Monday, 31 October 2011

Scream 4

Sometimes, the longer a franchise goes on, the less well you start to think of the earlier films. Certainly this is now true for Pirates of the Caribbean. Will it be true of the upcoming Mission Impossible 4? The first and third movies were entertaining and will probably remain so. As bad as the fourth Indiana Jones was, it surely won’t affect the reputation of the first three, and Die Hard 4 wasn’t that bad in the first place (albeit perhaps just as an ordinary action film). Scream 4, however, seriously makes one question the value of the earlier films. The second and third movies weren’t that interesting anyway, and the rehashing of anything original about the first film in this fourth one, makes the whole franchise seem a waste of time. The larger, gruesome body-count isn’t likely to impress many viewers. The reversals, the genre-play, and self-referential irony, is no longer amusing. It was all done in the first film, and didn’t need repeating. It seems like the desire to make a fourth movie came before the ideas to put in it. This is often the reason for a franchise’s failure. When you put desire before ideas, you often come up bankrupt (creatively, as well as occasionally financially – although, as Mark Kermode has pointed out in relation to other bad movies, this film was a box office success). The characters are no longer engaging or interesting. What is Sidney (Neve Campbell) doing with her life? Like the heroes of other franchises, she has become a blank, uninteresting space at the centre of the film. All her issues were resolved in earlier movies. What’s strange is that it is relatively easy to please audiences of franchises by having certain characters say or do certain things again and again. Even if you were a die-hard fan of these movies, however, I’d tell you that there was very little to be gained from watching this fourth film. That, I think, says it all.

Friday, 21 October 2011


This is a film I’d never seen before. That is not to say, of course, that I knew nothing about it. You might have seen cropping up here and there articles by people who’ve never seen Star Wars, watching it for the first time (they are very rarely, by the way, people who were young kids at the time it was released). They might never have actually sat down to watch the films the whole way through, but that doesn’t mean they’re coming to it with a blank mind. The very act of sitting down to watch them presupposes a judgement already, and they will probably have seen clips and know about the general plot, characters and ideas from references by friends, family, and the media. Likewise with me and MASH. I decided to watch it because I’d already been told it was good. This is the first hurdle to get over when watching classics, if we can call them that. MASH is certainly a fascinating film, and the amount I would like to say about it (but can’t here), perhaps indicates its value alone. It is a mix of farce, black comedy and political satire, tragedy, poignancy, and pathos. The carefully choreographed ‘last supper’ sequence, and the poker game with the dead body being driven away in the background are scenes that will stick in my mind for a long time. I found the characters often offensive and rude, but I’m not sure if this is how I was supposed to see them. They are also brilliant surgeons who work hard, which seems to compensate in some way for their arrogance. The film is made up of episodes with little connection to one another, brought into a broad, but relatively meaningless, story-arc of the two surgeons’ brief service in Korea. Perhaps this is what gave the inspiration for a TV series. The film is like one already. However, the idea of tying things together too cleanly (such as the apparent intention to have the Korean boy reappear) would have been too neat. The film does work better as haphazard, irreverent, although the sport sequence towards the end of the film felt relatively redundant and out of character with the rest of the sequences. It’s interesting to read that there was tension between the actors and the director, and that some of the loud-speaker announcements were added later in order to try to build continuity. I haven’t seen many of Robert Altman’s films, and think initially that his method has to rely on exceptional acting, music and dialogue in order to succeed for me, but it certainly does that here.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Midnight in Paris

Expectation often leads to disappointment, perhaps never more so than in the case of Woody Allen films. This is doubly so. There are his fans, who live in the hope that he will recreate his classics of the 70s and 80s, and there are the people who have seen the trailer for a romantic comedy starring (in this example) Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams, and hope it will be endearing and funny. So in recent years both types of moviegoer have been disappointed. Woody Allen’s films are not simple romantic comedies, nor are they recreations of his earlier classics. Both sets of expectations are frustrated. How, then, are we supposed to watch his films? The obvious answer is as someone aware of what to expect from Woody Allen, and yet not in anticipation of something similar to his films from the past. Midnight in Paris will not disappoint anyone who approaches it in this way. It is funny, rife with literary allusions, self-deprecation, and brilliant, real comic characters. It can undoubtedly be called ‘his best for years’, although this often-repeated phrase is somewhat patronising. Without wishing to ruin the film for those who haven’t seen it, it stars Wilson as a screenwriter visiting Paris with his fiancĂ© and her parents. There is at times that awkwardness perhaps due to the script, or the direction of the actors, that I often feel in watching his recent films. The jokes, or literary references, are too stilted, or fall out of the actor’s mouths rather clumsily. It could only barely be maintained that Owen Wilson was doing an impersonation of Woody Allen (as most of his leading men have been). He does a good job of making his own character out of the heavy burden of being Allen’s mouthpiece. There are great, poetic moments in this film, finished with a perfect ending. You should see it.

The Hateful Eight

Tarantino has said he'll only make ten films, and then retire. I don't know if he still stands by this statement, and if he does we ...