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.