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)


Predator 1987

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.

The Predator (Final Trailer)


The Predator

The teaser trailer for this Shane Black production didn’t wow me, at all. Then the first trailer came out and a red band one at that. That one was an upgrade but I was still on the fence. They’ve released more teasers, international trailers and tv spot and, once again, I was still not fully sold on the film.

Today 20th Century Fox drops the final trailer for The Predator just two weeks from it’s release date of September 14. This just days after the studio confirmed that the film will be a very hard R-rating raised my interest level.

It is this final trailer (again another red band trailer) is what finally sold me on this film as a must-see. We still know only bits and pieces of what the film will be about but the trademark Shane Black quips and smartass attitude shows up much more clearly with this last trailer.

I actually enjoyed the last Predator film and I hope this one continues the trend and just entertains it’s audience.

Review: Chronicle (by Josh Trank)


“Found footage” films have become all the rage of late. Many attribute this to the extreme popularity of the Paranormal Activity films of the last couple years, but I like to think it goes even farther than that. Even before the aforementioned horror series we got the found footage horror of both the Spanish horror series [Rec] and it’s Americanized version with Quarantine. One thing which we haven’t gotten to see use this style of storytelling is the superhero genre which still continues to go strong. Filmmaker Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis (Masters of Horror: Deer Woman) solve this lack of superhero/found footage film with their surprisingly well-made Chronicle.

The film begins with one of three high school seniors, the shy and troubled Andrew (played by Dane DeHaan), testing out his new video camera. We learn through this first ten or so minutes of the film that his only friend in school is his own cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and that his plans for the new camera is to videotape everything that goes on through his day at school and at home. We learn much about Andrew during these first minutes of the film. We see that his home life consists of him worrying about his very sick mother and trying to avoid the wrath of his drunken, abusive father. School life is not any much better as he’s bullied by other classmates and seen as a non-entity by the rest outside of his cousin Matt. It is his cousin who invites him to a rave party in one scene which will lead up to the two meeting up with a third high school senior, the very popular Steven (payed by Michael B. Jordan), and their discovery of something strange in deep in the woods.

We never get any full explanation as to the origin of the mysterious object the three teens find underground, but all we know afterwards is how it’s given Andrew, Matt and Steven the ability to move things with their minds. This new found ability is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg as all three learn more about their new found powers. Matt figures out that their power is like a muscle and constant use just strengthens and enhances what they’re able to do. All three react to having superpowers as all high school teenagers would when confronted with such a situation: they become giddy boys behaving badly.

They test out their powers on the unsuspecting public at the local mall parking lot and stores. It’s all pretty much harmless, teenage fun until an accident caused by Andrew shows all three the inherent dangers in their new abilities. Matt wants ground rules in how they use their powers with Steven following suit, but Andrew doesn’t understand why the need for them even though he’s remorseful of what he had caused. It’s the beginning of small cracks in the relationship between the three teens that would widen as the film moves into it’s second half with less joy and lighthearted fun and more darkness as one of the three begins to act out on his troubles both at home and in school.

Chronicle could almost be a coming-of-age story in addition to being an origins story that superhero films seem required to do. We see Matt, the cousin, grow from being the wannabe intellectual into someone genuinely caring about what is happening to his introverted cousin Andrew. Steven, the popular football captain and student body president, learns more about Andrew and how he his new friend’s troubled upbringing concerns him enough to try and bring Andrew out from his protective shell and make him more confident about himself. With Andrew we see a teenager who many would feel much sympathy for. He’s the kid who symbolizes the turmoil a growing teen must go through both emotionally and psychologically. Whether it’s rebelling from familial authority or trying to survive the dangerous waters of high school life. We can see ourselves in Andrew’s shoes and his reaction to finally having the ability to fight back against those who have made his life a living hell feed our own fantasies as teenagers to be able to do the same.

All of this would be moot if the film ended up being uninteresting, bland and boring. Fortunately the film doesn’t end up being any of those three. What we get is a fun and thrilling film which takes both the superhero genre and the found footage gimmick and adds some new wrinkles that combines towards a fresh new take on both. Found footage films have the unenviable task of convincing the audience that we’d believe someone would be lugging around a camera all the time and find ways to videotape every moment to create a believable narrative. It’s a leap in logic that will sink or swim these types of films. With Chronicle we see how their new abilities solves this particular dilemma in found footage stories. Being able to move things with one’s mind should make it easy to film yourself without having to hold the camera and instead have it floating and following one around.

The film also does a great job in building up these characters into believable ones with their own back stories and motivations. We’re not left with basic cutouts of what we think teenagers are in films. Max Landis’ screenplay goes a long way in turning these three into real teenagers and their reactions in their new powers were quite believable. How else would teen boys react to finding out they’re now superheroes, but behave badly and use them not for the benefit of others but to have fun.

The film could easily have gone the route of making them want to start helping others (though in Steven’s case he does try to help Andrew become more outgoing through the use of his abilities), but that would’ve felt disingenuous and unrealistic. Even the film’s dialogue seemed to flow naturally without having to resort to witty teen-speak that some writers think teen conversations are full of. It helps that the performances of the three actors playing the three teens came off as well-done. Dane DeHaan as the troubled Andrew comes off looking best of all three with his reactions to his own personal troubles coming off as real and not as some young actor trying too hard to try and impress.

For a found footage film Chronicle does a great job in recreating the look and feel of the three teens superpowers. Whether it’s moving things around with their mind or flying through the sky, the film makes each and every act look like something that could happen for real. The scenes of destruction which encompasses the climactic sequence of the film look very realistic and on the small-budget (when compared to most superhero films) come off as very impressive. The technique of each scene being part of video camera footage (whether they’re handheld HD cameras or smartphone footages) allowed for whatever CGI-effect used to look seemless and not artificial looking.

January and February have always been the dumping ground for films the studios either have little faith in or think don’t deserve the much more lucrative summer blockbuster and holiday season months. Chronicle manages to make its case that this would’ve been one film that could’ve done well playing around with the mega-budgeted blockbusters this summer and hold it’s own. It’s a film that takes a simple premise and creates something not just fun and exciting, but also takes a delve into the psyche of the teenage mind and all the pitfalls and dangers one can find themselves in navigating through it. Chronicle is one of the better films in these early months of the 2012 film season and overall probably one of the better one’s by year’s end.