Scream 3 Is Trash; Noir in Review: A Great Italian Film You've Never Seen
Describing her 1996 Sundance entry Joe's So Mean to Josephine, Sarah Polley told a Toronto journalist, "I can't believe it was written by a man!" Polley's female-chauvinist comment proves how rarely our culture provides insight into male behavior, masculine pain. Joe's So Mean to Josephine, a criminal-class-boy-meets-upwardly-mobile-girl love story, resembles a Vancouver Breathless. It has no Godardian innovations, but its depiction of how wrong two hearts can be reveals the way class tensions and emotional inexperience affect relationships?the things indie movies are thought to do, talked about doing but rarely, if ever, achieve.
From the start, when Josephine first sees Joe at a local bar, Wellington investigates pop infatuation. Their love story might be out of the Shangri-La's ("He's good-bad but he's not evil"). Eric Thal bases Joe's blocked, damaged character in convincing swagger while Polley aces Josephine's girlish hunger for excitement. His petty thefts heat up her bored propriety. Casing Josephine's home, Joe argues with her mother ("Don't get smart with me, young man!" "Don't get stupid with me, lady!"). Josephine's won over by what she idealizes as rebellion. Wellington views their confusion about class and desire convincingly. He has an uncommon sense of lower-middle-class neighborhood locales, the mien of social exchange. I haven't seen much like this outside Frank Borzage's 1931 Bad Girl. I thought of Borzage during the berserk Isn't She Great when Bette Midler and Nathan Lane talked to God in Central Park; the wack scene defied credulity, whereas Borzage, in Bad Girl and After Tomorrow, perceived a true union of souls when his pairs of lovers simply stood side by side talking about the economic (seemingly cosmic) barriers that kept them from marrying. Wellington comes close to that in scenes of Joe and Josephine's inarticulate companionship. Their reunion, after a short absence, balances Joe's wrenching stupor with Josephine's perplexity. It's a classic face-to-face, lovers drowning in the gulf between them.
When Joe attempts making up with social-climbing Josephine by offering her an unexpected gift, her pretentious response, "That's very magnanimous of you," proves her growing distance?and is perfectly wounding. In such moments Joe's So Mean to Josephine approximates the exquisite new Scritti Politti song "First Goodbye." Opposing the current facile notion of people reinventing themselves, this emotional crisis shows two lovers coming into their first young adult creation.
Somehow Joe's So Mean to Josephine never found theatrical distribution in the U.S. while last year Polley appeared across the country in the dreadful, Miramax-hyped Guinevere (a simple jailbait movie). So it's official: You can't wait for good movies to be brought to your attention by big-budget ad campaigns. There may be a treasury of poignant comedies and dramas in the netherworld of video and indie cable. Take that as a warning and take Joe's So Mean to Josephine as a cinematic billet-doux.
The built-in facetiousness of Scream 3 is its worst fault. Some reviewers stop short from rightfully condemning the movie because they think it's not meant to be more than trivial. Yet even if viewed half-consciously, Scream 3 perverts the fun principle. Pop taste doesn't have to sink this low. Wes Craven, the film's director, has no idea how to improve his franchise, so he reprocesses it. Without shame about the tired plot and tacky conceits, Sidney (Neve Campbell), Gale (Courteney Cox Arquette) and Dewey (David Arquette) once again run scared from another masked killer through a maze of movie in-jokes. But third time's not the charm. Craven's trio find themselves doubled on the set of a movie, Stab 3, where a group of self-involved actors and filmmakers travesty their past real-life nightmares?and with a new slasher loose on the lot. There's no suspense here, just?unironically?a series of hackings. Sure that only the thickest movie buffs will fall for this junk, Craven also works in buff flattery: he emphasizes cameo appearances by trash guru Roger Corman and his bastard progeny Kevin Smith. But they never ask: How many Psycho ripoffs must the culture endure?
Coming off last year's Hitchcock Centennial, where everybody gave lip-service to The Master, a sad fact remains: Gen X prefers cheap thrills. (That's how Scream's original writer Kevin Williamson turned its shtick into the I Know What You Did Last Summer franchise.) At first the series' blatancy gave some ready-made sarcasm to the teen-sex-comedy gimmicks. In a culture where the universal adolescent horror of Brian De Palma's Carrie has been reduced to "just an old movie," Scream seemed a logically dumbed-down retreat from one's personal anxiety and general narrative expectation. Yet by congratulating such skepticism, the series' jokiness wound up making blatancy its point. And The Blair Witch Project, sensing the minimal stimulus modern viewers will respond to, sniffed the trail. It proved we are well into a callous new movie era. Inanity fancies itself clever. (We might as well give up on this generation of moviegoers and concentrate on the newborn. The Blair Witch-Titanic-Speed-Pulp Fiction generation is lost.) Now Scream 3's audience sits still; waiting for manipulation, waiting for Craven to go "Boo!" It's a hell of an achievement for a man whose recent promotional biographies boast his master's degree in philosophy from Johns Hopkins. Scream 3's depressingly predictable $35-million first weekend gross should earn Craven an honorary MBA from Three-Card Monte U.
Despite Craven's cravenness, Scream 3 simply isn't entertaining. Here's why: Its suspense effects lack a light touch. Without even the low-grade humor of a genuine trash compactor like John Carpenter (come back Mr. Halloween, almost all is forgiven), Craven's obvious set pieces are dully presented. After hiding out as an anonymous aide at a suicide crisis line, Sidney gets trapped (and lost) in the soundstage replication of her past trauma but Craven hasn't the panache to ignite her fantasy/reality frisson. Think of the vision-on-the-staircase sequence in The Fury (with Amy Irving spinning through her widescreen clairvoyance) as an example of how such a moment should be played. De Palma, an artistic philosopher, created imagery that uncorked the subconscience and the memory; he amplified the movieness of his characters' experiences. Craven's bluntness dulls cinematic appreciation. And reviewers who don't understand that, yet praise Scream 3 for its blitheness, are leading film culture to the toilet.
It's media facetiousness that Scream 3 represents by way of movie-cult in-jokes. When a Stab 3 cast reading turns into a stalking and the alter-ego actors' fuss escalates into fright, they all jump thinking their cellphones have gone off at once. That's a good goose of L.A./Manhattan biz mania (and a cellphone black comedy might be a good idea if Anthony Drazan hadn't already done it in Hurlyburly) but Scream 3's satirical impulse doesn't go much further than a goosing. Its most impudent setups fizzle. Other in-group jibes?a hall-of-mirrors routine, a videotape summary of Movie Trilogy Rules?pall.
In Gale's first scene, lecturing to a journalism class about her career as a tv anchorwoman for Total Entertainment, she stresses the importance of "story, facts, fame" as career goals. She's...well, craven. But Scream 3?like Stab 3?is similarly, depressingly desperate. Courteney Cox did greediness with more vivacity in Scream 2 but Craven seems to be backing away from her glamour, devitalizing her in pursuit of drab, sexless genre commentary. "Violence in cinema is a big deal now," a studio exec says to Stab 3's young director named Roman (for a dumb poke at Polanski, though the humor is so vague you can't be sure). Another character even pronounces, "Pop culture is the politics of the 21st century." This glib thinking actually depoliticizes everything. Patrick Dempsey playing Mark Kincaid, a jaded Hollywood cop investigating the studio murders (he's Craven's moral stand-in) aphorizes, "This is not the city for innocence; either play the game or go home." But the line fails to hit the kind of serious L.A. critique Steven Soderbergh found for The Limey. Like Terence Stamp in that movie, Dempsey has a real actor's face, handsome and character-filled (he's aged past his 80s teen-comedy goofiness). When he confesses, "To me Hollywood is about death?seeing haunted movies in your head whether you want to or not," he goes beyond Craven. In this sketchy role (Kincaid's precinct desk is covered with books titled Write It Sell It and Film Design in the Thirties) Dempsey approaches William Holden's Sunset Boulevard ennui.
Yet Dempsey's role is trashed. Craven treats even his bit players (Liev Schreiber, Patrick Warburton, Jenny McCarthy) coarsely, as disposable puppets. It was plain from the bland way Meryl Streep was lighted in Craven's Music of the Heart that he can't connect to human feeling. His crop of indie stars is badly photographed, esthetically nullified. Neve Campbell's tough and weepy Sidney ultimately bores. David Arquette, except for giving Dewey a John Wayne limp, can't keep the character in focus. After being so good in Wild Bill and so promising in Dream with the Fishes and Johns, Arquette now seems over?a tv commercial clown. Matt Keeslar, playing the actor impersonating Dewey, flashes only a little of his gifts before being dispatched. And casting Courteney Cox opposite Gale's imitator, the singular Parker Posey, should have percolated?a tv-joke facing its multidimensional parody. When these two actresses meet?Cox in yellow/Parker in chartreuse?you expect Almodovarian zing. However, Craven doesn't have the wit for camp. Scream 3's facetiousness molders. Any moviemaker who kills off Parker Posey and Matt Keeslar doesn't know the meaning of entertainment.
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