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.

Trailer: Kill Me Three Times (Red Band)


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Once in awhile we come across a little film that we would never have bothered to even check out if not for the reach of the interwebs.

One such film is the Australian black comedy thriller Kill Me Three Times which had a screening at 2014’s Toronto International Film Festival. It stars Simon Pegg (channeling his inner Sean Connery mustache by way of Zardoz), Teresa Palmer and Callan Mulvey.

From the red band trailer it looks to be quite the violent little black comedy that Simon Pegg seems to be quite adept at. Interesting to note that this film will probably introduce the rest of the world to a third Hemsworth brother (they must clone them Down Under or something).

Quick Review: Elysium (dir. by Neill Blomkamp)


elysium-firstposter-full2In 2009, director Neill Blomkamp gave us District 9, a quiet film that amazed with its visuals of an Earth populated by refugee aliens from space. Produced by Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, the film was a great success in some ways for both the director and its lead, Sharlto Copley. Both Copley and Blomkamp reunite in Elysium, also adding Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga, William Fichtner & Diego Luna.

I’ll admit that on seeing the film, I was impressed by the visuals, but my hype machine was cranked just a little too high. Any disappointments with the film are the result of my expectations after seeing the trailer. I thought I was going to see something similar to the upcoming game Watch Dogs, where maybe Matt Damon’s character would be able to hack & control a whole network, using it as he saw fit.  He’d flip cars, crash planes and cause all sorts of interesting mayhem. The kid in me jumped in his seat at the thought of that.

What I got, however, wasn’t quite that. It came off feeling like a cooler, much better written version of 1995’s Johnny Mnemonic. This isn’t a bad thing by any means. The first hour of the film was very solid, but the second half shifted gears somewhat (at least for me, anyway).

Elysium is the tale of Max Da Costa (Damon), a former car thief who lives and works on Earth in the year 2154. The world is divided into an even greater scale of the Have’s and Have-Not’s. Most live on the overpopulated planet under horrid working conditions, run down pavelas and broken down roads. Those who can afford it can buy a ticket to live on Elysium, a large habitat orbiting the planet, filled with Mansions and other luxury homes. The houses also contain medical systems that can cure any ailment. When Max suffers an accident on the job that leaves him with only 5 days left to live, his immediate goal is to get to Elysium to cure himself. With the help of his friend Julio, Max meets up with a former associate from his crime days for a job that could give him what he needs. In order to complete his mission, Max is outfitted with an exosuit that makes him stronger. Considering that most of his enemies are robot sentries, the suit becomes a necessary asset.

Elysium is protected by Delacourt (Foster), who makes sure that any unauthorized ship is diverted. When Max’s job directly intervenes with plans of her own, she enlists the aid of Kruger (Copley), a somewhat unstable mercenary to clean things up. Will Max be able to heal himself? That’s what you’ll need to see to find out.

Visually, the movie is pretty good. Elysium itself is a marvel. If there was ever a Mass Effect movie to be made, effects makers wouldn’t have any problems recreating the Citadel space station, based on what you see here. Robot Police using futuristic weapons are well rendered, though they don’t really have the cool factor of something like say, I, Robot or Total Recall. It’s minimal in some ways, but effective. For a budget of just $115 Million, Blomkamp and his crew knew where to put the money.

Musically speaking, I did a bit of searching and found that supposedly the score comes from newcomer Ryan Amon, who Blomkamp found on YouTube. The music does the film some justice, though it isn’t anything sweeping and grand. It does what it needs to for the film, at least that’s how I felt. I hope to see more in the future from Amon, actually.

Cast wise, Damon is effective as always and I’ll admit that I liked Jodie Foster in this one, though she didn’t seem like she was given too much to do. The same almost applies to Alice Braga, who plays Da Costa’s childhood friend, Frey. Both Diego Luna and Wagner Moura (as Spider, Max’s former associate) had some interesting moments. The standout by far is Sharlto Copley. His Afrikaans accent is pretty strong, and almost makes it hard for you to catch what he’s saying, but he’s creepy. If the Simpsons’ Groundskeeper Willy somehow caught rabies, his mannerisms would probably be what you get from Copley in this film. Very wild stuff there. He and the effects are the best parts of the film for me.

On the second half of the film, I felt as if the film shifted from a drama to an action film, but I don’t know. There was something odd about it. It wasn’t new for me – District 9 did the same thing in it’s 2nd half, but Elysium seemed as if with all the robots and all the guards, some of the events occurred just too easily and without their intervention. I didn’t get a feeling that there was danger around every corner, but that’s just me and it’s a very minor gripe on my part. There weren’t too many cheer moments for me (and by “cheer moments”, I refer to those scenes where you want to yell something but keep yourself in check – or forget to do so and yell anyway like with Pacific Rim). It was a little generic for me, despite the original and fresh elements leading up to it in the setting and Da Costa’s sense of purpose.

Overall, Elysium gives the audience an interesting situation, and populates it with at least 2 good characters (in Kruger and Da Costa). See it for the visuals and the solid first half, but don’t expect the story to be the best thing in the world. Just enjoy it for the escapism.

Trailer: Elysium (2nd Official)


Elysium

I know it’s been done and written for what seems like hundreds of times that Neill Blomkamp was given the chance to direct a planned live-action film adaptation of the highly popular video game franchise Halo. Seeing how his directorial full-feature debut with District 9 proved that Peter Jackson was correct in trying to give the mega-budgeted project to the young South African, but also set Blomkamp as filmmaker who had given himself that rare commodity in Hollywood: the ability to pick and choose his next projects.

He could easily have taken the money and accolades from that first film and taken the first major action project sent his way, but Blomkamp took that rare commodity and decided to do another sci-fi film that combined not just his flair for action and gritty sci-fi visuals, but what looks to be his storytelling style of using current sociological problems (immigration, class divide, etc…for his latest film) as themes for his film.

Elysium arrives with a new trailer from TriStar Pictures and it’s parent company Sony Pictures. The first trailer gave a taste of the ideas that drive the film’s plot. This second (and much longer trailer) gives us a much more detailed look into the film’s three main characters played by Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley. It also gives us a longer look at the two contrasting art designs for society on Earth and that on Elysium.

Oh, did I also mention that the trailer almost makes it seem that it could be a trailer-run for any future Mass Effect live-action film. I saw more than one instance of what could be the use of “biotics” in the trailer by Sharlto Copley’s Kruger character.

Elysium is set to arrive in theaters on August 9, 2013 in both regular and IMAX screens.

Trailer: Elysium (Official)


Elysium

It’s not often that a filmmaker makes such a major splash in the industry with their initial full-length film becoming not just a commercial success but one which gained widespread critical-acclaim. South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp is one such filmmaker. Initially tapped by Peter Jackson to direct the planned HALO film adaptation Blomkamp ended up doing District 9 (based off of his own short film Alive in Joburg).

The film became the sensation of San Diego Comic-Con 2009 which raised the hype for it’s inevitable release a month later. It’s now been 4 years since District 9 and we finally get a chance to see the first official trailer (a 10-minute film reel was shown to invited industry and press which showed a bit more of what the film will be about) for Blomkamp’s much awaited follow-up to his hit first film.

Elysium looks to continue Blomkamp’s attempt to bring social awareness to the scifi genre and do so with a mixture of real-world gritty realism and scifi fantasy. just looking at the trailer the space station Elysium where all the rich and privilege live in a paradise-setting look like an amalgam of the HALO ringworlds and the Citadel Station from Mass Effect.

It’s still months away, but just this teaser of a trailer has just raised Elysium to the top of my list for most awaited films of 2013. If it’s as good or better than District 9 then Blomkamp will cement himself as one of his generation’s best instead of a flash in the pan like so many of his contemporaries.

Elysium is set for a wide release date of August 9, 2013.

Review: Repo Men (dir. by Miguel Sapochnik)


In the beginning of 2010 a scifi-horror film arrived in the theaters to much internet hype. This film showed a future world where a massive societal change and the resulting health crisis following it was described in detail. It was a film which cleverly built a world so different from out very own yet still very similar in its foundation. This film was Daybreakers and for all the wonderful world-building it did to establish a foundation for the story being told the film couldn’t find it’s way to having the film’s plot match what the filmmakers’ established in the beginning. I say this because it is now late March 2010 and another film has done another wonderful job of establishing a future world so very different and yet so very similar in many ways. Where the Spierig Brothers failed in more ways than one to have the rest of Daybreakers live up to the world established in the beginning and a premise that was quite new, Miguel Sapochnik did a much better job — albeit still flawed — in allowing the plot for Repo Men live up to the world established in the opening minutes of the film.

In the near future of Repo Men medical science and technology has advance far enough that most organs and parts of the human body can be artificially replaced when they failed. While this detail of the film sounds like the makings of a future utopia it’s actually much closer to our own reality in that these organs, despite being mass-produced, are still only affordable to the rich. Artificial organs (artiforgs in this film’s vocabulary) sold to the rich like luxury items. Those not-so-rich, but desperate to try and find a way to change a fatal health situation, also offered these artiforgs on a monthly payment plan suitable to their current expense situation. It’s mostly these payment plan artiforg owners who experience the skill sets of the so-called “repo men.” These are individuals employed by the artiforg company called The Union who sell the products. When someone misses too many payments on their artiforgs and goes delinquent on their payment plan then the repo men will be knocking on their door to take back the synthetic organ. It’s similar to banks repossessing cars and homes when payments are not made.

The film’s told in the point of view of one of these repo men. Jude Law’s character Remy is one of The Union’s top repo men who we see enjoys his work despite the ultimate consequence of what he does to the people whose artiforgs he takes back. His partner is Jake (played with childish glee by Forest Whitaker). The two have been friends since grade school and both share a similar sense of sociopathy when it comes to violence. To say that they’re like brothers minus the shared genetics won’t be too far off. The first third of Repo Men shows the audience these two organ repossessors in their element as they hunt down those delinquent in their plan and those who have turned to the black market for their artiforgs. The film’s touches upon the current public hysteria of the two sides in the health care debate. While the film touches upon this current debate it does so without being too broad or preachy. It’s done subtly and without having it distract the audience from the film’s story.

The film does sing and move at an entertaining pace during the first third, but inevitably it does reach a point where the conflict of the story shows itself to add a dramatic ingredient to the film. It’s during what was to be Remy’s final repo mission before he heads over to a less paying, but safer job as sales in The Union that he goes from the repossesser to potential possessee. The switch in roles soon has Remy unable to do what he’s been so good at as cutting into someone delinquent on their artiforg when he himself now has one keeping him alive. It’s a common storytelling telling idea of the insider getting a taste of their own medicine and seeing how the other side lives. Avatar used it late last year and Daybreakers did it clumsily earlier this year.

This second third of the film has some character development flaws which could be attributed to some of the script’s weakness. While Remy’s sudden inability to do his job as a repo man after his own artiforg surgery makes sense the one-note characterization of his wife (played by the Black Book‘s Carice von Houten) who leaves him during this crisis of faith adds an unnecessary factor to his problems. In actuality the roles of the wife and Remy’s son could’ve easily been left off the film and just had the story be about Remy and his long-time friend and fellow repo man Jake. This would’ve been enough conflict and drama to power the rest of the film. This is where less would’ve definitely more and keep the story lean, mean and definitely more efficient. But even with this misstep in the film’s script it doesn’t sink the film. This could be attributed to some strong performances from Jude Law who manages to credibly transition from what amounts to be a paid serial killer to one having his eyes opened to the devastation he has wrought on individuals and families. Even the scene-chewing done by Whitaker as Jake doesn’t diminish Law’s performance and instead just shows that despite some of the horrible things Remy’s done he’s actually the sanest person in the film w/ everyone else close around him playing certain caricatures whose roles are to push him one way or another to picking a side on the issue of artiforgs and their repo issues.

It is in the beginning of the third act which may make or break the film for those who have stayed with it through the first acts. A particular even happens which transitions act to three which ramps up the action to it’s bloodiest and, at times, quite Cronenbergian level. It is this third act which pays homage to several great action-thrillers of the past decade. One scene in particular tries to emulate the classic hallway fight scene from Oldboy. This time around more weapons are used from knives, guns and all the way to a medical hacksaw. This scene leads up to another which pays homage to another Jude Law film of the past with a Cronenberg pedigree. While bloodier than similar scenes in eXistenZ there’s no denying that Sapochnik sure loves his Cronenberg. The climactic finish to the film before a sort of epilogue of a twist just builds and builds throughout the third act. For some the epilogue’s reveal may and will ruin the rest of the film as it seems like a cop-out of a plot twist, but I thought it was actually well done and gives a new meaning to the conventional Hollywood happy ending to an action-thriller.

As a first-time feature-film director Miguel Sapochnik has a deft and keen eye for visuals. The artistic design of the near-future world of Repo Men shows influences from the consumeristic dystopian future of Blade Runner up to the grounded in futurist science of Spielberg’s Minority Report. He’s quite adept at blocking and handling the many action setpieces which helped keep the film from being bogged down by flaws in the script and some uninspired characters. Sapochnik does need to get a better feel for how his cast interacts with each other. As stated earlier with the exception of Law’s Remy character and Liev Schrieber’s delicious turn as a gleefully amoral example of corporate evil at its best, the rest of the cast seem uninspired from von Houten’s role as Remy’s wife right up to Alice Braga’s performance as Beth, the artiforg addicted singer Remy hooks up with halfway through the film.

Repo Men could’ve easily gone highbrow in addition to keeping to it’s genre trappings the way the Spierig Brothers tried to do with Daybreakers. Fortunately, Sapochnik w/ writers Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner kept things focused on Remy’s journey from hunter to prey to “savior” without trying to overly explain his motivations. While they weren’t subtle in all things they tried to tell with the story they gamely tried to stick to the rule of showing and not telling everything. For his directing debut Sapochnik does a good job despite he flaws and shows promise.

In the end, Repo Men is a very good scifi action-thriller which delivers on its title. Despite missteps in the writing and some uninspired characters the film still turned out to be quite entertaining. It was a fast-paced film with several bloody, gore-filled action setpieces timed to pick up the film when dialogue and exposition starts to drag it down. Miguel Sapochnik’s debut feature-film could easily have turned off the rails and went in so many different directions but he kept things on the straight and narrow. While for some the ending will infuriate and negate what fun they were having through most of the film it also would be seen by others as an inspired take on the Hollywood happy ending. Repo Men won’t be mistaken as the next Brazil and Sapochnik won’t be mistaken as the next Cronenberg or Park Chan-wook, but both filmmaker and film is better than it should be and wholly entertaining from start to finish.