‘Evil Dead’ and evil developers
Owls Head — Evil Dead (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 91 min.). If you like your horror bloody, and with scenes that make you cover your eyes, then this “Evil Dead” for a new generation is the movie for you. Frankly, it makes the similarly rebooted “Texas Chainsaw’ seem mild in comparison. There’s enough of the original in here to recognize the story -- a group of young people go to a remote cabin where they find the “Book of the Dead” and unleash an unnatural force bent on killing them all -- and the creators of the 1981 original serve as producers here. That would be writer/director/producer Sam Raimi, actor/producer Bruce Campbell and producer Rob Tapert.
There is not a lot to the five characters. Mia (Jane Levy) is struggling with drug addiction and three of her friends -- Lou Taylor Price as Eric, Jessica Lucas as Olivia and Elizabeth Blackmore as Natalie -- have the idea to stage an intervention at a remote cabin. Also invited is Mia’s brother (Shiloh Fernandez), who apparently has been away from the group of friends for a long time. Mia picks up a bad smell, which leads them to the basement, where dead animals are hanging. Eric, who apparently has never seem any of the “Evil Dead” movies (that’s a joke), unbinds a book he finds in the basement and foolishly reads some incantations, even though the book is filled with warnings to leave it alone. It is, of course, the “Book of the Dead,” or “Naturom Demonto” as reads its title page. (Not sure I would want to read from a book covered in human skin anyway, although my versions of the first two “Evil Dead” films have simulated flesh-styled rubber for covers.)
When Mia tries to drive away, she is possessed and very bad things start to happen. There are some genuinely creepy moments and an attack on Eric is particularly hard to watch. Then again, there is a scene with Natalie that is unwatchable. Exclusive Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by actors Levy, Pucci and Lucas, plus director/co-writer Feda Alvarez and co-writer Rodo Sayagues; a look at creating the new version of the “Book of the Dead” (5:07); and a look at the reboot (9:50), led by Tapert, who points out that the original film was very polarizing and he expects this one to be as well. Campbell, whose Ash character does not make an appearance in the film, was against the remake, until it was decided to leave out Ash. Campbell, in fact, is all over the extras. Both editions include features on directing the film (7:25), including cast read-throughs; the sometimes personal pain the actors went through (8:13); and a look of Levy’s transformation for her character’s journey. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3.25 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
Bullet to the Head (Warner, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 92 min.). Directed by Walter Hill, the film sometimes resembles his “48 Hrs.,” which paired Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy as police officers of different generations forced to work together. This time, the different generations are Sylvester Stallone as non-nonsense hitman-for-hire Jimmy Bonomo (he’s also the narrator and has the unfortunate nickname of Jimmy Bobo) and Sung Kang as Washington D.C. policeman Taylor Kwon. Kwon has come to New Orleans to interview the man Bonomo has just killed, part of his investigation into the death of his partner. There is a lot less humor this time, and some of the banter is racist.
The film opens with Bonomo saving Kwon’s life, and then the story is told in flashback by Bonomo. We see Bonomo and his partner (Jon Seda as Louis Blanchard) take out their target, but then be double-crossed when killer Keegan (Jason Momoa) is sent after them. Blanchard is killed, but Bonomo escapes. (Keegan is such a baddie that he walks into a bar to collect some information and ends up killing nine people just for the fun of it.) After Bonomo saves Kwon’s life the first time -- from two policemen, no less -- they reluctantly pair up to solve the case. Sarah Shahi plays a tattoo artist with an unexpected connection and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is the evil developer behind everything. Christian Slater, who has a funny interrogation scene with Stallone, is also one of the bad guys.
For the most part, the film takes a lean approach. There is plenty of violence that looks too real, as it is sudden and brutal. The film’s title comes from the way many of the characters are dispatched. The only extra is a making-of feature (9:21). The film is based on a graphic novel. Grade: film 3 stars; extra 2 stars
Broken City (Fox, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 108 min.). Oh no, more evil developers are at the root of former policeman Billy Taggart’s misfortunes, but this film, the first solo-directed project by Allen Hughes (he and his brother Albert made “Menace II Society” among other films), is anything but direct. In fact, it is so convoluted that it never really grabs the viewers. And I was put off by the over-abundance of gay slurs and the awful supposedly New York accent affected by Russell Crowe.
Crow plays longstanding Mayor Nick Hostetler, who is running for re-election yet again. The film’s opening is set seven years prior, when the Mayor decides to hide last-minute vital information when Taggart (played by Mark Wahlberg being Mark Wahlberg) is on trial for murder while on duty. Taggart is found not guilty, but is forced to resign. The years since have been spent as a private detective and living with budding actress Natalie Barrow (Natalie Martinez), who turns out to be the sister of the girl whose death Taggart avenged by his unlawful shooting (at least I think that is the connection; this is convoluted remember). By the way, that relationship leads to one of the more painful scenes of recent memory, as, at the premiere of her film, he finds out she has an explicit sex scene in the film).
Anyway, the Mayor hires Taggart to trail his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), saying she is having an affair. Of course, there is more to it than that, especially when the trail leads to Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), the campaign manager of Hostetler’s opponent (Barry Pepper as Jack Valliant). There’s some meat among the six deleted scenes (8:35), including an attempt at a reconciliation by Natalie and Wahlberg breaking up at the end of a take of a telephone conversation. The other extra is a look at the making of the film (34:59), with screenwriter Brian Tucker. Grade: film 2.25 stars; extras 2 stars
The Tower (Korea, CJ Entertainment DVD, NR, 122 min.). This Korean “Towering Inferno” is set within Seoul’s high-rise, 108-story Tower Sky: twin towers River View and City View, home for 5,700 residents in 1,700 units. The towers are connected at the 70th level by a glass Sky Bridge. For the annual Christmas party, the owners hire helicopters to drop snow over the building, but one of the helicopters loses control and smashes into the building, starting an uncontrollable fire on the 63rd floor. It already has been established that not only is there inadequate ventilation for all the kitchen stoves, but also there is no water for the sprinklers about the 60th floor, as the plumbing was moved to the outer walls to make room for shops and the pipes have frozen.
Those in charge of the rescue have a priority list, which forces the firefighters into some hard choices. Also, thermal fracturing is destroying the restaurant where many survivors are awaiting rescue. Late in the film, a simulation shows that one tower will knock over the other, unless the damaged River Tower is destroyed first. After the initial set-up of a few key characters -- a fire chief who is supposed to be off for Christmas Eve (Sul Kyung-gu), a food mall manager (Sun Ye-jin) and the building manager (Kim Sang Kyung), who is a single dad and enamored of the food mall manager -- his daughter also gets trapped in the building -- the story intense action and solid special effects grab you. The final 45 minutes are more about solving how to get out, especially for those in the restaurant.
If the surface similarities in layout and disaster to the World Trade Center do not bother you, this is a terrific film. Bonuses include a making-of feature (11:03; it shows how the digital building was worked into the city skyscape, how the helicopter crash was created and the destruction of a miniature for the finale); a behind-the-scenes look (10:04); and 10 deleted scenes (12:13). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3 stars
Identity Thief (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR/R, 121/112 min.). This is a hilarious road trip movie with a difference. Jason Bateman (at his straight man best) is Sandy Patterson, who, just as he quits his job to go with a brokerage start up (John Cho plays his new boss), learns that his identity has been stolen by a woman in Florida. That would be Melissa McCarthy of “Bridesmaids” as the very funny Diana. (A running gag throughout the film is how people react to Sandy’s first name, saying it is feminine, but he really was named after pitcher Sandy Koufax.)
With the police showing up, Patterson finds his new job is in jeopardy, so he and his wife (Amanda Peet) come up with the idea that he will go to Florida and talk Diana into flying back with him to clear his name with his boss. Unfortunately, he does not realize that no airline is going to allow two people with identical identities to board the same plane, so they have to drive back to Denver. Complications ensue because Diana is being chased by a deadly pair (Genesis Rodriguez and Tip “T.I.” Harris), whose drug dealer boss she has stiffed with bad Ids, and by a skip tracer (a very funny Robert Patrick). Along the way, Diana spins stories constantly and there is more than a little action, including a fun car chase.
Extras for this very funny movie -- and the review is of the longer, unrated version -- include a 48-second gag reel; 5:07 of alternate takes (lots of throwing up and more of Jon Favreau as Patterson’s former boss); a 17:04 making-of feature; a 7:35 look at the comedy; and Patrick’s tour of his skip tracer van. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 2.5 stars
The Host (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 126 min.). This very strange film is on a Stephenie Meyer novel (she wrote “The Twilight Saga”). In the near feature, aliens have taken over almost all humans’ bodies. This includes that of Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan), but her implant (called Wanderer and, later, Wanda) finds it is co-existing with its human host rather than having subjugated it. This leads to the awkward-at-first bits with Melanie talking to herself in inner dialogues. In a coincidence that turns out not to be a coincidence, what little resistance there is happens to be led by Melanie‘s Uncle Jeb (William Hurt), almost by default. It seems the aliens’ plan was to get Jeb’s whereabouts from Melanie’s mind, but she escapes instead.
From the awkward talking to herself, we go to the awkward triangle of what-is-believed-to-be former Melanie with her old boyfriend Jared (Max Irons) and new romantic interest Ian (Jake Abel) -- the alien is more attracted to Ian, who very much returns the interest. Meanwhile, an obsessed Seeker (Diane Kruger) is determined to find Wanderer/Melanie at all costs, even resorting to forbidden violence. Overall, it is a hard concept to convey and it leads to some very strange back-to-back scenes. The vast caves set, however, is wonderful. Extras include a making-of feature (7:42) on the cast and caves sets (the roof was computer-generated); four deleted scenes (2:39); and a Seeker public service announcement. Grade: film 2.5 stars; extras 1.5 stars
The Last Resort: The Complete Series (Sony, 3 DVDs, NR, 558 min.). This was one of my favorite TV shows of last season and, of course, they pulled the plug on it. At least, though, the writers were given the chance to wrap things up in the 13th episode. Andre Braugher plays Captain Marcus Chaplin of the U.S. ballistic submarine Colorado. His second in command is Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman). When orders come in to fire nuclear missiles at Pakistan, Chaplin questions whether the orders are legitimate, as they came in through a Cold War legacy channel that only is to be used if Washington D.C. has been destroyed. When he seeks confirmation, his submarine is fired upon by another U.S. submarine. However, the Colorado and its crew escapes destruction and take refuge at an Indian Ocean island, Sainte Marina. Onboard are the remains of a Navy SEAL team that had a mission in Pakistan.
The island has a NATO communications and missile warning station, and a local gangster (Sahr Ngaujah as Julian Serrat) adept at smuggling. The U.S. threatens the island with fighter jets, so Chaplin fires one of his nuclear warheads at Washington D.C. (He programs it to overfly the city and explode in the ocean, visible to all.) As the series progresses, and Chaplin and Kendal look for ways to clear their names, some of the crew tend toward mutiny, including Chief of the Boat Joseph Prosser (Robert Patrick). Back home (in the not as strong portions of the show), weapons designer Kylie Sinclair (Autumn Reeser) allies with Kendal’s wife (Jessy Schram) to find out the truth about the attack on Pakistan. There also is a romantic subplot between guilt-ridden SEAL James King (Daniel Lissing) and the owner of the island bar (Dichen Lachman). Grade: series 3.25 stars