Pool excellence is not about excellent pool
The Color of Money is directed by Martin Scorsese and is based on the 1984 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis. The film stars Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Helen Shaver, and John Turturro. Newman won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance.
1961's film adaptation of The Hustler is seen today as a classic, and considering the powerful theme of winning vs. losing that that film has on hand, the world wouldn't be any worse off had nothing about a sequel ever been discussed. But sometime down the road, author Walter Tevis decided to give his 1959 novel a sequel, with a story that takes place twenty years after The Hustler and finds an older Eddie Felson attempting to search for Minnesota Fats and go on a tour with him. Though Tevis created a screenplay to use for a film adaptation, Martin Scorsese wanted to take the film in a new direction, and so, screenwriter Richard Price drafted a script for an entirely different story, though it would have the same name as Tevis' novel.
Instead of a story featuring Minnesota Fats, The Color of Money was turned into a story in which an older Eddie Felson (Newman), now working as a successful liquor salesman, meets a young, hotshot pool player named Vincent Lauria (Cruise). Eddie sees that Vincent is very talented with a pool stick, and so, seeing that Vincent is also working a meager job as a toy store sales clerk, he convinces Vincent and his girlfriend Carmen (Mastrantonio) to go on the road with him, where Vincent can learn to make more money as a pool hustler. The problem is that Vincent is arrogant and a bit immature, and as Eddie tries to teach Vincent how to be a professional, tension grows between the two. In addition, as Eddie watches Vincent get better and better at hustling pool, he rekindles his own passion for the game and starts to consider a comeback.
Martin Scorsese has commented that he took on the directing job for The Color of Money at the insistence of Paul Newman, and because he wanted to make a mainstream film that wouldn't go over budget. At the time The Color of Money was being made, Scorsese had directed Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, and After Hours, none of which made a splash with audiences at the box office. In hindsight, this ambition by Scorsese was a commendable one; a filmmaker of his talents does not deserve to only be known among the indie/niche market crowd, and with a well-known veteran in Paul Newman and an up-and-coming face in Tom Cruise, this was the film that could get Martin Scorsese's name out among the casual movie-going crowd.
Even with a legend like Scorsese in the directing chair, the critical consensus says The Color of Money is vastly inferior to The Hustler. In terms of theme and mood, this is certainly true. But I would argue that, on some other fronts, The Color of Money is better. Yes, The Color of Money has the advantage of 25 years of technological advancement, therefore the privilege of getting a more glossy and colorful look, but unlike The Hustler, The Color of Money subverts any and all forms of boredom.
- The Color of Money has an infectious sense of fun that I think is a nice change-up after the dark tone in The Hustler. Eddie, Vincent, and Lauria are a joy to watch as the three travel from pool hall to pool hall, with scenes in hotels and restaurants making the movie seem like an extended vacation. We say movies are escapism, and escapism is very much true with The Color of Money. Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus show off some stylish shots of pool balls being knocked into the pool pockets, and there are several hustling montages throughout the film that grant the movie the opportunity to show off far more pool scenes than what we saw in The Hustler. And with a smooth and upbeat score by composer Robbie Robertson to boot, The Color of Money succeeds as a work of pure entertainment.
- Paul Newman and Tom Cruise deliver strong performances that play off each other quite well. Nothing needs to be said for Newman. Cruise brings a youthful charisma that elevates him to more than just the baby-faced pretty boy that he was back in the 80's: the decade that Cruise was primarily a drama film star. I wouldn't say that this was a film that would guarantee Cruise as one of the biggest stars of the future, but certainly, if I was alive back in 1986 to see this movie in theaters, I probably would have thunk that Cruise had a bright future ahead of himself.
- Where The Color of Money doesn't function too well is in its attempts at developing subplots, all of which fall completely flat. There are various scenes, such as an extended sequence of Vincent and Carmen arguing in a bar, that suggest that the movie is laying the groundwork for something to happen later on, only for absolutely nothing to happen. Heated conversations suggest that Vincent and Carmen are going to break up, but the two turn out just fine when all is said and done. There are also various scenes dedicated to Eddie's love life, but the drama that ensues between Eddie and his lover Janelle (Helen Shaver) is only good for distracting us from the main plot. Basically anything that doesn't involve Eddie and Vincent playing pool means jack squat in the long run, which is why the movie works best when it's trying to be fun.
Whereas The Hustler is a strong work of dramatic depth and worthwhile themes, The Color of Money is a solid work of entertainment, and that's why I find it to be a worthy sequel to The Hustler, even if it has a bit of an inferiority complex. The stylish sequences of pool playing and the performances of Newman and Cruise make The Color of Money an enjoyable film to watch from start to finish, and that should be enough to put the film into the category of underrated Scorsese pictures. Though the film doesn't work as well on a dramatic level, it does something that I think no other film can do: it will really get you in the mood to play pool. That's gotta count for something, right?
Recommend? Yes. Watch The Hustler first, though.
A 25% slice of something big is better than a 100% slice of nothing.
The Hustler is directed and co-written by Robert Rossen, and is based on the 1959 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis. The film stars Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, and George C. Scott.
Perhaps it is a bit of a reach if we want to think of the game of pool as a sport. Granted, pool goes under a special brand of sports known as cue sports, but playing pool does not involve the same kind of physical intensity that we see in other sports like football and basketball, thus, it's a game that doesn't get extensive media coverage, and it's a sport that I have yet to see on a TV in all the times I've gone into a sports bar or any restaurant with a TV. Nonetheless, playing professional pool takes a great deal of skill, and I have made September 2018 a month dedicated to sports films, so damn it, I am going to go outside the box a little bit to conclude this month, because why the hell not?
There is only one definitive movie about playing pool, and that is 1961's The Hustler (okay, two if you want to include the sequel: The Color of Money). And though there is a lot of pool-playing throughout the movie, it's next to near impossible to try and watch The Hustler the way you would any other kind of sports movie. That's because The Hustler focuses so much more on its dramatic themes, with pool acting as the driving force behind what motivates many of the film's characters, particularly its protagonist: "Fast Eddie" Felson. The movie assumes you know the basic rules of playing pool; it never takes the time to explain to you how the game is played and what exactly makes someone a skilled pool player. Because of this, The Hustler opens itself up to become a character-driven story, and not merely a "feel-good" story, typically one in which an underdog overcomes incredible odds to win it all. Oh, I assure you, The Hustler is no "feel-good" story at all.
The Hustler tells the story of pool hustler Eddie Felson (Paul Newman). He travels cross-country with his partner Charlie (Myron McCormick) in order to challenge the famous pool player Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). Eddie puts up a good fight, even going ahead for a bit of time, but his arrogance costs him, and he loses almost all of his earnings, being put down as a "loser" by professional gambler Bert Gordon (George C. Scott). Eddie leaves Charlie, and goes to a bus terminal, where he meets Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie), an alcoholic who attends college part-time. The two grow close, but then Charlie resurfaces and asks Eddie to go back out on the road with him again. Eddie refuses, and Charlie realizes that Eddie plans to challenge Minnesota Fats to another match.
- What we have here in The Hustler is a story that centers on winning and losing, and how a person gravitates towards one side versus the other. To put it differently, The Hustler asks what is it that allows someone to always succeed as opposed to someone who keeps finding themselves on the short end of the stick? The arrogant Eddie Felson that we see during the first half of the movie might be a very talented pool player who knows how to win against any ordinary pool scrub, but up against the big boys where it really counts, he is always a loser. It's only until he suffers a great loss later in the film and is forced to swallow his pride does Eddie finally understand what it will take for him to emerge as a winner. As other analyses of this movie puts it, "Eddie wins by losing."
This powerful theme of winning versus losing is a rarity for any film that focuses on people engaging in competition or facing off in some kind of sport. If placed in the wrong hands, The Hustler would be treated like any standard hero comeback story, as the story is perfectly set up to be presented as such since Eddie loses to Minnesota Fats in the beginning and plots to challenge Fats again later on. There's more at work here than just Eddie learning how to be a more honorable and professional pool hustler, and thus, learning how to be a better winner; this is an example of how "winning" and "losing" are what can impact how a person feels about themselves as a human being, and how well they believe they are living their life. You might have a successful career, be part of a loving family, and have a ton of friends, but no one's giving you a trophy for "winning" the game of life. On the flip side, if you did something like drop out of college, no one's claiming that you're a "loser" at life (just look at Bill Gates and Steve Jobs for all the proof you need on college drop-outs turning out just fine). In short, The Hustler explores how winning and losing drive people's live, and how they motivate people to pursue certain interests, even if people don't view their pursuits in terms of winning and losing.
- The Hustler is thematically rich, and that's why it's such a bummer for me to say that I find it boring for certain stretches. The romance between Eddie and Sarah is surprisingly dull; there's just no spark between the two, and there isn't enough that happens between them for me to really want to care about what they're saying. Sarah remains on the sidelines for a large portion of the film, only being exposed as an unfortunate person when it's convenient for Eddie to stop feeling sorry for himself. We learn that not only does Sarah go to college part-time, but she's being supported by her father, details of her character that are mainly there so that Eddie won't seem like the only "loser" in the film's lineup of characters. Bert Gordon is also not a very interesting character, which is even more of a letdown because he's being played by the great George C. Scott. The movie only shows Bert as someone with a bullying attitude, taking interest in Eddie only because he thinks he can take advantage of Eddie. Thus, Bert is also not much of a joy to watch on screen either, further contributing to several boring stretches throughout the film. Did scenes without a pool table in the frame have to be so not interesting?
But luckily, the boring scenes come with several fun scenes, and The Hustler has so much thematic meat on hand that it's hard to just give in to the parts that are boring and not think more about what works very well. What does work very well is the pool-playing scenes, the theme of winning and losing and how winning and losing affect the human mind, and the strong performances by Newman and Gleason. The Hustler is not at all like any typical sports movie: there's no heroic comeback, no underdog overcoming the odds and proving all of their doubters wrong, and no cliched inspirational speeches about the "meaning" of the game. It takes a more underrated game like pool and effectively uses it to further explore themes that the likes of football and basketball couldn't even touch. It makes sense to think about how over the years, there has been no other recognizable "pool" movie, with the exception of the sequel to The Hustler: The Color of Money. No one has dared to try and pull off what The Hustler has done thematically, and considering it's been almost sixty years since this movie first came out, I highly doubt there will ever be another for-the-ages pool movie.
Recommend? Yes, even though the movie is boring in some parts.
One two punch
Creed is directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler and is the seventh installment in the Rocky franchise, serving as a sequel to 2006's Rocky Balboa. The film stars Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone (reprising his role as Rocky Balboa), Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew, and Graham McTavish.
With the success of 2015's Creed, it's safe to say that the quality of the Rocky franchise now represents something of a parabolic curve. The franchise's obvious high mark was the first Rocky, with each new installment sending the franchise lower and lower down the curve until the curve hit its all-time low with Rocky V (or Rocky IV, if you prefer). Wherever one believes that the Rocky franchise hit rock bottom, let's just agree that 2006's Rocky Balboa got the curve back on the upswing, with Creed bringing the curve back up to almost the level that it was at with the original Rocky. I promise I will not be talking about curves for the entirety of this review, so let's just keep it short and sweet and say this: Creed is the best movie to feature Rocky Balboa since the Best Picture winning Rocky back in 1976.
Sylvester Stallone had no desire to return to the franchise following Rocky Balboa, believing that Rocky's story was complete and that there was no point in going any further. However, Ryan Coogler kept insisting for Stallone revisit, eventually getting Stallone to come on board. But if agreeing to revisit wasn't hard enough for Stallone, then this nearly sent him into a total breakdown: the death of his oldest son, Sage Stallone. Again, Coogler was able to convince Stallone to proceed with the film, telling him he could use Creed as a tribute to his son, especially since father-son relationships is a crucial theme in Creed's story. Stallone stated at that year's Golden Globes that working on Creed helped him manage his son's death, even stating that he hoped to portray more of Rocky in the Creed sequels.
So though Rocky is a supporting character in Creed, all of these bits of trivia and production notes ought to tell you that Sylvester Stallone was still a big deal to the production and almost everything that went involved in making Creed. Stallone even puts on a performance that comes quite close to matching his performance from the first film, something you probably wouldn't think was possible from someone who had been portraying the same character for the seventh time over the span of nearly forty years. But like they say, age is just a number.
The plot of Creed follows Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of former boxing heavyweight champion Apollo Creed. At a young age, he serves time at an LA detention center, until Creed's widow, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), meets with him and agrees to take him home with her. Many years later, Adonis quits his corporate job in order to pursue his dream of becoming a professional boxer. This leads him to travel to Philadelphia and try to meet up with the legendary former champion, Rocky Balboa. Adonis finds Rocky and asks him for training, and while Rocky is reluctant at first, he eventually agrees. Soon afterwards, Adonis receives a challenge from the world light heavyweight champion Ricky Conlan (Anthony Bellew), who learns that Adonis is Creed's illegitimate son. Conlan, facing an impending prison term, wants to make Adonis his final challenger, requesting that he change his name to Adonis Creed. Though angered by this request, Adonis agrees and goes through with the fight.
- It's a joy to watch Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone together; the two have terrific chemistry and make for a father-son relationship that brings the best out of one another. The real icing on the cake is the way that the script handles the dynamic between Rocky and Adonis by not playing strictly towards the, "sullen, aged hero trains the raw newbie to truly embrace his identity" angle. Jordan's Adonis is a boxer who's not so much ignorant towards "real boxing", more so he's a character who is rough around the edges, and he needs Rocky to loosen him up and get his head on straight. Meanwhile, Adonis gives Rocky the guts to fight, but when I say fight, I mean "fight" in a way that would be a pretty hefty spoiler. In other words, Adonis challenges Rocky, in his old, hardened age, to muster up the strength to fight the battles he comes across later in the film (if you've seen the film already, you know what I mean). The other thing about the relationship between Adonis and Rocky that makes it so wonderful to watch is the overall balance between the two. Even though Rocky is the trainer, he needs Adonis just as much as Adonis needs him. Rocky may not be fighting in the ring anymore, but thanks to a smart script by Coogler and fellow screenwriter Aaron Convington, there's more put into Rocky than just being an aged veteran who is there to train the new guy.
- Surprisingly, there isn't a whole lot of actual boxing throughout the film, but when we do see Creed fight someone in the ring, Coogler and cinematographer Maryse Alberti rely on special film-making techniques, particularly an entire two-round boxing match being shot in one continuous take. The fights are filmed with clean and coherent camera work, no kind of shaky cam nonsense to speak of.
- Creed's only mistakes come in the habit of repeating some story elements from the earlier Rocky films, mainly the first one. You can easily predict some of the outcomes, and the movie likes to give Adonis some moments that match those of Rocky when he was training for his major heavyweight fight. One that stuck out to me was a shot of Adonis running through the streets, wearing a hoodie, and being followed by a bunch of people riding motorcycles. As the people ride past him, Adonis waves his hands in the air and belts out a roar of pride. This moment made me think so much of the end of Rocky's training montage in the first film, as he waves his arms in the air while standing at the top of the long flight of stairs. I know I'm reaching a bit when I bring up this moment, but still, Creed likes to take parts of the Rocky story and try to mold them into something slightly different. A direct challenge from the heavyweight champion, training montages (though these are present in almost all sports films), and fight results - all of these owe in part to the first Rocky film, which is a little frustrating if Creed is trying to branch out from the franchise and not seem completely like more of the same.
When you're this many installments into a franchise, the natural thing to think of is that the franchise in question is long overdue for retirement, but it keeps lingering on, just to see how much more material it can possibly milk from the story cow. Turns out, the Rocky franchise scrapped their old, tired story cow and, at some point during its hibernation period, acquired a new one, setting the franchise up to regain the high quality that it once enjoyed from back in the day. That high quality is on display in Creed: the best film in the franchise since the original Rocky, bolstered by the superb chemistry between Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone and a director and co-writer in Ryan Coogler who, a guy still in his early 30's and who has enjoyed massive success with also directing Black Panther, has set himself up to be one of the most promising film-makers of the future. Whether or not Creed goes on to be seen as a classic is anyone's guess. One thing's for sure though: the film has done wonders for Sylvester Stallone, and shows that good ol' Rocky has more to him than being just a great fighter.
The Jackie Robinson Story
42 is directed by Brian Helgeland and stars Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Alan Tudyk, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Meloni, Andre Holland, Lucas Black, Hamish Linklater, and Ryan Merriman.
Unquestionably, one of the greatest stories in the history of Major League Baseball is the story of Jackie Robinson. If you want any definitive proof as to what Jackie Robinson meant to the game of baseball, then consider this: Robinson's number 42 jersey is retired across all major league teams, and every year on April 15th, Major League Baseball celebrates "Jackie Robinson Day", on which every player wears the number 42. The significance of April 15th is that Jackie Robinson made his major league debut on April 15, 1947, which was Opening Day for that season. Sure, Robinson didn't go on to win multiple championships like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and all of those other classic New York Yankees players from way back in the day, but what 42 attempts to emphasize is the importance that Robinson brought to the game, an importance not defined by how many home runs he hit or how many World Series championships he won, but by redefining who was allowed to play the game.
The story of 42 tells of Jackie Robinson's (Boseman) importance in shattering the baseball color line. For decades, Major League Baseball only allowed white players to play; black baseball players played in their own Negro Leagues. Then in 1945, Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey (Ford) considers looking for a black baseball player, choosing Robinson after seeing his impressive credentials. Rickey finds Robinson and invites him to Brooklyn, offering him a contract under the condition that Robinson controls his temper during games. Robinson agrees, and he earns a roster spot on the minor league team: the Montreal Royals. Robinson eventually advances to play for the Dodgers, but both on and off the field, he experiences harsh racism.
Racism or any other form of prejudice isn't anything brand spanking new in sports movies, but 42 can get away with being a little preachy, because the story of Jackie Robinson really was that big of a deal. And yet, 42 is not at all preachy; there's no grandiose, inspirational speeches, nor long, drawn-out scenes of Robinson explaining what baseball means to him and how the color of his skin can't prevent him from playing. Granted, the movie doesn't explore so much who Jackie Robinson was as a person. It cares more for Robinson's journey of getting to the Dodgers and overcoming any and all racial barriers along the way. The movie's time frame spans from Robinson meeting Branch Rickey to right before the Dodgers played in the 1947 World Series, admittedly with some historically inaccurate happenings in between.
- The best thing about 42 is how inspirational it makes itself out to be, not just because you can watch it knowing it's based on a true story. Brian Helgeland creates a lot of feel-good magic out of the film's various baseball game scenes, particularly one in which Robinson is harassed by the opposing team's manager (Alan Tudyk). Robinson unleashes all of his built-up rage by heading into the dugout and smashing a baseball bat to pieces (something that Robinson's wife claimed to have never happened). The feel-good magic of this scene comes from when one of Robinson's teammates walks over to the manager and berates him for his comments, assuring Robinson that his teammates have his back. What makes the movie inspirational is how Helgeland organizes scenes together in a way that makes you feel like this movie version of Jackie Robinson has earned the love and adoration of not just his own black community, but the respect and appreciation of many in the white community as well. He learns how to successfully play first base, he shows off his speed through his adept ability to steal bases, and no matter how many of his buttons are pushed, he keeps his promise of not losing his temper and blowing up on someone. It may not be exactly how the real Jackie Robinson did things, but for the sake of being an inspiring biopic, 42 accomplishes the more-difficult-than-usual task of being inspiring.
- As the movie only explores a small part of Jackie Robinson's life, it does play things a little too safe. Nothing is mentioned of Robinson's early life, particularly how he came to knew in his youth that he wanted to spend his life playing baseball. Other interesting events from later in Robinson's life such as his involvement in the civil rights movement and his contribution in founding the Freedom National Bank are not explored. The movie cares solely for Jackie Robinson the baseball player, with the minor subplots only there to, in some shape or form, enhance that title. And considering the slightly over two hours run time, Helgeland got enough mileage out of what he makes of Robinson's early Major League Baseball days. He must have given some thought to exploring more of Robinson's life, but didn't want to run the risk of having himself a three and a half hour mega biopic on his hands.
Despite the movie playing things safe, 42 thrives as an inspiring biopic that successfully brings one of the greatest stories in all of baseball to the big screen. The movie earns its claim to inspiration and does not force any kind of heavy-handed messaging on its audience, something that normally should not happen in a sports biopic. You may not think the movie can get a whole lot out of such a short time period of Jackie Robinson's life, but Brian Helgeland finds a way. If not quite a home run of a sports movie, then 42 is a solid hit, and for an important story like that of Jackie Robinson's, that's what we should hope for.
Recommend? Yes, especially if you love playing and/or watching baseball.
One ugly motherf*cker
The Predator is directed and co-written by Shane Black and stars Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Keegan-Michael Key, Olivia Munn, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, and Sterling K. Brown.
Shane Black starred as the supporting character Hawkins in the original 1987 Predator, and his previous directorial outing was 2016's The Nice Guys, one of my favorite movies to be released within the past couple years. If there is anyone out there, outside of John McTiernan (who seems content with staying on whatever deserted island he's been living on for the past ten, fifteen years), who can get the Predator franchise back on the right track, it is Shane Black. What more can you ask for when your director was there, living the experience of making the original Predator? Surely, that experience would pay dividends here in 2018 with the fourth installment in the Predator franchise. We may have had some rough sequels in the past, but this film, The Predator, right here and now, should mark the franchise's return to glory.
The Predator is bad. Like, really bad.
We do not get Nice Guys Shane Black here. Oh no, we get Iron Man 3 Shane Black here, and let me tell you what, Iron Man 3 Shane Black is about as desirable as a lowly Michael Bay or a standard, untalented Paul W.S. Anderson. The Predator is an example of Shane Black, the director, making almost every wrong decision imaginable, showing a total disregard for what made Predator so effective, and completely shirking on the promise that the Predator franchise had set for itself. Instead of getting what should have been the Predator franchise's best installment since the first film, we get one that somehow, someway, ends up being even worse than both Predator 2 and Predators, and OH BOY is that nothing short of a catastrophe.
The place that I naturally go to first when talking about a bad film is its story, and you can bet your ass that The Predator doesn't get much of anything right there. The film opens with a Predator ship crash landing on Earth, right in the midst of a hostage rescue mission being led by Army Ranger sniper Quinn McKenna (Holbrook). The Predator on the spacecraft attacks and kills several of McKenna's men, but McKenna is able to incapacitate the Predator and take possession of some of its armor. McKenna mails the armor parts before it can be obtained by government agent Will Traeger (Brown), who takes the Predator to a laboratory to be studied. McKenna mails the armor to the house of his estranged wife Emily (Yvonne Strahovski) and their autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), hoping it will be there when he arrives. McKenna, however, gets bussed off with a group of other government captives, but the group works together to escape. Speaking of escaping, the captive Predator escapes from the laboratory, and sets out to recover the stolen armor.
- Before I dig my teeth into all of this movie's egregious wrongs, there is one good thing that I can say about it: the pacing. Shane Black injects a heavy dose of energy into The Predator by upping the pace and making things very brisk, keeping the film immune to boredom. The movie transitions from scene to scene with a pure adrenaline rush and without a care in the world for long, "let's sit down and talk about our feelings" conversations. This is perhaps the only aspect of the original Predator that Shane Black comes even close to recapturing, as the characters are always trigger-happy and on their toes, ready to strike at a moment's notice.
- I really don't like that plot synopsis I gave earlier, because the plot details that I did mention (and I usually like to be minimal about plot details), don't seem like they stitch together very well. I can't really blame myself though; Shane Black and co-screenwriter Fred Dekker (the director and a co-writer of RoboCop 3, but we will say no more on that matter), have put together a story that heavily lacks coherence and is straight-up silly in some parts. The "McKenna sends the Predator parts through the mail" bit is completely ludicrous, but not as ludicrous as when Rory starts playing with the armor and actually goes as far as to use it for a Halloween costume. This causes some issues for the Predator(s) who are trying to get the armor parts, and it leads to Rory becoming a much more integral part to the story than he has any right to be. I swear, it took me a full hour into the movie's run time for me to finally get a sense of what the story was about. I should mention, though, that not at all during the run time did I feel convinced that anything about the story made much sense. For goodness sake, Shane Black, who cares if the story isn't all that deep? Just give us something that makes a wee bit of sense!
- The absolute worst thing about The Predator though, is Shane Black's inexplicable decision to treat the film as much like a comedy as possible, with McKenna and his "bus-mates" cracking joke after joke, and making it totally obvious that no one is taking anything seriously, as if the sight of an advanced alien life form was like a day out at the ballpark. There were funny lines in the original film, but lines from Predator like, "you're one ugly motherfucker" were funny because they were highly appropriate for the given situation. The Predator, on the other hand, just has characters like Keegan Michael-Key's character tell "your mama" jokes and other insulting statements purely for the sake of being vulgar. I would be a little more forgiving if the joke were funny, but hardly any of them are, and a film that features bad comedy is usually quite painful to watch.
I don't want to say it, but I have to: I was disgusted with The Predator. This is easily one of the worst experiences that I've had at a movie theater in a long long time. I don't have the time to go out and see every single new release, but the new releases that I do see are those that I assume I will at least get some enjoyment out of. Enjoyment was something I did not at all get with The Predator. Shane Black makes almost every wrong choice imaginable: the choice to treat the film like a comedy, when not one other Predator film even entertained the thought of treating itself as a comedy, the choice to go with a story that barely makes a lick of sense, and the choice to have its character exchange in witless banter, in an idiotic attempt at recapturing the manliness of the crew from the original film. Instead of revitalizing the Predator franchise and setting it up for a promising future, Shane Black sends the franchise further down the rabbit hole, and essentially killing all hope that this franchise may have of escaping the clutches of disappointment. The ending scene of this movie so badly wants a sequel, and whether that sequel happens or not, I can guarantee that I will not be there at the theater to see it.
Screw you, Shane Black. The Predator should have given you a more gruesome death in the first film.
Dodge, duck, dip, dive, and....dodge
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is directed by Rawson M. Thurber and stars Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Christine Taylor, and Rip Torn.
The delightfully silly Dodgeball serves as something of a tribute to all of the sports comedy films of the 1980's, while also setting an example of, "2000's sports comedy done right." It's yet another story of how a group of down-on-their-luck misfits band together and play a sport in order to accomplish some common goal. The only catch is, that sport is dodgeball, as opposed to something wildly familiar like football or baseball. I'm aware that there is such a thing as the Nationla Dodgeball League, but my only experience with dodgeball is playing it during gym class in school or during in-door recess. Nonetheless, I find it to be an entertaining sport and something that I agree would make for entertaining material in a movie.
The misfits of Dodgeball's story are the few members of Average Joe's gym, owned by the mild-mannered Peter LaFleur (Vince Vaughn). Peter is forced to default on the gym's mortgage, which is then purchased by the vain fitness guru White Goodman (Ben Stiller), who owns and operates the much more prestigious Globo Gym across the street. The only way for Peter to save his gym is to raise $50,000 in thirty days, otherwise White will foreclose Average Joe's, demolish it, and build a parking garage. One of Average Joe's members, Gordon (Stephen Root), finds an ad in a magazine about a dodgeball tournament in Las Vegas, with a grand prize of $50,000, and suggests that they join. The group gets off to a rough start, but they receive some unexpected help from dodgeball legend Patches O'Houilihan (Rip Torn) and attorney Kate Veatch (Christine Taylor).
- Dodgeball's sheer ridiculousness never ceases to be funny, with plenty of eccentric characters and quotable dialogue. One of Average Joe's members is a man named Steve (Alan Tudyk), and he is fully convinced that he is a pirate. That alone may be good for a laugh or two, but the movie takes this a step farther, creating an extremely funny moment when one of the other members acknowledges very late in the film that he was unaware of Steve's presence. Patches O'Houlihan agrees to be the team's coach, preparing them for the tournament by making them do things like dodge wrenches and avoid getting hit by oncoming traffic (Patches says, "if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball."). Average Joe's training scenes provide the film with some appropriate slapstick comedy, which is about as perfect of a way for the film to keep up its silliness when the characters aren't engaging in silly conversations. I also got a kick out of the dodgeball tournament being played on ESPN 8, where, "if it's almost a sport, we've got it here." This is the kind of movie that should never ever take itself seriously, and Dodgeball does just that.
- Ben Stiller has plenty of hilarious and memorable lines, but in the long run, he is a bit of a mixed bag. For all the good moments that Stiller has, he also has a fair share of awkward, unfunny ones, in which he doesn't know when to shut up and move on. Some of his lines are straight up awkward and make no sense at all, but awkward unfunny lines are a staple in almost all Ben Stiller comedies, so that should be no surprise to anyone who has seen enough of them. Thankfully, there's more good Stiller than bad Stiller here, so this low point is more like a semi-low point.
There's no need to go too deep into Dodgeball, and I should stop this review now before I spoil any more funny lines. The whole thing is an enjoyable and gleefully ridiculous sports comedy that never takes itself seriously, being highlighted by a plethora of quotable lines. And as an added bonus, the various dodgeball games we get to watch throughout the movie are a ton of fun. You can watch this movie over and over and not ever be the least bit bored with it; there's just too much silliness and profanity going on for Dodgeball to ever be considered boring. Dodgeball may not ever go on to be considered a sports comedy "classic", but it's got enough talent and enough memorable humor to stand out from the crowd. That's a hit, if you ask me.
What the hell are you?
Predators is directed by Nimrod Antal and stars Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins, and Laurence Fishburne.
The good news is that Predators, the third installment in the Predator franchise (not counting the two wretched AvP movies), brings the franchise back towards what made it work so well in the first place. We return to the jungle setting that we had in the first film, and as the title would imply, we now have multiple Predators running around and using the jungle as their hunting ground, not just one. Ironically, the Predator franchise shares this promising sequel premise with that of Aliens in the Alien franchise: Alien gave us just one of the Alien creatures, and then Aliens multiplied that number tenfold. Now after the disappointment that was Predator 2, the Predator franchise can redeem itself by unleashing a sequel that has the potential to be up there with Aliens.
Unfortunately, Predators does not fully deliver on that promise, instead preventing the Predator franchise from fully taking off and becoming the powerhouse sci-fi franchise that it could possibly become. For starters, there are not enough Predators to justify the title; there's about four or five Predators tops throughout the whole movie. Secondly, there is nothing of a coordinated effort on the part of the Predators nor even the humans to accurately state that this movie is a battle between humans and Predators. More so, this is a movie that's built up to seem like it's a bunch of humans being hunted by a swarm of Predators, only for the movie to take a series of twists and turns and end up being something a little more unexpected, but still disappointing.
The movie opens with a man named Royce (Adrien Brody) waking up and finding that he is falling from the sky. Royce parachutes down into an unknown jungle, where he comes across several others who arrived in a similar fashion. The group reaches higher ground and find themselves staring at some alien skyline, confirming that they are not on Earth. The jungle they are in is a gaming preserve for a group of advanced Predators, who are watching the group from up in the trees. Things gets a little more complicated, however, when the group discovers a captive Predator and then later meet a surviving American soldier named Noland (Laurence Fishburne).
- Predators doesn't hold back on the nasty scale; the kills are bloody, and Nimrod Antal isn't afraid to be graphic with characters (and Predators) getting body parts chopped off. The movie also gets a little more creative with how its characters get axed off one at a time and not just have the Predators kill everyone one by one. Some characters go out in a "blaze of glory" type fashion, and the ones that don't, well, a Predator kills them in a delightfully bloody way.
- The script makes Adrien Brody's character frustrating to watch, primarily because he feels the need to explain the plot to us time and time again. Brody's Royce is able to deduce things like the jungle being a gaming preserve without a whole lot of information, simply just....having a hunch for figuring things out. Usually, it's necessary for a movie character to explain certain plot details to us, but not to constantly go into monologues that pause the movie so that the character can ensure that we are up to speed with what's going on. Royce also isn't exactly the most charming person you'll ever meet, taking cynicism wherever the group goes. One character named Edwin (Topher Grace) gets badly injured, and Royce insists that they just leave him behind or use him as bait for the Predators. For Royce, his own survival matters most, and you'll either love him or hate him for it.
- Predators also likes to repeat quips and sequences that are straight out of Predator, in an imprudent attempt to try and win nostalgia points. The climactic battle is a carbon copy of Schwarzenegger versus the Predator from the first film, and boy is Adrien Brody a far cry from Arnold's charm and lovable machismo. The story itself isn't a total retread of Predator's story, but it's sorely lacking the suspense and the muscle that made the first film so great, even though the plot for Predator was rather thin. A sequel is usually doing more harm than good by taking stuff from its predecessors and recycling them. Isn't the idea of a sequel to expand upon the first film and do something different?
After watching Predators for the first time, I found it to be worse than Predator 2. But after re-watching both of those films recently, I might have to give the slight edge to Predators, which, despite several writing issues, still features some good, bloody action that keeps up the fracnhise's long-running strength of delivering amusing, violent kills. Also, Predators tries to recapture the magic of the first film, which is what makes it beat out Predator 2 for me. Outside of the action though, Predators doesn't offer up much else. The characters are boring, and there are simply not enough Predators for this movie to be the smash hit that it could have been. Seriously, this could have been the next Aliens had it been placed in the right hands. Instead, the Predator franchise continues its notorious reputation of wasted potential, leaving it as yet another long-running franchise in which one or two fantastic films are weighed down by a series of lackluster sequels. The Alien franchise and the Jaws franchise also fit that description, if you needed further examples. Film-goers don't always need sequels to get a good movie experience.
Recommend? No, buy if you liked Predator 2, then you might enjoy this one.
You can't see the eyes of the demon, until him come callin'
Predator 2 is directed by Stephen Hopkins and stars Danny Glover, Ruben Blades, Gary Busey, Maria Conchita Alonso, and Bill Paxton. Kevin Peter Hall reprises his role as the eponymous Predator.
Almost nothing about John McTiernan's Predator was begging for a sequel, but here we are anyway with Predator 2. The Predator has ditched the jungle as his hunting ground and is now taking the hunt to the big city. One slight problem though: all of the suspense and horror to be had in the original Predator is gone. Now the Predator finds himself in a serviceable-at-best, sci-fi action film that attempts to also be horror by throwing in a few cheap jump scares. Arnold Schwarzenegger refused to return for the sequel, claiming a dislike for both the new director and the new script, and going as far as stating that taking the Predator into an urban environment was a bad idea. Originally, there was not supposed to be any sequel at all, but screenwriters Jim Thomas and John Thomas wanted to wait and see how successful the Predator comic book series would be before they would give any consideration to a Predator sequel. When the comic books turned out to be a smash hit, producer Joel Silver convinced Fox to proceed with a sequel, which, as of 2018, turned out to be the first of three sequels.
The story of Predator 2 takes place during 1997 in a heat-stricken Los Angeles. In addition to the heat, LA is enduring a turf war between Colombian and Jamaican drug cartels. The movie opens with a shootout between the Colombians and the LAPD, while a Predator watches the carnage from the rooftops. Lieutenant Michael Harrigan (Danny Glover) arrives on the scene and helps the police push the Colombians back into their hideout. However, just before Harrigan and the police can storm the building, the Predator sneaks in and slaughters all of the Colombians. Later on, the Predator strikes again and slaughters several Jamaican cartel members. Harrigan and his team, comprised of detectives Leona Cantrell (Maria Conchita Alonso), Danny Archuleta (Ruben Blades), and Jerry Lambert (Bill Paxton), realize that there may be a connection to the killings, as the Predator leaves behind skinned corpses at each crime scene. However, a DEA task force, led by Special Agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey), impede Harrington's efforts towards tracking down the secret assassin, leading Harrington to believe that Keyes has his own agenda in mind.
The strangest thing about the story is how the Predator doesn't really belong here. Never mind that this is all happening in a baking hot Los Angeles instead of a steamy jungle or some other place that seems prime for the Predator to appear in. What exactly is it about two warring drug cartels that screams, "technologically advanced alien hunter?" The Predator is just some neutral third-party in this drug war, and because he's an extra-terrestrial, he's the deadliest of the bunch. Any further exploration that Predator 2 does of the Predator's origins is completely disjointed from the main story, as if Jim Thomas and John Thomas were busy writing a different movie while they waited to for the Predator comic books to make bank, and then when the comic books did turn out successful, they didn't want to scrap the movie they already started, so they just found a way to sneak the Predator into the script. Whatever the case, Predator 2 feels more like a crime movie that just happens to have the Predator in it instead of....well, a Predator movie.
- Though Predator 2 represents something of a major dip in quality when compared to the first film, the action it provides is still entertaining enough. The kills are still bloody, though not as high on the nasty scale. The Predator does get to show off a few cool new tricks, such as changing his thermal vision to better match his surroundings. Too bad that the majority of thermal vision shots we see are entirely pointless; the Predator just watches people have a conversation, and we get no impression that the Predator's eavesdropping is going to build up to anything later on. I'm glad Kevin Peter Hall came back to work in the Predator suit again; he makes the creature's movements look realistic and make it look like the Predator has some mobility to him, as opposed to the stiff limitations brought on by CGI.
- The bad writing goes beyond the nonsensical plot (nonsensical because it's supposed to center on the Predator); it also presents weak characters who aren't that much fun to watch. Bill Paxton is the obvious comic relief, except he has neither nothing funny to do nor nothing funny to say. Maria Conchita Alonso and Gary Busey are....there. They fire a few bullets and have separate encounters with the Predator. I guess that counts for something. But Danny Glover, oh boy. The fact that he's one of those cliched obsessed cops is forgivable, but the way that Glover goes about saying his lines and just the overall way he presents himself: it's not good. Glover is incredibly uptight throughout the whole movie, attempting to recapture the macho from Schwarzenegger and everybody in the first movie by unloading petty insults to everyone that pisses him off even a little bit, and by resolving a tough situation by any violent means necessary, such as punching a reporter who starts following him. The Predator singles out Glover's character only because of how obsessed he is, but I assure you, watching some random cop go up against a Predator is nowhere near as exciting as watching a brawny man like Schwarzenegger face off against one. In short, Glover doesn't have much to work with other than acting obsessed and angry all the time, and it doesn't seem like anyone cared to make his character stand out more.
If there's anything else outside of some decent action that Predator 2 has going for itself, it's that the film has developed a cult following over the years. I, however, don't see exactly what it is about this movie that makes it deserving of cult status; there's no memorable dialogue, and the plot is senseless. There's also nothing resembling unintentional hilarity, and if Predator 2 was unintentionally hilarious, then, my gosh, would I have a lot more nice things to say! The whole thing is a far cry from the muscle, the action, and the horror in the first film, being hampered by a flimsy lead performance from Danny Glover and a script that makes the Predator seem like he's in the wrong movie. It's a good sci-fi action time waster, at best and if you look at it on its own. But given what this movie is supposed to follow up on, Predator 2 can only be viewed as a colossal disappointment.
Recommend? No. You might enjoy it if you loved the first movie, but that's no guarantee.
Soon The Hunt Will Begin
Predator is directed by John McTiernan and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers. Kevin Peter Hall stars as the eponymous antagonist.
When John McTiernan's Predator first hit theaters back in June 1987, reviews claimed the film to be dull, derivative, and predictable. Subsequent years have put the film into a much more positive light, however, with more recent reviews calling it one of the best movies of the action and sci-fi genres. I would like to add a little more onto the movie's renewed consensus: this is one of the manliest movies you will ever see. Predator is pure testosterone, with enough muscle and man-power to turn Steve Urkel into Terry Crews. The very title, Predator, makes one think of hunting: something usually associated with men. There's also hulking biceps, big-ass guns, and blood and gore, more stuff that goes with men. I apologize if any of this sounds like a knock on women; the movie just leaves no space for things that are normally associated with women.
There are honestly very few action movies that I believe to be non-stop from start to finish; the film is ACTION from the first second of the run time all the way until the last second, no time for relaxation at any point, because the story won't give its characters any breaks so that they can sit down and catch their breath. As the entire movie represents a hunt, the characters are constantly on edge, because even if they let their guard down for a split second, they're goners. The hunting ground is a dense jungle that is insanely hot; sweat glistens on the characters' faces. Traversing the jungle takes a toll on them, but it doesn't matter how sweaty and exhausted they feel. Their hunter is smart, fast, and deadly.
The story follows a rescue squad led by Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer (Schwarzenegger), who are sent to a Central American jungle to rescue hostages being held by insurgents. The squad is accompanied by CIA agent Al Dillon (Carl Weathers). Shortly after landing in the jungle, they discover several skinned corpses hanging up in the trees, with Dutch identifying the men as Green Berets that he knew personally. The squad reaches the insurgents' camp and kill all of the insurgents, but Dillon reveals that the rescue mission was really a setup to acquire operative intelligence, and that the dead military unit they came across earlier had disappeared weeks ago on a failed rescue mission. The squad captures a woman named Anna and move on to their extraction point. Unbeknownst to the group, they are being followed by a creature that tracks them using heat vision. The creature then begins to kill members of the group one by one, dragging the bodies away afterwards.
- Normally, when you've got a Herculean actor like Schwarzenegger in the lead, you really don't have much of anything in regards to suspense (a lesson that Dwayne Johnson hasn't seemed to learn yet). However, Predator renders Arnold's Herculean physique useless, because the eponymous creature, a technologically-advanced and very cool-looking alien, has a wide range of advanced weaponry that make Arnold's muscles and guns look laughable by comparison. The alien is also shielded by a cloaking device while maneuvering through the jungle trees, and Arnold is unable to stop the creature from killing member after member of his squad. The question of how Arnold can possibly defeat this alien creature is how the film so expertly builds tension, while pure excitement remains at a sky high level with all of the action going on.
- The action itself is as good as you'd hope from John McTiernan. The bullets fly, the blood splatters, and the Predator kills are as nasty as you hoped they would be. And with testosterone oozing out of nearly every frame, this is an action junkie's dream come true.
- The plot details involving the rescue mission don't make a whole lot of sense and are quickly forgotten about once the Predator enters the scene. In all honesty though, the entire plot is rather thin. But because the movie is so strong with what it wants to do with its action and its antagonist, it ought to make anyone completely forgiving of any and all shortcomings the plot may have. Some characters aren't given much to do, even though everyone is in the same boat: being hunted by the Predator. All in all, no one is going to win an Oscar here for acting or for screenwriting, but with the action being so muscular and hard-hitting, acting and screenwriting should be the least of your worries.
If there ever was an action movie that puts the emphasis on action, it would be John McTiernan's Predator, a movie that is a non-stop thrill ride and a movie that masterfully blends together sci-fi, action, and horror. Not every action movie can take a Hulk like Arnold and turn him into a vulnerable hero that looks weak when standing next to an alien creature, even one that is armored and sports a cloaking device, thermal vision, and an arsenal of advanced weaponry. Predator is also one of the manliest movies out there, with so much testosterone that you may need to check if you grew any facial hair by the time the end credits start rolling. The movie is certain to be as exciting during viewing number 100 as it is during viewing number one. It's a shame that no one can make action movies like these anymore.
I've seen you guys can shoot, but there's more to the game than shooting.
Hoosiers is directed by David Anspaugh and stars Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, and Dennis Hopper. The film is very loosely based on the Milan High School basketball team that won the 1954 state championship.
'Sweet' is a word that gets thrown around a lot in sports movies. Nothing in sports pulls the heart strings more than the jubilation of seeing an underdog team overcome the odds and win it all. Part of what makes sports so enthralling is the sheer unpredictability of them; all of the expert opinions and analysis in the world can never EVER guarantee what will actually happen. Sadly, this unpredictability is not a luxury that is present to us in a sports movie, as the final result is whatever the screenwriter(s) want the final result to be. And because no one likes to watch a hated team win the championship, our central, "heroic" sports team will usually triumph, unless there is some "greater lesson" to be learned by not winning the title.
The journey of an underdog overcoming the odds to win it all in a sports movie is one that's filled with cliches: the montage of the team winning games left and right, the coach with a checkered past, the motivational speech about how everyone's going to be a winner at the end of the day. There is no doubting the fact that Hoosiers contains all of these cliches, but what's fascinating is how undeniably sweet the movie still is, never turning into joyless sports mediocrity. Hoosiers lets its sweetness come naturally; the movie relies on the natural talents of Gene Hackman, while keeping its historical inspiration at a minimum, using the story of the 1954 Milan High School state championship to drive the movie's story in the right direction, not serve as the be all end all.
Taking place in 1951, the story follows high school teacher and basketball coach Normal Dale (Hackman). He arrives in a rural town in Hickory, Indiana, and meets with his long-time friend and the town's high school principle Cletus Summers (Sheb Wooley), who hired Dale to be the high school's new basketball coach. The school is incredibly small, with only seven players available on the basketball team. Nonetheless, the townspeople are passionate about basketball, although everyone is upset that the town's best basketball player Jimmy Chitwood (Maris Valainis) would rather focus purely on his grades. Dale struggles to become acquainted with the team, forcing them to play a slower style that ends up proving ineffective. Dale also loses his temper and gets himself ejected in several games. On top of all that, Dale also finds himself having to deal with the town drunk, Wilbur Flatch (Dennis Hopper): a father of one of the players who, despite his drinking, is quite knowledgeable of the game.
The one part of Hoosiers' story that elevates it above other sports films is how it happens in a place that would appear as a tiny dot on a map. That is to say, Hoosiers suggests that some of the best people and some of the best stories can happen in the smallest of places, sort of like how Fargo used the tagline, "A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere", while proceeding to tell a complex story out in snowy, where-the-hell-are-we Minnesota. The players in Hoosiers start the film already being good at basketball; they just need to learn to work with their new coach. The cliches are spun enough so that the journey of the Huskers' basketball team isn't one that's totally by the numbers.
- Hoosiers brings its sweetness out naturally and not by force feeding it. The movie earns its stripes through some clearly defined character development and through maximizing its small-scale setting. Normal Dale and Wilbur Flatch are the two best characters, with both having the same problem: needing to overcome a personal demon in order to do what they love. The whole town of Hickory, Indiana, meanwhile, is small but mighty, and no new coach has to come along to get them to be passionate about their basketball team. The Huskers' run to the state title is a victory for all the small-town people and small-market cities who don't always get in the spotlight: those teams that aren't big-market names like the New York Yankees of baseball and the Los Angeles Lakers of basketball. Small-market sports teams aren't always bad; it's just that they sometimes provide the best stories in sports, and it's the type of story that Hoosiers takes and runs with.
- The cliches are there, but this is one sports movie where they ought to be forgiven. Look past the cliches, and the only other real problem at work is that the movie tries to force a romance between Dale and another teacher at the high school, Myra Fleener (Barbara Hershey). I don't know why it's there, nor could I tell you any significance that the romance has on the story. The romance is....there, and that's it. Dale and Myra talk about life and go for some walks together, but that's the extent of what we get between them. Screenwriter Angela Pizzo must have thought it to be extra sweet to have Dale develop feelings for one of the townspeople, until after a few drafts, he realized it was too late for him to do anything else with Dale's romance as a subplot, yet he refused to take out of the script anyway. The romance does nothing for plot progression, and it isn't all that important to Dale's character development. It's supposed to be the sprinkles on top of this ice cream sundae of sweetness, except that the sprinkles have no flavor.
It's debatable to say of Hoosiers is one of the greatest sports films of all time, but it certainly makes a strong case to be one: achieving a high degree of sweetness in spite of all of the usual sports film cliches as well as overcoming a romantic subplot that goes next to nowhere. Gene Hackman thrives as Coach Dale, and Dennis Hopper works wonderfully in his role as the town's drunkard. The movie as a whole is a salute to all of the small-city, small-town, small-whatever teams that almost no one would give a chance to, those teams that had to overcome the odds more than any other team in order to prove that they matter. Even though Hoosiers is about basketball, its salute is to all the small sports teams, no matter the sport. The movie earns its sweetness, and whether you're a sports fan or not, earned sweetness is a sweetness that we can all stand up and cheer for.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: