Film Review: Predators (2010)

Also known as: Predator 3 (working title)
Release Date: July 7th, 2010 (Austin premiere)
Directed by: Nimród Antal
Written by: Alex Litvak, Michael Finch
Based on: characters by Jim Thomas, John Thomas
Music by: John Debney
Cast: Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne, Oleg Taktarov, Mahershala Ali, Danny Trejo

Davis Entertainment Company, Troublemaker Studios, Dune Entertainment, Ingenious Media, 20th Century Fox, 107 Minutes

Review:

“We’re being hunted. The cages. The soldier. All of us. All brought here for the same purpose. This planet is a game preserve. And we’re the game. In case you didn’t notice, we just got flushed out. They sent the dogs in, just like you if you were stalking boar or shooting quail. They split us apart and they watched. Testing us.” – Royce

I threw this on because I wanted to refresh my memory with the quality of this film before watching the more recent sequel, 2018’s The Predator.

This has held up well after eight or so years. I still really liked it, it’s far better than either AvP film and it is the best Predator picture after the original two from 1987 and 1990.

Adrien Brody was already an accomplished and impressive actor before this but this is where he convinced me that he can also be a great action star. In fact, I really loved this version of Adrien Brody and would love to see him team up with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch from the original Predator for a future film. That probably won’t happen but fanboys can dream and sometimes dreams do come true.

What’s great about this movie is that Brody could have carried it on his own but he didn’t have to because the ensemble cast was pretty fantastic, as well.

Alice Braga, now a well-known actress thanks to her show Queen of the South, was a damn good female lead and a total badass. Topher Grace was a character with an interesting twist. Then you have Laurence Fishburne as a great mad man, Danny Trejo as Danny Trejo and Mahershala Ali before his Oscar winning fame. Plus, Walton Goggins is also in this and if you’ve been reading Talking Pulp for awhile, you should know how much I love Goggins in anything.

One really cool thing about this movie, is that it is a good sequel and a fantastic homage to the original. It recreates some of the iconic moments of the first picture without being ham-fisted or cheesy. And the average person might not notice these subtle homages unless they’ve seen the original ten dozen times like I have.

I also like that they add some new elements to the Predator mythos. It introduces a new type of Predator alien and hints at a sort of civil war between the two types.

This movie has great action, a perfect pace, some solid mystery and marvelous performances with some good twists.

This is how you make a good Predator film. Keep it simple, keep it action heavy and just go balls out.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Predator and Predator 2.

Film Review: Hidden Figures (2016)

Release Date: December 10th, 2016 (SVA Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Theodore Melfi
Written by: Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi
Based on: Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
Music by: Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, Benjamin Wallfisch
Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge

Fox 2000 Pictures, Chernin Entertainment, Levantine Films, 20th Century Fox, 127 Minutes

Review:

“There are no colored bathrooms in this building, or any building outside the West Campus, which is half a mile away. Did you know that? I have to walk to Timbuktu just to relieve myself! And I can’t use one of the handy bikes. Picture that, Mr. Harrisson. My uniform, skirt below the knees and my heels. And simple necklace pearls. Well, I don’t own pearls. Lord knows you don’t pay the colored enough to afford pearls! And I work like a dog day and night, living on coffee from a pot none of you want to touch! So, excuse me if I have to go to the restroom a few times a day.” – Katherine Johnson

I was really looking forward to seeing Hidden Figures. It is a film that tells the true story of the black women who were instrumental in helping NASA get John Glen into space and eventually, getting a man on the moon.

It starred a very capable cast, had a director that impressed me with St. Vincent and really looked to be a film that had all the right things going for it. There really could be only one major thing that might disrupt what should have been a solid film. Sadly, it is that one thing that holds this picture back: heavy handedness.

Going into this film, you know it is about black struggle and not just black struggle but the struggle of women in Civil Rights era America. The whole film itself is the point, the premise is the point. However, the film, as is so common with pictures with similar themes as of late, has to remind you at every single turn that these women are persecuted against. I get it. We all get it. But every single time a white person walks into frame doesn’t mean that there needs to be some sort of hostility towards these black women. Not every single white person was an asshole. If they were, the Civil Rights movement couldn’t have happened. Lots of people were more than just tolerant of blacks and it was those people that helped to usher in Civil Rights. I hate to be all soapbox-y but I feel like films that use this tactic, which is all too common, kind of dismiss the fact that there were good people on all sides of the racial spectrum that wanted equality and respect for all people.

Frankly, this film also cheapens the importance of the work that Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson did at NASA by harping most specifically on the race issues. Hidden Figures actually takes some narrative liberties and just makes some shit up to enhance its need to focus on the racism in the film.

One example that I’ll give is Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison is actually three different people pushed together into one character. He’s the “nice yet still casually racist white person that needs something to open his eyes” archetype that these sort of films all have. I guess Kirsten Dunst is the same thing too. Anyway, Costner’s Harrision is smacked in the face by a truth bomb from a very frustrated Katherine (in a tremendous moment of acting by Taraji P. Henson, mind you) about the racist bullshit at NASA. So Harrision walks down to the Colored Women’s Bathroom and violently knocks down the sign in front of a crowd of whites on one side and blacks on the other. Then he proclaims that there are no more colored toilets and no more white toilets at NASA. It’s a great feel good moment in the film but it never really happened and the whole subplot about Katherine having to run a half mile with mountains of files just to pee a few times a day, isn’t accurate. Segregated bathrooms at NASA were abolished in 1958, this film takes place in 1961.

I don’t want to be the asshole that just dwells on this shit but the point is, this had the makings of a beautiful and great film had it stuck to solid truths and focused on these women’s actual contributions and their incredible minds. Yes, that stuff is in this film but it doesn’t seem to be the most important statement. This is a picture trying to make a political and social statement about Civil Rights America and the racial divide that still exists on a level even today but there are already dozens, if not hundreds of films that have been tackling the subject for decades.

Point being, if you are an American, you know all of this. You don’t need it spelled out to you every second like your getting your first history lesson. And if you are a decent person, which I believe most people are, you already reject racism and bigotry against all types of people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or what have you.

The acting in this movie was pretty damn good. Especially from the three female leads but none of them have really disappointed me in anything that they’ve done thus far. I also loved Mahershala Ali in this and he’s becoming one of my favorite actors working today. He’s just got this electric charisma and he’s a stunning looking man with a powerful presence.

It was weird seeing Jim Parsons in this because I have never seen him in anything outside of The Big Bang Theory. I’d like to see him get other work, as his character of Sheldon Cooper is already one of the most iconic characters in television history. While I liked him in this, his NASA engineer character just seemed like an unfunny and bigoted version of Sheldon.

Despite my criticisms, I definitely liked this film more than it may appear. It was well made, well acted and was about science and history. I just wish that it would have been more accurate and focused on telling a story instead of feeling the need to make a statement we’ve all already seen countless times over and are very well aware of.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: For similar themes about the black struggle leading up to and through the Civil Rights era: A Raisin in the SunThe Great DebatersMalcolm X… there are so many.

Film Review: Moonlight (2016)

Release Date: September 2nd, 2016 (Telluride)
Directed by: Barry Jenkins
Written by: Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney
Based on: In Moonlight Black Blues Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney
Music by: Nicholas Britell
Cast: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Janelle Monáe, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali

Plan B Entertainment, Pastel Productions, A24, 111 Minutes

Review:

“At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.” – Juan

I didn’t get to see this last year, as it was only in my local theaters for a blink of an eye. Now that it is streaming on Amazon Video, I finally got to see the film that derailed La La Land‘s beeline to Oscar glory. I didn’t really like La La Land, so I was pretty okay with it getting knocked off of its pedestal.

But is Moonlight a better picture? I’d say so.

Strangely, this is the first motion picture to win the Oscar for Best Picture that has an all black cast, as well as being about LGBT issues. It probably won because of industry politics and Hollywood’s need to redeem itself due to pressure from those social justice warriors that have an opinion about everything. Regardless of the politics, this is a fine film. It probably isn’t the best of 2016 but it is certainly in the top ten.

The one thing that stands out the most is the acting. Everyone in this film just existed in it, as real characters. Sure, I know Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris and Janelle Monáe but they really just melted into their roles quite fabulously. Ali was deserving of the Oscar that he won for this and really, I just wish we got more of his character but his fate was important to the overall narrative of this coming of age story, that sees a young boy grow into a man, sort of lost in the world.

While the plot can feel slow moving at times, this is a very human story and driven more by emotion than action. All three actors that played Chiron at different points in his life, were stellar. The last act of the film is a mixture of sadness and hope but it is satisfying and anyone who has lost a friend, only to reconnect in some way, years later, can relate to it.

Other than the acting and the well constructed narrative, the cinematography of this film is spectacular. The lighting is perfect, the shots are pristine and meticulously orchestrated; even if this was a picture that was shot on location in short bursts, it turned out magnificently. I really loved the way the camera moved around characters in several scenes, especially during conversations or conflicts on street settings.

Moonlight is well crafted and its real purpose is to show that finding your own identity isn’t an easy task. Life throws its curveballs and isn’t fair. But whether you’re white, black, gay or straight, I think we can all relate to Chiron’s need to find his right place in the world.

Rating: 8/10

TV Review: Luke Cage (2016-2018)

Original Run: September 30th, 2016 – current
Created by: Cheo Hodari Coker
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Luke Cage by Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Roy Thomas, John Romita Sr.
Music by: Adrian Younge, Ali Shaheed Muhammad
Cast: Mike Colter, Rosario Dawson, Mahershala Ali, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Erik LaRay Harvey, Alfre Woodard, Mustafa Shakir, Gabrielle Dennis, Ron Cephas Jones, Fab 5 Freddy (cameo), Method Man (cameo)

ABC Studios, Marvel, Netflix, 13 Episodes (so far), 44-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2016.

Luke Cage was the third of the four Marvel series being produced for Netflix. He is to be a member of the Defenders, who will get a minseries as a team, once all four heroes are introduced in their own series. We’ve already seen Daredevil and Jessica Jones (where Cage actually debuted) and we have Iron Fist coming up after this.

While Luke Cage is a superhero and actually a member of the Avengers in the comics. He is not an Avenger in the show, at least not at the moment. Also, the vibe of his show is much different from the ones before it. This is more of a modern blaxploitation series in its style and story.

Cage gains the power of being indestructible. It is a slow reveal as to how this happened and what it all means but he uses this ability to protect his neighborhood from the criminals that seek to exploit and destroy it. There are actually a few big villains in the show and each gets a good amount of time to be fleshed out and come to life. None of them, however, are as interesting as Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth.

In fact, the chemistry between Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Ali is pretty uncanny. They played off of each other very well and their was a real weight to the tension between the two. Unfortunately, Ali is only in about the first half of the season and then the gears shift to the villain Diamondback.

The shifting gears is one of the issues I have with the show. In a way, the first season feels like two condensed seasons of a show compressed down into one. The tension and drama between Cage and Cottonmouth is essentially wiped away, just as it is reaching a really satisfying high. Then the stuff with Diamondback just isn’t as interesting, even if he and Cage have some cool fights.

I also have to mention the awesome work of Alfre Woodard and Theo Rossi, who are both established as villains but they are big baddies to be explored more in the future. They have ties to everything that happens in the first season but are really just there to be a part of a much larger arc that has really just begun.

One thing that is amazing about the show is the score. It is produced by Adrian Younge alongside Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest. Also, the hip-hop tracks that are worked into the show are all pretty much fantastic choices that give the show a gritty New York vibe in the right sort of way. Also, every episode is named after a Gang Starr song. One of the musical highlights is definitely the live performance by Jidenna as he does his song “Long Live the Chief”. Also, look for a stupendous cameo from Method Man of Wu-Tang Clan towards the end of the first season.

Another cool thing about Luke Cage is it spends significant time trying to flesh out Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple, who is the link to all these Defenders related Marvel shows. Dawson and Colter have a good bond and camaraderie that I hope to see explored more in the future.

Luke Cage is pretty good. I don’t enjoy it as much as Jessica Jones and Daredevil, thus far. However, it has promise and looks to be heading in the right direction with what it established in its first season.