Predators 2010: Get to the Spaceship…

Okay, so I decided to ring in the changes of the New Year by having a mini-movie-marathon. It all started with catching the still amazing Jurassic Park on television. That put me in the mood for movies I had not seen in a while. So I popped in Predators and the Blu-ray special edition of Battle Royale (Game ober). On a side note, I was on Battle Royale when the clock struck twelve so I paused it (a pretty painful thing to do, because I love that film) and watched my neighbour’s fireworks for about an hour.

Waking up today I wanted to talk about Predators and why, as a sequel, it disappointed me a little. I also wanted to say how I felt  about the film and the fact that nobody says, “Get to the spaceship!”

*just kidding about the spaceship part, although that would have been cool*

According to Wikipedia, Robert Rodriguez wrote the screenplay for Predators way back when he was doing Desperado. The article goes on to say that the studio was not impressed with the possible big budget that the film would require and passed. Fast forward to a time when Rodriguez is now damn near a “brand name” in Tinsel Town and he gets the green light.

Unfortunately, Rob decides not to direct the film (which in my opinion kills the movie right off the bat) and instead opts to produce it and hires Nimród Antal to direct the film.

Nimrod Antal, director.

Now it’s probably just me, but, I cannot for one minute take anyone seriously who has the name, “Nimrod.” Just cannot do it. When I was a teen, a nimrod was slang for an idiot. Phrases like: “Way to go, ya nimrod!” or “Jeeze, what a nimrod!” springs to mind every time I hear this guy’s name. Not an overly auspicious start there Robert.

I mean don’t get me wrong, Antal has proven himself to be a more than capable director. He helmed the very respectable (and damned good) Vacancy but one great little film does not a great director make. Now take into consideration that he’s only directed one other film since Predators and you’ll see that I am not alone in my feelings about Nimrod (and oh boy the urge to pun right there is killing me).

Still, let us take a look at the film over all. Starting with the cast, courtesy of IMDb:

Adrien Brody

Royce
Topher Grace

Edwin
Alice Braga

Isabelle
Walton Goggins

Stans
Oleg Taktarov

Nikolai
Laurence Fishburne

Noland
Danny Trejo

Cuchillo
Louis Ozawa Changchien

Hanzo
Mahershala Ali

Mombasa (as Mahershalalhashbaz Ali)

The first three names in the cast list are good solid actors who usually bring a lot to a role. Then further down the list you have the one, the only, Laurence Fishburne (in arguably the best role in the film) and good old Danny Trejo (a Rodriguez favourite). Everyone else on the cast list might not be in the same calibre as the first three actors and Mr Fishburne but they are pretty well-known and more than capable at their chosen craft.

On a side note, hasn’t Mahershala Ali bulked up a lot since his The 4400 days. The man has been putting in some serious overtime at his gym.

The shooting locations were in Hawaii, brilliant choice if I might be allowed to give my humble opinion, with the interiors shot in Rodriguez’s Texas studios (for tax reasons) so the film looked great in terms of location. *I do have to mention that some exterior scenes were shot in Texas as well, so apart from generating the rather alien Bush family, the state can produce some great “alien” looking scenery.*

The story is…functional. In a nutshell the plot is, people are air dropped into a jungle. The people, except for one unfortunate whose chute doesn’t open, are all killers who band together to find out where they are, why they are there, and how to get out. One of them (like the old Sesame Street Shtick, “One of these things is not like the other…”) does not apparently fit into to the little group of murderous professionals, Topher Grace is a doctor and, amazingly, no one questions why he is there. Just goes to show, you do not have to be deep to be a professional killer.

Brody’s character seems to be quite a few jumps ahead of his new colleagues and he figures out very quickly that they are on a “game preserve” and they are the “game.” And therein lies the problem with Predators, the applicable part of the prior statement is “very quickly.”

It’s all too “very quickly” in terms of everything. It is just too fast. Admittedly this makes a better sequel to the Schwarzenegger original than Predator 2, but only just. And only because the action takes place in the jungle with a lot of muscular men (and one woman) with loads of ammo and weapons. But the speed at which the film moves is almost dizzying and it definitely doesn’t allow any time at all for character development.

“Character development?” I hear you cry, it’s an action adventure science fiction film! What character development? I will almost accept that as a trade-off, of course the action and adventure and the science fiction should be first in a film like this, but not at the detriment to the characters portrayed. The original Predator had Schwarzenegger and a load of body building pals in it and they just managed to not be cardboard cut-outs in their roles, so why can’t Predators do the same.

It all revolves around the plot and the “feel” of the film. The original was a movie that started out as a straight forward action feature that suddenly and sharply took a left turn into science fiction land. It worked brilliantly and the pacing was spot on.

Predators never starts out as anything but a science fiction film. From the second that the parachute release mechanism on Brody’s chest starts to flash lights and make beeping noises, we know…it is the future; instant “sci fi” and no mistake about it. But hey, that’s not a problem. It’s still salvageable; they can still make that left turn up ahead, the one that will make this movie great instead of merely good.

Larry Fishburne, saviour as fruit-loop…

But they missed the turn off and instead of veering off into a fascinating new direction, we are given a crazy survivor scene with a plot twist of the predators actually being two species instead of one and they don’t get along. So now we have Larry Fishburne knocking it out of the park as the nutty-as-a-fruitcake survivor who talks to folks who aren’t there and is as deadly as the predators and a great plot device to help our “heroes” get out of Dodge alive.

This all leads into a “twist” to the story that was not a twist at all. It also leads into a “touching moment” and an almost Schwarzenegger ending.

There are a few nods and winks to the original, there is a Hispanic female character, a mini-gun and a “boar like” creature (or more) and it’s set in a jungle. Pretty cool, but it just doesn’t have the panache to make it fun.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do like this film. So much so that I own a DVD of it and still drag it out occasionally to watch. But I don’t love it. If I did, I would own a Blu-ray copy of the film and watch it a lot. Each time I put the film on and watch it, I think the same two things; what if Rodriguez had directed it and I really want someone to say, “Get to the spaceship!”

Some of the main cast plus director and producer.

Cargo (2009): This Swiss Science Fiction Ain’t Cheesy

Cargo (2009 film)
Cargo (2009 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you’re a film nut (or geek, or buff, or lover, or add descriptive word of choice here______), you will take a chance on a film you’ve never heard of. Often this unknown film is incredibly cheap, which can indicate that it is laughably bad and worth the paltry purchase price just to watch it and roll about the floor in uncontrollable mirth. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I give you Cowboys and Vampires aka Dead West as evidence and will rest my case.

But…

Sometimes you find a fantastically great film, that for some obscure reason, has been placed in the bargain bucket. The 2009 Swiss film Cargo  falls squarely in that category. Wikipedia will tell you that Cargo is Switzerland’s first science fiction film what it will not tell you is that the film is a mystery/thriller that just happens to take place in space.

Directed by Ivan Engler and Ralph Etter (Engler also co-wrote the film with another six people) Cargo is stark, moody, cold,  huge and brilliant.

Main Cast List:

Anna Katharina Schwabroh …      Laura Portman

Martin Rapold …                            Samuel Decker

Regula Grauwiller…                      Anna Lindberg

Yangzom Brauen…                        Miyuki Yoshida

Pierre Semmler…                          Pierre Lacroix

Claude-Oliver Rudolph…               Igor Prokoff

Michael Finger…                            Claudio Vespucci

The film is set in 2267. The earth has been polluted to such an extent that it is now uninhabitable. People now have to live in an enormous ‘space city’ that is overcrowded and affected by sickness and apathy. There is one other place to live.  A planet called Rhea. It is a Terra-formed planet that looks like a paradise. Anyone can live on Rhea if they have enough money or are lucky enough to win a lottery to move there.

RHEA

A young medical doctor, Laura Portman  hires on to a decaying cargo vessel that has been contracted to deliver building materials to a “way-station” that will be the mid-point for travel to another solar system.  She will make enough money on the eight year trip (four years out and back) to pay her way to Rhea where her sister Arianne lives with her two children.

Laura boards the ship and meets the five member crew, Captain Lacroix and his second-in-command Lindberg, Yoshida the ship’s engineer and the two maintenance men Prokoff and Vespucci. She learns that the journey will entail the crew having to man the vessel in eight month shifts. Only one crew member will be actively monitoring the journey while the others are in cryosleep.

On this particular journey the now six member crew will be joined by a security officer named Decker. Decker is there because of an increased threat from the terrorist group “Maschinenstürmer” (Machine strikers) who target and blow  up cargo vessels. Six of the now seven member crew then don their cryo-gear and enter the sludge filled tanks.

Three years and four and a half months later Laura is on the back end of her shift. She spends her time sending messages to her sister on Rhea, exercising (working out on a punch bag) and checking the crew and the ship’s status. She begins to hear unexplained noises.

When she attempts to track down the source of the noise she winds up at the cargo hold door. As she starts to look through  the ice covered door, something hits the other side. Frightened she runs away and bumps into Security Office Decker who says that he was woken from cryostasis because someone opened a restricted door.

Following the ship’s protocol Laura want’s to wake the remaining crew members. Decker insists that they only wake Captain Lacroix. Lacroix grumpily agrees to search the ship with Decker and Laura. He warns Laura that if they find nothing there will be serious consequences for breaching the Cryo protocol.

Once the three enter the actual cargo  area they split up. Soon after, Lacroix falls screaming from one of the higher walkways. After determining that Lacroix has died from his fall, Laura and Decker wake the remaining crew members.

Cargo looks fantastic, the cinematography, lighting and sets are reminiscent of Blade Runner and Alien.

The orbiting city at the beginning of the film looks spectacular and is the portion of the film that evokes the Blade Runner feel. You know that if you could walk the streets, they would be wet, dirty and crowded.

The cargo ship feels like it could be the Nostromo‘s ethereal twin, harsh contrasts of light and dark and the watery corridors that run through the ship like a damp maze. But unlike the mining ship from the Alien verse, Cargo’s shipping vessel is not built for crew comfort, it is cold, wet and icy (another type of contrast, if it’s not icy and freezing it is watery and cold). Although the crew’s area is at least dry, it is obvious that Kuiper Enterprises who own the vessel are saving money by not providing central heating for the crew.

The film is obviously science fiction if for no other reason than it’s futuristic space setting. But scrape away the space veneer and you will find a mystery thriller of the finest calibre. My daughter and I (both keen mystery fans and quite adept at guessing who’s who in most films) were constantly having to change our minds as to who the real ‘big bad’ actually was.

A lot of twists and turns in the plot area combined with an eerie cargo spaceship setting made for a wonderfully tense, suspense filled film.

The film was the maiden effort of both directors but you’d never know it by the quality of the film. Cargo builds suspense slowly but steadily throughout the entire film. The pacing is spot on and the acting is just great. The film is in German with English sub-titles. Thankfully the film makers did not go the ‘dubbing’ route as that would have surely destroyed the film.

The sub-titles aren’t ridiculously long so you don’t have to miss anything by reading a ‘Gone With the Wind’ type narration at the bottom of the screen.

An absolutely brilliant film that deserves to be placed in the same league as the above mentioned films, Blade Runner and Alien.

Hunter Prey (2010): Survival of the Fittest

Every once in a while you find a little gem of a film hidden amongst the usual low budgeted dross that passes for entertainment. I’m not talking about the kind of film that is so bad it’s good. I’m referring to a film that, despite it’s low budget, looks and feels like a bigger budgeted studio release.

Hunter Prey  is that kind of film. It’s not a “stops your heart” kind of film but it is damn good. My daughter and I found this science fiction film as we were ‘cruising’ Netflix for something a bit different to watch. We both thought it sounded interesting so we gave it a go. The film entertained, and did not expect too much from it’s audience in the way of suspending disbelief. The acting was way over par compared to similarly budgeted films.

Directed by Sandy Collora, he also co-wrote the story with Nick Damon. It had a good solid cast, Damion Poitier (no relation to Sidney), Isaac C. Singleton Jr.Clark Bartram, Collora himself as a bounty hunter and best of all it featured the voice of the beautiful and talented Erin Gray. The entire cast apart from Collora and Gray have a solid background in the stunt world.

Collora got his start as a teenager working as an assistant at Stan Winston Studios, which is why the prosthetics and ‘alien’ make-up looked so good. This film looks like a real labour of love for Collora and considering that the budget for the film was under 500,000 dollars also looks tight and well put together.

At the start of the film we see a spaceship explode and what looks like an escape pod jettison down towards a planet. The planet the survivors  land on is a huge desert planet. If there is any water at all, it must be buried so deep that finding it would be an impossibility. There are four survivors from the crashed escape pod.

Two of them are by some rocks with their weapons held ready. The third and fourth are by the wreckage. As one survivor points out where the other two are he is shot and the one he was talking to dashes for the rocks joining his companions. Off in the distance is another survivor, he is armed and he is firing at the others.

The film then goes into ‘cat and mouse’ mode for the reminder of the film. We find out that the other survivor is a dangerous predator alien whose home planet has been destroyed. It must be captured alive. This is proving to be difficult as it appears that the alien is a pretty good marksman.

For the first quarter of the film, no one removes their head gear. The computer link they access, Clea (Erin Gray) tells them that she is analysing the planet and its atmosphere to see if it’s safe to remove them.

When they finally remove their head gear we see who these survivors are and despite their military behaviour and speech, they are not what we thought they were. The alien who spends the first third of the film killing his captors, isn’t what he seems either.

I will admit that I saw the ‘plot twist’ coming after the first fifteen minutes of the film. Mainly because I thought it would be pretty damn cool if that’s where they were going with it. It turned out they were, so I sat feeling pretty smug for the rest of the film.

As prosthetics were used for the vast majority of the actors, they all deserve kudos for the high calibre of their acting. Of course having an experienced professional like Erin Gray along for the ride, even if it was only her voice, added a lot to the believability of the characters. Clea’s interaction with Centauri 7 was brilliant. Gray manages to exude a warmth and humour to her computerised character. Combine that with Poitier’s performance and you have a pretty good double act.

The only thing that bother me though were those great prosthetics. I kept thinking that the aliens seemed awfully familiar. I finally realised halfway through the film that they made me think of Lou Gossett Jr. as the alien in the 1985  science fiction film Enemy Mine. When Hunter Prey  finished, I quickly checked and found that they only very vaguely resembled the alien in the 1985 film. I’ll have to keep looking to see if I can find out why the damn things looked so familiar.

I would write a whole lot more about this film, but to do so would spoil the fun. Like I said, I guessed the plot twist but my daughter, who is a pretty dab hand at ‘second guessing’ films, missed it completely.

One thing I did want to point out was the fact that Hunter Prey was shot entirely with a RED camera on location in Mexico, making it another digitally produced science fiction film like the film Monsters also made in 2010 and also shot entirely on location. Another excellent example of why digitally produced films can be just as good as the traditionally filmed ones.

The end verdict of the  film is that it’s great entertainment. We liked it so much we bought the DVD to see if there are any special features and to watch it a ‘few more times.’

Oh and if anyone has any ideas on why the damn aliens looked so familiar, drop me a line. Okay?

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