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.

Lisa’s Oscar Predictions for July


Well, here we are.  We’re more than halfway through the year and, to be honest, the Oscar forecast seems just as cloudy as ever.

To be honest, I’m starting to get the feeling that this is going to be a year where the Academy is more concerned with sending a message than anything else.  Just as the Emmy nominations were all about sticking it to Trump (as opposed to actually honoring the best that television has to offer), it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Academy try to do the same thing.  That doesn’t mean that the nominees aren’t going to deserve to be nominated, of course.  Instead, it just means that this might be a good year for films with a political agenda.

Anyway, here are my predictions for July!  They’re still pretty random, to be honest.  Be sure to also check out my predictions for January, February, March, April, May, and June!

Best Picture

Backseat

Black Panther

BlackKklansman

Boy Erased

The Favourite

First Man

If Beale Street Could Talk

Mary, Queen of Scots

Old Man and The Gun

Widows

Best Director

Damien Chazelle for First Man

Barry Jenkins for If Beale Street Could Talk

Yorgos Lanthimos for The Favourite

Spike Lee for BlackKklansman

Josie Rourke for Mary, Queen of Scots

Best Actor

Christian Bale in Backseat

Steve Carell in Beautiful Boy

Ryan Gosling in First Man

Robert Redford in Old Man and The Gun

John David Washington in BlackKklansman

Best Actress

Glenn Close in The Wife

Felicity Jones in On the Basis of Sex

Keira Knightley in Colette

Rosamund Pike in A Private War

Saoirse Ronan in Mary, Queen of Scots

Best Supporting Actor

Russell Crowe in Boy Erased

Sam Elliott in A Star is Born

Topher Grace in BlackKklansman

Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther

Sam Rockwell in Backseat

Best Supporting Actress

Claire Foy in First Man

Nicole Kidman in Boy Erased

Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk

Margot Robbie in Mary, Queen of Scots

Sissy Spacek in Old Man and the Gun

Insomnia File #21: Truth (dir by James Vanderbilt)


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, last night, you found yourself awake at three in the morning, you could have turned over to Starz and watched the 2015 film, Truth.

I can’t say for sure whether or not Truth would have put you to sleep.  It kept me awake, largely because I was in a state of shock that any movie could be as bad as what I was watching.  Without running the risk of hyperbole, I can say that Truth is one of the worst fucking movies that I’ve ever seen in my entire life.  It’s not just that the film is poorly scripted, inconsistently acted, and directed in the most heavy-handed way possible.  No, the problems with Truth went far beyond mere execution.  Truth is a film with an agenda, one that I kind of agree with, but it’s such a total misfire that it ends up doing more damage to its cause than good.  Truth is meant to be a defense of the much maligned mainstream media but it’s so poorly put together that it’s easy to imagine it being one of Donald Trump’s guilty pleasures.  Remember how all of us musical theater nerds used to hatewatch Smash?  I imagine that the White House staff does the same thing with Truth.

Truth is ostensibly based on a true story.  In 2004, veteran anchorman Dan Rather (played by Robert Redford) reported a story that then-President George W. Bush got preferential treatment while he was serving in the Air National Guard.  This story was considered to be especially big because 1) the Iraq War was deeply unpopular, 2) Bush was in a tight race for reelection, 3) his opponent, John F. Kerry, didn’t have much to offer beyond having served in Vietnam, and 4) questions were being raised about what Kerry actually did in Vietnam.

One of the most important pieces of evidence in Rather’s story were four memos that had been provided by a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the Air National Guard, a veteran Bush-hater named Bill Burkett (played, in the film, by Stacy Keach).  Shortly after the story aired, conservative bloggers claimed that the memos were obvious forgeries.  After spending weeks defending the story and haughtily dismissing anyone who didn’t collect an eight-figure paycheck from CBS, Rather admitted on air that the authenticity of the memos could not be verified.  In the wake of the scandal, Rather’s longtime producer, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett), was fired.  Rather retired a year earlier than expected and went on to become one of those reliably dull commentators who occasionally emerges to complain about how the world hasn’t been the same since Adlai Stevenson died.  Mapes later wrote a book, which argued that 1) the memos were authentic and 2) it didn’t actually matter whether they were authentic, even though they like so totally were.

With all the current talk about fake news and whether both the media and Hollywood exist in a bubble, Truth is a film that should be especially relevant but, as previously stated, it’s so clumsy and heavy-handed that it actually does more harm than good.  About halfway through the film, there’s a hilarious scene in which literally the entire country is shown watching 60 Minutes with awe-struck expression on their face.  Children are watching.  Customers in a bar are watching.  The cooking staff in the kitchen pauses in their work to watch the report.  Heroic music rises on the soundtrack.  This scene, with all of its self-important grandeur, pretty much sums up everything that’s wrong with Truth.  It’s one thing to argue that the news media does, should, and must play an important role in American life.  It’s another thing to make your argument by constructing a fantasy world where the entire country plots their lives around watching 60 Minutes.  But that’s the way Vanderbilt directs the entire film.  He’s so high on the fumes of his good intentions that he doesn’t realize his film basically comes across like a parody of those intentions.

Especially in the second half of the film, there’s a lot of speeches about why journalism is important.  And those speeches may actually make a great point but the problem is that none of them convince us that Mary Mapes and Dan Rather didn’t get fooled by some painfully obvious forgeries.  In its laudable effort to defend journalism, Truth makes the mistake of excusing shoddy journalism. When, towards the end of the film, Mapes exclaims that the memos were only a minor part of the overall story and not necessary to prove that Bush got preferential treatment, you want someone to ask her, “If you could prove the story without them, then why did you include these unverifiable documents in the first place, especially considering that they were received from a questionable source?”  But nobody does because none of the film’s saintly characters have been written or portrayed with the nuance necessary to be able to survive a question like that.   Truth‘s problem is that it wants to have it both ways.  “It doesn’t matter that this story was based on obviously fake documents,” Truth says, “And, because Mary Mapes and Dan Rather were sent by God to tell the truth, the obviously fake documents were completely real.”

And then there’s the film’s performers.  Stacy Keach is great as Burkitt and his eccentric performance suggests the film that Truth could have been if it wasn’t so concerned with trying to portray its lead characters as saints.  But then there’s Robert Redford, whose portrayal of Dan Rather has all the nuance and personality of a wax figure.  (Redford wears suspenders.  That’s the extent of his performance.)  As Mary Mapes, Cate Blanchett is totally wasted.  She doesn’t really have a character to play, beyond her male director’s conception of what a professional woman is supposed to be like.  (She also has a traumatic back story of abuse, which the film trots out in such a klutzy manner that it’s actually incredibly insulting to real-life abuse victims.)  Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, and Elisabeth Moss all show up as members of Mapes’s team.  Quaid is playing a military man so he gets to salute in slow motion.  Grace is playing a hipster with a beard so he gets this embarrassing scene where he rants about how he’s being targeted not because of sloppy reporting but because of a corporate conspiracy.  (This was obviously meant to be a huge applause moment but, like a lot of the movie, it doesn’t explain how the progressive cause is helped by shoddy journalism.)  Moss doesn’t get to do anything, other than sit in the background.  To waste a cast of this quality is a crime.

So why did this mostly terrible film get respectful reviews?  Why did Sasha Stone and Jeff Wells insist that Truth was destined to be an Oscar contender?  Call it confirmation bias.  Truth plays to mainstream liberals (which includes the majority of film reviewers) in much the same way that God’s Not Dead 2 plays to Christians.  But just because you agree with a film’s ideology, that doesn’t make it an example of good filmmaking.  While artistic films are often political, it’s rare that political films are ever art.  If every anti-Bush film was an artistic masterpiece, we would be living in a cinematic golden age.

Here’s the thing.  We live in a time when the media is under attack and being used a convenient scapegoat for every bad thing in America. Donald Trump largely won in 2016 by portraying the media as being biased and that’s a charge that will undoubtedly be repeated many times over the next four years.  A heavy-handed mess like Truth doesn’t help anything.

truth_2015_poster

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?

Shattered Politics #69: Traffic (dir by Steven Soderbergh)


Traffic2000Poster

I have mixed feelings about Steven Soderbergh.  On the one hand, his talent cannot be denied and you have to respect the fact that he’s willing to take chances and make films like The Girlfriend Experience and The Informant.  On the other hand, he’s also the director who has been responsible for overrated messes like Contagion and utter pretentious disasters like Haywire.  And it doesn’t help that Soderbergh’s fanbase seems to be largely made up of the type of hipsters who end up leaving comments under the articles at The A.V. Club.  Some people mourned Soderbergh’s retirement.  Personally, I think he made the right decision.  He retired before his misfires ended up outnumbering all of his masterpieces.

The thing about Soderbergh is that his good films are so good that it makes it all the more frustrating to watch his failures.  If Soderbergh was just your typical bad director than a film like Contagion wouldn’t be as annoying.  But this is the man who also gave us Traffic!

And Traffic is a very good film.

First released in 2000, Traffic attempted to deal with the American war on drugs, a war that the film suggests might not even be worth fighting.  (Full disclosure: I support the legalization of drugs and, for that matter, just about everything else.  And yes, I am biased towards films that agree with me.  So is every other film critic out there.  The difference is that I’m willing to admit it.)  Traffic won four Oscars, including Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for Benicio Del Toro.  It was also nominated for best picture but lost to Gladiator.

Traffic tells three, barely connected stories.  Each story is given its own distinct look, feel, and color scheme.  And while it takes a few minutes to get used to film’s visual scheme, it ultimately works quite well.  Though all of the film’s characters share the same general existence, they live in different worlds.  The only thing linking them together is drugs.

Judge Andrew Wakefield (Michael Douglas) is a judge on the Ohio Supreme Court who has recently been named as the new drug czar.  However, while Judge Wakefield is going around the country and talking to politicians (Harry Reid shows up playing himself and is just as creepy as always), his daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen) is dating Seth (Topher Grace) and getting addicted to cocaine and heroin.  When Caroline run away, Judge Wakefield recruits Seth and, using him as a guide, searches the ghetto for his daughter.

The Wakefield scenes are bathed in cold and somber blues.  They’re beautiful to look at but, in some ways, they’re also some of the weakest in the film.  The whole plotline of Caroline going from being an innocent honor’s student to being a prostitute who sells her body for heroin feels a lot like the notorious anti-drug film Go Ask Alice.  At the same time, it’s interesting and a little fun to see Topher Grace playing such a little jerk.  Grace gets some of the best lines in the film, especially when he attacks Wakefield’s feelings of smug superiority.

In the film’s second storyline, two DEA Agents (Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman) arrest drug trafficker Eddie Ruiz (Miguel Ferrer).  Eddie works for the Ayala syndicate and, once he’s arrested, he turns informant.  Drug lord Carlos Ayala (Steven Bauer) is arrested.  While Carlos sits on trial, his pregnant wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and his sleazy business associate (Dennis Quaid) struggle to hold together the business and find a way to kill Ruiz before he can testify.

This storyline is filmed in bright and vibrant colors and why not?  The Ayalas are rich and, unlike the Wakefields, they don’t feel the need to hide their material wealth.  This is actually probably my favorite storyline, largely because it’s the best acted and the most entertaining.  Miguel Ferrer, in particular, steals every scene that he’s in.  The scene where he explains the economics of being a drug trafficker is fascinating to watch.

The Ayala storyline may be my favorite but the film’s most thought-provoking storyline is the third one.  Taking place in Mexico, it stars Benicio Del Toro as Javier Rodriguez, a casually corrupt police officer who gets recruited to work for General Salazar (Tomas Milian), who is heading up Mexico’s war on the cartels.  Following the orders of Salazar, Javier captures assassin Frankie Flowers (Clifton Collins, Jr.) who is then savagely tortured by Salazar until he turns informer.  Javier comes to realize that Salazar is actually working for one of Mexico’s cartels.  When he decides to inform on Salazar, he puts his own life at risk.

The Mexico storyline is also the harshest and visually, it reflects that fact.  The heat literally seems to be rising up from the desert and the streets of Tijuana.  It takes a few minutes to adjust to the look of the Mexico scenes but, once you do, they become enthralling.

And Traffic, as a film, is undeniably enthralling as well.  Soderbergh deftly juggles the multiple storylines and brings them together to create a portrait of a society that’s being destroyed by the efforts to save it.  Hopefully, if Soderbergh ever does come out of retirement, he’ll give us more films like Traffic and less films like Contagion.

 

Horror On TV: That 70s Show 2.5 “Halloween”


Okay, so technically, this really isn’t horror.  But who cares?  It deals with Halloween traditions and, even more importantly,  I loved That 70s Show.

This episode was originally broadcast on October 26th, 1999.

Trailer: Interstellar (3rd Official)


Interstellar

Will Interstellar be as  much a game changer as Kubrick’s own 2001: A Space Odyssey? Some are already hyping that it may just be on that very level.

Now, let’s not crown Christopher Nolan upcoming film (his first since concluding his Dark Knight trilogy) as an instant classic when we haven’t seen anything outside of the trailers released. Yet, the teases and brief explanation of the film’s plot hints at something that may just turn out to be incredible.

I know at least one person here at Through the Shattered Lens who is bursting at the seams at trying not to overhype the film for himself. It may just be a losing battle if his reactions to this latest Interstellar trailer is any indication.

Interstellar is set for a limited release on November 5, 2014 (70mm and 35mm film formats) then wide on November 7, 2014 on digital format.

Film Review: Take Me Home Tonight (dir. by Michael Dowse)


I missed the 80s retro-themed comedy Take Me Home Tonight when it was released to theater earlier this year.  It was one of those films that I meant to see but then it ended up spending such a short time in theaters that I just never got the chance.  A few days ago, via OnDemand, I finally got a chance to see Take Me Home Tonight in the comfort of my own bedroom.

Plotwise, Take Me Home Tonight feels like a cinematic Frankenstein monster, stitched together from elements from all those old school 80s comedies.  Therefore, it’s appropriate that the film itself is set in 1988.  Matt (Topher Grace) is a recent graduate from M.I.T. who is spending his post-graduate life working at Suncoast Video.  One day, while at work, he happens to run into Tori (Teresa Palmer), his high school crush.  When Tori asks Matt what he’s doing with his life post-high school, Matt quickly replies that he’s working at Goldman Sachs.  Tori then invites Matt to attend a weekend party being held by Kyle Masterson (Chris Pratt), a vaguely insane frat boy type who also happens to be the boyfriend of Matt’s twin sister, Wendy (Anna Faris).  In typical 80s comedy fashion, this leads to Matt and his friend Barry (Dan Folger) stealing a car, coming across a secret stash of cocaine, destroying a suburban neighborhood with a big metal ball, and eventually coming to several heart-warming (but not too heart-warming) conclusions about what they want out of life and what the future holds.

For a film like this to work, you have to care about the characters enough to be willing to stick with them even though they spend the majority of the film acting like complete morons.  Fortunately, the film is very well-cast with nice supporting turns from Folger, Faris, and Michael Biehn (who plays Matt’s father and who gets a great scene where he “arrests” his own son).  Folger is especially good, bringing a hilarious intensity to a familiar role.  From the minute that little baggie of cocaine first shows up on-screen, you know that Folger’s going to end up with a white powder all over his face.  What you don’t expect is just how hilarious a committed comic performer can make even the most familiar of comedic developments.  Dan Folger rubs cocaine on his teeth as if the world depended upon it. 

However, the film really belongs to Topher Grace (who not only stars in but also co-produced and co-wrote the film).  Now, I have to admit that when I was much younger, I used to love That 70s Show and I had the biggest crush on Topher Grace.  (I had an even bigger crush on Danny Masterson but that’s another story.)   As this film was apparently put together by many of the same people who were involved with That 70s Show, it’s not surprising that Take Me Home Tonight almost feels like it could be a sequel to that show.  Much as he did in That 70s Show, Grace provides the anchor here, keeping the film grounded (at times just barely) in reality.  It seems like whenever I see Topher Grace in the movies, he’s always playing some sort of psycho.  So, it was nice to see him back to doing what he does best, playing the sympathetic everyman who spends every day walking the fine line between cool and awkward. 

When Take Me Home Tonight was released in theaters earlier this year, it was greeted with mediocre reviews and poor box office.  But you know what?  It’s really not that bad of a film.  Yes, the plot is predictable and the jokes are more warmly amusing than laugh-out-loud funny.  However, this film is predictable in much the same way a funny but oft-told joke is predictable.  Take Me Home Tonight is a case where familiarity breeds not contempt but comfort.  It’s a type of comfort that’s probably better suited for being watched on a television while multi-tasking as opposed to being seen on the big screen with no other distractions.  Seriously, if Take Me Home Tonight was a weekly sitcom, it would probably end up getting nominated for all sorts of Emmys.