Movie #99: The Terminator (1984)

Director: James Cameron

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, and Lance Henriksen

terminatorposter

“Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.”

2029: the world is run by machines.  Having eliminated most of the human race through numerous nuclear strikes on Judgement Day decades earlier, the machines are still hunting and fighting the human resistance lead by John Connor.  They created a cyborg that walks, talks, looks, and acts like a human, The Terminator (Schwarzenegger).  Sending him back to 1984, Terminator is assigned to kill Sarah Connor, mother of the unborn John Connor.  The human resistance sends back Kyle Reese (Biehn) to protect Sarah at all costs, and also conceiving John in the process.

The Terminator, though simple in execution as a film that goes from chase scene to fight scene to shootout and back, explores the dangers of an over reliance on technology and the potential threats when that technology becomes self-aware.

They also blow stuff up,  a lot of stuff.

It’s interesting looking back on a film like this now and seeing how The Terminator was the first big break to giants in the industry.  Schwarzenegger had already done two Conan  movies, the Terminator has been his calling card.  No one else could have pulled that part off better, and really anyone else would have simply done that character a great injustice.

This was also James Cameron’s first major film, and as they say, the rest is history.

terminatorsarah  Linda Hamilton also does great and establishes herself in this film.   She had done Children of the Corn earlier that year, but The Terminator introduced her to a wider and incredibly passionate fan base.

The Terminator is the quintessential summer blockbuster.  It relies heavily on action, chase scenes, shootouts, and asks very little of the audience other than to sit back and enjoy.  Funny, though, since this film was released in October of 1984.

For it’s time period, a lot of the special effects work.  However, the things I didn’t care for were most of the scenes from the future, and after Terminator was nothing but a machine.  Though limited with the special effects in 1984, I still felt these scenes unintentionally made the film more comical and unrealistic.  While science fiction by nature pushes far past what’s realistic, the way the special effects were used in this film just didn’t work for me.

terminatorarnold

On the other hand, Schwarzenegger does great as a cyborg.  His Austrian accent and mechanical presentation seem believable throughout the film.

terminatorreeseI like how Cameron presented Kyle Reese.  It takes a while for the audience to realize that he’s actually one of the good guys.  Given that he comes back to the past the same way Terminator does, and his emphasis and one-track-mindedness in getting a weapon would make you think for a while that maybe he’s another bad guy.  His chemistry with Linda Hamilton in this film is great, and his genuine hatred and disgust with Terminator makes for some great action sequences.

There’s not much else to say about this film.  I’ve been a bit disappointed with where The Terminator franchise has gone past Terminator 2: Judgement Day.  I haven’t watched The Sarah Conner Chronicles, but for me Rise of the Machines and Terminator: Salvation were more of a yawn for me than anything else.  I also see that they’re making Terminator: Genesis, due out next year.  More like Terminator: We Can’t Come Up With Anything Original. 

The Terminator launched the careers of James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Linda Hamilton.  Though lacking at times with the visual effects, it’s still an entertaining movie that also presents a bit of a haunting message about our reliance on technology and the potential dangers of that dependence.  I could watch this one from time to time, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who likes or is interested in science fiction films.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Artist (2011)

Director: Michel Hazanavicius

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell, and Penelope Ann Miller

Academy Awards (2012):

Best Picture: Thomas Langmann

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Jean Dujardin

Best Achievement in Directing: Michel Hazanavicius

Best Achievement in Costume Design: Mark Bridges

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score: Ludovic Bource

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Berenice Bejo

Best Writing, Original Screenplay: Michel Hazanavicius

Best Achievement in Cinematography: Guillaume Schiffman

Best Achievement in Film Editing: Laurence Bennett, Robert Gould

Best Achievement in Film Editing: Anne-Sophie Bion, Michel Hazanavicius

theartistposter

The Artist follows the careers of George Valentin (Dujardin) and Peppy Miller (Bejo) from 1927 through 1932.  Valentin, a champion of the silent film era, sees his star fall while Miller becomes the big star with the invention of the ‘talkie.’

Filmed as a black-and-white silent film, The Artist is both unoriginal and distinctly unique at the same time.  Michel Hazanavicius has made one of the only silent films since the silent film era.  I feel like this would be the result if Singin’ in the Rain and A Star is Born had a child.  It deals with the transition from silent to sound films, and also maps the rise of a young actress alongside the fall of a legendary actor of his time.  Though it very well could have come out of the silent film era, the fact that it was released in 2011 makes it unique as a significant contrast to virtually everything that’s made these days.

I’ve always been skeptical, and a bit puzzled as to why this film had such critical acclaim.

I get it now.

The story is a bit predictable and cliché, but Hazanavicius has created a story that’s engaging and entertaining.  Though it was frustrating at times when I couldn’t read the actors and actresses lips, Hazanavicius gives the audience enough to get the basic gist of the plot.  Two strong leading performances also help make this an entertaining film.

theartistbustheartistgeorge

Both Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo turn in fantastic performances.  Though neither has had very much exposure to American audiences (Bejo was in A Knight’s Tale), they more than hold their own in a unique to 2011 type of film.  Without being able to be heard, the body language and facial expressions play a much more central role in showing how their characters are coping with the changes that go on throughout the film.  George is dismissive of the talkie, sure of himself that silent films would always be on top, and falls deeper into depression and despair as his fame fades.  Peppy embraces the new era of filmmaking, but still cares for George in a truly genuine way.  Each was rightfully nominated for an acting Oscar, Dujardin winning for Best Actor.

John Goodman works well as the blustering studio executive who is at the mercy of his stars at times, but still willing to assert his authority.  James Cromwell also does well as George and later Peppy’s chauffeur.  He brings that older wise person element to the film.  It’s also noteworthy that Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange and Sprint commercials with James Earl Jones, among others) had a small part as The Butler, a fellow actor/extra that Peppy meets on her first day.

The only thing that really bothered me about The Artist was that it seemed to drag at times.  The first 45 minutes or so seemed like 2 hours.  Sometimes there are movies that I have to watch in phases, but usually that’s only if it’s 3 and a half hours long or longer.  Though I didn’t take any breaks with this one, it sure felt like I would need it.  Maybe it’s because the only sound for most of the film came from background music.

theartistfinish

The Artist is a film I’ve always had my doubts about.  A silent, black and white film in 2011 with as much critical acclaim and commercial success as this one had just didn’t make sense.  Michel Hazanavicius pays wonderful tribute to the silent film era with a true gem that could have easily come straight out of the time period.  Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo work well together on screen and bring this film to life.  While it’s not one I’m going to go out and buy tomorrow, it’s one I would definitely recommend watching at least once.  I may even watch it again in the near future.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Movie #98: The Dark Knight (2008)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Starring; Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman

Academy Awards (2009):

Best Achievement in Sound Editing: Richard King

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Heath Ledger

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Achievement in Art Direction: Nathan Crowley (art director), Peter Lando (set decorator)

Best Achievement in Cinematography: Wally Pfister

Best Achievement in Editing: Lee Smith

Best Achievement in Makeup: John Caglione Jr., Conor O’Sullivan

Best Achievement in Sound: Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo, Ed Novick

Best Achievement in Visual Effects: Nick Davis, Chris Corbould, Timothy Webber, Paul J. Franklin

thedarkknightposter

“Some men just was to watch the world burn.”

Batman (Bale) and Gotham’s new District Attorney Harvey Dent (Eckhart) face off with The Joker (Ledger), a psychopath who is filling a power vacuum in the city’s organized crime.

Following the success of Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan had high expectations from moviegoers for The Dark Knight, and boy did he deliver.  Though he had significantly distanced himself from the more comic book-esque Batman films with Batman BeginsThe Dark Knight really allowed him to explore the complex layers and connections with each character.  His cinematography in this film was especially good as he became one of the first directors to use IMAX cameras as prevalently as he did.  I found this particularly effective with the night shots.

I’m not sure how I feel about Christian Bale’s performance as Batman.  He does good, but it seems like with each movie there’s something about his Batman that bugs me.  I thought his Bruce Wayne voice and mannerisms in Batman Begins were forced and incredibly artificial.  His Batman voice in The Dark Knight was way too grizzled.  He sounded like he needed a cough drop, like, throughout the whole film.  It got old and repetitious.  I can’t think of what bothered me about his performance in The Dark Knight Rises at the moment.

Though I wasn’t crazy about aspects of Bruce/Batman’s mannerisms, I think he does a great job of playing the hero who’s willing to get his hands dirty.  While cold and calculated most of the time, Bale does great in expressing Wayne’s emotions when Rachel (Gyllenhaal) is in danger, or when he sees Gotham’s white knight fall and agrees to take the blame to save Dent’s image.

thedarkknightjokerHeath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight is brilliant.  I would compare and contrast his performance with Jack Nicholson’s in Batman (1989), but I don’t know that I can.  Each performance has its own merits, Nicholson’s Joker probably lines up more with a traditional and more comic-y Joker, which was representative of his film and the time period for this type of movie.

Ledger’s performance works within Nolan’s Batman trilogy and his more modern realistic take on the franchise. His preparation for the film, which included staying secluded in a hotel for a month to perfect his voice for the film really showed through as he didn’t seem like Heath Ledger.  He became, completely and fully, the psychotic madman who just wanted to watch the world burn.  I don’t think Ledger’s performance would have had as big of an impact, and I certainly don’t think he would’ve won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, had he not died.

Greatest representation of this character.  Top notch CGI work Nolan, top notch.

Greatest representation of this character. Top notch CGI work Nolan, top-notch.

Aaron Eckhart has enormous acting potential, and I think he does as good of a job as anyone could with Harvey Dent.  Though I sometimes wonder what the film would’ve been like had his Two-Face had more screen time, I think Nolan does a good job with how he uses each side of Dent’s character.  My biggest complaint is the dinner scene where Dent does the horribly cliché foreshadowing, and Batman repeats the “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” line at the end in his over-grizzled voice.

thedarkknightrachelEach member of the main cast in this film does great.  Maggie Gyllenhaal shored up the weakest performance from Batman Begins, not that it would’ve taken much.  Morgan Freeman, though more limited in his time, maintains the calm, steady character he personifies in many of his roles.  Michael Caine works as Alfred, though he’s not my favorite Alfred, he’s still good.

thedarkknightgordon

I’ve always been most impressed with Gary Oldman’s performance, and at times I feel like it was overlooked in light of Bale, Eckhart, and Ledger’s roles in this film.  He more than holds his own with the superstars of the film, and his character has to balance Dent’s white knight complex in saving the city from those who corrupt with Batman’s dark knight to do the dirty work in keeping Dent perfect.  Oldman, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated and underappreciated actors out there.

I watched The Dark Knight for the first time in a few years a couple of weeks ago.  I feel like a lot of what I initially loved about this film had lost some of its appeal.  Perhaps it’s because Nolan’s trilogy is now complete or some of the more groundbreaking aspects of this film have become more commonplace in the last six years.  Still, The Dark Knight is an incredibly entertaining film with brilliant leading and supporting performances.  Christopher Nolan created a great, complete film with this, and set the stage for a thrilling conclusion in The Dark Knight Rises.

My Recommendation: Buy it, or know someone who has it.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Movie #97: The Conversation (1974)

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Frederic Forrest, Cindy Williams, Robert Duvall and Harrison Ford.

Academy Award Nominations (1975):

Best Picture: Francis Ford Coppola

Best Sound: Walter Murch, Art Rochester

Best Writing, Original Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola

theconversationposter

” We’ll be listening to you.”

Harry Caul (Hackman) is an electronic surveillance expert who owns a small surveillance company and is regarded by his peers as the best of the best.  On his current assignment Caul records Mark (Forrest) and Ann’s (Williams) conversation as they walk through Union Square in San Francisco.   As he deciphers and constructs the conversation, Caul realizes that the couple he’s surveilling may be in danger, and he becomes reluctant to hand over the tapes to The Director (Duvall) and his assistant Martin Stett (Ford).  Caul is an incredibly paranoid, reclusive loner, even to Stan (Cazale), his business partner.  His number is unlisted, he calls his clients from a pay phone, and seems to have very few connections outside of the surveillance industry.

It’s interesting to me how forty years after this film was released, it still seems relevant.  While the technology used in The Conversation has been outdated for quite some time, the thought that someone could be listening in on your conversation at any given time isn’t all that big of a stretch.  This film is a true gem for Francis Ford Coppola, though it is overlooked since it was released eight months before Coppola’s other hit film from 1974, The Godfather: Part II.

Gene Hackman was phenomenal as Harry Caul.  He portrays the technological knowledge needed for a guy in his field, battles with his own paranoid demons, and paces the film well as his crisis of conscience unfolds.  His interactions with Stand demonstrate paranoia and general mistrust of others.  This was the last of Cazale’s films for me to see, and though I don’t remember much of his performance in The Deer Hunter, it’s one I’m looking forward to revisiting at some point.  Hackman’s performance is balanced and complemented by Coppola’s script.  Additionally, the background sound used throughout kept my attention as I wondered at times what would happen next.

The sound quality of this film wasn’t the greatest, granted it’s from the 70s, but I found myself paying particular attention and my own heart rate speeding up as the various piano sequences played in the background.  Though I don’t really like sudden shocking moments in a film, here it worked for me.  The suspense throughout the film helped me enjoy the movie more.

Conversation-Harrison-Ford

Harrison Ford’s performance was a bit of a surprise for me.  This was one of his first big roles, and I think he nailed it as the cold, intimidating at times, assistant.  He definitely made the most of his screen time, and the conversation he had with Harry at the end of the film was creepy, but at the same time demonstrating a central theme of the film in that someone is always listening.

theconversationlistening couple  Another thing that was interesting to me was the repetition of the original conversation throughout the film.  Though I thought it would get horribly repetitive and annoying, the way the conversation and overall story unfolded, it really didn’t bother me.

 

 

 

theconversation

Though the equipment and technology used in The Conversation has become incredibly outdated, the central themes of the film are still very relevant in today’s society.  Hackman delivers an incredible performance, one he essentially reprised in the 1998 film Enemy of the State, and does a great job of portraying a man who realizes his work has real, tangible consequences and copes with the crisis of conscience that follows.  It’s not one I’ll go out of my way to see again probably, but it’s one I would recommend seeing at least once.

My Recommendation: Rental/Netflix

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.