Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Case for Terminator Nintendo

The world needs saving.  Again.

Terrifying machines have come back from the future to wreak havoc on their past to ensure their future becomes the present they left behind!  

And then it gets more confusing, as multiple timelines overlap and different models from different parts of the future are flung to different time periods and the future which they want becomes unwritten and malleable but still written and unmalleable enough that more machines make it back into the past.

The Terminator concept has worked really well twice, not so well twice, and so Terminator: Genisys aims to get the parts that worked well from the ones that did work into a formula that can ensure the survival of the Terminator franchise into the future.

Take Arnie.  Sprinkle in lots of references to the first two films in the first 30 minutes of the movie.  Add in actors from Game of Thrones, Whiplash and quite a few other films and TV series (including one wasted cameo, which I will not spoil here) and see what comes out…

…and it’s a lot of action, a bit of comedy, and not a huge amount of excitement.

Let’s face it: the story is quite silly and I had very little idea what was going on.  In fact, the problem with a lot of this is that the more interesting story is elsewhere: what happened during Sarah’s childhood?  What happened during the Terminator’s wilderness years?  And what was going on with John Connor?  And why is San Francisco the place for disasters be they natural, giant reptiles or nuclear apocalypses?

There are not a lot of answers though the film does try and show how things will develop in the future, now that it has been rewritten and judgement day is sometime later this century.  Quite why Arnie can build a time machine out of 1980s radioshack components and the cellTerminator is unable to do so despite wildly increased time, resources and manpower is one of those curious "don't think too much about it" moments.

And you really shouldn't think much about it.  While there are attempts to explain the time discrepancies and paradoxes, they don't really bear much scrutiny.  Neither do the characters: the actors playing Sarah (Amelia Clark) and Kyle (Jai Courtney) have next to zero chemistry together.  And the new Terminator is meant to be a bit crazy, but the Terminator films work better with an implacable machine trying to kill the main characters than a cyborg with relationship issues.  And where did J K Simmons go?

Not that that all matters much.  This is because about half way through Arnie and the action take over, and that is really what this film is all about.  Things blowing up, getting derailed, battered, rammed, blown up again - all great stuff.  Unstoppable machine versus a machine that is even more unstoppabler - until something happens that stops everything.


Yes sequels are planned I believe.  But I will be curious to know if they keep the same cast (besides Arnie of course) considering how little they brought to the film.  One of the few questions raised by this film I am actually interested in knowing...

Verdict: Terminator: Genisys is best when it rests on the laurels it got from the first two movies, and passable when it moves from that in trying to reboot the franchise for a bunch of more sequels.  When the bad Terminator is no longer scary and the effort goes in to trying to make a "coherent" timeline (it fails, but still), you know something is a bit off.  6 blue boxes out of 10.

The Case for FilmFest 2015 Pt 1

Wow – I have been really bad with my movie blog, so I thought I had better start playing catch up with Part One of the InternationalFilm Fest films on my agenda for 2015!

So far, I have seen five of the ten on my list, and I have to admit, I have not had a terribly good hit rate this time around.

First off was Grandma, a film starring Lilly Tomlin as a hard-nosed feminist poet visiting her friends throughout the city trying to rustle up $500 for her granddaughter’s abortion.  With that kind of hook, how could this incredibly dark comedy go wrong?

In fact, the mistakes the film makes is to shift the focus away from Tomlin one too many times and for far too long.  As the centre of most of the film’s attention, she is acerbic and witty and no holds barred and a barrel of laughs.  However, as we go visit her friends, she takes back seat to John Cho, Laverne Cox and others.  Don’t get me wrong – these actors are usually amazing, so I have to blame the script and/or the direction for the immensely unfunny and unengaging tales they tell and contributions to the story.  When Sam Elliott and a hyperactive Marica Gay Harden show up save the end of the film, it was already a bit too late.  In a session that seemed mainly filled with lesbians of a certain age, the lack of applause at the end (a pointless thing in my eyes, but you hear it every so often at the festival) to me spoke volumes.

Verdict: Grandma got off to a great start and, considering the issues it was addressing, was quite a bit of fun.  Unfortunately a flabby and slow middle section brought the whole movie to a halt from which it could never really regain its momentum.  6 cadillacs out of 10.

I dashed to the Embassy cinema to see TurboKid, one of the incredibly strange festival picks, and a Canada-New Zealand co-production.  Set in a future where everything looks cheap and like a gravel quarry, the populace rides bikes, road signs are in French (ah, Canada!) and no one is quite sure where the water comes from, this film is pretty much bonkers.  The fact Michael Ironside was playing the lead baddie was proof that this would be cheese of the highest order, and he chews scenery like he is teething.

So the film itself starts off super slowly, and then settles into being pretty much mad.  A young boy adopts the guise of TurboKid to rescue his friend, with Tarantino-esque levels of blood letting and a story that was kind of internally consistent but which seemed to bend rules and make things up as it went along.  The 80s theme that rules and defines this film also makes it seem much more dated and a bit more pathetic than I think it deserved, but I have to say I laughed a whole lot more at this film that I did Grandma, even if I thought it was a load of bollocks.

Verdict: Not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, TurboKid was at least true to its origins and inspirations and it made me laugh.  6.5 game controllers out of 10.

Into day two of the fest, and I was off to the Roxy to see Results, another film chosen because of its rom-comish flavour and an impressive cast, including Guy Pearce, the stunning Cobie Smulders, and the “not meant to be as attractive as the first two” Kevin Corrigan and Giovanni Ribisi (wow – he pops up in the oddest places), and a Russian accent toting Anthony Michael Hall for good measure. 

Looking back on the film, all of the actors themselves are great in their roles.  Pearce plays Trevor the health guru with the winning philosophy as if he actually believes it (and considering the fantastic shape the man is in, perhaps it is his own matra), Corrigan (as Danny) is fun as the broken hearted slob trying to spend his inheritance away to get over his marriage break up, and Smulders plays the much younger trainer, Kat, with a bit of a temper much like she played Robyn in How I Met Your Mother.   

Where things kind of go off track is in the focus in the film, in that there isn’t much.  The film kind of wants to follow all three of these characters, but forgets about certain members of them throughout the course of the movie.  At first, it feels like this is Danny’s story, but then the focus kind of shifts to Kat.  Quite how Kat becomes Danny’s trainer must have ended up on the cutting room floor (wasn’t he going to be trained by another person?) but then their lives become entwined, and the story kind of shifts over to Danny again.  When Danny and Kat have a falling out, Kat falls off centre stage and up pops Trevor who from there on in kind of drives the story even though he was more or less absent for the first half. 

And for a romcom, I have to say, there was not really much romance in there.  Smulders plays Kat as too cool to really be a sucker for charm, so the relationships are more a case of people agreeing they want to hook up or not. 

The audience laughed a bit when we “listened in” on the music choices of Kat and Trevor as they went for a morning jog around a town, and while Kat was listening to a gangsta/hip top/rap song from “now”, Trevor was pacing himself to Split Enz’s Six Months in a Leaky Boat, which I presume was meant to show the difference in ages (and perhaps Trevor’s antipodean roots?), but I would be curious to know what American audiences thought of that selection.

In the end, the moral of the story was not so much that the characters were living in self denial (which from the guide blurb tells me is what is happening) but more that older guys can hook up with women at least 20 years their junior as long as they are buff (Trevor) or rich (Danny) enough.

Verdict: Results was pleasant enough, but a bit too unfocussed to let you really care for the characters.  Who do you support?  Who do I care about?  The film seems determined to keep you in suspense and doesn’t really get to the true “romance relationship” until the final third of the film, and by then, it’s pretty hard to really be all that enthusiastic about any of them.  6 burpees out of 10.

Heading to the Embassy for one of the feature films of this festival, I ended up in the neck straining front row for The Assassin, a Taiwanese film about an assassin.  Who doesn’t actually do that much assassinating.

Beautiful but boring.

Verdict: The long, lingering shots of the Taiwanese/Chinese landscape were breathtaking, but they slowed the almost non-existent plot of The Assassin to a death crawl, and then some of the jerky editing especially around the fight scenes made the faster-paced sections almost incoherent.  Reading the synopsis in the guide, I did not pick up what the movie was all about from the film itself, and if the film really was a “cat and mouse” game, perhaps they were both old and senile and limbless.  And where on earth did the undying witch doctor come from – or go?  Again, a crowd applause-less film, which I think said a lot.  4 knives out of 10.

The final movie for this entry was Ex Machina, which I think got a general release in some countries but was kept for a festival here.  Unlike the other films of the day, the story was focused, straight forward, thought provoking and tense.  

When will we know if we have created Artificial Intelligence?  What does that even mean?  Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson, with an American accent) is brought in by inventor Nathan (Oscar Isaac, with an American accent) to assess Ava (Alicia Vikander, with an American accent) to see if this passes the Turing test to gauge machine intelligence.  But there are sinister things afoot…

It all plays out really well, ratcheting up the tension and the discomfort until the conclusion.  Of course, looking back, it seems a bit stupid that the conclusion comes around as it does (Nathan’s objectives and rationale for doing anything are dubious and his super smart house retreat seems really dumb) but that’s okay – the film had me guessing and interested all the way through (the story has been told many times before, but you can’t quite tell how this one will end up). 

And, as a sign of audience approval, there was that smattering of pointless applause.  Pointless, but helpful in letting me know what others thought of it too.

Verdict: Ex Machina has redeemed my faith in the festival, or at least, of the choices I have made this time around.  Smart, great to look at, but a small set, small cast, simple story, all done and told really well, it is great to be able to say I liked it.  8 artificial arms out of 10.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Case for Jurassicity

Jurassic Park back bigger and better than ever as Jurassic World.

A huge budget, mammoth monsters, Chris Pratt – this film is wheeling out the big guns (especially in Pratt’s case) and showing them off to the crowd (I was going to say “firing into the crowd”, but that would be taking  the metaphor a bit far).

20 years after the original doomed park, the new island attraction is open and doing bonza business.  But not enough.  Its time to get bigger and scarier and more out of control.  Give the masses the opium they want!  They want teeth and daring and action and monsters chomping on action people!

And the movie delivers by making everyone on the island insanely stupid, power hungry and stupid, smart but in a powerless position, or (in the case of our hero) always right but never heard until everything hits the fan and then can save everyone.  

I have to say, that kind of movie irritates me.  I can understand disasters and the like, but the human-caused contrivances that propel the plot provoked outrage within me, not joy at the carnage such dumbness would unleash.  Not so the rest of the packed TitanXC audience, that were rubbing their hands and salivating and talking to each other in not so whispered tones (I am looking at you, evil women in front of me!) in anticipation of the coming slaughter.

It takes its time to get there.  There are a couple of kids whom we follow through the park’s attractions, and whom I was hoping would get eaten within 15 minutes of their appearance, especially the older Lothario brother. 

Their aunt, played by the extreme asymmetrical bob of Dallas Bryce Howard, runs the park in high heels and is a hard nosed cow who somehow transforms into a heroine of some sort.  At least, I think she was supposed to but I never really warmed to her.

While she and Pratt are off with the main story, I was more interested in the control room plebs, including the awesome Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus who don’t get nearly enough screen time despite their awesome t-shirts and more interesting characters.

But then the point of the movie is the dinosaurs, and when they come into play, the plot holes and the uninteresting characters and all the things I might not have fully appreciated fell away and I got totally lost in the experience.  Jaws and teeth and screams and runnings and big things… totally impressive to watch, totally amazing to appreciate.  The humans get in there occasionally and do stupid things and get themselves blown up, but the dinosaurs rule the screen, and are a definite reason to see this at the movies.

Verdict: Jurassic World is big and dumb and everything I expected from the trailer.  Not surprising it is doing bonza box office, but this visual treat has a “barely trying” storyline in there. Worth seeing on the big screen, but I doubt I will watch it again.  6 unfeathered velociraptors out of 10.