Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Yeah... except it's The Predator

That was the response to a friend when asked the question, "Did they have the movie, George?" The answer was most interesting seeing as how we had asked George, the only friend who could drive at the time, to go to the local video store and rent The Terminator. It's a lot like asking, "Did you order the pizza?" and someone responding, "Why yes, except it's Chinese food."

Semantics aside, I myself was not terribly disappointed that my friends and I were forced to watch The Predator that afternoon back in the late-80's. Despite being probably only 13 years-old, I was always allowed to watch R-rated material, and that period saw some classics: Running Man, Robocop, Die Hard and Arnold's "other" sci-fi action flick, The Predator. Sure, James Cameron had started a whole big thing with the first Terminator back in 1984, and we have since been saddled with several horrendous sequels and a short-lived TV series (featuring the most beautiful Apocalypse survivors ever). But The Predator was more than just a violent, summer blockbuster, and maybe I'm just waxing nostalgic because I was 11 when it came out (versus 8 when Terminator debuted, and thus, too young to appreciate the subtleties of Schwarzeneggar's performance), but I'll be damned if Predator isn't a better film.

Let's get this out of the way. Yes, there were horrendous sequels, and let's not discuss the Alien vs. Predator movies at all. I'm only speaking of the original Predator movie, in much the same way that Jaws is discussed very much independently of its ridiculous spawn. Like Jaws, in fact, Predator was directed by an action autuer in John McTiernan. And like Jaws, it's not an excuse to watch people get chopped up (watch the sequels for that.) Predator combines your basic "Most Dangerous Game" scenario with the classic man vs. beast dramatic situation. In this case, however, the "beast" is an alien game-hunter. It's just a way of amping up a classic dramatic situation, but it is made so well that you can see why Predator and Jaws are so good, and all the movies that they spawned are so bad. And it gave us one of the best lines in movie history: "You are one... ugly ... mother-fucker." Beats "I'll be back" all to hell.

While most people remember Arnold, Predator was also introduced the mainstream world to Jesse "the Body" Ventura, future governor and crazy person, and the onscreen debut of screenwriter Shane Black, who apparently was writing The Last Boy Scout while on set (and hopefully improvised all those awesome pussy jokes his character delivers). Arnold himself was still learning his craft (he kind of still is), but it worked here because he was basically the same as the terminator, a soldier with a single mission, only an actual person this time. This works to hide Arnold's shaky acting, and also gives credence to the fact that the Predator had actually met his match. Along those same lines, watching the movie again, it's interesting what a slow pace it cuts. The first sign that anything is amiss at all is when the commandos find their skinned colleagues, and assume it was done by their enemies. Of course, movie-goers who have come to see a horror flick know different, but these are battle-hardened warrior who have seen all manner of scary shit, and they would naturally assume the enemy was responsible. And they take out their frustrations in the movie's sole action sequence. The rest of the film is very deliberate, and downright scary.

In the end, Predator is not a social commentary or a technical marvel. It's s simple premise that has been used before, but with a little twist. Throw in a splash of character development (the friendship between Blain and Mac, the redemption of Dillon), and some cool effects when seeing from he point-of-view of the monster, and you got yourself one fine piece of film-making. Sure, The Terminiator may have more of a cult following, but if you ask me if that's my favorite Schwarzeneggar movie, I must respond, "Yeah... except it's The Predator."

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"The Invention of Lying"... Starring My Friend

Months ago, my friend, Brom, got bit by the acting bug.

The romantic comedy "This Side of the Truth" starring Ricky Gervais and Jennifer Garner was filming in his town of Lowell, MA (although he keeps reminding me it's a city. Maybe Hamlet will satisfy everyone.) Extras were needed for a crowd scene, and my friend decided to sign up, despite the fact that I warned him it was really, really boring, having spent what seemed like hundreds of hours on the sweltering set of "The Great Debators" a few months before. He insisted it might be fun, so I told him to go with my blessing, but bring a book.

Brom came away from his days on the set with a drive to try his hand at acting. He regaled me with stories of meeting fabulous people and standing close to Ricky Gervais and making friends with his fellow extras and wanting to get a head-shot and asked what websites one goes to to find acting gigs. I was all-at-once excited for him and slightly amazed. Brom has a tendency to embrace things for a little while and then drop them. His history, coupled with what I knew about extra-work, made me absolutely sure that he was sugar-coating this whole experience.

Nevertheless, buoyed by his enthusiasm and feeling slightly poor, I went with Brom to a cattle call for the next Bruce Willis vehicle shooting in the area, "The Surrogates," where we met several people that he had worked with on "Truth." We all stood around for awhile and then pretended to fall down, and I was able to strike up a nice conversation with a couple lovely ladies that he had worked with (It's all about the networking!).

When the time came to shoot "Surrogates," I found the experience to be similar to "Debators," only with better lunch and at least one friend there to talk to. Despite the fact that Brom and I were given A's on our falling technique, we were sentenced to the very back of the shot, so there was no way that we would be in our scene. When the sky opened, Brom volunteered to stay outside and shoot some more, while I retreated to the nearest tavern. I should point out (although I do feel some guilt about it), that Brom and I got paid the same rate for the day. However, he still really enjoyed himself, and even parlayed it into a commercial where he was blotted out and an indy horror flick that may never see the light of day. But hey, the guy was loving life.

When "The Surrogates" was released, Brom saw it opening weekend. His review was somewhat tepid, and Brom has a very positive attitude. I would probably hate it, in fact. Since he told me that he saw nobody he knew, and certainly not either of us, I didn't bother seeing it at all, and almost wanted to shove a big, fat, "I-Told-You-So" in his face, because I'm just that much of a jerk.

But here's the clincher; "The Invention of Lying," the artist formerly known as "This Side of the Truth" was released the next week, and Brom again went opening night. The next day he told me that not only was it a funny movie, but that he saw himself in several shots. Now, I've known enough extras to know what that really means: you may have seen his arm for a tenth of a second wwwaaaayyyy in the background. Hey, I told everyone I was in "Great Debators," but I only knew I was in it because, through the miracle of technology, I can pause the DVD to the exact tenth of a second that I am actually onscreen. So, it was with skepticism that I saw the movie with Brom, asking him to point out the shots that he was in.

Here's where I eat a big fat helping of crow. Brom was clearly visible in several shots, and actually close to the action, ad even if he was not there pointing himself out, I probably would have seen him, and it was a funny, original, good movie. And I almost hate to admit it, but I think if I had been an extra on this one, I might have enjoyed it as much as he did, and thought, "Maybe I can do this more often, and not just for the money or to meet chicks." I can see why he got the bug from this one, as opposed to all the times I sat around a movie set, sweating my balls off, asking myself why the fuck I was there. His experience was probably the polar opposite of mine, and not just because he's a more positive person, but because the movie was better, the crew was probably better, he was probably treated better... Hell, the lunch was probably better.

The movie itself is interesting on several levels. At the core, it is a guy-meets-girl story, but there are layers under that premise., since the guy is the only person in the world who can tell a lie. At first, he uses it for financial gain, for himself and for the homeless man he passes on the street every day. Things take a turn after he tells his dying mother that the afterlife is filled with love and joy and mansions. Word of his gets out, and suddenly Ricky Gervais has spilled the beans on God, turning him into a sort of Christ-figure to the rubes of this world, who have never heard of such a crazy thing (pretty much coming out and saying that religion is a big lie, which I've thought for awhile, anyway.)

Even beyond the religious undercutting, there's the girl, the beautiful Jennifer Garner, who from the opening scene has told poor, chubby Gervais that she is out of his league and that, genetically, they are a poor match and so shouldn't bother dating at all (Remember, nobody lies in this world.) This, to me, is why this movie is almost the anti-romcom. This is where it skewers modern love as a whole, yet somehow embraces it because, in the end, (SPOILER ALERT, in case you have never seen a film), the guy gets the girl. In the real world, all animals seek out their ideal genetic partner, the one that will help them make the best babies. Humans do this, too, either consciously or sub-consciously, but it goes on, and it's probably why I have never met the "right girl," since I don't really want to make any babies, good or bad. This movie, however, is the only one that I've seen that comes out and says it, and it does it in such a clever way that it still has a happy ending, despite the fact that it pokes holes in the very genre that it's in and should, in fact, be kind of an indictment of the happy ending. the message in the end; You can be with someone who is not necessarily your ideal genetic mate, as long as that person makes you happy.

To me, there was another message to this one, because I find it ironic that a movie about lying can expose me to the truth: things are not always what they seem. Ricky Gervais may not seem like the ideal mate for someone as hot as Jennifer Garner, but he was in that case, and he made her happy. And extra work may not always be the most horrible experience of your life. It wasn't in that case, and it seems to have made Brom happy.