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Stylish Monsters

A Simple Favor and The Predator




A SIMPLE FAVOR. The thing here is style: a modern noir about a missing person, a psycho-sexual thriller soaked in gin and dressed in devastating clothes, played out in a gorgeous, antiseptic ultra-modern house. That's only a little less than half of it though, the veneer of the part of the story dominated by Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), a high-powered fashion executive trapped in the doldrums of Connecticut motherhood, she who unassumingly drives a Porsche and doesn't care about wearing her Louboutins in the rain. But this is also a story about Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick), widowed, impossibly cute and equally busy volunteering at her son's school and hosting a homemaking vlog — all of which may be in an attempt to distract from something awful that would otherwise consume her. Stephanie, she of the kitty-cat socks from Target and the innocuous cardigans and floral tops. She who might already be a little in love when Emily invites her over for mid-afternoon Martinis while their sons have a playdate and who may already be in over her head.

So begins A Simple Favor, adapted from Darcey Bell's novel by Jessica Sharzer and directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, 2011; Ghostbusters, 2016). Not to venture too far afield but Feig is one of the more nattily dressed men in Hollywood, favoring classically tailored three-piece suits, complete with pocket square and the occasional whimsical cane and/or bowler hat because, you know, it's supposed to be fun. He also, of course, knows a thing or two about making (usually) funny movies with predominantly female casts. Those traits serve him well here: The casting of Lively and Kendrick as leads/foils is precise and perfect, as are the costuming choices throughout. Where the movie falls a little flat, beyond the story wandering into some lurid, mostly predictable corners, is in its failure to convert its beyond-keen fashion sense into an engaging, dynamic visual style. Behind the camera, Feig has been fairly yeomanlike, which makes perfect sense directing comedies starring improvisers (tough to capture off-the-cuff jokes while blocking complex, minutes-long tracking shots or cutting at breakneck speed). The style with which the leads and the sets are dressed almost carries through. But the simplicity of the cinematography, editing, saturated color palette and gauzy lighting undercut the darkness and calculation driving the narrative.

It' still a fun date-night movie, though, and worth the price of admission for the clothes and to watch Lively stretch out a little bit and Kendrick react to her. Also, the latter raps along to M.O.P.'s "Ante Up" at one point, which is a wonderful thing. R. 117m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE PREDATOR. The beginning of this somewhat unexpected franchise, Predator (1987), is one of the formative movies of my young life. I emphasize young because I saw it probably before I should have and it scared me deeply. But I was also a child of the post-Vietnam era of marketing toys to boys and so was mildly obsessed with third-wave GI Joe comics and cartoons and action figures, with playing at war (problematic). And Predator, directed by John McTiernan (Die Hard, 1988), was/is among the most artfully made over-the-top action movies of the period. Technically near perfect, with groundbreaking special effects and an almost palpable atmosphere, it was also very satisfying to a too-young child for its Benetton for Soldier of Fortune casting, with every member of the team drawn from a different socio-economic/ethnic/racial group and, of course, boasting a different combat specialty, bristling with impractical weaponry and all looking badass in jungle fatigues.

Writer/director Shane Black — who had a small acting role in Predator — seems to share some of my affinity for the time and tropes of that movie (makes sense, his career had just started to skyrocket and he made his name with darkly comic action pictures) and it largely defines his installment in the series. The Predator uses some of the original score, centers on an unlikely military unit and occasionally ventures into some weirdly-conceived throwback aesthetics (and the gore, mustn't forget to mention the gore). It is very much and self-consciously a sequel, but because Black (who co-wrote with Fred Dekker) has a distinct and well-practiced sensibility as a screenwriter, it is its own movie. And it mostly works.

When an alien escape pod (and the ship from which it was ejected) crash lands, a DOD sniper named Quinn McKenna working in Mexico is first on the scene. A government team lead by the coldly enthusiastic Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) isn't far behind. They track down the survivor of the crash (guess who!) and spirit it away to a secret facility where evolutionary biologist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) is drawn into the fray. Meanwhile, McKenna (who may have stolen some alien tech and shipped it home, where his estranged genius son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) may have found it) has been de-briefed and thrown in with a group of mentally unstable vets to discredit him and disappear him in a military prison.

Dekker, who wrote The Monster Squad back in the day, shows his influence here, especially as the second act ratchets up and the story emphasizes the comedy and unlikely friendships. It's not a bad blend with Black's warmly acerbic tone but somehow it's all a little off. Maybe because of my reverence for the first movie or for McTiernan's tremendous style and (perhaps misplaced) elevation of the material, The Predator is almost too silly. R. 107M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

— John J. Bennett

See showtimes at or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.


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