Friday, 22 April 2011

Scream 4 (2011)

The franchise goes back to school.

Image: Dimension Films

The eleven years since the disappointing Scream 3 have not seen a lot of directing highlights for Craven, with the exception of the entertaining but disposable Red Eye and a warm-hearted segment of Paris, Je T’aime. So, with some inevitable lingering scepticism, it was fairly easy to get excited about another Scream movie, especially with Craven, Kevin Williamson (writer of Scream and Scream 2), Campbell, Arquette and Cox all returning.

It’s fifteen years since the original Woodsboro murders, and Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) is returning home for the first time to promote her new book and see her family and fellow surviviors, Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers-Riley (Courtney Cox). Unfortunately, someone has donned the Ghostface mask again and has targeted Sid’s teenage cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and her friends.

What’s special about Scream is its ability to scare audiences while making them laugh. The franchise is responsible for changing the landscape of horror movies. No longer did teen victims wander cluelessly to their demise. They were full of wry quips and film references. Williamson and Craven bring the sense of humour and self-awareness to Scream 4 and effortlessly stand head and shoulders above their imitators. After a none-more-meta opening that almost goes on too long we’re back on familiar ground. 

It’s the young cast that are the focus here, with Sidney, Dewey and Gale pushed slightly to the side to make way for the teens. They are essentially similar to the teens from the first instalment, but the film is well aware of that. Roberts (It’s Kind of a Funny Story) is the Sid-alike Jill, Hayden Panettiere (Heroes) is the sassy best friend Kirby, who knows her horror movies, and Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen are the movie geeks Charlie and Robbie. There’s even a creepy ex for Jill, Trevor (Nico Tortorella), whose name leads to one of the best jokes in the film. They’re all solid, with Roberts and Panettiere the standouts, and just as prone to wandering outside to check a strange noise. Meanwhile the cast is packed with enough familiar and capable actors (Marley Shelton, Alison Brie, Anthony Anderson, Adam Brody, and Mary McDonnell) that it’s sufficiently difficult to spot who the killer is, or who’ll be next.

It’s not without its problems. Excellent “made you jump!” scares aside, Scream 4 is not especially scary. There’s also a distinct lack of real character development, and it would have been nice to spend a bit more time with our returning heroes. Williamson was reportedly replaced during filming by Scream 3 writer Ehren Kruger, which is almost certainly the reason for a choppy and slightly muddled third act that attempts to cover its tracks with a lot of dialogue. However, it is often very funny. There are some big laughs, plenty of digs at the genre, the preceding movies, and the film itself, some funny cameos, and some surprisingly gory deaths for the cast.

Scream 4 is an entertaining and clever horror film that knows exactly where it stands. It’s well-performed, well-shot, and well-written. It could have been a little scarier, but on the basis of this, a fifth Scream film would not be unwelcome.

It’s nice to a see a horror film that brings the fun, and it’s great to see the gang back together. Given that Scream is 5/5, Scream 2 is 4/5, and Scream 3 is 2/5, we give this:

3/5

JH

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Grease Is The Word

We were all talking about it a year ago today...






Images: Steven Meisel/Italian Vogue

It’s not often that editions of Vogue cause controversy, least of all September issues, which have been vividly celebrated in recent months in a documentary starring fashion’s infamous first lady. Nevertheless, it’s almost that time of the year again, and the publication is in the spotlight once again, thanks to its Italian siblings, who have created a provocative spread for its September issue, entitled “Water & Oil”, using the Gulf of Mexico as a backdrop.

Once upon a time, this would have been considered a picturesque setup, with subtropical climates, vast ocean life and the warmth of southern hospitality all there to greet an ambitious photographer. But in the end, in this time, the outing has been met with hostility, as inquiring minds clamber to understand how the fashion industry could glamorize such a disaster.

Since the explosion in April, around 5 million barrels of oil have leaked into the ocean. And while the leak has now been capped, the spill caused severe damage to the fishing trade, marine habitats and to wildlife.

Vogue Italia’s shoot, by acclaimed photographer Steven Meisel, has understandably, yet surprising made its own waves. The 24-page spread sees models coughing up oil, sitting in the thick of it with oily faces and lying limply on rocks, in the same way seals and turtles laid lifelessly in the wake of April’s event.

While there’s no disputing the powerfulness of these images – they’re immaculately composed, thought-provoking and darkly sensual – it’s left fashion enthusiasts divided. In an attempt to depict the struggle for survival, was it necessary for Meisel to use such a stage? My answer is no. Of course not. But he knew this. Recreating the same scene on a set in a lit room wouldn’t have been half as exhilarating or controversial. Even if one’s artistic expression is pulling him/her to the deep south, there’s always a way around things if you want to circumvent them. If Meisel had chosen an alternative route, I wouldn’t be writing this. It’s just another roll of the dice in the publicity game. In addition, the American is no stranger to the headlines, having previously been at the helm of other provocative shoots for the Italian publication (“State of Emergency and “Rehab”), thus, “Water & Oil” is all in a day’s work for the resident snapper, who knew that the two wouldn’t mix.

We’ll have to wait to see what consumers make of Vogue Italia’s latest play, but I'm certainly curious. After all, consumers and Vogue usually go together like, well, fish and water.

FG

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

TT3D: Closer to the Edge (2011)

Live by the bike, die by the bike.

Image: CinemaNX

TT3D: Closer to the Edge is a high-octane documentary chronicling the months leading up to the TT, the world-famous motorbike race that takes place every year on the Isle of Man. The film follows several of the TT’s biggest stars, including the maverick rider Guy Martin, as they prepare for the 2010 competition and race to be crowned “King of the Mountain”.

From the opening scene, in which the audience is taken on ride through the eyes of a rider, you’re aware that this isn’t a film for the faint hearted: bikes race along public roads at 200mph, twisting and turning every step of the way, and there’s no Disney Fastpass to the finish – if you’re lucky enough to make it all the way.

Closer to the Edge is a thoroughly entertaining film. After a fast start, the tempo does drop slightly as we move from the extraordinary world of racing to the ordinary lives of the riders, but with characters like Martin leading the way, there’s hardly ever a dull moment. With his Wolverine shag and his simple views on life, Martin is quite possibly one of the funniest, occasionally incomprehensible, slightly odd characters I've observed on-screen, and as the main protagonist, he carries the movie along nicely, with a bit of help from his biker friends.

Funny, shocking, gripping and tragic, TT3D has the heart to capture everyone, even those reluctant to enter the world of sports.

4/5

FG

Monday, 18 April 2011

Your Highness (2011)

Magic, mother****er.

Image: Universal


It’s difficult to understand how this film ever got financed. It’s a high budget fantasy that’s rated R, featuring a cast of high-profile and, indeed, Oscar winning actors, and it’s completely bizarre and utterly filthy. It’s hard to believe this stoner comedy/ love-letter to 80s fantasy movies such as The Dark Crystal and Krull found backing from Universal.

Prince Thadeous (Danny McBride) is a disappointment to his father. While his older brother Fabious (James Franco) is off questing, Thadeous is getting stoned and sleeping with the bride of the Dwarf King. But when Fabious’ bride Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) is kidnapped by the evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux), Thadeous must go with his brother to rescue her. They face all manner of creatures and magical evil, not to mention warrior princess Isabel (Natalie Portman).

Going from the trailer alone, Your Highness should have been the funniest film of the year. However, while it’s far from a categorical failure, it’s still something of a disappointment.  It’s obviously a labour of love for McBride, co-writer Ben Best, and director David Gordon Green. It’s loaded with impressive fantasy monsters (the filmmakers got creature advice from Guillermo Del Toro) and references to all your favourite sword and sorcery movies from the times of Jim Henson. But somehow it’s the comedy part that’s a little off. Green (Pineapple Express, All the Real Girls) is famously keen on improvisation and a loose structure, but while this has worked wonders for him in the past, it leads to this film feeling patchy and saggy. While the charm of seeing McBride and Franco in this kind of setting doesn’t really wear thin, and the sheer level of filth is hilarious, the pot humour doesn’t quite work in this setting.

This is the first major film that has featured McBride as the lead. Those familiar with his work in Pineapple Express or HBO’s Eastbound and Down will know what to expect, and his style is relatively unchanged, accent aside. Franco looks happy to be there, and most comfortable when riffing with McBride. Their relationship is probably the strongest part of the script, as each yearns for the other’s approval. “Who gives the warmest hugs in the kingdom?” asks Fabious to cheer up his brother, who answers “I do” with a reluctant smile. Portman and Deschanel each get into the spirit of things, and it’s nice to see them enjoying themselves. The supporting cast also features Toby Jones (Harry Potter), Charles Dance, and Damien Lewis (Band of Brothers), all of whom fit in nicely, Lewis especially. The best of the lot is David Lynch regular Justin Theroux as the evil wizard Leezar, who plans on deflowering Belladonna, but has to do so in front of his three mothers. He delivers the combination of toilet humour, evil sneering, and boyish awkwardness perfectly.

It’s a shame that Your Highness is so patchy. When it’s funny, it’s hilarious. The cast is excellent and the last twenty minutes are superb, mixing fantasy violence with the unexpected brutality of the toilet fight in Pineapple Express and a truly side-splitting Highlander gag. This really isn’t for everyone, but if you’re even remotely tickled by the idea of a medieval fantasy romp starring Danny McBride and James Franco, it’s definitely worth a look. Your patience will be rewarded. However, this will probably be much more enjoyable watched at home with friends where the lulls won’t be as noticeable.

Fitfully brilliant and very affectionate but undeniably flawed, Your Highness is worth the effort despite not matching our expectations.

3/5

JH

Friday, 15 April 2011

Happy Birthday Charlie!

Check out Google's doodle in celebration of Mr. Chaplin's Birthday! Lovin' your work Google.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

6 Things We Learnt From Watching The Model Agency

Image: Ch4

The seven-part series about the world of modeling through the eyes of one of the top model agencies in the world has ended. While we’re not all that sad about it, we did learn a few things from those folks at Premier (the agency) and so we thought we’d share our findings with you - because we know you’d all be so interested!

1. Models are usually discovered around the age of 13 and looked after by an agency that helps them grow into beautiful swans, ready for runways and fashion shoots. We would like to say "helps them grow into supermodels" but, let’s face it, those Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista days are well and truly over.

2. Scouts go for younger girls because their bodies haven’t developed yet (sounds perverted, we know). At a young age, girls are able to remain thin, naturally, eating whatever they like without having to worry about gaining weight. They naturally have no curves. As a girl matures, breasts and backsides start to come into play. That’s why, often, the career span of a high fashion model is short.

3. It would be worth looking in a mirror before approaching an agency. Just because your mother, father or friend tells you that you could be a model, it doesn’t mean it’s true, and often isn’t. Models usually tower above regular folk, at around the 6-foot mark, and look like creatures from another planet. In other words, if you’re not an avatar (minus the blue skin) forget about high fashion.

Fohnhouse has to disagree with this point, however, having attended a few fashion shows. The models all appear tall, but they are all sporting very high (Jimmy) shoes.

4. If you're not uber tall and wafer-thin there’s still hope if you aspire to be a model. Modeling is not all about being on the cover of Vogue and landing that haute couture runway show during fashion week, there's also commercial modeling. You still can make a lot of money (even more than high fashion models), but you won’t necessarily be mingling with the likes of Lagerfeld - and generally, anyone with hips and a bust bigger than a B cup should explore this route, i.e., catalogues and e-commerce. It's actually how the agency makes most of its money.

5. When Naomi Campbell was on the books at Premier, the agency's founder, Carole White, took her under her wing and treated her like a daughter; at one point Campbell even called White "mum". The pair have since fallen out - something to do with owed royalties and a certain blood diamonds trial. 

Also, as demanding as Campbell is, and as hard as it is for black girls to make it in the industry (especially with the recession), the fashion world is still waiting for the next Naomi. 

Lastly...

6. Men model too, did you know that?!

FG

Monday, 11 April 2011

Comic Relief 2011: Famous, Rich and in the Slums

Image: BBC

Famous, Rich and in the Slums is a documentary that was shown in the weeks leading up to the principal Comic Relief (Red Nose) night a couple of weeks ago, in which four celebrities: Lenny Henry, Reggie Yates, Samantha Womack and Angela Rippon, swapped their lives in England, in which they are accustomed to the finer things, for the slums in Kenya.

The result was an entertaining yet moving documentary about the struggle in some parts of Africa, in which the celebrities walked away with invaluable, life-changing experiences. The experiment was also an eye-opener, as we got to watch events unfold and in turn, separate the (wo)men from the boys.

On face value, money could have been placed on Yates (due to his Ghanaian roots) or even Henry (considering the amount of time he has spent in Africa in aid of Comic Relief) for most resilient team member. But surprisingly (or unsurprisingly given her unexpected Morecambe and Wise antics), it was Rippon who seemed most at ease in her surroundings.

Being the youngest of the group and without children, Yates didn’t connect with the residents in the way the others were able to, if he even wanted to. He explained to us that he last visited Africa at the age of four and if not for his grandmother (or mother, one of the two) setting up a life for future generations in England, he may well be one of the kids running around in the quarters. Irrespective of this information, he still seemed eager to guard whatever street cred. he feels he has and appeared to behave like a British boy having to put up with living in the slums for a week, as opposed to a British boy of African origin.

Henry, on the other hand, changed the rules of the game and wound up buying an orphaned family a new home, having been incapable of spending a night in their unsanitary environment. His interaction with the residents also provided many comical moments, as passers-by laughed at his efforts to do manual labour and a 16-year-old boy (and head of one of Henry's host families) quizzed him over his ability to horse ride seeing as how he is “so fat”!

Womack also seemed to take it all to heart. Having witnessed the aftermath of a miscarriage in the local hospital and experienced life living with a single mother who has to work as a prostitute to make ends meet, it's easy to see why some are attributing her recent resignation from EastEnders to this (her character, Ronnie, is currently embroiled in a baby swapping storyline). But out of all the celebrities, it was Rippon who proved most admirable with her no-nonsense, "just do it" attitude. From walking miles to find work with one of her hosts, gaining huge blisters from washing clothes by hand and teaching in a school (having never taught before) to avoid "hawking" her vagina on the streets at night, Rippon was by far the most confident and effective in her environment, using her skills to help others and find an alternative to prostitution. Of course it's easy to say that Rippon had the advantage over the other women living in the slum because she came from England, but she still played by the rules of society - and life. It's a jungle out there, so you've got to use all the tools at your disposal (or, "and only the strongest survive"), which she did.

Check out the programme if it pops up on TV again (we caught a repeat), or head over to the wonder that is BBC iPlayer.

FG

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Sucker Punch (2011)

Zack Snyder’s dreams are made of this

Image: Warner Bros.

It’s easy to make light of Zack Snyder. Some overlook the fact that his Dawn of the Dead was one of the better horror remakes, while 300 was an unexpected success, as was his thoroughly decent adaptation of the impossible to adapt Watchmen. Sucker Punch is his first attempt at an original screenplay and it’s something he’s been passionate about for years. This is personal.

Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is sent to an asylum in Vermont by her wicked stepfather and is set to be lobotomised in five days. Retreating into her imagination, in which the asylum is now a bordello, she and her four friends have to find five items in order to escape. They rely on Baby Doll’s dancing to distract the authority figures, while she retreats yet further into a dreamscape of robots, zombie Nazis, and dragons in which the girls must fight to survive.

Well, this is certainly a Zack Snyder film. Gun and sword fights in slow motion, scantily clad ladies in slow motion, and a very dodgy script. But whereas his previous films at least had some sort of solid grounding, Sucker Punch is completely unmoored. Snyder zips around from fantasy to fantasy as the film goes from well-shot nonsense to completely inane gibberish. Things get off to a fairly decent start (apart from god-awful narration) with a dialogue-free look at Baby Doll’s path to the loony bin set to a version of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) performed by Browning. It’s OTT but the young actress sells it with a quality of acting that evaporates once the rest of the film starts.

Once Baby Doll hits Lennox House and we’re informed of the evil head guard Blue (Oscar Isaac)’s malicious intentions, the switch from madhouse to cathouse is clumsily handled and never satisfactorily justified. Our heroine meets and recruits friendly Amber (Jamie Chung), not-blonde Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), and two sisters; reluctant Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) and ballsy Rocket (Jena Malone). Of these four, only Cornish (Limitless) and Malone (Donnie Darko) make an impression thanks to committed performances. They’re also the only two that have anything approaching actual characters. Meanwhile Isaac hams it up as Blue, as does Carla Gugino (Watchmen) with corset and a “Polish” accent, while Jon Hamm (Mad Men) only appears for about two minutes and still gives easily the best turn.

The fantastical battle sequences are certainly eye-catching, but only the early pieces work well as repetition quickly sets in. A snowy rumble between Baby Doll and giant samurai robots is fun, while the clash with steam-punk Nazi zombies in World War 1 trenches is admittedly very impressive. But after that we realise there’s no real sense of danger, and by the time we’re watching our heroines decimate a train of battle robots on a train, we’re past caring. It looks great but there’s nothing under the surface to back it up. There’s a lot of discussion to be had about the leering nature of the film, with many, many slow-motion shots of the girls in their scanty fetish gear. Is it female empowerment, a commentary on geek culture, or is it simply what Snyder’s interested in showing us? It should also be mentioned that, for a 12A, there’s a lot of attempted and implied rape. Not to mention the violence.

Ratings issue aside, it’s ambitious and the visuals are often very impressive, but Snyder makes it impossible to feel anything for the characters. After a while, Sucker Punch becomes an uninteresting mess. 

A big disappointment. No story, no heart, just a lot of slow-motion fighting and skimpy clothing. Pretty but dull. 

2/5 

JH

Friday, 1 April 2011

Oranges and Sunshine (2011)

Juice but no warmth

Image: Icon

Orange and Sunshine is the debut feature from Jim Loach, son of acclaimed director Ken Loach, who has opted to follow in his dad’s socialist footsteps and focus on real, human narratives. The result is eye-opening and informative but sadly far from heart-melting.

The plot sees social worker Margaret Humphreys uncovering one of the biggest scandals of recent times: the deportation of thousands of children from the UK to Australia. Single-handedly, she attempts to reunite these now adults - who were told their parents were dead - with their families.

Oranges and Sunshine contains all the ingredients necessary to make it a tearjerker: the social worker who is unreservedly invested in reuniting families in spite of being antagonised by people protesting against her cause, and thousands of victims, who have suffered at the hands of their Australian carers. Unfortunately, however, these elements fail to translate on-screen to form an affecting movie.

The cast (including Emily Watson and Hugo Weaving) is solid enough, but the charisma of a, let’s say, Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich is missing, making it hard for you to connect with the characters and therefore the movie.

Loach has potential as a director, but his debut, while it ticks all the right boxes on paper, fails to move you the way it should.

3/5

FG