TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992)

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ARMY OF DARKNESS: The Director’s Cut (1992)

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I know some fans will disagree with me, but Army Of Darkness is my least favorite of the Evil Dead films. I was blown away by the intense and deliriously gory roller coaster ride that was the first flick and was never completely satisfied by the sequels which got lighter as they went along…though I have come to really enjoy them. Evil Dead was a blood and guts horror with a fairly serious and grim tone and by the time we get to AOD, it had become a supernatural Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Sure it’s a lot of fun and Bruce Campbell really has a blast with Ash, but I was always disappointed that Raimi abandoned the ferocity and bloodthirstiness of the original.

Story picks up at the point we left Ash at the end of Evil Dead II. He has been thrust back in time and has arrived in the Dark Ages where the deadites are terrorizing a land of feudal kingdoms. He is at first mistaken for an enemy by ruling Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert), but his slaying of a deadite soon has him believed to be a long prophesied hero. Ash only wants to get home and to do that, he needs the Necronomicon. In true Ash style, he screws it up and now the armies of the deadites are descending upon the castle of his new allies. Can he defeat the army of darkness and save the kingdom of Lord Arthur, as well as, rescue the fair maiden, Sheila (Embeth Davidtz) who has caught his eye?

Putting aside the disappointment that might arise from this flick straying even further from the tone and gore of the first Evil Dead, this is a fun fantasy adventure with a twisted sense of humor. It does evoke the fantasy adventures of yesteryear, especially with some charming stop motion animation sequences that pay tribute to the works of Ray Harryhausen and some of his classics. The flick can get very goofy at times and sometimes it is a little too silly for it’s own good, as director and co-writer…with Ivan Raimi…Sam Raimi is a bit overindulgent in places, as he can be. There is little bloodshed and the film’s effects were modest at the time and some appear cheesy now by today’s standards…though there is a nostalgic charm attached to it as a result. There is a lot of action and one of the best sequences is a deliriously lunatic bit set in an old windmill with Ash battling a horde of miniature versions of himself. It is here were Raimi’s absurd camera work and overindulgence works and works well, not to mention the physical comedy of his star, Campbell. It’s one of the best sequences and the film never really reaches that fever pitch again. To add atmosphere, Danny Elfman and Joe LoDuca share scoring chores, while cinematographer Bill Pope gives the film an old fashioned fantasy adventure look. Obviously, as this is the director’s cut, this version features the far more bleak, yet more suiting to Ash, ending. It does work better, though the S Mart ending does have merit, too.

As for the cast, aside from Bruce Campbell, it is fairly unremarkable though Davidz is a lovely damsel, but doesn’t get much to do until she is possessed. Then the actress has some over-the-top fun. Campbell on the other hand, is in top form with both his sarcastic and overblown swagger, to his physical comedy and even outright heroics. Once again he creates a character who is both jackass and James Bond at the same time. Campbell doesn’t get enough credit for being able to walk a fine line between hero and buffoon and without a misstep. He really is very good at it.

Overall I like this movie, but have a hard time accepting it as one of the Evil Dead series, despite the involvement of Ash and having been led to this point at the end of Evil Dead II. It is a fun and sometimes very charming fantasy adventure with a twisted sense of humor at it’s center. It does get a little too overindulgent with the silliness at times, though it’s leading man successfully plays a character who is jerk, fool, hero and Romeo all at the same time…and not many can make that claim. It is well directed by Sam Raimi and there is cleverness in the script with brother Ivan, it’s just that it is as far removed from the original Evil Dead as one could get…and while that is somewhat refreshing, it also alienates it from the film it was spawned from. Thankfully, the recent Ash vs Evil Dead TV series returned us back to the over-the-top gore from the first flick without losing the sense of humor from the following two.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 chainsaw arms.

3 chainsaws

 

 

 

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COOL STUFF: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 on BLU-RAY

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THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014) DVD/Blu-Ray

I have mixed feelings about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (click on the title for full review), though will admit I have softened my stance a little after watching it again. Not having done quite as well as previous installments, this summer blockbuster has been rushed onto home media before the summer is even over and comes loaded with extras to lure us in. But is it worth the buy?… Let’s take a look…

TASM2 may  have it’s flaws but, it was a great looking and well designed movie and the digital Blu-Ray image is gorgeous and even crisper on your HD TV then blown up on a movie screen. The colors are rich and the complex action and FX really look great and hold up under the scrutiny of being up close in your living room. The sound is great and the film may, overall, actually play better at home where it’s somewhat convoluted story can be absorbed better with the more intimate setting. The deciding factor when considering picking up a somewhat flawed film are the extras… and this disc has a generous amount of them to sway us. First off we get about a dozen deleted scenes. Not all of them are gems, we can see why some did not make the cut but, we do get to see more of the Green Goblin, a few more scenes with Felicity Jone’s character of Felicia Hardy and a scene between Peter and his father which was interesting though I understand the decision to not go that route. The real draw for me is over 100 minutes of production footage and interviews and as an amateur/wannabe filmmaker myself, I can eat this stuff up and it was cool to see how this complex production came together. There is also the traditional director’s commentary and even a music video from Alicia Keys for “It’s On Again” from the movie.

So, whether you want to pick this up depends on how much you liked the flick. The film plays a bit better at home, looks and sounds great and has a generous amount of extras to add to it’s appeal. As a movie geek, who loves this kind of stuff, I found myself being a bit more forgiving of it’s flaws the second time around and really enjoyed the in-depth look at how the film’s production came together. Unless the movie completely failed to interest you, or, you consider it to be a far greater disappointment then I did (see review) then I’d say it’s worth having, especially as most retail outlets have it on sale for it’s release, as well.

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REVIEW: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)

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THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)

While I can safely say The Amazing Spider-Man 2 avoids some of the epic badness of Raimi’s bloated Spider-Man 3… which also has some good stuff too, it wasn’t a complete disaster… it certainly is a disappointing and schizophrenic film to say the least. Sequel’s biggest problem is that the story is all over the place and so is it’s tone. It’s Dark Knight serious one minute and Batman Forever campy the next and trying to have it both ways. The scatterbrained story is hard to paraphrase but, it has Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) trying to deal with his feelings for Gwen (Emma Stone) while also trying to deal with the guilt from the death of her father (Denis Leary) and the promise he made to him before he died to stay away from her. When he is not getting all emo over that, he is still pining for the truth about his mother and father (Embeth Davidtz and Campbell Scott) and their disappearance. In the middle of all this moping we have the arrival of a new villain named Electro (Jamie Foxx) who is a nerdish Oscorp power expert and Spider-Man groupie whose fall into the wrong vat (it’s always a vat of something!) turns him into a Spider-Man hating live wire… very similar to Batman Forever’s Riddler storyline, hence my reference. And if that’s not enough, Peter’s old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns home from abroad to take over Oscorp when his father passes away. But, Harry has inherited more then the company from dear old dad, as he also has his degenerative disease… and his research indicates only Spider-Man’s blood can save him… still with me? Needless to say, Peter/Spider-Man is up to his webs in bad guys and emotional turmoil as he tries to figure out his relationship issues, parental issues and Electro and Green Goblin issues as Harry’s efforts to save himself have a disturbing effect… at least he didn’t fall in a vat…oh, and did I mention The Rhino (Paul Giamatti)?

Despite some very top notch effects and some impressive, though frantic action, scenes Amazing Spider-Man 2 has far too much story to tell for it’s own good and very little of it comes to a satisfying conclusion. It can be slow moving at times and there are long stretches where not much is really accomplished, though there is a lot to get done considering all the conflicts the script, by Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinker and Alex Kurtzman, sets up. Director Marc Webb also seems a little uncertain as to the tone he wants for his complicated film and seems to wing-it scene by scene. Sometimes he wants the film to have a serious dramatic impact but, sometimes he wants to have what he interprets as comic book style fun and the constantly changing tone between campy and dire is disorientating and creates a distance from the proceedings. I never felt really involved in the story which had a lot for me to get involved in, if any of it really had the focus and strength it should have. Sometimes we get some very serious sequences such as the before mentioned emotional torment Peter is suffering and then we get some very campy and goofy scenes such as Jaime Foxx’s dorky Max Dillon before he becomes a human Die Hard battery. And that is a big shame because Electro could have been a real imposing villain if his set-up wasn’t so silly and cliche’. His powers are portrayed with some real effectiveness and he has a tremendous battle with Spidey in Times Square… one of the film’s best scenes… but, then he all but disappears till the script needs him again to join forces with the desperate Harry. At least TASM2 avoids SM3‘s mistake and let’s Spidey have it out with Electro before a certain goon on a glider makes his appearance. And as for Harry, we have no grasp of Peter’s relationship with him, as this is the first time in this new series he is seen or mentioned. So it has no resonance. At least Raimi always had Harry present and it took two films before he became a villain. Here we don’t even get to know Harry well enough for his transformation into the Green Goblin to have the weight it needs. And once the credits roll, we feel like we’ve sat through a middle film in an undesignated trilogy as there seems to be no solid beginning or end to the story. It seems like an episode in a larger story arch that is ongoing, so, we leave the theater feeling like we’ve seen an incomplete film. It sort of just ends with only a few story elements resolved. That’s OK in comics because they are monthly, here we have to wait another two years to see if this is going anywhere.

The cast are all good, though no one really gets the screen time their character deserves except for Garfield. And he is a good Peter/Spidey though, those who felt Tobey Maguire’s Spidey was a bit too weepy, be warned, Garfield catches up a bit here. Jaime Foxx is very effective as Electro in what he is given to do though, I thought his Max Dillon was a bit too goofy and campy considering how serious we are supposed to take him when he turns spider-hating electrode. DeHaan is a bit flat as Harry in the earlier scenes but, seemed to respond better to the villainous turn and he makes a pretty effective Green Goblin, though again, isn’t utilized enough to make a real impact. Emma Stone is once again charming, perky and feisty as Gwen Stacy but, her character also disappears for stretches and sometimes her place in the story seems more to frustrate Peter then anything else. She and Garfield again have a nice chemistry but Gwen is another character that needed more important things to do then just emotionally confuse our hero. The character and actress deserve better. Sally Field is once again a solid Aunt May and she and Garfield also have a nice chemistry in the few scenes they have together. Supporting players Colm Feore, Felicity Jones and Paul Giamatti are fine enough in small roles that hint at having more importance in a future installment. Again, the film focuses on things to come and neglects what’s going on now.

So, in conclusion, the second Spidey flick in this new series is somewhat of a disappointment and attempted far too much for it’s own good and then can’t make up it’s mind on exactly what tone to present that convoluted story in. There are long stretches where not much really happens, though it never got boring or tedious but, could have used it’s 142 minute running time more wisely. There were some spectacular FX and action scenes and there are elements set-up and some left unresolved that could make a solidly thrilling third flick if, they tighten the script and Webb settles on a tone and sticks with it. It’s not a train wreck, just a bit of an overloaded one that can’t decide what track it’s on sometimes.

2 and 1/2 webs.

amazing spider-man rating 2

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REVIEW: EUROPA REPORT (2013)

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EUROPA REPORT (2013)

This found footage sci-fi flick tells the story of a company that privately funds a manned space mission to the Jupiter moon of Europa, where conditions may be right to support life. As the film opens the mission is being described by Europa Ventures’ CEO Dr. Unger (Embeth Davidtz) and we know right away the mission did not go well as she tearfully begins to tell the ill-fated tale by playing the mission footage communicated back to Earth. As the footage progresses we follow the astronauts from launch to the loss of one of the crew during an accident while on spacewalk to the landing on Europa where things really start to spiral out of control. We then follow the mission to it’s obviously tragic conclusion.

Europa Report is a decent and engrossing enough sci-fi thriller, though it never really builds the intensity or suspense we would have liked. The story by Philip Gelatt is interesting and it is competently directed by Sebastián Cordero, though it never really pulls us in like the recent Gravity which has some similar sequences. One of the flaws that hurts here is that we never really get endeared to the crew. The characters are likable enough and the cast of actors are all competent but, we never really interact with them enough or get to know them well enough to really care like we did with Gravity’s two astronauts in peril. The use of the mission control footage from the ship’s interior and exterior cameras makes us distant voyeurs and the use of POV is limited so we never really feel like we are there, which is the entire point of found footage. The use of professional actors like Davidtz and Elysium’s Sharlto Copley also hinders the found footage use, as they obviously are actors, not astronauts and thus this can’t be actual footage. It renders the illusion powerless. But, those flaws aside the story is interesting and I was never bored during it’s 90 minute running time. The production value is very good. There are some nice SPFX and the sets are well-made and give the illusion of the characters being inside a real spacecraft and not a set. Too bad we are never made to feel like we are in there with them. Obviously, it is not until the final frames do we find out what is really been happening on Jupiter’s moon and the film kept me curious though, I suspected the conclusion would reveal as much and play out like it did.

It’s just a shame this was only a moderately entertaining little flick instead of a real nail-biter like the story’s potential held. If you like sci-fi and you like found footage, it certainly is better than Apollo 18 but, should also have been a lot better than it is. I wasn’t expecting another Gravity or even a space set Blair Witch but, it could have been something that at least evoked those films and gave us more chills, suspense and intensity. Overall worth a look and I did enjoy it but, could have been so much more.

3 moons of Jupiter!

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