Monthly Archives: April 2014
There’s no reason to pen an article about either of the first two films in “The Godfather” saga. Those two cinematic endeavors are as close to flawless as you’re going to get. But, as with most sequels, everything unravels in part three.
Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, and Talia Shire were the only principle actors to return from the previous films. Andy Garcia, Eli Wallach, Joe Mantegna, George Hamilton, Bridget Fonda, and Sofia Coppolla portrayed new characters with varying degrees of success. Director Francis Ford Coppolla has freely admitted that this film only exists because he was in a financial pinch. He also chose to cast his daughter in a major role, despite her inexperience as an actor, after Winona Ryder dropped out.
You cannot discuss this film without acknowledging that Mary Corleone is the Jar Jar Binks of “The Godfather” franchise. I’m not picking on Sofia Coppolla. I don’t blame her. She was put in an impossible situation and did her best. Diane Keaton had to speak some of the most unintentionally humorous lines of dialogue, “I dread you,” and “You became my horror.” Robert Duvall opted to not reprise his role as Tom Hagen because of a pay dispute. He was sorely missed. George Hamilton basically took his place as the Corleone Family lawyer.
Joe Mantegna was good in his supporting role as gangster with panache, a precursor to Fat Tony on “The Simpsons.” Despite of all the negativity surrounding this film, Andy Garcia gave a very strong performance. Vincent Mancini, the illegitimate son of Sonny Corleone, was a worthy successor to Don Michael Corleone. It’s just that he was saddled with a convoluted plot and having to act opposite Sofia Coppolla.
I’ve seen this film many times and only recently began to comprehend what was going on in the story. Michael bailed out the Vatican Bank, so that they would vote him control of Immobiliare, an international real estate company. I wish someone had explained that to me years ago because I never had any idea what the heck they were talking about. The most celebrated scene is the helicopter attack in Atlantic City. Too bad it was followed by cringe inducing scenes like when Eli Wallach hires the Sicilian assassin and he asks his nephew to do an impression of a donkey. I hate that scene.
All the subtlety from the previous films was replaced by melodrama. The final sequence in the opera house dragged on for half an hour whereas the christening in the original film was around five minutes in length. “The Godfather, Part III” was beautifully shot and the score was wonderful, but the script needed more polishing.
1990 must have been a disappointing year for Talia Shire between this and “Rocky V.” There are many similarities between this film and the “Star Wars” prequels. Convoluted stories coupled with blatant attempts to echo the past films, relying solely on nostalgia while inventing nothing new to inspire audiences.
Marlon Brando had satirized his portrayal of Don Vito Corleone that same year in “The Freshman.” Other than his infamous weight gain, he still looked the part. I wonder if Francis Ford Coppolla contemplated shooting a flashback sequence with the renowned actor. I always thought it would have been great if Francis Ford Coppolla had created a part for his nephew, Nicholas Cage. That would have made this film amazing by default. The plot doesn’t have to make sense when Nicholas Cage is involved.
60th Anniversary Restoration by Rialto Pictures
At Film Forum (209 W Houston Street) April 18-24
I, like most Americans, was introduced to the renowned titular character with “Godzilla: King of the Monster” (1956), which starred Raymond Burr as journalist Steve Martin. The “Americanized” version of director Ishiro Honda’s classic “Godzilla” (1954), recut with lots of additional footage, courtesy of director Terry O. Morse. Though I do enjoy Raymond Burr’s somewhat hammy performance in the Americanized, fun 1950s atomic age monster movie, much of the menace was lost in translation. The original was quite suspenseful. Also, the emotional anguish suffered by the protagonists was much more than a subplot in Ishiro Honda’s film. The conflict went beyond them having to destroy an 180 foot tall, fire-breathing prehistoric lizard.
Dr. Yamane (Takashi Shimura) was earnest in his hope that Godzilla would be allowed to live. He believed that by studying the creature, he and other scientists could discover how to diminish the effects of radioactive fallout from the H-Bomb. Though a respected man, Dr. Yamane was a bit naïve in this regard. Godzilla was far too destructive to be allowed to live. Dr. Yamane even quarreled over the issue with Ogata (Akira Takarada), one of his daughter Emiko’s (Momoko Kochi) suitors. Godzilla is a well known allegory for the fear that gripped the globe following World War II, but most references were nixed in the Raymond Burr film.
In the original, there was also more footage of bureaucrats bickering about how much should be revealed to the public. As if that was the major concern at the time. Again, this scene was trimmed here in the states, though I’m not really sure why? The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe, so we Yanks could have related.
The “Oxygen Destroyer” created by Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) was portrayed as potentially threatening as Godzilla. This was elaborated upon in the original. He feared that his Oxygen Destroyer would be the successor to the H-Bomb. Dr. Serizawa was a tragic figure. His eye-patch was a constant reminder of World War II. When he tells Ogata, “You win,” he is likely referring to Emiko’s affections, as well as him reluctantly agreeing to use the Oxygen Destroyer against Godzilla. He commits suicide during the climax, perishing with Godzilla, protecting the world from the monster and himself. But, Dr. Yamane still fears that another Godzilla might one day rear its ugly head. Most film historians do not see this as the setup for a sequel, rather a warning to the viewers about real world dangers as warfare becomes more sophisticated. Far from a happy ending.
“Total Recall” (1990)
This movie is so freakin’ awesome that I will never watch the 2012 remake with Colin Farrell. I know I shouldn’t think of that film as a remake, but rather another adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” but just like the “Conan the Barbarian” remake, you just can’t recreate the magic of Arnie. Lines like “Get your ass to Mars,” and “Screw you, Benny!” So many great scenes like the shootout on the escalator where Douglas Quaid uses an innocent bystander as a human shield or when people get sucked out onto the Mars surface and the low atmospheric pressure causes their eyeballs bug out of their orbital sockets. Ronny Cox and Michael Ironside are great villains. Robert Picardo was the voice of Johnnycab. Marshall Bell, who was the bad guy in “Twins,” plays the mutant with Kuato growing out of his torso. Spectacular makeup and visual effects by Rob Bottin. I saw this extremely violent movie at the age of five while on vacation with my family in Orlando, Florida. I also saw “Die Hard 2” that week, but I liked “Total Recall” a lot more even if I had no clue what was happening in the story. All I knew was that Quaid needed to turn on a reactor. Sharon Stone became famous for “Basic Instinct” two years after this, but she was never hotter than in this film. Rachel Ticotin, though Quaid’s love interest, was a self reliant character. You’d be hard pressed to find too many damsels in distress in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. “RoboCop” (1987) was great, but this is my favorite of Paul Verhoeven films. Fans still debate whether or not the majority of the film takes place inside the mind of Quaid. The ending was ambiguous.
“Kindergarten Cop” (1990)
Arnie reteams with Ivan Reitman and again shows his range as an actor. His character, Detective John Kimble, actually has an arc. He goes from a clichéd tough as nails cop “who plays by his own set of rules” to a sensitive nurturer. The film opens inside of a shopping mall, so now you would think it is a satire of the mall sequence from “T2,” but the film was released a year before “T2.” Like “Twins,” there’s a lot of heart to the story. Arnie didn’t have someone like Danny DeVito to play off of this time, but he interacted well with all the child actors, which isn’t always easy. Penelope Ann Miller was a good love interest. I remember seeing a lot of this actress in early 1990s. I think she was great in “The Freshman” that same year, but haven’t seen much of her in recent years. Linda Hunt was great as the principal. She’s tough on Kimble at first, but she eventually warms up to him because of his surprising success as a teacher and also for slugging an abusive father. Pamela Reed was also good as Kimble’s partner. They had a real nice rapport. Richard Tyson added a lot to the film because he played his part straight. A key to the success of an action / comedy is for the actors portraying antagonists to come across as a serious threat and not be the butt of too many jokes. Look to James Remar and Sonny Landham in “48 Hrs.” (1982) as a strong example. “Kindergarten Cop” holds up today even though Arnie’s fan base has matured. The jokes still work. Lines like “I’m the party pooper,” and “It’s not a tumor!” And just like “Twins,” the ending was suspenseful. The final shootout in the locker room played like a genuine police thriller… accept for the ferret.
“I’m back” counter: 1
“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)
Was this the zenith of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career? Even with inflation, it is still his most financial successful film and perhaps his most popular. With the exception of “True Lies” (1994), it’s mostly downhill from here. Arnie reunites with James Cameron, Stan Winston, and Linda Hamilton. This time, the T-800 has become one of the good guys, reprogrammed and sent back in time to protect teenage John Connor (Edward Furlong) from the far more advanced liquid metal T-1000 (Robert Patrick). The T-1000 seems to embody James Cameron’s original concept for “The Terminator,” using the ability to morph greatly to its advantage. The T-1000 is clearly the more efficient killer and it has the advantage over the T-800 in most physical altercations. Another unused concept that resurfaces here is having Sarah Connor in a mental institution. Something that James Cameron originally conceived for the character John Rambo in “Rambo: First Blood, Part 2 (1985)” but Sylvester Stallone had his own ideas. James Cameron had already crafted one of the great sequels of all time with “Aliens” (1986), following up on Ridley Scott’s classic, “Alien” (1979). Now, Cameron was adding to his own legacy. He makes sequels that aren’t reliant on the audience having seen the previous film to enjoy the current one. In my first Arnold Schwarzenegger article, I referred to his character as the T-800. But, I’ve now learned that some believe he is of the T-850 series, model 101. Whatever his designation is, he becomes a surrogate father to John Connor and learns the value of human life as the story unfolds. Arnie doesn’t even kill anyone in this movie unless you count the T-1000. Michael Biehn filmed a dream sequence cameo as Kyle Reese, but James Cameron decided to cut the scene. As I much as we all liked Michael Biehn’s performance in the original, I agree with Cameron’s decision. Sarah Connor was now a badass action hero in her own right and no longer needed a pep talk from Reese. On the “Shaun of the Dead” (2004) DVD audio commentary, Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright poke fun at the overly sentimental climax, with Arnie giving John the big thumbs up as he is lowered into the vat of molten steel, but I though it was epic. I’m getting misty just writing about it. “Hasta la vista, baby.”
“I’ll be back” counter: 5
“Last Action Hero” (1993)
“Magic ticket my ass, McBain.” The biggest problem with this movie was that it was a parody of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies… starring Arnold Schwarzenegger? So, most people didn’t get the joke, and even if they did, the jokes weren’t that funny. Imagine if Mel Gibson and Danny Glover had starred in “National Lampoon’s Loaded Weapon 1,” which spoofed the “Lethal Weapon” franchise. This was Arnie’s second collaboration with John McTiernan and needless to say, this flick was nowhere near as awesome as “Predator,” their previous film. Danny DeVito voices a cartoon cat and Robert Patrick makes a cameo as the T-1000, which he had already done in “Wayne’s World” (1992), so that joke was already wearing thin. Sharon Stone also makes a cameo as her character from “Basic Instinct” (1992). Sharon Stone had co-starred with Arnie in “Total Recall,” though I don’t get how referencing “Basic Instinct” satirizes the action / adventure genre. It was a just pointless pop culture reference. I will say that both Charles Dance and Tom Noonan very pretty cool villains. And the one joke which definitely landed was seeing Sylvester Stallone on the poster for “T2.” Even though this was mediocre film, I still had a Jack Slater action figure as a kid, which I traded for a Michael Keaton Batman since I had three T-800 action figures from “T2,” so I was covered in the Arnie toy department.
“I’ll be back” counter: 6
“True Lies” (1994)
I don’t know if James Cameron is a big 007 fan, but there were several homages in this film, which I only recently learned was a remake of the French film titled “La Totale!” I’ve not seen the original, but I assume moments like Harry Tasker removing a wetsuit to reveal his tuxedo were inspired by “Goldfinger” (1964). This film poses the question, what if a suave super spy was also a family man? Outside of the “Halloween” franchise, this is the role Jamie Lee Curtis is most known for. As Helen Tasker, she displayed both her sex appeal and comedic chops during her erotic dance sequence. She’s spoken very highly of this film in interviews. Tom Arnold is serviceable as Arnie’s sidekick. He’s never been in anything else as good as this. And Bill Paxton was an absolute riot. His character provided so many laughs. But, how did Tia Carrere not become a big star after her performance this movie? She was such a superb femme fatale, worthy of a James Bond villainous. Between the “Wayne’s World” franchise and “True Lies,” the future looked bright, but after co-starring in just one Pauly Shore movie, she was relegated to syndicated TV. Shame. Though she acted in “Kull the Conqueror” (1997), which was initially conceived as a Conan the Barbarian movie. I pointed out in my review of “The Living Daylights” (1987) how political climates are reflected in cinema from one decade to the next. During the Cold War, Art Malik was a hero in a James Bond film. Then, just seven years later, Middle Easterners had replaced the Russians as Hollywood’s stock villains. While I do have my ideological differences with the late Charlton Heston, his macho onscreen persona was almost a precursor to Arnold Schwarzenegger, so it’s cool that he had supporting role. Also, his character wore an eye-patch which automatically makes him a badass. This is around the time that Arnie was rumored to be starring in a remake of “Planet of the Apes,” to be directed by Oliver Stone. That film lingered in development hell. Bummer. Eliza Dushku played Dana Tasker. She’s become a favorite of fanboys since. I saw her live at New York Comic Con 2012. “True Lies” was the last feature length collaboration between Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron. In 1996 they filmed “T2 3-D: Battle Across Time” for the Universal Studios theme park stunt show. There were “True Lies” sequel rumors for years, but nothing ever came to fruition.
*Sigh* I had only seen this movie once, but unlike “Red Heat,” I chose to watch it again before writing this article. Though Arnie is reunited on camera with Danny DeVito and Ivan Reitman is in the director’s chair, this is not the sequel to “Twins.” I do not fault Arnie for playing against type. Even Rainier Wolfcastle once offered to play a nerd, but I guess audiences won’t suspend their disbelief enough. Yes, they will accept Arnie as a barbarian, a cyborg, a soldier, a cop, or a spy with amnesia, but not a scientist. Shame. This was just such a bizarre concept. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a pregnant man? This isn’t what his fan base would want to see. And no one else takes him seriously enough as an actor to have an open mind. All that people remember about this movie is the dream sequence with the crying baby with Arnie’s face. At least Roger Ebert praised Arnie’s performance. Overall, “Junior” is a high concept film with too few laughs. The weakest of Arnie’s collaborations with Ivan Reitman. Again, I will commend Arnie for making some brave choices. He even dresses in drag, but the movie just wasn’t funny and a tad disturbing.
I guess you can say that this was the last Arnold Schwarzenegger film that really felt like an Arnold Schwarzenegger film. No cringe inducing ice puns, no devils, no clones, just Arnie being a badass. He plays U.S. Marshall John Kruger, who assists people in the witness protection program, namely Vanessa Williams. I do wonder if Arnie’s character was named Kruger because director Chuck Russell had made “Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors” (1987)? Kruger is betrayed by his mentor, played by James Caan. This film has really great supporting cast. James Coburn, Robert Pastorelli, and James Cromwell. Also, some high quality action scenes. Kruger falls from an airplane without a parachute and acquires one in mid-air. How very 007 of him. He also shoots an alligator and follows up with the line, “You’re luggage.” This may not be Arnie’s most popular flick, but it’s guilty pleasure of mine. Chuck Russell also helmed “The Scorpion King” (2002) with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The Rock is one of the few modern day action heroes with Arnie’s charisma.
“Jingle All the Way” (1996)
Well, at least this movie has provided Conan O’Brien and Robert Smigel with a lot of comedic fodder. The story begins a lot like “The Santa Clause” (1994), telling the story of career oriented man, who neglects his family even during the holiday season. Sinbad plays Arnie’s rival for the elusive “Turbo-Man” doll. Phil Hartman is his unscrupulous neighbor, always trying to outshine Arnie and seduce his wife, Rita Wilson. Jake Lloyd, the future Anakin Skywalker, is the son of Arnie. Jim Belushi has a small role as the crooked mall Santa Claus. Danny Woodburn from “Seinfeld” is his elf. Pro wrestler, Paul White, who at the time was known as The Giant in WCW and now known as The Big Show in WWE, plays the monstrous Santa Claus whom Arnie must fight. Curtis “Booger” Armstrong voices Turbo-Man’s unpopular sidekick, Booster. The movie did a good job capturing the insanity of Christmas shopping, but it all falls apart in end when Arnold actually becomes Turbo-Man. Not that he wears the suit in a parade, but that the suit is functional. He flies around the city while Sinbad tries to steal the doll, guised as Dementor, Turbo-Man’s arch nemesis. The silly ending makes the movie unwatchable for anyone over the age of eight. WWE Studios is actually developing a sequel starring Larry the Cable Guy. Wow, that will definitely suck.
“Batman & Robin” (1997)
See my article “Batman: The Joel Schumacher Years” for my review…
“End of Days” (1999)
Arnie never really bounced back from “Batman & Robin.” He somehow endured “Last Action Hero” and “Junior,” but “Batman & Robin” caused his star in Hollywood to fade. It was the end of an era, so maybe “End of Days” was an appropriate title for his final film of the millennium. I actually don’t dislike this movie as much as most people do. It was nice to see a mini reunion of “The Usual Suspects” (1995) with Gabriel Byrne and Kevin Pollack. It was just such a strange concept to infuse a film about the antichrist like “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) or “The Omen” (1976) with the action / adventure genre. I enjoyed the scene where Satan tries to tempt Arnie’s character and Arnie brazenly calls him a choir boy. Only Arnold Schwarzenegger can mouth off to the prince of darkness, but overall the film just doesn’t work. And this was the first movie where Arnie played a human who actually died. His only other deaths scenes where as the T-800. The best thing to come out of this film was Arnie appearing on WWF Smackdown! to promote it and he pummeled Triple H. But, that didn’t do anything help box office returns.