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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Of Cars and Horrors...

I don't know if it's a school holidays thing but once again we have new movies releasing on a Wednesday rather than the more traditional Friday. It's not even a question of their being world-wide releases because they have both been out for a while overseas. Plus, it's only two of the films that are being released early - one for the kids, one for slasher fans - fans of romantic comedies and, better yet, quirky indie dramedies are going to have to wait for Friday, I'm afraid. I'll have more on those over the weekend but here, for your reading pleasure, are my quick reviews of two solid sequels to films that didn't really need them. 


Cars 2 is a film that has gotten quite the drubbing from most critics and, considering the high standards that Pixar has maintained over the years, it's not exactly surprising - nor, for that matter, entirely undeserved. Cars 2 is a long way from the dizzying highs of the Toy Story films or The Incredibles, possessing little of the age-barrier-destroying emotional depth or innovation with which the Pixar brand has become synonymous. 

However, while this may well all be true, Cars 2 is not the first film to let the Pixar brand down and, while it may be near the bottom of the stack, it is not the worst film to come out of that exalted production company either. No, if wagging fingers are to be pointed anywhere it must surely be at the original Cars, a film that was not only lazily conceived but also seemed uncertain as to whom it was actually aimed. Its message of slowing down to appreciate one's life only really had a chance of striking a chord with older members of the audience, while its overly cutesy car designs were strictly for the kids.

Cars 2 may not have the cross-appeal of, say, last year's magnificent Toy Story 3 but it at least picks a target audience and sticks with them. The film keep its focus squarely on the franchise's younger fans and, ironically, by doing so, it becomes less likely to alienate adults at the same time. It is, essentially, a globe-trotting spy story for kids and taken purely on those terms, it actually works rather well. Unsurprisingly, the film looks beautiful with the rustic Americana of the first film giving way to a variety of European settings and the sweeping scope of the story takes full advantage of this, its greatest strength. The basic plot is notable only for its very heavy-handed alternative-fuel message but it keeps the action coming and, though the characters are variable and far too much time is spent on Larry The Cable Guy's Mater, it's much more of an ensemble piece than its predecessor. And it's hard to quibble when you have Michael Caine playing, well, anything really... but especially when he's playing a suave English spy as he (or at least his voice) is here.





Scream 4, on the other hand, may not have quite the pedigree of John Lasseter and Pixar but, as the latest installment in a once popular film series, it has at least some significance for those of us who were exactly the right age to get the most out of Scream when it came out. I saw the original Scream when I was around fifteen or sixteen years old and I was taken by the film's smartness, its twisty storytelling and its subversion of popular horror staples. After the dire third film, however, I was more than happy to never have to sit through another installment of a once promising franchise that had so quickly and so profoundly run out of steam.

And, yet, here we are. It's been 15 years since the original film hit, 15 years that have effectively removed the franchise from the collective consciousness, as American horror has mostly turned dumber and meaner. Some of us may remember the original fondly but it still seemed like shaky ground on which to relaunch the series.

Well, the good news is that the series is, to a point, revitalized. It's the kind of stripped down, tense slasher film that we have seen very little of these days with plenty of twists and turns to keep us guessing, as well as some halfway decent meta-commentary about the horror genre in general. The first few minutes are especially funny.

The main problem with Scream 4, though, is that younger viewers, who never saw the original, will probably enjoy the film for what it is but, because so much of the character work was done in the first few films, they may well feel detached from what happens to the core characters. For us older viewers, it may be fun, not only to reunite with old favourites, but to see a film that actually reminds us why we liked the original in the first place. Unfortunately, with this comes the inescapable fact that we have already seen this done before and, however much more efficient Scream 4 may be than its immediate predecessor, the old tricks do start to feel repetitive, fairly quickly. It's a solid return to form but it does go to show that we never really did need to Scream more than once.   

And, yes, I did just make that pun.

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