Month: April 2017

Twins (1988)

Twins (1988)

(On TV, April 2017) I managed to avoid most of the Arnold Schwarzenegger early comedies the first time around, but now that I’m checking off the last few titles in his filmography, I can’t say that I feel as if I truly missed something. After being underwhelmed by a first viewing of Kindergarten Cop and a second look at Last Action Hero, here is Twins to underwhelm me once more. The basic premise is actually amusing: What if Schwarzenegger played an impossibly perfect guy who suddenly discovers that he’s got a fraternal twin brother played by… Danny Devito. The two offer a striking visual contrast, and their respective styles of comedy are also an interesting match. Unfortunately, once you get past the poster, Twins doesn’t have much more to offer. There’s a bog-standard plot to move things along, but nothing truly interesting other than a clothesline on which to hang the expected comic bits. Some of the humour isn’t tonally consistent—the climactic chain gag seems to belong in another film. It doesn’t help, I suppose, that by 2017 (or, heck, by 1994’s True Lies, four comedies later) we know how Schwarzenegger can actually play comedy—the shock value of seeing an action star mugging for laughs is considerably diminished. I’m not saying that there’s nothing to see here: There’s a funny moment in which Schwarzenegger measures himself against a Stallone poster, Kelly Preston is very likable as half the love interests and DeVito does manage to get a few laughs of his own. But the movie itself is a bit dull and unfocused. Twins still holds interest through its high-concept premise, but the execution isn’t quite up to its own requirements.

War Dogs (2016)

War Dogs (2016)

(On Cable TV, April 2017) I had too-high hopes that War Dogs would be another strong entry in my pet geo-sardonicism subgenre—geopolitics treated with a good dose of sardonic humour as a way to make sense of an increasingly unlikely world, an updated Lord of War for the post-Iraq generation. I half-got my wish. For one thing, War Dogs is, indeed, a comedy taking on geopolitical issues: namely arms dealing and the unlikely profits coming from the unintended consequences of well-meaning government procurement policy changes. Miles Teller is the narrator and protagonist of an incredible story (partially based on real events) in which an underachieving young man ends up putting together multimillion dollar deals for the government’s war efforts. His patter, especially in the film’s first half, is interesting and damning at once. War Dogs starts out well with a first half filled with comedy, rags-to-riches incidents, and incredible war stories. It plays a bit like one of Ben Mezrich’s American-hustler books. Director Todd Philips knows how to present a film with pop and irreverent energy, and Jonah Hill does bring a degree of uncomfortable energy to the proceedings. Alas, this sugar high doesn’t last as the movie predictably settles into something far less fun in its latter half. War Dogs has to punish its villains, and those include our two protagonists. Their adventures get a great deal less fun as they turn on each other, renege on deals and get caught up in a federal investigation. There is no triumphant ending in store—at best, a soft (ish) landing. Still, War Dogs is a delight for those moment in which it does works. If the film’s not quite successful, then so be it—I’d rather see an imperfect take on procurement corruption than a more successful vapid comedy.

Jaws (1975)

Jaws (1975)

(Second viewing, Netflix Streaming, April 2017) When people point to Jaws reprovingly as the one movie that changed cinema (for the worse) ever after by introducing the concept of the blockbuster, I usually have to smile. I was born almost exactly three months after Jaws’ release date, and for a cinephile such as myself it feels amusing to think that my year of birth was the year that cinema changed. Après moi le deluge, or something like it. Still: Jaws is Jaws, the very definition of an iconic film, from its musical theme to the poster image to a handful of classic quotes and shots. As an action movie, Jaws shows its age, but as a suspense film, Steven Spielberg still knocks it out of the park—and that’s still true even after four decades of shark movies inevitably compared to granddaddy Jaws. Rob Scheider is the likable everyday man, while Richard Dreyfuss turns in a likable performance as a dedicated scientist. Jaws has the added particularity of having very distinct halves—the last act dispenses with nearly everything coastal to focus on three men in a boat and a shark around them. It still works. It really still works: the terror of the shark is still visceral, and the joy in which the final explosion is greeted rivals the Death Star’s explosion in Star Wars. It’s a compulsively entertaining crowd pleaser, but it’s also crafted with care, and reflects the mid-seventies in a way that seems almost quirky today. As a kid, I remember being half-terrified by the film’s occasional showings on TV—I don’t remember much of the rest of the film, although I do note that its original PG rating is ridiculous—it’s at least a PG-13 now, bordering on R due to gore. But no matter how you see it, Jaws remains a great movie.

The Big Chill (1983)

The Big Chill (1983)

(On Cable TV, April 2017) It’s interesting to read that writer/director Lawrence Kasdan interprets the meaning of The Big Chill as the disillusionment that hits thirtysomethings once they trade young ideals for practical realities. Watching the movie, I was most struck by the way is comfortingly presents a small group of friends spending a mostly relaxed time together—i.e.: chilling. But, hey, it’s his film, and a fascinating aspect of The Big Chill is how, nearly thirty-five years and two generations later, it remains intelligible as an expression of friendship, drama, love, lust, regret, grief and mid-thirties reflections. It remains engrossing despite having few laughs and even fewer thrills. Part of its enduring effectiveness has to do with the actors assembled for the occasion. These are early roles for notables such as Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline and Meg Tilly. (Pay attention, and you will even see Kevin Costner’s hairline.) The nearly all-hits soundtrack is also quite good. For a movie that wrestles complex relationships between no less than eight people (that’s 28 different relationships, if my math is OK), the story remains relatively clear at most times. Perhaps most surprising is how somewhat unusual things (hitting on your dead pal’s girlfriend at his funeral, a wife arranging for a friend’s natural insemination by her husband, insider trading, an adulterous affair while the husband’s away with the kids, etc.) are portrayed as being no big deals. The ending is weak, but there’s an upbeat wistfulness (if such an expression isn’t oxymoronic) that permeates the final moments of the film. The Big Chill couldn’t possibly have been more reflective of the late baby-boomer generation, yet it remains relevant today. And despite all the icky things in the movie, it still feels heartwarming and relaxed. Go figure.

Teen Lust (2014)

Teen Lust (2014)

(On Cable TV, April 2017) The prototypical teen sex comedy pitch usually has to do with losing one’s virginity, and Teen Lust flips that simple premise on its head by specifying that our protagonist is a Satanist headed for sacrifice … unless he can get himself laid quickly. (There’s also something about 1000 years of global damnation as a result of the sacrifice, but that part’s easy to forget.) Simple. Effective. Almost exactly perfect for a Canadian low-budget movie that barely reaches a duration of 80 minutes. The main reason to see the film is the banter between lead Jesse Carere and his best friend as played by Daryl Sabara (who, like in many other movies in his filmography, ends up stealing most of his scenes). The laughs aren’t hilarious, but there are a few chuckles along the way, and the script does wring a few good plot developments out of its premise. (If you go into the film completely cold, the revelation that the protagonist’s “going to church” is actually Satanism is good for a laugh, and the movie does acknowledge that there is at least one potential non-conventional solution to the whole “two friends looking to get laid” dilemma.) Teen Lust is not a great movie. It may not even be a particularly good movie. But as far as mandatory CanCon filler material on cable TV, it’s better than most and successful in how it reaches its intended objectives.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

(Second viewing, On DVD, April 2017) We can probably agree that a character like Ferris Bueller is a malignant sociopath who would be toxic in real life, but that doesn’t make Ferris Bueller’s Day Off any less than a success as a teen comedy. Issued by the John Hughes mid-eighties teen comedy factory, this is nonetheless a film that escapes from the usual formulas of the subgenre, taking an unconventional approach and defying caution in its ultimate objectives. Bueller himself is a memorable piece of work, manipulative and reckless yet almost immediately charming in the way he directly addresses the audience to gain their confidence. A gifted con artist, he is the driver but not the protagonist of the story, as he brings enlightenment to friends and siblings during the course of a single day off school. Matthew Broderick manages the heroic task of keeping Bueller likable, but it’s Alan Ruck who gets the film’s most dramatically significant role as a perpetually depressed friend shaken out of his rut by Ferris’s actions. Mia Sarah (in a dull role) and Jennifer Gray (in a far better one) are fine in the two female lead roles, although I’ve never quite warmed to Jeffrey Jones’s principal character. Then there is Chicago, lavishly showcased through most of the movie from the perspective of suburban teens heading downtown for fun. Surprising bits of philosophy pepper a script that breaks the fourth wall and attempts a few unconventional objectives. (Everyone likes “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” but I’m more partial to “The question isn’t ‘what are we going to do’, the question is ‘what aren’t we going to do?’”) The humour often veers from its good-natured realism to outlandish absurdity (as in the escalating “Save Ferris” moments), but it’s rarely mean-spirited even in its harshest moments. It’s fascinating that writer/director John Hugues both created a mold for the teen comedy and then broke it with this film—many people have imitated The Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles, but Ferris Bueller’s Day Off remains sui generis even today. I saw this film at least once decades ago, but it more than holds up today. Despite the easy and often cheap appeals at defying authority, there’s a countervailing element of living life moment-by-moment that’s hard to ignore.

Les Misérables (1998)

Les Misérables (1998)

(In French, on Cable TV, April 2017) The most famous big-screen version of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables has to be the 2012 film which adapted the musical on the big screen. I thought it was annoying, boring and exasperating, but I’m far more upbeat about the straightforward 1998 version. Featuring no less than Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush in the lead roles (with some assistance by Uma Thurman and Claire Danes, plus a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it minor role by a then-unknown Toby Jones), Les Misérables cleverly focuses on the essential aspects of the original, convincingly re-creates the historical period and manages to wring a lot of emotional impact out of its dignified treatment of the subject. It’s not exactly a thrill ride, but it unfolds at a steady pace for a historical drama, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome through repetitive musical numbers. While the 2012 version does have a few more spectacular moments (helped along by the state of special effects circa 2012 versus 1998), the non-musical version feels more focused on the story and more satisfying as a result.

After Hours (1985)

After Hours (1985)

(On Cable TV, April 2017) If anyone ever wonders what Martin Scorsese’s version of a comedy would look like, remind them of After Hours’ existence. It starts on a note familiar to countless teenage sex romp, as a young man heads to a strange woman’s apartment in hope of, well, you know. But the odds are against our hero as he loses his money, meets increasingly hostile people, suffers the worst luck imaginable and seemingly can’t manage to get himself out of trouble. It may be a comedy, but it’s shot like a horror thriller and written even more darkly. There are a number of deaths in the film, to the point where it’s the kind of film where you can comment “the murder was funnier than the suicide” and not feel like a complete psychopath. After Hours is a very strange film, compelling on the sole basis of seeing how bad things will get for the protagonist, yet repellent in content and unsatisfying in its abrupt conclusion. (To be clear: the last shot of the conclusion is just about perfect, but what leads to it seems arbitrary and far too quickly resolved to feel right.) Griffin Dunne is oddly sympathetic as the justifiably paranoid protagonist; meanwhile, Linda Fiorentino shows up in an early role as a kinky artist, Teri Garr is amusing as a vengeful waitress and Roseanna Arquette as a young woman with an entire newsstand of issues. (New York City also plays itself in its most alarming state, as a dark labyrinth in which everyone is out to get you.) If After Hours is Martin Scorsese goofing off, they maybe we should be thankful that he hasn’t made more pure comedies … or that his far funnier films usually belong to other genres.

Rogue One (2016)

Rogue One (2016)

(On Blu-ray, April 2017) As much as I fear that Disney’s plans to release one Star Wars movie a year for forever will dilute the impact of the original trilogy, I’m relatively happy with the results so far. While neither The Force Awakens nor Rogue One are great movies, they’re decent films and, in the case of Rogue One, actually try something somewhat ambitious. As a putatively standalone story (but a backdoor prequel to the original film), Rogue One plays with big icons and sets a war story within the context of the Star Wars universe. It’s far from being perfect: the characters are rather dull (although it’s nice to see a Zatoichi homage in the Star Wars universe), a lot of plot-building moments are merely serviceable and there’s a scattershot nature to the plot that may be explained by the rumoured production difficulties of the movie. There are far too many dull moments where we’re waiting for the next thing to happen—and the longer you think about some of the set-pieces, the less they make sense. On the other hand, there’s a lot of stuff to like. The battle of Scarif repurposes iconic images in a tropical context and makes them feel fresh again. Many of the special effects are terrific. The production design and cinematography make impressive efforts (down to the grainy film stock) to deliver a conclusion that fits seamlessly with the 1977 original. The diverse cast is a welcome evolution. I also like the daring of using an entire film to bring further dramatic heft to the original film, transforming a few vexing plot holes into plot engines along the way. The attempt to digitally re-create two actors of the original film is admirable, even though the result doesn’t look quite right. Diego Luna, Donnie Yen and Alan Tudyk deliver good performances—I wish I could say the same about Felicity Jones, but her character is written so flat as to be playable by just about anyone. Director Gareth Edwards obviously has some fun as an ascended fanboy, but I look forward to later editions of the film detailing the reshoots and arguments whispered about. Rogue One certainly could have been significantly better (tighter, punchier, wittier) in other hands, but what actually made it to the screen is surprisingly effective in its own way. Despite stiff odds, it looks as if Disney knows what it’s doing so far with the Star Wars series—now let’s see if other standalone stories will be as effective.

Sex and the City 2 (2010)

Sex and the City 2 (2010)

(On Cable TV, April 2017) When I say that my pet name for Sex and the City 2 would be “Middle-Aged Women Wish Fulfillment: The Sequel”, I’m not being as dismissive as you may think. For all of the middle-aged male wish fulfillment out there (and 2011 did have its own gender-flipped Dubai-set fantasy in Impossible Mission: Ghost Protocol except no one called it “male wish fulfillment”), there is a need for other kinds of escapist fantasies in cinema. Sex and the City 2 is aimed at a particular audience, and in that context I encourage it to be as pandering as possible given that I’m already getting plenty of pandering for my own demographic subset, thank you. This being said, I can’t in good conscience let the film skate away on the highly problematic sequences that it contains. Never mind the length of the movie, low-octane romantic stakes, general faux pas in making romantic sequels, first-world problems and over-privileged heroines: There’s a lot worse to be found in the way our four protagonists head over to Dubai on someone else’s dime, are lavishly served by indentured servants, flaunt local conventions like ugly Americans and are shocked when there are consequences to what they do. There is a particularly baffling sequence toward the end that has Kim Cattrall’s character acting out in ways that aren’t just offensive to hardline conservative but to anyone with the slightest bit of sense and respect. Sex and the City 2 tries to have it both ways as well, first as vicarious living in luxurious quarters, then by acknowledging the ugly underside of this luxury, then portraying its protagonists as victims of the trouble that they themselves get into. As much as I’d like to like the film (snip away much of the third quarter and it becomes far more palatable), at worst Sex and the City 2 tries to impose its own artificial materialistic/hedonistic values on a clearly identified Other and at best settles for an obnoxious fantasy. And I say this as someone who likes Sarah Jessica Parker, Chris Noth and the others. What a let-down.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

(Third viewing, On DVD, April 2017) There are many reasons why I shouldn’t like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s a bit too cozy with bunk-science UFOlogy, for instance, and the plot (especially in its first half-hour) falls apart as soon as you look too closely. It’s long, meandering, is far too fond of weirdness for weirdness’ sake and the “goodbye kids, I’m going to space” ending leaves a sour taste in my mind. (Although Spielberg has, since becoming a father himself, recanted that ending.) On the other hand, most of these reasons are why Close Encounters of the Third Kind still works fantastically well today. Even forty years later, it still stands as a well-executed take on the well-worn first contact scenario. It’s a film that plays heavily on pure wonder, which remains an all-too-rare emotion in Hollywood cinema. It tricks our point of view (our hero is justifiably mad from any other perspective than his), is comfortable in blue-collar suburbia, paints aliens as benevolent (if unknowable) and spends no less than a final half-hour in a nearly wordless light-and-sound show. It’s also a movie that’s unusually emotion-driven: it doesn’t always make logical sense, but it’s certainly effective at creating suspense, awe or surprise. As flawed as it is, it remains one of Steven Spielberg’s best movies. The special effects of the 1998 Director’s Cut are still convincing (well, except for some of the alien shots), the seventies period detail is now charming (even the reliance on UFOlogy lore now seems less and less harmful), Richard Dreyfuss makes a great next-door-neighbour protagonist, and it’s kind of cool to see film legend François Truffaut in a strong supporting role. I recall my parents discussing Close Encounters of the Third Kind with their friends once it hit television broadcast, along with my own memories of sequences such as the five tones, first backroad pursuit and, of course, the ending sequence which was completely enigmatic as a kid. I saw it again as a teenager and kept a good memory of the experience. So I’m very pleased to confirm, decades later as a middle-aged adult, that the film more than holds up as a SF classic.

The Fold, Peter Clines

Crown, 2015, 384 pages, C$29.95 hc, ISBN 978-0-553-41829-3

So … it took April Fool’s Day to get me reading fiction again.

Let me explain. Over the past few years, I have almost entirely stopped reading fiction. I can blame various factors, but the truth is that I’ve fallen out of the habit and while I still think that written fiction is a noble and fun activity, I find myself watching movies, reading up on the endless circus of American politics or simply doing other things rather than cracking open a book. I have no doubts that, in time, I will gravitate back to written fiction. Right now, though, it’s a bit of a struggle. Having a smartphone is great for ebooks, but it’s also great for just about everything else as well.

April Fools’ Day was a chance to do better. You have to understand that I don’t particularly like the festivities of April First. I don’t particularly like putting false information in my brain, and given the raging epistemological debate we seem to be having thanks to the Trump administration, my disdain for fake facts, even funny ones, reached a breaking point this year. So, I decided to unplug for a day. No news. No blogs. No forums. No social media. No exposure to made-up stories passing themselves off as reality.

But what do to with all of that extra time? Well, I decided to read fiction. I’ve had my eye on Peter Clines’ The Fold for a few months (great cover, arresting blurb, unknown author—it didn’t take much more than that to get me going when I was reading 200+ novels per year) and decided that a self-imposed exile from the net could be a great way to plunge back into fiction.

It actually worked. In a sobering demonstration of what’s made possible when you stop reading Reddit, I ended up reading most of The Fold in a single day, in small increments as I substituted reading prose instead of refreshing feeds. Hurrah!

Unfortunately, I can’t say that I’m all that taken with The Fold, especially during its last third. In the grand tradition of SF novels built on mysteries, it’s no surprise if the tease is better than the revelation, if the promise of a mind-blowing explanation is far better than the collapsing of those probabilities in a single observation.

But let’s enjoy the premise again as hyper-smart protagonist Mike, hiding away his prodigious intelligence as a high school English teacher, is recruited by an old classmate to investigate a mysterious research facility. The scientists there claim to have invented instantaneous teleportation, but there’s something strange about their experiment. The interminable delay between proof-of-concept and publishing their results. The lack of documentation. The constant frictions between team members. Not to mention the very strange episode in which a test subject was institutionalized after claiming that he didn’t know his wife. As an outsider with a perfect photographic memory, Mike should be able to piece together the pieces of the puzzle … right?

The novel’s first third enjoyably sets up the parameters of the investigation and takes us to the San Diego lab in which this is taking place. The second third ups the tension with even stranger developments, a few revelations and even deeper mysteries. While the characters aren’t that memorably portrayed, there’s a pleasant tension to the proceedings as our protagonist knows that he’s seen as the enemy … and small mysteries just keep accumulating. This is a kind of Science Fiction I like a lot—set in the real world but with just enough of an intrusion from the future to be interesting. The puzzle-box aspect of the central mystery has readers developing their own theories as to what is happening (I had my own bet running on members of the team secretly building more teleportation nodes), and as long as anything isn’t pinned down then everything is still possible.

Then the answers start coming down and we realize that The Fold is far more wobbly than at a first glance. The novel loses credibility once Victorian science is brought in. It loses even more credibility once the nature of The Fold is explained (raising further inconsistencies in trying to explain inconsistencies) and then pretty much goes into lalaland once the novel switches gear to a bog-standard portal horror mode. There’s a difference between “seen this before and it still interests me” and “seen this before and I’m not that interested” that’s clearly shown in the evolution from The Fold’s first to third act. I was able to forgive much of the prose’s clumsiness as long as I wanted to know more. It got worse when I stopped being fascinated, though. (It also explains why I read most but not all of the book on a single day.)  It doesn’t help, either, that The Fold’s own set of internal values quickly go from Science Fiction (new technology! How awesome!) to horror (this abomination must be destroyed at all costs!) along the way—I read Science Fiction because I like SF’s ethos of careful progress through technology, not because I was looking for another lesson in how Pandorian horrors must be stuffed back in their box. For one thing, Hope was at the bottom of Pandora’s box—and for another, there’s no doubt that what’s been created once can be re-created, and the curiously lackadaisical response from a few “Men in Black” late in the novel feels like a dramatic miscalculation that critically wounds the novel rather than enhance it.

I won’t hammer The Fold much further for a weaker third act—such is the most common fate of any novel building itself around a mystery rather than more straightforward all-cards-on-the-table plotting. The Fold isn’t the first nor the last SF novel to lose interest as it reveals everything. To focus on the positive, I really like the protagonist’s unique skills and the various defences he has developed against them—at a time when ever-knowledgeable protagonists are often portrayed as justified psychopaths (as in: nearly every Sherlock-inspired character out there), Mike stands as a beacon of excessive humility. There’s a cute romance woven through, even though I think some details of it are off. When I say that The Fold could have been a Preston/Child novel, I’m not being as dismissive as you may think.

From a purely personal perspective, coming back to fiction after a lengthy pause only to wrestle with a novel with such clearly defined strengths and weaknesses is like coming home. As a reviewer, I enjoy getting down and dirty with a flawed work. It’s good sport—in fact, voicing objections to a novel is the point of reading critically. Keep your perfect novels and your unmitigated trash to yourself—right now, I’d rather have more fun nitpicking and recognizing passing competence in a novel with both highs and lows. Reading fiction is supposed to be fun, after all. One thing’s for sure: I won’t wait an entire year to turn off the wireless and get lost in another novel.

We Bought a Zoo (2011)

We Bought a Zoo (2011)

(On Cable TV, April 2017) on the one hand, I’m not a big fan of obviously manipulative feel-good movies. On the other hand, I won’t deny that I like feeling good and can be lenient toward films that aim to make viewers happy. So it is that with We Bought a Zoo, we have the story of a widower purchasing a zoo, caring for animals and reconciling with his kids and getting over the tragic death of his wife. That’s it. Nothing else. Fortunately, that’s more than enough. Once you throw in the zoo animals, the decent performances by Matt Damon and Scarlett Johannsen, as well as the assorted cast of characters, the film becomes more than bearable enough. A heavier, older, quieter Damon makes for a solid protagonist, but a good part of the film’s charm goes to the underdog nature of a man picking up zoo-keeping from scratch. Speaking to animals is part of the challenge, but speaking to other people is just as important. Despite the blatant melodrama of writer/director Cameron Crowe’s script (the leitmotif “20 seconds of insane courage” aren’t even mentioned until the third act.), We Bought a Zoo is not a bad movie. Sometimes, we can accept manipulation if the end result is to our liking.

Manhattan (1979)

Manhattan (1979)

(On TV, April 2017) I’m usually pretty good about compartmentalizing an artist and an artist’s work—something that has occasionally caused me a few retroactive pangs of guilt, especially in considering Roman Polanski’s work. Most of the time, those little bits of disapproval aren’t enough to affect me: I’ve got my list of good Woody Allen movies despite being aghast at his personal life. But for all of Manhattan’s reputation as one of Allen’s best, I understandably had a really hard time separating the movie (in which he gets romantically involved with a high-school girl) from Allen’s personal life (in which he got romantically involved with not one, but at least two high-school-age girls). As much as I tried getting into the rhythm and sensibilities of Manhattan, the film itself couldn’t stop getting me from thinking, “No, Woody Allen, no!” every time Allen and Mariel Hemingway (who, for all of the problematic aspects of her character, is terrific in the role) snuggled on-screen. So if I sound less than enthusiastic about Manhattan, keep thinking, “42-year-old guy writing a role in which he’s dating a 17-year-old girl”). Fortunately, there are other things to talk about in talking about Manhattan. The black-and-while cinematography is exceptional, some of the one-liners are very funny, the portrait of complicated romances is stronger than the usual pap that passes for romantic comedies, Diane Keaton is fantastic and the portrait of intellectual New Yorkers has a strong credibility to it. Oh, and Meryl Streep shows up for a handful of devastating scenes. Still, I was never completely convinced by Manhattan’s humour or its romance(s). Much as I appreciate the achievements of the film, I can’t quite bring myself to like it. You can credit Woody Allen for both reactions.

Aladdin (1992)

Aladdin (1992)

(On DVD, April 2017) This is not quite a “first viewing” review. I have, after all, seen quite a lot of Aladdin by sheer virtue of being a dad. But living with a preschooler-in-chief means that most kids’ movies have to be seen in bits and pieces, always in French and in-between fetching, cleaning or food-prepping. Over time, I have grown accustomed to the ever-growing DVD library of kid’s movies that I’ve seen but never really watched. Well, it’s time to remedy that. (My daughter was scandalized that I would want to watch one of her movies in the original English while she was busy playing—note to self; for The Little Mermaid or The Lion King, wait until after bedtime.) Now that I’ve had the chance to watch the movie from beginning to end, let’s acknowledge a few things: It’s a tight take on the Aladdin story, filled with enough humour, action, suspense, romance and adventure to entertain everyone. The animation is pretty good, with an impressive early integration of CGI and 2D animation at a time when such a thing was only becoming possible for top-notch studios such as Disney. The film is worth viewing in the original English if only for Robin Williams’ remarkable tour-de-force vocal performance at the genie. Not only does the film come alive when he’s on-screen, but his rapid patter is typically Williamsesque to a point that gets lost even in the most well-meaning translation. I’ve long suspected that Jasmine is one of my favourite princesses, and this film confirms why—you can clearly see in her nature the template for the feisty female characters that would form the core of the Princess archetype during the Disney Resurgence period that continues even today. At roughly 90 minutes, it’s a film that doesn’t have a lot of dull moments. (Although I would redo the introduction: Not only does it come across as a bit racist, it inelegantly contextualizing the film as being “from somewhere else”, contrarily to the approach taken by more recent film such as Frozen or Moana that takes us inside the other culture from the first few moments.) Small nice moments abound, such as the two-faceted nature of the villain animal sidekick (another performance worth savouring in English, by Gilbert Gottfried), or the surprisingly deep bond of friendship between Aladdin and the genie. Musically, I like Aladdin’s introduction songs (both of them), and the effective “Friend Like Me”. All in all, Aladdin remains quite satisfying for the kids, pleasantly funny for the adults who can catch the anachronistic references, and a family film in the best sense of the expression.