Monday, May 30, 2011

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever

Why do I do this to myself?  Sure, I have a healthy interest in movies that are so bad they're good (I call them Lefty Gold), but sometimes I knowingly just put my mind in harm's way.  Case in point: Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. I had heard that the movie was supposed to be bad, but when I found out that it had a 0% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I was shocked; even Battlefield Earth earned a 2% "rotten" rating.  Zero percent is virtually unheard of.  Maybe I just had to see it to believe it, or maybe I'm just a sucker for pain, but I chose to dive into B:EvS all by my lonesome.

If you are fortunate enough to have avoided this movie so far, here's the trailer to give you an idea of what I was working with:

This is one of those movies where the less you pay attention to the plot, the faster the nosebleeds will stop.  For reasons that are left unexplained for a while, Sever (Lucy Liu) takes it upon herself to kidnap the son of Robert Gant (Gregg Henry), the director of the DIA (which is apparently a real government agency).  As the son of a prominent military intelligence man, the kid was pretty well-guarded.  Not that it matters to Sever; she just waltzes right in and pulls some some serious Keanu Matrix shit, and suddenly, the guards are all down.  And by "Matrix shit," I mean the sequels.  Basically, she wore sunglasses at night and a long leather (hooded) trench coat while she beat up some guys who treated her like she was the damn bogeyman and not just a moderately athletic actress. 
Because trenches are made for hand-to-hand combat.

To find the boy, the FBI digs into its "super awesome former agents that can easily be talked into rejoining" files and finds Ecks (Antonio Banderas), who is busy drinking, smoking, and growing stubble at a nearby bar.  Two agents try to strong-arm him, he predictably beats their asses despite being theoretically drunk and out of practice, and he agrees to find Sever and the boy.  Why?  Apparently, Ecks' boss (Miguel Sandoval) has information on the death of Ecks' wife --- who might not really be dead!  Gasp!  I hope he's not playing with Ecks' emotions, because I can tell from his three minutes of screen time so far that Ecks is still hurting from her presumably untimely end!  So, Ecks is chasing after Sever with some FBI guys while the DIA team (led by Ray Park, who was totally third-billed in the movie and not wearing extensive makeup for a change) tries to reach her first.

From that synopsis, you might have noticed that the microscopic killer robot isn't as prevalent in the story as it is in the preview.  That's kind of odd, right?  Well, that's because it appears in the scene shown in the trailer and then again at the end.  And no, the robot thing is not called "Ballistic."  In fact, there is no reason at all for this movie to have "Ballistic" in the title.  Furthermore, aside from their initial meet-and-greet fight, Ecks and Sever are allies.  Their one fight is about as exciting as you might imagine, though:
It looks like he's going to puke from being tickled too much.
This is a movie where every character mentions that Ecks and Sever are the best at everything, as long as it's deadly.  Naturally, the film builds up to their painfully choreographed fight scene.  The result is...well, less than thrilling.  I never thought I would say this, but it made me look back on the hand-to-hand combat scenes from The Hunted --- where Benicio Del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones scuffle around for half an hour in an uncomfortable man-hug --- and think "not bad."  The Ecks vs. Sever fight (the only time the "Ecks vs. Sever" subtitle is actually appropriate) is so slow and awkward that I wouldn't be surprised if the stunt coordinator was audibly shouting instructions just below the blaring soundtrack.

Okay, fine.  The title of the movie is pretty awful.  What about the acting?  Honestly, it's a little hard to judge.  The script is atrocious, definitely one of the worst major motion picture scripts to have been made into an actual movie in the past decade, so that should be taken into consideration when judging the actors.  Even with that in mind, I'm going to give the cast a universal thumbs down.  Or up.  Whichever one means they all die by Roman gladiator.  Antonio Banderas, even with his sexy cartoon bee voice, is out of his element here.
When Banderas is in his comfort zone (giving a smoldering glare at the camera and speaking heavily accented English), he is a decent actor.  Here, he is asked to look tired, haggard, and be an incredible bad-ass.  It doesn't work to his strengths.  Lucy Liu is better known for her semi-comedic roles than her dramatic chops, and this movie is completely without humor.  As for her action movie skills, she was definitely on par with Angela Lansbury in this one.  Miguel Sandoval just looked bored with his lines and Gregg Henry turned in one of the most MWA-HA-HA evil performances I have ever seen in a movie that did not involve world destruction.  I wouldn't say that Ray Park's performance was good, but he is definitely the only person in the cast that can pull off a convincing fight sequence.  Talisa Soto and Terry Chen also lend their charisma-free talents to this film.

Dull, uninspired acting isn't always the cast's fault; the director usually has a share in the blame.  And the first sign that this film's director should be blamed?  Wych Kaosayananda calls himself as "KAOS" in the credits.  And all this time, you thought McG was the most obnoxious director name.  Kaosayanandahas has no subtlety or any sort of rapport with his actors, or else we might have actually seen human emotions in this piece of crap.  I'm guessing that he is supposed to be more of an action director than anything else, since this is allegedly an action movie, but this is one of the worst uses of $70 million I have ever seen.  And that's taking Dragon Wars: D-War into consideration.  Nothing looks good in this film.  Nothing.  In fact, this movie was directed so poorly (and flopped so badly) that KAOS hasn't directed a movie since.  And when you consider how M. Night Shyamalan keeps getting work, that is saying something.

Okay, so this might sound like just an uninspired movie, and not a truly awful one.  Don't be deceived like I was.  This is a bad, bad movie, and it's so incompetent that it's not even fun to ridicule.  Why?  For starters,the movie takes place in Canada.  Unless I'm greatly mistaken, the FBI doesn't operate on foreign soil.  And yet, they form a "trans-national strikeforce" to track down Sever.  How did that get past a copy editor?  And it apparently never occurred to anyone that the Canadian police, armed forces, intelligence community, or the damn Mounties might show up and say "Hey, what's all this aboot you fellas destroying thirty city blocks up here?"  Seriously, they blow up a lot of shit in this movie (without any noticeable fatalities) and leave about a hundred FBI and DIA agents dead on the streets of Vancouver, and there isn't one Canadian cop in this movie.

Pictured: no injuries.

The worst part about all that action is that it's not entertaining.  At all.  Liu and Banderas are uncomfortable (at best) in their action scenes and the best scene (Liu vs. Park) still sucks.  Ray Park is an awesome stuntman, and he looks good in this, his only fight scene in the movie (just another reason this movie is stupid), as long as the action is being shown in real time.  Unfortunately, to make Liu's moves look any good, the scene is shown in slow motion, which just makes Park look incompetent when he doesn't hit her.  There is a lot of hand-to-hand combat in this movie, and that's the best scene.  Even the shoot-em-up scenes are boring and stupid.  If the DIA needs Liu alive to find the boy, why are they using live ammunition on her, including a turret gun and snipers?  And wouldn't snipers be smart enough to take cover when somebody's shooting at them?  Not in this movie, my friends.

And what about the DIA?  In this movie, they're like a rogue CIA offshoot at best, and a bunch of assholes at worst.  Why does anyone want to be in the DIA?  They're filled with men who are cannon fodder to Lucy-freaking-Liu and specialize in twitching after they get shot.  And do you know what happens when they botch a job?  They are encouraged to commit suicide.  That's right, a government agency with a government pension plan is supposed to have its members kill themselves if they screw up.  I'm not buying into that.

To top it all off, the super secret and undoubtedly expensive killer microscopic robot is the stupidest spy weapon I have ever heard of.  And that's saying quite a bit, because I have seen all the Roger Moore Bond movies.  Let's just say that having a microscopic robotic killer that you can inject into your enemy is a good idea, okay?  If that's the case, wouldn't it take millions of dollars to make each mini-bot?  And then what?  You just leave it in the corpse after you use it to kill?  That's not terribly economical.  "But these things would be untraceable, Brian!"  Actually, they wouldn't be, since the DIA performed a thermal scan (for a microscopic robot?) at the airport to prove that the mini-bot hadn't been taken aboard any planes.  So, it is detectable, if you know what to look for.  And since you still need to inject it into your target, that means you either need to stick them with a syringe or hit them with a blow dart for it to enter the bloodstream.  At that point, wouldn't it be just as easy and a few million dollars cheaper to just use poison?
Available for kids parties, Bar Mitzvahs, and assassinations.

What I'm trying to tell you is that this is a film abomination.  It has no redeeming value, not as a target of ridicule or even as a beer coaster.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


 Syriana is a challenging film to watch.  Its title alone --- which I don't believe the movie ever directly addresses --- refers to the idea of people or countries molding other nation-states however they see fit, and the hubris behind such thinking.  As you might have guessed, this isn't a romantic comedy.

The plot behind Syriana, while comprehensible, is very complex, so I'm not going to waste any time detailing it.  It would take me forever and you wouldn't want to read it anyway, since this is a film where paying attention to the story is the only way not to get lost.  The basic idea is that the world dependency on foreign oil is bad for a number of reasons.  Way to take a stand, Hollywood.  It also addresses the need for oil states to develop their own identities, the effectiveness of the CIA, and the costs/benefits of high-level corruption.  What makes Syriana interesting is that it chooses to handle these issues simultaneously, so we can see how each issue impacts another.  You won't see how everything fits together for some time, as there are four storylines that exist largely independent of each other until the final quarter of the movie.  When they dovetail together, though, you are left with something to think about.  Or not.  One thing that everyone can agree on is that this is definitely not an action movie.
I did a Google Image search for "syriana action" and found this.
The cast of Syriana is shockingly noteworthy, although many of these actors do not get a whole lot of screen time.  George Clooney won his only Oscar for his role as a CIA agent who specializes in protecting American interests in the Middle East.  The big news with his performance here is that Clooney gained some weight and a beard to play the part; I don't know how much that impacts his character.  Was this an Oscar-winning performance?  Eh.  It's a fine effort among an ensemble cast, but I don't find it particularly outstanding.  Matt Damon is also fine as a consultant hired by the prince of the oil-rich emirate to make the nation more fiscally sound.  His character is also handling marital issues and a family tragedy, so Damon has the opportunity to show off some complex skills in this film; I thought he did a very good job, given the businesslike script.  Jeffrey Wright plays a lawyer that has been hired to smooth the way for an enormous oil company to merge with a smaller one that has cornered a key market; his job is convince the antitrust people that the merger is corruption-free.  I like seeing Wright in key supporting roles, but I thought his character here was a too void of emotions.  I never really had a sense of his character, and the recurring attempt to give him depth just felt clumsy.  Those are the big three, as far as characters in this movie go.  None of them are fascinating in their own right, but they are all quite believable as ordinary people that are good at their respective jobs.
This is not Ocean's 14

There is a fourth storyline that addresses the plight of immigrant workers in the Middle East and the allure of militant Islam.  Of the three actors in this story, only the missile-buying militant (Amr Waked) acts with any sort of regularity, and it shows.  The two innocent youngsters are played by two innocent actors without much more than half a dozen visible emotions between them.

And then there's the rest of the cast.  In George's storyline, William Hurt does his typical good acting thing as a confidant and Mark Strong plays a very very bad man.  Both roles are easily within the acting range of these men, but it was nice to see them handled so well.  In Damon's story, Amanda Peet plays his wife; while not a particularly strong role, she didn't screw it up, which is much better than Peet's leading roles.  I thought Alexander Siddig was very likable as the progressive-minded Prince Nassir, possibly the most positive portrayal of a Middle Eastern Muslim I have seen in years.  In Wright's story, Chris Cooper plays a domineering business owner with an abrasive personality (shocker!), Christopher Plummer is one of those white men who like to be the power behind the throne, David Clennon is interested in corruption, and Tim Blake Nelson plays a corrupt oilman.  Of all these capable actors, only Nelson delivers anything exceptional.  He gives a speech about corruption (he's unapologetically pro-corruption, by the way) that was the highlight of the movie for me.  I would show a video clip of his rant, but apparently nobody on the internet cares about TBN (as his buddies undoubtedly call him) laying some truth down on Jeffrey Wright.  I was able to find my favorite scene of his from O Brother, Where Art Thou? though:

This is a difficult movie to direct, I'm sure, and I thought that Stephen Gaghan did a respectable job here.  I do not believe he got any great performances out of his wealth of actors (with the exception of Nelson), but he did do a good job piecing this film together in a comprehensible whole.  He doesn't dumb down the story (which was loosely based on See No Evil, a memoir by an ex-CIA agent), instead choosing to overwhelm viewers with the plot.  That choice may alienate some viewers, and that's understandable.  Personally, I was able to follow along, even though I was irritated by his seemingly arbitrary choices on when to cut to another storyline, which storyline to cut to, and when to include a caption on the screen to indicate where it was taking place.  The film looks decent enough, although the camera work is nothing special.  That's not too surprising, since Gaghan is an award-winning writer, not a director; he co-wrote this movie, as well as Traffic.

As much as I appreciate what Syriana does right --- an interesting and relevant political story, interweaving plot threads, and moral shades of gray --- there are just too many things that it does wrong or simply avoids to make it a great movie.  The only character in the film that has a full character arc is Clooney's, and that development is mostly off-camera and is cut short.  There are so many characters and so little time given to them that it was hard to care about any.  I realize that, as a plot-driven "issue" movie, that isn't really the point of the film.  I also don't care.  There are three potentially interesting stories in this film (the terrorists-in-training one was predictable and dull) and all three had the acting talent to make them work.  The fact that this isn't an acting tour de force (or at least fun to watch) is almost criminal.  There are five Oscar winners involved with this movie, and the best scene features Tim Blake Nelson monologuing?  That makes no damn sense, and I like Nelson.
Not as much as Lisa does, though.
I also didn't find the story to be particularly revelatory.  Maybe I'm cynical, but the CIA trying to control foreign governments to get America what resources it needs sounds pretty accurate.  The stuff of bastards?  Sure.  But it makes sense, from a "me first and screw everyone else" point of view.  Nelson's speech was the only interesting take on these issues in the whole movie, and that's a shame because I think this could have been so much more interesting.  The whole story with Damon and Siddig had potential --- how to introduce political and socioeconomic change effectively within an orthodox Islamic culture has relevance, right? --- but didn't have enough time to develop on its own.  Clooney's CIA agent (with a heart of gold) could have had his own movie.  Wright's legal storyline takes on thriller overtones as soon as his boss starts playing king maker.  But when you squeeze these stories into one (well-edited, mind you) movie, they don't have room to grow.  Syriana has some great ideas in it, but the barrage of plot simply distracts you from the fact that you can't care for any of these characters.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dragon Wars: D-War

Here's a bit of wisdom I learned from the beginning of this movie: "Every 500 years, a young woman is born."  End of sentence.  Thank you for the insightful information, Dragon Wars.

Dragon Wars is a South Korean movie that actually received a theatrical release in the United States, which is pretty rare.  It was called D-War in most other countries, but I guess Americans associate "D" with "douche" when the rest of the world apparently thinks "dragon."  I wonder why that is?  And no, I do not know why the "war" is pluralized in the American title.

This movie gave me a rash inside my brain, so I'm going to try and blow through the plot pretty quickly.  In modern times, a reporter, Ethan (Jason Behr), manages to get in close to a disaster scene.  This leads to Ethan remembering something, and we flash back twenty-five years, to a day when Ethan's dad left him alone in a curiosity shop with an unsmiling man (Robert Forster) named Jack.  Don't worry, this isn't the molestation episode of Diff'rent Strokes.  Jack wants Ethan alone so he can tell him a special story.  You see, around the year 1500 AD, the Yuh-Yi-Joo --- the woman who is born with the ability to change an Imoogi dragon into a different kind of dragon, obviously --- was faced with a problem.  There are two Imoogis that want to transform, one good and one evil.  And apparently, she either didn't know which one to pick, or had stage fright, or something dumb like that.  Anyway, her guardian/boyfriend decided that the best option was for them to jump off a cliff to their deaths.  And Ethan is that guardian reincarnated.  Obviously.  It is up to Ethan to find the reincarnated Yuh-Yi-Joo and help her, I don't know, not transform the mean Imoogi?  It's not that I don't understand the plot of this movie, but he's never really given very good instructions, so I'm not sure what his master plan is supposed to be aside from not letting the bad guys win.  Back in modern times, Ethan manages to track down the new Yuh-Yi-Joo, Sarah (Amanda Brooks), just in time for a dragon-worshiping army to invade their city looking for her.  Good luck protecting Sarah from bad guys who look kind of like Uruk-hai riding giant lizards.
Promotional still from the CBS Fall replacement comedy, I Will Rape the Corpses of Your Family.

Here's first sign that this is an awful movie: any character that hears the back story to this film asks, "What are you talking about?"  It's not like they were genuinely reacting to the nonsensical story; that is what the screenwriters wanted them to say.  Another bad sign: the police in this movie refer to a giant dragon attacking a skyscraper as a "Code 3."  Really?  Three?  It's that common?  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad the police are prepared for any eventuality, but that just seems unlikely.  Another clue that this isn't the great fantasy/action movie the filmmakers probably (but not definitely) had in mind?  It has this guy playing a dramatic supporting role:
Personally, I like Craig Robinson.  His presence in a comedic movie or television show doesn't guarantee quality, but I generally enjoy him when I see him.  He hasn't done much in the realm of dramatic acting, though, so his casting here is kind of puzzling.  And this isn't one of those comedian-trying-to-earn-an-Oscar roles, either; he's just Ethan's co-worker.  Robinson isn't bad in this movie, it's just that he is obviously not being used for comic relief, and yet he is not being used for dramatic effect, either.  Well, as far as comedic actors in fantasy/action movies go, it could have been a lot worse.
'Nuff said.

But enough about how weird it is for Craig Robinson to be in a Korean dragon movie.  What about the rest of the cast?  Uniformly awful.  Jason Behr does his very best Dimitri Martin impression,
Pop quiz: is he from a cancelled Comedy Central or WB show?
but his expression-free acting and ridiculous dialogue made me wonder if the part was written for Keanu Reeves.  His Yuh-Yi-Joo was played by Amanda Brooks, who adds adds a much-needed strong female role her own specialty to this film: a look of confusion that mirrors that of the audience.  I would say that Robert Forster looked embarrassed as the creepy old man that explains the back story, but that would require him to show any emotion at all, something he has never excelled at in his forty-plus years of acting.  Of course, more than a little of the blame should be given to director Hyung-rae Shim, who spent years on this movie and still ended up with final takes from his actors that other directors wouldn't include in their blooper reels.

But is anyone really interested in the acting found in Dragon Wars?  Of course not!  Dragons are the name of the game here, and this movie delivers with antlers?
Okay, I get it.  Just because I think of fire-breathing dinosaurs with wings when I think of "dragons" doesn't mean that's how they are seen in Korea.  This movie opts for the more snake-like charm of traditional Chinese dragons.  They don't breathe fire and they don't fly.  Except when they do, which appears to be arbitrary.  And none of them look like European dragons.  Except for some of them.
How did it not get hit by the propeller?
If you think this is going to be a dumb action movie, you're only half right.  The action isn't worth tuning in for.  The CGI effects would have been astonishing, if this film had come out before the first Jurassic Park.  For a movie that was released (in theaters!) in 2007, this isn't what you would expect.  Even if you enjoy foreign movies (and I do) that are more than a little ridiculous (that's me again) this movie still disappoints because it's just life-suckingly bad at what it wants to do.

Now, if you're in the mood for a bad movie, Dragon Wars is certainly worth a thought.  Do you enjoy laughing at repeated acts of poor filmmaking?  Then keep an eye out for the single car that spins out whenever a CGI snake dragon is supposed to be tearing down a street; it's easy to spot, since it is the only car driving on the roads --- of Los Angeles, mind you --- in any of these scenes.  Do you like seeing huge armies that are seemingly intimately familiar with a variety of dragon-like creatures, despite having 500 years in between the last time these secret armies last rode to war?  Then you will love the lumbering, rocket launcher-carrying monsters that are equipped with old-timey football helmets for their safety.
Who forgot to fix the dinosaurs' chin straps?
It's interesting that the movie never addresses who this evil army is, or how they became such a military precision machine.  I can suspend my disbelief for a cult army of a few hundred creepy guys, but this is an organized military group, complete with uniforms, armor, and weapons --- not to mention dragons and dinosaurs, equipped with goddamned rocket launchers.  Who are these people, and where do they practice?  Of course, it's even more interesting that the movie never asks the question "Why didn't the good dragon fight the bad one 500 years ago?" 

Perhaps the greatest question comes at the end.  Ethan and Sarah are kidnapped and brought to the evil base, which is an enormous castle complex located in what appears to be Mordor.  Why they brought Ethan with is beyond me, but it's probably the same reasoning they used to attack Sarah with dragons and rockets, when they needed her alive.  Anyways, the whole climax thing happens and suddenly Ethan is left all alone, with no bad or good guys left.  He's just alone in Mordor, with fire-cracked plains stretching out in all directions, as far as the eye can see.  How is he supposed to get home?  Is he supposed to walk?  Is that supposed to be a happy ending?  The hero is going to die of dehydration and exposure.  Actually, that does make me feel a little better about watching this. 
 Of course, I love asking questions about dumb movies.  It gives me pleasure.  So, I grant Dragon Wars Lefty Gold status as entertainment despite awfulness.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

I don't know your feelings about the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but I enjoyed the first film and found the second and third ones to be nigh-unwatchable.  The prospects of this, the fourth film in the series, being good are obviously slim, but I have a soft spot for Johnny Depp and I don't usually hold summer blockbusters to terribly high standards; all I ask for is that this be a fun watch.

For those familiar with the other movies, your knowledge will do you no good in this movie --- it requires absolutely no previous knowledge of these characters.  And that's a good thing.  There are only three returning characters (Jack Sparrow, Barbossa, and Gibbs), as the writers wisely decided to leave Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy and the rest bobbing somewhere else for a change.  That's the good news.  The bad news is that Jack Sparrow --- who worked extremely well as a supporting character, but lost his appeal as he got more and more screen time --- is the main character in this movie.
Two characters, one wardrobe.

Here's the nuts and bolts of the plot.  A man, who by all rights should be dead, is caught in the fishing net of some Spaniards.  He apparently has information as to the whereabouts of the Fountain of Youth.  And the race is on!  I hope you didn't grow attached to that informative sailor, because he never shows up again.  The Spanish immediately set sail and, somehow, the British happen to be preparing an expedition as well.  And, as coincidence would have it, so is Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter, Angela (Penelope Cruz).  AND Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) has been searching for the Fountain in his free time, too.  Since he has a map to the Fountain (which has apparently done him no good so far), Jack is targeted by the British and the other pirates.  The Spanish apparently either don't know about Jack, or saw At World's End and want nothing to do with him.  Since this is a pirate movie, Jack ends up with the pirate team, although his allegiances are nothing if not fluid.  There are a few things that have to be collected to reach the Fountain (it's over two hours long, you know), like a mermaid's tear and some cups, but that's the gist of the plot.

While the plot is somewhat less convoluted this time out, the acting hasn't noticeably improved since Part Three.  Johnny Depp still has all his fey mannerisms, but the character of Jack Sparrow loses his novelty in the spotlight.  The dialogue isn't great, so Depp doesn't have a whole lot to make his character seem fresh, likable or particularly funny.  Penelope Cruz is about as good as you might expect her to be in an English-speaking role; she's very pretty, but her acting is wooden.  There is a romantic subplot between her character and Depp's, but it never actually implies much passion and, therefore, is not very convincing. 
Sparrow and Blackbeard trading beard-braiding tips.
I thought Ian McShane did a pretty decent job as the evil Blackbeard, but his dialogue was also lacking punch.  Sure, McShane seemed evil, but that's not a stretch for him --- he could do that while riding a unicorn that craps rainbows and candy.  And, yes, I get that this series has always had a bit of the supernatural in it, but I didn't really need Blackbeard to be scary because he has super-pirate-ship powers.  That's just kind of lame and completely (although thankfully and hilariously) unexplained.  Geoffrey Rush returns as Captain Barbossa, for reasons I am not entirely clear on. 
"I feel pretty and witty and wise...!"
He does have a peg leg (filled with booze!) in this movie, which is a first (I think) for this series.  As good as Rush was in the first film, he is nowhere near as sinister this time around.  I like the idea of a pirate being accepted by the British Navy (it makes historical sense, too), but that wasn't enough to justify his inclusion in a fourth movie in the series.  Stephen Graham (Snatch, Gangs of New York) takes up the semi-moronic pirate role that was vacated by...well, many cast members from the last movie.  I liked him just fine, but he bounced between being idiotic and surprisingly swashbuckling at the drop of a (pirate) hat.  Kevin McNally returns as Sparrow's buddy, Gibbs, and was as likable in his small part as he usually is.  This film also introduces a boring (but thankfully shirtless, am I right, ladies?) Bible-thumper (Sam Claflin, in his feature film debut), a possibly not man-eating mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), a definitely man-eating mermaid (Gemma Ward), and a dashing but underused Oscar Jaenada (from The Losers).  Keith Richards makes a cameo appearance, as does Harry Potter's mean uncle, Richard Griffiths.  The acting's not bad, but the new additions aren't enough to balance out the predictable hijinks of the returning characters.

Director Rob Marshall is more famous for musicals than he is action/adventure movies, but I thought that his music video-esque editing made sense for a good portion of this film.  Of course, since I wasn't a fan of the acting, I can't be a huge fan of Marshall's direction.  Directors need to direct their talent, you know.  The film looked pretty good, though, with a lot of sweeping vistas and gorgeous scenes.  Marshall opted for more subtle use of CGI in this film (no octopus-faced villains here), which I appreciated.  While there is an awful lot of swashbuckling going on in this film, I wasn't too impressed by it.  Marshall didn't do a great job putting those fight scenes on camera in an exciting way.  He did do a good job with Jack Sparrow's predictably elaborate and goofy escape attempts, though.  These scenes were sometimes eye-roll-worthy, but I think they still looked pretty good.

I definitely appreciated some of the choices made in this movie, even if they didn't lead to cinematic greatness.  I like that the plot was taken from the book On Stranger Tides, instead of completely manufactured; I hated the plot of the last two films and thought that there were some good ideas in this story, even if they weren't executed very well.  I thought the mermaids were an interesting concept that was almost done well; they were all sexy and deadly, but I hated that every pirate and sailor knew about them and none dismissed mermaids as fiction.  I liked that the relationship between the captured mermaid and the Bible guy was kept as a very supporting plot; I didn't care about them at all, so having their story progress quickly was a blessing.  And how about the use of voodoo zombies?  That was a pretty cool idea.

Sadly, those quasi-compliments can't save this movie.  Jack Sparrow is getting tiresome, despite the best efforts of Disney's writers --- what makes him work in the first film is how dangerous and evil the audience thinks he can be, and the humor comes from him undercutting that malice.  By now, Sparrow is seen as a pretty nice guy and is just a clever/silly Keith Richards impersonator here.  The movie felt long, largely because the fist half was pretty boring.  The second half picked up quite a bit by shifting its focus frequently between the many subplots, but the first half just dragged as everything was set up.  I hated hated hated the use of the Spanish in this movie; they play a very important part (theoretically) and are barely used.  I don't understand how Penelope Cruz's character could be a passionate pirate-lover, a wannabe nun, and a swashbuckling sailor, and yet have none of that manifest itself onscreen.  And why on the hell is Juan Ponce de Leon's ship stuck in the side of a mountain?  And wasn't he looking for the Fountain of Youth in Florida?  Where exactly are the mountains of Florida?  Those last two issues could have been nipped in the bud with any explanation whatsoever, but this movie doesn't like to bother with details like that.

I don't mind that this movie is trying to be a brain-dead romp, but I do mind that I wasn't entertained by it.  It came close on many occasions, but ultimately fell short.  Still, shockingly, it is clearly the second-best Pirates of the Caribbean.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What's Up, Tiger Lily?

Woody Allen's directorial debut is not what you might expect from the man who has made self-deprecation an art form.  In fact, any assumptions you might have over a first-time director's work are probably going to be wrong here.  What's Up, Tiger Lily? is a unique blend of stupid slapstick and clever ideas.  And by "unique," I mean that this the first and (for the most part) only movie of its kind.

What makes this movie so special?  Allen takes two Japanese spy movies --- International Secret Police: A Barrel of Gunpowder and International Secret Police: Key of Keys --- and re-wrote and re-dubbed all the dialogue, and also radically re-edited the two films.  So, instead of being a spy story about smuggling or whatever, it turned into a film about the quest for the ultimate egg salad recipe.  This isn't the only time a movie has re-dubbed a movie, but this one features no new footage and does not insert any American actors into the story (like the awful Kung Pow: Enter the Fist).
A film that dubs in funny dialogue defeats the purpose of witty captions.

Normally, I would provide a bit of plot summary for the film, but that's completely besides the point in this movie.  The re-editing and -dubbing makes the acting equally irrelevant.  What mattes is just how funny the film is.  And it's occasionally very funny.  My favorite joke has one character unrolling blueprints and saying something along the lines of so-and-so lives here, which gets the response "He lives in that piece of paper?"  Pretty dumb, I know, but it made me laugh.  The character names are all joke names, too, with the Yaki sisters (Suki and Teri), a villain named Wing Fat and the Japanese hero named Phil Moscowitz.  Again, these are all fairly cheap jokes, but are still sometimes funny.

Surprisingly, you might recognize some contributors to the movie.  Woody Allen makes a few brief appearances as himself, where he either explains (or doesn't) the film's concept.  Allen's occasional early collaborator/future ex-wife Louise Lasser (she was in Bananas) provided one of the girl voices in the film.  The Lovin' Spoonful also appeared in a few scenes, but I'll speak to that in a little bit.  The most surprisingly thing about this cast is that one of the actors (the Asian ones) actually had a substantial role in a major British motion picture; Mie Hama was in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice.  The rest of the cast apparently was content to be Japanese B-movie actors, which isn't too surprising, after watching their acting.  Oh, and if you're curious about the striptease (unrelated to anything else in the movie) during the end credits, that is China Lee, the first Asian-American Playboy Playmate.  She was married to Allen's friend, and he promised her a part in the movie; she ended up with a striptease while Allen ate an apple behind her, which is not at all uncomfortable.

While there are several genuinely funny one-liners, What's Up, Tiger Lily? is surprisingly bland and oddly paced.  The first five-ish minutes of the movie are scenes from an un-dubbed and un-subtitled Asian movie.  This is even before the opening credits, so it is both somewhat confusing to watch and it makes for five minutes of the movie that were completely unnecessary.  Then Allen shows up on screen and explains the gist of the movie, which is helpful, if not awkward.  What surprised me when I reviewed this film for the first time since I was a kid is just how much of the movie is spent on not-jokes and silence.  It feels like Allen lost sight of the purpose of his movie idea (manufacture an excuse to tell lots of silly jokes) and actually tried to tell a not-too-interesting story.  Another odd thing to note about the movie is that, if you cut out the Lovin' Spoonful and the un-dubbed introductory scenes, this movie would clock in at just over an hour --- and it's still not jam-packed with jokes.

You might notice that the scenes with the Lovin' Spoonful were obviously not intended to appear as if they made any sense at all in the context of the film.  The band is shown in a studio with a bunch of dancing kids for two separate songs.  What's up with that?  Apparently, those scenes were included on the insistence of the movie studio, with little or no input from Allen, which is perhaps the last time the writer/director is blameless for any aspect of any of his films.
Ugh.  Just awful.  And ugly, too.

I was surprised at what I found in What's Up, Tiger Lily?  Yes, it is certainly part of Woody Allen's early collection of movies that stress the importance of the gag above all else, but it is also the least funny Allen movie I have seen from this period.  It's nice to know that he can crack jokes that aren't about his inept love life or his neuroses, but this movie was a little bland when you compare it to Sleeper, Bananas, or Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.  Is it wacky?  Sure.  Is it silly?  Definitely.  It's just nowhere near as funny as the concept promises.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

All Good Things

Normally, I don't go out of my way to watch movies that had almost nonexistent  theatrical runs because --- and we can debate the merits of the American theatrical release system another time --- movies that I've never heard of usually suck.  I made an exception for All Good Things because A) Roger Ebert listed it among his 20 best of 2010 and B) Ryan Gosling is supposed to be a pretty good young actor.  If I had put a little more thought into it, I probably would have skipped this movie because A) as much as I admire Ebert's ability to express his opinions, we frequently disagree and B) I've only seen Ryan Gosling in Murder By Numbers, so it's not like I have developed any loyalty toward the man.  And I saw that movie in a second run theater, and more because I could get free refills on a small pop and popcorn and less because of what movie was playing.  Side note: if you live in the Chicago suburbs, I highly recommend any of Classic Cinemas theaters; they're cheap, fun, and will probably be employing handicapped people, and it's nice to see a non-grocery store doing that, even if it means I have to wait longer for my change.  Anyway, back to All Good Things.

David Marks (Ryan Gosling) is an upper-crust kind of New Yorker, even if he doesn't like it; his father owns a lot of properties in New York's Times Square, so he's used to snotty white collar folk.  By a happy work assignment from his father, David is sent to fix the plumbing at a tenant's apartment; this is how David meets Katie McCarthy (Kirsten Dunst), a blue collar kind of gal.  Whether it's because he genuinely likes her, or because he knows it will piss off his father, Sanford (Frank Langella), David starts dating Katie.  The two soon move in with each other, move to Vermont and open a health food store (named "All Good Things"), and get married.  While he's emotionally mysterious, David seems to enjoy being around Katie and her family's friendly gatherings, instead of his family's icy passive-aggressive-fests.  But, thanks to pressure from his father, the couple moves to New York City and David joins the family business, which consists of him collecting rent (in cash) from his dad's pornographic Times Square (this was the 70s, after all) properties.
Look at the happy couple.
Are you interested in this movie yet?  No?  Neither was I.  I'll just cut to the chase.  After a few years of unhappy New York time, Katie starts to threaten to leave David.  Bingo, bango, bongo, Katie vanishes, never to be heard from again.  That's in 1982, after 10+ years of marriage.  Fast forward to 2000.  The New York District Attorney decides to reopen the Katie Marks disappearance case, and is very public about it.  Was this a case of foul play?  If so, what did David do to cover up the crime?  If not, why does this feel so much like a murder case?

All Good Things is based on the life of Robert Durst, which makes this one of those "inspired by true events" movies.   Like so many of those films, this one errs on the side of biopic instead of making a fully dramatic film.  This is the story of a guy who (maybe) killed his wife and the things he did to keep it covered up.
Yes, he dressed as the world's ugliest woman.
The problem here is with the "maybe."  Answers are implied and other things happen because of it, but there is no satisfaction to be found within the dramatic arc of this movie.  Why?  Because it does not frame itself as a murder mystery.  Instead, the question the audience is supposed to be asking is why David is such a dick all the time.  The answer deals with a childhood trauma, but that's not enough to explain his behavior.  David is an asshole, end of discussion.  And maybe he murdered some people.  For whatever reason, director Andrew Jarecki chooses to focus on the less compelling story (why David's an asshole) instead of who killed who.
Let's be honest...killing those crazy eyes is self defense.
 I wasn't terribly impressed by the acting in this movie, and that's too bad --- I assumed that, at the very least, this would be an acting tour de force.  Ryan Gosling is perfectly acceptable in this complex role, but he's never very interesting.  And that's not a good thing when your character is an emotionally crippled accused murderer that sometimes lives as a transvestite.  Kirsten Dunst surprised me with her performance; I normally hate her stupid sad face (which she wears in most dramatic scenes), but it somehow felt appropriate here.  She showed her boobies in this movie, which means that I have now seen the breasts that Spider-Man yearned for, and that geeky thrill might have ruined my objectivity.  Frank Langella does a decent job as a snotty "old money" patriarch, but he wasn't outstanding.  I wasn't exactly a fan of Lily Rabe's performance, but she played her annoying part well enough.  I was impressed by the dramatic turns from comedians Nick Offerman and Kristen Wiig; neither was astounding, but they were solid supporting actors, which is a huge first step for most actors that think they're funny.  I thought that Phillip Baker Hall gave the best supporting performance, but his surprisingly deep character was treated poorly by the script.
"Treated poorly?  Tell me about it.  I overdressed for this trash."
 I think my biggest problem with this movie is provided by the tag line: "The perfect love story.  Until it became the perfect crime."  If that's how you want to sell this movie, you damn well better make sure A) it provides a perfect love story and B) it provides a perfect crime.  All Good Things does neither.  David and Katie never really knew each other (they never even discussed children until well after their marriage), much less showed any convincing screen love.  As for the perfect crime, we never see it.  What an awful, awful tagline.

This movie fails in many different ways.  The acting, while okay, never demands your attention.  The story is surprisingly boring, given its sordid true-life origin.  What makes this movie even worse is that it is told entirely though a flashback, where David explains things to a courtroom, lead by John Cullum.  This could be a great story about the fallibility of the narrator.  It could be a totally respectable murder mystery.  It could even be a decent tale of a man who overcomes suspicious circumstances to prove himself innocent.  All Good Things does none of these.  In fact, I am hard pressed to find any of the good things this title promises.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Black Dynamite

I often find it difficult to review comedies.  The plots are usually just an excuse for jokes, and analyzing jokes can suck the fun out of any movie experience.  Well, okay, I am fine with analyzing and criticizing crappy comedies, because it feels like I am taking out some measure of revenge against the filmmakers that have hurt me with their obvious pop culture gags (I'm looking at you, Wayans family) or their formulaic and tiresome "jokes" (Seth MacFarlane).  But how can I review a comedy that I actually enjoy and not spoil it in a review?  I suppose a video clip wouldn't hurt.

That commercial is the opening scene from Black Dynamite, a spoof of blaxploitation films from the 1970s.  If you are familiar with Billy Dee Williams' work for Colt 45 in the 80s, then you will agree that this faux advertisement is pretty spot-on.  As a throwaway joke, I think this is a pretty clever one; it has random singing, a ridiculous slogan, and the curious claim of being the only malt liquor approved by the US government.  That's all pretty awesome.  What makes it even better is that this commercial ties into the plot of the movie.  It doesn't have to, it's amusing enough as it is, but I like the extra effort the filmmakers put in to make this seem a little less random.  Oh, and I hope you like the "DY-NO-MITE!  DY-NO-MITE!" at the end, because you hear it whenever Black Dynamite enters a scene.

The basic plot has Black Dynamite, the baddest brother around, trying to avenge his brother's drug-related death.  Of course, since this is a love letter to everything ridiculous about blaxploitation films, that premise is just a springboard that allows Black Dynamite (I love that name!) to clean up the streets, save some orphans, have a Vietnam flashback, battle with a kung-fu scientist, and eventually climax in a nunchuck fight with President Nixon.  Now, if that doesn't sound like your cup of tea, call a hospital and tell them that your awesometer is broken.
This scene is as entertaining as it looks.
You might be wondering if this is a stupid movie.  Absolutely.  There is no argument about that.  What makes Black Dynamite great is that is is stupid on purpose, and (mostly) in ways that show affection for the films that inspired it.  How else can you explain Black Dynamite shooting an assassin in a doughnut costume (at the local "Chili 'n' Doughnuts" shop) and explaining with a straight face that he knew something was wrong because "Doughnuts don't wear alligator shoes"?  It's not just one-liners, though.  One of Black Dynamite's friends, Bullhorn, only speaks in rhyme --- which leads to some awkward moments when he stumps himself.  Black Dynamite, as the bad-ass hero, naturally has a lot of consequence-free sex with multiple partners in this movie; the man is a walking orgy with an afro.  And while those scenes are all entertaining enough on their own, this clip is just the icing on the cake.

What separates Black Dynamite from other blaxploitation spoofs, like Pootie Tang, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, and Undercover Brother is that it could pass as vintage blaxploitation film.  Sure, it's absolutely ridiculous, but so is Shaft in Africa.  The clumsy editing, visible boom mikes, and lack of alternate takes would all feel at home in a low-budget 70s movie; Black Dynamite just makes the humor from these errors intentional.  Notice the change in actors here:

Being a pretty stupid comedy, it is understandable to think that the movie lacks the acting and action chops to entertain between jokes.  Well, Black Dynamite is played by Michael Jai White, who certainly has an action movie pedigree. Most of the time, the heroes in these movies (Rudy Ray Moore, Pam Grier, and to a lesser extent Jim Brown and Richard Roundtree) are not convincing at all when it comes to the fight scenes.  Michael Jai White has seven black belts and looks pretty tough on camera, which Steven Seagal will tell you is harder than it looks.  There are a number of recognizable supporting actors in the movie (Tommy Davidson, Arsenio Hall, singer Brian McKnight, Miguel "Juwanna Mann" A. Nunez Jr.,Bokeem Woodbine, Cedric Yarbrough, and former Piston John Salley), but they are there as props for Black Dynamite to be bad-ass to or around.  Aside from a line or two and a funny name (they range from Mo Bitches to Chocolate Giddy-Up), these guys are just around to share in the fun.  And that is what Michael Jai White (who came up with the story and co-wrote it) and director Scott Sanders (who also co-wrote it) do so well here --- they have a lot of fun.
Shockingly, a movie this stupid is not perfect.  The first time I watched it, the movie flew by, but a sober viewing proved the movie to still be thoroughly enjoyable...although I would recommend watching it in half-hour chunks.  I do the same thing for Mystery Science Theater 3000, but getting bored with a legitimately funny movie (that is only 84 minutes long) is a bad sign.  The problem is that the characters and plot are just jokes.  I don't have a problem with that choice, but it does make watching the movie all at once a little annoying.  The only other complaint I have with the film is how relatively large Tommy Davidson's role is, because I'm pretty sure I have never laughed at the man, but even the presence of a comedian I despise isn't enough to negatively impact this gem.

I am kind of picky when it comes to comedies, so when I get this excited about one, it's pretty damn funny.  While fans of blaxploitation will get more out of it than others, there is enough silliness here to please anyone.  Unless, of course, you don't like cleverly stupid humor, in which case I hope you can get tickets to Carrot Top's Vegas show.  In short, this movie has action, gratuitous nudity, evil racist white men, songs that describe the scenes, stupid humor, and a main character that begs the question of whether it is possible to be just a little too bad-ass.  The answer is no.
By far, the best new-ish comedy I have seen since my last viewing of Scott Pilgrim.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Man With the Golden Gun

There aren't many movies that are confident enough to open with a sequence that flaunts a character's superfluous third nipple.  Aside from possibly Total Recall (for obvious paper mache reasons), The Man With the Golden Gun is in a non-pornographic class of its own.  This is the ninth overall film in the James Bond franchise, but only the second with Roger Moore as the titular hero.  That's not to say that Moore was young --- he was 47 when this was released --- but he was still finding his voice for the character.  Hey,'s a hint: be awesome!

British secret agent James Bond (Roger Moore) is called into his superior's office one day and is taken off his current case.  What was he working on?  A solution to the energy crisis.  Well.  Thank goodness we took care of that way back in 1974, so we don't have to deal with it today, eh?  Bond has been taken off the case because a golden bullet was mailed to MI6 with his agent number: 007.  This is a big deal because only one man in the whole world is known to use gold bullets, and that is the international assassin known as Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee).  Nobody knows what he looks like, where he lives, or what job he will do next.  All that is known is that he has a third nipple and is one of the most dangerous men alive with a gun in his hand.  Naturally, Bond decides to track down this Scaramanga.  While this does end up being a fairly globe-trotting event, at its core, The Man With the Golden Gun is about James Bond facing off against one particularly challenging foe.  Who will win in a duel to the death, Bond or the titular character?  Okay, there's not a whole lot of suspense, given that there have been another dozen Bond movies after this one, but it's still an interesting idea.
"Now...look at the camera, and say 'Charlie's Angels!'"
I don't know your personal feelings about the many actors who have played James Bond, but I have always felt that Roger Moore did a good job, despite playing the role in the ridiculous 70s.  Moore's performance in this film is quite a bit rougher than I am used to seeing in a Bond movie.  He lies to a child, slaps a woman around for information, and mentally tortures one of the two Bond girls in the movie.  I'm okay with a secret agent with a license to kill being kind of a dick, but there were a few moments where Moore was less suave and more mean, which didn't really fit the tone of the movie.  Christopher Lee, though, was pretty entertaining.  Lee makes a great villain in any film, but he managed to take a pretty stupid character --- he wants to challenge James "Always Wins" Bond with a gun made of gold, one of the less practical metals for weapons --- and make him very cool.  His character has his own island, a midget butler, and a gun that disassembles into a zippo, but Lee never less the silliness of the character affect his performance.  He is serious, competitive, and cold.

Since this is a James Bond movie, it has a pretty substantial supporting cast.  The regular MI6 people show up --- Desmond Llewelyn (Q), Bernard Lee (M), and Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) --- and they do their typical tour of duty.  The Bond girls in this film are Maud Adams as Scaramanga's girlfriend and Britt Ekland as Mary Goodnight, Bond's assistant in Asia.  Adams is okay, showing a surprising amount of depth (sometimes she looks upset, or even uncomfortable!) for a Bond girl.
Rubbing a gun all over your lover's face: not as sexy as it sounds.
The true Bond girl in this film, though, is Ekland.  She's surprisingly naive for a character that is interested in Bond, but Ekland plays that naivety quite naturally, if only because she has mastered the vacant stare.  And, while pretty ladies are always nice to watch, this wouldn't be a Bond movie without a memorable henchman for Scaramanga.  That role is filled admirably by his midget/dwarf/vertically-smooshed manservant, Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize).  While not physically imposing in the least, Nick Nack's role in things is bizarre enough to keep you interested.  The only other supporting cast member worth mentioning is the unfortunate inclusion of Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper, who was in Live and Let Die.  Pepper is one of those characters that is supposed to be comic relief, and yet makes no jokes at all in the film.  He just Foghorn Leghorns his way through some atrocious dialogue and manages to not get struck by any stray bullets in the movie.
Roger Moore with his leading ladies.
This was Guy Hamilton's fourth and final time directing a Bond movie, and his second with Moore in the lead.  As much as I like the overall idea of a villain being so bad-ass as to court a duel with a secret agent, I didn't particularly care for Hamilton's direction here.  I thought he gave Moore too rough of an edge at times, the plot was pretty slow for a Bond movie, and his attempts at capturing humor on film were just pitiful.
The sound effect for this shot was a slide whistle.  Seriously.
The inclusion of J.W. Pepper was completely unnecessary and had no payoff.  The scene where Bond almost chokes on a belly ornament (and then alludes to crapping it out later) makes Bond look like an amateur.  And the post-climax action scene was Bond vs. the midget.  What the hell, man?  This is bush league stuff, not bad-assery in any form!
Oh, and Bond gets protected by schoolgirls, too.
That's not to say that the film is without merit, of course.  Even when he's being a little extra rough, Roger Moore is a charmer.  That doesn't explain how he gets away with the infamous Goodnight closet scene, though.  That's the scene where Bond is preparing to romance Goodnight, but shoves her into a closet when Scaramanga's girl comes a-calling; he sexes up the bad girl, leaving Goodnight to listen in the closet.  And he still managed to romance her later in the film!  Christopher Lee was the best Bond villain in years, even if his character wasn't terribly logical.  I remembered this as one of the better Bonds, but it's really not.  Sure, Moore's solid, Lee is good, and Villechaize is short, but there's an awful lot about this movie that just doesn't work:
  • When Bond asks who would want to pay Scaramanga's $1 million fee to kill him, M suggests "humiliated tailors."  Huh?
  • Scaramanga's home has two walls covered with mounted insects behind glass.  It's never mentioned, but it's a weird detail.
  • Where did the guitar go in the James Bond theme?  They replaced it with horns!
  • An international custom weapons dealer allows Bond to turn his own display merchandise against him.  Is this his first day, or something?
  • How did this movie get a PG rating?  There is the requisite naked silhouette girl in the opening credits, a topless (with long hair) waitress, the naked Chew Mee in a swimming pool, and Maud Adams naked behind shower glass.
  • Bond only sleeps with two women in the film.  One of them has sex with him as a form of payment.
This is a very unique Bond movie, though.  No other film has such a clear-cut course of action for Bond, and that change of pace adds variety to the series as a whole.  Of course, with the obvious climax set up in the opening scenes, there isn't a whole lot to excite you as you wait for the finale.  Yes, Bond does some kung-fu and goes on a **sigh** crappy boat chase, but that's nowhere near enough.  This movie has no twists or turns, and no suspense.  Christopher Lee's performance is all that keeps this movie from being subpar.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

As you might have noticed from my other reviews, I am a pretty big fan of the Friday the 13th series, despite logic and good taste (typically) being on my side. Now, the last Friday didn't actually feature Jason Voorhies as the film's killer; instead, it was some random joe and it was implied that Tommy (who, played by Corey Feldman in Part IV, killed Jason as a tween) became a killer at the end of the movie.  Fast forward a bit and you arrive in the future when this movie takes place (by my math, I'd say that this 1986 movie takes place in roughly 1992, judging on Tommy's approximate age).

Tommy (Thom Matthews) is still a head case, but he and a friend escape their psych ward or whatever and head to Jason's grave.  The plan is to dig up Jason's corpse and burn it, because "Jason belongs in Hell.  [Tommy's] going to make sure he gets there."  Keep in mind that Jason has been dead and buried for at least five years at this point.  And that's another thing...who the hell buried Jason freaking Voorhies in a cemetery with a marked grave?  Certainly not his mother, and I'm pretty sure the state would have cremated his poor ass.  I guess Crystal Lake has a mysterious benefactor who wanted to preserve the memories of senseless slaughter.  Anyway, Tommy digs up the grave and finds the worm-eaten corpse; he must have been wearing coveralls in between scenes, because he's pretty clean when it comes time to kill Jason's corpse deader.  How is he going to re-kill Jason?  With a metal spike that he tore from the cemetery fence, of course.  He dug up a corpse and apparently planned on using whatever tools he had on hand to send the damn thing to hell.  Again.  Well, as he was digging, a lightning storm started.  No rain, just lightning.  Tommy stabs Jason and the metal spike is hit not once, but twice in a row by lightning, which causes Jason to open his eyes, regenerate his body tissue, and punch the heart out of Tommy's friend before Tommy escapes to safety.  Thank goodness Tommy brought Jason's mask with him; Jason reborn now has moderately not disgusting clothes and his favorite hockey mask.
Jason was buried wearing his very best...jumpsuit?
Maybe you can guess where the film goes from here.  Maybe not.  Tommy runs to town (where Crystal Lake has changed its name to "Forest Green") and goes to the police.  Shockingly, they don't believe a mental patient who claims that someone who has been dead for years has come back to life and is murdering people.  Stupid cops.  They lock Tommy up and, sure enough, Jason lumbers back to town and starts with the murderdeathkills.  The big difference in this movie is that Jason seems drawn to the lake where he drowned as a boy, and the camp by the lake actually has children in it this time.  Who will save the children?!?

I would like to take a moment and point out that Jason wanted to return to the lake where he drowned as a boy.  Granted, this is the first film with Super Zombie Jason, a being that is obviously superhuman and basically death-proof, but...isn't the whole point of Friday the 13th Part II that Jason didn't drown in the lake?  He was living as a hobo with a bag over his head for all those years, which explains how a dead child could turn into a killer linebacker.  Am I nitpicking?  Absolutely.  Do I really care about the continuity in this series?  Absolutely not.
It's hard to tell whether Alice or Jason isn't worthy here.
Let's take a moment to look at the cast in this movie.  It's not the strongest in the series.  You might recognize Thom Mathews as yet another Friday alum who went on to co-star in Return of the Living Dead.  Seriously, that movie is like the Kevin Bacon of this series, which is odd when you consider that Kevin Bacon was in the first movie.  One of the ill-fated paintballers went on to have a supporting role in the Heroes television series.  Ron Palillo, who played Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter, had a small part.  Probably the most successful actor in this film is Tony Goldwyn, at least in part because IMDb doesn't list this movie in his "Known For" credits.  Despite the lack of A, B, or even C-list talent, the acting in Jason Lives isn't as awful as you might think.  Well, okay, it's pretty bad.  But it's the right amount of bad.  Director Tom McLoughlin apparently knew that this was a pretty ridiculous movie, so he directed it as such.  No, the acting and directing aren't very good, but they're not half bad for a movie that is obviously at odds with both logic and the film series it is continuing.
"Huh.  That's never happened before."
Jason Lives is all too ready to give up on being a scary movie, but it is still pretty entertaining.  One of the reasons for this is some intentional humor.  The opening credits spoof James Bond with Jason walking across the screen, framed by a hockey mask eye hole, only to stop and slash at the camera.  That's kind of funny.  A lot of the kills are pretty humorous, too.  One victim gets his head smashed into a tree, leaving a bloody smiley face behind.  At another point, Jason cuts off three heads with one machete swing.  One victim even tries to avoid Jason entirely because she has supposedly seen enough horror movies to know not to mess with dudes in masks.  This movie also shows off the playful side of Jason; he likes to hide and surprise some victims, and takes a certain amount of pride in (sometimes) arranging his victims in unusual ways.

Obviously, being the sixth entry in a horror franchise, the movie is not without its flaws.  Remember Part V?   You know, the one where Tommy was going to assume the killer role in the series?  Yeah, it turns out that nobody liked that idea, so the filmmakers kind of just pretend that movie never happened.  There is nothing but awful logic and reasoning used by the characters throughout the film, and I'm pretty sure that Jason's resurrection is medically unlikely.  Despite a decent number of kills (sixteen) and victims that were uniformly annoying, this Friday manages to skimp on one of the series' staples: gratuitous nudity.  If you're willing to overlook the stupidity of the characters and the story, this is a reasonably entertaining cheap slasher film, but if things like "plot" and "continuity" bother you...this one is a headache.

When you look at this film as part of the series, it stands out for a few important reasons.  It is the final installment of the "Tommy Trilogy," so the next film doesn't have the baggage of explaining how a character keeps not dying in this franchise.  It is also the first appearance of Super Zombie Jason.  No longer a mere unstoppable mortal killer, this Jason is impervious to bullets and can take an outboard motor to the face with few consequences.  This is also the first movie that made a big deal about returning Jason to Crystal Lake, a theme that would pop up in at least one other movie.  Perhaps the most important element this movie adds to the series is a sense of humor.  The Friday the 13th series became a typical slasher series almost immediately and, as such, was never really that scary after the first couple.  While this isn't a hilarious movie, it does have humor and the humor adds to the overall film.  Some of my favorite moments in later Fridays involve humor (the sleeping bag scene from Jason X stands out in my memory), and this is the movie that made it okay to laugh with (as well as at) these movies.  While it certainly isn't a great film, I thought it was pretty enjoyable.

Here is Alice Cooper's mind-bogglingly cheesy video for "He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)," which served as the theme song to this movie. I think my favorite part of the movie is the squares shaking their hands, as if to say, "No thank you, Mr. Cooper, I have been hard-rock-synthesizered enough for one night."