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Posts tagged “stan winston studios

Predator 2 (1990)

Predator 2There seems to be an idea out there somewhere, I don’t know where it came from, that Predator 2 is a markedly inferior sequel.  This is wholly unjustified.  Surely, everyone has their own opinions on how this measures up to the original classic, but to me, this is a great follow-up which expands on the ideas and premise in exciting new ways.  Predator 2 contains numerous admirable qualities, and is helmed by a director with a great eye for sleek visuals.  Anything it doesn’t recreate from the original it replaces with a higher energy and larger scale action.

In the urban jungles of Los Angeles, Detective Lieutenant Mike Harrigan’s (Danny Glover) police force is at war with drug lords and gangs. But just as Harrigan admits he’s losing the fight, one by one, gang lords are killed by a mysterious, fierce adversary with almost supernatural powers – the Predator.  Before long, the vicious creature begins to hunt the hunters – Harrigan’s men.  Now, Harrigan doesn’t just want to bring the creature in – he wants to bring it down.  However, he is hindered along the way by government Special Agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey) who has a shady motive to his secretive investigation who knows more about this ultimate hunter than Harrigan even suspects.

Surely, you would think going from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Danny Glover would be a strange swerve.  I always imagined that if this was made a few years later that it would be Wesley Snipes as Mike Harrigan, but I’ll be damned if Glover doesn’t deliver here.  The character is designed as a seasoned cop who’s been fighting this unrelenting war on the Los Angeles streets for a long time.  He’s dogged, inventive, and is a cop who plays by his own rules, taking a backseat to no one.  Glover portrays this with the rugged determination of a consummate street cop.  He doesn’t like the politics that get rammed down his throat, and he slickly, yet passionately sticks it back in their faces.  However, he is wholly loyal to his team, and treats them with respect as comrades in arms because they are fighting a war.  Glover also demonstrates the emotional depth of Harrigan when his closest friend, Danny Archuleta portrayed by Rubén Blades, is gruesomely killed by the Predator.  The flashes of enraged vengeance, and the heartfelt moment at the gravesite show Glover had the talent and skill for this role, which also demanded a lot from him physically.  He greatly delivers on that end, too.  I think making him a distinctly different protagonist than Dutch was the right way to go.

Many will indeed enjoy Bill Paxton’s performance as the jokey Jerry Lambert.  He’s the newest member of Harrigan’s team known as “The Lone Ranger.”  He’s a guy that’s gotten a lot of ego stroking and glory, but he quickly becomes an enthusiastic team player.  This is Paxton at his full charismatic and comedic richness.  He adds the levity to break up the grisly heaviness of the film.  The rest of the supporting cast is filled out by Rubén Blades and Maria Conchita Alonso as the seasoned members of Harrigan’s team.  Both bring their top level enthusiasm and talent adding to the cast’s vibrancy.  Then, we get the late, great original king of trash television Morton Downey, Jr. as the appropriately cast tabloid sleaze-miester Tony Pope.  He’s puts in a fantastically entertaining performance.

Now, Arnold Schwarzenegger was approached to return for this film, but he turned it down to do Terminator 2.  Thus, his role was rewritten as Peter Keyes and re-cast with Gary Busey.  I think this was an equally beneficial turn of events.  The story works supremely better not knowing what Keyes’ agenda is, and allowing for him to be an adversary and foil for Harrigan.  Busey does an excellent job bringing forth his signature energy and leaning Keyes towards the smarmy, shady side.  He’s smart and cunning, but still a self-serving government agent who cares more about his findings for the military than Harrigan’s war on violent gang crime.

Also, I love the Jamaican gang here.  They are totally savage and chilling with King Willie being fantastically awesome.  He brings the mysticism into the fold with a wickedly cool scene opposite Harrigan, but also, a greatly visualized confrontation with the Predator.  Calvin Lockhart is so awesome in this role.  The theatricality, mystique, and powerful presence he brings entirely does justice to his Royal Shakespeare Company roots.  He delivers my favorite performance of the movie.  Knowing that director Stephen Hopkins was born in Jamaica, it doesn’t surprise me how rich and memorable these characters are here.

The visual effects are distinctly improved from the first movie.  The Predator vision is the most obvious example as the infrared and other modes have more distinct color separation and possibly are of a higher resolution.  The optical effects of the Predator’s cloak are used more dynamically and are integrated into more complex environments.  We see it in more motion and detail.  My favorite effects shots in the whole movie are when the Predator squares off with King Willie.  First off, the tracking shot of the cloaked feet walking through the water is brilliant work, and then, the reveal of the Predator in the rippling puddle is awesome.  Seeing how these are done in the featurettes on the Special Edition DVD are astounding and what I’ve always loved about movie magic.  These striking, innovative images are largely due to do director Stephen Hopkins’ great visual style.

Teamed with regular director of photography Peter Levy, Hopkins gives Predator 2 its own unique visual sleekness.  It has a great use of dynamic, intriguing angles.  The action is captured remarkably well, and we even get a few scenes of atmospheric, moody lighting.  Two of the best shot scenes are, first, inside the slaughterhouse bathed in blue light where the Predators assaults Keyes’ team, and then, the entire climax inside the Predator spacecraft.  Counterbalancing that blue with a largely orange color scheme there is another sign of Hopkins’ great visual sensibilities.  Beyond just the color schemes, these sequences have great use of sweeping cranes and steadicams shots enhancing the production and artistic value of the film.

This new Predator is recognizable, but has a bit different look and feel to him.  He feels more brazen.  He’s taking bigger chances, and taking on greater numbers.  Hunting in a major metropolitan area means he’s attracting more attention to his work.  So, he’s not as calculated, in general, but when he finds a prey he really likes, such as Harrigan, he takes his time to study him.  He also taunts Harrigan as if he’s issuing an honorable challenge.  I very much like that the filmmakers did this to show, even subtly, that this is another unique individual with his own personality, but with the same objective.  It’s also great seeing the arsenal expand with the telescoping spear, the projectile net, and the flying disc.  It gives the impression of a larger safari at hand where he’s equipped for bigger game.  Kevin Peter Hall, yet again, does an awesome, exceptional job overall.  He defined this role so perfectly, and it is a terrible shame that his life ended only a few years later.  However, what he did laid the template for others to succeed him in this franchise.

The strengths of Predator 2 is that it is much more energetic and diversely entertaining than the original.  The pace is faster as there is more going on here between the gang wars, Peter Keyes’ shady dealings, and Harrigan’s own dogged investigation.  The action sequences are bigger and more dynamic allowing for a higher body count, but not as much gore.  The film originally gained an NC-17 rating, but likely, Fox panicked and did more aggressive editing to secure an R rating.  There is still blood abound and plenty of violence, but far less cadavers begin ripped apart.  What we do see in that regard is obscured or done in heavy shadow.  So, it ups the energy and action, but reduces the graphic content a little.

I would agree that these characters are not quite as captivating as those in the original.  Neither film delves deeply into their characters, but it’s just the nature of battle hardened soldiers in a ominous jungle versus tough, seasoned cops on the streets of Los Angeles.  One if inherently more intriguing than the other.  There’s a little more levity in this film akin to a wisecracking John McClane in areas as Harrigan’s fear manifests in a few humorous quips.  Since the film focuses more on an energetic pace with a more divided focus, there’s little mystique about the Predator himself.  Again, he’s much more blunt and brazen, but you do lose that intensely dramatic build up to the third act.  The Peter Keyes subplot sort of veers the emotional drive of Harrigan off-track, and the climax just becomes about having to stop this alien one way or another.  There’s no more survival aspect, just hero versus villain.  There is some peril throughout the third act, but none of it rivals the dire lethality and immediacy of the first film.

Still, the little teases we get at the end with both the Alien skull in the trophy room, the reveal of the half dozen other Predators onboard the spacecraft, and the flintlock pistol with the engraving of the year 1715 on it lay big seeds for a follow-up.  However one might have felt about this movie, it surely left you intrigued to see how the next film could expand on these concepts further, but a proper third movie would not see fruition for another twenty years.

Predator 2 may not hit all the great qualities of the film first, but has entertaining trade-offs making it a more lively, faster paced action film.  It again has a solid cast filling their roles with vibrancy.  The violence and intense action are enhanced by stylish, sleek visuals and excellent editing.  The optical visual effects are stunningly impressive pushing the ambition further, and with more time to plan, Stan Winston Studios developed the Predator further with great new weaponry and a fresh look.  Alan Silvestri also returns adding some new flavors to his original themes, and adapting some of the feel to this film’s style and content.   I would like to pay tribute to Kevin Peter Hall, Calvin Lockhart, and Stan Winston who have all passed on since this film’s release.  All three did stunning work here that deserves notable credit and praise.  This franchise, outside of the AVP films, has maintained a fairly steady stream of quality.  The screenwriters of the first movie returned to expand on their own concepts, and it was executed very well by a competent and capable director.  Predator 2 s definitely worth your while.  It’s not as slam bang amazing as the first, but it’s a largely worthy sequel.

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The Monster Squad (1987)

You know, the video rental store was a glorious thing growing up in the 1980s and 90s.  It was better than any other place around.  Especially in the 80s, I believe I discovered more great films from VHS rentals and cable television than actually going to the theatre.  While the vast majority of my horror movie fandom was sparked off in the late 90s, I’ve been a fan of The Monster Squad since it came to home video.  It was always a rare treat either renting it or finding it airing on television some afternoon.  This was a greatly fun and frightening movie.

In the late nineteenth century, legendary vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Jack Gwillim) led a siege upon the castle of Count Dracula (Duncan Regehr) with an amulet of concentrated good in an attempt to cast all monsters into Limbo.  They blew it.  One hundred years later, his diary comes into the possession of Sean Crenshaw (Andre Gower) who leads a group of pre-teens who idolize classic movie monsters.  They call themselves The Monster Squad.  Sean and his friends workup the courage to visit the “Scary German Guy” (Leonardo Cimino), who turns out to be a kindly gentleman, to translate the German text in Van Helsing’s diary.  They learn of the amulet and its power, and that they only have a few days before it becomes vulnerable to destruction.  However, danger approaches as Dracula reawakens joined by the Wolfman, the Mummy, the Gill-Man, and Frankenstein’s Monster to help the Count take control of the amulet and plunge the world into darkness.  Now, the Monster Squad are the only ones who can stand in his way, and save the world from his impending reign of evil.

I find it immensely pleasing that Fred Dekker, director and co-writer, created a film that fully delivers on high quality horror while still incorporating adventurous fun.  There is such a deep, rich respect for these icons of classic horror that it shows through in every frame of film.  The entire film is given fine dramatic integrity.  Nothing is ever farcical.  It follows in the style of a film like The Goonies which has very fleshed out, dimensional, and relatable young characters put into very dangerous and exciting scenarios.  There’s a fine balance between the serious story and the charming fun.  The characters nor actors ever treat their situation as ridiculous.  They hold up the dramatic weight of the story very well.  The film never descends into cheap silliness like I imagine a modern remake would.  It sets everything up as a very honest threat that our heroes take with earnestness, but the film is still able to inject smart humor at just the right moments.  It is a brilliant mix and balance that is not easy to pull off.

The entire child cast is absolutely excellent.  André Gower leads the group with a lot of conviction and emotional determination.  He naturally fits the role of a confident, inspiring leader as Sean.  I love that Sean feels he has sort of inherited the mantle of Abraham Van Helsing.  He is inspired by Van Helsing’s journal, and wants to fulfill that failed mission.  Ryan Lambert does a great job as Rudy, the older, tougher, cooler kid of the group.  His leather jacket rebel style attitude adds a nice sense of edginess and credibility to the team.  Rudy’s also given a fine action hero moment when he starts slinging arrows in the climax.  You’ve also got to love how Horace is used in the film paying off some smart and hilarious jokes.  He’s the one that gets picked on at school, but ultimately, gets his hard edged action hero moment by the end.  This entire youthful cast is as solid as it gets.  They endear themselves to an audience, and all have their own qualities that make them distinct amongst the group.  They all bring something fun and unique to the cast’s dynamics.

Stephen Macht and Mary Ellen Trainor turn in very solid and well-rounded performances as Sean & Pheobe’s parents.  While the strained marriage aspect wasn’t all that necessary, it added to the emotional dimension of these characters, and it resonated well where it needed to.  The relationship between Sean and his father is very strongly handled with subtle moments that go a long way.  Macht and Gower have a very heartfelt bond that penetrates the screen, and builds a depth with Sean that an audience can connect with.  It surely solidifies Sean’s stature as the lead protagonist.

The film’s Dracula is brilliantly portrayed by Duncan Regehr.  His is seriously one of my favorite interpretations of Count Dracula.  He has such an intimidating and theatrical presence which saturates the screen.  The cold blooded, violent aspects of his performance are very chilling.  He has absolutely no hesitation to kill, and you never doubt how genuinely threatening or dangerous he is.  However, he can also demonstrate a passionate desire at times when on the hunt.  The film doesn’t give him a lot of scenes to establish much character, but you can feel this is a fleshed out villain from this rich performance alone.  I have seen Regehr in a few other roles, and he has brought this same level of passion to them as well.  As Dracula, he never ceases to be terrifying and compelling. He is an immensely strong lead villain that I think should never be forgotten in the annals of great Dracula portrayals.

I know the amazing talent of Tom Noonan from Manhunter, and as Frankenstein’s Monster, he continues to amaze.  The touching, tragic humanity he pours into this role is heartbreaking.  He can truly capture an audience’s heart as he does with the Monster Squad kids themselves.  Noonan deserves special recognition for his work here.  I also love the portrayal of the Wolfman by Jonathan Gries.  He’s a guy frightened to death of what the full moon turns him into so much he goes crazy on the police to force them to lock him up.  However, as the wolf, he is Dracula’s willing ally who is entirely ferocious and terrifying.  The transformation effects from man into werewolf are some of the best ever committed to film.  You definitely get the sense of a violent metamorphosis into this vicious beast, and that is no surprise consider the brilliance behind these effects.

All of the monsters are magnificently brought to life by Stan Winston Studios.  In the same year he brought us the iconic Predator, Winston brings that same level of realistic, textured detail to the Wolfman, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Mummy, and the Gill-Man.  There are even impressive moments of seeing Dracula in mid-bat transformation.  This is a benchmark of quality realizing these classic icons of horror with stellar modern practical effects work, and giving them a very tangible and textured quality.  Stan created the absolute highest standards for creature effects that continue to be shining standard bearers to this day, and likely for all cinematic time.  It’s tragic to see a movie like Van Helsing, which contained many of the same classic horror monsters and had more than ten times the budget of The Monster Squad, indulged in horrendous looking computer generated effects.  It goes to show that a bigger budget doesn’t always equal a technically superior film.  Talent is what counts, and Stan Winston clearly provided that and injected a vast amount of quality with these iconic movie monsters.  He did them justice, and paid great respect to their legacies, as did Fred Dekker.

Considering all the amazing known talents behind this film, it’s no surprise how damn good it is.  Fred Dekker co-wrote the screenplay with the excellent Shane Black who has written Lethal Weapon, Lethal Weapon 2, The Last Boy Scout, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (which he also directed).  The film was also executive produced by Peter Hyams, a great director and amazing cinematographer on films such as 2010, Running Scared, Timecop, Sudden Death, and End of Days.  It’s just enough talent to keep the quality at a high level in every aspect of the film.  The Monster Squad is genuinely very frightening because of that talent and quality standards.  Plenty of imposing atmosphere with beautiful cinematography that showcases integrity and great production values make for a highly effective and fun horror movie.  This might’ve only had an estimated budget of $12 million, but it sure doesn’t look like it.  This looks big budget all the way.

If there’s any negative mark to leverage against the film it would be the brisk 82 minute runtime.  The positive side of that is it moves at a very consistent, steady pace.  There are no lulls in the film.  It just keeps rolling forward, and flows exceptionally well.  Still, that 82 minutes hits you pretty hard making you wish there was a little more going on in that second act because you’re into the third act of the movie before you know it.  As I said, not much time is devoted to developing Dracula, and that’s certainly one area where they could’ve added in more content.  They quickly touch on an existing strong friendship between him and Frankenstein’s Monster, and that’s something which would’ve been interesting to see developed so to create more of an arc for Frank.  See him go from this brutish pawn of the villain to an ally of the heroes would be ripe for an extended setup and pay-off.

The Monster Squad seems to be a cult classic movie, and it’s sad and surprising that something of such high quality and solid entertainment value bombed hard at the box office.  Considering it opened two weeks after the vastly successful and more broadly appealing The Lost Boys, one could see it not having as much impact at the box office as Tri Star Pictures likely desired.  Still, making less than $4 million at the domestic box office is very harsh even for 1987’s standards.  Thankfully, time has been kind to this film, and it eventually got the treatment it deserved on DVD and Blu ray with a features loaded two-disc set that would satisfy any fan.  If you’ve never seen this movie, I give it an extremely solid recommendation.  You get a fine dose of adventure and fun with some solid, serious horror elements.  It is a PG-13 rated movie, but that is only because it lacks any serious gore or pervasive language.  It has plenty of suspense and unsettling moments that are greatly handled to where the rating is inconsequential.  It’s an exceptionally fun ride that shows deep respect to the icons of horror it showcases.