Thursday, May 21, 2009

Can A Terminator Really Offer Salvation?

2:11 AM

I'm going to break this film up into two parts. The first will be a straight-forward, spoiler-free review. The second, not so much.

When it comes to Terminator films, fans can be just as rabid as, say, Star Wars. A lot of people will automatically disown anything Terminator if James Cameron isn't attached as writer/director. So, when Terminator Salvation was announced--with none other than McG at the helm--the jury was understandably divided. The hype has been up and down, the early reviews, eh, not so great.

A big chunk of the nay-saying comes as a response to the film taking place in a future, post-apocalyptic setting--a setting post-Judgment Day; I am of a different mind. So, while a lot of the fans found this to be a suitable reason for anarchy, I was staging my own, personal resistance. I think a future setting is the reason a Terminator film can work, despite being Cameron-less.

Here's how it stacks up. The casting worked pretty damn well. Christian Bale played a fine John Connor, although I couldn't help but hear Batman speaking for a good chunk of the movie. I doubt he'll be winning any Oscars, but he's definitely better than Nick Stahl (John Connor in Terminator 3).

Marcus Wright is played by up-and-coming Austalian actor Sam Worthington. While John Connor is integral to the Terminator story-line, Sam's character steals the show this time around. Although he's the main(ish) character, and even though his character has the most arc, the writing for him is a little off. Still, he's got a screen presense about him, and I can't wait to see him in the upcoming Avatar (under Jim Cameron's direction) and the Clash of the Titans remake (directed by Louis Leterrier). He'll be one to watch.

A lot of the other characters are played by some fairly well-known actors. Kate Connor is played by Bryce Dallas Howard, a respectable actor, and yet she barely has any screen time and doesn't do a whole lot with the time she does have (not her fault). Moon Bloodgood plays Blair Williams, whose part is important insofar as she sets certain events in motion and offers eye-candy. Michael Ironside shows up as pain in the ass General, and, while I love seeing Ironside in flicks, his part could have easily been covered by pretty much anyone else (not that I'm complaining; his appearance was kinda like extra frosting on the cake for me). Helena Bonham Carter also shows up in a role that has a heavy impact on the overall film, but, again, could have been performed by a lesser-known. Anton Yelchin (recently seen in Star Trek , you may recall) also steps into the boots of Kyle Reese, Johnny C's father-to-be. While I was skeptical of this casting decision at first, the more I watched the film, the more I saw Michael Biehn's (the original Kyle in the original Terminator) Kyle coming out. Something about him just clicked. Awesome.

The fact that some of these actors are of a higher caliber causes a moment of pause. Is it good that they have such fine actors doing so little? To have the talent even though that quality of talent isn't necessarily needed? Or is it just overkill? I'm not sure. Maybe I'm looking too deeply into it. Moving on.

The story is pretty straight-forward. Man, machines, war, post-apocalypitc future, yadda yadda yadda. Seriously, it's nothing groundbreaking, but it does the job, IMO. True, there are some plot holes (which I'll get into in the spoiler section), and it gets to be a little over-the-top at times, but it's a summer blockbuster and it does take place in the future; over-the-top is pretty much par for the course.

The special effects are fan-fucking-tastic...for the most part. Yeah, there are moments when the CG is noticeably CG, but, overall, I was damn impressed. The explosions are massive, the machines are shiny, the action is fast. It looks good.

Harry Knowles saw it the other day, and to say "he wasn't pleased" is putting it lightly. I respect the guy a lot, and I usually trust his opinion, but this is one time where I've got a disagree. It's not the greatest film ever, but seeing as there's only one "greatest film ever", I feel like that isn't really a bad thing (for this or any other film).

Maybe it's because I never watched Star Trek, but I enjoyed Terminator more. Both are great summer blockbusters (and I will say Star Trek is the higher quality of the two), but this was more fun.

I'm not going to say that everyone will enjoy this film. If you're a fan of the originals, be aware that this isn't Cameron's work. Sure, it's based off of his ideas, but beyond that, he didn't have a hand in baking this pie. It's different from everything that came before it, but that doesn't mean it's bad. If you want to see action and effects and, yes, Terminators, give it a go.


And now, I present the spoilers. This will cover some of the plot holes I noticed and story choices that were made.


So, I'm sure you're all aware from the trailers, but Marcus Wright is a machine. He's a machine who, in the beginning, doesn't know he's a machine. Why? Because he's an infiltrator. So, is he good or bad? Well, I'm not answering. This isn't about his motives, it's about what he is. He's a hybrid, both man and machine, but not like Arnie in the original films. It's not just soft tissue over a metal endoskeleton; he has organs. So while all this is cool for the film, I had to ask myself a couple of questions (mostly because I can't ask the writers). In the trailer we can see Marcus being carried, injured. If he's metal, why doesn't anyone realize he ways hundreds of pounds more than he should? The question is raised again when Marcus ends up in a river and starts floating down it. WTF? Again, not world-ending stuff, but worth noting.

Also--MAJOR SPOILER--John Connor was, at one point in the screenplay-writing process, going to die. The film was to end with the resistance removing John's skin and stretching it over Marcus' body, effectively "keeping John alive" in the eyes of the resistance. That was abandoned (thank whomever) due to negative testings. Instead, they have John stabbed through back by a T-800, dying. To save his life, Marcus offers up his human heart. Although this is more believable than the skin fiasco, it's still a stretch of the imagination. It isn't just for shits and giggles, there IS a point to it, but I almost feel like the entire movie was written around the idea that comes with that point. (I know I'm being vague and, thus, confusing, but I don't want to give absolutely everything away. Hopefully, you'll see what I'm talking about if you watch the film. If not, ask me about it)

As a tie-in to the paragraph I just finished writing/you just finished reading, I want to comment on what I like about the Marcus/heart idea. Making Marcus a machine who still kept his humanity, who actually believes he is human, is interesting to ponder over. It shows the machines really don't understand what it is to live. Yes, they have A.I., but they're not really alive. Skynet has a plan in Terminator Salvation, and that plan actually works, but only to an extent. Marcus' unwavering belief in his humanity allows him to be naive and do things with the best intentions at heart. Still, things get fucked up. And yet, that same flaw that causes the problems for the resistance becomes the undoing of Skynet. Marcus, because the machines left him his "humanity", is able to choose which side he is on. Skynet may have built him, but helping the humans reminded him that, no matter where he came from, where he went was in his hands.

Finally, I want to make mention of something that even you--yes, YOU--may not want to read. This is a big spoiler. A BIG SPOILER, goddammit! It's already been talked about around the intrawebs a bit, but some of you may not have seen those conversations. Perhaps some of you did, and didn't believe it. Or didn't want to believe it. Well, I'm going to tell you the truth. So if you want to witness it with a virgin mind, go back to your porn or social networking or whatever it is you do on your computer. For everyone else, here it goes.


There has been talk of a certain actor making a cameo as a certain character. It is 100% true...kinda.

Last chance to bail. No?

Arnold Schwarzenegger (I spelled that right without even looking! Go me!) reprises his role as the T-800, but not in the way people would expect. Because of his political duties, Arnie had a very limited amount of time to contribute. Like none. So, instead of having him act out a part, they did a full 3D model of his face, and the filmmakers applied it to Roland Kickinger's body. This allowed Arnold to take his rightful place once more, and in a much younger body as well. Surprisingly, it looked really, really good.

I was aware that it could be coming, and when it finally happened, I geeked out a little bit.

So that's pretty much it. My review. Non-spoiled with a side of spoilers. I do recommend seeing it. Again, I just want to remind you: it's different than what we're used to, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily bad. And hey, we can always go back and watch the originals.

/3:40 AM

Update: I think it's only fair that I should post a link to Harry's review since I brought it up during the course of my own article. Also, I just read it in it's entirety, and although he does have some valid points, I still think it's better than he gives it credit for. Especially since Terminator Salvation isn't meant to be the end of the franchise.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Angels & Demons Review

Sorry this took awhile to get up. I wanted to get the review up sooner, but I needed time to ponder what it was I watched. I'm still kind of torn, but I figured I should slap something down. It'll be short.

Angels & Demons, 9:40, Friday evening. Wait, rewind. If you remember a couple of years back when The DaVinci Code came out, you couldn't wipe your ass without seeing fourteen bajillion (a real number) ads or hearing about some new protest over how that film was shitting sixteen different kinds of shit on religion. I think people took that film way, way, WAY too seriously, but I digress.

A&D, on the other hand, seemed to get kind of lost. Same director, same star, and yet I can count on both hands how many TV spots and theatrical trailers I saw for the film. I dunno.

So, lemme preface the actual review with my thoughts on DaVinci. I never read either of the books to completion, but I did start both of 'em. I went to see DaVinci in theaters (when something infiltrates the bathroom to gouge out my eyes with advertisements, I figured I'd better) back in the day, and actually liked it. It wasn't the greatest piece of cinema I've ever witnessed, but I thought it had some nifty ideas (none of which I felt were all that "evil"). It was a nice little puzzle movie with a decent cast and crew AND it gave me some food for thought.

Angels did not. It was a mystery and a race against time and, yeah, there was more religious stuff, but it didn't really offer anything worth pondering...well, besides whether or not I actually enjoyed it. Tom Hanks was back and he had to use his scientific mind to help figure out clues and save the Vatican. Stuff happened, people died, etc, etc. It had a lot of the workings of a decent thriller/action movie, but in the end I was just kind of meh.

The action, the direction, it was all pretty good, for the most part. The scenery was cool and the idea was alright. Still, there was just something... Let me put it this way: when the credits started to role and everyone stood up, I was pretty indifferent. I had somewhat enjoyed myself, but at the same time I was glad it was done. I think the only thing that really kept me going was the who-dunnit aspect.

Let me compare it to Wolverine. Where that was a movie that was of bad quality, it still managed to be somewhat fun--partly BECAUSE of how bad it was--and, thus, ended up with a 5.5 from me. Angels & Demons is going to receive the same overall score. Not because of bad quality but good entertainment (or vice versa) causing that score to meet somewhere in the middle, but because everything about it was just that: somewhere in the middle; not bad, not particularly good, just acceptable.

Ultimately, after time to consider it all, I think Angels & Demons was actually a pretty forgettable film. Sure, I'll remember the plot, but the details will get lost like tears in the rain.

Yes, that was a reference to Blade Runner. Why did I add it? I don't know. But since I did and we're now on the topic, if you haven't seen it, do so. Excellent film.

Angels & Demons: 5.5/10

Terminator Salvation will be watched tomorrow (Tuesday night/Wednesday morning) at midnight. That film, I hope, will be much more worthy of a labor-intensive review. That review should be up around Wednesday or Thursday.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Blockbuster Season

It appears I'm talking to myself on this blog. But, just in case anyone happens to stop by, I'm gonna keep on posting. Also, it's good for me to lighten my mental load a bit.

In case you haven't figured it out from my last couple of posts, the summer blockbuster season officially started last week with X-Men Origins: Wolverine. This is my favorite time of year; I love movies and I especially love movies that are hyped to all hell. So that's my new shtick. When the newest summer blockbuster is released, I'll more-likely-than-not be there. And once I get back from there, I'll be posting my thoughts on said movie. So, my non-existent audience, stay tuned for my reviews.

x X-Men Origins: Wolverine
x Star Trek
x Angeles and Demons
x Terminator Salvation
Drag Me to Hell
Land of the Lost
Year One
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Public Enemies
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Final Destination: Death Trip
Inglorious Basterds

To Boldly Go... the movies.

It's just a bit before midnight on Thursday and Tara and I just got home from Star Trek . Now, I was always a Star Wars, rarely--very rarely--a Star Trek fan. I've seen maybe 5 episodes of the original series, and somewhere around a season's worth of The Next Generation. To me, Star Trek was more akin to a space-based soap opera whereas Star Wars was action and cool special effects. Still, seeing the trailers for J.J. Abrams reboot of the Star Trek series got me a little jazzed.

So, how did it turn out? I know reviews have been littering the intrawebs for a couple of weeks already, but regardless, I'm gonna write me own and I'm definitely gonna repeat some of the same opinions. Star Trek makes me, a Star Wars child, want to go back and give the original "space soap opera" a try. This reboot had enough sci-fi action, sans the over-abundance of crappily used CGI, to give Star Wars a run for it's money. Well, no, I take that back; it pretty much decimates Episodes I-III, but still falls a little short of what the original Star Wars accomplished (c'mon, I'm not gonna turn my back on a childhood love that fast).

The Enterprise's crew were all likeable, IMO, the acting, spot-on. I've heard that Chekov (Anton Yelchin) rubbed people the wrong way a bit, which I can see, but he didn't bother me. Chris Pine, who I'd never even heard of before this reboot hit my radar, did a bang-up job as Kirk; he had all the charisma, cockiness, and command needed to pull of his role. Zachary Quinto was pretty much the only possible replacement for Leonard Nimoy's Spock, but that's fine seeing as he absolutely nailed it. Karl Urban, who'll I've always had a fondness for (along with anyone else who was in the Lord of the Rings), was pretty damn amazing as "Bones" McCoy. John Cho, known for his comedic roles, really pulled his weight as a serious character in Sulu's shoes. Zoe Saldana's portrayal of Uhura was one that made her instantly likable (and she wasn't bad on the eyes, either). And finally, my favorite actor--who I wish had more screen-time--was Scotty, played by the always-amazing Simon Pegg; instantly and unerringly likable.

Nero (Eric Bana), really the only baddy worth mentioning, was amazing. To have a villian who was a regular joe was refreshing. Instead of having some criminal mastermind, we have an everyman Romulan who watched his entire civilization destroyed, blames Spock and the Federation for not helping, and simply wants revenge. He's a "man" who just lost his way due to immense tragedy, and he's going about righting the wrongs the only way he knows how. Doesn't make him right or likable, but a part of you can almost understand why he's doing what he's doing.

Moving past the cast and on to the production value, Star Trek has way, way, WAY better effects than last week's Wolverine. The CGI used was restrained. Obviously a lot of CGI was necessary for this film, but it was employed ONLY when necessary. It was flashy, sure, but it wasn't at the expense of the story and the characters. First and foremost, it was apparent that J.J. made this film with the original series and the fans of that series in mind.

So yes, it does do the original series justice, just as it does that series' characters justice, but it doesn't create a dividing wall that leaves the fans satisfied and the newly-initiated scratching their heads. This film is complete in its presentation. Even someone who has never seen a single episode of Star Trek can sit down in a dark theater and understand what is being shown to them.

To me, even though it's only the second released, Star Trek is the fist summer blockbuster to truly be worthy of being called a summer blockbuster. It's fun, emotional, beautiful, and all-around engaging. If it came down to it, I'd recommend Star Trek above Wolverine, hands-down. See it in theaters. Hell, if it's available, see it in IMAX.


I'll be back next week with a review for Angels and Demons. The week after that, the McG (really, what kind of name is that?) sequel, Terminator Salvation, hits theaters and there'll also be a review there.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Wolverine: All Bark, Little Bite? Or Scratch? ::Some SPOILERS::

Let me start off by saying I didn't despise this movie. Quite the contrary, I actually liked it--to an extent. I liked it in much the same way I like Michael Bay films: they're flashy and mind-numbingly fun, but with little substance. X-Men Origins: Wolverine, on the other hand, had a bit (and I stress "bit") more substance, but a little less flash. Or the flash wasn't done as well, whichever you prefer.

Now, I was never an X-Men fanboy. Sure, I loved the cartoons growing up, but I didn't have an X-Men comic collection. I knew some of the basics, just not all. There are characters I know like the back of my hand, there are some I'm aware of but haven't gotten the formal introduction I'd prefer, and there are some that, when they pop up on screen, I'm left scratching my head in confusion. Wolverine, like with most people, falls into the first category, someone like Deadpool falls into the second, and someone like Agent Zero, the third. This has both it's advantages and disadvantages.

For the fans/fanboys/fangirls, the biggest problem arises: when the writers butcher a character that is beloved, blood will be shed. But for the general viewing audience who just wants a summer blockbuster, a lot of 'em won't know the changes that were made. I think it's gonna go like this: the bigger the fan you were or the X-Men of old, the more you're going to be disappointed in this film. If you know nothing about X-Men, you might STILL be disappointed, but your reasons for being so will be far less.

Because I don't know all of the characters' histories, I can't vouch for some of the butchery jobs that took place. Still, I've read enough gripes on the intranets to know it did happen: be forewarned. From what I could tell, even the characters with places close to our heart don't survived unscathed (i.e. Wolverine, Sabretooth, etc.). There are details that changed for the characters, but again, the more you know, the more you'll notice, the more you'll be let down.

So the official verdict on the characters: no one is going to be satisfied with the liberties they've taken. Even if you don't know some of 'em, there are still moments that are cringe-worthy.
The actors are kind of hit and miss. There's a line-up that, by normal standards, is quite impressive. Obviously, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine was an obvious choice from the trilogy, and really, it's a perfect match. Jackman IS Wolverine. What's more, Jackman is Wolverine and he's actually a decent actor. He, along with Liev, helps hold this movie together.

And yes, there's Liev Schreiber as Victor Creed, aka Sabretooth (who never inherits this name throughout the movie)(always a Victor, never a Sabre). He plays a much different role than Tyler Mane's portrayal in the first X-Men. He TALKS, for one. There's some history involved, as well. Liev pulled the character which could have been pure viciousness into realm of believability and something like "humanity", for lack of a better word.

Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool was alright. The character for Deadpool was one of the butchered, but still, when he showed up on screen, in our theater, there was a fanboy who wouldn't stop yelling "Deadpool, you fuckin' rock! Whoooo!" And then he disappears after 20 minutes. And then he shows up at the end. And he's butchered (er...yeah). He was cool to watch, but a little lacking in the flavor department. Also, Ryan Reynolds once again = Van Wilder. Just an FYI.

Dominic Monaghan, of whom I'm a massive fan, was underused but, as his character was completely unknown to me, what more could I expect. He played his part decently, for what it was. Danny Huston as Stryker was...yeah. I enjoy the actor, but in this role he was kind of meh. The list could go on. The actors (sans Hugh and Liev) were, for the most part, kind of coasting through their parts.

The special effects. Yeah. Let's just say there were points when they were less-than-special. There were some cool action sequences, to be sure. But it feels like many of them were thrown in just because. And maybe they were, cause it also appears as if some of them were last minute additions that maybe the budget didn't completely allow for. In other words, the CG was less than stellar in a few places.

So yeah, Wolverine, I felt, still kicks ass, but his movie, not so much. It's flashy and entertaining on a "holy shit, lets see what kind of crazy effects and action sequences we get" level, but as a quality movie, it's a bit lacking. Here is the rub, tho. For all of it's flaws, I still enjoyed it. I definitely liked it better than X3, and I possibly liked it better than X-Men. But let me be clear, it's a different kind of like. X-Men and X2 had a quality and a flash factor to them. They were more all-around good films. This is more of a fun film just for a bit of gooey-brain entertainment (like Michael Bay, with worse special effects).

I can't say whether I recommend X-Men Origins: Wolverine or not. Each person will be different. This is actually one of those movies where reading my thoughts on the film could make or break the experience for some people.

I give it a 5.5/10, but not because it's GOOD, but because it's FUN. Remember, disappointment will be had. Even I was bummed about how they handled some of the characters.

Wolverine IMDb

Updated: I changed my score from 7/10 to 5.5/10.