The Last Days – Chapter IX – End of Days (1999 – Peter Hyams)

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There’s been a strange movement in the past few years to recast Die Hard (1988 – John McTiernan) as a Christmas film.  Now I hate Christmas, but one of the few pleasures of this period is sitting down and watching Trading Places (1983 – John Landis), or trying to figure out how close Serendipity (2001 – Peter Chelsom) is to being a good movie (it’s a long way away – I figure it needs more jokes, better continuity and a complete rewrite of the Kate Beckinsale section) or indulging in any one of Shane Black’s movies.  Why is it that some ordinary films have picked out to be counter-intuitive Christmas films and not others?  Is it just to satisfy the boring opinions of certain men on twitter?  If Die Hard, why not End of Days?

I think it’s because whilst End of Days is set at Christmas, that aspect is placed into the background whist coming to the fore is that other great international celebration… Y2K.  Like there only being four TV channels, smoking in pubs and the popularity of boob tubes, Y2K is one of those strange, alien aspects of the nineties that is almost impossible to explain to a young person nowadays.  But we were genuinely worried that computers would crash and planes would fall out of the sky come New Year’s Day in the year 2000.  The first thing we did after midnight (we hadn’t gone out – New Year’s Eve is always a disappointment) was switch on our computers to see if they were okay.  And then we went back to watch the Queen grumpily mumble along to Auld Lang Syne.  Happy times and places.

* * *

There is nothing quite like the death of a cultural figure to bring out the most asinine reflections of others.  Last year we had to process the pantomime that was everyone you know describing Bowie as profoundly important upon their lives, regardless of whether they’d ever valued him previously.  Cinema is often like that too – witness the sudden appreciation for the widely denigrated Tony Scott after his death.  Movies are vital.  They are better than this garbage world in which we live.  They are beautiful and interesting and capable of giving us insight into the worlds, lives and innermost thoughts of others (this is uncommonly known as ‘wisdom’.)  But one day, those directors you love, those directors who exist outside the canon, your Bernard Roses and Brian Trenchard-Smiths and Lee Daniels and so on, will have fawning, suddenly-appreciative profiles written on those pedestrian websites that pass for film criticism nowadays.  And you will feel like your special thing, the part of you that no one else understood, your cultural mythology has been tainted by other people.

Now Peter Hyams hasn’t died.  Far from it, he’s currently revelling in his tenuous connections to O. J. Simpson in one of those eight-hour self-important documentaries that Netflix produce.  But inevitably, he will die, and suddenly people will talk about a director who they previously ignored, with affected affection.  Hyams isn’t a great director; he’s not even technically that good, such is the needlessly excessive editing technique that hampers some of his latter work (though on my most perverse days I would make the case that he is actively trying to counter the slow cinema movement).  But he has a body of work that is impressive, and has helmed a large number of proficient and enjoyable movies, and in an industry that calls Len Wiseman ‘visionary’, this is a profound achievement.  If we believe in an anti-auterist, anti-canonical cinema, that is based on enjoyment alone, Hyams becomes impossibly important.

Whilst his C.V. is littered with the legal thrillers and buddy cop movies that make up the bread and butter of most workmanlike directors, it his trilogy of sci-fi films that reveal his true talent of nurturing engaging lead performances within grounded, efficacious settings.  In Capricorn One (1977) he confronted the dominant naturalistic acting style of the era (performed by Eliot Gould, Sam Waterston and Hal Holbrook amongst others) against a Saturday morning serial background, and subsequently creates an effective piece of conspiracy theory, that reflects on Kubrick’s possible imagined involvement with a faked Moon landing.  Outland (1981) can be favourably compared with Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), such is the effectiveness of the rotten, run-down production design, but benefits, as most films do, enormously from a genuinely charismatic central performance from Sean Connery.  And 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984) is worthily irreverent to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in its genuine exploration of the banality of bureaucracy and petty squabbles of our species.  It is a more human film than Kubrick’s meditation, and one that benefits from actually having moments of tension in its runtime.

The latter few decades of Hyam’s career have been characterised by a working relationship with Jean-Claude Van Damme.  Timecop (1995) could initially be seen as an attempt to build on the success of Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991 – James Cameron), but its romantic plot links it closer to The Terminator (1984 – James Cameron).  It lacks either movie’s focus however.  Time travel, explosions and accented, muscular leads are all very well and good, but they need to be employed with precision; watching the movie, it is hard to keep track of even which year each scene is set in.  Sudden Impact (1995) is a more focussed affair – a film which employs the Die Hard (1988 – John McTiernan) premise of bombs being planted and hostages being taken in a single location – in this case, the domed Pittsburgh Civic Centre.  The film sees Hyams move closer to the frenetic editing that is observed in End of Days, but also revels in some lush, rich cinematography from Hyams himself.  The success of the film depends on your patience for watching ice hockey matches…

So Hyams was beginning to movie away from his workmanlike background, into a key figure of the nineties action movie scene.  All he needed to do now was work with the biggest star on the planet…

Arnold Schwarzenegger had begun to experience some doubt.  Since Last Action Hero (1993 – John McTiernan) he had starred in his two greatest comedy films (Junior (1994 – Ivan Reitman) and Jingle All the Way (1996 – Brian Levant), a decent action picture (the plane sequence in Eraser (1996 – Chuck Russel) is extraordinary) and a wonderful film that blended the two (True Lies (1994 – James Cameron’s last hurrah).  But the, somewhat unwarranted, reception to his villainous role in Batman & Robin (1997 – Joel Schumacher) was very poor, and he was beginning to experience some health issues.  The Adonis was starting to crumble.  It’s extraordinary to imagine that this box-office behemoth had not even appeared in a movie for two years by the time End of Days came along.  The film almost imagines what has happened to him in the intervening years.

* * *

What’s strange, is that for a man who was one of the last movie stars on the world, one of the final people who was able to get any project produced simply on the value of their surname, Schwarzenegger has been a strangely absent actor.  His health issues in the years prior to End of Days removed him from our screens, a pattern that has continued since; from 2005 – 2011 he did not appear substantially in a single film whilst he focussed on his political career, and even recently, filming has taken a back seat to his one season hosting of The Apprentice.  Schwarzenegger’s appetite has always been voracious; we’ve seen this in his determination to become an action star, then a cinematic icon, then a comedy actor.  Schwarzenegger was always restless.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger in End of Days (1999 – Peter Hyams)

But to the audience of the nineties, his absence was felt.  He had already seen off the Jean-Claudes and Dolphs (the great pretenders) that sought to steal his throne, and his great rivals – Bruce and Sly – were bogged down in their ongoing concern for legitimacy.  Only one potential rival was breaking out – the last movie star: Tom Cruise.  Curiously, End of Days began life as a potential vehicle for Cruise, though it’s hard to imagine that Cruise would have been prepared to personify the damaged recovery required by the role.  End of Days takes the wound of the missing Schwarzenegger and turns it into the text of the film itself.  His character is worn down, exhausted and unable to escape his past.  It was a depth of performance that Schwarzenegger had never demonstrated before.

Arnold has never been widely acclaimed for his acting (lest of all by his co-stars – Emma Thompson is particularly indiscreet on chat shows).  But even if we ignore the truly terrifying horror of his relentless man/machine in The Terminator Schwarzenegger has an enormous capacity for demonstrating sorrow.  His face is lined and creaked with trauma and he is distinctly capable of switching off the light in his eyes.  For an actor who had relied so clearly on his unique charm and charisma in the past, to see a Schwarzenegger lost and self-destructive is genuinely unsettling.  From his opening scenes, we realise that we’re not watching any kind of Schwarzenegger action picture that we’ve ever seen before.

By placing Schwarzenegger (the most inhuman male ever conceived) into the everyman role, the film is forced to re-present him to the audience.  An early scene of his features him blitzing and blending an unholy mix of pizza, alcohol and vegetables into a breakfast smoothie, cleverly lampooning the extreme diets body-building athletes undertake to maintain their physiques.  But for the first time in his career, Schwarzenegger is forced to become a more physical performer.  As an ‘Average Joe’ he is unable to stand around mowing down enemies with large machine guns as is his usual routine.  Instead he lunges at people, and uses his enormous physicality to batter his opponents – even that in itself, the chaos of bodies falling, is a sight we have not seen in a Schwarzenegger picture before.

Schwarzenegger has been no stranger to self-sacrifice as a climax in his pictures, and you can argue that in such a religious movie, the use of a Christ-like (the first ‘suicide as heroism’ narrative) death is necessary.  But Hollywood’s use of suicide is one of its greatest lies; alongside the trope of schizophrenia and psychopathy as charismatic complexes, suicide is regularly presented as a brave act.  The truth is that it is rarely so, and it benefits no one to present it with such nobility.  Then again, if the early Christians rewrote the execution of their leader as an atonement story, why can’t Hollywood do the same…

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Religious imagery in End of Days (1999 – Peter Hyams)

End of Days falls into a peculiar time in the history of Christianity.  It is symptomatic of the religiously-influenced films of the time (count among them The Ninth Gate (1999 – Roman Polanski) and the Keanu Reeves starring The Devil’s Advocate (1997 – Taylor Hackford) that indulges in the most pedestrian of cinematic presentations of Christian iconography to explore the reality of evil.  They present ideas from Christian history with little consideration for the theology behind them – in End of Days the name Thomas Aquinas is presented for no reason other than it is part of the Christian mythology that is likely to familiar to most of the intended audience through cultural osmosis at the very least.  The fact that these films present the Devil as a very ‘real’ threat (a strangely sincere concern for believers) would ensure that the film’s violent and sexual content would be forgiven by the audience.  In the nineties the church was in a state of ‘managing decline’ and the morally uncomplicated presentation of religious ideas would not continue for much longer.  The interlinked rise of religious terrorism, the shift in the church to fundamental Pentecostal theology, and the growing identification of an aggressively antagonistic atheism ensured that religion could never be used as background decoration for plot again.

By the end of the decade, the films of the early nineties have already moved into cultural touchstones.  End of Days is a film enormously influenced by Terminator 2: Judgment Day, not least in its central star, but in the quiet intrusion of CGI villains into a still-physical framework.  Action cinema was not yet at the stage where entire sequences were constructed with PCs, and instead, this burgeoning technology was used to augment very real actors, in very real locations.  Strangely, this seems to ‘date’ the film as much as its quaint presentation of Christianity.  But the film is pioneering in its use of editing; it is one of the first few action films to take on board the MTV music video montage cut and apply it to a narrative.  Hyams was recognising that the audience was growing in its ability to maintain an understanding of physical space across rapid cutting.  It’s not always used judiciously – at one point Hyams employs five different shots just to show Schwarzenegger passing from one railway carriage to another – but it does begin to show the way action cinema was going to go.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robin Tunney in End of Days (1999 – Peter Hyams)

There is a solid construction to the movie, but despite the plethora of iconic deployment (its religious overtones) and destruction (the erosion of Schwarzenegger’s carefully constructed movie star persona), the film is strangely flimsy.  So it just didn’t come together for Hyams; he hadn’t made the film that would propel him into the major leagues.  And had Schwarzenegger been able to convince us that his range was larger than quips and explosions?

* * *

Peter Hyams continued to direct intermittently, though his most significant work in the action genre since remains the two direct-to-video films where he acted as cinematographer for his son John Hyams: Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009) and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012).  Whilst big budget action cinema descended into sloppy CGI-dependant franchises, in the new millennium some of the most exciting action cinema work has been found in the DTV arena.  The fight sequences within these films would stand in opposition to the messy, lazily cobbled-together editing that dominated the mainstream; they consisted of extended brawls, often shot in mid distance using long takes, that showed a clear understanding of physical geography.  They are exhilarating and exhausting, and showed a mature return to the more traditional composition that Hyams employed in End of Days.

Arnold Schwarzenegger continued his work in the action genre, but the directors of James Cameron and Paul Verhoeven’s stature were not available.  He inevitably returned to the franchise that made him a star in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003 – Jonathan Mostow).  It’s a film that is not dreadful, though it limps its way through a near note-for-note re-tread of T2, and defies its own interior logic repeatedly (as the appeal of the film was little more than the presence of Schwarzenegger himself, the T-850 defies develops a form of consciousness that directly counters its programming – Schwarzenegger was too clearly a hero by this stage to be a simple robot).  Realising that perhaps his time was up, Schwarzenegger threw himself into a new challenge, and was elected governor of California.

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Schwarzenegger as a politician.

At the end of this questionably successful period, he wrote his autobiography Total Recall (which is fascinating, largely because how deeply in love he was with his ex-wife at the time of writing) and returned to movies, firstly with the entertainingly nonsensical The Expendables (2010 – Sylvester Stallone) and the subsequent sequels in which he performs on little more than the nostalgic appeal of his iconography.

However, he proceeded to star in a trio of extraordinarily well-crafted action films: The Last Stand (2013 – Kim Jee-Woon), Escape Plan (2013 – Mikael Hafstrom) and Sabotage (2014 – David Ayer).  Schwarzenegger was able to understand that the cinematic landscape had changed since his early retirement and that he could no longer headline the tentpole summer blockbusters.  Instead, he adapted his performance to suit the mid-budget action film level; in each movie, Schwarzenegger is capitalising on his age.  The films feature nuanced performances that reflect the moral ambiguity that can only come from an individual who has operated in the political sphere.  He brought a lifetime of regret to his roles (in that sense End of Days prefigures this attribute), but demonstrated that there was still a cinematic thrill to be felt by Arnold doing what he does best – terminating the oncoming hordes with a giant gun of some form.

But Schwarzenegger was never one to rest on his laurels, and began to push himself even further in his chosen profession, expanding his range even further.  In Maggie (2015 – Henry Hobson) and Aftermath (2017 – Elliot Lester) Schwarzenegger began to perform with a degree of naturalism, shedding the easily caricatured quipping bodybuilder performance that had fuelled his career.  He plays lonely, achingly-compromised individuals in both films, roles that are about as far away from a straightforward hero as possible.  He even quite wonderfully spoke in his native tongue on screen for the first time in Escape Plan.  It’s as if old-age had finally brought a comfort of self to the restless businessman who changed his whole physique to achieve is dreams.

Schwarzenegger is a more influential performer than many in Hollywood care to realise.  Most modern day action stars (generally called Chris something-or-other) imitate his heady mix of violence and one liners.  Male action stars torture themselves to re-sculpt their bodies to something close to the Schwarzenegger ideal through mixture of relentless exercise and boiled chicken dinners seven times a day.  Filming schedules are built around the intensely erotic scenes where they will take their top off, with the actor often dehydrating themselves for days to shed excess water in their bodies.  The effort they expend making themselves appear heroic is extraordinary.  But for Arnold, it never was.  He made it seem easy and he lived his life with a degree of self-aware humour that punctured the sacrificial burden of training and dieting that has dominated his whole life.  He was an inspiration to us as a child; we knew the world was a little safer because he existed, and he is an inspiration nowadays (he wrote in his autobiography about denying yourself the excuse of ‘I have no time’ with twenty-four hours in a day; this article would never have been written without reading those words).

Arnold Schwarzenegger never acted the hero.  He was the hero.

Top Five – James Cameron Films

It’s a little bit perverse to write a Top Five for someone with such a small filmography, but I’ve been thinking about him a lot recently, and James Cameron 1984 – 1994 is one of those great classic, flawless runs of cinema that a few directors have (I’m thinking of Walter Hill 1978 – 1984, John Carpenter 1976 – 1988 etc.)  So something like The Abyss (1989) is only left off this list because of my arbitrary numbering system, and not because of any concerns about its quality.

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  1. Avatar (2009)

The closest precedent we have to Cameron in cinema is the career of Stanley Kubrick.  They’re both detail-obsessed, technically proficient directors who began their careers producing a number of big-budget films before slowing down their output rate.  In the twenty years since Titanic (1997) Cameron has only produced one film.  It is likely that his career will be capped by the now almost mythical Avatar sequels – sequels who have been close to filming for a decade now.  There are mutterings on the internet that these are sequels that nobody wants, and that the cinematic landscape has moved on since Cameron released what was, once again, the most successful film ever made.  But memories are short; these mutterings were happening before True Lies, Titanic and Avatar, and were proved to be incorrect then.  Also, are we really not wanting to see a sequel from the man who made both Aliens and T2?

Which is not to say that the frustrations of Avatar are irrelevant.  It was not a film I liked when I first saw it.  But the achievements of the film have only grown in my mind in the intervening years.  It is an ecologically progressive action adventure story.  It is the pinnacle of one of the main reasons we go to the cinema – for the opportunity to visit other places and peoples and worlds and see things we would not otherwise get to see.  And it is an obsessive masterpiece from a visionary director; the lessons of Avatar (give a director free reign to create something special) were not learnt, and cinema became bogged down in easy, creatively bankrupt, retrospectively 3D’d superhero films.  Their action sequences are incomprehensible and their CGI is lazy.  Avatar’s sequels will become our last stand if we want to have a still vital, interesting populist cinema scene.

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  1. True Lies (1994)

In For Your Eyes Only (1981 – John Glen), Ernst Stavros Blofeld is dropped down a chimney shaft from a helicopter.  In Spectre (2015 – Sam Mendes), he is James Bond’s adoptive brother who has been plotting for years to bring about his downfall.  There is a perception in contemporary cinema that the latter is better; that convoluted cod-psychological origin stories are somehow more interesting than spectacle.  But funny, family-friendly big budget action cinema is essential (of which the Roger Moore Bond films are canonical), and it is increasingly neglected in the cinematic landscape.  Part of the appeal of James Cameron is that he stands in opposition to these prevailing winds.  True Lies has some extremely shabby racial and sexual politics, but is a gloriously entertaining synthesis of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action and comedy careers.

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  1. The Terminator (1984)

When we talk about the great car chases in cinema, we forget to ever talk about the one in The Terminator, largely because it is only one small accomplishment in an exquisitely designed love story that made a ridiculous Austrian bodybuilder the biggest star on the planet.  And it is a love story, regardless of the thrill of the gunfights and apocalyptic futures – one where a man risks his life to travel back in time to meet a woman he fell in love with when he saw her in a photograph.  It is a Vertigo (1958 – Alfred Hitchcock) level of obsession, and one that grounds the film amidst the horror movie thrill of watching innocents flee from an unstoppable killing machine.

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  1. Aliens (1986)

I consider Alien (1979 – Ridley Scott) to be an almost perfect film.  It certainly is one of my favourites.  I have a library of books on the making of the film, posters of it on my wall.  I have bought and rebought the film many times over.  It is quite extraordinary in the way that very few films are.  And every now and then I think of Aliens, and remember a film that is so different and one that satisfies a whole different part of my brain.  How can Alien be so good, when there is a sequel that is just as good, yet in such a different way?

To take on Ridley Scott in his prime and in some ways surpass him is an extraordinary feat, and yet it is just another achievement we can add to a man who has done almost everything.  Here he takes the creeping psychological horror of Alien and transforms it into thrilling spectacle.  Cameron knew that sequels had to have a purpose; for him, they were a chance for his protagonists to return to a site of trauma.  For Ripley, the film is a tunnelling exploration of motherhood; the loss of her own child, destruction of the malevolent mirror image Alien Queen, and eventual adoption of Newt.  Within this journey, she will reject the patriarchal frameworks of industry and military power, and come to peace with the perpetual walking nightmare that seeks to impregnate all.  She will operate alongside a memorably diverse supporting cast, who provide some relief from what would otherwise be an emotionally testing film.  If only all sequels were all like this.

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  1. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

 

After making one of the most astonishing sequels ever made… he went and did it again!  T2 is a wonderful film, that takes the love story of the first film and shifts it into a more mature exploration of a constructed family.  This transfiguration was reflected in the physique of Linda Hamilton.  Cameron has quietly created a body of work where women are strong and capable as many of the men they share the screen with (if not more so!)  And yet, the muscle and attitude protects a woman struggling deeply with trauma – the moment where she sees the T-800 for the first time in 11 years is a moment of almost transcendental horror captured on celluloid.  It is here that we see Schwarzenegger as an icon; an awkward behemoth capable of pummelling through anything in front of him.  For the first time, Cameron was free to revel in spectacle; without boundaries, he crafted a picture of almost relentless drive, where the only possible hope of survival was to keep moving.

The ASIDESTEPS CANON – no Jaws sequels – vol. V

Sequels, prequels and remakes.  One of the greatest pleasures of movie obsession is seeing the films you love reimagined, seeing how different directors bring their own peccadillos to the proceedings.  Remaking movies is as old as cinema itself, so quite why the concept is so frowned upon nowadays, I have no idea.  Anyways.  These are my personal favourites (though it bears underlining that in nearly every case the original movie is superior.)  No Jaws (1975 – Steven Spielberg) sequels though because they’re all terrible.

41. Predator 2 (1990 – Stephen Hopkins)

 

Sequel to Predator (1987 – John McTiernan)

 

Danny Glover does an admirable job anchoring this film given that previously, the only thing capable of defeating the Predator was the epitome of human physicality.  His charisma and ongoing narration colour a darkly claustrophobic viewing experience.  Transforming the implicit danger of the first film where it feels as if the world itself is attacking Schwarzenegger and co., Predator 2 chooses to make its antagonist a much more present and realised threat.  Urban fears are quite different after all.

42. Another 48 Hrs. (1990 – Walter Hill)

 

Sequel to 48 Hrs. (1982 – Walter Hill)

 

Following the original buddy-cop film, Another 48 Hrs. maintains the explicit threat of a highly charismatic black man overwhelming the social order maintained by the white man.  Eddie Murphy would replicate the thrill of this across Beverly Hills Cop (1984 – Martin Brest) and its subsequent sequels, but they lacked the mountainous Caucasian hostility found in Nick Nolte.  The genuinely terrifying interplay between the two releases itself in the laughter of the audience.  It’s the cinematic equivalent of laughing at a funeral for ninety minutes.

 

 43. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991 – James Cameron)

 

Sequel to The Terminator (1984 – James Cameron)

 

Directed by the master of sequels himself, T2 is a hint of the apocalypse itself.  Disaster upon disaster as machinery simultaneously fails and dominated humanity.  The ability to adapt (as homo sapien had to do as it spread across the primitive world) is essential – if only to compete with the fluid, mutative T-1000.  Cameron is obsessed with how the human form will need to change – the machine hybridisation of these films will be superseded with the virtual reality avatars of… um… Avatar (2009).  The moment when Sarah Connor sees the T-800 once again is a moment of sheer, exhilarating terror.

It’s easy to dismiss the non-Cameron sequels, but I find each of them to be engrossing, and each of them feature some grounded action sequences.  They lack that populist touch, that playful approach to chase sequences, and the genuinely therapeutic attitude towards the characters that Cameron brings to each of his films.  Filmmaking is only worthwhile if it’s obsessive.

 

 44. Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990 – Renny Harlin)

 

Sequel to Die Hard (1988 – John McTiernan)

 

Appealingly throwing John McClane into the plot of another pulp paperback, Die Hard 2 plays upon the overwhelming and occasionally baffling geography of an airport.  Films often operate within identifiable landmarks, but the real appeal is when we get to see behind those doors we’re not allowed to step across.  Real appeal is also found in very big explosions, of which this film has many.

45. Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995 – John McTiernan)

 

Third in the Die Hard series

 

For years Samuel L. Jackson popped up in supporting roles in movies (he’s much older than you think), but by the mid-nineties he was becoming the main appeal of many films, and was best used when he was presented as a disruptive force.  Film with an appealing widescreen sense of scale by McTiernan, this third entry seeks to present a highly cinematic New York as defined a location as the skyscraper and airport of the previous entries.  It’s not entirely successful in this regard, but it maintains a sense of momentum the pummels the film along.

We won’t talk about the subsequent films in the series that followed.

 

 46. Lethal Weapon 3 (1992 – Richard Donner)

 

Third in the Lethal Weapon series

The Lethal Weapon series is one of rapidly diminishing returns as the rough edges of the first film (particularly in regard to Riggs) are sanded down.  But the films have a unique approach to sound design as Donner places babbling, seemingly improvised dialogue low in the mix against effects and music.  The series ultimately benefitted from the addition of the manic energy of Joe Pesci, but it would have been preferable if he had brought some of the sense of danger that he brought to other roles – ultimately, the films had become just a little too safe at this point.

47. Rocky III (1982 – Sylvester Stallone)

 

Third in the Rocky series

It’s extraordinary to think of the achievement made by Stallone in the production of this film – leading a huge cast & crew, setting up multiple cameras and getting hit repeatedly by Mr. T. whilst at the same time subsisting on only half a dozen egg yolks and burnt toast every day.  But’s Stallone’s endearing honesty comes to the forefront as he explores the consequences of a hero beginning to believe his hype and losing himself in the vagaries of fame.  It also explores Stallone’s most conscientious choice of direction – his use of montage.  Here he reduces cinema to its broadest strokes – motion and energy are processed at great speed by the viewer’s mind whilst at the same time the filmmaker maintains absolute control over the unravelling of time.  It amounts to a manipulated sense of fatigue as we gain an understanding of the exhaustion that Balboa feels.

48. Rocky IV (1985 – Sylvester Stallone)

 

Fourth in the Rocky series

Underrated as a writer, Stallone is dedicated to exploring the frailty of the human form and mind – it’s easy to forget that “We fill each other’s gaps,” is the most honest account of the necessity of love ever expressed.  Here, Stallone delves into the weight we sometimes feel, when others project their hopes onto our own lives, and the duty with which we endure this vicarious desire.  Dolph Lundgren remains the most hostile opponent Balboa had to face, and few films capture the bizarre nationalistic hubris that envelops America.

Rocky V (1990 – John G. Avildsen) remains the only film in this series not worth watching; its attempts to pass on to the next generation failing.  The Rocky series depends on the scrutiny of Balboa’s life.

49. Rocky Balboa (2006 – Sylvester Stallone)

 

Sixth in the Rocky series

After some years of experiencing a stagnant film career, Stallone returned to the role that made him – and in turn, cemented Balboa as an almost documentarian character study.  Bereaved, bereft and broken, Balboa has become a shadow, subsisting on stories and faded glories.  Whilst there is a deftness of motion to the fight scenes, the real delight of this film is found in the simple passion of Balboa – no man has ever purely expressed the determination to just keep living in the face of such brutality, brutality that will take everything you love from you.

50. Creed (2015 – Ryan Coogler)

 

Seventh in the Rocky series

Despite its depiction of a determinedly individualistic sport, the Rocky series has always stressed the importance of allowing others into your life.  Creed move the series into new arenas, shifting the series’ focus on the immigrant experience away from the Italian-American to the African-American it depicts the struggle to define identify within a relatively short history.  This shifting of focus is reflected in the incidental music, where the brass of previous entries is mixed with more contemporary beats and rhythms.  And the fight scenes are extraordinary, modern technology allowing them to be seemingly filmed without cuts.  You never give up.  Never give in.

The Last Days – Chapter V – Last Action Hero (1993 – John McTiernan)

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I’m nine years old and in my favourite place in the world – the toy section of the Petts Wood Woolworths.  Scattered in amongst the rows of toys I know and love – Mighty Max, Monsters in my Pocket – are unfamiliar action figures.  I know I will never be able to buy these, my mum will never allow them in the house due to some arbitrary religious declaration of toy morality.  If I’m lucky, I may get to play with them one day at a friend’s house.  My only knowledge of Ghostbusters (1984) comes from other people’s playthings.

Continue reading “The Last Days – Chapter V – Last Action Hero (1993 – John McTiernan)”

The Last Days – Chapter II – Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991 – James Cameron)

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For seven years the money sat waiting to be taken.  It’s unimaginable today that a successful film failed to be followed up for seven years.  In a world where sequels can follow annually, that they took the time for James Cameron to be ready is extraordinary.

James Cameron has waited seven years (and counting) to shoot a sequel to Avatar (2009).

Continue reading “The Last Days – Chapter II – Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991 – James Cameron)”