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The Predator ★★

Shane Black’s return to the Predator series results in a post-production mess.

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Director: Shane Black
Stars:  Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown
Released: 10th September 2018 (UK)

Since the Dark Horse heyday of the 1990s saw the Alien and Predator franchises explode into fanboy consciousness (and, for better or worse, begin to form their own shared universe), there’s been a firm emphasis in both franchises to dig well and truly into the mythos of what makes each series’ central creatures tick. It’s a logic enough question to ask, objectively speaking, who wouldn’t want to know? Yet, as anyone who sat through Alien vs. Predator, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, Prometheus, and Alien: Covenant can now absolutely attest – it’s not that you wouldn’t want to know, it’s that you shouldn’t.

Shane Black’s The Predator (because this lazy naming convention really does not want to die) continues to make this point, but does so in a begrudgingly different way – this time it’s not giving us the needless backstory of a culture that doesn’t need any to begin with, instead it’s giving us needless insight into the law-enforcement aspects of that culture and what their (suddenly generated) masterplan for the human race might involve. A plan (and eye-rolling sequel set-up) Roland Emmerich might want to have a chat with someone about at some point.

Brimming with all the charming bluster of the action-man’s Ryan Gosling, Logan’s Boyd Holbrook is our roguish lead – a PSTD-ridden special ops sniper whose first contact with a downed fugitive Predator sees him railroaded by his superiors and shipped off to the funny farm. It’s on the way to that funny farm that Holbrook is introduced to the most quintessentially Shane Black crop of action characters ever assembled – each literally introduced with such defining outlines as “he tells jokes” and “he blows s**t up” – an encounter which proves fortunate when their bus wanders haplessly into the path of a new “upgrade” Predator, having arrived to lay waste to the Earth in pursuit of his prey.

Though subject to release date changes – and subsequent reshoots – over the course of the past year, the long-awaited arrival of The Predator arrives with unfortunate timing as regards behind-the-scene controversy focused entirely on casting. While that’s undeniably a shady tale – and legitimate questions can and should be asked of precisely what may have taken place for that to transpire – even die-hard fans of the franchise willing to make peace with that will be aghast at just what a train wreck The Predator can be at times. Hacked and slashed with all the subtlety of its title character, the film introduces elements on a dime, drops others when its bored, renders its own action sequences pretty incoherent, and yet still stops to include several unfathomably long Judd Apatow-level sequences of intentionally awkward humour.

To be fair, Black’s one of the masters of morbid macho humour, and he’s got a more than capable cast to play with. His stumbling here comes largely in restraint, of which The Predator displays none. With obviously excessive trimming having neutered the larger scale of his action sequences and butchering the plot to the extent of making “why is Olivia Mann naked in this fleeting Alien 3 homage for no reason?” a question you’re not particularly bothered about hearing the answer to. It’s the first Predator movie to begin to explore the idea of the series’ own real-world continuity – with Black even getting Jake Busey to show up as the son of his dad’s Predator 2 character – but what feels like a mad-dash to hack this thing to the finish line sucks all the joy out of that too. There are fleeting moments in which The Predator boasts some of the most iconic shots of the series to date, but more than a little dash of editorial ADHD quickly ensures you won’t to get to drink them in.

The Shane Black fans of the world (of which this reviewer will proudly hold his hand up) will find the usual gems needed for a good time strewn amongst the rubble – it’s absolutely possible to just enjoy The Predator as a good n’ gory throwback sci-fi actioner, Black even adopts some of John McTiernan’s directorial style to fully recapture the atmosphere at times. On an academic level, however, The Predator is an absolute disaster. Creatively compromised – though noticeably after the fact, there’s enough raw material here to paint a pretty solid portrait of what’s gone on – this erstwhile rebootquel screams of the sort of material David Hughes would mine for another volume of The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made. It boasts the worst visual FX of both the Alien and Predator franchises, trims absolutely all the wrong aspects of its own story, and marks the greatest creative failure in the career of a bonafide one-of-a-kind creative voice.

The Predator is the worst movie to ever feature a Predator.

But it’s still more enjoyable than Alien vs. Predator: Requiem.

Keeper of Lola M. Bear. Film critic for Movie Marker, TalkRADIO, and others. Producer of podcasts. Skechers enthusiast and blazer aficionado. All opinions my own.

Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Colette

Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Director: Wash Westmoreland

Stars: Keira Knightley, Dominic West

Released: London Film Festival 2018

Born in 19th century France, Sidonie Gabrielle Colette wrote more than 80 volumes depicting her childhood, her life, her pains and pleasures. Her writings were sensual, vivid and all published under her husband name, “Willy”.

No stranger to female-centric stories, Wash Westmoreland follows up on “Still Alice” and “Echo Park, L.A.” with this dazzling period biopic starring Keira Knightley and Dominic West.

The film starts, the young country girl, Colette (Knightley), marries writer and critic Henri Gauthier-Villars (“Willy”) who introduces her to Parisian salons. Willy soon finds himself in debts and is desperate enough to seek his wife’s help. She will write. Colette writes what she knows and her first novella, “Claudine à l’école” (Claudine at school) is a success. Willy forces her to write the next ones, locked in a golden cage, to ensure his fame and success.

The settings are sumptuous and we gladly follow the camera through the stunning but confined Parisian apartments where the outside light only comes through when she feels inspired. Costumes evolve, as Colette, from heavy and restricted dresses to wild and daring clothing as if Mademoiselle Chanel had designed them herself.

Colette finally loosens from her husband and experiments with woman, society and dancing, feeding her inspiration. Forced and uncredited, Colette cannot enjoy writing and runs off to perform in the music-hall in her own name. In like most biopics, we go from one key event to another, regrettably quickly and often without knowing how we got there. Willy’s sudden appointment of his wife is left as unexplained as the abrupt ending that could have potentially seen Colette, a happy writer.

In the second part of the film Westmoreland seems more interested in looking at the awakening of a young woman rather than at the birth of an author whereas Keira Knightley shines in the lead role. Often known for playing the innocent and rebellious youth, Knightley still pulls off the young Colette in the first part of the film but is at her best when she evolves into a mature woman, aware of own desires. The best scenes of the film come when Colette is free and herself, usually in the company of other woman, particularly the terribly charming Missy (Denise Gough). Westmoreland multiplies two shots and close ups and creates impactful intimate scenes but regrettably gives up on them too fast.

It is a change to see a character such as “Willy” that is both ridiculous and loving. This duality creates, perhaps, a more truthful relationship between the two. No one is born an artist and behind every writer there is an intuitive editor (and in 20th century France, who else could it be than a man?). For Westmoreland if there is no Claudine without Colette, there would have been no Colette without Willy.

With its lavish setting and jumping plot, Colette can feel a tad velvety at times but is lifted by Keira Knightley’s sensual performance and liberating battle that painfully resonates today.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – If Beale Street Could Talk

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Beale Street Movie Marker

Released: 8th February 2019

Directed By: Barry Jenkins

Starring: Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Brian Tyree Henry

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

In his entrancing and eventual Best Picture Oscar winner ‘Moonlight’, it was the longing to be authentic. To be accepted in an often volatile environment that powered its narrative.

Clearly in this pitch-perfect adaptation of the James Baldwin novel, director Barry Jenkins is consumed with longing of a different kind that is just as potent. Justice. An eradication of the infuriating systemic abuse of law and power against black people in America, that sees this luminous love story in 1970’s Harlem, strike modern-day parallels with our own divided, morally skewed society.

An incandescent portrayal of young romance. The tenderness, respect and sheer revolve that underpins the relationship between Tish (Kiki Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) will leave you spellbound from the outset, as their lives are soon mired in despair. The rapturous joy of new life as Tish falls pregnant, backed up by the triple threat of mom Sharon (Regina King), dad Joseph (Colman Domingo) and sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris). Quickly cancelled out by the malice of Fonny’s staunchly religious family and a false yet potentially devastating rape allegation made against him, as they scramble to prove his innocence.

Punctuated by Kiki Layne’s wholesome narration and an overwhelmingly beautiful Nicholas Brittell score that i would be content listening to for days on end. Jenkins exchanges the melancholic blues of his previous effort for a broader but no less lush visual palette, with its exquisite interiors and classy costume design almost serving as a rainbow for the tears that have streamed down their faces through such hardship, but their spirit and love continues to illuminate their gritty surroundings. Whether it be lingering close-ups of sweet embrace or deep sorrow. Its director doesn’t flinch for a second in conveying the simmering emotions on display and in doing so, leaves you completely transfixed by his tactful approach to the source material.

There is a raw resilient energy that permeates throughout its central romance. Kiki Layne’s Tish serves as the remarkably understated, calming influence to Stephan James’ broken-hearted prisoner, a slave to a corrupt system with a searing monologue by Fonny’s dear friend Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry) reinforcing the pain inflicted. Through it all, their hopeful adoring looks and stifling intimacy simply captivate. In Regina King’s marvellous mother figure, she peppers the film with considerable candour, armed with dialogue that pierces your soul. Whilst Jenkins leaves enough room for inspired cameos that are best left a secret, which gorgeously represent a sense of community and a progression in attitude, that defies the period.

A steady panning shot as Fonny smokes may seem throwaway. In this case, it is awfully fitting to articulate the finesse of its director. Lose yourself in the mesmeric haze of ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’.

A lyrical experience that reminds you of the poetic power cinema can truly possess. His love for the art form brought him here. On this form. Trust Barry Jenkins to go all the way.

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Movie Reviews

LFF 2018 Review – Stan & Ollie

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Stan and Ollie Rating Movie Marker

Released: 11th January 2019

Directed By: Jon S Baird

Starring: Steve Coogan, John C.Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

Products of classic Hollywood whose superior slapstick routines triggered endless laughter from their legion of fans, propelling them to legendary status. The sheer physicality and comedic prowess displayed by the English/American duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, still puts many modern-day efforts to shame.

But like so many comedians, there is a tragic element to their careers that contradicts their profession. Through this solid biopic by Filth director Jon S. Baird, it looks to give us a poignant insight into the duo’s grueling twilight years.

Their popularity slowly dwindling. Their bones creaking. Whether on the big screen or the stage, Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C.Reilly) are suddenly not the hottest ticket in town in the early 1950’s. Lumbered with Rufus Jones’ Bernard Delfont, a wisecracking promoter who seems more invested in the likes of Norman Wisdom, they look to reignite interest with a lengthy theatre tour and a long-gestating film project. Yet with audiences middling, contract negotiations stalling and the workload far beyond what was expected, it puts a significant strain on the health and friendship of these two towering talents.

Inevitably with its story, you would expect ‘Stan & Ollie’ to be assured in its abilities to make you laugh. However much of the first half feels surprisingly stilted as Coogan and C.Reilly throw themselves into the pair’s much-beloved routines, with regular cutbacks to their adoring audiences. For the uninitiated, it may initially make you wonder what the fuss was about. Thankfully as the film’s supporting players are introduced to spar with our central characters, it finds a more consistent comedic rhythm, neatly intertwining with the film’s simmering emotion.

Whilst it’s undoubtedly a few visual flourishes away from being a formulaic BBC Christmas special. The admiration of S.Baird for Laurel & Hardy certainly shines through in its refined production, beginning with an exquisite tracking shot on a studio lot as he works his way through the duo’s masterful mischief with fondness.

The rapport between John C.Reilly and Steve Coogan anchors proceedings wonderfully, skilfully capturing the mannerisms and effectively articulating how dependent they are of each other, despite their ongoing disputes. In C.Reilly’s Ollie, his fully-fleshed turn pierces through the fat suit he wears, whose willingness to perform despite failing health is soul-stirring. Whilst the relentless nature of Coogan’s Stan, as he looks to churn out the material strong enough to breathe new life into their double act, makes for compelling viewing. The real danger posed however, is that the film’s main attraction are nearly upstaged by their witty wives, with Shirley Henderson’s Lucille and Nina Arianda’s Ida threatening to steal every scene they grace.

Entertaining enough to gently applaud. Yet perhaps not an act that quite raises the roof. ‘Stan and Ollie’ coasts by on its endearing nostalgic charm and committed performances.

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