Terminator: Genisys

July 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Movies

“A straight line. You keep moving forward and never look back.” That’s a line frequently used in the 5th film of the “Terminator” franchise–a franchise that probably didn’t need more than 2 movies (the first two, which were the best). But, here we are, far removed from the era of Cameron’s masterpieces. The ironic thing about that line, though, is that “Terminator: Genisys” hardly moves in a straight line. It’s about as all over the place as you can get. There is so much time travel in this film, it almost borders parody. I thought of “Back to the Future Part II”, in which multiple timelines are crossed and crossed again–but the film always made sense and cleaned up its mess.

Here, director Alan Taylor leaves it to us to clean up the mess. And about halfway through, you are basically the 8 year old kid who decides to go play with his friends and ducks out of the bedroom window, climbing down the tree touching the window. It’s not worth trying to figure out. The question is: do you sit back and enjoy the ride? Or do you pick apart the flaws in the time travel?

The story is basically a sequel, a prequel, and a reboot, all in one. It starts with the war against the Terminators, when John Connor (nicely played by Jason Clarke) sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), and mate with her to produce…him. He has to do this because Skynet has invented a way to send Terminators back in time, so that humanity has no chance of ever posing a threat to their domination. But when Reese is sent back, there is a bit of a breach in the nexus while he is being transferred. When he gets to 1984, he finds that Sarah not only knows about Terminators sent to kill her, but she’s already befriended one that was sent to protect her. She calls him “Pops” and he fights a fresh T-800, and has to fight another T-1000. Arnold Schwarzenegger proudly returns as the monotone voiced Terminator, and he fights his younger self in a pretty entertaining early battle scene. While this probably should have been more like the concluding climactic fight, it still works as a shot in the arm to get things going.

The T-1000 is a bit out of place in this film, as its technical effects just don’t seem all that impressive anymore. After all, we’ve seen this in the first two “Terminator” sequels, and I felt that it exhausted its welcome there. Here, it seems just thrown in. But I will always have a hard time arguing against seeing a Lee Byung-hun. Pops takes him down fairly early, indicating that they know the T-1000 is just chump change at this point.

But from there, the story gets more complicated. The issue mainly surrounds John Connor, which is typical in a “Terminator” film. But the time travel element gets extremely liberal in its narrative usage, and your head will probably spin when all of it is thrown at you.

My advice is, don’t worry about it. You aren’t going to need to know the “why” in this film. All you need to do is accept it based on the fact that, well, time travel doesn’t really exist anyway. All the questions you have are too logical for such a thing, and if you start thinking too much about it, you are going to miss a pretty well paced and entertaining action film. And that’s all this is. And it’s basically saved by Arnold’s winning performance. I didn’t care much for Courtney as Kyle Reese, nor Emilia Clarke as Sarah Connor. Not because they weren’t played by the original actors (I liked Anton Yelchin as a young Reese in “Salvation” anyway), but because I feel like they were the wrong actors to play the parts. Both are capable actors, both I’ve liked in other things. But here, they just don’t look right to me. But Arnold does, and he really gives an A grade performance that makes this film watchable. I will admit, as decent it is as an action film on its own, there are many flaws in it that I forgave once I saw that forced smile by Arnold. I also liked J.K. Simmons, as usual, turning in an amusing supporting role.

This is not a great film by any means, and I didn’t enjoy the resurrection of the franchise quite as much as I did “Jurassic World” with the “Jurassic Park” franchise. But it did deliver a good enough payload for me to recommend it–mainly because of Schwarzenegger’s trademark charisma and appeal, and because the action sequences size up to the rest of the franchise as well.

No one’s walking in a straight line, but certainly no one’s looking back here, either. For a franchise that should have stopped with “Terminator 2”, you could probably just skip 3 and 4, watch this, and be satisfied enough with a trilogy–even though the first two are in a very different, and superior league.

My rating: :-)

Avatar

December 28, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

James Cameron had this film in his mind for over 15 years, and it had been in the making for about 4. He wanted to create a world, a race of people, all designed through CGI. In 1994, this would have been considered groundbreaking. Indeed, when he was on “60 Minutes” this past fall, he kept using that word. But it wasn’t just the CGI. He invented his own camera to do the 3-D work. 3-D is something that I’ve always been very reluctant to sit through in a movie theatre. It can be overhyped and overrated, and sometimes it is just bad. But this entire movie was going to be filmed in 3-D, and that was going to be quite an accomplishment. Cameron even waited throughout the years, claiming that he wanted the technology to be ready for him when he made it.

I guess the wait was worth it. “Avatar” is one of the best visual achievements I’ve ever seen. The 3-D, while taxing on the eyes due to its 160 minute running length, is exhilarating and breathtaking at certain sequences when you actually feel like you’re on the planet with these creatures. The depth of the world is incredible, nearly on par with “The Lord of the Rings”–although some of the species of creatures are just a little too familiar and uninspired.

And speaking of that, the plot of the film can be criticized for being that as well. While the visuals will impress enough to get you through the film, it’s a shame that the narrative is drawn out and somewhat boring because the characters are extremely bland. Cameron brought a world to life, but he didn’t include a cast of characters to help it along. It is also needlessly complex. Cameron had said he wanted to make a film of “every science fiction story he ever saw growing up”. I guess he pulled that off, but there has to be a point where the creative process takes over. This has “Dances With Wolves”, “Last of the Mohicans”, “Pocahontas”, written all over it.

Although the characters are uninteresting, I do have to say that the performance by Sam Worthington, as Jake Sully, was exceptional. I think that at times the CGI took away from an emotional connection as well. Yes, we do see some impressive things–but we do still see that it’s CGI. And because some of the animation is just too computer generated, something is lost.

Cameron sometimes can really benefit, however, with some script doctoring; it’s a shame he doesn’t have a co-writer. Even George Lucas sought the help of people like Tom Stoppard when he hit a wall. Cameron’s dialog is on par with throwback comic book writing of the 50’s and 60’s. It’s just painful sometimes to listen to. This plagued “Titanic” at times as well. The main villain in this film is about as bad and one dimensional as I’ve seen Cameron create. He made Bennett in “Commando” look more realistic.

I will say that Cameron deserves credit for delivering where it mattered most, and that’s visually. But the film is still a film, and a film needs a great narrative in order to be considered a great film. It’s a great spectacle, but not a great movie. It is wonderful to look at, which makes it a worthwhile film to watch.

But it could have been one of our great epics with a great storyline and characters to aid it. It’d be interesting to see what a person thinks of this film while watching it on the small screen, with no 3-D. I think it’s pretty easy to determine that this film loses a lot of luster that way. And a great film is not something that should depend on what kind of technology in which you watch it.

My rating: :-)

Surrogates

September 28, 2009 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

The premise of this film is nothing we haven’t seen before. I was immediately reminded of a lot of different films, such as “Blade Runner”, “Strange Days”, “Total Recall”, and even “The Terminator”. The idea revolves around our own feeling that we need to create a perfect self, since we are so full of flaws. Of course, this is primarily driven by aesthetics. Our imperfections on our body, and nothing else, has driven this human race to go through incredible lengths to make ourselves look better. In this case, you can do so by creating a “puppet” of yourself, and hook yourself up remotely to this “double” of yours. They’re known as “surrogates”, and almost 90% of them look like they were spawned from the Bret Easton Ellis universe. You can live out your wildest fantasies with these things, and if they die? No worries. You aren’t affected. You can just buy another one.

Until one night, an operator is killed along with his surrogate. And the operator just happens to be the son of the creator and former CEO of the company that makes them. The FBI is brought in, and the main team on the case includes Agent Greer (played by Bruce Willis); of course a covert plot is uncovered, and just about everything you can imagine from a garden variety action thriller ensues.

The film begins almost like “District 9” does, with a series of “explanatory” scenes that bring us up to date on the technology and progression of the “Surrogate” project; but that would be the only similarity I’d draw between the two. Where “District 9” blatantly has a purpose and an agenda, “Surrogates” plays around and dances around a lot of interesting themes and doesn’t delve into any of them. Instead the film just delivers a tired plot and an underdeveloped theme of losing your identity and self through these robots.

There is a collection of humans, known as Dreads, that have “reservations” as it were, where no surrogates are allowed. Their leader is The Prophet–and would you guess that he’s got dreadlocks? I mean, that is pretty much a guaranteed symbol of enlightenment and power. But there’s a twist with The Prophet–one you can see coming a mile away if you’re paying attention in the least. But again, these scenes with the Dreads are very trite and predictable, and nothing really interesting happens with them.

There could have been a lot to this movie. I’m guessing the graphic novel series it’s based on digs more into the themes of human insecurity and our thirst for beauty and youth. The film only runs at 90 minutes, so there wasn’t a lot of room for these different ideas to grow. But then why make the film? Why did we need another action film with a flimsy who-dun-it story and a pathetic excuse for a car chase climax?

And while I’m on a roll, why does every single IT/Computer hacker have to resemble Harry Knowles? Seriously. Have some imagination!

While the film is an utter disappointment for what it could have been, it does deliver in some respects. If you were missing Bruce Willis with hair, for one, you get to see that. Also, there are some interesting scenes between him and his wife, about their deceased son. But overall, the movie takes itself too seriously and it doesn’t develop itself enough to really care about these characters, nor does it give you any sense of discovery about human worth and whatnot.

But what did you expect from the screenwriters of “Terminator Salvation” and “The Game”? I hope not much.

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: :-)