Thursday, May 04, 2006

Rules of the game

It's 2:37 a.m. You bolt upright in bed, your heart pounding like a tympani in your chest. The air is cool on your sweaty skin.

It's just at the edge of your brain and it won't go away until you figure it out.

How do you play "Frere Jacques" on Merlin, the Electronic Wizard?

Luckily for you, all you have to do is hop on the computer and check out this nifty little part of the Hasbro Web site. It's a repository of rules and instructions for their games past and present. It's fun to rediscover games you aven't thought about in years.

They even have the instructions for the Super Powers: JLA Skyscraper Caper 3-D Board Game. I had this and brought it to school in sixth grade so my friends and I could play it at lunch. It was too big to carry home in my backpack, so I stashed it in my locker, figuring I could have my mom drive me back to school and pick it up.

I kept forgetting, and eventually came locker cleanup day. My last chance to get it out, and I totally blew it. Some lucky custodian got to keep it, I presume.

It was a crap game anyway.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Hey, Joshua, it's your birthday...

Twenty-eight years ago today, I was an only child, and I was happy. While I wasn't spoiled, I did get all the toys for myself. Things were good.

Exactly one year later, I wasn't an only child anymore. I was a big brother. To prepare me for the concept, my parents got me a shirt that read "#1 Son." Despite what I thought, it just meant that of my parents' two children, I was born first. It had nothing to do with quality of said children. Well, that's what they said. I had my doubts.

I remember my dad telling me that Josh looked a lot like me when I was a baby.

"Is he my twin?" I asked. I wasn't really clear on the exact definition of "twin." I was 4.

"No, but he looks a lot like you."

I was excited by the prospect of having a little brother. Not only did it mean a playmate and someone with whom I could share all the wisdom I'd accumulated in my four years on this planet.

It meant that I had someone I could order around. A minion of my very own to do my bidding!

I didn't take long to figure out that wasn't going to work. When he was about 2 years old, he would repeat whatever people would say to him. For minutes at a time.

A devious plan formed in my mind.

So I taught him a swear word, which he instantly and enthusiastically began parroting. Satisfied that the stream (or more appropriately, given the word I taught him, creek) would continue for a while, I corralled him into the kitchen, where my mom was getting ready to make dinner.

It almost worked. I saw the look on my mom's face when she heard what her 2-year-old was saying, and that was pretty funny. But then she asked where he heard that word. Without hesitation, Josh, my sweet baby brother, stretched out his arm and pointed straight at me.

The little creep sold me out!

From then on it was a constant struggle to remind him of his place in the fraternal hierarchy. His job was to do the gruntwork. I'd come up with the plans, and he would execute any part that might cause injury to me.

One constant thing about my brother is that it takes a crane to get him out of bed in the morning. This provided much annoyance to me, especially when I wanted him to do something for me, but it also provided some fun.

So sound a sleeper was he that I, wanting to show him just what a butthead he was for sleeping so late all the time, drew a buttcrack down the middle of his face. Even better, he didn't realize it for a while.

Another time, he refused to get out of bed. Out of ideas (and maybe 10 or 11), I told him that if he didn't get out of bed, I was going to fart on his head.

He didn't believe me.

He did after that.

I really wanted to get him a customized birthday greeting from Captain Zoom, but I didn't get the chance. I mentioned a while back that on his birthday one year, he got the personalized record and was scared to tears that a stranger on a record was wishing him a happy birthday.

Maybe next year.

Happy birthday, Scrote.

Monday, May 01, 2006

He's the man behind the mask

Well, here we go again. Like good old Jason Voorhees, Bad Movies A to Z comes back once more. There are so many entries in the "Friday the 13th" series to choose from, but I managed to narrow it down to today's selection: "Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives."

The movie in a nutshell: Nut in a hockey mask slices, dices, juliennes.

The story: Tommy Jarvis (played by Corey Feldman in Part IV) is released from a mental institution; he's been in a few since he killed Jason Voorhees and was traumatized. But he has a feeling that Jason's not really gone, so he and a friend go to where Jason is buried.

Tommy's friend, Hawes (Ron "Horshack" Palillo) joins him in the trek to the cemetery on a stormy night. Tommy plans to destroy Jason's corpse to make sure he's not coming back.

This made me think: Given the problems Jason has caused in the past, wouldn't it be wiser to not have him in a marked grave where anyone could, well, dig him up and try to destroy his body?

In no time flat, Tommy has dug up the coffin. He gets a crowbar from Hawes and pops it open. Ooo, inside is a wormy, maggoty corpse. Yum. Tommy flashes back to when he killed Jason. He gets pissed off and stabs the crap out of the body with a metal fencepost that he rips off the cemetery fence (!). He throws in Jason's mask and turns away to get the gasoline.

Lightning strikes, and before you can say Frankenstein's monster, guess who comes back to life?

Dawes, unaware of Jason's resurrection, says, "My heart can't take any more of this." Hmm. Foreshadowing?

Jason crawls out of the grave and goes after Tommy, who douses him with gas. Alas, the rain kicks in and Tommy can't light a match. Dawes hits Jason with a shovel from behind, and Jason, without too much effort, rips out Dawes' heart. Dawes falls into Jason's casket. Tommy drives away. Jason dons his mask, and we get a closeup of his eye. With a nice homage to the James Bond flicks, the opening credits roll.

Tommy heads to the local sheriff's department and says that Jason is alive. Sheriff Garris thinks it's a prank and has Deputy Rick Cologne lock him up. While Tommy's locked up, the scene shifts to two camp counselors, Darren and Lizbeth, who are heading to Camp Forest Green. There's just one little obstacle in their way -- Jason.

Darren suggests driving at him to scare him away. It doesn't work. Darren reaches over and honks the horn. Jason pops a tire with his blade. Darren gets a gun out of the glovebox and threatens Jason. Jason spear-vaults Darren behind him. Now it's Lizbeth's turn. She offers Jason money, and when she looks up, he's gone -- until he shows up behind her and spears her in the head.

The next morning, some other counselors are asking the sheriff to help look for Darren and Lizbeth. Tommy tells them that Jason is out there. Megan is Garris' daughter, and Paula is Lizbeth's sister. Garris is going to take Tommy to the edge of his jurisdiction, and then Tommy is to get out of town and stay away.

That night, the caretaker of the cemetery is wandering around drunk and singing. Nearby, young lovers Steve and Annette are picnicking/making out. The caretaker says that his booze will be the death of him -- "but what a way to go" -- and lobs the bottle behind him. He notices it doesn't break. He turns around to see that Jason caught it. He breaks the end of the bottle and stabs the caretaker with it. Wah-wah-wahhhhh.

You can't fault this movie for not paying off. Every line serves the story, no matter how mechanically and predictably.

From here on out, the movie settles into a rhythm in which we shift among three focal points:

1. Tommy, who is trying to destroy Jason

2. Jason, who is trying to destroy everyone

3. Sheriff Garris, who is dealing with the other two

At points they overlap, but for the most part, it's a steady rotation. There's an ill-advised comic relief bit thrown in that involves some weekend warrior paintballers, but they end up just being fodder for Jason, so they don't really add up to much.

Near the end of the movie, the pace quickens noticeably, and the shifts speed up accordingly and being to merge.

Tommy and Megan arrive at the camp, ready to put their plan in action. I still don't buy that Megan would be that interested in helping Tommy, but that's just me.

Tommy runs to the dock and throws his bag of supplies in a boat. Megan decides to check to see who's still around. All her friends are gone, and very shortly, so will her dad.

Jason is out looking for Garris, who is also roaming the camp looking for survivors.

Megan all the kids in one cabin -- her dad had herded them all in there when Jason arrived -- and tells them to get back under the beds until she gets back. Tommy tells her to use the squad car radio to call for help. She opens the door, and Sissy's head rolls out.

Megan screams, which gets Jason's attention, but before he can close in on her, Garris ambushes him and beats the crap out of him. Jason fights back, and that's the end of the sheriff.

On the dock, Tommy is getting everything ready. While he's doing that, Jason gets to the kids' cabin, which Megan then runs toward. Jason pops out of the cabin and almost kills Megan. Tommy saves her by calling Jason out on to the dock.

"Come on, maggot head!"

Tommy gets the chains ready to redrown Jason with a big rock. Jason wades out to the boat but disappears before he gets there. Tommy pours gas on the water and lights it, waiting for Jason to resurface. He pops up behind him and wrestles with him on the boat. Tommy struggles to wrap the chains around Jason's neck. Jason cuts Tommy's arm and disappears again. When he pops back up, Tommy lassos him with the chain. The boat breaks, and they both go down. An underwater struggle ensues. Tommy appears to drown, and Jason lets go, letting him rise to the surface.

Megan goes to check on Tommy. She dives in and swims toward him. While she tries to bring him back to shore, Jason grabs her leg and tries to pull her under. She starts the motor on the boat, and Jason gets a propeller to the head/neck/chest. That's gotta smart. A bunch of bloody goo rises, and Megan brings Tommy back on dry land. Is he dead?

I know I'm supposed to care during this very tense moment, but I swear, the only thing that occurs to me is that one of the kids standing near Tommy is wearing a Masters of the Universe shirt with Mekanek on it! Sweet.

Tommy lives!

"It's over. It's finally over. Jason's home."

But if you think about it, it's not quite over. Megan still doesn't know her dad is dead.

Cut to: a sunny day. Beneath the lake's surface, Jason rests. We cut close and he opens his eye. He's still alive. So what the hell was all that blood? A bad cough?

The Alice Cooper song ("The Man Behind the Mask") at the end credits, while dated, is still kinda catchy.

Afterthoughts: I picked this one because at one time, it was my favorite of the series. Watching it now is, not surprisingly, not as much fun. The comedy elements for the most part are OK, with the exception of the paintballers I mentioned earlier. One of them is killed when Jason grabs him by the arm and whirls him into a tree face first. As the victim falls, we see the spot where he hit is a bloody smiley face on the tree. That's just a bit much for me.

One of the kid campers reading "No Exit" was better because it was funny without really interrupting what limited dark mood the movie had going.

And that's probably one of the big problems. This just didn't feel scary at all. It's too paint-by-numbers, I think. Even as a youngster, I knew that this was just to highlight the gore effects and body count. You end up just counting the beats, wondering how each victim is going to get dispatched. But since each death is telegraphed by a mile, even that isn't much fun. There's a big difference between suspense and impassioned anticipation.

There was also a lot of exposition, which I think added to the lack of suspense. It seems as though they felt obligated to explain Jason's history. On one hand, I appreciate this -- just like comic books, every installment is someone's first -- but how much do you really need to explain Jason? He's a nut in a hockey mask who kills people. It's nice to know his motivation, but since it really has no bearing on anything in the movie -- other than him killing everyone at the camp -- it just slows things down.

I didn't notice this back in the day, but the music in the movie just isn't working for me. I don't fault Harry Manfredini, who also did the music for all the other "Friday the 13th" flicks up to this point. I blame the choice of one instrument -- the electric piano. The score is a victim of its time. The normally spooky, atmospheric music, which is quite effective in other parts of the movie, just sounds like a TV Movie of the Week once that electric piano comes in. A minor complaint to be sure, but added to the other things I mentioned, makes the movie a touch less scary.

On the good side, I liked Sheriff Garris. He was one of the few characters who came across more like a person than a placeholder. Seriously, when I was taking note while watching this, I had to go back and forth, pausing so I could get the characters' names. They're usually mentioned at the beginning of the movie, and only a few times after that.

Also, this is the first one where I got the feeling that Jason was really the central character in the series. This really went a long way in building a mythology for the character, something that other movies would build on later.

It's not as much fun as it was when I was younger, but is still a solid entry worth checking out. I found the trailer on YouTube. Check it out for a taste of the fun.