★ / ★★★★
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.
★ / ★★★★
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.
Peuple migrateur, Le (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.
★★★ / ★★★★
“Océans,” directed by Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, explored the interplay between nature and mankind. This documentary caught me by surprise because I thought it was just going to be about the creatures that lived in the ocean. But it also turned out to be a commentary on how humans, despite living on Earth for a relatively short period of time, have negatively affected the ocean in shocking ways and the animals that depended on the ocean for survival. The movie showed absolutely breathtaking images of predator-prey relationship, notably when the birds would dive underwater at lightning speeds and try to capture fish. That particular scene was so intense, it was like watching an action movie only it was actually real and it happens every day. But my favorite scenes have got to be the ones shot in the ocean floor. I love those scenes because the strangest-looking creatures appeared on screen. There’s something about creatures that can expertly blend in their surroundings and make surprise attacks that have always fascinated me. Perhaps it’s the anticipation of waiting for a kill (or the hunt), I’m not exactly sure, but I can watch those scenes for hours. However, my problem with “Océans” was its lack of focus. I felt like the movie jumped from one type of living thing to another without any smooth transition. It would have felt more organic if the first fifteen to twenty minutes were only dedicated to fish, hard shells the next, penguins the next and so on. The movie jumping from one group to another and then back took me out of the experience. Perhaps the directors decided to do it for people with short attention spans but it just doesn’t work for people like me who can pay attention to one element for about an hour (given that the material is interesting). Regardless, “Océans” is worth seeing for the stunning images and the emphasis on the world being bigger than us so we must take care of it the best we can. There was this brilliant line in the film that stated something like the humans’ indifference is utimately nature’s downfall. It certainly made me want to commit to recycling instead of only sticking to it only if I felt like it. This is also a good movie to show to children (especially those in elementary school) because it has a clear way of showing concepts like the aformentioned predator-prey relationships, symbiosis and pollution. Plus, it had really cute clips of sea lions that almost had human qualities in the way they nurtured or played with their young.
★ / ★★★★
Written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, “Gamer” was set in 2034 where humans can pay a company (led by Michael C. Hall) to control other humans as if in a video game. One gamer (Logan Lerman) paid to control one of the death row inmates (Gerard Butler) to take part in a very violent “survival of the fittest” competition where the winner could earn his or her freedom. I have to admit that this movie did not interest me whatsoever going into it. The only reason why I decided to watch it was because of Hall. I was interested in what else he could do other than play a sympathetic serial killer in “Dexter.” This movie was a dizzying experience at best. Right from the first scene, we got shoot-outs right after another; body pieces and bullets were everywhere, the camera shook as if the cameraman was having a seizure and the main character acted as though he was on steroids. (Perhaps he was.) The filmmakers took the egregiousness to another level by shamelessly adding “ethical questions” such as whether it was right or wrong to put people in death row in a place where they could kill each other and eventually “earn” their freedom. It wasn’t at all difficult to arrive at the right answer: of course it’s wrong! It’s also wrong to control other human beings for sake of our twisted desires even if such vessels “volunteered” to do it for money. It would have been so much better if the picture embraced its own stupidity instead of trying to ask “insightful” questions. It’s also unfortunate how this film had so many talented supporting actors (Alison Lohman, Kyra Sedgwick, Aaron Yoo, Ludacris) but they ultimately didn’t do anything. It was easy to tell that they just did it for the money. They couldn’t have chosen to appear in it because of the script since it had no depth or wit. While the performances were fine, I really think the problem was the writing. The violence was highlighted even though the core was essentially about what it means to be human and actually live our own lives. The gratuitous explosions and nudity should have been secondary if the filmmakers wanted to grasp a more elevated social commentary. Hall made a good villain but, like “Gamer,” it’s the same old song and dance (pun intended for that riduculous musical scene).
Deep Blue Sea (1999)
★★★ / ★★★★
As campy as this movie was, it had genuine thrillers and horror. Director Renny Harlin tells the story of a group of researchers who breed genetically engineered sharks in order to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. The sharks’ genes had to be altered because their normal size did not produce big enough brains to store more proteins–proteins that activate inactive Alzheimer-ridden neurons. The researchers consisted of Saffron Burrows, Stellan Skarsgård and Jacqueline McKenzie. Thomas Jane was the person who wrestled with sharks in order to incapacitate them so the researchers could extract brain matter, Samuel L. Jackson was the funder of the project, Michael Rapaport as the physicist, and LL Cool J as the god-fearing chef. I liked the fact that this picture used humor in order to relieve some of the tension on screen. There were a plethora of very funny one-liners, especially from LL Cool J as he tried to fight off a shark in the kitchen. But the one character I had a big problem with was Burrows. For such an intelligent person, she made such stupid decisions, especially toward the end. It was as though the film wanted to note a sort of evolution in her morals, which really wasn’t necessary at all because, as a scientist, she must be objective and be able to weigh the pros and cons of situations. If I were in her position, I would not have felt as much guilt for creating very intelligent, giant sharks if it meant saving millions of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s. As a person who works with people who are ravaged by the disease, I can understand how serious it is and losing a few lives in the process would not have impacted me as much if I were to consider the big picture. Also, this might be a minor complaint, but the movie implied that one can “bring back” those who were in severe stages of the disease. In reality, it’s not possible because the memories have been lost. Stopping the degeneration and even prevention, on the other hand, are entirely possible. But granted, this movie was released in 1999 and we didn’t understand the disease as well back then. Overall, this is a thrilling film with several clever ideas but does suffer with a weak first few minutes and ending. “Deep Blue Sea” is simply a story of survival–a cross between “Jaws” and “Daylight.”
★★★★ / ★★★★
There’s something about nature films that just touches my heart. I could easily tell that Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, the writers and directors, put a lot of effort into this documentary. I was absolutely astounded during the slow motion captures of predators catching their prey, the passage of time as it shows a landscape changing before our eyes and the intricate details of nature that seemingly look simple but are beyond complexity of the human mind. Better yet, I found myself captivated by the addition of humanistic attributes to the featured animals (notably the polar bears, the elephants, the migrating birds and the whales; fully encompassing land, air and water). I read on Internet Movie Database that this documentary had over four thousand days of cinematography. I honestly do not know how they found the time to pick out the greatest pieces to make this film and my friend kept asking, “How did they shoot that?” while I asked myself the same question. Most people shy away from documentaries (which I honestly don’t understand) but this is a must-see because I was at awe from the moment it started until it ended. I really felt for the animals; after the film I wanted to visit the places that were featured because it seriously had some of the best images I’ve seen on screen that is not full of special and visual effects. I’ve also read from other reviews that “Earth” is a rip-off because it’s pretty much the same as the “Planet Earth” miniseries. I don’t like using profanities in my reviews (and I won’t start now) but, honestly, who cares? One doesn’t regularly see images that are found in this film; I say the magic is worth the ten dollars or so and is definitely worth reminding everyone that we must protect the Earth because we’re not the only living creatures that depend on it. I say go see this one if you’re interested. Even if your friends aren’t, go take the children or your elders. I can’t imagine anyone not admiring its emotion and craft.