Scream 4…Sidney’s Last Stand

Scream 4
Scream 4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I fell in love with the original Scream after watching the first five minutes. When Wes (we are not worthy) Craven killed off the “name” star in the first reel. With this one action he showed us, the audience, that he knew and loved horror films and thrillers. The little nod to Hitchcock’s killing of Janet Leigh at the beginning  of Psycho told me immediately that this was a film-maker that was going to have fun with the genre.

Scre4m aka Scream 4 is the last of the Scream franchise. I had real reservations about the last of the Screams. I was afraid that Wes had gone to the well once too often and that the bucket he drew up would be empty. Boy was I wrong. This was a brilliant end to a series that has always shown a stroke of genius in each sequel. Yes I know that Wes cannot take all the credit. These films work because of the writing and the acting as well.

Scre4m opens with a murder similar to the first Scream films. Although it comes to us initially via various trailers to the fictional Stab films in the Scream verse. We are introduced to Sidney Prescott’s cousin Jill, played with great panache by Emma Roberts. We then get to see all our favourite living characters from the previous films.   Deputy Dewey, played again by David Arquette, is now the sheriff of Woodsboro and has married Gale.  Gale Weathers-Riley, played by Courtney Cox, has retired from the mainstream news world and is trying to write “the great American novel” and not getting very far with it. Sidney Prescott, played again by Neve Campbell, is now a writer. Her book, about living through and dealing with the events from the previous films, is a bestseller. She returns to Woodsboro as part of her book signing tour.

Sidney Prescott
Sidney Prescott (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We also meet the new cast of “victims.” Hayden Panettiere as Kirby Reed, one of the slew of friends that Jill has, makes the most of her part. She was born to play this kind of role. I of course still think of her as the cheerleader from Heroes, you know “Save the cheerleader save the world.” But she does a brilliant job as the future “man-eater” Kirby. The other memorable friend of Jill’s is Rory Culkin as Charlie Walker. Charlie is the Randy substitute in this Scream film. A necessary replacement since Randy is dispatched by Ghost Face in Scream 2. Although not in the victim department I have to mention Marley Shelton. As Deputy Judy Hicks she rocked it out of the park. Her characterisation of the love lorn Deputy Judy was both comedic and scary, sometimes at the same time.

Of course Ghost Face is still voiced by Roger Jackson. Could anyone else have done it? I think not. His voice is synonymous with Ghost Face and always will be. I can’t reveal anything else about the plot because I will be heading into spoiler territory if I do. I can and will tell you it deals with the theme of the internet and it’s propensity to make celebrities out of those who know how to use it.

So that’s it. I have, like so many other Scream fans I am sure, waited for this film for ages. I loved it so much that I sat through two viewings on two separate occasions. I also couldn’t wait for a special edition blu-ray to come out. As much as I want special features, in this case it did not matter.

So  hats off to Director Wes Craven for once again pulling it off. The grande finale of all the Scream’s was nigh on perfect.

The Help…Mississippi’s Burning in a skirt

Actress Emma Stone is certainly very busy these days. It seems like only yesterday she played the love interest in the nerd-rom-com that was Super Bad. Now, when she is not being wooed by Jim Carrie via YouTube, she seems to be in everything.My daughter Meg pointed out this film to me. She then rented it from iTunes and pretty much insisted that I watch it. I am glad I did.
Set in Mississippi during the civil rights unrest that was the sixties Emma plays Skeeter Phelan. Skeeter has graduated from college and now wants to be a writer. She returns to her home town to re-establish ties with old friends and to check on her mother who has cancer.

The first thing Skeeter does is get a job with the local paper, ghost writing for the Agony Aunt columnist who is having a baby. Viola Davis plays Aibileen Clark one of the many black ladies who work as “the help” to the white members of the community. The whole cast work brilliantly in this ensemble film. I will admit that I was overjoyed to see Cicely Tyson in a big-ish cameo as Skeeter’s family maid. Of course I have to mention Sissy Spacek  who has the small role of Hilly’s long suffering mother. She is delightful to watch.

Now amazingly the film’s main  plot deals with the issue of toilets. The local white community follows Hilly Holbrook’s lead on the “separate but equal” practice which was prevalent in the sixties. Hilly has gotten the local government to pass a law that makes it a criminal act to use the white residents bathroom. The help must instead use an outside one specially made for them.

As played by Bryce Dallas Howard, Hilly is a nasty piece of work. A bully who is sly, malicious, and vengeful Hilly rules over her little flock of the Ladies Club with an iron fist. It seems that while the black community might be good enough to clean the white folks’s houses, cook their meals and look after their children, it is not okay to use their employers bathroom.

Skeeter is outraged at this new law and decides to write about the ‘separate but equal’ travesty. She teams up with local housekeeper Aibileen with the idea of writing a book. This book will be filled with all the terrible, funny and sad things that the black workers have encountered . At first the only “help” that will work with Skeeter is the slightly hesitant Aibileen, but as events in the Mississippi town get worse she finds herself inundated with offers of more stories.

Mary Steenburgen has a microscopic role as the editor Elain Stein who encourages Skeeter to write her book and guides her toward publication with her company. It was nice to see Steenburgen on screen again and I do wish they had used her a bit more.

I loved this film. It has the same feeling as Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe and Driving Miss Daisy. This film made me angry, made me laugh and made me cry. I cannot begin to express how well this film was presented. The sets, the location, and the costumes all felt like the south in the sixties.

The characters as they were written also felt right. Overall a real gem of a film. It attempts to show that some people were racially aware in the civil rights fraught sixties. I think it does this very well, without resorting to bloodshed or gun play.

And on a closing note, never has the phrase “Eat my Shit.” been so appropriate and funny.

Final Destination 5…Don’t bother

 

Final Destination 5
Final Destination 5 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been a huge fan of the Final Destination films since the first one. The mix of gory deaths and cheeky humour was able to make me laugh and groan at the same time. I will readily admit that I own all the films on DVD. But I have got to say the quality of the films has depreciated with each new sequel.Yes I know that is going to happen whenever any film gets turned into a franchise. Although I believe firmly that the Scream films are the exception to this rule and of course The Godfather  films also are the exception. And anything after Terminator 2 is just ______ (fill in with the expletive of your choice).

Now we have Final Destination 5 in  3D yet. When I first watched it, I felt the digital FX really let it down. Then I realised I was watching the blu-ray version and not the 3D one. All right, I thought, we’ll give that problem a miss as I’m guessing it looked much better when wearing the glasses. But that was not all that was wrong with the film.

Before I have a moan about the film, I would like to say that the highlight was seeing the cameo by that always impressive actor Tony Todd. I’ve loved this man’s performance’s ever since I watched him terrorise Virginia Madsen in Candyman.  On a side note, watching that film made me solemnly vow to never look into a mirror and say Candyman three times. *shudder* Unfortunately having Tony Todd in the film (and it is a shame we couldn’t have seen more of him) did not help save it from being a huge disappointment.

English: American actor Tony Todd at the 2003 ...
English: American actor Tony Todd at the 2003 Motor City Comic Con. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Mbig complaint about the film was the loss of the tongue-in-cheek way that fate (or death) checked each character out. All the prior films had a beautiful sort of irony in the way each person died. Unfortunately it appears that the producers just wanted to increase the gore factor. I can imagine them sitting around a big board room table. “Okay guys, we’re going to make one more Final Destination.” Much groaning from the table members. “I know. I know. We said that the previous Final Destination was going to be the final one. But hey, with the advances made in 3D on Avatar, we can really make this one rock!”

So in my mind, I think they were a bit too much in love with the idea of 3D. Nice idea guys but sloppy execution (get it?).  On a final note, this was the only Final Destination I bought in blu-ray and it will be the first blu-ray that I take to trade in for a better film. Well, it is the first one, if you don’t count the blu-ray copy of Twilight that I unsuccessfully kept trying to trade in. No one wanted it because it had a “scratch” on it. I think they were lying like a cheap watch. They just did not want a copy of a DVD they couldn’t get rid of.

Damn, I hope I don’t have the same problem with Final Destination 5!

Take notice of the film Take Shelter

 

After my abysmal experience watching the 2011 version of The Thing, I was going to give films a rest for a while.  But like a cowboy who’s been thrown off his horse, I decided to get right back in the saddle. I’m glad I did. Because if I had not, I would have missed the brilliance that is Take Shelter.

This brilliant “little” film was noticed by my daughter Meg. She had seen a trailer and it  piqued her interest. We decided to check it out. Am I glad we did.

Take Shelter is a film written and directed by relative newcomer Jeff Nicols. It stars Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain and Shea Whigham. Michael Shannon, fresh from working on Boardwalk Empire, gives a more than impressive performance as Curtis. Curtis is a typical “every-man” who is suffering from violent and intense dreams – or are they visions? He is also beginning to hear things. Jessica Chastain  plays his loving wife, who despite her anger and frustration at her husbands strange behaviour, supports him as much as she can. Shea Whigham is Curtis’s best friend who he has a falling out with. Tova Stewart gives an absolutely delightful performance as Curtis’s hearing impaired daughter.

I have, after watching this film, become a Michael Shannon fan-boy. He has an “old fashioned” look about him. He makes me think of a cross between two late actors, Vic Morrow and Chuck Conners. *Shannon is actually six feet three inches tall* He is well know for playing “twitchy” characters. I do know that he made me really care about his character. In fact all the main actors gave me the feeling that they were folks I have known or worked with.

The visions (?) that Curtis sees deal  a lot with some kind of super storm. He decides that he must improve their tornado shelter. Despite losing his job and not being able to afford it he continues with his improvement plan. He is also beginning to suspect that his visions are really some sort of mental illness. I cannot go any further into the plot of the film for fear of giving too much away.

This film looked beautiful. The cinematography is stunning and crisp. The writing is perfect, it allows the actors to fully flesh out their characters and gives the viewers a tense emotional ride. We spend almost the entire film worrying about whether Curtis is nuts or if he really knows something that no one else does.

I always judge how good a film is by how I feel when it reaches the end frame. If I immediately want to watch it again, I know it is a brilliant film. When Take Shelter finished, I did want to see it all over again.

Take Shelter is a little hard to fit into a genre, but, it definitely should be seen. It is a real shame that something this good did not even receive a nod at the Oscars.

The Thing (2011)- A Prequel? Only at the End.

After putting it off far too long, I finally watched the “prequel re-make” of John Carpenter’s The Thing. At the end of the film I found myself asking only one question.

Why?

Now I will be the first to admit that Carpenter’s The Thing is itself a re-make. Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks first brought the film to the big screen in 1951. It featured James Arness (who does indeed look like a giant carrot as suggested by author Stephen King) heavily made up and very unfriendly. The creature is dispatched at the end of the film via an electric sidewalk.

John Carpenter re-imagined the film in 1982 and it became a classic. Brooding, suspenseful and menacing, it set the standard for economically telling a story and creating characters you could form a bond with. It was suitably scary with moments of genuine humour. In fact I would go as far as to suggest that Carpenter’s The Thing should be used as a template on how to make a good film. *I would also add  James Cameron’s Terminator 2 to that very short list*

Now we have the “prequel” The Thing 2011.  I will say that the special effects were beyond spectacular. Sadly, that is the  only good thing I can bring myself to say about the film. Despite the fact that the director and the producers set the pacing of the film at breakneck speed, I did not care about any of it.

The characters were not even two dimensional creations. They all appeared to be one dimensional filler. No one, apart from Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character, had a clear cut “job” in the film.  Winstead was supposed to be the “heroine,” yet her character was so lacklustre and flat that I found myself not really caring whether she lived, died, or defeated the alien.

Every other character in the film seemed to be used to fill one or two functions. I can envision the director saying, “Right we need a large cast that an alien needs to chew through. We also need enough people that we can group one bunch as victims and one bunch as aliens. Since that really is all they are going to be doing, we won’t bother with giving them specific things to do in the film.”

Yes, the film did zoom along. Like a runaway train it sped to the conclusion, to it’s detriment.  The script had so many holes, gaps and glaring omissions that I am actually amazed that it managed to run for an entire 103 minutes. But, having said that, the film felt much longer.

I will say that the last bit of the film – the “teaser-like” flashes we the audience got intermixed with the end credits – did indeed fill the bill as a prequel. Sadly, it was really the only part of the film that I got anywhere near excited about.

So my final verdict about the film? Great FX! Mediocre characters and performances with the only real prequel being at the end of the film. I am so glad I did not see this at the cinema.

I would have asked for my money back.