(Second Viewing, In French, On Cable TV, January 2019) Back in 1990, Hollywood really wanted audiences to go see Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy. After the success of Batman in 1989, it had been designated as the most likely contender for the Summer Box-Office crown. I remember the overwhelming marketing push. It didn’t quite work out that way: While Dick Tracy did decent business, movies such as Ghost and Die Hard 2 did much better. Still, the film had its qualities (it did get nominated for seven Academy Awards) and even today it does remain a bit of a curio. Much of its interest comes from a conscious intention to replicate the primary colours of the film’s 1930s comic-book pulp origins: the atmosphere of the film is gorgeous and equally steeped in Depression-era gangster movies and comic-book excess. A tremendous amount of often-grotesque prosthetics were used to transform a surprising ensemble cast of known names (Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, James Caan … geez) into the caricatures of Tracy’s world. Beatty himself shows up as Tracy, square-jawed and willing to give his best to a film he also directed and produced. Madonna also shows up, but she ends up being more adequate than anything else. Dick Tracy’s big twist is very easy to guess, but this isn’t a film that you watch for the overarching plot: it’s far more interesting when it lingers in the nooks and corner of its heightened vision of 1930s cops-vs-gangsters cartoons. Visually, the film holds its own by virtue of being one of the last big-budget productions without CGI: the matte paintings are spectacular, and you can feel the effort that went into physically creating the film’s off-kilter reality. The question here remains whether the film would have been better had it focused either on a more realistic gangster film, or an even more cartoonish film. Considering the original inspiration, there was probably no other option than an uncomfortable middle ground. In some ways, I’m more impressed by Dick Tracy now than I was when I saw it in 1990 (at the drive-in!)—I wasn’t expecting as much, and I’m now more thankful than ever that it lives on as how big budget 1990 Hollywood rendered the gangster 1930s.
(Second Viewing, In French, On TV, December 2018) I recall seeing Eraser in theatres, and not being all that happy about it. (The idea of a portable railgun firing “near the speed of light” with no recoil seemed hilarious to me, but laughing alone in the theatre isn’t one of my fondest memories. But then again I placed a lot more emphasis on scientific rigour back then.) In retrospect, though, Eraser had aged decently enough—it does feature Arnold Schwarzenegger near the prime of his career, after all, and the kind of big dumb action movies made in the mid-1990s have grown scarcer in recent years, accounting for a bit of nostalgia. I mean; in how many 2018 releases do we have a parachuting hero bringing down an airplane rushing toward him with nothing more than a handgun? Some rough-looking CGI (alligators and human skeletons!) add to the charm. At the time of the film’s release, much of the release chatter had to do with how the audio and CGI team had to work around the clock right before release to change all mentions of the villainous “Cirex” to “Cyrez” after computer chip company Cirix complained. In terms of star vehicle, Eraser is pretty much what Schwarzenegger could handle at the time—and having a featured role for Vanessa Williams is more interesting when you realize that the film never goes the obvious route of creating a romantic subplot between both of them. James Caan also has a good turn as a mentor-turned-villain. The political machinations justifying the plot are better than average for an action movie, and the coda seem closer to a political thriller than an action film. Eraser is still not a good movie (and it pales a bit compared to other late-1990s actioners), but it has aged into a decent-enough one.
(In French, On TV, November 2018) Nicholas Cage and Las Vegas make for an interesting coupling ((he’s apparently now a resident of the city), especially given how each one of the movies in which they come together are so different. Leaving Las Vegas is a depressing tragedy, Con Air is a brash action spectacular, and Honeymoon in Vegas is an offbeat romantic comedy featuring no less than a troupe of parachuting Elvises (Elvii?) at the climax. Writer/director Andrew Bergman certainly seems to have fun in setting up the film’s premise, as a couple (Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker) travels to Vegas to be married, only to run into an Indecent Proposal-like situation in which a rich man (James Caan) offers to erase the protagonist’s gambling debts in exchange for a weekend with his soon-to-be wife. (Indecent Proposal was released in 1993, although the original novel predates Honeymoon in Vegas.) There’s some plot weirdness about Parker looking like the rich man’s dead wife, but never mind the justifications: Much of the film’s fun is in seeing Cage’s character chasing his wife, only to come back in style by jumping out of an airplane with a bunch of Elvis impersonators. As they say—what goes on in Vegas … warrants a movie. The result is a frothy funny film, not particularly deep at all, but offbeat and likable enough to be worth an unpresuming look. Cage is surprisingly fun as a romantic hero, and the Honeymoon in Vegas itself offers an interesting contrast to his other Vegas movies. Still, it may work best as a chaser for Leaving Las Vegas.
(On Cable TV, June 2018) I’ve been gorging on classic movies lately, so it’s even more of a shock than usual to take in one of the dumbest and most repulsive Adam Sandler movies yet. That’s My Boy is unusual in the Sandler oeuvre in that it’s clearly R-rated (Sandler is, temperamentally and intellectually, more closely aligned with the PG-13 rating) and it really doesn’t waste any time in establishing that fact: Once a film starts with statutory rape played for laughs, you have to wonder if it has anywhere lower to go. Alas, it does: incest, granny-lusting and priest-punching are only some of the not-so-delightful surprises that the film still has in store. Most of it plays limply despite the film’s incessant bombardment of curse words and shock images: Like most teenagers discovering the R-rating, Sandler seems convinced that everything is funnier with four-letter words and if he’s not entirely wrong (I did catch myself laughing once or twice) he does overdo it. It’s a mixed blessing to see gifted actors such as Susan Sarandon, James Caan and arguably Andy Samberg being dragged into the mess—although Ciara is cute as a peripheral love interest who shows up in two scenes. Still, much of the film is bottom-grade raunchy comedy, too crude to be interesting and too trite to be surprising. I usually see those films in order to know what I’m talking about when I’m dismissing comedians such as Sandler, but at the moment, That’s My Boy is having an unexpected impact: Making me like the classic Hays Code comedies I’m watching even more.
(In French, On TV, July 2016) Stephen King’s Misery is a memorable novel (even and especially now, touching upon the themes of fannish entitlement that have grown so tediously familiar latterly), and its movie adaptation (partially thanks to screenwriter William Goldman) manages to be as good, in its own way, as the original book. James Caan ably plays a best-selling author who, thanks to an accident, comes to rest in an isolated farmhouse under the supervision of his self-professed “number one fan” (a terrifying Kathy Bates in a career-best performance) who turns out to be completely crazy in dangerous ways. What follows is so slickly done as to transform King’s writer-centric thriller into a horrifying experience for everyone. Director Rob Reiner is able to leave his comedic background behind in order to deliver a slick thrill ride, gradually closing off the protagonist’s options even as it becomes clear that he’s up against a formidable opponent. While the film does soften a few of the book’s most disturbing or gory moments, it does not lack for its own unbearable scenes. A solid, competent thriller, Misery easily ranks near the top of King’s numerous adaptations, and remains just as good today as it was a quarter of a century ago.
(On DVD, April 2010) Some worthwhile films fall through the cracks, and this is one of them: A slick mixture of laughs and thrills set against the turn-of-the-century internet porn rush, Middle Men features slick editing, a snappy soundtrack, plenty of nudity, some good screenwriting, a surprising number of recognizable actors and slick cinematography to deliver a fairly enjoyable film. The voice-over narration wraps up a film that pleasantly jumps back and forth in time (sometimes for mere seconds), explains the way pornography has been a significant factor in the internet’s popularization and reaffirms why doing business with the Russian mob is always a bad idea. (The unrated DVD also has a bravura long-shot set at an orgy that actually manages to make a narrative point.) Luke Wilson is the film’s likable protagonist, a businessman who accidentally becomes a porn mogul. Surrounding him are such notables as James Caan as a crooked lawyer, Kelsey Grammar in a memorable one-scene sketch, Kevin Pollak as a sympathetic FBI agent and a near-unrecognizable Giovanni Ribisi as a paranoid inventor. Taken on its own terms, Middle Men is a fast-paced film that feels considerably bigger than its small budget, with enough good narrative moments to leave a good impression. It has a few flaws, like a few unnecessary emotional flashbacks, a too-innocent hero and a script that could have been tightened, but nothing major. But the film isn’t the whole story: the behind-the-scenes drama is almost as interesting as the end result. Some digging quickly reveals that Middle Men is not only based on a true story, but that the businessman whose story it is actually financed the production of the film itself… and lost most of its money when the movie failed at the box-office. The post-film real story features accusations of fraud, broken bones and other unpleasantness… enough to set up a sequel or two.