Movie Review: Predator

John McTiernan has to be my favorite action movie director, for two reasons alone: Die Hard with a Vengeance and Predator. The combination of guns and adventure just doesn’t get better than those two movies. Let’s focus on Predator today, though.

Predator begins like a cliché action romp with the beefy American commandos killing nameless, hapless opponents in a Central American jungle base. But everything changes when an invisible hunter begins picking off the Americans one by one, instilling a new kind of fear within them – the fear of prey. It’s a fantastic premise, with the straightforward action genre taking on elements of science fiction, thriller, and horror. The cast is unforgettable, and it’s always a bummer to lose the larger-than-life characters as they’re impaled and pulled apart. Still, the individual deaths are all classic moments (Billy – the death we don’t see – might be the best one).

Then there’s the Predator himself. He’s a monster similar to the shark in Jaws, an unstoppable and unknowable force of nature. His full reveal in his final battle against Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a jaw dropping moment in cinema. And that final battle just makes the movie even better. There’s Dutch’s primal scream to begin the fight, his ingenuity in creating death traps (expanding the guerilla warfare vs. superior force theme), the Predator learning how to throw a punch, and the creature’s final maniacal laughter. It’s all brilliant.

If there’s one thing I’d cut from the movie, it’s the opening scene showing a spaceship traveling to Earth. I haven’t seen it much, because you never catch the beginning of a movie when you’re watching it on cable or HBO, but I’d much prefer the viewer to be in the dark regarding the Predator’s origins, piecing things together as the characters do. That’s a slight critique though.

It’s a testament to the quality of the original that no sequel has ever come close to matching its exceptional cast, its cryptic antagonist, or its timeless one-liners. So, when is it a good time to watch Predator? “Anytime.” Good answer, Mac.

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The Challenge Hall of Shame: Colie Edison

The Challenge isn’t for everyone. There will always be those who excel in competition (see the Hall of Fame winners) and unfortunately, there will always be those who consistently find themselves at the bottom. Maybe they’ve embarrassed themselves. Maybe they couldn’t win an elimination to save their lives. Worst of all, maybe they quit on themselves or their teams. Either way, they played poorly enough to enter the Hall of Shame.

Colie Edison is a successful person. She’s the first female CEO of the Professional Bowlers Association, and long before that she was the president of her sorority at Tulane University. You would think someone with a Type A personality would at least be a decent competitor, but Colie sucked on The Challenge.

The Inferno III was Colie’s first season, and she made it pretty far along considering her rookie status. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Colie got disqualified on the first daily challenge, the third daily challenge, and twice more after that. Her coordination and overall physical abilities are simply bottom of the barrel. She even struggled on a wall climbing challenge with legendary climber Alton Williams on her team. She also joined the Susie Meister and Cara Zavaleta partnership, becoming the third wheel of their popular girl alliance when she could have been Paula Meronek’s number one.

Eventually Colie was mercifully eliminated by Jenn Grijalva. The fact that Jenn called her “The DQ Queen” says everything about Colie’s contribution to the Good Guys team. Due to her disqualifications and time penalties, she helped her team lose more than she helped them win.

For some reason Colie was invited back for The Island where she spent the majority of her screen time facilitating the voting deliberations. She did finally compete in a three-way elimination, but she lost quickly and easily. At least she wasn’t deluded regarding her position in the game. At the end of the episode deliberation she gave a weird scripted speech to the competitors, asking them to send her home so that her buddy Johanna Botta can stay. In a rare display of unity, everyone agreed to send Colie away. Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio summed her up pretty well: “You didn’t contribute to the island. And as far as I’m concerned, you were dead weight around here. So bon voyage, young lady.”

There is one moment Colie truly did shine. She referred to Dunbar Merrill as a “giant asshole” and didn’t back down when he tried to argue with her. It’s easily her best contribution to The Challenge.

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TV Review: The Challenge: All-Stars

I wouldn’t normally write a review for an individual season of The Challenge, but All-Stars is special. The spin-off began life as a “bring back the old schoolers” concept promoted by executive producer Mark “The Godfather” Long. And the Godfather delivered; All-Stars revives classic personalities and puts them through the wringer of modern challenges.

The cast features fan favorites like Alton Williams and Ruthie Alcaide, but the standout stars are Laterrian Wallace and Kendal Sheppard. Though neither of them make it to the final, that doesn’t matter. This is a redemption story for Laterrian, a competitor who always seemed to fall flat in his previous challenges. When Laterrian celebrates his first daily challenge win in 18 years while “Mo Money Mo Problems” hits, it’s impossible not to feel happy for him. Kendal is a returning champion, so she never had a chip on her shoulder like Laterrian. What she does have is a target on her back, and her elimination wins and daily challenge domination cement her as a multi-generational threat.

All-Stars is overall a quick watch, and it doesn’t use a redemption house or other silly twists that prolong a game indefinitely. If anything, ten episodes is a bit of a tease, but it is very cool to see a large number of individuals competing in a final. Daily challenges and eliminations are only part of the game, and you never know who might surprise you in a final. Jonna Mannion gave birth less than a year before the season started, and she damn near wins the entire game.

MTV absolutely should continue All-Stars, because it’s better than the Champs vs. Stars spin-off and more palatable than the 20+ episodes of the flagship show. It recaptures some of the fun and carefree vibe of past challenges, especially when natural entertainers like Teck Holmes are providing the commentary. Here’s my big plea to the showrunners: please please bring back Landon Lueck. The guy has been in his cage way too long and needs to be released.

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The Challenge Hall of Fame: Laurel Stucky

To succeed on The Challenge a competitor must be smart, strong, politically savvy, or at the very least, lucky. Most competitors are average talents, and an unfortunate few perform poorly enough to earn a dubious honor (enter the Hall of Shame). But these competitors, the Hall of Fame class, have conquered The Challenge in one form or another, and they all share the most important quality: they know how to win.

Laurel Stucky is the Wonder Woman of The Challenge. She’s imposing, elegant in appearance, and she easily pushes around most other competitors. For a long time she remained undefeated in eliminations (her current record is 9-2), and she holds the record for most consecutive elimination victories by a woman. Laurel is the last person anyone wants to face one-on-one.

Despite her impressive ability to remain in the game – reaching three final challenges in a row – Laurel’s only win is Free Agents. That’s understandable, considering the obstacles in her way during those first three seasons. On Fresh Meat II Landon Lueck became an unstoppable force during the final, Laurel’s team imploded on Cutthroat, and the Rivals winners were Evelyn Smith and Paula Meronek, one of the better duos in the show’s history.

All of those second place finishes prepared Laurel for Free Agents. She defeated Aneesa Ferreira in a straight-up physical elimination, won the last puzzle elimination, and ran the politics of the house with Jordan Wiseley. It’s fitting, considering Laurel and Jordan are so much alike. They’re both dominating players who don’t hold their tongues. They believe in playing a straight up game and are quick to call people out, including and especially people on their own teams. During the Free Agents season Laurel learned that Theresa Gonzalez tricked other competitors into an elimination vote (while keeping the blood off her own hands), so Laurel adjusted her game to target Theresa. She can be arrogant and even mean spirited, but Laurel doesn’t tolerate snakes.

Laurel’s long anticipated return on Invasion of the Champions showed she still had a robot-like drive to destroy anything in her way. Then Camila Nakagawa shocked everyone by sending Laurel home in the final elimination, a rope tangling contest that involved strategy and stamina. It’s a well-deserved win for Camilla. Conversely, Laurel’s exit from War of the Worlds 2 is shameful. The controversial elimination ended with “Ninja” Natalie Duran winning even though T. J. Lavin had already sounded the airhorn. I’m not trying to take anything away from Ninja, but the producers should have reset the game to allow a fair conclusion. The competitors and the viewers deserve better.

Though she hasn’t seen much recent success, it’s always safe to bet on Laurel. Odds are good she’ll win her eliminations and verbally decimate those who oppose her. She’s great TV, and she’s possibly the one female competitor I’m most excited to see on the cast list when a new season is announced.

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TV Review: Cobra Kai (Seasons 1 – 3)

Cobra Kai is not prestige TV. It’s not a show you must watch. Its heavy handed in its use of flashbacks, it gets sillier over time, and in reality most of the characters would be arrested for assault or attempted murder. Still, I watched three seasons of Cobra Kai in a little over a week. I don’t normally binge watch TV, but the ongoing struggles of Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) and his new karate kids sucked me right in.

Most attempts at resurrecting old franchises are all about the cash grab, but the creators of Cobra Kai are fans first. Respect is shown for the Karate Kid movies (with plenty of callbacks), while old characters feel new due to the changes in their lives and attitudes. Johnny Lawrence and Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) are great frenemies, and watching them sing along to REO Speedwagon is something I never knew I wanted. The young cast is a fun group, and it’s a good sign that I want both Miguel and Robbie – combatants fighting over the same girl – to do well in their fighting tournament.

I’m glad William Zabka has been given a chance to redeem his karate character. Johnny Lawrence is a man stuck in the 80s, and it’s funny to see him trying to figure out Facebook messenger and modern dating. It’s even better to see his realization that preaching “no mercy” to hormonal teenagers is not too wise. He adapts his thinking, teaching his kids to kick ass while remaining honorable. Yeah, I can get behind that message.

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Book Review: Harlan Ellison – A Boy and His Dog

I played Fallout 3 long before reading A Boy and His Dog, so picking up Harlan Ellison’s novella for the first time in 2018 felt unsettlingly familiar. The story takes place in a war-ravaged America that’s inhabited by roving gangs of street toughs and telepathic dogs. “Normal” people live in underground bunkers that resemble idyllic, virginal small towns.

Vic and his dog Blood are a bonded pair, but that’s threatened when a girl escapes from her bunker only to lure Vic back to it. Vic lacks morals, the story is bleak, and the setting is a nightmare. And I see why the creators of Fallout loved it. A Boy and His Dog combines the casual violence of A Clockwork Orange with video game-like action and some audacious humor. When an older woman in the bunker shows interest in Vic, he responds by commenting on her obvious horniness, because he knows her husband isn’t doing anything for her.

It’s strange that a story that involves rape and cannibalism can be an enjoyable, quick read, but Vic’s voice is young and naïve enough to pull it off. He’s not a narrator that’s been beaten down by life (unlike the narrator of Ellison’s story “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”); he’s a dumb kid that’s still figuring out his place in the bombed-out world. I haven’t read any of the other Vic and Blood stories yet, but if I had a telepathic dog he would tell me to hurry my ass up and get to readin’.

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The Challenge Hall of Fame: Chris “CT” Tamburello

To succeed on The Challenge a competitor must be smart, strong, politically savvy, or at the very least, lucky. Most competitors are average talents, and an unfortunate few perform poorly enough to earn a dubious honor (enter the Hall of Shame). But these competitors, the Hall of Fame class, have conquered The Challenge in one form or another, and they all share the most important quality: they know how to win.

CT must be the most dynamic player in the history of The Challenge. He’s grown from being a physically fit hothead with no political prowess to a manipulator with puzzle skills, and now he’s a rotund veteran who regularly destroys younger competitors in both physical and mental competitions. It’s simply amazing that CT had trouble winning early seasons of the show due to anger issues (and weak teammates), but now that winning is extremely difficult, he achieves victories due to his freakish physical abilities and keen mind.

There are so many powerhouse CT moments that can be highlighted, so I’ll mention a few. First there’s the classic Bananas backpack moment on Cutthroat, when CT stomped like a Transformer with a helpless Bananas hanging on his back. He choo-choo’d through both Bananas and Tyler Duckworth on Rivals, sending them flying through the air with one charging blow. There’s also the wrecking wall elimination on Free Agents, when he punched through drywall so quickly that slow motion is required to fully appreciate his win over Leroy. But my favorite has to be the “flying leap” daily challenge on The Duel, which featured two platforms raised over water and separated by a considerable gap. Other competitors leapt forward and sprawled out on their chests, like baseball players diving for home. CT, and CT alone, hopped across the platforms as easily as a kid playing hopscotch, landing on both feet. Go back and watch that episode.

I won’t make a list of CT’s puzzle achievements, but suffice to say CT crushed every puzzle put before him on the most recent season, Double Agents. The producers tried to give other teams a chance to catch up to CT and Amber Borzotra, but those teams never stood a chance. Also, let’s not forget the guy dominates eating challenges, whether it’s drinking down fish soup or chugging blood like a parched Viking (see photo above).

There’s so much more about CT I could mention. His relationship with Diem Brown, specifically on The Duel, is reality TV gold. He’s a proud papa now and has the bod to prove it. But let’s wrap this up. As of now he’s tied for most final challenge appearances alongside Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio and Cara Maria Sorbello, and given the choice, I’d rather watch CT’s story continue than either of those two. Back in 2016 I wrote, “Love him or hate him, CT is The Challenge.” I stand by that statement.

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Video Game Review: Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3

I thought I knew a thing or two about Super Mario platforming. I’ve played all the greatest hits, from the original Super Mario Bros. to Yoshi’s Island. But somehow Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 always eluded me. Sincerely, why didn’t anyone ever tell me how good this game is? It’s much better than Super Mario Land and is likely superior to Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. Finally, after years of injustice, I bought the game and a Game Boy from GameChanger Mods so I could pillage and plunder as the dastardly Wario.

There’re a few things that make Wario Land interesting. Wario is a Gordon Gekko type gobbling up coins so he can build himself a new castle (unlike Mario, who is always “saving” a princess who clearly wants some space). Valuable treasures are cleverly hidden in certain levels, so exploration through backtracking is essential and much different from other, more linear Mario games. Finally, it’s just fun to play as the bullish Wario. Knocking down creatures, grabbing them up, and flinging them across the screen is always satisfying.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but Wario Land occasionally challenged my skills, and a couple boss battles left me wondering how to defeat them. That’s not a bad thing; on the contrary, I appreciate the tension of running low on lives.

I’d recommend Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 to any Mario fan, which is pretty much everyone in the world. I loved having a reason to play my new chunky Game Boy, and the game is excellent, so I didn’t miss the lack of color at all. I know I’m very late to the party, but now I know how good it is to be bad. And fat. Wario is a pudge.

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