You Must Remember This

You Must Remember This

Wednesday, 29 July 2015


As his involvement in Terminator Genisys shows, Arnold Schwarzenegger is not a man who’s afraid to return to the same watering hole.  Over the course of forty years — and almost sixty films — he’s taken on iconic villains like the Predator, the T-1000, and Charles Dance (because screw it, I liked The Last Action Hero), but has so far steered clear of the Universal lineup vis-a-vis Dracula, Mummy, and The Wolfman. The closest he’s come to the supernatural is going mano-e-mano with Gabriel Byrne's Satan in End of Days back in 1999.

While his latest film sees Schwarzenegger share screen-time with a zombie, undoubtedly the go-to ghoul of the past decade, but he's not lining up to put a bullet in it, but rather just the opposite. Which is not to say that Maggie is devoid of zombie killing. In fact they go down quite easy, relatively speaking: no bullet to the head required. The necroambulist virus — no points for subtlety — has swept the Midwest like wildfire, much like the actual fires being used to dispose of infected crops. Its into this Interstellar-esque landscape that Wade Vogler (Schwarzenegger) arrives, driving a pickup.

With his receding hairline dyed black and a neat grey beard, this is the closest The Governator’s come to looking like an ordinary bloke. In fact this may be the closest Schwarzenegger’s come to naturalism: after snapping an undead assailant’s neck he even has the decency to pant a bit. When his oldest daughter, Maggie (Abigail Breslin), is bitten during an expedition to the city — deserted streets are the order of the day — Wade is left with three options: 1) take her to quarantine at the allotted time, 2) administer a lethal injection at home, or 3) “make it quick”.

Wade elects to spend their final few days together on the homestead, which resembles the 21st Century equivalent of American Gothic. There’s an old whiteboard farmhouse, floral decor, and a gaudy cross on the wall. It’s a world in which dark-haired Maggie, with her tortoiseshell sunglasses and habit of sitting on the roof, feels faintly out of place; making sense of her earlier flight. By comparison, Wade’s other two kids, by second wife, delicate country rose Caroline (Joely Richardson), are both blonde and angelic-looking.

Director Henry Hobson and writer John Scott III underscore these domestic scenes with a growing sense of dread which is generally more effective than the film’s zombie elements. Coming across a zombified neighbour and infant child out in the woods, Wade pleads with them to answer him, to show any sign of humanity, but Schwarzenegger’s muted performance never quite cuts to the heart of the character’s desperation. Perhaps we’re so conditioned to seeing him solving problems with his fists that it’s difficult to buy him as a man of inaction.

Sun-browned and careworn, Wade often seems uncertain of how to respond to the situation developing around him; it’s to the film’s detriment that I was never sure if this was a deliberate choice or merely a sign of Schwarzenegger’s limited range. Maybe it’s that on full burst, fair or not, his accent tends towards comedy even in the most life-or-death situations — “Get to the choppa!” anyone? Still, Schwarzenegger really comes into his own in the brief moments of joy behind him and Maggie, like sharing a song on the radio or laughing over terrible cooking.

While Schwarzenegger is content to gently coast on the impression of Wade as a quiet figure of strength, Breslin gets more to work with in the eponymous role. As a teenage girl coming to terms with monstrosity and eventual death, Breslin is still enough of a child that every moment of joy — picking daises in her mother’s garden — or horror — black blood oozing from a cut — instinctively shines through. Richardson, too, finds pathos as the fragile stepmother seeking to comfort a child of whom she feels increasingly terrified.

Hobson’s directorial debut, Maggie takes its cues not only from the likes of BBC3’s In The Flesh, but also from video game The Last of Us (for which Hobson designed the title card). There’s a similar central relationship at work here, between a strong, silent father type and an infected girl, only here its the girl that is doomed. Maggie is only released into Wade’s custody because he’s friends with a local doctor and even the local cops, sympathetic Ray (Douglas M. Griffin) and hostile Holt (Douglas M. Griffin), consider disposing of the infected as a necessary evil.

Hobson’s style is one of juddering pans and cuts, but it’s not always complimented by Lukas Ettlin’s washed-out cinematography, which provides little contrast to Maggie’s increasingly ghostly appearance. David Wingo's score, meanwhile, is at its best when most ambient — a background thrum that adds to the tension, as opposed to the plaintive piano that plays into the film’s more maudlin aspects. Too elegiac to be truly moving, I never truly believed that Maggie’s family will endure the crisis: Maggie's passing feels like theirs.

Still, given Maggie's status the lowest budgeted film he’s appeared in since the original Terminator back in 1984 (or so IMDb would have me believe), it’s comforting to know that the now sixty-eight year-old Schwarzenegger’s career needn’t be curtailed by his continuing ability to battle homicidal cyborgs. Even if his days as an action hero, like those of the zombie genre, are shuffling to a close, the Austrian Oak is still putting down roots. If Clint Eastwood can receive his fifth Best Picture nom at the age of 84, it'd be foolish to count Schwarzenegger out.

Maggie gets a 6.5 out of 10

Sunday, 26 July 2015


The truth is a funny thing. While facts may be unyielding — a child’s body submerged in a suitcase with a teddy bear; a flood of brackish water — our relationship to them is often more elastic.

Case and point: reporter Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill), dismissed from his job at the New York Times for fabrication, and Christian Longo (James Franco), a man accused of murdering his wife and children. The former is sequestered at his log cabin house in Bozeman, Montana, with his wife Jill (Felicity Jones). The latter is arrested in Mexico while using Finkel’s name, bringing him to the disgraced journalist’s attention.

True Story — the film debut of British theater director Rupert Goold — revolves around their meetings in prison, an inherently theatrical conceit. Finkel gets to hear Longo’s story and Longo gets writing lessons; a quid pro quo that Truman Capote would be proud of. Finkel views Longo as a twisted reflection of himself, as a man who’s made mistakes; even their penmanship is the same! There’s the vague sense they’re both seeking atonement — the first time we see Longo he’s in church — but Finkel also flatters himself that he’s using Longo: after all, he needs a comeback, “half true crime, half mea culpa”. As you might expect things are not quite as they seem.

Hill is warily self-reflective as Finkel, who comes across as a bit of a putz — pasty, bespectacled, and unblinking, he thinks he’s being nominated for a Pulitzer as he’s going to get fired. Franco, meanwhile, is wistful, dour, and seemingly half asleep, but not uncharismatic for it. Their second film together after apocalyptic comedy This Is The End, and only Hill’s third dramatic role, neither is particularly well-served by David Kajganich’s script, which reduces both men to their parallels; Longo, the accused, and Finkel, the unemployable.

Goold’s direction feels like a more lightweight Bennett Miller — a shot of a country road disappearing into mist and snow immediately brings to mind Foxcatcher — but his meditative slow pans and tracks lack the same power. The whole film seems to be picked out in white and orange, from Finkel’s rusted letterbox to Longo’s jumpsuit, but the color doesn’t punctuate as it should. Marco Beltrami’s ghostly score underscores appropriately and Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography is clear and bright, but it’s strange that, given the the book it’s based on, True Story tries to leave too much unspoken

Though faintly enthralling in its negotiation with the truth, the film never rises above the level of a competent TV drama. Only Jones’ reluctant Jill possesses real moral clarity. Given a passionate monologue, she questions whether Longo’s story deserves to be told in any form. It’s a good point and one that would seem to refute the whole standing for which the film’s existence. Based on real events though it may be, pallid as it is it, True Story seems likely to fade away before too long, and perhaps that's no bad thing.

True Story gets a 5.5 out of 10

Thursday, 23 July 2015


Be it from South Park or PTA’s The Master, most of us know a little something about Scientology. Documentarian Alex Gibney’s most recent expose got to grips with a certain now-infamous cyclist in The Armstrong Lie, now he takes us behind the scenes that L. Ron built. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief sets out to try to understand the billion-dollar organization that’s one part New Age religion, one part shell company, and one part dangerous cult.

For obvious reasons it’s the “dangerous cult” viewpoint that provides our entryway into Scientology, as presented in interviews with eight former members, including Paul Haggis, Oscar-winning director of Crash, and “Spanky” Taylor, who brought John Travolta into the fold. All of them had their reasons for getting involved with the church: Haggis reveals he did so out of relationship concerns while a bright-eyed Taylor dreamed of having “a positive effect on all mankind”. These segments are intercut with trippy visuals — violet-tinted black-and-white mashups illustrating the Scientology creation myth (it involves B-52 bombers and volcanoes) — and Gibney’s guiding voice-over. Going Clear shows how the fevered brainchild of a possibly deranged science fiction author became a billion-dollar industry, extolling a philosophy of “no enforced belief” on one hand and billion-year contracts of indentured servitude on the other.

The film is also an exploration of faith, of why people believe and what they’re willing to do — Lawrence Wright, the author of the book on which it’s based, is an expert in religious fundamentalism. Hubbard himself is a sonorous Cheshire cat off, monstrous yet “magnificent”, hunting in the Mediterranean for treasure caches from his past lives — and throwing people overboard — while his successor David Miscavige, is an intense, analogy-spouting snake oil salesman. Going Clear returns repeatedly to the image of the E-Meter, part of Scientology’s auditing process; it’s needle swinging back and forth. An auditor’s voice promises to “reduce the pain”, Travolta speaks of a “world without insanity”, and Tom Cruise mostly just laughs, wildly, as Mark Rathbun — once the church’s second-in-command — talks about blackmail files and dirty tricks (Travolta may have more than one thing in common with early Scientology pitch man Rock Hudson).

What the film keeps returning to, though, is the reasons, for joining and for leaving. For both Haggis and Taylor it came down to their kids. The latter may seem like a former Manson acolyte — shades of Squeaky Fromme — but her story is one disillusionment and sub-Saharan-style degradation. Ultimately Going Clear doesn’t offer anything hugely new beyond the specifics of their cases, but
finding it all in one place nevertheless makes for enthralling viewing.


Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief gets 7.5 out of 10

Sunday, 19 July 2015



Marketed as this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man isn’t as quirky or out-there as its intergalactic predecessor — no Blue Swede on the soundtrack here.

In the unlikely hero department we have Paul Rudd, unsurprisingly immensely likeable as Scott Lang, a scrappy ex con who favors a wry smile over wisecracking and is trying to get his life back on track. Roped into an ill-thought-out burglary (not robbery: no threat of violence), Scott finds himself on the hook to scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas as Michael Douglas in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps), who wants him to “steal some shit”. As Scott says, “Makes sense”.

Just as Guardians was a wacky space opera, Ant-Man is Mission: Impossible, if Tom Cruise was less than an inch tall — or, you know, 1/66th scale — and his team was largely comprised of insects (and a gleefully dopey Michael Peña). Constantly inventive with its use of scale and space — there’s a laser battle in a suitcase amidst LifeSaver mints with a Siri/The Cure joke thrown in for good measure — Ant-Man feels at least like its taking some risks. Unfortunately this isn't the case with its obsessive villain, CEO Darren Cross (Corey Stoll via the Max Zorin School of Business), whose motivation never feels fully developed beyond some weird surrogate father issues.

That being said, there’s a touching theme of fathers and daughters at work here — Scott and Cassie, Hank and his brittle, hard-ass daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lily) — but obviously it has to contend with universe-building stuff (the Avengers are more than tacitly acknowledged). Still, the film is a character-driven oasis amidst the arid sprawl of the wider MCU; a wryly absurd success in miniature — all the more remarkable given its troubled development.

Ant-Man is disposable, throwaway fun, but it might make you think twice next time you step on a bug.

Ant-Man gets a 6.5 out of 10


Critics are rarely beloved creatures. There’s always the impression they’re leeching off the back of the real creatives. It might be a symbiotic relationship, but, at best, they’re considered a necessary evil. But not in the case of Roger Ebert. The first person to ever win a Pulitzer Prize for film criticism, not only did he elevate the form but he did it while securing the respect of everyone in the industry. He brought no agenda, just love, erudition and, most of all, craftsmanship.

As such, it’s not surprising that one of those people whose career he aided should seek to commemorate in film. Steve James, director of the documentary Hoop Dreams - which Ebert included among his Great Movies - conducted a series of interviews with the ailing critic shortly before his death. It’s this material that bookends Life Itself, which otherwise draws inspiration from Ebert’s own autobiography, giving it no less a task than to encapsulate the man himself.

Covering the whole course of Ebert’s life, Life Itself is an in-depth character study and a touching tribute to the man who once said that we’re all born inside the movies of our lives. His insight into such films as Bonnie & Clyde, which he rightly (and firstly) called a milestone in American movies, and Errol Morris’ Gates of Heaven, which he brought to mainstream attention, is illuminated by the likes of Werner Herzog, Martin Scorsese, and Selma’s Ava DuVernay.

Life Itself is, however, by no means a gloss: a friend describes Ebert knowingly as “a nice guy, but not that nice” while the film delves, briefly, into his struggles with alcoholism and his lone, disastrous screenwriting credit on Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. His bickering and one-upmanship with Gene Siskel seems obnoxious till the depth of affection between them becomes apparent. Control freak, egotist: Ebert was very much the director of his own life.

It’s this that makes the then present-day material all the more tragic. Even with his jaw missing, his chin hanging loose, mask-like, over a bandage, and a ventilator down his throat, Ebert sparkles. Chaz, his wife, stands by, caring, providing commentary, despite her reservations and her grief. A stoic, who saw dying as the “third act”, an experience, the Ebert we see in this documentary is without vanity, though every bit as obstreperous as his contemporaries would have us believe.

It may have inexplicably missed out on an Oscar nom - then again, so did Gone Girl and Mr. Turner - but this is still the best chance to see arguably the film critic in the medium about which he wrote and which he loved so much.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015


Has there been any sub-genre of drama more reliable in recent years than the music biopic? They give the chance for charismatic character actors like Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard to take on larger-than-life personalities undergoing the trials and tribulations of fame and fortune. And, of course, you’re guaranteed a great soundtrack (unless you count recent Hendrix biopic All Is By My Side).
As an exploration of the life and music of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, Love & Mercy is closer to the experimental Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There, particularly in its use of two separate actors — Paul Dano and John Cusack — to portray Wilson at different points during his life and career.

Dano plays Wilson circa 1964 when a panic attack abroad a plane led him to retire from performing live at the height of the band’s success. Moon-faced and with a queasy smile, Dano bears a striking resemblance to the man himself, working on the seminal album Pet Sounds — which, including Wouldn’t It Be Nice and God Only Knows, inspired Bill Pohlad to direct Love & Mercy — while teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Cusack, meanwhile, is the ‘80s incarnation, hollow-cheeked and with distant eyes, who seems initially to be on the road to recovery from some serious personal crisis.
Surrounded by mostly interchangeable brothers and band mates — apart from the slightly scornful Mike Love (Jake Abel) — ‘60s Brian is revealed as an unassuming musical genius. Love & Mercy’s greatest triumph is its insight into Brian’s creative process, his work in the recording studio and ability to compose on the fly. A slightly pudgy, immensely liable figure, his reaction to being mentioned in the same breath as Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke is almost hysterical incredulity: “Better than Phil Spector?”

Young Brian's father and former manager, Murry (Bill Camp) — pipe-smoking and bespectacled — is a looming presence in his life, lurking in corners with his glass of whiskey or popping in to flaunt his latest Beach Boys clone. And then there are the voices; the snatches of music with which the films opens, transforming into the soaring harmonies that remain astonishing even now.

The older Brian’s life is one notably lacking in melody, instead focusing on the budding relationship between him and future wife Melissa Ledbetter (a radiantly caring Elizabeth Banks). While Dano holds the screen almost single-handedly, the gentle chemistry between Cusack and Banks is intruded upon by Brian’s legal guardian, smug, self-promoting tyrant Dr. Eugene Landy (a monstrous Paul Giamatti), who keeps Brian medicated up the wazoo while living in his primary home.

The spacey, soft-spoken man-child here bears little resemblance to Dano’s troubled prodigy, just as Cusack’s charming noodling at the piano is a million miles from the mellow perfectionism on display in bringing together "Good Vibrations" (Dano apparently learned to play piano for this film and it makes all the difference).
While Dano plunges into a pool like a dead-eyed Nirvana baby, Cusack and Banks make an adventurous escape overboard — a mooted third segment with Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the bed-bound Brian during his lost years would have provided some much-needed connective tissue. Seeking to bridge the divide, things veer, fortuitously briefly, into empty dreamlike symbolism, which instead only serves to highlight the disconnect. Pohlad shoots the film in vaguely docudrama style, his camera peeking out from doorways, complimented by Robert Yeoman’s cinematography.

Still, even if the use of "Wouldn’t It Be Nice" is almost comically cheesy, Love & Mercy sidesteps the majority of the cliches that have come to define the genre (memorably parodied in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) — for instance, Brian’s recreational drug use is never shown as a particular matter for concern.
Though never quite reaching the heights of the music it documents, Dano and Cusack's not-quite-harmonious take on its subject ensure that Love & Mercy is still well worth hearing out.

Love & Mercy gets an 8 out of 10

Friday, 10 July 2015


The genre in which John Wayne once set out to kill his niece because she’d had hands laid on her by an “Injun” has become more reflective in recent years, elegiac even. The Western is now less concerned with drawling former Confederates and more about allegory, about the decline of myth and the uncertain rise of civilization al a Unforgiven or The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. While Slow West certainly lacks their narrative scope and ambition, it offers its own delights with a simple sort of lyricism.

The film follows Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a highborn Scot who travels to the “baking heart of America” in search of his lost love, Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius). Jay is both a hopeless romantic and a tragic one — pale and dark-eyed, stiff and awkward, he whimsically picks out the stars in the sky with his six-shooter and sleeps with it clasped against his chest. He seems a person unlikely to survive the lawlessness of the Old West, and indeed he almost doesn’t, that is till he acquires the cigar-chomping Silas (Michael Fassbender) as chaperone.

Their journey west towards Rose — Jay out of love, Silas for less noble reasons — is marked by vibrant natural beauty, which first-time director John Maclean lends a depth and realism to through strategic use of tracking shots. It’s astounding that a world in where sun-burnt brutes scorch the campsites of supposed savages amidst choking mists there’s also a place for fields of bright yellow corn and a clean yellow home on the range. Rose, too, is shown as a idealized figure, grey shawl Gothically blowing about her on the Scottish bluffs.

But Slow West is also careful to cut beneath the surface of the legend. Rifling through his charge’s belongings, Silas throws away a teakettle and a travel guide; Jay’s idea of the necessary accoutrement when travelling cross country, a country where the general store sells a bullet-riddled, blood-stained suit jacket as new. Similarly the outlaws here include a desperate couple, possibly Norwegian, who’ve left their kids on the front stoop and Payne (the ubiquitous Ben Mendelssohn) a fur-laden bounty hunter who comes bearing absinthe.

As Jay poetically notes, “Love is universal, like death”, be it Jay’s love for Rose, the hulking, mustached Mr. Ross’ (Game of Thrones’ Rory McCann) for his daughter, or the unstated bond between Jay and Silas. But Rose’s feelings may not mirror Jay’s and Silas has his own agenda — intense and familiar, a russety-colored rogue, it’s a role that plays to Fassbender’s strengths, especially given the Eastwood resemblance. It’s a shame that he and Smit-McPhee will likely have little screen-time together in X-Men: Apocalypse.

Death, meanwhile, is foregrounded throughout the film: the corpse of man shot in the eye or the skeleton of a cow blocking a pass. There’s violence and suffering, dreams and toil, but also hope and humor; one scene finds our duo grinning morbidly at the sight of an axe-wielding skeleton crushed beneath a tree. Violence comes in a flurry, shots back and forth, and a single slap or push can irrevocably alter the course of lives. Gunfighters rise and fall like the tin figures at a fairground attraction — indeed, there’s a sense of play about the whole affair.

With its touches of surreal poetry —like the three-man band Jay and Silas encounter in the middle of nowhere or the anecdote/flashback about wanted posters — Slow West feels a bit like a technicolor version of Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man. Surprisingly straightforward and unadorned, the film is dramatically thin, more symbolic than fully realized, but its 84-minute run-time makes for a quick, enjoyable burn. Throw in Robbie Ryan’s luscious cinematography and a decent if unremarkable string score and you've got a film well worth hitting the trail for.


Slow West gets a 7 out of 10

Thursday, 9 July 2015


How do you one-up Steven Spielberg? Rumors have circulated for years that he was the creative force behind Poltergeist, as opposed to director-for-hire Tobe Hooper; perhaps not surprising given the 'Berg's reputation as arguably the foremost American director of all time. The original film is pretty much unbeatable as far as creepy, family-oriented phantasmagoria goes. Are there so few ideas left in the world that we need to remake it, though?

Our new family, rebranded the Bowens, consists of unemployed dad Eric (Sam Rockwell), aspiring writer mum Amy (Rosemarie DeWitt), wimpy son Griff (Kyle Catlett), moody teenager Kendra (Saxon Sabino), and the youngest daughter, Madison (Kennedi Clement). Soon enough Madison — a brunette to the blonde Heather O’Rourke — is talking to the TV set and things play out more or less predictably from there. There’s little to differentiate the film from any of the other modern haunted house flicks, e.g. Insidious or The Conjuring.*

It doesn’t help that the Bowens themselves are a faintly unlikable bunch, lacking the kooky charm of their predecessors. Rockwell, usually MVP in any film he’s in, mostly looks jaded or stressed while DeWitt — great as the eponymous Rachel in Rachel Getting Married — simply looks pained. You can’t blame her when they’re saddled with reacting to expository revelations, revelations that were so memorably dramatized in the 1982 edition. It doesn’t help that their characters spend the film’s first half utterly ignoring their kid’s concerns. Money troubles aside, it's hard to empathize with a couple who are so oblivious to what's going on around them.

Every component of Poltergeist seems utterly by the numbers. No more zany antics with the neighbors; no more greedy real estate tycoons or playing around with paranormal forces. Even the house lacks character. Instead of Zelda Rubinstein we get Jared Harris as scarred, pork pie hat wearing Carrigan Burke, a celebrity occultist with an Irish brogue. More than just a cut-price Father Merrin, his sardonic banter with unassuming paranormal researcher and ex Dr. Powell (Jane Adams) is a charming diversion, but all too brief.

Director Gil Kenan is perfectly competent at his job; at his best when voyeuristically peeking in through skylights, the film loses energy every time it closes in. When Madison utters the iconic line “They’re here” — so chilling in the original — it sounds like she’s referring to some unwelcome dinner guests. There’s no sense of agency, save for Carrigan and perhaps Griff. A lot of the same shocks are there yet the feeling of going through the motions is inescapable. The drone trip through Dante’s hell is a nice touch, though.

Poltergeist (2015) lies so far within the shadow of the original that it’s far easier to refer to the 1982 version, despite having just seen the update. CGI images of ravenous dead hordes simply can’t compensate for some good old-fashioned skeletons, real or otherwise. The only good thing about this remake is the lack of any accompanying real-life tragedy. For a film about a haunting, Poltergeist v2 is very much a non-entity.

Poltergeist (2015) gets a 3.5 out of 10

* That creepy clown doll, for instance. Who would even own/manufacture that in order for it to become haunted in the first place?! 

Saturday, 4 July 2015


2015 has so far been the year of the long-awaited sequel, from the motorized mayhem of Mad Max: Fury Road to the dino disaster flick that was Jurassic World. Compared to the time that’s passed since the character of Max Rockatansky, and Islas Nublar and Sorna, last appeared on our screens — 29 years and 14 years respectively — it seems like only yesterday that we failed to thrill to the dubious charm (or lack thereof) of Terminator: Salvation. What Terminator Genisys offers, though, that its immediate predecessor lacked, is the return of the flesh-and-blood Arnold Schwarzenegger. After all, where would the series be without the (now well-matured) Austrian Oak?

Terminator Genisys is less a cut-and-dried sequel, though, than a “soft reboot”, simultaneously paying homage to and mucking around with the continuity of the original films — specifically those directed by James Cameron— in a way that would make Back to the Future Part II blush. Picking up in that now iconic dystopian future, best described as blackened-skulls-and-burnt-out-vehicles chic, we finally play witness to Kyle Reese’s (Jai Courtney) departure from 2029 — including a knowing encounter with humanity’s saviour, John Connor (a scar-faced, strangely avuncular Jason Clarke) — leading to an almost shot-by-shot recreation of his arrival in L.A. circa 1984.

While his choice of kicks may be the same — a pair of oh-so cool Nike Vandals — Kyle quickly discovers that all is not as it should be. Instead of the feathery haired damsel in distress he was sent back to protect, the Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) that Kyle encounters is a pistol-packing bad-ass with a formidable guardian already in tow: a slightly more grizzled T-800 which she calls "Pops". In fact they’ve already dispensed with the villain of the original film — then seemingly unstoppable — in a young vs. old smackdown marred only by some slightly wooden CGI (that being said, Arnie never was never the most expressive actor during his early years).

What follows is less a cinematic experience in its own right than a mash-up of Greatest Hits from the first two films. There’s a T-1000 (Lee Byung-hun) to contend with — now with added spear-throwing ability! — and cameos by alternate timeline versions of a few old favorites, like Courtney B. Vance AKA Not Joe Morton as would-be Skynet creator Miles Dyson. In terms of new characters we get Detective O’Brien, played by Oscar-winning person J.K. Simmons, a slightly manic detective with a personal investment in all this time travel malarkey. O'Brien's role in the actual plot is negligible, but he does get to deliver the line "Goddamn time-travelling robots”, so that’s something.


Sadly, though, these callbacks to The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day are inevitably more interesting than anything Terminator Genisys can come up with of its own accord. The T-1000 remains a great villain — those liquid metal effects are still as cool as ever — and there’s a tense sequence involving a menacingly mobile T-800 exoskeleton, but the film’s two new models lack the same innate sense of menace. Already spoiled in the marketing campaign — much to director Alan Taylor’s apparent chagrin — the conceit of hero-into-villain is a nice twist on T2 but the character’s revamped motivations are too compromised to be truly effective.

Arnie is more relaxed than he’s ever, coming across as a logical, grey-haired development of the T2 incarnation, still working on that horsey grin — as Sarah’s Pops is quick to (repeatedly) say, “Old but not obsolete”. Neither Jai Courtney nor Emilia Clarke fully convince, however: Courtney lacks the traumatised intensity Michael Biehn brought to the role and Clarke feels disappointingly lightweight compared to Linda Hamilton, never finding the striking blend of toughness and vulnerability that fellow Game of Thrones alum Lena Headey conjured up in TV spin-off The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Also, in the given context the usually excellent Matt Smith is simply distracting.

While paving the way for the future, Terminator Genisys replaces the series’ grit with gloss, upgrading it into a big, dumb actioner — and for all that (disrupted) continuity there’s nary a sign of the unfortunate Dr. Silberman (Earl Boen). Upturning school buses on the Golden Gate Bridge brings nothing to the screen that we haven’t seen in the likes of The Dark Knight or Rise of the Planet of the Apes; a poor shout for arguably sci-fi’s most enduring franchise (then again Prometheus was no great shakes either)*. Broadly speaking, here’s been a noticeable drop off in quality from Mad Max to Jurassic World to this dreck. Only time will tell if Star Wars: The Force Awakens follows the curve...

Terminator Genisys gets a 4 out of 10. 


* They even wasted the one "I'll be back" in the service of misjudged humour and Brad Fiedel’s marvellous score barely gets a look-in. For shame.**

**  Okay, that competitive clip-loading moment was nicely underplayed. What more do you want from me?