Sunday, May 31, 2009

Terminator: Salvation. A Review (Review #7)


When It Is OK to Reject Salvation...

The thing to remember about Terminator: Salvation is that it is not about John Connor (Christian Bale) or even The Terminator itself.  The film really is about Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), some kind of hybrid that like the film itself seems mashed together of other things while being quite dysfunctional.

Marcus agrees to sign his body over to science after his execution. Jump a few years later and we're deep within the war between humans and Skynet. Marcus wanders in, meets a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin). Marcus helps Kyle and they meet up with members of the Resistance and while saving another member we discover that Marcus himself is a machine. He still thinks he's human, and he and a very reluctant John join forces to rescue Kyle along with other humans from a Skynet prison in post-apocalyptic San Francisco. The Resistance is planning to destroy the machines but that will cause the deaths of those humans trapped in the prison.

Terminator: Salvation is loud but remarkably uninteresting. Bale brings his Batman intensity and occasionally his Batman voice to the film but he's almost an afterthought, as if he had to be included because the mythology demands it. Worthington does a slightly better job, but on at least one occasion his Australian accent slipped out.  The fact that Worthington can do better than someone who unlike himself can actually act is a sad and sorry sight.

Anton Yelchin (who did a good job as Chekov in Star Trek) is the best of the lot as Kyle, making it sad that he was not the focus and the stilted Marcus was. However, I'm confused. If memory serves correct, Kyle and John were about the same age when he was first sent to protect Sarah. How then can John know Kyle is his father?

Worse is the abuse of Jane Alexander. You have one of the most respected actress of her generation, and she was thoroughly wasted in the film. I expected her to play a wise elder or guide, but all she did was look frightened and I don't think had more than twenty words of dialogue. Is that a way to treat the former head of the National Endowment for the Arts?

The effects drown out whatever story you have. You end up not caring what happens to anyone here.

The film is wildly inconsistent: at one point Reese reacts to music coming from a car radio as if the phonograph had just been invented, but a little later Connor is blaring You Could Be Mine from T2 to attract a machine. Which is it?

Try not to put a little inside joke.  It just makes things worse.

The worse is when Bale in a voice-over talks about how this battle is won but the war goes on.

This is when the film violates one of the Golden Rules of Filmmaking: Never End Your Movie Suggesting There Will Be A Sequel. This shows either great confidence or great contempt on the part of the filmmakers. Confidence that your story is so great people will demand to know more. Contempt that your movie is so bad people won't care and will pay more to watch something equally bad or even worse. If the public rejects the work, the makers only end up looking foolish. They end up with not a movie but, to quote a review for Cleopatra, a series of coming attractions for something that will never come.

Ultimately, at first I thought it might be worth a rental. However, on reflection I thought, 'Since I've gone through life without watching Terminator 3, I could have gone without seeing Terminator: Salvation. I sure hope Christian Bale goes on to make a silly romantic comedy. Too much of this intensity will leave all of us asking him, "What don't you %#$@*^ understand?"


Monday, May 18, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine. A Review


Origins Sin...

X-Mens Origins: Wolverine purports to tell how our angry mutant came to be. How it all ties with the X-Men trilogy films is a little beyond me, and moreover, which watching it, I could only think one thing: I was unaware that Wolverine is older than Magneto. It may be accurate in terms of what the comics say. However, it just didn't make sense to me, and that is just one of the problems the film couldn't overcome.

We start in 1840's Canada, where our hero Wolverine aka Logan (Hugh Jackman) discovers his mutation in a moment of fury. Joined by his brother, fellow mutant Victor Creed/Sabertooth (Liev Schreiber), they run away, constantly fighting in American wars from the Civil War to Vietnam (the Korean War curiously left off). Eventually they are recruited by General Stryker (Danny Huston) to join an elite team, but after a massacre of innocent villagers Logan (sometimes known as James) walks away from them and heads back to Canada. He finds a beautiful woman to love, but then someone starts killing members of his former team, and after his beloved is killed he vows revenge. As part of his revenge, his metal claws are bestowed upon him. From there, he goes after his man.

Image result for x-men origins wolverineThe main problem with X-Men Origins: Wolverine is that this isn't an origin story in the same way Batman Begins or Iron Man are. It's just a routine action film, right down to the cliches.

When the elite team is heading up in an elevator to assassinate someone while listening to Muzak: cliche.
When Logan finds his girlfriend's body and he screams out while the camera pans up and away: cliche.
When he walks away slowly from an exploding helicopter: you guessed it: cliche.

I kept saying, "cliche, cliche, cliche" while watching the film.

If anything, Wolverine is following in the sorry steps of X-Men: The Last Stand. You have characters introduced and then killed with no real reason. I figure that with this film, The Lord of the Rings, and Lost, Dominic Monaghan is assuring his career at Comic-Con-style conventions. He reminded me of James Marsden's Cyclops in X3: he's killed off before being allowed to do anything.

Taylor Kitsch's Gambit  is on screen for approximately eight to ten minutes and added nothing to the plot except name recognition.

Liev Schreiber obviously had fun playing Sabertooth whom I was unaware was Wolverine's brother (though I'm still confused if they're full or half). My friend Fidel Gomez & I disagree about him: I think he's a competent actor while he insists he's wooden in every performance he's given. In fact, he was not looking forward to Wolverine precisely because of him. However, his performance showed he was in on the joke, not bringing anything to his role of Sabertooth except the cliched villain.

Hugh Jackman looks great but his physical transformation is the only quality he brings to Wolverine; he didn't have that fury mixed with sorrow that he had in the previous X-Men films. This is his worst performance as this character.

Only Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool brought any sense of fun and action to the film, though I question whether being a master swordsman is a true mutation.  However, the decision to silence a character best known for his acerbic wit is yet another bad, bad decision.

Image result for x-men origins wolverineThere are plenty of fight scenes in the film: three between Sabertooth and Wolverine alone.

Wolverine fights Stryker.
Wolverine fights Deadpool.
Wolverine fights (fill in the blank).

When he does fight, it looks fake. In fact, everything looks fake. The effects looked cheap and unconvincing.

For example, when he first examines his new claws, they looked animated onto the screen. When he walks away from the exploding helicopter, it looks like his body is superimposed on the screen. Even Patrick Stewart's cameo looked odd.

Ultimately, this movie failed to tell an interesting backstory to one of the most memorable characters from the X-Men comic book series. Instead, it was mindless action. You just think how much better it would have been if instead of putting so much emphasis on the explosions or Jackman's physique, they would have focused on the story. Despite it being Wolverine's origin story, it would have been nice if the other mutants actually had something to do with the story.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine suggests that there will be more Origins films. After this one, I think that idea is most sincerely dead. Now that I think of it, Deadpool reminds me of Darth Maul: the best character in the film killed off by the end when a movie about HIM would have been better/more interesting.

I conclude with this thought. In X-Men, they told Magneto's backstory in less than five minutes. In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, they couldn't tell his in close to two hours.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Star Trek (2009): A Review (Review #5)

STAR TREK (2009)

Star Trek: Resurrection...

I start with a confession: I have never seen a complete episode of any version of Star Trek. I've seen clips, but my only point of reference to the mythology has been the films. Ask me to name all ten actors who've played the Doctor on Doctor Who and you got it. Ask me to describe the difference between the Prime Directive and the Prime Meridian, and I'm lost. All this time, I thought his name was Zulu as in Shaka.

While I can't say that the 2009 Star Trek is the best Star Trek film, I think it can be considered a very successful film.

Call it a reboot.
Call it a remake.
Just call it good.

We shift between the early years of the future Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the half-human/half-Vulcan Spock (Zachary Quinto). Despite their differences in temperament and outlook, both struggle to find his place within their respective civilizations.

Kirk is almost always all action, Spock is almost always thought. However, they seem to be two sides of the same coin. Both want away from their respective worlds, one where their abilities and talents can be used. In other words, they want to find their place in the galaxy. They come in conflict at Starfleet Academy, but an attack by Nero (Eric Bana), a Romulan who blames the future/alternate Spock (Leonard Nimoy) for the destruction of his home planet, forces them to work together.

Kirk and Spock are joined by the crew of the Enterprise, all of whom are starting to know each other.

For those people who have no idea who these characters are, what is great about Star Trek is that you won't be lost. You get introduced to our two leads, as well as the supporting cast: Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and Scott (Simon Pegg), who all get their moment.

The trick with Star Trek is to simultaneously embrace the traditions of longtime Trek fans while being its own somewhat original creation. To its credit, it has achieved that remarkably well.

Take Pegg's take on Montgomery "Scotty" Scott; he still speaks with a Scottish accent but adds a frenetic and comic manner to the character. Cho makes Sulu into something that I never saw in the original cast's films: an action hero. Urban brings a delightful comedic touch to Dr. McCoy. Saldaña honors Nichelle Nichols' interpretation by following her example in making Uhura both intelligent and beautiful.  Yelchin has the bonus of being Russian, but his Chekov was portrayed as almost a wide-eyed innocent in this maelstrom in deep space.

Even the smaller roles are cast with respected actors: Ben Cross as Spock's father, Sarek, and Winona Ryder as Spock's mother. Her role was so small that I didn't realize it was her until she literally falls off a cliff, but her brief appearance still left an impact.

Eric Bana, who has had a bad run in films (Troy, Lucky You, The Hulk), has finally found a role that shows he can act. His Nero is not a clichéd villain but a character with motivation for his rage. This Star Trek villain is the only one in recent memory to give Ricardo Montalban's Khan a run for his money.

The greatest praise should be reserved for the leads. Chris Pine remakes Captain Kirk as the cocky kid who still has a lot to learn. He doesn't do a parody of William Shatner but you can imagine the character of Kirk becoming what Shatner brought to the role: a man who has confidence in his abilities to lead. Zachary Quinto brings intelligence and vulnerability to his Spock. We think about how he struggled with his dual heritage.

Because the story takes place in an alternate universe, he is able to share the screen with one who was billed as Spock Prime. It may not make exact sense: how a person can meet his future/alternate self is open to debate. However, Leonard Nimoy's appearance wasn't just a clever cameo, but actually relevant to the plot. 

The film also plays tribute to some of the traditions from the series: Kirk's notoriously long pauses before finishing his line, Dr. McCoy's infamous "I'm a doctor, Jim, not a..." lines, Chekov's inability to pronounce the letter "w", even Kirk's predilection for bedding beautiful aliens.

That is one of the qualities of the film: it takes the material seriously. It cast good actors in their roles. It told an original story. It wasn't effect-heavy but managed to have them serve the story instead of overwhelm it. The only thing that I had bit of a problem with was the suggestion of a romance between Spock and Uhura. This might not exactly be blasphemy to the Trekkie faithful, but I do find it...odd. The most rational of the Enterprise's crew getting it on with anyone is, curious, to use a Vulcan phrase.

Overall, this Star Trek did take us where few Star Treks have taken us before: to a good film. Fans of the original series will be satisfied with how the material was handled: with respect and a bit of humor. Those unfamiliar with the series will be taken in by the story and the performances. May this regeneration (to use a Doctor Who term).

I joke that there are four rules to be an Official Nerd. 1.) You must know a routine from a Monty Python film/program. 2.) You must be able to sing a song from The Simpsons. 3.) You must have read comic books on a regular basis. 4.) You must have followed a science-fiction television/film series. As I was never a 'Trekker/Trekkie', a lot may have gone over my head. However, to its credit Star Trek managed to keep to the spirit of the original while being new.

Live Long and Prosper.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A New Categorization Method

What do these two films have in common besides a bearded fat man? They also are considered the best examples of certain films: on the left (Citizen Kane) as the greatest film ever made, and on the right (Santa Claus Conquers the Martians) as the worst.

I thought long and hard about my grading system. I decided that I have been unsatisfied with my rankings: Voted Up or Voted Down. I think I should be a little more expansive with how I rank films. I've been playing with a new system that I hope will be a more accurate manner of showing how good or bad a film is.

What I've come up with is a modified grading system: A, B, C, D, and F. Here's how it goes:

AN "A" FILM: A+ or A-

The Best of the Best, films that I thought achieved their goals whatever they may have been. If it was a drama, to move me. If it was a comedy, to make me laugh. If a film met its goal, if it has to my mind some extraordinary performance, or visuals, or story that elevate it, it may get the highest points from me.

A "B" FILM: B+ or B-

A Good Film, enjoyable that somehow didn't quite make the mark to be ranked as among the greatest of all time. However, I enjoyed them and think they should be seen and would recommend them.


A film that gets a barely passing grade from me. This is the type of film that I would recommend you could rent and still think decent enough.


A film that I did not think was good and would not recommend you go and see but that might be worth renting if there is nothing to see.

The difference between a C+ film and a C- film is that a C+ film, while still not great, is not to my mind horrible. A C- film on the other hand, tried for something and did not quite work well enough to pass muster. You could see a C- film and maybe enjoy it, but I would tell you it is not a good movie.

A D+ or D- FILM

These are films I would tell you are bad or at least not very good. You could survive watching them but I would tell you to skip this film if you had the option. For the most part, they aren't good films. Some are all right, but I wasn't overwhelmed with them. Your life will not be improved if you go through it without having seen them. However, if someone offers to lent it to you or asks if you want to watch it with them, go ahead.


These are TERRIBLE. They are LOUSY. They are BORING. They are crimes against cinema. These are barbaric pieces of trash. No one should watch them. In fact, people should find every copy and burn them and not onto a DVD. Just don't bother with them.


On rare occasions, I will have an "F-" film. These are films so awful, so unbearable that I genuinely hated, despised and detested them. I will probably keep a burning fury against them for time and eternity.

I do not have a system where every film must meet some 'greatest film made' criterion. A children's movie that I found cute and that I think would appeal to its target audience may get

A, B, and C+ are good to OK, C- is not horrible but not worth the time. D is not good enough. F. is self-explanatory. The cut-off point between a good film and a bad film is C: a C+ is still good, while anything C- or lower has in my view failed. I hope this system will work better.

All right, let's get started.