Friday, April 18, 2014

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Rated R
Starring: Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick
Directed by: James Cameron
Tagline: It’s nothing personal.
Running time: 137 Minutes
Netflix
#39 on IMDB Top 250

Quick summary (from IMDB): A cyborg, identical to the one who failed to kill Sarah Connor, must now protect her teenage son, John, from a more advanced cyborg, made out of liquid metal.

I had pretty much written off Arnold Schwarzeneggar as an actor after Terminator 2. Sure, he did some decent movies after that (True Lies is the only one that jumps out at me as actually good), but everything else was pretty terrible. T2 was the last great thing he did. Unless you count becoming the governor of California as great. I don’t live there, so it had absolutely no impact on me other than a pretty great political nickname: The Governator. The T-800 was the perfect role for Arnold. His acting has always been incredibly robotic, so why not have him play a robot wearing human skin. And he only says like 700 words in the movie so you don’t have to hear him butcher all kinds of dialogue. He gets simple, short lines like “I’ll be back,” “Hasta la vista, baby,” and “Come with me if you want to live.” Those three lines, along with “Get to the chopper!” from Predator and “It’s not a tumor!” from Kindergarten Cop are among the most memorable and fun lines to repeat in a terrible Arnold impression. Everyone can do them and they are immensely fun, even 20 plus years later.

I tend to overlook both The Terminator and T2 as awesome movies because it’s been so long since I’ve seen Arnold as anything other than a politician. He’s been in a handful of movies now that he’s no longer Governor. His cameo in The Expendables was decent but most of the other movies have looked pretty terrible. I’m probably going to watch them at some point because I’m a sucker for dumb action movies, but I’m not going to be looking for anything on par with T2, which is Arnold at his best.

For as awesome as the T-800 (and Arnold) is, I think the T1000 might be better. Upon first viewing when I was a kid, the T1000 scared the crap out of me. Robert Patrick’s face was so evil, and he was relentless and had much more modern and hi-tech advantages than Arnold. He was basically a molten man who could take any shape. More often than not it resulted in his arms turning into knives or blades, but it was always awesome. As an adult, I have a much greater appreciation for the performance Patrick gave. Like Arnold, he had very few lines, but was able to convey so much with just menacing looks. It’s great and the effects that went into making that character work are still fantastic, even after 20 years. For as much crap as I like to give James Cameron for making movies I don’t like, he is a special effects innovator and a pretty great filmmaker.

I forgot that T2 was nominated for 6 Academy Awards, winning four of them (for Best Sound, Best Sound Editing, Best Make-Up and Best Visual Effects) which is kind of crazy considering it’s a futuristic sci-fi movie. But I think it was totally deserving of those nominations. I can’t think of many other movies from 1991 that were as good as or better than T2. It wasn’t nominated for Best Picture (which ended up going to The Silence of the Lambs), but it probably should have been.

I just realized I’ve gone 540 words without mentioning Edward Furlong or Linda Hamilton. Without either of them, these movies don’t really exist as they are the central characters to the entire Terminator franchise. Both were solid in their performances, but completely overshadowed by Arnold and Robert Patrick. T2 is the first thing I ever saw Edward Furlong in (he got the “and introducing” credit) and the last thing I remember seeing Linda Hamilton in. Neither Hamilton nor Furlong are amongst the first five or ten things I think of (Arnold in a leather jacket and shades, Robert Patrick as the T1000 in the cop uniform, Guns N’ Roses’ “You Could Be Mine”, T1000 with holes blown in him, T1000 opening the elevator with his metal arms, Arnold with the fake bouquet of roses with the shotgun inside, the kid who played Bobby Budnick on Salute Your Shorts) when I think about Terminator 2: Judgement Day which is crazy considering how important they are to the movie.

I didn’t realize that The Terminator was also available on Netflix until after I finished watching T2, otherwise I would have watched them in order. I have a much less vivid memory of T1, having only seen it once before, but am looking forward to going back and watching it again.

5 out of 5 stars

Trailer:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear (1991)

The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear (1991)
Rated PG-13
Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, Robert Goulet, George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson
Directed by: David Zucker
Tagline: Frank Drebin is back. Just accept it.
Running time: 85 Minutes
Netflix

Quick summary (from IMDB): Lieutenant Drebin discovers that his ex-girlfriend’s new beau is involved in a plot to kidnap a scientist who advocates solar energy.

After finishing The NakedGun: From the Files of Police Squad, I was disappointed that I couldn’t jump straight into the sequels to satisfy my Leslie Nielsen/spoof fix. Less than 2 weeks later, The Naked Gun 2 ½ : The Smell of Fear showed up on Netflix and I jumped at the chance to watch it.

For as great as my memory of the whole Police Squad/Naked Gun franchise is, I was a little let down by the sequel. It hasn’t aged quite as well as the episodes of Police Squad or the first movie. Both are rife with dated references, but this sequel just felt more dated. Maybe it was how much the Bush impersonator was involved in the movie but The Smell of Fear just wasn’t as funny as the first movie or as funny as I remember. It wasn’t terrible and certainly wasn’t unwatchable, but I didn’t find myself laughing nearly as much as I did a few weeks ago. Nielsen is still great, and there are still plenty of solid jokes and gags, but it just felt a little lacking.

To me, it just feels like they were trying to go broader and dumber with the comedy. It’s not that The Naked Gun was exceptionally smart or deep, but most of the jokes worked on multiple levels. It’s still substantially better than most any other spoof movie to come out in the last 10+ years or so, but compared to Airplane, Spaceballs, Men in Tights or the first Naked Gun, it’s just not as good. I used to love spoof movies, and the four that I just mentioned are among my favorite comedies of all time. Not Another Teen Movie was the last really good and funny spoof movie I’ve seen in the last 10+ years.  All of the ‘Disaster/Epic/Scary Movie’ spoofs have looked downright awful, opting for the lowest possible joke or dumb parody rather than actual, quality jokes. Even at its worst, The Naked Gun 2 ½ is far better than anything in those terrible looking movies.

3 out of 5 stars

Trailer:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)
Rated PG-13
Starring: Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, O.J. Simpson, Ricardo Montalban, George Kennedy
Directed by: David Zucker
Tagline: You’ve read the ad, now see the movie.
Running time: 85 Minutes
Netflix

Quick summary (from IMDB): Incompetent cop Frank Drebin has to foil an attempt to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II.

It’s been years since I watched any of The Naked Gun movies. A few years backed I re-watched all six (really, only six?) episodes of Police Squad, and they are still amazing. I couldn’t even begin to guess how many times I’ve seen The Naked Gun movies or the episodes of Police Squad, but I used to watch them all the time when I was younger. It’s always interesting to watch something you loved as a kid to see how it changes once you’re an adult, and Police Squad and The Naked Gun certainly got better as I got older. When I was 12 or 13 or however old I was when I first watched them, I probably only laughed at the more visual and obvious jokes. Or just whenever my older brother laughed because I was certainly too young to get some of the more adult gags. And I only ever watched it when it aired on Comedy Central. Even though it was only PG-13, there were still quite a few scenes that had to be cut out or trimmed to make it TV appropriate.

Leslie Nielsen is largely responsible for my sense of humor, and without his Lt. Frank Drebin, I’d probably be a much different person than I am today. It’s weird to think about it, especially looking at some of the movies he did later in his career, the spoof movies and remakes that weren’t nearly as funny as anything he did in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s. Spy Hard, Mr. Magoo and others were pretty awful in retrospect, at least when compared to his best work (Airplaine!, The Naked Guns, Police Squad). But even in those pretty terribly movies, Nielsen was pretty consistent, playing these ridiculous situations with such seriousness and earnestness that made them so much funnier than they otherwise would have been.

It’s weird to think of O.J. Simpson as any thing other than a murderer (at worst) or a punch line (at best), but I sometimes forget that he was even in this movie. He didn’t have a whole lot to do, other than comically and hilariously continue to get injured. Did I feel bad watching Simpson get hurt and ultimately fall off of a boat and end up in a coma? Nope, not at all.

I’m kind of mad that The Naked Gun and Airplane! are the only (great) Leslie Nielsen movies available on Netflix because as soon as I finished The Naked Gun, I wanted to immediately dive right into to 2 and a 1/2 and 33 and a 1/3rd but wasn’t able to. It wasn’t until a week or so after watching the first movie that 2 and a 1/2 showed up on Netflix. I don’t know why I never actually picked up the movies on DVD at some point in the last decade or so. I’m sure it could have been done for less than $20, but I just never picked them up. I guess I took for granted that they were usually on Comedy Central with some frequency and just assumed they always would be (or that I would always have Comedy Central). I’ll probably end up picking up copies at some point, unless the entire franchise ends up on Netflix, which would be great.

5 out of 5 stars

Trailer:

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Frozen (2013)

Frozen (2013)
Rated PG
Starring: Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel
Directed by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Running time: 102 Minutes
iTunes

Quick summary (from IMDB): Fearless optimist Anna teams up with Kristoff in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, and a hilarious snowman named Olaf in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter.  

When I first saw the trailer/sneak peek for Disney’s Frozen, I thought it looked terrible. It was just an odd little short about a weird looking snowman battling a reindeer for a carrot while both struggled with their footing on frozen body of water. It was supposed to be cutesy and funny, but it just looked terrible. And I was pretty sure I’d seen this before with one of the Ice Age movies (I can’t remember which because they are all the same), and after struggling and falling and generally being a failure, the little guy would eventually get his acorn/carrot/whatever and the end. If that’s what Frozen was going to be about, then I wanted nothing to do with it. Thankfully, that’s not what Frozen was about, and that little snowman (Olaf) and the reindeer (Sven) weren’t the main characters.

Were it not for all the buzz around the movie, as well as the hilariousness that was John Travolta being an idiot and/or illiterate and butchering Idina Menzel’s name at the Oscars, I’d probably have waited until much later to actually watch Frozen. Like when my daughter hits 3 or so. But in addition to that buzz, there was the video of the dude singing “Let It Go” in the voices of 21 different Disney and Pixar characters. And it’s just amazing. I’ve probably watched this video 5 times a week for the past several weeks. And it’s awesome. He doesn’t break or lose it at any point. And he gets a little in character with mannerisms and facial expressions for each one. I have no idea who that guy is or what he does, but that was awesome. Check it out:

As for the movie itself, it was surprisingly pretty good. It wasn’t just the same old Disney musical cartoon, but it was a little darker and different. There wasn’t a clear cut good guy and bad guy like so many other Disney movies, there was a little ambiguity and a bit of a twist and it was refreshing and nice. And for as much as I dreaded Olaf and Sven taking over the movie and being stupid like that short/trailer, they didn’t. In fact, Olaf made me laugh more than I few times, as he was a genuinely funny (and stupid) character. And it was cool to see Disney Princesses not depending on Princes to rescue them at the end, as both Anna and Elsa were pretty strong characters.

I’m glad I got to watch it on my own terms, and not at the repeated insistence of a child. I’m sure that’s coming in my not too distant future (we heard variations of “It’s Bitsy Spider” 100 times over the weekend), but it was nice to actually sit and watch it and be able to enjoy it as a movie rather than as children’s entertainment. And it was nice to finally get some context for the lyrics of “Let It Go.” I’d been listening to it for weeks without really getting the references or the things she was saying. Though I still don’t really get the decision to use the word “fractals” in a song in a kid’s movie. It’s the right word and makes perfect sense for what she was singing about, it’s just a little advanced for kids. But kids probably aren’t paying attention to the words, just watching the funny snowman fall down again and again.

All in all, Frozen was a pretty good movie. The songs weren’t too annoying or cheesy like some other Disney songs. It was a great story and was genuinely funny at times. The only real problem I had with the movie was the inclusion of the rock-like magic trolls. It was kind of dumb that they were able to go into the woods and find all these magic trolls that could help them by explaining what was going on and fixing their problems, or at least telling them how to fix the problems. They were dumb characters and I could have done without them. Other than that, everything else was great.

4 out of 5 stars

Trailer:

Friday, March 28, 2014

Gone With The Wind (1939)

Gone With The Wind (1939)
Rated G
Starring: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Thomas Mitchell, Hattie McDaniel, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland
Directed by: Victor Fleming
Tagline: The greatest romance of all time.
Running time: 238 Minutes
Blu-ray
#153 IMDB Top 250
#6 AFI Top 100

Quick summary (from IMDB): A manipulative Southern belle carries on a turbulent affair with a blockade runner during the American Civil War.

I’ve put off watching Gone With The Wind for as long as I possibly could, pretty much completely abandoning my goal of watching all Best Picture Winners and all of the AFI’sTop 100 movies in the process. But after being accused by my wife of only picking movies I want to see, I decided to finally give in and bump it to number one on the Netflix Queue. I’d seen the movie when I was a teenager, but the only things I really remembered were that it was incredibly long (it came on two VHS tapes), had an Overture and an Intermission, and was very much pro-The South. Oh and also that it is my mom’s favorite movie. The length was the only reason I put off watching the movie, because at almost four hours long, I knew it was going to take more than one sitting to make it all the way through. It ended up taking three days to finish, partly because of the length and partly because of March Madness.

I’ve never considered Gone With The Wind a bad movie, it’s pretty great. My only real problems with the movie are the length and the lack of pretty much any action for a movie set during the Civil War. The first half of the movie features several off-screen deaths from the war, with only dialogue or words on screen to convey the death(s). For a man, a little bit more on screen action would have made the movie a little bit more engaging, at least during the first two hours. Things picked up a bit after the Intermission, with a bit more action and violence, as well as the utterance of the best line in the movie. And no, I don’t mean the three iconic lines ranked in AFI’s Top 100 Movie Quotes list: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” (#1), “After all, tomorrow is another day” (#31), and “With God as my witness, I shall never go hungry again!” (#59). I’m talking about Rhett Butler’s “I’ll thank you kindly to shut your stupid mouth” line to Scarlett O’Hara. For the entirety of the movie, I was hoping for someone to stand up to Scarlett and call her out for being stupid.

It’s probably not a surprise that Captain Butler is my favorite character in the movie. He’s not a very good person, and there were a surprising few characters in the movie who were (maybe only Melanie and Mamie out of the entire cast). Scarlett O’Hara was the worst. I never really felt bad for her or was on her side for the entire four hours of movie. She was manipulative, cold and mean to almost everyone, and was completely undeserving of the happiness and rewards she felt entitled to.

Gone With The Wind is an epic and fantastic movie, and one that everyone should see once. Its importance and influence in cinematic history cannot be overlooked. It was originally #4 on the AFI’s Top 100 movies list, though it was bumped to # 6 on the 10th anniversary list. Its #152 on IMDB’s Top 250, but that list is arbitrary (V For Vendetta is ranked a few spots higher…). In addition to being considered one of the best movies by the American Film Institute, the AFI ranks Gone With The Wind as the #43 most inspirational movie, the #2 love story and the #2 score, each out of 100. Gone With The Wind was nominated for 13 Academy Awards, winning eight, including Best Picture (beating out Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Wizard of Oz and Of Mice And Men), Best Director (Victor Fleming), Best Actress (Vivien Leigh), Best Supporting Actress (Hattie McDaniel), Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as for Best Cinematography, Editing and Art Direction.

And the conversion to Blu-ray looked fantastic. For a movie from the 30’s, it looked incredibly crisp and well preserved.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Trailer: