SCREAM (1996)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 51 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Graphic Horror Violence and Gore, and for Language

Directed by: Wes Craven

Written by: Kevin Williamson

Starring: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courtney Cox, Skeet Ulrich, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy, Drew Barrymore, Joseph Whipp, W. Earl Brown, Liev Schreiber & Henry Winkler

Wes Craven became one of the most well-known horror filmmakers with his imaginatively terrifying NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, but Freddy Krueger wasn’t the only iconic killer that Craven brought to the big screen. Working from a cleverly self-referential script from Kevin Williamson, Craven introduced Ghostface to horror fans in December 1996. Inspiring four total films and three seasons of an MTV horror series, SCREAM is one of the most important slasher films in cinema history and also holds up as a fantastic scary movie on its own merits.

As the first anniversary of her mother’s untimely death approaches, depressed high school student Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) braces for an inevitable wave of turbulent emotions to arrive…much to the dismay of her sex-starved boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich). Hormones and angst aren’t the only things that Sidney, Billy, and their group of teenage friends (Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, and Jamie Kennedy) need to worry about though, because someone has taken their love for horror movies a bit too far. By “a bit too far,” I mean that someone is running around in a creepy costume and slicing/dicing teens. This masked psycho seems to have his eyes set on Sidney for some strange reason. Bodies pile up, laughs ensue, and this film parodies slasher films while simultaneously being a slasher film.

There are so many items to talk about with SCREAM, so I might as well start with a quality that usually makes or breaks 99% of slasher films: the kills. SCREAM is notably set in a more real-world environment than almost every other slasher movie in existence, because these characters have seen PROM NIGHT, HALLOWEEN, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, etc. They already know the dumb clichés and rules that they need to follow in order to successfully survive a horror movie. This more realistic meta-feeling bleeds over into the film’s kills. This is especially present during the film’s infamous prologue that packs in plenty of humor and scares, while also distinctly reminding horror fans of the disturbing phone calls in WHEN A STRANGER CALLS or BLACK CHRISTMAS.

KNB Effects utilized 50 gallons of blood for various wounds and designed chest pieces for the many stabs and slices. Though SCREAM’s kills are mainly of the knife variety, there’s a certain grisliness to them that makes them pretty damn effective to watch and some of the gore effects are downright disturbing to look at. This more “realistic”-ish spin on slasher kills positively offsets the film’s light-hearted, comedic atmosphere into darker directions. It reminds the viewer that this slasher, as fun and funny as it may be, still has kids meeting their untimely demises and that’s a horrible thing.

As far as the teenage characters go, Kevin Williamson’s script feels refreshingly grounded in a subgenre that can range from ridiculously over-the-top to unbelievably stupid. Though there are a couple of dumb mistakes made by the teenage victims that lead to a rather high body count, the film remedies these “errors” by pointing them out and winking at the camera in a knowing fashion. Right before Sidney’s first encounter with Ghostface, she references a stupid mistake that she unwittingly commits in the heat of the moment during the very next scene. Little details like those seemingly correct annoying decisions that are all too commonplace in hundreds of slashers.

As far as the cast goes, the young actors and actresses make for convincing teens, while the adult performers seem fairly realistic. Every character is colorful and sticks out, making their absence (due to being butchered by a masked psycho killer) much more noticeable. Special mentions go out to: Neve Campbell as the film’s tragic final girl, Matthew Lillard as an obnoxious smartass, Jamie Kennedy as a diehard horror fanatic, David Arquette as the geekiest cop around, and Courtney Cox as a bitchy news reporter. The film’s two worst performances belong to: Skeet Ulrich as the obviously creepy boyfriend and Rose McGowan as Sidney’s airheaded gal pal.

It’s worth noting that SCREAM keeps its fast-paced storytelling up throughout the entire running time. Even though the film clocks in at slightly under two hours, nearly half of this time is dedicated to an incredibly funny, entertaining, and satisfying finale that takes place in/around a single house. Kevin Williamson was able to pack so much development into the smart first half of the film (including little pieces about Sidney’s past tragedy that don’t feel like forced exposition at all), and then Wes Craven let loose with his suspenseful and violent slasher fun during the film’s second half. My only complaint with Williamson’s script is that it’s fairly easy to identify the killer early on, even though the film throws a couple of half-assed red herrings into the mix. To his credit, a big twist during the final 15 minutes still remains remarkably effective and forces viewers to watch repeated viewings through a different lens.

SCREAM’s self-referential style may not be for everybody, but (at the very least) this film must be respected for what it did to the horror genre in the 90s. At the point when this film was originally released, horror was in a rut. Lots of crap was coming out, tons of films were bombing at the box office, and most folks thought that the horror genre was as good as dead. Then SCREAM came along and injected much-needed new blood into age-old clichés. Though it gave birth to a wave of mediocre 90s slashers (e.g. URBAN LEGEND, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, etc.), SCREAM is also the first installment in one of the most consistently entertaining slasher franchises in existence. If you haven’t seen SCREAM before, now is the perfect time to do so!

Grade: A

THE 5TH WAVE (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence and Destruction, some Sci-Fi Thematic Elements, Language and brief Teen Partying

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Directed by: Jonathan Blakeson

Written by: Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman & Jeff Pinkner

(based on the novel THE 5TH WAVE by Rick Yancey)

Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Ron Livingston, Maggie Siff, Alex Roe, Maria Bello, Maika Monroe & Liev Schreiber

In a world where HUNGER GAMES has ended and DIVERGENT is on the brink of concluding, Hollywood frantically searches for its next big young-adult franchise. The latest attempt at grabbing teenage eyeballs has come in the form of THE 5TH WAVE. Based on the first in a trilogy of young-adult novels (of course), this film follows a by-the-numbers dystopian plot aided by stereotypical teenage romantic clichés. So, do I loose movie critic points if I say that I actually didn’t mind it as much as other recent young-adult movies? This is definitely no HUNGER GAMES, but it’s also far better than DIVERGENT or the latest MAZE RUNNER. Essentially, this is the tween equivalent of INDEPENDENCE DAY and there’s fun to be had in that.

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Cassie Sullivan is your average 16-year-old girl. She goes to school, likes boys, and is constantly texting on her phone. All of this comes to an end when a UFO begins to orbit the earth. First, the aliens take out our technology and electricity. Then, the aliens (uncreatively called The Others) bring a huge earthquake followed by a plague to wipe out most of humanity. To make matters even worse, the Others start taking over human hosts BODY SNATCHERS style. Soon, only small groups of survivors are left intact. With the help of mysterious farmer Evan, Cassie finds herself on a dangerous journey to rescue her younger brother. Meanwhile, Ben (Cassie’s crush) and Sam (Cassie’s aforementioned brother) train to fight a new kind of war against the Others.

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You can definitely tell that THE 5TH WAVE is yet another in a long line of young adult novels being turned into potential blockbuster franchises. However, this film is currently tanking at the box office, so it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see the two follow-up novels hit the big screen. I’m bummed about that, because THE 5TH WAVE is pretty entertaining. It definitely has its fair share of problems and I could easily understand why someone would outright hate this movie, but it worked okay for me. Part of this might come from the bleak sense that humanity has ended. In a series like DIVERGENT or MAZE RUNNER, the tone somehow never seems to appropriately meld with the apocalyptic setting. 5TH WAVE doesn’t shy away from scenes of destruction or questionable morals brought about by the end of humanity. It’s oddly refreshing in that way.

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As Cassie, Chloe Grace Moretz is a suitable enough lead. She’s a stronger female protagonist than Tris (from DIVERGENT), but far from a Katniss Everdeen. She only occupies half of the running time though, as the other half is devoted to Sam and Ben (also called Zombie) going through intense training. Nick Robinson (the older brother in JURASSIC WORLD) is serviceable enough in the role of Ben. I actually found Maika Monroe’s gothed-out and tough-as-nails Ringer to be the most interesting character in this military storyline. Liev Schreiber delivers the best performance of the entire film as a military commander with more up his sleeve than meets the eye. The worst character comes in Alex Roe’s Evan. The combination of Roe’s wooden line delivery and sheer blandness of Evan slow down the film every single time he’s on the screen.

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THE 5TH WAVE does border on potentially venturing into a horrible Stephenie Meyer-esque love-triangle of sorts. The target audience for this film are tweens after all, so we have to get an obligatory slow-motion shot of Alex Roe bathing shirtless whilst Chloe Moretz gazes lustfully at him. However, what kept me invested in this story was the far more interesting aspect of people fighting body-snatching aliens. The film realizes this and keeps moving straightforward onto this plot, avoiding any painful melodrama that might have occurred in other hands (ala Stephenie Meyer). The effects are mostly high-grade, resulting in the scenes of destruction looking great and fights/chases being competently executed. The only glaring misuse of CGI comes in the aliens resembling glowing Brain Slugs from FUTURAMA, but they’re mostly kept to the dark.

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In true first-part-of-a-trilogy form, THE 5TH WAVE does end on a “To Be Continued…” note. This is unfortunate, because I’m actually interested to see what happens next in this budding franchise (not enough to pick up the books, but enough to sit through two more big-screen installments). If the box office and negative reception are any indication, that’s not likely to happen. True, THE 5TH WAVE is just another failed franchise in the making, but it happens to be executed with more care than other recent installments in financially successful young adult franchises (e.g. INSURGENT, THE SCORCH TRIALS). If this film sounds interesting to you, then I’d say to give it a rent or catch a matinee.

Grade: B-

SPOTLIGHT (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 8 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for some Language including Sexual References

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Directed by: Tom McCarthy

Written by: Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Jamey Sheridan, Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins & Len Cariou

SPOTLIGHT has been one of my most anticipated movies of 2015. Part of this is because of the impressive ensemble cast, but most of it stems from the hugely important true story that it portrays. This film was probably a risky project from the beginning as the script presents infuriating material and any filmmaker would have to be extremely careful in bringing this sort of story to the big screen. That’s exactly why SPOTLIGHT works as perfectly as it does. Tackling a touchy subject in the most tasteful manner possible and unfolding the story with expert pacing, director/screenwriter Tom McCarthy has brought to the screen one of the most important films in recent years. Though it’s probably too depressing and disturbing for some viewers, SPOTLIGHT is absolutely fantastic.

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In 2001, the Boston Globe was a struggling newspaper with a strong investigative team called Spotlight. Struggling for their next lead and under the advice of a new editor, Walter Robinson and his fellow reporters are placed onto a potential powder keg of a story. With a lawsuit involving allegations of child molestation against a Catholic priest still fresh on everyone’s mind, the Spotlight team begins digging deep into this case. None of them are prepared for what they discover in a massive ring of pedophile priests, underhanded legal tactics, and cover-ups that go back decades. In order to break one of the most important news stories of the new millennium, the team will have to track down sources, uncover hidden paperwork, and deal with the Catholic church’s backlash.

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SPOTLIGHT is a movie made of conversations. As such, the film hinges a lot on its cast. There is no single main character, but rather a team that’s viewed as a main character. The cast here is full of big names and a few of them are likely to receive nominations in the coming awards season. Michael Keaton proves that BIRDMAN wasn’t a fluke by acting his ass off as a reporter who’s made mistakes throughout his career. Mark Ruffalo dominates every scene as a man enraged at how deep this rabbit hole of a story goes. Amy Adams exudes soft-spoken comfort as a elapsed Catholic woman who approaches her victims with a wholly sympathetic, understanding eye. John Slattery is an aged reporter who’s skeptical as to whether or not the story is worth investigating. Meanwhile, Brian d’Acy James is remarkable as a father who discovers the story might hit closer to home than he originally thinks.

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On the supporting side of things, SPOTLIGHT brings Liev Schreiber, usually typecast as an intimidating guy (e.g. RAY DONOVAN), as a dorky outsider to Boston. Schreiber plays the out-of-character role very well and gets us to feel for him even though he doesn’t receive nearly as much screen time as the rest of the Spotlight team. Billy Crudup is infuriatingly smarmy as a lawyer who’s made his living by making underhanded deals with the church, while Stanley Tucci is a frazzled lawyer who’s fighting for what is right. Tucci’s performance is especially memorable as his conversations with Mark Ruffalo are some of the most memorable scenes in the film.

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Besides the excellent performances all around, SPOTLIGHT benefits from a stellar screenplay (which was formerly on the 2013 Black List) that treats its uncomfortable story in the most tasteful way possible. The film never aims for shock value (which it easily could have done during the victim interview scenes). Instead, it feels like a mix of conspiracy thriller and tragic drama. What’s equally as bold is that the film doesn’t take a potentially easy attack on religion and instead questions why bad people who are supposed to be doing good are allowed to get away with evil. The tone of the whole film aims for a mix of sad melancholy and constant anxiety. I found myself on the edge of my seat as Ruffalo’s Michael Rezendes races against time and the system to nab some public records that could bring ultimate proof to the table. An encounter that Adams’s Sacha Pfeiffer has with a pedophile ex-priest is highly disturbing. Meanwhile, Keaton’s Robinson finds himself making enemies out of former lawyer friends.

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Above all of these things, SPOTLIGHT is powerful beyond words. It’s a true story that needed to be told and the people who ran the intense investigation should all be commended as journalistic heroes. Every painstaking step is examined as we watch the Spotlight team slowly uncover something abominable and make huge sacrifices to do what is right. Be warned, this film is depressing. I haven’t left a movie theater that bummed out since I saw 12 YEARS A SLAVE, but this film is rewarding and deserves every bit of praise it has been receiving. SPOTLIGHT is among the very best films of 2015!

Grade: A+

THE TEN (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Strong Crude Sexual Content including Dialogue and Nudity, and for Language and some Drug Material

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Directed by: David Wain

Written by: David Wain & Ken Marino

Starring: Paul Rudd, Adam Brody, Winona Ryder, Gretchen Mol, Ken Marino, Oliver Platt, Liev Schreiber, Rob Corddry, Michael Ziegfeld & Jessica Alba

THE TEN flaunts a potentially fun concept. The writer/director of WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER and ROLE MODELS crafts an anthology centered around 10 comedic tales that cover the ten commandments. That sounds like a blast. David Wain is known for his weird and totally random sense of humor. His oddball jokes helped fuel a cult following in SUMMER and also supported a hilarious season of the Comedy Central’s bizarre short-lived STELLA. Unfortunately, David Wain isn’t at the top of his game in this messy anthology. THE TEN has some enjoyable segments, but succumbs to downright unfunny and lame skits that feel way too desperate. Paul Rudd serves as a narrator introducing each new commandment and his wooden delivery doesn’t do any favors to the film either. I’ll keep my descriptions of the segments/commandments vague (as some a couple of them last for two minutes tops), but will dive into my criticisms or praise to be found in each.

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THOU SHALT NOT WORSHIP NO GOD BEFORE ME: After falling out of an airplane, a man becomes an unexpected celebrity and this newfound fame consumes him. This short plays out like a joke with no punchline. Though there are two brief chuckles, the best I can say about this segment is that it’s very brief (five minutes). The first commandment feels like a throwaway joke that was stretched on for five minutes. D

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THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THE LORD’S NAME IN VAIN: A virginal librarian has a fling with a mysterious man in Mexico that produces an unexpected revelation. This short had some potential in its execution, but mostly plays out like a one-note joke. Again, it made me chuckle a couple of times, but that’s about all the reaction it got out of me. This is slightly worse than first segment, which doesn’t exactly kick off the comedic anthology on a strong note. D-

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THOU SHALT NOT MURDER: A doctor pulls a prank that has deadly consequences for his patient and dire ones for himself. This segment felt like a decent College Humor skit made its way into this film. I was amused, even if the laughs ranged on moronic. The short also sets up characters in two of the better segments down the line. B-

HONOR THY MOTHER AND THY FATHER: Two black children demand to know the identity of their biological father and their white mother goes to extreme lengths to give them the answer. This segment felt so awkward, stupid, and bad that it just stuck out like a sore thumb as easily the worst of the 10 shorts here. F

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THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR’S GOODS: A pompous asshole (played wonderfully by Liev Schreiber) competes with his neighbor after an impromptu CAT scan machine purchase. The situation spirals out of control. I was cracking up during multiple parts of this segment and wish that the rest of the commandments were as entertaining. Easily the best tale of the bunch. A-

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THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR’S WIFE: The doctor from the third segment finds himself in prison. He’s cell mates with an abusive rapist but falls in love another prisoner (Rob Corddry). Though I can see most folks not enjoying this segment, Rob Corddry usually brings up the quality of any project he’s in. The dead-pan seriousness that this “romance” plays out in is also quite funny. B-

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THOU SHALT NOT STEAL: The seventh commandment is very hit or miss. A woman (introduced in the first segment) falls in love with a ventriloquist dummy. The serious execution of this unconventional romance bring most of the successful jokes, but there are almost an equal number of misses. The sheer stupidity of the tale will turn people off, but I enjoyed it as a bit of a guilty pleasure. C+

THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS: A heroin addict asks about the origin of a special brand of heroin. This leads into an impromptu piece of animation that aims for shock value and forgets any laughs to be had. This really felt like the turning point in which the movie (which already wasn’t great by any means) decided to throw everything at the wall and see what stuck. Unfortunately, nothing stuck at all. F

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THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY: Paul Rudd, already acting as a lifeless narrator in the wraparound, gets him time to shine here and the writing doesn’t do him any favors. Rudd would go on to be hilarious in later efforts (he’s arguably the funniest part of KNOCKED UP), but there’s no effort put into this brief segment from either Rudd or Wain. F

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REMEMBER THE SABBATH AND KEEP IT HOLY: The tenth commandment centers a man who would rather be naked at home on a Sunday than at church with his family. His newfound nudity gains popularity among his friends. Though this final segment may have gotten a brief chuckle out of me, it feels like this was a potentially funny joke that might have made for a small scene in a narrative feature, but gets stretched out to an excruciatingly long 10 minutes. It’s an ever so slight improvement above the last two tales, but sends the overall jumbled anthology out on a sour note. D-

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THE TEN has a cool premise, but doesn’t fully utilize it. The only commandment that I out-and-out loved was “Coveting Thy Neighbor’s Goods” as the dark sense of humor and Schreiber delivered solid laughs. There are also three that range between are okay (Shalt Not Murder, Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife, and Shalt Not Steal). The rest of the stories feel like a simple jokes stretched to their unfunny breaking points or phoned in attempts at shock value. In the end, I can’t recommend THE TEN. I’m sure somebody’s already said this before, but Thou Shalt Not See This Movie!

Grade: D+

GOON (2012)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Brutal Violence, Non-Stop Language, some Strong Sexual Content and Drug Use

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Directed by: Michael Dowse

Written by: Jay Baruchel & Evan Goldberg

Starring: Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill, Marc-Andre Grondin, Kim Coates, Eugene Levy & Liev Schreiber

Combining the sports movie formula with a fight movie formula and throwing in a hefty amount of comedy, GOON is a movie that is far better than it had any indication of being. This is a pretty enjoyable flick that is worth kicking back and killing some time with. I watched it in the spur of the moment, having barely heard of it in the past and this is a nice little surprise. It’s far from a comedic masterpiece. Some problems can be found in the storytelling/pacing. One major compliment that can be given is that I can’t think of anything I’ve seen (off the top of my head) that’s exactly like GOON. There are major props to be given for that.

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Doug Glatt is a lovable guy, though he’s a bit slow in the head. He works as a bouncer at a bar and feels like the black sheep of his family due to this less-prestigious job. Both his overbearing father and his gay brother are well-respected doctors. During a night of relaxation and fun, Doug attends a hockey game with his best friend only to have a violent encounter with an aggravated player. His stint at the game earns Doug the attention of a hockey coach and soon enough, Doug is recruited as the resident enforcer for a hockey team. Earning a reputation and the title of Doug “The Thug,” on the rink for his bloody brawls, Doug quickly is elevated to the bigger leagues. This is where he tries to make a run at actually trying to play real hockey (to the dismay of his new coach) and attempts to form a friendship with a troubled teammate. This is all occurring while Doug’s parents frown upon his newfound career, Doug finds love in a troubled woman named Eva, and another famous hockey goon (Ross “The Boss”) waits on the horizon for a chance to fight.

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GOON is very entertaining. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. The script by Evan Goldberg and Jay Baruchel covers a lot of ground in 90 minutes, but maybe it’s a tad too much packed in? I felt like the film spent such a brief amount of time on some plot points that everything suffered a little bit as a result. The relationship between Doug and his family is limited to about three scenes. One of the more important subplots, Doug’s budding relationship with Eva, also felt too condensed. I bought the evolution of them as a possible couple. Seann William Scott and Alison Pill do have remarkable chemistry together, but the film needed to develop them together more. If the movie were about 20 to 30 minutes longer than it really would have made a difference in covering these interesting subplots. There were just so many threads points that needed more time.

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One aspect that wasn’t rushed in the slightest were the front-and-center sports elements. The really cool thing about GOON is that it plays out simultaneously as a sports flick and a fighting movie. There’s obviously a lot of humor thrown into the mix, but it’s all done with just enough believability to make the viewer root for Doug’s underdog team. The impending showdown between Doug “The Thug” and Ross “The Boss” is given some substantial weight. I really enjoyed the final scenes of the film which took a tad of an unusual turn for a sports-comedy, although (as my friend viewing the film with me noted) things could have been made even more unconventional and better for it.

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The film is very well-cast too. Besides the aforementioned Schreiber playing the main antagonist. Jay Baruchel (co-writer of this film) makes an appearance as Doug’s foul-mouthed best friend. This character was funny at points, but also got to a level of annoying (which may have been the intention). Alison Pill is pretty damn good as the romantic interest and given somewhat complex ground to cover seeing as her relationship is a complicated one. Eugene Levy makes a brief appearance as Doug’s father. I didn’t recognize most of the other cast members off-hand, but there are plenty of colorful characters (a pair of twins kept making me laugh as did an ill-tempered player with pictures of his mother plastered all over his helmet). Finally, there’s Seann William Scott. Known for playing ridiculous idiots, GOON marks a change for Scott. He’s still playing a moron, but he’s a lovable moron with good manners.

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As a whole, GOON is entertaining, despite some script points being undercut and rushed. The violence (of which there is plenty on the rink) is gloriously shot and done with a gleeful style to it. The entire film is laced with a charming sensibility. It’s a very enjoyable flick that winds up suffering from some pacing problems. Some of the parts of the script should either have been expanded or excised entirely. Still, GOON is one that I recommend as far as sports comedies are concerned.

Grade: B-

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