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Diary of the Dead

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George Romero. George George George. You created a mini-genre out of what was at the time an oddity: a monster movie (specifically zombies, for their unique properties) which also was a statement about modern day life. Countless follow-ups by you and others continued this trend and made Zombie Movies an event worth collecting friends for. You wrote the rulebook. You were a pioneer. Sure, Land of the Dead was a little dorky, but it was a hoot and a half. This Diary of the Dead of yours is just rewarmed leftovers from the past 13 years of filmmaking (from To Die For, as my sage companion noted, through Cloverfield).

One of the most tragic things about Diary of the Dead is the moments that are flashes of inspiration. It’s like someone sat down with a compendium of the lore and said, “Ok, what hasn’t been done?” and then did it. Our band of survivors being the cast of a student-grade mummy film? Awesome. A zombie dispatched at the same time its victim suicides with a scythe? Sweet. Um…there were a few others but I already can’t remember. My point is, the humor is always there, lurking under the surface, in any zombie movie, but here it’s used for evil rather than for good.

Our filmmakers are shooting a mummy movie (the original proto-zombie, yes George we know it was you who invented the modern-day zombie) and the world goes hooey. Nothing new there, of course. The MESSAGE is that the cameraman doesn’t stop filming, even when fleeing, even when seeing things that would make a sane person respond by perhaps fainting or screaming. The camera is passed between participants — even participants who yelled at cinematographer #1 to stop filming already — to get better coverage..

“But wait,” you might interrupt at this point. “You freaking LOVED Cloverfield. That’s the same thing.” And for the record, I enjoyed Blair Witch as well. For one thing, the latter two films used the cameras as if the character were really using the camera — dropping it, running with it, addressing it directly, sneaking around with it, dropping their camera hand to show the ground or their leg at a moment when a character would do that. The characters are filming in Cloverfield because they think there should be a record of this event, and also to remain emotionally detached from their terror, and out of Gen X-Y habit, perhaps as well. Later it’s their only connection to “not here.” In Blair Witch, of course, they were specifically documenting what happened to them in the woods, so it was more of an obligation to record everything even when it was a burden. Diary of the Dead is a hackneyed attempt to hijack that convention with none of the justification and all of the moralizing.

Also wrong with DotD: There are forced interviews and unaccountable hostilities among the players that are unclear. And then there are the horrible horrible characters who say terrible terrible dialogue just past the ability for us to mock them. There’s even an older, weary pseudo-statesman professor, British of course, whose dialogue literally smacks of narration no matter what he says. It hurts to watch. My companion recalled Gus Van Sant’s culturally prescient 1995 film To Die For, where Nicole Kidman’s character had a pathological need to be on television in order to exist (I am paraphrasing) and every meta-narrative since then has been more and more diluted from that message. See also: the reality-TV boom.

Diary of the Dead, even for zombie diehards like my little group (we watched Shadow: Dead Riot, for pete’s sake), was not very good at all. I mourn. The rating is Catch the Network Premiere for the few bits that were fun and creative, but it will never be on network television, so…

MPAA Rating R-strong horror violence and gore, pervasive language
Release date 2/15/08
Time in minutes 95
Director George Romero
Studio Dimension Films

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Sweeney Todd

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The moment this film was announced, theatre freaks and Goths clenched up in anticipation. Tim Burton! Johnny Depp! Really, probably only Guillermo del Toro could come close to being a second viable choice to helm this project. At least we know they will get how very epic and dark Sweeney Todd should be. My companion and I, Sweeney fans who have each worked on a production, could track every change. We could applaud the necessary and difficult cuts (Parlor Songs) and puzzle over the omissions (the chorus part in God, That’s Good). Fans, a spoiler: there is NO chorus part, and it is indeed distracting. That said, because we know were every neon-red drop of blood was meant to fall, the screenplay choices were not troublesome in terms of following the story. I would love to hear from someone not familiar with the show on this.

But how is it, you press urgently. I confess I had trouble because of certain favorite moments being eliminated – an unfair assessment of the film as its own work, I grant. The sets are gorgeous – grungy, dark, evil, stylized, but still solid. The costumes and makeup (save Johnny’s synthetic white streak, wicking away blood like so much rainwater) are richly layered in desaturated squalor and grime. It is a lifeless, dreary London, through which blood boils like, well, a city on fire. (Yes, omitted).

Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are both simply too beautiful and young looking to fully inhabit these roles visually. Depp certainly has the wild-eyed intensity that is needed, and Bonham-Carter has the doe-eyed cleverness and wit. Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin and Timothy Spall as the Beadle? Perfection. Sacha Baron Cohen as Pirelli – I knew he would nail the quick patter and fey flamboyance, but could he sing it? Yes! My companion had troubles with his overly impeccable accent work (my trouble was with Bonham-Carter’s wispy diction) but he made Pirelli the hilarious rat he needs to be.

Newcomer Jayne Wisener (Johanna) is a china doll of a gal, a slip of a girl who opens her cherubic mouth and gives her “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” solo wings I never knew it had when sung by older voices. Another newcomer, Ed Sanders as Toby, steals the show from the big names by being perfectly earnest and vulnerable and singing his hard songs with real beauty. Finally, as Jonathan, Jamie Campbell Bower seems too young and pretty to be the lovestruck sailor, but his sweet voice helped prop up Sondheim’s difficult score where the amateurs flag a bit. All of these folks, when I saw them listed, seemed far too young, but this film showed me that they were really more age appropriate than the grownups that usually limn their roles on stage.

Oh wait, who am I forgetting? Right, Depp and Bonham-Carter. I confess I am very sad that Depp’s tenor cannot grab you by your crumpet in the same way a full baritone can. The whole score felt like the bass section had been discreetly snuck out of the back door, robbing the instrumentals of much of their oomph. His pitch, his styling, his acting-while-singing is all great, it just felt wan compared to the material. Bonham-Carter’s voice for the most part is soft, reedy, and precisely clipped, not brassy or balls to the wall either. In a duet with Toby, it’s a lovely effect, but in the darkly comic “A Little Priest” (best staging ever!) it lacks gravy. She and Johnny both sang out at one point and I got excited, hoping for more.

For those unfamiliar with the show, it is a musical, but even at its most Broadway, it’s no Oklahoma, It’s dark, dissonant, miserable, and brilliant. Come on, murder, cannibalism, abuse, revenge, depravity, all in song? Burton goes a step further, removing any inorganic group singing and keeping it intimate, close, tiny. At first this drove me bananas. Why do I see a movie of a musical if not to see MORE HOT PIES? But upon spirited reflection with my wise cohort, we found it to be (paradoxically) more centrist despite its extreme themes. Musical-haters don’t have to endure glorious kicklines of strangers (I’m looking at you, Hairspray) and opera lovers can focus on the leads’ close-in performances. Burton also eludes the disease that made his Big Fish and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory not quite gel.

As an added bonus, if someone sees the movie and then goes to see a stage production, the play will blow their brains open because it won’t be in the shadow of Biggest Production Ever from the silver screen (I’m looking at you, Chicago). Burton’s Sweeney Todd is very different, but it’s a solid movie.

MPAA Rating R-graphic bloody violence
Release date 12/21/07
Time in minutes 117
Director Tim Burton
Studio Dreamworks / Warner Brothers

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The Number 23

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Jim Carrey has made many brave choices, as do so many comedians who parlay their comic skills into acting, and The Number 23 is one of them. I am a noisy advocate of his dramatic work, and this first time he attempting a psychological thriller is a departure from his previous excellent choices. Walter Sparrow (Carrey) seems fated to find this clumsy little self-published thriller, which touches things inside him he never dreamed existed. The idea of where this movie ends up is an interesting one, and it could have been a great one but for one minor quibble: some of the plot devices that get him there are absolutely ridiculous. For this I blame Joel Schumacher. Nutty twisty thrillers like Seven or The Silence of the Lambs often require the audience to make insane leaps of logic and suspend their disbelief higher than a musical adaptation of Harry Potter. The trick is making you forget the machinations that brought you that incredibly unlikely conclusion (and then you forgive). The Number 23 drops all kinds of whizzbangers into the story line, all of which could have been forgiven if they weren’t so blatantly swept under the rug, like someone hiding their garbage behind a potted plant when you come to visit.

So, the number 23 has some cosmic significance, or else it’s one of those things that when you look for it you find, but in reality is no more common than any of the other significant numbers in our base 10, 360 degree culture. The calisthenics one must go through in order to come up with this “ever present” number are insulting, but the idea is good enough that you can go with it for the sake of the story. The idea that a number can get inside your head, haunting you, cursing you, has already been embraced and popularized by Lost (and 23 is one of those 6 numbers, so…..) so that is a fun idea being taken in a new direction: instead of being bad luck, it can actually change who you are (into someone evil, perhaps?), which is an interesting plot idea. All good so far.

Joel Schumacher, who if nothing else knows how to make the banal stylish (exhibit A: The Island), takes the real-life cast and casts them as the leads in the book Walter is reading, which is cool, since it’s relevant to how he interprets the book. The fun, stylish part is how over the top cornball pulp he does it all, with swooping zoom shots that transition from one place to another in sexy, push-color ways, hokey crime novel dialogue, and smoldering sexual movement everywhere. It’s neat to see Jim in regular guy mode (never has he been as successful at hiding wacky Jim except in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and then in intense dramatization mode. Sometimes it’s so stylish it’s hackneyed or embarrassing, but most of those moments are in the context of the novel, so we can forgive that as well.

And then the third act starts. Clumsy explanations, ridiculous cover-ups and lack of paper trails (or cell phones) make the real-life people in the story (especially with their old-fashioned names like Agatha and Walter) seem straight out of a gumshoe rag in their primitive inability to manage the events in the backstory. And my god, who names their son Robin Sparrow? It’s like a bad joke. Bud Cort makes an uncredited cameo as a person whose entrance and exit from the story is like a deus ex machina when Zeus takes the day off and lets a temp handle the machina duties. Oh I wish I could tell you the thing that made me the craziest with annoyance, but suffice it to say, you could catch this on HBO and not feel like you missed much except some interesting sound design.

MPAA Rating R- violence, distrubing images, sexuality and language
Release date 2/23/07
Time in minutes 95
Director Joel Schumacher
Studio New Line

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Land of the Dead

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Directed by the granddaddy of the zombie genre, George Romero, Land of the Dead had the potential to be step backward in zombie expectations, or a satisfying new chapter in the genre. It is a viable genre, my friends. Zombie movies have the unique ability to be terrifying, gross, hilarious, and intellectual without diluting any of these qualities. The best zombie movies take what is really a simple formula (boy eats girl, girl eats another boy, boy chases you) and make it new again.

Romero’s seminal Night of the Living Dead defined what it is to be a zombie movie, and since then countless imitators have shuffled, (or, lately, ran) in his footsteps, hoping to make this very movie. Land of the Dead is old-school: the zombies shuffle, kill with a bite, and stop only when the brain is destroyed. This time, however, Romero’s “hero” is a semi-sentient undead gas station attendant who obeys, yet also stretches, all the zombie rules. This paragon of putrescence is Big Daddy (Eugene Clark) and he makes this land of the dead a whole new ball game.

We know all the rules already. Romero isn’t going to waste time developing the universe he has spent so many years creating, no sunny pre-infestation exposition or didactic “Zombie Killing For Dummies” speeches. If this is your first zombie movie, I imagine you can still figure it out. They’re here, they’re smears, get used to it, oh and kill them. Romero has no more reason to explain this Land than Woody Allen has reason to explain the unique craziness of New York City. And awayyyy we go!

Romero’s previous works have also, under the rotting surface, also been about something more. Night of the Living Dead (1968) was about race relations. Dawn of the Dead (1978) was about conformity and consumerism, and Day of the Dead (1985) was about militarism. What is Land of the Dead about, 20 years later? Terrorism? Freedom? Privatizing Social Security? I would say it’s about material distraction, or the chasm between the haves and the have-nots and fringes of society. You have to pay the fiddler his green, right?

Of course, the moment you see Dennis Hopper, you know he’s the Establishment Honcho. (How the Easy have fallen.) I likened him to Rupert Murdoch, but Hopper himself has said he was going for a Donald Rumsfeld vibe. I’m feelin’ it. Hopper’s obvious role aside, the best thing about Land is the lack of clear factions. I mean, yeah, we’re all fighting zombies, but they have a certain victim’s dignity about them next to these fatcats in their fancy tower. What about the underprivileged but still living lower classes? Who’s good, who’s right? It’s often, but not always clear whom to root for, and that level of murk keeps things interesting. Oh yeah and man are there some gross happenings in this one. Romero hasn’t let the kids today show him up one bit.

For those of you who might be searching as we were for the cameos by Shaun of the Dead’s Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, just look for the Polaroid camera. Land of the Dead is a lot of fun, and grosser than all get out. It’s a blast. Uurrrgggghhhhhh!

MPAA Rating R-violence, gore, language, drug use, brief sexuality
Release date 6/24/05
Time in minutes 93
Director George Romero
Studio Universal Pictures

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Open Water

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I wish I could be the first to assess this genuinely scary movie as The Blair Witch Project in the Caribbean, but I have been beaten to the punch. Everything that worked for Blair Witch (video, small cast, complete isolation in the middle of nowhere) is at play here, with the added implacability of sharks, creatures that exist, for sure and don’t need lasers mounted on their heads to be scary. I don’t know what the Blair Witch is, but I know what sharks are. And they are so, so silent.

Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis are the unfortunate couple who bobbed for most of the film in the water. They are a normal couple, with normal fights and normal stresses, in terribly extraordinary circumstances. You’ve seen the preview, you know they’re bobbing alone and unmissed in the deep blue sea. What you can’t know until you see it is the agonizing buildup of tension, the apprehension that accompanies any change in their situation.

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Ghosts of the Abyss

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This Imax-friendly partially 3-D feature by Jim Cameron’s primary attraction is the first-time ever footage of the inner sanctum of the wreck of the Titanic. No horsey divas warbling over a love story concocted to bring the tragedy home. This is scientists and laypersons with technological wonders seeing where no person has seen for 89 years. After Cameron’s crew innovated methods to incorporate actual wreck footage for his 1997 film, he went back in 2001 with a professional deep sea crew and newly created camera ‘bots for a more in-debth look. If that interests you, you won’t be disappointed. The levels of access are pretty amazing.

Using small, maneuverable remote rovers, the cameras take our eyes deeper into the ship than otherwise possible. It is transfixing to see objects untouched, even undisturbed, by the 12,500 foot plummet to the sea floor. A huge chandelier rig lights the entire scene from above, artificial moonlight on a cold grave. The effect is truly beautiful. Cameron is an experienced filmmaker, not just a facts-only scientist – he wants this to be special. With his narrative film background, he’s smart about his approach to the shoot. They have a miniature model of the wreck to plan their shots and approaches and entries, a 3-D storyboard that we get to see to help us understand what were looking at. Ghostlike apparitions of the passengers strolling along the gangways or shoveling coal into the engines assist with envisoning the scale and function of the dimly lit, corroded debris on the screen. A couple of times, the re-enactments teeter on the cliff of cheese, but nearly always pull back. The accompanying CGI models built from the blueprints also assist us with orientation and comprehension.

Bill Paxton, as the slightly nervous and funny everyman character he developed in Aliens, injects the human response into the experience. He’s not a deep-sea diver or a scientist, nor is he legendary control freak Cameron. He’s just a regular guy with an actor’s training who adds the layman feel and commentary, an effective addition.

Cameron also knows he audience cannot possibly feel the awe the crew was feeling upon being only six feet from the historical artifacts. To compensate, he unwisely gives us shot after shot from the outside of the Mir diving modules of the people inside, peering out with wonder. It’s a Spielbergian thing to do – except Cameron has already shown the real prize. Reaction shots (as Spielberg uses them) build anticipation before you seen the amazing thing eliciting the reaction. Showing a microbiologist goggling at the sunken treasure is just depriving the audience of what they now know they are missing. It fills us with envy, not wonder.

The rovers’ cameras are standard video, so we end up with crisp, gorgeous 3D film shots of Paxton going, “whoa” and grainy superimposed shots of the real show. This is of course an inevitable difficulty with the rovers, but why compound the discordance? At one point, the crew is discussing some of what they saw that day, and one guy talk about seeing a perfect shoe on a ledge. We never get to see this shoe, and that sums up the one real issue with this film: we get a very strong sense of the profundity of the experience for this small group privileged enough to go, and only a taste of the many tantalizing glimpses seen by them.

The film borders on awe-inspiring, borders on wondrous, but unfortunately, Cameron’s attempts to cop Spielberg’s sense of magic made the film fall sadly short. However, the footage you do see really is spectacular, so if it interests you at all, I recommend you see it on the big screen.

MPAA Rating G
Release date 4/11/03
Time in minutes 45
Director james Cameron
Studio Walt Disney Pictures

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The Ring

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I have to say, this movie is pretty deliciously scary. You know it’s good when the little prologue scene is enough to make you wiggle and pick your feet up and shout at the characters – and you don’t have ANY idea what is going on yet. I could be an arrogant ponce and chalk up my reaction (to the scene with the two vulnerably dressed teenagers walking in their huge, empty house) to having the insight that comes with a broad cinematic vocabulary. Who are we kidding? I’m no Pauline Kael, and what I was watching there up on screen was pure scary-ass good filmmaking.

As my loyal readers may recall, I saw feardotcom because it was thematically similar to this film, and I wanted to do a little fun compare contrast thing with it. But now, having seen both, I can say that beyond featuring an electronic medium that kills everyone who sees it in a finite amount of time, these films have nothing – nothing – in common. There goes the fun, but I am truly glad that my aborted little project allowed me to see The Ring. While we were eyerolling and yawning in feardotcom, we were gripping each other, our coats, or our faces during The Ring.

I have always enjoyed Good scary movies – Halloween, The Omen, The Shining, even Scream, and I have often enjoyed silly scary movies – Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream 3. I may need some time to pass to make it official, but The Ring is a Good scary movie. How do I know? We don’t know what the ring is, and the film doesn’t tell us, until the end, and that, obliquely. Now, when I look at the poster (ring of white light around the title) I get freaked out. That speaks effectiveness to me.

Then add a passel strong actors, actors who make you feel it, like Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, and haunted child David Dorfman, and a winding mystery of a script by Ehren Kruger (adapted from Koji Suzuki’s novel Ringu). All in all, the whole package is very effective. The video itself (which we get to watch, by the way) is not as horrifying as the images depicted in feardotcom, but somehow, its surreality is all the more spooky for being so seemingly benign. It’s a creepy rebus from an unknowable source (granted, some of feardotcom shares this as well) with a mystery to solve in just one week. The film itself is only very mildly gory. Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive) may never be in a “regular” movie, but if she can imbue Lynch with any meaning or depth, she does double duty on this film. Her on-screen child, Aidan, played by Dorfman, is wise and hollowed out in a way reminiscent of Haley Joel Osment’s character in the Sixth Sense.

Who directed it? Some auteur slumming in a new genre and as a result reinventing it? Yes and no, – it’s Gore Verbinski. Some of his movies people just didn’t go see, because they thought, “Mouse Hunt? That looks ridiculous.” I own and watch Mouse Hunt every couple of months. Or, “The Mexican? I dunno, looks like Hollywood tripe.” It was an independent little adventure film with good characters that happened to star Hollywood’s biggest cash cows. Well when I first got the press kit for The Ring, I thought, “A video tape that kills you? That’s Silence of the Hams! Skip.” I have seen all three of these films and I would be happy to discuss them at length on their deeper layers and merits, but the short version is: don’t judge a book by its cover. And see The Ring. The website is pretty scary too! Ring-themovie.com. That should give you a taste of the tone.

And rent Mouse Hunt. It’s surprisingly dark and cynical and delicious underneath the Nathan Lane wakka wakka.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 10/18/02
Time in minutes 115
Director Gore Verbinski
Studio Dreamworks

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fear dot com

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One of the greatest tragedies of some substandard movies is when one element is executed so well, so competently, so effectively – but the rest of the film is a laughable mish mosh of crap and silliness. This is what viewers of feardotcom will suffer.

First: The stuff that works. These people worked hard and deserve recognition (and are the reason the film isn’t relegated to Avoid At All Costs status), and heaven knows they probably won’t get it anywhere else but here. The premise is that there is a website called feardotcom.com (not www.fear.com, but www.feardotcom.com, which is stupid, but I am sure there was some licensing problem) which contains horrifying imagery, and 48 hours after one views this site, one dies a pretty unpleasant “natural” death, generally having to do with one’s worst fears. For example, an arachnophobe would be fatally bitten by a spider, or some such. When in doubt, a quick and dirty brain hemorrhage will do the trick.

Anyway, in the world of cinema, such conceits can be accepted, just like we accept the Matrix and alternate universes where Mel Gibson remains single into his 40’s. The site itself is a horrifying live-feed torture-and-snuff show, run by a known serial killer, known as The Doctor (Stephen Rea), with pretty intense graphics and disturbing, heebie-jeebie-arousing stuff. This, while perversely twisted, is actually executed (no pun intended) in the film brilliantly. No real gore, no actual violence is shown, yet it’s more disturbing than any moment in Silence of the Lambs or The Cell. And the “website” is also very spooky and cool. Bravo to the filmmakers for creating such a deeply terrifying cinematic invention. There is also a level deeper than just “evil doctor makes snuff site that kills,” which is a little corny but at least it’s trying.

However, the problem lies in the rest of the film. The dialogue is painful and motiveless, but nothing unexpected. See, Stephen Dorff (already a bad sign) is like, a cop, right, who knows the serial killer’s name and MO, gets letters from him every day, yet is unable to catch him. No doubt, a maniac with the web capabilities and bandwidth that The Doctor has, would have a paper trail. Don’t rent “Dorff on Policework” any time soon. Seriously, if he had watched 3 episodes of Barney Miller before taking this role, he would have been infinitely more convincing. Waving his gun around anywhere but where it could be useful, stumbling through a crime scene, and of course, his determination to find the culprit by becoming a victim are just examples. Not only did the audience groan and snicker, they laughed, hooted, and tsked. Once he calls in the forensic programmer, it was all over.

Enter the dame, Natascha McElhone, who, as an unspecified employee of the Department of Health, has less street cred than Dorff but at least she has an excuse; she also happens to be more resourceful and uses both sides of her brain at the same time to solve the case. Every time these two hapless yahoos are on screen, the movie is tedious and almost-funny. When the Doctor or the website lady (a Sharon Stonesque blonde who apparently wants you to watch her be hurt, but then kills you) are on screen, the movie is genuinely scary.

MPAA Rating R for grisly torture, nudity and language
Release date 8/30/02
Time in minutes 98
Director William Malone
Studio Warner Bros

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I am pleased to report that the incredibly effective music in the preview is in the film, a rarity. Also some of the takes used in the preview aren’t as good as the ones in the film; saving the effective stuff for the Real Show. My summary: Not as good as the Sixth Sense but much better than Unbreakable.

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Scream 3

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Despite the online film criticism community being locked out of press screenings of this movie (despite assurances that we would not post until opening day) by wicked Dimension Films, I still went to see it on opening weekend. Maybe it was the lack of internet-generated buzz that made the seats so empty! Maybe it was fear of a Nightmare on Elm Street-style debacle that kept them away. Me personally, I thought it was a hoot, as did my companion.

Quick note: So, I could have had a third companion, who had only seen Scream 1, but he did not groove on the meta-fictional irony of the first movie. Having been unimpressed by the first, he did not see the second. My companion who did come in pointed out that meta-creation is best appreciated by those who appreciate the original genre in the first place. That made sense. So keep in mind that I dig “real” horror movies and I think Scream 2 was the best of the three. Scream 3 is meta meta meta! Without giving any details, let’s say it’s impossible to describe some of the crazy surrealism of the movie. A close approximation would be Sean Connery playing the bad guy in a new James Bond film and talking about the actor named Sean Connery. It’s more than just a wink-wink cameo, though, it would be like, Indy’s hat and whip showing up on President Harrison Ford’s desk in Air Force Two.

Scream 3 reunites some of the old gang (even a posthumous cameo from Jamie Kennedy, the lovable video store clerk from Scream 1 & 2) while Hollywood makes a franchise loosely based on the original true story (sound familiar?). The nudge nudge aspect of that joke is that Hollywood knows it takes a real story and makes its own monster out of it…witness Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. So, Stab 3 is not based on real life events, as Stab1 was. I promise, this sounds like I am giving away stuff but I am so not! Therefore, there are no rules to be broken – no sequel rules as in 2; no classic horror rules as in 1. Thence the super-meta. Basically it was fun and not dissatisfying, but the meta sort of overwhelmed the story after a while. Me, I dig that play-within-a-play stuff, but it doesn’t make for big visceral scares.

Long-missed Parker Posey plays the actress playing Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox)- and oh my god she cracked me up! Parker’s Waiting for Guffman alum Matt Keeslar plays Deputy Dewey (you know, the role played by real life Mr. Courtney Cox David Arquette) but I don’t think that their actor characters were supposed to be dating…should have been, though. Keeslar, formerly known as Box Office Poison With A Bad Agent, seems to have taken some dialect instruction and gotten a new agent! Yay Matt! Forgive him the mustache, it’s all for art. Seinfeld’s Puddy, Jenny McCarthy (perfect) and some newish faces (Scott Foley, Patrick Dempsey, Deon Richmond) help fill out the cast roster and body count. Now, keep in mind, we have to keep track of all the living Scream 1/2 survivors (Sidney, Cotton, Gale, Dewey) as well as the actors who play them and other characters that die/died – as well as keep up with the back story. So this is no brainless horror film with a bunch of Hollywood inside gags (though they are there too)…

And, in keeping with the Scream franchise in general, no real nudity at all!

Wes Craven directs. This can be good or bad, depending on where you stand. Some of his stuff are classics (Nightmare on Elm Street, the Scream franchise), some are…well, Shocker and The Hills Have Eyes 2. I think he did a good job keeping all the story lines straight, but kind of went for the very gratuitous “get on with it” murder spree that flaws all straight horror franchises. I could say it was intentional and ironic, but it felt messier than Scream 2. The laughs were comparable but the suspense was diminished in 3. He did get a tad heavy handed with his various red herrings, but is partially vindicated for one stupid fax sequence by using Heather Matarazzo as a cameo.

So, go see it. It’s fun. See if you can spot the “homages” also known as “satirical rip-offs.”

MPAA Rating R for strong horror violence and language.
Release date 2/4/00
Time in minutes 116
Director Wes Craven
Studio Dimension Films