The Predator

Catching up with the film that will cap off the Franchise look back on the next Lambcast. These films have a varying array of quality and entertainment value, but we will be discussing rankings and the other movies on the show. For that you have to download next week. Right now it’s time to take this Shane Black directed episode and turn it inside out. Or rather, I’m going to yank it’s spinal cord out, hold it up for examination and then display the results here as a trophy.

“The Predator” is basically a stand alone film that aims to create a continuing story line. The events of earlier films are only marginally referred to. If you had not seen any of the other films you could easily slip into this one and have a perfectly fine time, at least for the first two thirds of the movie. The final act has some issues but I will get to those in a minute. Basically, one of the Predator species has escaped a band of fellow Predators who are in some way different, and crashed on Earth with a Macguffin that ends up in the hands of a wet ops Army Sniper. He in turn, passes the material to a P.O. box but of course, it ends up in the basement of his house where his autistic ten year old son begins to discover the secrets of alien weaponry.

The set up is the start of the weaknesses of this film. This is so much more complicated than any of the other films which are almost entirely focused on the confrontation between men as prey and aliens as their hunters. This movie is a political pamphlet on Predator evolution and genetic manipulation. Oh, and just to insure that it is contemporary, Black and his co-author have included the most worn out trope in modern science fiction. That’s right, Global warming is what precipitates all of the mayhem. So in addition to bullying, PTSD, drug wars, and Asperger’s syndrome, we have the specter of climate change as a boogeyman to accompany our alien hunters. You would think those would be enough antagonists to keep the story going, but wait, the secret military intelligence unit charged with discovering the alien technology is also an evil organization that randomly kills people that they perceive as a threat.

Although the plot is quite convoluted, it is set up with reasonable efficiency in the opening act, and the main characters are all introduced. A psychotic A-Team is drafted to try to save the little boy and hopefully end the current threat. The characters in this group all have unique quirks, designed to make them sympathetic or humorous. Thomas Jane and Keegan-Michael Key get the lion’s share of jokes while Trevante Rhodes gets all the personality that tough guy lead Boyd Holbrook lacks. Olivia Munn is a biologist who goes from being a critical part of the investigation of the Predator aliens, to a nuisance targeted for elimination for no reason what so ever. Sterling K. Brown heads up the secret team and he twirls his mustache just fine, with a sense of entitled superiority that is never justified by his cleverness as a character.  The chase by the escaped Predator, with the team coming together over bad jokes and ass kicking, makes up the most entertaining part of the movie. However, once the trailing eleven foot Predator shows up, the movie becomes something less effective than most of it’s predecessors. Translating alien language so that the Predators communicate is a mistake. The mano a mano showdown featuring CGI effects, gets a little tiresome, and the plot line gets completely screwed by the resolution.

I enjoyed this movie while I was watching it, but it also irritated me with the dumb choices that it makes about character and story. If the whole point of the movie is correctly identified at the end of the film, than the middle third makes no sense. The opportunity to create a united front against the Predators is squandered by the usual government conspiracy mistakes. The element that makes young Jacob Trembly’s character important, is largely shunted aside and turned into a device to create short cuts in the story rather than enlarge the story as it should have. The climactic battle on the alien ship looks like it was added to make the movie feel “big” and it is something of a snooze. It’s the individual confrontations that work, unfortunately they are not very consistent.

Shane Black and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang/The Long Kiss Goodnight

This is designed to make all the bloggers out there jealous. An evening with two Shane Black films and Shane Black himself. Since it is the Christmas Season, it only seems appropriate that Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the main feature here. If you haven’t had enough of the question whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie, get ready for the encore with this sour seasoned greeting. It is a delicious mixture of violence, comedy and tragedy, all told around the Christmas Holiday. It will certainly not be everyone’s favorite pudding, but it will make a lot of people laugh at the holiday season and remember why they hate the holidays.

I love seeing films at the Egyptian and the American Cinematique has created some great programming for the month of December, including a new 70mm print of Lawrence of Arabia which a certain youngest child and I will most certainly be taking in during the upcoming break. Tonight however is all about the marvelous Robert Downey Jr./Val Kilmer action comedy. Written and directed by Shane Black.

From the beginning, I was reminded that I love this movie for it’s idiosyncrasies. The titles are animated with shadow graphics and in a flash back sequence we see young Harry (The RDJ character) in his magician mode. The second character in this sequence who plays a major role later in the film is a little girl who grows up to be Harmony (the Michelle Monaghan character). That we pass the next twenty years in a few brief seconds is one of the marvels of how movies can be told.

The accidental nature of Harry’s arrival in Hollywood and the guilt that trials him sets up the rest of the plot. This is a plot that is pretty complicated and may at times leave some gaps that are never completely filled. The Choice by Black to keep moving forward without lingering too much over the dangling threads is one of the things that keeps the film from getting bogged down in logical consistency at the expense of narrative drive.   When “Gay Perry” is introduced and becomes a foil for Harry for the rest of the film, we get a buddy comedy layered on top of a modern noir. Val Kilmer may not have had as good a role as this in the last fifteen years, and he was great.

The big question that film fans have concerns what is Black’s thing about Christmas. Most of his films are set around the holiday and make explicit references to it. As he explained, “”it’s like falling asleep in the back seat of the car with your father driving and singing a tune as the lights flash past your window. It is a feeling of childhood security knowing your Dad is taking care of you. When you get to L/A. The Christmas references are different, a broken figure of a saint or lighting that looks slightly out of place, but it’s still Christmas. It’s a culturally shared experience.” He credits “Three Days of the Condor” with inspiring the Christmas motif in his films.

Black was modest and honest in describing his freshman directorial effort. He was happy to give credit to improvements in the dialogue to actors who improvised during rehearsal. He also noted that some of the photographic effects were a result of accident rather than planning. He uses the term “running and gunning” as the description of their filming schedule. One person asked if he had plans to film any other movies with different holidays and he joked about his time bomb race against the clock set during Breast Cancer Awareness week. There was also a question about the design of the story being a reverse “Chinatown” where the incest angle is different and not what you think it is going to be. “Every assumption you make is wrong and at the end you are faced with an old man bedridden that you beat on.”

The second film on the program was “The Long Kiss Goodnight” and he frankly admitted that he wrote it alone in part as a way of coping with some depression. He was complimentary about director Renny Harlin but admitted there were some things that he would change about the film, which is one of the reasons he wanted to direct himself.

He strongly advised us to stick around for the second feature, which only about a third of the audience did, but we were rewarded with a great over the top serving of 90s action film that featured Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson. He debunked the notion that the plot has any 9/11 foreshadowing, as he put it, “it’s just a movie.”

Both films were on 35mm but Black’s parting comment was that 35mm bows in the middle and is fuzzy, so he is happy with digital projection.

The Nice Guys

Here is a film with no redeeming social value whatever, except that it will tickle your funny bone, startle you with sudden shock and leave you feeling invigorated afterwards. The film is a hoot and if there is anyone still living in America with a sense of humor, this film was made for you. While it it not politically incorrect in any way, it features characters that are so amusingly not hip, that the irony police might be called out. “The Nice Guys” is vulgar but not cynical. There is plenty of violence played for humor, but there are real reactions to most of those moments which let the film be much friendlier than you have any right to hope for.

The movie has a retro feel because it is set in the 1970s but also because the characters will remind you of a dozen TV show detectives you may have watched in that era. Jim Rockford is one step away from being a partner in this detective agency, but that would turn the film into a takeoff of the three stooges rather than an homage to Abbot and Costello. Ryan Gosling plays Holland March, the boozy private eye, as if he were a handsome Lou Costello. He has the double takes and flustered line delivery that would fit perfectly in a comedy place filler from 1948, “Abbot and Costello Meet the Bimbo”. He even has a moment where upon discovering a corpse he becomes a dysphagiatic  mute.

Russell Crowe has settled into middle aged beefiness with as much grace as a guy can muster. He’s not the matinee idol of twenty years ago, but he is still a hell of a good actor and he puts on some great comic chops here. Crowe and Gosling play off of one another in such a natural way that it is easy to imagine a series of films  featuring these characters. Of course I thought the same thing eleven years ago with Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer in pretty much the same roles. Shane Black may be cribbing from himself but at least he’s doing it from “Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang” and not “The Last Boy Scout”. The convoluted plot and the violent gangsters are standard for him, as is the involvement of a woman, more competent that the two leads, in this case March’s thirteen year old daughter Holly, played by Angourie Rice.

The Warner Brothers logo from the seventies is on the opening credits of the movie. The city of Los Angeles is in it’s deep dark days of heavy smog overcast, and Hollywood was a sleaze factory of sex more than violence. Southern California residents will recognize the decay of the Hollywood sign, the Los Angeles River Bridge, and the intersection of Jefferson and Figueroa are not anything like they once were. [In fact, the bridge is gone now]. The hillsides of Hollywood though are played for great laughs and Ryan Gosling may be a comic genius because he manages to make the most incompetent Private Eye in the world, still come off as a sometimes insightful investigator, of course sometimes he just gets lucky.

I hope they do make this into an adult cartoon, ala “Archer” or at least plan a couple of other big screen adventures. It would be a shame to leave this much enjoyment to just the current movie season. This is my most anticipated movie of the summer, and The Temptations “Papa was a Rolling Stone” had me hooked from the first few frames. Plenty of soul music from the era plus a Bee Gees tune and Kiss anthem. It’s as if they found one of the home made 8-track mix tapes from my old Cutlass and plugged it into the speakers for the film. Maybe it’s the nostalgia factor that worked for me but I believe others much younger than me will get a kick out of this as well, burnt orange palate aside.