Tag Archives: Bill Duke

Predator (1987, John McTiernan)

Predator has a lot going for it. Acting, directing, editing. But not usually all at once. The film opens with a quick introduction–Arnold Schwarzenegger and company are on a special mission in the jungle (after establishing an alien space ship in the first shot). It feels very macho and very forced, but the editing is so incredibly good, it doesn’t matter. Even when Mark Helfrich and John F. Link are cutting together Arnold and Carl Weathers’s male bonding moments, the film works great. It just moves.

Then, as the film brings in the rest of the supporting cast (Weathers or Shane Black give the worst performance and both of them are totally fine), director McTiernan establishes the film’s visual style. Predator doesn’t have much of an action style when the alien finally does show; McTiernan handles it matter-of-fact (cinematographer Donald McAlpine doesn’t appear to have the ability to do much else), so McTiernan instead stylizes the dialogue sequences with particular close-ups and, even more, how he shoots the actors in relation to each other and the jungle they’re in. Predator never looks flashy, but it’s always thoughtfully visualized.

There is one great sequence with Arnold and company running through the jungle before he goes mano-a-mano with the monster. That sequence has McAlpine’s best photography and McTiernan’s best action directing. It’s fast-paced, hectic, but comprehendible and rather sympathetic. The concept–these big muscle men terrified of the unknown monster–works. It makes a lot of Predator work. But only because of the actors.

In the supporting cast, Bill Duke and Richard Chaves are best. Duke’s got the most character arc while Chaves has near the least, but is just really good with it. Then there’s quiet, stoic Sonny Landham and he sells it too. McTiernan’s direction is really important for these performances. Jesse Ventura and Elpidia Carrillo are both good. And, like I said, Weathers and Black aren’t bad. They just aren’t doing anything special; however, given the silliness of Weathers’s character (super-buff CIA stooge), it’s impressive how much Weathers resists caricature.

Nice, memorable music from Alan Silvestri.

The movie falls apart a bit in the finale, which is a little rushed. But McTiernan and his editors turn it around satisfactorily. McAlpine’s photography, which is too flat–both for action and the locations–does contribute to the film’s success. Predator plays way too thoughtful. McTiernan takes it way too seriously. The story is never consequential enough, but McTiernan and the actors ably pretend otherwise.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John McTiernan; written by Jim Thomas and John Thomas; director of photography, Donald McAlpine; edited by Mark Helfrich and John F. Link; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, John Vallone; produced by Lawrence Gordon, Joel Silver and John Davis; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (Dutch), Elpidia Carrillo (Anna), Carl Weathers (Dillon), Bill Duke (Mac), Richard Chaves (Poncho), Sonny Landham (Billy), Jesse Ventura (Blain), Shane Black (Hawkins), R.G. Armstrong (Gen. Phillips) and Kevin Peter Hall (The Predator).


RELATED

Advertisements

Payback (1999, Brian Helgeland), the director’s cut

I don’t know if I’d say I’ve been waiting ten years to see the director’s cut of Payback, but I guess I’ve been interested in it for ten years–it’s supposed to be the meaner version. Too bad Mel Gibson, even a good Mel Gibson, is Mel Gibson. Even when he’s being tough and mean, he’s got an element of cute. If you like Mel Gibson, you’ll probably like Payback.

It’s a tough guy movie set in a no name city, the film noir city of the 1950s, only Helgeland wastes a lot of time drawing attention to the city not having a name… (it’s Chicago). Helgeland’s direction is solid, but his establishing shots are really poorly framed, usually because he doesn’t know how to shoot the city. It looks like he doesn’t know how to do establishing shots, making it appear incompetent.

The most impressive thing about the film is acting. Helgeland’s rediscovery of Gregg Henry is something to be seen. Maria Bello’s good. Deborah Kara Unger is good. William Devane and James Coburn’s cameos are both great.

Unfortunately, the film gets to a point where there’s nowhere to go. The film’s philosophy just doesn’t work for making a successful picture. Played straight, it might have been better. Gibson’s character arc fails, as the character inexplicably develops emotional concern.

So, at that conclusion, when Helgeland’s run out of plot, he stops the movie. It’s a downhill slide from a rather strong opening. I suppose it’s a somewhat graceful decision.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Brian Helgeland; screenplay by Helgeland, based on a novel by Donald E. Westlake; director of photography, Ericson Core; edited by Kevin Stitt; music by Chris Boardman; production designer, Richard Hoover; produced by Bruce Davey; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Mel Gibson (Porter), Gregg Henry (Val), Maria Bello (Rosie), David Paymer (Stegman), Deborah Kara Unger (Lynn), William Devane (Carter), Bill Duke (Detective Hicks), James Coburn (Fairfax) and Lucy Liu (Pearl).


RELATED

Commando (1985, Mark L. Lester), the director’s cut

There are a couple good things about Commando–the opening titles and James Horner’s score. Otherwise, I suppose Schwarzenegger isn’t bad in the film, which takes his being Austrian into account, something the majority of his blockbuster roles do not.

What’s interesting about the film–and it’s hard to find anything to keep the brain occupied for the long ninety minutes–is the structure. It’s got three writers credited with the story but all it is, in the end, is a film noir mixed with some Rambo and Dirty Harry. Schwarzenegger’s character doesn’t experience the slightest complication from being, essentially, the Terminator and contrastingly it with Stallone’s take on a similar protagonist is a compelling idea.

It’s too bad it’d mean I’d have to sit through some of, if not all of, Commando again, so it’s out.

Half the movie, where Schwarzenegger’s after a limited number of memorable villains (David Patrick Kelly, Bill Duke), is passable. Then when he robs a gun store and Rae Dawn Chong (in one of her patented awful performances) breaks him out of police custody… it starts to implode. Before, it was at least an action movie in familiar settings, like a Lethal Weapon or Die Hard. Then it turns into a cartoon gunfight on a tropical island. The Green Berets for the eighties or something.

Lester’s a trite director.

Vernon Wells’s villain appears to be gay and closeted, which adds the film’s only layer.

I mean, Commando wastes Dan Hedaya. It’s a real stinker.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Mark L. Lester; screenplay by Steven E. de Souza, based on a story by Jeph Loeb, Matthew Weisman and de Souza; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Glenn Farr, Mark Goldblatt and John F. Link; music by James Horner; production designer, John Vallone; produced by Joel Silver; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (John Matrix), Alyssa Milano (Jenny Matrix), Rae Dawn Chong (Cindy), Dan Hedaya (Arius), Vernon Wells (Bennett), James Olson (Major General Franklin Kirby), David Patrick Kelly (Sully) and Bill Duke (Cooke).


RELATED