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Alien Vs. Predator Starring: Sanaa Latham, Lance Henriksen. Director and screenwriter: Paul W.S. Anderson
Of the two franchises merged here, I guess I prefer the Alien, especially the Alien of the first film.  The films since Ridley Scott’s 1979 work have devalued and diminished the creature, from a possibly intelligent, mysterious entity to a big dumb bug.  

As for the Predator, there was never a whole lot of mystery about the creature; it was a hunter, pure and simple and was never seen in any other context.  The creatures are sore losers and have a certain sense of honor, possibly comparable to latter-day Klingons.  They’ve got more in common with us (or at least they have more understandable motives) than the Aliens do, so it’s not at all surprising that when they and the Aliens both encounter the human race at the same time, we end up teaming with the Predators.

Or at least one of them.  The Predators, here, prove fairly vulnerable to the Aliens so that toward the end there’s apparently only one left.   While they have their invisibility shields (and invisible weapons, to which I think, No, No, No), the Aliens have sheer force of numbers as well as a great deal of agility and flexibility.

Which makes one wonder about the basic premise here.  The idea is, the Predators have a frozen Alien Queen, and every hundred years they thaw her out, capture some humans for hosts for her eggs, and have a hunting party.  The Aliens are considered the ultimate prey for them, and given the results here, I can certainly see that; what is less apparent is how the Predators never get very good at hunting them.   One possible explanation is that the surviving Predator seems very young and inexperienced (hard to say exactly how I get this impression, but I do) and, if he is the leader here, it may be his strategy and tactics that get the rest of his team killed.  Perhaps.

As for the film itself, it’s a typical Paul W.S. Anderson piece, full of action set pieces and stylized bits of business.  If you’ve seen Event Horizon or the first Resident Evil film, you’ll be familiar with the tricks and the pacing and such. 

One bit that might have been interesting comes from the fact that the “company” that’s been responsible for so much Alien-related business in that franchise, is here called “Weyland” enterprises, rather than Weyland-Yutani as in the later films.  The surviving human, Lex, is given a Predator weapon at the end in a show of gratitude; it would have been kind of neat if her last name had been Yutani (I don’t remember what it is in the film) and this had been the start of the Weyland-Yutani partnership.  It would have leant a certain thrust to the company’s search for bioweapons, knowing that they exist out there somewhere.

One rather stupid bit concerns the Weyland name, as it's attached to Lance Henriksen, as Charles Bishop Weyland. Henriksen, as always, is worth watching but if all those Bishop androids from the other films are based on his image, how can anyone be surprised (as Sigourney Weaver is in Aliens) that someone who looks like this is an android? It would be like seeing someone named “Ted” who looks exactly like Ted Turner—how could you not know who or what it was?

But that's that film, and this is this film. Overall, I had a pretty good time. The film is a decent popcorn movie, nothing really surprising but pretty entertaining nonetheless.   Definite demerits, though, for killing off the Scottish guy.  I liked that guy, and the fact that he was documenting the expedition for his kids.  In the thick of danger, he asks the other guy who’s been trapped with him if he has any kids; when the guy says that he does, the Scottish guy says that they both have to survive not for themselves, but for the sake of their children.  A nice touch, and it pissed me off when he got killed.

This is the first PG-13 film I’ve seen where the rating was derived, partly, because of “Slime.”  Don’t think the slime bothered me that much, but hey, I’m sure Hollywood knows best.

For another, less kind view, check Brian J. Wright’s review here.

Are We There Yet? Starring: Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen, Philip Bolden. Director: Brian Levant. Cliché-wranglers: Steven Gary Banks, Claudia Grazioso, J. David Stem, David N. Weiss
The Incredibles is a great film, isn’t it?  Lately, I’ve been gaining a lot of appreciation for one of Syndrome’s lines, as he complains about Mr. Incredible calling for help.  “Lame, lame, lame, lame, lame, lame, lame!

Perhaps that judgment is a bit harsh for Are We There Yet, which seems to have fairly modest goals—it’s definitely a film for kids, and as such, probably appeals to them far more than it does to me.  I don't think I can be blamed for lying outside the target demographic for this film, but I watched it anyway and thought, well, I'm sure I'm not the only adult who's going to have to see this, so there ought to be some perspective from outside the box. So here I am.

There are some nice things in the film (Ice Cube is surprisingly charming, and the child actors are very good) but the film is utterly and totally predictable.   If I tell you the basic idea—Ice Cube plays a bachelor who dislikes children, forced to take two particularly obnoxious kids on a several hundred mile road trip—tell me you can’t guess everything that happens just based on that premise.   It’s like the screenwriters didn’t actually do any screenwriting, they just grabbed the Big Book O’ Cliches and went to town with the photocopier.

Throughout, there are great illustrations of Chekov’s dictum that if you put a pistol on the wall, it should be fired before the fourth act.   Late in the film, for example, everyone ends up at a kids’ party, and Ice Cube breaks up some (mild) rough-housing.  He tells the kids, “I’d like to see you try that on someone my size!” and if you can’t guess what happens next, please don’t tell me.  I’ve only got a few illusions left to shatter!

The kids I saw this with enjoyed it, and the performances are good throughout (it’s especially nice to see Uhura again) and the film is good natured to a fault.  The two kids began as utter monsters, and it is a tribute to the skill of the child actors that, later in the film when we're supposed to be sympathetic toward them, they're able to pull it off.

It is a film the entire family can see, as there's no sex, only a few “damns” in language, and the violence is always cartoony (the giant lumberjack thing seemed like it should hurt a lot more, given the target). You won’t feel you’ve wasted your time, but don’t watch if you like to be surprised.

The Chronicles of Riddick Starring: Vin Diesel, Judi Dench, Colm Feore, Karl Urban, Thandie Newton, Nick Chinlund. Director and junior mythmaker: David Twohy.
There’s this galaxy-spanning group of mean people who like to go around and stomp other planets and enslave them, and there’s only one guy who has the ability to stand up and fight against them.  Ultimately, he triumphs over the main bad guy, and while the bad guys are still around, the feeling is, they can be dealt with now.  

Of course, you recognize that as the plot of Battlefield: Earth.  But guess what!  Someone else decided to make pretty much the same picture. 

But let’s start with the title.  Battlefield: Earth had “Battlefield: Earth, A Saga of the Year 3000” as its full moniker, though it was never referred to that way (except dismissively).  Writer/director David Twohy decided he’d try to grab some of that epicness for his picture, but he also decided to craft him a title you couldn’t shorten meaningfully, and we got The Chronicles of Riddick. 

Good Heavens, if that isn’t the most pretentious title for a sci-fi action picture, ever, then I’d sure hate to hear what is.    If it was called The Chronicles of Riddick, Volume One:  As Falls the Sword, So Falls the Empire, it couldn’t be more overblown and ridiculous (and that was a title I just came up with).  How on Earth did Twohy think this up, and NOT smack himself?  Riddick-ulous, I'd call it.

I imagine part of this is starting to believe the mythos you’ve created is such a wonderful, terrific framework that you start to overblow its importance and forget that what ya got here is a sci-fi action picture.  Oh, it’s fairly epic in scale, hopping about from planet to planet and with the threat of universal Armageddon hanging over the whole proceedings, so it’s not like there isn’t the possibility of living up to that silly title.   It’s just that the film itself doesn’t really try that.  Instead, it’s almost as if, once having thought up the title, Twohy figured the hard work was all done and he could just bang out any old script and it would work on screen.

And it kind of shows, throughout.   We have the frozen planet, which exists pretty much just so we can have a frozen planet.  (The whorled, finger-print like pattern on the surface is interesting looking, but come on, “interesting looking” is hardly a criteria for a whole movie.)  We have the hot prison planet, Crematoria, which exists for a couple of action/outrun-the-sun sequences, and is generally effective, so that can go in the plus column.  Then we get Riddick making friends with some hell-hound prison dog.  It’s a nice scene (“It’s an animal thing,” he says) but it goes nowhere.   (Don’t tell me about deleted scenes, those don’t count.)

We also have a bounty-hunter subplot that takes Riddick away from the action and to the aforementioned prison planet.  Ultimately, the purpose of this seems solely to re-introduce a character from the first film and nothing more.  (Oh, and to provide some stunt sequences, and add to the running time.)  Keith David’s wife and daughter show up to be briefly imperiled, then they disappear.  There’s a scary bad guy with a knife in his back who is way too easily defeated.  There’s just a lot of stuff that is picked up and turned over then returned to the toy box without being played with.

The main plot of the film, about some race of bad dudes called Necromongers, seems to engage Twohy the least, yet ironically, the scenes dealing with this plot are the most cohesive.

I dunno.  That whole title just hangs over the film like some dorky freshman English metaphor that someone spent all night (and a hit on the bong) concocting, and he ain’t gonna cut it out just for some silly reason like, it doesn’t fit anymore.   Fitting with things is so bourgeois, man.

There are certainly some nice sequences here and there, and the Riddick character remains kind of cool and fun to watch, if a bit uninvolving other than as a stuntman He does get one great line, though ("I'll kill you with my teacup.").    Some of the Necromongers are interesting, like those specially adapted either for mind-reading (the creepy “Quasi-dead”) or as kind of human scanner-recorders (I think they were called “seers”).  The ships were cool throughout, as were the strange rippling effects of the Necromonger weapons.

But, boy, I just don’t know how you could watch some of this stuff and not groan.  The very end, for example, when Riddick does what an exhausted person would naturally do, is…well, okay it’s logical, and it’s been kind of established, but man, is it stupid. 

For something in which thousands of lives are at stake, it remains pretty distant and indifferent throughout.   Nice eye-candy here and there, and the Necromongers have pretty cool weapons and spaceships, and there are some scattered moments which are great (the Necromongers rush through a hail of enemy fire to get to an open area, where, just before they collapse dead, they detonate a device which destroys all the opposing troops in the area—that takes toughness, boy.  None of the other Necromongers seem to have that kind of dedication, though. It's like the film only had that one scene for all of them to share. One gets the impression they are tough, bad dudes but the film never gives them another chance to be tough and bad). 

So, see it if you are in the mood for something mindless and flashy, but please don’t think you’re getting something like that title.  What am I saying?  Geez, in Hollywood today, this film probably counts as deep thinking.