Terminator Retrospective Part 4

Terminator: Salvation-

Let’s face facts. Terminator is a franchise that can thrive without the presence and mystique of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He is the lifeblood. Even if Terminator: Genisys is a fiasco, at least the Austrian Oak is in it once again and he is terra firma of all these films. Terminator: Salvation and The Sarah Connor Chronicles FOX television show erroneously believed that Schwarzenegger is just an optional accessory and not the main attraction. McG and showrunner Josh Friedman were tragically mistaken.

There is a plethora of flaws within this lukewarm chapter. First, Danny Elfman’s bastardization of Brad Fiedel’s iconic score. “So that’s what death tastes like” is a particularly garish expression for death row inmate, Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) and the dialogue only worsens. Marcus’ crime is left deliberately vague or it could be a victim of poor editing such as Kate’s pregnancy and Common’s nearly mute role.

The kamikaze siege on Skynet’s R & D division is the only worthwhile element in the entire film. The single-take shot of Connor’s aircraft attempting a coup is impressively feigned from liftoff to crash landing. For a moment, we are harkened back to Cameron’s nerve-shredding vision of a harrowing future and the acid-washed, desaturated tone (along with Linda Hamilton’s audio logs) reinforces that.

Then we are immediately catapulted back into the torpid histrionics of a barking Christian Bale and the flavorless Worthington. Connor literally nosedives into a maelstrom and is somehow not engulfed by the Mach-5 waves. Instead of an elaborate stratagem to subjugate Skynet, the central command’s deus ex machine is a deactivating signal transmission. It reeks of oversimplified screenwriting.

“Come with me if you want to live” shouldn’t elicit shudders of manipulative fan service but Anton Yelchin’s utterance of this canonized line is insulting. Furthermore, this is the only Terminator with no time-travel which feels counterintuitive to the lore. All of the characters are ciphers without dimension including the cloying Rudy-from-the-Cosby-Show sidekick. It’s just a medley of dog-eat-dog, post-apocalyptic cliches that were shopworn after the release of The Road Warrior.

The Terminator films have never postulated turgid questions about the ghost in the machine which is another major area where Terminator: Salvation goes awry. They’re fundamentally about our capacity for mutual self-destruction. Cameron stated in Terminator 2 that if an automaton “can understand the value of human life maybe we can too.” Marcus is a straw-man and the viewers don’t care if he is a cyborg with sentient emotions.

Ultimately, Terminator: Salvation is inconsequential because it accomplishes no goals. Kyle Reese isn’t eviscerated when it be greatly beneficial to the artificial intelligence’s cause when he is imprisoned inside their headquarters. John Connor is still the predestined leader of the resistance. The war hasn’t been averted or halted. It’s a lobotomized exercise in plundering the wealth of potential in Cameron’s blueprints.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars


Terminator Retrospective Part 3

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines-

“There is no fate but what we make for ourselves” was the mantra for the two original films but Terminator 3 teaches us that, despite the delay, the war between mankind and machines will still be waged. I’ve been a staunch advocate of Terminator 3 since its release in 2003 and I still see many merits in its admittedly inferior but nonetheless invigorating framework.

Cynics can easily perforate holes in the notion of a female T-X but I found it to be refreshing change-of-pace for a femme fatale angle despite its parboiled potential. She enhances her breast size momentarily but she never woos with her assets afterwards. For his signature role, Schwarzenegger hasn’t lost any of his considerable bulk or his self-deprecating humor (the Elton John sunglasses are still a funny sight gag).

In lieu of Edward Furlong and Linda Hamilton, the saviors-of-the-human-race are supplanted with Nick Stahl and Claire Danes. Stahl is a more adroit, sober actor than Furlong who would’ve been a petulant pest again. Moreover Danes is not a precious pin-up or a banshee like Willie Scott from Temple of Doom. She outfoxes John and his paintball gun with her ingenuity.

Fulfilling the prophecy in the 1984 of a fully autonomous defense network system in the guise of Skynet, Terminator 3 is the aggregation of the first two films without lampooning their legacy. I adore the concept that the T-X’s main objective is not John Connor; it’s his safety net of lieutenants in the future battlefield of the 2020’s.

Of course, the film bevels into a carbon copy of Terminator 2’s cat-and-mouse chase between John’s protector and his nemesis but it is not a sluggish retread. The Maximum Overdrive element of the T-X’s oligarchy over other electronic machinery (like cell phones and other vehicles) truly contributes to the dazzling centerpiece of a crane pursuit through downtown Los Angeles. The practical stuntwork of Arnold’s dangling body careening through a building is advisably fortified by virtuoso special effects and whirring sound F/X when the crane overturns forward. Mostow earns his stripes with this sequence. The tussle in the Air Force base’s bathroom sells the conceit that these are megaton machines with heft to them as Arnold and Loken blithely shove each other through stalls.

Rise of the Machines doesn’t get enough credit for corrugating provocative wrinkles into James Cameron’s fait-accompli chronology. Without the backbone of Katherine Brewster (Danes), John Connor would just be a lone wolf; a symbol with no rational reason for perseverance on the nuclear horizon. Lastly, the film is an appropriately downbeat capper to the trifecta with a cliffhanger ending where humanity is basically wiped out as John and Kate are safely encased in an underground VIP fallout shelter. Even with the 12-year interim, Terminator 3 is still a gonzo, dopamine-drenched rollercoaster with its roots deeply engrained in Cameron’s handiwork.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

True Detective Season 2 Episode 2 Review

In preparation for this week’s episode of True Detective, I decided to solidify my opinion on this perennial season by revisiting last week’s offering. I have to be aboveboard and say that my opinion has diminished. The barroom scene of a slightly disheveled singer drowning her sorrows with a “sad” swan song is a self-parody of loathing. In fact, episode 1 felt like a self-pitying without the benefit of substantive reward. How does Episode 2 fare? I would conclude significantly better.

Frank’s maxim-filled monologue about not being able to “take [money] with you” and being”rich is better than being poor” is fairly prosaic. I do, however, love how Vaughn conveys his morning-dew existential dread which is spurred by two water marks on his bedroom ceiling. I’d rather characters be overly analytical of their circumstances than be vapid pawns in a cosmic chess game. Vaughn’s highlight reel for the series will certainly revolve around his implicitly menacing “rescue” of a journalist involved in an article about Vinci’s sweat shops. Vaughn is propulsive and subtly snarling during this scene.

Another improvement over last week is the more assured use of anamorphic, widescreen lensing. I also enjoy the miscommunication of the pecking order among the trio. Ray is told to “run point” by the Vinci mayor and Frank on the investigation but is he actually an inferior figurehead on the totem pole according to his teammates? The actors are more comfortably enmeshed in the luridly funny Elmore Leonard language (Ray compares smoking an e-cigarette to “sucking a robot’s dick”). Plus, Ray isn’t sullenly pining over his fractured connection with his son Chad with a bottle affixed to his hand 24/7.

Unlike the philosophically out-of-synchronization Cohle and Hart, Ray and Ani are kindred spirits with a vice-ridden coping mechanism for the filth around them. Ray doesn’t hesitate to exorcise his demons about the sins he committed for his ex-wife to Ani and she doesn’t become outraged and judge him for it because they share a similar worldview. However, this dynamic is curtailed by the shocking last scene.

What hasn’t been mitigated is the bathos present in everyone’s backstory. Now Paul is beleaguered with an impotent broken-home relationship with his possibly incestuous, trailer-trash mother Nancy Simpson (Lolita Davidovich). The attention span wanders during these unwelcome intermissions rather than narrows its eagle-like gaze. In the overview though, these digressions are marginalized and don’t overshadow the strengths of this week’s more volatile, riveting episode. It also provides the season with its brilliantly all-encompassing tagline  courtesy of anti-capitalist Ray (“My strong suspicion is we get the world we deserve.”).

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Terminator Retrospective Part 2

Terminator 2: Judgment Day-

The Sarah Connor who was a hapless waitress is gone. Instead she has been replaced by a sensationally muscular, lean, chain-smoking Connor who is doing pull-ups in her sanitarium cell. Hamilton’s transition from the 1984 picture to this follow-up is chameleonic. She is no longer tethered to humanity. She is exfoliated down to survival instincts. This is a tour-de-force performance of a psyche snapped beyond the brink.

Brad Fiedel’s score was appropriately minimalist in the original but now it is a goosebump-raising opus. As he demonstrated in Aliens, James Cameron is faultlessly industrious at increasing the set pieces and the stakes of a franchise without sacrificing the core essence. He also upends expectations when Arnold materializes through the wormhole. The audience was accustomed to Arnold as the malevolent Terminator but when he isn’t casually dispatching bystanders in a biker bar, we are aghast at his relative restraint.

Same goes for Robert Patrick’s masquerade as a spindly-thin police officer. He doesn’t decimate people en masse. He stealthily probes John’s foster parents for his whereabouts and with the uniform, he can generate the face value of law-abiding respectability. We were told by Kyle Reese that Terminators are infiltration units and what better way to garner trust and infiltrate the ranks than a law enforcement. Edward Furlong is mostly a shrill brat but he isn’t supposed to the messiah yet. In other words, he is an adequate child-in-peril but the de facto star is now Schwarzenegger.

Before people accused Jonathan Mostow of spoofing the franchise with rimshot humor, they should adjudicate Cameron justly when he has Arnold saunter out of the tavern to the tune of “Bad to the Bone” and snatches the owner’s sunglasses. A notch above the male strip club scene in Terminator 3 but it’s still somewhat fatuous nonetheless.

I love the ouroboros nature of the mythology. The remnants of the Terminator arm subsequently catalyze the beginning of Cyberdyne’s development into the program. It’s a loop-de-loop within itself and it tingles the cerebral cortex with possibilities of cause-vs.-effect paradoxes. The confrontation at the mall between the T-1000 and Arnold’s T-101 is still a high-octane, pulse-pounding clash of brute strength with each combatant hurling themselves through concrete walls and glass windows.

Definitely a close call but I think, after a gestation period, I mildly prefer Terminator 1 over 2 for its alarming immediacy but you cannot deny that this 1991 effort is one of the most superlative action sequels. It’s a gargantuan, crackling entertainment and it successfully showed the capabilities of ILM’s visual effects department with the liquid metal that is still pretty unrivaled.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Terminator Retrospective Part 1

Being as Cory is a huge fan of the Terminator franchise, he’s decided to post a retrospective on the series as a whole before the release of Terminator: Genisys on Wednesday, July 1st, 2015.

The Terminator-

While the series is now an example of tentpole escapism, it began as a cautionary B-movie of mankind in their death throes at the mercy of self-aware machines when Silicon Valley was in its infancy. It’s a sweaty, fever-dream-induced warning that is skillfully whittled by the maestro James Cameron.

Linda Hamilton is a bit of milksop as this version of Sarah Connor but she doesn’t allow her to retrogress into a feckless damsel-in-distress. More importantly, her low-key butterflies with the reverential Biehn are given hearty breathing room during a tunnel scene. He flinches slightly when Sarah runs her fingers over his scarred back and his proclamation of time-displacement love is both unsettling and beautifully romanticized.

To pacify her nerves, she asks Reese to “talk” about himself and all of the flash-forwards are nightmarishly haunting visions of a metallurgic wasteland. The scale-model integration is superb and the tactic ground warfare is grittily guerilla with humans in bunkers and soldiers in low-tech flak jackets.

The expository sections where Reese delineates the bleak future of a human concentration camp, which are normally pauses between the supercharged action, are actually fascinating passages. It is a tandem of Biehn’s fierce desperation and Cameron’s vividly illustrative scripting. He also draws allegories to the Holocaust (the emblazoned numerical tattoos on the forearms) but he never pushes it atop a soapbox.

From his entrance, Dr. Silberman is already an excellently narrow-minded minor villain in the canon. The dauntless cynic whose armchair psychology undermines Reese and Sarah’s preposterous . He yawns continually when a tearful Sarah and a frantic Reese describes their predicaments. He cackles at the playback of Reese’s interrogation and bluntly says with profiteering skepticism, “I can make a career out of this.”

For his part, Schwarzenegger is absolutely brilliant. His countenance is alien with his disproportionate upper body and his scowling gaze is chilling as he reconnoiters the area in a squad car. Schwarzenegger definitely collaborated with a mimicry coach when he reassembles his gun without looking down and it pays off in dividends. While some of Stan Winston’s stop-motion is dated, The Terminator is a sizzling, dark-hued masterstroke of the sci-fi action phylum.

Rating: 5 out of 5

True Detective Season 2 – Episode 1 Review

I’ve gone on record as saying that season 1 of True Detective, HBO’s nascent anthology series, is supposedly an antidote for fledgling careers. It was built around the McConaissance and Woody Harrelson’s fame was waning. With the two-hander season though, it boasted their marquee value and delivered a steamy, chilling murder mystery in the heartland of the Bible Belt’s bayous. Likewise, Season 2 should be the panacea for Vince Vaughn after a string of comedic duds. Colin Farrell was the spry newcomer in the early 2000’s but that sensation has cooled considerably. Taylor Kitsch is not the gangbusters idol he was prophesied as. Meanwhile, Rachel McAdams hasn’t rebounded from a morass of trifling romantic comedies.

First off, the credit sequence is throbbing, rotoscoped animation worthy of David Fincher. Season 2 is much more linear than its predecessor which is a mortal wound since Justin Lin is more of a technical director than someone who can sculpt thespian moments. Farrell’s evaluations for child custody are pale imitations of the scrutiny that Cohle and Hart navigated during the serial killings.

Ray Velcoro (Farrell) is a killjoy rerun of Cohle’s post-investigation fatalism. Although he is disheveled and doleful, he doesn’t spin the atheistic diatribes in the hypnotic way McConaughey did. Sadly, Vince Vaughn and company can’t smoothly utter Nic Pizzolato’s clunky, pseudo-philosophical dialogue (“Never do anything out of hunger. Not even eating.”).

Mostly the expanded cast of McAdams, Kitsch, Vaughn and Farrell are relegated to bromides like the obstinate female renegade with the drug-addled sister, the strictly by-the-book highway patrolman, the businessman with tentacled, shady dealings and the lugubrious drunkard with a death wish. To put it bluntly, a backwoods bordello, a sexual solicitation scandal and railway-contract corruption are not rapturous television fodder on the wavelength of Cary Fukunaga’s test run. When Ani Bezzerides (McAdams) is handed a picture of a missing person, I was awash in unflattering memories of a quintessential case-of-the-week show like CSI, NCIS and Nash Bridges.

On the positive side, Kitsch quickly seizes the opportunity for the melodramatic sandbox of a disgraced crusader on the road to reinstatement. While his bullying outburst at his introverted, obese son is overwrought, I like the plot mechanism of Velcoro soliloquizing into a tape recorder for his posterity’s reflections. Bezzerides’ intertwined storyline could be an anchor but it is a puzzling mixture of contrivances with her sister’s pornography and her father’s (David Morse) cult following.

If I’m to be candid, this second heaping of True Detective is not the nourishing entree that the first one was. From the purview of this debut episode, it’s mildly tepid leftovers. However, I will confess that Farrell’s loose-cannon beating of another father with brass knuckles is a wickedly funny moment and I tingled with anticipation in the final moments when the principals assembled at the crime scene of an slumping corpse.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Interjections Podcast June 19 – Inside Out and Tower Heist

Hello all,

We’re here with yet another podcast – and before you think we’re simply starting to love the sound of our own voices, we plan on having more written pieces soon…I’m working on a long one of my thoughts on Mad Men, and Cory is working on some himself. We’re just having a lot of fun talking about movies on here, and it kills two birds with one stone. Perhaps we’ll turn this into more of a podcast-heavy website, but we had an intention to improve upon our writing, and I hope to continue to see that through.

Anyway, here’s this week’s edition, where we talk about Inside Out, Tower Heist, and some other general topics around the film world:

Knowing the right time to talk about movies, music and television