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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Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Terminator_2_posterStarring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Earl Boen, Joe Morton, S. Epatha Merkerson, Castulo Guerra, Danny Cooksey, Jenette Goldstein, Xander Berkeley

Directed by James Cameron

Expectations: I’ll be back.

fourstar


You shouldn’t need me to tell you that Terminator 2: Judgment Day is an incredible movie. One of the greatest blockbuster films of all time, T2 is a total thrill ride that, like the Terminators themselves, never stops. It is expertly paced and written in such a way that it is both a perfect sequel to the original film and completely self-contained and accessible to anyone in the audience. And does it hold up nearly 25 years after its original release? No problemo.

T2 brought revolutionary FX to the screen, and honestly they still look fantastic to me. Due to the limitations of the time, the CG is used exactly how it should be: to augment real footage to create incredible illusions of fantasy. The grounding in the real world makes the unreal feel all the more real because it’s seemingly happening in the same world we live in. The physical FX work is top-notch as well, with the scene when Arnold tears off his skin to show Miles Dyson his cyborg endoskeleton remaining my favorite. It blew my mind when I was a kid, and it still looks so real to me. I guess that’s what you get when your movie has a crazy budget and you’ve got Stan Winston on the case. Practical FX work may have gone out of style, but I stand by the claim that it does and will continue to age much better than CG.

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Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981)

piranha2_2Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981)
AKA Piranha II: Flying Killers, The Spawning

Starring Tricia O’Neil, Steve Marachuk, Lance Henriksen, Ricky Paull Goldin, Ted Richert, Leslie Graves, Carole Davis, Connie Lynn Hadden, Arnie Ross, Tracey Berg, Albert Sanders

Directed by James Cameron

Expectations: Very low.

On the general scale:
onehalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


Piranha Part Two: The Spawning was the feature directorial debut of James Cameron, so if nothing else it’s worth a look for that alone. But fans of the famous director of sci-fi action classics will find little that resembles anything of the Cameron style in Piranha Part Two: The Spawning. According to that grand Internet resource Wikipedia, Cameron was only in charge of the production for a few weeks before the producer fired him and took over, editing whatever footage Cameron had shot into the final release of the film. Makes sense, but for discussion let’s just assume that Cameron is the director largely responsible for the shooting.

While Piranha Part Two: The Spawning is a sequel to the original Piranha film, it’s pretty much a sequel in name alone. There is some mention of the previous film’s events, and in a way the sequel does go down the path alluded to in the stinger that ends Piranha, but these are thin connections at best. At the same time, the surface of the story is somewhat similar in overall structure, so you could almost argue that this sequel is also something of a complete rehash. But that’s probably being too reductive, as it makes this film sound like it shares a kindred spirit to the original film, which is totally untrue.

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The Terminator (1984)

terminator_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen, Rick Rossovich, Bess Motta, Earl Boen

Directed by James Cameron

Expectations: Super high. Can’t wait to see it again.

fourstar


Everyone already knows that James Cameron’s second feature The Terminator is an incredible, groundbreaking film. Even if you don’t like it (for shame!), you still have to give it credit for the undying fan support it has garnered over the years; as Elvis would say, “50,000,000 fans can’t be wrong.” I’ve seen this film and its sequel more times than I could possibly count, yet it remains a perennial favorite.

This time around I noticed a few things I never had before. The most notable thing is that the film is almost purely visual during its first half. Hell, even a good portion of the second half is largely driven by pure action and carnage too, but its the first half that I want to focus on. The film begins with a quick scene of the future war. These scenes have always had a deep effect on me; I remember being absolutely riveted to them as a child. This ultimate manifestation of the post-apocalyptic, war-ravaged city ignites the fires of imagination, and even though we have little context for what’s happening on-screen, we cannot deny the power of the imagery being used. I mean, who saw this as a kid and didn’t remember the tank treads crushing human skulls?

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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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