Scream (1996)

★★★★★

Scream PosterDirector: Wes Craven

Release Date: December 20th, 1996 (US); May 2nd, 1997 (UK)

Genre: Horror; Mystery

Starring: Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, David Arquette

Within minutes, it asks us to consider our “favourite scary movie”. Characters relentlessly quote or refer to other characters from other films, such Pyscho’s Norman Bates or Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees. Wes Craven’s Scream is both a love letter to horror cinema and a skilfully rammed knife in the genre’s back. It is vibrant and arrogant and brash. Kevin Williamson pens a screenplay that inverts commonality, and does so for two reasons: to offer fans something new, and to prove that you still can offer fans something new.

Take the bloody prologue as an example. One of the greatest bait and switch openings to ever grace the silver screen, it suddenly manoeuvres from harmless small talk between Drew Barrymore’s unsuspecting teen and an anonymous caller, to effervescent morbidity. “Turn on the patio lights,” orders the unidentified voice, and from then convention is flipped: our proverbial heroine dies in an instant, despite almost escaping, almost alerting her parents, almost relaying the correct answer. You need to know your horror history or else bad things will happen. If that’s not an advert for the genre, what is?

Scream’s role in revitalising the slasher genre ought to be celebrated. Diverting tonally from the superbly mean-spirited Texas Chain Saw Massacres and Exorcists of the 1970s, this embraced the madness and subsequently recaptured the imagination of viewers with self-reflective normalisation. Whereas earlier audiences sought out squeals and yelps (as seen in this recording of a 70s Halloween screening), cinemagoers in the 90s were clearly after something different. Craven obliged, combining wit with exhilarating chills to create an atmosphere that encouraged knowledgeable grins.

More recently, Final Destination and Saw have built entire franchises atop Scream’s perceptive hallmarks, and filmmakers such as Ti West and Adam Wingard likely fostered their own brand of creative horror having gazed upon Craven’s work. Edgar Wright published a touching tribute to the late director, noting the visceral influence Craven’s portfolio had on him in his younger years, an influence that once again reared during the production of Shaun of the Dead (you can read that tribute here).

The story is straightforward: a rampaging killer is loose in Woodsboro, a small Californian community seemingly dominated by obnoxious teens and roving reporters. Still living with the demons brought on by her mother’s murder, Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell, who wholly endears) unwittingly gets caught up in the knife-wielding drama. Knowing the killer’s identity before seeing the film doesn’t undo its value, which is sort of the point; though guessing is part of the fun, horror doesn’t have to be about who is under the hood. The preceding thrill is worth its weight in gold.

Speaking of said killer, the villain here is a maniacal conglomeration of humour and fear. The way Ghostface runs is both funny and scary, as is the way his/her mask droops. Ghostface appears anywhere and everywhere: reflected in the eye of a deceased victim; scampering through neighbourhood forests; hiding behind school closets. It could be anybody under the black cloak and as such a prevailing air of bubbling uncertainty exists (“There’s a formula to it, a very simple formula. Everybody’s a suspect!”). Characters act erratically around each other, but no more erratically than normal teenagers act, which helps to harnesses any disengaging silliness.

Famous for breaking the fourth wall and openly discussing the rules of horror, Scream’s meta ambience still holds up almost two decades on. Perhaps this is indicative of a lack of evolution in the genre, or perhaps it is simply because Wes Craven had a penchant for predicting and challenging the future Zeitgeist. Regarding scary movies, Sydney lays it out for us: “What’s the point? They’re all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act, who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It’s insulting.” And normally it is insulting, but not this time.

Patrick Lussier’s snappy editing feeds the edgy (and also comedic) aura, as do Marco Beltrami’s brassy convulsions. Mark Irwin’s camera often shows us what Sydney does not see — for example, the killer’s feet and costume descending into view beneath a bathroom stall door that our protagonist checked only moments prior. Scream is not, incidentally, an out-and-out comedy. We laugh when the film acknowledges absurdity, a trait familiar to the genre that is often ignored in favour of a more serious approach.

At one point the song lyrics “say a prayer for the youth of America” ring out before the view instantly cuts to a house party. The insinuation could be anything. That youngsters lack focus and are too materialistic. That the teens in this film are in grave danger. It could even be a nod towards the social plight of kids in the real world — 1996, after all, continued to play host to the consumerist, ratings-gorging MTV Generation.

The outing even manages to appraise the media in between its scary movie satire. It is tough on said industry, embodied by journalist Gale Weathers’ constant need to invade the teens’ privacy as well as her less than admirable moral motivations (“Do you know what that could do for my book sales?”). But there is a blunt nod towards the media’s role in serving justice too.

It all culminates in an intense, enjoyable and smartly executed wild goose chase with so many well-earned twists and turns. And, like in all great horror flicks, you really want the innocent lot to make it through the bloodbath unscathed. Well, maybe a little scathed. Those are the rules after all.

Scream - Ghostface

Images credit: IMP AwardsPopcorn Horror

Images copyright (©): Dimension Films

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

★★★★

Twin Peaks Fire Walk with Me PosterDirector: David Lynch

Release Date: August 28th, 1992 (US); November 20th, 1992 (UK)

Genre: Horror; Mystery; Thriller

Starring: Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, Kyle MacLachlan

Before getting into the nitty-gritty — and this really is nitty and gritty — Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me opens with a 25 minute minisode. We watch as FBI Agents Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) and Sam Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) investigate a murder in Deer Meadow that reeks with familiarity. While discussing cryptic messages Sam asks, “What exactly did that mean?” to which his partner replies, “I’ll explain it to you”. Fans of the television show have asking the same question and hoping for the same answer since the second season of Twin Peaks concluded, but answers are in short supply here.

David Lynch’s movie acts as a prequel to his cult TV hit, and is film that pitches its tent firmly in the past. Lynch only lightly touches upon the show’s cliffhanger ending — if you haven’t seen Twin Peaks and have plans to see it, stop reading now — instead opting to focus on the events leading up to the murder of Laura Palmer. Risky? Certainly. Frustrating? Probably, though the news that another season is on the way has likely rendered much frustration obsolete. Fire Walk with Me brings the almost mythical figure of Laura Palmer to life, and does so brilliantly.

Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is a high school student plagued by an evil spirit known as BOB (Frank Silva), who appears in her uncanny visions and demented dreams. In Twin Peaks, she has already been killed by BOB and Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is called in to find the then unknown culprit. Here, the events leading up to Palmer’s death are explored in detail, including her drug addled experiences and her father Leland’s (Ray Wise) own demonic possession.

The Chester-Sam preamble exudes a classic Lynchian essence, lulling us into a false sense of security from the get-go. Life in Deer Meadow looks, sounds and feels worse than life in Twin Peaks: the coffee at the local sheriff’s station is outdated; the owner of the diner is old, abrasive and foul-toothed, far removed from Norma Jennings; and there are no food specials either. Not even a sliver of cherry pie. You begin to miss spending time in Twin Peaks, its oddness and peculiarity and vitality in short supply. And we never truly revisit that kooky town.

Coop appears under false pretences — despite captaining the television show, he’s only a bit part player here (primarily due to MacLachlan’s return worries). Angelo Badalamenti’s twangy score reverberates as Ron Garcia’s cinematography hones in on that recognisable welcome sign, but it soon becomes obvious that Fire Walk with Me is a different animal to Lynch’s small screen work. It is Laura’s story, which is by and large miserable and horrifying. “Do you think that if you were falling in space you would slow down after a while, or go faster and faster?” best friend Donna muses. Laura assuredly hits back, “Faster and faster”. That’s her predicament. Spiralling without a harness.

Sheryl Lee’s range is impressive. Her demeanour effortlessly switches from dreamy, to seductive, to ponderous, to deranged, to hysterical, depending on BOB’s stranglehold at any given moment. Despite knowing the finality of her arc, a dramatic heft still remains and that is largely due to Lee’s sympathetic portrayal. We want her to survive for moral reasons, but also because we know her interactions with Coop et al would be compelling and fun (granted, her survival would render Twin Peaks pointless in the first place). Enya-esque music adds to Laura’s angelic qualities, the dulcet and delicate inflections indicating an impending loss of innocence.

Performances are over the top at times, a by-product of Lynch’s soap opera brand. The director tones down any potential melodrama though, instead seeking out scares. And there are some properly terrifying moments; at one point BOB hides awkwardly in Laura’s room, poised in a corner behind a chest of drawers. The scene is actually a jump scare, but one done well — it chills for longer because BOB’s uncouth posture and uncontrollable lunacy can do little else but leave a lasting impression. Frank Silva has always infused the Twin Peaks landscape with an edge-of-your-seat mania, and he steps it up another notch here.

The persiflage-like comedic oddities that richly emboldened the television show aren’t around. They certainly wouldn’t fit with Fire Walk with Me’s dark themes, but you do miss them. In their place is a mountain of debauchery, nudity and swearing. A seemingly everlasting Pink Room (a strip club of sorts) scene reflects this grimness. The floor resembles a destitute beach, with fag ash for sand and beer bottles for seaweed. Loud music means we need subtitles to understand what various characters are saying — sound is used efficiently throughout the film to amp up tension. It drags on a bit too long, but the room’s red, flashing textures do imitate hell and effectively mirror Laura’s harrowing plunge.

To the filmmaker’s credit, an air of horror lingers over every second of the movie. It helps that a pre-existing television show has already laid the groundwork as far as worldbuilding goes, and therefore all that remains is to plug holes with the correct tonal density. Lynch opts for a dark, thick substance that stinks of constant dread. He is essentially unpacking the mindset of a psychopath. As Leland Palmer succumbs to the nefarious tendencies of BOB, his fatherliness drains. He increasingly exudes a crazed Jack Torrance vibe; one dinner scene in particular communicates unbridled domestic terror.

This is also Leland’s story, but viewed from Laura’s external perspective. Lynch takes us through his psychopathic functionality, the primal loss of control, where what was once unlawful becomes lawful. In a way, this type of destabilised humanity can only be explained by inexplicable mysticism, an aspect explored with greater verve in Twin Peaks. Laura, able to fend off BOB’s corruptness but not his presence, faces a different type of corruption: she becomes a drug and sex addict, someone haunted by immorality.

If you are well-versed in the television show you’ll know where the film is headed, yet Lynch manages to frame the ending in a somewhat positive manner without jeopardising the preceding terror. Relief is the overarching emotion, perhaps a fitting tonal precursor to Twin Peaks. These moments of respite are uncommon in Fire Walk with Me, a genuinely underrated horror gem. That’s a lot of garmonbozia.

Twin Peaks Fire Walk with Me - Laura & Leland

Images credit: IMP Awards, Welcome to Twin Peaks

Images copyright (©): New Line Cinema

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

★★

I Know What You Did Last Summer PosterDirector: Jim Gillespie

Release Date: October 17th, 1997 (US); December 12th, 1997 (UK)

Genre: Horror; Mystery; Thriller

Starring: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Freddie Prinze Jr.

We probably shouldn’t be too surprised that a film called I Know What You Did Last Summer reeks of laziness. Just as someone couldn’t find the time to come up with a proper title — it ain’t bad, but it is a tagline at the end of the day — renowned screenwriter Kevin Williamson must’ve had better things to do when he should have been jotting down ideas for this particular outing. Odd too, given some of Williamson’s best work hit cinemas only a year prior. Released during the peak of slasher popularity, I Know What You Did Last Summer is an almost wholesomely generic film that seldom has something fresh to offer. Though when it occasionally does, it’s quite fun.

The day is July 4th — it always is — and a group of friends partying at the beach are celebrating the end of high school life. Fuelled by alcohol, their lively drive home in the early hours of the morning takes a violent turn when designated wheel man Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.) inadvertently hits a stranger. A year later, the quartet reconvene to face their demons after Julie (Jennifer Love Hewitt) receives a worrying letter from an unknown threat.

Riding on the coattails of horror’s slashiest sub-genre at its peak, this may well have worked for audiences 15 years ago. For those 90s kids who were willing to manoeuvre away from their post-Fresh Prince couches and venture along to the cinema in a search for their latest scare kick, an air of fragmentary vindication likely arose. The proceeding 15 years haven’t done Jim Gillespie’s piece any favours though as these days I Know What You Did Last Summer communicates sluggishly rather than scarily.

Characters who were once amusingly familiar are now dully recognisable; here we watch incompetent cops, hysterical teens, unappreciative family members and an oddball whose home is a cabin in the woods fight it out for screen time. You could go one further and split our four leads into general types: the douche, the do-gooder, the good-looking chick and so on. The lot presented before us are hardly fleshed out at all, not figuratively anyway — when main ladies Julie and Helen reconnect after a year, the duo interact as if they’ve only been apart for the length of a toilet break. Emotion, posted missing.

It is peculiar, then, that we sort of like the characters. The high profile names involved do well with the lightweight personas laid upon them — at least the car accident at the beginning manifests as some sort of an attempt to taint our protagonists with an iffy moral shadow early on. Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sarah Michelle Gellar are accommodating screen presences, and both veer closer to the scream queen tag than the annoying gal stamp. In a divergence from rule, we’re essentially roused to root for a pair of leading females and the film does well to split its time between them. Although Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Helen is a pageant contestant she is also quite resourceful and not stigmatised by her materialism. On the other hand, when he is afforded something to do Ryan Phillippe is either angry or the purveyor of comical nodes. “You can’t drive for shit, you know that?” Barry exclaims seconds before his pal runs somebody over. Slick.

Perhaps Kevin Williamson is aiming for self-awareness throughout his screenplay, akin to the tone promoted in Scream the year before. There is a noticeable pronunciation in certain elements that would indicate as such; from telling ghost stories around a campfire to dumping a body in a dark lake, at night, surrounded by mist and eerie silence. But the film gets caught somewhere amid tongue-and-cheek and deadly serious. Unlike Scream, a picture that successfully manages both overriding irony and a sinister underbelly, I Know What You Did Last Summer plods along an uncertain middling route. Humorous moments are infrequent yet amplified when they enter the fray. It doesn’t help when action lulls are supported by dialogue that is often erroneously funny. (“Maybe he wanted to die?”)

And it wouldn’t be a nineties slasher flick without splurges of stupidity either. Conversations are crummy but these are nothing compared to the baffling silliness on display, an unnatural lunacy that regularly exudes the horror norm. Some instances we are forced to forgive for the sake of sanity, such as the arrival of an ominous note on the exact same day Julie returns home, or that her mate just happens to work locally and not be in New York during Julie’s time of need. Other scenes are notable for their unavoidable absurdity: at one point Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character enters her bedroom and dozes off whilst the baddie hides in the cupboard, refraining from killing her. Guess someone behind the scenes managed to inform the villain just in time that there’s another thirty minutes to go.

Slasher outings aren’t really meant to be scary, not exclusively. The aim is to shock, to rattle the audience. Unfortunately this does nothing more than encourage a few winces. Admittedly, our persistence is somewhat rewarded with a couple of good ones. The first kill, for example, is impactful without being overly gory. From here Williamson’s screenplay hints profusely at who the killer is and does so effectively. We foresee a twist coming, we think we know the culprit. Ultimately, the conclusion flatters to deceive but the ponderous build up is admirable and an insight into what could have been.

I Know What You Did Last Summer clumsily loses touch with its tone. The piece cajoles between hokey and ominous, and the end result is rather fluffy. Sure, it is sort of fun if you are looking to suspend you brain for over an hour and a half. But it’s certainly not anything to scream about. And it’s certainly not Scream.

I Know What You Did Last Summer - Cast

Images credit: IMP Awards, The Movie Buff

Images copyright (©): Columbia Pictures

Independence Day (1996)

★★★

Independence Day PosterDirector: Roland Emmerich

Release Date: July 3rd, 1996 (US); August 9th, 1996 (UK)

Genre: Action; Adventure; Science-fiction

Starring: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman

Two years before his monstrous monstrosity Godzilla, Roland Emmerich hit the streets of Washington DC to tackle an alien invasion. Time — and a great deal more effort — would go on to prove extraterrestrial superiority over the giant lizard, though that’s not a particularly astounding declaration. Just how effective is Independence Day? If popcorn-munching and Coke Zero-slurping is your kind of thing then the global disaster flick works a treat. Don’t expect any intellectual poise for there’s hardly an ounce to be had. But that’s not a problem — you wouldn’t show up to Comic-Con looking for a Jane Eyre panel. Emmerich zaps many of the right notes here and, despite the modern datedness of a visual palette once heralded as ground breaking, Independence Day cajoles along boisterously.

The unexpected arrival of alien spaceships only a few days premature of July 4th sends the United States into disarray. Major cities are under immediate threat causing the peoples within them to scatter. With less than a spoonful of hope to consume, President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) finds himself seeking aid from somewhat unconventional sources; specifically, ambitious pilot Steven Hiller (Will Smith) and nutty computer expert David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum).

Technology finds its way into the heart of on-screen antics more often than not. Alien or otherwise, this is sort of a love letter to technological innovation. The grandiose ships planted neatly above cityscapes not only hover with pristine accuracy, they also completely wipe out the land below with bellowing power. It’s technological warfare and the otherworldly beings have the upper hand, even when it comes to pertinent human made artefacts. (“They’re using our satellites against us.”)

But this appreciation of and for innovation speaks to a higher purpose relayed across the exceedingly long two and a half hours. Though the implementation is fairly blasé in terms of a ponderous deficit in depth, the film does propose the age-old alien versus human musing that has captured the imagination of pop culture since Neil Armstrong and of cinema since Stanley Kubrick, more or less. Emmerich and co-writer Dean Devlin’s script struggles to delve anywhere past the glossy surface — in truth, it can be really glossy — but the vigilant thinkers amongst us are still able to briefly consider some interesting possibilities as events roll across the screen.

Initially, we’re fed a distinct juxtaposition: disparate humans manifest, from the amusing to the serious to the disbelieving, whereas the stoic extraterrestrials are collectively brooding and sophisticated. It’s not until further down the heavily destroyed road that similarities strike; aliens, though technologically adept, can be just as frail as humanity. The suggestion of familiarity is intriguing but it doesn’t receive enough focus to fully unravel.

That’s because Independence Day rockets along with energy and sappy joy. Let’s be honest: the President’s Independence Day speech is amiably absurd, even more so than preceding the alien invasion. (“Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom.”) This mightn’t boast the scholarly prowess of a 2001 or even the tingling tension of an Alien, but it does come armed with fun and humour. Maybe it’s simply the childhood beer-goggles still clouding my judgement 15 years on, however it seems like the 90s was a time for chaos and frantic comedy on the silver screen. I’m thinking Space Jam. Jurassic Park. Home Alone. These films each share the same semblance of bumbling pandemonium as Independence Day, a trait that is rather infectious.

Admittedly, it is true that the quartet of aforementioned films come equipped with the stock aloof goof. We’ve essentially got two here, though Jeff Goldblum’s David Levinson is a tad more measured than his father Julius. (“‘All you need is love’ — John Lennon, smart man… shot in the back.”) The two bounce off each other with amusing distrust yet above the familial cabin fever, they’re a healthy duo and probably the best characters. Will Smith is as charismatic as ever, it’s the lack of well-roundedness that lets him down. His character Steven Hiller, along with most others, suffers from genericism syndrome. At least the guys fare better than the girls, the few of whom don’t have an awful lot to do.

Granted, this isn’t a spectacular examination of the human psyche or anything, it’s pure entertainment with a spectacular visual array. Unfortunately almost 20 years has passed and this once award winning ocular jigsaw has become penetrable. There are a number of clunky moments — the tunnel fireball stands out — but it’d be unfair to criticise a film for ageing.

One area that ought to attract some denunciation though is the prevailing lack of threat, an element that is sorely needed in order to usher in the full effect of disaster. There’s hardly any depth to the story, nor is there any strand of worry interwoven throughout proceedings which is odd given we watch the decimation of huge cities. Personal anxiety should arise, but never really does. Exposing the audience to so much carnage early on sanitises the remainder of the film — we know the worst has come and gone and the characters themselves aren’t really worth investing in, thus there is no obvious agent of emotion to clutch dearly.

Nevertheless, that is not Independence Day’s primary prerogative. Emmerich directs a film that should command greater emotional gravitas given the velocity of proceedings, but when push comes to shove this does what it sets out to do with exuberance and laughter. In fairness, compared to Godzilla, this is Citizen Kane.

Independence Day - Smith and Goldblum

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): 20th Century Fox

Jurassic Park (1993)

★★★★

Director: Steven Spielberg

Release Date: June 11th, 1993 (US); July 16th, 1993 (UK)

Genre: Adventure; Science-fiction

Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough

Who knew rippling water could be so menacing? Steven Spielberg’s early 90s dino classic swings from a slyly humorous thrill-ride to a tense environmental duel harbouring geopolitical connotations. Visually enticing beyond its years, the opening of Jurassic Park’s gates ushers forth a landmark in technological achievement on screen with effects that wouldn’t look too far out of place amongst the CGI blockbuster behemoths of today. There are one or two missteps along the way, most notably a paternal plot strand that feels forced rather than instinctive and an outrageous accent that seeps from the mouth of Richard Attenborough which at times threatens to boil over into caricature territory. Subtlety mightn’t be on the menu (that spot is reserved for human beings) and nor should it be in this rip-roaring tale of imagination, immorality and animatronics.

After a worker is killed by an errant Velociraptor, lawyer Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferraro) converges on Jurassic Park, an island owned by entrepreneur John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) and inhabited by cloned dinosaurs. Hammond simultaneously invites doctors Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), a palaeontologist and palaeobotanist respectively, to join the certification jaunt knowing the pair have more than keen interest in the fossil business. Mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) gets wind of the goings-on too and accompanies the party on their venture around the island that is prospected to open publicly in the near future. They ought to fix that fencing first though.

From the moment our ragtag band of explorers and suits reach their ill-fated destination, David Koepp’s screenplay based on Michael Crichton’s novel — also a co-writer here — strikes up a juxtaposition bearing an awesome visual gloss, but with a dirty underbelly. We first see the immense dinosaurs roaming across the landscape at the same time as Dr. Grant and company, the creatures’ awe-inspiring repertoire generating a sense of splendour. However, it’s not long before crass ignorance and abject misconduct take over; touring car doors are missing locks, the park is understaffed, a disinterested slob controls central safety measures and flimsy wired fencing is implemented as a harnessing mechanism. In essence, the park is a sham.

This notion of lawlessness disguised as grandeur is developed further as it latches onto certain characters. In a scene pivotal to the narrative’s apparent wary message, the group settle around a sleek table to discuss degrees of wrong. Is humanity’s imperious domination over nature — mirrored by CEO John Hammond’s genetic manipulation and cloning — immoral? Effectively, is this the rape of the natural world, to paraphrase mathematician Ian? Financial gain is presented as the ultimate destination for some (“We will have a coupon day or something”) whereas it’s the inherent allure of discovery for others. Spielberg refrains from indirectness here, instead placing his cards on the table and facing the query head on. The film asks questions that are perhaps even more relevant to this day, and doesn’t shirk away from picking sides. It’s a mature approach that, coupled with a visual affluence, successfully challenges the viewer to consider external prosperity gained at the cost of nefarious biochemical control and human tyranny over nature.

Tonally, Spielberg hammers a balance between the geopolitical and the humorous. Admirably, there’s no shortage of the latter as we see a witty, banterous dynamic rear between the various characters on display. As resident number-cruncher Ian, Jeff Goldblum scoops and skilfully delivers many of the funniest quips. Goldblum’s timing is terrific and the film would’ve benefited further if he had garnered more screen time towards the conclusion. Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant relays humour cut from a blunter cloth, and his pseudo-Indiana Jones demeanour — the attire, the adventurous mind, the standoffish personality — is a tad camp, but amusing when paired alongside Ian, his polar opposite. In fact, an ongoing campiness exists throughout the film, embodied by zoomed-in camera shots on shocked faces and the occasional line cheesy in obviousness (“They’re approaching the tyrannosaur pen”).

The only significant issue Jurassic Park must contend with is a sub-plot that is unnecessary in existence and contrived in execution. John Hammond’s grandchildren arrive mid-way through, and it just so happens that they find themselves under the care of Dr. Grant, who dislikes children (“They smell”). Though the actors do a fine job and present a duo of child characters who are not in any way annoying, their inclusion feels primarily like a method solely intent on generating sympathy where sympathy is superfluous to requirements. At a stretch, it is conceivable to consider that the intention behind these characters is to reflect civilisation’s should-be protective instinct towards nature, though there is already enough weight behind this particular cog.

Other than Richard Attenborough’s disastrous Scottish accent that chimes more off-putting than funny, the remaining performances invariably contribute peripheral goofiness and/or tension. Laura Dern is Dr. Ellie Sattler and endears from start until finish. Samuel L. Jackson’s hard-headed poise is particularly humorous, playing a cigarette smoking engineer who oversees many of the park’s operations. Computer geek Dennis Nedry (paha) grumbles in his chair and bumbles in the rain — pathetic fallacy is almost a character on its own — and funny man Wayne Knight portrays this ineptness as well as anybody. And aside from the accent, Attenborough does well as the increasingly flaying visionary whose plans are progressively falling apart.

When we aren’t laughing or contemplating moralities, a brooding atmosphere grabs hold and gains momentum as the film evolves. The T-Rex reveal is timely; held back long enough to allow simmering anxiety and in turn create a mystique that bellows danger upon the dinosaur’s appearance. Cinematographer Dean Cundey captures the mechanical appearance of the park where metal fences, armoured vehicles, durable weapons and giant food dispensers retract from the dinosaurs’ animatronic motions, subsequently accentuating their perceived fluidity. Some scintillating sound work complements the tremendous visual array and bolsters said ominous atmosphere.

“We never had control, that’s the illusion!” bellows Dr. Sattler as proceedings begin to go awry. The line effectively sums up an inquisitive narrative that denounces immorality, but also wholly contradicts the efforts of Spielberg and co who absolutely always have control and resultantly chisel out an optical cinematic milestone.

Fargo (1996)

★★★★★

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Release Date: April 5th, 1996 (US); May 31st, 1996 (UK)

Genre: Crime; Drama; Thriller

Starring: Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, William H. Macy

A jack of all trades, and perhaps one of the best. Shuttled forth by a bleakly comedic narrative, Fargo occasionally amps up the awkward, tie-loosening tension before ploughing right and left into a caveat of blunt criminality. There’s an inherently dramatic element too, the underbelly of bumbling luck and the ultimate tale of karma. The Coen brothers boast a unique style; precise in their crafting and often ironic in their delivery, a deliriously absorbing mantra that stretches far and wide here. Characters gargle seemingly innocuous lines of dialogue, yet a nonchalant poise often demands bouts of laughter. And therein lies the film’s most admirable quality: it makes you guffaw through moments of sadism, but never denounces you for doing so. The sibling duo at the helm aren’t overly serious in their direction (only when required), yet still manage to divulge a genuine sense of authentic story-telling. In Fargo, every scene holds a certain weight and although engagement with the particulars is at the viewer’s discretion, there’s never a sense of an overbearing burden. Yaaaa.

In Fargo, North Dakota, police chief Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand) — a woman as cheerful as she is pregnant — is called to a road-side accident harbouring two casualties. Only it’s not an accident, and is instead part of a series of unfortunate events set alight by car salesman Gerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) in an attempt to recoup much needed cash for his family. A master plan that would garner appreciation from the likes of John Kramer, Gerry hires a pair of quintessential henchmen to kidnap his wife and subsequently demand an $80,000 ransom, the spoils of which would be shared between the trio of plotters. Only Gerry is deviously untangling his own personal puppeteering strings, ready to juggle them against his father-in-law in an attempt to gain one million dollars from the extravaganza. In Gerry’s anxiety-plastered eyes, family comes first… and last.

There’s an ever-present aura that wilfully jaunts around any Coen film. It’s easy to spot, deliberate in implementation but astutely subtle as to never degrade proceedings. Drawing upon the experience of 16 previous films, seeing the words “Joel and Ethan Coen” sprawl across the screen nowadays prompts an intrinsic knowledge that meticulous sardonicism will soon be lingering. Released when their three-decade-old filmmaking odyssey was eighteen years younger, Fargo might just be the sibling duo’s most complete diamond of irony. Some films might be more wholesome in their flippant ideology, for example O Brother, Where Art Thou? and its caper-esque comedic quality, whereas others will undoubtedly offer greater absorbency through numerous interpretations and delightful tones, such as Inside Llewyn Davis. You’d be hard-pressed to come up with another Coen creation as genre-splicing as Fargo though, for this conglomeration of classification is what cinema is all about.

In a Minnesotan setting bitten by frost and populated with oddities constantly attempting to cover their innocuous tracks (“I don’t vouch for him”) the Coen brothers present and develop a number of wholly recognisable characters. Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimsrud are the absolute epitome of a caricature criminal partnership: the snivelling manipulator, out of his depth but armed with a motor mouth, and the dumb brute, purposeful only in violent outbursts or foul language. Gerry Lundegaard is the struggling businessman who ventures further into the ocean of uncertainty than he should, and is all the more blundering for it. His father-in-law Wade Gustafson has more money than patience, and decreases in accessibility when he knows his cash is at risk (“A lotta damn money” is one of the funniest gags). These characters are familiar, but they are also affectionately handled and escorted through a variety of tonal preoccupations, from comedy to crime to drama, constantly forging energy and slap-stick-like commotion. Our child-bearing detective Marge is the only figure who detours from the norm; noticeably pregnant, deliriously good-humoured and actively chasing murderers are three traits that do not often mesh together. This hodgepodge collection of characters coupled alongside a narrative that explodes with vibrancy, will refrain from giving you enough time to reflect on what just happened before it makes you ponder what’s going to happen next.

Yet, in spite of a growing sense of madness, the Coens always appear fully in control. Although the narrative is idiosyncratic — one minute a Steve Buscemi facial expression will have your jaw aching and the next a gunshot will leave you in shock — there is a point, a certain method, to all on-screen antics. The craziness of each character reflects the madness of his or her actions, prompting us to consider the length of a person’s sanity during tough times, whilst simultaneously sending out a nod towards the wondrous scope of cinema. Masterfully, the Coens develop a blunt and sadistic sense of realism amongst the hilarities. Fargo details karma as a rapid mule with more bite than the cold landscape from which it festers. In this tale of people playing people playing people, only the people face the consequences.

Shepherded by Roger Deakins’ icy cinematography, the arctic setting becomes a player of its own as it seeps into every other aspect of the film. Most characters endure cold minds. Lasting shots of mundaneness appear frozen to the screen. There’s a stiff lack of motivation, embodied emphatically by Marge’s police partner who can only conjure up phrases such as, “Watch your step Margie,” and, “You okay Margie?” as the heavily pregnant woman inspects dead bodies. Even the comedy is frosty — plotting and kidnapping is carried out in an atmosphere far more jovial than intense. Though, the funny buck stops at murder, an action presented more chillingly and viscerally than any other.

Regular Coen contributors Frances McDormand and Steve Buscemi are once again on hand and, alongside William H. Macy, deliver terrific performances. Humour is the common denominator for the trio, though the source varies. For McDormand, an incessant politeness in the face of violence and misnomer creates a peculiar dynamic. McDormand’s poise throughout sees Marge one step ahead of the game, even when she’s a day or two behind the others. Entirely the opposite, then, is Macy as the bumbling goof businessman Gerry. Gerry’s idiocy is built from a spectrum of nervous facial expressions and worried posturing; an unassured plight that sees no positive solution. He’s anxious to a T, but so dud-like that you sort of expect his ridiculous plan to come off in a spectacularly inadvertent fashion. The third of three great performances derives from the acting chops of Steve Buscemi, whose raging demeanour funds a big-mouthed little guy not far removed from Tommy DeVito. He relentlessly contradicts himself and thus withholds attracting seriousness, but it’s obvious that Buscemi is having a blast with the role and fun is infectious. It also helps that he gets many of the funniest quips.

The Coen brothers leave nothing to chance and inject Fargo with fastidious application — it’s no surprise that a wintry white landscape pronounces vivid red blood. The film will keep you guessing, is littered with humour and completely embraces the medium from which it thrives. In doing so, it even has the wherewithal to reflect on the outrageousness of its characters’ wrong-doings.

In the often correct words of Roger Ebert, “Films like Fargo are why I love the movies”.

Godzilla (1998)

Director: Roland Emmerich

Release Date: May 20th, 1998 (US); July 17th, 1998 (UK)

Genre: Action; Science-fiction; Thriller

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Maria Pitillo, Jean Reno, Hank Azaria

Remakes of classic films are often shunned before the celluloid film reel is placed in the projector (or, more likely these days, before the digital on-switch is pressed). When it was announced that a reboot of the Evil Dead franchise was in the works, fans of the scintillating original were probably more unappreciative than they were excited — although Sam Raimi’s involvement most likely eased the pain for many. Ensuring their favourite film’s legacy is not put at risk is at the forefront of a lot of cinema lovers minds, and so it should be. In return, this amps up the pressure placed upon the shoulders of directors who are at the helm of remakes, particularly in the eyes of the fans.

When May of 2014 comes along and Gareth Edwards’ recreation of Godzilla hits cinema screens across the globe, he will need not worry too much about living up to the expectations set by his predecessor. Unfortunately, Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version of Godzilla misses the mark on just about every level.

Godzilla follows Niko Tatopoulos, a scientist whose work in Russia is interrupted when he is recruited by the American government to analyse the origins of a giant mutated lizard, and help find a way to stop it from wreaking havoc in New York. That is it — the whole film is essentially Godzilla clumsily stomping its way through the streets of Manhattan. There is absolutely no time at all set aside for any dramatic tension to build (the monster appears on land not long after the film begins) and this means the majority of the film is very anticlimactic. For example, when historic buildings are being decimated later on in proceedings, there is no element of shock or outrage because dozens of such buildings have already been left lying in ruin over an hour beforehand. This is an enormous problem that the film never manages to overcome, and as a result Godzilla is ultimately a tedious, repetitive watch throughout.

Of course, Godzilla‘s desperate need for a slither of drama is not the only nuance missing and in dire demand — there is also the need for a semblance of plot (that is, other than a giant monster swinging its tail into bricks and metal for almost two and a half hours). The audience is told early on that the origins of the monster Godzilla is connected with radioactive, nuclear testing in French Polynesia, where an iguana nest is exposed. This opens up a multitude of opportunities for the filmmakers to install social or political issues into the film, and use the abnormal, human creation of Godzilla as a metaphor for humanity’s (and, in particular, the western world’s) disregard for the consequences of their power struggles. Adding elements such as this to the film would invigorate it, generating greater depth and giving the audience something to think about during the events. Instead, the viewer is subject to a messy, uncoordinated plot, where the ‘bad guy’ (Godzilla) does not really evoke that sense of fear or tyranny that a monster should, and the ‘good guy’ (Matthew Broderick) spends the entire time running aimlessly around New York not doing anything in particular.

The lack of continuity throughout the film is a cause for concern as characters end up being perceived in ways they are not meant to be. There is a scene where reporter and former love interest of Tatopoulos, Audrey Timmonds (played by Maria Pitillo), meets Tatopoulos for the first time since they split up many years before. After holding Tatopoulos in a bad light for him still feeling angry towards her after she walked out on him all those years prior, Timmonds decides to steal Tatopoulos’ secret tapes and (lo-and-behold) they somehow end up on the national news. This not only makes Timmonds, a character who the audience are supposed to be rooting for, look dastardly, but it also shows the main protagonist and ‘hero’, Tatopoulos, as nothing more than a gullible fool. In terms of the acting in the film, it relents from being satisfactory and therefore is in keeping with the rest of the offering. Matthew Broderick is a shell of the charismatic, funny and reliable lead he was in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The humour is also off-key and bland, so much so that the normally on-point comedic timing of Hank Azaria cannot aid goings-on.

Harking back to the lack of sense or continuity involved in Godzilla, at one point during the outing the giant lizard sinks a navy submarine before the screen cuts back to a navy general who is informed by one of his subordinates that the submarine has been destroyed. This particular scene is placed in the film in order to encourage the audience to feel great sympathy towards the now deceased officers who were on board the ship. However, rather than successfully creating a sombre atmosphere, it only highlights that the monster Godzilla has already spent an hour rampaging through streets filled with people, yet there has been no mention of the obvious and unfortunate consequences of this.  Perhaps the seemingly customary deaths of average civilians does not need addressing, and this would almost certainly be the case in any other disaster film. Unfortunately, Godzilla is lacking so much in any form of substance that when conventional features such as civilian deaths occur and are not highlighted, it is at least something for the — probably now bored — viewer to focus on. Also, apparently this gigantic, bellowing monster can successfully sneak underground and even hide in buildings. Who knew? James Bond could learn a thing or two about stealth from Godzilla.

A big-budget re-imagining of the classic 1954 Japanese monster film, Roland Emmerich’s take on Godzilla is one which fails to deliver in almost every department. From a non-existent story to nonsensical plot points to unconvincing acting, the film is ultimately devoid of that sense of dread and imminent danger which every successful, encapsulating monster film should boast.

Next time, can we keep Madison Square Garden and just take our chances?