Blu Tuesday: Evil Dead, 42 and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Evil Dead”

WHAT: Drug addict Mia (Jane Levy) is taken to a remote cabin in the woods by her brother (Shiloh Fernandez) and three friends to help kick the habit. But when one of them unknowingly summons an evil spirit from the Book of the Dead, the demon possesses Mia and turns her against the others.

WHY:Evil Dead” is one of the few remakes that’s not only a success, but actually improves upon the original in certain departments. Though Sam Raimi’s version will forever be the “Evil Dead” of choice for horror purists, director Fede Alvarez has done an admirable job of preserving the tone of Raimi’s film while making it just different enough to stand on its own. The whole drug angle was a really smart way of introducing the characters into the story, and although they still make their share of bad decisions (particularly Lou Taylor Pucci’s Eric, whose stupidity will drive you crazy), for the most part, they’re much more developed than the typical cast of horror victims. Where Alvarez’s “Evil Dead” really flourishes, however, is the gore factor, because there’s absolutely no shortage of the red gooey stuff throughout the film’s brisk 91-minute runtime, and for horror fans, that’s surely music to their ears.

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary with director Fede Alvarez, writer Rodo Sayagues and stars Jane Levy, Lou Taylor Pucci and Jessica Lucas, there’s a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews with the cast and crew about remaking the horror classic and more.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“42″

WHAT: In 1947, African-American baseball players were relegated to their own Negro League, but that all changed when Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) made the bold decision to break the color line and offer Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) the chance to make history as the first professional black player in the National League.

WHY: The story of Jackie Robinson is pretty much the ultimate civil rights tale, so it’s surprising that only one other film has been made on the subject, and that movie starred the famous athlete as himself. It’s probably because no matter how inspiring Robinson’s story may be, he’s not a particularly interesting figure, and that’s something that director Brian Helgeland constantly wrestles with in “42,” a conservative and slightly cheesy sports drama that feels like a product of its 1940s setting. Though Robinson makes for a dull protagonist, Helgeland surrounds him with a cast of colorful characters, including Christopher Meloni as Dodgers manager Leo Durocher, Alan Tudyk as racist Phillies manager Ben Chapman and Harrison Ford in a standout performance as Branch Rickey. It’s the veteran actor’s involvement that just barely tips the scale in the favor of “42,” because while the movie is an enjoyable tribute to one of baseball’s biggest heroes, it’s not as memorable as the source material warrants.

EXTRAS: There’s a behind-the-scenes featurette on training the actors to play baseball and recreating the old stadiums with special effects, another featurette on Boseman and Ford getting into character, and a brief retrospective on Robinson’s legacy.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Movie Review: “Evil Dead”

Starring
Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez,
Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore
Director
Fede Alvarez

It’s hard to watch “Evil Dead” after seeing “The Cabin in the Woods,” and not just because the movie takes place in a cabin in the woods. On the one hand, it’s admirable that director Fede Alvarez went to great lengths to keep this, a remake of Sam Raimi’s 1981 game-changing original, grounded in a style similar to the source material. (Case in point: there isn’t a single piece of technology used in this movie that didn’t already exist in 1981.) On the other hand, this type of movie has either been borrowed or parodied approximately six million times in the 32 years since its release, and as a result, the story structure seems less retro than it does arcane. No amount of blood can wash that away, though God knows they tried.

David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore) meet up at his family’s desolate, run-down cabin with David’s sister Mia (Jane Levy) and old friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas) for the purposes of helping Mia quit heroin cold turkey. Mia swears the house smells horrendous, though no one else seems to notice but the dog (yes, the dog), and after some prodding, the group uncovers some ghastly atrocities in the cellar, along with a book wrapped in barbed wire. Eric pries the book open and, despite the fact that there are warnings etched into the pages advising the reader not to write, read, or say any of the words the previous owners tried to hide, proceeds to do all three of those things, which unleashes an unspeakable demon that possesses Mia, and then spends the rest of the evening toying with the others while slowly plotting to kill them all.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to April

april_preview

April has always been an odd month for new releases, particularly now that the spring movie season doesn’t really exist anymore, at least not in the minds of studios. Instead, everything seems to be split into two groups: films that fit the summer mold and those that don’t. But while moviegoers will be pretty limited with their options this month, it’s definitely one of the more promising Aprils in recent memory.

“EVIL DEAD”

Who: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas and Lou Taylor Pucci
What: Five friends head to a remote cabin, where the discovery of a Book of the Dead leads them to unwittingly summon up demons living in the nearby woods.
When: April 5th
Why: Remakes are always a worrying proposition, especially for fans of the original film, but when it was announced that Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert were behind the modern-day update of “Evil Dead,” there was a collective sigh of relief. After all, who better to trust then the trio responsible for the 1981 cult original? It’s also nice to know that the film isn’t just a rehashing of Raimi’s first movie, but rather a whole new story with new characters in an otherwise familiar setting, and if the early buzz from the film’s world premiere at last month’s SXSW festival is any indication, Fede Alvarez’s remake/reboot/sequel (whatever you want to call it) has everything horror fans could possibly want – namely, the gooey red stuff, and plenty of it.

“TRANCE”

Who: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel and Danny Sapani
What: An art auctioneer mixed up with a group of criminals teams up with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting.
When: April 5th
Why: Danny Boyle’s follow-up to “127 Hours” can’t get here quick enough, especially after being delayed by the director’s other engagements on stage (the National Theatre production of “Frankenstein”) and for his country (the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony). His new movie is a return to roots of sorts, reteaming with frequent collaborator John Hodge (“Shallow Grave,” “Trainspotting”) for the kind of gritty, edgy crime thriller that he cut his teeth making in the mid-90s. It’ll be interesting to see what Boyle brings to the genre now that he’s a more mature and wiser filmmaker, because “Trance” looks a lot more experimental than his recent work, and despite its “Inception”-like premise, that’s probably the most exciting thing of all.

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