Archive for the Sam Raimi Category

Quick Cuts Plays “WHAT’S MORE LIKELY?”

Posted in 2013, Based on Comic Book, Comic Book Movies, DC Comics, Quick Cuts, Sam Raimi, Twilight, Vampires, Zombies with tags , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS: WHAT’S MORE LIKELY?
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Daniel Keohane, Paul McMahon, and Jenny Orosel

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome to another edition of QUICK CUTS.  Tonight we’ll be playing a little game.

IRON MAN 3 opened in theaters last Friday, May 3rd.  The Marvel superhero movies have enjoyed a nice run going back to X-MEN (2000) and Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie, SPIDER-MAN (2002).  Here we are in 2013 and they’re still going strong.

So, tonight we’re going to play a little game called “What’s More Likely?”

Our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters includes, in addition to L.L. Soares and myself, Nick Cato, Daniel Keohane, Paul McMahon, and Jenny Orosel.  Thank you all for coming.

So, tonight’s game, “What’s More Likely?” works like this.  Looking ahead to the next ten years and answer the following questions. 

First question:  What’s more likely? That there will be more Marvel movies in the next ten years, or more zombie movies?

 Spider-Man-2-Movie

NICK CATO:  I think there will always be both, but superhero films seem to be more lucrative.

ARRUDA:  So, more Marvel movies then?

CATO:  Yes.

JENNY OROSEL:  Seeing as they’re now owned by Disney, we’re going to see more Marvel movies than ever.  I fully expect they’ll do two direct-to-video sequels or prequels for every one they have in the theater.

ARRUDA:  I hope not.  There’s nothing like a direct-to-video release to kill off a movie series.  Ugh!

dawn_of_the_dead(2004) L.L. SOARES:  Oh, what do you know!

Turning to the zombie genre for a moment, hopefully, oversaturation will result in a dwindling of zombie movies.

Marvel, however, has a nice variety of characters they can draw from (including many who have never been in a movie before), and should go strong for many years.

ARRUDA:  I agree.

PAUL MCMAHON:  With the success of THE AVENGERS (2012), there will definitely be more Marvel movies. I won’t be sure about zombie movies until we see how much money WORLD WAR Z (2013) makes. With all the buzz about production problems, it could either bring about a reanimation of the zombie sub-genre or put a bullet through its head.

SOARES:  I’m sick of zombies.  I wouldn’t mind putting a bullet through the head of the genre.

DANIEL KEOHANE: I’m going with Marvel movies, without a doubt.

Zombie movies are popular right now, but the superhero movies have a much wider reach and end up making more money, overall. And there are so many characters and teams to choose from, whereas zombies pretty much lumber along the same way each time.

ARRUDA:  I’m going with Marvel movies as well.

Okay, on to our second question: 

What’s more likely? That we’ll still be seeing Marvel movies in ten years, or that we’ll still be seeing movies based on books by Stephenie Meyer?

the-avengers-1235-wallmages

Dan, why don’t you start us off this time?

KEOHANE:  Marvel movies.

(The panel cheers.)

KEOHANE:  Thank you, thank you.

SOARES:  We’re not cheering you.  We’re cheering your pick.

KEOHANE:  Don’t ruin my moment.

Where was I?  Marvel movies.  Because as good a writer for her age group as Stephenie Meyer is, she can only crank out so much content.  Marvel not only has a slew of new comics coming out every month, they have half a century of classic stories already in the can ready to become movie-ized. Even the Avengers movie was loosely based on one of the first Avengers comics (I think). Not to mention DC’s Superman movies. They’ll keep making the same origin story over and over ad infinitum.

Twilight_poster_4

SOARES:  What are you bringing up DC comics for?  This question is about Marvel movies!  Pay attention, Dan!

ARRUDA:  But he makes a good point.  Not only does Marvel have more stories to choose from, but they can remake their own origin stories. Heck, they just did it with their latest SPIDER-MAN movie.

Let’s move on.  I don’t want to give Meyer any ideas.  The last thing I want is a TWILIGHT remake!

SOARES:  I predict that Stephenie Meyer will find a way to continue the Twilight series.

ARRUDA:  No!

SOARES:  You just don’t put a cash cow like that out to pasture.

However, the future for Meyer-related projects is iffy – especially if something new grabs the public’s interest. Meanwhile, I think Marvel movies will be going strong in 10 years.

CATO:  Ten years from now?  Hopefully Meyer will be retired by then.

ARRUDA:  I’m with you.  I hope she’s retired.  I’ll be happy if I never have to see another movie based on a Stephenie Meyer book ever again.

KEOHANE:  I think Meyer is a very talented writer, and you’re not giving her enough credit.

ARRUDA:  Maybe so, but the TWILIGHT movies were awful, and they killed any interest I might have had in seeing THE HOST (2013).

SOARES:  I think you secretly like the TWILIGHT movies.  You talk about them so much.

ARRUDA:  Yeah, right!

MCMAHON:  Marvel movies, no question. They have new ideas and maybe some new-to-the-screen heroes as well.

And sorry, Michael, but it’s entirely possible, though, that in ten years they’ll be remaking the TWILIGHT movies. We can hope not.

ARRUDA:  That’s a horrible thought, though I agree with you.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that it’s bound to happen.  If film history has taught us anything, it’s that remakes are always with us.

What about you, Jenny?  In ten years, Marvel movies or Stephenie Meyer movies?

OROSEL:  Ooh, that’s a tough one, since I fully expect Disney to eventually buy Stephenie Meyer, and turn Bella into a Disney Princess. 

ARRUDA:  This panel is getting more painful by the minute.

OROSEL:  I call it a tie.

ARRUDA:  Okay, it’s time for the third and final question of the night.

What’s more likely? Robert Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark/Iron Man again, or Christian Bale plays Batman again?

Robert Downey Jr. in IRON MAN 3, and still going strong.

Robert Downey Jr. in IRON MAN 3, and still going strong.

MCMAHON:  Downey is already going to play Tony Stark in THE AVENGERS 2. There will probably be an IRON MAN 4. I can’t see him ditching that cash cow while the iron is hot. Ahem.

(Someone in the audience groans.)

MCMAHON:  I don’t think Christopher Nolan intends to do another Batman movie, and I can’t see Christian Bale playing that character under another director

ARRUDA:  Good point.  And I agree with you.

I say Robert Downey Jr. plays Iron Man again.  Between THE AVENGERS movies and the IRON MAN series, you’d think that he’d at least be back one more time as Iron Man if not more.

From what I’ve read, Bale is done as Batman.  You never know about these things, but I don’t expect him to play Batman again.

 

Christian Bale is Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.

Christian Bale is Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.

OROSEL:  It’s going to be hard for Bale to keep it going as Batman as he ages, while even if Downey looks ragged and worn, it fits the Stark character.  Unless he ends up in rehab again.  Then all bets are off.

KEOHANE:  Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man without a doubt. This is just a guess–.

SOARES:  Really, Dan, it’s a guess?  You mean you don’t know? 

KEOHANE:  Sorry.  I left my crystal ball at home.

So, this is just a guess, but Downey seems to be enjoying himself immensely up there on the screen, whereas Christian Bale puts so much angst into his characters, his doctors will probably have him committed if he even thinks about doing another one of those.

CATO:  It may be too early to tell, but hopefully Downey will continue to play Stark…he’s perfect in the role, whereas we have yet to find a Batman everyone seems to agree on.

SOARES:  That’s for sure.  It’s all about the mask anyway.  Anyone can play Batman.

Both Downey and Bale probably want to focus on more artistic movies. That said, I think Batman is replaceable, as we’ve seen several people play him over the years, while Downey remains the definitive Tony Stark. I think it’s more likely Downey will be convinced to play Stark again.

ARRUDA:  Okay, there you have it.  It seems the general consensus is that Marvel movies will be around for a while.

That’s all the time we have for tonight.  Thanks for joining us everybody, and we’ll see you next time on QUICK CUTS.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Daniel G. Keohane, Paul McMahon and Jenny Orosel

Advertisements

QUICK CUTS: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE SAM RAIMI MOVIE?

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2013, Classic Films, Crime Films, Demonic Possession, Demons, Drive-in Movies, Fun Stuff!, Horror, Indie Horror, Marvel Comics, Quick Cuts, Sam Raimi, Superheroes with tags , , , on March 15, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE SAM RAIMI MOVIE?
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Daniel Keohane, Kelly Laymon, and Paul McMahon

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  With Sam Raimi’s latest movie OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) now in theaters, we’ve decided to celebrate the occasion by asking our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters to name their favorite Sam Raimi film.

Okay Cinema Knife Fighters, What’s your favorite Sam Raimi movie, and why? 

*****

DANIEL KEOHANE:  I’d have to say SPIDER-MAN (2002), being a major web-slinger fan as a kid. Granted, ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992) was a hoot when I saw it at 2:00 am during a 24-hour film festival… but overall, his first SPIDER-MAN is on top of the list.

Spider Man poster

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Yeah, I have to agree with you.  My favorite has to be the first SPIDER-MAN (2002), as well.  True, SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) might be the better movie, but I remember being so blown away and impressed by the first one, for me, it remains my favorite Raimi picture.

Sure, there are his EVIL DEAD movies, and his thrillers like THE GIFT (2000), and the current OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is pretty amazing, but personally, I prefer Spidey over the Wizard and a bunch of munchkins any day of the week.

KELLY LAYMON:  I have zero interest in the new OZ flick. Partly because I thought it was released four weeks ago when they had the giant premiere by my old apartment and I had to see James Franco, Mila Kunis, and Michelle Williams in a true giant hot air balloon above my apartment.

simple_plan_poster

But as much as I enjoy the EVIL DEAD films and the SPIDER-MAN flicks, I might have to go A SIMPLE PLAN (1998) on this one. (And I’m overlooking his baseball flick, which people know kills me!) But I just love a good crime movie where money and some dead bodies muddy the entire situation. I love stories about people who are presented with an opportunity and act drastically.

PAUL MCMAHONTHE EVIL DEAD (1981) is my favorite Raimi film. I had a co-worker hand me a VHS tape of it.

“This is the worst-looking movie you’ll ever love,” he said.

I watched it twice in a row that night and ordered my first copy the next morning. The rest of his work is pretty good (with the possible exception of SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007), but I can’t imagine living in a world where THE EVIL DEAD doesn’t exist.

the-evil-dead-original-1981-poster

L.L. SOARES: Yeah, I have to agree with Paul. I remember seeing THE EVIL DEAD the first time at a drive-in theater. It was the second feature after George A. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), which I had seen about 10 times by then. I’d heard about EVIL DEAD but hadn’t seen it, and it was a real treat. It was just gory and insane and Bruce Campbell was amazing as Ash. While I’ve enjoyed Raimi’s work since then, including his often-overlooked slapstick flick CRIME WAVE (1985) and the underrated DRAG ME TO HELL (2009), nothing comes close to the original EVIL DEAD for me.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Well that’s it for this edition of QUICK CUTS. See you again next week with reviews of more new movies.

—END—

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Adult Fairy Tales, Based on Classic Films, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Exotic Locales, Fantasy Films, Highly Stylized Films, Prequels, Sam Raimi, Witchcraft, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

oz-1

(THE SCENE: A circus, filmed in black and white.  L.L. SOARES, dressed in a magician’s costume, stands on a stage in front of a sparse crowd.)

L.L. SOARES:  For my next astonishing trick, I’ll need a volunteer from the audience.  You, there!  The silly-looking gentleman standing in the back.

(Spotlight lands on MICHAEL ARRUDA, standing in back of audience.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Are you talking to me? (points to his chest.)

LS (under his breath):  Yeah, you, you Travis Bickle wannabe.  (louder to audience) Yes, young man. Come up here. Don’t be afraid.

(MA approaches stage to mild applause.)

LS: For this amazing feat of magic, I shall require the services of my magic wand.  (Lifts magic wand, dripping with blood.)

MA (now standing next to LS):  Are you sure that’s not your magic knife? You haven’t been drinking and mixed them up again, have you?

LS:  Silence!  For this trick, I shall make him disappear.  Hocus frigging Pocus!  (taps MA on the shoulder with bloody wand.  There is a great puff of white smoke, and when it clears, MA has disappeared.)

I like this gig!

(MA finds himself back in the audience)

MA:  Not so fast!  (Rushes back on stage).  We have a movie to review, and you’re not getting rid of me so easily!

(MA leaps at LS, the two wrestle, and fall out a back door onto an incredibly colorful path, as the scene is now in bright Technicolor.  They are on a hill, standing on a yellow brick road, looking down at the glittering Emerald City of Oz.)

MA:  We’re not in Kansas anymore.

LS:  When the hell were we ever in Kansas?

MA:  It’s a figure of speech.

Well, now that we’re here in Oz, let’s review today’s movie, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) Disney’s prequel to the classic THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939).

The story opens in a scene similar to the one we just left.  Young magician and con-man Oscar Diggs (James Franco), who goes by “Oz” for short, is struggling to make ends meet with his sideshow magic act.

LS: I have no idea if the Wizard has a regular name in L. Frank Baum’s OZ books, but do you think the fact that Franco’s character’s name is Oscar is a joke because he hosted the Oscars one year with Anne Hathaway? I remember they were pretty much pilloried for that gig.

MA: Who cares?

He’s helped by his assistant Frank (Zach Braff) and by clueless women who he charms and lies his way into getting them to be part of the act on stage.  When one such woman, Annie (Michelle Williams), tells him that someone has asked her to marry him, she professes her love for Oscar, but he tells her to go ahead and get married because he’s not a good man.  Their conversation is interrupted by the circus strong man, who is angry at Oscar for giving a gift to his woman—a music box, to be precise, which we learn Oscar gives to every woman he is romantically interested in— and so Oscar leaps into a hot air balloon and flees his former life, only to be caught up in a massive tornado which propels him of course to the Land of Oz.

LS: That’s the same way Dorothy got to Oz in the original movie! Hey, it was funny how there’s a scene with Franco, Williams and Braff, and I realized, there’s a whole new generation of actors whose careers started in television. Franco was on the short-lived, but revered cult TV show FREAKS AND GEEKS (which only lasted one season, from 1999 to 2000, yet almost everyone from that show has gone on to a bigger career, including Seth Rogan and Jason Segel); Williams, of course, became famous on DAWSON’S CREEK (1998 – 2003); and Braff first became a familiar face on SCRUBS (2001 – 2010). It was like a TV reunion! And yet, all three are really good here in a theatrical movie!

MA: I agree.  And I remember liking Braff a lot on SCRUBS.

In Oz, Oscar meets Theodora the Good Witch (Mila Kunis), who tells him of the prophecy that a wizard named Oz would arrive from the sky to free their people from the wicked witch of the land.

LS: And Kunis’s big break was also on television, on THAT ‘70S SHOW (1998 – 2006). Hey, don’t forget the part of the prophecy that says the wizard will have the same name as the land of Oz. I thought that was kind of goofy, but funny, too.

MA: Not to mention unbelievable, but since this is a fantasy, I let it slide.

Theodora falls for Oscar immediately and is convinced that he is the wizard from the prophecy, and that he will become king and she’ll be his queen.  She brings him to the Emerald City where she introduces him to her sister, another witch, Evanora (Rachel Weisz).

LS: Finally, someone who didn’t start their career on television! Well, American television. Weisz began her career in television in England, but became familiar to American audiences in movies like THE MUMMY (1999). I also thought she was kind of amazing in Neil LeBute’s 2003 film, THE SHAPE OF THINGS.

MA: On their way to the city, they meet up with and befriend a talking flying monkey, Finley (voiced by Zach Braff).  Oscar saves Finley from the clutches of a lion, and as result, Finley promises to be his faithful servant for life.

LS: Was it just me, or was Finley one of the best-looking CGI creations we have seen in a long time? The level of detail, and his facial expressions, were just terrific.

MA: No, it’s not just you.  I thought the same the thing, and I also thought the little China Doll was just as good.  Excellent special effects here!

The witch sisters show Oscar an enormous “treasure room” full of gold which will all be his once he has defeated the wicked witch, and all he needs do to accomplish this task is to destroy her magic wand.  Unable to resist the temptation of all that wealth, Oscar agrees to the task and sets out along with Finley to destroy the wicked witch.  Along the way, they rescue and repair a broken talking China doll (voiced by Joey King) who cries her way into becoming part of their team.

LS: Yeah, China is another amazing CGI creation. At least the effects in this movie are incredibly well done.

MA: Once in the dark forest, they attempt to destroy the wicked witch, but it turns out that this witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams), isn’t wicked at all, but a good witch.  The true wicked witch, according to Glinda, is really Evanora.

LS: Hey, wait a minute. We’ve been walking along as we talked, and we’re in a dark forest now as well.

MA: Funny how that happened.

LS: Hmmm, we’re surrounded by apple trees. I could go for an apple right about now.

(LS picks an apple off a tree, and the tree turns around and slaps him with one of its branches)

TREE: Do I go around picking things off you?

LS: One of those cool talking trees from THE WIZARD OF OZ!

TREE: I asked you a question.

MA: Sorry.  We don’t usually talk to trees. And where we come from, apples are food.

TREE: Food! How barbaric! I oughta knock your block off.

LS: Hey, how come you trees weren’t in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. I missed you guys when Oscar goes into the dark forest this time.

MA:  I never liked those trees, and so I’m glad they weren’t in this movie.  (An apple plunks him on the head.)

TREE: Maybe we were saplings back then and weren’t big enough to talk. How the hell do I know? Now give that apple back.

(LS hands over the apple he picked, and the TREE takes it)

TREE: Now hurry on off if you know what’s good for you!

LS: Okay, okay.

(LS and MA continue walking along the road)

MA: Anyway, Glinda introduces Oscar to the oppressed people of Oz and tells him that it’s up to him to free her people from the clutches of Evanora, and her unsuspecting sister Theodora, who it turns out, is about to undergo a dramatic personality shift, to say the least.

LS: Yeah, I have to admit, I didn’t see that coming. So let’s not spoil it further.

MA: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL gets off to a slow and rather clunky start but ultimately improves to the point where it becomes a movie that I —surprisingly—- really liked a lot.

LS: I didn’t think the beginning was clunky at all.

MA: Well, not the very beginning, the black and white sequence where we see Oscar working as a sideshow magician with his assistant Frank, which I liked.  These scenes were humorous and shot in the tradition of the original movie, THE WIZARD OF OZ.  They also set the stage for the transformation to the colorful 3D extravaganza known as Oz.

LS: I also noticed that, during the black and white scenes, the screen we see is smaller. But when gets to Oz, it is not only more colorful, but the screen expands to widescreen perspective. A clever trick!

MA: But it’s in the early moments in Oz that I thought the film faltered.  I did not enjoy the early scenes between Oscar and Theodora.  I found Theodora to be incredibly naïve and as a result not very believable.

LS: There aren’t naïve people in real life? And wouldn’t it make sense if she never before saw a man fall out of the sky? It’s not something we see every day. And there is the prophecy!

MA: She falls in love with him in less than a minute.  Naïve.

I also thought the dialogue here, especially Theodora’s, was particularly bad, and the scenes inside the castle where Oscar meets Theodora’s sister Evanora aren’t much better.

Things pick up once Oscar sets out to destroy the wicked witch, along with his faithful monkey Finley and the little China Girl, two CGI creations who not only look terrific, but who are also two of the better characters in the movie. They’re better than most of the “real” people here.

LS: I’ll agree with you on that point.

MA: And then things really get moving once they confront Glinda and we learn that she’s not really a wicked witch.  When she explains to Oscar what his true mission must be, and he accepts, the movie takes on an entirely different and more rewarding emotional feel.   The scenes where Oscar must lead the various groups of Oz inhabitants, farmers, tinkers, and of course Munchkins, are light, funny, and ultimately gratifying.

LS: I actually had a mixed reaction to the scene where we first meet the Munchkins. They begin to sing, and Oscar discourages them. In a way it’s funny, and I’m not normally a fan of musicals, but at the same time, the music was one of the indelible stamps that made THE WIZARD OF OZ so unique. How there was music and singing, but it wasn’t really a musical per se. I think this new OZ could have let its hair down a little more.

MA: I’m glad Oscar told them to shut up.

1352964587_oz_3

Of course, these scenes also coincide with Theodora’s transformation into the true threat of the movie, a transformation that I both bought and enjoyed.

LS: Enough of that!

(A MUNCHKIN suddenly walks by. He’s holding a stick over his shoulder with a knapsack on the end, like a hobo)

MA: Hey little guy, where are you headed?

MUNCHKIN: Far away from here. They won’t let us sing in this movie.

LS: Is that so bad?

MUNCHKIN: Don’t know a lot about Munchkins, do you? We were born to sing. It’s in our hearts, it’s in our souls. We live to sing! And this Oz character shows up and tells us to “Take 5.” The nerve of that guy!

MA: So where are you headed? Going to go to Middle Earth and hang out with the Hobbits?

MUNCHKIN:  Of course not, they don’t sing either!

LS: Going to go sit in a display case at Dunkin’ Donuts?

MUNCHKIN (sticks out his tongue): Very funny. That would be a big No.

MA: So where does a Munchkin go if he’s not allowed to sing?

MUNCHKIN: Why the show GLEE of course. I’m sure they’d invite me to join the cast.

LS: Good luck with that.

(MUNCHKIN walks away)

LS: Back to our regularly scheduled program.

MA: In spite of its slow start, I liked OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL a lot.  Sam Raimi has hit yet another home run with this colorful, agreeable, and highly entertaining fantasy tale that has a lot of things going for it.

LS: I agree with you. I liked it a lot, too. And I think a lot of the credit goes to director Raimi. This sure makes up for the awful SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007)! Nice to see him back to full power again.

I went in wondering how it would compare to THE WIZARD OF OZ, because comparisons are inevitable. And it compares quiet well. The level of acting and the script are good, but do not seem to be as solid as the original film. And strangely, though technology is so advanced now, I think the original 1939 film still looks more amazing and the land of Oz looked more “real” back then.

MA:  James Franco is excellent as Oscar, “Oz,” and in a movie driven by special effects, he still manages to carry this movie and drive it along.  I bought into his character and accepted his flaws as genuine.  He basically plays Oscar as a guy who succeeds in spite of himself, and I liked this.

LS: Oscar isn’t the most likable character in the world, but that’s okay. He’s not supposed to be. He’s actually kind of a fool. But this is a tale of redemption, and Franco shines in the lead role here. I love that goofy grin of his. He’s making it up as he goes along, but he has no idea what the rules are in this new world, and so he’s going to get duped sometimes, as a lot of us would be.

MA: Michelle Williams makes a sincere and touching Glinda, and I’d have to say I thought she delivered the best performance in the movie, which is saying a lot because I didn’t expect much from this character, and yet she makes for such a strong and attractive presence, I found myself that much more interested in the story whenever she was on screen.

LS: You know, in our COMING ATTRACTIONS column earlier this month, we made a big deal of Mila Kunis being so beautiful in the trailer for this movie. But the truth is, Williams is just as beautiful (and Weisz is certainly no slouch, either) here. The thing is, you’re right—she does deliver the best performance in the movie. I thought she was perfectly cast here. It’s so easy for such a completely “good” character to be just plain boring. Usually the bad guys are the most exciting ones. But Williams makes Glinda believable. And I liked her character a lot—which amazed me, because I always root for the bad guys! She really has become an amazing actress over the years. I thought she was great as Lily in BLACK SWAN (2010).

MA:  I have to agree with everything you just said, and I think that’s why I liked her so much.  For once, the “good” character was just as interesting as the bad!

I did not enjoy Mila Kunis early on as Theodora, to the point where I was hoping she wasn’t going to be in the movie much.  But I really liked her dark side, so much so that it made me forget completely her lame interpretation of Theodora at the beginning of the movie.

LS: Oh give Mila a break! The way she plays Theodora early on is crucial to what happens later, and I think she does a good job.

MA:  Gag!

LS:  She is beautiful, and her character is supposed to be clueless and easily manipulated. That is vital to how she ultimately reacts to both her sister Evanor and Oscar. I will admit, there are some scenes where Kunis did seem a little stilted, and her performance isn’t the best one here, but she’s coming along nicely as an actress. Who knew, when she played a supporting character on THAT ‘70S SHOW, that her career would be so huge. I don’t think she’s an amazing actress, yet, but I think she’s getting better and better.

MA: Like we both said earlier, the two CGI creations, Finley the monkey and China Girl, voiced by Zach Braff and young Joey King, were two of the most captivating and enjoyable characters in the movie.  They’re on par with Yoda in the STAR WARS films and Gollum from the LORD OF THE RINGS movies.

And the 3D effects here are excellent, too. I’d have to say that this is the most visually satisfying movie I’ve seen since HUGO (2011).

LS: Yeah, I saw the 2D version. Maybe I should have seen it in 3D instead. But I will say that seeing the 2D version didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the film at all.

As for the special effects, everyone who worked on them for this movie deserves heaps of praise. OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is way above average, which made it stand up much better in comparison to the 1939 movie, which set a high bar.

(A FLYING MONKEY from the original WIZARD OF OZ walks by, carrying a knapsack over his shoulder)

MA: Hey little guy, where are you headed?

LS: Is there an echo in here?

FLYING MONKEY: I thought the wicked witch’s flying monkeys were one of the coolest things about THE WIZARD OF OZ, and now I find I’m out of a job.

MA: There are flying monkeys in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

FLYING MONKEY: Let’s be specific here, shall we? The flying monkeys in this movie are flying BABOONS. There’s no sign of the monkeys from THE WIZARD OF OZ this time around. We’ve been replaced.

LS: You mean you don’t want to put on a little bellhop’s outfit and pretend to be Finley?

FLYING MONKEY: That wimp? No way! If the only choices I have are dressing like a bellboy and being all cute, or being out of a job, then I’ll be on my way.

LS: I do agree this was a little annoying. As a kid, I always thought the flying monkeys were the best part of THE WIZARD OF OZ. They didn’t need to be improved, and they didn’t need to be changed into baboons. Hell, if you want scarier monkeys, why not go all out and hire some mandrills?

MA: I didn’t mind the baboons here, although I’ve always liked the flying monkeys from the original, so admittedly I did miss them a little bit.

LS: The CGI flying baboons were okay, but they were one of the things I liked least about OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

FLYING MONKEY: Well, unless you can hire me on as an evil henchman, I’ll be going.

LS: I’m tempted. Honest I am.

MA: It’s not in the budget!

LS: I know. Farewell, scary monkey.

(FLYING MONKEY continues walking down the yellow brick road)

MA: The screenplay by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire manages to tell a compelling story with lots of references to the original movie, from a lion in the woods, to scarecrows, to the poppy fields.  There are many moments that will indeed bring back memories from the 1939 classic.

LS: A movie you admit you don’t like.

MA:  Guilty as charged.

oz-lg

LS:  As a fan of the 1939 film, I was surprised how good OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was. I really thought it would look shallow in comparison, and it stands up quite nicely. The script is clever, and sticks to the story of THE WIZARD OF OZ pretty closely. It explains a lot of things in a smart way.

MA: One thing I didn’t like, or at least didn’t understand, was that in the 1939 film, the characters that Dorothy meets, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Wicked Witch, and even the Wizard himself, all resemble people she knew in Kansas, which makes sense because at the end of the movie it’s revealed she was dreaming.  Here, characters Oscar meets also resemble people he knew back home, yet here it’s not inferred that he’s dreaming.

LS: Maybe he is. Then again, maybe he died in that tornado and Oz is the afterlife! The way I saw it, maybe it’s not inferred because maybe he wasn’t dreaming, and maybe Dorothy wasn’t either. Maybe she really visited this other dimension (or perhaps she had a near death experience and got a glimpse of the afterlife as well), too. You can debate it all you want, because it’s open to interpretation.

MA: But if we are to infer that it’s all a dream, then how does this tie in with Dorothy’s dream later?  Can they both have the same dream?  Or is Oz real?  No doubt, I’m overthinking this, but it was something that was definitely on my mind as I walked out of the theater.

LS: That’s a first. You can barely think and now you claim to be overthinking. I think poor Finley has more brains than you.

MA: Which goes to show just how clueless you can be sometimes!

LS: You know, one thing I was worried about was that Disney would make this story extra bland to appeal to the widest audience. They have a way of doing that sometimes, although I must admit, it wasn’t a problem with Andrew Stanton’s underrated JOHN CARTER (2012). Just last week you were complaining that JACK THE GIANT SLAYER was super homogenized and didn’t have any kind of edge to it. I was surprised that OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL has any kind of edge at all. But Franco’s Oscar is certainly a flawed character, the witches here can be kind of scary, and while it’s a great movie for the whole family, I didn’t think it was reduced to Disney-flavored pablum. What did you think about that, Michael?

MA: I agree.

It’s funny because JACK THE GIANT SLAYER was rated PG-13, and OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was rated PG, yet OZ has more of an edge than JACK!  Now, there are more battle scenes in JACK than there are in OZ, but Oscar has more flaws than anyone in JACK, and the witches and even the baboons are scarier than the giants in JACK.

Nonetheless, to my surprise, since I hadn’t been looking forward to this one, I really enjoyed OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.  Sam Raimi can add another notch to his belt because he’s made yet another classic movie.

I give it three and a half knives.

LS: Well, I have to admit, I’m amazed by your reaction, because you have gone on record as saying you don’t like THE WIZARD OF OZ.

MA:  I’m just as amazed.

LS:  And yet the reason why this new OZ is so good, is because it sticks to the original story so well. It makes a good companion piece to the 1939 film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if kids of the future get exposed to both films together, the way we got exposed to THE WIZARD OF OZ as children. Despite your dislike of the original, I remember it being a big deal as a kid. It was shown on television just once a year, and EVERYONE seemed to watch it, and make it a special occasion. Videotape wasn’t around yet, so you couldn’t watch the movie whenever you wanted.  You had to wait. And that created an anticipation around it that made it seem very special.

With a movie that is such an important part of a lot of people’s childhoods, it’s going to be very tough to make something new that can stand alongside it. And yet, I think Sam Raimi has done a terrific job here.

I don’t think OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is a perfect film. I don’t think everything works, and there are moments when it seems stilted or that it’s trying too hard to be clever. And not all of the characters are equally interesting. While I like Rachel Weisz a lot, I didn’t find her Evanora all that interesting, even though she was crucial to the storyline (and Weisz seems to do what she can with the role). I don’t think all of the special effects are equally good – but that only makes sense, because they’re so expensive to do. I think Finley the monkey is amazing, for example, but I was less impressed with the flying baboons that Evanor commands. And I still think that THE WIZARD OF OZ packs more of an emotional wallop. In comparison, the new OZ is a love tap, but a very good one.

I also give it three and a half out of five knives (and,just to put things in perspective, if I had to rate the original WIZARD OF OZ, it would get four and a half or maybe even five knives).

By the way, this isn’t Disney’s first trip to Oz since the 1939 original. In 1985, there was a sequel called RETURN TO OZ, with Fairuza Balk as Dorothy, It was rather dark and I liked it a lot. But it wasn’t an all-star blockbuster like this one. I think the world of Oz still has a lot of potential – there are so many stories and characters created by L. Frank Baun that haven’t been tapped into yet.

(They reach the gates of the Emerald City. A GUARD waits outside)

GUARD: Halt! Who goes there.

LS: Hey, wait a minute, you’re Bruce Campbell, right?

GUARD: Of course not, I’m Winkie the Gatekeeper!

LS: I saw Bruce Campbell’s name in the credits, but I didn’t see him anywhere. I was sure he was Winkie.

GUARD: You are sorely mistaken.

LS: Rats! I always wanted to meet Bruce Campbell. Speaking of Bruce and director Sam Raimi, I wonder if the remake of their classic EVIL DEAD (1981) will be any good.

MA: That doesn’t come out til next month!  (to GUARD) Hey, will you mind letting us in?  We’ve come a long way.

GUARD: Well, boo hoo for you. No one goes inside today! The Emerald City is under renovation.

LS: Double Rats!

MA: Oh well, I guess we’re headed back home.

LS: Can we at least take a hot-air balloon this time?

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L Soares

Michael Arruda gives OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL ~ three and a half knives!

LL Soares gives OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL ~three and a half knives, as well.

Screaming Streaming Movie Review: THE GIFT (2000)

Posted in 2013, ESP, Ghosts!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Paranormal, Sam Raimi with tags , , , , , , on March 8, 2013 by knifefighter

SCREAMING STREAMING!
Streaming Video Movie Review:  THE GIFT (2000)
By Michael Arruda

The Gift poster

With Sam Raimi’s OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) coming to theaters this weekend, I decided to check out one of his earlier movies, THE GIFT (2000), currently available on Streaming Video.

THE GIFT is a tale of psychic phenomena, murder and the supernatural, set in the Deep South.

Annie (Cate Blanchett), a widow who’s raising her young boys on her own, is a psychic working out of her home in the back woods of rural Georgia.  She treats various clients who are looking for answers regarding their future and their past.

Buddy Cole (Giovanni Ribisi), for example, is a disturbed young man who is searching for clues to his troubled past, as he’s haunted by an image of a sinister blue diamond.  Annie also treats Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank) who is stuck in a dead end relationship with her violently abusive husband Donnie (Keanu Reeves), and Donnie is none too happy about his wife seeking Annie’s services, and as a result he threatens both Annie and her children.

When a woman named Jessica King (Katie Holmes) disappears under mysterious circumstances, the woman’s fiancé Wayne Collins (Greg Kinnear), the principal where Annie’s children attend school, turns to Annie for help when the local sheriff (J.K. Simmons) fails to find any leads.  Annie’s visions lead her to suspect Donnie, and the evidence supports her visions.  Donnie is arrested, charged with murder, and brought to trial by the district attorney David Duncan (Gary Cole), who it turns out has secrets of his own regarding young Jessica King.

As the trial goes on, Annie begins to doubt her initial visions regarding Donnie’s guilt and soon finds her life threatened by those who can’t afford to allow her to use her gift to uncover the truth.

I liked THE GIFT a lot, and my favorite part of this thriller was its first-rate cast.  Leading the way is Cate Blanchett as Annie.  Blanchett comes off as softer and more vulnerable here than in most of the roles I associate with her, in movies such as THE AVIATOR (2004), INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008) and, more recently, HANNA (2011).

As the psychologically disturbed Buddy, Giovanni Ribisi delivers the best performance in the film.  I like Ribisi a lot, enjoying him most recently in GANGSTER SQUAD (2013).  Here, he plays a very troubled guy who values his relationship with Annie, as she’s the only person who is willing to listen to him and lift a finger to help him.

The rest of the cast is also excellent.  Hilary Swank is perfect as the young wife who should take Annie’s advice and leave her abusive husband, but as she tells Annie, she can’t leave Donnie because she has nowhere else to go and feels as if she’s nothing without him.

Keanu Reeves comes on very strong as the impulsive and overly violent Donnie, perhaps too strong.  He plays things over the top throughout, making Donnie completely unsympathetic, a total jerk, and in the process one-dimensional.

On the other hand, Greg Kinnear is sufficiently sympathetic as the grieving fiancé, while Katie Holmes shines as the volatile young vixen, Jessica, who doesn’t think twice about cheating on her man or laughing in his face.  Ouch!

Both J.K. Simmons as the sheriff and Gary Cole as the district attorney add fine support to the proceedings.

THE GIFT was Sam Raimi’s last film before he ventured into the SPIDERMAN trilogy with Tobey Maguire.  It’s a fine thriller and a completely different animal from the campy and over the top EVIL DEAD movies, but a compelling drama all the same.  There’s a chilling subtlety to it that reminded me a lot of Raimi’s A SIMPLE PLAN (1998).

Interestingly enough, the screenplay to THE GIFT was written by Tom Epperson and Billy Bob Thornton.  Thornton, of course, starred in Raimi’s A SIMPLE PLAN.  For the most part, the story works.  I did have a problem with the ending for a couple of reasons.  For starters, I saw the conclusion coming ahead of time, and secondly I’m not sure I completely buy the story as it plays out.  It involves a ghost, and this ghost does something I’m not completely sure ghosts should be able to do.

But I liked the characters in the movie, and I especially cared for Annie and Buddy.  I would have preferred it had Keanu Reeves’ Donnie been a little less one-dimensional.  He’s not sympathetic in the least, and the local authorities would be fools if they didn’t suspect Donnie of the crime.

The main murder mystery is okay, although it really isn’t much of mystery.  If you pay attention, you can figure things out ahead of time.

I did like the scene where Donnie threatens Annie’s son, and Buddy arrives to intervene and save the boy.  I found Buddy’s storyline particularly disturbing, especially when he finally solves the mystery from his past regarding the meaning of the blue diamond. This revelation takes place in a very sad, chilling scene.

I did struggle to believe that Katie Holmes’s hot and sexy Jessica would be at all interested in Greg Kinnear’s quiet, conservative school principal, Wayne Collins.  Of course, Jessica explains in one of her tirades that she’s only interested in Wayne because of her father, but why her father wants her to marry a school principal is beyond me.  It’s not like Wayne is wealthy or politically connected.  This plot point seemed forced to me, an obvious set-up to the “surprise” conclusion which, as I said, you can pretty much figure out ahead of time.

But overall I really liked THE GIFT.  It would be hard not to like this one, given that it has such a solid cast.

So, to wrap things up— heh heh—THE GIFT is a better-than-average mystery thriller with a very strong cast, a decent story with characters I liked and cared for, and a talented director, Sam Raimi, at the helm, pretty much doing his thing.

I give it three knives.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE GIFT ~ three knives!