Despite intimations of genuine creativity, "Memory of Trees" is the kind of sappy, self-indulgent effusion that often passes for poetry. When its adolescent author, Megan Denny (Bruckner), recites it to her high school AP English class, the boy behind her sneers: "Boo-hoo-hoo!" Blue Car is itself forever on the verge of plunging into bathos, but novice writer-director Karen Moncrieff rarely loses balance. A teenage tale of lost illusions, the film sustains its claim to represent the life of a bright and pretty high school girl adrift in central Ohio.

Blue Car derives its title from the vehicle in which Meg's father drove away from his wife and two daughters. It is also the name of a prize-winning poem that Meg composes, transforming her

Writ. & dir. Karen Moncrieff; feat. David Straithairn, Agnes Bruckner, Margaret Colin, Frances Fisher, A. J. Buckley, Regan Arnold, Sarah Buehler (R)
tribulations into verbal art. Her precocious younger sister, Lily (Arnold), is psychotic, and her hard-working mother, Diane (Colin), is too preoccupied with her own misfortunes to be much more than a shrew to her talented older daughter. Meg is encouraged and inspired by Tony Auster (Straithairn), a dapper English teacher who gives up his lunch hours to coach her for a $3,000 national literary competition. The finals are in Florida, and Meg must beg, borrow, and steal in order to make her way to the Sunshine State.

Glib with lines he appropriates from Rilke and Stevens, Auster recognizes in Meg an original voice. "What matters is the condition of your soul," he advises her, though he becomes increasingly interested in the condition of her body. Inevitably, Meg's emotions become invested - and disappointed - in her flawed teacher. What is not inevitable is the respect with which Moncrieff treats her characters and her audience. Blue Car is a rare film about adolescence that does not bully the viewer with a blaring rock score or a script unworthy of AP English. — STEVEN G. KELLMAN


Cannibalistic inbreeders with a knack for hacking up unwary travellers run wild in Wrong Turn. Sound familiar? It should, considering the genre's pedigree (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes for starters). What's different

Jeremy Sisto and Eliza Dushku are red meat in Wrong Turn.
this time? Well, director Rob Schmidt and screenwriter Alan B. McElroy want to remind viewers of real-world scarefests like Deliverance - albeit with hardcore horror elements and young, beautiful stars instead of Ned Beatty and Jon Voight.

The plot wastes no time in exposing the dangers of dirt road shortcuts when Chris Flynn (Harrington) - a medical student late for a job interview - avoids a long highway gridlock by speeding down a back road. Seemingly lost, Flynn runs into another group of wayward travelers whose vehicle was sabotaged by a barbed-wire road trap.

This unlucky bunch is stuck in the middle of the West Virginia backwoods, uninhabited save for the one-toothed gas attendant whose pay phone doesn't work. Sadly, cell phone service never seems to extend

Wrong Turn
Dir. Rob Schmidt; writ. Alan B. McElroy; feat. Eliza Dushku, Desmond Harrington, Jeremy Sisto, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Lindy Booth, Kevin Zegers (R)
to the woodsy settings of horror movies. Although the characters seem smarter than most slasher film fodder, they can't help but make their deformed pursuers' murderous task that much easier - don't open that door!

The filmmakers, however, do maintain an unpredictable sense of terror by keeping the suspense fun and loose, and by shirking the pitfalls of the body count archetype exploited by the Friday the 13th franchise. The gore quota is certainly met, compliments of effects wiz Stan Winston, and the deformed family of homicidal inbreds is a scary hoot. But the filmmakers' attempt to marry the action-filled set pieces of Deliverance with the cannibalistic intensity of Chainsaw Massacre is uneven, and at times ridiculous: Giggling, bumbling cannibals can survive any misfortune and get away with any scheme in Wrong Turn. — ALBERT LOPEZ

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