Monday, February 28, 2011

Predators (2010)

Predators started out holding my interest, with our main character coming-to in free-fall over a jungle.  His parachute deploys and he lands with a weapon ready.  He shortly meets up with several other characters who have fallen from the sky as well.  Some of their dialogue is a little stupid, but otherwise I was "in" for the first 20 minutes or so.  Unfortunately, from there it starts going downhill.

The main problem with the movie is that it doesn't do what a sequel should.  Take Alien and Aliens, for example.  In Alien, we'd never seen the creature before, had no idea of what it was capable of, didn't know all it's mysteries and tricks.  By the end of the movie we've learned quite a bit.  When Aliens begins, it doesn't ignore this knowledge to have a whole new group of people make these discoveries all over again, it builds on past knowledge, ups the ante, and still has new reveals, moments, and aspects to the characters that make the movie engaging and tense.  While we knew what a face-hugger did from Alien, we'd never imagined being pursued around a room by one, and so that scene in Aliens is genuinely terrifying and novel.  We also had never seen a queen, so that reveal was a huge moment.  And we'd never faced multiple aliens, so that raised the stakes (while balancing them with a well-armed military force on the opposite side).

In Predator, you've got one predator and his capabilities and true nature are slowly but steadily revealed throughout the entire movie, and it's all new and scary.  Predators stumbles by not creating a new encounter while building off of the audience's already-obtained knowledge of the predators.  In this way, Predator 2 was a superior sequel because you had the government agency who knew about their abilities from the first film, even though overall it's not a great movie.  In Predators, we're learning again, along with the characters, what these things are, what they can do, and why they do it, but we're bored because we already know all of this.  These revelations are huge for the characters but boring for us.  It's not fun to be so far ahead of the characters' knowledge when the mystery is supposed to be interesting.  In Predator we're talking the journey with Arnold and crew, learning as he learns.  From the first frame of Predators we already know that each character has been dropped into a giant "game preserve" by the predators to be hunted.  FRAME ONE!  And instead of really upping the pressure, the addition of more predators doesn't seem to add an iota of tension or danger.  In fact, when they kill off two of them so they can have the final showdown it lessens the danger because we see that they're vulnerable and kill-able.  Your monster should always seem invincible or overwhelming (Alien, Aliens, Predator).  If the real soldiers of Predator died to the last man fighting ONE, showing a bunch of losers taking down THREE just makes me think these aren't the same species.

I was willing to go along with the movie if it did something interesting and new, but it was mostly just a retread of moments from the first movie.  We've got a large, well-armed team, in a jungle, some internal tension and in-fighting, and then one-by-one they're picked off by an unseen enemy.  We've got the "Billy on the bridge" moment in the yakuza character, a trip over a waterfall and into a lake, a mud-covered protagonist (which even directly references the first film in dialogue), an "over here" moment, a character staring at the trees where a predator is hiding while cloaked.  The survivors are once again the main character and a South American woman.  Even the music is lifted directly from the original film.

And yet, for a film that has no shame about duplicating moments, it lacks a single memorable line.  The first movie had quite a few memorable bits of dialogue and one-liners.  Predators features, at best, passable dialogue, and at worst laughable lines delivered all-too-seriously.

I don't know why someone thought Adrien Brody would make a good macho hero, but he doesn't add much and his character is beyond bland.  I like Brody in many other movies, too.  He uses a Christian-Bale-as-Batman voice the entire time, and little allusions are made about his dark past which nobody in the audience cares about and don't make him more interesting.

Larry Fishburne's character is almost interesting, but we get so little time with him that we don't care about him either.

The worst character might be Topher Grace's, because his little twisty "man is the real monster IS YOUR MIND BLOWN YET???" bit is just frustrating and stupid rather than shocking and entertaining.  I think there's even a horrible line that's exactly that: "You're worse than these monsters!"  DUMB.  STALE.  SEEN IT.  NOT EARNED.

Once again, Predator stands alone as the only good movie, even though we've seen two direct sequels and two lousy Aliens vs. Predator movies.  I think there is more mileage to be had out of the character, but it's going to take a good script and a director who knows how to find it.

Cowboy Shooting - Round 2

Remember last summer when I tried Cowboy Action Shooting for the first time?  I finally took the time out to go again yesterday.  And this time I took decent video.

I invited a bunch of friends to go, but most couldn't, so our group was five including me: Will (from Biola and Chestertonians), Randy (from Biola), Bob (family friend), and my brother Ben.

The class size for the New Shooters Clinic was much smaller than last time, which was nice because we all got to shoot more quickly, and we each got to shoot two timed matches.  Helping us out from The Cowboys was Little Sure Shot, her husband Wells Fargo, and Washoe Pete (who helped last time, too).  Adam Cartwright couldn't be there and B.T. Blade was competing this time.  Once again The Cowboys were gracious, generous, friendly and helpful.  They could have cut down on the technical details a bit for the class, because while I was interested I don't think everyone else was.

The gun variety was more limited this time.  The only pistols were Ruger Vaqueros and one Ruger Blackhawk, and they were all the same barrel size and caliber (.38).  The rifles were several Marlins, a Winchester 1892 replica (the classic Winchester in every Western in the 50s, no matter what the time period), and a Winchester 1873 replica.  The '73 was my favorite, but unfortunately it was having problems so we didn't get to shoot it.  The shotguns provided were two double-barrels, one with external hammers and one without, and two original Winchester 1897s (pump action -- as featured in No Country For Old Men, The Wild Bunch, and The Professionals).

Here are some videos of us doing our timed runs:

It was very fun and now I'm definitely committed to participating in this sport. I'm saving up for one of these at the moment:

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

True Grit omission

Hey guys!  (Crickets.)

Yes, several months since posting.  Pretty bad.  But I've been awfully busy, too.  Perhaps I will share some of the exciting things later.  And a lot of movie reviews.

But for now, True Grit (2010).  Saw it, liked it very much, need to see again.  I didn't come out of the theater whooping for joy, but I did enjoy it.  (I hope to post a review, comparing it with the book and the 1969 movie later.)  Also, I got a Kindle.  And on this Kindle they finally released True Grit.  (But it is $13 for the Kindle, whereas the paperback is $8, and this seems like a lot of road apples, if you ask me.)  I was re-reading a passage this morning and found an interesting bit that was omitted from the movie.

If you'll recall the hanging scene at the beginning of the movie, there are three men sentenced to die.  The first two make little speeches, and the third, an Indian, has the hood placed over his head before he can say anything.  It's a Coen bit of black comedy that gets a good chuckle out of the audience.

In the book, however, the Indian speaks second in line (narrated by Mattie Ross):
The Indian was next and he said, "I am ready. I have repented my sins and soon I will be in heaven with Christ my savior. Now I must die like a man." If you are like me you probably think of Indians as heathens. But I will ask you to recall the thief on the cross. He was never baptised and never even heard of a catechism and yet Christ himself promised him a place in heaven.
I'll have to see the movie again, because I think it includes other bits from Mattie about Christianity (the book is full of asides like this), but it was curious to me that the Coens snipped that bit of dialogue completely. I thought the joke they put in its place was funny, but I wonder if having a condemned character speak about repentance and Christ (especially an Indian, whom a modern audience will assume had his Christianity forced upon him by hateful whites!) was just too unnerving for them to keep in.