There was a typical outcry of geek rage when it was announced that Sam Raimi's low-budget, cult hit The Evil Dead was being remade. It's something that happens over and over when the seminal properties of an American sub-culture get co-opted because of name recognition and a studio betting on an audience that's willing to spend money at opening weekend. It's almost heartening to hear that rarefied genre nerds are actually pissed that Spike Lee is remaking Oldboy, and that's Korean. There are many that would love to see a remake of Casablanca because they would never be interested in watching the original.
Remake haters miss the point: that thing you love, regardless of how sanctified it might seem, still exists unmolested. The 2013 reboot, Evil Dead, changes nothing about the heritage of Raimi's beloved trilogy.
This Evil Dead finds four friends staging an intervention for the meth-addicted Mia (Jane Levy, Nobody Walks) at a really shitty cabin in the woods. David (Shiloh Fernandez, Red Riding Hood) is Mia's errant brother, who couldn't bring himself to be by her side when their mother was dying in a mental institution -- helping to fuel Mia's distrustful, downward spiral. Olivia, a practicing nurse (Jessica Lucas, Cloverfield) is convinced that they, along with their friends, Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci, Girls) and Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore, Burning Man) can convince Mia to kick the drugs while providing for her in the middle of nowhere as she goes through withdrawals. Mia's previous attempts to get clean have cast some doubts about her willpower.
Unfortunately, the cabin has a basement with a bunch of dead cats and The Book of the Dead, which were used to kill a malevolent, sleeping demon who can bring about the biblical apocalypse. Bound by barbed wire and in human flesh, Eric can't help but flip through the book's blood-soaked pages and translate its ancient spells that the annotations literally scream at him to not to read. Of course, he does and everything goes to Hell. At least, he winds up suffering the most.
Breathtaking Fright. Jane Levy reacts after a friend returns from a sardine lunch in Evil Dead.
Directed and adapted by Fede Alvarez, in his feature debut (and co-written by Diablo Cody), Evil Dead is divorced from the original's guerilla-style roots but still true to the idea of its tone. The mythology has changed to a more Judeo-Christian version -- this manifestation is less Deadite and more witchy --and the motivations of the characters are given a new depth. But it never really delves into the corollary between addiction and possession in the way it might have, just to set itself apart thematically.
The problem is the veneer. While Alvarez shoots a great looking film with a creepy atmosphere and great production design, the slickness and bland characters lessen Evil Dead's charm. Alvarez possesses an Alexandre Aja-like predilection for humorless brutality, eliciting one-note, if immediate performances from a good cast and a few new ideas. By the end, despite the artifice, you'll still be interested -- and the rain of blood was sweet.
But no one is particularly likeable despite all of them being nice people and apparently close friends, so when Evil Dead ratchets up the wonderfully practical violence to impressive levels, that isn't really a complaint. The tongue cutting, skin-scalded, face mutilating, blood vomiting, tree rapes and amputations (including one that hints at Ash's use of a chainsaw) are really the most interesting things about it.
Much like Zack Snyder's remake of Dawn of the Dead, 2013's Evil Dead is an entertaining update that distills a better movie for a new generation.
Terminator 2 in 1992 and Jurassic Park in '93 were a seminal one-two punch in the realm of computer generated characters. CG had been used in non-animated films before, primordially, from TRON to The Last Starfighter. But the technology made inroads into films and television throughout the '80s, and it was the first computer generated "morph" effect in Willow (1988) and the stained-glass knight sequence in 1985's otherwise forgettable Young Sherlock Holmes that begat the now iconic T-1000 and T-Rex.
Both films bowled audiences over with their visuals, and both have a nostalgia factor. Terminator 2 is the better flick but I'm only conflating them due to their innovative CG antagonists; a liquid metal assassin and photorealistic dinosaurs -- both of which realigned what modern film goers came to expect from their big, summer special FX movies.
But groundbreaking though it is -- a Star Wars moment for many -- Jurassic Park is not a great movie. Or even a particularly great Steven Spielberg movie. Seeing it again in a theater for the first time in 20 years, resplendent with a new and rather stunning IMAX 3-D transfer, hasn't really changed that.
Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill, in his most famous role) is a paleontologist who, with his paleobotanist girlfriend, Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern, Blue Velvet) are asked by their academic sugar daddy, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough, Gandhi) to visit his new, top-secret "biological preserve." The billionaire CEO of InGen, a bio-tech corporation, Hammond needs the scientists to assuage his investors -- represented by a witless lawyer (Martin Ferrero, Gods and Monsters) -- that the risk of running a petting zoo full of prehistoric creatures is actually a safe investment.
Along with Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, The Fly), a leather-jacketed, hilariously "rock star" mathematician, the conscripted trio of scientists discover that Hammond has more or less lost his goddamn mind if he thinks that genetically engineering dinosaurs is a good idea, no matter how cool it sounds. When Hammond's pointless grandchildren (Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello) show up for the tour, it also becomes clear that he's a feckless idiot. Predictably, the test run goes off the rails.
Based on the titular novel by Michael Creighton, Jurassic Park is (on the surface) an exciting story. Creighton, already a successful, quasi-science fiction/thriller novelist (whose books were adapted to film almost as readily as Stephen King's) crafted a story of genetics and fantasy that seemed a natural fit for Spielberg's sense of awe.
And Spielberg does his best to manufacture that sense of awe with every tool he's used before plus the innovation of CG. He doesn't overdo it either, finding a great balance between computer generated and peerless, truly inspiring practical FX work from the legendary Stan Winston. But the ham-fisted script, adapted by Creighton and longtime Spielberg script polisher David Koepp winds up being a mess of exposition and borderline stupid plotting before you get to the goods. Jaws is the template from the opening sequence, which finds some poor Guatemalan getting eaten alive during the prisoner transfer of a pissed off velociraptor. The Berg's need to tease the audience until all hell breaks loose and he can let you see his sensational beasts is classic showmanship. The difference is, with something like Jaws, the characters are organic. They feel real -- a much harder trick than rendering a dinosaur.
Lean on Me. Sam Neill turns to alternative treatments for his bad back in Jurassic Park.
Most of Jurassic Park's characters are caricatures: at best they're shallow and at worst they're avatars. Come up with all the dinosaur set pieces you want. Vanilla, clueless people (who always felt somewhat sterile -- Alan and Ellie have all the sexual chemistry of gay siblings, Malcolm is just an overgrown geek who finally learned to get laid) hinder the tension, making Jurassic Park feel as pedantic and on-the-rails as the very tour they are taking. Spectacle was always the name of its hollow game.
That said, Sam Jackson and his smoke trail are awesome in 3-D. "Hold on to your butts."
The long-running, Muskogee-based Bare Bones film festival returns for 2013 and is underway through this weekend, exhibiting a slate of local and international films.
Founded in 1999 by Oscar and Shironbutterfly, Bare Bones features a weeklong slew of films, seminars and networking opportunities. Created with education in mind, as well as exhibition, Bare Bones is unique in the way it brings audiences and indie filmmakers together -- fostering a fun atmosphere while getting down to the nuts and bolts of low-budget filmmaking. It only features works made for less than a million dollars.
Muskogee comes to life with screenings at multiple theaters, tours, live music and other events during the festival. Workshops for up-and-coming filmmakers augment a bevy of feature-length films, shorts, documentaries and music videos during an event whose overall philosophy is simple: supporting the talents that make it happen.
The Bare Bones Film Festival runs through April 14. Event passes vary in price from $5 to $75. For more information visit www.barebonesfilmfestivals.org.
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