Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

In real-time, 28 years have passed.  In movie time, it has been a couple of decades. A young Mexican couple are making out near a bridge when they notice sparks appearing in the deck of the bridge.  A large familiar sphere appears, and a nude female figure falls from the sphere to the ground.  When the couple goes to investigate, the police arrive and begin to question the couple about this semi-conscious nude female in their presence.  At that moment, the female (Mackenzie Davis) puts a hurting on la policia and takes the young Mexican dude’s clothes and makes her way to find Daniela Ramos.  Daniela lives with her brother Diego, an aspiring musician, and their father in Mexico City.  Daniela wakes Diego as he and she work in an auto plant; she doesn’t want to be late.  She also begs her father to make his doctor’s appointment.

After Daniela and Diego leave for work, sparks fly at their residence and who should turn up at their apartment but another terminator, a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) who quizzes their father on the whereabouts of Daniela.  Soon after, D&D’s father turns up at their work location because his kids forgot their lunch. Except Diego points out that Daniela brought their lunch.  Can you guess who Diego’s father is?

Of course, you can and that’s the problem with much of Terminator: Dark Fate. Much of what we see has either been revealed in the trailer, or it doesn’t take much thought to figure out what’s going on. The previously nude female has been sent to protect Daniela.  She battles the Rev-9 on the factory floor and she—identifying herself as Grace—, Daniela and Diego escape in a truck with the Rev-9 in hot pursuit. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) shows up and we’re off on another Terminator adventure.

The balance of the story is a mishmash and rehash of ideas out of originator James Cameron and a committee of storytellers and screenwriters that defy credulity. Cameron and his cohorts have devised a scenario where what happened before didn’t really happen. It’s the old problem of dealing with time travel except this time, we don’t really deal with it.  We’re presented a story and expected to accept it, even though it’s banal and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Don’t blame any of this on the actors or the director.  The actors do a credible job with the story they’ve been given, and director Tim Miller has kept the action moving, perhaps in the hope that the script won’t catch up to him.

All-in-all, Terminator: Dark Fate is a disappointment.  The return of Schwarzenegger, Hamilton and Cameron held out so much promise, and only Arnold and Linda delivered. Here’s hoping that Cameron is saving his best material for those Avatar sequels he’s been threatening us with.

If you must see this film, wait for home video.

Trailer:

Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Roman Griffin Davis is Johannes Betzler, a ten-year-old boy who enthusiastically joins the Hitler Youth. “Jojo,” as his mother and second-best friend call him, dresses up in his uniform and talks to his best friend, an imaginary Adolf Hitler, played with delightful abandon by director, co-producer and co-screenwriter Taika Waititi. I’m most familiar, I’d imagine like most people, with Waititi’s work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I’m now destined to examine his entire body of work which, as it turns out, is rather quite extensive.

Along with his tangible best friend Yorki (Archie Yates), Jojo goes to a Hitler Youth training camp, run by Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell) or rather “Captain K,” in an attempt to make him more accessible. During their training, Jojo is tasked with killing a rabbit in a scene that demonstrates the power of peer pressure and the concepts of nature versus nurture.  Jojo can’t bring himself to kill the rabbit. He ends up running into the forest to the taunts of the other campers who have now dubbed him “Jojo Rabbit.” While in the woods, Jojo imagines a conversation with Hitler which galvanizes him into grabbing a grenade from an instructor and throwing it against a tree with disastrous and unforeseen results.

Jojo is injured and while confined to his home, he discovers his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johanssen) has been hiding a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie), in a secret room in their house. Jojo gives some thought to turning her in, but Elsa convinces him that it would have disastrous consequences for Jojo and his mother.  So, instead, Jojo decides to discover what makes Jews tick. Elsa feeds his paranoia, which makes for a delightful narrative.

Waititi has taken a difficult subject and turned it into a masterwork of drama, comedy, and just a tinge of horror. He turns in a delightful comedic performance as an imaginary Hitler while at the same time constructing a tale of a town about to be liberated seemingly against its wishes. The film is exceptionally photographed by Mihai Malaimare Jr., which, combined with the direction of Waititi, communicates feelings subtly and powerfully.

Scarlett Johanssen is marvelous as a mother who is trying to raise her son among the madness of a world at war, and Davis is good as the dutiful son of his parents and the Third Reich. Throughout the film, the relationship between Jojo and Elsa evokes curiosity and tenderness. Sam Rockwell continues to turn in nuanced performances as in this one where he is at times comic and, other times, compelling.

Jojo Rabbit is currently in limited release, and it was challenging to find a theatre where I could see it.  Fortunately, it opens in wider release on 8 November.  If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend you see it.

Trailer:

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

Some mild spoilers of the first film follow immediately.

I recently re-watched Zombieland (2009) and this movie basically picks up where that one left off except, as narrated by “Columbus,” some years later, presumably ten. The family of “Tallahassee” (Woody Harrelson), “Columbus” (Jesse Eisenberg), “Wichita” (Emma Stone) and “Little Rock” (Abigail Breslin) are still together after all these years. As the opening credits roll, they take up residence in the abandoned White House.

Columbus and Wichita are still paired off, and Tallahassee has taken a paternal interest in Little Rock, who has grown into a young woman and is now quite restless as a result. Little Rock’s annoyance at being treated like a “little girl” and a miscalculation by Columbus in his relationship with Wichita creates an event that propels the plot of the rest of the movie.

When our family leaves the White House and begins traveling again, they have to avoid a new breed of zombies, which Columbus names the T-800. These zombies are stronger, faster and more deadly than other zombies our troupe has encountered before. Incidentally, Columbus has classified the zombies they’ve come across into groups. So, now the zombie types have names to go along with Columbus’ rules.

The problem here is the way the script develops is somewhat redundant of the first film. Some very similar events happen; so if you’ve seen the first film, you might be getting a little bored as to how things progress. However, other events happen just new enough to keep you mildly interested.

While the script may be lacking, the performances are not. The characters are familiar, but the acting is fresh and delightful. There are also some new characters that we meet along the way, beginning with the daft blonde we saw in the trailer, Zoey Deutch as Madison, and an equally cliche free spirit named Berkeley (Avan Jogia).

The saving grace of the script is that it’s incredibly self-aware, and that brings enough humor to carry us through the entire film. This includes performances by “guest stars” (my phrase) Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch.

If you’ve seen the first film, you’ll enjoy the second one. Although I’ve listed it as a prerequisite, it’s not absolutely necessary to view it before viewing Zombieland: Double Tap. There’s enough exposition in Columbus’ narration that you’ll be able to follow along just fine.

I found Zombieland: Double Tap to be mildly humorous, but other people in the audience were laughing out loud, and I can understand why. There’s a mid-credits scene you should stay for and a post-credits scene you can catch at home whenever you get around to watching it there.

Trailer:

Red Band Trailer:

Joker (2019)

Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix team for an unconventional comic book movie about a man and a city’s descent into madness. There has been some discussion that this isn’t a comic-book movie, but it undeniably is. It is an origin story.

Arthur Fleck is a devoted son. He lives with his mother, but he is not dependent on her. Rather, he takes care of her, and he does it by working as a clown for hire. His job takes him to various places: for example, a music store going out of business and a children’s hospital. Arthur also suffers from a (real-life) condition, which causes him to laugh uncontrollably at inappropriate times. So much so that he carries a card that can explain it to people when he cannot.

The construction of the story is masterful and subversive, and it requires the audience to think and deduce some of the action going on before them. Phoenix’s performance is nuanced and skilled. It captures some of the cartoon-like nature of The Joker without it being cartoony. In some form, you respect Fleck’s struggle, and then he shocks you with his behavior. In a sense, Fleck has a code, and until the very end of the film, he never violates it.

To tell you more would spoil the experience.

Rated R by the MPAA for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images, Joker is the best comic book film with that rating since Logan.

I highly recommend it.

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

As the movie opens, the Enterprise of the Kelvin alternate universe is in the middle of its five-year mission of space exploration. Captain Kirk returns from an unsuccessful diplomatic mission questioning his role in Starfleet. As Bones McCoy points out in a private moment, Kirk is still competing with his dead father, especially on the impending anniversary of Kirk’s birth (and his father’s death).

The Enterprise heads for a deep space port named Yorktown where the crew can have a little downtime. However, we learn that Kirk is tiring of trekking and, to no crewmembers’ knowledge, has requested a transfer to an administrative assignment. Elsewhere on Yorktown, Spock, who feels he should be doing more to help New Vulcan, receives a visit from two Vulcans who notified him of Ambassador Spock’s death. His melancholy has already affected his relationship with Uhuru as they have broken up.

Before Kirk and Spock can act on their feelings, however, they are assigned to help rescue a stranded crew on another planet in the quadrant. However, just before arriving, the Enterprise is attacked and Kirk and crew must fight for their survival.

Star Trek Beyond deconstructs the characters and relationships of this alternate timeline crew and then spends the film reconstructing them. As the situation separates them, we see Kirk and Chekov working together. Sulu and Uhuru form another team on a different mission. Scotty and a newfound alien, Jaylah, are another team. Finally, we have Bones and Spock working together. As the film meanders along, these teams come together to fulfill an even bigger threat off planet.

One of the striking things to me, as a fifty-year viewer of this television and movie franchise is how well these new actors have stepped into the old shoes of their predecessors. The newer characterizations are so spot on that my brain is willing to accept the massive cast shift. This has been evident since the 2009 reboot, but this is the first time that I’ve felt the characterizations have moved beyond imitation and parody into inhabiting the characters as we grew to love them. I’m fully invested in this cast. Kudos to cast member Simon Pegg (Scotty) and Doug Jung who wrote the script which reflects the heart of the original television series.

At this point, I should mention the untimely death of Anton Yelchin, who played the rebooted Chekov. Unlike that of original cast member Leonard Nimoy, Yelchin’s death is not dealt with within the context of the film.  Both are handled with slides at the beginning of the end credits.

Justin Lin has directed Star Trek Beyond with great energy which many expected as Lin made the Fast and the Furious franchise what it is today. However, Star Trek Beyond does not feel like Fast and Furious in space. The set pieces are fantastic, but Lin handles the character interaction with great skill. Idris Elba (as Krall) and Sofia Boutella (as Jaylah) are great as guest stars.

Star Trek Beyond is a welcome 13th edition of this franchise and third film in the rebooted series, Producer J.J. Abrams has already stated that another film is in the works with Chris Hemsworth returning as George Kirk. So. James T. Kirk will have the opportunity to work out his “Daddy” issues.

Meanwhile, enjoy Star Trek Beyond.
Live long and prosper.

★★★★☆ 4 out of 5 stars

Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence

Trailer:

Originally published 22 July 2016 20:00 on View from the Seats

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Ultimate Edition (2016)

Like many fans, when I viewed the theatrical release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I was incredibly disappointed. I found it disjointed, full of plot holes and inexplicable character development.

Well, the inexplicable character development is still there and a few plot holes still exist, but BVSDOJ: Ultimate Edition is a vastly superior film to its theatrical release.

As the opening credits roll, we get director Zach Snyder’s version of the Batman origin story. However, by the time the credits are done, we’re done with the origin story as well.

An older Bruce Wayne arrives in Metropolis as Superman and General Zod battle over the city as we saw in Man of Steel. However, this time it’s all from Wayne’s point of view. We begin to see the reason why Wayne thinks of Superman as someone who should cease to exist.

Clark Kent is a much more developed character in the Ultimate Edition than he was in the theatrical release. His character feels more in line with the character of the previous film. His relationship with Lois Lane is fleshed out (pun intended) as well as that with his Mom.

The dream sequences that Wayne had in the theatrical release are far less disjointed and re-edited into a form which makes better sense.

This film introduces Wayne and his faithful butler from the Batman saga and Alexander Luthor from the Superman saga. Ben Affleck and Jeremy Irons play their characters well and Jesse Eisenberg is slightly less goofy in the extended version rather than over-the-top in the theatrical version. Unfortunately, Laurence Fishburne is chewing a lot more scenery in BVSDOJ than in Man of Steel.

While I’m talking about characters, let me just mention as an aside that I don’t understand why the characters of Steve Lombard, Jimmy Olson and Clark Kent (Kent to a much lesser degree in the Ultimate Edition) were wasted in this film.

The set pieces in the movie flowed naturally with the narrative and I think many will enjoy the major fight sequence in the film.

Query: was that Wonder Woman theme in the theatrical release?

All in all, BVSDOJ: Ultimate is a much better film than the theatrical release. It’s plot flows more evenly, many characters are better developed and, although the film weighs in at 3 hours and 3 minutes, I didn’t want to leave my seat for fear of missing something.

On a 10 scale, I rate BVSDOJ: Ultimate up from a 6 to a 9.

Trailer:

Rated R for sequences of violence.
Theatrical cut rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality. 

Originally published 28 June 2016 05:30 on View From The Seats

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

JJ Abrams seems to be the only producer to get me in an actual movie theater. He first accomplished that with Star Trek, then Super 8.

Now comes 10 Cloverfield Lane, the first official blood relative to 2008’s Cloverfield. (Mr. Abrams and others may not agree, but I actually feel Super 8 is worthy of that title.)

Now,  you’d have to be brain-dead to hear Mr. Abrams talk about this film and expect a direct sequel to the eponymous 2008 film. Yet, even I was surprised at the numerous twists and turns this latest entry takes.

Mary-Elizabeth Winstead portrays Michelle, a woman who has decided to end her relationship with her unseen boyfriend, Ben. She’s driving through rural Louisiana talking to him on her cell phone when she’s forced off the road.

When she awakens, she has an IV in one arm and is handcuffed to a bed by one leg. Enter Howard (John Goodman) who explains, in chilling fashion, that no one will be looking for her.

I won’t be the one to give away the various secrets of this film. I suppose that will happen faster than you can spell Wikipedia. I will say that you’ll be trying to figure out what the heck is going on as much as Michelle is.

Honorable mention to John Gallagher, Jr. who portrays Emmett, the third member of Howard’s impromptu family.

Most of the action takes place in Howard’s bunker and it can be quite claustrophobic at times. Yet, a pivotal event occurs and all hell breaks loose.

10 Cloverfield Lane will keep most guessing right to the very end. Director Dan Trachtenberg is to be commended for constructing a film that mostly keeps you on the edge of your seat. The fact that most reviews won’t reveal the secrets of the film should tell you everything you need to know.

Highly recommended!

Out of 5 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐+1/2⭐

Rated PG-13 for thematic material including frightening sequences of threat with some violence, and brief language.

Trailer:

Originally published on 12 March 2016 20:44 on View from the Seats