Arnold Quick Takes: Happy Anniversary and Goodbye, Dave, Beretta’s Island

happyanniversaryandgoodbye_3Happy Anniversary and Goodbye (1974)
twohalfstar

Starring Lucille Ball, Art Carney, Nanette Fabray, Peter Marshall, Don Porter, Patricia Blair, Doria Cook-Nelson, Arnold Schwarzenegger
Directed by Jack Donohue

I’ve been a Lucille Ball fan for pretty much my whole life, but I’d never seen anything other than I Love Lucy and The Long, Long Trailer. Judging on Happy Anniversary and Goodbye, I don’t know that I was missing much. The hour-long TV special presents the story of Norma and Malcolm Michaels, a married couple who have exhausted about every shred of love their relationship once had. After the first scene, composed almost solely of yelling, name-calling and snide remarks, the couple has decided to divorce. The special punctuates this real-life drama with levity, but it often feels odd to laugh when this couple is at such a low point. I have a hard time imagining a similar special being made today. Their personal journeys while separated are much more successful, though, with some classic-styled Lucy antics and a cameo from Arnold Schwarzenegger at nearly the start of his career. I doubt anyone involved thought his acting career would amount to much, as his usual spark is missing completely. It’s still fun to see him at his rippling, bodybuilding peak. This one can surely be skipped, but as a fan of Lucy, Art Carney and Arnold, I did enjoy it overall.

Dave_1Dave (1993)
twostar

Starring Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella, Kevin Dunn, Ving Rhames, Ben Kingsley, Charles Grodin, Faith Prince, Laura Linney
Directed by Ivan Reitman

Ivan Reitman made Dave in-between two Arnold vehicles (Kindergarten Cop and Junior), and Dave is every bit as unbelievable and outlandish an idea as Arnold teaching five-year-old kids or carrying a baby to term. Dave is a regular guy who gets to be the President of the United States after the real guy has a stroke. At first he’s just a simple stand-in, but as Dave’s personality shows through, the people love him. He cuts budget items as quickly and easily as you’d make a grocery list, he does magic tricks to cheer up a homeless kid, he uses giant robotic arms to tell fishing jokes; Dave does it all. Except the film itself is not nearly as charming as they make Dave out to be; it’s actually fairly slow and plodding, existing in a middle-ground between unfunny comedy and ineffectual drama. Arnold’s cameo as himself is ultra-minor, but it reminded me of going through the Presidential Fitness Tests at school. At the time, I thought they were super cool because they were affiliated with Arnold, and that if I did good, maybe I could meet Arnold. Alas, I wasn’t good enough (nor did I look enough like an actual winner to impersonate them, Dave-style).

BerettasIsland_1Beretta’s Island (1994)
On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar

Starring Franco Columbu, Ken Kercheval, Elizabeth Kaitan, Van Quattro, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jo Champa, Tammara Souza
Directed by Michael Preece

If you’ve seen Pumping Iron you probably remember Franco Columbu as Arnold’s workout buddy and co-competitor. Their friendship continues to this day, and in a lot of early Arnold movies Franco is somewhere in the background in a small role. So it only makes sense that when Franco finally had his own starring vehicle that Arnold would cameo in it! The buddies pump some iron together in an early scene, spurring each other on in much the same way I imagine they do in real life. It’s nothing special, but it’s one of the most honest and believable moments in the film. The rest of the film is some of the most ridiculous, dumb-action-movie stuff ever crammed into a low-budget movie. Franco plays Franco, a retired Interpol agent now living the high life in LA… so basically riding his motorcycle, pumping iron and making wine. But he gets a special assignment to go back to his beloved Sardinia, now plagued with drugs and the associated villainy, and because this is a dumb action movie, the drug lord lives right next door to Franco’s best friend.

Beretta’s Island has so much to offer the B-Movie aficionado who harbors a special love of Arnold and the general ridiculousness of the ’80s drug lord action film. Things like: a couple of lengthy workout scenes, an ’80s-style score, and Franco shirtless at every opportunity and then some. In addition to being a vanity project for Franco, Beretta’s Island is also a cultural love letter to his Sardinian homeland with its multiple sequences of folk music, traditional festivals and dancing, horse racing, soccer, boxing, making out on the beach, etc. Beretta’s Island is the kind of movie you can’t recommend because virtually no one will like it, but I had a total blast with it and I know some like-minded soul out there would too. So get in the right mindset and give it a shot! You’ve never lived until you’ve seen a shirtless bodybuilder jump onto a motorcycle to chase the drug lords he recognized in the crowd of the boxing match he was coaching and then started fighting himself because the opponent was on cocaine. 🙂

Quick Takes: Naked Lunch, M. Butterfly, Crash

nakedlunch_1Naked Lunch (1991)
threestar

Starring Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Roy Scheider, Monique Mercure, Nicholas Campbell, Michael Zelniker, Robert A. Silverman, Joseph Scoren
Directed by David Cronenberg

Naked Lunch is one of those movies that’s hard to classify. I’ve never read the source novel, but from what I understand it was always assumed to be unfilmable. Cronenberg definitely found a way around that, incorporating elements of William S. Burrough’s life into this wild, weird, paranoid tale. It’s something of a horror movie with its gross-out physical FX work, but it’s also nothing like a horror movie. I mean, does a living typewriter that looks like a bug automatically make this into a horror movie? No, I don’t think so, but this movie would be a hard sell to any “normal” audience, that’s for damn sure. If you are intrigued by the creative process or surrealism, Naked Lunch is a must. I don’t know if you’ll like it, but it’s definitely a movie that you won’t be able to shake easily.

MButterfly_1M. Butterfly (1993)
threestar

Starring Jeremy Irons, John Lone, Barbara Sukowa, Ian Richardson, Annabel Leventon, Shizuko Hoshi, Richard McMillan, Vernon Dobtcheff
Directed by David Cronenberg

On the surface M. Butterfly seems like an odd film for David Cronenberg to make, but its themes of sexual politics and identity fit right in with much of his other work. Both of the lead characters, René (Jeremy Irons) and Song Liling (John Lone), are compelling and very well acted, but together I don’t think their relationship is satisfactorily developed. It always felt a bit cold emotionally, but I suppose that’s part of the point of it all, isn’t it? In any case, because of this I didn’t connect with the film as I’d have liked to, but as Cronenberg clearly made the film he wanted to, I’m sure that’s more my fault than his. Shooting the film in China, on back alleys and grand vistas alike, with some truly exceptional lighting, M. Butterfly is one of Cronenberg’s most beautiful films, and that’s saying a lot within his filmography. My personal obsession with China and its culture probably helped, too. A good film that I appreciate and respect, but don’t especially like too much.

crash_1Crash (1996)
threestar

Starring James Spader, Holly Hunter, Elias Koteas, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette, Peter MacNeill
Directed by David Cronenberg

Speaking of films that I appreciate and respect, but don’t especially like too much: Crash. But in this case, I think Crash is a much better film than M. Butterfly. It’s incredibly bold, telling its story almost entirely through car crashes and sex scenes. Surprisingly then, there’s a ton to deconstruct and engage with intellectually while the actors writhe on-screen. This is Cronenberg exercising his visual storytelling abilities to the absolute max, creating a non-traditional, challenging film to stand the test of time. The cars and the taboo sexual desires associated with them in Crash are provocative and integral to the film, but it also feels like they could be replaced with non-offensive, traditional elements to craft a more mainstream pleasing film. But where’s the fun in that? I feel like if I saw Crash a few more times, I’d really come to understand and appreciate it more fully. I can’t say that I liked it, but Cronenberg definitely didn’t make a bad film. In fact, it’s probably one of his finest achievements.

Remote (1993)

Remote1993Starring Chris Carrara, Jessica Bowman, John Diehl, Tony Longo, Stuart Fratkin, Derya Ruggles, Jordan Belfi, Kenneth A. Brown, Lorna Scott

Directed by Ted Nicolaou

Expectations: Low.

On the general scale:
onestar

On the B-movie scale:
twohalfstar


I purposefully don’t do much research so I can come to movies without too many expectations. In the case of Remote, knowing nothing led me to incorrectly assume that the title referred to a TV remote. I imagined a magical remote control as the catalyst to the typical Moonbeam storyline of a kid getting sucked into an alternate world, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In actuality, Remote is more grounded than any other Moonbeam film I’ve seen so far, and the title refers to remote-controlled planes, cars and yodeling Germans.

The storyline is fairly scattershot, but if I had to classify it as something, it’s basically a Home Alone clone. Randy (Chris Carrara) is your typical ’90s whiz kid, and his special interest is in remote-controlled devices. His best friend is a baseball-playing girl named Judy (Jessica Bowman), and they spend a lot of time together flying remote-controlled planes, and racing remote-controlled cars around the duct work in the attic of the sole model house for an undeveloped housing tract. This house is their special hideout, but when a trio of bungling burglars seek refuge there, Randy finds himself trapped in the attic with nothing but his remote-controlled minions between him and the criminals.

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Last Action Hero (1993)

lastactionhero_8Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O’Brien, F. Murray Abraham, Charles Dance, Frank McRae, Tom Noonan, Anthony Quinn, Art Carney, Robert Prosky, Mercedes Ruehl, Ian McKellen, Professor Toru Tanaka, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras

Directed by John McTiernan

Expectations: Low, but hopeful.

twohalfstar


Last Action Hero is OK. As a comedy it’s not great, as an action movie it’s about the same, but as a mainstream big-budget action comedy I guess it’s pretty solid. The production itself is quite impressive, and the film boasts a ton of great stunts, FX and explosions. The film-within-a-film idea allowed the writers to go balls out, and they did a great job of distinguishing the real world from the imaginary, even well before Jack Slater transitions over into our world. The use of sunny and colorful Los Angeles as the fictional setting, and gritty, dangerous nighttime New York as the real world helps a lot with this as well.

Before I get too deep into this review I should probably note that I’m not a fan of self-aware films. If the entire Scream franchise and Cabin in the Woods were to disintegrate out of existence, I wouldn’t mind at all. I’m sure there are films out there that buck this rule of mine, but I can’t think of any at the moment. Last Action Hero is definitely one that falls within this self-aware category, but because of Arnold and my general love of shit blowing up I was able to make it through this one without too many urges to jump out the window screaming.

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Demolition Man (1993)

demolitionman_3Starring Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Nigel Hawthorne, Benjamin Bratt, Bob Gunton, Glenn Shadix, Denis Leary, Bill Cobbs, Grand L. Bush, Pat Skipper, Steve Kahan, Paul Bollen

Directed by Marco Brambilla

Expectations: Very high. I used to love this one.

threestar


Demolition Man is a movie without much middle ground. You’ll either come down on the side of the supporters or you’ll be left scratchin’ your head as to why anyone would enjoy it. In many ways, this is exactly the type of movie that should never be reviewed. It’s not one that stands up to harsh criticism, nor is it one that you could really sway anyone’s opinion on by pointing out specific scenes or intricacies the other person may have missed. This isn’t Bergman, it’s simply an action movie you either enjoy or you don’t.

The film opens in the war-torn streets of the future Los Angeles of 1996. Shit has most definitely gotten real, and mastermind sadistic criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) has kidnapped a bus full of civilians and hidden them somewhere in the city. That’s exactly the kind of stuff that will not stand in an action movie, so in drops John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) from a helicopter overhead. He’s a no-nonsense cop nicknamed the Demolition Man, and he’s ready to kick some serious ass. But when Phoenix outsmarts him, they both wind up in cryo prison while the world moves on from violence and abhorrent behavior.

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Stephen reviews: Big Wars (1993)

bigwars_1Big Wars [Big Wars: Kami utsu akaki kouya ni ビッグ・ウォーズ 神撃つ朱き荒野に] (1993)
AKA Daisenki

Starring Hideyuki Tanaka, Kouji Tsujitani, Isshin Chiba, Yumi Touma

Directed by Issei Kume & Toshifumi Takizawa


Big Wars starts out with a really big wall of text scrolling across the screen. This might have had the benefit of providing an epic feel like Star Wars, except it is much longer and races by much faster, so you can’t read it unless you pause the film. That’s OK though, you don’t really want to read it anyway. It’s pretty drab stuff, and it won’t give you any special insight into the film, so it’s best to just ignore it. Besides, who needs a history lesson when we’ve got flying saucers to shoot down? The opening dogfight is fantastic enough to make you forget all about boring text on the screen.

The war in question is an alien invasion. Humans have colonized Mars, and it looks like some aliens didn’t care too much for that. They shoot lightning bolts and they can brainwash people to be their slaves. But despite the title, Big Wars takes a small-scale look at the war. It focuses on Captain Akuh and his assignment to the super-secret new warship the Aoba. It’s a big mission that could change the course of the war, but we don’t get to see much of the war as a whole. Instead, we’re treated to a lot of spy drama with Akuh’s sexy, and excessively horny, girlfriend in the intelligence department. After all, it’s a pain in the butt to track down those brainwashed terrorists.

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Stephen reviews: Patlabor 2: The Movie (1993)

DUU2tPatlabor 2: The Movie [機動警察パトレイバー2 Kidō Keisatsu Patlabor 2 The Movie] (1993)
AKA Mobile Police Patlabor 2: The Movie

Starring Ryunosuke Ohbayashi, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Daisuke Gouri, Issei Futamata, Jinpachi Nezu, Michihiro Ikemizu, Miina Tominaga, Tomomichi Nishimura

Directed by Mamoru Oshii


This film feels very similar in a lot of ways to the first Patlabor, and to Oshii’s other films as well. A lot of my feelings are the same as I had for the first film. But Patlabor 2 falls short of the first one. It’s a little drier and less ahead of its time, which made me less interested in it.

Its primary flaw is the same as the first film, and something that plagues a lot of the Mamoru Oshii films I have seen. It’s just too slow-moving, and its methodical pacing left me zoning out. I handled the first film well enough because its plot was more intriguing with its focus on computer technology well beyond what I had expected from the time period. Here, however, it just didn’t have a premise that made me sit up and pay attention, and it was a bit predictable as well.

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