Friday, September 28, 2007

Evil Dead 4

It's the movie everyone wants to see, let's all just go ahead and admit it. Even now, close to thirty years after the original 'Evil Dead' and almost fifteen years after the release of 'Army of Darkness', Sam Raimi is still getting asked, "Will you ever do another 'Evil Dead' movie?" (His response is always a charming, gracious "We'd love to, but first we'd need an opening in our respective schedules. And funding. And a script.")

My thoughts on the sequel, before launching into a description: It'd need to be set fifteen years after 'Army'. Bruce Campbell is fifteen years older than he was, and there's no point in trying to hide that. You can't just pick up where 'Army' left off. I think, at this point, that it's safe to assume at least a little familiarity with the series on the part of the fans--if you're going to see 'Evil Dead 4', you've probably already seen the first three, and that'll be especially true when it goes on to DVD and joins three evergreen DVD sellers. And third, I think the series deserves a happy ending. Something big and spectacular (not that I didn't love the end of 'Army of Darkness' or anything.) So, with that in mind, 'Evil Dead 4'...

The story picks up fifteen years after the end of 'Army of Darkness', with Deadite forces having overwhelmed most of the world. Demonic possession has reached an all-time high, the United States government has fallen, and humans have banded together into small, insular city-states for protection. A mysterious wanderer approaches the largest and most successful of these city-states, the kingdom of 'S-Mart', the shining light of humanity in the war against demon-kind, ruled by the wise and just King Ash...

On arrival, he's greeted with suspicion and distrust, but is taken before Ash and his closest advisor, Scott. The stranger explains that he is from the future, from a time when there is but one outpost of humanity remaining on Earth. Ash's reign now exists only in legend, as the last Golden Age of the human race. But these last humans have unlocked the key to time travel using the Necronomicon Ex Mortis, the Book of the Dead (of the dead). Although the Book is indestructible, they have been sending warriors back in time to try to stop the Necronomicon from ever having been written, ensuring that the demons never get a foothold into humanity. Each time, they've failed, but they've managed to make some changes to history--Scott's very existence is one example. Originally, he would have been at the cabin with Ash when Ash found and fought the Deadites for the first time. They also prevented Ash from oversleeping and awakening in a dystopian future London. But now, they are too few to send back another. So their last gamble is to come to this time, and persuade Ash, the most legendary warrior in history, the slayer of the Deadites, to travel back and stop the demonic tome from even existing.

Ash is uncertain. He has responsibilities as a king, and as protector of its people. Also, he admits to himself, without the Deadite invasion, what would he be? Just another schmuck? For all the difficulties of being a king, and of fighting demons, it is good to be the Man With The Crown sometimes. And he'll apparently be remembered as the last Golden Age of Humanity, also a plus. He decides to take a night, and think it over.

That night, Deadites attack. Ash goes into battle with them and repels the invasion (a sight gag here would show him selecting from a rack of different weapons to fit onto his right arm), but Scott is killed. He consoles Shelly, and the two of them realize they've lost so much...Scott, dead. Linda, dead. Cheryl, missing. He decides. No matter what the cost, this has to be stopped. The spell is cast, and Ash hurtles back in time... the decadent kingdom of Atlantis, ruled by a cruel-yet-sophisticated king. (There'd be parallels between him and Ash, suggesting that if Ash had "let himself go", this would be what he'd wind up like.) Ash arrives, and is immediately taken by the King's Guard. He finds himself on trial, accused of being the head of the "Cult of the Deadites", which has been gaining power of late. Ash protests, insisting that he's actually there to fight the cult, but the King's High Priestess has the word of prophecy on her side, the King trusts her implicitly...and she's also Cheryl, Ash's long-lost sister. Despite Ash's protests, he's sentenced to trial by combat in the gladiatorial arenas.

Naturally, trial by combat proves to be not as fatal as Ash's enemy hoped, and the mercurial King takes him into his confidence. Ash takes the opportunity to talk to Cheryl privately, only to find out that she's the Queen of the Deadite Cult--the demonic entity knew that others were attempting to undo the creation of the Necronomicon, and sent Cheryl, its first possessee, back in time to guard it. The time of prophecy is near, though. Soon the seas will run red with blood, the book will be written, and humanity's end will be assured.

Sure enough, the Deadite cult marches on the palace. Ash and the King's Guard do battle with the cultists, but the King dies, and with his death, Atlantis begins to sink into the sea. Blood-red rain pours from the sky, Cheryl begins to chant a summoning ritual, and the tome's destined author appears at its appointed time. The scribe of the book descends from his pale horse, carrying the blank tome. It reaches a single skeletal finger out towards the water, and it becomes clear that the book is the Necronomicon Ex Mortis...the Book of the Dead, by Death...

That's when Ash steps in. Unafraid, unencumbered by common sense, he charges in for a final battle, Ash vs. the Grim Reaper, for the fate of humanity...and yeah, that goes about as well as you'd expect. Only Ash's superhuman ability to withstand punishment keeps him alive, but he does fulfill his destiny. He keeps Death distracted for those few vital minutes until the continent sinks fully under the waves. The book plunges into the blood-red sea, its pages defaced for all time. Humanity is saved. And Ash goes under, drowning in the blood-red waters...

...and is pulled back out. And not only that, his watch is still ticking! That's right, ladies and gentlemen, even total immersion in this tank of salt water doesn't stop the Amazing Ash Watch, and it's only $49.99! And if you act now, we'll throw in the Groovy Ash Hand Blender, that straps right onto your wrist! Call now, operators are standing by! Now, we'll go to Ed, and see if he has anything more on that Fantastic Ash Glove...

Still disoriented, Ash looks around. He has both his hands again, his friend Scott is by his side, and as they go to another studio, he realizes that he's working in some sort of infomercial. Men in suits crowd around, looking for his opinion on all sorts of business matters, and he figures it out--this is history now, and he's gone from being the King of the Last Golden Age to a glorified Ron Popeil. For a moment, he wonders if it was worth it...and then he sees Linda off-stage, watching him work. And knows that it was.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

I Am King Geek! Bow Down Before Me!

After doing some exhaustive research, I think I've finally managed to pin down a definitive timeline of the 'Heroes' universe leading up to the events of the first season. It's amazing, the way they scattered so many tiny clues in the series itself, but I think I've managed to unravel them all. (Warning: This timeline will contain spoilers for the events of season one. I'd recommend that you not read this until you've seen all of the first season. Mainly because none of this will make any sense otherwise.)

1955: Alien plants use a total eclipse of the sun (a recurring motif of the series) to teleport a seedling of theirs to Earth, as part of a plot to wipe out the human race. The seedling is destroyed by Seymour Krelbourn and Audrey Gray, but the pollen of the alien plant turns out to have a mutagenic effect on human beings. Pollen contamination will cause spectacular mutagenic effects over the next decade.

1956: Seymour and Audrey marry and move to the suburbs.

1957: Tolian Soran, thought to have died in an explosion on Veridian 3, instead finds himself in New York City during Earth's distant past. During the brief period he spent within the Nexus (prior to Jean-Luc Picard and James T. Kirk's alteration of history), he communed with a mysterious entity that claimed to be trapped within a black hole. In exchange for a promise of assistance in escaping the black hole, the entity helps Soran time-travel away. Soran takes the identity of "Linderman". At this time, he is contaminated by alien pollen, developing the ability to heal.

1958: Seymour Krelbourn dies from radical mutations developed in the wake of overexposure to the alien pollen. Audrey Gray breaks with tradition by reverting to her maiden name, and moves back to her old neighborhood in New York to raise her newborn child, whom she names Gabriel. In order to prevent him from taking an interest in botany (which she irrationally blames for her husband's death), she tells Gabriel that his father was a watchmaker.

1972: After several misadventures, including a tour of duty in Vietnam, Soran finally frees the renegade Time Lord known only as "The Master" from the black hole he was trapped in, and uses his powers to stabilize the Master's decaying human host. Soran/Linderman and the Master embark on an ambitious scheme to alter the course of human history using the alien pollen to catalyze the next stage of human evolution.

1975: After his return from Africa, John Shaft develops prcognitive dreams due to exposure to alien pollen; deciding to use the ability to make himself wealthy, he develops the identity of "Charles Deveaux". He spends many years acumulating wealth and power, and reluctantly lends his talents to Soran/Linderman on occasion; despite his money, though, nobody understands him but his woman.

1983: Captain Hikaru Sulu, of the starship Excelsior, is asked to take on a dangerous mission by Starfleet involving the apprehension of criminals attempting to alter the course of human history. Upon arriving in the past, however, Sulu recognizes that the alterations are too great to stop by simply capturing the criminals, and embarks on a long-term scheme to minimize their damage to the timestream. To this end, he begins building a corporate empire in Japan and makes the acquaintance of Soran/Linderman.

1987: By this time, the Master's "black ops" organization that complements Soran/Linderman is fully up and running, using both regular humans and those whose DNA has been altered by the alien pollen. The Master, calling himself "Thompson", recruits as his newest operative a man called "Claude." Unbeknownst to the Master, "Claude" is actually his old nemesis, the Doctor, who has regenerated since the last time the two met and has used the newly-installed 'chameleon arch' in his TARDIS to create a false persona for himself to allay the Master's suspicions. He does take the extra step, however, of installing "Claude" with pollen-altered DNA, giving himself the ability to become invisible.

1991: Lana Lang graduates from Shuster University and takes a job at the Bureau for Extra-Normal Matters in Capitol City, Florida.

1993: Lana Lang severs her ties both with Clark Kent and Superboy, and uses her connections at the Bureau for Extra-Normal Matters to obtain a job with the FBI, specializing in cases of unusual serial killers.

1999: John Connor, on the run from robotic killing machines from an alternate future known as "Terminators", takes the identity of "Zach" while living in Texas. He will hide under this identity for several years.

2000: Having trusted the wrong person in Thompson/The Master's black-ops group (known as "The Company"), Claude/The Doctor is badly injured. Failing to remember his true Time Lord heritage, he spends the next several years on the run (which, in turn, causes him to resolve never to use the chameleon arch without entrusting his secret to a partner in the event of mishap.)

December 2005: Eric Weiss, CIA agent, goes deep undercover as an LA beat cop, complete with marriage. Unbeknownst to him, however, he has been exposed to alien pollen.

April 2006: Chandra Suresh approaches Gabriel Gray, having determined that his DNA contains the markers that will allow him to detect people who have developed "super-powers". Gray's DNA, which was affected by massive doses of pollen on both his mother's and father's side, is indeed powerfully mutated (despite his mother's never having developed any powers at all from her exposure to alien pollen.)

September 2006: Heroes begins.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Any Questions?

Sorry for the short blog entry this week, but I finally finished the three-week process of weaning myself off caffeine, and going from "a little each day" to "none" has turned out to be a slightly bigger step than I thought. (Hence the title of the post: "This is my brain off drugs.") Still, I'm done with my usual Thursday posting alright, and now it's just a matter of...

Friday, you say?


Hope things went OK at work last night, then.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Summer Movie Report Card

The first thing you'll notice, on reading this, is how much earlier "summer" begins for summer movies than it used to: Ghost Rider, the first entry on the list, came out in February, which was (at least in Minnesota) about as far from "summery" as you can get. But since you need that week of space all to yourself in order to get that all-important high first-weekend gross, well...needs must when the devil drives, I suppose.

The second thing to notice is just how many movies I wound up seeing; this was a big summer for movies, a sort of box-office El Nino that happens once every few years where every week brought a must-see movie. (Hollywood's been hoping for one of these for a while, now, but when you make a movie like 'Hulk', you really only have yourself to blame.) When I looked at the "upcoming movies", I saw a treasure trove of summer-time excitement...was I disappointed? Read on!

Ghost Rider: B-. This should probably be a C+, to be honest, but I'm giving it an easy grade because the movie had a good sense of humor about itself, and a nice visual design sense, which made it easier to overlook the plot-silliness and slightly hammy acting. Plus, I wasn't expecting a ton from it, so yes, I was grading on a curve.

300: D+. Would have been a B-, save for the political subtext that rammed itself down my throat when all I wanted was a good old-fashioned action movie. (You may remember me commenting as much at the time.) Still, it didn't hurt my overall summer expectations, as it was really more of an afterthought next to 'Spider-Man 3', 'Fantastic Four 2', 'Transformers', and 'Grindhouse'.

TMNT: B. Actually, it starts out as a C, but the last half-hour or so is solid A material, so I decided to average out the film's grade. The film spends a long while dealing with the reunion of the Turtles and their working out their dysfunctional family issues, which left me thinking a) "Didn't we see this in the first 'TMNT' movie?" and b) "Didn't we see this in 'Ghostbusters 2'?" But the climax gets in plenty of action, good one-liners, and left me smiling. (Worst trailers before the movie ever, though. My room-mate actually shouted, "There is no GOD!" when he saw the 'Underdog' preview.)

Grindhouse: B. I'm probably grading this low, and that's probably because I did a poor job of expectation management (got my hopes up too high, so that it was impossible for the movie to be as good as my expectations for it.) But really, the Tarantino movie was a C+, slow and talky, and the Rodriguez movie was still only a B+, thanks to Rose McGowan's wooden acting dragging down the average. The fake trailers tipped it from a B- to a B, but for one of the tentpole movies of my summer movie expectations, it really didn't quite get it done. (I still saw it twice, though. And I'll still buy the DVD, just for "Don't".)

Hot Fuzz: A+. Unquestionably the movie that wrecks the curve for everyone else, this movie does for cop movies what 'Shaun of the Dead' did for zombie movies. I hate that sentence, because it's such a trite phrase and will no doubt be on the DVD sleeve somewhere, but that really is the most accurate way to describe the film--it takes the ideas and tropes of an American genre, and applies them to the small-scale human-interest stories British film and TV turn out. The result is absolutely brilliant (and all the more so because Simon Pegg drop-kicks an old lady in the head.)

Spider-Man 3: A-. I can, if I look, see flaws in the film (which is why it's an A- and not an A.) But I really think that most of the people who came out of this hating it either a) did a poor job of expectation management, or b) were gunning for it, because the third movie is usually where the backlash comes in. (Although it's easier to hate the third movie of a series when it's "Batman Forever".) Me, I thought it was fun, I thought it used its characters pretty well (save for Sandman, whose team-up with Venom at the end seemed to come out of nowhere), and I thought it bore the standard set by the first two movies better than any "third movie" you'd care to name. ('Godfather 3'? 'Matrix: Revolutions'? 'X-Men: The Last Stand'? 'Superman III'? OK, 'Army of Darkness' beats it. Still, they are both Sam Raimi movies.)

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: C+. I think I just broke my niece's heart, but really, this was entertaining enough...but in the end, it was just disposable fluff. It was a popcorn movie, and that could have been enough for it to get a B-, but I could never quite get away from noticing the special effects, stagecraft, and sheer logistics of filming each big action set-piece, and that lack of immersiveness knocked it down a grade point. (Caveat: I have not seen the first two films, and although I picked up what was going on just fine, thanks, it might have engaged me a bit more if I'd had two more movies to get to care about these people.) Oh, and it was hard to get away from the notion that apparently this was set in the Past, when everyone was still an ethnic stereotype.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer: A. OK, an A with the caveat that it's impossible for me to tell how much of this grade came from the actual movie I watched, and how much of it came from the film-makers simply having the good taste to make another Fantastic Four movie. I'm of the belief that the FF are virtually writer-proof; the characters are so vivid, the stories so iconic, and the villains so great, that you actually have to work to screw it up. At least for me.

Transformers: B+. With a different director, this could have been an A+, but Michael Bay really drops it a full letter grade with his insistence on using extreme close-ups, shaky-cam, and all sorts of tricks that really obscure the action and make it difficult to tell what's going on in any given scene. I understand the need to build slowly to the big set-piece action sequences, but once you get to them, you should be showing the audience everything in loving detail. Still, good acting, funny scenes, and Frenzy was awesome. (Mind you, the killer Nokia cell phone beat everything.)

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: I. Sorry, but I just had to give this an incomplete because, is. They're trying to condense an 870-page book which is mostly about character development and backstory into a pacy two-hour movie; at that point, you might as well stop calling it an adaptation and start calling it "Selected highlights of the book." Major plot points get left out, important characters wind up being reduced to extras...really, it's not a complete movie. (Which is why I don't normally go to the Harry Potter films.)

Stardust: A. I did vacillate a bit on whether to add a "-" to that, because I was a little disappointed on what they did with Victoria (even eight years after reading the book, I remember thinking that she Learned Her Lesson about toying with people's hearts, and it was sad to see a version of her that didn't.) But still, the changes from the book were all in the service of making it more memorable, exciting, dramatic, and fun, and I'm all for all of that. And they did it all while keeping the tone and basic shape of Gaiman's excellent novel, which is nothing short of amazing.

And that, I think, ends the "Summer Blockbuster Season"; it's September now, and while I do want to see 'Balls of Fury' (yes, I do, and I'm not ashamed of that), I don't feel that it really qualifies as a "blockbuster". This means that the GPA of the movies above is about a B (since I really doubt that the Harry Potter people are going to turn the rest of their movie in any time soon, their "I" gets changed to an "F" for the purposes of figuring out GPAs.) Not bad, although it should be noted that I managed to miss quite a few summer movies--I did not, for example, see 'Live Free or Die Hard' or 'The Bourne Ultimatum' (which probably cancel each other out).

In short, while popcorn cinema could still stand to study a bit harder and maybe consider doing some DVD extra-credit work, it certainly isn't flunking.