Wednesday, October 7, 2009
By: Judson Rusk
I don’t know how, but I somehow completely overlooked this film until about two weeks ago. I had no idea that this movie even existed until I saw a trailer for it in front of 9. I felt so stupid for having not heard of this movie because it looked so awesome! The next movie I went to see was Gamer (review coming soon), and the best part of the movie going experience was that I got a free Zombieland poster when I walked into the theater. It is up on my wall now next to the Blood Harvest poster from Left 4 Dead (I kind of have a zombie thing going in my hallway). So after a very brief but very intense period of waiting to see this film, I finally got to last night. I can tell you that Zombieland was exactly what it looked like it would be.
The plot is weak at best. It’s not deep, there really isn’t any development of a story, and absolutely nothing unexpected happens in this movie. It was very predictable. Only briefly did they ever talk about how the zombies came to be and that brief statement was never elaborated on. There is no ultimate goal in this film. It is more a documentation of three days in the life of a gang of survivors which, granted, ends on an up note, but still doesn’t give the feeling of closure to the zombie problem. So it’s pretty obvious that I have a large list of things that I think, in comparison to some other films, sucked about this movie. But did I hate it?
Hell no! This movie was so incredibly awesome. I honestly don’t remember the last time I went to the theater to see a comedy that made me legitimately laugh that hard. My stomach hurt by the end of this movie. And it was because I was laughing, un-like Wolverine where I hurt out of disgust and embarrassment. This movie was fun, and enjoyable by everyone.
A lot of my friends, mostly Calvin, get angry at me for not being able to “look past the flaws in a movie and just enjoy it for what it is.” They claim that is why I didn’t like G.I. Joe. I of course disagree with that, claiming that I can and frequently do “look past” these things and enjoy sub-par film, and this is proof of that. I’ve already listed all the things about Zombieland that could point out why this movie should have blown hard, but it didn’t affect my liking of the movie. Zombieland isn’t trying to be a smart, deep, thinking man’s movie. It is meant as a playful, funny satire on the horror genre, and it accomplishes that hands down. Not only do they not develop the characters in this movie, but they make a point of it. They show you over and over that they are purposing not giving you any back story to anyone because it keeps the atmosphere and feel of the movie more light and playful. This movie wouldn’t be nearly as good if they had made you give a damn about the character’s families and such. We only want this person, in this situation, killing zombies, right now. And that is what Zombieland delivers. Did I care that I had no idea where the zombies came from? No, not really. They were there, they were bloody, and people liked to shoot them. Who gives a damn how an infected hamburger had a hand in creating them? Does the end of the movie give an up-lifting feel that the zombie problem is going to be fixed somehow? Nope. And I couldn’t care any less about that because at least I got to see some mega bad-ass zombie killing sequences set in an abandoned theme park.
This movie is hands down one of the best feel good movies I have ever seen in m entire life. Now, I completely understand that my definition of “feel good” differs from what most people think. Up until now, the most feel good sequence in any movie that I had ever seen was in the movie 8 Legged Freaks. Nothing makes me happier than to see all those punk ass, douche bag kids on dirt bikes get picked off one by one by giant, mutant, jumping spiders all set to loud rock music. Every time I see that I just feel good about myself. I want to get up, pump my fist at the screen and just yell as loud as I can. But Zombieland, it’s not just one sequence. The entire movie makes me feel like that. The opening credit sequence is multiple shots of zombies in various states of either killing or being killed in different comedic situations. They are all in slow motion and the entire thing is set to Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” Oh man, that was awesome. The movie had only been on for a matter of minutes and I already had enough adrenaline pumping through me that I just wanted to stand up, punch the guy next to me, slap his girlfriend’s ass, and then start a mosh pit. Instead, I opted for just watching the rest of the movie quietly from my seat.
The art direction is very campy, but it fits so well with the movie that it actually does add to the whole effect. The main character, Columbus, has a list of rules to survive Zombieland. These include, among many others: Cardio, Beware of Bathrooms, Double Tap, Wear your Seatbelt, and Don’t be a Hero. And every time one of these rules comes into play during the movie, giant text appears on screen telling you which rule was just used. Most of the time, campy crap like that really pisses me off. But in Zombieland, it just seemed to work.
This movie is completely full of pop culture references both fairly recognizable and some that are pretty bizarre. Among my favorites are the Aqua Teen Hunger Force posters in the background of various scenes and the constant references to completely un-related movies. Zombieland also has one of the most blatant yet best uses of a cameo appearance since the live action Rocky and Bullwinkle movie. Bill Murray shows up in the middle of this movie to play a zombie but not zombie version of himself. Of course, even though he isn’t a zombie, our hero Columbus guns him down in his own home because, well..., because it was funny. It’s as simple as that.
I had to save the best for last. Thank god for the return of Woody Harrelson! His character in this movie is awesome, almost iconic. Like, a more humorous, zombie killing version of himself in Natural Born Killers. His quest to kill as many zombies as possible while destroying anything he wants all backed by an unquenchable hunger for a twinkie, is hilarious to say the least. The first time you see Harrelson in this movie he pulls a gun on our main character, then soon after offers him a ride, then calls him a bitch. It just makes you know that you are going to like everything that he does. And I did. Thoroughly.
I would highly recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys having fun. If you are anything like me though, you should keep an eye out in the theater and sit next to the scrawniest guy with the hottest girlfriend, because you are definitely going to feel the urge to kick some ass while watching this movie. This might be my favorite movie that I have seen so far this entire year.
Friday, September 25, 2009
By: Judson Rusk
The Tim Burton produced 9 was on my list of “must see” films for the summer. Of course, my local theater didn’t get 9 (not to be confused with Nine, a musical coming out this winter with Daniel Day-Lewis and Fergie), but instead we got Inglourious Basterds. And we all know how I feel about that. So after I moved down to Washington for college, going to see 9 was near the top of my priorities list. We I got to see it last week, and I was kind of underwhelmed.
Under no circumstances would I say that 9 is a bad movie. And maybe “underwhelmed” is also the wrong word. It was just a drastically far different movie that I was expecting, and not for the better I think. Now, with that in mind, I’ve been putting off writing this review for a while now for the soul reason that I couldn’t figure out how to describe what it was that I was expecting. I’ve got something for you now, but I’m still not completely satisfied with it, but I’ve got nothing better. If that changes, I’ll let you know. So here it goes…
I think I was expecting 9 to be more of a dark version of Toy Story. Needless to say, it wasn’t. I was expecting a movie with a lot of character development, a defined villain, and a clear beginning, middle, and end. 9 let me down on all of these things. But here’s my problem, none of them let me down ENOUGH to make me really dislike the film. I have nothing huge to rant about. I have no funny little tid bits of the movie to poke at. I have no extreme dislike for any of the characters, I’m just….meh.
9 begins with sack boy #9 waking up next do a dead scientist, and deciding to go out for a morning stroll. He meets another sack boy, 2, and after a brief conversation, a giant monster appears, knocks 9 on his ass and carries 2 away to some unknown location. From this point on we meet the other sack people, including 1, the chief of the survivalist colony, and 8, his personal body guard. When 9 arrives at the colony (they never call it that in the movie, that’s just what I’ve dubbed it in my head) the movie takes a turn towards a very common cliché. The daring young hero goes against the corrupt leader to venture into the belly of the beast to attempt a daring rescue. It felt like the start of the climactic end of the film, except we were only about 10 minutes into it. And I guess that could be my biggest complaint about the whole thing. From this point on, the entire film made me feel as if I was watching the end sequence; an end sequence that went on for the entire film (literally this time, not metaphorically like The Return of the King).
In most films, by the time you reach this particular end sequence, you have already come to know all the characters and have become fairly familiar with the central conflict in the film, but we hadn’t. With Pixar really dominating the animated feature film world at the moment, I believe that I might be a little bit spoiled. Pixar has animated features down to a science to the point where in WALL-E, the main character doesn’t even talk, and yet we still come to feel like we know him very well. That’s because Pixar is incredible at character development. Most all their films follow a 3 act system. In act one they introduce and build all the characters with a brief introduction to the main conflict. Act two puts that conflict into effect. And finally act three is the resolution. They use this formula over and over again because it works. But 9 didn’t have this. It was a very brief act one and a very long act three. Consistently through this whole movie I had the same feeling that I get when I walk into the middle of a movie that I’ve never seen before half way through, and just watch how it plays out with no real idea of who the characters were or why they were doing what they were doing.
This, in turn, created another problem for me. I have no sympathy for when a character died because, I simply didn’t know them. So how could I care? It wouldn’t be too much of a problem if only one or maybe two characters died, but this movie kills off main characters faster than George R. R. Martin. The one I cared the most about was when 5 died, and even then all that went through my mind was “Oh no. 5 died. That sucks,…kind of. I guess. Meh.” And at one point in the film we see the dramatic return of 7. Woo hoo, right? Well, it would have been if we had ever seen her before. The film obviously wants you to feel like “Oh thank god, 7 is back.” Except, it was more like “Who the hell is that? Was she missing?” If you didn’t catch on by now, the point I’m trying to make here is that this movie had really terrible character development. It was hands down the weakest point of the entire film (aside from not actually putting in that Coheed and Cambria song from the trailer).
The end of this movie, where only 7 and 9 (not to be confused with 7of9 from Star Trek) are left standing really bothered me for a reason that I think only Mitch will be able to fully appreciate. And I apologize to anyone else in advance for the reference that I’m about to throw out here. After the mechanical nightmare has been taken care of once and for all, all of the fallen characters from throughout the film come back and ascend into the sky in a green and somewhat transparent flurry. It reminded me heavily of that X-Files episode where Mulder figures out that his sister was turned into starlight by the “walk ins.” This instantly made me dislike the scene because of my deep seeded hatred for that particular episode of X-Files. I know that was kind of a off topic side note, but I feel that it had to be said.
So anyway, again, 9 was not a bad film. But I was disappointed with it just because I never felt like I was truly engaged or ever actually fully understood what was going on. For those of you who wanted to see it but still haven’t gotten the chance, I would still recommend going to see it. I can fully accept that this is definitely one film that deserves you to make your own opinion. And after you made said opinion, make sure to send it my way. I’d like to know what you think.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
By: Judson Rusk
I am a Tarantino fan to the bloody bitter end. I defended the Grindhouse until I was blue in the face and it will be a disgusting shame if Reservoir Dogs doesn’t go down as one of the greatest films of it’s generation. I was even a fan of Kill Bill (yes, I’m that devoted). Inglourious Basterds was Tarantino’s triumphant return to the big screen since Kill Bill (not counting Death Proof of course, which most people try to forget), but I couldn’t really say that I was super excited.
1994’s Pulp Fiction is often considered to be Tarantino’s masterpiece. He perfected his unique directing style of making films that are 98% talk with 2% of “hyper-violence.” But the talk is gripping and the story is engrossing and very enjoyable, if you ask me. But the reason that I wasn’t excited for this movie as much as I would have been back in high school was because of his last attempt, Death Proof. Although I like the movie, it definitely started to show that Tarantino’s perfect balance of talk and violence was starting to shift to an uncomfortable new location. Too much of boring talk, not enough action to keep the audience waiting for more. And Inglouious Basterds took that slight shift, and made it a dramatic, in-your-face, exposé of boredom and over-anticipation.
I disliked this movie and don’t think it deserves a quarter of the praise and box office that it is getting. Some may argue the “Stephen Colbert” train of thought and say that it obviously can’t be that bad because the marketplace is saying otherwise. It is true that Basterds is looking more and more like it’s going to take over Pulp Fiction as Tarantino’s highest grossing movie. But I think that the view that the general public has on Tarantino at this point is “it’s much better than the last couple films he’s made.” And that justifies it in people’s minds to think that this movie is incredible. But really it is that opinion right there that is the real problem. If we keep thinking like that, we will lose sight of what a Tarantino movie can be, and should be. I dare you to watch Reservoir Dogs and Basterds back to back and still be able to look someone in the eye and tell them that those two films are on the same level. I dare you.
My co-worker said it best. This movie was not made to be a single movie and drove a good story. But rather it was a vehicle for a specific purpose. The problem was that they couldn’t figure out what the purpose was. It was a vehicle to plaster Eli Roth’s name and face around and try to give him a “bad-ass” aura because apparently after Tarantino put his name in front of Hostel, Roth has to return the favor by killing Hitler and making a spectacle about it…for cinematic sake, of course. This movie was also just a vehicle for Diane Kruger to do a roll in German. Oh yeah! By the way…I don’t mind movies in subtitles. Not at all. As long as that movie has a good reason to be in subtitles. Das Boot is one of the single greatest films ever made, but the English dubbed version blows hard. You have to watch it in subtitles to even appreciate it. But this movie…dear god. The subtitles were SO unnecessary. We know that it takes place in Germany/France. If the whole movie was in English with no subtitles, we could safely assume that it was probably REALLY happening in French or German. And don’t even dare tell me that it wouldn’t work because I’ve seen Valkyrie. So screw you if you say otherwise. This movie BLATENTLY swings from German to French to English just because they can.
“We’ve been speaking in French this whole time, but would you like to change to German?”
“Sure! But why?”
“Because we can!”
“Great! Please notice how good of an actor I am! I can speak not one, but TWO languages!”
“Two?! Really?! How about English now?”
“Great idea boy wonder!”
“Now listen to me speak English with this wonderful accent because…….” Screw it. I’m done writing this.
But aside from that, it was a vehicle to fulfill Brad Pitt’s urge to work with every director on Earth. That apparently took precedence over keeping the characters believable in context. They wrote Pitt’s character to fit Pitt, which created the problem that the character himself stuck out like Obama at a clan rally. This is the exact same thing that can be said for Roth’s character, “The Bear Jew.” Which, by the way, that nickname is never explained nor does it make any sort of sense whatsoever.
The Bear Jew deserves his own paragraph. What a retarded character. I know that most of my friends who have seen this movie rave about how awesome he was. That is not correct. He wasn’t a deep character. He wasn’t even an interesting character. It was a build up that took about 7 times longer than the actual scene it was building up to, which was a letdown of an abusive and personally destructive manner. It was very much the same feeling that you would receive if you were pretty sure that you were going to get a new iPhone for your birthday. And when you open up the iPhone size box, it’s actually just empty, and then some guy in a gorilla mask and clown costume comes out of the closet and kicks you in the balls as hard as any hybrid clown-gorilla man can. And then your girlfriend leaves you for said clown-gorilla man. Actually, on second thought, that sounds pretty awesome. If that is what had happened instead of what I actually had to watch, I would be writing a very different review right now. Because what did happen was Eli Roth took his SWEET ASS TIME coming out of apparently the longest tunnel in France in order to say two lines to finally lead us to about 6 seconds of him hitting a Nazi with a bat. Aaaaaaaaannnnd……scene! Well that was sweet. Is there gum stuck to my shoe? Did I leave my keys in my car? I wonder if there is any ice cream at home. Is that dude down there wearing a gorilla mask? Oh shit! I forgot I’m watching a movie…
This movie would have been insanely better if it was about 40 minutes shorter. And for all the hype, the “Basterds” really weren’t the focus of the movie. In fact, they were secondary at best. Now, I do have to say that this wasn’t the worse film I’ve seen all summer. Not even close. That honor would have to fall to either Transformers 2 or G.I. Joe (with the exception of S. Darko which is the worst film ever made). In the end, I was mostly just bored rather than disappointed or angry so there isn’t too much of a rant built up inside of me. It did have some redeeming qualities and some good twists. The ending would have been brilliant if it hadn’t been for the “Basterds,” and the character of the Jew Hunter was actually pretty cool. The opening scene of this film is gripping, fairly emotional, and very very well done. Unfortunately is pretty much downhill from there.
In conclusion, this movie wasn’t a travesty of a film like G.I. Joe and it wasn’t as bad of a letdown as Terminator, but it still wasn’t good. It was a mediocre movie that was made for wrong reasons. I hope Tarantino will come back someday with something as awesome and Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction, even Jackie Brown for the matter. But for right now, I will just kindly try to forget that I’ve actually seen this movie.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
By: Judson Rusk
Dear Michael Bay,
I am writing to you as a fan of not only movies but as a childhood fan of Transformers, therefore I have some things to say to you. First off, you are a pathetic excuse for a director and if there is any true justice in this world, you would never be able to make another film as long as you live. Secondly, there is a very basic principle of film making that draws a line between making a film that you want to see and making a film that the audience wants to see. It is obvious that you have not learned said principle. Third I would like to clarify something for you. When you type the word “plot” into dictionary.com the first result reads “a secret plan or scheme to accomplish some purpose, esp. a hostile, unlawful, or evil purpose.” The second result reads “Also called storyline, the plan, scheme, or main story of a literary or dramatic work, as a play, novel, or short story.” You, Mr. Bay, should be working towards #2. I need to clarify this to you because it has been obvious for years that you have these two mixed up, but with Transformers 2, it was just too blatant to overlook. To me, that seems to be the only justifiable reason that you would willingly make and distribute this movie. You MUST have thought that it was a good idea to put millions of people through such pain and misery simply because you had your definition of “plot” mixed up. So I have to give you some congratulations because you definitely accomplished a “hostile, unlawful, or evil” film. And lastly, I must ask you a favor. I simply ask that BEFORE you make a Transformers 3, please please PLEASE actually watch the original cartoon. Please. It would help out your film immensely. So with that, I bid you adieu.
I hope you choke,
Now that I have that out of the way, I can proceed with my review. As you probably have figured out, I went to watch Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen last night. It’s no big secret that I hate everything that Michael Bay has ever put his name on and it is even less of a secret that I hated the first Transformers movie. I was expecting more of the same from its sequel and I had a very firm feeling that I was going to hate this movie just as much as I hated the first one. I was wrong. My original rating of Transformers would have been a 2/10 but after watching Revenge of the Fallen, I will have to change my rating of the first movie to 6/10. Yes, Transformers 2 was so bad that it actually has made me like Transformers 40% more than I did before yesterday. I know, I didn’t think it was possible either.
There are so many things that are wrong or just terrible about this film that I find it hard to believe that anyone involved can even take themselves seriously. If I had worked on this film, I would honestly be ashamed to show my face in public. Oh man, where to start?
In this film we find out the Optimus Prim is the last descendent of the Prime family. The rest of the Primes had sacrificed themselves in order to build a tomb out of their own carcasses in order to hide “the matrix.” The never explained why they had to kill themselves, but they did. But alas, many millennia ago, one of the Prime brothers had fallen from grace (yes, pun intended) and was forever known as The Fallen. He had been taking refuge on Earth since before recorded history. He is looking for the matrix key in order to turn on a machine that is concealed inside the pyramids that will harvest the sun and only a Prime can defeat him. But Optimus bites the dust early in the film after getting a giant Decepticon spear shoved through his fabulously painted chest. Sam Whitwiki follows his mind map to the tomb of the Primes and retrieves the matrix and uses it’s power to bring Optimus back to life. He then transforms into something that looks like the Super Shredder. But instead of Shredder, its Optimus Prime, and then he totally whoops ass.
That sounds awesome, but it gets less cool when you figure out that the Fallen has about 10 minutes of screen time out of a 2 ½ hour long movie. He appears in random places (like on the underside of a sinking aircraft carrier) at random times for no reason to give witty one liners and then has a very anti-climatic battle at the end. This movie suffers very badly from what I call “X3 syndrome” where they throw in way too many characters and then don’t get around to them later. Especially fans of the Decepticon Soundwave were pissed after seeing that he had super little screen time, a very small and insignificant part, and never transformed. Instead of being a CD player, he was a giant satellite that just hung out in space and acted like a giant cell phone. Woo freaking hoo.
After Transformers came out back in 2007, there was a lot of buzz over whether or not it was offensive or racist to have Jazz be such a stereo-type black guy. He has wonderful lines of dialogue like “What’s crackin’ little bitches,” as well as break dances and is the only Autobot to die in the film. But since it wasn’t solidified, all the controversy slowly died out; but not this time. The twins in this movie are possibly the most offensive characters toward a specific race of people in a film since Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino. By having the demeanor and personality of Flava Flave, spouting out lines like “I’m gonna bust a cap in yo ass,” having huge ears, eyes, and lips, sporting giant buck teeth, one of which is gold, the twins are officially offensive to almost all five senses. Yes, I literally had a bad taste in my mouth every time they were on the screen. It was not only offensive, but completely degraded every single scene that they were in, which was a lot. There wasn’t a single scene that featured either of the twins that was suitable for viewing. It was disgusting.
In the first Transformers, one of the biggest complaints that I had against the movie was that it had too much over the top, slapstick, goofy humor. It didn’t seem to fit or flow nicely at all. Revenge of the Fallen has taken that to the next level. It had significantly more “humor” then the first one and even went so far as to put in an entire character just to drive home the fact that it wasn’t subtle what so ever. The character is a Decepticon turned Autobot that is old and complains about how he is rusting and falling apart. He tells frequent stories that start out “Back in my day…” and he has a beard. No joke; a metal, dangly, beard and a cane. I can’t even begin to describe how out of place and unnecessary that is. I mean,…come on. A beard?! But there was one part that made me laugh really hard. After Prime kicks the bucket, they fly his body via helicopter back to the Marine base. Instead of lowering him down gently onto the ground, the stop about 50 feet up, and just drop him. Awesome.
There is a difference between writing a movie based on a childish concept, and writing a childish movie. This was a proud example of the latter. The overwhelming amount of infantile and childish jokes was appalling and insulting. Screw anyone who was involved for ever thinking that my time and money wasn’t important enough to make a movie WITHOUT having to stare up at Devastator’s “testicles.” Or not having to watch the little leg humping robot fart out a cloud of fire while running away. Or not having to watch multiple shots of small dogs having sex. Screw you.
Of everything that I hate about Michael Bay, the one thing that I can say is that he really knows how to blow stuff up. There isn’t ever a frame in any of his movies (besides Pearl Harbor, of course) that is necessarily “boring” because there is always some sort of action going on. Whether or not that action is justified is a different story, but it is always there. But in this film, he broke from that pattern and there was a good hour in the middle of this film where nothing happened. No explosions, no gun fights, and no car chases. I was legitimately bored. He tried to fill the gap with something else that he’d never tried before, character development, but failed miserably. I haven’t checked my watch so many times during a movie since Benjamin Button.
Enter Devastator, possibly the most badass of all the robots in the Transformers universe. Made from multiple parts of construction equipment that come together to make a robot that is kind of like the Mega Zord. His entire existence is to destroy things. Yet in this movie, he makes a small appearance at the end with no explanation as to why there are so many construction trucks that are also Decepticons just sitting in Egypt and then they takes his sweet ass time taking down some stones off the top of the pyramid. What an incredible let down. But we got to see his balls, does that make up for it?
Its as if Michael Bay took a poll of every single Special Education classroom in America and asked them what they would like to see in a movie, and then he made that movie. It was a hollow shell of a film and an absolute caricature of the first one. It was dull, stupid, and painful to watch. I would go as far as to say that Michael Bay is the first man since Hitler to put that many millions of people through that much pain and misery. I wish more than anything that I hadn’t watched that movie. Please don’t make my same mistake.
Friday, May 22, 2009
By: Judson Rusk
Terminator is one of my absolute favorite series. I would watch T2 when I got home from elementary school almost every day, and march around in front of the screen with a toy rifle acting out all the action sequences. I had the first movie almost completely memorized by the time I was ten, and I was in the theater on opening night to see T3. And just to pump me up, I re-watched the series before I went to see Salvation last night. So, needless to say, this was by far my most anticipated movie of the summer. I was giddy in the weeks leading up to last night.
What I was most excited for was the idea of seeing the actual Terminator machines how they should be: human-like. Let me explain. Due to technological restrictions in the previous movies, the actual robots themselves have never been very scary. In Terminator 1 for example, when the robot is still covered in flesh, he can do anything a human can do. He’s very maneuverable and fast. So, logic would suggest that the skeletal robot without the flesh would be able to do the same sort of actions. But alas, at the end of the movie when Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese are fighting just the robot, they are no longer fighting the greatest killing machine ever created, but rather a clunky, slow moving, clay-mation menace that looks like it could be taken down by accident. But thanks to advances in CGI, Salvation gave us the chance to see just how scary a human hunting/killing robot could actually be. How could this movie possibly let me down?
Turns out, it can do it in a number of ways. After writing that last sentence, I stared at my computer screen for a good fifteen minutes trying to figure out where to go next. Do I start with the casting, or the acting, or the direction, or the story, or one of the many other things in this movie that bother me? Was there a particular thing that really got under my skin more than others? Is there something so absolutely glaring that is must be addressed? No, not really. Nothing “huge,” but rather just an incredible amount of small things that stacked up together with relentless persistence that it left me with an overwhelming feeling of disappointment that is still resting firmly in my gut.
What did I expect out of Salvation? I don’t know. What did I get out of Salvation? An experience that was full of campy action clichés, poor character development, continuity errors, linear writing, and a total lack of familiarity.
Action Clichés: Torin put it best when he said, “For being such effective killers, Terminators really suck at killing people.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard any truer words in my entire life. The action sequences in this movie go through every single cliché that you can think of. We saw, among many others, the “he’s not dead yet,” cliché, the “switch clothes to promote a mistaken identity,” cliché, and the “dramatically jumping out of an explosion,” cliché. It seemed like they had just pieced together shots from other summer block busters from years past, added robots, and re-printed them. This added to the fact that apparently terminators are the worst marksmen ever and they have a pension for punching, not killing, took the action in this movie just a tad bit too much into the side of ridiculousness.
And I know it’s tough to draw a line of “ridiculousness” when I am talking about a movie that focuses on killer robots from the future, but take for example the scene where Kyle Reese and Marcus Wright are at the gas station with the old woman and her gang. In the middle of conversation, a harvester smashes through the building and takes the humans as prisoners. Except for not 5 minutes before this happens, Marcus and Kyle were walking through the open, completely flat dessert towards this gas station and there sure as hell wasn’t any 30 story tall, human harvesting robot anywhere on the horizon. And at another point in the film, John Connor captures a motorcycle terminator, pulls some wires, and then rides it like a motor cycle. This begs the question, why would Skynet even make a terminator that is able to be ridden by humans?! Doesn’t that seem like it has potential to come back and screw them? Its things like these that prove that logic wasn’t put into the action in this movie, but rather they did it just so they could make a cool sequence out of it.
Poor Character Development: Marcus Wright, Kyle Reese, and John Connor were the three best developed characters in the entire movie respectively. In fact, they were the only characters in the movie that were developed at all. Every other character including John Connors wife and un-born child, pretty much got the shaft. They only said his wife’s name once and literally didn’t mention a single thing about the fact that she was pregnant. Not a thing. The soldiers under Connor’s command that are played by Common and Moon Bloodgood are forgettable and insignificant. I can’t even remember their names. And John Connor himself seems to take a back seat to Marcus, assuming that we are already supposed to know all about Connor. News flash, it doesn’t matter. John Connor is the driving force behind the story and the franchise at this point and you can’t overlook him in favor for a new comer. And as an extra little tid bit, it really didn’t help that Sam Worthington acted circles around Christian Bale throughout this entire film.
Continuity Errors: Now, when dealing with time travel in general, you have the potential to seriously screw up continuity, and it is hard to keep the story compelling while paying close attention to every detail that comes with the prospect of altering time and space. So I’ll concede all the continuity problems that arise from that. But there are so much more blatantly obvious problems in this movie that could have been easily caught and corrected; the most obvious being that in multiple scenes, the pouring rain will stop and start again every time the camera angle switches. Another one that could have been easily caught is the fact that the T-800 (Schwarzenegger’s model from the first 3 movies) doesn’t look anything like it did back in the original trilogy. In Salvation, it is significantly bigger, scarier, and parts of its body (specifically the feet) are designed completely different. And my favorite continuity problem is, in Salvation the war is being fought with modern weapons; things that we have today. But in T1, 2, and 3, we get to see just glimpses of the future and everyone is using lasers and futuristic weapons. In fact, in Terminator 1, Arnold is at the gun shop and asks the clerk for a “plasma rifle with a 40 watt range.” What happened?
Linear Writing: The line “I’ll be back” is in this movie not once, not twice, but 3 times. The third time, I hung my head in shame. On top of that, the story was very predictable and the dialogue wasn’t necessarily bad, but there was nothing there that was super original or moving. It was just…there.
Lack of Familiarity: I wanted to see what we had been promised for the last 25 years. And that was a future with John Connor at the head of the human resistance against the machines. His soldiers revere him almost as a god and they band together to save themselves. Instead, we got a future where John Connor is relatively un-known and is considered a joke by the command of the resistance. I don’t know how to describe the feelings this instilled in me. I guess the best word would be “betrayal.”
This is where the MAJOR spoilers come in, just to warn you. Back when this movie was still in production, the end of the script leaked out on the internet and the fan backlash to how this movie ended was so great that they re-wrote and re-shot the end. They totally changed how it was originally supposed to go. I was discussing this with Mitch and he said that he was glad that this happened, because “that deserves to happen to any bad movie ending.” And although that is true, I wanted to say something along the lines of “but what if they make it worse?” But I kept my mouth shut because I was pretty sure that it couldn’t have gotten much worse and Mitch was probably right. Oh boy, I should have said something.
The end of this movie has got to be one of the worst endings I’ve ever seen in my life and it is about 100 times worse than the “original” ending. Here’s a quick rundown. T-800 punches through Marcus Wright’s heart, killing him instantly. John Connor brings him back to life by electrocuting his dead body…somehow. Then, T-800 runs John Connor through the heart with a giant piece of metal. Marcus kills T-800, and they both hobble out of the building to the helicopter and fly away as John Connor blows the entire building to hell. Later, in a field tent in the open air in the middle of a windy, sandy, desert, John Connor’s heart is giving out on him and he’s going to die. Marcus offers his heart for transplant and everything is happy.
Ok, first off, why is there so much severe chest trauma in this movie? And being punched in the heart by a Terminator is an awesome way to die, but being electrocuted is not going to bring you back to life. It was very reminiscent of Friday the 13th part 6. Or was it part 7? I don’t remember and I don’t care, the point is it was retarded. Second, if someone gets run through the heart by a piece of metal, you don’t live long enough to do…anything. You just die. No questions. Third, Marcus shouldn’t be able to give up his heart for transplant for many reasons, the most obvious being that we saw said heart get punched…by a giant f**king robot. It shouldn’t even exist anymore let alone be harvested. And what are the chances that Marcus and John have the same blood type and the heart is even a match? Because if they’re not, then you’ve just killed TWO people for no reason. And finally, an open field tent in a desert is quite possibly the worst place ever to conduct a heart transplant operation. Especially one that is being preformed by a veterinarian. I wouldn’t trust her with MY heart.
Some final thoughts: Christian Bale is a great actor, but not in this movie. He would just start yelling for no apparent reason. Even in situations where he had JUST gotten done resolving whatever he was doing. And then he would YELL AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS!!! John Connor would frequently have “revelations” about Kyle Reese having to live in order for him to exist. Except he already knows that. Since the day he was born, he has known that. Did it really just hit you now? Stop it Christian Bale. Just stop it. This movie also shows us that in a world controlled by a computer program who hates humans, random spurts of flame coming out of EVERYTHING will be a must. I mean, what kind of post-apocalyptic world would it be if there wasn’t fire shooting out of…things? Not one that is suitable for Skynet, that’s for damn sure.
So finally, in conclusion, McG’s reboot of the franchise was a serious let down. What Terminator Salvation delivered in cool looking robots, it failed to deliver in passion for the material. But in it’s defense, it is still better than T2.
Monday, May 18, 2009
By: Judson Rusk
Anyone who has known me over the last 6 years in any capacity should be aware that I love movies. So much so that I was inspired by one movie in particular to drive my focus and to pursue a career in the film industry. That movie was Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko. So when I heard that they were making a direct to DVD sequel, it felt like a sucker punch to the kidney. And then they announced that this new movie has been disowned by Richard Kelly and every single person, save for one, who had anything to do with the first film, which made me dislike the idea even more. But even though every single fiber of my being was utterly against the very existence of this film, my morbid curiosity got the best of me and I ended up watching S. Darko anyway. Maybe I’m a masochist, who knows…
Donnie Darko is arguably the deepest and most original movie to ever come out of Hollywood. From a cinematic standpoint, that film is almost flawless. There isn’t a single wasted frame and no filler dialogue. Every single scene in that movie plays together with some other scene(s) to drive story, character development, mood, tone, etc. If you miss out on even 5 minutes of that movie, then you will be lost as to what is happening. It deals with fate, destiny, god, time travel, family issues, personal revelation, and so much more. It forces you to think and to discuss and to research. It is most definitely a movie and an experience that I would recommend to anyone who thinks that they enjoy film or a good story. It is hands down my favorite movie and it is why I chose the career path that I am on. S. Darko is the most absolute, complete, total, and undoubted opposite to EVERYTHING that Donnie Darko was. There is utterly NO way that they could have gotten this film any more wrong. None.
S. Darko takes places some time after the events of Donnie Darko and follows Donnie’s younger sister Samantha and her best friend as they travel across the country in hopes to score jobs working a club in Reno. Mighty big aspirations, I know. Their car breaks down in a small town that has an ass load of problems including homelessness, kidnapping, religious fanatics, teens who love to party, and meteors. Yes, meteors. Apparently from space this town looks like a giant bullseye because every meteor that happens by Earth has to change its trajectory and come hurtling to the ground in this particular town. But what is most surprising is not the fact that all these problems exist in such a small town, but rather that every single resident is not only not concerned, but seems to be indifferent towards anything that happens!
“How was your meal, sir?”
**CRASH** “HOLY SHIT! Was that a meteor?!?!”
“Eh, whatever. Want me to freshen your coffee hun?”
I digress. In this film we are introduced to a character called Iraq Jack. The character has absolutely no relation to the Darko family but at the same time it is very obvious that the film makers have spent many hours and a lot of effort to make him look as close to Donnie as they possibly could. This was not only un-necessary but also embarrassing. Iraq Jack, for no particular reason, is in constant communication with the new “Frank” (who is just a dead version of Samantha) who tells him the secrets of life, the universe, and everything. He then, in turn, keeps talking to living Samantha who doesn’t understand what is going on, but yet has some sort of strange pull towards him despite the warnings of her new friends who will be referred to as “Pompous Douchebag Greaser” and “Nerdy Rash-Covered Virgin.”
Anyway, Pompous Douchebag Greaser along with Samantha’s best friend end up in a car accident which kills Samantha,…somehow. Then Samantha’s best friend gets led by the apparition of a dead child to a cave full of dead children where she learns the secret of time travel. She goes back in time, saves Samantha (but apparently forgot that the car she is in is about to get T-boned) and martyrs herself. Now, newly reborn Samantha goes on living while pissed at Pompous Douchebag Greaser for killing her best friend and decides to ease her pain while on a romantic date with Nerdy Rash-Covered Virgin which takes place on top of a hill during a meteor shower. Samantha trips and kills herself by smashing her head on a Frank mask that was forged (yes,…forged) earlier in the movie by Iraq Jack. In which case, dead Samantha a.k.a. Frank tells Iraq Jack the secret of time travel so that he can go back in time and kill himself which of course makes everything all better and then Samantha can go home. The End.
F**k this movie.
Aside from Richard Kelly who both wrote and directed Donnie Darko, there MIGHT be six or seven people on Earth who fully understand what that movie was saying. It is painfully obvious that whoever wrote S. Darko is most assuredly NOT one of those people. Neither was whoever directed this bastardized, illegitimate sequel. This movie was trying SO hard to be Donnie Darko but failed so miserably because no one could ever even come close to recapturing what Richard Kelly has created. S. Darko is supposed to be easier to understand than Donnie Darko was, but in doing so they lost the very essence of their own source material.
The complexity and mythos of Donnie Darko is what made the movie so great. But at the same time the film makers of S. Darko tried to mimic the feel of Donnie Darko by placing long sequences in slow motion set to music. The only difference is that in the first movie, these sequences weren’t terribly long, the music was good and gave the right feel for the scene, and most importantly, THEY HAD A POINT! S. Darko failed to recognize these things as their slow motion sequences were painfully long, set to music that was up-beat and at points was almost techno, and they failed to deliver us to a plot point. Also, in the first movie, the usage of specific images to drive home a certain aura around a scene is very prominent, i.e. the burning mounted deer’s head in the kiddy porn dungeon or the image of Frank sitting alone in his room as he plans out his Halloween costume. S. Darko took a stab at this as well, but only succeeded in delivering to us a poorly animated unicorn made of clouds. S. Darko cut out the depth, thought, and character of the first movie while still trying to display pretty much the exact same story and failed.
In conclusion, I would describe S. Darko as a cinematic abortion. As a perspective film maker who’s entire passion for the art is derived from Donnie Darko, this was possibly the worst insult that anyone could have issued me in any capacity. It was offensive, embarrassing, disgusting, and painful. I have used this analogy a couple times while explaining this movie to my friends, but it works so well that I have to use it again right now. If two things were to happen to me, and those two things were A. Watch S. Darko or B. Meet Steven Spielberg and have him spit in my face, S. Darko would be the bigger insult to me as a film maker. No question about it. Do NOT watch this movie.
Friday, May 8, 2009
By: Judson Rusk
Let me begin by saying that I am not, nor was I ever, a “trekkie.” So I don’t have some sort of deep seeded, fanboy attachment to this film. But I’ve been hearing from some pretty hard core Trek fans that, on average, their opinions and mine do not differ greatly on J.J. Abrams’ re-boot of the iconic series.
When it comes to “summer blockbuster,” this movie is almost flawless. Yes, I say it here in paragraph number two: This movie is awesome. From the very opening sequence where we learn that heroism against all odds runs in the Kirk bloodline, through Spock’s desperate struggle to figure out where he fits in, up until the resolution and Captain Kirk takes his rightful place on the bridge of the Enterprise, I was engrossed. This movie was a suburb blend of everything I want from a theater going experience. It had a great cast where no one seemed out of place and all of the acting in the movie (save for a handful of particular spots) was very compelling and convincing. It had a smart story that kept your attention mixed with the right amount of wit and banter to keep your brain from overloading. The action sequences looked amazing and, except for one glaring exception, helped move the plot. But most importantly, this movie did not alienate the general audience. Anyone, whether they are a Trek fan or not, can walk into this movie and be thoroughly entertained without having have the kid sitting next to them that is dressed up like a Vulcan constantly explaining things.
The movie had a very comfortable feel, mostly due to the fact that Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto fell so perfectly into their roles as James Kirk and Mr. Spock respectively. The character development in this movie is some of the best in recent history. Having to develop the characters and friendships of every single member of the Enterprise’s crew while still having a good story and a compelling conflict, is very difficult to do in the short amount of time allotted by the fact that this is only a movie, not a series. But STAR TREK pulled it off. Even the renegade, revenge-driven, Captain Nero had a very commanding screen presence even though his character was not as deep as one would have hoped. But even in his little screen time, the character is legitimately scary, and at some points pulls some very unsuspected sympathy from the audience.
Also, I stated my opinion very clearly before I saw this movie that I thought there was going to be a twist ending, where Captain Nero turns out to be Kirk’s father, presumed dead since the day James was born. I fully admit that I was totally and completely wrong. And I am very glad because of it. I had already discredited this movie quite a bit by the fact that I thought that they were going to put such a used and clichéd plot device in it, but was thoroughly impressed, and relieved when I watched the movie and saw that the writing was significantly more original. Kudos to you Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman for proving me wrong and making my movie going experience all the better. But although I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, it does have some problems that can’t be overlooked.
We all knew for a long time that Leonard Nimoy was in this movie. Ok, cameo appearances are not the end of the world. In fact, they can be pretty sweet sometimes. But this takes it way too far. Instead of Nimoy playing Spock’s father, as originally thought, he instead reprises his old role from the 60’s television show as Spock himself. He appears in this film through the plot device of a time traveling, alternate dimension creating, man made, black hole. After Quinto’s Spock maroons the young Kirk on an ice planet very reminiscent of Hoth, Nimoy’s Spock of the future befriends Kirk and gets him back on track to become the great captain we know him to be by introducing him to Scotty, who then in turn, “beams them up.” Ok, I’m fine with all that. But then he doesn’t stop showing up in the rest of the movie. Even to the point where he confronts his younger self and has a conversation about how he should/has lived his life. Oh my god, that NEVER should have happened. And as the film winds to a close, we hear Nimoy doing a very familiar voice over which, to some, might have been a nice way to throw back to the original material, but to me it was just another reminder that even in the re-boot, we couldn’t cut the cord.
Although Mitch disagrees with me, I hate that Mr. Sulu goes from being a pilot to a katana wielding, action hero about as fast as Anakin turned to the dark side in Episode III. It was abrupt, didn’t fit the character, and seemed like just an excuse to add a sequence when people fight with swords; and not just any swords, but Swiss Army swords (that will make more sense if you have seen the flick). It shouldn’t be in the movie.
J.J. Abrams did a great job directing this movie but in the bar sequence near the beginning when Kirk gets into an all out brawl with Starfleet Academy cadets over Uhura, the direction was lacking. It was somewhere between a hand-cam, altered lenses, and too many tracking shots. It made the fight hard to follow. But most people didn’t seem to notice as much as I did, it might be a result of me looking at this movie through the eyes of a kid who is gearing his future career in the film industry.
In this movie, Spock and Uhura have a love fling going on. That’s terrible. That is like spitting in the face of the original Star Trek. And the worst part is that it didn’t do a single thing for the story. It was just there! Good for a couple laughs now and then, but not worth bastardizing the relationship between characters that has been set for 40 years.
But my biggest complaint is that this film is pretty much completely based around the creation and existence of alternate dimensions. But said dimensions are only mentioned once or twice in brief, passing dialogue. I admit, most of my understanding of those dimensions was explained to me after the film by other people who were apparently paying closer attention than I was. This seems to me like something that should definitely be struck on a little harder than it was.
Even though I railed on this movie quite a bit just now, I can’t stress enough that these things don’t even come close to discrediting this movie as a whole. This is 2009’s Iron Man (or 2009’s Dark Knight, for those of you who refuse to realize that The Dark Knight wasn’t as good as everyone thinks it is). It has its problems, sure. But they are insignificant enough that they won’t…no, they CAN’T ruin this movie. Star Trek has set the standard for the rest of 2009 very high, and it will be very difficult to match. Go see this movie.