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Terminator Salvation
Directed by McG
If the recent “Star Trek” was a total system reboot of an aging franchise, then “Terminator Salvation” is more like a welcome software upgrade, complete with flashier graphics and increased memory.  

Set in 2018, it follows John Connor (Christian Bale) as he exhibits inspiring leadership in the battle against Skynet and the machines. If all of this seems a bit familiar, with outposts of humans battling overwhelming odds against hard to kill opponents led by a crusty Bale, it may not be the previous “Terminator” movies that you’re thinking of. At times it’s a little reminiscent of “Reign of Fire” only with bullet-spewing robots instead of fire-spewing dragons. And slimmed down bat-bikes.

All of which works pretty well. There’s nothing especially groundbreaking here, but it hums along quite nicely in a manner that ably jump-starts the series. “Terminator Salvation” is directed by McG, a former music video director who helmed the two big screen adaptations of the “Charlie’s Angels” franchise, and who manages here to interrupt the early scenes of this movie with one of the most gratuitous and redundant onscreen director’s credits I can recall.  

One of the most interesting aspects of the movie, for industry watchers, is the second half of the sudden rise to ascendancy of Anton Yelchin, as Kyle Reese, John Connor’s time traveling teenaged father. Just a week ago, he was hitting the big screens as Pavel Chekov in the aforementioned “Star Trek.” In other interesting casting notes: Both Helena Bonham Carter and Jane Alexander have small roles that seem undemanding with respect to their talents; much of the movie is carried by Sam Worthington, not Bale; and a secondary but pivotal character is played by Moon Bloodgood, who seems destined to be the best ever use of a single vowel purchase on a future episode of “Wheel of Fortune.”

At some early screenings, there are gimmicky little movie-related gifts. At the end of “Terminator Salvation” I was expecting a network cable or an organ donor card. Instead I had to settle for a modest sense of contentment regarding a series that will be back. Probably starring Anton Yelchin.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Directed by Shawn Levy

I was pleasantly surprised by “NatM:BotS” and it may be one of those rare sequels that manages to surpass the original, albeit by taking a slightly different tack.

Ben Stiller returns as Larry Daley, erstwhile museum night guard and now successful inventor and infomercial pitch man (supported in his commercial enterprises by another pitch man, George Forman). His old work place, New York’s Museum of Natural History, is undergoing renovations and updates, and the exhibits are scheduled to be archived in Washington.  This of course is problematic, given the presence of an ancient Egyptian artifact that re-animates those exhibits at night.  Suffice to say that the move is not entirely smooth, and fighting breaks out amongst the new residents and their incumbent neighbors.  

Where the original movie was driven by the basic concept of museum exhibits that come to life, the sequel succeeds by going beyond that.  This one is more character-driven, with greater time dedicated to appreciating the new historical figures involved, including Amelia Earhart (another delightful performance by Amy Adams), Kahmunrah (the older brother of the owner of the magic artifact – played by Hank Azaria, who also gives voice to two other characters), and Napoleon Bonaparte (in a scene stealing performance by Alain Chabat).  Azaria in particular is given a lot of time and opportunity to engage Stiller, and “wins” most of the shared time on screen. Much of this novelty is at the expense, however, of the relatively under-utilized returning characters who are given very little to do—most notably Robin Williams.  

One nice additional touch is the animation of the paintings on the walls of the Smithsonian, but it’s offset by some flaws in the internal logic of the film. At one point, Larry and Amelia get to fly the Wright Brothers’ first plane, the Wright Flyer. The real plane made a historic but very short and straight flight before falling victim to a stray gust of wind. But they fly it like it’s an air show stunt plane, crop duster and an X-Wing fighter all rolled into one. Later, they put a suspiciously heavy load in a Lockheed Vega.

The film also makes no suggestion of there being a range of effect for the magical reanimating artifact, whether above or below ground. It might actually be more fun—and plot-helpful—for characters to lose their mojo as the artifact moves out of some pre-determined range.  

All of which is not really the kind of analysis that may seem appropriate for a kid’s movie. But a film like this should also be somewhat respectful of actual historic characters and objects, in my opinion. You could come away from this thinking the Wright Brothers were simply bad pilots of an awesomely capable plane, for example. That said, I had a far better time than I expected. I recommend it.

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