Movie Review ~ Terminator: Dark Fate


The Facts
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Synopsis: Sarah Connor and a hybrid cyborg human must protect a young girl from a newly modified liquid Terminator from the future.

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Mackenzie Davis, Diego Boneta, Gabriel Luna, Natalia Reyes

Director: Tim Miller

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 128 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  In 1984’s The Terminator, a man sent from the future to protect a woman targeted by an unstoppable killing machine has memorized the the phrase “No fate but what we make” and that’s quite apropos to the subsequent films in the franchise.  The 1991 sequel set a gold standard for how to jump back in years down the line and continue on not only with brilliant advances in technology but by adding deeper mythology to the narrative.  After that blockbuster, without creator James Cameron to provide guidance the producers of the next three films let the quality and storytelling slide and it seemed the fate of the series was sealed by the lackluster reception for 2015’s misguided Terminator Genisys.

Unwilling to let the machines win, Cameron (The Abyss) was lured back with the promise of more creative control, eventually signing back on as a producer and providing a story idea he’s been toying with as well.  Though it was briefly discussed to have star Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Last Stand) sit this one out, wiser heads prevailed, and the bulky former Governor of California joined Cameron for what would become Terminator: Dark Fate.  Then there was the big get…Linda Hamilton.  Absent from the series since Terminator 2: Judgement Day in 1991, Hamilton had been married to Cameron and their 1999 divorce (with Hamilton walking away $50 million richer) was said to have contributed to her moving into more television/video work and less feature films.  Somehow, someway…they got her and that became the lynchpin for kickstarting this production into high gear.

Taking a page from 2018’s Halloween, Terminator: Dark Fate ignores the events from every sequel after T2 and the studio logo plays over a familiar scene with Hamilton’s character from that film.  To its great credit, T:DF opens with an unexpected twist of events that will have an impact on everything we’ve come to know about Sarah Connor (Hamilton, King Kong Lives) and her son John Connor (Edward Furlong, A Home of Our Own) who would grow up to lead the resistance against weaponized machines hell bent on exterminating the human race.  Twenty-two years later, in Mexico City we witness the familiar electrical surges that signal the arrival of two time travelers from the future.  One is Grace (Mackenzie Davis, Blade Runner 2049), an enhanced military soldier, sent to protect Dani (Natalia Reyes) from the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna, Bernie) a new breed of liquid metal Terminator that can separate from his endoskeleton if he needs an extra hand.

Director Tim Miller (Deadpool) wastes no time in getting straight to the action with our bearings barely established before the first major action sequence is initiated.  That leaves little time for any kind of character introductions or development, a key piece that was such a benefit in previous films.  Before we even know who we’re supposed to be caring about, we’re already watching them being kept out of harms way by a skilled soldier gamely standing her ground against a seemingly indestructible robot.  Thankfully, right about the time the movie threatens to move at such breakneck speed everything begins to become a blur, Miller hits the skids and gives Hamilton a hell of a great entrance that had our audience (and likely yours) cheering. I was worried that Hamilton’s return would be a lot of build up but no pay off and it’s definitely not that, she’s top-billed in the credits for a reason.

That’s not to say it’s smooth sailing for T:DF.  While it’s arguably the best sequel since T2, it struggles with some hackneyed dialogue and uneven performances that don’t provide a consistently level ride.  When Hamilton as Sarah meets up with yet another version of Schwarzenegger’s make and model Terminator, their rapport is such that you get a feel of how easy-going the film should feel.  While Davis has been dynamic in other films there’s something curiously lacking in her delivery as a leading action star and it doesn’t get better as the film chugs along.  Same goes for Luna who is a complete blank slate as the mission focused death-bot…I understand he’s not programmed for much emotion but even Robert Patrick’s unforgettable villain in T2 presented a few levels to his reaction shots.  Saddled with the worst dialogue and overacting the most is Reyes, never quite finding any equilibrium.  She plays such an integral part to the plot (notice how I’m not bothering to provide details, just to say the gender-swapping doesn’t stop at a female protector being sent from the future) that it’s disappointing Reyes isn’t a stronger presence.

For fans of the franchise, I think they’ll be happy (if not satisfied) that the production has learned from the last few films and got back at least in some small part to what made the first two movies such landmarks.  That pulsing score and central theme is ever-present and having Hamilton’s Sarah Connor as we’d imagine her to be all these years later front-and-center was a wise way to evoke good-willed nostalgia, even if what we’re watching still can’t quite measure up.  No fate but what we make…and I think Cameron and company have taken that to heart while putting Terminator: Dark Fate together.  It’s not the fully assembled machine we’ve been waiting for but this model will do…for now.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Terminator: Dark Fate

 

Synopsis: Plot unknown

Release Date: November 1, 2019

Thoughts: I know it’s difficult to do, but even after watching the trailer for Terminator: Dark Fate I’m trying not to jump for joy quite yet. The last time we all got excited for a new Terminator movie we wound up with 2015’s stinkeroo Terminator Genisys.  In 2019, the studio is counting on fans turning out not only for the familiar face of Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Expendables 3) but for original creator James Cameron (Titanic) returning as producer and, most very importantly, Linda Hamilton appearance as Sarah Connor.  This first teaser doesn’t give us much indication how much Schwarzenegger and Hamilton will be involved in Tim Miller’s (Deadpool) new “day after Judgment Day” Terminator film but with Mackenzie Davis (Blade Runner 2049) already impressing as a tough new breed of Terminator and action set-pieces that indicate some jaw-dropping fun…I’m hoping for the best.

Movie Review ~ Alita: Battle Angel

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: An action-packed story of one young woman’s journey to discover the truth of who she is and her fight to change the world.

Stars: Rosa Salazar, Keean Johnson, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Eiza Gonzalez

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 122 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: The journey of Alita: Battle Angel to the screen has been an adventure almost three decades in the making. Originally a Japanese manga series created by Yukito Kishiro, it caught the attention of director James Cameron (The Abyss) and became one of those passion projects that followed the director over the ensuing years. With his attention focused on other films, documentary projects, pioneering technological advances in filmmaking, and talking about his Avatar sequels ad nauseum, Cameron eventually realized that he’d have to abdicate the director’s chair if the film were ever to get off the ground. That’s where director Robert Rodriguez (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) comes in and how we have arrived at this strange 2019 release.

It’s been several weeks since I’ve seen the film and I honestly can’t decide whether it’s glorious or garbage. I can fully see where the effects extravaganza will be overpowering and maybe even off-putting but at the same time there’s a piece of me that silently was cheering on the never-ending barrage of bizarre your ticket purchase will provide.  I can tell you this, I was never, not even for one minute, bored.  If the film community and audiences decide to pass judgment that Alita: Battle Angel is a failure, it will have gone out swinging because it doesn’t seem to be afraid to embrace its oddity.

Five hundred years in the future the Earth has suffered a series of cataclysmic events, culminating with “The Fall” which separated cities of the sky from the junk-laden wastelands on the ground. Only the most elite live in that last surviving sky city, Zalem, while the rest of Earth’s inhabitants scrape by a living where they can. Some have turned to bounty hunting to earn enough money to travel up up and away and there are certainly enough sundry individuals roaming the streets for people to make a buck or two eliminating dangerous threats.

Scouring a junkyard for spare parts to aid in his robotic repair practice, Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz, Big Eyes) finds the remnants of a female cyborg and rebuilds her, giving her the name Alita. When Alita (Rosa Salazar) comes back online and eventually falls in love with a local teenager (Keean Johnson), she begins to piece together her history as she discovers new strength and agility that seem to come naturally. At the same time, a killer is on the loose and Alita becomes a Hunter-Killer bounty hunter to track down who is harvesting people for their spare parts.  In doing so, she raises the ire of a punk bounty hunter (Ed Skrein, Deadpool) who doesn’t appreciate the competition from the supposed teenage girl.  When her mysterious past is revealed, it will put all who come in contact with her in danger as she’s revealed to be an important weapon and the only one that can stop the evil Nova (played in an uncredited cameo by an Oscar-nominated actor) from keeping bigger truths about Zalem from the public.

As you can probably tell, there’s a whole lot going on in the movie (I didn’t even bother to describe a sport called Motorball that figures heavily into the action) and Cameron’s script (co-written by Laeta Kalogridis, Terminator Genisys) is his usual mish-mash of overly syrupy dialogue intermixed with made-up jargon. Usually, this works against the film but here the script manages to serve things quite well as it prompts numerous set-ups for eye-popping special effects (see it in IMAX 3D, if possible) and nicely crafts a new world for our characters to explore.

Rodriguez has always had a way with making his films rock and roll even on a minuscule budget but here he’s given the keys to the bank vault and has cleaned out the coffers. It’s all rather lovely to look at, especially in an underwater sequence when Alita finds a crashed spaceship that holds a clue to her origins. Where things don’t go quite as swimmingly are in the character arcs, with several A-list actors left to fend for themselves with roles that are underwritten and underdeveloped. Oscar winners Jennifer Connelly (Only the Brave) and Mahershala Ali (Green Book) treat the material as high art, which leads to their performances taking on a camp factor that is surely unintentional. Salazar, digitized in post-production, turns in the most realistic performance – there were times I actually forgot she was an animation.

Not being familiar with the source material, I can’t say how close Cameron and Kalogridis stuck to the original story but there’s a definite energy injected throughout that’s hard to deny. It may be overstuffed and too effects-heavy but there’s an admirable bit of workmanship that has gone into the look of the film, even if the more dramatic pieces don’t quite gel correctly. This being a Cameron property, there’s a romance subplot that isn’t fully satisfying and Rodriguez has tacked on maybe two finales too many, but it ends on a high enough note that I’m curious to see if another installment might get the go-ahead now that Disney owns 20th Century Fox and could benefit from this property with international appeal.

Movie Review ~ Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Two young people journey through the dreamlike worlds of Cirque du Soleil to find each other.

Stars:

Director: Andrew Adamson

Rated: G

Running Length: 91 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  Canada’s highly regarded Cirque du Soleil has spent the last several decades slowly expanding their artistry throughout the world.  With sit down shows in Las Vegas, touring shows around the globe, or getting in early on the reality show bubble (Fire Within on Bravo), the group always seems to be first in line to try something and not have a fear of failure.  They are really just trapeze artists without a net and that’s what has made their work so strong.

Like their inventive stage shows, Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away won’t be for everyone.  The nearly dialogue-free film marvels maybe a bit too much at its own creativity…but in the end the striking visuals and surprisingly engaging stunts work their magic on audiences to help tell the tale of two young people crossing the dizzying Cirque worlds in their quest to be reunited.

As is the case with many of their performances, Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away begins with a pixie youth entering a world unfamiliar.  Circus Marvelous is where the film begins as Mia (Linz) wanders around solo, catching the eye of a young Aerialist (Zaripov).  It’s during his stage show that both Mia and The Aerialist find themselves swept away into an alternate universe from the creative minds at Cirque du Soleil.

The Worlds Away are basically filmed segments from various Cirque shows around the world.  Now before you dismiss this as a movie pieced together from clip reels let me say that what Cirque du Soleil did was go back to their shows to see what pieces would work best in the film and then adapted them to fit with the story.  The thread that ties everything together is admittedly weak because it’s really just a way to get to a series of performances observed by Mia or The Aerialist…but as the film progresses it gets more interesting and focused.

The first half of the movie is probably less “fun” than the second with more of the ribald and funny acts coming in after the halfway mark.  The opening acts come from the shows O and Kà and there is no grandiosity lost as we marvel at the wondrous beauty of the merging of magic and water with O.  Kà draws on visuals from imperial China with gravity defying stunts that are highlights of the film.  Other sections are drawn from Viva Elvis, Love (The Beatles), Mystere, Zumanity, and more.

More than a glorified 90 minute ad for the troupe, Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away has another trick up its sleeve courtesy of an excellent use of 3D technology from director Adamson (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and producer James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar).  The movie was filmed in 3D so there is a striking amount of depth to the image that really does enhance the film experience.  It’s worth the upcharge to take in the Cirque worlds that burst with color and rely very little on digital effects.

I was worried going in that some of the tension of seeing a Cirque show live wouldn’t be present and was surprised that I was as involved with the film as I was.  Though nothing can compare with witnessing some of the magic live, Adamson and his Cirque collaborators have done a smashing job with putting to film some of the crazier stunts that have been conceived.  Using very little special effects is another selling point and helps the audience believe in the stunts they are seeing, creating the desired effect of actually being a part of the show.

Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away is an entertaining trek that allows audiences to experience the world of Cirque du Soleil from whatever city they may be seeing the film in.  It starts off pretty ordinary but ends in typical Cirque fashion with a rousingly moving finale.  You don’t have to go to Vegas or wait for a touring company to introduce you to the wonders of Cirque du Soleil.  Though I highly recommend shelling out the dough to see them live if you ever have the chance, Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away should fit the bill as a worthy substitute.

The Silver Bullet ~ Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away

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Synopsis: Two young people journey through the dreamlike worlds of Cirque du Soleil to find each other.

Release Date:  December 21, 2012

Thoughts: It seems that Cirque du Soleil is absolutely everywhere today.  With sit-down shows in major cities and several satellite troupes out on tour, the exposure of the Canadian circus group is as high as it has ever been.  The company will get another jolt of attention when they release their collaboration with James Cameron and director Andrew Adamson (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) for this 3D fantasy poised to lure families who might not be able to shell out the hefty dough to see a Cirque show live.  The trailer is visually stunning (of course) but it does leave me wondering what exactly the audience is in for and how the thrill of live performance will be captured on film.  Considering the talent of all involved, I’m not too worried.