(On Cable TV, October 2016) I didn’t exactly approach Pride and Prejudice and Zombies with the most enthusiastic expectations. The zombie craze peaked a long time ago, I’ve never been able to fully embrace Jane Austin’s work (despite my best intentions) and the idea of mashing up the undead within the framework of an Austin novel never seemed like anything but a novelty. This lack of enthusiasm may end up explaining my modestly good reaction to the result. I’m perhaps most impressed at the breadth of the zombie story that original novel author Seth Grahame-Smith has managed to sneak in-between the Austen narrative framework, with an apocalyptic vision of a zombie-infested Great Britain split in zones, four horsemen of the Apocalypse and antagonists actively working for the other side. Portraying Mister Darcy and the Bennett sisters as effective action heroes is amusing (such as when a mild-mannered conversation is portrayed through a waiting room combat, or when blades are sheathed next to lingerie.), while the historical production values are just as credible as any BBC drama. The flip side of such a mash-up, though, are that the surprisingly short film barely has time to race through its twin strands of plotting. The elements kept intact from the Austen novel are covered as if viewers already knew about that (a good but imperfect assumption), while the horror sequences have to live in-between other mandatory elements. The result may be entertaining, but the better it gets the more frustrating it becomes: While Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is good enough to avoid being a mere curio, it shows more than a glimmer of the much better film it could have been under other circumstances. Lily James and Sam Riley are fine in the two main roles, but read the list of actors and directors initially considered for the project and weep at the thought of the versions that alternate universes got to see. It’s probably best to keep expectations in check and wonder at the oddity that did make it on-screen: It’s remarkably easy to watch, amusing in its willingness to blend two different genres together and more ambitious than your run-of-the-mill zombie movie.
(In French, Video-On-Demand, September 2006) It’s easy to feel cynical about Disney’s newest mania in remaking their animation classics in live-action form: it reeks of mindless exploitation, of post-creative consumerism and bankrupt innovation. But it’s always best to see the result before kvetching, and Cinderella makes the disarming choice to revisit the original but keep its heartfelt core. So it is that there’s barely a hint of snark or revisionism here, and the film consciously seeks to re-tell the same story while hitting the same points along the way. This version of Cinderella, for instance, wisely provide a lot more background on the happy childhood of its heroine, making it even more affecting when she’s relegated to the status of menial labour. It expands subplots, adds character depth, tones down the musical numbers, doesn’t completely anthropomorphise its animal relief and messes just enough with the glass slipper climax to keep things interesting for viewers who (ahem) have toddler-watched the original fifty times in the past 18 months. Cate Blanchett is deliciously evil at the wicked stepmother, but Lily James holds her own as the titular Cinderella. Then there’s the amazing production design of the film, presenting a sumptuous fairy tale to the screen: There are images here fit to wow anyone, from the Swarovski glass slipper to the golden Pumpkin carriage to amazing castle flybys. Nearly every frame is a painting (to borrow a phrase) and the beautiful result deserves to be watched. As a result, the two Cinderella films each get to keep their own identity, which is as good as one can hope for in a remake. Not only good on its own, Cinderella manages not to desecrate anything in its wake. Kids will enjoy it (although one notes that it aims at a slightly older audience than the original), but so will their parent.