A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 580 – Toy Soldiers

Toy Soldiers – October 1st, 2011

Have I admitted yet that I had a bit of a thing for Wesley Crusher when I was a kid? Because I totally did. When Star Trek: The Next Generation started airing I was just the right age to develop a crush and I already had precedent when it came to crushing on math/engineering geeks what with my thing for Adric on Doctor Who. So anyhow, Wesley Crusher. Loved the character. And subsequently loved the actor playing him: Wil Wheaton. I never bought teen magazines with those cheesy covers and posters and whatnot, but I did stop whenever I saw him on my television screen. This continued for years. And that is why prior to tonight I had already seen this movie in full. After all, he plays one of the main characters! We’d considered saving this for Wheaton’s birthday (we would have watched it during PAX East this year but he wasn’t in attendance) but then we realized we’re going to be done with the project by then. So! Here we go!

This movie baffles me, really. Mostly because it has this cast full of fresh young actors hot off the pages of Teen Beat (check it out), and yet it’s an action movie with a drug-running crime syndicate coming up out of Mexico to take a boarding school full of kids hostage. The genre says “market me to teenage boys” but the cast says “girls will swoon” and I don’t have nearly enough faith in the movie industry to think that someone intentionally made an action movie for teen and pre-teen girls or teen and pre-teen gay boys. Not that it wouldn’t be appealing! I mean, the main cast spends a considerable amount of time standing around in their underwear. I’m just saying, much as I appreciated it, I don’t for one minute believe that sort of thought was put into this movie. At best, I can imagine the studio figuring girls wouldn’t mind going to see it with their dates. Maybe I’m wrong. If so? I salute you, TriStar. Way to buck the system.

Anyhow, this is indeed an action movie. Crime lord Luis Cali opens the movie by taking over a courtroom in somewhere I assume is central American and holding innocent people hostage while demanding that his father (also a criminal) be released. Turns out his father had already been extradited to the US, so he kills some hostages and takes off to go to the US and take some more hostages there. He heads for the boarding school where the son of the judge on his father’s case is currently a student. But once more he’s beaten to the punch and the judge’s son has already left school and is in a safe house somewhere. He takes over the entire school to get his hands on the kid, so when said kid isn’t there he simply decides to stick around and hold the entire student body and faculty hostage instead. He gives the government a limited amount of time, after which he says he’ll start executing students. He sets up a series of charges that he can detonate remotely and puts his men on the rooftops to keep an eye on the entrances to the school. And then he settles in, with the headmaster (played by Denholm Elliott) babysitting the boys in between hourly counts to make sure no one’s escaped.

So where are the aforementioned teen stars? They’re the rebellious students of the school, of course. Billy Tepper, played by Sean Astin, is the underachieving leader of the group. Wil Wheaton plays his roommate, Joey Trotta, and together with their friends Snuffy, Ricardo and Hank they play pranks and get in trouble. I’ll be flat out honest here and admit I don’t at all remember what distinguishes Ricardo and Hank from the others aside from that they’re the token ethnic characters. Snuffy’s got allergies (hence the nickname) and tends to be more cautious and nervous than the others. Really, it’s Billy and Joey who are the ones given the most character background, Billy because he’s the main character and Joey because his family is a key part of the plot later on.

The rest of the movie involves Cali and his gang threatening people and Billy and his gang making plans. Louis Gossett Jr., the school’s Dean of Students (I assume) was in town when Cali showed up, so there will be no badassery from him. Which is kind of funny. You see Louis Gossett Jr. and you see him set up to be this sort of tough love faculty member who’s wise to all the tricks Billy & co. pull and he’s Louis Gossett Jr.! And then he spends most of the movie pissed off in a tent while the military monitors the school. Poor guy. Meanwhile, inside the school the boys are scheming. They’re sneaking through air ducts to count the number of gang members and weapons. They’re drawing portraits of their captors. They are, in short, gathering intelligence in the hopes of an eventual revolt. Using his prank-based knowledge of the school, Billy escapes to bring said intelligence to the military and the Dean. He makes it back just in time for the hourly count.

You would think, given the set-up, that the outcome of all of this would be that the boys would successfully manage to overthrow the baddies and retake the school, right? Yeah, that’s not in the cards. Instead there’s a whole additional plotline where Joey’s father – who, it turns out, is a big time mob boss and played by Jerry Orbach – tries to make a deal and get Cali’s father out, then has him whacked instead when Bad Things Happen in the school and he gets wind of it. It’s sort of out of left field, except that Joey’s resentment of his father’s mob ties is played up a few times beforehand.

It’s a bit of a roller coaster towards the end, and I don’t mean the sort that makes you wet your pants or scream strings of obscenities for the entire ride. I mean the sort that’s fun and whips you around a little and sends you up and down and around a corner or two, but which ultimately wasn’t all that scary. There are several bits that seem like the movie’s coming to an end except then it doesn’t and more happens after. But in the end it’s really not a bad movie. A little strange, a little sloppy, but fun all the same.

October 1, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 479 – Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Terminator 2: Judgement Day – June 22nd, 2011

I fully recognize that this movie has flaws. It’s built on a paradox and it’s full of attempts to make a new catchphrase for Arnold Schwarzenegger and it goes on a good deal longer than it really needs to. But it has two things that make me love every bloated and marketing-directed moment of it: Robert Patrick and his role as the T-1000 and Linda Hamilton continuing her role as Sarah Connor. Mostly the latter, which I will get to, but the former is pretty damn awesome. I’ll take the rest of it just for those two. Okay, and when it came out I had a tiny celebrity crush on Edward Furlong. But that’s not important.

What’s important here is that this is a sequel, and it’s a sequel that had to somehow top the original. And it did that with a bigger budget and the return of Arnold and a new Terminator and new special effects and a bigger threat and in some cases it works for the movie. In other cases? Not so much. Which leads to the movie feeling overfull and overworked in places. I’m going to deal with things that bug me first because I want to save the things I love for the end.

First, there’s our old pal, Arnold. After the success of his “I’ll be back” line from the first movie they had to bring him back, right? And I do like the twist that he was a re-purposed T-800 and spends the whole movie guarding Sarah and John. That was nicely done and I’ll come back to it and to the T-1000 in a bit. The trouble is that in the first movie he works so well because he’s this cold hard killer who speaks a minimum of lines and you don’t need him to have a personality or background because that’s not the role he’s playing. Here, though, he’s not only supposed to be one of the good guys but he’s also given a lot more lines. And that seems to necessitate a little more in the way of character. And I’m down with that. Look at Brent Spiner’s performance of Data in Star Trek. That’s a great example for me of a machine with no emotion being performed with a fully developed character. The T-800, on the other hand, has no real character aside from being a hardass. So to give him a character the movie has the young John Connor attempt to teach his new Terminator buddy some new catchphrases like “Hasta la vista, baby” and oh, it just reeks of someone from marketing requesting something to put in clips they can sell to commercials for years to come. It makes me cringe and ruins a perfectly good twist on the original movie.

My other major issue with the movie is that the action is so incredibly huge. This could almost pass for a Michael Bay movie. I’m all for a good action movie. I do like me some explosions and fights and shootouts. And there is no doubt that this is an action movie. The thing is, last night’s movie is an action thriller that’s as much about the hunt and the chase as it is about the action that happens when the hunter finds his prey. So while I do find the T-1000 to be a fantastic villain, this movie cares more about the booms and guns than it does about the tension leading up to them and that’s a shame. There are scenes I genuinely like, where Sarah takes John and the T-800 down south to the border to some friends of hers who’ve got her weapon cache hidden on their property. And this background material for Sarah is great. But they hang out there for a good deal of time, despite the fact that the T-1000 is out there hunting them. Even the regular version of this movie clocks in at over two hours and the extended versions are another half hour or so. The timeline here just seems so sluggish and I blame that on the lack of tension and I blame that on the focus shift from the chase to the boom.

All that bloat and pandering aside, let’s talk about what I do like. And I very much like a couple of key things about this movie. For one, I do really like the new villain. Robert Patrick as the liquid metal T-1000? Terrifying. Whereas the original Terminator was a brute force sort of enemy, the T-1000 is more sinister. He can change his appearance and insinuate himself into any situation. He can make his own limbs into deadly weapons and tools. He can even hide as part of the environment around him. Patrick does a great job with him, making him blend in with the world he’s in and adapt to avoid drawing undue attention in places, then taking him from smiling cop to stone-faced machine in a split second. It’s a great performance and the potential for a fantastic villain, if only they’d really gone all in to exploit his possibilities. There’s some great work done with him, like when he walks through the bars and when he turns his arms into pry bars (an image that will always stay with me) but I feel like with the budget they had, I would have liked to see more done with him than just having him shot full of holes all the time. We get it. He can take a bullet and heal from it. Still, he makes for a very different type of threat and I like that he’s distinguishable from the T-800.

I also quite like the idea that the original Terminator’s salvaged parts are the basis for Cyberdyne to create the technology needed for Skynet, which in turn creates the Terminator that the technology came from. Sure, it’s a bit of “which came first” time trickery, but I think it was a good idea for this world. I could wish that Dyson, the engineer working on the project, got more to do, but I can live with the time he does get on screen, especially with the additional time he gets in the extended version. But it’s a fun little bit of plot and it’s built reasonably well. It’s just given a short amount of time given how important it seems to be.

Fortunately there’s one more thing I love about this movie and that is Linda Hamilton and her amazing arms. I admit it, I covet her arms from this movie. Not enough to spend three hours a day at the gym, but still. She is amazing here. The movie is set a good chunk of time after the first movie. Long enough that Sarah’s had time to immerse herself in the idea that she has to learn how to survive and fight and she has to be able to teach her son to do the same. She’s raised John with stories about the future and then she got herself arrested and locked up in a hospital for the criminally insane. And when we first see her? Oh, she is not at all the same feathered-hair waitress we met in the first movie. She’s doing chin-ups on her upturned bedframe in her cell and she is not in the mood for your bullshit. I love that she’s established not only as incredibly competent (she does break herself out, after all) but as so determined about what’s going to happen that she’s dispensed with any pretense at social niceties. This is a woman with a mission and it’s a mission that, to a regular uninformed person who doesn’t know they’re in a sci-fi movie, would sound like paranoid delusions. And Hamilton makes Sarah so utterly believable as this bad ass that I stand in awe of her. She makes this movie. She’s serious and flawed and desperate and strong all at once and it’s a wonderful performance.

I could do without the catchphrases and the voiceover plot exposition gets a little tired. I wish it was a tighter movie and less obvious in its pandering. But I will forgive it pretty much every single flaw for Linda Hamilton alone. Add in Robert Patrick and some great effects and a decent plot and I really can’t help but love this movie. It may not be as good a movie as the first one was, but it’s got Sarah Connor taking charge and I will be on board for that any time.

June 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment