Review: Predators (dir. by Nimrod Antal)


Predators

It would be 20 years before those space-faring hunters, the Predators, would grace the bigscreen once again. Sure, they were part of the two Aliens vs. Predator films of the early 2000’s, but I don’t count them as part of the Predator franchise just due to the fact that they weren’t the headliner. Plus, those two mash-up films were all sorts of something awful.

2010’s Predators by Nimrod Antal (produced by Robert Rodriguez) looked to bring some new life into the scifi action franchise which the two AvP films quickly drained of life and excitement. From the early 1990’s til the release of this film, the franchise gradually built up it’s very own unique film universe which (through novels, comics, games, etc.) was as rich as any scifi franchise. Those who followed this world-building began to understand the Predators culture, mindset and technology.

For some, this meant erasing some of the mystery that made the Predator such an iconic film monster, but others thought it helped established rules for others to follow to help streamline the stories instead of relying too much on one-upping one story after the other.

Predators followed some of the world-building done prior, but also introduces a new wrinkle in the lore by adding the so-called “Super Predators” who were bigger, faster and meaner than the classic ones we’ve seen through the decades. Also new to the Predator lore was setting the film on an unnamed planet which would act as some sort extraplanetary game preserve where Predators could hunt their chosen prey at their leisure and on ground they know.

This new plot point adds a dimension to the film’s narrative in that the humans being hunted had no where to go. Their chances for survival even less now that whatever advantage they might have had on Earth go by the wayside. They’re now being hunted on Predator ground. It’s akin to sport’s game hunting where rich dentists and lawyers pay to hunt specific game in a controlled and managed way in the savannah’s of Africa.

Yet, despite these new additions to the franchise’s lore the film, for the most part, works as an action film. We have the requisite band of misfits, murderers and killers. The worst humanity has to offer but the best at what they do. They run the gamut of black ops mercenaries, elite snipers, drug cartel and rebel enforcers and right up to even a serial killer.

Leading this ragtag bunch, however reluctantly, was the enigmatic Royce played by Oscar-winner Adrien Brody (who actually pulls off the wiry, cold-hearted black ops killer). It’s through his character that the entire film hinges. He’s not the type to play well with others, let alone work with a team as disparate as the one he’s accidentally been stuck with on an unnamed death world. Still, the film works with him as it’s lead. It doesn’t take long for the viewer to believe that this character could easily kill everyone around him and have the best chance to survive being hunted.

He’s the stand-in for the audience who scoff at how those around him make one dumb mistake after another. This is not to say that he’s likable, because he’s definitely in the anti-hero mold who would sacrifice his own teammates if it meant living another hour. Yet, he also understands that his best chance at survival is to continue to use the others even if it means saving their lives.

Nimrod Antal has an eye for action that was very much a throwback to the McTiernan days of the franchise. He allows the scene to unfold in long, sweeping takes to establish a sense of the action’s geography. It’s a skill that less and less action filmmakers use nowadays as quick cuts and edits have become the go-to technique to make a scene more action-packed than it truly is.

Where the film suffers has less to do with Antal’s direction, but more on how exposition-heavy the film gets to try and explain the situation to the rest of the cast. Every time the film ends an action sequence we get some exposition to explain what’s going on to the characters. the writers even wrote in a character (played by a very game Laurence Fishburne) whose only role is to be Exposition Man.

Now, let’s talk about the new Super Predators. They’re an interesting trio of hunters that actually adds some new color and excitement to the Predator series, but at the cost of the more classic Predator we saw with the first two films.

We have three new types of Predators who represent three types of hunters. There’s the Tracker who uses a sort of alien hunting dog to flush out the prey. Then there’s the Falconer who uses a sort of cybernetic drone who scout ahead and look for the prey. The drone looks like something out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Falcon bag of gadgets. But it’s the biggest and baddest of the three, the Berserker, who headlines the new trio. Where the other two have a specific hunting role to play, the Berserker is just as its named. There’s no skill to this hunter, but just sheer brute force to take down what it’s hunting.

They’re a cool-looking bunch but they do detract from the more classic Predator. They actually make the original ones seem more than just a tad useless and helpless when put up against these newest trio.

Predators was definitely a couple steps above what audiences had received with the two Aliens vs. Predator films. Despite some shortcomings with an exposition-heavy screenplay and a narrative choice to make the classic Predator less intimidating, Nimrod Antal’s entry into the Predator franchise has enough action and new world-building additions to bring back some excitement into the series. It’s a shame that the stink from the two AvP films impacted this film and how many people ended up seeing it, but with each passing year more and more people have begun to rethink their initial negative feelings about Predators and give the film it’s just due of being a fun and exciting scifi actioner.

Weekly Trailer Round-Up: Bad Times At The El Royale, First Man, Air Strike, E-Demon


This week, Lisa and Arleigh already shared the latest trailers for:

The Predator

The Other Side of the Wind

The Front Runner

Here’s the best of the rest.

Six years after making his directorial debut with The Cabin In The Wood, Drew Goddard returns to the director’s chair with Bad Times at the El Royale.  Featuring Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, and Chris Hemsworth, Bad Times at the El Royale will be released on October 12th.

From Universal Pictures, here is the second trailer to First Man.  Damien Chazelle’s upcoming film stars Ryan Gosling as the first man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, and Claire Foy as his first wife.  First Man will be released on October 12th, putting it in head-to-head competition with Bad Times At the El Royale.

If you have ever wondered what you would get if you combined Bruce Willis, Adrien Brody, and unconvincing CGI, Air Strike is here to answer your question.  Air Strike will be released on October 26th.  Mel Gibson (yes, that Mel Gibson) was the production designer.

Finally, if you missed the first two Unfriended movies, E-Demon is here to shock you.  E-Demon will be released on September 14th.

 

 

 

A Few Very Late Thoughts On Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel


grand-budapest-hotel

It took me a while to come around to appreciating The Grand Budapest Hotel.

When I first saw Wes Anderson’s latest film, way back in March, I have to admit that I was somehow both impressed and disappointed.  The film’s virtues were obvious.  Ralph Fiennes gave a brilliant lead performance as Gustave, the courtly and womanizing concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel.  As played by Fiennes, Gustave came to represent a certain type of old world elegance that, I’m assuming, died out long before I was born.  As is typical of Anderson’s film, The Grand Budapest Hotel was visual delight.  Even when the film’s convoluted storyline occasionally grew self-indulgent, The Grand Budapest Hotel was always interesting and fun to watch.

At the same time, I had some issues with The Grand Budapest Hotel.

One of the major ones — and I will admit right now that this will seem minor to some of you — is that halfway through the film, a cat is killed.  The evil Dimitri Desgoffe von Taxis (Adrien Brody) is attempting to intimidate a nervous lawyer, Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum).  Kovacs’s owns a cat and, at one point, Dimitri’s henchman, Jopling (Willem DaFoe), tosses the cat out of a window.  Kovacs runs to window and sees his dead cat splattered on the sidewalk below…

And this is when the audience in the theater laughed and I got very angry.

To me, there was nothing funny about killing that man’s cat.  But the more I’ve thought about it, the more that I’ve come to realize that my reaction had more to do with the audience than the film.  The film was not saying that the cat’s death was funny.  The film was saying that Dimitri and Jopling were evil and dangerous, as their actions throughout the film would demonstrate.  It was the audience that decided, since Grand Budapest Hotel is full of funny moments and has the off-center style that one has come to expect from Wes Anderson, that meant every scene in the film was meant to be played strictly for laughs.  The fact of the matter is that a typical Wes Anderson film will always attract a certain type of hipster douchebag.  They were the ones who loudly laughed, mostly because they had spent the entire movie laughing loudly in order to make sure that everyone around them understood that they were in on the joke.

But that’s not the fault of the film.  Despite what you may have heard and what the Golden Globes would have you believe, The Grand Budapest Hotel is not a comedy.  For all the deliberately funny and quirky moments, The Grand Budapest Hotel is actually a very serious film.  For all of the slapstick and for all of Ralph Fiennes’s snarky line readings, The Grand Budapest Hotel ultimately ends on a note of deep melancholy.

When I first saw The Grand Budapest Hotel, it seemed like it was almost too quirky for its own good.  And, to be honest, I could still have done without some of Anderson’s more self-indulgent touches.  The sequence at the end, where Gustave, who has been framed for murder, gets help from a series of his fellow hotel concierges started out funny but, as everyone from Bill Murray to Owen Wilson put in an appearance, it started to feel less like the story of Gustave and more like the story of all of Wes Anderson’s famous friends.

However, the more I’ve thought about it (and The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film that I’ve thought about a lot over the past year), the more I’ve realized that the quirkiness is only a problem if you made the mistake of thinking that the film is meant to be taken literally.

The more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that the most important scenes in The Grand Budapest Hotel were to be found at the beginning and the end of the film.

The film opens with a teenage girl sitting in front of the grave of a great author.  She opens a book and starts to read.

As soon as the girl starts to read, we flashback 29 years to 1985 where the author (Tom Wilkinson) sits behind his office desk and starts to talk about the time that he visited the Grand Budapest Hotel.  

We flashback again to 1969, where we see how the author (now played by Jude Law) met the owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel, a man named Zero (played by F. Murray Abraham).  Over dinner, Zero tells the author the story of how he first came to the Grand Budapest and how he eventually came to own the hotel.

And again, we go back in time, this time to 1932.  We see how the young Zero (Tony Revolori) first met and came to be the protegé of Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).  We see how Gustave taught Zero how to be the perfect concierge.  Eventually, Gustave would be framed for murdering a guest, Zero would meet and fall in love with Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), and then Zubrowska (the fictional Eastern European country in which this all takes place) would be taken over by fascists who would eventually claim the hotel as their own.

After the story of Gustave, Zero, and Agatha has been told, we suddenly flash forward to the author talking to Zero and then to the old author telling the story to his grandson and then finally back to the teenage reader sitting in the cemetery.

In other words, the Grand Budapest Hotel may be the story of Zero but we’re experiencing it through the memories of the author as visualized by the reader.  Gustave, Zero, and the entire Grand Budapest Hotel are not just parts of a story.  Instead, they become symbols of an old way of life that, though it may have been lost, still exists in the memories of old travelers like the author and the imaginations of young readers like the girl in the cemetery.

As I said at the start of this, I was vaguely disappointed with The Grand Budapest Hotel when I first saw it but, perhaps more than any other movie that I saw last year, this has been a film that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind.  Having recently rewatched the film on HBO, I can also attest that both The Grand Budapest Hotel and Ralph Fiennes’s performance not only hold up on a second viewing but improve as well.

I still stand by some of my original criticisms of The Grand Budapest Hotel.  I still wish that cat had not been thrown out the window, even though I now understand that Anderson’s main intent was to show the evil of Dimitri and Jopling.  And I still find some of the cameos to be jarring, precisely because they take us out of the world of the film.

But you know what?

Despite those flaws, The Grand Budapest Hotel is still a unique and intriguing film.  When I sat down tonight and made out my list of my top 26 films of 2014, I was not surprised that Grand Budapest Hotel made the list.  But I was a little bit surprised at how high I ended up ranking it.

But then I thought about it and it all made sense.

The-Grand-Budapest-Hotel-580

 

 

Film Review: Midnight in Paris (dir. by Woody Allen)


Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris, has an appealing premise behind it. 

Gil (Owen Wilson) is a Hollywood screenwriter who has come to Paris with his shallow fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her stuffy Republican parents (played by Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy).  Disillusioned with American culture, Gil idealizes the Paris of the 1920s, the Paris that was home to Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce.  However, Inez and her parents are far less impressed with Paris and, as quickly become clear, with Gil himself.  While Inez spends her time with self-important “intellectual” Paul (a bearded Michael Sheen), Gil takes to wandering the streets of Paris at night.

One night, as Gil wanders around Paris, a vintage car approaches out of the shadows and the two well-dressed passengers in the back seat invite Gil to join them.  Gil does so and discovers that he’s been transported back to 1920s Paris.  He meets everyone from Hemingway (Corey Stoll) to Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody) to F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill).  At the end of the night, Gil finds himself transported back to modern-day Paris.  Soon, Gil finds himself sneaking out at midnight every night so he can escape to the past, where he eventually meets and starts to romance an idealistic model named Adrianna (Marion Cotillard).  While Gil finds himself torn between his modern life and the past that he loves, he also begins to discover that the inhabitants of the 20s feel the same way about their present as he does about his.

The premise of the film itself is likable and one that I think anyone can relate to.  Who doesn’t wish that they could go back in the past and live with all the amazing people who they’ve only read about?  Myself, there are many eras that I often fantasize about finding myself in.  1920s Paris is definitely one of them but I’ve also occasionally dreamed of being in 1950s New York, having a threesome with Kerouac and Cassady or maybe being in Paris during the early days of the French new wave, appearing in movies directed by Rollin, Truffaut and Godard.  Ever since I read Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders and Raging Bulls, there’s been a part of me that wishes so much I could have been out in Hollywood or New York in the 1970s, hanging out on the beach with directors like Martin Scorsese, William Freidkin, Jon Milius, and even Peter Bogdonavich.  (But especially Freidkin, his terrible charisma just radiates from the page.) 

Still, Allen is smart enough as a screenwriter to know that everyone tends to idealizes the past, even those who we now idealize in the present.  Perhaps my favorite part of the film came when Wilson, while in the 1920s, sees a character getting into a horse-drawn carriage so that she can go back to the time that she idealizes as fiercely as he idealizes the 20s.

Midnight in Paris has a lot to recommend it.  Cotillard, despite the fact that she’s played the same idealized French mystery woman about a thousand times, gives a likeable performance and Rachel McAdams is hilariously shallow.  Michael Sheen, as well, makes a perfect stand-in for every pompous, self-important jerk who has ever talked down to you.  On the basis of his cameo appearance here as Dali, Adrien Brody really needs to consider doing more comedy.  He’s a lot more appealing when he’s being funny than when he’s trying to be a leading man.

At the same time, I have to admit that I wanted to like Midnight in Paris more than I actually did.  I like Owen Wilson as both an actor and a writer but he’s a little bit miscast here and the end result is that he occasionally seems like he’s trying too hard.  You just never buy him and McAdams as a couple and, as such, there’s really not much at stake as far as his romance with Cotillard is concerned. 

As well, I found it hard not to be a little bit disappointed with the way Allen presented 1920s Paris.  Though they were all well-cast and acted, Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), and all the rest just fell flat as actual characters.  Gil gets a chance to go into the past and essentially, he discovers that Hemingway was macho, the Fitzgeralds were neurotic and self-destructive, and that Dali didn’t make much sense.  Personally, I would be a bit let down if I got a chance to meet these icons and I discovered that essentially they just acted the exact same way that they acted in various PBS educational programs.

Despite this, Midnight in Paris is still a likable, frequently engaging comedy that works best as a tribute to a legendary and beautiful city that Allen (not to mention myself) obviously loves.  Flaws and all, this movie made me want to visit Paris once again (though Florence and Venice remains my favorite cities of all time) and, for that reason alone, it makes Midnight in Paris a film worth seeing.

10 Movies I’m Looking Foward To and 5 That I Am Not And 1 That I’m Kinda Sorta Undecided On


I had all six of my wisdom teeth extracted on Tuesday.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Not only where my all my wisdom teeth impacted but I had two extra ones as well.  I was passed out during the operation and, to be honest, I wish I could be passed out for the recovery as well.  I’m bruised, puffy, and it hurts to talk.  In short, even with a healthy supply of Vicodin, I am miserable.  Boo hoo.

However, one thing never fails to cheer me up and that’s watching, discussing, thinking about, and writing about film.  Since Tuesday, I’ve had a lot of extra time to think about some of the films that are due to come out during this year.  Below, I’ve listed 16 of them.  Ten of them are movies that I’m looking forward to seeing, five are movies that I know I’m going to end up seeing and hating, and finally, one is a movie that I’m genuinely undecided on.

The Ten I’m Looking Forward To:

1) Iron Man 2 — Iron Man 2 is opening tomorrow and I’m exciting for several reasons.  First off, I loved the first movie.  Super hero adaptations usually bore me to tears but the first Iron Man was actually a lot of fun.  Traditionally, sequels are disappointing but most of the people behind the 1st movie — director Jon Favreau, Robert Downey, Jr. and Gwynneth Paltrow — are returning.  As well, you’ve got Mickey Rourke chewing the scenery and blowing things up, Sam Rockwell (who I love! love!  love! — go and rent Moon if you haven’t seen it!) as a villain, and Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation is one of my all time favorite movies) kicking ass in black leather.  

On a personal note, my friend Jeff once referred to me as “the Black Widow.”  At first, I was a little taken back because I thought he was suggesting that I devoured my mates but fortunately for him, he then explained he was referring to a comic book character who, like me, has red hair.  Anyway, for the longest time, that’s been an inside joke between the two of us.  I’ve always been the Black Widow even though I have no idea who she actually is.  So, imagine my delight when I found out that this is apparently the same character that Scarlett Johansson is playing in Iron Man 2!  For that reason alone, I have to see this movie. 

Finally, when I’m not obsessing on films, I work as a receptionist/secretary/file clerk/personal assistant and there are times when I’m sitting bored at my desk and I start to think about myself as if I were the character played by Gwynneth Paltrow.  I’ll sit there and wonder if maybe my boss is secretly a costumed super hero.  (I’m fairly sure that he’s not.)  Strange as it may seem, Iron Man has become the fuel for my fantasies. (Release Date: May 7th, 2010 — T0morrow!) 

2) Robin Hood — When it comes to English folklore, I tend to gravitate towards stories involving King Arthur accidentally sleeping with his half-sister and thousands of cocky knights vainly searching for the Holy Grail and getting killed in various macabre ways as a result.  As a result, I really don’t know much about Robin Hood beyond the basics.  I know that he was apparently some sort of socialist and that he liked to hang out in the forest with a bunch of “merry” men.  To be honest, the whole idea of Robin Hood has always struck me as being childish and the character bores me.  But I’m still looking forward to this latest Robin Hood film and I can explain it in 2 words: Russell Crowe.  If anyone can make Robin Hood into an interesting — even compelling character — it would be Crowe.  Director Ridley Scott also seems to be the ideal director for this movie and then toss in some speeches about taxation without representation and you’ve got the potential for the perfect Libertarian film. (Release Date: May 14th, 2010)

3) The Expendables — Yes, I am usually not a huge fan of action films and I’ve never quite understood how Sylvester Stallone ever became a star but I’m still looking forward to this movie.  Why?  Just judging from the trailer, every actor on the planet appears to have a role in the this film.  I find Jason Stathan to be about as appealing as Sylvester Stallone but Jet Li and Mickey Rourke should both be fun to watch and who wouldn’t jump at the chance to see Eric Roberts play yet another villain? (Release Date: August 13th, 2010)

4) Splice — I nearly included Splice on my list of films that I’m not looking forward to because, I swear to God, the trailer for Splice is so dull that it could be used to torture prisoners at Gitmo.  Add to that, I’ve never quite seen the appeal that Adrien Brody supposedly possesses as an actor.  However, I’m willing to take a chance on Splice because 1) it also stars one of my personal role models, the wonderful actress, director, and activist Sarah Polley and 2) director Vincenzo Natali has promised to take a very European approach to the film’s horrors (i.e. lots of casual sex with the monster serving as a symbol for something deeper than just box office receipts).  I’m looking forward to seeing if Splice can overcome Adrien Brody and live up to that promise. (Release date: June 4th, 2010)

5) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One — Okay, I admit it.   I’m a fan.  Don’t judge me.  (Though I will also say that I think J.K. Rowling needs to get over herself in a major way.)   It’ll be interesting to see what Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson do with themselves now that their indentured servitude is done with.  Radcliffe, in particular, is capable of playing a lot more than just Harry Potter.  (Release Date: November 19th, 2010)

6) Howl — James Franco as the late poet Allen Ginsberg?  Strangely enough, I think the idea might work.  (Release Date: September 24th, 2010)

7) Machete — Robert Rodriguez finally makes a film for someone other than his kids.  How can you not be excited about the chance to see Robert De Niro and Jeff Fahey on-screen together?  Plus, Lindsay Lohan (who really should just be allowed to live her life) gets a chance to remake her image playing a socialite with a gun.  My hope is that if Machete finds success at the box office, Eli Roth will make Thanksgiving.  (Release Date: September 3rd, 2010)

8 ) My Soul To Take — Wes Craven has had an odd career and, to be honest, I struggle sometimes with whether he’s truly a great horror filmmaker or if he’s just a journeyman director who has occasionally gotten lucky.  Looking at his career, it’s hard not to wonder how the same guy who made the original Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes could also be responsible for something like Cursed?  Regardless of how the actual film turns out, My Soul To Take will add another piece to the puzzle.  This will be the first film to be both written and directed by Craven in 16 years.  Hopefully, as in the majority of his better movies, Craven will be able to balance his commercial side with his sadistic side. (Release Date: October 29th, 2010)

9) Inception — My tastes usually run more towards horror than sci-fi but I find myself growing more excited about Inception with each passing day.  Not only does the plot sound like it could have easily come from a long-lost book by Philip K. Dick (one of the few sci-fi writers that I enjoy reading, A Scanner Darkly being my personal favorite) but the film is being directed by Christopher Nolan who proved with Momento that he can make the surreal compelling.  And just check out that cast — Leonardo DiCaprio, Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who I’ve been crushing on ever since (500) Days of Summer). (Release date: July 16th, 2010.)

10) Salt — I love it when girls get to kick ass in the movies and, when she’s at her best, nobody kicks ass like Angelina Jolie.  (Release Date: July 23rd, 2010)

One That I’m Kinda Looking Forward To But I’m Kinda Not

1) Sex and the City 2 — Why are they in the desert?  How exactly can you have Sex without the City?    (Release date: May 27th, 2010) 

The Five I Am Not Looking Forward To

1) The A-Team — Yay!  It’s an action movie based on a show I’ve never heard of.  I love Liam Neeson and it’s good to see that Sharlto Copley’s underrated performance in District 9 has led to him getting more work but, sorry, I think I’ll pass. (Release Date: June 11th, 2010)

2) The Social Network — I know a lot of people are looking forward to this movie about the founding of Facebook and it is true that it’s being directed by David Fincher.  However, there are a few things that lead me to fear that this is not going to be the movie that so many people think it will be.  First off, it was written by Aaron Sorkin who is probably one of the most overrated screenwriters working today.  He may be best known for The West Wing but most of Sorkin’s work resembles the heavy-handed sermonizing of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip.  Remember how Sorkin reacted when a few bloggers criticized his show?  This is not a guy who is comfortable with the Internet.  Secondly, the film is being produced by Kevin Spacey, another overrated talent who doesn’t so much act as much as he smugly pretends to act.  Third, and most important, The Social Network has got to be one of the worst titles I’ve heard in a long time.  Everything about this movie just screams “misfire.” (Release date: October 1st, 2010)

3) Paranormal Activity 2 — Because, you know, the first one was so good. (Release Date: October 22nd, 2010)

4) Twelve — I loved Nick McDonnell’s novel and I usually enjoy movies about decadent rich kids destroying themselves with lots of drugs and promiscuity.  I mean, if you’re going to self-destruct, you should at least look good doing it.  Unfortunately, Twelve is directed by the American Umberto Lenzi, Joel Schumacher.  Schumacher’s films aren’t even enjoyably bad.  They’re just bad.  Interestingly enough, Joel Schumacher tends to turn up in just about every movie star biography and Hollywood history book that I own.  He’s someone who has obviously been around for a very long time and who has cultivated a lot of friends.  I imagine he must be very likable in person.  But, seriously, isn’t it time to revoke his DGA membership? (Release Date: July 2, 2010)

5) Saw VII — Sorry, I got bored with the Jigsaw Killer about five movies ago.   The film’s in 3D so I’m sure we’ll get to see a severed limb fly directly at the camera.  (Release Date: October 22nd, 2010)