31 Days to Scare ~ I Know What You Did Last Summer

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Four young friends bound by a tragic accident are reunited when they find themselves being stalked by a hook-wielding maniac in their small seaside town.

Stars: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Freddie Prinze, Jr., Ryan Phillippe, Anne Heche, Bridgette Wilson, Johnny Galecki, Muse Watson, Stuart Greer

Director: Jim Gillespie

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  You can thank 1996’s Scream for reinvigorating the largely dead teen slasher franchise that went toe up in the mid ’80s, at least for an extended period for the next decade.  Though it may be starting another renaissance soon with remakes of films that were made during that fruitful period at the cinema, between 1997 and 2002 you’d be hard pressed to go several weeks without a carbon copy movie hitting your local theater.  Many of these were rush jobs that deserved to fade into obscurity along with their forgettable, flash in the pan cast members.  Yet early on you actually had some decent options to choose from and one of the best of the bunch that still holds up on repeat viewing today is 1997’s I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Adapted by Scream-scribe Kevin Williamson long before he sold his blockbuster franchise starter, the script for his modernized take on Lois Duncan’s 1973 popular YA novel was snatched up by Columbia Pictures.  Lucking out in the casting department by signing a roster of reasonably bankable stars and, more than anything, good actors, the film benefits from Williamson’s love of horror flicks of his youth and a desire to re-create a straight-up slasher film he could call his own.  Whereas Scream had satire on the brain and worked that into something unforgettable in a way that only that particular film could, Williamson didn’t try to punch up his script for I Know What You Did Last Summer with the same self-referencing quips.  The teens in the film are well-spoken and no dummies, but they aren’t self-aware enough to know the rules of the horror film like the young adults in Scream were.

Most of us know the plot from the book, the movie, or maybe even a campfire tale growing up.  Four teens out for a night of fun are involved in a hit-and-run cover-up that then drives a wedge between their close bond.  A year later, they start receiving notes from someone that saw what they did and has deadly plans to make them pay for their crime.  Duncan’s novel was (and is still) a moody and spooky cautionary tale of owning up to one’s mistakes or paying the consequences later.  It’s not quite as deadly as Williamson’s more brutal way of making the four (and several of their friends/family) atone for a sin but it proves a solid base for Williamson to jump off from.  For his part, Williamson has made the mystery a little deeper and given the characters a bit more personality, ably giving the movie a solid three act structure.

Director Jim Gillespie also delivers as well, not just encouraging fun performances from the cast but staging the movie with nice scares and more than a few stalk and stab sequences that get the tension rising.  The only way the movie starts to take a downward turn is that the more interesting characters are the ones we start to see, uh, less of so that by the end we’re meant to be rooting for possibly the blandest of them all.  No matter, this one has a high re-watchability factor and always seems to get the job done if I’m in the mood for an above average slasher film that won’t require the full commitment of the Scream franchise but won’t have me trolling around Netflix for hours searching for something.  I’ve seen it countless times and never seem to tire of it or find a desire to poke holes in it.

A sequel was no equal (not by a long shot) and a third film was beyond bad.  Williamson would be behind a number of similarly themed fare over the next decade but none came close to his one-two punch of Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer.  I generally liked many of these and even would buy a ticket for the lesser-than selections week after week.  For 90 minutes, it was fun to see what new start of tomorrow (that never was) would get killed in a fun and interesting way.  The fun really began, though, with I Know What You Did Last Summer and, it seems the Summer continues even today because this is a great title to revisit this month.

Movie Review ~ The Best of Enemies


The Facts
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Synopsis: Civil Rights activist, Ann Atwater, faces off against C.P. Ellis, Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan in 1971 Durham, North Carolina over the issue of school integration.

Stars: Taraji P. Henson, Sam Rockwell, Anne Heche, Wes Bentley, John Gallagher Jr., Bruce McGill

Director: Robin Bissell

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 133 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: The filmmakers for Green Book haven’t even had their Best Picture Oscar on the shelf long enough to gather dust before another problematic movie on race relations has made it to theaters. Now I have a feeling that The Best of Enemies tells its tale with a bit more honesty and is unquestionably less outright manipulative but still…something feels off here. Though, like Green Book, it boasts two likable stars (one a recent Oscar winner) and is based on actual events, The Best of Enemies overstays its welcome by hammering home its message audiences will have received loud and clear early on.

It’s 1971 and Durham, North Carolina is still racially divided. Though laws on desegregation have chipped away at the antiquated restrictions at many institutions within the state, the schools remain separated by race. Continuing to fight for her civil rights and the rights of others was the outspoken Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson, What Men Want), a grassroots activist that wasn’t afraid to raise her voice to call attention to injustice within her community. On the other side of the coin was Ku Klux Klan leader C. P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell, Vice) who also felt like he was seeing the rights of another population of Durham being restricted. The two public figures were both respected within their individual circles and known to each other…and they didn’t care for the other one bit.

When a fire destroys part of a school that served the black children of Durham, it sparks a debate that leads to the city council voting whether or not to allow children of both races to attend the same school. At the same time, a court-ordered school desegregation decree has finally come into play but instead of being the deciding vote and making history, the district judge involved passes the decision down to the people of Durham. Through a structured two-week community meeting known as a charrette, Atwater and Ellis become co-chairs and lead a group of representatives from the city in deciding how they want to move forward on several key issues, the biggest being fully integrating their schools.

Writer/director Robin Bissell (a producer of The Hunger Games) has adapted Osha Gray Davidson’s book and while it’s clearly a labor of love, it is quite a labor to get through. At two hours and thirteen minutes, the movie takes a while to get moving and then just sort of treads water for a good sixty minutes rehashing what we already know or setting up more scenes of racial tension designed to elicit the appropriate rage from the audience. By the time the film reaches it’s predicted climax, audiences might be a bit numb after all the elevated dramatics Bissell introduces.

The saving grace of the movie lies in the casting and it starts at the top with Henson and Rockwell. Both are actors that invest themselves fully into their roles and that’s certainly the case here. Though Henson is sporting an almost comically large fake set of breasts, she brings a dignity and strength of soul to Ann who wrestles with wanting to practice what she preaches about acceptance even when the person on the other side won’t look her in the face. You may think Rockwell has played a version of this character already in his Oscar-winning role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri but the differences between the two men are vast. At the beginning of the film Ellis actually believes in the racist thoughts he spews forth but Rockwell takes us through each crack in his belief system as he spends time not only with the black members of Durham but other white people that don’t share his values.

There’s nice supporting work from Anne Heche (Volcano) as Ellis’ wife who doesn’t suffer fools…especially her husband, Wes Bentley (Interstellar) as the prototype KKK member of that era in that area, and Bruce McGill (Lincoln) as a crooked councilman. I also liked John Gallagher Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane) as a local shopowner sympathetic to the integration that has to choose between what’s right for him and what’s right for his community. He shares a brief scene with Rockwell that hints at the kind of impactful moments the movie is sorely short on. Yet the film never takes off quite so much as when Henson and Rockwell are bickering or, eventually, seeing eye to eye.

Conceived as a historical piece documenting an important turning point in the Civil Rights movement but orchestrated as an audience rousing drama where everyone goes home happy, The Best of Enemies wants it both ways. It tries awfully hard, though, and that work doesn’t go unnoticed. Yet it winds up feeling like another strange misstep in Hollywood’s attempt to get a movie about the Civil Rights…right.

In Praise of Teasers ~ Psycho (1998)

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I have a serious problem with movie trailers lately. It seems like nearly every preview that’s released is about 2:30 minutes long and gives away almost every aspect of the movie, acting more like a Cliff Notes version of the movie being advertised rather than something to entice an audience into coming back and seeing the full product.

In this day and age where all aspects of a movie are fairly well known before an inch of footage is seen the subtlety of a well crafted “teaser” trailer is totally gone…and I miss it…I miss it a lot. So I decided to go back to some of the teaser trailers I fondly remember and, in a way, reintroduce them. Whether the actual movie was good or bad is neither here nor there…but pay attention to how each of these teasers work in their own special way to grab the attention of movie-goers.

Psycho (1998)

Riding high off of a string of movies that were critical and box office successes, the (cinematic) world was director Gus Van Sant’s oyster.  So on one hand it was easy to imagine why Universal Studios would allow Van Sant to take on what was essentially a shot for shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary 1960 thriller.  On the other hand, why would any director even want to go near the property to begin with?  I remember being excited to see what Van Sant would do with the material and his starry ensemble cast…and also feeling a bit shell shocked leaving the theater after viewing the ultimately unwise finished film.  Hitchcock’s film still has an impact even 15 years after this bungled remake so in the end this head-scratcher exists merely as curiosity.

Missed my previous teaser reviews? Check out my look at Alien, Misery, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Showgirls, Jurassic Park, Jaws 3D/Jaws: The Revenge, Total Recall, Halloween II: Season of the Witch, In the Line of Fire, The Game

The Silver Bullet ~ Arthur Newman

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Synopsis: A story of a man who fakes his own death and assumes a new identity in order to escape his life, who then moves in with a woman who is also trying to leave her past behind.

Release Date: April 26, 2013

Thoughts: Oscar winner Colin Firth and the dependable Emily Blunt are the stars of this dramedy helmed by first time director Dante Ariola in a story of two people trying to escape their pasts.  The trailer for the movie has a nice vibe to it, though the enjoyment of the film is probably heightened if you were interested in traveling cross country with only Firth’s quirky charm and Blunt’s dedicated appeal to keep you company.  I’m a fan of both actors so count me in to chip in for gas when this is released.