Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Predators (2010 Review, 5th review of 5)

    I’ve often considered the predator creature to be one of the biggest bad assess of science fiction cinema but I’ve also felt that he deserved a far better and bigger series than what he got. The first “Predator” was a great B movie classic, “Predator 2” was a lousy sequel that killed the series before it even started and the two AVP movies, while entertaining monster flicks, still didn’t help generate the awesome series I was hoping for. Then at long last in 2010, we got “Predators”, the 5th and latest entry in the predator series and it’s an absolute blast!  All I could say after words was “WOW! That was the predator sequel I’ve been waiting for”. It may not reach the same competence or memorable characters of the first film but this one’s my personal favorite, it just has more kick to it. Now don’t let the title fool you, this isn’t a remake, it's a sequel to the first film and there’s lots of indications and talk of the events from the first Predator but it ignores all the previous installments, as if to say “where sorry for all the subpar sequels, this is the real stuff that you’ve been waiting for”.

       This film was produced by one of my favorite writers/directors Robert Rodriguez, who’s done some of the greatest B action movies of all time including “Desperado”, “From Dusk Till Dawn”, “Sin City” and “Machete”. He wrote this script back in 1994 but the studio turned it down because it would have required a huge budget that they couldn’t afford. So now his film has finally seen the light of day and is a perfect fit alongside all his other great guy flicks. The premise does a brilliant job bringing us back to the roots of what we loved from the original, while giving us something completely new and further exploring the predator universe. Eight strangers have awakened in a strange and mysterious jungle, however there not just regular people, there the predators of our world. It’s a team comprised of mercenaries, mobsters, convicts and death squad members making them the perfect prey for the real hunters. The brilliance of this team is that while there all technically bad people, there still really good characters, you never want to see any of them get killed, they hold your attention, there armed to the teeth and deadly fighters, yet they still have a sense of honor and dignity. It’s really cool seeing these people develop trust and team skills and it’s a great contrast to the team from the first film. They were all hero’s and friends that had known each other for years while this was a team of killers that have to learn to work together to survive.

     It’s slightly disappointing that this cast doesn’t have many of the usual recurring actors from Robert Rodriguez’s films like Salma Hayek but at least this film has Danny Trejo who most people recognize as Machete. The new cast does a pretty good job holding their own and there were a few good twists along the way. Adrien Brody surprised the hell out of me as this films leading bad ass, I’m so use to him in dramatic and powerful films like Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist” but he actually did a great job in the role and was naturally believable as this really tuff soldier. Topher Grace (who was Venom in “Spider-Man 3”) also does a good job as a doctor character that has a dark side to him. Then there’s Laurence Fishburne (who’s best known as Morpheus in “The Matrix”) and he dose an awesome job as this crazy survivor, definitely not someone you’d feel comfortable sharing a room with. We also get a nice new token female who doesn’t fall victim to as many dumb action movie clich├ęs as you may think.

    Now about the setting, it’s very refreshing to be back in a jungle environment, but even better, the team soon learn that there not even on earth any more. That’s right, the whole planet is a Predator game preserve where they set dangerous people lose and hunt them down. The films location crew did an excellent job finding really cool looking locations that look like they could be from another planet.  We have a scene where the team rest in a downed predator space ship and your eye is constantly attracted to the different sets and designs of this place, there’s always something alien in the background or the foreground. There’s a really cool moment when the team is on a hill top and they can see all the different planets (including the predator home world) in the sky and they thankfully never say anything to obvious, they know that there on another planet and so does the audience, so they really don’t have to explain it further. The mystery and buildup in the first half of the film is great because they give us so many new things that were never in any of the other films and the stuff we’ve already learned in the previous films are quickly mentioned and never fully analyzed. As I was watching this exposition, I kept saying to myself “Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!” they’re giving us familiar things and making them feel fresh and new at the same time, that’s what a sequel should always do.  

      The film also does a great job making the predators fierce hunters again and they got so many new things to offer. First of all are the new predator hunting dogs, literally there like dogs just with bony spikes all over. They engage the team in battle and it’s an appropriate new trait to give the hunters there hunting dogs, this way they can study the team and learn about their strengths and weaknesses before going in. We have a fun collection of booby traps, new weapons, a predator drop ship and a robotic predator stealth bird, that’s pretty cool. There’s also a phew other ferocious alien creatures that were dropped on the planet to be hunted, a little fun fact about these other creatures is that there based on the original predator design before they finalized his image.


    We also meet a new breed of predators, they still have the same design and features of the original predator just a little different, kind of like dogs and wolves. These new predators are so firkin cool and I love all there different helmets. One has a bony jaw, another has tusks and there’s this one predator that looks like the Shredder from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie”. We also get an awesome scene with one of the new predators fighting the classic predator, that’s awesome. Just like in the first film, we don’t see the predators till the end but we feel there presence throughout the whole movie, the only difference is that the payoff is a lot more satisfying in this film.  

     The whole third act of this film is a bloody, testosterone-fueled, action-packed spectacle complete with explosions, slow-motion decapitations, unexpected character twists, fires, monster brawls, shoot outs and sword fights, it’s great. There are also some great improvements over some problems I had with the original “Predator” movie. For example, there’s a scene in the first film where one lone man stays behind from the grope to make a last stand but it’s completely wasted because he dies for nothing and his whole last stand fight is off screen. In this film we also have a scene with someone making a last stand, however his death isn’t in vain because he proved to be very helpful and we actually get to see his whole fight with the predator. It’s an awesome fight that’s like a classic samurai flick, the two battle with swords in this big open field, with tall grass that’s blowing in the wind. Actually, a lot of the characters get hero deaths and either die saving someone or helping the team and that’s one thing that the first movie never did and needed to have more of. In the end, Adrien Brody puts up a really good fight against the new lead predator and this time it’s more of an even match, it’s not just one character beating the other.  

     To sum things up, “Predators” is an A+ sequel that brings life back to a dyeing franchise. It takes the series back to its awesome roots, gives us something new, kicks some ass and even improves on minor problems that even the original had. I give “Predators” 4 stars, it’s just a good old fashioned monster flick. This ends my five part, mini marathon of the Predator movies, so what’s for the future of this character? Well there’s nothing officially in the works yet but this latest installment certainly opened the door for all kinds of possibilities for newer, cooler sequels and maybe with a little luck, it will bloom into that awesome Sci-Fi series that the Predator has always deserved.
     The End                           

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007 Review, 4th review of 5)

    Having Predator and Alien rumble in “Alien vs. Predator” was a nice little treat but it did leave me wanting a little more then what I got, then three years latter there was a sequel titled “Aliens vs. Predator Requiem” and I got really excited. I was sure that they knew by now what works and what doesn’t in a film like this and it would be that stellar clash of titans epic that I’ve been waiting for, did it succeed, um, not really. Remember what I said about monster movies being nothing more than trashy entertainment, well, more often than not, they can come off as just plain trash and this film comes very close to fitting that description but it was at the very least saved by a hair.

    The film starts off very strong, picking up were the last film left off, the Predator/Alien hybrid that was seen at the end of the last AVP film bursts out the chest of the predator and stows away on the ship. We get some cool shots of outer space, including an awesome first gimps of the predator home world, sure it’s not a very long scene but after 3 films, I’ve always wanted to see this place and from what we do see it looks really cool, there’s tall statues, futuristic buildings, control rooms and a really interesting orange lighting to the whole planet, which is really neat. The ships also look really good and we see a few cool interiors like a map room complete with a hologram of Earth and the lab where they keep the alien face huggers. Then without warning, the hybrid makes his attack, killing off all the Predators on board the ship, freeing the face huggers and crashing into a mountain side on earth near a small Colorado town. Now the aliens are free to spread throughout the town like wild fire, meanwhile a single predator learns of the downed ship and goes out to avenge his fallen brethren. Okay, so we had a really cool opening and the setup sounds really exciting, how could they mess this up?

       Well, the problems start as soon as we see our main extras and I say extras because there really aren’t any main characters to speak of. Nothing that these peope say or talk about is interesting, they have no personalities, they give you no reason to care about them, other than the fact that there humans. The characters in the first “Alien vs. Predator” were mostly just cardboard cut outs but at least there was an effort to make them actual characters and to be fair some of them were genuine enough to care for. But these new people are so bland, boring, unimaginative, uninspired and forgettable that when they show up again in the film, I forget that they were introduced to us earlier. I never thought I’d say this but give some small credit to the jerks in “Predator 2”, they were at least characters. These people might as well have there scripts in their hands for how obvious they are. It actually makes for the first time in a film that a steaming hot chick got in a sexy bathing suit and I couldn’t care at all. Now I know it’s typical for slasher films to have characters like this but the Predator and Alien movies were about more than that, they were about good characters (for the most part) and really good stories (again for the most part) and this film can’t give me a single good character.

      Actually, I take that back, there is one good character that I like and that of cores is the Predator himself. Of all the different Predators I’ve seen, this one is easily the best. Sure, he has some boring moments like when he’s cleaning up a mess with his magic blue disappearing liquid. But then he has some really great moments, there’s a scene when he comes across one of the dead Predators from the crashed space ship, he puts his hand on his head and quietly grieves to himself. That was pretty surreal, this shows that Predators are more than mindless monsters that kill for sport, they do actually care for their own kind. He also has his fare share of really cool moments, he’s the only predator to use a wipe, he has two plasma cannons on his back for the price of one, he’s also equipped with a laser net and there’s a really awesome moment when he kicks down a glass door.  The Aliens look a lot more menacing and are closer to the ridge warrior head designs from the 1986 “Aliens”, unfortunately while they look cooler, there not as formidable as they were in the first AVP movie. The new Predator/Alien hybrid doesn’t offer that much new, aside from aesthetics, but it is still a cool design and a great appoint to go against this new heavily armed Predator.

      Now it really hurts me to confess this but the film did have some worthwhile entertainment. The  alien and Predator battles in this film are pretty sweet, and they don’t just fight once, they have all kinds of brawls throughout the film. We get a fun fight in the sewers, a shootout at an electronics plant, a fight in a discount store, an exciting battle inside the hospital and the final showdown on the roof top between the main Predator and the Hybrid is really awesome. The two body slam one another, predator swings his spear like a samurai, using his tail the hybrid kicks him across the roof and there’s this one really cool moment matched to some great music where the predator slowly takes of his weapons and mask as if to say “I don’t need any weapons to defeat you”. The roof top setting is also a really cool location because there are so many pipes and electrical boxes for them to crash into and crawl around on.  Yes, for as bad as this film is, it has one hell of an action packed climax. There also isn’t as much of a shaky camera effect as there was before and the fights are a little longer. However, we do dive back into negative territory because while we do have those improvements, the action (and the just about the entire movie) still suffer from too much dark, murky lighting. Of all the horror, monster movies I’ve ever seen in my life, I have never had a harder time seeing anything that was going on then in this movie.


      While the film gives both creatures a lot of screen time, the movie never has a moment when it addresses the two different species. The people in this film just keep running around saying that there being invaded and that they need to escape but they never acknowledge that there’s two different alien spices that are at war with each other. For all the flaws in the first AVP movie, they at least addressed the two different creatures, the humans were aware of the two fighting, why they were fighting and it was a story that worked with both specific creatures in it. In this movie, there just creatures invading a town, they might as well be the Martians from “Mars Attacks!” for all the difference it makes. On that note, there’s no A too B connection between these two films. Sure it takes place right where the last one left off but nothing else from the first film is brought up here, there’s no mention of any of the events, no mention of the main character from before, no mention of that pyramid, it’s literally like a standalone squeal that doesn’t feel at all like the first. 


      The violence and gore is really overblown and there’s one scene in particular that really pushed my hot button. There’s a moment in a hospital were the aliens are in a room full of babies, real live babies! We don’t see the creatures eating them but we can assume that they did, considering that this hospital becomes the main location for their nest. That just feels like a very sick attempt to kneejerk an uncomfortable reaction from the audience. If you thought that was bad, it actually gets worse. Latter in this scene we see a pregnant woman on a hospital bed, then the hybrid creature fills her up  with multiple alien eggs, so she can produce multiple aliens, it’s nasty. Just to make this even worse, the directors stated that the hybrid prefers to impregnate already pregnant woman with aliens, because it gives the babie aliens something to eat inside the womb to give them strength and that’s the straw that broke it for me, if a film does something that monstrously cruel and sick then it is just dead to me or at the very least ignored more than the others.    

       Usually, I’d give a bad movie like this 1 ½ stars, but I sadly must confess that there is some enjoyment that saved it from being a complete waist of time. The predator is awesome, the musical score is decent, the monster battles are fun and the climax is one of the best that the series has to offer. But that’s still not enough to save this film from its stupid characters, lame scripting, lack of attention to the source material, painfully murky vision and unnecessary disturbing sequences like that horrible hospital scene. I just can’t be as easy on this film as I was on the last one, the first AVP felt like a traditional, fun 1950’s Sci-Fi monster flick and was self aware of what kind of film it was. This film is trying to be so many other things at once and is constantly forgetting what it’s supposed to be. So how do I properly rate and recommend this film, well I’d say it’s a safe one to skip but if you’re curious then rent it and fast forward to all the good stuff. I give “Aliens vs. Predator Requiem” 2 stars, the climax gets a 3.5. Anyway, if this series was to survive and grow, then it would need to do something really good the next time and leave the Aliens behind from now on, a review for “Predators” is up next. 

     To Be Concluded.....                

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Alien vs. Predator (2004 Review, 3rd review of 5)

        From 1990-2004 the Predator series was put to rest and only had two movies prior, it seemed like a great series was taken before it’s time. Then suddenly in 2004 we got a new Predator flick under the direction of “Resident Evil” director Paul W.S. Anderson. The only film of his that I really liked was “Mortal Kombat” but I didn’t care for any of his other films, especially “Event Horizon”.  But regardless, I was really excited to get a new film in the series and not just another stand alone Predator film but a crossover into the Alien franchise titled “Alien vs. Predator”. The original AVP comics were a huge hit from the “Dark Horse comics” company and that Alien skull seen at the end of “Predator 2” made it seem very likely that this film would be made. Now I’m a sucker for crossover monster movies and have seen just about all of them including “Frankenstein meets the Wolfman” 1943, “King Kong vs. Godzilla” 1962 and “Freddy vs. Jason” 2003 and I must confess that of all of these monster crossover films, “Alien vs. Predator” might just be my personal favorite. So as Michael Buffer would put itLet’s get ready to rumble!      

    The first thing to mention is that this is not a continuation of either the Predator or Alien series, it’s a reboot to a standalone series, which is a great idea, that way we don’t have to worry about things like continuity and they can add things to the genesis of these characters that wouldn’t have worked in either of the other two franchises. The story begins with the discovery of an ancient pyramid in Antarctica of all places and a team is sent in to investigate. Our new lead heroin is played by the beautiful Sanaa Lathan (who you may recognize from “Blade” or “Contagion”). I’ve definitely seen better characters but she holds her own just fine and is a relatively tough female lead who manages to be strong while still keeping her femininity in check. Another note worthy star is Lance Henriksen who’s reprising his role as Charles Bishop Weyland from the Alien franchise and he can certainly hold his own in this film. The rest of the characters are cardboard cutouts but to be fare, there at least nice people that you can slightly care about as opposed to all those jerks in “Predator 2”. Throughout the film we get a few nice little nods and inside jokes. For example, the title opening is a recreation of both title openings from the first "Alien" and first “Predator” movies. There’s a scene in a room where some people are watching “Frankenstein meets the Wolfman”, which was the first crossover monster movie ever made. Also in this scene, if you look over at the right TV stand, you’ll see the same bobbing chicken that was on the dinner table in the first Alien movie.

       Back to the plot, we have a cool little flashback of the creation of this mysterious pyramid and we learn that thousands of years ago the Predators found this planet and taught humans how to build civilizations and temples, and the humans began to warship them as gods, which is an interesting contrast to the first Predator film. In that movie we learn that natives spoke of these creatures as demons and now we learn of an ancient culture that viewed them as gods. In return for helping humans build and adapt they also demand a sacrifice every couple years, they then use the human sacrifices to breed the alien creatures so there young can hunt them down and then be honored as warriors in there clan. Now in present day, this expedition team is being used to breed more aliens so that a group of three young predators can hunt them down and achieve honor amongst their fellow hunters. It’s a crazy set up but it still works in favor of both creatures and it’s a good excuse to get them to fight.

      It’s awesome to finally get more than one Predator on screen and their helmets, costumes and weapons are really awesome in this film. I especially love this one Predator that has a helmet that looks like the Punisher. The Predator space ships also look so much cooler than they did in the last two films. The facial esthetics now manage to show more expression in the creatures face but they just don’t look as scary as before, cant quiet put my finger on it but it feels like there’s something missing there. My only minor complaint about these predators is that they do get killed off really fast, but I suppose that’s understandable considering that there young rookies and not fully matured warriors. One of the biggest complaints from fans is that the last surviving predator makes a temporary alliance with the leading heroin and I can understand why this would bother fans because it just doesn’t click with the creature but in all honesty, the only thing going through my mind was how awesome it would be to team up with a predator in battle.  

     Now I had been a fan of Predator before I had seen this film but I had never seen any of the Alien movies before I saw this movie, I was really young at the time and to be honest, they frightened me. I had never seen anything like a creature laying an egg in some one’s body, then bursting out the stomach and then growing into this monstrous creature. There’s one Alien in particular with green scars on his head, so he can stand out as an Alien leader, which is a cool idea but he doesn't really do anything, he’s just there in the group of aliens and gets killed off with the big group of aliens at the end of the film. The alien queen was awesome, basically, she’s a giant super sized alien and even more than a match for an armed to the teeth predator.

   The creatures and effects were brought to life by “Amalgamated Dynamics Inc.”, the same company that did the creature effects in “Star Ship Troopers” and “Spider-Man”, for the most part the production looks really cool. The Predators are once again people in costume and I love that the aliens are robotic puppets. When it comes to CG creatures they only exist in a computer but puppets are actually there with the actors and it makes the creatures feel more real and sense there puppets they can do things people in costumes can’t accomplish. The set designs and props are fairly impressive for a film with this kind of budget, it all looks very state of the art. The location itself is very effective, it’s great that this takes place in Antarctica because it’s the most alien location on the planet and a fare setting for the creatures. The pyramid itself is a very claustrophobic environment and it keeps re-configuring itself, making it even harder for the humans to find their way out. The music by Harald Kloser is also fairly good and helps give life to the action.

      Unfortunately, just like the first Predator movie, the set up and build up is the best part of the film while the payoff is really hit and miss and it’s more disappointing this time because this film promises to be a huge clash of titans. The first battle between predator and alien is awesome, these two destroy there surroundings and tare the shit out of each other. They really take advantage of this location and it’s always such a treat to see two classic monsters fight. However there aren’t that many more matches between the two, it’s mostly just the humans fighting the aliens with predator occasionally slowing the aliens down. The fights also tend to suffer from too much shaky camera and the battles are a little too short. In the end, it does leave you wanting a lot more, especially with all the build up that you had to sit through. That’s not to say the film is devoid of entertainment, because it is fun at times and the climax is really entertaining with the alien queen getting loose on the surface and chasing down our lead hero’s. 


      After the battle concludes, our lead heroin is approached by the elder predator that was seen at the end of “Predator 2” and he gives her a Predator staff, as if to say “We honor you as our equal”, which is great. At the end of the film we learn that an alien got inside one of the predators and has given birth to some strange alien/predator hybrid, setting it up for a sequel, which I’ll talk about next time.

      When I first saw this movie, I loved it, but I’ve gotten older and after finally watching the original “Aliens”, I find myself liking this film less and less. Overall, it’s just a dumb, fun monster movie, it’s not meant to be great and for what it is, I still think it’s entertaining. It’s not a film I watch often but if it shows up on TV than I don’t mind just sitting back and watching it. One thing that can be said for this film is that there was at least some small effort to be a good film but it didn’t make it all the way to greatness and is just trashy entertainment. I give “Alien vs. Predator” 3 stars out of 5. Will round two fare any better? Well, a review for “Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem” is up next. 

     To Be Continued....                 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Predator 2 (1990 review, 2nd review of 5)

      Well with every great film, you’re bound to get a sequel, however there usually good and it’s the latter sequels that tend to suck, but that’s not the case for the 1990 action sequel “Predator 2”. Of the 5 different Predator movies, this one is my least favorite by far. Everything great about the first film is gone, even Arnold Schwarzenegger is no-where to be found. But to be fare, there are some mildly good elements that just barley save this film from being one of the worst sequels of all time.

     Instead of taking place in the jungles of Central America, this film takes place in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles. The city is suffering from both a heat wave and a turf war between heavily-armed Colombian and Jamaican drug cartels and it has gotten the attention of a single Predator that loves all this heat and conflict. Schwarzenegger’s replacement is a cop played by Danny Glover, he’s an okay actor but the character is a complete jerk, he’s always pissed off and swearing and he doesn’t have any of the same heroic and genuine qualities that made Schwarzenegger’s character so likable. Actually, none of these new characters have any of the qualities that made the original cast so great. The big difference is that the first team were made up of actual characters that think, emote and have individual personalities but this new group of people only exist to move the plot along or get killed and there just terrible people. Fowl language is something that I hardly ever complain about but this film goes way over bored with vile and insulting remarks and swears that you actually begin to wish that the Predator would hurry up and kill these people, so we don’t have to hear them anymore. Oh, and Bill Paxton is one of them, I may have liked him in “Aliens” but in this film, he’s painfully annoying. There’s also a sub plot about a group of government agents that have been fallowing the Predators activities sense the events of the first film and it really downplays the mystery aspects of the creature when we have people describing this creature and its intentions in full detail.

     Second big problem, the setting is less alienating then the jungles of Central America. It’s far less exciting to have a Predator go open season on a big city as opposed to a hunter taking out a small group of people in the middle of no-where. He’s not even hunting the good guys, Predator spends most of this film killing criminals and drug lords and of cores, they have to be extremely hammy, over the top villains. One part that just went too far for me was this very disturbing and sick scene with the Jamaican drug cartels performing a voodoo ritual on some pore Colombian. This scene was just so unsettling and offensively cruel that it summed up just how unmercifully bad this film was going to be. There’s also a lot of really strange parts, like this scene when Predator climbs to the top of a building, lifts his staff up into the air and absorbs multiple lightning bolts, so did Predator turn into Thor for a second and command the elements, I just don’t get it. Then there’s this scene on a train, a group of Colombians are picking on a passenger, then every other passenger on the train (including the old woman) pull out guns on them, that’s like something from out of a Naked Gun parody.

    Kevin Peter Hall is back in the Predator suit but unfortunately it would be his last time before his untimely death, may he rest in peace. The Predators mask looks a lot cheaper than before, but the makeup and esthetics for his actual face are surprisingly improved with more detail and features. He also has a fun collection of new weapons including a razor sharp net, darts, a retractable spear and a bladed Frisbee. For the most part, the film just focuses on one individual Predator, that is until the end of the film when we finally get to see more then one of them and their different features. The strangest new twist about the Predators in this film is that they can actually speak perfect English. They still use the voice recorder but then there’s time’s when there clearly, vocally speaking and swearing, however this never happens in any of the other films.

     The best thing about this film by far is the climax. The final showdown between Danny Glover and the Predator is surprisingly cool, the fighting choreography is pretty good, and it's also awesome that the cop actually uses some of the Predators weapons against it. They also cover a lot of ground, starting in a meat factory, then on the top of a building, then they crash into an apartment complex, then down an elevator shaft and finally in the Predator space craft. The outside design of their space ship looks very generic and unimpressive. On the inside it looks like an Egyptian pyramid with an over abundance of fog. We do get a cool shot of the Predators trophy room and the skulls of the many different creatures that they’ve hunted down. Among them is the skull of an Alien from the Alien franchise, hinting at a cross over film that I’ll talk about next time.

    So for as bad as this film is, there are at least a few things that kept it from being a waste of time. As a whole “Predator 2” is just a lousy sequel that nearly killed the franchise, but even at it's worst, the film can still be watchable. I give “Predator 2” 2 stars and that’s me being generous. Usually films like this spawn a huge gallery of sequels, however the Predator series was put to rest for 14 years and didn’t have a huge collection of sequels like the “Alien”, “Halloween” and “Nightmare on Elm Street” series. Of cores, things never end and Predator found his way back, so stay tuned, a review of “Alien vs. Predator” is up next. 

   To Be Continued....