(In French, On Cable TV, February 2019) I miss 1990s standalone thrillers, and Presumed Innocent is a fine example of the form—adapted from a novel, it drops viewers right in the middle of a complex story and challenges them to keep up. The accumulation of subplots makes things more interesting than the rather simple core premise would suggest, with enough layering of legal system cynicism to provide the gritty atmosphere. I liked the dense beginning far more than the increasingly linear ending, which ends on a five-minute monologue that ends up sucking a lot of punch away from a striking revelation. This being said, Alan J. Pakula’s understated direction does leave full space for the focus to be on the story—this is not a film that would benefit from an overabundance of style. Harrison Ford is OK in the lead role, his stoic persona playing well with a character not prone to bursts of emotion. Elsewhere in the cast, Bonnie Bedelia is not bad as the protagonist’s wife, while Raul Julia is very cool as a top defence lawyer. Still, Presumed Innocent is a plot-driven film rather than an actor’s showcase, and at a time when so few top Hollywood movies run on pure story, it only makes me realize how much I miss it.
(On DVD, August 2017) Normally, I’m not too happy to report that a sequel is “more of the same,” but given my enthusiasm for 1990’s The Addams Family, I’m almost overjoyed to say that this sequel is, indeed, more of the same. The plot is just different enough to be interesting (as Fester is seduced by a gold-digging, husband-killing new character) but the atmosphere of the first film remains largely the same. Under the macabre humour lies genuine family love (although some early segments do push the limits of sibling rivalry), and the jokes are best when they’re unexpected. (I laughed far more than I ought to have at a simple “I respect that” or “Wait”) The strengths of the two Addams Family movies are the set pieces more than the plot, and this one does have one of the most honest depiction of Thanksgiving put on film, as well as a hilariously juvenile justification (with slides!) from the antagonist. Director Barry Sonnefeld has made one of his good movies here (the rest of his career … hit-and-miss), but much of the credit goes to the actors themselves. Raul Julia is fantastic as Gomez, Anjelica Huston is just as good as Morticia (while her impassible giving-birth scene is great, it took me far too long to notice the lighting effect on her eyes, but then it became hilarious to see it used in all circumstances), Christina Ricci shines as Wednesday and Joan Cusak holds up as Debbie. This sequel clicks in the same ways the original did, and yet still feels fresh enough to avoid accusations of re-threading. At this point, don’t bother seeing the first film if you don’t have Addams Family Values nearby, ready to be watched.
(On DVD, July 2017) There are times when you watch an older movie and it’s so good that you wonder why you haven’t seen it before. I’ll be the first to admit that The Adams Family isn’t a perfect film: As a macabre-themed comedy, it’s not built around a plot as much as gags and atmosphere, so it’s likely to be the kind of film that you find wonderful from beginning to end … or not. As far as I’m concerned, The Adams Family hits the right buttons in the right order. From the opening credit sequence (which features a font similar to Men in Black, also directed by Barry Sonnenfeld), it’s a ride through a darkly funny imagination. But there’s more than black comedy in play here: The appeal of The Addams Family isn’t necessarily in the macabre stuff as much as the solid family unit being demonstrated through the jokes. The lustful relationship between Morticia and Gomez is straight-up #relationshipgoals idyllic, and the film show over and over again that the Addams clan can rely on itself to take care of outsiders. And while the plot is simple, there’s some structural genius in the way it brings in an outsider to show what’s happening in that family, and to allow the intruder to be captured by the family’s charm. Otherwise, the jokes aren’t always obvious and even when they are, their delivery is perfect. (I laughed far too much at “Are they made from real Girl Scouts?”) The Addams Family does have the advantage of relying on an ensemble cast of terrific actors ideally suited to their role. Anjelica Huston has a career-best role as Morticia Adams, perfectly spooky and sexy at once. Raul Julia and Christopher Lloyd both get to ham it up as brothers, while Christina Ricci got her breakout role here as Wednesday Addams. The stable of characters works well, but the production design and loopy humour is what sets this film apart. This delight-a-minute visual extravaganza may not work on everyone else equally, but as far as I’m concerned, The Addams Family is a classic that I should have seen much earlier.