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Terminator Salvation (2009)
A completely unnecessary and irrelevant entry into the Terminator franchise
Minor spoilers follow:
As a technical achievement, Terminator Salvation is a competently produced movie. The sets, props, and costumes look great, the CGI is smoothly blended, the stunts are well performed, etc.
However, as a chapter in the Terminator mythology, TS is a complete failure. Quite simply, it doesn't matter. By the end of the movie, virtually nothing is gained, nothing is changed. Stuff gets blown up, some minor characters die, some major characters suffer some injuries and some angst, but nothing substantial happens.
The movie begins with a pre-Judgement Day flashback of a prison. A death-row inmate named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) sells his soon-to-be corpse to Cyberdyne Industries - who most fans of the franchise already know will eventually produce the artificial intelligences that will become the terminators and Skynet.
Later, Wright inexplicably wakes up, completely confused and with a fragmented memory, in the post-apocalyptic world. In other words, the filmmakers may has well flash a subtitle saying, "This guy is terminator! He doesn't know he's a terminator, but he is; there isn't the slightest doubt!" It's so obvious, and is shown so early, that I don't think these comments meet the definition of "spoilers."
Later, after Wright's, uh, terminator-ness is confirmed, and the audience mulls over the idea a little, there may as well be another subtitle saying, "Skynet is a supercomputer; it isn't going to just forget that it turned a human into a cyborg. What do YOU think that means?"
In addition, there are other flaws. Somehow, Skynet knows that Kyle Reese is a critical target, even though there is no way that could have happened. Also, the two male leads - Christian Bale as John Connor and Sam Worthington as Wright, spend a lot of time posing, preening, staring, grunting, etc., each trying to out-Eastwood one another, but otherwise are fairly unconvincing.
Then again, who knows? Maybe, after a decade into the apocalypse, I might spend all of my time striking my best tough-guy pose with everyone I meet. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
There are several good action scenes, including a five-story tall super robot, with its rider-less motorcycles-of-doom; but, after awhile, it becomes apparent that the plot isn't really going anywhere. Even with the much-criticized Terminator 3, plot points matter. With this movie, a viewer can take a bathroom break at almost any time, and miss nothing important.
All in all, Terminator Salvation is a useful distraction for a few hours, but has none of the appeal of the first two classics, and even lacks the limited "...I didn't see that coming..." appeal of the third.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
A hyper-kinetic mess.
This review will contain minor spoilers; it will not contain major spoilers, because that would require me to understand the plot far better than I did. That was one of the movie's problems, but certainly not the only one.
As others have described, Quantum of Solace begins immediately after the events of Casino Royale. Bond has captured "Mr. White," his only link to the secret organization first referenced in Casino. We find out that the organization is called "Quantum," that they appear to be some fusion of SPECTRE and the Illuminati, and that they've infiltrated (at least) MI-6 and the Prime Minister's inner circle. Beyond that, everything else is unclear, including whatever goal they were attempting to achieve in this movie.
Unlike SPECTRE from the older Bond films, Quantum has no memorable personalities. There is no Ernst Blofeld-type (who was smooth, ruthless and dangerous before he became the Dr. Evil prototype). There are no genius planners, no scary assassins, nothing. By the end of the movie, I actually would have welcomed sharks with laser beams on their frickin' heads.
Their scheme involves Bolivia, establishing a puppet government, and/or controlling the Bolivia's fresh water supply. Exactly why Quantum would want to do either of those is never made clear, nor is it clear if Bond actually foiled the scheme by the end of the movie.
The primary Bond girl has a vendetta against one of the villains, and her overall plan seems to be allowing herself to repeatedly get captured by the very people she wants to kill, with the hope that this will somehow lead to a chance to exact her revenge... or something. Beyond that, I lost track.
Beyond the vague nature of the plot, there are other stylistic problems. Bond, rather easily and quickly, identifies the members of Quantum's ruling council, and never follows up this lead - for the next movie perhaps? Other characters are introduced out of thin air, and then abruptly killed off. The lead villain, "Mr. Greene" (as opposed to "Mr. White"), is an uninteresting pseudo-environmentalist / industrialist, whose agenda is as vague as everything else in the plot.
Also, the director and editor seem to have an incurable fascination for jump cuts. Even in simple walking-through-building scenes, the jump cuts come at a rate of one every 1-4 seconds (no exaggeration, after awhile I started timing it), and during action scenes, the film begins to look like three or four barely-related movies, spliced together at random. The stunt work is very impressive, though the rapid-fire editing often makes it difficult to follow.
Daniel Craig remains a formidable screen presence, though, once again, the only emotion he's required to portray is "grim determination." For Casino Royale, this was part of the new Bond's charm, but it's becoming old.
All in all, Quantum is all style, with little substance.
A fine role-playing game, enhanced by a brilliant storyline.
This review is spoiler-free.
Word of warning: there's a VERY BIG plot twist in this game, and if you don't know what it is, DO NOT READ the Memorable Quotes section, including the quote posted above, below the cast listing. I know this is asking a lot, but the web-masters have inadvertently included enough detail to ruin the surprise.
Also, DO NOT look at the Comments section either; several posters have, rather thoughtlessly, given the secret away in the subject lines of their comments.
OK, on to the game. Understand that "Knights..." is not exactly a "Star Wars" game; it's more accurate to call it a sword-and-sorcery role playing game (RPG) game that happens to be set in the "Star Wars" universe. I don't mean that as a complaint, but it does affect game play, and might affect a player's enjoyment, for the better or worse.
For example, as your various characters gain experience, they advance in distinct levels. This means that characters at Level-10 are, literally, 10x more powerful and durable than they are at the start of the game. At higher levels, your characters will shrug off direct, unblocked gunshot blasts to the chest as if they were mosquito bites. Your characters' offensive capabilities increase in similar fashion.
Also, as with most RPGs, long-range weapons (pistols, rifles, etc.) are rather impotent, while swords and other melee weapons are very powerful. This is not only true for Jedi Knights and Sith, but also for everyone else. Most enemies, with- or without the Force, will come at you with swords and armor.
The upshot to all of this is that game play, though enjoyable, lacks the same Star Wars "feel" as the "X-Wing" and "Dark Forces" titles. Again, I'm not complaining, but it needs to be noted.
Where "Knights..." really shines is the storyline; the plot is absolutely brilliant, easily meeting the standard of a top-rated movie (or movie trilogy). Aside from the main plot, which would be worth the price alone, there are a multitude of fascinating side quests which a player can chose to solve or not solve. The tone is mature; many of the choices the player will face involve significant moral ambiguity. I wouldn't equate "Knights..." to "Grand Theft Auto" but if it were a movie, it would be PG-13. Personally, I consider that a positive.
As I alluded to earlier, there's a plot twist, and it rivals "...Luke, I am your father..." and that's no exaggeration.
Graphics are very good, more than adequate for game play, but not to the standard of the latest games. For me personally, that wasn't an issue, but more experienced, more demanding gamers might be disappointed.
The musical score is effective, but very little of the classic "Star Wars" soundtrack is used. This is appropriate, considering that this game takes place in an era different from than that of the movies. Once again, though, "Knights..." lack some of the feel of "X-Wing" or "Jedi Academy" etc. which make liberal use of the movie soundtrack.
Voice acting is top notch, greatly enhancing character development.
Negatives: Not many, but there are a few. This game dislikes certain graphics cards - such as mine. The game will frequently crash when characters transfer between zones; I've learned to save very frequently. Several people I know have had similar problems, while others - often with older, lesser PCs, have no such problems.
Storyline: 10 out of 10. Overall grade: 8.5 out of 10.