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By Charles On 11 Apr, 2013 At 08:39 PM | Categorized As Featured, Movie News, Reviews | With 0 Comments

No Gravatar2012_10_29-EvilDead2013-1200How far can one take a trope? Seriously, consider what I’m asking here. Tropes are called tropes for a reason, usually because (like their literary cousins, the cliches) tropes are so often utilized and over-utilized that they eventually lose all the impact and meaning their initial use conveyed. And when something transforms from plot device into trope, that usually also takes with it any sense of innovation the trope might once have had. Cynical, I know, but not far off the mark- tropes need to find new ways to make themselves relevant.

I mention this because I spent some time this past weekend getting reacquainted with an old friend. And this old friend apparently had a makeover. Was it a good idea for said friend to have a makeover? Maybe. It all depends on how much you like this friend to begin with. But you can’t deny that this friend is a little sharper, a little cleaner (relatively speaking) and a little less campy than he was before.

This friend I spent the weekend with was Evil Dead, and he has aged rather well (makeover notwithstanding). The granddaddy of campy horror, the progenitor of the oft-utilized “cabin in the woods” trope, and inspiration for any film that likes to throw young people to the proverbial wolves (or demons, elder gods, nazi zombies, Eli Roth, half-redneck sociopaths and Tyler Labine, etc etc), Evil Dead made a splash when it was first released for being rather funny…unintentionally or not. So when I first saw trailers for the “re-make,” completely devoid of campy overtones and taking itself rather seriously, I was a bit concerned.

Was this an attempt for the production team to distance itself from its predecessor (especially in the wake of last Spring’s utterly hilarious send-up “Cabin in the Woods”) with a darker, more forbidding film, or were they attempting to make the film Sam Raimi had “intended to” way back when he was still slumming around with Bruce Campbell and looking to make his mark in the worlds of B-horror and blood. After all, serious horror films often fail miserably, especially when they take themselves too seriously.

Thankfully, Evil Dead does not.

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See this man: he is NOT in this movie. Sorry. No Bruce for you.

I’m going to start this by saying that if you’ve NEVER seen Evil Dead before, then you will probably love this film. You have nothing to compare it to. You have no emotional connections to certain characters or scenes, you probably didn’t laugh yourself silly at the “serious” horror of the original, and you likely have never heard the term “boomstick” in its “native tongue” (and yes, I know that’s from Army of Darkness, I’m trying to make a point here). For all intents and purposes, this is a new film, no matter how “old” it might feel.

For those who HAVE seen Evil Dead, approach with caution. There have been changes, lots and lots of changes. No more promiscuity. No more fountains of blood. No more stupid-looking rubber demons terrorizing those poor college students…hell, no more college students either, as everyone is now a blissful twenty-something. Do not go into this movie expecting Evil Dead, because unless you are a very forgiving person who understands that sometimes remakes aren’t a bad thing, you will nitpick this into oblivion before going home to cry into your copy of “Drag Me to Hell” while cursing Raimi and company to a painful afterlife alongside “Mac guy.”

(Don’t believe me? Check out some critics reviews lamenting the lack of camp and humor the original had…most of which was unintentional. Thanks for missing the point, Richard Roeper, as much as I might agree with your assessment of the players in this game.)

This time around, Evil Dead deals less with teenage matters and more with addiction, fear, loyalty and why its not a good idea to read from the Necronomicon. Five young adults meet in a cabin in the woods (the same cabin used in pretty much everything these days) to help a friend cope with a heroin habit. While there, they discover a secret room in the cellar full of dead cats, and a book wrapped in barbed wire. Predictably, one of them opens and reads the book, and bad things start to happen. One friend slices her face off. Another pours boiling water on herself. There’s some conflict involving a nail gun, and unconventional use of a turkey knife.

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This is NOT what one means when they refer to getting a “facial.”

Evil Dead is a very “gross” movie, much like the original was. Drawing on elements of 80s splatterpunk and body horror, this film highlights how humans are simply sacks of meat and blood, and gloriously delights in showing the many ways we can be corrupted, putrefied and ripped apart. There’s plenty of filth present in both the cabin and the woods itself from the get go, leading one to wonder why the people present would even think to stay in such dirty surroundings. It practically screams “bad stuff is going to happen!” I once had issues with my uncle’s “summer home” because some squirrels got in and left nuts in my bed. These people trudge through mud and muck, and never seem to mind…or take showers.

The characters are also hopelessly dumb. Not in a “poorly written” sort of way (well, one of them is), but in the fact that they seem to completely lack common sense. It’s bad enough reading from an odd book you found in a “devil worship” room…actually no, that IS pretty bad. It’s wrapped in barbed wire, for god’s sake. You need bolt cutters to get it open. There are plenty of warnings written in ink and blood telling you not to read from it. And if you’re smart enough to read Sumerian, you should be smart enough to know NOT to read Sumerian. Seriously, lack of common sense here…oh who am I kidding, I would have done it too, if only for kicks.

My only real complaint is how the writers handled the entire affair: unlike the original, this time around the entire “reading from the book” angle seems more like an afterthought tacked on in as quick a way as possible. I never quite believed why said character did it, nor what he hoped to gain by doing it. Rather slapdash, which is disappointing considering how much careful thought was put into the rest of this movie.

This complete ignorance of basic survival instinct and sense is what ultimately makes the film enjoyable. Let’s face it, we as a people like seeing bad stuff happen to stupid people, and the people here definitely qualify. While possibly not the intent of the director, it can be deliciously entertaining to watch demons possess folks and turn them into sacks of flesh to be toyed with. You will likely find yourself egging on the monsters, anticipating the next gruesome death scene with more enthusiasm than you would like. That chill you’re feeling…that’s revulsion at yourself, not the film.

Worst. Nightmare.

Worst. Nightmare.

And despite what some critics might say, this film is not without its own brand of twisted humor. You will laugh, but you will also squirm. Some of those chuckles might not be for outrageous plotting, but at that awkward feeling creeping slowly into your gut as the film progresses. It takes a truly well-paced and -plotted film to make an audience feel that, something which Tarantino, Roth and even Miike (these days) have been trying to cultivate, often to their own dismay. Even me, as desensitized as I am to “horror” films, found myself shifting uncomfortably at certain times, and muttering “worst nightmare” under my breath while my friend next to me closed his eyes and shivered.

So by all means, go and see this movie. It’s a raucous good time. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

By otakuman5000 On 2 Jun, 2011 At 02:18 PM | Categorized As Comics/Manga, Reviews | With 0 Comments

No GravatarIn Sakura Hime: The Legend of Princess Sakura, Princess Sakura has been betrothed to Prince Ouran since she was born, but she can’t see how she could possibly love a man she has never met. The day before she is to leave, the priestess Byakuya reminds her that she is never to look at the full moon, but as she runs away she gazes at the night sky. A demon attacks her, looking for her ancestor Princess Kaguya. Sakura discovers that she is the inheritor of the Cherry Blossom Sword, and is the only one that can defeat these man-eating creatures.

Sakura Hime Volume 1 by Arina Tanemura

Arina Tanemura is a veteran shojo manga artist (Full Moon O Sageshite, Gentleman’s Alliance), but at the beginning of chapter one this seems to hurt her more than help. She takes a paint-by-numbers approach to the story that I can imagine she did in her sleep. I’ve seen the cute heroine and cheeky male lead in just about every shojo manga I’ve ever picked up, and Sakura’s desperate situation, along with her adorable sidekick, feel all too familiar.

This could also be why Sakura Hime moves at such a brisk pace, skimming over little things like character development and world-building. However, this actually works in the sense that shojo fans have seen much of this before, so Tanemura gives herself little chance to bore her readers with explanations of recycled character types.

The quick pace also allows the manga to hit its most surprising and exciting turn halfway through the first volume. Sakura comes under attack, and it’s not the sinister man we might have expected, but someone whom she’s come to trust. This twist is sudden, but this early betrayal gives Sakura Hime an emotional charge that sticks you in the heroine’s corner as you wonder how she’ll ever get a happy ending out of this.

The series also has a decent amount of action as Sakura uses her new found powers to fight Youko – man-eating demons. These monsters, while holding different appearances, have a boring monster-of-the-week feel, and are so bland that I had to flip back through the pages to remember what each one looked like. Battles are disappointingly quick, despite Sakura’s inability to make her magical sword obey her, but as Sakura’s personal danger increases we can hope for more satisfying fights.

No one can say that Arina Tanemura isn’t a skilled artist. Costumes are intricate, and backgrounds are highly detailed. But that is also where her flaws show, as backgrounds are filled with so many flowers and trees and swirling cherry blossoms as to make scenes confusing. In all the detail and shading characters get lost and lose focus on the page, not a good thing when the reader is trying to follow a fight scene.

Character designs are also very well done, though they look similar to people we’ve seen in her other manga. Tanemura also takes the “big-eyed heroine” idea too far, as Sakura’s plate-sized eyes take up a third of her face. And when ninja-girl Kohaku comes into the story, the only thing helping me tell them apart is their hairstyles.

Characters start this volume barred in by stereotypes, and the fights are disappointingly limited. But with the interesting turn in the plot the characters gain an extra chance for growth, as Sakura has to prove not just her love but her humanity. Even with its obvious shortcomings, Sakura Hime might prove itself to be a shojo manga worth sticking around for.

ISBN: 9781421538822 • MSRP: $9.99 • VIZ Media • 182 pages • Released April 5 2011

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

By otakuman5000 On 15 May, 2011 At 07:32 PM | Categorized As Comics/Manga, Featured, Reviews | With 0 Comments

No GravatarRin and his twin brother Yukio have been raised since birth by the priest Father Fujimoto. Rin has trouble adjusting to normal society, and can’t understand why – until his innate demon powers are unleashed and he discovers that he is the son of Satan. After an encounter with his long-lost father costs him someone dear, Rin vows to become an exorcist and kill Satan himself.

© VIZ Media 2011, Kazue Kato

Supernatural manga Blue Exorcist

The description alone makes Blue Exoricist (written and drawn by Kazue Kato and released by VIZ Media) sound like a wild ride, but it starts out more muted than you’d think. Rin’s intelligent brother Yukio is lucky to have a free ride at the local high school, True Cross Academy, but since Rin couldn’t make it his initial big issue is in finding a job. The manga begins tumbling down a predictable track as soon as Rin finds out who he is: revelation of secrets, being told he must leave, and the first encounter with the enemy. And there’s the sword which Rin must never draw if he wants to remain human – I wonder what he will immediately do?

Still, the first chapter is exciting, and so it’s actually pretty disappointing to find out that Blue Exorcist is going to be another supernatural high school series. Though wandering adventures are even more overdone, keeping the main character in school just seems like a too-easy way to keep him safe, though it also gives a great place for introducing and fleshing out a full cast of characters.

Blue Exorcist Characters

Expressive characters, Rin and Father Fujimoto

The sudden discovery that his brother Yukio has known everything about him is pretty jolting. His personality takes a change as he talks to Rin snidely and sarcastically, and even intimates that things would be easier if Rin was dead. And even though he ends up acting nobler than that, it’s looking like he’s slid from one stereotype to another: quiet smart guy to cool know-it-all. Mephisto, the head of the school, is dressed up and acts in a flamboyant manner that feels a tad out of place amongst the rest of the cast, though he gets the best reactions out of Rin. The one female character is a bit disappointing in her shyness, and she brings in another predictable element with her immediate attraction to, not the main character, but his cool twin brother. But as she’s only featured in the final chapter, she still has the chance to get stronger.

The art is the best part of Blue Exorcist. Kato will often leave backgrounds empty, but it’s no bother when the focus is on the characters. While not overly detailed with tattoos or accessories, characters are expressive with bold designs, and even background characters have distinct looks. And when the artist does show a landscape her skill, and meticulousness, becomes apparent. Like in the shot of True Cross Town: the highly detailed buildings are piled and melded with each other, yet still look clean and crisp rather than messy.

Kazue Kato's view of True Cross Town

Anyone who’s read shonen manga before will be able to call almost every twist in Blue Exorcist, and as our hero starts school the manga turns out a bit more boring than you’d think a story about killing Satan would be. But as Kato takes the time to flesh out her characters they become a bit more interesting, and we can hope for more action as Rin learns his skills and hopefully goes out on a demon hunt. And the art alone is something worth looking at.

ISBN: 9781421540320 • MSRP: $9.99 • Published by VIZ Media • 200 pages