Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Black Panther

Black Panther; science-fiction action, USA, 2018, D: Ryan Coogler, S: Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Michael B. Jordan, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis

A long time ago, a meteor struck Africa. It contained vibranium, an unusual metal which helped five local tribes to slowly create a technologically advanced society, Wakanda. In the present, Wakanda uses that technology to uphold a hologram of a forest around it, in order to be kept safe and unknown from the rest of the world. The new king becomes T'Challa, who together with warriors Okoye and Nakie goes to Busan to arrest Ulysses who wants to sell stolen vibranium on the black market. In the chaos, they bring an injured CIA agent, Ross, to Wakanda for treatment. Ulysses is killed and brought by Erik, who challenges T'Challa to trial by combat, wins and becomes the new king. Erik wants to give Wakandan technology to Black people around the world, in order for them to start a war and become the new rulers of the world. T'Challa stops and kills Erik, but decides to end isolationism and announce Wakandan technology to the world.

There is a reason why "Black Panther" stirred up such a hype during its premiere: while there were other African-American superhero films preceding it, rarely has an American film done so much to give a feeling of restoring pride and honor to the African community. Through its story of an African nation that is a hundred years technologically more advanced than the rest of the world, it turns the geopolitics and the world order upside down: Africans are not a symbol for third world or poverty anymore, but for progress and prosperity. Wakanda is a dream of an African superpower. Leaving these politics and good intentions aside, "Black Panther" is still one of the better Marvel films, though still with several flaws in it. Some scenes showing Wakandan technology are fascinating: in one example, Shuri places two soles on the ground, T'Challa steps on them and they lace up into shoes, forming a perfect fit, even with sound isolation during walking. Another is Black Panther's suit, which is programmed to absorb any hit and use its energy as a counter-shield, which becomes useful in the neat scene where villains throw a hand grenade into a building with people, but Panther simply jumps on it, "absorbing" the explosion. The action sequences in the first half are incredibly creative, never before seen, the highlight being the bald female warrior Okoye, who in one scene even uses a spear to stop a car.

One of the problems in the story is the underdeveloped notion of certain aspects of the Wakandan society. For instance, why would a highly developed country use a trial by combat to determine its leader? By that logic, wrestlers would always rule over the country, and not people with intelligence or innovation. It is also unusual that Black Panther is the king: why would a king go to foreign countries, practically all by himself, to fight and hunt for Ulysses? Wouldn't his guards do that for him? What were his ancestors, the previous Black Panthers, doing in the country during peace? The second half of the film is a little bit of a letdown: instead of a more philosophical approach and character development, it is just the typical "let's search for and revive the wounded hero" (with too much flimsy deus ex machina solutions) and then followed by the typical action finale—equipped with the ridiculous idea of rhinoceros in armor. Likewise, it is a pity that the biggest reveal in the film, the one where T'Challa is about to announce Wakandan technology in front of the UN, is interrupted, ending in an anticlimax. However, despite them being underdeveloped, there are still some deeper, more complex themes in the film. One is the re-questioning of isolationism when the world around them needs help. Another is the clash between T'Challa and Erik, which, as Andreas Busche observed, parallels the clash of ideas between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X: should Africans improve their status through merit, peace and intelligence, or through violence? Masking such subversive themes as a popcorn movie certainly was brave and refreshing by director Ryan Coogler, who should thus be given a little extra credit.

Grade:++

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Spice World

Spice World; musical comedy, UK, 1997; D: Bob Spiers, S: Melanie Chisholm, Emma Bunton, Victoria Beckham, Melanie Brown, Geri Halliwell, Richard E. Grant, Claire Rushbrook, Naoko Mori, Roger Moore, George Wendt, Richard O'Brien, Alan Cumming, Barry Humphries, Meat Loaf, Elton John, Bob Hoskins, Bob Geldof

The five Spice Girls—Mel C, Mel B, Emma, Victoria, Geri—are under stress because their manager Clifford is pushing them to constantly perform, without any break to relax. They have a huge concert planned at the Royal Albert Hall. A tabloid editor is bored of only good news from the Spice Girls and thus hires a paparazzi to find "dirt" on the girls in order to sell bad news about them in his newspaper. The girls get into an argument with Clifford and disappear. They help their friend, Nicola, deliver a baby and rush in a bus to their concert at Albert Hall. Two film producers pitch  a movie idea about Spice Girls to Clifford.

During the 'peak' Spice Girls era, when the band already became one of the icons of the 90s, a decision was delivered to make this movie as some sort of a vehicle to promote them even more, in the vein of "A Hard Days Night" or "ABBA: The Movie". However, unlike the said two movies, "Spice World" is not that fun, or creative or as inspired as it could have been, though it is still a solid fun. The movie works the best in the first 30 minutes, when the five girls manage to conjure up some charm, but it loses its steam later on, when it gets lost in the sea of random, unconnected episodes chaotically scattered throughout (a drill Sargent; aliens demanding an autograph; Roger Moore feeding a little pig with a milk bottle). The five girls act too often like a collective, and thus, sadly, we do not find out much about their individual characters on their own, which makes them less than the "sum of their parts", yet there are still a few good jokes in the film. In one charming moment, the five girls wake up in the middle of the night in a castle, and recount their nightmares—and when it is Victoria's turn, she goes: "I had the exactly same dream, but mine was much, much worse. You see, I had a head... but there was no make up on it". In another good joke, an associate informs the villain, the slimy tabloid editor who wants to find bad news about the Spice Girls, that the girls may not perform at their biggest scheduled concert. The bad guy then stands up from his chair in a strange expression and has this exchange: "Something strange is happening... What is it? Something is happening to my face!" - "You're smiling." There are also some traces of magic, of joie du vivre in the sequence where the girls perform "Wannabe" from start to finish in an empty pub, just for the owner who is their only audience member. "Spice World" is a 'guilty pleasure': it could have been better, but has some inexplicable charm to it. It is actually a pity there was never a second Spice Girls film, since one gets the impression there is more to this girls than just what was shown here.

Grade:+

Friday, June 21, 2019

Kingdom of Heaven — The Director's Cut

Kingdom of Heaven; adventure drama, UK / USA / Germany / Spain / Morocco, 2005; D: Ridley Scott, S: Orlando Bloom, Marton Csokas, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, Ghassan Massoud, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Edward Norton, Michael Sheen, Liam Neeson, Velibor Topić, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

A French city, 1184. Balian of Ibelin mourns his wife who committed suicide after the death of their child. Balian's father, Godfrey, shows up and invites him to sail to Jerusalem to fight in the Crusades. Godfrey succumbs to his wounds after a fight defending Balian, who travels to Jerusalem by himself. Balian joins the ranks of the army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but its king, Baldwin IV, dies from leprosy, while the new king becomes Guy of Lusignan, a Christian fundamentalist who persecutes Muslims. Saladin of Ayyubid Sultanate attacks the city. Seeing they are outnumbered, and disillusioned by religion, Balian agrees to surrender Jerusalem to Saladin in exchange for the safe evacuation of all inhabitants. Back in Europe, Balian starts a new life with Princess Sybilla.

The three hour director's cut of Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven" is better than the abridged cinematic version, elaborating the characters and giving them more room to develop, and thus helping the viewers to understand their motivation, though this was still not enough to give the story more inspiration. As film critic Dean Jovovic observed, Scott is the director who "explores the human senselessness", and thus this Crusade epic is a very bitter deconstruction of any ideology and the people tricked to die for it, which ultimately leads to fundamentalism, showing in this case the protagonist's disillusionment with religion. Several quotes are thus remarkably sharp and poignant: in Jerusalem, during the Christian rule, one priest is the loudest, fanatically imposing the dogmatic rule. However, near the end, when Saladin's army is threatening, the priest is the first to suggest: "Convert to Islam. Repent later!", causing the protagonist Balian to reply: "You've taught me a lot about religion". Other lines are also cynical during the siege of Jerusalem: "I've traveled a lot to die for nothing". Another one goes like this: "I thought we were fighting for God. But then I realized we were fighting for wealth and land. And I was ashamed".

When Balian and Saladin finally meet, they have a wonderful exchange ("What is Jerusalem worth?" - "Nothing... And everything"), which hints how all the interests are vague and subjective, how they can be perceived to be worth a lot during one era, and then nothing after the passage of time. Scott's other theme is also the origin of the Christian-Islam conflict, which dates much further in history than just the 9/11 event, yet he did not explore this so much. The middle part of the film drags, failing to be anything more than a neat picture book—once he gets to Jerusalem, Balian plays no role until the finale involving the siege—whereas some moments end up in splatter violence, though Scott completes Balian's journey in a remarkable circle, hinting at how he lost a wife at the start, but found a new wife at the end. A few ponderous, dry or grey moments show some typical flaws of the pompous monumental epic genre, yet the historical reconstruction of the era is well done, showing why some people would travel from Europe all the way to the Middle East. While this could have been a greater film, it still has enough food for thought.

Grade:++

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Winnetou

Winnetou; western, Germany / Italy / Croatia, 1963; D: Harald Reinl, S: Lex Barker, Pierre Brice, Mario Adorf, Marie Versini, Walt Barnes

The Wild West, 19th century. Apache Winnetou is disturbed by a company that is building a railroad over Indian land. German engineer Old Shatterhand also complains, concluding that, according to the plan, the railroad was suppose to run around the Indian land, and not go straight through it, since the corrupt company contractor Santer wants to save money intended on buying the longer railroad, build a shorter one and keep the surplus in his own pocket. When Santor kills an Indian, Shatterhand and his friends start a siege of Santor's building, aiming to bring him to court. This is interrupted when angry Indians attack the entire town: Winnetou wounds and captures Shatterhand. In a trial of combat, Shatterhand convinces Winnetou that he is his friend. Santer and his gang attack the Indians on a mountain, but is killed. Winnetou and Shatterhand remain friends.

Rarely has a German film reached such mythical proportions and appeal that it is even today ingrained in the cinematic subconsciousness of its homeland as did "Winnetou", an adaptation of Karl May's adventure novel. The ingredient that appealed to the audiences was probably the feeling of "their own", German version of the Wild West, which all conjured up a 'Euro Western' that somehow managed to work, unlike numerous others which failed. While "Winnetou" is somewhat dated by today's standards, featuring a heavily glamorous and idealized account of the Wild West, where good and evil people were clearly divided, without any grey area, this all adds to its charm. As one German review observed, 53 years after the film's premiere, the film is "wonderful in its own kind of way". There is something endearing in the friendship between Old Shatterhand, a German, and Winnetou, an Indian: even though their cultures divide them, their sense for justice, a universal good, brings them together. The villain, on the other hand, is easily identifiable: Santer enjoys shooting and killing Buffalos just out of boredom; he wants to torture an Indian to discover where he found the gold whereas he even uses an associate as a human shield on the window. Two supporting characters are there to add some humor in the story: one of them is an impossibly polite Englishman who can never make the Indians stand still for a minute in order to make a photo of them; the other is Sam, who wants to flirt with an Indian woman, but then walks under a tree, and its branch takes his wig off. Another plus point are the idyllic locations in the Dalmatian hinterland, including the Zrmanja river and rock formations, which really give the film its distinctive identity.

Grade:++

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight; western, USA, 2015; D: Quentin Tarantino, S: Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Dana Gourrier, Zoë Bell

Wyoming, 19th century. A terrible winter storm leads a stagecoach to find shelter in Minnie's desolate lodge. The guests are bounty hunters, African-American Warren and Ruth, who handcuffed Daisy, a wanted criminal, and intends to hand her over to the authorities for hanging, as well as Sheriff Mannix. The lodge also hosts five other people, but the owner, Minnie, is suspiciously missing. When someone poisons coffee, which leads to Ruth and two others dying, Warren and Mannix deduct that some of the tenants are Daisy's henchmen. The Mexican, Gage and Mobray are killed because they previously killed Minnie and took over the lodge to wait to free Daisy. Her brother, who was hiding in the atic, is also eliminated. Warren and Mannix are wounded and execute Daisy by hanging.

Quentin Tarantino's eight film (or ninth, if "Kill Bill" is considered two films), "The Hateful Eight" once again shows the director's divisive features: a few great moments of passionate high art, which are then contaminated by his inability to resist inserting trash and bad taste. The set-up of an isolated lodge where several character are trapped inside by snow, but don't know who of them is the villain, is a genius western remake of Carpenter's "The Thing", even featuring Kurt Russell in an inspired performance of bounty hunter Ruth (who talks like John Wayne). However, at a running time of three hours, the storyline is way overstretched and wonders off into several directions, featuring strangely boring, overlong dialogues for Tarantino, who was known for his witty writing. Some traces of that inspired writing are still there, though, just not in enough of a quantity: in one fine moment, two Civil War veterans, Warren, a Union Major, and Smithers, a retired Confederate General, clash with each other, so one guest simply suggests to divide the whole lodge into two sides, the North and South, with each side for someone, in order to avoid any further escalation. In another, Sheriff Mannix wonders if it is justified to hang a woman who committed crimes, with Mobray replying: "Well, 'till they invent a trigger a woman can't pull, if you're a hang man, you're going to hang woman." As always, Tarantino has troubles constraining himself, falling into excess and sadistic primitivism (Warren's story of how he forced a man to walk naked in snow at gunpoint; poisoned people vomiting blood...) whereas he misses some golden opportunities: Ruth is eliminated far too soon in the story, whereas the best character in the entire film, the wonderfully charming Zoë Bell as Six-Horse Judy, is given only 3-4 minutes in a flashback, but is way more interesting than any of the other main characters. Still, there is almost some sort of Hawksian touch in the sequences of the protagonists eating stew in the lodge, getting to know each other, which gives "Eight" some plus points.

Grade:++

Monday, June 17, 2019

Mr. Billion

Mr. Billion; action comedy / road movie, USA, 1977; D: Jonathan Kaplan, S: Terence Hill, Valerie Perrine, Jackie Gleason, Slim Pickens, William Redfield, Chill Wills

A tycoon and CEO of a conglomerate dies when a building sign falls on him. His testament stipulates that his last family member, Guido Falcone, should inherit a billion $ and his company, but he has to show up in San Francisco in 20 days or the offer will expire. Falcone, an Italian auto mechanic, accepts, but decides to take a ship and train to San Francisco. Cutler, who wanted to take over the company by himself, hires con-artist Rosie to seduce Falcone and trick him into signing the power of attorney document, giving Cutler all the power. Falcone realizes he was seduced, but still decides to save Rosie captured in the Grand Canyon, even though that leaves him without time to reach San Francisco. Still, a company employee gives Falcone a jet, enabling him to reach San Francisco and collect the fortune with Rosie. 

Terence Hill remained an unforgettable movie star in his Italian homeland, thanks to his partner B. Spencer, yet did not manage to "break into" the American cinema "solo" with this light comedy that lacks highlights. Covering the often theme of a chase to inherit a fortune, "Mr. Billion" needed much better jokes to attract the interest of the audiences. Some of the best jokes arrive swiftly, such as when two henchmen are chasing the two protagonists, but in the rush they crash their car into a bus, which turns out to be a police bus, with dozens of police officers exiting to aim their gun at the crooks. In another, a big fight erupts in a bar, so a Sheriff wants to restore some order by using his pistol to shoot in the air, but accidentally hits the sign of the said bar, causing it to fall onto his own police car. It is indicative, though, that none of these above mentioned jokes involve the main hero, Hill, who rarely gets a chance to shine in the story and is underused. Hill has very good English language skills, though his accent is slightly "off" at times, yet he is given little scenes to talk. The film lacks ingenuity and creativity, and several jokes do not work: the opening act shows Falcone in a restaurant, enacting a shooting scene with a kid, so Falcone pretends to be dying, and ruins his shirt by placing a tomato on it, simulating blood, and then ruins even the dress of a woman and the clothes of the kid, whom he both hugs with his tomato-drenched shirt. The scene is pointless and should have been cut. Too many contrivances strain the story: Falcone and Rosie stop their truck after a chase, just next to a hired hitman who conveniently waited there in an ambush. What are the odds of them driving for hundreds of miles and stopping precisely there? "Mr. Billion" feels rushed and not well thought out, since there is not that many inspiration in here, yet still works as a solid fun.

Grade:+

Friday, June 14, 2019

Louise by the Shore

Louise en hiver; animated drama, France / Canada, 2016; D: Jean-François Laguionie, S: Dominique Frot

The end of summer on a beach resort in Normandy. Louise, a retired grandmother, watches how the tourists leave the city, leaving it completely empty. When the last train leaves, Louise stays alone in her home. Autumn and Winter follow, so she spends her days walking around the beach or remembering her childhood, such as the episode when she was a teenager and her lover fled from a place when he saw a dead parachuter hanging on a tree. Louise meets a dog who becomes her companion. She sinks in the sea, but the dog saves her from drowning. The summer returns, and the tourists return, too, with the train. Louise again returns to her previous state, commenting on the nuisance of the tourists.

A quiet 'one-character character study', this animated film is an ambitious, but boring, sluggish and uneventful art-film. Quite simply, watching a grandmother wondering through an empty beach resort during winter for 75 minutes—with such highlights as sweeping her doorstep from sand, stumbling upon a scrapheap or watching the horizon across the sea without using marine binoculars—is not that engaging. When there are several characters in a film, there are good chances that at least some of them are going to end up interesting or fun, but when you have a film like "Louise by the Shore" where its story follows only one character, and she is uninteresting and doddering, then the whole concept does not work. There are traces of some more philosophical themes by director Jean-Francois Laguionie, such as aging, transiency and loneliness, yet they were not developed that much since the ending has no point: there is no conclusion that leads to somewhere, it is just a circle where everything returns back to square one. Some rare moments work, including a one where Louise "talks" to her dog, humorously mentioning how people now call her retired generation ("'Best agers', or 'Generation gold'"). This would have worked as a short, but not as a feature film, and not even surreal dream sequences manage to ignite some greater sympathy for this fable.

Grade:+

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Look Who's Talking

Look Who's Talking; comedy, USA, 1989; D: Amy Heckerling, S: Kirstie Alley, John Travolta, Bruce Willis (voice), Olympia Dukakis, George Segal

New York. Molly has an affair with Albert, a married man, and ends up pregnant. Since he refuses to leave his wife, Molly has to give birth and raise to her baby Mikey all alone. Her only support is James, a taxi driver who drove her to the hospital and remained her friend. Molly dates other men while James babysits Mikey. When Mikey gets lost and ends up in the traffic on the alley, James and Molly rescue him and become a couple. Molly gets pregnant again and gives birth to Julie.

There has probably rarely been such a cringeworthy and infamous intro to a movie during the entire 80s as in "Look Who's Talking" in which hundreds of sperms are racing to an ovum in tune to The Beach Boys' song "I Get Around", equipped with voice over of teenage cheers. Such is the beginning of Amy Heckerling's semi-autobiographical comedy about the women's biological clock and problems of single parenthood, which is honest and thus the movie has some traces of charm and humor—which are then ruined with lame caricatures and misguided ideas. The most pointless ideas revolve around Molly's fantasies: in the worst, she imagines that Albert tells her he will "explode" unless he kisses her, and then his head explodes (!), which is such an obvious revenge urge of the director who had a fling with a real life filmmaker to get pregnant, and now searches for a scapegoat. Another unnecessary idea was to have babies "speak" in voice over, thereby having Bruce Willis "dub" baby Mikey, but such wisecracking lines rarely get to somewhere more than Mikey commenting how he wants breakfast while watching the cleavage of a woman. A rare exception that proves otherwise is a scene in the park, where a baby girl is moving her lips as if she really is talking, which is sympathetic. This makes the movie moderately fun, since its concept is relevant. The two main actors are great, since Kirstie Alley and John Travolta have chemistry and treat the story with much more dignity and emotion than Heckerling herself did.

Grade:+ 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Design for Living

Design for Living; drama / comedy, USA, 1933; D: Ernst Lubitsch, S: Fredric March, Gary Cooper, Miriam Hopkins, Edward Everett Horton, Franklin Pangborn, Isabel Jewell

Paris. During a train ride, Americans Tom, a playwright, and George, a painter, meet quirky girl Gilda, who works in an advertising agency owned by Max. Tom and George fall in love with her, but neither is willing to give her up. Surprisingly, Gilda proposes to live with both of them in the apartment, and they agree. However, Gilda one day runs away with George. Tom achieves great success with a hit play, "Good Night, Bassington". He meets Gilda again, and this time she falls for him. When George returns, an argument ensues and she leaves them both. Later, Gilda marries Max. During a party, she is bored with her life. Tom and George return and she runs away with them.

Even though directed by classic director Ernst Lubitsch, with time it is apparent why this pre-Code drama-comedy forerunner to "Jules and Jim" did not achieve a status of a classic: "Design for Living" takes on a daring, surprisingly controversial topic of polyandry, yet its inspiration is never as sizzling or as tantalizing as its initial theme. For some other director, this is a good film, yet for someone of Lubitsch's calibre, it seems strangely pale, overstretched, melodramatic and tiresome at times. The opening gag evokes memories of Lubitsch's finest hours: Gilda enters a train and spots the two protagonists, George and Tom, sleeping and snoring, so she proceeds to draw them. Several moments seem remarkably untrammelled for today, such as the scene where Gilda persuades both men to live with them, in a threesome relationship, but says: "No sex!", as they all place their hands together to make an "gentlemen's agreement". Later, while she is alone with George, Gilda lays on a couch and just says: "We had an gentlemen's agreement. But I'm no gentleman!" In one scene, she even kisses Tom first, and then George a second later. Despite all of this, Lubitsch is overall restrained and elegantly measured, never falling into bad taste, while not dwelling or exploring this situation further. More of some great ideas would have been welcomed, since the abrupt ending leaves an incomplete impression.

Grade:++

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Bluebeard's Eight Wife

Bluebeard's Eight Wife; romantic comedy, USA, 1938; D: Ernst Lubitsch, S: Gary Cooper, Claudette Colbert, Edward Everett Horton, Elizabeth Patterson, David Niven

The French Riviera. Millionaire Michael Brandon meets the quirky Nicole in a store, where they buy the upper and lower part of a pajama, respectively. He falls in love with her, and tries to buy her affection by buying a useless bathtub of her father. Nicole accepts his engagement, but is shocked to find out he already had seven marriages. She accepts to marry him under condition that she gets 100,000$ in case of a divorce. After the wedding, Nicole is distant and avoids Brandon. She even feigns having an affair, until Brandon snaps, divorces her and lands in a mental asylum. Nicole's father, now wealthy, buys off the asylum and puts Brandon in a straight jacket, thus forcing him to listen to Nicole. She tells Brandon she only divorced him to have enough money to be his equal, and now that she returned, he knows she didn't do it for money. They thus kiss and embrace.

One of Ernst Lubitsch's lesser films, "Bluebeards Eight Wife" has funny moments, but they are built on a fundamentally misguided concept: that a woman shows her love towards a man by making him hate her. The screenplay, one of the early works by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, works the best in the 1st half, displaying their sense for wit, charm and humor: the opening sequence shows the protagonist Brandon arguing with a clerk in a store, because he insists on buying only the upper half of a pajama, since he sleeps without pants. One superior talks to the other, until the "half pajama" case reaches the manager—who exits his bed wearing a pajama without pants himself—and rejects the bid of "selling in parts" on the telephone, saying: "No, no, never. That is communism." When Nicole shows up and teams up with Brandon to buy the entire pajama and share it, because she only needs pants, anyway, the story elegantly teams up the future couple, already setting up how she will "wear the pants" in the household. The joke also pays off wonderfully later on, for the second time, when Brandon rejects a business offer of a Marquis, laying in bed, but then changes his mind when the Marquis stands up from bed, revealing he wears Nicole's pajama pants, and is her father.

Some details are also classic example of Lubitsch's elevated humor, such as the beach sequence, where Nicole tells to Albert how her proprietor demanded she pays an old bill when she was having a manicure, and then displays her fingers—with only two colored fingernails. Great dialogues give some delicious quotes: one is the entire sequence when Brandon starts naming all his ex-wives (Marjorie, Linda, Elsie...) in front of Nicole, who makes a petrified face, and then he adds: "Am I boring you?" This culminates in a hilarious gag ("Michael, in one word, how many times were you married?" - "Have you heard of Henry VIII?"). The first half is excellent, but the second half is a terrible disappointment that devalues the high impression. The biggest problem is that the audience is not given a reason as to why Nicole suddenly treats Brandon is such a demeaning way right from the start: is she doing it to force him to divorce her, to get his money? Or because she is just mean? Her explanation (and catharsis) comes only in the last three minutes before the end, but by that time it is too late for the viewers to emotionally engage in her character and ill-conceived strategy or forgive her nastiness. Maybe if Brandon treated her as a property he bought for a long time, it would have made sense for her "rebellion", yet this way, the direction of the story went a wrong way, treating her convoluted reasoning as something romantic, and not even references to "The Taming of the Shrew" manage to save it.

Grade:++

Monday, June 3, 2019

Predator 2

Predator 2; science-fiction action, USA, 1990; D: Stephen Hopkins, S: Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Rubén Blades, Kevin Peter Hall, María Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton, Robert Davi

Los Angeles, '97. Members of two battling Hispanic-American gangs are suddenly mysteriously found massacred, hanging upside down, but there are no suspects. LAPD Officer Harrigan takes it personally when his partner is also killed. His investigation leads him to agent Keyes who reveals that the murderer is actually an alien, the Predator, who uses unknown technology to hunt people down and disguise himself with an invisible cloth. Keyes' men set up a trap in a warehouse, but the Predator escapes and kills them all. Harrigan then takes a gun and attacks the Predator personally. Harrigan follows the alien to its spaceship and kills it. Other Predators show up, but let Harrigan go, leaving in the spaceship.

While it took three films for the the "Alien" franchize to debase itself, already the first sequel of the "Predator" undermined the series, showing that sometimes certain stories can only sustain themselves in one film. While it has some fans, "Predator 2" is a chaotic rehash of the 1st film, just relocated from a jungle to an urban area, presenting a routine narrative that doesn't have much going for it, simply because it has no inspiration. The new main protagonist, Danny Glover, is one of the few competent ingredients in the film, delivering a reliable performance as police Detective Harrigan, yet little else is of interest here in the rushed storyline. The Predator's murders are banal, exploitative and vile, with several bizarre ideas (the alien holding a victim's skull with a spine (!) attached to it, boasting on the top of a building, while a lightning bolt strikes him from the sky) whereas one of the most misguided moments is when the Predator "speaks" the infamous line: "Shit happens!" There is also no reason for the movie to be set in the "future", in the (then) distant year '97, save for the throw-away moment where a forensic expert puts the Predator's weapon under computer analysis. "Predator 2" has two good sequences, though: the first one is the effective, genuinely suspenseful subway attack, where Detective Leona stops the train through an emergency break, and then proceeds to walk back to the last wagon, where the alien was seen. The second one is the finale, where agent Keyes set-up actually quite a clever trap for the antagonist, deducting the Predator can only see through an infrared heat-sensor, so he sends his men dressed up in temperature neutral suits, and sprays the warehouse with particles that confuse its sensors. More of such moments would have been welcomed. "Predator 2" is a solid, but underwhelming, disorganized sequel without a clear point.

Grade:+