As is my nature, I can rarely do things in moderation. I’m currently in a bit of a rut with my work. I don’t know what to do, so at night I’m going through some heavy-duty TV/movie watching. It started a few weeks ago with Piccard but has intensified in recent days. Last night I even had a double bill of movies and though I sat down to write about the second, I might as well say something about the first.
I went into the new Terminator movie with really low expectations. I always loved the original Terminator, which I first saw as part of Alex Cox’s Moviedrome series many moons ago. My love for that series is almost indescribable and Cox probably had the biggest influence on my tastes. In fact, years later, I was just coming out of my favourite second-hand bookshop, Reid’s on Mount Pleasant, and heading down the hill when I passed a friend. I nodded and said “hello” before I realised that they weren’t actually a friend. I only knew the guy from his movie series on BBC2. I often wonder if Alex Cox still has that happening to him…
Anyway, after Terminator, the second came out and it was simply the biggest movie ever. It came during a golden time for science fiction, with CGI doing things that previously didn’t seem possible. Yet after T2, nothing came close of capturing the feel of the original. None of the films were really so bad with perhaps the exception of Genisys, which I really struggle to remember, but none shone.
So now comes Dark Fate which felt like the proper third in the series. It was surprisingly good because it was the first film that didn’t rely on Schwarzenegger. A case could even be made that he didn’t really need to be in it. The film was happily romping along before he showed up. That’s largely down to Mackenzie Davis who currently steals scenes in every film she’s in. She was really memorable in what should have been a forgettable role in The Martian and then played a sex worker in Blade Runner 2049, a film I otherwise didn’t particularly like.
In Dark Fate, she’s an enhanced human from the future and, yes, that means the plot isn’t hugely different to every other Terminator movie. Yet this one worked because she was human, and she also had Linda Hamilton to play off. Hamilton’s place in this movie again proves why Hollywood needs to stop dismissing actresses when they hit a certain age. She grounded the film in all the tragedies of the previous two, adding the kind of cynicism to a movie that’s often lacking in Hollywood’s need to constantly be upbeat.
The result didn’t exactly leave me pondering deep questions about life but, then, I sat down last night to avoid thinking about deep questions about life. I had fun, thoroughly enjoyed it, and sometimes that’s the best thing you can say about any movie.
Hmm… I’ve written too much about the first film. Do I have time to write about the second?
I’d been hearing about The Hunt for a while. It had stirred all manner of controversy in the US, where Trump even tweeted about it. Before anybody had bothered to watch it, it was condemned as a deliberately provocative jab in the culture war.
It’s made by Blumhouse, who have a track record with low budget, high concept movies. They’re cutting a niche for making hugely profitable movies by being smart, especially in terms of their writing. They make 90-minute horror movies with tight scripts, such as Insidious, The Purge, and The Conjuring. All three of those turned into franchises with various degrees of success but the model is the same. Whenever a bad movie comes out and you’re left wondering why they don’t pay the writers more and the stars less, you’re thinking about the business model for Blumhouse movies. It’s the quality of the scripts that allow you to wonder why these actors aren’t so much bigger.
That is certainly true of The Hunt, which is about a group of “elite” in the US who kidnap a group of “deplorables”, transfers them to a remote location where they go about hunting them. It’s a variation of Battle Royale or The Hunger Games. Yet the addition of contemporary politics makes for some really uncomfortable viewing. I remember thinking at an early point that it was hugely problematic. Give it some time, however, and the subtlety does begin to show through, especially in the performance by Betty Gilpin. I’m not going to say too much except Gilpin’s performance is all about her face. She’s hard to read but trying to read her is half of the fun. It essentially becomes the thing the film is really about.
I’ll say no more beyond mentioning that it’s pretty gory. It is, after all, a horror movie, but it’s a clever one. I’m actually not much of a horror fan, though not because of an aversion to gore. I find supernatural stories dull. This, however, was about politics and is perfectly pitched to divide audiences. People who don’t “get it” will think it’s a film about the carnage. Those that do get it will probably hate it because it treats both sides in the culture war with the same savagery. For somebody like me who thinks both sides need to take responsibility, it was a surprisingly good. In fact, it was so good I want to watch it again…