TERMINATOR SALVATION, directed by McG, written by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, 107 minutes, rated PG-13.
What’s most surprising about McG’s humorless yet action-packed “Terminator Salvation,” the fourth film in the long-running “Terminator” franchise, is that Christian Bale, widely touted as the film’s star, has only a co-starring role as John Connor, on whom the fate of humanity long has rested.
The film’s real star is the terrific Sam Worthington, whose vitae might not be as impressive as Bale’s (at least not yet — he is, after all, set to star in James Cameron’s “Avatar,” the director’s first major film since 1997’s Academy Award-winning “Titanic”), but who has the far more difficult role to manage.
Here, he is Marcus Wright and when we first meet him in 2003, he is about to be executed for crimes that occurred off screen. But before the life-ending drugs drip into his body, one Dr. Kogen (Helena Bonham Carter) convinces Wright to sign over his body to science. Just what that means, Wright doesn’t know, but he agrees, he dies, Kogen has her way with him, and suddenly we’re in 2018, judgment day has occurred (the World is in Apocalyptic ruins) and his memory is erased.
Other things have changed about him, too. Safe to say that when Marcus finally comes to meet Connor, each man is faced in this war against Skynet and their destructive Terminator robots with what it means to be human and what it means to be machine. Whether they can co-exist is at the core of this story.
McG, who is best known for the “Charlie’s Angels” movies, knows how to stage action, which, as you might expect, is especially helpful for an action movie. While it’s true that there is a staleness to some of the action scenes in “Salvation,” such as when humans are violently plucked and collected for study by towering robots (think Steven Spielberg’s version of “War of the Worlds”), other scenes are fresh and exciting, such as when snakelike robots swarm in for a feast and then find themselves writhing for their undead lives.
Mirroring the recent “Star Trek,” performances matter in this movie, even if the humor from the previous “Terminator” movies has unfortunately gone missing.
Beyond Worthington, a highlight is Moon Bloodgood as Blair Williams, who matches Linda Hamilton when it comes to channeling a tough, no-nonsense woman who knows how to fight in spite of the odds stacked against her. In her scenes opposite Wright, she also provides an unforced romantic subplot that gives the film the punch of depth it needs. Bryce Dallas Howard and Anton Yelchin co-star, with only the latter leaving a lasting impression. And as for Bale, he’s good — solid amid the ongoing storm — but don’t expect much of him.
This is Worthington’s movie, and he steals it.
On DVD and Blu-ray
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, directed by Sam Mendes, written by Justin Haythe, 119 minutes, rated R.
Apparently, their hearts did go on.
Sam Mendes’ “Revolutionary Road” stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in their first pairing since 1997’s “Titanic,” in which their love-struck characters were undone by one infamous sinking ship.
Now, in a film based on Richard Yates’ 1961 novel, they’re paired in a movie about life in suburban Connecticut during the mid-1950s, the costs involved in giving yourself over to the illusion of the American Dream, and how all of the expectations pinned to that dream must be handled by the movie’s two main characters.
They are Frank (DiCaprio) and April Wheeler (Winslet), smart, good-looking people who have two children and live in a crisp white colonial on Revolutionary Road. There, everything appears to be tidy on the outside, but inside is another story. Once an aspiring actress, April now is failing at community theater. Frank is working in Manhattan at Knox Business Machines, where his father toiled for 25 years as a salesman, and he never has realized a promotion.
Neither is happy, especially with their crumbling relationship, but here’s the thing. In their neighborhood, people look upon them as movie stars. They’re viewed as being so vivid, sophisticated and special, they’re referred to as such. So, why don’t they see these qualities in themselves?
One day, April does. A depressed intellectual with the heart of a romantic (a deadly combination if there ever was one), she decides that she and Frank should quit the states and move the family to Paris, where Frank once claimed he wanted to live. It’s so simple to April. They will become the best of what others see in them, and also what April saw in themselves when they were younger and first were dating.
Only it isn’t that simple, is it? For all sorts of reasons that won’t be explored here, leaving Revolutionary Road becomes increasingly difficult, but no less desirable. For Frank and April — especially April — Paris is akin to the green light in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” She can see it and feel it, but can she reach it? And what happens to her if she can’t, to quote Fitzgerald, “stretch out her arms farther” to do so?
Throughout “Revolutionary Road,” the performances are sterling, and not just from Winslet and DiCaprio, who received Academy Award nominations. Also nominated was Michael Shannon as John, the mentally disturbed son of the Wheelers’ friends, Helen (Kathy Bates) and Howard Givings (Richard Easton) — his scenes are searing and edgy. His mind has been fried with dozens of electric shock treatments, but it’s still keen with insights, which he hurls at the Wheelers, judging them in ways that they privately judge themselves.
Shannon’s John is the antithesis of the suburban ideal — nothing about him is false, proper or refined. He is the truth standing tall in the room, the elephant who demands to be heard, and he speaks the truth freely and cruelly, further closing the book on two lives that barely can stand judgment at all.
WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.