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Sunday
Jul122015

Amy (2015)

The Decline of Western Civilization, Part Four

Amy Winehouse was a junky, a spoiled little millionaire loser who flushed her promising career down the toilet just as thoroughly as she flooded her lungs with crack cocaine. Marked by withering limbs, rotted teeth, and a barely-human hanger-on boyfriend, her oblivion spiral became the pop spectator sport of 2010. When she died a year later, the laughter of a hundred late-night-TV monologue jokes still reverberated, echoing our collective lack of sympathy. Admit it, the cosmic irony of Winehouse’s chart-topping hit, “Rehab”, still makes you giggle.

There are people in this world for whom the above sentiment will forever hold true. You might be one of them, and that’s okay. I didn’t care about Amy Winehouse, either, until watching Asif Kapadia’s ambitious, immersive, and downright amazing documentary, Amy. I’d been a casual fan of Winehouse’s music, but am ashamed to admit that I fell into the easy-jokes crowd like so many of us who made the singer’s downfall possible. No, we didn’t coerce the 27-year-old into an alcohol binge that fatally tipped the scales of her fragile, drug-addled body—but we are complicit.

We are complicit.

The film chronicles the life of a sassy British teen who fell into a music career and ascended to the top of the charts in just over a decade. Comprised completely of photomontages, home videos, interviews, and behind-the-scenes tape (and given voice by friends and colleagues) Amy is, on the surface, an unconventionally presented conventional bio-doc. A sideways glance at the form, though, reveals something darker and far more intriguing: it's the first true-life found-footage horror film—complete with a beautiful, resourceful, but ultimately doomed heroine squaring off against the undying, relentless forces of darkness.

Over the course of two hours, Kapadia presents a beautiful arc that most scripted dramas would kill for. Winehouse, the troubled product of a broken home, sought refuge in singing and lyric writing at a young age. She parlayed that into a music career, thanks to a network of friends who became more like family than her own flesh and blood. She put in the work of gigging and touring and meeting with press, never taking to her label’s attempts at crafting a polished media persona. Especially in early interviews, she comes off as blunt and distracted, always eager to get back to the "music" part of the music business.

For strong evidence that God not only exists but is a cruel and gifted black-humorist, look no further than Winehouse’s introduction to Blake Fielder-Civil at the precise moment her career truly took off. The self-styled addict, club promoter, and poon-hound seduced Winehouse, greasily filling the roles of lover, father figure, and purveyor of hard drugs. He became as addicted to the suites-and-sweet-rides lifestyle of Winehouse’s awards-show ascent as she did to his essence—the scumbag je ne sais quoi that compelled her to get “Blake’s” tattooed over her left breast.

To further twist the narrative knife, Winehouse’s father, Mitch, re-entered her life under the guise of reconciliation and became a fixture of her inner circle. He and Fielder-Civil never officially aligned to squeeze Amy dry, but the effect was downright conspiratorial: Dad’s desire to be taken care of superseded any consideration for his daughter’s well being. He proved himself a gross opportunist who set the tone on Amy’s staff of looking the other way and preserving, at all costs, the integrity of his gravy train’s increasingly isolated engine—even if it was clearly fueled by pills and pipes that emitted black clouds of depression.

Despite this inevitable second-act turn, Amy is not a complete downer of a film; its first half is the exact opposite, which makes Amy Winehouse’s death so gut-wrenching. Kapadia takes great pains to portray her as a supremely talented cool girl whose throwback soul sound was a reaction to the bland pop of her day. She didn’t want to be famous; she wanted to perform great, non-committee music. In every video and photograph, we are drawn to the fierce spirit behind Winehouse’s eyes. In the darkest moments of her decline, that light never diminishes; it transitions from radiance to rage within a deteriorating mental and physical shell. Like the final girl in a horror movie, we want to see Winehouse survive, and at several points I felt compelled to shout, “No! Don’t go in there!”

Winehouse was a celebrity, for sure, but Amy captures the essence that would have made her a star, had she lived. In one scene, she's on stage at a remote-feed Grammy concert, waiting for Tony Bennett and Natalie Cole to announce the Record of the Year. We can see Winehouse's heart beating through her chest and her eyes are a frenzied mix of anticipation and disbelief that two of her idols have spoken her name aloud (and are perhaps about to do so again). The celebration that follows is heartwarming, but this scene's stinger is devastating in both theme and delivery. I won't spoil it for you, but there's no finer example of just how thoroughly and insidiously substance abuse can eclipse the sun.

That Kapadia and editor Chris King could fashion a compelling eleven-year narrative of the Winehouse orbit is a chiling commentary on our societal obsession with capturing absolutely everything on film. At times, I had to remind myself that this wasn't a painstakingly assembled drama meant to feel like a collage of artifacts. The scene where Bennett helps Amy push past nerves and insecurities during a studio session convinced my mind, momentarily, that I was watching Oscar bait starring Robert DeNiro and Anna Kendrick. A later scene is a multi-angle fireworks display of paparazzi flashbulbs that's so immersive I wondered if I'd somehow forgotten being in a London crowd with my phone camera that day. 3D blockbusters aren't this convincing.

If it's playing in your city, I highly recommend catching Amy in a theatre--over just about any mainstream distractions available right now. That may sound like an odd endorsement for a documentary, but Kapadia has fashioned a truly unique film whose full effect, I imagine, will degrade on the small screen. This is a movie worth rooting for, and worth telling your friends about. This is one of my favorite films of the year.

That said, your primary emotion on exiting the auditorium probably won't be joy, or even sadness. It's more likely to be anger. Anger at a scumbag boyfriend and scheming father who put their own desires above the life of someone they claimed to love. Anger (fair or unfair) at an intelligent and gifted artist who ultimately wasn't strong enough to beat her chemical and emotional demons. Anger at a culture that prizes gossip, tabloid humor, and an insatiable need for content above basic human dignity. Anger at an entertainment machine that sits atop the heap, ready with niche-proven replacement pop stars when the flavor du jour has gone sour.

For example, I don't doubt that Adele is a talented person with dreams just as legitimate as Amy Winehouse's, but her ascension coincided perfectly with the market's need to keep the fallen singer's sound going. I suppose this assembly line has been up and running for decades, but Amy (just like Amy) asks us to look beyond the bullshit and reclaim art from its glossy, commoditized packaging. It's a struggle, I know, especially in a time when we carry digital bandwagons in our back pockets. Maybe we could all use a little rehab, starting with admitting there's a problem--and then watching this movie.

Friday
Jul102015

Do I Sound Gay? (2014)

Exorcise Routine

Here's how I know that writer/director David Thorpe is really onto something with his new documentary, Do I Sound Gay?: after the film ended, I talked for two hours with my wife and sister-in-law about identity, culture, media, and the evolution of protest. Like many of the modern DIY docs pioneered by Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, Thorpe's asks a big question and enlists the world to help him figure it out. Thorpe's need to reconcile his "gay-sounding" voice with society's perception of it (as well as his perception of its perception) leads to interviews with friends, speech pathologists, people on the street, and a slew of gay celebrities. The film is introspection as spectacle. But just as pride parades are the flamboyant wrapping on a painful, multi-generational struggle, this film's premise is a gimmicky gateway to enlightenment and, perhaps, positive generational change.

Recently dumped and foggily navigating his forties, New York-based writer Thorpe began wondered if there was something inherent in his personality that repelled potential boyfriends. On the train one day, he found himself surrounded by jabbering "queens", and realized that he, too, had a stereotypical gay-man's voice. Maybe it wasn't his inner workings that prevented him from connecting with Mr. Right: maybe his body's expression of himself was faulty.

So begins Thorpe's journey to not only understand where that voice comes from (turns out it can't be pinned to a region or even a sexual orientation), but to see if he might alter his own to sound more "straight". The film alternates between the filmmaker's consultations with specialists and Hollywood voice coaches (who help him sound more confident and less traditionally feminine) and assorted interviews that paint an alarming portrait of media stereotypes stretching back to at least the 1930s. One of the film's most striking segments is a montage of gay-tinged Disney villains who appear to be anthropomorphized clones of cinema's first gay villain, Laura's Clifton Webb. Whether these decisions were conscious or unconscious on the part of the creators, I guarantee you'll never watch certain films from the Mouse House the same way again.

These insidious messages, the film suggests, may be a driving force in society's fear and disdain of gays, as well as what one of Thorpe's friends describes as a "generic self-loathing around my gayness." When Thorpe visits Ohio teen Zach King, whose savage beating in a classroom was caught on camera and made national news, he discovers an imaginative, hopeful young boy who feels (rightly or wrongly) that he must restrict his natural theatricality to bedroom performances--for fear of making his xenophobic peers uncomfortable to the point of violence. One issue the film does not address is whether or not Gay Pride memes in the media (that of the loud, leather-clad, rainbow-wigged performer, for example) hinder closeted teens and adults in parts of the country where the first step towards tolerance is not scaring the hell out of people.

The film touches on, but doesn’t grapple with, the paradox of gay icons from the 1960s and 70s (like Paul Lynde, Liberace, and Charles Nelson Reilly) establishing a cartoonish idea of homosexuality in the mass consciousness that modern gay culture seems to want to both eschew and take ownership of for very similar reasons. Thorpe watched these performers on TV as a kid and identified with their being “different” in the same way he was (though actually addressing their lifestyle was strictly taboo); I imagine that was empowering on some level. But his adult struggle with somehow feeling wrong for sounding too effeminate, too exuberant, too whatever, can likely be linked to the pop-culturally-ingrained notion that “those people” aren’t to be taken seriously.

Thorpe illustrates the broadening of the pop spectrum by interviewing the likes of David Sedaris, Dan Savage, George Takei, and Margaret Cho (among others)—present-day standard bearers of empathy and human dignity whose ability to entertain don’t rely on the flaming clown persona. Homosexuality is an integral part of their lives’ work, but it’s not their defining characteristic. Along with Thorpe’s closest friends, who own and manage their mannerisms to varying degrees, these celebrities help Thorpe to realize that the question should not be, “Do I Sound Gay?”, but, “Do I Sound Like Me?”

The trajectory of Thorpe’s quest is predictable, but the points along the way are not. Do I Sound Gay? isn’t a vanity project disguised as a comedy disguised as journalism. It’s a genuine work of filmic reporting in the Gonzo tradition. By making himself the story, Thorpe picks apart an objective subject with subjective insight and gains access to a variety of scientists, artists, and thinkers. More importantly, he gives them ample room to talk, to share, to ask questions of the audience that reach far beyond the movie’s cute title. This is a film about finding your voice, loving it, and using it to help others love themselves. How's that for a conversation starter?

Thursday
Jul092015

Magic Mike XXL (2015)

Nice Duds

A man finds himself at a crossroads. Stuck in a career path that utilizes his talents but only half-realizes his dreams, he spontaneously joins some friends on a road trip in a food truck. This journey of self-discovery begins in Florida, and is marked by great music, colorful locales, and a Food Network marathon's worth of unique, delicious confections served to swarms of eager customers. Sadly, we're not talking about Chef today. Magic Mike XXL is on the menu, and Gregory Jacobs' sequel is the doughy-center, thin-crust sausage special to Steven Soderbergh's original deep dish delight.

Full disclosure: going in to Magic Mike XXL, I had no expectations; hadn't seen the trailers; and could barely remember the first film, beyond Matthew McConaughey's oily climactic solo routine. All I knew was that Soderbergh wasn't attached and, for me, that spelled trouble. My complaints about branding swing both ways, especially as pertains to film franchises. Movie studios are very smart, you see, churning out products that are just "new" enough from what consumers know and love to warrant another dip in the pocket. What is Jurassic World, but Cool Ranch Doritos? What is Avengers: Age of Ultron, besides Pepsi Throwback? The same formula applies to sleeper-hit art pictures, too. Magic Mike XXL omits a key ingredient, though: the visionary director who made a flimsy premise both compelling and ridiculously entertaining. Without Soderbergh, the work is just as narratively lost and money-grubbing as any third-tier comic book sequel on the market.

McConaughey is also a no-show, as is his strip-club-owner character, Dallas. He's moved operations overseas, leaving his band of misfit male performers adrift. At the end of the first movie, Mike (Channing Tatum) left the scene with his girlfriend in order to start a custom-furniture business. Like The Karate Kid Part 2, Magic Mike XXL opens with our hero despondent over a surprise break-up, and looking to get out of his post-victory rut. Customers are few, bills are many, and when his old friends ride into town in a mobile fro-yo stand/nightclub on the way to a stripper convention, he jumps right on board.

The film's big problem is that writer Reid Carolin has no big-picture destination in mind for his characters. Yes, there's the stripper convention, but he makes it very clear that it's not a stripper contest. There's no grand prize that will allow the boys to set up their own club, no cigar-chomping mogul in the audience handing out Chippendales contracts. It's just a larger dance venue, packed with screaming, deluded women, throwing dollar bills at assorted, semi-sentient buns/cock combos.

That was harsh, but it's true. Where Soderbergh (and, puzzlingly, Carolin) brought 2012's Magic Mike to life by broadening audiences' understanding of what male strippers and their patrons could be (escapism through exciting and inventive dance artistry), the sequel settles for a conventional take on sex objects that we have to pay in order for them to pay attention to us. Because the performers are male, Carolin and Jacobs assume, the audience will give a pass to numerous scenes in which grabby, wide-eyed patrons drool all over semi-nude non-people--to the absolute delight of the chiseled hunks being groped. Watching the film, I couldn't help but feel creeped-out, knowing that the tone would be completely different had this been about a caravan of nubile, naked female strippers waltzing into subscription-based strip joints or into the living rooms of horny old men they'd never met before. Dim the lights just a little, and Magic Mike XXL becomes soft-core porno for misandrists and misogynists.

The film's only highlight is Donald Glover. He plays Andre, an aspiring rapper who does crowd work for Rome (Jada Pinkett Smith), the owner of that monthly-fee dance joint (which kind of feels like a brothel--and most definitely would be, in the alternate-universe version of this movie). The former Community star lights up the screen with personality and beats (in real life, he performs as Childish Gambino), and I hoped that the XXL creators would do something truly ballsy by ditching Tatum and company to follow Andre's exploits. Despite being turned off by Rome's operation in principle, there's a great story in that place.*

Alas, we're back on the road in no time, listening to Joe Manganiello whine about crappy business ventures and suffering Matt Bomer's Mysticism for Meatheads aphorisms. There's a reason Soderbergh and Carolin sidelined these cartoon characters the first time out: they have less to do and say than the headliner. Unfortunately, Mike spends most of the film despondent and bitchy, making semi-amends with his truckmates and a semi-connection with a bisexual Georgia peach named Zoe (Amber Heard). He comes alive on the dance floor, of course, but his aimless gloom infects the rest of the picture--while also serving as an apt metaphor.

It's telling that Magic Mike XXL performed very well during its debut last Wednesday, only to fizzle out over the long weekend. Magic Mike showed us the goods and showed us the good in its characters; the sequel has more beefcake but less reason to be, shackled by a screenplay that feels improvised by un-trained improvisers and direction that only comes to life under the catwalk strobe lights. There's lots to ogle, but little to see, and no reason to return.

*Probably lots of them, actually--several featuring former New York Giant Michael Strahan.

 

Tuesday
Jul072015

Inside Out (2015)

I Think I Can, I Think I Can, I Think I Can!

I rarely need to see a movie twice before writing about it, but Inside Out was too much to absorb in one go.* The first time was about all about experiencing the story and appreciating Pixar's latest advances in digital animation and design. The second was a mental scavenger hunt, a chance to pick up more of the acute visual, philosophical, and intellectual details that co-directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen have hidden in plain sight. Leaving the theatre Saturday afternoon, I realized that still a third trip is in order because, even knowing where to spot the emotional signposts, I probably missed a third of the subtext due to embarrassing bouts of tears and laughter.

Inside Out tells the story of 11-year-old Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias), a hockey-obsessed middle-schooler whose parents (Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane) uproot her from Minnesota to San Francisco. While Dad tries to get his tech start-up off the ground, Mom wrestles with putting their townhouse together and tracking down a lost moving van--leaving Riley to make due with a sleeping bag on the floor of her creepy attic-bedroom and prepare for life in a new school. Riley's world becomes a typhoon of conflicting emotions, duking it out for supremacy in her mind.

Cut to Riley's mind, a TRON-like landscape of technologically sleek yet oddly viscous neural pathways stretching out as far as the third-eye can see. Overlooking the "Islands of Personality" and the descending wastelands of Long-term Memory, the Subconscious, and Forgotten Memory is a gleaming white tower from which Riley's five emotions govern her every action: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Fear (Bill Hader). Joy, the relentlessly peppy optimist, has been at the helm since birth. She tolerates her companions because, well, she has to: she's Joy. As Riley's life turns upside down, Sadness steps to the fore, touching the glowing golden "core memory" orbs and turning them her sad shade of blue. During a scuffle to protect these memories, Joy and Sadness get sucked into a tube and jettisoned to Long-term Memory--leaving the three worst-equipped-for-change emotions to navigate Riley's greatest struggle.

Pixar is famous for cartoon buddy-comedies involving adventures through fantastical realms, whose perils expand their protagonists' horizons while tugging at the audience's heartstrings. You can probably imagine Joy and Sadness encountering dream creatures and coping with the disintegration of various memories and Islands of Personality as Riley reluctantly grows up. I won't spoil any more of the journey for you, as Inside Out demands to be seen (more than once) on screens as big as its heart. Inside Out may be Pixar's best film; it's probably their most ambitious; definitely their most mature.

That said, I'm not convinced this is a kids' movie. At least, not a little kids' movie. Sure, tykes and toddlers will sit through Inside Out because of the goofy, brightly colored characters and settings. And the "Train of Thought" is loud and zippy enough to pop them back to attention whenever the story gets too heady. But this is a dream film for adults, pre-teens, and teenagers--a how-to manual and an emotional tool belt for navigating the complexities of society and the bizarre chemical forces that govern our own inner workings. It's a movie about empathy; it's a wonderfully subtle anti-bullying piece; most importantly, Docter, Del Carmen, and co-screenwriters Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley brazenly state that not only is it okay to be sad sometimes, but that there is tremendous purpose in honoring one's complete range of emotions and sharing them with the world. Feelings are tricky things, as we see here, informing and dominating each other--and even disguising themselves as other feelings just to get us through the day.

One of the most interesting aspects of Inside Out is it's the rare Disney/Pixar film not dependent on death, divorce or familial dysfunction as dramatic crutch catalysts. As envisioned by Docter and Del Carmen, these mental battles are inherently cinematic: a bus entering an expressway on-ramp feels just as high-stakes, it turns out, as planet-threatening mutants or maniacal machines. The creators finely weave function into their characters' form: the emotions' fuzzy stippled outlines reminded me of sidewalk-chalk drawings, their ill-defined edges suited to the malleable, ethereal-construct nature of these irrational but vital beings.

This attention to detail carries over into the smallest corners of Riley's "Headquarters". Sure, the jokes about the master control panel's swear-word buttons are great (especially as delivered by Black, who creates a character rather than just cashing in on a persona). I was far more interested in the shelves of Mind Manuals that Joy and Sadness absent-mindedly flip through--an untapped treasure trove of evolutionary information that, collectively, we haven't even begun to decipher, but which exists within us all.

You wouldn't know it by looking at the summer box office returns, but 2015 has been a great year for movies that explore what makes us tick. Yes, we've chucked ungodly amounts of cash at fleeting amusements like Jurassic WorstMarvel Heroes XVI, and Terminator: Maybe Next Time, but a handful of really important, really entertaining films have invigorated the mainstream well with the high-end graphics audiences need, the thrills they claim to want, and the brains they've gone without for so long that they no longer recognize them. It's a crime against art when only critics and a relative handful of moviegoers seem to care about Ex MachinaMad Max: Fury Road, and Inside Out--the latter of which is both a thematic and literal refutation of the "Just Turn Off Your Brain" mentality so prevalent between May and September.

Lucky us, Pixar's latest is gradually finding its people. Last weekend, it gained the distinction of being the highest-grossing US film to never claim the top box office spot. People are turning out and telling their friends about this fully realized creative interpretation of science and spirit that feels at once eerily intimate and divinely universal. And they're going back, too.

*That didn't keep me from podcasting about it, but conversation and introspective analysis are two different things.

Wednesday
Jul012015

Terminator Genisys (2015)

No Money But What We Make

A few weeks ago, writer/director James Cameron said this after catching an early screening of Terminator Genisys, the fourth sequel to his massively influential 1984 film, The Terminator:

“I feel like the franchise has been reinvigorated, like this is a renaissance. You look at why the films became classics. They had characters that you like. In the new film—which, in my mind, I think of as the third film—we see Arnold [Schwarzenegger] take the character even farther…It’s pretty cool because you’ve got to riff against expectations. It’s all about the twist.”

Like the human-hunting cyborg Schwarzenegger made famous, a display of three possible reactions popped into my brain:

  1. James Cameron has lost his mind.
  2. James Cameron knows what he's talking about, and everyone is in for a smart, surprising thrill ride.
  3. Paramount Pictures paid James Cameron ungodly amounts of money to alleviate the stink of their hollow, horribly marketed summer blockbuster.

Sorry if this is surprises anyone, but we can safely rule out option two. Terminator Genisys is as confused, desperate, and pointless as the trailers and posters make it out to be. Director Alan Taylor and writers Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier buzz by all the franchise signposts but, like Jurassic World, neglect to imbue their chapter with any of the heart, originality, and awe that made this series even possible. It’s an amusement, a distraction, a branded shiny object that is to the art of cinema what Six Flags’ Batman: The Ride is to The Dark Knight.

Sadly, that’s all many audiences expect from summer entertainment nowadays. As long as the latest iteration of this week's comic-book movie, sequel or reboot is unquantifiably “better than the last one”, and as long as it lures some portion of each major theatre-going demographic out to the multiplex opening weekend, we are to adore and reward these effects spectacles--simply for being expensive and packing lots of star power. Look no further than Schwarzenegger’s T-800 character devolving from a ruthless, practically silent killing machine into joke-prone CGI-puppet reference, whom his former target, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), now affectionately refers to as “Pop”.

In this reality, Sarah was raised by a reprogrammed T-800, following her parents’ assassination in the early 70s by an evil, liquid-metal T-1000. He trains her to survive the nuclear apocalypse brought on by a self-aware defense network, as well as attacks from various terminators the computer sends back from the future to finish the job. Meanwhile, in the future (you still there?), Sarah’s son, John (Jason Clarke), sends BFF Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to save Sarah from the “original” terminator and mate with Sarah to become his father—because everyone thinks the events from the first film are the definitive version of history. Thanks to all the Terminator series' mucking around with timelines, though, there's no longer a starting point that makes sense.

And I haven’t even touched on the mind-controlling super-terminators, the doomsday app, or the resurrection of Star Trek V and Resident Evil as viable reservoirs for the reboot well. Nor am I going to, since that’s still only a third of the “business” the filmmakers have stuffed into this thing.

Yes, if you thought the last two Terminator movies were poorly thought out exercises in time-flipping fan fiction, Genisys overheats the motherboard to positively nuclear results. Characters leap from era to era to era, using time machines both ultra-sophisticated and homemade, and incorporate memories from alternate-universe versions of themselves into blueprints for attacks in disparate timelines. Got all that? Neither do the writers—but it gives the lead actors lots to talk about while they’re busy not establishing chemistry.

In fairness, Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney have been saddled with the thankless job of replicating the tragic, magnetic energy of their roles’ original actors (Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn), while muscling through a lousy screenplay. I could feel Clarke working especially hard to get Hamilton’s iconic glare and orders-barking intimidation down. But instead of being her own self-assured, ass-kicking woman, she seems constantly on the verge of threatening to call her older sister for help.

Courtney is just a non-entity here. He’s too pretty, too clean, and too wide-eyed to buy as a battle-hardened future warrior. The mysterious thug from Jack Reacher has turned out to be just another capable but forgettable movie star, a franchise-killing bad-luck charm who works the same charisma-free, bad-luck magic on this fifth installment as he did in A Good Day to Die Hard.

And poor Arnold Schwarzenegger.* Having spent the last few weeks revisiting all the Terminator films, it pains me to see how far this towering action star has fallen. Scary in part one; charming, funny, and bad-ass in part two; goofy but passable in part three; and all-but absent in part four, the actor shows up as a sleepy version of himself in Genisys. Schwarzenegger gave me some hope for his post-politics career, with surprising turns in Maggie and even Sabotage, but his performance here is as close as I've seen him come to his Simpsons parody-doppelganger, McBain. Because Sarah Connor has, I guess, provided his character the ability to learn and develop a personality over decades, we get a lot of funny-sounding-robot-saying-silly-things jokes—and the obligatory unstoppable-creature-versus-unstoppable-creature violence that this series has, sadly, become famous for. 

The most interesting part of the film’s highly touted young-Arnold-fighting-old-Arnold scene is that it took a team of visual effects artists twelve months to construct a mostly convincing five-minute fight scene. They poured over every Schwarzenegger film, interview, and piece of archival footage to nail each expression, movement, and deltoid. An Australian bodybuilder was hired for the fight choreography and then digitally replaced, bit by bit, until the final showdown was as seamless as technologically possible.

And for what?

The fight has no stakes and, aside from that meta tidbit about its creation, is indistinguishable from the dozen other scenes in which people get thrown onto, over, and through things. The first two Terminator films, perhaps limited by their budget and available resources, placed a premium on inventiveness to realize impossible visions: a metal endoskeleton emerging from fire to stalk a helpless heroine; a liquid shape-changer faultily absorbing elements of its environment. Taylor’s film is a wall of digital white noise, unencumbered by limits and thus creatively uninspired.

I won't discuss Genisys's main villain because A) I'm really tired of writing about this movie, and B) I'd like to give you a leg up on the picture that I never had. Early in the Genisys marketing campaign, some genius decided it would be a great idea to put the movie's major plot twist smack-dab in the center of the trailer. A couple weeks later, that twist also became the focal point of the new lobby poster. I don't know if marketing teams think we're so stupid as to need everything spelled out and spoiled for us in order to get our money, or if they think moviegoers will simply forget the relentless advertising once the lights go down.

The only way to enjoy Terminator Genisys is to power down your CPU for a couple hours. What was once an innovative cautionary tale about selling our humanity short in favor of technological convenience has morphed into a weapon against intelligence--endorsed by an off-brand approximation of its creator.

*Figuratively speaking, of course.

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