Tag Archives: Christian Bale

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.

 

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This Weekend, See ‘Birdman,’ Skip ‘Exodus’

This weekend, a tsunami of holiday films will crash down upon us, threatening to submerge us in cinematic overindulgence.

(The deluge actually began Wednesday with the release of the final chapter of “The Hobbit.”)

With dozens of movies vying for your attention and Christmas fast approaching, it’s unlikely you’ll find yourself with much free time.

However, if you should happen to be in the mood for an alternative to the obvious yuletide fare — like “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” or “Into the Woods — there is one choice that rises above the rest, along with one over-hyped epic that deserves to be passed over.

Here’s why you should see “Birdman” and skip “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”

Birdman
Three and a half stars (out of four)
R (language, sexual content, brief violence)
119 minutes

There are few cinematic experiences that truly astonish, but “Birdman” is one of those rare discoveries.

Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s darkly funny, painful, unexpectedly deep rumination on showbiz, ego and the human condition is a movie that has to be seen to be believed. Nominated for seven Golden Globe awards, the film has a serious shot at carting off the best picture Oscar in February.

“Birdman” is exciting on several levels, beginning with the way Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki create the illusion the film was shot in one long, exhilarating take, winding its way through backstage corridors, out into New York’s Time Square and back again.

The movie is fun to watch even as Inarritu heaps his signature humiliations upon his characters, chiefly Michael Keaton’s has-been actor, who briefly tasted fame in a before-its-time superhero flick and seeks redemption by writing and starring in a Raymond Carver adaptation on Broadway.

The role feels more than a little autobiographical for former Batman Keaton, who basically lays all his wrinkles and a receding hairline at our feet in a vanity-free performance that is a breathtaking revelation. The entire cast of “Birdman” is amazing, including an adorably messy, big-eyed Emma Stone and Edward Norton, so vital and commanding here, you’d think he somehow resurrected his younger self from his “Fight Club” or “American History X” days.

Playfully meta with a feverish intensity that recalls “Black Swan” and “All That Jazz,” “Birdman” has smart, clever, pop culturally literate things to say about our celebrity obsessed society. It’s the anti-“Avengers,” but like a good comic book movie, it’s a total rush.

Exodus-Gods-and-Kings

Exodus
Two stars (out of four)
PG-13 (violence, battle sequences, intense images)
150 minutes

With “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” director Ridley Scott intends to give one of the most famous Old Testament legends the blockbuster origin story treatment, but instead he ends up remaking his 2000 hit, “Gladiator.”

The filmmaker takes more than a few liberties with the Biblical account of Moses, but sadly none of them are very compelling. In this version of the scriptural saga, the revered leader of the Israelites is played by Christian Bale as a wise and brave general in Pharaoh’s army, raised alongside heir-to-the-throne Ramses (Joel Edgerton, bald and resplendent in eye liner).

Sibling rivalry and daddy issues breed resentment between the siblings, just as they did between Russell Crowe’s general and Joaquin Phoenix’s prince in “Gladiator.” When Pharaoh (portrayed in an odd bit of casting by John Turturro) kicks the bucket, Ramses becomes Egypt’s ruler, even though Moses is the better man. Ramses discovers Moses’ true roots as a Hebrew slave and is terribly, terribly vexed, while his adopted bro reluctantly begins his journey as revolutionary savior of his people.

With its opulent Egyptian sets and costumes and impressive rendering of the plagues and other divine judgments in CGI, “Exodus” aims for the pomp and melodrama of great Biblical epics like “The Ten Commandments,” “Ben-Hur” and “King of Kings.” But with a running time of two-and-a-half hours, it plods along so slowly, it begins to feel as if the audience has been wandering the desert for 40 years.

When it comes to Moses’ identity, Scott and the “Exodus” screenwriters can’t commit. Bale talks to God — the form the deity takes is bound to miff some viewers of faith — but only after suffering a blow to the head, so it’s possible his hero enjoys a direct line to heaven. Then again, he might just be insane.

In the end what “Exodus” lacks is a well defined vision and the courage to examine religious conviction in all its complexity.

Photos: moviesmxdwn.com, http://www.digitaltrends.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Stop Grousing and Go See ‘Gravity’

This year’s Academy Awards race is one of the closest in recent memory with three of the nine films nominated for best picture in a tight heat. Oscar analysts agree that at the conclusion of Sunday’s ceremony, Hollywood’s most coveted prize will be presented to the producers of either “Gravity,” “12 Years a Slave” or “American Hustle.”

Entertainment Weekly, in its Oscar predictions issue, forecasts that 19% of the Academy vote will go to “Gravity,” with 18% for “12 Years a Slave” and “American Hustle” with 16% of the ballots. Last month, in a rare occurrence, “Gravity” and “12 Years” tied for the top prize at the Producers Guild Awards. The ceremony is usually a good predictor of Oscar outcomes.

For months, the three front-runners have generated considerable buzz. “Gravity” racked up an impressive $700 million at the global box office. “American Hustle” crossed the $200 million mark and even the harrowing “12 Years” drummed up $100 million in ticket sales. The fact remains, however, that many people have not bothered to head to the theater to see what all the fuss is about.

Of course, this isn’t unusual when it comes to the Oscars, a ceremony that is treated with reverence in Tinseltown but tends to elicit yawns from an indifferent general public. Unless it’s one of the few years in which a major blockbuster is nominated — “Avatar,” for instance, viewed by practically everyone on the planet — it’s common for best picture candidates to languish unseen.

But this time around, the front-runners are worthy of your time and attention. In a year of exceptional films, they are the best Hollywood had to offer — a visually innovative cosmic thriller; a brutally honest historical drama; and a shamelessly entertaining glitter-pile of 1970s glam.

Oddly enough, it is “Gravity” that seems to have encountered the most resistance from a certain segment of filmgoers. I’ve talked to a number of people who stubbornly turn up their noses at Alfonso Cuaron’s space odyssey. Perhaps their reticence stems from the film’s minimalist but epic premise. At first I couldn’t imagine what could possibly be so compelling about watching Sandra Bullock and George Clooney float around in outer space.

Still, the skepticism is baffling, considering what a taut nail-biter of a thriller the film is, not to mention its stunning visual achievements and emotional heft. If you’re lucky enough to find a place where you can still catch an IMAX screening of the movie, it will be one of the most suspenseful, immersive, uplifting and intense cinematic experiences of your life. The film was released Tuesday on Blu-ray, so you can watch it from the comfort of your couch, but you’ll be missing out. If ever a film demanded to be seen on the biggest screen possible — preferably in 3-D with a kick-ass sound system — this is it.

The story of a medical engineer adrift after her space shuttle is torn to shreds, “Gravity” features one of Bullock’s most fragile and moving performances. The film ingeniously registers on two levels – it’s one heck of a popcorn movie ride but it’s also packed with existential symbolism and musings on hope, rebirth and the significance of humanity in a terrifyingly infinite universe. It’s as deep or as shallow as you want it to be.

“American Hustle” is an easier sell. Directed by “Silver Linings Playbook” helmer David O. Russell and reuniting several members of that crowd-pleasing comedy-drama’s cast, “Hustle” is a trashy, over-the-top romp through 1970s sleaze and the most fun many of us had at the movies in 2013.

Nothing about the film is hard to love, from the gloriously kitschy period costumes and art direction, to the go-for-broke acting, to the twisty plot about a pair of con artists embroiled in a government sting operation. Bradley Cooper’s perm and Christian Bale’s comb-over may appear to steal the show, but it is the film’s leading ladies – both nominated for Oscars – who are the real stars. Amy Adams, as a chameleonic temptress looking for love, and Jennifer Lawrence, as an unstable, accident-prone housewife, deliver the most mesmerizing performances of their already accomplished careers.

“12 Years a Slave” is difficult to love, despite the fact that it is quite possibly the most authentic movie of its kind. While other films about America’s dirty, devastating past soft-pedal the indignities of slavery, director Steve McQueen lays them bare in merciless fashion, making for a film that is necessary, yet excruciating. After seeing it, my husband and I were silent the whole way home. There was literally nothing to say in the aftermath of so much shame and sadness.

McQueen specializes in depicting human depravity and desperation — he made a movie titled “Shame,” after all — and “12 Years” is his masterwork. It is brilliantly acted with performances so naked, it’s hard to look them in the eye — Chiwetel Ejiofor as the kidnapped Solomon Northup, Michael Fassbender as a lascivious slave owner and, most searing of all, Lupita Nyong’o as the tormented target of that slave owner’s twisted obsession.

Yes, “12 Years” is painful to watch, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it, even if you only watch it once. The film has profound and indispensable things to say about the insidious nature of racism.

There are great treasures to mine, great revelations to discover in Oscar’s favorite trio and time and opportunity to rectify what you’ve missed, long after the Oscars are over.

Why deprive yourself of greatness?