Tag Archives: Ted Raimi

Darkman (1990, Sam Raimi)

The last twenty or so minutes of Darkman are when director Raimi finally lets loose. He’s been building to it, hinting at how wacky the movie’s going to get, but it doesn’t all come together until the end. And the end is when Darkman has the most standard action sequences. There are big set pieces. Before, it’s all very constrained. It all looks great–probably better than those last twenty minutes, when composite shots kind of do in Raimi’s imagination–but it’s limited.

The end is exciting, imaginative madness.

Darkman’s problem throughout is the script, but more because the movie’s too short for the story it needs to tell than anything the five screenwriters do wrong. Until the end of the second act, the movie hops and skips through its present action. There are way too many MacGuffins, way too many contrivances; Raimi’s fidgety and he creates momentum and Darkman needs it for those script lulls. Almost nothing in the middle of the movie actually matters by the end. The movie’s killing time before the set pieces.

More so the beginning of the second act than the end of it, but still… it’s too short.

So Liam Neeson is a scientist who is working on fake skin for burn victims. It disintegrates after ninety-nine minutes. Unless it’s in the dark, which you’d think might have something to do with the title, Darkman, because after Neeson is horribly burned and the doctors cut off his nerve receptors so he can’t feel pain (or any touch sensation) and he becomes super-strong, he needs the fake skin to exact vengeance. But he never uses it for extended periods of time in the dark.

He apparently uses the dark thing for storage purposes, but even the storage thing is just a sight gag.

Neeson’s girlfriend, Frances McDormand, is a lawyer who comes across a document bad guy Larry Drake wants. And he kills Neeson for it. Or so he thinks. Drake and his band of ultra-violent, but darkly comical goons blow up Neeson’s lab. His lab is also his apartment, which seems like a zoning problem, but whatever.

Added to the convolution is Colin Friels as McDormand’s… client? It’s unclear the professional relationship, but after Neeson “dies,” Friels puts the moves on McDormand. Though mostly offscreen apparently. Because McDormand disappears once Neeson starts his vengeance mission. Most of that mission is just killing off Drake’s goons. It seems like there might have been a plan in some cut scenes or a different draft of the script. It’s okay, eventually, because once McDormand comes back, Neeson’s character arc is more about how he’s going crazy from not having any touch sensation. And inventively and graphically killing the bad guys.

The visuals on Neeson losing his self-control are these fantastic montage sequences. There’s some montage to summarize his attempts at making his fake skin work too, but it’s function, not fervent. The madness montages are awesome. Inexplicably the last one, when Neeson needs to power up his adrenalin (he also has uncontrollable adrenalin for super-Darkman strength), is super short. It’s restrained, while everything else in the finale is outrageous. Raimi’s able to get away with a lot of bad composite shots just because the action’s so excessive. Not that montage, however.

But Neeson’s not just making fake skin faces of himself, he’s doing it of the bad guys to fool the other bad guys. So while Neeson’s performance is getting loopier and loopier, it only plays out when he’s opposite McDormand, which really isn’t much. They have three scenes together after she finds out he’s alive. Two of them really short. Otherwise, it’s Drake pretending he’s Neeson pretending his Drake or Nicholas Worth pretending he’s Neeson pretending he’s Nicholas Worth. There’s actually not a lot of the impersonation so Raimi never really figures out how to do them. The movie’s too short.

The movie dawdles through its first half, finally picking up in the second, and then getting really good in the finale. Only it’s too late. It’s not too little–there’s some awesome stuff in the third act–but it’s definitely too late.

Neeson’s good. He needs about ten more minutes to play the character after the “recovery” arc completes. Instead he basically gets a scene; it’s too bad, because his performance gets much more interesting as it goes along. McDormand’s fine. Her arc is similarly underwhelming. She does get a great visual cue for development in the first act, which Raimi sadly drops. The film’s not confident enough with his extravagances. Or more like the studio isn’t confident enough with his extravagances.

Drake’s good. He’s maybe in the movie too much. Friels’s isn’t in it enough, especially not after he gets to let loose. Friels and Neeson, who only have a scene together, both find ways to match the film’s peculiar intensities.

The goons are all fine. Though Rafael H. Robledo is in the film the most and has the least to do. Like, he’s just a goon. He’s not weird like the rest of them. He’s just got a scar and a ponytail.

Bill Pope’s photography, composites aside, is excellent. So is the editing–from Bud S. Smith and David Stiven.

Danny Elfman’s score is fine. It’s basically his Batman score from the year before, but it’s fine. It’s effective without being distinctive.

Darkman is seventy exceptionally competent, enthusiastic minutes before twenty minutes of sublime madness. It’s a shame Raimi couldn’t get the finale’s intensity through the whole thing. There are plenty of real, practical reasons he couldn’t, but he does hint at that intensity to come, so it’s still a damned shame.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Raimi; screenplay by Chuck Pfarrer, Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Daniel Goldin, and Joshua Goldin, based on a story by Sam Raimi; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Bud S. Smith and David Stiven; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Randy Ser; produced by Rob Tapert; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Liam Neeson (Peyton Westlake), Frances McDormand (Julie Hastings), Larry Drake (Robert G. Durant), Colin Friels (Louis Strack Jr.), Rafael H. Robledo (Rudy Guzman), Dan Bell (Smiley), Nicholas Worth (Pauly), Dan Hicks (Skip), Ted Raimi (Rick), Nelson Mashita (Yakitito), and Jenny Agutter (doctor).


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Evil Dead II (1987, Sam Raimi)

Instead of establishing Evil Dead II’s tone at the start of the film, director Raimi waits a while, veering between horror and comedy–pushing each to their absurdist extremes–until they meet. And, by then, the viewer is fully comfortable in the world of Evil Dead II. Bruce Campbell can be simultaneously sympathetic, hilarious, horrifying.

Campbell spends a good portion of the first third alone. He’s either running from an unseen evil, fighting–usually in a ludicrous fashion–the evil or he’s just going crazier and crazier. Something strange about Raimi and Scott Spiegel’s script is how it frequently invites consideration from the viewer. Not so much about the back story of the unseen evil, though there’s some very genre sympathetic exposition, but in the reality of the characters’ experiences.

The film is so unbelievable in its horrors, as the characters contend with possessed and disremembered mothers and significant others, the viewer sympathizes and imagines being in the characters’ shoes. Raimi and Campbell are so committed, just watching the film commits the viewer as well.

There’s a lot of good filmmaking going on too. Raimi expertly combines various special effects–make-up, stop motion, projection screens–with he and cinematographer Peter Deming’s tilted, distorted camera angles. Even when Evil Dead II is obvious, it works; Raimi wants to show how important his execution of the film is to the experience of viewing the film.

Excellent score from Joseph LoDuca, great performance from Campbell.

It’s crazy, silly, gross and smart.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Raimi; written by Raimi and Scott Spiegel; director of photography, Peter Deming; edited by Kaye Davis; music by Joseph LoDuca; produced by Robert G. Tapert; released by Rosebud Releasing Corporation.

Starring Bruce Campbell (Ashley ‘Ash’ J. Williams), Sarah Berry (Annie Knowby), Dan Hicks (Jake), Kassie Wesley DePaiva (Bobby Joe), Denise Bixler (Linda), Richard Domeier (Ed Getley), John Peakes (Professor Raymond Knowby), Lou Hancock (Henrietta Knowby) and Ted Raimi (Possessed Henrietta).


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Angel of Death (2009, Paul Etheredge)

If you’re going to rip something off, I guess ripping off Jesus’ Son is the way to go. And it does have the best Doug Jones performance I’ve ever seen.

But when the best performance in a film is the twenty-two year-old mob son (Jake Abel) there’s clearly something wrong. Angel of Death was serialized on the web first so maybe Paul Etheredge isn’t the punch line of a director he appears to be, but I’m guessing he is. It’s some of the worst direction I’ve seen since Simon West.

Now, Ed Brubaker writes good comic books, really good comic books, some great comic books, but even if his script is good, which is a stretch I’m not willing to go to–it’s impossible to tell. Etheredge’s direction is awful and there’s this constant, grating music by Darrel Herbert. Angel of Death is a constant assault on the senses.

But the biggest problem is, obviously, Zoe Bell. She’s not an actor. She’s so bad Uwe Boll wouldn’t use her. The only thing giving her any screen presence is her terrible black wig. Even if the wig were a little better, it’s not like Etheredge has any idea how to direct screen performances. Or, frankly, like Brubaker knows how to write dialogue for them.

Angel of Death is abject trash.

Save, of all people, Doug Jones.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Etheredge; written by Ed Brubaker; director of photography, Carl Herse; edited by Jochen Kunstler and Jacob Vaughan; music by Darrel Herbert; production designer, Thomas S. Hammock; produced by Etheredge and John Norris; released by Crackle.com.

Starring Zoe Bell (Eve), Jake Abel (Cameron Downes), Vail Bloom (Regina Downes), Justin Huen (Franklin), Doug Jones (Dr. Rankin), Lucy Lawless (Vera), Brian Poth (Graham), Ted Raimi (Jed Norton) and Ingrid Rogers (Agent Danielle Taylor).


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