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Archive for March, 2010

Wes Craven on board for Scream 4

Why don’t some horror franchises ever die? Wes Craven has confirmed that he is to direct the fourth Scream film, a decade after the last in the trilogy opened to decidedly luke-warm reviews.

Now, I confess, I absolutely loved the first film – a joyful mix of blood-curdling horror and squeaky clean teen romance. I even liked the sequel, although my enjoyment of it was slightly marred by a viewing of it at university after which a mischievous friend thought it would be hilarious to write a note reading “You will die” and pin it to my door with a carving knife while I was sleeping.

Studios – just like record producers – have rather a taste at the moment for reviving, or remaking, old favourites. The Wolfman, Clash of the Titans are just two of this year’s examples. And franchises can certainly make money however terrible they are – just look at Saw, which is now on its seventh installment, despite running out of original ideas after the first, and which became the most lucrative horror franchise in Hollywood history after the fifth.

But seriously, why on earth would we need another Scream? The “if we were in a horror movie” conceit got old and tired yonks ago. Everyone realised that David Arquette was not really a ham-fisted moron after all when Courtney Cox married him. And poor Sidney has already watched two boyfriends and countless friends die at the hands of masked killers. She deserves a rest – and so do we.

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That’s right. A German one about a love-shy dating show host. Not perhaps the most obvious choice for Waltz post-Tarantino  and post-Oscar but he definitely won’t be pigeon-holed.

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I went to see The Hurt Locker on Friday. A little late, you might say, given that it came out in September and has since won six Oscars and six Baftas, including best film and director for each. But my tardiness was rather timely in the end, as just a few days earlier I had been to see a very different kind of war film: Green Zone.

Now, timing, aside, Green Zone was never going to win any Oscars. It is too loud, too brash and its conspiratorial plot is at points screamingly simplistic, told from the perspective of a buff, Bourne-like US army officer accompanied by conspicuous special effects. Not generally a winning formula at the Academy.

The Hurt Locker, on the other hand, is everything Green Zone is not. It is wonderfully agenda-less, floating through the daily trials of a bomb disposal team and its reckless adrenalin-addicted team leader, Sergeant James, without constant reference to some crude polemic about the invasion of Iraq or or even the morality of war in general. Its soldiers, too, are everything that Matt Damon’s Officer Miller is not. They don’t care why they are fighting, or about Iraq or even about America. They simply want to survive. Or, in the case of Sergeant James, to smell death close-up and live.

But The Hurt Locker is not, as I was expecting, a small film. Death and mourning are not quiet here but fearsome, angry creatures that prompt definitive actions such as James’s decision to chase enemies into the night despite the protests of his ill-equipped men. The Hurt Locker may not have a point to make about war but it is every bit as cocksure as Green Zone.

So what is it about one of these films that made it an obvious Oscar recipient? Is it simply better? Possibly. But there is something more fundamental at play here. Green Zone has received four-star reviews because it is a terrific romp, with everything that Greengrass is so good at: pace, plot and action. It also satisfies, albeit fictionally, a burning desire for answers about Iraq that has still not been satisfied, not even, in this country, by the Chilcott Inquiry.

By contrast, The Hurt Locker looks at man’s condition: how far can human beings be pushed in the hellfire of war? Can a soldier ever recover from the the thrill of cheating death? Greengrass is, in my opinion, the best director in his field. Marc Forster, Christopher Nolan -they all have their talents – but no one is better than Greengrass at conveying the thrill of the chase.

In fact, Greengrass has been nominated for one Oscar in his life: for United 93, his 2007 portrayal of the final moments inside the “other” 9/11 plane, which crashed in Pennsylvania killing everyone on board. It is much more raw than Green Zone, much closer to the minds and feelings of it characters.

Looking back at Oscar-winners for best film in recent years, it is clear that man’s suffering is a common theme. Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men, The Departed: all, in their own way, look at the limits to which a man can be pushed. His surrounding environment is secondary.

This year’s introduction of ten nominees for best picture, rather than five, was supposed to make room for “action films” such as The Dark Knight, or comedy: essentially to broaden the category’s horizons. But it seems that, while the Academy may have altered the system, its mindset is yet to catch up. Now, I’m certainly not saying Green Zone is a more Oscar-worthy candidate than The Hurt Locker (and in any case, it was released too late, as I’ve said), or, indeed, that Avatar should have outdone its main rival after all.

But it is still a little sad to know that you have to make a certain kind of film – rather than just a really, really good one – to win an Oscar. The current trend (and it has not always been thus) is simply not for blockbusters, even when, like Avatar, they break box office records. It will be interesting to see next year whether the expanded best film category will be big enough to reward action heroes and comic relief, whatever else they’re up against.

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