Retro Reviews: The Wrestler and Terminator Salvation

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Retro Reviews – A short but sweet look back at some of the older films that hit my radar this week. One good, and one bad…

The Westler (2008)

What is it that makes a movie great? Sometimes all you need is one thing, a performance. Mickey Rourke makes this movie great!

The tale is simple – Ex professional wrestler Randi (The Ram) lives for the past. He is a man so in love with wrestling that he has forgotten how to care about anything else. A near fatal heart attack inspires a need for change. Tired of the broken life he has painstakingly crafted for himself, he attempts to reconnect with his daughter, find love and let go of the sport that has held him captive for so long.

There is nothing original about this story. Anyone who has seen Rocky Balboa will no exactly what to expect. But it is not the story that matters here – it is how the story is told.  Darren Aronofskys simple, straight forward direction completely grounds the movie in reality. The film looks and feels like a documentary. From the very first shot, to the heart breaking (yet oddly uplifting finale) you are completely drawn into the characters bizarre world of small time wrestling.  From the pre-fight choreography, to the shopping for props, to the endless strip bar visits – everything on-screen feels authentic.

Combine this with the perfectly cast (and equally troubled) Mickey Rourke,  you have yourself a winner. Rourkes portrayal of the troubled, yet charismatic Randi is quite simply – fantastic! Rourke lets you live and breath this mans  life, and feel every emotion he does. It is almost a cliché to say it now, but Rourke really is bloody brilliant in the film. The movie also includes equally impressive work from Marisa Tomie and Evan Rachel Wood.  Both deliver powerfully honest performances. Marisa is especially good as the stripper Cassidy, the  object of Randi`s affections. The two have great on-screen chemistry, and their unlikely friendship is one of The Wrestlers real highlights.

One thing that did strike me was how easily this movie could have been played entirely for laughs. Put Will Ferrell in the lead , add in a few extra gags and you’ve got yourself a half decent comedy. The fact that it is such a great drama is a real testament to Aronofsky and Rourke. Anyone with even a hint of good taste will enjoy this movie. It’s not quite the second coming that some have made it out to be, but it is without question a brilliant little movie. Highly recommended!

8/10

Terminator Salvation (2009)

Of all the death and destruction that takes place during the movie, it is the death of the Terminator series that hits the hardest. Make no mistake – Terminator Salvation is terrible.

The sequel/prequel is set during the early years of the war between man and the machines. The movie follows gravely voiced resistance fighter John Connor – the man destined to lead mankind’s victory over Skynet and its army of  robotic bastards. The unexpected appearance of a new weapon brings hope to the resistance, and John is set to launch a major attack against Skynet central. Unfortunately, grumpy Johns already miserable life is about to be complicated by the appearance of mysterious stranger Marcus Wright. Marcus has no idea who (or what – wink,wink) he is. Or why he has suddenly woken-up in the future. His last memory is of his death back in good old 2003.  John must decide if he is willing to trust Marcus, because not only does he hold the key to the safety of Johns father (Kyle Reese) but also to the fate of all mankind! Oh my! Sounds pretty good right?…

Wrong. The movie gets off to a good start with an exciting and relatively well executed opening scene involving Connors infiltration of an enemy base. The scene is exciting, visually interesting, and effectively sets up Johns tough, all-knowing character. Unfortunately, everything from this scene on is so clumsily staged and poorly thought-out that all hope for the movie quickly evaporates. Terminator Salvation had the budget and potential to be a kick ass war movie. Sadly, Hollywood hack McG was hired to direct, and thanks to him almost nothing in the film works. Everything from the plot, script and overall look of the movie is bad. Even simple things like logic, and believability do not have a home here. This is one of the laziest movies I have seen in some time, and completely lacks any scope or imagination. Factor this with extremely boring set design and so-so special effects, and your`ll start to wonder if Terminator 3 was really all that bad after all? …it was. So try not entertain that thought for too long. 

Direction aside, the script is the movies biggest crime.  Almost every scene in the film needs padding. The dialogue and staging are so fast and abrupt, that character motivations and important plot information get lost in a bid to keep the movie tight, and fast paced. It is riddled with plot holes, clunky dialogue, ideas ripped off from other films and moments that simply DO NOT make sense! There are too many examples to list, so I wont bother going into them, but they are all painfully obvious.

Cast wise – Christian Bale (Connor) is surprisingly bad. He is extremely wooden, and shows little to no range. His OTT “Batman” voice doesn’t help you warm to him either.  What went wrong here? He should have been the perfect choice? Sam Worthington (Marcus) fares a little better.Worthington projects warmth and humanity through out, and is the only character you ever really invest in. It’s a shame they didn’t do more with him. The fact that he isn’t human could have been a great shock reveal in a better film. But this is TS, so the trick is given away in literally the first scene of the movie. Damn you McG! Worthingtons best performance to date.

Anton Yelchin is also great as the young Kyle Reese. You completely buy that this is the younger version of the Kyle we met in the original movie. Moon Bloodgood and Helen Bonham Carter are also good, but are in the movie so little it’s not really worth going into.

Some half-decent performances aside – it can’t be all bad, surely? Well, if you had to twist my arm – I would say some of the new Terminators were pretty good. Especially the Motorbike bots that took part in one of the films few good action sequence. Danny Elfmans score isn’t bad (although the absence of the iconic Terminator Theme is sorely missed) the digital Schwarzenegger cameo was fun, and Worthington and Yelchin are likeable but that’s it.

Terminator Salvation can be summed-up in word – disappointing. Well there are other words, but I`ll keep it clean. It is ironic that one of the main themes of the movie is that the beating heart is what makes us better than a machine. Yet this film has no heart its self. The previous movies did, and that is the reason why they are so popular. The film doesn’t even really look or feel like a Terminator movie.  The series deserved better, and by the end of the film you`ll have NO interest in ever seeing another Terminator movie again. What a shame. Thanks again McG!

 4/10

Just for the hell of it – here is Christian Bales infamous onset rant that took place during the shooting of  Terminator Salvation. Still shocking, still hilarious. Salvation is such a hollow movie, that you have to wonder what is was that inspired so much passion? Either way, we now know to never adjust any lights when Bale is around! What a robo-cock!

Click here for the hilarious dance remix

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