Time Travel Shenanigans

This Sunday was kind of an unusual night now that I think about it. As a complete coincidence I ended up watching three movies that night dealing with time travel in in form or another: Terminator (1984), Primer (2004) and Next (2007). And oddly enough, I watched them in chronological order. Weird.

I actually didn’t watch Terminator alone as I usually do with rad movies from the 80s. Thanks to the sick looking trailers for the upcoming Terminator Salvation, Em wanted to check out the Terminator flicks. I had recently added the movie to our Netflix Instant Queue, so we finally checked it out.

The first Terminator movie I ever saw was T2 on TV with my parents. I remember them letting me stay up late and watching the end of the movie in their bedroom. Later, when I got my Family Video membership, I checked out the original and wasn’t too impressed. Stupid kid. Even though some of the Arnold masks don’t look that great, first off he’s a robot and second off it was ’84. And damn those exoskeletons and robots look real, even if the stop motion gets a little shaky. Plus, I like to think that Linda Hamilton’s crazy hair is a special effect all its own.

[Potential LOST SPOILER coming up if you haven’t been watching this season.] It’s actually kind of funny that the time travel mechanics are very similar between Terminator and Lost. You’ve got people heading back in time and affecting the future. Reese heads back and fathers John Connor. He always did that, he just didn’t know his role yet. It’s the “Whatever happened, happened” idea (which I have to toot my own horn and say I voiced a few weeks before the saying popped up on the show).

From there I went on to finish Primer, a low budget (supposedly made for $7,000) time travel movie that I heard about on both Horror Movie A Day and The Totally Rad Show. I won’t pretend like I understood the movie (I had to look it up on Wikipedia to get a better idea of the plot and mechanics), but it made me feel like I did when I was 16 working at Barry’s and Drew (whose last name I don’t know and haven’t seen in almost 10 years now) told me about Reservoir Dogs and The Usual Suspects and then later when I saw Lost Highway and Clerks and some other flicks. Aside from feeling incredibly original and new, Primer showed me you can make an amazing movie that doesn’t talk down to its audience. Now, the above-mentioned movies don’t seem to have much in common on the surface, but the all showed me different ways of looking at movies, from a story standpoint and general presentation to how much you need to let your audience know.

Primer’s beautifully confusing (there’s so much jargon and science in there, it’d make my freshman year roommates jump for joy, what’s up Bryan and Hatem, you guys especially should check this one out). One piece of advice I’d give anyone trying to watch Primer (and understand it), is, don’t drink too many beers and try not to fall asleep halfway through. I fell asleep and then tried watching it a week or so later and had an even hard time remembering the whole story. I can’t wait to check it out again.

I will not, however, be watching Nic Cage’s Next again. As I’ve mentioned again and again I have a strange relationship with Nic Cage movies. Sure The Rock and Con Air are awesome, but somewhere along the lines, Cage seemingly went crazy and has been playing a kind of caricature of himself since then. Or has he? Maybe I’m the one that expects him to be crazy (there’s good crazy like in the National Treasure movies which I love and bad crazy like the amazing Whicker Man YouTube video).

Well, the last two Cage movies I’ve watched from the past few years (Next and Bangkok Dangerous) have just been boring. Even Cage’s craziness can’t save a fairly boring movie with some really bad CGI effects that breaks my cardinal sin of storytelling: don’t make everything I’ve just seen pointless, even if it is a tale of what could happen.

You might be wondering how this fits in with the time travel theme and it kind of doesn’t. But it kid of does, because, as Cage explains early in the movie, he can see a few minutes into his own future and just by seeing the future you’re changing it. Sure, it’s a tenuous connection at best, but it’s there.

Now I’ve just got to get Em to watch T2 which I have on DVD. But the last time I tried watching it, I wanted to rip Edward Furlong’s squeaky vocal chords out of his throat and feed them to the T-1000. Ah well, I’m sure I’m a lot more mature now (eh, not really, this was only a few months ago). Also, I might mine these flicks for a Live Blog post or two as I took copious notes.

Uncaged: Con Air (1997) and The Rock (1996)

2008-12-05
5:05:25 am

I recently switched from Blockbuster to Netflix as it was taking way too freaking long for me to get my DVDs (five days at times, even when I turned them in at the store, ugh). As a result I sat here switching my queue over and moving things around. I gotta say, I like the Netflix site a lot more. It’s way more user friendly and I actually like a lot of their movie suggestions. All of which I’m telling you to let you in on how I inadvertently ended up with two crazy, Nic Cage action movies from the mid 90s. I had never seen Con Air before and it’s been about a decade since I saw The Rock, so it was practically like watching it again for the first time.

CON AIR (1997)

What a great and crazy movie. Like with The Rock, I don’t really buy into one of the initial plot points. In this case its the idea that a military man just home from a tour of duty (or something, I’m not always clear on the jargon) kills a dude in a fight, a dude with a knife near Cage’s pregnant girlfriend no less. According to the brief court scene, soldiers are held to a higher standard because they’re killing machines. Sorry folks, I don’t buy it. Isn’t that plain old self defense? Anyway, aside from that (and Cage’s ridiculous accent throughout the film), I bought in. You see, Cage is done with his five year sentence and just wants to get home to his girl and their kid, so they put him on a plane (why was he so far away from home anyway?) with a bunch of other cons to fly them someplace else. Once in the air, the prisoners take over the plane in a pretty ingenious multi-part plan and we go on from there.

The first thing that struck me about Con Air is the cast. Aside from Cage, you’ve got John Cusak as a cop of some kind, John Malkovich as the mastermind behind the hijack, Dave Chapelle, Danny Trejo (the best interview I’ve ever had) and Ving Rhames as cons and Steve Buscemi as a sociopath serial killer. The characters aren’t all that well rounded, but the actors really sell their parts, offering up some of the creepiest cons in recent memory. Even Cusak, who I love in High Fidelity, Grosse Point Blanke and even 1401, is believable in the roll as an action-faring blockbuster cop, who would have thought?

There are all kind of groan worthy aspects to this flick, but I’ll take all of them in exchange for a crazy balls-out action flick that pays off in big names, big explosions and big plots. The final scene takes place in the middle of Las Vegas, first as a plane crash, then as a chase between a fire truck and two motorcycles. One aspect of the movie that was too much, though, was Colm Meaney’s “disbelieving tough guy cop.” In a movie filled with otherwise compelling (if not likeable) characters, Colm’s character just comes off as a boring, one note pain in the butt whose role should have either been rewritten or toned WAY down. It is cool to see his car come to its end, though.

One last thing, I just looked director Simon West up on IMDb and was horrifying to discover he’s the man responsible for subjecting me to the When A Stranger Calls remake. Well, to be fair, I’m responsible for subjecting Ben, Rickey and myself to a pretty awful movie, but who’s counting? It was by birthday after all!

THE ROCK (1996)

Like I said, I’d seen The Rock before, but had very little memory of it, which is great because this movie turned out to be a great surprise. I had a ton of fun watching The Rock, even though I was a little worried about it’s long running time (I have gotten pretty lazy, going so far as to sending Armageddon back without watching it because of its 2 and a half hour running time). Regardless, I am officially a huge Michael Bay fan, so of me what you will, even given what I think was a fairly weak plot point. My biggest problem with the story is that I don’t really buy that Ed Harris’ character would at any point believe his plan would work. If he’s not willing to actually kill a bunch of civilians, why would the government do anything by completely annihilate the island? Oh well.

The island in question is of course Alcatraz, the famous island prison which has fascinated me since I first saw it on some long forgotten show when I was a kid. There’s always been a great sense of history and mystery surrounding that place so I’m pretty much down with any movie or comic being set there (I’m also a big fan the Mythbusters where they test to see if prisoners could have really escaped from The Rock). I am also a big Sean Connery fan, though who isn’t? Seeing how great he is in this movie makes me wish he’d come back and do a role or two. In the flick he plays the only man to have ever escaped from Alcatraz. he gets teamed with chemical weapons expert Nic Cage to stop Harris and his hired soldiers (one of whom is Candyman) from firing off a series of missles with highly toxic bioweapons inside, which means they’ve got to break back into Alcatraz.

If there’s one thing Bay knows, it’s how to make an awesome movie. This one’s got everything from chase scenes to bad ass lines to bigger than life characters and cushion clenching suspense. It really makes me wonder what happened to Cage, though. If nothing else, these two movies reminded me of how much fun he used to be to watch on screen. Maybe it’s that I used to feel like we were both on the same page (these are goofy fun movies and he’s having a goofy fun time doing it), but somewhere along the line he turned into the guy who would star in Ghost Rider. Yeesh. I’ve also heard some pretty terrible things about Wicker Man and really want to watch it after seeing this Best Scenes from The Wicker Man YouTube video:

Crazy right? Well, I can always go back and watch Con Air and The Rock, both of which looked super awesome on the new TV (I really love this thing). But, hey, maybe John Carpetner’s upcoming Cage starrer Riot will bring him back to action movie prominence (I sure hope so).

Anything But Abyss-mal

2008-09-05
6:40:38 pm

James Cameron is one of those directors that I forget I like. I was one of the few people that dodged the Titanic bullet (one of the few bonuses of not having a girlfriend in 1997 or all of high school for that matter) and I really couldn’t tell you anything else he’s done recently besides Dark Angel which I never watched and fell off the radar pretty quickly. So, why did I add The Abyss to my queue? I didn’t actually know he had anything to do with it. Underwater stuff kind of freaks me out and I’ve always heard the effects were great, so I just went with it and it was freakin’ GREAT. Let’s hope Cameron can kick things up a notch and do another movie like this, Terminator or Aliens.

THE ABYSS (1989)

Written and directed by James Cameron

Starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn and Chris Elliot

So, the basic premise (I say that a lot, don’t I?) is that this underwater drilling team gets co-opted by the government to check out a sub that went down carrying a nuke (making Armageddon almost the exact opposite of this movie). A group of navy dudes including Michael Biehn board the ship and dive deep down with our heroes. Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio play a married couple who hate each other but are both experts on underwater stuff.

Like I said above, I’m actually pretty freaked out by underwater stuff, especially sunken ships with dead people floating limply inside. So, this movie had more potential to actually scare me, but it’s not really a scary movie, which is cool. There are definitely suspenseful chases, both in scuba-like suits and in underwater vehicles, though the scene where they go into the sunken sub and are surrounded by corpses was pretty creepy.

It’s really more of a psychological movie as Biehn starts going crazy. And really, how do you not go crazy when you only have a few inches of steel between you and certain death? Anyway, you’ve got chases, bare knuckle fights, great underwater filming and a pretty convincing relationship between Harris and Mastrantonio that feels really familiar now, but also fresh somehow. Oh, it’s also got aliens (lower case, “A”). The whole thing’s kind of complicated and I’m not sure I caught everything but way deep down in the ocean this huge spaceship of tiny aliens driving jellyfish-like vehicles has been hanging out. They can also manipulate water somehow in one of the coolest and best effects I’ve seen in a while and this was from 1989!

Fun fact, the filmed all the underwater stuff with the actual actors in specially made suits so you can see their faces in a nuclear reactor they filled with water. The sun kept getting through so they had to put at tarp over the top of it. Knowing that going in added a bit more of a creepiness factors because these people probably could have died if one or two things would have gone wrong. I really appreciate the actors doing their own stunts too. Can you imagine this being done today? Everything would be crummy CGI and just wouldn’t have that fear of imininent danger (like the scene after the underwater station starts taking on water, Biehn’s gone over the edge and Harris actually has to swim out an air lock up to another one and then ANOTHER one. Holy cats, that’s crazy.

This feels like a pretty rambling review, but I highly recommend the movie. I watched the theatrical version to save time, but would definitely check out the director’s cut next time.