REVIEW: Predator (1987)


Directed by John McTiernan
Written by Jim Thomas and John Thomas
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, Shane Black, R.G. Armstrong, Kevin Peter Hall

Every discussion of the best action films of all time inevitably sees Predator mentioned. On the surface, it is big, dumb, and full of cu–er, explosions, but that is kind of the point. Human beings, men in particular, are loud, destructive creatures who revel in the violence we can muster, so a work of art that acknowledges this need not be marginalized, so long as its done well.

A team of private military commandos, led by a tough but fair soldier, Major “Dutch” Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger), are called in to assist CIA man George Dillon (Carl Weathers) on a rescue mission for potential survivors of a Helicopter downed over remote South American jungle. Not long after they land, Dutch and his team discover that they have been sent in under false pretenses. This deception turns out to be the least of their worries though, when they find themselves being methodically hunted by something not of this world.

From the ultra-gritty, super-grainy photography to the bulging muscles of sweaty men pulling trees down (take that, Earth-lovers! …calm down, I’m kidding), Predator sets itself up as the quintessential man cave movie, and that’s before the titular monster begins his hunt. It is a film stocked with everything masculine; military hardware, commie-fighting, jungle hunting, big-ass guns and even bigger biceps. The cast is a whos-who of ’80s tough-guys, perhaps only missing Mel Gibson and Danny Glover (though the sequel halfway corrects this). The script is a veritable treasure-trove of cheesy one-liners that are so delightfully macho and fun that several became a running joke among myself and one of the managers of the local movie theater.

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As a gun-toting commando actioner, Predator surprisingly delivers a taut, suspenseful atmosphere throughout its first act, dropping Dutch’s soldiers into an unforgiving wilderness that slowly unveils one unsettling mystery after another: their so-called rescue mission is endangered by a group of rebel guerrillas that are seemingly way too well-armed to be, as Dutch calls them, a “bunch of half-ass mountain boys.” The enigma turns ugly when they encounter the strung-up bodies of another American unit, utterly annihilated by an inhuman force that left no trace, no tracks. In less than 30 minutes, Predator achieves a creeping sense of paranoia that most horror flicks take twice as long to establish.

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And then, it’s action time. They hit the rebel base with every hand cannon they have, serving up one of the most outrageous and over-the-top gunfights ever put to celluloid. It seemingly eclipses Commando in its craziness, and that’s a hell of a feat. Best of all, this inexpicably doesn’t destroy the tone of the first act at all. I cannot explain why, perhaps it’s just my tribal “blow-em-up” instinct that can’t get enough. The story also does a great job of tapping into the military and political zeitgeist of the time, when the Iran-Contra affair and other communist dabbles in South America were still fresh on the minds of the audience.

Of course, all of this is simple set-up for the main course, which is an excellent sci-fi twist on The Most Dangerous Game: the Predator itself. A primal yet advanced design that perfectly encapsulates the sense of dread from the first act, the ‘Jungle Hunter’, as this particular character has come to be known, is reptilian, armed-to-the-teeth, and best of all, cloaked in a shield of invisibility. The suit as realized by Stan Winston and it’s wearer, Kevin Peter Hall, are the perfect menace to this band of bad-ass warriors, and the clash of these Titans of Testosterone is so ridiculously manly that the film becomes a sort of antithesis to Alien: instead of a bisexual terror inflicting feminine fears on men, the Predator is pure structured violence, eclipsing our heroes at their own game: having the biggest ball-sack in the universe. It even seems to eliminate them one-by-one in accordance to their own macho quirks, leaving only Arnold to survive by tapping into his animalistic instincts and fears, fully abandoning any patriarchal constructs of the human male.

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Alan Silvestri’s tribal-meets-militaristic score is just as iconic as the Predator itself, offering both sparse jungle drums to populate the tense moments, and opening up into a full warlike orchestral barrage in the combat scenes. In a way, its as gritty as the cinematography, which while perhaps the result of the wrong film stock being used as the filmmakers suggest, is still the perfect look for this romp.

I will however make one of my rare home video suggestions, and that is to beware the “Ultimate Hunter Edition” blu-ray–an aggressive process of digital noise reduction was applied, resulting in an artificially smooth picture that gives the jungle a pixelated smack and the characters a bath in KY Jelly. Best to search for the original blu-ray.

Predator has all the earmarks of a ‘guilty pleasure,’ but it is so much more. A classic of well-written and filmed action, creature design, and sci-fi in general, Predator crawls to the top 5 of Arnold’s repetoire, and manages to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Alien franchise, which is no easy feat. Don’t agree? Well, then “You are one ugly motherfucker.”


REVIEW: Haywire (2011)


Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Lem Dobbs
Starring Gina Carano, Ewan MacGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton, Michael Angarano, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas

Ah, my first Steven Soderbergh review of the Movie Maestro. Been looking forward to this, wondering off and on which film of his would draw the first honor. And that film is Haywire, the action-packed spy thriller that introduced to the cinematic world that pioneer of women’s mixed martial arts, Gina Carano.

Freelance covert operative Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) is hired out by her handler to various global entities to perform jobs which governments can’t authorize and heads of state would rather not know about. After a mission to rescue a hostage in Barcelona, Mallory is quickly dispatched on another mission to Dublin. When the operation goes awry and Mallory finds she has been double crossed, she needs to use all of her skills, tricks and abilities to escape an international manhunt, make it back to the United States, protect her family, and exact revenge on those that have betrayed her.

Ask any Soderbergh fan why they love him so much, and invariably, the answer will be his cool, minimalist style. Haywire is an actioner that benefits heavily from his milky smooth touch with camerawork and editing; I wish more action directors were like him. Every set piece is clean and simple, allowing Carano and her exquisite stunt work (she did them all on her own, of course) to take center stage, free of the stupid, unnecessary shaky camerawork that plagues the action genre these days.

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The screenplay by Lem Dobbs matches Soderbergh’s visual punch with a deft, swift narrative that bounces between flashbacks telling the bulk of the story and the framing flight of Mallory and innocent bystander Scott (Michael Angarano) in his car. While most audiences seemingly didn’t appreciate the story, feeling it to be too hard to follow, but I disagree with the masses yet again. It doesn’t spoon-feed its audience, rather, it tells you only what you need to know, letting the plot naturally unravel, like the best of the classic spy thrillers from the days of Hitchcock and early James Bond.

Image result for Haywire filmSoderbergh’s other trademark, a highly capable cast, is also on prominent display, with regulars Tatum and Douglas supporting MacGregor, Banderas, Fassbender, and Paxton. In reality, however, all of these incredible actors are playing the supporting fiddle to Carano as the main star of the film. This is a bold and uniquely feminist move, swapping the normal action dynamic clean across gender lines. To put it bluntly, it’s like watching Jane Bond and her gaggle of Bond Boys. It’s actually quite fun, especially when any number of the confident men underestimate Mallory.

I don’t know if Mallory herself works as well as the concept, however. Carano is extremely commanding in the combat scenes, but does tend to fall more on the flat side in the more quiet dialogue pieces. It doesn’t help that apparently her voice was significantly altered in post, although I do not know to what extent this affected the performance. I also have found references to Laura San Giacomo, another Soderbergh regular, having overdubbed her voice, however I cannot find proof and there are other contradictory statements on this matter. In short, this being Carano’s first film, she isn’t exactly A-grade material yet.

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This doesn’t discount Haywire‘s strengths. It’s a tight and fun spy film, smart in execution and filled with enough action to please die-hard enthusiasts. All in all, it’s a worthy addition to Soderbergh’s catalog, and a great 90-minute stunt film to fill an evening with.