Recent Movie Reviews: Part V

July 29, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Let’s take some time out from my 2012 Movie Blitz to go back to some movies I have watched more recently.

Evil Dead (2013)

evil dead

The original Evil Dead directed by Sam Raimi is now widely considered classic even though it’s actually a very flawed horror film that happens to have a few iconic images. Thirty-two years later, we have what is considered a reboot as well as a loose continuation of the franchise. This time, the film is directed by Fede Alvarez in his big screen debut — and the results are surprising.

In keeping up with tradition, this reboot is also about a bunch of young people who end up in a cabin in the woods (this time for drug rehab purposes) and one of them stupidly brings a demon to life by opening a book he/she shouldn’t have. The demon possesses one of them, and like a zombie virus, the possession is spread from one to the next.

Much of the scares come from the visceral details of the graphic injuries. They get scalded by hot water, get stabbed, punctured, tossed around, covered in glass and have limbs torn right off, and yet they just keep soldiering on. And the craziest thing is that the non-possessed humans are even harder to kill than the demon-possessed characters. It’s so outrageous it’s funny — but in a good way.

I didn’t expect much from Evil Dead given the disappointing horror reboots in recent years (just about all the ones you can think of). I had heard that this one was effectively gory and disgusting but not particularly frightening — but I respectfully disagree. Yes, it was excessively bloody and gruesome and gross, but it was done effectively and not gratuitously like say the horror porn films such as Hostel and the later entries in the Saw franchise.

I didn’t recognise any of the actors except Shiloh Fernandez, who was in that awful Red Riding Hood movie, but everyone does a decent job — no small feat considering that most casts of such film are laughably bad.

So yeah, while this rendition of Evil Dead won’t make us forget the original any time soon, it was still an unexpected pleasure in the way that only gross horror movies can be.

3.5 stars out of 5

Gangster Squad (2013)

gangster-squad-poster

Gangster Squad has all the ingredients of a great blockbuster — the “loosely based on a true story” concept, the noir atmosphere of the post-WWII era, a fundamental good vs evil storyline, and a ridiculous cast headed by Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, plus Giovanni Ribisi, Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick. Everything was seemingly there, and yet the film felt like it was missing…something.

I can’t quite put my finger on it except to say that there was a sense of familiarity with the film, as though I had seen it or experienced it all before. Strictly speaking there is nothing wrong with that, but for a film of this magnitude carrying hefty expectations it just felt like the film fell well short of expectations.

The story is based around real-life notorious crime boss and former pro-boxer Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), who basically ran LA back in those days by eliminating witnesses and bringing legal officials. When even the cops tell their own not to venture into Mickey’s property, you know he’s not to be messed with. But Josh Brolin is a sergeant who can’t say no to justice, and he accepts a clandestine mission from his boss, Nick Nolte, to bring Cohen down off official police books. The rest of the cast mentioned above are pretty much all members of Brolin’s Gangster Squad, except for of course Emma Stone, one of Cohen’s women who falls in love with Ryan Gosling (because everyone loves Ryan Gosling — even though he puts on this weird, whiny voice in this movie).

Gangster Squad is a pretty-looking film that successfully captivates the mood of the era and has some crafty action sequences (including a bare-knuckle showdown that made little sense). It is ultra-violent and perhaps unnecessarily so, but I never have a huge problem with violence as long as it’s not blatantly gratuitous (well, and even then…). Where I think the film falters is the script, which never brought out the characters properly and as a result we never develop any emotional connection to them. It’s not awful by any means, but given the stars involved being merely average is not good enough.

3 stars out of 5

Dark Skies (2013)

dark-skies-poster

I love horror films and I love alien/UFO films, and Dark Skies is an attempt to roll both genres into one.

Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton are a couple struggling with financial difficulties, bringing a lot of tension to their relationship with each other and as well as with their two sons. Like a poltergeist movie, strange things start happening in and around their home, and if you know your alien abduction cliches, you would have seen them all. But thanks to some effective direction from Scott Stewart (who last gave us the lacklustre Priest), the scares are still quite effective.

The frequency and intensity of the weird stuff increases as the couple realise that there might a sinister force trying to take over their lives, leading them to seek the help of an “expert” played by JK Simmons (with some unintentionally amusing results). After receiving some advice, they buckle down and face what is going to inevitably come at them anyway — but wait, there might be a twist. Sound familiar?

I sound harsh about this film, but the thing is, you should not approach Dark Skies like it’s going to be some fantastic masterpiece. It’s a sci-fi horror about alien abduction, so keep your expectations in check. All you can really hope for are some eerie atmospheric tensions, a few creepy incidents, some “boo!” scares, an effectively climax and an ending that doesn’t suck too badly. Dark Skies delivers all of the above, albeit in ways we’ve all seen before. Thanks to my bias for scary aliens, I still had a pretty good time with it.

3.25 stars out of 5

Odd Thomas (2013)

odd thomas

I first became acquainted with Odd Thomas, the character not the film, a couple of years ago, when a friend got me In Odd We Trust, a graphic novel about a young man who can see dead people and decides to do something about it. The graphic novel is based on a series of novels written by horror master Dean Koontz.

I liked the graphic novel but thought it would be even better as a movie, and what do you know, a year or two later and we have Odd Thomas, the motion picture version, starring Anton Yelchin (one of my favourite young actors) as the titular character and the pretty Addison Timlin (whom some might recognise from Californication) as love interest Stormy. The film is actually in limbo at the moment because of a lawsuit, so I won’t disclose how I actually came about to watching it.

Odd Thomas is a film that is tonally difficult to get right because it’s supposed to be scary (with dead people and ghosts and demonic creatures and so forth) but at the same time it has to have that kiddy graphic novel feel where you have to partially suspend disbelief but not to the extent where it becomes a farce. And at the center of it lies a sweet romance between Odd and his one true love, Stormy, but it can’t be too sweet or else it will put off viewers.

Amazingly, director Stephen Sommers (GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra and The Mummy franchise) gets it right, or at least gets close enough. Odd Thomas is essentially a fun, quirky and sweet detective film laced with elements of horror and fantasy — and some well-executed action. Not everything works (some of the concepts were either too “out there” or convoluted for my liking) but on the whole the elements meshed well together.

Anton Yelchin’s unusual look makes him a perfect Odd, and his chemistry with Timlin is scorching. Willem Dafoe also gets to show off some of his comedic chops as the police chief who can’t seem to get a minute alone with his wife. It’s not cult classic material but I’d like to think it’s enjoyable enough to possibly be the first instalment of a franchise.

3.5 stars out of 5