Saturday, May 26, 2007

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)

Director: Judd Apatow

Going into this movie, I was prepared to hate it. I had been scarred previously from modern big-budget comedies. “Wedding Crashers” left a bad taste in my mouth, “Anchorman” simply frustrated me, and “Old School” made me want to denounce the American comedy altogether. Those movies all have talented comedic actors in them, but in each case they never amounted to anything more than that – films with some funny people in them. "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" takes an idea that would have been wasted in any other hands, and nestles snugly among the likes of Monty Python and Spinal Tap. It ain't perfect, and may drag on way too long for casual observers. It also may be much too rude and crude for some, but Steve Carell and Judd Apatow (with the help of an outstanding cast) create both real characters with depth (in a comedy for once), and a story with heart; sailing effortlessly through some uncharted waters.

Andy Stitzer (played by Steve Carell) is a 40-year-old virgin. I have a feeling that the would-be similarities between Apatow’s version, and any other filmmaker’s take on it would end there. The reason it works is because Andy is more than a virgin at the age of 40. The virginity is just a symptom of Andy’s lifestyle. He’s in a rut in every way, and he’s content with that, or so he says. Once he’s outed by his coworkers, he embarks (or rather, THEY embark) on a mission to help Andy get the full experience of life; sex being at the top of the list. The film simultaneously manages to show how ridiculously sex-obsessed the secular world is, and also how Andy’s lifestyle can be destructive to his character. That’s the genius of it. It makes the point that there is no right or wrong way to live. Andy even comes to the revelation that all this time he thought something was wrong with HIM. He didn’t need to have sex to be a complete human; he just needed to lighten up a little.

Any other comedy would have glorified the people obsessed with sex, and made Andy out to just be a loser in every way. In a stand out role, Andy’s coworker Cal (played by Seth Rogen) shows how either lifestyle really, fundamentally makes to sense. Their reasons you should have sex are because you can, and because the opportunity’s there. Another of Andy’s coworkers, David (played by Paul Rudd) is having the hardest time, going through a break-up with his girlfriend. He admits to Andy that love does suck sometimes, but it’s worth it; that’s what life’s all about. The characters are real, and genuinely interact with each other, probably as a result of much improvisation within the scenes. Andy initially comes off to his coworkers as a serial killer, and Cal admits to the other guys that he likes Andy; he just doesn’t want to end up as a lampshade in his apartment. The supporting characters aren’t mean and one-dimensional, as they would be in other films. They like Andy, and want to help him. Eventually, Andy meets a woman named Trish (played by Catherine Keener) when she comes into his store. He gets her number, and after a few attempts, he makes a few dates with her. Their relationship genuinely grows throughout the film, and when they finally have a big blow-out about Andy’s reluctance towards sex and his passive attitudes, it really builds up to a scene that actors should watch to learn technique. They’re really connected, and their argument will make you unsure which side to take.

The way I talk about this movie makes it sound like a serious examination on sex in society today. Those elements are there if you want them, but it’s also just damn funny. Although what I would classify as funny, most fans may not have even noticed. Steve Carell’s reactions to being asked to play poker with the guys, or seeing a nip slip at a "date-a-palooza" are priceless. Seth Rogen’s one-liners never stop, and don’t disappoint. It gets high marks for its hilarious cast. Each person wasn’t afraid to take their character and make it more than just reading words on a page. Maybe that was because many of the words were improvised and WEREN’T on the page. At any rate, it makes it feel as though the camera just found the characters chatting somewhere, and started filming them. The conversations that studios generally refer to as non sequitur, or not integral to the plot, make the movie dense and hold up well to repeat viewing. I just watched it again recently and laughed at things I didn’t notice the first few times I saw it.

It’s easily one of my favorite comedies, and so much more than what it appears to be. It has a genuinely moral character that most religious types will never know about, since they would denounce the film without seeing it. Ironically, they judge the book by its cover. It takes just about anything you could think of involving sex, and makes a joke about it in one way or another. It's hard to come up with any missed opportunity that they didn't address. Usually they think of it before you do. I, personally, want to see films that were made by people smarter than me, so I can learn from them. And in the case of a comedy, I want to see people that really formed comedy and wit into a science all their own, and know how to do the "comedy math" as I call it, so you can see how it's done, but could never do it yourself. The whole movie is like an improv lesson that could be shown in comedy classes. Judd Apatow and crew earn my utmost respect for this hilarious feat of strength. This is the perfect example of taking an idea and brainstorming on it in order to address and create as much comedic material as humanly possible. So who would have thought that this movie would achieve what it does? Honestly, I didn’t. And I couldn’t have been happier to be proven wrong.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Jason X (2001)

Director: James Isaac

Jason in space. That simple pitch got this film off the ground -- no pun intended. Of course the rest of the plot would have to be figured out later, but they had their priorities. This is the 10th film in the "Friday the 13th" series. Get it? "Jason X." Clever, huh? They managed to hold out for nine years before they gave in to the driving urge to make another Jason film. Set in the future, and of course space, this film dares to exploit. Don’t get me wrong; I’m totally convinced that a good film could be made about Jason in space - this ain’t it. It simply was in the wrong hands. The makers of this film seem to know nothing about the series, and simply want to use elements from it that they’ve only heard of third-hand to promote it. I was going to say, “It’s so bad, it’s good”, but a more accurate description would be, “It’s so bad… it’s REALLY so bad.”

I can’t critique this film without completely ripping it a new one, so that’s what I’ll do. Set a few years in the future, Jason’s been captured by the government, and is being used as a guinea pig. They’ve placed one dumb guard in charge of keeping an eye on him. He may as well have said to Jason, “Just kill me already.” Now Jason’s on the loose in the facility, and he’s finally contained in a cryogenic tube by the hottest government researcher that ever existed, Rowan (played by Lexa Doig). Jason manages to stab Rowan through the chamber; breaking the seal, and freezing both of them. Now it’s even further in the future, 2455 to be exact. A group of students on a field trip and their teacher, Professor Lowe (played by Jonathan Potts) rescue both Jason and Rowan, and take them aboard their ship. We now know it’s the future, since one of the characters doesn’t recognize what Jason’s wearing, and questions, “What’s hockey?” I guess in the future they just forgot about hockey. Can you blame them? Once Rowan is revived with a futuristic procedure involving tiny ant-like robots…or something like that, we get to meet the rest of the cast. The cast is the hottest it’s ever been. Even futuristic fashions leave nothing to the imagination. I’m sorry, but no research students have ever looked like this, and WILL never look like this, ever – not even in 2455. There’s an android woman, who at times seems to forget she’s playing a robot. There’s a sex-obsessed couple, a gritty tough black guy who’s a commander of sorts, and of course, the annoying nerd. Rowan informs Prof. Lowe that Jason is extremely dangerous, and should not be kept on the ship. In one of the most well-written lines of dialogue, Prof. Lowe remarks to a superior that, “I need money.” He wants to exploit Jason as an archeological find, and is willing to risk his ship's and student's safety. Anyway, he doesn’t think Jason is harmful, so they just lay him out on an examining table. He’ll be fine; don’t tie him down or anything. Oh, and make sure you DON’T keep an eye on him. This gives Jason an opportunity to make his easiest escape ever. Earlier, he performed some sort of Houdini magic trick to switch places with the inept guard in order to escape, but now he’s just lying on a table, guarded by some bimbo scientist. What could go wrong?

Something goes wrong. Jason wakes up, obviously. In the film's most inventive moment, Jason freezes a girls head in a vat of cryogenic fluid, and smashes it on the counter. From there, it’s downhill with the deaths. Now Jason’s free to terrorize this gaggle of GAP models. First things first: they need to split up. A sort-of SWAT team is dispensed to take him out, but when Jason begins taking them out instead, they run out of ideas. In the meantime, Jason’s killed the pilot, and they manage to destroy their only hope of rescue by flying through, and ultimately blowing up, the space station they planned to dock at. Now they’re lost in space with Jason. It’s just a good thing they have a sense of humor as they get killed. When Jason throws one member onto a giant screw that apparently was just sitting around, one colleague comments that, “He’s screwed.” And you thought Hollywood was devoid of wit. Mostly the deaths involve people getting impaled by various sharp objects, one girl gets sucked out a tiny hole in the ship as it depressurizes, and Prof. Lowe of course meets his demise as he tries to “reason” with Jason. “I’ll make you famous.” Jason thinks about it, and introduces the Professor to his machete.

Once it’s down to a few remaining crew members, they realize the ship is slowly dying. They attempt to break off the damaged part of the ship, and survive in another section. They plan on blowing up the connection between the two halves of the ship. A rescue crew informs them that they’ll be there in 45 minutes…if only they can hold out that long. Well, they can. In a last ditch effort to throw the viewers a bone, they soup up the android woman to resemble a reject from “the Matrix.” They couldn’t even steal from a good movie. Despite the fact that they know bullets won’t work on Jason, she continuously blasts him, and eventually it works. Who needs continuity? Of course she had to blow off his arms and legs to stop him. They set the charges, and head for the other end of the ship. In one of the most uncalled for freak-outs in the history of film, one chick goes nutty and locks the rest of the cast out of an escape capsule, and crashes it into the side of the ship. Now Jason conveniently lays broken and beaten on the table that’s used to repair broken limbs and health in general. And what a coincidence, but the machine just turns on by itself, and turns Jason into an uber-Jason that's a mix of the Super Shredder from the end of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II" and Lord Zed from the Power Rangers. Believe me, it sounds a lot cooler than it looks, and it doesn't even sound that cool. Now Jason takes out the android chick by lopping her head off. That’ll teach that robo-bitch not to mess with the master, and not to show her robo-boobs at the beginning of the film. Jason knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. They finally reach help, and attempt to dock. Jason hasn’t been killed yet though, so they need some way to stretch out the plot…but in a reasonable and plausible way. Cue the docking door that won’t open for some reason. Now the gruff and tough black commander throws on a space suit and attempts to repair it. Rowan, the geeky tech dude who loves the android a little too much, and the robo-chick’s head are all that’s left now. They try to stall Jason as he makes his way through the ship towards them. They trigger their “Holo-deck” and simulate Camp Crystal Lake (complete with topless girls) to distract him. Jason beats one girl against the other in their sleeping bags. Even Jason seems bored by it. The door is fixed, and the two and a half protagonists make it onto the rescue ship. As they fly off, their abandoned ship blows up, and Jason makes it off and begins to fly towards them. He’s knocked off course by the commander in his space suit, who seems to come out of nowhere… seriously, he came out of nowhere. Anyway, he rides Jason into Earth’s atmosphere like they were a gay sledding team. They land in a body of water, where a couple of teens observe it. “Let’s go check it out,” one of them remarks, and it ends on a shot of Jason’s mask floating to the bottom.

It’s just too easy to criticize "Jason X." It’s NOT a Friday the 13th film by any definition. It simply has a character named Jason who wears a hockey mask. The best part about this franchise is that they never know when to quit. There’re just so damn many of these films, including not one but two films with the word “final” in their titles. Now that’s when you know it’s gotten way out of hand. I love it though. Critiquing "Jason X" is like beating up a retarded kid, though; it’s just too easy (not that I know from experience or anything). It’s not even enjoyable on a campy level. The nudity is scarce, but they might make up for it with the attractive cast. It completely lacks the wit and inventiveness a "Jason in space" film deserves - "He's screwed." The acting is…well, they’re all models, so what did you expect? The dialogue is terrible even for a Jason film - “I need money.” And the deaths are lazy and predictable, and too often don't even have much to do with Jason (i.e. the freak-out girl, and the girl who's sucked out the tiny hole). The special effects make it look like a made-for-TV movie or worse, and the "plot" is based solely on coincidences and ineptitude. Now I feel bad for punching this retarded child of a movie, but if I didn’t say something, there could be a sequel. Who am I kidding? There’ll be a sequel – “Jason on the Moon: The REALLY Final Chapter.” Maybe I should shut up before I give them any bright ideas.

Best Death: Jason cryogenically freezes a chick’s head, and shatters her face on a counter.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

Director: Adam Marcus

New studio, new director, new... Jason? This is the ninth film of the "Friday the 13th" series, and despite the fact that Jason has been killed on numerous occasions, this film boasts to be “the Final Friday”; needless to say, it wasn’t. I guess they didn't learn their lesson from part IV: "The Final Chapter". The production makes it look light-years ahead of anything fans have seen. It’s by far the goriest entry of the franchise, and it’s not ashamed to be so. It’s also the biggest departure. In this film, we don’t even get to see the Jason we all recognize until the climax. During the rest of the film, Jason transfers his soul into various unlucky characters. We even see Jason resembling a large finger puppet at one point. It’s probably the most inventive story of the series, but fans of the original “Jason” will most likely feel as though the ship sailed without them.

It begins with a SWAT team taking Jason out at Camp Crystal Lake after he’s lured out into the open by a towel-clad babe. Wel,l Jason gets blown into a million pieces, and is gathered up and shipped off to the morgue. Jason’s still beating heart is eaten by the coroner, who was under its “spell”, I guess. Now Jason’s a black guy with a moustache wandering around and killing random folks. Jason’s cult status in the film rivals that in real life. The news reports are doing exposes on him, and restaurants are naming dishes after him. This undercuts Jason’s ability to terrorize, and now he seems to have an attitude and demeanor that resemble the T-1000 from “Terminator 2” more than a psycho with a machete. Instead of just randomly appearing at the windows of campers, he's now strolling through police stations and morgues with ease. He loses his spookiness and becomes a gore-obsessed man on a mission, even more so than he had been in the previous films. He’s unstoppable except for one way, as we’re informed by the Jason bounty hunter, Creighton Duke (played by Steven Williams). Duke is a refreshing addition to the cast and isn’t afraid to embellish his role in order to match the goofy plot.

Here’s a quick rundown of the plot, as mainly told by Duke: Jason needs to be “born again.” No he’s not going to become a Bush-loving, Bible-thumping Christian. He actually needs to enter and subsequently exit the body of a Voorhees female. With only three relatives left (his sister, Diana, her daughter Jesssica, and Jessica's baby daughter), Jason now sets out to find them. He plans on killing the remaining members to insure no one can ever kill him. First off, there’s the skinny dipping, hitchhiking teen campers with a love for unprotected sex... do I even need to explain what happens to them? Skinny dipping, hitchhiking, and having unprotected sex are pretty much the Jason trifecta. I mean they're REALLY asking for it. The violence is ridiculously over the top. I have a feeling this will endear fans rather than turn them off, though. The nerdy "Archie Comics" reject who picks up the hitchhikers is the “hero” of the film. His name is Steven (played by John D. LeMay), and he's the father of Jessica's daughter. Did you follow all of that? We’re also told that Jason can only be killed at the hand of another Voorhees with a special knife that Duke just happens to have for some reason. He must be stabbed in the heart in order to send him to Hell, forever. It’s never revealed how Duke knows all of this or why he has the knife. I guess the information is out there, but people are just too lazy to look. The first descendent to be hunted down is Jason’s sister, Diana (played by Erin Gray) who is killed when Jason fails to transfer himself into her when he’s interrupted by Steven, and is chased off. Steven meets Duke when he’s arrested as a suspect of Diana’s murder, and gets the gist of the plot from him. Jason’s niece (Diana’s daughter and the mother of Steven’s baby) Jessica (played by Kari Keegan) is now the next “Sarah Connor” on the list for the Terminator/Jason to hunt down. Steven attempts to protect Jessica and their daughter, but Jason is hot on their heels. Diana’s body is moved to Jason’s old house on Camp Crystal Lake by the sleazy TV reporter, who is Jessica’s new boyfriend. He wants to make a better story by discovering her body in Jason’s home. Needless to say, he’s quickly killed by Jason after he’s used as a temporary soul-transference body. This is a pretty ridiculous element to slip into the film, but I needed to mention it only because it figures into the plot later.

Okay, this is getting complicated. I’ll try to make this quick. Jason, Jessica, and Steven all converge at Jason’s house. After Jason exits his last body, he comes out of the dude’s neck like an enlarged finger puppet. He scurries about the room like the creature from “Alien”, and finally finds his way into Diana’s dead body...I’ll spare you the details. Now he’s born again! He comes out of the house fully grown, complete with hockey mask and tattered jumpsuit. Jessica grabs the knife, and stabs Jason in the heart, after a brief battle with Steven. You see, even though Jason’s been taking people out with nothing more than a swat of his hand, Steven, the bespectacled letter jacket wearing dork, is now engaged in fisticuffs with him. Jason throws him around a little, just so Jessica has time to give the knife a good kick to insure it gets Jason’s heart. Jason is then dragged down to Hell by a few Muppet hands, and the couple walks off. In the most memorable scene, and finale of all the Jason flicks, his mask is dragged underground by the knife-clad hand of Freddy Krueger as he gleefully laughs.

In conclusion, the special effects and death scenes make this movie more engaging than its predecesors. The meandering plot drags you down with its excessive exposition and sci-fi mumbo jumbo. It’s hard to love a Friday the 13th film where Jason doesn’t appear until the final few minutes, but it at least tries something new with the franchise. It’s funny that it took them nine films to invent this way to kill Jason, but it adds a few more layers to a series that probably should have called it quits about five sequels ago. Fans of the previous films probably won’t make a connection between the hockey mask wearing zombie that they used to know, and the body transferring worm in this film. It will feel like something completely foreign to them, and ultimately, disinterest them. The death scenes now resemble something out of “Evil Dead 2” rather than those of the slasher genre. They are inventive, and reaction-inducing enough to delight horror fans, though. On its own, it works; it’s cringe-inducing and respectful to the series that gave birth to it. It gets points for its cool climax and special effects, but it just needs more Jason, plain and simple.

Best Death: Chick gets cut in half by a pole, mid-sex scene.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Friday the 13th part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

Director: Rob Hedden

What a great title: “Jason Takes Manhattan.” Though, perhaps a more accurate title for this film would have been “Jason Takes a Boat,” or “Jason Takes His Sweet-Ass Time GETTING to Manhattan.” You see, well over half the film doesn’t even take place in New York. It mostly takes place on a cruise ship filled with teens, which is not a terrible idea for a Jason film, but it’s very disappointing considering the epic title and the images that it conjures up. However, if you lower your expectations, you just might enjoy yourself.

Alright, Jason needs a way out of Crystal Lake in order to get this ball rolling. Cue the sex-obsessed teens and their boat. Their anchor drags the lake bed, snags an electrical cable, and voila!! Jason’s recharged, and rarin' to go. First, he must pick up a new hockey mask. Coincidentally, the teens have one on board; don’t leave home without it. Then Jason proceeds in taking them both out with a harpoon, before taking command of the ship and sailing off to find a new batch of victims. Next, we meet our heroine, Rennie (played by Jensen Daggett). She has a fear of water, resulting from an incident involving a young Jason on Crystal Lake. Rennie boards the cruise ship, the Lazarus, after receiving a pointy pen as a gift from one of her teachers (we all know that pen will wind up in Jason's eye), especially after her teacher adds, "I know you'll put it to good use." It’s a graduation cruise filled with ripe young victims. They will be making their way to New York, but not before engaging in the usual debauchery that gets Jason’s goat. Jason grabs one of their lines as they pull out of the harbor, and now the pieces are in place. The rest of the major characters include: Rennie’s love interest, Sean (played by Scott Reeves), a bland and average white guy who can’t make his dad (who’s the captain of the Lazarus) proud. There’s the head teacher Mr. McCulloch (played by Peter Mark Richman) who’s also Rennie’s uncle, and Julius (played by V.C. Dupree), the token black character with an affinity for boxing; that will figure in later, trust me. Rennie keeps having visions of an increasingly freakier looking young Jason around the ship. In this film Jason has gained even more superhuman abilities. He’ll just appear in a completely different location than he was in a few seconds previous. He apparently has gained teleportation abilities. Sure that’s a staple for Jason to just appear, but this is ridiculous. He vanishes, and pops up in extremely confined spaces, despite the fact that he WALKS after his prey. You know that as soon as the camera pans off of him, he must be doing some serious sprinting.

First, Jason takes out a “rocker” chick who’s pretending she’s in a music video in the ship’s boiler room. He bonks her on the head with her own guitar as if he were El Kabong. He also shoves a rock through the chest of a dude who was just enjoying a sauna. He uses a broken mirror to dispatch the slutty, bitchy chick, impales a guy on the ship's antennae, and tosses the token dweeb onto the Lazarus' control panel which erupts in flames causing the ship to begin to sink. He also strangles a girl on the disco dance floor of the dining room (she tried cocaine, so her days were numbered). Meanwhile, the captain and crew of the ship are snuffed out, causing it to drift off into uncharted waters. Mr. McCulloch, who doesn't believe Jason is real, suspects the killer to be the creepy deckhand who warned of a curse, but is quickly proven wrong. The remaining kids team up to try and stop Jason -- quite unsuccessfully, needless to say. As the ship sinks, the remaining survivors hop in a lifeboat and attempt to make it to shore. Nick, Julius, Rennie, Mr. McCulloch, another teacher, and Rennie’s dog, Toby, finally arrive in New York.

It’s a good hour into the film before Jason actually sets foot on the oddly vacant streets of Manhattan. Here he takes out a junkie with his own needle, and knocks Julius’ head off, like a Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robot, during a rooftop battle. Then we find out Mr. McCulloch tossed Rennie into Crystal Lake to attempt to teach her to swim when she was a child, hence Rennie’s encounter with a young Jason and her fear of water. At any rate, it’s made quite clear that Mr. McCulloch’s long overdue death is imminent. He then gets dunked (by Jason, duh) headfirst into a vat of toxic waste that was just sitting out in an alley somewhere. Finally, Jason hits the streets of Manhattan as he chases Rennie and Nick around the city. We get a few lines about how Jason isn’t out of the ordinary in a city like New York (ha ha), and Jason terrorizes a few citizens, but he goes right back to his pursuit of the protagonists. They run through diners and the subway, before eventually ending up in the sewer (a major tourist attraction). The sewer is about to be flooded with toxic waste, according to a sewer worker they run into. I guess it’s standard practice to routinely pump toxic material mere feet below the populace. Rennie and Nick gain higher ground, and Jason melts in the muck. When the waste clears, we see a young, non-deformed Jason lying on the ground. Rennie and Nick climb out of the sewer, and walk off amongst the night sky and neon lights of Times Square. Before the credits can roll, we get a standard fake-out, where we get a P.O.V. shot coming towards the couple. It turns out to be…Toby, Rennie’s dog, who ran off earlier. They have a good, generic laugh, and walk off. Cue credits.

If you ignore the title of this movie, it may actually be a satisfactory journey through the gore. There are enough interesting deaths, and attractive cast members (although little nudity) to satiate rabid Jason fans. It’s fun to see Jason on the subway, scaring punks, and clearly on the top of his game. They obviously should’ve gotten to New York a LOT sooner, but if you ignore that aspect, it’s still far more rewarding than what Jason fans have been dealt in the past.

Best Death:
Jason punches a dude’s head off, and it flies into a dumpster.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Friday the 13th part VII: The New Blood (1988)

Director: John Carl Buechler

Critics of this film affectionately refer to it as “Jason vs. Carrie” -- a not entirely inaccurate moniker. You see, the main character is a psychic-powered teenage girl, who battles Jason. This actually gives us someone that can match Jason in power; it’s just too bad it’s a character completely stolen from another film. They seem to have surgically removed all of the self-effacing humor that the last film offered, and resorted back to a more straightforward, if not incomprehensible, style. Some fans may find it an interesting departure from the standard "Jason story," but others might view this intriguing attempt as nothing more than a missed opportunity.

Our heroine in this film will be Tina (played by Lar Park Lincoln). It begins with a young Tina witnessing her parents fight. They apparently live on Camp Crystal Lake, and Tina runs off to a boat and paddles out to the middle of the lake. Her dad chases after her, and she uses her psychic powers to collapse the dock her father stands on. Years later we catch up with Tina, who is still dealing with the guilt of killing her father. She and her mom arrive at their cabin on Crystal Lake. Just ignore the fact that Camp Crystal Lake was renamed Forrest Green in the previous film. That name didn’t catch on, and residents voted to name it Camp Crystal Lake; not realizing that’s what it originally was. Tina and her mom are joined by a creepy doctor named Dr. Crews (played by Terry Kiser). Dr. Crews plans on secretly exploiting Tina’s powers for fame and money, or something like that. He pretends to want to help her, but he gives enough creepy looks into the camera to tell us otherwise. The musical score also beats us over the head to drive each point home. When Tina arrives, she meets her love interest, Nick (played by Kevin Blair). Ironically, he’s the least interesting person in the film. He’s basically there to occasionally shout something along the lines of, “What’s going on?” so someone can then spew exposition at us. The rest of the victims are Nick’s friends residing in a cabin next door, preparing for a surprise birthday party. There’s the nerdy girl, the black guy, the black girl, the slutty girl, etc. They're pretty average in every way. Their deaths are even forgettable and monotonous. Tina ventures to the lakeside, and attempts to bring her father back from the dead. I just have two questions: Why would he still be down there? And why would she want to raise him anyway? He may not look quite the same way she remembered him. Anyway, she raises Jason instead. He proceeds on his normal rampage. It’s not long before Dr. Crews’ true intentions are revealed, and the teens at the party are in a hurry to engage in the usual sex and drugs that fans will recognize and appreciate. One girl gets a party noisemaker through the eye, a skinny dipping girl is drowned, one girl gets thrown out a window, one guy gets stabbed in the gut while raiding the fridge, decapitations a-plenty, etc. The deaths are less than inspired, and lazy to say the least. At one point, Jason is carrying a large weapon that resembles a weed-whacker. I guess he stopped off at Home Depot. Dr. Crews gets a slice to the gut, and Jason ditches the weapon. I guess he was just trying out new material on the road, and that one wasn’t working for him.

The final battle is a twist on the usual. This time Jason actually has a foe that matches him in power. Tina uses her psychic powers to throw a potted plant (complete with the head of one of the victims) at Jason, strangle him with an electrical wire, and knock him into the basement of the house on two separate occasions. She even mentally rips his mask off. Finally, Jason is lit on fire and Tina and Nick escape the house before it blows up. I guess the house was also used to store TNT and nitro-glycerin. Now out on the pier, Jason pops up again. Well, Tina’s had it. She uses all her abilities to conjure up her dead dad who’s still at the bottom of Crystal Lake. Dad flies out of the water and gets Jason in a headlock. Eventually, they both fall back into the lake, and Nick remarks that, “It’s over.” Clearly he hasn’t seen the previous films. Jason’s been burned, chopped to ribbons, electrocuted and drowned, but somehow middle-aged Dad will able to defeat him once and for all… yeah, right. The two love birds are carted away in an ambulance as the credits roll.

This film is probably one of my least favorites in the series. Quite honestly, I forgot most of it right after I watched it. Not a good sign. The battle between Tina and Jason could’ve been a lot better. The victims’ deaths are boring, but it doesn’t matter, because the characters are forgettable. Somehow they each find a way to wander out in the woods for no good reason. Give us something that we haven’t seen before, please! The nudity is scarce, which is good, since the cast is not the kind that should be walking around naked. For every one hot girl, you get about eight frighteningly odd characters. They need to work on that ratio. The hairdos and clothes in this movie make it look older than the previous film. It’s like they just found this movie in a time capsule, and decided to release it. It's not that this is a terrible film, it’s merely by-the-numbers. It’s very predictable, and not surprising by any means. I like the fact that they were inventive enough to use a psychic character that could actually go toe-to-toe with Jason, instead of Jason being overcome by a random teenager at the end. But the final battle is less than what it should've been. Classic Jason fans will feel shortchanged by this odd and half-hearted entry in the series, but if you're open to it, you may find its climax redeeming enough to overlook its weak spots.

Best Death: Jason beats a chick in a sleeping bag against a tree.

Friday the 13th part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

Director: Tom McLoughlin

Finally!! Six films in, and Jason finally becomes what we all know and love him as -- an unstoppable zombie with a thirst for blood. Until now he’s either been a bumbling oaf, an elderly woman, or some doofus who just went bat-shit insane. He’s risen from the dead, and isn’t concerned with who gets in his way - in fact he's even going out of his way in some cases. He just wants to kill. He’s gained super-human killing abilities, and operates much like a brutish James Bond (hence the “Bond-esque” intro). This is the “self ware” entry in the series, where we get a few winks at the camera, assuring us that they knew what they were doing… or at least they THOUGHT they knew what they were doing.

Tommy number three (played this time around by Thom Mathews) attempts to destroy Jason once and for all, unwittingly reviving him. Who would have thought that all it takes to bring someone back to life was a little electricity? Now we’re off to the races. It begins with Tommy and Horshack driving to Jason’s grave to make sure he won’t be coming back. Just ignore the fact that Tommy was poised to kill a woman at the end of the last film, while wearing the hockey mask. I guess we're to assume that was a one shot deal, and he decided on an alternate career path. Anyway, after digging Jason up, they plunge a metal pole through his chest. Needless to say it's storming outside, and that pole acts as a lightning rod. Now they’re screwed. Jason apparently is similar to a car battery, and all it takes is a little jump, and he's up and running. Jason lives -- finally, an accurate title. Jason plunges his arm through Horshack’s chest, and his hand comes out the other side with a heart in his grasp -- this is what we paid for. Tommy escapes, and runs to the Sheriff. We also find out Crystal Lake has changed its name to "Forrest Green" to avoid association with the murders. Tommy is locked up for acting nutty (an arrestable offense in Forrest Green), and Jason is free to do what he does best.

Meanwhile, Camp Crystal Lake is being populated by more counselors, and a group of youngsters. It’s apparently “Comic Relief Camp,” since the tweens are adept at making ironic commentary as the gruesome events unfold. The cast of counselors is, again, back to their fugly roots. I guess they couldn’t afford to hire an attractive cast, since they blew their budget on the elaborate death scenes; a balancing act every young Friday the 13th director must grapple with. In any event, it’s only a matter of time before Jason unleashes his wrath on these unlucky contestants. In the meantime, Tommy has been released, and then captured and then released and captured again by the standard clueless Sheriff. The Sheriff also has an annoying daughter named Megan (played by Jennifer Cooke), who falls in love with Tommy while he’s behind bars. The two of them engage in a prison break and subsequent car chase that’s like something out of “Smokey and the Bandit.” Tommy has a plan, though. I have a feeling he was making it up as he went, but I guess Jason has to be killed in the lake where he originally drowned…just go with it. If Tommy's all of a sudden such an expert in "Jason-ology", then why did he bring him to life in the first place? Didn't it say in one of his handy dandy text books he carts around not to plunge rods into a corpses' chest in the middle of a lightning storm? You'd think that would be the first chapter. Maybe he just skimmed it. Tommy doesn't look like the "reading" type.

The scenes with Jason terrorizing the camp are the most effective. There are a good number of scenes where Jason just appears in a window, or off in the distance. Now he’s a force to be reckoned with. He pulls off one counselor's head, and tosses one out a window, before dragging her back in; he’s not letting her off the hook that easily. Jason also dispatches the couple who has sex in a camper. Apparently Jason saw it rockin’, and went a-knockin’. The girl gets an impression made in the side of the camper with her face, and the guy gets a knife to the side of the head while driving. The camper crashes and erupts in flames, giving Jason an opportunity to stand triumphantly atop it for a few seconds and revel in his victory. There’s also a goofy scene involving a group of paintball enthusiasts in the woods. They run around like the three stooges, before meeting their well deserved fates. Finally, Jason and Tommy converge on Camp Crystal lake. Tommy plans to lasso Jason with a chain tied to a boulder, and drown him in the middle of the lake. Before he can do that though, Jason must take out the cops. He helps the Sheriff to perform backwards toe-touches, one cop gets his head crushed, and another cop gets a spike to the head. Jason’s aim is now at the top of its form, and he’s also sporting a nifty Batman inspired utility belt with an endless supply of killing tools. Jason then bursts through the door of one of the cabins in a classic shot, as the kids flee in terror (Probably my favorite scene in all the Jason flicks). Just then, Tommy finally gets around to luring Jason out onto the lake. He calls to him from his boat, floating precariously in the middle of Crystal Lake. Of course Jason falls for it, and begins to advance on him. Right before he has an opportunity to get the chain around Jason’s neck, Jason disappears under the surface; only to spring up and attack him. Tommy finally gets the chain around his neck, and Jason sinks to the bottom. He grabs Tommy, and they begin to battle underwater. Now Jason's as weak as a kitten for some reason, and Tommy becomes a formidable match. Megan dives in after it appears Tommy didn’t make it out alive. She rescues him, but Jason grabs her by the leg. She then uses the boat’s outboard motor to give Jason a new haircut. Tommy’s revived on land, and the children erupt in cheers. Tommy's last line of "It's over," is immediately undercut by the last scene, where we see Jason's eyes open as he floats along the bottom of the lake. We’re also rewarded with an end theme song sung by Alice Cooper. You’ll have to hear it to believe it. They just don’t make movies like this anymore.

Ultimately, this film should be considered a step up from the last few films of the series, although that’s not saying much. It's a worthy and integral addition to the series, let's put it that way. Jason has finally become an effective killing machine, and he looks the part. There are more plot holes than deaths in this movie, but it’s still entertaining. If you let them slide on the lack of nudity and attractive girls, the elements are all there for your enjoyment, you sick-o. It would appear Jason is on the up swing of his franchise, and all it took was to be revived from the dead -- take note has-beens.

Best Death:
Chick gets her head dented into the side of a camper.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Friday the 13th part V: A New Beginning (1985)

Director: Danny Steinmann

You can’t keep a good franchise down. It’s hard to follow up a movie that was entitled “The Final Chapter,” and this film proves that. Let’s get a few things out of the way first: First, Jason ISN’T the killer in this film. It’s a copycat killer who is even less creative than his idol. So we’re off to a good start. Secondly, I know what you’re thinking: “The disturbed Tommy from part four has put on Jason’s work boots and jumpsuit, and carried on the tradition.” Wrong!! Tommy’s now a near-mute. He has a total of about three lines in the film, and he’s not even necessary to the plot. This film negates the ending of the last one. It would make sense, or at least “Friday the 13th sense,” that Tommy would be our new Jason. Either they didn’t want to use this idea and fulfill expectations, or they simply forgot about it (the more likely scenario). Either way, this film could exist in its own universe, and quite honestly seems to. It probably falls into the category of "it's so bad, it's good."

Eschewing the traditional “flashback” openings of its predecessors, we now know we’re in good hands. It’s also a grim omen that this film is incapable of retaining any classic elements of this franchise. We begin with Tommy Jarvis (played this time by John Shepherd) waking up after having a nightmare about Jason being dug up and continuing his rampage. It’s now several years later, and Tommy is still dealing with the death of his mother, and going nuts-o by chopping Jason to bits. He awakens in a van on his way to the Pinehurst Halfway House, relieved to find out he’s not actually Corey Feldman. Tommy’s now a despondent, Chuck Norris-ish, man-child with a zipper fetish. He’s greeted by the Pinehurst staff and patients. The patients appear to range from the slightly bored to raging violent psychotics. They all wander about the premises, having sex and occasionally attacking each other. It’s not long before one resident ends up chopping another to bits with an axe. I suggest changing “axe class” to macramé or yoga, or something like that… just a suggestion. Tommy witnesses it all, and keeps having visions of Jason wandering around Pinehurst. Jason stands outside Tommy's window in an homage/ripoff of "Halloween." Or maybe Jason just wanted to perform a scene from "Romeo and Juliet" -- "'Tis the East, and Tommy is the sun."

From then on, Tommy assumes the role of the red herring, and takes a back seat to the plot as “Jason” goes on his merry way. The killer takes out an exhibitionist waitress and her coked-up boyfriend, who looks like he should be managing an Arby’s somewhere, in traditional axe stabbing fashion. Another duo, on their way to a "Grease" audition, is offed via a road flare to the mouth, and a knife to the throat. At one of the crime scenes we’re given a major clue to this Sherlock Holmes inspired brainteaser. When an ancillary character is given screen time to merely stare ominously into the camera for more than a few seconds, you know something’s up. Pay attention, you might miss it!! It’s the filmmaking equivalent of screaming, “Get it???!!!!” (wink, wink). We're assured Tommy can't have anything to do with the murders when the dead bodies turn up in his room. Whenever the film goes out of its way to tell you who the murderer is, it's always a set-up. The kills are more implied than they are creative. Out-of-frame stabbings are abundant, and the killer likes to take out people by the eyes for some reason. The nudity is unashamedly and unabashedly exploitative, which is good, since the cast is now back to their “porn star” physiques... unfortunately, that goes hand-in-hand with "porn star" acting abilities. The only character worth his weight in gore is the Michael Jackson wannabe named Demon. It shouldn’t be that pleasing to watch a pole impale someone, but hey, it works for me. “Michael” first shares a duet with Janet (Miss Jackson if you’re nasty) while in an outhouse dealing with his enchilada issue. Janet is quickly dispatched with a knife to the neck; finally back to basics. Jason then attempts the ole “sword-through-the-box” magic trick, with Demon playing the part of his lovely assistant. I can only imagine the standing ovations that scene got in the theaters. There’s also a redneck mother and son team that are probably more suited for an episode of “the Beverly Hillbillies.” Both of whom are decapitated. Mom’s head goes in her stew and Jr.’s flies off while riding his motorcycle. There’s the naked couple who have sex in the woods; always a bad idea in a Friday the 13th film. The buxom babe is taken out with a pair of hedge-clippers to the eyes, and her boyfriend gets his head crushed against a tree in a makeshift tourniquet. There’s a Madonna-esque girl who gets a machete to the gut while rocking out to Muzak, and a topless girl who gets a knife through the chest while on the top bunk bed. There are also a few scenes with the standard clueless Sheriff and his deputies. The scene between the police and the mayor looks like something out of an acting class: "How NOT to do a scene."

The cast is finally whittled down to two: Reggie (played by Shavar Ross), the sassy black kid, and Pam (played by Melanie Kinnaman), the bland and blonde Pinehurst counselor. Once again, the battle ensues in a barn. Jason should know better by now to STAY AWAY FROM BARNS!! Jeez!! Suddenly Tommy shows up, but he panics and gets a machete to the chest. He’s merely wounded. You see, when it’s integral to the plot, Jason has terrible aim. He also has the ability to simply forget about his injuries. Earlier he was run over by a bulldozer manned by Reggie's stunt double, and stabbed in the leg. He simply decides to stop limping, and carry on. Anyway, Reggie shoves Jason out of the top floor of the barn, but Jason’s still clinging for dear life. Tommy chops his arm off (with his own machete again), and he falls onto an oddly placed bed of spikes. His mask flies off, and it turns out it wasn’t the real Jason after all. It was Roy!!! Remember the character who stared longingly into the camera for no particular reason? Yup, that was Roy, the ambulance driver. We learn from the Sheriff that the chubby, chocolate-loving nerd axed to death at the beginning was Roy’s son. Even the Sheriff doesn’t seem to understand what he’s saying. I guess that was enough to send Roy into a killing spree, or something like that. Finally, the film frantically jams its foot in the door to keep this franchise from closing forever. Tommy wakes up in the hospital and has a nightmare about killing Pam, who was visiting him. After waking up from that, apparently he thought, “Hey, that ain’t such a bad idea.” Pam enters the room to find Tommy’s bed empty, and it’s revealed that he’s standing behind her, now sporting the hockey mask, and raising his knife. That’s probably how the film should have begun.

There’s a lot wrong with this film. You could remove it from the series without missing a beat. It’s a complete sidetrack. It's almost so bad that it's endearing, but can’t quite seem to figure out the “Jason formula.” Sure the breasts have increased in both size and number, but where are the inventive deaths? For that matter, where the hell is Jason? It’s not that hard to figure out what Jason fans want. It’s not like we’re mixing a formula for an energy efficient fuel here. It’s more like the formula for Kool-Aid. In the end, “A New Beginning” can’t hold a candle to any of the Friday the 13th films. It’s more like someone whored out the “Jason” name and tried to make their own film. But greedy corporate executives would never do something like that… or would they? Yes they would.

Best Death: Wannabe Fonzie gets a mouthful of road flare.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Friday the 13th part IV: The Final Chapter (1984)

Director: Joseph Zito

Now under the artful eye of Joseph Zito, "Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter" makes an attempt at a glorious finale. This is the fourth film in the series, and it picks up right where part three left off. Jason finally grows into an effective kiler. Tragically, this one is called “the Final Chapter” and Jason is actually dead at the end. So he finally perfected his art, and is promptly done away with. Poor Jason.

We begin with yet another flashback, but this time it’s a compilation of the first three films. It’s not as long, or as seemingly unnecessary as the ones in the last two films. They actually tried editing it. After that, we see the crime scene from the previous film being assessed, and Jason still lying in the barn, apparently not recovered yet from his axe-to-the-head injury -- c'mon, walk it off, Jason. Then, Jason’s body is carted off in an ambulance, much the same way the main female characters are taken away at the ends of the previous films. I expected the next scene to be Jason waking up in a hospital bed, asking “Is everyone dead?” to the town Sheriff. Well he wakes up alright, but he doesn’t care who’s dead. After swiftly killing the obligatory flippant coroner and a sexy nurse with a hacksaw and surgical knife respectively, Jason heads back for his precious lake.

That’s where our new set of teens comes in. A group of six friends (including a very young Crispin Glover) rent a cabin on Camp Crystal Lake. Is it possible that these kids are more annoying that those of the previous film? At any rate, we can’t wait for Jason to get down to business. Unfortunately, this film really seems to drag out the pre-murder tension. There are extended intervals, and a ridiculous amount of fake-outs to keep us awaiting the kill. All of a sudden Jason is taking his sweet time. Next door to the rented cabin is a family of three with a dog named “Gordon.” The family consists of a mom, her daughter Trish (played by Kimberley Beck) and her son Tommy (played by a 12-year old Corey Feldman), who’s a tech savvy tot straight out of “Home Alone.” The group of six friends meet a pair of sexy twin girls on a path one day, and they proceed to the obligatory skinny dipping scene. This is Tommy’s lucky day. After the initial nudity is out of the way, the killing can begin. In the meantime, Jason has killed a pudgy hitchhiker (another neck murder) just to keep from losing his touch; you gotta practice. Perhaps the most interesting addition to the cast is a “Jason Hunter” named Rob (played by Erich Anderson). It’s a shame he never actually "hunts" Jason. He sort of just waits to run into Jason, and then when he finally does, he’s quickly killed. Way to go, Rob. The deaths are less rewarding than they have been in past films. Jason is losing his touch. He basically chops people with axes, and knives, and corkscrews. Then he bashes a dude’s head into the bathroom wall, and tosses a girl out a window. He also finds time to kill a girl on a raft who was skinny dipping, and her boyfriend gets impaled right through the…well, let’s not get into that one. Again, we have a few “off camera” deaths, including the mother, and one half of the sexy twins.

They really make their bid for motion picture immortality in the climax. Trish and Tommy barricade themselves in the house after Rob took his chance to kill Jason and whizzed it down his leg. As Jason closes in on Trish, Tommy proceeds to shave his head in order to resemble a young Jason. This briefly works to distract Jason, but he loses interest quickly (much the way I did) and continues to advance on Trish. Tommy picks up Jason’s machete and gives him a good chop to the side of the head. Jason’s gotta stop leaving that damned machete lying around. To make matters worse, Jason falls face-first on the floor, causing the machete to go from flesh wound, to making Jason’s head into a shish-kebob. And wouldn’t you know it, Jason begins to move again. Tommy has apparently seen the previous films, and goes nuts. He wants to make sure Jason won’t get up as he always does to continue his reign of terror, and proceeds to chop him into oblivion. After all he’s been through, Jason is done in by a 12-year old Corey Feldman. Finally, Trish wakes up in the hospital. Who’s surprised? Tommy, still sporting his new "bald-cap" haircut, comforts her; but not before he gives a few ominous looks into the lens to close the film. It seems we have a new psycho to carry on this proud tradition. This may not be the “Final Chapter” after all…

It seems the “final” film in the series is the least like its predecessors. The film is dark and depressing. Even when there's enough light to see what the hell is going on, it's hard to tell what's happening. Jason’s kills are not inventive, and the characters are forgettable. They wasted the idea of having someone actually pursue Jason, and the ending seems to contradict the title. What used to be a fun adventure, turned into a gore-fest that barely makes sense or holds your interest. A sad ending to the story of a boy who only wanted to kill -- is that such a crime?

Best Death: Girl gets tossed out of a window and bounces off the roof of a Sedan.