This week, Matthew J. Brady hit the indy theater and caught some boutique film called Iron Man 2, while Tucker barreled through Predators, Starship Troopers and Shake! Otis at Monterey.
Iron Man 2
Only two months after everyone else, 2010
Matthew J. Brady
I think I've figured out what it is that makes these Iron Man movies work so well (other than, you know, enjoyable characters, solid action, cute banter, and Robert Downey, Jr. just being himself), and that is seeing Tony Stark build shit. The best scene comes around two thirds of the way through, when Tony figures out about a new element that his father discovered a few decades previous but left encoded in a Tomorrowland-style city-of-the-future for Tony to solve at the last moment before he dies of plotsustanium poisoning (if you're wondering how Papa Stark knew exactly what plot device Tony would need and make sure it was available for him at the perfect moment, the answer to that question is "shut up"). Following a cool bit of holographic problem-solving (another thing this series does so well: instead of having Tony pound at a keyboard excitedly, he uses crazy, impractical 3-D displays that he manipulates as if they are solid, crumpling up armor designs into balls and throwing them across the room, spinning displays around and manipulating them, doing all sorts of stuff that doesn't make much practical sense, but sure looks cool and is pretty visually interesting to boot), he sets about doing some hands-on work, bolting high-tech-looking equipment together, stacking junk on top of other junk and measuring to make sure it's level, and jackhammering holes in the floor to get at wiring, all culminating in some sort of particle accelerator that he operates with a gigantic monkey wrench, aiming a laser in a destructive path across the room until it magically does something good to that thing he sticks in his chest. This is all bullshit, stuff that's supposed to seem like something somebody might do if they were creating the kind of technology that Stan Lee dreamed up back in the 60s, but it's just realistic and down-to-earth enough that we get the idea that if only we had taken a class in electrical engineering, we might be able to build an Iron Man suit too. That's a pretty great bit of wish-fulfillment for viewers to latch on to, and when you pile all the rest of the cool stuff on top of it, it makes for a hell of an entertaining movie. You could certainly build a franchise on worse.
Walt Goggins Has A Knife, Is Rapist
Also called "Predators", 2010
This is a pretty useful take on Predators that mostly focuses on how horrible a movie it could've been while going maybe a bit too far down the road of praising the original. It paints a decent picture of the few positive responses that the film is getting--that it's nowhere near as bad as it could have been--and it gives a respectable nod towards the (basically ignored) director who handled what's been marketed as a Robert Rodriguez creation. (In that vein, here's another chapter in why I love Ignatiy Vishnevetsky. That guy is the real fucking deal.)
"Not that bad" has a lot of legroom. I'm an unabashed pants-creaming fan for the original movie, so I'm not in the least bit objective or reliable a source, but even with that aside--I'd tentatively agree with almost all of the criticisms in those two articles linked above--I found a share of genuine enjoyment in this thing. Despite a constant, fan-obsessed insertion of way too many "remember this" moments (the most irritating being when Adrian Brody removes his shirt and showcases why boiled chicken and personal trainers will not, in fact, make you Arnold Schwarzeneggar), there's geeky moments that are pretty effective/funny, like when a patent pending Awesome Japanese Dude uses a sword and reminds you of both samurai movies AND that part in the first movie where Billy whips out his machete and grits his teeth.
[I'm sure I'm not alone on knowing this, but it bears repeating: the insurance company hired a bodyguard to protect Arnold, Jesse Ventura, Carl Weathers & Bill Duke from Sonny Landham, because Sonny Landham apparently couldn't stop himself from fighting any and everybody that happened to show up in his general vicinity when he ingested alcoholic beverages. Sure, he's chucked all that away ever since he Mel Gibsoned out and called for "genocide" on "Arabs", but for a brief moment in time, Billy was the hardest of the hard men.]
Being the only card-carrying member in the Brothers of Walt Goggins fellowship (membership is still open!), I can also tell you with great accuracy that Mr. Shane Vendrell does a damn fine job in this film, and he is actually in it for a lot more than the previews make it seem. He's stuck with some really horrible lines that seem to exist mostly because it gives Topher Grace a chance to respond sarcastically and remind you that he's still pretty irritating, but the Gog does his best, and when he finally dies, a part of you will die with him. (Especially because that means you're stuck watching Alice Braga pretend that she A) cares about Topher Grace and B) has respect for Adrian Brody, and neither of those things are possible. It's actually harder to believe in a human being caring about those two characters than it is to believe that a fat Laurence Fishburne could survive "for ten seasons" amongst killing machines capable of taking out Carl Weathers and Gary Busey, even though they set up the whole "Predators are wimps now" when they had them team up with Sanaa Lathan back in 2004.)
Here's the thing though: Abe Sauer is right. The original Predator--and to some extent, Predator 2--are the kind of movies that reward rewatching, the kind of movies that a certain age demographic are going to keep returning to, again and again, no matter how many times their brain points out how silly it looks when slow-motion bodies go diving off high structures in the first thirty minutes. That original film was classic 80's perfect, a dead serious action movie made because a producer bought an eightball and said "let's make a movie where Rocky fights E.T.", and it was cast with a bunch of charismatic muscle freaks who were contractually obligated to act like badass motherfuckers. There's jokes in Predator, but they're dry, stupid jokes, the kind of jokes that only appeal to a bunch of guys who are never more irritated than when some CIA jerk-off tries to pretend he's part of the club. Watching that movie, the fiction that you buy into isn't the alien, it isn't the danger, it's the team, the idea of facing what-the-fuck-ever with your nearest and your dearest. It's that sexy-as-hell fiction of the adult male relationship that never gets exchanged for domesticity and maturity--living like a boy in the woods, playing Hunter/Killer with real guns; Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn on actual in-your-dick steroids.
Predators isn't that. It's an action movie that's not confusingly shot or heavily dependent on CGI, and that's great, but it's also a meta-joke, an idea/fantasy gone widescreen. It's a guy like you--or me, or anybody who watches Predator even though Netflix has dropped off a big boy movie--getting a chance to make his version of what should've come next. Rodriguez had the money, and he had the pull, and he satisfied himself.
But he's twenty years too late to satisfy anybody elses.
Always living life down, Verhoeven, 1997
The satire is still spot on, even more than it was when it was first released (how closely does Casper Van Dien's "kill 'em all!" line delivery parallel a Fox News blast?), but the other thing that hasn't changed since '97 is the runtime: Starship Troopers is fucking long. The action sequences hit a boring drone around the 17th time that somebody is dismembered by the robotic looking bugs, only breaking north whenever a newer, cheesier death arrives, like the closing tail-fuck brain-sucking that nurses Patrick Muldoon's prismatic skull. The special effects were good enough to get an Academy Award nomination, which is kind of a clue to how long the Academy Awards have been, you know, pretty fucked up and weird, but it's hard to look at any of them now. (It's remarkable how much Alien has worked its way into the contemporary visuals of science fiction, because man-oh-man do the interiors of spaceships look ridiculous when they're clean and pristine. 2001 is the only exception I can think of--otherwise, it would behoove the future generations to cover those sets in rust.)
Part of the reason the film works (when it does) is the casting, and the way neither Van Dien, Jake Busey or Denise Richards seem to realize what kind of movie they're in, or what it is that they're doing in it. With the same who-fucking-cares attitude that constantly torpedoes Verhoeven's career, the actors are pure window mannequin, cranking through the expository dialog without a shred of human emotion. (Denise is the best for this, using the same tone of voice to break up with her long-time boyfriend as she does to describe how a window works, what color a spaceship is, ad infinitum.) But while it helps the Nazi propaganda aesthetic, it doesn't help the movie to have it packed to the brim with charisma-less surgical cases who can't act, and somewhere around hour one, the "these people are horrible!" jokes wear thin. Verhoeven tries to manage his way around this by re-using his old Robocop-era commercial gags, he even wheels Michael Ironside out to explain to a virgin why the virgin should get his fuck on, but you're never really able to escape from the throes of Casper Van Dien, or the way Casper Van Dien yells at you, with his lobotomy stare and his razor blade browline. It'll always be a bright spot in the "take the money, shit on the people who gave it to you" library, but no, there's no good reason to watch this again.
-Matthew J. Brady & Tucker Stone, 2010