People Tell Me I Look Like Han Solo.
Monday, February 23, 2009
  Blogging the Oscars: Part 2
Welcome to Part 2 of the first (annual? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here) I'd Rather Be Watching Movies Oscar Liveblog. (Part one is here if you're interested.) I’m going to watch the entire Oscars telecast and blog about it in real time (despite my not being a person who’s usually that interested in the Oscars), because I figured if I can handle a whole season of The Hills in one day, I can handle the a couple of hours of Hollywood self-congratulation.

Before I get started, I just want to say up front that I will not be watching, covering or talking about in any way any of the “red carpet” stuff. Which basically means I won't be talking about what anybody’s wearing, unless what they’re wearing is so distracting or awesome (or distractingly awesome) that I can’t not discuss it. I’m not interested in the clothes or the parties. I’m interested in the movies and the spectacle of
possibly watching Mickey Rourke embarrass himself on live television in front of an audience of billions.

Apparently this year they're trying out a lot of crazy new things to make the show more watchable (and, presumably, also to cut time and costs). I’ve heard one of the ways in which they’re doing this is to have some sort of story that is told over the course of the night via the awards? It sounds wacky enough to be a spectacular failure, but I guess we'll see how it all shakes out.

8:30 pm ET
The show begins. Hugh Jackman is hosting, and gosh is he handsome.

I haven’t watched the Oscars from the beginning in a very long time. Is the opening montage always this weirdly insulting to the movies? And a room full of multimillionaires laughing at jokes about how the recession means they had to cut costs is actually pretty insulting if you think about it (which I probably shouldn’t be). But it was pretty funny, particularly the Dark Knight/“what does a superhero movie have to do to get nominated?” bit.

Jackman’s actually pretty funny, which I don't really find all that surprising; he's got a background in theatre, so he should be a natural out there. And he hosted the Tony Awards not long ago, and I heard he did a good job on that show. But to give you an idea of how much the Oscars are just not on my radar these days, I’m a fairly huge Daily Show fan, and I couldn’t even be bothered to watch when they got Jon Stewart to host. But so far Jackman’s got an easy, affable vibe that bodes well for what’s usually a long, plodding show.

I guess this year one of the new things they're trying is Gang Presenters, in which each of the presenters (a past winner in that same category, evidently chosen at random from the annals of Oscar history) recites an awkwardly personal-sounding love letter to one of the nominees. It’s...weird.

Penelope Cruz wins for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, one of the few nominated performances/movies I’ve seen. It’s the first time I’ve ever enjoyed her in anything, so I’m glad she won, even though it means I’m already 0-1 on the night. And I guess this means if Katie Holmes dumps Tom Cruise she gets an Oscar in a few years? Also, Penelope Cruz is apparently still talking.

My pick was: Marisa Tomei
I am: Wrong. 0-1.

Steve Martin and Tina Fey are out to present the screenplay awards. Scientology jokes are a lot funnier when you know that a chunk of the audience actually believes that stuff.

Here’s something I don’t get: If they’re smart enough to realize that Steve Martin and Tina Fey are funny, why didn’t they realize that, given this fact, the two of them reading stage directions from a script that’s meant to be serious is actually just distracting and weird. It sounds like they’re making fun of them. But like any self-respecting geek, I have a crush on Tina Fey, and am content to just ogle her for the remainder of this segment.

Dustin Lance Black wins best original screenplay for Milk. The only thing I know about Dustin Lance Black is that his name was boldly emblazoned on Milk’s trailer, despite my not having the faintest idea who he is. But good for him.

Simon Beaufoy wins best adapted screenplay for Slumdog Millionaire, the first in what I (and many others) assume will be many awards for Danny Boyle’s popular movie, which I have not seen and am somehow already a bit sick of.

Another thing people don’t like about the Oscars that will never change: in-jokes (Jack Black and Jennifer Aniston are telling jokes about Pixar’s animation rivalry with’s funny if you’re a loyal Variety reader, I suspect). And this montage of the year’s animated movies just uncomfortably confirms what I’ve been saying for years: give Hollywood the tools to produce photo-realistic animation, and they crank out dozens upon dozens of talking-animal movies. There was so much more to “Animation 2008” than this montage would have you believe that I don’t even know where to begin. And hey, another animation Oscar, another Pixar win. Good for Wall-E (which I also have not yet seen, but unlike most Pixar movies, I'm actually kind of interested in checking it out).

I guess to cut costs they’re having several awards presented by the same people this year, because Jack Black and Jennifer Aniston are still on my television. Oh! I just realized they keep showing Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt not because she was his co-star in Kung Fu Panda, but because Brad Pitt used to be married to Jennifer Aniston. I hate Hollywood.

Kunio Kato, who just won best animated short for La Maison en Petits Cubes, just thanked in broken English (among other things) his pencil as well as animation (in general, I assume), and closed with “Domo arigato, Mister Roboto.” I predict now with utter certainty that this will be the best acceptance speech of the night.

Ah, now I get it. The “story” is that they’re ostensibly following the production of a movie from screenwriter’s idea to production, because production design is next. I’m disappointed that the story thing wasn’t more silly and ridiculous, although the set backdrop, meant to emulate an old-fashioned studio soundstage, makes it look like the presenters are handing out Oscars in a barn. And for a professional actor, Daniel Craig seems about as comfortable and natural as I did during a Grade 4 oral presentation about bobcats.

Oh hey, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button just won for best production design. I’m trying to care, but falling considerably short. (Is David Fincher dating Miley Cyrus?)

The Duchess wins best costume design. Truly, dear reader, we are in the depths of the Awards Nobody Cares About. If they really want to cut these awards down, cut this thing down to the five to seven awards people actually care about (the acting awards, directing, best picture and the screenplay awards), and have the thing over and done with inside two hours. But that makes too much sense. (And I like production design.)

Benjamin Button wins best makeup, knocking Hellboy 2 out of the one Oscar is was up for. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed; say what you will about the movie itself, but the makeup in Hellboy 2 is genuinely astounding. But turning one of the most handsome men on the planet into a crotchety old man is Oscar-worthy, I think.

Oh my god I want to punch that Twilight douchebag in the face!

Ben Stiller’s Joaquin Phoenix impersonation actually makes me laugh despite myself. It’s trying a bit too hard to be topical, but Natalie Portman does a great job of selling it. She seems a little too cool for someone as pretty and talented as she is.

The Slumdog Millionaire train keeps a-rolling with a win for best cinematography. (Danny Boyle looks like Morrissey. I’m surely not the first person who has noticed this.)

I gotta say, this show is bopping along so fast I can’t really complain about the length. At this rate we’ll be done in an hour (a full hour before the show’s scheduled to end). I can’t wait to see what the big time-sink will turn out to be, because there’s no way the show can maintain this brisk pace.

Special award for Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull. Revenge of the geeks! Oh wait, it was just a one-minute presentation by Jessica Biel. (Do they make a point of finding the hottest actresses they can to host the geeks dinner? I think Alba hosted it last year.) I was ready to watch one of those little retrospectives on Catmull’s career (which I would have actually been quite interested in watching), but instead we just got Biel telling us about the retrospective he received a night or two earlier, the revenge of the geeks having apparently been deemed unfit for television.

How does one even see a live-action short? Let's say, for argument's sake, I desperately wanted to see one of these short films, how the hell would I go about doing so? And I love how best supporting actor is being touted by the announcer as “one of the most talked-about awards of the evening.” I guess that’s the translation of “the award mostly obviously a foregone conclusion.” I almost want them to give it to someone other than Heath Ledger – not because I want to have to dance a jig for the Internet; quite the opposite I assure you – just because of the monumental display of balls that would require.

Oh no. It’s the moment I’ve been dreading all night. The inevitable Hugh Jackman Musical Number. Beyoncé just showed up to lip-synch along. Right now, in case any of you are wondering, as Hugh Jackman and Beyoncé are leading a bunch of top hat- and tails-wearing dancers through a medley of Broadway standards, I am trapped in a personal hell (a personal hell, evidently, of Baz Lurhmann’s creation). And literally two seconds after typing that sentence, two of the little plastic people from High School Musical turn up to make me wish I had a gun barrel to snack on. Sadly, Doritos will have to suffice.

Best supporting actor's next. This is a big award for me, as I promised in Part 1 of this post to dance a jig and upload the video if Heath Ledger doesn't win. Alan Arkin, Cuba Gooding Jr., Christopher Walken, Kevin Kline and Joel Grey are out to give the award to Ledger. But these weirdly personal addresses from the presenters to the nominees continue to be distracting and odd. It’s also weird watching these nominees pretend they have a shot in hell of winning. (Arkin starts saying “Heath Ledger” before he even has the card out of the envelope.) But hell, it’s not like he doesn’t deserve it, and the comic geek in me is still sort of amazed that an Oscar was given to someone for playing the Joker in a Batman movie. Jig-dancing: AVERTED.

My pick was: Heath Ledger
I am: Right. 1-1.

Bill Maher presents the best documentary award (he makes a bitter crack about Religulous not being nominated; the fact that he made a similar joke on the season premiere of his HBO show earlier in the weekend, and will go on to make another before announcing the winner, suggests he’s a lot more sore about it than he probably wants us all to know), which Man On Wire wins. I’ve heard pretty great things about this movie, and I guess this is good enough reason as any to check it out.

This action montage is a pretty cool collection of footage of cars flipping and smashing through things. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button wins for best visual effects, confirming my earlier suspicions that its receiving the most nominations was more of an acknowledgment of its technical achievements (rather than for being a good movie).

The Dark Knight wins its second Oscar of the night for best sound editing. And The Dark Knight’s sound editing is pretty rad, so that’s fair. I think this is the first award that Slumdog Millionaire was up for that it didn’t win. And of course as soon as I type that, Slumdog Millionaire wins for best sound mixing. Poor Danny Boyle looks so excited for everyone else winning awards for this movie, and I don’t think he’ll win best director.

Slumdog Millionaire wins for best editing. Chris Dickens wins Most Honest Thank-You of the night for “Thank you to all the people who voted for me.” He's not thanking “the Academy,” he’s only thanking the members who voted for him. Awesome.

Eddie Murphy presents Jerry Lewis with the Hersholt Humanitarian Award. I don't know if Jerry Lewis has health issues these days, but all I can think of is how much he reminds me of Jeff Conaway on Celebrity Rehab.

Slumdog Millionaire wins for best score. Danny Boyle looks like a proud, beaming father every time someone from his movie wins. Also, it’s just occurred to me that Hugh Jackman hasn’t been on my television in quite some time. Maybe Will Smith’s joke about him taking a nap backstage wasn’t a joke after all.

Slumdog wins best song as well, for “Jai Ho.” This A.R. Rahman seems like a pretty cool cat; I guess he’s used to the attention by now. I like his acceptance speeches. Very zen.

Director Yojiro Takita, winner of best foreign language film for Departures, seems pretty happy about winning. That’s two charming Japanese filmmakers winning Oscars tonight. One of the great things about the “minor” categories like best live-action short: these people are genuinely stoked to be winning these awards, whereas the shots of Mickey Rourke through this show have left me quite sure he’s assuming he’s going to win tonight.

I have figured out a big part of the reason for the show’s slowing down in the middle; all the musical numbers and pointless montages. And now it’s the annual Dead Person Montage, only now Queen Latifah is singing along live. The really uncomfortable part of this each year is the way in which this tribute always becomes a ghoulish competition to see which person who died gets the biggest round of applause. So far it’s Roy Scheider (who also illustrates the other part of this montage, the people who I forgot had died. Like Ricardo Montalban). And Paul Newman closes it off with the biggest ovation of the night. Can’t say he doesn’t deserve it. (Eat it, Charlton Heston!)

Jackman’s really keeping it light and doing a good job, but aside from the musical numbers at the beginning and then midway through the show, he hasn't had anything to do, really. It’s probably for the best considering that “show hosting” isn’t necessarily his forté.

I’m wrong again: Danny Boyle just won best director for Slumdog Millionaire. I’m stunned but holy crap, good for him. While I’m now sort of ashamed I haven’t seen this movie yet, Boyle’s one of the most talented and diverse filmmakers out there, so him winning an Oscar is great news. He seems so genuinely joyous about his movie and so happy for everyone else that it’s really infectious. And seriously, the guy who resuscitated the zombie movie just won an Oscar. On the same night as someone won an Oscar for playing the Joker. My geek-mind = blown.

My pick was: Gus Van Sant
I am: Wrong. 1-2.

Anne Hathaway seems pretty moved by Shirley MacLaine’s speech to her, despite the fact that she's clearly reading off a cue card. Five minutes later Kate Winslet makes me 2-2, winning best actress for The Reader. I’m glad not only because she’s a great actress who deserves it (or so I assume; like Hugh Jackman cheerfully sang in the opening musical number, I also haven’t seen The Reader), but also because if she’d lost again she would have become an unfortunate shorthand for the nominee who deserves it but never seems to win.

My pick was: Kate Winslet
I am: Right. 2-2.

Wow. Adrien Brody totally looks like the bad guy from a western or pirate movie. Also, kudos to Richard Jenkins, a veteran character actor specializing in showing up as “hey, it’s THAT guy!” in movies, for getting an Oscar nomination. I always love it when guys like that get recognition for their work. The most recent thing I saw him in was Burn After Reading, in which he’s possibly the closest thing to a genuinely likeable character in the entire film.

Sean Penn just won best actor for Milk, making me wrong again. I'm sure he deserves it – I’ve heard nothing but incredible praise for his work in the movie – but I thought Mickey Rourke was as almost as much of a shoo-in as Heath Ledger was, so clearly I don't know anything about anything. I’m a bit disappointed Rourke didn’t win (not because I predicted he would, but because I think he deserves it), but Penn is clearly one of the best actors ever, so it’s not like Rourke was robbed, exactly. Though if I had to hazard a guess as to which of the two is more likely to have more nominations in his future, I’d take Penn in a heartbeat. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to Rourke’s career now. If his acceptance award from the Independent Spirit Awards last night is any indication, he’s already teetering on the precipice of madness (if in fact he ever backed away from it).

My pick was: Mickey Rourke
I am: Wrong. 2-3.

Slumdog Millionaire finishes its sweep, complete with heartwarming shot of about two-dozen people of all ages, shapes, sizes and colours crowded onstage to accept the award. It’s a nice image, and one I might appreciate more if I’d seen the movie. But Slumdog Millionaire’s success makes for a great little little story, and I’m happy for all involved.

My pick was: Slumdog Millionaire
I am: Right. 3-3.

12:03 am
The show is officially over, 30 minutes later than scheduled, clocking in at almost three-and-a-half hours. I broke even with my predictions, which, if I’m being honest, is quite a bit better than I expected to do. It wasn’t as painful as I expected it to be, but it wasn’t really all that interesting either. The parts that made for actual compelling TV were few and far between, and aside from my being shocked that Danny Boyle won best director (for some reason I assumed this year of all years the Academy would use its time-tested technique of splitting the best picture and best director categories across two films), and Mickey Rourke getting snubbed for The Wrestler, there were almost no surprises. The “new format” seemed quite similar to formats past, but they promise a brand new show every year, and every year it’s pretty much the same as the year before, at least on TV.

Maybe it’s the crop of movies this year (many of which I haven’t seen, but I refuse to believe any of them are as brilliant as last year’s well-deserved big winner, No Country for Old Men) or a less glitzy show due to the recession (I doubt the latter, however, as “glitzy” has never really been my thing), but the show seemed oddly inert. This isn’t a knock on Hugh Jackman, who I think did a fine job, but there wasn’t the same sense of fun, of beautiful, glamorous people having fun that the Golden Globes have, and the Oscars long ago gave up any pretense of being a Serious Film Awards Show, so the result is something in between. A celebration of Hollywood glamour that can’t be too glamorous, lest it seem insensitive or crass in the current economic climate. An awards show where the most interesting awards were all decided in advance (Slumdog Millionaire, Heath Ledger). It was a show that didn’t bore me quite as much as I expected (though I had jotting down my own thoughts to keep myself amused), but still didn’t really entertain me. Better luck next year, I guess.

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Friday, February 20, 2009
  Blogging the Oscars: Part 1
So this weekend is the Oscars, and despite the fact that I haven't seen a great many of the nominated movies (I have a problem with going to see movies I'm otherwise not terribly interested in just because they were nominated for awards), I have a movie blog, and so I feel like I should write about them, as the Oscars are the Super Bowl of movies (much in the same way the Super Bowl is the Oscars of football). So here we are.

I'm going to do this as a two-part special: Today I'll go through the list of the big nominees and predict the winners, and then we'll see how well I did in Part 2 on Monday, my Live Oscar Blog Spectacular. I'm watching the Oscars on Sunday night (as are a great many of you, I'm sure), and I'll be writing down my thoughts in real time. So heads-up, Monday's post will probably be long and rambling (as well as wonderfully entertaining!). So without further ado, my Oscar predictions:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

My pick: Slumdog Millionaire. It's the movie with the most "momentum" going into the show (a bizarre concept considering the fact that this isn't a sporting event; these are ostensibly decided by a group of film experts choosing the movie they thought was best, but this is apparently what the Oscars have come to). Also, I haven't seen any of these movies, so I can't say if it's deserved or not. But I have a feeling, as the other nominated movies seem to either be more showcases for actors (Milk, Frost/Nixon) or technical craftsmanship (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). So Slumdog it is.

David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon)
Gus Van Sant (Milk)
Stephen Daldry (The Reader)
Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire)

My pick: Gus Van Sant. My first instinct was to go with David Fincher (the filmmaker I like the best among the nominees, followed closely by Danny Boyle), but I can't recall one genuinely effusive review for Benjamin Button (it has a 71% freshness rating on RottenTomatoes, kind of low considering it has more nominations than any other movie) so I think its boatload of nominations is the ultimately going to be its award, unless the Academy decides they want to give Brad Pitt an Oscar for being so handsome. But ultimately Van Sant is a talented director who people in the business seem to think deserves an award, and Milk seems like the perfect opportunity to give him his props.

Richard Jenkins (The Visitor)
Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon)
Sean Penn (Milk)
Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)

My pick: Mickey Rourke. Sean Penn's already got Oscars, and the having the Mickey Rourke Restoration Project culminate in an Oscar for a genuinely amazing performance is just too great a story to pass up. Unless Rourke's...odd behaviour has already burned through his newfound Hollywood goodwill (he flirted with an appearance at WrestleMania, of all things), this is his to lose.

Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married)
Angelina Jolie (Changeling)
Melissa Leo (Frozen River)
Meryl Streep (Doubt)
Kate Winslet (The Reader)

My pick: Kate Winslet. She's been nominated a couple of times already, and if she doesn't win again, she'll become the Martin Scorcese of British actresses. Meryl Streep is the safe choice, and while Anne Hathaway is one of the hottest young actresses out there and she's apparently brilliant in Rachel Getting Married, she's young enough to have plenty more opportunities ahead of her.

Josh Brolin (Milk)
Robert Downey Jr. (Tropic Thunder)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt)
Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road)

My pick: Heath Ledger. If he doesn't win this award I'll dance a jig. And record it and upload it onto this blog. If it wasn't for him though (his winning is such a foregone conclusion that there are already news stories about what will happen "if" he wins on Sunday). So root for Robert Downey Jr. not just because he's amazing in Tropic Thunder, but because you may get to see me humiliate myself.

Amy Adams (Doubt)
Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
Viola Davis (Doubt)
Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler)

My pick: Marisa Tomei. She's the thing that amazed me the most about The Wrestler. I assumed Rourke would be incredible and that the movie itself would be great, and I was right on both counts, but Tomei was the factor that knocked me on my proverbial ass. That she's already won an Oscar for best supporting actress (amid tons of controversy no less) could work against her, but the only other real threat is Penelope Cruz, who's wonderful in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (my full review of that movie's coming soon), but given that the theme of last year's Oscars was "foreigners sweep main categories," I suspect an American actress will win this time around.

So there you have it, my Oscar predictions. Come back Monday to marvel at my attempts to sit through an entire Oscar telecast for the first time in many years. I know if Hellboy 2: The Golden Army wins for best makeup, that'll probably make my night.

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Friday, February 13, 2009
  DVD Review: Friday the 13th Parts 1-3

I’ve mentioned in this space before that I’m not really much of a horror movie guy, and slasher flicks in particular aren’t my thing. There are exceptions of course – I love the original John Carpenter Halloween, and I quite enjoyed Rob Zombie’s remake (my review of the latter is here), and I dig the Scream movies, but that’s more to do with their meta-humour/satirical aspects – but I was never a gorehound during my formative movie geek years, which I think is crucial to loving the slasher genre. (I was more into robots and spaceships as a kid than masked, knife-wielding psychopaths.) And no franchise best exemplifies the slasher than Friday the 13th. Following the box office success of remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween, everyone’s favourite machete-wielding amateur goalie, Jason Voorhees, is the next passenger on the remake train. And to promote the new Friday the 13th film, Paramount has reissued new DVDs of the first three films in the franchise.

Before I go any further, I should mention there will be spoilers ahead (mostly for the first movie, as it’s the only one with something resembling a “twist”), in case you’ve somehow managed to not see the 1980 original and yet also really don’t want to know what happens at the end. (It turns out the killer is Jason’s mom.)

What I find the most fascinating about the Friday the 13th franchise is that the thing it’s most famous for – Jason – doesn’t actually show up as most people think of him until partway through the third film in the franchise. (I’ve heard the remake basically condenses the first three films in order to get to Jason with the mask and machete killing teens, which would explain why the first three got the DVD reissue treatment.) The original Friday the 13th, which screenwriter Victor Miller openly admits was never intended to be anything more than a quickie rip-off of Halloween (he says producer/director Sean S. Cunningham said to him literally “Halloween made a lot of money; let’s rip it off.”), basically just borrows heavily (VERY heavily) from Carpenter’s film, including an opening flashback sequence shot in the first person.

The other thing that amuses me about Friday the 13th is that it’s basically an R-rated Scooby Doo movie. The story follows a bunch of randy camp counselors preparing to re-open Camp Crystal Lake, which is said to be cursed, known as “Camp Blood” by the locals. About 20 years earlier, a developmentally-challenged boy named Jason Voorhees drowned because the counselors at the time were too buSPOILER ALERT!sy drinking and copulating to notice, and the following year some teens were brutally murdered. The camp was then shut down, and the local rumours began. When more counselors show up, disregarding the local folklore, the mysterious killer – Jason’s mom, who now hates all horny teens, especially randy camp counselors – starts killing again to try to scare people away. Except instead of Shaggy and Scooby and the gang, we get a young Kevin Bacon getting an arrow stabbed through his neck.

The original Friday really doesn’t hold up all that well. It’s not particularly suspenseful, and it predates the slasher genre’s latching on to the gimmick of increasingly violent, crazy kills, so the murders are fairly unspectacular, and Cunningham – who never really had any affection for the genre, and was just following the money, having helmed a couple of Bad New Bears rip-offs previously – doesn’t have much talent for building suspense. It’s an interesting artifact given the stature this franchise has since achieved in movie history, but as a stand-alone piece of work it’s pretty underwhelming. But the twist of having the killer being a sweet-looking middle-aged woman remains genuinely clever, so it gets points for that.

Part 2 came out a year later, in 1981 (but is set five years later), following the first movie’s surprise success. Of the original three, I found it the most enjoyable as a straight-ahead slasher movie. But while this time around Jason himself is the killer, he’s still not yet the Jason fans came to know and love. He’s just a maniac with a sack on his head. It’s still not exactly mind-blowing stuff by today’s standards, but producer/director Steve Miner does a decent enough job crafting a movie about a psycho who stalks camp counselors. Part 2 is also noteworthy for really upping the gore and pointless-nudity quotients, both staples of the genre as it would develop (one scene in particular, in which a girl out looking for her lost dog in the middle of the night by herself, up and decides to go skinny dipping for no discernable reason in the midst of her search had me in hysterics). It’s not anything incredible, but Part 2 moves along at a brisk enough pace and does what it’s trying to do well enough.

Part 3 is both the worst of the original three and also the entry where much of what the series became known for takes shape (but these aren’t necessarily relJason, in his early sack-headed incarnationated). It’s hampered in part for being part of the ill-advised 3D fad from the early ‘80s, so it’s filled with ridiculous shots of things flying or pointing at the camera intended to blow the audience’s red-and-blue-glasses-wearing minds. But the problem is that the film takes forever to get going. Nothing really happens for basically the first hour of the movie, which, in a 90-minute slasher movie, is almost unforgivable. But it’s the film where Jason first dons the iconic hockey mask, and it’s also the first movie where he’s portrayed as a hulking brute, as in Part 2 he was a just an average-sized guy with a sack on his head.

An interesting (and, presumably, unintentional) side effect of the 3D gimmick in Part 3 is that in order to fully take advantage of the 3D angle, the film is filled with ridiculous kills (my fave is when Jason squeezes a guy’s head until his eye pops out right and it flies directly into the camera), which eventually became a trademark of the series, and the slasher genre in general. (Part 3 also features Jason running around without a mask for a little while, and he looks almost exactly like Chunk from The Goonies.) But unfortunately the sluggish pacing and the focus on the 3D stuff make it the worst film of the original three.

The Friday the 13th franchise is synonymous with horror/slasher movies for millions of people, and as much as the films on their own may not stand the test of time for casual moviegoers or non-fans like myself, it’s great that fans get these really cool DVDs of the original three movies.

GRADE: Friday the 13th: C-; Part 2: C; Part 3: D+


The amount of extras on the three new Friday the 13th DVDs gets thinner the later into the series the discs get. The original is now an extended cut, with a few more bits of gore added in that had been cut out for decades (it had been previously available as deleted scenes in earlier DVDs, but this marks the first time the footage has been reincorporated into the film proper), and it also includes commentary from producer/director Sean S. Cunningham and various cast and crew. It’s a little bit piecemeal, sounding more like a series of separate audio interviews spliced together (moderated by Peter Bracke, author of the coffee-table book Crystal Lake Memories). It’s not necessarily bad, but the participants don’t really comment on what’s happening on the screen, but rather they just talk while the movie’s playing. The people are still pretty interesting though (at leas'So, uh, I guess that's a no to a second date, then?'t Cunningham and writer Victor Miller are). Also included on the DVD for Part 1 is a series of featurettes, including one on Cunningham himself and retrospective items on the cast. There’s also something called ‘Lost Tales from Camp Blood – Part 1,’ some sort of newly-created horror short that has seemingly nothing to do with Friday the 13th at all (some teens get murdered by a big guy, but he’s not wearing a hockey mask and it doesn’t seem like he’s supposed to be Jason, so I have no idea what’s going on here.)

The Part 2 DVD has an interview with aforementioned Crystal Lake Memories writer Peter Bracke, and I found it the most interesting piece on any of the discs. Bracke’s a walking encyclopedia of Friday the 13th lore, and he provides lots of interesting insights into the franchise, such as why Cunningham, Miller and makeup effects guru Tom Savini didn’t return for Part 2 (they thought bringing Jason back as an actual character after turning up in a dream sequence at the end of the first movie to be too much of a credibility-stretcher – hilarious in light of how out-there and supernatural the franchise would eventually get). Also included are featurettes on horror conventions (of which the Friday the 13th movies are always a staple) and a 2004 panel discussion with all the actors who had played Jason up until that point. And there’s ‘Lost Tales from Camp Blood – Part 2,’ which makes as little sense as ‘Part 1.’

The DVD extras on Part 3 are nonexistent, at least in the traditional sense; the only thing on the DVD is the theatrical trailer, though the disc gives viewers the option of watching the standard two-dimensional version of the movie or the 3D version, thanks to the inclusion of two pairs of old-school, red-and-blue-3D glasses (which are decked out to resemble Jason’s mask). I wish I could say the 3D worked well, but it doesn’t really, but I give Paramount an A for effort for even including it. It’s a cool little feature to put on the DVD, and I can’t say I didn’t have fun watching the last half-hour or so with the ‘80s-era 3D technology.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that all three movies have new digital transfers and 5.1 surround sound audio tracks, and they all look and sound pretty slick. And it’s not really a DVD extra, but all three come with sweet lenticular covers. I’m a sucker for cool packaging.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009
  DVD Review: Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Zack and Miri Make a Porno is the latest movie from writer/director Kevin Smith, and before I dive into the review proper, I feel I have to explain a little bit about my relationship with his movies. I’m of the generation that really latched on to Smith’s work, beginning with Clerks (which I rented right when it first came out on video, and my buddies and I laughed so hard we had tears in our eyes), through Mallrats (which I loved at the time, largely due to the tons of comic book references peppered throughout the movie), Chasing Amy, Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (I skipped his initial attempt at “going mainstream,” Jersey Girl, because I saw Gigli and figured that was enough of that). I owned all the DVDs, watched them all with the commentaries – Kevin Smith’s commentaries, particularly with dudes like Ben Affleck at his side, are often more entertaining than the movies themselves. Hell, I even bought the DVD of the short-lived Clerks animated series. But as the years wore on, I enjoyed the films less and less, and the knocks on his movies I’d encounter became harder and harder to defend against, and the more I’d throw them on to re-watch, the more they all started to seem clunky and awkward.

By the time Clerks 2 came out, I felt like I was done with Kevin Smith. My DVDs were gathering dust, though I still found him a pretty funny dude (his long story about working on an aborted Superman film in the An Evening With Kevin Smith lecture/concert/quasi-standup film remains one of the funniest Hollywood insider stories I’ve ever heard, and a friend got me one of his books as a gift, and it was a really fun read). A good buddy of mine (who’d never enjoyed Smith’s previous movies as much as I had) saw it before me, and couldn’t find enough negative words to describe the film. But he’s usually harder to please than I am with movies, so I took his invective with a grain of salt.

Then I got around to watching Clerks 2, and it remains one of the absolute worst movies I have ever seen in my life. I won’t go into what I hated about it here in detail, but suffice it to say that my friend who saw it before me was pretty surprised when he learned I disliked it even more than he did. Clerks 2 was so bad that it made me retroactively hate his other movies; the day after I watched it I traded all my Kevin Smith DVDs in for an Xbox 360 game. If I had to credit Clerks 2 with anything, I guess it’s that it got me to check out Bioshock.

Which brings me to Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Smith’s second attempt to make a movie that appeals to an audience beyond his dwindling core of (admittedly insanely) devoted fans. And on that front, I can say the movie is actually quite successful. It’s easily his best movie, but that’s also the definition of damning with faint praise. The movie benefits from having a cast of real actors (Rosario Dawson, whom I normally find to be a painfully bad actress, wipes the floor with the literal amateurs who populate the cast of Clerks 2) like Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks in the lead roles, with the real ringer in the cast being Craig Robinson of Pineapple Express and The Office fame. Justin Long also tears it up in his small part as a gay porn star; his voice alone makes his every line hilarious.

Now, as much as I dislike Smith’s previous movies, I still think he’s a very funny guy, and he’s still got a knack for capturing the reality of relationships in ways few other filmmakers do. There’s a crucial scene about three-quarters into the movie – oh the plot, in case you don’t know already, features Rogen and Banks as the titular Zack and Miri, roommates who are also lifelong platonic buddies who decide to get out of their crippling collective debt by making an ultra-low-rent porno movie to try to sell it to everyone from their high school reunion – where Miri gets upset with Zack because she thinks he (recreationally) slept with one of the other amateur porn stars in their movie, and decides she’s going to get him back by doing a scene with another actor instead of just Zack (Zack’s original plan being, in typical guy fashion, to have Miri only “act” in a scene with him, meanwhile his script calls for him to perform with different women), and it quickly morphs from a conversation ostensibly about their amateur porno movie into one about their actual relationship and how they feel about one another (spoiler alert, in case this is your first movie: they’re secretly in love with each other!). Despite being about a ridiculous, implausible situation, the scene actually gets at a lot of truth about the ways men and women relate to each other romantically, one of the things Smith still does quite well. And on a purely personal level, Smith busts out the Pixies’ “Hey” (one of my favourite songs from my all-time favourite band) for a key emotional sequence in the movie, so I can’t hate on the movie that hard.

The main problem is that Zack and Miri tackles a lot of standard Kevin Smith topics – the differences between guys’ and girls’ approaches to sex, “shocking” dirty jokes, etc. – and, if you’ve seen his earlier films, it all feels a very familiar. Smith’s trodden this ground before, and his dogged determination to stick to what works for him (i.e. small-scale, foulmouthed comedies that play basically just to his existing fanbase), not to mention the fact that elements of the script borrow a bit too much from Judd Apatow flicks like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up (hell, he borrowed half of Apatow’s cast of regulars for Zack and Miri) just makes it all seem very familiar, and not necessarily in a good way. I get the feeling Smith has mellowed in his old age, as his last few movies have been far sappier than his earlier work. And hey, since the original Clerks, he’s gotten married and had a kid, so I certainly can’t fault him for that alone; he can't remain the cynical young man forever. But it feels like he’s afraid he’s losing his edge, as he seems to be trying really hard to retain his cred by wrapping a romance that’s easily as saccharine as the most generic Hollywood romantic comedy in vulgar humour and cheap gross-out gags. But it’s not 1994 anymore, and the Internet has desensitized us all to the sort of stuff that was shocking as recently as 10-15 years ago (a point, weirdly enough, that Smith himself makes – quite hilariously – in the script, about the “mainstreaming of porn”). It’s made dialogue that was shocking when Clerks came out seem weirdly juvenile and almost tame in 2009. Smith seems to be trying to “shock the squares” by filling the script with references to anal sex (a fixation he’s had his whole career; it’s a bit weird), but it just rings false. (I was originally going to put a joke in here about how a fun drinking game would be to get some friends together, throw on the Zack and Miri DVD and take a drink every time there’s an ass reference, but I don’t think I could handle all the alcohol poisoning-related deaths on my conscience.)

My personal opinions about the filmmaker aside, Zack and Miri Make a Porno is a pretty funny comedy that tries too hard to be risqué (to cover for the fact that it tries too hard to be sweet and romantic). Smith is aided by a cast that far outstrips his usual gang of hometown Jersey buddies, and his movies are no longer painful to look at. If he continues to try to make “real” movies, having abandoned his “View Askewniverse” characters (two movies too late, in my opinion), then Zack and Miri could be the first step in a more promising direction. As much as I realize I spent the bulk of this review ragging on Smith and Zack and Miri, it’s really a decent flick that also provides more insight into actual relationships than 95% of other romantic comedies. If you can get past the vulgarity – and there is a lot of it to get past – then Zack and Miri Make a Porno is worth a rental.



The first thing I noticed about the Zack and Miri Make a Porno DVD is that there’s no commentary from Smith, which is strange and disappointing. Strange because Smith almost always does commentary tracks, and disappointing because they’re almost always awesome and fun and insightful. Oh well.

Disc one of the two-disc edition includes a whopping 43 (!) deleted scenes, some of which are funny and some of which are not. The making-of documentary on disc two, ‘Popcorn Porn: The Making of Zack and Miri, is pretty in-depth, and covers the production from being an idea in Smith’s head through to its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. As much as I don’t much care for his movies anymore, Smith’s still an interesting guy to listen to talk about making movies. He’s a really smart, funny, dude who could make a story about walking down to the corner store to buy milk engaging.

Also included is a Comic-Con 2008 panel that covers a lot of the same material as the documentary, but one thing it provides that the doc doesn’t is a glimpse into Smith’s cult of personality. The first couple of people who ask questions are dressed like characters from his movies; I want to believe this is because it’s Comic-Con, where it’s okay to wear ridiculous costumes, but I’ve seen enough sad geeks who’ve clearly used Jay and Silent Bob as their sartorial template in their everyday lives that it’s entirely possible these dorks just dress like that all the time, and they ask questions to the cast like “what’s it like working with Kevin Smith?” There’s also a collection of webisodes created to promote the film online, but it’s sort of redundant watching Smith and his cast tease you with glimpses of a movie you’ve already seen.

The funniest stuff is in the collection of outtakes and bloopers on disc two as well as a short featurette on the improv-heavy scene between Seth Rogen and Justin Long called ‘Seth vs. Justin: Battle for Improvisational Supremacy.’ Kevin Smith is known for packing his DVDs with extras, and Zack and Miri is no different.

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