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Terminator Genisys (Review 2)

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7.1Director: Alan Taylor

Writers: Laeta Kalogridis, Patrick Lussier

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jai Courtney, Emilia Clarke, Jason Clarke, J.K. Simmons, Matt Smith

Reviewed by Ren Zelen

The Terminator saga began in 1984 as an imaginative tale about a young hero trying to protect an innocent woman from a time-travelling cyborg assassin, sent from a post-apocalyptic future in which a handful of humans are at war with the Machines. Since its inception, James Cameron’s apocalyptic franchise has been battling those relentless, shiny, skeletal machines. Many things changed, many time-lines were reshaped and only ‘The Terminator’ himself apparently, stayed the same, albeit a bit creakier.

So many actors have played John Connor, saviour of humanity, Sarah Connor his mother and Kyle Reese his father, it’s already enough to make your head spin, let alone have them flitting about between time-lines and altering history (remodelling their faces too, it would seem) – but hey, ‘He’s back’ though, same as ever, the original Terminator ‘Cyberdyne Systems Model 101’ otherwise known as Arnold Schwarzenegger – to use his new catchphrase – ‘Old but not obsolete’.

Following a prologue set in 2029, that serves to introduce us to some of this film’s new cast, Terminator: Genisys begins, to the delight of aficionados, with a recreation of the opening of the original film. In this latest movie, Jason Clarke plays John Connor, the leader of the human resistance. As before, Connor is sending his lieutenant, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to protect his mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), from the cyborg hit man that has been sent to kill her so that her son John will never be born. Once again, that killer robot is played by Schwarzenegger, whose younger, 1984 body has been digitally spliced into the film.

However, due to various time-bending shenanigans, Kyle discovers that the 1984 into which he has been dropped is not the familiar timeline of the first film. In this particular 1984 that other, more advanced model of robotic ‘Terminators’- the pesky liquid-metal T-1000 – (here played by Korean action star Byung-hun Lee) is waiting to hunt him down.

Also, in this alternative branch of time, Sarah Connor is not the unwitting damsel in need of protection – ‘Come with me if you want to live!’ is her introductory line to the bemused Kyle Reese.  She has been raised from childhood by Schwarzenegger’s protective and now somewhat aged, Terminator, whom she has affectionately nicknamed ‘Pops’. Sarah is already the warrior woman that actress Linda Hamilton so strikingly morphed into in Cameron’s second film. Unfortunately, Emilia Clarke (whose casting seems a cynical attempt to capture the Game of Thrones fan base) isn’t nearly as impressive or convincing as Hamilton’s “T2” Sarah. Even at 28, Clarke has the appearance of a wide-eyed, if feisty, school girl, and she looks a bit teensy-weensy wielding those awfully big guns.

At first, the sight of Schwarzenegger reprising what is probably his most iconic role provides a pleasing retro thrill, and the film allows us to wallow in nostalgic references to the greatest moments of its predecessors, but these connections to previous movies do try a bit too hard to persuade us that this is a better movie than it actually is.

Time-travel plots are always a risky proposition. One has to tread carefully and methodically to get things right. It soon becomes clear however, that director Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) and writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier are generally stomping around the time-line, making a muddy mush of the saga’s erstwhile mythology, stretching rules and tweaking tenets to make an idea fit into the mould of their storyline. Don’t waste your time or energy trying to make sense of the various paradoxes and implications of the time-jumping plot. Ignore the waffle spouted  about ‘quantum fields’, ‘nexus points,’ and the nefarious power-crazed-app called Genisys, who briefly materializes as a Time Lord, er, I mean,  as Matt Smith – none of it makes sense.

Even some of the characters in Terminator: Genisys are hard pressed to keep track of all the threads. “How can I remember a past I’ve never lived,” asks Kyle, who after being dumped in 1984 starts hallucinating a childhood far more conventional and idyllic than the one he actually had. “I’ve got to know what’s going on!” bemoans a befuddled J.K. Simmons, a cop who, in 2017, remembers meeting Kyle and Sarah back in 1984. “We’re here to stop the end of the world,” replies Sarah matter-of-factly (if not entirely convincingly) – basically she’s telling him, and the audience, to just shut-up and forget about the niggly details. This particular cast are clearly game to join in running around firing incendiary devices and exploding things, but none of them have enough charisma to distract us from all the nonsense they have to pretend they believe in.

Terminator: Genisys may be silly time-travel, but it remains nevertheless, a frenetically paced fun-ride. Part reboot, part sequel, possibly part remake, the movie is fun and flawed, and Schwarzenegger, at 67, still manages to enjoy the limelight and kick some ass – Yeah,  he’s back alright.

James Cameron, who co-wrote and directed the first two Terminator films, was wisely brought in as a ‘character consultant’ by Skydance Productions. Thank goodness that he was, as his input was undoubtedly necessary.  So mercifully, in some ways Terminator: Genisys hearkens back to what made the franchise fun in the first place. It can’t hold a candle to Cameron’s first two instalments though, which were well engineered entertainments, combining interesting and intricate narratives with thrilling action mayhem.

Cameron has called Terminator: Genisys ‘the official’ third Terminator film, but really it’s another sequel, and the rumour is that there are possibly another two sequels waiting to be ‘greenlighted’. But what does it say, I wonder, when a movie that was once praised for its hard-edged and bleak futuristic vision, begins to fall back instead on a sense of cosy nostalgia and a 12A certification?

Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2015 All rights reserved.

Editor-in-Chief of Movie Marker. Likes: Scorsese, Spielberg and Tarantino Dislikes: The film 'Open Water' I mean, what was that all about?

Movie Reviews

Bad Times at the El Royale ★★★★

Bad Times at the El Royale feels like a throwback to Tarantino in all his 90’s pomp.

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Director: Drew Goddard

Stars: Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo, Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, Lewis Pullman

Released: 12th October 2018 (UK)

Bad Times at the El Royale has seemingly fallen foul of the particularly hectic October release schedule in the U.K. As Venom and A Star is Born dominate the box-office and with the London Film Festival in full swing, El Royale has not received the recognition it deserves.

Boasting an impressive cast, Bad Times at the El Royale follows seven strangers whose stories intertwine at the El Royale hotel in Lake Tahoe. As each person’s agenda for being at the El Royale is revealed, tensions inevitably rises and the characters collide.

From the get-go, El Royale feels like a throwback to Tarantino in all his 90’s pomp. Director Drew Goddard, no stranger to managing madness following his debut A Cabin in the Woods, has crafted an immersive, intricately linked murder-mystery that feels like a grindhouse version of Cluedo. The violence is garish but necessary, the dialogue is short and snappy and the characters are most importantly, interesting. The hardest part of any film with so many moving parts, is making the audience actually bond with those involved. Goddard, who also wrote the screenplay, has nailed this – giving enough back-story for each, whilst holding enough back to keep us learning more.

Between Jeff Bridge’s bad-ass priest, Dakota Johnson’s kill-happy hippy and Chris Hemsworth’s dancing cult-leader, the wider cast have somehow managed to create a credible on-screen dynamic, despite the stark character contrasts. Cynthia Erivo’s soulful singer Darlene is the obvious standout and her interactions with Bridge’s Father Flynn provide some of the most film’s most satisfying scenes. Lewis Pullman’s unassuming concierge Miles is another strong performance deserving of a mention.

The film swaggers along accompanied by its killer soundtrack, which plays a crucial part in the films tonal change from chapter to chapter. It’s dark and violent, yet at times it’s engaging and even emotional. The sharp edits that mash-up the timeline don’t over-complicate the plot, but accentuate the frenzied feeling that Goddard is creating as we head towards the plot’s crescendo.

As expected there are some areas where a film with so much going on inevitably suffers. Jon Hamm’s Seymour is arguably the biggest victim of this, with his character perhaps not utilised as much as it could have been. The film also feels a little too fleshed out in parts, lingering on some of the less necessary aspects and leaving one or two plotlines unexplored as a result.

Bad Times at the El Royale really does feel like a Tarantino movie and that’s no mean feat, Goddard has taken his own style and applied tried and tested techniques to create a compelling, genuinely exciting movie and one that deserves to be enjoyed by a wider audience.

 

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Arctic ★★★★

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Released: 5 December 2018

Directed by: Joe Penna

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir

Reviewed by: Lauren Tina Brady

An expanse of white as far as the eye can see, gently sloping mountains in the horizon, a polar bear pads silently across the snow, pausing briefly to gaze back at the watching man across the valley.

At first Arctic reads as a classic survival narrative; the basic man vs. nature conundrum. I’d recently seen The Mountain Between Us, which draws some very obvious similarities; plane crash, hostile snowy environment, a great expanse needing to be crossed for a chance of survival. However, unlike relying on the pairing of Kate Winslet and Idris Elba for context,  Arctic’s dialogue is bare. This is largely due to the fact that there is only the protagonist for the first third of the film, played by Mads Mikkelsen.

At first it appears to lull you into that false sense of security of knowing exactly how this works out; he sticks to a routine of catching fish, laying out black rocks spelling ‘help’ against the snow and signalling for nearby aircraft. However, crucially, we don’t know who he is. He speaks very little, in both Danish and English. He offers no information to help us piece together a backstory and remains an enigma throughout, which feels fresh. The character becomes more than a person; he becomes the flicker of hope for survival, the spectrum of emotions that occur in the darkest of hours.

There is plenty of drama to keep us on the edge of our seats; he has a chance of escape quite early on – a small helicopter has spotted him and attempts to make it’s way towards him in strong winds leading to a crash. There are two people on board; one is killed with the other, a woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir), who survives but is badly hurt and must be cared for. Suddenly the odds of both surviving are halved; the danger is intensified.

Here is a tale of endurance over survival. This is where Mikkelsen excels; he digs deep to portray every possible emotion through a gruelling and ice-cold journey. He is silent but his face says everything. I laughed in delight, I wept quietly. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing this role.

It’s a feat for Joe Penna, directing his feature film debut. See it for Mikkelsen, stay for the sensitive direction and the stunning cinematography.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Museum ★★★★

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Director: Alonso Ruizpalacios

Stars: Gael García Bernal, Leonardo Ortizgris, Alfredo Castro

Released: London Film Festival 2018

It’s Christmas Day, 1985. College dropouts Juan Nunez and Benjamin Wilson are ready to pull off an audacious heist that will have authorities searching for professional art thieves for years. Based on a true story, Alonso Ruizpalacios’ film sees the duo attempt to steal 140 priceless artefacts from the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Winner of the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay at Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year, Museum explores the mindsets of two would be criminals with nothing to lose.

The tale is narrated by Wilson, played with subtle compassion by Leonardo Ortizgris. Wilson’s role is much like Nick’s in The Great Gatsby, an opinionated and somewhat loyally biased eye through which Juan is diluted. Played by Gael Garcia Bernal, Juan is the film’s focus, a Mexican Cool Hand Luke drifting through his young adulthood. In the hands of another actor, Juan may have come off as entitled, lazy even, but Bernal’s performance layers the character with sympathetic naivety and relatable desire. A perennially youthful, multifaceted actor, Bernal paints buckets of emotion into every micro-expression.

The crime takes place after Christmas dinner, a lively family affair that sees Juan alienated and berated. At first, the silence is reminiscent of the hanging scene from Mission: Impossible; the tension equally palpable. But soon the action changes, pared back to a static style similar to the panels of a comic book. It is a technique repeated throughout the film, the continuity broken up into freeze frames that are not quite motionless, still alive with a touch of movement. Reducing these scenes to a childlike fantasy, Ruizpalacios succeeds in creating the ultimate sense of idyllic, youthful adventure.

Something often ignored in heist films is the aftermath, when the thieves must deal with the fallout of their decisions. Museum’s second act focuses on this aspect, allowing the introduction of an English art dealer, played by the superb Simon Russell Beale. Uncertainty builds from the start of their meeting, as the camera endlessly pans until Juan’s misguided perceptions come crashing down around him. In a script littered with intelligence and comedy, it is a pleasant surprise to see the characters’ raw emotion become the focal point.

Ruizpalacios seems content to pose questions that hang wispily in the air, unanswered: questions of cultural ownership, of morality and greed. He is more interested in the character study at the heart of this story, of a man who commits a crime out of boredom, a sense of nihilism or a desire for adventure, or perhaps a little of all three. It is a fresh idea in a crowded genre, making for a film that is impressive but never quite brilliant, a wonderful adventure that doesn’t aim to blow minds. But does that matter? As Juan says and Wilson relays: “Why let the truth ruin a good story?”, a sentiment Ruizpalacios takes quite literally. Luckily for him, Museum is without a doubt a good story.

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