Capsule Reviews: Crawl, Zombieland: Double Tap, Terminator: Dark Fate

I saw some movies. Let’s talk about ‘em. Beware of spoilers.

Crawl

Crawl is a movie with a very simple premise: A college student and her dad get stuck in a rapidly-flooding basement during a Category 5 hurricane and must rely on their wits to survive. Also, there are several hungry alligators roaming around that will be more than happy to dine on their tasty human flesh. It’s a movie with a very clear purpose, and it succeeds admirably in achieving that purpose.

Crawl is 87 minutes long, which is just right. The movie doesn’t get bogged down with superfluous exposition or flashbacks, and the brisk running time ensures that there is never a dull moment. There are some flashbacks, but they serve to effectively build the relationship between the two main characters and never go on for too long.

Paramount Pictures

The main characters are Haley Keller (played by Kaya Scodelario) and her dad, Dave (played by Barry Pepper). Haley is a member of the swimming team at the University of Florida, and her swimming skills will come in very handy during her and her father’s harrowing ordeal. A Category 5 hurricane is rapidly approaching and Haley and her sister are concerned about their father since neither of them have been able to reach him on his cell phone. Haley decides to look for him, and eventually finds him in the basement of their old house.

Wouldn’t you know it, Dave’s got a badly broken leg, the water level in the basement is rising quickly, and there are the aforementioned gators that would like nothing more than to make the Kellers their dinner. As the water rises, it gives the ravenous reptiles more room to maneuver and increases the pressure on Haley and Dave.

In addition to being wonderfully simple and effective, the film’s premise is at least somewhat plausible. Something like this could conceivably happen, which isn’t something that is often said about horror movies. Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper are both very good in the lead roles, they have believable chemistry and are smart and resourceful, which makes them easy to root for. This movie wouldn’t work nearly as well if the lead characters weren’t as good as they are.

The movie was directed by Alexandre Aja, a French provocateur known for ultra-violent slasher movies such as High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes and Piranha 3D. Crawl is much more restrained than many of Aja’s other films, and he does a great job ratcheting up the tension as the film progresses. This is still a horror movie, so there are some grisly moments but the gore feels more impactful than the relentless splatter of some of Aja’s other films (the outrageously gruesome beach party massacre in Piranha comes to mind).

Crawl is made with great technical skill (the gators are CGI but done so well that it’s never distracting), razor-sharp suspense, and two compelling lead performances. It’s a movie that knows exactly what kind of movie it is, and it accomplishes what it sets out to do with flying colors. It never gets bogged down with unnecessary exposition or extraneous subplots. It’s lean, mean, and packs a sharp bite, much like those toothy gators. Fans of horror and suspense movies should eat it up.

Zombieland: Double Tap

It’s amazing that three of the four lead actors in Zombieland: Double Tap look exactly the same now as they did when the original Zombieland movie came out a full decade ago. Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone all look the same in this movie as they did in the original, it is seriously uncanny. The only main cast member to look significantly different in the new movie is Abigail Breslin, which makes perfect sense when you consider that she was 13 years old when the first movie was released and is now 23.

Columbia Pictures

Given the ten-year gap, it’s amazing that this movie exists at all, and even more amazing that it’s as much fun as it is. It’s definitely not as good as the original, which came out of nowhere and surprised everyone by being as good as it was, and is still one of my favorite zombie movies. It was also one of Emma Stone’s breakout roles, she used the ten-year gap in between Zombieland movies to win an Oscar for La La Land in 2016 and star in two Spider-Man movies, among many others. I could go on for a while about what the other actors have been doing in the intervening years but I’m not going to because I have a huge crush on Emma Stone and have no shame admitting it.

Anyway, despite lacking the freshness and originality of the first movie, Double Tap is still a highly entertaining romp through a zombie-filled USA that captures the original’s movie spirit of zombie action, quirky characters and irreverent humor. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel but since the first movie’s formula worked so well it’s a classic case of not fixing what ain’t broke.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this movie other than that if you enjoyed the first one you will probably enjoy the follow-up. The returning cast members are great and there are some fun new additions, the most memorable of which is probably Zoey Deutch as Madison, a clueless blonde who has nonetheless managed to survive the zombie-infested world. As Woody Harrelson’s trigger-happy character Tallahassee puts it, “Zombies eat brains, and she ain’t got none.” When he says this he is wondering how Madison has managed to survive, but perhaps he’s also answering his own question.

Zombieland: Double Tap is nothing revolutionary, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had as long as you don’t go into it expecting too much.

Terminator: Dark Fate

Okay, this movie is brand new and I’m gonna talk about some spoilers, so hold off on reading this if you haven’t seen it yet.

Let’s just start off by saying that the timeline of the Terminator movies is (and arguably always has been) a complete mess. This is somewhat inevitable given the time travel elements of the story, but at this point you’d need some kind of a PhD to make sense of it all. This, combined with the lukewarm reception to the previous three Terminator movies, led the makers of this latest installment to ignore the previous three movies entirely and make Dark Fate a direct sequel to 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which is widely and justly regarded as one of the best action movies ever made.

These are big shoes to fill, and while Dark Fate is (again, perhaps inevitably) not as good as the first two classic Terminator films, third-best out of six ain’t too bad. Yes, I am saying that this is the best Terminator movie since Terminator 2. Dark Fate is the second film directed by Tim Miller, who made the first Deadpool movie. He fills Dark Fate to the brim with top-notch action, and because of this I found it to be a very enjoyable movie, despite some controversial plot points.

Paramount Pictures

Okay, it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room, and that elephant’s name is John Connor. Terminator: Dark Fate kills him off, early. Double shotgun blast, dead. No question. Yep, the hero of mankind’s future resistance against the machines is promptly and unequivocally dispatched. This is something that will doubtless piss off a lot of die-hard Terminator fans, but…it didn’t actually bother me very much. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I haven’t seen Terminator 2 in a long time, but my reaction to John’s death was more “Oh, wow! I didn’t see that coming!” and less “HOW DARE THEY?!?!?!” I’m a Terminator fan but for whatever reason I was pretty ambivalent about John’s swift demise.

I guess what I’m saying is that if you can get past the movie’s decision to dispatch John Connor, you’ll probably have fun with Dark Fate. I did. If you just can’t believe that the movie would kill John so quickly, you probably won’t like it much. Which would be a shame in my opinion, because there’s quite a lot to like about the movie.

The first thing to like about it is the cast. Linda Hamilton returns to the franchise after nearly thirty years, playing John’s mother Sarah, who is now a grizzled badass who is worn out after decades of fighting evil robots and is wanted in all 50 states. It’s great to see Hamilton back, she is a reminder of why people got excited about Terminator movies in the first place.

Also very good is Mackenzie Davis as Grace, an enhanced soldier sent back in time from the future to protect someone who is not John Connor. Grace is tormented by her dark past, which is also in the future…look, time travel is really confusing, but Mackenzie Davis is great. I liked her a lot, and not just because she carries on Linda Hamilton’s Terminator 2 legacy of having incredible biceps.

And of course there is the Governator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, playing the Terminator robot who killed John but has since come to learn the error of his ways and has even found a family, who adorably call him Carl. “I’m never gonna fuckin’ call you Carl,” Sarah growls at him, in one of the movie’s funniest lines. And Carl is surprisingly funny. The movie gets a lot of mileage out of subverting the audience’s expectations for what a killer robot from the future would spend its time doing after completing its mission, which is something I admit had never occurred to me (Carl owns a drapery business).

The overall plot is mostly a rehash of previous Terminator movies. You know the drill: evil robot gets sent back in time to kill someone, good robot gets sent back in time to protect said someone. Dark Fate is basically the same thing, with a couple of different wrinkles. The evil robot this time around is called a REV-9, and in addition to being able to mimic people like the T-1000 in Terminator 2, it can also make copies of itself, which is problematic for our heroes, to say the least. Played by Gabriel Luna, the REV-9 is a fearsome foe, and is every bit as tenacious as previous Terminator antagonists.

Look, Dark Fate is not a great movie. I called it the best Terminator movie since Terminator 2, and I stand by that statement, but that does not mean it’s a great movie. The plot is largely a rehash of previous installments and it can feel formulaic. But I liked the characters, the action sequences are terrific, it’s surprisingly funny, and overall I enjoyed myself, so I can’t complain too much.

So there you go, three fun movies I’ve seen this year. I’ve been real lazy about posting lately, and I’ve got some catching up to do. The next movies I want to cover are Spider-Man: Far From Home (which I loved) and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, which stars not two but THREE of my favorite actors. Those were fun movies and I’m looking forward to writing about them.

Come With Me If You Want to Not Die

It’s complicated.

It’s really, really complicated.

It seems like every movie involving time travel has at least one instance where one of the characters says something along the lines of, “holy crap this time travel stuff sure is complicated, huh?”

Perhaps Jeff Daniels’ character in Rian Johnson’s twisty time travel thriller Looper sums it up best when he says, “this time travel crap, just fries your brain like an egg.”

It’s best if you don’t think about it too much, if you want to avoid said brain-frying.

Such is the case with Terminator Genisys, the fifth film in the venerable Terminator franchise, and the first to star Arnold Schwarzenegger since 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. The fourth film, Terminator Salvation, released in 2009, had a CGI-assisted Arnold cameo, but that doesn’t really count.

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The new film takes a similar approach to last year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, which similarly used time travel to undo the events of a couple of widely-disliked sequels.

Genisys substantially rejiggers the timeline established by the previous films. I’m sure this decision will anger some fans, but it didn’t really bother me.

First, a quick refresher. In James Cameron’s original 1984 film The Terminator, an evil robot played by Arnold Schwarzenegger is sent back in time by an evil artificial intelligence called Skynet to kill a woman named Sarah Connor. Sarah Connor’s unborn son John is the leader of the anti-Skynet resistance in the not-too-distant future, and Skynet has sent a killer robot back in time to kill John’s mother before he can born. Anticipating this, John has one of his most trusted lieutenants back in time to protect his mother.

Genisys uses all of this as a jumping-off point. One of the things I liked about it is that the filmmakers clearly have a lot of respect for James Cameron’s original films. There are some scenes early in the new film that are practically shot-for-shot recreations of the same scenes from Cameron’s original. But rest assured, Genisys is not a remake.

It’s hard to say exactly what it is, really. I guess I’d call it a reboot. I hesitate to call it a sequel, since I feel that would imply that it follows the previous films’ continuity, which it really doesn’t. Instead, it rewrites that continuity almost completely.

In Cameron’s original film, Sarah Connor is an ordinary woman, who has no idea that her son will be the leader of the resistance in the future and is understandably skeptical when she meets Kyle Reese and he tells her about the whole “robots from the future” thing. She doesn’t become a badass until Terminator 2.

But when Kyle and the audience meet Sarah in Genisys, she is already a badass. In this timeline, she already knows all about the future war, and has been raised and protected for most of her life by a robot from the future (played of course by Arnold Schwarzenegger), whom she affectionately calls Pops.

terminator-genisys-sarah

From there, Kyle, Sarah, and Pops set out to save the future. This involves more time traveling (forward instead of backward this time), a lot of gunfire and explosions, and one major plot twist that would have been so much more effective had it not already been spoiled by literally every single piece of the movie’s advertising.

terminator-genisys-spoilers

I guess you could consider this next part a spoiler, but then again maybe not, since as I said it’s already been spoiled in the movie’s trailers and posters (such as the one pictured above, in which the big plot twist is front and center). The main villain in this film is once again an evil robot from the future, but the twist is that this particular evil robot from the future is none other than the savior of humanity, John Connor himself, whom Skynet has transformed into a sort of human/robot hybrid (although I guess that’s kind of what a cyborg is to begin with), and sent back in time to ensure Skynet’s own existence.

Well, that’s a novel approach. Taking the savior of humanity and turning him into the movie’s main antagonist is actually pretty cool. But the problem is that the movie’s spoiler-filled advertising robbed the twist of much of its impact. It’s really too bad, since it’s not a bad twist at all. I kind of liked it just for its sheer audacity.

Evil John Connor is also a different kind of robot from other Terminator robots we’ve seen before. I think he’s composed of nanobots or something, and is able to transform himself, heal injuries, and is just generally really hard to get rid of. I guess his abilities aren’t all that much different from those of the T-1000, the iconic liquid metal robot played by Robert Patrick in Terminator 2, but he looks very cool visually and I like the actor who plays him.

He’s played by an actor named Jason Clarke, who’s a guy I like more and more with every movie I see him in. He gives evil robot John Connor a genuine sense of pathos, and I kinda felt bad for him. He seemed like he didn’t really want to be an evil robot, but he had no other choice. I also liked the actress who played Sarah. Sarah is played by the lovely Emilia Clarke, yet another Game of Thrones veteran (this is actually the second time a Game of Thrones actress has played Sarah Connor, Sarah was previously played by GoT alum Lena Headey in the short-lived TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles).

terminator-genisys-robotjohn

As far as I know, Emilia Clarke and Jason Clarke are not related, although it is kind of ironic since they play mother and son in this movie, even though the son is older than the mother, due to the time travel shenanigans.

One of the things I liked about Genisys is that it doesn’t stop to let its characters have boring conversations about the way that time travel works. Seriously, it always kills the pacing of the movie whenever the characters have boring conversations that are supposed to explain things to the audience. Talking down to the audience is never a good idea, and Genisys benefits greatly from avoiding it. The movie just keeps rolling along, and is all the better for it. Besides, when you’re on a mission to save the future, you don’t have time to stop and talk about it. World ain’t saving itself.

It’s also fun to see Arnold playing one of his most iconic roles again. He’s certainly looking a bit long in the tooth at this point, but he still plays a badass robot. The movie’s special effects are solid, and there are a lot of fun action sequences, including one that involves a school bus dangling precariously from the Golden Gate bridge, because time travel. The movie was directed by Alan Taylor (yet another Game of Thrones veteran, although as a director instead of an actor; he also directed Thor: The Dark World), who capably handles the special effects and action scenes.

Genisys got terrible reviews and only did modest box office business, which makes me sad because I liked it a lot more than Jurassic Mediocre World. It seems to have been liked more by audiences than by critics, so that’s something I guess. It’s not a perfect movie by any means but I still enjoyed it and if you liked previous Terminator films there’s a good chance you’ll like this one too.

A Slasher Movie Disguised as an Action Flick

Unpleasant.

That’s the best word I can use to describe Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest movie, “Sabotage.”

Other words that would be appropriate include “icky,” “gross,” “bleah,” and “I never want to watch that again.”

2014 movies sabotage

Arnold plays John “Breacher” Wharton, the head of an elite DEA anti-cartel task force, or something like that. On one of their drug busts, they attempt to steal $10 million of drug money. But when they go to where they stashed the money, they find it gone. A few months later, members of the team start getting picked off one by one.

It’s a decent enough premise, one that was allegedly inspired by Agatha Christie’s classic novel “And Then There Were None”, although the movie has nothing to do with the book aside from the basic premise of a specific group of people being picked off one at a time by an unknown/unseen killer.

Generally I like the movies I see in theaters. I’m pretty good at knowing what kind of movies I’ll like, and most of the time when I write about a movie on this blog I’m pretty positive about it.

There is very little to be positive about with Sabotage.

Where to begin? Let’s start with the characters. All of them (with the possible exception of Arnold’s character) are either completely unlikable or have little to no personality at all.

This sucks for a whole bunch of reasons. First off, they’re all played by pretty good actors, so it’s a shame when they either get nothing to do, and/or are so unpleasant that you just don’t like any of them. This means that it is extremely hard to care when they all start being killed in various gruesome ways, which robs the movie of any sort of emotional connection.

Now, I get that people in real life aren’t always nice. Not every person you meet in life is going to be a very likable person. It’s a fact of life. I get that. But the problem with the unlikable characters in this movie is that in order for the plot to work on any sort of emotional level, you have to at least be able to sympathize with them. And none of this movie’s characters (with, again, the lone exception of Arnold’s character) are remotely sympathetic. They’re cocky, arrogant, foul-mouthed jerks. You’re almost glad when they start getting killed, because it means there’s one less asshole around to drag the movie down.

Surprisingly enough, Arnold himself actually gives what I thought was a pretty good performance. He’s very believable as the leader of a group of badasses (as douchey as all those badasses may be), and it’s not hard to believe that the group would fall apart completely if he weren’t around to keep them in line.

sabotage arnold 1

He’s also the only remotely sympathetic character in the movie, which is mostly due to his backstory. His wife and son were kidnapped by the drug cartels and horribly tortured to death.

And this leads us to the movie’s other biggest problem: the violence. You might want to grab a raincoat or something, things are about to get messy.

This movie has enough gore to easily rival just about any horror movie. I have a high tolerance for violence in movies and video games and the like, but even I found much of the violence in Sabotage to be completely repellent.

For starters, Arnold’s character has a video of his family being tortured to death, which he views multiple times throughout the movie. Literally the very first scene in the movie is of him watching his wife being tortured and killed. The first sounds of the movie are of a woman begging for her life.

And it only gets worse from there: entrails hanging from the ceiling, multiple grisly autopsy scenes, and a refrigerator that gushes blood when opened are just a few of the horrors on display. Early on in the movie, I started wondering when my Arnold movie turned into Saw. Seriously, I want entertainment, not torture porn.

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There are a couple of decent action scenes, including a couple of close-quarters shootouts and a pretty good car chase. But even those are splattered with an excessive amount of the red stuff, which makes them not very much fun either.

The movie was directed by a guy named David Ayer, who made a movie called End of Watch a couple of years ago, which was a very good cop movie anchored by a pair of solid performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as the two main characters.

end of watch poster

It’s a really good movie. If you like cop movies you should check it out. It has good acting, good dialogue, and really great chemistry between the leads. So I had reasonably high hopes for Sabotage, none of which came to fruition, aside from Arnold himself.

Sabotage is just a dirty movie. It’s relentlessly gruesome, it has a triple-digit F-word count, it’s covered in so much grime and filth that I wanted a shower when it was over and I gratefully left the theater. There’s a place for violence in movies, and it’s certainly not impossible to make a movie with unlikable characters still be compelling (Brian de Palma’s Scarface comes to mind).

But in Sabotage, there is no redemption, no emotional connection, and no hope. Just a river of gore and a bad taste in your mouth.

THE FAT MEXICAN SURVIVES!!!

First off, I would just like to say thank you to anybody who read my last post and gave me a kind word or a Like on Facebook. All of your kindness really means a lot to me, and in many ways 2013 is off to a good start. My previous record for most views in one day was 18, I think that was for my John Carter post, but my last one got 25 in one day, which pretty much obliterated my previous record. It also helped me pass 500 total views! I have no idea if that’s a lot in the blogging world, but it’s a personal landmark for me so I just wanted to say thank you everybody for supporting me.

I know after my last rather emotional post I said I was going to write about something cheery like a Pixar movie, which I am still planning on doing sometime. But before I get to that, a fellow by the name of Arnold Schwarzenegger came out with a new movie last week, which I enjoyed so much that I’m going to have to put the Pixar movie temporarily on hold.

Like many other people, I was extremely disappointed with Arnold when it came out that he had fathered a child with one of his family’s maids or something and had been keeping it a secret for years. Damn, dude, you really broke my heart on that one. I’m still a huge fan of his movies, to me they are as entertaining as they ever were, but the recent revelations about his personal life are still disappointing. That’s what you get for thinking with a part of your anatomy other than your brain, I suppose. You lose a lot of the respect of one of your biggest fans.

But such is life, I suppose. Nothing anyone can do about it, so let’s move on.

The Governator’s latest movie, the rather generically-titled “The Last Stand,” is an old-school, kick-ass shoot ‘em up, full of blood and bullets. There’s not much plot, but there doesn’t really need to be. It’s kind of a modern-day Western, with the better-equipped, more numerous bad guys going up against veteran lawman Sheriff Ray Owens, played by Arnold, and his inexperienced-but-likable group of deputies, along with a local gun enthusiast played by Johnny Knoxville.

The basic plot setup is this: an infamous drug lord named Gabriel Cortez, whom we’re told is the most notorious drug baron since Pablo Escobar, is being transported to prison or whatever by FBI agents, led by Forest Whitaker. The drug lord promptly escapes and starts barreling toward the border in a souped-up Corvette with close to 1,000 horsepower. The only thing that stands between him and sanctuary in Mexico is Sheriff Owens and his semi-hapless but endearing deputies.

The deputies are an entertaining bunch. There’s Figuerola, aka Figgy, a portly Mexican fellow played by Luis Guzman, a likable actor you’ll probably recognize if you look him up. There’s Frank Martinez, a former Marine locked up for the weekend for drunk and disorderly, who also happens to be the ex-boyfriend of Sarah, played by the lovely Jaimie Alexander, whom you might recognize as Sif, the warrior gal from Thor. There’s also the hapless Jerry, who (SPOILER ALERT) gets killed before the final showdown, which made me sad. It was impossible not to like him. Throw in the Johnny Knoxville gun enthusiast and you’ve got a motley crew if ever there was one.

Part of the fun of movies like this is in rooting for the underdog, since Sheriff Owens and his plucky deputies are outmanned and outgunned by the drug baron’s small army of faceless henchmen, including Peter Stormare, a Swedish actor you might recognize as the thug who infamously put Steve Buscemi through a woodchipper in the Coen brothers’ “Fargo.” He has a weird accent in this movie, it almost seems like he’s trying to put a Southern accent over his Swedish accent, but he only remembers to do it about half the time so his accent ends up being kind of all over the place. But whatever, he’s still pretty badass.

The movie builds to an apocalyptic battle in Sheriff Arnold’s sleepy border town of Sommerton Junction, and what a battle it is. The movie is the English-language debut of director Kim Jee-Woon, a respected Korean filmmaker. I haven’t seen any of his Korean films, but maybe I’ll check some of them out now. Based on the evidence in The Last Stand, he’s a damn good action director. There’s a thrilling car chase through a cornfield at the end of the movie, which sounds preposterous and kind of is. It’s also kind of brilliant because half the time the two drivers can’t see where the other vehicle is. There’s a great shot where the camera pulls back and shows the two cars sitting about ten feet away from each other, and neither one is going anywhere because the corn is so thick that neither driver has the slightest clue where the other one is.

The movie is also appropriately self-deprecating, and Arnold pokes fun at his image a couple of times in amusing and audience-gratifying ways. During the final showdown with Cortez, Arnold says, “You give immigrants like us a bad name,” which is pretty hilarious.

Unfortunately, the movie completely tanked in its opening weekend, grossing a measly 6.3 million and barely making it into the top ten for the weekend box office. It is on track to be the biggest flop of the Governator’s long and storied career (insert obligatory joke about his stint as Governor of California here). This saddens me greatly. I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, and I heartily recommend it to my fellow action fans. It’s fun, funny, well-made, and action-packed from start to finish. In my humble opinion, Arnie may be in his sixties but he can still kick ass. Apparently a lot of people out there either didn’t agree or didn’t care. But will those doubters be able to pull a shard of glass out of one of their legs and keep kicking ass when they’re sixty-five? I think not.

Oh, well. I still enjoyed the movie. It was a ton of fun. There’s a scene where Figgy the portly Mexican deputy improbably survives a massive explosion and emerges from a cloud of smoke with machine-gun blazing, which made me want to stand up and shout “THE FAT MEXICAN SURVIVES!!” in the middle of the theater. I didn’t, but I certainly wanted to.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.