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.

Film Review: Tomb Raider (dir by Roar Uthaug)


It seems somewhat appropriate that the new Lara Croft is played by an actress best known for starring in a (very good) movie about artificial intelligence because the latest Tomb Raider film is so generic that it feels as if it could have been written by a robot.

Now, before I get too critical,I should acknowledge that the first 30 minutes of the film is actually a lot of fun.  When we first meet Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), she’s making her living a bike courier in London.  She delivers food to the hungry, except for when she’s boxing or engaging in bicycle races.  Despite the fact that she comes from a fabulously wealthy family, Lara refuses to accept her inheritance because accepting it would mean acknowledging that her missing father, explorer Richard Croft (Dominic West), is dead.  For those 30 minutes, the film has a fun, kinetic feel to it. As I watched those scenes, I realized that I’d actually be more than happy to watch a full-length film just about people racing around London on bicycles.

(Of course, there’d have to be some dancing, too.  There always has to be dancing.)

But then Kristin Scott-Thomas shows up and informs Lara that, unless she claims her inheritance, Andrew’s estate will be sold off.  At this point, the whole film starts to go downhill.  Naturally, before signing the papers that would declare Andrew to be deceased, Lara stumbles across one final message from her father.  In the message, he asks her to destroy all of his research.  Instead, Lara decides to go to Hong Kong so that she can investigate her father’s disappearance.

(Before she can leave, she has to get money from a pawnbroker who is played, in a rather lengthy cameo, by Nick Frost.  Frost mostly seems to be there so that the audience can go, “Hey, it’s Nick Frost!”)

You can probably already guess everything that happens once Lara arrives in Hong Kong.  It’s hardly a spoiler to inform you that Richard’s not dead and that he’s spent the last few years on an isolated island, trying to prevent the bad guys from tracking down an ancient tomb, one that Richard believes will destroy the world if it’s discovered.  It’s also not a spoiler to tell you that Lara spends a lot of time running through the jungle and trying to escape from collapsing caves.  That’s pretty much what you would expect from a movie called Tomb Raider but, even though the film is presumably giving the audience what they want, it just falls flat.

The problem is that, with the exception of those opening scenes in London, this version of Tomb Raider just isn’t much fun.  As good an actress as she is, Alicia Vikander never really seems comfortable in the role of being an action girl.  Vikander’s great when she’s racing around London and refusing her inheritance but, once she finds herself in the jungle, she just seems lost.  In fact, the only person who seems to be more lost than Alicia Vikander is Walton Goggins, who goes through the motion’s as the film’s villain but who never seems to be that invested in the character one way or the other.  Among the main cast, only Dominic West appears to be enjoying himself.  There’s nothing subtle about West’s performance but that’s exactly what a film like this needs.  Director Roar Uthaug is obviously comfortable with directing action scenes but there’s little of the wit or attention to detail necessary for this film to truly make an impression.

It’s not a terrible movie, don’t get me wrong.  Though it seems like it takes forever for Lara to actually reach it, the tomb is nicely realized and the film features a great score from Junkie XL.  But, ultimately, the most memorable thing about this new Tomb Raider is how forgettable it is.

Film Review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure (dir by Wes Ball)


Here are a few good things about Maze Runner: The Death Cure.

First off, and most importantly, Dylan O’Brien is still alive.  When The Death Cure first went into production way back in 2016, O’Brien was seriously injured on the set.  While it’s never really been disclosed just how serious the injuries were, they were bad enough that it took O’Brien several months to recover.  There was even some speculation that his career might be over.  Fortunately, that wasn’t the case.  Last year, O’Brien returned to the screen and gave a superior performance as the lead in American Assassin.  In The Death Cure, O’Brien returns as Thomas and even if the character is still a bit of cipher, O’Brien does a good job playing him.

Secondly, Gally lives!  In the first Maze Runner, Gally was a villain but, because he was played by Will Poulter, he was also strangely likable.  Maze Runner was the first film in which I ever noticed Will Poulter and I have to admit that I’ve always felt that both the actor and the character deserved better than to be casually killed off at the end of the first movie.  Since Maze Runner, Poulter has given great performances in both The Revenant and Detroit.  (He was also briefly cast as Pennywise in It, though the role was ultimately played by Bill Skarsgard.)  In The Death Cure, it is not only revealed that Gally is still alive but he also finally gets to be one of the good guys.

Third, the Death Cure confirms what I felt when I first saw The Maze Runner.  Wes Ball is a talented director.  Despite whatever narrative flaws that the Maze Runner films may have, they’re always watchable.  Death Cure opens with a genuinely exciting action sequence and there are more than a few visually striking shots.

Fourth, Death Cure actually ends the Maze Runner saga.  That may sound like a strange or back-handed compliment but it’s not.  Death Cure resists the temptation to try to milk more money out of the franchise by unnecessarily splitting the finale in two.  I’ve always felt that The Hunger Games made a huge mistake with its two-part finale.  (The first part was good but the second part dragged.)  Divergent appears to be destined to be forever unfinished because the first part of it’s two-part finale bombed at the box office.  Death Cure refuses to indulge in any of that nonsense.  Unfortunately, this also means that Death Cure ends up lasting an unwieldy 142 minutes but still, that’s better than forcing the film into two parts.  With the current YA dysptopia cycle winding down, now is the right time to end things.

Finally, I appreciated the fact that the bad guys in Death Cure were named WCKD.  There’s nothing subtle about that but this isn’t a movie the demands subtlety.  As opposed to many other films based on dystopian YA fiction, The Maze Runner films have always been aware of just how ludicrous they often are.  Unlike the Divergent films or The Fifth Wave, the Maze Runner films have always been smart enough not to take themselves too seriously.

Anyway, as for Death Cure itself, it’s big and noisy and your enjoyment will largely depend on how much you remember about the first two films.  It’s been nearly three years since The Scorch Trials came out, which is an eternity when it comes to a franchise like Maze Runner.  Death Cure pretty much jumps right into the action and if you don’t remember all of the details from the first two films … well, good luck getting caught up!  (Unfortunately, it doesn’t help that, while the first movie was fun, Scorch Trials was a lot easier to forget.)  It’s pretty much a typical tale of YA dystopia, complete with tragic deaths, shocking betrayal, and a chosen one.  If you’re a fan of the previous two films or the books, you’ll probably enjoy Death Cure.  For the rest of us, it’s a bit of a confusing ride but at least there’s a lot of up-and-coming talent on display.

Playing Catch-Up: The Hateful Eight (dir by Quentin Tarantino)


The_Hateful_Eight

Remember how I said that it was intimidating to admit that The Big Short didn’t do much for me as a viewer?  Well, it’s even more intimidating for me to admit that I felt much the same way about The Hateful Eight as well.

Nearly everyone I know loves The Hateful Eight and, going into it, I really wanted to love it as well.  After all, this is — as the opening credits remind us — Quentin Tarantino’s 8th film!  Tarantino is one of my favorite directors.  I thought his last film, Django Unchained, was a masterpiece and one of the most important films ever made about slavery.  Like many of you, I’ve followed all the details of the making of The Hateful Eight, from the initial script leak to the controversy over Tarantino’s comments on the police.  I was excited because the cast looked great and was full of veteran actors — like Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Bruce Dern — who all seemed likely to benefit from the Tarantino touch.  (Say what you will about Quentin Tarantino, it cannot be denied that he’s given good roles to talented actors who are rarely given the opportunities that they deserve.)  When I heard that Ennio Morricone was going to be providing the score, I got even more excited.  Morricone and Tarantino; it seemed like the perfect combination for greatness.

Well, Morricone’s score is spectacular.  There’s talk that Morricone might finally win an Oscar for his work on The Hateful Eight and I certainly don’t have a problem with that.  (Hopefully, Morricone will have learned a lesson from the Golden Globes and, if he is nominated, he will either come to the ceremony himself or arrange for someone other than Tarantino to accept for him.)  And Jennifer Jason Leigh takes full advantage of her role, giving a truly ferocious performance.

But otherwise, The Hateful Eight just didn’t do much for me.  It’s not that I disliked the film.  There was a lot that worked but, for whatever reason, The Hateful Eight never enthralled me the way that past Tarantino films have.  The Hateful Eight left me saying, “Is that it?”

A lot of my reaction to The Hateful Eight has to do with the film’s length.  Taking place, for the most part, in only one location and structured more like a play than a film, The Hateful Eight would be a great 90 minute murder mystery.  Instead, it lasts nearly 3 hours and, at times, the film drags interminably.  As usual, Tarantino plays with time and, at one point, stops the action so that we can see what happened earlier in the day.  Unfortunately, as opposed to other Tarantino films, we don’t really learn anything new from this flashback and you get the feeling that it was included most because flaskbacks are a Tarantino trademark and because he wanted to find a way to work a somewhat pointless Zoe Bell cameo into the film.

As for Tarantino’s widely acclaimed script, I have to admit that I got kind of bored with this talky film.  Yes, the actors were all good and it’s always fun to listen to Samuel L. Jackson be a badass but the dialogue itself was largely repetitive and occasionally, the film itself threatened to turn into Tarantino-on-autopilot.

(Interestingly enough, Tarantino’s script features several creative euphemisms for oral sex and the characters come up with a handful of different ways to point out that Jackson is black but, when it comes to Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character, nobody can come up with anything more imaginative than repeatedly calling her a bitch.  While, unlike some critics, I don’t think The Hateful Eight is a misogynistic movie, I do have to admit that I was rolling my eyes around the fifth time that Leigh’s character was called a bitch and kept rolling them for the entire movie.  For a writer well-known for his ability to come up with colorful and memorable insults, Tarantino’s refusal to come up with anything more imaginative than “bitch” just felt lazy.)

What can I say?  The Hateful Eight just didn’t do much for me.  However, I do think that the film looked great and I certainly hope that Morricone and Leigh are at least nominated for their excellent work.  I look forward to Tarantino’s next film but I doubt I’ll be revisiting The Hateful Eight any time soon.

(By the way, with this review, I am now officially caught up on reviewing the films of 2015!)

Here’s The Latest Trailer For The Suddenly Controversial The Hateful Eight


It’s amazing how quickly things can change.

Just one month ago, The Hateful Eight was a film that everyone was eagerly anticipating but which no one was expecting to be as controversial or as incendiary as Quentin Tarantino’s previous film, Django Unchained.  I think a lot of us were expecting The Hateful Eight to be a bit like Kill Bill — i.e., a delirious homage to Tarantino’s favorite films and one that took place in a parallel universe.  We were expecting The Hateful Eight to be an example of pure cinema, with little connection to the outside world.

But that was a month ago.  Things have changed.  As I sit here typing this, The Hateful Eight has suddenly become one of the most controversial films of 2015.  Suddenly, deciding whether or not to see it has been transformed into a political decision.  Following Tarantino’s public criticism of the police and his refusal to back down from his statements, there are suddenly calls to boycott Tarantino’s latest film.

Myself, I’m not a huge fan of boycotting anything.  I may choose not to see something for whatever reason but that’s my choice and it certainly does not make me politically or morally superior to anyone who may choose differently.  Ultimately, those who want to boycott Tarantino’s film because of his liberal politics need to realize that they’ll also be boycotting a film that stars Libertarian Kurt Russell and features Republican Bruce Dern.  If you can’t stand Tarantino’s politics, don’t vote for him when he runs for President.  Don’t vote for any candidate that he endorses.  But leave his movies, and those of us who want to watch them, alone.

Add to that, The Hateful Eight looks really good!  Check out the trailer below!

A Tease of Tarantino’s Eighth…The Hateful Eight.


TheHatefulEight

The Hateful Eight was never to be seen due to the unfortunate leak of the early draft of Tarantino’s screenplay for the film. It wasn’t meant to be seen outside of those he had trusted to become part of the film. Yet, the script still managed to leak and fanboys worldwide rushed to download and take a gander at what Tarantino had planned for his eight film.

After weeks and a couple months of cooling down from the betrayal of having his work leaked before it was time, Tarantino finally backed off from his promise that The Hateful Eight will never be filmed. With sighs of relief, fans, admirers and critics were glad to see Tarantino change his mind and put the script into production.

Months have gone by since that decision and the start of principal photography. Mini teasers were released and publicity shots were disseminated to the public, but a proper teaser trailer still hadn’t been released.

Now, the waiting has ended as The Weinstein Company has released the first official teaser trailer for Quentin Tarantino’s eight film, The Hateful Eight.

The Hateful Eight will be seen in limited release this Christmas 2015 and everywhere else on January 8, 2016.

Arleigh’s Top Ten (……TV Shows) of 2012


With each passing year my TV viewing habits have begun to change. I used to watch mostly network shows with the occasional premium cable channel series here and there. In the last couple years it’s been more of the opposite. I watch less and less of whatever the top networks are showing and instead have taken most of my TV viewing pleasure from basic and premium cable channels. Only one show from the big networks makes my Top Ten TV shows of 2012.

The ten shows I’ve picked as best of 2012 arrive on this list in no particular order. They’re just numbered to keep things organized…

  1. Community – This show is the only network series to make my list and it’s well-deserving. The show has garnered such a huge cult following that seems to confuzzle those who still haven’t jumped on the Community bandwgaon. The show’s hilarious and full of pop-culture and geek culture references that each new episode we see something crazy and new from showrunner Dan Harmon and his crazy crew of writers and and, even moreso, talented ensemble cast. The fact that despite low ratings each season it’s been on the air since it premiered just show’s the power of it’s fans to tell the NBC network to keep the show for another season (maybe another more after this upcoming 4th). Plus, the show has Annie’s Boobs.
  2. Justified – This was the series that premiered three years ago with a pedigree that most networks would kill to have on it’s show. You had acclaimed tv screenwriter Graham Yost as series creator and showrunner. The show was adapated from a series of Elmore Leonard novels featuring the character of U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (who also had critics favorite Timothy Olyphant in the role). The first two season’s were major hits for the series. This past year’s third season couldn’t match up to the great season 2 that earned Margo Martindale an Emmy for her role as the devious and cold-blooded matriarch of the Bennett Clan, but it did more than hold it’s own by introducing an outsider to the mix of Kentucky-grown characters in Neal McDonough’s Detroit mobster and deviant criminal mastermind Robert Quarles. the interaction between Olyphant’s Raylan Givens, McDonough’s Quarles and Walton Goggins’ Boyd Crowder was some of 2012’s best tv moments.
  3. Doomsday Preppers – This series has become a sort of guilty pleasure for me, but despite that label it’s also one of the best shows on TV. The premise of the show may sound ludicrous and hilarious at first glance. I mean it’s a series that details in each episode a couple of families who have taken to extremes their attempts to prepare for whatever doomsday will befall in world in the near future. See, it sounds like a reality tv show that’s tailor-made for what elitists would consider the redneck and uneducated section of America. The truth of the matter is that the show’s ludicrous premise also is it’s strength. We may laugh, at first, at the families who have gone to extremes to create survival shelters, home grown food stocks and other means to survive a catastrophe. While we laugh the show does point out that whether a disaster happens soon or later the very survival preparations and techniques these families make become learning tools for the viewing audience. We won’t need to go to such extremes, but the fact that we laugh at these people while we have no clue how to survive when catastrophe strikes means the joke is on us and not on the Doomsday Preppers.
  4. The Walking Dead – Speaking of doomsday, this show on AMC seems to be the show that, like it’s zombified monsters, survives it’s own producers and writers attempts to kill it off. This year saw the second half of the show’s season 2 minus it’s original creator and showrunner as Frank Darabont was fired. The show continued to pull in great ratings despite being on basic cable and writing that tended to lean towards average with frustrating characters the audience would rather see die than survive the show’s zombie apocalypse. But something miraculous happened this year and that’s the show’s newest showrunner in Glen Mazzara simplified Darabont’s more deliberate and existential narrative style and tone for the show. Under Mazzara the show’s first haf of the 3rd season saw more action and characters actually becoming more complex and nuanced. There’s been less exposition dumps to tell the audience what’s going on. The show has also amped the danger towards the characters as we saw not one but  many characters die before the season even hit the halfway mark. The show’s writing still has a ways to go, but no show on TV can match The Walking Dead in sheer tension and watercooler moments that fans (and even detractors) were left wanting more and more everytime a Sunday ended.
  5. Sons of Anarchy – The show by showrunner Kurt Sutter that was original billed as “Hamlet meets Hell’s Angels” had one of it’s better season in 2012 as we saw the biker gang SAMCRO finally split into two camps. On one side is the former President of the club Clay Morrow (played by Ron Perlman) and newest club President Jax Teller (played by Charlie Hunnam), the son of the club’s original founder John Teller, standing on the opposite side. The show returned to it’s Shakespearean roots in 2012 as we saw Jax try to maneuver SAMCRO away from it’s illegal enterprises and away from the clutches of the not just the CIA, but the Mexican cartels, rival biker gangs and inner-city crime lords. The series saw the departure of a fan favorite character in one of the most brutal and vicious deaths on TV, but also one that was necessary to push Jax into becoming more ruthless and cold-blooded in dealing with his club’s enemies. Sons of Anarchy is also aired on the FX Channel which makes it such a powerful bookend to it’s fellow series in Justified for the basic cable network.
  6. South Park – Matt Stone and Trey Parker continues to insult all and everyone. The show benefits from this and it hasn’t changed in 2012. The show looked to be slowing down after an uneven 2011, but came back strong in 2012. There’s nothing else to be said other than a show that can come up with an episode that has Honey Boo Boo and Michelle Obama in the same episode and make it all come off as hilarious and thought-provoking deserves to be on everyone’s top ten tv shows of 2012.
  7. Deadliest Catch – Discovery Channel’s long-reality series about crab fishermen in the dangerous waters of the Bering Strait and the Arctic Circle continues to be one of the best reality series on TV. It’s simple premise of just showing the rigors, dangers and the toll the job of crab fishing in the Arctic Sea continues to lure fans old and new alike back to the series each new year. It’s definitely a show that puts down anyone who thinks they have a hard job. Nothing is harder than a job these men do where every moment can literally be the moment that something will happen that will take their life. It’s must-see TV (well except for Lisa Marie with the pitching ships and heavy seas and stormy waves).
  8. Boardwalk Empire – The show that details the rise and fall and rise again of Atlantic City’s man behind the scenes Nucky Thompson during the 1920’s continues to be one of TV’s best shows and continues HBO’s almost two decade of fine, quality original tv programming. We find Steve Buscemi in fine form as the corrupt city treasurer Nucky Thompson whose actions in season 2 creates major ripple effects for 2012’s season 3. While the latest season wasn’t on the same level as 2011’s season 2 it’s uneven slow burn for most of it’s season 3 run culminated in a bloody and tense-filled affair as Nucky’s penchant for surviving leads to an almost Michael Corleone-level of retribution by season’s end.
  9. Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin. A Clash of Kings. Three baby dragons. Peter Dinklage. Arya and Stannis Lannister. Battle of Blackwater Bay. Neil Marshall. Sexposition. Ice zombies. Nothing else need to be said. One of the best shows of 2012, if not, the best show of 2012 period.
  10. Archer – The most out there and down right funny show on TV in 2012 was the FX Channel’s animated series Archer. It’s a an animated series that spoofs the spy franchises like James Bond, Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the like, but also being one of the raunchiest shows on TV and making it all come off as hilarious. Whether it’s the title character’s child-like behavior despite being the show’s top spy or the pyromaniac and autoerotic-fixated agency secretary Cheryl, the show’s cast of characters are all so memorable that the show doesn’t even need to have celebrity guest stars to try and pull in viewers, but they do it anyway with one being Burt reynolds himself playing as himself and bringing back memories of why Burt was considered the “star’s star in his heyday””. The man is just smooth as velvet and cool as ice.

So, these were my Top Ten shows on 2012. The FX channel definitely made it’s mark by getting three shows into the list with HBO running second with two. I know there’s a major omission of Breaking Bad in this list, but I thought the new season (really just the first half of the final season with the second half due later in 2013) was a letdown after blockbuster of a season 4. It seemed more like a first half that was table-setting for what looks to be the show’s final 8-episode this year to put the show to bed on a blaze of glory.