robot scum! Bale in Terminator Salvation.
the year 2018, Skynet dominates the planet, using laser-eyed
robots to hunt down those humans who survived nuclear war.
One of them is John Connor (Christian Bale), who has his mother’s
taped messages to warn him of the coming Year of Darkness,
glimpsed in flashes of the future in The Terminator
in 1984. But it’s hard to imagine a darker place than the
America in which Connor and his following of resistance fighters
inhabit. Gargantuan robots stomp out any signs of life, dispensing
killer motorcycles to run down any cars fast enough to escape
them. There aren’t any cyborgs, though, not yet, and it’s
Connor’s mission to try to prevent Skynet from producing any.
Little does he know that a proto-cyborg already exists.
Salvation, the third sequel, is the bleakest, most action-packed,
and least involving of the series. Directed by McG (Charlie’s
Angels, We Are Marshall), the film lacks the mind-bending
internal logic of James Cameron’s two Terminators,
as well as the efficient reboot of T3 (directed by Jonathan
Mostow). What it does have is robots in an inventive variety
of deadliness; bone-crunching collisions; an ear-cracking
soundtrack; and a half-baked concept (regarding the proto-cyborg)
that fails to further the back-from-the-future shock of Cameron’s
original vision. Salvation opens with a creepy sequence
regarding a death-row inmate, Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington),
who donates his body to science. Forward to 2018: Kyle Reese
(Anton Yelchin in the Michael Biehn role) is barely out of
his teens and has no idea that he must survive long enough
to time-travel to 1984 if he wants to sire the hero he’s never
met. John knows who Kyle is, and must become, but he doesn’t
know where he is—or that his radio messages are inspiring
the young soldier. The connection between the two is explained
in blunt, barking manifestos from John that sound like outtakes
from the previous movies.
As one of the commanders of the resistance, Connor is viewed
as a nearly messianic leader, which weights the film more
than the seemingly invincible infestation of robots. Bale
plays him with two notes: seething with rage, or exploding
with rage. The crap dialogue doesn’t help, and neither does
Yelchin’s amateurish teeth gritting. Moon Bloodgood as a tough-chick
fighter pilot manages to hold her own in a clichéd role meant
to underscore the thin line between man and machine, and Worthington
almost makes up for the (physical) absence of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But the plot is weakened by the lack of a definable villain
(a sinister Skynet monitor doesn’t qualify), and there aren’t
any human interactions that even come close to the touchingly
human appeal of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and (the three
previous incarnations) of her son. Connor, Reese, and Wright
never really connect—it’s noticeable that the script went
through numerous rewrites—even when they finally meet-up in
the dangerous laboratory of Skynet.
To add atmosphere to all the heavy-metal carnage, McG brushstrokes
the dreary landscape with evocative visuals such as nighttime
flare rockets reminiscent of Vietnam, oil-drum fires that
could’ve come from Kuwait, and incongruously enough, Nazi-like
cattle-car roundups. It’s more than distracting, as part of
the film’s appeal should’ve been a feature-length travelogue
to the dehumanized, machine-made apocalypse of Earth in the
year 2029. Problem is, Terminator Salvation is so lacking
in human interest that the machines have already won.
They Are Here
at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
by Shawn Levy
At first I felt stupid, buying one adult ticket to see Night
at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. “I’m a reviewer!”
I wanted to stress to the uninterested cashier, “And my oldest
hates to be seen with me, the next one has baseball, the third
is glued to the Mets-Bosox game, and the toddler’s due for
a nap. . . .” All this went unsaid, of course, and I slouched
into the darkened theatre feeling a little sorry for myself.
This was seconds before realizing that everybody else in the
small audience was about my age. Somehow, Night at the
Museum became not so much a missed opportunity to see
a movie with the boys, as a chance to get the heck outta Dodge
for a few hours of mindless entertainment.
Thankfully, that’s exactly what I got. I have to say, the
so-called charms of the original Night at the Museum
eluded me. It strikes me as odd that an actor like Ben Stiller,
who evokes as much neuroses and hostility as he might belly
laughs, is beloved by the kids who made the first installment
such a big hit. His night guard, Larry Daley, comes across
as exactly the kind of tightly wound, “Don’t-touch-my-flashlight”
kind of dad that most children would dread. The sequel begins
with Larry, now a successful entrepreneur, doing an infomercial
for his glow-in-the-dark flashlight with George Forman. When
the former boxing champ ad libs, to uproarious audience approval,
you can sense Larry’s intense annoyance, and I half expected
him to take a swing at the pugilist. Never fear, however,
as soon after we see that success hasn’t led Larry to forsake
his son or his old friends down at the Museum of Natural History.
Enter, too, the film’s central conflict: The museum is shipping
the gang to permanent storage at the Smithsonian!
Before one can say “diorama,” Larry is off to D.C. to rescue
miniature cowboy Jed (Owen Wilson) and Roman soldier Octavius
(Steve Coogan), and the rest, only to find that impish capuchin
Dexter has stolen the golden tablet that makes the exhibits
come to life, and Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), a lisping King
Tut wannabe, wants it in order to call to life all of mankind’s
evil spirits. I’ll give the movie credit for the efficient
way in which it dispatches plot details like Amelia Earhart
(Amy Adams delightfully channeling Irene Dunne) helping Larry
or General Custer (Bill Hader) bemoaning his big blunder.
Some of the insanity works beautifully, such as when Kahmunrah
has to explain his apparel (“It’s a tunic, not a dreth!”)
to his triumvirate of co-conspirators, Napoleon (Alain Chabot),
Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest) and a black-and-white
Al Capone (Jon Bernthal). There’s a great moment in which
Oscar the Grouch and Darth Vader try out for Kahmunrah’s hit
squad, only to be turned down; and how cool is it that the
Tuskegee Airmen get to rumble with history’s villains?
The use of art and history, of actual museum exhibits, is
at times exhilarating—but then again, I’m a bit of a nerd
when it comes to things like that. The target audience of
Night at the Museum is surely the kids and tweeners
out there who will glory in the special effects and the Three
Stooges-type humor that permeate the movie. For the most part,
the writing is a mess, with gaping, unexplained plot holes
and a completely uninspired challenge to the protagonist.
In fact, in almost all ways, Night at the Museum is
a mess, and yet, its individual gifts give audiences something
to really enjoy.
Coy They Are
by Emmanuel Mouret
those French,” you say. “They know all about l’amour.”
To which I reply, “applesauce”—at least regarding the fellow
behind Shall We Kiss?, who also provides himself a
An attractive woman (Julie Gayet) meets a tall, dark stranger
(Michaël Cohen) in a strange town. She asks directions; he
offers her a lift in his delivery van. (He works for a clearly
upscale boutique company that restores “ancien” paintings.)
They have dinner, and talk. They have a drink in the bar at
her hotel, and talk. After closing time, they repair to her
room for a nightcap, and talk. What do they discuss? Why she
won’t kiss him.
She relates why, telling the story of her married friend Judith
(Virginie Ledoyen), and Judith’s coupled-up best friend Nicolas
(writer-director Emmanuel Mouret), who fall into an affair.
Don’t get all hot-and-bothered, dear cinephile; Judith and
Nicolas damn near talk each other to death before there’s
The flashback structure and the film’s central mystery will
put you on your guard: Is the woman a reliable narrator? The
bland chic of the world Judith and Nicolas jaw and romp about
in suggests no—Judith’s almost always wearing the same generic-looking,
cream-colored blouse and skirt, and the same demure string
of pearls. What seems like an interesting visual strategy
proves to be pure artifice, sadly.
Ledoyen is superb (as usual), a mix of doe-eyed innocence
and, in quiet moments, brooding cunning. Filmmaker Mouret
is as likable and unremarkable as a mop-topped stick figure.
The film has its charms, then turns brooding and melodramatic
at the end.
This mix of talk and sex can’t help but make old-timers think
of the films of the now-retired Eric Rohmer. Though Rohmer
was a Roman Catholic whose talky screen lovers rarely tumbled
into bed, their chatter—and vivid body language—created more
heat than any of the various couplings in Shall We Kiss?