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what i've been reading

The modular design allows for the actual reactors to be built off-site at a factory, then transported to the power plant site by boat, rail or even truck. Constructing the major components off-site at a central facility saves both time and money, according to NuScale, and makes feasible an entirely new approach to building nuclear power plants. The modular design also eliminates the need for the massive cooling systems required by traditional nuclear power plants.

-- Glenn McDonald, “A Nuclear Energy Company Wants to Build America’s First Small Modular Reactor

Here’s the big worry. Trump is unhinged and ignorant. Bannon is nuts and malicious. If not supervised by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, their decisions could endanger the world.... Trump’s and Bannon’s version of “America First” is no less dangerous. It is alienating America from the rest of the world, destroying our nation’s moral authority abroad, and risking everything we love about our country. Unsupervised by people who know what they’re doing. Trump and Bannon could also bring the world closer to a nuclear holocaust.

-- Robert Reich, “Trump and Bannon’s 'America First’

Now, as we act in the continuing narrative of Stranger Things, we 1983 mid-westerners will repel bullies, we will shelter freaks and outcasts, those who have no home. We will get past the lies. We will hunt monsters. And when we are at a loss amidst the hypocrisy and the casual violence of certain individuals and institutions, we will, as per Chief Jim Hopper, punch some people in the face when they seek to destroy the meek and the disenfranchised. And we will do it all with soul, with heat, and with joy.

-- David Harbour, SAG Award acceptance speech

What’s at stake isn’t “fake news.” What’s at stake is the increasing capacity of those committed to a form of isolationist and hate-driven tribalism that has been around for a very long time. They have evolved with the information landscape, becoming sophisticated in leveraging whatever tools are available to achieve power, status, and attention. And those seeking a progressive and inclusive agenda, those seeking to combat tribalism to form a more perfect union — they haven’t kept up.

-- Danah Boyd, “The Information War Has Begun

There are so many big, huge things that we are confronting right now. Institutional oppression, injustice, marginalization, discrimination. At the core of all that, before we can form a resistance, one thing I wanted to talk about is just your own self-care. I’m someone who suffers pretty heavily from depression and despair, and it takes me a long time sometimes to get outside of the bubble of melancholy and despondency. I want you to remember, for those of you that suffer either from depression, just from the election, that’s enough, but also chemically, or just are dealing with whatever you are dealing with: remember what it felt like out there today? To be standing among people, to feel people up against you that have your back, to look people in the eyes, to share a smile. And when we go home, it’s not gonna feel like it did today. And so please take care of yourselves, and remember that there are people like me, and people like many of you, who need someone to call them, who need someone to check in, and who need someone to say “let’s do this”. Because we can not have resistance without existence. Please love yourself, and take care of each other. It’s the only way we can move forward.

-- Carrie Brownstein:

oscar run: o.j.: made in america (ezra edelman, 2016)

Nominated for Best Documentary Feature, it played at a few festivals and had a limited run in theaters before airing on ABC/ESPN in five parts, in June. I don’t know for sure, but it feels like this is the first time an ESPN documentary was nominated for an Oscar. TV documentaries have crossed over at times .. my favorite documentary of all time, The Sorrow and the Pity, was made for French TV. But it is shown in theaters, at least in the USA. Made in America runs for almost 8 hours, and so is perfect for viewing on television over multiple days.

It was, and is, impossible to consider this film without also commenting on The People vs. O.J. Simpson, a docudrama series that ran on FX in early 2016, not only because they cover the same ground, but also because they were released so close to each other. The FX series won many Emmy awards, and was seen as retroactively vindicating Marcia Clark, with Sarah Paulson’s portrayal showing the human side of Clark. In general, the focus of the mini-series was on the characters, and it’s an impressive list and an impressive cast.

Made in America takes a different approach. In the FX series, it seems that O.J. was acquitted because his lawyers were smart and the prosecutors kept making mistakes. But the documentary gives a broader cultural context. We watch O.J. go from growing up in the projects in San Francisco, excelling in football, going to USC, winning the Heisman Trophy, moving to Buffalo in the NFL, setting records, winning an MVP award, eventually ending up in the Hall of Fame. All of this, plus his forays into acting and especially his success as a spokesperson, made Simpson one of the most popular and admired of athletes. This sets the stage for his subsequent fall.

Then the documentary steps back to look at current affairs at the time, specifically the relationship between the LAPD and the African-American community, most famously the Rodney King beating and the acquittal of all the officers who were involved. Other events are highlighted, including the murder by cops of Eula Mae Love, which gives an understanding of the negative feelings of many African-Americans to the police, and to the justice system that never seemed to bring justice to black people.

It is this background material that is most revealing in the documentary. The Simpson trial is famous for being interpreted differently by black and white people. Blacks cheered O.J.’s acquittal, whites wondered how he went free considering the evidence. But Made in America shows how Simpson became a symbol for oppression. His dream team of lawyers played that angle, and while the film doesn’t necessarily convince the viewer that O.J. was innocent, it does transfer the primary guilt to the system that had historically worked against African-Americans. You can imagine being on the jury and thinking, “I can’t find this man guilty”.

The irony is that Simpson had lived much of his public life as the black man white people could love. He lived in Brentwood, one of the only blacks in the neighborhood. He was very rich ... he could afford a Dream Team. Once he got off, he went back to playing golf.

None of this mattered. Simpson-as-symbol had beaten the system, Simpson-as-black-man stood in for all the African-Americans who had been screwed over for centuries.

The film goes on to show how Simpson’s life fell apart over the years, but the sections placing his case in a social context remain the core of the film. If you watched The People vs. O.J. Simpson and felt for Marcia Clark, O.J.: Made in America makes you feel for the entire oppressed community of Black Americans.

Neither approach is “right” or “wrong”. The two series illuminate each other. But the documentary will stand as a record of the times, while the mini-series will stand as a dramatic actors’ showcase.

music friday: the 13th annual american music awards, january 27, 1986

The American Music Awards were created by Dick Clark in 1973 when ABC lost the rights to telecast the Grammys. Grammys are chosen by members of the Recording Academy, but the American Music Awards are chosen via public voting. The artist who has won the most AMAs is Michael Jackson with 26.

Huey Lewis and the News won the Favorite Pop/Rock Single and Video for “The Power of Love”, which came from Back to the Future. The song was nominated for an Oscar (they lost to Lionel Richie). The band had their roots in Clover, who released several albums in the 70s, and later backed up Elvis Costello on his first album. As Huey Lewis and the News, they were massively popular in the 80s, selling 30 million records. While their mixture of pop and blues-rock was never a big hit with critics, they remain beloved in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I admit I have a soft spot in my heart for them, as well.

Whitney Houston had a big night at the AMAs. She won Favorite Soul/R&B Single (“You Give Good Love”) and Favorite Soul/R&B Video (“Saving All My Love for You”), while also picking up nominations for Favorite Soul/R&B Female Artist and Video Artist (losing in both categories to Aretha Franklin), along with Favorite Soul/R&B Album (she lost to Kool & the Gang). “Saving All My Love for You” also won a Grammy. Houston is not my personal favorite anything, so this is a rare chance to see her on this blog:

Willie Nelson may have been the leader in the Country Category. He won Favorite Country Male Artist and Favorite Country Single (“Forgiving You Was Easy”), and was a runner-up for Favorite Country Album. Furthermore, he was a member of the supergroup The Highwaymen (consisting of Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson), and they won Favorite Country Band/Duo/Group Video Artist, while “Highwayman” won Favorite Country Video.

sweet/vicious season one

Jennifer Kaytin Robinson was an actress trying to find her way into the business. Her IMDB page lists two acting appearances, a short in 2007 and a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t feature in 2010. In 2014, Robinson, then 26, sold the script for what became Sweet/Vicious. In this world where showrunners reign supreme, it’s interesting to note that Robinson, who created the show and wrote four of the ten episodes, but who had mostly uncredited work behind the scenes, is generally considered the face of the show. Sweet/Vicious is hers.

The series looks cheap. One of the leads, Eliza Bennett, seems to be known a bit in England, but she hadn’t done a whole lot for American audiences. Her co-star, Taylor Dearden, doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page (she shares this oversight with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson). She was in a few shorts, and one web series (also shorts). Her primary claim to fame seems to be that she is Bryan Cranston’s daughter. The show takes place at a fictional college, so most of the main characters are in their early-20s ... the actors are relatively close to the ages they play, so the fact that I didn’t recognize a single one of them may just mean I’m 63 years old. The point is, Sweet/Vicious is a first-time series by a writer in her late-20s, that shows on MTV, with no “stars” in the cast. You are forgiven if you’ve never heard of it.

Sweet/Vicious is easy to summarize, for anyone who is thinking of checking it out. The problem is, the summary tells you nothing about the execution. (This can be said of many works, of course.) I haven’t recommended it to anyone, even though it just finished its first season, if for no other reason than it is built around the kinds of triggers that many people will understandably avoid. For the set-up of Sweet/Vicious is that a rape survivor and her friend become vigilantes, fighting against those who assault women.

And it’s not always a serious drama.

I can not speak for survivors. I can say that Robinson is very careful about the series, that she consciously set out to create a show about women who are broken but also powerful. While the show has its lighter moments, those never come when the subject is assault.

This all sounds cheesy, if not offensive. It is not the latter (it is sometimes cheesy). Two regular young women become ninja vigilantes on an MTV show ... does anyone hear that and think, oh, I have to watch that?

And not everything works. Some episodes are better than others. Some character arcs are more compelling than others. But the performances of these unknown-to-me actors are always on target. And gradually, the show grows on you, the characters grow on you, and you start looking forward to each week’s episode, even though you still have a hard time explaining the show, and so you don’t recommend it.

So this: Sweet/Vicious is an audacious show about a topic that is hidden far too often. It is never exploitative. And while it always returns to the story of survivors, it isn’t particularly preachy.

What effect does it have on the audience? It’s just one person, but I found this anonymous post from a survivor compelling:

The first episode took me close to 4 hours to watch. The second episode, the third… 2 hours. The fourth and the fifth… just an hour and a half. The sixth – I couldn’t finish. The sixth I stopped after Jules confronted her rapist. And I broke down in a puddle of tears – wanting to hug her and hold her and tell her I understood. That I was there for her.

The same way I wanted someone to be there for me....

Sweet/Vicious is one of the most important shows on television nowadays. It’s hard to watch, sure. But it’s those moments – those few hours a week where I watch someone take their life back,  that make me feel less alone. That make me feel as if it’s okay to move forward and heal.

Sweet/Vicious helps me move towards healing. There is no time frame on that. It’s done in moments.

And every week – I have another moment that moves me closer to little parts of me feeling again.

Sweet/Vicious is apparently getting terrible ratings, the worst of any scripted MTV shows. It does do very well in other forms of viewing, like streaming or On Demand. As of this writing, it has not been renewed. Robinson says she has ideas about the next two seasons, if there are more seasons.

The trailer:

And a very intense scene where Jules confronts her attacker:

what i've been reading

Women’s March Edition:

Slavery has just been reinterpreted into the prison system. Blacks are still in shackles and graves just for being black, in front of people who see melanin as animal skin.

Nina Mariah Donovan, “Nasty Woman

And to our detractors that insist this march will never add up to anything, fuck you. Fuck you.

-- Madonna at the D.C Women’s March

We’re a long way from home. Our hearts and spirits are with the hundreds of thousands of women and men that marched yesterday in every city in America. And in Melbourne. We rallied against hate and division and in support of tolerance, inclusion, reproductive rights, civil rights, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, the environment, wage equality, gender equality, health care and immigrant rights. We stand with you. We are the new American resistance.

Bruce Springsteen in Australia

It’s not enough for Democrats to be “against Trump,” and defend the status quo. Democrats have to fight like hell against regressive policies Trump wants to put in place, but Democrats also need to fight for a bold vision of what the nation must achieve – like expanding Social Security, and financing the expansion by raising the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes; Medicare for all; and world-class free public education for all.

-- Robert Reich, “The Life of the Party: 7 Truths for Democrats

Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man.

-- Travis Bickle, Taxi Driver

the magnificent ambersons (orson welles, 1942)

He had his freedom when making his first film, the all-time classic Citizen Kane, but it wasn’t a box office hit, and Welles ended up signing a new contract with RKO that took away final cut rights. The Magnificent Ambersons is a great film, but the loss of the final cut made this, Welles’ second film, to be the first of many Welles movies to be less than they deserved. In this case, RKO famously cut almost an hour from the movie while Welles was in Brazil, then shot and inserted a different ending. (Welles wasn’t the only one who suffered. The great Bernard Herrmann’s score was chopped up so much, Herrmann had his name removed from the credits.)

For a long time, I wondered how The Magnificent Ambersons could be a classic if what we saw was only 2/3 of the intended film. But the part of the movie that belongs to Welles is brilliant, so cry if you wish for what could have been, but don’t deny yourself to experience what we have.

The movie’s look is stunning. Welles switched from Gregg Toland to Stanley Cortez for cinematography, and his contributions are crucial. Cortez’ filmography is remarkable, not only for Ambersons, but for the atmospheric The Night of the Hunter. But in the 60s, his name turns up on movies like Dinosaurus!, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, The Navy vs. the Night Monsters, and They Saved Hitler’s Brain. He got one of only two Oscar nominations in his career for Ambersons.

It is always hard to know where to assign credit in an Orson Welles film. He was a genius who seemingly could do anything. But it isn’t true that all of the good stuff in his movies are due to his direct contribution. No doubt, he had a lot of input into the look of The Magnificent Ambersons, but there is no reason to ignore the work of Cortez.

There is some great acting, as well, especially Agnes Moorehead in a showy role that was right up her alley (she got an Oscar nomination, as well). Moorehead always had the willingness to act up a storm, and some find her over the top here. But I think she is not only appropriate in Ambersons, she is crucial in personifying the breakdown of everything she believed in.

Welles does wonderful things with sound here, as he did in Kane. Coming from radio as he did, that was no surprise. It is one of the saddest aspects of his problems making films in later years that the sound was often the first thing to suffer.

Several of Welles’ Mercury crew are along, and Joseph Cotten is his usual underrated/understated self.

What matters most of all, though, is how successful Welles was at making the movie he wanted to make. His Magnificent Ambersons is a dark tale of change and decay, and for an hour, that’s what we get. But once the studio takes over (and if there isn’t any one point where you know this has happened, in retrospect you can feel the change), we get a choppy series of events, just as you might expect from a movie with 40 minutes missing. Individual scenes work, but the flow is gone. And then we get the attached-on “happy” ending, which is completely outside of the tone of the film as a whole.

My opinion of The Magnificent Ambersons has risen over time. I still think it’s a flawed masterpiece, rather than a straight-out classic. But the masterpiece part is so much more than the flaws. #90 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 9/10.

music friday: inauguration day

What follows is a slightly-edited blog post from 2003:

The 5th Dimension were a pop R&B ensemble formed in the mid-60s. Three men with different musical backgrounds joined together with two beauty pageant winners, all African-Americans, they were signed to the Soul City label in 1966. Soul City was the brainchild of Johnny Rivers, a white singer who had a series of hits with some excellent covers of Chuck Berry, Willie Dixon, and Motown (along with the immortal theme song "Secret Agent Man"). Their first big hit was "Up, Up and Away," which won several Grammies and was written by Jimmy Webb, who also wrote such tunes as "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Wichita Lineman," and "MacArthur Park." Another early hit for the group was "Stoned Soul Picnic," written by Laura Nyro, an eccentric white girl from the Bronx whose songs were also hits for artists like Barbra Streisand, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Three Dog Night.

Meanwhile, the Summer of Love came and went. Among the "inauthentic" artifacts of that period was a stage musical, Hair, that opened Off Broadway and moved to the real Broadway in 1968. Hair featured such true-to-hippies songs as "Good Morning Starshine" and the title song ("Hair! Flow it, show it, long as God can grow it, my hair!").

The story goes that the 5th Dimension took in the play on Broadway and decided to release a medley of two of the musical's songs, "Aquarius" and "Let the Sunshine In." It was a good idea: it won Grammies, it hit #1 on the charts, it sold millions. (The subsequent album, Let the Sunshine In, included songs by not only Laura Nyro, but also Neil Sedaka and Cream.)

So ... we've got an African-American vocal group, singing faux-hippie epics from a Broadway show, on a label run by the guy who sang "Secret Agent Man" when he wasn't covering black artists himself. Some things are simply bottomless.

Fast forward to 1981. Ronald Reagan is inaugurated President of the United States. At the Mabuhay Gardens, San Francisco's top punk club back in the day, an anti-inauguration party is held. One of the acts is the drag band Sluts a-Go-Go. I described the event on this blog here:

one thing from that night still sticks with me, when the Sluts sang "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" while incense burned. There I was, in a punk club at the dawn of the Reagan Era, listening to men in drag sing a Broadway version of hippiedom, and I'm not much for irony, for that matter ... in any event, I felt one with the band and the crowd, I wasn't alienated from America in that moment, I was as close to Hippie Community as I'd ever been in the actual hippie days, and I started to cry at the ridiculous wonder of it all.

Like I say, some things are simply bottomless, and you can't always predict what those things will be. Like a Broadway version of the Summer of Love, sung by R&B groups and drag queens, making an impression on a hippie wannabee like me.


The final onstage performance of Sluts-a-Go-Go:

film fatales #22: 2 days in paris (julie delpy, 2007)

I saw this film and its sequel, 2 Days in New York, in the “wrong order”, having seen the latter four year ago. I don’t think it matters ... both are enjoyable, I might have gotten a bit more enjoyment from New York if I’d known Paris, but they are both standalones.

This truly is “A Julie Delpy Film”. She produced it, she wrote it, she directed it, she starred in it, she composed music for it, she sang one of the songs, she edited it, she cast her parents to play her parents in the film and used their house as their house in the film. (Roger Ebert claimed, “When a women takes that many jobs, we slap her down for vanity. When a man does, we call him the new Orson Welles.”) She has been a film actress since she was a kid, so it’s not like she was new to the world of film.  And 2 Days in Paris is a confident film ... Delpy has a feel for how to make a fictional movie seem almost like a documentary, which won’t surprise anyone who has seen her work in the “Before” series.

Adam Goldberg plays a fish out of water, visiting Paris with his French girlfriend and finding himself clueless and suspicious when, as can be expected, everyone speaks in French. He is not instantly likable ... I’m not sure the character ever becomes likable ... but gradually we see how this mildly irritating fellow not only suffers, but is to some extent our representative in the film (speaking only for Americans here). Goldberg also seems like a stand-in for another character, specifically Ethan Hawke as Jesse in the “Before” movies. As Mick LaSalle wrote, “Millions of men have been psychically dating Julie Delpy for years, thanks to ‘Before Sunrise’ and ‘Before Sunset,’ and we've come to accept Ethan Hawke as an acceptable surrogate. But Adam Goldberg in ‘2 Days in Paris’ takes some getting used to.” (In the sequel, Goldberg’s character is gone, and Chris Rock plays the love interest.)

Perhaps it’s unfair to compare 2 Days in Paris to the Linklater films. It has some slight similarities, but that is all. This film is pure Delpy. And she is very fair to her characters. Goldberg may be annoying, but no more so than Delpy’s character. I wish I’d seen this movie when it came out, because my love for Delpy has only grown over the years, and it would have been nice to see her take on the director’s chair. 2 Days in Paris is slight, but engaging, and convinces me I need to see some of her other work as a director. 7/10.

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)

guess who's coming to dinner (stanley kramer, 1967)

I’ve seen a handful of Stanley Kramer movies ... a few more if I count the ones where he produced but didn’t direct. I have a pre-conceived notion about Kramer that poisons my ability to fairly evaluate his work. I don’t like his movies. But I realize that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen any of them ... I have never given a rating to his films, because I haven’t seen one since I first began assigning ratings. So I’m revisiting Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but I’m rating it for the first time.

The only time I saw it was more than 40 years ago, and my memory is that I hated it. This time, I felt obliged to bend over backwards to see its good points, and I admit there are a few.

Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are very good. Beau Richards is OK. Having said that, too many actors here are hamstrung by the parts they are asked to play. It’s not that Katharine Houghton, in her first movie, is bad, but she is given a character with no shadings. Houghton plays the wide-eyed idealist in love as well as can be expected, but like almost every character in the movie, she isn’t playing a person but a placeholder in a framework. Roy Glenn seems to exist solely to give Sidney Poitier one scene where he can turn on the fire. Cecil Kellaway is the Irish monsignor, a part he could do in his sleep. And he, too, is only in the film to show the expansive liberal nature of Spencer Tracy, whose best friend is a monsignor even though Tracy’s character isn’t Catholic.

You can already see how hard it is for me to say something nice. I began the above paragraph noting some of the movie’s good points, only to quickly move into attack mode.

Your reaction to film’s approach to Poitier’s character, Dr. John Prentice, likely colors your reaction to the film as a whole. The film exists to make a comment about interracial marriage, and Dr. Prentice is the black half of that relationship. Prentice is perfect: he’s a doctor, he does good all over the world, he’s on his way to Zurich to do more good, he’s great looking, he is, in short, the Perfect Man. Some of us feel this perfection undercuts the film’s seriousness ... wouldn’t it make a better point if Prentice was a real person with real problems, instead of an idealized man the likes of which have never walked the earth? In fairness, Kramer knows this ... in fact, he did it on purpose. His idea was to remove any possible objections to Prentice, so that the only possible reason why you wouldn’t want him to marry your daughter is because he is black and your daughter is white. For Kramer, the focus is unmistakable, which forces the audience to consider race and only race.

Kramer doesn’t trust that audience. He clearly doesn’t think we have the ability to ascertain character in a person who is as complex as any other person. He reduces Prentice to “Black Man” because he worries that otherwise, we won’t be sympathetic to Kramer’s central (i.e., only) theme.

One result is that Kramer turns Poitier, one of our most dynamic actors, into a quiet man who wants to please. By turning off Poitier’s capacity for anger, he makes Prentice more like a stereotypical “boy” than like the man he is supposed to be. And while Kramer does give Poitier one scene where he lights up, he directs his anger at his father ... he never lets any of the white characters see what might be seething underneath the mask.

The film benefits greatly from the presence of Hepburn and Tracy. I’ll be kind and say that while Kramer knew the backstory of the two, he didn’t necessarily milk it. Well, I think he did, but I have no evidence. It was known that Tracy was dying ... it was known by the audience, since Tracy had died before the film’s release. This adds poignancy to every scene between the two stars. When Tracy gives his final soliloquy, talking about true love, Hepburn is crying real tears, because she hears Tracy in the context of their love affair. At one point, we get a one-shot of Hepburn and her tears, and Kramer holds it for a few seconds, after which he switches to a one-shot of Tracy looking at Hepburn, also for a few seconds. The two shots are designed to elicit tears from the audience, and even I can’t say Kramer shouldn’t have given us that moment.

It reminds me very much of a scene that tears me up every time I see it, and I’ve seen it a lot of times over the years: the deaths of Bonnie and Clyde. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway are great in that movie ... as fine actors, they convince us of the connection of their characters. And when they die, we get a brief moment where they look into each other’s faces. But the real impact comes from the brilliant editing of Dede Allen, who uses quick cuts to give us the last seconds of the two outlaws. Is that any more “artistic” than Kramer using longer cuts to draw emotion out of the last scene of Tracy and Hepburn? I know which one I prefer. But I must accept that I am unfair if I don’t accept the power of Kramer’s work here, as well.

So I still want to hate Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. But it’s time I pulled back. It’s not a very good movie, but it’s not worth the energy of my ire. 6/10.

terminator 2: judgment day (james cameron, 1991)

I once listed the first Terminator movie at #26 of my 50 favorite movies of all time. I mentioned Terminator 2 a couple of times:

The Terminator was James Cameron’s first hit, his second feature (Piranha Part Two came first). He later spent more money (Terminator 2 cost almost $100 million more than the original, which came in at $6.4 million). He became King of the World with Titanic. Avatar cost more than $300 million. None of them was better than The Terminator, still Cameron’s best film. ...

One of the best things about Terminator 2 is the way Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor became an icon for a certain kind of tough heroine. The roots for that characterization happen in the original, where Sarah goes from fun-loving waitress to terrorized target to mother of a future hero to the person who finally kicks the terminator’s ass, all in two hours.

The Terminator has very little flab; it’s a punk-rock action film. T2 fetishized its special effects, which were indeed amazing for their day, but the result was more Emerson, Lake and Palmer than The Stooges. The Terminator had one superb special effect, and it made the most of it: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Watching T2 again, I realized I’ve been a bit harsh over the years. I stand by what I’ve written, but I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss the movie simply because it wasn’t as good as the 26th-best movie of all time. It’s like saying because Do the Right Thing is such a great movie, Spike Lee can never make another good one.

What were the specific critiques above? T2 cost a lot more than the original. Some of the best parts of the sequel were a direct result of the first movie. And it dazzled without a heart. (I admit I got off a pretty good line about The Stooges and ELP.)

I used to think Terminator 2 was flabby, that all the extra money took away from the streamlined excitement of the original. But watching it now, I understand that it was money well spent. Linda Hamilton was great, Arnold got to reprise his signature role, and the combination of Robert Patrick and special effects made for a terrifying villain. It’s more expansive than The Terminator, and yes, on some level it’s more dazzling. But I’m being unfair to say T2 had no heart. It tugged at our own hearts in ways The Terminator never did, and if that was sometimes a bit sappy, well, at least they tried. The original had no time for that kind of emotion ... it’s part of why I prefer it. But at least Cameron wasn’t just trying to repeat himself.

He also deserves credit for the coherence of the action scenes. In 1991, Michael Bay was still four years away from directing his first film. That Cameron knew how to present action didn’t seem all that noteworthy. Nowadays, after years of “chaos cinema”, Terminator 2 is positively old-fashioned, and I mean that as a compliment.

So yes, my own taste preferences will also lead me towards the punks over the Emerson, Lake and Palmers. On that most basic of levels, the first movie was half-an-hour shorter than the sequel, reason enough in most cases for me to react negatively to the long one. But the truth is, Terminator 2 was consistently engaging. (#546 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time.)

Here is an excellent discussion of the film, with a section devoted to its action scenes and their relation to chaos cinema:

The big action and little problems of Terminator 2: Judgment Day