Posts Tagged ‘Linda Hamilton’

Let me tell you a story about the power of a great movie. It was late summer 1991 and my family had gone away en masse, leaving me alone in the house. I was in my mid-late teens and they were a bit twitchy about leaving me to my own devices for so long, so they had arranged for someone to look in on me . This was Doris, a senior citizen of our acquaintance, not exactly family but closer than ‘friend of the family’ implies; the mildest, nicest, kindest person you could imagine. Fond though I was of her, I was a bit narked at being under supervision (even of the gentlest and least intrusive sort), but as she was driving past the house of a friend of mine to come and check on me I made the most of things and got her to pick up a VHS tape I was particularly keen to see.

She duly arrived with the tape, we said all the usual things, and then I said I was going to watch the movie on the tape. Doris didn’t fancy driving back home just yet and decided to stay and watch the start of the film. I wasn’t sure it would be her cup of tea but, as noted, I was particularly keen to see the movie, as the sequel opened a couple of days later and I wanted to watch them in the right order. The movie was, of course, James Cameron’s The Terminator.

107 minutes or so later we stopped and sat back. Doris had found herself unable to contemplate leaving before the end of the film and had coped with the violence, profanity and sex scene with admirable aplomb. ‘That was very good,’ she said. I agreed and promptly forgot about it for a couple of months, until we were having lunch with her one Sunday.

‘Do you remember that film we watched, about the man who came back in time,’ she said.

‘What – oh, yes, Terminator,’ I said. I remember my father looking slightly thunderstruck as I had neglected to mention our movie night to him on his return.

‘Well, I noticed there’s another one, and I wanted to go and see it – but none of my friends will come with me,’ she said, looking slightly pained.

Well, septuagenarian members of the Women’s Institute are hardly James Cameron’s target demographic. Gallantly, and also because I quite fancied seeing Terminator 2 again myself, I volunteered to take Doris to see it. And so a tradition was forged, where every time Arnold Schwarzenegger had a new movie out either I or my sister would take Doris to the cinema. A poster of the big man appeared on her bedroom wall, and she was able to talk quite knowledgeably about the different entries to the canon – Predator was ‘a bit gruesome’, for instance. I recall a very congenial evening round at her house watching Raw Deal on VHS over a plate of sausage rolls (hospitality was one of those things she never neglected). Her interest never quite extended beyond Arnie’s work, though – I lent her Highlander, and I think she enjoyed it, but not to the point of wanting to take it any further.

By the time Terminator 3 came along, Doris wasn’t really able to go to the cinema any more, and she had moved on to the next plane of existence when Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys were released. I saw them all, of course, and I always wondered what she would have made of them – not very impressed by Salvation in particular, given it is the most Arnie-light entry in the series, I would imagine. Perhaps it is for the best that she never saw them, for the consensus is that the quality of the Terminator series dropped off a cliff after James Cameron departed following the first sequel.

But now, of course, Cameron is back on board, as producer and storyliner at least, so could a revival in the franchise’s fortunes be on the cards? The answers lie in Terminator: Dark Fate, directed by Tim Miller.

The first thing to be said about the new movie is that it doesn’t fall prey to that problem whereby the whole plot ends up in the trailer. The film opens with a game-changing sequence which none of the publicity even alludes to, which certainly made me sit up and wonder if, against all odds, this movie was going to do something genuinely surprising and distinctive with the Terminator mythos. After this, we basically go back to a bit of history repeating, but done effectively. A young Mexican girl, Dani (Natalia Reyes), finds herself the target of a robotic assassin from the future (Gabriel Luna), with her hopes of survival largely dependent on a cyborg protector who has likewise come back in time (Mackenzie Davis).

Soon enough the various parties come together, and the fight/chase sequence that ensues is an absolute cracker, rolling through a factory and out onto the local freeway. However, Dani and her guardian soon find themselves hard-pressed, not least by the new terminator’s ability to be in two places at the same time, and things look bleak for them. But wait! Who is this turning up to help with a dizzying array of heavy-duty weaponry? It’s Theresa May!

Oh, hang on, no it’s not – it’s Sarah Connor, another woman of a certain age with a history of finding herself trapped in endless, futile battles. On-the-ball readers may recall that in recent instalments Sarah Connor has either been dead or Emilia Clarke, but now she is once again Linda Hamilton (the continuity has been rebooted, for whatever that’s worth). Soon the trio are on the run from the terminator, following a trail of clues which leads them to an unlikely ally whom Sarah kind of has history with…

The last couple of Terminators have been so dismal that it really wouldn’t take much to improve upon them, and so to suggest that Dark Fate is the best film in the series for quite some time isn’t necessarily saying very much. Certainly, the plot is of the breathe-on-it-and-it-collapses variety, the writers operating on the principle that if you start at speed, then keep going and accelerate, no-one will have time to notice the various contrivances and implausibilities in the storyline. The fact that it is generally very good-humoured and you’re never very far from another top-notch action sequence also helps a lot.

There are a couple of noteworthy creative choices along the way – the plot entails a sequence where the characters are obliged to sneak across the border between the US and Mexico, tangling with the relevant authorities along the way. This can’t help but come across as feeling a bit politically charged in the current climate, but you can sense the movie working hard to stay on the fence (or possibly the wall) about this. Any suggestion of implied pinko-liberalism is surely offset by the general Second Amendment-friendliness of the film (characters trundle about with automatic weapons and rocket launchers and no-one bats an eyelid).

Needless to say, the Progressive Agenda Committee also appear to have had some input into the shape of the film, which presumably explains why your actual biological human males are entirely peripheral to the story. I know I’m probably slipping into thunderous misogynist mode, but one of the distinctive things about James Cameron’s scripts is that he’s always written strong and resourceful female characters, without the films seeming heavy-handed or on-the-nose or trying to push any kind of agenda. Compared to them, Terminator: Dark Fate feels leadenly reductionist in its gender politics.

And one consequence of this is that the eventual appearance of Arnie almost feels like it’s unbalancing the film. You can’t do a proper Terminator film without the big man, after all, and there is a sense in which the film doesn’t completely feel satisying until he turns up. But when he does, it’s so late on that he barely counts as a main character – yet he is still given lots of important stuff to do.

One mustn’t grumble too much for this is Arnie’s best outing in ages. Not only can he still body-slam someone to the floor and then machine-gun their face off like nobody else in the business, one is reminded of his underappreciated talent for comedy – he turns up in the unlikely role of Carl, a T-800 terminator who has now reformed and spent the last couple of decades living a quietly domestic existence while working as an interior decorator. There is, obviously, vast potential for humour here, which Arnie plays to the hilt, making the most of delivering lines about hanging curtains and bringing in groceries, but also quieter and more reflective moments where he does not let the film down.

I don’t think you’re ever going to make a sequel as good as the original Terminator; all that these subsequent films have done is to play with the component parts of that film, occasionally buffing them up or reorganising them, but never quite managing to have the same effect. (The success of this film stems largely from the fact it has identified the most easily reproducible element of the best sequel – Sarah Connor’s transformation into an unhinged bad-ass – and run with it.) Maybe it’s time to just bite the bullet and do a straight remake. And while Dark Fate does not disgrace the memory of that first film, it’s hard to see where else they can take this particular riff on the story that won’t feel contrived and repetitive. Still, on its own merits, this is an effective and enjoyable SF action movie – I think it would certainly have won Doris’ seal of approval, and that’s good enough for me.

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Some movies win deserved obscurity simply through not being terribly good; others carve out a certain notoriety on the grounds of their lack of achievement – more often, it must be said, when they don’t earn money, than because they’re simply not very good. And then there are films which have seemingly been stricken from history, such is their simple, audience-repelling, critic-stupefying horror.

John Guillermin’s King Kong Lives was released in the US in 1986, promptly tanking spectacularly. It never got a theatrical release here in the UK; to my knowledge it’s never been shown on TV in this country, either. It was nearly ten years old before I found out it even existed. This is a seriously obscure movie, especially when you consider the name-recognition factor of the King Kong brand, and I was rather delighted to find a free-to-view copy of it somewhere on t’internet. Obviously, I expected it to be bad. I didn’t expect it to be quite as bad as it was, though.

Hey ho: the movie opens with a reprise of the climax of the 1976 King Kong, with the big hairy guy getting machine-gunned off the top of the World Trade Centre while Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange look on in horror (Bridges and Lange probably reprised these expressions when they heard their performances were going to be reused in this movie).

Ten years later, and in defiance of all logic, reason, and common sense, the boffins of the ‘Atlanta Institute’ are keeping Kong alive and sedated. Despite having been chopped to bits by cannon shells and then fallen over four hundred metres onto rather solid concrete, Kong seems in pretty good shape, and despite the fact that he went on a rampage through New York City killing dozens, if not hundreds of people, the folk at the institute really seem to care about him. President of the Kong club is Amy Franklin (Linda Hamilton, still fairly fresh from The Terminator), who has knocked up a bionic heart for him. The problem, she gravely reveals, is that Kong has been in a coma so long his blood has gone all rubbish. In order to get the replacement heart into him, they need a source for a blood transfusion, and no such donor exists. Bummer.

But wait! Off in the wilds of Borneo, extravagantly-coiffured adventurer Hank Mitchell (Brian Kerwin – no, me neither) is minding his own business when he happens upon another giant ape. Luckily, the locals are able to shoot the outsized primate full of tranquiliser darts so he can capture it. That’s a coincidence, you may be thinking – what’s rather more striking (and blatantly so) when watching the movie is that Mitchell’s introduction, his discovery of the ape, and then its capture, all take place within the space of two and a half minutes. None of this character development and suspense malarkey in King Kong Lives! This movie has more important things to get to!

Such as… well, the board of the Atlanta Institute decide that they really like giant uncontrollable gorillas and buy Mitchell’s discovery from him. This is against Amy’s wishes, as she’s concerned that the presence of a female (yup, it’s a girl) may do things to Kong’s blood pressure, bad news given he has his heart transplant coming up. But she is overruled and the female ape…

I must now digress a bit. The female ape is referred to throughout this movie as ‘Lady Kong’. I can’t quite work out why. If she is indeed King Kong’s counterpart, then surely she’s Queen Kong? (There may have been legal issues concerning an Italian movie of that name which the De Laurentiis corporation effectively had banned, and which the producers had no desire to revisit.) Unless Kong had a previous wife who was much more popular and attractive and people would resent the new gorilla usurping her rightful title, in which case she would end up being called something like the Duchess of Cornwall Kong instead. In any case, Lady Kong just sounds like a slightly naughty wrestler. For the remainder of this review I shall therefore be referring to her as Mrs Kong. We now go back to the paragraph in progress.

…she is overruled and Mrs Kong is flown from Borneo to Georgia on a transport plane. That’s what I call a long-haul flight; the mind boggles at the lavatory arrangements alone. No sooner has she arrived than preparations are underway for the operation, which is just one of many immortally absurd sequences in King Kong Lives, complete with scrubbed-up surgeons wielding circular saws and operating cranes, and giant surgical paraphernalia including cotton-wool buds the size of bean bags.

The operation is a complete success and everyone celebrates! (Especially the film-makers, for the movie has still got over an hour to fill somehow.) Why is everyone in Georgia apparently so happy Kong has survived? Have they got such a grudge against New York and its inhabitants that they have adopted this terroriser of the city as their own? Questions, questions. The scent of Mrs Kong (one shudders to imagine) reaches Kong, who busts out of the convalescent ward and rescues her from her own quarters. (The moment at which the two apes first set eyes on each other is another one to savour: shot as a moment of great emotional epiphany, it’s somewhat undercut by the fact it features TWO MEN IN GORILLA SUITS!!! Sorry. Found I had to shout a bit just then.)

The hirsute lovers head for the hills, literally, with the US Army in hot pursuit. Also on their trail are Hank and Amy, who discover their own relationship is blossoming. This would seem out of character had either of them been written as possessing a genuine personality prior to this point. ‘We’re primates too,’ coos Amy seductively as she entices Hank into her sleeping bag, while down in the valley Kong and Mrs Kong are apparently also hard at it. Frankly, I wasn’t remotely interested in seeing either of these consummations, and, thank God, the director appears to have felt the same way.

The villain of the piece enters in the form of an army colonel who wears sunglasses and smokes a cigar and is keen on shooting things. Happening upon Mrs Kong in a state of happy post-coital stupor (Kong is clearly not one of these guys who likes to stick around afterward), he has her gassed and airlifted away by helicopter (once again, what about the lavatory arrangements?!?). Kong is struck by a pang of guilt but is unable to rescue her, falls down a ravine into a river, bops his head on a rock and is promptly declared dead by all concerned, despite the absence of a body (no small consideration given we’re talking about a fifty foot ape).

Mrs Kong is kept prisoner down a missile silo and Amy’s boss keeps telling her Kong must be dead, as there’s not enough protein out there to keep him going. But wait! Kong is quietly devastating the local gator population and biding his time, ahead of a daring attempt to save the missus. Suffice to say it all ends up with an utterly absurd sequence in which Mrs Kong drops a disproportionately small sprog, who is then fondled by a dying Kong, while a tearful Amy delivers deathless dialogue like ‘He’s there, Kong. Can you reach him? Reach for him, Kong.’ The music soars heroically, the direction is shamelessly manipulative, the actors emote for all they’re worth, AND IT’S ALL JUST THREE MEN IN GORILLA SUITS AND A BADLY COMPOSITED LINDA HAMILTON!!!! FOR GOD’S SAKE!!!

This is not one of those movies let down by a small budget or other such piddling little trifles. Indeed, I feel obliged to say that in many respects the production values are actually better than in the 1976 film – the special effects are certainly less embarrassingly inept and primitive, while the ape suits are not too bad either. But this does not get away from the fact that this is a film based on a fundamentally stupid idea: doing a story revolving around a romance between two characters played by men in gorilla suits. If that’s your premise, you may as well give up right at the start, because there’s no way in the world you’re ever going to make a good movie.

I was thinking just the other day about why some monsters have endured and why I like some more than others. Godzilla, for example, is an oddly mutable character – he can be the good guy or the villain, or even an anti-hero. You can project your own ideas onto Godzilla, as long as you respect the fact he’s a nightmarish destructive force. Personally, I prefer the Heisei version of Gamera to nearly any Godzilla you care to mention – partly this is because the Kaneko movies are just so good in every department, but also because Gamera himself is such a grandiose and enigmatic figure in them.

King Kong has done considerably fewer movies than Godzilla or Gamera, and it seems to me that he’s a much more limited character than either of them. The original movie has considerable archetypal power – the wild beast, shackled by society, rises up to challenge it before meeting its inevitable end – which may be why that story has been retold so many times (in, for example, The Valley of Gwangi). It’s about the triumph of technological civilisation, and the price of that triumph. This is all very well, but once Kong’s been shot off the top of the highest local landmark there’s not a lot else he can meaningfully do. All-star wrestling matches with Godzilla (keep your fingers crossed, folks – review coming soon, hopefully) have a certain novelty value, but Kong feels out of place in that kind of movie, genuinely slumming it.

It’s the same in King Kong Lives – Kong on the rampage in New York has a visceral charge to it, no matter how questionable the script or effects are. Kong wandering around Georgia chowing down on crocodiles and startling passing hicks just feels pointless and silly, and after a while one gets a sense of a movie treading water while it waits for the climax to arrive.

One could also argue that while the 1976 Kong had Jeff Bridges, Lorenzo Semple Jr., and John Barry, King Kong Lives has Brian Kerwin, Nathan Pressman, and John Scott. But the truth is that the earlier movie had a story that, while fantastical, wasn’t laughably absurd – the story here manages to be both pointless, mundane, and utterly silly. King Kong Lives? Hardly: if this is life, then it’s not as we know it.

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