Saturday, August 24, 2019

Movie Reviews: Greta, Creed 2

directed by Neil Jordan
Greta has the very serious and greatly acclaimed French actress Isabelle Huppert playing the title role in a movie which is almost certainly far beneath her talents but at the same time fits some stereotypical assumptions about older women. 

The camera is not really a friend to Huppert here but no one stays beautiful or on top forever, which perhaps is one of the points this uneven movie was making. 

Twenty or thirty years ago this sort of movie would have starred Jennifer Jason Leigh and Farrah Fawcett. The story is very familiar. What matters is not the story's lack of originality but whether the writers and actresses involved pull the viewer into the unreality bubble and keep them there. With a few huge glaring exceptions they accomplished this task for most of the film. The exceptions are what made me think the story was uneven.

Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a NYC waitress who is struggling to process grief over her mother's recent death from cancer and what she sees as her father's (Colm Feore) insufficient period of mourning and rapid remarriage and immersion in work. Frances lives with a wealthy stylish roommate Erica (Maika Monroe) who is constantly after Frances to enjoy life and stop moping about. 

One day on the subway Frances finds a very expensive handbag. She takes it home. There is money inside as well as some other knickknacks. Erica suggests keeping everything because after all life is about finders keepers, losers weepers. But Frances is nice. 

There is a phone number and address inside the handbag. Feeling obligated to do the right thing, Frances tracks down the owner to return everything. 
The owner is an older French lady named Greta (Isabelle Huppert). Greta is a piano teacher whose daughter is overseas. She is lonely. Won't Frances be her friend?  

Frances starts spending more time with the imperious and musically exacting Greta, something Erica and Frances' father each find a little strange. Greta is more than old enough to be Frances' mother. Eventually Frances attempts to end their friendship. But Greta doesn't want to let go of her new friend so quickly. 

The movie morphs into something between farce and horror. If you are a person who wonders why people in these movies never just mind their own business in the first place, you probably won't have the patience to sit thru this film. There is no sexual content, unless you want to count a few extended shots of Monroe in suitably tight yoga pants, but there is the normal amount of suspenseful genre violence you would expect. For good or bad there is no male hero here. The women are on their own. 

Few men in this film, whether they are bemused cops or unsympathetic head waiters, take Frances' increasingly frantic pleas seriously. The film depicts but doesn't explain the deep loneliness which causes both women to behave in ways that are less than optimal.  I may never again listen to certain classical music pieces in the same way.

Creed 2
directed by Steven Caple Jr.
Much as with the Rocky series out of which it grew this movie is interested in the relationship between men, first and foremost. Creed 2 places special emphasis on the love and need between fathers and sons. As a child a son often believes that his father is a superhero. 

A young adult son may be able to cite chapter and verse on all the places he believes his father made mistakes. A mature adult son may love and need his father despite any mistakes, acknowledged or not. In fact a son may view it as his responsibility to fight his father's battles and avenge his father where needed.

Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) never knew his father Apollo Creed, but mentored by his father's friend and nemesis Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) who has become his surrogate father, Adonis becomes WBC heavyweight champion of the world. On top of the world, Adonis proposes to his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson). She of course accepts.
Everything is turning up roses for Adonis and Bianca.

But as the saying goes you don't see everyone who sees you. In the Ukraine the boxer Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) is undergoing savage training and inflicting even more savage beatings and knockouts on various fighters. Viktor is trained and watched over, not necessarily lovingly, by his father Ivan (Dolph Lundgren), who killed Apollo Creed in a boxing match all those years ago. It has haunted Rocky throughout the years that he didn't throw the towel in that fight despite Apollo's objections.

Rocky beat Ivan in a later fight, something that caused Ivan's professional and love lives to spiral downwards. Now Ivan claims indifference to those events but the punishing way he trains his son gives the lie to those statements. For his part Viktor is FIERCELY devoted to his Daddy. He obeys all orders, hates his mother (Brigitte Nielsen) for leaving their family, and will run through a wall to achieve what he thinks Ivan wants.

Viktor becomes the number one heavyweight contender. He's determined to avenge his father's shame and become undisputed heavyweight champ.

A boxing promoter taunts Adonis by claiming that the fight for the championship between the son of one man who killed the father of the other would be the fight of the century, if only Adonis had the stones for it.

Adonis thinks he's ready. Rocky, who has reviewed some of Viktor's fights, quietly but strongly disagrees. Feeling aggrieved (and if there is a criticism to be made of Jordan's work here it's that it's almost ALL one note aggrievement) Adonis drops Rocky as a trainer, accepts the fight with Viktor and moves to Los Angeles to train. The move also allows the now pregnant Bianca to pursue her music career in a way she can't in Philadelphia.

To say the fight doesn't go as Adonis wants is an understatement. The massive and motivated Viktor puts a humiliating and painfully thorough whupping on Adonis. By sheer luck Adonis keeps his title belt on a technicality but everyone knows Viktor won the fight. Adonis is fortunate he's still alive. Viktor hopes to rectify that in the rematch.

Can Rocky move past his regrets and loneliness to train his surrogate son for a fight that could kill him? Can Rocky reach out to his estranged biological son? Can Adonis put away his pride and anger and discover why he wants to fight? 

Can Ivan put his love for his son above his desire to be accepted back into the Russian elite circles? Can Adonis and Bianca live with themselves if their child inherits Bianca's hearing issues?

Well what do you think? This movie isn't about surprises but about telling a familiar story in a crowd pleasing manner. And it does that well. The boxing scenes are crisp. They are more realistic than their 80s counterparts but still do show a bias towards what looks good on camera vs. what is more likely when two equally matched professional fighters meet in the ring. Although Munteanu is only listed as being four inches taller than Jordan, I think one or both of the men have their heights misreported. In most shots Munteanu towers above Jordan. This could have been camera angles. Stallone's deep mumble was occasionally hard to understand.
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