: Hollywood, Sam Raimi, and his Ghost House Pictures have long-threatened a remake of Raimi's no-budget horror classic The Evil Dead
, and what little comfort the presence of the director himself as producer provided was erased, at least for me, by the abysmal track record of his Ghost House Pictures—a horror shingle that has produced exactly one strong horror movie, Raimi's own Drag Me to Hell
. But Raimi and his fellow producers Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell pressed on, and eventually handed the spiritual keys to Raimi's Oldsmobile over to newcomer Fede Alvarez, who, it's said, impressed the team with a fresh pitch.
2013's Evil Dead, dropping the definite article per the custom of the times, turns out to be more refresh than fresh. The movie's face, straight with the occasional unsettling grin, comes from Raimi's original, which you may or may not remember is not nearly as hilarious as Evil Dead 2 or Army of Darkness. It also stays true to the spirit of the first two movies by being kind of a remake, kind of a sequel, maybe a prequel: while it shares a young-people-in-a-cabin set-up, the characters from the earlier movies aren't recast; the continuity-minded can just imagine that it's all happening again, or before, or whatever, to a different set of people (there don't seem to be any cell phones, either, so the time period feels fuzzy). Alvarez even came up with a clever hook to get these people into the woods: Mia (Jane Levy) is trying to kick heroin, again, and her childhood friends, along with her estranged brother David (Shiloh Fernandez), come along to see her through it. The antsy, inquisitive Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) finds a book in the basement, doesn't leave well enough alone, and summons some actual demons to go along with Mia's inner ones.
The addiction-as-possession metaphor never lands as hard as it should; it just provides a little cursory delay in realization for the sober characters between the movie's rush through its earnest but student-film-y dialogue n' development and its headlong charge into mayhem. Too bad, because Levy and company appear up to the task of steeling into the more resourceful Ash of Evil Dead 2, rather than the likably vexed Ash of the original. For much of the running time, the resourceful one here is Alvarez, in devising ways to get non-CG blood flowing as ickily and copiously as possible (Pucci in particular may set some kind of record for variety of stabbings). The effect is more horrifying (and sometimes darkly playful) than really scary, but it does provide a master class in the still-convincing nature of practical makeup effects. Whatever computer enhancements have been used are nigh-invisible; even the movie's generic cabin and woods set-up feels more tactile than most. Alvarez also doesn't skimp on the camera ricochets, which are less maniacal than Raimi at his silliest, but take on an appropriately demonic energy; it does sometimes touch the secret giddiness of eyes darting around a room, looking for the quickest and most effective household tools with which to fight off demons. Evil Dead doesn't have many ideas about how to top or riff on the original movies, beyond rudimentary math: if Evil Dead 2 had one memorably severed limb, well, then this one should add more. But it does have its gruesome moments, and its characters, especially Mia and the semi-bland but determined David, aren't so thin as to engender gorehound contempt. Before, it was Campbell and Raimi who made Evil Dead a worthwhile series, rather than a one-off with the usual diminishing sequels. The 2013 refresh veers into training-ground territory; time will tell if Alvarez has a Simple Man or even a Darkman in him, too.
: Danny Boyle has a varied enough filmography that trailers for his movie can shift his past credits to accommodate their target audience. For example, 127 Hours
was obviously "from the director of Slumdog Millionaire
" (though it posted more Boyle-typical grosses than Slumdog
's massive haul), while Trance
pointedly leaves out Boyle's biggest hit in favor of name-checking the director of Trainspotting
, Shallow Grave
, and 28 Days Later
. The most popular of those three was about as widely seen as Boyle's semi-flop The Beach
, and Trance
probably has at least as much in common with that movie as it does with 28 Days Later
, but understandably no one at Fox Searchlight really wants to mention The Beach
. Kind of amazing, by the way, the long-standing relationship Boyle has maintained with Fox and its Fox Searchlight subsidiary. Even a well-liked, sometimes financially successful director like Wes Anderson has bounced around the majors and mini-majors, with Disney seeming to lose interest after Life Aquatic
, Searchlight picking up the next couple (and his forthcoming—possibly by 2013's end!—Grand Budapest Hotel
), and Focus Features winding up with Moonrise Kingdom
last year. But Boyle, whose fortunes have run far drier than Anderson's when you factor in the single-digit-millions grosses of A Life Less Ordinary
, and Sunshine
(all good-to-great movies, by the way), has logged eight movies in 16 years at Fox—seems like the worst The Beach
did was get him demoted from 20th Century Fox financing to a dependable Fox Searchlight pickup; it's also probably a mark of the way big-studio business has changed over the last few decades, that Boyle's horror movie, family picture, sci-fi adventure, and feel-good mainstream drama were all considered art-house fare. Similarly, despite its arthouse start this weekend, Trance
looks to fall on the pulpier end of Boyle's output, which is fine by me; his movies always go a little bit bonkers at some point in the last 20 to 30 minutes anyway, so why not embrace that looniness? It became fashionable to knock Boyle after he won that Slumdog
Oscar, but his genre-hopping has been mostly quite nimble.
: I confess I wasn't enraptured by Shane Carruth's Primer
, especially given my natural interest in just about any movie about time travel. It wasn't the dense mechanics of the movie that put me off so much as Carruth's film-wide flat affect that seemed to deliberately obscure its details, major and minor alike, to no end that I could understand. (The obvious answer is to watch the movie again; call me crazy but I'm not particularly fond of the sensation during a movie that I'll have to rewatch it to make any sense of what's going on and what's not.) Maybe the supposed love story element of Upstream Color
, which sounds even more elliptical than Primer
, will give me something to grab onto in Carruth's long-awaited return.
The Company You Keep
: Or: This Is the Plot of Sneakers, Right?
Stop me if you've seen this one before and loved it when you were 12 or so: Robert Redford plays an ex-radical type, now laying low under an assumed name, until someone turns up with information about his past, inspiring a lot of sneaking around. Where Redford's latest directing vehicle departs from his last great movie-star picture is its approach: like other Redford movies, it's serious-minded, with great interest in the Issues Raised by this totally made-up story about the actual radical group the Weather Underground. The problem is, as with Redford's other Issue movies that fail to replicate the alchemy of Quiz Show
, the movie's themes are explored through respectable, well-intentioned, and mostly pretty rote filmmaking. It's compelling enough in the moment, but doesn't add up to much; so basically, it's like watching a less exciting Sneakers
that thinks it's provoking thought. One area where Company You Keep
trounces its otherwise vastly superior popcorn sibling is its ensemble, and I say this with a great deal of affection for the '92 ragtag team of Redford, Sidney Potier, Dan Aykroyd, David Strathairn, River Phoenix, and Mary McDonnell (plus bonus affection points for Stephen Tobolowsky!). But in 2013, Redford has recruited Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie, Brit Marling, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Terrence Howard, Nick Nolte, Stanley Tucci, Chris Cooper, Sam Elliott, Brendan Gleeson, and Stephen Root to back him up (oh, and the movie actually co-stars Shia LaBeouf, but why dwell on that?). Marling, Jenkins, and Gleeson take best-in-show; admittedly, several of the others don't have much to do, though I'd be hard-pressed to name any movie where more than a dozen very recognizable faces all have substantial stuff to do. It's why you don't need to cast every speaking role with a famous person!
Jurassic Park 3D
: I realize, talking to some friends who are just a few years younger than I am, that for a generation of moviegoers, this Spielberg movie is pretty much as big a deal as the movies I'd always sort of considered its betters: Jaws
, Raiders of the Lost Ark
. I can't claim any kind of OG-Spielberg fandom; it's not like I saw any pre-Crystal Skull
Indiana Jones movies in the theaters. In fact, I'm pretty sure the first Spielberg movie I saw theatrically was Hook
, which I consequently hate much less than I'm supposed to. And I do, I should be clear, like Jurassic Park
a hell of a lot, enough to have seen it three times in its original (yearlong!) run, and enough to pay over 20 bucks to go see it at the real IMAX screen at 68th Street (frankly more of an enticement than the 3D conversion). I also really like its less well-constructed but often brilliantly made sequel which will probably never be rereleased in 3D. But in terms of Spielberg suspense pictures, Jaws
has better build and stronger characters, and in terms of Spielberg sci-fi, I'll take the complexities of his unofficial mid-aughts trilogy (A.I.
, Minority Report
, War of the Worlds
). That's really more a testament to Spielberg's genius, though, that a terrific thrill ride like Jurassic Park
might face some competition getting into his career top 10.