The Hot and Cold of A Bigger Splash

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Contrary to Google’s listing as a Mystery/Crime, A Bigger Splash spends more time being an intimate relationship drama between lovers and friends. My theory is someone is trying to pitch a different genre to strengthen appeal which I find wholly unnecessary as the tensions and flirtation the plot contains is more than worth watching. Fading Rockstar Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) and hubby Paul (Matthew Schoenaerts) are vacationing on a remote Italian island as she recovers from vocal surgery when her former lover and producer Harry (Ralph Fiennes) unexpectedly drops by with his estranged daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson). Through fantastic performances and sporadic flashbacks we discover these characters passions and temptation as the long weekend turns sour. Because Swinton and Fiennes are such angelic actors, it’s mesmerizing to watch them on screen as they really sell their history and evolution as people. The plot falls off in the third act when it becomes that promised crime/mystery which is such a departure from what you’ve enjoyed so far that the film feels lost in an attempt for a grand finale.

I would describe the performances and filmmaking as probably bigger than need but fascinating to watch. Fiennes is so high energy as a coked up music producer who doesn’t know the meaning of “inside voice”. He’s boisterous and flamboyant as he lives by no one’s rules. He swims naked, releases manic, choreographed dance numbers to Rolling Stones hits and is ready to screw every pretty woman he sees. Swinton combats his presence with a mostly silent performance conveying so much with a glance or a nod. The directing and editing is equally flashy. It’s a voyeuristic film as we gaze at beautiful bodies and countryside. Director Luca Guadagnino always chooses something different to focus on whether it be the iPhone thrown on a chair or big sunglasses adorning Marianne’s petite face. We jump from POV and tight close ups to wide shots of the secluded villa showing the containment of our characters with nowhere to go. At times it felt like Guadagnino showing off but moments such as the climactic pool scene that take us on a wild ride of a one take with spinning, diving underwater and a wide pull back are effective and are what make a small drama a spectacle.

The third act is where it all falls apart. Suddenly we need this major plot twist that sends our characters into turmoil even though there emotions have already accomplished that. It raised far more questions than I would have welcomed, most notably it broadens Penelope’s character but not in a good way. She has remained a sexy enigma for most of a film. She causes chaos for enjoyment while wearing cut off shorts and see through tops. I liked her as this mysterious temptress but by the end she has all these extraneous traits that make her more frustrating than intriguing. Also with this twist, the current humanitarian issue of illegal migration to the islands along Europe’s coast becomes a forefront theme which I had not expected nor do I think the film can clearly express what it’s posing with this imagery. It’s a background element via newscasts and when Paul and Penelope run into a small group of Africans on hike which is an interesting choice for a movie about rich white people but by the end these refugees are now a scapegoat for the privileged and there’s no way Bigger Splash earns this highly charged political agenda.

Middling conclusion aside, the relationships and the style make this a worthwhile film. You can enjoy scenic Italy mixed with some of the best acting talents we have. It’s all very European with its use of nudity and general feelings towards the fluidity of love if that’s something you’re into. I’m overly used to Dakota Johnson’s boobs but still surprised to see a dong on screen. Yes, that is how I wanted to end my review, bringing up dong appreciation. This is the female perspective the world is asking for.

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The Continued Relevance of Observe and Report

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Observe and Report which was released in 2009 feels more relevant at capturing our current anxieties than it might of realized seven years ago. Since then we live in a post Trayvon Martin America that has brought vigilantism, gun control and police brutality to the forefront of the public consciousness. Not that these problems didn’t exist then, you can still sense remnants of Columbine or any horrific event of someone unstable in possession of a weapon as the backdrop of this film. It’s strange to think these elements turn into a smart dark comedy but not a surprise that no one wanted to see it. There’s a reason it was enormously out grossed by Paul Blart: Mall Cop because viewing audiences rather see a goofy fat man fall down than a satirical indictment of gun culture and confronting mental illness. It’s a hard sell and received a very mixed response due to the questions of director Jody Hill’s intent to glorify a troubled character that reads more like a psychopath we’d hear about on the evening new.

I don’t think Ronnie, played by Seth Rogen in his most versatile, non stoner role, is meant to be a hero. We assume that because he’s the lead, the film must be on his side. There is definitely sympathy towards him because there are circumstances that are out of his control like having bipolar disorder and living with an alcoholic mother who isn’t the best at guiding her stunted son into adulthood that. Still this is a difficult character to cheer for. It’s important to state that a lot of Hill films deal with middle America people. Working class guys who more liberal, city people like myself can be judgmental of. I say this because Ronnie’s biggest red flag is his obsession with firearms. There is a scene close to the beginning that he and two of his fellow mall cop employees, the Yuen Twins (John and Matt Yuan), attend a shooting range where they fire off the largest guns available at their paper targets. Intercut, they discuss new weapons on the market and how great it would be to carry them on the job. I realize this is a normal interest to some people but it’s very frightening to see their enthusiasm and knowledge of the handheld killing machines. The movie wants you to be uncomfortable about this. Even though it’s played for laughs when Ronnie is describing this epic tapestry of a dream he has of saving lives with a shotgun to the psyche examiner at the police academy, you’re meant to be as afraid as her. Ronnie is detached from reality, partially because halfway through the film he goes off his meds but even before that this is someone with little life purpose. The driving action to ignite the little plot the film has is a flasher starts a rampage of exposing himself to women in the parking lot. Ronnie promotes himself to investigator to find “the pervert” especially when the man flashes the woman he loves most, Brandi (Anna Faris), a ditzy, high maintenance cosmetics employee. The concerns arise when Ronnie believes he has found a purpose in vigilantism under the guise of rent-a-cop attire.

It’s important to note that almost all the characters are despicable which both helps and hurts Ronnie’s case. In one instance we see Ronnie racially profile Saddamn, played by Aziz Ansari, as the mall flasher. It’s obvious they have beef and it’s off putting to see Ronnie accuse him due to his ethnicity but as we entered that scene, Saddamn was creepily touching a female mall patron. He is now equally complicate as an untrustworthy person in this case towards women but it does give the movie a brief moment to talk race relations that it otherwise moves past. The one biggest instance it could address the tension between police and and minorities is when Ronnie participates in a ride along and gets dropped into a sketchy part of town. The gang he encounters and unexpected triumphs over is vaguely Latino and headed by Danny McBride as a white cholo. It’s understandable that Hill would want to work with his old standard McBride since they jump started each other’s careers with The Foot Fist Way but it creates a more comedic moment of Bride overacting and being silly only to be shown up by Ronnie instead of portraying tension between a white faux cop like Ronnie and anyone of color.

The film makes sure to distinguish the difference between Ronnie and the police though neither are painted valiantly. Ray Liotta plays Detective Harrison that is assigned to take on the case of the flasher as well as a series of burglaries occurring in the mall. In typical Liotta fashion, he comes off as a jerk as he is extremely mean to Ronnie though it’s understandable as Ronnie is immaturely hostile to the man he views as invading his territory. But Ronnie is clearly is his own entity acting outside the law as we see in a montage as he and his right hand man Dennis (Michael Peña) commit debauchery throughout the mall, beating up skate kids, spying on women in the dressing room and doing all the drugs. All this is instigated by Dennis but it shows regular guys getting drunk on their small amount power provided by a badge. Still the film’s climax is of the equally excessive force of the police as Harrison sends in a small brigade to take down Ronnie who has holed up in the mall. While it’s exciting to watch Ronnie fight cops in some hand to hand combat they do end up beating him mercilessly on the floor. It’s scenes like this that flip flop on how you should feel towards Ronnie. He is shown hauled away from the mall in slow motion, bloodied but victorious. This is followed not long after by what should be the big resolution of the film of catching the infamous pervert which Ronnie does by shooting him point blank in front of the makeup counter. It’s jarring as it comes after a comedic chase between a stumbling Ronnie and long takes of a man’s junk. We’re supposed to be shocked by this violent action even though Brandi, his former manager and city see him as a hero.

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I do want to mention the scene that is most contentious and that many were offended as it relates to the unawareness of rape culture. Brandi is an infatuation for our lead and after multiples instances of stalking her and making her visibly uncomfortable, he shows up at her house for an imaginary date. It’s obvious to us he can’t read the signs of her disinterest but it is also conveyed that she a shallow and unlikable character with her douchey friends and the condescending way she speaks of her customers. On their “date” she gets wasted and indulges in some of Ronnie’s anti-psychotic meds. He takes her home and after she vomits on the front lawn, we see him having sex with her passed out body. It’s date rape and it’s uncomfortable. I’ve always found it the gut punch of the film because it is that slight step too far. Throughout it toes this line of Ronnie being flawed, everybody is flawed but he’s complicated because he’s both a danger yet sympathetic. Here we see that much like not being able to pick up on her signals, he’s unaware that what he’s doing is wrong which is often the case with date rape. The miseducation of what is consent and how Ronnie believes that his actions are welcomed are because she doesn’t say no and in her extremely inebriated state when Ronnie briefly questions his conduct she slurs “why did you stop, motherfucker?” I don’t think Jodi Hill had any intention of condoning this behavior. This is a movie seen through Ronnie’s perspective but the film is aware that Ronnie isn’t always right, quite often he makes the wrong moral call but while most viewers know that killing is bad, consent is still (surprisingly) a gray area in the public conversation. Hill didn’t intentionally put this in the film to stir up controversy but he didn’t do enough to address it either. That night is never brought up again between the characters and it’s something that I wish could have better resolved considering how this is a sensitive subject.

I believe Observe and Report would have been better understood if it had come out after the success of Hill’s HBO hit comedy Eastbound and Down. In that series Kenny Powers played by Danny McBride is a similar big dog in a small town but more noticeably awful as he is egotistical and disrespectful to everyone. Kenny has less of an excuse for his dickish behavior since he’s a guy who let fame get to his head while Ronnie is a more an innocent man child whose obsession leans towards guns rather than baseball though both are reprehensible towards women and minorities. Eastbound is easier to get behind because it’s more clear cut that Kenny is a terrible person who you’re laughing at not laughing with for all his poor decision making. Ronnie’s has a lot of external forces making him the unsettling antihero we see on screen. He’s all gray area wherein Kenny we can unanimously hate.
I think it’d be even harder to make a comedy like this today with our current distrust of the police and the constant deadly shootings we hear on the news. It’s funny to see the 21 Jump Street guys have epic fails with their police work but watching a lone, bipolar gun nut patrolling a mall hits too close to home. It’s important to still make satires that can make light of these situations while reminding us to be aware of these warning signs. While twisted, this is a movie told through the perspective of a dangerous person. Rogen makes him lovable through his beta charm but you know that from an outsider’s perspective, he’s someone you’d avoid. The story is hyperbolic but the grounded setting makes it not far off from the relatable small town malls many of us grew up with. Ronnie is that creepy kid who didn’t know how to talk to girls and probably lived in the dilapidated house down the street no one wanted to walk past. He’s a real world and scary character but also at times a disarming, sympathetic person which conflicts our moral sensibility. This is my plea for a grossly overlooked film that continues to offer more in our current political and social atmosphere. If anything, it holds up better than Paul Blart.

Money Monster Review

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Money Monster is a testament of George Clooney’s talent and continued success as an actor. I don’t think this film would have survived without him. Going in, I already felt like it suffered from overexposure as I’ve seen this trailer with every movie for the last two months. I was expected to be annoyed hearing the same banter between him and Julia Roberts or by Jack O’Connell’s unplaceable Boston/Brooklyn/British accent. The latter was still grating but Clooney lights up the screen with his smarmy comments and energetic charisma. The performances and character interactions carry a film whose whodunnit plot manages to be both extremely basic and confusing.

I was inherently sold with the flashy atmosphere of a CNN type financial show hosted by cocky finance personality Lee Gates (Clooney). Besides the cheesy graphics and the ridiculous hip hop infused back up dancers to open the show (in which Lee joins in), you got a sense of the community of all those a part of the program. There’s the slight contention of director Patty (Roberts) who took another job because of needing a break from Gates, the young producer Ron (Christopher Denham) who gets fucked with for being so green and the loyal cameraman Lenny (Lenny Venito) who knows someone has to do the job. They’re all overly comfortable with each other that immediately puts you in step with their routine. On this particular day, their tight-knit world is rocked when on air a frantic Kyle (O’Connell) brings a gun and a bomb on set disgruntled that Gates’ advice caused him to lose all his savings. The film surprisingly sustains its tension as this bottle episode traps the TV crew with the live explosive. The police are trying to negotiate or take him down on the outside and inside, the young man pleads Gates for answers and Patty runs the show.

The film weakens as we begin to explore the financial quagmire that led to this mess that being a major company Ibis, run by sinister looking CEO Walt Camby (Dominic West), in a day lost $800 million dollars due to a “computer glitch”. This is set up in an opening graphics montages that makes it abundantly clear that Camby took the money but what’s bothersome is everyone seems surprised by that. For some reason there is no question of this glitch and it’s unheard of for the head of the corporation to steal money! It’s frustrating how much time is devoted to uncovering the conspiracy when we know the culprit. I like the inclusion of outside players being a software engineer in Seoul and some hackers in Russia to show the grand scale of how economics becomes global but the script seems to have the need to complicate a simplistic money trail that leads to the number one suspect. All the dialogue linked to that plot, mostly delivered by Roberts becomes hokey as she constantly yells about “getting some answers”.

I don’t want to write off the script completely because I did find effectiveness in its commentary on social media and our 24 hour news culture as all eyes are on the hostage crisis. Some civilians take it as a joke or it’s seen as another trending topic.  Director Jodie Foster chooses to focus on people’s inability to focus on the dire situations greed and money mismanagement has brought us to and channel it through a singular event. She directs with levity only so those jolting reminders of the violent reality this movie resides in are impactful. As we build towards the climax asking who is to blame, it’s more important to ask will we care as the film posits this is just a blip on our radar between cat videos.

Money Monster is effective with pulling emotional punches I didn’t expect. It’s going for a microcosm, rather than taking on all of Wall Street ala The Big Short and interacts on a more personal level with the characters. I wish it understood that its strengths lay outside its money trail plot. Clooney’s smile and Roberts’ determination are what keeps the film going. I will reiterate that you see George Clooney dance which is more than that $800 million can buy.

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A Belated Mother’s Day

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Many days late I made it out to see Gary Marshall’s third installment in his celebrity holiday series, this one being Mother’s Day. Now I’m hesitant to call this a movie. I mean there are definitely lights and cameras and actors placed in front of them repeating dialogue for roughly two hours so on a technicality this is a feature film. But the question I pose is that if it’s so ineptly that does it still count. I ask because Mother’s Day seems to be a collection of scenes that we drift in and out of aimlessly. Any conflict feels inflated as this movie tries to invent problems for a holiday that most people invest maybe a phone call and card in. Both the actors and director are phoning this one in for a big pay check and not even remotely trying to formulate something watchable.

I will attempt to explain the plots as best as possible though I can’t guarantee succinctness as neither could the writers. The main story line is Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) whose ex husband Henry (Timothy Olyphant) has married a younger woman, Tina (Shay Mitchell). She is upset that her sons have taken a liking to their new stepmom and how much the new family unit is bonding. Granted that sucks for her because it’s probably a lonely feeling but her and her ex seem to be on amazing terms and she should be happy that he’s so involved in their sons’ lives. Next sisters Gabi (Sarah Chalke) and Jesse (Kate Hudson) have avoided their parents for presumably at least five years as Gabi is gay and married and Jesse married Russell (Aasif Mandvi), an Indian-American, and they have a son together. Their mother (played by BoJack Horseman’s Margo Martindale) is good ole racist, homophobic woman from the South so she must learn that 2016 America is diverse and you shouldn’t hate your half Indian grandson. Jason Sudeikis is Bradley, a single dad whose wife (portrayed in one scene by Jennifer Garner) has recently past and this is his first Mother’s Day alone with his two daughters. Finally shoehorned in is Home Shopping mogul Miranda Collins (Julia Roberts) who is in Atlanta signing books/selling jewelry/some bullshit and is confronted by her long lost daughter, Kristen (Britt Roberts) who has a troubled relationship of her own because she refuses to marry her long time boyfriend Zach (Jack Whitehall). Sorry to have to ramble all those off especially since they’re all not important. What if I told you there were two children’s party, three stand up comedy routines, a talent show and karaoke all shoved in here possibly at random. There’s a fictional Mother’s Day parade we never even get to! This movie is somehow cramming so much into oh so little.

I can’t get over a major studio release being poorly made. Everything looks so cheap as the film jumps through it’s handful of Atlanta locations. They don’t even try to hide the fact that it was all shot on one street since sister Gabi and Jesse live right next to each other, something no normal person would do. The film is color corrected purple as a futile attempt to make all these close ups more interesting. Marshall must be on autopilot because there is just nothing happening directing wise. He put the camera down and took a lunch. I don’t even think the sound guy was on set as every line is ADRed. A theory might be there was no script because so much of the dialogue added in post is to explain all the nonsense on screen. ADR lines like “It’s a fun party” and “Tom Brady is so hot” really propel our characters forward.

I didn’t want to go in so negative. I’ve seen this film’s predecessors. I was ok with Valentine’s Day (was it because of Topher Grace or Bradley Cooper, I’ll never tell) and New Years Eve is boring but both are cohesive. Mother’s Day doesn’t know how to function or even how to make characters connect. The one thing I was looking forward to was Jason Sudeikis, an actor I find devilishly charming and yet they still ruin that! It’s set up that he and Aniston will end up together as they are the only ones single and have the most painfully awkward meet-cute in a grocery store but there is no chemistry here at all. The movie doesn’t even fake chemistry by having him find her crazy quirks adorable rather when he later sees her having a mental breakdown in her car, he remarks to a grocery store employee “hate to see her in traffic”. I would be fine if they weren’t supposed to be together considering he still seems to be mourning his other dead Jennifer but the movie tropes allude to their intended romance though he is trying to avoid her at every turn.

I feel like there’s so much to rant about but it’s all in vain. You know from the start a paycheck movie like this is going to be bad but it’s amazing when you realize just how bad. I’m a positive person, I love a lot of romantic comedies that people turn their nose up to but this is rightfully disliked. The most redeeming quality was watching this with two inebriated friends who would dart baffling looks at each other when their was an unexpected dick joke or a character shrugs off a kidnapping. I can understand the sentiment about making a heartfelt movie about moms but there’s so many characters and non mother related story lines that in the last twenty minutes that are spent on actual Mother’s Day, I was already checked out. The biggest events that take place on this Mother’s Day are a car chase and a wedding, you know, what we can all get sentimental about. It may be your best bet never to tell your mom this movie exists because it could really ruin the holiday for the both of you.

Eight Legged Freaks: A Logical Follow Up to Enemy

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After enduring Enemy’s symbolic spiders that represent infidelity and fear, all I craved were literal big ass spiders that represent absolutely nothing so I watched 2002’s Eight Legged Freaks. I’ve always enjoyed this movie. Considering that I love Jurassic Park and Godzilla, I’m more than happy to lump in my love of giant lizards with oversized arachnids. I don’t want to imply this movie is as amazing as JP or Godzilla ’98 but it is an underrated good time. It’s an homage to 50’s B-movies but was made at a time before everything had to be meta. While there’s a fair amount of winks to the camera, this sleepy Arizona town being terrorized by mutants spiders is quite sincere.

There’s little time wasted as Eight Legged Freaks knows exactly what you’re here to see. It opens with a conspiracy theory rant by resident Dj and comic relief Harlan (Doug E Doug) that sets the tone of crazy this movie will continue, we see the toxic barrel spill into the water supply that will lead to the spiders unbelievable growth then we arrive the next morning with nerdy tween Mike (Scott Terra) and his exotic pet mentor (a severely underused Tom Noonan). In this brief scene they set up all you need to know about the different species that soon would descend on an unsuspecting population. All plot and character development is very minimal which is fine for creature feature. The highlights are the lovable, bumbling Dewey…I mean Chris (David Arquette) as the town’s gold boy returning after splitting for a decade and then Scarlett Johansson because yeah, there’s a teenage ScarJo in this movie. I don’t think it’s worth going into detail about the plot by the money hungry yet Podunk mayor (played by Leon Ripp) who’s trying to sell off the town’s useless land while Chris holds on to his dead father’s dream that there’s gold in the underground mines. Plot points like this randomly pop up but so little effort is dedicated to them, they’re easily forgotten because EVERYONE IS UNDER ATTACK BY SPIDERS.

There is no shying away from head on Aracna-vasion as from moment one were are shown how ferocious, even when small these creatures can be. They can jump, they can web, they can suck juices right out of you and when big they display Looney Tunes type qualities. There seems to be little intention for Freaks to be a terrifying because so many scene are undercut with a light, melodic score and the noises these spiders utter make me think they’re part dog. One of the first encounters is a house cat and spider duke it out in dry wall as their bodies get imprinted on the house with each swipe. Hilarious to me though very frightening to my friend Emma who I showed this to when we were 10. The film escalates with wackiness and an unending number of creatures as townspeople have to shotgun them all to hell like an arcade game. While tarantulas and Mama Orb Weaver are menacing, watching the others fall splat into air vents like Wiley Coyote is incredibly entertaining.

The effects add a whole other level of cheesiness maybe less expected in 2002. The spider graphics aren’t PlayStation Resident Evil bad but far from seamless. It works for this genre though. The guys in bug suits or low budget stop motion in the 50’s movies were pretty lame but endearing so it’s only natural to emulate outdated technology (and not just talking about Mike’ Casio Cassiopeia). Possibly more wonderfully early 2000’s Freaks can be attributed to its multiple scene of motocross. Teens doing tricks on bikes thwarts many a spider. And the frosted tips make sure they look good doing it.

I’ve always found Eight Legged Freaks to be a severely underrated horror comedy. It’s silliness paired with a bug that strikes fear and fascination in me. I don’t want to ask for better writing because the throw away plot twists and cliche dialogue is what I’d want for what it’s mirroring. Any bad or over the top acting is what they should be going for and it never feels forced. It’s an organic B movie that we don’t get that often. It’s a good/bad creature feature that reminds us why tiny bugs should always be feared. One bit of toxic waste and they’ll knock us off the food chain.

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Enemy Review

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Alright Villeneuve, you got me. I’m invested. First Prisoners caught my interest, obviously because it perfectly captured central Pennsylvania even though it was filmed in Georgia. Probably more relevant is that it’s brutal and out of control with its violence and emotion. It takes a revenge plot to a whole other level. Then last year’s Sicario was one of my top picks with its realistic portrayal of the loosing war on drugs and the vast effect it has on those on both sides of the border. Both these films blend visual beauty with dark human interest stories. Villeneuve has proven to be a great director of gripping and unique thrillers. They may go over the top but I’m too stunned from the intensity to laugh at any plot hole. Because he has made these two amazing films I wondered why his Jake Gyllenhaal twin movie had flown under the radar. Prisoners had one Gyllenhaal and was awesome,the possibilities are endless with two. Even a bland movie like Legend is enjoyable when you double a handsome actor. Well I wouldn’t call Enemy bland but I also would call it exciting. It’s baffling both in good and bad ways.

Where to start compared to the films I just praised is Enemy is too pretentious. It leans into its “artsy” facade opening with disorienting cuts to a naked women in a spooky Eyes Wide Shutnightclub and remaining this harsh yellow throughout the film. Most detrimental is it’s incredibly slow pacing which is a death sentence for a film with so little plot.  The film’s main component is stalking as timid college professor Adam (Gyllenhaal) discovers after watching a movie that he has a doppelgänger in the wannabe actor Anthony (Gyllenhaal). The mundane of his own life leads him to obsess over Anthony and the strangeness of the situation also provokes curiosity in Anthony’s pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) who is already disillusioned with her unfaithful husband. A lot of time is spent on the characters being perplexed, prompting them to follow each other all over town. As an audience member I felt significantly less intrigued because I grew up watching The Parent Trap so freaky twins are nothing new. I’ve accepted realities where an actor will be two different people. Don’t get me wrong, Gyllenhaal plays the subtleties well, convincing me these are polar opposite men yet inhabit similar mannerisms but the action is under stimulating, opting for lingering shots of people depressed in their apartments then anything actually happening.

For a movie that is all about people trying to comprehend having a double, there is no pay off to why this has occurred. I usually wouldn’t expect an answer for what is presumably all by chance but this film seemed as if it wanted to give me a reason. One of its many problems is if this double conundrum is a philosophical one or a sci-fi mystery meant to be taken literally. Since the central drive is the characters’ is understanding what’s happening, I assume that’s what I should be invested in as well. This led me to question if this took place in the future. The way Villeneuve shoots Toronto in a slightly disorienting manner but that could also be everyday Toronto, I don’t know how Canada works. I would willingly believe these characters are a glitch in the Matrix and their reality is all a facade created by robots, like Canada. Instead of an exciting resolution to my half baked theories, the film culminates in Anthony pressuring Adam into a swap so he can cheat with Anthony’s girlfriend Mary (Melane Laurent). Anthony being tyrant causes a car crash when Mary get suspicious and conversely, Helen who suspects this is not her husband, makes love to the kinder Adam.

enemy-two-jakes-jake-gyllenhaal-adam-anthony.jpg Continue reading

An Unexpected Screamathon

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This year will mark the 20 year anniversary of Scream, a seminal horror film that changed the face of a genre during one of its lowest points and personally spurred my interest in seeking out all the movies it was parodying. At the time (not ‘96 but 2003) I was mostly watching rom coms and John Hughes. My horror knowledge didn’t extend past was The Exorcist and Halloween but once Scream entered my zeitgeist (I only watched it because I was into Drew Barrymore) I knew a bond had been formed. Not really realizing this is a celebratory year, I decided to embark on a rewatch of this classic as well as the less favorable sequels that followed it.  I implore you to take off your baggy sweater and show your midriff as we journey through the 90’s and please follow the rules so you can survive to the end of this article.

 

Scream (1996)

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I saw Scream the same way every 12 year old should, on premium cable right before going to an all night laser tag lock in with your friend’s youth group. More specifically I watched the first half of the movie before leaving for this event, spent the whole night gushing about how amazing the movie was and trying to guess the killer and getting home at 7am to catch the Encore network replaying the movie from where I left off. I may not have been aware of the hype in ’96 but I created my own in 2003. I still feel that initial excitement when I think about Wes Craven’s self parody slasher but on every subsequent rewatch, it retains all its praise. I find it to tower over its predecessors because it’s subversive by having the characters be self aware of the horror movie they’re trapped in. I can forgive all the thirty year old actors pretending to be high schoolers because the Kevin Williamson script still sounds relevant even though our technology has advanced over blocky cell phones and whatever computer system Sidney dials 911 on.

Why Scream stands above the 80’s slasher greats is that it’s more mystery than the Halloweens and Friday the 13ths before it. As much as it’s parodying the “guy in a mask who stalks babysitters” as Casey (Drew Barrymore) puts it, it’s an Agatha Christie whodunnit and as a lifelong Law&Order addict this is a major bonus. All those other horror movies you never need to try to figure out who is behind the mask because it’s usually some undead entity that can keep coming back for the sequels. Scream is actually closer to those low rent 80’s flicks like My Bloody Valentine or New Years Evil where one of the many bland teens was the killer with some arbitrary motive. Scream is best of both worlds by having actual worthwhile characters. It keeps the cast so intimate in this rural community because you get to know those immediate to heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) and not bombarded with murders just for a body count’s sake except for Principal Himbry (Henry Winkler) and even his death propels the plot by getting the rowdy youth out of the house for the climax. Also you’ve got two killers with opposite motives, Billy (Skeet Ulrich) is a throw back with a personal grudge to hurt Sidney because of mommy issues and Stu (Matthew Lillard) is of the millennial “motives are incidental” type. In the end they’re both psychopaths which is the real push behind their destruction. Most importantly, you can rewatch this movie and see how it’s not a stretch that this pair committed the murders. It works out in every scene how they could orchestrate each death.

What makes this film timeless or at least still relevant is the dialogue and how pop culture based almost every sentence is. I can speak on my behalf that I spend most of my days referencing movies because it’s such a central part of my life. I’ll see something and state “hey, that’s like BLANK”. That is all of Scream. Their lives are either like The Exorcist or Silence of the Lambs or Prom Night depending on who’s describing the situation. It’s funny how so many references went over 12 year old me’s head like “I Spit On Your Garage” and having no idea what the “Richard Gere gerbil story” was and yet this is how I talk now. When Sidney and her friends are sitting around the fountain discussing Casey and her boyfriend’s death it’s as if they’re talking about a horror movie. They’re saying all the things in our head like looking at the clues and who could be a suspect.

Scream is a horror movie made for horror fans. There’s passion for the genre in every scene and works because it both calls out the tropes but when it uses them, there’s a rational like when Sidney complains that in scary movies “some big breasted girl…is running up the stairs when she should be going out the front door.” Only moments later while under attack she can’t get out the front door so she finds herself running up the stairs. It’s acceptable because Sidney bests all the final girls who came before her. She has sex and kills the man in the mask. Even Wes Craven’s previous creation Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy still gets the last laugh. But not in Sidney’s movie.

 

Scream 2 (1997)

scream-2

There must have been longer time gaps of time between my Scream 2 viewings and in the past I’ve given it way more credit than it deserves. The most memorable aspect of the 1997 follow up is the movie within the movie “Stab” and that this time characters are calling out the tropes of a sequel. On this recent rewatch that is the only credit I’ll give this disaster and just barely because even Randy’s (Jamie Kennedy) speech of explaining the updated horror movie rules feels rushed much like everything else in this movie. The whole thing is sloppy and contrived which isn’t a surprise when you have a year turn around between installments. Scream 2 ruins all the brilliance of the original by dumbing down its characters because the script never had time to thoughtfully rationalize why any event would happen. Where the first film called out characters running up the stairs when they should be running out the front door, every scene is pure bad decision making as everyone runs up the stairs. Continue reading