Welcome to the Worst Time Travel in Movie History — “Terminator Spellcheck”

Terminator Spellcheck Sarah Connor
“Spellcheck this.”

When machines eventually network and become intelligent, they’ll face a resistance leader they just can’t beat – John Connor. In the first three Terminator movies, the machines tried to solve this by sending robot assassins back in time to kill John and his mother Sarah. Terminator Genisys (or as I’ll call it for the rest of this review, Terminator Spellcheck) is a narrative mash-up of the first two films.

When the basis of your plot is time travel, you can almost get away with anything you want. There’s only one rule: you have to be consistent about it. Kyle Reese is a future soldier sent back in time to help Sarah Connor. If you set up a guideline early on – that Sarah and Kyle have to stay alive in order to conceive John Connor in 1984 – you can’t just step all over it later. Midway through the film (in 2017, no less), both sides want to keep future John Connor alive, but a villain tells Sarah and Kyle that they can die. John Connor can still exist in the future without ever being conceived or born because – oh, look, a shiny new action scene!

Terminator Spellcheck moves the goalposts, throws its own internal rules out the window, offers zero explanation, and hopes nobody notices. This is the way it treats every instance of time travel – as a scene change rather than a plot element. I mention the most egregious oversight, but to name them all would take longer than the movie.

Terminator Spellcheck advanced terminator
For the last time, Arnold, “The Chopper” is not spelled “Da Choppah.”

The movie also feels like it was edited by committee. One or two action scenes seem like they were added late in the game. Because of this, the editing sometimes skips those camera shots that connect action moments. For instance: the new Terminator that’s introduced has many abilities, but I’m pretty sure one of them isn’t spontaneously growing a helicopter from thin air. The helicopter chase that follows also looks incredibly cartoonish, in sharp contrast to the movie’s more grounded chase scenes. There’s a gumminess to many of the visual effects, but good acting and good pacing early on help us overlook this. When the film’s CGI eventually overwhelms the focus on its actors in the last half hour, the quality of Terminator Spellcheck dives off a cliff.

Those actors all help to keep the film afloat. Emilia Clarke does a great riff on Linda Hamilton’s portrayal of Sarah Connor, finding that sweet spot in between the wide-eyed victim of Terminator and the gruff soldier of Terminator 2. Arnold Schwarzenegger has learned a thing or two about acting over the years. He communicates character in silent moments in a way he never used to. He’s not going to win an Oscar anytime soon, but films like Sabotage and Terminator Spellcheck do show us that he’s putting the effort into growing as an actor.

J.K. Simmons is the film’s comedic relief as the L.A. police department’s resident conspiracy theorist. He tracks Sarah and Kyle from one appearance in time to the next. His scenes are abrupt and serve as deus ex machinas, but Simmons is so good at being a hilariously scattered schmuck that he makes them work.

Terminator Spellcheck Jai Courtney
Jai Courtney fights to put the ‘u’ back in ‘colour.’

Jai Courtney plays Kyle Reese and Jason Clarke (no relation to Emilia) plays John Connor. Courtney is solid if unspectacular, and Jason Clarke is smarmier than I would’ve preferred. The movie relies on Emilia Clarke and Schwarzenegger to drag the film forward on their own strengths.

Is it good? Is it bad? It’s below average, but not terrible. It’s very watchable and it’s not without its charms or creative moments. It lacks any consistency whatsoever and the last half hour feels torn from a Resident Evil movie rather than part of a Terminator film.

It’s not a must-watch movie and it won’t lose much from waiting till it’s on DVD/streaming. I can’t recommend it over enjoying Inside Out again or seeing Jurassic World for the 50th time. Those are movies made to astonish and delight on the big screen. Terminator Spellcheck is made to get by. You don’t even have to look past this year to find movies where many of its ideas are done better, bigger, and cleaner. I enjoyed it, but I enjoyed it on that level of a B-grade film playing late at night when nothing else is on. Sadly, this still makes it the third best Terminator film out of five.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section uses the Bechdel Test as a foundation to discuss the representation of women in film. Ready why I’m including this section here.

1. Does Terminator Spellcheck have more than one woman in it?

Yes, barely. Emilia Clarke plays Sarah Connor. Sandrine Holt plays Detective Cheung.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes, barely. Cheung questions Sarah Connor briefly.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes, barely. Cheung questions her about a time portal that the LAPD thinks was a bomb explosion. Connor briefly helps a family escape a shootout in another sequence – she shouts a command at the family in general, including the mother and father.

Technically, this passes the Bechdel Test, but in spirit, it fails hard. It’s almost unthinkable – especially in a summer with so many women heroes as this one – that a film centered around a woman can’t manage to drum up one other woman for her to interact with in an extended manner. Every other main and side character is a man.

Terminator Spellcheck lists its credits more or less by screen-time: only two of the top 20 credits belong to women. I understand that the core cast has to include Arnold Schwarzenegger and Kyle Reese, but the world itself – every other professional job save Cheung’s – is populated by men.

This doesn’t take away from the job Emilia Clarke does. She really is good, and she delivers a tough performance. She’s not a damsel in distress. She occasionally needs saving, but she occasionally saves her compatriots, too. She shoots and blows more things up than anyone else in the film, although it’s annoyingly left to the men to do any hand-to-hand combat. Watch Terminator 2 again – Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor beats a lot of people up and Arnold doesn’t really seem to mind the help.

What’s wrong with Terminator Spellcheck in terms of gender representation is more subtle than in most films. It does some things right, but not letting Sarah Connor throw a punch when everyone else is throwing down, and having a world populated inordinately by men undermines a great deal of the strength and command that Emilia Clarke delivers in her performance.

Where did we get our awesome images? The feature image of a very eager robot spellchecking your work is from Collider’s great review. In order, the article images are from Screen Rant’s Emilia Clarke interview, Collider’s review again, and Screen Rant’s Jai Courtney interview. 

Full Review: “Inside Out” Ranks Among Pixar’s Best

Inside Out Sadness and Joy
via Collider

by Gabriel Valdez

#Note: I’m still writing for AC, but I’ll be focusing more on social and political commentary there, so more of my movie reviews will be appearing in full on this website again, starting with this one:

There’s a famous montage in Pixar’s Up that tells the life story of a man and woman, from their meeting as children to his losing her of old age. It never fails to draw tears from any viewer.

Imagine zooming in on that montage and watching a briefer piece of it. It has the same effect for viewers, but the story’s in much more detail. This is what happens in Inside Out, which many are calling a return to form for the studio that created Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Toy Story, and Wall-E. I’ll go one step further: this is one of Pixar’s best films. Inside Out meets and perhaps even surpasses some of the movies I just listed.

Pixar always has a way of getting at the emotions housed inside of certain stages of life. Here, those emotions become characters. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust operate 11 year-old Riley’s brain. Joy (Amy Poehler) runs the crew because up until now, everything has gone pretty well having a childhood focused on happiness.

But Riley’s family is moving from the open, rural wilds of Minnesota to the cramped confines of San Francisco. This coincides with Joy and Sadness getting swept out of headquarters, leaving only Anger, Fear, and Disgust to cope with being the new kid at school, figuring out the new town, and trying out for the local hockey team.

Inside Out Riley looking scared
via Pixar Post

We see glimpses of Riley’s life, particularly in how her relationship with her parents worsens. Most of the film focuses on Joy and Sadness’s journey back to headquarters, through places like Long-term Memory, Imaginationland, and even Dream Productions.

By speaking about the imaginary things we lose and by focusing on the tug-of-war between Sadness and Joy, Inside Out actually begins to recall the bittersweet messages of 80s fantasies like Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, or The Last Unicorn. Those were films that dealt with the loss of childhood and innocence in a similar way: by threatening the metaphorical with real repercussions. Although the style is completely different, Inside Out has many moments that would fit very neatly into those films, including a few that may make you cry. The 60 year-old biker with the tattoos and motorcycle jacket to my right cried. The six year-old and his mother to my left cried. I cried.

Inside Out works. It really, really works because it feels like the rare film that arrives straight from a storyteller’s heart. That Riley is compellingly realized, that it’s filled with slapstick humor, that the animation is filled with color and imagination – these are delightful bonuses. At its core, Inside Out could work without any of them, and it could do so better than any other Pixar movie. I won’t call it the best of their films – I’m not sure that it is. I will call it their most honest one.

In part, this is because Inside Out takes place on a much smaller scale than most Pixar films. It’s not humanity that’s at stake, or even a loved one’s life. All that’s at stake is the emotional wholeness of a young woman. And yet, directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen give those stakes more importance, tension, and emotional impact than all the worlds that have been saved this summer put together.

Inside Out Fear Joy and Disgust
via Collider

Is Pixar back? That’s a silly question; they never left. When most major studios have two or three subpar films in a row, it’s called a rough month. Since Pixar only makes a feature film every year or two, what would be the blink of an eye for most studios is for Pixar turned into a narrative about how far they’ve diminished.

Call Inside Out what you like – a recovery, a comeback, a return to form. Just make sure you call it a masterpiece.

It’s a great film for kids, especially because it doesn’t shy away from the kind of complex, emotionally involved storytelling that kids really do love. Sometimes we simplify children’s stories much more than we have to. We underestimate just how invested they can become in a movie that demands their full attention. Oftentimes, they’re even better at it than adults are – they don’t have to break through walls of cynicism to treat what’s happening on-screen as important. Inside Out puts faith in children’s ability to comprehend what’s at stake. It also speaks to the way children analyze emotions and deal with the world around them.

Adults will be taken back to emotional struggles we had at that age and – let’s face it – sometimes still experience. Children will get the first film in a long time that treats their emotions as something complex and worth talking about. And it all happens in a colorful, energetic cartoon that may be Pixar’s funniest yet.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section uses the Bechdel Test as a foundation to discuss the representation of women in film. Read why I’m including this section here.

1. Does Inside Out have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Riley is voiced by Kaitlyn Dias and her mother is voiced by Diane Lane. Joy is voiced by Amy Poehler, Sadness is voiced by Phyllis Smith, and Disgust is voiced by Mindy Kaling. A variety of other characters and their emotions are voiced by Paula Poundstone, Paula Pell, Rashida Jones, and a sizable supporting cast of professional women voice actors.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes. There are some hilarious moments when boys and men are discussed by emotions, but aside from that it’s really all about the women. It’s a credit to lead screenwriter Meg LeFauve (Josh Cooley and Pete Docter also contributed) that each of the women in this film seems whole. Even the emotional homunculi (the characters inside Riley’s head) who are portrayed by women are more than simple caricatures.

I can’t speak to many experiences or pressures as a young woman growing up that this film may address. I can say that Riley and her emotions are some of the most fleshed out characters that Pixar has put to film, and it manages this through more than just the dialogue. Not only is the screenplay incredibly layered, but the animation is nuanced enough to ask you to read each character on multiple levels.

I also appreciate that Riley is a complex character. This takes place with surface elements: she dreams about unicorns and she kicks butt at hockey. It also takes place on a number of deeper levels: Riley struggles with her own emotions but can occasionally manage those of her parents in ways that defuse their loss of emotional control. She has expectations and struggles with anger when those expectations aren’t met. She can revert into her own private world. She is caught in the midst of becoming more independent. This is a complex portrayal of a young woman, which is something we don’t get to see very often on film.

AC: Donald Trump & the Charleston Gunman Sound Eerily Similar on People of Color

One thing that’s really bothered me about the coverage of the Charleston church shooting is how what the shooter said almost directly echoes a conservative talking point that Donald Trump focused on in his presidential announcement. Trump obviously didn’t cause the shooting, but there is a repeated mentality among conservatives that both bolsters and encourages racist elements in this country to carry out their violence in larger and more public ways. Read it here:

Donald Trump & the Charleston Gunman Sound Eerily Similar on People of Color

AC: A More Perfect “Jurassic World”

My review for Jurassic World on AC is glowing. Too many sequels think that respecting the original movie in a franchise is about emulating it endlessly. It creates watered-down copy-pastes that diminish the franchise each time. That’s the problem with The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park 3.

Jurassic World thinks the best way of respecting the original movie is to play with it, to interact with it on a meta level. If you love Jurassic Park, it seems to say, you shouldn’t put it on a pedestal and never touch it again. You should poke and prod at it, interact with it, and take all its themes and spin them on their heads just to see where they land. Jurassic World is a movie written as non-seriously as possible and then filmed at face value, a self-aware film featuring one of the most self-deprecating leads on film today in Chris Pratt. It does some things wrong, but it takes a lot more chances than I ever would’ve expected. Read my entire review on AC here:

A More Perfect “Jurassic World”

AC: The Best Dinosaur Fights in Movie History

I’ve let this blog sit quiet a while, but everyone decided we needed a little vacation. Which for me still means writing for several other places, and I apologize for not sharing what’s been published elsewhere here.

Let me make it up with some of the best dinosaur fights in movie history, which just came out today for Article Cats. Enjoy it here:

The Best Dinosaur Fights in Movie History

AC: Why “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is a Complete Disaster

Well, technically I phrase it why it’s “impressive, fun, and a complete disaster,” but chiefly it’s about the complete disaster part. And the film’s weird obsession with slow-motion cleavage shots. It’s like Joss Whedon suddenly turned into Michael Bay.

Here’s my review over on AC.

Gabe

AC — “Unfriended” is Brilliant Horror That Hits Close to Home

I’m sure Unfriended was imagined as a quick cash-in – a horror movie based entirely around social networking. For cast and crew, especially those getting their first and perhaps only break, nothing’s just a cash-in. The people involved in this film took real risks in assembling the most important POV horror film since The Blair Witch Project.

What seems like a gimmick at first glance becomes a bold and experimental approach to storytelling on film. It doesn’t feel like anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s an intense and bittersweet allegory that’s one of the best films of the year. To read my review and Bechdel Test analysis:

“Unfriended” is Brilliant Horror That Hits Close to Home

– Gabe

Movies and how they change you.

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