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|May 28-June 3, 2009
• Hasta la vista, baby
by Michael Phillips
• Blood brothers
by Jessica Reaves
Hasta la vista, baby
by Michael Phillips
This fourth edition of the Terminator franchise comes at us with what can only be called McG-force. The director, whose reputation was made in 2000 on the restyled jiggle of Charlie’s Angels, has found in Salvation a world that will almost, almost contain his unrestrained energy and rabid optimism, which makes for a movie mash-up of everything that manic imagination and money will buy.
Christian Bale stars as John Connor, grown and living out his destiny to save the world from the killing machines introduced in 1984 along with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s well-sculpted, sunglasses-loving cyborg killer. The Terminator’s failed mission to eliminate Sarah Connor, then just a lonely waitress, spawned not just son John and a successful franchise, but a mega-career for writer/director James Cameron.
Cameron discovered a million-dollar sweet spot between the virtually unstoppable mechanical killers he had created and the very human story of survival he wove through it. T-800, T-1000 or any other models that rolled off the assembly line were fearsome but also funny and surprisingly adaptable because they “thought” in their lethal but mutable way.
In McG’s new world order, the machines rule with enforcers of every shape roaming the land — they fly, swim, search, chase, harvest, transport, jail, crush, and on and on, but there’s not a strategic thinker or a standout personality among them. In battle scenes a sort of metallic madness takes hold, but the tension between hunted and hunter has been lost (for this, screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, who also wrote Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, must share in the blame).
Though we’ve been waiting for Connor, Marcus Wright turns out to be the warrior the film needs and the salvation it seeks. Played by a movie-stealing Sam Worthington, Marcus carries within him the question, and possibly the answer, at the heart of the series: What is it that truly separates man from machine? Draped in a worn military-style overcoat, gun in hand, Marcus moves through a barren American West circa 2018 wearing his conflicted humanity like Clint Eastwood in his Sergio Leone days; you can’t help but hope that, along with his power ranger of a girlfriend, Blair (an excellent Moon Bloodgood), he will find his way onto the drawing boards now shaping Terminator 5.
We first encounter Marcus on death row, convinced in his final moments to donate his body to research. The last face he sees is that of a scientist (Helena Bonham Carter). Decades later, Marcus gets a second chance. The good news: He’s strong, reconstituted and somehow alive. The bad: He’s awakening to a post-apocalyptic rubble heap.
The journey for Marcus, John and rest of Salvation’s cast comes with a suitcase full of past time-traveling anomalies (footnotes provided). Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) turns up as a teen here, years from saving Sarah Connor and fathering John (see T-1). He is the one to first rescue Marcus from the machines. Back at resistance headquarters, John is plotting the end of Skynet (see T-1, 2, 3). By now he’s married to Kate (see T-3), and they’re expecting a child.
When John learns that Kyle has been captured and is headed to Skynet central for containment and probably extermination, he knows from what his mother has told him (see T-2) that his very existence (see T-4) hangs on Kyle’s fate. Much of the action from that point on is built around John’s attempts to save his future father, though Kyle must never be told who John is or how things will unfold (see T-1, 2, 3, 4).
he movie was designed to be Bale’s, but his strengths do not serve him, or the movie, well here. John Connor needs to be the calm, powerful center of this storm, not the storm itself (as he was on set too, with a wicked tirade captured on tape, then set free to wander the Internet by TMZ.com).
While the filmmakers have lost some of the soul of the franchise, if you’re a Terminator fan, Salvation is mostly worth it. The machines are mindless, yes, but there are enough pyrotechnics and artillery to feel like Armageddon squared. And when the story starts to crumble around Bale, Worthington is usually there to pick up the pieces. At one point John asks Marcus, “Who are you?” Marcus looks at him with a knowing sadness and says: “I’m the only hope you have.” Thankfully, he is enough.
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by Jessica Reaves
The jaunty, energetic first 10 minutes of The Brothers Bloom are easily the best first 10 minutes of any film I’ve seen recently. And while the succeeding hour and 43 minutes doesn’t hold up to the movie’s opening scenes, the whole endeavor is still an awfully good time.
Writer/director Rian Johnson pitched Brothers after the surprise success of his freshman effort, Brick, which was the cinematic equivalent of rapidly downing 25 espresso shots. With Brothers, Johnson has eased back considerably, combining his trademark energetic patter with moments of genuine pathos. He has ample help from the Dream Cast, which includes Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody as the titular Brothers and Rachel Weisz as the putative love interest/mark.
Abandoned and unloved as children, Stephen Bloom and his younger brother bounce from town to town, and foster home to foster home, perfecting card tricks and dreaming up ways to separate their classmates from their allowances. As the boys drift, they each hone a Big Dream. Stephen, brains and brawn of the operation, fantasizes about the Ultimate Con, while his angst-filled brother’s deepest desire is more elemental: to truly know himself beyond the confines of Stephen’s meticulous schemes.
Twenty-five years later, the Brothers have matured into world-class confidence men, with a global network of accomplices, co-conspirators and, naturally, enemies. Shadowed by The Curator (Robbie Coltrane, channeling Peter Sellers) and accompanied by Bang Bang, a laconic pyrotechnician (Rinko Kikuchi), they travel the world in search of great marks. When the game is up, they throw super-awesome post-con wrap parties.
One day, the Brothers meet Penelope (Weisz), and from the carefully orchestrated moment she drives her canary-yellow Lamborghini into Brody’s bicycle, their cons take on new meaning. (I’ll abandon the synopsis here for fear of undermining anyone’s enjoyment of the movie’s who’s-conning-whom plot twists.)
Ruffalo reportedly had to be convinced he was the right actor for the role of Stephen Bloom, which requires a Clooney-esque rakishness. He needn’t have worried; his performance is great fun to watch. Brody, who might as well put a trademark on his super soulful gaze, plays the younger Bloom as a watchful follower slowly coming into himself. And Weisz combines a luminous screen presence with a muscular, confident acting style.
Johnson, whose light hand belies his unusual attention to comic detail, deserves kudos for delivering a funny, sharply observed, emotionally resonant crime caper, one that lapses only occasionally into preciousness. His characters, despite their eccentric lives, wrestle with the same mundane questions that keep the rest of us up at night: Whom can I trust? What does love mean? How much C-4 explosive does it take to blow up an entire castle?
Johnson cites The Sting and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels as influences on his film, but he may owe a much greater debt to Wes Anderson: This film’s blend of quirky realism and fantastical touches is highly reminiscent of The Royal Tenenbaums and, to a lesser extent, The Darjeeling Express.
In either case, of course, Brothers Bloom is in very good company.
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