So in the past two weeks, I’ve managed to see three movies: Evil Dead, Iron Man 3, and Upstream Color (in that order). I know there’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to the grouping here, but they’re all interesting in that they all let me leave the multiplex with either a gripe or plenty to think about.
Tonight, for the midnight showing! The horror re-vision that nobody asked for! EVIL DEAD!
All ribbing aside, I have nothing but fond memories of the Evil Dead series. Army of Darkness was one of those guilty pleasure movies that my dad and I saw together without mom in tow and it was my first exposure to the series. A few years into the great DVD revolution of home video, I finally managed to catch Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2. Nostalgia accounted for, the Evil Dead series always struck me as the documented metamorphosis of a filmmaker, Sam Raimi as an epic blockbuster butterfly emerging from a cocoon of earnestness, low budgets, and goofy special effects.
It’s interesting watching Fede Alvarez try to re-imagine the series with slick practical effects, excruciatingly effective cinematography, and a new cast of 20-somethings lacking feathered hairstyles; imagine a studio film adaptation of a preschool play and you’ll have the right idea.
That’s not to say there’s not a lot here to love. In an era of Saw and Hostel knockoffs, Evil Dead couples the ‘horror in the woods’ motif with drug addiction and rehab subtext. Jane Levy’s Mia is locked in an abandoned cabin with her estranged brother, his girlfriend, and her two friends to help her kick dope cold turkey. Unbeknownst to them, the same cabin was the sight of a horrific demonic possession. Cue the arrival of the Book of the Dead, the foolish saying of the phantasmagoric words aloud, and the possession of Mia by Infernal Forces That Shall Not Be Named.
When Mia inevitably goes deadite all over her friends, they at first treat it as an addict acting out, which is a great answer to “Why the heck aren’t these people driving out of here?” question. After all that, hell breaks loose with self-mutilations, amputations, and inventive uses of power tools, climaxing with a scene straight from an Iron Maiden album cover. Along the blood-spattered way are nods to tropes from the original trilogy that satisfy the reference needs of the hardcore horror nerds.
The horror press is already rumbling with talk of sequels and I wouldn’t be averse to seeing more of Alvarez’s take on this universe. While you have to question the timing of this release (post-Cabin in the Woods, anyone?), it’s definitely a breath of fresh air compared to more Paranormal Activity and zombie fare. There’s not a lot of humor in this follow-up, but there wasn’t a lot of intentional humor in the first film either.
Iron Man 3
Man, what a missed opportunity.This culmination of the Shell-Head trilogy sees Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black directing in Jon Favreau’s stead and bringing all the wrong epic sensibilities to the series. Robert Downey, Jr. is once again the immaculate embodiment of billionaire playboy/superhero Tony Stark and a joy to watch. Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce as villains The Mandarin and Aldrich Killian respectively split a plate of delicious scenery and Rebecca Hall, Adam Pally, Jon Favreau, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Don Cheadle are somewhere in there too. This film suffers from Spider-Man 3 syndrome; it tries to accomplish way too much in scope without earning a lick of it. The effects are exquisite, the action set-pieces incredibly choreographed, and I think they hired a small island nation just to do the animation for all the armor sequences.
I honestly wish I could go into more detail about this film, namely about its patronizing treatment of Pepper Potts as the damsel-in-distress once again (interrupted thankfully by two too-quick turns as a super-powered bad-ass), its lazy justification for the Big Action Scenes, and the whole 20 minutes of CSI spent in Rose Hill, Tennessee (played by the underrated Rose Hill, North Carolina), but I honestly just didn’t care too much about this movie. Even as a recovering comic fan, this was a handful of stale brain popcorn, consumed way too quickly to leave anything but a nasty taste in the synapses.
Now we’re cooking. With cinematography that reads as an homage to Terrence Malick and themes oddly reminiscent of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Shane Carruth’s science fiction romance (I wish I could type that more often) is a powerful meditation on the notion of a collective consciousness gone wrong and right. Amy Seimetz’s Kris and and Carruth’s Jeff are two lovers drawn together by an alien symbiote beyond their ken. Both victims of the mind-controlling parasite, they find each other in the wreckage of their lives one year after being robbed and defiled by Andrew Sensenig’s Sampler.
Even though shallow depth of field and a kind of navel-gazing attention on passive characters are now hallmarks of indulgent mumblecore films, it’s hard not to be drawn to Carruth’s first work since the mind-bending Primer.
Most of the action here is shown, rather than told, which makes me a happy writer. The entire third act, in fact, unfolds without dialogue and not once did I ever feel my attention leave the mise en scene.
As with Tree of Life, a review hardly does Upstream Color justice. Writing about it is like telling a friend about a meandering, beautiful dream, or maybe what you’re seeing through a kaleidoscope. You might love it or hate it, find it touching or pretentious, but either way it will be an experience.
Check it out. If you hurry, you might not miss it.