Archive for the ‘3. Film Reviews’ Category

#4: Predator

predator-posterNUMBER 4


Director: John McTiernan

Starring: Arnold Schwarznegger, Carl Weathers, Kevin Peter Hall

Year: 1987

IMDB Rating: 7.8/10

The 80s was the era of the action flick, where everything was large and loud; large guns and loud explosions, large muscles and loud one-liners. It was an era for badassery, and leading the way was none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Austrian man of pure muscle packed a punch and made many successful films during the decade, including: Commando, Red Heat, and The Running Man. All of these films are cheesy popcorn-flicks that can be enjoyed over again and require very little brain function to watch. One of the films featuring Schwarzenegger was Predator, an action film with a science-fiction twist.


Released in 1987, the film takes place in a remote jungle in Central America, where an elite special task force  are sent on a mission to rescue hostages from guerrilla territory (when I was a kid, I thought the film was referring to gorillas…idiot). Leading the six-man team is Dutch (Schwarzenegger), who is tasked by CIA “pencil pusher” Dillon (Weathers) to infiltrate the base of the insurgents and rescue any surviving hostages. The film begins like any standard action-film and, for the first 30 minutes, you wouldn’t think the film had anything to do with aliens. After completing their mission, the team head back to their extraction point and suddenly the genre shifts to horror as members of the team are picked off one by one by an unseen, otherworldly hunter.


The script is lacking in character development and nuance, save for the titular Predator, which is an intimidating and mysterious character that hunts the survivors with deadly determination. While sequels and crossover films have since explored the backstory of the Predator species, I’ve found that they diminish the intrigue of the original character and I prefer to speculate on the creature using the short amount of evidence provided in Predator. Why has it come to Earth? Is it alone? These questions and their inferences provide a more fulfilling film in my opinion.


Why is it one of my favourite films? I like the setting, the genre switch after the first act and the aforementioned mystery of the Predator. It’s an easy watch and epitomises Schwarzenegger’s career and the trend of the 80s action film.

Trailer (Classic 80s Cheese):

Get to the Chopper:


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Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Tim Roth

Release: May 1994

Run Time: 154 Minutes

Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is a highly stylised post-modern American crime film. Held in high regard by critics and film study students, Pulp Fiction is known for its eclectic dialogue, ironic humour and violence, and a host of cinematic and pop culture references. Its non-linear story revolves around mobsters, small time criminals, and a MacGuffin briefcase.

Set in Los Angeles during the 1990s, Pulp Fiction’s narrative structure is broken down into seven sections, each with their own distinctive characters. Like most of Tarantino’s films, the sections are in a non-chronological order, but every story is original and beautifully relates to one another without straying too much from the bigger picture. Expect to see an armed robbery, many assassinations, a drug overdose, a katana, and a gimp in this mixed bag of bloody violence and crude wit.

The acting is phenomenal, with award-nominated performances from John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, and the lascivious Uma Thurman. Bruce Willis’ act as aging boxer Butch is a terrific addition and the role of Jules Winnfield couldn’t have been played by anyone else but Jackson, who brings misdemeanour and fury to the role. But the real star of the movie is Tarantino himself, and not as whipped husband Jimmy, but in his role as director and writer. The script is confidently written; the banter between the characters is extremely entertaining no matter how mundane the subject is. In terms of direction, there are some brilliant themes and creative decisions that he chose to implement, all of which make the film feel as good as it is. Elements such as: keeping Marsellus Wallace identity hidden until you least expect it, the briefcase that’s nothing more than a plot device, Vincent Vega’s (John Travolta) chaotic toilet visits, and the elaborate links that interweave each story are just some of the many little things that make this film so good.

Its cool style, sound, music, and film references are fundamentals for a Tarantino film, as is the excessive use of the F-word. Pulp Fiction is a modern classic with a crass attitude and an outstanding cast that will be remembered for a very long time.

Helen’s Thoughts:

Right, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t like Tarantino’s films, because I quite like some of them – Kill Bill for example – but Pulp Fiction was the worst one I’ve seen. Why? I don’t like ironic violence, and if I wanted to watch a film about drug use I’d watch Trainspotting again. I’m not disputing the fact the acting was good – I like Bruce Willis – but I really didn’t like the subject matter. The thing that annoys me about Tarantino’s films is that you can’t quite believe they’d actually happen; I prefer something to be either fantastical or true to life, not something in between. I can understand why people would like Pulp Fiction and I’m glad I’ve seen it, but I wouldn’t watch it again. I think a lot of pretentious people claim to like films like this because of the cult status they have and think that they should like them; I’m not going to pretend I like a film just to be cool.

VERDICT: Not for me.

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Stephen Fry

Release: February 2010

Run Time: 109 Minutes

What do you think of when you hear or read the name Tim Burton? Dark gothic cinema, surrealism, Johnny Depp? Perhaps the savvier movie goers will acquaint the director with composer Danny Elfman? Whatever you think, you know the name and his work, and a film that carries his title is going to rouse expectations. There’s a familiar essence to his movies that we’ve grown to admire or despise; some would say his ability to twist innocuous stories into dark themed films is a stroke of genius, while others claim he regurgitates the same idea over and over again. Despite your beliefs, there’s no denying his reputation. He epitomises directional identity with his quirky and bizarre filming style – or as Jonathan Ross puts it: “Being a bit weird.”  But what of Alice and Wonderland? A Disney production with Burton at the helm surely raised a few optimistic and cynical eyebrows. Fans of Burton can expect the usual fundamentals: stunning visuals, an all star cast and fantastic animations, but – and this is very unfortunate – it’s not enough to excuse the disappointing script that the former facets attempt to cover up.

Burton’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s stories is not a re-imagining or a sequel but rather an attempt to make sense of Wonderland. During many press conferences leading up to the film’s release, Burton stated that he felt the original story was a series of events with no emotional connection; Alice seemed to wander from one mad character to the next. However, in this new tale she’s all grown up and facing the perils of adulthood.

Alice Kingsley (Mia Wasikowska) is a troubled 19-year-old who has been tormented by dreams of strange creatures since she was a child. While attending a formal garden party at a lavish Victorian estate, it becomes abundantly clear that Alice is somewhat socially inept; she speaks her mind freely and has a non-conformist view of the world. After discovering that the formal affair she’s attending is actually her engagement party, Alice is lured away from her red-headed betrothed by the elusive White Rabbit (Michael Sheen). After stumbling down the rabbit hole and ensuring she meets Wonderland’s height requirements, Alice finds herself face to face with some familiar inhabitants, most notably The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp). Wonderland, or Underland as the residents call it, has taken a turn for the worse under the relentless rule of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). With the power of the fearsome Jabberwocky protecting her, the big-headed monarch wishes to prevent the prophecy that states her downfall and demands Alice’s capture. The premise is great, but it’s not wholly original; Steven Spielberg’s 1991 film Hook staring Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman is quite similar.

The intent and heart of the story is fine, but the deliverance is all wrong. After twenty-minutes of reintroducing characters, Burton shifts his focus to the Mad Hatter. The schizophrenic steals the limelight from Alice and the story becomes more about him. There are countless allusions to a special bond that both he and Alice share but it’s very underdeveloped. Alice is a reluctant protagonist who believes it all to be a dream and is doubtful of her purpose until the very last minute, although her belief gives her an unwavering confidence when dealing with each character, her inner conflict comes across rather generic and clichéd; she goes from zero to hero quite suddenly.

The characters certainly look the part. Depp’s Mad Hatter is pale skinned like his Sweeney Todd and his ginger-hair obviously refers to mercury poisoning that many Victorian hatters suffered from. Even the pristine characters, Alice and the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), are stained with dark circles under their eyes, giving off a sweet-but-psycho demeanour. Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas) look brilliantly gormless. And you certainly won’t forget the Red Queen; her huge head is humorous, and her intolerant behaviour is reminiscent of Blackadder’s Queenie. The voice-acting from Stephen Fry, Timothy Spall, and Alan Rickman is a great addition, but their characters have very little screen time, however, the animation and CGI wizardry used to create them are spectacular.

Burton’s vision of Wonderland is a mixture of vibrant gardens, post-apocalyptic wastelands, and chessboard battle fields, which, when considering the source material, seems a little short-changed. The 3D effects are cheap and second-rate; occasionally a spear will almost jab your eyes out, and Danny Elfman’s score lacks any originality.

From an objective point of view it seemed that this film relied heavily on Burton and Depp’s involvement, so much so that they forgot to tweak some of the fundamentals. The promotional TV spots affirm this theory as they only featured their names and footage of Depp. That’s not to say he doesn’t give a great performance, he does; his split-personality adds a dangerous side to the character. But the film sacrificed purposeful story-telling for first-class acting and wondrous animation.

Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is a great way of introducing young kids to the Lewis Carroll’s tales; the wacky characters and their quirky antics will certainly appeal to small children. You wouldn’t expect much more from Disney, but the older generation should expect more from Burton. His name carries a reputation unmatched by any other director save maybe Tarantino. Your journey down the rabbit-hole will certainly open your eyes, but you probably won’t want to go back for more.


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Director: John McTiernan

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Jesse Ventura

Release: June 1987

Run Time: 107 Minutes

So it’s the beginning of a new feature for Now Loading, and it’s a rather personal one too. The fundamental purpose is to just have fun with it, so I hope that you’ll enjoy it as much as I have implementing it. Helen Lauder is my long term girlfriend and she is fairly inept when it comes to movie trivia. It must be excruciatingly embarrassing for her father, a self-proclaimed film buff, when she hasn’t seen some of the must-see motion pictures of our time. Being the caring natured individual she fell for, I decided to take it upon myself to educate her by revisiting some of the great films I’ve seen and watching them in her company. I will give the film a quick review, and then Helen will have an opportunity to vent her thoughts on the feature.

Predator is a sci-fi action film that was conceived when two script-writers took a Hollywood joke about Rocky fighting an alien a little too seriously. Originally called Hunter, the screenplay was picked up by 20th Century Fox, who hired John McTiernan (Commando) to direct. Despite horrendous filming conditions and interruptions – Schwarzenegger had to leave for his wedding during filming – and the poor Predator actor who couldn’t see out of the suit, the film was completed; the result being a suspense action film with cheap thrills and boisterous violence.

The story is set in the Guatemala jungle when Schwarzenegger’s character, Dutch, and his band of testosterone bleeding soldiers head out on a rescue mission. Dillon, a CIA operative played by Carl ‘Apollo Creed’ Weathers, claims that a presidential cabinet minister has been kidnapped by guerrilla forces. However after storming the guerrilla camp it is discovered that the story was fabricated – “It was all bullshit,” as Dutch accurately states – and the team decide to head to the extraction point. But in the trees the Predator has been watching, examining the soldiers’ skills, learning their language, and preparing to pick them off one at a time.

It’s your typical action film, with big guns and even bigger biceps. The acting is highly questionable and the film has very little dialogue after the first thirty minutes, presumably because the acting was so bad, although Schwarzenegger gives one of his best performances. The story is fairly straight forward and idiotically easy to follow and yet despite these criticisms, it is a terrific film. These almost superhuman men being scared out of their wits by an unseen horror is an excellent premise. The main characters merciless ambush on the guerrillas in the first act compared to the Predator’s relentless stalking of the same characters in the second is a dynamite twist of power and control.

Predator scores points for its trepidation and photography, and even though its sequel and Alien vs. Predator spin offs are catastrophically bad, the original remains a fond memory to everyone who ever saw it.

Helen’s Thoughts:

It was horrendously atrocious. I’m not exactly a girly-girl when it comes to films because I don’t like chick flicks, but oh my god. There was far too much testosterone, pointless shooting into the vegetation – those poor trees – and steroid induced sweaty muscles for my liking. I like my action films to have a bit more depth and a bit more dialogue, though to be fair I doubt the actors in Predator could have carried off a longer script. So if you’re into watching big sweaty men shooting guns at weird looking aliens I suppose it’s a film for you, but it’s not my cup of tea – not that I like tea.

VERDICT: I hope Alec makes me watch something a little more classy next time.

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Director: James Cameron

Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez

Release: December 2009

Run Time: 162 Minutes

Until 2009, the general cinema-going public had never heard of Avatar, and I firmly put myself in that category. It wasn’t until the summer of last year that its marketing campaign exploded onto the internet and into other forms of media like a sweet factory. Slogans and quotes from ‘film buffs’ were claiming that Avatar would be the future of cinema and the best-selling movie ever. James Cameron, who spent most of the Noughties lying dormant, had not written and directed a film since Titanic, the highest grossing film of all time. So his track record – albeit minuscule – is pretty impressive, giving a clear explanation as to why he was given a blank check to fund his latest release.

Now for some background information. The year is 2154, Earth’s resources are all but gone and a human mining corporation has discovered an Earth-like moon called Pandora, which has a valuable resource called Unobtanium (cringe). The human race is mainly represented by a Bush-era American military, all testosterone and very little compassion. The natives of Pandora, the blue humanoid/feline Na’vi, are reluctant to have their home world desecrated by these invaders, especially since they live in harmony with the flora and fauna. Worshipping a Mother-Nature-like goddess, the tribal approach of the Na’vi is a clichéd contrast to the humans with their spaceships and bulldozers, seen in many similar films before it.

Avatar tells the story of a paraplegic former marine, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who has been offered a position on Pandora in the Avatar Program. This program, which intends to make peace with the alien species, allows a human mind to be transferred into the body of a Na’vi, called an avatar. The head of the program, Doctor Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), considers Sully to be inadequate for the role, classing him as a jarhead marine, especially once she finds out he reports to the merciless Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who heads up the ignorant mining corporation’s security detail. During one of the program’s excursions, Sully is separated from his group and encounters Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), a female Na’vi, and princess of the Omaticaya clan. From then on Cameron delivers two acts of montages, character development, and predictable plot setups.

Visually, Avatar is a strikingly beautiful film; there is no doubt about that. Credit must seriously go to the art and animation production teams, who make Pandora look so breathtaking, albeit impossible. The twinkling foliage that sparkles with the softest tread and the gravity defying mountains are awe-inspiring. The Na’vi aesthetic is incredible; expressions and facial twitches augment Cameron’s eye for detail.

A 3D film has never looked so convincing before, and Cameron hasn’t resorted to cheap tricks. The immense battle scenes provide many nail-biting moments, but they don’t match up to the organisation and splendour of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you have the privilege of a 3D cinema screen within 15 miles of your home, then it’s worth the journey. The cast are genuinely superb: Weaver is as brilliant as ever, playing the strict scientist with a sharp wit and great resilience to the corporations’ ignorance, and unknown Worthington makes an astonishing debut as the broken man looking for redemption.


Avatar is an unoriginal plot woven together with numerous special effects, and despite an imaginative setting, the plot fails to accomplish anything more than ecological symbolism and good old fashioned love and betrayal. However, it is crowded with stunning visuals and features impressive advancements in special FX technology. Arguably, Avatar is not the future of movies: it’s not in the league of King Kong or Citizen Kane in terms of definitive cinema, but it is an enjoyable experience worth seeing.


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Director: Malcom Venville

Cast: Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Ian McShane, Tom Wilkinson

Release: January 2010

Run Time: 95 Minutes

Let’s talk expectations. In 2000, Sexy Beast, a fundamental staple in hard-man gangster films, was released. The Brit-crime classic features a genuinely entertaining script with plenty of twists and turns, along with Ben Kingsley’s exceptional performance of sociopath Don Logan. Audiences and critics worldwide held writing collaboration Louis Mellis and David Scinto in high-regard, showering them with praise and positive reviews. However, the thrills of that success story gave people expectations that the next project from these writers would be just as brilliant. Unfortunately that’s not the case.

44 Inch Chest is very much an actor’s movie, better suited for the stage rather than the big screen. It tells the story of Colin Diamond (Ray Winstone), whose wife, Liz (Joanne Whalley), has admitted to having an affair with a young French waiter. As he brutally falls into an emotional breakdown, Diamond gathers his partners in crime to kidnap Liz’s new man from his trendy French bistro. From then on the film takes place in a desolate East End hellhole, where Diamond’s middle-aged mates encourage him to torture and kill the aforementioned waiter. It’s an exceptional premise, but it’s poorly executed, with enough expletives to make even Scorsese or Tarantino cringe. Those who were expecting a gangster film will be overly disappointed, as this is more a tale of a middle-aged man coping with the loss of his wife, rather than a blood-soaked action film. Its language definitely ticks all the boxes for that genre, but this film is all talk and no walk.

However, the film is bearable due to three excellent performances. It’s great to see a different side of Winstone; his hard-man persona takes a backseat as his character slowly sinks into manic depression. The film’s opening scene shows a teary-eyed Winstone on the floor of a destroyed living room, the song Without You playing in the background. As the film progresses, his character begins to lose touch with reality, and the third act walks down an surrealism path as Diamond faces his demons. Almost stealing the limelight is Ian McShane. His character, Meredith, a gay narcissist with a devilish wit and sinister demeanour, provides much of the films comical moments, especially when his dialogue bounces off John Hurt’s Old Man Peanut. Hurt brilliantly portrays this cantankerous grump, who encourages Diamond to murder the man who ruined his life.

Venville’s direction is interesting, albeit heavily influenced by the work of Stanley Kubrick. The choices made to the scenes that involve Diamond’s geezer mates representing aspects of his psyche, are inspired and professionally approached. Unfortunately it’s not enough to save the film from being a disappointment. The ending is anti-climatic, albeit thoughtful, and there are too many silent moments as Winstone looks blankly on.

44 Inch Chest is a film that contains extraordinary talent, which fails to shine through at the right moment. The plot hops along from C-word to F-word too frequently, and the callous gags are too few. Winstone, McShane and Hurt’s performances are compelling, but they are not enough to make this film worth watching. The beast remains the best.


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Director: Guy Ritchie
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Guy Ritchie, Mark Strong, Rachal McAdams
Release: December 2009
Run Time: 128 Minutes

There’s a great deal of eccentricity in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, and contrary to many national newspaper reviews, his portrayal of the admired logician is not a misunderstanding, but rather an original and entertaining adaptation. Ritchie has wonderfully flipped the character on his head – losing the deerstalker in the process – and the end result is a faithful, albeit distorted, film based on the books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

This exciting spin on Sherlock Holmes breathes new life for younger generations to enjoy, who will probably remember this film as their formal introduction to the detective. Aficionados do not fear though, your beloved character has not been mistreated, there is an abundance of references and allusions to the books, which take shape in slight nods to previous cases, a patriotic VR design done in bullet-pocks in Holmes bohemian residence, Watson’s gambling problem hindered by Holmes, who holds his chequebook, and the drug taking, which has been gratefully dumbed-down – it is a 12A after all.

The plot begins with Holmes (Robert Downey Jr), and his ally and ‘biographer” Doctor John Watson (Jude Law), apprehending Lord Blackwood (Guy Ritchie regular Mark Strong), a Satanist who vows to bring about the apocalypse using Satanic powers. After some seemingly impossible incidents take place, challenging the logical nature of our protagonist, it’s up to him and his reluctant ally to uncover the truth. It’s rather like The Da Vinci Code with hints of Jonathan Creek, and numerous unnecessary action set-pieces and jokes about Watson’s missus thrown in to mould scenes together. However, the plot comes to fruition quite brilliantly, leaving plenty of space for a sequel, with integral characters making their preparations, including femme fatale Irlene Adler (Rachel McAdams), and another character that won’t be identified here.

Downey’s Holmes bounces brilliantly off Law’s Watson, the pair being portrayed as a dysfunctional couple. The air fills with subtle admiration and – for lack of a better word – bromance when these two are left alone on screen. Downey brings essences of Captain Jack Sparrow to his role, never letting anyone in on his plan and delivering his deductions quite arrogantly. Liberties have been taken, Watson and Holmes apprehend villains violently, albeit comically, and Ritchie has brought his slow-mo effects to the table. On that note, it’s refreshing to see a different side of Ritchie’s direction, though his favoured flashbacks are used perfectly for Holmes deductions and calculations.

The soundtrack deserves a special mention, which was composed by Hans Zimmer with Lorne Balfe co-producing. Using violins (a favourite instrument of Holmes), banjos, oddly tuned pianos, and a cimbalom, Zimmer has created a gypsy like score that accurately compliments Holmes’ bohemian lifestyle. Interestingly, during editing, Ritchie used Zimmer’s score from The Dark Knight as temporary music, leading him to think of the renowned composer.

Sherlock Holmes has taken liberties, but in doing so, Ritchie has produced a blockbuster that will appeal to a mass audience. Die hard Holmes acolytes may scream sacrilege, but in order to introduce Holmes to a new generation, veil references had to be made. In deduction, it’s an entertaining, no holes barred action roller-coaster, polished with quick wit and grandeur. A must-see.


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