Thursday, April 4, 2013

Evil Dead (Alvarez, 2013)

Okay, now, just as I did in the scathing review I made for The Amazing Spider-Man, I will stepping into this not comparing the remake to the original. That's sort of unfair, especially in this case. The original is a classic of modern horror storytelling. The remake would have to step into those shoes.
But Evil Dead, the 2013 modern update on it, has accomplished that feat.

I have not walked out of a movie with the certainty I would add it to my DVD collection since The Dark Knight in 2008. Until last Thursday, when I saw Evil Dead at a preview screening.

I personally have not been familiarized with the short works of newcomer Fede Alvarez. I had to take it on the good faith of the producers, returning Robert Tapert, original director Sam Raimi and original star Bruce Campbell, that he'd provide a great film.
And he pretty much did.

Now, the story is kind of the same progression of events, just a different frame around them. There is obviously no return of Ash, as Campbell is kind of old and there can be no other actor for the role. Our best replacement would be David (Shiloh Fernandez), a man who takes his girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore), on a cold turkey retreat in a cabin far off in the woods. This retreat is not for him or his girlfriend, but instead for his sister, Mia (Jane Levy), who had been abusing heroin in some kind of resentment towards his brother's previous approach to certain family issues. As a matter of fact, the reason David arrived was at the insistence of the siblings' childhood friends, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas).
Yeah, I know this sounds like some reject episode of Degrassi. And, indeed, we get a bit of underwriting for the most part towards them, exempting David and Mia, for the sake of the gore that is about to ensue.
The main flaw in this factor is that David's medical ideas seem outright stupid. He does not know first aid at all.

Sure, enough they find the book (this time a different name and no audiotape with it - though the original movie's audiotape is played during the credits), and sure enough, bad shit happens and the five have to fight to survive the night with each one being possessed one by one (this time it seems to be solely one demon rather than a number of spirits as in the original).

But surprisingly it adds to this version of The Evil Dead in a way that we couldn't have seen it add to the original. It leaves room for David to step up to taking responsibility and moreso, it leaves a plausibility behind the group's initial disbelief towards the heinous supernatural events that begin occurring around them.

And what the movie lacks in originality, which it is devoid of completely (come on, it's a remake of a movie that set today's horror tropes), it makes up for in visuals and impact. I had been baited towards this movie (normally, the idea of an Evil Dead remake insults me, to be frank) on the grapevine telling me that it was all practical effects, save for a few CGI touch-ups.
That's kind of false... The opening scene, before the title, showcases a particular effect that is impossible to make practically. There's another shot that I'm skeptical about, but not fully, so I'll let it slide.
In the meantime, if I'm wrong, as I may be, let it be testament to the magic of Fede Alvarez that his technique is so effective, I believe CGI to be involved.
In particular, Eric seems to get the worst of all the pain. He is a human Stooge, getting needles, nails and other nasty attacks to him all over the place. Granted, he's the one who started this by reading the Demono Naturem, so he had it coming.

It's also surprising how much homage is given to the original. Actual shots are re-used with a new context behind them, scenarios occur from new circumstances, the infamous tree scene is actually a lot more effective and scary in this form because it is one of the things that brings the main conflict into play. There's even a sequence that seems more like a homage to the well scene from Army of Darkness.

What I do have a problem with is the introduction of a necklace like the original movie, and then there is a very pivotal and emotional moment which plays out between Mia and David around the corner of the final act. Without going into detail, David performs his fuck-stupid resuscitation technique of a make-shift defibrillator utilizing a heroin needle and a fucking car battery and it works... Somehow it works. For no reason.
It's an almost perfect scene. It was hinted at earlier (Eric and Olivia started this cold turkey intervention on account of Mia having legally died of heroin overdose). The score really complimented the scene itself. It had a visual tribute to Ash performing a similar deed to his girlfriend in the original. Both Fernandez and Levy (performing Mia and possessed Mia) really sold the moment...
And there's that stupidity.
What I would have done? I would have the necklace revive Mia. David gives it to her early in the movie, tells her about the belief that it protects those with strength and it's in the perfect supernatural realm as in the movie.
Also, when Ash was possessed in Evil Dead II, what brought him back?

That's right. Not some dumbfuck defibrinjection. Shit, dawg, get it together, Alvarez.

Now, the people who really deserve recognition, since we know the effects team, the makeup and the crew will get enough (this movie is a technical treat - with some line crossing), is the cast. They really hold the story together. Jane Levy's the real shining star of the movie, she can scream to shake the bowels of Hell. But the rest of the cast deserves credit - however underwritten their characters are, they are able to distinguish them from one another beyond the simple 'teens who are supposed to get hacked to death' stereotype. And they especially get the praise for portraying their own monsters, as each person is possessed, they all have an animalistic (and sadistic) quality in their performance that makes me not want to be near them, even if they all use to look like Hollister models before the possessions.

Juggling all these aspects of pacing, effect, visuals and cast, Alvarez has provided an entertaining and bloody enough tribute to appease Evil Dead fans and probably invite newcomers to check out the original trilogy (Shame on a nigga if you haven't, though).
Very great breakout film, and I look forward to new works by the man with an original story behind them.

By the time the movie reaches its final act, it has completely abandoned the main emotion of the story now. It's done, there's nowhere else to go with it. So, what does it do?
It remembers it's an Evil Dead movie.
It kicks that story to the backburner and begins what is quite a fantastic climactic chase/battle that will surely entertain anybody who has not left the theater yet. The movie's too I don't want to go into too much spoiling with the carnage, save for the fact that Slayer would be proud, but oh man, the images in this fight will stick with you.

Bad shit coming...
Now that I'm putting this review out at the time it's coming out (I wanted to wait out of respect for the apparent but tight-lipped promotion), I implore you: if you're reading this review, go see the movie. They deserve as much money as they can so we can not only get a second installment to this new Evil Dead endeavor, but possibly a tie-in film for both this story and Ash's.
I'm certainly going to see it again.

One more thing, if you don't wait for what happens after the credits and you're an Evil Dead fan, it will easily be one of the stupidest things you ever do.


Maybe not so groovy...

Roger Ebert (June 18, 1942 - April 4, 2013)

This morning I have found out that Roger Ebert has passed away from cancer. It's a resounding wave in the film community with this occurrence.
Roger Ebert was not just a film critic. He was not just a Pulitzer-Prize winner. He was one of the first film critics to introduce the study of cinema to many of today's filmgoers, critics, filmmakers or writers.

I'd be lying if I said I was a huge fan. I wasn't. He was no Pauline Kael to me. At least he's better than Peter Travers.
But I'd also be lying to say that I didn't find an impact in his form of review for movies in mine. He sort of directed me to many films that I would have believed necessary in study of. I actually spent a good year of mine (either 2009 or 2010) watching movies reviewed in his 'The Great Movies' series of books and then reading his entries on them afterwards.
It allowed me to see where we saw eye-to-eye, where we didn't but I would understand where he was coming from, and where I kind of was not enjoying what he was saying.

Later, because I really wanted to hate myself, I did the same with 'Your Movie Sucks' and 'I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie'.

Don't gimme dat look...
I was not a frequent watcher of his show with Gene Siskel (and later Richard Roeper, when Siskel himself sadly passed away in 1999), but I remember my first experience with this show was when Spider-Man came out in 2002. My parents were visiting a friend from Egypt who had moved close by in Miami and the review show happened to be on screen.
I then saw an archive episode of their review of Pulp Fiction on my copy of the movie.
Both times Ebert seemed to somewhat disagree with my opinion on certain films (Spider-Man in the first episode and Reservoir Dogs, which was given a retrospective look, in the other) but always had a convincing way to backup his argument.

One particular review I was not a fan of was his review of Kick-Ass, which came off to me as him condemning the portrayal of violence, rather than reviewing the movie in itself. He either gave it one star or no stars (I cannot remember). At the same time, it goes to show this man for what he is, a brilliant writer who uses his skills in treating cinema as literary as possible in a manner that allows him to speak how he feels about a film, without regards to the outside acclaim or negativity a film will receive. Whenever he's go against the popular opinion of a movie, it never occurred out of rebellion, but solely out of his personal opinion.
When Ebert's watching a movie, he knows what he likes and what he doesn't like and won't change it.

After all, he always remarked that he would try to make his reviews of films "relative, not absolute." While he's not the best at it (he had a lot of bad things to say about a lot of decent horror movies), the fact that he always attempted to keep that aspect is completely admirable.
It's something I myself try to do, at least when I feel I have a proper knowledge of the genre or style enough to do so.

I will admit I did have an enjoyment out of seeing his feud with Vincent Gallo progress, after a scorching review of The Brown Bunny and especially laughed out loud when I was reading his review of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. At least they had made their peace with each other a while ago.

His own opinion towards the video game medium were, in a way, distasteful but understandable. He seemed to always have a distaste for the idea that video games can be considered a powerful form of storytelling (Clearly he has never played the Uncharted, The Legend of Zelda or Bioshock series of games), but granted, it's an old-fashioned mindset that I'm sure many agree with (and that I, at one point, did myself).

None of these change the fact that he set a new way of filmgoing to be accessed to the mainstream audience. His review tv shows and articles in the Chicago Sun-Times are quite frankly a godsend, however bourgeois you may call them to be. Now, an entire American layman audience and a full-time cinema student society can have a balancing point and a way to communicate ideas and sympathies with each other, because Ebert had found a way to mesh his own learned film sensibilities and the guy inside of him who just wants to be entertained together for better.
When the original The Last House on the Left was released in 1972, he was the very first to recognize its connection with Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece The Virgin Spring, unlike many who just saw it as senseless early torture porn.
When Werner Herzog was losing recognition, Ebert fought to keep him in everybody's eye, as an admirer rather than a snobby 'YOU NEED TO KNOW WHO HE IS' connoisseur of arts.
Ebert had always kept a lot of classic films of all different cultures relevant and in the loop of the modern filmgoer.

But, of course, one cannot forget that, in the later part of his career, he fought cancer til the bitter end, just to keep his art of review to the appeasement of all his readers. An 11-year fight with its ups and downs. It's sobering a bit to remember all the sad images of post-cancer Ebert and notice that he still has a smile on his face, even when he can no longer speak or eat, that his jaw and throat were no longer his.
It's fortunate to know that he was able to continue a life with these disabilities. It's unfortunate to remember some people cannot...
I will always remember his 2010 statement when he decided not to undergo anymore surgery...

I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting. My lifetime's memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

Within his 70 years of living, the man has made a mark on how we can view films and will always be held among the likes of Pauline Kael as having revolutionized the opinions of the cinematic world, even if I may resent it. When I watch a film, it's hard for me to look at a film outside of its technique or storytelling (something I've had friends beat me over the head for doing).
Ebert never had that problem. He saw films as a whole and judged them based on that and other things. He always seemed to be able to predict how a film will fare in history (sometimes he wouldn't, like Die Hard or Blue Velvet).
And he seemed to have enjoyed himself throughout his life, even despite his most certainly painful bouts against cancer and surgeries. If he had to give the life experience a rating, I think he would have given it Two Thumbs Up.

"So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies."