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Terminator: Time and time again

Given that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s post-gubernatorial screen vehicles have unceremoniously tanked at the box-office, it’s hardly a surprise that the “Austrian Oak” would return to his most famous character in Terminator: Genisys, the latest in the 31-year franchise that has included four films and one television series.

Screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier have attempted to reboot, revamp and rehash the Terminator franchise in one fell swoop – never allowing this new entry to develop an identity of its own. The time-travel aspect, which is heavily emphasized here, causes the story to fold back on itself even as it’s playing out, turning the original story – to say nothing of the sequels – inside-out and upside-down.

Schwarzenegger’s a good Terminator here, a “Guardian” model (vintage by the looks of it), fondly referred to as “Pops” by Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), who’s armed and ready when future soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) drops into 1984 from the technology-ravaged 21 st century, sent to protect her by John Connor (Jason Clarke, no relation to Emilia), the unborn son who will be mankind’s salvation.

Or will he? Given how the specific circumstances of Judgment Day have changed with each previous Terminator films, all bets are off, especially when John Connor himself turns up in the 20 th century – as a Terminator. The special effects, replete with shape-shifting and liquid metal, are the most impressive facet of the film.

The potential Oedipal spin of having John Connor trying to destroy his mother – and vice-versa – is an interesting notion that is never really developed, not when things can be blown up instead. Even then, the violence is limited to PG-13 standards, so there are times when Courtney and Emilia Clarke emerge from wreckage and debris with nary a hair out of place.

Alan Taylor, who directed the equally mechanical Marvel sequel Thor: The Dark World (2013), tries, sometimes successfully, to approximate the look and feel of the James Cameron Terminators, even incorporating footage of the original for the amusing sequence where “old” Arnold battles “young” Arnold.

Emilia Clarke is plucky and fit as Sarah, Jason Clarke brings a deadpan humor to his John Connor-gone-bad, and Schwarzenegger is … well, he’s Schwarzenegger. He said he’d be back, and he is – and he says it again here. And he comes back again. Courtney is earnest but rather wooden as Kyle Reese, bringing none of the haunted vulnerability and self-sacrificing heroism of Michael Biehn in the original film. Newly minted Oscar winner J.K. Simmons arrives late on the scene as a helpful police detective, adding a touch of humor to the proceedings, but otherwise, there’s little reason for him to be here.

With the various avenues the story could have taken toward the franchise’s future, it is any wonder that the makers have opted for the most predictable – one that would lead almost directly to a continuation? The Terminator movies aren’t designed for happy endings, yet that’s exactly what happens here, as the futuristic equivalent of a nuclear family goes off into the sunset together. !

Method to the madness

That irrepressible socialactivist duo of Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum, better known as “The Yes Man,” are up to their old tricks in The Yes Men Are Revolting, the third in their documentary film series, following 2003’s The Yes Men and 2009’s The Yes Men Fix the World. (Evidently, their films come in six-year intervals.)

Bonanno and Bichlbaum are hoaxers and pranksters whose antics are designed to draw attention to current social topics. Much of the new film is concerned with their efforts to address climate change and global warming, which they believe is about as pressing an issue as any they’ve tackled previously.

There are some brief asides to Bonanno and Bichlbaum’s 20-year history together, and a look into their personal lives – Bonanno is married with two children (three by film’s end) and Bichlbaum is gay, although his activism has invariably costs him relationships in the long run.

But the film works best when detailing the Yes Men’s scams, many of which are inspired in their planning and execution. A bogus press briefing at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce not only gets the Yes Men the attention they want, but a lawsuit they don’t – although it is a solid indicator to them that they are making waves.

There are stopovers at Occupy Wall Street and a Homeland Security conference, where Bonanno and Bichlbaum again fool the powers that be. They’re not who they say they are, but what they’re saying is important nonetheless. And it’s amazing how far business cards can get you.

The Yes Men Are Revolting opens Friday at a/perture cinema, Winston-Salem !

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