Friday, February 15, 2008

Review of "Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)"

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

Do motorcycles come with a gun rack or is it optional? Oh yeah, what about the Great Schism?

2:14 AM, August 29th,1997. The day the world ended, sort of.

This is where the series ended for me. Much in the same split as the great Christian Schism (in 1054) or the fundamental difference between Shi'a and Sunni Islam, this film is the fulcrum upon which the "Terminator" universe is divided. The first and second films being the canon of this universe and all the follows as filler, but not all together relevant in any way (anyone remember the Dark Horse series of the 90's?).

About the only thing that doesn't work in this film (believe it or not) and the thing that keeps it from being perfect is Edward Furlong. Robert Patrick, the Austrian Oak (Schwarzenegger) and Linda Hamilton (the one and only Sarah Connor, beefed and bad ass) are excellent at anchoring a convoluted, yet somehow plausible situation/plot for Cameron's dystopian future. It is hard to believe this film is less than 20 years old, yet has become a part of science-fiction canon.

While there is more of everything in this film (by comparison with the first), including a larger story arc with psychological tension, which is supported by the state of the art (at the time, which still hold up pretty well) special effects cache, lots & lots of action and explosions, you would think this would put it ahead in every category. Unfortunately the "edge" still goes to the first film. It does break the sophomoric jinx (a.k.a - sequel syndrome), sacrificing some of the "edge" for a broader arcing and more complicated story arc and becoming a much better film in the process. There is something to be said for the simplicity, darkness and fog of war of the original.

So this time around, after Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) returned from the stormy desert of Mexico (at the end of the first film), many years have passed. John (Furlong), her son, is now a whiny and "troubled" foster teenager and Sarah herself is committed and certifiably nuts (not to mention beefed up and ready to kick ass of any kind). A new, upgrade model of the Terminator (Robert Patrick) is sent by Skynet back to the 90's to kill John. The John of the future (2029 or so) trumps this gambit by sending a reprogrammed version of the T800 model (Schwarzenegger) to protect himself in the past. Add some bonding, Sarah's plausible paranoia, 2 Terminators, 1 Austrian Oak, many explosions, lots of guns and fighting, a tongue-in-cheek humor system and a rather satisfying ending and you have a recipe for a great movie.

The "Extreme" DVD viewing is not required, but it will expand certain aspects of the story arc more thoroughly. I do prefer it over the theatrical version, but that's just me.

This is an archetype of the possibilities of a good summer blockbuster. Everybody loves the Terry Brooks endings. Happy endings can occur, they just require a sacrifice. Also, time travel is a tricky thing. Gray is gray, and the future is not yet written.

Review of "Johnny at the Fair (1947)"

Johnny at the Fair (1947)

Boring.... Let this be a warning to you.

This is a short that generally precedes the MST3k "Rebel Set" main feature. It revolves around a young boy, Johnny, who gets separated from his parents at the Canadian National Exhibition held at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Canada back in 1947.

This separation, while mildly traumatic for the parents, was exhilarating and exciting for Johnny. In his "walk-about", he encounters all kinds of wonderful things and celebrities : Joe Louis (heavyweight boxing champion) , chemical balls, circus performers, speed boat racing, a "hela-copter airplane", McKenzie King (prime minister of Canada at the time), Barbra Ann Scott (Canadian ice skating champion), some Vaudevillians and children's jail.

40's newsreel masquerading as a heart warming story or "real"? You decide, but don't skip to the main course if you're in the MST3k stew. Savor the flavor of a comical stew shared with the robots and Joel. A nice bourbon or single malt whiskey couldn't hurt while you're at it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Review of "Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)"

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

Mockumentary of a "Halloween" archetypal killer using the Scream equation.

Have you seen Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc? Even if you haven't seen these movies, you have at the very least heard the names somewhere. This film begins as a documentary about a fictional killer, Leslie Vernon. Leslie is very much in the vein of Michael Meyers or Jason Vorhees. He also follows a series of "guidelines" by which he operates (Scream made fun of these "rules").

The first 1/2 of the film is presented as footage from a documentary crew as they follow Leslie around and are given a first row seat and are even asked to participant in his "craft" and its planning. This is the part of the movie that is fresh and quite entertaining. Leslie does not come across as a psychopath but is presented as more of an artisan or artist. He even has a mentor, who was a serial killer in the 70's/80's. Most of the flavor of this part is humorous .

The second half of the movie (a visible switch from documentary crew perspective to phantom camera) turns basically into a slasher movie. It is a slasher movie with a twist, which I didn't realize until one of the characters points it out. Its cute, but I generally found this second half of the movie to be derivative, albeit with a twist. The sudden seriousness of the situation is meant to confuse us into shock. This is all but nullified by the character's knowledge of the upcoming events. Even though the plan changes nonetheless, their awareness of the situation diffuses most of the impact. The first kills in these type of movies occur in the fog of war. When the threat is revealed, this usually signals the demise of the killer (sheer overwhelming numbers and physical trauma from those numbers attacking add up).

Nathan Baesel does a great job as the killer, Leslie Vernon. The camera men are mostly invisible (until the second half), except for the fact that their snark remarks seems ever present. The reporter (Angela Goethals, related to the bridge of the same name in NYC) is the 2nd most present character, after Leslie, and unfortunately is quite annoying. I'm not sure its the acting. Also a nice cameo by Robert Englund as the good guy for a change. He isn't more than a Vincent Price cameo, however.

The movie flows very much like Rob Zombie's Halloween remake (first half good, second bad), except better. This is not a great movie, but not a dud either. If you need a hand in guessing if you should see this movie, ask yourself a question. How did you feel after you saw Haute Tension (High Tension)? If you liked that feeling, watch this movie.