(In French, On TV, December 2018) I can certainly understand Little Women’s timeless appeal—as a story detailing the struggles of the four March girls following the American Civil War, it’s got no fewer than five plum female roles, including four for young actresses. The 1930s version practically made a star out of Katharine Hepburn, and this 1994 version features a terrific cast, in-between Winona Ryder, Trini Alvarado, Kirsten Dunst/Samantha Mathis and Claire Danes as the girls, with Susan Sarandon as the mother. But wait, it gets even better! Gabriel Byrne, Eric Stoltz and Christian Bale are also featured as some of the suitors of the March girls. Meanwhile, the story has just enough melodrama with war casualties, fatal illnesses, romantic entanglements and literary progression. Director Gillian Armstrong manages to adapt and propel the story in a way that avoids some of the hawkishness of earlier version, and create a convincing portrait of a family sticking through challenging times. I do like the 1930s version, but this Little Women may be even more accessible and lighter on cheap sentiment.
(Second Viewing, In French, On Cable TV, October 2017) When I say I’ve been a Peter Jackson fan from way before The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I specifically refer to watching The Frighteners in the late nineties, loaned on VHS from a friend who had been very impressed by the result. Twenty years later, the film has aged a bit (the early-digital special effects look particularly dated, although they’re still used very effectively) but it remains a solid horror/comedy with a sometimes-daring mythology, effective character moments and a dynamic performance by writer/director Jackson. The film does take chances in its treatment of the afterlife, and especially in the way it goes for comedy in the middle of death. But the tonal blend works most of the time, and lead actor Michael J. Fox is well-suited to the protagonist’s role. (Meanwhile, Trini Alvarado is so likable that it’s a wonder that her filmography since then isn’t longer.) Shot in New Zealand but made to look American, The Frighteners remains a bit of an under-appreciated gem today: not unknown, but not often mentioned. It’s worth a look for those who have never seen it, and a re-watch for those who haven’t seen it in years.