Orion Pictures

The Terminator (1984, James Cameron)

I remember The Terminator being a lot better. Even as it started–I think during the first chase sequence (Michael Biehn in the department store)–I thought about the great highway chase sequence at the end. Then, as things went sour during, I kept waiting for that sequence, sure it would bring things around.

But it doesn’t bring things around. It’s short and loud–maybe the only time in the movie Brad Fiedel’s score doesn’t work. The disappointment might also be because Linda Hamilton, during this sequence, goes from waitress who gets picked on by little kids (I guess her restaurant does not reserve the right to refuse service) to the full-on James Cameron super-woman. It’s an inexplicable character change, sort of like her romantic clinging to future stalker Biehn. Where Terminator has the most opportunity for real character development (does Hamilton cling to Biehn because of her previous and frequent rejections?), it doesn’t seem to notice them. It does try to show Biehn’s incapable of having a regular conversation, emotion scarring from the future, but Biehn’s terrible during these scenes. Actually, he’s terrible once he meets up with Hamilton. Before them meeting up, he’s fine… even if he only has two lines.

The first three-quarters (or half) of the movie–before the police station shoot out–is great. It’s some of Cameron’s finest work, just because it shows he can show people walking down the street or going to work. Even if Hamilton and Bess Motta give bad performances, them getting ready for their dates is a good scene. There’s a texture to the film, even if there isn’t one to the screenplay. Cameron’s become so enamored with the fantastic, he seems to have forgotten the effectiveness of the uncanny. It doesn’t take him five or ten years though, by the second half of The Terminator he’s made the transition.

The second part has all the stupid future stuff, the terrible romantic stuff and the unexciting ending (the movie’s really Biehn’s and the protagonist transition to Hamilton fails).

The movie starts so strong–down to Bill Paxton’s moron punk–and doesn’t let up for a long time. Most of the credit goes to Fiedel, the sound designer (The Terminator‘s most interesting, technically, for how Cameron uses sound and music to create mood) and Lance Henriksen and Paul Winfield. Winfield and Henriksen’s bickering cops brings a human element to the film–and real characters, something sorely missing with Hamilton and Biehn–and once they’re out of the story, it’s just a bunch of sci-fi tripe. The reality is gone.

As for Schwarzenegger, he’s fine. Though he’s interchangeable with a model head and a stop motion robot, so I’m not sure the performance is particularly successful.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Cameron; screenplay by Cameron with Gale Anne Hurd, with acknowledgment to the works of Harlan Ellison; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Mark Goldblatt; music by Brad Fiedel; produced by Hurd; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator), Michael Biehn (Kyle Reese), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Paul Winfield (Lieutenant Ed Traxler), Lance Henriksen (Detective Hal Vukovich), Bess Motta (Ginger Ventura), Earl Boen (Dr. Peter Silberman), Rick Rossovich (Matt Buchanan), Dick Miller (Pawnshop Clerk), Shawn Schepps (Nancy), Bruce M. Kerner (Desk Sergeant), Franco Columbu (Future Terminator), Bill Paxton (Punk Leader), Brad Rearden (Punk) and Brian Thompson (Punk).


Everybody Wins (1990, Karel Reisz)

What a weird movie. Debra Winger cannot act. Don’t know exactly why Terms of Endearment worked, but she cannot act. She’s really terrible in this one. Arthur Miller adapted his play, which was from 1982–except it was a one act play. Somewhere in the adaptation, Everybody Wins becomes a ludicrous attempt at a thriller. It’s set in a Connecticut town, which looks a lot like Pennsylvania in the film, and Reisz gives the setting absolutely no personality.

Winger convinces Nick Nolte to investigate a case, except she’s a total flake and doesn’t tell him anything about the case until the last fifteen minutes. So, right away, it’s unbelievable for Nolte, playing a renowned investigator, would put up with Winger. Most of their scenes involve her hiding something from him, but he sticks around… because if he left, it’d be a one act movie. Will Patton shows up for a bit and he’s fine. He and Nolte have an interesting relationship for a few scenes. Poor Jack Warden stuck in a nothing role, just to pop in whenever you’ve forgotten he’s in the movie.

It’s not really a case of the film being predictable, but once some of the clues come out, it’s unbelievable Nolte the investigator wouldn’t piece anything together. Except he pieces absolutely nothing together–in the entire film–which dismisses it as a mystery or detective film. There’s no real jeopardy involved, so it’s not a thriller either. Winger’s so terrible it’s not a romance. The film’s only interesting with Nolte and Patton and Nolte and Judith Ivey, who plays his sister (the character’s got an interesting history, but none of it, apparently, gets to come through in the film).

I’ve seen Reisz and Nolte’s other collaboration, Who’ll Stop the Rain, and I guess Everybody Wins is better. Everybody Wins is shorter and, for the first half, it’s just boring, not particularly bad. In fact, I think some of the beginning might even be good. Nolte does a good job, but it’s definitely one of his autopilot performances. Reisz has some good moments (just can’t make the setting stick until the end, when it’s too late to fix the film). There’s even homage to Who’ll Stop the Rain, which I can’t believe anyone would pick up on, but who knows, maybe there’s somebody else out there going through all of MGM’s Nick Nolte releases too.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Karel Reisz; screenplay by Arthur Miller; director of photography, Ian Blake; edited by John Bloom; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Peter Larkin; produced by Jeremy Thomas; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Debra Winger (Angela Crispini), Nick Nolte (Tom O’Toole), Will Patton (Jerry), Judith Ivey (Connie), Kathleen Wilhoite (Amy), Jack Warden (Judge Harry Murdoch), Frank Converse (Charlie Haggerty) and Frank Military (Felix).


Scroll to Top