Horror Film Review: I Know What You Did Last Summer (dir by Jim Gillipsie)


So, I recently read that it’s been 20 years since I Know What You Did Last Summer was first released into theaters.  This, of course, is the endlessly parodied film that not only launched the careers of Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ryan Phillippe, and Freddie Prinze, Jr. but which also served as inspiration for a countless number of YA horror stories.

Myself, I was too young to see the movie when it was first released but I do remember, a few years later, sneaking downstairs and watching it on HBO at two in the morning.  I’ve watched it several times since then.  For some reason, it’s one of those films that I always end up watching whenever I see it’s on TV.  I’m not sure why because I don’t think it’s a particularly good film.  As a horror fan, I think it’s a shame that this rather formulaic film has proven to be so influential while so many genuinely challenging horror films have been overlooked by critics and ignored by audiences.

The last time that I watched I Know What You Did Last Summer, I spent almost the entire movie yelling at Sarah Michelle Gellar.  “WHY DO YOU KEEP RUNNING UP THOSE STAIRS!?  HOW ARE YOU GOING TO ESCAPE FROM THE SECOND FLOOR!?”  Usually, I defend the stupidity of characters in certain horror films by pointing out that they’re usually in an extreme situation and it’s not easy to think rationally when you’ve got someone with an axe chasing you.  But the characters in I Know What You Did Last Summer really do test my patience.

Another thought that I had while watching I Know What You Did Last Summer was, “When did Johnny Galecki learn to act because it was definitely long after he appeared in this movie.”  Seriously, Galecki has developed into being a fairly good actor but he’s absolutely awful in I Know What You Did Last Summer.  He plays an early victim and, as much as I hate to see anyone die, it at least saved me from having to listen to another awkward line reading.

So, why do I keep watching this stupid movie?

Some of it’s because I do genuinely like the four main stars.  Like me, Jennifer Love Hewitt is a Texas girl and I imagine we both share the same struggle.  Sarah Michelle Gellar will always be Buffy to me.  Ryan Philippe’s nice to look at.  Even the reliably stiff Freddie Prinze, Jr. is rather likable in I Know What You Did Last Summer.  It’s fun to watch these four work together to try to find out who is stalking them and how it relates to the man that they accidentally killed last summer.  Of course, they’d probably be able to figure things out a lot quicker if they weren’t all so stupid but it can’t always be the members of the honor society who end up driving drunk and accidentally killing someone.

I also like the look of the film.  The film takes place in one of those North Carolina fishing villages and director Jim Gillipsie does a good job of making everything look dark, somber, and menacing.  That big hook that the killer carries with him always freaks me out.  I literally have to shut my eyes when he kills Bridgette Wilson.

And, of course, there’s this:

The “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!?” scene is without a doubt one of the greatest instances of overacting in the history of horror cinema.  I have literally gone hoarse imitating Jennifer Love Hewitt’s delivery of that line.  However, when it comes to why this scene is a must see, it’s not just the fact that Jennifer Love Hewitt screams the line out of nowhere.  There’s also the fact that she’s literally shouting it at no one, unless she’s attempting to address God or something.  (And judging from the overhead shot at the end of the scene, it would appear that God was listening.)  Plus, there’s that cast on Ryan Philippe and the hat on Sarah Michelle Gellar…

I Know What You Did Last Summer is a deeply stupid movie but it’s still one that I always seem to end up watching, if just so I can yell at everyone for not being smart enough to outwit a killer who doesn’t seem to be particularly bright himself.  It’s one of those films that I’ll leave on the TV if I come across it but, at the same time, it’s not a film that I ever feel the need to really pay much attention to.  It’s the cinematic equivalent of junk food, fun to eat but don’t try to shout “WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!?” if your mouth’s full.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #95: 54 (dir by Mark Christopher)


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“A guy named Steve Rubell had a dream: To throw the best damned party the world had ever seen and to make it last forever. He built a world where fantasy was put up as reality and where an 80-year-old disco queen could dance till dawn. Where models mingled with mechanics, plumbers danced with princes. It was a place where all labels were left behind. A place where there were no rules.”

— Shane O’Shea (Ryan Phillippe) in 54 (1998)

So, did you actually read that quote at the beginning of the review?  I don’t blame if you didn’t because not only is it ludicrous overwritten but it just goes on and on.  It’s one of those quotes that you read in a script and you think to yourself, “They better get absolutely the best actor in the world to deliver these lines,” and then you realize Ryan Phillippe has been cast in the role.

Except, of course, I doubt that any of those lines were found in the original script for 54.  54 is one of those films where, as you watch it, you can literally imagine the chaos that must have been going on during the editing process.  Subplots are raised and then dropped and the mysteriously pop up again.  Characters change both their personalities and their motives in between scenes.  Huge dramatic moment happen almost at random but don’t seem to actually have anything to do with anything else happening in the film.

In short, 54 is a mess but it’s a mess that’s held together by incredibly clunky narration.  Shane O’Shea, who spent the waning days of the 1970s working at Studio 54, narrates the film.  And, despite the fact that Shane is presented as being kinda dumb (think of Saturday Night Fever‘s Tony Manero, without the sexy dance moves), his narration is extremely verbose and reflective. It’s almost as if the narration was written at the last-minute by someone desperately trying to save a collapsing film.

I watched 54 on cable because I saw that it was about the 70s and I figured it would feature a lot of outrageous costumes, danceable music, and cocaine-fueled melodrama.  And it turns out that I was right about the cocaine-fueled melodrama but still, 54 is no Boogie Nights.  It’s not even Bright Lights, Big City.

54 does have an interesting cast, which makes it all the more unfortunate that nobody really gets to do anything interesting.  Poor Ryan Phillippe looks totally lost and, in the film’s worst scene, he actually has to stand in the middle of a dance floor and, after the death of elderly Disco Dottie (that’s the character’s name!), yell at all the decadent club goers.  Breckin Meyer is cute as Phillippe’s co-worker and Salma Hayek gets to sing.  Neve Campbell plays a soap opera actress who Phillippe has a crush on and…oh, who cares?  Seriously, writing about this film is almost as annoying as watching it.

Mike Myers — yes, that Mike Myers — plays the owner of the club, Steve Rubell.  The role means that Myers gets to snort cocaine, hit on Breckin Meyer, and vomit on the silk sheets of his bed.  I think that Myers gives a good performance but I’m not really sure.  It could have just been the shock of seeing Mike Myers snorting cocaine, hitting on Breckin Meyer, and vomiting on the silk sheets of his bed.

If you want to enjoy some 70s decadence, avoid 54 and rewatch either Boogie Nights or American Hustle.

Embracing the Melodrama #53: Crash (dir by Paul Haggis)


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For the past two weeks, I’ve been reviewing, in chronological order, some of the most and least memorable melodramas ever filmed.   We started way back in 1916 and now, after 52 reviews, we’ve finally reached the year 2004.  And that can only mean that it is time to review the worst film to ever win an Oscar for best picture of the year.  I am, of course, talking about Crash.

Crash is an ensemble piece that follows a multi-racial cast of characters as they deal with issues of race, crime, and — well, that’s about it.  In Crash, everyone’s life revolves around race and crime.  Well, I take that back,  There is at least one character whose life revolves around being a good maid to the white woman who employs her.  But otherwise, it’s all about race and crime.  The film is set in Los Angeles which, from what I’ve read, is actually a pretty big city but you really wouldn’t know that from watching Crash.  All of the characters in Crash are constantly and randomly running into each other.  I think director/screenwriter Paul Haggis is trying to make a statement about the power that coincidence plays in the world but, often times, it just feels like lazy plotting.

Anyway, here are the characters who are meant to bring Los Angeles to vivid cinematic life:

Brendan Fraser and Sandra Bullock play rich white people Rick and Jean Cabot.  Rick Cabot has just been elected District Attorney of Los Angeles County.  (Because when I think of a successful urban politician, I automatically think of Brendan Fraser…)  Jean is his materialistic wife.  At the start of the film, they’re carjacked by two young black men, which leads to Jean suspecting that every non-white she sees is secretly a gang member.  Later, Jean falls down a flight of stairs but she’s helped by her maid, who happens to be — surprise, surprise — not white!  Apparently, this teaches Jean an important lesson about tolerance.  The message, I guess, is that white people can be redeemed by interacting with their minority servants.

And then there’s Cameron (Terrence Howard) and his wife Christine (Thandie Newton) who are upper class and black.  Cameron directs sitcoms for a living and, at work, he has to deal with Fred (Tony Danza) constantly double guessing him and demanding that he reshoot scenes.  One night, as they leave an awards ceremony, Cameron and Christine are pulled over by two white cops — the racist Ryan (Matt Dillon) and his idealistic partner Hansen (Ryan Phillippe).  Ryan proceeds to molest Christine while giving her a pat down.  The next day, Christine is involved in a car accident on the freeway and is pulled from the burning car by none other than Officer Ryan.  The point here, I suppose, is that the same pervert who finger rapes you one night is just as likely to be the same guy who comes across your overturned car on the freeway.  For that scene alone, Crash deserves the title of worst best picture winner ever.

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But that’s not all!

There’s also Detective Graham Waters (Don Cheadle), who has been assigned to investigate a police corruption case that would not be out of place in an episode of … well, just insert your own generic cop show title here.  Graham also visits his mentally unstable mother who demands that Graham find his younger brother.  Now, of course, as soon as we hear this, we know that Graham’s brother is going to have to turn out to be one of the other characters in the film.  Since there are only three other black males in this film (and since Cameron appears to be the same age as Graham), it’s not difficult to figure out who it’s going to be.

It’s either going to be Anthony (Ludacris) or Peter (Larenz Tate), who also happen to be the same two men who carjacked the Cabots’ car at the start of the film.  Larenz Tate probably gives the best performance in this whole sorry mess of a film, even if his role is ultimately a thankless one.

There’s also a locksmith named Daniel (Michael Pena), who finds himself being stalked by an angry Middle Eastern man.  Daniel’s story contains a hint of magic realism, presumably because Paul Haggis was reading something by Gabriel Garcia Marquez while writing the script.

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You can fault Crash for many things but you also can’t deny that it’s far more ambitious than the typical bad film.  In the space of 112 minutes, Paul Haggis attempts to say everything that needs to be said about race and class in America.  Unfortunately, while watching the film, it quickly becomes obvious that Haggis really doesn’t know much about race and class in America.  Hence, the film becomes a collection of scenes that think they mean something while actually meaning nothing.  Crash is less about race in America and more about how other movies have traditionally portrayed race in America.  Unfortunately, director Haggis does not have the self-awareness to truly bring the subtext of screenwriter Haggis’s script to life.

The main theme of Crash seems to be that everyone has a good side and a bad side and that you can the hero of one story while being the villain of another.  That’s not a bad theme, it’s just an incredibly mundane one.  The film illustrates this theme by continually having a character say something racially offensive just to then have him do something heroic in the very next scene.  As a result, the characters don’t come across as being so much complex as just incredibly inconsistent.  Crash is never as deep as it thinks it is.

Reportedly, Crash was inspired by Paul Haggis’s own experience of getting carjacked.  Haggis has said that being a victim of crime led to some intense soul searching on his part.  Hopefully, Haggis got something better than just Crash out of the whole experience.

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Embracing the Melodrama #47: Cruel Intentions (dir by Roger Kumble)


For the past 10 days, I’ve been reviewing some of the most and least memorable melodramas ever filmed.  Starting with 1916’s Where Are My Children?, we’ve been moving chronologically through film history.  We’re now coming to the end of the 90s and what better way to end that decade than by taking a look at 1999’s Cruel Intentions?

Cruel Intentions takes place in the upscale world of a New York private school.  Rich and popular Kathryn Merteuil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is also a manipulative hypocrite who destroys reputations on a whim and carries cocaine in her ever-present cross necklace.  Kathryn is upset because her boyfriend has recently dumped her and is now dating the sweet and innocent Cecile (Selma Blair).  Kathryn asks her decadent cousin Sebastian Valmont (Ryan Phillippe) to seduce Cecile.  However, Sebastian refuses, saying that the challenge would be too easy.  Instead, he plans to seduce Annette Hargrove (Reese Whitherspoon), who has recently written an acclaimed essay about the importance of chastity and who also happens to be the daughter of the school’s headmaster.  Kathryn is intrigued by Sebastian’s plan and makes a bet with him.  If Sebastian manages to take Annette’s virginity than Kathryn will have sex with him…

Now, if you’ve already read my previous review of Dangerous Liaisons, the plot of Cruel Intentions probably sounds a bit familiar.  That’s because both of these films are based on the same source material —  Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.  The main difference between the two films — beyond the fact that Dangerous Liaisons is set in pre-Revolutionary France and Cruel Intentions is set in 1990s New York — is that Dangerous Liaisons uses the material to comment on the excesses of the rich while Cruel Intentions is all about style.

And, to be honest, while Dangerous Liaisons is undoubtedly the better film, Cruel Intentions is a lot more fun.  I first saw Cruel Intentions shortly before I started my sophomore year of high school and I excitedly thought to myself, “So this is what high school is going to be like!”  Well, unfortunately, it turned out that I was wrong but oh well!  (Though, in all fairness to the film, I went to a public high school in the suburbs of Dallas as opposed to a rich private school in New York.)  The movie still a lot of fun, even if it didn’t quite match up with reality.  Everything from the costumes (I absolutely LOVED every single outfit that Sarah Michelle Gellar wore and, even before it was revealed to be full of cocaine, that cross necklace was to die for) to the ornate sets to the wonderfully melodramatic and self-aware performances — it all works towards creating a vivid and engrossing alternative universe.

So no, don’t take Cruel Intentions seriously.

Just enjoy the dance while it lasts.

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Tomorrow, embracing the melodrama enters the 21st Century!

Lisa Marie Gets On Top of The Lincoln Lawyer (dir. by Brad Furman)


When I’m not writing about movies or reality television, I work for a lawyer.  Some people would describe me as being a receptionist but personally, I prefer the term office administrator.  (Actually, what I’d really prefer would be to have people refer to me as “Dr. Bowman,” but that’s in the future.)  As a result of my job, I’ve become jaded as far as “legal thrillers” are concerned.  The fact of the matter is that most lawyers aren’t slick, most trials aren’t exciting, and most surprise witnesses will probably have their testimony ruled inadmissable.  (Assuming, of course, that the testimony is allowed in the first place.  It won’t be.)  Add to that, attorney-client privilege is always presented as being some sort of grave and somber power like the one ring to unite them all.*

All of the usual legal thriller elements show up in Brad Furman’s new film, The Lincoln Lawyer.  Slick attorneys, melodramatic courtroom theatrics, and a lot of discussion about attorney-client privilege, The Lincoln Lawyer has them all but, fortunately, director Furman presents these cliches with so much energy and such a fine attention to detail that you don’t really mind the fact that you’ve seen this movie a hundred times in the past.

In the Lincoln Lawyer, Matthew McConaughey plays a lawyer who operates from the backseat of his car and who finds himself hired to defend a spoiled rich kid (Ryan Phillippe) who has been accused of raping a prostitute.  After McConaughey takes the case, it quickly becomes apparent to both him and his lead investigator (a nicely eccentric turn from William H. Macy) that not only is Phillippe guilty but he’s a serial murderer as well.  Phillippe, however, quickly reveals that he doesn’t care if McConaughey knows that he’s guilty.  After all, since McConaughey is Phillippe’s lawyer now, McConaughey can’t go to the police. 

Ryan Phillippe makes for an imposing villain and Margarita Leviera (she played Lisa P. in Adventureland) also gives a sympathetic performance as his latest victim.  However, the film is really a showcase for Matthew McConaughey who is at his full McConaugheyness here.  Not only do you believe him as the type of lawyer who would operate out of the backseat of a car but you also totally buy it when he has to deliver potentially awkward lines like, “I’m trying to set things right!”  This is probably his best performance to date, one in which all the bad acting habits of the past are totally appropriate for the character.  If nothing else, The Lincoln Lawyer is worth seeing if just for Matthew McConaughey.

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*Seriously, if you call up your lawyer and tell him that you’re planning on trying to blow up California in three weeks, attorney-client privilege isn’t going to protect you.  So, don’t do it.