Tag: arnold schwarzenegger

Terminator: Dark Fate


Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

It could have been just another “Terminator” sequel in which Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger reprise their roles as badasses Sarah Connor and T-800, protectors of John Connor, the boy who would grow up to become the Resistance leader of the war against the machines, so it is a most welcome surprise that these figures are actually critical to the heart and plot of “Dark Fate,” a swaggering, risk-taking sci-fi action picture that is not afraid to make contact with old ideas from the first two films and expand upon them. It feels like a natural evolution of the series, and I enjoyed the direction it took. Should they decide to continue with this timeline, I look forward it.

Screenwriters David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, and Billy Ray appear to have a thorough understanding of how to hook the viewers sitting in front a “Terminator” film. Like “The Terminator” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” the work opens with two portals transporting two characters from the future (2042) to the current time (2020). The first is Grace (Mackenzie Davis), who appears to be machine. She moves fast and she hits hard… but she is no machine. She is an “augmented human.” Here, the idea of old coming in contact with the new is introduced. The second is Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) who also moves like a bullet and hits like a tank. It is a machine through and through. Like the impressive T-1000 from “Judgment Day,” it has the ability to change its shape like liquid and harness its limbs into weapons. It is made all the more terrifying, however, with new abilities—like its flesh being separated from its metallic skeleton at will and so there is not one enemy but two—old ideas paving the way for new ones.

The first action sequence is more intelligent than just another brawl or shootout. The showdown between Grace and Rev-9 is a showcase of their strengths and, more importantly, weaknesses. Although Grace, whose mission is to protect Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), a young woman, seemingly ordinary, who lives in Mexico with her father and brother, but notice that unlike the T-800, T-1000, and Rev9, she gets tired eventually. The screenplay is efficient in that at the same scene it is established that the protector this time can be an advantage as well as a liability. Yet despite this, Grace is an interesting character not because of her weakness or emotions but because of her background as a soldier who volunteered 1) to become more than she was and 2) to give up her life during a critical mission if necessary. Flashbacks of a post-apocalyptic future are well-placed.

In the 1984 and 1991 “Terminator” films, we see glimpses of the future. They follow a formula: flying vehicles shooting lasers, intimidating red-eyed cyborgs stepping on human skulls, humans fighting back with old weapons and sheer desperation. This installment takes it a bit further. While it would be unfair to reveal who or what they are fighting against, I appreciated that more details than expected are provided when humanity collapsed. There is talk of food shortages, people turning against one another instead of the machines, when technology stopped connecting people. It is a bleak peek into a possibility—or a reality depending on how one looks at it—and director Tim Miller makes appropriate transitions between present and future.

Particularly effective is in how he focuses on a human face after a memory—at the tired, worn expressions of those who have already experienced their own wars. At times I wondered if they were tired of fighting. If they thought their actions would be worth it. (Certain plot surprises point to the idea that it might not be.) If they considered the potentiality that if they actually won this battle, would they be able to talk away from it. If this war against the machines was tethered to their fates; if these battles were their very purpose. It surprised me that these were the sort of questions that popped into my head while watching a mainstream, sci-fi action movie. Clearly, it is a cut above its contemporaries.

There is a shortcoming. Because Hamilton, Schwarzenegger, and Davis are such powerhouses when it comes to exuding charisma, humor, and dramatic gravity, oftentimes simultaneously, Reyes does not get enough moments to shine. An argument can be made that, although a challenge, she must stand out from her veteran co-stars. The picture, after all, centers around protecting Dani because it is claimed she has an important role in the coming war. Reyes, while capable, does not hold a candle against Edward Furlong’s John Connor. The boy had so much personality, the character became an instant pop culture icon. You cannot help but remember him. Nevertheless, I am interested in seeing Reyes grow in the role should there be a direct sequel. I hope there will be because there is terrific potential here.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day


Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Even before the first bullet is shot, we are already convinced that the antagonist, a T-1000 cyborg (Robert Patrick) made out of liquid metal with the terrifying—and convenient—ability to shape-shift, is more advanced than the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) sent to protect future Resistance leader John Connor (Edward Furlong): it is capable of passing as human even when it speaks. Observe closely when the T-1000 questions various individuals regarding the boy’s whereabouts. Because it is sleeker, more efficient, and more versatile, tension ramps up almost immediately; we are made to understand the stakes without relying on expository dialogue—one of the qualities that made “The Terminator” a successful sci-fi action picture.

Aside from a few throwback lines, the work is uninterested in repeating itself. Notice how quickly it introduces the two cyborgs from 2029 as they are teleported to 1995. Although cheeky humor remains, the pacing is faster and less effort is put into ensuring that the viewers notice the visual effects. Assumption is made that those watching have seen the previous film and so this time around various elements are turned inside-out: Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is tougher, rougher, worn-out; the Terminator is now a good guy; action sequences are bigger, longer, and choreography behind them more complex. It is clear that the work has been given more budget. It shows both in what can be seen and felt on screen.

The writing is more ambitious. There is an implied sadness in the relationship between Sarah and John, how their fight against the realization of Skynet in the past has sacrificed so much of their current lives and possibly their future. For instance, when the mother sees her son for the first time in months, possibly years, her instinct is not to embrace him but to check whether he has been shot or is hurt in anyway. The screenplay by James Cameron and William Wisher, the former directing the film, does a neat trick: the more it avoids sentimentality, the more the viewers become desperate for that teary mother-son moment. And I’m not sure we are ever provided that moment. Maybe the Connors isn’t that type of family.

Another interesting relationship is between John and the T-800. It begins as a boy-and-his-dog story as John teaches the cyborg catchphrases, silly banters, and how to give a high five—for the boy’s own amusement as well as for the T-800 to be able to blend in a bit a more. But toward the end of the picture, it explores a sort of father-son dynamic. Most interesting, however, is it does not go all the way; it teases the audience and then leaves us wanting more. These calculated decisions in the screenplay exhibit intelligence, a freshness, and a willingness to take risks. It is not the kind of sequel that is low energy, redundant, simply cashing in on what came before. It is willing to explore new territories and ideas.

Like “The Terminator,” action scenes—as wonderful and eye-popping as they are—do not come into my mind first when considering “T2” as a whole. Every single one stands out, from an early chase between an 18-wheeler and a motorcycle on a spillway to the final jaw-dropping showdown at a steel plant. They are memorable because each encounter is different. The environment almost always impact how the characters must fight and attempt to outsmart the enemy.

It is without question that director James Cameron put a lot of thought in this next chapter. His love for his story, the characters, and creating explosive special and visual effects can be felt in every frame of this movie. Criticisms regarding the bloated middle portion are justified. But the film is so entertaining when firing on all cylinders, the slower sections actually give the viewers a chance to breathe and prepare for the next exhilarating showdown.

The Terminator


The Terminator (1984)
★★★★ / ★★★★

James Cameron’s “The Terminator” is known for its muscular action sequences and the pitch-perfect casting of Arnold Schwarzenegger as a cyborg sent from post-apocalyptic 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), mother of John Connor, the man who will lead the resistance against the machines, but let us not overlook that the screenplay is so precise and efficient, it makes modern sci-fi action pictures look saggy, lackadaisical, weak. Here is a movie that offers an experience: it can be entertaining, funny, pulse-pounding, and horrifying at a drop of a hat. It is miraculous that despite the disparate elements that must be juggled, the story’s forward momentum continues to build until the climax. It works from top to bottom.

Right from the opening minutes it is without question that plenty of thought is put into the images on screen. The arrival of two figures from the future—a machine and a human—run in parallel. The former is sinewy, tall, without an identifying emotion his face. The latter, on the other hand, is built but scrawny by comparison, his face plagued by confusion, uncertainty, agitation, perhaps even fear. Similarity lies in their nakedness. But a difference: the machine must blend into its new environment while the man, too, must do the same… on top of avoiding shame for having to go on without them. Another similarity: their mission is find Sarah Connor. The difference: the machine is programmed to kill her, but the man feels the need to protect her. There is minimal dialogue, but our eyes are transfixed on the screen.

The lack of words or critical dialogue goes on for minutes as the director racks up the tension. Even when we meet Sarah, as words are exchanged among colleagues and friends, there is nothing important to be said or expressed. These are played for chuckles or laughs. Instead, we pay attention to what is being reported on television. Because the work shows that the background elements can be important in this story, we are trained to pay attention to every small detail. In other words, the work tasks us to participate. And because we are engaged, it must be established early on that the heroine be intelligent. It is a mistake for this character to be dumb when we meet her only to get smarter later on. Screenwriters James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd anticipate this pitfall and so they find ways to be two steps ahead of expectations.

There is excellence in easily overlooked moments. For instance, when our protagonist gets on her bike and looks both ways before driving off, there is great tension to be felt. The funny thing is that she is not aware she is being hunted… yet. But we already have this knowledge. To Sarah, to look both ways is the sensible, ordinary thing to do. But to us, it is a life or death situation: a figure approaching from a distance in either direction could mean that the cyborg programmed to kill has found her and she could be dead in seconds. These moments of pause, of inhalation, elevate the action film toward a more visceral territory. It cannot be denied there are horror elements in the work outside of the relentless, highly physical, seemingly unstoppable villain.

Here we are at the end of the review and I have not even detailed the high caliber action scenes. And I don’t feel the need to because they must be experienced to be appreciated fully. But notice the sound design: immediate, forceful, sharp; they tend to jolt the viewers into paying attention that much more. Yet at times the approach is minimalistic: the pulsating score is enough to hasten our heartbeats.

There is certainly a few dated special and visual effects (the CGI cyborg in its rawest, metallic form running from the background toward the foreground quickly comes to mind) and obvious cosmetics (Schwarzenegger donning a most unconvincing, chuckle-worthy mask since technology that allowed seamless blending of two faces—man and machine—was not yet available). But I consider these to be negligible technical shortcomings because the rest of the work functions on a high level. There are two or three lines of mawkish dialogue, but this is overcome by daring to turn the story’s core into a love story.

Sabotage


Sabotage (2014)
★★ / ★★★★

It appears as though Breacher (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his team of DEA agents (Mireille Enos, Sam Worthington, Terrence Howard, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Max Martini, Kevin Vance, Mark Schlegel) have succeeded in stealing ten million dollars from the Rios-Garza cartel without the American government knowing. But when they go underground to retrieve the money that very night, someone has beaten them to it. Soon, members of Breacher’s team begin to meet gruesome deaths, from being run over by a train to being nailed to the ceiling. An investigator (Olivia Williams) is assigned to investigate the murders.

The writing by Skip Woods and David Ayer prevents what could have been a highly entertaining action film—boasting a talented cast of tough guys (and gal)—from truly taking off. When characters speak, especially Breacher expressing how much his team means to him, there is not an iota of a believable moment or feeling. It is like listening to tires screeching, a test of patience and endurance.

An attempt is made to make the lead character more interesting and sympathetic. The backstory involving the kidnapping of his wife and son is tragic but never delved into completely. Connecting the dots is a challenge—and a pointless exercise—because the victims are either shown or mentioned only during the first scene and toward the end when explanation is required in order to move the plot forward. Thus, a rhythm behind the revelations is not established. Events occur out of convenience rather than that of natural progression.

Breacher’s team is unruly and unpleasant—which is a positive quality in a movie like this. Since the material does not have enough time to turn every character into a believable person we might encounter in the streets, at least they are not boring to be around. There is a roughness or ruggedness to most of them and the quieter ones do stand out because of the way they look or carry themselves. In other words, Breacher’s team is tough in different ways. If the writers had found a way to get us to care more about them, the picture might have worked on another level.

The action scenes are loud and gruesome at times. It seems as though just about everyone prefers to use big guns and so the combination of sounds following the pressing of the trigger amps up the tension. There are moments, however, when it reverts to clichés like a person being able to outrun a rain of bullets while moving rather slowly. Such scenes needed to be reedited to make it appear as though the situation was unfolding very quickly and one mistake could mean game over.

“Sabotage,” directed by David Ayer, is elevated by Williams because she is convincing as a tough and dirty-talking cop. I imagined her getting along perfectly with Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala from “End of Watch”—also directed by Ayer. It is a good decision to cast Williams because she exudes intelligence without even trying. At first glance, I expected her to play a character with an uptight nature and so when she starts cracking jokes and trying to make tough-sounding phrases work, I appreciated her sense of humor—a quality that the film does not offer very often.

Terminator Genisys


Terminator Genisys (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

In 2029, just when the final assault against Skynet, led by John Connor (Jason Clarke), is finally won, it is discovered that a Terminator had already been sent to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), mother to the leader of the Resistance, as a fail-safe. John’s righthand man, Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), volunteers to go back in time to protect Sarah, but it turns out the mission is not as straightforward as it seems. Upon arrival in 1984, Kyle learns the timeline had already been changed and it appears as though he has memories of events he never in fact experienced.

“Terminator Genisys,” written by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, takes elements from James Cameron’s “The Terminator” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” puts them in a blender, and a few original ideas are sprinkled into the mix to create a reimagining. Although the picture is superficially entertaining as a whole, one foot remains deeply embedded in the past. Thus, due to nostalgia, a great limitation prevents this sci-fi action picture from turning into one that will be remembered positively from years to come.

Some action sequences are quite enthralling. The first half is particularly strong. Standouts involve increasingly difficult encounters with a T-1000 Terminator dressed as a cop (Byung-hun Lee). There is a nastiness to this villain because even though chaos is happening all around—bullets flying, vehicles exploding—there is an eerie calmness to Lee’s performance. The body is tough, agile, strong but the face is serene. We believe that our protagonists are really up against a tank-like robot that will not stop until its assignment is accomplished.

The various intersections of timelines require the audience to pay careful attention to dialogue—which is problematic because this is not the film’s strong point. The script is plagued with expository lines that explain, for example, a character’s thoughts or feelings rather than going through a more demonstrative avenue. Although the performers do the best they can to inject emotion into these lines, the words and phrases still come across as forced. As a result, we do not buy completely into the human drama behind the conflict. This is highly apparent with Kyle and Sarah’s interactions—a critical misstep because how their relationship is built is central to the plot.

The numerous flashbacks hinder the material’s forward momentum. While Kyle’s new memories provide the necessary mystery to keep us wondering how he managed to acquire them, they are redundant and tend to take away tension that is created. It might have been better if these images were only seen once and are only referred to again via dialogue—as if it were a way for Kyle to hold onto them the deeper he gets into his mission. The movie has an annoying habit of assuming that audiences are not paying attention. To pass as an intelligent film, even only superficially, first the filmmakers must assume that viewers have relatively long attention spans.

Directed by Alan Taylor, “Terminator Genisys” entertains because it moves fast and action pieces occur every ten to fifteen minutes. Deeper questions about time travel and repercussions that are worth getting answers are set to the side so it is not for viewers who wish for a more cerebral experience. However, such a warning should have been apparent to those already familiar with the franchise.

The Running Man


The Running Man (1987)
★★ / ★★★★

Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger), member of the military, was sent to prison because he wouldn’t follow orders to kill a group of women and children protesting for food. But when he broke out of prison, an edited video was released to the public in which Ben was portrayed to have killed the innocent civilians. Out of desperation, he took Amber (Maria Conchita Alonso) hostage to seek refuge in Hawaii. Ben’s escape was unsuccessful, but his story caught the attention of Damon Killian (Richard Dawson), a host of the most popular game on television. In order to restore his reputation, Ben must compete in the gladiator-style show and defeat assassins collectively known as The Stalkers (Professor Toru Tanaka, Gus Rethwisch, Erland van Lidth, Jim Brown, Jesse Ventura). Based on a short story by Stephen King, “The Running Man” had a fascinating prediction involving the future of American culture reflected by what was shown on television but the execution did not match the story’s ambition. Although Schwarzenegger had the body for the role, I wasn’t convinced he had the talent, acting-wise, to deliver the depth and complexity in his character. If Schwarzenegger was only allowed to stand and look tough, it might have worked out. Unfortunately, he was required to speak such as giving orders to his teammates, expressing anger, balancing incredulousness and frustration. I felt like his one-liners cheapened the material. The “I’ll be back” line was obviously a reference to James Cameron’s “The Terminator.” It was unnecessary. Others were supposed to serve as comic relief, but there were far too many of them. I was completely taken out of the experience of being in their world. What I liked, however, was the way the camera switched between the battle scenes and the audiences’ reactions. The audiences were supposed to reflect us: rich, poor, black, white, young, and old. The point was all groups craved some sort of violence. I interpreted the game show audiences as individuals who supported capital punishment and thereby accepting the innate hypocrisy within the system. I found the audiences’ reactions interesting and disturbing. It was acceptable for The Running Man, people who had to battle their way through obstacles, to die because they supposedly have committed crimes, mostly murder, despite the lack of concrete evidence. Images on television were enough to persuade everyone. However, it was considered a tragedy for a Stalker, also committing murder, to perish. There was an interesting mix of tongue-and-cheek and cynicism in the way the audiences’ loyalty shifted from one end to another when certain lies were exposed. It highlighted the power of television and most people’s inability (or laziness) to think critically. Unfortunately, the screenplay’s third act was frustratingly, maddeningly weak. The film’s message turned into something it was supposed to be fighting against. That is, the answer to violence is more violence. Instead of leaving us with real insight regarding the role of television in our lives, “The Running Man,” directed by Paul Michael Glaser, took the easily digestible path. I felt like what I put into the film was significantly more than what I had gotten back.

Batman & Robin


Batman & Robin (1997)
★ / ★★★★

Dr. Pamela Isley (Uma Thurman), a horticulturalist stationed in South America whose project involved cross-breeding animal and plants, caught Dr. Woodrue (John Glover) creating a super soldier named Bane (Jeep Swenson) for bidding. When she expressed her disapproval of her colleague’s indiscretions, Dr. Woodrue tried to kill her by pushing her into a batch of chemicals. This altered Dr. Isley’s DNA and gave her, now Poison Ivy, the ability to manipulate plants. Pairing up with Bane, the duo headed to Gotham City to demand answers from Bruce Wayne (George Clooney) for cutting funds out of their project. Written by Akiva Goldsman and directed by Joel Schumacher, “Batman & Robin” suffocated from too many plots which was unfortunate because there was a hint of good material lost in a jungle of bad. The strand which involved the decline of Alfred Pennyworth’s (Michael Gough) health was interesting because prior to this point, he had nothing much to do except being a butler to Bruce and offering a wise commentary when Bruce struggled for answers in terms of the dichotomy between his personal and professional life. Even though Alfred was only the help of the Wayne manor, it was tough to see him looking frail and lackadaisical because he was our protagonist’s only father figure. Unfortunately, the film put more weight in having fun in the form racing motorbikes which was aimed to symbolize teenage rebellion, Poison Ivy winking at the camera and mentioning how her action figures always came with Bane, and Bruce appearing in social functions with a woman (Elle Macpherson) we knew absolutely nothing about but marriage was apparently on the horizon. This confusing, cheesy pot of doldrum was heated to a boil so slowly and so painfully, it threatened the integrity of the project and the franchise. Furthermore, while I believed Clooney as Bruce the multibillionaire with that winning smile, I had an incredibly difficult time believing him as Batman. The ultimate challenge that Clooney had to face did not occur during the action scenes when he had to throw a punch and utter laughably trite lines of dialogue. It was in the silent moments when Clooney, dressed as Batman, stood next to Robin (Chris O’Donnell). I knew there was a big problem when I found that my eyes gravitated toward O’Donnell more often even if he wasn’t saying anything. Unlike Clooney, O’Donnell was a good choice to play Robin because he could just scoff and I knew exactly what his character was thinking. This error in casting proved very distracting. Notice that Clooney continued to sport a little smile when discussing Alfred’s affliction. That smile made me very angry because it communicated apathy. The scene should have had an air of seriousness because, after all, Alfred raised Bruce like a son. I wondered if the director even reshot the scene. From the looks of it, more attention was put into the special and visual effects of the chases and explosions which were, admittedly, admirable for their colors and detail. Meanwhile, Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger), eventually teaming up with Poison Ivy and Bane, was reduced to delivering puns, referring to himself as a “villain” and Batman and Robin as “heroes.” Well-established antagonists with real goals don’t consider themselves as villains; they don’t feel guilt toward what they do because they believe what they’re doing is right. Knowing a bit about the deeper and touching details of why Mr. Freeze turned to a life of crime, which involved his wife in cryogenic sleep, it made me angry that the picture mostly portrayed him as a cold-blooded automaton. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting if, despite his intimidating appearance, he was actually portrayed as having a heart, someone who didn’t enjoy hurting people, but he felt he needed to in order to get one step closer in saving his love? The action sequences in “Batman & Robin,” one occurred in the Gotham City Museum of Modern Art looking like an ice rink on acid, were quite a sight at times but it had no heart. It wasn’t cool to give the audience such a cold shoulder.