Friday, 21 June 2019

Noir Diary # 4:
Kiss of Death
(Henry Hathaway, 1947)

Maybe it’s just me, but ‘Kiss of Death’ strikes me as an overly dramatic title for this meat n’ potatoes crime/gangster melodrama, made for Fox by western specialist Henry Hathaway.

True, Nick Bianco (Victor Mature) plants some big kisses on his kids and his second wife (Coleen Gray) in the second half of the movie, and ok, he’s a reformed felon in deep trouble at the time, but his affections certainly never smack of death, and that aside, there are no femme fatales or doomed dames here, no sexual undertones or any funny business like that – just crooks and cops in their off-the-peg duds, chatting in offices and cell blocks, taking care of the day to day. Solid stuff, and no damned kissing.

Am I being too literal here? Didn’t pulp crime writers basically just pick these titles out of a (big, black) hat, more often than not? Well, regardless, I’d probably have called the picture “Confessions of a Stoolie”, or hey, how about “Nicky Soprano”? [It’s been done – Ed.]

Well no matter, ‘Kiss of Death’ it is, and it begins with a nice bit of post-modern humour - the image of a revolver placed atop a movie screenplay (marked “shooting script”), as an unseen hand begins to turn the pages, and the credits are presented in the form of typed script notations.

This self-awareness is immediately jettisoned however once we get into the film itself, which opens with Nick Bianco and a few of his cronies pulling off a Christmas Eve heist at a Manhattan jewellery store (located inside the Chrysler Building, no less). Although Mature gives the impression of being a pretty thorough-going, black-clad bad-ass at this point, voiceover narration (read, rather hesitantly, by Gray) foregrounds Bianco as a sympathetic figure, informing us that he’s been searching for a straight job for over a year, but that his criminal record has got him the bum’s rush every time, forcing him into this act of desperation to buy some Christmas gifts for his family.

A sweat-drenched journey down to the lobby in a crowded elevator establishes the film’s strongest suit – tension! – before a desperate flight from the cops leaves Bianco writhing in the gutter with a bullet in his leg. “The same thing happened to his father twenty years earlier; he died with a police bullet in him,” Gray’s voiceover flatly informs us. A pretty great opening, all in all.

Bianco keeps his stone-faced front up all the way to Sing-Sing, repeatedly telling obsequious Assistant D.A. Brian Donlevy “no deal” when the latter offers Nick a plea bargain in return for fingering his accomplices, manipulatively appealing to the felon’s recently acquired status as a father and aspirant decent guy. In the process of telling Donlevy to shove it, Bianco inadvertently gains the admiration of his cellmate, a twitchy young gangland psychopath, the perfectly named Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark), but… more on him later.

After several years in the joint, things change for Bianco when he learns – via a fellow inmate and a scan of a newspaper obituaries column in the prison library, rather unfeasibly – that his wife has committed suicide. Stuck her head in the gas oven, no less, leaving the kids bound for the orphanage. Harsh.

Bianco had entrusted his family’s wellbeing to one of his partners on the robbery job. Evidently, that didn’t quite work out, so before you know it, Nick is back up-town, singing for Donlevy.

Out on parole as a result of his vengeful snitching, Nick is soon making time with Gray (the nice gal who used to live downstairs and babysat the kids) and, after tying the knot of course, the couple reclaim his two adorable moppets from the nuns. But, inevitably, ol’ Brian is soon on the phone again, asking Nick to set up and testify against another old pal of his – young Tommy Udo. One ‘not guilty’ verdict later, and you can probably see where this train is heading.

Behind the camera, ‘Kiss of Death’s credits are a dictionary definition of “solid”. Master script doctors Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer sure as hell knew how to write a three act genre movie (there are a few clunky lines and abrupt time transitions, but hey), and Henry Hathaway sure as hell knew how to direct one.

There are a few striking compositions, and the film is attractively photographed by Norbert Brodine, making effective (but rarely showy) use of real world locations – an element which doesn’t seem terribly noteworthy today, but proved a game-changing novelty for noir/crime films in the immediate post-war period.

Aside from a few looming shadows and dark hats in the final act however, there’s not much of that wild, expressionistic stuff that usually gets us noir fans excited. Even this early in noir’s “second wave”, realism was clearly already the big word, jarring somewhat with the film’s more baroque characters and theatrical performance styles - a disjuncture Hathaway and Brodine attempt to correct by allowing the atmosphere to become slightly more fantastical as the story progresses.

Likewise, there is little of the kind of moral ambiguity, all-consuming corruption and doomed inevitability that defines the noir sensibility to be found in ‘Kiss of Death’. Straight-down-the-line, good vs evil melodrama is more the dominant flavour here, with the Production Code-friendly, family values moralism championed by Donlevy’s character baked into the heart of the film, rather than sprinkled on top as an after-thought.

There is a cloying sense of paternalism for instance to the scene in which the prison governor compliments Bianco for his neat hand-writing, whilst a guard opines that “he’s not a bad guy”, and in the way that Nick timidly proceeds to follow the Assistant D.A.’s orders, hanging his head like a naughty child who knows he’s done bad and wants to make good.

When Mature tells Donlevy, “your side of the fence is almost as dirty as mine”, the older man comes back with, “yeah, but we only hurt the bad guys” – a questionable assertion which Hathaway is content to leave largely unchallenged, even after the D.A. proves himself to be pretty ineffectual when it comes to protecting his star witness’s loved ones from harm.

In front the camera meanwhile… well, I know that Victor Mature took a lot of stick over the years for his supposed lack of thespian talent and willingness to cruise on his good looks, but I’ve always had soft spot for him. Sure, he doesn’t exactly have much range, but how many capital letter Movie Stars really do? More important than that, he has brooding screen presence to die for, and does that lethargic, heavy-lidded drawlin’ thing just as well as Mitchum. He did great work as the tormented, alcoholic Doc Holliday in Ford’s ‘My Darling Clementine’, and as the crusading cop in Robert Siodmak’s ‘Cry of the City’, to name but two.

In ‘Kiss of Death’ though, well, I begin to see what his critics were getting at. Nick Bianco anchors this film front to back, and would likely have proved a challenging gig for any actor, with the script requiring him to transform in quick succession from a tight-lipped criminal operator to a grief-stricken jailbird, and from a craven, self-loathing stool pigeon to a defiant and proud family man. Mature might nail the first of these aspects pretty well, maybe the second, but beyond that, he struggles.

His conduct in the family scenes feels weird and overbearing, whilst the scene in which he reports back to the cops on Tommy Udo’s activities is deeply unconvincing; he sounds more like a concerned movie star recounting a conversation he overheard outside a nightclub than an insider from the criminal underworld breaking a lifetime’s silence.

Mature does manage to retain our sympathy throughout however, and he can get convincingly cool n’ tough when needed, so I won’t shame his memory by uttering the names of a few of his contemporaries who could have aced this role in his place… let’s just suggest that he was an actor who hit a lot harder in “one note” kind of parts, and leave it at that.

Speaking of “one note” parts meanwhile, most critics seem agreed on the fact that it is Richard Widmark as Tommy Udo who steals this movie. Indeed, Widmark – who made his big screen debut here after a few years slugging it out in theatre-land – even received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his trouble… and how I wish we still lived in a world where The Academy was willing to award a nod to this kind of berserkly cartoon-ish over-acting once in a while.

Basically, Widmark’s approach here is to take the kind of “sneering, psychotic punk” character first defined by James Cagney in ‘The Public Enemy’, and to crank the dial up to eleven. As a portrayal of full spectrum, eye-popping, lip curling (literally - he curls that lip good), subtlety-free villainy, Widmark pretty much knocks it out of the park here, and I don’t think anyone’s quite found it yet, over seven decades later. (Having said that, it’s certainly no surprise to discover that Nicholas Cage took on the role in Barbet Schroeder’s 1995 remake.)

Merely looking at Tommy Udo’s face is enough to conjure up images of bullet wounds being probed with pen knives, abandoned syringes and chorus girls with smashed up faces, along with a metallic smell of cologne and formaldehyde – and that’s even before he starts laughing like a hyena. He’s like some killer, mutant animal that has emerged fully-formed from the ugly tensions of the artificial urban environment, his cherubic features rendered grotesque by the sadistic impulses that lurk beneath.

At various points, Udo reminded me both of Richard Attenborough’s Pinky in ‘Brighton Rock’ and Ronald Lacey’s sadistic Nazi in ‘Raiders of The Lost Ark’ – which should give you some idea of where this freak stands in the canon of OTT cinematic villainy.

In ‘Kiss of Death’s most notorious scene, Udo ties up a wheelchair-bound elderly lady (the mother of a fellow underworld fink) with electrical cord and pushes her down a flight of stairs to her death. A shockingly violent moment that succeeds in upping the ante on the similar exclamation points of perverse brutality that became a trademark of Warner Bros’ ‘30s gangster films, this admirably tasteless attention-grabber also serves a vital narrative function in establishing beyond doubt the kind of threat Tommy Udo poses to Nick Bianco’s family.

Indeed, it is the reality of this threat that helps to make the film’s final act - in which everything goes a bit ‘Cape Fear’ once Udo is acquitted and back on the street – into by far its most compelling section. Hathaway may not exactly be the most stylistically extravagant of filmmakers, but as Bianco waits, and waits, for Udo to make his move, the director wrangles the slow-burning suspense and apprehension of the scenario beautifully. There are looming, empty shadows, bead-of-sweat close-ups, nocturnal door creaks, passing headlights and lots and lots of clock-watching. Endangered innocents, helpless heroes and long, pregnant silences. Old tricks, but they work like a charm.

By the time our hero and villain finally square off, we’re deep into a psycho gangster dream world (and back on the studio lot), hanging tough in a Mafioso seafood joint after midnight whilst gunmen in a sedan with black window blinds lurk outside. Lugosi and Karloff meanwhile wish they could have come up with some jive as genuinely chilling as the threats Udo issues to Bianco whilst ironically acting out the part of his “big pal” through sneering, clenched teeth: “yeah, it’s all gonna be fun, fun, fun for us from now on. Just you, and me… and your wife … and your kids. Kids like to have fun.”

In the end, this superb build-up is slightly undermined by a muffed ending, in which a perfectly respectable downbeat / tragic conclusion is ruined by a last minute attempt to “fix” it with a closing voiceover narration that must have left the entire audience filing out into the lobby scratching their heads in confusion… but you’ve just got to learn to live with this stuff in old Hollywood crime pictures, I suppose. Here in the home video era, I’ll simply advise viewers to mute the sound for the final ten seconds, and everything should work out nicely.

At the risk of repeating myself, ‘Kiss of Death’ isn’t exactly what I'd deem definitive film noir, hampered as it is by plodding melodrama and some deeply square, self-satisfied moralising, but as a more straightforward crime / suspense movie, it does the business.

Tommy Udo at least has become something of a key gangster movie archetype (in a horrible instance of life imitating art, the notorious NYC mobster “Crazy Joe” Gallo is reported to have used the character as an early role model), and the scenes involving Widmark crackle with a malign energy that makes the film essential viewing, irrespective of its flaws.


Check out these great European poster designs:

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

New Movies Reviews!

As in, a few short-as-possible takes on recently released movies – because, uncharacteristically, I seem to have watched quite a few of them recently.

One Cut of the Dead
(Shin'ichirô Ueda, 2017)

If you’ve not yet seen this high concept Japanese indie mega-hit, let me simply say that you probably should, because it’s wonderful.

Beyond that however, it is the very definition of a film that is almost impossible to write about without spoiling the surprise, so what follows is less of a conventional review, and more just a couple of quick pieces of advice for potential viewers.

1. Though it is being marketed as a zombie film, I’d probably tag this one more as a family drama, disguised as a film-about-filmmaking, disguised as a zombie film, so - keep your monster kid expectations in check.

2. Though the opening half hour might well cause you to question why you’re bothering to watch this thing, stick with it and you will be richly rewarded.

3. Likewise, if you, like me, tend to experience motion sickness when watching shaky-cam handheld footage, this opening act will soon become a horrendous, stomach-churning nightmare. Once again though, please keep it together and keep your eyes on the screen, because blessed relief awaits at the thirty minute mark, and you’ll be disappointed if you missed some important details whilst staring at your shoes feeling nauseous.

And finally, I will note that, despite its low budget origins, this film’s achievements in the oft-overlooked fields of pre-production planning and continuity are quite possibly unparalleled in the medium, and, I believe, deserve to be recognised with some kind of gigantic medal and a hearty round of applause from the entire international film community.

Get Out
(Jordan Peele, 2017)

So yes, I was pretty late getting around to this one. I really liked it though! In particular, I appreciated the way in which Peele manages to spin his “yeah, I see where this is going” Stepford/Bodysnatchers type premise into a considerably more challenging and thought-provoking social allegory than I had been expecting.

By which I mean, I like that he clearly decided that making his bad guys traditional white supremacists would be just too easy, and instead sets his satirical sights upon a slightly trickier target – namely, a very particular slice of white, liberal America that tends to fetishize the black experience whilst failing to respect the existence of black people as independent, self-determining, well… people, basically.

Elsewhere, the film has some fine acting and character interplay and some effective bits of humour, together with an exquisitely rendered atmosphere of unease, top notch cinematography and a handful of queasily surreal images that will live long in the memory. All in all, it rather put me in mind of a slicker and more professional Larry Cohen film, which is certainly no bad thing. (One Larry Cohen film in particular in fact, but… that’s a story we’ll get into in another forthcoming review, I suspect.)

All of these qualities are meanwhile only slightly undermined meanwhile by a script so monumentally unfeasible that plotholers will no doubt be gleefully trooping toward this one with their hardhats and grappling hooks for years to come.

(My biggest personal bugbear: I know there’s probably a point to be made about the black community being ill-served by law enforcement, but even so, surely someone in a position of authority must have noticed that ten plus missing persons cases were all in a relationship with the same woman at the time of their disappearance…?)

The Sisters Brothers
(Jacques Audiard, 2018)

A sprawling, historically detailed pre-Civil War western with an oddball, black comic tone, ‘The Sisters Brothers’ is in many ways an unmistakably contemporary (by which I mean, 21st century) prospect, but at the same time, it certainly wouldn’t have embarrassed the architects of the great, revisionist westerns of the 1970s, in terms of its narrative ambition, production design, immersive visuals and general sense-of-place.

In these days of micro-managed, producer-bedevilled screenplays, I appreciated the way that the film feels, for better or worse, like the sole vision of writer-director Jacques Audiard (who makes his Hollywood debut here I believe, having previously hit big in his native France with ‘A Prophet’ (2009) and ‘The Beat My Heart Skipped’ (2005)). This in spite of the fact that the list of production companies & sundry other entities involved in ‘presenting’ ‘The Sisters Brothers’ takes up an entire widescreen frame of subtitle-sized text. (Honestly, I thought it was a gag, until the opening scene – depicting a massacre - established a considerably less flippant tone.)

In particular, I liked the way that this film’s storytelling moves away from the “leaden gravity of karmic fate” approach so often favoured by westerns, instead adopting a rambling, quixotic framework that allows all kinds of episodic diversions and sidebars to distract us from the main thrust of the title characters’ intertwined arcs, including random bear attacks, shipwrecks, transgender casino proprietors and a tour through the bright lights of Gold Rush-era San Francisco.

Adherence to conventional screenwriting doctrine would have seen most of this stuff mercilessly excised, but personally, I’m glad that that these various bits and pieces made the final cut, simply because they are fun and interesting, and help to make the world of the film richer and more involving than it may have been if restricted to a straight-down-the-line, three act type job.

Speaking of rambling however…. well, let’s just say that, whereas the great American westerns of the past were largely united by their zen-like mastery of the ‘SHOW, DON’T TELL’ approach to character development, Audiard by contrast takes the Wes Anderson route here, allowing his characters to bang on interminably about their family backgrounds, personal ambitions and psychological conflicts, sometimes even in the form of fourth wall-breaking, straight-to-camera monologues.

Lord in heaven, I’ve never known such a bunch of touchy-feely cowboys – The Wild Bunch they ain’t. In fact, if sainted Sam Peckinpah was still with us, the effect of a screening of this one on the old boy’s blood pressure might have finished him off for good.

This all culminates in a curious variation on the old ‘Treasure of Sierra Madre’ gold prospecting expedition, in which three of the four grizzled, gun-toting participants gradually come to recognise each other as frustrated, autodidact intellectuals who share a utopian belief in the common brotherhood of man…. leaving only one authentically brutish tough guy amongst their number. Needless to say, it doesn’t end well, but, like most everything else in this film, it at least ends badly in a pretty unusual way, breaking curious new ground within this most heavily codified of cinematic genres.

I’ll admit, all the self-reflective nattering and teary pontificating in ‘The Sisters Brothers’ really got my goat – perhaps simply because it conflicts so strongly with my own personal ideal of the western – but on the other hand, there’s a whole load of satisfyingly cathartic violence here too, so hey - swings and roundabouts.

In most other respects however, this is an admirable piece of proper, old fashioned filmmaking, anchored by a truly exceptional performance from John C. Reilly as the older, more mature of the two brothers. His relationship with his wilder younger sibling (Joaquin Phoenix) touches upon that same ‘old, dying west vs new, incoming civilisation’ conflict that lies at the heart of so many of those brilliant ‘60s and ‘70s westerns - only here, it is civility, settlement and compromise that Audiard sees as the more noble, more poetic option, in contrast to the doomed, twilight-of-the-gods masculine belligerence hymned by directors like Peckinpah and Leone.

Though the film’s occasionally quirky tone and failure connect with me emotionally prevent me from hailing it as a modern classic, there is a lot going on in ‘The Sisters Brothers’ for western scholars to get their teeth into, and it certainly makes for a fine way to pass an evening, irrespective of one’s personal investment in the genre.

(Steve McQueen, 2018)

Venturing even further toward the mainstream (because Japan Airlines in-flight entertainment neglected to include any English friendly old movies), I actually thought the trailer for this all-star heist movie from Steve McQueen (not *that* Steve McQueen, as I will insist on specifying until the day I die) actually looked quite promising, and indeed, as an intricately plotted crime procedural set in modern day Chicago, it’s rock solid.

In fact, watching it feels very much like reading a rock solid, intricately plotted contemporary crime novel, an achievement which I’m going to assume goes all the way back to Lynda La Plante’s source novel. (I’ve never previously felt the need to read any of her charity shop-filling doorstops, but I do feel somewhat warmer toward them on the basis of this satisfyingly labyrinthine, POV-hopping yarn.)

Outside of all the stuff with gun and gangsters and vans blowing up, there is plenty of swelling music, emotive flashbacks, manipulative ‘tearjerking’ moments and a lot of (perfectly reasonable, let’s face it) commentary on the hard road faced by women and ethnic minorities in contemporary society to endear the film to the Oscar Bait crowd, but I personally didn’t find any of it too cloying, and the relentless mechanics of the plotting keeps the engine ticking over nicely throughout; keeping our eyes always on the next corner, so to speak.

Initially, I thought we might be looking here at a kind of sophisticated, non-exploitative modern Hollywood take on the old Pam Grier/Jack Hill via Pinky Violence formula, wherein we get to enjoy the cathartic release of seeing wronged women exact revenge against a grab-bag of utterly despicable, cartoonishly horrid males (representatives of course of an utterly despicable, cartoonishly horrid system), but, as ‘Widows’ progresses, characterisation on both sides of the gender divide becomes murkier, casting at least some welcome shade onto the film’s socially progressive right n’ wrong dynamics.

Ironically for a film that so deliberately puts its female characters centre stage, I actually found that by far the most compelling aspect of the story was the material concerning the behind the scenes machinations of a local election, wherein two equally corrupt, duplicitous male candidates from opposite sides of the tracks attempt to put one over on the voting populace of the city ward in which the action takes place.

Both Colin Farrell as the Teflon-coated old money candidate who secretly hates the hypocrisy of the role his domineering father has groomed him for, and Brian Tyree Henry as the ruthless gangster who has reinvented himself as the “progressive social change” candidate simply because he believes politics will offer him better kickbacks and a longer lifespan, are fantastically monstrous creations, and it’s great too to see old Bobby Duvall pretty much napalming the joint in a ferocious turn as Farrell’s aforementioned father.

To be honest, the interlocking sisters-doing-it-for-themselves narrative suffers in comparison, feeling a bit underdeveloped, in spite of the vast acres of screen-time allotted to filling in the protagonists’ respective back stories. Nonetheless though, performances remain strong, and the film believably conveys the destabilising trauma that can ensue when every day, more-or-less-law-abiding citizens suddenly discover that their lives sit precariously atop a steaming mountain of corruption, violence and extortion.

The eventual emotional impact of all this is muffled by a few loose ends and a BIG PLOT TWIST which feels poorly handled and unnecessary, but hey, you can’t have everything. Overall, ‘Widows’ is a solid crime film that lives and breathes within the conventions of its genre despite its wider thematic concerns, and its heart is certainly in the right place.

I’ve not yet had the opportunity to see S. Craig Zahler’s controversial cop epic ‘Dragged Across Concrete’, but I’d imagine it could make for an interesting “compare and contrast” with this one. Something tells me I’ll probably rate ‘..Concrete’ more highly as a film, but I’m pretty sure I already know which of the two I’d rather hang out with were they to take on human form, if you get my drift.

The Predator
(Shane Black, 2018)

I’m assuming that, by this point, this awkwardly monikered sequel/reboot/whatever must have already been consigned to obscurity, from whence it will be distantly recalled as one of the biggest franchise-killing turkeys ever to have strutted its way through the gates of the Fox backlot onto the baking streets of Hollywood. I’d normally be content to leave it there, sizzling on the sidewalk, but the curvature of the earth adds about ninety minutes to the reverse leg of my annual Tokyo / London flight, so – ladies and gents, ‘The Predator’.

Actually, in truth, I feel a certain sympathy for this effort simply because I’m aware that director Shane Black is a close friend and long term collaborator of Fred Dekker, a man still revered by us horror fans as the creator of ‘Night of the Creeps’ (1986) and ‘The Monster Squad’ (1987). Indeed, Black & Dekker (ha! I only just noticed…) share the sole screenplay credit for ‘The Predator’, although god only knows what percentage of the movie they originally had in mind actually made it to the screen after what I imagine to have been a torturous nightmare of uncredited re-writes, executive producer ‘notes’ and studio-mandated re-shoots.

Nonetheless, the movie (during its first hour, at least) retains a breezy, happy-go-lucky b-movie feel that is actually somewhat endearing, including a few dialogue exchanges which I’m sure must have come straight down the line from Dekker’s sainted keyboard. (In particular, I enjoyed the running gag about the Predator not technically being a predator at all, because it hunts for sport rather than for food, with a character at one point likening it more to “an intergalactic bass fisherman”.)

With its definitive article title rendered even more redundant thanks to the fact that the script actually features several Predators, ‘The Predator’ is, undoubtedly, a bad movie, rife with forehead-slappingly dumb ideas and mindless, video game-y nonsense. Crucially however, it is not an unenjoyable bad movie.

Unlike most second tier Hollywood action product, the first hour here is neither boring nor charmless, and it’s muddled totality can perhaps best be appreciated by considering it as the kind of movie that some ‘80s trash maven like Albert Pyun or Fred Olen Ray might have made, had they been gifted with an eighty million dollar budget and a cruise liner full of Red Bull-huffing digital effects “artists”.

Would Pyun or Olen Ray’s Predator movie have included cute alien doggies who chase and swallow hand grenades? Probably!

Would they have presented us with the idea that a bus-load of inmates from the psychiatric ward of a military prison might actually turn out to be a gang of lovable, good-natured goofballs who can be safely left in charge of children and trusted with an array of city-block-levelling firepower? Sure, why not!

Would they have tapped into some paint-by-numbers Spielberg type shit by having a hard-done-by autistic kid take possession of a Predator helmet and wear it out as a Halloween costume, using its powers to take care of bullies, etc..? Well, ok, perhaps that’s a little bit far off the low rent sci-fi action movie tracks for Pyun and co, but if you can get some school holiday/family TV appeal into the bargain it’s all money in the bank, right?

Well, either way -- you know that whole business with the hot lady biologist being whisked off by helicopter to a top secret pentagon alien research lab built into the side of a mountain, where visitors need to strip naked for the ‘decontamination chamber’, whilst a white-coated scientist-who-looks-like-Gary-Busey-but-isn’t cracks wise over the body of a sedated Predator they have restrained on the examination table (absolutely NO danger of it waking up and slaughtering everybody, no siree)..? THAT is some prime ‘80s trash sci-fi business right there, no question about it.

(The only difference is, in the ‘80s, there would have been boobs. But, as we all know, they don’t exist anymore (at least outside the context of grim, taboo-breaking ordeal movies about how sex is horrible and people would rather cut bits of themselves off with rusty knives), so no dice, lechers.)

In this spirit, I’d go so far as to say that – bearing in mind I was sitting in an air-conditioned tin can thousands of feet above the plains of Siberia when I watched it - I actually found much of ‘The Predator’s run-time uproariously entertaining, in an “I can’t actually believe what I’m seeing here” kind of way.

My enjoyment was further enhanced by the fact that the film’s in-flight presentation had been “edited for content” in the most hilarious fashion, leading to dramatic exclamations of “FUDGE!”, confusing references to a female character’s “pudding” and macho soldier guys who tell each other to “shut the heck up”. (I’d assumed that this kind of melon-farming TV redubbing was now a thing of the past, so I’m delighted to see it making a comeback.)

It’s a shame then that the film’s final act more or less squanders this good feeling and proceeds to become extremely boring and charmless – an interminable, knocked-up-inside-a-PC, sound & fury styled action finale in which the sight of characters the film has tried its best to make us care about getting violently killed off inspires little more than a passing shrug as we wait in vain for the damned thing to be over.

Unfortunately, this finale also serves highlight my least favourite aspect of the film – namely, the generic “bombastic action movie music” that seems to have been plastered wall-to-wall across the entire picture without even the slightest attempt to match it to the on-screen action. It’s like some kind of hellish anti-muzak, designed to keep you aggravated and on edge, and it gets pretty tiresome after a while. Perhaps this is just normal now though, I don’t know?

In fact, there are a lot of things I don’t know. Like the reason why Fred Dekker hasn’t been allowed to write or direct a film in over 25 years, despite his brief run in the late ‘80s suggesting he might be quite good at it, for instance. Eat my pudding, Hollywood!