April 17, 2011
Sidney Prescott (Campbell's spunky character), has battled psychotic killers before. She was there from the beginning, and seems like an extra in her own movie in Scream 4. She's the knowing adult victim who tries to pass along her wisdom to a new cadre of savvy youngsters who are too smart for dumb movies until they're placed in dumb movie situations and start doing dumb things. I groaned several times when the car wouldn't start or one of the characters dropped her keys because she got scared by a loud noise.
I laughed a lot too. Sometimes at the movie and sometimes with it. I kept trying to figure out what screenwriter Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven were up to. Many times they delivered scenes with a wink, and you felt like you were not being played, but being entertained, by a movie that's ready and able to manipulate your preconceived notions about slasher movies. The teenage drama that occasionally bubbles up into the story is of the most low-grade Party of Five quality. The drama between Arquette, now the sheriff of Woodsboro (and still a bit bumbling) and Cox (his wife, a former reporter whose fame is fading) [I'm not talking about the real marriage between David Arquette and Courteney Cox, but the one between their characters] is equally funny. He's laughably trying to squash her into small-town housewife living, but her attempt to regain her relevance in the investigative journalism world is laughable too. I think that's the point of this movie. Everything is so unbelievable it's funny.
The movie has so many characters it feels like a bad Agatha Christie novel, and most of them are developed only just enough. Williamson never met a red herring he couldn't train to fly, sing, and point in the most obvious direction, and in Scream 4 there's no shortage of suspects. That's part of the sheer fun of it all, and that's the reason I wanted to see Scream 4 in the first place: the fun. Enough with the torture-porn industry (Saw and Hostel being that subgenre's best known relics). Horror movies need to be fun and entertaining or they're not fun or entertaining (for some reason). Despite some of the flaws in Scream 4 (perhaps the very fact that there is now a Scream 4), it's an enjoyably campy romp; it makes fun of itself more than the genre it lampooned/homaged/tributed/ in the earlier movies. (Some of those aren't real words. Get over it.) Campbell is more appealing now than she was before, perhaps because she rises above the stupidity of the genre. She's past all that crap, and just gets to arrive in the nick of time to either save somebody or fight somebody, but ultimately she does get included in the blood-bathing.
As mentioned before, the cast is larger than a small-sized cast or even a medium-sized cast. Actors include: Emma Roberts (as Sidney's cousin Jill), Hayden Panettiere as Jill's feisty friend Kirby, who I thought had one of the most fun parts in the movie, Community's Alison Brie as Sidney's opportunistic (and funny!) press agent, Rory Culkin and Eric Knudsen as two film geeks, Marley Shelton as a strange blond deputy, Mary McDonnell (who I didn't recognize until wikipedia told me she was in the movie as Sidney's spacey Aunt Kate), Adam Brody as a dispatchable deputy, and a bunch of extras playing townspeople, other deputies, teenagers, squirrels, birds, and teachers. I really don't have time to name them, although they have probably memorized the precise moment when they appear on screen.
April 09, 2011
However, Danny McBride's performance works. He somehow makes his obnoxious slob of a character likable. And James Franco is equally funny. His performance belongs in the straight version, and McBride's character constantly berates his attempt to maintain some kind of formal "quest movie" seriousness. The tug-of-war between those two performances is probably the highlight of the movie. Natalie Portman's character is sort of forced. She's essentially there as a penance because the movie relies so desperately on the damsel-in-distress plot (Zooey Deschanel plays the damsel, and has the least interesting part in the movie. She stares out a window a lot, and the movie occasionally reminds us of her presence--the reason Franco and McBride are on their quest--but that's about it for her. It barely makes use of her comedic talent, and while she sings briefly, it's only as a joke).
The movie also makes fun of what some people call "homo-social" relationships between men. However, it isn't all that progressive in its thinking. The camera ogles Natalie Portman taking a bath in a bikini (objectifying female characters is okay as long as they're good fighters?). And Deschanel's weak part speaks to this as well. Again, I was laughing a lot, but it really did feel like something created in a frat house. Many comedies feel that way lately. Frat boys have some comic sense, or at least they know how to use the F word to make a line of dialogue punch a little more, but these movies lack the kind of comic genius that distinguishes some of the better spoofs. It's not the difference between highbrow and lowbrow humor, but the difference between creativity and tried-and-true laughs, that work, but let's face it, are predictable and easy.
Your Highness has a good pace, and the quest part is fairly interesting, even if it clutches firmly onto familiar trappings. What got me was the ending, so heavily relying upon special effects. It made me sad that even comedies are deploying more and more of their capital to computer graphics. Surely the bigness of Hollywood movies has reached its turgid breaking point? And yet, the coming attractions promise more. I wish Your Highness had settled for something smaller. I think the jokes are enough to sustain it. But they seem to get lost in the pursuit of the dumb, enormous action of the plot. And there are moments during fight scenes where you can hardly tell what's going on because the camera zips around like lightning, and the editor seems to have honed his skills on music videos. He's following the style of the current editing school, which is music video-speed. Yet another reason for our diminishing attention spans.
April 02, 2011
It's a free adaptation of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, which is the precursor to all slasher movies. The movie uses the beloved Christie mystery novel to set up its plot of a group of privileged college kids spending spring break at their friend Muffy St. John's lonely island manor, where it seems that April Fool's Day pranks don't always turn out to be just pranks. The sparkling Deborah Foreman, star of 1983's Valley Girl, plays Muffy, who miraculously hasn't turned into a snob despite her wealth and privilege.
The movie has characters you like, and tries to take them a little deeper than most of its ilk. It doesn't succeed all the way, and there's a sense in which you wonder if it could have really nailed the genre and its own storyline better, more sharply, then it does in its admittedly sloppy form. And many story points are loose and undeveloped. For example, someone has planted strange objects in the guests' rooms, but these are hardly touched on, and really are placed in the movie as a mere convenience for the creators to imitate the Agatha Christie story where the characters had all gotten away with murders and were being punished for them.
One of the most noticeable flaws is the cinematography by Charles Minsky. He seems fixated on undermining dialogue by focusing our attention elsewhere. I gather it was a stylistic device, but if so, Minsky could have had a little more vision. He treats the movie's attempt at character-building drama like soap opera scenes, and thus gives them more of an audience than they deserve. There's the couple most likely to get married after college, Amy Steel (the scream queen from Friday the 13th Part 2, who possesses a very likable and natural quality about her) and Ken Olandt (he appeared in the Mark Harmon high school comedy Summer School). They have serious discussions about their futures, and it really just seems like plot filler extracted from The Young and the Restless. (There is a funny scene where they're in bed and the lights have been rigged to not turn off). There are, nevertheless, some effective shots, such as the transition from one of the characters falling into a well full of floating heads to a shot of her sitting, head down, at the table, while the others stand in the background. It's effective and in a way saves that moment of the movie from its clunkiness. (The well sequence isn't particularly believable.)
The characters are believable. One's a calculating Texas frat boy type who's bucking to get a job for Muffy's wealthy father. One is a stilted English major who reads Milton and doesn't fit in with the sex-obsessed, "hip" members of the group. She's the uninitiated (often the character who turns out to be the killer in these types of movies).
The movie is banal but it's also plucky and good-natured, so you have a hard time disliking it. It also makes fun of the cliches on which it relies, and so it may be the first self-aware slasher movie, one which is ultimately playing a deviously fun trick on its audience. The other cast members are Deborah Goodrich, Clayton Rohner, Thomas F. Wilson (Biff from Back to the Future), Jay Baker, Griffin O'Neal, and Leah King Pinsent. It was directed by Fred Walton of When A Stranger Calls (1979) fame.