by Tony Dayoub
No big surprise. A Nightmare on Elm Street, the unnecessary remake of Wes Craven's 1984 hallucinatory slasher film opening tomorrow has nothing new to offer. You know this film is headed in the wrong direction literally from the start, with a misguided opening credit design that looks like it started as near-illegible chalk scrawls on a sidewalk, but ends up visually echoed by redundant white on black credits as a corrective. And the film goes downhill from there. My frequent criticism of remakes is, why revisit a decent film if it won't be improved? In Samuel Bayer's reboot, the overt sexual paranoia of the original's promiscuous kids is neutered into a hollow exploration of pedophilia simply to give the illusion of topicality.
The fifth of Michael Bay's unwarranted horror remakes (must he rape our entire childhood), Elm Street lifts iconic scenes from the original series to lesser effect. A narrower example of this is the make-up design for Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley), a combination of prosthetics and CGI a la The Dark Knight's Two-Face which, though realistic, is also strangely cuter. An extended origin sequence for Krueger, probably a bone tossed at the Oscar-nominated Haley (Little Children), doesn't serve the film's creep factor well. Instead it defangs the evil Freddy immediately by dispelling the mystery around the monster. Elm Street repeatedly forgets scary movies should scare, relying on cheap, overscored shocks to move the film along.
How to Train Your Dragon depends on its three-dimensionality to immerse the viewer in a wondrous fantasy world where Vikings battle the winged beasts in firefights captured by lofty-angled cameras. Theater owners, wise to the film's spectacular achievement, raised their prices accordingly for the 3D version. But Dragon is the first 3D blockbuster since last year's Avatar to really employ the gimmick judiciously and justifiably. And it's the rare family film which appeals to all ages.
The biggest surprise I've watched theatrically this year is the DC Comics adaptation, The Losers. This A-Team retread is inexplicably fun to watch despite trotting out some cliche action tropes like the snarky catchphrases which seem to consist the entirety of its dialogue. Like the often derivative Bond movies, its charm is in its casting, production design, and choice of locations. Filmed primarily in Miami and Puerto Rico, there is a distinctly tropical heat to the activity, also brought to the table by the increasingly notable Latina actress, Zoe Saldana (Avatar). She steals the show from just about everyone despite some able charisma by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen) and Idris Elba (The Wire)... everyone but Jason Patric (Narc). Patric's wickedly funny performance as the CIA baddie could constitute the only reason to see this film even if the other elements of it failed. Not a great film by any stretch, The Losers is still good, trashy amusement.
No One Knows About Persian Cats is a timely look at life under the oppressive regime in Iran through the prism of music. With most forms of musical expression outlawed there, the underground rock scene in Tehran is the perfect venue through which one can appreciate the almost otherwordly restrictions the hip, young people of Iran face each day. Now in limited release in New York and Los Angeles (also available on VOD through Sundance Selects), the film boasts an impressive pedigree. Directed by Bahman Ghobadi (A Time for Drunken Horses), the film employs nonactors mostly playing themselves. If the name of one of the screenwriters, Roxana Saberi, sounds familiar it is because the Iranian-American journalist was at the center of an international incident last year. After being sentenced to eight years in prison because of false accusations of spying for the U.S., she eventually was released on appeal 100 days later. At times a freewheeling visual and aural feast of the various forms of music emerging from the secretive network of artists in Tehran, and other times a downbeat examination of the tension between a government and its people, No One Knows About Persian Cats is an energetic masterpiece which succeeds in fostering understanding of a society long regarded as alien by us.