Tag Archives: James Cameron

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019, Tim Miller)

Terminator: Dark Fate is the fourth irrelevant Terminator 2 sequel. It’s not the worst of them, it’s not the best of them. But the poor rights owners just can’t seem to figure out how to franchise and Arnold Schwarzenegger just can’t say no. If there’s a Terminator 7 in a couple years… Arnold will be in it if they ask him. It’s not so much he’s shameless, though he’s obviously shameless, it’s about perspective. From Arnold’s perspective, Dark Fate might work. He’s funny in it. Not sure if he’s good. Not sure if Dark Fate would know what to do with actual acting, though there are hints at it occasionally. Well, in the first act. Other than Gabriel Luna doing a really good evil Terminator, none of the performances are really impressive in anyway. Many could be worse.

Even Linda Hamilton’s, even if I can’t imagine how. Not as a dig, just her obvious discomfort acting in the film and the clearly zero direction from Miller—who’s just does a really bad job; full stop, Dark Fate is stupid, but if Miller’s direction were better, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as bad.

Hamilton gets all these terribly written speeches—David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, and Billy Ray do some putrid work (outside the opening in Mexico with Natalia Reyes, brother Diego Boneta, and their sick father, Enrique Arce, which is forced but at least there’s some effort involved)—and she can’t deliver them, partially because Miller can’t figure out how to compose the shot or pace the scene, much less block her. Watching Dark Fate—when it’s not over-homaging previous entries; the sequel slash relaunch slash reboot is positively bored as it rehashes something previously rehashed in three of the previous Terminator 3s. Dark Fate, technically, is rather disappointing. Miller’s bad, sure, but Ken Seng’s photography clashes on all the CG composite shots, making Dark Fate feel even more obviously over-produced. Hero Terminator (or Hero Terminator stand-in) Mackenzie Davis fights at high speed, so does Luna. Dark Fate leans in all the way with the CGI-assisted fight scenes, even though they’ve got no resonance, narrative or emotional. The script spreads out the reveals about the new doomed future—while it feels almost like they’re begging for a Matrix tie-in, it looks exactly like Edge of Tomorrow; Dark Fate’s nothing if not original. But the future stuff’s dumb and obvious. The way they get Hamilton back is stupid and sensational and then never pays off because she’s not good. Like, she’s bad. They needed to do something about the performance. It makes the movie seem desperate in additional to obvious in additional to silly. Dark Fate feels more thrown together than rushed.

What else… oh, Arnold. He’s fun. He’s funny. For about fifteen seconds as they homage Hamilton not being about to play well with others in Terminator 2, you can appreciate how well Arnold works with other actors, contrasting his megastar days. He’s comfortable sitting and playing out a scene with emotion. It’s a nice thing to see. Even if it took decades and the movie isn’t any good.

One funny thing about Dark Fate is how bad it tries to feign woke and gin up some controversy. There’s a whole thing about the Border Patrol, getting snuck in from Mexico, how “Thank You For Your Service” is a dangerous platitude, not to mention the movie having a nice working class Mexican family as protagonists and the first act mostly in Spanish with subtitles. Dark Fate, in all the wrong ways, tries to… I don’t know, strut. It tries to distinguish itself. Actually, thinking about the screenwriters… did they bring in Billy Ray to politicize it a little lefty. Though nothing about Dark Fate suggests anyone involved with the film at any stage of production actually focus tested the film. Dark Fate is very sure of itself, it’s very committed to itself, to its twists and its turns and its terrible third act.

It’s a bummer. Definite bummer. Definite, desperate bummer.

Worse served are Davis and Reyes, who could’ve had—if not a franchise—a good buddy flick. Then maybe Luna, who’s actually good but it makes absolutely no different. Then Arnold, who showed up ready to work and no one put him to work. And, finally, Hamilton, who didn’t need her career-defining role, no question about it, tarnished in such a blah effort.

Poorly plotted script and so on. It’s clearly an ill-advised production, but it could’ve been a far more entertaining and competent one with a different script but mostly a different director. Miller hasn’t got a single good instinct. The way he fades the expository talking head scenes is bewildering. He doesn’t want the movie to show the actors acting. Though

I mean, after all, there’s no Dark Fate but what we make for ourselves.

And the Junkie XL score is godawful.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Miller; screenplay by David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, and Billy Ray, based on a story by James Cameron, Charles H. Eglee, Josh Friedman, Goyer, and Rhodes and characters created by Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd; director of photography, Ken Seng; edited by Julian Clarke; music by Junkie XL; production designer, Sonja Klaus; costume designer, Ngila Dickson; produced by Cameron and David Ellison; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Mackenzie Davis (Grace), Natalia Reyes (Dani), Linda Hamilton (Sarah), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Carl), Gabriel Luna (Gabriel), Diego Boneta (Diego), and Enrique Arce (Vicente).


Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991, James Cameron)

Director James Cameron opens Terminator 2: Judgment Day with a couple things the audience has to think about when watching the film and isn’t going to see or hear again for a while, so they need to have it in mind to recall it later. Because Terminator 2 is an amazing kind of sequel to the original–it’s calculated but to get its characters (and the audience) to certain places. Only there’s only one character from the first movie in it–Linda Hamilton–but there’s two actors back.

Anyway, the opening is a future apocalypse prologue with Hamilton narrating. Her narration is important later on, but only after a number of things happen, both in the plotting and the character development. You have to think back on it opening the film, which has a lot of emphasis on the Terminator robots, sans Arnold suits. Cameron invites comparisons to the original, he requests them of the audience. It’s bold and seemingly pointless; the first half of the movie has almost nothing to do with Hamilton. It’s Edward Furlong’s movie. Cameron has an excellent tone–he’s got this pre-teen lead who needs to do teen things but also be reduced to damsel in distress because he’s a kid after all. Terminator 2 always wants to emphasize the danger. Cameron’s never specific about how it’s directed at Furlong, but it really is just a movie about this crazy metal killing machine who looks like a cop trying to kill a little kid. Robert Patrick is fantastic as the bad Terminator.

But everyone’s generally fantastic. Furlong has some problems, but improves once the character gets going. Cameron and co-writer William Wisher give Furlong expository dialogue he can’t handle for the first half hour or so, but once Hamilton shows up, he gets much better. He doesn’t even need to be better, because all throughout those weaker Furlong scenes, Cameron is still doing amazing things. Terminator 2 is a celebration. It’s a celebration out of there getting to be a Terminator sequel; Cameron and Schwarzenegger get to have a great time, but they still take it seriously enough to turn in a fantastic film. They go out of their way to show off Schwarzenegger’s ability to handle the more difficult scenes after Hamilton arrives.

When Schwarzenegger and Hamilton meet in Terminator 2, the Terminator’s sunglasses come off and it’s a new movie all of a sudden. Even though Hamilton’s got narration–never too much, always frugal–and she’s in almost every scene (except Patrick’s scenes), she’s still something of a wild card character. She’s not just the mom. She’s got to have her moment. Terminator 2’s ground situation takes away Hamilton’s agency. When he brings it back, he demands the audience think about their expectations of what that agency really looks like versus what the audience wants of it in a Terminator movie.

And then he never does anything with it. He gets the story moving, bringing in Joe Morton (and an awesome S. Epatha Merkerson in a small part). Morton ends up on Team Arnold too. There’s a lot for Terminator 2 to do and Cameron is brisk about it. You need to pay attention. If you don’t, you probably still get a great action movie, but if you do, you get all this weird, wonderful stuff. Schwarzenegger and Furlong are cute together, of course, but there’s this great stuff between Schwarzenegger and Hamilton, Hamilton and Morton, Patrick and the audience. Cameron gives Patrick (and Schwarzenegger) these wonderful observation scenes. They can’t be characters because they’re robots, right? But what if they could be.

Technically, the film’s singular. Adam Greenberg’s photography is never flashy, always pragmatic; there’s a blue tint to Terminator 2, which ought to create narrative distance but instead it just makes the performances connect more. There’s no safe space, character development is going to happen in the strangest scenes. Greenberg’s also got some amazing composite shots during the action sequences; masterful work.

There’s great editing from Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt and Richard A. Harris. Three different editors–I wonder if they handled the different phases of the film–but it’s never incongruous, always a graceful cuts. The editors help a lot with creating Schwarzenegger’s presence in the film.

Awesome Brad Fiedel score, awesome special effects. Terminator 2 is an assured, exciting, joyous success. Cameron is his most ambitious in the safest moments in the film. He pushes the action, he pushes the special effects, he pushes the performances. It’s a stunning film.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by James Cameron; written by Cameron and William Wisher Jr.; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Conrad Buff IV, Mark Goldblatt and Richard A. Harris; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, Joseph C. Nemec III; released by Carolco Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (T-800), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor), Edward Furlong (John Connor), Robert Patrick (T-1000), Joe Morton (Miles Dyson), S. Epatha Merkerson (Tarissa Dyson), Castulo Guerra (Enrique) and Earl Boen (Dr. Silberman).


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Terminator Genisys (2015, Alan Taylor)

Terminator Genisys is an inept attempt at turning the Terminator franchise into a young adult series à la The Hunger Games or Divergent or Twilight or Harry Potter. Only there’s no “literary” source material for Genisys, not even the original Terminator films. Because screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier absolutely refuse to give Emilia Clarke a character. More than anyone else in the film, including Jai Courtney–who’s terrible, but is also ludicrously miscast–or old man Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emilia Clarke doesn’t get a character. Maybe because if the film does acknowledge the importance of Emilia Clarke’s Sarah Connor, all the other malarky would become even more obvious. It still tries to get away with being a spectacle action movie occasionally.

The first forty or so minutes of the film, which still manages to feel longer at two hours, are a witless reimagining of the first Terminator movie with Terminator 2 technology thrown in. If it weren’t for the terrible acting (Emilia Clarke’s only more likable than Courtney because she gets fewer lines and the script mistreats her something awful), and if director Taylor actually had any regard for the James Cameron’s Terminator films for their filmmaking and not just iconography, this first forty minutes should have been awesome. It wouldn’t have been any good in the long run, since it’s just a preamble to the rest of the film, but it would have been awesome to see.

Well, not with Kramer Morgenthau’s photography or Lorne Balfe’s music. Some of the technical decisions on Genisys suggest a deep hatred for the Terminator franchise, which seems strange because the film has almost no personality otherwise. The entire plot hinges on a failure to understand the importance of not recasting and trying to jump on the cloud computing zeitgeist.

Skynet. There’s an app for that.

I do want to talk about the acting, since almost everyone is aping someone else’s performance. Even J.K. Simmons is sort of aping Earl Boen, just as a different character.

Schwarzenegger’s lousy, but you feel sorry enough for him you almost want to see what he’s going to do. Taylor doesn’t understand what he’s doing, so he doesn’t play up that aspect of it. Schwarzenegger’s the loose third wheel who should be the strongest. But Taylor is terrible at directing fight scenes too.

Jason Clarke is really bad doing an impression of Christian Bale. None of the other characters, not even Schwarzenegger, are written like their previous film versions. Except Jason Clarke’s character, who Bale played in Salvation.

(It’s hilarious how many hands have fumbled the franchise since Cameron stopped doing it).

But Emilia Clarke and Courtney aren’t doing Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn impersonations, which they really should, because neither has anything going for them. Courtney’s always getting these soulful moments and his blank expression–combined with Balfe’s lame score–just drags Genisys down further.

In the end, Terminator Genisys is a movie made by people who don’t care about the Terminator franchise. They aren’t fans. They don’t even pretend to be fans. And, you know what, it would have been fine if they at least cared enough about Genisys to try. It doesn’t even try.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Alan Taylor; screenplay by Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier, based on characters created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd; director of photography, Kramer Morgenthau; edited by Roger Barton; music by Lorne Balfe; production designer, Neil Spisak; produced by David Ellison and Dana Goldberg; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator), Jai Courtney (Kyle Reese), Emilia Clarke (Sarah Connor), Jason Clarke (John Connor), J.K. Simmons (O’Brien), Dayo Okeniyi (Danny Dyson), Courtney B. Vance (Miles Dyson), Matt Smith (Alex), Michael Gladis (Lt. Matias), Sandrine Holt (Detective Cheung) and Byung-hun Lee (T-1000).


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T2 3-D: Battle Across Time (1996, John Bruno, James Cameron and Stan Winston)

Given his rather infamous history of personal problems, one’s got to wonder what having to humiliate himself by acting like a twelve year-old-when nineteen-did for Edward Furlong in T2 3-D: Battle Across Time. Especially since the short accompanied a theme park attraction, undoubtedly seen by more people than saw most of Furlong’s films at the time.

Furlong does not pull it off. He and Arnold Schwarzenegger reunite to do a greatest hits reel of Terminator 2, complete with familiar lines and action beats, motorcycling around a future wasteland.

Schwarzenegger hands himself admirably; he even has a few good one liners, which is shocking since the writing is so bad. Except on the introductory evil corporation commercial. It’s hilarious.

James Cameron loved this project, turning his most successful franchise at the time into buffoonery.

Seeing it “live” might help 3-D but I kind of doubt it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by John Bruno, James Cameron and Stan Winston; screenplay by Adam J. Bezark, Cameron and Gary Goddard, based on characters created by Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd; directors of photography, Peter Anderson and Russell Carpenter; edited by Allen Cappuccilli, David de Vos and Shannon Leigh Olds; music by Brad Fiedel; production designer, John Muto; produced by Chuck Comisky and Gary Goddard.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Terminator), Edward Furlong (John Connor), Linda Hamilton (Sarah Connor) and Robert Patrick (T-1000).


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