(On TV, October 2019) Adapting a comic book to the big screen is a tricky exercise, even more so when it’s working from an exuberant source such as the Astérix and Obélix series. As someone who grew up on the series, the idea of attempting to adapt the comic violence, over-the-top gags and fantastic visuals of the comic seems hopeless. Astérix & Obélix contre César, as the first live-action adaptation of the series, clearly underscores how difficult it is. On the positive side, the film does manage to present an authentic Astérix adventure, complete with the wild cast of characters in the protagonist’s village. The state of computer-generated imagery circa 1999 is just barely enough to give an idea of what’s possible, while looking unfortunately dated twenty years later. A still-young Gerard Depardieu is featured as Obélix, along with Christian Clavier as Asterix. Roberto Benigni, then at the height of his international fame, showboats annoyingly in a villain role. The film works, but barely: other than the weirdness in trying to fit a fluid comic style in live-action, the film also frequently loses itself in useless subplots, and becomes actively irritating when it repeatedly tries to pairs up (despite objections from other characters) the fifty-something Depardieu with a much-younger love interest. Writer-director Claude Zidi doesn’t embarrass himself (the bar being low enough), but the approach here is rougher than in other later classic comics adaptations along the lines of Lucky Luke, Le Marsupilami or Gaston Lagaffe. (None of them were all that successful, but more so than here.) Considering what was available in 1999, it’s an honest half-success.
(Netflix Streaming, December 2016) As I’m exploring Woody Allen’s filmography, there’s a certain pleasure in seeing him back on-screen after a lengthy pause. To Rome with Love is an interwoven anthology film of four different stories playing against its roman backdrop, from Alec Baldwin’s recollections of a love triangle made alive to Roberto Benigni’s strange brush with fame to Allen discovering an unlikely signing talent to a couple of visiting newlyweds experiencing life in the capital. Like most ensemble stories, its interest rises and falls unpredictably, but the overall effect is strong, with enough romance, humour and weirdness to keep things interesting. Of the stories, I was most struck by Alec Baldwin’s resigned-but-wise reactions to the developing love triangle in-between Jesse Eisenberg, Greta Gerwig and Ellen Page—it’s funny and a bit wistful at once, with plot and commentary joyously crashing in one another. The newlywed’s adventures are also funny, although occasionally too close to humiliation comedy for my taste. Allen’s segment is enhanced by a typical Allen performance as a nattering shmuck—the outlandish situation he creates is just the icing on the cake. Finally, there’s the unexplainable weirdness of an ordinary man (Benigni) brought to sudden fame and dropped just as rapidly—a metaphor for our social media age, perhaps, but still worthwhile on its own. To Rome with Love probably won’t endure as one of Allen’s classics—it’s too scatter-shot, too willing to make audiences laugh without deeper themes—but it’s a relatively good time at the hands of a comedy veteran, and perhaps his funniest film in a while. As an entry in his “European capitals” phase, it’s slight but decent.