Friday, December 13, 2013

Triskaidekaphilia: 'Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood' (1988)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

After the surprisingly entertaining campiness of Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, the series' seventh installment returns to the standard killing spree of the earlier sequels. The New Blood was originally intended to be Freddy vs. Jason (which didn't end up coming to fruition until 2003), and when Freddy Krueger became unavailable, the producers substituted another much less compelling supernatural antagonist for Jason. The New Blood initially picks up right where Jason Lives left off, with Jason chained to a rock at the bottom of Crystal Lake, presumably drowned after he was defeated by Tommy Jarvis (who, after being played by three different actors in the last three movies, has now disappeared from the series altogether).

In keeping with Jason's now-supernatural existence, he's revived this time thanks to the telekinetic powers of Tina Shepard, who first witnesses her father drown in Crystal Lake and then years later as a teen (played by Lar Park Lincoln) attempts to revive him, ending up inadvertently resurrecting Jason instead. Tina is sort of a second-rate Carrie White or Charlie McGee from Firestarter, with dangerous telekinetic powers that manifest in times of stress or anger. After being accidentally responsible for Jason's return, she becomes his nemesis, attempting to stop him as he kills off the usual assortment of horny, clueless teens (conveniently staying in a house right next to Tina's).

Tina is a pretty poor substitute for Freddy Krueger, and the movie spends far more time than is worthwhile exploring her angst and the development of her powers at the hands of a sleazy doctor (played by Terry Kiser, aka Bernie of Weekend at Bernie's fame). Not that Jason is much more interesting -- he's such a powerful force that he can kill people pretty much instantaneously, and there's nothing in this movie about his back story or connection to Crystal Lake (aside from the return of the recap footage at the beginning of the movie, which offers highlights from the entire series but doesn't really tell very much).

The New Blood is also notable as the first appearance of Kane Hodder, the actor who would become most closely associated with Jason. The stuntmen/actors portraying Jason have been generally interchangeable so far, but Hodder's main contribution is playing Jason without his mask in the film's climax, demonstrating a snarling evil even under layers of prosthetics. The climax is otherwise pretty rote and underwhelming, with Jason seemingly killed multiple times before his actual, final defeat (at least until the next movie). For all her build-up as Jason's new nemesis, Tina was never heard from again.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


You have to give TV Land credit for finding and sticking to a successful formula for its original programming: Sitcoms like Hot in Cleveland and The Exes take seasoned sitcom veterans, stick them in stock sitcom scenarios, have them deliver hackneyed jokes and then amp up the audience reaction. These shows aren't creative, original or funny, but the presence of stars like Wendie Malick or Kristen Johnston or Wayne Knight sometimes makes them at least tolerable. Kirstie follows the same formula, teaming Kirstie Alley, Rhea Perlman and Michael Richards with newcomer Eric Petersen for the kind of show that could easily have been imported directly from an alternate version of 1993.

Although the show is named after its star, the main character isn't; Alley plays Madison Banks, a vain Broadway diva who reconnects with the son she gave up for adoption 20-some years earlier (Petersen). The contrast between self-centered showbiz lifer Madison and her naive, humble son Arlo is the source of the majority of the obvious humor, with Perlman and Richards chiming in as Madison's assistant and driver, respectively. Obviously the three veterans are good at what they do, and the show lets them play to their strengths, with Perlman as the no-nonsense truth-teller and Richards as the weirdo. But the material is universally dire, all obvious, belabored jokes and contrived storylines (starting with the basic premise). No matter how talented these performers are (and Alley is trying too hard to come off as self-deprecating), they can't salvage the material or transcend the format.

That's the double-edged sword of TV Land's original sitcoms, which bring back beloved actors and then trap them in terrible shows that serve mainly to remind audiences of how good they were when they had better material to work with. To be honest, I couldn't even make it through the three episodes of Kirstie that TV Land sent for review; after two, I gave up, unable to take any more exaggerated double entendres or forced emotional moments. It seems like the TV Land audience, however, can't get enough of them.

Premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on TV Land.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

'Drinking Buddies'

Even though I'd only seen three of the seemingly dozens of features Joe Swanberg has made since 2005, I think I had a pretty good handle on his work going into Drinking Buddies, which I guess you could call his "mainstream" debut. The most striking thing about Drinking Buddies, though, is that despite the presence of famous people in the lead roles (it stars Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston), it's pretty much indistinguishable from Swanberg's previous work in all other ways. Once again, he's the writer, director and editor (and he makes a brief cameo), once again the story is about rootless twentysomethings in troubled relationships, once again the dialogue and story structure is developed through improvisation, and once again the movie has a sort of awkward, slapdash charm and looks like it was shot over a weekend in locations that Swanberg's friends happened to have access to.

That last part is almost certainly not true, but Swanberg has done a remarkable job of retaining his low-fi aesthetic while working with well-known stars. It's a mixed blessing, since part of the reason for his aesthetic are the limitations on his budget and exposure, which aren't as much of a factor here. Certainly with the bigger names, Swanberg had access to more money and a more prominent platform (Magnolia Pictures released this movie, while some of Swanberg's past features have barely made it beyond the festival circuit). Yet he sticks with the cheap, grubby look, which is sort of admirable, although also sort of frustrating.

As for the movie itself, it's typically low-key and mostly pleasant to watch, and it has a bit more structure to it than some of Swanberg's other movies (which sometimes come off like he just shot a bunch of footage, stopped when he ran out of ideas and/or money, and then threw it all together). In the lead role, Wilde gets a chance to show off a range outside of her typical girlfriend-accessory roles, and she seems to fit well with Swanberg's unstructured style. She and Johnson have strong chemistry, and while the tension in their relationship builds to a sort of dissatisfying anticlimax, that's true of many ambiguous relationships in real life, too. I don't know that Swanberg gets anything artistically out of having a more recognizable cast, but it at least gives him the opportunity to bring his signature halting, amusingly jumbled insights to a wider audience.

Available on DVD today.