Nightclub: The Birth of Punk Rock in New York (N/A) ***
It’s strange how resilient the Predator franchise is, as Arnold Schwarzenegger bailed out the series after just one movie. Aside from the entertaining gonzo Predator 2, the rest of the films – two Alien vs. Predator films, a mean reboot by Robert Rodriguez (2010’s Predators), an atrocious reboot by Shane Black (2018’s The Predator) – barely make the cut. for the character’s continued presence in the pop culture landscape.
The first thing to say about the new Predator prequel movie Prey, then, it is that at least it offers new outlets. Or, at least, a new take inspired by the aforementioned Predator 2 ending. Set on the Great Plains of North America, circa 1719, the film revolves around a young Comanche warrior named Naru (played by Amber Midthunder) whose determination to prove her worth by hunting anything that can hunt her coincides with the first arrival of the Predator on Earth. Needless to say, Naru is the only member of his tribe who senses something is wrong with the way various Comanche hunters seem to fall prey to the wild animals they normally hunt. But because she’s a girl (“We won’t be gone long enough to need a cook,” sneers one of Naru’s tribal brothers), no one takes her seriously.
A firmly established feminist empowerment theme, the film settles into a fairly routine wilderness survival tale, albeit with a mid-course twist that offers a direct callback to Predator 2 in order to tap into the idea that there could be a greater threat to the Comanche Nation than the presence of a dreadlocked alien. It’s an interesting thematic idea and, if you’re familiar with the show, there’s a little satisfaction to be had in seeing how it all comes together. But regardless of your fan status, 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Tratchenberg’s visuals look a lot like TV, the action sequences are generic, and Patrick Aison’s screenplay saddles the cast with anachronistic dialogue that doesn’t make not much to ground the film in the time period it’s supposed to take place. Midthunder is a compelling track, but you don’t need Predator’s vision to see how this franchise has heated up.
“Is it Scotland? asks the bewildered protagonist of Chance as she steps through a portal into a secret land populated by goblins of indistinguishable Celtic descent. She follows a black cat with a Scottish accent (voiced by Simon Pegg, revisiting his Scotty schtick from Star Trek), so her confusion is perhaps understandable. Then again, almost everything about this latest animated blockbuster is so convoluted and ill-conceived it’s hard to tell. A charming opening act may hint at a clever Monsters Inc-style adventure involving a secret world behind our world that determines who is lucky and who isn’t. But after being introduced to former foster child Sam (Eva Noblezada) as she embarks on adult life with the same rotten luck she had as a child, the film has had to struggling to develop ideas coherently.
Sam’s efforts to retrieve a truly lucky penny that temporarily transformed his life are the catalyst for his arrival in the land of luck, which is not Scotland but seems to have been based on a number of Irish cultural clichés. boring. Alas, by the time it gets here you can almost feel the story pick up speed as the film tries to cram in plenty of high stakes action while giving gibberish life lessons about bad luck attracting bad luck but being also necessary to ensure that good luck can sometimes prevail. Or something. Jane Fonda stars as a magical dragon.
Nightclub: the birth of punk in New York tries to counter the prevailing myth that the CBGB is solely responsible for the punk scene in New York by shining a dirty light on another venue, Max’s Kansas City. Although still famous in the annals of the city’s art scene as the favorite haunt of Andy Warhol and the Factory crowd of the mid to late 1960s, Max’s importance to the music scene didn’t survive as well. As this film seeks to show, it gradually developed into a key location in the 1970s. With the Velvet Underground’s early association with it, and later Iggy Pop (this is where he met David Bowie), he gradually became a creative melting pot for Alice Cooper, the New York Dolls, Dolls manager Malcolm McLaren, Blondie, and a host of lesser bands. While the film could have benefited from tighter editing and more journalistic rigor, it’s also a treasure trove of archival footage, including Sid Vicious’ latest broadcast.
Fadia’s tree, the feature debut of British artist Sarah Beddington, offers a sympathetic portrait of Fadia Loubani, a Palestinian woman forced to live in a refugee camp in Beirut, close to her hometown of Sa’Sa, on the other side from the Lebanese border. Beddington has been friends with Fadia for years and the film is a record of that friendship deepening as she embarks on an epic mission on Fadia’s behalf to find Fadia’s childhood home. With nothing to do but Fadia’s memory of a mulberry tree growing outside the door, Beddington intersects his quest with interviews with Fadia and his own growing interest in ornithology. The end result offers an impressionistic portrait of the region’s troubled history, as well as a quiet meditation on the role the house plays in shaping who we are.
Prey is available to stream on Disney+; Luck is on a select release and streaming on AppleTV+; Nightclubbing: The Birth of Punk Rock in NYC and Fadia’s Tree are featured releases