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Terminator Salvation movie review

terminator salvation movie posterDuring the process of making a movie, a rough cut of it is assembled, and the director, producers and editors will moan and wonder how they’re ever going to turn this into a movie they can release into theaters. Then they buckle down to the hard work of reshooting scenes, adding additional footage and in general polishing the final product until it’s theater ready. In the case of Terminator Salvation, they didn’t bother with any of that. Instead they just added the CGI and released it into theaters.

Long on angst and short on plot, Terminator Salvation is Mad Max without any of the fun, a joyless, character-less trip into a post-apocalyptic wasteland that forgets to give viewers any reason to come along. McG is so busy working on aesthetic credibility that he forgets how to edit action scenes or the movie as a whole, which feels like a disjointed collection of footage that has yet to be assembled into a final form. Almost a silent movie at times, perhaps because its foreign leads, Christian Bale and Sam Worthington struggle to produce any kind of convincing American accent, Terminator Salvation is a trip through a wasteland that leads nowhere. And much like another summer killer robots movie, the only thing memorable about it are the special effects.

The Terminator movies, even Terminator 3, focused on a fairly simple plot with a clear antagonist, a straightforward goal and explosive set pieces. Terminator Salvation jettisons everything but the last, sideswiping audiences who expected a good time at the theater only to get an action movie that models itself after a Cormac McCarthy novel. Had McG been less worried about being taken seriously, he might have actually applied the lessons of his work on the audience friendly Charlie’s Angels movies. Instead with We Are Marshall and Terminator Salvation, McG tries desperately to be taken seriously, but all he manages to do is be a downer.

Terminator Salvation is probably the most expensive post-apocalyptic B-movie ever made, that takes itself more seriously than most Academy Award nominees. But not only isn’t it entertaining, unlike the previous Terminator movies it doesn’t even have anything to say about human condition. Having aimed too high, Terminator Salvation doesn’t deliver on either front. Its absurd premise of a Terminator who thinks he’s human and dies when his heart is removed is an absurdly literary metaphor that not only makes no sense, but is painfully stupid to boot, leading to an ending with some trite observation about the human heart. An ironic preoccupation for a movie that bypasses both the heart and the mind entirely, for a final product that is as inhuman and cold as the machines who are its antagonists themselves.

Journey to the Center of the Earth movie review

Journey to the Center of the Earth movie posterWalden Media’s ongoing attempt to compete with the mainstream blockbuster by producing family friendly films reminds me of the wave of self-criticism in the Chinese film industry in the wake of Kung Fu Panda’s success, all focusing on the stifling atmosphere that prevents anything original or controversial from being created. Journey to the Center of the Earth, another Walden Media project thrust into the summer’s blockbuster season against such titans as The Dark Knight, is an all too unfortunate example of the problem.

Journey to the Center of the Earth has been made and remade over and over again, yet despite being a novel that captured the imagination of so many when thrown at the screen it has a way of turning into a lackluster film. Journey to the Center of the Earth is yet another lackluster entry, painfully family friendly and short on actual content. Despite its hefty budget and 3D come on, Journey to the Center of the Earth feels like a TV movie and plays out just as predictably as one. So predictably that even children in the audience should have no problem guessing what comes next, before it happens.

With only three characters and a plot involving, of all things, family, Journey to the Center of the Earth is meant to be the ultimate family movie. Unfortunately it’s the kind of family movie that condescends to the children and bores the adults out of their minds. Journey to the Center of the Earth isn’t so much a movie as an amusement park ride with lots of falling, jumping, falling on a water slide, being swept along a river and occasionally being propelled upward and once in a while being chased by a dinosaur. Some movies have the potential to be turned into amusement park rides, but Journey to the Center of the Earth is an amusement park ride in search of a movie. And that movie is hard to find.

Starring Brendan Fraser as Professor Trevor Anderson, a lecturer delivering lectures no one listens to based on his vanished brother’s theories, he’s forced to take in his nephew for a week, only to have the kid quickly unearth clues in a copy of Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth that leads them to Scandinavia, where Hannah, a pretty but skeptical mountain guide, takes them into the mountains where they naturally wind up finding their way to the center of the earth.

The nephew of course wears a ski cap and a hoodie and teaches his professor uncle all about the internet by accessing Google on his PSP. The mountain guide is of course pretty and competent while Fraser’s character is a klutz, until about halfway through the movie when the mountain guide strips off her outerwear, unaccountably falls in love with Fraser’s character and reverts to a sexist stereotype of femininity, clutching him and running away from danger, while he gets to be the hero.

For fans of the book, Journey to the Center of the Earth offers the occasionally interesting twist on Verne’s original methods updated by more modern science, but it’s unfortunately buried in unreal special effects and a lightweight cast. Brendan Fraser carries as much of the movie as he can with his naturally goofy affable personality, but he doesn’t get much help from his co-stars who seem completely out of their league on the big screen and once the amusement park ride is underway, there’s not much for him to do except panic, deliver the occasional quip and run around in front of a green screen.

If you need a good way to visualize everything that’s wrong with Journey to the Center of the Earth, think back to the CGI waterfall in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Remember how Jones and the crew go over one CGI waterfall and then another bigger one and a bigger one, until you stop caring anymore because none of it seems real and no matter how well the cast tries, they can’t make any of it seem like anything more than a bunch of people trying not to look silly while pretending to go over a waterfall. That’s 90 percent of Journey to the Center of the Earth in a nutshell.

There are nice touches in Journey to the Center of the Earth and even the glowing bird who guides the boy through every turn of the underground journey isn’t as annoying as it might seem. But Journey to the Center of the Earth still suffers from the tepid touch of Walden Media that under the mandate of producing family films, produces antiseptic and lifeless productions. Written by a man whose only previous experience was on War Stories with Oliver North and directed by the visual effects supervisor from The Day After Tomorrow, Journey to the Center of the Earth feels like an expensive and lifeless TV movie that’s short on ambition, originality, characters, plot and everything that makes a movie worth watching.

Hellboy II The Golden Army review

hellboy 2 movie posterWhen the Hellboy movies were rendered by Guillermo Del Toro from comic book to the big screen something went missing, not just the stark shadowed lines of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, but its original dark spirit. When Mignola’s Lovecraftian universe is rendered into CGI and made Hollywood family friendly, it turns into a fantasy version of Men in Black, all jokes and special effects, but no suspense or soul. When you consider Del Toro’s other films, it’s odd how plastic and upbeat his Hellboy movies are, and Hellboy II The Golden Army is as plastic and upbeat as any of them.

Suffering from CGI-itis, Del Toro seems unable to let a single frame of film go by without splattering it with CGI as if he were possessed by the spirit of George Lucas. Hellboy II The Golden Army boasts a virtual CGI bestiary from great to small, but like all CGI it’s slick, unreal and disconnects the viewer from believing in the reality of what is taking place on the screen. Set in a New York City we barely see, Hellboy II The Golden Army drifts through cliched banter while following a disconnected plot that seems to exist only to foist one CGI spectacle on us after another. The visuals are gorgeous as are the sets, but there’s little life in Hellboy II The Golden Army.

Ron Perlman as Hellboy and Selma Blair as Liz Sherman going through the motions of a bad sitcom relationship are trite, and only Abe Sapien’s love for Princess Nuala has a spark of heart to it, but is painfully short on development. Hellboy II The Golden Army assembles a good cast and wastes them on one cliche after another. Hellboy II The Golden Army assembles some very elaborate CGI and makes it the center of the movie pushing the characters off to the side. Just as in the first Hellboy, Guillermo Del Toro never manages to bring the stark interwoven spirit of Mike Mignola’s creation into the room, a creation that easily mixed pulp comics and Lovecraft. Instead Del Toro creates another empty and expensive visual spectacle that suffers all the more by comparison to The Dark Knight, a movie in which the characters genuinely struggle over something, while in Hellboy II The Golden Army they struggle to get to the end of the CGI ride.

As both writer and director Del Toro must take the credit for blowing a second Hellboy movie and for failing to make a live action Hellboy that is even half as good as the animated films were. Instead Del Toro delivers a lifeless and family friendly Hollywood product, chock full of cliches and devoid of anything remotely dark or scary, let alone compelling. For a movie that begins by promising to remind us why we used to be afraid of the dark, Hellboy II The Golden Army instead reminds us why were afraid that Hellboy II would fail as badly as the first Hellboy did.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Vox Sola

Summary: Archer gets captured yet again, this time by a giant ball of CGI goo, and reminiscences about water polo. Vaugh Armstrong plays yet another alien. Enterprise wastes another forty minutes.

The most interesting thing about Vox Sola is not its plot, its characterization or even its special effects, but its title: it all goes downhill from star trek enterprise vox solathere. Every Star Trek series has done its usual ‘Alien invades the ship’ episodes and with little in the way of a story, Vox Sola adds one of the more mediocre examples of the genre. What little in the way of a plot exists follows the usual Enterprise formula of 5 minutes of story and 40 minutes of episode accompanied by the most unadorned and unoriginal plot cliches. Indeed, virtually anyone who has ever seen more than two Star Trek episodes knows quite well that the gimmick meant to disable the alien will cause it to begin hurting the hostages thus forcing the rescuers to abort the attempt. Even many of Enterprise’s worst episodes have tried to reinvent the cliches they’ve used, Vox Sola though makes no such attempt and is simply satisfied to artlessly regurgitate them.

Of course no awful Enterprise episode would be complete without featuring Archer in captivity yet again. At this point, like many Star Trek fans, when I think about the next six years of Enterprise still to come, I hope and pray that Archer is never taken prisoner by anybody, or anything ever again. The attempt by the producers to butch up Archer by getting him involved in sports backfires a bit when they decide that his sport of choice is water polo. Though it does bring Vox Sola as close as it ever comes to comedy when in a truly surreal moment engulfed by a mesh of goo that looks like congealed ropes of milk that’s gone bad, Archer inspires Trip to go on fighting by recounting his courageous water polo victories against all odds. It seems bad enough that they have to lose their lives, do they really need to lose the last remnants of their dignity too?

It’s a testament to how little the main threat of the episode matters that what little suspense the episode has comes not from the actual alien invader, but by way of the friction between T’Pol, Hoshi, Reed and Phlox which itself lacks bite and feels thematically out of place this late in the season. The alien manifesting first as some fairly mediocre T2-era virtual CGI goo and then as buckets of real goo that Bakula is slathered in, possibly as penance for his acting, barely manages to hold the interest of even its victims let alone the audience. Its means of introduction via a failed first contact with an alien race, which finds public eating as distasteful as public copulation, would probably have made for a far more interesting episode. But then just about anything would have produced a more interesting episode than Vox Sola which is essentially an abbreviated and glacially-paced version of some of the most dreary TNG and Voyager episodes ever made.

From questionable continuity references for the sake of appeasing the fans (how likely is it that Reed was really the first human to implement the force field?), to slowly developing ‘plot twists’ you could see coming a mile away (so we’ve got a great plan for crippling the alien but it’s only halfway through the episode, gee wonder what could go wrong), and to Archer once again aimlessly stumbling around the galaxy, Vox Sola manages to encompass much of what is wrong with Enterprise and none of the positive factors. At times it seemed as if Vox Sola might actually give Enterprise that sense of continuity we haven’t seen since Silent Enemy with its movie night, but the two crewmembers we meet are only disposable redshirts. It might be a good idea for Enterprise to take a lesson from its predecessor Voyager and actually begin cultivating recurring crewmembers (and no, occasional references to Chef don’t count) to produce that sense of community and to actually make the viewer care about the redshirts. It would also be more helpful if Enterprise’s decks had a little more life and color to them. And of course it would have been helpful if Vox Sola had a little more life and color of its own.

Based on a script by Robocop 3’s Fred Dekker and the inevitable Berman\Braga story (which makes one wonder if the writers can’t come up with an unoriginal idea without the help of the producers) with some desperately flashy camera angles by Roxann Dawson, Vox Sola is simply what happens when you drain every possible ounce of creativity, drama and originality out of a script. It’s not a bad episode, because bad implies some thwarted aspiration. Whether it’s the Captain turning into a salamander and mating with her pilot or the Enterprise turning into a Mayan temple; truly bad episodes are those that are prepared to take risks and are therefore interesting even if they aren’t watchable. On the other hand dreary fare like Vox Sola is neither interesting nor watchable. It’s simply a wasted forty minutes.

Next week: Looks like Archer gets captured again. Now there’s a shocking episode premise.

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