#338. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Perhaps one of the most recognizable action heroes of all time, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a man of many talents. Of course, these skills usually evolve over time. From his days as an award-winning bodybuilder, he used this physique to enter the realm of Hollywood and portray other, similarly-built characters. From his first role in 1969 as Hercules in Hercules in New York, his muscles and accented speech patterns have defined his acting career. Once he became older, and his muscle-bound machismo didn’t fit in the action movies anymore, he turned to politics, becoming the governor of California and holding that position for almost a decade. Despite somewhat moving on from acting in films, he still occasionally appears in them, albeit as a bit of a parody of his previous performances. This week’s two films highlight some of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best roles.

True LiesTrue Lies
Year: 1994
Rating: R
Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours

While most of Schwarzenegger’s roles have been in action films, he has actually done quite a few comedies as well. Often, these comedies are combined with some action so the audience can see Schwarzenegger in his element. For the better part of the 1980s, Arnold’s roles were strictly in the “tough guy” category; but by 1988, his on-screen persona was lightened a bit with the release of Twins. At this point in his career, about half of his films were also comedies, including Kindergarten Cop (1990), Junior (1994), and Jingle All the Way (1996). Even the action/comedies of Last Action Hero (1993) and True Lies (1994) fully exploit his ability to poke fun at the action genre. Heck, we could even consider Batman & Robin (1997) comedy, for how laughably bad it was. At any rate, the fusion of comedy and action certainly worked for Arnold, and True Lies is perhaps the epitome of this.

Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a loving husband and father, but what his family doesn’t know is that he is not a computer salesman. Harry Tasker is a secret agent. Therefore, when he misses a birthday party that his wife and daughter planned for him, he loses their respect. He can’t tell them that he was chasing Palestinian terrorists through Washington D.C., so he decides to make it up to his wife by surprising her for lunch the next day. It’s at this point Harry learns Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) is being seduced by a used car salesman pretending to be a secret agent. Using his connections, he scares the con artist out of the picture but also learns Helen is desperate for excitement in her life. They soon both find themselves entangled in the Palestinians’ plot to terrorize Miami. As Helen learns of Harry’s true identity, they must work together to save the day and save their daughter.

PredatorPredator
Year: 1987
Rating: R
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

What’s encouraging about Schwarzenegger’s action movies, is that they often aren’t purely “action.” From his role in fantasy films such as Conan in Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer (1984) to his roles in science fiction films like The Terminator (1984), Total Recall (1990), and The 6th Day (2000), Arnold has shown that action has no genre limits. What helps make these action films memorable are the one-liners spoken in his Austrian-accented English. Most of these memorable quotes have come from his roles in the Terminator franchise, but there have been many great lines from other films as well. Sometimes I’ll even get into a Schwarzenegger quote-off with my friends, he’s that quotable. With his muscular physique, he showed how to play a soldier in films like Commando (1985), but he really hit his quotable stride two years later in the sci-fi/action film, Predator (1987).

A military team tasked by the CIA to rescue a hostage in the Val Verde jungle is joined by one of their agents, former Army Colonel George Dillon (Arnold Schwarzenegger). When the team arrives in the jungle, they find their mission is not one of personnel recovery, but information retrieval. Dillon recognizes a team of Special Forces who were brutally killed in a previous attempt to recover the classified information. Arriving at the insurgent camp, the team retrieves the documents but also captures a rebel named Anna (Elpidia Carrillo). As members of the team are killed off by a mysterious creature, Dillon learns it is hunting them for sport. Eventually confronting the alien creature, Dillion manages to incapacitate it but must escape quickly when it activates a thermonuclear device; yelling for Anna to “Get to the choppa!” they both narrowly escape the blast via the extraction helicopter.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 awesome Arnold Schwarzenegger roles

Bacon #: 2 (Commando / Bill Paxton -> Apollo 13 / Kevin Bacon)

#334. Amnesia

What were we talking about? Oh yes, amnesia. While this trope is usually associated with soap operas, it has been used in a variety of diverse formats and for a variety of different reasons. Sometimes the effect can be used for humorous purposes, much like the plot of 50 First Dates (2004). More often than not, amnesia is used to make the protagonist more relatable to the audience. Everything the main character re-learns is new information to the audience. In fact, this trope is typically used to not only provide lengthy exposition but to also give the plot a good twist at the end. If anything, amnesia can make characters more dynamic: acting one way as they regain their memories, then having to make the decision to either revert to their former life or pick up their new one once they learn the truth. This week’s two films highlight amnesia as a plot device.

UnknownUnknown
Year: 2006
Rating: PG-13
Length: 85 minutes /  1.42 hours

The largest appeal of amnesia as a plot device is the erasure of any memories the main character would have that would bias their decision-making process. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000). The little hints the main character gives himself to avenge his wife’s death only act to propel him into an unintentional bias that drives him to vengeance. While Memento covers a medical condition, temporary amnesia has its uses as a plot device as well. When key memories fall into place for temporary amnesiacs, the plot is driven forward by the exciting revelations. Films like Total Recall (1990) and Unknown (2011) hide assassins in plain sight. However, when the entire cast of characters contracts temporary amnesia, figuring out who’s who and each individual’s alliances makes for exceptional drama.

Not to be confused with the Liam Neeson film of the same name, Unknown (2006) starts with a group of men regaining consciousness and trying to figure out why they’re locked in an abandoned warehouse. They also need to deduce why one of them was tied up, another shot, and why the rest of them have other, various injuries. Slowly, they begin to piece together that they are part of a failed kidnapping due to an accidental chemical leak that put them in a temporary coma and erased their memories. As their memories return, each individual realizes they’re either a kidnapper or the kidnapped. When the mafia returns to unlock the warehouse, they proceed to eliminate the witnesses, not knowing that one of the individuals has just remembered his actual job: acting as an undercover cop to infiltrate the mob.

The Bourne IdentityThe Bourne Identity
Year: 2002
Rating: PG-13
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

Memories are the moments that define our lives. We are who we are via the collected memories of our lives. These memories shape us and inform our decisions in life. If memories are erased, an individual can be molded into almost anyone. If a government can erase memories, they can create docile and obedient soldiers, much like was seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). Of course, memories are much easier to erase when they’re part of a cybernetic interface. Films like Robocop (1987) and Ghost in the Shell (2017) show this digital memory erasure still comes with some problems, though. But what if a well-trained super soldier loses their memories? Would they continue to call upon their ingrained training, being able to perform all their duties without knowing how they got that way? Would they continue to kill without knowing why?

After an unidentified man is found floating in the Mediterranean by some local fishermen, he only has one clue to his identity: a safe deposit box in Switzerland. While he doesn’t know who he is, he does retain a plethora of useful skills. Opening the box in Zurich, the man learns he has multiple cover identities and opts to use the one of Jason Bourne (Matt Damon). Unfortunately, his presence is soon identified, and he has to run away, mostly unsure why he is being chased. As he comes in contact with more people from his past, Bourne learns he was a highly-trained assassin and part of Operation Treadstone. Because he carries no memories of his time as a CIA black ops operative, he decides he’s better off cutting ties with Treadstone. Unfortunately, Treadstone does not want to lose an asset as valuable as Jason Bourne and will fight him to bring him back into the program.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 awesome amnesias

#249. Paul Verhoeven

There are quite a few directors who are known for their excessive and gratuitous use of sex and violence. Directors like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese have been accused of pushing the envelope on these fronts time and time again. With a string of violent movies such as Pulp Fiction (1995), Kill Bill (2003), and Inglorious Basterds (2009), Quentin Tarantino might be the go-to for gratuitous gore. However, equally violent and full of vulgar language and sex, we have Raging Bull (1980), The Departed (2006), and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), giving Martin Scorsese an equal claim to the title. That being said, these two directors use these controversial elements artistically. Paul Verhoeven, on the other hand, is essentially known for creating films that had sex and violence for the sake of sex and violence. This week’s two films highlight some of Paul Verhoeven’s best works.

Total RecallTotal Recall
Year: 1990
Rating: R
Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours

By 1990, Verhoeven had established himself in the American film industry. With some over-the-top 1980s action behind him, it was easy for Verhoeven to continue on into the next decade with the same style that served him well before. Of course, this violent style was used again in 1997’s Starship Troopers, but before then, he had two films that went over-the-top on their sexual nature as compared to their violent gore. While Basic Instinct (1992) was well received by critics, Showgirls (1995) was critically panned, even earning him the designation of the first director to actually accept his Golden Raspberry award for the film. Ironically enough, even though Verhoeven is very well known for his science fiction films, also including Hollow Man (2000), he has stated that he does not particularly care for the genre. This is unfortunate because Total Recall (1990) is an excellent adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story.

Set almost 70 years in the future (from today, not from 1990), Total Recall follows Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a construction worker who keeps having nightmares of his vacuum-induced death on Mars. To help him cope with these dreams, he goes to Rekall to have a Martian vacation implanted in his brain. When they offer to sweeten the deal by making his dream about being a secret agent on Mars, he accepts. Unfortunately, the procedure fails and Quaid thinks and acts like a secret agent. That is until his supposed wife tries to kill him. Next, his best friend seems to be an undercover agent as well, which prompts Quaid to head to Mars to solve the problem that his former self needs to be resolved. Once there, he becomes entangled in an uprising between the natives and Cohaagen (Ronny Cox), a corporate bad guy who is keeping everyone under the thumb of his mining industry.

RobocopRobocop
Year: 1987
Rating: R
Length: 102 minutes / 1.7 hours

I have a theory that in the early 2010s somebody in Hollywood found an old box of 1980s VHS tapes in their parents’ basement and decided “we need to remake some of these films.” There’s no other reason why such iconic movies like Total Recall and Robocop (1987) would get remakes in 2012 and 2014, respectively. These original films used some of the best special effects to date and were Verhoeven’s entrance into American movies. Before his first American film, Flesh & Blood (1985), Verhoeven directed several films in his native Netherlands. Perhaps the most notable of these foreign films was that of Turkish Delight (1973), which actually earned the Best Foreign Film Oscar for that year. And while his American films slightly outnumber his native ones, they all have a distinctively Verhoeven style to them.

Only 13 years in the future (again, from 2016, not 1987), Detroit is out of money but still has a severe crime problem. As a result, the police force is privatized and is now run by Omni Consumer Products (OCP). After an enforcement droid kills an OCP board member during a demonstration, the experimental “RoboCop” program is initiated. However, for the program to work, they need someone to volunteer to be turned into a cyborg. As it just so happens, Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is on death’s door after he’s brutally shot by a group of men led by crime lord Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith). The only way to save Murphy is to fix his body with robotic parts. While this new RoboCop successfully reduces crime in the city, the human element of Murphy’s mind still struggles with his tragic “death” and longs to avenge his former life.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 perfect Paul Verhoeven pieces

Bacon #: 2 (Robocop / Mark Edward Walters -> JFK / Kevin Bacon)

#248. Erased Memories

We all have memories we want to forget. Whether it’s the trauma of abuse from our youth or the stupid thing we said in an important meeting, everyone longs for a simple solution to erase our memories. Memory is such a fickle element of our minds, but it is usually driven by emotions. We are more likely to recall happy memories of a summer day when we smell a sun-drenched field. We are more likely to recall a hurtful breakup when a special song plays on the radio. We are more likely to recall an embarrassing firing when we see a particular business’ building. While just removing the stimulus for these memories is one way to help us forget, the underlying emotions still linger. As scientists research methods of restoring the memories of Alzheimer patients, nobody is performing the corollary research to help people forget. This week’s two films look at the repercussions of erasing one’s memories.

                                      Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Year: 2004
Rating: R
Length: 108 minutes / 1.8 hours

One of the most emotional times of a person’s life is during a relationship. There are the highs of the original infatuation, lingering thoughts, and spontaneous romance, but there are also the lows of disagreements, fights, and (sometimes) an eventual break-up. Needless to say, a break-up is one of the most depressing events that can happen in a person’s life (right up there with losing a job). Because the ending of a relationship is such a difficult set of emotions to deal with, all the previous, enjoyable emotions and memories are spoiled by the eventual split. We tend to associate songs, places, and items to our relationships that would otherwise have no emotional link in our lives. In removing our memories of these things, we can completely forget the relationship, were it not for the gaping hole in our heart that is still left behind.

Lacuna, Inc. is a firm based in New York City that can remove memories from a person’s brain. The main application of Lacuna’s technology is to remove memories of relationships. After Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet) had her memories erased, Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) followed suit, undergoing the procedure after he learned she erased the memories of their time together. While in his subconscious, Joel attempts to save the good memories of the relationship, while having the bad memories fade away. Of course, Lacuna, Inc. is not above reproach in these procedures, their many employees using the technology to establish relationships with clients and erase their own infidelities. One of the employees learns about this and manages to steal these reports and disseminates them to all of Lacuna’s clients, giving them a second chance to decide their own fate.

Total RecallTotal Recall
Year: 1990
Rating: R
Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours

Because neural science is such a delicate field of medicine, little can be done to restore or erase memories. Granted, erasing memories can be easily achieved by blunt head trauma, but restoring them is a bit trickier. Perhaps this is why the idea of erasing and restoring memories is such a good topic for science fiction. Philip K. Dick has two short stories that deal with targeted memory erasure (like in Paycheck (2003)) and targeted memory restoration (like in Total Recall (1990)). Of course, the memory restoration in Total Recall is merely an accident, as the true ability of Rekall’s equipment is to implant false memories into a person’s mind to make them think they had actually done something they never had. Restoring true memories to a person’s mind is much more difficult, mostly due to the numerous variables at play when a memory is created (like in Inception (2010)).

Unlike Lacuna, Inc., Rekall is a company that implants memories of relaxing vacations into its clients’ minds. Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is an unassuming working-man who decides to get the procedure to satisfy his dreams of going to Mars. When the technician encounters a problem, Rekall erases the memories of Quaid’s visit to their facility. However, upon being attacked on his way home, Quaid finds the “secret agent” memories that were supposedly part of his Rekall vacation are still in his mind. In reality, he was a secret agent all along, but the memories of his job were erased after he was no longer needed. Now that his secret agent abilities have been reawakened, Quaid proceeds to take a trip to Mars to fulfill the dreams that had haunted him and provoked him to visit Rekall in the first place.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 missing memories

#161. Philip K. Dick

If there were one author who could spawn some of the greatest stories ever written, it would be Philip K. Dick. This prolific writer wrote almost 50 novels and nearly three times as many short stories in his 30-year career. Even though his life was cut short at 53 due to a stroke, his influence and stories have taken on a new life on the silver screen. In fact, only a few months after his death, the most celebrated of all film adaptations of his works was released: Blade Runner (1982). This first adaptation of the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? paved the way for many other adaptations, even if some of them weren’t as critically acclaimed as Blade Runner. This week, we will examine two films adapted from the prolific works of Philip K. Dick, extending his legacy out decades past his untimely death.

PaycheckPaycheck
Year: 2003
Rating: PG-13
Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours

One of the many themes we see through Dick’s writings is that of the mind. Even though we often consider our memories to be “truth,” we can usually be mistaken based on many factors including our perception of a situation in hindsight. If our memories can be adjusted due to a mere suggestion, what’s to say that memories can’t be removed or implanted? For instance, in We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, Dick writes about implanting memories of a lifestyle different from your own, dreary existence. This was adapted in Total Recall (1990 and 2012). Similarly, what if we can “remember” the future? What if knowing what will happen in the next two minutes could save your life? This is the plot of Next (2007), an adaptation loosely based on the short story, The Golden Man. Finally, the short story, Paycheck (2003), seeks to regain erased memories.

The erased memories of Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) aren’t helping him out in the slightest. After a three-year job that was supposed to net him an obscenely large paycheck, he instead receives a smattering of random items with a total value under $5. To add insult to injury, the payroll office tells him that he signed away his fortune to replace it with those items a few weeks ago. Furthermore, the government wants to know what he was working on, which starts a game of cat-and-mouse as Michael evades the FBI and tries to retrace his steps to regain his memories. Along the way, the items he received as payment come in handy during crucial events, allowing him to continue to elude the federal agents and infiltrate the company where he worked for three years. Once he finds the machine he helped build, suddenly the items he gave himself make a lot more sense.

A Scanner DarklyA Scanner Darkly
Year: 2006
Rating: R
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours

A few more themes often seen in the works of Philip K. Dick involve the government controlling our lives, as well as the effects of drugs on society. The adaptation of Minority Report (2002), which was a short story of the same name, shows how criminals can be controlled by a triad of psychics who can predict when and where crimes will happen, thereby allowing law enforcement to intercept the criminals before they commit the crimes. Another short story, The Adjustment Team, was adapted as The Adjustment Bureau (2011). In this story, the government is in control of our lives and will do whatever it takes to make sure we live out our destinies according to their plans. However, perhaps the most harrowing example of governmental control is that of A Scanner Darkly (2006), based on the novel of the same name.

I say that A Scanner Darkly is harrowing because it involves constant government surveillance of American citizens. Sound familiar? Not only is this another take on the surveillance society imagined in George Orwell’s 1984, but the revelations of the NSA spying on Americans makes it almost a prophetic story. Of course, the reasons for the increased surveillance are due to the prevalent spread and use of a hallucinogenic drug known as “Substance D.” Even undercover agents, like “Fred” (Keanu Reeves), have trouble keeping clean from the drug as they try to figure out where it’s coming from. In a bit of irony, “Fred” is tasked to watch the surveillance tapes of a suspected drug lord, Bob Arctor. The irony is that “Fred” and Bob are the same person, even if the drugs have caused him to think otherwise.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 stupendous science fiction stories