April 2011

I hate myself a little for typing that title; Scre4m. In fact, I have half a mind to thumb my nose at it and type Scream 4 just to annoy it. I mean, who does it think it is? Se7en?

I won’t lie. I like the Scream franchise. I even quite liked Scream 3. Or should that be Scr3am? In fact, the only thing I didn’t like about the whole affair was it “inspired” the diabolical Scary Movie (by someone who clearly missed the point) and everything else that spewed out from it. So this has a big mask to fill.

Survivor from the previous outings, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), has written a book on her experiences and, for reasons best not queried too aggressively, organises her book tour visit to Woodsboro to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the, em, Woodsboro Killings. This proves to be as half-assed an idea as it seems on paper and lo and behold, but the killings start up again. Let’s face it, it wouldn’t be much of a slasher movie if no one got slashed. Somewhere, deep below the surface, it’s saying something about the victim culture but, hey, it’s no social commentary. Folk are going to get stabbed. Lots of them. It’ll probably hurt quite a bit.

Director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson team up for the first time since 1997’s Scream 2 and right from the clever outset, it’s clear that we’re in experienced hands. The self-referential dialogue and genre nods never feel too forced and although it borrows elements from its prequels — movie geeks and wannabes sucking up to Gale and the opening scene from Stab — it does it in a way that feels up a notch and lets you know it’s doing it and asks you trust it. It knows what it’s doing.

Courtney Cox Arquette and David Arquette Cox reprise their roles and given the grotesque pantomime feel of the movie, they seem to have the most fun while heroine Campbell is pretty much asked to be the poor maiden in distress again. Fresh blood added to the cast include Hayden Panetierre in a far more cynical role than her work on Heroes would lead you to believe.

The kills and shocks are as plentiful as you’d expect and while there are only a certain number of ways you can show someone being stabbed, for the large part it feels fresh and typical of this rebooted vision of what is at its heart a tried and tested formula. If there’s any doubt about that, in a typically hoarse phone conversation, Ghostface reminds us that Peeping Tom came out in the 1960.

If it has a failing it’s that the identity of the killer doesn’t come as a huge surprise and it really has the previous three films to blame for that. If it’s all about playing by the rules then, well, we’ve had a six hour lesson leading up to this. And anyway, the rollercoaster isn’t all about the end, it’s the journey, and for a couple of hours of fun and gore, it doesn’t disappoint.

When the most impressive couple of things in a movie are Natalie Portman’s bare buttocks, and when the funniest thing is a severed bull’s penis, it can’t say very much about the rest of it. Well, maybe it does say a lot about it, but none of it good.

Set in an alternate version of the Middle Ages, Your Highness tells (well, I say tells) the story (well, I say story) of a royal odd couple of princes. Fabious (James Franco) is the hero, his brother, Thadeous (Danny McBride) isn’t. When Fabious’s fiancée (Zooey Deschanel) is kidnapped by the evil Leezar, the brothers have to team up and launch a quest to rescue the fair maiden. Along the way, the characters use 21st Century idioms and swears in amongst the forsooths and ye gads and it’s this tiresome juxtaposition that’s supposed to coax every … single … laugh the movie can be bothered to muster.

Look, it’s awful. It made me angry. When it finished, I was so happy I almost fooled myself into thinking I quite enjoyed it. I doubt I’ll see a worse film this year. Thinking about it again is giving me a headache. So instead of pecking out another few hundred words about this thief of time, here’s a recipe for jambalaya that I think you’ll quite enjoy.

You will need (for six generous servings):

  • 3 lbs. shrimp
  • 1 lb. smoked sausage
  • 2 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 cup onions, chopped
  • 1 cup green peppers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
  • 1 can of tinned tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup green onions, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. basil
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (or more, if you so desire. I desire.)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. cloves
  • 1/8 tsp. allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. chilli powder
  • 1 1/2 cups long grain rice

First, peel the shrimp. Then, slice the sausage and saute in oil and butter over low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the onions, green peppers, celery and garlic and saute slowly until the vegetables are tender and then stir in the tomatoes, seasonings, rice and stock. Add the shrimp and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 25-30 minutes, or until rice is fluffy. During the last 5 minutes of cooking add the green onions and chopped parsley. Serve and enjoy.

CHARITY CANVASSER: Do you like animals, madam?

WOMAN: They’re very tasty, yes. Thank you.

Like most British teens in the mid to late 80s, I found myself rushing home from school to catch up on antipodean soap operas Neighbours and Home & Away. At school there was an almost sectarian divide between the fan base of each show. Personally, I walked the line and liked both equally. But even through that, and even at such a tender age, I realised there was something missing from these 22 minute slices of life down under. Yes, it was all well and good seeing the latest exploits of Dr Clive Gibbons, or hearing Alf Stewart say Strewth or call someone a Gallah, or see the LSD induced hallucinations of a domesticated dog. But what I really wanted to happen was for the young ‘uns in both series to team up and fight a guerrilla war against an invading force from an unnamed Pacific Rim country. Some twenty years later, I’ve finally got my wish.

I jest.

But in a nutshell, that’s exactly what Aussie teen-drama Tomorrow, When The War Began serves up. Well, that and a comma and awkward tense to make the purchase of the ticket that little bit more uncomfortable.

In the opening set-up sequence we’re introduced to the seven main characters through the eyes of seventeen-year-old Ellie, played by Caitlin Stasey. In a bit of a false step that resonates through the rest of the movie, we learn that the gang mostly aren’t great friends and they’re all a little different and yes, it does feel a bit like The Breakfast Club with an equally optimistic view on what reasonably passes for a teenager (think Judd Nelson who was well into his seventies when he played eighteen-year-old John Bender). In the second set-up, while the audience is wondering if two set-up sequences are really necessary, the newly-formed band go bush for a few days to celebrate the end of school or something. When they return to civilisation from their isolated idyll, they find their parents gone, homes deserted and an invading force rounding people up and sticking them in a field where presumed bad things are going to happen. Australia, it seems, has been invaded. It’s here, some thirty minutes into proceedings, that the movie finally starts.

The action sequences are very well done indeed. Full of tension — at times unbearably so — and making good, practical use of the baddies behind the flashlights technique. Sadly, though, it’s the human side of the war that lets the movie down. With the exception of Stasey, Deniz Akdeniz who plays Homer (yes, I know) and an all too brief cameo from Andy Ryan as Stoner Chris, the rest of the pack are largely charisma-free zones and the fact that we’re never sure if any of them have much of a shared backstory makes it very difficult to comprehend the risks they undertake for each other or the speed at which they adapt to their new surroundings and new rules.

It also feels trapped in a very difficult place where it wants to be taken seriously as a tough invasion movie — to the point where there’s a heavy-handed symbolic reference to Aborigines and colonialism — and then in the next minute there’s some throwaway chick-movie exchange that must surely be there to raise a chuckle. It’s almost like director and writer Stuart Beattie didn’t have the guts to be true to the concept. And for a movie that’s based on a book, why he allowed the line “Most books are better than the movie” to avoid the cutting room floor is anyone’s guess. I don’t really need the reminder.

And for the second time in as many movies, I’m again surprised at what passes for 12A. If some liberal effin and jeffin and doobage smoking isn’t enough, some of the violence certainly felt on the 15 side of strong.

From a Neighbours fan perspective, it has curio value to see what Caitlin Stasey’s been up to since leaving the show but even at that you’re not likely to kick yourself if the movie is in and out of town before you can muster up the energy to go see it.

DRUNK WOMAN: Do I look pregnant to you?

DRUNK MAN: You will in five minutes.

In years to come when the alien overlords finally take over this pitiful planet and when they ask us what we mean by this Earth phrase “all style and no content”, one bright-eyed protegy — possibly dubbed The New Hope by his peers — will reach into a 22nd Century bargain bin and take out a dusty copy of the Sucker Punch DVD. The alien overlords will snap their fingers, point at The New Hope and nod. “Gotcha,” they’ll say.

The best way to describe the latest offering from director Zach Snyder (300, Watchmen) is to liken it to a five-year-old child playing a pinball machine for the first time. He’s not exactly sure what he’s doing, he can’t exactly see the point, but the pretty bells and whistles keep him frantically flapping the paddles and hoping it’ll all work out for the best in the end.

In summary, it’s not just a stupid movie; it’s a stupid music video for a stupid song that lasts for two stupid hours.

Emily Browning (The Uninvited) plays Baby Doll, a twenty-year-old orphan, obviously abused by her stepfather, who accidentally kills her sister instead of him and then finds herself institutionalised in the Lennox House Mental Hospital For Pussycat Doll Rejects. There, she’s about to be lobotomised when she retreats into an alternative world where she and the rest of The Saturdays fight battles against steam-powered Nazis on Mordor. Or something.

Look, it doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is it’s an excuse to have five attractive young women in basques and fishnet stockings fire big guns and wave samurai swords at monsters that aren’t really there. Go in with that expectation and you may not be disappointed. You just probably will be.

To be fair, it does look lovely. The scenes that have their feet more in the top layer of reality have a wonderful bleached, almost black and white palette. The further we sink into Baby Dolls’s subconscious, the more vibrant the colours become. The effects, when they hang around long enough to be appreciated, are pretty impressive. Sadly, any comparisons with Inception — or with Wizard of Oz for that matter — start and end there. The whole affair has a comic book feel to it and is clearly shot with that medium in mind. It’s hard not to wish it had stayed on the page.

And that’s really it. There’s nothing else there except a possible continuity issue where 1950s cars appear alongside iPods, Björk’s Army of Me and a woeful cover of Where is My Mind? That, and a lingering bad aftertaste in the mouth that this is what passes for 12A material these days. The acting is so wooden that the Greeks could use it to infiltrate Troy, the direction is all over the place and the plot … well, we’re back to the pinball machine again.

I came out of the cinema wishing I’d just stayed in the car, shut my eyes for 120 minutes and thought of something else.

Every second you read this is a second you don’t spend watching Source Code. In fact, at a theatre somewhere in the world, Source Code is about to start and you’re going to miss it because you’ve just read this sentence. Well, perhaps not just because of that. Maybe the traffic’s bad. Or maybe you need to wait for a babysitter. Or perhaps you’ve just finished your dinner and you think you need to wait an hour before you do anything else — although if this is the case, you may be confusing watching Source Code with swimming.

Source Code, in case you’re wondering, is the second film from Duncan Jones, who you may remember from Moon and David Bowie’s loins. Moon, by any standard, was an amazing film; classic sci-fi told with attention to storytelling and character and not so much on things exploding.

Well, it’s pleasing to note that this delicious debut looks to have been more than a lucky punt. Everything that was great about Moon is alive and well and pulsing through the veins of Source Code and as an added bonus, something explodes every eight minutes or so. Since Inception and Adjustment Bureau, it’s perhaps not quite so unusual to come across a mainstream science fiction movie that understands its audience has a brain but in any event, Source Code is a more than worthy addition to the stable. One can only hope that the budget surely afforded to Duncan Jones after his first two efforts isn’t enough to tempt him from the exciting path he’s on.

A remarkably buff Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain) plays Capt. Colter Stevens who wakes to find himself in the body of Sean Fentress, sitting on a train he doesn’t remember boarding, across from a woman he doesn’t recognise but who insists she knows him (Christina played by Michelle Monaghan of Due Date and Gone Baby Gone fame). Eight minutes later, a bomb goes off on the train, killing everyone on board and hurling our hero back to a mysterious capsule where he communicates with his commanding officer (Vera Farmiga) and learns that his mission is to replay those eight minutes inside Sean Fentress’s body until he can identify the bomber. But the clock is ticking down to further atrocities and, as you’d expect, millions of lives are at risk.

If that all sounds like what would happen if Quantum Leap and Groundhog Day had too much wine and decided to share a room, then you’re probably not too wide off the mark but you’re certainly missing some of the movie’s finer points.

Jones combines concept sci-fi with romance, humour, theoretical quantum physics, consequentialist philosophy and hi-octane thrills and does it in an hour-and-a-half and in such a way that is still a joy to absorb and engage. Shame on McG. Shame on Michael Bay. Shame on every other director in the world who thinks they can serve up two hours of random mince, explosions and plot famines as an alternative to decent storytelling.

Performances from the leads are right on the money — and I really need to stop being surprised by how much I enjoy Jake Gyllenhaal — but special mention has to go to Vera Farmiga. The last I saw of her was in Henry’s Crime and before that in Up in the Air and although she hardly put a foot wrong in both films. she was just born to play the role of Goodwin, the seemingly starchy connection between Colter Stevens and the “real” world.

If the movie has a failing then perhaps the very last few minutes of pretty bow fixing are a little heavy-handed but in its defence, the bow is very pretty indeed, is tied with love and care and is probably one of those bows you’d happily pay another £7 to go see being affixed again.