Heart Breaker (Split Second, 1992)

In the Distant Future of…uh…2008… global climate change is causing environmental upheaval. In London, it has rained continuously for weeks, causing the streets to be flooded.

Rutger Hauer plays tough cop Harley Stone. When he has to deal with a new killer who mutilates their victims, he is forced to work with a rookie cop Dick Durkin.

As they try and track the killer down to end their reign of terror, the two discover that the killer may not be human at all. Things get worse as the killer seems to target Stone and his girlfriend Michelle.

This is a bit of a Predator knock off. The creature has the ability to mask itself and is a hunter. The writer does add some motives tied to astrology. The London setting is really effective though, with the characters constantly dealing with running through darkness and flooded streets.

Rutger Haur is playing a fairly stock character here, as he is the “Cop Who Operates By His Own Rules”. I also appreciate that the filmmakers allow Cattrall’s Michelle to be a part of the fight at the end, rather than just be the damsel in distress that needs to be saved.

Split Second is not particularly original, but I do find it a fun watch.

Friendship is Science! (Deadly Friend, 1986)

Paul is a tech genius teen who has built his own robot named BB. BB has the ability to learn and grow in intelligence. When Paul and his mother move to a new neighborhood, he is befriended by Sam (a girl abused by her father) and Tom. The three form a bond which is shaken up when Sam is accidentally killed by her father.

Paul uses BB’s brain to re-animate Sam’s body. Paul hides Sam in a shed, but she goes out to explore and starts killing people who wronged Sam and BB. Paul finds this a problem as he tries to cover for Sam, but he is terrible at this. Instead, his lies start falling apart and when Tom threatens to go to the police and expose him, Sam goes on the attack. Seeing the threat, Paul tries to stop her so she is not killed (again). But it is clear that Sam and BB are not the girl Paul wanted to bring back.

Deadly Friend is an interesting concept and one of the early forays into the idea of IA and learning computers. BB’s design falls into the cute robot category and has a fun vocal provided by Roger Rabbit’s Charles Fleischer.

The film makes use of dreams and nightmares, much like a lot of Craven’s work. And the early parts of the film are equal parts fun and ominous. The film makes it clear that Sam’s father beats her showing bruises. But there is also the disturbing implication that he has raped her as well.

But where the film goes wrong is the choices made with the resurrected Sam. To show Sam is more reanimated flesh, they give her dark under-eyes and pale skin with light blue lips. This would be fine, if the choice was made to give her slightly more natural movement. While you could argue that her movements should be awkward, as BB is not used to walking. And there are moments where it is clear Sam/BB are trying to understand what is going on. But there was a clear and conscious choice for Kristy Swanson to move like a robot. BB had metal pincers for hands. So Sam walks around like this…

“I AM ROBOT”
“Kill!!!!”

It just looks hilarious, rather than scary or threatening. I do not know who thought this was a good idea. But it definitely makes it hard to take anything in the film seriously.

Deadly Friend had real potential on paper, but the execution is a pretty big disappointment. I mean, except for Anne Ramsey as the mean old neighbor who gets killed in a rather funny and memorable kill.

In Dreams

Welcome to the month of October. Our theme this month is looking back at the films of Wes Craven. I have always been a fan of his work. Wes was a film maker who wanted to explore things in his stories. Social problems, family conflict, politics…he came from a religious background, as I did. And we both found ourselves leaving that faith…but drawn to storytelling.

Wes Craven

I won’t be cover Nightmare On Elm Street, New Nightmare or People Under the Stairs as I already have written about them. I will be covering the rest of his horror and thriller releases right on up to Scream 4. I will also be including his TV movies and the remakes of his work.

Tomorrow we begin with the Last House on the Left.

The Antici-(The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975)

I had never seen the Rocky Horror Picture Show until 2020. Like, I have heard many of the songs. I have seen pictures and heard about the midnight screenings. I am fully aware of Tim Curry’s fame largely being inspired by this role. I know of the film and it’s legend. But I have never, simply sat down and watched it.

And so now I have watched the the legendary film and…uh…

I did not hate it…it has it’s charms. But I don’t know that I loved it.  Maybe this is because the film made its cult status through being an interactive audience experience…and sitting in my living room alone is not the same.

The story feels largely like an inconsequential mess. But there is no denying that when Tim Curry comes on screen, he is just an absolute delight.  Curry is reckless in his enthusiastic performance and I really enjoy every moment he is on screen. This is not to downplay the other performances, as the central characters are all memorable and fun. But Curry has a habit of outshining people in films for me.

I am glad I finally took the time to watch the film for the music and the performances, feeling like I have filled in one of the most beloved midnight films of all time.

 

 

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.

 

Going Boldly Pt 12 (Star Trek Into Darkness, 2013)

ST_Into_Darkness_PosterAfter a pretty successful first outing, the whole team came back. So, my hopes were riding high for another exciting Star Trek film.

But early on I saw a danger sign. They were basically doing a Man of Steel. It was clear that they were going to use Khan.  The film makers denied this aggressively, especially after Benicio Del Toro left and was replaced by Benedict Cumberbatch.

When the film begins, it starts out okay, I guess…I mean, they still have not started their five year mission yet, and I have no idea why this could not have been set within that…but Kirk and crew save a primitive civilization from extinction and this gets Kirk demoted. But when a terrorist named John Harrison attacks Star Fleet headquarters killing Captain Pike, the Enterprise crew is sent to kill Harrison on the command of Admiral Marcus.

When they find Harrison, Kirk gives into his conscience and takes Harrison Prisoner.  As they speak with him, they discover is is actually leader of a genetic super community.  His advanced intellect is being used by dark areas of the Federation called Section 31…this knowledge puts the Enterprise in danger and they must work with Khan.

Clearly, Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman thought using Khan would excite fans, after all, we all loved Wrath of Khan, right?

Except, Khan and his vengeance had tremendous weight because Kirk and Khan had a history dating back to the original series.  This creates a tension that this film cannot recreate, quite simply because they do not know who Khan is. In fact, they have to reach out to Old Spock to have him give the rundown, because Khan is not even famous historically here.

They also try and flip the Wrath of Khan’s ending by having Kirk Sacrifice himself and send Spock to capture Khan.  Except, when Spock gave his life in the Wrath of Khan, it hit the viewer. We were losing a friend for the good of the many. And here? Kirk is barely dead two minutes and we find out they can resurrect him…and they do…we never get to feel worry or loss for Kirk…he was never in danger.

This film is just lacking the emotional resonance that it is attempting to duplicate. It is an empty and uninspired adventure.

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