Monday, April 25, 2011

Escape Is A Paradox, Because The Childhood Is Locked In That Music Box

Lemonade Mouth (Riggen, 2011)

I have had a long standing love/hate relationship with many of the Disney Channel Original Movies; however, with the release of The Suite Life Movie earlier in the year and the recent release of the newest in the long line of High School Musical~esque films, Lemonade Mouth, I am finding fewer things to complain about in regard to the movies that the company is making for the small screen. Anchored by a startling strong cast of Disney's newer stars (Bridgit Mendler and Adam Hicks) and some new comers (Blake Michael and Naomi Scott) who make up the rag-tag titular band, the movie has a solid foundation to build some momentum. So does the latest Disney Channel Original Movie ever elevate beyond the strong foundations and become a film worth the time of the many people who would readily dismiss it? That question is, unfortunately, a bit difficult to answer.

The premise of Lemonade Mouth is fairly simply: a group of high school kids form a band to speak out against an overly oppressive principal. They are led by for Wizards of Waverly Place guest star Hayley Kiyoko in the role of Stella. We'll probably learn some sort of life afirming lesson by the end of the film too. You know where this plot is going. However, the way it gets there is notably more mature than many of the other Disney films that have preceded it. There are illusions to jailed fathers, broken homes, and fathers wedding girls half their age or something. Most of these are only touched on briefly, and I fault the film for that, but that they would even be brought up without being there simply to manufacture emotion, but rather to add to the characters and their relationships, is encouraging from a film that could very easily be a mash up of Camp Rock and High School Musical.

And as you might expect from a mashup of those two franchises, the true pull of the film should be the music. Here's the thing, I have watched all of the HSM movies and both of the Camp Rock movies. It is tough to compete with a combination of Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers, and the high points of the Camp Rock soundtracks are better than the best of the songs from Lemonade Mouth, but this film probably has the most consistently enjoyable collection of songs from any of the other films. And actually, what I love about Lemonade Mouth is how the songs reveal themselves during the film. They are able to be showcased naturally, as organic parts of the plot. There are not the bombastic, jarring breaks of a High School Musical, nor is there the artificially manufactured superstar led camp of a Camp Rock. Much like Camp Rock or Once, Lemonade Mouth is a musical, but the music happens in a believable context, and unlike Camp Rocke high school environment is much more (Baudrillard be damned!) believable. And the film benefits because of that, the immediacy of the relationships between the band mates is felt more strongly. These years are fleeting, there is no time to let this dream slip away.

Lemonade Mouth is not an in depth look at the high school experience, and despite some solid camera work and a striking color palliate used visually in the film the movie is not a technical wonder either. But the five actors that hold the band together do turn in incredibly solid, and usually more so, performances that showcase a natural chemistry between all of them. Combined with a well rounded and incredibly enjoyable soundtrack, Lemonade Mouth is a movie with more than enough charm, and even some deeper topics, to stand on its own as a quality diversion from the more serious elements of cinema.

Netflix Rating: ***/*****


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Your Hair Is Brown. Your Eyes Are Hazel, And Soft As Clouds

Lost in Translation (Coppola, 2003)

At the heart of what is likely Sophia Coppola's most iconic film, Lost in Translation, is the idea of two lost individuals finding themselves in a land where reality mingles with artifice. Obviously this does not imply that Japan is some stand in for society at large, but the location should not be trivialized as it is in a film like Before Sunrise, where the location is tangential to the overall romance. No, here Tokyo is almost essential to the central relationship because it exists as just far enough away, displaced enough to ensure that Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and Bob (Bill Murray) are going to have to spend some time together if only to pass the time, to have someone else who will listen. The film champions the most basic of human connections, and from there it continues to grow.

Coppola is known for being able to set moods in her films thanks to strings of visually evocative images that are interwoven with fairly simplistic stories. Lost in Translation proves to be no exception, especially for much of the first half of the film. Sure Murray is able to make the viewer empathize with a man who has apparently been beaten down by life. Despite being a once successful actor he is not passing on passion projects in order to cash in on his likeness. Johansson's Scarlett is just as aimless, being trapped in a relationship that keeps her locked away during the days and nights, simply passing the time in this high quality hotel. What is a philosophy major to do? Contemplate. These are two people who may not be lost, so much as stagnant. And despite the beautiful construction of scenes the film sort of stagnates with a couple half laughs and some passing interest in the singular lives of these two characters, but it never really picks up until they both begin leaving the hotel behind.

Shedding the confines lifts a type of oppression from the film, and the the vibrant streets of Tokyo make for an excellent retreat from the retreat when paired with the energy between the two leads and Coppola's wonderful camera. A run through a Japanese pachinko parlor, basically a slot house/arcade hybrid if my American interpretation of the game is reliable, stands out as one of the early sequences where we can begin to see the bonds between the two developing. While it would not be difficult to put a decidedly sexual undertone to the whole relationship, it seems more to me that each are simply learning from one another. Charlotte seeks affirmation that her life will get better than Bob's, and he seeks reaffirmation that there's still reason to continue with his life. As the film continues to build it becomes stark, beautiful, and utterly heartbreaking because the script takes the initial simplicity and, seemingly naturally, stumbles upon some of the most honest and truthful dialogue ever written.

Some films thrive on flash, and while there are plenty of visceral thrills and pleasures to be had with Lost in Translation it really is the minimalism that makes the film work so perfectly, especially towards the end. You can dig in to the film and find a complexity that is as wide open as the final encounter between Charlotte and Bob. People don't live or die, people just float. And in many ways, this film is a beautiful exercise in people floating along before encountering another individual. Having that chance to be free, to bare your soul to another, to learn and interact. It's this sense of freedom that the film captures, juxtaposing with with the newness and construction of the travel experience. We can't hold on to these feelings, but it makes us wonder why we hold this freedom back from others, how we perform for the world, and what it means to not perform. Eventually we will go on floating again, how permanent is any relationship? Maybe everyone has the answer, Lost in Translation certain appears to, but maybe we just don't want to hear it, we want to never know.

Netflix Rating: ****/*****


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

These, These, These Are The Words - The Words That Maketh Murder

Scre4m (Craven, 2011)

Returning to Woodsboro, quite literally this time rather than the fictional return of STAB, a film series within the series based on the events of the first Scream, found in Scream 3, suggests that the Scream series is making an attempt to return to its roots. Sure the core characters have changed, the disdain between Sidney (Neve Campbell) and Gale (Courteney Cox) has disappeared as the two are now able to reflect on their past mishaps and enjoy a mostly peaceful present, but the cast is still primarily made up of Sidney, Gale, and Dickey (David Arquette) trying to figure out who is responsible for the latest in a string of Ghost Face murders. The problem with a return to Woodsboro after 15 years since the initial events in the story is that the horror genre has changed so much since then that the slasher is an antiquated subgenre. Not to mention that too much of the 'same' storywise could easy get stale.

Thankfully, Scre4m, from the very opening sequence, manages to avoid most of the pitfalls by embracing all of the elements that have made the three preceding films successes. Continuing with the appeals to the meta, the Williamson script has the film open with another occurrence of Ghost Face terrorizing on screen victims, but then it pulls out to reveal that it was a part of a STAB film. Nothing new for the franchise, we have seen this done before. However, this event is then recreated one more time, only to pull away in a reveal that the initial scene was the characters in STAB 7 watching the opening of STAB 6. Included are a few comments about the emergence of torture porn in modern horror, the changed rules, and some more banal, but humorous, jabs at the modern genre. These, though, are all mostly abandoned after that second pullout occurs to reveal the actual first two murders in the real town of Woodsboro. This opening sequence perfectly establishes the current perception of Ghost Face, clearly detached and a bit of a joke for the new generation in Woodsboro, while still making the audience aware that this is, in fact, a Scream film where the scares are going to come interspersed with commentary on how and why these events are happening.

The formula has worked for Craven so far, and Scre4m shows him in what may very well be top form. Craven has succeeded in the past when his camera is allowed to exert a sense of control over the audience. Through this control he is able to make the scares work and to keep the tension building throughout the film. In what may be a first for the franchise, the film actually maintains its tension as it continues closer and closer toward its conclusion. Most notable is a scene on a balcony where the score, the camera, the dialogue makes it almost apparent that one of the characters is going to be killed. A turn is made, a head-like figure is seen, but all is not as it seems. Taking this anticipation and withholding it is what makes the scares work, though none of this is possible without Craven's steady hand orchestrating the camera.

He also coaxes a number of fantastic performances from his entire cast. Most notably, and surprising, was the way that Hayden Panettiere as Kirby, one of the two main horror buffs in the movie. In fact, there is not a weak mark in the entire film, except for, perhaps, my favorite member of the cast: Emma Roberts. I will return to this and correct my misleading statement (I would likely argue that Roberts gives the film's best performance) when I throw up the spoiler tag and get more in depth with what each actor is asked to do throughout the film.

You know what? Now is as good a time as any to put up the SPOILER WARNING. If you haven't seen the film and do not want to know what happens, then you should stop reading. Basically, this film is very good, but below I will explain WHY it is very good!

What Craven does, and I suppose this is partly Williamson's writing as well since it seems to be a script decision, is find another meta layer that can easily be missed if you are not keeping an eye, and ear, out for it during the film. Emma Roberts plays Jill, Sidney's cousin and, eventually, one of the two killers behind the murders. What I find most interesting is that, I would assert that it is by no coincidence either, her character's full name is Jill Roberts. What seems to be happening throughout is a play on Emma Roberts's traditional roles. This is seen in her performance, where she is a bit subdued, mostly playing a standard teenage character. It lulls you in the entire time, completely diverts suspicion, and then she becomes unhinged in such a brutally natural fashion. It is a testament to her ability as an actress to make this change so quickly and sell it so perfectly. I would argue that the reveal actually makes Emma's performance all the more impressive in retrospect, giving a reason for her choices to play quiet and inconspicuous. And the way she eventually throws herself around and confronts Sidney is another masterwork in what is one Hell of a resume that she has put together. I should end this paragraph with the obligatory mention that seeing her kiss Rory Culkin reminded me of a sicker, inverted version of Lymelife, though I would not assume this was part of the writer's intention in the same way the use of surname is.

The way this revelation is handled, originally seeming quite ridiculous, is actually one of the film's strongest points as well. She attempts to frame ex-boyfriend Trevor (Nico Tortorella) and fellow conspirator Charlie (Rory Culkin) as the two killers, echoing Billy and Stu from the first film, in an attempt to garner the fame that Sidney possesses. The motivation behind Jill's murder actually gives the film something to say. She, quite simply, desires fame. Though it feels as if the film is moralizing a bit too much when she gives her monologue explaining why she joined up with Culkin's Charlie to recreate the Woodsboro murders, it does ask the viewer to think about the way that media has been, and can be, manipulated to completely skew a public image. This idea is further reinforced in the brilliant final scene where, after Jill makes one final attempt to kill Sidney and her crew and is killed in the process, outside of the hospital a number of news reporters are talking about how heroic her actions were. Personally, I think it would have been interesting to see Jill succeed in her attempts, getting rid of Sidney and existing as this successful antagonist, but the current ending is still beautifully poetic, and it does add that extra layer of theme to a film that, up until that point, only hints at the recurring idea of trust to hold it together.

Despite the Scream film never being about theme, it is nice to see the movie attempt to reach for some kind of commentary beyond the usual genre deconstruction. But that also does not mean that the deconstruction goes by the wayside. While not as fully fleshed out as some of its predecessors, the way that technology has integrated its way into the Scream universe is not shied away from in the film. Charlie and Robbie (Eric Knusden) are wired in youths who know their scary movies. Charlie explains that the killer should, in a modern context, be taping all of the crimes to immortalize his art. We see, at times, Robbie broadcasting his entire life to the world wide web. This strand of the story is never actually fleshed out, which is a shame because it could have been used to further deconstruct the modern horror where killers like Jigsaw play games with their victims, similar to the trivia games that Ghost Face is known for using. I had high hopes for how a world of Twitter and Facebook, where we are always connected, would manifest itself in a series where the killer preys on those who are never alone. Unfortunately this was not explored. The use of caller ID in the film is much more prevalent than it was in the older films though. A sign of the times. What I find interesting is that it is only an advantage to the killer, providing a reason for why, when the killer calls Jill on the way to school at the start of the film, she does not look to see who is calling. It's a nice touch, though I wish these touches, these ideas, were explored more in the film.

Though I suppose after 11 years off from the franchise there are bound to be a couple of missteps. It is a shame that some are so large, so prevalent in a film and series that are all about the meta level; however, not enough to make Scre4m a disappointment by any stretch. In fact, since seeing the film I may even go as far as saying that it is my favorite entry in the franchise. It's the only film where the tension is never let go, where the excitement is always there, and where the ending actually makes the previous parts of the film more interesting (though I guess the first film does this as well, to a lesser extent). Does the plot sometimes harken back to the first Scream film too much? Possibly, but it also subverts that film and takes on an identity all its own. Therein lies the beauty of Scre4m. It expands the world on a both a contained and meta level, the characters, and is one enjoyable ride with a lite bit of thematic depth that the series is not known for. Sometimes that's all I need.

Netflix Rating: ****/*****


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

Friday, April 15, 2011

You're Keeping Control Of The Knife, But I'm Not Your Darling

Scream 3 (Craven, 2000)

The question I was left with at the end of my Scream 2 review was exactly how Craven was going to continue layering more levels of self referential material on the series without it eventually breaking apart. After watching Scream 3 it seems almost obvious that the best way to handle the world within the world within the world of Woodsboro would be to have the characters meet up with their on screen counter parts. What could be better than Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) teaming up with fake Gale Weathers (Parker Posey) in an attempt to uncover the mystery revolving around a string of murders in the latest STAB film, STAB 3: Return to Woodsboro?

The answer to that question is rather easy: bring back Randy (Jamie Kennedy) for a video taped cameo where he gets back to what made him most effective in Scream: laying out how exactly these trilogies work. Apparently, as Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is once again hunted down by a new masked Ghost Face, all the bets are off. The killer should become superhuman, capable of taking as many bullets as possible to the chest without dying, becoming a supernatural presence in the film. Craven plays up this bit nicely, showing the Ghost Face figure being shot at, apparently uncaring about any of the bullets that have hit him. He even makes it believable by portraying Sidney as a tad mentally unstable. She hears her dead mother speaking to her throughout the film, which all ties back to the killer's plan to reveal the truth about Maureen Prescott. It would be easy for the film to go off the deep end with the supernatural, odd considering how grounded in reality the rest of the series has been, but perhaps fitting in the way that genre is broken down. I'm glad Craven kept to continuity rather than deconstruction though, as it allows for a much more cohesive viewing experience and a more emotionally engaging film

The central mystery in the film is a compelling point, and Craven gets back to generating scares by blending his steady camera with an occasionally deceptive score. Even the reveal at the end works nicely in the context of this film, and the series up until that point. Still, the main attraction has to be the way that the movie sets itself up as a metacommentary on the industry that has spawned it. Specifically, what works in this entry is how the killer plays with identity in order to create a sense of unstable bonds between a primary core of characters who have twice survived similar situations. It also asks the viewer to question what is happening in the film, a device that plays well with the fabrication of location that serves as the STAB 3 set. In this near perfect recreation of Woodsboro, we explore a world we know, only for something as trivial as the opening of a door to reveal that our sense of place is being completely manipulated. Just looking at the way that Craven crafts these scenes, that he uses artifice to refer to artifice, demonstrates his mastery over his material.

In the previous two films, the series has dabbled in the implications of its characters's actions both in relation to the genre, and simply as characters. The most genuine moments of Scream 3 can be found when Sidney is asked to reflect on herself. Does fear ultimately control Sidney, the cipher through which the audience is meant to experience this world? Where does the line between blameless killing and deplorable murder exist? The film probes at these questions, I think I may have to give up hoping that anything of substance will be reached by watching the series, but I still cannot help feeling at least slightly unfulfilled even if the entertainment value was back up in this movie.

Still, when Scream 3 works, it works overtime for double pay.The highlight of the film that I come back to is found early on when one of the actresses in STAB 3 is asked to read the lines of the script over the phone. The moment is played perfectly, with enough sinister undertones that you know at some point the scene will go wrong, but also asking the audience to know to make this association by reworking the initial dialogue from the first film. The second movie in the series also attempted to do this as well, but we had a screen separating us, here the results were going to be real. The Scream series has gone from deconstructing cinema to deconstructing reality, and in doing so asking each viewer to ask how much of a difference is found between the two. It goes as far as having Jay and Silent Bob make baffling cameo appearances, characters within characters. Perhaps even within characters. When do they stop becoming characters?

As the series evolves we see technology evolving with it. The cell phones become slightly smaller. Caller ID is replaced by *69. It is hard, at times, to ever make these characters feel truly alone. When this happens, Craven examines vulnerability. Does Scream 3 always generate fears? No. But it does manage ambition, to capture a changing world in a world that is completely fabricated. Craven taps in to the basest of human fears and juxtaposes it with the modern context where no one is alone. As I prepare to enter Scre4m, the developments between the turn of the millennium and the present day are ripe for examination and exploitation in a way that, I hope, only Scream can tackle.

Netflix Rating: ****/*****


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

Thursday, April 14, 2011

You're All Alone, Friend? Pick Up The Phone Then

Scream 2 (Craven, 1997)

Sequels are inferior films by nature. This claim is posited early on in Scream 2 by Randy (Jamie Kennedy) in his film studies college class. Unless conceived before as part of a trilogy - Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is used as one counterexample in the movie - sequels are bogged down with characters and scenarios that are shadows of the original's glory. When you are making a sequel that is as self aware as Scream 2 you have to be confident in your craft to directly call out the inferiority of sequels, to essentially ask the audience to to laugh at, not with, you. So the question facing the follow up to Craven's 1996 slasher is not 'how do you make it work' but rather: why do we need to see these people, this world, again?

Craven's answer is to continue to layer on the self referential aspects of this universe. Opening the film with an elongated sequence that ushers in the return of Ghost Face is enhanced by the droves of people dressed up like the killer watching STAB, a film within the film that is based on a book written about the events of the first movie by Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox). The killer then goes about recreating the victims of the original Woodsboro murders in an attempt to, once again, end the life of Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). As a narrative device the layers of artifice on top of one another serve to answer the how, and through that begin to hint at an answer to the why.

Unfortunately, the second movie in the Scream series is still bogged down with many of the problems that Randy outlines in that early classroom scene. The college years introduce a cast of characters that seem so overtly meant to counteract the original cast it becomes overbearing. How many times do I need to hear Sidney's new boyfriend say that he is not like Billy? Probably just once, certainly not the three times afterward. Having Dewey and Gale back was a nice touch, mostly because the characters were each fleshed out a good deal more than they were in the first film, but it's also odd that Sidney and Dewey made no mention of his dead sister in the year since the murders. But ultimately the plot is so by the numbers that any filmmaker, even with the wonderful camera work that Craven puts forth, would have a difficult time turning this story in to a compelling narrative.

What I think this film lacks, and what made the film movie so compelling, is that deconstruction element. When thinking about how to approach my review of the first Scream I was drawn to the way that Randy broke down horror conventions to make even the uninitiated viewer familiar with what this specific film was attempting to accomplish. Sure the first call to Sidney early on when she uses Caller ID to identify who is calling her is a fantastic touch, and the inclusion of cell phones adds more suspense to the final product, but Randy never makes mention of any of these aspects, the film just lets them occur and then never mentions them again. Despite Jamie Kennedy stealing each and every scene that features Randy, we never get that deconstruction. In the classroom scene I keep referencing, truly a beautiful way to set the tone of the film, he simply dismisses sequels outright. Later on Randy goes about breaking down conventions with Dewey, commenting on how copycat killers and horror sequels are set to up the body count, gore, and elaborateness of the traps, but instead of questioning this absurdity Craven later revels in it. There are surprises along the way, and one tremendous loss, but the feeling of Craven restructuring the genre is rarely apparent, even in the final reveal of the actual Ghost Face killers.

Despite this movie being considerably less entertaining than its predecessor, my biggest problem with Scream, the lack of theme and higher purpose, is handled wonderfully with the sequel. I go back, once again, to the first scene in Randy's film class. The discussion is anchored by a conversation about the connection between violence and film. The idea is carried throughout the film and works wonderfully with the metatextual aspects of the series. Even the way it wraps up, laughing at the absurdity of such claims and the way they are manipulated and abused in a modern context, strikes a resonant chord more than ten years after the film's release.

Scream 2 does have its share of moral debases as well though, most notably in the way that the roles are reversed in the final scene. Just as in the first movie, this one becomes notably silent on the implications of Sidney and her crew ultimately becoming killers at the end of the movies. She loudly proclaims how she killed Billy, a notable sense of pride in her voice. She then goes on to murder the two killers, with Craven's camera even looking up toward the three remaining people as Sidney, vindictively, puts a final cap in one of the killers's blood soaked heads. Now I do not expect her to be Batman, but the movie presents Sidney as hardly phased by ending the lives of others. In this is the implication that few aspects separate the sane from the insane in these movies, we are all capable of murder, but this idea is dropped as quickly as it is raised, which, for a film that is as long as Scream 2, is a grave misstep.

Craven does not make many other thematic missteps though, which helps Scream 2 rise above the fairly generic plot. Sure the film has high moments, the most notable coming from a Danny Elfman scored play scene where Sidney is chased around stage by Ghost Face and a number of her peers. But aside from a few jump scares early on, the sense of dread and excitement that Craven so perfectly captured in the first film is all but absent from the sequel. Still, I cannot help but coming back to the meta aspects as the definitive element of the series. Even without the deconstruction, the elements of artifice and simulation speaks to the English major in me, so pressing forward with the series I hope to see how Craven refines the balance between creating so many worlds within worlds with making appealing horror movies.

Netflix Rating: ***/*****


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In Violent Times, You Shouldn't Have To Sell Your Soul

Scream (Craven, 1996)

"What's your favorite scary movie?"

The scene that kicks off Wes Craven's Scream, an excellent exercise in tension building, is also likely the franchise's most iconic. A woman is getting ready to watch a movie, she receives a few phone calls of escalating intensity from a gravely voiced stranger which start with an innocent question and eventually end in a shrieking death threat. What's odd is that this confrontation does not involve the movie's central character, Sidney Prescot (Neve Campbell). It does, however, set up the intensity of the killer that will consume the town of Woodsboro.

Horror is a genre that I do not enjoy, and as I watched Wes Craven construct his 1996 slasher I figured out what most unnerves me about the genre. When a talented hand is controlling the camera, as is the case here, the viewer becomes powerless. Each camera angle, each cut (haha!), is used to withhold, for as long as possible, the release that will come when the threat, in this case Ghost Face, attacks. Craven tells you that it is going to happen, the warnings are there, but in his construction he makes you yearn for the attack, if only to experience the relief of release. He escalates the intensity of each scene, through the use of score and editing, to make the presence of Ghost Face as inviting as it is terrifying.

However, a film cannot exist on scares alone. What makes Scream stand out is the meta-textual components that have characters in the movie questioning the killer's movements throughout. If you've ever watched a movie and wondered if any of the inhabitants had ever seen a movie before, Scream makes you painfully aware that the inhabitants of Woodsboro know their horror films. As someone who is not well versed in the genre it is easy to feel left out, but the way that the script breaks down convention and then turns the screw just a bit further in its own execution (I'm on a roll here) of these tropes is handled to make sure that even the uninitiated will understand how the genre is being deconstructed and reconstructed. Self awareness is easy to mess up, having a film that does not make the self awareness seem pompous, while still noticeably winking at the audience, is a refreshing balance.

This self awareness is partly where the film breaks apart for me though. The end of the film has anchorwoman Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) staring forward at the screen and recapping the fallout of the Woodsboro murders. Then Craven pulls back the camera as she walks toward the house where the largest bloodbath has taken place only moments earlier, and we see the camera that Gale was actually speaking to exist within this camera. The technique is beautiful and encapsulates what Craven reaches for throughout the film. My only question is, and it's a rather large inquiry: so what? The film is entertaining, it is, at least partially, scary, the performances are solid across the board (with Stu [Matthew Lillard] and Randy [Jamie Kennedy] being the stand outs), and the central mystery is gripping. But in the end the movie fails to say anything, either about the genre, the escapist nature of cinema, or any larger world implications. I watch film to be entertained, but I mostly watch movies to learn. I walked away from Scream pleased, entertained, but vastly unfulfilled.

Though I think, partially, I am selling the artistic merits of the film a bit short. In a film that is so steeped in deconstruction, that thrives on an awareness of convention and the reversal of convention, the 'confessions' of the killers is perhaps the inkling of theme that I seek. Craven builds up to this huge reveal of the killers, and the surprise is there, but when they get around to motive it appears as if the two young men have no reason for their killing. That lack of confession has its roots back in the anti-climax found in Bram Stoker's Dracula, the absence of reason goes back to the most notable horror convention: the lack of a visible explanation is the scariest thing of all. This idea, the way it is handled, is interesting, it's ballsy even. But I need more than balls, I need meat. Wait. Theme. I need theme.

Conceptually I am in love with Scream, much more so than I thought I ever would have been before sitting down and watching the movie, but I don't get married to concepts. No, I'm more likely to settle down with other, more developed, intangible ideas, which Craven's film simply does not take the time to offer. Damn fun, just a tad shallow. I am glad that one of my first tastes of the horror genre was in the form of Scream though because the scares were not so over the top, and it gives me plenty of ways to grapple with the other genre staples that I am going to tackle in the future. And I'm a sucker for metafiction, even aimless meta, so I'm looking forward to see how Craven expands on these concepts in the future franchise films.

Netflix Rating: ****/*****


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

Monday, April 11, 2011

Taking on 2011 - Top Films (Quarterly Review)

A tad overdue (curse you, term papers!), but the Quarterly Review moves on with the final entry until the wonderful month of June where the birds have risen from the ash, shattered the eggshells, dusted off the icky placenta of inexperience, spread their wings, consumed the mother's regurgitation. The flowers are fickle, they could leave you with the turn of Mother Earth's axis, I will be here forever. Pull out the reels, put on the critical cap, join me for this journey. We can never truly escape the danger zone.

5. Umshini Wam

This marks the second film (technically it's a short) that I have watched from the truly absurd Harmony Korine. Despite the paltry run time this story explores some heavy material, though at its core the movie exists as a desperate display of two clinging to a lifestyle. In a few short minutes we watch as these characters lives unravel, as they are built again. It all comes across as a semi-nihilistic -a state of being that likely does not exist - middle finger to the established conventionality of the world, a celebration of counter culture. A shrill scream. Though given the film's title, a call for revolution during apartheid movements, the film gains an extra layer as it urges the characters and audience alike to grab your machine gun.

4. The Sunset Limited

I admit in my review that I have a strong love for the Cormac McCarthy play, but I am honestly so impressed with how much staying power this film adaptation has had for me. I suppose a lot of it has to do with the two performances that anchor the movie, Samuel L. Jackson is still in strong contention for my Best Actor slot in the young year. But beyond the actors I find the thematic implications striking. Who doesn't want to philosophize about the world, to meditate on the intricacies of faith and logic? But damn it, while we talk is that ever going to stop the Sunset Limited from coming? No, and it's that haunting realization that gives the film the punch it needs to survive.

3. Poetry

Korea has provided me with some of my favorite films of the past ten years, but most of those are also products of the minds of Bong Joon-ho and Chan Wook Park, two filmmakers more known for their style. So this quieter film had me entering with a bit of hesitation, but from the opening sequence of a dead body floating face down in the water to the final shot the film had me riveted. Few products of society can said to be more beautiful than a well constructed poem, and juxtaposing that with the film's heavier plot elements of rape and murder, filtered through the eyes of an older woman slowly being taken over by Alzheimer syndrome results in one of the more striking movies of the year.

2. Jane Eyre

The latest adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel is a visual feast, composed of striking shots of a hostile country that houses a disturbing number of individuals. The film, naturally, loses a bit in translation, but Bronte's words come to life thanks to the lead performances. Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender set a chilling back and forth between their two characters that propels the film forward. It avoids, at times, some of the more complex themes that the film briefly touches on, namely the repugnance of the Rochester character and the individual desires of Jane, but the film is a technical marvel that stands out as the best period piece released in a good number of years.

1. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

The winner of the 2010 Cannes Palme d'Or is a masterpiece of fluidity. At times so culturally specific that one may think that it's impossible to penetrate, Uncle Boonmee succeeds by reflecting on the very construction of history and the universality of human experience. We cope with the living and dying process, the way memory is constructed and lost, the myths and legends that propel every culture. These myths, they define our place just as our place defines the myth. I don't think I realized just how wonderful this film was until I started typing a bit about it right now. I need to watch this again, and that's all I can ask from a film.

Below, I think it's only fair, to include my Unabridged List that contains the films with limited releases in 2010 that I will be counting, at the year's end, as 2011 films.

1. Summer Wars
2. Somewhere
3. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
4. Jane Eyre
5. Poetry
6. The Sunset Limited
7. My Dog Tulip
8. Rabbit Hole
9. Another Year
11. Umshini Wam
12. Source Code
13. Paul
14. The Green Hornet
15. Your Highness
16. The Suite Life Movie
17. Fish Tank
18. Take Me Home Tonight
19. Best Player


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

Also I am on the old Twitter thing so I guess you can follow me at

Friday, April 1, 2011

From Noir To Noire: A Call For Critics

Video games, we've come a long way. Remember those days when we spent hours together, just going through all those same sections of Princess Tomato: Adventures in Salad Kingdom because we lost that save level code that I wrote down in a game manual that, all these NES-less years later, still has not been found? Or how about when you first told me I had to switch discs, and I sat wondering if I should save, shut off the console, and then switch because I had ruined that old copy of Croc: Legend of the Gobbos when youthful curiosity told me I should open the PSX disc tray while playing? And do you remember that time when we went to the movies together, I was waiting for the NCAA tournament to finish in hopes that my bracket would hold up so that I could buy the popcorn for once? Wait. You don't remember that last one? That's probably because it hasn't happened, at least not yet. But soon, so very soon.