Tag Archives: Terminator Salvation

Movie review:Terminator–Rise of the McG

25 May

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Terminator: Salvation,2009, (PG-13), 116 min.

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After abstaining from blockbuster fever for the better part of this long weekend, my wife and I, with both sets of parents in tow, finally got a chance to check out Terminator: Salvation yesterday afternoon. There has been a dark cloud looming over this movie for awhile, and most of the fingers have been pointing at the film’s director McG, who constantly gripes about the attention his name brings and then allows it be featured not once, but twice, in the opening credits. Given that I didn’t see this one on Thursday, I got a chance to watch the reviews roll in and the critical consensus wasn’t good. Then I began to hear from visitors to this site, and from friends, that the film was just fine and worthy of the Terminator name. Now, having seen it, I’m ready to weigh-in. But first, a confession.

I really dig The Terminator films. Not just one, but all of them. The original is easily the best; a dark and thrilling triple-decker action film that blends time-traveling sci-fi paradoxes with a killer-stalks-girl horror motif, both being used to prop up the central speculative fiction that posits a world where the machines are the masters and they won’t give up their hold. The sequel is one of the greatest popcorn entertainments I have ever seen, and having just re-watched it this weekend, I can attest  to the fact it still holds up.  Arnold gives, allowing his limited range, what amounts to a great performance with plenty of humor and authority mixed in; I bought the fact he was a machine. Everything about the sequel is trumped-up but it works because the movie provides a heart. Enough of a heart, in fact, that it carried over to Terminator 3.

Rise of the Machines is the one I’m not supposed to like, but am actually quite fond of. Arnold more or less slept-walk through the role, but given the character, it was often hard to tell. I wasn’t a huge fan of the female Terminator, but the action scenes were terrific fun and the interplay between Claire Danes and Nick Stahl, including a fantastic ending, endeared me to it. It was a little too much like what had preceded it, but it got the job done. And now we have McG’s version in Terminator: Salvation, chronicling that long impending future-war.

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Turns out that not only does the film evade suckitude, it’s also a solid bit of summer sci-fi goodness that really captures that post-apocalyptic energy of many a forgotten 80s film. In the Terminator cannon, it can’t compete with Cameron’s work but is well above Mostow’s entry. I was entertained from beginning to end, and for the first forty minutes I was completely enthralled. Visually, the movie looks great. A gritty grimy filter covers everything, but instead of murky night scenery or dreary camera work , there is a hard-edged clarity to both the expansive desert and the movie’s extraordinary special effects. Without a doubt, the machines and terminators in the series have never looked this good. The sky is filled with menacing Hunter-Killers who patrol looking for human captives, giant Harvester robots crash and crunch across the California desert and creepy robo-cycles careen down the abandoned highways. In only a scant few years(the movie is set in 2018 and SkyNet went operational in 2003) the machines have appropriated the world their human creators once owned. And yet, with all of their resources and cold calculating logic they have failed to destroy the human beings. Enter John Connor and the resistance.

Christian Bale may be the epitome of professionalism, but he brings absolutely nothing else to this role at all. There isn’t a hint of shading or variation to John. He literally growls his way through the movie like he just wants it to be over. Granted, since he is playing the hardened leader of a resistance who has been hunted by robots since he was 12 and is now facing the possibility that the humans might actually win, maybe that actually qualifies it as a great performance.

 Bryce Dallas Howard, as his wife, manages to suggest that she is the same person that Claire Danes played in the third film, but the movie gives her so little to do that it makes Story the Narf look like a complex role. It doesn’t matter though, because John Connor is not the focal point of this movie. He isn’t even the prophesied full-fledged leader yet–that would be Michael Ironside,  playing General Ironside, I think.

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No, the spotlight this time out goes to Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a convict from 2003, sentenced to death by lethal injection, who sells his body to Helena Bonham Carter (representing Cyberdine) for a kiss. She’s dying of cancer and he tells her “So that’s what death tastes like”. Classy.

After that, he wakes up in the wasteland of 2018, wandering across the burned out cinder of Earth and runs into a spunky young resistance fighter and a mute child. The young man is  Kyle Reese and when he hears the voice of John Connor coming across a busted radio he knows he must meet the man. Anton Yechtin gives the best performance in the movie, channeling the essence of Reese from the original film but giving him nuances that clearly didn’t exist in the script itself. Yechtin, who has been nothing less than great in everything I have seem him in from Hearts in Atlantis on up, is definitely an actor to keep an eye on. If his Kyle Reese had been the focus of the story, Salvation might have been something more than just a couple hours of summer fun.

Worthington, as Wright, is just fine but his role is clearly designed to sort of echo Arnold. He’s a tough but compassionate warrior, fighting against his nature to be something more than what he is. He doesn’t understand this new world, or the fact that while his heart beats human, the stuff under his flesh and blood is all metal panels and circuitry. If Arnold had played this role, it would have had more impact, and made more sense. Marcus is the latest and greatest from Sky Net but when Connor comes up against the newest model later in the movie, it bears not the visage of Sam, but Arnold–looking buff and imposing despite the fact he’s pretty much just flawless CGI. So, at some level, it feels like the script was written with someone like Schwarzenegger in mind for Wright. When Worthington fails to mine it for subtlety or variation, thats probably more a fault of the writing than his acting.

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The script is the weakest aspect of Salvation, and really brings the picture down. There is a revelation late in the game involving Sky Net and their knowledge that Kyle Reese is Connor’s father. Instead of killing him, they hold him hostage for Connor and the Resistance. Maybe I was just operating in a post-lunch haze, but I couldn’t figure why they didn’t just cap him right there unless the Machines are covering their bases and decide that killing Connor and his father would be  like an insurance policy. More importantly, it fails to truly humanize any character in the movie with writing alone. Some of the actors manage to find sparks of individuality on their own, but none of it exists in the writing which feels like a cold exercise in franchise building.

Which is why the credit for this film rests primarily on the shoulders of one individual: McG. Terminator: Salvation would be a wet-rag of a movie if he wasn’t at the helm. He pulls all the pieces together and delivers some really exciting action scenes while building the world after Judgement Day with a realistic and not overly cluttered sense of the desolate. I enjoyed a scene where Bale uses an old boombox and the Guns N’ Roses T2 anthem “You Could Be Mine” to bring down one of the machines.

The movie is fast-paced and exciting even when it isn’t giving us any in-depth human drama. In this way, McG is borrowing an important page from the Cameron playbook. Emotional responses aren’t elicited solely from character depth or dramatic interaction, but can be sparked too by well-structured action that is both clear and dynamic. There is no shaky cam in this film and the battles between the humans and robots don’t have that feel of being heavily edited so we never see the blows and the movie gets a PG-13. There is a strong sense of the craftsman at work in this pic, and yea, maybe it doesn’t get to the heart of the Terminator franchise but that isn’t because McG hasn’t given the film his all. His Terminator film is perhaps the most spare of the three, and the one with the darkest tone but in its own way, and despite its flaws, it adds to the series without detracting. So in the end, McG came through just fine.

Mark my words. He’ll be back.

Ok, so who has seen Terminator: Salvation? Lets hear! How was it?

22 May

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Heres the deal. I was hoping to see Terminator: Salvation last night, but my wife wasn’t feeling well so we stayed back and caught up on a few other films I had lying about. Thing is, the critical response to this one is brutal. No one is calling it awful, save for a few passionate voices, but it sounds like it might be even worse than awful–mediocre. I’ve been hearing lots of things, but not much from the regular movie-going public. What do you guys think about it?

I want to hear from as many as have seen it. If you want to drop full-out reviews, that’s cool, or just a line or two in the comments. If you have a link to another blog, send it by. I’m going to see this weekend regardless, but I thought it would be cool to see how united or disconnected the typical audience reaction is compared to the critical reaction.

So lets hear it! Is Terminator: Salvation a beacon of Professionalism or is it just a flippin’ amateur?

 

10 Summer Sci-Fi Films with promise

15 May
Peter Jackson attaches his name to Neil Blonkamp's new sci-fi drama District 9 which hits August 11th
Peter Jackson attaches his name to Neil Blonkamp’s new sci-fi drama District 9 which hits August 11th

  We are entering the third weekend in May, and the summer movie season is already well underway. So far, the biggest surprise has been the box-office strength of JJ Abrams Trek film, which had a great start and has continued to build strong. We’ll find out this weekend how well it fares in the face of the new Dan Brown adaptation Angels and Demons. The most refreshing thing about the new Trek is that in addition to being a terrific summer entertainment, it’s a true blue science fiction film and not just special effects and set design dipped in a sci-fi coating. And for fans of real science fiction, that’s a big thing; sincere, intelligent films in the genre are few and far between. 

However, it looks like that all might be in the process of changing. Every year and every summer brings a certain  number of films centered around aliens, robots or space travel but it’s been years since we have seen a glut of serious-minded science fiction hitting the theaters. With the post apocalyptic thriller The Road opening in October, and James Cameron’s epic science fiction experiment Avatar coming in for a landing in December, science fiction looks to be gaining steam. And before we even get there, there are clones, aliens, cyborgs, virtual wars and robotic warriors marching their way into multiplexes this summer.

The following are ten best bets for serious science fiction lovers. The titles range from independent features to big blockbusters, thoughtful space odysseys and B-movie action pictures. Some are adaptations or sequels and a few are completely original. What they all have in common: a specific, creative and hopefully exciting, sci-fi vision.

 

10. Gamer

 release date: September 4th

Trailer HERE

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Ok, maybe I’m cheating a bit with this one. There doesn’t look to be much thoughtful or intelligent here, but by the looks of the trailer Gamer is full-blown speculative fiction mixed with hardcore action movie tropes. In the future, the biggest visceral thrill is not controlling A.I. avatars, but taking the wheel of actual human beings and pitting them against each other in various battle scenarios. This virtual killing experience is called Slayers and Gerard Butler plays a man trapped inside of this world trying to fight his way out and rescue his wife from another game universe called Society which is like a high-tech, twisted version of The Sims. Add in Michael C. Hall (Dexter himself) as the villain, Ludacris as a fellow Slayers’ avatar and Kyra Sedgewick as the host and you have a recipe that could result in the next Running Man. And we all know that’s a  classic right? The trailer looks like a perfect matinee ride, and the creators of Gamerhave taken some pains to make the sci-fi world at the center of the movie enticing if not plausible.

9. Pandorum

release date: September 4th

trailer HERE

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Creepy Ben Foster from 310 to Yuma and 30 Days of Night teams with Dennis Quad to take on the sci-fi chiller Pandorum which becomes the latest entry in the “haunted spaceship” genre. That genre’s best entry, Sunshine, turned out to be a hard sci-fi thriller wearing a horror mask in the last third. This one looks typically disorienting, and that’s appropriate since it seems to revolve around the effects of deep space on the mind. The Pandorum of the title appears to be some sort of disease. While it’s slightly disconcerting to see Paul W.S. Anderson’s name on the film, he only serves as a producer and his own film Event Horizon contained without a doubt the creepiest haunted starship I’ve seen. I have some hope for this one.

8. Splice

release date: September

trailer: no trailer available currently.

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Director Vincenzo Natali has provenhimself as a strong voice in science fiction with the skillfull thrillers Cube and Cypher. This time, he’s working a somewhat larger scale and telling a contemporary Frankenstein thriller about gene splicing scientists Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley who create a female creature whose own unique biology proves to be catastrophic for the world around her. Though it comes off sounding like Species, every other facet of the movie looks intriguing, including some rather disturbing creature designs that sidestep goopy monster and suggest an unearthly shuffling of human traits into something unnerving but also exotic.

7. Sleep Dealer

release date: playing in limited release right now

Trailer HERE

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Respected in it’s release at the SundanceFilm Festival in January of last year, Alex Rivera’s first feature length film, Sleep Dealer tells the story of a walled off Mexico where workers plug-in to operate robotic construction units located across the border in the U.S. Cyberpunk needs a good jolt in the arm, and this low-budget indie film looks like it has the goods to deliver. I expect that this one might end up trumping the others on this list as far as it’s imagination and character development are concerned, but the trailer shows alot of the low budget seams. Will this matter? If you don’t get a theatrical shot at this one, I expect you will be able to grab it on dvd before summer ends.

6. Surrogates

release date: September  25th

Featurette HERE

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Jonathan Mostow’s film sits right at the precipice dividing the summer and the fall film slate, but it’s production looks like a summer blockbuster witha neat idea at it’s center. Human shut-ins use robotic replicas called Surrogates to interact in the real world. When humans connected to surrogates start dying, an ex-cop played by Bruce Willis starts investigating, both in person and with his surrogate. It sounds like I, Robot but not being tied to a sci-fi classic and adding in the more compelling idea that the robots are only devices for their human masters impulses safely seperates this one from that Will Smith vehicle. Also, it’s nice to see Willis tackling something a little more ambitious again.

5. Terminator: Salvation

release date: May 21st

Trailer HERE

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At first, I was skeptical about this prequel/revamp of the Terminator franchise. Whether Arnold appeared or not wasn’t such a big deal to me, but extracting the time travel elements was troubling. The original pictures played with fate, destiny and the human drive that proves necessary to trump the more calculating, efficient machines. When McG signed on, I pretty much wrote it off. But the addition of Bale in the cast, and a strong, gritty trailer made me reconsider. Recently I saw McG’s football drama We Are Marshall and was relieved to see that the man can deliver what a movie requires. Sure, that film about a town’s struggle in the face of tragedy is different than this one, but if you consider that the only movie Cameron made before the original Terminator was Pirahna 2: The Spawning, I think McG is in a better place. At any rate, it likely won’t be boring and if it can bring all of it’s pieces together it could be the strongest Terminator outing since the original. I have faith. After all, Bale wouldn’t settle for anything less than something professional.

4. The Time Traveler’s Wife

release date: August 14th

trailer: no trailer currently available

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Based off a captivating novel about a man whose own genetic make-up causes him to time travel involuntarily, this film has the opportunity to improve upon that original work. Hopefully excising some of the creepier and ill-advised segments from the book, including a sexual encounter between the protagonist and his younger self, The Time Traveler’s Wife could potentially become a summer movie romantic sleeper. Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams look to be appealing as the couple at the core of the story who struggle to weather the personal devestation that Bana’s time traveling jaunts can cause. Playing with alot of unique time travel concepts(Bana’s character shows up without any clothing or protection when he jumps), and telling a heart-wrenching tale about human love and devotion, Time Traveler’s Wife might be the one flick that offers something for a wider audience beyond the typical sci-fi geek.

3. Moon

release date: June 12th

Trailer HERE

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David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones directs this space oddity about a man over-seeing a robotic mining operation on the moon. Sam Rockwell, who is usually brilliant, plays astronaut Sam Bell and his A.I. companion is voiced by Kevin Spacey. The trailer captures elements of loneliness, isolation and dementia which makes the film look more Solaris(either version) than 2001: A Space Odyssey. When clones of Sam start crashing to the moons surface and questioning his sanity, things take a turn for the wierd. I’m sold.

2. 9

release date: September 9th

Trailer HERE

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Shane Acker’s 9 was a visionary and exciting short film about a small automaton fighting a mechanical beastie in a ransacked future world for the souls of his compatriots. Now, Tim Burton and russian director Timur Bekmanbatov produce Acker’sdirectorial debut  of his own short subject. I’m not completely sure if the story is fantasy or science fiction or a mixture of both, but it draws from classic quest narratives and the sort of robust visual sensibility that old pulp magazines used to possess.  With tons of talented voices involved , and a trailer that gives me Gilliam/Del Toro/Juenet-style chills, 9 promises to be, in the words of the sage Michael Bay, AWESOME.

 1. District 9

release date: August 4th

Trailer HERE

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For me, this indie film, which boasts the tag “Presented by Peter Jackson”, is one of the most awaited movies of the summer. Drawn from a short film by Neill Blonkamp called Alive in Joburg, District 9 pairs great visual effects with a real-world story. This alien invasion is more like an inhabitation, with hapless extraterrestrials attempting to live among the human beings because their choices are limited. The social and cultural ramifications of this mish-mash look to be explored in the film. Not sure yet if it’s all done documentary style, or that’s merely the hook for the story. Either way, District 9 looks like something special.