Category Archives: J

Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer

Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer (2007): Canada – directed by Jon Knautz

Rated R by the MPAA – contains violence, gore, language

Note: As I will be out of the country for a period of time, I have decided to inflict upon anyone who reads these reviews a sampling of my earlier work.  These will be shorter, less formal, poorly written, and generally crappy.  They will lack stills and links, and I will apologize in advance for their poor quality.  They have received minor edits to (very slightly) improve readability.  Enjoy.

(review originally published 10/26/08)

I didn’t realize it at the time, but Jack Brooks is done by the same couple guys who made Still Life, a very nice short film.  I remember watching it a while back and quite enjoying it.  Nice and violent for a short, too.  That must have been how I heard about Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer.  It’s not a bad thing that I did, either, as it’s a rather enjoyable low-budget horror.  Now, I say low budget, but that comes more because the movie doesn’t try to overreach itself, not because the effects are bad.  In fact, the effects (which according to IMDb use no CGI) are quite good.  They did things the old fashioned way: latex and plenty of colored corn syrup.  While the movie wasn’t quite what I expected, if you go in expecting something closer to what it is you might enjoy it more.

The title makes it sound like there’s a guy who goes around killing monsters.  Not exactly the case.  The film opens with a couple monster scenes, the second of which involves a young boy witnessing his family getting torn to shreds by a forest troll.  We learn his name is Jack Brooks, and now that he’s all grown up he has an anger problem.  Fact is, he punches out just about everyone that pisses him off. And he gets pissed off quickly.  So he goes about life as a plumber (yes, Jack the Plumber), has a crappy college girlfriend, and pops in on his shrink occasionally, mostly to yell at him.  Now it may seem that Jack is an obnoxious prat, but he’s played well enough by Trevor Matthews that he remains rather likeable.

His girlfriend has made him go to an evening chemistry class, so he does.  The professor is a nerdy Robert Englund, who one day has plumbing issues out at his old house on the hill.  To sum up the remainder of the movie briefly (in order to avoid too many spoilers), there’s an evil Japanese demon heart that the professor finds that threatens to unleash evil in the chemistry class and on toward the end of the movie Jack discovers the reason the movie is called Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer.

So, keep in mind that this isn’t Evil Dead reborn.  Nor is it like the graphic novel series Hack/Slash, where the duo slices and dices serial killers.  It is more like an origin story of this monster slayer, which means that the first hour of the film is relatively boring, keeping mostly to his ordinary life.

That doesn’t mean it’s bad.  It’s quite enjoyable, actually.  It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but doesn’t try too hard to be witty or self-absorbed, either.  There are a couple annoying characters who have difficulty acting at the same level as the rest of the cast . Englund is fun in his small but important role.  And the violence is fun, even though it sometimes veers into made-for-Sci-Fi channel territory.  Overall, not a bad way to spend 85 minutes watching some gore fly with some friends.

Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder (1990): United States – directed by Adrian Lyne

Rated R by the MPAA – contains violence, language, nudity, sexual content, disturbing images

Jacob’s Ladder is a conventional story told in a pleasantly unconventional fashion, at least until the disappointing climax.  There is so much to love in the film that it is painful to admit that the entire film almost falls apart with an overly plain ending.

The film opens in Vietnam; helicopters are floating across the horizon as a small squadron of men relaxes.  Suddenly there is a surprise attack, and as the men turn to face the enemy they realize something else is wrong.  Some of them start convulsing and going into shock.  One man runs for the woods where he is promptly bayoneted.

Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) wakes up on a subway train.  An old lady scowls at him and a homeless man sleeping on a bench suddenly sprouts a tentacle.  Singer disembarks at the next station only to find that there is no one there and all exits are barred.  Eventually he finds his way home to his girlfriend, Jezzie (Elizabeth Peña).  He is comforted and soon feels better.

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Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple

Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006): United States – directed by Stanley Nelson

Not rated by the MPAA – contains language, disturbing content, some sexual dialogue, violence, mature themes

There are a lot of horror movies out there, and I’ve seen my share of the no-budget and the classic and the epic.  Some have been scary, some disturbing, some unsettling.  But few have been as horrifying as Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, a film that is not even a horror movie.  As a documentary it is more potent and devastating than any dramatization of the events could ever be.

There’s nothing commercial or mainstream in Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple; the title says it all.  The film merely uses archival footage and stills to complement interviews with ex-Peoples Temple members, including Jim Jones Jr., a black man that Jones and his wife adopted for his rainbow family.  The film opens up with a reminder of the events of November 18, 1978, and archive footage of Jones preaching.  “You want me to be your father?” he says.  “I can be your father.  You want me to be your savior?  I can be your savior.  You want me to be your god?  I can be your god.”

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Jurassic Park III

Jurassic Park III (2001): United States – directed by Joe Johnston

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains violence and blood

Watching Jurassic Park III in the theater, as a high-schooler, with a friend, as a fan of the previous iterations (especially the books, but even enjoying the poorness of The Lost World: Jurassic Park), I did enjoy the film.  There were dinosaurs, and they chomped on people.  There were new dinosaurs, and new people, and one familiar face, and that was about it.  I realized that it wasn’t a great film, but I did enjoy it.

Watching it again now it becomes apparent that it wouldn’t have had a theatrical release if it hadn’t had “Jurassic Park” in the title and been executive-produced by Steven Spielberg.  Nine years after its theatrical run it looks like a SyFy movie-of-the-week, with poor dialogue, a terrible script, stupid characters, and rather weak special effects.

The plot is standard and cookie-cutter.  A group of people get stuck on an island that’s overrun with dinosaurs.  But this is the second island from the original Jurassic Park movie [review here], and referenced in The Lost World: Jurassic Park.  Therefore, the film re-introduces Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neil), the paleontologist who suffered through the island the previous two times.  A brief scene reunites him with Dr. Sattler (Laura Dern), the paleobotanist from previous outings.  She has married another man and has an adorable young boy, so we know that this is her cameo and nothing more.

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Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park (1993): United States – directed by Steven Spielberg

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some violence and scary moments, and a small amount of language

I have loved Michael Crichton’s dinosaur stories for quite some time.  Reading The Lost World as a twelve-year old was thrilling, and following it up by reading the original story was likewise engrossing.  I still think I have read the books more times than I’ve seen the films.

When we were in America one year, for sixth grade, I wanted desperately to see Spielberg’s new movie, The Lost World: Jurassic Park.  There was a copy at the library and I can recall sitting down with my dad to watch it.  The story turned out to be different than I had expected from reading the novel, and somewhat more jerky and black-and-white.  It was still engaging, even if it turned out to be the 1925 adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (it’s a good thing it wasn’t the 1960 atrocity bearing the same title [review here]).

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Jesus Camp

Jesus Camp (2006): United States – directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains mature themes and scary people

Not many films, especially documentaries, have provoked as strong a reaction as Jesus Camp.  The film is rather controversial, as it practically shows a group of young Christian Jihadists.  It concerns a right wing group of fundamentalist Evangelical Christians who are raising their children to fight a war against the devil and culture.  This is where the reviewing gets tricky.  Do I talk about the film and the people it presents, or do I look at the theology and ideas presented by the folks in the movie?

First, a brief snapshot of the film.  It follows Becky Fischer as she leads a group of kids through a Jesus Camp that she holds in North Dakota every year.  She explains some of her reasoning for why she teaches them what she does and why it’s so essential.  She explains how she uses the kids to put beliefs in them so they can be an army ready to combat the evils in modern America.

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Julien Donkey-Boy

Julien Donkey-Boy (1999): United States – directed by Harmony Korine (uncredited)

Rated R by the MPAA – contains language and disturbing themes and content

Julien Donkey-Boy, Harmony Korine’s second feature after Gummo [review here] is rather different from his debut.  It’s interesting to note that it is also called Dogme #6, the sixth of the Dogme films.  It has a certificate at the beginning certifying that it’s a Dogme film.  Dogme films were created by a couple Dutch filmmakers, Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vintenberg, and the goal was to reduce film to its most essential elements.  No props were to be brought in, no artificial light could be used, only diagetic sound (ie. no soundtrack, all sound and music is happening on the screen) only hand held cameras, etc.  The concept is interesting, but the execution is usually less than engaging, although the first Dogme, Festen (The Celebration), has a powerful story backing up its unique production.

With Julien Donkey-Boy Korine opted for low-quality cameras, most of them handheld, and the film looks terrible.  Many of the images are so out of focus or fuzzy that they merely suggest what is happening and the viewer’s brain has to fill in the pieces.  This isn’t a bad technique for experimental short films, or Stan Brakhage’s work, but it is distracting and detrimental to a feature film.

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Jail Bait

Jail Bait (1954): United States – directed by Edward D. Wood Jr.

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some mild violence and sly, semi-nudity

Jail Bait is one of the movies made by the infamous Ed Wood, whose life was chronicled in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood [review here].  For a director known only by the awful movies he created, Ed Wood certainly deserves the recognition.  Jail Bait is no exception, and possibly even worse than Plan 9 from Outer Space.

One of the primary reasons why this movie is so terrible is the plot.  The title refers to a gun, which is the reason a kid named Don (Clancy Malone) gets thrown in jail.  His sister and father (who’s a respected plastic surgeon) look out for him but he’s a rebel and old enough (21 years old) to mess up things for himself.  So he carries around a gun and gets mixed up with a real gangster.  They rob a theater and Don shoots and kills the night guard.  They run for it, escaping the scene of the crime, but soon Don wants to go to the police to confess.  He’s not a bad kid, he’s just a bit mixed up.

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Juno

Juno (2007): United States – directed by Jason Reitman

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains language, sexual content, and brief moments of gore

Juno is a definitive moment in the history of the indie film.  It took all that came before it, in the vein of films like Garden State, and made the genre entirely its own.  It was not the first indie film, but from this point on any quirky, independent movie with a hip, cool soundtrack will be compared to Juno.

This is not necessarily a bad thing.  I remember enjoying Juno greatly when it first came out.  Not as much as my wife, whose fault it is that we have watched it several times since.  On multiple viewings, however, it has not held up as well as its potent first impression.

Juno is a very snappy picture, with dialogue and a screenplay that have been honed.  Diablo Cody may have won the Best Screenplay Oscar riding on the hype Juno had been gathering, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a very taut script.  I can understand how some of the dialogue might be too hip, witty, and sharp for some people to find believable, but if you sit down without any preconceived notions you will probably enjoy the film.

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Jingle All the Way

Jingle All the Way (1996): United States – directed by Brian Levant

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains cartoony violence, mild language and Sinbad

I imagine that the only reason to watch this movie is for Arnold Schwarzenegger.  His performance is campy and ridiculous, which is fine since the whole movie is ridiculous and campy.

Schwarzenegger plays Howard Langston, a family man.  Or, he would be if he didn’t spend so much time schmoozing with clients of his mattress business.  His work prevents him from spending much time with his wife, Liz (Rita Wilson, best known for being Tom Hanks’ wife), and son, Jamie (Jake Lloyd, best know for being slightly less annoying than Jar-Jar Binks).  Howard misses Jamie’s karate class and instills a fear inside the kid that he will mess up Christmas.

There’s only one thing Jamie, and every other boy in the world, wants for Christmas.  Lust for the new Turbo Man doll has reached a fever pitch and they are sold out everywhere.  Of course, Howard doesn’t know this when he promises to get one for Jamie for Christmas and tells Liz that he has already procured the toy.

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