★ / ★★★★
Eight people (Adrien Brody, Alice Braga, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov, Danny Trejo, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) with great ability to kill awoke in free fall toward a strange jungle. Eventually, they learned they were bait for alien creatures who liked to hunt and learn about their prey’s skills in order to adapt to dangerous situations. Nimród Antal’s “Predators” was devoid of fun and creativity. I would like to start off with Adrien Brody’s performance. As an action star, Brody failed to embody a convincing attitude, the confidence required for me to keep interested and want to root for him. In every scene, whenever a discovery was made such as their role in the jungle and survivors revealing themselves from past carnage, Brody remained wooden and completely unconvincing. Perhaps his idea of masculinity was not conveying emotion to any situation, which was completely wrong. I wanted to feel his anger that he was sent to a situation in which he did not agree with and his frustration toward the other survivors as they made one stupid decision after another. For example, when one said not to split up, the next scene showed the characters doing exactly the opposite. If Brody had reflected what the audiences would have felt if they were in his character’s situation, he would have been that much more relatable. Playing a sensitive and charming hero would have been a great antithesis against hard bodies in the 70s and 80s action flicks. The only twist I liked was Laurence Fishburne’s appearance as the unpredictable Noland who had an imaginary friend. As he talked about his experiences about trying to survive in the jungle, I had forgotten that I was watching an actor. The film suffered from many unnecessary twists, especially toward the end when we came to realize that one of the eight had other intentions apart from escaping the jungle. I was left in the dust wondering why the writers felt the need to put in a twist. It felt desperate as if it was aware that the action sequences offered nothing new to the genre. In the end, it was all confusion and chaos lacking in genuine suspense and purpose. As for its visual and special effects, they were not used to the film’s advantage. Instead of hiding the alien creatures in the shadows, astutely done in John McTiernan’s “Predator,” to pique our interest and to heighten the horror, the movie revealed too much too quickly. Either the filmmakers had no control of their project’s tone or it was purposely done that way because they designed the picture for Facebook and Twitter generation. It gave nothing for people who relished subtlety and irony.
Children of the Damned (1964)
★ / ★★★★
A psychologist (Alan Badel) took notice of six kids (in which the leader was played by Clive Powell) with great intelligence who came from vastly different cultures. The psychologist wanted to gather them for further study because he believed they could serve to the betterment of mankind. Anton Leader’s “Children of the Damned,” inspired by John Wyndham’s book, was a huge miscalculation. Unlike the first film, its goal was to explain every ounce of detail regarding the background of the children in question and their purpose for existing. The lessons were painfully heavy-handed. I failed to feel the tension that the film wanted to portray because I kept wondering why it felt the need to preach. For instance, there was no good reason for the military to be called in other than the fact that the movie wanted to comment on various nations’ proclivity for war. It was obvious that the political backdrop was the Cold War and the events reflected a nation’s paranoia that it is no longer the most technologically advanced. I didn’t mind the political angle but in the end, the message was we should all co-exist peacefully because we occupied the same planet. While I do believe that the lesson was nice, even five-year-olds know that war is bad and unity is good. It did not know the difference between simplicity and naïvity so it failed to keep my attention for very long. I thought the performances were especially weak. In the first film, the kids were able to speak. It was easy to have a gist of their personalities even though they were cold as ice. In here, the children kept a strict communication through their minds and it made them boring. When they finally were given the chance to talk, they said nothing interesting. While the adults discussed issues such as evolution and survival of the fittest, I thought it was ironic that the movie’s concepts failed to evolve. When the children and a foolish aunt took refuge at a church, it seemed as though the filmmakers ran out of creative ideas; everything else felt like a contrivance for the explosive finale. “Children of the Damned” is a frustrating and almost laughable sequel because it sucked all of the magic and curiosity from Wolf Rilla’s “Village of the Damned.” A splash of droll scenes could have elevated the project because its seriousness made it one-note. What it critically needed were major rewrites in terms of its script in order to get rid of mixed messages and direction with vision, focus, and confidence.
★★★ / ★★★★
An isolated town in the middle of the desert with a population of 14 had to deal with giant worms attracted to anything that caused a vibration above ground. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward star as two friends with a couple of odd jobs. They liked to joke around, talk about women, and make silly decisions based upon rock, paper, scissors. But after finding a dead body and stumbling upon man-eating worms, they had to toughen up and warn the town that they soon would be up for the picking. What I liked most about this movie was its self-awareness. It knew that the concept was silly so did not take itself too seriously. Instead, it took advantage of our lack of knowledge about the organism. Initially, we had no idea how the worms looked like and their capabilities. As the picture went on, as the characters began to struggle for survival, surprisingly, the worms started to smarten up and plan in order to capture their prey. The characters were then forced to get creative in two fronts: How to get away from the worms and how to destroy them. My favorite scenes were the ones where the characters were given the chance to have a closer look at the creatures. I constantly had a sneaky feeling that those worms weren’t really dead, that perhaps they were smart enough to pretend. It gave me the creeps because I just have a disgust for anything that resemble worms or snakes. I also highly enjoyed the scenes with Reba McEntire and Michael Gross as a couple who had a penchant for collecting firearms. Unlike horror movies, especially zombie and slasher flicks, I noticed that the writers did not allow their characters to argue with each other like there was no tomorrow. Time was of the essence and the importance of teamwork was consistently highlighted for survival. I also noticed a low number of false alarms which is atypical for horror pictures, even horror-comedies. Since it wasn’t the norm, it made me feel uneasy in a good way. I felt like I was always on my toes, which was a great sign because it meant that I was engaged. I enjoyed the material because it surprised me in many ways and I felt like the filmmakers and actors had fun while making the picture. Kudos to the special effects and make-up team for creating the disgusting worm guts. “Tremors,” directed by Ron Underwood, achieved cult status and understandably so. With its B-movie premise and tone of silliness, it was easy dismiss. However, it was undeniably fast-paced, energetic, adventurous and farcical. It’s one of those movies that can brighten up one’s night during an uneventful weekend.
★★★★ / ★★★★
“Aliens” picked up as we made the grim discovery that our heroine named Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) had been in hypersleep and wandering in space for 57 years. The second surprise was the fact that humans started to colonize the planet where the aliens had been incubating. To no surprise, the human colony, which included a brave little girl named Newt (Carrie Henn), had lost contact with the scientists and a request was made that Ripley join a crew to investigate the strange happenings. The feel of this installment felt considerably different. While the first one was more about the concept and horror of being abandoned in space, this one was more action-oriented and more concerned about the gadgetry such as the weapons and the vehicles used by the characters. That wasn’t necessarily a negative as long as the tension remained relatively equal or greater than its predecessor. And, in some ways, it was able to surpass the original. A definite stand-out was the alien’s ability to learn via trial-and-error. We learned about the aliens such as they tend to hunt in packs and there was a sort hierarchy among them. By learning more about the enemy, we understood their capability but at the same they became that much more terrifying because we now had the knowledge of their great ability to adapt in order to survive. They showed signs of intelligence, not just creatures that wanted to kill for the sake of killing. Two other elements I noticed about the film were the fact that the aliens were easier to kill and they were much more visible. In Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” the organism was practically invincible and we only really saw the creature’s full body toward the end. In “Aliens,” the approach was much more obvious and body parts (along with the highly acidic blood) were flung all over the place. However, that’s what I admired about the sequel: It was different than the original but it was able to make it work for itself and deliver adrenaline-fueled space action-adventure that kept my heart tugging at a frantic pace until the last scene. That is, when Ripley had a duel against the queen of the aliens using a highly familiar-looking robot from Cameron’s “Avatar.” What it did preserve was the feminist undertone that “Alien” played with which was a smart move because the movie was first and foremost supposed to be Ripley’s quest for survival. If I were to nitpick for a flaw, I would say the crews’ interactions toward the beginning had quickly worn its welcome. I especially found Bill Paxton’s character highly irksome and I wished he was the first one to be killed. A redeeming quality was Michael Biehn as Ripley’s potential romantic interest. “Aliens” was not only highly entertaining but it managed to justify that it was a necessary sequel by playing upon existing ideas and expanding new ones.
Zombi 2 (1979)
★ / ★★★★
After I’ve seen zombies that can run like the wind à la “28 Days Later” or “28 Weeks Later,” slow-moving flesh eaters just don’t impress me anymore unless they’re being spoofed like in “Shaun of the Dead.” But I always try my best to put things into perspective because modern zombie pictures wouldn’t be the same today without the classics. A woman (Tisa Farrow) and a reporter (Ian McCulloch) decided to go on an island in the Caribbean to look for the woman’s father. Along the way, they met a couple (Al Cliver, Auretta Gay) on vacation who were kind enough to take them to the island of interest. But little did they know that the island was infested with the living dead. Although considered now as a classic, I believe “Zombie” was a mess. It talked about voodoo being the reason why the dead were rising from the grave but the word was not really explored nor did it touch upon its source. Voodoo has a variety of definitions depending on the culture–did this one involve dolls and pins? Furthermore, characters would ask something like, “What ARE those things rising from the grave?” in utter disgust. And someone would reply he didn’t know. However, after a few seconds the word “zombie” was thrown around like a football. That inconsistency in the script bothered me as much as the characters choosing to make one stupid decision after another. If the characters are as stupid (and as slow-moving) as the zombies, the fun is immediately taken out of the equation. Time and again the character would purposely run into an area where she knew there would be a dead end. I also hated the fact that characters would stand around and wait to be bitten. Horror movie directors should always ask themselves, “What would I do if I was in this particular character’s situation?” Thinking how we would respond and applying that instinct to the characters would not only make the characters more believable, we would be able to relate to them so much easier. If I saw a zombie a few feet away from me, I wouldn’t even think about trying to find the best weapon. Instinct would tell me to run as if I was in a 200 meter dash. And if I happen to run at a dead end and I had no choice but engage in combat, I would fight like I’ve never fought in my life. The last thing I would do was to stand around and say, “Oh, here I am. Bite me.” This was supposed to be a spiritual sequel to George Romero’s original 1978 “Dawn of the Dead.” “Zombie” or “Zombi 2” certainly wasn’t as intelligent or as ambitious as that film. Although I must say that the zombie versus shark scene was pretty neat. Oh, and I suppose I liked the soundtrack, too.
Winged Migration (2001)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Le peuple migrateur” also known as “Winged Migration,” directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, was a documentary about migrating birds and the dangers they faced as they traveled for hundreds and thousands of miles. I’m one of those people who sees a flock of birds and just can’t help to run up to them in hopes of scaring them away. After watching this movie, I don’t think I’ll be doing it anymore because the birds go through so much in hopes of survival. Having been shot from a bird’s perspective in a span of four years, I thought the images were nothing short of breathtaking. I’ve never seen so many birds in my life. I was most engaged when the birds would fly in a blizzard. I kept thinking how they managed to keep flying despite the biting cold and the harsh winds. All birds of varying shapes, colors and sizes are in this film and I thought it was interesting that it had enough time to observe their many strange rituals. I’ve read some complaints about the film being unexpectedly violent. My response is simply “Get over it” because this was supposed to be a documentary that simply shows what is instead of an after school special when everything is sugarcoated. I get that parents want to protect their children from the concept of death but at the same time I’m annoyed that they don’t actively take responsibility and try to explain to their kids that it’s all a part of life. Birds do get eaten by seals, get shot from the sky and get caught in all sorts of pollution and human activities. From that list, notice that three out of four are a cause of our own actions. It’s never too early to have a talk with kids about life and death. Another element I noticed about this picture was its minimal use of narration. There were extended periods of time when the only thing we could hear were the flapping of the wings and the birds’ calls. It was a different experience–almost zen-like–and it was inspiring. It made me think about how it felt like to be a bird. Moreover, the use of music was excellent. The music captured all sorts of emotions such as sadness when a bird would get left behind and excitement when they would hunt for food or confront each other. I’m not a big fan of birds (I consider them a vector for a number of diseases) but this movie made me appreciate them a little bit more. There’s just something about their endurance of flying through thousands of miles and harshest weather conditions that I can’t help but admire.
Chicken Run (2000)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park, “Chicken Run” was about a determined British chicken named Ginger (voiced by Julia Sawalha) who wanted to escape from a chicken farm owned by the greedy Mrs. Tweedy (Miranda Richardson). Tired of making small profits and investing time for the chickens to lay eggs, Mrs. Tweedy decided to buy a machine that could create pies made out of chicken for a quick buck. Despite Ginger’s many failed attempts from escaping the farm, her hope was renewed by the sudden appearance of a chicken who could fly (Mel Gibson). This time around, the chickens tried to escape over the fence by means of flight. The first time I saw this movie in the early 2000s, I didn’t care much about the story because I was too mesmerized by its stop-motion animation. At the time, I’ve never seen anything like it–the characters undoubtedly looked like clay but it felt like they had an extra dimension to them, something that was different from most animated films at the time. But watching “Chicken Run” for the second and third time, I was more into the story and I was very entertained by its jokes and ironic touches. I thought it was creative, focused and very energetic. What I thought was so smart about it was the fact that the whole movie was about planning and trying to escape instead of throwing around random jokes from pop culture in order to generate the more generic laughs. The comedy comes from the extreme personalities of the chickens and the increasingly desperate situation they were in. I loved the chicken who thought that chickens who stopped laying eggs were taken by the humans so that the chicken could “go on a vacation.” In reality, chicken that stopped laying eggs were deemed useless and nonprofitable so they were killed and served as food. A particularly strong scene was when Ginger and the American chicken got caught up in all sorts of trouble in an oven. That scene was exciting, suspenseful and amusing all rolled into one, which I thought embodied the general feel of the movie. The picture also knew how to capture a sense of adventure and therefore engage their audiences. Despite a somewhat slow middle portion, “Chicken Run” still gets high marks from me because of the final product’s level of imagination and the amount of time the filmmakers must have put into the project. There were a plethora of complex action sequences and I could only imagine how difficult it was to move one element shot after shot to create an illusion of actual movement.