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Evil Dead (“When Horror Met Funny”)

26 Jun

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Synopsis: “Five friends head to a remote cabin, where the discovery of a Book of the Dead leads them to unwittingly summon up demons living in the nearby woods. The evil presence possesses them until only one is left to fight for survival.” (Rated R; 1 hour, 31 minutes)

There are so many different types of horror movies, it’s actually become challenging to track them all. Between supernatural horror, exorcism movies, slasher films, torture porn, even Japanese horror has become its own genre (think of The Ring or the equally terrifying original Ringu as one of many movies with pale, disturbing ghosts staring at the victims, and literally scaring the life from their bodies). Some use humor as their characters get picked off one by one (Scream was an extreme example of this, while the later Final Destination movies were gruesomely hilarious). Others go via a humorless route, hoping that where they fall short in making their audience laugh they’ll make up for it by scaring the bejesus out of you (Insidious and the aforementioned The Ring were prime examples of this).

In this piece I’m interested in discussing the humorous variety. Anyone who hates being scared would understandably ask how a horror movie could ever be funny. Allow me to describe the different ways:

Horror Spoofs – This is the most obvious kind, as movies such as the Scary Movie franchise are anything but frightening. They take the scary ideas, and use humor so silly that even if there is gore it’s absolutely absurd. These flicks are not intended to scare, chill or make their audience jump, and their genre would more aptly be considered comedy – not horror. (Examples of this include a couple of movies I reviewed this year, such as Scary MoVie and the less awful A Haunted House.)

Horror Satires – This is where the lines start to get blurred between comedy and horror. Half the people leaving these films will refer to them as horror, others laugh at the description and claim they are simply comedies with gore. They ideally are clever satires that take the genre and try to flip it on its head. It’s an interesting device because some of these movies have no intention of actually scaring you, but will have as much gore as you can imagine (Tucker And Dale Vs Evil) and others truly want to scare you, but the humor is not merely comic relief, it is central to their core (Scream).  Some of my favorite horror movies fall into this category. (Other examples: Shaun Of The Dead and Cabin In The Woods.)

Horror Camp – No, I’m not referring to the countless horror movies that take place in a summer camp, though those will often also apply to this category. I’m referring to campy horror flicks, both intentional and also marvelously unintentional. I refer to the many horror movies where the acting is so terrible and the dialogue is so lame, that when they say “I’ll be right back” you’re not wondering what will happen, but rather how the person will soon die. It’s the movies where one teenager (always played by older actors of course) goes to the forest to have sex (let’s just ignore the fact that they always seem comfortable on the twigs, bugs and rocks for a moment) and you get those fun moments of gratuitous nudity followed by a (hopefully) creative death. Bonus points for the movies that enjoy combining those two elements and include gratuitous nudity and death in the same image (use your own imagination, this is supposed to be a semi-clean blog!) Countless movies fall into this category, from some of the later Friday The 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street sequels, to the more recent Final Destination movies. Each of these started as serious horror movies, but at a certain point the mystery of WHO the killer was revealed, and the fun became more about HOW each person would be, ahem, dispatched. I used to watch these movies with my childhood friend Josh, and we’d laugh hysterically as each person would be killed in a ridiculous way, and rewind and re-watch some of the better scenes. And by better, I mean over-the-top cheesy-bad special effects, where you could see the person clearly become a mannequin as they’re killed due to lousy editing. And for any of my parents reading this blog, no we wouldn’t rewind and re-watch the nudity over and over again cracking up, of coooooourse not…Speaking of Josh, if you haven’t already read about him in my Blockbuster Video story, check it out here, trust me.

There are many other categories of horror as mentioned earlier, but those are generally not comedic. Very few people will be laughing at or with The Ring or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and they have a strong place in the horror medium, but not really anywhere in the horror comedy spectrum. Although I will note that there is some laughter that sometimes emanates from the audience even in the scariest of movies immediately after a scare has been truly effective. This is less a statement of the audiences’ sadistic pleasures, and more a catharsis of relief after the scene ends, as it generally gives you a breather until the next scary part builds up.

The Evil Dead has always been a franchise that interestingly mixed comedy with horror. Directed by the brilliantly inventive Sam Raimi, there were three movies made that would each fit into my different categories. The original was probably “Horror Camp”, since it was predominately intended to scare, and although people find it hilarious now, that is in large part due to its extremely low budget production quality, as well as the cult phenomenon that has come from it. (Think of how people laugh throughout The Rocky Horror Picture Show now, it’s in line with that same idea of cult-classic camp.) Its sequel, Evil Dead II, was more of a “Horror Satire”. It took the same ideas and story of the original, and somewhat recreated it in an intentionally hilarious way, while still maintaining the gruesome factor. The third and (until now) final one was called Army Of Darkness, and I suppose it fit into the “Horror Spoof” category, since it was really nothing but a cartoonish comedy that still had a bit of a horror theme. I actually discussed these films in a previous post you can read here, in the paragraph about Sam Raimi.

As a quick tangent, I would like to point out that the Gremlins franchise also drastically changed horror genres. The original 1984 movie was a cleverly funny horror film, and the much-maligned (but quite underrated in my opinion) 1990 sequel transformed into a comedy with only slight horror elements. The idea of a movie sequel creating a noticeable tonal shift is a discussion I will leave for another day.

For years the fans of the Evil Dead franchise had been hoping that Raimi would return to create another sequel, but he simply wasn’t ready to do so. Along came Fede Álvarez from left field (aka his house in Uruguay), and he won over the studio, as well as Sam Raimi’s blessing to make the fourth movie without him. How did this happen? It’s quite the Cinderella story…

Álvarez spent a whopping total of $300 to make a 5 minute short called Panic Attack. Let me clarify that, not 300 million dollars like the budget to huge blockbuster movies, not 300 thousand dollars like the budget of a tiny independent film, not even 3000 dollars like the budget of a little student film. No, he spent the same amount of money to make his special effects-riddled short, as it costs to buy an Xbox. He wrote, directed and edited the movie, and then created the special effects using his computer. Before you continue this article, sit back, turn off the lights, and watch the short here. (Fear not scaredy cats, it’s tense and exciting, but not scary or gruesome).

Finished yet? Now imagine watching that, realizing this man managed to make it for next to nothing, and seeing it go viral within days of being put online (in large part thanks to Kanye West tweeting it when it was first released). It definitely got him immediate attention, meetings, and a deal that eventually resulted with him directing this newest Evil Dead. Although it’s somewhat ironic that the special effects he cobbled together in the short were computer generated, considering the movie was almost exclusively not. It turns out that Álvarez finds much of CGI to be cheap and lazy (a sentiment I agree with wholeheartedly) and went out of his way to make all of the special effects old school. Nice! And there were some impressive effects here ladies and gentlemen. Hands sawed off, things flying in the air, and even the infamous nod to the original – yes, there was a tree-rape scene. In fact, thanks to my friend Shani (who went with Adi and myself to see the movie), I got tons of great information about the movie itself. Here is a great link for anyone who’s already seen it (because it CONTAINS MANY SPOILERS). If you’ve seen the movie, it will show many of the many respectful nods to the original that Álvarez included.

How did I like it? Quite a lot. It was definitely meant to be great fun to watch, but not necessarily funny like the originals. Of course Álvarez knew that he would be providing funny moments simply by association, but as a whole the movie was tense, had great timing, and a consistently awesome visual setting. He also provided a clever context to justify the typical idiocy of a bunch of guys and gals staying in the woods who clearly should get the hell out of there. The main character quickly starts doing crazy things and has clearly been taken over by some sort of evil demon spirit, and in lucid moments she begs everyone else to leave. Álvarez had to think up a way to most creatively keep them there, and he came up with a doozy. The entire plot of why they’re isolated the woods is that they’re all trying to dry her up from her recurrent drug addiction. They know she’ll lie and do anything to get out of it, so it becomes a hilarious and convincing reason to not believe anything she says or does, because she’s a lying junkie. So clearly when she’s covered in wounds and looks like a ghost and making things fly in the air, it’s all part of drug withdrawal. Awesome. That reminded me of one of the truly hilarious moments of the horror classic The Exorcist. After Linda Blair first levitates her bed and speaks in tongues, her doctor describes that this is all explained by ADHD, and prescribes her this miracle drug called Ritalin. AMAZING.

Unfortunately, my horror-loving fiancée didn’t enjoy it much, because it was simply too gruesome and gory for her. As much as she loves the genre, she can’t handle explicit (fake) imagery, which made this movie a bit of a losing battle for her. But as for Shani and myself, we loved it. A now somewhat-typical horror story, with a hefty offering of great scenes and visuals, along with some nifty film-making and editing, made for a fun night out at this rebirth of the horror franchise.

And if you’re a fan of the series, be sure to stay until the end of the credits, you’ll see…

The movie was better than Tucker & Dale Vs Evil, which was a funny “cabin in the woods” riff. But it wasn’t as amazing as THE ultimate “cabin in the woods” riff, you know, The Cabin In The Woods!

Quality Rating: A-

Boaz Rating: A

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Olympus Has Fallen (“My Romantic Weekend In Laguna Beach”)

6 Apr

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Synopsis: “Disgraced former Presidential guard Mike Banning finds himself trapped inside the White House in the wake of a terrorist attack; using his inside knowledge, Banning works with national security to rescue the President from his kidnappers.” (Rated R; 1 hour, 40 minutes)

Just see this movie. It won’t be winning any awards, but see this movie. The dialogue is ridiculous, and the characters are silly caricatures, but see this movie. Wait, you don’t like action movies? Okay, fine, DON”T see this movie in that case. But if you do enjoy an absolutely brainless “yippee-ki-yay” action movie, where all that matters is that the good guy gets as many bad guys as possible to kill, and has the craziest obstacles to overcome, then this is your movie. And yes, that means this was my type of movie, and I hope yours too! Apparently Adi and I had our own adventures to deal with just getting to the theater, so before I get into the review I’ll give you my own ridiculous context…

Here we were having an absolutely lovely and beautiful weekend in Laguna Beach, an extravagant engagement present from dear friends Melissa & Anthony. Friday night was spent eating the fabulous dinner Adi had packed up, as well as walking around the quiet streets of Laguna; this included a proverbial romantic walk on the beach. Saturday (aka our Jewish Sabbath day) was spent walking around town, looking at tide-pools and lying on beach-chairs on the sand. The weather was perfect, the setting was lovely, it was paradise for us! Well, for Adi that is…for this crazy movie-fan, what took this weekend from being fun to being sublime was when Adi suggested, “if we can find a movie that starts at the right time, we can see something Saturday night after dinner”. For those of you who don’t know me, that may sound like a normal statement for someone to offer for a Saturday night out. But for those who DO know me, the statement was no different than telling a child, “Timmy, if you behave I’ll let you have ice cream and candy and this bucket of sugar tonight”. Little Timmy is about to be the best kid you’ve ever seen, just as I was about to make sure a movie happened…it was a foregone conclusion.

“Look movies up tonight” Adi suggested, but no, I needed to find a newspaper NOW and look up showtimes. Thankfully, the hotel’s office had complimentary LA Times for the guests, so that was easy enough. And after Adi realized that there was a sushi place she wanted to eat at in Fashion Island, I found that there was a movie theater at the mall showing Admission at 10:20pm. Okay, same location…we had a plan: we’d leave Laguna at 845pm sharp, and it would be tight but should work out!

8pm – Not so fast, the Sabbath ended and the first thing I (obviously) needed to do was check my fantasy basketball lineup. Come on people, I may have been on an engagement weekend in Laguna Beach but Sunday (the next day) was the last day of the fantasy basketball season, and I was neck and neck with Yoni in the finals. Clearly coming in first place should still be the priority, right?! So what was the problem? The internet. The frustrating, infuriating internet. The hotel’s Wi-Fi didn’t work. Not even after they called technical support and sent their in-staff engineer to the room. I pretty much went through every stage of the following chart other than “acceptance”.

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830pm – They then tried to give me free access to the pay-computer in the lobby, but even that didn’t work. Amazingly it was for an unrelated technical reason. C’mon, the clock was ticking…

835pm – They sheepishly apologized and offered me use of their work-computers. You know, the ones behind the desk where only employees stand and apologize to other guests for their internet being down. “Thank you, I’ll take it, I just need to update my fantasy roster” I explained to the manager (who amazingly sympathized and told me that he loves playing fantasy sports himself, thus validating my Laguna Beach priorities). Eureka, there was working internet! Loading Yahoo’s fantasy sports page…”FORBIDDEN – YOU ARE TRYING TO ACCESS A SITE THAT IS NOT ALLOWED” What??? “Oh”, the manager realized, “They block a lot of websites here so the employees don’t waste time on the job, I’m so sorry! Let me think if I have any other ideas for you…”

Access Denied

840pm – The manager then called in a favor from the Holiday Inn across the street, telling them about the internet being down and said, “I have a guest at our hotel who is very important and has some business to deal with online, can you please give him access to your WiFi tonight?” Access granted!

845pm – I set up my computer at the Holiday Inn across the street, where I was greeted with reverence: “Mr. Hepner, we’re very sorry about the inconvenience. Please sit anywhere you’d like. Can we get you anything? Coffee? Lemonade? Popcorn?” Oh my goodness, there was literally a popcorn machine in the corner of the lobby, staring at me with all of its bitter irony, mocking me for potentially ruining my chances to see a movie at 1020pm; and choosing fantasy basketball over its seductive past-time. My phone buzzed…it was Adi. “Where are you? We have to leave. If we’re late I hope you realize we’re skipping the movie, NOT dinner.” I replied, “Okay, I get it, I’ll make it work, I finally have internet access, let me do this quickly!” I made my basketball updates, and ran back to the hotel. (Pictured below is the actual lobby where I did my “very important business”, taken during daylight hours.)

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905pm – We were finally off speeding toward our dinner. Yikes, we were running late. Adi reminded me, “If we don’t make the movie, then we don’t; it’s as simple as that.” Yes Adi, and if a drug addict doesn’t get his hit that night, it’s not a big deal, right?

925pm – Dinner. We ran in, and had a lovely time. They were even sweet when they saw Adi’s engagement ring and brought out a congratulatory piece of cake that neither of us could eat (Adi because she’s gluten free, and I because of my kosher diet). Below is a cute photo they took, printed out and gave us before we left!

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1018pm – “Check please, we have to run!” I said. Adi rolled her eyes but played the part of an amazing  fiancée and dashed out with me toward the movie theater on the other end of the mall.

1030pm – I ran…panting…out of breath…

Boaz: “Are the previews still playing for Admission or has it started?”

Manager: “There are another 90 seconds to go before it starts.”

Boaz: “Fantastic! 2 tickets please!”

On the seating chart, I saw we were the only people in the theater. I chose our seats.

Manager: “39 dollars please.”

I laughed, assuming he had misheard what I said.

Boaz: “No, I only need two tickets to Admission.”

Manager: “It’s 19.50 per ticket.”

Boaz: “EXCUSE ME? How is that even possible?!”

Manager: “It’s a Saturday night, and we are a premium theater experience.”

Boaz: “Saturday night? You’re empty. Literally nobody is here, I can’t see a single person anywhere, and there are zero tickets sold. How does that justify charging more?”

Manager: “Sorry, we are also a premium theater. We have comfortable seats and cup holders and will even bring you alcohol if you order it.”

Boaz: “You have comfortable seats and cup holders? How is that something to brag about? That’s like saying this new car is the luxury model because it has automatic windows. That may have been a luxury 15 years ago but now that’s just normal. And I don’t want any alcohol.”

Manager: “Sorry sir, I know it’s expensive, that’s just how it is. So do you want to buy the tickets?”

Boaz: “No. I wanted to see a movie badly, but on principle this is just kind of gross. It isn’t your fault of course, I assume you don’t set the prices, but seriously this is worse than rip-off LA prices. What happens now if we don’t come? There are no tickets sold for the movie, so can you at least turn it off and save electricity and go home early?”

Manager (laughing): “I wish, that would make so much sense. No, they have a contract with the theaters that the movies will play a certain number of times each day. So legally they have to play it from start to finish even if nobody comes to watch it.”

Boaz: “That’s hilarious, what a waste of electricity and your time.”

Manager: “Yep, I totally agree, this whole thing is silly, and the prices are insane. Do you want me to see if I can find another theater still showing movies nearby? They should all be normal prices.”

At that moment, my spectacular fiancée interjected that she was looking up things on her phone during this silly exchange, and found Olympus Has Fallen a few blocks away at 1030pm. We could try! The manager wished us luck, and we ran out the door back to the car.

1040pm – We arrived at the theater, bought tickets (only $12.50 each, “normal” prices again!) and ran inside with enough time to catch 4 previews before our movie began! Does my entire story make me look nuts? Yes. Should I have sucked it up and just paid the insane ticket price for the first movie after all that? Probably. Was it all worth it at the end? Absolutely.

Did I mention to go see this movie if you enjoy any sort of action? You really should. This is what the latest, awful Die Hard sequel SHOULD have been. An entertaining movie that puts the “F” not only in curse words, but in “FUN”. It had the violent action of Commando mixed with the one-man-against-everyone-in-the-building premise of Die Hard, with a strong dash of the patriotic silliness of Air Force One and Independence Day. The hero was Gerard Butler, doing a great job impersonating Steven Seagal in his prime, mercilessly (and heroically) killing everyone who got in his way. Even Jack Bauer wouldn’t stand a chance. The only thing I would have changed was him NOT playing yet another American, because he still has one of the weakest accents out there if you ask me. But otherwise he was awesome, and it would have been hard to justify a Scotsman playing a high ranking secret service agent I suppose. But no more-so than most of the other plot-lines.

I would love to dedicate an entire paragraph just to listing the silly flaws in the logic of the story, but most of them would act as spoilers so I will just say to see it yourself. Though I will point out that the “noble” decisions that the president made throughout the movie were awful, awful decisions; but in movie-land it made him a great and inspiring leader. So I’ll just leave it alone and swallow that logic along with the rest of the movie…this is after all a flick where the entire secret service literally ran out of the White House INTO machine gun fire one after the other after the other…everyone except for Gerard Butler of course, who realized that NOT walking into a machine gun slaughter was actually the better tactic, that’s why he’s the hero!

Do I sound like I’m making fun of the movie? I really don’t mean to, because I’m not being sarcastic when I write that it’s a damn entertaining piece of film-making, and I want to believe that every part of it was intended to be. Gerard Butler was meant to be the only character with the sense and know-how to beat the endless stream of (Korean) bad guys. Morgan Freeman (who becomes the acting president) was meant to be a natural and amazing decision-maker; he should be since he was the President in Deep Impact. Angela Bassett was meant to be…actually, I don’t know what her purpose was in the movie. She was kind of wasted in a role as one of the people in the War Room looking concerned throughout the movie. Besides her there was Robert Forster and Sean O’Bryan playing some of the douche-bag politicians and generals who had the audacity to question Gerard Butler; you just knew that every decision they made would be wrong, and when Gerard Butler called them idiots you had to cheer. (Hooray for insulting your superiors!)

No, this wasn’t an intelligent movie. Most of the characters were as clichéd and silly and predictable as they come. But the action was simply awesome, the thrills were actually thrilling, and you were excited to watch it play out. There are times where not being believable in a movie can really ruin the experience, but this wasn’t one of them. When are those times? I would give that the same answer as how Justice Potter Stewart famously defined pornography in 1964, “I know it when I see it”. And I certainly knew this wasn’t it.

Antoine Fuqua has made some gritty action films (Training Day) but here he provided the audience with a good old-fashioned experience that reminded me of the fun I had watching a prep school kid kill countless bad guys in Toy Soldiers. This is what going to the movies is for: having a hell of a great time.

As for Adi? She had a great time watching it as well, and we each had a wonderful weekend in Laguna Beach. Clearly, it was a restful, peaceful and romantic experience; with just the sun, the beach, the lack of internet, my fantasy basketball and the rush to the movie theater adding to the experience. And no, it’s not lost on me how lucky I am to have someone put up with all of what you read!

The movie was better than A Good Day To Die Hard, which I reviewed here. In fact it’s basically the sequel that should have been made in the first place. It still doesn’t match up to the perfection that was the original Die Hard, which is a model for so many great action movies that modeled themselves after it.

Quality Rating: B+ (Unless I can actually hear Antoine Fuqua claim that he meant to have every absurd part of the movie turn out that way, in which case it gets a solid A)

Boaz Rating: A+ (As if you couldn’t predict that)

Django Unchained (“My Blog’s First Movie Review”)

2 Jan

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Synopsis: “With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.” (Rated R; 2 hours 45 minutes)

To start off my first movie of 2013, I decided to exit my comfort zone a bit, and create a simple little blog where I can write anything from a quick comment to a full movie review about EVERY MOVIE I SEE – in theaters at least…let’s hope this doesn’t look terrible!

Kicking off 2013 (and to help Adi and I relax a bit after dealing with insurance companies and doctors all day), we went to see Quentin Tarantino’s latest, and boy was it a fun (almost) 3 hours!

Obvious disclaimer: You will not like this movie if you don’t like his other movies. If you hated Inglorious Basterds, thought it was too violent, or heaven forbid – too unrealistic – then you won’t like this one any more than that. If like the rest of us you thought Inglorious Basterds was an awesome revenge fantasy where the Jews got to get their Tarantino-esque rocks off killing Nazis, then this movie does for black people what that did for Jews. Jamie Foxx does a great job in the Clint Eastwood type silent badass cowboy character, and Chistoph Waltz was fantastic spinning Tarantino’s amusing and clever dialogue.

The movie was entertaining from start to finish, fun amounts of blood for an action junkie like myself, kind of like with Kill Bill.

And Samuel L Jackson was hilarious as the ultimate “Uncle Tom”, so many great characters, and the music as always is essential to the mood of the movie…absolutely recommend it.

It was as great as Inglorious Basterds, maybe better, and less good than…The Help

Quality Rating: A+

Boaz Rating: A+ (Probably my favorite movie released in 2012)