Tag Archives: Jai Courtney

Movie Review: Terminator Genisys (2015)

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When Arnie famously said, “I’ll be back,” he clearly forgot to add, “over and over and over again.”

Let’s face it: the Terminator franchise has been on a downward trajectory since the highs of the iconic Judgment Day. None of the subsequent films have been bad, but they haven’t been great either. And now, six years after the ill-fated reboot, Terminator Salvation (which I actually thought was underrated), we have the reboot of the reboot, Terminator Genisys.

I liked where they were going with the premise — the idea that everything that happened in the earlier films never happened because someone went back even further (before the 1984 film) and changed how the future would pan out.

First off, it allows them to pay homage to the earlier films by taking audiences down nostalgia lane, reciting popular catchphrases and bringing back memorable characters and events — but with time-travel induced twists to make it fresh and unexpected.

Secondly, it gives the franchise new life by creating a completely different storyline that opens up possibilities of further sequels. That’s what good reboots do — they keep the best of the original and revamp and update other bits and pieces. This one goes even further to turn the franchise’s existing universe on its head by changing everything we thought we knew.

This should all be fantastic — as the T-800 would say repeatedly throughout this film — “theoretically.”

Unfortunately, Terminator Genisys isn’t nearly as effective in practice. It’s a messy effort with a plethora of problems, from from a nonsensical storyline and contrived plot devices to poor casting and cheesy dialogue. It is still enjoyable on an purely entertainment level, though it ultimately comes across as a commercial cash grab as opposed to a genuine effort to recapture the magic of the first two classics.

Allow me to break it down. The original Terminator paints a future in which robots take over the world in 1997, and in 2029, the machines decide to send a killer cyborg with an Austrian accent back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the future mother of John Connor, the last remaining human resistance. John Connor sends back his trusted soldier, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), back to the same time to protect his young mother. It’s a frightening action thriller with a clever time travel twist attached to it.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day, released in 1991, follows on from the original. The machines send back a liquid metal cyborg (Robert Patrick) to kill teenage John Connor (Edward Furlong), and the future John Connor sends back an old model killer cyborg with an Austrian accent to protect him. By this time, Sarah Connor has also turned into a badass, and in the end they appear to have change enough of the past to suggest that the 1997 judgment day doesn’t happen. The movie is one of the best and most iconic action and sci-fi films of all time.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, is a continuation of the second film. The 1997 judgment day is indeed averted, but it appears to only be postponed because somehow robots are still in control of the future. The machines send a cyborg who looks a lot like actress Kristanna Loken to 2003 to wipe out future members of the human resistance, and the humans send back a really old killer cyborg with an Austrian accent to protect them. Loken is ultimately unsuccessful in killing John Connor (Nick Stahl) and his future wife (Claire Danes), but judgment day happens anyway at the end of the movie. It’s not as good as the previous two but it’s still pretty entertaining.

Terminator Salvation, released in 2009, is mostly set in 2018, and presumes that judgment day happened around 2003 as opposed to 1997, meaning it accepts the events of its predecessor. Apart from that, the film is more of a side story, with the only major tie-in to the franchise being a cameo from an eerie-looking CGI Arnie at the very end.

Now, Terminator Genisys goes back to when the robots and John Connor (Jason Clarke) send Arnie and Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney), respectively, back to 1984 (ie, the first film), but this time the past has changed because Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke, no relation to Jason) has already become a badass after being trained from the age of nine by an even older Arnie. Things obviously progress differently from here, creating a brand new timeline.

The first thing to note about the plot of Genisys is that it goes back to assuming that judgment day took place in 1997 as opposed to 2003, meaning it is essentially ignoring everything that happened from T2 to T4. I’m not sure if this was an intentional decision or oversight, but what it does is complicate the Terminator universe a whole lot more. T1 was a simple time loop. T2-4 was all part of a single alternate timeline. Genisys, on the other hand, seems to have created multiple intertwining alternate timelines. That is a risky move because the idea of a universe where there are infinite versions of a reality arguably cheapens the meaning of all the other films in the franchise.

The second thing to note is that a lot of the isolated time travel stuff that happens in Genisys don’t make a whole lot of sense. Granted, most time travel movies have holes in them if you think about them long enough, but in this film you don’t even have to think about it to realise it lacks logic.

Worse still, the film is filled with trite plot devices to help progress the narrative. It’s as though the writers would first think of something they would like to happen in the storyline, then drop something in just before it happens so that it would conveniently make sense all of a sudden. Frustratingly, this happens again and again, especially towards the end when the stakes get high. One particular twist of fate at the end is laughable.

Casting is another issue I had with the film. I am glad Aussies are getting work in Hollywood, I really am, and I think Jason Clarke is not bad as John Connor. But Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese? Seriously? I have no idea why Courtney keeps getting so many roles despite not having been in any genuinely good films or put in any good performances — ever. He doesn’t have a “good guy” vibe, for starters, and he has zero charm for what is supposed to be a charismatic character.

Emilia Clarke may have appeared like a good choice on paper because she’s young, popular because of Game of Thrones, and as Khaleesi proved that she could play both vulnerable and super tough. But Emilia, as much as I like her, doesn’t hold a candle to Linda Hamilton. She doesn’t have any of the physicality the character needs (remember, she’s been trained by a Terminator since youth), plus she is a mismatch for Courtney and Arnie. Standing next to those two makes her look like the way Peter Dinklage looks when standing next to her in Game of Thrones.

The casting of Oscar-winner JK Simmons as a police officer makes up for the bad lead choices a little bit, and I quite liked the move of choosing Lee Byung-hun as the new T-1000 because he looks just like Korean Robert Patrick, but on the whole the cast is problematic and causes issues for the next two instalments of this planned trilogy.

Additional concerns include poorly written and executed dialogue, as well as Arnie’s badly timed one-liners that tend to fall flat, though admittedly these things get better as the film progresses and evens out by the end.

What the film has going for it includes excellent special effects, in particularly the anti-aging technology applied to Arnie, who plays three different ages throughout the movie because, apparently, the cyborgs are covered by human tissue that ages over time — albeit, as the film indicates, very inconsistently. Still, it’s much better than the weird version of Arnie was got at the end of Salvation, showing that movie technology has indeed improved (though it also shows just how ahead of its time Judgment Day was).

The action is pretty decent, close to being on par with what we got in every film of the franchise except Judgment Day, and I do like that it doesn’t take itself — for the most part — too seriously, with a handful of tongue-in-cheek gags that hit the mark. Brownie points for also updating the machine threat to cloud computing to be more relevant to today’s technology. As a piece of popcorn entertainment, Genisys is acceptable without being remarkable, and for some that might be good enough if you tack on the goodwill of the franchise and Arnie’s “old but not obsolete” presence.

Overall, however, Genisys is a disappointment, a muddled effort with loads of issues that could have and should have been ironed out. It’s a sobering reminder of how good this franchise used to be and why reboots of classics are seldom necessary. Viewers with low expectations who catch the it in the right mood could still enjoy the film because it does have strengths, can be fun at times, and takes full advantage of the franchise’s cache, though considering its full potential it’s safe to say Genisys fell well short.

2.75 stars out of 5

PS: I decided to use a teaser poster as a protest to the geniuses in their marketing department putting one of the biggest spoilers there is in the film’s most widely used poster. It’s impossible to miss.

Movie Review: The Water Diviner (2014)

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Russell Crowe fancies himself as the world’s greatest actor, so I was curious to see how he would fare in his directorial debut, The Water Diviner, about a grieving father’s quest to find his three missing sons in Turkey following the end of World War I.

The film is “inspired by a true story,” whatever that means, and while it is largely grounded in reality it has a somewhat “magical” feel, where audiences are supposed to be believe in miracles and that “everything happens for a reason”. I don’t want to say it is a bad film, because it’s not, though after hearing Crowe talk it up so much and describing how much effort and passion and experience he poured into the production, not to mention its win for Best Picture at the AACTA Awards (shared with Babadook), my immediate response after watching it was: “That’s it?”

It’s an Aussie production through-and-through, with a mostly Australian cast and crew that features one prominent recognisable foreign signee, the lovely Olga Kurylenko, as a widowed Turkish hotelier. Crowe apparently just wanted to focus on directing, but the film producers wouldn’t give the movie the green light without him in the starring role. Russell was said to have put the crew through a rigorous boot camp to prepare them physically and mentally for their roles, and raved on about how he felt he was the only person in the world who could do the film justice. Despite this being his first film as director, he believed he had more experience than most directors — including Ridley Scott — given his 30 years as an actor in the industry.

And yet, The Water Diviner, notwithstanding its touching premise, turned out to be not all that much better than a glorified TV movie. It is well-researched and provides the historical background from both sides — notwithstanding typical accusations of inaccuracies — and there are undeniably moving moments, dramatic scenes and nicely choreographed war sequences, though many of the positives are undone by a sappy tone and corny melodrama. The contrived romance between Crowe’s and Kurylenko’s characters, in particular, was completely unnecessary and took away the focus from the film’s heart, which is a father’s grief and the love for his sons.

Led by Crowe’s typical self-assuredness, the performances from the cast are decent. Jai Courtney, who seems to be everywhere these days, plays an ANZAC captain who has his doubts about the Aussie farmer’s quest. Jacqueline McKenzie has a small role as Crowe’s depressed wife, while Packed to the Rafters star Ryan Corr plays one of Crowe’s sons. Isabelle Lucas is for some strange reason in it, looking way too thin as a basically pointless side character.

Perhaps its the budget or time constraints, but The Water Diviner fails to deliver the sweeping epic it appears to have set out to be. Instead, it’s a solid and even occasionally good, but ultimately unspectacular film that likely won’t have producers rushing to ask Crowe to direct their future projects.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Unbroken (2014)

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Angelina Jolie has been tipped as a filmmaker to watch for the future, so I was naturally drawn to her third and latest directorial effort, Unbroken, a biopic about the remarkable life of US Olympian and WWII prisoner of war Louis Zamperini.

To be frank, I was a little disappointed with Unbroken given its subject and celebrated director and screenwriting team (that includes one of my faves, the Coen Brothers). It’s solid, there is no denying that, though I don’t think the film did very much in elevating Zamperini’s inspirational life significantly above what one would have expected simply from reading a basic bio of his experiences. While it depicts Zamperini as an amazing individual, Unbroken fails to distinguish itself from all of the other POW stories.

Jolie begins with a typical in media res approach that introduced Zamperini as a member of a US bomber squad on a mission against the Japanese-occupied Island of Nauru in 1943. As expected, the film reverts to flashback mode shortly after, showing Zamperini’s childhood in California as a troubled kid. From there, Jolie adopts a surprisingly linear, conventional narrative, focusing on Zamperini’s Olympic career before moving onto his role in WWII.

Zamperini is indeed worthy of respect for his astounding resiliency and will to survive, but the film focuses too much on this one aspect of his personality. The narrative is pretty much just him overcoming one hardship after another. He’s like a human version of that annoying Chumbawamba song — he gets knocked down but he gets up again, and again and again and again. Jolie doesn’t do much to mix things up other than emphasise the sadistic nature of his Japanese captors (in particular a one-dimensional corporal known as “Bird” played by Japanese recording artist Miyavi) and play up Zamperini’s glorious moments of triumph.

The problem, I think, is that Jolie was too in awe of her subject, whom she has met and was still alive during filming. As a result, the film became essentially a work of hero worship that never really managed to explore his character like it should have. It’s strange, but even though it is a biopic I still don’t feel like I really got to know Zamperini as a person other than that he he managed to live through a lot of terrible things. I can only imagine how much edgier and how much more depth the film would have had had Jolie been able to maintain a bit of distance from her protagonist.

Failing to meet expectations aside, Unbroken is a well-intentioned effort and a very watchable film. Jolie’s direction is not flashy, though she infuses her images — some handsome, others bleak — with passion and control. Shades of Clint Eastwood, perhaps? And the story is undoubtedly inspirational because its true; the performance of Jack O’Connell as Zamperini is quite good, and the supporting cast featuring the likes of Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund and Jai Courtney all fill out their respective roles impressively. The film has moments I really liked and found emotionally rewarding, but also others (including the final climax) that were heavy-handed and too obviously geared towards sentimentality. On the whole, I still think it’s a film worth watching because Zamperini’s story is such an extraordinary one, though it’s a shame Jolie could not have wielded her Malificent magic to turn it into something special.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

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The Die Hard franchise has been on progressive decline since the 1988 original, which I still believe to this day is the best action movie of all time. The 1990 sequel, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, is a surprisingly excellent action flick in its own right, while the 1995  Die Hard With a Vengeance is a prime example of a fantastic franchise reboot. All three can be considered action classics. The series took a bigger step back with 2007’s Die Hard 4.0 (or Live Free or Die Hard), where the 12-year gap had an unwelcome effect on the now-iconic John McClane, though it was still a relatively good movie. And now, the fifth and newest addition, A Good Day to Die Hard (let’s call it DH5 for simplicity sake), has fallen off the wagon and taken this great franchise down into the pits.

DH5 is not horrible by typical modern action movie standards, but it is a smear on the Die Hard franchise whichever way you look at it. In this one, John McClane (Bruce Willis) heads to Russia to “rescue” his son Jack (played by Aussie Jai Courtney), who has been arrested for a murder linked to  an imprisoned political prisoner. Mayhem ensues, and this time the McClane father and son duo team up to annihilate the bad guys.

I’m not sure what they were trying to achieve with this plodding effort, which has a lot of guns and explosions and cars flying all over the place, but not much real tension, humour or genuine excitement. Perhaps they were trying to emulate the awesomeness of Taken or the Bourne series (ie, an unstoppable good guy beats up a lot of bad guys), which I believe is a huge mistake.

The earlier Die Hard films featured a reluctant, vulnerable McClane caught in situations he didn’t want to be in, which is why they were so full of tension and nervous energy. In the last two of the series, however, John McClane has ceased to be the old John McClane we know and love. He has become the “new” John McClane, some kind of hardened superhero who never gets rattled or hurt no matter how many times he is tossed around in moving metal, beaten up or dropped from ridiculously high places. He has too much cache from past experiences to be vulnerable. He’s like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable without the fear of water.

As a result, the DH5 is generally predictable (even with the twists) and frequently lame. Even though there’s all this stuff happening on the screen, there’s just no excitement because you know he’s John McClane and John McClane can never be beaten. Worst still, this new McClane has no special hand-to-hand combat skills like say a Jason Bourne or Bryan Mills — he’s just a guy who likes to fire a lot of guns and doesn’t get hit himself.

Part of the problem is the direction of John Moore, who was previously at the helm of Max Payne and the remake of The Omen in 2006. We also had the “new” John McClane in DH4 (directed by Len Wiseman from the Underworld series), but that film was still pretty good, so some of the blame has to go to Moore, who let his foot off the gas pedal too often and relied far too much on obvious digital effects in many of the action sequences.

The biggest culprit is likely the script by Skip Woods (Swordfish, Hitman, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The A-Team), which is not very good at all. The dialogue is horrendous in both English and Russian and the attempts at creating some sort of father-son dynamic between the McClanes come off as clunky and out of place, largely because it feels so obligatory. McClane’s wry humour and one-liners, one of the defining traits of his character, is almost non-existent as well. Don’t get me wrong, there are efforts to lighten the mood, but they rarely felt like they meshed with the flow of the film.

The Die Hard franchise has always stretched the bounds of craziness, but a lot of what happens in DH5 is just plain lazy. Why don’t people bleed to death from untreated gun shots and puncture wounds? Why do Russian people who generally speak Russian to each other feel the need to squeeze in a sentence of English every now and then? Why do they suddenly start speaking completely in English  towards the end? Why do some of their Russian accents even start disappearing? Why does Jack McClane have to say his dad’s name, “John”, at least once every sentence? We know his name is John; we’ve known that for the last four films! Who the heck talks like that?

Bruce Willis is still good enough to pull off John McClane, but I can’t help get the feeling that he’s growing a little weary and is ready to pass the baton to Jai Courtney, who is physically imposing but looks more like a bad guy than a good one (he was the bad guy in Jack Reacher and felt much more convincing). The rest of the cast is predominantly Russian and none are memorable. None even come close to possessing the charisma of a Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman from the original) or even a Simon Peter Gruber (Jeremy Irons from the third film), let’s just put it that way. That’s another problem to add to the list — lame antagonists.

When all is said and done, DH5 is actually a passable action film by ordinary standards, but a criminally bad one when measured against the lofty bar set by the earlier entries in the same franchise. It’s a real shame because I think they could have done much much better, especially if they are considering bringing together John McClane and both of his kids (that’s Jai Courtney and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, the latter of whom has a cameo in this one after appearing in DH4) in a sixth and potentially final Die Hard film.

2.5 stars out of 5