Monday, January 28, 2013

What do you mean "Look in the dog?"

Snatch. (2000)
Another Guy Ritchie movie which at face value sounds remarkably similar to Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.  I've heard uniformly great things about this, so looking forward to it.  Turns out to be a very fun movie, more polished than Lock, Stock, and with some wonderfully quirky characters.  Definitely ramped up the blood and particularly impressive considering how many people die off scene.  Would certainly cross over into buckets-o-blood territory if not for that.  Still handled in a nice cartoon-meets-reality manner though and often used to great comedic effect.  Equally impressive f*bomb dropping here, 163 times according to IMDB, so I may have to wait a tad longer before the kids get to see this one.  I do Quite like Guy's style again and I'll need to go back and re-watch the Sherlock Holmes movies soon with these two early films of his in mind. 

Statham is again great here and really nailing the deadpan humor bit.  He makes a wonderful straight man to all the insanity going on around him, yet still has this great sardonic edge.  He's again oozing charisma here although understandably acting a bit more panicked for most of the movie.  Not sure if he's just being himself or if he actually has some decent acting chops this early on in his career, but his open and direct manner through both of these films has been damned impressive.  Still anxious to see him kicking someone in the face while shooting someone else in the knees, but I'll try to be patient. 

Brad Pitt.  I tend to run very hot/cold with him depending on the role.  With Daniel Day-Lewis or Gary Oldman, I can almost forget who the actor is, but with Brad I all to often just see Brad Pitt pretending to be someone.  Thankfully he's completely awesome here and while I do still see mostly Brad, his accent and handling of the "gyspy" speech is fantastic.  Also glad to see Vinnie again and was very amused that they introduce his character bashing someone's head in with a car door just like he did in Lock, Stock.  I may have to look up some of Vinnie's other movies, he's wonderfully charismatic and pretty damn funny in every scene.  His reactions when trying to take down Boris the Bullet-Dodger are priceless and his timing is impeccable.

Badassery Quotient - 6
I'll bump it up one over Lock, Stock just due to his repeatedly refusing to back down from the heavy, but still nada going on action-wise for Statham himself.  Certainly in the thick of it and full props for his awesome screen presence.

Rewatchability - Yes please
Excellent film and another I'd be happy to come back to again.  I think this one will grow on me over time and certainly could become a very quotable one.  Between the two, I think I may have enjoyed Lock, Stock a little more.  The main characters in Lock, Stock are in so completely over their head and naive that it makes the contrast to the nastiness of everyone else all the better.  Not to take anything away from Snatch though.  Damned fun.

Next up: Ghosts of Mars, a very rare beast:  A Carpenter film I've not seen!   Unfortunately, it looks like complete crap.  Carpenter has surprised me before, so hopefully there will at least be some good moments here and there.

Friday, January 25, 2013

It's all been replaced by a pile of corpses

And now for something completely different...  Statham, Statham, bobatham, banana-fana fo-fatham, fee-fi-mo-matham, Statham!  For reasons even less clear than running through all of Arnold's movies, I think it'd be fun to run through all of Jason Statham's movies in chronological order as well.  I've really liked him in everything I've seen him in, but it turns out I've only seen him in 6 of his 28 films.  Also had no idea that his first movie was as recent as 1998, nor that he didn't start out as an action star Jackie Chan-style from the beginning.  Would appear I have plenty to learn about him and I'm quite interested to see if he's always had that amazing charisma and general badassery that I so enjoyed in The Transporter.  He seems like he's a capable enough actor, but is the reason he's never broken out of his mold choice or is he a pretty limited actor.  I'm certainly rooting for the former, but the later is a definite possibility.   

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
I somehow missed seeing this and Snatch in the theater and have managed to avoid them ever since.  I've been aware of Guy Ritchie, but to date have only seen his two Sherlock movies, so I'm quite interested to go back to the beginning and see both he and Statham get their starts.  I've heard it mentioned that Statham didn't do much action at all in his first couple of movies, so it'll be fun to see why he was cast if not for the kicking of the faces and the shooting of the guns...

Lo and behold, another instant favorite of mine!  Almost going overboard on the quirkiness angle, but excellent fast-paced dialogue and a fun example of weaving all the threads into one big tangled mess at the end.  This struck me as almost a gangster-populated version of The Full Monty and it's in the non-violent parts that this movie finds its heart.  I was instantly rooting for the main four even before the poker game and loved the cinematic punch of showing Eddy staggering and dazed after busting out of the game.  From that point, I'm hooked and enjoying the ride.  A good thing too, since otherwise the jumping from thread to thread could have been an annoyance, but here it's handled with a great sense of humor and sense that it'll all tie together if I'll be patient.

Not at all the sort of performance I was expecting for Statham, but he's great all the same.  No action at all from him, but from the opening rapid-fire hustle dialogue, he's already oozing charisma.  His deadpan delivery is put to excellent use here as one of the more sane ones in the gang and his expressions are wonderful.  I love his ability to look annoyed, incredulous, intimidating, and dismissive all at once.  He must be an interesting guy to hang with, particularly knowing where his career is headed.  All in all quite the performance for a debut and a real breath of fresh air.  This movie has me pumped to hopefully discover some more gems. Hopefully pumped enough to get me past Ghosts of Mars, which appears to be the Red Sonja of Statham's early career.

I'm quite amazed at the quality of performances here, particularly given this is Ritchie's first go as director and Statham and Vinnie's first movies as well.  Vinnie in particular is completely awesome and I love the honorable person and doting father angle on a heavy.  Made for some great moments and Vinnie practically steals the last half of the movie.  I see he's made several other movies with Statham, so it'll be fun to see him again and find out if this was one-time magic or if he really is that fun all the time.

Badassery Quotient - 5
I'm defining BQ as Statham's commanding presence, charisma, fight sequences, and use of guns and vehicles.  Compared to Arnold's AQ, this is less about Statham being Statham than Statham doing what Statham does best.  Statham.  So since we have none of the action bits that he's directly involved in, it mostly falls down to charisma and presence which he has an astounding amount of for a debut performance.  We'll have to keep an eye on this Statham, he may have a promising career in B movies ahead of him!

Rewatchability - Yes please
It's such a rare treat to know you've just watched a new favorite movie.  Yet another to add to the list and one I'd definitely try to force on other people.  I can see the tone and style being offputting to some people, but it really worked for me and was a hell of a lot of fun.  It's difficult to resist wanting to go right back and watch this again, but the quest awaits!  Every onward!

Next up - Snatch.  Another Guy Ritchie movie and I was very much aware of this one when it came out, but also gave it a miss.  Hard to tell how this is different than Lock, Stock but I'm now very excited to give it a try and find out!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

She's saying like she's afraid and all that

Conan the Barbarian - DVD Commentary
Okay, it's not an Arnold movie per se, but it is an entertaining full feature-length performance by him and is just so Ahnold. Arnold's mostly literal commentaries have become a bit of an internet meme of late and are incredibly funny, intentionally or otherwise. What makes this particular one so fun is director John Milius sitting in with Arnold and it's immediately apparent that they've sat down to watch Conan together before. It's as if they're hanging out in the room with you, watching, chatting, and laughing along. Compared to the standard rehearsed or information-crammed commentaries out there, this one really hits the sweet spot with some great additional detail but regular remarks of "Oh, I love this part" or "Here it comes" followed by silence as they listen to a particularly great line along with you and then laugh and chat about it afterward. Even if they had tried to plan it like this, there's no way they could have made this any more entertaining than they did.

First off, Arnold is obviously drunk, stoned, or otherwise hopped up on goofballs. That's perfectly fine and perhaps it's because he's so uninhibited that makes this such a classic bit of Ahnold. He's remembering things about the movie as he's watching it and frequently remembering incorrectly and being corrected by Milius. It's all done in such a completely endearing, honest, good-natured manner. Whether you enjoy hearing Arnold be Arnold, like getting some pretty fun tidbits on the movie, or like my wife, find it almost completely unbearable... it's still a compelling experience and even she couldn't stop listening no matter how painful it was to her to hear Arnold sounding so out of it.

I avoid putting quotes from the things I've watched since that's been done to death, but when I rewatched the commentary, I wound up jotting down 2 pages of notes to myself. Yes, try and wrap your head around how pathetic that is, but since I went to the bother, here are some of my favorites saved for posterity:

Arnold: "I cannot believe I got credit over James Earl Jones"
Neither can I, but glad it amuses Arnold

Arnold: "Look, look! I'm bleeding real blood"
Milius: "Leave it, it looks great!"
Arnold: "I got my first stitches before it was noon"
As Milius says, pain is temporary, the film is forever.

Milius: "He sees the dogs, and in the next scene he's wearing them"
Describing the escape from the Atlantean cave.. Arnold proceeds to completely crack up

Arnold: "Now we are running"
Foreshadowing Arnold's excellent literal commentary to come with Total Recall

Arnold: "I was getting laid alot in this movie"
No explanation necessary

Also very fun how much praise they have of Arnold's co-stars. Arnold was completely blown away by watching Max von Sydow act and it's awesome to hear him talk about how he didn't know you could push that far as an actor. Sandahl gets the most chat time, I think Milius was really taken with her. They mention how well she moves at least a half-dozen times, talk about how beautiful she is, how much she looks the part of a viking, and how well she did in her big scenes. It's particularly great since in nearly every one of those scenes, that's exactly what I'm thinking as well.

Ahnold Quotient - 10
This is as much Ahnold as you could possibly imagine without actually seeing him. It's just crammed with cracking up, his wonderfully thick accent emphasizing how slurred his speech is, trying to be funny and missing the mark, and all around doing what makes Arnold Arnold. The quotes I mentioned really don't do this justice, it has to be experienced.

Rewatchability - Sure
I don't really have the sort of friends who like to hang out and run through movie commentaries, and I don't think my wife will enter the room again while this is playing, but I can totally see myself coming back to this. This was only the second time I've listened to it, and while I'm not going to do so every time I watch the movie, it certainly would be nice to do every few years. If you are even a slight fan of Arnold or the movie and have never listened to the commentary, it's a must to add this to your bucket list.

Monday, January 21, 2013

You give us immigrants a bad name

The Last Stand (2013)
A new Arnold movie!  I as going to hold off and see this one Saturday night, but my Alamo Drafthouse tossed in a Thursday 10:30pm show partway through the day and Karl, my good friend of the last 25+ years, was willing to share the stupidity of going out to see a late show on a school night.  Was a fun throwback to days when we would regularly go out to see Arnold movies on opening night.  Based on the marketing, my chief concerns going in were whether Arnold still has his acting chops and a fear that Johnny Knoxville may be featured prominently.  I'm sure his inclusion was an attempt to get some of the Jackass crowd out to the theater, but seems an odd casting choice for the setting.

Mercifully, Johnny is not Arnold's sidekick or anything and isn't in an overwhelming number of scenes.  Surprisingly, his character fit in pretty well and the bits he had were mostly funny and acted well.  There were a couple of them that seemed like they were setup and shot straight out of a Jackass film and those were slightly distracting, but each was pretty damn funny, so I'll let that pass.  The rest of the supporting cast was quite good and I particularly liked Jamie (those eyes!) and thought the bits with her and the other deputies just doing their job as deputies were some of the stronger moments in the film.

Overall, the film is about what you'd expect, although I was pleasantly surprised that the final battle isn't the whole movie (maybe the last 30 minutes?), and was glad they took their time to establish the characters.  The whole Badass Car stuff was a little overdone to my tastes, but did provide opportunities for a little action before we get to Arnold's town and not have the whole thing be one big battle sequence.  Most of the action genre beats are hit, complete with throw-away villain, goons who don't think for themselves, and Forrest getting the shouting lead detective stereotype down pat.  As such, it's a pretty tame and safe movie, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment in the least. 

As to Arnold, it's a bit of a mixed bag.  He's a bit uneven and occasionally stilted compared to some of his better work, but overall he turns in a very solid performance.  He still has the swagger, gets plenty of opportunities to glare menacingly, and I thought they handled his age very well.  Contrary to what I expected going in, it's not a wall of one-liners or Arnold constantly shooting massive weapons at everyone.  The Gatling gun scene is fun, as is the completely awesome throw-bad-guy-out-window-while-shooting-him-in-the-head gag, but the slower moments where Arnold comforts his deputies and chats up the locals at their diner were my favorites.
Quite impressed by Jee-woon's work as director.  If the IMDB-listed budget of $30m is correct, then he did a hell of a job getting that much action in on a third of what most people consider a small budget these days.  Coming right off The Expendables 2, it was refreshing not to see CGI all over the place and shows that it can still be just a tool, not a necessity these days.  His pacing was excellent and the chase sequence through the corn fields at the end was both clever and riveting.  Bonus points for the inclusion of Arnold's old Conan sword.  I'll definitely be checking out The Good, The Bad, and The Weird or I Saw the Devil in the near future to see more of his work.

Ahnold Quotient - 6
They don't comment on his size or use it to much effect other than the final fisticuffs, but we do get some good one-liners and some pretty good screen presence from him.  Several good aaauuuaaaggghhhhs in there as well as considerable gunplay and perhaps this is setting the new benchmark for what we have to look toward in Older Arnold's movies:  A little tamer, but still Arnold.

Rewatchability - Sure
Very enjoyable time and all around nice return to form for Arnold.  I'd be happy to recommend this to any fan of Arnold or action movies.  It doesn't surprise, but it does an excellent job at providing some entertainment and escapism.  This falls pretty soundly into the "guilty pleasure" category for me and I'd happily watch it again, just wouldn't be something in the regular rotation.

Up next - Who knows?  I've started up Arnold's book, but nothing much to comment on yet and I don't think debating the merits of each chapter is going to make for a particularly memorable discussion.  Karl reminded me that he had suggested I run through all of John Cusak's movies, and that's not a bad thought.  He has some critically acclaimed ones, quite a few guilty pleasure ones, and several complete yawners.  I've always thought he was a solid actor, but I've never really looked at his movies for the craft involved.  He did unfortunately make a crapload of movies, so I'll need to narrow it down somewhat.

Friday, January 18, 2013

If it's hard to remember, it'll be difficult to forget

A thought occurred to me while I was watching a few of Arnold's later duds:  I may very well never watch some of these movies again in my lifetime.  I've never really looked at it like that before, and it's both a sobering and empowering thought.  There's nothing stopping me from watching The Villain again, but isn't there something I'd rather do instead?  I don't look back at watching any of these movies as time wasted, it was fun to look at each of them in a different light.  Okay, I could have done without rewatching Batman & Robin, but for the most part, it was an enriching experience to bury myself in these movies and question my existing views and memories of Arnold's movies.  How soon would I want to watch some of these again now that I've so comprehensively OD'd on them? 

A ranking of some sort is unavoidable, but tacking a specific grade or number onto each seems pointless.  What does it matter if one is incrementally "better" than another?  They're a remarkably diverse set of experiences and I couldn't really tell you which of Predator, Twins, Conan, Terminator, Batman & Robin, or True Lies is my favorite.  Ultimately, I don't feel the need to figure that out.  It's far more relevant to look at whether or not I like one enough to watch it again and how often.  They seem to shake out into some reasonably clear brackets, so without further ado, here are my completely random thoughts on how interested I am in another go, having so recently chewed through all of them:

Conan the Barbarian
The Terminator
True Lies

All excellent films to let my inner Ahnold run free and I would happily sit down and watch them any day.  None of these really have an upper limit on how often I'd enjoy watching them and many of them are the sort I want to immediately watch again, run through the extras, and listen to the commentary as soon as I finish them.  No surprises here other than having a renewed appreciation for Predator.  I know it's fun to bash Arnold's apparent lack of acting skill, but each of these features a legitimately good acting performance by him and are excellent pieces of filmmaking, Arnold or not.

The 6th Day
The Expendables 2
Kindergarten Cop
Pumping Iron/Raw Iron
The Running Man

I very much enjoy these, but not sure I could sustain interest in were I to watch them every day.  Interestingly, only Commando and Kindergarten Cop were really in this category ahead of time.  I had retroactively applied Batman & Robin to The Running Man and was judging that far too harshly, it's a great time and a clever bit of over-the-top satire.  Happily, I've now added three new movies into my upper tiers of Arnold movies!

Conan the Destroyer
Jingle All the Way
Last Action Hero
The Last Stand
Total Recall

These are mostly guilty pleasure movies I'd be happy to sit down and watch again in the near future.  I must have sustained some severe trauma while running through these as I'm completely flummoxed by my current thoughts on Conan the Destroyer and Last Action Hero.  Conan is probably here largely because of how much I like Arnold in that role, but the movie wasn't remotely as painful as I remember.  Last Action Hero is a puzzler.  I'm oddly drawn to it, yet repulsed at the same time.  A few more rewatches may skew that one way or the other, but much as with Conan, the fact that I'm interested in doing so at all isn't something I would have anticipated ahead of time.  Another viewing of The Last Stand will be necessary to be sure of it's rewatchability, but I had a blast the first time last night and look forward to trying it again soon.

Collateral Damage
End of Days
Red Heat
Red Sonja
Stay Hungry

AKA - The rest.  These aren't necessarily bad or anything and I won't rule out watching these again, but I'd not actively seek them out.  It was almost painful to man up and add Red Sonja to this list, but compared to the dregs in the next tier, I could see myself watching it again.  Stay Hungry I may even intentionally watch again soon, but doubt I would come back to regularly.  Any of these would be perfectly acceptable if someone else wanted to sit down and watch with me.

Batman & Robin
Hercules in New York
Raw Deal
The Villain

Ugh, ick, and blargh.  Either openly offensive or so blah I can legitimately claim I have no interest in ever watching them again.  It's almost unfair to put Hercules in with this lot as it means well and I really didn't mind watching it, but unless I was just wanting to see someone else's reaction to it, there's not much point in going there.  These are the sort of movies you'd have to question what else you could have done with the time spent on them.  While you're still watching them.  It's highly unusual for me not to finish a movie I start, but with any of these, that's really the only smart play.

Yes, Batman & Robin remains my single least favorite Arnold film.  Red Sonja had a chance to take the title away, as did Raw Deal, and The Villain seemed a dead lock for taking the crown.  All it took was a few minutes into Batman & Robin again to cement its place in my heart as truly, gut-churningly awful.  It is from the very depths of my soul that I wish Batman & Robin a sincere "Fuck you" and very much hope to never see any of it again.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I would like to get into acting

28 films, 3,070 minutes and 19,000+ words later...  What do I take away from this little journey through the Collected Works of Arnold Schwarzenneger?  By far my biggest surprise:  Arnold can act.  Seriously.  He is a legitimately good actor when he applies himself and gets fully immersed in the role.  For those 2 hours you're watching him, he is Conan, The Terminator, a naive genius, or a fiddle-playing Mr Universe hopeful.  He is still obviously Arnold while doing those things, but I've found that's not a bad thing and perhaps that's really the most important lesson. 

To me, movies are all about the escapism.  That doesn't mean they must be brain-dead, I enjoy my share of Oscar-winners very much, but the common factor among every memorable movie-watching experience I've had is the chance to step outside your own life and experience and immerse yourself for a few minutes in something else.  Connecting with a movie and enjoying it to the core of your being is an almost transcendent experience.  It's something to be sought after and treasured when you find it.  I congratulate and envy anyone who finds that in any movie.  I've learned it's not often repeatable, and darkness lies down the path at trying too hard, but it's part of what makes movie watching such a compelling experience.  There's always a chance at something new, even if it's been done before.

How much more removed from my daily life and experience can I get than announcing my entrance by heaving a vat of Soylent Green down the marble steps of an ongoing orgy, helping my clone cook up some thermite pipe bombs to go rescue my family, or repeatedly running afoul of the law while desperately seeking The Toy on Christmas Eve.  Okay, I've allegedly done the first one of those, but the point is...  Arnold's movies take you somewhere else.  They're completely valid, worthwhile, and to be treasured for that fact alone.

Where to from here?  Read his book?  Plow through some other actor or director's movies?  I loves me my Harrison Ford movies, but they're mostly excellent works and therefore not all that interesting an undertaking.  At least with Arnold, I expected the worst and was pleased when I found otherwise.  Reading his book through the lens of having just watched his body of work seems an interesting follow-on, so perhaps I'll start there.

Up next - The Last Stand.  The first legitimate Arnold movie in nearly 10 years.  I'm trying not to get my hopes up too much, but perhaps there is still fun to be had with Arnold.  Nothing would please me more.  I'll likely need to watch this one twice before writing about it.  I don't want to let critical analysis get in the way of immersion and enjoyment the first time out. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

You've been back enough

The Expendables 2 (2012)
Here we go, my last Arnold movie.  Not sure why I didn't end up seeing this in the theater, I enjoyed the first one well enough, just never got around to it.  Been looking forward to this one for quite a while though and hoping that the performances are a little better this time around.  Stallone did a damn fine job directing fast-paced action, but he really didn't get good performances out of his cast, particularly himself.  Arnold's scene in the first one was awesome at first and then quickly became irritating as soon as he started talking.  I know the dude was only on set for 4 hours, but wow.  Need to at least try.

For the most part, I really enjoyed this.  There was the occasional bit of questionable acting and the CGI blood splatter was distracting, but all in all I think they pulled it off very well.  I like that they took their time much more than the first one.  The action is great, but it's the character moments and banter that I wind up remembering most.  Very satisfying in that regard and much less forced than the first time around.  I actually quite liked Gale in this and thought he was a great addition to the crew and did an excellent delivery of his background story.  His genuine manner made that scene play much better than I expected when he started into it, they just offed him too quickly, and it was a jarringly stupid thing for Jean-Claude to do right then.  I'm good with him not surving the movie, but we were just beginning to see the fun potential of contrasting him against the veterans when he's suddenly gone.

Too many fun moments to list, but highlights for me were Arnold showing up at the beginning with a great delivery of the "Oh, this is embarrasing" line, Chuck taking out everything including the tank (and the reactions of everyone else), Jet & Jason's respective fight sequences, and of course the end battle with Arnold, Stallone, and Bruce all kicking butt together.  Much much less forced having them together in this one than it had been previously.  I sincerely hope they can have all 3 of them share equal time the next go around, get past all of the admittedly fun one-liners, and just have them play off of each other as straight up co-stars.  We've still never really had that yet, but this was a great step in the right direction.

As for Arnold, he seemed to be having fun, but was bordering on phoning it in from an acting standpoint.  He had some great one-liners and his comedic timing was excellent, but the lines where he's just talking were really flat and stilted, even for him.  I'd imagine much of that is due to his not having been around for much of the production, but his scenes didn't feel out of place compared to the first one.  Still showing excellent physical acting chops after all this time was fantastic to see him taking out folks with the automatic cannon. 

Special nod to Jean-Claude, who really made the most of his opportunity to be back in the limelight.  His portrayal of Stereotypical Bad Guy was excellent and kept his character's motivations tight and simple.  Other than stupidly killing off Gale (which could serve no purpose than invite revenge), everything he did was perfectly plausible and he did just enough talking about money to let us know what he was all about.  I do like that he got a chance to do his high kicks and roundhouses, and as much as I really enjoyed his fight sequence with Stallone, I felt that was a completely blown opportunity.  When he's out of ammo and taunting Stallone with "Man or sheep", I wanted to yell "kill him!" at the screen.  It's so obvious we're going to have The Fight like every other damn movie, it would have been so fun for Stallone to just say "Sheep" and shoot him between the eyes.  Argh.  But such are the conventions of the genre and at least we did get to see a fun fight sequence.

Ahnold Quotient - 8
Wasn't showing off the bod (not necessarily a bad things these days), but plenty of hamming it up, one-liners, and shooting the crap out of people.  Much much more satisfying in that regard than the first and glad we finally got that action scene we were hoping for out of the trio.

Rewatchability - Sure
Very entertaining and I'd certainly recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen it.  I can see myself popping this one in again before long and might find a place in my extended rotation of movies.

Well, that's it.  I'm current with all of Arnold's non-cameo, theatrical release movies.  Freaky.  I made it past Batman & Robin.  That was a very near thing.  When I have a moment, I want to go back and add up the total running length of the 28 films I ran through over the past 3 months and think of how many more productive things I could have done with that time.  I'm sure it will be completely horrifying and I likely could have learned a new language during that time. 

Next up will be The Last Stand sometime this weekend.  I'm cautiously optimistic, but trying not to get my hopes up.  My enjoyment of the movie will largely hinge on whether Arnold phoned in his performance or not.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

No, I am not shitting you

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Apparently I've not seen this since the theater, as I remember very few details aside from the Terminator Chick, and that Arnold was in stupidly, crazy-good shape for the 55-ish year old dude he was at the time.  Upon re-watch, it's still not a particularly memorable movie.  Nothing specifically wrong with it, just doesn't have the thought-provoking aspects of the first one or the coolness factor of the second.  When you get down to it, I mostly noticed it obviously wasn't made by James Cameron.

Certainly plenty of fun action to be had and the early chase sequence with the crane truck is a nice cringe-inducing good time.  The long rear shot where the crane goes by taking out telephone poles and cars is damned impressive.  Problem is that, even in an Arnold movie, it takes more than a couple of decent action sequences to make a movie.  Past that, there's effectively no character building, very little humor, and an unfortunate complete whiff of a story opportunity.  Showing how Judgement Day came about was what the trailers promised and what the show is obviously leading up to, but instead we get a pretty standard chase movie with a few cool shots of humanity getting taken out tacked onto the end.  I do like that they didn't try to radically alter the future yet again, but seems like there was so much more potential than was actually realized.

Biggest issue aside from the yawner of a story is the supporting cast.  Claire is just fine and the standout of the bunch, but the dude playing John is just ugh and the Terminator Chick is horrible.  I get that she's trying to go all Robert Patrick, but all she does is show how damned good he did at the role by comparison.  She's not menacing, she's not all that convincing as a machine, and really brings squat to the table. 

Arnold is predictably great in his 3rd outing as the Terminator.  As I mentioned, it's truly staggering how good of shape he's in nearly 20 years after the first movie.  He's not quite as massive as his previous outings, but that took some kind of crazy bravado to go around in the buff at age 55 and he completely pulls it off.  Aside from looking a little bit older, particularly once half his scalp is melted off, he's perfectly believable as the same Cyberdyne model from before.  Much like T2, he didn't feel quite as robotic as the first, but it's not to the point of distraction.  He definitely seems to have been having more fun with this and he at least put in honest work on his part and didn't just phone it in.

Ahnold Quotient - 8
Back in his iconic role, some fun one-liners, showing off the bod, and blowing a hell of a lot of shit up.  Some fun play on his famous lines with "She'll be back" or the Elton John sunglasses at the beginning.

Rewatchability - Rarely
It's another one that I really don't need to see again anytime soon.  It was fun, but I'd have to have watched the hell out of the first two and be tired of them before I'd go to this one.  Just doesn't offer up much fun beyond the good chase sequence early on.

Up next, another I missed out on in the theater:  Expendables 2!  Almost there!!  With any luck, I may coincidentally be caught up before The Last Stand comes out on Friday!

Monday, January 14, 2013

You know how Germans are... like cyborgs

Collateral Damage (2002)
The third in a row of the Arnold movies I skipped at the theater after being bitch-slapped by Batman & Robin.  While it's not a bad film, it's not particularly memorable either.  The blame for that probably lies as much in the product as the timing.  Originally due to be released in October of 2001 and quietly pushed back and reworked when terrorists trying to bomb buildings in the US forever took on a different flavor.  I remember hearing about this at the time and remember some of the early posters showing a building complete with fire and smoke billowing out of it.  Not such a fun thing to watch a movie about at the time.  All things being equal, it's probably best that this didn't come out beforehand or I'm sure blame would have been heaped on it for giving people ideas, regardless of how long they'd already been planning.  I give full props to Warner Brothers for the re-edit, tasteful change in advertising, and pushed back release date.

Okay, enough of the unpleasant memories...  The first 3/4 of this was actually pretty decent and had me along for the ride.  I was fully onboard and digging it and it wasn't until they get back to the US to try to head off the captain from Sunshine blowing shit up that they lost me.  No particular plausibility issues, I just didn't much care about the whole twist/reveal bit and the race to stop the baddies felt rushed and just all around meh.  Hell, even that wasn't all bad and I was okay when Arnold detonates an explosion in the building to stop someone from detonating an explosion in the building, but then we have to go over into Unnecessary Drama (said in a singsong voice) land.  This is a frequent failing of movies and I'm sure everyone has experienced this at one time or another.  Things are at their fever pitch, the good guys are about to win, but wait! It's not over! Oh noes!  Gollum falls into crack of Mt Doom and the heroes win!  But then Frodo needlessly falls in after him!  Will Sam save him?!?  Just stop it and end the movie.  You already gave the payoff, don't screw it up by trying to sustain the excitement longer than merited.  Rather than increasing my enjoyment, that just makes me go 'ugh' and completely takes me out of the movie. 

Arnold did a damn fine job looking numb and grief-stricken at the beginning of the film.  If you've ever suffered a devastating personal loss, you've seen that look in the mirror.  Spot-on and by far the biggest depth of emotion I've seen out of him in his career.  He did equally well at the transition from despair to vengeance.  Oddly enough, it's his emoting early on that really works in this film, it's only once it goes to full action/thriller that my apathy kicked in.  He does his thing well and they did an admirable job tailoring the way he fights back to his character's firefighting/bomb unit experience.  About half way through, I started realizing they might just have him fight off a bunch of rebels without suddenly revealing that the firefighter also did a tour in Nam and learned heavy weaponry use from John Rambo.  And they did!  Got a little contrived at the end, but for the most part fit the character well and was a nice that they didn't literally go all Commando on it like they easily could have.

Ahnold Quotient - 4
It's fun that they have him get through the whole movie without using a gun, and it actually works just fine with the story, but that's not Ahnold.  Don't think we had a single one-liner.  He does, however use multiple IEDs to take out a cocaine farm, uses a gas line to take flambe the baddies, and gets to imbed an axe in a guy's heart.  So he's got that going for him.  Which is nice.

Rewatchability - No thanks
Didn't feel like I wasted my time and actually quite enjoyed bits of it, particularly Arnold's acting early on.  But much like Eraser, there's just not enough going on to keep maintain my interest and I don't see myself unlocking additional layers to the movie through rewatch.  Was fun to see another Arnold movie I'd never seen though!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Try and stay dead this time

The 6th Day (2000)
Lo and behold, a completely pleasant surprise!  I knew very little about this one coming in, but found it to be quite fun, well paced, and reasonably well acted by all.  The effects are pretty dated and the color matching is distracting, but otherwise it felt like a typical big budget Arnold movie.  I'm probably going to over-state my surprise, but coming off the last few movies, I was really expecting an active irritant or a snoozer at best, and was genuinely entertained.  Pretty much the hidden semi-gem I'd been hoping to find in my Arnold marathon and I'm very glad I gave it a try.

Like many Arnold movies, this proved a challenge to my ability to suspend disbelief, but for the most part I was able to shut the "Hey, that can't happen!" part of my brain off and just enjoy a fun sci-fi action flick.  Honestly, other than the complete BS of "clone blanks", the rest of the sci-fi and story were quite self-consistent and worked well.  The near future they present was surprisingly engaging and plausible without going over the top or beating you over the head that it was The Future; it merely serves as the backdrop to the story.  The morality of cloning was touched on without getting overly preachy and for me was just enough to give motivation to the characters and provide some fun food for thought.

After the last few movies, I was beginning to wonder if Arnold still had it in him or not, but this was a real return to form for him.  He showed some nice range, excellent timing and humor, great physical acting, and seemed to be really into his role again.  He was again wonderfully open and direct with just the right amount of snarkiness without crossing into cheesiness.  Heck, I even thought he pulled off the dual-role scenes pretty well and found his bomb making scene with his clone to be one of the high points. 

Also one of the more star-studded casts I've seen in any of his movies.  He's had the occasional top draw co-star, but this one was riddled with lots of "hey, I know that guy!" people and everyone turned in great performances.  Robert Duvall was particularly touching in his scenes with his ailing wife.  The quality of supporting cast in this gives time to take a break from the action and I found myself enjoying the character moments every bit as much or more than the action.

Ahnold Quotient  - 7
Much more understated than the typical Arnold movie, but still full of charisma, one-liners, great action, and lots of shit blowing up. 

Rewatchability - Sure
Did I mention I was pleasantly surprised?  The sci-fi worked for me, Arnold was a lot of fun, and the supporting cast was great.  I don't think this is one I'd want to watch annually or anything, but I'm interested in watching it again right now.  Certainly would be happy to recommend it to an Arnold or action movie fan.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Between your faith and my Glock 9mm, I'll take my Glock

End of Days (1999)
Still reeling from the after-effects of Batman & Robin, but excited to be seeing another Arnold movie I've never seen before.  Not sure why I gave this a miss the first time around in theaters, but I'm sure it had something to do with having seen Batman & Robin, being an obvious Y2K cash-grab, and not looking at all good. 

It's certainly not at all good, but it's thankfully not in the same league as Batman & Robin or The Villain.  I do have a bit of a soft spot for supernatural prophecy stuff when done well, which unfortunately is not the case here.  It's at least a passably interesting underpinning to an overtly action-oriented film with a weak attempt at horror, but they missed the mark at sparking my imagination.  Hell, even The Omen III, as forgettable as it was, had a very cool prophecy/discovery angle to it that livened up an otherwise dreary and predictable movie.  No such luck here.  This movie actively demands that you stop trying to make sense out of it and to kindly overlook a massive amount of plot holes and non-sensical character actions.  I found myself periodically saying "Hey, wait a minute... that's stupid" but was mostly successful and shutting off rational thought and just going along for the ride.

The supporting cast is adequate enough, they just seem to mostly be going through the motions.  Gabriel normally kicks ass in pretty much anything he's in, and while he does have some occasional moments of spark, he largely sleepwalks his way through it.  Likewise with Kevin Pollak, who I generally quite like.  He has some good one liners and a reasonably decent rapport with Arnold, he's just not given much to do.  Robin Tunney is usally very good, but here has sadly reverted to the "dull surprise" acting of her early career.  Sven sighting: Sven shows up again as one of the thugs who breaks into Arnold's apartment when he relives the past.  He not only survives another Arnold movie, he helps murder Arnold's wife and young daughter.  Must be revenge for all those times Arnold's offed him in previous films.

Given how dull the rest of the film was, I was pleasantly surprised to find Arnold turning in a pretty good performance.  He's a little wooden (can hardly blame him given the script) but has some honest-to-goodness acting on display.  He's pretty dull for the first half of the movie, but shows some of the old Arnold panache from the mid-point onward.  Particularly enjoyed his religious debate with Rod Steiger when he brings Robin to the church.  Actually got a few smiles and laughs out of that sequence and put me in a better mood for the silly shenanigans of the last half.  He also surely set the record for the most times Satan has been shot with projectile weapons in a single film.

Ahnold Quotient - 6
Very few one-liners, little muscle-showing, and I'd probably have gone quite a bit lower if not for the crazy amount of "Aaauuuaaaggghhhh!" going on in this one.  Quite possibly the most I've seen in any of his films.  Otherwise completely forgettable as an Ahnold movie.

Rewatchability - No thanks
Plot holes aside, it's not a particularly cringe-worthy film, but it's not a good one either.  I don't feel I wasted my time watching it and was actually entertained here and there throughout.  No real point in watching it again and it's not something I would recommend anyone else give a try.

Next up:  The 6th Day.  Another one I've not seen!  I hear it's a complete goof of a movie, but this one was mostly a stinker and it still entertained well enough, so there's hope!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

It's the hockey team from hell

Batman & Robin (1997)
Here it is... the biggie.  The movie that retroactively changed my opinion of most of Arnold's work.  Certainly one of the biggest first-viewing letdown theatrical experiences I've ever had this side of Crystal Skull.  Perhaps like Skull, I'll warm to it upon rewatch.  I understand that's not remotely likely for something rated 3.6 on IMDB, but I'm optimistic this can't possibly be as bad as The Villain.

Think I'll have to call it a draw.  The Villain and Batman &Robin are each reprehensibly bad in their own way.  The comparison is notable given that I think Arnold turns in a better acting performance in The Villain.  I really can't be bothered to go into the myriad of reasons why this is as bad as it is.  Most of that ground has been covered far more eloquently than I could by a great many people over the years, so let's just stay focused on Arnold's part in the crime.

I've just watched 22 other movies of his over the past few months and have been surprised at just how well he acted in many of those; certainly much better than I had remembered.  If anything, his performance in Batman & Robin is actually much, much worse than I recalled.  Wouldn't have thought that possible, but it is what it is.  His delivery goes way beyond a simple attempt at camp and is just groan-inducingly grating, self-absorbed, phone-it-in bad.  I was looking for that moment where the Arnold spark comes through, but it never happens.  I was also trying to look for a method to the madness or see if he was just intentionally playing up the role in a certain way like the last half of Running Man, but nope.  It's just crap.  It's like a masterclass in how not to act in a motion picture.

The real question is why?  Perhaps I'll find out what was going on in his life around this time if I ever get around to reading his book after I've finished this quest, but my guess is that it just sorta happened.  I've always assumed that fame and fortune had finally gone completely to his head and he stopped caring.  I'm sure a huge steaming pile of the blame rests squarely on the narrow shoulders of Joel Schumacher, but one person can't possible ruin a movie this comprehensively.  It takes a real team effort and I have to think that everyone pulled together to realize this film exactly as Joel had imagined it:  A collective 'fuck you' to the superhero genre.  Even so, Arnold's had several real duds of movies, but he almost always (The Villain aside) brought his charisma, timing, or eagerness to please along.  Mostly this seems to cinch my argument that Arnold's performances are as good as his director's ability to wring one out of him.

Ahnold Quotient - 10
For better or for worse, this is another definitive Ahnold performance.  It's all here: one-liners, expressions, an impressive amount of "Aaauuuaaaggghhh!" going on, and lots of action and shit blowing up.  If you've seen this movie, you can't help but think of it when you think of Arnold.  Once seen, some things can't be un-seen.

Rewatchability - Fuck you
I think I would actually have to be paid to watch it again, and a fair amount at that.  I only made it 19 minutes in, around the time they make Bane (remarkable how eerily similar TDKR's portrayal of Bane is to Batman & Robin's), when I had to stop for the day.  I managed to get the rest of the way through it today, but I was honestly this close to saying "fuck it", giving up on this crusade, and just waiting for The Last Stand to come out. 

So.  Done and done.  My memory wasn't foggy, I now have a certain weariness of soul that only back to back screenings of The Villain and Batman & Robin can bring, and it's on to new ground.  Three Arnold movies in a row I've never seen!  The End of Days, The 6th Day, and Collateral Damage are up next.  I have to think there's around a .00001% chance any of those will be as bad as the last two, but anything is possible.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Bet you've never seen one like this before

The Villain (1979)
I was intrigued and looking forward to this one.  Kirk Douglas, Ann-Margret and her cleavage, Arnold, and one of Hal Needham's early films!  That should be at least good mindless fun.  Sure, I've never heard much about it, but how bad can it be?

Pretty damn bad as it turns out.  When you see a character named Parody Jones in the titles, then shortly afterward see Mel Tillis and Paul Lynne both in the cast, you know exactly what kind of film you're in for.  But hey, I like Mel and Paul just fine.  Unfortunately by the time the boulder falls off the cliff and actually lands on Kirk, I've had it.  The painting a fake tunnel on the cliff wall and having Arnold and Ann-Margaret drive through it RR-style is just grating by that point.  I think all of that could have worked in the proper hands, those hands just should have been someone other than Hal's. 

So Hal debuts with the very solid Smokey and the Bandit, then the fun, if indulgently semi-autobiographical, Hooper... and then he plops this out.  I can see where this might have seemed fun on paper: let's do something like Blazing Saddles, but go over the top and make it like a Road Runner cartoon.  Fair enough.  But you have to actually do something with that premise.  Like a story or at least some fun dialogue and characters.  What we got was something with less plot that your average RR cartoon and 1/10th the humor.  Sure, there were some half-way decent stunts and Kirk Douglas actually seems to be having a lot of fun and is actually pretty good given what he was asked to do, but it's all groan-inducingly bland and forgettable.  I hope Kirk did have so at least someone got some enjoyment out of it. 

The casting of Arnold as Handsome Stranger (that's not an untitled character or anything, that's actually his name) had potential and should have given fun opportunites to play up his size, but he's completely wasted here.  I'd say that perhaps he couldn't get his lines down or they had to trim his part down or something, but he did just fine in Stay Hungry.  They just didn't write squat for him or make any meaningful use of him.  He's got some seriously wooden acting in this, but I really don't know how much to blame him and how much to blame script, story, and directing.

This might be the biggest waste of talent between the 3 leads I've ever seen.  Kurt's at least having fun and Ann-Margret is scaldingly hot as always, but otherwise... blargh.  Special nod to Ann-Margret and her scene-stealing cleavage throughout.  Next to Kurt hamming it up, easily the best thing about the film.  Her character is pretty thinly written, but she really plays it up and was quite a lot of fun to watch.  I've always enjoyed her in everything I've ever seen her in and this is no exception. 

Ahnold Quotient: -5
He really might as well not have been in the movie.  Other than a couple of times where Ann-Margret or Kurt notice he's strong, we get nada.  Very little dialogue, intentionally little humor, and absolutely nothing memorable.  Good or bad, Arnold's always memorable, so you do have to be impressed how thoroughly they under-utilized him here.

Rewatchability - Hell no
I've seen worse films, but I think this is now the worst Arnold film I've seen.  I'd thought that distinction was going to rest soundly on Raw Deal or Batman & Robin, but neither of them are as consistently poor as this was.  It's possible that I wasn't in the right frame of mind and that made the jokes fall even flatter.  That happened the first time I saw Spaceballs and The Naked Gun.  Nearly walked out of the theater on both and now love them dearly.  Somehow I don't think that's going to be the case with this one.  I'm now almost looking forward to watching B&R, so I guess the movie served that purpose at least.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I don't like being too comfortable

Stay Hungry (1976)
I appear to be having a real problem working up the courage to watch Batman & Robin.  I like to think I just didn't have time over the holidays to watch any Arnold movies, but there's this palpable sense of B&R lurking in the shadows ready to pounce at any moment and destroy anew my appreciation of Arnold's movies.  So without further ado, let's pretend it doesn't exist and go back and catch up on a couple of his oldest movies.

I've never seen this one, and about all I knew about it coming in was that Arnold portrays a bodybuilder (!!), won a Golden Globe for best acting debut (in his 2nd film, apparently no one else wants to acknowledge the existence of Hercules in New York either) and that it somehow had Jeff Bridges and Sally Field in it.  Granted, this is pre-Tron Jeff (which we all know is where he really became a legend), and pre-Smokey & the Bandit Sally, but that's still some decent talent to put with an unknown like Arnold.  While Pumping Iron was filmed before Stay Hungry, this one was released first due to the delays in getting PI completed.  I admit I'd judged the movie by the DVD cover and was prepared for another Hercules-type exploitation movie and I couldn't have been more wrong.

Not only does this actually have a plot, some quality acting by a surprising ensemble cast (R.G. Armstrong, Scatman Crothers, Robert Englund (!?), Roger E Mosley, and even a young Joanna Cassidy and Ed Bagely Jr), but Arnold is fully clothed for 90% of the movie.  Not kidding.  He doesn't take his shirt off until... the Mr Universe competition at the end of the movie.  As if that weren't enough, the crazy bastards that made this film gave him dialogue!  Like probably 20x as many spoken words as Conan (it would be fun to do that count sometime), and I'll be damned, he actually handles himself very well.  I don't know if I'd agree it was a GG-winning performance, as I'd have given that to the kid from The Omen, but I completely understand his being nominated.  

Sure, there's the occasional stumbling through lines, but there's also that wonderful genuine nature that Arnold shows so well over the next 2 decades, and some quality emotion.  There's a great scene near the end where he's paraded as the fiddle-playing Mr Universe contestent in front of Jeff's snooty country club friends (you have to watch for that to make sense) and when they start heckling him, he gives a completely awesome expression and a great delivery of a polite "F* you, wer'e done here" comment to the crowd.  Vulnerability, angst, humor...  Acting! 

I would be remiss if I didn't comment on the completely wacky ending:  As the Mr Universe contest is reaching it's conclusion and they're just about to announce the winner, Arnold naturally has to tear out of there barefoot and run over to his nearby gym to stop the owner from drugging and raping Sally Field before trying to kill Jeff with any piece of gym equipment he can get his hands on.  The usual sort of stuff.  What moves the ending into "WTF?" land is the rest of the Mr Universe contestents tearing out after him and then proceeding to run aimlessly through the streets.  Complete with posing for the crowd, initially at their request, including 4 guys flexing as they go by on the top of a bus.  Typical Hollywood ending.  I'd love to have sat in on that planning session.

Ahnold Quotient - 4
Pretty much no nod & wink or one-liners to be had, but that's not surprising with this early of a film.  We do get to see him in his '75-76 form flexing and posing, but it's legitimately for a contest and that contest even serves the story.

Rewatchability - Perhaps
If you'd asked me part-way through, I'd have said no thanks because the film is very heavily rooted in the 70s and pretty dated, but as the movie progresses it did actually grab me and started entertaining.  Jeff is very solid, and showing some impressive physical stuntwork during the gym fight sequence.  Hell, I'd watch it again just to see his crazy parkour move in the stairwell when the gym owner tosses a barbell down at him.  I don't think I need to do it again anytime soon, but I'll return to this one at least once more.