Embracing the Melodrama Part II #125: Spring (dir by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead)


Spring_(2014_film)_POSTERWhen was the last time that a film truly took your be surprise?

Well, regardless of what you may think of the film overall, Spring will take you by surprise.  The film takes two different genres — talky romance and body horror — and mashes them together.  It’s the sort of thing that shouldn’t work and, yet, it somehow does.  If Richard Linklater and David Cronenberg spliced their DNA, the result would be Spring.

Spring opens in Los Angeles, with Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) sitting at the bedside of his cancer-stricken mother and watching her die.  After the funeral, Evan is drinking at a bar when a drunk and obnoxious toadsucker picks a fight with him.  Though Evan, at first, tries to avoid the confrontation, he eventually ends up punching the man.  (Evan spends the majority of the film trying to avoid confrontation.  He’s actually a genuinely likable character and when was the last time you saw that in a film?)  With the man now looking to kill him and the police possibly interested in pressing assault charges, the distraught Evan impulsively decides to take a trip to Italy.

He spends a while wandering around Italy.  He hangs out with obnoxious and continually drunk tourists, the type who will be familiar to anyone who has ever spent the summer after high school graduation in Europe.  And, eventually, he ends up in a beautiful Italian village, where he meets the mysterious Louise (Nadia Hilker).

Louise is a researcher and, at first, it would seem like she and Evan have little in common.  (She’s an intellectual.  Evan, cute as he is, most definitely is not.)  But, over the course of a week, they get to know each other and Evan starts to fall in love with Louise.  These scenes are full of nonstop conversation, covering topics of culture, history, and philosophy.  It’s an obvious homage to Richard Linklater’s films with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy and it works perfectly.  Both Pucci and Hilker are likable performers and they have a lot of chemistry.

However, there’s another story unfolding.  At night, a strange creature roams the city, eating stray animals and eventually killing one of the most obnoxious American tourists to ever appear in a film.  How do these two stories connect?

Well, I’m not going to tell you.  You need to see the movie for yourself.

To be honest, when I started this review, I thought I was going to be a lot more critical of Spring.  As often happens with ambitious but low-budget indie films, there are a few scenes where the pacing is off and, once the solution to the film’s big mystery has been revealed, the explanation goes on for a bit too long.  I appreciate the filmmakers attempt to make everything plausible but, sometimes, it’s better to just gloss over the exact details.

But you know what?

As I sit here writing this review, I realize that those criticisms may be valid but, in the big picture, they don’t really matter.  So what if the film has flaws?  All films have flaws!  Spring tells a unique and interesting story and it will take you by surprise.  Plus, it captures the romance of Italy!  So, instead of getting all nitpicky, I’m just going to recommend that you see the film.

Everyone Else Is Talking About The “Evil Dead” Remake, So I Guess I Will, Too


Evil-Dead-Poster

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat — first-time director Fede Alvarez’s new remake/”reimagining” of Sam Raimi’s 1981 classic The Evil Dead (this time going out minus the article at the beginning of the title, so it’s just Evil Dead, thank you very much) is not, as its ad poster claims, “the most terrifying film you will ever experience.” That’s actually a gutsier tag line than it sounds on first reading, since it’s essentially promising that not only is this flick scarier than anything you’ve already seen, it’s scarier than anything else you’re ever going to see for the rest of your life. It can’t live up to that, period — and truth be told, it’s not even very scary at all.

Which isn’t to say that it’s bad or anything. In many key respects — eschewing CGI for “real” special effects, not even trying to cast somebody new in the role of Ash since  absolutely anyone would suffer in comparison to Bruce Campbell (who, along with Raimi, is on board as at least an air-quote producer on this one) — Alvarez and  his cohorts (including, it pains me to say, co-screenwriter Diablo Cody, who I was fairly certain was going to fuck things up here in some way, shape, or form but, pleasingly, doesn’t) get a lot of what they’re trying to do here right. The film is gory beyond belief, moves at nearly the same breakneck pace as its ’81 template, there’s a sublimely wrong tree-rape (yes, you read that correctly) scene,  the script provides a believably updated reason for why our five protagonists are getting together in a remote cabin in the woods — that looks very much like the original, might I add — in the first place ( I won’t spell it out too specifically but it gives new meaning to the old “withdrawal’s a bitch” cliche), and the performances are, on the whole, fairly solid.

They’ve also wisely chosen not to mess with the whole “haunted book inked in human blood and bound in human skin that releases untold evil onto the world” premise, so points all around for not only not messing with what worked in the original, but also for not trying to catch  lightning in a bottle twice by hewing too closely to it. Alvarez seems to have gone into this one knowing what he should and shouldn’t play around with, and that puts him a step ahead of your average horror remake director.

Here’s the rub, though — whenever you’re trying to update the look and feel of a $375,000 production on a budget of $14 million, something’s bound to get lost in translation, and no matter how hard it tries, Evil Dead circa 2013 just can’t capture the grittiness, the grime, the immediacy and, dare I say it, the heart of its progenitor. Alvarez is definitely going for an old-school approach here, and I commend him for that, but it’s still (and obviously) not old-school in actuality. Once you poke beneath the paper-thin surface, it becomes fairly obvious that any successes the new film has are more or less of the cosmetic and superficial variety. It looks good, sure — but it still feels kinda wrong, even though it’s doing its level best to cover that up by, again to its credit,  not giving you too much time to think.

I mentioned before that I by and large liked the cast — Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore and, especially, Jane Levy as our doomed (or is she?) central “heroine,” Mia — all do a nice job. But none of them especially stand out, either, which isn’t too bad a mini-metaphor for the movie itself as a whole — it’s thoroughly competent in terms of its execution, but there’s not much extra “spark” to the proceedings. Alvarez seems to understand the essential ingredients for making a solid, respectful, won’t-piss-you-off updating of a classic, but he’s got some way to go before he can create a genuine classic from whole cloth himself.

In some respects, there’s really not a whole lot he can do about that — The Evil Dead was shot in a remote Tennessee cabin while Evil Dead constructed its own location in New Zealand that set out to ape the look and feel of middle-of-nowhere USA as best it can — but that’s just endemic of the greater problem at work here, namely that this is a story that just plain not only doesn’t need a so-called “upgrade,” but literally can’t survive one with its celluloid soul intact. I give Alvarez all the kudos in the world for trying, and for at least understanding the surface elements of what made the original the undeniable classic that it’s rightly hailed as, but so much of what made Raimi’s flick the singular triumph that it was can never be duplicated. Hence, I guess, why I just referred to it as a “singular” work. In short, while we’re still talking about the first one some 32 years after its release, I’ll be damn surprised if people are talking about this remake very much even a year from now.

Still — they did what they could here, I suppose. I had an exchange with a couple of friends on facebook earlier today about the endless stream of remakes in general that we’re forced to navigate, and it made me realize that at some unspecified, silently-arrived-at point, I went from going into these things thinking “I hope they get it right this time” to  “dear God I hope they don’t fuck this one up.” It’s a subtle shift, sure, but it  certainly speaks volumes about the general performance of the studios’ big-budget-remake machine. I’m pleased to say that Alvarez et. al. don’t fuck this one up (and whatever you do, hang around until the credits are over — you’re guaranteed to leave with a smile on your face even if you don’t actually like the film at all), but it is what it is. The Evil Dead 1981 was a product of blood, sweat, tears, determination, and — weird as it may sound — love, put together by folks who didn’t always know what they were doing but were always giving it more than their best effort. Evil Dead 2013 is, for all its attempts to duplicate the trappings of its predecessor, a professionally-executed Hollywood production. You tell me which is gonna be better.

Hell —  tell me which has to be.

Trailer: Evil Dead (Full Red Band)


EvilDead

Remake. Remake. Remake.

I can hear the howls now. Not another horror remake and one of a classic in the genre that many fans consider one of the holy grails of horror cinema. Guess what I say to those people. SHUT THE FUCK UP!

With the complete blessing from both Sam Raimi and Bruce “Who is God when he wants to walk amongst his creations” Campbell and them back but in the role of producers and mentor to the remake’s director, Fede Alvarez, and the young ensemble cast I have much more faith with this particular horror remake than others of its kind.

The trailer itself looks to go on the far extreme on the horror side of the original. I didn’t get a sense of much of the black humor of the original film (and it’s subsequent semi-remake), but I think that’s a good thing. Why remake a classic beat for beat when one can go their own way and explore something even the original never did.

One thing I can say about this full red band trailer that has me jumping up and down like a horror fan on bath salts…

VIOLENTLY AMOROUS TREE: Check!

LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS OF BLOOD: Check!

GRAPHIC DISMEMBERMENT: Check!

CHAINSAW: Check!

DEADITE POSSESSIONS: Check!

FACE-EATING (or Extreme GIRL-ON-GIRL MAKE-OUT SESSION: Check and Check!

Evil Dead lands it’s bloody, possessed corpse on everyone this April 12, 2013. Until then….

….Shop smart. Shop S-MART.

Horror Trailer: The Evil Dead (Red Band)


Horror remakes is almost as old as the history of film. I’ve tried to educate those who complain that another horror classic was being remade and it will suck. Guess what horror classics have always been remade and they don’t always suck. So, instead of telling these snobs to go in their rooms and drool and jerk one off to their classics they don’t want tarnished by a remake I just shake my head and try to see if the remake holds up to the original or, better yet, judge the remake on it’s own creative merits and see if it brings something new to the “classic” original.

In 2013 we see one such horror remake arriving on the big-screen with Fede Alvarez’s new take on a true horror and grindhouse classic horror, The Evil Dead.

The film will be produced by two of the same people who made the original film in Sam Raimi and Bruce “God when walking amongst the humans he created” Campbell. There will not be a character named Ash, but the role of Mia (played by Jane Levy) will take on a similar role in the film. This trailer first premiered for a select audience during this year’s New York Comic-Con and the response was loud, louder and even louder. One thing which everyone who saw the trailer seemed to agree was that the remake looks to honor the original film (rushing POV tracking shots to the oppressive atmosphere throughout the film) while also giving director Fede Alvarez a chance to add his own visual and narrative style to the production.

It is going to be a gory remake and very oppressive and nihilistic. What the trailer doesn’t seem to hint at is any sign of dark humor that fans of the original film are now nitpicking about. Guess what…the original was straight up grindhouse horror that had nothing humorous about (well unless you consider a possessed tree raping a woman as being hilarious). So, it’s going to be interesting to see if this remake will get a chance to impress the fans of the original while at the same time show those new to the horror genre a glimpse at what 70’s horror was really all about.

The Evil Dead is set for a 2013 release date.