February 13th, 2009

FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009) ** ½

I know people get their panties in a bunch once they hear a new remake of a horror classic is coming out.  I used to be that way.  Now I just generally accept it as standard Hollywood operating procedure.  I got miffed when Rob Zombie molested the Michael Myers legend for his ‘07 version of Halloween, but in hindsight if you just think about it as less a remake and more as Part 9, it works much better.  Same goes for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake.  I think if they had just called the goldurn thing Texas Chainsaw Massacre 5, everybody would’ve been falling all over themselves to praise it as being, “A lot better than that Matthew McConaughey crap!”


But… whereas the original Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies are not only landmarks in the horror genre but classic FILMS in their own right, the original Friday the 13th is just one Helluva fun horror movie.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a well-oiled scare machine; it’s just that Sean S. Cunningham is no John Carpenter.  Let me put it to you this way:  Halloween is the classy broad you marry.  Friday the 13th is the slut who lets you hit it in the pooper. 


In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and state that the new Friday the 13th isn’t really a remake.  It’s more akin to Casino Royale in that we get to see the origins of Jason Vorhees.  Sure, some stuff is repeated like the death of his mother and him obtaining the hockey mask; but it felt to me like less of a remake and more of a way to make the old masked maniac seem fresh again.  This Friday the 13th represents a true “New” beginning for Jason.  For too many sequels Jason has been doing that indestructible zombie thing.  By doing a remake, Jason can start from scratch and return to his “scary” roots as a hulking, fast-moving, mongoloid murderer.


The fact that Friday the 13th was remade by Michael Bay and Co. isn’t really all that surprising.  I mean each flick since Part 3 has been based on some sort of gimmick in one way or another.  Part 3 was filmed in 3-D, Part 4 promised us “The Final Chapter”, then 5 turned around and gave us “A New Beginning”.  6 boasted the return of the REAL Jason, while 7 promoted Jason vs. Carrie.  The next three installments saw Jason leaving Camp Crystal Lake in hopes that a change of scenery would keep things fresh.  In Part 8 he went to Manhattan, 9 took him to Hell, and in 10 he went into outer space.  Part 11 was the ultimate gimmick movie in which Jason fought his biggest rival Freddy Krueger. 


And Jason's death shouldn't prevent him from making a comeback.  In the previous films, Jason’s been killed by drowning, axes to the skull, machetes to the eye, toxic waste, being dragged down to Hell, sexy cyborgs, and Freddy himself.  He’s even survived poor box office returns, so if he came back from that, he can come back from anything.


Okay, enough of my long-winded stalling.  You all are dying to know how it is.  The answer:  It’s no better and no worse than Michael Bay’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake.


I won’t lie to you; the first half of this movie is extremely shitty and had me more than a bit worried.  Jason’s origins were clumsily handled (Mama Vorhees gets decapitated two minutes into the flick) and the campfire tale that introduces the Jason mythology seemed rushed; lacking the mystery and resonance of the similar scene from Part 2.  Also, the first couple of kills were mostly bloodless and seemed out of step with Jason’s persona (Jason never had to trap his victims before). 


There’s also an odd new touch to the Jason mystique that just seems plain bizarre.  Apparently Camp Crystal Lake is one big ganja farm.  That’s why everybody comes to the lake… to steal Jason’s weed.  (I’m not making this up.)  Remember in the old trailer for Part 3 when the announcer said that old Hockey Face would kill anybody who trespassed into the camp because “THESE ARE JASON’S WOODS!”  Well, in this one, Jason will kill you because “THESE ARE JASON’S BUDS!”  Also the Token Black Guy is made to be the Tokin’ Black Guy.  Don’t ask.


The flick actually gets better as it goes along though.  Once the second set of teens started to get butchered in mildly inventive and gory ways, I had to admit I was sorta having fun.  We get:  Ear hacking (Ipod headphone still intact), sleeping bag barbequing, machete to the head, throat slashing, arrow through the head, machete through the pier and into the top of the skull (the best kill of the movie), screwdriver through the throat, axe into the back and out the other side, impalement on deer antlers (not up to snuff with Silent Night, Deadly Night; still the pinnacle of antler impalement scenes), spear through the eye, tow truck impalement, and machete through the stomach.  That’s a kill sheet that any Jason fan can be proud of, despite the movie’s many flaws.


Derek (The Hills Have Eyes 2) Mears does a fine job behind the mask as Jason.  Not as good as Hodder, Brooker, or White, but he comes pretty close.  Mears really books when he has to and the scene in which he flung the axe lumberjack style won me over.  Let’s hope he reprises the role if there’s a sequel. 


The rest of the performances?  Well, the teens are idiotic, unlikable, and are all thoroughly biodegradable.  All I’m going to say is thank God Jason recycles.


In short, this new Friday is one half of a great Jason movie.  There were definitely a few things that stuck in my craw but at the end of the day, the movie is all about dumb teens showing off their titties and getting killed and that’s what you really want in a Friday flick.  I think by the time Part 13 comes out, Michael Bay and Co. will have the formula down pat and deliver a flick that’s TRULY worthy of the hockey mask.

Random Thought:  This is actually the twelfth Friday the 13th movie, which makes me wonder why they didn’t just wait for the thirteenth film to do a remake; that way it would’ve been literally Friday the 13th.  (Or the 13th Friday, take your pick.)

CHOCOLATE (2009) ****

We all know that Tony Jaa is the new King of Kung Fu.  In Ong Bak and The Protector, Jaa dethroned Bruce Lee as the Numero Uno Martial Arts Madman and broke more people’s bones in just those two films than Steven Seagal has in his entire career.  Tony maybe the King, but Yanin Vismitananda is the Queen.  Not only am I crowning Yanin the Queen of Kung Fu; I’m also going out on a limb and proclaiming her as the best female action hero of all time. 


Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2?  Looks like a slightly menopausal grandma next to Yanin Vismitananda.  Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?  Go crouch somewhere else!  Rhona Mitra from Doomsday?  Take a hike sister!  Uma Thurman in Kill Bill?  Shit, Chocolate makes Kill Bill look like My Dinner with Andre.


Now I know the name Yanin Vismitananda doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but folks; trust me… you’ll be hearing more about this fine lady in the future.


I don’t even want to tell you a whole lot about Chocolate since I want you to all experience this one for yourself.  All you got to know is that Yanin plays Zen, an autistic girl who watches Tony Jaa movies.  Thanks to her autism, she is able to mimic Jaa’s movements and do all kinds of Muay Thai kickboxing.  Zen’s mother gets cancer and needs money for chemo treatments, so her shifty nephew decides to have Zen shakedown the local thugs for some quick cash.  When they don’t pay up; Zen gets upset… REALLY upset and takes out like 25 guys without breaking a sweat.


We’re talking Rain Man Meets The Next Karate Kid.


Remember in The Protector when Tony Jaa would come into a room demanding to know who stole his elephants and would proceed to kick the snot out of anyone who didn’t give him a straight answer?  Same deal here.  Yanin comes into a room and says, “You give mom money now!”  When she doesn’t get her dough in a prompt fashion, she goes batshit insane on some motherfuckers.


Vismitananda is fucking amazing in this movie.  If I wasn’t already married, I’d propose to her.  She’d kick my ass on the spot, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  This is her first movie and she gives what is probably the best debut performance by an actress since Greta Garbo.  But I ask you, could Greta Garbo Kung Fu the shit out of fifty henchmen in one scene?  Didn’t think so.  Vismitananda is totally convincing at playing the withdrawn side of Zen and her performance is truly moving during the more dramatic scenes of the film.  Man oh man, when she starts Kung Fuing the shit out of people though, WATCH OUT!  I got the same charge watching her as I did when I first saw Tony Jaa in The Protector; which is about the highest level of praise I can dish out.


Director Prachya Pinkaew also did Ong Bak and The Protector with Jaa and it’s safe to say that the man is one of the finest directors ever to dabble in the Kung Fu genre.  The man could direct a tampon commercial and I’d still watch that fucker.  I really hope that Chocolate will not only propel Vismitananda to deserved superstardom, but also give Pinkaew his due as one of the best action directors working today.  And just wait to you see the final battle.  My jaw is still on the floor from that one.


The   Video   Vacuum   Salutes   Chocolate   for:  Giving   New   Meaning   to  the  Term, Handi-Capable.


Chocolate rockets straight to Number One on The Video Vacuum Top Ten for 2009, dethroning My Bloody Valentine 3-D.  Folks, this one is going to be tough to beat.