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.

A Movie A Day #354: Lolly-Madonna XXX (1973, directed by Richard C. Sarafian)


In the backwoods of Hicksville, USA, two families are feuding.  Laban Feather (Rod Steiger, bellowing even more than usual) and Pap Gutshall (Robert Ryan) were once friends but now they are committed rivals.  They claim that the fight started when Pap bought land that once belonged to Laban but it actually goes back farther than that.  Laban and Pap both have a handful of children, all of whom have names like Thrush and Zeb and Ludie and who are all as obsessed with the feud as their parents.  When the Gutshall boys decide to pull a prank on the Feather boys, it leads to the Feathers kidnapping the innocent Roonie (Season Hubley) from a bus stop.  They believe that Roonie is Lolly Madonna, the fictional fiancée of Ludie Gutshall (Kiel Martin).  Zack Feather (Jeff Bridges), who comes the closest of any Feather to actually having common sense, is ordered to watch her while the two families prepare for all-out war.  Zack and Roonie fall in love, though they do not know that another Feather brother has also fallen in love with Gutshall daughter.  It all leads to death, destruction, and freeze frames.

Lolly-Madonna XXX is a strange film.  It starts out as a typical hicksploitation flick before briefly becoming a backwoods Romeo and Juliet and finally ending up as a heavy-handed metaphor for both the Vietnam War and the social upheaval at home.  Along with all the backwoods drama, there is a fantasy sequence where Hawk Feather (Ed Lauter) briefly imagines himself as an Elvis-style performer.  (Hawk also dresses up in Roonie’s underwear.)  Probably the most interesting thing about Lolly-Madonna XXX is the collection of actors who show up playing Feathers and Gutshalls.  Along with Steiger, Ryan, Martin, Bridges, and Lauter, everyone from Randy Quaid to Paul Koslo to Scott Wilson to Gary Busey has a role to play in the feud.  Lolly-Madonna XXX is too uneven and disjointed to really be considered a good movie but I can say that I have never seen anything else like it.

One final note: Lolly-Madonna XXX was directed by Richard Sarafian, who is best known for another early 70s cult classic, Vanishing Point.

A Movie A Day #332: Surviving The Game (1994, directed by Ernest R. Dickerson)


Jack Mason (Ice-T) has been living on the streets of Seattle ever since the death of his wife and daughter.  When Cole (Charles S. Dutton), the friendly man at the soup kitchen, tells Mason that he can get him a job, the suicidal Mason accepts.  It turns out that a group of wealthy men are going on a hunting trip and they need a guide to lead them through the wilderness.  Mason accepts but, upon arriving, he discovers that the men (who are played by Rutger Hauer, F. Murray Abraham, William McNamara, John C. McGinley, and, of course, Gary Busey) are actually planning on playing the most dangerous game and hunting him for the weekend.

There are definitely better versions out there of Richard Connell’s famous short story.  One of the best, John Woo’s Hard Target, was released a year before Surviving the Game.  Both films share the idea of rich men hunting down the homeless for fun.  Surprisingly, it is Woo’s film that seems to take the idea, with all of its societal implications, more seriously.  Surviving the Game may present Jack Mason as being a suicidal homeless man but there is never any doubt that he is actually Ice-T, everyone’s favorite rapper and all-around badass.  But it’s precisely because Ice-T has such a recognizable persona that Surviving the Game is a guilty pleasure.  There is never any doubt that Ice-T can survive the game because Ice-T is the fucking game.  Matching Ice-T every step of the way is a rogue’s gallery of recognizable character actors, all of whom bring a different type of crazy to the proceedings.  When a movie delivers the spectacle of Ice-T being hunted by and then hunting Gary Busey and Rutger Hauer, it is easy to forgive whatever plot holes might be present in the script.

One final note: Surviving the Game was directed by Ernest R. Dickerson.  Dickerson got his start of Spike Lee’s cinematographer so it’s not surprising that Surviving the Game looks great.

 

A Movie A Day #194: Lethal Tender (1996, directed by John Bradshaw)


Detective David Chase (Jeff Fahey) should not be mistaken for the creator of The Sopranos.  Instead, he is an eccentric and tough Chicago policeman, the type of cop who appears to have seen Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon one too many times.  His superiors send Detective Chase and his partner to keep an eye on a strike occurring outside of a water purification plant.  Chase, however, is less interested in the strike and more interested in hitting on Melissa (Carrie-Ann Moss), who works at the plant.

Before you can say Die Hard All Over Again, a band of terrorists led by Montessi (Kim Coates) seizes control of the plant.  Montessi threatens to poison all of Chicago’s drinking water but, what the authorities don’t realize, is that the attack is really just a distraction, designed to keep everyone from noticing Mr. Turner (Gary Busey) and his men running off with a bunch of stolen government bonds.  Since Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal, and even Jean-Claude Van Damme were busy, it is up to Jeff Fahey to save the water, the money, and the day!

A Die Hard rip-off starring Gary Busey, Kim Coates, and Jeff Fahey does not actually have to be any good.  All the movie has to do is let those three actors do their thing and it will be watchable.  That is certainly the case with Lethal Tender, which is entertaining even if it is, ultimately, just another predictable Die Hard ripoff.  Jeff Fahey does okay as the hero but Lethal Tender belongs to the villains.  This was made in the days when Gary Busey playing crazy was still enjoyable instead of just sad.  Realizing that he was going to have to compete with Busey’s legendary ability to overact, Coates chews every piece of scenery that he can get his hands on.  Launching a major terrorist strike to cover up a simple robbery might seem like overkill but watching Busey and Coates compete to see who can steal the most scenes is so much fun that it really doesn’t matter that Chicago’s drinking water might get poisoned as a result of their shenanigans.

For fans of Busey and Coates, Lethal Tender is required viewing.  For everyone else, it’s the most successful attempt ever made to transport the plot of Die Hard to a water filtration plant.

A Movie A Day #165: Big Wednesday (1978, directed by John Milius)


If there is a male bonding hall of fame, Big Wednesday has to be front and center.

This episodic movie follows three legendary surfers over twelve years of change and turmoil.  Jack Barlowe (William Katt) is the straight arrow who keeps the peace.  Leroy “The Masochist” Smith (Gary Busey) is the wild man.  Matt Johnson (Jan-Michael Vincent) is the best surfer of them all but he resents both his fame and the expectation that he should be some sort of role model for the younger kids on the beach.  From 1962 until 1974, the three of them learn about love and responsibility while dealing with cultural turmoil (including, of course, the Vietnam War) and waiting for that one legendary wave.

After writing the screenplays for Dirty Harry and Apocalypse Now and directing The Wind and The Lion and Dillinger, John Milius finally got to make his dream project.  Big Wednesday was based on Milius’s own youth as a California surfer and he has said that all three of the main characters were based on different aspects of his own personality.  Expectations for Big Wednesday were so high that Milius’s friends, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, exchanged percentages points for Star Wars and Close Encounters of  The Third Kind for a point of Big Wednesday.  The deal turned out to be worth millions to Milius but nothing to Lucas and Spielberg because Big Wednesday was a notorious box office flop.  Warner Bros. sold the film as a raunchy comedy, leaving audiences surprised to discover that Big Wednesday was actually, in Milius’s words, a “coming-of-age story with Arthurian overtones.”

I can understand why Big Wednesday may not be for everyone but it is one of my favorite movies.  It is one of the ultimate guy films.  Some of the dialogue and the narration may be overwrought but so are most guys, especially when they’re the same age as the surfers in Big Wednesday.  We all like to imagine that we are heroes in some sort of epic adventure.  The surfing footage is amazing but it is not necessary to be a surfer to relate to the film’s coming-of-age story or its celebration of the enduring bonds of friendship.  Katt, Vincent, and Busey all give great performances.  Considering their later careers, it is good that Big Wednesday is around to remind us of what Gary Busey and Jan-Michael Vincent were capable of at their best, before their promising careers were derailed by drugs and mental illness.  Be sure to also keep an eye out for infamous 70s character actor Joe Spinell as an army psychiatrist, a pre-Nightmare on Elm Street Robert Englund, playing a fellow surfer and providing the film’s narration, and Barbara Hale, playing the patient mother of her real-life son, William Katt.

One final note: At a time when the shameful stereotype of the psycho Vietnam vet was becoming popular and unfairly tarnishing the reputation of real-life vets, Big Wednesday was unique for featuring a character who not only joins the Army but who appears to return as a better person as a result.

Insomnia File #24: A Star is Born (dir by Frank Pierson)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If you found yourself awake and unable to sleep at 2:30 this morning, you could have always turned over to TCM and watched the 1976 film, A Star is Born. 

A Star is Born gets off to a good start by having Gary Busey give Kris Kristofferson a hit of cocaine.  As I pointed out on twitter, no movie that starts with Gary Busey offering cocaine to Kris Kristofferson can be all bad.

Anyway, Kris is playing John Norman Howard.  John Norman Howard is a big 70s rock star, which means that he has a beard and a bad case of ennui.  Despite all of the cocaine and whiskey, his career is on a downward spiral.  Part of the problem appears to be that he only sings one song and, half the time, he still can’t bring himself to remember all of the lyrics.  The song opens with John growling, “Are you a figment of my imagination or am I one of yours?” and John always ends up storming off stage before we can hear the rest of it.

Anyway, John ends up at this club in Hollywood that looks a lot like the place that Ryan Gosling opened up at the end of La La Land.  While at the club, John gets into a fight with Robert Englund (who I assume was playing a young Freddy Krueger) and totally interrupts the performance of the Oreos.

Who are the Oreos?   They’re a folk-singin’ power trio.  There’s One (Venetta Fields) and Two (Clydie King).  (According to the credits, that’s actually their names.)  And then there’s Esther Hoffman, who has a truly horrid perm and who is played by Barbra Streisand.  One and Two are black.  Esther, who stands right in the middle whenever they perform, is white.  And they’re called The Oreos!

Uhmmm, yeah…

Anyway, we really don’t learn anything about One or Two, beyond the fact that they are totally and completely devoted to Esther.  When Esther gets them fired from recording a cat food jingle, they just smile and laugh.  Sure, why not!?  After all, it’s not like struggling musicians need money or anything.  When Esther interrupts a performance to yell at John, One and Two smile and laugh.  When Esther, under John’s tutelage, becomes a big star and basically abandons the Oreos, One and Two show up at a recording session and smile and laugh.

Last night was my first time to actually see A Star is Born, though I had heard and read quite a bit about it.  Of all the versions of A Star is Born, this one made the most money at the box office but it also got the worst reviews.  Reportedly, the film’s production was a trainwreck with Barbra Streisand and then-boyfriend Jon Peters fighting with … well, everyone.

And yet, like so many cinematic trainwrecks, you simply cannot look away from it.  This version of A Star is Born gets so many things wrong that it becomes rather fascinating to watch.  Perhaps the scene that epitomizes A Star is Born comes when John refuses to perform his one song at a benefit concert and instead, brings out Esther and has her perform her songs.  First off, John’s hard rock band suddenly transforms into a Broadway orchestra and John’s audience — who presumably had paid money to hear that growling song about imagination — is overjoyed to instead have to listen to Esther’s style of lite pop/rock.  (Actually, to even call it rock is to needlessly stretch the definition of rock to its breaking point.)  Making the scene even more bizarre is that 1) John is basically exploiting a benefit concert to launch Esther’s career and 2) since the concert was being performed to support the American Indian Movement, the disembodied head of a Native American woman keeps appearing over Esther’s shoulder while she’s performing songs that have absolutely nothing to do with the cause that the concert is supposedly supporting.  It’s kind of the cinematic equivalent of that Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial.

Anyway, things get even better when John buys an empty field and, in a ten minute montage, John and Esther literally build a house.  Seriously, I’m not kidding.  At no point do we see anyone other than John and Esther working on that house and yet, within a matter of minutes, they have an adobe mansion to live in.  I had no idea it was so easy to build a house.  It makes me wonder why people waste money buying houses when they can just buy an empty field and build their own.

(Maybe they’re scared of the poltergeists.  Imagine how different this version of A Star Is Born would have been if it ended with Esther grabbing John and screaming, “YOU MOVED THE HEADSTONES BUT YOU LEFT THE BODIES, DIDN’T YOU!?  YOU LEFT THE BODIES!”)

Kris Kristofferson is well-cast as John Norman Howard but the film is pretty much centered around Barbra.  That, in itself, wouldn’t be a problem if not for the fact that Barbra is completely miscast.  She’s a great singer but she’s not a rock singer.  You never believe that the same people who want to hear John sing his one song would also want to hear any of Esther’s songs.  The fact that the film is basically 140 minutes of everyone insisting that Esther is the future of music only reminds us of the fact that she’s not.  Her style is throwback to the past, which is one reason why everyone’s grandmother loves Barbra Streisand.

This wouldn’t be such a big deal if Barbra and Kris actually had any chemistry but they really don’t.  There’s a scene where Barbra and Kris take a bath together and Barbra puts makeup on Kris’s face.  Between two people who have chemistry, that would be sexy and sweet.  Between Kris and Barbra, it’s just kind of icky and you find yourself wondering who took the time to light the hundreds of candles surrounding them.  Whenever Barbra and Kris kissed, I worried for her just because all I could think of was the stubble burn that Esther would have to deal with later.

Yet, in the end, the film makes so many mistakes that it becomes one of the most watchable movies ever made.  It may not be good but it sure is entertaining.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part

Cheers for THE LAST AMERICAN HERO (20th Century Fox 1973)


cracked rear viewer

lah1

The world of NASCAR racing takes center stage in THE LAST AMERICAN HERO, a fictionalized biopic of legendary driver Junior Johnson. But this isn’t just a film about stock cars; it’s an extraordinary character study of a young man from the backwoods of North Carolina who discovers himself and what’s important to him. Jeff Bridges is outstanding in his first full-fledged starring role, demonstrating at age 24 the acting chops that have carried him to a long and prosperous film career.

lah2

Junior Jackson hauls moonshine for his Daddy on the winding backroads of  the Carolina hills, his tactics eluding the cops at every turn. He’s cocky and confident, and pisses the local law off so much they bust up Daddy’s still and send him back to prison. Junior decides to use his only marketable skill to raise money for the family while Daddy’s away – driving. He enters a demolition derby…

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