Volume 4, Number 06
This Week's Reviews: Jason X, Donnie Darko, National Lampoon's Van Wilder.
This Week's Omissions: Big Fat Liar, Collateral Damage, Rollerball.
Capsule Reviews: The Count of Monte Cristo, A Walk to Remember.
BY: DAVID PERRY
The Friday the 13th had outstayed its welcome nine features ago, and yet producer Sean S. Cunningham continues to make them. Jason X, the first film to drop the Friday the 13th moniker, could be the worst of the bunch, a tough title to get considering how horrid all of the other entries in the series have been.
The main defense of these films is that they are creations set in stone: a deep woods camp, horny camp counselors, some obligatory nudity, and an axe-welding psychopath, anything else is completely unneeded to make a Friday film work for series fans. But Cunningham and his films are nothing compared to the work of Moustapha Akkad (the Halloween series) and Robert Shaye (the A Nightmare on Elm Street series), even though those two producers have created some repugnant entries (Halloween III: Season of the Witch? Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 2: Freddy's Revenge?). I hated the first "Jason" film (a "D" grade, to be exact), and it's the best of the series!
Jason X comes from the same thought process that made Leprechaun 4: In Space and Hellraiser: Bloodline, sending Jason Voorhees to the future. Through cryogenic freezing, the man in the plastic mask (Hodder) is sent to 2455 when Earth has become a wasteland unable to maintain livable conditions for plants or animals. The human race has moved to another planet, Earth 2, and created a civilization that both relinquishes and wonders at its old home.
A group of university students have been brought to Earth 1 to study its current conditions and happen to find the Crystal Lake Research Center, where Jason and a near-victim, young and sexy scientist Rowan (Doig), have been frozen. Though Rowan is savable, they believe the miniscule mind and condition of Jason's cadaver make his resuscitation impossible. They, as everyone in the audience expects, are wrong.
The idea that a horror film can work in space has been proven with Ridley Scott's Alien, but the route Jason X goes in makes for ridiculous and redundant cinema. Even those who love the series and its dedication to the Friday the 13th clichés will be disappointed by the film's lack of much of the old ambiance. The iconoclastic steel of the film's spaceship is nothing compared to the murky fog of Crystal Lake. Hell, the Manhattan of the eighth entry was more akin to the Jason atmosphere than that of Jason X.
Many may want to see this film because of its much publicized (at least considering the little press this film has gotten) recreation of Jason's signature suit. If spiffying up something that is already deviant enough with a less frightening metallic gleam is called a step-up, than the new Jason might be considered a success. However, any normal glance would equate this new suit to Michael Myers trashing his William Shatner mask for a Jimmy Carter disguise.
Acting has never been a high point in these films, with only Kane Hodder standing as the most recognizable name in the series. With Hodder's supposedly increasing creative control on the productions, Jason X feels like a star vehicle without the star. The Jason of Jason X is the antithesis of the first film (even if he was not around for that one): where the scarier version kept the killer unseen and therefore more upsetting, this new version is tailor-made to scoff at the camera with emotionless eyes. It's alarming that Hodder presents himself as the ultimate Jason (as the film, probably at his request, credits him: über-Jason) when he is playing a role that literally only needs a tall man with a poor disposition to play the part. Hooder has been behind the hockey mask four times, but nearly any stunt coordinator (the occupation by which Hodder got the job) would and could happily play the role with little discernable difference in the performance.
The last film, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday,
was supposed to be the ending of the pain and anguish that comes with the release of new Friday
the 13th films. Unfortunately, Jason X proves that once again that a title
with closure like Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Freddy's Dead: The
Final Nightmare mostly bear more progeny. The difference is that Star Trek V
and Freddy's Dead both spawned superior sequels, while Jason X only
reminds us that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is still without a next
BY: DAVID PERRY
In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse-Five, the protagonist Billy Pilgrim meets an alien race from Tralfamadore who can see a lifespan in the form of a line moving from the entity's beginning to its end. This view, called the fourth dimension by the Talfamadorians, allows them to piece together every part of a life and know the past, present, and future of all living things.
Director Richard Kelly seems to be a devotee to the Vonnegut story, piecing his first film, Donnie Darko, into a story that defies much of the three-dimensional boundaries set in stone by the modern living. As the film slowly peels away its story of Darko and his suburban milieu, the audience can easily imagine a future that could involve marrying a woman like Valencia Merble and a 1976 demise similar to Billy Pilgrim's. Even the character of Kilgore Trout and his sci-fi writings have been recreated in an absentee old lady called Grandma Death (Cleveland) who wrote a book on time-travel.
Donnie Darko (Gyllenhaal), of course, is not Billy Pilgrim in many ways -- the setting has left World War II and moved into the Reagan era and Valencia Merble has become a more likable youngster named Gretchen Ross (Malone). Darko is a dark young man whose actions have frightened his parents into sending him to a psychiatrist (Ross) and pushing him on medication for his mental condition. Donnie, of course, is distraught by his parents' ineffectualness for his feelings, especially in his mother (McDonnell), who tries desperately to relate to her son.
Set in October 1988 (the Bush-Dukakis election remains a constant background story), the film delves into Donnie's belief that the world has only 28 days left before destruction. A six-foot rabbit with a skeleton mask named Frank has told him this and he is intent on making sure he can understand as much as possible about the world and correct a few problems before the 28th day. This involves everything from a budding romance with Gretchen, an obsessively doting teacher (Grant), and a pretentious local self-help guru (Swayze). There are many Holden Cauffield phonies roaming around this suburban sprawl and it is Donnie Darko's task to put them in their place before the world ends.
Calamity serves as a major device in the film with equal attention set upon time-travel and the Tralfamadorian ability to look across one's life like looking across a timeline in a book. Richard Kelly's film works on many levels to produce a satisfactory tale of sadness and resolve in a misbegotten mind. Rarely do films come along that yearn to not only entertain on a simple level, but also painstakingly pit the characters in worlds not necessarily farcical, but not too realistic either.
The film's dark side will remind many filmgoers of American Beauty, though Kelly's resolve to turn the film to absurdness at times may hearken a little closer to Being John Malkovich. This is a movie where the downtrodden appeal serves a greater service to the surrealism than the melodrama.
Richard Kelly was 13 when this film takes place, and his own feelings on the time come to life in his protagonist. Pushing many signs of the times as well as the political midsection evolving in Middle America (the Darko family is highly republican, creating tension when the eldest daughter proclaims her support of Michael Dukakis) and a devotion to figures of the period (Drew Barrymore and Patrick Swayze serve as reminders of the era and the way their careers, much like America, has changed in just thirteen years), Kelly creates a period drama that could play just as easily beside a movie like Better Off Dead as it could beside other short-distance period films like Dazed and Confused.
Jake Gyllenhaal, last seen unbecomingly in Bubble Boy, serves the role incredibly well. While this is not a performance comparable to Wes Bentley's jaw-dropping Ricky Fitts in American Beauty, Gyllenhaal provides just enough slack-jawed pessimism with bright eyes to keep the film's central statement from ever feeling heavy-handed. Most of the supporting players do a good job with Gyllenhaal, though he is definitely the eye of the storm for the film and proves that he might just have the fine career that seemed doubtful following the saccharine filled October Sky a couple years ago.
But the real up-and-comer in this film is Richard Kelly,
who takes his first film beyond the expectations many had for the USC graduate. The
director still has some issues with pacing his middle section and relating emotions
without repetition, but as a visual artist Kelly seems as talented as recent first-timers
this year including Alejandro González Iñárritu, Henry Bromell, John Cameron Mitchell,
and Todd Field. Something tells me that a Tralfamadorian glance at Kelly's career will
bear some incredible movies for the rest of his time on this Earth.
Keeble's Big Move
|National Lampoon's Van
BY: DAVID PERRY
"Life must be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."
Sure, I could simply say that I was somehow pushed to evoke Søren Kierkegaard in a review of a National Lampoon, film where philosophy comes from Jim Belushi and the study of the id is only found in a cartoon in the comics section of the newspaper, but the truth is that I had to rack my brain for the most pretentious thing I could place in a film that is as uncreative and lacking of any background pretext that going without a little existentialism felt like slighting this review.
Everyone remembers the old kids at college. For every person on the four-year plan, there's that fellow dorm dweller who seems to be on the six- or seven-year plan. These people are often maligned behind their backs because they seem stuck in an elder universe, dismally trying to keep up with the kids and their shenanigans.
But Van Wilder (Reynolds) is not that burdened (or burdening, depending on your point-of-view) elder in the dorms -- as the film bearing his name strives to convince the audience that he hasn't lost his youthfulness, nearly everyone in the university he attends wallows at his feet for his attention.
Wilder is in his seventh year and not yet willing to cut ties with his alma mater, even though he is still within a semester of graduation. He pretty much controls the place, allowing everyone to find their routes via his work on fundraising, philanthropy, and party throwing. Even the fraternity of geeks finds that through his efforts, they too can get women.
Van Wilder's intent on remaining in school is dampened when school paper reporter Gwen (Reid) begins to follow him for an interview. Her editor (Scott) is sure that there is an important exposé in the Wilder story and pushes her to get as much information about him as possible, much to the chagrin of her sadistic, foppish boyfriend Richard (Cosgrove), the deviant president of the SGA and of the Delta Iota Kappa fraternity (or DIK for short).
As time goes by, Van begins to have feelings for Gwen and soon begins a feud with Richard over her. Gross-out comedy ensues and the audience sits silently. While other gross-out films like There's Something About Mary and Shallow Hal worked through their veil of romanticism, National Lampoon's Van Wilder (formerly known as Van Wilder: Party Liaison) completely disregards much of its sentiment for vignettes involving everything from a sex-hungry octogenarian to dog semen.
The film is built around the comedy of Ryan Reynolds, himself a foppish gent, who evidently yearns to turn his smalltime career (he's best known for his roles as the gay teenager in the Fifteen and one-third of the cast of Two Guys and a Girl) into a retread of Adam Sandler's career. His obnoxious escapades would have fit in with nearly anything found in Billy Madison with moments veering into a college version of Ferris Beuller's Day Off.
The last respectable film out of the National Lampoon label
was 1989's Christmas Vacation. Since then, the company has made forgettable
low-budget films ranging from Men in White to Vegas Vacation to The
Don's Analyst. National Lampoon's Van Wilder could be the worst thing to
come out of National Lampoon since Class Reunion -- and, trust me, there have
been some really bad Lampoon films since 1982. Based upon this, I cannot doubt that the
Broken Lizard group might one-up them with their Super Troopers. Hell, even les
directeurs de sibling incompetents have made better films.
Capsule Reviews: Since things are backlogged and there happens to be two spots in this week's lineup, I have decided to use capsule reviews for The Count of Monte Cristo and A Walk to Remember (plus, they were not viewed in a theatre). Though, as I said in the last capsule review column, these would be better suited if they were called "Flippant Remarks."
|The Count of Monte Cristo
(Dir: Kevin Reynolds, Starring Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris, James Frain, Dagmara Dominczyk, Luis Guzmán, and Michael Wincott)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Quick and easy version of Alexandre Dumas' The Count of
Monte Cristo, about a betrayed Frenchman coming back for retaliation in the guise of
an aristocrat, delivers some animation to an ostensibly stuffy movie. Outside of the
film's often flaccid third act, the movie runs briskly and culminates in a swashbuckling
finale that Dumas might have appreciated. Not a perfect telling of the story, but a
respectable one nonetheless.
|A Walk to Remember
(Dir: Adam Shankman, Starring Shane West, Mandy Moore, Peter Coyote, Daryl Hannah, Lauren German, and Al Thompson)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Shane West smirks and Mandy Moore gushes in this adaptation
from a soapy Nicholas Sparks novel. The first two acts are bad, but the last eight minutes
stand as the worst climax of the year. As hard as this may be to believe, Here on
Earth, a surprisingly similar teen drama, was a better film.
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