The Predator movie review

THE PREDATOR

Director : Shane Black
Cast : Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Keagan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera, Yvonne Strahovski, Jake Busey
Genre : Action/Sci-fi
Run Time : 107 mins
Opens : 13 September 2018
Rating : M18

The-Predator-posterHunting season has come around again: in the fourth instalment in the mainline series of Predator films, the galaxy’s deadliest killers have returned to earth to stalk their prey.

Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is a former Army Ranger-turned mercenary who had a run-in with the alien species nicknamed ‘the Predator’ while on assignment in Mexico. Quinn salvages the Predator’s helmet and wrist gauntlet, which wind up in the hands of his young son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), unbeknownst to his mother Emily (Yvonne Strahovski). Rory has high-functioning autism, and decodes the Predator’s language, unwittingly summoning more Predators to earth.

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The authorities refuse to believe Quinn’s account, sending him to jail. Quinn is put on a bus with several other misfit veterans, including former Marine Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes), Coyle (Keagan-Michael Key), Baxley (Thomas Jane), former Marine Lynch (Alfie Allen) and former Blackhawk helicopter pilot Nettles (Augusto Aguilera). The oddball bunch is waylaid when a Predator gets loose. Quinn and his new dysfunctional unit team up with biologist Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn). They must not only evade the Predators and ensure Rory’s safety, but also outrun government agent Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown), head of the shadowy Stargazer operation.

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The Predator franchise has often had difficulty getting up and running. The original 1987 film is regarded well, while Predator 2 and the spin-off Predators have more or less gained cult movie status. With Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, the Alien franchise has gotten somewhat high-falutin’ with its philosophical musings. The Predator films have tended to embrace their B-movie roots, something which director and co-writer Shane Black keeps alive in this one.

Black was there from the beginning, having played Hawkins in the first film. He previously worked with co-writer Fred Dekker on Monster Squad. As is typical of Black’s work, there is an undercurrent of smartass-ness running through The Predator, with everyone quipping back and forth. At the same time, there’s a welcome scrappiness to the movie, which seems the right scale and doesn’t become as bloated or as production-line as it could’ve been.

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The Predator possesses a nervous energy about it, apt for a film in which the protagonists are being hunted. It is sometimes difficult to discern what’s going on in the action sequences, but there are several inventive chases and fights. Special effects suit designers Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis of Amalgamated Dynamics Inc have worked on previous incarnations of the Predator, and there’s a welcome tactility to the creature that balances out the other parts of the film that rely more heavily on digital visual effects work.

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Dutch’s crew in the first film is one of the all-time great movie ensembles. Black puts an off-kilter spin on that by making the heroes of this film a collection of troubled, often-goofy outcasts. It’s as if the whole team has been Hawkins-ified, to varying degrees. They generate excellent chemistry, and the pairings of Holbrook and Rhodes, and Key and Jane yield results onscreen. There is the danger that the overall humorous tone might undercut the stakes, but there is enough grimness and gore to remind us of the mortal danger the characters are in.

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Boyd Holbrook has a laconic charm about him. While the Quinn character isn’t as charismatic as some of his cohorts, as the leader types in action movies are wont to be, Holbrook lends the part enough of a haunted quality and a devil-may-care vibe.

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The inclusion of a child with high-functioning autism is one of the film’s few concessions to schmaltziness. Jacob Tremblay of Room and Wonder fame does a fine job portraying a sensitive, gifted child, who is key to the fight against the Predators because of his ability to decipher their language. It’s a plot point that is handled with surprising finesse.

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Olivia Munn throws herself into the scientist role but can’t help but come off as the weak link. Maybe it’s just this reviewer, but she has a tendency to come off as unlikeable and isn’t quite convincing as either a biologist who has cracked the Predators’ genetic code or as a gun-toting badass.

Sterling K. Brown has a healthy amount of fun with his untrustworthy G-man character, while Keagan-Michael Key works overtime to steal the show, succeeding on many occasions. Jake Busey makes a cameo as Sean Keyes, the son of Peter Keyes, the character played by his father Gary in Predator 2.

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The Predator has been described by other critics as “messy”, and while this reviewer will corroborate that, its messiness is not necessarily a bad thing – at least until the third act, which was hastily reshot after poor test screening results. There are moments when it feels like the story’s foundation is a little too flimsy to support some of the ideas at play, and there are also times when the wink-and-nod fanboy appeal gets in the way of the action and violence working on a visceral level. Its ending blatantly, clumsily begs for a sequel, but there’s enough in this instalment for long-time Predator fans and newcomers to the franchise to appreciate, if they can get on Black’s wavelength.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

12 Strong movie review

For inSing

12 STRONG

Director : Nicolai Fuglsig
Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Michael Shannon, Michael Peña, Trevante Rhodes, Navid Negahban, William Fichtner, Rob Riggle, Elsa Pataky
Genre : War/Action
Run Time : 2 h 10 min
Opens : 18 January 2018
Rating : NC16

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. Armed Forces leapt into action, sending troops into Afghanistan to combat the Taliban. 12 Strong tells the story of Task Force Dagger, who were the first personnel to take on the Taliban in the weeks following 9/11.

Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) has no combat experience, but volunteers to lead Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 595. He is backed up by Chief Warrant Officer Cal Spencer (Michael Shannon), with whom Nelson has trained. Nelson’s team also includes Sergeant First Class Sam Diller (Michael Peña) and Sergeant First Class Ben Milo (Trevante Rhodes).

The men of ODA 595 must win the trust of General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban), the leader of the Northern Alliance who has plenty of experience fighting the Taliban. Nelson and company traverse the mountainous terrain on horseback, towards the strategic city of Mazar-i-Sharif. If the Northern Alliance and the U.S. Forces can wrest control of Mazar-i-Sharif from the Taliban, it will strike a crushing blow to the enemy. Outnumbered forty to one, Nelson, Dostum and those under their command wage a bloody, explosive battle.

12 Strong is based on the nonfiction book Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan, by journalist Doug Stanton. The book was adapted for the screen by Silence of the Lambs screenwriter Ted Tally and Hunger Games scribe Peter Craig. This film marks the directorial debut of Danish filmmaker Nicolai Fuglsig – his experience as a war photojournalist must have informed the making of this film.

There are many films set during World War II which are couched as inspirational and uplifting, some of them in danger of romanticising the war. The protracted war in Afghanistan and Iraq has weighed heavily on the consciousness of the American public. 12 Strong is an account of a recently-declassified battle that took place early on in this war. While the movie wants to be thrilling and emotional, it’s difficult to overlook the larger context which is not presented in the movie.

12 Strong wants to be an old-fashioned epic, complete with majestic, sweeping establishing shots, and our heroes riding on horseback as explosions go off behind them in slow motion. It also wants to reframe the narrative by emphasising that there were Afghans who allied themselves with the U.S. troops. However, the film’s handling of this comes off as a naive “there were good Afghans! Who would’ve thought?” viewpoint.

The film has some pacing issues, and the countless sequences of our heroes on horseback rounding yet another mountain pass, in between cutting back to the other characters who are back at the base, becomes repetitive. However, the payoff is spectacular: the climactic battle is drawn out and overstuffed, but is visceral and exciting. It must’ve been quite the logistical undertaking: there are tanks, explosions, guns, rocket launchers, helicopters, bombers and yes, horses. However, there’s the niggling feeling that since this is based on a true story, we shouldn’t be ‘enjoying’ the action sequences the way we’d revel in the thrills of a sci-fi action movie or a fantasy picture.

Hemsworth cuts quite the heroic figure astride a horse. While he and the other actors in the cast attempt to imbue their characters with some personality, as is often the case in military movies like this, the characters can become indistinct and blur together. It is fun that Hemsworth’s real-life wife Elsa Pataky makes a cameo as Nelson’s wife in this film.

Shannon, one of the more interesting actors out there, doesn’t get too much to do. Shannon is often cast in villainous roles, but maybe he’s just more interesting playing those characters, as opposed to the straight arrow Spencer. Even then, he’s played heroic characters who were more engaging to watch before.

Negahban is charismatic as Dostum, battle-hardened and commanding. The film’s portrayal of the warlord seems a little simplified for the sake of convenience. Dostum is a polarising, controversial figure, but in 12 Strong, he occupies the role of ‘wise native’. “Stop being a soldier,” Dostum counsels Nelson, motioning to Nelson’s heart. “Start using this”.

“America is famous for making propaganda movies,” Negahban said, adding that he hopes 12 Strong shows “we are acknowledging, we are honouring those people who put their lives on the line to help get rid of terrorism or war, to bring peace.” Maybe it’s a start.

            12 Strong is co-produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, famous for his high-octane mega-blockbusters. While the film is thrilling and rousing at times, it’s hard to shake the feeling that recent military history has been put through an action movie lens. While there’s spectacle and Chris Hemsworth makes for a great action hero, 12 Strong would like us to believe that Chris Hemsworth can save the day riding in on horseback, when we know it’s far from that simple.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Moonlight

For F*** Magazine

MOONLIGHT 

Director : Barry Jenkins
Cast : Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, André Holland, Jharrel Jerome, Jaden Piner, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali
Genre : Drama
Run Time : 1h 51min
Opens : 27 April 2017
Rating : M18 (Some Homosexual Content)

            The Best Picture winner at the 89th Academy Awards finally comes to Singaporean theatres. This coming-of-age drama centres on Chiron (Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes at different ages), who grows up in Liberty City, Miami, Florida. Chiron’s mother Paula (Harris) is a drug addict, and the shy, often-bullied child finds a mentor figure in Juan (Ali), his mother’s drug dealer. Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Monáe) look after Chiron, and the bond that Chiron forms with Juan and Teresa earns Paula’s jealousy. Chiron’s only friend is Kevin (Piner, Jerome and Holland at different ages). While Chiron and Kevin are close, their relationship is charged. Chiron finds himself the target of relentless bullying from Terrel (Patrick Decile), whom Kevin is friendly with. As he moves through life, Chiron must come to terms with his sexuality and his sense of self.

Moonlight is based on playwright Tarell Alvin McRaney’s unproduced semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. When Medicine for Melancholy director Barry Jenkins was looking to make his second film, he was introduced to McRaney’s script through the Miami-based Borscht arts collective. It turns out that both Jenkins and McRaney grew up in Liberty City. Jenkins adapted McRaney’s script into a screenplay, changing the structure to make it a linear story that tracked Chiron’s journey from child to adult. In the original play, the three chapters ran simultaneously. Jenkins and McRaney eventually won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.

A large part of Moonlight’s appeal is that even though it has made history as the first film with an entirely black cast and the first LGBT+-themed film to win Best Picture, it doesn’t come off as a film that’s overly self-conscious about its game-changing status. Moonlight covers ground that we’ve seen in many coming-of-age films before, but it has a distinct freshness to it. In its sincerity, Moonlight never becomes self-indulgent. Jenkins pulls off multiple balancing acts, one of which being the ensuring the film maintains its authenticity, while keeping it relatable no matter what the audience’s background is. Because it is partially inspired by McRaney’s and Jenkins’ own experiences, the dialogue sounds honest and real.

The presentation is slick without sacrificing personality. Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton were intent on avoiding what they called a “documentary look”, and as such, the images are rich and pop with colour. Each of the film’s three segments is graded in such a way as to imitate different kinds of film stock. This is not something most viewers would notice (this reviewer certainly didn’t), but it contributes to it registering on a subconscious level that there are subtle differences between each distinct section. Composer Nicholas Britell’s chamber music score is exceedingly lyrical, enhancing and enriching the emotion generated by the story and the performances.

Moonlight’s theatre DNA is evident in how much hinges on the performances. Unlike on the stage, film allows the use of closeups, and a lot of the story is told in subtle changes of expression, and the pain that ebbs and flows behind Chiron’s eyes. Hibbert’s Chiron is quiet and shy, Sanders’ teenaged Chiron lanky, awkward and frustrated, and Rhodes’ adult Chiron muscular and sure of himself – or at least, that’s the image he projects. The character of Chiron is developed with such care that it seems like the audience is watching a sculpture taking shape before their eyes. He’s a work in progress that we are witness to, and the audience observes Chiron construct his defences and his persona. The impact that Chiron’s environment and his interpersonal relationships have on him are organic and satisfyingly fleshed out.

Backing up the young actors who play Chiron and Kevin at different ages are reliable performers Ali and Harris. Ali’s screen time is relatively brief, but the character is a crucial one in Chiron’s story. Juan is a drug dealer with a heart of gold, yet Ali’s Oscar-winning portrayal rises far above the stereotypes that come to mind on hearing that description. Harris’ turn as Chiron’s broken, drug-addicted mother is even more impressive when one learns that because of issues with her visa, the British actress shot all her scenes in three days, in between the promotional tour for Spectre. Singer Monáe, arguably the breakout star of Hidden Figures, commands the screen. Teresa is gentle, yet it’s clear that she isn’t someone to be trifled with.

Moonlight has been hailed by black and LGBT+ activists alike as an unmitigated victory, a giant leap forward for the representation of both groups in mainstream popular culture. Moonlight isn’t an ‘issues film’ and its filmmakers aren’t merely jumping on a soapbox and preaching their point of view – its strength is in wearing its heart on its sleeve. While there is commentary on sexuality and race, especially with regards to the perception of black masculinity, all this is in service of the character. It adds up to a work that is captivating, sensitive and powerful.

Summary: Believe the hype: Moonlight reinvents the coming-of-age drama genre with subtlety, style and soul. Its arrival in Singaporean theatres is better late than never.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong