Terminator Genisys (*1/2): Time to abort mission

terminatorgenisys

Terminator Genisys – 2015

Director Alan Taylor
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J. K. Simmons, Dayo Okeniyi, Matt Smith, Courtney B. Vance, Lee Byung-hun
Screenplay Laeta Kalogridis, Patrick Lussier

I have no animus towards sequels. In fact, since AliensLethal Weapon 2 and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, I have kind of held out hope that we could get something more with each new installment. It doesn’t always work, sure. More often than not, sequels are just treading over the same ground laboriously. Even so, one can still get enjoyment if there is something one that holds one’s interest. Special effects keep the Transformers series going, even if there is no real attempt to even pretend there is a cohesive background story. In short, it takes a lot for one to say “No mas.” In the latest attempt to breathe life into Terminator, I have come to the conclusion that they should give it a rest.

That’s not the only conclusion I reached. In fact, here are some others:

  1. James Cameron must have a stake in the profits to this film. There is no other way that one can surmise any sort of logical reason for him to say that he considers this the 3rd film of the franchise.
  2. If one sticks to the films that Linda Hamilton has a presence in, either on camera or via audio, they should be fine.
  3. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the only actor besides J.K. Simmons to provide any real charisma in the film. Both have roles that are way too small compared to the Clarkes and Courtney.
  4. Any film that wipes the best film of the franchise out of existence should be better than said film.
  5. Jai Courtney should not be allowed to be in the fifth film of any franchise.
  6. Having one actor fake an American accent in a movie is fine. By the time one gets to 3, maybe try casting a few more Americans.

The story starts out in the future, with John Connor finally living up to his potential and gets to the point where Skynet is on the ropes. This attempts to tie neatly to events that start the first film, when we see Kyle Reese (Courtney) thrust back in time in pursuit of the original Terminator. This is where things take a turn sideways. Not only do we discover that there is another Terminator who’s been “waiting” for the naked one, but Reese is being pursued by a liquid metal Terminator (Byung-hun). Sarah (Emelia Clarke) Connor and her Terminator, whom she unconvincingly calls “Pops” rescue Reese. They make a getaway to a spot where they expect they are being followed by the liquid Terminator. They are, and they dispatch him quite effectively. From here they decide to go forward into the future themselves with a time machine they have developed to take their own steps in ending Skynet.

By this point, the film could have been great, were it not for a trend that initiates with the first face off between Schwarzenegger’s T-800 and the T-1000. As that fight begins, we follow the actions of Sarah and Reese. Reese has to battle a newly re-generated T-800 that they finished off in the first moments after reaching 1984. Sarah heads downstairs, making very clear that she is familiar with her surroundings and is wanting to make sure that everything is prepared for…

All of the sudden, we see the T-1000, but there is no sign of Arnold. What happened in their fight? This was a large part of the 2nd film, and it seems like he was dispatched easily this time. No. Sarah springs the ingenious trap and we see the T-1000 begin to disintegrate. He almost escapes, but before he can get to Sarah, the Arnold Terminator comes out of nowhere, looking no worse for wear, finishes the job.

What happened between them in the first fight? The filmmakers don’t seem to care. So why should we?

The rest of the film consists of such moments. We are pushed from location to location, where no scene is set up with more than a few obligatory shots before the next clash occurs. Many of these moments are deliberately meant to echo better moments in the earlier films. This only accentuates the lack of requisite skill with which they are handled. Tension is not allowed to build before you are thrust into the next chaotic moment. The choice of what to cover during these clashes is odd and really uninspired. Why go to the effort of bringing Arnold back to the fore if one chooses to cut away from the T-800 clashing with an all new threat to see the soft tissue folks running down a stairwell?

One has to wonder if there is a reluctance to show Arnold in action because he is nearing 70, or if, perhaps they realize there is nothing they can show that was not done better by Cameron. Two have tried already and no one is discussing their work in college classrooms as far as I can tell.

Clarkes, Emelia and Jason and Jai Courtney bring little real excitement to the proceedings. There is absolutely no heat in any of the scenes that they share. The one liners between Sarah and Reese are as flat as anything  since A Good Day to Die Hard. Courtney was half of that magical combo as well. For his sterling legacy, Schwarzenegger just seems happy to be there as the writers attempt to come up with more technical things for him to say so we can chuckle at his ESL skills. The recurring references to his age just sounds cliche now. We’ve all seen enough movies going this route, it’s just not worth mentioning obsolescence by now. We all get it. No one cares.

Of the special effects, they are muted by quick cuts. There is very little time to marvel over anything because the camera rarely lingers. Those complaining about the Arnold cutout used for Salvation will get to see more of that here. At least in the 4th film we saw things that were different. The filmmakers are extremely self-conscious of the safe ground of modern-day on which they continue to tread. It’s like they understand the longer that they linger, the more boring we realize it’s nothing really new.

Where can they go from here? They obviously have plans for more, based on the way this one ends. We will have to endure more of the worst characters that we have seen. If you think this is a spoiler, just consider that this film has ALL of the worst characters in the series.

There are moments to enjoy here. Damn few of them though. The ship has run its course and its time to run it into the iceberg. Think of it as an act of mercy.

(*1/2 out of *****)

Love and Mercy (****) is the song we’ve been waiting for Wilson to sing

Love-and-Mercy-Poster-2015

Love and Mercy – 2015

Director Bill Pohlad
Starring John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti
Screenplay Michael Alen Lerner, Oren Moverman

I was sittin’ in a crummy movie with my hands on my chin
Oh the violence that occurs seems like we never win

There is nothing like going into the cool atmosphere of a movie theater on a hot California day. Sitting in the 3rd row of tiny Room 2 of the Minor Theater in Arcata, I was accompanied by 3 other random men, all older than I and looking somewhat more haggard. Even so, there was a definite kinship between us in our random seats. We all were there for a reason.

Love and mercy that’s what you need tonight
So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight

As the opening credits roll and the heat of the day dissipates, we see a young Wilson (Dano) in a moment of creative crisis. Its taking place during the Smile era. He is at the pinnacle of his creative power and he is quickly running out of whatever it is that keeps someone of his fragile genius together. The screen goes dark.

I was lyin’ in my room and the news came on T.V.
A lotta people out there hurtin’ and it really scares me

Next moment we have Wilson (now played by Cusack) in the early ’80’s at a Cadillac dealership. He looks haggard and worn, and skittish as hell. His interaction with sales agent Melinda Ledbetter (Banks) are fraught with obvious fear, but also laden with a strange, burgeoning affection. There is a man waiting for Wilson to complete his transaction, and it is obvious that his anxious feelings are tied to who he represents. That person is none other than Eugene Landy (Giamatti). Landy is Wilson’s therapist, keeping close tabs on him and controlling every facet of his life. He leaves her with a request to see her again, a purchase of a Cadillac and a note that says: lonely, frightened, scared.

Love and mercy that’s what you need tonight
So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight

There have been so many depictions and documentaries of Brian Wilson’s life, its easy for one to mingle all of them into one giant ball of woe and top 40 hits. There is more to him than that, of course, and Love and Mercy shows two important facets to the story with the high points and low points. There is little in between.

I was standin’ in a bar and watchin’ all the people there
Oh the lonliness in this world well it’s just not fair

It might be a tough sell to garner some sympathy for a guy who made so much money that he was allowed the (mis)fortune of laying in bed through much of the me decade half out of his mind on drugs. We don’t get to see more than glimpses of this phase, as if there were anything more to see than the skit he did with Belushi and Aykroyd. Still, I have always wondered if there was anything more to that period.

Oooooo-ooooooo-ooooooo
Oooooo-ooooooo-ooooooo-ooooooo-ooooooo
Ahhhhh-ahhhhhh-ahhhhhh-ohhhhhh-ohhhhhh

What we do get from Pohlad is a well acted and poignant vantage of Wilson at his most vulnerable. The first phase is during the time of the Beach Boys high point. Just before embarking on a worldwide tour, Wilson has a breakdown and he uses the event as a catalyst to have Bruce Johnston join in his stead as a touring member. Brian’s plan is to stay home and create. And man does he ever create. The music he creates, the basis for The Pet Sounds album, is a source of amazement for the professional musicians that he uses to create. Not everyone is a fan, though. Wilson’s father, Murray, just fired as their manager, thinks God Only Knows is a depressing suicide note. Mike Love, the de facto touring leader, fails to understand the music at all, and resents the idea that none of the band members actually play on the album at all. The album’s relative lack of financial success appears to confirm Love’s myopic wisdom, even though the work is considered a classic. The work continues on a follow-up, but the seeds of undoing are set for Wilson.

Hey love and mercy that’s what you need tonight
So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight

Forward to the 80’s, Wilson and Ledbetter begin a courtship imperiled as much as it is romantic. The two have a not so obvious chemistry, but she is kind and of all things, that makes her a perfect match for him. Landy’s unconventional methods involve heavy doses of suppressants that make Wilson look gaunt and wasted half of the time. Landy comes across as ultimately a controlling, talentless asshole, much like his father. His ability to push Wilson is at times helpful, but overall he is, like Love and Murray, more of anchor dragging Wilson down, for a quest for his own personal glory.

Love and mercy that’s what you need tonight
Love and mercy tonight

The story goes to great lengths to present Melinda in the best light, and Bank’s performance really helps in this effort. The story portrays her efforts at contacting Wilson’s family in concurrence with her attempts to figure out the extent of Landy’s hold on him. It’s obvious that Wilson not seeing his family in over two years is not a good thing. Landy appears to have a ll of the cards, until Melinda gets through to the housekeeper and ultimately helps him win his freedom.

Love and mercy

The dual portrayals of Wilson produce a chilling effect. I have not once enjoyed a Paul Dano performance until now. His presentation is spot on. The character of a young, talented and loopy Wilson really fits in his wheelhouse. One would hope that the job he does merits attention when it comes to award season. While the same cannot be said for Cusack, he does offer enough value to the role to offset the awkward feelings for those not familiar with the Bob Dylan biopic a few years ago. Overall, it is one of Cusack’s best efforts and an absolute revelation when compared to the work he’s done since 2000. Both actors give one a sense of a fragile but kind person. The talent is one thing, but he is kind with no filter to protect his fragile heart. It’s not that he was not loved. The depth of his feelings and his illness were not understood.  Banks gives the best performance of her career. Even if some of her actions in the film are in dispute, her Melinda is humble and not without flaws. Moreover, she is totally a single woman of her time, nearing the point where her best days are behind her. Giamatti does what he does best, creepy, earnest and filled with a rage that can only be found when trying to avoid being found out as a fraud. As a group, Pohlad is generous with his portrayals of the band, even Love. For the first time, even in documentaries, they do not come across as caricatures who think that early Beatles movies were the only example of how to present yourself for public consumption. Longtime fans can at least be satisfied with this, if by some miracle nothing else does this for them.

I was praying to a God who just doesn’t seem to hear
Oh the blessings we need the most are what we all fear

Wilson’s life has been a blessed one, it’s plain to those who have noticed. While not without trials, and a constant challenge of maintaining sanity and sobriety, Wilson has felt the warmth of the sun for some time. That the makers of the biopic should choose Love and Mercy as the title to their enterprise is not by accident. Many consider this a minor song in his catalogue, but it is not. The tenderness and simplicity of the song are on full display here, and they manage to make one realize that if it’s not just the genius that so many people appreciate about him. It’s his kindness and his simple message that love should rule the day. Questions of historical accuracy aside, they nail this basic truth.

(**** out of *****)

Inside Out (*****) Pixar puts just enough thought into feelings

inside-out

Inside Out – 2015

Director Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen
Starring Voices of Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
Screenplay Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, Josh Cooley

This is the most original movie since Up. Not only does one get a fresh perspective on the role of emotions on someone’s life, but we get to see life in a more deep and meaningful way without being an insult to the intelligence. It’s in the telling as well as the subject that we are so enraptured from the moment we first see Joy (Poehler) burst upon the scene of baby Riley’s personality the moment she is born. We also get to see Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust (Smith, Hader, Black and Kaling), marvelling at how they work together to form Riley’s outlook as her experiences turn into long-term and sometimes core memories.

The journey the five emotions are taking us on takes a big hit when Riley and her family move from Minnesota to San Francisco. The collision of events lead to Sadness touching the core memories. Joy, always competing with Sadness in the kindest way possible, tries to keep her counterpart corralled. Unfortunately, this leads to Joy, Sadness and the core memories being lost in the vast library of long-term memories.

As they try to make their way back, things start to falter within the control center. Anger, Fear and Disgust try to right the ship, but the imbalance can only make things worse. Riley’s reactions to her stimuli provide a perfect counterpart for what is going on inside of her. Things get worse and parts of her emotional core begin to break down, making the journey of Joy and Sadness increasingly difficult.

Just as things start looking bleakest Bing Bong (Kind) shows up to help the two find their way. Bing Bong is Riley’s childhood imaginary friend and he’s been lost in long term memory for a while now. His efforts give a spark for Joy when she needs it most, but she still has a long way to go in the end.

The journey through both sides of Riley is an incredible thing to behold. It’s not only an emotional thrill ride, it’s also incredibly smartly handled. Even if it is all a fantasy and so much fun, it is a great film for kids as it starts a discussion that is essential at some point.

This is filmmaking at another level than hunting dragons, fighting pandas and zoo animals on the run. This is college level thinking in what is normally a Jr. High world. Docter and his team have become the cream of the animated crop leaving all others in their dream-like wake. It’s more than animation, which is exceptional. This Pixar team knows that an integral part to storytelling is a great story, relatable characters and situations and yes, humor too.

If you have kids, this film is a must. If you were ever curious about how you might be constructed, watch this movie. If you just want to be entertained, just watch this movie. If you like classic films, just see this movie.

(***** out of *****)

Jurassic World (***): Scare, rinse, repeat

Jurassic-World

Jurassic World – 2015

Director Colin Trevorrow
Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dalla Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins, Vincent D’Onofrio, Omar Sy, B.D. Wong, Irrfan Khan, Jake Johnson, Judy Greer, Andy Buckley, Lauren Lapkus
Screenplay Rick Jaffa, Amanda, Silver, Derek Connolly and Trevorrow

There are moments of technological wizardry in Jurassic World. There are times where the steps taken feel at once risky and the right idea for the time. Many of these moments involve 4 raptors that are under the care of Owen Grady (Pratt). Their names, Charlie, Delta, Echo and Blue. Who is the alpha? Well, they let Owen occupy that spot. “Let,” is the operative word. Things are going swell on Isla Nublar. The place where the original Jurassic Park opened over 20 years ago is now a very popular vacation destination, complete with a hotel, new technology, new rides and even a new petting zoo.

Things as they are, the shareholders can’t be satisfied with the things as they are. As a result, there have been new dinosaurs introduced. One even that has never existed in any form in history. This dinosaur has been created by original geneticist, Dr. Henry Wu and it’s quite silly name is Indominus Rex. His introduction is sold to some investors looking to get in on the sponsorship of the park. The person doing the selling is, remarkably, the same person running the park – in high heels, no less – Claire Dearing (Howard).

Claire and Owen have a dating history. How this is seems just a contrivance of the plot. The chemistry between the two comes across as Pratt asking a mannequin “How you doin’?” Putting the major female character of the film in Howard’s hands is a risk that does not pay off. She does not have the requisite acting skill to pull off a plot that exists only to get the major predator out in the open and killing, at the price of minor characters. Really, though, there is not a strong history of women heroines in the series, with Dern holding her own in the first film and only a teenage female gymnast in the second coming anywhere close to her relevance.

The construction of the park is ridiculous. The petting zoo with a triceratops is one thing, but to have people sailing in boats along side stegosauruses seems like a tail swoop away from disaster. There is a pterodactyl sanctuary that is unseen until it comes time for the Indominus to break through it, allowing them to escape. And what’s the deal with the pterosaur that looks like a T-Rex? How in the hell does that fly? Mosasaurus

That said, there are several critically cool moments in Jurassic World. Even with the Indominus Rex opening that incredibly large, the biggest and best new dino is the Mosasaurus, which amounts to a whale crossed with an alligator. The first moment that magnificent beast clears the surface is a somewhat self-conscious reference to the original King of Summer Blockbusters, Jaws.

The raptors themselves are wonderful characters. In many ways, they are the most animated beings presented on the screen, outside of Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus, who play two delightfully eccentric control room employees. The end of the film might have been a complete laugh fest were it not for the continued development of the smartest of the dinosaurs as conceptualized by Amblin Entertainment.

The two kids are closer to regular this time around. We don’t have the Little Jimmy complex to deal with. Little Jimmy is a screenwriting gimmick where lazy screenwriters give child characters a skill or talent that no one else can do, that saves the team in a crucial moment. This is meant to appeal to the “kids are people too,” segment of the population. It’s braver and scarier to have a kid seem more vulnerable and even lucky in scary situations. Kids should be imperiled when beasts thought to be extinct for 65 million years are running amok. It’s certainly not a time to make them feel better about how they contribute to the team.

D’Onofrio suffers the worst fate of all the actors cast in the film. His Vic Hoskins gets the ass-end of character. He manages to take a good idea (weaponizing Raptors) sound like the worst just because the nature of the script is that everything is rushed and that all disasters need are followed up with bad decisions. It’s amazing to think of an actor with such skill taking a role that completely undercuts his talent. His is a role that should have been occupied by one of the FBI guys from Die Hard.

He’s not the only problem with the story. For a hero, Pratt’s Owen takes part in some really stupid behavior. First and foremost is the decision to go into the cage where the Rex is being held when infrared sensors come up empty. In an age where there is a video camera in every intersection, they can’t afford to buy a set of cameras at Costco for, say, $1000 to search the entirety of the compound?

His search for the kids with Howard is equally laughable. It seems more an effort to get Howard in the position to flex her ego. Apparently the producers of the film don’t have an idea what happens to women who wear high heels on soft turf. The pacing of the film is rather odd as well. It seems like more an opportunity to have the I-Rex show up at the right time, even in places he’s been before. This is counter to the verbal messages all along when we are told that he is moving towards the heat source of thousands of spectators at the park.

There are more positive ticks than negatives, though. The use of animatronics harkens back to the original film. The computer animation holds out until the last act, when the action becomes so fast that it looks a bit cartoonish. It is cool, though, to see Pratt break out the rifle and start firing away at near point blank.

The success of this film shows that the public has missed dinosaurs and they still love Pratt. Depending on how fast they develop a sequel with him in it, they could get a repeat of the success. Those looking to further our understanding of dinosaurs should hold their expectations, though. These films are just going to be a series of amusement park rides Let’s leave it to Dr. Ian Malcom to put it best:

Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and um, screaming.

With each successive ride, however, the amusement wanes, until the public cries out for more. More, what? Story, I suppose.

(*** out of *****)

Ted 2 (***1/2) shines for a while…

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Ted 2 – 2015

Director Seth MacFarlane
Starring  Seth MacFarlane, Mark Wahlberg, Amanda Seyfried, Morgan Freeman, Jessica Barth, Giovanni Ribisi,
John Slattery, Patrick Warburton, Michael Dorn, John Carroll Lynch
Screenplay MacFarlane, Wellesley Wild and Alec Sulkin

Wherever there are 2 guys who decide to spend a day off together, there is Ted. Where ever there is the friend that will tell you truths no one else will, Ted is there too. When ever there is a friend that will risk jail time with you because it makes the event  funnier, and hence more memorable, that’s Ted, as well. The uncomfortable truth that most reviewers of the phenomenon that is this series is that everything about these films rings true to anyone who has ever had that buddy. Well, everything except for the stupid Ribisi subplots.

Starting out with an improbable but workable premise that Ted gets married to Tami-Lynn, while Wahlberg gets divorced from Kunis’ character, Lori. It works in a few ways. First, it gives Wahlberg’s character something to do in the movie. 2nd, it gives rise to a host of potential plots and scenes, the first being a recreation of a fight scene between DeNiro’s Jake LaMotta and Catherine Moriarity’s Vicki from Scorsese’s Raging Bull. So, yeah, he’s still doing the Family Guy routine of referential humor.

But it works, remarkably. As Mr. and Mrs.’ domestic bliss starts to wane and the bad advice comes in. They decide that having a baby will save the marriage. This turns into a well-orchestrated set of ordeals that lead the state into declaring a) Ted is not a citizen, he is property and b) the marriage is void. This leads to John and Ted hiring Seyfried’s “Sam L. Jackson” as their attorney pro-bono.

The film starts to slow around this time, almost grinding to a halt as Ribisi’s Donny shows up again, this time as a Janitor at Hasbro. In a plotline that is too stupid to repeat, he works with the guy in charge (Lynch, whose talent is completely wasted) there on a plan to…kidnap Ted. After all the stuff that was going right, they have to go back there.

They could have done a road trip movie and come up with more original stuff.

They do hit the road, for a short trip down to New York to meet up with a better lawyer than Jackson, played by Freeman with a voice that is so wonderful, Ted wants to sleep on it. It makes more sense when you watch it.

Ted 2 is a successful film, mostly, when we see Wahlberg and Ted wander through, looking for stuff to do. The ideas they come up with and the insults they hurl are sublime to those who appreciate bad decision-making. It slows when they have anything resembling a plot that involves hurting the stuffed bear, and, to be honest, who really needs another court scene in a comedy. You’d figure that they would have learned this years ago, but apparently I am the only one that saw Judd Nelson’s career die with From the Hip. In fact, the last time I recall a half-way decent courtroom comedy working was My Cousin Vinny. And much of that film is outside of the courtroom.

These issues are enough to take the film down a point, but not enough to cancel out what works. Hopefully next time we see more innocent nerds hurt at Comic Con, if for no other reason than because Worf and The Tick are in love.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Terminator Chronology / Anthology Reviewed By Cool Papa E

Terminator_Anthology-01Terminator Anthology – 1984-2015

The Terminator – 1984
Chronology – May 12, 1984

Director James Cameron
Screenplay Cameron, Gale Anne Hurd, William Wisher, Jr.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen, Earl Boen, Rick Rossovich, Joe Dante

Review The impact of this film is giant in cinematic history. It’s not that it is an incredible film. It is merely a very good one. What it reveals, however, is perhaps the most cinematically gifted director since Spielberg and Lucas. James Cameron took what was literally a Roger Corman sized budget and created what was then a revolutionary accomplishment. As remarkable as the filmmaking is, Cameron lucked out when he cast Schwarzenegger.. The champion body builder had been a good guy in movies until now, He went in for that role, but ended up signing, not for the protagonist, Kyle Reese, but instead the titular bad guy. Both actor and director caught one another’s rising star and took the world for a ride.

The story is one of the best known plots in movies, by now almost a cliché. Kyle Reese (Biehn) is a soldier from the future sent back by John Connor to save his mother, Sarah. The danger she faces is in the form of an android T-101 Terminator also sent back by the controlling power of that time, artificial intelligence. Reese and the Terminator battle one another at times, but mostly it’s Reese and Sarah on the run, where they survive long enough to fall in love.

One of the big discussion points of the years immediately after the movie, aside from Arnold’s one liner, centered around the paradox of John Connor sending his own father (who was born after him) back to mate with his mother. How can this happen? Who was John Connor’s first father?

The fact that Reese turns out to be John’s Dad only makes the future afterwards different from the first one, where, for all we know, the father could be the guy who stood her up on her date. As Reese says, “One possible future.”

Connor and Reese’s union creates a progeny even more likely to disrupt things for Skynet, which is something they were on the right path to in Judgement Day. Too bad Rise of the Machines turned him into such a puss.

The thing about The Terminator that makes it so easy to watch repeatedly is the relentless pulse of it all. Schwarzenegger moves with a purpose and intensity matched by its cheesy keyboard, but still riveting score. In between the chases Biehn gives one of his signature intense performances, passing exposition almost violently with danger always close. It’s a lot like Halloween with the T-100 as Michael Meyers and Reese, a more battered, weaponized Loomis.

The special effects look dated to anyone born after T2, but for the time and especially the budget, they exceed expectations. The scene with the eyeball and robotic head is the best example of something that looks out of a Kraftwerk video but was taken with amazed grace back in 1984.

Linda Hamilton’s performance is entirely what it needs to be in retrospect, especially when one considers the sequel. Still, the writing does let her down in the first act, making the progression to badass by the end seem like a further distance than it may have been.

Henriksen is not given enough to do, but who would have known he could turn out to be the presence that is Bishop and Frank Black. Cameron sure had some inkling, but his treatment of his and Winfield’s characters as not much more than police station fodder shows that his priority for minor character quirks if not development had not quite developed at that point.

The Terminator is not about much more than the chase, though, with some intriguing sci-fi thrown in for ballast. By these two measures, it succeeds. Biehn and Schwarzenegger are aces ascending towards the top of their craft by this time. Each will do better for Cameron later, but this movie would be nothing without them.

Or Cameron, of course. All of Hollywood has improved as much by his measured steps as by Spielberg or Lucas. Whatever he lacks I complexity of character, he more than makes up for in his visual style and groundbreaking technique. If this first film is like a lesser brother visually and sonically than its closest brother, it’s nearly the equal in the achievement in paving the way for the future.

Best Scene

The police house shoot up is most celebrated, but the best set up is the sequence in the dance club. First time viewers are not completely sold on Reese’s character yet, but they know darn sure Arnold is a killer. When she leans down and misses being seen by the T-100, it’s almost too much to bear. When he finally gets a bead on her, it’s the paramount of pressure.

Worst Scene Boen’s complete lack of protocol is annoying, but it provides one of the best moments of the first sequel.

Rating **** out of *****

Terminator 2: Judgement Day Special Edition – 1992
Chronology – 1995

Director Cameron
Screenplay Cameron and Wisher
Starring Schwarzenneger, Hamilton, Boen, Joe Morton, Robert Patrick, Edward Furlong, Beihn, S. Epatha Merkerson, Xander Berkeley, Jeannette Goldstien, Danny Cooksey

Review Easily the best film in the franchise and one of my favorite movie experiences. This film shows Cameron at his very best in creating and sustaining tension. Schwarzennegger, Hamilton and Furlong were never better. Using the same time travel formula as the first film, this time we have 2 Terminators sent back, one good and one bad. This is the beauty of the film. Since we spend much of the film watching these two machines beat the hell out of one another, most fail to notice that a few humans bite the dust along the way.

John Connor (Furlong) is living with foster parents after his mother is locked in a mental institution for the crime of trying to bring down the cumpany that would become Skynet. The monster tracking him this time is a liquid metal T-1000 (Patrick) who is not only more easily able to fit into society disguised as a police officer. Indeed, it is ably disguised who is the good guy and who bad when the first showdown occurs. Another stroke of genius is having the comparatively slight Patrick as the menace.

Connor is basically a delinquent, spending his days working on his motor bike and stealing other people’s ATM cards. He is at a video game gallery when he is discovered by both Terminators at the same time. He survives the encounter with the T-101’s assistance and then they come to a crossroads. After discovering his foster parents have been killed, do they hide out, or do they attempt to save his mother. Once John discovers quite humorously that he is in charge of the T-101, the answer is obvious, if “tactically dangerous.”

After rescuing Sarah, the decisions become more contested. Ultimately, they confront one of the main engineers at Cyberdine (Morton), convincing him to abandon his efforts and destroy the company’s headquarters. This puts them back in the sights of the T-1000.

To say that everything is better this time would be an understatement. Since the first film, Cameron honed his talents first with Aliens and then The Abyss. His skill improved exponentially, and it really shows. T2 is a groundbreaking film technologically, using both computer graphics and practical effects. One could nitpick if they slow it down, but if they are interested in taking it that far, they really don’t like movies that much.

Schwarzenegger is at the peak of his powers and his drawing ability. Whether it’s through direction or just doing so much work, he plays this slightly altered T-101 with intriguing precision and a great amount of humor. This is truly one of the great action performances of all time.

Hamilton shows herself completely up to the task as a natural progression of the woman we see at the end of the first part. She walks the line between dedicated and deranged with no fear of how she appears.Equal parts warrior and mother, she leads the charge to end this fight for the future. She’d done a lot of good work in the series Beauty and the Beast, but she never did anything close to this kind of performance before or since.

Furlong, picked out of obscurity with no earlier acting performance, strikes the perfect balance between the other two. He manages to avoid the pitfalls of most child actors in that he acts like a kid. He’s not smarter than everyone, and he’s not afraid to get pushed and pulled around. Hell, he even cries. Most importantly, one can see the seeds of someone inventive enough to survive Judgement Day.

Extra points go to the great Joe Morton. He’s an excellent actor who does not get enough praise. His depiction of Miles Dyson is spot on. Curious and fascinated by what can be, and wise enough to see the bad that can happen form the best intentions. His last scene is one of the best moments of the film.

The faults of the film mix seamlessly with the things that make it great. The voice over just adds length and the institution time lead in could have been trimmed a bit. The “I need a vacation,” line has no logic to it, but it is such a welcome moment after an intense last act.

Cameron was already near the top of the director’s list. This pretty much put him there. He had yet to become King of the World, but it was not far off.

Best Scene 

The build up from the moment “You Could Be Mine” starts through to the Galleria and on through the chase in the Aqueduct is about as intense a segment that has ever been put together on film. The pulsing keyboards, the closing in from two sides, and two metallic beasts squaring off for the first time. By now I can tell every scene where a stunt double was substituted. I don’t care.

Worst Scene Sarah going after Dyson with the wife and kids home is kind of brutal, but it shows how dedicated she is to saving the world. For me, it’s the repeated voice overs, droning and after the white line on the road. Those could go.

(***** out of *****)

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – 2003
Chronology – July 24, 2004

Director Jonathan Mostow
Screenplay John Brancato, Michael Ferris
Starring Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken, Boen, David Andrews

Review This film has not aged well at all. The special effects are really pretty good and the movie makes some bold choices. The problem is really with a general feeling of déjà vu with the second film and the need to make a new Terminator (the T-X) with all new powers. In order to appeal to every group, this Terminator is a gorgeous woman (Loken) who manages to be more vicious and gruesome than the other two films combined.

John Connor (Stahl) is living off the grid, but through some certain fate he meets up with Kate Brewster (Danes) at the moment the two Terminators converge upon the veterinary clinic at which Brewster works. Things get all explosive and stuff and soon enough the T-100 (Arnold) has taken Connor and Brewster on the road.

Meanwhile, Brewster’s father (Andrews) is a Lieutenant General in charge of Skynet. His team is battling a virus that is taking over the internet. He is getting orders to unleash the A.I. Skynet to battle the virus, not knowing it is the system that is already pulling the strings.

In the boldest move of the series, they unleash Skynet and Judgement Day happens. As it approaches, the two Terminators battle it out, ending up in a fall out shelter as everything goes straight to hell.

That daring decision aside, Rise of the Machines is a forgettable and really somewhat embarrassing addition to the franchise. When we see Skynet tearing apart the military base using miniature machines inspired by Cameron’s bigger machines from the first two films, it feels like a gimmick. Similarly making the T-X an amalgam of both Terminators comes off as a confused attempt at one-upmanship. Did we get into this thing to see a Terminator that had a flame thrower? Nope.

Stahl for Furlong as John Connor is a bad trade. They reportedly steered clear of him for reasons of reported self-abuse. Stahl comes across as willing, but unable to maintain Furlong’s freshness, nor any amount of strength of a future leader of the resistance. They should have just waited for Furlong to sober up.

Danes, is about as appealing as ever – which means not at all. She is just the wrong choice for anything that requires something physical. She is just severe and over dramatic, never having learned to occasionally tone it down, like Julianne Moore eventually did with The Kids Are Alright.

Arnold takes a big, confused step back in his third time as the T-100. The jokes are uneven, his motives flounder back and forth and whoever decided to have him fight his re-re-programming did not have any sort of understanding about the nature of the beast. Even more, it makes one wonder how it was that Schwarzenegger allowed the character he helped to correct be brought to such places so inconsistent with his previous ventures all for the pursuit of a few one liners.

The direction and writing are mostly pretty sterile. It doesn’t follow the feeling of the other two films. The humor is vapid and mostly lame riffs from earlier events. Even Boen feels out-of-place when his inclusion should have been a nugget. Mostow has none of the ability of Cameron for building tension. Scenes seem to happen more by accident and not design. The stripping scene, replete with Elton John glasses is the perfect example of an estimation of humor gone wrong.

Despite these misgivings, seeing them go big in the end at least pushed the series to a place from which they could not return. It’s grim, but it was a better choice than leaving room for the 4th film to be yet another repeat of the time travel formula. Even if its a vision that was not completely followed through, it made for another good film.

Best Scene t3magnet

The first time they stop the T-X, via the large magnet, is a great idea. It would have been even better if they’d had the courage to leave her there considering what she had done to the T-101.

Worst Scene There are so many to choose from, but I have to go back to the internal battle Arnold has with himself over his new orders. Had they just stuck him to being bad again, the last part of the film might have been interesting, and not such a chore. To top off, internal battle Arnold looks really about as dumb as one figures he must be. It’s the complete opposite of everything we loved about T2.

(**1/2 out of *****)

Terminator Salvation – 2009
Chronology – 2003 (prologue), 2018

Director McG
Starring Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Moon Bloodgood, Helena Bonham Carter, Linda Hamilton (voice), Michael Ironside, Common, Arnold Schwarzenegger (likeness), Bryce Dallas Howard, Jadagrace Berry, Terry Crews
Screenplay John Brancato, Michael Ferris, Jonathan Nolan, Paul Haggis

Review Somehow, this is the one that gets the bad rep of the series. The basic feeling is that this one missed Schwarzenegger’s presence and therefore lacked his charisma. Whoever really thinks that failed to digest how bad he is in the third film. They also don’t register the effective freshness of Sam Worthington’s Marcus Wright. Worthington was on a roll when this was filmed. He did this film, Avatar and Clash of the Titans successively. While none of these films is what one could consider a classic, his performance in all three is without fault.

His best effort is here, playing a man who donates his body to science before being executed in 2003. For those keeping score, this is a year before the Rise of the Machines. He is awakened again, 14 years later, confused as hell. It doesn’t take him long to realize he needs to avoid the metal guys and cling to the two human friends he acquires. Kyle Reese (Yelchin) and Star (Berry), represent the Los Angeles edition of the resistance. Just the two of them. They have yet to meet the fabled John Connor (Bale) who has almost as many detractors as he has followers.

Bale has gotten word of a potential weak link in the Terminator program, as well as a message that he and Reese, whom he has not met until now, are on the short list of Skynet kill targets. The leader of the Resistance is General Ashdown, played by Michael Ironside. Ironside’s job in ever movie is to be wrong loudly, and he makes no exception here. He yells at Bale, Bale growls at his own underlings and everyone heads towards the big showdown.

Marcus, Reese and Star fall in with the wrong crowd, or maybe they just bring hell with them. Reese and Star are kidnapped and Wright falls in with Blair Williams (Bloodgold) whose plane went down while trying to help. Blair and Marcus form a bond and she convinces Marcus that going after Reese without the Resistance’s help will be doomed to failure. On his way back, Marcus finds out something horrifying about himself.

McG gives the film a definite personality, grim, yet hopeful. Yelchin is a big reason for this. He is inventive and energetic, with a touch of innocence. Star is a caricature, but at least she is not an annoying one. Bloodgold is a welcome presence as a militaristic woman soldier who is not aggressive and angry as Hamilton, but not the milquetoast like Howard. It would be nice to see some development in her character in another film.

Bale is a mixed bag. He invests in the ideal of John Connor as a contemplative warrior, making good use of the Sarah Connor taped recordings subplot. His main fault is his insistence in using the Batman growl throughout. It’s distracting and kind of silly. Overall, he’s a net positive, but this won’t go in his top 10 performances.

This brings us back to Worthington. His character is the most interesting to come along since they developed Connor in T2. There was absolutely no expectations for him in this movie. Every step he takes in the film is an interesting one because a) he wasn’t going back in time b) he’s a genuinely a good guy and c) he has a strength that he is unaware of until it comes time to use it.

The final act brings out the image of Arnold that is likely disappointing for some. It works well within the construct of the story to that part. This is especially true since they cut out the Sgt. Candy scene from Rise of the Machines. Sure, though, it does look like his face from 1984 plastered on a younger guy’s body. They don’t linger though. Over 2/3 of the scenes for that T800/T-101 take place with the skin burned off.

Another bonus of the film is the sheer multitude of Skynet machines that take up the screen. We see plodding T-600’s and a variety of flying machines (including the A-10s) that interlock and disassemble to capture humans for experimentation. Then there are some motor cycles which come pretty close to Transformers territory, but everything looks good and scary as hell, especially when one sees an old woman ripped out of the building…and survive.

The worst part of the story is the last scene, which was the result of a reshoot. The original scene was the complete opposite of what we see. The turn about came as a result of internet rumors that the studio got cold feet on. So, thanks for ruining it, fanboys.

Overall though, Terminator Salvation is good. It’s got originality and it has momentum with a modicum of stupidity. The fact that the two credited screenwriters carry over from the third film allows a certain continuity, but the presence of Nolan and Haggis is definitely felt in some of the minor characters having more than a slight value. This film should stand tall in the series, and let’s hope they are smart enough to carry over at least some of the elements into Genisys.

Best Scene 

The 7/11 sequence through the highway assault leading all the way to the bridge. It’s intense and it looks cool.

Worst Scene I’m gonna have to go with anything that Michael Ironside is in. I would say it isn’t his fault, but he cashes those checks for all of the typecast roles.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Terminator Genisys – 2015
Chronology 2029, 1984 (Altered Timeline)

Director Alan Taylor
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, Lee Byung-hun, Matt Smith, J. K. Simmons
Screenplay Laeta Kalogridis, Patrick Lussier

Review (coming July, 2015)

Best scene

Worst scene

We Are Still Here (***1/2) is the solid work of someone who likes horror

we are still here

We Are Still Here – 2015

Written and Directed by Ted Geoghegan
Starring Barbara Crampton, Andrew Sensenig, Larry Fessenden, Lisa Marie

We Are Still Here is the kind of film that would have been right at home in the 70’s. The cast is spare with vast experience in all sorts of films. The story they are asked to translate is a simple one. A middle-aged couple Anne and Paul (Crampton and Sensenig)  move into an unspectacular home in a rural New England town called Aylesbury. It doesn’t take long for the mourning Anne to find evidence that they are not alone. Thinking it is her son, she invites some friends over to do a seance…or something.

Before this can happen, they are visited by town elder statesman Dave McCabe (Markham) and his wife. They give some ominous portents. As they are leaving, his wife gives them a hidden message. “The house wants families,” her note implores. “Get Out.”

The story is surprisingly solid. It moves along briskly and doesn’t allow much room for the viewer to wonder what will happen. The twist that takes place over the last 1/3 of the film is only part of the story, though. Anyone who stays through the credits gets another view of the events. The music, along with the visuals, presents a creepier view and lends a feeling of righteousness that one may not experience if they just see the moving pictures.

The special effects are pretty decent for a low-budget film. More importantly, the director plays with the visuals enough from scene to scene, so one never gets the feeling that these guys hired all of their friends for no pay and long hours. It’s a story that they are telling, and it is a chilling tale that one experiences for the most part.

Having middle-aged leads adds to the authentic feeling. Younger actors tend to have less to draw on and their looks of terror seem more manufactured. In this case, Crampton and Sensenig are not tempted to run upstairs when they are the last ones to bed. They’ve seen a lot in life, and they wear the drawn out horror of losing a son as a shield. Anne even welcomes the thought of having the company of her son, if she can.

This is not an earth-shattering experience, but it is authentic enough to call for a bigger budget and more creative space for Geoghegan to explore some more ideas.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Pitch Perfect 2 (****1/2) makes it look easy

Pitch-Perfect-2

Director Elizabeth Banks
Starring Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, Hailee Steinfeld, Skylar Astin, Ben Platt, Adam DeVine, Alexis Knapp, Flula Borg, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Hana Mae Lee, Ester Dean, Anna Camp, Keegan-Michael Key, Katey Segal John Michael Higgins, Elizabeth Banks, Chrissie Fit
Screenplay Kay Cannon

The people responsible for the sequel to the surprise hit from 2013 have a gift. They have taken the relatively sparse world of comedy about women accessible for all and they’ve made it look easy. There are plenty of things one can expect from a comedy sequel. There are twists on jokes from the first film: some times one line and at times pushed out a little farther. There is more singing. There are more riff offs. There are parties by the pool. There is a challenge for the team to overcome. There are hills for each character to climb. There is an extended version of Cups.

Remarkably, they Elizabeth Banks, Kay Cannon, Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow and company have managed to avoid making any of it seem stale. About the closes they come to disaster is int the opening act. Once they steer out of those murky waters, the sailing is smooth. So smooth, in fact, there is nary a ripple on the an ocean of deep emotional territory. How this happens is clear to anyone who’s found a good woman in their time on earth.

The story starts with a performance at the The Kennedy Center that goes awry. In a confluence of events that can only happen when one is searching for a plot, the girls are taken out of contention to defend their 3rd defense of their a capella college championship. Not to worry, within the same sequence, they are told that they are still in contention for the world championship. There is other stuff in the terms of their suspension, like no victory tour, the national anthem at the puppy bowl and no auditions. Even more randomly, Emily (Steinfeld) has wandered onto the Barden campus with her mom (Segal) who was a Bella herself. This makes Emily a convenient legacy member of the group.

Good for us, as limiting the new blood allows us to see more of the original cast. Everyone gets moments to shine, and for the most part they are not wasted, except for Alexis Knapp, who is limited to a couple of lines. The only other newbie of note is Chrissie Fit, playing a Guatemalan immigrant with a past that always beats any horrible experience the Bellas are now have.

The Bellas main competition this time is a German group called Das Sound Machine. It’s a safe choice, as they are mean, but not too mean. Still, Kendrick’s reactions to their taunts make the experience more worthwhile. The Trebelmakers, still with Astin, Platt and DeVine serve mainly as a stable of dates for the Bellas. That is a shame when it comes to Astin, as he doesn’t do much. Platt and DeVine have several sweet moments with their counterparts, Steinfeld and Wilson. This only serves to make the story more of a wonder. Most films wouldn’t allow someone as awkwardly sweet as Platt as much as five minutes with someone of Steinfeld’s caliber. DeVine, who threatened to run away with the last film, is brought back in with restraints that barely contain him. Don’t worry, though. Banks has a directorial genius that allows everyone their moment in the best way possible.

Steinfeld is remarkably deft in her role as the fresh-faced Emily. The relationship with her mother is covered in just 3 short scenes with a tenderness, beauty and humour that is hard to encompass in most comedies. Her story fits comfortably in the spot that Kendrick’s Beca possessed first time around. Her journey is paralleled by and eventually merges with Beca’s further pursuit into the world of production.

Wilson’s character has most of the good lines once again. There is a slightly better balance with the fat jokes this time. The whole thing is probably a matter of taste though. As much as I cringe at the easiness with which physical appearance is criticised in this film, it is never shown to be a crippling thing to the characters. So many of their actions that surround these moments are kind and considerate of the feelings of their friends, one can’t feel too badly about them. Especially when there’s an absurdly good ginger joke thrown in now and then.

Snow’s Chloe seems a little more uptight this time, but my wife said it felt close to the first film. Delightfully, Anna Camp’s Aubrey Posen comes back with a wonderful evolution of her own character to counter that. So deep is the reservoir of character in the Pitch Perfect universe that we’ve really just touched the surface…and still have yet to talk about the music.

Ah, the music. There is another incredible array of staccato songs that merge seamlessly, sounding fresh and historic all at once. The riff off this time is expertly presented as an absurd contest run by David Cross in a performance that I actually enjoyed for once. The contestants include a who’s who of the Daily Show, as well, inexplicably, a group of the Green Bay Packers including Clay Matthews. It all works and is fun as hell. My personal favorite cover is Anyway You Want It. Finally a Journey song that is not Don’t Stop Believin.

The musical centerpiece is – surprise – a powerful song by Sia called Flashlight. It’s a somewhat daunted theme posed as an original work by Emily. The beauty of the song’s content matched by the story behind it, all leading to a crescendo that left both me and my wife in tears, and our daughters’ wondering why the heck mom and dad would cry during a comedy.

The thing about this film is how easy it all seems for them to make a great comedy. If it were easy, we could name more than 2 great comedies in any year since, well, ever. The trick they do so well is that these people are all funny, but they are all decent to one another. This is not a series of extremes, but so many funny lines that one might see from their own life and friendships. People who are in the film are not wedged in except for one cleverly handled instance. For some, it really might be worth flunking Russian Lit 3 times to stay on this scene.

The kindness mixed with sharp jabs is something that can only come from extraordinarily creative souls. Thank God for that. As the father of two future women and the husband of a current one, watching this with them was doubly entertaining for me. There is plenty in the story to entertain an 8-year-old, a 12-year-old and their parents. Banks and Cannon have enough wisdom to allow the age ranges converge into something entertaining to all of them, but offensive to none. Well, no so long as one of the parents is there to answer questions for the clever kids.

If this is the last film this crew makes, it’s almost a shame. Better to go out on top, one might believe. The story and characters evolved enough, it might be interesting to see where the creative minds decide to take the Bellas beyond college.Our family will definitely be there if they do. I love that my girls have a series of films about people to which they can relate.

(****1/2 out of *****)

Unfinished Business (**) is jumbled, strange and sincere

unfinished-business

Unfinished Business – 2015

Director Ken Scott
Starring Vince Vaughn, Tom Wilkinson, Dave Franco, Sienna Miller, Nick Frost, James Marsden, June Diane Raphael, Britton Sear, Ella Anderson
Screenplay Steve Conrad

The thing about Vince Vaughn’s movies lately is that they give lip service to living on the wild side of life. There are drugs, sex and darts in the chest. But that is not really what is going on here. Vaughn is often working from the angle of a man either finding responsibility overcoming the odds, or both. If it’s not always the funniest thing to watch, there is something very pure about it. It’s obvious that Vince and the people he chooses to make films with have a set of beliefs that they will not surrender, even if it costs him the reputation as some sort of irreverent Murray-type funny man.

The premise of the story here is Vaughn as St. Louis salesman Dan Trunkman, coming off his best year and discovering that this doesn’t hold water with his boss (Miller). He tells her where to take her 5% pay cut and attempts to leave the company in a blaze of glory. What he ends up with is an old man (Wilkinson) who has just been forcibly retired and a rube (Franco), who was there for an interview. They form a company, meeting at the local Dunkin’ Donuts. Some 12 months later, Dan informs his staff that they all need to go on a business trip to meet with potential investors played by Mardsen and Frost.

Meanwhile at his home, Dan has two kids who are the subject of teasing at their respective schools. The younger girl (Anderson) handles it by beating the tar out of her nemesis. The older boy (Sear) is more passive and his tormentors outnumber him severely. His wife (Raphael) soldiers through valiantly, but it’s obvious that Dan is needed at home to help out.

While in Portland, Maine, he runs into the old boss. The scene is then set for yet another trip to Berlin, Germany. It is here that the fish out of water part of the story kicks in and stuff starts going haywire. The object for the team of salesmen is to get a handshake deal with Marsden and Frost’s boss. The happenings here get increasingly complex as the team assimilates with local elements all the while finding time to pursue their personal and professional goals.

Some of this is funny, but not much. Part of this is due to the presence of Franco, who would need a pony to become a one trick pony. His skill is looking stupid, naive and then a stoned version of stupid and naive. There is a forced sweetness to the character that works occasionally. Overall the character is wasted.

Wilkinson fares a little better, mainly because he is Tom Wilkinson. He wants a divorce and wants to be intimate with a woman for the first time, after having shared a bed and had sex with his wife for years. Not sure I know what the hell that’s about, but he sells it.

Nick Price is fun as usual. He is placed in the most outrageous circumstances. He excels at being someone you can talk to as the world is running down.

Vaughn is not really going for comedy here. He’s going for drama that has a likable funny person at the center. As such, his performance is endearing only in the way that any guy could keep his eyes on the prize as Germany happens around him. His attempts at communication with the family have only one thing that stands out. If the questioning gets difficult Dan stops moving and the family assumes the connection went bad.The great thing is, they have enough going on in their lives they don’t bother to notice when his background moves behind him.

The direction and the story are competent. There is nothing riveting here, but there are moments that one can respect for the attempt at craft. In this way, it’s a lot like many Vaughn movies made since he got married.

Whether one enjoys this film or not depends on how drawn one is to Wilkinson, Price and Vaughn and how much someone can withstand Franco. Don’t rent this if you are looking for a comedy, but don’t expect to be as disappointed as you’ve heard.

(** out of *****)

The Lazarus Effect (*) is deadening

lazarus-effect_

The Lazarus Effect – 2015

Director David Gelb
Starring Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Donald Glover, Evan Peters, Sarah Bolger
Screenplay Luke Dawson, Jeremy Slater

The Lazarus Effect is an amazing accomplishment. It’s a miracle that a film that is this bad could get even a relatively small budget of 3.3 million, and then somehow translate that investment into over 10 times that amount. It could be proof that I took the wrong road out of college. I decided to work for a non-profit. Perhaps I should have opted for the road to shill.

The story is too simple. Some 30-year-old college kids get a grant for a project to create a serum – one can guess the name – designed to aid coma patients. Strangely enough, Lazarus instead develops into a way to bring the dead back to life. If you guess that this white, electro shocked mucous would keep everyone alive by the end of the film, you would be wrong.

The two lead medical researchers, Zoe (Wilde) and Frank (Duplass) are a couple who put off getting married once they got the grant. One of the two is a believer in Roman Catholic dogma, the other is an asshole about it. Wanna guess which one is portrayed by Duplass? So they both have challenges in that area, and, if that isn’t enough, Zoe is tormented by a dream she’s had ever since she was a child and her apartment building. Wanna guess why she’s being tormented?

snatch

Why God?

After the first dog is brought to life, strange things happen. The dog’s cataracts disappear from his eyes, big messes are made, growling happens, and someone likes to take the needle off of records being played. These things are supposed to derive tension from the audience. That they do not is due to a lack of film making skill, acting skill and writing skill. The subtlety in this film falls somewhere between Eddie Haskell and that guy at the funeral at Heathers who asked God why He had “to kill such hot snatch?”

While everyone enjoys the lull in the plot, the college – working for some company that took over the company that gave the grant – swoops in and takes their project away. Only they don’t prevent the team of researchers from getting access to everything they need to move forward with another dead dog. If you think this can only lead to a) the kids getting caught by the one security guard put in charge or b) everyone succeeds, and they make a perfected remedy to cure death, then you would be incorrect.

The rest of the film takes place in a confined, poorly lit, unimaginative set that is tiresome to look at and sucks all the drama out of the film. The acting is wooden throughout. Duplass, though, has a special, soft, rotted kind of wooden acting skill. He always comes across as the guy who bored with the party that he planned himself. Wilde gives it her best shot, but she is going to have to wait a little longer for her career to take off, especially now that Tron 3 has been shelved. Any credibility that Evan Peters accrued with his brilliant take on Quicksilver during the last X-Men film took a left turn into T.J. Miller country, and there is nothing but pot plants for miles every direction.

To say Gelb lacks talent as a director would be to take away from the lack of talent exhibited by authors Dawson and Slater. This teamwork of terrible manages to give you an amazing work where each coming moment is more terrible than the last. This should be the last work any of these guys do, unless you are optimistic that one can learn from such incredible failure. Unless, of course, that failure is matched with unreasonable success. So in that case, look forward to The Lazarus Effect 2 – It’s your fault.

(* out of *****)