Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Predators Hunt For Greatness

Hunters become the hunted in the 'most dangerous game'
on a world far, far away.

ARTH VADER (AV): The Predator storyline is a convoluted one at best. The original Predator (starring the Governator in 1987) was a film rich in one-liners and never-before-seen action. Since then, the series has woven it’s way into New York City subways, the Arctic and pitted itself against rival Aliens, US soldiers and even Danny Glover. This inane selection of random adversaries tells me that the Predator concept has no real grounding. It syncs up with the other well-intentioned, poorly executed Predator flicks. Yet in spite of all this, Predators has some merit. Your thoughts, Pontificator-nator?

Well Vader, the story of the Predator began in 1987 and it was a major blockbuster. Fast forward to 2010 and it continues as the fifth Predator movie, although reportedly intended to follow Predator 2 and ignore the other two Aliens versus Predator movies. This film stays consistent with what has been revealed in the previous movies and even breaks some new ground by adding to the Predator lore with previously unknown information about the species... great stuff!
(AV): I am just blown away at the sheer depth of acting talent leveled at this movie, Ponty! I won't go down the list of A-List talent on this movie’s bill, but I will give some honorable mentions. First, Adrien Brody is the man–cool, mysterious, smart, surprisingly buff, and believably pensive. A-Dawg showed some great acting chops in some of my favorite flicks like [Peter Jackson’s] King Kong, Slice, Hollywoodland and M. Knight’s The Village. Adrien’s a great leading man. Another one of Hollywood’s uncontested talents, Laurence Fishburne, helps Predators come to life and props to Topher Grace and the stunning Alice Braga who all add serious star power to a movie I would otherwise have overlooked.
(TP): The casting was excellent. The acting was excellent. The directing was excellent. Adrien Brody, while probably a surprise to be the lead in a film like this, did a spectacular job as the tough-as-nails and cunning-as-a-fox mercenary, Royce. I was pleasantly surprised by Laurence Fishburne’s portrayal of Noland, a soldier that has survived ten seasons of the Predator’s hunting games. The disconnect happening in his mind after living through all that was masterfully played. Walter Goggins was also a surprise in a role that he doesn’t play very often...comic relief.

(AV): You know, Pontificator, I find the Predator to be one the most interesting–and surprisingly, one of the least explored of Sci-Fi’s onscreen adversaries. Even after however many films, I still have little real insight into the inner purpose of the Predators. The effects wizards at Troublemaker Studios and 20th Century Fox make the Predators both scary and fascinating. The Predator’s jungle-dogs are grossly compelling and the scene where they hunt down our survivors is intense. Really, I found it to be some of the best CGI I’ve seen in a while.
(TP): The special effects were great Vader, and everything I’ve come to expect from a Predator movie. Everything was believable looking... within the acceptance of believing what was going on. The CGI wasn’t shoddy and the thought of it being CGI, while watching the movie, never crossed my mind...a good sign.

(TP): I’m a fan of the Predators, both onscreen and in the books... and I was very pleased with the details of this movie. More than that, I was elated to get that old feeling back that I had when I watched Predator for the first time back in ’87. Even knowing all that I know about the Predators, it was a thrill to see hapless humans trying to survive in the jungle against such a superior foe. Did I say hapless? These were some pretty mean and seasoned killers, thrown into a meat grinder of pain and death. The mix of personalities and their adjustment to their situation was well written. Your thoughts Arth?

(AV): Around halfway through, the movie’s identity is revealed. The Predators are not just the alien hunters and their whacky demon-dogs, but they’re also the Earthlings; rogue warriors from every corner of the world who prey on others. Then, in an odd twist, they also start to counter-hunt the aliens. Deep. Surprisingly, the [Alien] Predator is both friend and foe. Hollywood has done an outstanding job of allowing the viewer to discover the primal personality traits in at least one of the Aliens. That’s pretty hard to do given how much they are painted as bad guys in earlier films. What’s more, I find myself oddly compelled to learn more about these dreadlock-brandishing bad-asses. Their weapons are simultaneously brutal and high-tech and I must say, even after two decades of film appearances, I can’t say I know what they are about. Yes, they hunt other life forms for sport–but why? They are clearly training warriors for a coming conflict–but what and against whom? I really hope this gets explored in later films.
(TP): Agreed your Vaderness, the Predators themselves were a surprise as it was revealed that there are two different kinds, the difference being analogous to wolfs and dogs. Coming to Earth to hunt seems to be a preference of one clan, while abducting species from all over the universe and depositing them in the “game reserve” suits the other. Overall, an excellent approach to make old material seem brand new again.
(AV): * SPOILER ALERT! * You may want to skip this part of the review if you don’t want us giving the ending away, even though this movie is over a year old as of the writing of this post. This could be one of the best pseudo-cliffhanger Predator endings since the original. The clever plot detail of pulling warriors from all over the world and plunking them down on a distant planet that is clearly not Earth is not a bad storyline if handled right in future installments. Though Predators is drenched in an underwhelming storyline, when we see the next wave of parachutes dropping in to deliver “fresh meat” at the movie’s ending, I found myself saying”… wait, don’t end there!” Weird huh?

(TP): No, not weird... if you’re Arth Vader. Believe it or not, there is still room for expansion here. Predator culture and history still hasn’t been greatly explored and learning of another type of Predator in this film, coupled with the ending being simply another beginning, leaves all kinds of room for more carnage. They can even go on a limb and introduce other intelligent alien species that the Predators hunt for sport and write in that interaction with humans as they all try to survive. Even after five movies, the possibilities are still plentiful.
ARTH VADER rates Predators: Ok, while not exactly an Hugo award-winning screenplay, this movie does have its moments. Lots of momentum, cool visual effects, great (if not predictable) pacing and a cast that is as advanced as the Predator’s technology, this one’s worth a look. I admittedly did not see this on the big screen but if you need a fun, late-night sci-fi fix, you could do a lot worse than Predators. I fired up my infrared goggles and parachuted in six-and-a-half busted blocks.
THE PONTIFICATOR Rates Predators: This movie was able to bring back that old feeling of awe and tingle of the spine, and did it with the same winning formula the very first movie had including a group of proficient human killers, a jungle and even the original music. I enjoyed watching as this movie busted eight and a half hefty blocks...with a shoulder mounted plasma cannon.

Predators: 7.5/10 Busted Blocks

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Underworld Gets Over

Fur, fangs and fun fly as the war between the Vampires and the Lycans rages on in Underworld: Awakening.
  • SPOILER ALERT! * The following review delves into plot and story details that could ruin the–Psych! There is no plot; it’s an Underworld movie! We just wanted to see if we could zing you. Gotcha!
ARTH VADER (AV): In this less-than-well-crafted installment of the endless narrated saga of the Vampire/Lycan war, Underworld: Awakening is as campy, pointless, riveting and fun as the previous 54 installments of the Underworld franchise. If you settle-in, butter-up your extra large bag of popcorn, turn off the lights (and your brain!), this movie is an exciting, quick-moving 90 minutes of blood and bullets–not the mention it stars Kate Beckinsale!
THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): There have been three Underworld movies before this (although is DOES feel like 54) and they have all had a consistent storyline, in what is shaping up to be a never-ending saga. They have also been consistent, for the most part, with the most accepted tenets of Vampire and Werewolf lore. The great part about these films is that they break new ground in introducing the hybrid of both mythos and making the idea unique to their stories. Making new continuity and sticking to it... good stuff in this case.
(AV): Kate Beckinsale returns as the eerie, Black leather-clad Selene along with the commanding presence of Stephen Rea, (Kate Beckinsale!) the unfairly handsome Michael Ealy (Kate Beckinsale!) and the solid screen presence of Theo James, (Kate Beckinsale!) with the adeptly talented portrayal of Eve by newcomer India Eisley, (Kate Beckinsale!) with scary Kris-Holden Reid and the convincingly arrogant Charles Dance round out a fully-loaded cast that includes the stunning return of… Kate Beckinsale! (Did I mention Kate Beckinsale?)
(TP): Nobody is going to be nominated for an Academy Award (although they were, I know who Vader would choose)... this isn’t that kind of film. That said, the casting and acting were fine for what this movie is supposed to be. Kate Beckinsale returns as Selene and delivers exactly what I went to the theater to see. The directing was a little inconsistent though as I felt the beginning of the film drew me in and took off...but the latter half left me deflated. It was almost like watching the movie in reverse where the best stuff happens first and then things start building down.


By happenstance, I was put in the precarious predicament of having to buy those God-awful 3D glasses for this one. As always, this was thoroughly unnecessary and did not really add anything valuable to the experience. Sure there were a couple of scene where a Werewolf would leap at the screen or blood and body parts would come flying at you but overall, like most 3D movies, a pretty empty experience. That said, this was a great looking movie from a visual effects standpoint. The end-battle sequence is terrific and gruesome. You know Pontificator; it has everything you would want in an Underworld finale–including Kate Beckinsale!
(TP):The 3D effects were better than many other films using it... and there were clearly improvements to the technology. I expect the 3D visuals of films to steadily improve and increase beyond the first opening twenty minutes as we move forward. However, what was gained in 3D effects, was lost in CGI as it was clearly identified by how shoddy it was. Great CGI goes unnoticed and good CGI is accepted as such. The stunts were great even if some of them were over-the-top...but considering who was doing all of them Vader, I’m sure you didn’t mind.

What can I say, Ponty, I’m a sucker for these movies (AND for you know who)! The empty, matter-of-fact narration by Kate Beckinsale (!) is vapid and yet I can’t seem to get enough. The near-thoughtless plot is not interesting enough to even discuss but it does offer an ongoing premise for story progression. I did want to state that the movie series did take an interesting twist by adding an awakened (!) human race now bent on whipping out Vamps & Lycans. I am so very tired of human beings portrayed as innocent or helpless victims in the vampire/sci-fi/supernatural genres, that seeing humans light up these monsters was a welcome change. The added pressure of the two monster nations now hiding from both the government and each other is a nice uptick in tension. How say you, Pontificator?

(TP): Well Vader, this was not a balanced film and I didn’t expect it to be. I expected wild stunts, blistering martial arts, and lots of death being dealt out by everyone on everyone else... and that’s what I got. Profound drama and humor was not present... or wanted. The sole twist of difference in this film from the others was the fact that the humans knew the truth about Vampires and Lycans and seemed firmly in control of the situation. The beginning of the film was spectacular in this aspect and set a tone for the film that somehow got lost toward the end after we find out what’s really going on. A true extinction act on both species would call for strange bedfellows...which I would have been more interested in seeing instead of the same underlying story.
(AV): Unlike previous installments, Underworld: Awakening seems to serve the sole purpose of setting me up for a return engagement–and after four, five, six (?) installments – I don’t mind. Heck, I almost expect it. The story ends on a pseudo-cliff-hanger, not a nail biter but an obvious setting up of the next movie. Can’t wait to see–what’s her name again? Oh, yeah, Kate Beckinsale! –return and whoop more of the Lycan’s furry backsides! The addition of a * SPOILER ALERT! *hybrid daughter means this series could have traction well into the next decade. Again, the added twist of adding an aware and cautious human population is a nice twist.

(TP): Sequels...? This is shaping up to be a never-ending saga. With the end of this film leaving everything open, it wouldn’t be unreasonable at this point to start thinking of Underworld as you would the Friday the13th films...and start hoping they end before it get’s that bad. I enjoy the stunts, the action, the gore... but I’m already fatigued by the thought that I won’t be able to look back on the whole story anytime soon.
ARTH VADER rates Underworld: Awakeningnot the best in the Underworld series, but certainly worth seeing, Underworld: Awakening is fast (90 minute run-time) and fun. One only needs a minimal number of functioning brain cells for this one gang, but if you like your thrillers dark, riddled with bullets, dripping with blood & gore and some better-than-decent special effects, then this one’s for you. So I went grave-digging and unearthed seven busted blocks for Kate Beckinsale–uh, I mean Underworld: Awakening.
THE PONTIFICATOR Rates Underworld: Awakening: I’m a fan of the Underworld films and love all the action and gore... but even with all that, this film only managed to bust five blocks for me. I suspect the other two blocks you gave the movie Vader were for you-know-who... but it’s just a hunch.

Underworld—Awakening: 6/10 Busted Blocks