Friday, April 15, 2011

"You're the Angel of Death."


Something amazing happened last night while I sat watching the midnight screening of Scream 4: I was scared. And I was surprised. A lot.

After 11 long years, Dimension has released the long-awaited, highly anticipated follow-up to the 90s/00s Scream trilogy, and they brought back everyone who made the originals such a stab-tastic success! Director Wes Craven and original writer Kevin Williamson reunited the gang to brave the blood, horror, and pop culture references just one more time.

I have to say before I get started... These movies make me very nostalgic. So going into movie #4 was bound to be a roller-coaster of emotions. So that aside, I will try to be level-headed about my analysis. Obviously, I'm going to try to avoid going into too much detail, because it really was a delight to see not knowing which direction it would take. But WARNING: some themes and plot points are discussed, so take that into account if you continue reading!

In this new film, we finally return to Woodsboro, CA - the scene of the original crimes and the sole location of the original Scream film. There we find that our beloved Deputy Dewey (David Arquette) is once again policing the sleepy town, but this time as its Sheriff. Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox-Arquette) is now Gale Weathers-Riley, lovingly married to Dewey, but resentfully living in the now uneventful Woodsboro. That is, until Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) comes back into town.

Returning for the first time since the massacre, perpetual survivor Syd has a new book to promote and a lot of wounds to heal. But as we all know, with Syd comes the inevitable reappearance of Ghostface. Oh, and the bloody and mangled bodies he leaves behind. And thankfully, Kevin Williamson has written some incredible (and some might say familiar) new characters into the mix, pulling from the long roster of young ingénues currently starring on every show on the CW and ABC Family. Front and center is Jill Roberts (played by Emma Roberts), Syd's teenage cousin in a very "Sydney Prescott in Scream"-esque role, who finds that her classmates' bodies seem to be piling up around her.

But let's not forget all the other loveable characters from the past! They can't go unrepresented either! Thankfully, we've got a Tatum (Hayden Panetierre), a Billy (Nico Tortorella), and even a couple of film-obsessed Randys (Rory Culkin and Erik Knudsen), all there to remind us that once again, the rules have changed.

While the original trilogy focused heavily on the rules and makings of a sequel and its counter-parts, this one takes it from a modern and rather prevalent perspective:

THE REMAKE. And what are the rules of a successful remake, you might ask? Well, you'll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Probably the most self-referential (or "meta", as the kids are calling it ad nauseum these days) of the series, it not only references itself on a continual stream, but is constantly citing or quoting the original trilogy and the 7 fictional Stab films that have been released over the past decade as the "film within a film." And while bringing attention to its flaws and over-used conventions could have been tedious and forced, it was shockingly refreshing, seemless, and oftentimes, hysterical.

Combining the old cast (who, btw, have never looked better) with the young was done very successfully. With so many faces and side-plots, it could easily have gone off the rails, taking too much time with people we didn't care about and forgetting about the ones we did, but it managed to stay on course, utilizing the freshness of the kids with the expertise and clear preparedness of the adults.

There were a few standouts among the masses, however. For me, at least. First and foremost, I truly believe the star of not only this movie, but the entire franchise, is Cox' Gale Weathers. Gale is a strong, sharp protagonist, and while the story may revolve around Syd, her inability to shake that "victim" stigma weakens her overall persona - no matter how many times she beats the piss out of Ghostface! It probably helps that Gale was given more dimension than the rest of the cast from the beginning and penned some of the best lines - and this time around, that hasn't changed. I didn't expect to care about the original 3 survivors as much as I found that I did - and Craven/Williamson don't let you lean back in your seat for even a moment from start to finish.

Another standout, surprisingly, was among the young cast: Hayden Panetierre. Playing the witty and clever Kirby, she delivered a stellar performance, ranging from funny to emotional in a single monologue. Very impressive (I still can't get over some of her perfect timing), and she wasn't alone. Most of the other newbies held their own, too - save Emma Roberts' momentary, but forgivable, breaks in character. It's pretty hard when you're up against veterans like Campbell and the Arquettes. Some slack must be given.

A few things didn't sit right with me, though. There's always something. While the movie did a good job about mis-directing your suspicions, it didn't spend a lot of time playing out some of what it set up. For instance, Gale's interest in getting back into reporting doesn't pay off the way that you'd expect, and while I understand certain things are cut for the sake of time and belaboring the point, it did feel a bit incomplete. A few others things are a bit too plot-sensitive to list here, but in general could have been fleshed out and handled with greater care. Yet, in the grand scheme of things, these issues seem minor in comparison.

In closing, I was remarkably pleased with this movie. I felt it not only did the characters justice, but the entire franchise. In my humble opinion, it sure as hell surpassed the 3rd, and matched the 2nd, landing in similar territory to the 1st (*gasp* blasphemy!) It mixed familiar motiffs with new and modern takes (oh, how phones and the internet have changed in 15 years!), and it managed to do what I least expected: Scare me.

Thank you, Wes and Kevin and cast. I expect movies 5 and 6 to be just as impressive. Don't let me down now that you've lifted me up.

Rating: 4/5 stars, ****

ps. The opening is hilarious. The ending is epic. That's all I can say.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bowling, Karaoke, and Ice Hockey - oh my!

These new working hours really are taking a toll. While the days tend to go by really quickly, I'm left wondering as I crawl into my bed at 11PM (boy! things have changed since college!): Where did the time go?? I used to have loads of free time; so much so, that I didn't really make an effort to do anything with it. It was always there! Why try to fill it with stuff when I can just make plans later?

Now? not so much. My free time has become a precious commodity, and after only a month at this new, fast-paced and challenging job, I'm realizing "letting loose" is a down-right necessity! Gretchen isn't the only one who needs to run her little ol' head off for a spell! By Friday night (who are we kidding? by Wednesday morning!), my sanity is on the brink and the only cure is to find fun and interesting ways to entertain myself.

And what better way to do that than to get a little silly?

Last weekend, I tagged along with a group of friends to engage in some of my favorite middle school pasttimes: late-night bowling, drunk karaoke, and bleery-eyed ice hockey! Okay, maybe that's not exactly how those all went down when I was 11, but hey! Being an adult has its perks! I'd wanted to try out the newly revotated Corbin Bowl in Tarzana since I moved to the Valley 2 years ago, and last Saturday night, not only was it "Retro Night", it was also Karaoke Night in the bar.


Let me just say, I rocked it. At least during the first game where I kicked major ass on the scoreboard (the later games don't count because I was considerably more on the inebriated side.) Not only did my score breach a whoppin' 100 (yay!), I was whipping that 10-lb ball down the lane like my life depended on it. I was mighty proud of myself.

As the night wore on, we dined on the wonder that is bowling alley food (for me? chicken strips and fries) and I downed some of the strongest and cheapest Fuzzy Navels I've ever had the pleasure of tasting. And nothing makes bowling more fun than flashing disco lights, blasting dance music, and a steady flow of liquor.

When the games came to an end, we made our way to the bar to enjoy the epic serenades occuring in the Karaoke lounge. And who are we kidding? It doesn't take all that much to convince me to get up there myself! Derick and I crooned our way through "Need You Now" by Lady Antebellum, which suited the country-lovin' crowd pretty well.

Seriously, I don't know why I don't do karaoke more often. It's so scary in such a fun way! But honestly, the highlight of the night was the middle-aged black guy who whipped out one of the most impressive versions of "And I'm Telling You (I'm Not Going)" from Dreamgirls that I have ever seen! Breaking out into FULL falsetto, this guy brought the house down, and I could not have been more wowed! I'd kill for a reaction from a crowd like the one this guy got. Of course, I'd probably have to be brave enough to belt it out and not care like him, too. But Derick and I rocked it, so I can't complain.

And did I mention that I tried DDR for the first time? Like the little boys that they are Ross and Derick stumbled into the arcade, and I couldn't escape without jumping around like a fool. It's probably not a good sign that I got out of breath during the 1st "novice" round, right? I'll just pretend everyone gets that winded.

I need more of these nights. More breaks from the reality of "responsibility" and the like... And I definitely plan to make a habit of it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sepulveda Basin Off-Leash Dog Park

I've felt so bad recently for the number of hours I've been working. It makes it tough, not just on me, but on my loving and patient furry family back at home. The cats, Bartleby and Loki, likely miss getting fed at a reasonable hour, not the mention the daily 6pm snuggles they used to receive. But hey, they're cats. They adjust. I know that no matter what, they will greet me at the door with purrs and a quick wrap around my ankles.

It's little Gretchen I worry most about. My 6-month old Miniature Dachsie still has so much to learn. And while I'm an avid believer in crate training (it's really doing wonders for her!), being in the crate for long periods of time isn't fun for any pup, even if all they do is sleep most of the time. But she's been so good, I felt that after a long week of being cooped up, it was time she got to run free! And what better way to make that happen than to take our very first trip to the nearby DOG PARK?

Surprisingly, the Valley doesn't have a lot of advertised doggie play areas, so I knew I would likely have to try out the largest and most popular location first: the Sepulveda Basin Off-Leash Dog Park in Encino on Victory Blvd.

This vast expanse of doggie-play heaven is broken up into three sections: (1) Big Dogs, (2) Little Dogs, and (3) Timid Dogs. Each section was equipt with well-maintained grass, tables and benches for owners, and large water bowls and spiggots for the canines. The area designated for large dogs was very appropriately the biggest, but it was great to see that the small dogs were given a decent size space as well.

Let me just say, Gretchen was euphoric. A little tentative at first, it wasn't long before she started running up to groups of other doggies, most still significantly larger than her. Just like at home, all she ever wants is to chase and be chased. Of course, at home, her desperate pleas to engage the cats in a "catch me!" game tend to go unnoticed. But here, she was getting chased WHILE chasing and just couldn't have been happier!

Granted, I acted a bit like a worried mom, but tried to keep my distance and let her play. The gravity of the fact that she probably wouldn't come if I called weighed on me a little, but I knew that as long as the gate remained closed, she'd be safe and close by. The other dogs seemed to love her, and she even found the only other Dachshund in the place! She would run and roll, and change directions and roll again - she was a spitfire! I was so proud of my baby, she did such a good job.

And boy was she tired! Getting chased and continually humped will do that, I suppose. Her tiny tongue lobbed out the side of her mouth, and the second she got strapped into her car booster seat, she passed out. Mission: Accomplished.

More than anything, I'm just happy to see her socializing so well. She's got a great balance of dominant and submissive behaviors, meaning she's not agressive, but will definitely stand up for herself when other pups get a little inappropriate (little Malty-poo, I'm talkin' about you!) This was the perfect trial run before she starts Doggy Day Care, which will be a nice change from being holed up all day.

I think it also might be time to do a little more exploring to find even more parks to let her run loose.
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