Monday, April 25, 2011

100th: Review: Scream 4

It's been 10 years since the original Scream trilogy ended and after years of speculation of whether or not another one would happen, Scream 4 doesn't totally disappoint.

Following the release of her new self-help book, Sidney Prescott returns to her hometown of Woodsboro, California to end a very successful book tour. Before she can even reunite with old friends, a brand new string of murders slowly starts to decrease the population of Woodsboro. This time around, the murders seem to follow the pattern of the original killings as the new Ghost Face seems hellbent on bringing the same terror to a new generation.

With the exception of the third one, Scream has always been a satirical slasher. The smart, self-referencial wit that writer Kevin Williamson brought to the first two films is back again. This time around, Williamson addresses the total landscape shift in the horror genre since the original trilogy ended.

Williamson pokes fun at "torture porn" franchises like Saw or Hostel by overdoing the death scenes. He also makes fun of horror remakes through popculture savvy characters and addresses how cliche their attempts to outdo the originals have become, while at the same time, making Scream 4 kind of a remake; therein lies its iconic, self-referencial humor.

And there is a lot of it. Like I said earlier: Scream has always been a satirical slasher, but it's always been a slasher. Scream 4 is so jampacked with self-referential humor and witty puns that it feels more like a parody of the slasher genre instead of a pastiche. Had this movie taken itself a little more serious and had it actually been scarry, I would have been able to take it more seriously.

Even though we've seen this exact formula over and over again, even from this franchise, Scream 4 is a breath of fresh air for the horror genre. It has a lot to say and it says it with such fluent diction that I cannot help but be impressed.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Original "Scary Movie" Part. III

Scream 3

The Story:

You'll probably be surprised to learn that Sidney Prescott, the survivor of two previous strands of horrific murders, is, once again, trying to move along with her life. In order to do so she has changed her name and even bought a secluded house in the middle of the woods. Now Sidney makes a living as a self-help telephone counselor. At the same time, Stab 3, the third entry in the film franchise chronicling the murders, has been OKed for production and, coincidentally, the calls start back up and yet another Ghost Face killer goes on another killing spree. This time around, things get more personal.

My Thoughts:

The third time's the charm, right? Eh, not really. Creator, and writer of the first two Scream movies, Kevin Williamson originally invisioned Scream as a trilogy, but found himself too busy with other projects to finish it up. Although the two new writers did a fair job at maintaining each character's personal charm, they did nothing to improve the already interesting story. There was almost no witty satire or self-referential humor and thus Scream 3 became just another slasher film. Had it not been for Wes continuing to direct and the cast continuing to play their loveable characters, this film would have definitely lost me.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Orginal "Scary Movie" Part II

Scream 2

The Story:

Put out only a year later, Scream 2 jumps ahead two years in the life of Sidney Prescott. She is now a freshman in college and has moved away from her hometown of Woodsboro, California. However, he past would once again come back to haunt her as a new string of mysterious murders starts up on campus. Once again Sidney finds herself fighting for her life and as more friends drop dead, she discovers that a new psychopath has donned the "Ghost Face" mask.

My Thoughts:

It's a common assessment that sequels are almost never as good as the original. I'd argue that for Scream 2. What made the original great, aside from the wonderful cast and a terrific script beautifully handled by self-proclaimed "Master of Suspense" Wes Craven, was its capacity to make fun of horror movie cliches while being able to scare audiences. With this follow-up, Kevin Williamson and Wes were able to maintain the suspense and wit as they now poked fun at horror sequel formulas. At the same time, these filmmakers brought us closer to the main characters while still keeping things fresh with some new twists. This is just as good as the original.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Original "Scary Movie"

Scream 4 is hitting theatres this Friday and to celebrate the fourthcoming entry in this ground-breaking franchise, I am taking some time to look back at the last three installments.


The Story:

It's hard to believe that it's been fifteen years since Scream was originally released. Sidney Prescott was still a young high school student trying to coap with the mysterious death of her mother, Maureen Prescott, a retired horror movie actress. As her mother's death approches its one-year anniversary, a string of gruesome murders stirs up panic in the peaceful community of Woodsboro, California. Eventually Sidney is targeted by the serial killer, but as she turns to her friends for help, she discovers that these killings are somehow intertwined with her mother's death and that she can trust nobody.

My Thoughts:

When it first hit theaters back in 1996, Scream blew up. Today it is credited for not only bringing horror back from the brink of extinction, but for turing the entire genre upside down. Personally, I believe it deserves this recognition. Kevin Williamson's brilliant script poked fun at horror movie cliches and played around with slef-referential humor without ever totally crossing into parody domain. At the same time, Williamson made it suspenseful and intense. Another achievement for the franchise is casting. In no other horror saga will you find more loveable characters and this is due to the pitch-perfect casting and wonderful performances. Definitely one of my all-time favorite films.

If poking fun at horror movie cliches sounds familiar, that's because Scream was originally titled "Scary Movie."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Review: Hanna

Do you remember what it was like growing up? Being a teenage has never been easy. Now imagine that you've been kept away from society your entire life and now that you finally get a chance to get out and see the world, CIA agents are trying to kill you. This is Hanna's life.

Raised in a small cabin out in the middle of the woods, Hanna was cut off from civilization and forced to live off the land. Her father, a rouge CIA agent, spent each day training her, putting her through extreme self-defense exercises and home schooling her with nothing more than an encyclopedia and a Brothers Grimm fairytale book. Unbenounced to Hanna, everything was leading up to her highly-anticipated return to society.

I'd like to start off my review by saying that Hanna is not for everybody. Like Black Swan, Hanna is an art house flick, meaning that you have to have an acquired taste to thoroughly enjoy it. However, unlike Black Swan, there aren't any strong obscenities that would completely turn somebody off from this film. I would also like to come right out and say that I kind of love this movie.

Director Joe Wright takes a break from his routine period pieces (Pride & Prejudice, Atonment) to give us this delightfully over-the-top action thriller. And it's exactly that. As Hanna goes about fighting for her life, she takes out an astonishing amount of henchmen and makes it look easy every time. Joe Wright doesn't splice together a ton of random cuts during the fight sequences so they're easy to follow and the Chemical Brothers help to intensify them with some kick-ass fighting music.

The Chem. Bros' music does more for this movie than just intensify the action. When Hanna is not fighting her way through legions of sexually questionable baddies to reach the Grimm House, where she will meet her father, she is busy being a normal teenager: meeting new people and discovering herself. It was Freud who once said that the teenage years are a "search for identity" and that definitely comes through in this film while the lingering soundtrack adapts to fit the mood.  

If you ask me, the atmosphere this film puts out is the most alluring thing about it. As common with most art house films, not everybody will dig the vibe they pick up on, but I relished it in Hanna. Set by some terrific performances from Eric Bana as Hanna's father, Cate Blanchett as the creepy CIA villainess, and Saoirse Ronan, who steals the show as Hanna, and some subtle fairytale symbolism, this movie feels almost irresistable.

I say "almost" because the explanation that comes later in the film feels a little generic and could have used a bit more thought; I didn't buy it. However, the filmmakers don't dwell on it and it never affects the overall story.

Hanna is a grade A action thriller that is guaranteed to be some of the most fun you have at the movies all year.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Review: Source Code

For those of you who don't know, I am a huge fan of sci-fi thrillers and after Moon back in 2009, I became a fan of Duncan Jones. However, in order to establish yourself as a credible filmmaker, your follow-up has to be as good or even better. Source Code is that follow-up.

After waking up in the body of another man, Captain Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) discovers that he is apart of "Source Code", a government-sanctioned experiment meant to identify criminals, specifically the bomber of a Chicago commuter train, by means of re-living the last eight minutes of a particular victim's life over and over again.

At one point Captain Colter Stevens is even advised to use "whatever force necessary" in order to extract as much information from the passengers as possible, but it's okay because they're already dead and the government told him he could do it. But I digress...

Personally, I have two strong thoughts on this movie: 1.) The acting is perhaps the highlight of this film and 2.) Things were too predictable, but I'll get to that later.

Since City Slickers back in 1991, Jake Gyllenhaal has come a long way as an actor, starring in roles from  a schizophrenic teenager with homicidal tendancies to the Prince of Persia to a cowboy with homosexual tendancies; never disappointing us (except for maybe Prince of Persia). In Source Code, Jake gives my favorite performance of his as the always on, slightly off Captain Stevens.

Michelle Monaghan is likeable as always as the Captain's innocent love interest and the rest of the supporting cast does an equally impressive job making those little moments in Source Code, where everybody's character comes out just a bit, count.

Now we get to my biggest problem with this film: it's too predictable. Sure it starts off right in the middle of everything and starts asking questions right off the bat, but not anything you can't piece together from the trailer alone. Secondly, Duncan Jones needs to work on his foreshadowing; I knew who the perp was about fifteen minutes into the film and that's no exaggeration.

What's probably more interesting than piecing together the "whodunnit" on the train is figuring out who Captain Stevens is, what  the "Source Code" is, and why he's in it. These were the questions that interested me the most but sadly, they were pretty much answered all at once about halfway into the film.

I had this same problem with Moon. So why do I like Duncan Jones so much? Because no matter how predictable I find his films to be, I still enjoy them, very much.

Like Moon, Source Code is paced so well that even after all my questions had been answered, things kept truckin' right along and I was so emotionally invested in these characters, mostly due in part to the wonderful acting, that I wanted to see how everything turned out.

Though I saw it coming and the ending was a little conventional for me, I couldn't help but crack a smile by the end credits.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Review: Insidious

It's been a while since I have gone to the theater and seen a good scary movie. Let's review, shall we? Within the last seven months I have seen The Last Exorcism, Devil, The Roommate, Season of the Witch, and Red Riding Hood. With only one of those movies being any good (I'll let you decide which one that is), I am glad we have Insidious.

You would probably know Director James Wan and Writer Leigh Whannell better as the guys who brought us the original 'Saw'. Well, the two have paired back up to tell the story of the Lambert family and their recently comotosed son, Dalton, whose spirit has been lost to a realm called The Further. Racing against time, the Lamberts must return their son's spirit to his unconscious body before something much more sinister takes his place.

When you first hear about it you may think that this is just another run-of-the-mill possession flick. In many ways, you'd be right. As the Lamberts go about trying to return their son's spirit, it's hard not to remember the classics. The cinematography and overall presentation feels like The Grudge, the overall story resembles a strange hybrid between Poltergeist and The Exorcist, a lot of the scares feel familiar, and there are a few allusions to Saw, even a hit at an eigth one.

But no matter how cliche things seem, this movie adds its own little twists that up the creep factor and overall appeal of the film. For instance, during the seance scene the clarivoyant wears a ridiculously large gas mask that sent shivers down my spine and made me laugh at the same time. This film is definitely aware of its silliness, but doesn't allow it to overshadow the darker elements; it would have its fun and then snap right back to being creepy, which it does well.

Unlike the 'Saw' franchise, this movie doesn't get its kicks from dismemberment. Instead, Wan sets up a somewhat familiar string of "gotcha" moments, some are false while others are the real deal. Sure this isn't exactly a new frontier for horror films, but when it's done right, you don't need anything else and Wan does it right. 

Yes Insidious has its flaws: the acting isn't all that great and everything, for the most part, has been done, but I am willing to forgive those things because it takes what it's given and turns it into an irresistible house of horrors.