Archive for February, 2015

Stardust Memories (1980)

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, Charlotte Rampling, Jessica Harper, Marie-Christine Barrault, Tony Roberts

I would never want to trade places with a celebrity. Life is hard enough without your every move being watched and scrutinized. To have to deal with paparazzi (the only legalized form of stalking), crazy fans who can’t tell the difference between the characters on the screen and the actors who portray them, critics who think themselves smarter than everyone else, and studio executives who think they know even more because they have all the money… No thanks. Other people can have that life, but not me. I can’t conceive of how I could ever enjoy myself, always wishing I were somewhere else. Maybe even somewhen else. I value my privacy far too much.

Sandy Bates (Woody Allen) is an award-winning filmmaker who is battling with the studio over how his latest movie should resolve itself, and dealing with an inept housekeeper who is one step away from burning down the house while trying to cook a rabbit. At the same time, he is attending a film festival where all the crazies come out. The consensus among the critics is that they prefer his “earlier, funnier movies.” Fans randomly approach him for autographs, rookie actors/writers try to impress him with their script ideas, and the ladies all want to be with him. Sandy probably feels a lot like a Stretch Armstrong toy. One female fan, wearing a T-shirt bearing Sandy’s image, even sneaks into his bedroom looking for “meaningless sex.” She can’t understand his hesitation. It’s not that he doesn’t want to (and he eventually does consent), but he’s at a point in his life where only real and honest love will make him feel anything.

The women in Woody Allen’s films have always played a strong role, and it is no different with “Stardust Memories.” In the present time, Sandy finds himself trying to balance attractions he feels for two different ladies: the motherly Isobel (Marie-Christine Barrault), and the intellectual, dark and mysterious Daisy (Jessica Harper). Isobel presents the possibility of a stable relationship, even as she has two loud and troublesome children from the marriage she left to be with Sandy. Daisy, meanwhile, is more of a puzzle to be solved. There’s less chance of a happy ending with her, but Sandy is intrigued all the same. Part of it is because there’s something about her that reminds him of Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling), a former lover who had an unstable personality but is nonetheless representative of a brief window in time when, to Sandy, the world seemed perfect. Often, he finds his mind drifting back to memories of time shared with Dorrie for that very reason.

Allen’s previous films (excluding “Interiors,” which he directed but did not star) all spotlighted either one or two women in particular. Because he highlights three in “Stardust Memories,” it could be said that none of them gets as many scenes as they should. This is especially true in the case of Daisy. Whether because of my adoration for Jessica Harper, or because Daisy is simply a more interesting character, I found myself wishing we could get to know her a little bit more than we do. Allen also has a knack for giving future Hollywood stars their first big break. In the first scene of “Stardust Memories,” when Sandy looks through the window of his train and sees the more lively group of passengers on the adjacent train, it’s Sharon Stone who blows him a kiss.

“Stardust Memories” is Allen’s homage to Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2.” It really helps to have seen that movie before seeing this one in terms of being wise to all the references, the most obvious one being the opening scene onboard the train, replacing the car from “8 1/2.” I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that either film helps you understand the other. Both are about filmmakers stuck in a creative rut, and neither follows a traditional Hollywood narrative. You’ll find yourself constantly struggling during “Stardust Memories” to figure out just what the hell is going on. Just keep in mind the following: everything after the rabbit scene is a dream.

For whatever reason, “Stardust Memories” did not go over very well with fans and critics. I assume that’s because they perceived the movie as presenting an angry tone directed towards them. One of the critics depicted in the film even bears a slight physical resemblance to Roger Ebert, who assigned a mere two-star rating. I would hope the harsh criticism comes from a general confusion about the plot and not from some misguided offense taken because they can’t recognize a parody when they see one. When Allen represents Sandy’s fans as grotesque and clownish, and his critics as pompous know-it-alls, he’s not writing an autobiography here. He is letting you get inside his head, yes, but only to share in his appreciation for the films he’s come to love, which as usual includes both Fellini and Ingmar Bergman. I appreciate that, although he has a certain style of filmmaking that he likes, Allen is not opposed to trying to shake things up. Movies like “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan,” as well as those “earlier, funnier” films of his, are all great… but there’d be no sense in him just remaking those same movies over and over. Particularly if you are doing a marathon of them, which I am in the process of, that could get boring really quickly.

This one, I think, definitely ranks on the high-end of the spectrum for me. It may not be as easy to follow as some of Allen’s more popular titles, but that can only be because it’s so deceptively dense. Multiple viewings are a must in order to take in everything “Stardust Memories” has to offer but, given that it’s only an 88-minute movie, I don’t see that being a problem. Just as Daisy does for Sandy, “Stardust Memories” has that quality about it that persuades me to keep coming back for more.


Manhattan (1979)

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Mariel Hemingway, Meryl Streep, Anne Byrne

Anyone who has ever displayed an interest in writing, whether for entertainment or journalistic purposes, knows exactly what’s going through Woody Allen’s mind during the opening scene of “Manhattan.” He’s on Chapter One of a new novel about a guy from New York who absolutely loves his city. His problem is that he can’t get the words to come out quite right. It’s all coming off either too preachy, too angry, or otherwise just plain wrong. Finally, after much backtracking, he stumbles upon what to him sounds like the right introduction to both the main character and his story. It’s a satisfying feeling, knowing that you’re on the right track and could be on the verge of creating something special. What’s particularly special about this three and a half minute beginning to “Manhattan” is that it is set to the music of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” a tune that has become synonymous with the city of New York itself. Introductions like this are hard to come by, and the one bestowed upon “Manhattan” is one of the greatest of any movie I’ve ever seen.

Isaac Davis (Woody Allen) is a 42-year old writer for television comedy. Rather bad television comedy, as he and associates of his are quick to point out. Eventually, he becomes so frustrated with his job and the drug addicts who work with him that he impulsively walks out. Unfortunately for Isaac, acts of impulse are a common thread, especially when it comes to the women in his life. When we first meet Isaac, he’s in the middle of a relationship with a sweet-natured 17-year old girl named Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). He’s older than Tracy’s own father, he observes. Part of him recognizes the immoral, socially unacceptable nature of the relationship, and part of him doesn’t care. Isaac is also twice divorced. His second wife, a bisexual-turned-lesbian named Jill (Meryl Streep), is writing a tell-all book about their marriage. Naturally, Isaac finds this disgusting and humiliating, as it will mean that all of his friends will know every last juicy detail. He tries to force the issue, to no avail. Not exactly the most mature behavior on either person’s part.

The immaturity does not end with Isaac and his former partner. Isaac’s best friend Yale (Michael Murphy) is endangering his marriage with an affair with Mary (Diane Keaton), an opinionated, self-appointed art critic and writer of film novelizations. She uses big words to make herself sound more brilliant than she actually is, and makes observations like “I’m from Philadelphia. We believe in God,” as if everyone is supposed to know what she means. Mary and Isaac have virtually nothing in common, apart from their ability to enter into a relationship they know is wrong.

Upon this first meeting, Isaac finds Mary repulsive. Later, upon further encounters, Isaac finds himself growing strangely attracted to Mary. Although one should not always go with their first impression of another person, Isaac should have listened to his instincts this time, especially as his decision comes at the expense of Tracy and their relationship. Eventually, Mary proves just how flighty she can be, deciding that she was in fact in love with Yale all along and going off to live with him after he leaves his wife. They deserve each other. Hard to say what Isaac deserves, but can it really be someone as kind and as sweet as Tracy? He certainly thinks so, as her image comes to mind when he asks himself “What makes life worth living?” He catches Tracy just as she’s about to go to London for six months, as Isaac had suggested she do when he was trying to end things between them. Isaac pleads with her not to go. “I don’t want that thing about you that I like to change,” he tells her. It’s in this moment when you realize that Isaac could just as easily be talking to/about the city of New York.

What a bunch of assholes these people are, huh? But the actors playing them are nothing short of professional, and all are at the top of their game. Keaton proves once again why she’s just a great on-screen match for Woody Allen. The chemistry between them is undeniable. At tonight’s Academy Awards, Meryl Streep finds herself nominated for an acting award for the 19th time. Though her unparalleled career was still in its early stages in 1979, she nonetheless provides a terrific supporting performance. Jill’s unashamed confessional about her marriage to Isaac puts to mind all the singers over the years who’ve turned out hit songs based on their failed relationships, and how the airing of their dirty laundry is sometimes scrutinized. It may not be particularly tactful of her, but we can’t entirely fault her for it, either. We weren’t there for the marriage itself, only the messy aftermath.

The best acting in the movie, hands down, comes from Mariel Hemingway. She presents Tracy as a very loving individual, perhaps a bit too eager to put her trust in others but, as Isaac said, we like that about her. Most importantly, she’s very mature for her age. Despite this, her age is the very thing that is always held against her, even by Isaac whom she loves. As it so happens, among this group of selfish, spiteful and flaky adults, Tracy comes off as more mature than any of them. Folks, Hemingway will break your heart in “Manhattan.” Woody Allen himself could not have come up with a more autobiographical role. As it turns out, he really did have a 17-year old girlfriend when he was aged 42. His relationship with actress Stacey Nelkin, which he did not publicly acknowledge until fairly recently, is said (by Nelkin) to have been the basis for “Manhattan.” Additionally, in the years since the movie, Allen has had a tell-all book written about him by an ex: his girlfriend of 12 years, actress Mia Farrow. He couldn’t possibly have seen that one coming. Doesn’t make it any less bizarre. Even though it stands as one of his all-time greatest films (and my second favorite behind only “Annie Hall”), Allen himself was so displeased with his own work that he asked United Artists not to release it, instead offering to make another movie for free. Thank goodness the studio made him see reason. “Manhattan” takes the best parts of “Annie Hall” and “Interiors” and combines them into a single, classic accomplishment of filmmaking.

Beyond the great performances and the strange blurring of the lines between fiction and fact, “Manhattan” is also further enhanced by its sights and sounds. Kids today don’t seem to understand that Black & White does not automatically make a movie “old” or “boring.” When used effectively, as it is in “Manhattan,” it makes the film a more personal experience. Scenes like the famous bridge shot would not have the same power if shown in Color. The music is just as important, becoming an additional character within the movie. You must have a heart of stone if you’re not emotionally stirred by “Rhapsody in Blue,” or the instrumental versions of “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “Embraceable You.” Admittedly, it took me until my third viewing of “Manhattan” to finally “get it.” Like Isaac, I had been put off by the ugliness of the adult characters while simultaneously failing to appreciate the beauty that was right in front of my face.

Interiors (1978)

Director: Woody Allen

Starring (in alphabetical order): Kristin Griffith, Mary Beth Hurt, Richard Jordan, Diane Keaton, E.G. Marshall, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Sam Waterston

Unhappiness and resentment, unchecked, leads only to more unhappiness and resentment. “I’ve never been able fulfill my dreams, and it’s all YOUR fault!” Like a volcano, the emotions build and build until the eventual eruption burns away everything that was good about the relationship. Time to make a clean break. But what if there are kids involved? Depends… Are the ‘children’ fully grown adults? If so, surely they’d be better equipped to handle the bombshell that’s about to be dropped in their laps, right? If they’re anything like their parents, any brave face they put on in public is merely a mask that shelters their own insecurities.

The three daughters of Arthur (E.G. Marshall) and Eve (Geraldine Page) are stunned when Arthur abruptly announces at the dinner table that he’s leaving Eve and choosing to live alone. None are more shocked by the news than Eve who, as an interior decorator, is used to a certain degree of order to her life where everything fits in its proper place. The idea that her husband wants out of their marriage is too much for poor Eve to bear, and results in suicidal tendencies that causes her well-being to weigh heavily on the minds of her children. It’s not as though they don’t have enough about their own lives that they wish they could change. Flyn (Kristin Griffith) is an actress who stars in second-rate movies, desiring to be taken seriously in her profession instead of being looked upon as merely a pretty face. Renata (Diane Keaton) is a poet whose own self-criticism is rivaled by that of her husband Frederick (Richard Jordan), a writer whose failings leave him feeling hopelessly inferior to his wife. At least they’ve found their chosen career paths. Joey (Mary Beth Hurt) isn’t so lucky. She doesn’t understand why Mike (Sam Waterston) would stick around with someone as aimless as her, let alone want to have children with her.

The real shock is when Arthur returns from his time away with a new, more “normal” girlfriend, Pearl (Maureen Stapelton), whom he met on a cruise and intends to marry. Joey is outright appalled. Renata is more supportive, but is disappointed when her father shows more concern for Joey’s lack of direction. Renata has always been jealous of her father’s perceived favoritism towards Joey who, in turn, says the same about Renata and their mother. All three daughters know what the news of Arthur and Pearl will do to their mother’s psyche. Up until now, she’s been holding out hope that all will right itself and that Arthur would eventually come back to her.

If this family is collectively guilty of any one crime, it is that they have spent too much time together. It’s clear from the moment we are introduced to them that all each person wants is to live their own lives. If left to their own devices, it would be tough to say that they could actually accomplish this. By the time the movie reaches its conclusion, the thought remains that whatever hurts they have accumulated as a unit, the current generation will separately carry on with them to the end of their days.

Depressing and dark though its subject matter can be, “Interiors” is really a beautiful movie. Woody Allen’s tribute to Swedish cinema, it was the most atypical of his movies up to that point. Any humor to be found is purely incidental. “Interiors” is not burdened by distractions. Keeping the cast small was key, as it allows the audience to become intimately involved with his characters, who are serviced by the plot instead of the other way around. Loathsome though their behavior is at times, these eight individuals all feel like real people. My favorite is Frederick, excellently played by Richard Jordan. He’s a drunkard wallowing in self-pity and jealousy, with a touch of lust directed at Renata’s sister, Flyn. What a schmuck, but I like him anyway!

Most striking about “Interiors” is the impeccable way in which certain scenes are shot. There is the opening shot, an empty, silent house which has been been beautifully decorated. I’m told it would be hard not to think of director Ingmar Bergman, which Allen has often referenced during his career, if one were more familiar with Bergman’s work. I really must look into that. Regardless of your familiarity with the source material, the scene is still very well shot. But the one I think about most is a curious choice of camerawork during one of Renata and Frederick’s arguments. She’s about to go out to some type of social gathering where people dress formally, and he’s too drunk and too pissed off about his short-comings to care enough to attend. Instead of framing this scene as if standing in the room with them as they bicker, or as a POV shot from one or the other character’s perspectives, the camera is instead hiding at the top of the stairs like an eavesdropping child. Absolutely perfect.

Never having seen “Interiors” before now and having no idea what to expect, I was dazzled by just how good this movie turned out to be. Apparently, so was Woody Allen, who was afraid all through production that it would turn out to be a bomb. He needn’t have been so concerned. “Interiors” features his most fleshed-out characters and a troupe of excellent actors to bring them to life. What more could a director ask for? Though it runs short of laughs, heart is not something which “Interiors” lacks. With a movie like this, it’s what’s on the inside that counts most of all.

Love and Death (1975)

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton

Several of Woody Allen’s early films, on top of being slapstick comedy, all deal with a common theme: Revolution. “Bananas” and “Sleeper” both featured plot which centered around political uprisings whose ultimate goal was the overthrow of the oppressive government in charge, with varying degrees of success. In each film, Allen played a man who cared for love, not war, yet found himself carrying out the game-changing mission all the same. With “Love and Death,” Allen once again reached for this kind of story … with varying degrees of success.

Boris Grushenko (Woody Allen) is a man who wants nothing to do with war or fighting, and yet never seems to be able to get himself out of it, try though he might. Boris is considered a coward for not standing up in defense of Mother Russia, even by his own mother. What he wants most of all is to be married to his cousin, twice removed, Sonja (Diane Keaton). Sadly, he is disappointed to learn that she is marrying another. To make matters worse, Boris is enlisted in the Army and becomes a war hero completely by accident. Later, Sonja’s husband dies tragically and, after Boris becomes engaged in a duel, she promises to marry him… but only because she believes he’s about to die. He doesn’t, and their marriage is poverty-stricken and filled with philosophical debate. Hey, at least they’re both intellectuals, right? Where they really run into trouble is when the French, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, decide to invade. Sonja gets it into her head that it’s up to them to put a stop to Napoleon. Boris, who has been shown to be preoccupied with death (particularly his own) doesn’t like the sound of this, but goes along with the doomed plot anyway.

A parody of Russian literature, with special nod to both Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, admittedly there’s probably a lot of in-joke references which get lost on me. In the case of Allen’s own work, the foreknowledge of his succeeding films at least helps one appreciate what he was trying to do with “Love and Death.” Falling between “Sleeper” and “Annie Hall,” “Love and Death” serves as a transitional piece between Allen’s early, silly comedies and his later, more serious efforts, much in the same way that The Beatles’ “Revolver” album bridges the gap between the group’s previous achievements and the game-changing music that was still yet to come.

Not the biggest Diane Keaton fan, I can still honestly say that Woody Allen always brings out the best in her. This time he truly needed her, as she’s easily the best thing “Love and Death” has going for it. Most everyone else seems to be working on autopilot. Even Allen himself is really reaching for laughs on this one. He will string several cliched one liners together, and then try to save the moment by commenting in-character on the fact that those lines are cliched. His occasional breaking of the fourth wall, on the other hand is always welcome. Another thing I can appreciate about Allen’s films is the appearance of familiar faces among the supporting cast. Playing the part of Napoleon is James Tolkan, who no matter what else I see him in will always be recognizable to me as Mr. Strickland from “Back to the Future.” Likewise, Jessica Harper will surely remain most familiar to me for Dario Argento’s “Suspiria.” Although Harper did not come up while I was sampling some of Argento’s other titles back in December 2014, I am happy to know that I will see her again in Woody Allen’s “Stardust Memories.”

I had seen “Love and Death” once before but, as is so often the case, I hadn’t remembered much from the actual plot. I only remembered that I had found it amusing. To my crushing disappointment, the movie isn’t half as clever or witty as I had recalled. Allen referred to it as his funniest film up to that point. I wish I could agree. In fact, I cannot recall laughing more than once during the entire first half. The second half is better, as I have mentioned, thanks in large part to Diane Keaton. There’s one marvelous deadpan exchange of dialogue towards the end between Keaton and Jessica Harper that I swear is probably ten times as funny if you’re high. If the rest of the movie had been like that, Allen might have been on to something. It might be worth seeing once… or twice, depending on how long you wait in-between screenings. Beyond that, let this revolution go on without you.

Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982)

Director: Steve Miner

Starring: Dana Kimmell, Paul Kratka, Tracie Savage, Jeffrey Rogers, Catherine Parks, Larry Zerner, David Katims, Rachel Howard, Richard Brooker

In three different eras now, Hollywood has pulled out the 3-D gimmick for movies: the 1950’s, the 1980’s, and its current incarnation. This is not to say that 3-D did not exist or was not being used in-between the three periods, but its mainstream popularity dwindled in the intervening years. Even with the advancements in technology made by 3-D’s latest resurgence, I find myself largely unimpressed. Too often, 3-D is used as an excuse to throw stuff at the screen and without any real point to it. Until a way can be found to invent the holodeck, as seen on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” where one could find themselves not only watching their favorite movies but becoming an active participant in the narrative, I will prefer the 2-D experience. I’ve never seen “Friday the 13th Part 3” in 3-D, yet I’ve never felt as though I’m missing a thing.

A day after the events of “Friday the 13th Part 2,” (thus making it Saturday the 14th, for those keeping score), Jason Voorhees (Richard Brooker) departs from the scene of his most recent brutal crimes, making a stop at a lakefront store where he steals a set of clothes and dispatches the store’s two owners. The next day (or Sunday the 15th), Jason lies in wait at the farmhouse Higgins Haven as Chris Higgins (Dana Kimmell) returns there for the first time with her best friend Debbie (Tracie Savage), Debbie’s boyfriend Andy (Jeffrey Rogers), Andy’s roommate Shelley (Larry Zerner), stoners Chuck (David Katims) and Chili (Rachel Howard), as well as Vera (Catherine Parks). Chris’s on again/off again boyfriend Rick (Paul Kratka) is there, too, and he’s eager to pick things back up where they left off.

When looking for who your main character is supposed to be this time around, look no further than Chris. It’s her family’s farmhouse, after all, and she’s hiding a terrible secret which is destined to be revealed at the movie’s midway point. You might think that Debbie would be safe, given that her character is pregnant, but then you cast your mind back to “Part 2.” That movie featured the wheelchair-bound Mark, and he didn’t fair so well. Neither will Debbie, and neither will any of Chris’s other friends. Shelley, although he’s as doomed as anyone else, plays perhaps the most significant role of any secondary character in the series. No, it’s not because of his unrequited infatuation with Vera, and it’s not because of his ill-timed practical jokes. It’s not even because of his and Vera’s run-in with a motorcycle gang that does nothing for the plot but to serve up three more people for Jason to kill. But it is because of one of the items Shelley carries with him for said jokes: a hockey mask. THE hockey mask.

The big secret which Chris reveals to Rick is that she’d been avoiding coming back to Higgins Haven because of an incident where a hideous-looking man (Jason) attacked her in the woods, an attack which she barely escaped, blacked out, and wound up back in her bed. Her parents act like it never happened, but she remains certain. Watching this scene play out, I could only think of one thing: It should be used in film classes around the country as an example of how NOT to deliver a monologue. Where the failure lies, in the writing or in the acting, I cannot say for sure… but it’s one bad scene, no bones about it. When Chris discovers the identity of the masked killer who is now stalking her, it sends her into full-blown panic mode.

Now, get this… Do you remember the jump scare from “Friday the 13th”? The one which was hastily repeated in “Part 2”? Would you believe they did it again? The first time, it made thematic sense, as Alice was at her breaking point following her life-and-death struggle against Mrs. Voorhees. Her subsequent hallucination about being pulled underneath the water by the young Jason was symbolic of her “going off the deep end.” As originally intended, Chris’s hallucination would have been thematically similar. She was to have returned to the farmhouse and opened the door to find Jason standing there, and he would then decapitate her. Effectively, she would be shown as having gone crazy by “losing her head.” But that’s not how it plays out in the finished movie. Instead, we simply repeat the first movie’s ending, only it’s the reanimated rotting corpse of Mrs. Voorhees pulling Chris underneath the water. HUH?!

“Friday the 13th” has always been equal parts gore and eye candy. “Part 3” sports the most attractive collection of female cast members the series has to offer. Certain members of the cast of “Part 3” also have some of the more interesting post-“Friday” careers. True, none of them became big movie stars like Kevin Bacon from “Part 1” did. Catherine Parks later starred as Bernie’s girlfriend in “Weekend at Bernie’s” (and was the first of two cast members from that movie to appear in a “Friday the 13th” film), Larry Zerner became a successful lawyer, and Tracie Savage became a news journalist. Savage first found work at WHIO-TV in Dayton, Ohio from 1986-1991 before moving to Los Angeles, where in 1994 she went to work at NBC4. It was during this time that she found herself under subpoena as a witness in the O.J. Simpson trial. Since 2001, she’s been the anchorwoman for KFWB Radio in LA, as well as the Internet TV station PJTV. Pretty far cry from featuring in a slasher movie sequel.

“Friday the 13th Part 3” was the first in the series which I ever saw. Because of this, I’ve always had a soft spot for it, even though it’s even more amateurish than either of the first two. Everybody seems to pick Kane Hodder (Parts VII, VIII, and IX) as their favorite Jason, but mine has always been Richard Brooker. Here, Jason is still human, still afraid of death (he’ll dodge an oncoming car), but is no less brutal. Some of the most inventive kills of the franchise happen here. “Part 3” was to have been the concluding chapter in a trilogy. The way we leave things at the end, it feels like a pretty clear cut ending. But as long as the series was still popular, there was no way it was going to stop just yet.

“Part 3” is (almost) as enjoyable as the first two, and just as chopped up as the second. It’s evident that all the death scenes were supposed to have more to them than they do, especially that of Andy, who gets macheted while doing a handstand. Also evident are the wires used in some of the 3-D shots, making at least two of the death scenes appear more fake than they should. But these are minor concerns, as watching this movie is about having a good time. If you could do that for the first two, it should be easy by now to have fun with “Part 3.” You don’t even need the 3-D effects for that.

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

Director: Steve Miner

Starring: Amy Steel, John Furey, Adrienne King, Kirsten Baker, Stu Charno, Warrington Gillette, Walt Gorney, Marta Kober, Tom McBride, Bill Randolph, Lauren-Marie Taylor, Russell Todd, Betsy Palmer

Few film series have left critics so baffled by the level of their success as “Friday the 13th.” Most of them find the bleak, violent world it depicts to be distasteful. Even the original film’s creators had no idea that it would strike such a chord with horror fans. But they were just as eager to put together a sequel, and those among us who DID thoroughly enjoy the first film eagerly ate up the second helping just as easily. Originally, the plan was to make “Friday the 13th” into an anthology series, with some new superstition-related happening taking place in each subsequent film. John Carpenter had that idea for “Halloween,” and “Halloween III” was so lackluster that the decision was made… albeit minus Carpenter’s input… to return to the legend of Michael Myers. “Friday the 13th Part 2,” based on the popularity of the jump scare ending to “Friday the 13th,” elects to skip the risky anthology idea all-together and continue the Voorhees family tradition of death and mayhem. Never mind that the film has its problems. Never mind that it has maybe two characters who gain anything resembling a backstory, and never mind that certain parts of it just don’t make any damn sense at all. “Friday the 13th Part 2,” like its predecessor, works not in spite of its simplicity, but because of it.

Two months after the events of “Friday the 13th,” Alice (Adrienne King), the lone survivor of Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer)’s bloody rampage, is still having nightmares. She lives alone, answering routine phone calls from her worried mother. Exactly where Alice is currently residing is never really clear, although it’s made apparent that it is a suburban area of some kind. What is made clear is that someone is stalking her. They even call and hang up, leading her at first to believe it’s her mother calling once again. I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it must have been for Adrienne King to film these scenes, given that she’d acquired a very real-life stalker following the success of “Friday the 13th.” As a result of this, King wanted her role in “Part 2” to be as small as possible. She got her wish in the most clever thing this movie does by killing off Alice within the first ten minutes. I’m not sure whether or not that makes this the first horror sequel to start with the murder of the previous film’s survivor, but it remains an effective tool, because this reminds the audience that no one is safe.

Five years pass between the prologue and the rest of the film. We look in on a group of camp counselors-in-training, at a facility headed by Paul Holt (John Furey). Although he’s not technically supposed to, Paul fraternizes with a member of his staff, Ginny (Amy Steel). In casual conversation, it’s mentioned that Ginny is a child psychology major. That right there is enough to tell us that Ginny is our new lead character. Because of the training facility’s close proximity to the abandoned Camp Crystal Lake, stories of the drowned Jason Voorhees and his grief-stricken mother are told around the campfire, and brought up again later at a bar. Ginny poses a ‘What if?’ scenario concerning the legend of Jason Voorhees. What if Jason really did survive, that he saw his mother being killed in self-defense by Alice, and that he took his revenge? ‘What would he be like today?’ she asks. It’s only by sheer luck that her drunken theories provide a 100% accurate representation of what really happened.

As it turns out, bar hopping actually saves lives in this movie. Many unnamed counselors who go out for “a night on the town” do the smart thing by not returning right away. The redheaded prankster Ted (Stu Charno) even considers finding an after-hours bar. In fact, of the group who goes out to get shitfaced, only Paul and Ginny return. When they do, not only are they soaked head-to-toe from the rain, but they’re also worried. All the lights have been left on, no one seems to be around to answer their calls, and at least one mattress is stained with blood. Soon the lights go out, followed by the appearance of a very much alive Jason Voorhees. He attacks Paul first and then gives chase to Ginny, first from one cabin to another, and then finally out to Jason’s makeshift shack. The back room is a shrine to his dead mother, her decapitated head and blood-stained sweater surrounded by candles and the remains of Alice, as well as the fresh corpses of counselor Terri (Kirsten Baker) and a sheriff’s deputy who got too curious. This shrine gives Ginny the idea that she was right about Jason being like a child trapped in a man’s body. She puts her child psychology to good use by posing as Mrs. Voorhees, stall tactics which end up saving her life long enough to escape with Paul’s help.

As enjoyable as this sick little slasher film is, it doesn’t come without certain frustrations. For one thing, it’s way too short. After that ten-minute opening, which the main title credits expand to twelve, you’re left with a mere seventy-four minutes (counting the end credits) to tell the main story. Before you’ve even had time to immerse yourself in the environment, the show’s over. It’s also edited to hell. Thank Paramount Pictures for that, and this was only the first of many “Friday the 13th” films to get hit by the censorship bug. Several of the murder scenes are quite clearly less gory than originally intended, most notably the double kill with the spear, which is taken directly from Mario Bava’s 1971 film “Twitch of the Death Nerve” (a.k.a. “Bay of Blood”), a direct ancestor of “Friday the 13th.” See that movie to find out how this scene was intended to play itself out in “Friday the 13th Part 2.”

Other questions erupt, such as how Jason knew where to find Alice and how he got there. I would have better luck in solving a Rubik’s Cube than in figuring out the ending to this movie. It’s complicated by the bad decision to try and redo the first movie’s jump scare, the one where young Jason jumps out of the lake to attack Alice in her canoe, which turned out to be a dream sequence. This time, Ginny is attacked by the adult Jason (whose overall look at this point had yet to be refined) when he comes crashing through the window of her cabin. Again, the attack happened only in her mind. The problem arises when you’re trying to figure out exactly when Ginny’s hallucination begins. It’s clear that Jason was real, and that he really killed a lot of her friends (possibly including Paul), but at what point she lost consciousness will always remain a mystery. Maybe it happens after Jason injures Ginny’s leg in the scuffle inside the shack, but I can’t really say. Oh, well.

Despite my list of queries and confusions, “Part 2” still ranks near the top of the franchise. The one thing I keep coming back to is how much I love horror movies from the late 70’s/early 80’s era, of which “Friday the 13th” and its earliest sequels are the prime example. The styles, the music, the pre-AIDS carefree attitude towards sex… even down to the quality of the film the movie is printed on. If I were to produce my own horror movie, I would want it to have the same overall look as “Friday the 13th Part 2.” I would love to be able to accidentally create a horror icon whose popularity spans generations. I just wouldn’t want my movie to be as much of a head-scratcher.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (1972)

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, John Carradine, Lou Jacobi, Louise Lasser, Anthony Quale, Tony Randall, Lynne Redgrave, Burt Reynolds, Gene Wilder

When it comes to the subject of sex education, it seems that the definition of “Too Much Information” is directly proportional to where in the world we live. Some, rightly so, believe that the more our youth knows about the positives and negatives of sex will lead to better decisions down the road. Others believe that it’s the parents’ responsibility. Leave it out of the school system, they say. That’s pretty stupid! What if the kids don’t have a good enough rapport with their parents to have that crucial “birds and bees” conversation? What then? Well, if the schools won’t help, and the parents won’t help, these days the default setting is to Google the damn thing… except that usually only directs you to pornography. Not exactly the best representation of real-world situations. So what if everyone’s mind is on sex? Some would just like to know what to do vs. what not to do.

Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)” is a parody of the sex manual of the same name. It’s largely hit-and-miss. This is due to the movie being broken up in to seven segments, each beginning with a different sex-related question, and then taking it from there. While some of the vignettes are fall-down funny, others simply fall flat. The first segment is called “Do Aphrodisiacs Work?” Firstly, the answer to that is “yes.” Secondly, the sketch itself also works. It features Allen as a court jester who receives a Hamlet-like vision from his dead father, who tells him to “make it” with the Queen (Lynne Redgrave). Acquiring a love potion which makes the Queen very horny, the court jester’s progress is then foiled by her chastity belt, placed there by the jealous King.

Segment Two is called “What is Sodomy?” This time, a doctor (Gene Wilder) sees an Armenian patient who says that his lover is giving him the cold shoulder. The problem is Dr. Ross is a medical doctor, not a psychiatrist, and the Armenian’s lover is a sheep. Further complications set in once the sheep is brought in and Dr. Ross finds that he, too, is falling for her! Had the role of Dr. Ross been cast with anyone other than Gene Wilder, I don’t believe that “What is Sodomy?” would be able to stand on all four legs. Segment Three is “Why Do Some Women Have Trouble Reaching an Orgasm?” This one, featuring Woody Allen and Louise Lasser as an Italian couple who can only have meaningful sex when in public, is easily the weakest of the bunch. Simply put, it’s a one-joke premise that goes on way too long.

“Are Transvestites Homosexuals?” is the title of Segment Four. This could be said to be the most offensive chapter. In it, Lou Jacobi plays a middle-aged married man who likes to wear women’s clothes, but is scared to death of getting caught. Maybe I’m misinterpreting Allen’s intent, or maybe it’s just because it’s not especially funny, but the whole episode seems to play out like a denouncement of transvestites in general. Segment Five gets things back on track. This one is called “What Are Sex Perverts?” Shot in black & white kinescope, it serves as a parody of the old TV game show “What’s My Line?” In this case, the name of the game is “What’s My Perversion?” Jack Barry hosts, and a panel group of four (including a 40-something Regis Philbin) are tasked with guessing the contestant (a rabbi)’s sexual perversion, which turns out to be exposing himself on subways. The way this segment so authentically recreates the whole game show atmosphere of the 1950’s/early 1960’s, coupled with the novelty of seeing Regis Philbin at a younger age makes this a highly enjoyable sketch.

Segment Six: “Are the Findings of Doctors and Clinics Who Do Sexual Research and Experiments Accurate?” This one is, without a doubt, my favorite. Woody Allen plays a researcher named Victor who has a chance encounter with journalist Helen (Heather MacRae) at a gas station. It just so happens that the two are headed to the same place, the laboratory of Dr. Bernardo (John Carradine). Both are quite excited to meet the doctor, but are soon horrified when they see how crazy the man is. Dr. Bernardo specializes in bizarre sexual experiments, and he intends to make Helen his latest test subject. Victor and Helen manage to escape, only to have to defend the town against a giant, marauding female breast. A parody of both “Bride of the Monster” and “The Blob,” I laughed the hardest during this sketch, thanks to some wonderfully delivered dialogue from John Carradine. It occurred to me as I watched him work that, if the role of Dr. Bernardo were being cast today, it would likely go to Sir Ian McKellen.

The concluding piece is called “What Happens During Ejaculation?” Definitely the most ambitious of the seven segments, this one depicts a man’s brain like a NASA control center as he goes on a date with an NYU graduate, and subsequently takes her to the parking lot to have sex in his car. Among those manning the controls in his brain are Tony Randall and Burt Reynolds. Woody Allen appears, along with several others, dressed as sperm about to take that journey into the great coital unknown. Wild, and highly involved, it can’t compete with the previous segment but still manages to send the movie off on a high note.

This being an early entry in the directorial career of Woody Allen, I can forgive him for not totally knocking it out of the park on this one, as I know that he had many big successes that would come afterwards. I first saw “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex” several years ago, but had largely forgotten it by the time I sat down to watch it again for this review. The most I had remembered came from the last segment. That image of Allen suited up to resemble semen is hard to put out of your mind. I don’t feel that watching such a movie at a young age is unhealthy, but it might help to be older/wiser/more experienced in order to best appreciate the dirtiest parts of the humor. Wouldn’t recommend it as a sexual education tool. That’s what the “birds and bees” chat is for.