Summer is starting to fade in the rearview as we creep towards fall, so what better time to take a trip to cinematic Los Angeles where it is always summer? Not only is it always summer in LA, but in my mind, it is perpetually 1991 as well. So much of my impression of California and LA in particular is influenced by three films, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Heat (1995) and Point Break (1991). Have I ever been to Los Angeles? Nope, but I’ve visited numerous times on the silver screen. So let’s start California Dreamin’ on such an autumn day…
When most people think of California, I think they imagine beaches and palm trees. Sure, I think of that too, but I also think of those really cool drainage canals that run throughout the city made famous by Terminator 2: Judgment Day. How can I not picture Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong barreling through those man-made canyons with the T-1000 (Robert Patrick) in hot pursuit?
When the drainage canals showed up in Drive (2011) I couldn’t help but feel that director, Nicolas Winding Refn, had captured the feel of LA perfectly. It helps that Drive plays as if it is a film out of time, placing it in a nebulous region that isn’t today but it isn’t quite the early 90’s either. Drive really is brilliant, but back to T2.
That movie has so many things going for it. It has an amazing female lead (Linda Hamilton) and action by the truck (helicopter, motorcycle, etc.) load, but at its core, it is actually a really poignant story. Did I just refer to a Terminator film as poignant? Sure did and here’s why. There is one scene near the end of the second act in which the T-800 (Annie) and John Connor (Edward Furlong) are watching some kids playing with toy guns. Connor turns to the T-800 and comments, “We aren’t going to make it, are we? People I mean,” to which the Terminator replies, “It is in your nature to destroy yourselves.” In that scene, a machine has better insight into mankind than most political commentary. James Cameron did an amazing job as director on this. Seriously, go back and watch Terminator 2, it is a really great movie. It’s not just an action movie.
Speaking of great movies, do you like Robert Di Nero? Do you like Al Pacino? Do you like LA circa 1995? Then Heat is the movie for you. Director, Michael Mann, gives the two veteran actors scenes TOGTHER for the first time ever. I know some people are saying, “What about the Godfather Trilogy?” Well, they never share a single scene together in that movie. Heat is the first time that happens and trust me, it is worth it. Mann presents LA in the same manner as his work on the Miami Vice television series, everything is super stylized. Heat differs in the fact that it is also fairly realistic.
The film’s finale takes place on the runways of LAX in one of the tensest shootouts that I have seen. The performances of Di Nero as the career criminal and Pacino the cop trying to take him and his crew down are spotless. There is no good guy/bad guy, there are only believable motivations and ambitions. Characters have dinner in LA diners and live in apartments (since we all know real estate in Los Angeles requires you to be a bank robber to afford oceanfront property). Heat is Michael Mann’s love letter to the crime genre and LA. Add in one of the best bank robbery scenes in film history and Heat is a must see.
Speaking of heist films, Point Break is a personal favorite of mine. By personal favorite, I actually mean in my Top 10 films of All Time. To some, this may come as a shock but in terms of rewatchability and sheer awesomeness, Point Break cannot be beat! This is the LA with the beach and palm trees, but it is also the LA with a group of surfing bank robbers who rock the masks of several Ex-Presidents and live only to get radical (who doesn’t?). So when the F.B.I. can’t catch these elusive criminals they enlist rookie agent, Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves), to learn to surf and infiltrate the Los Angeles surf culture.
Of course Utah becomes best pals with the leader of the Ex-Presidents, played by the charismatic Patrick Swayze. What follows is 120 minutes of high octane entertainment and some of the best quotes in any movie which all benefit from Keanu’s delivery. The foot chase sequence in the middle of the movie still has not been bested in my opinion. Again, the city of LA is front and center in all its 1991 surf glory. Between the bonfires and tackle football on the beach or grabbing a sandwich on a stakeout, Point Break is my ideal Los Angeles experience. Plus Anthony Kiedis is in it. So instead of going to see the new Point Break (2015) coming out this Christmas, rent the original here at CPL. Anyway there was already a remake, it’s called The Fast and the Furious (2001)…
So there you have it. Los Angeles as I imagine it. Sure, it seems to be filled with killer robots and career criminals but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Oh by the way. October 1st marks our 1 year anniversary here at Screen Scene and on the Chesapeake Public Library Blog. I just wanted to thank you all for reading and commenting on these posts. Everything is way more fun when we get to have a conversation. So thank you for one great year!