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Thursday, January 27, 2022

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MoviesScreen GrabsScreen Grabs: 'Scream' all you want, they'll make more

Screen Grabs: ‘Scream’ all you want, they’ll make more

A horror 'requel' proves worthy of its many predecessors. Plus: Velvet Queen's elusive Himalayan cat, Whaler Boy's epic cam-girl journey, more

Since the last Scream movie came out a decade ago, the director of that and all previous entries passed away—Wes Craven, who had a huge impact on horror cinema not just with that late-career franchise but Last House on the Left, the original Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and more. The new Scream, which is titled just that (as opposed to Scream 5, though it is a direct sequel to the prior four) is the first he didn’t personally direct, and it isn’t written by series creator Kevin Williamson, either. But the latter is an executive producer on it, and the film is dedicated to Craven, who died in 2015 (just as Scream: The TV Series was starting its run).

Now in the hands of personnel from the Radio Silence collective that also made 2019’s game horror-comedy Ready Or Not, this franchise reboot is a satisfying-enough result: Not as fresh as the first two installments, but definitely reinvigorated from the flagging interim ones. Needless to say, somebody in a “Ghostface” mask is again killing (mostly) teenagers in battle-scarred Woodsboro, focusing particularly on the circle around sisters Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega), who turn out to have a hidden prior connection to the original slayings. This renewed mayhem drags reluctantly back into action survivors of past onslaughts, notably long-running target Sidney (Neve Campbell), now-retired sheriff Dewey (David Arquette), and TV journalist Gale (Courtney Cox). Not all of whom are going to survive for the next chapter.

Written by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, this Scream has a tolerable (if sometimes barely-so) degree of the kind of superfan in-jokey dialogue that Williamson did better, until he didn’t anymore. (That shtick really got old in Scream 4.) But if the new model isn’t particularly witty or novel, let alone credible, where it excels is in vigor of tense action, with co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett sparing neither urgency of pace or intensity of violence. While the film may falter when it asks us to care deeply about characters with few dimensions, it seldom pauses long enough to do so. If you like this sort of thing, the 2022-edition Scream checks all required boxes with sufficient panache to make two hours go by fast, and make its own sequel seem an acceptable rather than depressing inevitability. It opens wide in theaters only this Fri/14.

Other openings this weekend, both at theaters and home formats, are definitely of a less-than-screaming, lower-profile nature:

The Velvet Queen
Last week the news hit that a snow leopard had died of COVID at a US zoo—and as few of those animals as there are in the world, it wasn’t even the first time. How many people have ever even seen a snow leopard outside captivity? It’s barely more likely than sighting a unicorn, or Bigfoot. This documentary by Marie Amiguet and Vincent Munier has the latter, a famed wildlife photographer, and author Sylvain Tesson setting out to hopefully catch a glimpse of the elusive fabulous beast in remotest Tibet.

For a while their quest seems futile, though we do get to spy glorious regional antelopes, yaks, foxes, bears, bharals (a form of sheep), wild horses, Pallas’s cats, falcons, et al. We also get maybe a little too much of the two Frenchmen musing philosophically and poetically about the wonders of nature and mankind’s stupidity in exchanges that aren’t very convincingly spontaneous. (As in the ill-fated Grizzly Man, they pretend they are alone when someone else is clearly manning the camera.) Their movie is thus somewhat self-indulgent and pretentious, as well as scenically spectacular. But suffice it to say that they finally find what they’re looking for, and it is very much worth the wait—for them, and for viewers. The Velvet Queen opens Fri/14 at the Embarcadero, Shattuck, Rafael Film Center, and other theaters.

The Whaler Boy
Almost as remote is the tiny community on the Siberian side of the Bering Strait that is all 15-year-old Lyoshka (Vladimir Onokhov) has ever known. In Philipp Yuryev’s debut feature, the Chukchi youth lives with an elderly grandfather (Nikolay Tatato) who keeps announcing his imminent death; other things seem to be dying out here, too, and a distinct lack of female peers. No wonder he gets way too emotionally invested in an American cam girl (Kristina Asmus) who preens on a livestream website, without even knowing whether she can see him, too. Unwise in the ways of the Internet, let alone the world, he eventually makes the desperate decision to “find her”—no matter that Detroit (where she supposedly is) might as well be the far side of the moon.

The Whaler Boy can be frustratingly obtuse on some basics (where are Lyoshka’s parents, anyway?), and its narrative arc is pretty vague, too. But it has a quirky, bracing eye for detail, as well as arresting textures in both the visual and sonic departments—Grandpa may be chasing mortality, but he also dances a pretty fair combination of The Frug and The Swim when the right golden oldie comes on the radio. Our hero’s epic journey attracts surreal elements, yet the film remains humorous and anecdotal, an engaging oddity that refuses to explain away its little mysteries. Film Movement is releasing it to streaming platforms including iTunes, Amazon and Vudu this Fri/14.

Striding into the Wind
Also wandering without much direction in a drolly amusing way is the protagonist in Shujun Wei’s apparently autobiographical feature. Tall, lanky, mullet-haired Zuo Kun (You Zhou) is in his senior year at film school, alongside slobby sidekick Tong (Tong Lin Kai). Like the director himself, sound recordist Kun lets his life be largely determined by the potential and unpredictable behavior of a very used jeep he’s newly acquired—one that may eventually take him to his dream destination of Inner Mongolia. Why does he want to go there? Um…well, it’s just an idea he has, no more rational than any other. While he chases that and other pipe dreams, his classwork suffers, as does his usually-unpaid crew work, plus his relationship with long-suffering girlfriend A Zhi (Zheng Ying Chen).

Not exactly plot-driven, Striding has a shaggy affability has it rambles for two and a quarter hours or so, hitting some funny set-pieces en route. Kun and Tong’s constant hustles include shilling music CDs for a businessman with unlikely dreams of pop stardom, while A Zhi seems to get by via gigs as a model at bizarre product-launch events and other miscellaneous spectacles. Our hero is a fuckup who more often than not fucks things up for other people as well. Yet in the film’s gently self-mocking universe of hipster absurdism, it’s hard to hold a grudge against him. This attractively louche comedy opens at the Presidio in SF on Fri/14.

Munich: The Edge of War
Relatively old-fashioned, plot-driven entertainment can be had in this Netflix drama based on a novel by Robert Harris, in the same historical what-if mode of his Fatherland thirty years ago. It’s 1938, and Hitler’s aggression is steeling much of Europe for a war it still hopes to avoid. Hugh (George MacKay of 1917) has risen in government service to become personal secretary to Prime Minister Chamberlain (Jeremy Irons), who’s trying to hold back Der Fuehrer even as the latter is about to invade Czechoslovakia.

Meanwhile Hugh’s estranged former schoolmate at Oxford, Paul (Jannis Niewohner), is well-placed in Germany’s equivalent corridors—while secretly plotting against a leadership he now realizes is mad. When a last-minute summit between the two leaders is called, their two young flunkies scheme to share top-secret intel that could change the course of nations… if they survive, that is, and if their superiors recognize what they’re being offered.

Directed by Christian Schwochnow, this well-appointed costume thriller works up a fair head of steam around a just-plausible-enough imaginative leap: That underlings might get hold of a memo spelling out all Hitler & co.’s nefarious plans, despite their claiming they’ll “go no farther” in territorial seizures. History has cast Neville Chamberlain as a fool duped by Nazis, the consequences to his blindness leading to his resignation, Churchill’s assuming the post, and WWII’s commencement. Here he’s painted as well-intentioned but hidebound by convention and myopia, a classic opportunity for the kind of upper-class twitdom Jeremy Irons can do in his sleep—and well, at that.

Unexceptional but solid, intelligent if occasionally hyperbolic, Munich: The Edge of War is not terribly deep, but it does provide timely reminder that one should always judge the intentions of fascists by their deeds, not their words. It opens at the Embarcadero this Fri/14, and begins streaming on Netflix Jan. 21.

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