(Second viewing, On DVD, November 2017) I first saw Lethal Weapon 3 on VHS in the mid-nineties, and while I still remembered a few things (the armour-piercing climactic shootout, the great “let’s compare scars” romantic scene), I had forgotten much along the way. (I do remember much of the promotional chatter surrounding the film and its sequences involving the destruction of a construction project, and the co-optation of a planned building demolition.) In retrospect, Lethal Weapon 3 still marks a transition between the buddy-cop movies of the late-1980s and the overblown action movies of the mid-1990s. The Lethal Weapon series straddle both, of course, and watching this third instalment is like plunging back in a sadly neglected subgenre: Sunny Californian action with plenty of laughs, dubious moral foundations and an overall sense of conscious excess. I miss those kinds of movies where every stunt is an attempt to be even bolder and bigger than the previous one (although Lethal Weapon 3 has its best action sequences well before the climax). I miss the banter between charismatic leads such as Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. (Most of all, I miss the time when you could watch Mel Gibson and not have to account for his personal issues.) I miss the anything-goes nature of plotting where just standing on the street could lead the characters to an armoured car heist and then on to a corruption scandal within the LAPD (and a hockey game sequence because why not?). What I don’t miss is the casual police brutality played for laughs and some of the coincidental nature of the plotting. Still, Lethal Weapon 3 generally works. Including Renee Russo as a true romantic partner for Mel Gibson’s character is a welcome development, and even Joe Pesci is acceptably annoying. While the result isn’t much more than a competent example of the subgenre, it holds up compared to other movies of the series, and the kind of film it intends to be.
(On Cable TV, February 2017) I gather that, at the time, seeing Steven Spielberg tackle a serious socially-conscious non-genre period drama such as The Color Purple project was a bit of a novelty. Of course, in retrospect it clearly shows the beginning of an important facet of Spielberg’s filmography all the way to Schindler’s List, Amistad and Lincoln. Has it held up in light of those latter examples? Yes and no. As hard as it can be to criticize a film denouncing injustice, there are times where The Color Purple gets, well, a bit too purple. Repeated scenes of abuse get tiresome, the film moves at languid pace (the victory lap epilogue alone feels as if it takes fifteen minutes) and as similar pictures has never gone out of fashion, I’m not sure the film feels as fresh today as it might have been back then. On the other hand, it is skillfully shot, expansively detailed and it features two terrific debut performances by none other than Oprah Whitney (in a non-too-complimentary role) and Whoopi Goldberg as the main much-abused protagonist. Danny Glover is also remarkable as a repellent antagonist. As for the rest, The Color Purple is about as far from Spielberg’s earlier work as it could be, even though it is thematically consistent with some of his later films—as an attempt to shatter perceptions about what we could do, it seems to have worked splendidly. As for the rest, the film does have a timeless nature—the depiction of the early twentieth century still looks credible, and had the film come out today, chances are that it would have done just as well in the Oscars sweepstake. Obviously best seen by people with an interest in period drama, The Color Purple may not be an easy watch, but it eventually proves its worth.
(Second viewing, In French, On TV, September 2016) It had been a looong time since I’d seen Predator 2, and remembered nearly nothing of it beyond the premise, a particularly gory shot and a few images of the ending. As it turns out, gradual amnesia has its perks, because if Predator 2 is (putting it mildly) not a good movie, it does feature a few things going for it. Perhaps the most noteworthy is the dystopian portrait of a crime-infested late-nineties Los Angeles, dominated by heavily armoured criminal gangs against which the police force is nearly powerless. Such fantasies are intensely linked to the early nineties (when it’s worth remembering, urban crime rates in American cities were at an all-time high, and have fallen ever since) and have the patina of alternate universes when seen from today. In this context, Danny Glover stars as a superhero cop who, while investigating gang violence, suddenly finds a far more dangerous predator at work. Add a few overbearing government agents, María Conchita Alonso as a female sidekick, dastardly criminals and night-vision shots from the predator and here we have a Lethal-Weapon-ish thriller that gradually transitions into survival horror Science-Fiction. It’s remarkably trashy, never to be taken seriously, and it only works sporadically at best. Still, it is undeniably fascinating to see how differently the people of even 26 years ago envisioned their near-future, and how that aspect of the film probably wasn’t intended to be so interesting at the time.
(In theatres, November 2009) It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that Roland Emmerich’s 2012 tries to ape and one-up much of the disaster-movie genre. Where else can you find a 10.5 earthquake, a super-volcano and a mega-tsunami in the same movie? As such, it demands to be considered according to the particular standards of the disaster movie genre, and that’s indeed where it finds most of its qualities. The L.A. earthquake sequence is a piece of deliriously over-the-top action movie-making (I never loved 2012 more than when the protagonists’ plane had to dodge a falling subway train), the Yellowstone volcano sequence holds its own and those who haven’t seen an aircraft carrier smash the White House now have something more to live for. The problem, unfortunately, is that those sequences are front-loaded in the first two-third of the film, leaving much smaller set-pieces for the end. This, in turn places far more emphasis on the characters, dialogue and plot points, none of whom are a known strength of either the genre or 2012 itself. Sure, the cast of characters is either pretty (Thandie Newton! Amanda Peet!), competent (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover) or entertaining (John Cusack, Oliver Platt). Of course, we want to see them live through it all. But as a too-late consideration of ethical issues bumps against less-impressive sequences and significant lulls (including a 15-minutes-long prologue), it becomes easier to see that this 158 minutes film is at least 45 minutes too long and suffering from a limp third act. The defective nature of the roller-coaster also makes it less easy to tolerate the hideous conclusions, screaming contrivances and somewhat distasteful ethics of the screenplay. While the clean and sweeping cinematography (interestingly replaced by a hand-held video-quality interlude during one of the film’s turning points) shows that 2012’s production budget is entirely visible on-screen and will eventually make this a worthwhile Blu-Ray demo disk, there isn’t much here to respect or even like. At least special-effects fans will be able to play some destruction sequences over and over again.