Tag Archives: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Eight That Were Great: Underrated Gems of 2015

The lull between Hollywood’s big Christmas releases and the whirlwind start of Oscar season is a great time to catch up on flicks you may have missed in 2015.

Or maybe you’re just sick of watching “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” for the 20th time. (Who am I kidding? Go see it for the 21st time already.)

If you’re wondering what you should add to your Netflix queue, here are some underrated films from last year that definitely deserve your viewing time.

(And it wouldn’t be a year-end list from me if it didn’t include at least one vampire movie. This list has two. And zombies.)

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1. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night: I guarantee you have never seen a movie like this before. It’s a highly stylized German Expressionist/Western romance, directed by an Iranian woman (Ana Lily Amirpour), set in a fictionalized Persian town dubbed “Bad City,” starring a burka-wearing vampire (Sheila Vand) who is both adorable and creepy, and it was filmed in Bakersfield. If your mind isn’t already blown, it will be.

2. Maggie: On the surface, this thoughtful horror flick sounds like a bad direct-to-DVD thriller. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a concerned father whose teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) comes down with a zombifying illness in a plague-ridden U.S.A. This is actually one of Schwarzenegger’s best performances of late. It’s like “The Walking Dead,” if America managed to contain the outbreak before it consumed the nation.

3. Slow West: For its violent, punch-to-the-gut of a twist ending alone, this revisionist Western is worth a look. As leisurely paced as its name would suggest, it stars Michael Fassbender as a morally ambiguous wilderness guide facing one increasingly absurd dilemma after another in a striking deconstruction of the romance of the American frontier.

4. The Walk: You really should have seen Robert Zemeckis’ playful high-wire act when it was showing in 3-D. It was hands down, the best use of the format all year. The comedy-drama is still relevant, thanks to its mischievous, experimental vibe. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s terrible French accent aside, it tells the gripping true story of Philippe Petit’s epic stroll on a cable stretched across New York’s now absent Twin Towers. The 2008 documentary “Man on Wire” is still better, but this comes close to replicating its ebullient spirit.

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5. What We Do in the Shadows: The utter unlikeliness of the setting is the primary source of humor in this vampire comedy, made by and starring New Zealanders in the capital city of Wellington — not exactly a recipe for the sexy, darkly thrilling horror offerings audiences are accustomed to. The akwardly hilarious film was written and directed by Jemaine Clement, the goofier looking half of comedy duo Flight of the Conchords and it’s actually one of the most original vampire movies in recent years.

6. Mr. Holmes: Director Bill Condon’s exquisitely acted drama manages the seemingly impossible — contributing something new to the ubiquitous legacy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary British detective. And of course, the film stars Ian McKellen, at the height of his powers, reinterpreting the great Holmes as something we would never expect — an aging, embittered, beekeeping recluse haunted by past tragedies.

7. Z for Zachariah: Post-apocalyptic thrillers are all the rage right now, from “The Hunger Games” to “Insurgent,” but this drama explores the decline of civilization and humanity’s propensity to destroy itself from a much more adult, intriguing and quiet perspective. Margot Robbie demonstrates surprising versatility as the lone survivor of a wordwide nuclear disaster caught in an unlikely triangle between Chiwetel Ejiofor’s rational scientist and Chris Pine’s mysterious stranger. It’s like “The Last Man on Earth,” but all serious and stuff.

8. Crimson Peak: The films of Guillermo del Toro are an acquired taste and “Crimson Peak” is no different. Though it was lavished with publicity, it still managed to flop, but that’s probably because it’s not the type of horror movie mainstream audiences prefer. However, if you’re of a literary persuasion and prefer macabre tales steeped more in mood and mystery than cheap gimmicks, this sumptuously grotesque thriller will be just your bitter cup of tea. Or if you happen to love Hiddles … er, I mean, Tom Hiddleston.

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In An Alternate Reality, ‘Terminator Genisys’ Would Be Fun

Terminator Genisys
One and a half stars (out of four)
PG-13 (intense sequences of sci-fi violence and gunplay throughout, partial nudity, brief strong language)
126 minutes
You’re probably wondering why “Genisys” is spelled like the name of some boy band. It makes a little more sense after you’ve seen the movie, but it’s still kind of dumb.

“I’m old, not obsolete.”

That’s Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new catchphrase in “Terminator Genisys.”

The same cannot be said of the film, but you probably didn’t need me to tell you that considering many of you didn’t bother to see it. This resulted in the worst box office debut for the franchise in 30 years.

“Terminator Genisys” is the sixth installment of the now classic sci-fi property introduced by James Cameron in 1984, if you count “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” TV series.

By my count, the franchise has been rebooted twice before. In 2003’s “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” Nick Stahl replaced Edward Furlong as John Connor, alongside Claire Danes as Connor’s future wife. In 2009, “Terminator Salvation” — directed by McG of all people — starred Christian Bale as Connor and Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese.

Neither of these films were outright flops, but they weren’t exactly celebrated either. We’ve been told the same story over and over again: evil cyber villain Skynet becomes self aware and wipes out most of the Earth’s population, only to be beaten at its own game by a scrappy human resistance group. Hooray!

It was amazing the first couple of times, you know, back when Linda Hamilton was still around, but really … does anyone gives a T-1000’s patootie anymore?

Not that “Terminator Genisys” works very hard to make us care.

Writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier basically take familiar elements and iconic characters from past episodes in the franchise, chop them up and put them in a blender. It’s a similar approach to this summer’s earlier reboot, “Jurassic World,” but at least that Tyrannosaurus-sized hit was fun.

“Genisys” was directed by Alan Taylor, who also somehow managed to turn Marvel’s “Thor: The Dark World” into a murky, monotonous slog. What he fails to deliver now is even one new thing, one original, inventive element to renew our excitement in the universe of the Terminator.

In a franchise built on time travel paradoxes and alternate realities, “Terminator Genisys” concocts yet another confusing ripple/loophole to expound upon sci-fi’s most epic one-night stand: the romance between Sarah Connor, mother of future resistance hero John, and the time traveling Kyle Reese, who also happens to be future John’s dad.

“Genisys” presents us with a seasoned, battle-scarred John Connor (Jason Clarke) on the verge of reversing the cataclysmic event known as Judgement Day and restoring Earth to the few remaining survivors of Skynet’s human holocaust.

Connor’s first concern, though, is to stop Skynet from sending Schwarzenegger’s Terminator back in time to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), thus nipping the human resistance in the bud.

Unfortunately, John and his soldiers break through Skynet’s security just moments too late, so John’s BFF and righthand man, Kyle (Jai Courtney), volunteers to hijack Skynet’s time travel device and follow the Terminator back to 1984 to stop the machine from offing Sarah.

The reason Kyle’s so keen to perform this mission? He’s got a little crush on John’s mom, even though he’s only ever seen one photograph of her.

Is your brain hurting? I know mine is.

Here’s the bad news: That’s only the first couple scenes of this ridiculously convoluted plot.

Upon arriving in 1984 Los Angeles — where Kalogridis and Lussier throw in some amusing homages to Cameron’s “Terminator” — Reese discovers Sarah isn’t the terrified, uninitiated damsel in distress he’s come to save. In fact, she’s been prepping for his arrival for more than a decade with the help of a very unlikely and formidable ally.

While the meeting of two of sci-fi’s most famous star-crossed lovers should crackle with sexy urgency, there isn’t a spark to be found between Emilia Clarke and Courtney. This isn’t the fault of the actors. With a script that favors pages of dull, unnecessarily complicated exposition over the building of three-dimensional relationships, they’re given little to work with.

Instead of introducing us to a victorious John Connor and vividly illustrating his skills and strategy on the battlefield, “Genisys” is content to assign Jason Clarke several long, tedious speeches. Instead of seeing the band-of-brothers bond between John and Kyle, we get to listen to Clarke and Courtney yammer on about how great their friendship is.

Emilia Clarke is marvelous on “Game of Thrones” as imperious yet lovable “Mother of Dragons” Daenerys, but she struggles to tap into Hamilton’s awesome brand of slightly crazed ruggedness and resiliency. Even lugging around huge automatic weapons, she’s mostly just cute.

While we’re all pretty sick of Schwarzenegger’s cinematic attempts to prove he’s not an action has-been, it is surprisingly the former governor of California who injects some life into the movie with his deadpan line delivery in a variety of computer-generated incarnations.

The special effects in “Genisys” are top-notch. The requisite spectacular set pieces unfold, including one in which a bus goes flying, end over end, on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

There are many different types of Terminators featured, from the metallic, beady-eyed T-600s, to the deceptively humanoid T-1000s, to a new human-machine crossbreed that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Thing is, these dudes were genuinely terrifying in 1991, but in a world where cellphones can be worn on the wrist and an Internet search engine knows every detail of a person’s existence, we’re in need of new monsters to embody our technological anxieties.

You won’t find those monsters here.

 

‘Expendables’ Go Out With a Ba-Boom

The Expendables 3
Two and a half stars (out of four)
PG-13 (violence including sustained gun battles and fight scenes, language)
126 minutes

Nostalgia for the 1980s ruled the box office this past weekend as “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” held the No. 1 spot and “Guardians of the Galaxy” followed close behind.

There was little love, however, for another group of ’80s relics. The veteran action stars of “The Expendables 3” saw their sequel flop, opening in fourth place.

Apparently, the gimmick of Sly and his friends assembling to have some fun and make a little movie together has lost its punch. There’s also the fact that, according to Box Office Mojo, a “pristine” version of the film has been available online for weeks. So maybe “Expendables” fans are just a bunch of pirates.

Whatever the reason for the downfall of the aging mercenaries, “The Expendables 3” deserves at least a little better. For those who still miss old-fashioned stunt work, groan-inducing one-liners and the days when men of few words and many muscles dominated the big screen, this third installment is just as cornily entertaining as the first two films.

Although “The Expendables 2” rolled out a crowd-pleasing cameo by Chuck Norris and featured the Muscles from Brussels himself, Jean-Claude Van Damme, as the villain, the third movie boasts an ensemble so large, you can barely pick out their faces on the promotional billboards.

In case you’re wondering, returning Expendables include Sylvester Stallone, of course, as head honcho Barney Ross; cool-as-a-cucumber Jason Statham as Barney’s righthand man, Lee Christmas; perpetually surprised-looking Arnold Schwarzenegger as Trench, Barney’s former comrade and occasional rival; Dolph Lundgren as antisocial but well-armed Gunnar Jensen; Randy Couture as demolitions expert Toll Road; and Terry Crews as heavy weapons specialist Hale Caesar. (Jet Li fans will have to be patient, but don’t worry, he’s here, too.)

When it comes to new additions to the cast, “The Expendables 3” amps up the star power, albeit of the has-been variety, as none other than Harrison Ford, Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas and Wesley Snipes grace Sly and the gang with their presence. And then there’s Mel Gibson, showing up in his most substantial big-screen role since his career imploded in a cloud of scandal.

Let’s talk about Mel for a moment. Like many people, it’s difficult for me to take him seriously after his reprehensible antics over the last few years. I don’t usually hold these things against actors, but in this case, it was nearly impossible not to judge. “The Expendables 3” serves as a strange, almost haunting, reminder of Gibson’s talent. He still looks haggard and doesn’t have much of a part, playing a maniacal arms dealer — didn’t he just do same role in “Machete Kills”? — but considering what he’s got to work with, he’s not half bad. (In stark contrast, Ford never seems to be enjoying himself until he finds himself inside the cockpit of a helicopter.)

It is Gibson’s character, the modern art-collecting Stonebanks, who lures the seasoned but still lethal team of soldiers-for-hire known as The Expendables out of retirement once again. Turns out he has a history with Barney (Sylvester Stallone), one so painful, it causes Sly to clench that Botoxed jaw and get a misty, far-away look in his eyes.

Barney and his men are dispatched by their new CIA contact (Ford, replacing Bruce Willis’ Church) to halt a deal by Stonebanks, but the mission quickly turns personal. When one of their own is threatened — yes, the plot of “Expendables 3” hews closely to that of “Expendables 2” — a shaken Barney attempts to shelve his team so they can enjoy their sunset years without prematurely expiring.

This leads to a hilariously sentimental montage of Barney’s dudes moping around in hotel rooms with no bros to hang with and no one to kill. It also results in the recruitment of a team of rookies including boxer Victor Ortiz, mixed martial arts fighter Ronda Rousey, Kellan Lutz of “Twilight” dreamboat-hood and newcomer Glen Powell.

These young whippersnapper Expendables don’t add much to the film. Perhaps Stallone included them to make the film seem more, I don’t know, relevant? Or perhaps he’s pandering — unsuccessfully — to a younger audience. Maybe that’s also why “Expendables 3” is rated PG-13 instead of the R this action throwback clearly calls for.

Despite the absence of blood and other gory details, this third entry has almost everything you’d want from an “Expendables” movie: shameless testosterone and male bonding, an extravaganza of explosions, machine-gun fire and martial arts, and cheesy quips, although it feels like there are less of these than in previous installments. Still, Stallone finds gags in everything from Snipes’ recent prison stint to Willis’ abrupt departure from the franchise.

Much of the film’s humor can be attributed to Snipes, spry as ever and raring to go as Doc, an ex-Expendable who is dramatically reunited with Barney and friends, and Banderas, stealing scenes as Galgo, a motor-mouthed wannabe Expendable.

Working from a story and script by Stallone, director Patrick Hughes — watch out for this guy, he’s been tapped to helm the American remake of “The Raid” — cooks up some satisfyingly old-school stunt sequences, including a doozy of a prologue revolving around a prison train ambush and a finale in which Stallone leaps onto a choppah (as Schwarzenegger calls it).

It’s probably time for the Expendables to hang up their body armor and shoulder holsters and call it a day, but if No. 3 is the end, at least Sly and the gang go out with a bang.

Some Good Things Should Come to an End, Even the Batsuit

Zack Snyder continued his efforts to blow up the Internet Tuesday by revealing the first glimpse of “Batman vs. Superman” star Ben Affleck wearing the latest incarnation of the Batsuit.

The Gotham Knight’s new duds are gritty and gray, as if they were carved out of stone, clinging to Affleck’s musculature like a second skin. It’s a marked departure from the heavy body armor that characterized Batsuits of the past and everyone breathed a sigh of relief that there were no Joel Schumacher-style nipples to be seen.

Pardon me, though, if I can’t muster up too much excitement about Batman’s latest costume change. From the days when Adam West donned purple tights to Christian Bale’s brooding interpretation, there have been no less than five major incarnations of the Batsuit with countless variations in between as one franchise gave way to another.

As a kid, I was a fan of West’s corny comic book shtick. I still have a fondness for Michael Keaton’s unconventional take on the character in Tim Burton’s stylized stab at the franchise. Schumacher’s attempts were unfortunate but I’ll admit I kinda dug Val Kilmer’s return to the less self-serious Batman of West’s era. I definitely loved what director Christopher Nolan did to mature the comic book movie with the Dark Knight trilogy.

Batman has always been one of my favorite superheroes but since 1966 there have been eight feature films centered on Gotham’s savior. I know other fans might not feel the same way, but I’m tired. I need a break. I’m not ready to invest my time and energy in yet another reboot, even if it is actually a thinly veiled Justice League movie.

A similar feeling of weariness overtook me Tuesday with the announcement of a release date for the upcoming Harry Potter spin-off, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” The first in a planned series of new films, it will debut Nov. 18, 2016, with a much anticipated script by author J.K. Rowling.

Am I the only Harry Potter enthusiast who doesn’t crave another adventure in Rowling’s world of wizards and Muggles? Few book series have captured my imagination as this one did but I can’t think of a more perfect finale than the one Rowling delivered with Book Seven. The ensuing movie adaptations by Warner Bros. were wildly enjoyable as well and when that franchise came to an end with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” it was a cathartic farewell to the boy who lived and the hours upon hours of joy he brought me. I’m so satisfied, I don’t feel the need to revisit Rowling’s universe.

I’m not saying all sequels, reboots, remakes and “reimaginings” are a bad idea. We’re a society programmed to demand more and more of a good thing with our giant SUVs, super-sized fast-food meals and endless cycles of entertainment on multiple screens. Hollywood is only too happy to feed that obsession, especially if it means making millions by recycling something they already know will work instead of taking a risk on something original.

Director Peter Jackson has taken this philosophy to an extreme and I don’t mean that as a criticism. His “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” trilogies were born out of genuine passion for J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy masterpieces and the resulting films are mostly stunning, although it’s difficult to understand why the filmmaker feels the need to stretch each installment to interminable lengths. The studio is all too happy to rake in millions with each entry of “The Hobbit,” but Jackson could have quite easily crafted one tightly structured, beautifully executed film instead of three sprawling, sometimes tedious movies.

Must we really sit through yet another “Terminator” reboot when the last one, 2009’s “Terminator Salvation,” was at best forgettable, at worst a flop? And speaking of people who don’t know when to make a grateful exit, “Terminator” star Arnold Schwarzenegger keeps trying and failing to resurrect a movie career no one else but him is interested in reviving.

Does our world need five “Twilight” movies and four adaptations apiece of “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” when the book series could barely sustain themselves to their final chapters?

Must every Pixar movie now have a sequel? Just remember, for every “Toy Story 3” there’s bound to be a “Cars 2.”

Of course, we all want more of a good thing but is it worth it to keep flogging a champion horse when we know at some point it will start to limp before eventually collapsing into a sad, dead heap?

I’ve already expressed my reservations about the new “Star Wars” trilogy in a previous blog post, but George Lucas’ ill-advised prequels are still my best argument against reopening a book that should have been left closed. If something is beautiful and perfect and perfectly complete unto itself, why poke it and prod it and struggle to jolt it back to life?

There is some evidence that Hollywood’s more is more approach isn’t always the best one. Earlier this month, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” opened to a $92 million box office haul, which isn’t too shabby but is considered a disappointment compared to other movies featuring the web-slinging hero. Box Office Mojo attributed its decent but less than stunning reception to “franchise fatigue,” noting audiences seem to be tiring of Spidey’s constant presence at the cineplex.

I confess I haven’t bothered to make the trip to the theater to see “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone were charming in the first installment of director Marc Webb’s reboot but I couldn’t shake the feeling of déjà vu that hung over the entire affair. I felt like I had seen pretty much the same thing before, and recently, which I had, courtesy of Tobey Maguire and director Sam Raimi.

I think it’s time we faced the fact that some good things should come to an end. Many fans will doubtless disagree. They’re so enthralled with a beloved show, or movie, or book that they want it to go on and on forever. But even if Disney and Lucasfilm never made another “Star Wars” film, we’d still have the original trilogy. The Harry Potter books still exist. They’re on the shelf, waiting to be reread. We don’t need more movies for Rowling’s world to continue to expand within our imaginations.

Sure, there is a place for sequels to stories rich enough to continue and if someone has a good idea for rebooting an existing property, so be it, but we don’t need multiple installments of every wonderful thing.

Otherwise, we may not have the time or energy to discover the next original good thing.