The Arnold Schwarzenegger Project: The 6th Day

This is Arnie’s take on the near future, it’s not quite as amusing as Demolition Man though. Point for Sly, sadly enough. This really gives End of Days a run for its money.
Arnold has always had amusingly conservative family lives in his movies, but few of them work; John Matrix was believable when he said “He should be called Girl George!” and in True Lies, Cameron wisely makes his daughter an important part of the story. Here, he’s a lone Luddite standout in an advanced future, who has a classic ’54 Cadillac in his garage while everyone else lets their OnStar GM vehicles drive themselves. Unlike Minority Report, and even Freejack, where the cars look futuristic, they just use late-model cars. It doesn’t help, in a movie where we just saw remote-control gyrojets flying through the mountains. It’s not quite a believable future. Total Recall and Demolition Man do it better.
Roger Spottiswoode directs, the guy who gave us Turner & Hooch, Stop or My Mom Will Shoot, and the Bond flick Tomorrow Never Dies, which was only memorable because Michelle Yeoh was in it. This time he decides the tone should be somewhere between Enemy of the State and Cherry 2000, both infinitely more entertaining and original films.

Sometime after Conan, he got his teeth done.

Robert Duvall plays Dr. Weir, the pioneer of cloning who saved the world by somehow cloning the fish population, and CEO Drucker is the guy who saved our children from crying by creating RePets, cloned pets so they never know their puppy died! They run a quasi-criminal empire that is secretly cloning humans, which is against the law ever since the Supreme Court ordered the first human clone destroyed. They can feed your memories back with a fresh brain, fastforwarding your memories through screens in front of your pupils, but while they play it partially for laughs, it was done so much better years later in The Venture Bros. animated series. They bring back dead henchmen in this one too, but it isn’t as funny as it should be.
Arnold is his usual super-killer self, but as the entrepreneur of an Extreeeeeme Skiing Tour Guide service, there’s no reason for his combat skills. In Total Recall he’s a rogue agent (or it’s all the Ultimate Ego Trip) and in most other roles he’s some sort of cop or ex-military; here he’s just Arnold, I mean, Adam Gibson, and brings us out of willful suspension of disbelief even further. I just assume since he’s a pilot, he’s ex-chair force. Anyway, the plot is he falls asleep on a cab ride to his birthday party and when he wakes up… he’s just not right. When he makes it home, he sees himself getting served birthday cake through the window, and he knows somethin’ ain’t right Lucy. Weird goofy henchmen (the best being Terry Crews) try to kill him in an uninspired car chase with his ’54 Cadillac.

In ze future, Manic Panic hair dye is expensive

After the first hour when the laser guns start flying like mad, things get a little easier to take. The problem is it has no consistent tone. There’s a henchman named “Wiley” who is repeatedly killed due to incompetence, a virtual sexpot for Mike Rapaport, creepy discolored SimPal toys reminiscent of that “My Buddy” doll from the ’80s; but it also crams in a smary subplot with Dr. Weir’s wife being a clone of a clone who keeps dying of congenital diseases, and “just wants to die.” Religious nuts picket Weir’s institute, when no one’s supposed to know he clones people; but sports stars on TV with obviously broken necks show up the next day back in the game. If only this had the charm of The Running Man!

send in ze clone!

In this intolerably long movie, the most anticipated part is when Arnie meets Clonie and they team up to beat the evil CEO who wants his family dead for some reason. Sadly, he’s a pretty boring character in this- he’s no John Matrix or even a Ben Richards- so doubling him only makes the movie less tolerable. It manages to crib here and there from Blade Runner‘s replicants, and Spottiswoode even re-uses the lamest part of Tomorrow Never Dies, attacking people with the helicopter rotors. Arnie manages to wipe out the evil corporation at the end because in 2015, CEOs still haven’t learned the value of offsite backup storage solutions. To quote Professor Frink: mm-hey.

Rating: You should clone yourself while you are still alive. So you can go fuck yourself!

All the entries in The Arnold Project

The Expendables – Semper Fight and sausage being made

I try not to get too hyped up about upcoming movies, because sometimes nothing can really live up to it. Rambo was one exception. I sort of gave up on Sly after Cliffhanger. So the fourth Rambo movie knocked me for a loop, even though I’d been impressed with Rocky Balboa. So when I heard that Stallone’s next would include Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Dolph Lundgren as mercenaries sent to depose a brutal dictactor I knew I’d be there opening day.
They are filming it now, and you can follow some of the day-to-day happenings on twitter. I’m not sure if I want to. It’s kind of cool, but I tend to think of movies like a sausage factory, in the Upton Sinclair sense. It’s best not to see how they are made and what goes into them. That’s a photo from shooting, above. And this here’s Dolph and Sly shooting the shit and not trying to break each other.
For example, if you follow the hype machine and read all the movie blogs, so far Danny Trejo, Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Forrest Whitaker, 50-Cent, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sandra Bullock have been signed on and then signed off being in the movie. Right now Arnie is iffy- they want him to play himself as the Governor- which would be awesome. Terry Crews may be on board. I think I’m excited enough at this ’70s style commando raid flick and I’m going to stop reading about it.
Supposedly almost all the crew Sly used for Rambo are returning for The Expendables, so that makes me confident enough. I know this may be blasphemy in the movie blog world, but maybe it’s best not to know every little detail. Sure, hearing that Sly rolled through a rough stunt scene, said “That’s how you teach the kids,” and was directing while medics plucked stones and road rash from his skin makes you admire the 63-year old action star who’s pulling an Eastwood and reaching the top of his game when most folks are retiring. But this is the kind of movie that sells itself. So I’m gonna try to lay off any further hype on this one. Even though I submitted some Q’s for Sly on ethelmae’s blog.

The Arnold Project #16: The Jayne Mansfield Story

Arnold, I want you to know the things I do for you. 90 minutes of Loni Anderson playing buxom star Jayne Mansfield in a TV biopic? Thankfully in the first five minutes you called her “Chenny,” and saved it for me. Directed by the guy who’d give us Kenny Rogers: The Gambler and starring one of my least favorite actresses, I had a feeling this was going to be a tough one. It even won a Razzie award.
Arnie ends up narrating much of the movie, and you have to wonder what the hell the director was thinking. We love Arnold but in 1980 he didn’t have the best diction of the English language. But about 20 minutes in, when we see Jayne give up on acting and go for cheesecake, the film gets a little more interesting. In fact, Loni does a decent imitation, but it’s a tall order. The screenplay is pretty poor and accompanied with an insipid piano score, but the re-enactment of famous scenes in Jayne’s life makes it easy to please. For example, they suggest that she got the part in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? by auditioning in a towel that she let slip.
Arnold plays Micky Hargitay, the Hungarian bodybuilder who also starred in some exploiters like Hercules vs. the Hydra. They meet when he’s the beefcake in a Mae West show, and he’s a better fit than her first husband; they are both performers and don’t have a problem baring their bodies for audiences. With his strength and her squeal, they made double the public impression that she did before, as he carried her into a room, with her busting out of her dress.
The problem is how the story is told; it begins with her infamous death in a car crash in Slidell Louisiana between gigs, and then is told through flashbacks as a woman goes through photographs with Mickey Hargitay. It’s clumsy and forces the narration on us. Arnie is good as Mickey, but it isn’t much of a challenge. But it’s one of his few pre-action star roles, and he’s eager to show that he’s more than muscles.
Jayne just wants to be a star, so she cultivates a busty bimbo persona that makes men melt; the story suggests that the studio used her as leverage against moody Marilyn Monroe, and veteran character actor G.D. Spradlin plays the cranky exec who wants her to date studio boys and dump Mickey. The story follows the traditional TV biopic formula- rise to stardom, devoured by fame, drinky drinky, sad sad. This makes for some entertaining marital spats between Arnie and Loni, as he pins her to the bed and bellows “I LUF YOU!!!”
He’s a long-suffering husband in this one as Jayne makes their wedding a huge Hollywood spectacle and makes him drive her to the hospital in her pink Cadillac when she gives birth to their baby. Her drinking and refusal to give up on being the blonde bombshell drive them apart, and she ends up doing lame lounge shows. In case we missed the car crash opening, we get to see it again at the end. For die-hard Jayne Mansfield fans only- or if you want to see Arnie play a beleaguered Hollywood husband!
All the entries in The Arnold Project

The real Jayne and Mickey

Rating: Don’t disturb my friend. He’s DEAD tired.

The Arnold Project #15: Kindergarten Cop

It’s not a tumor, but Kindergarten Cop began one of many attempts Arnie made to soften his action star image. We already saw the one-joke Junior, and here we get a fish out of water treatment putting the Terminator in charge of a bunch of 5 year olds. Who destroy him faster than Sarah Connor ever could. 19 years later it still holds up, but has a lot of fat that could have been trimmed.
The story centers on that Hollywood cliche of a grizzled undercover cop, John Kimble, who doesn’t like partners and works alone. He’s also so obsessed on getting bad guys that his family life has disintegrated so much that we never even see his estranged wife and son. He finally nabs drug lord Cullen “cookie” Crisp, a pony-tailed uber-douche with a domineering mom (Carroll Baker, infamous for playing Baby Doll back in the ’50s), but his junkie witness isn’t enough to satisfy the D.A. The only solution, the plot suggests, is for them to hunt down the drug kingpin’s own estranged wife and son, who supposedly fled with $3 million.

The cops have a clue that her kid goes to a private school in Oregon, so they send Detective Phoebe O’Hara (Pamela Reed, also in Junior) to pose as a Kindergarten teacher so she can investigate, with Kimble there as backup. But instead she eats too much at a buffet and gets food poisoning, so Arnie has to cover for her. By now it’s so contrived that I wish they’d made it even goofier, like Jackie Chan goofy. Why bother with all the coincidences? It takes us good while before tough guy Kimble is before the classroom, but it’s worth it.
Arnie’s gift for comedy under the right hands is almost as good here as in True Lies, and Ivan Reitman manages to make him ignore W.C. Field’s warning about never working with animals or children to great success. Kimble also has a pet ferret. Despite these classic saboteurs, Arnie’s considerable presence manages to keep him the center of the laughs, even against a little kid whose Dad is a gynecologist, and constantly recites “boys have a penis! girls have a vagina!”
The meat of the film is watching Arnold play a tough guy who’s used to bashing heads to get his way deal with a gaggle of chaotic little kindergarteners with no attention spans. He loses it almost immediately, and has a classroom full of bawling children. But the ferret saves the day. He’s under the close eye of Principal Schlowski (now there’s a ’90s made-up movie name if I ever heard one) played by the inimitable Linda Hunt from The Year of Living Dangerously and Silverado. I’m sure part of the reason she was chosen was that she’s 4’9″ and her bulldog tenacity could make a fitting foil for Arnold. And it works. She’s always good, and gets just the right note here. We know she has the children’s interests at heart and isn’t just there for tension.

Soon Kimble is running the class like a drill instructor, getting the kids to play and clean up at the toot of a whistle, and even fall asleep when he reads them stories. All the while he plays sneaky games like ”Who is my daddy and what does he do?” to identify the kid, and therefore the mother. But it’s pretty obvious that the best child actor will be the kid, and the cutest mom will be the mom. This is Hollywood after all. And of course, Evil Dad has to show up to try to get his son back.
While I usually never eschew violence in a movie, I think this one would have been better if it was less bloody. We get to see the junkie witness O.D. thanks to the mobster’s evil mom, a school set on fire and shootings. Now i don’t think Columbine et al means we can’t have violence set in schools, but the film’s tone varies a lot thanks to this. Now, we all love the catharsis of watching abusive husbands and evil matrons get what’s coming to them, but I wanted more of Arnold’s classroom antics than action. If this was Arnie’s first post-action star comedy I could see him taking baby steps, but I liked Twins in 1988, and think that proved he could hack it.
Kindergarten Cop feels a bit too long (it’s nearly 2 hours) and a little dated nowadays, but it is still very entertaining, and one of Arnold’s classic roles. Everyone remembers “it’s not a tumah!” but there are plenty of hilarious scenes as the kids test his mettle. It was a bit tedious at times, but this would still make a nice movie for a weekend afternoon. And compared other comedies from the same era it’s definitely one of the better ones.

Rating: It’s NOT a tumah!
All the entries in The Arnold Project

The Arnold Project #14: The Terminator

The Terminator blasted onto the scene in 1984, and action films- specifically science fiction stories- were never the same since. Now we’re poised for the fourth entry in the series, Terminator: Salvation to appear, so let’s look back at the one that started it all. It’s still one hell of an action film.

A simple title card with vague computer type reads Los Angeles 2029 A.D., and we are thrust into a post-apocalyptic nightmare where hulking machines roll over battlegrounds paved with human skulls. The smoke-blackened sky of nuclear night is only light by the rapid fire of machine lasers peppering the ruins to blot out whatever human life remains.

The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire.
Their war to exterminate mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future.
It would be fought here, in our present.


And then a perfect cut to machine crushing down on us from above- but it’s only a garbage truck. But the point is made, we are surrounded by machines, and our cities barely resemble the Earth they are built upon. An electrical disturbance interrupts the garbage man, and when the smoke clears, a hulking man appears. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mister Universe. Mister Olympia. The pinnacle of physical human achievement, we saw him a few years back in a fantasy film called Conan the Barbarian that was sure a lot better than those Hercules movies bodybuilders usually did, dubbed from Italian. We figured he might make a few more of those and retire. He had bigger plans. He is naked, and approaches three street punks.

Blue haired punk is Bill Paxton, before he was Chet in Weird Science

His first words are “Nice night for a walk.” The punks are reduced to dogmeat in seconds; the violence is shocking and early as he tears the heart out of a knife wielding thug. The message is instant- humans are weak. We’re little more than fleshy bags full of blood and organs, as any car accident photo will tell. And seconds afterward, another man appears from the same kind of light Arnold did. A lean, scarred fellow with animal eyes, who “rabbits” down an alleyway as police see him, and deftly disarms them as they foolishly come close. But instead of knocking the cop out as our anti-heroes are expected, he points the gun at him and demands to know what day it is. And then, more puzzlingly, what year.

We’re given little time to think as the chase goes on through a department store, where he picks up a trench coat and a pair of now-sought after Nike Vandals, snags a shotgun from the cops’ prowler and disappears into the grimy city like one of its own rats. His first stop: a phone booth, with a phone book- a relic nowadays, but an icon when the film came out, before cellular phones, telemarketers and do-not-call lists; he pulls out a page with the “Connor, Sarahs” on it and dashes away.

Sarah Connor is definitely an ’80s lady.

Who’s Sarah Connor? Cut-, she’s riding past us on her Honda scooter. Feathered hair, big sunglasses, a smile for the morning sun. She’s the all-American girl, off to work waitressing at a diner. See her punch card? Yup, that’s her. Cut back to the big guy, he’s breaking into a car nonchalantly, driving off with it; to a gun shop, going on a shopping spree worthy of an NRA member who just won the lottery. The 12 gauge autoloader. The .45 longslide with the laser sight. The Uzi 9 millimeter. The phased plasma rifle in the 40 watt range. Hey, just what you see pal. Howya gonna pay for this? BLAM, with lead, buddy. (Actually, he loads the shotgun with one round, and when the gun store guy says “You can’t do that!” Arnie practices the best line from his future film Commando, and says “Wrong!”)

Meanwhile Sarah’s having a bad day at work. She has no idea how much worse it’s going to get. As these two unsavory characters- a musclebound monster toting an arsenal and an attitude of kill whatever gets in my way, and lean and hungry street rat with a shotgun and pants he stole off a hobo- converge on this every-gal’s happy little life, cinematic history was made. Two enormous careers, those of Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron, met for the first time. They’d reunite twice more to make films that broke box office records and set the bar for action entertainment- the next would be a sequel to The Terminator, and the last would be True Lies, the only film that managed to make Arnold seem like a real guy, and make us really laugh. Though that thumb war scene was still pretty creepy.

But before that, Arnold had to deconstruct himself, and play the bad guy. He’d already become a star with Conan, and could easily have skated along taking roles in similar, but lesser films; he would, in fact with Conan the Destroyer and Red Sonja. We needed to take the muscleman out of the fantasy world of swords and loincloths and turn him into an action hero; but first, he’d have to play the ultimate villain. An unstoppable killing machine. The Terminator.

The famous poster.

James Cameron’s lean script careens along at a relentless pace, something he’d repeat with Aliens and the sequel. In the first fifteen minutes we’ve met the Terminator, the hero, and the damsel in distress- though she’s anything but- and the characters are sculpted before our eyes with very few words. Linda Hamilton gets the least credit but her Sarah Connor is as naturalistic as can be, and sets the foundation for the outer-limits characters of Kyle Reese- the apocalypse warrior who volunteers to go back in time to save her- and Arnold’s stone-faced cyborg, who still manages to crack wise without a single emotional inflection. Without a good Sarah Connor, it would all fall apart. She has to believe it, so we will. The wrong actress could not take it seriously, and laugh at it- or worse yet, take it too seriously. You can’t expect us to believe two warriors from the future coming back to present L.A. because a waitress will decide the fate of humanity right away. It takes just the right amount of skepticism from the target, and she handles it beautifully. She’d only been in Children of the Corn, a few episodes of “Hill Street Blues” and Tag: The Assassination Game before this and her best role would be in the sequel. Not to say I didn’t love watching her on TV’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

Cameron and his future wife, Linda Hamilton.

The cops are brought in early, part of the brilliance of the script. In most monster films, and that’s what this is, at its core, the authorities are malicious, stupid, or apathetic. In this one, they know Sarah’s in danger before she does, and believe her immediately. It’s not their fault that they can’t protect her from the most efficient war machine yet devised! Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Millennium)plays one of the most human of the second tier characters, Detective Vukovich. He spots the two Sarah Connors in the daily reports and talks Lt. Traxler (the excellent Paul Winfield, White Dog) to protect the last one in the phone book. This once again solidifies the realism; Keystone cops would not work with this storyline, as our suspension of disbelief is already strained.

It takes 35 minutes for the battle between Reese and the Terminator to begin; we don’t even know their names yet, and we are riveted. We know who the bad guy is- we’ve seen Arnie mow down a housewife and Sarah’s roommate already- but she doesn’t know. She only sees a creepy guy in a trench coat stalking her at the Tech Noir danceclub (perhaps the perfect term for the early ’80s grimy tech shown here and in Blade Runner). And she doesn’t see the Terminator until the laser dot is right between her eyes. While the previous killings mimicked the gruesome exploiters of the ’70s, where the victims were so much lamb for the slaughter, this one is a slow-motion ballet of modern gunslingers facing off on a strobe-light painted dance floor. Everything freezes like our memories of trauma in recollection, for a few seconds, before the thunder of the shotgun breaks the spell and sends the hulking menace to the floor.

But it’s just to trick us; the Terminator is as surprised as we are, and picks itself up off the floor with a frown of disdain for its maker; I thought I was supposed to be tough? We chuckle a bit, but then the real chase begins, and it’s something we’ve never seen before. An indestructible walking arsenal trying to kill two people on the other side of a crowded nightclub, firing through the fleeing bystanders indiscriminately. As I’ve said before in my review of Junior, Arnold is a physical actor of some prowess, who rarely gets a chance to utilize it. He’s waiting for a slapstick script if someone had the balls to write it and the brains to make him take it. Here he looks nothing like Conan, the warrior proud of his genetic gifts; here he walks smoothly, with a mechanical grace and economy of movement, glancing only at his targets and looking through everything else. Look as he crushes the hand of a bouncer, without even glancing back at him. Or my favorite, when he’s firing the Uzi, and suddenly sinks half back into a crouch, tilting right to fire, so he doesn’t have to take a step. Surely there were steps taped on the floor, and perhaps he was coached, but his control over his body from decades of sculpting it made him anything but clumsy.

“Come with me if you want to live.” Kyle’s immortal first words to Sarah exhibit the same economy as Arnold’s movements, as the chase continues down back alleys, gives us our first tease of “Terminator vision” with its red tinge and gun sights, and the first hints of just how tough he will be to kill as Kyle shoots a car’s gas tank and the cyborg leaps through the flames, punches through the windshield of their escape vehicle and tries to strangle Sarah to death. And its other skills, like imitating the voice of a police officer whose car it steals, come clear. Sure, a few blasts with a 12 gauge might buy you some time, but this cybernetic organism absolutely will not stop until you are dead.

The technical details are monologued in some deftly written scenes as they hide from the Terminator and the cops in a parking garage. Michael Biehn, who’d played a few previous roles in The Lords of Discipline and as the demented stalker of Lauren Bacall in The Fan, gets to play hero in perhaps his most iconic role but for Cameron’s next blockbuster, as Corporal Hicks in Aliens. His intensity makes his tale of a future holocaust where humans are herded for slaughter, and his mission to protect Sarah’s future son easy to swallow. Sadly he’d get few roles of any caliber since, except for Johnny Ringo in Tombstone. Here he channels a sort of likable madness, required to make us want him to defeat this awesome new movie star. For as cold as the Terminator is, the audience certainly gleans a certain enjoyment from watching him wield his awesome power. And without any emotions to allow for scenery chewing, we just might root for him.

Sarah Connor quickly shows her mettle as Reese and the Terminator duel with shotguns from moving cars down a dead end. Reese is too busy blowing big holes in the bad guy to notice the wall they’re hurtling toward, so she throws the gearshift into first and slams the brakes. And when the cops surround them, she saves his life by informing him that they’ll kill him- in our time, all humans aren’t fighting together against the machines. So before he can try to finish off the machine, he has to surrender.

Back at the police station house, Reese is interviewed by psychiatrist Dr. Silberman, who gleans even more details from him. Of course they don’t believe him, and they try to convince Sarah the same. He could be wearing body armor, and be on PCP. But even when they crack jokes, Cameron keeps them on the macabre side. The tone is never allowed to be jocular. Even earlier, when Sarah is waitressing and spills a drink, only to have a kid put a scoop of ice cream in her apron- the humor is all downers. Lance Henriken’s Detective gets some laughs at his own expense- he’s a jaded blabbermouth who the Lieutenant has to cut off a lot- but every joke is at someone’s expense. The bleakness of the future permeates the entire film, and we are kept on edge throughout.

Even the biggest gag- three words that would be synonymous with Arnold for over two decades since- is the darkest humor imaginable. The Terminator, after repairing itself with some of the best latex special effects yet seen at the time- shows up at the police station, now in its famous black leather motorcycle jacket and sunglasses to hide the bullet holes and gleaming red eye. When the desk cop blows him off, he quietly surveys the lobby and says, “I’ll be back.” Seconds later, he’s back, driving a car through the building and flattening the rude authority figure in a an unforgettable scene of wish fulfillment for anyone in the audience who’s run into a wall of bureaucracy. Not that I condone such behavior, but in 1984 you could film this sort of thing. Now, he’d have to be seen diving clear of the wreckage.

But this movie isn’t squeamish about the Terminator mowing down cops. For the cherry on top of the second act consists of him walking through the entire police station and killing everyone in his path, with a shotgun on one arm and an assault rifle on the other. The sheer amount of violence in this film caused quite a stir at the time, so much that in the sequel, most of it is between two cyborgs to keep the blood spill and body count low. It’s almost more effective now, when most action films eschew it. The special effects were groundbreaking for the time, and Stan Winston made his bones … by making the Terminator and his metal skeleton. Before this, he’d done make-up for The Bat People and an Italian production entitled Dracula’s Dog, so it was amazing how he and Cameron leapt from the B movie pit into creating one of the most stunning spectacles of the decade.

Cameron has some favorite shots- he loves filming someone getting killed with a beverage in their hand. He loves things getting stepped on or run over. Before this, he’d only directed Piranha 2: The Spawning and a short film called Xenogenesis, though he was a unit director on Roger Corman’s Galaxy of Terror. After writing the script, he managed to get his soon to be wife, Gale Ann Hurd, to get her production company to buy it for $1 with the condition that he direct, and history was made. They would collaborate through the ’80s.

Part of what makes The Terminator so engrossing is how he keeps cutting to scenes of the horrible future through Kyle’s dream sequences. They re-use the same models but manage to keep it fresh by showing something new each time. The resistance can take out some of the fearsome Hunter-Killer tanks and hoverjets through guerrilla tactics, but the fragility of human existence is always kept clear. Perhaps the most chilling scene is when Sarah is tending to Kyle’s wound and he remembers how he lost her photograph. It foreshadows their bonding, but also shows a Terminator (not an Arnold model, but his bodybuilding pal Franco Columbu) infiltrating their hideout and going on a killing spree. As it soullessly guns down their dogs and then stalks forward in shadow, we see it from Kyle’s prone position, its eyes afire with cold red light. It’s an image so effective, they reuse it throughout the franchise.

Cameron is also wise to not make the Terminator too superhuman; it has to repair itself, it rots and draws attention with the smell, and has to track them down. It can’t just show up outside their window like a boogeyman. My favorite is how it finds Sarah’s mother using her address book (remember those?) and then waits for her to call. The simple pan across her mother’s devastated cabin, and the slow reveal of Arnold talking to Sarah on the phone using her mother’s voice, is chilling and effective. Later, when we see him knocked off his motorcycle by a truck after dodging pipebombs, only to get plowed into by a tanker, and still get up- with a limp- we finally get a hint that he may be defeated, but he is one tough cookie.

Get. Out.

The film is as relentless as the Terminator itself; the truck barely dented him, and the famous scene were he climbs in the cab, his face half metal and half flesh, and merely says “Get out!” was so good they used it again with the T-1000 in the sequel. The make-up is particularly impressive here; in some of the repair scenes it’s obviously a latex head, but this still looks real, before CG. When the tanker truck explodes through Kyle’s own unstoppable perseverance, we think it’s all over. Brad Fiedel’s amazing, dissonant score- something he’d been doing since ’71 with the “Cannon” TV series- even tricks us by taking on a mournful, triumphant tone. Talking about the movie without mentioning its unforgettable score is impossible, and Brad Fiedel would never make one this good again. He was the perfect choice.

From here to the end, the monster movie formula moniker is more apt, as the Terminator rises from the flames of the tanker without its Arnold shell, and instead is a metal endoskeleton created by Stan Winston. Looking at it now, many of his tricks of forced perspective and puppetry by keeping only so much of the robot on screen are more noticeable. The movements are sometimes jerky, showing the stop-motion animation work. But even 25 years later, the Terminator is real enough to be frightening as its severed torso hunts Sarah through machines on the factory floor. The score takes on a Psycho aspect and the scrapes of metal on metal and the howl of hydraulics and servos becomes horrific in itself. And Sarah’s triumph, with her infamous line of “You’re terminated, fucker!” is hard bought. By the end of the movie, we believe she can raise the son who will lead the resistance.

The fantastic script stood on the shoulders of giants, however. Science fiction writer (sorry, speculative fiction) Harlan Ellison would eventually sue Cameron and win, claiming that the movie was derivative of three of his works: an Outer Limits episode entitled “Soldier,” about a warrior from a desperate future accidentally sent back to our time; another episode “Demon with a Glass Hand,” where humanity’s savior travels back in time to save it; and his novella “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” one of the most important works of science fiction, about a defense computer who decides humanity is the enemy and wipes most of us out. There are many differences between The Terminator and those works, but the similarities are quite damning. Cameron never admitted consciously plagiarizing the ideas, but if you hunt down the Outer Limits episode called “Soldier,” the image of the postapocalyptic future looks a lot like this one. Ellison is now credited as an influence in the credits of the first film. Cameron would go on to make an even better sequel, and continue to break box office records by raising the bar on action films and epics, culminating in Titanic.

The latex effects may look fake now, but they are top notch.

By playing what is possibly his most memorable role as The Terminator, Arnold took a huge gamble by going from Conan the Barbarian to science fiction films as the bad guy. He originally auditioned for the role of Kyle Reese, but after speaking with Cameron it was decided he would be better as the cyborg, and how true it was. It showed he had range, even if he only spoke a few lines. His powerful presence paired to a powerful and memorable character cemented his star status, and by the time they made the sequel together, Arnold and Cameron were two of the biggest names in Hollywood in their respective professions.

James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger today.

But the original vision was much different. The Terminator was supposed to be an average guy more capable of blending in, something they used in T2 with the T-1000 played by Robert Patrick. Lance Henriksen originally auditioned for the part- infamously kicking the door in of the casting director, with his hair oiled back and tinfoil on his teeth- and even O.J. Simpson was on the short list, but Cameron thought “such a nice guy couldn’t be a ruthless killer.” And many of the plot points used in the second film were already planned for the first, such as attempting to destroy Cyberdyne Systems before they can invent Skynet. In fact, shots were filmed that showed technicians picking up pieces of the destroyed Terminator at the factory as Sarah was wheeled away in a stretcher, showing Cyberdyne logos on the building.

This movie bears rewatching because it has become part of the culture. It was selected for inclusion into the National Film Registry in 2008. The film’s open ending, where Sarah is driving a Jeep into the desert with a pistol at her side, hardened from her experience and recording messages to the unborn son she now carries, made us yearn for a sequel and in 1992 they delivered, topping the original in almost every way. The second sequel without Cameron got a lot of fan flack for how it stooped for jokes such as “talk to the hand” and suggesting that the future cannot be changed, but it was still a solid entry and deserves kudos for its dark ending. The upcoming Terminator: Salvation which opens today starring Christian Bale as John Connor and apparently no Arnold Schwarzenegger is much anticipated, despite director McG’s track record. Let’s hope it stays true to the original vision. And IMDb shows a Terminator 5 in development by Cameron; I’d love to see him return to both the Terminator and Aliens franchises that he contributed so richly to.

All the entries in The Arnold Project

The Arnold Project #13: End of Days

The millennium. Y2k. SATAN. These all come to a head in Arnold’s supernatural cop thriller End of Days, where he plays a suicidal cop destined to save the world from the Antichrist. With a bad case of stubble and his tongue planted firmly in cheek, with Kevin Pollak as his partner and Gabriel Byrne as the Devil, Arnold faces his toughest opponent yet: Lucifer himself.

The beast will have a mark, of 696969…

A prophecy is foretold; a child is born with a mark. The Pope is told that a woman must be killed, to save the world; he says that our salvation is also prophesied, and we must depend upon the man destined to do so. That man is Jericho Cane, NYPD cop with problems. When we meet Jericho (Arnie, that is) he has a gun to his head in his dark and dreary apartment. Before he can pull the trigger, his partner Bobby Chicago (smart-ass Kevin Pollak) shows up. This scene recalls Lethal Weapon, an infinitely better cop movie. This one has its moments, and there are many, but it is so confused and lacking a central vision that you wish it was a bit shorter.

We meet another nameless man, played by Gabriel Byrne, who is innocently washing up in a restaurant when a fiery presence explodes from the manhole covers down the block. It invisibly seeks him out, looking a bit better but reminiscent of the Predator in camo mode, and possesses him in the shitter. Doesn’t Satan know the rules? No eye contact in the men’s room. But ol’ Nick don’t follow the rules. He even kisses someone’s hot wife and grabs her tit at the dinner table. And the restaurant conveniently explodes as he exits.

I know it’s New York, but exploding restaurants full of rich people tend to make the news. But the big news is when Arnie gets shot at protecting an investment banker… who turns out to be our friend from the restaurant. The cops chase him down in an exciting sequence where Arnold hangs from a wire from a helicopter to get at the sniper running across the rooftops. The gunman obviously has no concern for his life, shooting at Arnold when he’s hanging onto him. They follow him into the subways and he spouts frightening imprecations before Arnold shoots him. Then it is discovered that he has no tongue. So is Arnie just having drunken hallucinations?

Christine is haunted by hallucinations, too. Homeless people taunt her in subway cars, telling her straightforwardly, “He is coming to fuck you, Christine.” And cackle as they explode into a thousand metal shards. The movie has a huge CG budget, but it doesn’t know how to use it. For example, Satan meets one of his worshippers, Udo Kier, and decides to warm up his demonic member on them. He melds their bodies into one, for a badly animated menage a trois. It’s so bad that even a nice set of tits couldn’t distract me.

Byrne’s blase’ Devil

Jericho and Bobby follow clues found on the tongueless priest assassin’s body, which leads them to his decrepit lair full of cryptic symbols and religious prophesy. His church is led by Father Kovak (Rod Steiger, how far you have fallen) who Arnold tries to question. He even follows him into the church’s secret spooky basement where a nun writhes on a bed with bloody stigmata. Steiger says the equivalent of “nothing to see here!” and shoos Arnold away. You’d think cops would care about bloody nuns and exploding restaurants, but hey this is New York.

I don’t even have a one-liner worth mentioning.

Before Lucifer finds Christine, a group of Vatican assassins try to kill her before he can slip her the Satanic pork sword. Arnie and Pollak just happen to be walking by, and shoot their way through her apartment before a priest can administer her last rites and slit her throat. And that’s all in the first hour. Gabriel Byrne’s Satan is the best part of the film- once he realizes his minions are incompetent and goes after Christine himself, things really start moving. When Arnie and Pollak are protecting Christine in her apartment, he has a novel way of dealing with their police van and the squad car guarding the building. The king of Hell’s urine is quite flammable, and he takes a leak in the street, tosses a cigarette and blows them to smithereens.

Arnie gets her to the church of the bleeding nun and has a little talk with old Lucifer. He offers him back his wife and daughter- and shows us how they were killed, by the mob, because Jericho testified against them. He’s one of those guys who’ll always do te right thing, even when the Devil is stepping on his bloody hand as he hangs out a highrise window. Byrne makes a fine Satan; he’s not as loud as Pacino, but just as dramatic and hedonistic. The movie is steeped in Hollywood Catholic Magic, where Satan is all-powerful and God sort of sits up there eating Cheetos and playing WoW, because we have to solve all our all problems with our own faith. Satan tells him, “Let me tell you something about God. He is the biggest underachiever of all time. He just has a good publicist, that’s all. Something good happens, “It’s His will.” Something bad happens, “He moves in mysterious ways.”

Satan can also walk right into a church and kill a bunch of priests, but Jericho manages to escape with her. Here he gets one of his best lines- as one of the Vatican assassins tries to sacrifice Christine, he shoots the blade off the knife. And then shoots the priest in the hand. “I can do this all day!” There’s the famous Arnie levity. We have so little in this dark and dreary film, which recalls the New York City of the ’80s. By 1999, Times Square was almost Disneyland, but End of Days makes Y2k truly feel like the Devil had returned.

“Get behind me, Satan! Um… on the other hand…”

By the last half hour, it feels more like an Arnie movie; Satan has Christine but must have some special fuck-pad planned for her, since he doesn’t just deflower her in the back of a cab. Jericho gets crucified on the Brownstone of Woe, but Priest Steiger saves his bacon, and he heads to the police station to load up with a grenade launcher and to use the NYPD magic people GPS to figure out where Christine is. It’s in a Satanic underground sewer pipeline filled with a billion candles, which actually looks pretty cool. If the Devil weren’t into foreplay, the world would have ended. But instead, Arnie gets to blow up natural gas lines with a grenade launcher and set a bunch of Satanists on fire. But hardly enough.

Byrne starts looking like Arnie did as the Terminator, as he gets more and more chunks shot off him- there’s a fun sequence on a moving subway train where they separate the cars and fire grenades the Devil, who acts like a zombie instead of the Prince of Evil. The final battle is in a cathedral, where Jericho has a religious epiphany as he loads his MP5 and grenade launcher under the the crucifix. He asks for strength, but it’s tough to take seriously in a movie where the Devil’s Urine has blown up cop cars, and Arnie eats a blender full of pizza and Pepto Bismol for breakfast. To make things utterly ridiculous, we get to see Satan’s true form as a mushy brown bat demon with tentacles, as he bursts through the floor.

Lame choppa chase screengrab stolen from Evil on Two Legs (see bottom for links)

It makes you wonder why he didn’t just pop up and grab Christine, 2 hours ago, to save us the trouble. In case you never saw The Exorcist, the only way to kill a demon is to let it possess you, and then kill yourself. Jericho’s reward for the ultimate sacrifice is getting to see his wife and daughter as he dies. You’d think Jesus would stop playing Nintendo for a minute to give him a thumbs-up and a “good one, dude.”

The movie wants to be a mix of The Devil’s Advocate, Seven and a cop movie with Arnold and Kevin Pollak vs. a Satanic Cult- Cobra, perhaps? It doesn’t feel like an Arnie movie at all, and probably should have starred a smaller star. While it does have a few moments, sadly Arnold is not a part of many of them. It’s more Gabriel Byrne’s turn to shine as Satan, and Kevin Pollak’s cop sidekick is nearly as entertaining as he was in The Usual Suspects, which also uses the Baudelaire quote, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing man he didn’t exist.” It doesn’t have the same power here, and my favorite line is Pollak defending his treason: “You’d be amazed what you’ll agree to when you’re on fire!”

If I was da Devil, I’d fuck someone hotta. Just sayin’.

Part of The Arnold Schwarzenegger Project is to watch every movie he’s in, even if you know it’s bad. Like Batman and Robin, which I saw in a dollar theater and wanted $2 back, I know I hve to endure it again. End of Days is another one I dreaded; I saw it in theaters, and along with Eraser and The 6th Day, made me look forward to his career in politics. However, I really can’t do this movie justice. Having read Corey’s review over at Evil on Two Legs where he declares it The Worst Movie of All Time, I have to agree. For a huge star on a big high concept project, it seems like it was put together on bar napkins, and perhaps written in hooker’s lipstick on a coke mirror.

It jams so much together, can’t decide if it’s scary, funny, or both, and makes very little sense. Sort of like a hyperactive fat nerd trying to be cool at a convention, trying to distract you from his body odor. Directed by Peter Hyams, who’s never been known for great movies- he’s sort of a Walter Hill with no style- this is probably his biggest movie. I like some of his older films like Outland, Running Scared (the Gregory Hines/Billy Crystal one from ’86) , the serviceable 2010: The Year We Make Contact; but he also did Timecop, Sudden Death and A Sound of Thunder. Add End of Days to Hyam’s crap list.


All the entries in The Arnold Project

The Arnold Project #12: Scavenger Hunt

After It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, ensemble road comedies became all the rage, but few if any captured the same magic. Scavenger Hunt is not one of them, but it manages to collect some of the best comic actors of the time and thus keeps a low buzz of enjoyment throughout. It’s a long way in before Arnold shows up as a gym instructor named Lars, and it’s a big step backward from his role in Stay Hungry– he just has a cameo, really, dragging Tony Randall into a fitness regimen when he just wants to steal a medicine ball.
Board game creator Mr. Parker (of Bros. fame) croaks one day while playing games with his sexy nurse, and wills his inheritance to the heirs who complete his challenge- a scavenger hunt! They have to solve the clues and collect the proper “treasures,” as the game goes. Vincent Price is the croaker- he dies playing an analog version of Frogger- and his heirs include:
His servants, with Cleavon Little as the chauffeur, James Coco as the chef, and of course a ditzy French maid and Roddy MacDowall as an effete Brit butler;
Tony Randall with geeky glasses and a gaggle of kids;

Two guys (including Dirk Benedict, “Face” from the A-Team) and their shag van, with an earnestly mourning gal in tow;

His mercenary sister (Cloris Leachman), her idiot son, and Richard Benjamin as her sleazy lawyer; they’re the bad guys if you can’t figure it out;

and Richard Mulligan of “Soap” fame as Dummitz the dopey cab driver.
They get their list and hit the road in Cadillacs, vans, cabs and convertibles, stealing everything from toilets to Jack in the Box heads, Rolls Royce grilles, beehives and carnival prizes. If Tony Randall annoyed you on “The Odd Couple,” you’ll be delighted to watch him try to snatch a beehive. This is the kind of movie where Richard Benjamin steals an old Indian’s dentures, and he shoots arrows at their Cadillac, and tracks them with a tomahawk the whole time.
Cameos are the bread and butter of these films, and that’s where Arnie comes in- along with Ruth Gordon, Scatman Crothers, Steven “Flounder” Furst, and Meat Loaf! The film is elevated by Cleavon Little, best known as Bart from Blazing Saddles, who always brought class to everything he did. It helps that this was directed by Michael Schultz, one of the most prolific black directors, who also brought us The Last Dragon (full review), Car Wash, Cooley High, Krush Groove and that insane Beatles cover musical Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
I can watch Scatman Crothers and Ruth Gordon in anything. Here they have a lot of fun, as a security guard who catches Dummitz in a bridal gown, and a saucy old gal with an arsenal full of weapons. Meat Loaf plays Scum, leader of a biker gang. The movie is actually pretty good, and I forgot I was watching for Arnold! Some of the humor is inspired, like when Cleavon & co. get trapped in a school, and try to set off the sprinkler- but the sprinkler catches on fire!
The ending is a bit weak, but all movies of this kind suffer once all the heirs or challengers come together. Mad Mad World topped it all with a crazy scene on a fire truck ladder where all the greedy goofballs got their comeuppance, but Scavenger Hunt opts for a lesson about sharing. It sort of fizzles out, but it’s satisfying to see the good guys win, even if they were thieves too.

Rating: You should not drink… and bake!
(low Arnold content, but otherwise an entertaining bit of ’70s nostalgia)

View all the entries in The Arnold Project

Currently only available on VHS or through questionable means