“Terminator: Dark Fate” action movie review

Linda Hamilton is back! And that’s all you really need to know about Terminator: Dark Fate. Her return highlights what was missing in the sequels that followed the critically acclaimed and immensely popular Terminator 2: Judgement Day that inspired the former attraction T2-3D at Universal Studios Florida. While this action movie clearly seeks to impress you with its phenomenal visual effects, it also goes back to the gritty character driven plot that made the first two Terminator movies works incredibly well and give them that punch that we expect out of these movies. With the return of Hamilton’s Sarah Connor and Arnold, in the role that made him a household name, this movie uses nostalgia–not as a way to live in the past and look back at the good ol’ days–but to move forward. No mistaking it, this movie is filled with adrenaline pumping action from start to finish; but the plot is very much grounded in what made the first two so successful: the characters. Despite having so many futuristic elements, Dark Fate’s storytelling is grounded in a science-fiction that never feels completely out of this world. One might even say that the plot is very much grounded in a plausible reality. When this franchise faced eternal damnation in its own judgement day after several flops, Sarah Connor returns to save the franchise from its own extinction. With Cameron providing a vision for this installment, it is the perfect blend of tentpole plot devices and progressive storytelling. Terminator: Dark Fate erases the previous three movies to fit in nicely after T2:3D.

In Mexico City, a newly modified liquid Terminator — the Rev-9 model — arrives from the future to kill a young factory worker named Dani Ramos. Also sent back in time is Grace, a hybrid cyborg human who must protect Ramos from the seemingly indestructible robotic assassin. But the two women soon find some much-needed help from a pair of unexpected allies — seasoned warrior Sarah Connor and the T-800 Terminator. (IMDb)

It should come of no surprise that the number one reason to watch this movie is for the bold, bad ass return of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor! Her mantra may as well be “have bazooka, will travel.” Even though we witnessed the moment she stepped out of the SUV and onto the highway in the trailer, that moment still packs a punch when you watch it in the movie. Although it’s Davis character of Grace that is sent from the future to protect Dani, it really is Hamilton whom saves this movie and the franchise. Both Davis and Hamilton complement one another very well, each adding that special something that this franchise desperately needed. And that something is great, memorable characters. Not only do we have our two intimidating protectors, we also have a new “Sarah/John Connor” character in Natalia Reyes that will steel your heart. Even though Reyes’ Dani is our central character, it is Hamilton and Davis that have the lion’s share of the screentime. And it’s a good thing to, because it is their chemistry that holds this movie together and grounds it in that same abrasive banter that makes the first two movies so endearing. And yes, Connor has some great one-liners, including the franchise’s best-known line “I’ll be back.” Her entrance will undoubtedly evoke uncontrollable cheering throughout the audience for both her character and the actor herself.

The first two movies had extremely well-developed and executed plots, and then the plots and characters went off the rails. Thankfully, under the guidance of Cameron (whom has a co-writer credit), the plot of Dark Fate goes back to its roots of spending a sufficient amount of time setting up the story that is about to unfold. One of the magical parts of screenwriting is the ability to get away with just about anything–and it be believable–if you set it up early enough in the story. From the moment the movie opens, the central conflict in the plot is already being setup for major deliveries later on in the story. Not only do we hop in the wayback machine to a late 90s Sarah and John Connor, we witness that preventing judgment day did not completely protect the Connors from tragedy. Judgment day appears to be “starting all over” to quote the former T2-3D attraction. Although the overall goal of the plot is to stop Judgment Day from happening in the future, there is a secondary goal for both Connor and Grace. That is to protect Grace because she is the key to stopping the malevolent AI in the future. Not because she is a “Mother Mary” figure (much like Sarah was in the original) whom will give birth to the one who would save the world from the machines, but because Dani is to give birth to her own sense of agency that will cause her to become the leader of the resistance.

The strongest kind of conflict, in a plot, is derived from character relationships. Well developed and setup character conflict provides a near endless supply of drama that will carry the action and subtext of the movie. And the conflict meter reads off the charts between Connor and a particular T-800 (played by the definitive Terminator Schwarzenegger) because of a tragedy that befell Connor in the late 90s. Before you think that this T-800 is still hunting down Terminators from the future, this one can tell you any and everything you need to know about drapery. He’s gone and bought the metaphoric house with a picket fence, got married, and has a kid. Even though he’s demonstrably turned from his CyberDyne ways, Connor has a longtime grudge against this model, and she isn’t afraid to show it–and loudly. While Connor wants to kill him, Dani concludes that she cannot save the world without his help. Watching Connor and Carl (Arnold’s T-800) passionately bicker and verbally fight sounds like it may be there simply for the sake of nostalgia, but it lays the groundwork for how they will be forced to work together during the second and third acts of the movie. It may be grounded in T-1 and T-2, but this conflict moves the story forward. In a sense, these two characters provide the perfect balance between human and machine that was largely missing from the three movies that followed Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

If you’re a fan of the first two Terminators and the former attraction at Universal Studios Florida, then this movie is for you. Yes, it’s also for general audiences, but it’d specifically made for the longtime fans of the franchise that was, up to this point, doomed for extinction. Its got it all: action, a thrilling plot, endearing characters, beautiful visuals, and a memorable score (duh duh duh, duh-duh, duh duh duh, duh-duh). But more than for any other reason, you want to watch this movie to see our combat boot wearing, rock launcher carrying, no nonsense Sarah Connor as can only be played by Linda Hamilton.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“Pet Sematary” (2019) horror film review

“Sometimes dead is better.” Unless you’re back from the dead with a vengeance! Brace yourself for the spine-chilling, immensely terrifying 2019 adaptation of the best-selling novel Pet Sematary by the legendary Stephen King. Whereas many remakes/reboots of earlier horror films often suffer, this one emerges from the soured soil as a force to be reckoned with. Directors Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer deliver a heartpounding rollercoaster of a nightmarish experience as Pet Sematary opens everywhere this weekend. Instead of a direct from page to screen adaptation, much like the fantastic 1989 original version (and yes, it still holds up), this version takes some creative liberties; however, the soul of the novel and even the 1989 version is clearly there. This creative latitude enabled the film to deliver new, surprising scares that are sure to frighten you. If you haven’t seen the extended trailers–DON’T–cannot say that enough. It’s best to go into this film with only the name and the initial teaser trailer in your mind. Not a spoiler, because it’s well known this this horror film and novel deals with loss, grief, and the uncanny (i.e. the return of the repressed), so the challenge of this adaptation was to force the conflict to derive from those issues and inspire the hellish events for which the story is well known. 2019’s Pet Sematary delivers in spades–quite literally. You will feel the ominous sense of dread from the moment the Creeds move into their new house and that feeling will stay with you as you are buried in a nightmare. This plot is solid.

I joined the popular podcast Mike Mike and Oscar to discuss this film, so click below to listen to the show. You are also invited to continue reading my written review.

Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) and his wife, Rachel, relocate from Boston to rural Maine with their two young children. The couple soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden deep in the woods near their new home. When tragedy strikes, Louis turns to his neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow), setting off a perilous chain reaction that unleashes an unspeakable evil with horrific consequences (IMDb summary). Sometimes dead is better

Let’s address the white ‘el’ephant in the room first. And I don’t mean the major plot twist changed from the novel and 1989 film that we saw in the trailer (c’mon, this is a well-known story and trailer at this point)–I mean the dialogue. Is the dialogue horribly bad? No. But it’s definitely the weak element in the script. Fortunately, this movie makes up for that with incredible windup, excellent deliveries, and the fact it is nightmarishly creepy. The pacing and tone are excellently crafted, and the visuals are fantastic. Never one does this film attempt to prove that it’s better than the original; in fact, it takes what many of us love about the original and use those moments as expertly designed fake-outs and false setups that are followed with something new and fun. So, it acknowledges the original without remaking it. Furthermore, it integrates many elements from the novel and original into the plot seamlessly. Achieving an overwhelming sense of dread from the very beginning of a horror film is quite difficult. That sense of unease is a combination of the atmosphere, setting, and ominous visual elements. Not five minutes into this movie, you are feeling that sense that something is definitely not right about this place. Yes, this is in part because many of us know what is to come; but even for new folks, the evil of this place can be felt all over your body. One of the creepiest scenes features the warped mirror image of an earlier cheerful moment, but it has been affected by the sour soil of the ancient burial ground.

While there isn’t much time to develop these characters, the writers were challenged with developing them enough for the story, and it works pretty well. The script isn’t quite as well-written as IT, but the margin of difference is not tremendously wide wither. As much of a fan of the original version as I am, there are areas that this version got better. For instance, the Zelda subplot–much more organically integrated into the main plot of Pet Sematary and even drives the main plot forward by revealing aspects to Rachel’s character. Two things for sure, these are two bad parents and Jud is an irresponsible neighbor. We don’t spend much time in the campus hospital where Luis Creed works, but we still get the big event of the passing of Pascow. Pascow’s character, whereas his harbinger of death or Jacob Marley (as so eloquently put by Mike Mike and Oscar) character isn’t as integral to the plot of this version, he looks more terrifying and doesn’t take a turn for the humorous. Of all the characters, I was most curious about John Lithgow’s performance as Jud. I was cautiously optimistic because Lithgow often has a way of delivering memorable performances, no matter how minor the role. His expression of Jud differs from that of Fred Gwynne’s but he still stays true to the character of Jud. And there are even moments that he channels Gwynne’s interpretation of the infamous neighbor. Just wish he had a Maine accent since he is still a local boy in this village (which is very close to Derry, according to a road sign). One of the best scenes in the movie take place as Lousi and Jud sit around a campfire, drinking, smoking and having an ill–fated heart-to-heart.

Contemporary remakes of earlier horror films often rely upon CGI versus practical effects. Cast that worry away because other than a few moments of CG, there are lots of fantastic practical effects from set design to the kills. There is such a high level of authenticity in everything the camera allows us to see, and even those moments that lie just off screen. Yes, there is still the inescapable supernatural factor in this story, but everything else is pretty well grounded in reality. From the parents building a fence to the proximity of the ancient burial ground, everything works to craft an authentic setting and characters. And yes, your Achilles tendon will still hurt in that famous kill. The directors truly seem to take into account that you cannot replace the way real light bounces off real objects and into the camera lens. Out two houses, the characters, and Church the cat exist in the time and space of each and every scene. With the exception a couple scenes that were not necessary or drawn out too far, they all work quite well to setup the following scene and point to the end of the film. There are moments that will cause you to look under beds, under stairs, and even analyze your pet more when you get home. For young audience members, watching this story for the first time, I imagine that they will be terrified just like I was when I saw the 89 one as a kid.

While I’ve read reviews claiming that this is the best Stephen Kind page to screen adaptation, I feel that other films have been more effective. Off the top of my head, I’d say that Misery is a better film both in terms of its cinematic critical value and faithfulness to the novel. Not to mention the Oscar-winning performance by Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes! No mistaking it, 2019’s Pet Sematary is a good horror movie and one that has a moderate level of rewatchability. Highly recommend for horror fans!

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“Instant Family” brief movie review

Surprisingly good! You’ll want to adopt this movie into your heart. Have you ever seen a trailer for a new theatrical release and just assumed it was another generic Hallmark or Lifetime movie making its debut on the big screen? That is precisely what I thought of Mark Wahlberg’s Instant Family. In fact, the only reason I watched it last night was because there wasn’t anything else (and I didn’t want to see the neutered Deadpool cash grab). But, I am glad that I decided to watch it! Not for reasons that it’s a “great film,” but because it was a heartwarming, inspirational story told effectively! There is a refreshing unapologetic approach to familial conflict that holds nothing back. It’s a no-holds-barred dramedy that addresses the mountains and valleys of fostering/adoption, specifically sibling fostering/adoption. If I was to liken this movie to one that we are largely familiar with, I would compare it to Parenthood, but one that is for the 21st century and concerns itself with the foster system. The movie, through the trailers, sets itself up to be an over-the-top comedy, but it was far from being a farce or slapstick comedy. When Instant Family comes from the same director of Daddy’s Home and Daddy’s Home 2, you already have preconceived notions of what the experience of this movie is going to be. Fortunately for audiences, this movie is far from the former two. And why is that? The short answer is that there is a sort of flawed humanity underscoring everything. No pretense about any of the characters. If you’re looking for authenticity, a realness about true-to-life characters, situations, and conflict, then you will definitely want to catch Instant Family.

When Pete and Ellie decide to start a family, they stumble into the world of foster care adoption. They hope to take in one small child, but when they meet three siblings, including a rebellious 15-year-old girl, they find themselves speeding from zero to three kids overnight. Now, Pete and Ellie must try to learn the ropes of instant parenthood in the hope of becoming a family. (IMDb)

While there is a lot of satire in the movie, there is never a moment that you lose your empathy for Pete and Ellie. They come from families that could very well be your own, with all the jabs, competition, and patronization that comes along with them. Even the adoption center and fair scenes, there are elements of the conversations and experiences that may be exaggerated for comedic purposes, but they are all still very much grounded in reality. Pete and Ellie are extremely eager to do a good job, and even employ some of the same approaches they use for flipping houses, but in stead use them to flip people. Some of the irreverent jokes are hilarious! There is one about rebranding foster children as rescue children like the pound for animals was rebranded rescue. The movie also takes audiences behind the faces at the adoption center to reveal the tragic, hard lives that the children and teens come from. Truly highlights the importance of looking at becoming a foster or adoptive family in order to give a child a nice home. Beyond the social commentary on the adoption and foster system, there is also a lesson to be learned that can apply to any number of areas of our lives. Such as knowing precisely why you want to do something, not just the fact you feel it’s what is supposed to be done. The movie will hit you with thought-provoking moments that will force you to face what you think of foster kids and the foster system. I also appreciate the movie for depicting difference kinds of parents–quite the modern bunch! So much diversity is represented, and each prospective parent(s) is inspired by ones encountered by the writer-director Sean Anders’ own journey as he and his wife adopted three siblings.

This is a shorter review because I am getting busy with the end of the semester, but I wanted to provide some brief thoughts on it anyhow. After this week, I’ll be back to my regular article entries.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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Star Trek Warping into Universal Orlando Resort? Engage!

To boldly go where no one has gone before! Ordinarily, I don’t make it a point to write about rumors. But, being a longtime Star Trek fan (specifically TNG followed by Voyager), I thought that this would be a fun one to discuss. Rumors of a Star Trek attraction or land have been floating around for a while, but more recently gained traction after discussions of a new attraction coming in the relatively near future. According to the Disney and More blog, Universal Orlando is considering licensing the Star Trek IP from Paramount for an attraction or land. Less of a rumor really, Universal Orlando IS considering The Bourne Identity or Star Trek franchise for the old T-2 (Terminator 2: 3D) building [UPDATE: recent news suggests UO is deciding between Jason Bourne and James Bond for the old T2 show bldg]. In terms of franchise strength, Star Trek is a no-brainer given the two choices; however, the direction for theme parks in the 21st century is building entire worlds that immerse the park guest into–not only the respective movie(s)–but into the universe of the IP. Therefore, it would be more advantageous to utilize the T-2 show building for Bourne than Star Trek. Why? Because Bourne exists in the “real world,” it fits in well-enough with the Beverly Hills set; it’s believable in that present location. However, Star Trek brings with it decades of stories that would be better suited to its own land. With the confirmed 4th theme park (confirmed, but no properties associated with it yet) coming in the near future, the Star Trek IP might just find itself a home at the 4th gate. Perhaps the 4th park will have Nintendo, DreamWorks, and now Star Trek. Talk about a powerhouse of IPs.

With the attendance slipping at Universal Parks and Resorts in 2017, after years of encroaching upon Disney numbers and growth, Universal Parks is definitely working diligently to not fall behind. I imagine that the Universal Creative executives and directors are all-hands-on-deck with the opening of Toy Story Land this year and the highly anticipated Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in 2019 at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. As big as Harry Potter is (and it IS), it cannot compete against Star Wars as an equal (in terms of the fanbase, merchandise, etc). But, combine DreamWorks, Nintendo, and Star Trek with the expanding Harry Potter offerings at the parks, and then you likely have what it takes to be a formidable competitor against Disney, Star Wars, Pixar, and Marvel. Not to mention who winds up with 20th Century Fox, given that Comcast (parent company to NBC-Universal) is offering an all cash deal that dwarfs the Disney bid. If Star Trek doesn’t go in Universal Orlando’s 4th theme park, then it’s entirely possible that it might be what is used to eventually replace Marvel Superhero Island at Islands of Adventure.

Without getting into the argument that one is science-fiction (Star Trek) and other other kin to Future-Fantasy (Star Wars), one of the primary differences between the two franchises is Star Trek‘s lack of memorable or reoccurring planets that factor into the plot. By extension, this makes developing a world difficult because it limits the number of places that you can transport your park guests. Star Wars is more focussed on the conventional adventure whereas Star Trek is traditionally more focussed on the human condition. One’s internal and the other external. That does spell difficulty for adapting Star Trek to a theme park setting, and by the same token, works brilliantly for Star Wars. Maybe it doesn’t have any memorable planets, but Star Trek does have a HUGE iconic location that can effectively be translated to an experiential theme park setting: the Enterprise! My personal favorite being none other than the NCC-1701-D under the leadership of the definitive Star Trek captain–Captain Picard! Regardless of which iteration of the Enterprise (or Voyager) may be your favorite, there are plenty of ways to adapt it into multiple attractions. Star Trek also has some incredible villains such as The Borg and Romulans and famous anti-heroes like Q.

Just off the top of my head, here are some great ideas for attractions and offerings in the future Star Trek land: For starters, the famous 10-Forward lounge on the Enterprise D would make for an excellent bar & grill for park guests. The trademark transporter serves as an excellent platform on to conceptualize a ride. Just the bridge of the Enterprise makes the perfect backdrop of a simulator style attraction in the vein of Star Tours at Hollywood Studios (but on steroids). A brilliant platform to build an attraction from is the holodeck. The possibilities of sourcing that location to inspire an attraction are as infinite as the imagination. One-off special events are a no-brainer too. A Star Trek land would make for the perfect location of a Star Trek convention, just as Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge will undoubtedly serve as the location for Star Wars conventions. In terms of resorts, the often references and occasionally visited planet of Risa (from TNG) could be a perfect resort or developing a hotel that immerses the guests into the world of the Enterprise. The guest rooms would be modeled after the ones on the starship and there are plenty of lobby, lounge, and restaurant ideas too.

Only time will tell if these rumors are true. I certainly hope they are! If not, maybe Universal will consider the idea with so many people talking about the rumor. Here’s to the future of possibilities coming to theme parks in the coming years. Engage!

“Annihilation” film review

Outstanding craftsmanship that provides a trippy, surrealist experience! It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a horror science-fiction film like this one–one that harkens back to the manner in which Stanley Kubrick terrified audiences with his cinematic masterpieces. The brilliance of this film is the visually disturbing storytelling that’s built upon metaphysical and philosophical queries as well as Freud’s uncanny. Written and directed by Alex Garland (Ex Machina) and based upon the Southern Reach book series by Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation boasts an all-female lead cast that takes the audience on a gripping, nail-biting adventure into the unknown that is frocked with wonder and tragedy. Falling in line with extraterrestrial films, this one exists somewhere between Alien and Arrival with influences from Kubrick and even Salvador Dali. Don’t wait for it to be released on Netflix internationally to avoid watching it at your local cinema; this IS a film best viewed, experienced, and enjoyed on the BIG screen–and not the 65in in your living room. For those who look for and appreciate science-fiction and/or horror films that explore psycho-social and institutional themes, then this is truly a film for you. Cognitively engaging and physiologically disturbing, Annihilation is a turbulent, horrific adventure.

After a mysterious meteor-like object strikes a lighthouse in Area X (most likely the swamplands of northwestern Florida), an increasingly growing membrane-like phenomenon is slowly swallowing up the land around it. When several paramilitary and scientific expeditions do not return from exploring the anomaly, biology professor Lena Kane (Natalie Portman) is aggressively recruited to work on the next team of scientists to track, report, analyze and potentially rescue former teams from what’s being called “the shimmer.” Professor Kane and her team have no idea that they will be facing their worst nightmares inside the shimmer as they explore this unknown world filled with dangerous opposition from the creatures that live within and the psychosis-like tension between the team members themselves.

Definitely not a film for the general masses. And you know what??? That is perfectly fine. In fact, that’s why this film works so incredibly well as an avant-garde-like science-fiction horror film. Had it directed for the masses, the film would not be nearly as stimulating psychologically and physiologically. Much like Garland did with the Oscar-winning Ex Machina, he crafts a world based on the best-selling series that takes the audience on a disturbing journey into the macabre, which juxtaposes the physical and metaphysical dimensions. Garland’s Annihilation is a masterful cinematic work that combines excellent writing with exceptional imagery and stunning practical effects. If Dali were alive today, this is the kind of film that he would have wanted to work on because there is such a heavy surrealist approach to the production design and visual effects. But this film is so much more than just the cinematic beauty of the motion picture. There are philosophical questions that one may ask oneself that create an added dimension of engagement that further immerses the audience into the world of the film.

Much like with Ex Machina, Garland shows an obsession with the need to see and see through when observing an unknown entity that may or may not be sentient. Paralleling how he set up the glass wall between Caleb and Ava (the AI) in the compound/lab designed by Nathan (Oscar Isaac, who is also in Annihilation), Garland sets up the interrogation room in which we are first introduced to Lena while she is being interviewed by the team in hazmat suits. I love the play on perspectives, vantage points if you will in both movies. That fluctuation between a filtered and unfiltered view of the phenomenon under observation offers much depth to the storytelling. In Annihilation, we are initially introduced to the shimmer, and world within, through sensors, readouts, and other “filters” but then we are thrust into the horrifying flora, fauna, and animal life without any type of protective boundary. Freud refers to the revealing of that which should remain hidden or the return of the repressed (which we literally get to witness in this film) as that which is uncanny (click for article). Just as our characters are constantly searching for clarity, you will find yourself paying close attention to the unknown to gain an unhindered understanding of what you are witnessing.

Not your average science-fiction horror film, this one will truly get under your skin–much like The Shimmer invades the bodies of those who choose to enter the dark twisted, refracted world of that which lies beyond our senses. Truly terrifying, this film is one for those who love a sci-fi horror that will prompt you to contemplate the themes and subtext of the movie. One of the quandaries that face the characters, and by extension, the audience is the idea of self-destruction versus suicide–the physiological versus the psychological components. For those who may worry that the film is “too intellectual,” the story is told in such a way that it not only appeals to film critics, academics, or horror aficionados but can be enjoyed by those who like a good, disturbing scare. The fact that there is the “intellectual” dimension to the film adds to the experience for those who appreciate that element in visual storytelling.