(On Cable TV, January 2019) Following up on Romancing the Stone barely a year later, The Jewel of the Nile once again teams up Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner (and Danny DeVito) for a comedic adventure far away from home. Heading for the Middle East rather than South America, the characters soon find themselves embroiled in a revolution against a despot, and trying to work out their marital issues along the way. This straightforward adventure is powered by Douglas and Turner’s charm, as they bicker and reconcile over the course of the film. While generally tepid, the film does hit a high mark during an escape sequence featuring a land-bound F-16 jet. Perhaps unfortunately, the plot doesn’t do as much as it promises early on in exploring the fantasy/reality frontier that comes naturally by having a novelist in a lead role. In some ways, the film is about rerunning a romance with a bit more information about each other, belying the theory that you shouldn’t make a romantic sequel because everything has been said the first time. In that context, The Jewel of the Nile doesn’t stand by itself, and greatly benefits from having seen Romancing the Stone (a generally stronger film) not too long beforehand. It’s watchable enough, but not a great or even good movie.
(In French, On TV, October 2018) I watched Body Heat based on nothing more than availability (it was playing and it ranked fairly high on the list of 1981 movies I hadn’t yet seen) and was pleasantly surprised to find out it was an updated riff on classic noir movies such as Double Indemnity, albeit sexed up for the eighties. William Hurt is fine as the pitiable lawyer protagonist, but it’s Kathleen Turner who leaves a lasting impression as the woman that upends everything for him. If you understand the film’s true genre early on (as the reference to Double Indemnity suggests), there are few true surprises along the way of the film’s many twists and turns, but the execution of the story is good enough that it doesn’t matter. The atmosphere of an unbearably torrid Florida is excellent, and the film delves early and deep in the “everyone is bad” moral attitude—we quickly understand that nobody here turns out virtuous. The homage to noir movies is excellent. It makes for a conventional but satisfying thriller, the kind of film that we don’t nearly see that often almost thirty-five years later. Even watching Body Heat in dubbed (European) French added a special je-ne-sais quoi to the film, making it feel even more of a pastiche than it would have been in its original language.
(In French, On Cable TV, September 2017) If ever you’re in the mood for an action comedy in which a romance author finds adventure and love in South America alongside a dashing rogue, then Romancing the Stone should be your first pick. It does exactly what it sets out to do, and does it relatively well thanks to the lead actors and director Robert Zemeckis’s knack (even at that early stage of his career) for executing complex projects. Here we go from New York City to Colombia, evading government forces, drug lords and criminals along the way. Michael Douglas is quite good as the dashing adventurer, reminding us of his younger leading-man days. Opposite him, Kathleen Turner is not bad as a writer thrust in a series of adventures, loosening up along the way. There is nothing particularly novel to what Romancing the Stone is trying to do, and it can occasionally be annoying in how it goes about it (most notably in presenting the bumbling criminals who are supposed to be one of the two main sets of antagonists) but it does manage to become the adventure film it wants to be, with a good helping of comedy and romance to go along with the thrills. It occasionally fells long, and some of the limitations of 1984 filmmaking do show up from time to time, but Romancing the Stone remains mildly enjoyable even today.
(On DVD, September 2016) Director Sofia Coppola’s films have been hit-and-miss as far as I’m concerned, and The Virgin Suicides won’t settle anything in either direction. I’m certainly not the target audience for a film trying to make sense of the suicide of five sisters, often seen from the perspective of the male teenagers who almost worship them. It’s a film that delves into nostalgia (as narrated from a perspective years later, looking back on the seventies), plays in nuances, doesn’t offer a definitive conclusion and likes to spend time with its characters without necessarily advancing the plot. Dramatic ironies abound—such as when the boys plan a rescue and find out that their help is irrelevant. The subject matter makes it a sad movie, but its execution is perhaps not always as sad as you’d suppose it from the premise. Kirsten Dunst is very good as the oldest sister, while Kathleen Turner and James Woods also make an impression as the parents; perhaps inevitably, most other performers recede in the background of an ensemble cast. The Virgin Suicides certainly offers a change of pace from strongly plot-driven film, so it takes a leisurely frame of mind to appreciate the film in its subtleties. As with other Sofia Coppola movies, I can’t help thinking that there is something in there that I can’t reach.
(On Cable TV, July 2016) There are many things I don’t like about stupid humour, and one of them is the way it curdles the older its practitioners are. Watching Jim Carrey and Jeff Bridges goof off in 1994 when they were in their thirties is bad enough, but seeing them act like big doofuses in 2014 when they’re in their fifties is adding a substantial layer of melancholy on something that’s already pretty sad. It gets worse considering how Dumb and Dumber To tries to bring in issues of fatherhood (flirting far too long with the stomach-churning idea of a character having designs on the other one’s daughter) in-between wasting one’s life on dumb jokes. The film starts badly, builds setpieces that aren’t as funny as the screenwriters think and sort of peters out at some point before the end. There are a few high notes, although one of them (the brief return of the iconic dog van) is notable in how quickly it speeds by. As in the original, dumb humour abounds, but very little of it has the kind of panache that made the first film so memorable and grudgingly funny. It doesn’t help that, in twenty years, the comedy zeitgeist has moved away from the original’s model. Carrey can’t very well return to the same kind of humour he did twenty years ago without looking ridiculous in unintended ways, while Bridges doesn’t completely abase himself. In that chaos of dumb taste, only Kathleen Turner emerges gracefully, although having one of the most level-headed characters in the film helps a lot. After so many modest efforts and all-out misfires, you’d think that the Farrelly Brothers would stop making movies at some point, but clearly the box office results show that I’m wrong and my opinions on the matter don’t mean anything. In the meantime, Dumb and Dumber To exists, and you only have yourself the blame if you end up watching it.