A Cure for the Summertime Blues? (Summer Rental, 1985)

Summer_Rental_PosterSummer Rental follows the story of Air Traffic Controller Jack Chester who is forced by his boss to take a vacation. He and his family are set up with a beach side rental.  Jack quickly finds himself at odds with the rich and self important locals and strikes up a friendship with bar owner Scully. This friendship leads to the family and Scully entering a boating competition against the biggest rich jerk in town (played with proper arrogance by Richard Crenna).

Summer Rental is a fun film, but largely carried by the charm of John Candy.  He is a well meaning hapless guy here, finding himself bumbling through misadventures. The film’s most memorable running joke is Vicki, a young woman wanting opinions on her breast implants and how uncomfortable it makes Jack and other guys. And the gag does work okay.  While Candy carries the heavy load, it would be unfair to ignore the rest of the cast.  Rip Torn especially is entertaining in the role of Scully, the bar owner, ship captain who may have committed to the pirate captain role a bit too much.

Summer Rental is light but enjoyable fare, edged up a bit by the presence of Candy.

Fun In the Summertime (Summer School, 1987)

Summer_School_PosterRob Reiner was a prolific funny man.  He gave us decades of laughter and joy before his passing this week.  In his memory, I am taking a look at an under-rated… well not classic…but one of those films of his I don’t hear much about.

Mark Harmon is slacker gym teacher Freddy Shoop is ready to run off to Hawaii for the summer with his girlfriend when he is forced to be the english teacher for the summer for kids who failed their remedial english test. His girlfriend runs off without him, leaving him with a class of goof offs and generally distracted students.

The Vice Principal hates Shoop and holds his tenure and job over his head if the entire class does not pass. This results in Shoop and the class making a bargain.  He helps each of them with one thing they need. And at first this seems to be working, until the kids start getting greedy when Shoop suggests they all put in some more time.

Summer School has a flimsy plot, but Reiner is really trying to entertain more than anything here, and it he uses his skill with comedy tropes to make even the thinnest of ideas work.

This film has an incredibly 80’s cast (certainly, most of them are still active, but this was their hey day).  Probably the most memorable characters are Chainsaw and Dave.  While falling into that stock dumb buddies, they feel very different from characters like Bill and Ted or the later Wayne and Garth.  Horror movie lovers and burgeoning make-up artists there are a couple funny set piece scenes that put their wild imaginations at the center. They also share an infatuation for exchange student Anna-Maria that somehow Reiner manages to keep fairly safe.  They are never in competition over her, they just both have an almost puppy dog devotion to both each other and her.  Yeah, her character is the very stock “Barely Speaks English Hottie”, but the film keeps everything so light that it works pretty well.

This is not a classic like the Jerk, but it is a really fun film and a good diversion on a Sunday afternoon.

 

Becoming the Bad Guy (Falling Down, 1993)

Falling_Down_PosterFalling Down opens with the intensely shot claustrophobic sequence of Michael Douglas stuck in traffic.  Full of uncomfortable close ups and an auditory assault, the opening sequence puts you centrally in the experience of a man we only know by his license plate… D-Fens. Having enough, this man just gets out of his car and walks away.

It is pretty clear he is on the edge, and desires to get to his Ex-Wife’s home to see his daughter on her birthday.  He starts to run into minor irritations, such as feeling like he is being charged too much for soda or a homeless man asking for money a bit too aggressively. But as things escalate, he angers a local gang. He eventually starts building up a collection of weapons as he carves out a path of “righteous indignation” through the city.

While the authorities do not connect the dots, Detective Prendergast starts to see that these apparently random events are tied to the same guy.

Falling Down was controversial upon release, as it does, on the surface, feed the white grievance attitudes that seemed to have driven some of the workplace shootings that occurred at the time before the film was released.  And the ads kind of pushed that narrative.  In his first interaction, D-Fens is racist, but it is that racism that we still hear today. He mistakes the ethnicity of the Korean store owner and then rants about immigrants.  This is over being charged 85 cents for a can of soda.  And when he demands breakfast after the fast food place has stopped serving breakfast, it feels like we are expected to understand his perspective as right.

That said, the film ultimately sides on the belief that D-Fens is, indeed, the villain of the film.  In spite of the muddled middle, it is clear he has been in a dangerous state for some time.  D-Fens asks Prendergast how he became the bad guy.  In a lot of ways, this feels like a stinging indictment of people today.  People who spew hate and support cruel ideas are shocked to find out that people do not see them as reasonable good guys anymore.  They seem desperate as they see themselves losing power…and do not understand how the life that used to be affirmed is no longer the status quo.

Even though there are some moments that seem to skirt to close to the line of validating the character D-Fens, Falling Down is still a compelling character study.  And again, the opening ten or so minutes is cinematic gold.  While Schumacher took a lot of heat, Falling Down is a film that proves he had a unique cinematic eye and deserves to be remembered as a respected director.

Size Reduction (Little, 2019)

Little_PosterAt thirteen, Jordan Sanders is a smart kid who hopes to fit in, but finds life in school to be one of constant humiliation and bullying. Her parents promise her that when she grows up, things will be different, for she is brilliant and those are the people that “become the boss.”

The film jumps to Jordan in her late 30’s. Her life is one where she is in charge.  She is bold, featured in magazines and has a highly successful business.  She also treats people abusively, often using them.  This is especially true of her assistant April.  She has no respect for April’s hopes and dreams or ideas for the business. April is however, also incredibly lacking in confidence, whether it is the desire to advance in her career or get a date…April will try and then back off quickly.

The same day that Jordan is informed by her biggest client he is leaving her for a new company unless she can win him over with a pitch, Jordan pushes around a little girl. The girl tells her she wishes Jordan was little. The next morning, Jordan wakes to find herself in her thirteen year old body.  April makes a deal to pretend to be Jordan’s Aunt and to keep the the pitch moving forward to try and avoid losing their client.

What follows is April and Jordan trying to navigate their sudden change in world, April as the boss and Jordan having to go to school. Jordan tries hard to keep her “I’m the boss” attitude, but quickly finds herself pushed to the margins.  Meanwhile, her employees start to find life under April much more pleasant.

The film is really busy, as they try and cover a lot of ground as Director/writer Tina Gordon and screenwriter Tracy Oliver (of the entertaining and raunchy Girl’s Trip) pack in a lot of plot points with the jokes.  And this kind of interferes with the pacing.  That is not to say it is not funny.  I laughed plenty…and the film actually sidesteps a certain problem that Big did not avoid.  This is largely due to the fact with the reversal, Jordan becoming a thirteen year old, these situational problems are very self evident.  You cannot have adult men being turned on.  Thankfully, the men of the film avoid being sleazy.  When young Jordan shoots a look at her teacher, he is instantly grossed out.  When Jordan’s boy toy (who aspired to be more) mistakes Jordan as the daughter she never told him about, he sets out to convince her that he has the best of intentions for her mom. Some of the dialog gets clunky, but when he tries to give a fatherly hug she forgets her age and he instantly stops her more comfortable snuggle.

The boyfriend storyline seems forgotten at the end though and as the storylines all tie up, we never really seem to know how she explains she never had a daughter.

But the highlights of the movie Little, in my book, are Issa Rae and Marsai Martin. Issa Rae just has never really let me down.  Her comedic delivery is just solid and pretty much always delivers.  Martin has long been one of my favorite actors on Black’ish.  And her years as the darkly mature Diane work here where she channels Regina Hall’s dominance as young Jordan.

Little is not a genre breaking classic.  But for the majority of the film, I had a fine time watching it. Rae and Martin connected well and there are some good laughs in the film.

Growth Spurt (Big, 1988)

Big_PosterStarting 1984, Hollywood gave us about two Tom Hanks films a year through 1990. Some more memorable than others, but Hanks proved himself a pretty reliable comedy actor. Hanks has always come across as a nice guy in Hollywood and thus endeared himself to the audience.

1988’s Big is the story of thirteen year old Josh.  A shorter kid, after a humiliating night at the Carnival where he is too short to get on a ride with a girl he likes, he stumbles upon the Zoltar Speaks “game”. The machine grants him his wish…to be big.

Josh wakes the next morning to find he is an adult.  His mother reacts poorly and Josh goes on the run. As the story goes on, Josh gets the help of his best friend as they try and relocate Zoltar, only to find out it could take weeks to get the information they need.

This leads to Josh taking a job in data entry at a toy company…but he quickly climbs the ranks when a chance meeting with the head of the company who is impressed with Josh’s understanding of toys.  This is one of the things that makes the film a lot of fun.  Everyone  mistakes Josh’s youthful innocence as brilliance and even a real man.  He finds himself in a growing relationship with co-worker Susan.  His complete naiveté over cut throat business practices and male pissing matches convinces Susan Josh is just mature and above it all.  Initially the relationship is not all that troubling.  She has no reason to think he is thirteen and a thirteen year old in a grown up body…and it is pretty funny when she suggests staying over at his place and this leads to an incredibly wholesome night of playing games and the two sleeping in bunk beds.

I am not sure who thought it was a good idea to actually have the two have sex…it is not Revenge of the Nerds territory…but it is just to close to the line of being gross. This is largely in how they write themselves into a corner when Josh confesses his big secret to her. It then feels a bit like an adult grooming a teen.

I think one of the really nice story points is how Josh becomes pretty enamored with grown-up life.  He starts to ignore the goals of returning to his old life…only realizing that he is missing so much away from his friends and family.

Hanks is the glue that holds this all together.  He is remarkably charming and really sells the “kid” in a grown up body better than almost anyone before or since.

Big is still a pretty charming and fun film thirty some years later.

A War This Time (Terminator: Salvation, 2009)

Terminator_Salvation_PosterSix years later, the studio wanted to try and reboot the franchise.  The biggest twist of the film this time around? No time travel. The beginning of a planned trilogy set during the war, Christian Bale takes over the role of John Conner.

The film focuses upon Marcus, who awakens in the middle of the war and starts trying to figure out what is going on. He ends up on the run with Kyle Reese and young mute girl Star. When they run into other survivors, they come under attack by the machines who kidnap Star and Kyle.  Marcus ends up seeking the help of John Conner, believing they need to work together to save and the others from Skynet.

Truthfully, the film has mostly decent effects and it is full of very talented actors…but I never feel really drawn into the story.  It tries to surprise us, but the set-up at the beginning telegraphs to much…?

The visual effects are very good (though a CGI Arnold is pretty rubbery looking) and there are a lot of exciting action scenes. But we get a lot of “machine perspective” shots, which in the previous films gave us insight into the Terminators…but it just feels performative here, because who cares what the random flying machine or motorcycle perspective is.

This is not a terrible film, but it is more a sci-fi war movie that happens to have terminator machines in it than a Terminator movie. And to be honest, I never found myself wishing for a huge focus on the war itself, feeling that it works better as a background part of the story.

Rinse and Repeat (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, 2003)

Terminator_3_PosterIt took nearly a decade before there was a follow-up to T2: Judgement Day.  This time around, the focus is on an early 20’s John Conner. He has been living off the grid and the original date for Judgement Day came and went without incident.  Conner is a journeyman, working construction jobs, believing the crisis averted and his future uncertain.

This is all changed when a T-800 appears and abducts John and a veterinarian named Kate. Another high end model, the T-X, has arrived with a larger agenda.  Instead of John, the T-X is targeting all his generals.

It is revealed to John and Kate that they are, in fact destined to be husband and wife and lead the resistance together.

The big twist of the T-X is both that it is the female Terminator we see and she is liquid metal over an endoskeleton. She is able to imitate other people, but her main form is as Sexy Badass. This seems a bit odd to have the endoskeleton, because that would suggest she can only imitate people who match her height.  I admit, this is probably a minor nitpick.

They try and give twists, as Arnold’s Terminator is revealed to be a Terminator that successfully killed John Conner and has been sent back by Kate. The film also reveals Sarah Conner died of cancer. It almost feels like they are trying a bit to hard to surprise the audience.

That said, honestly?  I enjoy Rise of the Machines quite a bit.  It does kick off the ridiculous focus on massive carnage candy set pieces…but it is a fun film…and I like that it commits to the end.  Listen, they cannot successfully kill Skynet. Judgement Day has to happen for there to be a franchise at all. It is a messy film, but a lot of fun to watch.

Twice Upon a Terminator (Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 1991)

Terminator_2_PosterAfter the Terminator, James Cameron proved it was not a fluke with the sequel to Alien, Aliens, and the Abyss.  Cameron determined his idea for a sequel to the Terminator was a technical possibility.

Picking up ten years after the first film, we find that Sarah Conner is locked up in an asylum and John Conner is now in the foster care system.  John is a bit of a delinquent, using the skills his mother taught him before they were torn apart by the government.

One evening, two men appear…one a sleek killer and the other a familiar face. We find the threatening villain of the first film is now a Terminator sent back to protect John from a more advanced Terminator.

John quickly establishes some rules for his new protector when it almost kills two men who think John is in trouble and come to his rescue. Particularly, John commands the Terminator to never kill a human. These commands lead to several moments where the Terminator carefully shoots people with non-lethal precision (at one point telling John, “He’ll live”).

They break Sarah out of the asylum just as the T-1000 arrives, so there is an exciting escape sequence.  As the trio run from the T-1000, Sarah picks the Terminator’s files to find out how Skynet still came to pass, and determining she must kill the man who creates Skynet.

From here on out, I will use the popular moniker T2.  Cameron loves to push technical limits and this sequel is no different in that way.  Expanding on the morphing tech used in the Abyss for the water tentacles and created the liquid metal T-1000.  Able to form bladed weapons and imitate various people it comes in contact with. When combined with a cold inhuman performance from Robert Patrick, the T-1000 is menacing.

The T-800 is more of a quippy action hero, but it really works here.  The film spends a fair amount of time building the relationship between John and his Terminator, so that by the end both John and Sarah feel a real connection to the machine, who seems to also have genuine concern for John.

The film also plays around with the premise of who is worse.  Sarah becomes determined to kill Miles Dyson to prevent the creation of Skynet. When she nearly succeeds, she finds herself facing his young son begging her not to kill him, Sarah freezes, as she realizes she was being more like a Terminator than a human. The evolution of Sarah from the frightened waitress of the first film to a hardcore warrior barely holding on to her humanity is effectively done.

While the film tries to end on an open note, it really throws off the perfect loop of the first film.  That criticism is made of later films and the television regarding the timeline is pretty much a problem the minute you make a sequel. Still, this is a fun and exciting flick with some solid humor and emotion.  My preferred version is Cameron’s extended cut, which includes some great little touches, such as the reveal that near the end, the T-1000 is glitching. T2 is well loved because it is great at what it is trying to be. The action is intense, the drama effective and the effects pretty amazing.

A Wrench In Time (The Terminator, 1984)

The_Terminator_PosterIn 1984, James Cameron was a genre vet, but not quite the guy we think of.  He had no mega-hits…yet. Cameron came up out of the Corman school and made his names with technical and special effects….especially stretching the low budget effects.

His one theatrical film before the Terminator is Piranha II: the Spawning, and then his next film is…

In 1984 a mysterious massive stranger appears in a crackle of lightning in an alley.  He has a singular aim and will.

Elsewhere, another man appears in an alley (less gracefully). Disoriented he asked when he is. He, like the more ominous stranger has a goal…in fact they are both here to locate Sarah Conner, a young woman of immense importance to the future.

Both men are from the future, one where there is a war between man and machine. When the machines realize they are about to lose, they send back a Terminator, a large massive robot covered in human flesh to allow them to infiltrate human encampments and kill a target. The Terminator’s target is the mother of the man who will rally humanity together to defeat the robot oppressors.

Kyle Reese has been sent back to protect young Sarah Conner from the Terminator.

The Terminator is a shockingly good second film, showing that Cameron had a real vision as he made the film.  It is a sci-fi horror film that keeps everything simple.  By the team it ends, we have a perfect circle of time, so it is not confusing or asking you to make any bigger stretch than accepting time travel.

Cameron is as committed to his characters as much as effects and action.  Sarah is believable and sympathetic as an everyman finding herself in an impossible situation and rising to occasion.  Considering the biggest ask is that we believe she falls in love with Reese overnight, and Hamilton and Biehn have enough chemistry to make it work.

Arnold Schwarzenegger had already made a mark as Conan, but this time he has a real menacing charisma that sells the notion that a massive cyborg is walking the city.

The effects remain an outstanding achievement. Sure, you can see the stop motion models and the rubber heads…but they are such well crafted effects, you do not mind and they are downright pleasing to watch.

The Terminator is a film that has withstood the test of time and such an incredibly impressive effort for someone’s second film.

Boldly Going Pt 13 (Star Trek Beyond, 2016)

Star_Trek_Beyond_PosterAfter Into Darkness, Trek lost Abrams to Wars. Simon Pegg stepped up as a screenwriter with Doug Jung to try and get the Kelvin timeline back on track.  The studio also decided to try out an action director, Justin Lin, who had success with the Fast and the Furious franchise.

I have already reviewed this, and one of my early criticisms was that the film is a bit slow going at the open. But after repeat viewings, I found that I really am not sure what I would do to speed things up.

After a fun little bit that sets up the film’s macguffin, the film focuses on where the characters are at.  They pick up about half way through their five year mission, which finds Kirk feeling lost and unsure.  In a clever bit of dialog, he comments that their mission has begun to feel “episodic”. Spock receives word of the passing of his future self (as Nimoy had passed away by this point) and questions whether he should stay with Starfleet or focus on the survival of the Vulcan race.

But after a mysterious pilot arrives at the space station where the Enterprise is docked, the Enterprise and her crew head to help the pilot’s disabled ship on the other side of a nebula.  After they are attacked and the Enterprise is destroyed (the second time in this timeline!) Kirk and the team find themselves trapped on a planet with aggressive aliens bent on getting the piece of a weapon that the Enterprise had.

Beyond is pretty much a 180 degree turn from Into Darkness.  It is fun, Elba plays a solid villain with a twist.  Sophia Boutella is a highly entertaining character named Jaylah who is befriended by Scotty and Kirk.  There is some solid character stuff with McCoy and Spock.

This is an action packed film that I find myself enjoying more each time I watch it.  It makes me wish a follow-up in the Kelvin timeline were a lock instead of so uncertain.  Of the timeline, I have really enjoyed two of the films, so I am definitely open to more.