Winter's Bone (2010)

Director: Debra Granik

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Sheryl Lee, Tate Taylor

One of the things I can say I enjoyed most about my childhood was my ignorance of the outside world. Crazy, ill-intentioned people are out there every day doing unspeakable things to one another. I also didn’t have to think about how hard it is just to get by financially. When your highest priority is beating the high score on that video game you like to play so much, you tend not to think of such things, much less what it would be like if the securities you’ve been living with all of your life could suddenly be snatched away in an instant.

Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) has never had her world perception clouded by frivolous activities, at least not as far as we can tell. Living in the Ozarks with her mentally-ill and drug dependent mother, as well as her two siblings (a 12-year-old brother and 6-year-old sister), Ree, herself only 17, has been forced to assume a leadership role. Her father, Jessup, a known meth cooker, hasn’t been any help. In fact, as a direct cause of his absence, he’s become a hindrance. Out on bail following an arrest, Jessup has disappeared. This is a problem for Ree and her family because it turns out that her no-good father put up their house as part of his bond. Ree is informed by Sheriff Baskin (Garret Dillahunt) that she will lose the house if her father does not turn up.

Ree is no dummy. She knows exactly what her father is and what he was into. Where he is now remains the only mystery, and it’s one she has more than just a little motivation to solve. Asking around among her neighbors, who are all mixed up in the same drug business and whom all have at least a small blood kinship with her, Ree courts danger in poking around where she doesn’t belong. At every turn, she is given warnings to mind her own business and leave the situation alone, including from Jessup’s brother, Teardrop (John Hawkes). But, with that looming deadline of foreclosure on her family’s property, Ree knows she cannot do this. She believes none of the stories that have Jessup skipping town. Driven up to a house destroyed by a meth lab fire, said to be her father’s final resting place, Ree is still unconvinced. She knows her father is more careful than that, and she can tell by the height of the weeds growing inside that this fire happened before Jessup went missing.

Having been refused before, Ree makes a second attempt to see local crime boss Thump Milton. A severe beating at the hands of Merab (Dale Dickey) and other women in Milton’s family leaves Ree bruised and bloodied, yet still undeterred. She has considered all of her options… including joining the Army… in order to raise the money necessary to save her family, and the only viable solution she sees in front of her is finding the truth of her father’s whereabouts. That she is going to find out for certain what has become of her father is no real surprise, nor was it ever the point of her journey. For Ree, this has always been about protecting her family, something which even the meth cookers find honorable.

With the 83rd Academy Awards in February 2011, much of the world who had not previously seen “Winter’s Bone” got their first glimpse of actress Jennifer Lawrence. I would count myself among that crowd, except that I had seen Ms. Lawrence previously in two guest appearances on the TV series “Medium.” What I remember most about her from that night (apart from her spectacular yet simple red dress) is how quick everyone was to praise her work in “Winter’s Bone,” for which she had been nominated in the category of Best Actress. Although it was to be Natalie Portman’s night, everyone agreed that great things were soon to come in the career of Jennifer Lawrence, now a 3-time Oscar nominee. Lawrence won two years later for “Silver Linings Playbook,” still my favorite of her movies, yet it is only her most endearing role. The performance she gives us in “Winter’s Bone” stands as the strongest of her career. She never even appears to be acting. Even the southern accent that the actress (born in Kentucky) adopts feels authentic.

In part because of the dark atmosphere and the shady characters which inhabit it, but also owing to the presence of actress Sheryl Lee, I can’t help but hear the eerie theme from “Twin Peaks” in my head every now and then. My favorite scene, which turns out to be one of the movie’s most important moments, comes when Ree is instructing her siblings on how to skin and gut a squirrel. Her brother is squeamish when confronted with the idea of reaching in to pull out the squirrel’s insides, but Ree insists that he learn how. This scene is later echoed by the film’s climax, but that’s not the only reason why I focus on it. Ree is demonstrating here just how adjusted she is to life in the mountains of Missouri, and how naive her brother and sister still are. What we don’t get from this scene but discover later are the ways in which Ree herself is still unadjusted to the “normal” world outside of her own.

Demons (1985)

Director: Lamberto Bava

Starring: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Paola Cozzo, Karl Zinny, Fiore Argento, Geretta Giancarlo, Michele Soavi, Nicoletta Elmi

Nobody with a rational mind ever places the blame for society’s problems on entertainment. Our fantasies are the places we go to in order to escape the bullshit of the real world. Anyone who uses them as an excuse for heinous crimes is already working with a few screws loose. Inevitably when these tragedies occur, music, video games, comic books, novels and movies have all taken the kind of hit that should be reserved for the source. Here’s where that theory falls apart: If a movie could really be held responsible for death and destruction, there’s really nothing to limit the chaos to a single location.

Cheryl (Natasha Hovey), a university student, is scared out of her wits by a masked man in a Berlin subway. Turns out the guy isn’t interested in assaulting her, handing her a free movie pass without a word. He hands her a second one when she asks politely to have one for her friend, Kathy (Paola Cozzo), whom she is late in meeting. They’re supposed to go to class, but decide to blow it off in favor of the movie, which Kathy hopes isn’t a horror film. It is. In the movie, four teenagers find and dig up the tomb of Nostradamus, unwittingly unleashing demonic forces in the process. Slowly, the same begins to happen inside the movie theater. It all starts when one of the patrons notices a scratch on her cheek from the prop mask she’d tried on earlier in the lobby, just like one of the characters in the movie (who bears a rather striking resemblance to the masked man who gave Cheryl her ticket). In the restroom, the wound erupts and the woman transforms, attacking a friend who herself transforms while hiding behind the movie screen. Tearing through it, she begins a panic which results in many gruesome deaths and further transmutations.

The few remaining uninfected in the theater set up a barricade as they fight to stay alive and find a way out of the building, now mysteriously sealed to keep them in. On the outside, a group of carjackers manages to undo their efforts, breaking into the movie theater to elude police. Unseen by anyone at first, the punks let one of the demons loose out onto the streets. The four of them are quickly dispatched and turned, and soon it’s down to just Cheryl and George (Urbano Barberini). Making use of a motorcycle and a katana sword, both of which for some reason are not just props, they escape, though not before a confrontation with the masked man. Once on the outside, they find that everything’s gone straight to Hell. The demon who got out has spread the virus like wildfire.

An often frustrating movie, it’s nevertheless hard to argue with the collective talent of the people working behind the camera. The director is Lamberto Bava, son of the famous Italian horror director Mario Bava and a reputable filmmaker in his own right. Co-writing “Demons” is Dario Argento, another among the giants of Italian horror and a personal favorite of mine. And, where Argento goes, so does composer Claudio Simonetti of the band Goblin. Simonetti’s contributions, especially the main track entitled “Demon,” compliment the action far better than does most of the American rock soundtrack. One exception to this might be Billy Idol’s “White Wedding,” which is perfect as the intro theme for the group of punks. I also like how they use a can of Coca-Cola as a container for one of that drink’s former ingredients, which each of them snorts through a straw. Probably not the way Coke, which took cocaine out of its formula in 1903, wanted to see its image promoted.

Among the cast of characters, other than the punks, I also liked the redheaded ticket manager (Nicoletta Elmi). Keeping in mind that this was a Dario Argento co-written script, I had come to expect that there would be at least one sultry, potentially dangerous character whom the heroes come across. Predictably, she does stare into the camera in a most suspicious manner, but then it’s later revealed that she’s as much a victim as everyone else. She’s simply been duped into facilitating the evil that’s about to reveal itself. I also happily recognize the actress from two other, better Italian horror movies in which she appeared as a child: Mario Bava’s “Twitch of the Death Nerve” (1971) and Dario Argento’s “Deep Red” (1975).

The movie itself is something of a disappointment. The initial outbreak is fantastic, but then it’s as though no one could figure out what to do with it afterwards, as much of the rest of the film feels padded. Even stranger is the abrupt ending. I can’t stand it when a horror movie gives our surviving protagonist(s) a whole new set of obstacles, and then ends before they have time to deal with them. “Demons” is especially cruel in this area, as (unless I missed something) it even changes its rules to eliminate one of the survivors for the sake of shock value. You string us along for an hour and a half, and THIS is how you finish? Just unnecessary. The outrageous method by which the heroes are able to escape from the theater is so out of left field that it’s funny, especially if you accidentally call it like I did (The only way they can get out is if this happens…”)! Not to mention that it’s just as miraculous as Samurai swords and gas-filled motorcycles being at the ready. Do you see what we’re dealing with here? This movie seems designed to drive me crazy… but at least not demonic.

Friday the 13th Part VI - Jason Lives (1986)

Director: Tom McLoughlin

Starring: Thom Matthews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, Renee Jones, Kerry Noonan, Tom Fridley, C.J. Graham, Darcy DeMoss

The man behind the mask is indeed back. “Part V” saw Jason Voorhees riding the bench in favor of Roy, the psychotic paramedic. Well, fans didn’t take too well to that, so Paramount, not wanting to lose money on a horror franchise they weren’t terribly proud of in the first place, saw only one option: revive the monster thought to be dead since “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.” This was the mandate they gave to director Tom McLoughlin. They pretty much gave him carte blanche to do anything else he wanted. Easily the most creative director the series ever had, McLoughlin turned to his love of 1930’s Universal horror, as well as his penchant for writing comedy, to breathe new life into both the series and its iconic villain. What McLoughlin produced can easily be seen as one of the strongest entries in the “Friday the 13th” franchise.

The movie begins on a stormy evening, where two refugees from a mental hospital are headed for the cemetery to dig up Jason Voorhees (C.J. Graham)’s body and destroy it. The man behind the wheel is Tommy Jarvis (Thom Matthews), still haunted by his encounter with Jason in “The Final Chapter.” His nervous cohort, Hawes (Ron Palillo of TV’s “Welcome Back, Kotter”), doesn’t quite understand where the closure is to come from in this little venture… that is until his eye catches the gas can. Tommy screws it up, of course, first choosing a rainy night to carry out his foolhardy plan, and then by freaking out and repeatedly stabbing Jason’s worm-infested corpse with a metal fence post. Like a scene out of 1931’s “Frankenstein,” two bolts of lightning strike the fence post and miraculously resurrect Jason. Hawes doesn’t think his heart can take much more of this. That’s fine, because Jason is more than willing to relieve him of that particular organ. As Tommy drives away to the police station for help, Jason retrieves his famous hockey mask. On the main title card, Jason walks in like James Bond and slashes at the screen. Cool stuff.

Once at the sheriff’s station, Tommy nearly gets his head blown off when he dramatically bursts in with warnings about Jason. Sheriff Michael Garris (David Kagen) is both hot-tempered and overprotective of both his town and his daughter, Megan (Jennifer Cooke), but not without good reason. As much as Tommy is trying to do to warn everyone about Jason, Sheriff Garris is equally adamant about keeping the serial killer buried in the past as nothing more than a legend. Megan and five of her friends are about to re-open the camp for the weekend, making this the first and only time in series history that Camp Crystal Lake has children running around. Yet, Crystal Lake isn’t even Crystal Lake anymore. Now it’s called Forest Green. Not that this will make any difference to Jason, who is even more dangerous now than ever before.

In fact, two of Megan’s friends have already been done in by Jason, one of whom tries to offer him money in exchange for her life. As if Jason would know what to do with money if he had it. Hilariously, upon her death, the woman’s American Express card floats away in the mud (“Don’t leave home without it!”). So now only Megan, Sissy (Renee Jones), Paula (Kerry Noonan) and Cort (Tom Fridley) remain to chaperone the kids. If actor Tom Fridley bears a resemblance to John Travolta, that’s because Travolta is his uncle. Megan only stays at the camp for a brief amount of time, since she spends the majority of her time wherever Tommy is going to be, having grown attracted to him. Her father recognizes this, which gives him all the more reason to want this punk kid out of his jurisdiction. Tommy’s a bit more persistent than that, trying to make it to Jason’s grave before the police can nab him again. Instead, he’s forced to the outskirts of town, where he calls Megan from a general store owned by some guy named Karloff (yet another of the director’s in-joke references), where she drives out to meet him. After a lengthy car chase, a road block set up by Megan’s father stops them in their tracks. In the meantime, Jason has killed many more people, including all the counselors at the camp. Sheriff Garris blames Tommy, of course.

Megan helps break Tommy out of jail and they speed over to the camp, where Jason is currently dispatching the police unit sent to check things out. Sheriff Garris hears his daughter’s cries for help and, in a last ditch act of heroism, sacrifices himself to try and stop Jason, to no avail. Jason keeps on coming, until Tommy convinces him to follow him into the lake, where Tommy wraps a weighted chain around Jason’s neck. Both are dragged under, and it is up to Megan to swim out to save Tommy’s life as an immobilized Jason remains trapped in a watery grave.

The last truly great “Friday the 13th” sequel, “Jason Lives” is entertaining from start to finish. Unlike any of the movies that preceded it, “Part VI” is successful because of the risks that it took. Tom McLoughlin’s decision to shift the tone of the series into horror-comedy was a welcome change this time around. Consider the scene where the cemetery’s groundskeeper turns toward the camera and declares, in regards to the unearthing of Jason Voorhees, “Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment!” The series was definitely breaking new ground with that one. It’s not my absolute favorite in the franchise (that is and will always be the original), but it’s in the top four. In my review of “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter,” I stated that I was glad that the decision was made to continue on from that point. In the case of “Jason Lives,” I wish the series had been allowed to go out on the high note that this movie provides. The fact that the remaining sequels are all bottom feeders does nothing to diminish the accomplishments of “Part VI,” but it’s all downhill from here. As good a reason as any for me to save something for the next 13th day of a month that falls on a Friday (this November).

Friday the 13th Part V - A New Beginning (1985)

Director: Danny Steinmann

Starring: Melanie Kinnaman, John Shepherd, Shavar Ross, Corey Feldman, Richard Young, Marco St. John, Juliette Cummins, Carol Locatell, Vernon Washington, John Robert Dixon, Tiffany Helm, Jerry Pavlon

Hard to believe it’s been 30 years since this one was first released. Time has certainly been kind to this particular “Friday” sequel. At the time, it was so despised that some critics, I’m sure, must have thought that the people who spent hard-earned money to see it would need to have their heads examined. Many fans probably agreed. While “A New Beginning” will never be seen as one of the better chapters in the long history of “Friday the 13th,” later entries would show just how much worse things could get. For that reason, among others, “Friday the 13th Part V” is looked upon with somewhat greater fondness than it once was.

Speaking of people who desperately need a psychiatrist, Tommy Jarvis is once again the main protagonist. As a child (when he was played by Corey Feldman in “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter” and in the first five minutes of this movie), Tommy killed Jason Voorhees in self-defense. In the five years since, Tommy (now played by John Shepherd) suffers from the effects of PTSD. Heavily withdrawn, partly due to the laundry list of drugs in his system, Tommy nevertheless has a very thin threshold for agitation. When pushed too far, he’ll quickly respond with disproportionate violence. No one else besides Jason has died at his hand, mind you… but they’re probably not too quick to look at themselves in the mirror afterwards, either.

At this time, Tommy is making the transition back into society by staying at a Halfway House. There are many other young men and women there who are roughly Tommy’s age, but if you’re looking for an explanation for what brought them there… fill in the blanks yourself. One of them, a big and strong-looking man named Vic, seems like the one person who wants to be there even less than Tommy. They’ve got this quick-tempered goon on wood-chopping duty. Smart. The matter is quickly brought to a head when the halfway house’s resident annoying fat pig named Joey won’t leave him alone. To everyone’s horror, Vic hacks Joey to pieces.

While they grieve, the others at the Halfway House also have to put a figurative leash on two of their members, Tina (Debi Sue Voorhees) and Eddie (John Robert Dixon), who keep sneaking off into the woods to have sex. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that a neighbor, Ethel (Carol Locatell), keeps threatening to shoot any loony she catches on her property. These are threats, of course. Ethel’s all talk. ALL talk. (Her idiot son won’t shut up, either.) It’s someone else who really does mean to dispatch the lot of them. Naturally, once the bodies do start piling up, the sheriff insists that it’s Jason Voorhees. The mayor says otherwise, citing Jason’s demise five years before as the reason why not.

The mayor is correct, and there are clues as to why. Firstly, there’s a secondary character who would remain in the background of most any other “Friday” film, but there are several scenes where the camera holds on him. Secondly, when ‘Jason’ is finally revealed, he looks different from the image of the real Jason which sometimes appears in Tommy’s mind. In particular, his hockey mask is cleaner, and doesn’t have the same decal stickers as the real Jason’s. Thirdly, when he is wounded, false Jason reacts to the pain like a normal human. The real Jason kept going even when his left hand had been split almost in half.

By the film’s climax, only three survivors remain: Tommy, Pam (Melanie Kinnaman) who helped run the Halfway House, and little Reggie (Shavar Ross), the grandson of the cook. Reggie was only just visiting, you see. He discovers three of the victims’ bodies in Tommy’s room, which is supposed to leave the viewer wondering whether Tommy has assumed the role of Jason (something which was teased at the end of “The Final Chapter”). He’s a pretty spunky kid. Not one to simply cower in the corner, Reggie actually does his fair share of damage to ‘Jason,’ as does Pam. Any chance of it being Tommy is put to rest when he shows up and nearly gets himself killed by standing there and gaping like a dumbass. The reveal of the true identity of ‘Jason,’ once it’s made, challenges you on whether or not you’ve been paying attention all this time. Until the connection is made to that murder of the chocolate bar-loving fat boy, I could not have picked ‘Jason’ out of a line-up the first time I saw “A New Beginning.” It’s not Vic, by the way. He’s in police custody. Besides, that’d be too easy.

The “Friday the 13th” series has always been a child of the 1980’s but it wasn’t until this sequel that the franchise had embraced the decade completely. The one place in which this is the most obvious lies with the character of Violet (Tiffany Helm). From the unusual way she wears her hair, to the music she listens to, Vi is totally an 80’s chick. Somewhat of a rebel, but an 80’s chick no less. She also does this incredibly choreographed robot dance to the tune of “His Eyes” by Pseudo Echo. I’m warning you: Listen to this song, and it’s catchy enough that it will stay with you. Kind of like Lion’s “Love Is a Lie” from the previous film was.

The biggest problem I see with “Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning” is not the fact that the killer is not Jason, nor is it that much of the action takes place at a Halfway House. What hinders “Part V” is its reliance on excess. The first four films all thrived on the mantra of keeping it simple. Meanwhile, “Part V” goes for broke in just about every way. There are way too many characters, which means a few deaths too many, and… call me crazy… too much frontal nudity. In a horror movie, the removal of clothing should be an event, but “Part V” damn near turns it into an Olympic sport! (In that case, give the gold medal to Debi Sue Voorhees… if for no other reason than because her last name is Voorhees!) This can be attributed, in part, to the director’s experience in the world of pornography (Steinmann directed the adult film “High Rise”). “Part V” has that same overabundance of nudity and cheesy dialogue one associates with porn. The kills themselves might be more welcome if the MPAA hadn’t stepped in and demanded edits as it always did with this series.

Although a better film than its reputation, the failed experiment that was “Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning” ensured the return of the real Jason Voorhees if the series was to continue on from this point. The sequels that follow largely ignore this one completely, only adding to the criticism. If it’s no longer important to the narrative, what’s the point in watching it, right? Well, when you’re watching the series all in one go, as I typically like to do, it tends not to matter. And that is, in the end, the best way to watch “Part V”; not as an individual film, but part of a greater whole.

Friday the 13th - The Final Chapter (1984)

Director: Joseph Zito

Starring: Kimberly Beck, Peter Barton, Corey Feldman, E. Erich Anderson, Crispin Glover, Alan Hayes, Barbara Howard, Lawrence Monoson, Joan Freeman, Judie Aronson, Camilla More, Carey More

Don’t believe it for a second! Any time you see the words “last” or “final” displayed in the title of a horror movie, it is almost never truly the end. About the only exception I can think of  is “Saw.” The seventh and most recent of that franchise used the subtitle “The Final Chapter,” and that was back in 2010. For a series that once had been pumping out sequels every year, they seem to be well and truly finished. By 1984, “Friday the 13th” had thrice successfully brought audiences in to watch camp counselors, vacationers and other unfortunate souls being murdered, but the minds behind the slasher film phenomenon had begun to wonder if their fans would soon grow tired of the monster known as Jason Voorhees. Already, they had thought to end the series as a trilogy, but now it was to be official. The big draw last time had been the 3-D effects. This time, it was the knowledge that Jason was going to die.

The movie starts, as Parts 2 and 3 had, with a montage of previous events. This time, it doesn’t just cover highlights of the most recent “Friday,” but all of the first three titles. If, for some reason, one had decided it was a good idea to watch this one before the others, this opening montage helps get you acquainted with the mayhem you came to see before its own story even gets started. Great way to get settled in! Once that’s done, we pick up right where Part 3 left off at Higgins Haven, the night after Jason’s massacre there. In the barn, the hockey-masked killer lies still. A deep gash in his skull is still fresh, the axe that made it lying beside him. Off to the hospital we go, where Jason’s body is carted off to the morgue. The crass and one-track minded Axel (Bruce Mahler of “Police Academy”) is the man working the corpse storage unit tonight. He and a nurse he has fun with when they should be working are first on Jason’s list.

The action moves to the following day, where we see a car full of youngsters headed into the woods of Crystal Lake to have some fun. Probably can’t fault them too much. Maybe they saw the previous night’s TV reports of how Jason had finally been stopped by his most recent victims, and decided it was okay to go. They obviously don’t have a newspaper subscription, or else they’d be able to read about how his body went missing from the hospital morgue. The Jarvis family, consisting of Tommy (Corey Feldman), older sister Trish (Kimberly Beck) and their mother, do receive the newspaper in the mail. We know this because there’s a scene with the mother reading about Jason’s escape.

If you guessed that none of the young adults in the vacation house will survive the night, you guessed correctly. This will grow to include the Doublemint Twins, who appear out of nowhere on bicycles. Although they will discard these outfits after their initial scene, Tina and Terri (Camilla and Carey More) first show up wearing those sweatshirts with the oversized collars made popular by Jennifer Beals in “Flashdance.” In no way are the actresses really British while pretending to sound American. The rest of the group is made up of the usual cardboard cut-outs we’ve come to expect from these movies, however some of them actually dare to have a glimmer of a personality before they’re unceremoniously bumped off.

Jimmy, played by the odd bird known to the world as Crispin Glover, is presented immediately as sympathetic. He’s just broken up with his girlfriend… or more accurately, she did the breaking-up… and it’s left him confused because he thought he’d done everything right in the relationship. To some this might come off a little whiny, but then his friend Ted (Lawrence Monoson) has to twist the knife a bit (no pun intended). Ted, who knows far less about what makes women tick than he thinks he does, puts this “into the computer,” and comes up with the report that Jimmy must be a “dead fuck,” that he’s no good in the bedroom. Until the moment comes when Jimmy has sex with Tina, “dead fuck” is the pet name Ted uses for him on this trip. While Crispin Glover is the more recognizable actor, I find that it’s Lawrence Monoson as Ted who seems to be having the most fun with his role here. This is keeping in mind the ridiculous dance which Jimmy does that makes him look as though he’s recently touched an electrical fence. That’s just Crispin Glover being Crispin Glover.

Ultimately, it rests on little Tommy’s shoulders to save the day. Tommy’s the big expert in the field of makeup effects, although how he or his parents came by the money required for him to make all of his masks and other assorted items is beyond me. That’s never explained, so it’s clearly not that important. All it is is a set-up to let you know that Tommy’s got the know-how to distract Jason long enough to take him down. His sister Trish surely isn’t much help. As a “final girl,” she’s pretty pathetic. She’d rather crash through a two-story window to escape the monster than evade him by stepping over a dead body to get through the front door. Even her dog commits suicide! Trish and Tommy meet a guy named Rob, whose sister Sandra was killed in “Part 2.” He looks like he’s been out in the woods tracking Jason for a long time, which might be believable until you remember that Parts 2-4 all happen over the course of just a few days. Even worse? Rob’s death scene. This murder in the basement of the party house is so darkly lit that you can’t even see what’s happening. But, more than this, Rob’s death screams are the sort you would hear at a ‘haunted house’ party on Halloween meant to scare the bejesus out of little kids. The rest of us can see it for the over-the-top silliness that it actually is. Better is Jason’s gruesome death scene, thanks to the work of makeup master Tom Savini, returning to kill the monster he helped create with his work in the original “Friday the 13th” four years earlier.

For all of my verbal berating of the shortcomings of “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter,” you might think that I hate this movie. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it my second favorite “Friday the 13th” behind only the original. Most of the series’ best kills are here, as is one of its more memorable casts, including one of the best Jasons in stuntman Ted White. Like so many series that try to go out on a high note, it was tempting for them to stop here, but I am glad that they did not.

Radio Days (1987)

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Mia Farrow, Seth Green, Julie Kavner, Dianne Wiest, Michael Tucker, Danny Aiello, Tony Roberts, Jeff Daniels, Seth Green, Woody Allen (narrator)

Since the invention of the television, and other visual and auditory electronic devices, the radio, while it hasn’t been phased out, has taken on a decidedly smaller role in our lives from the one it used to play. That, in essence, is one of the main driving points of “Radio Days,” which is first and foremost a movie about nostalgia for a bygone era. Having been born during the television age, I don’t think that this movie was made with my generation (or the one after mine) in mind. Most of the vignettes are memories the main character associates with radio broadcasts of significant value which he remembers hearing as a child. Some of their real-life counterparts I know of from anecdotes I’ve heard, but I was decades away from being born when they were originally broadcast. I do like it when the TV airs reruns of older shows, or when the radio plays the songs that were hits when my parents were in their teens/early 20’s. As such, this too is not out of a sense of nostalgia, instead it is out of good taste. Same reason I’ve been on this Woody Allen marathon as of late, of which “Radio Days” is the culmination.

As the narrator, director Woody Allen provides the voice of the adult version of the main character for most of the vignettes, a redheaded Jewish boy named Joe (Seth Green) growing up in late 1930’s/early 40’s New York. One of these includes his quest to obtain a secret decoder ring, something to which most young boys can relate. We all tried to pester our parents for that toy we just HAD to have; some of us were just more persuasive than others. Joe’s parents (Julie Kavner, Michael Tucker) are not so easily persuaded, and as the adult Joe glumly reports, he never got that ring. My, how did he ever survive without it?

Occasionally, the radio holds onto the attention of our cast with startling news broadcasts… most of which are genuine. One instance in which the news is fantasy is the infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast, interrupting an otherwise lovely evening for Joe’s Aunt Bea (Dianne Wiest), revealing her date to be a total coward. The parts about World War II are presented seriously, as well they should be. Maybe my favorite sequence, though, ends up being the news of the little girl trapped down inside a well. This is an otherwise grim situation which is reported so dramatically that it results in that special kind of uncomfortable guffaw. You know you shouldn’t laugh, but you can’t help it.

The parts of “Radio Days” I’m not so fond of are those which revolve around the character of Sally White (Mia Farrow). Whether she’s getting trapped on a rooftop, or whether we’re following her attempts at becoming a radio star, I just want her to go away. It’s that voice. That horrible, godawful voice! Oh, Sally sings just fine, but any time she speaks, that high-pitched, ear-splitting sound emanating from her mouth makes me long for someone to scratch their nails on a chalkboard. Based on her stellar performances in “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Broadway Danny Rose” and “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” I know full well that Mia Farrow is capable of much better things, which is what makes the character of Sally White that much more of a disappointment.

Absolutely not disappointing is the collection of actors with whom Allen has previously worked that make their return here. In addition to Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest and Julie Kavner, “Radio Days” also features Tony Roberts, Wallace Shawn, Danny Aiello, Jeff Daniels and Diane Keaton. I especially appreciate the return of Keaton, even if it is for just the one song. Wallace Shawn is amusing as the radio actor who provides the voice of the macho superhero, the Masked Avenger, a role he could not have played on television.

The whole point to “Radio Days,” as I have said, is nostalgia for a bygone era. Because I do not share in that nostalgia, my interests in the movie are in whether it is funny (which it is sparingly) and whether the story is interesting. Because there is no one cohesive tale but a series of short happenings, that’s a little harder to grade. Overall, color me underwhelmed, which is a sad thing to say given that this is the film with which I end my Woody Allen marathon. Nostalgia, at its core, is all about looking back at fond memories. The movie series I’m about to switch gears back to (given that tomorrow is another “Friday the 13th”) is nowhere as sophisticated as a Woody Allen movie, but it does hold that certain fondness to which I am referring. I’ll always remember exactly how old I was when I saw them for the first time. I don’t know if I’ll be able to say the same of “Radio Days.”

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Director: Woody Allen

Starring (in alphabetical order): Woody Allen, Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Carrie Fisher, Barbara Hershey, Lloyd Nolan, Maureen O’Sullivan, Daniel Stern, Max von Sydow, Dianne Wiest

Once again, I have found myself in the position of sitting down to watch a wildly popular film directed by Woody Allen without any idea what to expect and, in all likelihood, requiring many future viewings to truly appreciate it. This is not a knock against his work. Far from it. There’s just so much going on in the multiple plot threads of “Hannah and Her Sisters” that it’s not easily digestible.

Although it’s up in the air just who one could consider as the main character or characters, it is certain that each of the three main story arcs (which run concurrently over a period of two years) has a connection back to Hannah (Mia Farrow). The first one follows Hannah’s current husband, Elliot (Michael Caine) and his irrational but passionate pursuit of her sister Lee (Barbara Hershey), eventually resulting in an affair. Although Lee is not married, she has been living with the artist Frederick (Max von Sydow) for five years. Lee’s problem with Frederick is that his reclusive nature is causing him to rely on her less as a partner in a relationship and more as his last remaining tether to the outside world. This is a responsibility which Lee does not want on her shoulders.

The second arc features Hannah’s ex-husband Mickey (Woody Allen), a television writer. Most of his story is told in flashback, including the reasons for his divorce from Hannah and a subsequent date with her other sister, Holly (Dianne Wiest), a drug-addicted wannabe actress. To say that the date does not go well is truly an understatement. That they do not come to blows is a miracle. Mickey has much bigger things to worry about besides an ex-wife, their twin children via artificial insemination, or her crazy sister. He’s worried half to death that he’s got a brain tumor. When he’s reassured this isn’t the case, his moment of relief is overcome by a new problem: the thought that life is meaningless. Turning to religion proves a fruitless endeavor. At his lowest point, Mickey attempts suicide, but even that doesn’t go as planned. Going to the movies to see the Marx Brothers in “Duck Soup,” he is able to discover what for him is the meaning of life. Personally, “Animal Crackers” would have done it for me, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Holly, with whom Mickey has a second, more successful date, is the focus of the third arc. Her biggest problem is that she feels as though she’s constantly in competition with everyone. In some cases, she’s right. She frequently argues with Hannah and vies for the affection of David (Sam Waterston) against her friend and fellow actress, April (Carrie Fisher). She is also in line for a part in a Broadway play, again losing to April. Finally, when she finds her niche as a writer, the first story she comes up with is one her sister criticizes heavily, accusing Holly of basing it on her and Elliot’s marriage. Of course, Hannah, still completely unaware that Elliot and Lee had been seeing each other behind her back, has only theories as to how Holly could know such intimate details if she (Hannah) is not the one who’s been feeding them to her sister.

Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning screenplay is filled with a lot of fantastic scenes. My favorite is the one in which the three sisters have gone out to eat together. The camera rotates around the table, and as Hannah and Holly bicker with one another, Lee’s growing unease about her own situation is finally getting to her, and she finally has an outburst of her own. Her sisters of course don’t understand where this is coming from, since they don’t have the full story, nor will they. Lee can’t bring herself to confess to her sisters what she and Elliot have been up to. It’s her problem and she’s got to resolve it herself, one way or another.

“Hannah and Her Sisters” is also bolstered by one of Woody Allen’s best casts. It is the only one of his movies which managed to snag two Academy Awards for acting, for Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest. Of the three main story arcs, the one which interests me the most is the Elliot/Lee affair, and it’s all thanks to terrific performances from Michael Caine, who I’ll watch in anything (even his bad movies), and Barbara Hershey (who, among other things, featured in my favorite two-part episode of “Kung Fu”). Even as their relationship threatens to hurt others whom they love if they’re discovered, you can’t help but sympathize with Elliot and Lee in their mutual quest to add some joy to their lives.

Many have ranked “Hannah and Her Sisters” either at or near the top of their lists of favorite Woody Allen films. While I can’t do the same… at least not yet… I can at least recognize that this is a fine film worthy of everyone’s attention. It’s one of those movies which seems better upon reflection. This is a story in which each of its characters searches for an answer. Each of them finds one, even if it wasn’t what they expected. I expect I’ll find mine after I’ve had the chance to see this movie one or two more times.