Predator 2 (1990) 4K UHD

pred4kBack when I first saw Predator 2 at the cinema (it would have been late Spring/early summer 1991 here in the UK, as films took awhile getting over the pond back in the days of film prints etc), I really enjoyed it, but that was a rare point of view at the time, as the film was considered a critical disappointment and box-office dud. It was clearly not as good as the original, but back then that was largely a given with sequels anyway. I remember being pleasantly surprised by the twist on the original, moving from the remote jungle setting of Predator to a (slightly) near-future Los Angeles ravaged by gun crime and street gangs. Arnold’s absence is keenly felt (he refused to sign onto the film over a money dispute) as Danny Glover is a poor substitute in the action hero stakes, but then again, after Arnold, who wouldn’t be? Glover plays LAPD lieutenant Mike Harrigan, who leads a team of detectives caught between two drug gangs in a bitter street war and begins to suspect there’s a new guy in town leaving corpses from both gangs in his wake. This new ‘third party’, of course, is another Predator enjoying vacation time on Earth. To be fair to Glover, while physically he is obviously no replacement for Arnold, his strengths as an actor are largely let down by the films troublesome script. 

The thing with these franchises, they can go either one of two ways – if they’d sorted out the financial issues with Arnold and brought him back for film two, Predator would have become an Arnold franchise, in just the same way as bringing Ripley back in Aliens meant that franchise turning into Ripley’s franchise rather than the Alien xenomorphs – in the minds of the execs, you couldn’t make an Alien film without Sigourney Weaver’s name on the poster, which led that franchise down an increasingly twisted rabbit hole. Now, its quite likely that a Predator 2 with Arnold in it would have been more successful – and possibly a better movie too, but I do commend the ‘bravery’ (albeit enforced) in not going that way, and instead trying something a little more different than might be expected for a Predator sequel. 

Indeed, I rather wish Fox had taken a similar path with the Alien franchise. You could still quite legitimately have Aliens as it was without Ripley, easily establishing that Ripley’s shuttle had not yet been discovered (and perhaps never would be). You could still have the terraforming colony come to a bad xenomorph end and the marines called in, but it could have been a different planet, and the alien eggs discovered on some indigenous pyramid like in some of the early treatments of Alien‘s script. Conveniently, this would solve Cameron’s unnecessary and messy interference with the Alien biology (the Alien Queen, which I always hated, its Earth-insect analogy losing the Lovecraftian alien mystery of the original)- different planet explaining a variant xenomorph biology, opening up further possibilities for later films. 

But, I’m going off on another geek rant here and I’m too old for that nonsense. Back to Predator 2.

Released in 1990 in the States, its still undeniably a 1980s movie at heart, saturated with testosterone and violence (and action films were getting very violent during the 1980s, pushing the limits of what censors would allow). There’s a gleeful perversity in all the explosions and gunplay of Predator 2′s excess (it ran foul of censors in several countries) that marks it of the 1980s, or perhaps the bastard child of that decade.

At the time, Predator 2 had limited box office success- likely hurt by Arnold’s absence and perhaps also a reaction against the film’s violence, as if that 1980s action-movie trend had started to run its course (Total Recall would beg to differ). I just think the script needs much more work. The characters are all woefully underwritten, something that largely worked for the first film because of the larger-than-life actors in the key roles, but in Predator 2 the cast is largely made of ordinary-looking actors, physically, and they needed beefier character arcs to make up for it. 

Its because of these underwritten characters and what that does to the drama, and also the rather messy and ill-thought out plot with FBI agents, that the film hasn’t aged as well as it might, certainly when compared to films of that era like Robocop etc. Genre favourite the late, very great Bill Paxton is a joy as always, and with all due respect to Glover, I wish that Paxton had been given chance to shine in the lead role in this- Paxton never seemed to get his due in casting. Paxton’s lead could have been a darker character (why not a Dirty Harry kind of cop, his no-nonsense abrasive attitude a spark against the Predator?). Then again, that’s changing the film entirely and second-guessing all the studio politics, budget and marketing and time constraints etc. But geeks can dream!

The 4K disc is really very good- there is a persistent, authentic grain that lends it a filmic quality and the HDR really helps the explosions etc to really shine. The cinematography is a little soft in places, definitely of its time, but its certainly the best this film has ever looked on a home format. After all, who’d really have expected this film to get a 4K release when so many other films (like Robocop) haven’t? I enjoyed watching this film after so many years (the last time was probably on VHS) and returning to this whole 1980s action flick thing is fast becoming a revelation. 

Recent Additions

P1110248 (2)Buying films on disc is still ‘A Thing’ but as you can see from the snap I’ve taken of my recent purchases, rather than new films my eye is in the rear view mirror and past films that I’ve seen before (and yes, bought before on previous formats). At least I’ve managed to resist the Indiana Jones set just recently released on 4K. No doubt its time will come eventually but one has to draw the line somewhere (sorry, Indy).

So anyway; I rationalised buying the Toy Story 4K box because I never bought Toy Story 4 on disc and this long-overdue box release is the most cost-effective way of going 4K on these Pixar classics. The Predator 4K box has just come back into stock at a reduced price (I missed the opportunity prior to Christmas) and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is just one of those films… well, I bought it on R1 DVD so many moons ago and then again on Blu-Ray… maybe this is the last time (my wallet certainly hopes so). As a film lover some films just, well, they drive us crazy and we lose all common sense and go all Gollum (“I must have it, my precious!”). Lastly I managed to pick up Murder on the Orient Express on 4K for less than a tenner- its a film I saw on a rental that I really enjoyed, and at the time I was wondering how gorgeous it would look in 4K so I’ll find out soon enough. I just noticed that I watched that rental nearly three years ago!

And here’s a shocker- I’ve actually gone and bought two films on digital. I know, I know, shock, horror, that’s Hell freezing over, but I couldn’t resist testing the water with some bargains on Amazon. I bought well-regarded indie sci-fi Prospect for 99p in HD, and a HD copy of Aniara, a Swedish sci-fi film that I’ve been curious about for just £1.99. I don’t think digital will ever be a Big Deal for me, I’ll always prefer films on disc but at those prices (must be the digital equivalent of the Bargain Bin), what’s not to like? If I watch something I absolutely adore I’ll just get the disc version and won’t have lost much financially. Mind, I still feel like I’ve crossed the Rubicon.

Its coming outta the Goddam Couch! : Split Second (1992)

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“Operator? Get my Agent!”

There’s a scene in Split Second in which our hero’s love interest, Michelle (Kim Cattrall) is sitting in her lover’s apartment being stalked by the monster, and she’s frantically sweeping the room with her gun for sign of the menace, when its huge claws rip up from inside/under the couch she’s sitting on… utterly ridiculous and nonsensical (this thing is ten or twelve foot tall but it can sneak up out of the sofa?) this moment sums up the whole sad, silly film.

Its a very cheap, very dumb British sci-fi film trying so very hard to be an American action thriller, heavily indebted to Blade Runner and Predator and Alien, set in an unconvincing flooded future London with a plot and characters that come across as pure unadulterated fan fiction: the kind of thing where being adult is saying the F-word endlessly, so much so that this film may have the most F-bombs of any film I’ve ever seen. The kind of film where sophistication and ‘cool’ is mistaken for chomping cigars and eating junk food. Its the kind of film that can star actors like Rutger Hauer and Kim Cattrall and waste them completely.

I have Rutger Hauer’s book All Those Moments, in which he reminisces about his film career. I just searched through it for any mention of Split Second. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe some self-deprecating comment, some wry humour, some telling anecdote. But no. No mention at all. Maybe Rutger was trying to pretend it never happened. Maybe his book only had so many pages permitted and some topics/films just had to be cut. Maybe he had forgotten it.

I’ll be honest, I was rather disappointed. His memories of making a film like Split Second would be fascinating, I think. We are used to hearing actors talk about their finest moments, their greatest films (for obvious reasons), but I suspect we might learn the most telling things about them if they talked more about their mistakes, their embarrassments. Tom Cruise, for instance, has never, to my knowledge, ever reminisced about starring in Ridley Scott’s Legend– its a film he’d clearly rather forget and strike from his filmography. Indeed, maybe dear Tom has absolutely forgotten that film, had it excised from his memory totally I’m not so sure Rutger would be like that regards Split Second; he seemed the kind of guy that wore all his films like some badge of honour: proud of his finest hours, pragmatic about his more embarrassing efforts. Goodness knows he had plenty of the latter: so many times in the 1980s and 1990s I was horrified in seeing his face on the cover of some straight-to-VHS b-movie fodder, far too many times.

The guy was Roy Batty. I always thought he deserved better, but then again, I was an LA 2019 obsessive. Everyone who was involved in that film was touched by greatness, in my book.

So how to explain Rutger in trash like Split Second, a film so bad even its title doesn’t bear any connection with anything in the film itself, it feels so absolutely random, nonsensical. I suppose Rutger was practical. He needed the money, it was a job, you can’t expect every film to be a Solder of Orange or Blade Runner or LadyHawke or The HItcher (moment of confession: I only ever saw one of those. There are so many films of Rutger’s that I have to catch up with).

I find it so very difficult to say anything positive about Split Second. It seems well-intentioned, but the story is so weak, the direction so amateur, it feels like something based on a very dated, very poor 1970s comic strip so obscure most people forgot it and it got handed to a creative team still in film school. Rutger is hamstrung by a very poorly written, cliche-ridden character, but he’s also actually very good in it: you can see a wry gleam in his eye at times, like he knows he’s in a piece of trash only dreaming that its Blade Runner (and God knows he was in that, so he’d know the difference) and that he’s going to have fun with it anyway. There’s a gentleness to Rutger: you could see it in his Roy Batty even though he was ostensibly that films villain. Rutger deserved his own franchise, his own Indiana Jones series of films.  He could have been great in it.

KIm Cattrall of course is as sexy as ever- she just exudes this aura in everything she did, and that’s true even in something as poor as this- the film suddenly brightens, quickens, somehow, as soon as she (eventually) appears in it. The film  missed a trick not bringing her appearance forward by about half-hour. Indeed, she perhaps shouldn’t have been Rutger’s lover at all, but rather his buddy cop. She must have come to the set straight adter appearing in Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country, because I swear she’s wearing the same hair-do. That’s one of the most interesting things I can say about Split Second, its that poor a movie.

Split Second is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Triple Frontier (2019)

tripleIts perhaps fortunate that I watched Triple Frontier in blissful ignorance of the pedigree of creatives behind it- in particular that it was directed by J C Chandor, who had earlier made two films I particularly enjoyed- All is Lost and A Most Violent Year. While I enjoyed Triple Frontier, it is clearly not in the same league as either of those two earlier films (in hindsight, maybe the casting of Oscar Isaac was a clue). From what I gather, Triple Frontier has had a long and protracted development history behind it (Kathryn Bigelow at one time marked to direct it, and a cast that at one time included Tom Hanks) – and it’s perhaps surprising that it has turned out as good as it has, or actually finally got made at all. At any rate, it’s probably not what I would call ‘a J C Chandor film’ in just the same way as several of Ridley Scott’s films were likely made as a ‘director for hire’ rather than a personal project (play a game, guess which ones). Which is a protracted way of me saying that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it quite so much had I been saddled with the expectations from the director’s name/past work. Sometimes you just have to judge a movie by itself, on its own terms.

So Triple Frontier (no, can’t say the title makes a lot of sense even after having seen the film) is a sort of old-fashioned action adventure/heist yarn, in which a bunch of embittered/financially challenged ax-Army Rangers buddies are recruited by one of their colleagues, who knows about a drug dealer down in a South American jungle whose millions of ill-gotten dollars could solve our heroes life problems. Hell, a premise like that, it could have been a great Predator sequel, but nevermind. So yeah, its part A-Team, part Sicario, part heist picture, part buddy picture, part man-against-nature picture. It should have been in all likelihood a terrible mess, and maybe it still is a bit of a mess, but it does actually work.

Sure, there are a few issues with the script, and characters making some odd choices just to further that script towards its various twists and plot-points, but that kind of thing can be inevitable from such a long gestation period and so many hands messing with it over the years. At any rate, the film does pack a few genuine surprises that I didn’t see coming.

It doesn’t hurt that it looks absolutely gorgeous. This is a movie with a capital ‘M’ and not at all what you’d expect – as I have noted before, some of these Netflix Originals are far beyond what might have been considered direct to video, or even tv movie, material, several years ago. There is some amazing location photography here and some great action sequences/stunt scenes. Maybe some of the visual effects don’t quite hold up to the scrutiny that this lovingly sharp and detailed image invites, but it really is quite cinematic. I don’t know what streaming compression Netflix is using but this film looked amazing in 4K, a real improvement on the fairly appalling compression artifacts and banding I suffered watching Voice from the Stone on Amazon a few nights ago.

 

Reboot Fatigue

Well, its not just reboots, I guess sequels/prequels and other spin-offs could all be lumped into the same category, as they are all pretty much the same thing. As I wearily suffered the further death-throes of the Predator franchise this weekend, I was reminded of just how many of the movies I saw in my childhood continue to linger around in some shape or other. We’ve had Alien films, Predator films, far too many variations of web-slingers and caped crusaders. Warner Bros continue to struggle with bringing back The Matrix. No doubt we are due another incarnation of the Batman. We have seen yet another Halloween (well, I haven’t yet but I guess I will see it eventually), there’s a new Top Gun in the works, more Godzilla and King Kong, more Avatar, another West Side Story, more Bad Boys, more MIB, another Terminator timeline, and even (perhaps unlikeliest of all) a Passion of the Christ sequel, which goes to show those folks that own the rights to Spartacus that even a crucifixion needn’t spell the end of any franchise.

I’m told that a remake of Jacobs Ladder has been shot. That’s just so wrong, I just hope it’s some kind of social media filmnut modern myth, or that its as bad as I fear and that it languishes in a film vault somewhere, so bad that even Netflix refuse to bail it’s studio out.

Name any Disney animated classic and I’d say its a safe bet it’s getting a live-action remake soon (anyone else see a blue Will Smith playing the genie in Aladdin and freak out a little? There ain’t nothing someone won’t do to make some money).

And the Marvel films continue to storm the box office, so there’s no end in sight for the comic-book/superhero genre. Must confess I reckoned on that particular bubble having burst by now, more fool me. Not that I think those films are bad, they are wholly entertaining for the most part, but they are hanging an uncomfortable shadow over film-making in general. Mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery in tinseltown, and you can see studios trying to shape their own properties in the Marvel mould all the time- no film gets made now without an eye on the five that could follow it.

Of course I’ve moaned about this kind of thing before here, in many posts over the years. And nothing I write will be anything new or cause any change, but the last few days have had me in a pretty dark mood.

I love movies. Have done most of my life, probably even before Star Wars blew me away back in 1978, but I generally mark that film as the cause of all those many thousands of hours watching films since. There is considerable truth in the argument that Star Wars saved the film industry (back then, cinemas were going the same direction that pubs are going now) but there is also some truth to the argument that Star Wars was the start of films becoming more business than art. Well, thats a sweeping generalisation, as films have always been business, whatever Hollywood historians may say, and the Oscar never did mean anything beyond Hollywood politics. But the quality of American Cinema of the 1970s and what amounts to American Cinema is today is telling. Where is our next Taxi Driver? Our next Godfather or Apocalypse Now? Our next Three Days of the Condor? There’s probably more chance of them turning up on HBO or Netflix than there is them turning up at the local cineplex.

(So no, Mr Spielberg, I love most of your films but I think you may be wrong trying to keep Netflix away from the Oscars, as if those ‘awards’ really mean anything anymore).

The deep irony is that the film I am most looking forward to, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, is not just one film but two, and is a (sideways) remake of not just a 1984 film but two mini-series that followed it. At least it’s not a remake of a classic film like 2001: A Space Odyssey, instead it returning to a property that merits another attempt, as the Lynch film was horribly flawed. I suppose you could correctly argue its based on the book, not the Lynch film, but as the makers of the Dredd film found, it’s always hard to break the shackles of earlier film attempts.

Hopefully Dune will be great. But I am certain that there are many other fine science fiction books, old classics and new ones unknown to me, that would make fantastic movies, if only some studio had the nerve to take a punt on one. Unfortunately, it would be easier if it was already a comic or a tv show or old movie that somebody already knew.

Instead, more sequels, more reboots, more remakes. Mind, in a world where so many ‘new’ properties crash and burn, its inevitable I suppose. I remain curious regards Mortal Engines (disc pre-ordered), as it at least looked pretty different, but maybe it was too different, as it managed a paltry $83 million worldwide on a purported $100+ million cost ($250 million to just break even?). Films, I think, cost too much money today, and I imagine that’s where the real problem lies. BR2049 managed nearly $260 million worldwide, a respectable figure for an adult, cerebral  sci-fi film based on a 1980s flop- but it unfortunately cost $150 million to make, muddying the prospects of any future films.

(I adore BR2049 but even I would contend it would be just as fine had its ambitions had been reined in a little bit into a $100 million film- but then again, it’s just what these films cost now, the scales are enormous, just the cast alone. And who’s going to go out and watch a film with a cast of unknowns, is that even a thing anymore?).

I am curious regards box-office though. I’d love to see home video sales/digital rentals/downloads added to a films initial box office, as I suspect that might be quite illuminating, but we never see those figures, don’t know why (or maybe I’m not looking in the right places).

Anyway, how did we get here? I’m off on some weird tangent again. Oh yes, reboots etc.

Mark Wahlberg is going to be The Six Billion Dollar Man, apparently. I think I’ll stop right there, and rest my case. Be assured however, this Reboot Fatigue post will no doubt get a sequel all of its own, or maybe a genuine reboot. Its sadly inevitable, just like I Spit On Your Grave: Deja Vu (I nearly choked on my toast when I saw that trailer, who the hell thinks up this garbage?).

 

 

 

The Predator (2018)

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Gun-toting hot chick Botanist: “Schools out, Predator scum!”

Oh dear. It would be easier (and quicker) to write about what was right about this film… except actually, no, it might be a shorter post, but it’d be much harder to find something this film actually did right. This thing is a bloody mess, right from its effects-laden space dogfight start which dispels any mystery/tension regards the Predators themselves. I suppose, just like with the Alien franchise, we’ve travelled such a long road since the first film (which teased us with glimpses of the titular character until the pay-off at the end), that any awe/horror/mystery is long done, and it’s all now just the same old same old.

Which annoyed me right from the start, as it instantly put the film into comic-stip territory to me, a feeling that persisted throughout. Maybe it’s a tonal thing, but for me the first film was more a horror film than an action film (whatever the Arnie fans may argue), and the whole point of characters like the Predator (and indeed the Alien) to me is the respect they should demand, the sense of horror and dread and fear. Demoting them to just being standard CGI or prosthetic characters that are thrown onscreen whenever in increasingly graphic detail, that just diminishes them to me.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that the law of diminishing returns, evidenced by both this and the Alien franchise, should rear its ugly head again here, but I really did not expect this to be so crushingly ill-conceived and executed. The fact they could have a great actor like Thomas Jane wasted in a supporting role and such a bland lead in the form of Boyd Holbrook, just reinforces how ill-judged this whole thing was. They even have the nerve to throw a kid into the film – a ‘genius’ kid (and idiot adults) in the grand annoying genre tradition of Wesley Crusher of ST:TNG and Doctor Zee

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Be afraid. Be very afraid.

from Galactica 1980, an astonishing move that left me slack-jawed. This kid can translate alien language and figure out alien technology that seems to have befuddled scientists for years, it’s the kind of genre stupidity I thought we had grown out of-  “the next step in the evolutionary chain” they call him. To throw even more salt into the wound, they even throw in a ‘cute’ alien dog that follows our heroes playing ‘fetch’ at any opportunity. Frankly, I still can’t believe it. When at the end they get a nifty anti-Predator costume straight out of the Stark Industries CGI Iron Man line of toys, well, I was beyond numb.

I fell a little like Charlton Heston at the end of the 1968 Planet of the Apes“They did it, they finally goddam did it” (or thereabouts): they killed the Predator franchise, forever. Hopefully, anyway- I couldn’t bear to suffer through another one as bad as this.

Spectral (2016)

spec1.jpgIt was quite surreal, in all honesty- there was a moment where a military team on a rescue mission in a war-torn ruined city entered a building in search of survivors of an earlier battle, when it dawned on me that they were walking through the Vegas hotel where Deckard was hiding out in BR2049. “Whoops,” I muttered as the illusion of the film was suddenly broken, “this thing was filmed in Budapest.”

I think Deckard kept it tidier, mind.

Spectral was a pleasant few hours- certainly much better than I had been expecting. Tagged as a ‘Netflix Original’, as in a few cases now that is a little disingenuous. Spectral was originally a full-blown theatrical movie but Universal got cold feet upon seeing the final film and stalled its release, and Netflix came to the rescue of Universal/Legendary Pictures saving them the added costs of distribution and marketing. Rather similar to what happened with Annihilation I guess, although that got a theatrical distribution in the States at least. Welcome to the future of making/selling movies.

Spectral wasn’t likely to have set the cinema world alight I suppose, but its a pretty solid effort with big-screen production values so certainly surprised me somewhat- I later l;earned of its not insubstantial $70 million budget and yeah, its certainly all there (indeed, as BR2049 likely found later, shooting in Budapest, Hungary helps your money go a long way). I suppose that it could even be argued that the film actually deserved a theatrical shot.  While it would perhaps be easy to criticize the script for some failings, that would almost seem a little unfair, as the film is simply what it is – a sincere and unapologetic mashup of Predator, Aliens and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (a film I have always had something of a soft spot for), with visuals probably inspired by modern videogame culture- Gears of War a particular example.

spec2So while it feels very familiar (and yes, the shooting locations ensure it even looks a little familiar, although in this case this film got there first) it most importantly also seems very sincere and well-intentioned rather than a cynical knock-off. Its a decent sci-fi romp with a decent cast, plenty of action and surprisingly impressive production values. I wouldn’t compare it to a classic like Alien but it does have that same feel of a b-movie lavished with a-list talent.

There is also something oddly comforting and nostalgic, even, about a simple sci-fi movie that doesn’t feature characters in spandex and capes or overblown CGI battle sequences, and I’m pretty certain that I will revisit this film again in time. Its just ironic and a further sign of our times that I expect a disc release will never happen and re-watches will depend on it being available on Netflix in the future- a further glimpse of the inevitable anyway, I suppose, if physical media continues to decline. I don’t find thinking of that future particularly comforting.

One further thought- I’ve never really been a subscriber to the old adage that a ‘name’ actor sells a movie, but I do wonder that if this had somehow starred, say, Tom Cruise it might have had a better fate/bigger success akin to, perhaps, something like Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow.  Certainly Universal might have been more bullish about the films possible success and not sold it to Netflix. That being said, I always like to see films with different actors away from the predictable casting norm, and the cast here all account of themselves well.