KLAUS Revives Traditional Animation Just in Time for the Holidays

There’s magic in a letter. An alchemy of processes; forests to cards, pigments to ink, pen to paper. Finally jettisoned off to far corners of the country, the world, collecting the fingerprints of postal caretakers before reaching your doorstep. It’s an analogue art form, a method of communication fighting a losing battle against the virtual upholstery of instantaneous pixels, word processing, and email. Yet we keep it alive via birthday cards, thank you notes, invitations and, of course, the precious wish lists of children worldwide.

Klaus (2019) – source: Netflix

Much like communication, animation is a medium obsessed with modernity. As software becomes faster, so does the process of rendering 3D character models to poke, prod, and puppeteer. Sweeping landscapes become copy-and-pasted backgrounds and pre-production for annual Disney animated features seem more concerned with physics engines and automation than character design and experimentation.

Disney has just released its highly-anticipated Frozen II, a painterly and expressive exercise in world building, sure, but whose genuinely startling moments of pure animated innovation are few and far between. Its most stirring sequences are those that recall the abstract of Fantasia or those build upon the fantasy of the first film, but must Disney remain steadfastly bound to nostalgia to make the products the success they are?

Spanish animator and first-time feature director Sergio Pablos (along with co-director, Carlos Martínez López) thankfully birthed Netflix’s animated Christmas film Klaus in a reinvigorating 2D style. It’s a quaint, storybook film for bedtime that understands that an animated origin of the first letters written to Santa Claus could only be faithfully chronicled by the picturesque, analogue qualities of traditional animation.

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Jason Schwartzman in Klaus (2019) – source: Netflix

Set within a mythical continent that fans of Terry Pratchett, Roald Dahl, and Dr. Seuss will eat up, Klaus follows the not-so-intrepid Jesper, a trust fund kid who’s sent by his father, the head of the postal service, to the remote town of Smeerensburg so he can prove his worth. Once there, he discovers that the frozen town is fraught with a raging conflict that goes back for generations. Much like the Montagues and Capulets, the Krums and Ellingboes aren’t quite sure who started the disagreement. But, with the help of a mysterious woodsman and a cynical teacher-cum-fishmonger, Jesper tries to unite the town just in time for Christmas.

Seasoned animator Sergio Pablos has his origins in traditional animation, having contributed his fair share to the 1990s Disney Renaissance through his work on The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules. More recently, he’s perhaps better known as the unsung creator of the money-printing factory, Illumination’s Despicable Me and Minions franchises. However, with Pablos’ directorial debut, his return to the second dimension marks the arrival of a potential savior for animation. By making Klaus the streaming platform’s first original animated feature, Netflix are making a statement—2D is here to stay.

The premise of Klaus is remarkably basic with the potential to become maudlin and overly precious had it been rendered with the bouncy, automated animated styles we’re more used to today. There are certainly some questionable needle drops of contemporary tunes, inexplicably fighting against the hand-crafted, archaic aesthetic constructed in the first act. These operate purely as mass appeal in the wake of animated studios’ current modus operandi, and we can only be thankful that Pablos and co. opt for the likes of “How Do You Like Me Now” rather than the latest annoyance from the Top 40.

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Rashida Jones and Jason Schwartzman in Klaus (2019) – source: Netflix

Accompanied by Jason Schwartzman’s bratty drawl as Jesper, there are a few hurdles to get over before you can totally succumb to the warm, fire-lit embrace of Klaus. Rashida Jones is brilliantly cynical as a disheartened schoolteacher, familiar to anyone who has ever tried to make a career out of the unforgiving profession, and Joan Cusack is having heaps of fun as Mrs Krum, the most fanatical devotee to the town’s violent traditions. Thankfully, sardonic Schwartzman is also offset by a scabrous, complicated performance by J.K. Simmons as a mournful Santa Claus. His is a refreshing take on the character, as Christmas films of late have seemed eager to modernize Saint Nick (Arthur Christmas, Noelle), or portray him as a fleetingly untouchable, impossibly magical figure (The Polar Express).

Animated Santas especially haven’t had the strongest track record. A Nightmare Before Christmas’s Sandy Claws remains mostly mute and spends the majority of the film being impersonated by a skeleton; trying to recall what exactly Alec Baldwin was attempting with his Russian Santa for Rise of the Guardians just leads to headaches. In fact, the only 2-dimensional Santa that comes to mind for the most recent comparison is Futurama’s decidedly kid unfriendly RoboSanta—a malfunctioning, foulmouthed psychopath.     

Simmons is perfectly cast, therefore, as the ideal introduction to the character of children’s legend. Initially acquainted to Jesper as a mysterious woodsman, a former toy maker with a withering exterior, the titular Klaus soon becomes the soul of the film. Klaus is front and back-loaded with fun yet distracting action set pieces along with rote slapstick, but Simmons’ gentle growl narrates a somber and humanizing origin for the character during the second act’s moments of downtime that makes Netflix’s first animated original an essential viewing for the holidays.

This Santa Claus is very much human, with all the emotional baggage and regret that comes from years of living a human life. But, much like Edmund Gwenn and Richard Attenborough both understood in their performances as Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street and its 1994 remake, it’s not the flying reindeer or light-speed present delivery that makes Father Christmas magic. Like the best versions of the North Pole’s most famous resident, Simmons’ Klaus is won over by the innocent creativity and boundless potential of children. A parental figure conjured by generations of families to do the things that real parents can’t, Santa Claus is rendered here in soft and inviting traditional animation to secure his place as the world’s most magical grandfather.

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J.K. Simmons in Klaus (2019) – source: Netflix

Santa Claus is a character quite literally gift-wrapped for animators to mold, adapt and take advantage of. However, as studios like Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks have thrown us into the next generation of animation for the 21st Century, we’ve yet to see a definitive take on the character for the computer generated era. Perhaps Klaus should serve as a reminder that Saint Nick simply doesn’t belong in algorithms, programs, or engines. Much like a child cannot send his Christmas list in an email, a faithful Santa Claus adaption needs handmade craft and care to win the hearts of young audiences. Paired with one of J.K. Simmons’ most genuine vocal performances, we finally have an animated Santa trustworthy enough to sneak down our chimneys and steal our cookies in the middle of the night.

Klaus is available to stream on Netflix

BROTHERHOOD: The Calm Before the Storm

Previously known for her short films Gods, Weeds and Revolutions, and Born in the Maelstrom, Meryam Joobeur returns once again to mesmerize audiences with her short Brotherhood. The film premiered at TIFF and took home the award for Best Canadian Short Film in the Short Cuts Awards section.

Set in a rural region of Northern Tunisia, Brotherhood follows a family of six: mother Salha (Salha Nasraoui), father Mohamed (Mohamed Grayaâ), their three sons Malek (Malek Mechergui), Chaker (Chaker Mechergui), Rayene (Rayene Mechergui) and Malek’s Syrian wife, Reem (Jasmin Lazid). Joobeur is known for her approach on wider political issues via the exploration of familial dynamics. From unveiling the Tunisian experience of Ben Ali’s dictatorship by pairing a young woman with her Alzheimer-ridden grandfather and demonstrating her attempt to discover who he used to be before in Gods, Weeds, and Revolutions, to her investigation of a mother/daughter relationship as the daughter, a biracial woman, struggles to fit in within a modern, segregated society due to her inability to be placed within the African American/Caucasian binary, Joobeur utilizes her distinctive style to effectively narrate convoluted stories. 

Brotherhood (2018) – source: Meryam Joobeur

Though a son coming back home with his pregnant wife is usually a joyful moment, Malek’s comes with an underlying tension. Having fled to Syria to take part in the war, Malek’s character brings to the forefront the effect that religious radicalization has had on Tunisian youth. Following the lead of her previous short, Joobeur signals the strain of family ties in silent and transparent stares. Mohamed doesn’t welcome Malek. The moment he sees an unfamiliar white car in his yard, he takes a pause, and after he crosses his doorstep, unlike Chaker and Rayene, he neither hugs Malek nor smiles at him; his unblinking glare is that of shock and disdain. From then on, the family engages in silent and verbal disputes without resolution. Every performance follows through, whether it’s that of the acting veterans Nasraoui and Grayaâ, or the three Mechergui non-actor brothers.

Aside from the actors’ take on their characters, tension also rises from the film’s sound design. The short’s opening shot looks at a flock of sheep, which, after a car-door is shut off-camera, immediately scatter as if they sensed danger that is near. Even prior to the family’s introduction, the message is clear: Malek’s arrival will bring unease. This is a motif that keeps resurfacing each time Mohamed confronts Malek or his daughter-in-law Reem. From handmade chimes moving dissonantly and the wind blowing through the window’s curtain or through a bloody shirt that’s hanging on a string outside, Joobeur constantly uses signifiers of perpetual agitation. Tranquility is nowhere to be found until that climactic moment when silence becomes ominous rather than serene, followed by a breathless Mohamed running after a mistake he cannot fix.

Brotherhood (2018) – source: Meryam Joobeur

Brotherhood is about the importance of mending wounds within the bounds of a family. It’s about the happy memories made while playing with the waves in a shore. But most of all, it’s an open display on how failing to forgive and forget can have terrible repercussions.

Which Friday The 13th Film is The Best?

Open up your windows and hark at the sounds of screaming teenagers! Do you know what day it is? Why, yes. It’s Jason’s day—Friday the 13th!

Friday the 13th, through stellar makeup, gnarly kills, and delightfully corny franchise gimmicks, prevails as a seminal piece of the slasher craze puzzle, spawning a long-enduring franchise and one of the most recognizable horror icons of all time. Regardless if you’ve seen them, you know who Jason is; he’s a figment, like most 80s slashers, of the moral-fixturing, Reagan-era cinematic folklore. Slay the air-headed teens on the cusp of adulthood, while leaving the headstrong, quick-thinking good girl, who abstains from passed-around paraphernalia and other promiscuous proclivities, and lives to see another day.

The Friday the 13th films may not be as immediately well regarded for its very 80s sub-textual layering, amid the creative slaughtering of hormone-infused teenagers, of other slashics like John Carpenter’s Halloween or Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, but it means a lot to me as a formative piece of my long-standing love affair with horror. I learned from a young age who Jason was, yet had never seen any of the films, that is, until I stumbled upon the 8-film DVD box set at a pawn shop. For years, I hid the collection from my folks, waiting until they went to bed to watch them. I still own that set and have no plans to ever get rid of it; I owe way too much to it.

The series is currently strung up in a seemingly never ending legal kerfuffle between Friday scribe Victor Miller and director Sean S. Cunningham claiming true ownership of the property, essentially prohibiting another movie from getting off the ground until the dust clears. Who knows when Jason will don the mask once again? But in the meantime, we have 12 films, each of varying quality, to look back on.

In the midst of smashing mirrors, walking under ladders, or getting a novelty tattoo, why not take a few moments to scroll through another ranking of the Friday the 13th films? And I’d be tickled blood red if you did. We wouldn’t want to upset our machete-wielding slasher of ceremonies, now would we? Note that these rankings change almost every year in my head, so consider this my in-the-moment ranking. With that out of the way, *SPOILERS AHEAD*.

12) Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993) – source: New Line Cinema

Jason Goes to Hell is a great example of stellar marketing for an awful film. Jason melting away in a New York sewer hardly seemed like a proper (second) finale for such an iconic villain. Where Jason Goes to Hell goes wrong is its opening prologue. A hoodwinked Jason (Kane Hodder) rummaging through the woods of Camp Crystal Lake is ambushed by the FBI who essentially lure him out into the open by exploiting his own formula against him (a beautiful woman making herself comfortable in an isolated cabin). The squadron then proceeds to blow him to kingdom come until all that’s left is a still-beating heart. What a finale! Oh, there’s a whole movie left? Wait, he’s not “Jason” Jason, he’s a slimy slug monster that possesses one body after the other until he inhabits the body of, let’s see if I’m reading this correctly, another Voorhees? Okay… 

You know you’re in trouble when your horror movie peaks within the first ten minutes. I suppose it was a bold decision to suppress the franchise’s icon in favor of taking a bizarre new turn for the character, but the majority of Jason Goes to Hell struggled in bringing me over to its side of the table. New additions like Steven Williams’ Creighton Duke, an insightful bounty hunter type who constantly unleashes Jason intel out of his ass, and Steven, played by John D. LeMay of Friday the 13th: The Series fame, are stiff additions to the series even for Friday the 13th standards. All the talk of a Voorhees prophecy only makes Jason significantly less interesting and/or intimidating. Just ask Michael (see Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers). 

New Line Cinema’s first entry of the series after acquiring the rights from Paramount really fumbles with super lame characters, a botched attempt at mythology, and the worst crime of all—endowing the definitive Jason, Kane Hodder, with one of the character’s coolest looks (mask grafted onto his face) only to immediately can it for, I repeat, a slime worm. Surprise Freddy tease or not, this one’s a dud.

Most Memorable KillDeborah’s impaling in the tent is a solid gore effect on its own, but the Jason-possessed coroner (Richard Gant) immediately splitting her in half with the rod is the icing on the cake. 

11) Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) – source: Paramount Pictures

It only took a year after The Final Chapter, but Friday the 13th emerged with another franchise black sheep that ultimately ranks towards the bottom of my list with A New Beginningthe film that proves that slasher villains only stay dead if their box office does. The film’s inciting incident isn’t someone disappearing in the woods or even a teenage Tommy Jarvis (John Shepherd), reserved as ever, arriving at the forest halfway house for troubled youths, but rather one of the home’s inhabitants, the comically adult-sized Vic (Mark Venturini), cleaving fellow resident Joey (Dominick Brascia) with an ax after a meaningless dispute about wood chopping and candy bars. The kids go missing, there’s a killer on the loose and it must be Jason, you know the drill. 

A New Beginning is the first Friday film since the original to incorporate a mystery killer, and despite the honest attempts at setting paths for multiple red herrings (Tommy plagued by visions of Jason looming over his shoulder, mysterious drifter, etc.), the suspicious close-up of the distraught paramedic Roy (Dick Weiand) standing over Joey’s body lingers way too long for a supposed throwaway character we’ve just met. As it turns out, he’s our killer, masquerading as Jason with blue stripes instead of red ones. The revelation that Joey was his son is a different change of pace, but its unveiling only makes you question Roy’s motivation to slaughter innocent teens instead of focusing all his efforts on Vic. The idea is to make everyone believe Jason did it, but with Vic already imprisoned, there’s no clever method to his revenge scheme. And I’m not even going to get into the egregiously obnoxious Ethel (Carol Locatell) and her dim-witted son Junior (Ron Sloan) whose personas are reduced to yelling and screeching until they’ve exhausted all the oxygen out of the scene (“You big dildo, eat your f***ing slop!”). Their deaths are easily the most cathartic of the bunch. 

Once the Roy nonsense is dispatched of, A New Beginning attempts to provide a reason to continue forward with a final scene including Tommy that ultimately proved as influential as Halloween 4’s finale set-up—not very. It also doesn’t help that director Danny Steinmann was notoriously recognized as a sleaze. Otherwise, the only real contribution A New Beginning brings to the series, besides the energetic Reggie (Shavar Ross) and a prologue with the only glance of Corey Feldman post-The Final Chapter, is the reaffirmation that Tommy really has the worst luck.

Most Memorable Kill—The kills of A New Beginning are largely unimpressive, save for the leather strap Roy wraps around Eddie’s eyes against a tree, tightening it until it inevitably crushes his skull.

10) Jason X

Jason X (2001) – source: New Line Cinema

Welcome to Jason X, the tenth installment of the Friday series in which director James Isaac (Skinwalkers) asks ‘what if we took the foreboding threat aboard a claustrophobic space convoy structure of Alien, and made it mind-numbingly stupid?’ Indeed, this is the one where Jason goes to space. It’s almost a rite of passage for the slasher villain stretched far beyond their initial intent. Eight movies prior, Jason was a sack-covered hermit in the woods, and now, with his chrome-plated upgrade, he could go toe-to-toe with the Terminator if he really wanted to. Pinhead (Hellraiser: Bloodline) and Leprechaun (Leprechaun 4: In Space) already took that leap years ago so it makes sense that Jason would aim for the stars while New Line figures out how to get their then ‘in production hell’ Freddy vs. Jason off the ground.

In the far off future of 2010, we’ve reached the Crystal Lake Research Facility stage of Jason’s rampaging because he’s just so enigmatically unkillable, there’s really no other option than to dedicate an entire building just to study his decades-long endurance. Of everything that could be remembered about this entry, it’s that Jason X, nevertheless, holds the distinct honor of awakening its titular antagonist from cryogenic freezing—not by any sort of futuristic resuscitation, but the sonic waves of an intergalactic orgasm halfway across the spaceship; welcome to the 25th century! The standout, by default, among a sea of some pretty lackluster performances is Lisa Ryder’s KM-14—a sentient, fully capable AI who, in addition to wanting to be treated as if she were human, spends the film’s most entertaining bits in an altercation with Jason (pre and post-chrome upgrades) with some mildly amusing bits of humor thrown in the mix.

For the longest time, Jason X ranked towards the absolute bottom. I dreaded rewatching it, and while it’s bad (like, really bad), I have to admit I found myself settling into its cheap 90s movie groove a bit more this time. You can’t help but laugh at the absurd scenarios it pushes Jason into. It even finds a way for the still-frozen Jason to hack off a limb without moving a literal muscle. It’s an immediate step up from New Line’s first Friday venture if only for a pretty rad David Cronenberg (The Brood, Videodrome) cameo as an unimpressed superior who attempts to free 2010 Jason for his own means only to have that backfire in the ‘spear through the chest’ way. When he’s not doing his thing, however, Jason X plods.

Most Memorable KillJason + Adrienne + liquid nitrogen + counter *SMASH* =

9) Friday the 13th: Part III

Friday the 13: Part III (1982) – source: Paramount Pictures

Friday the 13th: Part III is the ‘nothing more, nothing less’ stage of the series, setting the template that would remain a constant for the years the Friday films were produced under the Paramount banner. Part III rode the waves of the 80s 3D revival, Jaws 3D and Amityville 3-D following suit, utilizing the effect to hurl as many objects towards the camera in the hopes that they would make audiences jump—a yo-yo, a laundry pole, apple juggling in the living room, detached eyeballs, etc. Funnily enough, of all the tricks that would only really work if you had the glasses, the best 3D effect was Jason (Richard Brooker) harpooning Vera (Catherine Parks) from across the dock. Even without the 3D, the way it whizzes by the camera makes me instinctively flinch every time.

Part III’s most notable contribution to the series, however, is endowing Jason with his iconic hockey mask by way of the insufferable Shelley (Lary Zerner), one of the most reviled characters of the Friday series, if not number one. In addition to his whining when the group shares their mutual animosity towards his pranks, Shelley often turns to incel-ish behavior when Vera shows no interest in sleeping with him (“Being a jerk is better than being a nothing.”). Jason takes what’s rightfully his from the annoying prankster, and steps out for the first time onto the docks with a confidence that would define the slasher for years to come; still an amazingly simple reveal. 

As a collective, the group dynamic of Part III, despite most of them being friends prior to their arrival at Higgins Heaven, is lacking. Nothing particularly stands out about final girl Chris (Dana Kimmell) either, besides her backstory with Jason prior to the film’s events. Jason aside, the characters that were the most fun to watch were the trouble making, leather-clad bikers (Gloria Charles, Nick Savage, and Kevin O’Brien). I always love that little smile Nick Savage gives before smashing Shelley’s driver’s side window. As a sequel to Part 2, it pales in comparison, but takes on its own gimmicky accords, Friday the 13th: Part III is an average, enjoyable entry of the Friday canon.  

Most Memorable Kill—Performing an impressive handstand feat while Jason’s about proves fatal. I especially love the brief perspective shot underneath when Jason swings the machete down on Andy… and his crotch.

8) Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) – source: Paramount Pictures

Hear me out before you hang me out to dry. At one point, I would have found it sacrilege to rank Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan above any of the previous Fridays, let alone Part III,  but this re-watch made me appreciate it a little bit more. Let me repeata LITTLE bit more. After securing another hockey mask complete with the ax gash from Part III for some reason, I like to imagine Jason (Kane Hodder), as he’s grabbing hold of the anchor, thinking to himself, “yeah, you know what? I think I’ve earned a little vacation.” I always thought the S.S. Lazarusthe massive ship that somehow docked in the shallow Crystal Lakewas a fun, claustrophobic set (complete with a disco dance floor) that gave Jason plenty of room to play as he tortured Rennie (Jensen Daggett) and her graduating classmates of Lakeview High.  

You’re essentially getting two Friday films for the price of one with Jason Takes Manhattan. The issue is that by the time the remaining survivors abandon ship and make their way into a New York City harbor, a full hour into the movie who’s poster featured Jason looming over the city, it’s easy to feel exhausted before some of the film’s most iconic developments even get going. I always found it amusing how Jason is more of a casual nuisance to New Yorkers than a looming threat. He looks amazing in the center of Times Square (Hodder thought so too while fans shouted to him during production), and the one thing he does in the famed tourist attraction (kick a boombox owned by some ‘tough’ street punks) is one of the series’ funniest bursts of humor.  

Not a fan of the finale in which Jason is ultimately defeated by the toxic sludge of the NY sewer system, highlighting the character’s goofiest makeup design. It’s probably best that the Friday series took a much-needed break after this one. Considering its lesser stature among the Paramount films, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is a *little* better than it’s reputation would suggest. 

Most Memorable Kill—The death of Julius plays like a well-told joke. Over and over, he throws blows to an otherwise unfazed Jason who only really takes the ‘beating’ out of pity. Julius is the only Friday victim, if I recall, that actively submits to a Jason punishment (“Take your best shot”). Voila, the scene arrives at a literal PUNCHline as Jason knocks his block off, tumbling down the side of a building and into a dumpster. *chef’s kiss*

7) Friday the 13th (2009)

Friday the 13th (2009) – source: Paramount Pictures

Of the heavily saturated Platinum Dunes remake-era, the 2009 addition of Friday the 13th doesn’t exactly stand up to Marcus Nispel’s previous Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake from 2003, but it’s a decent Friday film in its own right. The re-imagining shares the same issue with Jason Takes Manhattan in that it does feel like two different Friday films back-to-back. The difference being that the lengthy prologue heavily plays into the momentum of the actual plot even if that stretch of the film never matches the sheer urgency and ferocity of its opening. I really appreciate how the narrative structure is slightly akin to Psycho. The prologue hoodwinks us by having us believe Whitney (Amanda Righetti) will be the film’s sole survivor only to have her disappear after Jason’s opening rampage, prompting a loved one, her brother Clay (Jared Padalecki), to search the area for any sign she’s still alive. And then you have your usual brand of college-aged mischief-makers ringing Jason’s dinner bell, rounding out to a pretty significant body count.

It’s difficult to label this version as an outright remake because it really isn’t. Nispel conceives this stuffed amalgamation of the first three films as a “best of” display of the series’ most iconic beats (i.e death of Mrs. Voorhees, Part 2’s sack, and, of course, Part III’s discovery of the hockey mask). The best part about a Friday the 13th re-imagining is that, with core franchise elements intact, it slips in nicely as an extension of the Paramount films, slightly altering an integral development in Jason’s mythology. There’s nothing too drastic here besides the unconventional structure and inner workings of Jason’s underground dominion. It assumes you get the gist of what these movies are and doesn’t pretend to be anything but. 

Derek Mears embodies a relentless, ruthless Jason who swings his trademark machete and other sharp instruments with ease. Make no mistake, the kills are brutal. The 2009 remake of Friday the 13th is a gruesome return-to-form that, while feeling extraordinarily lengthy, reignites the flame of Jason’s bulking menace. I recommend sticking to the Killer Cut for extended sequences that really accentuate the ferocity of the gore effects. 

Most Memorable Kill—Almost went with the prologue’s ‘sleeping bag roasting on an open fire’ setup, but it’s ultimately more satisfying to see Jason giving Trent, the movie’s resident prick, his grisly comeuppance, utilizing his trusty machete and the back of a tow truck.

6) Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988) – source: Paramount Pictures

The New Blood abandons its tongue-in-cheek approach from Jason Lives, yet replaces it with an overall “let’s get nuts” vibe where it asks ‘what if Jason went one-on-one with Carrie?’ Traumatized by the accidental death of her abusive father caused by her telekinesis, the shy Tina (Lar Park Lincoln) takes a trip out to her old home out by Crystal Lake with her mother (Susan Blu) and the duplicitous Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser) to try to get her gift under control. Of course, when Tina takes out her frustrations after a bad session, she couldn’t have known that the rotting Jason was lying at the bottom of the lake. Cue the party kids at the house next door, and you have yourselves a decent slasher with a slight sci-fi bent.

What makes The New Blood a monumental slice of Friday history is the glorious, intimidating introduction of stuntman Kane Hodder donning the hockey mask for the first time. He’s the favorite for a reason, despite appearing in some of the series’ lesser entries. The man can take hours of makeup, falling through stairs, being set on fire, having a roof dropped on him, and make it look like just another day at the office. And to think, once the mask is disposed of in the finale, his excellent facial makeup gives the character a whole new intimidation factor. 

The film’s most glaring detriments are its limited gore and off-screen kills, an issue largely attributed to the flawed ratings system. Other Friday films were butchered by notes from the ratings board, but none as heavily as The New Blood. Director John Carl Buechler shot some gnarly kills, no more gruesome than what was depicted in previous films, only to have the pinheads at the MPAA, ironically, slash this movie to pieces in order to secure an R rating. It doesn’t help that the extra bloody cuts of these death scenes are only available in poor quality, rendering an unrated director’s cut pointless. It’s extra sad considering that Buechler sadly passed earlier this year in March. 

Nevertheless, The New Blood claims the #6 spot if only for the finale in which Tina unleashes the full extent of her repressed telekinetic abilities to ward off Jason at every turn. And then, to top it all off, the battle royale concludes with one hell of a mighty in-camera house explosion by Crystal Lake. What a sight. While the final product was heavily botched in the editing room, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood is still a worthy, if not watered down, extension of Jason’s evolution post-Part VI

Most Memorable Kill—Ah, the sleeping bag—a Friday staple. Jason’s a simple beast. He sees a sleeping bag, he bashes the poor person inside of it against a tree. 

5) Freddy vs. Jason

Freddy vs. Jason (2003) – source: New Line Cinema

It took near forever for the two slasher titans to go toe-to-toe with one another but Freddy vs. Jason somehow managed to pull it off. From the perspective of the opening prologue, this is no doubt a Nightmare feature with Freddy (Robert Englund) plucking the dormant Jason (Ken Kirzinger) from the bowels of hell to do his bogeyman bidding on the unsuspecting children of Springwood, that is, until the machete-wielding mama’s boy gets a little too carried away. When you get down to it, this movie is essentially the lazy half of a group project outsourcing the work only to discover the overachiever getting all the credit, but the project is slashing teenagers for slasher supremacy. 

Freddy vs. Jason is by no means a great movie. Bar Englund and Kirzinger, the lead performances, 20-somethings masquerading as teenagers, range from passable to laughably terrible. There’s even a double hitter exchange in the otherwise rousing finale that features distracting casual racist/homophobic comments revolving around Kia (Kelly Rowland) and Freddy’s ultimate confrontation. Otherwise, the fun remains prevalent throughout. Luckily this isn’t a case of saving the goods for the ending. This is a slasher movie, after all. Kirzinger’s silent, slightly pitiful (as one can be for an infamous serial murderer) Jason receives an arc that essentially makes Freddy look like even more of a ghoulish dream exploiter than he already is.

The entire foundation of Freddy vs. Jason is the promise of a spectacular slice-and-dice showdown between these two reigning horror heavyweights, and on that front, it’s as glorious as any gore hound could ever dream of. Each slash, punch, stab, and impale is spectacularly brutal, especially when they utilize each other’s signature weapon of choice on one another. And the best part is that the final altercation isn’t the only time the two titans square off. There’s plenty of bodies to go around. Freddy vs. Jason’s aspirations to entertain at all costs, amid the drawn-out drama within the group of slasher fodder, ensures its re-watchability and its placement on this list. 

Most Memorable Kill—Jason shoving Freddy’s signature through the serial murderer’s chest, followed by Lori’s decapitation maneuver, would have occupied this spot had Freddy ACTUALLY died and not, you know, give a knowing wink to the camera. So we’re going with Jason’s first kill on Elm Street. Post-coital Trey (Jesse Hutch) doesn’t even get a chance to finish his beer before Jason repeatedly plunges his machete through the bed before (back)cracking a cold one of his own.

4) Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) – source: Paramount Pictures

You see, this is where it gets tricky. Arranging these next four slots is like asking which child I love more. I unequivocally adore the remaining four Friday films in the same manner; they’re easily interchangeable depending on which week you ask me. However, it would happen that Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter lands in fourth place, ironically enough, this week. The opening recap indicates that this was to be the film where Jason (Ted White) involuntarily hangs up his mask after one last slaughter of some promiscuous teens renting a house in the vicinity of Camp Crystal Lake for the weekend. They should be fine.

From start to finish, The Final Chapter is loaded with memorable moments, most of which belong to the alleged ‘dead fuck’ Jimmy (Crispin Glover). It’s no wonder Jason has it out for him. Glover steals every scene he’s in. His enigmatic, possession state dance in the living room could provide enough material for an entire essay in and of itself. Corey Feldman is also fantastic as a young Tommy Jarvis, the quick-thinking neighbor kid with an affinity for crafting intricately detailed masks, puppets, etc. He’s the only character besides Jason himself that keeps up with appearances despite the heavy rotation of actors between films. What the remaining teens lack in fully-fledged personalities, they more than make up with an immense sense of likability. Well, not Ted (Lawrence Monoson), the designated prick of the assemblage.  

Of all the ways to momentarily incapacitate Jason prior to his zombification in later installments, having the killer land on his proverbial sword, face first, after Tommy takes a good whack, is a great way to ‘kill’ him for the time being. After the slightly lackluster kills of Part III, effects wizard Tom Savini returns to put a little oomph back into some of Jason’s slayings. The FINAL bit of the Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter may mean jack in context of the series’ future, but the remarkable cast, amusing deaths, and satisfying conclusion altogether establishes this entry as an exceptional 80s slasher.

Most Memorable Kill—Crispin Glover, yet again, lands another Friday achievement with a humorous, well-timed death scene involving Jason’s machete and a corkscrew.

3) Friday the 13th (1980)

Friday the 13th (1980) – source: Paramount Pictures

It appears that, as the years have passed, the original Friday the 13th from 1980 has slowly started creeping towards the bottom of some lists. I was fully prepared to knock it down a few spots after this recent viewing. And not only did it rank among my favorites, it even made me appreciate its low-budget simplicity that much more. Friday the 13th, for all its unintentionally goofy eccentricities brought on by some of the lead performances, is an effectively moody slice of horror cinema that relies on the long stretches of silence to create a foreboding atmosphere that, while never reaching Hitchcockian heights, remains consistently eerie. 

Harry Manfredini’s Psycho-inspired composition, a reliable constant throughout most of the series, brings the film to life, maintaining the uneasy significance of the unseen looming threat just off the corner. It’s as sharp as the bloody instruments themselves. The twist regarding Betsy Palmer’s Pamela Voorhees obviously doesn’t hold the same weight on repeat viewings. But the way she flips on a dime, reciting the story of her drowned son, Jason, to a shaken Alice (Adrienne King) in the form of one of the great screen villain monologues, is chilling stuff.

And just when you think Alice is safe, she’s struck by one of the quintessential jump scares, the decaying Jason (Ari Lehmen) arising from the lake to avenge his fallen mother, that’s still pretty freaky even by modern standards. Friday the 13th may have been born out of the attempt to make a quick buck off of the post-Halloween slasher craze, yet its engrossing atmosphere, tangible characters, and killer revelation is always a perfect reminder of why I fondly regard this series so dearly. 

Most Memorable Kill—Mrs. Voorhees’ decapitation, complete with Tom Savini’s hairy knuckles, is an all-timer, but the inaugural Friday slaying award goes to Kevin Bacon’s gushing arrow through the throat from beneath the bottom bunk. Nasty stuff.

2) Friday the 13th: Part 2

Friday the 13th: Part 2 (1981) – source: Paramount Pictures

While structurally similar to the first film, there’s something about Friday the 13th: Part 2 I find more to love with. There’s a scene early on with all of the counselors of Camp Packanack gathered around the campfire as Paul (John Furey) recounts the legend of Camp Blood’s unofficial mascot himself. If there were one scene to embody the spirit of Friday the 13th, this would be it. Bar a few exceptions laden throughout the films, this is the first Friday feature where anticipating the deaths, except for Scott (Russell Todd), actually disheartened me, notably the blossoming connection between Mark (Tom McBride) and Vickie (Lauren-Marie Taylor). You just can’t catch a break when you’re slasher fodder in a Friday the 13th film. Friday the 13th’s Alice (Adrienne King) learns this the hard way in a prologue that wraps up the last loose end of the previous film.

Part 2 also contains the series first match cut that indicates a wry sense of humor behind the camera showing a small dog walk over by Jason’s boots with an immediate hard cut to sizzling hot dogs on a grill. It’s simple, yet effectively funny. The sack Jason wears, despite his similar appearance to the slasher from The Town That Dreaded Sundown, is a good look on him (complete with pitchfork) as the first step in the series’ continuing trend of Jason’s gruesome upgrades/transformations with each new film. The early Friday films are a pleasant reminder that, yes, there really was a time where Jason was vulnerable. 

Of the Friday final girls, Amy Steele’s Ginny is, without a doubt, my favorite. The only reason why the cat and mouse game between her and sack Jason (Steve Dash) lasts as long as it does is because Ginny can really think on her feet, deceiving Jason by putting on Pamela’s blood-stained white sweater to momentarily distract him. If Jason were headed in my direction, Ginny is the Friday MVP I’d want by my side. Friday the 13th: Part 2 refines everything that worked about the previous film, offering an array of likable, mischievous camp counselors, creative deaths, and the expansion upon the legend of the infamous Jason. 

Most Memorable Kill—Nearly went with Sandra (Marta Kober) and Jeff (Bill Randolph) being shish kebab-ed to the bed, but then I thought about poor Mark (Tom McBride) minding his own business. Next thing you know, he receives a machete to the face before rolling backwards down a flight of stairs about as steep as the Exorcist steps.

1) Friday the 13th: Part VI – Jason Lives

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) – source: Paramount Pictures

At last, we’ve arrived at the absolute pinnacle of the entire Friday saga—Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. In the character’s final appearance, adult Tommy Jarvis (Thom Matthews) is on a mission to properly dispose of the hockey mask menace once and for all. Little does he know that his little stunt, impaling the maggot-infested corpse with a graveyard fence post, revives the zombified Jason (CJ Graham) à la Frankenstein when a bolt of lighting falls from the sky. Oops.

Predating the self-aware Scream wave of the late 90s, director Tom McLoughlin gets a head start, employing a much needed sharp, satirical edge to the Friday series that only pushes the level of meta parody so far. Jason Lives was very much ahead of its time in regards to lampooning the tried-and-true tropes that dominated most horror films around that time without sacrificing the bare necessities of a Friday feature. It’s extremely funny from start to finish. “I’ve seen enough horror movies to know that a weirdo in a mask is never friendly,” the concerned Lizabeth (Nancy McLoughlin) says before foolishly bargaining with Jason through the promise of her American Express card. Clever match cuts (“Do they think I’m a farthead?”/“Yes!”), darkly comical deaths, breakneck pace; you name it, Jason Lives has it in spades. 

There’s nary a moment wasted. From Jason’s resurrection onward, Jason Lives maintains a breakneck pace in which the danger is always present and its humorous sensibilities are consistently on point. I always appreciated how this was the only Friday that actually featured children in the crossfire at Camp Crystal Lake (or Camp Forest Green). There comes a point where a few of them accept that, yeah, there’s a likely chance they’re about to die in a horror movie (“So, what were you going to be when you grew up?”) All in good fun, the film features a bevy of laughs directed towards Jason to the point where even he’s in on the joke. I’ll never forget the sheer awe and confusion upon seeing Jason’s 007-inspired gun-barrel sequence.

And lest we forget, Alice Cooper’s The Man Behind the Mask is easily the greatest 80s rock ballad Jason could ever hope for. After the unimpressive proceedings of Part V, Friday the 13th: Part VI – Jason Lives is a thoroughly excellent slasher flick that never squanders the opportunities presented before it, humorous or otherwise. 

Most Memorable Kill—Sheriff Garris bent over backwards for a heroic death scene, but it’s Hawes who takes the glory. When you’re Jason and you’ve been resurrected by the lightning bolts of Zeus himself, you’ve gotta get back to work, and so Jason does, brutally ripping Hawes’ heart out of his chest within the first two minutes of reanimation.

And we’ve made it to the end! You survived! As a reward, may I present my personal favorite moment in all 12 films. It’s so pure and Hodder’s body language sells it beautifully:

What’s your favorite movie in the Friday the 13th franchise? Let us know in the comments!

SIN CIELO: Interview with Jianna Maarten Saada

Sin Cielo is a short film written and directed by Jianna Maarten Saada. Prior to the project’s creation, Maarten Saada visited dangerous parts of the country on her own. She stayed with underprivileged families, many of whom knew someone whose daughters had been abducted, who feared for their lives.

As a result, Maarten Saada produced a film that demonstrates a very real and significant problem with the intention to bring the issue at hand to the surface. The film has competed in high profile festivals and has won several awards such as the Grand Jury Prize at the Seattle International Film Festival, the Young Jury Prize at Palm Springs Shorts Fest, the Grand Jury, Audience Award and Best of Fest Prize at Ivy Film Festival.

Being under Oscar Consideration, Maarten Saada spoke about Sin Cielo and the urgency of acknowledging human trafficking as a prominent problem.

Sin Cielo (2018) – source: Jianna Maarten Saada

Ioanna Micha: So, before we delve into more details, could you tells us a bit about Sin Cielo?

Jianna Maarten Saada: Sin Cielo is at its core a love story between two teenage kids living in a Mexican colonia bordering El Paso. The boy Memo does these low level runs with his best friend for the local gang faction—”Uncle’ Juan” as they call him—in the neighborhood. He doesn’t even know what is in the bags he buries at checkpoints, it’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ situation. So, he makes this date with Delia to walk her to school. She waits for him, but he oversleeps and they miss each other. On her walk to school, she is abducted. He goes looking for her but is warned pretty early on to keep his mouth shut—don’t ask, don’t tell. When he doesn’t listen, they drive by and shoot at his house. The film ends in a parade, a kind of visual final moment on what has been emotionally occurring throughout this story to these people.

IM: I really enjoy the pace of the film and that it is at its core a love story. We see how Delia and Memo interact in the beginning, for instance, and we root for them! How come you framed the film as a love story?

JMS: Thank you so much! Young love is so inspiring because it’s so honest and overwrought. It feels so sweet and simple and then right in the middle of it is this huge hand that swoops down and steals it; it just rips it right to shreds. I love these kind of love stories. I love the Romeo and Juliets of the world in terms of structure. It’s such a fated structure. I’ve read and watched Romeo and Juliet probably a hundred times and each time I root for their love to overcome all even though I know it’s going to end badly. I know they will both die but here I am shouting ‘don’t take the poison! She’s alive!’ That’s great storytelling. We wanted to see if we could accomplish that in twenty five minutes. At the beginning of the film Memo tells you this is going to end badly. He says the walls are listening in and you can’t trust people, and the ominous beginning is a pretty big tip that this will not end well. But, it’s our job, as storytellers, to make you forget that and get attached, so that later these two teens can break your heart. That’s the goal.

Sin Cielo (2018) – source: Jianna Maarten Saada

IM: There’s great chemistry between Fenessa Pineda and David Gurrola. What made you decide on these two actors?

JMS: The moment I met them in the room I knew. I was in love with both of them. They just had the perfect bit of sweetness. Total naturals! I think they are both superstars, no joke. David was fifteen when we shot Sin Cielo. He carries with him all the reality of being this fifteen-year-old kid in high school with girl problems, you know the whole nine yards and yet he’s a total heartthrob! Fenessa is pure gold. You put a camera on her and it’s as if the camera isn’t there. They’re both just so easy; it makes my work pretty effortless. I mean the fact that they are not fighting off major movie roles right now blows me away. We really do need to open the path for more latinx starring/lead roles. Both of these young people can hold a movie.

IM: You shed light on a very real and crucial issue that exists in the world, that of human trafficking. You have called it before a ‘collective problem’ and I believe that this is an undeniable truth. What inspired you to tell this story?

JMS: The people in the towns I visited while doing research inspired this story. This is their story. These are their heartbreaks, their children being stolen, their fears, their worries. The words the characters are saying are really their words.

IM: I find the title so intriguing! Why is the film called Sin Cielo?

JMS: It means without sky. Or without heaven to be really interpretative with it. The idea that that’s all there is—this never ending sky, felt apropos.  It’s like being trapped in a prison of air.

IM: Sin Cielo has won several awards from film festivals, such as Calcutta International Cult Film Festival, the Seattle International Film Festival and Palm Springs International ShortFest,. How does it feel to know that the film has had such a great response?

Sin Cielo (2018) – source: Jianna Maarten Saada

JMS: We’re very happy to be received so well. I think it’s always surprising when it happens, but it’s one of those right movie right moment things, and we are so grateful to the audiences who expressed their affinity for the film.

IM: You have another short at its post-production stage called Mermaids. Would you like to reveal anything about it?

JMS: Mermaids is a total fave of mine. It’s finished, but for some reason it shows up on IMDb that it’s in post-production. It’s under five minutes and a total tonal piece I shot with Pallavi Reddy on 35mm. Reddy did this beautiful processing on it. I love that short. It’s tonally my favorite piece. We never really got it out there to fests, which we should because it’s very surprising I think. It’s entirely silent, no dialogue at all. The framing is very specific. I was just so much fun to shoot!

IM: Do you have another future project in mind?

JMS: Yes, several! My writing partner Cara Lawson and I have a feature of Sin Cielo as well as a psychological horror, a sci-fi piece, and a character driven drama. There are more stories we want to tell than folks willing to give us money to tell them. Ha! Sometimes we have to slow ourselves down!

IM: Is there something I haven’t covered yet that you would like to mention?

JMS: We would definitely like to get the word out there about folks taking a serious look at femicide and trafficking to be part of a solution going forward. Trafficking is alive and well in our world, making billions of dollars. I truly believe there’s another way, another path, that does not result in selling your fellow human into bondage.

If you’d like to help make a change, please visit the following websites to donate—every little bit helps a victim in need: 3StrandsGlobal, Anti Slavery International, and Free The Girls.

SIN CIELO: Open your Eyes

Encouraging as it may sound to say “sky’s the limit,” the truth is that sometimes there’s no control over the restrictions life may deal. Maybe a black van is just around the corner, for instance, and everything that was taken for granted before has now become an idyllic past. Sometimes the limit might be way below the sky; it can be the end of a house’s front yard. 

Sin Cielo (2018) – source: Jianna Maarten Saada

For years, cinema has attempted to tackle issues such as abduction and human trafficking—from John Lee Thompson’s Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects and Lukas Moodysson’s Lilja 4-ever, to Marco Kreuzpaintner’s Trade and Danny Boyle’s multi-award winning film, Slumdog Millionaire. Film as a medium tries to function as a constant reminder of this universal problem. Boyle’s feature, for example, has definitely achieved that end as it was praised not only for its horrifying depiction of the world, but also for its inspirational love story. 

In a similar approach, Jianna Maarten Saada’s Sin Cielo contributes to this effort with great skill. Looking into the lives of Memo (David Gurrola) and Delia (Fenessa Pineda), two teenagers in a town close to a Mexican border, Maarten Saada brings the terrible reality of human trafficking front and center. Every day that every child or woman steps outside, there’s a risk of them being abducted and never heard from again—it’s a threat that’s always lurking, even during the light of day. 

Creating a multi-layered narrative, Maarten Saada initially allows only partial access to the town’s organized crime. The voice-over opening the film suggests that most of the story is told through Memo’s point of view, and seeing that he spends the first moments blindfolded, there can be no full disclosure yet. After all, even with such a narrow entry, Memo is putting his life on the line since as he says: “people die because they talk too much… I think the walls could listen to what I’m telling you.” He is kept in the dark, so that even if he decides to speak he can never reveal the actual location of the stolen items. Memo lives in a dangerous place—it’s no wonder the information shared in the beginning is given from a safe distance as an extreme wide shot follows two dark figures, presumably Memo and his friend, hustling in the dead of night. Hardly noticeable at this point, but out there just enough to be seen, crime is present.  

Sin Cielo (2018) – source: Jianna Maarten Saada

Likewise, the danger of human trafficking first enters the screen through the news on Memo’s TV warning that “7 women a day are abducted, often by someone they know,” but it goes unnoticed; it’s a ‘these things never happen to us really, it’s always other people’ type of reaction. It turns out, however, that Memo becomes part of the people affected by this peril when Delia, the girl he has fallen for, is taken away in a black jeep on her way to school. The abduction happens off-screen, but Delia’s shrieks are heard loud and clear. The film doesn’t provide subtitles for this part, but fighting for your life doesn’t need any; every cry and every scream in Pineda’s compelling performance is inherently understood, regardless of one’s linguistic background.

Besides Pineda, Gurrola brings a lot into the character of Memo not only in the awkward moments of a teen falling in love, but also in the painful realization that Delia is gone and he is powerless in overturning this tragedy. While the film is mostly quiet, with the only exceptions being scenes of absolute despair such as Delia’s kidnapping, Maarten Saada closes with a bang when Memo silently takes Delia’s place in the town’s parade. Cutting between Memo and Delia standing in two different lines, the parade’s lines and rows of captured women inside a truck respectively, the director draws a parallel between two situations: where Delia, as a teenager, should have been, and where she, among other girls, has ended up unfairly.

Sin Cielo (2018) – source: Jianna Maarten Saada

By accompanying this injustice with the parade’s celebratory drum noises, Maarten Saada builds up a tension and in turn this tension creates irony which signals that this problem has been ignored for far too long. Besides dedicating the film “to 1000s of women in Mexico who have disappeared and the families who still look for them,” Maarten Saada takes one step further: she includes the names of women and girls who have gone missing in Mexico over the years. In a way, even if those women were deprived of their lives, they are offered a form of immortality in black and white; they’re gone, but they’re not forgotten. 

END OF THE CENTURY: Interview with Lucio Castro

Isn’t life just a series of moments with different weather conditions along the way? Lucio Castro’s feature debut, End of the Century, is a film about summer days in Barcelona. The film focuses on the character of Ocho (Juan Barberini) and the life-changing experience of meeting Javi (Ramon Pujol)—twice. Looking into these two different encounters, the film sheds light on the weight that our life choices carry, and how timing is a key component of that equation. Unable to find each other at a more appropriate time, Ocho and Javi choose to stay apart on both occasions, even if each moment leaves an impression on both men.

In an Autumn moment of my life, I had the chance to meet up with Lucio Castro and discuss End of the Century during Film Fest Gent 2019! 

Ioanna Micha: What made you want to write this particular story?

Lucio Castro: Well, it basically started when I thought of the title (laughs). The truth is that that title just stuck with me. I was intrigued by it, and I needed to discover what it was all about. So, I started in a very simple way. I thought ‘okay, a character arrives in a city he doesn’t know. He goes to some tourist sites and then he sees this guy on the streets. He gets interested in him and they end up having sex.’ It’s after, when they started talking in my script, that I thought ‘okay maybe they know each other.’ So, I went to the past and I started thinking about their first encounter. If you really think about it, I wrote it almost in the way you’re watching it! I was discovering the story as I was writing it. Maybe you could say that I was writing it as if I was watching it! (laughs)

IM: So you’re saying it was basically an instinctual process?

LC: Yeah! It was about what felt good!

IM: Were the actors chosen in the same way then? By following your instinct?

LC: Well, you could definitely say that! I gave the screenplay to my casting director (Maria La Greca) who mainly does theater, and she knew both actors. First, she recommended Juan because she had worked with him before. I decided to meet with Juan, so I watched his movies and I discovered something that I really liked about him! Juan feels very confident at first, but then once you get to know him, he’s quite insecure! I liked that about him because I feel that it gives him a duality that works very well for the character of Ocho. And here is where Ramon connects perfectly to the story; he’s the opposite! He feels very insecure in the beginning. He’s almost sensitive and a bit scared. But then, once you get to know him, there’s a very strong cord in him that’s actually quite confident. So, yes! I chose these actors because they felt like a good addition to the film. After all, they are almost complementary and opposite to each other! The one is darker, the other is lighter. Of course, one of them is handsome and it’s good to have a handsome guy (laughs)! All these things came together and kinda worked I guess.

Juan Barberini in End of the Century (2019) – source: Cinema Guild

IM: Well, every decision brings about a different end product. So, how come you started the film with such a long take that has no dialogue?

LC: Yes, It’s a very long intro. It’s almost 13 minutes with no dialogue. I did that for a few reasons. Firstly, when I am in a city that I don’t know, and I’m walking alone, I’m very aware of the city, its buildings, the wind, even the people walking around me. I like listening to what they’re saying. I enjoy watching everyone’s faces. For me, it’s almost as if time sort of slows down when I’m by myself in a new city. When I’m with somebody else, however, the city kind of disappears because we’re always talking. And this is what happens with these characters; after they start talking that’s all they do! So, I wanted to show how one feels when you’re alone in a new city in relation to how it is when you’re with somebody else. I also like the gradual flow. First Ocho is kind of lost in the city with no particular aim,  but then once he sees Javi, he gradually starts to focus his aim on him, and I thought that this was a nice juxtaposition: from focusing on the beauty of a city to the beauty of a person.

IM: You have definitely succeeded in bringing the city to life in that initial silent sequence. Actually, it feels as if the city becomes a character in itself because we get to experience it so vividly even though we’re never really there! Plus, it’s their meeting point, so time doesn’t really matter; it’s more about the space.

LC: Yeah, that’s also true! The film is a lot about space. First, it’s the city; it carries a lot of meaning, even if Ocho is not initially aware of it, because that’s where they met before. Then, there’s the space of the Airbnb which is so strange. It’s a weird transient space. It’s not a hotel and it’s not someone’s home; it’s something in the middle. Now, when I stay in an Airbnb, I always look at the books, if there are any, because they give you an idea of the owner. But then of course, you’re not sure if it’s the owner that’s left them behind; it could be other guests that left them there. What’s more important about the film’s setting, however, is that no one has any roots in this space, and to me that was a nice background or place for this thing to happen. You know things are a little more volatile and a bit looser. If I had made a movie about their whole lives, I feel that it would have been very different. On vacation, you have a temporary space. You go there for a few days and then you leave. I feel that this is something that went well with this story.

Juan Barberini and Ramon Pujol in End of the Century (2019) – source: Cinema Guild

IM: It’s like a neutral space because they don’t have specific roles to conform to! Is there a particular reason you chose Barcelona?

LC: Yeah! I chose Barcelona for many reasons. Firstly, Barcelona has a lot of tourism and it definitely brings out that feeling during the film. Plus, I wanted a summer city. A city that had a beach, but also one that is a city by itself, not one that’s just about summer vacation. And Barcelona is exactly like that! People live there all year round! Of course, there were also some practical reasons such as weather. Barcelona is known for its good weather conditions and I thought that it would be a great and easy place to shoot. Of course, it rained the whole 12 days that I shot there (laughs). There were also financing issues as it’s quite expensive to rent space in summer cities. So, I wanted a place that was more approachable! Lastly, I wanted to tell the story in a city that I didn’t know personally. I wouldn’t have done it in Buenos Aires, for example, because I know that city too well, and it would have been hard for me to write a movie on someone who just arrived. When I wrote the movie in Barcelona, I didn’t know it at all. I actually wrote it with like Google Maps and top ten attractions! (laughs)

IM: Well that is exactly what a tourist would do! Why did you decide to let Ocho remember the whole interaction with Javi on his own? How come Javi doesn’t say anything earlier on?

LC: I think that Javi’s intrigued. I think that he would feel vulnerable to just say it. When they’re in the beach I think he realizes that Ocho didn’t recognize him because he doesn’t say ‘hi,’ he just goes into the water. So, I feel that in this moment he starts thinking ‘he doesn’t remember me, so what’s the point in telling him? Oh, we met 20 years ago, remember?’ So, I feel he’s a little bit shy, or that he doesn’t want to intrude too much. And, once they start talking and have sex, he never finds the right time because he really likes him and the moment they’re sharing. And I feel that he doesn’t want to ruin that with the weight of the past; the weight of the ‘we actually know each other.’ It’s a thing that changes the subtlety of flirting and, no matter who you are, it’s almost like a political war, you know? Everything you say will illicit a reaction. You have a lot of back and forth. So, adding to the equation a shared past would have destroyed the whole thing; it would have transformed into something else. I think that’s why he doesn’t do it. And by the moment he says it, it’s okay. Also, let’s face it! Javi is playing a little bit with Ocho too! The movie has this sort of playful vibe, and I think he’s playing with the whole idea. He puts on the Kiss T-Shirt after he sees Ocho the night before, and tries to see if that will help him remember. He’s trying to antagonize him in a way.

Juan Barberini and Ramon Pujol in End of the Century (2019) – source: Cinema Guild

IM: So you think it’s some sort of power-play?

LC: Yes! I definitely think that there is a form of seduction. It doesn’t even have to be a sex thing. But, you know, when you’re trying to entice another person there’s definitely a power play. A lot of things are happening at the same time. There’s a bit of anxiety and some sort of fear. Actually, I see their reactions like a chess game! Think of beach scene: there is this atmosphere of I move, you move. There’s some power struggle, and there’s no doubt about it.

IM: So you’re saying there’s some sort of action and reaction going on?

LC: Right! Exactly that!

IM: Does them not ending up together have anything to do with the title?

LC: Well not exactly! I think that the title mostly refers to these 20 years in their lives and how they’ve changed. Ocho, for instance, wanted to be a writer in his 20s and he has achieved that, but he’s also an airline employee. So, the film definitely touches upon this change from 20 to 40. Now, about the ending! Well, for me I can’t see how they could have ended up together. There’s a beautiful quote that says ‘every love story is a ghost story.’ I’m very moved by this quote because it’s basically referring to a connection between love and loss and I find that very fascinating. Love is about attaining something beautiful. It’s so powerful that it shakes your whole body, and your whole life. And when you lose that, you’re influenced in an intense way. We see that with Ocho. The moment Javi leaves the Airbnb, he’s questioning his past life choices. I find it more intriguing to follow the life of a character who has lost something. I prefer to experience how certain characters act when they lose rather than when they win. Not to say that meeting someone and getting married is not a beautiful thing. It can happen and it is definitely love. If Ocho and Javi would have ended up together, however, I feel that they would have been in a comfortable space, which, in a way, is place that is a little bit less affecting; all your feelings are kind of secure. When you lose something, the story becomes more riveting because the characters need to act. I’m just enchanted by the unattainable and how that can change your life.

Ramon Pujol in End of the Century (2019) – source: Cinema Guild

IM: So you’re not into passivity. You feel that things have to be intense?

LC: (laughs) No, I also like passivity! I love movies where nothing happens, but I think that for this story the idea of loss makes Ocho a much more interesting character in the end!

IM: It certainly does! I mean I really like the ‘what if they had stayed together?’ scene in Ocho’s imagination because it’s not ideal!

LC: Exactly! (laughs)

IM: I feel that’s very realistic! That after 20 years it’s not going to be the same as when you first met. You show that love is not perfect; it’s work!

LC: Right! Exactly!

IM: Is there something that I haven’t covered yet that you want mentioned?

LC: No I think that we covered every interesting part of the film! I’m happy you didn’t ask about the sex scenes! (laughs)

IM: (laughs) Yes! I find it somewhat tiring after a certain point. I mean of course it’s an integral part of the film. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t become obsessed with it! Well, then, I have one final question: do you have another project in mind for the future?

LC: Yes; I’m working on a film that’s shot in the mountains. It’s a female lead. It’s not a queer story. And, it’s shot next year. That’s all I can say for now! (laughs)

The Highs and Lows of THE AERONAUTS

It’s not uncommon knowledge that some movies claiming to be “based on a true story” aren’t always accurate. Sure, the broad strokes are there and make for a story compelling enough to be green-lit by the big shots in Hollywood, but everyone takes creative liberties when telling these types of stories. A few years ago, I went to see a movie called The Danish Girl, which starred Eddie Redmayne as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe. That movie claimed to be based on a true story, despite its source material being mostly fictitious, going as far as to make people up specifically for storytelling purposes.

I bring this up because Redmayne has another movie coming out called The Aeronauts, which also claims to be based on a true story despite once again taking creative liberties. It’s a shame because the movie itself is a solid adventure film with some good performances and visual effects whenever they are up in the sky.

The Aeronauts (2019) – source: Amazon Studios

The Aeronauts comes from director Tom Harper (I honestly had to double check to make sure they didn’t mean Tom Hooper) and tells the story of James Glaisher and Amelia Rennes, two young adventurers who go up in a hot air balloon to study the sky. Glaisher (Eddie Redmayne) believes that by going up into the sky, he can predict the weather. This idea is laughed off by The Royal Society. He seeks out a pilot to help him prove his theories and meets Rennes (Felicity Jones) who agrees to help him out. Throughout the movie, people try to persuade the two aeronauts to give up and go for something more conventional.

The movie open with the two at a festival about to go up in their balloon. Rennes decides to put on a bit of a show for the audience before going up, much to the dismay of Glaisher. This, along with the flashbacks that are sprinkled throughout the movie, give the audience an idea of what kind of adventurers they are. Both are determined, but Glaisher comes off a bit more serious than Rennes. The two play off each other really well, which makes sense since this is the second time Redmayne and Jones have starred opposite each other (the first time being The Theory of Everything, which earned Redmayne his first Oscar).

The Aeronauts (2019) – source: Amazon Studios

Whenever the two are up in the air, the movie is at its most breathtaking. They’re boasted by some visual effects that are quite impressive given its budget. When the film flashes back to scenes of them meeting on the ground, however, it becomes another dull British period piece. I know its purpose is to establish their characters, but I found myself dozing off whenever these scenes were happening. Thankfully, the majority of the film takes place in the balloon, and some scenes of peril in the third act make up for the boring people on the ground.

Now I mentioned earlier that the film takes creative liberties with this true story. The most major one is that the character of Amelia Rennes is just that; a character. She was made up for story purposes and for the sake of giving the audience a female character to relate to. James Glaisher is a real person, but he took this journey with an aeronaut by the name of Henry Coxwell, who would later help save Glaisher’s life during the ascent and descent. I thought that creating a female scientist for the sake of connecting to contemporary audiences was some form of pandering, especially when there are plenty of female scientists who are not only real, but probably have an equally compelling story to tell.

The Aeronauts (2019) – source: Amazon Studios

Regardless of historical accuracy, The Aeronauts is still a solid adventure movie. At 100 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It was nice seeing Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones back on screen together, and I can appreciate that the movie didn’t try to force a romance between these two. Serious issues with pacing keep me from calling this a great movie, but its visual deserves to be seen on the big screen. If it’s playing in a theater near you, seek it out. In the end, I’m glad I got to see it on the big screen before it hit Prime Video. I don’t know if it would’ve had the same impact if I was watching it at home.

The Aeronauts is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video

Revisiting THE LITTLE MERMAID 30 Years Later

1989—the year before I was born, and also when the House of Mouse dove into what is now known as their Renaissance period. So, before the live-action wand is waved over the story that is now set to star Halle Bailey, I’m going back Under the Sea to delve into why this animated feature is both a classic and favorite of mine.

The poster child for wanting more – The Little Mermaid (1989) – source: Buena Vista Pictures

Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy-tale is the loose inspiration for Ariel’s tale (tail), and it’s through delving back into past fictional writings that re-captures the magic first unearthed when Walt Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Sure, the animation company takes the original plot and sprinkles the Tinkerbell magic of family friendliness over a bleak ending originally penned by the original Danish author, but the core idea is there, and what do you expect from a distributor known for being appealing, bleeding feet and a suicide? Of course not!

There is great simplicity in following the narrative of this foray into an underwater world. The plight of teenage Ariel desiring a chance to see what life is like above the waves is the driving force, and sees us clash with a fantastically theatrical villain and ultimately have her falling in love—the age old Disney trope. However tired that model of a princess needing a man may look now, and however good the red-headed mermaid may have it in Atlantica, you sort of forgive her moaning, because there’s a fun atmosphere presented.

Colorful Currents – The Little Mermaid (1989) – source: Buena Vista Pictures

During the timeline of ’89 to ’99, most Disney films share the common theme of being encouraged by legends, fairy-tales, and stories already penned. This watery-based closing curtain to the 80s is a fun and fancy-free yarn which is spun with bubbles of color and charm, and it is very easy to see why, with effortless storytelling and a new musical direction, that The Little Mermaid holds up over 30 years later.

The hiring of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman are two massive reasons why The Little Mermaid holds up as a buoyant, brilliant animated film. After their work on Little Shop of Horrors, Disney realized that their influence could inject a Broadway vibe into their films and this is a musical staple of pretty much every release since then. The toe-tapping sounds and memorable lyrics stand the test of time and are why, for me at least, I can’t stop singing if a track from this film comes on somewhere!

From the likes of Sebastian’s groovy, reggae inspired “Under the Sea” to Ursula’s intoxicating, dark, and campy “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” you’re submerged into a world of catchy music and if nothing else Jodi Benson belts out the famous “Part of Your World” number, which gets everyone lamenting having twenty thingamabobs in the most perfectly adolescent decree of wanting what you don’t have. And here I am not even mentioning possibly my favorite ditty; “Kiss the Girl,” which comes from the crustacean wing-man of the century and builds to a sea-life crescendo.

Sha la la la la la, my oh my – The Little Mermaid (1989) – source: Buena Vista Pictures

I share similar nerves to this 1989 gem getting the tedious live-action treatment as I did for The Lion King—there’s something so wonderfully cartoon-ish about the environment that Ariel, Flounder, and Triton roam in. Seeing it handed off-putting photo realistic imagery is just one concern, on top of them likely ruining infectious songs. The film is a classic and sometimes it’s best to leave it that way.

I grew up with a sister and my mum, so Disney movies were a primary component of my growing up and it’s possibly why to this day, however gigantic and monopolizing the company gets, I’ll still always like to see what emotions or enjoyment I’ll find in their newest animated flick. The Little Mermaid is one from their back catalog that I find a clear sailing pleasure to the eyes and ears. If you want a short, simple and sweet movie with a bright palette and insanely feel-good tunes then this movie should be Part of Your World.

Part of Our World – The Little Mermaid (1989) – source: Buena Vista Pictures

ASHMINA: Enough is Enough

Films set in Nepal have a tendency to explore the Man vs. Nature conflict with the peak of Mount Everest as their crowning jewel. Whether documentary or fiction, features such as J. B. L. Noel’s The Epic of Everest, which was re-released in the UK following its digital restoration in 2013, George Lowe’s The Conquest of Everest, and Baltasar Kormákur’s Everest depict the deadly trials of previous real-life expeditions.

Behind the scenes of Ashmina (2018) – source: IMDb

Whereas western productions have their eyes on the world’s highest mountaintop, Nepalese cinema doesn’t concern itself with Mountain films as much. Min Bahadur Bham’s The Black Hen (Kalo Pothi) and Nischal Poudyal’s Riingata, for instance, focus on the impact that the 10-year-long Nepalese civil war had on people.

Dekel Berenson also takes an alternative route with his short film, Ashmina. Set in Pokhara, Nepal, the world’s center for paragliding, Berenson writes and directs a story inspired by a past trip about a 13-year-old girl, Ashmina (Dikshya Karki). Following her life, the plot dissects issues that arise not only from within, namely the restrictions women experience within the confines of a patriarchal society, but also from outside, as tourists enter the Nepali borders and have a somewhat negative effect on its culture.  

Ashmina (2018) – source: Blue Shadows Films

Having visualized Ashmina as a social realist film, Berenson cast only non-actors and worked mostly with the available light on location. In close collaboration with a semi-professional crew comprised mainly by locals, he was able to blend in and capture on camera the natural behavior not only of the natives, but also of the tourists.

Besides that, Berenson gets the audience’s undivided attention as elaborate frames fill the screen, leaving the viewer in a state of stupor. It’s almost as if each shot is part of a fabricated reverie designed for the sole purpose to hypnotize every set of eyes fixed on them. The secret behind the spellbinding quality of Ashmina is not only Nepal’s nature, but also Vasco Viana’s cinematography.

The titular character of Ashmina, however, is neither hypnotized nor confused during the three-day period Berenson puts on display. Working at the landing field, she packs the parachutes of tourists in exchange for small tips, and tries to bring some form of financial stability to her home. This is not a sacrifice, but a duty. Forced to forget about her education, or any type of delightful detail in life, Ashmina is meant to follow orders—no questions asked.

Ashmina (2018) – source: Blue Shadows Films

It’s no surprise then, that a rare query here and there is met with disdain; every act of disobedience is worthy of a slap in the face, and nothing more. Perhaps that is why, after what she perceives as the final betrayal, Ashmina goes beyond the Nepalese socially constructed script of female subjectivity; a violent, but silent, outburst that even though it leaves the viewer startled, it also raises the question: “who’s really at fault here?”

DUNYA'S DAY: Death of a Party

Prior to the end of the cinema ban in Saudi Arabia in 2018, film distribution was limited to sparse screenings of educational documentaries or dubbed cartoons accessible only to women and children. Of course, few Saudi Arabian features such as Izidore Musallam’s How Are You? (Keif al-Hal?), Saudi Arabia’s first big-budget movie, and Abdullah Al-Eyaf’s documentary Cinema 500 km managed to be completed, but weren’t shown within the Saudi Arabian borders.

Behind the scenes of Dunya’s Day (2019) – source: IMDb

With the turn of the century, the Saudi female experience became a main theme for many filmmakers, the most controversial of all being Haifaa al-Mansour, the first Saudi female filmmaker, whose feature debut Wadjda was the first film to be selected as the Saudi Arabian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film.

Another filmmaker who tackles this theme with his short film debut Dunya’s Day is Raed Alsemari. Alsemari takes a different approach on the subject by employing satire genre conventions in his investigation of the affluent diva. In a golden room with red detailing sits Dunya (Sara Balghonaim), the Queen Bee of a suburb household in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Abandoned by her staff, Dunya and her minions, Deema (Rahaf) and Dalal (Sarah Altaweel), have to throw the most memorable college graduation party to keep Dunya’s image intact.

Dunya’s Day (2019) – source: Raed Alsemari

Dunya’s obsession with flawlessness is made clear non-verbally from the get-go. The impeccable symmetry of the setting’s design almost emulates the immortality of a momentary photographic click; everything has been petrified into perfection to frame Dunya as the face of a royal portrait. With her staff on the run, however, the estate’s metaphorical foundation is cracked, and Dunya’s world comes crumbling down. Looking for them in every corner of the manor, she gradually starts throwing tantrums as she realizes she’s left on her own.

This mental health crisis takes a visual manifestation as well through Olivier Theurillat and Alsemari’s precise editing. Temporarily replacing the initial smooth cuts with abrupt ones not only enhances Dunya’s distress, and consequently the film’s comic effect, but also signifies the tiny glitches in her spotless image. Having established that Dunya is almost compulsively fixated with her public persona, the film moves on to pose its vital question: How far is Dunya willing to go to get the social validation she so desires? The answer is: too far.

Considering that Alsemari has stated that he drew inspiration from Michael Lehmann’s Heathers and Mark Waters’ Mean Girls, Dunya’s ruthlessness is to expected. After she takes a step too far for her, yet too hilarious to us, Dunya stands before a mirror scouting for imperfections on her face and body. A clear parallel between Dunya’s Day and Mean Girls as women are literally unable to see that their appearance—but more significantly their lives—belong to them and them alone.

Dunya’s Day (2019) – source: Raed Alsemari

Besides her inner demons, however, Dunya is constantly confronted by a mean rival, Anoud. Anoud is more than an adversary; she is the standard against which Dunya measures her worth. This never-ending battle has taken a toll on Dunya as her nearly unbearable vulnerability inevitably cracks in front of that mirror. Here is where Balghonaim’s talent is indisputable—while the humorous aspects are skillfully handled to say the least, she thrives in Dunya’s subtle despair. It’s a layered performance that gives her character a sense of humanity that no one can ignore.

Alsemari’s aim was to go beyond the Saudi female experience previously shown on screen, and he succeeded. His take, albeit an undoubtedly male perspective, offers a different type of adversity. As a satire, Dunya’s Day is providing social commentary on the type of victimhood created by ideological confines that keep Dunya from realizing her inner value shouldn’t be calculated in monetary terms.

Even if Dunya is no Regina George, as a bus never runs her over, she has definitely learned a lesson through experiencing social ridicule. That final shot, however, in all its hilarity, is not addressed to Dunya alone; the punchline is dedicated to every eye staring at the screen, and screams that keeping up with the Joneses can only make you one of the herd.

Watch the teaser trailer for Dunya’s Day here!

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