Posted in Action, Drama, Thriller, War with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 02/09/2010 by joycereview

What looks like a sandbox and smells like poop?

Give up?  Answer: The Hurt Locker.

But like sandboxes and pooping… The Hurt Locker can be a little bit of fun.

If you think about it, sand is fun to build stuff with, but in essence, there’s nothing grand about it; it’s just tiny rocks.  And pooping…let’s face it, is sometimes an inconvenience, but at the very least, gives you a well-deserved break from your job, day-to-day stessors, and like all us typical Americans, overeating.  The Hurt Locker is fun at points, but there’s nothing too deep about it.

And in comparison to pooping – a  break from your daily “duties” , but might be a bit of “a waste” [look at that! A double pun!].  Watcher beware.


US Army Sergeant First Class Will James (Jeremy Renner) joins Bravo Company in Iraq, having only a month or so left till they are relieved.  Sgt. James is a bomb disposal expert sent to replace former Bravo leader Sgt. Matt Thompson (Guy Pearce).  Sgt. James’ “cowboy approach” to bomb disposal clashes poorly with squad members Sgt. JT Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Spc. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty ); whose main objective it to return home in one piece.

Don’t be fooled by my ‘poop’ simile, The Hurt Locker, is brilliant in several ways.  One particular example of brilliance lies within the character of SFC Will James, who (somehow) operates the battlefield with a searing focus.  He resembles Tom Sizemore’s character in Black Hawk Down*; someone not overly concern with death, but of getting the job done, by whatever means possible.  The role of “The Bomb Specialist,” in his huge, protective suit resembles an astronaut exploring a foreign planet.  This image is one that cinematically paints an atmosphere of isolation and danger, and portrays Sgt. James as a heroic figure on a perilous mission.  From this, one can easily tell that the director has a flair for the artistic [she actually spent 2 years at the San Francisco Art Institute as a painter].

The second dose of “the spectacular” comes in the overall “vibe” of the film.  Director Kathryn Bigelow (Strange Days, Point Break) gives us a glimpse of Iraq without the politics; a battle on simple terms – Man vs. his fear of death.  The bombs that they are there to defuse are the very similar the the bombs they carry with themselves day-to-day through the war… either you adapt/disconnect the wiring, or you eventually detonate.

Where this movie fails (in this reviewer’s opinion) is mainly in Bigelow’s artistic styling, lack of supporting details and character traits.

Bigelow (the ex-wife of “Action film great” James Cameron) is fair, not great, as an action director.  Artistic action, such as Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, masterfully conveys depth and is clearly, poetry in motion.  Ridley Scott (Gladiator, G.I. Jane), on the other hand, is a veteran director whose directorial wizardry gives the eyes the full extent of light and motion, without overload.  Bigelow performs nicely with scenes involving tention, but nothing beyond what one might catch in an episode of 24.

At one point in the film, while under enemy fire, the camera fixates – in slow motion – on a bullet shell as it discharges from the sniper rifle, spins in the air and bounces on the desert sand.  The next shot, showed both the sniper and spotter, as the spotter looks through his binoculars and utters, “You got him [the bad-guy].”  With the consistently mounting tension of the scene, most viewers would be clamoring  for the result… for the bloody aftermath of that final shot… Bigelow just handed us a heaping handful of failure.   Word verification of a kill?  Only?  (Sheesh!)

Finally, (and there are certainly more concerns that reduced this film to a 6) I don’t understand the point of many of these bomb defusings.  I wouldn’t think a deserted road of sand and rubble merits a soldier’s life.  Certainly the main character wants to MacGyverishly defuse a record number of bombs in his extraordinary career, but don’t they have “bomb containment boxes/chambers”?  Why risk life and limb over such a small thing?  Why not walk up to the bomb, plant some c4 explosives on top of “the threat” and detonate (after clearing the area of bystanders/civilians of course)?  Never any explanation from the film.  Also, why the cumbersome and stuffy protective suit?  Either way, suit or naked, you’re as good as dead if you cut the wrong wire.   At least if you’re naked you would have a better chance of running to safety.

In conclusion… not a total dud, wonderful at parts, but not “explosive” enough for me.  Only 2 hrs. and 7 minutes, but felt like 3.

Let us hear what you thought!

* * *

*Kathryn Bigelow is noted for casting Tom Sizemore (i.e. Point Break, Strange Days).  I didn’t know this when I made the comparison to Sgt. Will James and Tom Sizemore’s character in Black Hawk Down.  This connection was made after noticing this little bit of trivia at  Must have been used as character model (at least in some capacity).



Posted in Comedy, Drama, Indie, romance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 02/02/2010 by joycereview

I like funny movies about 30-something couples, partly because I’m 30-something, and partly because I’m finding it hard to relate to anything else.

After a jaw-dropping revelation of what America finds “entertaining & hilarious” (see The Hangover), I felt what most suicidal people might describe as “the great sadness.”

As I picked myself off the floor and the pulled the 9mm revolver from between my teeth, a sense of hope came when I saw that Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) directed an independent film with our much-loved, “Jim Halpert” (from The Office) and  Saterday Night Live vertern, Maya Rudolph.


Romantic and charismatic Burt Farlander (John Krasinski) and pessimistic, nuptially-reluctant and 6-months-pregnant Verona De Tessant (Maya Rudolph) are a loving couple.  While visiting Burt’s parents (played by Catherine O’Hara and Jeff Daniels), Burt and Verona discover that they’ve made other plans.  Realizing that there isn’t much to stay around for, they embark on a road trip to visit family and old friends in a quest to find the place they will call “Home.”

Seeing this movie makes me realize, “Hey. I like movies about nice people.”

Burt and Verona are intelligent, corky and “nice” people and I will say here – their relationship and chemistry binds this movie together (like so much maple syrup).  Their odyssey takes them to places like Phoenix and Montreal where they meet old acquaintances and family, and on each meeting discover just what they don’t want to become as lovers and as parents.

The physical and charming style of Krasinski compliments the expressive and uniquely-beautiful* Rudolph superbly.  Their characters, Burt and Verona, give us movie-goes a glimpse at the life of a real couple.  Some people may argue that when they rent a movie they want to be swept away by the unreal.  To this, there is always a time and place.  The best stories… the ones that truly make an impact come not from the Hollywood standard, but from the creation of “real” people.

For one, there is this “real” scene in which Burt and Verona are lying in bed:

[Verona]  Burt, are we F#$@-ups?.  [Burt] No! What do you mean?  [V] I mean, we’re 34… [B] I’m 33. [V] …and we don’t even have the basic stuff figured out. [B] Basic, like how? [V] Basic, like how to live.  [B] We’re not f&$%-ups.  [V] We have a cardboard window.  [B] (looks at window) We’re not f@#%-ups.  [V] (whispers) I think we might be f#$%-ups.

Lots of couples wonder this.  Lots of couples talk about this.  Their life feels flat… that they don’t match up to everyone else and/or their life doesn’t match up to everyone elses.

Watching a film like Away We Go makes me feel a great and powerful connection to Burt and Verona, not just because I feel like “we’re in the same boat” but because the alternative of where we think we are is seldom where we’d like to be [and that is something I’ve always felt strongly about].  Especially if we knew what we’d become or have to give up in order to get it.

I felt “pure and clean” again after watching this film.

The Hangover taste is gone.

Away we go was the dose of Listerine I need so very badly.


Posted in Comedy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 01/20/2010 by joycereview

Comedy is a genre with wide-swinging extremes.  Certain films obviously cater to different camps.  My particular style of comedy lies within the witty and satirical, but I can appreciate my share of potty humor.  Somehow I’ve never outgrown that.

This movie reminds me of when I first heard the boyhood stories from Lake Wobegon on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion.  My two best friends insisted it was funny and when I listened, I had the same reaction that Homer Simpson had, to strike my radio and demand that it “be more funny.”

The Hangover is the evil twin brother of A Prairie Home Companion. But instead of fond stories surrounded by nice Minnesotans, The Hangover was raised in the Animal House (considered by Bravo to be the number 1 comedy of all-time) and fed mind-numbing drugs.


Doug (Justin Bartha), the groom-to-be, and his friends; Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) drive to Las Vegas for his bachelor party.  Their rooftop toast is drugged and they spend the movie trying to piece together the ludicrous and idiotic shenanigans that transpired that night.  In their search for answers, they discover a bengal tiger in their bathroom, a stripper’s baby in their closet, and find that Doug is missing (to name just a few).

This movie completely turned me on my head, but not because it was funny.   Roger Ebert (Ebert & Roeper), Peter Travers (Rolling Stone Magazine), my sister and a handful of friends thought it was a riot of laughs and thus, it leaves me feeling like I’ve been served a joke that  I’m too “square” to understand.  However, since I laughed in this film as much as I laughed in Schindler’s List, [zilch] I feel compelled to uphold my integrity as an honest reviewer and give this film the worst rating (1 bear claw) in the history of The Joyce Review.  I’m sure there will be more (horrible reviews), but nothing quite so surprising [since The Hangover just won the 2010 Golden Globe for Best Comedy]!

After this trashing, I can foresee hoards of movie-goers, respected readers of The Joyce Review, suddenly picking up their torches and pitchforks in a boisterous and bloody revolution.  My peeps, I beseech you,…have mercy.  All I wish is for a friendly debate.  Forget for a moment that I find this movie absurd, and those that like it, a smidge nutty.  We are still family, you are still loved, but till this Hangover hoop-la passes, I’ll still be looking at you a bit funny.  It can’t be helped.

A few questions if I might?  Seeing as if you answered “yes”:

  1. When did absurd (not-to-mention extremely unrealistic) circumstances become not just funny, but (Golden Globe caliber) hysterical?
  2. Do you think (as I do) that The Hangover was written, in its entirety, using Mad Libs?
  3. Do you think, perhaps, that The Hangover won it’s Golden Globe (as I do) by being the only full comedy, amidst a line-up of quasi comedies (i.e. Julie & Julia, It’s Complicated, 500 Days of Summer) and a musical (Nine)?  Where was Bruno or Zombieland?

I’m confused (not “hungover”).

The lines are open…

AVATAR :: SCI-FI :: 033

Posted in Action, Fantasy, Sci-Fi with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 01/12/2010 by joycereview

Alien worlds fascinates me.  They always have.  Pandora is the closest we’ve been able to get to that world cinematically.  Jim Cameron’s vision delighted me on all levels and was perhaps, the most fun that I’ve had in the theaters wearing dorky 3d glasses.

It’s obvious through his films that the mind of Cameron is a colossal wonderland, full of floating islands, 6-legged horses, brightly-colored pterodactyls, and the blue-skinned, golden-eyed Na’vi.  At least this was the latest of Cameron’s dreams to be shared with us…  a dream tucked away for more than a decade.  In 2005, he revisited the script and agreed that it was time.  What emerged? You’ll have to see it to believe it!


Following the death of his twin brother, a paraplegic marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington; Terminator Salvation), steps into a unique position to continue his brother’s project and travel to the amazing world of Pandora.  The mission is for Scully to inhabit a lab-grown-replica body (known as an “Avatar”) of both his twin and of the Pandorian race known as the Na’vi and to infiltrate the tribe and negotiate an exodus, away from an area rich in an Earth-rescuing mineral known as “unobtanium.”  Trigger-happy Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) strikes a deal with Sully to gather intel on the Na’vi in return for post-mission spinal surgery.  Cheif Administrator Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) wants diplomacy (only because it looks better), and scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, Aliens) wants to truly understand the biology and hidden mysteries of Pandora.  As the Avatar, Jake Sully forms a bond with the Na’vi and must make his choice;  stand with his new family, or help the human race blunder Pandoria’s most precious resource.

As a movie-loving public, we’ve seen literally hundreds of movies.  In my case, (and as so many others film-nuts) we’ve seen thousands.  Themes and scenes, especially the good ones, always stand out.  It was apparent to in this film that connections can be made with the following: Dances with Wolves, Last of the Mohicans, The Last Samurai, and even Braveheart.  The world of Pandora was a cross between the amazon rainforest and a coral reef.  The Na’vi were a cross between native american indians (I don’t mean to lump you all together) and african tribes.  The “horses” a cross between a seahorse, and a regular horse – add a pair of legs.  The flying creatures of Pandora were pterodactyls with the head of a savannah monitor.  But the question we must ask ourselves is “does our knowledge of these traits/similarities take away from the film?”  The answer is “no friggin’ way.”

It was explained to me a long time ago, that there is very little in the world that we would fail to assign complete uniqueness to.  To this theory, I agree.  Many years ago, when phones were the size of a Tom Clancy hardback we watched in awe as Kirk and Spock had what looked to be my first Motorola flip-top cellphone.  That debuted in 1966!  From then on we become desensitized to technology and even of artistic creations (to some point).  Had Cameron and his visual artists created creatures, machines and contraptions without a likeness to images of our time, our minds would be quite likely to reject it.  For Avatar, a thin line had to be threaded in order to lock our collective minds into a state of belief and wonderment.  Cameron performed like a surgical Annie Oakley due to his experience, years in film and the fact that his body is made of 60%water and 40% of awesome!

Do you want to know why there are no more Jim Cameron’s in the world?  I’ll tell you why!  Answer:  Because he’s a nerdy woman in the body of a good-looking man.  He’s a tree-hugging, technology-embracing, liberal – not just for alien rights but for universal equality.  It’s a widely-known fact that most powerful men place other powerful men as heroic characters in their stories.  Cameron simply changes the gender and leaves the balls.  Sigourney became the first of Hollywood’s top heroines by way of her role in Alien, and as if she were acquiring more balls along the way, Aliens (the sequel).  Aliens even had Jenette Goldstein playing the toughest female marine in cinema history as Lt. Vasquez.  (Note the enormous similarity of Goldstein to Avatar’s Michelle Rodriquez)  … Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in both Terminator 1 & 2.  (She was so bad-ass in T2, that Jim married her!) Even Kate Winslet’s role in Titanic can be seen as unsteriotypically masculine… just in the bold, strong, take charge way… not in the “I bust a cap in alien asses”-type way (obviously!).  Now… we have Zoe Saldana (Star Trek), playing Neytiri, the warrior princess of the Omaticaya Clan.  Blue, fierce and dead sexy!  I remember as a kid I had a crush on Betty Rubble of the Flintstones (yes, the cartoon version), but if the 10 year old in me where to react hormonally (after seeing Neytiri) he’d run out into the woods, risking an arrow of neurotoxic death.

Before viewing Avatar, I had (and still have) some reservations on the use of CGI.  Call me old-school (again), but motion capturing, CGI and the lot can never truly portray what an actor or actress can do.  Recreation is not creation.  CGI gives control and is cost effective but can only be a reflection and a refraction of what a performer creates.  E.T. was more-or-less a sock puppet, but was as real to me today as it was when I was a kid.  The creations of Avatar will always stay with me.  Not just because Earth is “played out” and I want to move to Pandora, but because the CGI realism of Avatar finally hit the mark of believability.  What is key is that we put this technology in the hands of skilled samurai (i.e. James Cameron, Peter Jackson) and not in baby, knife-wielding hacks (i.e. Michael Bay).

I agree 95.8% with my fellow critic, Colin (read his Avatar review at: Cineaste John) when he says,

“I felt like I was on the same emotional journey as Jake Sully.  I felt for the Na’vi.  I felt for Hometree and the Omaticaya.  I felt that the true struggle for Jake Sully, a born-and-bread Marine, suddenly feeling like everything he once knew and was trained to be was savage and inhumane.  Avatar was everything I’d hoped it to be and more.”

It wasn’t a far leap for me (being skinny, tall and good-looking in blue)… but Avatar will always be a film that I feel connected to – for its messages of environmental responsibility, diplomacy, and the fact that it’s far less cool to be human.  At least we can dream.  For the less and unimaginative folk, Cameron holds us up to the viewfinder… and what an awe-inspiring view it is.

Leave your paw-print below!

  • What was your thought on the film?
  • What would you rate it personally?


CHE :: FOREIGN :: 032

Posted in Action, Documentary, Drama, Foreign, Special Interest with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 01/05/2010 by joycereview

After seeing the film, The Motorcycle Dairies, I knew I had to learn more about the man, the humanitarian, the revolutionary, Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Steven Soderbergh’s Che (initially split into Che: The Argentine and Che: Guerrilla) is a beautiful, yet somewhat laboring look (pt 1= 134 minutes; pt. 2= 135 minutes) at the asthmatic doctor who fought so hard for the “miserable and alienated” and who becomes not only Latin America’s most legendary revolutionary leader but also one of the most iconic faces for freedom and liberty the world over.

Che is played by Benicio Del Toro with a searing elegance and believability that won him the Best Actor Award at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.  Fidel Castro, played by Demian Bichir, was a revelation to watch, and (I felt) the Chilean sensation, Santiago Cabrera fit the role of loyal Comandante Camilo Cienfuegos most perfecto!

The entire movie was filmed like a window into the past.  The action was gritty, emotional and in-your-face.  The dialogue throughout the entire will was approximately 98% Spanish and besides a few notables (Franka Potente and Matt Damion), nearly the entire cast of the film was hispanic.


At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.  It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.

If I am to be as honest as my nature compels me to be, I’d have to say that Che is on my list as one of the Top 5 films of 2008-2009.  The only noticeable flaw (if you know history) is that Che was of average height 5’9 (quite perfect for a guerilla soldier) and no where near the 6 foot 3 inch-sasquatch-ness of Del Toro.  So although Benicio could channel the spirit and essence of the ‘Che’, somehow, and quite disappointingly, he couldn’t make himself smaller.

The next blunder comes when Soderbergh gives us over 4 hours of action, history, and brilliant acting.  I mean, who wants to attach their phat fannies to the sofas for that length of time?  Well… I did.  And I’m sure there are lots of history buffs and Leftists out there that would too.  Not-to-mention the godless communist scum* that I’m sure still need someone to look up to (even though all of this took place half a century ago).

Okay, if I had to pick one truly sour point in the film… which was no big deal really… it was that each part (remember, the movie was split into Che’s time in Cuba [part uno] and in Bolivia [part dos]) began with a map of the country – slowly highlighting the different regions and names of the cities and towns.  If they had used a more photographic and stylish image, perhaps overlaying it with old photos each city/town/village/region, your attention might not go towards how heavy your eyelids are (especially at the very onset of such a terrific film).  I was surprised to see there were no opening credits during this time!  I don’t know why that was… but even a flash or brief flicker of an actor’s name might have woken me from the dreary and drab geography lesson.

Had Benicio not taken the role, Che might have been handed to Val Kilmer.  And had we a gringo playing such a legendary figure, we might just have had… I don’t know… Ben Affleck playing Camilo and even though he kinda looks like him if he grew a big, mangy beard, I would have had half a mind to start a revolution of my very own.

Hasta la victoria siempre!

*eventhough ‘Che’ was Marxist-Communist and was in fact ‘godless’ (when asked, Do you believe in God? Che answered, “I believe in mankind”) I don’t mean all godless communists in a bad way.  The whole “scum” at the end was meant to imply “the frothy goodness.”  Wait a minute, that’s “skim.”  Whatever.


Posted in Action, Drama, Sci-Fi with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 12/31/2009 by joycereview

I’ll certainly be standing at the gun barrel for my review of this film, but let me spell it out for you if you are using this review as a nudge towards “should I stay or should I go?”

I’m very old-school when it comes to science fiction.  I treasure story-line and style in my sci-fi flicks like I treasure Texas Pete hot sauce in my morning eggs.  If an alien is to be the center-point of any story, they best be either scary (H.R. Giger’s Alien), interesting/realistic (Roswell), cute (E.T.) or a combination or these, to keep my interest.  It could be an obvious sock-puppet-alien, but if the story is intriguing and is shot in a stylistic fashion, I just might, one day, own it on dvd or (the testament for a truly epic filmblu-ray.


Twenty-eight years ago, an alien spacecraft hovered above the city.  Military raided the ship and found ill and malnutritioned aliens aboard.  They were given refuge at a camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa, known as District 9.  The year is 2010 and District 9 has deteriorated into a militarized slum and it is the job of the munitions corporation, MNU (Multi-National United) and operations manager Wikus van der Merwe to evict the alien tenants.  However, during the operation somethings goes wrong and Wikus must save his own skin… and rescue his new-found brothers.

Before I begin to rip District 9 a new alien butt-hole, I have to begin by saying that there is a deeper layer to this film that many of us North American’s (for the most part) cannot appreciate.  If you don’t know about Apartheid in South Africa, please read A Subtle Knife’s article, “Becoming the Alien: Apartheid, Racism and District 9.”  And although I appreciate this aspect of the film, my critical conscience will not allow this film to escape on the basis of it’s social, historical and political underlining.

As I sit here writing, I am being uber-nerdish.  Moving my fanny to-and-fro to the Star Wars IV Cantina song, I am thinking just what could have made this movie a Joyce Review success?  My answer:

  1. Don’t lie to me via the movie’s trailer. The one I saw was short and sweet.  The government had an alien in what looked like an interrogation room.  The alien, so disgusting he was cute, said, “shrump, sher, chularp, twanp.”  Translation: “We just want to go home.”  (awww!) Instantly my heart hurt for the poor gargantuan cockroach and thought this was going to be a fascinating movie with the aliens being held hostage – not that they were so pathetically weak and stupid they couldn’t get back and repair their ship.
  2. Make the Multi-National United actually consist of united, multi-nationals.  If aliens make themselves known, and there is money to be made and research to be had… you better bet your sweet behind that America will be present (not to mention the UK, Germany, France and Russia).
  3. Build a friggin’ wall! Confining a couple million aliens to a refugee camp will take more than a metal fence and barbed wire.  At one point in the film, Wikus actually sneaks into District 9 by crawling under the fence!  Oh, you poor aliens.  You can build and hide secret, underground, laboratories but you can’t arouse a single en-force mutiny or break out?
  4. Create realistic tensions. Racism amongst humans is absurd, but when you have aliens as ugly, irrational and temperamental as this, absurd becomes understandable.  If we know the capabilities of their weaponry, wouldn’t we be a little more kind to them, since we know that a) there may be more of them somewhere; b) they could find a way to leave; c) since they can be hostile, and are quite strong they could cause a rebellion; or d) find a way to leave and return to destroy us?  It is for the same reason we don’t intentionally anger our dentist.  Yes some can be sadists, bent on causing pain to us lesser mortals… but they are usually more intelligent than you or me and does us a decent service.  My feeling is that the world would have seen them as a great nuisance and threat, and would come to the consensus of termination/extermination.

District 9 did satisfy me in a couple of aspects.  It took itself lightly (for the most part) and gave the audience a likable protagonist in Wikus Van De Merwe.  Who wouldn’t enjoy a South African version of Martin Short and Steve Carell?  Personally, I would have liked more backstory.  Had the aliens been able to communicate anything to us other then their love for cat food… maybe it would have earned another bear print (but maybe not)?  Are they scientists, soldiers, or explorers?  Do they have a leader? Do they have similar anatomy/physiology as humans or are they just as we see them, armored Jar-Jar Binkses with octopus lips?  District 9 was entertaining but did not make its way into my top 10 alien films, and is quite far down on my list of sci-fi favorites.  I think I’ll re-watch Blade Runner now.

Just how wrong do you think I am?  Drop your comments below!

and remember…..


Winning is easy.  Simply write out your thoughts on this, or any other review on The Joyce Review and you are instantly entered into a monthly drawing.  Winners are picked at random and qualify if their comment meets the criteria: no vulgar language, no disrespecting the other commenters or myself, and offering at the very least a two sentence comment.  Winners will be announced privately through an email and will be asked for a mailing address and dvd genre preference.  Tell your friends and join in our film discussions!


Posted in Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 12/26/2009 by joycereview

James Cameron has my complete sympathies.  It must feel like the lose of a beloved family pet… or maybe it’s like a divorce (he’s had four of them) to have his creation ransacked like this.  At least in a divorce he knows his matrimonial future is bright (come on, he’s James Cameron).  But putting the film in the hands of (let me just quote Bale’s inspiring words to his director of photography) “f#@%^*$ amateurs” was a move that even I wouldn’t have predicted.

The crux of Terminator Salvation is set in the year 2018.  John Connor, the leader of the human resistance against Skynet and the machines known as Terminators.  Connor’s world is rattled when he comes face-to-face with Marcus Wright, a stranger whose existence questions all he was lead to believe.

Terminator Salvation, although much grittier and explosive in Hollywood terms, lacks heart… just one of the elements this film was trying to bring back to the Terminator franchise.  Story, character, mood and atmosphere are sacrificed for the sake of pace and action.  Here are a couple of the rules when making a Terminator sequel:

RULE #1: Don’t hire a man named McG.  Besides his name be pretentious and lacking of any vowels, his claim to fame was Sugar Ray’s “Fly” music video.  Then he ruined a guilty pleasure of mine when he directed Charlie’s Angels 2.  If you’ve seen it, you’ll understand why.

RULE #2: Hire actors based on professional ability, and almost as importantly… plausibility. There’s no way that squeaky teen John Connor would grow up to sound like a cross between Rambo and Batman.  Oh wait… it’s just Christian Bale doing the only “intimidating” voice he can do.

(recently added) RULE #3:  Re-watch the previous Terminator movies beforehand.  When Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) asks Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) what it’s like in the future… his reply is “We stay down by day…”.  So why was so much of T4 shot in daylight? A movie such as this lives and dies based on its story.  Why is it when we ask bacon and eggs, McG hands us a cold waffle?

Young John Connor was played by the puberty-ridden Edward Furlong in Terminator 2 and every fan has a memory of him as he squeals, “Dyson! Miles Dyson! She’s gonna blow him away!”  I’ve heard that war can change a man, but a transformation from the only John Connor we (fans) have been able to accept to the one that Christian Bales tries to pull off is ludicrous and wrong.  I would have suggested he lean towards his work as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho; someone complex and explosive rather than drab and angry.

Despite the numerous connections to Terminator 2: Judgement Day, nostalgia could not become Terminator Salvation‘s “salvation.”  The Guns N’ Roses song, “You Could Be Mine,” John resorting to his ATM-hacking skills, and a much anticipated cameo by the T-101 (Ah-nuld!) are but three examples of where this movie succeeds.  In this respect, the movie re-connects with true-blooded fans… but the rest plays out like your typical video game.

Terminator Salvation was the first of the four Terminator films to be given a rating of PG-13.  Obviously this was to increase the viewing demographic.  But we realists know that any post-apocalyptic future, without a doubt, would be darker, and much more savage (see Mad Max, The Roadwarrior).  When will we stop sacrificing creativity and vision for a box office draw?  And an equally justifiable question, “Why would you re-hire writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris, writers of the epic failure Terminator 3: Rise of The Machine? The absurdity of this baffles the mind.  But then again, George W. Bush can get re-elected, and the “Flock of Seagulls” hairstyle can come back in fashion (see, Twilight).

Terminator Salvation, as much a let-down as it was, did have some positive aspects.  Both actors Anton Yelchin (Kyle Reese) and Sam Worthington (Marcus Wright) did a fine job and as any action fan would be, I am always eager to see Michael Ironside (Scanners, Total Recall) in what is always an intensely fearsome performance.

The biggest plus, and the reason why the movie received 5 claws and not 4 is due to the thrill that comes with good special effects.  Whether we think another director could have filled Cameron’s shoes better or not, McG does provide some amazing visuals.  Yes, I’m giving this over-hyped “phenom” a cookie in this respect… deal with it!  Heck, on a second viewing, I might call him the “cookie monster”… but undeniably the fault is not with the direction but with the writing.  This story (or lack of story) only leaves me believing that the human resistance is futile, and the humans should go underground and party like it’s 1999.

But perhaps we should keep our chins up?  James Cameron’s success with Avatar brings him back to a major, dollar-earning standings and is slated to have a hand in Terminator 5 (2011).  As Wes Craven did with his beloved Nightmare on Elm Street series, let’s hope Cameron can bring the Terminator fans what they are hoping for, a film of “true metal.”

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*Just a note:  I know I can’t be the first person to point this out – but John Connor, the “savior” or the world has the same initials as both Jesus Christ and writer (of Terminator 1 &2) James Cameron.  Interesting, eh?


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