Monday, May 25, 2009

At the Movies: Now he's embarrassed, too

See It!
The picture to the right gives some indication of the embarrassment Ben Lyons displays in his review of Terminator: Salvation on this week's At the Movies. You may think this still image is unfair to Lyons, but if you watch the video you will see that in fact the photo does not quite do justice to his level of embarrassment.

On the way to his "See it" recommendation, Ben tells us how convoluted the plot is and then follows with these insights:

Lyons: Ok, enough with the plot break down, which thankfully becomes less and less complicated as the movie goes on. This is the fourth Terminator movie after all, so let's see some robots . . . [after the clip of the robots] The explosions and several key action sequences are cutting edge, and that's what you want from a Terminator movie . . . [Christian Bale] didn't really become John Connor in my eyes until the third act. By then I was already on board for a summer movie that delivers on promises of big action and some eye-opening special effects. "See it." I know what you're going to say Mank, not for you.

Mank goes on to attack the story's emphasis on people "running from machines," to which Lyons responds:

Lyons: But to the films credit it's these different types of machines that makes this Terminator film stand out from the previous three films. For fans of the genre, they're going to love seeing these spaceships and these new motorcycles and these snake-like things in the water.

Wait, is Terminator now a genre? Or are we talking about Sci-Fi? The former would be another dubious genre category, and fans of the latter are generally more interested in how characters and stories play out in a different world--consider the Star Trek and Star Wars series, for example--and not just explosions and cool machines.

Mank again attacks the story as "complicated, undeveloped, and silly," and Lyons responds:

Lyons: For me, it's a fun time at the movies. It's explosions, it's new robots, it's a Mad Max-style feel to it. And it's got great set pieces.

Not too surprising that Lyons is embarrassed by his recommendation, since he cannot really defend it.

But imagine my embarrassment--and surprise--when Mank gives a "Rent it" to The Girlfriend Experience:

Mank: As much as there is to admire about [Director Steven] Soderbergh, his indifference to time sequencing hurts the story here. Though it's very satisfying when a particular arc comes together, more often than not it's frustrating 'cause you don't know which scene or, more importantly, which character is more important than another. As experimental filmmkaing shot cheaply this is certainly a victory, but it doesn't belong at the top of the list of films you need to see.

On the contrary, this movie should be at the very top of your list of movies to see. My review will be up later this week, I'll just say for now that the "confusion" between the scenes and the discovery of who is a client and what they are a client for is one of the brilliant accomplishments of the film. This is no more confusing than entertaining films like Pulp Fiction or Memento--much less confusing than Memento--which also tell their story out of sequence. Mank doesn't seem to realize that Soderbergh's "indifference" is actually a method, and is the key to the film's success. And while there is plenty of "confusion," it really is not very confusing to follow and sort out.

Unfortunately, we are left with Lyons to tell us how good this robot-less movie is, and we get to hear him explain why Soderbergh now has the "right" to make different, independent films--although it is not clear why anybody has the "right" to make crappy, big budget movies. But otherwise, to my embarrassment, he seems to pull it off:

Lyons: Of all of the films [Soderbergh] has made like this, you can think of Full Frontal or Bubble, this is by far the most effective one. And you really do lose yourself in these characters, and yes it jumps around and the narrative can be a little difficult to follow, but when it does come together there is a sense of "Ah, this is interesting, I see why now how it connects" and I'm ready to move forward with the story.

Maybe not the most eloquent comment on an interesting film, but at least he understood it.

Well, don't ever say I'm not fair to Lyons. Although it is odd that this praise does not put the film onto his "3 to See" list at the end of the show.


Tom Clift said...

"The explosions and several key action sequences are cutting edge, and that's what you want from a Terminator movie"

Um, no!! Terminator and T2 are prime examples of sci-fi movies that had good stories as well as action. I don't want a Terminator movie that's just explosions! If i did i'd watch T3

Ben Lyons, STFU!

Anonymous said...

As a fan of the first two films, I had no problem with Bale as Connor acting-wise but clearly the writers did not understand the mythology and the development of his character. How can you say he did not fit John Connor when the only example (Sorry, I just disown T:3) is a kid? Another major eff up was Kyle Reese. Just total miscasting. James Cameron would have never done a movie without Arnold, he would have done a third if not for his other projects. One could imagine what he would think of a film without The Terminator and Sarah Connor.

But back to the point what made the first Terminator movie so awesome was how gritty and hardcore it was. It was major explosions, Arnold was just literally shooting people point-blank with no questions asked. I would love to have seen the original screenplay that was thrown out because of the lack of John Connor.