Saturday, May 30, 2009

Terminator Salvation

Uh-uh. No salvation here!

So much to hope for, so little to experience.

At least for me ...

The first three quarters of the film were just there, on the screen in front of me ... I was an unmoved observer of some fascinating special effects and a lot of lack-luster acting (more about that later) and a story in search of a point.

Toward the end, I found myself getting pulled in, and, then, just like that, what with the silly heart-transplant, it lost me again - clearly, it tried to capture the mystery, if you will, of a robot giving its life for the human - we've seen it before in the series, but in this episode, it was only schlock ...

Visually, the film was filled with bits and pieces from Hollywood's best - the motorcycle jump from Steve MeQueen's "The Great Escape" - some "Road Warrior"- "Mad Max" images - Sauron's Orc factories from "Lord of the Rings" - but it felt like a bad pastiche ... nothing fit, nothing flowed, going nowhere fast.

I came to this movie with high expectations - I like Bale; he's been one of my favorites since "Empire of the Sun" - his performance in "The Dark Knight" was stunning, but here, I never once got a sense that he had his heart in it - is this an issue with the story, the director, the process? I don't know; all I know is that it didn't work.

Moon Bloodgood, the scientist, seemed more like a fifth wheel than anything else. I think she's a good actor, but here, again, nothing seemed to fit - a good idea that didn't bake long enough, like a chocolate cake taken out of the oven too soon - as it cools, it falls, and that's exactly what "Terminator Salvation" did.

With one exception - Sam Worthington as the cyborg ... his was a thoughtful performance - you could see the inner pondering: "Who am I? What am I?"

I'll give it an A for special effects - a great cyborg motorcycle and some monstrously huge fighting machines ... but without a story, without a reason, it was like watching a museum piece - interesting, but when are we going to eat?

Worth seeing?

Only on Netflix.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Angels and Demons

I had a tough time with this movie, trying to decide if I liked it or not.

It has a frantic pace to it - cardinals are dying and Rome itself is threatened with a massive explosion fueled by anti-matter stolen from a research facility in Switzerland - the project overseen by a scientist who's also a priest, or is it the other way around - hmmm.

Tom Hanks as the inveterate symbologist, Robert Langdon, teams up with scientist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer) to search out the villains, supposedly some underground gang of mad scientists who despise the church and seek vengeance for the manner in which the church rejected science and killed its proponents, a group called The Illuminati.

Much ado about nothing kept coming to mind - a highly stylized plot in which Landgon proves to be the Sherlock Holmes of old poetry and ancient symbols. His partner, Vetra, is clearly Dr. Watson - a decent sort of sidekick with an occasional insight. If the Holmes/Watson thing was intentional, I can only think of the many Holmes movies done over the years that highlighted the power of the rational mind to observe and discern. Is this Dan Brown's intent? I believe it is, but the movie hardly brings it off with the kind of drama seen in Sherlock Holmes.

The "bad guy" here (don't read any further if you haven't seen it yet) is played somewhat masterfully by Ewan McGregor ... it seems that his character, Camerlengo Patrick McKenna, is the adopted son of the pope recently deceased, and, as we find out through "masterful sleuthing," murdered nefariously with an overdose of medication. Hmmm.

The plot tries for some twists and turns, but mostly fails. At the end, a twist that I found to be the creation of the filmmaker rather than the story itself. In other words, the wool was pulled over my eyes (though a friend of mine nailed the bad guy early on) by either Dan Brown (I've not read the book) or by Ron Howard.

I found myself bored with 90% of it - without the great music by Hans Zimmer, and it's really great, the film would have been flat as Hanks' acting here. Sorry about that. I really like Tom Hanks, but neither he nor his Watson sidekick seem to have their hearts into this, which is a more problem of the story itself than anything else.

Hanks doesn't have to work here - it all just unfolds with brief moments of thought - "hmmm, let's think for a moment - ah, yes - this is it - the next clue, the next church, the next cardinal to die, will be found here - gimme a map of Rome - yup, I need it now ... " and off they run, helter-skelter through the busy streets of Rome crowded with pilgrims awaiting the white smoke.

One of my favorite actors, Armin Mueller-Stahl, plays Cardinal Strauss - for me, the best of the roles here - ambiguous and cautious, a man of great power - is he one of the bad guys?

As for storyline and great thoughts, the film pretty much fails. With one little exception; at the end, Cardinal Strauss muses: "Religion is flawed because man is flawed." Well, okay. But what else is new?

The film ended with a new pope, and Langdon and Vetra properly subdued - Vetra wearing traditional head veil and Langdon with a bow of the head before the new pope steps out onto the balcony - well, granted, Langdon saved the new pope from drowning in a Rome fountain. Ironically, Langdon has to done dry clothing, and so wears a priest's suit and shirt, sans the white collar insert. At one point, it's observed, "It looks good on you."

At this point the story shift from drama to piety - was this a nod of the head, so to speak, to religious sensibilities? That rationality (Langdon) and science (Vetra) grudgingly submit to the mystery and majesty of the Roman Church? I think a good many Catholics will thrill with the ending, as the new pope steps out onto the balcony to the ecstatic throngs in St. Peter's Square. It would seem here that the Church proves victorious in the end.

Clearly, the church struggles between truth and tradition - that much is clear. Perhaps there can be no truth without tradition, but tradition can also be a destroyer of truth, even as truth can destroy tradition, and when both are bloodied in the battle, what's been accomplished?

Okay, enough.

Acting flat. Story shallow. Music great.

Worth seeing?

You could probably wait for Netflix on this one.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Star Trek

See it!

Concept, direction, music, script, actors - A+ and then some. J.J. Abrams and everyone else involved offer us a film that couldn't have been better!

You'll love it, it's a ride, it's for the fans, and their number is legion.

Even someone who has not followed the series will enjoy the energy, the pace, the story: the terrific way the characters are introduced.

I first saw it Thursday night, before it's theatrical release, at the Paramount Studio Theater - a huge placed filled to capacity - a fun audience, of course; all enthused, and who wouldn't be?

I saw it again the following Monday and loved it just as much, and found bits and pieces that I had missed the first time around.

I'll likely see it one more time ... it's absolutely, for me, thrilling!