Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Diary of Anne Frank

Many, many years ago I watched "The Diary of Anne Frank" in elementary school. The years have passed and I cannot remember what grade this took place. While I cannot recall which teacher was responsible for introducing me to this sorrowful tale of the atrocities of Nazi Germany during the second World War, I can recall thinking how horrible it must have been to live in seclusion and not be able to make a sound during the day and in constant fear of being taken away by ´evil´ men. The film is now fifty years old, which is a good number of years older than myself and I do know that it was already fairly old when I had first seen the film. Truth be told, I have not watched "The Diary of Anne Frank" since I had done so for educational purposes and the screening of this film a couple decades later was almost as if I had been watching the film for the first time.

Directed by George Stevens and adapted for the screen by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, "The Diary of Anne Frank" is based upon the writings of young Anne Frank that had been discovered upon her fathers return to the location where they had been kept in secret for a couple years before being arrested and taken into custody into the Nazi death camps. There has been some argument as to the legitimacy of Anne Frank´s diary, but much of the controversy has been from the very same people who will argue that the Holocaust did not happen. I have always been of the mind that Anne Frank´s writings do tell the story of what happened to the young girl and her family. The film did not win the Academy Awards for Best Director or Best Picture and its screenplay was not even nominated, but "The Diary of Anne Frank" is, in my opinion, more of a necessary education than entertainment.

The film begins with Otto Frank (Joseph Schildkraut) returning to the office building where he and his family had remained hidden for two years and given the diary pages by Miep Gies (Dodie Heath) that his daughter Anne (Millie Perkins) had kept during the time before being taken to concentration camps. Otto had owned the office building and was the sole surviving family member of the war. The man breaks into tears at gaining ownership of his daughter´s written words and the film quickly moves into telling the story of the diary when Otto, his wife Edith (Gusti Huber), daughters Margot (Diane Baker) and Anne lived in hiding. They are joined by friends Hans van Daan (Lou Jacobi) and his wife Petronella (Shelley Winters) and their sixteen year old son Peter (Richard Beymer). Later, a family friend and dentist Albert Dussell (Ed Wynn) joins them in the secret rooms of the office building.

Anne is the central character and a lot of time is spent showing her relationships with those that had inhabited the cramped upper floors of the office building. She had a very cold and distant relationship with her mother, but was quite close to her father. The dynamics of Anne´s relationship with her parents are touched upon as are those with the van Daan family (whose last name was changed for the film). Anne did not get along with Hans and Petronella, as they looked upon Anne as a nuisance and she did not appreciate some of the things done and said by her father´s friends. However, Anne did have a romantic relationship with Peter that began with the two teenagers barely on speaking terms in the beginning as the shy Peter stayed away from Anne´s advances, but their claustrophobic living conditions eventually brought them together. This romantic relationship is a central theme in the film and one of the strongest subplots.

Young actress Millie Perkins was not the first choice to portray Anne Frank. Susan Strasberg had portrayed Anne in the popular play that had inspired the film, but she declined to continue to role in front of the cameras. Twentieth Century Fox turned their attention to popular child star Natalie Wood, but Wood did not accept the offer either. Audrey Hepburn was the same age as Frank and had survived Nazi occupation in the Netherlands as well. She was the actress whom Otto Frank had wanted to portray his daughter, but she did not want to relive the events of her teenage years in occupied territory and turned down the role. Perkins did not have the star power of either Wood or Hepburn, but the young actress showed the spunk and character of Anne Frank and the teenage starlet carried the film nicely on her young shoulders.

As the story continues, the hardships of the family are revealed as they struggle to survive with only enough rations that can be obtained with three ration cards and to be completely silent during the day when workers and customers inhabit the floors below their hiding place. Much time is spent during the frames of "The Diary of Anne Frank" to show how they passed the time during the day or to give a sense of what panic would transpire if an errant noise was made. Admittedly, this does not make for the most exciting film experience, but this was an essential part of young Anne Frank´s story and needs to be shown on screen. I am far more content that the filmmakers didn´t overlook some of the things that made survival difficult by zeroing in on only the exciting elements of Anne´s diary.

The supporting cast is nicely cast and while only Schildkraut and Huber made the transition from stage to screen, all comfortably fit into their character´s skins. Veteran actress Shelley Winters took home one of the film´s three Academy Awards for her performance and Ed Wynn was nominated for Best Support Actor. The film is a drama that relies on emotion to succeed and each actor and actress convey the stress and fear that each of the captives had to live with in their daily lives. "The Diary of Anne Frank" does move through the events rather quickly, but at three hours in length, the film could not have afforded to be any longer and the actors used in the picture all do their best with the amount of screen time they are given as the sparse and cramped sets also do not provide them any distractions from their performances. In a film where performances are essentially all there is; the actors perform wonderfully.

George Stevens was nominated for Best Director and "The Diary of Anne Frank" earned a nomination for Best Picture. "Ben-Hur" would take home both Oscars in these categories, but the black and white "The Diary of Anne Frank" is a solidly made film that tells an important and emotional message through limited sets, a small cast and a modest budget. Some stock footage is used to help tell the events of World War II that transpired during this time and a few occurrences could be seen in the streets outside of where the Franks were kept hidden, but most of this film takes place in the confined spaces of the office building. The sets are cramped and minimal and the vast majority of the film takes place in either silence of limited dialogue as the family had to keep silent and could pass the time only with conversation. There wasn´t a lot to work with and the filmmakers did an admirable job in keeping this three hour film interesting.

"The Diary of Anne Frank" is a powerful story that may not be a technical masterpiece, but the story that is told is important for others to learn. There is a reason this is almost standard curriculum in education. I can´t remember what year I watched the film, but I tend to think it was either sixth grade or during middle school. Regardless, I remember sitting around the old VCR and television and watching this film and remembering how this was my first lesson on the Holocaust and I was shocked that people had to live like this. For this reason alone, "The Diary of Anne Frank" is required viewing material. The film took some liberties in bringing the story to the big screen, but it tells Anne Frank´s story wonderfully through the film´s actors and Steven´s vision. This film isn´t perfect, but this film is something that should be watched at least once in everyone´s life.
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Mr. Troop Mom (DVD)

You may recall the Michael Keaton film, "Mr. Mom," where Keaton played a husband who's unemployed and manages the household while his wife is out working. Here, in the 2009 release "Mr. Troop Mom," George Lopez plays much the same type of guy, only this time he's a widower trying to deal with his thirteen-year-old daughter and her wilderness team. Different times, same idea.

Now, you might wonder if a story about a middle-aged man and about 800 very cute, early teenage girls out in the wild would produce a situation in somewhat questionable taste. But nope. Nothing here to fuel a Palin-Letterman controversy. "Mr. Troop Mom" is a Nickelodeon original TV movie, so squeaky clean the MPAA gave it a G rating, something usually afforded only to Disney and Pixar cartoons.

The trouble with most "family" movies, though, is that the term is a misnomer. It seems to me that good family movies should interest both children and adults, movies like the aforementioned Disney and Pixar animations, "Mary Poppins," "The Parent Trap," or "Spy Kids." Yet most filmmakers really aim their family pictures at young children, with parents obliged to put up with the films while their youngsters enjoy themselves. So it is with "Mr. Troop Mom," a film aimed squarely at families with kids, the specific appeal primarily to girls in the ten-to-fourteen year-old range. If you're an older teen or adult, I make no promises. I found it all rather bland and antiseptic but totally without offense.

Stand-up comic and TV sitcom star George Lopez co-produced and stars in "Mr. Troop Mom," another of the actor's attempts to bring wholesome entertainment and a non-stereotypical Hispanic image to movies and television. It might seem odd, then, that the movie should contain an almost nonstop string of other stereotypes and clichés, until you recognize that for children, the stereotypes and clichés probably aren't trite or overused at all.

Lopez plays a widowed lawyer, Eddie Serrano (no coincidence, I'm sure, that his real-life spouse is Ann Serrano), with a thirteen-year-old daughter, Naomi (Daniela Bobadilla), to care for. Naturally, as with almost all movies aimed at this age group, parents are either absent, invisible, or in this movie barely tolerated by their offspring. Naomi thinks her dad is completely clueless, something only encouraged by the impudent au pair, Catalina (Elizabeth Thai), an Asian woman whose Dragon Lady attitude and difficulty with the English language make her one of the movie's more unabashed stereotypes. Of course, we can see the movie's message coming in the first few minutes: Parents and their children must share common interests and mutual respect if they are ever to love one another fully. Eddie must show that he can "connect" with Naomi, or he'll lose her to...whatever.

Eddie is a flamboyant lawyer whose shenanigans no judge would actually allow in a courtroom, but, hey, it's television. In court Eddie is a winner, but at home he's losing his daughter's favor, and he knows it. So, with the daughter's annual Wilderness Team competition coming up, and the team's chaperone having a baby in his living room (I kid you not), Eddie volunteers to escort Naomi's team to the Spring Action Classic at Hulka Rock, a summer camp in the mountains. Even though Eddie's idea of roughing it in the wild is lighting the barbeque in his backyard, he decides this is the only way to show his daughter he can be a real parent. You can pretty much guess what comes next.

When he, his daughter, and three other girls arrive at Hulka Rock, he finds himself the only guy there, amongst what appear to be young girls from all over the state come to compete in various tag-team competitions. His daughter's team is the Killer Bees, and a rival team from Naomi's school is the Wasps. Wouldn't you know that the Wasps would be catty, snobby, WASPish cheaters, chaperoned by a pushy blonde mom, Denise (April Amber Telek), who's single and putting the moves on Eddie? And wouldn't you know that the head honcho of the camp, Ms. Hulka (Jane Lynch), would be a tough-as-nails martinet and that her assistant counselor, C.C. Turner (Julia Anderson), would be a sweetheart charmer?
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Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women (Theatrical Release)

Mark Twain once famously advised aspiring writers, "Don´t say the fat lady sang. Drag her onstage and make her sing." Over the years, that quote has been simplified for creative writing students to just this: Show, don´t tell.

Writer Harriet Reisen and director Nancy Porter do both in a new film biography of Louisa May Alcott that´s been making the festival rounds. "Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women" is based on a forthcoming book by Reisen, a former fellow in screenwriting at the American Film Institute. Without a doubt, this film is the most effectively dramatic biography of a public figure that I´ve seen. Viewers aren´t just told about the life of this famous American writer; they relive it, through a talented cast that acts out segments and gives "interviews" to the camera.

The general public will get a chance to see "Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women" on December 28, 2009, when it airs on PBS as part of the American Masters series. The awards it´s been winning confirm the film´s wide appeal: Grand Award at the Providence Film Festival, Audience Choice at the Cape Code Filmmaker Takeover, Best Feature Doc at the L.A. Reel Women Festival, and Best Family Feature at the Garden State Film Festival.

As much as I´ve enjoyed the American Masters series and its biographies of actors, artists, writers, and musicians, the talking heads and archival material can feel like a straitjacket for filmmakers . . . and audiences. Even the Ken Burns effect--slowly panning or zooming in or out of a photograph--can get old during the course of a feature-length film. Most recreations have failed because they´re sparingly done, poorly cast and directed, or so clumsy that they just seem cheesy. But "Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women" gives us liberal, well-conceived dramatizations throughout, making them as dominant as those talking heads that are also featured. What´s more, there´s none of the usual take-yourself-too-seriously austere narration that so often accompanies literary biographies. Louisa May Alcott and her family are brought to life with dignity, but also humor. All of the dialogue that´s used comes from journals and letters, and that lends an authenticity and unabashed forthrightness that´s uncommon in films like this.

"I don´t enjoy writing moral pap for the young," an adult Louisa May Alcott says directly into the camera, as if talking to an interviewer (or interloper). "I do it because it pays well."

Reisen gives us an intelligent script that doesn´t skimp on humor. Sometimes, it´s the material itself; other times, it´s the way that the screenwriter arranges it. When, for example, an older Alcott recalls her third birthday party at which she was coached to give the sweet treats to her guests, since there weren´t enough to go around, this exchange follows, with each character "interviewed" separately presented in quick juxtaposition:

Louisa May Alcott: "My first lesson in the sweetness of self-denial."
Bronson Alcott, her father: "The whole celebration gave much pleasure."
Louisa May Alcott: "Birthdays are always dismal times to me."

Bronson Alcott (Daniel Gerroll) was a thinker but not much of a businessman. At one point, the family lived in a basement apartment on the fringes of the worst slum in Boston. Louisa May felt an obligation to help lift her family out of poverty--especially her hard-working and long-suffering mother, Abigail (Dossy Peabody)--since her father apparently couldn´t do it and often depended on the kindness of strangers. When we´re told that Louisa May begins to sell her writing to Godey´s Ladies Book, Graham´s Magazine, and The Gazette, Louisa May comes on-camera again, positively dripping with the driest humor: "I think that, though an Alcott, I can support myself."

At first it´s a little jarring to have running commentary and interviews with long-dead family members and early biographer Ednah Cheney interspersed among the usual talking-head interviews with Alcott scholars and museum heads, but the casting is so perfect and the acting so wonderful that you quickly accept the premise. Other than Hal Holbrook´s Mark Twain, I can´t think of another literary figure that´s brought so realistically to life. The adult Louisa May Alcott is played by Elizabeth Marvel, who goes through a full range of emotions throughout the course of this film, from wry humor to heartfelt tears. Viewers may know Marvel from her ongoing role as Officer/Detective Nancy Parras from "The District" (2000-04), or as the warehouse realtor in "Synecdoche, New York." She´s a three-time Obie winner who seems absolutely comfortable as Alcott, and because of that we also feel comfortable.
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John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band: Live in Toronto '69

I´m sure I don´t have to explain who John Lennon was or how he was a member of one of the greatest and most successful rock bands of all-time, the Beatles. Nothing lasts forever though and the group eventually went their separate ways. Still, their impact on pop culture can still be felt today despite being thirty years removed from the height of Beatle-mania. "The Simpsons" have made numerous references to the group and their work while MTV Games will soon be releasing the hotly-anticipated Beatles version of "Rock Band."

On September 13, 1969, the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival was held at Varsity Stadium packed with an audience of about 20,000 people. Organizers were able to book an all-star line-up of performers that included Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddly, Chuck Berry, Alice Cooper, and the Doors who were the headlining act. Organizers had hoped to the Beatles would be able to play, but the band declined. However, John Lennon was interested and his set during the festival marked the first time a Beatle would strike out on his own. Taking place only weeks before the release of Abbey Road, the Beatles´ final album record, the Toronto Revival also signaled the end of an era. Lennon along with his wife, Yoko Ono, formed the first incarnation of their Plastic Ono Band, a nebulous title associate with whatever musicians were on hand. In this case, the band included bassist Klaus Voorman, drummer Alan White, and Eric Clapton on guitar. While the actual concert was twelve hours in length, this film (originally released under the title, "Sweet Toronto") focused mainly on Lennon´s set. The film itself was directed by D.A. Pennebaker who also documented the Monterey Pop Festival as well as directing concert films for diverse artists such as David Bowie, Bob Dylan, and Depeche Mode.

The DVD opens with a brief interview with Yoko Ono who discusses the origins of the Plastic Ono Band and how they got the name. The answer to the latter involves a bizarre story about Yoko wanting to form a band of plastic boxes. The film gets off to a rousing start with Bo Diddley ripping through a performance of his eponymous hit, "Bo Diddley." The song is intercut with backstage footage of the other artists as well as Lennon´s arrival via motorcade. From there, we watch Jerry Lee Lewis singing "Hound Dog" and Chuck Berry with "Johnny B. Goode." Next, Little Richard (sporting the pompadour to end all pompadours) tickling the ivories with an excellent of "Lucille."

As Lennon and his associates take to the stage, the former Beatle simply notes they´re just going to play songs that they know. The Plastic Ono Band hadn´t done any rehearsals and really the whole idea was a very spontaneous deal. Lennon´s set included several cover songs as well as a few new numbers. Lennon begins with Carl Perkins´ "Blue Suede Shoes" followed by Barrett Strong´s "Money (That´s What I Want)," which the Beatles had famously covered on their second album, With the Beatles. Next comes "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" and a song off the Beatles´ White Album, "Yer Blues." Lennon rounds out the night with two singles that would be released under the Plastic Ono Band banner, "Cold Turkey" and "Give Peace a Chance." Unfortunately, that is not the end. Things literally end on a sour note when Lennon utters the dreaded words, "Yoko is gonna do her thing now." I´m sure Ono is a very nice lady, but she should not be within a million miles of a microphone. Ono provided back-up vocals earlier in the night, sounding like a starving seal begging for a sardine. Even that was a trying experience, but her lead vocals are beyond the pale. We are subjected to Ono´s wretched warbling against grinding guitar feedback on the final two numbers, "Don´t Worry Kyoko (Mummy´s Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow" and "John, John (Let´s Hope For Peace)." If there is anything good to be said about this horrid performance, there are at least some priceless looks on the face of Eric Clapton as Yoko screeches into her mic. All I have to say is, John must have really, truly loved this woman.
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Princess Protection Program (DVD)

You've heard of witness protection programs? Well, apparently there's an International Princess Protection Program, and it exists solely for the purpose of rescuing, relocating, and ultimately restoring threatened or deposed princesses to their thrones. The program--so extensive that headquarters is like the subway during rush hour and different princesses are in various stages of "make-overs"--is funded by the world's royalty. And that's the part that makes the most sense.

Because the idea is as far-fetched as the school for superheroes we saw in "Sky High," you need to swallow the whole fantasy hook, line and sinker if you're going to enjoy this made-for-TV Disney Channel film, which debuts on television June 26 and comes to DVD four days later. Even more high-concept than the PPP is the pairing of two Disney stars, Demi Lovato ("Camp Rock," "Sonny with a Chance") and Selena Gomez ("Wizards of Waverly Place"), who, we learn on one of the bonus features, have actually been close friends since a shared experience appearing on "Barney & Friends." So you have two sitcom "princesses" in a movie about ONE princess. Which one gets to be royalty? Well, they didn't choose by age, because Gomez is roughly a month older than her friend, each of whom grew up in Texas. And they didn't choose according to who had Disney seniority (if such a thing can be said about a couple of 17 year olds), because Gomez broke in with the House of Mouse on a 2006 episode of "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody," while Lovato made her Disney debut with "Camp Rock" (2008). Maybe they went by ratings. "Camp Rock" made the biggest splash since "High School Musical," and Lovato was also performing with the Jonas Brothers as a special guest. That makes her a pop princess too, and a contender for the crown in this film. In addition, "Sonny with a Chance" is tied with "American Idol" for TV's #1 spot and the #1 scripted program in the tween demographic. Or maybe Gomez is as nice as the character she plays and just said, "No, really, you can have the tiara."

Gomez plays the tomboyish Carter Mason, who helps out with her father's bait shop and is normal insomuch as she wants the best-looking guy in school to like her. But popular mean-girls Chelsea (Jamie Chung) and Brooke (Samantha Droke) nudge her out of the picture. Then Dad (Tom Verica) gets called away to business again. Turns out the bait shop is just a cover. His real job is with the PPP, and his latest assignment takes him to the teensy-weensy island nation of Costa Luna, where Princess Rosalinda (Lovato) will soon be crowned queen. But during coronation rehearsal an ambitious general from a neighboring small island nation attacks the palace with his men and imprisons Rosalinda's mother, Princess Margaret (Talia Rothenberg). Mason effects a dramatic rescue (I'm not spoiling a lot, since all this happens in the first 10 minutes) and before you can say "crawdads" he's springing Princess Rosalinda and bringing her back to Lake Monroe, Louisiana to live with them as Carter's "cousin" from Iowa. But she has a thing or two to learn about catfish and (eeww) worms.

Predictably, the bulk of the film plays with the idea of "being a princess" that has fascinated the Disney marketing people for years now. What makes a princess? Do you have an inner princess inside you? That's exactly the sort of thing that occupies the thoughts of tweens and younger girls who love movies like this. And "Princess Protection Program" ought to be a hit with that target audience. Gomez and Lovato are likable, and both function well within the constraints of the familiar teen formula involving popular and not-so-popular kids. Writer Annie DeYoung ("Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board") throws in a nice princess twist, too: Anyone can be a princess in America, right? Yep, if she gets enough votes to become a homecoming princess, or better yet, Homecoming Queen.

The humor--mild, though it is--comes from situations involving "Rosie's" acclimation to the life of a commoner. She has a hard time grasping the concept of a shared bedroom with Carter, she waits for people to serve her, and she asks the most popular boy in class (Nicholas Braun) to give up his seat for her. Rosie holds up the lunch line--"I like to talk to my staff in their native tongues," she says, upon which an exasperated Carter says, "They're not staff, they're lunch ladies--and we won't even talk about bowling. But when it comes down to mean girls versus cousins, well, it's a sisterhood that can't lose, and just desserts be ripe with humor. How funny is it? I have a seven-year-old Disney princess at home and an 11-year-old hater of all things princess. But my son even liked "Princess Protection Program" for the simple reason that it was funny.
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Confessions of a Shopaholic (DVD)

At one point in this romantic comedy from director P.J. Hogan ("Muriel's Wedding"), the heroine turns to her boss/love interest and says, somewhat shocked, "You speak Prada?" They were shopping together, and she was clearly thinking he wasn't up to speed. Curiously, that's what I thought about "Confessions of a Shopaholic" (2009). Compared to "The Devil Wears Prada" (2006), it feels like a cheap knock-off. It's not as smart or fashionable, and there's just something about anything "aholic" that's a little sad and pathetic--two things that make it difficult for an audience to be charmed by or identify with her.

I've never read the series of books by Sophie Kinsella that inspired this film, so I can't say whether something was lost in translation. And in fairness, Confessions of a Shopaholic did come out in trade paperback in 2001, two years before Lauren Weisberger's novel, The Devil Wears Prada. But the main character in "Shopaholic," Rebecca Bloomwood (Isla Fisher, "Wedding Crashers"), is more annoying than endearing. Whether she's as written in the novel, as altered in the script by Tracey Jackson and Tim Firth, the result of Hogan's direction, or Fisher's initiative, the character comes across more like Dorothy in a fashion-world Oz than a career woman with a dream . . . and an addiction that at first feeds the dream, then starves it. She's just a little too Gomer Pyle wide-eyed for someone who's been in New York for five years, and a little too clueless about journalism for someone who's been working in the field for that same length of time. Heck, I have interns who come across as being more professional and knowledgeable. That's my chief complaint about this film. I'm one of those rare males who actually likes romantic comedies, and I was ready and willing to be swept away by this one. But the main character was too damned annoying to land any sort of job, much less the boss (yes, there's a little of "Bridget Jones' Diary" in this film as well).

Rebecca wants to land a dream job with Alette magazine (run by Alette), something she's fantasized about since she was 14. But she loses out to an internal hire who's more glam and more bam when it comes to playing the game. Suze (Krysten Ritter) treats poor little Rebecca with an "Ugly Betty" disdain, but Rebecca learns that there's a job opening at a sister publication, Successful Saving, and that once you get your foot in the door you can move to Alette. Of course, Rebecca knows nothing about saving. En route to the interview she was captivated by another sale and decided to purchase a green scarf . . . using a combination of cash and five different credit cards. Yes, she's maxed out, and owes more than $16,000. Unable to make payments, she's dodging a tenacious bill collector named Derek Smeath (Robert Stanton). How much of a shopaholic is she? When her card is declined and she has to have that scarf, she runs to the nearest hot dog vendor, pushes to the front of the line, and offers to write a check for all 90-some hot dogs if he'll give her the cash back she's short to buy her precious scarf. The next man in line gives her the $20. And, no surprise, he turns out to be Luke Brandon, the editor at Successful Saving with whom she's to have her interview. In this fantasy world, borrowing $20 from a stranger to buy a scarf for a sick aunt and then being caught in a lie is, combined with a demonstrated lack of finance knowledge, enough to land her the job. Apparently Brandon thinks she can be the Carrie Bradshaw of personal finance.
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Friday the 13th, Part 3 (Blu-ray)

The thing is, I always feel sorry for poor old Jason by the end of these movies. I mean, he goes around all through the stories omniscient and omnipotent, killing off people right and left, and then he gets his comeuppance when he confronts one last, helpless, screaming young female, who does him in. Seems kind of unjust.

After Paramount found two low-budget gold mines in "Friday the 13th" (1980) and "Friday the 13th, Part 2" (1981), they decided to give it another try in 1982 with "Friday the 13th, Part III," this time in 3-D. Apparently, the studio remembered all those three-dimensional pictures from the 1950s, like WB's "House of Wax" and Universal's "Creature from the Black Lagoon," and decided to adapt the process for their own modest little movie. Fortunately, on this Blu-ray disc Paramount offer the film in both versions, 2-D and 3-D, so if the 3-D approach and the 3-D glasses bother you, as they did me, you can watch the film in a more traditional format.

"Part III" is pretty much the same as its predecessors: At a remote, woodsy location on Crystal Lake, a maniacal killer, Jason Voorhees (Richard Brooker), murders a group of young people in various gruesome ways. Director Steve Miner, who helmed the previous film, adds nothing new or innovative to the formula. We start with a flashback to the ending of "Part 2," and then we move on to a new batch of youngsters spending the weekend at a small ranch on the lake, apparently near the campgrounds where the two earlier slaughters took place. The bunch includes the all usual stereotypes we've come to expect: the two leads, a girlfriend and boyfriend (Dana Kimmell and Paul Kratka), a designated nerd (Larry Zerner), a pair of hippies, and several other beautiful people. The faces change; the characters remain the same. In the movie's only meager attempt at diversity, there is also a trio of biker hoods who momentarily terrorize the youngsters (Nick Savage, Gloria Charles, and Kevin O'Brien). Guess who gets it first?

Also as usual, we get a slew of red herrings, a common trait of Miner and his screenwriters in these films. They fake us out so many times with false scares that when they actually want to frighten us, we're immune. Composer Harry Manfredini replays his anticipated "Psycho" and "Jaws"-inspired soundtrack music, which by now has become trite but remains one of the best parts of these things. And the casting director continued to find young performers who were wonderfully cute people and woefully bad actors.

Random questions: Didn't Volkwagens have safety glass by the 1970s and '80s? Doesn't Jason have anything better to do than lurk around other people's cabins? Is an old country barn really the best location for a killing spree? If the filmmakers were going to tone down the blood and gore, as they did here, shouldn't they have replaced it with greater tension and suspense? If they were going to rip off other horror movies like "The Shining" and their own "Friday the 13th," shouldn't they have done it more creatively?

Well, at least Jason gets his hockey mask in this one and doesn't have to wear that silly sack on his head anymore. And, as in all good horror movies, you can't keep a good monster down. Shoot him, stab him, hang him, burn him, or bury him, he always comes back for more. It doesn't mean we have to come back, though.
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Deep Blue Sea (DVD)

There is little time to come up for air in Renny Harlin's "Deep Blue Sea," but not because it is such an engaging story or rich with characters that draw you in. The film is extreme, silly, loud and entertaining--all things that make it worth watching. Throw together three eight-thousand pound Mako sharks with a desperate scientist, a capable but down-on-his-luck grease man, a sharp-mouthed yet religious cook, plus Samuel L. Jackson, and you have one of the more poorly made yet fun to watch disaster films in recent memory.

Upon its release, "Deep Blue Sea" was billed as simply a "Jaws" rip-off. This was not surprising, as Steven Spielberg's 1975 classic sits atop the man-versus-killer-animal film pyramid. In reality, I don't think "Deep Blue Sea" is trying to rip off "Jaws" (although, if you have seen the endings in first three "Jaws" films, you may notice some unique similarities). It seems to go after another Spielberg layout instead: "Jurassic Park."

Think about it in these terms: Each film has an older, wealthy fellow (Richard Attenborough in "Jurassic Park," Samuel L. Jackson in "Deep Blue Sea") who invests in a scientific project (bringing dinosaurs back to life in "Jurassic Park," genetically engineering Mako shark brains to harvest proteins and cure Alzheimer's disease in "Deep Blue Sea") despite a few criticisms from dissenters, only to have everything go wrong amidst a slew of special effects and general chaos. The significant difference between the films is that "Jurassic Park" works because of, among other things, strong characters and a quality script. "Deep Blue Sea," while entertaining, falls short in both regards.

Harlin's filmography provides some insight into why "Deep Blue Sea" doesn't work on these levels. The Finnish director's prior works include "A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master," "Die Hard 2," "Cliffhanger," and the colossal bomb "Cutthroat Island." What sticks out about Harlin's work are explosions, stunts, and near-death experiences (plus actual death experiences for some characters), not engaging dialogue, rich scripts, or deep characters that you find yourself rooting for or against as the films progress. If films were reviewed just on the things Harlin's work tends to be very good at, I might call "Deep Blue Sea" a valuable volume to consider adding to a DVD library. Unfortunately, films need more, and as a result this one lacks in a number of key areas.

The stars of "Deep Blue Sea" are without question the Mako sharks that take over research station Aquatica as it floats off the Mexico coast in the Pacific Ocean. They quickly proceed to bully its human inhabitants into lots of dark hallways, wet labs, and elevator shafts before flooding it. Never mind the awkward sexual tension between Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) and Carter Blake (Thomas Jane), or the comical yet somewhat hypocritical actions of Sherman "Preacher" Dudley (LL Cool J). These sharks steal the show, and rightfully so. There are plenty of avenues Harlin and writers Duncan Kennedy, Donna Powers and Wayne Powers could have gone with character development. In fact, each character has a few hints dropped about him or her that make viewers wonder more. What did corporate executive Russell Franklin (Samuel L. Jackson) "smuggle" to serve two years in jail? What about Blake (Jane), a self proclaimed "shark wrangler" and bad boy with a bad background? We get a taste of each man's past early on, but nothing more. Probably because nothing had exploded yet and no one had been eaten. As "Deep Blue Sea" progressed, I found myself wanting to see more of these sharks in action. If you are patient enough to watch from beginning to end, you won't be disappointed in them. The stunts, special effects and action scenes all hold their own, but the same can't be said for any of the film's human participants.

Like any decent movie where characters battle adversity, there are soapbox speeches woven in throughout, each intended to motivate and inspire others to action. It seems as though each main character gives one, and they vary in degree of credibility. But Franklin's (Jackson) is the winner in one of the film's best, yet hardest to believe, moments. In fact, this particular scene acts as a microcosm for the rest of the film: a brief, yet loud, violent, and entertaining adventure.
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