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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Raimi’

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Monday, May 9th, 2022

So far I have watched all the Marvelous Cinematical Unabomber motion pictures and related Disney+ streaming television works, and I have enjoyed the majority of them. But fuck all that. What’s important here is that DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS is the first movie Sam Raimi has directed since OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL nine years ago. I liked it quite a bit more than that last one, but my feeling about it is kind of similar: it’s just fun to see him working on a giant canvas, putting his spookablastian spin on this other thing, even though I’d much rather see him working with his own creations.

MCU movie #28 with Raimi’s fingerprints all over it is not as good as, say, an original western with Raimi’s fingerprints all over it, let alone an original comic-book-inspired character he made up, but it is, at times, thrilling. MULTIVERSE opens mid-battle as ex-surgeon-turned-ex-Sorcerer-Supreme Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, the guy in the dragon costume in THE HOBBIT) and a teenage girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez, SHADOW WOLVES) are super-leaping across chunks of debris floating in space while a tendril-covered demon blocks access to a pedestal holding a magic book called the Book of Vishanti. It’s the good counterpart to the evil Darkhold, which in this context suddenly I realize is the MCU equivalent of the Necronomicon. They’re leap-frogging and parkouring and the camera is deftly moving around them in impossible ways, a natural evolution of all the groundbreaking web-slinging sequences in Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN trilogy. (read the rest of this shit…)

Sam Raimi: The TV Years (Rake, Ash vs Evil Dead, 50 States of Fright)

Thursday, February 3rd, 2022

So, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) is Sam Raimi’s most recent feature film until DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS comes out in a few months. It’s like he accidentally took one too many drops of the potion and woke up in a whole new world.

But not really. In the interim, as always, he’s been producing movies for other people, including Fede Alvarez’s EVIL DEAD remake (also 2013) and DON’T BREATHE (2016). And of course he’s developed movies to direct that just haven’t gotten off the ground for one reason or another. There have been announcements of him directing movies based on the video game The Last of Us, the books Love May Fail, The Blade Itself, The Next 100 Years and The Kingkiller Chronicle: The Name of the Wind, plus a remake of A PROPHET. All of these seem to have fallen away, as such things often do.

Throughout his career as a director he’s also been prolific as an executive producer of TV shows including M.A.N.T.I.S., Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, American Gothic, Spy Game, Young Hercules, Jack of All Trades, Cleopatra 2525, Xena: Warrior Princess, Legend of the Seeker and Spartacus. But in 2014, about a month after OZ came out, he finally directed his first TV show. (read the rest of this shit…)

Oz the Great and Powerful

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2022

And now in our journey through the films of Sam Raimi we have arrived at a difficult spot. We have come to the film that was at the time “the new Sam Raimi” but for a few years became “the last Sam Raimi?” I enjoyed OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL well enough when it came out in 2013 (here’s my review), even though a big commercial Disney movie that’s an unsolicited prequel to a famous story wasn’t high on the list of what I wanted to see from him. And it definitely wasn’t what I wanted to see him go out on.

Luckily he has now actually filmed his next movie, so a comeback is on deck. But isn’t it crazy that it’s been 9 years since the last Sam Raimi movie? To remind you of how long ago this was, it’s when FURIOUS 6 and MAN OF STEEL came out. It’s when they were on the first film of MCU Phase Two, IRON MAN THREE. We’re talking seven David Gordon Green movies ago (he was on PRINCE AVALANCHE, starring Paul Rudd, who was not yet Ant-Man). It’s when Franck Khalfoun’s remake of MANIAC came out, and Spike Lee’s remake of OLDBOY, and Ryuhei Kitamura’s WWE Films joint NO ONE LIVES. Remember those? No? You weren’t born yet? That’s what I’m saying – it’s been a while. (read the rest of this shit…)

Drag Me to Hell

Tuesday, February 1st, 2022

“What we really have at the core here is a timeless story concept that was used in this film, along with many others: the idea of a character that commits a sin of greed and has to pay the terrible price for it. It’s a morality tale that many churches have told, throughout the ages. So it’s a tried and true, oldest horror story in the book, basically.” —Sam Raimi, describing DRAG ME TO HELL (but also A SIMPLE PLAN)


While Raimi was preparing what he thought would be SPIDER-MAN 4, he decided to do a smaller film first. Previously titled THE CURSED or THE LAMIA, Sam and Ivan Raimi had originally written it as a short story in 1989, then considered adapting it into a movie after ARMY OF DARKNESS. In 2002 they planned to give it to another director and produce it through Raimi and Rob Tapert’s new company Ghost House Pictures. But they decided it required a larger budget than they were dealing with at the time. Later they offered it to Edgar Wright, who didn’t feel he was right for it, and was about to do HOT FUZZ anyway.

Then, finally, Raimi realized that he should do it himself. In an interview posted on Cinema.com, he explained how working on DRAG ME TO HELL was more fulfilling than what he’d been doing:

“On this picture I could have complete creative control and final cut, which I actually had for the first time since my first film, THE EVIL DEAD. I could just do what I believed in… for the last seven or eight years I’d been working with the luxury of SPIDER-MAN type budgets, big studio productions. This was much more hands-on. No department heads to deal with – just the actors, and the technicians. And it’s much more rewarding I think.”

It was also rewarding for those of us who first knew Raimi from horror movies, and were thrilled to see him back. Not that everyone got what they wanted out of it. In my very positive 2009 review I noted others fretting about the film’s use of digital effects and its PG-13 rating (later bumped up to “unrated” on DVD), complaints that seem more irrelevant the more time passes and the more times I revisit it and love it even more. This is a movie that combines the go-for-broke energy and macabre humor of the EVIL DEAD series with the morality and character-based centers of A SIMPLE PLAN and the SPIDER-MAN trilogy. So it’s not like it’s just EVIL DEAD lite. It’s a different sort of thing. Whatever it loses in volume of rubbery fluid-spewing cackling soul-swallowers it balances with other interests. (read the rest of this shit…)

Spider-Man 3

Monday, January 31st, 2022

SPIDER-MAN 3 is Sam Raimi’s most financially successful movie to date, having raked in $894 million at the worldwide box office. That’s about 41 ARMY OF DARKNESSes. But it’s also his first (and only?) infamous movie. Looking back at the reviews surprised me – they were more positive than I remembered. But it almost immediately became one of those movies that the conventional wisdom decides is bad, and that reputation has stuck. Remember how I showed you all those articles declaring SPIDER-MAN 2 the best super hero movie ever? Well, a list on Comic Basics ranks part 3 as the #4 “Worst Superhero Movie That Hollywood has Ever Puked Up,” Goliath ranked it #5 “Most Terrible Superhero Film,” the much more thorough Comic Vine calculated it as #53 “Worst Superhero Movie,” but that means they consider it worse than GREEN LANTERN. In recent years, C-Net, Business Insider, comicbook.com, Complex and Gizmodo all included it on lists of the worst superhero/comic book movies. If it’s ever mentioned positively, it’s in the context of defending it,with the understanding that it’s an uphill battle (for example Sandy Schaefer’s 2020 Screen Rant piece “Is Spider-Man 3 Actually Bad? Why Marvel Fans Hate It So Much.”)

Of course, you know how I am. I always kinda liked it. In my review at the time I said it was “more flawed than Part 1 or Part 2. But not by much,” and concluded, “This movie is worse than the other two in some ways and better in other ways. Lots of interesting characters, great action scenes, good emotional climax, some sloppy writing and a weird tangent for the history books.“

Watching it now, I still like what I always liked, and not a single one of the things I used to dislike bothers me anymore. In fact, what seemed like its big weakness at the time – the hurried, three-villained plot – now makes it feel refreshingly different from other comic book movies, and honestly more faithful to these stories as they once existed in their original medium. (read the rest of this shit…)

Spider-Man 2

Thursday, January 27th, 2022

Raimi started work on SPIDER-MAN 2 immediately after the first one, and had it ready to go two summers later. Since it really is about following up on the events of the first film, it starts by running the credits over some of them, as depicted in paintings by Alex Ross. (He’s celebrated for his realistic portraits of comic book super heroes, which are more impressive when they come from his imagination and not photography we’ve already seen, but still, it was cool that they got him). The end of the sequence reminds us that in SPIDER-MAN Peter chose not to be with Mary Jane, who he loves, so that he could be Spider-Man.

Which does not seem to be working out great so far. The painting of Mary Jane dissolves into a closeup of her face on a perfume billboard that Peter has to walk under every day, reminding him of his pain. Though he tries to hide it, it’s clear his world crumbles when she is not near. He’s in college now, and living on his own in a small apartment. Much like part 1’s opening about all the ways Peter can be humiliated on the way to school, this one piles it on real thick about what a shit sandwich life still hands to him every day. (read the rest of this shit…)

Spider-Man

Wednesday, January 26th, 2022

“He had an uneventful childhood. He played baseball with the other kids on the block, became fascinated with the antics of what later became his heroes – The Three Stooges, read Spiderman comic books, thought Jerry Lewis was hilarious and the Little Rascals even more so. What influenced Raimi to become the ‘horror meister’ of slash and gore films is not found in his past.”

Dead Auteur: How a 20-year-old ex-college student carved out his horror niche in Hollywood by Sue Uram, Cinefantastique, August 1992

 

Immediately following Raimi’s very serious director period, his career changed drastically again. After so many stabs at the mainstream, he finally made the leap to genuine blockbuster filmmaking, bringing one of the most famous characters in the history of American pop culture to the big screen for the first time. This is not the use-Intro-Vision-to-stretch-the-budget-enough-to-try-to-compete-in-summer of DARKMAN and ARMY OF DARKNESS, or the work-with-huge-stars-but-scare-off-boring-people-by-doing-something-different-with-them of THE QUICK AND THE DEAD. I’m talking a super hero event movie with ten times the budget of DARKMAN, working with Sony Digital Imageworks to pioneer effects techniques that nobody was even sure would be possible, and finally sharing his talents with pretty much the widest audience possible for a movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

For Love of the Game

Monday, January 24th, 2022

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I said to you that day in the condo.”


Okay, we have now come to the one “Wait— what?” of the Raimi filmography. His MUSIC OF THE HEART. We saw him completely switch up his style for his last movie, A SIMPLE PLAN, and it was obviously very different and more “normal” than anything he’d done previously. But it wasn’t totally out of the blue for him to make the leap from horror to dark suspense thriller. It had some overlap with the crime films by his friends the Coen Brothers, and it had a great role for Bridget Fonda, who had previously done a cameo in ARMY OF DARKNESS.

But for the love of God, where did FOR LOVE OF THE GAME come from? The answer he always gives is about the only answer possible: he likes baseball, he liked the script, he wanted to try something different. I knew that was what it was but I always figured it would be worth watching some day. “Some day” came 22 years after it was released (now), and I’m actually surprised that the only Raimi I noticed in it at all was Ted Raimi in a cameo as the doorman at a party. I figured there would at least be some cool shots of baseballs flying. The premise is that maybe-about-to-retire Detroit Tigers pitcher Billy Chapel (Kevin Costner, SIZZLE BEACH, U.S.A.) reflects on his failed relationship while trying to pitch a perfect game. You’d think there would be some attempt to experiment with different ways to show a pitch on film, as THE QUICK AND THE DEAD did with gun duels. But it’s not that kind of party. (read the rest of this shit…)

A Simple Plan

Thursday, January 20th, 2022

“You work for the American dream. You don’t steal it.”
“This is even better.”

A SIMPLE PLAN is the first Sam Raimi movie not to be easily recognizable as a Sam Raimi movie. It even has a Danny Elfman score that’s not recognizable as a Danny Elfman score. It’s a grim, uncomfortable neo-noir, stylistically subdued, what little humor it has dry enough that it likely doesn’t register with everybody. If anything, it seems most akin to BLOOD SIMPLE by Raimi’s former roommates/CRIMEWAVE co-writers/DARKMAN cameo-ers the Coen Brothers, transplanted to a snowy Minnesota environment more like FARGO.

Like THE QUICK AND THE DEAD it was a for-hire project, but this time he didn’t want it to feel like any of his other movies. He and cinematographer Alar Kivilo (THE LOOKOUT) agreed that the camerawork should be simple, “invisible,” basically the opposite of what everyone loves about his earlier films. I don’t advocate doing that all the time, or even often, or honestly ever again, but here it definitely works for him. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Quick and the Dead

Wednesday, January 19th, 2022

THE QUICK AND THE DEAD has a very traditional western story, other than featuring a woman – Sharon Stone (ABOVE THE LAW) as Ellen – in the role of vengeance-seeking gunslinger. You’ve got your western town desperate to get out from under the yoke of a cruel ruler (Gene Hackman [THE SPLIT, PRIME CUT] as John Herod), and your mysterious drifter in town trying to get up the guts to shoot him for killing her father in front of her. All the shootists with the fastest guns and biggest mouths are coming in for a quick draw tournament, and she enters in hopes of getting a shot at her enemy.

But I think it’s truly distinct among ‘90s westerns, with two major things that make it stand out. One is the incredible cast. It includes great western icons: Woody Strode, Roberts Blossom, Pat Hingle, and of course Hackman in a performance arguably on par with UNFORGIVEN. It has colorful roles for genre favorites: Lance Henriksen, Keith David, Mark Boone Jr., Tobin Bell, Sven-Ole Thorsen. It has Gary Sinise immediately after his star-making, Oscar-nominated performance in FORREST GUMP. And it has two right-before-they-exploded co-stars: pre-L.A. CONFIDENTIAL Russell Crowe as former outlaw turned pacifist preacher Cort, and known-for-WHAT’S-EATING-GILBERT-GRAPE Leonardo DiCaprio as The Kid, the cocky, baby-faced son of Herod entering the contest just to get the attention of his asshole dad. We actually see The Kid mobbed by young women at one of the shooting matches, something that would become more familiar to DiCaprio a year later when ROMEO + JULIET came out. (read the rest of this shit…)