Showing posts with label stupid teenager bullshit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label stupid teenager bullshit. Show all posts

Jun 18, 2020

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER (2016)


If nothing else, give The Last Witch Hunter credit for one thing: it doesn't attempt, yet again, to concoct a period horror piece draped in drippy surroundings, Viking beards, and really heavy-handed themes about God and faith (which were a lot more relevant back then, being that there were only about thirty people on the entire planet, and 28 of them believed in God). Filmmaker Christopher Smith has already had the first and ultimate word on the subject with his excellent and criminally overlooked Black Death, but then a major studio felt we needed a cheap imitation, and so they made their own version with Nicolas Cage. (It was Season of the Witch. It sucked.) Though The Last Witch Hunter may lack in most areas, at least the writers and director Breck Eisner had the idea to fast-forward the plot after its plague-era opening into modern times. It's a silly concept, made sillier by seeing how it actually plays out, but if a film is going to be mediocre, at least it can do so in the streets of New York and not slimy caves or muddy swamps where the audience has no choice but to be depressed and underwhelmed.

The Last Witch Hunter plays out in a very post-Supernatural world, making sure to include small batches of people working toward the cause of eradicating a supernatural threat (in this case, witches), along with the idea that witches just kind of hang out with each other in dusty New York lofts, so taking them out in large chunks at a time is pretty easy. Runes, sigils, finely dressed monster hunters, and a horde of CGI is on-hand to invoke the endless debacle of the Winchester Brothers, only this time it's not a decade-running horror series that actually started off excellently and then began running out of ideas halfway through, but a bloated feature film that pretty much didn't know what to do right from the start. In a film called The Last Witch Hunter, the titular hero hunts exactly one witch...twice. He may be the last, but he certainly ain't the best.


Vin Diesel isn't an actor so much as he is a performer. He is frequently cast because studios and/or directors want their audience to just know what kind of experience to anticipate before they ever see a single trailer or production still. Diesel, who hasn't given anything resembling a performance since 2006's Find Me Guilty, has skirted by all this time on his admittedly physically intimidating appearance despite the fact that he kinda/sorta looks like a giant cartoon baby -- a giant cartoon baby that, for sure, could rip my head off and throw it behind his over-sized crib. But intimidation can only get you so far. Predictable and similar critiques have been thrown at guys like Schwarzenegger and Van Damme over the years, but at least they had the foresight to embrace the why of their popularity and show signs of life every so often. Lack of acting abilities could be reasonably counteracted by charisma. Vin Diesel has not gotten this memo. He recites his dialogue like an idling engine, and if his face moves, that means he's trying to emote. He's infinitely more interested in twirling his head-smashing weapons behind him as they make that whoosh sound so his prey knows he's really, really good at head-smashing. Fill the screen with all the bodily mayhem and CGI you want, but if your hero is boring, then your movie is boring. That's movie science.

The supporting cast of Michael Caine (I'm still trying to figure out that one), Elijah Wood (Maniac), and the beautiful Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones; last night's dreams) threaten to offer much needed variety to the plot, but everyone's roles unfold with such telegraphed predictability that there's nothing left for them to do besides go through the motions: Caine looks sad and old, and says things sadly and oldly; Wood looks wide-eyed, precocious, and dorky; and Rose Leslie, well... The Last Witch Hunter's running time would've been better spent with her reading aloud from the script while every so often pushing a stray hair behind her ear and looking directly into the camera -- all while knowing she was looking only at me.


Director Breck Eisner hasn't exactly hit any of his films out of the park, as he's released one slice of studio tentpole escapism after another that have resulted neither in critical favoring nor box office success (although I unashamedly enjoy his redux of The Crazies). While he is capable of some decent directorial flare (again, I'm talking about The Crazies), The Last Witch Hunter drowns in so much CGI that it's hard to see what's going on around it. The buzzing flies and the smoky vapors and the screaming witch faces and the fire and the oh my lord it's all just so exhausting. The combination of Vin Diesel, Breck Eisner, and PG-13 monster violence was likely never going to result in a modern classic, but it could've at least made for 100 minutes of reasonable entertainment that, when it was over, didn't make you think, "I don't even remember what happened." Maybe it was black magic.

The Last Witch Hunter isn't Vin Diesel's worst movie, but it's not up there anywhere close to his best. If you're a fan of goth chic/GQ wardrobes, witches, and Vin Diesel smiling every half hour, The Last Witch Hunter has come to bewitch you.

"You're a witch!"


Feb 16, 2020

DRAG ME TO HELL (2009)


I can absolutely understand why the people who love Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise also love Drag Me to Hell. Following that first 1981 trip within the woods, which was gunning for a solely scary experience, the audience’s unexpected laughter-ridden response led the rest of the Evil Dead franchise down a path more focused on “spook o blast” slapstick horror-humor. Even Raimi’s cult favorite Darkman, which was equal parts horror, action, and superhero movie, displayed the same kind of manic execution, very icky set-pieces, and a frenetic and unhinged sense of humor. If it weren’t for his extremely undervalued 2001 ghost story The Gift, which was a straight, dark, and humorless horror/thriller, I would say that Raimi was neither interested in nor had the confidence to make a genre pic where he couldn’t rely on silliness and buckets of slime. That The Gift didn’t make any money might have been the last reason Raimi needed to leave serious horror behind as a director.

If Drag Me to Hell has somehow eluded you all these years, yet you adore the Evil Dead series, then this movie is for you. It contains all the stalwarts of that franchise, but this time in a gussied-up mainstream flick starring the pretty Alison Lohman and the prettier Justin Long. Everything else remains the same: goo, slime, goo-slime, slimy goo, and screaming. The spectre of the dead gypsy (Lorna Raver) constantly shows up either in ghostly form or corpse form and manages to projectile vomit all manner of foul things directly into Lohman’s mouth: maggots, corpse slime, embalming fluid (I think), entrails, and more. Drag Me to Hell is 90 minutes of nasty shit being gooed into an unwilling mouth, and right around the time Lohman drops an anvil on the head of the gypsy, which causes both the spectre’s eyes AND more black goo to fire into her mouth, you start to wonder what on earth you're doing with your time. (The operatic musical score by go-to horror composer Christopher Young, however, is the tops.)


I’m going to be pretty blunt: I hate Drag Me to Hell. I hated it in theaters ten years ago, and this opportunity to revisit the film hasn’t yielded any less hate. Years before The Evil Dead returned in the form of the new-ish Starz series, fans moaned that Raimi was dragging his feet on making Evil Dead IV, and Drag Me to Hell seemed like a direct response to that. “Give the people goo!” he probably bellowed. Because the similarities are profound: people are possessed, causing them to float and make scary faces and speak in terrible demon voices; more goo, more blood; even a terrible CGI goat comes to angry life at some point, mimicking the laughing and squealing animal heads from Evil Dead 2. There’d be absolutely no mistaking Drag Me to Hell as anything other than a Sam Raimi movie (although, while his Oldsmobile appears, Bruce Campbell doesn’t). It’s absolutely cut from the same cloth as Evil Dead 2 and especially Army of Darkness. If you’re someone like me who doesn’t particularly care for either of those, then you must run, screaming, from Drag Me to Hell. But if you're someone who does love the latter half of the Evil Dead franchise, open your mouths and prepare for goo slime.





Nov 16, 2019

THE CURSE OF DOWNERS GROVE (2015)


A high school student, clearly under the influence, climbs up a water tower.

His drunk compatriots cheer him from down below.

He begins shimmying across the very thin metal piping.

He slips. He falls. He smashes his head open on the hard ground.

Two girls step up, horrified. "It's the fucking curse!" one of them states.

Roll opening credits.

This is The Curse of Downers Grove, and it’s very, very stupid. (It's also "based on a true story," which means at one point a high school senior died through his or her own idiocy.)


Chrissie (Bella Heathcote, a 28-year-old still playing a high school senior) lives in Downers Grove, a town allegedly cursed, in that seniors on the cusp of graduating seem to die awful deaths. The curse isn't just something the kids whisper about, but the parents, too, seem well aware of it, so much that it gives Chrissie's mother (Helen Slater) pause for leaving her and her little brother alone for the week. 

She does though because the plot demands it.

At the urging of Chrissie's friend, Tracy, the two attend a party in the next town over where Chrissie meets Chuck (Kevin Zeggers, who at 31 is still playing high school seniors). Chuck is bad news, since every shot has him flashing smile-glares at the camera set to ominous music. After he sexually assaults her, Chrissie pokes him in the eye like Curly and peaces out, leaving Chuck to scream and get his ass handed to him by his father, played by a pantsless Tom Arnold. 

Conflict ensues because the plot demands it.


The film's marketing is quick to point out that The Curse of Downers Grove is co-written by American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis, whose bland, sardonic prose ("The suburbs are the ghettos of the meaningless)" is all over this mess, along with his unsubtle methods for dissecting and exploring sub-cultures of society. It's desperate to put the suburbs under the microscope a la David Lynch's Blue Velvet and reveal it for all the hidden evils and depravity that allegedly thrive beneath the surface, only it fails by not doing a blessed thing with the concept beyond having high school kids act like total dicks while living in suburbia.

Derick Martini's direction and the Easton Ellis-co-written script seem to be battling for the most irritating and pretentious component of the film, and both are winning. A film whose concept is built on the grounds of a mysterious curse would rather spend time with boring, unscary, teen-rape drama, or teen boys getting in fights, than dedicate its running time to anything else. Including random scenes of something foreboding, only for one character to glance at another and say "It's the curse" seems to be as far as the film is willing to go to acknowledge it's based on an idea it completely abandons beyond cursory references to it. Where it lacks in the level of class and uniqueness presented in the suburban-set and far superior It Follows, it makes up for with lame and pedestrian editing techniques; i.e., inverting footage of characters and adding BUZZ noise - the ultimate effect being one cheap film-school trick away from exposing everyone's skeletons via x-ray as if this were a cartoon from the 1950s. And wait a minute, you mean to say this sequence over here shows someone in black and white, but someone's eyes are in color? Welcome to the “Neat Effects!” section of Shutterfly's website.


But that's not all! Quick cuts of barking dogs! Tombstones! Squawking birds! War-painted stabbing Indians! "It's the curse." Do you feel the fear?

Of course not. 

Martini is more interested in stealing quick-zoom, music-driven shots from Scorsese's playbook*, or trying to sell his film as "horror" while doing his best to circumvent any of its traditions and flat-out channel the aesthetic of Larry Clark, only to fail spectacularly. Or this might be because Easton Ellis is less interested in fleshing out his satirical look at horror and more interested in delicious, delicious irony: a quarterback gets his eye popped out; a drummer gets his wrist broken. Can you see all the futures being destroyed? Can you see that everyone is cursed? Do you even care? Though the script attempts to flesh out its characters beyond walking horror stereotypes, it ultimately, serves only to repeat the same tired ideas and personalities seen so many times before. If Chrissie questioning the existence of a God because bad things happen (like war!) isn't tired enough, spend some time with her smart alecky younger brother (Martin Sanjers), who has a serious crush on Chrissie's BFF and thinks the best way to express his affection for her is by leering like a pervert.

Further, the avoidance of "plot holes" are dealt with in the laziest ways possible. For instance, of course Chrissie's going to the cops to report her attempted rape. But, upon telling them the name of her would-be rapist, the two duty officers exchange a look before blatantly admitting that he's the son of a fellow officer (Tom Arnold), and they're not going to help her. (Tremendous poker faces,  fellas.) Obviously this cop/dad revelation is established early on so that it can return at a later time, and affect the conflict in a significant way haha just kidding. The writers just needed to plug that little hole. The very uncop-like Chuck Sr. may now get back to drinking on the couch with no pants and using way too much profanity.


Martini is too busy peppering every few scenes with AHHH! moments to wrangle any semblance of life from his cast, so every performance is mostly terrible, ranging from bland lifelessness to complete, over-the-top unconvincingness. Not helping is that the only person in the cast with any recognition is Tom Arnold, whose gleefully stupid appearances amount to only two scenes, both during which he's abusing his son in one way or another**. Heathcote as your lead does marginally well, unless she's providing Easton Ellis' go-to voice-over -- during these points, she sounds like she's about to roll over in bed and fall back asleep. One particular monologue that may be attempting to set up a red herring for "the curse" manages the impressive feat of offering lazy exposition as shamelessly forced as it is lifelessly recited: "I've been dreaming about Indians since I was a little girl. Maybe it's because our town was built on land that was stolen from the Indians in 1832. I can't help but wonder if this has something to do with the curse...but if that were case, then all of America would be cursed. Maybe we all are." Mm, maybe. As for Kevin Zeggers as Chuck, he's way evil and way unlikable! Watch as he drinks a beer and throws the bottle aside! Watch as he injects steroids into his muscles and throws the needle aside! Watch as he screams in fury as he lifts weights! Do not trust him! He's evil!

The Curse of Downers Grove really wants to posit the one and only question it thinks matters: what is the cause of the curse? Is it supernatural, or is it caused, of all things, by teenagers' freakishly uncontrollable angst-driven sexual urges? Can fate be escaped, or is it written in the stars and destined to occur?

Say, I have a question of my own: why is this being sold as a horror film instead of the tepid Lifetime Network nonsense that it actually is?

In the film's first act, Chrissie states, "Don't try to understand everything, because some things don't make sense."

If only I'd listened.



* FYI: Zooming in on Ray Liotta snorting cocaine to hard-hitting Muddy Waters > zooming in on Kevin Zeggers snorting cocaine to a song whose lyrics are "party ova here! party ova here! party ova here!"

** If there's one sole reason to ever sit through The Curse of Downers Grove, it's to see Tom Arnold's character beating the shit out of Chuck while asking him multitudes of questions as he does so, to which his son offers the most incorrect answer possible. ("What the fuck happened to your eye?"  "Nothing!" "Can you see?" No!" "Do you know what that does to your fucking football career?"  "No, I don't know!" "They don't even hire a fucking one-eyed mascot!" "I know!" "Dammit!") Then Zeggers gets thrown into a tub. It's glorious, and the anger of Tom Arnold during this sequence nearly matches my own experienced while suffering through the entire film.

Sep 13, 2019

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, YOU PIECE OF SHIT: FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009)

We're briefly hitting pause on Carptember in honor of today's date: Friday the 13th. And on this day, I like to kick back, watch a few of my favorite Friday titles from the Paramount era, and also talk about how fucking shitty the 2009 remake is. Plus it's somewhat Carpenter-related since he gets name-dropped in this piece while recognizing that the Friday the 13th series wouldn't exist were it not for him, anyway. 

Either way, let's get hatin'.


I’ve been watching Jason Voorhees murder human beings ever since I was a wee one. Too young and poor to own actual copies of the films, I was reduced to watching versions recorded off television from ABC’s “Million Dollar Movie” and USA’s “Up All Night.” The gore was heavily edited, the nudity had vanished, and even benign lines of dialogue like “thank God” were edited down to “thank ___.” But at that time, I took anything I could get, and I wore out those tapes without much effort.

Jason Voorhees, both pre- and post-zombie, was kind of my hero. He was a monstrous force of nature with which to be reckoned. He crushed heads and introduced axes to bodies without prejudice. He cared little for the half-naked nubiles that were helplessly straddled on the floor in front of him — he wanted nothing more than to throw them out the window, bash them against a tree, or stab them…you know…down there. The Friday the 13th series was even, in essence, my first exposure to sex (and in a largely overblown way, its consequences), since it predated my father’s birds-and-the-bees talk, the 37th-generation porn tape that circulated among my friends, and my public school’s laughably tardy sex ed class. No sir, I learned all about female anatomy from The Final Chapter.

Funny and inappropriate as it may sound, the series was a large part of my childhood, but despite my adoration, I would never describe the series as art — not even the first film. Slasher movies that result in legitimately good cinema are a rarity — John Carpenter's Halloween naturally comes to mind. Sure, slashers are “good” in the sense that you like them, and they are certainly entertaining, but they’re not written to trigger any emotional response other than screaming. They don’t want to push you to question society. They just want you to laugh as the fat chick on the side of the road gets a pick-axe through her neck, or to fear for Final Girl who is completely alone, knowing the masked maniac could be around any corner. Post-Halloween slashers were willing to show you anything to earn that response. They are buffalo wings and beer: they’re an option, they really hit the spot, but at the end of the day, they’re junk. (But that’s okay!)


Unlike Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th isn’t a series where most fans point to the first film as their favorite, simply because the series didn’t really come into its own until the sequel, which introduced a masked Jason as the primary maniac. Now that the baggage of “the original” was no longer on the table, fans were free to choose which chapter was their favorite. Pretty sure it’s The Final Chapter, and also pretty sure that’s because of all the Crispin Glover dancing. (It’s my preferred entry, anyway.)

Despite the lack of “quality” in each successive sequel, insofar as could be expected of Friday the 13th, and despite the stick-in-the-mud claims that each sequel was the same movie over and over, you can’t claim that each entry following The Final Chapter wasn’t trying something new.

A New Beginning pissed off fans by removing Jason from the equation and replacing him with a copycat killer. Luckily, the movie boasts a healthy amount of the red stuff, and director Danny Steiner leans on a slimy yet effective grindhouse aesthetic that feels right at home in the franchise. Even with the disappointing fake killer reveal, it’s a natural continuation of the Tommy Jarvis saga, which began in The Final Chapter. It’s effectively directed, and if the real Jason had actually been the killer, I’m confident A New Beginning would be considered a series high-point.

Jason Lives is the “funnest” of the series, with its tongue firmly planted in cheek, and it shows on both the page and the screen. Having said that, (and putting aside the goofy but lovable James Bond-esque opening title sequence), let it not be said that Jason Lives doesn’t live up to the Friday the 13th brand. Jason, newly resurrected, is back with a vengeance. People are smashed through RV walls, ripped apart, and bent in half. Heads are stabbed and triple decapitations are on the menu. “Fun” tone notwithstanding, the threat is still very real. Thom Mathews (Return of the Living Dead) caps off the Tommy Jarvis story with the best iteration of the character and puts Jason back in the lake for good (haha, not). Director Tom McLoughlin keeps things light, channeling Joe Dante and Amblin Films, delivering a hoot-and-a-half of a Friday. With a diverse cast that doesn’t just focus on teenagers, McLoughlin manages to make Jason Lives feel less like a slasher flick and more like an honest-to-gosh horror film geared toward everyone. (It actually got some decent reviews, too, which in the land of Friday the 13th is usually unheard of.)

The whole Jason vs. Carrie gimmick of The New Blood is a little absurd, but most fans have been pretty forgiving of that plot point. It’s what the MPAA did to poor director John Carl Buechler, and all his gory set pieces, that they can’t forgive. Still, despite being tame with the gore, The New Blood is fun, and if nothing else, depicted the most bad-ass Jason so far (played for the first of four times by fan favorite Kane Hodder) — exposed spine and all.

Jason Takes A Cruise Ship Toronto Manhattan would unceremoniously serve as the last entry produced by Paramount Pictures (the same studio that gave the world the Godfather trilogy), who had distributed the original and funded every sequel. Following the series’ declining box office receipts, Jason Takes Manhattan would prove to be the studio’s last go-around with their hideous and embarrassing cash cow. Unfortunately, what sounded like a clever and exciting script was hacked apart to reduce the budget, forcing writer/director Rob Hedden to sacrifice much of his vision, which included scenes in Madison Square Garden (where Julius was supposed to get his head punched off), a chase scene on the Brooklyn Bridge, and a finale in the Statue of Liberty. Instead, Hedden shifted most of the action to that goddamn cruise ship, where Jason miraculously negotiates tight hallways and cabins without anyone ever seeing him. (In case you were wondering, 34 minutes of the movie’s 96-minute running time “takes place” in New York, and two minutes of that time is actually shot there.) What Hedden can be blamed for, however, is shitting the Friday the 13th mythology bed by impossibly suggesting that Final Girl and Jason were children around the same time period, making Jason either both a zombie killer AND a lake-haunting boy ghost, or Final Girl the oldest high school senior on record. Also, while Jason’s uncanny talent for taking lives has always bordered on absurd, Jason Takes Manhattan takes it one step further and bestows on him the completely ludicrous ability to teleport.

At film’s end, Jason screams like an elephant and drowns in toxic waste.

It had a really fun teaser poster, though:

 

Once the Paramount reign of Friday the 13th ended and New Line Cinema stepped in to adopt the rotting hulk, Jason went to Hell, space, and Elm Street. Most would agree none of them were a return to form for the masked killer (though it’s easy to love Freddy vs. Jason).

And then 2009’s Friday the 13th happened to us all, which came out ten years ago.

Happy birthday, you piece of shit.

When the soulless production team of Platninum Dunes, headed by Michael Bay, announced the remake of Friday the 13th, every horror enthusiast and their decapitated mother knew they weren’t actually remaking the first film. Instead, they were remaking the concept of Friday the 13th —Jason, with mask, cutting down teens in the woods. But I’ll admit, when the remake of Friday the 13th was announced, I was excited. By this time, Platinum Dunes had already given the world the remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which was shockingly good, along with The Amityville Horror and The Hitcher, which…weren’t, but each announcement in regards to Friday the 13th really seemed to indicate they knew what they were doing: the writers of Freddy Vs. Jason would be writing the script, Chainsaw director Marcus Nispel would be getting behind the camera, and Jared Padalecki, star of Supernatural, would be playing the lead role of Clay — basically a reiteration of Jason-hunter Rob from The Final Chapter. This trio of creative decisions tickled my horror fancy. In my eyes, that was some promising horror street cred all involved in this hotly anticipated remake, and this was only Friday the 13th — fucking that up would be like burning water. The movie was soon shot, set visit reports showed enthusiasm from all those involved, and the trailer masterfully captured the tone of the original movies, even going as far as mimicking the “thirteen deaths countdown” as the trailer for the original film did 30 years prior.

But the audience was doomed. They were alllll dooooomed. And on Friday the 13th, 2009, nothing would save them.


After all that, I have to ask…why? Why was the final product so awful? How did they get all of this seemingly so right and then flush it right down the toilet? How did the Friday the 13th flick with the highest budget, made by a studio finally unashamed of its ownership, and created by people who purported to love the franchise, become the worst entry in the series?

Let’s start with the script.

You’ll never (ever) have me bemoaning the lack of character development in a Friday the 13th because I don’t need that, and it’s not what I expect from a movie that’s essentially Part 12. Instead, I would have preferred a group of characters to be, in the most effortless way, at least a little bit likable. Ripping off my own face and begging for Jason to come down off the screen and vivisect me was tolerable compared to watching Funny Dick Guy say one putrid “the obnoxious character is always a gas!” line of dialogue after the other. Meanwhile, writers craft scripts like this and then grin at you and say, “These kids feel like real kids!” If Friday the 13th’s kids are based on real kids, Planet Earth is doomed.

And what’s with these kids and their utter masturbatory obsession with smoking weed? What’s with this needless, overbearing crusade to really reinforce that kids not only smoke week, but that smoking week is hysterical? Yeah, I get it. Teens smoke weed. Teens have always smoked weed, and will always smoke weed. You know who else smoked weed? My parents. And yours. We’re not doing anything new here, people. But Friday the 13th seems intent on beating their audience over the head with a thirty-pound bong. Not only does the movie open with kids hunting for a pot field, later on, an entirely different group of kids come along and smoke weed and laugh a lot, because weed is the BEST. Listen, the original Friday the 13th entries are horrendously dated, I’ll freely admit it. The environments are free of cell phones and flat screens. Kids dance “the robot” and have gigantic hair. The guys wear shorter shorts than the girls. For an entry or two, punk was “in.” But they were still way cooler than the kids of Friday the 13th 2009. They didn’t make their bongs and pipes do puppet shows. They didn’t go “awwww yeaaaah!” when someone took out an ounce and waved it around like a Polaroid. They didn’t say “this is some good shit!” or bellow “I am so stoned!” for comedic effect. They passed the joint, smoked, and played some acoustic. The end.

And if you think the film’s immature look at marijuana is the last of the pitfalls, think again.

Why does every single character in the film lack the social skills of a zoo-born gorilla? Did you really just take your tits out for no reason, Dumb Girl? Were you seriously going to do some common-area masturbating since no one was around, Other Kid? Are we really watching a redneck about to masturbate all over a naked mannequin as he feels its chest? To quote that YouTube child, is this real life?


Worse, most of the deaths are incredibly lazy, while some border on the kind of discomfort-causing dispatches from the world of Saw, Hostel, and all of those imitators so popular during the 2000s, which ain’t the Friday the 13th way. As a result, the deaths look merely unpleasant and somehow simultaneously boring. Case in point: Stoner Kid wanders around a dark garage looking for god-knows-what, spending almost five straight minutes talking to himself. The music is mounting, and you know Jason’s about to pop up and give this moron a death we all hope is glorious. And then…

Jason shoves a screwdriver into his neck.

Slowly.

As Stoner Kid begs for his life.

It’s not fun, but boring — and uncomfortable. That’s not why we’re here. We’ve come for titillation, not revulsion. For the first time in a Friday the 13th, watching teens get slaughtered isn’t…fun.

As far as Jason’s killing capabilities go, I’m a little more lenient than some other fans. If Jason wants to shoot an arrow into some girl’s skull, that’s fine. In previous entries, I’ve seen him throw spikes directly into people’s faces from afar with deadly precision, so I won’t complain about the method, but to then flash to Jason’s old room and show us an archery trophy? Who fucking cares? Astoundingly, the writers thought they were clever enough to “explain” why Jason is good with a bow-and-arrow, yet when it came time for him to find his hockey mask for the first time — in a moment that should have been iconic — they write a scene where he literally finds the thing on the floor. Come on guys, really? That’s like Bruce Wayne deciding what his Batman costume will look like by buying a fucking Batman costume on Amazon.

Not helping matters is the lifeless “bum-bum-bum-bum” film score by Steve Jablonksy, who unfortunately sees fit to keep “ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma” and toss the rest — unaware of the effectiveness of Harry Manfredini’s original music. Manfredini’s awesome original score isn’t music you can hum, like Halloween, Phantasm, or JAWS. Notes are all over the place, and hardly repetitive — more Herrmann than Carpenter—and the collection of harsh strings, harps, and low brass is what made the not-that-scary events unfolding on screen seem pretty scary. It’s a superior film score that deserved just as much respect as Jason himself, but given the complete lack of understanding as to what made Jason a great character, it would seem the score never had a chance. (For an example of how to do this the right way, see Graeme Revell’s score for Freddy vs. Jason, which effectively marries Manfredini’s Friday stuff with Charles Bernstein’s Nightmare stuff, all while writing original compositions.)

The only worthy kudos is entirely dedicated to Derek Mears as Jason. A longtime fan of the series, he understood that — despite what people think — Jason Voorhees really is a “character,” and he did a great job bringing him to life. 


After a great opening weekend, Friday the 13th suffered such poor word of mouth that the following weekend saw a severe drop-off in box office, thus killing any plans for a follow up. (It takes a special kind of talent to make a lot of money from a Friday the 13th movie and not parlay that into an immediate sequel.)

Fans all have their own ideas for what makes or breaks a Friday the 13th entry, with many of the criticisms leveled at the remake being things I don’t have the time to care about. Jason runs and that’s weird? I don’t care, and no, it’s not, because he ran in the first three Jason chapters. How does he know how to keep his electricity running in his childhood home? I dunno, ask the Jason who had a working toilet in the second entry. I tend to overlook these details and focus on things that are obviously dumb, like establishing that the town of Crystal Lake knows that Jason is running around in the woods, but aren’t that concerned about it. Or that Jason doesn’t kill one particular female character because she resembles his mother, yet he does chain her up in a dungeon, which seems like a very bizarre way to treat a mother. Or that an abandoned summer camp is infested with a series of underground tunnels which the screenwriters couldn’t be bothered to explain with one line of dialogue.

How did making a Jason film get so hard? Why is the concept of a masked killer cutting off heads so uncrackable? (How did a bunch of kids make the Friday the 13th fan film Never Hike Alone with a fraction of the remake’s budget, resources, and Hollywood talent, and still create something vastly superior?)

Guys, this isn’t Don Corleone we’re talking about here. Nor Indiana Jones, John McClane, or the aforementioned Batman. It’s Jason Voorhees. Put a mask on him, dump him in the woods, give him some unannoying kids to kill in clever ways, add a twist of lemon for freshness, and holy shit, make it fun. As a lifelong Friday the 13th fan, who was able to find merit in every single entry up to Jason X (and I really had to reach for that one), 2009’s Friday the 13th was the first time I ever recall feeling embarrassed by my love for the franchise.

To all the folks who mucked this up: this is such an easy wheel to keep turning, and somehow, you totally blew it.



[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]

Jun 23, 2019

WISH UPON (2017)


Wish Upon feels like it should have seen release somewhere in the late ‘90s, where more fantastical teen thrillers like The Craft, The Faculty, and Disturbing Behavior were hitting theaters. There’s a certain novelty to it that, if nothing else, offers it its own identity in a crowded genre calendar. That Wish Upon also serves as the ultimate morality tale, heavily inspired by the immortal short story The Monkey’s Paw, too, helps it to stand off from the rest.

Otherwise, Wish Upon is woeful and inept to the point of accidental amusement, and you’ve got to hand it to the screenplay for being filled with such random bits that don’t really lead anywhere and offer any explanation. Joey King’s Clare is still haunted by the suicide of her mother a decade before, and with King consistently doing solid work in some popcorn favorites (The Conjuring, White House Down), the audience likes her because she’s a likable and spunky lead. She’s, rightfully, the foundation of Wish Upon, and her talents are a good start to a pic that otherwise goes amusingly off the track, and which introduces so many befuddling elements.

Like:

Why does Clare’s father (Ryan Phillippe) trash-pick professionally instead of just getting a job? 

Why does his passion for the saxophone never amount to anything

Why doesn’t their next door neighbor (an utterly wasted Sherilyn Fenn) seem to mind at all that she lives directly across the street from a family who has let their lawn grow over with weeds and is covered sky high in piles of trash?

Why is Jerry O’Connell in this for a ten-second cameo where he does nothing but scream?

What’s with the casual prejudice, like having the gay teen boy at a slumber party sleep on the floor half-in/half-out of the closet, or a scene in which Clare bribes a Chinese girl with “wontons”?

As Clare makes increasingly selfish and stupid wishes even after it’s established that they not only come true but KILL ANOTHER PERSON, are we supposed to be screaming “YOU MORON” at the screen?

Wish Upon entertains, there’s no doubt about that, and though it lacks the more interesting directorial flair that John R. Leonetti brought to Annabelle (even if he was borrowing from James Wan), the story at least keeps you engaged in a “how badly is Clare going to fuck up her life?” kind of way.

If nothing else, please watch this for the twist ending, which I imagine was supposed to be very shocking and very sad, but instead results in instant hilarity.

If you have a bratty teen son or daughter who needs a reality check, maybe you could make a case for ever finding a useful reason for Wish Upon. Or, if you were looking for unintentional amusement (or if you’ve always wanted to see Ryan Phillippe pretend to play the saxophone), you could do a lot worse. 


May 28, 2019

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT; OR, SEE A CRITIC LOSE HIS MIND IN REAL TIME


Popular belief posits that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. This isn’t actually true, mind you – kinda like the whole “left brain vs. right brain” thing – as the true definition of insanity can be found throughout our current President’s twitter feed.

In a weird way, Transformers: The Last Knight proves that this long-held definition of insanity is a fallacy:
  1. Director Michael Bay essentially makes the same Transformers movie over and over again. In response, the audience willingly pays to see the same Transformers movie over and over again.
  2. Michael Bay expects to get much richer from making gigantic robots with celebrity voices glint and spark and look cool. (He does). 
  3. The audience walks into the theater wanting to see gigantic robots with celebrity voices glint and spark and look cool. (They do). 
  4. Everyone gets what they want while doing and expecting, respectively, nothing at all different, and this on top of the most important part: that this series has never been within cannon-fire distance of “good.”
That’s insanity.

The Transformers series:

Sometimes Shia Lebeouf is there. Sometimes Mark Wahlberg is there. John Turturro is there all the time. They are all there, looking up at the robots and talking to them, and being their friend. The robots are cars sometimes, but sometimes they are robots. If the robots are dancing, they are in robot form. If they are going very fast, they are probably cars.


Robots are aliens. From space. The planets. Transformers.

I think I’m losing my grip on reality.

Focus, me. Focus.

The Transformers movies are bad. All of them. If you want to be that person who defends the first one, have at it. You’d be the person defending the one good Hot Pocket you’ve eaten in your life after having microwaved a hundred bad ones, but that’s your prerogative.

By now the Transformers series has become a punchline on Internet whenever someone wants to put down someone else. “You didn’t adore Inherent Vice? I bet you like Transformers,” etc. Even the people who bravely defend their enjoyment of Transformers don’t have that much kindness to share toward it. “What’s wrong with turning your brain off once in a while?” asks the guy whose brain has been left on the charger since birth.

In Transformers: The Last Knight, John Goodman plays a fat robot because he is fat, and Stanley Tucci plays Merlin because he is magical. Mark Wahlberg’s character name is Cade Yeager. There are puppy dinosaur robots that shoot fire from their mouths and also take naps, even though they are nonliving mechanics that shouldn’t suffer from fatigue. Sir Anthony Hopkins is there, for some reason, putting the words “Optimus Prime” and “Cybertron” in his mouth.


Robots. America. Transformers. American flag. Bumblebee. Car. America! Cars go very fast in Transformers when they are the robots, the transformers. Stop. No. Pull back. Cybertron! The moon! The knights and transformers!

The robots look and sound really cool. The humans look and sound really cool. The music stirs, we hear it, it sounds good and cool. The things explode, the buildings fall, the humans look stoic, the robots look cool. (America.) It all looks really good and cool here in Cool Shots, U.S.A. The men and the women of America who like the Transformers will be very happy with how the transformers look and sound.

Okay, I’m losing it. Time to bail out.

After Transformers 3, Michael Bay said he was done making Transformers movies.

Then he made Transformers 4.

After Transformers 4, Michael Bay said he was done making Transformers movies.

Then he made Transformers 5.

After Transformers 5 made a buttload of money, Michael Bay said he was done making Transformers movies and Paramount said they were going to make a bunch of Transformers spinoffs to continue this money-printing franchise of theirs long into the future.

If you think Michael Bay is done making Transformers movies, you’re insane.

Listen, you’ll have to excuse me. I have a lunch meeting with Cliff Huxtable at the Four Seasons in 20 minutes.