(Second Viewing, In French, On TV, April 2019) There’s no use soft-pedalling it: The Twilight Zone: The Movie is an uneven anthology of stories inspired by the classic TV show, but it remains far more noteworthy for an on-set accident that killed Vic Morrow and two child actors, an accident that required changing much of the film’s first segment and considerably soured the films’ production—not to mention its critical reception. The behind-the-scenes drama is fascinating (there’s an entire book about it) but what’s on-screen is not quite as interesting. The opening sequence is cute but overlong. John Landis’ first segment, the one that led to the shooting deaths, is left as a trite morality tale—and while I think that unrepentant racists getting a taste of their own bigotry is wholesome entertainment, the segment feels like obviousness piled upon obviousness. The second segment, directed by Steven Spielberg, is far too cute and unsurprising to be interesting. Things do get quite a bit better with Joe Dante’s take on the omnipotent kid trope, with stylish directing (making the most out of the visual effects of the time) and an overall feeling of dread that makes the segment work even if we know about the twist well beforehand. But the best is kept for the end: the well-known (and much-parodied) remake of “Nightmare at 20,000 feet,” a typically intense George Miller production featuring John Lithgow as a terrified airplane passenger who glimpses something frightening on the airplane wing. That segment is a little marvel of tight editing, impressionistic direction (including bulging eyeballs in a split-second moment), Lithgow’s great acting and good execution rather than a striking premise. Those last two segments do much to erase the bland impression left by the first two stories, but the overall feeling left by The Twilight Zone: The Movie is very uneven, and a waste of solid premises made even worse by its cost in human lives. I actually remembered a few things from seeing this film when I was a teen, but my current disappointment with the film is newly renewed.
(In French, On TV, October 2017) There is, without question, a lot of fun to be had watching The Witches of Eastwick on a basic level, as three likable women are seduced by the devil incarnate, only to take revenge. Jack Nicholson playing the Devil is as perfect a piece of casting as you can imagine, and there’s no denying the combined sex-appeal of Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon as the titular coven. The film does have a good go at satirizing various relationship conventions (What do Women Want? Indeed) before predictably moving toward a female empowerment finale. But therein lies the rub: There was no other way to finish the film, and it kind of goes wrong in subtle and no-so-subtle ways. I would feel far better if a woman had written the screenplay, because the male gaze (and male privilege) shown here is problematic. I’m not sure that all three women being ga-ga over babies of a dubious father makes sense. (It makes even less sense to consider that one of the female characters already has half a dozen children that practically never show up during the movie—where are they and why isn’t she spending time with them???) In some way, The Witches of Eastwick is an artifact of a time that is hopefully past—a dumb producer’s (i.e.: Jon Peters) brute-force vision of something that should be far more delicately handled. The Witches of Eastwick is funny and sexy, but it’s a guilty fun and an even guiltier sexiness. It doesn’t help that the script seems patched-up at times. The cherry pit-vomiting sequences are just gross and take away from the generally amiable remainder of the picture. (Then again, this is directed by George Miller, who’s made a career to strange tonal shifts) But this was 1987 and we’re now thirty years later—I’d be game for a less problematic remake, but I’m not sure who could step up to Nicholson’s performance.
(Video on Demand, September 2015) “Oh, what a day! What a lovely day!” is the kind of thing that post-apocalyptic science-fiction action movie fans are wont to quote after watching Mad Max: Fury Road. Despite a lengthy gap between installments, a new star, rumors of a troubled production and generalized post-apocalyptic fatigue among moviegoers, this new Mad Max is a solid action film that dares distill its essence in a nearly all-encompassing chase sequence. The non-stop action is shot impressively, with veteran director George Miller proving that he’s still a master of the form. Better yet, the action-movie template actually features a lot of world-building (in the form of crazy details that hint at much more) and relatively progressive politics as women take active roles as agents of the plot. Fury Road cleverly weaves its storytelling in its action sequences, resulting in a film that only pauses deliberately to take its breath. Tom Hardy makes for a fairly good new Max, while Charlize Theron has a strong role as the rebellious Furiosa. Still, this is Miller’s film, and the way he crams more and more excess in his stripped-down film feels like a breath of fresh air: the film is colorful, has stunts that feel honestly dangerous (or painful!). There’s also a lot of thematic depth to the film’s relentless action, from the nature of cultism to the artificial illusion of patriarchy, to altruism as rebirth. While the chase can come across as a bit repetitive, Fury Road remains a solid action film, the likes of which we see too rarely. It’s good enough to make anyone’s day.
(On Cable TV, June 2013) Let’s hand it over to writer/director George Miller: He’s never content to deliver something entirely conventional, and so it is that Happy Feet 2 gladly takes up wildly different protagonists that (almost) never meet, adds a live-action sequence in the middle of an all-CGI film, tackles existentialist philosophical issues, heightens the dramatic stakes beyond expectations and brings everything together in a stomping-tapping-clicking climax. Not everything works all the time, but the film manages a few high notes along the way, including a laugh-aloud opening medley, banter between two unusually bright krill and some spectacular Antarctic scenery. While the film can feel aimless (especially compared to the first one), it has the decency to build to a good conclusion. Sure, Happy Feet 2 could have been better… but why complain when it’s cute, charming, toe-tapping fun?
(On TV, January 2000) A charming fairy tale about a farm, its animals and the human farmers. Though quite fun and always interesting to look at, it does lacks some “oomph”. The computer-animated animals are cute, but there are signs that the film doesn’t fully exploit its potential. Still, good fun.
(Second-through-fiftieth viewings, Toddler-watching, On DVD, June 2014) Sometimes, it takes a different perspective to appreciate a film at its true value, and so it is that toddler-watching Babe (that is; over and over again) with a curious two-and-a-half year old only underscores what a magnificent achievement this film is. We usually skip over the dark opening and the sheep death scene, but most of Babe is fit to be watched by very young kids, even if as nothing more than a pleasant montage of scenes with adorable animals. (Tell no one, but the scene in which Babe convinces a sheep to take her medicine proved to be of pedagogical value.) It’s upon the fifth or fifteenth viewing that you begin to realize how perfectly executed Babe is: As a representation of a bucolic family farm, it’s got charm beyond measure. James Cromwell is nothing short of an icon as a laconic farmer, and the near-silent climax is a thing of beauty. Babe him/herself is a hero worth cheering for, and the sheep are almost impossible cute (and I say that as someone who has worked with sheep.) George Miller’s hand in this film is mostly that of a producer/screenwriter (Chris Noonan directed the film), but you can recognize the success of his approach in the rewatchability of the film. Babe is sweet but just as much fun for adults than it is for young kids. Let go of any cynicism and enjoy.