From the Friday the 13th Oregonian....
I suppose the fanboy purist in me should be "outraged" that producer Michael Bay is ignoring continuity and rebooting "Friday the 13th," much like he rebooted the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" series. But Jason has been left out of a "Friday" movie entirely (Part V); resurrected by lightning bolts (Part VI), psychic powers (Part VII) and underwater electric cables (Part VIII); and sent to Hell (Part IX) and outer space (Part X) before getting in a cage match with Freddy Krueger ("Freddy vs. Jason"). Seriously: What damage could Michael Bay inflict on Jason Voorhees that earlier producers hadn't already inflicted on everyone's favorite hockey-masked serial killer?
Well, unfortunately, Michael Bay could make Jason Voorhees really, really boring.
"Friday the 13th" (2009) cherry-picks elements from the first three films in the series and remixes them in the blandest way possible. The filmmakers try to strip the Jason concept down to its essence, but end up making the mayhem generic: The movie's full of blandly pretty people having bland conversations and even blander sex before they're blandly slashed by Jason in bland environments using bland stabbing tools. And there's a bland missing-sister subplot that feels like a bland studio note ("Does she HAVE to be dead?").
Let's face it: These flicks are only as good as their kills are creative. But in several instances, the team behind "Friday" '09 can't even be bothered to edit the kills so you can see them. Go rent the one where Jason takes Manhattan, or something.
C-minus; 97 minutes; rated R for strong bloody violence, some graphic sexual content, language and drug material.
'Friday the 13th' (The Oregonian, Friday the 13th, 2009)
Writer/director Petr Zelenka has done something remarkable here: He's made a movie about a play rehearsal in which the performance, the backstage antics and the audience watching the rehearsal are all equally gripping.
The story: As part of an alternative arts festival in Poland, a troupe of Czech actors (playing themselves) show up at a crumbling (but working) steel mill to rehearse a stage adaptation of "The Brothers Karamazov" that uses the mill itself as the set. Steelworkers linger in the background of many shots, transfixed and perplexed.
The stage performance -- which lasers in on patricidal and philosophical scenes from Dostoyevsky's novel -- is angry, funny and intimately shot, and could easily stand on its own. But Zelenka adds another, stranger layer to the film by letting the actors wander the mill during their time offstage, dropping in on other performances, fretting over their careers and wondering why one sad steelworker (Andrzej Mastalerz) stays to watch while he has a kid in the hospital.
Zelenka weaves layers of drama and meta-drama until it's hard to tell one from the other -- and he makes a passionate case for the modern relevance of Dostoyevsky's furious words.
A-minus; Czech Republic; 113 minutes. Plays at:
Writer/director Lance Daly's 76-minute drama starts in black-and-white in the bleak Irish suburbs, where free-swearing tween-age neighbors Dylan (Shane Curry) and Kylie (Kelly O'Neill) suffer endless verbal and physical abuse at the hands of their equally free-swearing families.
The kids run away to Dublin (hitching a ride on a boat, Huck Finn-style) to find Dylan's older brother -- and the film explodes into a riot of color as the kids blow through their cash, zip around town on wheelie shoes, run into stereotypically heart-of-gold buskers and learn raw teamwork skills on the fly when things get terrifying.
There's nothing complicated about "Kisses." It tells its brisk story straight from the kids' roller-coaster point of view -- which may explain one pumped-up action scene, but maybe not the faintly ridiculous number of conversations about Bob Dylan. Daly gets great, blunt, unadorned performances out of Curry and O'Neill, who somehow manage to convey a transitory look I'll call "one part childlike, seven parts townie-in-training" on their hardening, fascinating little faces.
B; Ireland; 76 minutes. Plays at:
"Cherry Blossoms" starts with bad news: Doctors reveal a terminal diagnosis to Trudi (Hannelore Elsner) -- a repressed bohemian who buried her artsy side to dote on her kids and her boring waste-manager husband Rudi (Elmar Wepper). Trudi hides the diagnosis and drags Rudi to visit their unenthused, self-involved kids. She dreams of visiting one son in Japan and seeing Mt. Fuji, to which Rudi replies, "Fuji's just another mountain."
I won't spoil what happens next (hint: don't watch Ozu's "Tokyo Story" beforehand), but writer/director Doris Dörrie has crafted a lovely little study of grief and regret. The first half, in which the diagnosis hangs over mundane interactions like a secret shroud, is stronger than the second -- when Tokyo and an adorable homeless (ital) butoh (ital) dancer enter the frame and one character's quest for closure gets a little silly (even if his or her intelligent, mournful performance mostly sells it).
B; Germany; 127 minutes. Plays at:
One of the most striking images in "24 City" is a shot of a Chinese factory collapsing as it's demolished, the resulting cloud of smoke slowly approaching to engulf the camera. Over this, filmmaker Jia Zhangke ('Still Life," "Useless") quotes a Yeats poem: "We that have done and thought / That have thought and done / Must ramble, and thin out / Like milk spilt on a stone."
Jia's film is a slow meditation on how that poem might apply to the evolution (and losses) of Chinese culture. It mixes documentary and fictional interviews to chronicle the real-life history of a state-run munitions factory as it's torn down and relocated to make room for a monolithic "modern living community" -- part of a massive redevelopment of downtown Chengdu.
The film's power is largely aesthetic/cerebral, and the staged monologues frankly aren't as potent as the real ones. (Joan Chen plays a factory worker who's told she looks like Joan Chen. Uh, okay.) But Jia's odd, confident rhythm -- lingering on faces, songs, testimonies, and images of vast factory interiors -- finds the human beings affected by bureaucratic decisions, and captures the shift in the younger generation's approach to work.
In a poignant footnote, "24 City" was in the can before an earthquake hit Chengdu, killing thousands near that "modern living community." It underscores one interviewee's personal motto: "Come rain, come shine, I must go forward."
B; China; 112 minutes. Plays at:
PIFF coverage (The Oregonian, February 2009)
Portland International Film Festival (official site)
In a move I may very well regret, there is now a CulturePulp channel on Twitter. Follow as you see fit.
I will, at minimum, link new CulturePulp posts from there. There may also be the odd cryptic update on other projects. And, I don't know, pictures of my cat or something.
From the Friday, Feb. 6 Oregonian....
A friend recently told me about cartoonist Alison Bechdel's "movie test," as articulated by one of Bechdel's characters in this comic: "I only go to a movie if it satisfies three basic requirements: (1) it has to have at least two women in it who (2) talk to each other about (3) something besides a man."
It was fascinating to walk into "He's Just Not That Into You" with this organizing principle rattling around in my head, because it made me realize there was -- quite literally -- not a single conversation between the talented actresses in this two-hour-plus movie (including Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore, Ginnifer Goodwin and a once-again-scowling Jennifer Connelly) that did not revolve around catching or pleasing a man.
These aren't conversations; they're endless reiterations of mission statements. For over two hours. Yawn!
Director Ken Kwapis does a craftsmanlike job staging these reductive "conversations" amid the comings and goings of a bunch of intersecting lovelorn (and very dull) yuppies in Baltimore. There are good-enough performances and a couple of laughs. Justin Long is pretty funny as Goodwin's truth-telling pal. The interstitial interviews with "real" people about relationship woes would make a cute short film. But scratch the surface, and the movie's underpinnings are an insult to women everywhere -- the film is slick, stupid propaganda for the myth of The One True Love that wastes the talents of fine actresses who apparently can't find better projects.
D; 129 minutes; rated PG-13 for sexual content and brief strong language.
'He's Just Not that Into You' (The Oregonian, Feb. 6, 2009)
The Portland International Film Festival is underway.
Here's Shawn Levy's intro to The Oregonian's coverage of the fest.
Here are reviews of PIFF Week 1 films by The Oregonian's crit team. And here's my contribution to same:
Writer/director Anna Melikyan takes the dark fatalism of old-school fairy tales, marries it to "Amélie"-style quirk, and transplants the whole thing to modern Russia in this mostly charming (if abruptly ending) riff on Hans Christian Andersen's "Little Mermaid."
The film -- Russia's Foreign Language Oscar submission -- follows the troubled coming-of-age of non-mermaid Alisa (Masha Shalayeva). Conceived during a random beachside tryst, Alisa has the power to wish storms and other calamities into existence. The film starts in a wind-blasted Russian beach town and (after this arguably better half) makes its way to Moscow, where Alisa is destined to transform the life of a drunken, suicidal party boy who sells land plots on the Moon.
The movie's chief pleasures are Melikyan's confident direction and her sharp, offbeat visuals, which frame a terrific oddball performance by Shalayeva, whose face can morph from hard to beautiful to goofy in the space of five seconds. (Look at the trailer up there. You'll see what I mean.) My only (major) complaint -- without spoiling too much -- is that Alisa's cruel fairy-tale destiny revolves around saving a man maddeningly unworthy of her attention.
B-minus; Russia; 115 minutes.
PIFF coverage (The Oregonian, February 2009)