The Terminator franchise has had some bad luck. Every time a new filmmaker takes a stab at relaunching the series, it is met with little thrill. The timelines have become increasingly confusing and the new takes hardly build upon the premise of the original two, which have been the only noteworthy entries.
So, why should we care about another one?
Initially, it was having original writer-director James Cameron involved again. Cameron — who launched his and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s careers into the Hollywood limelight (with The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day) — returned to handle the creative controls. He developed the story, hired Deadpool director Tim Miller and was actively part of the process (as opposed to counting all his Titanic and Avatar money in the shadows). Cameron generated all this hype about how this sixth film would actually be the new third chapter. It would continue the story of the T2 and would bring back not only Arnold (who never really left) but Sarah Connor herself, Linda Hamilton.
All the parts are there, but unfortunately, they just don’t work on screen in Terminator: Dark Fate.
Despite all the talent and talk, nothing feels innovative or fresh about it. It doesn’t fulfill any of the promises made by Cameron. It goes to show that perhaps they should just let the franchise stay terminated. Don’t revive it anymore because, like the series as shown, you either rehash ideas or turn the stories into convoluted messes.
Dark Fate is a narrative mix of both original Terminator films. Our heroes are squaring off against the next advanced Terminator. This time, it’s the Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna), a killing machine that is virtually part T-800 and T-1000 (the baddies from T1 and T2). We have a new Sarah Connor (Natalia Reyes’ Dani Ramos), a new Skynet, a new hero (Mackenzie Davis’ Grace) and some familiar faces (Hamilton and Schwarzenegger) to appease the seasoned fans.
Dark Fate is so weighed down in computer-generated junk and the stakes aren’t there. It’s challenging to develop compassion for what’s going on when it looks the way it does and steers the way it does. Outside a few fascinating developments (such as Terminator’s operating similarly to the Winter Soldier and not being in control of themselves until their mission is complete, which is still glossed over), there’s not much to it.
As surprising as it is to admit, the 4K presentation isn’t even good. The increased picture resolution heightens the terrible look of the CGI. One scene on a train is so dark that I had to turn up my TV brightness. If I have to do all this work, it’s not worth it. The only aspect that deserves a thumbs-up is the sound. While it may not look real when a big truck smashes through a wall, it sure sounds like it.
Extras: The Paramount Pictures release includes over an hour of bonus content — such as six deleted/extended scenes and four behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Of the deleted and extended scenes, two of them should have been left in the original cut. One involves Rev-9 ordering border patrol to kill our heroes, adding more menace to the villain. The other is a conversation between Sarah Connor and Arnold’s significant other. The second provides a lot of food for thought.
The behind-the-scenes featurettes are incredibly in-depth. Although I did not like the movie, the anticipation of watching these big-screen giants come together again was too good, and to hear them talk about their excitement during the production has me fantasizing about what the story could have been.
Zombieland: Double Tap (★★★) The only movie worth viewing this week is the sequel to Zombieland, the cleverly titled Double Tap. The 2019 follow-up isn’t as crisp as its 2009 predecessor (especially after Deadpool — which, funnily enough, lent its writers to this project, too). The element of surprise was on the original’s side, and Double Tap is simply a fun and satisfying continuation.
We pick up with Columbus (Woody Harrelson), Tallahassee (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) a decade later. They are still killing zombies and cracking jokes, which pokes fun at how life is lived today. They also turned the White House into their home and are on the hunt for some change. Like a lot of sequels, our characters are learning how it’s important to have your own discoveries for growth while also remaining with family. So the gang is broken up to find themselves again.
Double Tap features some hilariously meta gags. Columbus and Tallahassee meet their doppelgangers, played by Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch — and it’s the best scene of the movie. It ends in a fight that pairs well with popcorn. Although the film has its dumb moments (such as story conveniences and bits that feel too been-there-done-that), it still injects you with a lethal dose of the giggles.
Rated R, 99 minutes.
Extras: The Blu-ray/DVD combo release includes a to-die-for gag reel, alternate and extended scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, a making-of and a filmmaker’s commentary.
Harriet (★★) Aside from a miniseries that was made more 40 years ago, legendary freedom fighter Harriet Tubman hasn’t gotten a cinematic account of her story. Tubman’s courageous escape from slavery and her work to free hundreds of slaves make for inspiring material that is ripe for viewer consumption. But why has it taken so long to get a movie made about her?
Whatever the reason (studio fear, likely), filmmaker Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, Black Nativity) finally made it happen. And while Lemmons’ film, Harriet, occasionally has the power to move, the lens in which it is presented plays like a safely packaged TV production without the raw intensity it needs to move mountains.
Not every film depicting black history should be rated R. Some movies should reach a broader audience. Harriet is rated PG-13, and it could and should be shown in high schools. (You just have to bleep out one F-bomb.)
However, some filmmakers have a tendency to lean heavily on Christian forgiveness to paper over fundamentally flawed filmmaking. As heartrending as Tubman’s story is, and as exceptional as Cynthia Erivo’s performance is as the titular heroine, history deserves a less manipulative and SparkNotes-style interpretation.
Rated PG-13, 125 minutes.
Extras: The Blu-ray/DVD combo release contains deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes featurettes and a filmmaker’s commentary.
Very Bad Things (★★) 1998’s Very Bad Things is one of the most testing movie experiences I have ever had. Right alongside Pain & Gain and Mother, it puts you through a series of uncomfortable horrible situations that will make you shrivel up like a raisin in the sun. You know the kind of movies — where the eject button, a shower and several bottles of wine have never sounded sweeter.
The places Very Bad Things goes to are daring and disgusting. If that’s a challenge you’re up for, by all means. But if you value characters you can like and a story that isn’t so raw that the blood drips, turn away from this virus.
Directed by Peter Berg (Lone Survivor), Very Bad Things is a “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” scenario. Imagine if The Hangover were a horror movie, and that’s pretty much this. Starring Jon Favreau (the creator of Baby Yoda), Christian Slater and Cameron Diaz, the film is a bachelor party that goes awry. Drugs and alcohol lead to prostitutes, and prostitutes lead to accidents and death, and more death.
The shocking event that alters the course of the characters lives isn’t even the worst of it. Additionally, there are two murders so upsetting that I haven’t even processed them. Berg is going for a dark comedy, but let’s just say it tips more on the darker side. How the men try to make sense of it all and handle it around their families are too much to bear. As much as I hated it, I probably won’t stop talking about it. So, in the end, it did its job and won.
Rated R, 100 minutes.
Extras: The Shout Select release (available through shoutfactory.com/shop) includes a special audio commentary with film critics Witney Seibold and William Bibbiani; new interviews with actors Jeremy Piven and Daniel Stern (crazy to see Piven amid his allegations, but Stern is a lovable weirdo); a theatrical trailer and a still gallery.
Also available this week on Blu-ray and DVD: All About My Mother (1999, a Criterion Collection release); Motherless Brooklyn; Parasite and Tammy and the T-Rex (1994) in 4K.