Tag Archives: Schwarzenegger

Movie Review: Maggie (2015)


The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is back in the post-apocalyptic depressor, Maggie, about a young girl’s final days before turning into a zombie.

I heard a lot of mixed things about the movie before I finally had a chance to watch it, and I think much of it is misleading. For starters, I don’t think much of Arnie’s performance, which has been hailed as the best of his career — like that’s saying much. It doesn’t even feel like he’s in it all that much, as the story focuses more on the eponymous protagonist (played by Abigail Breslin). Yeah he’s fine in the role and probably showed a wider range of emotions than usual, but I actually think a large handful of other actors could have done it better. Am I crazy for thinking that the film is better at demonstrating Arnie’s limitations rather than shattering them?

Secondly, I don’t think the film feels like it has ripped off the bestselling PS3 game The Last of Us, as several people have pointed out. I should know, because I just played it twice and think it’s the best video game of all time. Sure, there’s the zombie angle and the father-daughter-ish relationship, but apart from that there’s not a lot of similarities.

So what is Maggie really like? Slow and really depressing. It starts with Arnie finding Maggie, who has been bitten and has been given several weeks before she finally loses herself and becomes a flesh-eating zombie. The problem is treated as a “virus”, and as such the infected are allowed to return home until they reach a certain point, when they will have to be forcibly moved to quarantine.

The rest of the film requires you to sit through Maggie’s agonising transformation and constant reminders of what she’ll eventually become and the terrible decision Arnie will have to make. It’s an interesting idea, because typically in zombie movies people don’t get a lot of time before they turn.

In many ways, Maggie is not all that different to a story about a young patient having to deal with a life-ending disease like cancer, though I suppose the zombie idea puts a slightly different spin on things. But does it really conjure up enough different emotions to justify it as a plot device? I’ll say yes, but only barely.

My main gripe about the film is that it’s just not a very enjoyable experience, and it doesn’t make up for it in other ways. As if the premise is not bleak enough already, the visuals are very grey and very dark all the way through. The pace is also deliberately slow, without a lot of ups and downs, making the 95-minute running time feel uncomfortably long. Moreover, there is a sense of inevitability considering there’s really only one way things can end. It’s not a film that gives itself a lot of room to maneuvre.

For a zombie movie there’s not much zombie action, with most of the scenes of the undead aimed at generating sympathy as opposed to fear. It’s a horror film where the horror comes from the depressing knowledge of what Maggie will become. Some of it is scary, but it’s more sad than anything.

The drama, the clear focus of the movie, is solid thanks to the strong performance of Breslin and Arnie doing the best he can. While it is effective at making you feel upset, there was never a time when I felt overwhelmed by emotion, perhaps because there weren’t any emotions I wasn’t expecting. Maybe if there was a bit of hope — even false hope — I would have found it more meaningful, and accordingly, more powerful.

Having made Maggie sound a lot worse than it actually is, I will admit that I found it to be an interesting premise with a few nice moments of reflection on the pointlessness of fighting a disease that will rob you of your dignity and who you are before the bitter end. There was one excellent scene in which Maggie attends a bonfire party where her friends — including an infected boy — and they discuss the difficult options faced by the infected and those caring for them. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough of these moments to take advantage of the premise and make Maggie the type of well-rounded, rewarding experience it could have been.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Expendables 2 (2012)

So I keep hearing that The Expendables 2 is what the first film should have been.

My expectations for the first film were, unfortunately, slightly higher. That said, Expendables 2 is a vast improvement on its predecessor because it decided to have do more with fact that it features a whole bunch of high-profile action stars who aren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves. It’s has more characters, longer cameos, bigger explosions, upgraded fight scenes and a lot of great one liners. I wish it could have been a little more, but perhaps I’m asking for too much.

The story picks up not too long after the first one ended. Sty Stallone and Jason Statham are still leading their team of mercenaries, which includes other action heroes such as martial arts expert Jet Li, MMA fighter Randy Couture (Mr “You got a door? You got a gym!”), Ivan Drago aka Dolph Lundgren , and the guy I will always associate with White Chicks, Terry Crews. Of the original team, only Mickey Rourke dropped out.

This time, the team has two strange new additions: Liam Hemsworth (who is not an action star — yet — though his brother Chris is) as a sniper, and Chinese actress Yu Nan (selected probably because of her proficiency in English), who keeps up the Asian quotient on the squad after Jet Li jets off minutes into the film (he hadn’t planned on being in it but Stallone insisted).

I think the plot had something to do with baddies forcing poor villagers in Eastern Europe to help them mine plutonium, but no one really cares about plot in a film like this.

The Expendables 2 still contains “serious” scenes and “character development” scenes, but on the whole the film was more lighthearted than the first. The jokes are frequent, and unlike in the first film, much funnier, and the fight scenes are better choreographed. There are plenty of blown off limbs and exploding bodies but it’s all so intentionally over-the-top that no one would call it realistic violence.

There are three major positives worth mentioning about this film.

The first is the new villain, Jean-Claude Van Damme, who plays a guy creatively named…er, Vilain. Van Damme does a delicious villain and actually gets to perform some of his trademark Kickboxer movers, such as that flying roundhouse he loves so much. Van Damme is backed up by the familiar face of Scott Adkins, who has been in a bunch of supporting roles and B-grade action films over the years.

The second is the extended cameos of Willis and Arnie. The biggest disappointment of the first film was that they appeared for about 5 seconds together and did nothing. This time, the trio finally get together and get their hands dirty. Even though it’s not for very long, it’s still better than nothing, and they even get to shoot witty remarks at each other. It was fun.

The third is the much-talked about appearance of Chuck Norris, who has somehow grown to legendary status thanks to those never-ending internet jokes. Chuck lives up to those jokes and even tells a few of his own. His presence is the brightest highlight of the entire film, and it’s a shame he couldn’t have gotten more screen time. I would pay to watch a Chuck Norris spin-off where all he does is live up to his legend.

What you should have noticed by now is that none of the three positives involve Stallone’s team of mercenaries. That’s because they still kind of sucked. The biggest culprit is still Stallone himself, who must be the lamest of them all by keeping a “straight face”  (okay, I see that’s a term grossly inappropriate for him) throughout the entire film. He remains jacked up on steroids, human growth hormones or whatever Lance Armstrong has been taking, but he exhibits no charm and no skill other than growling incoherently (I think he’s still saying “Adriannnnn!”), running in over-sized platform boots and squinting through those two pellets he calls eyes. But hey, it’s his movie and his idea, so he still has to be “the man” by default. I wanted more Rambo and Rocky, less whatever his name is in the film.

Statham has two good scenes where he gets to strut his stuff, but Crews, Lundgren and Couture fade into the background and practically do nothing. Hemsworth and Yu Nan don’t do a whole lot other actors couldn’t have done either. It’s disappointing and a waste of an opportunity.

I also didn’t get all the pointless talking that was supposedly aimed at character development. They were boring, and no one can tell what Stallone is trying to say anyway.

Ultimately, the film was still a solid piece of entertainment and plenty of popcorn fun. Kudos for improving on the first one and providing a blueprint for that inevitable third movie. It’s possible they may have already exhausted all they can do with this franchise but I suppose as long as there are new action stars to add people will still flock to watch it — me included.

3.5 stars out of 5


Movie Review: Predators (2010)

After several years of the disappointing Alien vs Predator efforts, it’s good to finally see one of the franchises returning to its roots.  If you ignore all the films with Aliens in them, then Predators is essentially the third film of the franchise.

Excellent.  Enough of the Aliens crap.  I want to see Predators hunting and frightening the life out of humans again.

Well, Predators gives the audience exactly what they have been asking for since 1987 (the 1990 sequel was too brutal for my liking).  The premise is simple but effective — throw all the most lethal humans on the planet into a jungle and watch the Predators hunt them down.  It’s man versus the unstoppable hi-tech creature in hardcore terrain that harks back to the original when Arnie took on and defeated the first Predator.

However, gone is the bulky mass of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  In his place — Oscar winner Adrien Brody!

Most people, when they first hear about this new action hero, would have had the same WTF reaction as I did.  Adrien Brody?  The Pianist?

Yes, him.  As Brody said it himself in an interview — go look at the elite soldiers of today.  They all look like him.  Thin and sinewy (though few have his ridiculous nose).  None of them look like body builders.

Fair enough, but physically Arnie at least made us believe there was half a chance of survival.  Maybe the gamble with Brody paid off, maybe it didn’t.  I’m kind of sitting on the fence with this one because he is a brilliant actor and brought out so much more from his character than anyone would have thought imaginable.  But he’s still Adrien Brody (albeit a visibly more buffed one).

Anyway, Brody is not the only one.  There’s also Topher Grace (Spiderman 3), whose wimpiness makes Brody convincing (if only for a second) as a super tough, super deadly mercenary.  There’s Alice Braga (I Am Legend) as an Israeli sniper (and token female), Danny Trejo (Con Air) as a Mexican cartel enforcer (and token Latino), Mahershalalhashbaz Ali (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) as an African RUF officer (and token black guy), Oleg Taktarov (Righteous Kill) as a Russian soldier, Louis Ozawa Changchien as a Yakuza enforcer (and token Asian) and Walter Goggins as a deathrow inmate.  Plus there is an extended cameo from another big name who seems to have put on a bit of weight lately.  It’s a mixed bag, and you can be sure that not all of them are going to make it to the end.

Director Nimrod Antal (who directed the 2007 Vacancy) clearly tried to channel the raw power, excitement and fear of the original into Predators.  It’s essentially an update of the first film with new characters, more dangers and a couple of twists (one of which is a complete dud).  It’s not without merit as there are a number of tense, action packed scenes, but the fear simply wasn’t there.  There was a feeling of inevitability about all the deaths and when they would happen, and there wasn’t even anything particularly original about any of them.

I really wanted to like Predators, but it didn’t come close to the classic original.  Still the second best Predator film though.

3 stars out of 5

[PS: SPOILER ALERT — the worst part of the whole film was when the Yakuza dude took on one of the Predators with his Samurai sword.  I expected the guy to be some master swordsman and to see some rapid sparks flying everywhere.  Instead we got to see the lamest sword fight in history.]

Movie Review: Terminator Salvation (2009)


I went to see Terminator Salvation with reasonable (albeit guarded) expectations, but the film absolutely exceeded them.  In my humble opinion, it’s the second best film (out of four) of the great Terminator franchise.  Bearing in mind that I thought Terminator 2: Judgment Day was one of the best action movies and sequels of all time, that’s a pretty big compliment for the new film directed by McG and starring Christian Bale and Sam Worthington.

As per usual, I’ll keep plot details to an absolute minimum.  All that needs to be said is that the story revolves around a grown-up John Connor (Christian Bale, or Edward Furlong from T2 and Nick Stahl from T3).  If you’ve seen the previous 3 films or have a vague idea what they are about, then no further explanation is necessary.

However, you don’t need to have seen any of the previous Terminator films to appreciate this one.  It stands up well as an independent feature, and is significantly different in style to its predecessors.  It’s substantially more dark, grim and gritty, capturing the pessimistic mood of the world perfectly.  But when it comes to action sequences, of which Terminator Salvation has plenty, it doesn’t do too shabbily when judged under the high standards set by the franchise.

While I said the story revolves around John Connor, the movie really belongs to new character Markus Wright, played by Aussie Sam Worthington (who will be appearing in Avatar later this year and will play Perseus in the remake of Clash of the Titans).  Worthington is arguably the lead character of the film, and shares just as much as screen time as (if not more than) Bale – and he has the more interesting story.  This is the second time in a row Bale has been relegated to second fiddle despite being the supposed ‘lead character’ for a major film (the first, of course, is when Heath Ledger’s Joker upstaged his Batman in The Dark Knight).  Maybe that’s the real reason Bale went American Psycho on the set!

While Bale and Worthington hog most of the minutes, Anton Yelchin absolutely steals the show as a young Kyle Reese.  He is terrific in this role, and I have become a big fan.  Also solid is Moon Bloodgood, a Resistance soldier, and Jadagrace Berry, too cute for her own good.  Michael Ironside grunts his way through the film for his paycheck, but it is Bryce Dallas Howard that has the most thankless role as as Kate Connor.  She really got short changed.

When people hear a guy named McG directed the film (you may remember him from such films as Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle), they cringe and refuse to give it a chance.  Poor guy, but that’s the nickname he was given from birth because too many relatives had the same names (real name: Joseph McGinty Nichol).  However, McG does a splendid job in Terminator Salvation, creating a realistic, believable world, keeping the action thrilling and dynamic (with creative camera angles and movements), while managing to add in some cool homages to the previous films.  I thought they were cool anyway.

The special effects were superb, but audiences don’t expect anything less than seamless these days.  Although there were some highly creative sequences, none of them were as iconic as those from T1 or T2.

I was surprised how relatively little fanfare accompanied the release of this movie, which was the first in the franchise without Governor Schwarzenegger in the lead.  I’m not sure if it was because I was hidden from the world during my studies, but to me, Terminator Salvation had none of the hype that surrounded the release of other recent major films such as Star Trek or Angels & Demons.  Of course, there was that infamous psychotic Christian Bale rant on set that made headlines all around the world, but I don’t believe it had anything to do with the unexpected low-keyness of it all.  Then again, that didn’t stop the early reviewers of the film from spoiling the many wonderful surprises in this underrated blockbuster (if you haven’t seen it yet, dear reader, then I hope you had more success than me in avoiding them).

Okay, now the verdict.  In my opinion, it’s better than a 4-star film, but not quite good enough to warrant 4.5 stars.  Hence, I will have to settle for 4.25 stars out of 5!