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!