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  • Writer's pictureTrusty Henchman

Have You Ever Seen...

Arena (1989)

This was one of those films that I rented from Blockbuster as a kid again and again because I just loved the monsters. The story is so minimal and dumb that I didn't even care if there was a story, just as long as there were neat aliens then I was happy. I did completely black out on the existence of this film though, and the only reason I remembered this was due to the happenstance of a Youtuber briefly flashing the movie poster in their discussion about the production company Empire Pictures. A quick search soo after and hey I was able to watch the whole film on Youtube.

As mentioned it's a fairly bare bones plot. Humans are a minority considered as weak in the future, and our hero wishes to be a human champion in what is essentially just cross-species MMA. He gets a shot through a quirky sequence of events, gets involved in the underworld and the local mob boss, blah blah blah, he has a wacky four armed sidekick, there's a romance (I guess?), get to the aliens.

Aww yisss that's the good stuff.

Funnily enough, even though that alien gets top billing in the promotional material, he's like the first (and best) fight of the film. The main boxing antagonist is a big cyborg minotaur guy who's pretty decent looking as well. But like seriously, you can see where all the budget really went.

You keep that slimy grasshopper-man moist, fellas. Very important job.

The other thing that's definitely worth mentioning though that gave me a pleasant shock was that the crime lord alien is played by Marc Alaimo (Gul Dukat of Deep Space 9) while his rat-like lackey is played by Armin Shimerman (Quark of DS9). These two BAMFs were doing their evil deeds on space stations a good four years before Star Trek shoved them into the same spotlight. And they are just as great as you would expect them to be, which is a blessing because everyone else in the film is just kinda meh.

So yeah, come for the bad sci-fi but stay for the fun alien design work and duo majesty of Not-Gul Dukat and Not-Quark.



An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997)

1997 me thought this was a lot of fun with some good scenes, but 2022 me is like yikes.

While there are still some positives to the film it also has a lot of baggage. Like, a lot of baggage. I mean, you have to sit through Harvey Weinstein being in the film, and while he isn't in it for long it still makes your skin crawl.

The film is a mocumentary about the worst film ever made. Eric Idle plays director Alan Smithee, who wants his name taken off the film because it was so horribly re-cut by the producers that it bears no semblance to the work he created (which was already crap). They agree, saying they will use the name Alan Smithee because that's the traditional pseudonym used in Hollywood for directors disowning a project. Since that's his actual name, Smithee has a breakdown and just steals the film. Unfortunately the documentary aspect falls apart (as well as the overall narrative structure) as events start to happen in real-time, but are also flashbacks (notably not reenactments), but like....wait. No? What.

If anything the true value of the film is the historical aspect of it causing the Directors Guild of America to officially discontinue use of the Alan Smithee name. And it's not simply because the film brought attention to the pseudonym, but unintentionally went overboard in doing so because the film's actual director Arthur Hiller demanded his name be taken off the film for the exact same reasons that occurred in the film. So Alan Smithee the film is actually credited to Alan Smithee now, and it was not a clever marketing ploy.

Your mileage will vary but it's a unique train wreck and a very odd snapshot of the time period.



Ronin (1998)

Now 1998 me was fairly bored with this film, while 2022 me is like.....well, still kinda bored, but hey it has Jean Reno and Sean Bean.

Bored is probably a bit unfair, and there are a lot of good sequences in the film. I think my issues are that A) I don't really care about DeNiro ( I don't dislike him either, I'm just sort of apathetic), and B) I don't care about cars or car chases. And this is a film that really wants you to care about its car chases. Or at least the one big one at the end, but I've already forgotten like all of it sooooo..........

The plot is fine and not quite as convoluted as critics have complained about, but still convoluted enough with an unnecessary MacGuffin to make you kinda disassociate at times until Jean Reno brings you back into the film with his charm. On that note, the acting is solid throughout because this is such a professional cast, but I will note that for the most part everyone kinda just plays their usual types. Jean Reno just plays that vague ex-government agent/mercenary/killer/hitman you expect because that's just who he tends to play in this era of his career. Which is fine because I'm here for that.

Everything looks great because John Frankenheimer was an amazing director, and the film's various technical aspects are all topnotch. So I would say it's worth a watch and hey if you do really like DeNiro and/or car chases you'll probably really like the film. I'm just sort of out of phase with it, so while I can appreciate it on some levels I also won't really feel much of a need to return to it anytime soon.


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