Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Friday the 13th - Ranked

When I agreed to cover the fourth Friday the 13th movie (The Final Chapter) for the Midwest Film Journal, I decided to rewatch the entire series. And that felt like a lot of work to write just one article, so I decided come up with my ranking of the series. So here they are, with this caveat:

This is not a list determining the quality of these films. Instead, I’m ranking them based on my personal enjoyment of each film and the rewatchability of each film. Hopefully, you read this paragraph before skimming the list, because otherwise you’ll be wondering how in the fuck I could rank Jason X above the first two films in the series. For the record, I think the first two films are straight up better than Jason X, but I’m much more likely to rewatch Jason X than the first two movies. To quote Dwight Yoakum in Sling Blade: “I ain’t saying it’s right, I’m just telling the damn truth.” Finally, I do want to point out that I enjoy the entire series, and while I might trash a few films, there’s still something in each film that I love.

12. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday - This was actually one of the first Jason movies I can remember seeing since it came out when I was nine. Not that nine-year-olds should be watching this shit, but in the nineties in my world it was pretty normal for kids my age to watch Freddy and Jason movies. Anyway, I remember finding it quite effective back then. But re-watching it along with the rest of the series, I fucking hated it this time. Oddly enough, the music was a big factor. The score, even though it’s done by series regular Harry Manfredini, is some cheap sounding straight-to-video shit. Then factor in that Jason is possessing people throughout the film and is barely seen in his traditional garb, and you have some real trash. I’m not against the film attempting to expand on the mythology of Jason because at this point in the series, they had to do something. But this just felt half-assed all around.

Favorite Kill - The lady getting split in half in the tent is pretty fucking gnarly.

11. Friday the 13th (2009) - There’s nothing really wrong with this reboot. It’s not as fun as I wanted it to be, despite some of the humor courtesy of the over-the-top dickhead frat guy character. It’s just unnecessary, in my opinion. There was a time for Friday the 13th movies, and that was mainly the ‘80s. Only the even-more-high-concept-than-usual entries like Jason X and Freddy vs. Jason work beyond the ‘80s.

Favorite Kill - I dig the early kills, especially the one involving the sleeping bag and Ginsberg from Mad Men getting killed, but I have to go with the arrow through the eye of the dude driving the boat. When I first watched it, I thought it was pretty fucking stupid, and upon rewatching it, it still is, but it amused me this time.

10. Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning - I get that they were wanting to go in a new direction and move beyond the same Jason, but the reveal that Jason was a copycat is just fucking lame. The townspeople, especially the deep South (even though Crystal Lake is in New Jersey?) mother and son, keep the film entertaining. 

Favorite Kill - I’m not sure any of these kills should even count since it’s not really Jason doing any of them...but if I have to pick, I’ll go with the dipshit son on the moped just because his screaming coupled with the moped was so fucking annoying that I just wanted it to stop, and thankfully it did with his decapitation. 

9. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan - I thought I loved this movie. I think it was the first Friday I watched as a child, and it had a strong effect on me. Much like with Jason Goes to Hell, watching it again years later, I understand the hatred the movie gets. It’s dumb as shit, even by Friday the 13th standards. But I still like it for its complete disregard for making any kind of sense. How does a boat from Crystal Lake end up in the Atlantic Ocean? Why is a tiny senior class taking an entire cruise ship for a class trip? Why does the city of New York flush their sewers with toxic waste each night? This movie asks to just fucking go with it, and I admire it for that.

Favorite Kill - For some reason, the sauna rock kill stayed with me for years, but upon rewatching it, the boxing kill on the rooftop is fucking awesome simply for how long they let the victim punch Jason just to get his head literally knocked off with one punch.

8. Friday the 13th - I know, I know. How could the film that started it off be so low on the list? As I stated at the beginning, this list is about my personal favorite films that I enjoy and will possibly rewatch. I appreciate everything this film started, but when I watch it, it feels like some obligatory assignment. I didn’t grow up with it, so there’s no nostalgia factor for me. When I watch the Friday series I mainly want to see Jason Voorhees in a hockey mask fucking people up. This is a good movie, but it’s not a Jason movie.

Favorite Kill - Of course I have to go with Kevin Bacon getting the arrow through the throat.

7. Friday the 13th Part II - Just apply everything I wrote about the original to this film, as well. At least it is Jason doing the killing this time, but still no hockey mask yet. It’s still a good movie, but I enjoy the later entries more.

Favorite Kill - The bed impalement is probably the most famous, but I have to go with the machete to the face of Mark, mainly for the tumble he takes down the stairs afterwards.

6. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood - I blame Stephen King (Carrie, Firestarter) for the weird telekinetic trend in horror during this time, and that aspect keeps this from being in my top three. Otherwise, it’s a totally solid, proper Jason movie, though oddly lacking in gore. He’s fully supernatural at this point, and this movie is an example of what I think a Friday the 13th movie should be. 

Favorite Kill - The original sleeping bag kill is my favorite for the entire series. It’s the perfect blend of brutality and humor that came to define the franchise.

5. Freddy vs. Jason - I fucking loved this movie when it first came out. Revisiting it, it doesn’t hold up as well as I remember, but it’s still a lot of fun. It never takes itself too seriously (how could it?), and it features some interesting kills. I’m with the bulk of the fans on some issues (not casting Kane Hodder and making Jason afraid of water come to mind), but overall this is one of the most rewatchable films in the series for me.

Favorite Kill - The dude getting bent in half in the bed is pretty sweet.

4. Jason X - Okay, having this entry here will make a lot of fans stop reading, and I get it. But this movie is self-aware of how fucking stupid it is, and that’s why it works for me. Hats off to the filmmakers for somehow coming up with a reason to get Jason into outer space. There are some legit good kills in this one, and I fucking love the sleeping bag kill callback. And it’s nice to see that young people are still uncontrollably horny around Jason, even four and a half centuries into the future.

Favorite Kill - The frozen face smash is awesome, but I have to go with the sleeping bag recreation in the VR game. It took a classic kill from The New Blood and made it a good way. 

3. Friday the 13th Part III - Not only was this the film that finally gave Jason his mask, it also started the trend of leaning a bit more into humor and camp (pun intended) in the series. Jason feels a bit more imposing this time, though he’s still just a human, for the most part. 

Favorite Kill - The kills are mostly 3D gimmicks that seem pretty silly when you watch it in 2D, but there’s still some good stuff here. My favorite is the spear gun, mainly because of how nonchalant Jason is during the entire kill. It’s like he’s just taking out the garbage...which, to him, I guess is the case.

2. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter - I linked to my full length article about this film at the top of the page, so my complete thoughts on the film are there. But the short version is this: I consider The Final Chapter to be the best movie in the series (though not the most enjoyable, hence it’s second place status). It is the bridge between human and monster Jason, and it’s a great mix of horror and comedy. For anyone who dislikes the supernatural element that the later films embraced, this is the film for them.

Favorite Kill - There are so many to choose from for this movie. I really like Crispin Glover’s death, and the lady getting thrown out of the window, and Jason’s “death,” but I have to go with the harpoon to the dick. It’s just such a subtle kill in a franchise that seems to punish horniness. 

1. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives - This is the one where they finally said, “Fuck it” and went full Frankenstein’s monster with Jason, and I love it. I’m always slightly annoyed by slasher movies that make the killer superhuman even though it’s just some dude a lot of the time. The previous films were definitely setting up the fact that Jason was more than just a regular human, but this movie made no mistake. Once that lightning hits him, it’s a new Jason. It’s the Jason I grew up with. For me, this is the easiest rewatch of the series. And the Alice Cooper tie-in song puts it over the top. I sincerely love that silly song. Jason Lives was such a perfect course correction for fans disappointed by the copycat in Part V. It’s like the fans were saying, “Yeah, we know Jason definitively dies in The Final Chapter, but who fucking cares? Bring him back anyway!” And the makers of Jason Lives did just that, and made the most entertaining film in the series.

Favorite Kill - The whole RV sequence perfectly encapsulates everything I love about the series. It’s brutal, silly, funny, and a genuinely impressive spectacle. What else could you want?

Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Suicide Squad - No Homework Required

Comic book movies and TV shows are very complicated these days. There are multiple universes, reboots, remakes, director’s cuts, and TV shows. It’s hard to keep up with everything, much less follow along. Because of this, a film like The Suicide Squad should be one movie too many due it being a sequel/soft reboot filled with obscure characters that even the dorkiest audience member would have trouble recognizing. Instead, it ends up being the most singularly focused and entertaining comic book movie in years.

The first Suicide Squad was a bit of a mess. It was meant to be an R-rated, subversive response to the Marvel movies, but studio interference turned it into a forgettable PG-13 cog in the machine. When the DC universe failed to equal the popularity, and focus, of the Marvel movies, it appeared that the film would be a one-off. But when Marvel fired writer/director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), DC immediately hired him and told him he could make whatever he wanted; it turned out he wanted to give the Suicide Squad another chance. 

(NOTE: I won’t be writing any major spoilers in this review, but even being vague about certain things may spoil them, as this movie contains a few big surprises.) 

The Suicide Squad is kind of a sequel in that four characters (Amanda Waller, Rick Flag, Captain Boomerang, and Harley Quinn) return, but it’s also a bit of a reboot in that the focus is largeley on new members of the squad, like Idris Elba’s Bloodsport, Daniela Melchior’s Ratcatcher 2, and John Cena’s Peacemaker. Other members and events of the 2016 Squad are not referenced, which is kind of nice because that movie is so forgettable anyway (and I didn’t want to watch it again to prep for this movie).

Because the first film is largely ignored, The Suicide Squad is able to be refreshingly simple, and the tone is changed. The first film was slightly comedic, but overall it was a joyless affair. The Suicide Squad, on the other hand, is pretty much an action comedy. Some of the funniest moments occur between Bloodsport and Peacemaker as they develop a bit of a Gimli and Legolas rivalry during the mission. But the bulk of the humor is due to the self-aware nature of the film. This is a film that features a humanoid weasel and a talking shark (hilariously voiced by Sylvester Stallone); rather than try to come up with some reason for characters like this to exist, the film just makes fun of how ridiculous comic book characters can be. 

Speaking of ridiculous, there’s no need to get into the plot of this film. There’s a truly weird big villain at the end, and it needs to be taken care of. What more does anyone need to know? The story moves at such a fast and carefree pace that you don’t really care about how crazy the characters are or if all of the plot makes perfect sense because it’s simply a fun time. 

Most of the credit is due to James Gunn’s writing and direction (the action is brutal and easy to follow), but the perfect casting all around is key, as well. Idris Elba makes for a great anti-hero because he’s naturally charismatic enough to not be hated for being a jerk. Margot Robbie is now the official face of Harley Quinn and for good reason. Joel Kinnaman gets to have a lot more fun as Rick Flag this time around. Daniela Melchior provides a surprising and much-needed bit of heart to the film. Viola Davis is even more bureaucratically menacing this time around. And John Cena is the revelation of the film. His sincere delivery of silly dialogue is consistently hilarious. 

The cast in general seemed to be enjoying themselves, and that translates to the film. The Squad, flawed and annoying and crazy as some of them may be, is fun to be around. Scenes of them just hanging out are just as entertaining, if not more, than the action set pieces.

Perhaps this new Squad only seems great in comparison to the old one, or perhaps it’s easy to love a comic book movie that doesn’t require research to make sense. Or maybe it’s simply a great James Gunn film. One thing is for sure, The Suicide Squad is one of the only comic book movies in recent memory that I wanted to watch more than once, and not just because it’s a standalone story, separate from any complex “universe.” The Suicide Squad is rewatchable because behind all the gore and dark humor, there are interesting characters. And good characters can always carry a movie, no matter how silly it gets.

Random Thoughts/Favorite Quotes

James Gunn is known for his excellent music choices and the streak continues with this movie. Love the use of “Folsom Prison Blues” to start things off.

Michael Rooker should have to wear that wig in all future roles.

I love how Joel Kinnaman says “Weasel.”

Always cool to see Pibb represented.

“All names are letters, dickhead.”

For the record an Afghan Hound looks nothing like Weasel.

“He’s harmless. I mean he’s not harmless; he’s killed twenty-seven children. know...we got him to...I think...he’s agreed to do this.”

I’m kind of indifferent towards Pete Davidson, but you know Gunn made a lot of people happy by having him get shot in the face less than ten minutes in.

Normally, I’m all for Jai Courtney getting killed off as immediately as possible, but I sincerely enjoy him as Captain Boomerang. He was one of my favorite parts of the first film. I think of him like Gerard Butler: just let the guy speak in his native accent in every role.

The reveal that all the soldiers the Squad kills are actually allies is my favorite twist of the film, but the beginning fake out of the first Squad being a diversion is a close second.

“Who the fuck is Bloodsport?” I love that I have no idea who most of these characters are, and it doesn’t matter. If watching Marvel feels like you have to do enough research to complete a dissertation at this point, then watching The Suicide Squad is the equivalent of forgetting that you had a test on a subject you already know nothing about, so you say “fuck it” and guess on every question. 

“Book read.”

King Shark is “reading” The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James.

Sylvester Stallone doesn’t know he’s in this movie. The filmmakers secretly recorded all his dialogue by just following him in Bowfinger.

Seriously, though, Stallone’s voice acting is hilarious throughout.

“Who knows why mad men do what they do?”

“I can’t believe this thing had a bullet.”

If there’s one lesson to be learned here, it’s “don’t kill birds.”

But seriously, with the birds and the rats, there’s a real message about innocent, natural creatures and the repercussions for those that do them harm.

“Fake mustache.”

I really dig Daniela Melchior as Ratcatcher 2. Her sincere line delivery and nearly comatose energy make her this weird heart of the film.

It kind of sucks that Gunn is going back to Marvel after this. He seems like he should have been with DC the whole time, just doing whatever the fuck he wanted. Oh well, at least we have this movie.

What makes this movie amazing is that halfway through all this crazy shit, there’s a quiet bus ride of character development.

I shouldn’t care about any of these obscure-ass characters, especially since they’re technically supposed to be villains, but I ended up caring more about them than I did in any of the bigger movies of either DC or Marvel. For instance, the party scene in the club is great. It’s funny and endearing (and sad when it cuts to King Shark by himself on the bus), and if they attempted a similar scene with the Justice League or the Avengers it just wouldn’t work. (Aside from the shawarma scene, I can’t think of another scene with either group just hanging out and enjoying themselves for a bit, but I could be wrong.)

I love that a dude named Bloodsport talks about the “Death Touch.” If only Van Damme was playing the guard he said it to…

I don’t want 3-D to make a comeback or anything, but I bet that Harley Quinn flower sequence would look awesome in 3-D.

“All right, who ate all the fucking empanadas?” 

“I am walking back and forth!”

Always good to hear the Pixies in a movie.

Much like Harley Quinn, I forgot about Milton the first time I watched the movie. But upon a second watch, his background involvement is amusing. Here’s this regular-ass dude running along with all these fucking weirdos.

The Thinker’s fucked up lab is right out of Dr. Logan’s in Day of the Dead.

I get the need to kill off nearly everyone from the first film (sort of rebooting the series while also creating real stakes), but it still sucked to see Flag die.

“New dumb friends!”

“Oh, fizzlesticks. Hold on.”

“What was Milton going to do?”

“Get on a satellite, Dale, you fucking dickhead!”

“If they have purpose, then so do we all.”

What a beautiful and disgusting way to kill the monster.

“I was happy, floating, staring at the stars.”


Sunday, August 8, 2021

The Green Knight - A Real Hero

The pandemic stole a lot of movies from us last year, but this one (and Dune) hurt the most for me. The first trailer was atmospheric and intriguing. As someone who taught the “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” short story for years as a teacher, I was excited to see this interpretation because I am always on the lookout for new visions of old works. And while this film does take place in the appropriate time period, that’s where anything resembling a traditional interpretation ends. I’ll be SPOILING the film throughout my review, so before I get into it, I’ll just say that I loved this movie, and it lived up to and surpassed my expectations.

A Real Hero

The Knights of the Round Table stories typically make people think about bigger-than-life heroes and the mythic adventures they went on. One might argue that these stories were a kind of predecessor for comic books. These stories tell us what a hero is supposed to be. But somewhere over the years, it became more important to make these heroes nearly perfect and physically indestructible. Yes, even today’s comic book heroes have flaws and whatnot, but even with, say, Iron Man’s egotism, he’s still a billionaire genius in a robot suit. Who can relate to that? And how can an audience be expected to truly consider what it takes to be a hero with all the spectacle going on in the background as the world is inevitably saved? 

The stories of King Arthur’s knights contained plenty of spectacle, and The Green Knight certainly does, as well, but overall these stories were meant to teach the reader what it takes to be a good person by putting these knights in fantastical but relatable situations. Sir Gawain is the main knight for this type of story. 

The Green Knight, despite all its mesmerizing visuals, is a very simple story about an unproven knight being forced to decide what kind of person he is going to be. At the beginning of the film, Gawain (an absurdly good Dev Patel) is just there to have a good time. His uncle is the king, but Gawain doesn’t feel worthy of the Round Table. Instead, he spends his time, drunk, at a brothel. So his mother, Morgan le Fay, summons forth the titular knight to force Gawain’s hand. 

After accepting the challenge of delivering a blow then receiving one a year hence, Gawain isn’t changed. It’s only when Arthur tells him he must complete the game a year later that the weight of the situation hits him. Rather than charge off triumphantly, Gawain leaves as if he’s on the way to his own funeral. 

The film then turns into a sequence of events testing Gawain in the five elements of knighthood (generosity, chastity, piety, friendship, and courtesy), which he mostly fails. For a few examples: he gives the scavenger very little for his help, and has to be convinced to even give that; he succumbs to temptation with the Lady; he fails to honor the deal he made with the Lord; he asks Winifred what he will get in return for helping her, etc. Gawain is not a very good knight, which is what makes him so interesting and relatable.

Modern action and comic book movies, for all their entertainment, are severely lacking in creating real heroes. Writer/director David Lowery had to go back to the Middle Ages to find a story with a real hero. Who wouldn’t relate to Gawain’s failures? Aren’t we told constantly that “nobody’s perfect,” and we should learn to accept our failings? There’s nothing wrong with that, although the saying should be more like this: “Nobody's perfect, but you should still try to be.” 

Gawain being a bit of a failure isn’t the only relatable aspect of his character. The quest he is on, while supernatural, is actually something nearly everyone grapples with. Gawain meeting the Green Knight is mostly a spiritual quest in which he figures out what kind of person he is going to be in the face of his inevitable death. As the Lady points out during her cryptic monologue, green represents nature and how it will eventually reclaim the planet and wipe away everything humankind has ever done. In the face of this, what does facing the Knight matter? It doesn’t. What matters is what kind of person Gawain will be as he faces the Knight. We all will face our own Green Knight in this life, and we have to decide who we will be when that face-off happens.

Dealing with the inevitable death of mankind is something we’ve confronted since conscious thought began. It is truly a timeless theme, and it’s what makes The Green Knight such a relatable, though fantastic, film. Typically, a movie should serve as a diversion. But in a cinematic world clogged with spider people, thunder gods, talking rodents, tree people, and green giants, it’s actually refreshing to consider the inevitable death we all must face. And hey, The Green Knight was able to do this while still featuring a green tree person, a talking fox, and giants.

A Real Trip

If considering your inevitable death isn’t your thing, The Green Knight also works as a visual splendor. The mesmerizing camerawork and trippy visuals make the film a nearly psychedelic experience (Gawain does eat some bad mushrooms and start hallucinating during his journey). The film could very easily be enjoyed as a silent film. 

In fact, two of my friends I watched the film with (hey, Mark and Michael, do you guys ever read these?) commented on how the last portion of the film basically is silent. If you embrace the world of the film, it can be a cool, enjoyable experience. 

So when inexplicable giants show up, or the camera does a slow rotation either upside down or in a 360, or the fox starts talking, or...hell, the movie begins with the main character’s fucking head catching on fire. You’re in for some wacky shit from the get-go, and the film is much better if you just go with it and enjoy the ride.

The trippy nature of the film also means the quest is more of a mental trial than a physical one. So Gawain is not judged by his prowess with the sword. I love action films, but it was nice to see a hero’s quest that relied on his character rather than his physical abilities. Once again, it comes down to relatability. I can relate to Gawain expecting a reward for helping someone or lying about receiving something that will protect him. I can’t relate to someone hacking through hundreds of enemies with a broadsword, as awesome as that might look.

David Lowery has made his best film yet (and he’s made some great films, like A Ghost Story). The Green Knight is a very loud announcement to the cinematic world that we need to pay close attention to everything Lowery does.

A Real Actor

In a film with a lot of unexpected moments and visuals, the biggest revelation is Dev Patel’s performance, but it shouldn’t be. Ever since Slumdog Millionaire, Patel has been consistently great (before The Green Knight, I considered Lion to be his best performance). It’s not that I expected him to be bad in this movie; in fact,I consider Patel to be one of the most reliable actors out there. For The Green Knight, it all comes down to the final moments of the film.

Patel does a fine job of portraying a wayward knight who is afraid to challenge himself. But he shines when the film presents us with the possible future he would face if he ran away from his deal with the Green Knight and became king under dishonorable circumstances.

The entire sequence is wordless, yet Patel says more during these moments than in his dialogue throughout the rest of the film. As he does and witnesses terrible things (paying off his true love for their child, witnessing that child later die in war, watching as his kingdom crumbles all around him), his face says it all. This is a regretful man whose life is built on a lie.

It’s easy to look sad, but Patel conveys regret with such ease it made me realize that he’s an even greater actor than I thought. The Academy Awards are mostly a joke these days, but hopefully they can redeem themselves and at least nominate Patel for his best performance to date.

Random Thoughts

My alternate title for this article: The Green Knight - Giants and Gism.

Seriously, though, I was not expecting to see giants or semen in this movie.

The scene with the Lady in her library basically serves as an explanation of how stories continuously change throughout time. It’s kind of an argument for doing multiple adaptations of the same story forever...or until the green reclaims the planet. She talks about how she makes copies of books and makes “improvements” where she sees fit. This is what filmmakers do every time they take on an old story, such as this one, and add their own stamp to it.

I don’t know if I’m just on some kind of existential kick right now, but I love it when movies acknowledge the eventual extinction of the human race, at least on this planet. Hopefully, it’s millions of years away, but at some point (I think I learned this in school) the sun will explode and destroy Earth. It’s important to me to keep this in the back of my mind as a reminder that, historically speaking, nothing matters. This does not make me despair; it actually calms me down. I don’t need to worry about my name or accomplishments; I just need to worry about what kind of person I’m going to be and how I treat my loved ones. 

I was excited to see a non-children’s movie in the theater, and then the fucking fox started to talk. I cannot get away from talking animals! To be fair, this was more along the lines of Antichrist than Disney.

I used to teach a version of this story to seniors. Because of that, I loved that this was made at all. But I would have been very disappointed because I would not be able to show this in class (you know...because of the semen…). 

If I was able to show this in a classroom, I would have loved to point out the fantastical elements as an example of how storytellers would add interesting elements to keep your interest while also teaching a life lesson, and that each storyteller adds their own elements. Don’t get bogged down with what the giants represent or whether Winifred was real. It’s all just part of the story. Arthur asked for a myth from Gawain at the beginning of the film, so you can imagine that anyone who tells Gawain’s tale in the future would feel compelled to add some fantastical elements to add some entertainment value to what is essentially a “how-to-be-a-good-person” lesson.

My thoughts on Morgan le Fay are that she summons the Green Knight to help her son, not to punish him. She sees greater things for him, but realizes he needs a push. Also, that’s her at the Lord and Lady’s house, watching over Gawain. This is why the Lord and Lady fail to comment on the old, blind lady living with them.

Ralph Ineson is so perfect for this role. He has such an amazing voice. I still think my favorite line reading from him will always be “What went we out into this wilderness to find?” from The VVitch. But his few lines in The Green Knight are powerful (“One...year...hence.”) and even funny (“ with your head.”).

Speaking of that final “off with your head” line. I felt that the Green Knight said this almost jokingly. Because of that, I don’t think Gawain dies at the end. I felt like the line was more about how mental his journey had been. But, like the director has stated, even if Gawain dies at the end, it’s not a “bad” ending because he has gained his honor by the end of his journey.