Movie Review: Terminator Genisys (2015)

July 27, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

genisys

When Arnie famously said, “I’ll be back,” he clearly forgot to add, “over and over and over again.”

Let’s face it: the Terminator franchise has been on a downward trajectory since the highs of the iconic Judgment Day. None of the subsequent films have been bad, but they haven’t been great either. And now, six years after the ill-fated reboot, Terminator Salvation (which I actually thought was underrated), we have the reboot of the reboot, Terminator Genisys.

I liked where they were going with the premise — the idea that everything that happened in the earlier films never happened because someone went back even further (before the 1984 film) and changed how the future would pan out.

First off, it allows them to pay homage to the earlier films by taking audiences down nostalgia lane, reciting popular catchphrases and bringing back memorable characters and events — but with time-travel induced twists to make it fresh and unexpected.

Secondly, it gives the franchise new life by creating a completely different storyline that opens up possibilities of further sequels. That’s what good reboots do — they keep the best of the original and revamp and update other bits and pieces. This one goes even further to turn the franchise’s existing universe on its head by changing everything we thought we knew.

This should all be fantastic — as the T-800 would say repeatedly throughout this film — “theoretically.”

Unfortunately, Terminator Genisys isn’t nearly as effective in practice. It’s a messy effort with a plethora of problems, from from a nonsensical storyline and contrived plot devices to poor casting and cheesy dialogue. It is still enjoyable on an purely entertainment level, though it ultimately comes across as a commercial cash grab as opposed to a genuine effort to recapture the magic of the first two classics.

Allow me to break it down. The original Terminator paints a future in which robots take over the world in 1997, and in 2029, the machines decide to send a killer cyborg with an Austrian accent back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the future mother of John Connor, the last remaining human resistance. John Connor sends back his trusted soldier, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), back to the same time to protect his young mother. It’s a frightening action thriller with a clever time travel twist attached to it.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day, released in 1991, follows on from the original. The machines send back a liquid metal cyborg (Robert Patrick) to kill teenage John Connor (Edward Furlong), and the future John Connor sends back an old model killer cyborg with an Austrian accent to protect him. By this time, Sarah Connor has also turned into a badass, and in the end they appear to have change enough of the past to suggest that the 1997 judgment day doesn’t happen. The movie is one of the best and most iconic action and sci-fi films of all time.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, is a continuation of the second film. The 1997 judgment day is indeed averted, but it appears to only be postponed because somehow robots are still in control of the future. The machines send a cyborg who looks a lot like actress Kristanna Loken to 2003 to wipe out future members of the human resistance, and the humans send back a really old killer cyborg with an Austrian accent to protect them. Loken is ultimately unsuccessful in killing John Connor (Nick Stahl) and his future wife (Claire Danes), but judgment day happens anyway at the end of the movie. It’s not as good as the previous two but it’s still pretty entertaining.

Terminator Salvation, released in 2009, is mostly set in 2018, and presumes that judgment day happened around 2003 as opposed to 1997, meaning it accepts the events of its predecessor. Apart from that, the film is more of a side story, with the only major tie-in to the franchise being a cameo from an eerie-looking CGI Arnie at the very end.

Now, Terminator Genisys goes back to when the robots and John Connor (Jason Clarke) send Arnie and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), respectively, back to 1984 (ie, the first film), but this time the past has changed because Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke, no relation to Jason) has already become a badass after being trained from the age of nine by an even older Arnie. Things obviously progress differently from here, creating a brand new timeline.

The first thing to note about the plot of Genisys is that it goes back to assuming that judgment day took place in 1997 as opposed to 2003, meaning it is essentially ignoring everything that happened from T2 to T4. I’m not sure if this was an intentional decision or oversight, but what it does is complicate the Terminator universe a whole lot more. T1 was a simple time loop. T2-4 was all part of a single alternate timeline. Genisys, on the other hand, seems to have created multiple intertwining alternate timelines. That is a risky move because the idea of a universe where there are infinite versions of a reality arguably cheapens the meaning of all the other films in the franchise.

The second thing to note is that a lot of the isolated time travel stuff that happens in Genisys don’t make a whole lot of sense. Granted, most time travel movies have holes in them if you think about them long enough, but in this film you don’t even have to think about it to realise it lacks logic.

Worse still, the film is filled with trite plot devices to help progress the narrative. It’s as though the writers would first think of something they would like to happen in the storyline, then drop something in just before it happens so that it would conveniently make sense all of a sudden. Frustratingly, this happens again and again, especially towards the end when the stakes get high. One particular twist of fate at the end is laughable.

Casting is another issue I had with the film. I am glad Aussies are getting work in Hollywood, I really am, and I think Jason Clarke is not bad as John Connor. But Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese? Seriously? I have no idea why Courtney keeps getting so many roles despite not having been in any genuinely good films or put in any good performances — ever. He doesn’t have a “good guy” vibe, for starters, and he has zero charm for what is supposed to be a charismatic character.

Emilia Clarke may have appeared like a good choice on paper because she’s young, popular because of Game of Thrones, and as Khaleesi proved that she could play both vulnerable and super tough. But Emilia, as much as I like her, doesn’t hold a candle to Linda Hamilton. She doesn’t have any of the physicality the character needs (remember, she’s been trained by a Terminator since youth), plus she is a mismatch for Courtney and Arnie. Standing next to those two makes her look like the way Peter Dinklage looks when standing next to her in Game of Thrones.

The casting of Oscar-winner JK Simmons as a police officer makes up for the bad lead choices a little bit, and I quite liked the move of choosing Lee Byung-hun as the new T-1000 because he looks just like Korean Robert Patrick, but on the whole the cast is problematic and causes issues for the next two instalments of this planned trilogy.

Additional concerns include poorly written and executed dialogue, as well as Arnie’s badly timed one-liners that tend to fall flat, though admittedly these things get better as the film progresses and evens out by the end.

What the film has going for it includes excellent special effects, in particularly the anti-aging technology applied to Arnie, who plays three different ages throughout the movie because, apparently, the cyborgs are covered by human tissue that ages over time — albeit, as the film indicates, very inconsistently. Still, it’s much better than the weird version of Arnie was got at the end of Salvation, showing that movie technology has indeed improved (though it also shows just how ahead of its time Judgment Day was).

The action is pretty decent, close to being on par with what we got in every film of the franchise except Judgment Day, and I do like that it doesn’t take itself — for the most part — too seriously, with a handful of tongue-in-cheek gags that hit the mark. Brownie points for also updating the machine threat to cloud computing to be more relevant to today’s technology. As a piece of popcorn entertainment, Genisys is acceptable without being remarkable, and for some that might be good enough if you tack on the goodwill of the franchise and Arnie’s “old but not obsolete” presence.

Overall, however, Genisys is a disappointment, a muddled effort with loads of issues that could have and should have been ironed out. It’s a sobering reminder of how good this franchise used to be and why reboots of classics are seldom necessary. Viewers with low expectations who catch the it in the right mood could still enjoy the film because it does have strengths, can be fun at times, and takes full advantage of the franchise’s cache, though considering its full potential it’s safe to say Genisys fell well short.

2.75 stars out of 5

PS: I decided to use a teaser poster as a protest to the geniuses in their marketing department putting one of the biggest spoilers there is in the film’s most widely used poster. It’s impossible to miss.

Movie Review: Project Almanac (2015)

June 11, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

Project-Almanac-poster

Found-footage movies just need to die. Not next year, not tomorrow. Now. The gimmick isn’t not fooling anyone anymore and hasn’t for a long time, and any perceived benefits are heavily outweighed by the forced and nonsensical execution, the vomit-inducing shakiness and the way it cheapens the overall feel.

And so it’s not hard to guess that I think the found-footage approach ruins Project Almanac, an otherwise barely-passable teen travel movie. There are some interesting ideas early on, though when you break it down it’s really a fairly pedestrian effort that doesn’t offer anything we haven’t seen before in the genre.

Directed by Dean Israelite, who has reportedly been selected for the new Power Rangers reboot, Project Almanac  tells the story of high school inventor David (Jonny Weston), who discovers the blueprint to build a time machine in his basement left behind by his late father. After some trial and error, David and his sister (Virginia Gardner), his friends (Allen Evangelista and Sam Lerner), and the girl he pine after (Sofia Black D’Elia) start using the machine to go back in time and fulfill their dreams.

The best way to describe Project Almanac is a mix between Chronicle and The Butterfly Effect. The film wants to capture the slick style of Chronicle with the found-footage approach and the change the teen characters go through as they struggle to deal with the inheritance of a grew power (and thus responsibility). It also takes, quite directly, the time-travel concept of The Butterfly Effect in that every decision we make creates ripples we might not expect.

All that is fine; there are almost no truly original films these days anyway. The problems with Project Almanac have more to do with the script and the execution. I don’t need to discuss how annoying the found-footage thing is again. It doesn’t add to the realism and is a complete distraction. It just makes no sense why they would film some of the scenes that exist in the movie.

Secondly, the film wastes far too much time testing the time machine. It’s pretty obvious they’ll eventually get it to work, or else that would make one very lame movie, so what’s the point of showing us failure after failure — other than padding time and showing off special effects?

Thirdly, the film gets bogged down by a toothless and predictable romance. It’s embarrassing that something so boring and cringeworthy could end up being such a pivotal device in the film, and what makes it worse is that the human reactions to it make zero sense, especially for people who are supposed to be intelligent.

Fourthly, there are some obvious logic gaps in the time travel concept that are never explained. Time travel movies usually involve actually changing the past and thus changing the future, or finding out that time is a loop you may think you are changing but can’t. Project Almanac inexplicably adopts both.

The one thing I will give the film credit for is the way it depicts that exhilaration of discovering you have he ability to change the past, and how the characters first decide to take advantage of this power. Think about what you might do if you were an American teenager, and it’s probably not that far off. I found this part of the film, at least at the start of it, rather satisfying, and it’s a shame the plot later descended down the wrong path.

Project Almanac is not without its moments, but on the whole there are just too many flaws that bring it down, with the annoying found footage gimmick being arguably the biggest culprit.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Looper (2012)

December 6, 2012 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

I love time travel films, and one of my favourites of all-time also had Bruce Willis in it (Twelve Monkeys, of course). Given that I have also recently developed a man-crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Looper appeared to be a tailor-made film for me.

The movie is set in the year 2044 and the future of that future is 2074, a time when time travel has finally been invented (I still have a chance to live to that day, so fingers crossed that this is based on a true story). Unfortunately, time travel is outlawed then but is still being used by criminal organizations, which need a “looper” to help them in the past when they transport things back over from the future. Gordon-Levitt is a young looper. Bruce Willis is him in 30 years. I can’t say why, but they don’t like each other.

It may sound complicated but I actually found Looper to be a really straightforward time-travel movie. The mechanics and laws of time travel in the film’s universe are sufficiently described in the beginning and there’s not much to be confused about, which is why I was really confused by all these reviewers saying that the film was confusing. Some even compared it to Christopher Nolan’s Inception, which I found strange because they are nothing alike apart from the fact that both star Gordon-Levitt.

Looper is an unusual and unusually clever time-travel film in the sense that it’s more of a character movie about how people deal with the effects of time travel rather than the time travel itself. From that perspective it means less trying to figure out what’s going on/pointing out gaps in logic and more just enjoying the movie for its action and freaky futuristic stuff.

It’s always hard to review a movie like this without slipping in unnecessary spoilers, so all I will say is that it also stars Emily Blunt and is in part related to genetic mutations which occur naturally in the human body at some point in the future (I am begging for this to be based on a true story).

Some people have criticized the decision to use prosthetics and make-up on Gordon-Levitt to make him look like a young Bruce Willis. I thought it was awesome. I have to admit, the thin-framed Gordon Levitt is one of the last actors I would have pictured playing John “Yippee-ki-yay” McClane, but the prosthetics made me believe he could have eventually grown to look like him. He still looks like Gordon-Levitt but it also reminds you a little of Bruce Willis – I don’t get what the big deal is.

Despite my praises, I think there is something missing from Looper that prevents it from being a time-travel classic like Twelve Monkeys, Back to the Future, Terminator 2, and so forth. The film has a great premise, interesting characters, solid action and enough twists and turns to make it a highly enjoyable experience, but perhaps it lacked the grand vision and scale that would have pushed it to that next level.

4 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

April 27, 2010 in Movie Reviews

When I first heard there’s a new movie called Hot Tub Time Machine, I almost rolled my eyes.  Sounded like one of those horrible, straight-to-video, B/C-grade films from the 80s.

However, that was before I glanced past some seemingly favourable reviews and read that John Cusack stars in it.  John Cusack!  There’s no way he could be in something trashy.

And so, against all preconceptions, I went to watch Hot Tub Time Machine, and actually expecting something good.

The name of the film is pretty self-explanatory, so there’s no need to go too much into the plot.  Three 40-something men (Cusack, Craig Robinson and Rob Corddry) and a nephew of one of these men (Clark Duke) somehow find themselves in the titular device and are transported back to 1986.

As with most time travel movies, much of Hot Tub Time Machine focuses on the “what could have been”, and asking the question “if I could live my life again, what would I do differently?”  That is the current underlying the film and there’s a bit of poignancy to be found in there, but on the surface it’s all craziness and gross-out laughs, and of course, making fun of the 80s.

A lot of the jokes are very 80s, if that qualifies as a description.  Kind of zany and outrageous, sexually charged but extremely homophobic.  When the humour hits the spot it can be pretty fun, and it’s quite astounding when you realise how much fashion, technology and attitudes have changed over the last 20 years or so.  But there are also plenty of jokes that fell horribly flat, especially when you can tell they were going for some big laughs but just couldn’t channel the right punch line.

John Cusack’s talents are somewhat wasted as Adam, the least comical of the foursome, and Clark Duke (Kick-Ass and Sex Drive) is not fully utilised as his geeky, socially reclusive nephew Jacob.  The standouts end up being Rob Corddry (The Heartbreak Kid, Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay), who plays Lou, a depressed alcoholic and really the central character of the story, as well as Craig Robinson (Pineapple Express, Zack and Miri Make a Porno), who plays Nick, a pussy-whipped former singer.  Chevy Chase’s minor role failed badly in my opinion, but Crispin Glover as the hotel bellhop was pretty awesome.

Hot Tub Time Machine is funnier than the title suggests, but it’s very very hit and miss.  And there’s just too many misses to make it a consistently enjoyable film.

2.5 stars out of 5!

 
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