Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Terminator Genisys

Title: Terminator Genisys
Director: Alan Taylor
Released: 2015
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matt Smith, Courtney B. Vance, Lee Byung-hun

Plot: When Kyle Reese (Courtney) is sent back in time to 1984 to protect Sarah Connor (Clarke) only to find himself on an alternative timeline were Sarah is already a capable warrior and even has her own terminator “pops” (Schwarzenegger) while the threat of Skynet remains ever more present than before.

Review: Since the release of the phenomenal “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” the Terminator franchise has found itself for the most part floundering and in dire need of some kind of direction to drive the franchise forward. True these attempts have meant that we got to see Judgement day happen (Rise of the machines) as well as a disappointing attempt to set an entry in the post apocalyptic future (Terminator Salvation) whose scripts from its troubled development promised more than we ultimately got, but then what can you expect when you allow McG to direct the movie.

Now rather than doing the logical choice of just driving a dump truck of cash to James Cameron’s house and beg him to return to the franchise instead this time Alan Taylor steps up to direct who is best known for directing TV with his most noteworthy film credit being “Thor: The Dark World” which now the fans of the Marvel cinematic universe have gotten over the initial shine of getting comic book movies and proclaiming their love for everything the studio puts out regularly rank it as one of the worst films to come from the studio. So hardly the most reassuring credential going into this film, but hey Arnold was returning so that’s a postive….right?

Knowing what the fans had made of this entry ahead of time my expectation was kind of at a low, especially when the trailer had hardly done anything to grab my attention. Of course it was a big suprise when 40 mins into the film I found myself really enjoying myself as we got to see the final battle against Skynet being won and Kyle being set back in time, all things we’d heard about in the previous films and only now were getting to see actually happen. Even when we get into the alternative 1984 and see an older version of Arnold’s terminator battling his clone I was digging the homage, especially when so much care was being taken to replicate the scenes from the original film. And then we time travel again to 2017 and things started to become unglued.

For some reason once we take that leap forward the film really starts to fall apart and almost feels like the first half was directed by someone else and that Taylor was brought in by the studio to finish the film as its almost jarring how suddenly the quality of the film drops and all we’ve done is make one jump in time.

One of the biggest issues comes with the latest Terminator development which this time sees John Connor being replaced by a nanobot Terminator the T-3000 which might have worked a lot better as a plot device had the trailers not given away this major twist and as such it ends up coming off flat and devoid of any kind of emotional response that might have been there. As a villain though he brings nothing new to the table outside of having some slightly different abilities and when the end game is to blow up Cyberdyne again you can’t help but feel alittle frustrated to see the franchise still going in circles.

On the plus side Arnold is still as fantastic as ever in his iconic Terminator role even bringing a few new elements to the role this time as this time he plays Sarah Connor’s guardian Pops, perfectly working in the fact that he is much older than the last time he played the role, as its revealed that the flesh covering his robot exoskeleton can age, a concept which came from James Cameron when the producers approached him about rebooting the franchise. This is further added to by Pops showing signs of old age as his joints start to seize and give out and it really adds to the character while proving to be the one thing to justify all this timeline hopping madness.

The action is fun as always with Arnie showing that despite his age he can still throw down with the best of them as we get plenty of terminator on terminator violence with Pops saving the pair from a variety of terminator models including a new version of the T-1000 played here by Lee Byung-hun who even mixes things up slightly by including the ability to throw metal spears which makes for a nice touch especially when so much of his scenes feels like we are watching a rehash of Terminator 2 which also rang true during the helicopter chase. The T-3000 meanwhile gets old quick especially not having any real powers compared to the previous terminators we have seen. Yes he’s good as the unstoppable presence, but compared to Byung-hun he just falls flat when you compare the two.

The other issue here is that Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney have zero chemistry together which is already supposed to be akward from the start seeing how they are destined to be together which certain parties know from the start with Pops amusingly asking Sarah if they’ve “bred” or not. But looking at this pair you can see them never getting together, while the introduction of the adult John Connor on their timeline just comes off confused and akward with a stupid plot idea only seeming the worse as this pair attempt to interact with their adult child.

Its frustrating as this film certainly has its moments with the first 40 minutes really being promising. It’s just a shame that it all falls apart from there. While it might be an improvement over parts Rise of the Machines and Salvation this really could have done with a stronger script let alone not feeling like it was borrowing from the second film so much. As such approach with caution.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

American Ultra

Title: American Ultra
Director: Nima Nourizadeh
Released: 2015
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, Tony Hale

Plot: Stoner Mike (Eisenberg) is content with his life in the backwater town of Liman, West Virginia were he works as a convenience store clerk with plans to propose to his longterm girlfriend Phoebe (Stewart) despite his plans being constantly self-sabotaged by his panic attacks. Little does he know that he’s also a sleeper government agent, whose just been reactivated when his former handler (Britton) learns that he is to be eliminated by her rival Yates (Grace) as part of a clean up program. 

Review: What is it about Max Landis that seems to instantly irk certain members of the critical / blogging community? Is it because he’s perhaps had more doors opened to him due to his father being cult director John Landis or the fact that he so openly flaunts this blood connect rather than taking a pen name like Joe Hill (Son of Stephen King)? What ever the reason the mere mention of his name being attached to a project for some reason seems to raise the same kind of destain that M. Night Shyamalan or Eli Roth being attached to a project does.

Personal gripes aside though its hard to see why Landis creates this kind of reaction, especially considering how his body of work as both a writer and director of the rather fantastic shorts “The Death and Return ofSuperman” and “Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling” have shown him to be one of the more original if occasionally unfocused minds currently working since he burst onto the scene with his script for “Chronicle” and this is what we find again with this film.

One of a number of scripts sold on the back of the success of “Chronicle” here he teams up with Director Nima Nourizadeh who previously directed the millennial party movie “Project X” and this time gets to build upon those brief moments of chaos and carnage with the first stoner action hero who might also be the most dangerous man with a spoon!

An interesting concept and one certainly added to with Landis’ unique style as we are introduced to Mike who despite being a stoner isn’t exactly a slacker as he holds down a job working at the local convenience store working on his comic aswell as towards being able to propose to his girlfriend Phoebe who he sees as being the best thing in his life, who he is also paranoid will leave him especially when he self-sabotages their planned trip to Hawaii with his panic attacks.

While the expected path for the film to take would be to have Mike suddenly turn into a badass once he’s activated and all his skills implanted in him by the Ultra program become available to him. But unlike the likes of “The Long Kiss Goodnight” what we get instead is Mike suddenly finding himself able to defend him using his implanted skills and knowledge while at the same time having no clue as to why he is able to do any of it. This was something I found to be kind of jarring the first time I watched the film were for some reason it didn’t seem to sit with me. Upon re-watching it though this time with knowledge of what to expect I found that the experience this time much more enjoyable.

Of course Eisenberg himself much like Topher Grace is far from your traditional action hero and that itself is part of the charm here to see him utilising household objects to maim opponents or pulling off far fetched trick shots using a frying pan to ricochet a gunshot into his target. Its outlandish for sure but there is something so enjoyable in watching these action scenes unfolding, especially with Eisenberg able to tap into this cold and unflinching side whenever his training kicks in and he enters into what could almost be considered a badass autopilot. Balancing out these burst of violence though is his believable relationship which sees him reuniting with former co-star and onscreen love interest Stewart which was certainly welcome after how well they played off each other in “Adventureland” and it was great to see them being able to recapture that chemistry here aswell.

Topher Grace gives a fantastic villainous turn as CIA Agent Yates whose Napoleon complex has him acting the tough guy by hiding behind the many resources available to him, while certainly riding on a power trip gain from his position. This means that we get to see him flying off the handle frequently while refusing to admit even to himself that the situation is quickly escalating out of his control, let alone the clean up operation is really a thinly veiled cover for him wanting to get back at his rival agent Lasseter.

The action throughout though is fantastic especially with Mike often switching off as his training takes over, while the bursts of graphic violence scattered throughout certainly keep things interesting while reminding the viewer that Mike isn’t doing a lot of these things because he can, but because its been what he’s been re-wired to do. At the same time Yates has his own group of killers to match Mike’s skills including Walton Goggins aptly named Laugher who constantly giggles to himself as he goes about his work. Still like we saw in “Chronicle” and “Mr. Right” Landis really knows how to write an original action sequence and this is once again the situation here, though the black light room fight was probably a misstep as it soon becomes something of a migraine to sit though.

Despite having some colourful characters the film does at times feel like it pacing is more plodding than it should be, especially when it comes to the sections based around Mike’s past which certainly could have benefited from being more streamlined than an excuse for trippy visuals. This kind of distracted writing has plagued a lot of Landis’ scripts and again its the same case here but when this film is working its a lot of fun. Perhaps if Nourizadeh had been able to clean up Landis’ script this might have been something a lot more special than it ultimately ends up being but at the same time there is still enough there to make it worth giving a watch even if its not the film it could have perhaps been.

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