Monthly Archives: April 2009

Friday the 13th (2009)

Without meaning to, I let a good two months slip by before I finally saw the Friday the 13th remake. And when I did see it this weekend at the dollar theater, it was by myself and a little bit creepy. I mean, not the movie, which was every bit the traditional slasher flick. No, it was the theater crowd. Five minutes before the movie started, there were four men scattered in various parts of the non-stadium theater with decaying seats. It was starting to feel like I imagine a porn theater did, back when those were still around. But yay, some people finally came in together, even a woman in one case. And thus the day was saved and I was able to focus on the plot.

Basically, this is a reimagined Friday the 13th Part 2, after a straight port of the original movie was covered in black and white flashbacks prior to the title screen.[1] The reimaginings are a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s pretty smart to have the new victims not be a batch of camp counselors come to reopen Crystal Lake a few years after a series of brutal murders. Because, that would never happen, right? Much less four times in a row as in the original series. On the other hand, it’s strange to have an explicit hero character in Jared Padalecki[2], roaming town and environs in search of his missing sister. One of the brilliances of the Friday the 13th series was that the characters were almost always on an equal footing going in, such that there was no way to guess who might live.[3]

The important part, though, is that they waste no time getting to the action, which follows the formula almost to a tee. A large number of TV-recognizable[4] young people in the woods who take drugs and engage in premarital sex are punished by a deformed, avenging spirit with a machete. Do heads roll? Are pokers shoved through faces? Are feet liberally stabbed? Are minorities slightly more likely doomed than everyone else? Yep, it’s a slasher movie. 14 bodies. 6 breasts. Drive-in Academy Award nomination to Julianna Guill for flirting so hard with the Asian kid that she literally burned his lip and then having the grace to be hung from a pair of antlers in penance, and also for her “spectacular” talents.

[1] Not that it matters one way or the other, but I’m almost surprised they didn’t take the color out of the original’s footage and use that, instead of filming their own version. They added some new footage right at the end, sure, but it still could have been done.
[2] That guy from Supernatural. Yeah, that one.
[3] Caveat: the We Have Seen Your Breasts, You Must Therefore Die rule was of course always in effect.
[4] Sam Winchester[2], Dick Casablancas, Kira the Bajoran (not technically young, her), and a handful of others from shows I don’t watch.

Ex Machina: Power Down

Even though Power Down had been published for more than a year by the time I read and reviewed Smoke, Smoke, it feels as though the creative team saw my pacing and thematic concerns and leapt to address them. Which is not to say that the latest Ex Machina suddenly revealed all kinds of backstory thusfar unbeknownst even to Mayor Mitchell Hundred about how he acquired his power over all things mechanical. The story has only just reached its midpoint, after all. But with new rumors of the (still potentially alien) forces behind Hundred’s powers, not to mention transdimensional Communism, it’s pretty clear that the writers have finally and explicitly acknowledged there’s a lot more going on here than simple politics with a superheroic twist. And all this fails to even address the continued interior sabotage of Hundred’s political career, or the sinister truth behind New York’s 2003 blackout and its effect on The Great Machine. So, don’t give up just yet!

Ultimate Spider-Man: Hollywood

I’m officially a broken record. All the same, the Ultimate Spider-Man series continues to impress. You really wouldn’t think that another fight with Doctor Octopus would be all that much of a much, but where Hollywood shines is in all the gaps and cracks getting filled in with juicy, delicious plot. And also, in this case, heaping doses of meta-humor. Because, you see, there’s a certain movie about a certain urban superhero, filmed by a certain Sam Raimi and starring a certain Tobey Maguire. And it’s being filmed in Manhattan without the permission of or payments to a certain Peter Parker.[1] As if that (and let us not forget Doc Ock) wasn’t enough, longtime Parker houseguest Gwen Stacy reaches a critical turning point!

[1] I think that said movie, in reality, was one of the inspiring forces behind the Ultimate universe reboot of Marveldom in the first place. Which takes the metaness to a whole new level.

Ultimate X-Men: Cry Wolf

I am really ambivalent about my latest X-Men, Cry Wolf. On the one hand, it was a good story that hung together well and shifted around several of the character elements in new ways, such that I am looking forward to what comes next. Also, unlike the last time he showed up, Gambit got a proper introduction and seemed like a real person. Which is good, because he’s apparently a favorite, but I don’t really know of him from anywhere but these books.

But on the other hand, too many of the events seemed forced for the sake of hitting key plot points from the original run. It’s all good and well for there to be a triangle between Bobby Drake and Kitty Pryde and Rogue, but build it up a little bit, yeah? I’ll care more if it doesn’t seem to be performed by rote. I’m willing to reserve judgment on the Fenris Corporation, as I assume they’ll be relevant later and this wasn’t just a whirlwind but ultimately pointless mention.

(I’m not leaving out the actual plot on purpose, it’s just that it was a hanger for the character interactions and changes, and thus seems less important than the other stuff I talked about.)

Millennium Falcon

I’m not entirely sure why I bother to review Star Wars books at this point, except that it’s expected of me to review everything. It’s just, the context is pretty small, or something. Nonetheless, I’ve typed this much, so I may as well finish up! Millennium Falcon performs a few duties for the Extended Universe. Primarily, it puts together a history of one of the most famous starships in science fiction from before the days when Han Solo owned her (starting with a fairly cheesy Christine-on-the-assembly-line homage and, thankfully, improving from there). Secondarily, it provides a plot hook for a treasure hunt, and then places the Solo family on that hunt as a way to heal some of the still painful wounds brought about by the most recent Sith assault on the galaxy. Lastly, and probably most importantly to the ongoing storylines, it sets up the newest political threat to the Jedi Order, albeit behind the scenes and in throwaway moments.

The book itself was good but not great. I can’t really recommend it as a standalone, and if you weren’t planning to read it in that sense, you probably will regardless of anything I say on the topic. But the secondary characters were all pretty decent, and the stories-within-the-story format reminds me a lot of World War Z.

Adventureland

Have you noticed how practically everything that’s going on in Hollywood in the past three or four years isn’t more than a degree of separation from Freaks and Geeks? Which was a short-lived NBC coming of age drama, in case you entirely failed to be aware of it. But then I doubt you’d have noticed this new thing. I’ll tell you who has, though: Terry Gross, that chick from Fresh Air.

The latest such endeavour connected to a failed-but-brilliant decade-old high school show is Adventureland, a nearly perfect fusion of coming of age drama and romantic comedy in which a kid whose failure to be Michael Cera I could only rarely get past loses his chance to explore Europe and find himself in the summer of 1987 between college and grad school, when his father runs into an economic downturn. Instead, he comes home to Pittsburgh and takes a job at the local amusement park. Hijinks as well as self-finding ensue.

There are two things that make the movie better than it has any right to be. The first and more universally applicable is that the characters are so fully realized. Lots of them are annoying as all get out, but even the ones for whom the audience feels little or no sympathy are still completely believable, with nary a caricature to be found. And the main characters are as flawed, sympathetic, and nuanced as you could really ask for. (Particularly Ryan Reynold’s lothario of a maintenance man, who could easily have been one-dimensional with little to no quality drop-off for the film.) And the second thing is that the female lead hits all of my buttons for The Right Girl.[1] I know a movie can only give a cursory character study at best, but, yeah.

If you’re wondering why I’m leaving the Not Michael Cera guy out of this review? It’s mostly because I don’t want to spoil the experience of him.

[1] Also, I am not alone in this assessment, though this is not the first time Ryan and I have agreed on such things.

Knowing

Nicolas Cage, right? Right?![1] So, he’s an astrophysicist, and his son comes into possession of a sheet of paper full of numbers. Said numbers have been locked in a time capsule for the past fifty years, but they also have predicted every major disaster worldwide over that period. And now that there are only a few numbers left on the list, Nic has a few mysteries to solve. Plus some overacting to perform, including some seriously iffy drunkenness that I actually know he’s capable of in other circumstances. And an out-of-place religious subplot to adhere to.

It’s not that Knowing was actively bad. It had a pretty decent hook, above-average effects, and a whole lot of angel-seeming dudes that all looked like Spike.[2] It’s just that the iffyness sticks out in my head far more, after the fact, than the upsides did. Also, the conclusion was a bizarre departure from the rest of the movie. It’s not really that I can say it contradicted the rest, there were just too many genres for one movie. Someone, somewhere, is far more pretentiously impressed with this movie than they have any real right to be.

[1] I really, really wish I had it in me to stop the review right there, including not having added this footnote.
[2] Said confluence of role and appearance leads to a pop-culture pun which pleases me to no end.

Louisiana Power & Light

I’m in a book club. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. As with all book clubs above a certain mayfly-like age, it has died an inglorious death, somewhere in the middle of the first book.[1] But I can say with pride that I did not contribute to that death. Yay! The book selected was one of those modern fictions in the sense that it was published since the middle of the last century and doesn’t have a particular sub-genre, but not in the sense that it was designed solely to fill me with rage. Which does make it rather a stand-out, and I’m glad someone put me onto it!

Unfortunately, the lack of genre convention makes it hard for me to describe Louisiana Power & Light without jumping right into spoiler territory. But I can at least minimize, one supposes. In 1970s small-town Louisiana, everyone is in everyone else’s business; in that sense, it reminds me a lot of some of Stephen King’s work, except with thoroughly Southern rather than Yankee sensibilities. The focal point of everyone’s attention for the previous century, though, has been the Fontana family, who all but literally crawled out of the swamp decades ago and have since brought forth a multitude of only male children who have, one by one, been brought down by tragicomic fates; in short, the very stuff of which local legends are made. But now, orphaned Billy Wayne Fontana, being raised by nuns who are grooming him for a life in the seminary, is the only one left.

And, that, ultimately, is what the whole book is about. The town has a collective narration, and that collective is primarily concerned with Billy Wayne’s outcome and offspring. It shifts rapidly between sympathetic and judgmental, ready for the Fontanas to finally stop blighting the locality with misery and failure at every moment and yet gleefully ready to recount hundreds of stories about minor setbacks and major tragedies wrought by his family’s history. And certainly the individual characters are equally concerned with his ultimate fate, though in different and often kinder ways. Untangling the motivations of the collective narrator and sifting fact from wishful thinking is a delight, though I admittedly always groove on untrustworthy narration, and the uniquely Southern digressions are one of the few things I miss in my mostly genre-fiction bookshelves. It’s just, people here really do talk and act like this, even at the very edge of the South, and it always amuses me to see someone capture it. But the very best parts of the book are the moments when Billy Wayne Fontana (and especially his younger son, who I deem not a spoiler since he’s mentioned pre-emptively in the prologue) notices and tries to act upon his own fate, instead of just floating like a ragdoll toward the inevitable thunderous waterfall just around the bend; because when that happens, the narrator is finally at a loss and we get brief glimpses of what the Fontanas really are. Legends have their place, but a dose of truth makes the legend that much sweeter, I figure.

[1] I acknowledge that many book clubs make it as far as the middle of the second book.