us to question the reality.  Then there are bits like the girl of his dreams being a character later that could serve either interpretation.  Personally, I'm going with Door C and saying that the filmmakers were haphazardly attempting to straddle the line between both possibilities to instill ambiguity that the real villain is the inconsistency of the script.  It's not Prometheus-level bad or anything, but it does smack more of them not really having fully planned out what they wanted to do, as opposed to deftly placing hints or sowing the seeds of doubt.

Ahnold Quotient - 10

Pretty strong amount of AQ being tossed around in these scenes.  From the arrogance of Hauser to the bloody violence just for the sake of bloody violence, this one really lets the Ahnold flag fly.  Couple that with some (hopefully) intentionally cheesy sequences (bug in skull removal) and dialog ("Consider that a divorce") and we're definitely hitting all the beats with this one.  Toss in a smattering of Arnold not really seeming into the movie and I think we have our first good example of the archetypal Schwarzenegger movie.  Woot!

Rewatchability - Sure, why not

Wouldn't really go out of my way to pop it in, but wouldn't argue it if it was suggested by someone or the Blu-ray looked at me funny.  It's a good ride and it's classic Arnold, it's just falling further down the list of my favorites the more of his other movies I rewatch.

Next up - Kindergarten Cop!  I like this one and recall not liking it as much as Twins for the pure comedy, but I also don't remember a lot beyond "It's not a tumor", so will be interesting to see how that one goes.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The pavement was his enemy

Twins (1988)
I have particularly fond memories of this one.  The right movie at the right time in my life.  Very funny, very sweet, and Kelly Preston looking hot-as-hell.  It'll be interesting to see how well this holds up, particularly after having watched Arnold's previous movies in rapid succession recently.  I remember a pretty high cheese factor, but something about the movie just clicks and really connected with me.  I'm not sure how well this movie would stand on its own if you weren't familiar with Arnold and his action movies, but it's probably a pretty rare that this would be someone's first Arnold movie.  Watching this after something like Commando or Predator is the perfect contrast, and makes the comedy just that much more effective.

Upon rewatch, the movie doesn't disappoint.  While the plot is not exactly involved, from a storytelling and execution standpoint, Twins excels.  This is Ivan Reitman at the height of his creativity and the movie is an obvious labor of love for all involved.  The beginning immediately hooks you with the great voiceover and the cute/soft music.  The contrast of the title sequence between this and Red Heat is striking.  Red Heat had me questioning whether I wanted to watch the movie or not, and here I already have a smile on my face.  Speaking of, I noticed regularly that I was sitting there with a big goofy grin on my face (appropriate given who I was watching) for the majority of the movie.  To me, this is what a movie is supposed to do:  entertain.  One of the best introductions of Arnold's character in any of his movies, and I love the shot of him rowing his boat out to sea.  Nice touch putting a motor under the boat so it looks like he's rowing it that fast.  It's the perfect nod to his size and reputation and does a good job setting the tone for the film.  With that one moment, you know you're in for tongue-in-cheek, but not in-your-face comedy.

Arnold is in top form again and having him play a completely naive, incredibly kind, and gentle character is genius.  It's another great example of putting Arnold in a fish-out-of-water situation and just letting him run with it.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that there are very few completely cheesy moments (they're there, but not distractingly so) and the majority of it, he's just playing it wonderfully straight and genuine.  His expressions are awesome, his delivery is spot-on, and he shows incredible comedic timing that had only been hinted at in his previous films.  This is the most range I've seen from him thus far, and when his charisma is combined with sweet and soft-spoken moments, it's magical.  He's not "doing Arnold", he's constantly in character, and we actually get to see his character evolve over the course of the movie, which may be a first in an Arnold movie.  He's given a chance to show some range in his acting, and he makes the most of it.  He plays an excellent straight man to Devito, but also helps to rein him in so Devito isn't as grating as he can often be and even has some sweet moments of his own.

Love the entire Santa Fe sequence.  Arnold confronting his "creator", getting his matching suit, the bar scene, the hotel scenes....  All excellent stuff and a much more interesting 2nd act than frequently happens in his shows.  All too often his movies are fun at the beginning and great in the obligatory random-violence endings, but often sag in the middle and this is a pleasant change of pace from the standard formula.

Special note of appreciation for Kelly Preston...  Have always had a sweet spot for her, and here she's at her peak in my favorite role of hers.  She's crazy-sexy, but also very open, encouraging, and sweet to Arnold and really fills the dream woman role nicely.  Watching this now, I still get echoes of the 20-something lonely person I was back then and several of her scenes with Arnold scratch that same itch of longing that any good romantic comedy of the era can.  In the bedroom scene, she's just over-the-top sexy, but also plays well off of Arnold's nervousness and manages to turn that into a very touching scene and one of the most memorable for me in any of his movies.  

Ahnold Quotient - 8
There's just the right amount of Arnold in this one and they make appropriate use of his size and physique and manage to not go over the top.  He has plenty of opportunities to show off his strength, but they all serve the story and aren't there just for the sake of it.  Every time his size comes up, it's used to good effect for a visual gag or something for Devito to riff on.  We do still get some good glares from him, but again they're used to good effect and make for some excellent moments.  

Rewatchability - Yes, please
This is another of those movies that I want to start watching again the moment it ends.  It's an excellent feel-good movie and one that I can always count on to put a smile on my face.  I probably manage to watch this at least once per year and appreciate it all the more in contrast to his previous films.  If you've not seen this movie, but have enjoyed any of Arnold's more standard fare, you owe it to yourself to give this one a try.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Do you know Miranda?

Red Heat (1988)
When you find yourself annoyed by the opening credits, you know you're in for it...   I get that they're playing up the Soviet angle and that they're very proud to be actually filming in Moscow (apparently one of the first western films to do so), but that gives an excruciatingly slow and dull start. T he pace doesn't ever really get much better until the final chase sequence.   I don't need non-stop action or anything, but this felt way too much like Raw Deal for my tastes.

The opening spa fight scene was fun, albeit brief and kinda goofy.   Sven sighting: Possibly another "Sven lives!" movie since, even though we could plausibly assume he dies of hypothermia after being knocked out and left naked in the snow, they don't actually show him die.  So I call it his 2nd Arnold movie survival.   From there, we go through a rather annoying series of standard cop movie moments and, while I normally like James Belushi, he's pretty grating and unfunny in a lot of this.   Overall good supporting cast here and some good directing and cinematography, so I guess the screenplay and dialogue are mostly to blame for this being a yawner.   It's a well put-together film, I just don't care.   It's not quite gritty enough to be a good cop drama movie, not quite funny enough to be a buddy cop movie, and not enough action to keep the pace up.

I do have to take a moment to comment on Arnold's hair:   He frequently has awesome hair in his movies and this is another excellent example.   His flattop is so tall, precise, and attention-grabbing that I think it should have its own nod in the credits.   It's awesome almost to the point of distracting, but for me it was one of the highlights of the film.

Unfortunately hairstyle alone isn't enough to carry this one.   With most of the movie being uninspired, the only real possible salvation was going to be an excellent Arnold performance.   Well, it's an excellent performance, but as with Raw Deal, we don't get quite enough Ahnold coming out.   The accent is quite fun and to the western ear sounds perfectly plausible as Russian, but that alone doesn't give him character.   For the first half of the movie, he's showing even less emotion than he did in Terminator.   That's all well and fine and exactly in character, it's just not fun.   He loosens up a little later on and you get some good eye-widening and scowling and smirking, just too little too late.   Arnold does that stuff really really well and it's a critical component of making his movies fun.   There are certainly plenty of muscle-shots and gunplay and general bad-assery to be had, but aside from the really fun ending chase sequence with 2 buses through downtown Chicago, there's very little that's memorable here.

Ahnold Quotient - 5
He's huge, he looms, he scowls, the accent is fun, but he doesn't do anything with any of that.   With a more interesting script and allowing his character to show a little more personality, we could have had something memorable, but instead it's a toss up between this and Raw Deal for biggest waste of Ahnold potential.

Rewatchability - No thanks
Not saying I would never watch this again, but there's very little point.   Which is a shame given how awesome his hair is and how fun it should have been to hear him playing a Russian, but I'd only be trying to convince myself to like it if I kept at it.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Give Me the Justice Department, Entertainment Division

The Running Man (1987)I believe I have been unfairly categorizing this as the movie where the Arnold Cheese really started getting out of control (I guess I'll have to push back to Last Action Hero as the starting point), but upon further review the movie has excellent internal consistency and works very well.  It's been at least 10 or more years since I had last seen this and it appears all the one-liners in the 2nd half of the movie were what stood out in my mind.  Pretty much every smirky delivery of a one-liner happens during the time where Arnold is on the show and I'll give a nod that he's actually doing that for effect because his character is playing it up for the home audience and/or trying to piss off Killian.  His acting in the first half of the movie is much more restrained and completely appropriate.

Much like Predator before it, Arnold continues his cigar-chomping & larger-than-life persona here and this is another excellent vehicle for him.  He gets to be the fish-out-of-water that he plays so well and he also has an excuse to ham it up while appearing on the show.  For some reason, I had this pegged as a semi-serious movie that came off as a joke and I have no idea why upon re-watch.  Intentional and clever satire all over the place and given how firmly tongue-in-cheek it is, Arnold's playing it exactly as he should.

Arnold's excellent comedic timing is put to good use here with not only some very fun dialogue, but some excellent expressions and great banter with Maria Conchita Alonso.  Yes, you have to use her full name every time you mention her.  Too many great lines to mention, but of special note is the snappy retort "Me and my big mouth. We should have taken that trip to Hawaii"  "I had the shirt for it, but you fucked it up" and it's delivered in the middle of climbing down a rubble pile before Jim Brown shows up with the flamethrower, all in one take.  Nice work by Jim here, he sure appears to be using a fully-functional flamethrower throughout the movie, action scenes and all, including one time where I think he pulls the trigger by mistake after getting hit by a thrown barrel.  What kind of insurance did they have to take out for that crap?

Of particular note is Richard Dawson's truly excellent performance in this, his final pure acting role.  I remember him doing the game show host bit well because that's 2nd nature to him, but he plays the conniving and egotistical maniac bits just as evenly and with real style.  He's perfectly at home in this role and it really looks like he had a bunch of fun.

Now is a good time to give a special nod to Sven-Ole Thorsen, frequent Arnold co-star dating back to Conan, and worth noting this is the first Arnold movie where he lives.  Also his first clearly audible, although not remotely intelligible, line.  My friends and I used to speculate on exactly what the hell he says in response to Killian at the end when he's confronted by Arnold.  Closest we could come was "I guess it's caused by steroids" or "I guess it's come from steroids" and we played that over and over.  IMDB lists the quote as "I got to score some steroids" and I guess I'll run with that. 

Anyway, up to this point Sven has been the awesome hammer-wielding, dead giant snake-mourning Thorgrim in Conan, a big soldier in Conan the Destroyer, one of the bodyguards of random lord-what's-his-name that Red Sonja beheads, one of the last mobster gunmen to die in Raw Deal, the Russian Officer who offs a prisoner in Predator, and now Killian's bouncer Sven.  He doesn't usually get to do much, but he's got awesome presence, has some pretty great bits in Running Man, and will show up in 6 more Arnold movies.  Arnold mentions him in the commentary on Conan and apparently they're still friends to this day.  I just find it amusing how often Arnold gets to kill him.

Ahnold Quotient - 10
When I think modern Arnold, I picture this movie.  Good action, plenty of comedy (some of it forced), and lots and lots of screen presence.  A good example of really tweaking the screenplay to suit Arnold's performance envelope and to milk the most they can out of his accent and physique. 

Rewatchability - Every now and then
It's still not my favorite, but I enjoyed this quite a bit more than I thought I would.  The world they created is very fun and there are a lot of wonderful details in there.  (Watch the credits on the monitor behind Killian when he thanks his crew after the "final" showdown)  I could definitely watch this again, and it's a fun one to watch with friends.

Next up, another real tough pill to swallow: Red Heat.  Argh.  I've not seen it since it came out or maybe on cable shortly thereafter, so perhaps it doesn't suck as completely as I remember.  Just have to get through that and then on to one of my favorites: Twins!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I ain't got time to bleed

Predator (1987)
Have seen this one plenty of times, but seems like I always wind up catching the last 30-45 minutes on cable, so this is the first time I've actually sat down to watch it quite some time.  For the record, this is already DVD #3 that was unopened prior to my watching it this go around.  Ahem.  Money well spent?  But hey, isn't this exactly the reason that you buy those movies, so you have ready and available in case you feel the need to watch the complete works of a given actor or director?  Check.

Just an excellent movie all around and it's between this or Commando where Arnold really starts being "Arnold".  At this point, he's larger than life in the film, but not yet "doing Arnold" very much, or at least not to the point of distraction like begins happening with The Running Man.  Yet again, he really is the character in this one.  His expressions are awesome, his screen presence is dominating, and he just.  looks.  cool.  I'd forgotten how much good stuff goes on in the first half of the movie, way before the Predator starts collecting the heroes.  The first half is an excellent combat action movie, the troop is *almost* entirely believable in their roles (I'm looking at you, Jesse), and there's some genuine tension, drama, and great performances handed in.  Carl really holds his own paired up with Arnold, and special nod to Sonny Landham as Billy for just being completely bad-ass and fun to watch.

Have I mentioned how important directors are in Arnold's movies for getting a good performance out of him and his co-stars?  Well, we happen to blessed with future hall of famer John F'ng McTiernan at the helm here and... well... just wow.  It's a testament to his skill that he took a complete joke of a story idea (a highly advanced alien has nothing better to do than come to Earth and go hunting the locals... seriously?) and made it feel completely believable.  The moments that are over the top are just cool.  They're not the wink-at-the-camera crap that, while loads of fun, really breaks the immersion.

McTiernan gets a truly excellent performance out of Arnold.  His looks, his timing, his delivery, his expressions.... they all connect and bring a lot to what would have otherwise been pretty much a by-the-numbers action film.  A great example of Arnold being a star worth tossing craploads of money to.  He's just so earnest and direct and the few cheesy one-liners are delivered straight and without that "hey, I'm Arnold" wink and nod.  So when he says "You're one... *ugly* motherfucker" in The Accent, it's just pure awesome.  Arnold's dialogue actually *adds* to the tension rather than being used as periodic comic relief.  As they start figuring out what's going on with the Predator, the overall sense of fear amongst these formerly unflappable guys sucks you in and their performances do wonders for the drama.

This isn't a well-rounded movie on the level of Conan, but it's a lovingly-crafted bit of escapist fun and absolutely worth the occasional re-watch. Also worth noting that the effects held up very well, particularly the invisibility screen. Although I do still have to wonder how the Predator's species managed to evolve to be tool users with such complete crap vision quality.

Ahnold Quotient - 9
Arnold again at his cigar-chomping best.  His accent actually seems stronger here than the last few movies, and I have to think that's intentional.  And I don't mind one bit.

Rewatchability - Yes please
Had forgotten just what a great movie this is.  As much action as Commando, but a much more intelligent use of it with vastly better pacing.  I'd happily sit down and pop this DVD in any day.

Next up... The movie where Arnold starts becoming a caricature of himself: The Running Man.  But I don't mind that one bit, it's a very fond favorite of mine.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

You should not drink and bake

Raw Deal (1986)
Nope, hadn't seen this one before.  Must have been in that black hole of time just before I was watching R-rated movies in the theater on my own and was catching everything on cable.  This one's a bit of a puzzler.  Other than the last 15 minutes, it's quite remarkably dull for an Arnold movie.  Possibly *the* most dull, and it's particularly odd coming right after Commando, as it's almost an anti-Commando from a tension and action standpoint. 

I think the real issue here is that it's just another cop movie, and there really aren't opportunities for Arnold to let his inner Arnold frolic and run free.  Granted, he's not exactly turning in a great performance, but I can hardly blame him with as tame a script as he was given.  This movie is notable in that you don't have Arnold in a fantasy or sci-fi setting, full-on action/adventure, or playing up his size/physique/origins, and that's really what causes the movie to suffer.  The little bits of Arnold beating people up and blowing shit up are too spread out and the stuff in between is just so... normal.  Arnold's been accused of a great many things, but being normal is certainly not one of them.  Commando is such an interesting contrast to Raw Deal.  He's playing very down-to-earth guys in each, but Commando lets him go over the top while also giving him those moments of sweetness and comedy that he excels at.  Coming immediately off that, you would expect more of the same, or at least expect them to adapt the screenplay to work to Arnold's strengths, but instead we have a vanilla cop movie with a big action sequence tacked onto the end.  Where are the snappy one-liners?  Where is the fish-out-of-water fun? The bits that make you sympathetic to him because he does such a good job of showing just how hard acting really is?

There are still some great moments to be had...  The mad, drunken wife hurling dinner (a cake with "shit" written in icing on it) at him is fun and gives some of that important "what is life like behind the scenes" stuff that would later play so well in True Lies.  The last 15 minutes are a blast because we throw all pretense away and let Arnold do a completely unrealistic assault on the mobster's base of operations and then headquarters, probably taking out 40+ guys in the process.  He shoots and smashes out his car windshield in order to make room to shoot through while driving pell-mell around a quarry.  It's of course completely silly that someone can take someone out at 100+ yards with an automatic weapon while shooting through the windshield of a bouncing car, but it's Arnold!  That's what he does!  It's not about realism, it's the spectacle that's the important thing.

That also brings up another important point from these early movies: They really can't double Arnold.  We don't have modern CGI, Arnold's still too huge to believably double, and he's still young enough to be willing to take the risks.  As such, when you see that figure running in front of the explosion, jumping out of a car, riding a horse at speed, or driving around while shooting automatic weapons, you know it's him and that really adds something to the coolness factor.  In both Commando and Raw Deal, there are some excellent shots of Arnold driving/acting and it's not the usual Hollywood trick of going slow or being towed behind a camera truck.  He's actually driving at a pretty good speed while doing crazy Arnold shit and the scenes are all the better for it.  Give me more of that and much, much less "normal" stuff.

Thankfully Predator (!!) is up next, and there isn't one thing "normal" about that sucker....

Ahnold Quotient - 4
I'd probably give it a 2 if not for the final assault scene.  He's big, but only in size, not in persona.  Arnold's way too confined playing a stereotypical wise guy and, without some other angle or hook in the story or setup, it could be anyone in this role.

Rewatchability - No way
Pretty sure I'd rather watch Red Sonja again first.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

All I care about is Jenny

Commando (1985)
This movie has that most crucial of story telling devices: Shit blows up. Often. Fond memories of this, but haven't seen it in probably 10+ years and wondering if it'll hold up or not.

Arnold's movie persona really starts coming into focus here and this one is particularly fun since he's not yet become the caricature of himself he is in his later movies. There are no shortage of cheesy one-liners, but he really nails the dead pan delivery and the lines are so over the top that they really work. The classic "I like you, that's why I'm going to kill you last" and "I eat Green Berets for breakfast and right now I'm very hungry" lines still amuse me and weren't as cliche as I felt they might be. He's still really huge and well-built in this one and even before he starts racking up the body count, the feeling of power he projects is palpable. Arnold just commands attention and I really can't imagine this sort of movie being made with anyone else. Arnold is becoming his own genre.

Arnold commands your attention and I find myself hanging on his every word and expression just to see what he'll do next. It's not what he does, it's not what the plot is, it's all about how he does it. Cheesy though this movie is, this is why I watched every movie he put out in the mid 80s-early 90s, and why I can clearly remember the excitement and anticipation of going to see his next movie in the theater.

The story is about as straightfworward and focused as you could ask for, and it's good to keep Arnold's motivations crisp and tight. Loves daughter. Daughter taken. Get daughter back. Done and done. Ordinarily that kind of bland story would make for a dull movie, but the aim of the movie is to give plenty of time for Arnold to chew up scenery and bad guys.  Let's keep all that bothersome story complexity out of the way. Good supporting work by Rae Dawn Chong here (fond memories of her in many movies from the 80s) and the rest of the cast isn't too terribly distracting. Even Fat Eddie Mercury Guy and his oddly effeminate angst works okay, or at the very least helps you really root for him to die in a particularly nasty way.

Ahnold Quotient - 9
Arnold being Arnold, but in a really good way.  Line delivery is spot-on, he's menacing, but we're obviously not watching something based on a true story here.  As it should be.  Did I mention shit blows up?  It does.  Often.

Rewatchability - Every now and then
Overall this was quite fun to watch again. Not sure I need to do so again anytime soon, but I was pleasantly surprised how solid it was and how well Arnold plays it here.  Definitely one to go back to for some popcorn-munching brain-dead goodness.

Next up: Raw Deal. I honestly have no idea whether I've seen it before or not and reading the description and seeing stills didn't help. Apparently not particularly memorable regardless... But Predator coming up after that!!

They shall all drown in lakes of blood

Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Had to either watch it again last night or spend some serious time recreating the Silkwood shower scene to get rid of the foul stench of Red Sonja.  Damn this is a great movie.  I may have to just mute the TV and watch all Arnold's remaining movies with this soundtrack running in the background.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Danger is my trade

Red Sonja (1984)
Quickly, before I've come to my senses after Hercules, let's try to cram in Red Sonja.  This is not a good movie.  My memories of this movie are... unpleasant.  Bridgite is not just a bad actress, she is a breathtakingly bad actress.  She was crazy-hot back then, there's no getting around that, but this is what happens when you base your casting choice for lead actress on a magazine ad.   At least this makes Conan the Destroyer seem pretty solid by comparison.

Arnold is decent in this, and this is one of his first opportunities to really turn on the charm, but the movie is such a black hole of despair, he can't really carry it on strength of personality alone.  He's got a great smile though, and he's starting to look far more comfortable on screen compared to his previous outings.  Who knows, this guy may even turn into some kind of Hollywood star some day...

I can't help but wonder if this is the quality of movie the first Conan would have turned into with anyone less skilled and passionate than John Milius at the helm.  Richard Fleischer may have had his day and turned out some good work in the 50s-70s, but IMDB confirms my suspicion that his career had to be over after the back to back body blows of Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja.  Milius took completely green actors and made magic with them.  Fleischer...  not so much.  I'm not sure how many times he would have had to shoot a scene to get a marginally acceptable performance out of Bridgite, but it really doesn't look like he tried.

I can't believe I just watched Hercules and Red Sonja in the same day.  Mama always said I was "special"

Ahnold Quotient - 7
He's hamming it up quite nicely through most of this and there some wonderfully goofy expressions during the battle sequences in particular.  The "mating ritual" in the forest was a little much, but still not going completely over-the-top just yet.

Rewatchability - No way
It was brave of me to give it another go to see if I had misjudged this all these years and perhaps it's actually a diamond in the rough.  It.  Is.  Not.  Good.  I'll can't say I'll never watch it again, but it's hard to imagine the circumstances under which that would happen.  I would presume alcohol and/or memory loss would have to be involved.

You have strucked Hercules!

Hercules in New York (1969)
I still can't quite bring myself to Red Sonja, so let's continue to use the chronological order excuse and sidestep that for the moment with the one movie Arnold made that could possibly be worse than Red Sonja.  Never seen it before, and don't know whether to expect complete camp & cheese, or something far more sinister like a Steve Reeves Herc movie that tries to take itself too seriously.  

That thankfully turns out to not be a concern at all, and I'm quite flabbergasted to find that Arnold is not the worst actor in this.  Heck, he's easily in the upper half of the actors here, and there are some seriously wooden performances being turned in left and right.  Yes, I'm looking at you, Gods of Olympus... 

Some moderately amusing action scenes in this one, although I'd be hard pressed to say which was better of the drawn-out-gangfight-with-long-wooden-plank, Central Park fight-a-dude-in-a-bear-suit, or the chariot-pursued-by-mobsters-in-a-stationwagon chase scene through downtown Manhattan.   Why pick just one when you can have all that and more!

I watched the version with Arnold's audio intact and I apparently should turn pro as an Arnold interpreter since I found him perfectly understandable.  Not saying he's particularly well-spoken, but I can at least clearly understand him and it's so much more palatable than the 70 year old English professor they got to do the dubbed audio.  All in all, this wasn't as horrible as I feared and you can already see the charisma of Arnold showing through.  Let's just give him a quick 12+ year time-out from acting for the weightlifting scene reaction shots (ugh) and then let's try him out again.

Ahnold Quotient - 5
While there's no denying he's about as big as we ever see him, there's very little Ahnold going on here.  Accent is crazy, looks are goofy, but nothing really over the top.  Fun to see how eager to please he is as an actor though.

Rewatchability - Very, very rarely
I won't say I'll never watch this again, because it could be fun on a lark every now and again just to see how far he came, but I can't see regularly watching this.  It's not really Arnold's fault, it's just seriously not a good film. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

The one about the one with the muscles

Raw Iron (2002)
I'm covering all the "extras" and backstory that are included on the DVD under this.  Apparently Cinemax went back and interviewed everyone for the 25th anniversary of Pumping Iron and it's unspeakably cool to see everyone again and see them reflecting on what this meant to them at that time in their lives.  If anything, I may have enjoyed this more than the movie itself.  Some excellent behind the scenes on how the movie was made as well as some very cool interviews.  Quite a lot of fun backstory on the development of the show and the post-production "human statues" art exhibition to get the funding to complete the film.  Particularly fun to hear Arnold talking about the "role" he was playing in order to up the conflict/drama in the movie. 

They really did an amazing job if they had 100+ hours of footage shot that they distilled down to less than 90 minutes.  Hell, I'm lucky if I can trim out 1/5 of the pictures I take on a vacation.  It's so good, I would love to see even more footage.  I'm sure I'll be back to watch this whenever I watch Pumping Iron again.   Hard to separate reality from fantasy in a lot of Arnold's reminiscing, but it's good stuff regardless and at the end of the day, I don't really care what's real or not where Arnold is concerned, I just want to be entertained.  Very interesting getting to compare 1975 Arnold to 2002 Arnold in terms of how much more he has his schtick down later on.  He's still very fun to listen to later on, but there's something much less genuine when he's doing Arnold rather than just being Arnold.

Ahnold Quotient - 9
Seeing Future Arnold comment about his younger self definitely ups the AQ.  While he does seem to be genuine, he's absolutely hamming it up intentionally here.

Rewatchability - Milk with the cookies of Pumping Iron
It'd be hard not to watch this immediately after Pumping Iron, probably in the same sitting.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The one with the muscles

Pumping Iron (1977)

I'm sure I must have seen bits and pieces of this back on HBO in the early 80s, but I've certainly never sat down and watched all of it before.  I was pleasantly surprised and genuinely enjoyed this.  It's hardly an objective documentary, but the glimpse into the bodybuilding world and the personalities involved is highly entertaining.  Found the majority of it very compelling and I now completely understand what all the fuss was about.  These guys seem larger than life and just so vibrant and above all else, interesting.  35 years later and this movie still really works and I can see why it started a craze and launched the fitness industry that we take for granted these days.

Found it interesting that Arnold is again completely easy to understand when he's just talking and not having to recite lines.  Sure the accent is there, but I find it adds flavor rather than becoming a distraction.  Very cool to see Arnold in his prime with all his ambitions straining to get out.  He really is at his best when he's just being himself, or at least acting out a stylized version of himself.  Arnold has this unique combination of arrogance, self-assurance, and sweetness that I really enjoy when it comes out on screen.  Loved the sequence at the end when he's riding back to the airport with Lou since it's many years until he's this open and relaxed on screen again.

This is one of those rare movies that I strongly recommend everyone give a try. Whether you like the subject matter or the people themselves or not, it's one of the best sports docudramas I've ever seen and this one will find a slot in my movie rotation in the future.

Ahnold Quotient - 8
It's awesome to see him in his prime before his huge public success starts going to his head. 

Rewatchability - Every now and again
It's not something that I want to watch once a week or anything, but I could definitely see coming back to this every couple of years at least.  Particularly fun to watch it in the context of recently watching another of his movies.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range

The Terminator (1984)
I have of course watched the hell out of this movie from high school onward, but I think it may have been over 10 years since I last watched it.  Given how many of my memories of the Terminator are blurred by T2 and T3, I'm interested to see if this movie can hang with the current crop.  Well, the effects are crap.  Quite distractingly so, and I'm pretty tolerant on that score.  But damn if the rest of the movie isn't still one hell of a masterclass on how to tell a story.  A machine from the future is sent back in time to kill the mother of the future leader of the human resistance and a human is sent back in time to stop him.  That's it.  No wonder Cameron had such a rough time getting a studio to climb on board. 

The dialogue is excellent and the characters very believable, which is impressive given the subject matter.  We spend a good 10+ minutes of exposition while Biehn is telling Hamilton about the future and why he's here and who the Terminator is.  Every single minute of it is completely gripping.  Hats off to Cameron and the masterful tension and pacing that allow him to spend so much time on that and give the movie a brain to match the brawn.  I may have to go through and watch all of Cameron's movies again after I finish this crusade.  There's no more consistently excellent story teller this side of Spielberg than Cameron.

Once again, Arnold is his character.  His accent is goofy for a cyborg, but really works here and comes off feeling oddly mechanical like they couldn't quite get a human voice right.  His delivery is spot-on and the way he moves through a crowd or busts through a door with hardly a blink or reaction really sells you that he's a cold, unfeeling machine focused only on killing Sarah Connor.  Here we see Arnold showing real style and flair in what should be a completely limited role.  It's not like you're rooting for the Terminator or anything (that comes later), but he's utterly compelling in every scene he's in.  Biehn's over-the-top delivery of the "That's what he does, that's ALL he does!" speech still puts a grin on my face and I can't think of a better way to sum up what the Terminator is.  Thanks to Arnold for breathing such life into a 2-dimensional and unfeeling villain and giving yet another movie that entertains every bit as well as the first time I watched it nearly 30 years ago.  Need to go watch this one again.  Soon.

Ahnold Quotient - 7
While it's certainly an iconic role of his, we don't get a whole lot of personality out of him for obvious reasons, so takes us down a bit on the meter.

Rewatchability - Yes please
Could watch this anytime.  I may actually want to come back to this more often than T2 and Biehn is a big part of that.  We'll see if that thought holds after watching T2 again.

Next up chronologically should be Red Sonja.  Sigh.  Maybe now is a good time to catch up on one his older shows like Hercules in New York or Pumping Iron...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Enough talk!

Conan the Destoyer (1984)

If I had nothing but great memories of the first Conan movie, I have the exact opposite of this one. I really don't know why I tried this one again other than I had just watched the first one 3 times and still wanted more Conan.  I'm not certain how long it's been since I saw this, I know I watched it quite a few times on cable in the late 80s, but pretty certain I've not seen it in it's entirety since then.  It felt more like a straight-to-video movie compared to the original, although I notice IMDB has the budget listed at just slightly less than the first one.

Wilt Chamberlin continues to be one of the more horrible casting choices in any movie I've seen, but the rest of the cast didn't annoy me nearly as much as I remember. And lo and behold, Arnold's actually quite good in this.  If anything, he's acting better in this than the first and he's actually showing some subtlety in his performance.   Between this and the first Conan, it's apparent that Arnold really does put in the training and practice time to get ready for the stunts and swordplay/horse riding/etc he'll need.  He moved well in the first one and was very believable as a swordsman, but now he has some moves that just look flat-out cool.  That goes a long way to masking acting issues and keep the cool factor high.

Even the goofy drunk scene in the middle of the film didn't jar me as it used to and was actually pretty funny and well done.  Grace Jones wasn't the horrible actress I remembered. Not saying she's good or anything, but she's consistently in character ("Take him!  And grab him!") and has some good screen presence. Then there's Wilt. Ugh. Just ugh. Even the irritating rat-faced dude is fun to watch compared to Wilt.  He seems to be trying, and there are some decent moments, but there wasn't a single moment where I saw him as anything other than Wilt trying to be an actor and that really breaks the immersion.  What happened with Mako?  Mako is a complete bad-ass, a hell of an actor, and was utilized wonderfully in the first one, but here he's an after-thought with very few lines and crap-all to contribute to the story.  Such a waste.

Then there's the total failure of a script, complete crap directing, and an impressively bad decision to not keep it R-rated.  I still wonder what we could have had if Milius had stayed around to direct another one or two of these.  Without Milius at the helm, we have characters with little to no motivation, a groaner of a story, and completely uninspired action and cinematography.  I'm not saying Richard Fleishcer wasn't a good director at one point (Fantastic Voyage, Soylent Green, Tora! Tora! Tora!, 20,000 Leagues), but he's not hungry or at all invested in the material here and it shows.

All in all this was actually pretty fun upon rewatch. I don't think I'm going to watch this often or anything, but I could sit down and see it again.  It certainly scratches the Conan itch and I now have to re-rank this ahead of the 2011 Conan remake. 

Ahnold Quotient - 9
While not treading new ground, on par with the previous for large amounts of Arnold.  Might have taken it down a notch if not for the drunk scene which pushes it right back up there.

Rewatchability - Rarely
I could see myself occasionally coming back to this after watching Conan, but wouldn't ever go directly to it.  While there's a lot to like, there's an awful lot of ugh here and there are many other Arnold movies I'd go to first to scratch the itch.

Just don't make me watch Red Sonja. I can just skip that one, right? Please say I can skip that one...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Let me tell you of the days of high adventure!

For reasons best left unexplored, I have taken it upon myself to watch all of Arnold Schwarzenegger's theatrical releases, in more or less chronological order.  Having had my formative movie watching years in the 80s to early 90s, I've always had a soft spot for Arnold and, although he's never exactly been a role model, he makes consistently entertaining movies.  Watching his movies smacks of a guilty pleasure, the sort you're not really supposed to be enjoying. Just as I have come to terms with the fact that I like Duran Duran and am now okay with that, I also must own up to genuinely enjoying Arnold's movies for the most part.  

I've been trying to watch these with as fresh a perspective as possible, which is aided by the fact that I haven't seen several of these for 20+ years and have never seen a few of them.  Oddly enough, I'm finding that the frequent flaws in his movies are less directly the result of Arnold's acting chops, but more often the craft of the movie itself.  I'm sure that many concessions had to be made to keep them within Arnold's performance envelope, but I'm trying to cut him some slack where the script or director seem to be as much to blame.  Given that, I also can think of several movies where he really phoned it in and I'll not shy away from calling that out when I see it.  It'll be fun to see if I can pick out any actual progression in his acting ability over 40+ years of movies.

So, without further ado, here begins my journey, related in the order I recently watched them...

Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Simply put, this is an excellent movie and one of my dearest favorites.  It's a perfect storm of obsessive director, ambitious young stars, and one of the greatest film scores ever written.  I've loved this movie since I first saw it in the theaters at the tender young age of 13, it's one of only 6 movies I own the soundtrack to, and it still works for me today.  There's something charming in how eager this movie is to please and how every piece of it pulls together tell you a tale of high adventure.  Above all else, this is storytelling at it's finest, an important element all too often overlooked these days.

I was struck by how good Arnold is in this.  Sure his accent is thick, some of his expressions are downright goofy, and he's not exactly showing any range, but he's perfect for the role.  I think 95% of that is Milius's doing, but he did such a thorough job explaining the character and the scenes and really working out the dialogue that Arnold *is* Conan.  You never doubt that for a moment, so the occasional oddity seems part of the charm of Conan himself, and it doesn't disrupt the immersion as can happen with Arnold's later work.  Our heroes are a bodybuilder, a surfer, and a dancer... with effectively zero acting experience?  Milius proved to be the best coach and mentor the main trio of actors could have hoped for.

Special nod to Basil Poledouris and his epic score.  As Millius has noted, with so many stretches with little to no dialogue, the music really had to tell the story.  Without the music, no one's watching this 30 years later and you don't have to look any further than the 2011 reboot for proof.  It isn't just excellent background music, it reaches out to you in a way few other than John Williams can do, and drives the emotional pace of the film.  It's two days later and I still have many of the themes stuck in my head.  If only he could have kept up that pace in the sequel.

Ahnold Quotient - 9
No argument this movie is completely over the top, but Arnold's not yet doing "Arnold" so that keeps this from pegging the meter

Rewatchability - Yes please
One of those films that I want to start up again the moment the credits end.  Heavy rotation on this one to be sure.

Next up, Conan the Destroyer...  I recall this having a severe drop in quality from the original and consistently bad supporting performances.  Maybe I've lightened up since then?  Regardless, I'm high on Conan at the moment, so a crappy Conan movie is better than no Conan movie.