Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Movie #113 - The Terminator

"In the Year of Darkness, 2029, the rulers of this planet devised the ultimate plan. They would reshape the Future by changing the Past. The plan required something that felt no pity. No pain. No fear. Something unstoppable. They created 'THE TERMINATOR.'"

Probably one of the longest taglines in movie history, but this movie deserves it. Back in 1984, no one knew what to expect from this film. Before The Terminator, unknown Canadian director James Cameron had only done two films - Xenogenesis and Piranha: Part Two. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, I haven't seen either film, so I cannot comment on the overall quality of his work leading up to The Terminator.

So technically speaking, The Terminator was Cameron's coming out party so to speak as he propelled the cult and commercial success of this film into exclusive directing responsibilities on the Aliens sequel in 1986 and in the writing the screenplay for Rambo: First Blood in 1985.

Everyone knows Cameron's biggest success... blah blah blah, sinking ship... blah blah blah, Leonardo DiCaprio, blah blah blah, 'I'm the king of the world.' However, with Cameron, his body of work is quite strong with The Abyss, True Lies, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and of course, bringing us Dark Angel on television.

As for Arnold Schwarzenegger, he was coming off minor roles in B-rated films and television appearances, but was best known for his dubbed roles in the Conan franchise. He was considered a no-name at the time, more brute than acting ability. Although The Terminator didn't change people into moving away from that label, it did allow him to propel his acting career into more commercial roles.

At the time of its release, the premise of The Terminator was actually quite scary and the casting of Arnold as the menacing machine out to kill Sarah Connor was a perfect match as he was quite a large specimen at the time of production. Although not much "acting" was required of Arnold, the persona he brought onto the screen was enough to convince the audience that he was in fact, a killing machine.

The concept of the film was quite good too... unless you live in a hole somewhere, you'll know the premise of the franchise. Sarah Connor gives birth to the savior of mankind, the one responsible for the resistance in the war against the machines. Machines send a Terminator to kill Sarah Connor to prevent all this from happening, thus altering the timeline in the future. Great concept - wonderful science fiction.

For those that watched the short-lived Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles series on television, this is exactly what was the focus of the show. In this film, we see the early parts of Sarah's life and how the one night of horror changed her life and the lives of millions to follow forever.

Great casting by Cameron all around with Michael Biehn (Sigma Nu fraternity alumnus) as Kyle Reese and Linda Hamilton (Cameron's first wife) as Sarah Connor. Also included in the cast are Lance Henriksen, later cast as Bishop in Cameron's work on Aliens, who many know as the actor originally cast as the Terminator in pre-production. See if you can also find Bill Paxton in this one and even Brian Thompson, who many believe could now pass as a Terminator, as he was cast as one of the menacing forces in the X-Files series.

Although not one of the better films of the 80's, its definitely a must watch for the action movie fan and for fans of Arnold. I like watching this film every time its on television, however, its worth watching uncut if you can find it on a channel that allows violence and swearing. Reason being - if you watch Total Recall for example, you'll enjoy it more in its true form... censorship sucks when it comes to action movies... sometimes its funny, but mostly, it takes out all of the good parts. Enjoy!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Movie #112 - Mask

"They told 16-year-old Rocky Dennis he could never be like everyone else. So he was determined to be better."

This movie is one of the more powerful dramas of the 1980's. In similar fashion to the movie, The Elephant Man, which was released a few years earlier, Mask follows the life of a teenager who is trying to live a normal life with a grotesque disfigurement and is based on the true story of the life of Rocky Dennis.

In a related recommendation, I recently watched The Elephant Man in 2008 and didn't find it compelling, probably because it was a true story and there wasn't much more intrigue that could be conveyed by the life of John Merrick that you couldn't read about in books or on the Internet. Not fair to judge The Elephant Man in that fashion though, because in 1980 when it was produced, there weren't a great deal of references available on the subject matter.

Back to Mask, the film received two two Golden Globe nominations. Both were for acting for both Cher and Eric Stoltz, the film did in fact win an Oscar for Best Make-up.

To be honest, I have not seen this movie in about 15+ years as every time it would be on television, my sister would change the channel as the make-up created for Stoltz's character used to give her bad dreams. However, back when I did see this film, I acknowledged the story and the drama behind the life experienced by Rocky Dennis (Stoltz). Not only is he growing up as an awkward teenager, but he's also growing up with a disfigurement that makes his life more difficult. It takes the relationships with his mother and close friends to make a difference and its one of those moving stories in the end.

Beyond this film, Cher has gone on to a strong acting career and may actually have a better portfolio in films than with her music. Stoltz has really not moved beyond the 80's, mainly making television and movie cameos as either a villain or side character. Director Peter Bogdanovich has actually done more acting than writing or directing recently, as he retained a recurring role on the Sopranos. His other known film from his resume is the cult movie, The Last Picture Show.

This movie is highly recommended, even if you are technically taking the recommendation from a 14-year old version of myself 15 years ago. I plan on updating my knowledge about this movie in more-depth in the coming weeks by watching it again... its just another one of those films that you rarely see on television anymore and that's a shame, because it has a great story to tell.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Movie #111 - The Breakfast Club

"They only met once, but it changed their lives forever."

One of my favourite 80's films of all time, if you spend a couple of minutes watching the original trailer, you'd realize that if they made this film today, you probably wouldn't watch it.

Thankfully, this film was created in the 80's - a time when the 80's brat pack ruled supreme. This film was a breakthrough accomplishment for writer and director John Hughes. Unfortunately for fans of Hughes, he hasn't done anything significant since the infamous decade. His directorial resume includes such 80's classics as Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, She's Having a Baby, and Uncle Buck. However, for some strange reason, Hughes went into relative obscurity in terms of directing and focused his career on writing and producing.

As a producer, Hughes brought us Home Alone, Christmas Vacation, and unfortunately, the Beethoven franchise. Hughes has become a little obsessed with this dog franchise, as he's written all the way up to Beethoven's 5th (2003) - probably a tremendous case of writer's block.

Either way, Hughes has lost his muse, but thankfully, he was able to churn out a great film such as this one. Not only is the film powerful in terms of breaking the barriers between different cliques of students in every high school, but even in terms of the youth of the current generation, many of the issues discussed in this film are relevant today.

Due to its cult status, The Breakfast Club has been spoofed in television and copycat films. From my recollection, I know that Family Guy has made a reference to it along with a full episode of Dawson's Creek back in the day making an identical set to use for its homage. I could spend time looking up more references, but I'll let the readers do that.

What makes this film work is the contrasting acting styles and ages of the people portrayed. Anthony Michael Hall (before the steroids that made him gigantic in Edward Scissorhands) is supposed to be a freshman (or for us Canadians, in Grade 9). While the rest of the folks - Sheedy, Ringwald, Nelson, and Estevez are supposed to be seniors. I relate more to the Hall character of Brian as I was always a small kid in high school and somewhat of a braniac. I'm sure if everyone goes back to their high school years, they can relate to someone on this list... the jock, the criminal, the queen, and the outcast.

There are some powerful scenes of drama and intrigue in this film along with some great quotations - especially coming from John Bender (Judd Nelson). My fraternity brother and I have a great scene that we tend to bring up every couple of years - I even used it to toast him during our annual formal (text provided below).

What's funny is that for many of the actors in this movie, no one went on to do anything more of significance. I mean Nelson went on to play a side character on Suddenly Susan on television and was the voice of Hot Rod on the Transformers cartoon movie. Estevez went on to do the Mighty Ducks franchise and pretty much fell off the flat side of the Earth. Sheedy has done a ton of television cameos, but really couldn't shed her brat pack label. While Ringwald was the love interest of most teenage men from the 80's, her career really didn't go beyond the 90's, although she has recovered in her recurring role on television's The Secret Life of an American Teenager.

In the end, this movie is highly recommended and is a treat to watch. If you are going to watch it though, please watch the uncensored version either on television or as a rental - the censorship is only funny once you know the real script.

John Bender (Judd Nelson) Quotation:
"My impression of life at Big Bri's house."
'Yeah, Dad?'
'How was your day, son?'
'Great, Dad. How's yours?'
'Super. Say, how would like to go fishing this weekend?'
'Great, Dad. But I got homework to do.'
'That's okay, son. You can do it on the boat.'


'Hon, isn't our son swell?'
'Yes, dear. Isn't life swell?'

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Movie #110 - Edward Scissorhands

"His scars run deep."

At the start of the decade, director Tim Burton was at the top of his game. With Edward Scissorhands, Tim Burton was relying on the previous success of films like Batman and Beetlejuice. Not only was Edward Scissorhands a great addition to Burton's repertoire, this was the beginning of Burton's obsession with the casting of Johnny Depp.

My wife and I have noticed that Burton has continued to utilize Depp and his wife Helena Bonham Carter in almost every project that he has worked on in this decade. Burton is currently working on his next project, Alice in Wonderland, which is in post-production for 2010 release. Guess who is in that movie - Depp and Carter.

Either way, Burton does have a way with telling a fairytale story, with both dark undertones and a wondrous theme. I enjoyed the storyline related to the Scissorhands character and I like the fact that apart from his ailment, that is the only thing wrong with him.

Post-Scissorhands, Burton went on somewhat of a flop run... but he's recovered nicely in recent years. This obsession with Depp and Carter will hopefully end soon - its getting kinda creepy seeing the three of them continue to work together... like a pseudo-threesome if you ask me.

Anyhow, with Scissorhands, Burton had the writing and casting of actors perfectly executed. Depp was just an emerging teen heartthrob at the time and this was his ground breaking role in his career. Ryder was just coming of age as she went on to make Dracula and Reality Bites shortly afterwards... not surprising is that Ryder worked with Burton on Beetlejuice, so he really does like using people he's comfortable with as part of his main cast.

Diane Wiest was a nice addition to the overall cast and an Anthony Michael Hall on steroids was cast as the villain. No matter what he's done since the 80's, I still see him as the "nerd" from Weird Science and Sixteen Candles, despite his accomplishments on television's Dead Zone.

In the end, if you like the romantic-comedy-drama-thriller film wrapped into one, you'll like this PG movie from the 90's. What's funny to see is how far of a contrast the acting careers of Depp and Ryder have gone in opposite directions... how much further can it go?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Movie #109 - Fatal Attraction

"On the other side of drinks, dinner and a one night stand, lies a terrifying love story."

In a decade of promiscuity and infidelity, this movie probably scared a number of couples straight - especially straying husbands. For those who haven't seen this film, even after 22 years, this movie is an intense drama with a simple premise.

Man cheats on woman with another woman.
Another woman becomes obsessed with man.
Another woman is crazy.

This film follows a line of movies by Michael Douglas that is both very sexual and filled with crazy women - if you seek out his movie resume, you'll find Fatal Attraction alongside Basic Instinct and Disclosure. At the time of this film, Douglas was trying to reinvent himself as a serious actor after his romantic comedies / action films with Kathleen Turner - Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile. 1987 was a watershed year for Douglas as he appeared in Fatal Attraction and Wall Street - which achieved his goal of becoming the renowned dramatic actor that he wanted to be.

However, the real treat from this film is seeing the contrasting performances of both Glenn Close and Anne Archer. Close has a prestigious film resume and has five separate Oscar nominations, all for films in the 1980's. Archer, on the other hand, is a former model turned actress. Her nomination as Best Supporting Actress is the only one of its kind in her repertoire, as her resume includes a number of television appearances on evening dramas such as Falcon Crest and a number of films where she was cast more for her beauty than her acting prowess. She might best be known for her two performances as Jack Ryan's wife in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger... however, Archer's overall career was always hampered by her beauty.

In the end, if you really want to be startled and scared with a great movie from the 80's... see this film. If you haven't seen it in awhile, I would recommend it too, because the special edition DVD's has extended versions, which also includes an alternate ending to the awesome fight scene between Close, Douglas, and Archer.

Because this film was nominated for Best Picture in 1987, it ranks as one of the better films coming from that year and that era of movies, but the real reason to watch this is to enjoy the deterioration of a great character in Alex Forrest (Glenn Close). You really buy into her demise and her destruction as a person with borderline personality disorder. That accomplishment on film alone should be a good reason to watch it!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Movie #108 - Interview with the Vampire

"Drink From Me And Live Forever."

1994 was a funny time in Hollywood. This was a time when movie goers were obsessed with vampires and how the heartthrobs of the day were portraying them... fast forward to now and we have a similar obsession with Twilight. I must refrain from commenting on the reinvention, as I have yet to see the movie myself as it has been placed on the banned movie list by my wife.

What's interesting from this observation is that for the last 20 years, television and movie fans have enjoyed following the lives of vampires. What is the obsession that we have with them? Is it cool to be a vampire? Is it cool to drink blood? Or is it cool to wear feminine clothing and grow your hair long? Whatever the reasons, vampires are usually portrayed with various homosexual undertones - which was the case with this film.

Not only was the director the infamous director of The Crying Game (Neil Jordan), but the Anne Rice inspired character of Lestat de Lioncort had a number of homosexual tendencies. This film portrays vampires a little different than Bram Stoker's Dracula starring Gary Oldman as that movie follows the romance between Oldman and Wynona Ryder. Interview with the Vampire is a story told through the eyes of Brad Pitt's character - at the high point of the rise of his career in which he was the main focal point of the ladies in the 90's.

In terms of acting and cast selection, Jordan put a strong cast together composed of Pitt and Cruise, to go along with Antonio Banderas, Christian Slater, and younger versions of Thandie Newton and Kirsten Dunst. In general, the overall performances of each actor / actress were poor by comparison by the performance given by Dunst as the character of Claudia. She was the creepiest vampire portrayed in the film and somewhat overshadowed both Cruise and Pitt combined.

In the end, this movie ranks higher than the B-rated movies of the vampire era owned by Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi, however, this film is really for the fans of the Anne Rice novels as it brings her main character of Lestat to life. I have not read any of the books, so unfortunately, I cannot comment on the relative success of bringing the character to the big screen, however, I wouldn't be surprised if many were disappointed in both the casting of Cruise and his overall performance in the film.