On The Screen (2.13.09) 'Friday the 13th,' 'Under The Sea' in 3D
I count six films coming out today, between wide and limited releases, and the big boy on the block is obviously "Friday the 13th." It's not your only choice, though, so let's review what else you'll see if you venture out to the theaters this weekend.
Marcus Nispel last collaborated with the guys at Platinum Dunes when they decided to ruin "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" a few years back.
Oh, I'm sorry. I meant remake.
I guess you can tell I'm not a fan of what they cooked up that time. So why would I expect anything different this time? After all, these movies are all the same, right? Only... they're not. The original Hooper "Chainsaw" is a masterwork of subtlety, a movie that makes you imagine all its worst moments, a fairly bloodless affair that convinces you by the end that you've looked right into the mouth of Hell, captured by accident by cameras. Nothing about the original felt like a "movie" in any typical sense, and that was its appeal. Nispel's remake is an overly literal dunder-headed steroid-soaked version of the first film, and it gets wrong everything that the first film did right.
[more after the jump]
With "Friday the 13th," Nispel's a better match for the material. Even among fans, I think you'd be hard-pressed to get people to say that the first film is masterfully made. What it did feature was a great performance by Betsy Palmer and a handful of wicked Tom Savini make-up effects, as well as that awesome "Ki-ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma-ma" score. The "Friday" films are more overtly fun than "Chainsaw" ever was, thinly disguised morality plays in which your actions come back to haunt you. Camp counsellors let young Jason Voorhees drown, therefore all camp counsellors deserve to be punished, especially the ones who sneak away to screw or drink or otherwise ignore their responsibilities. The "Friday" films have always been all about the blunt-force trauma, and Nispel delivers that in spades this time out. Working from a script credited to Damien Shannon & Mark Swift and internet superstar Mark "Smilin' Jack Ruby" Wheaton, Nispel delivers an amalgam of the first three films collapsed into one big wet sloppy kiss to Jason and the iconography of the series. It plays things fairly straight, never winking at the camera and never pretending that the film is something more than it is. There's no pretense here... just bloody, boobtacular slasher fun.
I don't want to get the rep as the guy who does nothing but rant and rail every single time a chick flick is released, so I'll ease up a bit this week, particularly since this stars Isla Fisher, who I think is a genuinely talented comic performer. She's got chops, and maybe the film gives her a chance to show some of that off. PJ Hogan is also a better-than-average director for this kind of material, so I've gotta hope there's something going on here... maybe an indictment of the sort of person who thinks being a shopaholic is cute or funny?
Boy, I wish I liked this film more than I do. Clive Owen. Naomi Watts. Tom Tykwer. Sounds like a recipe for something smart and adult and invigorating, but... it ain't. There's one great ten minute sequence about 2/3 of the way into the film, set at the Guggenheim, that almost feels like Tykwer realized how dreary this film is and decided to audition for the next James Bond movie while he had Owen on his set. It's a pulse-pounding reminder of just how good a director Tykwer can be. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the film strands him with a script that is just a cascade of lame exposition and bad police procedural. Most of the major police work seems to happen offscreen, and the film starts and ends at seemingly arbitrary moments in the investigation. I think there's something smart, something tapped into the zeitgeist of the moment, in the idea of a movie where a multi-national bank is the bad guy, but this film can't decide if it wants to be realistic and show just how big a moral quicksand the world of international money can be or if it wants to be a campy John Grisham style thriller. The result is just inert, and I can't imagine this appealing to anyone but the most stalwart of Clive Owen fans.
I assume you've seen the Joaquin Phoenix appearance on "Late Show With David Letterman" last night by now. Vintage Letterman. Am I the only one who is already 100% exhausted by this hoax that Phoenix is trying to pull off? If he didn't have Casey Affleck following him around with the camera to document everything, I might believe it a wee bit more, but come on... this sort of thing has been done before and done better, and Phoenix doesn't have the sort of huge outgoing personality to pull it off or make anyone honestly give a shit. He's a very internal actor, a sort of walking bruise in his best roles, and that's exactly what makes him perfect for a film like "Two Lovers." Still, James Gray must love all the free publicity for his tiny little movie. Here, he plays a guy whose family is pushing him towards the eligible daughter of a friend, played by Vinessa Shaw, while he finds himself drawn to a free-spirited neighbor played by Gwenyth Paltrow. I'm actually planning to watch this one later tonight, and I like Gray's work. I think he's one of those directors who has yet to make his G R E A T film, but who has a consistent and solid body of work under his belt anyway.
Ravishing. This is one of the best experiences I've had in a theater yet with Toshi. We went last week to a mid-afternoon screening at the 3D IMAX screen at the Bridge, and we stopped for lunch ahead of time. Full of hamburgers, we picked up our glasses at the door of the theater and found our seats in the dead center of the auditorium. He was a little weirded out at first, since 3D is overwhelming to him, but he's always loved aquariums, and I figured he'd respond once the movie began.
Oh, boy, did he. Howard Hall's amazing team of photographers have captured life on and around a coral reef with a remarkable eye, and the immersive qualities of the IMAX 3D presentation will make you forget you're sitting in a theater. Toshi and I spent the entire film trying to reach out and touch the clown fish or the sea dragons or the seals, and when a Great White or a crocodile fish got too close, he would burrow against me for safety, convinced he was about to be snapped right out of his seat. For my money, the cottlefish are the stars of the film, surreal mood rings with fins that send colors rippling up and down their bodies as a way of communicating. Jim Carrey's narration is bemused and lends the film just the right tone. Overall, this is a great addition to the tradition of nature documentaries IMAX is known for, and for parents, I can't recommend any trip to the theater more right now.
Finally, there's this Italian import which has been picking up critical buzz ever since its premiere at Cannes last year. Matteo Garrone directed this adaptation of the nonfiction book that has forced Roberto Saviano to have to hide out to avoid being killed by the Mafia he so completely exposed. I've heard comparisons made between this and "City Of God," but I don't think that's really accurate. "City Of God" was like an adrenaline needle to the heart. It had an energy that made all the ugly seem palatable and even intoxicating to an extent. You understood the allure of the lifestyle when presented with live in the favelas. Here, crime may be a way of life, but it's a goddamn drag. "Gomorrah" is a joyless, dirty, solemn affair, and the overall feeling I walked away with after the film is a near-rapturous joy I wasn't born into the world I just watched. Crime has no kick in Garrone's film. It's just a job, a shitty, thankless, punishing job. That's probably one of the most honest representations of a criminal lifestyle on film, and Garrone gets points for taking the romance out of gangsters, but this will be a tough sit for most viewers.
So that's it for today. Slim pickings next week, with only the new Tyler Perry film and a cheerleader comedy opening, but I'm sure we'll find something to talk about. See you here next Thursday, where you can always find each week's edition of "On The Screen."
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