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Entries in Remake (18)

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
Oct052012

Frankenweenie

Tim Burton is one of those love-him-or-hate-him types of directors. Some people argue that he’s doing the same thing over and over again and his frequent collaborations with Johnny Depp are growing stale, while others argue that their dark, Gothic visuals and creepy atmosphere feel just right. I suppose I'm in the latter group. His bizarre, otherworldly imagination has managed to create some unique characters and settings that instantly stand out and I’ve always been fascinated by what he conjures up, to the point where I would live in the world of Corpse Bride or Edward Scissorhands if I could. I’ve been a Burton apologist for years, despite a few stumbles (the less said about his ill-advised 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes, the better), but I can’t get behind his latest, Frankenweenie, a stop motion remake of his 1984 live action short of the same name. At first glance, it looks like more of what we love (or hate) about Burton—his dark sensibilities, morbid humor and fascination with death are all prominent—but it lacks creativity and care. After ParaNorman so beautifully nailed similar material earlier this year, Frankenweenie just feels kind of lazy.

In Burton’s homage to classic monster movies, Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) has no friends. His only real companion is his dog, Sparky, whom he loves dearly. He does nearly everything with him, which prompts his father (voiced by Martin Short) to convince him to take part in an extracurricular activity: baseball. While practicing one day, Victor sends a ball flying out of the park and into the road. Sparky, as most dogs would do, breaks free from his leash and goes chasing it. Unfortunately, this leads to his demise. Victor is crushed, but when he learns from his science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau), how electricity can animate corpses, he digs up Sparky and performs an experiment. Next thing he knows, Sparky is up and about, but his resurrection ends up causing problems for the town, not the least of which come from Victor’s classmates, who see this opportunity as a way to win the upcoming school science fair.

The idea behind Frankenweenie isn’t a particularly interesting one: pay homage to classic monster movies, specifically Frankenstein, except set it in 1940’s suburbia and make it a reassembled dog instead of a person. This thin concept played out surprisingly well in 1984, mainly due to the short’s 30 minute runtime, but expanding on the concept in a meaningful way has proven to be a difficult venture. Although rough around the edges, no doubt due to Burton’s lack of directorial experience at the time, that short managed to work on a more relatable level and focused on the simple story of the love between a boy and his dog—almost like a more twisted version of Marley & Me. This animated remake tries to retain that quality, but squanders it by going over the rails in the back half of the picture. It transitions from that simple, but effective, boy and his dog tale to a monster movie amalgamation, which ups the excitement, but strips away the meaning. Unfortunately for the movie, the latter is far more important than the former.

There are a few interesting nods to past genre movies, including Sparky’s female companion, who is zapped with enough electricity to create a couple of white streaks in her hair, à la the Bride of Frankenstein, and a character named Edgar (voiced by Atticus Shaffer), who is essentially the standard “Igor” character, complete with hissing voice and hunchback, but the majority of the movie plays it too safe. For the first half of the film or so, it follows so closely to Burton’s original short that it fails to find a voice of its own, instead opting to recreate certain scenes and shots down to the letter. The original was limited due to budget and time constraints, so its occasional rough patch was understandable, but here, the sky’s the limit. With animation, what you can do is limited only to your imagination, but Frankenweenie has a surprising lack of it.

Although a pretty lackluster picture on its own, this is, of course, in comparison to August’s brilliant ParaNorman, a movie that managed to include scares, laughs, emotion, beauty and genre references—all of which Frankenweenie strives for as well—and did it in a unique and satisfying way. To top it all off, that movie had a wonderful message about tolerance and being yourself in the face of adversity. Frankenweenie tells that if someone or something they love dies, you can just bring it back to life, an irresponsible message if ever there was one. It may keep the kids in the audience happy as the credits roll, but it will ultimately create an unhealthy confusion by the very notion of death.

Few movies accessible to children have the guts to make death a central theme. This does and then squanders an opportunity to say something about it. Although the animation is solid and the black and white visuals are both striking and contextually fitting, Frankenweenie’s story and themes are a mess. It’s a blunder that worked relatively well in a more focused half hour form, but feels exhausted at 87 minutes. If not for Planet of the Apes, it would be the absolute worst thing Tim Burton has ever done. If doesn’t matter if your view of the man is positive or borderline contemptible. Frankenweenie is a horrible failure either way.

Frankenweenie receives 1/5

Friday
Aug172012

Sparkle

Rarely are remakes better than the original. That’s mainly due to the fact that studios remake movies that were popular, knowing full well that people will check out the new one based on the name alone. Sparkle isn’t like that—its cult following hardly makes it popular—and it’s one of the rare films that manages to outdo its predecessor in nearly every way, but considering how abysmal the 1976 original is, that’s hardly saying much. Despite its improvements, it still fails to achieve anything beyond cheap soap opera-esque melodrama.

Inspired by the film that was inspired by The Supremes, Sparkle follows three sisters who try to make it big in Detroit in the late 1960’s. There’s Sparkle (Jordin Sparks), the songwriter, Sister (Carmen Ejogo), the star and lead singer, and Dolores (Tika Sumpter), the…other one. Their talent shines through pretty easily and they quickly gain popularity, but success isn’t always an easy undertaking. Soon, Sister hooks up with a local comedian named Satin (Mike Epps) who introduces her to drugs and abuse. Coupled with their disapproving mother, Emma (Whitney Houston in her final role), Sister’s predicament threatens to tear the group apart and snatch success away from them.

In a way, Sparkle is like last year’s Footloose remake. Both took mostly terrible movies and made them better with tolerable, though never fully successful, updates. But whereas Footloose was only a minor step forward, Sparkle is a giant leap. It expands on characters that were largely ignored in the original and it sets a steady pace that feels neither rushed nor slow. In the original, the Dolores character was simply there, never really amounting to much of anything—in fact, she may as well have been nameless—but here, she is a fully fleshed out character with plenty to say, even if what she says isn’t too terribly interesting. Likewise, more time is spent establishing the abuse Sister is dealing with, both from self-inflicted drug use and from her evil boyfriend. She doesn’t abruptly hit a decline the way she does in the original. She steadily gets there and the villain is more than just a face here. He’s a personality.

But while its pace may be steady, 2012’s Sparkle unfortunately retains all of the eye rolling histrionics that were a staple of the 1976 original. It goes down a completely different path about halfway through (Sister’s ultimate demise doesn’t occur this time around), but it feels largely the same. It tries so hard to portray certain events in a sad, emotional light that they end up having the reverse effect. It’s really hard to make a scene of abuse even tolerable, much less funny, but Sparkle somehow manages it. With some questionable behind the camera decisions and a villain who is hammed up by an actor most known for his comedy, watching someone take lashes to the back with a belt has never been so amusing.

Luckily, there are some funny moments of the genuine variety in Sparkle. The film is surprisingly sharp, though the problem remains that it’s not a comedy, but rather a drama, one that’s supposed to make you feel something—anything at all, really—but it never does, with the exception of one scene, when the late Whitney Houston sings her only song in the movie, which amounts to her last performance ever. It comes at a pivotal moment in the film and it works on the intended narrative level, but also on a level we all wish it didn’t need to. The song is sung at church, where she sings of heaven being home, which, regardless of your religious beliefs or perception of the singer herself, will give you goose bumps. It’s the best and most powerful scene in the entire movie.

Unfortunately, the rest of it is lacking in scenes like that. Most of the songs aren’t meant to be emotional, but they’re not memorable or snappy enough to work. They’re better than the ones presented in the original if only because they’re modernized and not outdated, but that hardly makes them good. What Sparkle is missing in nearly every aspect of its production, from its songs to its characters to its story, is imagination. It all feels so ho hum, it’s hard to muster up much excitement for it, but at the same time, it’s difficult to adopt a loathsome attitude towards it. It’s neither great nor terrible, though it is, sadly, closer to the latter than the former. Remaking the awful original was a good idea because it really had nowhere to go but up. If they ever remake this again and manage to cut out some of the forced melodrama, it might actually be something worth watching.

Sparkle receives 2/5

Friday
Aug032012

Total Recall

The Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, Total Recall, from 1990 didn’t have high aspirations. It was a campy movie full of hilarious one-liners, explosive, gory action and oddly intriguing sexuality, like the now infamous mutant woman with three breasts and a midget hooker. It was off-the-wall fun and it knew it, fully embracing its silliness from beginning to end. This week’s high octane remake, also titled Total Recall, follows a similar narrative path as the original, but somehow manages to be its exact opposite. Camp is replaced with seriousness, gore is replaced with PG-13 scuffles and the three breasted woman is…well, she’s still there (even if they do cut away before you’re allowed a good look).

By the end of the 21st century, chemical warfare brought on by a third World War has made our planet practically uninhabitable. Earth has been divided into two superpowers, the Resistance and the oppressive Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), which are in a battle for supremacy in a world gone awry. Most citizens are lowly factory workers who spend their days building police robots for the Chancellor in his efforts to stop the Resistance. One of those citizens is Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell). He’s married to the beautiful Lori (Kate Beckinsale), but he nevertheless needs some excitement. One day, he decides to go to Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories into the heads of their customers, essentially allowing them to live out any type of fantasy they wish. While there, something goes wrong and the police force busts in. Next thing he knows, Quaid’s wife is trying to kill him and he’s on the run from the very machines he helped build. The strange thing is now he’s now being told he’s actually a secret agent; he just doesn’t remember it.

Those familiar with the 1990 original will both be in for a treat and a disappointment when watching this update. With plenty of sly references to the original, including a redheaded woman passing through a security gate (“Two weeks” she says when asked how long her trip will be), there is no shortage of little Easter eggs to be found. But sometimes those finds aren’t for the betterment of the film itself. Many of the lines (or at least variations of them) from the original are spoken here as well, but their tone is significantly different. While lines like “If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?” were played as humorous before, they’re played depressingly straight here. All the fun has been sucked out in favor of telling a darker story, but one that lacks substance.

That’s not to say the original had much substance to it, but it then again it never claimed it did. Both are so packed full of action that they hardly have time to tell a particularly engaging story. The difference, however, is that the original was knowingly silly, so it was easy to forgive. This Total Recall, on the other hand, tries to make you care. It wants the conclusion to be something you cheer for, but most cheers will be coming simply from the fact that it’s over rather than because the story has grabbed hold of you. With its over-stylized action scenes and constant forward motion, the characters hardly get breathers and their relationships are never built like they need to be. It’s not necessarily that I didn’t care about what happened to them that bugged me, but that the movie wanted me to, but provided no justification as to why I should.

Much like the original, the big question at the end is whether or not what we saw actually happened or if it’s just a byproduct of the Rekall implant. The question isn’t necessarily a hard one to answer in either movie when you consider certain things (that I’ll leave for you to figure out), but at least the answer had some slight ambiguity in the original. In the remake, it’s more or less cut and dry, despite trying to force that ambiguity in right at the end. The larger question outside the context of the films is: does it even matter? The answer in regards to this remake is a resounding no. This weekend, when you’re thinking about heading to the theater to see it, don’t and watch the original instead.

Total Recall receives 2/5

Friday
Mar092012

Silent House

The horror genre is quickly becoming a gimmick. It seems that actual scares don’t really matter, just so long as the film is shot in a quirky way. Found footage is all the rage these days, but for every solid Paranormal Activity, you have a Grave Encounters or The Devil Inside. Films are simply imitating others, riding their coattails if you will, rather than coming up with a new and interesting idea to gain exposure. This week’s Silent House isn’t a found footage film, but the point remains. The 88 minute movie is meant to look like it was done all in one take with zero cuts so the events occur in real time and the end result is a gimmick in search of a story.

The film begins with Sarah (Elizabeth Olsen) sitting on some rocks near a creek outside of a rickety old house. She is there along with her father, John (Adam Trese), to fix the place up for sale, but once they get inside, she hears a noise coming from upstairs. Her father goes up to investigate, but then disappears. She later finds him bloody and bruised, but still breathing, so she begins to look for a way out. Unfortunately, the windows are boarded up (for no discernible reason), all the doors are locked and the one key that would let her out has mysteriously vanished.

Silent House is a remake of the 2010 Spanish film, La Casa Muda, and much of what was done in that film remains here. The one shot gimmick is ever present, the basic story remains the same and many of the scares are recreated practically down to the letter. Aside from the gimmick (both do a pretty good job of hiding probable cuts), the original film does everything better, which certainly doesn’t say much for Silent House given that the majority of its source material’s moments culminated in a bewildered “that’s it?”

Both do a good job of building suspense, but their eventual revelations are hardly frightening, which effectively makes those builds moot. Creepy little girl apparitions, slamming doors and an overused twist are clichéd and boring. The twist in question (which I will, of course, not give away) differs a bit in this movie from the original, but its unreservedness in its clue dropping, which include blatant musical cues and barely cryptic dialogue, make what is to come fairly obvious. What the two twists from each movie do have in common is that once they are revealed, they bring into question the legitimacy of everything you saw leading up to it. The specifics of what happens may be different, but the effect is the same: they don’t make sense.

Aside from its technical prowess (that one shot illusion sure is convincing), the biggest thing Silent House has going for it is its lead star. Elizabeth Olsen, who many claim was snubbed of an Oscar nomination for her powerhouse performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene, is very good here, even if the occasional tweak of her supposedly frightened face in close-up makes her look more constipated than afraid. She plays the perfect vulnerable girl and she manages to make us care about her, but a movie like this needs more than just a performance. It needs ideas. Without ideas, it becomes the same old song and dance we’ve sat through countless times. The horror genre is in trouble and needs fixing. Silent House is evidence enough of that.

Silent House receives 2/5