Friday, July 9, 2010

Ah-nuld Would Be Proud

I went into the first showing of PREDATORS this morning with fingers crossed and a prayer on my lips -- that some way, somehow, Robert Rodriguez would be able to restore some of the bloody sheen to a pretty tarnished genre legacy, and maybe, just maybe, bring some much-needed relief to a pretty crappy movie summer.

My prayers were answered, kids.

As a lover of action movies in general, and action-oriented sci-fi in particular, ALIENS and the original PREDATOR have always ranked pretty high on my list. (I'll put PREDATOR next to T2 as my absolute favorite Schwarzenegger pictures.) I was actually deluded into thinking (once upon a time) that melding the two franchises was a pretty good idea. Then the first AVP movie snared a PG-13 rating with some watered-down action, cheesy FX, and lousy performances. Ugh. The last one, AVP: REQUIEM, was basically a teen slasher film tricked out to look tougher than it was. That didn't leave me with much hope for (or interest in) another sequel.

Then word got around that Robert Rodriguez had dusted off an old treatment of the PREDATOR franchise with the intention of filming something closer to the tone of the original blockbuster. I was encouraged, even after I heard that Rodriguez would only be producing the film, not directing it; he would put someone named Nimrod Antal in the director's chair. I wasn't worried. Thinking Rodriguez wouldn't have some kind of input in PREDATORS is like thinking Spielberg had nothing to do with POLTERGEIST and it was all Tobe Hooper's doing. Uh huh.

This movie kicks righteous ass, f0lks. For starters, the ubiquitous CGI has been dialed waaaay down (with one snazzy exception, a "big reveal" shot about a third of the way in that any genre fans in the crowd with half a brain stem probably already saw coming) and the old-school creature FX/makeup work of the KNB group has been dialed waaaay up. Second, the cast has been populated with some pretty solid actors, starting with Adrien Brody (an Oscar winner, for Pete's sake) in the de facto Arnold part. If you thought Brody held his own as the hero in KING KONG, then you ain't seen nothing yet.

Brody's one of a group of 8 who find themselves mysteriously dropped into an unknown jungle locale; the common factor is that they all come from violent backgrounds. Pretty soon, things start to happen, their numbers start dwindling, and the survivors are fighting for their lives. (I'm trying to keep the plot in general terms for newbies, but you vets get the drift.)

One of the things I loved about PREDATORS is that it gives more than a few nods to its original predecessor. One of the characters is armed with the same type of portable gatling gun that Governor Ventura sported in the first movie, and what song do you think plays over the closing credits? I'll give you a hint -- it was blasting from Ventura's boombox at the beginning of the original. Nice!

PREDATORS was a fun ride, definitely worth a ticket, and I look forward to seeing it again. Give it a solid 9.5 out of 10 stars.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Do You Hear That Gurgling Sound?

It's the sound of 2010, the first half of the year in movies, being flushed down the proverbial toilet. Talk about your disappointments.

As of July 5th, I've seen exactly 17 movies in the theaters thus far this year. That's roughly on a par with past years, although there have been opportunities this year in which I could have very easily gone to a show; I've simply passed them up. Nothing will ever again approach the halcyon days of 1986, the first year I began keeping track of my movie-going; by early July of that year, I had seen 66 movies. I would end the year with 102. You might ask: How did you find the time? My answer: I was unemployed. The obvious follow-up: Where did you find the money? My answer: I went to a lot of matinees. And ate a lot of Lance Nip-Chee Cracker packs for my meals. (That's a diehard movie fan for ya, folks.)

But I digress. What's up with 2010? To put it bluntly, it sucks. Nothing appeals to me. The reasons I've passed up a lot of films can be boiled down to these: The movies are bad, the movies are unappealing, the movies are getting terrible reviews, the movies have been dumbed down, lousy 3D rendering has gutted several decent ideas, and when an interesting idea does rear its inviting head, I can't get to it. Case in point: there's a new one out there called "Cyrus," a quirky indie comedy with good buzz, but its only available screen in the Baltimore metro area is the Landmark downtown, so I guess I'll wait until it hits On Demand or Netflix.

I've seen exactly two movies so far this year that I've flat-out loved: TOY STORY 3 and KICK-ASS. That's 2 out of 17. Only two movies that I would love to watch again, only two that I ever plan to add to my personal collection. That's a pretty crappy average, folks.

Oh, sure, there have been a few nice time-wasters. I liked HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, although its raunchy humor got a little predictable by the end. I liked IRON MAN 2, as far as sequels go, but it didn't have the same thrill as the original. I even liked GROWN UPS, which I saw last week with my wife and son. As Adam Sandler movies go, it was pretty good. Which is faint praise, I assure you.

But the disappointments have outnumbered the good ones, which is pretty surprising, considering how picky we are these days when it comes to spending our monthly mortgage payments on a night out at the movies. THE WOLFMAN was a major letdown, full of sound and fury and signifying exactly nada. CLASH OF THE TITANS was the first of what has turned out to be a truly distressing trend -- the bandwagon approach of redoing already-filmed prints with 3D effects. Trust me, they didn't help the movie at all. KNIGHT AND DAY (speaking of sound and fury signifying nothing) was a nasty sign that Tom Cruise's days as a blockbuster star may be numbered. And A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET -- well, the less said about that one, the better.

Where does that leave us for the rest of 2010? Well, if you're an Oscars buff, you're probably wondering where in hell they're going to come up with 10 Best Picture nominees. (The only one thus far that merits serious consideration would be TOY STORY 3. ) If you're a Christopher Nolan fan (or just a fan of movies in general), then you've got your fingers crossed for INCEPTION, opening July 16. If you're a Harry Potter fan, then you're waiting for November, when the first part of the Deathly Hallows finale hits screens. If you're worried that the rest of the year is going to follow the first half down the ol' Port-a-John (no relation), then you're probably already closing your eyes at that godawful trailer showing Jack Black's take on Gulliver's Travels.

Me, I'll be in line for INCEPTION. In the meantime, I'm reading a great book. (The Passage, by Justin Cronin) What a novel concept. (No pun intended.)