(On Cable TV, August 2018) If, while watching The Snowman, you find that the plot makes no sense, then don’t worry about whether you’re having a stroke—rest easy knowing that according to the film’s director, its troubled production meant that a good chunk of the script was never shot. The film, as released, was cobbled together from incomplete material. How that happens (if that’s what happened) is a fascinating question as of yet unanswered, which is somewhat amazing considering the impressive pedigree of the cast and crew. And yet no one, not director Tomas Alfredson, not Michael Fassbender, not Charlotte Gainsbourg, not J. K. Simmons, not Toby Jones, not pretty Swedish landscapes can actually make the film any good. Not that missing narrative pieces are the film’s sole or biggest problems: Even the best production schedule still would have led to a silly and implausible film in which yet another serial killer gets off on making snowmen after killing his victims. (Actually, as a Canadian with substantial snowman-building experience, I’m somewhat dumbfounded by the whole snowman-after-killing shtick—snowman weather is very specific, and it only happens a few days per year, unpredictably linked to the weather. Any budding serial psycho building his killing schedule around near-zero-degree snowstorms would face near-impossible logistical challenges.) The Snowman gets worse the deeper you go in its details and subplots, as many of them don’t get any kind of resolution … and at some point you have to confront Val Kilmer’s terrible, overdubbed performance. Interestingly enough, the film’s botched handling of now familiar but still overdone thriller elements lay bare the ludicrousness of modern written thrillers, as they endlessly remix the whole troubled-detective, crazy-killer, sordid-society elements. It takes a ham-fisted interpretation of the formula to make us realize how stupid the whole thing has become. On the upside, The Snowman was such a derided failure (both commercial and critical) that we will be spared any further entries in the series.
(On Cable TV, June 2018) I may not like Michel Gondry’s work all that much, but now that I’m familiar with his approach, each one of his films bothers me less and less. La Science des rèves is pure Gondry in that it mixes his flights of fancy, eccentric characters and low-tech stop-motion special effects in the service of a romantic story. It’s twee and silly and ultimately tragic (maybe) and messy in its small-budget style, but I ended up liking it more than I would have expected. Gael García Bernal stars as a young artist moving from Mexico to Paris and finding that his promised job is far less interesting than expected. Meanwhile, he falls for his next-door neighbour with results complicated by his eccentric personality and his difficulty in distinguishing dreams from reality. The street-level view of Paris is interesting, but not as much as the characters in their flawed, initially off-putting qualities. Charlotte Gainsbourg is appealing as the love interest and the treatment of French/English bilingual dialogue is something I always appreciate, but the star of the show is Gondry’s imagination, endearingly portrayed through cardboard bricolage and stop-motion animation even when (say) tap water could have done just as well. Part of the key in appreciating Gondry is letting go of logic and simply letting the film go where it wants. This goes double for the oneiric The Science of Sleep. It may not outclass Mood Indigo as my favourite Gondry (a very qualified recommendation) but its whimsical quality makes for a welcome departure from the rather more realistic movie fare I’ve been binging lately.