Thursday, 16 November 2017

Looking back at… Predator

Originally Published on Set The Tape

I look back at the classic action movie Predator as the film celebrates it's 30th anniversary cinematic re-release.

I can’t remember the first time that I watched Predator, but I know that I must have been close to five or six years old, borrowing the VHS from my uncle when I stayed round my nan’s one weekend. I knew that I shouldn’t be watching it, he knew that I shouldn’t be watching it, but my family had a very laid back attitude to being allowed to watch older films. As such, I grew up with Predator in my regular weekly rotation of thing to watch when staying at my grandparents, with Saturday mornings being filled with SMTV or Live & Kicking, and the afternoon with Aliens or Predator.

One of the drawbacks of having watched the film so young is that I’ve always remembered it as a sci-fi action movie, a film that sets Arnold Schwartzenegger and his team against an extraterrestrial threat. As such, I’ve never been able to experience the surprise of having what appears to be a regular action film take a turn into horror sci-fi mid way through.

Whilst it’s hard to find someone that is unaware of what Predator is really about thanks to how popular the titular creature has become, if you can find someone that has never seen the film before and doesn’t know the twist it’s an absolute delight to watch them watch it. The marketing for the film a the time only kept this secret for a short while, with the fact that they were fighting an alien being revealed in the trailer, there were many cinema goers that would not have known this. As such, Predator shocked many of those watching it; which became one of the big factors in why people fell in love with the film.

Thankfully, with an excellent cast and some great directing, the rest of the film stands up so well on it’s own that even if you do know about the alien monster it’s a damn good film. The film begins like any other action film at the time, a special squad of soldiers that specialise in rescue missions are sent into South America to rescue some people who have been captured by guerilla fighters.

This beginning is very cheesy, and has each member of the team given their brief spotlight to shine, with Jesse Ventura’s Blaine chewing tobacco and being surly, Carl Weather’s Dillon very much the outsider, and Shane Black’s Hawkins telling awful pussy jokes. The characters are very arch, and don’t really develop beyond their sover the top stereotypes over the course of the film, but each one is played with such charm and humour that it’s impossible not to end up liking them; something that’s very important when they start being killed off.

Where the film really stands out, however, is when it shifts to include the Predator. Not only does the whole tone of the film begin to change when the hunters become the hunted, but the direction changes too. Where before our heroes were large and imposing on screen, they’re framed small within the jungle. Instead of fighting together as a unit, they become separated, becoming easy targets. And the quick cuts and fast paced editing takes on a slower approach as the camera slowly moves through the jungle, taking time to linger where before it would cut away.

It’s subtle, and a lot of people watching would end up missing it, but the film shifts in these subtle ways with the intention of putting the audience on the back foot, to challenge their expectations and put them at a disadvantage, much like the characters. Whilst the humans in the film are a pleasure to watch, and perform their roles admirably, the real star of the film is the Predator himself. With a design from the legendary Stan Winston (and apparently inspired by a suggestion from James Cameron), the Predator has gone on to become one of the most iconic movie monsters in the world.

Originally a more insect like creature that was going to be played by Jean Claude Van Damme, director John McTiernan realised that the monster was such an integral part of the film and made the decision to alter it midway through production. This change was definitely for the better (the original creature looked absolutely awful!) and helped make both the creature and the film a success. Despite being so alien, and not having any lines that weren’t just mimics of other characters, the rivalry between Schwartzenegger and the Predator is one of the best parts of the film, with the final act of the two hunting each other still being incredibly tense to watch, even after thirty years and literally hundreds of rewatches.

With no dialogue and no other human on the screen, Schwartzenegger’s fight with the Predator is still one of the best moments from any of his films, managing to put Arnie in one of his most vulnerable and dangerous positions. Whilst we know that there’s never a chance that he’ll die, the audience still end up fearing for him.

Predator was never intended to be anything more than a schlocky action film, but thanks to some great over the top acting, brilliant directing, and a monster design that still stands head and shoulders above other movie monsters after all these decades it becomes more than the sum of its parts and one of the best Schwartzenegger films ever made.

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Arrow ‘Reversal’ Review

Originally Published on Set The Tape

We finally know who saved Laurel (Katie Cassidy) from the island at the beginning of the season, it’s Ben Linus, sorry, I mean Cayden James (Michael Emerson). Emerson is, as always terrific in this episode, and I can see why people were excited to be having the Lost star join the cast, he brings a level of quite, detached menace and gravity to a role that the series has often failed at in the past.

With his character having been introduced late the last season through Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) and her dealings with Helix I was genuinely surprised to see him return. Arrow has name dropped villains before their appearances in the past, such as Ra’s al Ghul and Damien Darhk, but whenever they’ve done it in the past it’s felt like set up, here it’s more of a natural continuation of a story that we were led to believe had already been resolved.

The return of the Felicity/Helix story fits in really well at this point in the season, and goes to help develop the return of her relationship with Oliver (Steven Amell). In the past I didn’t really like the relationship between the two of them, but this season it’s been progressing and developing at a very different rate, and has definitely benefited from Oliver no longer being the Green Arrow.

It’s nice to see Oliver be the one left behind when Felicity has to rush out of the restaurant to go and help the team, and for Oliver to be the one at the bunker directing the team over the comms whilst Felicity is in the field in the last act of the episode. It shows the level of growth that both of them have been through, taking on roles and responsibilities that neither one of them would have felt particularly comfortable in only a few seasons ago.

This episode also saw Black Siren show up yet again, this time working alongside Cayden James, killing what appears to be random citizens across Star City. Using the same bad guy twice within the first four episodes of a season may have felt like overkill in the past, but there’s something great about the way that Katie Cassidy plays a villain that makes it always entertaining. Her rivalry with Black Canary (Juliana Harkavy) gets put on the back burner this week, instead choosing to give her a moment with Diggle (David Ramsey) as the new Green Arrow.

Whilst at this stage it’s hard to see Cayden James going on to be the big villain for the whole season, Laurel’s Black Siren can definitely last the whole year as long as the writers keep using her in these interesting ways. Sadly, some of the episode didn’t work as well as it should, and it all revolved around the tech/hacking side of the episode. Whilst this is a universe where you have to suspend your disbelief a little (it has speedsters and giant shark men after all), one of the most unbelievable aspects is the almost magical way that people use computers.

Our heroes are presented with a problem where the whole internet is about to be destroyed, with a predicted casualty rate in the hundreds of millions, and Felicity stops it in about ten seconds on keyboard. The biggest issue she had in stopping the bad guy was getting to the computer she needed, not the actual tech side of things.

And whilst we’re on the subject of tech, I really don’t think that the entire Internet is housed in one giant warehouse in America that can only be accessed by three people, none of whom have any kind of bodyguards or security; this is possibly one of the silliest things the show has asked me to believe in, and that includes the man with the magical rag suit that contained a nuclear explosion.

Despite these silly mistakes, the episode managed to remain fun and entertaining throughout, offering great character moments and superb action sequences.

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Judge Dredd: The Blessed Earth #7 Review

Originally Published on Set The Tape

‘Judge Dredd awoke a thousand years in his future to find Mega-City One in ruins and its 800 million citizens gone without a trace. After a long, strange journey, Dredd manages to locate and free them. And now, ten years later, society continues to pick up the pieces.

‘A robot Armageddon arrives as Dredd closes in on a last desperate attempt at retrieving his missing bones.’

As the final issue of Judge Dress: The Blessed Earth draws near the series has started to finally bring all of its plot points to a close, having many of the elements seeded throughout the series come together. The last issue saw the revelation that the Biosim Isaac was still alive, and that Biosims have been spreading throughout the world.

Here, we see the conflict between the robots and humans finally coming to a head, with the Neon Knights stepping up their attacks on any artificial life that they come across, even going so far as to declare war on the Judges, believing them to be artificial.

Judge Quill finds herself trapped in the middle of this conflict, having already turned on her former comrades and killed Chief Judge Anderson. You can almost understand her motivations throughout this issue, that she wants justice and feels betrayed by her former comrades, but it’s hard to completely condone her actions and her methods.

This is one of the things that Judge Dredd books does well, it always have the hero be dirty. It presents a more real world outlook, though one through an extreme sci-fi filter, that even people with the best intentions and the right motivations don’t always get to be ‘good’ people.

There is a moment in the book where Judge Lolo ends up being killed, and you can see that Quill blames herself for this. And I can’t really disagree with her. Lolo probably wouldn’t have died if Quill hadn’t had made the choices she has, so I can’t feel any kind of sympathy for her.

At the end of the book we learn that Isaac is in fact the Grand Master of the Neon Knights, which I honestly didn’t see coming; though that’s mainly because the Neon Knights hate all machines. Whilst the Neon Knights are being portrayed as crazy fundamentalists, I’m not entirely sure why they’re following Isaac after finding out who and what he is, but perhaps this is something that will be resolved in the final issue.

Judge Dredd: The Blessed Earth continues to weave it’s bizarre tale as it races towards its conclusion. How it will end, whether Quill will survive, or if Dredd will manage to get his skeleton back are unclear, but I am hoping that the final issues will help to explain some of the stranger aspects of the story and deliver a satisfying conclusion.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles / Ghostbusters 2 #2 Review

Originally Published on Set The Tape

‘Darius Dun, the crime lord assassinated on the order of Splinter, is now a ghost in an interdimensional limbo. He learns about The Collectors, demons who can traverse dimensions at will and exist solely to capture and contain living beings – and as a torturous revenge, Dun summons The Collectos and sends them after Splinters family – the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

‘But all is not lost! Before Donatello is captured he makes his way to the home dimension  of the Ghostbusters, looking for help. The boys in gray can free the Turtles, but The Collectors will chase the Turtles forever unless they’re stopped permanently.

‘And so, Ray Stantz concocts a happily complicated plan; he, Peter Venkman, and Winston Zedmore will take Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo and lead The Collectors on a wild goose chase through the dimensions – allowing Egon Spengler and Donatello to work up the gear needed to trap the demons permanently.’

Whilst the first issue of the new crossover event, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Ghostbusters 2, was all about set up, the second issue manages to not only pack in some great action, but spends a lot of time developing its characters and exploring their mental state.

The pairings actually work really well too, even when you think they probably wouldn’t. Egon and Donatello is a no brainer, put the two scientists together and it works great. Ray and Raphael is a pairing that surprised me, mainly because they’re a pair that are very different from each other. However, this does mean that Raph gets to be Ray’s straight man, which leads to some really fun moments.

A lot of the time we tend to see Raphael as the angry member of the Turtles, but here he’s shown in a different light, especially when Ray compares him to his nephew; ‘Heart on his sleeve, but so worried about so much that he just sounds angry all the time’. This is the kind of insight that can shift a lot of people’s thoughts on the character, but one we rarely get in the Turtles’ ongoing book, as his brothers would never talk to him like that.

Whist the pairing that surprised me worked, the obviously fun one of Venkman and Michelangelo actually threw me too when the characters shared a very sweet, emotional moment. Together in a world filled with anthropomorphic animal people, the two of them bump into (literally) a rat-man that reminds Michelangelo of Splinter. Instead of taking it in his stride, Michelangelo breaks down, crying on Venkmans shoulder.

Instead of the usual Venkman crap, he takes the time to listen to the hurting teenager, lets him cry and get it out of his system, then gives him some very well thought out advice as a psychologist. Much like Raphael, this is something that we needed for the character, but something that he could never do around the others, plus, it shows that Venkman isn’t just a complete jerk (which is sometimes hard to remember).

The last pairing of Leonardo and Winston packs in the most action, with the two of them arriving in a world that very much resembles the robot controlled apocalypse of Terminator (they even allude to the film in their dialogue). As with the others, we see another side of Leo here, one where he doubts his role as a leader, and his inability to stop Splinter from going down a darker road. Drawing on his past as a Marine, Winston gives the young man the support he needs, reassuring him that not only is it not his fault, but that he’s one of the greatest warriors that Winston has ever fought beside.

All of these interactions are hugely important for the Turtles, as they’d never have the chance to open up like this in their own ongoing book. This is one of the beauties of the crossover with Ghostbusters, not just because it combines two brilliant franchises, and gives us moments like this, but because these characters have a history together and can have these much more personal moments.

The book ends on an exciting note with The Collectors closing in on our heroes, and the promise of a ‘proton-powered ninja arsenal’ the book ends with a promise of exciting things to come. With a set up for more action to come, and some genuinely great character moments, the second issue of this crossover has turned out to be better than I was expecting.

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Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The Flash ‘Elongated Journey Into The Night’ Review

Originally Published on Set The Tape

The Flash introduces another DC hero (and member of the Justice League), whilst also pitting Cisco (Carlos Valdes) against ‘the scariest person I’ve ever seen’ when Gypy’s (Jessica Camacho) father, Breacher (Danny Trejo) comes to Earth-1 for a visit.

As eagle-eyed fans may have noticed from the episode title, Elongated Journey Into The Night’ introduces a recognisable face from the comics to the television universe, Ralph Dibney, the Elongated Man, played excellently by Hartley Sawyer.

Having previously been name dropped way back in season one, this is the first time that we actually get to meet the character, one that in the books has a very strong connection to Barry Allen (Grant Gustin). We very quickly learn that despite it being Ralph’s first appearance, he and Barry actually have a back story with each other already, with Barry being responsible for Ralph being thrown off the police force. This not only means that the two characters can jump straight into a confrontational relationship, but also means that we get to see Barry question some of his own morals and the choices that he has made over the course of the series.

Ralph was thrown off the force because he planted evidence that would have led to a man going to prison for murder. It didn’t matter to Barry that this man was guilty of murder, or that he was a bad guy; to him, Ralph planting evidence was wrong and needed to be stopped. Whilst the episode begins very much on Barry’s side, it flips the argument around when Barry addresses the fact that he and the team have held meta-humans prisoner in Star Labs, without any lawful right, or trial.

This is one of the first times in the series that the characters have actually addressed that what they are doing, whilst right, might not be legal or morally correct. From here we begin to see a very different side of Ralph, one where you can see why he did what he did, and why he’d hate Barry for stopping him.

It’s a complex relationship, and one that isn’t completely solved by the end of the episode, even after Ralph finds out that Barry is the Flash and agrees to work together with him. How these two will develop over the course of the season is an intriguing prospect. This very different type of relationship and a different set of powers may go on to make the Elongated Man a better sidekick to Barry than Wally was.

The way that the episode showcases Ralph’s powers is great and leads to some brilliantly comic moments, including the first thing Joe’s (Jesse L. Martin) seen that’s made him sick. It’s also thanks to these powers that Cisco’s story is brought into the main narrative in the final act.

With the relationship between Cisco and Gypsy becoming more serious, her father, Breacher, decides that it’s a good time to travel to Earth-1 to meet his daughter’s boyfriend. Unfortunately for Cisco, Breacher appears in his bedroom right when he and Gypsy are about to have some special time. If he had arrived five minutes later, then Cisco would probably have been murdered on the spot; so small victories, I guess.

Breacher is played wonderfully by the legend that is Danny Trejo, who plays the character just as you’d expect. Deadpan and menacing throughout, Breacher is an absolute joy to watch as he terrorises Cisco, before making the decision that he’s going to hunt him.

Watching Cisco sneak around, trying to stay one step ahead of Breacher and genuinely fearing for his safety are some of the funniest moments the show has given us, and is one of the best ways it could have used its guest star. Always cast in roles where he’s there to scare people, Danny Trejo is perfect as the overprotective father.

Thankfully, Cisco manages to face his fears and stand up to Breacher in order to save Ralph in a moment that actually feels earned. We’ve see Cisco building himself up as a hero for the past two seasons, so to put his life on the line to protect someone he hardly knows is a great hero moment. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we may see Breacher again in the future, possibly showcasing him as a bad-ass ally of the team.

‘Elongated Journey Into The Night’ doesn’t feature any special villains of the week, instead choosing to focus on giving its new characters the spotlight, providing them with very strong first appearances. Mixing together dramatic moments, questions of what’s ethically right, and some genuinely great comedy moments, this is easily the best episode of season four to date.

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