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The Terminator Franchise

I should first admit that I think that not only is Terminator 2: Judgment Day the best sequel of all time (yes, even edging out Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back), it’s also one of the best movies of all time, period.  In addition to incredible action, effects, and pacing, the movie manages to deliver an important message about human nature and our propensity towards violence and self destruction.  The final line is so powerful that I’ll never forget it.  Sarah Connor narrates over an empty road during the night: “The unknown future rolls toward us.  I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope.  Because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.”

This film delivers on the promise from the first movie, when Kyle Reese repeats the words John Connor made him memorize to Sarah: “Thank you, Sarah, for your courage through the dark years.  I can’t help you with what you must soon face, except to say that the future is not set.  There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.  You must be stronger than you imagine you can be.  You must survive, or I will never exist.”  Indeed, the transformation of Sarah Connor from the first film to the sequel is staggering — she goes from a naive and gentle waitress in The Terminator to a hardened and violent soldier in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.  Linda Hamilton’s performances in both films are incomparable.  The best part is that they do indeed change the course of history that night at Cyberdyne Systems, one in which their Terminator stands as an unstoppable force against law enforcement in what can only be described as a preview of the apocalypse they’re trying to prevent.  Poignantly, no fate.

This second film is the perfect ending to the franchise.  There is zero need to go any further, but given the nature of how Hollywood works as a profit-driven enterprise, more sequels were inevitable.  As such, we were given what I consider one of the most offensive followups in cinematic history: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.  Not because the film was all that bad: truly, most of it was enjoyable, in the mindless action movie sense.  But because of the ending when it’s revealed that Judgment Day is inevitable after all, that everything that has come before was all for naught.  The central tenant of James Cameron’s two films was discarded all for the sake of generating more sequels — which he had no part of, I should point out.

Terminator: Salvation was a confusing mess, so much so that I barely remember it.  The post-Judgment Day world that is shown in this film is radically different from the portrayals in the James Cameron entries.  As such, I can’t even consider it canon (for whatever that means at this point), since the most recent Terminator: Genisys seems to ignore this as well.

Speaking of, I went to see Genisys yesterday, and just like Rise of the Machines, I felt like this was a completely enjoyable action flick.  Unlike Rise of the Machines, however, Genisys avoided throwing a giant middle finger at the No Fate thread from the original films, at least.  Nevertheless, this film’s overarching plot and how it fits in with the timeline is bizarre and borderline non-sensical.  Even so, I appreciate that this movie essentially establishes that it’s in its own parallel timeline, which at least affords it the possibility of taking the franchise into another direction without denigrating the Cameron ones.

Genisys shows us parts from The Terminator, but turned on its head because of the timeline changes.  Instead of the Sarah Connor who was blissfully naive at the beginning, Kyle Reese discovers one who is already trained and ready for the oncoming apocalypse.  But the strangeness of this version of Sarah is that, unlike Linda Hamilton’s Judgment Day incarnation, Emilia Clarke’s rendition is has much softer edges.  In a way, I’m fine with this, but on the other hand, I feel like the writers decided to make her more likable to modern audiences.  The tough plus sweet combination is a strange one for the Sarah Connor I know.

Similarly, Kyle Reese is quite different this time around, except that it makes less sense because he’s still supposed to be the same incarnation as Michael Biehn’s version.  And while Jai Courtney does fine work in his portrayal of this version of Reese, I feel strongly that his is considerably weaker.  Considerably safer.  What I mean by that is that Biehn played an emotionally shredded Kyle Reese who had seen nothing but nonstop horror and death in his life, and bore all kinds of scars both literally and figuratively.  This was a man with severe PTSD who feels wildly out of place when he travels to pre-Judgment Day 1984.  You can completely understand why such a disaffected person would fall in love with a photograph of Sarah Connor, this idyllic beauty that looked like she lived on another world.  The fantasy of her ran deeper for Kyle than we could comprehend.

Conversely, Jai Courtney’s Kyle Reese is shown to be more gallant, more emotionally stable.  He comes off like a more generic expression of what a solider should be, as is often the case in contemporary action movies, as opposed to what one can become after decades of agony.  The juxtaposition between Courtney’s Reese and Clarke’s Connor is more an awkward blind date than what Biehn and Hamilton had, which was more visceral and mutually dependent.

After thinking about this, I realized what my preference for a sequel would have been for the Cameron movies.  Rather than mess around with the idea that somehow the actions of Sarah, the Terminator, young John, and Miles accounted for nothing, I would rather have seen a film that follows up with the war-hero John Connor’s time after he sends back the two guardians to protect his mother and younger self.  Instead, I would go with the Back to the Future 2 idea of time travel with split timelines (alternate realities).  While Judgment Day was averted, the time that older John Connor lives in continues, its own world.

In this still post-Judgment Day world, I would portray the battle against the forces of Skynet as still continuing.  While the resistance managed to destroy its central core, all the machines it had created are still functioning, still obeying their directives.  Perhaps, like bees, the machines will designate a new queen, and a new AI, born without human design, to emerge and present a wholly new kind of threat.

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Written by Michael

7 July 2015 at 1:54 pm

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

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Don’t want to write a full review here, but am I the only one irritate by how self indulgent the movie was at times?  Let me mitigate this criticism before I get too far by saying that I enjoyed the movie well enough, but prequels just bug me at their core.

To me, I wish prequels would work stand on their own and do nothing to damage the original movies if you were to watch them all in story-chronological order.  Illuminate?  Sure.  Undermine?  No.  For example, the Star Wars prequels (Eps 1-3) reveal plot twists from the original Star Wars trilogy (Eps 4-6), and watching them in the story’s chronological order actually unravels important plot points.  Example: Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker is Luke’s father.  And that Leia is Luke’s sister.

(That’s not really the most offensive problem, though.  Another example is the neutering of important plot elements in the later storylines.  Case in point, the Force is an enigmatic, metaphysical power in the original trilogy.  It was a beautiful mystery, a part of nature that bound all living things together.  However, in the prequels (which were set in a time when more was known about all things Jedi/Sith), we discover that the Force is actually the physical result of midi-chlorians (microorganisms) which reside in the cells of all living things.  Talk about taking something whimsical and rendering it cold and clinical.  It takes the metaphysical and reduces it to presudoscience.)

The Wolverine movie isn’t that extreme, but there are an awful lot of nods to the X-Men trilogy, to the point that I felt like the moviemakers were winking at me every half hour or so.

There are several examples, but I’ll focus on two.  For these examples, pretend you know nothing about the three movies which take place after this one.  Nothing about the X-Men mythology as a whole.

1. Striker’s son.  We seem him encased in ice, and knowing what we know from the X-Men trilogy, this makes perfect sense for that point of the timeline.  However, the movie does nothing to explain this, other than to reveal that he’s a mutant when the general confronts Striker about him.  Striker, being nuts, has imprisoned him.  (We know this is because of his ability to create illusion from the movies, but let’s forget that for now.)  This isn’t addressed in any other way here: instead, we’re left with a rather shocking and striking image of a child locked away in stasis.  Seems very cruel.  When Wolverine rescues all the other mutants on the island, we can only wonder why Striker’s son is left dangling.

Yes, yes, Wolverine doesn’t technically know about him, but we can’t forget Anton Chekov’s gun: do not include an unnecessary element in the story.  If you show me there’s a gun hanging on the wall, it’s going to need to be fired at some point.  If you show me a child in peril and we have a hero in the story who should be in the business of rescuing imperiled children, then something needs to happen with him.  The reason nothing happens, of course, is that he needs to stay there so he can screw with Xavier in X2: X-Men United.  This merely distracts us in this movie, however.

2. Xavier rescues the mutants.  Again, forget you know who Xavier is.  Who the hell is this telepathic bald dude who comes from nowhere to pick up the mutants who were an important part of Wolverine and Gambit’s actions on the island?  What starts as a fairly serious plot/character turn (Wolverine turns from his selfish desires for revenge and does something legitimately heroic), ends with Wolverine getting distracted by Deadpool and the rescued mutants going off on their own.  Instead, the blinded young Cyclops gets led to freedom telepathically by a character who is never referenced nor explained.  We get a shot of Patrick Stewart by the helicopter where he smiles as the audience in what amounts to a moment that only serves to tie the prequel into the X-Men trilogy in a very cutesy way.  This is a perfect example of the universally maligned Deus ex Machina*, which is akin to the randomness — and, indeed, unfairness — of giant Eagles rescuing Gandalf (and later Frodo and Sam) in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  This would have worked if, say, Gambit was shown facilitating this rescue.  Then at least an established character would be helping to shape the climax of this subplot.

But writers need to allow their main characters to actively participate in big developments like this, and not have them happen to the characters, passively.  This is what we call agency**.  Do the main characters have agency, or does a non-character or force of nature (a Deus ex Machina) have it?

Terms

* deus ex machina |ˈdāəs eks ˈmäkənə; -ˈmak-|nounan unexpected power or event savingseemingly hopeless situation, esp. as a contrived plot device in a play or novel

** agency |ˈājənsē|noun2 action or intervention, esp. such as to produce a particular effect :canals carved by the agency of running water | a belief in various forms of supernatural agency.a thing or person that acts to produce a particular result : the movies could be an agency molding the values of the public.

Anyway, I don’t want to sit here and make it sound like I hated the movie.  Again, I enjoyed it insofar as it was a fun action movie.

My greater complaint here is about the general subject of prequels, and how they are beholden to storylines that haven’t technically happened yet.  Worse still, I resent the graver sins of creating Deus ex Machinas in order to sustain those ties to their future storylines.  This isn’t the same as setting a baseline for foreshadowing: it’s purely self aggrandizing.  And it’s cheating.

Enough literary theory for the day.

P.S.  I had a hard time thinking of a prequel that I really liked, and then I remembered The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

P.P.S. Also, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is technically a prequel, too.  As good as the original?  Not even close.  But at least it didn’t screw with Raiders of the Lost Ark, and spend a bunch of time acknowledging the original movie.

Written by Michael

16 May 2009 at 3:21 am

Cracked Netflix Discs

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So, I think my journey with Netflix might be drawing to a close.  At least for now.

While I’ve enjoyed the service immensely, I’ve suffered from an ungodly number of cracked discs since I moved into Bozeman.  When I say that as many as 50% of the discs are unplayable, I’m not exaggerating.

This is caused by the sorting machine in this area and is apparently a common problem in random places across the country.  According to everything I can find out, Blu-rays are most susceptible because they use a more rigid coating than DVDs.  This is normally a boon since it helps prevent scratching, but the pincers in the post office wreck it.

Naturally, Netflix and the Postal Service blame each other: the former says the Post Office should recognize their bright red envelopes and know to sort them differently, while the latter says that Netflix should use more rigid envelopes and send the items as media mail.

I tend to agree a little more with the Postal Service on this: Netflix’s easiest solution is to start using card stock envelopes.  Or, they could make the disc sleeves (which are contained with the envelopes) out of card stock, but that would require a lot of manual replacement.  (The sleeves are reused.  The envelopes are thrown away.  Conversion with envelopes would be leagues easier to implement, but the sleeves would add less weight and cost them less money long term.)

Either way, this is my last month as a Netflix subscriber.  When my discs were uncracked, they were pretty reliable otherwise, and I loved having access to the Internet streaming — which my brother and I used regularly on his Xbox 360.

Should Netflix ever realize its goal of having all its content online, I’ll eagerly re-subscribe.  Otherwise, I’ll be waiting until I move again because, alas, I don’t expect them to change anything about how they send discs.  They seem pretty hard nosed.

Then again, so am I.

Written by Michael

10 March 2009 at 11:38 pm

Watchmen Reaction

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Generally speaking, I thought the movie was pretty good.  Perhaps not great (though it sure did have moments were it was — which includes most things Rorschach), but I really enjoyed the film.

That said, I don’t expect it to be loved by the general movie audiences: the film is very ponderous, slow even, especially during the first half.  I think a lot of people will come in expecting this to be a very action-centric movie, like most comic book movies, which it really isn’t.  Not until it gets into the third act.

And the ending is highly philosophical and subdued — some will probably regard it as somewhat anticlimactic, although that’s untrue.  The climax is actually very consistent with the themes and characters contained within, perhaps more so (and more bravely) than I’ve seen in awhile.

My only criticism is that I wish there were more about why the public began to resent the Watchmen, why they preferred the ideas of police over costumed heroes.  One of the taglines of the film (one that appears in a couple places onscreen, too) is, “Who watches the Watchmen?”  One can only surmise that the people felt oppressed by the vigilantism because these heroes are unaccountable.  That wasn’t very well drawn, however, and I haven’t finished the graphic novel in order to find out if that’s a problem with just the film, or with the source material as well.

But overall, I did enjoy it, and I think people should definitely check it out.  Just expect it to be very, very different from most comic book movies.

-Michael

Written by Michael

7 March 2009 at 11:35 pm

Posted in Movies

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No Country for Old Men – Reaction

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So, the power of Netflix has meant I can now catch up on all these big movies I missed. (Never mind that Netflix is now screwing with me by sending some of my movies from facilities on the other side of the country. I wanted to see V for Vendetta on Blu-ray, and they just decided to send that from Ft. Lauderdale, FL, rather than my local facility. The problem with their system is that if they decide they don’t have a movie at the local facility, they’ll delay sending it from a facility that does have it by another day. So, rather than sending out V for Vendetta today, as it should have gone out, it’ll now leave tomorrow. Which means, I probably won’t get it until Saturday or Monday because of how far it’s traveling. I’m really of the mind that Netflix should overnight movies that have to come from the other side of the country. Sigh. I’ll possibly comment more on this later.)

Anyway, I just saw the highly regarded, well reviewed film No Country for Old Men.

Totally awesome — until the last half hour.

So, here’s the thing: I’m actually a theme writer, and this movie was largely theme based. I mean, after all, they destroy the plot and characters in order to beat the viewers over the head with the theme, so how do I feel about that?

–If you didn’t know, the theme is completely telegraphed by the title: the idea is that the world seems to have gone to hell and that there are old timers for whom the world has passed them by in favor of a senseless, violent way of life. Except, as the movie tells us (almost expositionally) near the end, the world has always been bad. Life hasn’t changed — only our perceptions have, and the world that the old timers lament never really existed except in their recollections. Hooray anticlimactic post modernism.

Speaking of anticlimax — and I don’t mean to spoil this for anyone, so do stop reading if you care about seeing this film — the writer manages to kill off the protagonist about a half hour before the story ends. And not in any kind of heroic, meaningful way (because, after all, this is a post-modernist story, where things like heroes and meaning are contrivances…ahem) — in fact, he’s killed quite randomly by someone who is not the main antagonist, and this occurs off camera. Right after he makes a vow to hunt down the antagonist and make him his new pet project. Build up, build up, boom! Nothing.

So, kill off the main character in a meaningless, undignified way. Check. Okay, let’s make sure we also destroy everything that meant anything to him along the way, too. Guess we have to kill the protagonist’s wife as well (again, off camera).

Then what happens? Does the antagonist get his comeuppance to reward the view for this two-plus hour journey? No. He gets into a random car accident, which does not kill him. He simply gets out, buys a shirt off a boy to create a sling for his broken arm, and walks off. Life is random and meaningless and was never nearly as great as we remember. Hooray, post-modern theme. Gag.

Thanks for taking your theme, fashioning it into a baseball bat, and slamming it into my face repeatedly.

I don’t normally get mad at movies: bad films are usually bad from the get-go, and I can just bemoan my lost time and move on. But every so often, a movie will come along that is fantastic for most of the time until near the end, and instead of giving you something for watching the movie, it takes something away from you. And again, this isn’t just my time. This movie took away my emotional investment in the characters and the plot, told me I was infantile for believing in people and great meaning, and gave me a huge middle finger at the end for expecting any kind of resolution.

Sigh.

Enough ranting.

-Michael Eric Brown

Written by Michael

11 August 2008 at 5:33 pm

The Dark Knight

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I’m not even going to insult anyone’s intelligence with a review. Go see it now.

–Be a part of history.

-Michael Eric Brown

Written by Michael

19 July 2008 at 8:10 pm

Posted in Movies, Reviews

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Batman: Gotham Knight Impressions

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So, this isn’t a full reaction to this movie, but let me just say that I really, really enjoyed it. If any of you out there are Batman fans, you should check out this DVD. Be sure to get your hands on the Special Edition with the commentary. It’s got Dennis O’Neil. 🙂

More detailed reactions to follow.

-Michael Eric Brown

Written by Michael

9 July 2008 at 10:27 pm

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