Terminator 2: Judgement Day is one of the greatest sequels ever made, because it took its story and did something unexpected with it. In a very similar way to what James Cameron did with Aliens. The only difference is this was a sequel to a movie that he directed. Rather than a sequel to someone else’s work that he was putting his own spin on. Although my viewing of the Terminator films was out of order, I still recognized Terminator 2 as the best in the franchise. In a weird way, it’s sort of the most kid friendly installment and the one my parents let us watch the most. It was far more heavily marketed to kids with toy commercials and everything. Terminator 2 was such a success that it became the highest grossing R rated movie at the time. It also won 4 out of 6 Academy Awards. Best Makeup, Sound, Sound Editing, and of course Visual Effects. This is actually when the iconic Terminator theme was first heard. The CGI was groundbreaking for 1991 and this is probably Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best performance. James Cameron’s clever twist to make the Terminator a hero would have been shocking. If only the trailer didn’t give it away…
The T-800 protects John Connor
Terminator 2: Judgement Day was released in 1991, but it actually takes place in 1995. Which is only 2 years before the titular “Judgement Day” on August 29, 1997. That’s when Skynet is supposed to strike back at humanity with nuclear warfare. Despite already knowing who’s on what side, the first act still does a good job at building suspense. The best thing about playing a machine is that you can always come back as a different Model. So Arnold Schwarzenegger now plays a different more lean T-800 Model 101. The new Terminator first arrives near a bar. It’s a classic scene that ends with it donning the trademark leather jacket and shades. Even picking up a motorcycle and rifle for good measure. Truly “Bad to the Bone.” At the same time, another Terminator arrives with a police officer investigating. Under the guise of a friendly cop, the mysterious Terminator searches for the now 10 year old John Connor. He’s a little punk that acts out and lives with a foster family. Since his mother Sarah has been institutionalized. Linda Hamilton’s muscular body transformation is still impressive. Sarah is also a bit crazier and being treated by Dr. Silberman. The psychiatrist who diagnosed Kyle Reese in the first movie. Both Terminators begin to converge on John until the big reveal where the T-800 tells him to “Get down!” Robert Patrick gives a chilling performance as the T-1000. A far more advanced Model composed of “mimetic polyalloy” aka liquid metal. It makes the T-1000 a far more intimidating threat, because it can shapeshift into anyone and create knives & stabbing weapons. Terminator 2 has some of the best set pieces in any action movie. The semi-truck chase is awesome from the gun flipping to the big explosion at the end. The rescue at the mental hospital is a tense reunion that gives the Terminator the famous line “Come with me if you want to live.” After another exciting chase, the T-1000 disappears (unless you’ve seen the extended cut). From there the sequel’s most unique inclusion is explored. That of the Terminator’s fatherlike relationship with John. Edward Furlong isn’t always likable, but this is what gives the film its heart. As the killer robot learns to be more human. Meanwhile Sarah’s constant nightmares about Judgement Day force her to hunt down Miles Dyson. A Cyberdyne director who inadvertently creates Skynet. It’s a traumatizing scene, but it does have a good payoff. Together Miles, Sarah, John, and the T-800 destroy Cyberdyne. All that’s left is the T-1000 now disguised as a police pilot. The climax in the steel mill has many twists and turns, but it’s always satisfying to see the T-1000 blown up and melt in a vat of molten steel. The Terminator’s goodbye to John is one of a few action movie moments to make people cry. Terminator 2 wouldn’t be the success it is without its game changing special effects. The T-1000’s morphing and liquid metal form are still seamless to this day. Even the T-800’s battle damaged makeup has gotten better. As for Arnie’s one-liners, he was somehow able to turn a cheesy phase like “Hasta La Vista, Baby” into one the most badass lines in movie history. Every risk James Cameron took helped make Terminator 2: Judgement Day a sequel that truly surpasses the original.
The T-1000 gets shot
Preceded by: The Terminator & Followed by: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Die Hard with a Vengeance turns Detective John McClane into a run of the mill action star. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. No matter what critics might have said. In order to avoid repeating themselves, Die Hard with a Vengeance doesn’t take place during Christmas, isn’t confined to one location, and allows McClane to work closely with someone else. All of which would become the norm moving forward. Despite the changes, John McTiernan still returned to direct after not directing Die Hard 2. Like the other movies though, the story is repurposed from an unrelated work. The first unproduced script was too similar to Under Siege. So they instead went with one titled Simon Says (after Lethal Weapon rejected it). Die Hard with a Vengeance finally shows McClane’s police headquarters in New York. After falling on hard times. He’s divorced, fired, and drunk, but a new terrorist threat brings him back. Let’s just say McClane’s past comes back to haunt him when the terrorist Simon gives him orders, or else face the destruction of New York landmarks. One particularly risky order puts him face to face with Zeus. A very reluctant Harlem shopkeep who’s forced into this “Simon Says” mess. If the nonstop city wide action doesn’t help, then Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson’s chemistry definitely does. They work off each other well, whether they’re allies or enemies. Jeremy Irons can’t compete with Alan Rickman, but he comes awfully close. Although it originally had a far less climactic ending, the actual ending is just as explosive as ever. “Yippee-Ki-Yay” indeed. Die Hard with a Vengeance is all about the action.
John McClane and Zeus accept a call
Preceded by: Die Hard 2 & Followed by: Live Free or Die Hard
Die Hard 2 (sometimes with the ridiculous subtitle Die Harder) takes all the action to an airport. Yet again taking place near Christmas. Detective John McClane proves to be the unluckiest guy in the world when he once again faces a terrorist situation in a confined space. Just like Home Alone, it’s a bit hard to believe that something like that would happen two times in a row. Bruce Willis and all the important characters return as well. His wife, police officer VelJohnson, and even that sleazy reporter. Just like Die Hard, Die Hard 2 is very loosely based on an unrelated book. 58 Minutes is also about a New York City cop trying to stop terrorists at an airport on Christmas Eve. It may sound like it drew inspiration from Die Hard, but it was actually published 1 year before the first movie was released. McClane is waiting at Washington Dulles International Airport for his wife to arrive from L.A. Until a former U.S. Special Forces Colonel hijacks the airport and deactivates their landing systems. In hopes of rescuing a drug lord/dictator. Since his wife is on one of the planes, McClane knows the drill. Even with other cops trying to intervene, he’s the only one who can fight them off one-by-one. It goes without saying that Die Hard 2 isn’t as exciting in an airport. Plus McClane is wearing shoes. The main source of tension actually comes from a blizzard. While the craziest action scene involves McClane escaping an exploding plane in an ejector seat. Die Hard 2 may not hit as hard as before, but there’s more than enough explosions to make up for it. “Yippee-Ki-Yay Mr. Falcon.”
John McClane escapes an explosion
Preceded by: Die Hard & Followed by: Die Hard with a Vengeance
Home Alone 3 is not what anyone was asking for. That’s why I didn’t see it when I was younger. No Macaulay Culkin, no deal. Seeing it all these years later, I’ll at least admit that it wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be. Not that it isn’t far less fun without Kevin and the “Wet Bandits.” Home Alone 3 is now about some kid named Alex. He’s really smart and just the nicest kid you’ll ever meet. Probably the biggest problem with the movie. It’s sickeningly sweet. Which normally wouldn’t be a problem with me, but there’s just no way I buy such a good kid torturing a band of criminals. It made sense with Kevin, because he was just as friendly as he was devious. The threat this time is a group of thieves trying to get a computer chip to a terrorist organization. It ends up in a toy car that’s given to Alex. Alex ends up home alone due to being sick. When his calls to the police fail, he sets traps with the help of a snowstorm and a talking bird. These four criminals barely have a personality and its just not as fun watching them get hurt. It’s not even centered around Christmas. Although it does feature a very young Scarlett Johansson. Probably the only person who liked Home Alone 3 more than the first 2 was Roger Ebert. Who really enjoyed it strangely enough. While I did get a few mild chuckles out of it, Home Alone 3 is just a concept without Kevin to execute it.
Alex eats with his family
Preceded by: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York & Followed by: Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is a serious suspension of disbelief. There’s just no way a family is gonna leave behind their child 2 years in a row. But since Home Alone was so successful, you know it had to be done. So the McCallister’s once again leave Kevin behind through a series of even more unlikely conveniences. Some of which are just lazy. This time the family is taking a trip to Florida where they’re at least able to get Kevin to the airport. Thanks to early 90’s security, Kevin winds up on a flight to New York City. You know the drill. His mom desperately tries to get back to him, meanwhile Kevin is living every child’s dream. Only now his dream is exploring the Big Apple. He checks into The Plaza hotel with a cool recording device where he runs into none other than future President Donald Trump. Even more convenient is that the “Wet Bandits” also happen to be there. Now calling themselves the “Sticky Bandits,” Harry and Marv try to get Kevin after he catches them robbing a toy store. Everything is exactly the same as before. From the traps to the scary looking friendly person. Now a homeless bird lady. Even Kevin using a gangster movie is the same. As far as the traps go, they’ve gotten a lot more sadistic. Kevin literally throws four bricks at Marv. How they’re not dead I’ll never know. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is a lot of the same, but I’d argue it’s just as enjoyable as the first. The director, writer, Macaulay Culkin, the rest of the cast, Christmas theme, and the added bonus of Tim Curry make it work.
Donald Trump gives Kevin directions
Preceded by: Home Alone & Followed by: Home Alone 3
Home Alone is one of the best Christmas movies that has nothing to do with Christmas. It is centered around Christmas, but the plot wouldn’t change too much if you stripped it away. Since Home Alone is really about a kid being left home alone after his parents, siblings, and extended family leave on a trip without him. The inclusion of Christmas just makes the set up work a lot more. For a long time making it the highest grossing Christmas and comedy movie of all time. Although my mom recommended it before, my first introduction to the movie was actually an accident. When my brother and I rented Pirates of the Caribbean at Blockbuster and they mistakenly gave us Home Alone. We didn’t watch it then, but we did watch it later on. Where we were instantly won over by its seasonal charm and slapstick. So I was surprised to learn later on that it wasn’t initially well received. Well fortunately its now been hailed as the Christmas classic that it is. From the youthfully experienced duo of John Hughes and Chris Columbus. And starring up-and-coming 90’s superstar Macaulay Culkin…
Home Alone sees the McCallister family getting ready to take a Christmas trip to France. It’s here that we’re introduced to Kevin McCallister. The greatest Kevin in movie history. Along with being my namesake, he also has a fondness for cheese pizza just like me. I guarantee my mom would shout my name and be just as frantic if she realized she left me somewhere. Although that wouldn’t be too likely since Kevin is only left home alone through a series of unlikely conveniences. The first being Kevin’s large family that includes: his mother, father, 2 brothers, 2 sisters, aunt, uncle, and 6 cousins. Then something needs to go wrong causing Kevin to end up in the attic, his family to oversleep, miscount, rush to the airport, and all before Kevin wakes up. It helps that his family is just a little jerky to him. His older brother Buzz is pretty bad, but I would argue his Uncle Frank is the worst. Not that Kevin is much better. He’s charming and likeable, but more than a little rambunctious. His mom on the other hand, is one of the most determined movie moms ever. While she’s out desperately trying to get back to her son, Kevin is living every child’s dream. Of course the most iconic shot is Kevin trying on his dad’s aftershave and screaming. He also makes lots of noise, eats lots of junk food, goes through his brother’s stuff, and watches violent movies. Like the fake movie Angels with Filthy Souls. That he cleverly uses later to trick the pizza man. But tricks like this are really put to the test when the “Wet Bandits” come a knockin’. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern play Harry and Marv respectively. Bumbling crooks who attempt to rob the McCallister house. Until Kevin shows himself to be more crafty than he looks. Constructing a house of horrors full of dozens of crazy torture devices. Leading to plenty of hilarious moments where the would be robbers practically become cartoon characters. Since this is a kid’s movie, Pesci had to refrain from swearing (much to his chagrin). Home Alone is actually a perfect movie for the season. Christmas is all around and Kevin even goes to church. Where he gets to know the so-called “Old Man Marley.” Home Alone is heartwarming and hilarious all at the same time.
Followed by: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
Lethal Weapon 4 is officially too old for this sh*t. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover’s age finally matches that claim. After four separate installments, it’s a miracle they were able to maintain the same director, cast, crew, tone, and R rating for every movie. Even the lesser known actors who played Murtaugh’s family stayed the same. It’s rare to see that kind of consistency in a long running franchise. LAPD Sergeants Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh are promoted to Captain. Riggs is expecting his first child with Lorna. So Rene Russo doesn’t have much to do except ponder getting married. Meanwhile Murtaugh’s daughter is also pregnant. The father is police Detective Lee Butters (against her father’s wishes). It’s even more obvious this time around that comedy is most important. That’s why Butter’s is played by Chris Rock. Other humorous scenes include the opening where the two are fighting a flamethrower shooting supervillain and Murtaugh strips down to his underwear. As well as Murtaugh finding out about his son-in-law via laughing gas. Action wise, Riggs, Murtaugh, Leo, and Butters investigate a Chinese crime syndicate. Joe Pesci may have been Razzie nominated, but I did like him a bit more near the end. “They f*ck you with cell phones.” Jet Li breaths new life into the aging franchise with his villainous martial arts techniques. Ensuring his success in the American film industry. In the end, the gangs all here and closer than ever. Lethal Weapon 4 sacrifices buddy cop logic, but gains a strong sense of family.
Roger Murtaugh (left) and Martin Riggs (right) on the job
Preceded by: Lethal Weapon 3
Lethal Weapon 3 brings 80’s action into the 90’s. The result is a somewhat less memorable third installment that goes for a bit of a darker tone. Not that the comedy isn’t still present. As well as Mel Gibson and Danny Glover’s winning chemistry. LAPD Sergeants Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh are demoted back to beat cops after a botched bomb defusal. It’s the only time we see the buddy cops dressed in police uniforms. When they earn back their Sergeant status, they’re assigned to investigate a former LAPD officer turned arms dealer. Joining them are Leo Getz and Sergeant Lorna Cole. Joe Pesci is only slightly less annoying than before, but he does try to insert himself into the action. This time he complains that “They f*ck you at hospitals.” Rene Russo is the best new addition to the franchise as Officer Cole. She’s capable of holding her own alongside Riggs. Making her the perfect love interest for him. Their best scene involves them comparing battle scars. Riggs also gets an attack dog as a new companion. Murtaugh is actually left out of most of the action. Since he’s weeks from retirement, selling his house, and is traumatized by the death of his son’s best friend. Whom he shot in self defense. It unfortunately comes at a cost to more Riggs and Murtaugh moments. Although the full cast and crew is there, they can’t always hit it out of the park. Lethal Weapon 3 is the highest grossing installment though, so it does count for something.
Roger Murtaugh (left) and Martin Riggs (right) on the job
Preceded by: Lethal Weapon 2 & Followed by: Lethal Weapon 4
Happy Thanksgiving! Smoke Signals is the first movie made by Native Americans for Native Americans. Meaning almost the entire cast and crew was Native American. For that it was recently let into the National Film Registry. Something even the most well known classics haven’t gotten into. The only reason I know about it is because my Freshmen reading teacher showed it in class. I very much enjoyed it as the first modern Native American tale that I saw. Although they refer to themselves as Indians. Smoke Signals follows two young Indians named Victor Joseph and Thomas Builds-the-Fire. They both live on an Indian Reservation in Idaho. Victor strives to be as stoic as possible. While Thomas is a nerd who honors his heritage by frequently telling stories. He was rescued as a baby by Victor’s dad in a fire that claimed his parents lives. Thomas idolizes him, but Victor resents his father for leaving due to his abuse and alcoholism. They both take a trip to Arizona in order to retrieve his ashes. Where they have plenty of time to discuss their perceived Indian identities. The primary theme is lying. Something that comes up a lot in the movie. Especially in Thomas’ overly exaggerated stories. Smoke Signals is full of great Native American performers. Like a young Adam Beach or Pocahontas herself Irene Bedard. I found the unique cultural perspective of Smoke Signals to be the best part. Better since I have some Native ancestry on my mother’s side. Smoke Signals is a story worth telling.
Thomas (foreground) travels with Victor (background)
Stephen King’s It is the 3 hour & 12 minute long miniseries based on the 1,138 page book by famed horror author Stephen King. Although my blog is meant for movies, a miniseries like this walks a thin line between both movie and TV. While originally aired on ABC as a 2 parter, Stephen King’s It has been retroactively released as a straightforward movie. Which I never tried to watch when I was younger. Even though a lot of people my age were terrified of It. Since the fear of clowns is so common. As one of Stephen King’s best stories (with such a vaguely simple title), I knew I needed to check It out. Part 1 takes place in 1960 and is framed with events from the modern day in 1990. Both are a few years later than the book which took place in the 50’s and 80’s. Part 1 is easily the best part because It focuses on the kids. The story takes place in Derry, Maine where an increase in child murder takes place every 30 years. The most notable victim is Georgie. A precocious young child who plays with a paper boat on a rainy day. When his boat floats down a sewer drain, Georgie is greeted by Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Tim Curry is easily the best part of the whole miniseries. He’s both menacing and entertaining. Pennywise became iconic with his white makeup, big red nose, bushy red hair, colorful baggy clothes, and unusually large head. Pennywise offers him his boat back with the promise of balloons that all float down there. Georgie’s death is off screen like almost every other death. Since It has a TV-PG rating with a TV budget…
Pennywise waits for Georgie
Stephen King’s It features Stephen King’s most well developed kid group to date. The Losers Club are a group of kids living in Derry who are tormented by visions of Pennywise. Who can either appear as a clown or take on the form of what they fear most. The Losers Club consists of: Bill, Ben, Beverly, Eddie, Richie, Mike, and Stan. Bill is their leader with a bad stutter traumatized by the death of his younger brother Georgie. Ben is the “overweight” new kid. Beverly is the only girl in the group. Eddie is the sick kid with an inhaler. Richie is the self-proclaimed comic relief, Mike is the only black kid in the group. And Stan is their nervous Jewish friend. Each one of them is dealing with some kind of problem. Like the love triangle between Bill, Ben, and Beverly (“Your hair is winter fire”) or bully Henry Bowers and his gang. Pennywise doesn’t so much try to kill the kid’s as he does torment them. Basically tenderizing them with fear. When they work together, the Losers Club is able to defeat It once and for all.. or so they thought. Part 2 is easily the worst part because It focuses on the boring adults. Like the book, the story is framed with an older Mike calling each and every Loser. Telling them that It has returned and they need to honor their oath to kill It for good. All but Stan return to Derry where Pennywise is waiting to torment them. Everyone just sort of mopes around wanting to return to their successful lives. It isn’t until an institutionalized Henry Bowers (controlled by It) escapes to kill them that they try to finish what they started. The final form of It is underwhelming to say the least. Basically a fake looking giant spider-like creature with deadlights underneath. Stephen King’s It has a lot of story to condense even in a 3 hour movie. So some of the weirder elements like a certain turtle, It’s origin, an ancient ritual, or that infamous underaged sex scene were all taken out. While the violence is pretty tame. Most effects are achieved with makeup or stop-motion. Although I later realized I knew more than I thought, Seth Green and Annette O’Toole were the only actors I initially recognized. Save for Tim Curry, the acting can get pretty hammy. Stephen King’s It has the creepy story, but their restrictive choice of platform doesn’t always keep it that way.
Pennywise presents his balloons