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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Terminator: Salvation (2009)

I went to see Terminator: Salvation against my better judgment. I thought, hey, I love Christian Bale, and I enjoy the Terminator mythos, and any trailer with Nine Inch Nails in it can't be all bad, can it? Much to my dismay, I discovered that yes, yes it can be all bad.

The plot of Terminator: Salvation is a good one: Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) is on death row and, at the last minute, agrees to donate his body to Skynet for mysterious experiments after his state-sanctioned death. We jump ahead to 2018 to find a future in which man and machine are at war. John Conner (Christian Bale) leads the resistance against Skynet with the support of various colorful yet never fleshed out supporting characters. Marcus wakes up in 2018, and it's not clear exactly how or why he has survived all these years and still appears to be in perfect physical health. He teams up with Kyle Reese (Anton Viktorovich Yelchi of Star Trek and numerous other films of late) in an effort to aid the resistance. None of this really matters, however, as the initially engaging plot devolves into a mindless hurricane of ballistics and over-the-top CGI. The film is overly concerned with giving shout outs to its predecessors (to wit, the dubious Arnold cameo, as well as Kyle's "come with me if you want to live," line). While this is momentarily amusing, it only serves to remind the audience of how much it fails to measure up with the first two Terminator films.

The sets are impressive, but again, the obvious big budget only made me regret (and resent) how crummy this installment was compared to the first two Terminator films. How dare they get a good actor like Christian Bale and then give him a crummy script and mediocre direction? Director McG has proven adept at handling light-hearted stuff like Charlie's Angels and the Offspring's obnoxious "Pretty Fly for A White Guy," video. Here he is in way over his head with Terminator: Salvation, a serious film that would have been better served by Christopher Nolan or Ridley Scott. The shchmaltzy ending only served to piss me off more. In short, don't blow your hard-earned money on Terminator: Salvation unless you're seeing a matinee. And even then, do yourself a favor and have a few drinks first.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Star Trek (2009)

Sorry I'm posting this review a little late. I saw the new Star Trek after everyone else, mostly because I was afraid I wouldn't like it. For me, Star Trek isn't just a great show-it was a formative influence in my life. As a kid, I loved "Star Trek: The Next Generation," a show that ran from the time I was seven to the time I was twelve. Everything about that show resonated with me, from the intergalactic politics to the contrived period pieces on the Holodeck to Data's identity crises. Later, I got into the original series and have since seen every single episode (I thought there were hundreds, but upon looking back there were only eighty or so...it seems like there were more to me, but now I realize they just reran them numerous times. Ha!). My favorites were the episodes "Bread and Circuses," which was about an early version of reality television and "The Omega Glory" which was a metaphor for the Cold War. It was such a thoughtful, interesting program, full of good (if hammy) performances. And that's why I was worried about the 2009 Star Trek film. Would it measure up? Would it just be a second-rate regurgitation of Roddenberry's mythos? What about the casting? How could anyone be a new William Shatner?

The answers to these concerns is: Yes it does, No, it's not, the casting is good, and Chris Pine is as good as we're going to get when it comes to replacing William Shatner. J.J. Abrams' Star Trek provides us with a prequel. It's like a Degrassi Junior High Star Trek. But in a good way. We see Kirk (Chris Pine) meet Spock (Zachary Quinto) as they go through Starfleet Academy. Of course, we also meet Uhura (Zoe Saldana of Pirates of the Caribbean) and Bones (the perfectly cast Karl Urban) as they all learn to work on the Enterprise together. The script is crisp and intelligent with just enough humor thrown in to keep it light. Not only that, the film manages to throw in clever references to the original series without it being a giant nerd in-joke. Scotty (Simon Pegg) gets to clamor about the engines, Bones gets to say "Dammit I'm a doctor not a physicist!" Sulu gets to show off his fencing skills and of course Spock gets the mind meld and the Vulcan neck pinch. And, finally, Uhura is able to make out with another cast member without some contrived mind control plot device. We've come a long way, baby. The film even gives us the terrific Leonard Nimoy in a cameo that is integral to the plot as opposed to being heedlessly tacked on. The special effects are well-used; I never felt like I was in the middle of a CGI onslaught. Not only that, we get a good villain: Eric Bana as a Romulan renegade. It was fitting, given their conflicts in the original series, that the Romulans would be the villain of choice. Not that I don't miss the Klingons, Cardassians and Betazoids, but you can't introduce too much in the first film. Originally, the Romulans were supposed to represent the People's Republic of China and the Klingons were supposed to be the Soviets. Abrams' Star Trek is much less political, but not necessarily to its detriment. Perhaps as a way to revise the previous references to China made in the original series, the new Star Trek names the Romulan villain Nero, as if to pretend that the Romulans were a reference to the Roman Empire. Maybe in sequels (and rest assured, there will be sequels) they can start to tackle international relations. For now, I'm happy with Black Hole devices and time-travelling Vulcans.

The amount I would pay to see this film: $10