Tag Archives: Carolco Pictures

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron)

Director James Cameron opens Terminator 2: Judgment Day with a couple things the audience has to think about when watching the film and isn’t going to see or hear again for a while, so they need to have it in mind to recall it later. Because Terminator 2 is an amazing kind of sequel to the original–it’s calculated but to get its characters (and the audience) to certain places. Only there’s only one character from the first movie in it–Linda Hamilton–but there’s two actors back.

Anyway, the opening is a future apocalypse prologue with Hamilton narrating. Her narration is important later on, but only after a number of things happen, both in the plotting and the character development. You have to think back on it opening the film, which has a lot of emphasis on the Terminator robots, sans Arnold suits. Cameron invites comparisons to the original, he requests them of the audience. It’s bold and seemingly pointless; the first half of the movie has almost nothing to do with Hamilton. It’s Edward Furlong’s movie. Cameron has an excellent tone–he’s got this pre-teen lead who needs to do teen things but also be reduced to damsel in distress because he’s a kid after all. Terminator 2 always wants to emphasize the danger. Cameron’s never specific about how it’s directed at Furlong, but it really is just a movie about this crazy metal killing machine who looks like a cop trying to kill a little kid. Robert Patrick is fantastic as the bad Terminator.

But everyone’s generally fantastic. Furlong has some problems, but improves once the character gets going. Cameron and co-writer William Wisher give Furlong expository dialogue he can’t handle for the first half hour or so, but once Hamilton shows up, he gets much better. He doesn’t even need to be better, because all throughout those weaker Furlong scenes, Cameron is still doing amazing things. Terminator 2 is a celebration. It’s a celebration out of there getting to be a Terminator sequel; Cameron and Schwarzenegger get to have a great time, but they still take it seriously enough to turn in a fantastic film. They go out of their way to show off Schwarzenegger’s ability to handle the more difficult scenes after Hamilton arrives.

When Schwarzenegger and Hamilton meet in Terminator 2, the Terminator’s sunglasses come off and it’s a new movie all of a sudden. Even though Hamilton’s got narration–never too much, always frugal–and she’s in almost every scene (except Patrick’s scenes), she’s still something of a wild card character. She’s not just the mom. She’s got to have her moment. Terminator 2’s ground situation takes away Hamilton’s agency. When he brings it back, he demands the audience think about their expectations of what that agency really looks like versus what the audience wants of it in a Terminator movie.

And then he never does anything with it. He gets the story moving, bringing in Joe Morton (and an awesome S. Epatha Merkerson in a small part). Morton ends up on Team Arnold too. There’s a lot for Terminator 2 to do and Cameron is brisk about it. You need to pay attention. If you don’t, you probably still get a great action movie, but if you do, you get all this weird, wonderful stuff. Schwarzenegger and Furlong are cute together, of course, but there’s this great stuff between Schwarzenegger and Hamilton, Hamilton and Morton, Patrick and the audience. Cameron gives Patrick (and Schwarzenegger) these wonderful observation scenes. They can’t be characters because they’re robots, right? But what if they could be.

Technically, the film’s singular. Adam Greenberg’s photography is never flashy, always pragmatic; there’s a blue tint to Terminator 2, which ought to create narrative distance but instead it just makes the performances connect more. There’s no safe space, character development is going to happen in the strangest scenes. Greenberg’s also got some amazing composite shots during the action sequences; masterful work.

There’s great editing from Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt and Richard A. Harris. Three different editors–I wonder if they handled the different phases of the film–but it’s never incongruous, always a graceful cuts. The editors help a lot with creating Schwarzenegger’s presence in the film.

Awesome Brad Fiedel score, awesome special effects. Terminator 2 is an assured, exciting, joyous success. Cameron is his most ambitious in the safest moments in the film. He pushes the action, he pushes the special effects, he pushes the performances. It’s a stunning film.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by James Cameron; written by Cameron and William Wisher Jr.; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt and Richard A. Harris; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, Joseph C. Nemec III; released by Carolco Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (T-800), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Edward Furlong (John Connor), Robert Patrick (T-1000), Joe Morton (Miles Dyson), S. Epatha Merkerson (Tarissa Dyson), Castulo Guerra (Enrique) and Earl Boen (Dr. Silberman).


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Basic Instinct (1992, Paul Verhoeven), the unrated version

Basic Instinct somehow manages to be smart and stupid at the same time. The direction and the production are impeccable. Verhoeven sort of does a nouveau Hitchcock thing–ably aided by Jerry Goldsmith’s score–while mixing in a bit of film noir. He does this thing with establishing shots; the focus is always on character, never the setting (with a costal highway being the exception). Jan de Bont’s photography, Frank J. Urioste’s editing, these guys are at the top of their game. It’s a brilliantly made film.

It’s also frequently dumb. Verhoeven coats over most of the stupidity in Joe Eszterhas’s script with ease. There’ll be a dumb cop scene but it plays great, usually thanks to Verhoeven’s composition, his direction of the cast and the actors in the film. Instinct has great supporting turns from George Dzundza and Denis Arndt, but also excellent bit support from Bruce A. Young, Chelcie Ross, Wayne Knight, Daniel von Bargen and Stephen Tobolowsky. Verhoeven uses actors with immediate gravitas. Works beautifully.

The leads aren’t as simple an equation. Sharon Stone’s performance is integral to the film and all of her scenes–except one, where Eszterhas can’t come up with any motivation for her so tries to be sensational–are great. Michael Douglas, not so much. Both he and Stone are unlikable, the mystery is supposed to be the hook. It’s a decent hook, but Douglas can’t sell his character.

Jeanne Tripplehorn’s okay in the third biggest part.

Instinct’s beautifully made, utter nonsense.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; written by Joe Eszterhas; director of photography, Jan de Bont; edited by Frank J. Urisote; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Terence Marsh; produced by Alan Marshall; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Michael Douglas (Detective Nick Curran), Sharon Stone (Catherine Tramell), George Dzundza (Gus), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Dr. Beth Garner), Denis Arndt (Lieutenant Walker), Leilani Sarelle (Roxy), Bruce A. Young (Andrews), Chelcie Ross (Captain Talcott), Dorothy Malone (Hazel Dobkins), Wayne Knight (John Correli), Daniel von Bargen (Lieutenant Nilsen), Stephen Tobolowsky (Dr. Lamott) and Benjamin Mouton (Harrigan).


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Total Recall (1990, Paul Verhoeven)

Total Recall opens with some of the best music Jerry Goldsmith has ever scored. It then moves on to a sci-fi sequence, set on Mars, and Verhoeven soon gets in his first animatronic head. There are a lot of animatronic heads, which get exposed to atmosphere and explode or get turned into grenades and so on. Some of these sequences are entirely unnecessary and it’s just Verhoeven showing off.

Most of Recall is along those lines. It’s Verhoeven showing off. He mixes a rough, violent action picture with a high-minded sci-fi story and the result is rather successful. There are a handful of bad performances, but Schwarzenegger’s fine in the lead and the movie’s mostly him so it works out. There are also a bunch of good performances; while they can’t overcome the bad ones, they help.

Worst are Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside. Stone’s just plain bad, nothing special, but Ironside’s in a spot in Recall. He’s this big heavy (supposedly) but he’s opposite Ronny Cox, who knows how to play a big heavy. Ironside gets chewed up in their scenes together.

Mel Johnson Jr. is fairly awful, but Rachel Ticotin is all right. Marshall Bell and Ray Baker are great.

The film’s greatest asset is Verhoeven. He manages to make it a slyly absurdist comedy. With editors Frank J. Urioste and Carlos Puente, he constructs these wonderful tight scenes. His composition isn’t particularly thoughtful; he’s utilizing forceful action in the shots.

It’s pretty darned good.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Verhoeven; screenplay by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon and Gary Goldman, based on a screen story by Shusett, O’Bannon and Jon Povill and a short story by Philip K. Dick; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Frank J. Urioste and Carlos Puente; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, William Sandell; produced by Shusett and Buzz Feitshans; released by Carolco Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Douglas Quaid), Rachel Ticotin (Melina), Sharon Stone (Lori), Ronny Cox (Vilos Cohaagen), Michael Ironside (Richter), Marshall Bell (George), Mel Johnson Jr. (Benny), Michael Champion (Helm), Roy Brocksmith (Dr. Edgemar) and Ray Baker (Bob McClane).


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Stargate (1994, Roland Emmerich), the director's cut

When I was sixteen, I wrote a review of Stargate for my school newspaper and I gave it four stars. Out of four. Since watching it for the first time since then–though I might have seen it on VHS pan and scanned, which isn’t the same film, Emmerich does use his whole frame–I’m not experiencing the embarrassment I thought I would. Sure, it’s probably atrociously written, but whatever… This review came out a pre-Enlightenment period–maybe I was just applying the film quality qualifications others instilled in me (such as the unapproachable goodness of John Woo, Robert Rodriguez, and True Romance) and, (while Stargate is certainly better than most of those films just through lack of insult, I wouldn’t have known it then) by comparison, I came to the conclusion it must be a film of great import. This theory is a bunch of malarky–sixteen year-olds simply are not reasoning readers yet–but it would at least pass the buck to some degree.

The 1980s had their share of science fiction/fantasy films, but as time passed (and Dune proved just not anyone could do it), they became lower budget and foreign-funded until they practically disappeared. Carolco put together Stargate, so it probably did have a lot of foreign money in it, but special effects had changed by the time Stargate came along… there was CG. Stargate hardly uses it, but, at the time, morphing was still big. Watching the film, I realized Stargate is one of the most influential films of the last twenty years. It’s content-less adventure (albeit, without the pop culture references now a cornerstone of blockbusters–thanks to Pulp Fiction of all things), it’s a blockbuster without integrity. Before Stargate, with the exception of Rocky IV, blockbusters tended to have some integrity. Stargate wasn’t even a blockbuster, but it was the prototype for the blockbusters immediately following–when Spielberg, in a sense, lost the blockbuster. The film’s legacy–and it does have one–is integrity-free CG. Computer generation imagery would not be a special special effect, it would be mundane. This legacy didn’t play out immediately (Dragonheart failed, for instance), but by 1996 and 1997, it was in full effect–and it’s produced absolutely nothing of value.

Again, Stargate isn’t too bad. It’s so bland–though one can amuse oneself by recognizing the Spielberg “homages,” there are plenty from Raiders of the Lost Ark–it just passes the time. Emmerich’s direction is okay. The film is very pretty and his shot composition is fine, uninteresting but fine. While the writing is incredibly stupid, since Devlin and Emmerich hadn’t yet hit the big time, it’s not offensive. I rented it because I’ve been watching Spader so much on “Boston Legal” I was curious and he’s fine. I’d forgotten Kurt Russell was in it (I think Stargate actually relaunched his brief mid-1990s film career, Kurt Russell has a lot of career relaunches). He’s awful when he’s supposed to be mourning (his son died playing with one of his guns, which I think Devlin probably lifted from “Beverly Hills, 90210”), but there are moments when he can’t help smiling. He’s good in those moments and he and Spader actually have a couple good scenes together. John Diehl shows up, getting more lines than usual. I won’t even discuss Jaye Davidson, though Emmerich and Devlin did always interestingly cast and miscast. For example, French Stewart is in Stargate. As a soldier no less.

Stargate isn’t worth getting virulent about. I suppose in recognizing its terrible aftereffects, one could easily rant (and I do realize I talked about the film for one paragraph of four–there’s just not enough in the movie to talk about it’s so shallow). Hollywood rarely produces–anymore–free dumb movies. Today (and immediately following Stargate practically) dumb movies come at a cost–the realization of sitting through the dumb movie and feeling stupid for it. In fact, I think film audiences have passed through that phase and now, they no longer expect to engage with filmic narratives… nor do they particularly want such engagement. As it works out, Stargate is, by default, a lot better tripe than today’s tripe.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Roland Emmerich; written by Dean Devlin and Emmerich; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub; edited by Derek Brechin and Michael J. Duthie; music by David Arnold; production designer, Holger Gross; produced by Devlin, Oliver Eberle and Joel B. Michaels; released by Carolco Pictures.

Starring Kurt Russell (Col. Jack O’Neil), James Spader (Dr. Daniel Jackson), Viveca Lindfors (Catherine Langford, Ph.D.), Alexis Cruz (Skaara), Mili Avital (Sha’uri), Leon Rippy (General West), John Diehl (Lieutenant Kawalsky), Carlos Lauchu (Anubis), Djimon Hounsou (Horus), Erick Avari (‘Good Father’ Kasuf), French Stewart (Lieutenant Ferretti), Gianin Loffler (Nabeh) and Jaye Davidson (Ra).


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