Predator Is Still On Top Of The Game 30 Years Later

The 1980s were the height of the testosterone-fueled action flicks. Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger ruled the box office in those days with their many action films where they shot repeatedly first and mumbled lines later. One of those films from that era was the epitome of that genre except that it crossed over with sci-fi and horror and the result was a classic film: Predator.

Original Predator cast

Directed by John McTiernan (who would later film the greatest action movie of all time, Die Hard), Predator starts off as your standard Schwarzenegger action fest. He played Dutch, a soldier of fortune who leads a motley group of fellow mercenaries in a Central American jungle to rescue hostages. Before we could all collectively groan about how we’ve seen this before (and we have), the film piqued our interest with the introduction of an extra-terrestrial that begins hunting down Dutch and his men thanks to super stealth, alien weapons, cunning and maliciousness.

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From the moment we start seeing the alien’s POV shots of the men being tracked, Predator completely changed its premise and became a classic cat-and-mouse thriller with a sci-fi twist. It was perfect because one problem with many Schwarzenegger movies is that the former bodybuilder is so huge and imposing that it’s hard to pair him up with worthy opponents. Thankfully, Kevin Peter Hall, a rather tall man, was cast and decked out in imaginative makeup to outdo Schwarzenegger. The look of the Predator was unique with his dreadlocks, mandibles and tribal gear. Most of all, when he was finally revealed, the Predator was not just grotesque and intimidating, but more than a match for Dutch and his group of musclemen with their big guns. Some of whom were portrayed by action favorites like Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke and Sonny Landham. One of those actors was future director Shane Black, who not only tinkered with the film’s script but is now filming the latest Predator film, The Predator, which is coming out next year.

With a testosterone-injected cast it’s funny to think that it was almost joined by future action star Jean-Claude Van Damme. Originally he was cast to play the Predator and wore this ridiculous and ungainly outfit that didn’t look good in screening footage. To confirm their fears, the filmmakers brought in James Cameron to review the footage with Van Damme’s version of the Predator and he opined that it was not working. Wisely, they went back to the drawing board and this time hired Stan Winston who used his movie magic skills to create the iconic look of the alien hunter. Also, while Van-Damme is a great martial artist his build was not up to par with Schwarzenegger and his stocky crew, plus he was unhappy with his role so he was replaced with Hall.

All of this would not have amounted to anything if not for the directing skills of McTiernan. He crafted a tense, suspenseful and exciting thriller and used the jungle background to full effect to create a fearful atmosphere. No one in Dutch’s crew was safe as the thick green foliage hid the relentless monster that hunted them down one by one. The way the Predator killed the men was very grisly and helped add to the fear factor. The alien creature treated the men like they were hapless animals by the way they were either skinned, had spines ripped out or taken out with swiftly with laser fire. Naturally, by the last act Schwarzenegger was the last man standing and the final confrontation between him and the Predator was intense. In an ironic twist, the muscle man had to rely on brains rather than brawn when confronting the alien. We actually wondered if Schwarzenegger had finally met his match and the film played up this angle perfectly. Adding to the film’s classic status was its rich cinematography, outstanding special effects and Alan Silvestri’s pulse-pounding score. It evoked a feeling of tribal warfare and is one of the composer’s best scores.

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The sequels that followed could not live up to the original Predator but they were worthwhile films in their own right. Well, except for Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. The original film, which came out on June 12, 1987, still holds up to this day and is considered not just the benchmark for the Predator franchise but one of the greatest action/sci-fi films of all time. In fact, it is not even considered by many to be just an Arnold Schwarzenegger film but as the first Predator film that just happened to star Schwarzenegger. That is why thirty years later we’re still marveling over this brilliant gem.

Lewis T. Grove

 

 

The Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2017 & More

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By looking at the 2017 films coming out, it’s clear that we fans are in a golden age of genre films. There are many sci-fi, superhero, fantasy, animated and horror films coming out this year that are quite tantalizing. These are the most promising looking of the bunch. However, it’s a guarantee that some of the films on this list will be colossal disappointments while there will be films that weren’t even mentioned that will defy low expectations. With that said, let’s look at the coming 2017 films; remember the release dates are still subject to change.

10. Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7): Marvel Comics’ flagship superhero has his first solo film in the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  Fingers crossed that this Spider-Man reboot will resonate.

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9. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 21): Director Luc Besson’s adaptation of the French space opera comic book looks as colorful as its printed counterpart. Based on this teaser, Besson’s directorial eye for the grandiose and colorful could augment this film and prove that space opera films are back.

8. Kong: Skull Island (March 10): King Kong returns to the big screen and we can’t wait to see the gigantic ape on a rampage as pesky folks arrive on his island. We’re also eager to see the big fight scenes between Kong and prehistoric beasts and oversized animals.

7. Wonder Woman (June 2): Frankly, after the mixed results of last year’s Extended Universe (DCEU) films, DC and Warner Bros. need a DCEU film to hit it out of the ballpark. With Patty Jenkins directing and Gal Gadot starring as the Amazonian superheroine, perhaps this will be the one.

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6. Justice League (Nov 17): The only reason why this DCEU film is more anticipated than Wonder Woman is because of its potentially epic nature. The major players in the DC universe team up for the first time…can director Zack Snyder pull this off and turn the film into the DCEU version of The Avengers?

5. Blade Runner 2049 (Oct. 6): The teaser released last month wasn’t the most captivating trailer. But this long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s classic is being directed by Denis Villeneuve, the next hot genre director, who directed last year’s acclaimed Arrival. His visual flair should be a good match for this film.

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4. Logan (March 3): Hugh Jackman’s swan song as everyone’s favorite mutant looks like it will be a fitting conclusion to Wolverine’s saga. Taking place in the near future, Logan is now older, battered and bitter but still up for one final fight against the forces of evil.  The trailer promised a film full of woe, violence and reflective character moments, hopefully that will be the case when Logan finally premieres.

3. War For the Planet of the Apes (July 14): The third film in the reboot/prequel Apes trilogy looks just as spectacular and provocative as the first two films in the series. Andy Serkis returns to mo-cap Caesar the ape leader defending his kind against antogonistic humans. The winner of the conflict will inherit the battered Earth. We know who wins (it’s not called Planet of the Apes for no reason!), but getting to the conclusion is half the joy of these recent Apes films.

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2. Star Wars Episode VIII (Dec. 15):  No subtitle, footage or even a publicity photo are available at this time, yet the episode number is enough to get many of us excited. The next saga film will feature the further adventures of new Star Wars heroes like Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron, as well as old favorites like Luke Skywalker and General Leia. While many questions will be answered about the characters and situation, hopefully Episode VIII won’t emulate Star Wars: The Force Awakens and be a rethread of previous films.

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1. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (May 5): The eagerly anticipated sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy looks like a blast as director James Gunn and the original cast return to play the MCU’s beloved and whacky space pirates. This time around Peter Quill a.k.a. Star-Lord meets his father who is Ego, the Living Planet and played by genre legend Kurt Russell! What’s been shone so far of Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2  with the too-cute Baby Groot, Quill and Drax’s hysterical interplays and space opera visuals promises the same dazzling action, thrills, and comedy that the original delivered back in 2014 and won many fans’ hearts. BTW, can’t wait to buy the Baby Groot toys!

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Other Films: The Space Between Us (Feb. 3), a Martian teen comes to Earth, finds love, goes on the run, perfect for tweenies, The Lego Batman Movie (Feb. 10), after his scene stealing antics in The Lego Movie, the Caped Crusader gets his own solo film, Beauty and the Beast (March 17), Disney looks to extend its winning live-action adaptation streak with this one about the animated classic, Life (March 24), astronauts aboard the International Space Station discover alien life, what can go wrong?  Power Rangers (Mar. 24), well there are fans of this property and it looks better than Transformers: The Last Knight!

alien-covenantGhost in the Shell (Mar. 31), Scarlett Johansson stars in the live-action version of the manga franchise,  The Circle (April 28), Tom Hanks and Emma Watson headline a star-studded cast in this film about a nefarious Internet company with futuristic technology,  Alien: Covenant (May 19), Ridley Scott returns to the Alien universe with this horror-themed prequel,  The Mummy (June 9), Tom Cruise stars in this horror/action remake which hopes to launch Universal Pictures’ shared monster universe films.

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 The Dark Tower (July 28), Stephen King’s epic saga about a mythical gunman finally comes to life, It (Sept. 8), is another Stephen King adaptation of his epic horror classic featuring Pennywise the killer clown,  Geostorm (Oct. 20), producer Dean Devlin makes his directorial debut in this action piece about weather controlling satellites, God Particle (Oct. 27), interest in this film went up after it was revealed to be the third film in the Cloverfield film series, Thor: Ragnarok (Nov. 3): the third solo film for the MCU’s God of Thunder will actually be a buddy flick as Thor teams up with the Hulk to fight the forces of evil, Coco (Nov 22), this Pixar entry about a magic guitar and the world of the dead sounds unique.

José Soto

 

Top 10 Films and TV Shows of 2016

For 2016, superheroes continue to reign in film and TV, while other genres like sci-fi, fantasy, horror and related combos offered refreshing alternatives. Many of the best films and TV shows on this list were very profound and pushed the envelope, while others were just plain fun to watch.

Films

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10. 10 Cloverfield Lane: The spiritual sequel to Cloverfield was a tense and suspenseful thriller with a great performance by John Goodman as a doomsday prepper.

xsuicideTIE: 9. Suicide Squad/X-Men: Apocalypse: Despite their flaws both superhero (and supervillain) films were enjoyable romps with unforgettable characters (Harley Quinn, the Joker, Deadshot, Magneto, Quicksilver, and more) and eye popping action-packed moments.

8. Doctor Strange: With the big-screen debut of Marvel Comics’ Sorcerer Supreme the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to remind us why their superhero films are currently the best of the crop compared to Fox’s X-Men Universe films (Deadpool aside, of course) and the DC Extended Universe movies.

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7. Zootopia: The best animated film of the year dazzled us with eye raising animation and a clever script that highlighted important social messages about tolerance and prejudice.

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6. Star Trek: Beyond: The film’s back-to-basics approach with Star Trek’s iconic characters paid proper homage to the TV show while having a genuine adventurous tone.

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5. The Jungle Book: Even though the CG-created animals and environment were flawless and stunning, the film to its merit emphasized story and characters, which left a bigger impression.

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4. Deadpool: As a faithful adaptation of the irrelevant and violent comic book, Deadpool proves that it’s possible to be true to comic book source material and still be an entertaining film.

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3. Arrival: A provocative, well-acted and beautifully shot film about first contact with aliens smartly emphasized the communications hurdles humanity would face. The film’s ending was a true surprise and was just one of Arrival’s highlights.

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2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: The first Star Wars spinoff not only neatly ties in with Episode IV but is a great and exciting film in its own right with more nuanced characters and situations than seen in a typical Star Wars film.

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1. Captain America: Civil War: The Avengers are torn apart from within as Captain America and Iron Man philosophically, then violently disagreed over allowing the government to supervise their team. Featuring strong performances and the best superhero fight scenes ever filmed, the film was an emotional ride for viewers.

TV Shows

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10. Ash Vs Evil Dead: Grossly fun and action-packed as everyone’s favorite deadite fighter Ash Williams and his gang continue delighting horror fans.

redhats invade9. Colony: Unexpectedly well done look at life under alien domination and that “big, beautiful wall” separating American cities is a chilling portent of what lies ahead.12 Monkeys Cole time travels8. 12 Monkeys: Of the many time travel themed TV shows out there, this is the best of them as many episodes explored the convoluted nature of time travel.

dareflashTIE: 7. The Flash/Daredevil: The two best superhero TV shows were on the opposite ends of the tonal spectrum. The Flash is pure Silver Age awesomeness, while Daredevil reflects a more gritty and grounded mood, especially with the introduction of the brutal vigilante, the Punisher. Both shows  featured intense and enjoyable comic book adventures thanks to well written scripts and engaging lead actors, plus supporting characters/actors.

6. The Walking Dead: The megahit series about brutal life after the undead destroy civilization has  hit a creative wall and is past its peak according to many fans. Yet, for the most part The Walking Dead is still delivering more than adequate thrills, gross out moments and entertainment, even if the show went to far in Negan’s introduction and certain character deaths.

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5. Black Mirror: A dark anthology series about the downside of technology offered many disquieting episodes about technology’s impact in our lives today and tomorrow.

El confronts monster Stranger Things4. Stranger Things: A wonderful ode to ’80s sci-fi movies featured terrific child performances, geeky Easter eggs and an intriguing mystery revolving around a missing child and an interdimensional monster.

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3. The Expanse: This well-crafted series about a brewing war among human colonies in our solar system during the next century could wind up being the next great TV space opera.

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2. Westworld: HBO’s potential successor to Game of Thrones went way beyond the original Michael Crichton movie about theme park robots running amok by presenting a thought-provoking series about existentialism and ethics.

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1. Game of Thrones: Even though the fantasy series is drawing to a close, the sprawling epic continues to captivate viewers with its visceral tale of power struggles among kingdoms. One of the highlights was the epic episode  “Battle of the Bastards” that put rival films to shame with its gut wrenching fight scenes.

 

Lead Actress Cast For Star Trek: Discovery

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For most of the year, we Star Trek fans have been teased with the casting of the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery TV show that is premiering next year. We were excited over the casting of Michelle Yeoh, Doug Jones and others who would play diverse characters in the show, but no lead had been cast. That all changed today when word came that after an exhaustive search Sonequa Martin-Green has just been cast to play the lead role Lt. Commander Rainsford in Star Trek’s eagerly awaited return to TV.

Most fans know Martin-Green from the hit TV show The Walking Dead. For those of you out there who don’t she plays the role of Sasha, one of the few survivors of the walker apocalypse. Not to beat up on The Walking Dead, but that show has been in a rut this season with the Negan overkill and the tropes that the characters, including Sasha had been going through.

Obviously, Sonequa Martin-Green’s casting means that Sasha will probably be the next victim of Negan on The Walking Dead. It’s just as well, since her arc had come to a conclusion last season and the men she cared about in her life, her brother, Tyreese, and her new lover Abraham are both dead. In other words, The Walking Dead’s loss is Star Trek: Discovery’s gain.

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Her casting is quite inspired, since it covers many important areas. One, she is the first woman of color to have the lead role in a Star Trek show. The honor of the first non-white goes to Avery Brooks who starred as Captain Ben Sisko in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine back in the 1990s. Ironically enough, like Sisko, Sonequa Martin-Green’s Rainsford won’t begin the show as the captain but as a lieutenant commander. Hopefully as what eventually happened with Sisko, her character will get promoted to captain before too long because she has the look of a Star Trek captain.

But more importantly, as seen in The Walking Dead, Martin-Green has the acting chops to headline a TV show and being that she has experience in a related genre, she will please many fans who only want the best casting options for the beloved Star Trek franchise. Finally, her landing the role cements the notion that Star Trek: Discovery will be populated by a diverse group of people with different backgrounds. This is actually reflective of our society today, despite what some on the fringe-elements may wish for, and this casting proves that Star Trek on the whole is able to keep up with the times.

Seriously, this is an excellent cap to Star Trek’s 50th anniversary as this year draws to a close.

T. Rod Jones

The Mind-Bending World Of Doctor Strange

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Marvel Studios’ latest foray into the mega-successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is Doctor Strange. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the title character, a former brilliant neurosurgeon who becomes a sorcerer after a reluctant personal journey.

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Basically, Doctor Strange is an origin story that introduces audiences to the sorcerer and his world. After a car accident shatters the nerves in his hands, Dr. Stephen Strange is desperate to repair the nerve damage so he can resume his shallow, entitled lifestyle. Think of a less charming version of Tony Stark before he became the heroic Iron Man. His desperation takes him to Nepal where he comes across a secret sect of sorcerers led by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her lieutenants Mordo (Chiwetol Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong). The sorcerers introduce Strange to the mind-bending reality of the multiverse with its indescribable dimensions and its evils. Their mission is one of seeking enlightenment and of guarding the Earth and our dimension from evil. In this case, the extradimensional being Dormammu and its disciple, Kaecillus (Mads Mikkelson) a former student of the Ancient One who embraced the dark side of sorcery and wants to learn the secret of immortality.

Doctor Strange would have been a standard coming-of-age origin story if not for the wildly trippy visuals and the performance by Cumberbatch. Once again Marvel Studios strikes gold with its casting in the pivotal role of the sorcerer, and remarkably enough with Swinton. With the latter, the casting choice is controversial because of the racial and gender-swapping nature being that the Ancient One in the Marvel Comics is an elderly Asian male. But Swinton does nicely in her critical role.

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The drawbacks to Doctor Strange have to do with a common complaint about most MCU films, namely the villains. There isn’t any depth to Kaecillus, he’s very one-dimensional and is upstaged late in the film by the gigantic visage of Dormammu, who should’ve had more screen time. Even there, the supposedly powerful foe was handled fairly easily by Strange. Other characters were hit or miss. Mordo had an interesting arc where his fundamental belief system is shaken to the core, while Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) was forgettable and didn’t have any screen presence or chemistry with her former lover Strange.

The story itself was serviceable but on the whole comes off as formulaic for an MCU film. It goes like this; unlikeable or self-centered main character gains super powers and undergoes an emotional journey as a reluctant hero before fully embracing his destiny as a full-fledged hero.

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Still, Doctor Strange is an entertaining MCU film that should be placed in the upper mid tier of the other MCU films thanks to director Scott Derrickson’s vibrant eye for colorful optics. There are many imaginative visuals and effects shots that have never been seen on the large screen. Stephen Strange’s forays into the multidimensional void are alone worth the price of admission, especially in 3D. Many shots perfectly mirror Dr. Strange co-creator Steve Ditko’s unique look, which is astonishing to behold in live action, while unnerving at the same time.

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With this film, Marvel Studios has successfully introduced another novel and spectacular corner of the expanding MCU. Even though the script could have used some more work to match its eye-popping scenery, Doctor Strange is a welcome addition to the MCU and hopefully the good doctor/sorcerer will take an even greater role in it.

José Soto