(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.
(On Cable TV, September 2014) Now here’s something unusual: A framing story set in a philosophy class being used as pretext to present three different scenarios of post-apocalyptic survival. As the seemingly logic-driven teacher plays head games with his students, interactions between the scenarios and the framing story become more obvious, logic is challenged by passion and we get a hefty dose of ethics and morality along the way. Not bad, even though much of the interplay between the classroom and the scenarios could have been strengthened, even though the setup of logic as the enemy to be defeated is tiresome, even though some characters are given severe short thrift, and even though the ending becomes increasingly atonal as comedy and melancholy each compete for attention. Still, After the Dark has a pretty good sense of humor, indulges into elaborate games of philosophy, upends tedious lifeboat ethics lessons and becomes, reassuringly enough, a rare example of humanist post-apocalyptic fiction. Writer/director John Huddles should be proud of the result. The appealingly multiracial cast is used effectively, with Sophie Lowe acting a luminous beacon of empathy against the logical mind-games of James D’Arcy’s teacher character and Daryl Sabara getting the film’s biggest laugh near the end. It’s an unconventional film in many ways, but it does linger on questions rarely addressed in any other ways, and gets honorable Science-Fiction credentials for its willingness to play with big ideas on a restrained scale.
(In theaters, July 2003) As a confirmed aficionado of Robert Rodriguez’s entire oeuvre, you won’t catch me saying anything overly negative about this last instalment of the Spy Kids trilogy. But it’s certainly not a betrayal if I simply state that this is the lesser film of the series and that its interest mostly lies in its 3D gimmick. As someone who wasn’t around in theatres in the early eighties for the previous revival of red-blue 3D glasses, there’s a definite curio factor in seeing such a film. Thanks to modern advances in computer animation technology, Rodriguez can essentially do an ultra-cheap CGI-packed 3D film for the pure fun of it. While the story in interesting enough in its typical Rodriguez hyperactivity, the cool CGI and unbeatable sense of fun are no match for the energy and heart-felt nature of the first two films. Oh, it’s good enough, no doubt about it: Ricardo Montalban and Daryl Sabara turn in good performances, we get to see Salma Hayek in 3D (with pigtails! woo!), Sylvester Stallone doesn’t embarrass himself, there is a great opening sequence with Juni as a private investigator and just about every Spy Kids character of note is back for the finale. The fun is infectious; the movie works rather well, but please, Hollywood, don’t use this as an excuse to make other 3D movies. One each twenty years is more than enough. As a 3D technology, red-blue glasses have to be the cheapest and the muckiest. Unless you’re willing to use polarised glasses, don’t bother.
(Second viewing, On DVD, April 2004) Definitely the lesser of the Spy Kids trilogy, but certainly not an uninteresting film. Hailed more for its single-handed revival of 3D in theatres than its actual plot, Spy Kids 3D is still a great action film in its own right. Sure, the plot (and even the cinematography) is meaningless without the 3D. Or is it? One of the many qualities of the DVD edition is to present a colourful 2D version of the film, and it still holds up as a piece of entertainment without the silly glasses. Aficionados of writer/director/auteur Robert Rodriguez already know that his DVDs contain plenty of supplementary content and this one is no exception, with a consistently interesting audio commentary, plenty of documentaries and yet another amusing “ten-minute film school”. Fun, fun, fun.