(On TV, May 2017) Twenty-seven years later, I still remember the ads for Arachnophobia and especially it’s “thrill-omedy” neologism, coined at a time when hybridizing horror and comedy was still a daring concept. We’re far more familiar with the form nowadays, and that does play a part in appreciating the movie today: While some of the film’s methods seem a bit obvious now, the general concept is more easily accepted and the substance may seem more accessible now than in 1990. Arachnophobia, from its title, makes no pretension about what it means to be: a scare-ride for people who are even slightly disturbed by spiders. As the volunteer (and designated) spider-catcher in my household, I’m not really the prime audience for the movie … but I can recognize that it makes a decent effort to be entertaining. While the first half-hour is too long, the rest of Arachnophobia works well as a B-grade comic thriller. Jeff Daniels is suitably sympathetic as a doctor who gets far more trouble than he expected in moving his family from the city to the countryside, while John Goodman is remarkable as a slightly disturbing and incompetent exterminator. Arachnophobia is not a great movie, but it doesn’t have to be. See it with Eight-Legged Freaks for a good spider-movie double feature.
(In French, On Cable TV, March 2017) My allergy to muddy family dramas remain just as pronounced, as a viewing of The Squid and the Whale confirms. Writer/director Noah Baumbach takes a small budget, some quirky ideas, well-known actors and a heartbreaking subject as the basic elements of an eighties-set drama in which two boys react badly to their parents’ ongoing divorce. It’s more of a darkly amusing drama than a somber comedy: While the humour is there, much of the film is intensely depressing. At least there are great performances along the way. Jesse Eisenberg turns in a nuanced performance, while Jeff Daniels is fantastic as a deeply flawed, yet oddly captivating father. Laura Linney doesn’t get as good of a role as the mother (given that the film is largely written from the elder son’s unsympathetic perspective, she doesn’t get the best role in the ongoing mess) while Anna Paquin merely … shows up as a student with a deeply inappropriate relationship. Much of the film is mumbled through domestic scenes of heartbreak and aimless fury, set in intellectual-class New York intelligentsia. It’s not fun, but it ends up being more absorbing than you’d expect considering the flawed characters, super-16mm cinematography and life-goes-on ending. The Squid and the Whale was less painful than expected, which actually stands as outstanding praise in this case.