Tag Archives: Terminator Genisys

The Hateful Eight: Worst Movies of 2015

In all honesty, “The Hateful Eight” has nothing to do with this post.

Director Quentin Tarantino’s latest is bound to be interesting, if not brilliant.

My apologies to Tarantino, but the title just fit. I couldn’t resist. While it’s great to revisit the best films of a given year, it’s even more fun to rehash the very worst Hollywood had to offer.

So without further ado, here are the eight most reprehensible movies I sat through in 2015. (In no particular order of atrociousness.)

Don’t bother streaming or buying them. If you let curiosity get the better of you, you’ll only regret it.

blackhat-movie-review-thor-loki

1. Blackhat: Chris Hemsworth is woefully miscast as a basement-dwelling rogue hacker who also happens to possess Jason Bourne-like survival skills. Director Michael Mann lets the audience down in almost every way possible, from the ridiculous storyline and uneven pacing, to an unconvincing romance and lackluster style.

2. Jupiter Ascending: “Matrix” directors Andy and Lana Wachowski seem to get more and more out there with each film they make. This one is so cartoonishly bizarre, it’s hard to believe someone actually gave it the greenlight: Channing Tatum stars as a half-man, half-dog guardian being and Mila Kunis’ “chosen one” falls for him, while Eddie Redmayne hams it up as the baddie and hopes no one remembers this after seeing “The Theory of Everything.”

3. The Gunman: In a year that brought us Rey and Furiosa, not to mention dozens of other strong cinematic heroines, the oblivious sexism of this testosterone-fueled Sean Penn vanity project is too blatant to be believed. To make matters worse, the thriller is basically “The Bourne Identity” crossed with the extreme violence, silliness and international slumming-it of “Taken.”

4. Black Sea: A movie about a ragtag submarine crew on a secret mission to find treasure at the bottom of the Black Sea sounds awesome, right? Especially if the sub is manned by a crew of sturdy character actors, like Scoot McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn. Thanks to a script that piles on one ridiculous, relentlessly dark plot twist after another, this deep sea suspenser proves us terribly wrong, with a little help from Jude Law’s sketchy Scottish accent.

IAMCHAPPIE

5. Chappie: The stinky badness of Neill Blomkamp’s latest dystopian drama is harder to bear when you consider how much promise this project held. This is the visionary writer-director of “District 9” we’re talking about. The film features a robot protagonist whose creation is a marvel of visual effects and an endearing mo-cap performance by Blomkamp’s favorite partner in crime, Sharlto Copley. It stars first lady of sci-fi Sigourney Weaver for Ridley’s sake. And yet, “Chappie” is full of insulting stereotypes and just doesn’t go anywhere. It’s a monumental disappointment.

6. Terminator Genisys: James Cameron’s now classic saga of evil cyber villain Skynet and the scrappy human resistance group that fights back was amazing the first couple of times, but does anyone gives a T-1000’s patootie anymore? Apparently, not even the makers of “Terminator Genisys” cared enough to even try to make us care. Aging Arnold Schwarzenegger and his hair plugs are the only ones who bother to inject some life into this slog of a sci-fi reboot.

7. Fantastic Four: Despite an excellent young cast and an attempt to bring some gravitas to the classic comic book foursome’s movie mythology, studio meddling, a tumultuous production, and a troubled young director added up to an epic failure for the lucrative Marvel brand. (In fairness, the film was made by Twentieth Century Fox, not Marvel Studios.) This is going to be a tough mess for the quartet of superheroes to get themselves out of.

8. Southpaw: I’m not the hugest fan of “Training Day” director Antoine Fuqua anyway. Subtlety is not his strong suit, but this maudlin mashup of sentimentality and thug-life machismo is his most laughable film yet. You can tell star Jake Gyllenhaal is gunning for an Oscar nomination, but despite his impressively beefed-up physique, he’s more than a little unconvincing as a boxer with a rough background and anger management issues who rises to fame, then falls from it, then rises again after a tragedy as contrived as the movie’s script.

HEADER Southpaw

 

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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.

 

Artificial Intelligence Gets a Bold, Scary, Feminist Spin in ‘Ex Machina’

Ex Machina
Four stars (out of four)
R (graphic nudity, language, sexual references, some violence)
108 minutes

From Asimov, to “Blade Runner,” to “The Terminator,” makers of science-fiction have long been obsessed with the concept of artificial intelligence and what such a technological development would portend for the human race.

Evolution? Extinction? A combination of both?

In keeping with this storied tradition, A.I. beings good and evil are front and center on the big screen this summer.

In “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” Tony Stark spawns the ultimate peacekeeping program, only to see his creation go haywire and try to wipe out the planet via makeshift meteor.

In July, “Terminator Genisys” reboots the now classic James Cameron thriller about an apocalypse sparked by machines bent on either killing or protecting humans.

Neither of these films, however, serve up a vision of artificial intelligence as chilling, clever or convincing as “Ex Machina,” the impressive debut film of writer-director Alex Garland.

Garland’s A.I. isn’t the typical stuff of Hollywood sci-fi, masterminding mass destruction by robot army, monologuing and generally blowing stuff up.

No, the artificial brain at the controls of “Ex Machina” is more insidious, wielding its mastery of the human mind as a weapon. It is skilled in the power of manipulation and that’s all the power it needs.

Garland is no slouch when it comes to sci-fi. Best known for authoring the novel “The Beach,” he penned Danny Boyle’s “Sunshine” and “28 Days Later,” wrote the “Dredd” remake and adapted Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” for the screen.

“Ex Machina” wears the suffocating shroud of hushed dread that adorns his previous work, but it elevates the filmmaker’s already strong pedigree to another level. It is the sharpest, most original effort of his career so far.

Garland’s direction is refreshingly lean and sleek, wasting no time in establishing an intriguing premise and a setting that drips with atmosphere.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer for a Google-like search engine, learns he’s been selected as the winner of a mysterious contest. His prize is a week at the remote home of his wealthy employer, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac).

As he delightedly arrives by helicopter to Nathan’s vast, stunning mountain estate, the audience shares his awkward position of ignorance and apprehension. What kind of man lives here, amidst the surreal majesty of glaciers, waterfalls and pines, in a compound of the pristine, minimalist architecture you only ever see in movies, a cold, glorious monument of glass, stone and long, dimly-lit corridors?

We’re soon introduced to Caleb’s host, who manages to make his guest — and us — feel simultaneously welcome and deeply uncomfortable as he ushers the young programmer around the eerily unpopulated outpost that will serve as his home for the next seven days.

Nathan isn’t what Caleb or we expected. Part Steve Jobs, part frat boy, he’s actually, if you’ll pardon the expression, kind of a tool. He drinks heavily, says “dude” a lot and displays confounding mood swings. He invites his guest to be a part of his latest research project, but only after signing a daunting nondisclosure agreement.

When Caleb balks at this arrangement, Nathan reveals he’s made an unprecedented breakthrough in the field of artificial intelligence. He’d like his eager, young employee to participate in the Turing test, designed to determine whether an A.I. creation exhibits behavior indistinguishable from human intelligence.

So begin Caleb’s “sessions” with Ava (Alicia Vikander), a strikingly beautiful, uncannily lifelike humanoid who has never ventured beyond the confines of her glass-walled room.

Caleb is immediately astounded by her abilities, but when it comes to discussing the science behind this man-made woman, Nathan proves strangely evasive. He’d rather talk about how Caleb “feels” about Ava, but defining the answer to that question proves frustratingly slippery.

Soon other questions arise, like what’s up with the frequent power outages that strike Nathan’s seemingly impregnable mountain stronghold? Why aren’t there any lab technicians or staff in residence? What’s with the key cards that at once grant and restrict Caleb’s access to the facility?

What does Ava think of Caleb? Who’s really being tested here? And who is Nathan’s oddly compliant, sushi-making sexpot of a personal assistant, really?

From the beginning, “Ex Machina” ravels and unravels its mysteries with the unsettling, unbearable tension of a finely crafted horror movie. Garland is skilled at keeping the viewer in a constant state of uneasiness, using every resource at his disposal.

This includes the film’s marvelous production design, which blends the organic and the artificial in ways that echo the film’s theme of humanity vs. technology — the Juvet Landscape Hotel in Norway provides the jaw-dropping backdrop for Nathan’s mad scientific endeavors — as well as the visual effects and sound design.

With her cherubic face, curvaceous mesh body and vaguely eerie whirrings, Ava is at once alluring and dismaying, and completely believable as the revolutionary discovery Caleb proclaims her to be. Much of the credit for this belongs to Vikander, who captures Ava’s precise, graceful movements and formal, soothing speech patterns while masking her intentions.

Gleeson and Isaac — who will appear together again later this year in “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” — engage in an entertaining, ever shifting game of one-upmanship with all the intensity and intimacy of a stage play.

Gleeson’s unassuming likability goes a long way toward disarming the moviegoer, while Isaac injects a bit of weird humor into his character’s darkness.

What I was most surprised by and love the most about “Ex Machina” is its refreshing, incredibly shrewd feminist spin. This is a film that has unexpected and profound things to say about the female mind and body and the way some men see them.

The unpredictable, profoundly satisfying finale turns cliche Hollywood romantic tropes on their head and makes a bold statement about the objectification of women.

And it’s the first time in a long time that the possibility of artificial intelligence actually scared me.

If you dare, go to ava-sessions.com, where you can interact with Ava. She’ll even draw your portrait. 

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