WARNING! FILM SPOILERS!

The following opinions should not be read prior to seeing the films in question. (Though it is possible you have resigned to never watch them at all...)

These are not reviews upon which you should base movie watching decisions. Rather, I write with the hopeful purpose of inciting sometimes interesting, sometimes informative, sometimes humourous discussions about cinema. What may prove unfortunate for the reader is that I often express myself in a pompous and juvenile fashion...mayhap there ought to be a "warning" in recognition of my sense of humour...

Regardless, I implore film fans to always remember that all film is art, and all art is subjective. No one can tell you if you like a movie, except you. Likes and dislikes of film can only be opinion, and opinion can never be wrong; only intelligently expressed and defended. There is nothing wrong with unconditionally loving a film that isn't necessarily held in the highest regard, so long as you understand and accept why you love it.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

TMNT

Director - Kevin Munroe
Starring - Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mako, Kevin Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ziyi Zhang, Laurence Fishburne

In an attempt to make my blog more relevant I’m here to analyze the Ninja Turtles movie – not the new Ninja Turtles movie that was in theatres this summer, mind you. That would be too relevant. And not the original Turtles film that would offer relevance in the form of kitsch value – my age and upbringing would infuse that piece with too many biases. Rather, I’m here to scrutinize the 2007 film that was released during one of their less spikey peaks in popularity in the middle of their 2nd animated season. For some reason. Actually, there is a reason and it reaches somewhat beyond my desire to branch out and add variety to the genres of film that I analyze – and that is that TMNT didn’t get near the respect it deserved. Be it kid entertainment or nerd nostalgia, I found TMNT to be quite successful with most elements in its effort to once again exemplify the nuances of mutated reptiles. Those nuances, of course, being that ninjas will never forsake the use of their favourite weapon. Or that teenagers love pizza. Or that if four turtles grow up together, then become mutants, then learn how to talk, a percentage of those turtles will develop accents. Wait… those can’t be right… There’s a nuance here somewhere… My inner child just spoke up and gave me the answer – “Giant turtles punch and kick stuff.” And there you have it; the secret to their popularity.

Falling directly into the canon line started by its live action predecessor 17 years prior, TMNT has the boys reunite with Leonardo in order to fight monsters, stone soldiers, foot ninjas, and kitchen sinks. See, an altruistically diabolical tycoon has returned sentience to said ancient soldiers in an effort to cease both their and his own “eternal life”. Classic villain with a heart of gold scenario… I miss the Shredder. In a throwaway line regarding his whereabouts, it is stated that Shredder is “dead” – a good way for kids to learn a harsh life lesson, and it saves the family on goldfish.

The pacing of this film is exceptional, and was one of the first things that made me figuratively stand and take positive notice. TMNT heartily follows the “7 minute rule” and applies it to children, making it more along the lines of a “3 minute rule”. The “7 minute rule” plays to the male attention span, exercising the notion that your average man can only pay attention for 7 minutes at a time. Thus, a film has to toss out violence, comedy, or sauciness every 7 minutes in order for a male to be fully engaged for an entire movie. Now, we know that children and men have comparable attention spans, and in a quote-unquote “kids” movie, that 7 minutes has to be greatly reduced. And that is something TMNT does with great success. Scenes filled with dialogue or narrative exposition last only a couple of minutes before cutting to a different individual or group. When there is no fight scene imminent, the writers simply rely on showing a turtle unconventionally utilizing a means of transportation to keep the pace brisk. Be it a skateboard, a motor bike, an airplane(‘s landing gear), or a hang glider, these forms of travel offer the viewer a taste of action that looks cool but doesn’t fall back on fighting.

Speaking of fighting, the brawls are played out to fruition – the choreography is excellent and each fight is comprised of long takes, resulting in the viewer’s ability to actually see what is going on. There’s also a lot of style infused into these battles, making them more enjoyable than your average mutant ninja fight. Between the POV that follows Raph’s unfurled chain, Raph’s free-fall down the side of a building, and Raph’s POV as the tiny monster beats on his helmet, there is certainly no lack of entertaining details when the fists do fly. Though, a list like that does make it seem like Raphael was at the center of all the good stuff. And, as if all that bad guy besting wasn’t enough, there’s even a skirmish between Raph and Leo – I love it when the good guys fight each other… Fucking goody two-shoes… But why couldn’t the writers have figured out a way to include Don and Mike, giving us a four-way fisticuff that wouldn’t have soon been forgotten.

If the fighting truly is the film’s hero in a half shell, then it also leads to one of the film’s biggest disappointments; namely, the final battle. It’s the one fight that doesn’t pull back for some medium to long shots and rushes Casey and April’s task in coaxing the 13th monster to follow them. Not only is it somewhat anti-climactic, it literally feels like there are scenic elements missing that may have been left behind for time. With the Turtles engaged in un-stylized assault on the stone soldiers, in comes the van leading the monster to its extra-dimensional demise. Wipe hands thusly and cue pertinent rock music.

There isn’t much more that can be negatively said about TMNT. In fact, I find CG films in general difficult to review because the majority of things said about them is plot-based. For example, when’s the last time an animated feature had bad animation? It’s been a very long time. Even Doogal looked good. Or voice-acting – sure, not every voice-over can be accompanied by the accolades that go to a Mark Hamill, but when voice is all you have to judge, it takes away the myriad of other elements one can explore and, subsequently, belittle. No facial expression, no subtle movements, voice-acting usually ranges from “awesome” to “competent”, but never any lower, and this also rings true for TMNT. The above cast list, taken directly from the fine print on the back of the DVD case, all do a capable job, neither wowing nor disappointing the discerning viewer. On an interesting side note, none of the above listed stars actually voice the core four. Kind of a slap in the face to four dudes who had to master the art of the “cowabunga” utterance. Of course Chris Evans got top billing – it is a comic book movie, after all. Kevin Smith even managed to wrangle his guest spot (and I do mean “spot”) into 4th billing; to be back-trackingly fair, he probably had nothing to do with it.


All in all, TMNT doesn’t feel like a desperate attempt to rejuvenate a long dormant franchise in order to squeeze out a few more nickels. Rather, it feels like one more step along the path of a property that already has a built-in audience, and a concept that still has the ability to bring in new fans. Imagine you heard the term “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” for the first time – can you say with a straight face that your curiosity would not be peaked? Granted, it has been modernized – I don’t recall the Turtles saying “radical” even once, and, deep down, that hurts. That said, TMNT moves so fast the pain doesn’t have time to settle in. Granted, going the CG route worked wonders when it comes to the fight scenes – those bulky costumes from 1990 obviously hindered the ninja skills of the live action doppelgangers, but it came with a caveat. CG essentially screams “Kids movie!”, and probably served to alienate many of the old school fans that the box office was reliant on. Hence, if you’ve been hesitant to tag along on this bodacious journey, don’t be. Dust off your Turtles cereal and official TMNT shaving kit, look beyond the fact that it is a cartoon, and enjoy yourself. In case you haven’t heard, animation is not just for kids any more.

Monday, November 10, 2014

MINDHUNTERS


Director - Renny Harlin
Starring - Kathryn Morris, Johnny Lee Miller, L.L. Cool J., Christian Slater, Val Kilmer

When this movie plunked into my hand in 2005, I instantly thought to myself “Holy shit. Some FBI profilers fight a killer who has them trapped on an island and is dispatching them one-at-a-time! I love one-at-a-time kills! And starring people that I know!? Why didn’t this make a bigger splash when it was presumably released 5 years ago?” Then it dawned on me – the movie itself wasn’t old, just the careers were. So I watched it, and we all got older together.

Let’s come right out the gate here and immediately point out the awesomest thing this film has to offer – the imagination catalyst that is “Crimetown, USA.” Every time I watch this flick (and this would be my 4th – thanks, undiagnosed OCD) I come out of it wishing I was born in Crimetown. The sweet smell of dishevelment and a population completely comprised of mannequins is just the right setting to spark all sorts of imaginary hijinks. Got a new baseball bat and don’t like the way your “neighbour” has been motionlessly watching you? No problem in Crimetown. Never got the chance to see how far you could kick a neighbourhood dog? Find out in Crimetown. In fact, Crimetown is such a great setting, that it is both underused and hard to live up to. All those plastic people and human body shadows warranted more than just an intro and one shoot-out – problem is, the characters spend so much time hiding and cavorting indoors, that all I can picture is a handful of pissed off Set Decorators. Ah, well – until I can afford my own Crimetown there’s always a Sears I can be kicked out of.

With that fantastic revelry out of the way, I’d say that I can sum up the rest of this movie in the same one word that can sum up Renny Harlin’s career – adequate. Acting – adequate. Camera work – adequate. Lighting – adequate. Location - …we already covered that. I’d wager that anybody who watches action flicks has seen a Renny Harlin movie. I’d even keep my two bits in the bettor’s circle that anyone who has seen 3 or more “Harlins” even liked at least one of them. So, where did he go wrong? Why did he go wrong? I’ll take my fandom from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 all the way up through The Long Kiss Goodnight to land at Deep Blue Sea; that’s about where things petered out for him. Or me. But if you look at his career from that point on, from Driven to 12 Rounds, “adequate” is about the perfect, if not somewhat forgiving, summation of his canon. Somewhere between Cliffhanger and Cleaner, he lost his pizzazz; he lost his dynamism. Maybe marrying Geena Davis was the peak of his career and he gave up trying to top himself. It’s also #16 on my bucket list. Marrying Harlin is number #14... There are some fine shots here that utilize the corridors and angles of spaces, but it’s just not enough. Take, for example, the scene where the agents first arrive and explore the island – there are plenty of pans and zooms and slightly low angles, imbuing the space with a feeling of appropriate foreboding. But that’s one of the early lessons in filmmaking – and, when executed here, it comes across as textbook. Which poses the age old question - is it more conducive for story immersion to notice the cinematography or to not notice it? When the eye picks out a fancy camera angle, does that actually pull the viewer out of the film? My answer is a firm "Maybe…" Would some “dirty” foreground close-ups or off-angle shots serve to move the “evil” closer to the characters, or would they just take away from the supposedly sterile setting that is being established? Currently, the looming angles convey a vast, empty, cold environment that the characters are walking into – but, the environment is also a character here, and should be treated as such. Whether the responsibility falls on the director, the director of photography, or someone else is a question you’d have to ask the DVD bonus features. And, at the risk of placing blame squarely on the incorrect shoulders, who on Earth has the balls to directly follow up an “investigative montage” with another “investigative montage”? These guys, that’s who. I wonder if that was what the script called for, or if an executive decision was made in the editing room. Overall, it’s a fairly cheap ploy to make FBI investigations look gripping.

Could the casting director not manage to squeeze any more washed-up actors into this vehicle? With Slater and Kilmer and Miller sadly waving goodbye to their careers in the rear-view, was Cuba Gooding Jr. too busy to ride shotgun that week? Or do his parts automatically go to L.L. Cool J. first? Is there some bald, black actor (I call them “blacktors”) hierarchy in lower Hollywood that the plebs are not aware of? At least the producers stuck by L.L.’s (apparent) rider detailing that his character must survive every, and any, movie that he is in. Do an IMDB tally – I didn’t. Of course, when you get the opportunity to utter gems like “I guess we found out his weakness – bullets,” you don’t want to turn down certain door knockings. That line is so lame, it circled back around to being cool. The question here is, is the acting really that bad? No. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s adeq… uhhh, fine. Johnny Lee Miller’s accent seems to be a bit spotty, (do I detect a note of Texan in there…?)and the characters aren’t given much substance with which to work, but nobody is really dragging down the story – in fact, Christian Slater’s ass is pulling more than its own weight. That said, these profilers are so one note that it’s a cakewalk for their killer to, irony notwithstanding, profile them.

That statement speaks volumes. It’s that single-layered simplicity that puts this in a little subgenre I call “Common Man Thrillers”. Characterization is pointed at by the most didactic of fingers, making each “ironic” demise as elementary to conceive as paying attention to the character traits that have been mentioned more than once. Oh, the girl who wants a cigarette is done in by a poisoned cigarette and the guy who goes nowhere without his gun gets offed by, big gasp, his gun. Even in 2000, we still would have been light years beyond these tropes. And how about that grand reveal – nothing too “grand” or too “revealing” there. Just count the interactive screen time. Sara, who is the real star here, gets a bit of development in the opening scene, then has 3 lone dialogues with Miller’s “Lucas” – the rest of her time is group based. In a thriller, it’s a good idea to develop the main character and the killer, and that’s just what those “one-on-one” scenes do. Surprise averted.

And because I’m me, I wouldn’t feel proper talking about a movie with kills without talking about kills. Hot off the “trapping-death” boom that was put in motion by Saw, (well… some of us remember Evil Dead Trap…)about half of the kills in Mindhunters looked nice and gory and played straight into the camera – no cutaways or ambiguous guts shots. The liquid nitrogen, the puppet corpse, the acidic cigarette – Mindhunters showcases some decent carnage usually reserved for straight-up horror. At times the movie does, however, ignore one of the basic tenets of gore-flicks; namely, that the slaughter has to get progressively more and more brutal as the film goes on. It doesn’t quite blow its entire load on Slater’s kill, but it does make a sizeable mess. Kills that backtrack only serve to squash viewer hopes and frustrate me. Some of the half-assed imagination that went into all the other aspects of this movie should have also been parcelled out to the writing, notably the time-filling elements such as that bloated “Croatoan” nonsense, or used to pave the way for the introduction of more one-note characters ripe for the offing. I’m going to get Cuba Gooding Jr. some work one of these days…

The finale culminates in a head to head battle of fisticuffs between L.L. and Miller, and I longed for some of the longer takes utilized in the kill scenes; I would have assumed that by now it is just naturally accepted that the fewer the cuts, the better the fight – it’s nice to see some actors who can sustain more than 3 seconds of combat. To be fair, it must be tough for L.L. to swing around that physique for prolonged periods of time…

After that final “reveal” (snicker…), comes the film’s most memorable moment of ridiculousness – the stand-off in the pool. I understand the obligatory need for a hero to overcome their fears, but would that scenario be that difficult to get out of? Why would anyone raise their whole head out of the water? Won’t just the lips suffice? With that conquering, everything is again right with the world – Sara and Jensen board a helicopter to head on home. Heart-warming. Pay no attention to the fact that the chopper doesn’t seem to drop off any officers to investigate the recent hunting of minds. Nor are there any more inbound helicopters. I guess what happens on the Island of Oneiga stays on the Island of Oneiga.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

DOUBLE DRAGON

Director - James Yukich
Starring - Scott Wolf, Mark Dacascos, Alyssa Milano, Robert Patrick, Kristina Wagner

The year is 2007 (as envisioned in 1994). The city is New Angeles (a new name being the universal signifier that a city has undergone some drastic changes). The obligatory catastrophe that caused a downward spiral into dystopia is an earthquake (because Earth will one day inevitably wreak her chaotic revenge). The catalyst for action is a broken, yet powerful, medallion (similar to a trinket of BFF ilk). And the inspiration for this preteen-friendly chopsockey adventure are the quarter-quenching arcade games of the same name (which feature none of the elements I have mentioned thus far). Double Dragon is set in a bleak future in which the police retreat indoors due to rampant late-night gang activity, gigantic house fans are helicoptered to the tops of buildings in order to blow away smog, and Andy Dick is the local weatherman. Terrifying premonitions, each and every one of them.

Living amidst the squalor are the Lee brothers, Jimmy and Billy, who make ends meet by kung fu fighting in underground tag matches. Jimmy utilizes a medium array of martial arts, whereas Billy seems to primarily rely on the ancient art of "clich├ęd slapstick". The brothers share a friendly/matronly/guardian(/polyamorous?) bond with Satori, a female counterpart put in place to balance the boys' testosterone; around her neck she wears half of a gold medal carved with a dragon. The other half lies in the hands of Shuko, a surprisingly caucasian corporate mogul who has diversified his portfolio by also running a gang of low-level street thugs. Granted, a throwaway line about Shuko's name change does explain the questionable moniker, but what is never addressed is the equally questionable company that he keeps - with Shuko Industries taking care of the city's drainage and Shukonet being a top tier internetworking system, one could come to think that he would be predominantly surrounded by a higher class of ruffian. It doesn't take long for us inquisitive viewers to learn that much like any typical broken medallion, when the two halves come together, the possessor will wield great power. I tried putting this theory into practice by cracking my high school Track and Field medal in two, and upon taping it back together was imbued with the awesome capability of achieving third in the Long Jump. So begins the epic quest of the Lees, seeking to unite the medallion halves and vanquish Shuko's tyrannical rule.

The trials of this quest include futuristic car chasing, high speed water craft bushwhacking, underground teen rebel rousing, and a cavalcade of mediocre hand-to-hand combat. Oddly enough, what it doesn't include is contention with firearms - all the gangs seem to have a strict "No Gun" policy. This differentiates the nefarious Shadow Warriors from their pixelated dopplegangers, who managed to scrimp up enough cash to afford one single, solitary machine gun. Everything culminates in a mystical, fist-ical showdown in which Shuko can turn into a shadow, inhabit the bodies of others, split into two nasty samurai, and fights with the prowess of a man who has taken combat training for a solid month and a half. That sure is an awful lot of plot details for something based on what is essentially two guys walking down the street and punching people. The thing is, handled correctly, that simplicity could have been enough to keep the momentum of this film going. The lesson we started to learn from the kung fu genre way back when, and was more recently hammered home with The Raid, or even Dredd, is that a movie can successfully be just one long action scene.

As far as action scenes go, the majority of these look extraordinarily okay - average, some forgettable, and falling right into that meaty section of the Action Movie Curve. The cars look cool, what with their dangerously accessible fuel injectors or their Spy Hunter-esque tracking technology. The boat chase across burning water is a neat idea, possibly too neat for a film of this overall calibre... and how those no-goodniks were prepared with their own water vessels is a movie mystery for the ages. The fighting is 50/50 - predominately of the less serious form of "fight-amidst-flight" and employing common place objects, it is a style in which Jackie Chan once spoiled us. Jimmy does toss out some nice kicks and appropriate flips, but brother Billy manages to hurl more quips then he does fists. This is certainly not ideal when we're talking about a film that is supposed to be about two martial artists. To make matters worse, not only are these verbal jabs depriving us of real ones, but every joke falls flat, hitting the ground with an almost audible 'clunk'. The ultimate jewel in the Double Dragons' fighting crown is that ridiculous "Arm-Swinging Pinwheel Kick" that the boys were practicing. Meant to illustrate the merits of teamwork, I understand what the choreographers were going for here - having grown up in a time when swinging a child in circles by their arms was considered good clean fun, I had at least 2 neighbours who can attest to the pain that stems from being on the receiving end of that maneuver. However, it is a concept that probably looked much better on paper; hell, why not have the boys Leap Frog into action?

Director James Yukich comes from a background of helming rockumentaries, which may explain why the soundtrack is full of hip, once-relevant music. It may also explain why he didn't notice certain cinematic discrepancies, like the disproportionately huge explosion caused by the Lees' boat crashing through a billboard, or Satori's on-again off-again overall strap during her final chat with Shuko. (That may in fact be a commentary on the questionable fashion trend of the time...) Certainly these could also be the fault of the editor or whoever was in charge of continuity, but it's always easier to (often unjustifiably) blame the director. A documentarian is tasked with deciding exactly what to shoot; when shooting a work of fiction, the "what" to shoot becomes "how" to shoot it. When shooting doc style, it's possible that one isn't necessarily watching out for continuity because, well, reality is continuous - it's just waiting to be recorded. Theories... True or not, they are still no excuse for something that could have been rectified were someone just paying attention.

Billy and Jimmy Lee are played by Scott Wolf and Mark Dacascos respectively, leading to the biggest leap of faith required by us viewers. Forget the magic, forget the mutations, it's the fact that "One-Man-Melting-Pot" Dacascos and the "Whitest-White-Guy-Ever" Wolf are on-screen kin that really tests audience acceptance. Thankfully, they are constantly adorned in their signature blue or red attire, not only affording us a means by which to tell these dreamboats apart, but also reminding us exactly who is Player 1. Performances like the ones turned in by our protagonists, and most everyone in this film, are difficult to write about - were they extremely good or extremely bad the commentary would flow like water... But how does one express that a performance is the equivalent of a shoulder shrug and a muttered "Meh"? Sometimes "fun/cheesey" but moreso just "cheesey", the actors are often burdened by dialogue but are absolutely not without enthusiasm. My own curiosity does get gnawed at when I question the fates that befell the career of Dacascos. So much promise exhibited in Only the Strong and realized in The Brotherhood of the Wolf, I've always felt he was an embodiment of untapped potential. Does he not have a beneficial industry acquaintance in Jet Li, or did everyone involved in that Cradle 2 the Grave debacle just walk away angry? I know that I left that experience wearing a frown.

Early on in their journey, our heroes come across the Power Corp., a teenage resistance group dead set on toppling the current regime. Cloaked in bright colours (to denote youth and vigour) and preferring the rollerblade mode of travel (to denote early 90's modernity), their greatest unforeseen accomplishment lies in firmly dating themselves. They are both an era personified and a reminder of why we left said era behind. Leader of the teenage insurgents is Marian, another tenuous name-only connection to the source material, played by Alyssa Milano. She, too, is competent enough to be in front of the camera without raising any eyebrows for doing an above average job. Of course, given my personal proclivities, you won't hear me utter any disparaging remarks about Ms. Milano - she was, after all, the first real person I had a crush on. When my childhood romance with Wonder Woman came to an end, (it wasn't me, it was her) I sought solace in the arms of Alyssa. Sure, Who's the Boss? was a mainstay on my family television screen, but it was her vulnerable yet resourceful "Jenny" in Commando that made me long to rescue her from both her fictional and factual woes. Watching her toss a couple torso-range kicks in this outing only serves to reignite that one-sided flame. Can't say I care too much for the pixie cut she's sporting here, though... Alright, one disparaging remark.

Shuko is played by Robert Patrick; hot off the heels of Terminator 2 and before whatever the hell else he's done, he chews so much scenery that you can almost see teeth marks in the set pieces. He may have been the most fun character to watch were his hair not so offensive to the eye.

Now for the million dollar query; why are there no good movies based on video games? (Though I do like the Mortal Kombat: Legacy series.) One may be inclined to partner that inquiry with the other side of the same question coin, and ask why are there no good video games based on movies? (Though I do like Jaws for the NES.) However, I believe we, at least partially, know the answer to the latter. Often enough, tie-in games have a creative motivation behind them that is firmly rooted in deadlines and money, whereas other games have the good fortune of being constructed due to passion... and money. Being hounded by the marketing clock or forced to work in elements of source material that will appease the already existent fanbase are not the most ideal of circumstances surrounding an artistic endeavour. Regarding the first question, I can posit some speculation, though I'd be hard-pressed to believe there was one solitary reason. In the 8-bit days of yore, video games had very little plot - screen writers had to scramble in order to create a story out of almost nothing, incorporate a myriad of fantastical elements, all while maintaining enough of a connection to the original material so it can keep the audience already built by the game. There were 6 incursions of Double Dragon when this movie came out; that means 6 times the familiarity is required, balanced with trying to deliver something new. This is probably why Abobo went from being a silent bad-ass hydrocephalic to being a surgically mutated steroid junky simpleton whiner. Conversely, the modern video game is often teeming with story - more and more we are witnessing stunning cut scenes, extensive character development, and complex plot lines. Oddly enough, this puts today's game-to-film adaptors into a similar predicament as their forefathers. They, too, have to create a story sheathed in loyalty but their situation is more akin to constructing a sequel. For them, the initial story has already been told successfully, and they must continue with predetermined components while adhering to the aspects that attracted the fans in the first place. Where it used to be that screenwriters had to create something new because there was too little material to fall back on, it now stands that they have to create something new because there is too much material to work from. Add to that the large amount of game content that needs to be transferred to the big screen, and writers may be faced with quite the arduous task.

And what type of an off-topic rambler would I be were I to not put in my two cents regarding movies, video games, and the future? Namely, will video games one day usurp film (and TV...) as our primary source of entertainment? That seems to be the direction in which the winds are blowing, what with cut scenes satisfying the cinematic element while being generously sprinkled with the added enticement of 'choice'. And what could possibly be more enticing than 'choice'? How about 'choice without ramification'? The more interactive and detailed the games become, the more they resemble "Choose Your Own Adventure" movies. But, let's never forget the relaxative properties of the "pseudo-passivity" of watching a film. I say "pseudo-passivity" because the amount of interaction we have with a film can fluctuate based on the effort we put in - otherwise, my little film rants could be broken down into Newspeak phrases of "Movie plusgood" or "Movie ungood." If anything, watching our entertainment will be what we retreat to when we need a break from playing our entertainment; making choices can be tough work. Thank you, Double Dragon - only a film of your magnitude could force me to plumb the depths of my media consumption theories. If somebody produced a monthly comic, a cartoon series, and an action figure line, I could probably write a book.

Yup, it's a strange and curious expansion of lore that is created by this film. A strange, curious, literally colourful expansion. A world where one Lee brother can kick the other Lee brother into a Double Dragon arcade machine with complete disregard for the diegetic consequences. Quite the sacrifice for a small, mildly amusing, in-reference. Which came first; the brothers or the machine? Did two guys base themselves (and their entire belief-systems) on a side-scrolling beat 'em up? Or did the boys blow through a bunch of sweet royalty cash before settling into their current caste? It's a world that really only speaks to a specific generation, when arcades were a cool place to hang out, wheels on feet were strictly in-line, and plaid flannel was a secure statement around every other teenagers waist. Does anybody think that a kid of today's day and age is going to watch this and find any of it cool? Fuck no. A world that makes me wish Netflix allowed me to give out half stars. Torn between biased nostalgia and general crap, I proudly straddle both sides of the reviewing fence. I would earnestly give Double Dragon a 2.5 stars. I would give Street Fighter (Van Damme, not Chiba...) a 2.5. I would give Mortal Kombat a 2.5. I would give Super Mario Bros. a (generous) 0.5. (Not a typo.) But until the day Netflix bows to my whims, I'll patiently work on the first installment of my 36 part series, Minecraft I: Hitting Crap With a Stick, and keep my wishy-washyness to myself.

Friday, December 16, 2011

MY BLOODY VALENTINE

Director - George Mihalka
Starring - Paul Kelman, Lori Hallier, Neil Affleck

Ahhh, 1981. The golden age of 'slasher' cinema. All it took was a holiday and a cool looking mask, and from there on out the sky was the limit. How I long for those simpler times. Every cliche is born somewhere, and the mid-70's to mid-80's was a veritable breeding ground for all manners of stalking and killing teenagers. For a brief but glorious period the 'slashing' templates were forged, sharp as a blade and pretty as a puncture wound, until they eventually stamped themselves out. My Bloody Valentine came at a very opportune time in the genre, when nothing more than a simple pick-axe through the jaw was sufficiently impressive, and excelled through some excellent cinematography, some uniquely mean-spirited kill scenes, and complete utilization of an inherently creepy locale. I would not be surprised to discover that the film makers had secured the mine location long before they had finalized the actual script.

After pillaging the studio's costume warehouse for a frightening face-covering and picking up a truck full of "Moosehead" to pay some small Canadian town for use of their shafts, the producer's next logical step would be to tie everything together via 'holiday'. Being far enough ahead of the curve to procure Valentine's Day, the hard part was already done. Crank out a little revenge rooted in the ignorance of authority, dispatch a group of rowdy youngsters (with a slight age increase to compensate for mining work), blatantly point suspicion at a couple of red herrings, and you got yourself a movie. Of course, when the screenplay is the final piece of the puzzle, as was often the case for this type of film, it is sometimes overtly apparent. My Bloody Valentine does exhibit a smattering of genuine wit and emotion, certainly more than a large number of it's contemporaries, but dialogue and characters frequently teeter between inadvertent kitsch and everlasting cornball.

It's been 20 fictional years since the small mining community of 'Valentine Bluffs' suffered a terrible supervisional tragedy, replacing the legend of the Saints with that of Harry Warden and halting any future festivities. Apparently fueled by the inadequacies of failing to live up to the town's moniker, a new generation of labourers have decided to reinstate the celebration in the only manner that a group of young adults possibly could: by hosting a dance in the local rec centre. You haven't lived until you've raised the roof off your town hall, fruit punch and baked goods style. Enter masked killer, exit jubilation.

The general pacing of the film is quite brisk, opening with a decent kill scene and never allowing more than 7 or 8 minutes to pass without presenting another bloody image. Viewers are treated to not only four kills during the introduction/characterization, said characters then move forward to discover the victims, or parts thereof, essentially doubling the on-screen carnage. The second act features two more kills and their after effects, as the group holds their illicit shindig; this set-up is in itself an interesting deviation as "the party" of similar cinematic ilk is usually reserved for the climactic showdown. Production foresight must have been at it's peak, because the final stage is set in the depths of the mine, a sprawling 30 minute showcase of dark corridors and discomforting angles that exhibits true behind-the-scenes talent.

Now, this next tidbit of personal information may serve as a revelation or a redundancy, pending circumstance; I am a die-hard 'slasher' fan. I have the natural tendency to divide 'slashers' into two key components: the "kill-scenes" and "everything else". Being quite literal, "everything else" encompasses all other elements, spanning from script to costumes to lighting to so on. Success at one of the key components can compensate for failure at the other, and vice versa, the ultimate goal remaining a mastery of both.

Amassing the coveted double-digit kill count, the murderous mayhem presented here relies less on 'point of impact' shots and moreso on the aforementioned aftermath. Actually bearing witness to the blade piercing flesh was the burgeoning frontrunner of "kill-scene" schematics, and remains an enjoyable staple of the genre. My Bloody Valentine does feature a couple of these necessities but the memorable horror is derived through revelation. The fellow's burnt flesh and boiled heart after bobbing for hot dogs, Mabel's charred body tumbling (albeit too quickly) from the dryer, Sylvia and her foreground fountain; each kill is designed to simultaneously terrify both the viewer and another character, making Harry Warden one of the tormentingest slashers of all time. Unlike his slashing brethren, he doesn't discriminate between observers of his handiwork - instead of sharing with just the 'survivor girl', Warden offers his die-o-ramas to everyone.

The moments surrounding each kill build the intensity by allowing the characters plenty of time to struggle with their harbinger of doom. The trend of an oblivious teen taking an arrow from behind or having their throat slit while investigating an unknown sound are thoroughly shirked. In their place is a string of young adults who stare death straight in the eye presumably contemplating their own demise. As the film progresses the P.O.V. shots formerly reserved for Warden's stalking, and typically allotted solely to the killer, expand to include the victim's view. These shot/reverse shot exchanges heighten the tension by alternating the panicked face with the futility of the panic (as represented by the stoic, emotionless answer of 'the mask'.) My personal favourite death belongs to Hollis, which even I find surprising considering how bloodless it is. After tracking down the freshly screwed Mike and Harriet, he faces Warden and stares as the nail gun rises; taking two to the head, he slinks off, only to perish in front of his beloved Patty. The sheer prolonged pain of the situation, both physical and emotional, is what morbidly appeals to me; stumbling around in the dark gravely wounded, holding on long enough to hitch up your last few breaths in front of the woman you're smitten on. Good, clean, malicious fun.

The film does lose some of it's verve when bridging the gap between kills, which is a real shame because not all of it is bottom rung film making. Some self-reflexive wit does shine through, such as the "Friday February 13th" subtitle, and the humorous response to the bartender's obligatory straight-into-the-camera premonitory warning.

RAMBLING BARTENDER
(Finger-stabbingly)

It could be you!

Cut to two(2) disinterested teens, neither a part of the core group. TEEN 1 blinks.

Unfortunately, the majority of fallback filler is the love-stricken bickering between T.J. and Axel, neither of which are played by the most spectacular of actors. Upon establishing a legitimate connection through a very simple, impromptu harmonica duet, their relationship descends to nothing less than 5 'bitch and moan' sessions backed by lackluster punches and invoking my screams of "Get fucking over it!" The un-dynamic duo of T.J. and Sarah don't fare too much better, clunkily delivering such multi-layered sentiments as "You left!" or "I love you!" atop bumpy landscapes and grating folk ballads. Some of this time should have been delegated to Axel and Sarah, thus imbuing the "surprise" unveiling with that much more power, and spread out amongst the rest of the group, provided token crack-up Howard doesn't waste it trying to be funny.

At the 1 hour mark six characters, envisioned for better or worse, descend into the mine allowing the story to become propelled by atmosphere. The framing is forcibly confined by the long passageways or the obscuring extreme foreground walls, and the camera often creates odd angles by hugging one side of an opening or sitting just a few degrees off the X-axis. The semi-iconic shot of Warden advancing towards the camera while breaking light bulbs is an aesthetically pleasing manipulation of light and shadow, but I remain much more impressed by the hued circular glares from his headlamp as he confronts T.J. Visually gorgeous, and quite possibly completely accidental. The cramped ladder-climbing sequence is an excellent example of the technical expertise and fancy footworkers devoted to realizing the mine's claustrophobic instability.

One of the most important aspects of watching a movie is taking into account when and where the movie came from. I would be hard pressed to imagine that the gang's acapella waitress ditty would play as anything but laughable nowadays, and to be honest I'm not comfortable accepting that it was even cool back then. My Bloody Valentine was, however, at the forefront of the genre when it was released, helping to perpetuate the modern stereotypes that we know and love. Undeniably noteworthy, the poor writing keeps it just out of reach of "Top _" lists; but it certainly deserves more praise then it seems to get for it's many successful elements. Those simply cannot be denied. The general tipping point of enjoyment probably lies in the subjective difference between 'kitschy' and just plain 'dated'. I cannot begrudge those who fail to appreciate the basic pleasures offered by a faded, pastel title card; or a giggling, high-pitched closing diatribe that gives utterance to the film's very title; or end credits set to an original Harry Warden folk song. That is their prerogative. I can offer them only my pity.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

UNDISPUTED II: LAST MAN STANDING

Director - Isaac Florentine
Starring - Michael Jai White, Scott Adkins, Ben Cross, Eli Danker, Mark Ivanir

"Just when you thought it was safe to go back to prison..."

When we last parted ways with felonious boxing bad-boy George "Iceman" Chambers, he was thoroughly disputed, presumably humbled, and Ving Rhames. How times change. Continuing the further misadventures of Chambers, now played by Michael Jai White, Undisputed II picks up some 6 years after his questionable incarceration in "Sweetwater Prison"; having since lost the championship, he has been reduced to shilling Russian vodka in order to make ends meet. A far cry from his former glory, this plummet in status apparently worked wonders for both his body-building regime and his ageing process. Faster than one can say "Fuck continuity", Chambers is framed for a crime (again?) and subjected to a "hush-hush" prison fight-league (again). Only this time the resident champ is "the most complete fighter in the world" Uri Boyka, played by the formidable Scott Adkins, and armed with a mind-blowing array of kicks and more selfishly skewed pride than the Iceman can shake a fist at. Oh, and it's set in Russia. Hell, judging by the credits, it must have been filmed in Russia while utilizing 90% of the hard working collective from the "Russian Moving Pictures Union".


Director Isaac Florentine has been slowly climbing the ladder of direct-to-video action for a number of years now, delivering films of generic competence that are punctuated with outstanding action sequences. Holding hands with Adkins since Special Forces has only served to insure quality fighting during his rising career. With Undisputed II Florentine, alongside seasoned A-producer/B-scripter Boaz Davidson, has stripped away the drama and characterization of Undisputed and replaced it with what I presume the majority of viewers expected from the outset: hand-to-hand combat. Any connection to the original is severed to the thinnest of ties, delegated to throwaway lines about Iceman's sordid past and a vaguely familiar battle of wits in the cafeteria. This route allows Florentine and Co. the freedom to develop Chambers unhindered, whilst assuring the less confident viewers that they are indeed still following along with a character they already know. ("Ah, good old Iceman... Still cutting off tough guys in the lunch line, just like he used to...") A tried and true direct-to-video sequel technique if ever there was one. Developed in the exact opposite fashion as it's predecessor, the plot line is all conquered territory, featuring clear-cut good guys and bad guys, a duplicitous corner man, a wise and elderly teacher, and an elusive broadcasting system that raises nary an authoritative eyebrow. Attempts at insightful narrative rear up from the back seat in minimal amounts, taking on the didactic forms of winter jackets and a markedly trustworthy niece. Of course, upon witnessing that first spinning jump kick, it becomes increasingly difficult to care if anything else is tucked away back there, so long as this awesome spectacle remains in the driver's seat.


Now, before moving forward allow me to clarify my position; opting to shy away from drama in favour of action is not, in my opinion, an inherently inferior decision. They are simply two different modes of storytelling. The real question then becomes whether or not the trade off was worth it. If that is not an inquiry that you can foresee yourself ever answering "Yes" to, then chances are you have watched this movie accidentally. Or, are one of the many lackadaisical consumers who barely even bother to look at the packaging of that which they are about to consume. If you do possess the acumen to appreciate kicking and punching as much as/more than growth and feelings, it probably took a maximum of 3 minutes to determine the value of this particular approach.


From the opening fight sequence to the climactic showdown, the real success and beauty of Undisputed II comes in the form of engaging violence. It is becoming more and more rare that fight fans (mixed martial arts fans, specifically) are treated to an exhibition of distinctly raw talent, and not fancy editing equipment. Strictly recalling American film making, that is. Lingering takes boast double-digit punch combinations, and the variety of oft-used actual martial arts holds run the full gamut from muay thai, to jiu jitsu, to judo, to wrestling, to beyond. Interspersed are some of the most gratuitously elaborate flip kicks ever captured on film. (Undisputed III notwithstanding.) Much of the praise goes to choreographer and stuntman extraordinaire J.J. Perry, and the cadre of opponents who realize the equivalent importance of being on the receiving end of a stylish beating. None of it, however, would have been so skilfully realized were it not for the film's two stars.


Upon release of this film the casting was immediately open to my scrutiny, despite my predetermined genre excitement, as I had some grand concerns over the decision to replace Rhames with White. Rhames had yet to obliterate the majority of his artistic legitimacy, and though I had always liked White, he never secured that particular role required to really catapult his career. Thanks for nothing, Spawn. Given the present state of affairs, I sheepishly recount the adage based on "hindsight"... Rhames fell far and quietly around the release of this one, (Piranha movies being a good way to kick-start the climb back up), whereas White parlayed this role, along with a relationship with other talented like-minders, into an extremely promising portfolio. From his Black Dynamite brainchild becoming one of the funniest "genre-love" movies of all time, to the justifiably anticipated Mortal Kombat project, to his (generally less anticipated) directorial debut, everything is coming up White. His acting here is fine; believable, given the source material, and never straying outside his range of smirking, "intense eyes", and stoicism. It's Scott Adkins as villainous Boyka, however, who ends up stealing many of the scenes. Wary as I am to admit, considering they are purportedly chums, and I desire to one day hang out with them. Not only is Adkins the best American martial artist working today, he does some great scenery-chewing while maintaining an impressive Russian accent. At the risk of sounding unappreciative of the subtle character depths of Grandmaster level chess or philately, it's when Adkins is growling and barking that shades of genuine acting shine through. He, like White, is currently on the brink of realizing his potential and this film was the proverbial springboard. After years of high caliber stunts in big Hollywood movies, the combined powers behind Undisputed II: Last Man Standing (of all things), have put their faith in Scott Adkins, bestowing unto him spoken lines and face time. An unsurprisingly safe gamble given the cult response, and if this man is not A-list famous within 2 years of this posting, there is something very wrong with the action community. (If The Expendables 2 uses him correctly, it could be much sooner than predicted.)


Even for a typical direct-to-video action movie with atypically good action, the film does suffer from a couple of minor flaws. The pacing loses a bit of momentum around two-thirds of the way in, as Chambers spends his time "emotionally growing" and "constructing a bond" with his new corner-man, thus exceeding the quota of one-on-one fighting cliches; fighters should be kept to one reluctant friendship per tournament. Granted, they did have to illustrate both the literal warming of his icy exterior and his drastically fast-tracked 4 week training program, but any excuse for even one more "sparring partner" sequence would have served to break the monotony of these "necessities". I also found it mildly disheartening to be slightly removed from the spectacular climactic brawl due to some sloppy CGI; a petty grievance quickly overshadowed by my understanding of the need to live up to a subtitle.


For action fans, this is a film of some importance; for non-action fans, it's another couple of tough guys who back up their posturing with punches and kicks. It marks American film making's first notable embrace of the full fight spectrum, combining the brutal realism of grapples and submissions with the theatrics of impractically stunning strikes. One more realization already practised overseas, and spearheaded by the likes of Donnie Yen, Woo-ping Yuen, et al. Undisputed II: Last Man Standing will certainly stand as the turning point for certain careers, breaking more than enough ground via combat to compensate for the lapses in story judgement. The only English fight-flick of recent (long term?) memory to best Undisputed II is Undisputed III, and I have long been broadening my lexicon of Adkins-based-devotion in anticipation of that discourse.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

UNDISPUTED

Director - Walter Hill
Starring - Ving Rhames, Wesley Snipes, Peter Falk, Michael Rooker

Walter Hill has not made a single bad film. A bold statement, it's true; but one I'll defend vehemently. At least, to the reaches of the present discourse. Some are absolutely amazing and some are just "good", but none of them suck. Even what I consider to be his weakest outing, Brewster's Millions, has it's moments. God bless him for trying his hand at something different... (Bear in mind here that I'm not counting Supernova, which actually did kind of suck, in light of the fact that he had his name removed.) Undisputed fits firmly in that range between "amazing" and "good", what would most likely be considered in this vernacular vein to be "great". Hill, who co-wrote and produced (naturally), subverts an existing action sub-genre, which was already simple exploitation of a previous dramatic sub-genre, by infusing the former's tropes with the latter's narrative. Through the natural evolution of direct-to-video cinema, prison dramas that featured some fighting became tournament-fight-movies that were set in a prison. (As we are all aware, illegal fisticuff competitions and "The Big House" go together like bread and water.) Lock-Up became Ring of Death, Death Warrant became In Hell. Undisputed adheres to the fight formula while bringing it full circle with intriguing motivations, realistic representations, and viewer empathy. The same characters that transitioned from drama to action are all present, but we now reflect on the 'how's' and 'why's' of the circuit as oppposed to the punches and kicks. Add to this some very strong performances from not only Ving Rhames and Wesley Snipes but also Peter Falk, and you get a helping of what Hill serves up best: a dark, testosterone-laden struggle wherein morally ambiguous characters battle for the basic satiation of pride, honour, and respect.


A brash boxing champion is incarcerated in "Sweetwater Prison" for a crime he may or may not have committed, where he comes face-to-face with their undefeated zen master of pugilism. Factions are established, gauntlets thrown, and an undisputed victor begs to be crowned. A familiar story through and through, but after the foundation is laid, the deja vu begins to fade away. With Hill's signature "grey characterization", the viewer is never really presented with a "bad guy"; sure, 'Iceman Chambers' is kind of a jerk, but is he evil? Is he even guilty? This does not call into question viewer allegiance; slowly and purposefully we're drawn into the favours of the 'Munroe Hutchen' camp. However, by keeping Chambers on that cusp of darkness instead of actually tipping him over, Hill reinforces the notion that this isn't so much a film about "good vs. evil" as it is "man vs. man". Hell, Chambers is even allotted the majority of the screen time, forcing the viewer to contemplate his situation, gradually blurring the line between 'Chambers: the villain' and 'Chambers: the man'.


As the film progressed and my contender devotions were playfully manhandled, I began to anticipate those helpful story archetypes that would typically make my decisions for me. Any minute now, the "evil warden" would bully or threaten one or the other fighter in an attempt to get him to participate in a no-holds barred (yet very secretive) bloodbath, killing his "lovable and/or comical corner man", and encouraging the other fighter to stuff some sort of mystery substance/powder in his gloves/shorts, which the younger, handsomer fighter will eventually overcome on his way to victory. Ding-ding-ding, good guy triumphs, I'm still amused, the end. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised. The warden is a rather regular fellow, trying to appease outside forces whilst quietly keeping his nose clean. The general acceptance of people getting away with a crime of this magnitude in a government facility is addressed, and plausible explanations are drawn. Both fighters have begrudgingly amicable relationships with their corner men, but still fight for their own personal sense of pride. More so, they both want a clean, honest fight, with a semblance of rules no less. Part of the fun of the dynamic shared by the protagonists, which is built on a very minimal amount of actual interaction, is their similar sensibility. Both fight for honour, be it denoted by recognition and glory, or as the last bastion of a broken man. And who, pre-tell, is the puppet-master behind this extravaganza, pulling all the strings of power and influence? (Here's a hint: we've already discovered that there is no evil warden...) Why, it's a grizzled old ex-mafioso who also sees the beauty in the brutality and shares a symbiotic and growing relationship with a corner man of his own. (There's a large amount of "masculine emotions" surrounding this particular brawl.)


Ving Rhames turns in a solid portrayal, treading the line nicely between brazen intimidation and driven intensity. When Chambers stone-face baritone's "People play baseball, nobody plays boxing", he instantly commands as much respect as he does fear. (It may not hurt that it's a really good line, appealing to those of us who happily embrace our Y chromosomes.) It seems apparent then that Rhames had quite the positive experience shooting in this prison, considering that he quickly followed up Undisputed with the far inferior Animal...which had hot on it's heels the even farther inferior Animal 2. It was a very good, if not aptly cast, role for Rhames, but it's time for his parole.


Snipes is also quite formidable as the man of "few words/the people", and hopefully utilized this part as research for future endeavours. As the quiet "counter-character" to Chambers, he has a limited number of not only lines, but even scenes, in which to explore his motivations. He accomplishes this with a level of comfort reminiscent of his glory days when he simultaneously exhibited competent dramatic abilities alongside genuine bad-assedness.


This is truly a "3 character" film however, and the memorable performance really belongs to Peter Falk as "Mendy Ripstein". With as much of an internal investment in this fight as the two combatants, Ripstein commentates the surrounding circumstances, making sense of and adding eloquence to the primal simplicity of it all. Falk delivers a couple of excellent speeches in that gruffly iconic tone of his, and his tale of "the mayor" stands as a glimpse into the past moral system that shaped him. Great writing + astute casting + character exploration = "the casino stays open".


The film holds aesthetically true to Hill's repertoire, borne of a time when machismo movies were a standard practice. (Gender alienation is much more dangerous these days, both financially and socially.) Every light bulb flickers on the verge of burn out, dust particles floating through the bare illumination, and the colour palette resigns itself to a fraction of the spectrum. The muted greys, blues, and browns only brighten when the camera pans across the vast surrounding landscape, employing the 'prison-flick' convention of emphasizing the freedom that remains forever out of reach. Scenes are strung together by black and white footage of classic fighters, or interspersed with rapidly edited flashbacks of personal and defining moments, strengthening both the drives and connections shared amongst the three protagonists. The fights themselves are filmed well, utilizing hand held techniques that emulate those of televised events in their effort to draw the viewer as close to the action as possible. It pains me to admit then, that the most notable flaws also stem from these confrontations. The actual punching sounds are exaggerated in an attempt to emphasize the impact, and some longer takes would have served well in showcasing the actors' ability to throw combinations, not just jabs. (Funny how I still focus on the fighting even when the film doesn't.)


More often than not the name "Walter Hill" is merely whispered around the edges of Hollywood auteur lists; meanwhile, insurmountable evidence to the contrary is rapidly accumulating. With Undisputed, Hill is afforded the chance to revisit a sub-genre he helped to originate with Hard Times. Only now, the competitors fight in order to regain, as opposed to fighting in order to maintain. This modern disposition draws central concern away from the food going into one's mouth and towards the words coming out of everyone else's; the burden of shelter succumbs to that of judgement. I suppose it seems somewhat necessary at this point to mention my unadulterated love for Walter Hill, though I do take great pride in my ability to allow a film to stand on it's own merits. That said, this remains successful due to not only the efforts of Hill, but everybody involved, many of whom were thought to have long fallen from the graces of good cinema. The irony here is not that after the accolades I have bestowed upon Undisputed for pulling away from "tournament-fight movies", the two sequels go ahead and beat the shit out of the franchise, pummelling it right back into that overcrowded mix. Nope. Rather, the real irony here is that I actually like both of those movies better. Here we have that very rare series in which each subsequent chapter surpasses the one prior. (Ignoring, of course, genre preference.) That remains a diatribe for another day; suffice it to say, there was indeed a mystery substance that I blissfully saw coming from a mile away.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

FREDDY VS. JASON

Director - Ronny Yu
Starring - Monica Keena, Kelly Rowland, Jason Ritter, Christopher George Marquette, Lochlyn Munro, Katherine Isabelle, Robert Englund, Ken Kirzinger

This is the movie I was born to write. Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees were more of a father to me than my own father ever was, and I really should have found some ambition in order to repay the love that was doled out during my developmental years. Considering that I acquiesced to my apathy, special care is necessitated in separating my distastes for this film between biases and cinematic incompetence. Not that I disliked everything about Freddy Vs. Jason mind you, but the nuggets of gold that I did discover sure were buried deep. The fact remains that there was probably no chance that any Freddy Vs. Jason could have lived up to the 12 hour epic that repeatedly played itself in the theater of my imagination since the age of 7. (I still "watch" that one every now and again...) Now that the "Bout of Franchise Clout" has finally come to fruition, and with my hopes firmly nestled amongst the clouds, I can't help but feel average amounts of disappointment. Not surprising, but a much more agreeable outcome than the massive disappointment that could have resulted.


Topping the list of problems would have to be the overall writing. I realize the challenges posed in attempting to tie together years of source material, all the while appeasing a legion of fanatical followers, but that is exactly why meticulous attention needed to be exercised to insure equal respect for our heroes. By allowing Freddy a voice over at the outset of the film, he quickly takes on a more antagonistic role than Jason, who in turn becomes somewhat "backseat" material. I do understand this was probably the much easier route to go: Jason's character is, in many ways, a lack of character. It is a decision, however, that is accompanied by the risk of scorning those of us who remain loyal to both camps. This indiscretion may have been forgiven were it an isolated incident and not the film's seemingly general consensus. Picture, if you will, my excitement rebuilding as Freddy's voice over opens into a montage of past A Nightmare on Elm Street exploits; immediately, I was whisked back to my days of youthful viewing, when every horror sequel opened with a sequence of their here-to-fore greatest scares and kills. They were a reminder to grinning children everywhere not only of the heights of their achievements, but also that to which they aspire to overcome. As I patiently awaited Jason's turn, something began to darkly dawn on me: Jason wasn't getting one. Somebody with some influence decided it wasn't warranted. Rather, they opted to shoot some newly generic stalk and slash footage and crown it with a lame P.O.V. montage of some random counselors. What the hell? Was there no work-around here? The most likely answer would seem to be that the people who own the rights and the people who offered the monies do not play well together, even with Sean S. Cunningham's producing power. The result comes across as a predilection towards glove over hockey mask. These preferences reassert themselves in the number of scenes that strictly involve Freddy's interaction with the kids, namely his four big "dream scares", with nary a Jason in sight. Wes Craven, who takes one of four writing credits, and his cadre of lackeys even manage to rip-off the old Nightmare series much more often than the old Friday series. I don't know who you pissed off on the playground Cunningham, but your baby sure got the short end of that stick. Perhaps you and Craven arm-wrestled for exposure...


Nevertheless, if the Academy Awards have taught us anything, it's not about quantity of screen time as much as it is quality of screen time. Said screen time being pretty damn mediocre. I'll be the first to acknowledge that a lot of the actual close-up blood spurting looked quite pleasing, taking full advantage of the colours and sounds of arterial spray. The causal attacks however, despite being competently constructed, lacked any real innovation or flare. In my humble opinion, the best kill in the film is early on, never a good sign for a slasher flick, when Jason folds Blake backwards. Pretty cool. Somewhat cooler when I saw it in Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives, though. I've seen Jason impale a mid-coital couple. I've seen Freddy etch his message in the flesh of his victim. I've seen beheadings, electrocution, and blood thrown from off screen. Slasher sequel kills demand to be progressive not repetitive. When the creative think-tank do eventually veer away from the financial sprucing up of kills of yore, what do they come up with to sate my voracious appetite? That ridiculous Carroll-esque Freddy-pillar. Fucking weak. Despite parlaying itself into a decent, and still reminiscent, cleaved torso...


Regarding the championship rounds, I wasn't nearly as unsettled as when the duo were destroying anyone else. (Please do not construe this as being "fully satisfied".) I was adequately entertained by Freddy's MMA infused fighting style; it's just a shame that it was continuously overshadowed by rapidly-edited-action-movie-trickery. The most successful moments in the film are during it's simplicity; just the two main attractions on screen, slashing away at each other, utilizing each others' weapons/limbs. Unfortunately, their mere 2 confrontations severely limit this gleeful evisceration. What the film makers failed to understand is that we've got ourselves a "4 confrontation minimum" situation, and they should probably count themselves lucky that I don't insist on 8 or 9...Of course, following these idealistic guidelines would have meant sacrificing the screen time of some of the other 10 "characters".


In a perfect world, a movie like this would really only have two (obviously) developed characters, and a whole ton of nondescript, conventional, stock teenagers who only serve the purpose of slaughter. Alas, this is not the standard of cinematic story lines and popcorn flicks are forced to offer up a couple of empathetic personalities. In this particular case, it would seem as though too many male actors were promised roles and had to be accommodated. Freddy Vs. Jason stacks itself with a wide array of likeable character-actors, only to spread itself so thin that it fails to spend any real constructive time with a single one. Wisely hinging on perennial horror charmer Monica Keena, the flick commits to the three lead females in the beginning, (under-utilizing another adorable genre fave, Katherine Isabelle,) and then cycles through male after male trying to divvy up the screen time equally. When Linderman chimes in with "He's the real Jason" mere moments after hearing the legend for the very first time, I felt not a sense of Linderman's conviction, rather an understanding of the notion that his character hasn't said anything in a while. From Trey and Blake, to Will and Mark (and the baggage of his brother), to Linderman, to Stubbs, to Mr. Campbell, the film has overdosed, offering no individual any real quantity or quality simply because it's too damn busy. Adding insult to injury, viewers are then subjected to one of the greatest "character tragedies" in recent memory with the so-blatant-it's-ballsy rip-off of Kevin Smith's "Jay". Unbelievably, all those involved thought that nobody would notice, or that teens in the know would be too amused by his "stoner" antics to care. Insulting? Probably. Infuriating? Definitely.


Freddy Vs. Jason would have benefited from keeping it's characters at one end of the spectrum or the other. Characters who are richly developed, genuinely intriguing, or plain old funny are just as sought after as in other genres, and I'm inclined to believe have a fairly comparable success rate. Otherwise, just be contented with a single-note stereotype; give the guy a football, or a textbook, or a tie-dyed shirt, or what have you, and toss him on a harpoon, or under a lawnmower, or in a thresher, or what have you. If not, you just end up wasting precious Freddy and/or Jason time.


The question that then begs to be asked is which came first; the expansive cast list, or the erratic, unfocused story, and the subsequent plot holes that follow? The most grievous error comes when the predetermined mythology gets altered, seemingly in an effort to placate the "new breed" of horror fans, leaving us old schoolers balking at the change. Jason afraid of water? Not in my day... The very introduction of this preposterous notion directly contradicts a large of number of kills from the original Friday series in which Jason voluntarily submerges himself. If the powers that be think I'm going to convince myself that the ultra sweet "spear-gun-to-the-groin" of Friday the 13th Part III was nothing more than a dream, then they can suck my dick. Oh, I'm sorry... it's implied that Jason is afraid of running water; well, given that he drowned in a lake as opposed to a bathtub, that New Line of reasoning is equally flimsy. (...And don't cite Jason Takes Manhattan as a means of defense, because that climax is just as ridiculous.)


That said, I did get a kick out of the hypnocil tie-in to Nightmare III; pity that it served only the purpose of shuffling the action around to a couple of different locations. The kids all make their way to the clinic to retrieve the drug, but what was the real motivation behind that escapade? A couple of issues pertaining to the errant thread of Lori's father are addressed, and the gang emerges with a subdued Jason, a plot driver that could have taken place anywhere. Inspecting closer, the true mystery becomes how Jason arrived at Weston Hills so quickly. Either he's a very brisk jogger, or he was soaking up some hospital atmosphere prior to their arrival.


Sloppy construction runs rampant through the unfolding, reinforcing the theory of the film's general distraction, all the while wrenching the viewer from the minimal amounts of immersion they have struggled to establish thus far. What group of teenagers would bear witness to the slaughter-fest at the barn party, flee by the skin of their teeth, then opt to simply go home? Does a good nights rest take precedence over discussing the homicidal maniacs seemingly hellbent on your destruction? Was someone less fearful of being hacked to pieces than they were of missing "Pancake Sunday"? I find it very disconcerting to be removed from a film as a result of crumbling verisimilitude.


There are many fingers of blame to point around here, the difficult task lying in the rigidity of each one. Surely the writers and producers deserve a stiff one, but my index gets a little shaky when trained on Ronny Yu. He seems to be more guilty of not learning from his Asian directing forefathers then he does of being the commanding presence behind this movie. After building a respectable career in Hong Kong combining a mixture of favored genres with cultural expression, and culminating in the stunning The Bride With White Hair, he probably imagined his name in bright Hollywood lights and set out for stardom. In the land of opportunity he gets handed a couple of moderately curious projects and told to spruce it up with his own touches. Sure, he's dabbled in horror before, (and Bride of Chucky is a bit more successful than this outing,) but why was he given something like Formula 51 before Fearless? So, Ronny Yu tries his damnedest, hence the kung-fu fights and couple of stylish shots, but his potential comes across stifled. American dreams once again held back by authority. I shudder to imagine the difficulty involved in arguing with a group of high-falutin producers who are convinced that because something worked in one of the original series' it has to work again with more money. Sorry, Ronny...but I'm pretty sure you can cry on the shoulder of Woo...or Hark...or Lam...or any number of similarly situated sympathizers...


In a small way, I too am to blame. Were my self-proclaimed passions truly at the heights that I have declared, why was I not driven to submit my own script? Once again I was thwarted by laziness and denied myself, and the world, the true loving treatment our heroes deserved. Thus I settle; I wade through the muddle on a fairly regimented basis, just to catch those fleeting glimpses of Freddy/Jason slashing away at Jason/Freddy. Even the smallest portions of a realized dream are worth revisiting. On a side note, I'm pitching an ongoing Freddy Vs. Jason Vs. Everyone series if you know anyone who's interested...