Total Recall (1990)

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Micheal Ironside

Synopsis: Douglas Quaid is frustrated with his lot in life, despite a beautiful wife and a stable job.   He attempts to get out of his rut by having his dream holiday implanted in his head… a trip to Mars.   However it seems he had memories of Mars already that had been wiped away and replaced with his current memories.   What ensues is an action packed reality where Quaid’s true history remains a mystery to him for the majority of the film.

total recall

 

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The Expendables 2

Director: Simon West

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lungdren, Jet Li, Liam Hemsworth, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis

Synopsis: Church (Willis) blackmails The Expendables into another job, this time to retrieve data concerning a mine full of plutonium.   Unfortunately, they are beaten to the target by Villain (Van Damme).   Barney Ross (Stallone) and the gang set after him with a vengeance, with a few new friends along the way.

expendables-2-comic-con-poster

 

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The Expendables – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Sylvester Stallone

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Eric Roberts, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, David Zayas, Giselle Itie, Charisma Carpenter, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mickey Rourke

Synopsis: A group of old army pros take on missions for cash requiring their unique brand of high skill.   The plot however is not really important, this is a film about seeing some of the recent pasts great action stars together in one movie.   Even the budget for California could not keep Arnie away from a cameo appearance, just as any action fan should give in to temptation and watch this film!!

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Terminator: Salvation – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: McG

Cast: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood, Helena Bonham Carter, Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas Howard, Michael Ironside

Synopsis: The war against the machines is well and truly in progress.   John Connor is not yet leader of the resistance, however he is a source of inspiration of pockets of survivors through regular radio broadcasts.   The Resistance discovers a signal that can be used to turn off machines within range, and it is Connor’s mission to test it.   Meanwhile, he discovers a young Kyle Reese is Skynet’s current primary target.

A Review by Film Nerd.

After thescripting  shambles of Rise of the Machines, the plot is now firmly established within the story of the war in which John Connor shall eventually take the most prominent role.   Given all the leaps in logic to continue the franchise have already been taken, this film is actually very enjoyable, as no excuse need be made for it existing.   The continuity in this film is never an issue, though familiarity with the previous three chapters I would argue is a must if you are to fully enjoy it.   I regret I did not discuss the franchise more fully with Bride of Film Nerd prior to our first viewing, as it was about half an hour into the film I realised this was the first time she had ever seen a terminator film.   This was much to my shock and horror at the time, I will admit, though hindsight would suggest that this was entirely within character for her!!   My bad in the end.

McG seems a curious choice of director, veteran of the recent Charlie’s Angels films and of music videos before that.   I get the impression though he was intentionally trying for something grittier and much more serious with this piece.   He convinced Bale of this fact, managing to get him on board another potential franchise, something he was at the time reluctant to do being already associated with Batman.   Having Bale on board is where the great impact of this film lies.   He is in my opinion the best actor to portray John Connor yet.   The character he portrays is a man I would take leadership from, something I would not have said about the previous incarnations.   The talent does not stop there though.   Dallas Howard picks up where Claire Danes left off as Kate, wife of John Connor, and she is convincing in a comparatively small role.  Star Trek‘s Yelchin also showed there is much more to him than Chekov, being very convincing as a young Kyle Reese, before he was fully trained and bad ass as played by Michael Biehn in the original Terminator (hmmm, I wonder what young version of an iconic character he will play next!!).   Bonham Carter is also quite extraordinary despite the brevity of her small role as a cancer sufferer.   The acting side of things is slightly let down by young resistance fighter Blair (Bloodgood) and the mysterious Marcus Wright (Worthington).   Their performances are serviceable to the plot, but do little special.

As far as plot goes, it is an enjoyable ride.   It is a mix of classic war story, with very gritty POV camera work defining early  battles, very similar to the cinematography used in the D-Day landings of Saving Private Ryan, with more traditional sci-fi, with enough reference made to the original films indicating the victory we know is to come.   The references made to past films are sprinkled throughout to very good effect.    As in every film, there is even a variatioon on the classic “I’ll Be Back” (admit it, you hear every word with a capital letter in that phrase too!!).   CGI was also effectively used to ensure a brief appearance from an actor who was not present, yet without whom this is not a Terminator film.    The film ends satisfyingly enough… in a way that hedges the bets….this works as a stand alone film just as much as it works as the start of a potential second trilogy.    I have heard no new word on whether there will be a continuation from this point, but unlike Rise of the Machines, I feel it is justified in this case.   I would certainly invest some coin to go watch it.

This does not reach the lofty heights of Judgement Day, but given the quality of that film that is a very high benchmark to set.   It is a worthy addition to the Terminator cannon, however, and washes the bad taste left in the mouth by its predecessor.

3 stars out of 5

 

Terminator: Salvation on IMDB

Terminator Salvation on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3p6GHSWDScM]

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: Jonathan Mostow

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes, Kristanna Loken, Earl Boen

Synopsis: John Connor (Stahl) saw Judgement Day pass without the destruction of humanity, but still lives off the grid just in case the worst should occur.   As fate would have it, the worst does occur, with the newest model of Terminator, the T-X (Loken) travelling back in time not only to eliminate Connor, but also his most trusted lieutenants in the war, including Kate Brewster (Danes).   In finding Brewster, the T-X (an upgrade on the T-1000 as it can form projectile weapons) also finds Connor, but a T-101 appears in time to protect, just as it did in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.   In the process of escaping we learn that Judgement day was not averted, just postponed.

A Review by Film Nerd.

For me, this is the point in low point in the entire Terminator saga to date.   Cameron’s original story was complete, and it was actually written to a point where Judgement Day was gone, the future of humanity was safe, and the war against the machines was destined not to occur.   Enter the big studios, not looking for a fresh idea, but for a repeat of what previously worked, and a story is hashed out so that the Terminators can once again rise.   Not that I am cynical about the role of studios in the film making process… *cough*

Given the hole anyone following up the original two films was in, the screen writers I guess did okay, but the biggest problem with this film is the simple fact that the audience is expected to believe that Judgement Day is inevitable.    No explanation beyond this is given, and I feel it is a cheat,   Especially given the fact it entirely breaks the mantra so well established in the message John sends back to his mother through Kyle Reese; “The future is not set, there is no fate but what we make for ourselves”.    Now for me, that was always very important to the films.   Despite the threat of what may be in store, there was always that small but bring, shining hope, our own actions may in some small way help prevent disaster.   Using the very word “inevitable” is pretty damn depressing, and quite unfortunate.    I can spend many more lines on this point, I could probably re-write the films from this point as I did the Star Wars prequel trilogy.    It could even be something like Skynet anticipated the actions of the Connors in film two (it is a super-computer) and decided to send a thirf terminator back not only to kill John Connor, but to also upload Skynet’s subroutines onto the web.   It only had to be that simple, and that is all you need for the suspension of disbelief.

This said, the film is not devoid of good points.   The early chase scenes are in fact quite spectacular, with Arnie hanging from a swinging crane arm on the back of the truck the T-X is driving to pursue Connor and Brewster.    There is also some effective use of humour, with a humourous twist on the T-101 finding clothing after his time displacement transport.   It even has an interesting story to tell of the T-101 prior to its reprogramming to protect the future leader of the resistance.   These elements added up for me a quite enjoyable film experience in my recent viewing, which I was able to appreciate more after my initial disappointment of the poor excuse used for restarting the franchise.   Sadly, the film is also let down by the acting.   Nick Stahl is at times absolutely appalling, and way to whiney for someone who grew up bring trained as a soldier.   Danes does better, but only just, her character not having much room for growth.   The final nail in the coffin is a lot of scripting co-incidences that defy the suspension of disbelief.

In the end, the Terminator without James Cameron is like the T-101 with his CPU removed… lifeless.

2 stars (out of a potential 5)


Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines on IMDB

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHhZK-g7wHo]

Terminator 2: Judgement Day – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: James Cameron

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenneger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Earl Boen, Joe Morton

Synopsis: Given that the T-101 was unsuccessful at killing Sarah Connor prior to John’s birth, they send back a more advanced model to kill John himself when he is still but a teenager.   The resistance manage to send back another protector, this time a T-101 they have reprogrammed to protect John, and obey his commands.   However, the T-1000 that has been sent by the machines is made of liquid metal, capable of taking any shape, and more than a match for the T-101.

A review by Film Nerd.

This film cements for me a belief that James Cameron is the master of the sequel.   He has an ability to make a superior film to the original, despite the high quality of the predecessor.   He made a sequel to Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Alien, and here he surpasses his own original.   Seriously, if anybody could make a Titanic 2, this is the man.

Why am I so enthused??   Simply put, there is not a flaw with this film.   On a very superficial level, it revolutionised what could be achieved with computer graphics.    The liquid metal effect rightfully won awards, it simply was unmatched by anything seen on-screen before, and remains flawless by today’s standards.    The dated look of the original that I quibbled with in my previous review simply was not an issue.    In addition to this, you have a great story, believable character arcs, and incredible acting, each point which shall be covered in further detail.

I will start with the story.   The narrative of this film is truly the platform on which everything else lies.   Sure, the stakes are higher for our heroes, with a more substantial villain, but there is more to it than that.    It addresses all the questions of what life would be like with the knowledge of humanity’s impending destruction.    Sarah Connor has been institutionalised.   If you heard a woman raving about machines taking over, killing us all, and giving a specific date, would you not think her mad.   And the son, raised with this knowledge then told his mother is nuts leaving him with nothing in which to believe anymore would become an absolute delinquent.   Then throwing this pair right back into the thick of it with another assassination attempt, there is vindication, but perhaps even more desperation as the fate of humanity seems almost sealed.   Throw in a protector that is identical to the model that once tried to kill Sarah, you have quite a heady mix.

I shall discuss the acting and the character arcs together, as they are intertwined.   Edward Furlong is John Connor.   In his first film role, I will admit at times he grates on my nerves.   I also remember, though, as a teenager at that time, his attempts to seem cool seemed much more realistic to me.   So I guess the thing that makes him annoying is that he is a believable teenaged.   When called on to show real emotion, however, he does not fail.   His sense of justice is also very clear early, and it is feasible that this kid can grow up into an almost mythical savior.    The T-1000 (Patrick) basically mimics Arnie’s performance from the original, yet as his mission is identical this seems the most intelligent choice.   Linda Hamilton reprises the role with the hardness developed by the end of the original, and perhaps has the toughest role.   She is convinced of the impending “Judgement Day”, the nuclear attack initiated by the machines, she fears for her son and for her race, and she is in a race against time to do what she can.   So she has to be tough for most of the film, and yet softness does come through when concerned with the safety of her son.   Finally, Arnie, though still having to play the automaton, gets greater scope here,   The MacGuffin that his CPU has been switched to learing new skills allows for greater personal interplay with his charge, and of all the ironies, the greatest heart in the film derives from this relationship between boy and machine.

There are many films I can type for hours about, about theme, context, how impact is established.    Judgement Day may not be a serious drama, and its science fiction element will alienate anyone who is not a fan of that genre.   But this is regardless an incredible film.   It entertains at both the adrenalin level, at the level of emotional satisfaction, as well as at the level of self-evaluation.    This is the true peak of the franchise, with Cameron completing the story he set out to tell.

5 stars (out of a possible 5)

 

Terminator 2: Judgement Day on IMDB

Terminator 2: Judgement Day on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eajuMYNYtuY]

The Terminator – A Review by Film Nerd

Director: James Cameron

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Paul Winfield, Lance Henriksen, Earl Boen

Synopsis: A deadly killing machine called a Terminator, model T-101 (Schwarzenegger), has been transported back in time from the year 2029 to the year 1984.   His target is a simple waitress, Sarah Connor (Hamilton).   She has been selected for termination given that her unborn son, John, will one day lead the resistance against the machines that have taken over the planet in the Terminator’s time-frame.   Luckily for Sarah, John also sent a colleague, Kyle Reese (Biehn) back in time to protect her.

A review by Film Nerd.

After having reviewed a new release, I felt it was time to return to an absolute classic.   Return to a film that, though dated now, was revolutionary for the time.   A film that was a defining moment in cinematic history.   A film that introduced an iconic character with his most famous, most often quoted line.   All together now;

“I’ll be back!”

Having already referred to the special effects, I will begin there.   To bring the more visceral elements of the T-101 to life, make-up effects were more than effectively used.   However, by today’s standards, the make-up was not perfect in the more complicated scenes (the T-101 removing a defective eye for instance).   Also, when the opportunity to observe the Terminator exoskeleton alone in action (Terminators are cyborgs, robots with flesh covering to appear human and infiltrate resistance cells), the stop-motion style filming does come across as a little choppy.   But this is 1984, we are talking about here, and I have no doubt that this would have scared audiences at the time, the efforts being made to bring this to screen really expanding on techniques that would have been previously available.

What makes the film stand up to viewing to a modern audience is the action, the story and the characters.   The story is quite complex, with time travel, attempts by the Terminator to alter the timeline while Reese tries to preserve it, causality loops indicating Reese’s future would not have been the same if he had never come back in time in the first place… basically the type of stuff that scares a lot of people away from science fiction.   If you are into this stuff, it can lead to hours of entertaining debate.   If you are not, you can at least get the gist and wait to enjoy the next action sequence.   Said action sequences early on do not rely on visual trickery so much as they do great car chases, fight scenes, and various attempts to by our heroes escape by the skin of their teeth.   The 80’s was a great period for that stuff, or course generally matched to a heavily synthesized soundtrack.

The final element I mentioned above was characters.   Schwarzenegger is perfectly blank the entire film, a relentless automaton that will not stop, will not feel pain, will not be deterred.   I am not sure if it is a lack of acting that manages this or a perfection of acting, but to this day it remains positively chilling.   Reese comes across as a capable soldier, a man who has grown up in time of war, and yet whose humanity has not been destroyed despite the bloodshed.   Hamilton’s Sarah Connor has the most interesting story arc, moving from being entirely incapable to even wait tables, yet by the end, with the knowledge of the war to come, is able to step up and respond.

Most of you reading this have probably already seen the film.   Trust me, it is time to revisit it, it is a masterpiece, despite the effects of the passage of time.   For those few whom have not seen it, just like my Bride, it is time to correct this grievous error.

4 stars (out of a possible 5)

The Terminator on IMDB

The Terminator on Rotten Tomatoes

Trailer [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4Jo8QoOTQ4]