(On TV, December 2018) Every Santa Clause movie in the series gets markedly worse, and if The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is not quite terrible, it’s certainly heading in that direction. “Was there anything else to do with the premise?” is the question that producers should have examined more closely before embarking on a third instalment, as what they resort to is a highly unpleasant back-to-the-beginning parallel reality and an active antagonist in the persona of Jack Frost. Martin Short isn’t to be blamed for playing Frost—he gives it everything he’s got, and his madcap performance does hold some interest. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is often painful to go through. As is often the case in film series, baby makes three—or at least becomes an important plot point of the third film. Much of the creative juice of the series has run dry, and running off fumes barely gets the instalment past the finishing line. Tim Allen is blander than bland in a role for which he was picked because he was bland, and that’s saying something. The Escape Clause is the kind of movie they throw alongside the previous ones to make for a series collection DVD 3-pack, but it’s not a given that everyone will get to it.
(Second viewing, On DVD, October 2018) It’s easy to see why noted film buff/historian John Landis would jump at the occasion to direct Three Amigos—among many other things, it’s a chance for him to re-create a small part of Hollywood history, specifically the early days of silent comedy films. Add to that the idea of satirizing Seven Samurai, as well as working with comedians such as Martin Short, Chevy Chase and Steve Martin … it certainly looks like a great project. Alas, the final version of Three Amigos is missing something. It’s not dull or bad, but it’s certainly duller and worse than it could and should have been. When I saw the movie as a teenager, my favourite sequence (and the only one I could remember thirty years later aside from the salute) was the one with the signing bush and the (fallen) Invisible Gunman. As a middle-aged man, it’s still my favourite sequence, and I think it shows just how wild and absurdly funny the rest of the film could have been—I liked the too-brief look at silent Hollywood, but I would have enjoyed Three Amigos far more if its tone had been consistent with the crazy singing bush/invisible man sequence. The rest often feels perfunctory and well-mannered despite a few good stunts and the potential to go beyond the obvious. Would it have been so hard to do just a bit more?
(Video on Demand, April 2015) “Chinatown meets The Big Lebowski” is an imperfect and unfair way of describing Inherent Vice, but it’s better than most. As a thriller set in the drug-addled subcultures of 1970s Los Angeles, featuring a protagonist not overly concerned with the trappings of the Private Investigator lifestyle, this is an investigation that doesn’t necessarily go to expected places, each elliptical scene not entirely connected to the previous one. It can be heartbreaking, hilarious, confusing and fascinating in rapid succession, floating above its own plot in a haze of altered perceptions. If, from this summary, you’re getting the idea that this is a challenging film that doesn’t really want to be seen conventionally, you’re right. But it is, after all, a Paul T. Anderson film, and so it’s best approached as an experience than a story. Fortunately, there are a few fantastic moments: Martin Short has a hilarious small role as a drugged-up dentist, there is a raw long single-shot love scene that’s a thing of wonder, and the recreation of 1970s Los Angeles is credible. But the film does annoy as much as it rewards: there are more than a few lengths, the scenes aren’t necessarily accessible, the plot gets overly complex (the way it flouts genre conventions doesn’t help) and the use of a few actors rings falsely at time (Owen Wilson in a dramatic role, as unfair as it sounds, is a bit of a stretch) Inherent Vice may not be to everyone’s liking, but there are enough great moments here and there to warrant a viewing even for those who may not be entirely enthusiastic about Anderson’s films.