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The Fine Art of the Cameo

May 18th, 2009

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It’s opening week, Skynetters.

And that being the case, it’s about time I talk about the one mystery still surrounding this movie: the fate of Mr. Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

With just four days to go, it amazes me that no one seems to know whether or not the Man himself will be appearing in T4. Usually a cameo this fantastic would either be all over youtube, or would have been dismissed as rumour in the message boards. But apparently no one has a clue about his involvement. Some say he’s in it for a couple of minutes, others say his face has been CGI’d into the background, and others still are adamant that he’s not involved in any way. In other words, we’re going to be surprised. Kudos to WB for playing this one so close to the chest.

I, like everyone else, can’t comment on Schwarzenegger’s presence (for the simple fact that I don’t actually know…) but I am in an excellent position to make broad speculations and share my personal opinions.

So let’s start with a nice big hyperbole:

At no point in the long history of Hollywood has any actor been as synonymous with a single role as Schwarzenegger is with the Terminator. Not Clint Eastwood as the Man With No Name, not Sean Connery as Bond, not even James Earl Jones as Vader. Schwarzenegger’s entire career (at least as an actor…) has revolved around the fact that he is the Terminator. Plain and simple.

And, on the flip side of that equation, the Terminator franchise has survived on the fact that it’s the one true place to see Schwarzenegger playing his definitive role. Even James Cameron, the creator of Terminator, had to admit that Schwarzenegger was just as responsible for the character as he was. In short, the Schwarzenegger Terminator is one of the greatest, most recognizable pop culture images of all time.

So it seems almost cruel to make another Terminator movie with Mr. S.

Because - if we’re all being honest - it needs to be said that Schwarzenegger is not a great actor. In fact, there’s a strong argument to be made that Schwarzenegger is a terrible actor (not an argument that I’d support, mind you, but I’ll admit that the evidence is there).

But, it’s undeniable that the man knows how to play the Terminator.

The one thing Schwarzenegger does really, really well is playing emotionally devoid killing machines. He does it better than anyone else. It’s why God put him on Earth. And we love watching him do it! It’s legitimately and unapologetically entertaining. He manages to play the role convincingly while also bringing a subtle (yes, I said subtle) humour to it. I challenge any other actor to walk that line as well as Schwarzenegger does. He’s a master at this one, small role, and why should he be denied the chance to flaunt his mastery?

Now, obviously it should be noted that such a cameo could potentially derail T4. McG has worked really hard to create a serious, gritty movie, and the presence of Schwarzenegger (who has become a gigantic punch line in recent years) could undo all that. On the other hand, the cameo seems almost necessary to authenticate Salvation as a member of the Terminator family.

Personally, I really do hope they gave him a shot in T4. Schwarzenegger and the Terminator are like Simon and Garfunkel – we love seeing the reunion. Plus, what other movie would ever be able to boast the current Governor of California playing a robot?

As always, let us know what you think in the comments below!!

AND A REMINDER!!!

On Tuesday, May 19th we’re holding a special preview screening of Terminator Salvation, and you have a chance to win tickets. If you show up at Dundas Square (at the corner of Yonge and Dundas in Toronto) at 6:30 PM dressed up as one of John Connor’s Resistance fighters, you have a chance to win VIP seating to a 7:00 screening at the Yonge and Dundas AMC theatre, as well as the chance to win a bunch of cool Terminator swag! Get creative: come dressed in army fatigues, covered in robot bits, or whatever you think a Resistance soldier should look like.

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Towards a Theory of John Connor – Part 3

May 14th, 2009

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For the past few weeks I’ve been looking at John Connor and his role within the Terminator franchise, and why I think he’s the most identifiable character this side of Empire Strikes Back. To reacp, in T1 we were introduced to a fetus that was destined to change the world; then in T2 we met a kid who didn’t care about other people’s expectations or prognostications; and in T3 we saw a young man crumbling under the realization that he may be destined for nothing. But finally, at the end of Rise of the Machines, we saw John Connor step up and start doing what he had to.

And now we come to Terminator Salvation and an altogether different John Connor.

At first I was pretty shocked to hear that Christian Bale would be taking the reigns in T4. His predecessors (Edward Furlong in T2, Nick Stahl in T3, Thomas Dekker in the TV show) all had one thing in common: they were scrawny, nerdy dudes. They looked more like sci-fi bloggers than they did like robot warriors. And, as I argued a few weeks back, that was part of the indelible appeal of the earlier movies. T2 and T3 told all scrawny, nerdy dudes that they, too, could be a hero. But if there’s one thing Christian Bale is not, it’s scrawny and nerdy. In fact, hard as I try, it’s pretty difficult to see how Edward Furlong could grow up to be Christian Bale. No offense to Furlong, but it’s a biological impossibility.

Which is not to say that I’m unhappy about Christian Bale’s casting in this movie – far from it, in fact – I’m just trying to point out the changing mythology of the character.

In T4, for the first time we see John Connor trying to achieve what’s been foretold. Not only is he trying to blow the brains out of Skynet, but he’s also trying to be a leader. He’s doing his best to both inspire and protect the survivors of Judgment Day, the ones who are, for all intents and purposes, “his people.”

And this would be a nice fitting endpoint for the character. Whiny annoying kid shirks responsibility, learns his lesson, then grows into an inspirational hero and saves the world. But that would also be a little boring, which is why I’m glad to see that the screenwriters have decided to mess with John Connor one more time.

There are two wrenches mucking up the gears for John in Salvation. Wrench the first: in Terminator 3, John was told that he will be killed in the line of duty at some point before the humans achieve victory. Apparently in order to be the saviour to his people, he’s going to have to sacrifice himself along the way. (A little heavy handed for a character with the initials JC? Perhaps…) Wrench number two: A whole lot of heroes and villains have been jumping around through time, and they’ve been telling a bunch of people things about the future that they probably shouldn’t know. As a result, a lot of changes have been made to the timeline, meaning that John Connor is no longer living in a future where he’s guaranteed to win the war. Instead, he’s in an alternate future where anything goes. Maybe he wins, maybe he doesn’t.

So what we’ve got is a John Connor who’s doing his best to present a confident, stoic front to his troops (hence the Christian Bale exterior), but is actually having a crisis of faith and is beginning to doubt everything he has been taught. And that’s just good drama. And what’s more, John Connor is meeting resistance from the other humans. Apparently just because his mommy said he’s supposed to be the leader, doesn’t mean that everyone else is going to accept him right away. So, all in all, we have a John Connor that is holding to the belief that he needs to fight this war, even though everyone is trying to stop him, and he’s plagued by self-doubt, and even if he does win, he’s probably gonna die. That’s deep.

And I like this.

When talking about T2, I mentioned that John’s easygoing, screw-it-all attitude was very appealing to me as a fellow teenage wannabe rebel. But now that I’m a post-grad struggling writer type, I find the new John Connor incredibly sympathetic. He’s a guy who finally got his act together, just like everyone told him to, and now he’s learning that it’s still not that easy, and that his “destiny” isn’t going to be handed to him on a platter.

In short, the new John Connor is like the twenty-first century equivalent of Reality Bites.

Just kidding…

Seriously, it’s Batman vs. the Terminator. What more could you want?

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I Almost Forgot…

May 13th, 2009

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I thought I had covered every important cast and crewmember in Terminator Salvation, but it looks like somebody slipped my mind… Ms. Helena Bonham Carter.

Carter (whom you should know from Fight Club, Sweeney Todd, Planet of the Apes, etc.) has a small (but apparently quite significant) role as a Cyberdyne Systems scientist, who will no doubt run afoul of the Connor family.

For whatever reason, I don’t really like the idea of seeing Carter in this movie. This is probably going to sound all kinds of sexist, but whenever I think of Helena Bonham Carter, I think of Tim Burton (they’re dating, you know, and he’s cast her in pretty much every movie he’s made since they first met). And Tim Burton is the last person I want going near Terminator. It’s not that I don’t like his movies,  it’s that Burton’s style is very flashy and silly, and Terminator Salvation should be the exact opposite.

But, of course, we’re not talking about Tim Burton, we’re talking about Helena Bonham Carter and I should know the difference.

Here’s what it boils down to for me: If Fight Club Helena Bonham Carter shows up (i.e. the disturbing, mature, almost-kind-of-gross, pre-Burton Carter) she is more than welcome in this movie. But, if we get Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Carter (i.e. look how wacky I can be! Carter) then I’m going to be a little disappointed.

It also makes me sad to know that Tilda Swinton was originally set to play Carter’s role. She’s quite good at playing the creepy villain (see Chronicles of Narnia) and she’s quite good at bringing legitimacy to genre movies (again, Chronicles of Narnia). We’ll never know for sure, but I think Swinton really would have nailed it.

But I suppose I shouldn’t complain about casting switch-ups in Terminator… Here’s your fascinatingly useless bit of trivia for the day: Originally, Schwarzenegger was set to play Kyle Reese and Michael Biehn was going to appear as the terminator. And look how that worked out! For all I know, Carter will give a scene-stealing, award-winning performance.

So welcome aboard, Ms. Carter! My apologies for leaving you until the very end.

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Bit Parts: The Resistance

May 5th, 2009

Today I want to look at a few of the supporting players in John Connor’s Resistance. First up…

Common as Barnes

According to the promo materials, Barnes is John’s no-nonsense right hand man. Usually I have a problemcommon with musicians turned actors, but I can make an exception for Common because he already proved himself in Smokin’ Aces (and I’m well aware that I’m the only person who actually enjoyed that movie, but I stand by my opinion that Common gave a solid performance). More importantly, he brings some much-needed old-school tough-guy attitude to John’s team. With Anton Yelchin and Sam Worthington kicking up the angst factor, Common’s ruthless soldier is a welcome addition.

bloodgoldMoon Bloodgold as Blair Williams

Bloodgold might just be the actress with the coolest name in Hollywood (or the name that most resembles a character from Twilight). Truth is, I don’t know much about her, aside from the fact that she was in an episode of Fastlane (which I declared my unreasonable love for last week) and that she’s going to be in the new Street Fighter movie. I guess that pretty much qualifies her to be in a McG Terminator movie. I was very pleased to learn that Bloodgold’s character is a fighter pilot. Jets and robots. It’s like Top Gun meets Terminator. And that mix becomes even cooler when you consider…

Michael Ironside as General Ashdown

Ironside plays the gruff, strict, old guy in every movie you’ve ever seen. Or at least he does in Top Gun, where he plays Jester, the flight training instructor to Maverick and Ice Man. From what we know, it seems that Ironside plays a fairly similar character in Salvation. He’s a general in the Resistance who has a problem with young John Connor’s rebellious, headstrong attitude. Ironside brings some sci-fi credibility to the table, and I look forward to some old-fashioned shouting matches between him and John. Plus, Gerneral Ashdown is an insanely cool name.

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Towards a Theory of John Connor – Part 2

April 29th, 2009

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Last week I looked at little Johnny Connor’s first appearance in Terminator 2, and why I thought he was the perfect hero for the aimless 90s teenager. He gave all scrawny young nerds reason to hope, and showed us the hero hiding beneath a generation of cynics. And in a perfect move, T2 ended with John Connor riding off into the night, ready to face an uncertain future.

And then John Connor pops up twelve years later in Terminator 3, this time played by Nick Stahl (otherwise known as the yellow guy in Sin City). And things quickly went south…

It’s pretty clear that Nick Stahl was not the first choice to play John. By most accounts, the filmmakers wanted wisecracking Ed Furlong to come back, but a wee problem with drugs and alcohol made him ineligible. Unfortunately for Stahl, stepping in as a replacement for such a beloved franchise was bound to generate unfavorable comparisons, and in my humble opinion he got a raw deal.

See, there are two things to consider when looking at Stahl’s Connor in T3. First off, there’s Stahl’s acting, and then there’s the script that was written for him.

Now if you just look at Stahl’s performance, he does a pretty solid job. Not only does he actually look like an older version of Furlong, but he also tries his best to channel that devil-may-care trickster attitude. Is it perfect? No. But all things considered, Stahl was a pretty decent choice to play a mid-twenties Connor. He looks like he’s grown up a bit, but he’s not so far removed from his predecessor that it’s hard to buy him as Connor (which, coincidentally, is my one and only problem with Christian Bale, but I’ll elaborate on that later).

Unfortunately for Stahl, however, he got stuck with a script that didn’t do the character justice. As I argued last week, what makes John Connor so compelling T2 is that he doesn’t let little things like destiny and the apocalypse get him down. The kid has the weight of the world on his shoulders, and he ends up being a major disappointment, but at no point does he get whiney or angsty or moody. He stays supremely confident and just keeps on doing his own thing.

Stahl in T3, however, is the exact freaking opposite. The film opens with the whiniest, angstiest, moodiest monologue in the history of the franchise, and overnight this unflappable character has lost all of his gravitas. There’s a scene where he sits by himself drinking a beer as he looks out at a ravine. And there’s a scene where he crashes his little moped in a weak “look how suicidal I am” moment. And then, worst of all, there’s a scene where he whines to his ex-girlfriend about how hard it was to live up to his mom’s expectations. All of sudden John Connor is gone and he’s been replaced with the kid from Dawson’s Creek. The guys who wrote T3 got the character completely wrong, and it was downright painful to watch. As someone who had strongly identified with Connor in T2, it made me really uncomfortable to watch that same character suddenly lose all of his appealing attributes.

That being said, T3 does contain what is probably my favourite John Connor moment in the entire series.

Somewhere around the third act, John Connor snaps out of his funk and steps up as the hero we were promised way back in number 1. When the heat is on, his true colours show and he makes the call to stop running and start blowing stuff up (and that right there is the central Terminator ethos). But unfortunately John gets some bad intel, and instead of ending up in the Skynet command center, he finds himself in a fallout shelter equipped with all the fixings needed to start an underground resistance.

And this is where the magic happens.

As the nukes start flying, calls come pouring into John’s fallout shelter from generals around the world seeking instructions. And then John steps up to the mic and does what he has to: he starts saving the world. It’s a surprisingly powerful scene (surprising because the hour and a half that precedes it completely sucks) and manages to save the movie (almost). The mixture of fear and acceptance on Stahl’s face is spot on, and it makes me frustrated that he didn’t get the chance to work with a better script.

What’s more, the final scene sums up the John Connor philosophy of “let it be.” Connor gives us proof that there’s no point in sitting around panicking about your future, you just have to wait and see what happens. In that last scene the film finally delivers on the promise made to the aimless 90s teenagers who followed the young John Connor of T2. Does it make up for the inexplicably wrong handling of the character in the rest of the movie? Not entirely, but it’s a solid note to end on.

So where do we go from here? Check back in the coming weeks for part 3 where I’ll look at the John Connor who is playing in the big leagues in Terminator Salvation.

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Terminator Salvation: The Characters

April 27th, 2009

Stars of Terminator Salvation

It’s been six long years since we’ve last heard from John Connor and his plight to save humanity from Skynet—an artificial intelligence who launched a nuclear war against humanity. Now, as Connor takes his rightful place as leader of the Resistance, he’ll need all the help he can get. Here’s an inside look into the film’s characters.

Christian Bale as John Connor
John is the son of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. He is the fated leader of the Resistance against Skynet and its army of Terminators. “He’s so much older and he has gone through Judgment Day,” Bale says of his character. “Living through an event like that alters everybody, so in many ways he’s a completely different person. Skynet is dominant but still in a state of evolution,” Connor fights on the front lines of the Resistance, but is not yet its leader. New developments by Skynet have rocked his vision of the future, as told to him throughout his life by his mother. She believed the future was not set, and his own doubts are growing that he may not live to initiate the events that
will result in his own conception—namely, sending Kyle Reese back in time to protect his mother. “Humans are definitely on the out,” says Bale. “Their backs are against the wall and their circumstances are desperate. This is the last, final effort for the survival of mankind.”

Sam Worthington as Marcus Wright
Marcus Wright’s appearance is a mystery. His last memory was of being put to death for committing a crime; he has no knowledge of how he came into this world or what his purpose is here. “Marcus had been on death row,” Worthington explains. “He was put to death. But then he wakes up in this post-apocalyptic world and has to go on a surreal adventure to figure out why he isn’t dead. The irony, of course, is that it’s only here, where living itself is a challenge, that he experiences true human kindness and compassion.” When he is discovered as being half machine, his purpose is questioned.

Common as Barnes
Barnes is a soldier in the Resistance and is John Connor’s right hand man. He is assigned to watch over Wright, of whom everyone has become suspicious. “Barnes is this spiritual warrior in many ways, fighting to the end by Connor’s side for the future of humanity, and he sees Marcus as a threat,” says Common. “But, by the same token, he’s been through a lot of things that force him to come to a spiritual understanding—about their struggle, about John Connor’s destiny—and much of it is tied into Marcus.”

Anton Yelchin as Kyle Reese
Kyle Reese, who will eventually travel backwards through time to save Sarah Connor (as seen in The Terminator (1984)), is at this point still a teenager, struggling to survive. “He’s a gritty survivor,” says McG. Adds Yelchin: “Kyle has survived day to day, eating whatever he can find. He’s out there surrounded by T-600s and other human scavengers who aren’t all friendly.” Kyle also wants to join the Resistance. But he is not alone in his journey—he’s accompanied by Star (Jadagrace Berry), a nine-year-old girl rendered mute by the trauma of war and displacement. Star has the uncanny ability to sense the presence of a Terminator before it appears, but, more importantly, her presence gives Kyle a greater sense of purpose.

Moon Bloodgood as Blair Williams
Blair Williams is a fighter in the Resistance. “She is a wonderful fighter pilot and a survivalist,” says McG. “She really knows how to maneuver, destroy machines and, most importantly, stay alive.”

Bryce Dallas Howard as Kate Connor
Kate Connor is John’s wife and partner in the Resistance. In the intervening years since Judgment Day, Kate has become a physician, training the best she can in these circumstances. “She finds books and she’s talked to as many survivors as possible, learning different techniques to enable her to save lives,” says Howard. Kate is the first to discover that Wright has been transformed into an unknown model of Terminator: a hybrid with a human heart, brain, and exterior, but the interior workings of a robot.

Helena Bonham Carter as Dr. Serena Kogen
Carter’s character is connected to Marcus Wright. She is a mysterious scientist with the then-fledgling Skynet unit of Cyberdyne Systems. “Helena plays a very proficient scientist who is working on the cutting edge of technology,” says McG. “She’s further motivated by the fact that she has terminal cancer. She truly believes her research could give people like her a second chance, but her research falls into the hands of Skynet, and the consequences of that are quite revolutionary for the machines. But she is indeed the one who enlists Marcus to donate his body for what she will only tell him is ‘research,’ and hers is the last human face he sees before dying.”

Terminator Salvation also stars:
Jane Alexander as Virginia
Jadagrace Berry as Star
Roland Kickinger as the T-800
Brian Steele as the T-600
Michael Ironside as General Ashdown
Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor (voice)

Toni-Marie Ippolito characters

Why Anton Yelchin Makes Me Nervous…

April 27th, 2009

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Kyle Reese is often the forgotten hero of Terminator.

Appearing only in the first movie (and briefly in the director’s cut of the second), Reese was the first resistance soldier sent back through time to protect Sarah Connor from Skynet’s evil machinations. But it turns out Reese was destined to do more than just crush Terminators; during his stay in 1984, Reese also found time to knock up Ms. Connor, leading to the birth of his future boss John, and creating a time paradox that’ll hurt your head if you think about it for too long (but more on that later…)

And then (spoiler alert!) Reese was killed in the line of duty, and he wasn’t heard from again.

But in an interesting twist (or perhaps in a completely expected twist), a much younger Kyle Reese will be popping up in Terminator Salvation played by Anton Yelchin. And while the reappearance of future/past Reese is nothing short of awesome, the casting of Yelchin has me a little concerned…

Originally Reese was played by Michael Biehn, a sci-fi mainstay whom you might know from Aliens, The Abyss, and more recently the Tarantino/Rodriguez collaboration Grindhouse. Unfortunately for Biehn, who was for all intents and purposes the star of Terminator 1, his performance was completely overshadowed by the breakout appearance of Schwarzenegger. And that’s too bad, because Biehn did a solid job and really made the character his own.

In fact, Biehn did such a good job at playing Reese that I have a pretty hard time accepting Yelchin as a substitute. See, Biehn’s Reese was a cold, tough, do-what-it-takes kinda guy, and Yelchin is… not.

Something about Yelchin just screams silly to me. For whatever reason, I have a really hard time taking him seriously (though I have to admit, he really knocked it out of the park in Alpha Dog). It’s just one of those things where he’s always going to be Charlie Bartlett to me. He’s kinda goofy and innocent in a movie that’s nothing but gritty and ugly.

And yes, I do understand that Yelchin is playing a teenage Reese, and is not yet supposed to be the hardened adult we meet in Terminator 1. And I guess in that light Yelchin is a pretty good fit. But still, I’m not entirely convinced he’s the best choice to play Reese.

Because the thing is, Yelchin’s Reese isn’t just a cameo appearance to please longtime fans. On the contrary, Reese plays a big part in Terminator Salvation. John Connor finally gets the chance to meet the dad he never knew (under extremely odd and uncomfortable circumstances), and realizes that he now has to protect his future father to makes sure that he lives long enough to travel back in time and meet his mom. Yelchin is at the absolute core of the movie, and I’m not sure he can handle the weight. It’s like Shia LaBeouf in Indiana Jones all over again.

Should I give Yelchin the benefit of the doubt? Absolutely. His performance in Alpha Dog has earned him that much, and apparently J.J. Abrams thought he was good enough to cast him in the upcoming Star Trek movie (and in my book, J.J. can do no wrong), so I’m sure I won’t be disappointed…

But if I had my choice, I think I’d go in a different direction. Now this may seem like an odd choice, but I’d cast Paul Dano (the silent kid in Little Miss Sunshine, the young priest in There Will Be Blood). I know he doesn’t really look like a freedom-fighting soldier, but shave his head, lose the glasses, and maybe bulk him up a little and he’d fit right in. A very strong actor, and he even has a kinda Michael Biehn-ish face.

But that’s just me. Who would you choose?

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Towards a Theory of John Connor - Part 1

April 22nd, 2009

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Now we get to the good stuff.

Seeing as I have way too much to say about John Connor for just one post, I’m gonna break things up and start by looking at his first appearance in Terminator 2…

Connor (as originally played by Edward Furlong) is probably my favourite child character to appear in an adult-oriented movie. The thing is, I usually hate it when kids take the spotlight. I even have a problem with Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense (which, according to my friends, officially makes me the devil). But for some reason, I was always okay with Furlong’s Connor, even though he displays all the hallmarks of annoying child stars: the grating voice, the look-how-cool-I-am attitude, and the rapid-fire pop culture sayings. On paper, Furlong is basically Macaulay Culkin with more swearwords.

But the fact of the matter is, Furlong’s Connor is the most identifiable character in the franchise, and might very well be the reason why Terminator 2 still stands as the best entry in the series.

If, in the summer of 1991, you happened to be a pubescent boy (and let’s be honest, that is the Terminator fanbase), then chances are you saw Terminator 2 in a very special light, because young John Connor might just be the perfect hero for generations of aimless youngsters.

It’s hard not to feel for the kid. For starters, his mom’s always pushing him to succeed, and it’s awfully hard to live up to such high expectations (what with her pressuring him to be the messiah and all), his dad’s gone, he has trouble making friends, he’s always crossing the authorities, and it’s really hard to meet girls when you’re being chased around by robots. But instead of getting all angsty and whiney like his contemporaries on Degrassi High, John Connor says screw it. In very colourful and creative ways. And instead of retreating into video games and Dungeons and Dragons, he makes his own fun, he makes his own father figure, and he takes no guff. But at the same time, he makes nice with his mom, he does what he can to save the day, and he’s not afraid to cry.

Watching this movie for the first time as a fellow aimless young hipster was like a religious experience. Because at the ends of the day, John Connor gives all scrawny, nerdy dudes reason to hope. And the movie, for all its superbad action tendencies, ends with the surprisingly uplifting message that if you just be yourself and let your emotions out, things will be okay and you’ll grow up to be a hero after all.

And, really, how cool is that?

Not since Luke Skywalker in Star Wars has one amazingly annoying young man given legions of bored, dissatisfied film nerds reason to dream.

See, the magic of John Connor in T2 is that, all in all, he’s a major disappointment. In the first film this guy has been hyped as the one and only savior of humanity, over-flowing with brains and war-heroics and superpowers. And then in T2 we get Edward Furlong, who is pretty much the exact opposite. He’s scrawny, selfish, bored, and often does incredibly stupid things just for the heck of it.

But the thing is, he knows he’s a disappointment. He knows he’s not the man he’s supposed to be, but he refuses to let other people’s expectations change him. He has kind of a “que sera sera” outlook to the whole thing. And for the masses of young men and women whose parents wanted them to become accountants and doctors and lawyers, but who instead wanted to daydream about sci-fi and watch cartoons, John Connor is all kinds of heroic. His message is simple: Live your life, try not to piss off your parents too much, and if it truly is meant to be, then just let it be.

And most importantly, there’s no situation that can’t be solved with coarse language.

Keep your eyes peeled for part 2 where we’ll look at Nick Stahl’s time behind the John Connor reigns and see what we have to look forward to in Salvation.

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Why the success of Terminator Salvation depends on Linda Hamilton

April 20th, 2009

hamilton

The hero of Terminator has always been (and in my mind always will be) Sarah Connor.

At its core, the Terminator franchise is all about Sarah Connor’s journey from frightened waitress to defender of humanity. Played flawlessly by Linda Hamilton in Terminator 1 and 2 (and quite admirably by Lena Heady in the TV series), Sarah Connor is the definitive transgressive female action hero. More so than Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, more so than Angleina Jolie in Tomb Raider, even more so than Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, Hamilton’s Sarah Connor broke all the rules about what women could and couldn’t do in action movies.

See, in Terminator 1, there’s nothing all that remarkable about Hamilton’s character. She wakes up, finds out that she’s destined to give birth to the messiah (forgive the intentional use of Biblical imagery), and is told that she needs to survive long enough to ensure his existence. And then from that point on, Kyle Reese and the Terminator wage war over her magic uterus. In flim-studenty terms, Connor plays the slasher-slick role often referred to as “the last girl.” She gets chased around by monsters, is threatened at every turn, watches every one of her friends get gunned down, and then manages to outsmart the bad guy at the very last second. There’s nothing revolutionary here. It’s also hard to ignore the fact that the premise behind Terminator 1 is that the one thing Sarah Connor is good for is making babies. You don’t need a doctorate in gender studies to see the problems there…

But come Terminator 2, Sarah Connor turns the game around and starts playing by her own rules. She says screw it to all this talk of destiny and imminent destruction and decides to make her own future. And even though she’s already given birth to John (which, according to Kyle Reese in Terminator 1, is all she’s supposed to do), she takes the battle to Skynet herself and starts blowing stuff up left, right and centre, learns how to use all sorts of machine guns, and beats the heck out of anyone who stands in her way. She even gets to utter a pretty cool one-liner at the end of the first movie. This is the character that wrestles with existential issues of free will and destiny. This is the character who holds vendettas and exacts revenge. This is the character who is, plain and simple, really freaking cool.

But here’s the kicker: despite being a super-badass warrior in T2, Sarah Connor still gets to be a mom. And that’s not something you see every day.

In most action flicks, women can either be fighters or mothers, but you can’t have it both ways. In other words, if a girl wants to be an action hero, she has to act like a dude. She has to drink whiskey and curse like a sailor and play with guns (and I’ll spare you the Freudian associations that several film theorists have made), but as soon as you’re a mommy, you’re out of the game. Take Kill Bill, for example: the entire point of the movie is that the Bride has to hang up her swords as soon as she has a daughter. Or take any cop show you’ve ever seen. The guy cops can have any number of kids, but the gal cops are always unmarried with no children.

But Terminator doesn’t play by this rule. In T2, Sarah Connor leads the war against the machines (in fact, she’s the driving force behind the assault) and at the same time raises young John. To sum it up, take these two separate lines of dialogue, both spoken by Sarah Connor in T2:

“Men like you thought it up. You think you’re so creative. You don’t know what it’s like to really create something; to create a life; to feel it growing inside you”

[After breaking Silberman’s arm]
“There’s 215 bones in the human body. That’s one.”

How often does any character, male or female, get to preach about human life and loving their kids, but also get to say something so unbelievably cool in the middle of a fight? It just doesn’t happen. I’m hard-pressed to think of even one other female film character that’s such a diehard superhero, but is also prominently figured as a parent.

And so, imagine my disappointment when in Terminator 3 it was casually announced that Sarah Connor had died of cancer and that was that. Here was one of the coolest, most ground-breaking characters of the past thirty years, and she didn’t even get the dignity of dying on screen. Not cool, man. Not cool.

But all is not lost!!

Hamilton will be returning as Sarah Connor in Terminator Salvation in a voice-over role as the grown-up John Connor listens to the tapes she’s left him. Johnny-boy will continue to learn from Sarah’s teachings as he struggles to defeat the Connor family nemesis Skynet.

Usually I cringe when filmmakers shoehorn dead characters into a sequel, but I’m more than willing to make an exception here. Lind Hamilton is the heart and soul of Terminator, and Salvation just wouldn’t feel like a worthy successor without her.

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No Earl Boen?!

April 17th, 2009

I’m a little heartbroken at the discovery that Earl Boen is not coming back for Terminator Salvation.

Boen, for those of you not familiar with the names of obscure background character actors, plays the thoroughly unlikeable Dr. Silberman in Terminator 1, 2, and 3. This guy has become somewhat of a running joke for fans of the franchise. In each movie the cranky shrink pops up and causes problems for our heroes, and then within twenty minutes gets beaten around by robots for highly comedic effect as the heroes escape his grasp. It’s a simple joke, and a small role, but I’m a sucker for it every time.

By any logical account, it would make no sense whatsoever for Silberman to make an appearance in Salvation. The movie opens years after a nuclear apocalypse, and I guess the chances of one very specific guy managing to survive and meet up with the resistance would be pretty slim (kind of like in high school TV shows where all the characters manage to end up at the same university). Furthermore, Boen’s shtick doesn’t really seem in keeping with the dark vibe they’re going for this time around. In fact, had Boen been cast in Salvation, I’m sure the title of today’s post would have been “What’s Earl Boen Doing Here?”

Now that I think about it, Boen’s disappearance is an interesting development. Most popular film franchises get sillier and sillier as they progress (ewoks in Star Wars, Shia LaBoeuf and those stupid monkeys in Indiana Jones, cowboy antics in Back to the Future, emo dancing in Spider-Man), but Terminator, on the other hand, seems to be growing up, maturing. Is this a good thing? Probably…

But does this mean the end of super-macho bodybuilders spouting comedic, effeminate pop culture sayings? Does this mean the end of shock-value swearing? And what about robot anatomy gags?

Some deep thoughts to consider over the weekend.

Check back tomorrow for the first entry in an ongoing Terminator dictionary. And come back Sunday for your weekly links to Terminator-related goodness.

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