Friday, October 28, 2011

Halloween special: Scream 4

I've always regarded myself as a true fan of the Scream franchise and would even openly defend its horror honour from the verbal attacks of friends, that would belittle it for its cheesy approach to teen murders. So you shouldn't find it very surprising that I was quite excited when I heard that the fourth installment was on its way... But even even though I was looking forward to seeing Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Sidney Prescott  (Neve Campbell) run around covered in blood again, I have to admit that I had my doubts about how well Wes Craven's popular slasher franchise would hold up after so many years.

And to my own extreme dismay, I found my worst movie fears realised: The screams in Scream 4 just aren't as scary or entertaining as they were back when I was a teenager. And no, I don't think it's merely because I can't seem to connect with the very unfortunate teens – It's got more to do with the direction horror movies in general have taken the last decade and when one considers this, it makes Scream 4 look really, really old. And it's quite a shame, as a lot of work has gone into this film in order to make sure it stays true to its demented roots, with more than a few exciting stabs and chases to keep things relatively interesting.

I also really appreciated the fact that the entire core cast returned for this one – A huge part of the series' success is directly due to the strong emotional connections with the original survivors and seeing them reunited again after so many years is a great cinematic treat for die-hard fans of the series. The rest of the cast, that includes Rory Culkin, Emma Roberts, Adam Brody (and even a guest appearance by Anna Paquin) can also be mentioned for their believable performances as inevitable slasher victims.

"...seeing them reunited again after so many years is a great cinematic treat for die-hard fans."

Getting back to the important stuff, I would really have enjoyed some more gory death scenes – It's not that they were horribly bad, it's just that they would have benefited from some more deliberate showerings of blood and human insides.  I suspect my bloodlust comes from movies like Saw and Final Destination, but still, it just seemed like the killers could have mutilated their victims a tad bit more.

Thankfully, Scream's meta-textual (referring to itself in an ironic matter) approach still works wonderfully for the series and maybe even better due to the long list of movies that have parodied the film for years and years.  It just wouldn't have made sense if the film took itself too seriously, so poking/stabbing fun at itself was definitely a clever move.

All in all, the movie is a return to form for the Scream series, but the problem is that it's a return to a franchise that seems very old and cheesy. Nevertheless, fans will adore the film's loyalty and those who have never seen the film is sure to be left with a sadistic grin. A perfect DVD for this weekend's Halloween festivities.

Poor Sidney  Prescott just can't seem to catch a break...

Highlight: There was one scene that really got my attention... it made a white room seem very red and a unfortunate victim's bed look like a surgeon's operating table – Nicely done, Mr Craven!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Three Musketeers (3D)

Recently I've stopped reading other film reviews before I watch a film myself, for the simple reason that I don't want my opinion being influenced by some geeky middle-aged man living in a New York apartment. And whilst I mostly still appreciate their professional opinions afterwards, I don't always seem to agree with the general critical consensus of certain films.

The latest cinematic rendition of The Three Musketeers is a clear example of my critical rebellion. Paul W.S. Anderson's (Resident Evil, Event Horizon, Mortal Kombat) version of these French freedom fighters' inspiring legend has been criticized for being uninteresting and bland, but I beg to differ. 

The first thing that stands out to me is the film's breathtaking beauty as it paints a gorgous historic canvas, smothered in generous dollops of bright colours that seem to jump out of the screen. Set pieces are painstakingly detailed and gloriously over the top, complemented with outragous and lavish costumes that must have made it even easier for the actors to get into character. All of this makes the adventure exceptionally easy to get in to, as you marvel at all the little touches that you get treated to. And whilst I must admit that I don't know if much of the story is historically correct, it just doesn't matter in the greater scheme of this modern cinematic adventure.

" paints a gorgous historic canvas, smothered in generous dollops of bright colours that seem to jump out of the screen."

A formiddable cast of unknowns and a few blockbuster heavyweights duke it out in The Three Musketeers.  There are some great villains in the form of Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil, The Fourth Kind), Christopher Waltz (Water for Elephants, Inglorious Basters) and even Orlando Bloom (Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, Troy) . Waltz is as great as ever and Mila serves up the film's sexiest and most impressive action sequences.

On the other end of the spectrum are the musketeers themselves, played by a group of relatively unknown, but quite capable actors. Of these Matthew MacFadyen ( Death at a Funeral, Pride and Prejudice) is by far the standout. The fourth musketeer, played by Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson, Gamer, Riding in card with boys) is however the most noticable and his presence alone makes the film much more accessible to a younger audience. And the best part it, he plays his role really well, as a hard-assed, but honourable fellow musketeer.

The king, played by Freddie Fox is however definitely my personal favourite as he manages to steal the limelight from the musketeers with his great knack for awkard comedy and surprisingly involved character development. To be honest, the movie is quite light and funny in general, even though there is a serious thread that binds all of the film's characters and their independent stories. Whilst some might argue the movie is too playful, I do feel it works in its favour.

"...the movie is quite light and funny in general, even though there is a serious thread that binds all of the film's characters and their independent stories."

On the flipside, I have to admit that the action aspect of the film is a bit lacking, with them being few in number and a bit dissapointing in terms of spectacle.Yes, this is a bit of a dissapointment, but the film has much more going for it. I did also feel that the action sequences benfitted from the minimalistic use of 3D, something I can't say about many action adventure films.

All in all, I really enjoyed The Three Musketeers: It's got lots of style, quirky dialogue, interesting characters and is a real visual pleasure. I think the problem comes in when people expect the film to be all about swashbuckling action (more of a Pirates of the Carribean appraoch), due to misleading promotional material that attempts to make the film seem more accessible than it truly is. Nevertheless, I'm quite sure even the most hardcore action fans will appreciate the film's slightly off-beat approach to the genre and seeing it on the big screen is a must!

Logan is surprisingly good...

Highlight: Most scenes that include the young king, but if I had to single out one, I would have to settle for his discussion with the youngest musketeer about the delicate matter of charming the fairer race.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Final Destination 5 (3D)

I just want to warn you upfront – This review is not all objective. With that in mind, I proudly present my thoughts on the fifth installment of the Final Destination movie franchise, a film series that I have very fond, but sick & twisted memories of.

It’s been a while since I’ve been impressed by a Final Destination movie and I’ve been hoping for years now that a director would come along that made one that gets close to the brilliance achieved by the very first Final Destination film. While it might be a bit of a stretch to appoint Final Destination 5 as an equal to the first, it is definitely (in my opinion) the best and most satisfying installment since then.

There are a few things that work in the film’s favour: Firstly, and most importantly, the death scenes are truly brilliant, with a few of them even exceeding the creativity of the signature fatalities from the original. Highlights include an excruciatingly painful, but exhilarating gymnastics practice session as well as an eye-operation gone horribly south. What make these scenes brilliant however are not the gory climaxes, but the clever build-up of nerve wracking tension, as relatively unknown director Steven Quale does a superb job at balancing the eye-popping moments of flesh explosions with stressful minutes of pure dread.

"Steven Quale does a superb job at balancing the eye-popping moments of flesh explosions with stressful minutes of pure dread."

But to be frank, this is the one department that Final Destination films have always done at least half-right, which means that successful goriness alone is not going to be enough to propel this mindless popcorn fest above the bulk of its predecessors. But luckily, Final Destination 5 also benefits from the inclusion of a quite capable cast of nobodies, that do a creditable job at not being too irritating before they get drowned, decapitated deboned and so forth. Nichola D’Agost (Fired-up, Mardi Gras) plays the role of sensitive semi-jock commendably, whilst David Koechner (Piranha 3D, Balls of Fury, Snakes on a Plane) serves as the films only really familiar face.

Please don’t mistake my comment as a direct praising of the actors’ talents however – It’s still quite bad, but does serve as definite a step up from past installments. And in a movie where acting is such a secondary point of consideration, you don’t even mind some of the more horrible caricatures, like a fat & geeky male chauvinist clown.

The plot follows the typical Final Destination template, but colours it in with some interesting twists & turns that you might not see coming and even if you do, you’re likely to at least appreciate the writer’s deliberate attempt of spicing up the franchise with some fleshy detours.

3D effects are used sparingly, but when it does come into play, you can expect some ‘eye-popping’ visual delicacies that manage to heighten the film’s shock factor quite considerably during certain key mutilations. The best example of the effective use of 3D however happens very early in the movie, in the form of a beautiful opening credits roll – You’re struggling to believe that credits can be exciting, aren’t you?  But nevertheless, it’s small little details like these that you’ll come to appreciate as your realize the film is far more polished than the last few entries of the series.

"... it’s small little details like these that you’ll come to appreciate as your realize the film is far more polished than the last few entries of the series."

That all being said, non-fans will probably still not be converted by this one and the film is still very much only for those who like their films with a deliberate sprinkling of bloody cheese. But those who like their comedy black and don’t mind a clich├ęd storyline will definitely find a lot to indulge in!

Yes, this is going to end badly.

Highlight: All I can say (without giving anything away) is that the best scene in the movie involves a screw… Gymnastics will never be the same again!