Review: Predator 2 (dir. by Stephen Hopkins)


Predator 2

Like any successful genre film, Predator would remain in the consciousness of filmgoers during the late 80’s. The film was that popular and successful. This also meant that the studio who produced and released the film were more than happy to try and replicate what made them a lot of money.  So, a sequel was quickly greenlit within the halls of 20th Century Fox.

Yet, despite the success the first film was able to garner despite some major production problems, this time around luck wasn’t with Predator 2. The follow-up film would have different production issues than the first but they would affect the film in the long run.

First off, John McTiernan wouldn’t be on-board to direct the sequel. His back-to-back successes with Predator and Die Hard has suddenly made him a coveted action director. His schedule would keep him from directing Predator 2 as his slate was already full with The Hunt for Red October being his next film. In comes Stephen Hopkins to helm the sequel.

Yet, the biggest blow to the production would be not being able to get Arnold Schwarzenegger to return in the role of Dutch, the sole survivor of the elite rescue team from the first film. As with most stars and sequels, this time it would be over a salary dispute that would keep Arnold from returning so in comes Danny Glover to take on the sequel’s lead role.

Now, Danny Glover has more than pulled his own action film weight with two Lethal Weapon films already under his belt, but in terms of on-screen charisma he would be a major downgrade from the presence Schwarzenegger provided the first film. But Glover was more than game to take on the role of Lt. Harrigan of the LAPD as the setting for the sequel moves from the steaming jungle canopy of Central America to the blistering asphalt and concrete jungle of gang-ridden Los Angeles.

This change in location made for an interesting take as it helped establish some world building that showed these Predators have visited Earth many times in the past and not just in the faraway jungles but more towards areas and places rife with conflict. We learn that it hunts those who have survived the conflicts of the area they’re in. Only the strongest for these extraplanetary hunters.

Unlike, the original film, Predator 2 fails in not having a cast of characters that the audience could empathize and root for. This follow-up is mostly about action and even more gore than the first. Even the opening sequence tries to one-up the jungle shooting scene from the first film, yet instead of shock and awe the sequence just seems loud and busy,

Predator 2 suffers from a lot of that as the film feels more than just a tad bit bloated. The Thomas brothers (Jim and John) who wrote the original film return for the sequel but were unable to capture lightning in a bottle a second time around. Where the first film was very minimalist in it’s narrative and plot, the sequel goes for the throw everything in but the kitchen sink approach. We have warring drug gangs, inept police leadership, secretive government agencies with their own agendas.

What does work with Predator 2 and has made it into a cult classic as years passed was the very worldbuilding I mentioned earlier. We learn a bit more of this predator-hunter. While some comes as exposition from Gary Busey’s special agent role Peter Keyes, the rest comes from just seeing the new look of this particular Predator courtesy of special effects master Stan Winston.

The biggest joy for fans of the films comes in an all-too-brief scene showcasing the trophy case of the Predator inside it’s spacecraft. Within this trophy case are the skulls of the prey it’s hunted and killed. One skull in particular would ignite the imagination of scifi action fans worldwide. It’s a skull of a xenomorph from the Alien franchise. It made fans wonder if the two films were part of a larger tapestry. Both properties were owned by 20th Century Fox, so there was a chance and hope that the two meanest and baddest alien creatures on film would crossover together.

It would be many, many years before such a team-up would happen. Even when it finally did fans of the franchises would be let down with what they get after waiting for over a decade.

Predator 2 could be seen as trying to make lightning hit the same patch twice or it could be seen as a quick cash grab by a studio seeing a potential franchise. Both are true and without its two biggest stars, Arnold Schwarzenegger and John McTiernan, returning to reprise their roles for the sequel the film was already behind the eight-ball before filming began.

While the follow-up had some interesting new ideas that helped round out the Predator as one of film’s greatest onscreen villains, it also failed to capitalize on those ideas in a creative way. There’s some good in Predator 2, but way too much baggage and too much bad to have it live up to the success and popularity of the original.

Review: Predator (dir. John McTiernan)


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It would be accurate for one to say that Arnold Schwarzenegger was king of the 80’s action flicks. He first burst onto the scene in the titular role in Conan the Barbarian then it’s follow-up sequel. Yet, it would be his role in James Cameron’s The Terminator in 1985 that would make him a household name.

He began to crank out action films after action film every year to varying degrees of success and quality between 1984 and 1987. It would be in the summer of 1987 that he would add a third iconic action film role to stint as Conan the Barbarian and the relentless cybernetic killer, the Terminator.

Maj. Dutch Schaefer in John McTiernan’s action scifi Predator cemented Arnold Schwarzenegger as the most bankable movie star of the 1980’s. The film itself has become a go-to classic whenever film fans of all stripes discuss what were some of the best films of the era. Yes, I do categorize Predator as one of the best to come out of the 1980’s. It does more than hold it’s own when stacked up against Oscar winners, festival darlings and indie cult-favorites.

It’s a film that takes the premise that “man is the most dangerous game” to new levels by adding in a scifi element to the story. That scifi element being an extraterrestrial hunter who comes to Earth every so often to hunt. It’s chosen prey tends to be killers, fighters and soldiers at the top of their craft and usually during times of extreme conflict.

The film, as written by the two brothers John and Jim Thomas, actually works like a slasher horror film in the beginning as Dutch and his team of elite commandos trek through the Central American jungle on a rescue mission. A mission that lands the team in finding the grisly remains of another American special forces team. Questions come up as to whether their CIA liaison (played by Carl Weathers of Rocky and Rocky II fame) knows more about the true nature of their supposed rescue mission than he’s willing to let on.

It’s once the team, still being stalked through the jungle by an unseen predator, finally find the people they’re suppose to rescue that all hell breaks loose in more ways than one. The action is loud, messy and exquisitely choreographed and filmed. Unlike some of the action films of the last ten years, Predator succeeds with it’s action scenes for having a director who uses very long takes and little to no hand-held to keep the action geography easy to follow and the action choreography unencumbered by too many edits and cuts.

Even once the team realizes that they were now being hunted and that whoever, or whatever is hunting them, the film still continues to stay on a creative track. When I mentioned that the film plays out like slasher film, it does in way in that the titular character behaves and moves like slasher killers. It seems to be everywhere and nowhere. The very victims it’s hunting only see it when it’s too late and death’s upon them.

The film’s dialogue has been quoted by so many fans that memes have been created around them. Yet, this doesn’t mean that the film is hilarious. What it does have was that masculine, brother’s-in-arms banter and quips that’s become a sort of signature for screenwriter and director Shane Black who was hired to do some uncredited rewrites on the Thomas Brother’s original script. Black would also end up playing one of the commandos in the film.

Outside of Arnold himself, Predator would be best-known for the effects work by the late and great Stan Winston, who would come in to help redesign the title character (with some help from his buddy James Cameron) and the rest as they would say was film history. It would be difficult to go anywhere around the world, show the Predator to some random person and they not know what it is.

Predator was one of those films that people, at first, thought was just a mindless, popcorn flick. The type of cinema that was to be seen then forgotten for better fare. Yet, in the end, Predator ended up becoming not just a classic of its genre, but a perfect example of a film that transcends it’s genre roots to become just a great film, in general.

A Movie A Day #356: The Delta Force (1986, directed by Menahem Golan)


Last year, at this time, I set a goal for myself.

I decided that, in 2017, I would review a movie a day and I nearly succeeded. I didn’t review a movie on the day Chris Cornell died.  I missed a few days in March due to a sinus infection.  Including the review that I’m posting below, I reviewed 356 movies in 2017.  According to the year-end stats, my most popular reviews were for Heavy Metal Parking Lot, Slaughter, Body Chemistry 3, Body Chemistry 4, and Beatlemania.

Since tomorrow will be the start of a new year, this is going to be the end of my A Movie A Day experiment.  In 2018, I’ll still be watching movies and posting reviews on this site but this is my final daily review.  For my final Movie A Day, I picked the greatest movie of all time, The Delta Force!

Produced by Cannon Films, The Delta Force starts in 1980, with a helicopter exploding in the desert.  America’s elite special missions force has been sent to Iran to rescue the men and women being held hostage in the embassy.  The mission is a disaster with the members of Delta Force barely escaping with their lives.  Captain Chuck Norris tells his commanding officer, Col. Lee Marvin, that he’s finished with letting cowardly politicians control their missions.  Chuck heads to Montana while Lee spends the next few years hitting on the bartender at his local watering hole.

In 1985, terrorists led by Robert Forster hijack an airplane and divert it to Beirut.  Among those being held hostage: Martin Balsam, Shelley Winters, Lainie Kazan, Susan Strasberg, Kim Delaney, and Bo Svenson.  The great George Kennedy plays a priest named O’Malley who, when the Jewish passengers are moved to a separate location, declares himself to be Jewish and demands to be taken too.  Jerry Lazarus is a hostage who spends the movie holding a Cabbage Patch doll that his daughter gave him for luck.  Former rat packer Joey Bishop plays a passenger who says, “Beirut was beautiful then.  Beautiful.”  Fassbinder favorite Hanna Schygulla is the stewardess who refuses to help the terrorists because, “I am German!”

In America, General Robert Vaughn activates The Delta Force to rescue the hostages and take out the terrorists.  As Lee Marvin prepares everyone (including Cannon favorite, Steve James and, in a nonspeaking role, Liam Neeson) to leave, the big question is whether Chuck Norris will come out of retirement for the mission.  Of course, he does.  Even better, he brings his motorcycle with him.

Anyone who has ever seen The Delta Force remembers Chuck’s motorcycle.  Not only did it look incredibly cool but it was also mounted with machine guns and it could fire missiles at cowardly terrorists.  It didn’t matter whether you agreed with the film’s politics were or whether you even liked the movie, everyone who watched The Delta Force wanted Chuck’s motorcycle.  As the old saying goes, “You may be cool but you’ll never be Chuck Norris firing a missile from a motorcycle cool.”

The Delta Force is really three different films.  One film, shot in the style of a disaster film, is about the hostages on the plane and their evil captors.  The second film is Lee Marvin (in his final movie role) preparing his men to storm the airplane.  The third movie is Chuck Norris chasing Robert Forster on his motorcycle.  Put those three movies together and you have the ultimate Cannon movie.  The Delta Force was even directed by Cannon’s head honcho, Menahem Golan.  (Years earlier, Golan also directed Operation Thunderbolt, an Israeli film about the raid on Entebbe, which features more than a few similarities to The Delta Force.  Golan received his first and only Oscar nomination when Operation Thunderbolt was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film.)

The Delta Force is also the ultimate 80s movie.  It opens with the Carter administration fucking everything up and it ends with the Reagan administration giving Lee Marvin and Chuck Norris the greenlight to blow up some terrorists.  There is not much nuance to be found in The Delta Force but it still feels good to watch Chuck beat the bad guys.  Top that off with a shameless score from Alan Silvestri and you have one of the greatest action movies of all time.

At the end of The Delta Force, as cans of Budweiser are being passed out to rescued hostages, an extra is clearly heard to shout, “Beer!  America!”  Then everyone sings America The Beautiful.

That says it all.

Song of the Day: Taking A Stand (Henry Jackman)


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I’m a bit biased in that I do believe that at this very moment whatever film Marvel Studios releases I will probably like it. I’m very close to having drunk the MCU Kool-Aid. Which is a good thing that trashfilguru is here to keep me from drinking that delicious, overly sweetened drink by the liters.

I know that the MCU is not what one would call high-brow art, but I will admit that it’s a very entertaining piece of world-building that we really haven’t seen done in film history. Well, at least not in the scale that Kevin Feige and the creative minds over at Marvel Studios have been attempting (and succeeding) these past 7-8 years.

One film that I highly enjoyed and consider one of my favorites of 2014 (if not one of the best) was the sequel to Captain America: The First Avenger. This sequel was a game-changer in regards to the very cinematic universe that Marvel had been building since the first Iron Man. Captain America: The Winter Soldier looked to up-end the very foundation of this universe by making one of it’s bricks become something to not be trusted.

Lisa Marie did a great job in conveying my thoughts about what made Captain America: The Winter Soldier such a good film (I would say great, but again I have that glass of Kool-Aid). One aspect of the film that has been given little to know attention to has been Henry Jackman’s work as film composer for the sequel. In fact, the film’s score has been much-maligned just because the filmmakers made the decision to veer away from the Alan Silvestri musical cues and motifs that had become recognizable as Captain America.

Alan Silvestri did the film score for the first film, but Jackman was tasked with recoding the very musical DNA for the sequel. What we get is a film score that’s very minimalist and supplements well the very paranoia and conspiracy tone the film’s narrative took. This was quite the opposite of Silvestri’s score for the first film mirrored that film’s nostalgic and heroic themes.

The track “Taking A Stand” which scores the David Mack illustrated and Jim Steranko-influenced end credits sequence is a perfect example of why Jackman’s score for Captain America: The Winter Soldier should be put on more “best of 2014” lists.

Song of the Day: Captain America March (by Alan Silvestri)


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I think it would be safe to assume that the last week or so has been all about Captain America.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has been tearing up the box-office both here in the US and overseas. I have seen it twice already and most likely would be thrice if the issue of bills wasn’t coming up so soon. I’m still working on writing up a quick review about my thoughts on this latest Marvel Studios offering. Until then just enjoy one of the best pieces of film score ever created for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Alan Silvestri’s “Captain America March” from Captain America: The First Avenger definitely makes one feel the decency and righteousness of the good man that is Steve Rogers. It’s so earnestly patriotic (not jingoistic at all as some were afraid this score would be) that it echoes past classic John Williams scores for the Indiana Jones film franchise. It’s also one of the few film tracks where it makes great use of the brass and percussion section of the orchestra. This song wouldn’t feel out of place in a big band orchestra playing to help celebrate the soldiers coming home after VE-Day.

 

Song of the Day: The Avengers (by Alan Silvestri)


To say that Marvel Studios’ The Avengers has become a hit sensation since it’s release this weekend would be an understatement of cosmic proportions. I think almost everyone has seen it or, if that’s not the case, then there was a lot of people who saw it multiple times (guilty of seeing it twice over a 24-hour period). People were amazed by the action, spectacle, comedy and everything in-between. One thing that really stuck to me was the theme for the team itself. It’s that theme which I’ve chosen as the latest “Song of the Day”.

“The Avengers” theme was composed by noted and veteran film score composer Alan Silvestri (he was also instrumental in composing the very good film score for 2011’s Captain America). While I thought that Silvestri’s score for the whole film was quite good it was the theme for the group that stood out best. It had hints of the old-school heroic them from Captain America but within an overarching sound that didn’t denote a singular hero but a team coming together as a group of heroes.

One thing that rarely gets used in such heroic themes (at least haven’t been utilized of late) would be the French Horn section. In this theme they’re used to great effect and, to be honest, it’s the best use of French Horns in a film score since Basil Poledouris used it to great effect in his classic soundtrack to Conan the Barbarian. In fact, I’d say that this theme wad primarily all about the French Horns being backed up by the other sections of the orchestra. If one doesn’t know what a French Horn sounds like will hear it at it’s most epic around the 1:10 mark of the video. Now those are epic notes.

Now I go back to listening to this track while I continue to gather my thoughts for a review of this film.

TV Spot: The Avengers “Head Count”


We’re just a month away from the release of Marvel Studios’ long-awaited superhero team action film The Avengers. It’s a film that’s been many years in the making with five other Marvel Studio films released prior to it introducing the many characters who will form the ensemble for this project.

It’s not going to be much of a surprise to see many tv spots and on-line releases of 30-second clips to help hype a film that needs no more hyping. While it seems all these incoming tv spots just rehash the same scenes from the several trailers already released once in awhile we see a quick new scene that should help excite the fan-base even more. This time around that new scene is one of the Hulk himself taking on a couple of Loki’s alien army. All that is missing is the Hulk saying “Hulk Smash!” as he simply smashes one of these alien bastards.

The Avengers (retitled Avengers Assemble to differentiate itself from the awful The Avengers film adaptation of the British spy tv series of the same name) will have it’s world premiere on April 11, 2012 in Hollywood with a general wide release on May 4, 2012 starting in the US.