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American Dreamz

British TV host Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant) is enjoying success as the host of the No. 1 reality music show ‘American Dreamz’. Always on the lookout for new contestants, he discovers Sally (Mandy Moore) an ambitious teen who will do anything to be crowned the winner, even if it means getting back with her boyfriend William (Chris Klein), who she has just dumped. Another contestant is Omer (Sam Golzari), a guy who loves Broadway shows, and dreams of making it big in musicals. However Omer hides a secret. He is part of an Arab terrorist group, and has been ordered against his will to assassinate the President (Dennis Quad), who is making one of his first public appearances on the show after a nervous breakdown. This leads to a bizarre chain of events as reality and fantasy merge, all for the entertainment of the viewing public.

Director Paul Weiz targets the dubious phenomenon of reality TV, with this scathing satire. Hugh Grant perfectly captures the slick host, who casts his shows as if they were dramas, and slots in the stereotypes to which the audience can relate. Tweed knows that his show is rubbish, but wants to keep the trappings of fame to which he has become accustomed. Mandy Moore is wonderful in her role, successfully portraying the desperate wannabe that can be seen on any of the reality shows airing. Dennis Quad is amusing as the clueless President, who lets his staff run the country for him. Willem DaFoe appears in another great role as the scheming Chief of Staff who wants to control the media and how the President is portrayed. Sam Golzari is excellent as Omer, giving the films best performance, making his clumsy character one with plenty of charm and sympathy.
‘American Dreamz’ shows how the cult of celebrity has taken over, and how people can exploit their fame for all it’s worth.. This is a generally funny film, which tries to aim at several targets at once, but only occasionally hits the bullseye. A problem with the film, is that the political angle doesn’t really work. Whilst it’s good to see a satire having some political bite to it, the script isn’t as strongly written to support this. Had the director concentrated more on the audience and the contestants of the show, the messages that he was trying to deliver could have been better heard.
Since the beginning of the decade, reality TV has boomed, with the by-product that imaginative and escapist shows have been either taken off the air or consigned to the late night viewing slots. While some people find the reality genre entertaining in its own way, they can’t take the place of well written and acted shows. This film uncovers how artificial reality TV is, and how manipulation of both audiences and contestants can lead to twisted versions of the truth.
A reasonably amusing film that captures fire all too frequently.

Rating out of 10: 6
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The Hills Have Eyes

An ordinary family is placed in an extraordinary situation in this horror remake. To celebrate their wedding anniversary, Bob (Ted Levine) takes his family on a cross country trip to California, through the New Mexico desert. Along for the ride are his wife Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan), two daughters, son Bobby, and his eldest daughter’s husband Doug (Aaron Stanford), who doesn’t get along with his father in law due to their conflicting views. When they stop for some petrol, the attendant tells them of a short cut they could take through the mountains. Unknown to them, the attendant is in league with a sinister group who live there and await the arrival of their new prey. The events that transpires changes the family forever, and forces Doug to become the very thing that he is so against.
This is based on the 1977 film directed by Wes Craven, who produced this version. The film starts by giving a back-story to what lies waiting in the desert. The site was used as a nuclear testing facility in the 1950s, and the offspring of the survivors lurk within the mountains. The original film was a cult favourite which further enhanced Craven’s reputation as a horror specialist.
This film maintains the genuine sense of doom that was in the original, and is uncompromising in its acts of horror. The mostly unknown cast do a good job of portraying a realistic family - with arguments aplenty. The terror that they face binds them into a tighter unit. Mostly though, this is about the journey that Doug takes, from being a peace loving person into someone who has to bear arms in order to survive. This is one of the main strengths of this film, as it’s interesting to watch the horror of Doug’s reaction to not only what the villains do to him, but what he does to them in turn. The rest of the cast are adequate in their small roles.
However, the villains are revealed far too early, which dilutes any suspense. It’s always scarier to face an unseen menace than one that is seen too early. Also a lot of the situations feel very contrived, with at one point the father and Doug separately both going to get help, thereby increasing the chances of them getting killed. There are a few set pieces that are very well done, although they only stand out as separate episodes, rather than making this film seem like a cohesive package. The cinematography makes the Mexican mountains look very eerie, with the empty vastness of the desert being a villain that the family can’t kill. The music score is very effective, underlining the tension of the situation.
Watching this film was a frustrating experience, as although it’s quite an effective shocker, one couldn’t help but wish that the creative talent on display was put into an original screenplay. It appears that commercial Hollywood film-making is stuck in a rut of sequels and remakes these days, of which this is just another in a very long line. As last year’s ‘Red Eye’ showed, Wes Craven still has plenty of good ideas to deliver, and it’s a shame that he put his energy into remaking his own earlier film. Overall this is reasonably scary, but the sense of disappointment at watching yet another remake lessens any gains made by this film.
Rating out of 10: 5
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