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Entries in bruce campbell (2)

Thursday
Apr042013

Evil Dead

Let’s just answer this question now. No, “Evil Dead” is not the “most terrifying film you will ever experience,” as its posters would lead you to believe. It would be tough to proclaim it even as the most terrifying film in recent memory, given the release of the excellent “Sinister” not too long ago. Perhaps the marketing for the movie wasn’t the wisest, unrealistically setting a bar the film was not likely to achieve. It’s a good thing you don’t judge a movie by its marketing though, because “Evil Dead” is nonetheless a frightening experience, one that will unnerve you, make you feel uncomfortable and perhaps even sicken you.

The story, as one might expect, is of little consequence, though it gives off the air of importance with its heavy set-up. Mia (Jane Levy) is a coke addict. She tried to kick the habit a number of times, but never could, so she and her friends, along with her brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), head out to a cabin in the woods to recover, away from the civilization that exposed her to the drug. On one hand, this is a refreshing start. Most horror movies give little reason as to why a group of friends isolate themselves in some remote area beyond a cheap weekend-long party where drug use is encouraged. The opposite is true here, but it raises some issues with the film as a whole.

Although cliché, the no-reason set-up in something like the “Friday the 13th” remake promises nothing special. It typically puts the movie on a level of self-awareness, fully cognizant of what it is and what it intends to accomplish. But when a film sets up these plot threads and tries to give these characters back stories (however thin they may be), they must be followed through on. “Evil Dead” doesn’t do this, resulting in a screenplay that’s fresh with horror movie scares, but narratively inconsistent. Tack on a really lazy back story about Mia and David’s mother who died years ago and characters that are lacking in real personalities and you have a movie that gives you little reason to care.

So the fact that you still do is astonishing. It’s a testament to the craft of its making, which relies heavily on ambiance, lighting and shadows to deliver its thrills. While not devoid of a few cheap jump scares, “Evil Dead” is surprisingly restrained, in this regard at least. It’s more about things slowly crawling out of the shadows and building an atmosphere than it is about the “Gotcha!” moments so many horror movies rely on these days. Of course, when it comes to the violence, it’s another story altogether.

Although the original film and its sequels were indeed violent, their violence was one of two things: over-the-top or cheeky. It was never something to look away from or be disgusted by. This movie, on the other hand, is brutal. Its violence is absolutely relentless and, aside from a moment or two, very graphic, uncomfortably so at times. The reason is because the violence is visceral. Although most likely not to these extremes, you’ll know what some of this feels like. Most don’t know what it’s like to have something go through your arm, but we all know what it’s like to get a deep cut. Although one is clearly more painful than the other, the film wisely opts for the one we’ve felt, allowing us to recall our own pain while we watch those onscreen experience it. It’s not something everyone will enjoy, but it’s beneficial to a movie that obviously seeks to get some kind of reaction from its audience.

Clearly, this isn’t your 1981 “Evil Dead.” This is its own evil beast. The original was a scary movie, but it was also more humorous, both intentionally and unintentionally thanks to its campiness and low budget. There’s nothing funny about this. Any laughter you hear in the theater is most likely due to general uneasiness. There is some inherent amusement in the characters’ silly logic—first, they remark that it smells like something died in there, then they see a dried up pool of blood leading to the cellar, so their first thought is, “Yeah, let’s go down there”—but these are necessary elements that are expected in this genre, no matter how dumb they may be.

“Evil Dead” isn’t always pleasant, but horror movies needn’t be. The important thing is that it doesn’t feel exploitive like something like “The Human Centipede.” When dealing with this concept and source material, such chaos and brutality are warranted and even necessary in its telling. Admittedly, it’s a bit difficult to watch a movie like this when last year’s “Cabin in the Woods” so brilliantly skewered the subgenre, but it’s hard to deny its technical proficiency. There’s something here almost any horror aficionado will enjoy and to those fans of the original, who no doubt fear this will not live up to the “Evil Dead” name, rest assured that it does, just in a different way (and there are plenty of nods to those movies; listen closely and you might hear an echo of Bruce Campbell’s dialogue from the original). When you factor in the post-credits tease that I dare not give away, it gives fans plenty to be excited for. This franchise is in good hands and if Sam Raimi does indeed follow through on his promise of a fourth “Evil Dead,” this film will surely complement it nicely.

Evil Dead receives 3.5/5

Friday
Mar082013

Oz the Great and Powerful

“The Wizard of Oz” is without question one of the most magical movies ever made. It’s so lively and warm and its imagination so grand that it has remained a cinematic staple for over seven decades. So many movies have come and gone hoping to capture even a shred of its wonder, but most have failed (there’s a reason it’s in the American Film Institute’s top 10 movies of all time). To expect them to succeed would be unreasonable when the movies in question aren’t related, but when you put out “Oz the Great and Powerful,” the officially unofficial prequel to “The Wizard of Oz” (which itself had an unofficial 1985 sequel, “Return to Oz”), it’s impossible to not expect something special. Director Sam Raimi has done his best bringing this world to life, but his best proves to be futile. Despite some wondrous moments, “Oz the Great and Powerful” feels a tad dull.

The story begins in Kansas in 1905 with a traveling circus magician named Oscar, or Oz for short (James Franco). He’s a blatant womanizer, which gets him into trouble with the circus strong man. In a desperate attempt to flee, Oz jumps in a hot air balloon and takes off. Unfortunately, it’s right towards a tornado. After some close calls, he finds himself in a colorful place the likes he’s never seen. There he meets Theodora (Mila Kunis) who explains that he’s in the land of Oz and is the wizard that was prophesied to appear and defeat the Wicked Witch. The people of Oz think he has magical powers, though he knows they’re only tricks, but he plays along anyway after being told that if he defeats the witch, he’ll become king and own all the gold in the land.

The first thing a discerning viewer will notice is that “Oz the Great and Powerful” is far more playful than the trailers let on. This is both a strength and a detriment to the film, a strength because the world of Oz is a charming place and should have a charming tone, but a detriment because when the film does go dark, it doesn’t gel well. The two parts separated from each other are greater than when combined into a whole, which leads to tonal problems and a sense that Raimi didn’t really know what direction he wanted to take his movie in, which has always been his primary flaw as a director (albeit a small one in a streak of mostly solid work). The finale to the film is terrific and brings its themes full circle, but the way those themes are handled in such stark contrast to each other in the two halves make something that is wildly uneven.

What could have saved the film, despite a narrative that doesn’t form a cohesive whole, is its visuals. Wow the viewer with something to gawk at and you can effectively obscure a narrative that isn’t all that interesting. Unfortunately, “Oz the Great and Powerful” feels like an odd amalgamation of live action and a half-finished video game. Take, for example, Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” which nailed its look, regardless of what one might think of the film’s overall quality. It reached into the far corners of the imagination and created something that was visually mesmerizing. “Oz the Great and Powerful,” on the other hand, is half baked, at a strange middle ground where it isn’t realistic enough for the actors to blend in convincingly and not imaginative enough to make up for it. The best CGI heavy movies create the illusion that the actors are aware of their surroundings and are interacting with them appropriately. Here’s, it’s plainly obvious they aren’t, which could be due to poor performances that didn’t take the time to hear the details, poor direction that didn’t take the time to give them the details or poor post production rending that didn’t take the time to actually create the details. Who is to blame is anybody’s guess.

Rounding out an altogether disappointing movie are some casting decisions that are so bad, they’re hard to believe they were even considered, much less decided upon. If I were to reveal the most blatant, it would be considered a spoiler, but audiences across the world will undoubtedly groan when the big reveal happens, a reveal that really isn’t all that surprising to begin with. To put things into perspective, the movie isn’t all that bad, but rather the missteps are so disappointing that it’s hard not to focus on them. The film is actually kind of charming and funny and the transition from a black and white 1.37:1 aspect ratio to a brightly colored 2.39:1 is breathtaking (though it doesn’t hold a candle to the infamous transition from sepia to Technicolor in “The Wizard of Oz”), but it’s missing that magic that was so prevalent in the original film. It simply needed something more and was missing nearly all of it.

Oz the Great and Powerful receives 2/5