TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES (2003)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sci-Fi Violence and Action, Language and brief Nudity

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Directed by: Jonathan Mostow

Written by: John Brancato & Michael Ferris

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Nick Stahl, Claire Danes & Kristanna Loken

TERMINATOR is cheesy 80’s fun and JUDGEMENT DAY is one of the best action films ever made. TERMINATOR 3 was the first entry in the series that didn’t involve James Cameron at all and man, does it show. The mere existence of this script feels like a slap in the face to anyone who enjoyed either of the previous TERMINATOR films. This isn’t meant to sound like I’m hating on this film strictly for the sake of hating it, because there are a number of reasons why RISE OF THE MACHINES comes off as a massive let-down. If you want to talk about lame third installments cashing in on well-known franchises, this film ranks lower than JURASSIC PARK III and BEYOND THUNDERDOME combined. TERMINATOR 3 is a bland, hollow third installment that feels more like a cheap direct-to-DVD sequel rather than something that received a nationwide theatrical release in 2003.

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Years have passed since the events of TERMINATOR 2 and John Connor has begun living off the grid as a drifter. However, the apocalyptic future somehow still lies ahead and the evil artificial intelligence, Skynet, sends another killer android back in time (they literally come off of an assembly line). This new robotic female assassin, called the T-X, has been assigned to kill as many future Resistance fighters as possible. It just so happens that John Connor accidentally stumbles across the T-X’s path. He’s quickly on the run with another future commander (played by Claire Danes) and their odds of survival are wavering. Luckily, the rebels seem to be way ahead of the mark yet again and send yet another robo-Arnie into the past to save the day…if he can.

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I don’t think that many TERMINATOR fans would deny that JUDGEMENT DAY is the best entry in the whole series. You spend over two hours following Sarah and John’s quest to stop the eventual apocalypse and by the mere existence of this third film, it sort of renders their past efforts utterly pointless. This is especially heightened when the film tries to throw little nods and call-backs to the first two installments (only one fleeting cameo actually worked for me). A wooden Nick Stahl fails to fill the shoes of Edward Furlong, which sounds like the weirdest criticism to ever be placed in a film review. Claire Danes plays the perpetual damsel-in-distress and obvious love-interest for Stahl’s Connor. Meanwhile, Arnold gives his most robotic performance yet as the Terminator. His stiffness is the butt of many lame comic relief moments, including arriving at a women’s strip club in search of clothes.

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While the performances of Stahl, Danes and Arnie are ripe for being criticized, the worst slap in the face comes in the T-X herself. The only reason that fans might be excited about this antagonist would be because it happens to be a female robot assassin this time around. Besides saying the prerequisite lines like “I like your car,” “I like your gun,” and “Where’s John Connor?,” T-X’s only special abilities seem to be controlling other machines (because the writers felt like throwing in that useless detail) and making pouty faces whenever she’s thwarted. As if this villainess couldn’t get any more non-threatening or ridiculous, she makes bubble sound effects when getting shot (think a more over-the-top version of the T-1000). This is easily the worst baddie to ever soil the TERMINATOR saga.

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The script is flimsy at best and filled to the brim with action scenes that are neither exciting or worthwhile. The first TERMINATOR focused on the intensity of the cat-and-mouse chase, even if it was a bit silly and rough around the edges. The second film had high stakes and good characters, which made every chase and confrontation that much more gripping. TERMINATOR 3 has nothing going for it, but manages to squish in a ton of unnecessary explosions, car chases and needless gunfights. A chase sequences near the opening feels like the equivalent of Michael Bay playing with Hot Wheels cars and a cemetery shootout just doesn’t belong. It certainly doesn’t help that the studio went for CGI in regards to most of the robot effects. The characters flop and fly around so much that I felt like I was watching a Looney Tunes cartoon starring Arnold and the T-X.

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Everything wrong with TERMINATOR 3 can be summed up in one scene in the first half. The Terminator removes a faulty battery from his metal skeleton and throws it out of a car window. A minute later, a giant explosion happens (I’m talking mushroom cloud) and that’s about it. There’s no purpose for this scene other than to show off some effects or possibly get a quick chuckle. That’s pretty much why this entire third installment sucks. It’s aimless, poorly written and dumb. I’m not a massive fan of the series by any means, but TERMINATOR fans and moviegoers in general certainly deserved far better than this.

Grade: D

SIN CITY (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 4 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sustained Strong Stylized Violence, Nudity and Sexual Content including Dialogue

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Directed by: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino

Written by: Frank Miller

(based on the SIN CITY graphic novels by Frank Miller)

Starring: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba, Nick Stahl, Josh Hartnett, Powers Boothe, Michael Madsen, Jaime King, Elijah Wood, Rutger Hauer, Benicio Del Toro, Brittany Murphy & Michael Clarke Duncan

With the long-awaited sequel (almost a decade since the first movie) coming right around the corner, the urge hit me to rewatch SIN CITY. To be perfectly honest I haven’t seen this movie in five years, though it was a favorite of mine in high school that I viewed repeatedly. Frank Miller, graphic novelist behind 300, and Robert Rodriguez (along with a brief bit by Tarantino) brought to life the gritty crime stories of Frank Miller in a beautifully made film. This was one of the first films to be constructed in this kind of visual fashion that other movies would use further down the line (e.g. 300 for a good film and THE SPIRIT for a bad one). All the beautiful spectacle in the world cannot save a film that lacks in the writing department, but luckily Frank Miller’s stories are brought to life frame for frame. As in there wasn’t even a full writing credit on this film, because everything was right out of Miller’s books.

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For those who don’t know (a surprisingly large amount out there), SIN CITY is composed of four different crime stories that weave and intersect around each other. Think PULP FICTION loaded with even more over-the-top gratuitous violence that also packs a depressing and dark edge. The main thing I can see turning people off SIN CITY is how damned dark it is. However, some stories inject crazy humor into the mix and go into ridiculous territory that remind the viewer they’re essentially watching a live-action comic book. I’m going to tackle each story individually to address the pros and cons of all four tales, but the movie is absolutely gorgeous to behold. Extreme care and attention to detail was put into every frame to bring Frank Miller’s gritty city landscape to life and the sinful citizens inhabiting it. So without further ado, on to the four stories contained within 2005’s SIN CITY…

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THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT: Serving as an opener and closer to the film, these two brief segments welcome to the viewer to the nasty world of SIN CITY and bid them on their way right before cutting to credits. Josh Hartnett plays a character known only as The Salesman. He woos two different women and harbors a dark agenda. This story lasts under five minutes, but keeps a level of mystery around the Salesman character that makes you want to know more about him. This information is never given and never will be, but Josh Hartnett knocks it out of the park with his charismatic and foreboding performance. The opening bit also serves as a nice introduction to just what kind of tone the entire movie will have. A+

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THE HARD GOODBYE: If there’s a single story that I would point out as my least favorite in SIN CITY, it would be HARD GOODBYE. It’s not as if the story is terrible, because it is actually very creative. It follows Marv, a scarred and thuggish individual. He’s just had the time of his life with Goldie, the one hooker who has ever accepted his love. After waking up from a drunken stupor, Marv finds Goldie murdered in bed with him and he’s framed for the crime. Unfortunately for the corrupt cops and a powerful family, Marv is a lunatic who has no problem with hurting anyone who gets in his way or applying vicious torture techniques in order to get information. Mickey Rourke’s misshapen giant is a gentleman to ladies, but is more than a little eager to get his hands dirty on the male scum of Basin City (a.k.a. Sin City).

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The only flaw I find in HARD GOODBYE is how damned dark and mean-spirited the whole story is. It might seem silly to complain about brutality in a movie called SIN CITY. It’s also worth noting that this film originally received an NC-17 from the MPAA and had to go through some edits in order to secure an R rating. Most of these edits most likely come from HARD GOODBYE as it’s nightmarish at points. Elijah Wood pops in for a memorable role that doesn’t have a single line of dialogue. This story also has the most depressing ending of the bunch. It’s phenomenally made and vicious, but it’s also downright unpleasant at points. As well-made as this film is, I’m glad this story was fired early. A-

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THE BIG FAT KILL: Things go from depressing to really entertaining in this story involving gun-totting prostitutes, a hardened man named Dwight, and quite a lot of gangsters. After kicking his girlfriend’s abusive drunkard of an ex out of her apartment, Dwight is convinced that he’s up to no good and follows him into Old Town. This section of the city is full of hookers who will give you the night of your life if you follow the rules or be the death of you if you try any funny stuff. Murder, chaos, and a race against time to cover up a bad mistake ensues. I don’t want to say too much about this story, because some of the enjoyment comes from how wild things get and the unexpected turns the plot takes. BIG FAT KILL is a nice pick me up from the depressing previous story and packs a lot of absurd humor that makes it the most entertaining segment of the movie. I would even go as far as saying that this is my favorite tale of the four being told. A+

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THAT YELLOW BASTARD: The final story actually begins before HARD GOODBYE and then picks up after BIG FAT KILL. John Hartigan is one of the last honest cops in Sin City. They’re a rare breed, in case you can’t guess from the title nickname of Basin City. Hartigan has been on the trail of a pedophile/child-killer who happens to have powerful connections. John puts a few bullets in the psycho and saves an eight year-old girl named Nancy, but finds himself framed for the crimes. Eight years after being locked up, Hartigan is a free man and tries to protect Nancy from the now yellow-skinned psychopath who wants revenge. The plot of YELLOW BASTARD is predictable, but is very cool to watch unfold to say the least. This is the a more character driven story that is actually given a decent amount of time to make you care about John and Nancy. Sympathizing with them makes everything to come that much more gripping. One of the more grotesque deaths you’ll see in cinema occurs in this story and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving character. Predictability aside, this story delivers on every level. A+

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SIN CITY works in visually capturing a comic book brought to life, but also has Frank Miller’s stellar writing behind it. Every single actor and actress, including usually less-than-great Jessica Alba, gave exactly what was needed of them in their characters. The biggest strength is that all four stories (despite how short they actually are) could fill a four separate movies worth of material and still be rock solid. Packing them all inside a barely over two hour long running time leaves no room to drag and captured my attention from frame one. There are lots of things to like in SIN CITY. The beautiful visuals are merely icing on the cake as the movie moves from emotional and cold to dark and grim to strangely funny and all around amazing. There was never anything quite like SIN CITY before it came along and even if this ten-year-delayed sequel doesn’t deliver on the promise of delivering more great material, then we’ll always have this perfect noir that stands as a cinematic landmark of sorts.

Grade: A+

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