A War This Time (Terminator: Salvation, 2009)

Terminator_Salvation_PosterSix years later, the studio wanted to try and reboot the franchise.  The biggest twist of the film this time around? No time travel. The beginning of a planned trilogy set during the war, Christian Bale takes over the role of John Conner.

The film focuses upon Marcus, who awakens in the middle of the war and starts trying to figure out what is going on. He ends up on the run with Kyle Reese and young mute girl Star. When they run into other survivors, they come under attack by the machines who kidnap Star and Kyle.  Marcus ends up seeking the help of John Conner, believing they need to work together to save and the others from Skynet.

Truthfully, the film has mostly decent effects and it is full of very talented actors…but I never feel really drawn into the story.  It tries to surprise us, but the set-up at the beginning telegraphs to much…?

The visual effects are very good (though a CGI Arnold is pretty rubbery looking) and there are a lot of exciting action scenes. But we get a lot of “machine perspective” shots, which in the previous films gave us insight into the Terminators…but it just feels performative here, because who cares what the random flying machine or motorcycle perspective is.

This is not a terrible film, but it is more a sci-fi war movie that happens to have terminator machines in it than a Terminator movie. And to be honest, I never found myself wishing for a huge focus on the war itself, feeling that it works better as a background part of the story.

Duality (The Hate U Give, 2018)

the_hate_u_give_posterStarr and her family live in the poor part of town. But her mother pushed for sending Starr and her brother Seven to a prestigious (and mostly white) school. There Starr lives a very different life, downplaying any aspect of herself that might invite the accusation of being “ghetto”. She even has a (white) boyfriend named Chris. Chris is a goofy guy who wants to be a bigger part of her life, but Starr wants to keep he and her friends their separate from the world of her home life.

When one of her oldest friends, Khalil is gunned down by a cop  in front of her, Starr’s world rapidly starts to unravel. She tries to retain anonymity, but finds the weight of injustice harder to compartmentalize than the rest of her life has been. As she becomes more vocal, her friendships and family relationships are tested.

Based on the book by Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give is a painful and yet hopeful exploration of blackness in America. Starr’s family has faced a lot of adversity, including her father having been the right hand man to the local drug lord King.  After a stint in prison, Maverick Carter turned his life around, working hard to be an honest man with a local business. Her mother Lisa, on the other hand, would like to leave their community for a safer place.

The film might be a hard watch for some whites, especially those who are prone to “blue Lives Matter” ideas.  The film does not flinch from challenging the whole problem of such arguments. And the film very deftly offers those defenses first through a black man, Starr’s uncle Carlos. Played by Common, the police officer takes a more middle ground position. In one scene, he calmly explains the struggle police face in a routine traffic stop. And it really seems logical…until she asks what would happen in a white neighborhood.  In that moment, he confesses a white man would get a warning before being fired upon.

The film only has one truly sympathetic white character, and he is capable of cringey moments. After learning about Starr being the previously anonymous witness, he pleads that he does not see color. He does, however, prove himself an ally in his willingness to trust and help Starr when she needs his support. But Starr is not a fragile child.  Amandla Stenberg portrays her with sweetness, but also an edge.  And when she finds her voice, it is a powerful moment.

I think that this film is a very strong rebuke to a culture that likes to pretend racism is no longer an issue of prominence.  Emotionally engaging, heart breaking and inspiring, The Hate U Give is a message that cannot be heard too much.

I Hate Mondays Chapter 2 (John Wick Chapter 2, 2017)

john_wick_2_posterWhen we last left John Wick…he was still working to get his car back.  And after a very crazy and intense fight to do so, he heads home.  He buries his weapons, planning to quietly slip back into retirement.  But instead, his actions have come to the attention of Santino D’Antonio, to whom Wick owes a favor…and seeing how John left retirement, he is determined to cash it in.

John refuses and Santino handles it badly.  A visit to Winston lets John know he has to honor the debt…but after the debt? John is in the clear to get back at Santino.  And so John goes off to Italy to complete the mission…and…well, let’s just say his day goes from bad to severely life threatening.

John Wick Chapter 2 picks right up and never lets up.  Even the quiet moments feel like they are a build up to something intense.  As hit men rain down on Wick, he is constantly on guard.  Every corner reveals a new threat.  This gets amusing, such as one scene where Wick and Cassian (played by rapper and actor Common) are walking through a train station, from a distance trying to shoot each other (but carefully missing the people around them).

Many of the hit men are brief roles, yet the film gives them each unique and personal styles suggesting a backstory (we will never get).  Director Chad Stahelski returns with the second installment and it pays off.  John Wick Chapter 2 takes the best parts of the first film and amplifies them.

As before, the action is extremely well choreographed and the story kept very tight.  Rather than start to give the film to much more background, as sequels are prone to do, it follows the rule of “Keep It Simple”.  This really works in Chapter 2’s favor.

And finally, the film is clearly set for a Chapter 3…and the final moments of Chapter 2 hint that it will be quite a thrill ride.

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