Film Review: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Also known as: T2 (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: July 1st, 1991 (Century City premiere)
Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron, William Wisher
Music by: Brad Fiedel
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton, Earl Boen, Jenette Goldstein, Xander Berkeley, Dean Norris, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Nikki Cox, Michael Biehn (cameo – Special Edition and Ultimate Cut)

Carolco Pictures, Pacific Western, Lightstorm Entertainment, Le Studsio Canal+ S.A., TriStar Pictures, 137 Minutes, 153 Minutes (Special Edition), 156 Minutes (Ultimate Cut)

Review:

“[narrating] The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope. Because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.” – Sarah Connor

When I was middle school aged, this film hit theaters. At the time, I thought it was just about the best movie ever made. At that age, it appealed to me more than the superior original but I think that’s because I was roughly the same age as John Connor and I was living vicariously through his experience in the film.

The thing is, this is still an utterly stupendous motion picture and one of the best that James Cameron has ever done. But, as an adult, I can’t put this over the masterpiece that is the original film.

Still, it is an incredible film and a great thing to experience, even for the 38th time watching it. Honestly, I may have seen it more than that as my VHS copy broke years ago.

It’s been a long time since I’ve revisited this classic, though. But this was the first time I watched the Special Edition, which added in new scenes and longer cuts. The most important of those is a scene where Michael Biehn returns as Kyle Reese in a dream Sarah Connor has while still locked up in the mental hospital.

There is also a cool scene that shows John defy his mother in order to spare the Terminator that is protecting them. It’s actually a good character building scene that probably should have been left in, as it shows John’s natural leader personality come through and it also amplifies Sarah’s paranoia about working with a Terminator.

The only other notable addition is a scene that shows Miles Dyson and his family. This probably should have been cut but it is nice to see him trying to balance his personal life and work life.

Everything in this movie still holds up today. While the special effects might not be as impressive in 2019, they don’t look bad and for the time, they were lightyears ahead of what anyone else was doing. And it was those great digital effects that made the villainous T-1000 exist and frankly, he is still one of the most terrifying villains in movie history. But I have to give credit to Robert Patrick for that, even if its the effects that allowed him to come into being.

All the practical effects are top notch too, from the opening sequence of the war from the future and all the makeup, prosthetic and animatronic work they had to do for Schwarzenegger’s Terminator in the second half of the film.

But getting back to the acting, it’s a mixed bag, really.

Linda Hamilton has never been better. Also, Schwarzenegger is pretty perfect but this version of the Terminator character is written in a way that doesn’t require much from him other than what is naturally present in his real personality. That’s not a knock against Arnold, as much as it is a nod of respect to James Cameron for giving us a more human cyborg that is trying to become something more than just a killing machine. The script and the dialogue written for Arnold enhance his strengths and don’t force him to have to deal with his weaknesses. Frankly, it enhances the overall experience.

Now Edward Furlong did okay, being that this is his first film but I felt like his performance could’ve been fine tuned more. When I was a kid, I didn’t give a shit, I thought he was cool. As an adult, I see some of the problems with his acting but at the same time, he’s far from terrible. Where it sometimes doesn’t work really isn’t his fault either. James Cameron should’ve just stepped in more and helped the kid. But then, I also don’t know how many takes were shot and its possible that these were just the best they could get and had to move on.

I mentioned that I like the first movie the best but this one does a much better job of world building and in that, this feels like the most complete and overall satisfying film in the franchise. Where the first film feels more like a sci-fi slasher movie with guns instead of knives, this feels more like something akin to the epic world building of Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings.

This film certainly has the most to offer in regards to the franchise as a whole. And since nothing after has really come close to its greatness, there isn’t much reason to watch the films that follow. Besides, they all start contradicting each other and this franchise has been rebooted three different times because it became a giant mess.

Eventually, I will get around to the other films just to review them. I already reviewed Terminator: Genisys when it came out back in 2015 but I haven’t revisited Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines or Terminator: Salvation since they were in theaters. Plus, I’ve still got to watch the TV show but I’ve heard that it’s actually pretty good.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the first Terminator film. Ignore the sequels after this one.

Film Review: Grindhouse (2007)

While I have seen both Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof multiple times, I never got to see the full-length version of Grindhouse until now.

When it came out in 2007, only one theater near me carried it and it wasn’t there very long, so I missed it. Also, the films were released separately, as expanded editions, when they hit store shelves. There wasn’t a full version of Grindhouse available after its theatrical run.

When I subscribed to Starz via my Amazon Fire Stick, I saw that the full version of the movie was available and thus, I could finally rectify this cinematic injustice. I’m really glad that I did because these films actually play much better in this format, as double-billed companion pieces to one another.

Plus, I finally got to see the trailers, as a part of this overall experience, even though I have seen them on YouTube multiple times since 2007.

Robert Rodriguez’s trailer for Machete was a highlight of the film and it was so good that it became its own motion picture and then expanded into a franchise. Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS trailer was interesting enough, as a trailer, but doesn’t seem like something that will work as a full-length feature. The same can be said for Edgar Wright’s Don’t. Now Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving should be made into a full-length slasher film in the same vein as Machete. Roth has hinted at making it and I hope he eventually does.

This film also spawned a contest for fans to make fake trailers in the grindhouse style. This lead to the full-length feature Hobo With A Shotgun, which was a hell of a lot of fun. I need to re-watch it and review it in the near future.

Moving beyond the fake trailers, we have the two big films that make up the bulk of the Grindhouse experience. So let me get into each film and discuss them on their own.

Planet Terror (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Robert Rodriguez
Music by: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Stacy Ferguson, Bruce Willis, Naveen Andrews, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan, Quentin Tarantino, Tom  Savini, Michael Parks

Rodriguez International Pictures, Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Now you’ve got a gal in your wrecked truck with a missing leg? A missing leg that’s now missing?” – Sheriff Hague

Planet Terror has always been my favorite of the two movies in Grindhouse. That still stands, as I love just about everything about it. It may even be my favorite Robert Rodriguez picture but it is a close race between this, From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete and Once Upon A Time In Mexico.

The film is essentially a zombie outbreak movie but it is really gross, even for that genre. People’s faces start bubbling into puss and there is a lot of blood and other strange bodily fluids oozing out of people throughout the movie. There are also lots of severed testicles and a melting penis. It’s a gross movie but it is still well done and it doesn’t overtake the picture making it a mindless gore festival.

Planet Terror has a lot of depth and character development for a movie loaded with a ton of people. Everyone has an interesting story and it is cool seeing it all play out as these people eventually come together in an effort to escape the growing threat of a zombie apocalypse.

It also really fits the old school 1970s exploitation style of horror pictures that populated grindhouse theaters in big cities. The cinematography really captures the right vibe and kudos to the extra graininess and inconsistent look of different shots in the same sequences.

The practical effects also work well in making this film fit the grindhouse mold. Sometimes there is obvious CGI and it is a reminder that this isn’t a true 70s grindhouse picture but it isn’t a distraction and it serves its purpose well enough.

The cast is also phenomenal. I remember that when I first saw this, that I hoped it would open up doors for Freddy Rodriguez. He’s still not anywhere close to being a household name but his character of El Wray should reappear in some way, in some other Rodriguez picture. He’s a guy too cool to just be confined to this one movie.

This is also my favorite thing that Rose McGowan has ever done. Plus you get a very evil Josh Brolin, an enchanting Marley Shelton, a bad ass Michael Biehn, plus Michael Parks, Tom Savini, Bruce Willis, Lost‘s Naveen Andrews and Quentin Tarantino as his most despicable character to date. Jeff Fahey, who is always stellar, really kills it in this movie as J.T. the Texas B-B-Q king. Also, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas has never looked better.

Planet Terror is unique, even for a film in a tired genre. It takes the zombie formula and ups the ante in every way possible. Rodriguez made a fine picture that should be mentioned alongside other great zombie classics.

Death Proof (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: Rachel Levy, Jack Nitzsche, Mary Ramos
Cast: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoe Bell, Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Parks, James Parks, Marley Shelton

Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 114 Minutes

Review:

“Because it was a fifty fifty shot on wheter you’d be going left or right. You see we’re both going left. You could have just as easily been going left, too. And if that was the case… It would have been a while before you started getting scared. But since you’re going the other way, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to start getting scared… immediately!” – Stuntman Mike

When I first saw Death Proof, it didn’t resonate with me. I mean, I enjoyed it enough but it just didn’t compare to the work that Quentin Tarantino did before it. I still feel this way but I have more of an appreciation for the film now. Also, seeing it in the Grindhouse format, which is more condensed, serves the film better.

The problem I initially had with the film, and some of Tarantino’s other pictures, is that it is way too talky. Sure, he writes great dialogue but sometimes it can run on for far too long. Death Proof in its longer running time falls victim to this. The condensed Grindhouse version, however, is better balanced.

Another problem with the film, is that many of the characters just aren’t likable. This is especially true for the first group of girls we meet. At least the second group felt more like friends and their conversations came across as more natural and authentic.

Kurt Russell initially knocks it out of the park as the killer driver, Stuntman Mike. However, as the film and his character evolves, he completely loses the cool bad ass shtick and becomes a giant whining weeny. His character transformation isn’t a bad thing, it is just how it is executed that makes it a problem.

The one thing that really makes this a cool picture, however, is the cars and the stunts. Tarantino selected some seriously bad ass automobiles that were homages to films that influenced him. The stunt work and action was amazing and the sequence of the first major accident was shot and executed stupendously.

The problem with the film, being that it is supposed to be a grindhouse throwback, is that it needed more balls-to-the-wall mayhem and less chit chat. The fact that this has a lot more dialogue than Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror but somehow can’t develop characters as well is pretty baffling. Tarantino would just rather focus on cool conversations on subjects that directly interest him than to have any sort of meaningful character development. You just don’t care about these people in the same way you care about those in Planet Terror.

Regardless of my criticisms, I do still like this movie. But to be honest, I still think it is the worst film in Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre. Granted, that doesn’t mean much, as everything he’s done has been fairly great in some way.

In the end, this is still entertaining as hell and who doesn’t love muscle car chaos and kick ass chicks?

Additional directorial credits:

Robert Rodriguez – Machete trailer
Rob Zombie – Werewolf Women of the SS trailer
Edgar Wright – Don’t trailer
Eli Roth – Thanksgiving trailer

Additional acting credits from the fake trailer segments: Danny Trejo, Nicolas Cage, Sheri Moon Zombie, Cheech Marin, Udo Kier, Tom Towles, Sybil Danning, Bill Moseley, Will Arnett, Nick Frost, Jason Issacs, Simon Pegg, Peter Serafinowicz

Film Review: The Terminator (1984)

Release Date: October 26th, 1984
Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd
Music by: Brad Fiedel
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen, Earl Boen, Bill Paxton, Brian Thompson, Chino ‘Fats’ Williams

Hemdale Film Corporation, Pacific Western Productions, Cinema ’84, Orion Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

I got to watch this on the big screen. Okay, not in an actual theater but at a friend’s homemade theater with a twenty foot screen outside under the stars. He was testing his new projector, put up a giant sheet between the trees and decided that we’d watch The Terminator. I couldn’t argue with that.

I’m glad I got to see this thing huge, like it was originally intended by James Cameron, a man who used to make fantastic cinematic masterpieces until that pile of shit Titanic made more money than the GDP of all the EU countries combined.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is also pretty much a masterpiece but nothing compares to this, the first film. While it isn’t technically considered a horror movie, it is. This is a bonafide slasher flick where the killer carries big ass guns instead of bladed objects.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the Terminator. If you don’t know, he is a killer cyborg from the future. He is essentially a clean cut Jason Voorhees that dresses like Rob Halford from Judas Priest. He’s got more guns than John Rambo in the sequels. He is a relentless killer, that will keep coming and coming until he murders his target or he is somehow destroyed. Good luck with that!

Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn also star in this. Biehn, a favorite of Cameron, is great as the future hero sent back to protect Sarah Connor from the Terminator. Hamilton is her most famous character, the aforementioned Sarah Connor. She isn’t the bad ass heroine that she would be in Terminator 2 but she did a good job in this picture, evolving from the damsel in distress type to the powerful strong woman that was on the verge of raising future super bad ass John Connor, the man who would defeat the Terminators in 2029.

Seriously though, Linda Hamilton is so damn good as Sarah Connor that the best way to spot a crappy Terminator sequel is to see if Linda Hamilton isn’t in it. Her voice over cameo in the fourth film doesn’t count. She has to be in the film, as flesh and blood. She is only in the first two movies and for me, that is the story. I ignore everything after part two.

This movie is dark and it is balls to the wall bad ass. It gets going and it never slows down. Even when you think the heroes are safe for a minute… nope! Next thing you know, the Terminator is driving a car through a damn police station and shooting up dozens of cops. You blow up the Terminator in a gas truck… too bad, his skeleton will chase you! You blow up his skeleton… too bad, his head and arms will crawl after you!

This was some of James Cameron’s best work. For a low budget film in 1984, the special effects are pretty friggin’ stellar. This certainly redeems him from that Piranha II movie and it set the stage for his greatest picture Aliens in 1986. The Sarah Connor character was a good prototype for what Ellen Ripley would become in the Alien franchise. Then on the flip side, Ripley became the template for the more evolved Sarah Connor in Terminator 2.

The Terminator is incredible. I can’t imagine what it was like seeing this in the theater in 1984. It probably would have blew my mind but I was five years-old and my mum probably took me to something like Footloose, she liked dancing movies and I always got dragged along.

Film Review: Aliens (1986)

Release Date: July 18th, 1986
Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron, David Giler, Walter Hill
Based on: Charcaters created by Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, William Hope, Jenette Goldstein

20th Century Fox, 137 Minutes

aliensReview:

Aliens is a movie that I have seen at least a few dozen times. It was a staple in my movie diet when I was a kid in the 80s. I never got to see it in the theater because it is rated R and I was seven when it came out. But I did see it when it hit video, probably a year later. Then I watched it all the time and as an adult, at least once a year. But I am now reviewing it because I finally got to see it on the big screen and man, what an experience it was!

Seeing Aliens in a large theater made one thing very clear, it has been a really long time since I have seen something as good as this while at the movies. It made me nostalgic and I went back to a place where I haven’t been since I was a kid, in a decade where there were so many amazing blockbusters. It also made me sad, simply because there really isn’t anything in the modern era of filmmaking that even comes close to the big tent pole pictures of 1980s summers. I mean, it really was the decade that made summer movies a thing in the first place.

This is James Cameron’s greatest film. Sure, many will argue for TerminatorTerminator 2: Judgment DayThe Abyss, True Lies, the incredibly overrated Titanic or the derivative CGI lovefest AvatarAliens is simply his best, period.

I’ve always sat on the fence over which is better between Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens. I still do. They are both equally as brilliant and fascinating but for very different reasons, as both are very different films. And I’m fine with that, because both pictures are special and exceptional and one doesn’t have to be better than the other. They are perfect companion pieces that are, I would have to assume, impossible to replicate because no other chapters in the franchise have come close to the pure magic of the first two films.

What still makes Aliens work, is the effects. They are practical, everything you see is real, apart from the wonky landing sequence of the dropship. The use of animatronics, real slime, luscious matte paintings, massive physical sets and meticulous physical detail are why this film stands the test of time. It is also why it carries a sense of realism that just alludes you when you watch something like the Star Wars prequels or Cameron’s most successful picture, Avatar.

The cinematography is perfect. The sets are incredible, the lighting is superb and the world truly feels like a dreadful and cozy home for the viscous alien xenomorphs that have overrun the fairly large settlement of humans sent to terraform the planet.

Just about every character in Aliens serves a purpose. Sure, there are a few grunts solely there to be immediately exterminated upon discovering the alien threat. However, after that, each character is pretty dynamic or at the very least, very entertaining, as is the case with Bill Paxton’s hilarious Hudson and Jenette Goldstein’s big gun-toting Private Vasquez.

Sigourney Weaver has never been better than she was in this movie. She’s played a version of Ellen Ripley four times but this is where she was on another level. She took control of a horrible situation and became the savior of those who survive, primarily the young girl Newt, who lost her entire family to the xenomorphs. Ripley became the ultimate bad ass mother figure of the 1980s. Weaver was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Aliens, which is pretty unheard of for a sci-fi or horror film, at least in the acting category.

Paul Reiser truly owned it as the corporate weasel Burke. Michael Biehn was good as Hicks, even if he felt like an extension of his Kyle Reese character from The Terminator, two years earlier. The real standout in the supporting cast was Lance Henriksen as the android Bishop. This is one of the absolute best roles Henriksen has ever played and my favorite character in the Alien franchise after Ripley.

Aliens is as close to perfection as you can get minus a few minor hiccups, mainly just the one or two effects that didn’t hold up to the test of time. But considering that it is now over thirty years old, nitpicking a slight visual issue with a scene isn’t really fair to its legacy and what it was at the time of its release.

I was glad that I got to see this on the big screen. It made the film come alive in a way that I have never experienced. Yet, we live in a time where people watch movies on their phones. It makes me feel like the love of movies I grew up with is dwindling away. We need to find a way to get back to creating motion pictures that can generate the emotions and feelings and visual awe of a movie like Aliens. I guess that’s my challenge to any up and coming filmmakers that may just stumble across this review.