Predators (2010)

Predators (2010)

Fear is Reborn

A group of mercenaries and killers find themselves being parachuted into a remote tropical jungle. Soon realising that they are not on Earth anymore, the group find themselves being hunted for sport by an alien species of hunters and must band together to survive.

 

Although I’m a fan of Predator 2, the movie world hasn’t been too kind to the Predator series since the classic original, culminating in the two “let’s just forget they ever happened” Alien Vs Predator films. Let’s face it, Predator pretty much did everything that could be done with the Predator monster and the rest of its cinematic appearances have been poor imitations and regurgitations of what made the original such a classic (minus Arnie, of course). So it was with great trepidation that I found out that Fox were planning to re-launch the series with a reboot-sequel (not quite sure what it’s supposed to be). Given how poorly-conceived a lot of sequels/prequels/remakes/re-imaginings have been over the last few years (The Thing anyone?), I was worried for the future of the franchise. especially since it had been so long since the last stand-alone Predator film. Could Predators be a franchise killer?

Surprisingly not though whilst Robert Rodriguez’s film doesn’t do the series any harm, Predators is still such a wasted opportunity because it does little to kick the series back into life. There’s plenty of nods to the original right down to John Debney’s rehashing of Alan Silvestri’s epic soundtrack. Taking things back basics with the return of the jungle setting, albeit on an alien planet, brings back both the colourful backdrop and the isolationist setting of the original. They’ve assembled a bunch of heavily-armoured people and thrown them into the same pressure-cooker situation as before. Jesse Ventura’s awesome mini-gun makes a welcome return. Heck, the film even has the main character cover himself in mud to avoid the Predator’s thermal vision. Whether they’re gentle nods to the original or just lazy writing remains to be seen. My pick is the latter.

So once the novelty of seeing all of these nods to the original has worn off, what is left of Predators is a standard sci-fi-action flick with only an iconic cinematic monster to lift it way above its genre brethren. As it follows the original’s story and structure virtually to the letter, it means there’s little in the way of surprises because we all know what is hunting the characters and what tactics it has up its sleeve to do so (though it does have a few new tricks). Characters are little more than stereotypes, killed off when expected and in predictable fashion. Set pieces are replicated almost like-for-like. If only Arnie or Bill Duke or Carl Weathers was around to fire off some quips to liven things up – the problem here is that everyone takes it all way too seriously. At least they brought some extra macho factor to the scenes of them blowing the jungle to pieces or tussling with the aliens.

The script is the film’s biggest problem. Between ripping off the best moments and lines of the original, it fails to provide any sort of new spark of life into the franchise. The uneven script throws in some attempted twists but they make little sense (including a pointless character turn in the finale). The pacing is also way off, with the first half of the film a slow-burner as the group attempt to piece together what has happened whilst avoiding traps before the second half crams in almost all of the action into a hectic forty-five minutes. Then it’s all guns blazing until the finale which again heavily borrows from the original. It begs the question of why I’d want to watch an inferior scene-by-scene remake when I could just go and watch the original again.

Adrien Brody may have raised some eyebrows when he was cast into the Schwarzenegger-type lead role as the gruff mercenary Royce but I’ll give the guy some major credit, he bulked up for the role, got himself into shape and really gets his teeth into the anti-hero role. Brody is no traditional leading man and he doesn’t fully convince the audience of his tough-guy persona but it’s a damned good effort. Lawrence Fishburne shows up for no apparent reason other than to cash another cheque – it’s an embarrassingly throwaway role that anyone could have played but it seems like Fishburne was cast to add another star name to the poster. Funnily enough, his pointless appearance mid-way through the film signals the start of a downturn in the film’s pacing and it never recovers.

The rest of the cast make up the token roles, all with an ethnic slant just so the audience can distinguish who is who. Remember these are mercenaries and killers from across Earth so any racial stereotype you can think of is here: Russian rebel, African mercenary, a member of the Yakuza, Israeli Special Forces, South American drug enforcer, etc. Unfortunately the ethnic distinctions are the only way you’ll be able to tell most of them apart and its lazy writing to rely on our pre-conceived knowledge of such real-life stereotypes.

I thought I’d save discussion of the title creatures until last. We all know what they look like by now and there are a few variations on the late Stan Winston’s classic original design which do him justice. Despite the shambolic AVP escapades, the predators have somehow managed to retain their intimidating presence, appearing once more as the bad ass hunters that they should be. You really wouldn’t want to be caught in a fight with one of them. They’ve got some new tricks in their arsenal but the old favourites like the shoulder cannon are back and given modern day special effects makeovers. In fact most of the special effects look great including the infamous invisibility cloaks. Coupled with the impressive jungle cinematography, Predators gets top marks on the visuals right across the board.

 

At least Predator 2 tried to do something different, albeit with mixed results, whereas Predators just comes off as too underwhelming and content to rehash the original. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed Predators but it tries too hard to be the original, instead of crafting out its own niche. So much so that I feel bad for any younger people who had never seen Predator before this. For everyone else, the powerful sense of déjà vu and a longing for the return of Arnie and his mercenaries is too strong.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Orcs! (2011)

Orcs! (2011)

They will eat your face off

A bumbling pair of hapless park rangers have to save the day when their national park is invaded by a horde of blood-thirsty orcs from the depths of the mountains.

 

I hate rolling out clichéd phrases but with Orcs it is fair to share that you can’t judge a book by its cover. I had foolishly assumed that what I was sitting down to watch would be some generic Sy Fy Original-style low budget creature feature nonsense, only with orcs taking on the role of the monster usually played out by a shark, crocodile, snake, or random mythological creature of the moment.  But Orcs! was not as basic that, in a both surprising and thankful sense. Go in with some low expectations and you’ll be greeted with a modestly charming film which has its heart in the right place even if a lot of it fails to register little more than a mild beat.

Orcs! goes down the comedy-horror route with varying results. Sometimes it’s really fun. Sometimes it’s not. I guess the idea of an army of orcs suddenly invading rural America doesn’t lend itself to a whole amount of serious credibility so the writers made a decent decision to turn the piece into something of a screwball buddy comedy. At its heart is the duo of Cal and Hobart, the two slacker park rangers who are on the front line of this situation. You’ll have seen this duo before (not the actors, but the characters) in many buddy comedies so there’s little in the way of fresh characterisation here.

Adam Johnson stars as Cal and apart from his dodgy-looking moustache, he’s a solid hand playing the slacker-stoner average Joe. He sounds a lot like Donald Sutherland and has decent comic timing. The character doesn’t care about his job and much prefers getting stoned to a hard day’s grafts so you know the type of comedy that is going to come here. He plays off Maclain Nelson’s Hobie, a naive by-the-book nerd, and the two men share some daft laughs in the best buddy comedy tradition. It’s hardly Laurel and Hardy/Morecambe and Wise levels of comic sophistication and timing but Johnson and Nelson do alright with the material that they’re given, certainly better than they have any right to do. The comedy isn’t exactly laugh out loud but there are a few chuckles to be had and the light-hearted tone keeps the film feeling fresh and interesting, even if little is happening on screen.

Unfortunately, for all of the good work that the first half of Orcs! does with building up the main characters and the orc threat, the second half completely ruins it as the heroes hole up in the ranger shack and prepare to defend themselves against the incoming orc army. It’s a really long, drawn-out battle sequence (about twenty minutes, though it seems to go on for hours) which gets repetitive quickly as wave after wave of the orcs attack the shack and the survivors shoot at them – I say wave after wave because it looks like the same shots are re-used. Its during the battle that the comedy aspects peter out and the slacker duo become action heroes, depriving the film of the only thing that was keeping it going as long as it did. I’m sure a little more tweaking of the script could have thrown some laughs in somewhere.

The orcs themselves look like people who have just come from a Lord of the Rings convention, and not the dedicated ones that you see going to all lengths to make their costume the best. These orc costumes are little more than bargain basement fancy dress rags and do little to conjure up any sense of fantasy that the sight of an orc army should. You hardly see any of the orcs in the flesh and they’re always wearing their helmets and armour. I guess it’s a budget factor but I wouldn’t have minded seeing a bit more of the orcs or even found out a bit more about them. As it stands, they become more of an inconvenience rather than an outright threat. Like many of these films, when the heroes are up against a weak, undeveloped enemy, then the film suffers in the end because

 

As is the case with a lot of comedy-horror films, the elements just don’t quite mix in Orcs! Whilst the light-hearted banter works on some crude level, the horror and action elements don’t  work with it and the film never manages to find the right balance. It’s either comedy or action or horror and never all three at once. Worth a watch at least once.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Locusts (2005)

Locusts (2005)

If you can hear the buzz, it’s already too late

Dr Peter Axelrod has been genetically experimenting on locusts in a US research facility. But when Department of Agriculture scientist Maddy Rierdon shuts his project down for fear of what may happen in the locusts get out into the world, her worst fears are confirmed. Some locusts escape captivity and begin breeding in the wild at an alarming speed. Soon becoming a national threat when they start attacking planes, Maddy and her colleagues face a race against time to stop the locusts before it is too late.

 

I guess because I’d first seen the sequel, Vampire Bats (which is virtually unrelated save for the main character) that I thought Locusts would be the same sort of low budget creature feature nonsense featuring Lucy Lawless. But I was wrong on most grounds and Locusts plays out like a TV movie disaster movie in documentary-style fashion – more like something that you’d see from the 70s. Rife with clichés, cardboard characters and an overriding sense of “why bother?” it’s a wonder this ever made it to television. And if it did, I would bet that it didn’t show any earlier than 2am.

Locusts lacks any form of surprises. Or excitement. Its hackneyed drivel which would fill a late night TV schedule without any question…and any viewers too. You can watch it and as soon as you’ve finished, you’ll never remember anything that happened because it’s all so instantly forgettable. If the script isn’t bogged down enough with all of the over-used clichés (bickering couple as the main characters; scientist trying to right his wrongs; army desperate to blow everything up; etc), then its swamped with some truly pedestrian dialogue which the actors are forced to recite. The usual ‘race against the clock’ plot skims through the customary set pieces with minimal thrills and spills. Sleepwalking isn’t a term I’d used to describe the film but that’s precisely what happens.

The characters are all thinly-written stereotypes who generate no emotional response with the intended audience. I guess it’s because we’ve seen them all before in similar films and we know that a magic ‘reset button’ solution is just around the corner in the script so they’ll never be put in any real danger throughout the duration of the film because everything will turn out rosy in the end. Speaking of which, the eventual resolution to the film involves electrifying barn silos or some rubbish. I’d pretty much tuned out by that point. It’s a real grind to get to the finale  so if you do, congratulations.

Lucy Lawless looks to have fallen upon hard times since her cult status in Xena: Warrior Princess. It’s a shame because not only is she good looking but she’s a decent actress with the right material (anyone who has seen the TV series Spartacus: Gods of the Arena will know what I mean on both counts). Sadly, the right material is not on display here and she is wasted in a thanklessly one-note role which could have been given to any lesser talented actress with the same results. Though perhaps she really needs to give herself a fighting chance – the first time you see her in the film, she’s slumming around on a bed with an open gown. Co-star John Heard will be more recognisable to legions of people across the world as Macaulay Culkin’s dad in Home Alone.

The locusts look alright. I guess. Most of the time they’re just a big black blur in the sky as the swarm moves from town to town but when they do land and there’s an odd close-up, they look like nature documentary material. You never really get the sense that they pose much of a threat to people despite being able to bring down planes.

 

Locusts looks and feels like an extended episode of The X-Files. It’s a ninety minute late night TV movie which is simply intended to pad out schedules rather than entertain it’s audience. Pointless springs to mind.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Ernest Scared Stupid (1991)

Ernest Scared Stupid (1991)

A long time ago, the town of Briarville was terrorised by an evil troll who stole the town’s children and turned them into little wooden carvings. But he was stopped by Ernest P. Worrell and enslaved beneath an oak tree, never to be disturbed again. Years later, Worrell’s bumbling great-grandson unwittingly helps a group of local children build a tree house on that very tree, inadvertently freeing the troll to continue his reign of terror and get revenge upon the Worrell family.

 

I may be lowering the tone of the site somewhat by reviewing this goofy 1991 family comedy-horror – after all, the Ernest films have been widely ridiculed and mocked by critics. For those who don’t know, Ernest P. Worrell was a bumbling, comedy character played by the late Jim Varney. He started off playing the character on commercials and television but then received his own films series based on his popularity in North America (nine films in total, although the joke character wore off significantly over the years). On a similar vein of comedy to Pee-Wee Herman, Ernest was designed to appeal to children and panders to the lowest common denominator of comedy: falling over a lot, acting silly, talking in daft voices, etc. The character was always seen in low paid jobs like janitors or cab drivers and got into disastrous situations which were way over his head. But he was a sincere oaf – a kid in an adult’s body.

The fourth of the slapstick series, Ernest Scared Stupid sees the lovable dim-wit doing his bit in the comedy-horror genre. It’s easily his best performance in the role and the best film in the series. Varney was a classically-trained Shakespearian actor before he donned the cap and assumed the character so you know that everything he hams up, he’s doing so deliberately. One of the trademarks of the role is his ‘multiple personality’ scenes in which he rapidly changes character from Ernest to an assortment of old ladies, Roman generals, lumberjacks, Ottoman warriors and more. It’s interesting to watch the character from an adult perspective, understanding just how well Varney manages to bring to life a variety of different accents and characters, albeit for a few fleeting moments.

Adults will find a few humorous references to other films (notably Ernest being trapped inside a garbage compactor which harks back to Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom). Plus the credits sequence features clips from a whole host of old school shockers like The Brain from Planet Arous and The Killer Shrews. Kids will love the silliness of it all, with Ernest running into doors, being thrown off moving trucks in oil drums and get into old school slapstick moments with cars, dumpsters and such like.

Taking the slapstick out of the equation, Ernest Scared Stupid is actually a great family-friendly horror film which really manages to strike the right spooky atmospheric vibes. As a horror film, it includes many of the usual clichés including the unbelieving townspeople, the resident nut job who knows more than they should (played here with relish by Eartha Kitt) and the array of stock characters who inhabit the town. The plot itself is rather threadbare and is more or less introduced right from the start so the rest of the film is just set piece after set piece. At least pacing of the film is spot on as Ernest lumbers from one predicament to the next, all leading up to a memorable finale as the townspeople attempt to defeat the troll and his children in the woods. The forest locations are superbly dark, fog-drenched, swampy places to add to the ambiance and there’s a terrific score to add to the Halloween spirit.

Big props need to be given to the Chiodo Brothers and make-up department here. The troll looks awesome, all dripping with slime and goo. He’s a nasty piece of work, aggressive and violent enough to pose a threat but not overtly horrifying to frighten the life out of the target audience. Late in the film, his ‘children’ come to life and again the make-up job is superb, giving each new troll a bit of character in the brief moments that they’re on screen.

 

Ernest Scared Stupid is perfect family Halloween foil: light-hearted, good-natured and with just enough chills and spills to entertain young children without scaring them too much (though one or two scenes are pretty tense). Yeah I admit, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea but if you’ve got kids and its Halloween, put this on and watch them love it (and who knows, you may even find yourself smiling along)

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Carnivorous (2007)

Carnivorous (2007)

In this underworld, humans are the prey

Kate Walker is driving along in the woods when she gets a flat tyre and a passer-by stops to help her. But he knocks her out with a shovel and abducts her. When she awakes, she finds herself trapped in a strange labyrinth with a handful of other abductees. Trying to make sense of the situation, they try to find  way out but soon find themselves being hunted down by strange demon-like creatures amidst the booby-trapped maze.

 

‘Cube with monsters’ springs to mind when  I look back on Carnivorous (not to be confused with the DMX killer snake feature which goes under the same name). It is a dismal creature feature which throws together a host of strangers in a labyrinth and unleashes a slew of CGI monsters upon them. And then repeats the same formula for the duration of its running time. Repetitive and monotonous in equal measure, it’s a wonder that this hasn’t become so form of prescription medicine for insomnia. I’m sure Carnivorous has good intentions and the plot is an intriguing twist on the usual ‘strangers-in-a-room’ story but the execution is woeful.

The alternative title, Hell’s Labyrinth, certainly means more than Carnivorous does. After all, the characters are trapped in a dingy labyrinth. Though where this dungeon is and just how the owner can get away with having a massive underground facility without anyone batting an eye lid remains to be seen (sarcasm aside, the labyrinth is revealed to be some sort of extra-dimensional sacrificial chamber – or at least I think…..yeah I didn’t really pay enough attention!). For some bizarre reason, the film opens with a scene inside the labyrinth featuring some other unlucky victims and proceeds to show off all of the goods straight away – the CGI monsters, the gore and the setting itself. Talk about giving the game away within the first few minutes – now there are no surprises left for the audience.

Shot almost entirely against green screens, I may have been a little more tolerant on this as a whole if they hadn’t decided to colour all of the CGI backgrounds with greys and browns, leading to the film looking really dark and dismal. Seriously, this is one of the most frustrating films to sit down and look at for ninety-minutes – there’s no life in the picture whatsoever and the background seems to go on forever in monotonous fashion. The cinematographer gets a lot wrong, failing to light the shots enough and lending the proceedings a constantly dim glow. It’s clearly attempting to be atmospheric but comes off as frustrating.

Whilst some of the Gothic architectural design to the labyrinth is amazing, you never once get the feeling that the characters are actually anywhere but inside a studio. Things aren’t helped by the positions they take in relation to their surroundings and each other, almost always standing side-by-side and giving no indication of depth to the sets. Anyone in the UK was ever seen or heard of the 80s TV show Knightmare will get the general idea of how this looks (I must stress that Knightmare looked fantastic for its day – but this isn’t 1987 and effects have gone backwards by the looks of it here) and at times it appears that they’re stuck inside a video game, rather than a labyrinth.

The creatures they encounter in the labyrinth are also CGI and whilst you’re never going to buy them as ‘being real’ at all, they at least show up regularly and do a bit of gory damage when they appear. It’s a pity that they look like rejected sprites from a 90s PC video game rather than anything modern. Matters aren’t helped by the cast who seem to be getting little direction as to where the post-production effects will be taking place in regards to their positions on the screen. They can’t act either, which is a big requirement of being an actor.

 

If you have a burning desire to see a bunch of one-note characters walk around in front of a green screen for eighty minutes, then be my guest and watch Carnivorous. George Lucas would be proud! It cost him $115m to do the same thing with Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆