Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Evil Dead (2013) Review

Who likes to see filmmakers attempt to remake a classic movie? Nobody, that's who! It works about ten percent of the time, with the other ninety-percent ending up smelling to high heaven. You have your Ocean's Eleven, and then you have your Psycho. So, like every other Evil Dead fan, I freaked out when I heard they were going to remake it. It just didn't seem like a good idea. Why bother messing with a classic? After hearing that Bruce Campbell, Rob Tapert, and Sam Raimi were producing it, I settled down. As you've probably noticed, I'm a little late with this, considering the movie came out in March. I wasn't incredibly excited to see it, so it took until now for me to rent it. So what did I think? It's....different. Let me explain.

The Evil Dead is a classic of horror cinema and it also-unbeknownst to me when I first saw it-has a huge cult following. It's a classic because the liberal use of blood, the creative camera usage, the bare-bones look, and the corny one-liners. Evil Dead (yes, the new movie is titled Evil Dead, not The Evil Dead) takes a few cues from the original, but tries to be its own movie. This is good because you can't make a shot for shot remake of a film and expect it to go over well (I'm looking at you Psycho). Evil Dead couldn't be overly hokey, couldn't look cheap, and couldn't reuse dialog. The Evil Dead was a movie for the 80's, and this is one for the 2010's. The best way of describing Evil Dead is saying that it's like they put the first two Raimi films in a blender. It takes several cues from both classic films, but leaves out the humor. Seriously, there are no lighthearted moments in this movie.

While The Evil Dead dealt with five teens going to a cabin in the woods to just have fun, Evil Dead has five teens going out to a cabin in the woods to try to clean out their user friend. Something that was nice about the original film was the lack of back story. You didn't need to know anything about the characters except for associations. You had a brother and sister, the brother's girlfriend, and two other friends (the two other friends were boyfriend and girlfriend in the original). There you go! Who cares about their back story, it's a horror movie. Evil Dead decides to give at least the two main characters, the brother and sister, a back story. Their mom went nuts and the brother left Michigan for Chicago, we assume because he can't cope with his mother's illness. This leaves the sister all by her lonesome, who eventually breaks under the stress of it all and becomes addicted to heroin. The trip is a way of everyone trying to make the sister go cold turkey, this time with the brother back in the picture. Some might say that a back story helps you feel for the characters, but it doesn't help me. I usually root for everyone to survive, even if they don't. I only don't care when the movie tries to make you hate a character. So the added story didn't really do anything for me, but I knew exactly how they were going to use it.

To keep this review a little bit shorter, I'll just go over a few similarities between The Evil Dead and Evil Dead. The biggest one is the situation: five kids from Michigan at a cabin in the woods, with no way out and crazy stuff going on. The main villain, "The Force," is the same, with both movies using a POV shot to show the demon's perspective. The way everyone is taken by the demon is the same, usually coming from direct contact with a possessed person, or Deadite. The pendent makes an appearance in Evil Dead, though instead of a gift to the girlfriend from the main character, it's from the brother to the sister. The reason I'm sticking with just labels is because the names are not the same in each movie. The main character in The Evil Dead is obviously Ash, while in Evil Dead, it can be argued whether it is Mia or David (the sister and brother). A few weapons from The Evil Dead make a return, namely the shotgun and the infamous chainsaw. In both films the sister is the first to be possessed, after being raped by the woods. Yes, you heard me correctly. I was honestly surprised they kept that part in. The sister is then locked in the basement for most of the film, though serves as the main adversary. The male friend is again the one that releases the demon, though the way they do it is completely different. While Scotty played a recording of a professor reading the words from the Necrinomicon (the Book of the Dead), Eric simply reads the words out loud from the book, even though there is writing all over it that tells him not to. Oh, Eric. The Deadites do the same tricks as in the original, claiming they are back to normal and not actually hideous demons who want to eat your soul. The best similarity between the two movies is the similar camera work for when Ash/David is getting things ready in the shed. Pure genius. I loved it.

Evil Dead differs in a lot of ways, however. The movie does a good job of keeping you in the dark about who the actual main character is. It is set up to make you think that David, the brother is the Ash of the film and therefore is the one that you should bank on making it out. His sister, Mia, is the first one possessed and therefore can't be the real main character, right? Wrong. It was a great twist, but this movie changes the rules on how to be free of the demon. You have to either burn, bury alive, or dismember the original host, in this case, his sister Mia. He almost burns the place down, but can't do it because of back story! Gah! He decides instead to buy her alive, though he plans on bringing her back to life after the fact. It actually works, though after Mia comes back from that...somehow, David is stabbed in the neck by the Deadite he forgot about. Oh whoops, now Mia is the last one standing. Seriously, it's always the girl that's last. She burns the house down, but it's not over. Another demon comes out of the ground and totally messes her up, eventually leading to her hand being taken off. She then attaches a chainsaw to her stub of an arm and grinds the hell out of the demon's face. Bet you didn't see that coming! This is what I meant when I said that it's like the first two movies mixed together. Ash doesn't lose his hand and replace it with the chainsaw until Evil Dead II. It was a nice touch to the end of the movie. Besides the ending being completely different, the way each person is possessed is pretty different, save for the sister in both films. Other differences include: two cars in this film instead of one, there's a dog named Grandpa (who names their dog Grandpa?!), there's an opening sequence that shows that this isn't the first time this has happened, and there is a complete lack of bookcases falling on people rendering them completely immobile.

I liked a few things about the movie. First off, the blood and gore was up to par with The Evil Dead. It might have even surpassed it in some ways. A lot of the weapon use was cringe-worthy, especially the utility knife, syringe, pneumatic stapler, and the electric knife. This film is relentless; once the story starts to get going, it never stops. The twist with the main characters was great, and I think the acting wasn't that bad either. It's not too hard to be better actors than the ones in The Evil Dead though, no offense to Bruce Campbell. I just appreciate that the filmmakers made a film that was all their own. It wasn't a shot for shot remake, but it also wasn't a incredibly loose interpretation. You knew while you were watching it that this was The Evil Dead. What I didn't like about the movie was the obvious foreshadowing. Seeing the characters use the electric knife and the stapler made it glaringly obvious that those items would be used later on as weapons. Like I said before, I didn't really like the whole back story. It took away from the film in my opinion and gave them all really stupid reasons for doings things. They decide not to leave the cabin at first because they think if they leave Mia will go back to heroin. Everyone feels indifferent to David because he moved to Chicago. David wimps out of doing a bunch of awesome stuff because he feels that he can't do anything wrong to his sister. David is kind of a weak character in general. He is convinced the whole time that everyone is alright, that maybe it's just some kind of sickness that his sister has and all they need to do is get her to a doctor. He must represent delusion or something, while Eric represents the audience, constantly trying to slap some sense into him. The last gripe I have is the ending. You can't have a happy ending in an Evil Dead movie! Something bad is supposed to happen!

If I had to give the movie a grade, I'd give it a solid B. Not bad for a remake. Let me know what you thought about the remake. Did you like it? Hate it? Even love it? Word is they are coming out with two sequels, the last one that will tie-in with the original trilogy. I'm a little intrigued by that, though I don't know if that involves Bruce Campbell playing Ash again. He's kind of too old for that now. It hurts me to say that, but it's true. I still love him anyway.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Ender's Game Review

I had both been dreading and looking forward to the day that Ender's Game was brought to the silver screen. This happens all the time to the general populace though. Most movies are based on books so no matter what, as the filmmaker you'll probably be ruffling some feathers. On one hand, I've always wanted to see Ender's Game as a movie. How would the battle arena look? Who would they cast as the main characters? Then, on the other hand I've wanted it never to happen, because how often is the movie better than the book? Don't get me wrong, it does happen, just not very often. See, the problem is that we will, for the most part, always like the book better because in our heads we have painted this pretty picture of what we think this world looks like. The author gives us some descriptions, but we are basically creating our own movie inside our heads, filling in details and visuals. When you see the movie, everything is done for you. You can't add to it. That frustrates people to no end because the movie didn't end up like it looked in their head. When we create the best possible picture in our head, how can any movie live up to it? So, I guess the real question is, how did this film adaptation hold up in comparison to the book?

Let me first go into a bit of background. I had my reading renaissance a little late in life. I read a little in school, though only what I had to read. I enjoyed Of Mice and Men and The Great Gatsby, but I never attempted to pick them back up years later. I didn't appreciate the power of literature. I don't think most students do. Books are presented as homework and that stifles many student's longing to dive into literature in their free time. I read comics and books full of fluff. It wasn't work, it was pleasure. It wasn't until I was halfway through college that I caught the reading bug, and it wasn't from a literature class or from a talk with a professor. It was from a co-worker that I had a lot of respect for and when he told me to branch out and try reading something worthwhile, I actually tried. I read Vonnegut, Huxley, Koestler, Heller, Herbert, and many more. I was gaining all new ideas and was enjoying myself. There was merit in reading after all! His first book that he recommended to me was Ender's Game. I had never really been into sci-fi, and I let him know that. He assured me that it wasn't anything like I've read before. I finally picked the book up and then couldn't put it down. I read it in probably three days, even bringing it to work with me and reading when I could. After I finished it, I went and read the rest of the series. Ender's Game quickly became my favorite book and I've since read it maybe three more times. Then, I heard they were coming out with movie version.

This is the part where I say that if you haven't read the book or seen the movie, then you should stop reading. I'm not doing a typical review where I tiptoe around plot points. No, I'm hitting all of them and comparing them to the novel. If you've done either and don't care about spoilers then read on. I've seen the movie version twice now and all I can say is that I was pleasantly surprised. I've been burned in the past by adaptations that weren't exactly up to par with the book (The Hunger Games, Watchmen, Dune, and many more), but this didn't leave me disappointed when I walked out of the theater. They hit all the main plot points of the book, while condensing it enough to keep the run time at a decent length. Ender's Game is a long book and would probably run around seven hours if it showed everything written. Did it leave anything out? Of course it did, but every adaptation does. Too much story can easily unhinge a movie. The actors were fantastic, which was something I was worried about. One of the cardinal rules when making a movie is to be ready for aggravation when using children. While the kids in the movie are a bit older, they still can cause problems. Luckily it looks like they picked a fine ensemble to make this movie work. Asa Butterfield was excellent as Ender, something that would have made or broke this movie, and the same goes for Harrison Ford playing Graff. The visuals were also superb, and the battle sequences were better than I'd thought they'd be. To keep this from being one big rambling mess (too late!), I'm going to try and tackle one topic at a time.

There were quite a few differences in the story, mostly subtractions. The whole sub-plot about Peter and Valentine becoming powerful political figures Locke and Demosthenes (now you know where I got the name!) was completely deleted. I can't help but agree with the filmmakers decision on this because it really wouldn't help the plot any. That whole part of the book was a bit silly in the first place. Peter and Valentine are just kids and they create these online personas who become political behemoths, eventually leading to Peter become the Hegemon (leader of the world). The whole thing was far-fetched, but then again so is the whole plot. Ender is only six at the beginning of the book, but seeing as that would look rather silly on the screen, they changed him to be around fourteen or fifteen(?). He is around that age when the book ends. Yes, Ender and the others are up there for a very long time. I was a little disappointed though that it seemed they kind of glossed over his siblings, because they are an important part of story as a whole. Valentine is Ender's only real emotional crutch throughout the series, and Peter is everything that Ender doesn't want to be but is in a lot of ways.

With that, I'm going to go into Ender's state of mind and actions throughout the movie. Ender, as a third, is an outcast. In this version of Earth, families are limited to having only two children, thus keeping the world from overpopulating. You can have a third child, but only in special circumstances. It's not really hit on that hard in the movie, but Ender is extremely different for being a third, and is taunted for it not only by classmates, but by his own brother. Peter is the oldest, about four years older than Ender, and he is a psychopath. Like, killing little animals for fun kind of psychopath. This doesn't serve him well for being selected by the Battle School, because we all know that if you want to adequately lead an army, you have to have all your marbles.  Also, he legitemately wants to kill Ender at the beginning of the book. It's not a passing thing like in the movie. While Peter is cruel, Valentine is the kind and compassionate one. Two years older than Ender, she also was not selected by the Battle School because of her emotional characteristics. Ender, however, is a combination of the two of them. He has compassion, but he is also incredibly brutal when he needs to be. In the movie, Ender uses the logic that if he annihilates his enemy, his enemy won't go after him ever again. It works, and that's what attracts the military. You don't really see the foreshadowing as much in the movie, but in almost every instance where Ender retaliates, he kills someone. Yep, you didn't really see that picture of him in the movie too well, but by the time Ender goes to Command School, he's killed two people and injured another. Remember in the movie when Ender kicks the crap out of that bully? Yeah, we don't find out until later in the book, but he killed him. Bernard, the fellow Launchie that gives him crap, has his arm broken by Ender on the initial flight to Battle School. The only death/injury the movie doesn't gloss over is Bonzo's. Bonzo is comically short in the movie and has a short temper. In the book, he's described as a strikingly good looking boy from Spanish aristocracy. He's as much of a jerk in the book, but his Spanish honor is played on much more. His distorted sense of honor gets him killed when he attacks Ender in the shower. Like with the bully from Earth, Ender doesn't know until much later that Bonzo was dead. Ender didn't carry around as much emotional baggage in the movie. Sure he annihilated a whole species at the end while being lied to the whole movie, but before that he seems to be doing OK in the sanity department. No, things get a bit crazy in the book, and you can clearly see the stress and guilt affecting Ender throughout the book.

Ender's relationships with his fellow classmates differ from the book in a few ways. The biggest crime of all is the almost complete lack of relationship between Ender and Bean. Bean is every bit as smart as Ender is, and that leads to a clash of minds at the beginning of their relationship. It's only later that they become friends and together destroy the Formics. Bean is much more important than the movie lets on, but you'd have to read Ender's Shadow to learn that, so I won't reveal anything. Bean is one of the most interesting characters in the book but in the movie he's just another friend of Ender's. His attitude and aggressiveness is completely left out of the movie, but again, I guess they had enough stuff going on without adding Bean's side story. Ender and Petra's relationship is pretty much spot on. If you thought you saw romantic inclination in the movie, it wasn't on purpose. The director, Gavin Hood, said that it wasn't a romantic relationship, but one of mutual respect. I think that's one thing I really liked about the book was the complete lack of a love interest for Ender. The only person he really loves in the whole universe in the first book is his sister. I thought on the whole that they otherwise got his relationships with everyone spot on. Sure they could have done more with Alai, Graff, or Rackham, but they did enough to get the story moving along.

The Mind Game that Ender plays in the movie is much shorter than the one in the book. In the book he not only solves the Giant's Drink, but encounters a playground full of wolves that devour him time and time again. The real reason for the Mind Game is to introduce the Philotic connection between the Hive Queen and Ender. Ender, in the book, has such a strong connection to the game, that it draws the attention of the Hive Queen who knows that Ender is going to be tasked with destroying her race. Ender, of course, doesn't know until it's too late that the Formics, nicknamed Buggers in the book, were trying to protect themselves the whole time. Through the connection, Ender is able to find the location of the Hive Queen's egg located on the abandoned Bugger planet. No, a dying Hive Queen does not show up and dry a tear from Ender's face. That part was so weird! Why did they add that! I guess it's hard to show Ender speaking to an egg telepathically. Ender realizes that he must redeem himself for what he has done and decides to take the egg and find a new home for it. That's all we see of the ending in the movie. The ending of the book is much more involved. Peter has become Hegemon of the whole world, which causes Valentine to fear for Ender's safety. Now that Ender is the new Mazer Rackham of sorts, she's afraid that if he returns to Earth, he'll be used by every slimy politician and military man. She blackmails Peter into banishing Ender from Earth. Ender decides he wants to colonize the abandoned bugger world and takes Valentine with him. Graff is court-martialed for being a manipulative crazy man, but is found not guilty because his methods got results. Remember how at the end of the film, Graff tells Ender that he'll be remembered as a hero and Ender says that he'll instead be remembered as a murderer? Yeah, guess who made the latter happen? Ender does. To further atone for his sins, he decides to write a book about what really happened at the Battle and Command School. The book, titled The Hive Queen, paints Ender to be a villain, and he gets his wish, he is remembered not as the hero of the last Bugger War, but as Ender the Xenocide. This sort of thing takes time, and luckily for Ender, he has all the time in the world. Something else they didn't mention in the movie was the real reason Mazer Rackham was still alive after all those years. He traveled through space for much of the time, which caused him not to age very much, but everyone else to age a great deal. Time works different in space! Ender and Valentine use the same trick to try and find a new planet for the Hive Queen. They are only in their thirties in the second book, Speaker for the Dead, yet everyone they knew during Ender's Game has been dead for thousands of years.

As you can clearly see from my ramblings, there is much more to the story than the movie lets on, but the movie is great in it's own right. It's like Ender's Game abridged. If I haven't ruined it for you, read the book. I've never heard anyone hating it after I've recommended it to them. After that, read the rest of the series! The next three books are completely different from the first, but are good in their own right. In fact, Speaker for the Dead could is comparable in my book to Ender's Game. Yes, it's that good. If I were to give this movie a grade, I'd give it a solid B. Not a terrible movie by any right, but it was missing some key things that would have made it a perfect transition. Again, it's hard to adequately judge a movie that's based off your favorite book. Will there be a sequel? Perhaps, but it won't be Speaker for the Dead. Trust me. Anyway, hope you enjoyed the ravings of a lunatic once again.