Friday, April 26, 2013

Pain & Gain (2013)

Let me get my pump on before I start writing this review...

...okay, I'm back.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) believes in fitness.  A bodybuilder and personal trainer in Florida, Daniel's grown tired of struggling and wants some of the good life.  After attending a seminar (from a very tongue-in-cheek Ken Jeong) that encourages him to be a 'doer', a plan is hatched to rob wealthy business man Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub).  Daniel enlists two fellow bodybuilders Adrian (Anthony Mackie) and Paul (Dwayne Johnson) to help with 'the plan'.

Normally for a plan to work it has to be well thought out, and then executed by smart enough people that can improvise if things don't go as expected.  Neither is true here.  This is a crazy, stupid scheme carried out by meatheads even dumber than the plan.  The crazier part is that it actually works...for a while.  It also doesn't hurt their success that their mark was so unlikeable, and his story so unbelievable that not even the police are willing to help him.  Kershaw has to enlist a retired private detective (Ed Harris) to investigate, and even he doesn't take the job at first.

Pain & Gain is an example of one of those 'based on a true story' movies that falls under that 'it's so crazy it must be true' category.  However, this does take place in Florida, where it seems like every month we hear about some bizarre crime story taking place.  Throughout the film I oscillated between shaking my head at how unbelievable this all was, and then laughing out loud at it, whether it was intentional humor or not.

Usually when you see Michael Bay's name of film, you expect to see a lot boorish behavior, bad stereotypes and general shallowness.  That's certainly true here, but those were many of the things that actually worked.  Pain & Gain is probably Michael Bay's most self-aware work, and the story and setting were tailor made for his style.  They spend most of their time at the gym or by the pool, so you can expect to see a lot of skin and very attractive people, but it's not forced for a change.

It far from a great film though, and there are some flaws.  The main one being that it's a little too long.  I couldn't help checking my watch a little towards the end.  It wasn't out of any kind of boredom, but more that there are points where you think the film is wrapping up, but then continues on.  It could have been tightened up, especially where it focused too long on some of the supporting characters.

I was also a little annoyed by the camera work.  There's lots of typical Michael Bay slow motion and other jumpy camera stuff, but as the movie went on, it bothered me less.  I think all the frenetic movement helped sell the craziness of the story, and it wouldn't have been as entertaining if it was static.

There's also a ton of narration, and from every character.  This was very distracting at first, to the point where I was ready to start yelling at the characters to shut up, but this was also something that the movie grows into.  Much of this was done early on to provide depth and back story to the characters, but it was just a little clumsy in its execution.

Pain & Gain doesn't have quite as much action as you might think based on the cast.  This is made up for by the amount of humor in the film.  Again, some of this is unintentional humor where you just can't help but laugh at how stupid these guys are, but there's actually a lot of very funny dialog.  I'm sure the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely in some ways kind of wrote itself.  How could you not get humor out these people and situations?  The dialog did have some additional punch to it though, and I found myself laughing way more than I expected.

I thought the trio of Wahlberg, Johnson, and Mackie were all great.  You never really have a reason to like any of these guys, and they'll all pretty despicable for the most part, yet their performances keep you interested.  I've often been hard on Mark Wahlberg for being too serious, but this recent focus on more humorous roles is really working, and thought he was great.  The real stand out, once again, was Dwayne Johnson.  His character is a ex-con, turned Jesus freak, but then reverts back to his cokehead ways as the film goes on.  It's a hilarious transition and most of the funniest moments and best lines are his.

What can I say?  Sometimes stupid works.  Pain & Gain is everything you'd expect out of a Michael Bay film, but this time he's in on the joke.  It's an unbelievable, but somehow true story, with great performances and just the right amount of humor to make it fun to watch.  This is a great one to catch with friends, and maybe have a few cold ones beforehand.  I give it a strong matinee recommendation.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, April 19, 2013

Oblivion (2013)

I thought this was going to a Elder Scrolls movie...

Set in the year 2077, Earth was nearly destroyed during an invasion by aliens, called Scavs (short for Scavengers).  They first destroyed our Moon, which did most of the destruction to the planet, but during the subsequent invasion, nukes were used to beat the aliens back, making Earth largely uninhabitable.  Humanity has relocated to Titan (one of the moons of Saturn), but a few humans remain behind to maintain the machines used to gather resources for the Titan colony.

Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is one of these technicians.  He's partnered with Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who handles the communications, and is also his lover.  I guess if the powers that be are going to pair you up with someone, you could do worse than Tom Cruise or Andrea Riseborough.  Kind of a good deal for both of them there, eh?

Their mission is up in two weeks, so they are basically just trying to get through it without any major events.  The drones they are responsible for repairing seem to constantly need maintenance, and they are short on resources.  They are in constant communication with Sally (Melissa Leo), who commands them from a large orbital station called the Tet.  It all seems pretty routine, outside of the threat of running into the remaining Scavs still on Earth, wreaking havok.  Because there's still the possibility of being captured by the Scavs, they have their minds wiped for security reasons.  However, Jack has flashbacks from time to time of a life he knows he didn't live.

After a few days, a ship crashes that contains pods with human survivors.  Jack recognizes one of these survivors, Julia (Olga Kurylenko), from his flashbacks, and she seems to know him, too.  Shortly after, he meets a group of remaining humans, led by Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman), who needs Jack's assistance, but Jack doesn't trust them.  Beech tells Jack that things aren't what they seem, and he'll find the truth if he travels outside of his assigned zone.

It just kind of keeps going and going, and that's really the only problem I had with Oblivion.  It drags out a bit too long, and really would have benefit from some tightening up, especially in the second half. Oblivion initially seems fresh, but you'll eventually realize you've seen this all somewhere before.  It borrows pretty heavily from other sci-fi films, and you'll recognize many things as if they were just lifted directly out of them.  As a result, it's pretty predictable, but your mileage may vary.  There's a twist around the halfway point that was very obvious to me, but I heard many gasps of surprise from those sitting around me.  I think it's going to depend on how familiar you are with movies like Planet of the Apes, 2001, The Matrix, Moon, and even Independence Day.  The movie drops a lot of clues throughout though, so even if you're not a sci-fi junkie, you're likely to figure out a lot of this stuff on your own.  Even though it's pretty predictable, I still found all the various reveals satisfying.

Another thing hurting the film is that outside of Jack, all of the characters are pretty thin and underwritten.  In retrospect, it makes sense for a few of them, but some of the characters don't do much more than point guns at people.  Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has a small role and I think you can count the number of lines he has on a hand.  I'm pointing out Waldau's character, but nobody is given all that much to do.  The film is carried by Tom Cruise, and he's great as usual.  I'd also like to know what secret treatments he's receiving to prevent from aging.  Then again, I'm sure at that point in the future, 50 will be the new 20.

Despite my issues with the pacing, length and recycled plot elements, it didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the film.  This is mainly because of how beautiful the world they created is.  In keeping with the familiar themes of the film, you'll see landmarks hidden in the altered landscapes.  Even though they are on Earth, most of the time it looks like it could be another planet.  The house the live in, as well as the vehicles they use, have that dichotomy of being advanced, but still having a clean, bright simplicity to them.  The design makes sense, and I didn't think anything looked unrealistic.  Another thing I liked was that I never got that feeling of too much CG.  It's also a great sounding film, so overall it makes for a very immersive experience.  I saw it on IMAX and definitely recommend seeing it in that format if available to you.

Originally written as a graphic novel by director Joseph Kosinski (who also directed Tron: Legacy) and Arvid Nelson, several studios got into a bidding war to make it into a film instead.  Disney originally had the rights, but eventually passed when they realized they couldn't make this PG without making too many story changes.  It's only PG-13 though, so it's not like  The screenplay went through a few re-writes as well, with even Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3, Little Miss Sunshine) taking a pass through it.  Perhaps all the rewrites are why much of this feels so familiar and there isn't a lot of depth of the characters.  Oblivion is still very much a step up from Tron: Legacy for Kosinski.

Oblivion will feel all too familiar for experienced sci-fi fans, and there are some pacing issues, but it's such a gorgeous looking and sounding film, that it's easy to get past that.  Tom Cruise is excellent again and continues to show why he's still a star.  Oblivion isn't a perfect film, but I was able to lose myself in it for a few hours, and some of the images have really stuck with me, so I chalk that up to a success.  I recommend it as a matinee, but if you can see it in IMAX or similar format, then go for it.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

It's like Drive 2.0...

It's easy to draw parallels between The Place Beyond the Pines and Drive.  It doesn't help at all that Ryan Gosling plays another stunt driver that doesn't speak much.  It's also similar in that the trailer sets up a much different film that what you really get.  I know many people that were disappointed with Drive thinking it was going to be an action-oriented film, and from the trailer for TPBtP, you might think the same thing.  That's not to say that it's bad, in fact it's good film, just not what you might expect.

This might be a little spoilery, but I'll try not to reveal too much....

Pines is an overarching story, spanning over 15 years, and following the families of Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) and Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper).  We begin with Luke, a stunt motorbike rider for a state fair.  He ex Romina (Eva Mendes) visits him and Luke learns he is the father of her newborn son.  Luke decides to stick around to provide for him, but eventually needs a way to make more money.  His current employer reveals he used to rob banks, so the two of them decide to start robbing several banks in the area.  He eventually crosses paths with Cross, a local Schenectady cop, during one of the robberies.  This is pretty much the story you see in the trailer, but this is really just the first act.

The second act follows Cross after stopping Glanton.  This is has made him a hero amongst his fellow officers, but he gets mixed up with some crooked cops, led by Ray Liotta.  Cross wants to expose the corruption, and uses the opportunity to gain a higher position.

We then get to the third act of the film.  The story comes full circle, but it's also the weakest part of the larger story.  Again, I can't really get into it without spoiling things, the events that play out are just way too clean and coincidental.  You can see how it's going to play out from a mile away, and ends the film on a bad note.  It doesn't help that the two characters that are the focus of the third act, played by Emory Cohen and Dane DeHaan, are the weakest and least interesting of the film.  It's not an issue with the performances, as much as it is with the story itself.  I will say, however, that Cohen speaks with a ridiculous Long Island accent, when neither of his parents do, and it just makes his character that much more unbelievable.  Also, another thing I thought was weak about the third act was they didn't do a particularly good job of aging the characters, outside of adding a few patches of grey hair here and there.

It's a shame it ends on such a bad note, because I felt the movie had been going along pretty well until that third act.  It's close to two and a half hours though, and any of these acts could have been movies all on their own.  As much as I liked the second act, it felt like they rushed through the conclusion of it, and it was already a little cliched.  I've often criticised a film for having too many writers, and this one has three: director Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder.  Each act feels like they were written by different people, and then tied loosely together.  The story is a little too ambitious for a single film.  I can't help but think this would have been great as a show or miniseries on HBO, similar to The Wire.

Pines is another one of those movies where characters don't always say much, and you see a lot of meaningful staring into the distance.  This usually means the music needs to stand out, and I thought this had a really haunting score.  I had to look up who did the music only to find out it was done by Mike Patton.  Mike Patton?  Of Mr. Bungle and Faith No More?  I never would have guessed he was involved.

I also enjoyed the aged, gritty look of the film.  I don't think they ever make a point to tell you when this movie occurs, but you get the feeling it's in the recent past.  The themes of the film though could be told in any setting though.

Pines has very good performances across the board, but I didn't think anyone was really stretching out of their comfort zones.  Again, Gosling basically plays a tatted up version of the same character he played in Drive, Ray Liotta plays another crooked cop, and Dane Dehan plays another awkward, angsty teen.  Eva Mendes only pops up here and there, and Rose Byrne is pretty much forgotten about by the third act.  That's also an issue in that there's so much story, not all of the characters are well developed.

The Place Beyond the Pines is an ambitious, well-acted story, but ultimately lets the viewer down with a disappointing third act. It's length makes it something that may be a little too much for casual viewers, even I started to squirm in my seat towards the end, but it's worth a watch...on DVD.

3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Trance (2013)

I'm just glad this wasn't about the German club scene...

Rather, Trance is about Simon (James McAvoy), an employee at an auction house.  He explains that even with all the modern precautions taken, theft is still a real problem when dealing with very rare, expensive paintings.  Just like you've heard if you've ever worked retail, if you are robbed, don't be a hero.  None of this is worth your life.

So, of course we begin with a theft of the auction house and Simon attempts to thwart one of the thieves as he's about to get away with a rare painting.  He takes a blow to the head and is hospitalized.  We then begin the overly complex, twisty nature of the plot when we find out that Simon was actually in on the theft, but decided to double-cross the thieves.  The problem is that the blow to his head has left him unable to remember where he hid the painting, and his partners want it now.  They send him to a hypnotherapist, Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson), to help him remember.

I've never bought into hypnotherapy all that much, but we see that Elizabeth is some kind of super-hypnotherapist, so lets just go with it.  When Elizabeth's meets Simon, her initial reaction to him is extremely odd, and you're already wondering what the hell is going on.  Then, she becomes inexplicably involved with the gang as she attempts to help Simon remember.  Why is a hypnotherapist so willing to get in so deep with a bunch of thieves, you ask?  More is revealed as the film continues.

This is the main problem with Trance.  I began the film questioning what was going on and the motivations of the characters, and I never stopped.  You have a setup that's already a little shaky to begin with, but then they keep adding twist after twist to the point where it becomes totally convoluted.  As things are revealed, you become more frustrated with the plot, rather than engaged or satisfied with the conclusion.

Another weird part about the film for me was that you never see the authorities at any point.  Remember, this whole thing revolves around a very expensive painting getting stolen, and it clearly hasn't been recovered, but nobody is investigating this?  This just adds to the feeling that the whole story is some elaborate fantasy, and dreamlike sequences are featured throughout.  This is another frustrating part of the film as you're constantly wondering if what you're watching is real or yet another dream sequence.

However, these dream sequences are visually stimulating.  I was looking forward to Trance as I enjoy director Danny Boyle's visual style, and he didn't disappoint.  Trance is a beautiful film.  Nearly every scene of the film has a great effect or interesting camera angle, and those those trance/hypnosis scenes lent themselves to great use of color.  It's unfortunately another example of a movie I enjoyed for it's look, but the story just doesn't hold up.  To add to the disappointment, the story was co-written by Joe Ahearne (based off his TV movie) and John Hodge, who wrote the screenplay for Trainspotting.  This is a collaboration that I thought would have been a homerun, but it's more of a ground-rule double.

Besides the visuals, another strength of Trance are the performances.  I'm a big James McAvoy fan and I really liked his range going from someone that's reserved to becoming a little unhinged by the end.  Rosario Dawson was also very good, and be warned, there's a surprising amount of frontal nudity from her.  The character I enjoyed the most though was Franck, played by Vincent Cassel.  Cassel has that look about him that just screams bad guy, and I feel like he's been typecast as that shady criminal type, but he's just so fun to watch.

Trance has the great visuals and style that we've come to expect from Danny Boyle, but the story itself is overly-complex, messy, and has a disappointing conclusion.  If you're a fan of Boyle's I think you'll get enough out of the look of the film to enjoy a run through it.  There's no need to rush out and see this one though.  It's a rental.

2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

Saturday, April 13, 2013

42 (2013)

That poster makes it look like Jackie Robinson is clinging for his life as he slides off a cliff...

As much as I shudder every time I see "Based on a True Story", it's refreshing when I see it on a movie about someone and something I have more than just a vague awareness of.  42 is one such movie, about the introduction of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player in Major League Baseball, to the (then) Brooklyn Dodgers in the mid-40's.

Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), general manager of the Dodgers, decided for various reasons that it was time to break baseball's 'color barrier'.  He started the search for the right man, and quickly decided on Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), a star athlete for UCLA and Army veteran.  Ricky felt that Robinson had the right personality and skill set to succeed in what he knew was going to be very difficult situation.  Robinson was an intelligent and confident man, willing to speak and stand up for himself, but Rickey asked him not to do this.  The reason for this was simple enough; even if Robinson was provoked, any retaliation would be used by his detractors as examples of Robinson's inability to handle the game or pressure, or even reversing it and saying he's the one that instigated.  So, Robinson has to bite his tongue, look the other way, and do everything in his power not to fight.  You see him put up with an amazing amount of shit, and you can only sympathize.  Despite his struggles, he's (still) a hero and inspiration to many.

Like Moneyball, 42 is a baseball movie that doesn't require intimate knowledge of the game.  It's not stat driven, even though the opening monologue might make you think that for a second (and Branch Rickey happened to be one of the pioneers of statistical analysis in baseball).  Also, like Moneyball, some of the actual baseball elements were some of the weakest of film.  In some cases they felt really inaccurate.  Many scenes are shot in a way where you can't see a swing or pitch, or what you do see is awkward to the point where it's doesn't look athletic.  At the end of the film, Robinson hits a homer and you hear the announcer say the Dodgers have won the pennant, when I'm petty sure it was only the first inning.  You don't see anyone walking off the field as if it was a walk-off, and the teammate that congratulates him as he reaches home simply looks like he's ready for his at bat.  These aren't huge mistakes, but I think it's the kind stuff that purists are going to notice.

Then again, baseball is kind of boring.  They have to focus on exciting sequences of Robinson taking a walk, or attempts to pick him off first, cause that's all the game really had to offer at that point.  No steroids in baseball back then.  Yes, I'm just kidding around.  Chadwick Boseman as Robinson managed to show a playfulness when on base, seemingly taking delight in the disruption he'd cause on the basepaths.  Boseman even resembled Robinson, and did a good job of mimicking his batting stance (the actual swing looked a little off though).

Also as far as the overall look of the film, I liked that as well.  I thought they did a great job of recreating the look of some of those older uniforms and ballparks, without getting overly nostalgic about it.  I like when a period piece doesn't go out of the way to draw your attention to all the details they cram in there, and just lets you enjoy it.

I also thought there was a lot of colorful dialog throughout the film as well.  Writer and director Brian Helgeland did a good job keeping it interesting while being respectful to the man and the period.  Outside of a few things here and there, there's not a lot of chances taken though.  Overall, I would call it a very workmanlike effort.  I was surprised at the amount of humor.  It made a movie with so much weight a little easier to get through, and it seemed to quicken the pace a bit.  Some of the humor came off as unintentional though.

Harrison Ford gives one of his better performances in recent memory. He's been very grumbly and disinterested in many recent movies, but here he has a fiery passion about him.  Dr. Cox from Scrubs (John C. McGinley) has a subtlety comic performance as the Dodgers play-by-play announcer.  He was one of the smaller things I really enjoyed about the film and I think it may go largely unnoticed.  Alan Tudyk plays an opposing manager and single-handedly attempts to break Django Unchained's record for most uses of the 'n-word' in a 5-minute scene.  If it hadn't had been Tudyk playing the role, I think it would have affected me a little more in a negative sense, but the more he does it, the more it becomes unintentionally funny.  I also really enjoyed Christopher Meloni as manager Leo Derocher, but he's unfortunately not in the movie enough.  Derocher seems like a character that would make for an interesting biopic all on his own.  Even Lucas Black was enjoyable as Pee Wee Reese.

I've already mentioned a little about Boseman's performance, but I thought he did a great job as Jackie Robinson.  It's a good example of how casting a relative unknown in such an iconic role can help your movie.  If you got someone with a bigger name to play it, I think you'd have to fight the thoughts of, "Oh that's just 'x' playing Robinson."  Another standout was Nicole Beharie as Jackie's wife, Rachel.  She was definitely his rock, and you can imagine how without her, Jackie would have had a harder time dealing with all the abuse.

I think the biggest flaw of the film is that there's a very Hollywood quality about it.  I've always hated using the term "Hollywood" as a criticism.  It's a little nebulous.  With 42, I'm more referring to the overall cheesiness of the film.  Like many stories based on real events, a lot of things are streamlined or arranged to make for cleaner and more dramatic storytelling.  Maybe I'm just a little jaded from watching these types of films, where I just can't trust how much played out exactly like you see on screen or how much was done to manipulate the audience.  I also thought the sweeping score was too dramatic to the point of being distracting.  It reminded me of the score from some of the recent Spielberg films.  That's not to say that it wasn't affecting though.  There are times you're sitting in your seat wishing you could fight these people on Robinson's behalf.

42 is a good, crowd pleasing film, with lots of strong performances and interesting dialog.  You definitely don't have to be a baseball fan to get something out if it, and it's important to see what a inspirational figure Jackie Robinson was.  It's not a perfect film, but worth a matinee.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

On The Road (2012)

I have bongo music stuck in my head now...

I've never read the On the Road, nor have I ever had much of an interest in Jack Kerouac (whom the main character of Sal was based on), but I'm generally willing to give anything a shot.  The only thing I'd heard about On the Road going in was that it often considered to be a unfilmable book, and there had been several attempts to make this over the years (mainly by Francis Ford Coppola).  When I hear unfilmable book, I think of titles like Cloud Atlas or Watchmen, but the the difference with those two is that they were much more ambitious films, with many complex characters and covering longer periods of time.  Maybe something got really lost in this adaptation of On the Road, but I didn't find that to be the case here at all.

On the Road focuses on a small group of twenty-somethings over a few years in their lives from the late 40's to early 50's.  The story primarily follows the characters of Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) and Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund).  Sal is a struggling writer who yearns for more freedom, and Dean (who was already an ex-con when they meet) is a fun loving guy, who's pretty much up for anything, or anyone.  Dean is also quite the ladies man, shacking up with Marylou (Kristen Stewart) and Camille (Kirsten Dunst).  As the title suggests, they spend a lot of time on the road, meeting people, partying and having adventures.

If I was in my early 20's, still in college and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, something like what you see in On the Road would be fun to experience.  However, it's not particularly interesting to watch on screen, especially as you learn more about the characters and find that there's really not much to like about them.  Maybe this is what got lost in the adaptation, but I found all of these characters to be pretty shallow, and in the case of Dean I found him to be kind of a scumbag.  He's married and has a newborn, but he'd rather go out on the road and have more drugs and sex.  His friends seems to idolize him, rather than call him out on his behavior, or maybe suggest he stay home with his family.  Would you support the antics of your friend that's a deadbeat dad?  Instead, they share long embraces each time they meet up, as if years have passed since they all last saw each other, but it's only been a few months at a time.

The lengthy feeling between meetups is likely due to the fact that On the Road is pretty slowly paced.  At one point, I checked my watch thinking the movie must be close to over only to see I was only at the one hour mark.  I still had an hour left to go!  At this point, I felt like the movie was a bit of a repeating loop, because you just see them do the same things over and over again: more driving, more sex, and more partying.  It feels routine and less interesting as it goes on.  Even when there are attempts to show you other sides of their characters you don't come away with a better understanding of them, but rather liking them less for their behavior.

That's pretty much all I got out On the Road, which I realize may be missing the point of the book, but I'm reviewing what I saw on screen, not a book I've never read or a film's faithfulness to it.  I'm just calling it like I see it.

I liked the performances for the most part, but I wonder if I would have had an easier time identifying with the characters if maybe they had gotten more familiar actors.  Kristen Stewart's not exactly a name that gets my butt in the theater.  I actually didn't mind her performance here, and thought she had some life about her for a change.  She's actually not in the movie all that much, which may be why I didn't have much of an issue with her.  I'm only seen Sam Riley in 13, and thought he was adequate.  Despite not liking Dean at all, I thought Garrett Hedlund's performance as him was strong and showed a lot of charisma.  You can see why people would initially be drawn to him.  We also get a very eclectic cast of bigger names playing very small roles.  You'll see people like Amy Adams, Terrence Howard, Elisabeth Moss, and Viggo Mortensen pop-up in random roles throughout.

It's a good looking film with lots of picturesque scenery.  As far as a period piece, it felt accurate and faithful to the time.  There's also a sense of speed when driving that you really feel, and I think that's where Walter Salles direction really came into play.  You also experience all the seasons they go through.  When you see them driving in the hot sun, you can't help but notice how sweaty and dirty they are.  I can only imagine what the inside of that car smelled like.  I hope they stopped to shower on their trips.

I was annoyed by the Beatnik, bongo music I heard throughout.  They say that Beatniks were the original hipsters, and after watching On the Road I can see how there are some similarities, and I dislike their style and music as equally as modern hipsters.  I've heard that Kerouac's book has been very influential and praised for it's style, but I don't think Jose Rivera's screenplay captured any of that.  If there was any energy to Kerouac's writing, that's all been sucked out of the film.

On the Road is a good looking, well-acted film, but for a story about living life, it sure felt lifeless.  There's no passion to it, and I didn't like any of the characters as they were portrayed.  It's way too long for what it is, and would recommend you take the two hours you could spend watching On the Road to go out and start an adventure of your own.

2 (out of 5) Death Stars

Friday, April 5, 2013

Evil Dead (2013) - Movie Review

Never underestimate the power of duct tape...

If the above doesn't make any sense to you, it will all become clear after watching Evil Dead, the reimaging/remake of the classic horror film from Sam Raimi.  I'm sure existing fans of the series will wonder why in the hell there was even an attempt, but if there's money in it, you know it's going to happen.  I was surprised to see that Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell were producing though, so I hoped that with their guidance it wouldn't be a complete waste of time.

You'll quickly find out that this Evil Dead is tonally much different than the original.  It's been a few years since I've seen Evil Dead, so forgive me if my recollection of the original may be a little shaky.  I actually started with Evil Dead 2 over 20 years ago, and that still remains one of my favorite horror films of all time.

The familiar setup is here.  Five twenty-somethings head to the cabin in the woods to help Mia (Jane Levy) get over a drug addiction.  One of the five is her older brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), whom she's apparently lost touch with since the death of their mother.  While Mia is going through withdrawal, they stumble upon something in the basement, including a flesh-covered book.  You know which one (although I don't recall it ever being mentioned by name this time around).  Of course Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), the 70's hipster, decides to read the book aloud for some reason, despite it being covered in warnings not to.  Everything goes to hell after that.

The one thing I'll give Evil Dead credit for is it's liberal use of gore. If you've been following my blog at all, you know that one of the things I really hate in film, especially horror, is the use of CG blood and gore.  I don't think I noticed any CG effects this time around.  Everything appeared to be a practical effect, which made for a much more visceral experience.  There are some great gross out moments that just made me smile and I applaud the movie for going for it.

There are also a lot of references and callbacks to the original, which should please fans, but I thought some felt forced in or weren't really used effectively.  Oh, but is there a tree rape, you might ask?  Well, sort of.  Lets just say that a tree gets an assist this time, so is that really a legitimate tree rape?

Despite the darker tone and use of gore, Evil Dead really doesn't manage to be very scary, and kind of uninteresting at times.  There's very little character development, and you don't care at all what happens to these people.  They engage in typical, eye-rollingly moronic behavior throughout the film.  When the majority of the fairly young crowd I saw this with is also groaning at the stupidity of the actions of the characters, then you know this part of the film is pretty weak.  None of these guys acted normally, even early on.  When David finds out Mia had a overdose recently, his reaction is so dispassionate that it was hard to believe he was human, let alone that he genuinely cared about his sister.

The one person I really did enjoy though was Jane Levy as Mia.  I've only caught bits and pieces of her on Suburgatory when my DVR records the last few minutes leading into Modern Family, but she's come across to me as a smart, appealing young actress.  I really dug her commitment to the role with her willingness to get down and dirty, and in some cases outright ugly.

It's kind of ironic that The Cabin in the Woods used the same setting from Evil Dead, as Cabin was such a deconstruction and tribute to horror films, but when we come back to an actual Evil Dead movie, we're back to many of the things that Cabin poked fun at.  Another issue with this modern Evil Dead is that all of the fun is gone.  I get that they were going for a darker reimaging here, but it's like director Fede Alvarez thought darker just meant to replace all traces of humor with more blood.  Don't get me wrong though, I still loved the blood!  I also heard they brought in Diablo Cody to try to Americanize the script, since English is not the first language of either Alvarez or co-writer Rodo Sayagues, but that they didn't use enough of her edits.  That seems like a mistake, as her punch up could have really helped give some life to the characters.

Oh, and if you're a fan of the originals, you may want to stick to the end of the credits.

I'm a little torn on this one.  While I loved all the blood and gore, it lacked the fun or genuine scares to make it really stand out for me.  If this wasn't an Evil Dead film, then I would have said it was simply a good, gory horror film.  However, since this is called Evil Dead, the bar, and my expectations, are set higher.  If you're fan of horror, I think there's enough here you'll enjoy, but I didn't find it game changing.  It's worth a watch though.

3 (out of 5) Death Stars