Friday, September 13, 2013

A Friday the 13th of Friday the 13ths

Friday the 13th has a well-earned reputation as one of the most venerable horror franchises in history, but despite its formidable box-office success, its entries were mostly derided by critics and treated as slasher movie junk food. That junk-foodiness is so much of the appeal, though: this is a series of incredibly low density, even less than contemporaries Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street. They are intellectually disengaged, basally pleasing movies, providing all of the notorious bottom-of-the-barrel thrills that the genre trafficks in. They're always short, always ridiculous, and typically entertaining on at least one level, with some really unfortunate exceptions. Ascending from "fucking dreadful":

Jason Goes to Hell (1993)

This is how Jason Goes to Hell makes me feel. It is pure profiteering garbage, a desperate bid from New Line to wring a few more dollars from Friday the 13th's corpse after acquiring it from Paramount. Not a drop of passion or talent went into crafting this cheap, muddy, incomprehensible mess, a movie that is often so poorly lit that you can't even see who's getting killed or how Jason's doing it. Aside from one technically impressive but overlong scene of a face randomly melting, this is 100% skippable. The theme song is hilarious, though, a sure sign of Harry Manfredini's complete disinterest in the franchise:

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The David Cronenberg Sinister Beauty Parade

David Cronenberg films are led by men almost universally, but nearly every one of them features at least one compelling female role as well. Often these roles are enhanced by his eye for women who are darkly alluring, polished surfaces that give way to warped thoughts (much like the movies themselves). A few I've noticed lately:

Lynn Lowry, Shivers: The prototype, if you will; a blueprint for a newborn artist. Lovingly filmed right in the middle of an expository dialogue about "a parasite that's a combination of aphrodisiac and venereal disease that will hopefully turn the world into one beautiful, mindless orgy." Lowry is a commanding presence in a movie that often finds its time divided amongst a bloated cast, but her lilting, eerie final monologue puts her above and beyond the rest.

Genevieve Bujold, Dead Ringers: Probably a top 5 performance for Cronenberg's oeuvre, Bujold's turn as an over-the-hill actress with a Master's in sexual depravity is both perverted enough to enliven the obsessive, sociopathic Mantle twins (Jeremy Irons, also top 5), and human enough to challenge them. Her face and voice and body leave her unable to deny this intense dysfunctional connection, no matter what words come out of her mouth. 

Judy Davis, Naked Lunch: Small picture, but you get the idea. For a while in the early 90s, Judy Davis was the go-to gal for auteurs looking to cast a cold, vastly intelligent woman. Naked Lunch is convoluted and sort of exhausting, but Cronenberg at least has his gift for prosthetics to give visual life to an inscrutable story, and the good sense to frame it autobiographically by dragging elements of crazy-ass William S. Burroughs' life into the narrative. Davis, despite a limited role, serves as both the catalyst for Peter Weller's delusion and his singular erotic obsession, the remaining vestige of an increasingly foreign life left behind.

Sarah Gadon, A Dangerous Method + Cosmopolis + Maps to the Stars: Cronenberg's newest muse and the only woman with whom he has collaborated repeatedly, Sarah Gadon's conventional beauty exudes more than a fair share of menace. There's an air of inaccessible power to her, something that both Cronenberg (frigid heiress in Cosmopolis, Hollywood matriarch of old in Maps to the Stars) and his son Brandon (Antiviral's celebrity to end all celebrities) have employed with considerable results in the last few years. Her career is young yet, but she's an intelligent woman with excellent taste in auteurs, so the prognosis for a rich filmography is promising.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Trouble With Harry

At the peak of his popularity in the mid-2000s, Harry Knowles was making $700,000 a year through his self-proclaimed film nerd sanctuary Ain't it Cool News. No critic from now until the end of time will dream of collecting that sort of cash ever again. This astronomical success is, much more than any virtues of his own, a testament to the inestimable value of being in the right place at the right time. When Knowles founded Ain't it Cool in 1996, there was simply no competition; not even fellow early tech adopter Roger Ebert had the same magnitude of online presence that The King of Filmgeekdom commanded. Studios trembled in his shadow - a Knowles pan spelled certain devastation for a film, and his word is credited with the financial failure of such classics as Batman and Robin and Rollerball.

Here's the rub, though: Harry Knowles is a sexist manchild who, even at the height of his powers, was only able to generate dialogue amongst readers half his age. His "films are awesome!" credo holds its own valuable optimistic appeal, but in Knowles' case the awesomeness of a film is generally correlated to how much the studio heads kiss his ass at the junket before he watches it. Everyone's gotta start somewhere, and I believe that people of dubious principle can mature with time and reflection. But what happens when you don't develop? What happens when those studios you once cowed grow savvy to how easily bought you are, how derelict your journalistic integrity is? What happens if you've been writing the same crass, nonsensical bullshit for the last seventeen years of your life? Feast upon this juicy morsel from his Blade 2 review, all the while remembering that this is how an actual person felt about Blade 2 (NSFW!):