(In French, On TV, November 2018) Each Dirty Harry movie gets worse and worse, and The Dead Pool marks not only the end of the series, but the cul-de-sac in which its increasing self-parody could lead. As the film begins, Harry Callahan has become enough of a celebrity that he qualifies for inclusion in a municipal death pools—that is, predictions on whether he will soon die. The plot gets going once someone decides to hasten his demise, motivated by overall psychopathy and revenge. Clint Eastwood sports yet another hairdo here, and I can’t underscore how weird it feels to see Callahan’s character in the firmly established 1980s: He’s such a creation of the 1970s that it just feels wrong to see him compose with the worst clichés of the decade, including Guns’n’Roses. (Sudden Impact, the fourth film of the series was indeed set in the eighties, but its small-town setting and early-decade product means that it still felt like the seventies.) It gets worse once you see Callahan interact with up-and-coming actors that would achieve notoriety a decade later: pay attention, and you’ll see Jim “James” Carrey, Liam Neeson and Patricia Clarkson (looking like Natasha McElhone!) in supporting roles adding to the weirdness. Mind you, the film has enough contemporary weirdness on its own—Callahan is here written as a self-parody, fully indulging in the worst traits of his character. The nadir of the entire Dirty Harry cycle can be found in the silly car chase featuring… an explosive remote-controlled car. (Nobody will be surprised to find out that Callahan’s car does not survive the film, as noticed by the characters. And we won’t bring up what happens to Callahan’s partners.) The Dead Pool feels like an overextended joke, a wholly useless entry in a constantly declining series. Amusingly enough, it’s not even included in many of the Dirty Harry compilations on the market, which should tell you enough about it.
(In theaters, September 2010) I have a big soft spot for clever bubbly teen comedies, and those aren’t as frequent as you may think. Never mind how long it’s been since Clueless, Bring it On or Mean Girls: Easy A is now here to make us believe again in the power of a good script, decent direction and capable actors having fun in redeeming a high-school setting. Paying explicit homage both to classic works of literature and to John Hugues’ work, Easy A’s starts out with a witty and literate script, but it’s the actors that really bring it to life: Emma Stone is immediately compelling as the picture’s lead character, a sassy/cynical/smart teenage girl who takes on lying about carnal trysts as a path to social success. Around her, Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci shine as an endearing mature couple who can’t stop trading sarcastic barbs: the rapid-fire delivery of their lines is one of the film’s sustained pleasures, and it show how confident Easy A can be in unloading its polysyllabic dialogue. There’s a lot of really funny material in here that doesn’t call attention to itself, and that will reward viewers with enough attention to keep up. Director Will Gluck showcases the script with zippy direction, but his technique wisely keeps the focus on the actors. While the film has a bit of a third-act problem in trying to bring everything together (the real-life answer would be “nobody will care as soon as you graduate”), the rich writing more than makes up for whatever longer moments can be found on the way to its conclusion. This is one teen film that everyone has a decent chance to enjoy.