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, Derek Mears

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: BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Also known as: Black Klansman (working title)
Release Date: May 14th, 2018 (Cannes)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, Kevin Willmott
Based on: Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth
Music by: Terence Blanchard
Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Corey Hawkins, Robert John Burke, Nicholas Turturro, Alec Baldwin, Harry Belafonte

Blumhouse Productions, Monkeypaw Productions, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, QC Entertainment, Legendary Entertainment, Focus Features, 135 Minutes

Review:

“Darn tootin'” – David Duke

For the most part, I enjoyed this movie. I have to get that out of the way because it’s probably going to sound like I’m overly critical of it, as I continue on in this review.

First and foremost, it was a solid, interesting story with actors that I thought handled the material well. In regards to Adam Driver, this was the first thing that I have seen him in where he wasn’t Kylo Ren or that stupid Logan Lucky movie that made me want to burn the theater down. I really got to see his legit acting chops on full display and I was impressed. He lived up to what other people have told me about him. Well, mostly girls that wanted me to watch Girls. No thanks.

One major thing about this film is that it is based on a true story, the biographical account of these events by the real Ron Stallworth, the main character in the film. The problem, which happens with many Spike Lee movies, is that the director takes some tremendous liberties and sort of uses the real story as a basis to weave his films the way he sees fit, whether honest, accurate or not.

One major moment in this film is the big jab at the end where Stallworth calls David Duke to reveal that he was a black man the entire time. This never happened and Duke wasn’t ever privy to Stallworth being black until it was revealed to him in an interview in 2006.

Another issue I have with the film is that it works perfectly as its own tale but once you get to the end, it immediately switches to real world footage of the 2017 Charlottesville incident. I understand the parallels, everyone does, this film does a great job of painting the picture that Spike Lee needs to get his message across but the switch to modern real world footage is jarring. I know that it is supposed to be jarring but it isn’t jarring because of the incident itself, which is still very fresh in the public’s mind, but because it cheapens the film from an artistic standpoint. It’s heavy handed and forcibly shoehorned into the film in a way that cheapens the effect of Spike’s own picture, basically saying, “Hey, if you don’t get the message after this 135 minute beautiful film I did, than here’s a hammer to the face just to make sure you got it.” Spike Lee is talented enough to make films that speak for themselves and can lead his audience where he needs to without the hammer to the face. And this also looks like he has a lack of confidence in his own storytelling abilities; he shouldn’t. This worked without the exclamation point.

Additionally, this movie was released almost on the one year anniversary of the incident, which means it was already being made and Lee decided to tie it into Charlottesville after the fact or that it was made as a response to it and rushed out, which gets into some of the technical problems the film had.

Most of the film flowed well but there are some key points where I noticed clunky editing and transitions as well as bad audio management. Sometimes it felt as if something got cut from the film, it jumped to the scene after and the transitions were already done so they didn’t really bother to smooth out and polish the later cuts from the film.

Another thing that bothered me was Lee’s apparent lack of environmental awareness. I’ll give two examples.

One, when Stallworth is following the Klansman on a dark country road at night, the Klansman is able to see that a black man is behind him. I’ve driven on dark country roads. You can’t see the face of the person behind you, all you can see is their headlights. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if it weren’t made into a somewhat important plot point that had an effect on three different scenes.

Two, when Stallworth is watching the Klan meeting towards the end of the movie, he’s watching from a second story window overlooking the meeting room. He is in direct view of David Duke, who is on the stage giving a speech. Every time they show the back wall with the windows you can see the silhouette of Stallworth’s head with it’s large afro. There’s no way that Duke wouldn’t see this while pontificating out to the crowd and while probably paying attention to his surroundings, as he has had threats and is under police protection.

I’m not sure if Spike Lee just doesn’t care about these details, as just telling the story is most important, or if he just didn’t think these scenes through. Again, maybe the film was rushed to try and get it out on the anniversary of Charlottesville.

Another thing that I disliked and it isn’t just in this film, it’s in a lot of films, is that it portrays the vast majority of KKK members (and general bigots) as buffoons. I’m certainly not defending those scumbags but I think in doing that, it dumbs them down in a situation where you need to show how much of a threat they actually are to all people and society as a whole. Are many of them dumb rednecks? Most likely, but playing some of them up for comedic value just makes them bumbling idiots and doesn’t really display them as beacons of pure evil. Granted, I thought Topher Grace did a good job in the role of David Duke and the local president of the KKK also played the role straight but they were the only two.

However, why the hell did Spike Lee cast Nicholas Turturro as a KKK member? Turturro is Italian as fuck and I am also part Italian and I’m pretty sure the Klan didn’t like us either. I guess Spike always needs a Turturro in a movie but this wasn’t the right spot for him and he stuck out like a sore thumb talking and jiving like a Little Italy gelato shop owner.

But enough griping.

I really enjoyed John David Washington as the star of this film. He hasn’t done much but he proved that he is an actor more deserving of bigger roles. Also, Laura Harrier was fantastic and the only other thing I’ve seen her in is Spider-Man: Homecoming. This role was a big jump for her but she knocked it out of the park and hopefully, gets more prominent roles after this film. I also might be crushing hard on her after this.

Back to Adam Driver, he was the focal point of the most challenging scenes in the film and he really steals the picture when he’s present. A lot of the material had to have been difficult but he nails it and carries the bulk of the film on his back.

Spike Lee crafted a pretty good movie, the running time was a bit long but he tends to do that. Initially, it wasn’t as preachy as I thought it would be. Well, at least until the blunt instrument to the face in the last few minutes, but the film made its point very well without him needing to spell it out in all caps like an angry twelve year-old girl tweeting about a breakup.

But, in the end, this was refreshing in a summer full of blockbuster duds.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Spike Lee movies: Do the Right ThingMalcolm X and Bamboozled.

Film Review: American Ultra (2015)

Release Date: August 18th, 2015 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Nima Nourizadeh
Written by: Max Landis
Music by: Marcelo Zarvos
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Connie Britton, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo, Bill Pullman, Tony Hale, Lavell Crawford

The Bridge Finance Company, Circle of Confusion, Likely Story, Merced Media Partners, PalmStar Media Capital, PalmStar Entertainment, Tadmor Entertainment, Lionsgate Films, 96 Minutes

Review:

“If I die, I’m going to do it stoned and smiling in my bed.” – Mike Howell

*Written in 2015.

I went into American Ultra with no expectations. Although I did like the chemistry between Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in Adventureland and thought that it was Stewart’s best performance that I had seen.

So maybe their having worked together so well before is why they felt very comfortable in this movie and with each other. Their relationship felt natural and nothing seemed forced or out of place. As the two leads, Eisenberg and Stewart shined.

As far as the plot goes, this film doesn’t really tread new territory but it doesn’t need to. It is about a “fish out of water” sleeper agent for the C.I.A. who has woken up in an effort to save himself from the agency director who thinks he’s a dangerous dog that needs to be put down. In this film, the agent is a stoner with a lot of phobias. Of course, the phobias are all stuff that the agency put in his head in an effort to control him.

Eisenberg and Stewart are backed up by a great cast. Topher Grace plays the C.I.A. asshole that wants Eisenberg’s character dead. Then there is John Leguizamo who plays a friend and drug dealer. The great Walton Goggins shows up as a psychotic agent named Laugher. Bill Pullman plays a high ranking C.I.A. official that mixes things up in the end. Tony Hale a.k.a. Buster from Arrested Development plays another C.I.A. agent that is caught between doing good or doing evil. And then Connie Britton rounds out the cast as the C.I.A. agent who is trying to save the main characters.

The film was well shot, well edited, perfectly paced and came off as a lot of fun. It wasn’t a flawless film but it wasn’t littered with issues and even the unbelievable elements felt believable, in the moment, and that is what a director should strive for.

American Ultra was entertaining. It ends the summer movie season and it was at least a refreshing end to a summer full of a lot of crap. This wasn’t a big budget CGI fest yet it achieved much more than most of the other summer movies I had to sit through this year.

I guess it is left open for a sequel but one isn’t necessary. This isn’t a forgettable film but it doesn’t warrant any more installments. I liked it for what it was and the filmmakers should let it stand on its own. Besides, I don’t anticipate this being a sleeper hit.

At this point, I think a lot of summer moviegoers are suffering from tent pole fatigue. While this is a good contrast to the tent pole feature, it will probably suffer for the date it was released. If this were a late September or early October film, it may have had more of a chance for success. Instead, it shares the docket with Sinister 2 and Hitman: Agent 47 – all three of these will probably underwhelm at the box office between coming out on the same day and following a slew of mediocre summer movies.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Adventureland for having the same leads, as well as the Kingsman movies for some similarities.

Film Review: Interstellar (2014)

Release Date: October 26th, 2014 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Mackenzie Foy, Casey Affleck, Topher Grace, Matt Damon, Timothée Chalamet, Wes Bentley

Legendary Pictures, Syncopy, Lynda Obst Productions, Paramount Pictures, 169 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down, and worry about our place in the dirt.” – Cooper

Man, where to begin?

Let me kick this off by saying that overall I did like this film. It wasn’t this generation’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, as I had hoped and granted, those are massive shoes to fill, but this was a fairly okay effort by Christopher Nolan at trying to emulate Stanley Kubrick. And I say that because this film felt like Nolan trying to create his 2001 and his brother, who co-wrote the film, admitted to channeling 2001 while penning this story. Unfortunately, it fell short of coming close to the level of grandeur and wonder that is Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Also, it falls short of what Nolan has proven his skill level is capable of.

As far as visuals and sound, this film knocks it out of the park. I deliberately didn’t see this in IMAX, as I wanted to be wowed on a regular screen because that is how the majority of eyes will see this picture and to compare it to the amazing visual effects of other films throughout history, I wanted to see it on a level playing field and not on steroids. And truthfully, I’ve come to look at the IMAX thing as a fad like 3D. Until it is the norm in every theater, it isn’t what I consider the industry standard. It’s certainly a cool experience but films that rely on it, as greatly as Nolan has been over his last few films, just tell me that they are pushing their visual style and effects over their film as a whole: sparkle over substance. And that is what this film was. I got to the point where I was like, “Fuck these bells and whistles, just show me the damn film!”

There were amazingly shot sequences that used practical effects, which gave a lot of the important visual elements a sense of realism that can’t be manufactured digitally. This didn’t feel like a cartoon like the recent Star Trek films, it felt cold, dreary and authentic. In that regard, it had the real organic and realistic soul that 2001 had in 1968.

The score to the film and the sound in general were perfect. It definitely has an Oscar-caliber vibe to it and if the film isn’t nominated for the score by Hans Zimmer and for a best sound category, that would be a pretty shitty snub by the Academy. Additionally, it definitely deserves a nomination for visual effects.

The pace and editing of the film was pretty disjointed as things would pop in and out of the film that just didn’t seem to fit or be necessary. I feel like a two hour version of this film would play much better. The time spent with Matt Damon’s character on a dangerous planet is way too drawn out.

When delving into the story of this film, it is a convoluted mess. Yes, things are pretty straightforward but there are a few minor plot twists and developments that come out of nowhere and don’t fit the overall narrative of the film. For instance, Matthew McConaughey’s character Cooper has a son who, for whatever reason, is obsessed with staying on his M.I.A. father’s farm even though it is killing his wife and child. This is a bizarre side story that just doesn’t fit within the film. And after his sister burns his crops and tries to kidnap his family, after he punched her husband in the face, he just stands there like a mute retard when confronted by her babbling about her dad’s magic watch sending Morse code through space and time through the power of love. It was reminiscent of the plot to a bad 80s music video.

Another bizarre plot twist that we are introduced to is when Anne Hathaway’s character Amelia Brand uncharacteristically pushes for the explorers to use the last of their fuel to visit the planet with her former lover on it. After being a hardcore scientist and being bred for this mission, probably all of her adult life, she is willing to throw all of humanity away on her own selfish heart. This just doesn’t fit her character leading up to that point and this also leads to the film pushing the concept that love is a dimension that can transcend space, time and every other barrier. Love is a force similar to gravity. The film lost me with this mystic woo. It suddenly felt like a Manga written by a 12 year-old girl.

And speaking of mystic woo, we come to discover that getting sucked into a black hole brings a person to some weird alien-crafted maze of windows that look into Cooper’s daughter’s bedroom at different points in time. This led to Cooper reaching out through love to send messages to his daughter years prior, which earlier in the film, were dismissed as a ghost. Cooper discovers that the ghost was real and he was the ghost. Cue panic-ridden crying and yelling by McConaughey for fifteen minutes as he is stuck behind his daughter’s mystic bookshelf in the center of a black hole.

The film confusingly represents love as a force like gravity and somehow love can make a wristwatch’s second hand talk to someone in the past with Morse code.

What is somewhat irritating is that Christopher Nolan consulted with a very knowledgeable physicist on this film but the scientific accuracy was pretty shitty. What I had hoped would be a scientific film where we might encounter another intelligence beyond our scope of comprehension, was instead a fantasy film wrapped in fairy tale where the superior intelligence was just fifth dimensional human beings trying to help their own race evolve and get off of a dying planet. I’d have to write a series of blogs or a book even on the amount of paradoxes here.

In regards to the black hole sequence, Nolan used his physics expert to help him create a realistic scenario and to make the sequence visually authentic. What we got was neither. Now while the black hole looked absolutely fucking amazing and grandiose, when McConaughey flew into it, we never experienced spaghettification. Also, black holes are so powerful that even light cannot escape them, hence the name “black hole”.

As McConaughey pilots his craft into the core of the cosmic maelstrom, we can still see things and the lights inside the ship give a nice cool glow in the cockpit. Maybe it is hard to tell a visual story in darkness but I feel like a black screen with the sounds of a ship being torn apart would have been more haunting, more realistic and added more credence and authenticity. What we got was Nolan’s version of the lone astronaut entering the monolith, except this one finds himself behind his daughter’s bookshelf. It wasn’t anywhere near as cool and epic as where David Bowman went in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hell, it wasn’t even as cool as where the crew went in Disney’s 1979 film The Black Hole. At least they flew through Hell filled with evil robots.

It is worth noting that this film also borrowed from 2001 in the character of the computer/robot named TARS, who was this film’s version of HAL 9000. Except TARS didn’t kill astronauts, he just joked about it and served more of an R2-D2 role.

In the end, Matthew McConaughey’s mission is a failure, in a sense, but I guess it inspired his aging daughter to work hard on equations and save humankind from their dying world. Her work leads to humans ending up on some Saturn-orbiting space station that is a complete rip-off of the cylindrical spaceship Rama from Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous With Rama. Being that Clarke penned the original 2001 novel and all its sequels, this brings Nolan’s “borrowing” of Clarke’s ideas and concepts full circle.

What you have, in my estimation, is a good looking, often times visually amazing film, that unfortunately sells itself short by tapping into the Stanley Kubrick/Arthur C. Clarke well too often. The major difference, is that Kubrick took risks and did things that challenged filmmaking and changed it forever. Nolan played it safe and didn’t leave us with anything daring, as he seemed to be more interested in making a commercial success and an homage, as opposed to something more authentic and true to his heart. However, this is the difference between Kubrick and Nolan. One is the professor, the other is a really good student that idolizes the professor a bit too much.

Is the film worth a watch? Definitely. Is it destined to be a beloved classic? Probably to some but it lacks the depth and originality to truly make it stand on its own legs.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Nolan films that don’t feature Batman.