2019

Michael vs. Jason: Evil Emerges (2019, Luke Pedder)

I make this statement with absolute sincerity: a Michael vs. Jason fan movie is a good idea. It doesn’t need actual acting, because neither of the slasher villains are going to be speaking or emoting. Their shapes and the filmmaking are going to do the work. You could do it on zero budget, you just need the masks.

And the Harry Manfredini Friday the 13th music.

Michael vs. Jason: Evil Emerges has some Friday the 13th music, carefully remixed just enough not to be infringing (I assume). They don’t use the Carpenter Halloween music at all because you figure they’d get sued. Good enough for Luc Besson, good enough for some Australian family who really wanted to make a Michael vs. Jason slugfest.

And it is, for a time, a glorious slugfest.

I wasn’t actually expecting one. Not like director Luke Pedder delivers, but for a while, it works really, really well. Stars Joshua Pedder and John Pedder give their all; it’s a wrestling match with some ultra violence. Not gore ultra violence because there’s no money for it, so instead just ultra violent sound effects and editing emphases. It’s cool. It’s kind of dumb, but it’s cool.

Then some Australian hicks show up and threaten the slasher movie villains with guns and bats. It’s all way too predictable and way too unimaginative. Because director Pedder doesn’t seem to get where the film’s strong, where he’s strong—the two villains duking it out.

See, Michael vs. Jason doesn’t just not have a sick mix of Manfredini and Carpenter’s music themes to go over the action, it doesn’t have a single night shot. It all takes place during the day. In this very distinct forest. In Australia. Or in New Jersey, but a New Jersey where the Australians have invaded and run things like a bunch of fascists. They’re killing Michael (John Pedder) without a trial or anything. Jason (Joshua Pedder) has already woken up because his mom told him to get out of bed and kill people.

Michael vs. Jason doesn’t open well. The mom voice is bad, the Jason mask is bad (not the hockey mask, but the full latex mask Joshua Pedder wears so no one could possibly recognize him in the other parts he plays in the short), then comes the Michael stuff and it’s all cribbed from H40, including the too big mask.

The seemingly unintentional charm of it—the actors all covered in one mask or another so they can Fake Shemp, the bad and wordy dialogue, the Australian accents—get it through until Michael inevitably breaks free of his captors. There’s an extended sequence where Michael’s chasing this kid in reflective sunglasses—he’s the boss, probably played by Christopher Goldup, who does the fan movie shot in a woods with no budget equivalent of scenery chewing—and it’s kind of… good. Pedder intuits how to use the reflective sunglasses for effect, even if they’re silly. The whole thing’s silly.

Then Jason shows up and the wrasslin’ starts and Michael vs. Jason coasts to the end. It never gets better than that first fight, where there’s a combination of good choreography, all-in performances from John and Joshua, and some nice cuts from director Luke. The finale has a fake thunderstorm and CGI gunshots. The thunderstorm filter isn’t impressive, but the CGI gunshots are cool until you notice they don’t leave any damage.

I can’t believe I’m getting 600 words out of this one.

Anyway. Michael vs. Jason has a good fight scene, some fine cuts, and the Australian charm factor to get it through its way too long thirty minute runtime. It’s not really a proof of concept, except one to show how director Pedder’s got one heck of a can-do attitude. You’d have to be mildly interested in the concept or potential to be engaged, but Michael vs. Jason is far from a failure. It’s just very hard to recommend. Especially at the thirty minute runtime.

It’d probably work better as just the slasher rumble.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Edited and directed by Luke Pedder; screenplay by Pedder, based on characters created by John Carpenter, Debra Hill, and Victor Miller; released on YouTube.

Starring John Pedder (Michael Myers) and Joshua Pedder (Jason Voorhees); fake shemps: Christopher Goldup, Michael Holmes, Jaxon Green.


Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy (2019, Tim Mahoney)

When I decided to write about Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy, it was because I wanted to make the wee dick move of putting it in Stop Button’s rarely used “Cult” category.

Thought it’d be funny.

Controversy, which never suggests it’ll be anything but writer-director-star Mahoney setting up a flimsy straw man and knocking over while making fun of mainstream scholars and, eventually, Israeli women–Controversy suggests I need a new category for “Bullshit.” And I could get into why I saw Controversy, but eh. I could talk about the manipulative, condescending misinformation ads Mahoney’s partners run “before” the film, but after the theaters showing it cut down the lights on the Fathom Events stream. There’s a lot surrounding Moses Controversy, including the only real “controversy” and the one Mahoney doesn’t even acknowledge… you know, was there really a Moses. Because… probably not? Like, let’s be real.

After trying to identify all of Mahoney’s manipulations, I immediately understood why the “God Awful Movies” guys take notes. It’s hard to keep up with all the blithering nonsense. It’s an assault of it. And there’s a question about how much Mahoney is knowingly manipulating—the whole thing seems to boil down to his dad being a deadbeat and Mahoney wanting the Bible to be true so his superstar single parent mom wasn’t wrong about it. And not just kind of true. Literarily true. The Patterns of Evidence series starts with Exodus, now God Gave Us Alphabets (spoiler, sorry), meaning Mahoney will probably get to parting the Red Sea sometime in… 2040. He’s got a lot to get through. Especially the way he wastes two hours—plus the intermission—to come up with some fanfic about God creating the alphabet and giving it to Joseph so Moses could write the Torah to share with Jews and infect the world. It’s not even as cool as the androids spreading aliens in Alien 6. But, if you wanted to give Mahoney some benefit of doubt, maybe he just wants to acknowledge his mom’s accomplishments.

Might be nice if he acknowledged her actual accomplishments instead of her churchy-ness, but whatever. He might be coming from a good place.

Though, then there’s all the deceitful bullshit he does, like suggest Douglas Petrovich is some kind of art historian and not some Bible school truther. Mahoney doesn’t just do it to cover how his Bible guys don’t have any actual street cred, he also lies about Chris Naunton (Egyptologist for hire, think Indiana Jones if Indiana Jones ran a WordPress site with the ads turned on). Apparently meeting in a building means Mahoney’s interviewee should have that building’s organization mentioned on their credentials.

So it’s probably no surprise when he interviews Orly Goldwasser, the only woman interviewee, he doesn’t do it in her office but outside in Jerusalem. Where he can put subtitles up when she speaks English and then cuts her to appear like she’s a dismissive contrarian. One of the other fine Christians in the audience loudly referred to her as “Goldmonster” when she’d come on screen.

And it’s actually kind of strange, because before Mahoney does the whole “God gave me the ABCs” thing, he seems like he’s going to do “Why don’t you mainstream scholars think ancient Israelites could have come up with an alphabet, are you saving they’re not very smart.” Then cut to Mahoney digging on Goldwasser. Though she doesn’t get the brunt of the attacks. The film’s… ha. Wocka wocka—film. Okay, sure. The film’s two villains are retired professor William G. Dever (I’m actually shocked Mahoney didn’t dig on Dever’s Harvard Ph.D.) and actual sitting George Washington University professor Christopher Rollston. Rollston comes out okay in the end because apparently he does believe Moses was real and could read and write. But until that end, Mahoney takes him through the mud. Not as much as “agnostic but we all know he means atheist” Dever; it’s really mean too because of all the actual professors (well, except Goldwasser who seems to have no idea Mahoney’s going to diss her so bad in the final product), but of most of the professors—Rollston’s the nicest to Mahoney. Yes, the old retired guys like Dever do treat him a little bit like a dope. Because he looks like a dope sitting listening to them. Only, he might not actually be sitting listening to them because Mahoney fakes a lot of reaction shots throughout. He also looks into the camera and narrates, but the teleprompter app on the iPad he carries around the whole movie like he’s a serious interviewer keeps screwing up and he can’t find a rhythm. Or doesn’t know he should have a rhythm. Really, who knows. Who cares.

The heroes in the film are either from Liberty University or Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; neither school has any direct connection with the film. Oh, right. How did I forget.

Mahoney wears around Columbia Sportswear shirts the whole movie with the tags really visible, which is something to pull off because his cameraman often can’t figure out how focus works. On a digital camera. He must have been fiddling with it.

So, yeah, you could assign Mahoney some possible earnestness but then it turns out he’s making a big show out of wearing this brand… who aren’t official sponsors so… is he maybe getting shopping points on their website. I mean, there’s even a shirt with a tag on the back brand identifying. It’s something to see. Something you shouldn’t see, sure, but something to see.

Mahoney’s best pal in the movie is David Rohl (who can’t even bring himself to agree with Mahoney one hundred percent of the time). Rohl is the cool archeologist guy in Egypt or whatever. Where he’s an archeologist doesn’t matter because the only time he takes Mahoney into a cave to look at a relic it’s a CGI recreation. They don’t go to the actual historical site. Because it’s bullshit.

Rohl appears to be the one who came up with Mahoney and Patterns of Evidence’s idea of 1500 BCE Exodus or something. Earlier than real fake historians would’ve put it. So he agrees with Mahoney on the whole God created the alphabet thing and gave it to Joseph who gave it to Moses who Jesus said wrote about him (in that alphabet but, you know, not really) and so it’s all true. The Patterns Mahoney keeps talking about are either his immaterial questions or a linear timeline. He uses the term for both, but really, the timeline thing… it’s incredible. He’s just talking about cause and effect yet can’t seem to… think his way around the idea.

I’m trying to think of anything else before I stop subjecting us all to this response. I didn’t write down all the dog whistle phrases like mainstream but there are a couple other ones. There was one moment the audience laughed when Mahoney pulled one over on the smarties and I laughed too because Mahoney says they answered a question but didn’t actually ask it, just cut their responses the way he liked. Because it’s bullshit.

If I were going to start writing about this kind of crap, I would have to create that “Bullshit” category.

Okay, last thing. Mahoney and his lousy CGI team (you can forgive the million people in the desert who’d never be able to eat long enough to get to Mount Sinai unless they went Donner). They rip off the Raiders of the Lost Ark ark. Not well. But they try. And it’s crap.

Because of course it’s crap.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Mahoney; released by Fathom Events.


Captain Marvel (2019, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck)

Captain Marvel is difficult to encapsulate. Its successes are many, some of its achievements truly singular (the CG-de-aging of Sam Jackson, combined with Jackson’s “youthful” performance, is spectacular), and there’s always something else. Even when you get past all the major things—first female Marvel superhero movie, franchise prequel, “period piece,” inverted character arcs, big plot twists—there’s something else you can find in the plotting or how directors Boden and Fleck stick with a joke. If they make a joke work, they don’t let up on it. Ever. They turn it into character development. Even when it ought to be absurd, they make it work.

But most of all there’s lead Brie Larson, who gets some big moments in the film—sometimes through the grandiose handling, direction-wise, but also sometimes in her performance. Marvel is a fast movie—once Larson crash-lands on Earth, the present action is around a day. And Larson’s got a lot to do in those twenty-four hours. The film doesn’t start on Earth, it starts off on a highly advanced alien planet, where Larson is living and working for Jude Law in a kind of space special forces unit. Larson’s from somewhere else (Earth) but doesn’t remember it (Earth). Larson’s aliens are warring with a different species of alien; this other alien species can shape-shift, which is a problem because they invade planets and take them over and they’ve just followed Larson to Earth.

Where she fairly quickly realizes she’s from Earth, sending on her a quest to find herself, with sidekick Jackson in tow. Jackson’s simultaneously the comic relief and the audience’s view into the action, but only for tying in the latter (sorry, earlier) Marvel movies. Who knows what he actually looked like when acting the scenes, but Jackson’s performance is awesome. He does great with the “aliens are real” thing, he does great as the sidekick. He and Larson are wonderful together, even though it’s mostly just for the smiles and laughs. Boden and Fleck take all the smiles they can get. Not every laugh, but definitely all the smiles. Captain Marvel, even with its harshness, is fun.

Often that fun comes from Larson’s wiseass lead, who might not remember anything about her life on Earth but still remembers how to be a good Earth movie wiseass. The wiseass stuff is never to deflect from the emotion either. It informs the character and performance; there’s no avoidance, not even when the film could get away with it thanks to the amnesia angle. Marvel takes the right parts of itself seriously.

Like the friendship between Larson and Lashana Lynch. There’s a lot left unsaid in the film, which is fine as it’s an action-packed superhero movie with warring aliens and not a character drama, but Larson and Lynch quickly work up a great onscreen rapport. It’s not as fun as Larson’s interactions with Jackson, but it’s part of where the film finds its emotional sincerity. Captain Marvel never leverages the emotional sincerity; for example, when there’s danger, Boden and Fleck will defuse it (quickly) with a laugh instead. The defusing doesn’t get rid of the emotional sincerity either, though some of that emotional sincerity is the only way the filmmakers can get away with the plot twists. It helps Larson is, you know, a seemingly indestructible superhero.

Lynch has a daughter, Akira Akbar, who used to know Larson too. Lynch and Akbar come into the film in the middle, so it’s a surprise how much influence Akbar’s going to have on Larson’s character arc (and performance). Because until the big interstellar finale, there’s a lot of focus on Larson’s reaction to recent events. Often for laughs, sometimes for narrative, but her character is fairly static. Sure, she’s on a quest for information but she’s got no idea the relevance of that information. Just it has something to do with Annette Bening.

Bening is—for the most part—just the personification of this alien A.I. god when it communicates with Larson. Everyone sees something different when synced with the A.I. god. Larson sees a Bening avatar and eventually tracks down the real Bening. Bening is both clue and solution to Larson’s puzzle. Larson doesn’t have all the pieces or the box to guide her putting them together—and the puzzle’s fairly simple (again, it’s an action-packed superhero movie with space aliens) but Larson brings more than enough in the performance department. Pretty much everyone brings the necessary gravitas then takes it up a notch.

Marvel is always an effective film, in no small part thanks to its cast and the direction of that cast. Bening and Law are quite good (though Bening’s far better with even less “character” than Law), Lynch and Akbar are good, Ben Mendelsohn is awesome as the leader of the bad aliens (the shape-shifters). His performance—despite constant special effects and makeup—is understated, reserved. Even with the constant element of surprise—he’s a shape-shifter, after all—Mendelsohn’s performance is tight. Plus he gets some laughs, usually at Jackson’s expense.

Larson’s really good. Plot-wise, nothing Marvel throws at her slows her down. Larson’s able to find the sincerity in the broad dramatic strokes. Like the books, sincere performances… they do a lot. Larson’s particularly great with both Lynch and Akbar, implying a forgotten familiarity counter to her overt behaviors in a moment.

And the supporting cast of ragtag aliens and Men in Black (including a de-aged Clark Gregg in a fine shoe-in) is all effective. They don’t need to do much. Larson, Jackson, Mendelsohn, Lynch… they’ve got it covered.

Technically, the film’s just as strong. The CG is all excellent, the photography (from Ben Davis) is good, ditto Debbie Berman and Elliot Graham’s editing. Andy Nicholson’s production design—of nineties Earth in particular—is good. Basically everything except Pinar Toprak’s score, which often feels too small for such a big film. It’s not bad music, sometimes it’s really effective, but it’s also yet another indistinct Marvel superhero movie score. It’s all about accompanying the action, not guiding it, which is a whole other discussion. Occasionally it’s really spot on, but mostly it’s just there.

Kind of like the nineties pop music. It sort of works—having grunge-y songs for the 1994-set act—but it seems like a big miss Boden and Fleck never explore, you know, what kind of music Larson would’ve liked when she was on Earth and not just whatever is time-period appropriate.

Doesn’t Marvel czar and Marvel producer Kevin Feige like music?

Anyway.

Captain Marvel. It sets out to do a lot of things and succeeds in all of them. The film puts the galaxy on Larson’s shoulders; she deadlifts with it. Boden and Fleck have a wonderful way of making it fun for the audience when they take a moment to check a requisite plot point box. They—Larson, Boden, and Fleck–and the hundred animators who made Samuel L. Jackson, well, Sam Jackson again—do something special with Captain Marvel.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck; screenplay by Boden, Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, based on a story by Nicole Perlman, Meg LeFauve, Boden, Fleck, and Robertson-Dworet, and the Marvel Comics character created by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan; director of photography, Ben Davis; edited by Debbie Berman and Elliot Graham; music by Pinar Toprak; production designer, Andy Nicholson; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Brie Larson (Vers), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Ben Mendelsohn (Talos), Jude Law (Yon-Rogg), Lashana Lynch (Maria Rambeau), Akira Akbar (Monica Rambeau), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Gemma Chan (Minn-Erva), Djimon Hounsou (Korath), Lee Pace (Ronan), and Annette Bening (Supreme Intelligence).


Moon Knight (2019, Caden Butera)

Technically, Moon Knight is awesome. Excellent composition, photography, editing. Director Butera also edits, also handles some of the photography. Unfortunately he also wrote the script, which is terrible.

Moon Knight is so terrible outside those technical qualities–sadly, costuming is not one of its strong suits either (no pun intended)–I’m going to take the time to set up a joke. Moon Knight, the Marvel Comics character (Moon Knight is a fan film, with technical qualities and special effects on par with most television), has never been popular. Marvel got forty issues out of the character in the early eighties but he’s never really caught on. He’s on his sixth series, which you’d think was pretty good but there’s still no crossover appeal.

Basically he’s a Marvel Comics Batman, just without the sidekicks and gadgets. He just beats up criminals at night in an outfit. A better outfit than what Butera uses here.

Anyway. So this fan film Moon Knight does the most important thing a Moon Knight fan film could do–it shows why you’ll never have crossover success with the property. Okay, so not a “ha ha” joke, but a sad one. Moon Knight shows exactly why no one would ever want to make a real Moon Knight movie.

Lead Tim Altevers doesn’t have much dialogue, but he’s got constant, terrible narration. Apparently a lady friend died or left him because he’s such a broody guy and so he tracks down mobsters and kills them. Some of them. Others get away to plot their revenge. All of the mob guys–the bosses and the little guys–are complete scum. Butera uses some “expository shortcuts” to get the characters there. The shortcuts are increasingly grotesque misogynistic rants. It’s utterly pointless, poorly written, and just a bad thing. At that point it becomes clear no matter how good Moon Knight can look, it’s never going to be any good.

Things get worse once Altevers puts on his silly costume and goes out to kill a bunch of mob guys outside a Habitat for Humanity ReStore (based on the truck). The fight direction is… okay, but not great. The special effects–lots of gore action–are good. The problem at this point is mostly Rylan Butera’s music, which actually has some good moments early on then gets bad then terrible then worse. Then goes on for another six minutes.

The script and superhero costume are a disaster. The music is a disaster–especially since if they’d gone heavy metal with Altevers’s vigilante spree killing it might’ve been a great scene, but whatever.

Moon Knight is a great example of excellent low budget, amateur filmmaking as well as a great example of terrible lower budget, amateur films. But it does show exactly what’s wrong with the comic book property getting exploited in other media.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed and edited by Caden Butera; screenplay by Butera, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Doug Moench and Don Perlin; directors of photography, Dashawn Bedford and Butera; music by Rylan Butera; produced by Butera and Joe Cruzaedo Wagner.

Starring Tim Altevers (Moon Knight / Marc Spector), Bill Bancroft (Thug Bill), John Risky Boltz (Thug Risky), Morcedes Brown (Bushman), and Ben Burke (Thug Ben).


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