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THE HOT ROCK, CINDERELLA LIBERTY, ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL and DISTANT VOICES STILL LIVES

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

THE GREEN HORNET: MORE HUMOR, LESS STING

In the sixties the comic book icon Batman was turned into a television series that was low on detective seasoning and high on camp. The show became so popular that it was soon followed by a spin off, The Green Hornet, based on the pulp fiction/radio show character from the past. The show never took off like Batman did, but it did introduce the world to martial arts expert Bruce Lee as the Hornet’s sidekick Kato. Talk of a new film version of the series went on for years, even Kevin Smith the director of CLERKS was involved at one point. So fans were delighted to see the Hornet finally appear on the big screen.

Seth Rogen stars as Britt Reid, the goofball son of publisher James Reid (Tom Wilkinson). The senior Reid puts out The Daily Sentinel, a newspaper that prides itself on reporting the real news and focuses on the issues of crime that happen daily in Los Angeles. When suddenly dies of a bee sting, Britt is left in charge as well as left to finally grow up.

Despondent at first and unable to fill his father’s shoes, Britt turns to the man who took care of his father’s cars and who made his coffee, Kato (Jay Chou). In Kato he discovers a kindred spirit; someone who loved yet felt much anger at his father and a man who feels a need for heroes much as Britt does.

Through a misadventure in which they save a couple from an attack by thugs, the pair decides to take on crime in LA. Kato sets out pimping their ride, a car now armed to the gills with missiles, machine guns, a flame thrower and more. Then Britt turns the newspaper on its ear, insisting that they do extensive coverage of the Hornet, going so far as to come up with his name. The next thing they do is hire an assistant for Britt, Lenore Case (Cameron Diaz), who knows more about crime than he does, going so far as to predict what the Green Hornet will do next. In truth, her predictions become their directions.

It seems that the entire criminal element in LA is run by one man, Benjamin Chudnovsky (Christoph Waltz), a bloodthirsty criminal who has made it his life’s ambition to control crime from top to bottom. Chudnovsky makes a point of striking fear in those who would oppose him. And when the Green Hornet starts interfering with his operations, the Hornet becomes his number one target.

So does it work? In some ways very much so but in most not quite. As with the recent GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, we’re presented with a star that needs someone to rein him in, to mold him into the character rather than have the character twist into something its not. Rogen can be a great actor at times but here he tends to run wild and use certain mannerisms that he has in past roles, none of which tend to enhance the character of Britt Reid. Instead much of the movie has Britt as the same goofball he was when the film started except rather than party non-stop he behaves like a kid who finally gets the chance to play the hero. It would have been nice to see the change in Britt come about far earlier in the film than it does and to have left more of the comedy out. The story deserves more action and less comedy.

Chou does a great job of presenting himself here. Pretty much an unknown in the U.S., he does a fantastic job of combining martial arts mastery with acting ability, much like Bruce Lee did when first starting out. The scenes with Chou feel more like the Green Hornet than do those with Rogen.

The supporting cast seems just to be walking through. Waltz shows less of the menace in his character here than he did in INGLORIOUS BASTARDS. And Diaz seems to have such a minor part as to nearly qualify as a cameo.

Much of the film comes together towards the last 20 minutes or so. It would have been nice to see many of the things that work well there happen 30 minutes earlier and the movie be taken a bit more seriously than it was. Instead, while entertaining enough, the film seems more like a Seth Rogen vehicle and less a comic hero film. Was it enough to garner a sequel? Doubtful, the box office wasn’t stupendous, something Hollywood expects these days. If one does come about, let’s hope they find a director willing to tell Rogen to rope it in and to play it straight for once. He has the ability, now he needs someone in charge to convince him of it.

SCREAM 3: ANOTHER ROUND


One would think that two SCREAM movies would have milked out all of the ideas they had. Then again any fan of horror films, or follower of Randy in the series, would realize that a good horror franchise needs to become a trilogy to be great. Okay forget the new movie and just consider this one for the moment.

Gone are the days of school, both high school and college. The survivors of the earlier films have moved on with their lives. Gale (Courtney Cox) and Dewey (David Arquette) were and item but are now apart. Sidney (Neve Campbell) lives in a secluded and secure location where she councils victims via phone. And Cotton?

Well as the film opens Cotton (Liev Schreiber) has become a radio talk show host and is on his way home when he gets a call. One of “those” calls fans of the films recognize by now. The killer is in his home and about to kill Cotton’s girlfriend. Cotton races home to stop this but fails and in so doing finds himself the second victim of part 3, his girlfriend being the first.

All of this occurs as a film studio is in the process of making STAB 3, the third movie based on the fictional murders in this series of films. I wonder if INCEPTION got their idea for a dream within a dream from these movies within movies? Anyway, Word of Cotton’s death reaches the cast and crew and of course Gale is there to cover the story. In her usual insensitive manner she goes looking for the story. It leads her to the studio where the film is being shot and running into Dewey who is a technical advisor to the film, helping Jennifer Jolie (Parker Posey) as the character based on Gale.

The banter between the two goes back and forth but eventually they work together as members of the cast begin being murdered in the same order their characters are in the script. The killer also keeps leaving behind pictures of Sidney’s mother, the woman whose infidelity began this whole story.  He/she also wants to know where to find Sidney.

Each cast member as well as studio executives and the police detective in charge of the investigation (Patrick Dempsey) become a suspect at one time or another. Perhaps the only ones not suspects are Sidney, Gale and Dewey. As the cast and crew are whittled down, the revelation of who the killer is this time around and his/her motivations are revealed.

It is the revelation that shows how original and interesting this series actually was. Once more they could have taken an easy out or done something that didn’t relate to anything. Instead the film works as another whodunit where we are presented with clues that will lead us to the killer if we only pay close attention. Here we are again presented with what could have been a lame excuse for a movie but instead becomes a good little film all in itself.

The ideas behind movies are discussed in each of the films. On the surface this is seen when each one discusses the rules found in all horror films. But it also takes on critics who talk about how bad sequels can be, proving them wrong. It talks about how violence affects us by showing that perhaps the violence we see onscreen isn’t what causes violence but the circumstances of our lives do. It talks about a press who is willing to sacrifice love, honor and respect for people in the attempt to get the story. And it talks about the fact that while we may make fun of sequels we still fill the theater seats to see them when they come out.

The series is well worth adding to your collection if you’re a horror fan. Once again Lionsgate has done a bang up job of putting together a quality product here. The extras on all three don’t offer much but I for one don’t mind. I find that with all the movies I want to watch I rarely have time for these any longer. I mean come on, how come a movie can be 90 minutes long but have 3 hours of extras to watch?

Suffice to say that the SCREAM series as released now on blu-ray is a great buy for fans. Now all we have to do is sit back a few months and wait for the release of SCREAM 4.

SCREAM 2: THE SEQUELS BEGIN


Fans of the SCREAM movies will recognize themselves as the geeky Randy who knows so many tidbits of information about movies, horror films in particular. These fans are the ones who show up on opening weekend for a sequel that, chances are, won’t be near as good as the original film. Those fans were probably quite surprised with what they got when they went to see SCREAM 2. Where most horror films sequels fail, this one lived up to the first.

The time is 2 years after the events of the first film. Those teens who survived are now off at Windsor College, studying and trying to forget the past. If you haven’t seen the first film stop reading now and go watch it. I’ll wait. If you have you know that the survivors are Sidney and Randy. These two are doing their best to be the regular college students everyone expects.

The film opens at a special screening of the movie STAB based on the murders. Young couple Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett (before she was Smith) are there to watch and get more involved than they expected. Epps is killed in the men’s room and Pinkett in the theater while a full house runs around screaming with fake knives and ghosts masks thinking its part of the show.

Other members of the original cast begin to turn up now. Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) has become a celebrity in her own right having written a best seller about the murders. Now she’s back to bother Sidney once more, never thinking of her feelings but simply there to get the story. Cotton Weary (Leiv Schreiber) has been released from prison and is making the rounds of the talk show circuit to cash in as well. He shows as a guest of Gale in the hopes she can catch the first meeting between Cotton and Sidney on film. Then Dewey (David Arquette) shows up fearing that Sidney might be in trouble. Toss in a new boyfriend (Jerry O’Connell), his friend (Timothy Olyphant) and a roommate (Elise Neal) and you have multiple suspects once more.

Victims fall over like flies narrowing the possibilities of who the killer is. We know the original killers are both dead and gone, witnessed at the end of the first film. So who’s responsible now? And why would they be stalking Sidney? Is it simply that, a stalker influenced by the books and the movie, or is it someone else?

This time around the film takes a look at the claims that were made at the time that horror films and slasher films in particular could influence people to repeat the scenes they witnessed on screen. While the proof was never there it made for great defense tactics for lawyers of accused murderers. Its unusual that a film maker like Wes Craven would take up the banner for this argument but he presents a great case here.

There were two things I was most surprised at in this film. The first was the number of actors who had small parts here who went on to bigger and better things. Since it’s been several years since the film came out I’m not sure if some were big then doing cameos or just getting started. Luke Wilson, Tori Spelling, Omar Epps, Jada Pinkett, Heather Graham, Sarah Michelle Geller, Joshua Jackson, Rebecca Gayheart, Portia di Rosi, Laurie Metcalf and David Warner can all be found here.

The second was the fact that even though this film is a sequel it stands up on its own as a truly scary horror film. One would expect the weakest of plot devices to be used in an attempt to cash in on the success of the first film. Instead we have a well conceived idea here as to who the killer is and why. It also ties into the first film rather than one of those oh yeah moments where the reason seems contrived at best.

Randy once again tells us what to expect in horror films and sequels in general. And for the most part he’s right with one exception. Where he claims that all sequels suck, this movie lives up to the name of SCREAM.

SCREAM: FORGOTTEN CLASSIC

So many will wonder why I claim this is a forgotten classic. I mean isn’t the SCREAM mask still sold at Halloween? Haven’t we just seen a new sequel released? Isn’t the movie spoken of in every Wes Craven interview?

All of these things might be true but the fact remains that while SCREAM did do big box office, was sequelized and is talked about at times, I found in watching it again that it was a much better film than I recalled. It was scarier than I remembered. It was better made than I thought at first. And it works on so many levels as to be considered a classic.

For those uninitiated the film tells the story of a group of teenage friends. The film opens with Casey (Drew Barrymore) receiving an anonymous phone call with someone who at first flirts with her and then threatens her. In short order she not only witnesses her boyfriend’s demise but is soon murdered herself by a killer in a stretched ghost face mask and flowing black tattered robe.

The next day the kids at her high school are upset when they hear of the murders. But as teens go they also tend to move on to the next thing that interests them, a true example of A.D.D. Enter our main character Sidney (Neve Campbell), a young woman whose boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich) wants to take things to another level but who remains chaste. Her best friend Tatum (Rose McGowan) isn’t quite as pure. Tatum’s boyfriend Stuart (Matthew Lillard) is the court jester, making jokes at all times. Rounding out this group is Randy (Jamie Kennedy) the nerd of pack who works at the local video store and is a movie fanatic.

As the film progresses so does the body count. With each murder we also get a glimpse of the killer and the fact that he seems to be a bit of a bumbler compared to the villains other slasher films have delivered in the past. Where the cool killer reigned in most, this killer trips over his costume, gets knocked in the head more than once and gets downed occasionally only to mysteriously disappear. While choosing to wear a goofy mask this seems like more of what a real serial killer might be like, a klutz who makes mistakes.

The cast is rounded out by David Arquette as Deputy Dewey, Tatum’s brother and the local goofball policeman. Dewey comes off as little more than a Don Knotts/Barney Fife knock off. But beneath it all lies something more than gets revealed a piece at a time in all of the SCREAM movies.

Offsetting this character is Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), a driven newswoman who will do anything to get the story and advance her career. At the moment she is not well liked by Sidney whose life story Gale has pitched on more than one occasion. Sidney’s mother was murdered earlier and Sidney has identified Cotton Weary (Liev Schrieber) as the killer. Gale has taken Cotton’s side in the matter and has done all she can to get his release much to the displeasure of Sidney.

Now the nice part about all of these characters is that each one has a reason to be the killer and the opportunity over and over again. We constantly wonder who the killer is and each time you think you know you find yourself pausing to consider the next person. Is Dewey really hiding his homicidal tendencies behind the goofy fa├žade? Is Gale so determined to get Cotton released that she’d do anything to see it happen? Could Billy have had a reason to become the killer since his mother left him? Every character bops in and out of the scene with ample opportunity to jump back in as the killer.

At the heart of this is Randy, the movie nerd, who takes the time at a party to discuss the ins and outs of horror films and “the rules”. So many actually fit any number of films that have been released its hilarious. For instance the rule that if you’re a virgin you’re safe. Having sex always results in being the next victim. Or never say “I’ll be right back” when leaving a room since it usually results in your chances of returning being non-existent.

What makes this movie so good is that it keeps your guessing like the best whodunit ever made. You find yourself thinking it’s this person then another then another until you’re never quite sure who you think did it. And then result, the reveal, was a tremendous surprise when this film was first released. Even knowing who the killer is doesn’t spoil the fun watching it again as you catch the clues left throughout.

The movie is also fun because of the in jokes that many movie fans will catch. Names of characters, locations, little aside dropped in all make the movie hilarious with each one. The best one is when high school principal Henry Winkler hears a noise in the hall, sticks his head out and sees the school janitor (played by director Wes Craven) wearing a green and red striped long sleeved sweater who grunts at him, to which Winkler replies “Sorry, Fred”. Yes, a direct reference to Craven’s best known film A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.

The SCREAM films are being released in blu-ray format for the first time from Lionsgate who recently picked up the distribution rights. They’ve done a great job with it, just in time for the release of the latest sequel. Best of all its nice to see the film come out in a clean format that means it can be appreciated again for some and for the first time for others. Believe it or not the movie IS fifteen years old now. So if you’re watching it with someone who hasn’t seen it don’t let them know who the killer is, sit back and watch them try to figure it out and enjoy the ride.