years, westerns have portrayed the pioneer journey as one of constant thrills
and adventure. The reality was probably much closer to Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff, a loosely fact-based account
of settlers making their way through the desolate Oregon wilderness in 1845.
re-teams here with her Wendy & Lucy star, Michelle Williams, who plays Emily, one of three women traveling with
their families in search of a passage across the Cascade Mountains. The group
is led by Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), a self-proclaimed guide who has
almost certainly gotten them lost (although he’ll never admit it). As rations
run low, tensions run high, especially when the local native tribes begin to
make themselves known. Despite the presence of her rugged husband (Will Patton)
and the other men, Emily gradually realizes that she may be the only person
with the courage to challenge Meek’s decisions.
Cutoff is as slow as the covered wagons that inch across the landscape. This will
undoubtedly make it boring for many viewers, but Reichardt has a terrific
mastery of detail and atmosphere. The audience makes this trek with the
characters, and it becomes surprisingly affecting. Every sound seems amplified
by the movie’s stillness, and so does every emotion. It may not be the most
exciting experience, but it is a rewarding one, right down to the ambiguous,
thought-provoking final shot.
minimalistic making-of feature and the theatrical trailer are the only things
included. (PG) Rating: 4 —LL
After he had starred in the early movies of Sam Raimi and
the Coen Brothers but before he landed his plum role on Burn Notice, Bruce Campbell earned a reputation as a sort of Tom
Cruise or Tom Hanks of the B-movie set. While Campbell might not be a household
name or a ticket draw, he’s proven himself to be an A-list talent, and some of
his movies like the cult classic Bubba
Ho-Tep are an entertaining alternative to mainstream fare.
Sadly, his 1987 effort Maniac
Cop, which is finally out on Blu-Ray, deserves its obscurity. A New York
police lieutenant (Tom Atkins) is on the trail of a serial killer who’s wearing
a police uniform. Unlike a rogue cop, this fellow isn’t going vigilante. He’s
simply killing innocent people who stumble into his path.
Better genre films like the Evil Dead series and Bubba
Ho-Tep work because they’re as creative as they are cheap. Director William
Lustig (Maniac) approaches the script
by Larry Cohen (It’s Alive!, Phone Booth)
in a workmanlike, pedestrian manner. Despite the gore, the story isn’t as scary
as it should be.
Raimi can be spotted playing a reporter. This sort of
material begs for his over-the-top directing sensibilities.
Lustig is a poor substitute.
Worse, Campbell, who would have been a lot of fun as the
villain, is stuck playing an innocent cop framed for the murders. While he is
the nominal lead and is convincing playing an ordinary person, Campbell was
born to mug. While he can show restraint, it’s so much more fun to watch him embrace
his inner two-year-old.
an astonishing number for such a marginal film. A commentary track with Lustig,
Campbell and others, some sequences added for Japanese television and an ad for
Spanish language radio stations. (R) Rating: 2 —DL
Scream 4 (a.k.a. Scre4m)
upon a time, directors like John Carpenter, George Romero and Wes Craven broke
provocative new ground in horror filmmaking. They were the bold young
mavericks, shocking audiences and inspiring imitators for years.
they’re becoming old men who yell, “Get off my lawn!” at the neighbor
kids. Carpenter hasn’t made a watchable
movie in 15 years, and Romero has turned the astute social commentary of his
zombie films into worn-out rants.
has floundered recently, too, and tries to fix the problem by going back to his
most recent success – the Scream franchise. When he teamed with writer Kevin Williamson for the 1996 original,
the result was a fresh take on the slasher genre, with snarky self-awareness punctuating
the genuine scares. The latest installment is less self-aware than
self-conscious, trying way too hard to say something important, and saying it
Roberts plays Jill, the niece of original heroine Sidney Prescott, who has
joined most of her peers in trivializing the Woodsboro murders via campy movies
and smart-phone apps. When Sidney (Neve Campbell) returns to town to promote
her survivor/self-help book, the infamous ghost-masked killer starts slicing up
victims again — including the oblivious teenagers, who apparently don't
understand that they're in real danger.
now, there isn't much more to add to the meta-commentary on horror clichés so
Craven decides to do the same thing Romero did with Diary of the Dead. He makes clever use of the technology that
permeates the characters' lives, then lectures
everybody on how amoral and narcissistic it's making us. Never mind that every
generation levels those accusations at younger people, usually because its
members feel left behind by a culture they can't control anymore.
"proves" his point by making Jill and her friends so wrapped up in
their little YouTube cocoon, they barely respond when the murders start
happening. It's not real if it's not happening online, right?
Something like that, anyway.
Scream 4 is so
absorbed in its reality-within-a-movie-within-reality conceit, it practically
devours itself. Even the humor gets lost since the characters don't seem to be
in on the joke this time. They're just dumber than rocks, which erases any
connection viewers might have with them. This time, the joke's on us.
Extras: Commentary by Craven, Roberts, Campbell and co-star Hayden Panettiere; a
making-of doc; deleted and extended scenes; a gag reel; a video game promo. (R) Rating: 2 —LL
Thanks to YouTube, this terrific British comedy has found a
new lease on life here in the States. It’s tricky to describe Michael
Winterbottom’s The Trip, but it’s
certainly easy to enjoy it. The film was presented as a six-part series on the
BBC, but the theatrical version manages to play astonishingly well even with
half of its original content.
The Trip stars
Steve Cogan (Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party
People, Tropic Thunder) and Rob
Brydon (Little Britain) as an Englishman
and a Welshman not unlike themselves. When Coogan’s American girlfriend dumps
him before he can take her on a tour of first-rate eateries in rural England,
he begs his pal Brydon to come along.
Because the two are comics and thespians, the journey winds
up being about who can outdo the other. Although they are close friends, they
can’t sit for two seconds without debating the poems of Coleridge or trying to
see who does a better impersonation of Sir Michael Caine. The latter clip
became a sensation
online and is thankfully reflective of the rest of the movie.
Watching these guys argue is more fun than just about any special effect
There’s no credited screenwriter (much of the dialogue was
improvised), but Winterbottom manages to make the simple tale flow nicely.
Coogan also manages the tricky feat of making viewers sympathize with his
characters ambivalence toward fame. He gets a sense that his career has faded
and that he may have wasted his life chasing women and insubstantial goals.
The scenery is just gorgeous, so Winterbottom has managed to
find an inexpensive but ingenious way to make a movie about two guys talking
both fun and breathtaking.
Extras: It might
have been nice for us Yanks to see how the complete series unfolded. There is
nearly an hour and 45 minutes of outtakes, some of which come from the TV
version. They’re funny out of context, but it would have been fun to compare
the two versions. There’s also some behind the scenes footage the reveals that
Coogan and Brydon aren’t that close in real life, but thankfully they aren’t
that combative, either. (R) Rating: 4.5 —