(In French, On Cable TV, June 2019) I’ve been rediscovering a few surprisingly good Stephen King movie adaptations lately, but Silver Bullet won’t be one of them. At best, it’s a middle-of-the-road adaptation, compensating for a familiar premise with a few quirky details, occasional good moments and a fun performance by a crowd-favourite actor. Another take on the well-worn werewolf mythos, Silver Bullet tells us about a pair of teenagers and their quirky uncle taking on a deadly threat stalking their small town. As the bodies pile up, we’re quite obviously stuck in a 1980s horror film aimed at teenagers—the blood flows, the scares can be silly, and the overall atmosphere is more comforting than any kind of horrifying. Werewolf or not, the structure of the film—with its escalating death count and final confrontation—won’t surprise anyone who’s seen any other horror movie before. Still, a few things do save Silver Bullet from all-out mediocrity. The somewhat sympathetic portrait of a teenage protagonist in a wheelchair (played by Corey Haim) may have been intended as exploitative but ends up interesting in its own way. Having Gary Busey step in as an eccentric, alcoholic uncle isn’t played for laughs as much as you’d think (even the film acknowledge that the guy has issues) but remains distinctive due to Busey himself. Finally, there is some good directing here and there, whether it’s a foggy sequence, or the clever revelation of the human identity of the werewolf—although it’s unclear whether these touches come from credited director Dan Attias or the film’s first director Don Coscarelli. In other words, expect a standard werewolf movie and you just might be mildly satisfied.
(In French, On Cable TV, May 2019) “The Day the Music Died” happened sixty years ago, more than a decade and a half before my birth and I still get unaccountably forlorn about it. Watching The Buddy Holly Story so soon after La Bamba only magnifies the sense of loss in seeing three immensely capable musicians (Buddy Holly, but also Richie Valenz and Big Bopper) disappear—what could have they had made had they lived? There is a timeless finality in death, of course, and The Buddy Holly Story clearly leans into ennobling its main character, highlighting his uncompromising approach to making music, his innovative genius, and his moral righteousness as he eschews the excesses of the rock-star lifestyle. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the film to contemporary audiences is seeing Gary Busey as a credible Buddy Holly, lean and young and smart to an extent that seems difficult to reconcile with his latter-day persona. Otherwise, the film is a standard music biography—good reprise of hits, a loose adherence to the truth, a sticks-to-fame story here strengthened by a tragic ending (that is portrayed through an end text, overlaid over a mute portrayal of Valenz). Watch La Bamba immediately afterwards for a more elegiac and perhaps more interesting take on the same event—plus a far better treatment of Valenz than his mute walk-in appearance at the end of this film. Otherwise, the film will be good to remind anyone of Holly’s place in rock-and-roll history, as well as a medley of his greatest hits, especially during the climactic end sequence when the film quickly does his best-of. The Buddy Holly Story isn’t hard to watch, and fans of 1950s pop music will get a kick out of bringing back those years to life (even if the liberties with the real history are annoying even after a quick Wikipedia fact-check).