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February 13, 2006 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-02-13

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Monday
February 13, 2006
arts. michigandaily.com
artspage@michigandaily.com

R TeSatchogan Baiiq

5

. .. . .. ..... .

The horror, the horror

Courtesy of
New Line
"Shit, I
wish we'd
gotten
that role In
'EuroTrip.' "

MECHANICAL HORROR FRANCHISE GRINDS INTO NEXT STOP

The entertainment world was
stunned. Oscar nominations,
announced Jan. 31, stirred a flurry
of media attention for the trophy-tipped
films, particularly frontrunner "Broke-
back Mountain." But calls of victory
were short-lived when box-office figures
began to filter in that weekend. Which of
the prestigious, laurel-laden dramas made
it to the top of the charts?
In truth, while Hollywood
stood mired in obsequious
self-congratulation ceremo-
nies, America catapulted
the horror remake "When a
Stranger Calls" to the num-
ber one spot with just more
than $20 million.
But stunned was just the
beginning. So triumphant
and unexpected was the AM
film's success that it prompt- ANE
ed a deluge of outrage from
the legitimate film community. An anon-
ymous letter published in the New York
Times called for the public burning of
all reels of the horror film as well as the
legally mandated political exile of its cast
and crew. According to Jake Gyllenhaal,
the manifesto boasted a remarkably simi-
lar syntactic signature to that of his col-
laborator, Heath Ledger. Gyllenhaal took
a more pragmatic view of the situation
by renouncing art films and expressing
his commitment to play only archetypal
serial killers in the future. Ang Lee even
camped out in protest in front of an L.A.
multiplex, vowing never to eat or sleep
again until his epic cowboy love story
conquered the box office.
OK,so none of that actually happened.
What's true is that when every movie
website, newspaper and film geek was
speculating over the Academy Awards,
a babysitter harassed by a psychopath
topped the box office. What's not true is
that anyone cared.
The allure of mindless horror is simply
too well documented an aberration to
surprise many people today. For decades,
the movie industry has embraced the
profit-yielding merits of films starring
attractive, non-threatening young women
getting any combination of scared, killed
and/or doused in water.
The more recent renaissance of the
brainless bloodbath drew protests at first,
but these too fell away. True, film junkies
still sigh every time a film like "Stranger"
finds its way into America's heart rather
than onto the video-store shelves where
it belongs. But for the most part, horror

A
DI

remains the poor, bastard cousin of a
Henry James Hollywood - disruptive,
tragic, ignored.
But if neither the industry nor the
media care to dwell much on horror
films, nodding at their impressive popu-
list appeal before turning to the business
of real movies, the American public has
proven that it just doesn't agree.
The success of a film
like "Stranger" - in
which an unknown star-
let (Camilla Belle) purrs
vacuously into a phone
receiver while a masked
serial killer stalks her in a
cavernous house boasting
architecture more compel-
ling than the film's plot -
speaks to that continued
.NDA loyalty. And because hor-
ror films are such astound-
RADE ingly low-risk, high-yield
ventures, movie studios have no incen-
tive to stop producing them.
Take this past weekend. The number
one film in America was Steve Martin's
comedy remake of "The Pink Panther"
with an estimated $22 million, showcas-
ing the comedian's considerable skills in
an $80-million ensemble event. "Final
Destination 3," the low-budget thrill ride
following the escapees of a death-by-
roller-coaster incident, came in less than
$2 million behind and actually claimed
a higher per-screen average. Incidentally,
that put it far ahead of superstar Harrison
Ford's actioner "Firewall" and, for that
matter, "Brokeback Mountain."
Situations like these lead to two
unavoidable conclusions: One being that
America has very poor taste in movies.
But the other is not so much an indict-
ment of the country's cinema sickness as
it is the simple fact that horror films, for
all their unmerited success, have a per-
manent place in our nation's soul.
The triumph of terrible horror has too
long been the dirty shame of Hollywood,
newspapers nodding to American tastes
like parents placating their cake-chomp-
ing fat kid. But movies are the ultimate
populist medium, and denying respect to
the public's choice is irrational. There's
a place in pop culture for the celebration
of such pulp pleasures: It might fall, for
example, somewhere between Mariah
Carey's Grammy wins and the persistent
popularity of Coldplay.
- Andrade thinks "Scream 2" is the
bomb. E-mail aandrade@umich.edu.

By Jeffrey Bloomer
Managing Arts Editor
"Final Destination 3" is a machine. Its purpose
is simple: to sacrifice its cast in increasingly lurid

and outrageous fashion, one
very determined nail through
the brain cavity at a time. It's
a serviceable gimmick, eco-
nomically sweeping things
like motivation and conven-
tional logic under the bowel-
covered rug, opting instead to

Final
Destination 3
At the Showcase
and Quality 16
New Line

The film adopts the same basic structure as the
first two, opening with a nondescript high school-
er who has a premonition of a fatal accident that
kills her and her friends. She flips out before it can
actually happen, getting them out of harm's way
the moment before her vision comes true - that
is, until the faceless grim reaper himself, ever the
grudge-exacting enthusiast of brutal death, comes
back to finish the job.
Usually public transportation finishes off our
resident cast of decadent teenagers, but direc-
tor/co-writer James Wong (returning to the fran-
chise after skipping out on the first sequel) has
apparently stumbled onto the next best thing: a
roller coaster. And frankly, standing on its own,
the sequence is a knockout. Coming off of clev-
erly manipulated opening credits more creatively
inspired than the most of his and Glen Morgan's
screenplay, Wong emulates the anxiety leading up
to the ride, capitalizing on the fear in the back of
every rider's mind: the feeling of imminent danger
that gives coasters their primal thrill.
Then a curious thing happens. The plot, typically
light but usually providing at least basic character
motivation, completely shuts down. Instead of expo-
sition, the film floods the audience with scene after
scene in which the two characters who understand
"death's plan" - this time with a subplot drawing,
unashamedly from Lincoln's assassination and Sept.
11 - attempt to explain it to the next victim, who, of

course, shrugs them off while partaking in the most
recklessly dangerous activities he can find.
Still, that "Final Destination 3" plays like an
extended montage of who-was-that-again char-
acters is not nearly as offensive as its complete
disregard for any narrative level not involving
overt mutilation. The original film worked mod-
estly because it took the time to explore the angsty
wanderings of the doomed youth even as it art-
fully picked them off. Like the best horror of the
post-"Scream" variety, it was in clear conversation
with the genre, winking at the cultural subtext that
defined it. About the closest "Final Destination 3"
comes to commenting on its genre is the inclusion
of two extravagantly chesty blondes taking their
shirts off in a tanning booth. We get it: They have
huge boobs. They're going to die flaunting them.
Watch carefully or you might miss something.
What a puzzling, maddening tease of a
movie this is - brutal to no end, vacuous with-
out reserve. Perhaps the person here who most
deserves sympathy is the film's editor, Chris Will-
ingham, the unfortunate soul who found his way
into Hollywood with the movie. It's his first work
outside television and, if this movie is any indica-
tion, probably his last. That's a shame. The guy
deserves credit if only for coming to work every
morning and making an honest attempt to assem-
ble this defective mass of low-concept trash into a
fluid story. That's commitment.

cut to the chase with the money shot of a guy get-
ting partially decapitated by his own convertible
top in a drive-thru.
At least it looks like that's what happened. It's
hard to say, because unlike its comparably frivolous
but much more lucid predecessors, "Final Destina-
tion 3" is more interested in the laughably elabo-
rate build-up to its deaths than the actual killings
themselves. By the time we get through the furious
onslaught of red herrings - the ominous, stalk-
ing shadows and the tongue-in-cheek close-ups of
every sharp edge in sight - the so-called payoff to
the jarring cycle is little more than a quick glimpse
of splattered blood, a few archival shrieks and a
decidedly half-hearted cut to black.

Friars Martin and 'Panther'slick as ever

By Imran Syed
Daily Arts Writer
Slapstick comedy is hard to get right. No matter
the skill of the performers or strength of the material,

there's just something inherently
insubstantial about its simplistic gags
that turns critics off. In the end, you
either love a French guy with a funny
moustache - struggling over Eng-
lish syllables and saying things like,
"How fatal was it?" - or such antics
make you question the merits of exis-

The Pink
Panther
At the Showcase
and Quality 16
Columbia

At the University, some things - like
cheeky humor and eight-part harmony
- just never get old.
Saturday night at Hill Auditorium cel-
ebrated the 50th anniversary of the Friars,

ANGELACES"RE/Dai"y
Members of the Friars sing during their performance on Saturday night.

an all-male, a cap-
pella octet. Named
for a turn-of-the-
century University
group dedicated to
drinking and sing-
ing, the Friars still
recruit some of the
funniest and most
talented members

The Friars
50th Reunion
Concert
Saturday
At Hill Auditorium
of the Men's Glee

Club for the troupe each year. The ses-
quicentennial welcomed a remarkable
135 of 195 living Friar alumni, as well as
a variety of musical styles, from ragtime
to Motown to pop.
University President Mary Sue Cole-
man opened the show, joking about the
Friars' nickname for her: baby chief.
"But when you have eight young
men in tuxedoes, I'm not going to com-
plain," she said.

Grouped together by eras (for example,
1967 through 1973), the former Friars
came out in tuxedoes, sport coats, sweat-
ers and blazers. Ordered chronologically,
each group performed two songs. The
'77-'81 group took the stage in Hawai-
ian shirts and straw hats, singing "The
Banana Boat Song" and throwing banan-
as into the audience.
Groups covered George Gershwin,
TV theme songs and reworked Billy
Joel tunes. Not everyone caught the
line about "hooking up in the (Gradu-
ate library) stacks" in "Northface Girl,"
but the crowd loved the '73-'77 group's
take on "Operator," whose tenor soloist
leads with fiery, blue-eyed gospel.
It was obvious that each group spent a
significant amount of time arranging their
performances, not to mention their bursts
of choreographed dance moves.

Five of the six living members of
the original double-quartet were pres-
ent; they earned a standing ovation as
they stepped from the eaves to join the
current 2005-2006 Friars for their seg-
ment of the concert.
"There's the camaraderie (from the
'50s to the '00s) and you can tell the Friars
were very important to every age group in
their college years," said Ann Arbor resi-
dent Karen Bamsey, who attended Satur-
day's show.
Current Friars started the concert
with the first two songs the original
Friars performed. The old-and-new
combination fittingly closed the small
group performances. Afterward, the
finale featured all 135 prior and cur-
rent Friars. "(It was) kind of a passing
of the torch," said Joe Zande, current
Friar and operations manager.

tence itself. The revival of perhaps the greatest slapstick
franchise of all time, "The Pink Panther," shows that
there's often a big divide between a good film and a fun
film. This one falls squarely into the latter category.
Steve Martin ("Shopgirl") is Inspector Jacques Clou-
seau, a lowly country policeman in France. Clouseau
is a hopeless imbecile, but oh, how he doesn't know it.
Complete with his palm-sized car, miniscule moustache
and airy sense of self-importance, Clouseau goes about
his everyday life with an air of boredom.
But when a big-name soccer coach is murdered in
Paris, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline, "Wild
Wild West") hires Clouseau as a cover: The media fol-
lows him around and the real detectives do their work
unhindered.
Little does Dreyfus know how seriously the compas-
sionate Clouseau takes his work and how far he would
go to save the face of his beloved France.
Accepted since his days on "Saturday Night Live" as
the crown prince of slapstick, Martin's step into the role
immortalized by the incomparable Peter Sellers (also
known for his Oscar-nominated turn as Dr. Strangelove)
is immaculate. He reminds us just enough of Sellers, but
has a comedic element all his own that takes the char-

acter to new heights. Though the revamped "Panther"
suffers from a screenplay nowhere near as strong as the
two Sellers had to work with, Martin's comic genius
sustains the film.
Beneath all his self-promoting outbursts, inadvertent-
ly derogatory comments and a complete obliviousness to
everything going on around him, Martin's Clouseau is
charmingly amiable. When he finds out the real reason
for his appointment, the farcical atmosphere of the film
suddenly shifts into humiliation for Clouseau. Surpris-
ingly effective, this plot turn produces an ironic, albeit
short-lived, sadness. The audience suddenly realizes
how kindhearted Clouseau really is, making the finale
more effective than if he remained nothing more than a
bumbling fool.
There are several fine supporting performances that
also help to move the film along at a strong pace. Besides
Kline, Jean Reno ("The Professional") offers a famil-
iar but still-amusing array of punchlines as Clouseau's
unfortunate assistant. The charming Emily Mortimer
("Match Point") is superb as Clouseau's secretary - the
inevitable bull's-eye of his hijinks gone awry. And Clive
Owen, in an uncredited role as Agent 006 (just one short
of the big time, Clouseau tells him), is a pleasant sur-
prise, reminding the audience how perfect a James Bond
he had the potential to be.
Though a pure romp can be a tough sell, even to the
mainstream, very few people who have an active desire
to see "The Pink Panther" will be disappointed. The
plot is thin and the story repeatedly stalls, but it has
enough solid laughs and performances to make it pass
the time comfortably. Martin runs the show like a kind-
ly ringmaster.
And on that note, forget "Cheaper by the Dozen."
Martin proves once more that he is among the great-
est comedic actors of his time, and we can only hope
that the franchise will continue so we can see him once
again take up the tiny moustache and frivolously funny
French accent.

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