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The music is timeless as life ­imitates art

Is it life imitates art? Or art imitates life? Either way, when Kiss Me, Kate hit Broadway back in 1948, winning a Tony Award, it marked the first time that Cole Porter’s music and lyrics integrated into a stage story, moving beyond showcasing Porter’s clever musical banter to pushing the story along. The story, told in show-within-a-show technique, is the on-and-offstage comedy of errors of the producer, director and star of musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Fred Graham, his ex-wife and costar Lilli Vanessi, and a comic cast with some very fine voices.
    Brian Binney nails Fred’s egoism, has a fine voice and cavorts across the stage with a jumpiness that mirrors his desperation to ensure that the show goes on. He is desperately trying to keep Lilli from quitting after she discovers his lust for Lois Lane, the sexy young actress whose boyfriend owes some very bad men some very big bucks. As Lilli, Brenda D. Parker is as convincingly egotistical as Fred. She has a powerhouse voice that is flexible enough to move from ballad to comedic in a matter of measures. As Lois and Bill, her boyfriend in arrears, Amy Greco and Nathan Bowen give us a pair of sure-footed hoofers and singers who seem born to the stage of old, whose attractions were soft shoe and solid voices, not special effects and remakes.
    The story is frantic and funny, but it’s the classic Porter songs that keep the audience — at least those of a certain age or interest in Broadway history — thinking a-ha at recognizing tunes that turned out to be timeless. The hit parade starts with the company announcing “Another Op’nin’, Another Show.” As the parade passes by, we’re mesmerized by Parker’s beautiful “So in Love” and riotous “I Hate Men,” Greco’s and Bowen’s “Why Can’t You Behave?” and, opening Act II, Jared Shamberger’s turn as Paul energetically leading the company through a very nicely choreographed “Too Darn Hot.” Special mention to the bassist in the orchestra — either Jeff Eckert or Steve Hudgins in the program — who plucks a very jazzy accompaniment on the latter.
    Other chestnuts, from “Wunderbar” by Binney and Parker to Greco’s “Always True to You in My Fashion,” keep the parade of hits coming. When two toughies, played by Josh Hampton and Michael Iacone, show up trying to collect from Bowen’s Bill and end up a part of the cast, they bring a cool liveliness to the goings-on that culminates in a hilarious “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” that seems to go on forever — and deserves to.
    Costumes by Linda Swann are colorful and fun. Director Roy Hammond and choreographer Rikki Howie Lacewell keep the pace moving. Stage manager Joanne D. Wilson keeps the scene changes short. The live orchestra led by Joe Biddle does a nice job moving the music without overpowering the singers, quite an accomplishment when an orchestra of more than a dozen is playing in a relatively small 155-seat venue like Bowie Playhouse.
    2nd Star’s Kiss Me, Kate brings us old Broadway that’s as good as new. It’s comedy, romance and music that were built to last. Judging by the vitality of 2nd Star’s production, tickets likely won’t.


Playing thru June 27, FSa 8pm; Su 3pm: Bowie Playhouse at White Marsh Park, Bowie; $22 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700; 2ndstarproductions.com.

Focus on the future; forget the plot

As a little girl, Casey Newton (Britt Robertson: The Longest Ride) dreamed of reaching the stars. Her father (Tim McGraw: Country Strong), a NASA engineer, always told her it was possible. But as Casey enters high school, that dream seems light-years away.
    Her dreams fall before her eyes when NASA tears down the Cape Canaveral launch pad near her home and lay offs her father. It seems the world has stopped dreaming and stopped reaching for the stars. The environment is crumbling, violence around the world is skyrocketing.
    Just as Casey is about to give up on her dreams and the world, she discovers a mysterious pin. Touching it transports her to the futuristic Tomorrowland, where energy is clean, people are happy and space exploration is a high school requirement.
    Fascinated, Casey seeks to know more. She finds Frank Walker (George Clooney: The Monuments Men), a former child prodigy who lived in Tomorrowland. He has grown into a bitter hermit exiled after inventing something bad. Though he refuses to speak to her, Casey’s presence tips off Tomorrowland security, which rushes to contain her.
    Can Casey elude the security forces? Will Frank take her to Tomorrowland? How can a movie be beautiful and boring at the same time?
    Tomorrowland promises excellence. Robot henchmen, a girl who can lift a car, ray guns, hover trains, George Clooney. Yet it’s overlong, oversimplified and sometimes just plain dull.
    For all its attempt to say big things, Tomorrowland lacks nuance and depth. Director Brad Bird (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) builds a stunning world, but the philosophical questions he ­raises, though sophomoric, are never answered — even explored. The premise of keep dreaming, everyone! would look great on a poster outside Tomorrowland in Disney World (which is the inspiration for the film).
    The biggest problem is that Bird builds a visually sumptuous future world but denies us exploration rights. Plenty of panning shots show us technology, but we only meet one inhabitant, the film’s antagonist. Without people, the beautiful visuals are a hollow façade.
    Not all is lost. Clooney and Robertson have excellent chemistry, so the film comes alive when they interact. The problems arise when the film attempts to expand on the world beyond them. Supporting players fall flat, plotlines go nowhere and motivation is murky.
    Tomorrowland isn’t a failure, but it wastes a lot of its potential. We could hope such an advanced society would be better at telling its story.

Fair Fantasy • PG • 130 mins.

Another Classic-Lite premieres

Two summers ago, the Annapolis Shakespeare Company offered a new concept in dinner theater: Comedy in the Courtyard at Reynolds Tavern, featuring modern adaptations of classics from the Enlightenment. Satires such as Molière’s Tartuffe and The Schemings of Scapin, performed by comely professionals with a flair for punny couplets, found audiences as hungry for bawdy barbs as they were for shrimp and grits. So when Artistic Director Sally Boyett commissioned Timothy Mooney, author of 17 Molière adaptations, to translate an Italian classic — Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters  — the public house was packed. Mooney flew in from Chicago for the champagne reception honoring this world premiere about love and revenge among bumbling aristocrats, saucy maids and a scheming servant.
    The servant in question, Truffaldino (Patrick Truhler), is an opportunist whose greed and incompetence engender romance between his two masters after two hours of swashbuckling confusion. It all starts when a Venetian merchant, Pantalone (Brian Keith MacDonald), arranges for his daughter Clarice (Megan Morse Jans) to marry Silvio (Michael Windsor), son of Doctor Lombardi (James Carpenter). Clarice’s previous betrothed, Federigo (Laura Rocklyn), was killed by Florindo (Carpenter), the lover of Federigo’s sister Beatrice (Rocklyn). Now Beatrice, disguised as her dead brother, has come to claim Federigo’s uncollected dowry. Yet unbeknownst to Beatrice, her lover Florindo arrives in Venice simultaneously. The servant Truffaldino contracts to serve them both even as his feeble brain is besotten with love for Clarice’s maidservant, Smeraldina (Amy Pastoor). Only the innkeeper, Brighella (Sue Struve), knows who’s who, and nobody knows fully what’s what in this comedy of errors where all’s well that ends well.
    Confused? I still am, but it really doesn’t matter. In the spirit of the Three Stooges, the entertainment lies in the delivery and the pratfalls. The dialogue is modern with such clever observations as defining patriarchy as a cockocracy. Witticisms are served up with a sauce of slapstick garnished with outrageous sound effects. A chorus of whistles, drums, gongs, castanets, horns and whipsticks accompany each gag, and no one utters the name of the mysteriously reincarnated Federigo without Ennio Morricone’s riff from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly echoing through the courtyard.
    The actors engage the audience by snatching props from their tables and deigning to sit with them on occasion, perhaps waiting in vain for a bite of the bread pudding or other menu offerings so highly praised in the script. Bawdy jokes, double entendres and physical gags are de rigueur, and Truhler as the servant is a buffoon par excellence.
    This costume comedy is a lowbrow introduction to a highbrow classic intended to entertain and enlighten the modern audience on the roots of revolutionary philosophy and letters. It runs two hours with two intermissions, and regular menu prices are in effect.


Director: Sally Boyett. Costumes: Jackie Colestock. Stage Manager: Sara K. Smith.

Playing Tuesdays (rain date Wed.) thru Sept. 29, 7:30pm (come early for dinner and drinks): 1747 Pub Courtyard at Reynolds Tavern, Annapolis; $25 w/advance discounts plus fare; rsvp: 410-415-3513; annapolisshakespeare.org.

 

Embrace the madness

In a post-apocalyptic desert, a man flees a hoard of irradiated bikers. The bikers, pale and riddled with tumors, need “blood bags” — men with clean blood — to stave off the effects of radiation sickness. Max (Tom Hardy) is caught and hanged from a makeshift IV poll for the draining.
    Thee bikers serve Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a ruthless warlord. Controlling the only clean water source, he forces the locals to serve him or face certain, excruciating death. His brainwashed biker “war boys” gladly do his bidding. Non-irradiated women are forced to become his brides as he attempts to breed a “clean” bloodline for his empire.
    But Immortan’s loyal war party driver Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) takes an unexpected detour to free his brides, driving them to safety in a fabled green land. His war boys follow.
    Will Max join Furiosa to save the women? Or will his survival instinct keep him out of the fray?
    A two-hour chase, Mad Max: Fury Road is a loud, crazy blur of twisted metal and mutilated flesh. It’s also one of the best action movies made in the last three decades. Director George Miller, who helmed the original Mad Max franchise, expounds on the visual insanity of the earlier film. Every frame is a painting, each camera movement chosen to help Miller choreograph the on-screen chaos. This type of gonzo filmmaking won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a bold, complete vision that is impressive to behold.
    Fury Road is also a deceptively simple film with a lot to say about gender politics, disabilities and religion. Miller makes Max an observer of the world, a would-be hero who routinely fails. The real hero is Furiosa, a one-armed woman who brazenly defies a brutal dictator to save enslaved women and expose Immortan Joe as a false idol.
    As Max, Hardy is pitch-perfect in what could be a generic role. Though he’s nearly silent for the first hour, Hardy is able to imbue Max with both emotion and humor. Hardy’s Max is driven to survive at all costs but is still haunted by those he couldn’t save — the perfect hero for a land that has lost all sense of morality.
    A colossus of a film, filled with metaphor, gore and intense action, Mad Max: Fury Road crafts an insane yet fascinating world. Look deeper for interesting commentary on society, or sit back with a bucket of popcorn and enjoy the greatest chase movie of the new millennium.

Great Action Movie • R • 120 mins.

A feminist love story set in an un-feminist time

Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan: Skylight) has no place in Victorian society. Uninterested in being a governess and resentful of the roles forced on women in 1870s’ England, she escapes to her aunt’s small farm. There she works the land, rides astride instead of sidesaddle and generally acts in ways that would give proper women the vapors.
    Her wild nature attracts farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts: The Loft), who woos her with lambs and promises of a stable life. Bathsheba likes Gabriel but loves her freedom and rejects his proposal.
    An unexpected inheritance grants Bathsheba even more freedom. She is given her late uncle’s massive farm estate and with it a small fortune. Now in want of nothing, Bathsheba sets about becoming a gentlewoman farmer. Though her staff and the town are skeptical of a woman managing money, crops and livestock, Bathsheba proves a brilliant businesswoman and capable farmer.
    With money, land and freedom, Bathsheba sees no reason to take a husband. But suitors flock to her side, hoping to be the one to tame the wild woman. Her neighbor, wealthy farmer Mr. Boldwood (Michael Sheen: Masters of Sex) becomes obsessed with Bathsheba after she sends him a Valentine as a joke. Soldier Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge: Effie Gray) tempts Bathsheba with promises of passion and sex. And Gabriel, who lost his farm in a tragic twist of fate, returns to Bathsheba’s side to work as her shepherd and offer her advice.
    Which of the men will Bathsheba choose? Why should she choose any?
    Thomas Hardy’s 19th century novel Far From the Madding Crowd is a bit of pastoral soap opera. Director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) honors Hardy’s love of the pastoral but shifts the focus to Bathsheba’s independence. Each frame of the film is a painting, bringing out the beauty of the countryside and the occasional brutality of farm life. A stunning sequence involving the death of a flock of sheep is both horrifying and oddly poetic as filmed by Vinterberg.
    Because Vinterberg is cramming several hundred pages of plot into 119 minutes, the film jumps around a bit. Book readers will know how much time has passed between scenes, but moviegoers may be confused. Still, the director captures the spirit of Bathsheba and the world she inhabits.
    As the independent Bathsheba, Mulligan is a revelation. She gives her all the follies of youth, including impetuous, bratty behavior, without making her seem willfully cruel. This Bathsheba is a smart, strong girl, whose fire and drive make her a heroine worth rooting for.
    Representing the three men who hope to tame her, Schoenaerts, Sheen and Sturridge are all excellent foils. Typically cast as a bruiser, Schoenaerts is surprisingly tender as Gabriel. Sheen is a ball of manic nerves and odd ticks as the obsessive Boldwood. Sturridge gets the least to do as Troy, but he manages to excrete an oily charm.
    A beautifully shot, brilliantly acted tale of love, lust and sheep, Far From the Madding Crowd is a great companion to the Hardy novel. Like the men who surround her, you’re likely to fall for Mulligan in this stunning film.

Great Drama • PG-13 • 119 mins.

A highbrow popcorn flick for the masses

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.: The Judge) dreams of a world without The Avengers. He’s been secretly experimenting with artificial intelligence in hopes of creating a legion of AI peacekeepers to safeguard the world from aliens, disasters and humanity. He sees this legion as his new legacy, erasing his years in the weapons industry.
    When The Avengers recover the scepter of Loki, Stark and his science buddy Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo: Foxcatcher) examine its power source. What they discover is Ultron (James Spader: The Homesman), an artificial intelligence capable of thought without programing. Stark wants to upload immediately; Banner wants to investigate.
    Stark — who has apparently read no science fiction — wins. Upon evaluating the human race, Ultron makes his assessment: Humanity needs to evolve or die. To begin the fix, he targets a group that regularly injures people and destroys towns: The Avengers.
    Whoops.
    Can Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Hulk and Iron Man rid the world of Ultron? Or is the team that swore they’d protect Earth going to cause its destruction?
    Age of Ultron is an action-adventure movie following in the grand tradition of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis. It isn’t about the plot; it’s about watching charismatic actors throw punches and dodge projectiles.
    Director Joss Whedon (Much Ado About Nothing) squeezes some surprisingly nuanced writing into a film where a large green man tosses cars at a man in a robot suit. The concept is an old one: What makes each superhero special also holds him or her prisoner. Captain America is a man lost to time; he needs a war to find a purpose. Banner has vast power when he becomes the Hulk, but he’s horrified by the collateral damage incurred by his uncontrollable episodes. Black Widow is an assassin with a bloody past for which she can not forgive herself, no matter how much good she does.
    The biggest drawback to Age of Ultron is time. There are too many characters, too much plot and ultimately too much movie. Whedon’s expanded the universe, and its new characters detract from characters we know. The result is a movie epic in scale but shallow in story.
    Filled with quotable lines, fun action and a clever villain, Avengers: The Age of Ultron is the rare mass-market film that can please most audiences. Whether you’re into historical jokes or physical comedy, Age of Ultron has something that will please you.

Good Action • PG-13 • 141 mins.

Is humanity suited to play god?

Code writer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson: Unbroken) gets the break of a lifetime when he wins a contest to meet his boss, tech genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac: A Most Violent Year). The trip of a lifetime begins oddly: Caleb is loaded onto a helicopter, flown to the middle of nowhere, dropped off in a field and told to follow the river.
    He arrives at Nathan’s secluded cabin, where he’s given a keycard and a nondisclosure agreement. If Caleb signs, Nathan promises to reveal the real reason behind the trip; if he refuses, Nathan will hand him a beer and wish him the best.
    Eager to impress his boss and find out what innovations await, Caleb signs. Nathan in turn spills the beans: The spacious woodland home isn’t a residence; it’s a research facility. Nathan has invented the first artificially intelligent machine, and he wants Caleb to administer a Turing Test to determine whether his creation has consciousness.
    Upon meeting the machine, Ava (Alicia Vikander: Seventh Son), Caleb is astounded by the technology. He is also charmed. As Caleb and Ava bond, Nathan’s erratic drunken behavior and the facility’s frequent power outages grow worrisome. During one blackout, Ava implores Caleb not to trust Nathan.
    Creepy, tense and deeply thoughtful, Ex Machina is sci-fi for thinking moviegoers. Writer/director Alex Garland (Dredd) creates an uneasy world heavy with film reference and metaphor. So much is owed to 2001: A Space Odyssey that it wouldn’t be out of place to hear HAL’s voice boom through the sparse white and gray rooms. Garland also uses his directorial debut to show off a talent for camera work. Each frame is carefully constructed to build tension. Glass walls reveal vast yet claustrophobic space. Objects are a little off center in the frame, throwing the viewer off kilter.
    Garland’s greatest triumph, however, is his script. It works equally as rumination on the nature of invention, debate on what makes us human or metaphor for misogyny in the modern world. Viewers can dig deep to follow these themes or simply enjoy the interplay among three characters trapped in a small space.
    As Caleb, Gleeson is full of admiration and moral certainty. Once he begins to question, Gleeson lets his character unravel spectacularly. In the showier role of Nathan, Isaac is superb. He slinks into rooms, leers and drinks, his huge bushy beard making him a Howard Hughes-like figure.
    However, Vikander is the star of the film. As Ava she manages to imbue her character with childlike wonder, intelligence and burgeoning sexuality. Vikander’s nuanced performance makes Ava’s sexuality part of her embrace of humanity and learning about interaction. She is both heartbreaking and frightening as a machine who may be more human that the men evaluating her.

Great Sci-Fi • R • 108 mins.

Set to music, Oscar Wilde is twice as funny

It’s ironic that when Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest premiered in 1895, many critics loved its humor but were taken aback at its lightness, its refusal to take on heavy social or political issues of the time, as most dramas had done. The irony is that it’s exactly this drive to escape the heavy responsibilities of “position” that impel Jack Worthing to create an alter ego, Ernest, through whom Jack can live a life untethered by the demands of position.
    Even so, Wilde’s Earnest was quickly acclaimed one of his greatest works, and certainly his greatest comedy, one that moved the audience to laughter consistently and whose dialogue and characters rang so true that even today the plot seems as likely as life. Take this thespian froth, add music that stays true to the times and the story, and you end up with the hilarious hit that The Colonial Players of Annapolis is displaying on its in-the-round stage through May 16.
    Director Rick Wade — a long-time directing, acting and playwright veteran of Colonial Players (Wade wrote the book for the group’s version of A Christmas Carol, a three-decade Annapolis tradition) — knows just how to make the most of that stage. Along with set and floor designer Edd Miller and lighting designer Frank Florentine, Wade turns Colonial’s theater into a garden of comedy, with pastel flowers lining the walls behind the audience, a floor just as beautiful, lights constantly in motion and set pieces cleverly rearranged during quickly choreographed scene changes ranging from London flats to a country garden.
    Worthing, played by Eric Hufford, and his pal Algernon, played by Steven Baird, have a nice camaraderie on stage, giving the little digs that friends do. When Algernon, whose cousin Gwendolyn Jack is in love with, figures out Jack’s Ernest ruse, the plot takes off. It’s a plot that, because of Wilde’s intricacy with words and humor, requires direction that keeps the pace moving. In turn, the cast must have the talent to not only portray these characters brightly but also to reject the temptation to allow the pace to trip up a basic acting requirement: The audience must hear and understand you, especially in the round, when the actor is always facing away from at least one section of the audience. This cast gets the job done.
    From the impossible patter of “A Handbag Is Not a Proper Mother” to the round of “My Eternal Devotion,” some very nice voices are on display here. But never does the music take precedence over the comedy.
    This is a stellar cast. Erica Jureckson as Gwendolyn and Sarah Wade as Cecily, the young ward of Worthing, work very well together, especially when singing “My Very First Impression,” an irony about their ability to size up a man on first glance. Greg Jones as Lane, Worthing’s valet, is top-notch and in fine voice in “You Can’t Make Love,” with Sherri Millan’s servant girl Effie, about the many burdens of upper classdom that prevent their enjoying … ahem … life to its fullest. As Gwendolyn’s mother Lady Bracknell, Barbara Bartos is the picture of rigid elitism in that “handbag” song and throughout. And as Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble, Dianne and Duncan Hood get plenty of laughs but serve up a touching dose of mature puppy love as well as dance around their feelings for each other in “Metaphorically Speaking.”
    There are others, including several smaller characters who do double duty keeping the scene changes brisk, often getting their own tee-hees. The bottom line here is every audience’s top priority in a comedy: Keep things moving, and make us laugh. They do, and you will.


Playing thru May 16: ThFSa 8pm; Su 2pm: Colonial Players Theatre in the Round, Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org.

AACC Students shine in this classic thriller of unexpected stardom and unrequited love

Since Opera AACC debuted 13 years ago, the company has been renowned for outstanding productions, and this year’s The Phantom of the Opera is no exception. The surprise difference, however, is a first ever all-student cast. Students studied a range of skills from vocal production to theater props and technology at Anne Arundel Community College. You’d have to drive to Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory to find a better student version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning musical: a classic thriller of unexpected stardom and unrequited love.
    This mammoth undertaking includes costumes and makeup worthy of La Scala; a versatile set featuring starry nights, rolling fog, a subterranean lake and a hand-beaded chandelier 100 hours in creation; a finely tuned and precise ensemble of 26 singers with a fine ballet troupe; and some of the most fabulous voices you’ll hear on an amateur stage.
    Laura Sparks shimmers as Christine, the chorus girl turned star. Jeffrey Walter as Raoul has a swoon-worthy voice and bearing. Emily Sergo’s diva, Carlotta, exhibits phenomenal coloratura and comedic timing. Character actors Kevin Cleaver and Leonard Gilbert as managers Andre and Firmin delight, as does Lucy Bobbin as Meg. As for the Phantom, Sophomore Gabe Taylor has a heart-breaking high tenor, though his low notes, so integral to this role, lack the command that age will bring.
    The greatest musical moments come in the octet Prima Donna, the Act II opening chorus Masquerade and Christine’s duet with Raoul, All I Ask of You. See it with the one you love and feel the tender frisson.
    Technically, this show is well directed and produced with few exceptions. Christine and the Phantom are a physical mismatch, as she towers over him. Body mics do a disservice to several cast members, providing excessive consonants at the expense of the musical line. Backstage activity is all too visible to opera goers seated in the wings of the auditorium. The clumsy handling of the chandelier detracts from the spectacle. Still, these are minor points in an otherwise must-see gem of contemporary musical theater.


Director: Douglas Brandt Byerly. Music director and conductor: Blair Skinner. Set: Sean J. Urbantke. Sound: Christopher L. Ballengee. Lights: Michael D. Klima. Makeup and wigs: Kristin Clippard. Choreography: Kristi Schaffner.

Playing thru April 25: Th 7:30pm; FSa 8pm: Kauffman Theater at the Pascal Center, AACC, Arnold; $25 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-777-2457.

Who knew ghosts could get WiFi?

On the anniversary of a friend’s suicide, Blaire (Shelley Hennig: Teen Wolf) and Mitch (Moses Jacob Storm: About a Boy) are too busy sexting to mourn. When their steamy Skype session is interrupted by friends, the teens are annoyed. When a stranger joins the group video chat, they are disturbed.
    Assuming the faceless presence is a glitch, they try rebooting, then force-quitting, but the intruder remains. Most reasonable people would now close their laptops for the night, but these are not reasonable people; they are teens. So they continue the chat.
    Next, the presence types.
    The intruder claims to be Laura Barns, the friend who killed herself after an embarrassing video appeared on the Internet. Laura doesn’t want to fondly reminisce; she wants to know who in her inner circle did the upload.
    The teens aren’t convinced until Laura spills secrets. First comes humiliation of the friends one by one. Then it wants blood. As the teens drop, Blaire and Mitch try to figure out who is holding them hostage on Skype and how they can get out with their lives.
    The scariest element of Unfriended might be how well this cyber horror movie is executed. The entire film takes place on Blaire’s desktop as she toggles between chat windows, Facebook, the Internet, iTunes and Skype. The camera never moves; we never change locations. Yet director Leo Gabriadze keeps the plot of his feature film debut moving and the tension high.
    All physical action is restricted to the Skype windows, so we can select which character to watch.
    For a movie about the Internet generation, Unfriended has a lot of reading. Key plot points are cleverly uncovered as Blaire responds to messages, before deleting the revealing information she typed and changing her text to words more vague. If you can decipher her hieroglyphic-like text speak, you’ll find interesting character notes in her writing. If you’re over the age of 30, you may want to bring a teen along to translate, as no subtitles are offered.
    The film makes only one major misstep: The teens are such vapid, annoying little twits that when the blood splats across webcams, it’s hard not to root for the vengeful party. The teens have two basic emotions: nasty narcissism and voice-cracking hysterics.
    When everyone is screaming it can be a little overwhelming, and none of the characters generates anything close to sympathy. Still, there is a reason slasher films kill off sinners, jerks and fools: the audience enjoys gore without guilt.
    Unfriended is a surprisingly successful twist on the slasher genre that will speak to teens and entertain their parents. It might even convince teens to put their mobiles down, lest they too find the ghost in the machine.

Good Horror • R • 83 mins.