Category Archives: 2018

The Predator (2018, Shane Black)

The Predator has a really short present action, which is both good and bad. Good because one wouldn’t want to see screenwriters Fred Dekker and director Black try for longer, bad because… well, it gets pretty dumb how fast things move along. Dekker and Black don’t do a good job with the expository speech (for a while, Olivia Munn gets all of it and deserves a prize of some kind for managing it, given how dumb the content gets) and they do a worse job with character development. They’re constantly forgetting details about their large ensemble cast, if they’re not forgetting about where their ensemble cast is in regards to the onscreen action. Black does a perfectly adequate—if utterly impersonal job—with a lot of the directing on a technical level, but he really has got zero feel for his large ensemble. Even though the story’s ostensibly about lead Boyd Holbrook (in a mostly likable performance) becoming a better dad to son Jacob Tremblay. Dekker and Black really want to pretend it matters; see, Tremblay is a kid with Asperger syndrome, which turns out to be real important since he’s the only person on the planet who can decode the Predator language and figure out what’s going on.

Though—again, Dekker and Black just make up whatever they need in a scene to keep it moving, logic be damned and double-damned—though at one point evil scientist Sterling K. Brown (who is distressingly bad) somehow knows about the internal politics of the Predator planet. Because it moves a scene along and pretends to have some kind of forward plot momentum. It turns out it’s all a bunch of hooey and the ending is a painful sequel setup, but it’s not as though the screenwriters have been successfully fooling the audience. There’s no good ending to The Predator because it’s a really stupid movie, full of mediocre action (Black’s got no ideas when it comes to his big surprise villain in the second half either and he really needs some ideas for it), and a bunch of occasionally good, usually tedious performances from actors who probably ought to have some serious conversations about why their agents made them do this movie.

Holbrook’s the lead. He’s this bad dad, bad husband (but not too bad) Army sniper who happens across a Predator attack and ships the helmet and a laser armband home to son Tremblay. Only not. He ships them to his P.O. Box and they get delivered after Holbrook defaults on the rental. So it’s seems like he’s gone for a while—however long it takes to send alien technology through customs from rural Mexico and then the post office to give up on him paying for his box—but he’s really only gone a few days because the evil government scientists have tracked him down, brought him back to the States, and are setting him up to be lobotomized or something to keep him quiet.

But then there’s Munn, who gets drafted to work for Brown and the evil government scientists because, in addition to being a world famous biologist, she once wrote the President she’d like to help with alien animals or some nonsense. Again, the character “detail” is just nonsense but nonsense Munn can bring some charm to in her delivery so it’s in. It’s usually fine with Munn; it’s bad when it’s from a charmless performance, which—to be fair—The Predator only has a few. Like Brown.

Remember before when I said the story outside the alien monster hunting people in what appears to be the Pacific Northwest because the movie’s just a rip-off of that godawful second Alien vs. Predator movie is about Holbrook getting to be a better dad. Not really. The closest Black comes to finding a story arc is Munn. She loses it after a while, but when she’s got the spotlight, even when the film’s wanting, it’s got its most potential. Holbrook’s a fine supporting guy, but he’s not a lead.

The rest of the cast… Trevante Rhodes give the film’s best performance. Keegan-Michael Key’s stunt-ish casting is fine. Thomas Jane’s is less so, mostly because Jane never gets the time to establish his character. The film forgets about Alfie Allen so much he could just as well be uncredited. Augusto Aguilera is fun; not good, not funny, but fun. Jake Busey’s kind of great in a small role, just because he brings so much professionalism to a project completely undeserving of it.

Tremblay’s kind of annoying as the kid, but only because the script also wants to pretend it’s about the little boy learning there are space aliens thing too.

There’s just not enough time for all the movies Black and Dekker try to pretend The Predator can be so instead they give up and do something entirely derivative, something often dumb, something to waste any of the good performances, something lazy.

The Predator is an exceptionally lazy, pointless motion picture.

And the music, by Henry Jackman, is bad.

Good CGI ultra-violence I guess? Though Black doesn’t know how to use it. Because apparently Predator movies are really hard to figure out how to make.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Shane Black; screenplay by Fred Dekker and Black, based on characters created by Jim Thomas and John Thomas; director of photography, Larry Fong; edited by Harry B. Miller III; music by Henry Jackman; production designer, Martin Whist; produced by John Davis; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Boyd Holbrook (McKenna), Trevante Rhodes (Williams), Jacob Tremblay (Rory), Keegan-Michael Key (Coyle), Olivia Munn (Brackett), Sterling K. Brown (Traeger), Thomas Jane (Baxley), Alfie Allen (Lynch), Augusto Aguilera (Nettles), and Jake Busey (Keyes).


RELATED

Advertisements

Sorry to Bother You (2018, Boots Riley)

Sorry to Bother You has four endings. Well, more like three and a half. They’re all good enough endings, except the last one, which is truncated and just reminds how iffy the entire third act has been. Until the third act, the film is going strong. Underdeveloped but affable lead Lakeith Stanfield–the character is underdeveloped and affable, not the performance; Stanfield’s performance is fantastic–gets a job as a telemarketer and finds out he’s a natural salesman. At least over the phone.

The film takes place in an alternate reality (of sorts). Mostly Sorry just seems like its set in 2028 but with technology from 2008. Smartphones aren’t ubiquitous. Actually, they’re not even present until writer and director Riley needs to use one for a plot point. But society is futuristic, in all the bad–and very realistic–ways, with rich White guy Armie Hammer and his company, which signs people into lifetime work contracts. People live in the warehouse, they work in the warehouse, they (presumably) die in the warehouse. And having a limitless supply of indentured laborers isn’t even enough for Hammer it turns out. Riley does really well conceptualizing the possibilities and inhumanity of capitalist greed, though he doesn’t really execute them particularly well. At least not once the third act hits.

Stanfield’s not thinking of signing up for the work-for-life thing. It seems to be more for people trying to get out of debt. They even take your kids. It’s a background subplot, which ends up figuring in a little, but only because Riley forces it. Riley’s not subtle about Chekov’s gun. Guns, actually. There’s also the most popular TV show in the world, where people get beat up on camera for… notoriety? It’s never clear. There’s a fame culture but without the new media infrastructure (even though YouTube gets a big mention).

So while Stanfield’s trying to make the telemarketer thing work (selling crappy encyclopedias–again, there’s no wikipedia?), his girlfriend Tessa Thompson is working on an art show while making ends meet as a sign twirler. She’s got a really undeveloped subplot about becoming an activist protesting Hammer’s work-for-life company. Her art show is also really undeveloped, though sensational when Riley finally gets to it. Thompson is, in general, really undeveloped.

Simultaneous to Stanfield’s rise to telemarketer success is the other employees (including Thompson) trying to unionize. Steven Yeun is the outside agitator who gets things started–by leveraging Stanfield’s success, which comes off as exploitative but goes unexplored–and Jermaine Fowler is Stanfield’s friend who stays true to his fellow workers. One of the big problems, which doesn’t matter because the movie’s so funny, is how unbelievable the telemarketing company comes off. It’s not believable anyone could sell the crappy encyclopedias, so how do they have enough employees to fill a call center. The always good, sometimes exceptional laughs fill in the spaces too wide for suspensions of disbelief.

Once Stanfield gets super successful he’s unknowingly put on a collision course with Hammer, who needs a good salesman like Stanfield. Just like Stanfield, who’s an affable Black man who can talk to White people the way White people want to be talked to. Riley’s commentary on capitalism and its disgustingly obvious roadmap takes precedence over any exploration of race. Race is always present–sometimes it’s on the fore–but it’s always secondary, even when it shouldn’t be.

Just like the comedy in the first two acts covers for the narrative leaps or avoidances, Riley uses sensationalism–absurdist sensationalism–to cover in the third. Because Stanfield doesn’t really get a character arc. He’s on a story arc, but he was so thinly established (Riley leveraging Stanfield’s performance) it doesn’t add up to much. And then three and a half endings muss things up more. Each in different ways.

All of the acting is strong. Stanfield’s a spectacular leading man. Thompson’s good, even if her part is only deep in exposition. Yeun’s good. Fowler’s somewhat inconsequential–Sorry feels like things got cut either from the final cut or from the script; Fowler’s just around. Omari Hardwick’s fine as one of Stanfield’s bosses, though he’s a sight gag versus the other bosses–Michael X. Sommers, Michael X. Sommers, and Kate Berlant–who are all absurdly funny. Hammer’s perfect for the part but almost brings too much self-awareness and humanity to it. Danny Glover and Terry Crews are great in extended cameos.

Technically, the film’s outstanding. Riley’s direction, Doug Emmett’s photography, Terel Gibson’s editing. Especially Gibson’s editing, which does a lot but without any fanfare whatsoever.

Sorry to Bother You is really good. It’s almost great. But the third act is a mess.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Boots Riley; director of photography, Doug Emmett; edited by Terel Gibson; music by The Coup, Merrill Garbus, Riley, and Tune-Yards; production designer, Jason Kisvarday; produced by Nina Yang Bongiovi, Jonathan Duffy, Charles D. King, George Rush, Forest Whitaker, and Kelly Williams; released by Annapurna Pictures.

Starring Lakeith Stanfield (Cassius), Tessa Thompson (Detroit), Armie Hammer (Steve Lift), Steven Yeun (Squeeze), Jermaine Fowler (Salvador), Omari Hardwick (Mr. _______), Terry Crews (Sergio), Kate Berlant (Diana), Michael X. Sommers (Johnny), Danny Glover (Langston), Robert Longstreet (Anderson), and Forest Whitaker (Demarius).


RELATED

Aquaman (2018, James Wan)

Just because you can get Patrick Wilson to say “Call me, Oceanmaster!” over and over again with a straight face doesn’t necessarily mean you should have Patrick Wilson say “Call me, Oceanmaster!” over and over again.

Unless director James Wan was just trying to get my wife to laugh uproariously. Every time. Because every time it’s so absurdly dumb the only reasonable response is to laugh. Uproariously.

Kind of like Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s B-villain. Not only is Abdul-Mateen terrible, not only is the writing of the character risible, his arc is one of a buffoon. He’s Elmer Fudd. Not even with a pseudo-tragic storyline does he get any depth. He’s just Elmer Fudd with some pseudo-tragedy.

Abdul-Mateen probably gives the worst performance. His only serious competition is Nicole Kidman, who plays Aqua-mom. She’s supposed to be the next queen of Atlantis but runs away to Maine and shacks up with Temeura Morrison, as Aqua-dad. Their abbreviated love affair–which tries to make up for the actors abject lack of chemistry with hilarious CGI de-aging on Morrison–results in Momoa. Well, not Momoa yet, but a series of bad kid actors playing Aqua-boy. Eventually it’s Momoa.

He narrates the opening. Poorly, but it’s poorly written. Wilson’s exposition about why he wants to be called “Oceanmaster” is actually better written than a lot of the film’s exposition. The only person who manages to get Aquaman’s expository dialogue out with any success is Amber Heard. She’s Momoa’s love interest and a princess of Atlantis who wants to stop Wilson from waging war on the surface world. Even though he’s probably right? Though Atlantis seems like a barbaric place. Ancient Rome with technology. Kind of. The movie doesn’t spend a lot of time there. Just enough for a CGI chase sequence involving undersea vehicles.

The CGI is impressive though. A lot of Aquaman‘s CGI is impressive. Not the de-aging stuff. Or when it’s for the action scenes involving the actors; Wan directs fight scenes like it’s a video game on fast forward. At once point he does first person shooter, at another he toggles between two characters’ simultaneous action scenes. The latter is very nearly effective, if it weren’t so poorly photographed. At some point–very early on–in Aquaman, it becomes clear cinematographer Don Burgess and Wan don’t care at all about the lighting matching when they’re shooting the actors on green screen. The composites are universally terrible. It usually doesn’t affect the action too much, except when Aquaman is in its Indiana Jones phase with Momoa and Heard globe-trotting to find an ancient super-powered trident.

Wait, I was actually complimenting the CGI, wasn’t I? Yeah, the extreme long shots with the undersea action–all CGI, obviously–looks great. Wan does those shots well. He doesn’t so establishing shots well and he doesn’t acknowledge any physicality–like, really, what does cinematographer Burgess do on this movie, he doesn’t even stop Wan from shooting through where a wall ought to be–but the undersea CGI stuff can be cool. And competent, which is a nice change from when there are the lousy composites or the crappy action scenes or the writing.

Momoa can’t really lead a movie, but it doesn’t matter because David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall’s script is so bad no one could lead Aquaman. Momoa’s fine. What are you going to do with this script. The romantic stuff between him and Heard is absurd, but who cares. It’s nowhere near as bad as, I don’t know, Abdul-Mateen or Kidman and Morrison and, well, you’re rooting for Amber Heard. She works hard in this movie, trying to carry Momoa both in character and as an actor in scenes. Heard pretends her character in Aquaman is serious, which no one else in the movie does… except maybe Willem Dafoe (only because you can never tell if he’s being tongue-in-cheek) and Dolph Lundgren. Lundgren’s Heard’s father and Wilson’s war ally. He’s not good–it’s a crap role–but he takes it seriously.

Momoa doesn’t take his part seriously, which is a good move since his whole character arc relies on something the movie doesn’t clearly inform the audience about even though they should’ve known about it from the beginning. Wilson either. They’re half-brothers fighting for the throne. They ought to have some chemistry.

They have zilch. Partially because Wan doesn’t direct them for it, partially because the script really wants to subject the audience to Abdul-Mateen.

Rupert Gregson-Williams’s music occasionally gets really loud and cartoonishly action-y. It’s at those moments Aquaman ostensibly has its most potential for outlandish action. Wan never delivers. Not even during his CGI chase scenes, which are abbreviated, or his “elaborate” fight scenes. Aquaman runs almost two and a half hours, has a present action of a few days, yet is almost entirely in summary. Sure, Johnson-McGoldrick and Beall write godawful scenes, but Wan doesn’t do anything to slow that pace.

When Gregson-Williams’s score isn’t writing checks the movie can’t cash, it’s pretty tepid and generic. Still has more personality than Burgess’s photography. Aquaman does better underwater; Bill Brzeski’s production design goes to pot whenever the action surfaces. Though, again, it’s where Burgess’s photography is worst. So it’s a lose-lose.

Could Aquaman be worse? Undoubtedly. Should Aquaman be better? Sure? There’s no reason it ought to be so bad. Or so dumb. Or predictable. Or so obvious.

Though, again, if it weren’t so obvious, could Momoa lead the picture….

But it definitely shouldn’t be so bad. It shouldn’t be so technically inept. Its actors–save Kidman–deserve a script better than what Johnson-McGoldrick and Beall contribute; you wouldn’t play with your action figures with their dialogue. It’s too plastic.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by James Wan; screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall, based on a story by Geoff Johns, Wan, and Beall and the DC Comics character created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris; director of photography, Don Burgess; edited by Kirk M. Morri; music by Rupert Gregson-Williams; production designer, Bill Brzeski; produced by Peter Safran and Rob Cowan; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jason Momoa (Arthur), Amber Heard (Mera), Patrick Wilson (King Orm), Willem Dafoe (Vulko), Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Manta), Temuera Morrison (Tom Curry), Dolph Lundgren (King Nereus), and Nicole Kidman (Atlanna).


RELATED

The Predator Holiday Special (2018)

At two minutes, The Predator Holiday Special runs long. The joke runs out. It starts as a rather fun riff on the original Predator movie, with the same music and some familiar action motifs, and the Rankin-Bass stop motion holiday specials. Sure, the stop motion isn’t great and the Predator appears to just be an action figure, but it’s only a couple minutes; it doesn’t have to do too much.

First it’s elf versus Predator, then reindeer versus Predator, finally Santa versus Predator. It’s all fine until it doesn’t end with Santa versus Predator and instead has a pointless, visually inert action finale. Worse, there’s a perfectly good send-off (which could almost save Holiday Special in the last moments), but doesn’t.

The stop motion animation just isn’t there. Given Holiday Special is literally just an extended commercial for the home video release of The Predator, it’s kind of cute. But probably would’ve been a lot cuter at thirty seconds or a minute instead of a drug out two minutes. Better voice acting wouldn’t have hurt it either.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Based on characters created by Jim Thomas and John Thomas; aired by Comedy Central.


RELATED