Archive for November, 2015

30
Nov
15

Terminator: Genisys Is More Than a Land of Confusion

terminator_genisys.jpg

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emelia Clarke, Jason Clarke, Jai Courtney, and J.K. Simmons. Directed by Alan Taylor

Gotta go back in time…

Having spent years growing up watching science fiction TV shows and movies I know most of the tropes and sub-genres: time-travel, aliens, special “powers,” body swapping, shrinking/supersizing people/animals, and the Fear of the Computer Overlords (among others). Time-travel and fear of technology have been the cornerstone of the “Terminator” franchise since the release of the first film in 1985. Everyone in my generation knows the story by heart: a restaurant waitress is unmercifully tracked down in (then) modern-day Los Angeles by a cyborg sent from the future to kill her, thus ceasing the human resistance. Her savior is a soldier by the name Kyle Reese sent from the future to protect and save her from the killing machine so she can give birth to the leader of the Resistance, one John Connor.

Before I go into detail about how this movie leaves the original two without a kiss, “thank you,” or Vaseline, let’s talk about time-travel. It’s difficult to get it right, even in the movies. The best example anyone can give would be the foreshadowed, “Back to the Future.” What if you went back in time, met your parents, and bungled them getting together? Also, how does one return to their present time in a DeLorean? “BTTF” looked at time as a singular string that you could remove yourself from and return to. “Back to the Future II” expanded on time-travel but changed aspects of time-travel to include alternate timelines (which is a subject for another day). Essentially, most movies of this type or trope bank on time itself being a single ribbon that only gets changed, not sprouting multiple other ribbons. Peppered down through the list are such films as “Millennium,” “TimeCop,” “Time Lapse,” “The Time Machine,” “Somewhere in Time,” “Predestination,” “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home,” “Galaxy Quest,” “Time After Time…” I literally could go on about them. In each case there is at least one question that, if asked, would unravel the logic of the movie in one fell swoop. For instance: in “Back to the Future” Marty’s parents abstaining from being together nearly wipes out him, his brother and sister. However in “Back to the Future II” Biff steals the DeLorean and goes back to 1955 to give his younger self Gray’s Sports Almanac, which leads to 1985 being ruled by Biff, but the 2015 Biff left from does not change around Marty, Jennifer, or Doc. Heavy. “Terminator: Genisys” is no exception.

Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.

Okay, I’ve only watched the movie once so if it sounds confusing to you it’s even moreso when you watch the film. It’s the future and Resistance is fighting back against the SkyNet computer-controlled landscape. Humans are kept in pens like animals as the machines rule. Upon finding out plans for a new threat the Resistance is able to send back one soldier, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), to protect Sarah Connor from being terminated.

Got it? This is where the stories diverge.

After SkyNet sends back a T-100 resistance soldier Kyle Reese (Jason Clarke) jumps in to follow it back to 1984. Before leaving John Connor is compromised by a new type of Terminator. Upon arriving in 1984 Reese finds that his mission has now been changed: SkyNet sent back a Terminator to kill Sarah (Emelia Clarke) when she was 9 years old in 1973 and was saved by a reprogrammed T-800 (Schwarzenegger, reprising his role). Note: no mention of this occurs elsewhere in the movie. It’s now been 11 years since that has happened and she knows of the storyline and is waiting for Reese to show, which he does. Unbeknownst to them ANOTHER Terminator, a T-1000, was sent to kill Kyle Reese, Sarah Connor, and any other person or thing that would help the original storyline come true. Meanwhile, the T-100 Ah-nuld is walking around the Griffith Observatory naked and is confronted by T-800 Ah-nuld. A fight ensues and the T-100 is killed. One down…

Reese is saved by Sarah and the T-800. She quickly relays to him that the timeline has now been changed. She’s closer to the “T2” Linda Hamilton Sarah Connor than original waitress-turned- commando Hamilton. I guess training from the age of 9-forward to be a Resistance fighter IS a certain kind of Boot Camp… Sarah doesn’t want to tell Kyle they have to “get it on” in order for John Connor to be the leader of the Resistance and holds out most of the movie from letting him know. But that’s not important right now – they have to get to 2017. Reese has been having dreams that run on an alternate timeline and he’s being sent a message: destroy Genisys. Realizing it was a giant, time-sucking, all-encompassing software package across multiple platforms and used by desktops, tablets, and smartphones that would become sentient (sound familiar to anything?) they must know follow Reese’s pieces of dreams and be sent to 2017 San Francisco.

Arriving naked on a highway overpass in the middle of the night they are taken to the hospital and into custody where Detective O’Brien (Simmons) regales about meeting them in 1984. The T-800 is hunting them down only to be preceded by John Connor who went back to 2014. Why? Right as Reese was leaving a “new” Terminator grabbed Connor before wiping out the rest of the Resistance. The Machines were able to change John on a molecular level making him as much human as machine, but to do their bidding and what better way to do this than sending him back in time to a point where the technology was developing enough to create new Machines, etc. Now T-800 (“Pops”), Sarah, and Reese must not only save 2017, but the rest of the world.

Make sense? Maybe on paper but not really. “Genisys” is 1/3 nostalgia and 2/3 confusion. This “re-purposing” of the “Terminator” franchise is an exercise in futility. My “Bullshit!” meter went off so constantly that I just gave up trying to enjoy the film and waited for the ending to be played out. And what did we (as an audience) learn? Yes, you can save the day and tomorrow may be brighter but eventually the machines will kill us all. Hasn’t that been the moral of every one of the films?

Praise for Emilia Clarke in wanting to channel her inner “T2” Hamilton. She had a tough job to “reconstruct” and the only other person I see who could’ve came close would be an actress like Michelle Rodriguez. Jason Clarke as Kyle Reese is less intense and more stupefied and has little chemistry with Emilia. Jai Courtney is great as a more fully-realized John Connor and is the fifth actor to portray him. And Ah-nuld is… Arnold. He was having fun and cashing a check.

If you were reading into what I said above then here’s that point where “Terminator: Genisys” can be unraveled: if the machines had just sent the T-100 back for the first time, which was then followed by Kyle Reese being sent back (both to 1984), AND the new Terminator just took control of John Connor as Reese was out the door… when was the T-1000 sent to 1984? Or the Terminator sent to kill Sarah Connor in 1973? Or when did the Resistance get a T-800 reprogrammed to kill the T-100 sent back to 1973? Or when did… I’ll stop. You get the point.

My grade: a head-scratching WTF. Or, D. Recommendation: not really but if you want, Redbox/Netflix/cable watch it.

 

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16
Nov
15

Did ‘Spectre’ Stand a Ghost of a Chance?

spectre

Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Lea Seydoux, and Andrew Scottt.

Directed by Sam Mendes

ME: “Dad, what do you think of the new ‘Bond’ movies?”

DAD: “Well, the stories kinda suck.”

ME: “What do you think of Daniel Craig as Bond?”

DAD: “He’s good but I wished they had retired the character after he [Albert Broccoli] died.”

True conversation.

Not too far from the premiere weekend crowd I watched “Spectre,” the much-anticipated sequel/next-installment of the James Bond franchise, last Tuesday. Oh, boy. Is it entirely disappointing? Is it worth the price? Read on.

I can honestly say that I’ve grown up watching Bond but from the viewpoint of a different side of Bond: the post-Dalton/Pierce Brosnan Bond. While Timothy Dalton played a grittier, more “real” side of James Bond (far from the suave Roger Moore Bond) Brosnan’s Bond was one now having to compete with the feminist 90s giving him smart female counterparts that were either Bond girls or even M herself (Judi Dench took over the traditionally male role of ‘M’ in “GoldenEye”). Famke Janssen, Michelle Yeoh, Sophie Marceau, Halle Berry were all strong, independent female characters to the counteract James Bond and while the latter two Brosnan movies left a lot to be desired (namely a decent story) the actors and characters they played stood out and above the source material. However, “Die Another Day” was the death-knell for Brosnan’s Bond.

His successor, as you now know, was Daniel Craig. With the reboot/remake/origin movies being the way Hollywood was going it was only fitting that Craig start BEFORE “00” status as Bond “rough around the edges” Craig’s portrayal was a breath of fresh air for the franchise and washed out the bad taste in our mouth left from the fourth Brosnan feature. Here was a new Bond before being suave, using gadgets, guns, cars, women… this was the indoctrination of a character with over 20 films of history and we were more than glad to have him. While “Casino Royale” shifted the direction of the wind being blown to keep Bond sailing, “Quantum of Solace” was a dead calm of a “sequel.” The director and producers failed to learn the lessons of “License to Kill” in that James Bond is NOT a character out for vengeance but the “savior” of queen and country. Trying for a different wind director Sam Mendes was brought in for the third venture, “Skyfall,” which proved to be even better than “Casino Royale” and made us almost forget about “Quantum…” With the audience and critical acclaim of “Skyfall” Mendes returned for the latest venture, “Spectre,” and unfortunately succumbed to tripping the trope fantastic.

Warning. Spoilers ahead.

“The dead are alive…” are the first words greeting us as we pan into a crowd in Mexico City on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). James Bond (Craig) and a companion are masked and moving through the crowded celebration. Once behind closed doors Bond goes on “personal assignment” which ends in a building being demolished and an overly long fight inside a helicopter over the crowd. Back in England Bond answers to M’s (Fiennes) interrogation saying that he was on “holiday.” M is furious and puts Bond on suspension before having to face James Bond Trope #1: The not-so-secret spy agency is in imminent threat of being dissolved. Ever since “GoldenEye” someone working for the British government keeps asking “Why is Bond even out there? Isn’t the Cold War over? Do we even need spies?” etc. It never fails. The best response given was Judi Dench as M saying, “He’s doing his job!” Again, this has been going on for 20 years only this time M is finding that a new security agency, CNS, is bringing together all technology to be the eyes and ears of the intelligence agency without having to leave home and Bond’s vacation may have caused their time to be cut even more.

Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are secretly being utilized by Bond to uncover a massive, secret organization. His reasoning? Cinematic Trope #2: a character leaves the main protagonist information saying, “If something happens to me, then, this…” M (Dench) left such a message for Bond to hunt down and kill one Marco Sciarra (Allesandro Cremona). Bond sneaks out of England, finds Mrs. Sciarra (Bellucci), hooks up for the night (Bond Trope #3), and infiltrates a Spectre town-hall meeting before barely getting out alive. Realizing that he recognized the guy running the meeting we’re now taken to…

The residence of Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), the most common thread of all of the Craig Bond films. Apparently Mr. White is on the outs with Spectre (unclear if it was a matter or conscience or being behind with dues) and gives up info on his daughter before “checking out.” Continuing the quest for vengeance we go to…

An upscale office building somewhere in/around the Alps were estranged daughter Madeleine Swann (Seydoux) works. Bond introduces himself, she gets captured (Trope #4) and even though she’s lived her life being the daughter of a spy/assassin she does little more than keep herself from being drugged via syringe. Wait, she saves Bond’s life a little later (Trope #5: Being knocked down doesn’t necessarily mean knocked-out) and they fall in love with as little chemistry as possible (Trope #6?)

Meanwhile, back in England…

The all-seeing, all-knowing new privately-funded security network is about to go live. The “00” program has been disbanded. Bond is now rogue and M refuses to help as CNS can here/see/read everything transmitted. Bond is rogue. And now we go back to the middle of the desert in North Africa were Bond and Swann encounter…

The villain’s secret lair (feel free to pronounce that a la Dr. Evil). Standing outside giant circle in the middle of the desert Bond and Swann are greeted and taken into the head of Spectre, one Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Waltz). James’s history is exposed as we find that when his parents died a man adopted him and he became the step-brother. The step-brother purportedly died in an avalanche as well as his father only to come back as Blofeld (mom’s last name). The avalanche was no accident; Blofeld killed his dad in retaliation for getting a step-brother. Rough.

That’s as far as I’m going with the story. You know James Bond is going to survive/win; nothing new under the sun there. My complaints are: checking off the tropes just to advance the story, action sequences that just ran too long, under use of Monica Bellucci, a boring story, and a lackluster movie theme, Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On the Wall.” On the plus side when the humor works it works and Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw get to do more stuff. The opening segment is reminiscent of “Touch of Evil” and is one of the coolest Bond openings for Craig and company, if not overall. The beginning is good, the middle struggles and is drawn out, but the end was really good.

My grade: C