Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Friday the 13th

As the latest in the line of one of the icons of the horror genre, the 2009 remake/re-imagining of Friday the 13th does its due diligence. Heart rate accelerated, eyes wide, waiting for the next gruesome end; audiences expecting a slasher film that does Jason Voorhees justice will not be disappointed. Exactly what viewers expect; Friday the 13th is ninety minutes of hip young people getting creatively butchered.

Relying on the tried and true slasher trifectas, director Marcus Nispel’s take on the machete wielding, hockey mask wearing, unstoppable killing machine hunts his erstwhile victims as they partake of copious amounts of sex, drugs and Rock & Roll.

In a teleconference interview, lead actor Jared Padalecki said Jason had lost the lumbering gait of previous films in favor a “fit, capable” portrayal by actor Derek Mears that Padalecki likened to a “pit-bull with a machete chasing you down,” he said. Padalecki plays Clay Miller, a man who runs into college students looking for a good time as he searches for his sister. Sound familiar?

As such movies do, this Friday the 13th appears to be acutely aware that its screams and heart stopping moments are not enough to carry the film. To try and maintain viewers’ attentions in-between bloodbaths, male audiences get their fill of topless, nubile women and female audiences get both the geeky sidekicks as well as the deep voiced, big eyed boy toys to dream about. Like virtually every slasher ever, the hot and the horny get it on and are unceremoniously macheted, bear trapped, impaled and burned alive.

According to Padalecki, the new version is “new and sexy and hip and scary but they still pay homage to the originals,” he said. New, sexy and hip all preceding scary, this is a Friday the 13th that is “made it for a new generation.”

Supplementing the sex and violence is the modest humor of a movie that realizes it is not a bastion of horror. The comic relief characters are likeable, their jokes elicit laughs and their deaths are lamented. Then the pretty people start running for their lives and the likeable ones are summarily forgotten.

Perhaps the film’s strongest asset is its total lack of camp. Instead, the movie is as predictable a slasher as they come, while the death scenes are mildly shocking they never manage to catch you by surprise and never is the suspense enough to elicit more than a slight motion towards the front of your seat. Moderately creative in its death scenes, I imagine audiences who encounter hulking figures covered in shadow will think twice, but not a third time.

If you’re looking for an excuse to wrap your arms around your very easily scared date while maintaining calm, this is the flick. True horror fans expecting the living daylights scared out of them will find the film wanting but those who can handle modest fear will do well in a movie that almost seems designed to promote them as fearless protectors of the quickly frightened.

It's hard to be disappointed in a movie that fits a very specific niche. In its defense, Friday the 13th doesn't drop the ball. It also doesn't carry it to a touchdown, just a respectable first down. For its ability to make me revert to football metaphors and its decent frights, I'd have to say the film reaffirms my faith in Hollywood if for no other reason than I respect the role such films play.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You

He's Just Not That Into You is definitely, unequivocally, absolutely a chick flick. There are tears and hugs and girlfriends galore, lending helping hands, offering wisps of wisdom, providing shoulders to cry on. Chick flick or not, it is also a film that guys can not only appreciate but also learn a great deal from.

Based off a relationship advice book of the same name by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo which was in turn inspired by an episode of Sex and the City, He's Just Not That Into You is a how-to for dating, relationships and the opposite sex for men as well as women. Stellar performances by an A-list cast that includes Justin Long, Ginnifer Goodwin, Kevin Connolly, Scarlett Johansson, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Aniston portray every stereotype and archetype from the committed relationship to newlyweds and even the needy clinger. Through them audiences experience every question they've ever asked about relationships, feeling needy and fulfilled and confused as they follow the characters through weddings, parties and more than one crying session.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for audiences is Ben Affleck as Neil, an affectionate, charming, chivalrous and dare I say, likable character. In a seven year relationship with Jennifer Aniston's Beth, the two display not just a palpable chemistry but an actual feel of a relationship, one with ups and downs and a deep rooted connection they are able display despite sharing just over two hours of screen time with a number of other couples that if anything, take up even more time on screen. Despite constantly skipping from one perspective and relationship to another, never does the film feel rushed or bloated, it manages to flow between the various characters with a nimble dexterity that the audience is barely aware of. Each character is so human and representative of at least one aspect of the dating scene that audience members can't help but relate to one or more of them.

Directed by Ken Kwapis of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, the film is very much a chick flick that nevertheless can be watched and even enjoyed by guys. Not just bearable for those dragged on a date, while two thirds of the movie is directed at women and pitfalls with men they should be on the lookout for, fully one third is dedicated to the male perspective and in revealing why the opposite sex can at times seem so perplexing. The film takes an avowed approach to avoiding the classic cliches one would ordinarily expect of garden variety chick flicks like makeover montages, singing into random objects and quirky best friends.

The problem guys have with most chick flicks is that they are directed entirely at women. So much is given to the female perspective, so much is dedicated to creating a pillow for a woman to cry into or a bright ray of sunlight to smile with that men feel completely lost. They watch painfully as things that they have no interest in play out in a world far removed from what they are comfortable with. Most men simply do not understand shoes or eyeliner or nails, it is outside their normal comfort zone. He's Just Not That Into You does not bother with such things, it prefers to stay firmly rooted in the reality of modern, high tech dating, showing the discovery of true love while still affirming that it is in fact OK to be alone, to move on, to keep waiting and looking for that special someone.

In most chick flicks audiences can expect plenty of hankies and shopping expeditions, understandable to women but often superficial and utterly lost on men. In He's Just Not That Into You, what we get instead is emotional and universal, without soul mates or love at first site but what is loved and lost and very, very real.

The fact that such a chick flick is still possible, that Hollywood can put out something heartfelt and meaningful and likeable for men and women alike, means that my faith lives for another day.