Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Retro Movie Review: Predator (R – 107 minutes - 1987)

This past weekend SyFy did everyone a favor by playing Predator and Predator 2 immediately following.  I had one of those odd experiences where despite the fact that I own both movies on DVD, I instead chose to watch them on TV – mainly because I could switch back and forth between the movies and the Tottenham Hotspur game. 

Released in 1987, Predator is both a very typical example of the over-the-top testosterone filled 80s action movies, and something complete unique.  Following the release of Rocky IV, the joke was that Rocky Balboa had run out of earthly opponents and would have to face an alien.  Jim and John Thomas wrote a screenplay loosely based on this idea and called it "Hunter."  It was picked up by 20th Century Fox in 1985 and turned over to producer Joel Silver. Silver approached Arnold Schwarzenegger with the lead, who felt that the script was lacking because at the time it was one man facing one alien.  He suggested an entire squad of commandos - the movie started coming together as they hired other huge men who could look like a dangerous group of military-types.   The 7'2" Kevin Peter Hall was cast as the Predator.  The movie was shot in the jungles of Mexico, and was a trial for everyone involved due to food poisoning, cold jungle temperatures (cold!), leeches (leeches!), and a Predator who really could not see out of the costume.

Former Delta Force Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer and his six-man team, consisting of Mac Eliot, Bill Sole, Blaine Cooper, Poncho Ramirez and Rick Hawkins are sent into the Jungle by the CIA to rescue an official who is being held by insurgents.  CIA agent George Dillon is assigned to supervise, so of course, the team does not trust him.  They soon discover the wreckage of a chopper filled with skinned bodies, and Dutch realizes they were US Army Special Forces.  When the team reaches the insurgent camp, Dillon admits that the mission was a setup to retrieve intelligence from captured operatives and the crashed helicopter they found was the first rescue attempt.  Dutch and crew get really upset about getting misled, but before the team can take out their anger on Dillon, they find a survivor in the village, Anna, who is spooked out of her mind.  They take her and head out through the jungle back to their evac site, and the audience starts to realize that they are being tracked by someone or something that is using thermal imaging to watch them.  Anna attempts an escape, and is chased by Hawkins, when the creature strikes for the first time.  
Hawkins is killed and dragged away.  The team tries to look for him, but instead looses Cooper.  They attempt to get information from Anna about what is after them, but all she can say is that the “jungle came alive” and that this type of killing happens regularly in this area with the thing hunting them having been killing humans for decades for sport. However, she states that they did wound it – because it was bleeding.  This leads to the first iconic line from the movie, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”  
They set up some traps to catch it, but they only succeed in trapping a wild pig, and losing both Mac and Dillon with Poncho badly wounded. The survivors try to escape, but the Predator catches up, killing Billy and Poncho.  Realizing the creature prefers hostile and armed prey, Dutch sends Anna to the chopper alone and weaponless – leading to the second iconic line from the movie, which is really only iconic due to Schwarzenegger’s accent, “Get to the Chopper!”  – “Chop-PAH”!   

In an attempt to escape, he falls off a cliff into the water, ending up covered in mud.  As the Predator pursues, we get the first real look at it, as the water has disrupted it’s camouflage technology.  It walks right past Dutch, and he realizes that the mud made him invisible. 

Finally feeling that he has an advantage, Dutch sets up a series of traps, and then covered in mud and armed with improvised weapons, he lures the Predator with a war cry and a big bonfire, because Predators cannot resist war cries and bonfires.   After some skirmishing, the Predator recognizes Dutch as a worthy opponent and removes his armor and mask – this leads to the third iconic line from the movie, “You are one ugly motherf***er”.  Hey – it was the 80s, that was catchy dialogue.    

The Predator takes issue with being called ugly, screams at Dutch (this is what will become Clay Matthews's sack celebration stance), and beats the hell out of Dutch.  Dutch eventually moves the fight near one of his prearranged traps and drops a log on the Predator.   This pretty much does it, and as Dutch moves in for the kill, the Predator is coughing up his day glow blood (created by cracking open glow sticks and mixing that liquid with lube - seriously) – repeats Dutch’s question about what the hell he is, then punches some buttons on his arm gauntlet, which Dutch quickly recognizes as a bomb.  The predator lays back and laughs hysterically as Dutch runs away, narrowly escaping the explosion.  The chopper sees this and swings back to pick him up.

Directed by John McTiernan (who also did Die Hard - the best action movie ever made), the movie opened #1 at the box office on June 12, 1987 – and ended up making $98 million.  Critics took issue with the thin plot (shocker!), but fans  enjoyed the idea of several huge soldiers (who are used to being the ‘top of the food chain’) surprised when they are hunted by something else, who seems to be able to take them out with ease.  McTeirnan also made great use of the lessons learned from the original Alien movie and made sure to not reveal the predator too soon.  Using the thermal vision, and the camouflage technology, we really do not get a good look at the Predator until three-fourths of the movie has gone by.  The Predator design by Stan Winston (with suggestions from James Cameron) was also key to this.  Here was a sophisticated and intelligent alien hunter, with far superior technology, and presented itself as a genuine threat, and was really unlike anything we had seen on screen up to that point.  Also - he seemed to be wearing a fishnet shirt - which was also big in the 80s.

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger at the very height of his popularity is the perfect man to play Dutch.  Again, try not to worry about why this giant Austrian is leading a group of American commandos.  He says very little in this movie, but does a fine job of making his eyes really big and doing some non-verbal prep to fight at the end of the movie.

  • Carl Weathers, who I still refer to as Action Jackson – no matter how many times he’s on Arrested Development - is perfect as Dillon.  The team does not trust him, but he slowly earns their trust by being as ripped as they are.

  • Elpidia Carrillo plays Anna, and yes – she does suffer from woman-in-80s-action-movie-itis, which basically means she’s two dimensional and has nothing to do.  She makes the most of her opportunities, providing some exposition about the creature, and acting terrified.

  • Bill Duke plays Mac, and he seems to not be aging, as he looks the same now.  He has some pretty great scenes as he slowly starts to go crazy – and snaps a razor on his face.

  • Jesse Ventura (yes, that Jesse Ventura) plays Blain, and is basically around to be another giant dude.  He was also in the Running Man, which is another great Arnold 80s movie.

  • Sonny Landham – who was also in Action Jackson – plays Billy – the native American in the group.  He has a pretty great scene in which he attempts to make a stand against the Predator on a log.  It does not go well, and he ends up getting his spine ripped out, but he sure looked tough for a minute or two.

  • Richard Chaves plays Poncho, and while he did the rounds in the 80 TV show circuit, (Miami Vice, MacGyver, L.A.Law), his movie career was more limited.

  • Shane Black is now mostly known as a director – and I will say it one more time, if you haven’t seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang yet, check it out.  It’s pretty great, and while there were pieces of Iron Man 3 that pissed me off, he did a good job directing it.

Chances are you’ve seen it, but if you haven’t, rent Predator and watch it again.  My dad used to joke that they played it on TV every year right around the start of deer hunting season, just to give hunters an idea about what would happen if something else was hunting them as they were after deer.

Predator 2 came out in 1990 – (R – 108 mintutes) and starred Danny Glover (who was already "too old for this shit" at that time, but to be fair - I think that he always has been).   In this one, a Predator stops by L.A. during a heat wave and massive gang war in the not so distant future of 1997.  

Since Predators hunt those who are heavily armed, it proceeded to hunt heavily armed drug gangs.  The cops aren’t sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing – including Maria Conchita Alonso (from Total Recall) and Bill Paxton (who seems to basically be playing the same dude from Aliens).  

A cop played by Rueben Blades gets caught in the crossfire, and his partner - Danny Glover’s Lieutenant Mike Harrigan – decides to go after what is taking people out.  He does have to deal with a group of government agents, who know about the “incident in the jungle” and that this thing hunts thermally.  The leader of this group – played with the perfect level of crazy by Gary Busey – and his second in command - (a surprisingly young Adam Baldwin) fail to capture it (shocker).  

Basically Harrigan has to go after it alone.  After a rooftop battle, it attempts to set off its wrist-bomb, but Harrigan steals its slicey-boomerang-disc weapon and cuts off its hand.  He then trails the wounded Predator back to its ship, which it was hiding in the tunnels under the city, because no one looks there?  

Once inside, we, along with Harrigan, are treated to a glance at the ship's ‘trophy wall’ and we realize that these Predators hunt everywhere and all over.  We’ll come back to that.  Harrigan battles the Predator – and finally wins.  Exhausted, he collapses, but then realizes that he’s being watched.  There are many other Predators in the ship, and the carry away their fallen compatriot.  Since they are all about battling, they actually respect Harrigan more since he defeated one of them, and the older leader of the group (you can tell because he has a cape) gives Harrigan a pistol dated from the 1700s as a parting gift.  They take off as a befuddled Harrigan stumbles out of the ship.  

Let’s go back to that trophy wall in the ship – as a bit of a lark, the set designers threw in the skull from one of the Alien Xenomorphs from the ongoing Alien movie series (rewatch the first by Ridley Scott, which was a phenomenal close-quarters creature horror movie; and the second by James Cameron, which was a phenomenal sci-fi action movie featuring one of the greatest lines in cinema history “Get away from her, you BITCH!” – ignore the others in the series).  Just like that, there were suddenly Alien Vs. Predator comics and books. 

In 2004, Paul W.S.Anderson was brave enough to take on the AVP franchise and release an AVP movie (PG13 – 101 minutes).  Much was made of it being PG13, everything else from both franchises were a hard R, thanks to the gratuitous violence, and fans felt the PG13 was a letdown.  

However, I loved it – and felt like the story was fantastic.  Ice climber Alexa Woods is hired to come lead a time in Antarctica for millionaire Charles Bishop Weyland because his satellites have found something.  This is presumably before he hooked up with Yutani, because Weyland-Yutani is the company that Ripley's ship is working for in the first Alien movie.  This also explains the 'synthetic' in Aliens looking like him, because of course his company would make synthetics that look like their founder (if you think the first android Bill Gates creates won't look exactly like Bill Gates, you're wrong).

It’s an ancient pyramid, which has just recently ‘heated up’.  It’s heating up because three juvenile Predators are on their way for a ritualistic hunt.  The pyramid lures the people in, then stimulates a trapped Xenomorph queen to lay eggs.  Eggs lead to facesuckers, which stick larve inside people, which turn into chestbursters which grow into the aliens.  You know, standard xenomorph life cycle stuff.  Very quickly, the pyramid fills up with the Aliens, and the people start dropping like flies.  The Queen gets pissed as hell that she's been trapped there and escapes, looking to head up to the surface.  Two of the Predators get wiped out, and eventually Woods demonstrates to the last one that she is a badass, and they work together to escape and defeat the Queen.  

They succeed, but only after the Predator gets attacked by a face sucker, and is mortally wounded by the Queen in battle.  As Woods kneels by the body of her fallen partner, a large Predator ship arrives, and the leader (you can tell he's the leader because he has a cape) gives her a Predator spear as a gift, reminiscent of Predator 2.  They take the body of the fallen Predator into their ship, not realizing he still has that larve inside, and head home. 

Before they get very far, the chestburster pops out of his chest, revealing something that had only appeared in the comics up to this point – the PredAlien hybrid. 

In 2007, The Brothers Strause released AVPR (Alien vs. Predator Requiem – 94 minutes), which went back to the hard R rating and picks up immediately after the end of AVP.  

The PredAlien gets loose, causes chaos on the ship, and it crashes in a rural Montana town, then sets about creating a bunch more Aliens as the Predator home planet responds to the crashed ship and sends one Predator in response (just one? they could have used a team, but these guys seem to be really solitary hunters).  

The lone Predator attempts to clean up and hunt down the missing hybrid with the unofficial assistance of a soldier just home from war and trying to reconnect with her family (Reiko Aylesworth).  

It’s bloody, it’s ridiculous, and it’s super fun.  There’s a Yutani tie in at the end, which allows this movie to function almost as a prequel to the Alien movies. Plus - PredAlien!

Then, in 2010 – Nimrod Antal (best name for a sci-fi director ever?) released Predators, which was Produced by Robert Rodriguez, and features a bunch of heavily armed mercenaries kidnapped from earth and released on a Predator hunting planet for sport - because, why not?  It's definitely easier for them then coming here.  

The group of mismatched mercenaries attempts to figure out how they got there, what they are doing there, and how to get home.  They also have to deal with being hunted, being trapped, and figuring out what's up with Laurence Fishburne, who has apparently been on this sport planet a really long time.  Oh - you also find out that the species of Predator that we are used to is not the only type - there's a higher species, and they are bigger and more brutal.  

That’s about all you need to know, except that it’s awesome.  If you haven't seen it - you really need to, if only for Topher Grace, who is fantastic, and for Laurence Fishburne’s crazy.

They vary in quality – and none of them are really as good as the original, but I do like all of them.  If you are in one of the crazy places that is celebrating spring with more heavy snow, and you’re inside all weekend, do yourself a favor and have a Predator-a-thon.  Break out the popcorn and leave your brain at the door.

Predator from 1987 gets 10/10...Predator 2 from 1990 gets 8/10...AVP from 2004 gets 9/10...AVPR from 2007 gets  8/10...Predators from 2010 gets 8/10.  
Here's hoping there are more!

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