(On Cable TV, August 2018) If, while watching The Snowman, you find that the plot makes no sense, then don’t worry about whether you’re having a stroke—rest easy knowing that according to the film’s director, its troubled production meant that a good chunk of the script was never shot. The film, as released, was cobbled together from incomplete material. How that happens (if that’s what happened) is a fascinating question as of yet unanswered, which is somewhat amazing considering the impressive pedigree of the cast and crew. And yet no one, not director Tomas Alfredson, not Michael Fassbender, not Charlotte Gainsbourg, not J. K. Simmons, not Toby Jones, not pretty Swedish landscapes can actually make the film any good. Not that missing narrative pieces are the film’s sole or biggest problems: Even the best production schedule still would have led to a silly and implausible film in which yet another serial killer gets off on making snowmen after killing his victims. (Actually, as a Canadian with substantial snowman-building experience, I’m somewhat dumbfounded by the whole snowman-after-killing shtick—snowman weather is very specific, and it only happens a few days per year, unpredictably linked to the weather. Any budding serial psycho building his killing schedule around near-zero-degree snowstorms would face near-impossible logistical challenges.) The Snowman gets worse the deeper you go in its details and subplots, as many of them don’t get any kind of resolution … and at some point you have to confront Val Kilmer’s terrible, overdubbed performance. Interestingly enough, the film’s botched handling of now familiar but still overdone thriller elements lay bare the ludicrousness of modern written thrillers, as they endlessly remix the whole troubled-detective, crazy-killer, sordid-society elements. It takes a ham-fisted interpretation of the formula to make us realize how stupid the whole thing has become. On the upside, The Snowman was such a derided failure (both commercial and critical) that we will be spared any further entries in the series.
(On TV, May 2017) In an ideal world, I would be writing my impressions about Tombstone in a perfect vacuum, untainted by any later film or experience. In this world, however, I waited two weeks before jotting down this capsule review … after seeing the similar Wyatt Earp. I’m unlikely to be the only one to draw comparisons between the two, as both movies came out in 1993–1994 and have been linked ever since. While Wyatt Earp tries to give a whole-life portrait of Earp, Tombstone focuses on the events immediately preceding and following the shootout at O.K. Corral. But more crucially, Wyatt Earp is dour and interminable, whereas Tombstone does have Kurt Russell with a glorious moustache shouting “You tell ’em I’m coming … and hell’s coming with me, you hear? Hell’s coming with me!” That’s everything you need to know about both movies. Game over. Go home, Kevin Costner, you’re playing a drunk. More seriously, though: While Tombstone is the better of both Earp movies, it’s hardly a perfect film. While Russell, Val Kilmer (as Doc Holliday) and Sam Elliott (among many others) make a good impression, the film does take a while to find its footing: it’s only after some tedious throat-clearing and mismatched scenes that Tombstone realizes that it can have fun with its story and truly gets going. At times, it seems as if the film (wrongly) assumes that its viewers are familiar with the O.K. Corral shootout: there seems to be some connecting narrative tissue missing, some subplots disappear into nothingness and there’s an argument to be made that the shootout is the climax—anything that follows becomes less and less interesting and isn’t shot with the same amount of intensity. Looking at the comparison between Tombstone and Wyatt Earp once more highlights that Tombstone is better because it’s more fun—so maybe had it been even more fun it would have been even better? A shorter, even more focused, even less historically accurate version may have been a stronger movie. I suspect that had Tombstone been made a few years after Wyatt Earp, it would have been quite different.
(Second viewing, On TV, December 2016) I’ve been re-watching a fair amount of eighties movies lately, and I’m struck by what ages well and what doesn’t. Re-watching Top Gun, I’m most struck by its absence of subtlety. The macho ego is in naked display here, whether it’s flying planes or wooing women, the characters do it without the semblance of sophistication. The entire movie is like this: straight to the point, unimpeded by complexity. The producers (celebrated duo Jerry Bruckheimer & Don Simpson) clearly aimed for that result. The typically American glorification of the military is never far below the surface, and the anti-foreign jingoism isn’t either. Watching Top Gun, it seems almost absurd that it would have worked as well as it did … but it did, and continues to do so today. To be fair, Tom Cruise is a lot of fun in full alpha male mode, and while his banter with Val Kilmer may be on-the-nose, it does feel of a kind with the rest of the film. Kelly McGillis isn’t bad either, and while her character is a prize, she’s somewhat more complex than she could have been. The scene starring the airplanes are nice (although hampered by the production constraints of the time—a Top Gun shot today would feature far more CGI, even if used invisibly) and there are some intriguing real-world details in the depiction of flight officer school. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I enjoyed Top Gun: Its bluntness hasn’t aged well, and seems to belong to an entirely different culture. But it’s certainly a striking film even today, and it has the advantages of its weaknesses. I, on the other hand, will watch Hot Shots! as an antidote.
(Second Viewing, on DVD, June 2011) The danger is revisiting an old favourite whose memories have faded is discovering the dull bits in-between the remembered highlights. While Real Genius is still an amusing-enough film with a strong whiff of mid-eighties Cold War atmosphere that now adds to the comedy, it’s far more leisurely paced than I remembered, and the standout lines (“A girl’s got to have standards.”) feel more like abnormalities in the middle of a far less funny film. The surprisingly heavy military satire takes a lot more time than I remembered, and the script doesn’t have the zing than its more inspired moments lead to remember. Still, judged by the standards of films now twenty-five years in the past, Real Genius has survived pretty well: Its portrait of gifted students is sympathetic, and never more so when the brash and self-confident character played by Val Kilmer (looking impossibly young) reveals that he’s behaving this way to avoid burnout. Compared to Kilmer, film anchor Gabriel Jarret is practically a non-entity –overshadowed by a flashier supporting character, and not given anything interesting to do by the script. The ending at least has the decency to wrap everything on a high notes, with the memorable popcorn explosion and an oh-so-typically-eighties musical moment with Tears for Fear’s “Everybody wants to Rule the World”. In-between the comic set-pieces, Kilmer snark and odd moments of antiestablishment politics, Real Genius is just fine –not a classic, clearly, but a fond memory. The DVD, unfortunately, has no extra features.