“Welcome to the neighborhood”

Alright, so that’s not exactly the welcome the Mattsons received when moving into Lakeview Terrace, but with Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) as a bigoted next door neighbor who has an interracial yuppie couple (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) move in next door, it’s easy to see where it’s headed even before the movie really gets going.  From the first time Abel mistakes Chris for a member of the moving crew to the shady look he gives him as he kisses his wife, to reminding the rap-loving Chris that he’ll always be white to… well, you get the idea.  Abel, to put it mildly, doesn’t like Chris or the thought of his interracial marriage, nor does the fact that he is a cigarette-smoking, liberal, college educated, Prius-driving, white collar worker really help his case with the blue collar, traditional and strict-as hell-Abel.  It is this racial/cultural conflict that drives Abel to start harassing Chris and his wife before they even have a chance to unpack.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that subtlety is director Neil LaBute’s strong suit and for about the first half of the movie, we’re reminded over… and over… and over again that this is a movie conflicting black and white, conservative and liberal (almost uncomfortably so at points) and most memorably during a house-warming party that was anything but.  What might’ve been a subtle but powerful theme of  racial/cultural differences and the ongoing challenge of interracial marriage is instead vastly overblown to the brink of absurdity and past, losing any point it was trying to make in the process.  By the time Lakeview Terrace started picking up steam, it actually caught me by surprise, as I had resigned myself to the latter issues for some time.

Truth be told, once it got going, it became a pretty entertaining movie.  Samuel L. has proven quite capable of carrying mediocre material into the decent category, and this was no exception.  As the narrow-minded, twisted, and utterly out-of-control Abel, Jackson easily convinces you of the instability that makes him such an intriguing villain, as I was never sure where his limits lied (if anywhere).  It was clear throughout that no aspect of his life was under control, be it was work, family or community.  The same was eventually made true of the Mattsons; what started off as a peaceful new beginning for them quickly spiraled out of control along the same lines, much thanks to Abel’s meddling in their lives.  While it created the chaos necessary to build to a climax, it also made the entire movie feel bleak, as though even if everything resolved in the end, only the utter wreckage of once-happy lives would remain.

While Jackson is strong, and Wilson and Washington both play their parts well enough to convince, the tension that was built throughout the entire movie doesn’t boil over as successfully as was intended, even if they blatantly tried to put an incoming wildfire climax to convince us otherwise.  Oftentimes during the concluding scenes, I found the suspense and anxiety less than convincing and despite my best efforts to be on the edge of my seat, it just wasn’t happening this time.  Lakeview Terrace certainly had its moments but the true great thrillers maintain the same edge throughout; here, it was found only in spurts.  Entertaining, to be sure, but what seemed like a promising premise and cast just wasn’t executed at anywhere above an average level for the drama.

For some racially charged moments, entertainment and some mild thrills, Lakeview Terrace delivers, but don’t expect anything incredible from the latest in a long line of B movie thrillers.

3 / 5 stars

“Rock me, Rock me Jesus!”

That is the catchy hook to the new indie comedy hit of the summer, Hamlet 2, starring the brilliant Steve Coogan as a down-and-out actor who puts on the best high school musical theatre play of all time (also titled Hamlet 2) It wasn’t all by choice though, as the school tries first to close down the drama department and then shut down the play itself. The film does a great job of tying all those elements and variables together to create a very relatable film with characters that seem real enough to hang out with, even if some are parodies of stereotypes of characters in high school “redemption films” (like Dangerous Minds, for example).

The writers are even nice enough to point which inspiration was where to the audience.  It gives lots of “Aha!” moments that really give some humanity to Coogan’s slightly demented and neurotic character, Dana Marschz. Catherine Keener plays his wife Brie almost as well as her role in An American Crime; she brings comedy and high drama to a role that could have been easily gotten lost in the fluff. David Arquette also stars in this film as Gary, the BORE-der in the Marshz home, and his performance (or lack thereof) really keeps the film going through some of the uncomfortable dramatic scenery.

The comedic stylings are very much in the same vein of Tropic Thunder, which also,  ironically, starred Steve Coogan. The similarities come into play as the jokes are centered on the craft of the performance rather than the performance itself. Sure, there is slapstick, but there are also complex jokes that audiences of all ages can enjoy again and again.

However, in terms of context of the content, Juno would be more in line of the where this film is going with its controversy. It is an interesting dynamic that actually gets pulled off very well in the film, but you’ll have to see it but since to truly appreciate how it gets to the crux of the matter.  Just be happy to know most of the jokes are not in the trailer, which is a very common complaint with some comedies.

All in all, this was a very entertaining film that celebrates the art of art. Steve Coogan’s slightly over-the-top performance is balanced by Catherine Keener’s calm demeanor and David Arquette’s supremely understated performance. The actual musical itself was pretty fun even if there is more than a little a bit of weirdness in the plot. I give this film a high recommendation if you are looking for some quirky comedy before school starts up again!

5 / 5 stars

The actors playing Mike and Jessica are definitely standouts that I expect to see in the future; they both played up their teen characters realistically and age appropriately, as is so rarely done. Though she doesn’t directly meet the Cullens her first day, everyone has something to say about them in whispers when she asks who they are.

After an extremely confusing scene in Biology class, she becomes more intrigued with the elegant Edward Cullen, and begins stealing glances and asking questions. Finally their paths collide, literally, when Edward jumps in front of Bella to stop a reckless van in the school parking lot, raising even more questions about him. Amazingly, Bella still takes awhile (painfully long, in fact) to piece together what Edward’s pale skin, unbelievable speed, and inhuman strength all mean… he’s a vampire. This instant of interaction sets them on an immediate course to falling head-over-heels for each other, despite both of their better judgments.

As someone with my heart wrapped up in the story, I thoroughly enjoyed it; however I would probably not recommend it to someone not interested in the books. The fault lies in many places, primarily with the tiny budget and screenwriting. Kristen Stewart (Bella) and Robert Pattinson (Edward) did an excellent job of giving us an on screen portrayal of the palpable tension between to two characters; the build-up to the single on screen kiss between the two is practically explosive. That said, the conflicted nature of their love in which Edward is perpetually protecting Bella from himself, was so badly written, it pretty much consisted of him repeatedly and awkwardly saying they couldn’t be friends, unlike the anguished restraint portrayed in the book.  The quivering and stuttering between the two got a little excessive, as did Bella’s open-mouthed stare, but ultimately it got the point across (albeit a bit crudely).