Sunday, May 24, 2009

Terminator Salvation

It’s hard to see what Christian Bale was ranting and raving about; Terminator Salvation is just your standard, popcorn-friendly dud.

Directed by McG (change the name already, pal) this unneeded film brings nothing new to the franchise’s table, instead only confusing the few who care enough to follow along. We’re in the future. Judgement Day has come and gone as The Machines have pretty much annihilated everything. You see, the company that creates The Machines, SkyNet, has become self aware and sworn to kill every living thing. But why? We never know.

John Connor (Bale) is the self-asserted leader of The Resistance, i.e. the people who fight the machines. He thinks he’s found a way to kill every machine permanently, so he volunteers to trek to SkyNet headquarters and give it a go.

Meanwhile, lone tough guy Marcus (Sam Worthington) wanders around a barren LA, looking for some answers. He’s confused by what’s going on, and so are we, because we saw him die in the opening scene of the film. Anyway, Marcus finds his way to resistance headquarters with the help of Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin).

Now, here’s where it gets tricky.

Reese is Connor’s father, but right now, Reese is a teenager, and Connor is a grown man. You see, Connor must find his father and prevent him from being killed in order for Reese to travel back in time and knock up Connor’s mother. Get it? This awful, lame plot tool is dead on arrival. Think about it. If Reese dies, will Christian Bale just POOF and disappear? Will his pregnant wife’s belly shrink into nothingness? Maybe there are some diehard Terminator-ites to fill me in, but right now, I haven't a clue.

But you pay the $10+ to watch shit blow up, right? Don’t worry, McG dishes out enough fanboy action to fuel a dozen summer films. Humans fight machines. Machines own humans. Helicopters fall from the sky. Bullets are unloaded by the hundreds. Motorcycles zoom. Blah blah blah.

James Cameron redefined visual effects with his first two Terminator films, and gave us one of American cinema’s most popular characters. Jonathan Mostow destroyed the world with his Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (another unnecessary sequel), and now McG watches the world burn with his film. Bale is good, sure, but have you ever seen him give a bad performance? Either way, nothing can save this plot-hole filled mess. For instance, what/how do these people eat? I mean, let’s be honest, you can’t live off Twinkies and carrots. C-

Angels and Demons

Three years after the silly, unconvincing mess known as The Da Vinci Code, Ron Howard delivers a slightly less silly and unconvincing Dan Brown adaptation with Angels and Demons.

Tom Hanks is back (with a better haircut) as our sturdy hero, Harvard professor Robert Langdon. Langdon’s got it all. He’s smart to the point of ridiculousness, he’s fast and strong despite being in his mid-50s, and he’s rather smooth at wooing foreign babes with his intellect.

Angels and Demons may be better than its predecessor, but not without cutting it a lot of slack. Langdon is called on by the Vatican to help decipher a problem. The Pope has died and the world eagerly awaits the announcement of a new Catholic leader. Meanwhile, some baddie assassin psycho has kidnapped the four Cardinals who were frontrunners for the new job. Meanwhile, some very useful (it could power an entire city) and very dangerous (it could blow up in entire city) antimatter has been stolen from a lab. So, we learn the assassin works for The Illuminati, a vengeful sect of people who the Catholic church seriously screwed over centuries ago. The assassin says that he will kill one Cardinal every hour as an act of revenge. Oh and if they don’t find the antimatter before it runs out of battery (what?) then the Vatican will crumble. Get it? Me either.

After you wrap your head around this jumbled mess of a plot, the movie actually turns out to be pretty fun. Hanks brings his consistent likeability to Langdon. Ewan McGregor, as the Camerlengo in charge while they pick a new Pope, is okay, but never really convincing. Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd, as the head of Vatican police, plays off his usual assholeishness, but I prefer him as a subtle asshole (Good Will Hunting) or a completely over-the-top asshole (the German director in Entourage). Then there’s Armin Mueller-Stahl, who may be the best actor around that you can never really figure out. Is his character good? Evil? Who knows. But as he’s showed us in Eastern Promises and Shine (for which he won an Oscar) almost no one can blend menace and sensitivity so seamlessly into a wrinkled face.

I don’t discuss the third act in my reviews too often, so I suppose a brief spoiler alert is appropriate here. Having said that, Angels and Demons is well paced, intriguing, and fun. That is until the last 20 minutes, which are completely ludicrous. There are helicopters, explosions, and wannabe plot twists that are just plain lazy. After giving the rest of the film so much slack, you’ll be hard-pressed to give a shit about the end. C-

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Star Trek

So, here’s my confession: I’ve never seen anything related to Star Trek… ever. No movies, no TV shows, no cartoons, nothing. However, I don’t see this as a fault. In a way, I’m the best possible audience member to view J.J. Abrams’ new film subjectively, judging it solely for its content, not how it lives up to its predecessors.

Having said that, Star Trek honestly didn't wowed me in any real way. As summer, do-or-die, popcorn-friendly cinema goes, it’s right on point, but in basing it on any other criteria, it falls flat. But have no fear, the film is filled with cheap laughs of slapstick humor, lasers, half naked chicks, fights; basically any fanboy’s wetdream.

Midwestern reckless rebel James Kirk (newcomer Chris Pine), is recruited by captain Pike (a solid Bruce Greenwood) to join the Starfleet Academy. Kirk barely puts up a fight, joining almost immediately, and off we go.

Kirk has dreams of becoming as honorable a soldier (are they soldiers?) as his father, George, a slain hero who died at the hands of baddie psycho, captain Nero (Eric Bana). In the academy, Kirk makes a few buddies, chases a hesitant love interest in Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and pisses off the very smart, very control Spock (Heroes’ Zachary Quinto). Through a series of overly convenient sidesteps, Kirk ends up on the USS Enterprise, fighting against the same crew that killed his pop.

That’s as much of the plot as I care to remember, being as that most of it is rather forgettable. You’ve probably heard that Leonard Nimoy shows up as an older Spock via another convenient plot device involving some sort of time travel that I never fully understood.

Despite its few strong moments, including a badass fight on top of a giant laser beam (is that what it is?) drilling down to the core of a planet, Star Trek wasn’t enough to keep me involved. Take, for instance, the constant teleporting that appears to be everyone’s favorite method of travel. Usually the person has to be standing still, but sometimes they can be plucked right out of falling, thin air, and magically teleported back onto the ship. That’s okay. But why do Kirk and Sulu (John Cho) have to parachute down through space onto the giant laser? Why can’t they just be teleported? I don’t get it.

Another annoying tendency: whenever you watch any movie with a flashlight, you know for certain that the flashlight’s beam will shine directly into the screen, creating an annoying light flare, right? Well, Star Trek doesn’t have any flashlights, but those light flares somehow beam their way onto the screen every few seconds. Whether from an overhead light, a car, motorcycle, or literally out of nowhere, you’ll find yourself squinting several times. And I wasn’t alone, the older couple sitting next to me grew increasingly aggravated by the beams, at one point the woman shrieked: “What the hell is with all the lights? I’m going to have a damn seizure.”

Maybe I’m judging this a little hard. But no matter the genre, I try to pick apart every movie the same. Will you like the film if you’re a diehard Trekkie? Absolutely. Just as I’m sure you’ll appreciate the Lord of the Rings films more if you’ve read the books. But as a complete outsider, I found Star Trek slow and overhyped. Although, I hardly doubt my opinion is shared by Hollywood big shots. No, my guess is we can all expect to see much more of Abrams’ Trek’s for years to come. C-

Note: apparently I’m not the only one picking this film apart. This site goes into great detail as to how ludicrous some aspects of the film are. Oh yeah, warning: SPOILERS.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

So, here’s Hollywood’s way of stretching a dime: start a spinoff franchise that describe the origin of separate individual X-Men characters. Who cares? Where’s X-Men 4? Oh well, guess we have to focus on this.

If this Wolverine film is a taste of what this summer season has in store for us, then man oh man, prepare to have plenty of mouthwash handy. You’d think the best character of the X-Men films would receive a just treatment with his own prequel. Wrong. Maybe in better hands, but this Wolverine is a real dud.

We start with a cheesy back story that tries to describe where some of Wolverine’s trademark angst comes from. After accidentally killing his father, young Jimmy is off and running with his older brother, Victor. The two grow up and fight through the Civil War, both World Wars and Vietnam, which actually makes for a pretty cool opening credit sequence. But the whole time, I’m wondering one question: why do these two stop aging at a specific age, which happens to be somewhere in their mid-30s, I guess. I knew Wolverine never aged, that he was hundreds of years old, but why or how does he suddenly stop aging. We see him as a 10 year old boy, so we know he grows, but when is it decided that he stops growing?

Once this question popped into my mind, it never left. I’m sure there’s a convenient, comic-book-friendly answer, I just wish a character had mentioned it somewhere.

But let’s move on.

Jimmy (who then becomes Logan, who then becomes Wolverine) and his brother Victor (who then becomes Sabretooth) are recruited by Gen. Stryker to join a team of rouge mutants who go around kicking the shit out of people because Boss Man Stryker says so. Wolverine goes AWOL, moves to Canada, meets a hot teacher, becomes a lumberjack, and lives happily ever after. I wish I were making this up, but no, the plot is this poor and exhausted.

Stryker catches up with him and convinces Logan to undergo a messy procedure that will turn his bones into indestructible metal. If it sounds exciting, believe me, it’s not. In fact, I’m probably doing a better job presenting the film than it does presenting itself. Some cool mutants show up- trickster Gambit, a “jumper” played by Black Eyed Peas front man, the Blob, and others. But the film is way past redemption. Even the plentiful action scenes don’t impress, it just feels like stuff we’ve already seen, not to mention the effects (namely Wolverine’s metal claws) which look more computer animated than they did in the first three films.

Hugh Jackman became a star when he first played this character in 2000. He’s got the talent, and the body, to pull a role like this off, but a weak story can’t compel even the most popcorn-friendly audience. I did, however, enjoy Liev Schreiber as Sabretooth. Schreiber brings a snarl and demonic laugh to his beast, making the character surprisingly amusing.

I did not, however, understand how Wolverine and Sabretooth are brothers. If you remember, Sabretooth is one of the key villains in the first X-Men film. In that film the two have an awesome showdown on the Statue of Liberty’s crown, but the fact that they are brothers is never mentioned. So, which is it? Brothers or not? Which director is using artistic license to completely diminish the timely comic books? Or, should I not give so much of a shit? C-


From the technical and visually stunning wizardry that brought you the acclaimed TV show Planet Earth, comes a new documentary about, you guessed it, our very place of inhabitance.

The movie doesn’t really follow a cohesive narrative per se, but instead presents us with a slew of arresting images to fill the frame. Focusing mostly on the different animals of each continent and how they deal with passing seasons, the film is probably exactly what you’d expect. Having said that, there ain’t much here to talk about.

In fact, without the booming voice of James Earl Jones as our narrator, you may have found yourself dozing off in your seat. But the kids will like it (it’s rated G- no mating, no killing), and some of the images are utterly breathtaking.

Is it bad that the most interesting part about the movie is a few behind the scenes clips that play over the closing credits? I know that whole point of the film is to appreciate and respect nature. But it’s just too damn amusing to watch two guys get stuck in a tree via a hot air balloon hazard. B