Tag Archives: Remake

CAPSULE: DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS (2014)

DIRECTED BY: Spike Lee

FEATURING: Stephen Williams, Zaraah Abrahams, Rami Malek, Elvis Nolasco, Thomas Jefferson Byrd

PLOT: A well-to-do doctor of anthropology gets stabbed with an ancient Ashanti dagger and becomes immortal but addicted to blood.

Still from Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The movie’s vampire-origin premise is an uncommon one, but the movie is weighed down by a cold—bordering on somnolent—lead performance, a scattershot tone, and the fact that the most compelling scenes are largely uninvolved with the main action.

COMMENTS: The opening credits of Spike Lee’s latest movie are fully alive. Across the acting and production shout-outs, Lee shows off a very skilled street dancer (Charles “Lil Buck” Riley) performing a number of smooth, impressive moves in various Brooklyn street spots. The momentum continues with the opening scene proper, a lively gospel shout ceremony at “Lil’ Piece of Heaven” church. During the full-blooded, upbeat sermonizing, we see Dr. Hess Green (Stephen Williams) sitting alone in the back, noticeably separate from the rapt congregants. After this introduction, however, it seems that all the blood drains from the movie.

What follows is a sometimes dreamy, sometimes intellectual, and consistently tedious affair involving the realities of a modern, bookish vampire. Dr. Greene hosts big parties for intelligentsia at his large estate in Martha’s Vineyard (with grounds spanning 40 acres, no less). He chats amiably, but briefly, with the various educated bourgeoisie, before having to hightail it to his basement for some blood packs from the refrigerator. He emerges with a wine glass of blood; when an insistent guest tries it and spits it out, he glibly explains, “It’s organic.” And so comes and goes one of the few breaks from the largely unremitting monotony of the film.

Between his unfortunate conversion to vampirism and a personal spiritual revelation, he murders and drinks blood of various poor women of color. His traces of hyper-shy charm are smudged over by his callous and guileless manner. For reasons not entirely clear, he immediately falls in love with Ganja Hightower (Zaraah Abrahams), who was once married to his erstwhile assistant. She seems to hate everything and everyone, and has adopted the unfortunate habit of being 100% honest 100% of the time. She has a backstory to explain her current hostility to the world, but I found myself utterly incapable of seeing how that justifies her sheer unpleasantness. Throughout the movie, Spike Lee (who co-wrote the screenplay) dribbles in bits and pieces of mumblecore exchanges; where he should have focused on creating an atmosphere of angst and ambiguity, instead he makes each character no more than a projection of a type. Even the hammy characters from Blacula have more nuance and relatability.

There are some scenes of vitality and beauty. Whenever the action shuffles over to the church (all too infrequently), the movie  immediately gets a shot in the arm. And while I am not one to generally marvel at the visual splendor of a scene, the marriage on the private beach that takes place in the second half was a sheer joy just to look at. Unfortunately, I can only come to the conclusion that while the movie toyed with greatness, it came short in a number of ways. It may have been a worthy recommendation if it had been: more atmospheric, more puzzling, livelier, wittier, and so on. Had it thoroughly pursued any one of those directions, it may have been on to something. Instead, Spike Lee seems to want it all, and it ends up falling flat.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…with no one breathing down [Lee’s] neck, it’s free to zoom all over the place — from seriousness to high comedy to weird comedy to quietly anxious set pieces…  For better and sometimes worse, ‘Jesus’ is undiluted Lee — a half-committed attempt at a twisted genre film that freely gets lost down unexplored alleyways.”–Matt Prigge, Metro (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: EVIL DEAD (2013)

DIRECTED BY: Fede Alvarez

FEATURING: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez

PLOT: Five kids go to a cabin in the woods, read incantations from an evil tome lying around in the basement, get possessed, and start killing each other.

Still from Evil Dead (2013)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This remake is a perfect example of how to take a unique product and de-weirdify it for mass consumption.

COMMENTS: Evil Dead has photogenic young leads who are also decent actors, inventive camerawork, good music and sound, crisp (if somber) lighting, and more than acceptable makeup, and ample gore (they splurged on the twenty-gallon drums of karo syrup and red food dye). Fans of the original 1981 movie (and its Certified Weird 1987 remake/sequel) will recognize many basic elements: five kids entering a cabin, one coming out, a reading from a forbidden Book of the Dead, chainsaws, body part dismemberment, possessed women chained under the floorboards, the mixed emotions involved in chopping up your zombified girlfriend into itty-bitty pieces, and even a nod to the evil spirit-POV shaky cam.

What’s missing from this version of the Dead, notably, are the scenes of cabin fever, the hallucinatory moments when the furniture laughs and corpses dance in the moonlight. 1981’s Evil Dead was grimy and gritty, a bloody bon bon for drive-in gorehounds; it had low-budget imagination and occasional lapses in taste (the “rape by the woods” scene), but it was an original (and much-imitated) synthesis of The Exorcist, Night of the Living Dead and Friday the 13th. The bigger-budget Evil Dead II was a work of genius, telling the same story as the 1981 movie, but with outrageously over-the-top comic gore and whiplash shifts between horror, action and black comedy.

By contrast, Evil Dead (2013) is slick and professional looking, but it’s seriously lacking in character: it plays it safe, retreading a predictable story that’s firmly rooted in the horror movies’ version of reality. There are a few changes from the original storyline to keep fans on their toes, including some psychological backstory and a ridiculously strained ending switcheroo. It’s gory, it’s packed with action and nail-gun shootouts, but the rough edges are all smoothed out. The mania that animated the early incarnations is missing; Evil Dead has turned into one of its literal-minded imitators. This movie replays the formula last year’s The Cabin in the Woods satirized almost to the script beat. 2013’s Evil Dead has its place in suburban cineplexes; this is an unassuming flick that hearkens back to horror’s unironic let’s-scare-the-teenagers roots. It’s a technically adept production that neither outshines nor embarrasses the original, and it does no harm to the Evil Dead brand. Still, a bad (or at least controversial) remake might have contributed more to series lore (see the effect revisions have had on Halloween fans) than this forgettable one will.

Evil Dead was helmed by Fede Alvarez, a previously unknown first-time feature director from Uruguay, but it was produced by the team behind the original, including director , star , and original producer Robert G. Tapert. By backing an unnecessary remake that would, to the casual observer, look like a blatant money grab, these guys put their reputations on the line as much as the reputation of the franchise. Campbell went so far as to assure fans that the remake would “kick ass.”  In terms of red blood cell count (and box office), Evil Dead 2013 delivered on his promise. But as far as kicking artistic ass…

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“..this polished, clever remake remains true to the spirit of the original, which was at once viscerally terrifying and weirdly lighthearted.”–Dana Stevens, Slate (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)

DIRECTED BY:  Samuel Bayer

FEATURING, Jackie Earle Haley, , Rooney Mara

PLOT:  A group of high school students share dreams of a burned, claw-handed man named Fred Krueger. As the students begin to die in dramatic ways, the survivors discover that they share a past of secret abuse at the hands of Krueger. The final survivors take it upon themselves drag Krueger from his dream world and dispatch him once and for all.

Still from A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It really isn’t particularly weird. There are no wild grandstanding dream sequences; they’re all very similar in a “Silent Hill Lite” style.  Given that the central character is a dead man who haunts people in their dreams and can exact real life revenge on their sleeping bodies, Krueger is lacking in imagination.

COMMENTS:  First of all, I should point out that I am not a fan of the Elm St. franchise.  I watched the original many years ago, and watched it again recently in light of the 2010 version, and I enjoyed it.  To my surprise many aspects of the film stood the test of time quite well.  Yes, some of the special effects had aged, but they had a wild, Tex Avery glee in their own madness that was contagious.  The fact that they were practical effects added an immediacy that was quite exciting.  The teens looked and behaved more or less like teens, making allowances for the nature of the film.  It unfolded at a good pace and we had a heroine who stepped up to the plate when called upon.

I didn’t have any objections to someone making a newer version; I  was interested to see it.  I think this movie is what publicists term a “re-imagining” rather than a remake.  The basic idea of the original has been kept.  There is a group of teens, they’re having terrible nightmares, they begin to die horribly, and the killer is Fred Krueger.  That’s as far as the similarities go however, the new film is darker both in mood and aesthetics.  At times it was hard to see where the action was taking place and what was happening.  Everything is dark.  The school is as dark as the boiler room.  The action takes place at night or during some town-wide energy saving drive where everyone seems to be using 20 watt bulbs.

Squinting in the dark has aged the teens a lot; they are a pretty mature bunch of high school Continue reading CAPSULE: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)