TERMINATOR: SALVATION (2009, directed by McG, 130 minutes, U.S.)
SUMMER HOURS (2008, directed by Olivier Assayas, 103 minutes, France)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC
Now we know why Christian Bale was so on edge.Terminator: Salvation has a-risen and it is just as joyless and relentless as Bale’s on-set demeanor. We’ve finally arrived at the apocalyptic desert war briefly viewed in the original Terminator twenty-five years ago and now we understand James Cameron’s wisdom in making this scenario a peripheral aside instead of the main course.
Here is another blockbuster series reboot, trying to restart the series in the very future Sarah Connor was trying to save us from. Front and center is the grim savior John Connor, played by the absurdly dour Mr. Bale he is a man who speaks solely in growls and barks. Connor’s fight against the Transformer-like machines of the evil Skynet is paralleled by the story of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a convict on death row who looks suspiciously like a young Schwarzenegger and is undergoing some very fishy experiments conceived by a scientist played by the sadly wasted Helena Bonham Carter.
Aren’t sequels supposed to deliver more of what audiences responded to originally? The first film grabbed audiences in 1984 with a machine like efficiency, powered by Cameron’s unrelenting direction and the primal thrill an unstoppable robot killer sent from the future on a mission to kill. Without the irreplaceable Cameron and with Arnold absent (except for a cameo by his pasted-on CGI head) the latest entry is lacking the core elements of the series, missing out on the fun of killer robots from the future and instead spending an entire film mulling over events the original was able to sum up in a single flash-forward.
With the Charlie’s Angels films, director McG specialized in a certain tongue-in-cheek flash; it seems almost cruel to point out that he lacks the depth for the sort of sci-fi myth-making called for by a script that ponders over the humanity of androids and religious deliverance brought about by mankind’s savior John Connor. To go much further into this noisy and overly-familiar blockbuster misfire seems as fruitless as trying to divine the meaning beneath a demolition derby. T4 is such a soulless exercise we can only conclude that the robots of Hollywood have won this time around.
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Of course a director doesn’t need a hundred million dollars and a army of CGI programmers to go horribly off the mark; one-time critical favorite Atom Egoyan (maker of moody dramas like The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica) is equally as misguided with a tenth of the budget in his latest film, the preposterous Adoration.
Devon Bostick is Simon, an orphaned teenager who lives with his grumpy tow-tuck driving uncle (Scott Speedman, once of Felicity). When Simon writes a fictional monologue about his father attempting to use his pregnant mother as an unwitting suicide bomber, Simon’s drama teacher demands that he pretend the story is true to heighten the impact of the assignment. Although this exercise is not meant to get beyond the classroom, his classmates are abuzz on the Internet about the tale, forcing Simon to search for the truth in his parent’s death.
The script’s machinations are beyond credulity from the outset but what is so irksome is Egoyan’s insistence in presenting the story in the same way he’s framed so many of his films: by introducing a group of seemingly unconnected characters then slowly untangling their alliances and motivations. After twenty years of telling stories in the same format, Egoyan telegraphs all the story’s punches. If you’ve seen a few of his films you’ll know exactly where the “shocking” revelations are going to fall, leaving the script’s sheer ludicrousness standing naked. Such filmmaking comes off as lazy and habitual, a fatal flaw for a filmmaker whom seems to pride himself on his own braininess. Again mulling over family secrets and video screen confessions, Egoyan has delivered the art house version of sitcom predictability.
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Olivier Assayas doesn’t stray far from familiar ground with his latest either, although to much different effect. Summer Hours brings together three siblings as they decide what to do with their recently departed mother’s estate. Their mother was a collector of fine art, particularly the work of their esteemed Uncle, considered one of the major French artists of the last century. Will the siblings hold on to the art and the family’s beautiful summer home, or will they sell it all, dispose of their pasts and move on with their lives?
If you’re expecting family fireworks you’ve come to the wrong film. It’s an odd thrill yet captivating none the less to see how this family responds with understanding and maturity at their differing perspectives on their mothers estate, and Assayas transforms the situation into a meditation on the power assigned to objects and the fate of France’s cultural legacy. The characters, notably Juliette Binoche as the modernist sister and Charles Berling as the traditionalist brother, gives the sort of lived in performances that make these figures linger in the memory as actual acquaintances and not just actors in a film.
Looking at their mother’s gorgeously ornate desk in her library one can’t help but marvel at its beauty; seeing it end up in a museum, with distracted patrons buzzing around it with cell phones in their ears captures the sadness of seeing a majestic lion go from the jungle to the zoo. Awash with telling details and casually insightful asides, Summer Hours captures human beings in all their subtleties where the aforementioned films struggle to capture the pulse of life, even in its broad strokes.