Category Archives: sam raimi

Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful ~ Let’s see, what the rules again? Wait an hour after eating before swimming. Don’t get involved in a land war in Asia. You can’t put too much water in a nuclear reactor. Don’t pull on Superman’s cape. And never make sequels (or prequels) to beloved classic films.

I saw this movie weeks ago, weeks and weeks ago. I am still conflicted over whether I liked it or not. It was the second film I saw at the new Marlton 8 theater so the accommodations were fantastic, I couldn’t have been more comfortable had I been in my own home. But why did I have, still have such a problem with it?

Oz is a beautiful film. It takes full advantage of CGI and the 3D effects available to the cutting edge of that technology. Here, we have an Oz that both boggles the mind, but brings L. Frank Baum’s imagination to life. It is fantastic, and gorgeous. Props to director Sam Raimi for bringing the unimaginable to our eyes.

The casting, especially that of James Franco and Mila Kunis, while problematic, is fitting. Franco is smarmy, and perpetually playing (or maybe living) the part he played in “Freaks and Geeks.” He is a stoner, and even here, as the eventual wizard of Oz, if he took a second to take a toke, I don’t think anyone would bat an eye. This time, it works for the part, because his character is a slimy sort, not to say stoners are slimy, but Franco’s is. Bottom line, he’s believable.

Kunis, in my mind, has never grown from her role in “That ’70s Show.” Oh, she’s been good in stuff, and been quite believable, but like Keanu Reeves saying “Whoa,” she is always a second away from breaking character and waiting for the canned laughter after a sitcom punchline. I just can’t shake it. Here, she completely fits as pre- and post-Wicked Witch of the West, and is awesome in her passive-aggressive power hungry and clingy psycho ex-girlfriend role. Zach Braff, a traditionally sitcom actor on the other hand is equally awesome as the comedy relief flying monkey, a true highlight of the film.

Sounds like I liked the flick, doesn’t it? The problem comes with its prequel status. It tries so hard to emulate MGM’s classic The Wizard of Oz. All of the cues are there, except for the music of course. It begins in black and white and goes to color after the twister. There are numerous winks and nods to the original film. And every time it happens, I got a strong “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” vibe.

Remember the Rankin/Bass Christmas special “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”? Fred Astaire plays a mailman telling a group of children the secret origins of ol’ Kris Kringle. Every time he hits a prime power point of his origin, one of the kids says, “That’s why he comes on Christmas Eve” or “That’s where the flying reindeer came from.” That what happens in Oz, and every time we see the hints to the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the glowing head illusion, etc. it pulls us out of the story.

If it wasn’t for those little nudge-nudge-wink-wink moments, this would be a great flick, as great as the underrated sequel, Return to Oz of a few years back. And that’s why I’m so conflicted. I liked it, but then again, I didn’t. It’s still in theaters, so definitely give it a viewing for yourself, and see what you think.

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Biff Bam Pop!’s 31 Days of Horror

If you’ve been to the Biff Bam Pop! website, you know that other than the regular pop culture features, we’re all big horror fans there. Special for this month of October, and culminating today on Halloween is 31 Days of Horror.

31 Days of Horror takes a look at the past and present in horror movies, both in front of and behind the camera, horror television, horror comics, and even horror videogames.

Highlights include reviews of The Shining, The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Monster Squad, 28 Days Later, Freaks, Night of the Living Dead, The Ring, Sinister, Nightbreed, Prometheus, Paranormal Activity 4, Evil Dead, 30 Ghosts, Tomb of Dracula, Dexter The Game, “666 Park Avenue,” episode by episode analysis of the new seasons of “American Horror Story” and “The Walking Dead,” and interviews with Danielle Harris and Richard Crouse. It’s the best way to celebrate Halloween!

Oh, and if you just want to read my stuff on the site, I’m here. Happy Halloween!

The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man ~ I have to confess, when I first heard they were rebooting Spider-Man for film, I couldn’t believe it. As my friend Andy Burns has noted in his spoiler-free review, it was “too soon.” But alas to the Hollywood folks and their revolving teenage demographics, sadly the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy may have been decades ago.

While I hated Raimi’s third Spidey movie with its pseudo emo goth Peter Parker making an ass of himself in the jazz club (I’m not even going to mention Venom), I still would have liked to have seen John Malkovich as the Vulture, Anna Hathaway as the ironically catty Felicia Hardy, and finally to see Dylan Baker portray the Lizard. It was not to be. Apparently like Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin, Spider-Man 3 was a franchise killer.

Hearing about the new film was one thing. I knew Andrew Garfield from the stage, and thought he looked the part, but was still unsure. When photos began to surface, it seemed there were going for a much younger demographic, and that the emo Spider-Man was going to be done seriously, not for irony or laughs. When I further heard that major characters like Mary Jane Watson and J. Jonah Jameson would not be involved, I was further repulsed. I had no interest in this film, perhaps, just because it was a superhero movie, I would eventually see it on DVD or on cable, if at all.

Then I saw the previews. The previews, both in 3D and 2D were incredible. They had found a way to take what was cutting edge technology in 2002 and blew us away with Spider-Man swinging through the streets and make it more mind-blowing. Much like a new rollercoaster or a new attraction at Walt Disney World, I had to see this flick. Emo be damned, I was on board. So much so that when The Bride suggested, on a whim, that we see the 1:45 AM showing of The Amazing Spider-Man the night before the Fourth of July, I was like aw yeah baby.

This was the full-on bells and whistles version I should note, and it has quite a bit to do with my enjoyment of the film. Counting snacks, IMAX, and 3D at an AMC Loews theater (a place regular readers know I have sworn off for the most part), this late night evening out came to well over sixty dollars. This movie had better be damned good.

Marc Webb, whose only other theatrical film is (500) Days of Summer does an amazing (pun intended) job at direction, especially when it comes to Peter Parker being a kid in high school. I dare say he may have even been bullied as well. This is a very real picture of the high school feeding frenzy hierarchy. Even though his Parker is a skateboard shredder science geek outcast, a nice updating here actually, Andrew Garfield breathes more life into the role than Tobey Maguire ever did. I honestly would not have thought that possible. Garfield also brings that smart ass Spidey personality out in a way Maguire never did.

Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is a conundrum. At first I did not like her at all. She was sooo not Gwen Stacy. She seemed too old, she seemed too smart, she seemed, well, not poor doomed Gwen Stacy. As the movie went on, I did warm to her, and started to root for her. The movie Gwen was a different entity, and in the just over two hours I experienced her, I started to like her. And then, the script fell into the toilet. More on that later.

Rhys Ifans was a decent Curt Connors, although somehow I didn’t expect him to have that sort of accent. Maybe a southern accent being from Florida and all, but British never occurred to me. Ifans is suitably troubled as Connors but having the same well-spoken voice, clear of stereotypical but expected lisps, as the Lizard was quite a surprise. The Lizard’s maniacal super-villain turn surprised me, as its specifics didn’t seem in line with any version of the character I had seen before.

The connection between Dr. Connors and Peter’s parents, a plotline nearly promised in previews (there are posters calling this flick ‘the untold story’), is left hanging and vague, obviously hopefully waiting for sequels. With the Lizard, is where the film starts to fall apart for me. Why a lab in the sewers? How did he get all that equipment down there? We see at one point that some points in the sewers are too small for the Lizard to get through. Why are lizards attracted to him? These things are never addressed, never explained, and frankly pretty silly.

Webb’s casting of notably younger and quite famous actors as Aunt May and Uncle Ben is an interesting one, perhaps to bring the older fans in who would be alienated by the casting of Garfield and Stone, actors they might not have known. Sally Field, despite her real age still seems much too young to play Aunt May, although it must be said she does a wonderful job, everything on mark. I really have no complaints. But. She’s no Rosemary Harris.

Martin Sheen as Ben is an interesting choice. He looks the role, and I can never say ill of any performance he gives, as he’s one of my favorite actors. I thought it an interesting coincidence that both Sheen and the previous Ben, the late Cliff Robertson, had shared a role before – John F. Kennedy. Sheen is wonderful in the scenes he has, but I have one complaint, and it’s a big one. He never says “With great power comes great responsibility.” Blasphemy! That’s like telling Superman’s origin and not having Krypton explode. It’s essential.

The rest of the cast is rounded out well. Nice transformation of Flash Thompson, as played by Chris Zylka from “The Secret Circle.” I also liked Denis Leary as Captain Stacy, although he essentially plays himself throughout the movie. That could be construed as a complaint, but it’s not. I like Denis Leary, and he’s at his best when he is himself. His fate here is a bit convoluted when compared to the comics, but it is what it is.

There is much to like about this new version of the Spider-Man legend. I liked the various updates, especially in the technology. The origin is brought into the present a bit. I really liked that we have the web-shooters back despite how much the organic ones from the Raimi trilogy made more sense. I didn’t like that it seemed like he stole them from Oscorp however. Overall this was a great flick for the first hour or so. And the visuals are stunning, especially in 3D IMAX.

And then, in the third act, it crashes, hard. I’ve already mentioned my problems with the Lizard, or at least some of them. He seems to also have the same CGI dilemma that Sean Connery had in Dragonheart, he changes size and shape depending on the circumstances. Sometimes he is man-sized, and sometimes dinosaur-sized. Make up your mind and stick with it.

Gwen, likable as she is by the third act, is quite the little heroine herself. She stands up to Flash Thompson, her father, and even the Lizard, but at the end is told to ‘wait in the car,’ like a good little girl. What? What?? And then she does. Wow. That’s where that sixty dollars missing from my pocket started to hurt.

And then there is Garfield himself constantly taking off his mask. I understand the actor’s need to emote, and be seen, but let’s face it, if the role you are portraying is Spider-Man, it should be understood you will be wearing a full face mask throughout the film. If that’s not good for you – guess what? This role is not the role for you. It’s called a secret identity for a reason, Andrew.

When the crane workers of the city somehow got to their vehicles in the middle of the night, the have their cranes ready for a wounded Spider-Man to web and make his way to the Oscorp building… I was livid. How did they get through one of the largest and most populated cities on Earth to do this while it was being evacuated? And how did they know Spider-Man was going to the Oscorp building? And why couldn’t Spidey just web buildings as he usually does? It was his leg that was injured, not his arms. And if the police were on his side at that point, and they were, why couldn’t they just give him a ride with their helicopter? We do know that Stacy was going that way too.

All of the good will toward the movie was draining away at that point. Sixty dollars and an hour and a half of great movie with stunning visuals – and it falls apart in the last twenty minutes? I’m sorry, folks, but a wonderful dinner can be ruined and forgotten easily if you choke to death on the last bite.

The Amazing Spider-Man is a good movie up to a point. It’s definitely worth seeing in an Avatar to see the effects, but be prepared not to get your money’s worth with the script logic. Don’t forget to stay through the credits for a teaser for more Spidey movies. See it, but be warned.

Quickies 9-15-2010

Drag Me To Hell ~ A young loan officer arbitrarily refuses to extend an old gypsy woman’s mortgage and is cursed, hilarity ensues, as they say. As the lamia, a goat-like demon from Hell, pursues the young woman, she tries desperately to break the curse. This is a fairly scary new entry from writer/director Sam Raimi finally getting back to his horror roots. Except for the casting of Justin Long and a couple painfully cartoony moments, this is an excellent scare-fest, worth seeing, but keep the lights on.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ~ The first filmed part of the Millenium Trilogy by the late Stieg Larsson is much more streamlined and exciting than its literary counterpart, no slow or dense parts like the book. Good mystery, good action, well cast with great soundtrack – recommended. It’s so perfect, I am almost dreading the American version coming next year.

Nanny McPhee Returns ~ Also known as Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang overseas, this family film sequel, based on the Nurse Matilda books by Christianna Brand, is a bit formulaic, but still a lot of fun.

Jennifer’s Body ~ Taken as a black comedy, this one is actually rather good. It has a very Kevin Williamson tongue-in-cheek feel to it, but is actually written by the infamous Diablo Cody, who brings her own unique sensibility to it. Quirky and more real than a lot of horror of this kind, this was a lot better than I thought it would be. Check it out.

61* ~ I’m not a big baseball fan, and I’m even less of a Billy Crystal fan, so I was surprised I liked this baseball flick directed by Crystal. The HBO movie recounts the summer of 1961 as Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle both strive to break Babe Ruth’s single season home run record. Thomas Jane is terrific as Mantle. Recommended.

Komodo Vs. Cobra ~ This low budget SyFy special features bad writing, bad CGI effects and bad acting that would make porn actors blush. It stars, along with badly realized giant reptiles, Michael Pare from the decades ago Eddie and the Cruisers and reality TV star Jerry Manthey from “Survivor” who seems to want to prove she’s a better actress without a script. Miss this one.

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Dead Snow – Sneak Peek

Tommy Wirkola’s Dead Snow was a hit at Sundance. And come on now, how can you go wrong with Nazi zombies? Sam Raimi would be sooo proud…

Again, this is another trailer not for the kiddies…

Dead Snow opens on June 19th in limited release. More details can be found here: www.deadsnow.com.

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Summer Three-Quels I

A lot of folks who know my passion for comics had been complaining long before Spider-Man 3 came out. They told me it’s not following the comics. They told me they’re not respecting the source material. These are both points that usually are my mantra when it comes to comic book movies.

Spider-Man 3 in my opinion is not inclusive with those rules. Not only is it a sequel, it’s a sequel to a sequel. It’s not playing by the comic’s rules any longer, but by its own internal continuity. The only thing it needs to stay true to are the previous two movies. No longer a comics entity, it is its own.

That said, it sucked, it sucked big time. Oh, there were some nice scenes, mostly special effects scenes of Spidey falling through spinning debris. The problem was that it was cool the first time they showed it. That, added to the number of times it was shown in previews and commercials, was only impressive once. We saw this trick several times throughout the movie, so many times it got boring. And again, it was a special effect. Notably, the two previously flicks were not spfx films but character-driven vehicles. That’s why we love Peter Parker on the screen as well as in the comics.

Where was Peter Parker in this film? He was there in name, just as actor Tobey Maguire was. He was terrible in this picture, as was Kirsten Dunst. And director Sam Raimi let this shit get through to the theatres. The only explanation I can come up with is that it’s a massive conspiracy by the three of them to make sure they don’t have to do a fourth movie. Watching this crap I can only guess their plan was to sabotage the flick.

The story, or lack of one, reminded me sickly of things like Batman and Robin, Batman Forever and Superman III. Stuffed with two much crap and executed badly. Too many villains, too many subplots, too much forced comedy and too much unintended campiness. Sandman’s connection to Uncle Ben came out of nowhere. Venom, who is never named in the film, seemed shoehorned into the flick. And the black costume seemed to only serve to have Maguire act like an ass.

I didn’t like it, I didn’t like it a lot. I feel it’s an insult to everyone who worked on the first two films including those who destroyed this one. I pray for no Spider-Man 4.

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