American Hustle

January 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Movies

David O. Russell has been one of of the best filmmakers of the 21st century and his last film, “Silver Linings Playbook”, was my favorite film of the year. In “American Hustle” he reuses many of the same actors he’s been using for his past few films, and brings another great story to the screen. There’s a caption at the beginning of the film letting us know that “some of this actually happened”. The true part of the story centers around a con set up by the FBI to nab politicians, including the mayor of Camden, NJ as part of what they called “Abscam”.

In the film, conman Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is a small time crook posing as a legit businessman who embezzles money from his clients. He meets Sydney (Amy Adams) and for the first time in his life he falls in love. He is already married, and has a child, whom he tries to take care of. But his double life as a con artist keeps him from being anything close to an All American Dad. He hires Sydney to play the part of his assistant, going by the name of Edith Greensley and is busted by a potential client named Richie (Bradley Cooper) who happens to be an undercover FBI agent. Once they’re busted, Rosenfeld has one shot to stay out of prison by helping the FBI go after bigger fish in a program they call ABSCAM. Rosenfeld goes along with it, but finds himself becoming genuinely friendly with the Mayor of Camden, Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner). The mayor is not corrupt at all, and Rosenfeld shares a similar childhood background. Meanwhile, the FBI sets up a staged meeting with the Arab Sheikh (Michael Pena) as a potential investor to work with the mayor. But things get complicated when it’s discovered that the mayor, while being free of actual criminality, is involved with big time criminals that gives Irving some doubts as to the plan working. He also doesn’t want to sell out his now friend, something he’s never really had to confront. For the first time in his life, he has an actual moral dilemma. His wife, Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) also becomes friends with Carmine and his wife Dolly, which complicates things as well. Rosalyn is a dangerous girl–smart, but also absent minded sometimes. But Irving really doesn’t have a choice but to go along with everything, even though he starts to see Sydney seemingly having feelings for Richie as they start to work together.

This is all pretty familiar territory as far as plot and theme goes. But with a strong cast and David O. Russell’s unique touch, it brings the film out of anything formula and turns it into a rather special film to experience. Bale’s Irving is a very conflicted person, and at times you’re not really sure what’s going on in his head. Even when he’s narrating the film. He has a heart condition, and at times stresses himself out almost to the point of having a heart attack. His demeanor never really shifts, even when his comb-over is messed up by Richie at one point.

The whole film has a comedic tone but also an underlying seriousness that keeps it credible. It doesn’t ever cross the line into obvious comedy, except a few moments including an altercation between Richie and his boss, Stoddard (well played by Louis C.K.). “American Hustle” has laughs, but also moments of poignancy that gives the film depth. It may not be as great as “Silver Linings Playbook” but it’s certainly another great addition into David O. Russell’s filmography.

My rating: :-)

The Dark Knight Rises

July 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

Back in 2005, Christopher Nolan rescued one of the most self-destructive franchises in movie history when he resurrected Batman in “Batman Begins”. What began as a promising run with Tim Burton in 1989 devolved quickly once it was taken over by Joel Schumacher in the mid-90’s; and the culminating film, “Batman & Robin”, promised that the franchise had completely fallen apart. After that film, I think we were all sick of Batman. At least, we were sick of *that* Batman. But, Batman as a symbol of justice, as a comic book hero, is still intriguing. The costume, the super rich alter ego, and the inner struggle of the character, are still something we yearn to see.

And so, Christopher Nolan, who at the time was still making his way into the Hollywood mainstream, rebooted the whole thing and started from scratch. At the time, we didn’t have an onslaught of comic book movies every year, so it didn’t feel as much as a saturated genre (as, say, watching “The Amazing Spider-Man” did). And Nolan took a serious approach to Batman, someone who wanted to do a character study as well as an action film. The result, “Batman Begins”, was a smashing success. Finally we saw Batman as a real character. The film was dark and brooding much like Burton’s 1989 version; but we learned so much more about Bruce Wayne and Batman in this film. With champion efforts by good actors like Michael Caine and Chrisitan Bale, this Batman movie was thorough, thought-provoking, and sensational.

His follow up was one of the biggest and best comic book epics brought on screen with “The Dark Knight” in 2008. Though that movie was surrounded by the hype of the passing of Heath Ledger, the film stood as a fantastic, big scale action thriller with one of the best “villain” performances in film history. It would be hard to top an achievement such as “The Dark Knight.”

This time, Nolan tries his best with “The Dark Knight Rises”, throwing everything and the kitchen sink at us with big explosions and massively complex action sequences. The result? Well, I said it’d be hard to top “The Dark Knight”. And, it certainly doesn’t come close. In fact, this to me was the weakest of the 3 films. It spends so much time on the action and too much time on corporate politics, and so little on character, that this was an imbalance.

“Rises” begins big with an escape by the villain Bane (played by Tom Hardy), a hulking cross between a roided up bomber pilot and Darth Vader who has a curious wit that could be appreciated if we could understand what he was saying half the time. While the voice is a bit bass amplified and broadcast through surround sound, sometimes it’s so muddled that you just have to give him the benefit of the doubt. Other times, his voice goes so over the top it’s hard to tell if he’s aware of how silly he sounds. But when Bane throws his hands, it’s no laughing matter. There’s no question that he is the most physically imposing villain that Batman has faced in the entire movie series, dating back to the 60’s.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne is bankrupt after a venture with Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), who seemingly comes out of nowhere to help Wayne Enterprises, and has invested in a fusion power project that has ultimately cost him his fortune, and his board removes him from the company. She and Wayne share a brief romance; but there isn’t a lot of time spent on their relationship, and perhaps it’s for the best in the end.

As for Batman, he’s retired. Wayne suffered an injury that has left him a bit crippled. This is taken advantage of by another adversary, who is Selina Kyle, or, Catwoman (Anne Hathaway). She’s a burglar who only steals from rich people…like Robin Hood. Only with much more sex appeal. There are two sides to this character, though, and she is actually one of the stronger ones in the film thanks to a brilliant performance by Hathaway. There is a vulnerability inside her; but she “masks” it (ahem) with a hard edge that says she can’t be manipulated. Wayne somewhat sympathizes with her; she feels something for him as well, but she just can’t show it.

Batman does make a comeback, however, as expected. Otherwise I guess the movie would’ve only been 45 minutes long and called “The Dark Knight Says I’d Rather Not”. He’s not as strong as Bane, however, and routinely gets dominated by Bane’s strength and agility. The reason Bane is so similar to Batman physically is because he was trained by the same man, Ra’s al Ghul (reprised by Liam Neeson) in the League of Shadows. Bane was excommunicated, and is seen as Batman as a “rogue”. But Bane wins out, and Batman is cast into the same prison that Bane grew up in, with his only hope of escaping is by climbing out of a hole and leaping to freedom. Allegedly, Bane is the only one who could ever do this, and it was when he was a child.

The city of Gotham is at Bane’s mercy, and he destroys a part of it with explosives in the ground that erupt and blow up a football stadium (one of the more breathtaking sequences in the film), and some of the bridges. It also encases the entire police force underground, leaving the city to a Lord of the Flies-like Martial Law. However, this won’t last very long as he has coveted a nuclear bomb after releasing the core from its fusion power chamber, that will detonate in 5 months. Whomever programmed a time bomb for that long either forgot to carry the one, or is a very patient madman.

The only cops that are above ground are the disgraced former Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and a bright young cop named Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Blake still believes in the Batman even though he’s part of a police force that was after him when Batman was still capering in Gotham City.

All of these stories meshing together do make for an ok 165 minute lark. There’s never a moment of boredom in the film because it’s packed with so many intense sequences and climactic action scenes. It does not wear you out. However, because of the scale of the epic, and a drop off in character development, there are some lulls in the storylines that leave some very wide open plot holes. I’m all for suspending disbelief, but this really tries your patience on more than a few occasions, especially at the end. Then it goes beyond suspending disbelief to the point where you have to damn near expel it. Also, Bane is not nearly as interesting or consistent as the Joker was. Granted, it would be hard to top Heath Ledger’s performance. But Bane really doesn’t have much of a personality; and, as I mentioned before, it’s hard to understand a word he’s saying sometimes. Hardy does as much with his eyes and body language to convey his meaning; but the overpowering inability to hear his words really hurts the performance. I blame this on post production and Nolan’s stubbornness more than Hardy’s acting chops, however.

The film’s pace is fine, and it does have some superior effects; on balance, I would have still recommended it…had it not been for the ending, as I mentioned above. Nolan has always seemed to rise above standard movie cliches and even with the somewhat bloated “The Dark Knight”, he still told a compelling story rich in story and character, and here I just felt left out. But beyond that, which I could still forgive, the ending is not only cliched, but ultimately impossible. And in its final shot, more groan inducing than moving. Nolan is an intelligent writer and filmmaker; but here, he seems to take the easy way out to appease the audience. I would’ve expected a more complicated or compromising climax out of such a grandiose trilogy. Instead, it’s very predictable and relies so heavily on your belief in comic book hero magic that it just felt out of place in a film series full of so much…reality. And that’s what had separated Nolan’s Batman series from the others.

This is still a strong trilogy; in time, I may forgive the film for its flaws. For now, I can only give a mixed review and say I would’ve liked to see more out of a filmmaker I respect as much as Christopher Nolan.

My rating: :?

My Top 10 Favorite Movies of the Past 10 Years

August 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Blog, Entertainment, Home Video

*DISCLAIMER*

This isn’t about the BEST 10 movies of the past 10 years. I probably haven’t seen the best 10 movies of the last 10 years. I’m sure I’ve missed out on some great obscure foreign film I’ve never heard of, or some documentary that I skipped over or something…this is just my list of 10 movies that I could watch over and over again and that I adore personally. Your lists will differ, I’m sure. But mine’s clearly the best.

#10: The Descent (2005) 

Written & directed by Neil Marshall

I start off with a horror movie, and I think it’s one of the finest horror films of this age. It’s not as well known as movies like “The Strangers” or “The Ring” but it’s far better than either of those because it’s not only a creature feature–it’s also a psychological horror film where you’re not really sure if what’s going on is real or not. That might sound cliché and stupid; but Marshall handles the balance exceedingly well and you never feel cheated either way. It’s an all female cast of spelunkers who find that there are these nightmarish “Silent Hill” looking things that only compound the problem they have of being lost in a large cave that they don’t know how to get out of. But there’s also a subplot of the main character who lost her husband and child in a single car accident; and one of her friends may have had an affair with the husband. The thing I like about this subplot, too, is that it never overshadows the main story with melodrama. It’s very nicely put together by Marshall and is by far his greatest achievement in filmmaking so far.

 
#9: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
 
 

 

Written & directed by: Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson’s career has been a little more up and down than I thought, especially around this time when he already had “Bottle Rocket” and “Rushmore” under his belt. And this movie was even better than both. Combining family drama with offbeat comedy, “The Royal Tenenbaums” is a very strong film. It never goes too far in either direction, although some of its quirkiness may turn some people off. But I think it’s Anderson’s most accessible film. And the soundtrack, once again, is outstanding. Nick Drake, John Lennon, Elliott Smith, this one captures the feel of the movie so well. I think it’s Anderson’s last great film; he’s made a few good ones since…but I still haven’t forgotten “The Life Aquatic” and boy do I long for a lobotomy for that one. Very strong performances by Ben Stiller and Gene Hackman especially, who contributes a lot of humor to this story of pathos. It’s Anderson at his best.

 
#8: Inglourious Basterds (2009)
 
 

 

Written & directed by: Quentin Tarantino

I wasn’t sure to expect with this movie, because all we saw from the previews were the scenes about the Basterds, a rag-tag group of Nazi hunters that are all Jewish. It was a plan of vengeance, that was obvious. What I got, though, was probably my favorite Tarantino film of all time. While I thought “Pulp Fiction” was fantastic, and probably one of the most important films ever made, there’s something about this movie that I just can’t get enough of. I love that he doesn’t make his foreign actors speak English. For an American made film, almost half of it looks like a foreign language film. I also like that for a movie that’s as bloody and war-related as it is, it begins extremely quietly and slow-paced. But I love what Tarantino does with the quiet conversation scenes. There’s always tension in the room, and you know something is going to happen, you just don’t know when. It’s incredibly suspenseful. The opening scene, for instance, has a Nazi commander searching a French farm house that has been known to harbor Jews. Instead of interrogating the man of the house, however, they simply talk. Meanwhile, the Jewish family he’s harboring is underneath the floor. The camera dips once and shows us them hiding, and then it pans back to the room. And the talking goes on, and on. But you’re clinging to your chair, waiting to see if he knows. My favorite sequence takes place in an underground bar where a game is being played, and there are Nazi imposters in the bar that could be figured out to be infiltrating. You’re just waiting for a moment where things break out. The use of suspense is outstanding, and the theme of vengeance being all-for-naught is also refreshing. You’d think this is just an anti-Nazi fun filled movie. But the lesson to be learned is far more poignant.

?

#7: The Dark Knight (2008)
 
 
 

 

Directed by: Christopher Nolan / Written by: Christopher Nolan/Jonathan Nolan

This movie will be on a lot of people All-time Overrated List I think in the coming years rather than All-time Best Films list. But I really think if you step away from the hype, it is still a very solid film. It’s dark, it’s sleek, it’s intelligent–yes, pretentious too. I forgive it in this case because the plot moves quickly enough that I never felt bored. Obviously the strongest thing about the movie is Heath Ledger as the Joker; but there are some other things about the movie that I liked–I still like that Batman is a more tortured soul, and that he makes decisions in this film that he ultimately regrets and has to live with the tragic results. I like that a heroic character becomes a villain–even if it was rushed a bit. Two-Face certainly could have been given his own film. But I didn’t think it was a total waste. Besides the Batvision subplot, I think most of the film works extremely well. As a superhero flick, it’s epic. But even more, as a character drama it’s very complex and endearing. It’s my second favorite Batman movie, besides “Batman & Robin”. Just kidding. “Batman & Robin” was better.

 
#6: AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001)
 
 

 

Written & directed by Stephen Spielberg

Here’s another one that gets a lot of bad word of mouth; it got mixed reviews, and Spielberg was accused of destroying a possible Kubrick project and wasting it. I can’t disagree enough with the detractors of this imperfect masterpiece. I think it’s one of Spielberg’s most personal films, along with it being a love letter to Kubrick himself. Most of the negative comments are directed at the ending; they all thought it should’ve ended with the boy finding the Blue Fairy at the bottom of the ocean that at one point had been Coney Island. While that would have been dark, and cool–it would not have been an ending. The film’s theme is about getting what you want too late, and not being able to move on. Finding the Blue Fairy as something that was just a symbol of the past was not a true resolution to the plot. The boy still had to find his parents. The movie is two halves: the first half is about a set of parents that want to covet a relationship with a child, and yet something’s always missing because the child is synthetic; and there‘s something to be said about the fact that their biological kid is a sniveling brat. The second half is about a synthetic child that wants to covet a relationship with his mother, who is real. At the end, they are long gone, as well as all of humanity. It’s the complete opposite of the first half of the film. And in the end, the day he spends with his mother IS synthetic, which turns him into a real boy–and he finally dies. Now that, to me, is far more beautiful, far more bittersweet and even tragic in a way; and it’s far more POWERFUL than if the film ends with the boy finding the Blue Fairy. So that’s my defense. Is it perfect? No. It probably could have been a bit shorter. It probably could have had a stronger handle on its theme. But it holds true to everything that Spielberg is all about as a storyteller, and adds an element of Kubrick that makes it dark enough to be less conventional than the typical Spielberg film. It’s all about loss and grieving and broken families, and that’s where Spielberg thrives.

 
#5: Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
 
 

 

Directed by: Peter Jackson / Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens

I have to include all three films and treat them as one here, although I’d probably watch “Fellowship” over “Towers” and “King”; but all three are part of the same story and to me is one of the strongest adaptation of a book in the history of film. It breathes new life into the “Lord of the Rings” and does so with such a command by Peter Jackson, it will have to go down as his greatest accomplishment. His career was delightfully progressing from his bloodspattered early days of “Bad Taste” and “Braindead” to the more mature but still off-the-wall “Heavenly Creatures” and then the fun, weird “The Frighteners”. All of these seemed to lead up to a perfect storm of creativity, expression, imagination, and…fun. The look of this film is magnificent. The performances by Elijah Wood, Ian McKellan, and Vigo Mortensen are fantastic–but one I really thought was special was Sean Astin’s. While there was all the homoerotic talk between Frodo and Sam–the story really is about a friendship that is very deep. This film is epic fantasy but it is also a story about relationships. All of it is well handled by Peter Jackson. He took all of his best elements and put them forth in this trilogy that I think will go down as the best film trilogy besides the original “Star Wars” trilogy.

 
#4: Sin City (2005)
 
 

 

Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, and Quentin Tarantino / Written by: Frank Miller

If you ever wanted to see a comic book truly put to film in its total essence, I don’t think there’s a better example than “Sin City”. It combines the talents of two gifted filmmakers along with Frank Miller, whom you could tell had a lot of fun with his own material, adapting it to the screen. This collection of talent on one film is as great as the Romero/King/Savini holy trinity that made “Creepshow” in ‘85. The movie is just a bunch of vignettes, but all of them are woven together so well that it feels like one big story. There are some sickening things going on in this film, but it all looks so good it’s hard to be reviled. It’s more than just an exercise in style; it’s got nice, fleshed out storylines and some really strong performances by Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis. And who can forget a Jessica Alba pole dance? This movie, again, takes joy in its excess violence and nudity, and because it revels in it…we can’t help to follow its lead.

 
#3: Children of Men (2006)
 
 

 

Directed by: Alfonso Cuaron / Written by: Alfonso Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby

I think what I liked most about this movie is how bleak it is, and how much it really builds this dystopian world in which no children exist. For some people, maybe this is the best world you could ever live in. But it is utterly depressing to think about, with no future, nothing to look forward to. In the film, there’s even a suicide drug that’s so popular, there are ads littered everywhere on streets and on TV. Clive Owen stars in a very strong role as a man who joins a group of rebels that actually have a woman who is pregnant. They have to protect her, but there are many bloody realistic battle scenes that have you on the edge of your seat, hoping she can get to safety. This movie pulls no punches, and even kills off one of its big stars early, and still somehow ends in a satisfying manner. It’s very taut at times, and it’s very engrossing. I like that it’s a kind of nativity story, too; about the protecting of life, whether you’ve conceived it or not. It was one my favorite films of 2006.

 
#2: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
 
 

 

Written & directed by: Guillermo Del Toro

If you haven’t seen this movie, and are a fan of fantasy/horror/storytelling…stop whatever you’re doing and see this movie. And PLEASE see it in its native language, subtitled, and NOT dubbed. Not because the dubbing job is bad; but because dubbing itself is lame. And it would take away from a great dramatic story. Del Toro is Mexican but he has a fascination it seems with Spain, and more precisely, the Spanish Civil War. So that’s the underlying theme and backdrop to this otherwise fairy tale of a girl who is brought to meet her stepfather, who is a captain of the Spanish army, trying to quell a rebellion. Her real father is dead, and her mother is a dutiful wife to the captain. The girl, though, embarks on a fantasy journey that can be as dark and deadly as the real life war that’s going on. The way Del Toro uses visual horror is amazing. Every one of his creatures comes to life and while some are more terrifying than beautiful, they are all wonderful to look at. It’s a sad story for the most part, because we know it’s not real. We want to believe in the fantasy, as little Ofelia does, but reality comes crashing down as it always does. It’s a very sweet story as well as it is tragic, and it’s terrifying at times, too. Just a brilliant film, and one of the best of the decade.

And now…my number one movie…is something a bit different. But I couldn’t think of anything that makes me smile more than…

 
#1: Team America: World Police (2004)
 
 

 

Directed by Trey Parker / Written by: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Pam Brady

Maybe this film suffered from bad timing (Roger Ebert didn’t find it amusing at all) but as time grows on, this movie becomes more and more dear to me. During the reign of W, America always seemed to be butting into foreign affairs that were revolving around terrorism, as it was called the War on Terrorism. Well, because there’s no known true villain (besides Osama Bin Laden), we started a few wars just to sort it all out. Parker and Stone are at their best when they’re angry and anarchic, and this is their best execution of their satire that I’ve ever seen. Not just because it satirizes American foreign policy and its flag-waving jingoism; but because it savagely satirizes every single thing about America that is oversaturated and over the top. What makes it fun is that it uses the typical Hollywood Action Movie as its conduit. A beautiful overproduced score is a great contrast to the shoddy production values of the sets, and of course, the marionettes. Everything is done cheaply, but loudly. And everything is done on purpose. All of the songs mock all the sugary sweet top 40 Billboard genres that we’re forced to listen to on the radio (including an hilarious one about film montages), and all of the dramatic dialog is so stupid, you can’t help but laugh because you KNOW it’s been in a Michael Bay film sometime (“Maybe feelings are feelings because we can’t control them.”). This movie had me howling with laughter; but meanwhile, also nodding my head to how stupid this country can be when it’s so simple minded. It ridicules the so-called patriots in this country who don’t understand our true enemy, and who are more of a detriment to our society than even the enemy that we’re attacking. The point of this film is that WE are the true terrorists. And at this time in our history, it couldn’t be more spot on. I call this the “Dr. Strangelove” of our generation. At the time, that movie perfectly satirized the present day America that was also insecure about the Cold War and communism and so in love with war. This movie does the same, but adds the sweet touch of making fun of Hollywood as well. And the most brilliant thing is that this could have been a movie that Hollywood would’ve taken seriously had it not been for the puppetry. In fact, it already has. It was called “Armageddon”. As much as I love “South Park”, and most of what Parker & Stone do–this is their greatest accomplishment, and this film belongs in the discussion of greatest comedies of all time.

That’s my list! Fuck yeah

The Fighter

January 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Out of all of David O. Russell’s films, which include “Three Kings”, “I Heart Huckabees”, and “Flirting With Disaster”, this may be one of the most accessible to a regular audience. And strangely, it’s one of his most character-influenced. This is a film about people; and more specifically, family. It’s got a boxing background story, but it’s not really about boxing. Maybe that’s why it was called “The Fighter” instead; then again, we already have a film called “The Boxer”. In any event, Russell’s mark isn’t exactly all over this picture–but it’s still very well made, and it’s extremely well acted.

It tells the true story of Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) who was what they call a “Stepping Stone” fighter–basically any fighter that contenders use to beef up their stats or make themselves a contender by beating them. Ward’s problem is that he has no real direction, and a huge part of that is because of his has-been crack-addicted brother, Dicky Ecklund (Christian Bale) who still brags about “knocking down” Sugar Ray Leonard years ago. His brother is also his trainer but he’s far from reliable. He also doesn’t get good match-ups because they’re set up through his mother (Melissa Leo in a role that would be criminal not to nominate an Oscar for). In one instance, he’s supposed to fight someone to get him back on track. He’s fighting a “stepping stone” himself; but the boxer comes down with the flu and instead of backing out and re-scheduling, he fights the back-up fighter who is 20 pounds heavier than Micky and pummels him.

Micky is caught between two worlds. After he is dismantled in his last fight, he is approached by someone to train in Las Vegas, and work for him. His mother, and family including 9 sisters, are appalled. But Micky new girlfriend, played very well by Amy Adams, believes it’s his ticket to freedom and to be a real contender. But Micky doesn’t want to leave his mom or his brother. He believes family is the most important thing to him.

And family is the most important thing to this film. It deals with family dysfunction; and yet, I think as you look at your own family, you can see some connections and actually relate to some of the situations that Micky goes through. You can also begin to understand why he needs his family; but also, why he needs to break away. Micky is literally in a fight between his “new” family (the boxing family), and his own real family. And that is the essence of this film.

There are surprising laughs in this film, too. The sisters are priceless, and some of the things that Dicky does are quite amusing, albeit ridiculous and dangerous. The sick sense of humor this film has at times may be the only indication that it’s David O. Russell’s work. But much like “The Wrestler”, the director takes a back seat to the narrative and lets the story tell itself through its characters. I still have to remind myself that film is directed by Darren Aronofsky.

Overall, this is a solid film. Most of that credit is due to the actors, however, and not as much to the filmmakers or writers. While they are fine, the acting is top notch. Wahlberg is Wahlberg; there really isn’t much to his character to begin with. But Christian Bale and Melissa Leo are just absolute showstoppers. When they are on screen, your eyes are completely glued. They bring this typical “underdog” story to life. But I like the angle that here’s a boxer who is totally dominated by other people; and ultimately, it’s his own choice how he actually makes his breakthrough. But he can’t do it alone. Some may say that omitting the Gatti fights was unfair because that’s what really made Ward a champion. I would maintain again that again, this is not a boxing story. It’s a story about family. And with that, it works just fine the way it is.

My rating:  :-)

Terminator Salvation

May 31, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

The “Terminator” franchise is one that I’ve never really been able to fully wrap myself around. I’m not exactly sure why that is. I liked all of the films (yes, I did enjoy T3 even though it was horribly cheesy), and I still think “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” is one of the most spectacular sci-fi action films ever made. Maybe that’s why I don’t look at this franchise with as much affection as, say, the Aliens franchise for example. “Terminator 2” just seemed to blow all of the other films away, as much as “The Terminator” was a good film. Cameron really outdid himself with the sequel. It was not only a visual achievement, it was a well told story; and, besides Edward Furlong, it was well acted. The story of the rise of SkyNet is interesting, and in “Terminator Salvation”, it comes to fruition.

So let’s go ahead and hop into the latest sequel, directed by McG, and starring Christian Bale and Sam Worthington as both protagonist and in some ways, antagonists of the narrative. The year is 2018, and SkyNet has enslaved mankind, and is running the world with machines–with the exception of a small group of people that are The Resistance, headed by John Connor (Bale). But since this film series has had a bunch of time warps and all kinds of time continuum conundrums, we are introduced to another aspect we weren’t aware of before. This is the both the convenience and the problem with time travel used in films as a device–it can’t help but be a deux ex machina. In this film, though, it doesn’t rely heavily on the time travel aspect–but it does realign things a bit in the canon(not to the extent that the new “Star Trek” film did, though).

We are first introduced to Marcus Wright, a convict who is on death row and is given a “second chance” by SkyNet to come with them and give his body “for science”. Now we all know what happens when we give into science. Everything. Works. Out. Of course! And in Marcus’s case, he is suddenly transported to the future, in 2018, and in the middle of the Resistance–and gets introduced fairly quickly with another familiar name in the Terminator series–Kyle Reese (this time played by Anton Yelchin, who for the second time in a row is playing the Young Version of a Character, and does a pretty good job doing his best Michael Biehn). Reese is just a teenager, which is set up already because when Connor is listening to his mother’s tapes she left behind for him, she mentions that Reese is a part of the resistance, but is just a kid at the time. Now, the fact that Connor is his son, and he would end up meeting him at a time when he’s actually older than him–I mean, aren’t we talking massive quakes in space and time? Again, time travel rule. Actually, there aren’t any. Forget it.

Marcus eventually meets up with Connor, because he’s on his way to SkyNet to settle a score–trying to find out what in fact happened to him. But there’s a slight snag–see, he’s a terminator too. He doesn’t know it, but he is only half human. What SkyNet did to him was use him as a prototype (I’m guessing) for the T-800 (otherwise known as The Governator). Bonding human skin with machine was their project, and Marcus was part of it. At this point you’d think that would make Connor like the cut of this guy’s jib–but it’s the complete opposite. Connor actually somewhat becomes a “villain” in the sense that, in this film’s narrative, Marcus is the main character and Connor stands in his way because of the fact that he doesn’t trust him since he’s a terminator, and thinks that Marcus has been sent to kill him. This obviously means they’re done professionally.

But that’s all I will give away about the plot. And I didn’t give away much–in fact, the trailer blew the twist. But basically, it becomes a rescue mission for Kyle Reese (who is the MacGuffin, for you film students out there) since he’s captured by the machines and sent to…I don’t know, something like a chicken coop for humans. I still don’t understand what SkyNet needed humans for, except to be real jerks about keeping them alive just to make them do labor. As I’ve learned in life, I would actually rather have robots do labor. Especially construction on the Dan Ryan.

In any event, this is probably the darkest and bleakest of the films, and I did actually like it for what it was. While Bale’s performance was amateur, and he kind of walks around going “Lat-da-da-da-dada-ahh”, the guy that steals the show is Sam Worthington as Marcus. As far as the film’s dark atmosphere, I will say it got to me–there is just something very unsettling about SkyNet as a computer-based empire that just illustrates the coldness and sterility of what life has become for earth. It’s an obvious metaphor for the ubiquitous technology that we depend so much on, and become more and more dependant on as we grow deeper into the Computer Age. The machines in some ways are like insects, and I actually was reminded of “Aliens” at times.

McG’s not all that creative with the storyline and doesn’t really bring anything too original to the table, but he manages a decent script and allows the story to breathe enough to get through. There are loads of references to the earlier Terminator films–some of them work, some of them don’t. Overall, the film is a solid entry into the Terminator series; however, I don’t know how much life this franchise has left in the tank. I don’t know what else I need to see, honestly. The film’s conclusion is good enough to end the series with–then again, I thought the same thing about the first “Matrix” movie and then there were 2 unnecessary and awful sequels to turn it into a “trilogy”. But that’s another story.

Despite some scenes that really depend on you to suspend disbelief (Sci-Fi Action Film 101, people), and some clunkiness in the first act, overall it’s a solid film. Oh, and the film was extremely well shot, by the way. The director of photography was amazing. It was not distracting at all. He should certainly get an award recognition.

My rating: :-)