Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (July 5/03)
This isn't James Cameron's Terminator; it's Jonathon Mostow's. While it'd be easy to dismiss the movie because it's not as gritty as the first or as awe-inspiring as the second, it's worth noting that the same would have been true no matter who directed the film. Cameron set an incredibly high standard for this series, and Mostow has to be commended for staying true to the themes and ideas established in the first two flicks - while also crafting a movie that's as full of action and suspense as its predecessors. The film follows a grown-up John Connor (Nick Stahl) as he teams up with a reluctant Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) to prevent Judgment Day once and for all, with his efforts, as usual, both assisted by a friendly Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and hindered by an evil Terminator (Kristanna Loken). The most surprising thing about Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is how involving the storyline is, especially considering how neatly things were tied up at the end of part two. Screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris effectively bring back all the major characters (well, except for Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor - but her absence is convincingly explained), and interestingly enough, it's the non-action sequences that are the highlight of the film. It doesn't hurt that Mostow has cast a couple of fantastic young actors, Stahl and Danes, in key roles - with Stahl, in particular, a standout. And then, of course, there's Arnold. Back as the Terminator, Schwarzenegger's doing more in these films than most people give him credit for. In the first film, he was a relentless killing machine, which made his softer, gentler Terminator in the sequel all-the-more jarring (not to mention comedic). Now he's assumed the role of ambivalent Terminator - he doesn't really care about Connor or Brewster beyond the parameters of his mission - a welcome change, mostly because a reprisal of his caring robot act would have been more tiresome than anything else. The one-liners are also back, and though they're not quite as creative as they were last time around (does anyone still say "talk to the hand"?), their inclusion serves the useful purpose of bringing comic relief to otherwise tense proceedings. As far as the plot goes, it's just as engaging and intriguing as the first two - which is really saying something, when you consider that Cameron co-wrote those films (and has nothing to do with this one). Brancato and Ferris take the storyline to the next logical level, involving the rise of the machines, and it's interesting to note that Skynet (the company responsible for creating the smart robots) is just as pivotal in their existence - despite the fact that they didn't have a futuristic chip to go on (as in the second film). But more than that, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines echoes that feeling of dread that Cameron did such a fantastic job of including in the first two movies - and though Mostow doesn't quite have Cameron's knack for seamlessly blending action with exposition, the film does a nice job of keeping the viewer on their toes. Look, the bottom line is this: While Terminator 3 will never be mistaken for a sci-fi classic, it does just about everything a good summer movie should. On that level, it's certainly worth a look.
Surrogates (November 1/09)
Director Jonathan Mostow's first feature since 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Surrogates transpires within a futuristic world where the majority of people live in isolation and rely on surrogate robots to conduct their day-to-day affairs. Problems ensue after a mysterious figure begins knocking off surrogates (and their human hosts) with a powerful new weapon, with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently following two cops (Bruce Willis' Tom and Radha Mitchell's Peters) as they attempt to solve the increasingly convoluted mystery. There's little doubt that Surrogates fares best in its opening half hour, as Mostow effectively emphasizes the various sci-fi elements within Michael Ferris and John D. Brancato's screenplay to exceedingly positive (and fascinating) effect. And although Ferris and Brancato's refusal to answer many of the questions posed by the premise - ie how are those that use surrogates able to avoid things like bed sores, obesity, etc, etc? - is occasionally frustrating, it's initially easy enough to overlook such concerns as a result of the inherently compelling nature of the film's progressively plausible futuristic landscape. The movie's slow-but-steady transformation from an intriguing sci-fi drama to a lamentably conventional cop thriller is consequently disappointing and increasingly tough to stomach, with the less-than-enthralling vibe ultimately compounded by the tedious action sequences and a periodic emphasis on Tom's disintegrating marriage to Rosamund Pike's Maggie - as the majority of their scenes together possess a distinctly (and needlessly) melodramatic quality that's otherwise absent from the production. Were it not for the inclusion of a genuinely stirring climax, Surrogates would undoubtedly come off as a disappointingly uneven endeavor that can't quite live up to its stellar setup - yet the high note with which the movie concludes, coupled with the affecting first act, ensures that viewers with even a passing interest in science fiction will find something worth embracing here.