Thursday, April 18, 2013

Evil Dead

Sam Raimi's 1981 film, The Evil Dead, is probably the B-movie horror film of B-movie horror films for the current generation of film lovers. If memory serves, the first film in the series was a straight-up campy, horror film. The second was a partial remake of the first on a somewhat bigger budget, but with more slapstick humor and gags. The third film, arguably as reverred and famous as the first, was a wacky horror-fantasy send-up. I haven't admittedly read much on on Raimi's rememberance and opinions on the first, but I'm sure even he could agree- that film and its sequels were not meant to be thought provoking (that is more in the realm of The Exorcist or even The Cabin in the Woods), but instead the franchise wanted to deliver a fun time with Bruce Campbell making us laugh with a one-liner or cheer with a bloody beatdown.

I had the chance to see an unrrated trailer/sizzle-reel at New York Comic-Con in October where Bruce Campbell lamented that he and Raimi had longed to remake and reimagine the first film with a modern sensibility and bigger budget. They chose short-film director Fede Alvarez, who commented to the crowd (paraphrasing here), "when Sam Raimi calls and asks if you want to remake The Evil Dead, you don't say [in a nasely voice] 'no, I'm not a fan of remakes', because as an up-and-coming director you thank the opportunity and then you go and make the best damn remake you can." I for one, think he suceeded.

The screenplay, written by Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues and doctored by Diablo Cody, does have some substance to it. The characters have enough distinguishing characteristics to be developed and move along with the story. That being said, this movie (like Raimi's original series) understands what kind of film 'it' is. This is a widely-released horror movie about five twenty-somethings going to an abandoned satanic cabin to be met with bloody downfalls. At a certain point, the characters are interchangable, but the filmmakers understand this and hope to scare, rattle, and concern you with numerous techniques associated with the horror genre- squirting blood, gruesome make-up, sometimes-practical/sometimes-computer generated visual effects, careful editing and sound design, etc. Raimi has been a fantastic visual storyteller whether he was making Spider-Man or A Simple Plan, and here, Alvarez channels his predecessor's energy. There are crazy and unexpected camera angles and shots. The gore is plenty. The nods to the original are not tongue-in-cheek, but are instead serving the horrificly fun experience of this film.

This movie is certainly sadistic, but not like Hostel or Saw. Those were films/franchises that just wanted to deliver shock and awe for our nightmares. Evil Dead, like its original, just wants to be fun and for us to have a fun (bloody) time.

Jeff Who Lives at Home

The latest film from Jay and Mark Duplass can be described as sweet, whimsical, and warm. Like their previous films The Puffy Chair and Cyrus, this story deals with familial ties with the protagonists looking for some purpose at a random and seemingly irregular moments of their daily lives. Jeff Who Lives at Home starts with an opening montage of photographs from a family's home, set to a playful tune by composer Michael Andrews, as letters re-arrange themselves from name to name for the film's credits. Of all the films this reminded me of, I found myself thinking of the early 90's comedy Mrs. Doubtfire with Robin Williams. It had a similar opening and that was very much a movie about family and love and second chances and connections. Not to call this the Duplass Bros. version of a Robin Williams comedy, but this is a much more mature work about family that does show traces of the DNA of the directors' previous films, but also they are perhaps growing as storytellers. 

Jeff (played by the lankishly tall Jason Segel) sits at home in his mother's basement, gets high, and watches Signs (the movie starring "Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin" as he proclaims it). He gets an incorrectly dialed call from a guy looking for someone named Kevin and shortly thereafter his mother, Sharon (Susan Sarandon), calls and asks Jeff to run to the store and pick up some glue. Jeff's brother, Pat (Ed Helms, channeling a more in-check aggression from The Office and The Hangover) is having marital problems with Linda (Judy Greer, once again playing a misunderstood partner) and spends part of the day trying to figure out if his wife is cheating on him. The two brothers run into each other, the mother is having her own crisis of aging, cars are crashed, basketball is played, doors are broken, and the film culminates in a melodramatic moment that leaves every character with a greater understanding of themselves and each other.

This is interesting to me on a few levels. Jeff (partially because he is a stoner, partially because he is a sensitive guy... two elements that Segel can perfectly meld), walks around town with his brother and others trying to explain how the movie Signs is really a metaphor for purpose and life and is trying to say something much grander about ourselves and our existence like most films do. Jeff claims there are signs all throughout his day such as the name "Kevin" appearing on a basketball player's jersey or a truck. Is is just coincidence as Pat believes or like the actual narrative of the movie itself, will life culminate in a greater and fulfilling moment of clarity?

The Duplass Bros., who are a part of the film-moment known as Mumblecore along with Lynne Shelton and others, deliver a deep thinking but not as arduous story. Perhaps a better way to describe it would be a film with complexity minus intensity. The brothers have a better understanding of how to express their thoughts visually with each movie, but despite less shakey-ness and zooming, there are a few moments that remind us that there is a camera being used to observe the action. However, in this case, that might add a whole other layer to be winked at to the audience.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Oz: The Great and Powerful

Real quick... 

Another live-action/CGI hybrid of a Disney produced family-adventure film, this time directed by the ever-versatile Sam Raimi (from Evil Dead to A Simple Plan to Spider-Man). It's several notches above Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland which felt lifeless at times, but as opposed to say The Avengers, this film is still lacking "blockbuster-depth". That said, Oz: The Great and Powerful is a lot of fun. There are many winks to Victor Fleming's 1939 classic (black and white opening, singing munchkins, a cowardly lion, "my pretty"), but is there a certain dumbing down in the eyes of a "mature" audience when it comes to making this type of family film?

Dumbing and mature are really relative terms that I'm just using to make a generalization. Just because a movie is made for kids versus adults versus a complete family doesn't invalidate the work. I can only talk about it from how I saw it, which summed up would be a fun film, but certain aspects feel one-note or even bland. For such a great cast (compromised of actors that look to be committed and enjoying themselves), the characters they portray are somewhat simple even as they go through an arc of change and adjustment. Then again, I couldn't be bothered much by that. I was enjoying the action and thrills and admittedly the barrage of visual effects to be bothered too much by less-than-strong development.