The world that Alice Waddington dreams up for her feature directorial debut, “Paradise Hills,” is really not so different from the world many people live in today — stratified classes, women only defined in relation to their husbands, a premium on appearance over substance — but Waddington attempts to pull those cultural and societal wounds into a fresh perspective. It’s not an entirely successful endeavor, but at least for its dense first act, it’s a compelling one that shows off Waddington’s knack for world-building and eye-popping visuals. A feminist fairy tale with a generous sprinkling of “Alice in Wonderland” imagery and enough crinoline to outfit an entire cotillion, “Paradise Hills” soon gives itself over to the most obvious of questions and answers, unearthing nothing new in the process. Are people bound by their social class? Yes. Are women still treated like second class citizens? Often. Are people obsessed with how things look? Obviously. So, what’s left? Waddington doesn’t bother looking.
The film opens at a fittingly lush, fanciful, and entirely strange wedding, where a nearly unrecognizable Emma Roberts blame the heavy makeup and a hellacious headpiece has just entered into unholy matrimony with a dead-eyed rich dude Arnaud Valois, dimming all his charm from “BPM”. The guests are thrilled, and her mother Nancy Jack couldn’t be more pleased to hear that young Uma is the “epitome of upper perfection.” Clearly, that’s something that involves being subservient and as dead-eyed as her new mate, as Uma is soon tasked with trilling out a song to her new hubby, a dirge assembled entirely around the idea that she’s his servant. So far, so patriarchal. When it’s time for the pair to consummate their marriage, Uma is nearly limp, broken enough that “Son” he never gets another name can’t help but comment how she changed she is, how so very different than she used to be, as if that girl doesn’t exist anymore.
Two months earlier, she didn’t. In flashback, we find a filthy, disoriented Uma trapped in a room that’s equal parts cement and silk sheets. Told over an intercom she’s in “paradise, of course,” Uma doesn’t quite buy it why would she? why would anyone?, and attempts to flee her odd new home. It’s a lush island, but a foreboding one, and as she runs to its literal edge, it’s obvious she’s not going anywhere soon. But where is she? At least there’s the smooth-talking Duchess an extraordinary Milla Jovovich to explain, terming the joint “a center for emotional healing” that will sooth Uma into what she alleges is a happier life, clearly just another word for compliance.
Uma is mystified by the entire endeavour, but her soon-to-be-introduced roommates have other ideas: Chloe a mostly wasted Danielle Macdonald is enthused about the possibilities of a free vacation, even as she touts that she’s just fine the way she is the lessons of “Paradise Hills” are necessary, but always terribly obvious, while the anxious Yu an initially unrecognizable Awkwafina just wants the whole thing, weirdo roommates and all, to go away. Soon, disgraced pop singer Amarna Eiza González joins the fold, and the foursome set about intermittently embracing and fearing the initiatives handed down by The Duchess. Much like taking acid at an all-inclusive resort, there are some good things incredible costumes from Alberto Valcárcel, three built-in new best friends, free therapy and plenty of bad muted screaming the next room over, bad food, dreamless sleep, the understanding they’ve been sent away because their loved ones despise who they are.
For its first act, “Paradise Hills” excels at its primary purpose: highly imaginative world-building with a timely edge. As Uma plunges deeper into her apparent therapy, the film pushes into the absurd, but with a discernible reason. Everything is on the table, and Waddington’s affection for excess is impressive enough to make silly stuff work this is, undoubtedly, a director with a point of few and the visual acumen to sell it. Therapy runs the gamut from soul-breaking chats with The Duchess to truly demented exercises that involve a giant carousel horse. That’s where the girls are forced to observe, from said horse, amusingly off-kilter videos meant to brainwash them; Uma is subjected to a claustrophobic presentation featuring dim bulb Son, punctuated by deranged vignettes in which he tries to prove his sensitivity by thrusting forward flowers and his strength by doing pushups on the edge of the Grand Canyon.
Uma has, of course, been forced into The Duchess’ loony paradise because she refuses to marry dum-dum Son, a rich kid in “Paradise Hills” parlance, an “upper” who might help her tarnished family rise out of their financial rubble. Too bad she’s in love with a “lower” you get it in the form of the vaguely appealing Markus Jeremy Irvine. It’s a basic plot for a film that, for all its flourishes, eventually crumbles into utter predictability. Its early edge of humor is woefully missing by its messy second half, when heavy-handed dialogue takes over and unearned evolutions and bizarre backstabbing take the place of actual character development.
The initial concept of “Paradise Hills” is discomfiting enough to drive plenty of stories, but the script from Waddington, genre fave Nacho Vigalondo, and Brian DeLeeuw soon starts grasping for imagined dramas to push it to its final revelations. Though Uma has been cast aside because of her choice of mate, “Paradise Hills” throws in a growing attraction to someone else even after Markus, implausibly enough, appears on the scene that detracts from her central storyline, one that appears to be shoehorned in just to give another character literally anything to do. Eventually, the entire film hinges on it, as if the film’s creators were suddenly convinced that their creative storyline wasn’t enough to drive the film’s entire second act they were wrong.
As “Paradise Hills” chugs towards its big reveal — guess what, the “center for emotional healing” is not at all what it seems! — the film piles on more weirdo mythology and big questions about the nature of capitalism, patriarchy, and being yourself. It’s a lot to take in, and “Paradise Hills” isn’t up to the task beyond presenting concepts, gussying them up with florid accoutrements, and hoping it’s all dazzling enough to obscure how thin the entire endeavor is. “Paradise Hills” posits that its entire world is a shell game built on outdated ideas and a resistance to originality, but it’s the film itself that’s most woefully unable to ever go anywhere new.
Samuel Goldwyn Films will release “Paradise Hills” in theaters on Friday, October 25 and on digital and on demand on Friday, November 1.
In 2001, the United States began to wage the endless War in Afghanistan. In 2006, the U.S. Army retired the most enduring slogan it had ever used — “Be All that You Can Be” — and replaced it with “Army of One.” It didn't take. So the marketing team went back to the drawing board and came back with a tagline so popular that it would be in active service for the next 12 years: “Army Strong.”
It was short, it was aspirational, and — unlike the two previous slogans — it shifted focus away from the soldier. “Army Strong” wasn't about self-improvement or individual power, even if it subtly promised to confer those things on all who heeded the call. It was saying, in brute terms, that the Army is strength. That must have been a difficult message to internalize for the soldiers who were sent halfway across the world just to flex their country's muscles. How were they supposed to restore the might that made sense of their mission?
Some version of that question has haunted Dan Krauss since at least 2013, when his powerful documentary “The Kill Team” explored the circumstances behind an infamous series of murders that U.S. soldiers committed against Afghan civilians in the Kandahar Province. But with the war in Afghanistan still raging six years later, Krauss hasn't been able to move on. If anything, he's only grown more committed to sharing what that story has to say about the atrocities that can happen when soldiers don't feel culpable for the army they serve, or the killing they do in its name. With his new narrative film, also called “The Kill Team,” Krauss is effectively cranking up the volume on a story that he's desperate for people to hear. As lucid and intense as it is underwritten, his second crack at the Maywan District murders might be much less nuanced than his first, but this riveting thriller still manages to amplify its subject much louder than Krauss has been able to before.
The recruitment poster that Andrew Briggman Nat Wolff has tacked to his bedroom wall asks: “Are you Army Strong?” And the kid seems to think that he knows what that means — everything he does feels like an affirmative answer to that question. Smoking on the porch with his father on the night before he reports for duty, Andrew says that going to Afghanistan is “his chance.” His chance to be more of a man than his desk jockey dad? His chance to do something with the biceps he's build from doing thousands of push-ups? It's unclear.
But then, three weeks after a tragic explosion kills the kind-hearted man who was leading his unit, Andrew meets someone who spells everything out for him in the simplest of terms. His name is Sergeant Deeks Alexander Skarsgård, he's basically the scariest alpha male alive, and he tells the soldiers that in exchange for their loyalty he will grant them “the chance to be a warrior. The chance to actually do something out here. To be a part of history, instead of just reading about it in some book.”
Wide-eyed and eager to prove himself, Andrew immediately starts campaigning for Deeks' approval. He's a nice kid with a good head on his shoulders Wolff's performance comes right from his conscience, but he's willing to wade through an ocean of toxic masculinity if it means his superior's approval and an opportunity to be team leader. If Deeks orders Andrew to wrestle a fellow recruit for the job he wants, then so be it. That's just the way things are done on the base; none of these guys have watched “Beau Travail.”
In a very unambiguous film that's defined by the stark contrast between yellow sand and a deep blue sky “Jackie” cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine shoots “The Kill Team” with the hyper-saturation of an Instagram Story from Hell, the most striking mismatch of all is that between Andrew and Deeks. All mustached bravado, performative volatility, and cult-like manipulation, Deeks is the kind of character who Skarsgård could play in his sleep, but that doesn't make his appearance here any less effective. He has a chilling effect on everyone under his command — he scares them into feeling like they want to be on his side. The soldiers feel they are fulfilling their duty to the Army by acting as extensions of their sergeant's sociopathic ethos, and the most effective aspect of Krauss' film is how palpable it allows that dynamic to become.
Andrew is more cipher than character, and “The Kill Team” does itself a great disservice by making him such an uncomplicated lamb in the face of Deeks' bloodthirsty wolf, but it's still harrowing to watch the new recruit scramble for some firm moral ground to stand on once the other men in his unit start killing civilians behind closed doors. The straightforwardness of Krauss' script can be limiting, but it works to the film's advantage whenever Deeks tries to justify his actions. It may not be right to kill “10 of them to save one of us” the morality of that rationale is as questionable as its math, but it's clear that the sergeant has internalized that logic at the deepest levels of his soul.
While Krauss is too skittish about the specifics and struggles to dramatize Andrew's decision to blow the whistle on his brothers, he clings tight to the ethical compromises at work, and runs them all the way up the ladder. In the film's most blunt and powerful scene, Andrew catches up with a fellow soldier a few hours after the latter has taken his first life. Earlier that day, the kid had been lost in a rush of hoo-rah adrenaline, but now — in the dark of night — he's far more pensive. He gives Andrew a very clean and movie-workshopped monologue about the “conscience rounds” that firing squads use to solve an executioner's misgivings; some people will only pull the trigger if there's a chance they've loaded a blank. “It's not 'I'm shooting this person,'” the soldier says, “It's 'we're shooting this person.' Once you figure that out, you can shoot anybody you want and never lose any sleep.”
Deeks doesn't turn his unit into “The Kill Team” because he can't murder unarmed civilians by himself; he badgers them into it because he wants to spread the guilt so thin that he can't even feel it on his skin. Without letting these men off the hook for their crimes, Krauss' shines a harsh and bracing light on what it means to be on the frontlines of a war that we have been fighting since the turn of the century. Deeks may lead the way, but nobody can be Army Strong on their own.
A24 will release “The Kill Team” in theaters and on VOD on October 25.
SundanceTV's twisty, devastating and clever Australia-set miniseries revolves around the abduction of a baby.
The Cry, a taut four-part thriller on SundanceTV, has a number of things going for it but perhaps none more important than letting the audience think it knows where it's going.
That's a trick that Mr. Robot has used rather regularly since it began — giving viewers enough evidence to think they're clever and then darting sideways and upending the theory. It's a shell game that mysteries — at least the good ones — pull off with elan, but The Cry, which Sundance is giving a wider release to after tucking it first into the Sundance Now streaming service, has some deep psychological veins to mine that call into question motives and guilt. It uses those to make the series emotionally gripping as well as narratively tricky.
Jenna Coleman Victoria, Doctor Who plays Joanna Lindsay, a school teacher in Glasgow who ends up falling for Alistair Robertson Ewen Leslie, Top of the Lake, who is working as an image consultant/spin doctor for a political party in Scotland he's very, very good at it.
Alistair's charms mask a colder, more calculating side, and it's not long before Joanna, convinced he's not married, gets caught about to have sex with him at his house — a moment discovered by Alistair's teenage daughter, Chloe Markella Kavenagh, and his wife, Alexandra Asher Keddie.
Alexandra then snatches up Chloe and returns to Australia, her native country and Alistair's as well. The Cry is told in multiple flashbacks, some easier to follow than others, but this bit is pretty straightforward and sets up the present, taking place a handful of years later, when Alistair and Joanna have a new baby, Noah, but are unmarried. The baby cries incessantly, as they are sometimes wont to do, and that's where the title of the series comes from, as well as the book of the same name by Helen FitzGerald the series was created and written by Jacquelin Perske.
Coleman is primarily tasked, when we first meet her, with being very much overwhelmed — she's operating on roughly two hours of sleep a night while Alistair sleeps with ear plugs, one of the early hints that he's a manipulative, controlling ass, not surprising given his professional specialty. Joanna is ill-equipped to be a mother because Noah's incessant crying and her inability to stop it much less endure it becomes clear immediately.
It's here where The Cry sets up its premise — Alistair, still crushed that his ex-wife snatched up Chloe and moved away, decides its time to use a legal team to force Alexandra, who he's painting as an unfit mother, to give Chloe back to him never mind that Joanna, who barely looks like she's out of college, probably isn't ready to be step-mom to a mouthy 14-year-old girl.
A harrowing, crying-filled flight from Scotland to Australia, on which most of the surrounding passengers are annoyed with Joanna and Noah, gives The Cry its edge, as viewers learn that not long after arriving in Australia, Noah vanishes, causing both Joanna and Alistair to emotionally implode and leading to a police investigation for the missing baby.
The Cry never feels overtly tricky, even though director Glendyn Ivin plays around with flashbacks at a ferocious pace. The series deftly sets up jealous ex-wife Alexandra as a suspect, while never letting viewers escape the notion that Joanna, who has become essentially non-functional, might have been involved. Meanwhile, Alistair, so adept at going into spin mode, pushes for the local detectives to do a better job and control the media that hounds their lives on a daily basis.
Big twists start immediately in the second episode and continue through to the last minutes of the miniseries, a lot of them plot-driven but also psychological — games within games for all who play.
Not everything works. Ivin's decision to have, mixed in with the flashbacks and flash-forwards, a dream-like motif actually a couple of them seems unnecessary. We already know, given Coleman's shell-shocked performance, that Joanna is not thinking right and not reacting as the media, police and neighbors would like her to. When Joanna finds an old phone and taps into the sewer of social media to see what's being said about her and her family, Ivin literally puts people in the same room with her, typing on their phones or laptops, saying out loud what they are posting, which you'll either think is an effective conceit or over the top.
The Cry works best in the bigger reveals — including one so simple and clever that it's a bonafide shock and several others that are also effective but perhaps a little too convenient when you really think about it.
But none of that stops the forward momentum that The Cry acquires after the first episode. Leslie is superb at making Alistair both a predictable alpha husband and then much more than that, with deft detours that cast doubt on what we've seen his character do previously.
If you're looking for something that's emotionally devastating and also riveting as a psychological mystery, you'll be happy that Sundance gave The Cry a chance for you to find it.
Cast: Jenna Coleman, Ewen Leslie, Asher Keddie, Stella Gonet, Sophie Kennedy, Markella Kavenagh, Alex Dimitriades, Shareena Clanton, Shauna Macdonald
As an anthology series, “Castle Rock” always planned to start a fresh story each season. Given the sheer volume of Stephen King content at co-creator and showrunner Dustin Thomason’s disposal, there’s no real concern of running short on new stories to build from old bones. Season 1 showed how connecting themes, locales, and people through the mysterious Maine town could deliver further thrills, chills, and deeply moving character studies enriched by a brilliant formal structure that mimics a memory-ravaging disease.
But Season 2 differs from Season 1 even more than one might expect. Though Hulu and Bad Robot’s sophomore effort sticks fairly close to the series’ pre-set plans, its central focus isn’t an original creation, but Annie Wilkes. The character made famous by Kathy Bates in “Misery” and plenty of re-stagings thereafter is the star again, embodied here by Lizzy Caplan. Unlike Henry Deaver, the Season 1 lead played by Andre Holland, a famous figure like Annie comes loaded with expectations, associations, and comparisons.
And yet originality wins out yet again. Despite tying itself to Annie, “Salem’s Lot,” and “The Body” — not to mention casting Tim Robbins, best known for his work in King’s “The Shawshank Redemption” — “Castle Rock” Season 2 forges its own footsteps without leaning too heavily on references or tie-ins for giddy thrills. Lots of camera framings are creepy as hell, the episodic structure consistently shakes things up, and the performances are just outstanding. It may not be as instantly enticing as the first entry, but there’s more than enough to hold you captive.
Season 2 is a tale of two families, one of which is split in two. Reginald “Pop” Merrill Robbins is the dying family patriarch. Pop has been a steward of Castle Rock all his life, if not always for the right reasons. On the one hand, he’s a generous ex-Army man who adopted two teen Somali refugees decades prior. Abdi Omar Barkhad Abdi and his sister, Nadia Yusra Warsama, were raised right. Abdi is a construction manager looking to open up a new cultural center for the town’s increasing Somali population, while Nadia is the chief doctor at the local hospital.
But Abdi’s actions threaten Pop’s nephew, Ace Paul Sparks, who grew jaded by the attention his uncle paid to his adopted cousins, and now runs a local flea market filled with Somali salespeople. As the property owner, Ace is taking a big cut of their earnings — too big, and now they’re threatening to leave him and work out of Abdi’s new complex for much more reasonable rates. The brewing business battle ignites old tensions, and Pop isn’t the only one caught in the middle.
Tim Robbins in “Castle Rock”
Dana Starbard / Hulu
Through five episodes, each family member is well fleshed out and Thomason does an admirable job avoiding stereotypes and inauthentic storylines. Abdi and Nadia speak English and Somali; their motivation to move stateside is shown in flashback, rather than assigned sight unseen; there’s a subset of locals harboring ill-will against the growing immigrant population, but their racism isn’t strictly overt and is often confined to allegorical horror constructs. A plot twist in the first few episodes sets up a pretty effective way to draw out the literal blood feud between genetic and adopted descendants.
Still, performances are more important than ever when you’re dealing with famous characters or famous faces associated with one character, now playing another. Robbins, for his part, does a fine job recreating the angry Bostonite we’ve come to know from “Mystic River” and “War of the Worlds,” mumbling his way through Pop’s dying days with enough world-weariness and last-chance desperation to make you forget about Andy Dufresne. But among the Merrill family members, Sparks is the real showstopper. His brimming, over-the-top attitude in Episode 1 sets up a pivot later on, making both versions of Ace all the more intimidating and awful. Sparks seems to be having a lot of fun playing a layered bad dude, and the scripts give him plenty to work with.
But like the premise itself, Season 2 would fall apart without a convincing, additive turn from Caplan — and she delivers. Annie still casually deploys childish replacements for profanity “fudge” instead of “fuck,” among other words not so easily transposed, a wide-eyed stare, and a ruthless streak when pushed to her paranoid limits, but Caplan lets her breathe a bit. Rather than risk becoming a self-parody, the “Masters of Sex” star trusts in the story unfolding around her to support pure human moments often stressful, scary, or otherwise panicked.
There are a number of scenes where Annie’s left alone, considering whether her mind is breaking or it’s the world around her. She’s forced to question things she refuses to question, and in these scenes, Caplan lets her nurse operate from a place of fear. She doesn’t always have to be the one holding the sledgehammer or an axe. Annie is on the run, so letting her be afraid is an effective pathway toward pushing her over the edge.
“Castle Rock” Season 2 hasn’t quite found the tour de force episode its predecessor did, but we’re still in the early goings. What’s here is still effective, affecting, and original — despite appearances. With more stories to tell, “Castle Rock” continues to prove there are many ways to tell them.
“Castle Rock” Season 2 premiered Wednesday, October 23 with three episodes on Hulu. New episodes will be released each subsequent Wednesday.
Just a few days after the social media embargo lifted on Terminator: Dark Fate, the new sci-fi sequel from director Tim Miller, the full review embargo has now also lifted. In the early reactions, one thing was repeated again and again: Dark Fate is the best movie in this franchise since James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. That’s not exactly a tough accomplishment to achieve, considering its competition. But now that full reviews are out there, let’s dig a little deeper and find out what else critics have to say about the movie.
Terminator Dark Fate Reviews
Matt Singer at ScreenCrush is the biggest Arnold Schwarzenegger fan I know, and while he praises the former Governator’s performance, he also acknowledges that this is no longer his story:
Schwarzenegger is always memorable in these Terminator movies, and his new cyborg adds some entertaining new twists to his typical deadpan schtick. It’s clear from the beginning, though, that Dark Fate belongs to his female co-stars, particularly Davis and Hamilton, each kicking an impressive amount of robotic ass while bringing significantly more passion and intensity than one might expect from the fifth sequel in a long-running franchise with a so-so-reputation. Hamilton, who’s been out of the spotlight for most of this decade, is going to surprise people with the amount of power and melancholy she delivers. This is not a cash-in gig for her.
And even though Arnold has a supporting role, Jill Pantozzi at io9 actually thought he was in still the movie for too long:
Oddly enough, it almost felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger could have been left out of this film entirely. His initial appearance had me wishing they’d let him do less, not more, though the story does allow for some genuinely great acting moments for the man who just can’t get enough of his most famous role.
Empire‘s Helen O’Hara says that the movie takes “true narrative risks”:
Dark Fate feels like a real Terminator movie at last, from the breakneck, deeply terrifying chase that opens it to its moving finale. This was never just Arnold Schwarzenegger’s series; it’s Linda Hamilton that’s the key ingredient.
Haleigh Foutch at Collider was impressed by Miller’s direction:
Across the board, Miller’s action is thrilling and precisely articulated. Miller fully embraces his Terminator’s unique skill set and builds his action scenes around those abilities, as well as Grace and Sarah’s, inventing thrilling and unexpected moments that punctuate his tightly constructed set-pieces with plenty of payoff. As a filmmaker, it’s clear that he’s a devotee of Cameron’s school of action, and he’s learned the technique well. The set-pieces move and they move the film forward too, making humanity’s fight for survival feel as ferocious and kinetically thrilling as ever.
Nick Levine at NME says that even though the premise of the movie – it asks you to forget all but the first two films – is “kind of shameless,” the results “are so satisfying that you probably won’t care.”
Miller delivers some savage action sequences including a gut-churning early car chase, but it’s the compelling characters and ever-present tension that make this sequel really fly. One hinted-at final act showdown doesn’t quite happen, which could be interpreted as cleverly ambiguous or a bit of a fudge, but it’s not anticlimactic enough to spoil the closing scenes.
William Babbiani at The Wrap says that despite a slew of credited writers which is typically a red flag, “the film never feels like a nostalgia cash-in or a cut-and-paste job made by focus groups and committee. This story actually demands to be told, and it gets told with precision and skill.”
Tim Miller’s welcome, topical, action-packed sequel smartly overlays the sci-fi spectacle of James Cameron’s first two “Terminator” movies on top of a contemporary world which is, in its own way, just as harrowing…Not every film can push the envelope the way “Terminator 2” did, so rather than striving to push visual-effects technology forward, “Dark Fate” focuses on updating a classic story with memorable characters and surprising depth.
But it’s not all positive. Vanity Fair‘s Richard Lawson calls the movie a “stone-cold bummer,” taking issue with the fact that the characters have repeatedly said there’s “no fate but what we make,” while the movies seem insistent upon “the inexorability of human collapse.”
Entropy is the franchise’s faith, the conviction that no matter what we do now, there will always be this horrible devolution of things, always the fire and death, and all we’re ever doing to stop it is hacking at a Hydra. And maybe that’s true! I’m as guilty of trading in doomsday humor as anyone else these days. The end lingers in the mind very stringently right now, though it’s been a preoccupation of ours for most of humanity’s history. What I found uniquely depressing about Dark Fate, though, is how resigned it is to the reality of its title. How it organizes itself as a paean to tireless scramble and triage, to the fight not for something better but for less of something worse. It’s a bitterly pessimistic film. It may be a realistic one, too.
The Hollywood Reporter‘s John DeFore says the movie works “awfully hard to dazzle us,” but those efforts didn’t seem to penetrate his endoskeleton:
Dark Fate does offer a fair bit of pleasure to those wanting a 21st-century retread of T2. But it suffers greatly from obeying the imperative the first sequel established: Trying to blow minds and up the ante the way that FX-pioneering adventure did, this one offers a series of action set pieces that go from big to huge to ludicrous, even as the script’s additions to fear-the-future mythology underwhelm.
Micheal Gingold at Birth.Movies.Death essentially says the movie is fine, but he wishes it were better:
It’s likely that many in the audience, some of whom won’t have been born when the first Terminator came out, will find the deja vu comforting and maybe even exciting, and you can’t deny that Terminator: Dark Fate gives the people what they want, and lots of it. As one of those people, who absolutely loved the Cameron films, I was just hoping for a little more of the groundbreaking in the action and science fiction genres that those movies represented.
Finally, Indiewire‘s David Ehrlich praises Linda Hamilton, but calls the movie “painfully generic” and says that the franchise itself is now “obsolete.”
…there are only so many times you can watch a robot get shot, heal itself, and keep walking before you start praying for Skynet to kill us all, and “Dark Fate” hits that number in its first 30 minutes. It’s nice and perhaps unavoidable that the “Terminator” franchise has finally reached back into the past to remind us that tomorrow is always up for grabs — that the future belongs to anyone willing to fight for it. When the present is this dull, however, it can be hard to remember what anyone is supposed to be fighting for.
Here’s the film’s official synopsis:
More than two decades have passed since Sarah Connor prevented Judgment Day, changed the future, and re-wrote the fate of the human race. Dani Ramos Natalia Reyes is living a simple life in Mexico City with her brother Diego Boneta and father when a highly advanced and deadly new Terminator – a Rev-9 Gabriel Luna – travels back through time to hunt and kill her. Dani’s survival depends on her joining forces with two warriors: Grace Mackenzie Davis, an enhanced super-soldier from the future, and a battle-hardened Sarah Connor Linda Hamilton. As the Rev-9 ruthlessly destroys everything and everyone in its path on the hunt for Dani, the three are led to a T-800 Arnold Schwarzenegger from Sarah’s past that may be their last best hope.
Terminator: Dark Fate hits theaters on November 1, 2019.
Despite being the sixth and supposedly final installment of a franchise that hasn't really been relevant since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Tim Miller's competent but coma-inducing “Terminator: Dark Fate” has no reason to feel this far past its expiration date. In a studio age of intellectual property where nostalgia and innovation are tugging us so hard in either direction that it doesn't seem to matter what happens right here, nothing this side of a “live-action” Disney remake could possibly be more “now” than an unsolicited $150 million sequel in which the present is literally reduced to a turf war between the past and the future.
And “Dark Fate” does everything in its power to embrace the 2019 of it all; from its self-congratulatory emphasis on strong female characters and far more graceful focus on people of color, to its pandering fan service and soul-numbing parade of weightless special effects, this isn't just another mega-budget “requel” that nobody asked for, it's all of them. Perversely, however, the ways in which “Dark Fate” is such a slog du jour only help to underline why the “Terminator” series has always felt so timeless; in a saga about how people never learn and never give up, it's fitting that the final chapter should be such an undeniable testament to both of those truths. If this movie is a minor improvement over the unwatchable installments that inspired James Cameron to come back and retcon his baby a measure of redemption, that's because it recognizes that we always have to save the future for ourselves.
When Cameron stepped away from his “Terminator” franchise after the massive success of its second installment, it seemed as though crisis had been averted. “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” ended with Sarah Connor Linda Hamilton and her beefy robot friend Arnold Schwarzenegger defeating the robot that was sent back through time in order to kill her prepubescent son John, a kid destined to grow up and lead the human resistance in a cataclysmic war against the machines. Not only was the boy still alive, but Cameron even suggested that Sarah's efforts might have canceled the apocalypse altogether; free will had won a tentative victory over fatalism, and the promise of a bleak tomorrow resolved as the most urgent reason for people to fight towards a brighter today.
And then the gleefully nihilistic “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” incinerated that idea with a metal smile on its face, as John Connor learned the hard way that the inevitable can be delayed but not derailed. As it goes in life, so it goes on screen — these days, neither Connor's victory nor Cameron's absence was ever going to stop a Hollywood studio from dismantling this story for spare parts and turning the “Terminator” saga into a perpetual seesaw between foolishness and resilience. The foolishness to develop genocidal A.I. technology, and the resilience to fight it; the foolishness to keep making “Terminator” movies, and the resilience to... keep making “Terminator” movies.
“Dark Fate” might close the door on the “Terminator” franchise, but every dull frame of it suggests that we'll be trapped in that vicious back-and-forth 'til kingdom come. The good news is that you can forget about everything that's happened since the summer of 1991. Not only has Cameron returned to produce, he's proclaimed that all of the sequels made while he was gone weren't canon. And so this story picks up where “T2” left off, with Sarah and John trying to enjoy their time together before another Terminator shows up to blow them apart. And that's exactly what happens in the opening scene, as Sarah drops her guard just long enough for a robot to unload a shotgun into her son it sounds horrifying, but you'll be too dazzled by the flawless de-aging FX to care about the carnage.
Cut to: Mexico City circa 2020, where an augmented cyborg assassin named Grace a shredded and intractably human Mackenzie Davis drops in from the future. Her mission is to protect unsuspecting factory worker Dani Ramos Natalia Reyes, in a helpless bystander of a performance that struggles to become anything more when it counts. It’s a task that becomes a lot more complicated when a Rev-9 murder robot shows up in order to stop her.
A shape-shifter whose human camouflage hides a malleable pool of liquid metal ooze, the Rev-9 is essentially an unstoppable cross between the T-1000 and the evil aliens from “Edge of Tomorrow.” The Rev-9 is equipped with a few nifty innovations, but — like most tech — it boasts much less personality than its predecessors steel-jawed Gabriel Luna plays the robot's default flesh disguise, and he's every bit as forgettable as Robert Patrick's “T2” villain was iconic.
“Terminator: Dark Fate”
It doesn't help that the Rev-9's upgrades pave the way for some of the movie's biggest problems. An indestructible death robot capable of impersonating a member of the LAPD is scary and layered with sociopolitical context; a computer-generated parkour ninja who can violate the laws of physics in a way that sucks the life out of Miller's hard-to-follow action sequences... is not for what it's worth, the Rev-9 does eventually pass itself off as a Mexican-American border guard, but “Dark Fate” has no interest in mining any part of that for deeper meaning. It's easy to appreciate the scale of the extensive chase setpiece that ends the first act, but the messy staging of Miller's digital mishegoss will have you pining for the practical magic of the truck crash in “Rise of the Machines.”
When the smoke clears, 63-year-old Linda Hamilton is standing next to the rubble with a rocket-launcher on her shoulder, and it sure is great to see her. The gravitas and investment equity that she brings to the screen is palpable, even if it's wasted on obvious plot beats and ersatz Cameron machismo “I hunt Terminators and I drink until I pass out” is a fun line of dialogue in a movie with precious few of them. Now a badass crackpot who eludes robots by keeping her cell phone in a bag of potato chips, Sarah has been trapped in a nightmare for too long to be woke — she's been too busy killing Terminators to see “The Force Awakens” or “Wonder Woman” — and so she naturally assumes that Dani must be a target because she'll one day give birth to a very important man.
The thing is, you have seen those movies. And Miller, who got this gig by directing the insistently self-aware “Deadpool,” has to know that you have seen those movies. And yet, “Dark Fate” arrives at Dani's obvious, actual value with an almost Promethean sense of pride, as if making the character a Mexican woman were enough to excuse the fact that nationality and gender are her two definable attributes. It's neat and appreciably political to pin the future of humanity on an anonymous factory worker who America would turn away at the border, but Dani's only purpose is to lead the action back to Arnold, who takes control of the movie once he shows up.
The details of Schwarzenegger's role are all deep in spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that he and Hamilton are still great foils for each other. His part is smartly written, funny in a way “Dark Fate” struggles to be without him, and perhaps the most fundamentally human character the franchise has ever seen. The more casual scenes between he and the rest of the cast are strong and textured enough that — if only for a moment or so — you might even stop asking yourself why the machines don't just send two killer robots to take care of Dani.
Alas, that downtime is followed by scene after scene of generic action, only some of which is actually meant to look weightless. Davis has a few Gogo Yubari-inspired moves that make you wish Cameron had been in the director's chair to make the most of these characters, but there are only so many times you can watch a robot get shot, heal itself, and keep walking before you start praying for Skynet to kill us all, and “Dark Fate” hits that number in its first 30 minutes. It's nice and perhaps unavoidable that the “Terminator” franchise has finally reached back into the past to remind us that tomorrow is always up for grabs — that the future belongs to anyone willing to fight for it. When the present is this dull, however, it can be hard to remember what anyone is supposed to be fighting for.
Paramount Pictures will release “Terminator: Dark Fate” in theaters on November 1.