(In French, On TV, November 2018) I’m not sure I completely accept Richard Gere as dashing young knight Lancelot trying to win over the queen (Julia Ormond) from King Arthur (Sean Connery). But that’s First Knight for you. The film makes a big deal out of the 35-year age difference between Ormond and Connery, but not so much of the 16-year difference between Gere and Ormond. (But that’s been Hollywood’s idea of an acceptable age range ever since the first movie moguls hit their mid-thirties.) More significant is the film’s overall lack of energy or reason to care: It’s, by design, an unsatisfying premise—who dares have Richard Gere best Sean Connery!?—and the limp execution from Jerry Zucker (better known for comedies) doesn’t do much to help. Even the high points, such as a ridiculously convoluted obstacle course, don’t quite manage to make the film come alive. The treatment of the Arthurian myth is realistic, but for a hollywoodian ideal of realism that seems like an uncomfortable compromise. I probably would have liked the film if I actually cared more about reinterpreting the Arthurian myth … but I don’t. First Knight is also severely harmed by the mid-1990s wave of far better historical movies set around the British Isles, along the lines of Braveheart or (better yet) Rob Roy. The result is not terrible, but neither is it particularly good. Maybe worth a watch for fans of Connery, Ormond or Gere even if their casting is sometimes dubious.
(On DVD, February 2018) I’ve got a soft spot for academy movies, or more specifically movies in which our protagonist matures by attending a tough school. And while that certainly doesn’t describe all of An Officer and a Gentleman, it certainly covers what’s most interesting in the film—as the no-good son of a sailor enlists in a military academy to become an officer. The training is merciless, and that’s not even getting into the issue of repeating his parents’ mistakes in romancing local girls. Richard Gere (at times with a crew cut) stars as the protagonist, while Debra Winger plays a strong love interest with issues of her own and Louis Gossett Jr. is a rough instructor. There’s a fairly predictable B-couple romance meant to illustrate the worst-case scenario as well, but never mind—much of the film’s entertainment comes from the hero undergoing the rigours of training, and much of the film’s emotional power comes from its romance. Firmly establishing itself in a grimy reality from the first few moments, the film does exemplify a certain seventies/early eighties rawness that makes the latter triumph more meaningful. While I shouldn’t exaggerate An Office and a Gentleman’s effectiveness (there isn’t much here that hasn’t been done elsewhere), it does nicely click together and works better than expected.
(On TV, April 2017) Perhaps the biggest surprise of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is how neatly it follows-up on the first film. Despite a few new characters and situations, subplots are carried through, the tone is consistent and nearly every character gets a role to play in the sequel. The film picks up not too long after the first, which means that you can see the two film back-to-back and it will feel like a whole. The portrait of India is pleasantly complicated as the story goes a bit beyond the surface impressions of the first film. Judy Dench once again takes on a substantial role, but the ensemble cast does give substantial characters to Maggie Smith (continuing a solid character arc), Bill Nighy (charming in a role that could have been irritating), Dev Patel and, newly introduced in the series, Richard Gere. While The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is slightly more formulaic than the already schematic original (all the way to climaxing at a wedding), it’s a decent-enough follow-up to the first film—those who were charmed by the first Exotic Marigold Hotel are likely to feel just as pleased with this one.
(On TV, December 2016) I probably shouldn’t have watched Fatal Attraction a few days before Unfaithful, because the comparison isn’t kind to this film (even despite them sharing the same director). In some ways, this gender-flipped story of adultery does uphold some old-fashioned morals of deception and revenge. Alas, it does so at length, never settling for a quick cut when a long sustained shot will do. Diane Lane is rather good as the married woman deciding to indulge in a bit of adultery, and the casting of the two male actors is amusing: Choosing a side of Olivier Martinez over a main course of Richard Gere is the kind of thing that underscores the wish fulfillment of Hollywood movies. There is, as is usual for erotic thrillers, a bit of heat in the initial couplings … although this quickly cools down once the erotic part is done and the thriller part begins. By the time the husband character semi-accidentally kills the adulterer, the plot has simultaneously started and ended at once: the rest of the movie is guilty thumb-twiddling until the end. It doesn’t make for a satisfying film—there’s little to offset the unintentional hilarity of some sequences. It’s also far too long for its thin plot, but so it goes. There may be a clash between Unfaithful’s aspirations as an infidelity drama, and the way it veers into a murder thriller in its third act—the finale kills the questions left by its first act, which itself is far too slow for a thriller. No matter what or why, Unfaithful doesn’t make much of a case for itself—it’s not that bad a choice if you really, really like either or all of the three leads, but it doesn’t quite cohere into something satisfying.
(On Cable TV, October 2016) It’s unfair to judge movies on the merits of later ones, but watching The Mothman Prophecies, I couldn’t help but think that this kind of material (horror movie shifting in prophesied disaster movie) was executed to much better effect in the 2009 thriller Knowing. Here, the film seems to dawdle a long time on a series of barely connected phenomena, never quite pulling everything in a coherent whole. Despite the early promise of supernatural phenomena occurring over electric or electronic networks, the film takes a far more muddled approach to its central horror. It doesn’t help that the scares are low-octane, and that the film seems to coast a long time on weirdness rather than build something up. By the time everything pulls together, the spectacle of a disaster (with shades of Final Destination) manages to be interesting in a wholly different way than the horror film that has unspooled for the previous hour. Richard Gere and Laura Linney are merely fine in the lead roles, but this isn’t the kind of film to coax any kind of remarkable performance. The Mothman Prophecies manages to eke out a narrow victory over a “dull” rating by virtue of a disconnected action climax, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any good. Why don’t you watch Knowing again instead?
(On TV, June 2016) As twenty-five years of commentary has it, Pretty Woman is a feel-good romantic comedy featuring a corporate raider and a Hollywood hooker. Any serious look at the film will highlight the differences between the original, somewhat darker script and the one that ended on screens. But what’s amazing is that it actually works: Largely based on the charm of Richard Gere and Julia Roberts (whose star-making turn here eerily echoes her character), Pretty Woman manages to take a biting premise and transform it into a fairytale in which everyone ends up happy, rich and vindicated. Business dealings are innocuous, drugs are avoided, and uncomfortable issues of sex and power relationship are avoided or nullified by even worse behaviour by the film’s antagonists. (Who’s worse? An attempted rapist or a snooty shopgirl?) On some level, Pretty Woman is a case study of Hollywood techniques for disarming anything that may disturb a large audience. On another, it’s a romantic comedy that packages Pigmalion into a set of tropes fit to be absorbed in a Hollywood subgenre (which it did, the film arguably revitalizing the romantic comedy subgenre for more than a decade). Much of it remains timeless, even though Gere’s character still belongs in the eighties, and sharp-eyed viewers will spot newspapers harkening back to 1989’s Panamanian invasion. Despite the film’s darker edges, Pretty Woman still works well as a crowd pleaser. Stranger things have happened between a daring script and a box-office success.
(Video on Demand, April 2016) I must be watching too many thrillers, because I kept expecting The Benefactor to slip into one even as it does not intend to do so. The premise certain suggest that it could be, though, as a single rich older man fixates on improving a young couple’s life, even when they come to resent his intrusion. There comes a few points where another kind of film would have jumped the rails into thriller territory—the older man killing the husband, trying to get close to the widow, etc. But The Benefactor, as it turns out, is a drama about an older character trying to work through his psychological issues. It’s a story of redemption rather than obsession and Richard Gere isn’t bad at all as an older man trying to work his way through a terrifying amount of guilt. Much of the film plays with an uncomfortable undercurrent of tension, sometimes undistinguishable from cringing. It does eventually lead to a hopeful place, though, albeit the mannered way it gets there is almost enough to make anyone wonder how a straight-up thriller version of the base premise would have turned out.
(Video on Demand, December 2015) I’m not a big dog person, but Hachi still managed to reach me twice as often as I thought. The story of a dog who comes to wait eternally for his dead master, Hachi hits high notes at the beginning of the story (when a preposterously cute puppy dog gets a lot of screen time) and at the end, as the years go on and the dog stands for permanence in a forever-changing world. It is, very obviously, a film made with obviously mawkish intent: it pulls no punches in trying to get tears out of its audience, and milks every single dramatic detail (such as the squeezable ball) to its fullest. But, especially after a slow first half, it picks up and gets far more interesting than expected later on. Richard Gere isn’t bad as the lead human character, an academic who ends up with a lot more than he expected when a dog randomly pops into his path. Still, this is the dog’s film and everyone knows it. For a movie that was apparently never widely shown in North-American theaters, Hachi has since acquired a minor but entirely well-deserved notoriety. Dog people should truly brace themselves for sobs, though.
(On-demand Video, December 2012) Richard Gere turns in one of his best performances in recent memory here as a rich businessman with problems that grow bigger as the film advances: a mistress that gets killed, a bad investment that turns into fraud, tense family relationship that combust as everything else goes on. As a concept, Arbitrage is neither original nor gripping: we’ve seen this material countless times before. The twists and turns are familiar until the cynical ending, but even that seems ordinary in a world used to Wall Street duplicity. Still, the film itself is competently made, there are modest thrills in the details of the story and not enough good things can be said about Gere’s performance as a man able of the best as well as the worst. Despite the familiar subject matter, Arbitrage becomes compelling viewing: We can’t wait to see Gere either get his punishment or his escape, and this conflicted character study is probably the film’s chief appeal. Plus, it all takes place in the pleasant upper-crust of New Yrok City, offering another chance to live vicariously in an upper-class playground: Arbitrage also works well as an acid reminder that the rules don’t really apply the same way to the rich as they do to the poor: money can buy almost anything, including virtue.
(In theatres, March 2010) Brooklyn’s Finest is a profoundly ironic title, but there’s little sly humour in the rest of this deliberately gritty and down-beat police drama that follows three variously-corrupted Brooklyn policemen. This isn’t director Antoine Fuqua’s first corrupt cop drama (remember Training Day?), nor the first corrupt cop drama in recent memory (Dark Blue? Street Kings? Pride and Glory? Righteous Kill?), so viewers may be spared a sentiment of déjà-vu. Where this film distinguishes itself is in structure: The three stories rarely intersect, except for a bit of tragic cross-fire at the very end. In the meantime, we get Richard Gere (far too proud and well-coiffed for his own role) as a disillusioned veteran marking down his last days, the always-fantastic Don Cheadle as an undercover informant with stronger ties to criminals than his own superiors, and Ethan Hawke as an overwhelmed father-of-many who resorts to stealing drug money in order to supplement his pay check. Brooklyn’s Finest has a patina of unpleasantness that is supposed to transmute into authentic grittiness, but this illusion doesn’t sustain the steadily-increasing body-count as criminals are gunned down in police raids by the dozen. Few of the film’s characters can be expected to live until the credits. This sombre tone, alas, creates expectations that the unfocused, moralistic ending can’t match: Since this isn’t a popcorn picture, we look in vain for a deeper message and a stronger conclusion than a final hail of bullets. The script, while interesting throughout, fails to cohere in its third act and the result is a mild disappointment. Like many of its corrupted-blue brethren, Brooklyn’s Finest will be another forgettable DVD in the crime section; adequate to satisfy those looking for that kind of film, and insignificant for everyone else.
(In theaters, December 2000) This might be a rather impressive misfire, but at least Dr. T & the Women can boast one of the most descriptive title of the year. There’s the plot in a nutshell, how a gynaecologist (Richard Gere, in a fairly good role) deals with the woman in both his professional and personal lives. I’m not sure if the screenwriter actually lives on this planet (Woman looking forward to their visit to the gynecologist? I’m no expert on the subject, but that’s news to me.) but it’s clear that s/he’s got no skill writing comedy: Despite the potential of the film’s elements, it falls singularly short of exploiting its own quirkiness. (At one point, I kept hoping for Dr. T. to say “My wife’s a nut, my sister-in-law’s an alcoholic, my lesbian daughter is getting married to a guy, my secretary’s hitting on me and the most normal member of my family is a conspiracy theorist!”) lot of missed opportunities, slow pacing, implausible situations (even for a Robert Altman film) and a truly awful ending which doesn’t resolve anything. But don’t think that I didn’t enjoy the film, flaws and all. The star-studded cast is impressive in itself, there’s some welcome female nudity and if you don’t know the ending you can kid yourself in being interested in how worse the plot threads can get for the intrepid Dr. T. Kudos to my sister for uncovering a subtle interpretation of the film, as she maintains that it’s Dr. T. himself who’s responsible for the nuttiness of the women around him. All in all, a film that’s worthwhile almost despite itself.