The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1

Bum-bum-ba-dum.  Bum-bum-ba-dum.

Bella (Kristen Stewart) is finally marrying sparkly vamp Edward (Robert Pattinson).  They whisk away on their honeymoon to a private island getaway home where Bella has decided to hold off on her ‘undead’ transformation and enjoy a few more weeks as a human.  Does this make much sense?  Jacob (Taylor Lautner) seems to think not.  He believes Edward will be too powerful and could possibly kill her on accident.  The morning after their first night together, Bella and Edward start the day in a completely destroyed bedroom suite.  The bride sports a few bruises.

Soon enough, Bella starts to get sick, rubs her stomach, and believes she is pregnant.  Is this possible?  What would the child be?  Human? Vampire?  Both?  Questions abound and fear skyrockets as Bella’s health begins to deteriorate rapidly as the baby grows and drains the life from her.  Jacob and Edward believe she should give up the baby.  The wolves want both Edward and the ‘abomination’ child taken care of for violating the treaty.  Bella sticks to her guns and sees the baby as a gift, even if it kills her.

The Twilight Saga continues to please its fans.  What more can I ask of a soapy melodrama meant for oooohing and ahhhing teenage girls?  I’ve accepted the fact that Stephanie Meyer had little interest in exploring a world of werewolves and vampires.  Her series could have trekked through endless accounts of mythology and created a rich world that addressed the complexities of living as a fiery beast or as an immortal dead man.  Meyer never seems interested in the grander worldwide scope of vampires or werewolves—though the series ventured a little further with Eclipse, but never to the point where we understood her created universe outside of the moderate-living Cullen clan.  Okay, so her story is not about ‘vampires’ and ‘werewolves.’  It’s about a moapy teen romance.  With no sharp turns on the horizon for the final upcoming film, I’ve been forced to accept and move on.

However, this franchise boasts two solid leads in Pattinson and Stewart.  They bring some credibility to this eye-rolling junk-drawer romance which features a herd of terrible supporting actors, chief among them Lautner once again who continues to throw a wrench in the engine of this series.  There are several laughable lines and moments to be found in Breaking Dawn Part 1, but I still found it to be plenty entertaining for its intended audience and in line with the steps forward made by the more eventful Eclipse last year.

While this installment won’t win any new converts, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Bill Condon (Chicago, Dreamgirls) approaches the material by doing what he can with what he has to work with.  For as little amount of ‘events’ take place in this first half of a film—a wedding, honeymoon, prenancy, and birth—Condon continually leans the audience back into Bella’s life-or-death scenario, despite a lot of the film’s unintentionally laughable moments.  By the time the emaciated Bella births her child in a disturbing sequence if ever there was one, the audience will likely be enveloped by the madness of it all even if they don’t care for this franchise.  You could do far worse at the movies than witness the insanity of Bella and Edward’s marital odyssey.  Chew on that.

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Scream 4

Why does poor Sidney Prescott continue to answer a telephone?  Especially one in the town of Woodsboro, California.  Would she not be better off resisting the temptation to discover a crazed masked murderer’s voice on the other end?  Instead, I suggest she leave the phone ringing, and head for the front door.  Get in her car and drive as far away from her hometown as possible.  Oh, and do not return.  Not even for a book signing.

Unfortunately after three previous entries, eleven years must be too long of a break for Sidney.  She returns to Woodsboro to promote her new book about her real-life experiences with several ‘Ghostface’ killers.  If I recall correctly, the following characters have tried to murder her (SPOILERS!): her high school boyfriend and Shaggy, followed by her boyfriend’s mother and another high school twit, and finally her long lost brother.  Friends, family, and love interests of hers have all met the knife.  However, none of these killers who claim to really want Sidney dead have the strength to get it over with.  Sidney is always preserved until the end.

Well folks, Sidney (Neve Campbell) returns to watch more people she cares about get murdered, and somehow she tries to sleep during the nights between.  The fact that she has legitimate family left in Woodsboro by this fourth installment is a testament to these people’s courage or stupidity.  Director Wes Craven, writer Kevin Williamson, and stars David Arquette and Courteney Cox also return for more Screaming.  But of course, as with both of the previous sequels, the rules of the killings have changed.  Since Hollywood clamors for reboots and remakes and fears risking original horror material, Scream 4 has an open eye and ear for how the Ghostface killer approaches the remake of the original and fictional ‘Stab’ film which is based on the original Woodsboro murders from the first Scream.  If I’ve lost you, just nod in agreement.

High schoolers start getting hacked to pieces (again) as soon as Sidney returns home.  Sheriff Dewey (David Arquette) cannot allow Sidney to leave, as she has now become a suspect.  Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) wants to get back into reporter mode and help solve the identity of the killer (again).  Added to the pack is high schooler Jill (Emma Roberts), cousin to Sidney.  She apparently has Ghostface’s eye on her, as her and her daffy friends fall victim to the murderous mayhem.  Among these friends are a questionable cheating boyfriend and a duo of horror geeks that run a full-time video blog via a website.  Yes, one of the two walks around school with an A/V headset all day because that’s what every teacher would allow in class.  And of course, these guys know everything about the latest trends in horror that automatically translate to the killer’s diabolical pattern.

While watching Scream 4, I was made aware of a few things.  First of all, Scream 4 is no Scream or Scream 2.  Second of all, the self-referential horror palate feels a tad dated.  Scary Movie 5 is on the horizon to inform audiences of the latest idiocy of horror films, so why stretch so thin with another Scream that has little to offer?  Third, there is little to no suspense in the story for a glaring reason: the high schoolers in peril ignore their predicament.  Their friends are getting gutted in front of them next door, and yet the dopes carry little to no sense of danger until caught in the clutches of the killer themselves.  In between more victimized friends, these kids carry on with drinking parties that revolve around watching all of the ‘Stab’ movies based on the murders.  I repeat, these kids are watching movies about the Woodsboro murders while more Woodsboro murders are happening to their friends!  These kids have also received the routine phone calls from the Ghostface killer.  Oh well.  The ‘Stab’ party is still the place to be!

Meanwhile, the returning characters feel a bit like an afterthought. Dewey and Gale garner little attention outside of expository dialogue revealing a strained marriage.  Sidney comes and goes, never quite knowing whether or not she’s the main character in Craven’s latest new nightmare.   Craven attempts to pass on the baton to a new group of hip youngsters, but he forgets to make them not… well, complete uninteresting dimwits.

That leaves us with Miss Prescott.  I never quite knew what Williamson and Craven had to say for Sidney this time around.  She’s hunted once again, running through the same maze, using little knowledge of her previous experiences to funk with the killer’s hokey plan.  At one point I was hoping she would question if she was in Scary Movie 5.  But no, Sidney still  plays victim, coming into physical confrontation with Ghostface on more than one occasion.  She has a habit of kicking him/her down a staircase and knocking him/her to the ground without killing them on the spot.   Instead she glances away only to look back and the killer has disappeared.  Shouldn’t she have learned by now?  I mean, you are in your fourth movie Sid… just sayin.

Despite all of its flaws and lack of commanding creativity after an 11-year hiatus, Scream 4 still fares better than most horror films running amok out there.  Intermittently, writer Williamson has something fresh up his sleeve to tease fans until returning to lesser tactics.  Beyond stylized batterings and one too many buckets of fake blood, the film’s occasional burst of energy and commentary keep the proceedings quite watchable.  However, I say with the talent involved and time made available, fans deserve better than watchable.  At least it trumps Scream 3.  I think.

Oh, and as for the killer’s reveal… of course I’ll give nothing away.  So I will respond with: C’mon…

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Van Helsing

Yeah, that’s right. I like Van Helsing (2004), one of the most hated movies of the last 20 years. I have seen so many reviews, blogs and videos trashing this movie, that I felt I had to speak up to defend it. So before you blow me off as an idiot, hear me out.

There’s no denying that Van Helsing is stupid, but it’s no stupider than a lot of movies out there. In fact, Van Helsing is probably the magnum opus of its director, considering that its director is Steven Sommers, one of the most bubble-headed directors of all time. To put Van Helsing in the proper context, it’s necessary to take a brief look at Sommers’ filmography.

Sommers’ first box office hit was The Mummy (1999), which I’ve already reviewed, a brain-dead piece of clap-trap that existed soley for the sake of mindless violence and spectacle. Some people read from a book, which brings the Mummy back from the dead, he kills half the world, and then the same people are supposed to be heroes just for cleaning up their own mess. For reasons I’ve never understood, The Mummy continues to be a favorite movie of many people. Next, Sommers vomited out The Mummy Returns (2001), a fairly standard sequel with a lot more horrific deaths, and even more ridiculous plot points. The herione of the first movie (Rachel Weiss) is suddenly declared to be a reincarnation of Egyptian princess Nephretiri. Don’t ask me how that works, as reincarnation was never discussed in the first movie, or in Egyptian mythology for that matter. Then, Sommers took a minor character from Returns, the Scorpion King (Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. “The Rock”), and stretched his back story into a full length movie. The Scorpion King was yet another mental death-trap for teens, given a mild-souding PG-13 rating and yet loaded with violence and near-nudity. The story was little more than an excuse for the Rock to show off.

And after all this, we got Van Helsing. Apparently bored with making three movies out of one Universal Studios moster, Sommers decided to make one movie and include three Universal mosters — Dracula (Richard Roxburg), The Wolfman (Will Kemp), and Frankenstien’s Moster (Schuler Hensley). While I can understand why some people hate Van Helsing, I cannot understand why some people lapped up The Mummy and then hated Van Helsing.

Why is Van Helsing awesome? Here's why.

First, vampires and werewolves are way cooler than mummies. Second, our hero, Van Helsing, is played by Hugh freaking Jackman, probably the greatest specimen of manliness since Harisson Ford (okay, so I’m not imune to man-crushes. Sue me). The Mummy has Brendan Frasier. This is the guy who played Dudley Do Right and George of the Jungle, and then got beat up by cartoons in Looney Tunes, Back in Action. And third, Van Helsing has a collection of gadgets that would make James Bond jealous. He fights monsters with buzz saws, crossbows that launch silver arrows, a shotgun, a pop-out silver stake, pop out crosses, grapling hooks, and thats just to name a few!

The action sequences in this movie define the word epic, involving huge sets, hundreds of extras (monster fodder) and dazling special effects. Every detail of them was meticulously planned out (too bad you can’t say the same for the plot). Moments that I initially dismissed as rediculous (e.g. the roof of a carriage catching fire durring a werewolf attack) actually do happen for an (admittedly implausible) reason (e.g. the werewolf crashing against a lantern on the side of the carraige and sliding across the roof). This movie has more effective jump-scares than many other movies combined, and even pulls off a number of really difficult delayed-jump-scares (the kind where you sort-of see it coming, but that only increases its effect on you). On top of all this, it still manages to slip in quite a few funny moments.

Jackman is, of course, dashing as a younger version of Bram Stoker’s hero, but Aussie star Richard Roxberg is equally great as the Lord of Evil himself, Count Dracula. There’s a little bit of Bella Lugosi in his performance, a little of Gary Oldman, and a little of the historical Dracula, but it’s mostly his own creation. It ranges from quiet, brooding moments to wild rage, and manages to make it all quite sinister and intimidating. In any case, it’s much more interesting than watching Arnold Vosloo make faces like he needs to blow his nose. This is a major strength of the movie that compensates for lack of a coherent plot: you have these epic characters that are so vividly realized, and they’re played off eachother so powerfully that you almost don’t need a story. Leading Lady Kate Beckinsale (as Transylvanian she-warior Anna Valerious) looks great in her slinky outfits and also pulls of the action side of the roll. It’s hard to believe she once had this roll. A word also needs to be said about David Wenham, who, prior to this roll, had been voted “Australia’s Sexiest Man Alive.” However, for this movie, he put tack behind his ears to make himself look like Dumbo, donned a friar’s outfit, and speant the movie jabbering and bumbling around, just so we could have a laugh. Thanks, David.

Finally, there are the special effects. I know, I know. Just like all of you, I’ve talked a lot about how I’m tired of special effects, and they don’t impress me anymore. But any honest viewer has to admit that, even by 2011 standards, Van Helsing’s special effects truly are incredible. Most of it is C.G.I. However, if you watch the making-of features, there are some surprises. For example, when Dracula’s brides transform and take flight, the bodies are C.G.I., but their faces are still their own, covered in makeup. Rather than rely on C.G.I., Sommers used it to enhance the sets and props, which look good of their own accord.

When it comes to special effects, even today, movies tend to cheat. Forexample, if someone is going to transform (e.g. into a werewolf) we usually see the beginning of the transformation, then they fall below the camera, or stumble behind something, then we see the finall result, and the producer saves $50,000. Not in Van Helsing. It helps that “subtlety” is not in Sommers’ vocabulary. We see everything every time, and everything looks absulutely real. The werewolves, in particular, look amazing; you can actually see individual hairs blowing in the wind. In one scene, it’s raining, and the hair gets matted down, but still looks natural. There are all kinds of little touches throughout the movie. For example, in one scene, a vampiress (Elena Anaya) takes a stake in the heart. She then explodes into slime. Animating liquid is hard enough, but they didn’t stop there. They actually kept the shape of her screaming face in the slime as it flies at the camera. I didn’t even notice this until the third or fourth time I watched it. From the first scene to the last, you see proof that the post-production team worked tremendously hard on this one.

Is Van Helsing destined for a spot in the anals of great movies? Psh. Heck, no. But is it the steaming turd so many make it out to be? Not at all. What is it? A roaring good time that cast and crew put a lot of sweat into, and a sign that Sommers can make a decent movie, if he really tries. And there’s hope for more, because he still hasn’t done the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

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Devil

Five people with curious backgrounds are trapped in a skyscraper elevator.  One of them may be the devil.  Can any of them get out alive?  Mourning Det. Bowden (Chris Messina) arrives on the scene to try and rescue the victims trapped in a predicament that quickly evolves into a homicide case as the supernatural enacts its vengeance on guilty souls.

Devil unfortunately was met with a dismal box-office reception in theaters.  Could this be attributed to the reputation of Producer M. Night Shyamalan (who also receives a story credit) whose career continues to dive?  Many were duped by the marketing into thinking the Shamster directed this, and that may have impacted the film’s potential and credibility.  The actual director, John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine) actually delivers a swift and engaging 80-minute horror film that consistently provides great character drama, classic whodunit mystery, all enveloped in a slick supernatural package.

I have minor criticisms involving how some of that supernatural ‘knowledge’ gets played out through a security guard character watching the murderous madness unfold.  It feels very Shyamalan-esque to have the devil’s playtime story spoon-fed to the audience through a character who knows everything about the situation, especially when it would be much wiser to simply leave that explanation out entirely.  The audience is smart enough to know the devil can be up to no good.

Luckily that complaint is small in comparison to what this overlooked and underrated horror gem has to offer.  Ignore what you think you might know about the film.  It’s a doozy of a little shocker and a very entertaining supernatural thriller from beginning to end—the best film Shyamalan never directed.

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Trick ‘r Treat

He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good … You probably recognize those words from the beloved children’s song about Santa Clause. You’ve probably sung it, laughing and giggling at a joyful time of year. You have to admit, though, those words are pretty creepy. An old man with supernatural powers watching children sleep?

Every Christmas, we can expect admonitions to respect “traditions,” even if we steer clear of the religious side of the holiday. You have to have a tree and give gifts, like it or not. Why? Because it’s Christmas, that’s why. The same is true of other holidays. On July 4th and Memorial Day, for example, we are expected to demonstrate respect for our national traditions.

I loved Halloween as a child because there were no burdensome traditions. Be whoever you want. Roam the neighborhood at will. As long as you didn’t eat candy without a wrapper, you were free to run amok. Maybe it was your friend from YMCA soccer walking next to you under that costume … or maybe it wasn’t a costume at all. You could have whatever adventure your imagination could write, and no one threatened you with coal.

Until October of 2008, when Legendary Pictures released Trick ‘r Treat. Trick ‘r Treat is set in Warren Valley, Ohio, during the city-wide Halloween festival. The school principal, Steven Wilkinson (Dylan Baker), sits beside a student on his front steps, ominously stabbing and slicing a pumpkin. “My dad taught me a lot about the traditions of Halloween,” he says. “Traditions that were put in place to protect us. Tonight is about respecting the traditions, not breaking them.”

Oh, great.

The first scene in the movie involves a woman who blows out her jack-o-lantern prematurely and is then murdered by “Sam,” a child-sized creature hidden in a burlap costume. Trick ‘r Treat seems to be a horrific version of A Christmas Carol, with Sam acting as the Three Spirits, enforcing Halloween traditions. Later in the movie, he gives similar bloody treatment to a crotchety old man (Brian Cox) who refuses to give out treats. I have to admit, I would not want to be on Sam’s “naughty list.”

The rest of the movie is a patchwork of short stories, overlapping and intersecting. The stories are done fairly well, though there’s nothing original aside from Sam. If you’ve ever sat around a campfire with friends, you’ve heard the staple elements of all of them:

  • A psychopath kills neighborhood children and turns their heads into

    Anna Paquin as horror movie character #VIR017. By touching this movie, she has absorbed its uncanny campiness.

    jack-o-lanterns.

  • A group of friends pulls a scary prank on an unpopular girl, and it backfires horrifically.
  • A girl, begging for help, is murdered in front of party-goers who think it’s an act.

This is a good movie to watch at a party, or with a bunch of friends, to make fun of. It isn’t remotely scary, unless you’re the type who worries about being eviscerated with a lollipop. (Yes, you read that right.) On the other hand, the scenery is really cool, and the writing and acting are good enough to hold your attention. It’s fun to try to predict where the stories will interact. For example, early in the movie, one character looks at his neighbor’s house and sees his neighbor at the window, shouting “help me! Help me!” He waves him off and goes back to the story he is in. Later, the movie backs up and we see the story inside the neighbor’s house and learn what he was so afraid of.

But what is with Sam? Do we really need one more omnipresent holiday symbol secretly watching and passing judgment on us? Especially considering that, while Santa tends to be portrayed as merciful and just, Sam seems rather capricious. Do we really need a morality play about the power of mutilated pumpkins to ward off evil?

As the festivities wind down, the last few minutes of Trick ‘r Treat tie a lot together, and we realize most of what we saw happened on the same street. I would hate to be the coroner for Warren Valley. The authorities will be picking up the pieces for days. What’s more, the funeral homes and grief counselors will be booked solid til Christmas. Then Jacob Marley can start terrorizing us.

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Frozen

It is now officially the month of Halloween, and to start the season of horror off correctly, I recommend you check out Frozen, which doesn’t feature a deformed immortal axe-murderer stalking witless sex-starved teenagers.  Writer/Director Adam Green, whose former credits include the indie-slasher Hatchet turns to smart horror for a change, and in his attempt at taking a simple “what if” concept, he constructs a tightly-wound thriller that had me in its grip from beginning to end.

I wish to apologize to those who may be offended by referring to Frozen as smart horror, but the slasher genre has been done to death and beyond the grave.  When a horror-filmmaker turns to realistic terror, where the premise relies on a believable and fresh scenario, and a viewer can’t help but be caught up in the characters’ reality-based dilemma, that’s where horror really works—and perhaps more importantly—stands out.

Frozen finds three friends at ski resort on a Sunday afternoon.  Two of them are boyfriend, Dan (Kevin Zegers) and girlfriend, Parker (Emma Bell).  The third wheel of the group is Lynch (Shawn Ashmore), the best friend of Dan.  By the end of the night, a storm front is upon the resort, and the group decide to take the ski lift to the bottom of the mountain only to find out it has been closed, and so they convince the lift operator to allow them down before calling it a  night.  Reluctantly, he agrees and the three friends board the chair and start their descent.  When the operator is called away, his replacement is unaware that three people are still in transport, and he shuts down for the night leaving the protagonists trapped 50 feet above ground.  With the park closed until the following Friday, the youngsters remain trapped and soon realize they will not survive the week, which begs the question: “What do you do?”

What follows becomes increasingly terrifying as each of the three friends tries to figure a way out of their situation.  Green manages to keep the story focused and in-the-moment.  Because of that constant focus, I was completely engulfed and left clutching my fingers together in suspense and shock as the predicament continues on a never-ending spiral of bad to worse.  Green accomplishes this without relying on excessive gratuitous gore (although there is some), and utilizes a real set in a real environment.  That certainly adds to the believability of it all.  The actors all deliver solid performances as well, and I stayed with them throughout.  Made on a low budget and barely earning a theatrical release, horror fans owe it to themselves to check out a plausible and original premise within the genre, and one of the best horror offerings I have seen in quite some time.  It is an emotionally-wringing, psychologically-exhausting experience.  Count me freaked out.

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Predators

If there has ever been a franchise sequel I’ve been longing for, it could be none other than Predators, a standalone installment that would rid the stink of both recent Alien vs. Predator pictures and delve further into the universe of a race of alien hunter-killers.  Not since the so-so 1990 film Predator 2 has a proper sequel to the original 1987 actioner been released.  Twenty years later with the help of producer Robert Rodriguez, the series seemed to be in store for a worthy recharge of the batteries.  All the elements were in place for a fantastic action-movie experience, but the movie is a little  reserved, hesitant and feels slapped together.

The best that can be said about Predators is that it starts off with a bang.  As the film opens, Adrien Brody (yes, Oscar-winner Adrien Brody) falls from the sky, unconscious and unaware, that is until he wakes up mid-fall, and his parachute bursts open as he hits the ground with a thud.  In the middle of a jungle, other characters soon follow plunging to earth.  A handful of characters, unaware of where they are or how they got there, soon realize they have something in common: there all hard-boiled killers.  A U.S. mercenary, a Yakuza samurai, a death-row inmate, a warlord, a blacks ops sniper, and a few others culminate a group of prey for three nasty predator hunters.  Royce (Brody), the mercenary, soon comes to realize their purpose in this jungle, seemingly a Predator game preserve planet, and ends up taking lead in the fight against the alien hunters with hopes of finding a way back to Earth.

Robert Rodriguez was apparently given free reign on this project, producing at his very own Troublemaker Studios without studio interference.  Nimrod Antal (Armored, Vacancy) actually directs the film, and does a decent enough job establishing the Predator world, and making Predators look and sound like a sequel to the original Predator. Early on, I was very pleased to find out the filmmakers decided to reuse Alan Silvestri’s original musical score for this sequel.  And with a return to a jungle environment, the film at least attempts to please fans of John McTiernan’s film.  But that’s about where Predators stops working in our favor.

Most of the characters occupying the story disappoint.  Aside from a surprisingly solid and bulky Adrien Brody (trying desperately to fill in the shoes of Arnold Schwarzenegger) delivering a favorable performance, the rest of the characters are extremely disappointing—or at least they are written terribly.  Even Laurence Fishburne, who is introduced midway into the picture, comes in strong, and quickly descends into a stupid ten-minute segment, as his character has been trapped on the Predator planet for ten years, surviving off of whatever he can scavage and store.  He harbors Brody and the other human inhabitants running for their lives, only to exit the movie quickly and provide little substance.  The same can be said for the other characters as well.  They are no more than cardboard cutouts designed by the script to be shooting targets for the predators.  As a group of skilled human killers, apparently selected for these particular skills, I hoped these people would collaborate in hunting the predators and fighting back, but they had nothing of interest to add to the plot or any of the chases.

This brings me to the Predators themselves.  It’s as if they’re an afterthought, as they are extraordinarily underused.  The original 1987 Predator was a thoughtful, skillful hunter, utilizing his environment, and was frankly pretty darn terrifying.  Rodriguez, himself, declared Predators to Predator as Aliens was to Alien.  I’m sorry to say he is mistaking.  There is far more suspense and more action in the original.  Not to say that Antal’s film completely bores, as the action sequences are filmed decent enough and quite gritty, but the choreography (especially in a scene where the Yakuza samurai swordfights a Predator) feels dull and sloppy.  The Predators have no interesting weapons, no personalities, and nothing of interest to learn about them.  I did appreciate seeing some different creatures running amok on the alien planet, such as Predator dogs, and otherworldly species as well.  But there’s not quite enough of that explored.  I ultimately started noticing that anything that was introduced in Predators that I wanted more of, quickly disappeared. And any time I wanted the plot to explore ideas that came to fruition, the movie veered off into nonsensical dialogue that goes nowhere.  In fact, nothing is explained about how these human characters even arrive on this distant planet.  In some ways that is okay by me, as it presents ideas that could be explored in another movie, but I highly doubt the filmmakers ever intend to address any of these possibilities.

Overall, Predators was a disappointment.  It’s not as bad as the AVP disasters, but it’s not as good as Predator 2, and definitely not even close to the original Predator.  It is obvious the film is a simple miscalculation and probably came together too quickly.  However, enough interesting ideas are introduced—they just go unused or underdeveloped.  Another sequel could tighten things up, as Predators ends with somewhat of a cliffhanger.  I definitely would love to see another installment tie up the loose ends, and deliver a much more suspenseful premise.  All die-hard Predator fans should see this sequel, as there’s enough here to keep you interested, but not quite enough to thrill you.  Here’s hoping for a better follow-up.

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Predator

Action junkies know “Predator,” and know it well.  The film stands as my favorite among all guilty pleasures.  Its talented director John McTiernan went on to direct to action classics (Die Hard, The Hunt For Red October) before descending into faded career oblivion (Rollerball, Basic) and curious legal issues.  Its ripped-to-shreds stars shined in their prime.  The exotic Mexican jungle locations made for an exceptional landscape to showcase some great visuals and cinematography.  The film is also an excellent combination of genres–an action picture that evolves into science-fiction and ultimately horror.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Dutch Schaeffer, leader of a Special Forces team consisting of five other men sent into the South American jungle along with Dillon (Carl Weathers), a CIA combat operative and friend of Dutch.  Their mission: to rescue a cabinet minister and American hostages held captive by drug-trading guerrilla fighters.  Upon arriving in the guerrilla zone, Dutch and his men encounter a crashed military chopper and a collection of skinned human carcasses.  What to make of this?  “This isn’t human,” claims Dillon.  And it certainly isn’t, as the men eventually realize they are the targets of a relentless hunter from another world.  They cannot see it, but it certainly sees them, and begins to pick them off one by one.

Once “Predator” evolves from a typical Scwharzenegger shoot-em-up into a suspenseful chase movie, things really pick up.  McTiernan is a master at creating isolation.  He continued this trend with Bruce Willis as a one-man army trapped inside a skyscraper against a team of terrorists in “Die Hard.”  In “The Hunt For Red October,” he squeezed a group of nerve-wrecked men inside a Soviet submarine.  In “Predator,” his first major feature, this group of combat soldiers have all the firepower in the world, and they demonstrate it quite well when they mow down acres of jungle in a desperate attack against their unseen visitor.  The men become overwhelmed with terror when they realize ‘they hit nothing.’  Their endless jungle  has now become their tomb, as their rescue chopper will not arrive in time for them to survive.

The tension in Predator knows no bounds.  The actual creature hunting the men is seen very little throughout most of the movie.  Although the audience gets glimpses here and there of what the predator sees (infrared heat vision) and hears (which it quickly learns to mimic), the creature never manifests itself until a good way into the movie.  Prior to this scene where the Predator must tend to his wounds, he is only seen in a spacesuit of armor that bends light around his body so that he is camoflaged, and all you see of him is a distorted blur in the shape of his body.  The special effects really accomplished something here, designing an impressive effect that still holds up by today’s standards.

In fact, even though “Predator” is the epitome of 80s action-movie brawn and bravado, everything about the film holds up pretty well by today’s standards.  Sure, we don’t get the macho action pictures we used to twenty-five years ago (unless they go straight-to-DVD), but the look of the film, the special effects, and major action sequences still impress all these years later.  Obviously the brand name still works, as two lackluster ‘Alien vs. Predator’ films came to be in the last six years, and a new direct sequel to the 1987 film finally saw the light of day this past week.  Amazingly, of these attempts at reviving the Predator character, none captures the dread, suspense, intensity, action, nor looks as good as John McTiernan’s film.

Part of this is due to the mystery and discovery of the Predator, and his reveal in the final bout with Schwarzenegger’s character.  Up until then, the audience is glued to their seats waiting to see the monster responsible for all the mayhem.  The film also succeeds because of the fact that the entire production was built around Arnold Schwarzenegger, delivering the man of muscle an enemy worth competing with.  Soon enough it is easy to figure out that Arnold is in trouble, and not even his mammoth build or ego can be of match to such a beast.  If Arnold is to represent the perfect physical human specimen, then to see him tossed around like a rag doll makes for an interesting viewing.  Finally, “Predator” above all else, works so well because of Stan Winston’s creature design.  Once his creation fills up the screen, it really becomes worth the wait, as many monster reveals in movies disappoint and are hidden for good reason, Winston has never made a creature so hideous and horrific.  When Arnold says to the creature, “You’re one ugly mother f-cker,” he ain’t kidding.

Many filmmakers would try to copy McTiernan’s genre-shifting ways, including Robert Rodriguez with “From Dusk Till Dawn” (he also produces the new “Predators”).  But none would ever capture the high-level energy and efficiency of this fast-paced masterpiece on all counts.  Sure, many view “Predator” as a decent action film from the 80s full of cheesy one-liners and a lot of macho-man antics.  Heck, I didn’t even mention Jesse Ventura’s scene-chewing and tobacco chewing.  But hey, it all works as a brilliant, tightly constructed men-on-a-mission thriller that turns into a mano-a-mano battle of survival of the fittest between Arnold Schwarzenegger and a giant alien hunter, and as such succeeds in the genres of action, science-fiction, and horror.  Count this as the best ‘guy’ movie you will ever see.

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