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Monday, June 15, 2009

Terminator Salvation review
“Terminator: Salvation”

By Bob Garver

            “Terminator: Salvation” is a Terminator movie made by people who misunderstand the appeal of Terminator movies.  They are right to think that people are eager to enjoy a movie about a war between humans and killer robots.  That is, provided the audience can identify with humans such as themselves.  The humans in “Terminator: Salvation” don’t have endearing personalities, which means people are going to be apathetic to their survival. 

The film is the fourth installment of the “Terminator” franchise.  The series revolves around a robot revolution that threatens to wipe out humanity.  A human named John Connor is humanity’s best chance for survival.  The robots have sent evil Terminators (killer robots, usually made to look like humans) back in time to try and kill Connor at various points in his life.  Humans have responded by sending humans and reprogrammed Terminators back in time to protect him.  At this point in the series, the robots have taken over most of humanity, but Connor and the rest of the human resistance are close to making a power play that will shut them down once and for all. 

The first two “Terminator” movies worked well because they took place in our world.  The humans were like us, the settings were familiar, the dialogue was realistic.  The twist was that the robots kept having to try to adapt and blend in (sometimes with hilarious results) in order to execute their missions inconspicuously.   Of course, once their cover was blown, we got some killer action sequences.   

There is a scene in the first “Terminator” movie where we get a glimpse of the world where “Terminator: Salvation” takes place.  Humanity spends all its time hiding in dilapidated buildings.  They take turns going out to search for supplies, often getting killed by patrolling robots.  The world has become a bleak place.  Human attitudes have become bleak along with it.  We don’t want to spend any more time here than we have to.  “Terminator: Salvation” spends all its time here. 

John Connor was once a fun-loving little scamp that we adored, but those days are long over.  He’s now played by Christian Bale, bringing his now-trademark grimness to the role.  Even the movie itself doesn’t think he’s that interesting anymore, opting instead to focus on a character we’ve never seen before. 

           Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) is a convicted murderer who was put to death in the 90s.  He agreed to donate his body to “science”, and is shocked to be revived early in the film.  He thinks he’s gotten a second chance at life, but comes to discover it’s more of a life*.  The asterisk could determine the future of the human race. 

                There are action sequences galore.  Those robots, they’re relentless.  There are deadly motorcycles that drive themselves (cool until the humans discover that they can be neutralized just by tipping over), underwater beasts with scary tentacles, and land soldiers with bodies that resemble humans (the robots have inexplicably decided to put vulnerability points in their heads, which is exactly where a human would expect them to be).  We also get a brief appearance by the robots’ “latest” model, which because of all the time jumping is also the “classic” model.  You’ll know him when you see him. 

             All the chasing, shooting, and blowing up is done in the name of saving a very dull version of humanity.  Are we that interested in the characters’ survival if we know that the rest of their lives are going to be spent fighting and hiding from robots?  Don’t fear the end of the world at the hands of evil robots, fear that we’ll get the depressing world of “Terminator: Salvation”.
5:03 pm edt          Comments

Angels & Demons review
“Angels & Demons” 

By Bob Garver

            It is not a rare thing for a sequel to be more generic and less ambitious than the original.  It is a rarer thing for a sequel to be better than the original.  But it is a very rare thing for a sequel to be generic and unambitious and for this to actually be an improvement.  Such is the case with “Angels & Demons”. 
            The film is a sequel to 2006’s “The Da Vinci Code”.  That film (and the Dan Brown book on which it was based) is best remembered for a controversial plot point where the characters discover that Jesus Christ had a secret family with Mary Magdalene and the Catholic Church has been covering this up for centuries.  The film devoted a painstaking amount of time to explaining this idea, and very little time on its own plot.  The result was a boring film with a shoestring plot that outraged lots of people.

            Since there is no such thing as bad publicity, “The Da Vinci Code” made $217 million domestically. “Angels & Demons”, another Brown book, has been turned into a film as well.  Like “The Da Vinci Code”, the film’s main character is Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks).  Like “The Da Vinci Code”, Langdon works to solve a crime in the Catholic Church.  But unlike “The Da Vinci Code”, the film does not waste time accusing the Catholic Church of some outrageous conspiracy.  Although the sequel does not have the same aspirations as the original, it works much better taking the straightforward route.

            The story begins with the funeral of a fictitious Pope.  Shortly thereafter, a dangerous canister is stolen from a Vatican research facility.  The contents of the canister are complicated, and the movie makes several attempts to explain them, all of which come off as sciency mumbo-jumbo.  For a moment, it looks like the film will make the same mistake as its predecessor with overlong explanations.  Suffice to say the canister is basically a bomb capable of taking out a radius of several miles.

            Langdon is called in to investigate the kidnapping of four front-runners for the vacant papacy.  By the time he arrives, someone has taken credit for both the kidnappings and the theft of the canister.  The Illuminati were a group of agnostics allegedly massacred by the Catholic Church in the 18th century.  The movement has apparently survived and its current members seem to be out for revenge.  They threaten to kill the kidnapped cardinals and blow up The Vatican.
Langdon agrees to help the police in their investigation.  He is assisted by a scientist (Ayelet Zurer) who is pretty but doesn’t add much.  He also gets help from the Camerlengo (Ewan McGregor), the cardinal in charge of the church until a new pope can be elected.  The Camerlengo is helpful to Langdon’s investigation, but a power-hungry rival cardinal (Armin Mueller-Stahl) wants to be elected Pope before it can be completed.  Langdon runs through The Vatican and Rome, finding clues that lead to the kidnapped cardinals and the canister.  The clues are too hard to figure out without a Harvard symbology degree, something that distances the film from its audience.
Still, the action and chase scenes are well done.  There are some legitimately exciting sequences, one involving a sealed-up room, one involving a fountain, and one involving the canister itself.  The layers of the conspiracy (not involving the entire church, but corrupt individuals) are a tad convoluted, but at least manage to be somewhat surprising.
The action and plot might not be anything too fancy, but they make “Angels & Demons” passable.  Director Ron Howard knows how to put together a mildly entertaining thriller.  He makes the right decision in pushing certain “higher” specifics to the side in favor of getting the basics right.  The result isn’t a great film, but one that is at least better than “The Da Vinci Code”.
4:58 pm edt          Comments

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