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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with MARJORIE PRIME and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY 3D!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

The ideas that feed into director Michael Almereyda’s screen adaptation of the much-celebrated, Jordan Harrison-written play MARJORIE PRIME are quite extraordinary, even if the execution of the movie is flawed at times. A “Prime” is a hologram program/artificial intelligence designed, in theory, to comfort those who have lost a loved one. The Prime comes equipped with basic good manners and an inquisitive nature that gets the grieving party to talk at length about the person the hologram resembles, thus informing the Prime about the absent party and thus becoming more like them. Of course, the flaw in this method is that all of the Prime’s specific memories come from a grieving human, whose own memory may be flawed or failing or suppressed.

Harrison’s play makes the point that any memory we experience is actually only a remembrance of the last time we remembered said event; it’s not actually a memory of the event itself. So each time we tap into that memory, it’s being recalled differently—lesser, altered or just plain wrong. Almereyda’s adaptation accomplishes many fine things, including embracing these complex ideas, and how the memory of an elderly woman named Marjorie (the legendary theater actress Lois Smith) might be feeding the Prime of her dead husband Walter (whom she has chosen to have look like he did in his staggeringly handsome prime—thus he’s played by Jon Hamm, fresh from his villainous turn in BABY DRIVER). Their interactions alternate between comforting and awkward. She’s clearly had her Prime for some time, so he has stories galore to share with her, but they’re all memories that she has fed him. But it’s also clear that Marjorie is suffering from early onset dementia, and how does that factor into this science experiment?

When her grown daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and her husband Jon (Tim Robbins) come to visit her and the Walter Prime, it turns out anything they say to the Prime gets absorbed into his memories of Walter. In a film that is more about ideas that actions, the characters spend a great deal of time talking about the moral and emotional complications of having a Prime around the house. I have zero doubt believing that most people would do anything to avoid grieving, so the idea of a construct that houses an essence of a lost love one makes perfect sense. But the question remains, would such a program actually alleviate grief and suffering, and would it simply underscore the loss the more the Prime becomes like the missing person.

As time passes and other characters pass away, more Primes begin to occupy the film’s cast of characters, and as a result, three of the four primary actors portray both their human selves and their Primes, and the results are quite impressive. If for no other reason, Marjorie Prime is a fantastic acting exercise, with Smith and Davis truly giving distinct and fascinating performances, in which we get to discover the Primes’ learning curve and where their shortcomings exist. The production design and furnishings in the homes where the film is set are meant to be somewhat neutral and uninspired, not wanting to distract in any way from the ideas and acting on display.

The most important question the story deals with what happens when different family members remember various events contradictorily. How do the primes process moments that don’t line up? Even more unnerving, at the end of the film, multiple primes occupy a space like a new, makeshift family and attempt to share stories, some of which don’t line up. While Harrison’s 2014 play (in which Smith originated the part of Marjorie) isn’t really about artificial intelligence, it’s a subject that is taken seriously. The playwright’s intentions are far more human. He’s curious about the way we process memories—both good and bad—and why some events seem to linger in our heads forever while other are jettisoned almost as soon as they happen.

Almereyda is a director who never stops taking chance, whether it be in his Shakespeare adaptations (HAMLET, CYMBELINE) or in his unconventional tellings of otherwise conventional stories, such as his landmark vampire tale Nadja or his version of the Milgram experiments in the early 1960s, Experimenter. With MARJORIE PRIME, he’s taking a wholly original story and making it accessible, even if he’s drained some of the emotion from the visuals. Thankfully, his actors breathe a great deal of life and color back into the proceedings, and the result is captivating, haunting and ultimately quite moving.

Alright, so this is not so much an art-house film, but in all likelihood, if this is playing near you this weekend, it’s on a single screen at your local multiplex, and that’s basically the same thing. And this is not so much a review as a reminder that James Cameron’s 1991 TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY is still one of the most perfectly paced and high-energy action films ever made, and this week it’s also being re-released, having been expertly restored and carefully converted into a 3D experience, which certainly succeeds at amplifying both the good and the bad in this offering.

Made seven years after the original Cameron-Arnold Schwarzenegger killfest, the agenda was a bit different. In addition to going bigger, the filmmaker took note of criticisms of THE TERMINATOR (overall, the more satisfying film of the two) that it was nothing but his cyborg villain killing police officers by the dozen. With a storyline more directly linked to the apocalyptic future talked about in the first film, Cameron brought back the Schwarzenegger character, but this time as a protector of teenage John Connor (played by then-newcomer Edward Furlong), who will grow up to lead the human resistance to the robot takeover. They also breakout John’s mother, Sarah (the returning, jacked-up Linda Hamilton), from a mental hospital, and the three head to kill the man who invents the artificial intelligence system Skynet, which eventually takes over the weapons of the world.

T2’s most memorable element is, of course, the T-1000 (an impossibly young-looking Robert Patrick), made of liquid metal and capable of impersonating just about anything it touches, organic or not. The effects built around the T-1000 remain impressive, and I love the sly humor that Patrick manages to almost sneak into the performance. Also, the 3D looks its best when the liquid metal is in full effect and getting stabby with innocent bystanders.

Schwarzenegger and Hamilton had also become a better actors since the 1984 original, and it comes as no surprise that because of that, some of Arnold’s most quotable lines come from this film. Sadly, the film also reminded me that Furlong was not a very good actor at the time (he certainly got better), and his line readings actually hurt my ears a few times. Thankfully, later in the film, Cameron (who co-wrote the movie with William Wisher) introduces Joe Morton as Miles Dyson, the man who would eventually create Skynet, and what becomes an assassination plot turns into something much more creative and emotionally driven.

But TERMINATOR 2 is a pure, uncut gem of an action film, featuring level of pacing—heightened by a few false endings—that only serves to ramp up the intensity, the tension, and the payoff. The explosions are many, the stunts are mind-blowing (and slightly cleaned up in this new version), and the effects are nothing short of groundbreaking (thanks to ILM and Stan Winston Studios). And for those wondering, the version being re-released in 3D is the original theatrical cut. Presumably, you’re not reading this to hear if it’s a good movie or not—you know it is; the question is: Is it worth checking out in 3D? If you’re caught up on the best of the newer films, absolutely. Now where is Cameron’s 3D upgrade of PIRANHA TWO: THE SPAWNING? The world is waiting…

-- Steve Prokopy
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