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David Hines [userpic]

movies revisited: TRUE LIES

June 7th, 2009 (10:29 am)
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I watched TRUE LIES over at Ash and Denise's house last night, and it was an interesting experience. I hadn't seen the movie in years -- maybe eight or ten. It's interesting to me to see how my perspective on stories and characterization has evolved over the years; TRUE LIES is a quite different experience for me now than I remember it being on first, or subsequent viewings.

I don't think I ever realized how absolutely incredible Jamie Lee Curtis's acting is in the movie. (Her topless scene in TRADING PLACES was a formative mark on my young sex drive, so when I was eighteen the movie was all about OMG SHE DANCES SEXY IN HER UNDERWEAR AND ARNOLD KILLS GUYS.) But she's absolutely amazing. The sequence in the mirrored room, where she's interrogated by parties unknown to her, is extraordinarily grotesque from a human-relationships point-of-view; Helen Tasker's husband Harry (Arnold Schwarzenegger), whom she does not know is a superspy, has pulled a full-out knockdown raid on her, complete with shaped charges and men in body armor, because he suspects her of having an affair. (I had forgotten that Helen actually gets *hit on the head with a rifle butt* during that raid, after she shows enough cojones to fight and try to run for it.) Harry interrogates her using a voice-changer. It's a really horrible scene, and Helen is so likable that it's even worse. But Curtis transitions through a zillion absolutely believable emotions in that scene, and she's so good that you almost forget to be totally horrified. Because it's a ghastly situation, but OMG does she sell it. Jamie Lee Curtis plays Helen Tasker as a real person reacting to horrible things in a funny way, and even when you're supposed to laugh at Helen for her awkwardness Curtis plays it as a *human* awkwardness. She doesn't go over-the-top with it, and that's pretty impressive considering some of the things Cameron's script has her doing. (Consider the scene where she tries to fire a full-auto, gets her ass kicked by recoil, and drops the gun, whereupon it falls down the stairs and kills a shitload of bad guys. That's an invitation for us to laugh at Helen. It's not a sympathetic script moment. Curtis has a tough line to walk with her reaction, and she does it amazingly; she makes her cringing, mugging reaction funny, but doesn't overdo it. The script makes Helen look bad, but the actress makes her look human.) Curtis plays Helen as a real person, with real reactions, who's had the misfortune to get stuck in an over-the-top action movie.

By contrast, Arnold's Harry Tasker is the most colossal ass in the history of Arnold roles. I think part of this is because Arnold Schwarzenegger is playing him: the bit where Harry goes off the rails and starts ordering Helen's phone be tapped and lining up a no-knock raid needs to be horrifyingly funny if it's going to play as anything other than grotesque. The audience needs to see that Harry is going totally off the rails, and be appalled -- laughing in horror, rather than sympathetically. The problem is that Arnold playing off-the-rails is exactly the same as Arnold playing hard-charging hero. (The Governator does have one very good acting bit, when he initially comes to suspect the affair; he walks along numbly and slowly, almost getting hit by a bus, and it's a little surprising how affecting it is to see Arnold in a state of almost believable vulnerability. Enjoy it, because it's gone shortly, and he's back to kicking ass.) Also, Schwarzenegger is famously narcissistic (witness even his political career, where he started trying to grab power for himself to cut California's budget; when he failed, he turned around and started spending spending spending so people would like him), so that trait probably handicaps his ability to effect the role: he can't play Harry's reaction as horrible, because to him it isn't; he enjoys Harry's flaunting of horrifying power, and plays it in a way that he expects the audience to enjoy it, too. It's more than a little disturbing.

Also: the stuntwork on the movie is even more amazing than I remembered. That money sequence, with the limo and helicopter? WOW. Farking incredible work by everyone involved, especially the helicopter pilot.

Comments

Posted by: stalkere (stalkere)
Posted at: June 7th, 2009 06:25 pm (UTC)

This movie is one of my favorite comedies of all time, and "Commando" is another contender for that.
As action-adventure goes, I'd classify it as a Satire, or a Comedy.
Harry Trasker is a study in "Power corrupts and absolute power is...pretty neat"
What guy wouldn't want to have access to those kinds of resources if you suspected your spouse of cheating?
The action is totally off the rails - I have to just sit back and go with it, because it's all so over-the-top unbelievable.

Although the "Arabs that can't shoot for shit" schtick is now on the edge of believeable, after I got into a few firefights in Iraq.

Posted by: trinfaneb (trinfaneb)
Posted at: June 7th, 2009 09:37 pm (UTC)

I like the movie more now than when it first came out. At first I was disappointed that it wasn't more serious like previous Cameron movies and I was mad that Curtis got treated so bad in the interrogation scene. But as the years have gone by, I'm able to see the movie as an action-comedy and like David said, Curtis' performance wins me over and helps me get past the icky bits. Plus now I get a kick out of seeing a young Faith she got kidnapped, brainwiped, and activated as a Slayer :)

"Arabs that can't shoot for shit" is one of John Ringo's pet themes. He takes the view that its a cultural thing because they learn spray n'pray from the hip shooting rather than careful marksmanship, if they do in fact get any weapon training at all. I also think the fact that they use AK's and other less accurate weapons has alot to do with this too. I wonder if Cameron was deliberately playing with this stereotype in the movie or if the plot just demanded bad guys with the aim of storm troopers.

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: June 7th, 2009 09:56 pm (UTC)
plane

Trivia note: Faisal II, the last king of Iraq, was a serious gun enthusiast. Not long before his death, he was the subject of a puff piece in GUNS magazine, stateside.

A lot of third-world guerrilla armies are not very good on the whole "aimed fire" thing. Cheap Chinese or Russian or local ammo, poor training, lots of young guys hopped up on testosterone and whatever drugs they give 'em, and often higher-ups who find martyrdom of their men a useful recruiting tool so don't worry if they get killed off. I'm sure you've seen the Liberian civil war pics, often posted online with racist jokes attached, of those guys who're more interested in posing in interesting ways than they are on actually hitting anything.

I will say, all issues of stereotyping aside, that the bad guys in TRUE LIES were better marksmen by *miles* than the guys in COMMANDO.

Posted by: pokeyburro (pokeyburro)
Posted at: June 8th, 2009 06:04 pm (UTC)

When I first saw True Lies, my dad was watching it as well. He was a huge gun enthusiast; knew everything there was to know about them (he would later become certified as a concealed carry instructor), including how hard it would be to hit a target Y behind cover Z with gun X.

There was a scene where Tom Arnold chases the bad guy down a street, when the bad guy turns and unloads a full auto cartridge on him. Tom hides behind the only cover available: a lamp post maybe a fifth as wide as Tom. We see sparks fly off the post; moments later, Tom is unharmed, yet still cautious. My dad and I both busted out laughing at how ludicrous this was. It was the laugh of knowing it, and knowing that the director knew it, and was telling us not to take it so damn seriously. Indeed, it just went on from there. We both had a blast.

Contrast this with the new Star Trek. Both movies feature military organizations; one presents unbelievable situations with an air of seriousness (Kirk's ascent to command the ship), and looks worse for it; the other features the "Omega Sector" (!!!), a nuke-lit kiss scene, and government-sanctioned property damage with a VTOL, and emerges relatively unscathed.

I wish to hell they'd made a sequel.

Posted by: Sinanju (sinanju)
Posted at: June 7th, 2009 07:47 pm (UTC)

I enjoyed that movie a lot, and own it on DVD. Yes, Jamie Lee Curtis did a wonderful job. I liked Arnold too, though you're right about his characterization. But one of the things I liked about the film was Tom Arnold.

This movie was proof that James Cameron can get a winning performance out of anyone. Tom was there as comic relief but, again, it wasn't over the top. And the occasional human moments were gold. Like when Harry's learned (he thinks) that Helen is having an affair and nearly gets hit by the bus. Tom's character is joking and teasing until Arnold bellows "Stop trying to cheer me up!"

At which point, Tom drops the clown act, and asks his close friend--very seriously--"What did you expect, Harry? Helen's a flesh and blood woman and you're never there." I never thought I'd like Tom Arnold in anything I watched, but this was great.

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: June 7th, 2009 09:58 pm (UTC)

Yeah, that was probably Tom Arnold's best role. He was a jackass, but he was a pretty funny jackass.

And Bill Paxton was *amazingly* slimy as the used car salesman.

Posted by: Sinanju (sinanju)
Posted at: June 7th, 2009 10:34 pm (UTC)

Yeah. Bill Paxton makes a great slimy bad guy.

I have a piece of fanfiction in the back of my mind (that I'll probably never get around to writing) in which we discover that "Simon" is actually Bill's character from Big Love trying to make his way in the world after getting thrown out of the compound by his family and before he returns to Utah (and the church) and starts his own business. (I'd have to screw with the timeline some to make it work, but what the hell.)

So Bill's in his office at Home Plus when he hears a very familiar Austrian accent from the next room. Harry Tasker has come to Bill to get some help. There's a little blackmail involved (nobody knows about the year or two in which he was "Simon" the sleazy used car salesman and pussy hound), but Bill's matured too, so he's not the pants-wetting weenie he was then either.

Posted by: Greetings Fellow Comstoks! (fengi)
Posted at: June 8th, 2009 04:42 am (UTC)

I think it's made worse by the presence of Tom Arnold as Harry's pal, who plays every misogynist line he's given with such utter relish it throws a harsh light on how utterly disturbing this movie really is. I mean, I doubt any character actor could have salvaged his scenes, but someone less odious may have found something...At that point in his career, James Cameron had dumped Katheryn Bigelow and taken up with Linda Hamilton, and well...he's not what you'd call a decent fellow.

Posted by: HJ (hjcallipygian)
Posted at: June 8th, 2009 02:48 pm (UTC)

I watched that movie recently and I couldn't help but expect their daughter to start kicking everyone's ass at some point. It's, like, ingrained in me now. Eliza Dushku == ass-kicking.

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