True Lies (1994)

trueliesStarring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Bill Paxton, Tia Carrere, Art Malik, Eliza Dushku, Grant Heslov, Charlton Heston, Marshall Manesh

Directed by James Cameron

Expectations: High. Haven’t since this in a long time.

threestar


True Lies is an interesting entry in the Arnold filmography for me. It’s one that I watched a gazillion times on VHS in the ’90s, but since I hit adulthood I’ve never even had the urge to re-watch it. I would often think back fondly on it, but unlike something like Predator, where a primal “MUST WATCH” urge overtakes me every once in a while, I’ve never longed to see True Lies again. And now that I’ve re-watched it, why I felt this way about True Lies is readily apparent: I’ve already seen it too many times to truly enjoy it.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Harry Tasker, an international spy working for the Omega Branch, an ultra-secret arm of the US government focused on counter-terrorism. His wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), is completely oblivious to this, firmly believing Harry’s cover-up story that all those late nights and weekend trips are diligently spent working at his computer sales job. Meanwhile, an Arab terrorist group called Crimson Jihad is up to no good, and before too long these three main components of the film all crash together with some big ol’ James Cameron action sequences.

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Near Dark (1987)

Starring Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, Tim Thomerson, Joshua John Miller, Marcie Leeds, Kenny Call, Troy Evans

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Expectations: High, been looking forward to this for a while.


Well, this is apparently the week of movies that don’t fit into the standard mold of what you’d generally expect from a horror movie. With the exception of Tales from the Hood, everything I’ve done this week has had some strange twist on the genre, or tried to subvert it to fit whatever artistic goals the director had in mind. Near Dark does both, and as the hype would have me believe, it does both incredibly well. Near Dark might not be a traditional horror movie, but it is unique, interesting and absolutely gorgeous to look at.

The story isn’t anything especially new to the genre: a young vampire rashly turns a mortal into a bloodsucker, and now said mortal must learn to cope with his new skills. But while the story itself is average and kind of done to death, the execution here is anything but. Director Kathryn Bigelow specifically set out to make a western film, but when she was unable to secure funding, she decided to jump onto the vampire hype wagon and make a revisionist vampire western. Sounds like a tall order for sure, but she pulls it off with the utmost style.

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Predator 2 (1990)

Starring Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Rubén Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton, Robert Davi, Adam Baldwin, Kent McCord, Morton Downey Jr., Calvin Lockhart, Kevin Peter Hall

Directed by Stephen Hopkins

Expectations: Low. I re-watched this a few years ago (right before starting SE and hated it).

On the general scale:

On the B-Movie scale:


What a difference a couple of years makes. Many times I’ve mentioned how my love of B-Movies has allowed me to sit back and enjoy many films that I would’ve never been able to before. Predator 2 is a great example as I loved it when it was new, but re-watching it just a few years ago proved trying on my patience. I bitched about how it wasn’t doing what I thought a Predator movie should do, and that they probably should have never made a sequel. But in the interest of reviewing the Predator series leading up to my eventual reviews of the two AVP films (Oh God, am I actually watching those movies?), I reluctantly put the disc in and threw all expectations out the window. C’mon, Predator 2! I’m here! Do it! Kill me now! Give me your best.

Predator 2 responded with such force and vigilance that I was shaken to my core. How could I have possibly disliked this film just a few, short years ago? It’s all thanks to starting Silver Emulsion and really exploring my love of film in its many forms that I’m now able to recapture that childhood glee of watching Danny Glover take on the baddest motherfucker this side of Jupiter. I take back every bad thing I ever said about Predator 2 in the last couple of years, because Predator 2 is pure fun.

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Trespass (1992)

Starring Bill Paxton, Ice T, William Sadler, Ice Cube, Art Evans, De’voreaux White, Bruce A. Young, Glenn Plummer, Stoney Jackson, T.E. Russell, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Hal Landon Jr.

Directed by Walter Hill

Expectations: As the final film of Ice Fest, I’m excited and a little sad it’s all over.


As soon as Trespass started, I couldn’t contain my excitement. The opening scene seemed designed specifically for me in this moment, as the second line in the film is spoken by Ice Cube, quickly followed by a line from Ice T. The scene is a series of close-ups as Ice T and his associates watch a video of one of their friends being murdered, intercut with the credits of the film. The structure of the scene builds excitement as you start piecing together the story that will play out for your enjoyment, but obviously for me there was another, more pressing agenda. Seeing Ice Cube and Ice T together in one film after eight solo films was too much for me to handle. No matter what the dramatic weight of the scene was, I couldn’t help myself. I had the biggest grin on my face and I was hooting with glee. The two Ices had finally joined forces. “Life is good,” I said to myself. And the best part of this story is that the movie that followed this pure, giddy joy was awesome.

After this opening scene we meet our two main characters, a couple of firefighters played by William Sadler and Bill Paxton. While attempting to save “Ted” Theodore Logan’s dad (Hal Landon Jr. for the non-Bill & Ted’s fans) from a burning building, Paxton acquires a package containing a golden Celtic cross and a newspaper clipping about an old Catholic church robbery. There’s also a map inside, so Paxton shows his buddy and they decide that treasure hunting for a million dollars worth of gold sounds a hell of a lot better than slaving away at the firehouse for the rest of their lives. The only caveat is that the building the map leads them to is deep in the bad part of town, and the situation quickly escalates to violence.

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Aliens (1986)

Starring Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, William Hope, Al Matthews, Mark Rolston, Ricco Ross, Colette Hiller

Directed by James Cameron

Expectations: Y’know, it’s Aliens. It’s good.


As I often say in reviews where I know I’m treading on hallowed ground: I’m just calling it like I see it. I’ve always wanted to burn (or re-burn) through the Alien films in one fell swoop, as until now I’ve only seen them with multiple years in between. Watching Aliens only a few days after Alien, with its tight, restrictive corridors and masterful atmosphere firmly rooted in my mind, was a completely different experience. Instead of purely enjoying the more action-packed take on the xenomorph, I found myself disappointed at the almost entire lack of the look and feel of Alien. I understand that this series is unique in that it has multiple creative forces behind it, but I couldn’t help but think that Aliens was far inferior to Alien. Obviously, this debate has been going ever since this sequel dropped, and ultimately it comes down to what type of movie you prefer, but for my money I have always (and apparently will always) prefer the original Alien to James Cameron’s loud, crammed-full-of-shit sequel.

Harsh words, I know, and honestly I don’t mean them to come off like they probably sound. I love Aliens, I truly do, but my undying love for Alien, coupled with the fact that its memory was as fresh as a newly hatched facehugger, led me to notice the trashy, mainstream-leaning nature of this film like never before. But I recognize that I’m being overly harsh and bringing in a hard-lined bias toward the atmospheric horror of the original. Where Alien transported you into the future and into a derelict alien ship, Aliens feels like you’re watching a movie. It delivers some fucking awesome visuals, but it fails to cohesively feel like a real place to me. At the end of the day, Aliens is a dope sequel to a much doper movie, aimed directly at those in the audience that prefer military clichés and the axiom “Bigger is Better” than silent terror and careful plotting. It’s a throw everything at the canvas sort of deal; James Cameron is clearly the Michael Bay of his era.

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Haywire (2012)

Haywire (2012)
AKA Knockout, Agent Mallory

Starring Gina Carano, Michael Angarano, Channing Tatum, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Julian Alcaraz, Eddie J. Fernandez, Anthony Brandon Wong, Michael Fassbender, Mathieu Kassovitz, Bill Paxton

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Expectations: High.


Why make the same tired genre film with the same tired genre conventions when you can do something different? This is essentially the Soderbergh manifesto, and he continues to display his ability to subvert the genre film with Haywire. I really haven’t delved deep into Soderbergh’s filmography, but I always think of his movies as either “the big A-Picture” or “the low-budget B-Picture”. He seems to like to bounce back and forth between the two, with the low-budget ones being somewhat experimental. His last released film, Contagion, definitely feels like the A (while still being somewhat daring and experimental), while Haywire definitely feels like the B. I don’t mean that as a slight in any sense, merely as a point of reference for fans that might be seeking a way to classify this somewhat hard to peg movie. The cast would suggest a giant ensemble movie, but it’s really much more reserved than that.

Gina Carano plays a black ops contractor tasked with rescuing a Chinese hostage in Barcelona. The job is a simple one, but as the film unfolds we find that there is more going on under the surface than it would appear. The film’s story is not told directly, requiring the viewer to piece it together themselves. It’s rather simple when you boil it down, but Soderbergh’s editing and somewhat fractured storytelling help it from getting too clichéd. On the flip side of that, the presentation of the story also gives the film an aloof quality that makes it hard to connect with. It’s not a spy picture, and it’s not a Bourne movie, but it is a bit of both. I just think that it’s in your best interest to leave any and all expectations at the door that this will be an action film, because in reality it’s something truly different.

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Mini-Review: Next of Kin (1989)

Next of Kin (1989)

Starring Patrick Swayze, Liam Neeson, Adam Baldwin, Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Ben Stiller, Andreas Katsulas, Michael J. Pollard, Ted Levine, Del Close

Directed by John Irvin

Expectations: Low, but the star power here is worth a shot.


Patrick Swayze plays a tough Chicago cop who hails originally from the backwoods that has to step up to the challenge when the mob murders his brother! His justice isn’t swift enough for his other brother (Liam Neeson), who comes down from the mountain on a hunt for vengeance. Sounds good, right?

Unfortunately, it’s just OK. Next of Kin has definite flashes of greatness, such as the train rooftop sequence, but more often than not, the film is characterized by mediocre dialogue and a boring plot. It’s also much too long for its own good. The sheer amount of future star talent should not be overlooked though, and Next of Kin will forever remain of interest to film fans for this. Liam Neeson is especially good as Swayze’s brother. While it may be a footnote to his illustrious career, it is another great performance from the always dependable Neeson.

In yesterday’s look at Winter’s Bone, I noted that the characters in it were realistic and didn’t exhibit the traditional stereotyped hillbilly personas. Next of Kin fares surprisingly well in this regard as well, with the country folk never feeling stupid or the butt of cheap jokes. There’s definitely a similar air of “You don’t fuck with country folk,” reinforced by the scene where members of Swayze’s family all band together and take down the mafia men with crossbows in a shadowy graveyard.

Next of Kin isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but it is pretty fun in spots and worth watching to see so many young actors packed into one movie. Also, I’m glad Ben Stiller lost that unibrow.

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