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James Cameron (#110 of 26)

Summer of ’91 James Cameron’s Terminator 2

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Summer of ’91: James Cameron’s 	Terminator 2: Judgment Day

TriStar Pictures

Summer of ’91: James Cameron’s 	Terminator 2: Judgment Day

James Cameron has built his reputation on being a director who shows audiences something they’ve never seen before, and won’t see delivered with the same artistry and confidence ever again. Twenty-five years after its release, Terminator 2: Judgment Day is still a prime example of that audacity, as both spectacle and a downcast meditation on humanity’s future.

The original Terminator is, itself, a curveball of a film, using hardcore apocalyptic sci-fi as the framework for what is, essentially, a low-budget horror film about two kids running from an emotionless killer. But even compared to wrapping a story about men versus machines around a story not far removed from an average Friday the 13th entry, T2’s opening act plays Boggle with the status quo in ways that may never fly again in high-budget sequel cinema—a lesson Hollywood learned fast just a short year later when Batman Returns and Alien 3 were released. Brave but gentle Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is now a dead-eyed, doomsaying survivalist, locked in a sterile psychiatric hospital after attempting a terrorist attack on a computer factory. Her son, John (Edward Furlong), the heralded savior of the future yet to come, is the archetypical suburban white-kid rebel in a hip-hop shirt who listens to Guns N’ Roses while playing video games at the mall.

Summer of ‘89: The Abyss

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Summer of ’89: The Abyss
Summer of ’89: The Abyss

James Cameron was on Charlie Rose recently to talk about his journey to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Rose asked him about The Abyss, and about the short story he wrote in high school that would later become the basis for the movie. Cameron described it:

It was about scientists who are leaving a submerged base, kind of similar to what I eventually made into the movie. And they’re going down a wall on a dive, deeper and deeper into blackness, and they don’t come back. And the ones that are left behind wonder what happened and go after them. And one after another they keep going into the darkness, and they don’t return. And the last man goes, the last diver goes down to find out what happened to his buddies. And he gets to the point of no return, and his curiosity overwhelms his caution and he keeps going. And that’s how the story ends.

If only the movie could’ve been that simple. Instead, The Abyss is a big-budget, 1980s blockbuster, the plot of which was contorted in order to allow for elaborate set pieces and expensive, state-of-the-art special effects. The story goes: Amid Cold War tensions, an American nuclear submarine crosses paths with a mysterious, underwater, alien spacecraft (which looks a lot like the aboveground alien spacecrafts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Its radar system deactivated due to the UFO’s aura, the sub strikes a reef and crashes to the bottom of the sea, at precisely the same time that a hurricane begins swirling overhead.

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Production Design

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Production Design
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Production Design

In 2010, we asked, “How do you solve a problem like Avatar? How do you hold a fluorescent, floating anemone in your hand? Well, you can’t. Because it exists in hexadecimal code on a hard drive somewhere in Silicon (or is it Uncanny?) Valley.” So we threw our vote to Sherlock Holmes and shook our heads on Oscar night when James Cameron’s Epcot Center diorama was awarded. The lesson? That Gravity, even though it’s the Mission: SPACE to Avatar’s more elaborately designed Universe of Energy: Ellen’s Energy Adventure, shouldn’t be too quickly discounted. Two years earlier, we thought the category would break toward Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood’s Wild West City attraction only to see it (rightfully) lose to Tim Burton’s Broadway-ed Dickens funhouse Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Meaning that the benefits of being a Best Picture frontrunner in this category are negligible. And so we put our money on Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina last year only to see it toppled by the Lincoln Logs of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Meaning that being a politely revered or disliked Best Picture nominee is also negligible.

Summer of ’88: Dead Heat - Public Relations Meltdowns and Zombie Cops

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Dead Heat</em> - Public Relations Meltdowns and Zombie Cops
Summer of ‘88: <em>Dead Heat</em> - Public Relations Meltdowns and Zombie Cops

Believe it or not, there’s an interesting idea lurking inside Dead Heat. It arrives too late to save the viewer, but it should have been the pitch that got this film made. Rather than focus on the one-sentence plot description (“It’s a buddy cop picture where one of the buddies is D-E-D-Dead!”), writer Terry Black should have lead with the reason the machine that reanimates corpses exists. During the climax, mad-scientist Vincent Price explains to his rich investors that his machine will reanimate them after death so they can live forever and screw their heirs out of their inheritance. The machine will also perform maintenance on them so they can look their best, while those greedy bastards they sired wither away and die. “That’s a great idea!” I thought. “This is Death Becomes Her before Death Becomes Her became Death Becomes Her!”

Unfortunately, this development comes out of left field and is quickly discarded in the ensuing climactic carnage. Until this point, the machine was being used to create an indestructible race of jewel thieves. Two of these creatures are seen in the opening of the film, appearing just as a snooty rich woman utters, “I was hoping for a little more suspense.” She’s talking about jewelry, but she’s also echoing the audience’s sentiment. Dead Heat bills itself as a horror-comedy, but it’s not gruesome enough to satisfy gorehounds, and it isn’t intentionally funny at all. It keeps the sad promises offered by the familiar red New World Pictures logo that graced similar ’80s output: sober people with little time on their hands need not apply, as this one’s for bored drunks on lonely Saturday nights.

As the zombie robbers smash and grab, detectives Roger Mortis (Treat Williams) and Doug Bigelow (Joe Piscopo) appear on the scene…along with half the police department. The criminals are shot 40,000 times but will…not…die. Mortis, Bigelow, and their cop brethren respond to this far too calmly. “Maybe they’re on PCP,” says one cop. Nobody thinks to shoot them in the head, though one is blown up by a grenade. “You have the right to remain…disgusting!” says Bigelow to the exploded corpse.

Sinful Cinema Fair Game

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Sinful Cinema: Fair Game
Sinful Cinema: Fair Game

“You wanna watch headline news with me? No? It’s not gonna kill ya.” This is what Miami attorney Kate McQuean (Cindy Crawford) says to her cat just before clicking on the the television, detonating a bomb that leaves pussy and apartment incinerated, and sends Kate soaring over her balcony and into a boat-filled inlet. It’s one of countless bullet-to-the-brain lines in 1995’s Fair Game, a damsel-in-distress disasterpiece that marked Crawford’s big screen debut. Not to be confused with Naomi Watt’s 2010 C.I.A. vehicle, which, by comparison, looks like some kind of espionage classic, this second adaptation of Paula Gosling’s novel (the first being the 1986 Stallone dud Cobra) is the sort of movie that shocks viewers as they learn it’s in no way aiming for camp. When I recently rewatched it at home (yes, I own it), and got to the scene in which Kate seduces a computer store employee who’s “fiddling with his joystick,” my partner did a whip-around from the next room, demanding to know if this movie was for real. “Just wait,” I replied. Kate goes on to tell Adam, the dumbfounded nerd in this technologically ancient flick, that she’s not interested in software, but “hardware,” and that she “was hoping to demo [his] unit.” Granted, this is one of few scenes in the film that, however puerile, is intentionally ironic, but it’s also one of many to highlight Crawford’s outright horrendous acting, which is defined by line readings that seem punctuated by periods. “I’m. out. I’m. gone. I’m. just. going. to. get. away. from. all. of. this!” Kate barks in monotone to Det. Max Kirkpatrick (William Baldwin), the cop who winds up protecting her from a team of Russian assassins. That’s right: Crawford, it turns out, had the jump on the meme generation in regard to “Best. _____. Ever.” accentuation.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions Visual Effects

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Visual Effects

Like Avatar before it, Life of Pi is the kind of Oscar-y prestige pic that also stands as a benchmark for the medium—a whopping widescreen spectacle displaying the latest in CG, 3D, and OMG imagery. Say what you will about David Magee’s boilerplate script, which fumbles religious themes and offers very rusty bookends, but the vast second act of Ang Lee’s boy-and-his-tiger tale is pure cinema on a grand scale, bringing myriad wonders of ones and zeroes to his stranded protagonist. Just as its sheer scope conveys the humbling hugeness of life, the sea provides Lee and his F/X wizards with a great canvas on which to work, leaving ample room for neon-hued whales, flying fish, and a carnivorous island crawling with meerkats. What’s more, all of that comes after the film’s gargantuan inciting incident—the most awesome ship-foundering since James Cameron sunk the Titanic. In short, Life of Pi is, with next to no doubt, your victor in this category, unless some scandal emerges about, say, animal cruelty, toward the scant few animals that weren’t uncannily crafted by digital artists.

The 100 Best Films of the 1990s

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The 100 Best Films of the 1990s
The 100 Best Films of the 1990s

By the current timetable of cultural recycling, pop artifacts tend to look their most dated—no longer fresh and new, but also not yet easily filed as products of their time—roughly 15 to 20 years following their initial conception. That became painfully clear when, and this isn’t to speak for the rest of the Slant writers, I set about the task of re-watching some of the ’90s movies I’ve long considered favorites, and even more so as I finally set about to catch up with some of the other movies my colleagues were endorsing. Beyond the leftover ’80s-hangover effect, there’s also the fact that some of the most beloved and influential ’90s movies helped kick off trends that have, in the years since, curdled into cliché and downright annoyance. Hence, over-familiarity and premature antiquity form a minefield that makes determining the last analog decade’s best films uniquely tricky.