(In French, on TV, February 2019) If Congo has any claim to fame, it’s this superb quote from co-star Bruce Campbell: “What if you were offered a chance to appear in a movie based on a Michael Crichton novel? It will be directed by veteran Frank Marshall. Stan Winston will handle the special effects and it will be a big budget Paramount production. Sounds good? Congratulations, you just made Congo.” (There are a few versions of that quote around, but they all end with the same punchline.) The point of the anecdote is to illustrate the vagaries of Hollywood projects between what sounds good on paper and what comes out in the end—and to slam the movie along the way. Of course, your take may not be as harsh: While I found the much-maligned movie quite disappointing indeed, it’s not nearly as bad as some of the critical pile-on would have you believe. I wasn’t a fan of the original novel (which crammed one incident inspired by African clichés per chapter, narrative coherency be damned), but its episodic nature translates quite naturally to the screen, where it becomes one thrill after another until we’ve stopped asking for any kind of believability. The ridiculous pileup of subplots all justifying an expedition in deep Africa makes for an entertaining premise, and that’s well before we end up with a climax in which volcanoes, diamonds, killer apes and laser weapons are all involved. Congo’s bombastic nature ensures that we never take it seriously. The ever-cute Laura Linney stars, along with a few notables such as Ernie Hudson, Tim Curry and the inimitable Bruce Campbell. As long as you keep your expectations in check, this is an old-fashioned adventure film that should satisfy roughly 51% of your cravings, even if there’s quite a lot missing to ensure that the film is fun, that it flows well and that it makes the most out of its elements. As it is, Congo does remain a disappointment: It’s inert more often than it should, can’t quite capitalize on everything at its disposal and none of the cast or crew can’t quite save it. But that’s the risk that you take on every Hollywood movie … no matter how good their pedigree.
(In French, On Cable TV, January 2019) Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Alive is a movie about survival up in the mountains after a plane crash, and it’s adapted from famous real events in which the survivors ate the body of the deceased for sustenance. The nervous jokes about cannibalism were all over the release of the film back in 1993, and they’re still the first thing that most people talk about when they talk about that film. For good reason too—survival movies come and go, but they usually fade away quickly—does anyone even remember 2018’s The Mountain Between Us? Alive has a tricky element to deal with, and director Frank Marshall does have the decency of being skillful at the way it goes about it. Otherwise, it does remain a decent survival story: capable actors, harrowing plot, some dodgy pre-CGI special effects, and a bit of an uplifting conclusion. But if Alive sticks in mind, it won’t be for much of the film—it will be for those five minutes where it steps away from the norm, and can do so without accusation of gratuitous exploitation because it’s adapted from real events.