[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 4 – Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000)

Director: John Ottman

Cast: Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Davis, Hart Bochner, Joseph Lawrence, Anthony Anderson, Loretta Devine

Screenplay: Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson

97 mins. Rated R for violence/gore, language and some sexuality.

 

John Ottman (Lion’s Den) won an Academy Award earlier this year for editing Bohemian Rhapsody. I think it’s say to expect some pretty snazzy editing and score for this Urban Legend sequel, right?

Amy Mayfield (Jennifer Morrison, Batman: Hush, TV’s House), a student at an upscale film school, has just decided on her thesis film: a serial killer who uses urban legends to kill his victims. The idea itself is an tall tale that supposedly happened at another university several year previously. Professor Solomon (Hart Bochner, Die Hard, Rules Don’t Apply) believes it’s a great idea, and Amy sets to work on her new film, but as soon as cameras start rolling, members of the film crew start getting killed, and it seems that life is imitating art imitating life as an actual serial killer is responsible. The question now comes to…who?

This is Ottman’s feature directorial debut, so I don’t want to be too harsh on him, but it seems like he didn’t know what to do here. It’s likely that the script wasn’t strong enough to begin with, but there’s a real lack of understanding apparent throughout the feature. It’s not a good movie, plain and simple, and while there are a couple good scenes, Final Cut is really all over the place. I know the attempt is being made at a more self-aware and slightly comedic tone, but it just comes off lazy. Ottman struggles to maintain a tone of any kind.

As I said above, the screenplay, from the writing team of Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Deliver Us from Evil) is confused a muddled. I’m not sure if the point of the film is a progression of the urban-legends-as-forms-of-murder of the first film in that the murders are taking place surrounding an almost film-version of the previous slayings or not. The killer isn’t really using urban legends to kill as often in the film, and he more or less just shows up near the set and kills people that way. It’s not really creative. In fact, an early kill scene in the film that actually utilizes a classic urban legend was only added to punch up the gore factor. There’s also a complete misunderstanding of filmmaking as a process and a business. It’s a fundamental issue that permeates the story.

The performances in Final Cut are mostly forgettable. I had forgotten Jennifer Morrison was the star until I rewatched it. Outside of the excellent Hart Bochner, no one is used well here and all of the characters become pretty flat characters just lined up for the chopping block. Even Loretta Devine (Crash, Always & 4Ever), returning from the first film, serves as an exposition machine, only showing up to progress the story and put doubt onto Amy’s claims that someone is killing her movie crew (remember that Devine’s Reese has had this happen before at a different university).

Urban Legends: Final Cut is shockingly not the final film of this series, and even though the eventual third film, Urban Legends: Bloody Mary, contains no connection to Final Cut, it does seem like this entire movie was a setup for that last shot, which is a confusing doozy of a tag to end the film. I just don’t get what this movie is or what it’s trying to be, and it somehow fails to be anything at all. I forgot most of the film. You probably will to.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Jamie Blanks’s Urban Legend, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 3 – Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Cast: Alexa Vega, Anthony Stewart Head, Sarah Brightburn, Paris Hilton, Ogre, Terrance Zdunich, Bill Moseley, Paul Sorvino

Screenplay: Darren Smith, Terrance Zdunich

98 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence and gore, language, some drug and sexual content.

 

Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, St. Agatha) came off his run of Saw films with several dark operatic fantasy/horror films, the first being Repo! The Genetic Opera. I remember being extremely excited for this one, having been such a fan of the Saw franchise. I even had a few college friends (I’m dating myself here) come by my dorm so we could watch it when the home video was released (in those days, we had to drive to Walmart to get such films). As I put the disc in (in those days, movies were on discs) and sat back with the others to watch, a momentary question popped into my head: what if it sucked?

In the not-too-distant future, organ failures have crippled the planet, and the corporation known as GeneCo steps in to aid the crisis by creating payment plans for organ transplants, but if you are unable to make your debts, they send the Repo Men, trained killers who take the organs by, likely causing in the client’s death. GeneCo’s CEO, Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino, GoodFellas, Acts of Desperation) is sick and looking for an heir to his empire. Of his three children, he sees nothing but failure, so instead he looks to Shilo (Alexa Vega, Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams, Christmas Made to Order), the daughter of his ex-fiancé, Marni. Shilo’s father Nathan (Anthony Stewart Head, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer) wants nothing to do with the Largos, but he is in a situation where he cannot fight the family on his own while still keeping his sick daughter safe from the world.

Repo! The Genetic Opera has a lot of exposition to its science fiction elements, but it handles most of that info quite well through its operatic and amusing songs. Many of these songs stayed with me after watching the film once, and I kept going back to it. This is a strange movie, and I wouldn’t say that I quite loved it the first time I saw it, but the songs kept returning me to it, and it has now developed in me a cult following similar to other midnight madness films like the Rocky Horror Picture Show (though, not to that level) and The Room (though much better).

Anthony Stewart Head slays this movie. I had not been much of a Buffy fan when I first saw Repo! but I had others with me that knew of his abilities as an actor and singer, especially from the Once More With Feeling musical episode of Buffy.  That’s actually what got him the job for Repo! and it’s easy to see that it was a good call.

What’s so interesting about the casting for Repo! is how director Bousman took advantage of his small budget to cast the film with unlikely pairings of performers, some with singing talent, some with acting chops, some with neither (looking at you, Paris), and then performers who could mine the camp of the material, like Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects, American Exorcist) as the son, Luigi Largo. It reminds me of a term that the Russo Brothers came up with for their Avengers movies: strange alchemy. The way Bousman captures performers from wildly different backgrounds for Repo! gives it a special unforgettable quality that makes the cheesiness seem rather artistic.

Now, there’s a lot of things that don’t work. The film may have been too ambitious with its smaller budget, and much of the special effects look pretty poor. The idea to animate the flashbacks like a comic book sounds cool on the surface, but it does come off a little sluggish. Not all the songs work. Not all the performers do either. The ending leaves a bit to be desired. The film has its faults, but some of them actually aid the film while others detract from the enjoyment.

Repo! The Genetic Opera is not even close to a flawless experience, and it’s a movie that isn’t for everyone, but I suggest it to a lot of people looking for a fun musical experience that’s unlike a lot of films that came before it. Bousman tried to follow-up this film with two other dark fantasy/musicals in The Devil’s Carnival duology, but neither really hit where Repo! did. Repo! works due to a selection of amusing and mostly catchy music, a scene-stealer performance from Head, and a unique viewpoint from a promising horror director. Seek this one out.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s The Devil’s Carnival, click here.

For my review of the anthology film Tales of Halloween, click here.

For my review of Darren Lynn Bousman’s Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival, click here.

[Early Review] Joker (2019)

Director: Todd Phillips

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz

Screenplay: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver

121 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images.

 

Well, it’s finally here, the prequel to the Batman series that isn’t connected to any Batman films. Wait, the Joker origin story that isn’t The Killing Joke. Wait, so what is it? It’s something else, I’ll tell you. This film is really something else…

It’s really getting crazy out there, and Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix, Her, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot) sees it. He’s down on his luck, living paycheck to paycheck with his mother, and he’s constantly picked on by others. He has a goal in life, to bring joy and happiness to the world, and he sees his idol, late night talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro, Raging Bull, The Wizard of Lies), as an escape. He wants to be a comedian like Murray, but all he has is negative thoughts. When Arthur is pushed into a corner, he finds a new way to put a smile on, one that will transform him into an icon all his own.

This is Joaquin Phoenix’s film. There are no costars. The other performances are practically extended cameos. Phoenix makes this version of the Joker all his own. His performance is filled with intensity (his eyes are filled with anger) and depression. Phoenix researched multiple psychological disorders in order to give an unidentifiable character, one that could not be diagnosed. The dialogue and physicality is disturbing and unnerving to no end.

This is a film that is intense, unhappy, and joyless. Director Todd Phillips (War Dogs, The Hangover Part III), who co-wrote the screenplay, infused the film with moments that made me and the rest of the audience nervously laugh, and I felt bad for laughing after. There’s a weird feeling the film gave to me, where I felt like I was watching something I shouldn’t, or perhaps watching something I felt bad watching. There’s an emotionally disturbing quality to the film but I would say that those looking for violence won’t see as much as critics have proclaimed. What violence is in the film is very powerful and more character-focused than shock-driven. It’s more emotionally and mentally violent.

The biggest flaw I would have with the film is the final scene, but I’m not sure how I would end the film other than how it ends. I would also argue that the film contains fewer surprises than I expected. It’s fairly straight-forward. It’s not a true-to-nature flaw, I would say, but the controversy and the critical reception might be overselling the shocking nature of the film. It was pretty much how I expected the story to go.

Joker is a masterful film with a career-best performance from Joaquin Phoenix. This is a man in his playground, a thrillingly-disturbing character study that’s unlike any comic book adaptation I’ve ever seen. The film makes use of its unreliable narrator better than almost any other film ever has. Temper your expectations for any shocking revelations because this is a standalone film that is one of the more crazy movie experiences I’ve had in recent memory. See this movie, but only if you think you can handle it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 2 – Return of the Killer Tomatoes! (1988)

Director: John DeBello

Cast: Anthony Starke, George Clooney, Karen Mistal, Steve Lundquist, John Astin, Michael Villani

Screenplay: Stephen F. Andrich, John DeBello, Costa Dillon, J. Stephen Peace

98 mins. Rated PG.

 

The Killer Tomatoes series is almost a fantasy. Most people have at least heard of the films, but there are a select few that have actively sought them out to see that they are, in fact, real. Not only that, there was even a Saturday morning cartoon series that this writer has been searching out…glutton for punishment and all that, but these films are cultural landmarks in a lot of ways. Okay, not a lot of ways. A few ways. For example, the second film contains something major that people don’t really talk about it. I’m referring to the greatest post-credits scene in history. Oh yeah, and George Clooney (Michael Clayton, Hail, Caesar!) too.

It’s been ten years since the Great Tomato War, and tomatoes have been outlawed across the land, making pizza and pasta very strangely altered. Chad Finletter (Anthony Starke, License to Kill, TV’s Hand of God) is a delivery boy working out of his uncle’s tomato-less pizzeria, and he’s infatuated with the beautiful woman who lives with the odd and potentially villainous Professor Gangreen (John Astin, The Frighteners, What the Bleep!?: Down the Rabbit Hole), and through this mutual attraction Chad comes upon a horrifying-ish truth: Professor Gangreen, who may have been responsible for the Great Tomato War ten years ago, has a new device capable of using music to transform regular tomatoes into human henchmen and henchwomen, and it’s up to Chad and his roommate Matt (Clooney) to stop him before it’s too late!

This sequel shares some commonalities with its predecessor. Mainly, they are both shoestring-budget cheap. Secondly, they are both terribly stupid. Third, they know that, and they use it to their advantage. All that being said, I actually prefer the second film, which I felt nailed the comedy and satire much better, but Return of the Killer Tomatoes tries really hard to do something unique with the narrative, something I can commend them on, but the whole story of turning tomatoes into humans for world domination just didn’t do it for me. I much preferred the simplicity of sentient killer tomatoes from the first film.

There’s a lot of comedy to this sequel, and it mostly works, although a lot of it had been borrowed from better spoofs like Airplane! and used to better effect in films like the Wayne’s World movies, but that’s not to completely punish it. I think Starke and Clooney play off each other quite well. I’ll always know Starke from his episode of the hit series Seinfeld, in which he played the third-person speaking Jimmy, and his deadpan serious attempt to play up Chad is pretty funny. People tend to forget that Clooney has some comedic chops because he doesn’t use them often, but he’s pretty funny as Matt.

The strongest and strangest performance of the film has to go to Astin, who perfectly captures the cheese required to play a character named Professor Gangreen. He isn’t given much to do, but when he’s onscreen, he’s a lot of fun. His exchanges with his assistant Igor (Steve Lundquist, Earth Girls Are Easy, The Sleeping Car) are hilariously goofy.

Return of the Killer Tomatoes is not as strongly and consistently stupid-funny as I would have liked, and some of you may not appreciate the film’s humor at all, but I found something likably dumb about the 80s-sequel. As I said, this film fits its time frame much like the first film captured the 70s, and there’s a lot of silliness to take in, but not all of it works. It’s dumb. It’s goofy. But it’s still somehow enjoyable enough.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of John DeBello’s Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 1 – Father’s Day (2011)

Director: Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, Matt Kennedy, Steven Kostanski, Conor Sweeney

Cast: Adam Brooks, Matt Kennedy, Conor Sweeney, Amy Groening, Mackenzie Murdock, Meredith Sweeney

Screenplay: Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie, Matt Kennedy, Steven Kostanski, Conor Sweeney

99 mins. Not Rated.

 

Well, it’s October again, my favorite time of year. Do you find that you wait all year for a certain time? I know I do. A time of Pumpkin Spice Lattes and multicolor leaves…and the horror. My God, the horror! Well, let’s get started with a throwback grindhousian B-movie from a team of five writer/directors called Father’s Day.

The plot here is more than convoluted, so let me try my best. A serial killer named Chris Fuchman (Mackenzie Murdock, Manborg, Peelers) raped and murdered ten fathers thirty years ago but got off on a technicality, and since that time there have been multiple other rape/murders of fathers, including the father of Ahab (Adam Brooks) and Chelsea (Amy Groening, Goon, Halloween Party). Ahab went out looking for vengeance and ended up in prison. His sister became a stripper. Now, out of prison, Ahab discovers that his history with Fuchman is far from over, and the rape/murders are starting up again, and he may be the only one who can stop it.

There’s a respectable level of lunacy to Father’s Day. The film knows exactly what it wants to be, and as you all know, that’s the most important part of my reviews. Father’s Day wants to be a send-up/homage to B-movie/Grindhouse films, and in that way, I think it completely misses the mark for me. It feels like it’s heading in the right direction several times, but its overly-complicated story and choppy editing lead it down a path to ruin. The film jumps around so much that you don’t have time to really connect to any of the characters and appreciate the B-level attempt. You can argue and say that’s what makes it a B-movie, and I would argue back that it still needs to be a good movie to be a good movie, regardless of style.

Adam Brooks is a very unlikable lead, but then again, there’s no one character that is interesting or likable, and that’s probably what really took me away. Let’s compare this aspect of Father’s Day to the ultimate send-up B-movies, Grindhouse and Machete. In Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse, pretty much all of the main ladies are enjoyable enough or interesting enough to follow. Even Stuntman Mike is interesting as much as he is unlikable. In Machete, our title character is an asshole, but he has a code, and that’s very clear from early on. Ahab is boorish and full of assholery. Fuchman is not a villain who I ever want to spend time watching; he’s disgusting and awful and purely unwatchable. Chelsea is initially introduced with an element of at least connective likability, but all that goes out the window pretty quick.

Where the film wins is its style, and while I don’t think it’s edited together very well (there’s so much jumping around that I had trouble sticking to any semblance of a story), I think there’s a lot of stylistic choices that make this film feel like it was taped on a VCR from some midnight-movie channel. There are advertisements for films playing on the station later on in the night, and the movie plays as though it has fallen into public domain and no company has come along to restore the negative, like all the cheap or free copies of Night of the Living Dead you can find in the bargain bin (but please just go get the Criterion). The film is dirty and torn and put back together and oozes with a level of cheapness, which works because it was distributed by Troma, so it fits nicely in that catalogue. Using this style allows the film’s later crazier elements to work better, especially the creature design effects for the finale.

Yeah, Father’s Day was a bust, and it’s too bad because on the surface I really thought this one would appeal to me, but as it went on, I noticed an over-reliance on gross-out humor, virtually zero character development, and a choppy story structure that just couldn’t keep my interest. I may be in the wrong, though, as the film has garnered some positive reviews. You can easily find it online for cheap or free, so maybe give it a try on your own. For me, this was a complete misfire.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski’s The Void, click here.

For my review of the anthology film ABCs of Death 2, click here.

[Batman Day] Batman Returns (1992)

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy

Screenplay: Daniel Waters

126 mins. Rated PG-13.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Makeup

 

On this day in which we celebrate the caped crusader, let’s take a look at the strangest, and dare I say, greatest, live-action Batman film, Batman Returns.

It’s Christmastime in Gotham City, and the rich businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken, Catch Me If You Can, Irreplaceable You) is showing his holiday spirit by secretly trying to get a power chemical plant built in the city. When he gets kidnapped by the sinister Oswald Cobblepot (Danny DeVito, Matilda, TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), a man more known by his moniker, the Penguin, Max sees a way for each of them to get what they want as he attempts to get Cobblepot into public office as Gotham’s mayor. It’s during this time that Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton, Birdman, Dumbo) begins looking into Cobblepot’s background and see him as a threat to the city.

There’s a surface-level love for Batman Returns that springs out of the fact that it was my first experience with Batman of any level. I hadn’t read any of the comics when I saw the film, I hadn’t watched the cartoon, I hadn’t seen any of the other films. It was my first and most memorable experience of the caped crusader.

Michael Keaton has always been the actor I’ve most associated with the Batman and Bruce Wayne role, and I think he’s the actor that’s always embodied the conflict of the two roles and the sacrifice that he feels is necessary for him to give to Gotham for its protection. He’s better in this sequel than the previous film because here he’s even more conflicted about his role. He’s put through trials that test his commitment to Batman, most notably through his interactions with Selina Kyle and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer, Hairspray, Avengers: Endgame).

Director Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Beetlejuice) put a lot of himself into this film, more than its predecessor, and it’s especially apparent with the villains. Danny DeVito’s Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman both have some altered history with their origins, and there are liberties taken with a lot of what makes them villains, and part of that is likely from Burton’s very obvious disinterest in comic books. While that can be a death knell for a film, I really like his take here, and I think he is able to juggle multiple villain arcs alongside his hero in a way most superhero films cannot.

There’s another accomplishment to Batman Returns that most reviewers and fans tend to overlook regarding its villains. Returns features a third villain, remarkably made from scratch, in Max Shreck. Yes, he’s just as much a villain in the film as Penguin or Catwoman, perhaps a little less zany, but a villain all the same, made by a terrifically unhinged performance from Christopher Walken. Without Walken, the film may not have worked at all. In fact, I would say that I remembered Shreck more than the other two as a child. He was frightening because he was very real, and the role he plays in both the Penguin’s master plan and Catwoman’s origin makes for an effective creepy character.

After the success of his first Batman film, Tim Burton was able to really explore his version of Gotham City and its inhabitants with his special visual blend of gothic and supernatural influences. This is a very arty Batman film, and that’s mostly due to Burton being at the top of his game here. He’s playing with his cinematography, he’s exploring the sound and music of Gotham, and he’s relishing in a classical costume design within the confines of this world.

Batman Returns is perhaps the most unique of all the Batman films in that it is really experimenting with its tone, look, feel, and world. It’s hard to find a flaw, but if there’s one, it’s that the film does take a little pushing at the beginning to get it moving, and in the modern superhero landscape, some of its zanier elements might seem laughable, but revisiting this film in honor of Batman Day has reminded me of how rich an experience Batman Returns is. I highly recommend a rewatch if it’s been awhile.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tim Burton’s Batman, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dumbo, click here.

[Stephen King Day] The Mangler (1995)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: Robert Englund, Ted Levine, Daniel Matmor

Screenplay: Tobe Hooper, Stephen David Brooks, Harry Alan Towers

106 mins. Rated R for gory horror violence and language.

 

I always had a fondness for the adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mangler, a strange film about a possessed laundry-folding machine, so I took a chance to revisit the film this year in honor of Stephen King’s birthday. In hindsight, I wish I had kept this one buried in my memory.

The laundry press at Gartley’s Blue Ribbon Laundry service has been acting funky. First of all, a woman named Sherry, niece to owner Bill Gartley (Robert Englund, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nightworld: Door of Hell), cuts her finger on a lever, and later that same day, the machine goes haywire and traps Mrs. Frawley, an older worker, in its safety shield, dragging her through the machine, crushing her body in the process. John Hunton (Ted Levine, The Silence of the Lambs, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) and his brother-in-law Mark (Daniel Matmor, Hit It, A Dark Truth) are on the case, investigating the accident, but what they discover is more horrifying than any normal work-related problem. The laundry press is possessed by a demon, and it’s out for more blood.

The Mangler is not a good movie, and at 106 minutes, it’s quite a slog of a movie. This was one difficult sit-through that I did not remember or expect. I recall more recently reading the short story from King, and the added mythology and plot in this adaptation don’t add much of merit to the film. In fact, having really liked King’s story, which, like so many, offered an EC comics or Twilight Zone-style to them, would have made a great movie in the right hands, but it seems now that Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) was not the right person for this job. There’s so many strange changes made to the story that benefit neither the adaptation nor the overall feeling and tone of the movie.

Robert Englund is horribly miscast, appearing almost like a version of Freddy Krueger that had survived to old age. He brings a nose-twisting grossness and annoyance to Gartley, but then you have Levine, who struggles with some of the more cringe-worthy dialogue here (he starts swearing at a possessed ice box as one point in an absurdly laughable moment taking itself too seriously).

There are several times in the film that something interesting comes up, and it almost seems that Hooper is righting the ship, only for it to devolve into a wholly unlikable mess. I really liked the setting mostly being placed at the Blue Ribbon Laundry, and I think the setting is hyper-unclean in a way that I would have been able to believe. I really like the production design and the overall look of the laundry press. I even kind of the dug the finale, though it has aged very poorly, but even after all that, the film sort of limbers on past the point of my minor enjoyment.

The Mangler was advertised as the product of King, Hooper, and Englund, three horror geniuses, but I doubt anyone involved in this film would have been happy to have their name associated in such a way, especially King, who wrote a solid if somewhat absurd short story but had no hand in the film. This is one of those adaptations I would caution even King fans to shy away from. You have better things to be doing…like the laundry, for example.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter’s Body Bags, click here.

[Early Review] Ad Astra (2019)

Director: James Gray

Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Live Tyler, Donald Sutherland

Screenplay: James Gray, Ethan Gross

122 mins. Rated PG-13 for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language.

 

I’m assuming Brad Pitt (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, World War Z) saw his Ocean’s Eleven costars George Clooney and Matt Damon receive acclaim for making a space movie, and he got incredibly jealous. Well, be jealous no more Brad. The balls in your court now, Julia Roberts.

Ad Astra is the story of Roy McBride (Pitt), astronaut and son to the famous H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive, Just Getting Started), who disappeared on a secretive interstellar expedition some 30 years ago. Now, in the near future, Earth has been ravaged by a series of power surges believed to be caused by Cliff’s secret experiment, The Lima Project. Roy has been tasked with traveling to Mars to deliver a message to space, hopefully reaching his possibly still living father, in order to put an end to the power surges before they threaten the entire solar system.

I admire the idea of taking Heart of Darkness and moving it into the sci-fi genre. It worked so well as a war film when Francis Ford Coppola turned it into Apocalypse Now. The problem for me came out of an unimpressive shell for this film. I don’t think we got enough insight into The Lima Project or The Surge or many of the science fiction elements that would have enriched this telling of the classic story. The film kept being marketed as the closest thing to actual space travel, but then I kept getting hung up on the sound work every time there was an explosion. The film looked gorgeous, but my investment was wavering throughout.

Brad Pitt is incredible as Roy, giving a subtle but impressive performance as a man who hasn’t taken much care in his world as he sinks himself into his work, ignoring all outside relationships and distractions. The whole film is carried by Pitt as no other character is given much screen time to match him. In fact, Pitt’s performance is so internalized that he doesn’t even look like he’s acting at all. I liken his work here to another space film from last year, First Man with Ryan Gosling. Comparing this subtle work to Pitt’s other major film this year, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, just goes to show that this is an actor who really can do it all.

There’s a lot to really love about Ad Astra. I think, from a technical view, everything is seemingly executed quite well, but I just wasn’t drawn in by the story in the way I wanted to. It’s magnificently shot and the score is impactful and deep. The effects were strong, but the story just didn’t take me. Still, I would recommend you checking it out if you’re a fan of sci-fi, as this contemplative opera showcases another incredible performance from Brad Pitt.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Friday the 13th] Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)

Director: John Carl Buechler

Cast: Lar Park Lincoln, Terry Kiser, Kevin Blair, Kane Hodder

Screenplay: Daryl Haney, Manuel Fidello

88 mins. Rated R.

 

You’d think people would just start avoiding Camp Crystal Lake on Friday the 13th by this point. I mean, it doesn’t happen that often, right?

Tina Shepherd (Lar Park Lincoln, From the Dark, TV’s Knot’s Landing) has bad memories of her lake home, which is located near Camp Crystal Lake. When she was younger, her father drowned in the lake, and Tina blames herself. Tina was born with mental gifts, and she’s returned to the lake home with her mother and Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser, Weekend at Bernie’s, The Kingsbury Run) in order to come to terms with her abilities and her guilt, and while there, she inadvertently awakens a sleeping Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder, Daredevil, An Accidental Zombie (Named Ted)), who is waiting at the bottom of the lake for his chance to return. Now, Jason is back and unleashed upon a group of youths that have congregated in a nearby cabin for their mutual friend’s birthday, and Tina may be the only one who can stop the hockey-masked killer.

Somewhere out there is an old VHS cassette tape that contains the unrated cut of The New Blood, but it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a version of this film from before the MPAA and the studio tore it to pieces, which is too bad because there’s a lot to love about this installment of the franchise. John Carl Buechler (Saurian, The Eden Formula) was an inspired choice as a director as he understood both how to use effects and how to create tension and shocking horror in his films. The idea of finding someone more on equal ground with Jason works pretty well, and though there’s been some calls for the silliness of a Carrie White-style character, I would argue that you’ve seen Jason drown as a child, almost decapitated, and rise from the dead due to a lightning bolt; if this is what loses you, that’s pretty strange.

Lar Park Lincoln doesn’t do so well as Tina, as she just kind of spazzes a lot and shakes. There’s not a lot of depth to the character, and the screenplay from Daryl Haney and Manuel Fidello doesn’t give her a lot to do outside of reacting. If anything, the most interesting character is Dr. Crews, played menacingly by Terry Kiser. Crews is a scumbag to end all scumbags, the prime example of a character you want to see mercilessly ripped to pieces by Voorhees.

Speaking of Jason Voorhees, this installment is the first appearance by the man who became synonymous with the machete-wielding psycho, Kane Hodder. Hodder would go on to play Jason three more times before he was unceremoniously tossed aside for being too big to play Jason Voorhees. Hodder’s Jason is the first time I remember feeling like Voorhees was an actual person at one point, and that he’s an actual character. He’s a presence on film with a performance, one that is not dissimilar to a hungry shark. There’s a hunter mentality to Jason here instead of a generic boogeyman. It’s the best Jason performance to date.

Alas, the studio had a bit too much hand in this one, as well as a producer who didn’t have a handle for what the film was aiming for and didn’t take time to work with the filmmaker on helping his vision, and The New Blood, for all its campy fun, struggles to reach the level of Jason Lives. It’s still one of the better installments, but most of its characters are not well-performed, well-written, or even likable. There’s also a building of expectation that we are headed towards an incredible and intense finale unlike anything we’ve seen before in the franchise, and what we get is a bit middling. Sure, it’s unique, but having studied the film, I can see the way it was supposed to end up in my head, and it’s not what we ended up getting.

The New Blood is good but it should have been incredible and jaw-dropping and a success in forever changing the landscape of Jason Voorhees and the Friday the 13th series, but director John Carl Buechler was almost set up to fail. As frustrating as that is, it features a solid performance from Terry Kiser and an incredibly nuanced Jason as played by Kane Hodder. This one will still please genre and franchise fans, but we’re left with the wonder of what could have been.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, click here.

For my review of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III, click here.

For my review of Joseph Zito’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, click here.

For my review of Jack Sholder’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, click here.

For my review of Danny Steinmann’s Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, click here.

For my review of Chuck Russell’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, click here.

For my review of Tom McLoughlin’s Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI, click here.

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