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New Escapist Video! On Sam Raimi and What it Means to be a Good (Spider-)Man…

So, as I have mentioned before, I am launching a new video series as a companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch with the Monday article, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel the following week. This is kinda cool, because we’re helping relaunch the magazine’s film channel – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

With that in mind, here is last week’s episode. With the release of Spider-Man: Miles Morales, we thought it might be fun to take a look back at Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, and the central stakes of the film: the question of what it means to be a good man, Spider- or otherwise.

New Escapist Column! On Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” and What It Means to be a Good Man…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. There’s been a lot of coverage about the new videogame Spider-Man: Miles Morales, so it seemed like a nice opportunity to go back and take a look at Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy.

In hindsight, one of the most striking things about Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy is how low the stakes are. Barring the climax of Spider-Man II, Peter Parker never faces an apocalyptic threat. Even when Peter does face down larger-than-life supervillains, Raimi is sure to ground the films in more relatable stakes. Raimi’s trilogy is fascinated with the question of whether Parker Parker will become a good man. It understands this question as it relates to a lot of young men. Peter’s dark side doesn’t build omnicidal robots or order killer drown strikes, but offers a more mundane evil.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D – Pilot (Review)

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a very competent production. It looks lavish. It connects the dots. It reminds the audience that it’s connected to a string of blockbuster movies without being pushy about it. It introduces a diverse ensemble. It sets up long-running mysteries and story arcs. It’s a tight and focused, and controlled piece of television.

Perhaps too controlled. There’s something oddly restrained and oddly refined about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., feeling a little smoother and a little more polished than a pilot really should. There’s not a hair out of place, but only because everything has been so meticulously styled. This isn’t a bad thing – the pilot plays remarkably well – but it just feels a bit limp, a bit lifeless.

It’s as if we’ve tuned into a Life Model Decoy of a Joss Whedon show.

Phil us in...

Phil us in…

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Non-Review Review: Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead does has a bit of a quirky charm to it, serving as perhaps the best-made horror throwback I’ve seen in quite some time, much more effective than most of the recent splurge of exorcism movies. As far as competent execution of classic horror movie tropes go, complete with the sense of “something gruesome’s gonna happen” dread and a healthy amount of gore, Evil Dead succeeds admirably. There are some issues in the final act, but Evil Dead checks all the necessary boxes, and does so with a minimum amount of fuss or pretension, which makes it a surprising enjoyable watch for those looking to enjoy a good old-fashioned video nasty.

That said, it can’t help but feel a little awkward, through no fault of its own. Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead was a genre classic which worked in a large part because it eschewed all but the most basic tropes of horror storytelling, refusing to dress a video nasty in anything too fancy. The movie came to embody a particular subgenre of horror, and it wore its grotesqueness on its sleeve. Last year, Cabin in the Woods offered a fitting follow-up, a capstone to that approach to horror. As such, through no fault of its own, this version of Evil Dead feels like it arrived a little late.

Down the rabbit hole...

Down the rabbit hole…

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Any Witch Way But Backwards: How Oz The Great & Powerful Erodes the Feminist Appeal of The Wizard of Oz…

I quite enjoyed Oz: The Great & Powerful. The visuals were amazing, and I thought that Sam Raimi brought the world of Oz to life in a way that audiences haven’t really seen since 1939. Despite the fact that the film was limited to elements from the source novels rather than the classic film, meaning no red slippers and the Winkie Guards chanting a generic “ho-ho-ho” instead of “ho-ee-ho-ee-oh”, I think that Oz: The Great & Powerful is the first time that a film has taken us back to that version of the wonderful world of Oz.

It’s a shame, then, about the script. I have a lot of problems with the screenplay by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire. Indeed, I’m less than thrilled that Kapner has apparently been tapped by Disney to prepare a sequel. While Raimi and his cast, and his production designers, seem to understand a great deal about the magic of The Wizard of Oz, it seems like Kapner and Lindsay-Abaire seem to have missed the point.

It’s a shame, then, that Oz: The Great & Powerful rolled on March 8th, celebrated as International Women’s Day. Dorothy Gale has been described as “the first feminist role model” and The Wizard of Oz is packed to the brim with strong female characters. Although Dorothy obviously can’t play a major role in this prequel, one does wonder where all the strong women have gone.

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Note: This post contains spoilers for Oz: The Great & Powerful. Consider yourself warned.

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Non-Review Review: Oz – The Great & Powerful

Oz: The Great & Powerful is a fabulous production. A few minor misgivings aside, it looks and sounds fantastic. Sam Raimi has done the best job bringing Oz to the screen since the original version of The Wizard of Oz all those decades ago. In its best moments, there’s an enthusiasm and a lightness of touch that fits the material perfectly and captures the wonder that we associate with Oz. It’s very clear that a lot of love and care was put into the production design of the film, and that Sam Raimi’s hand moved with the utmost consideration and affection for the original film. It makes it a little disappointing, then, that the script to Oz: The Great & Powerful should feel so undercooked, more like an early draft than a finished screenplay.

Up in the air or down to earth?

Up in the air or down to earth?

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Do We See Too Much of Film Before It’s Released These Days?

It’s a week before The Dark Knight Rises is released, but I haven’t watched any new footage since the last time I posted a trailer for the film. And boy, has that been more difficult than I make it sound. It seems like every other day there’s a new TV spot or a clip being released. Last December, like The Dark Knight before it, the prologue to the film aired in certain Imax cinemas. Warner Brothers even taking the somewhat unexpected step of releasing the production notes to the public. While Warners and Nolan have actually managed to do a great job keeping the movie under wraps, this level of awareness is hardly uncommon these days. Do we get to see too much of a movie before it’s released these days?

Is too much information the Bane of modern movie-goers?

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No Venom Intended: Thoughts on the Inevitable Amazing Spider-Man Spin-Off…

Apparently Sony is pressing full speed ahead with this Spider-Man license. I suspect they looked at the massive success that Marvel, Paramount and ultimately Disney have had with their series of Avengers films. Releasing a series of relatively independent superhero films that all tied together proved to be quite the financial success, becoming one of the biggest earners of all time. It’s easy enough to understand why other studios might want to follow the business model. The problem? Sony only really has the license to Spidey and his supporting cast. How do you build a multi-character franchise when you only own the rights to one admittedly iconic? You spin-off his supporting characters, of course. In this case, it’s the villain Venom, who is reportedly getting a film from director Josh Trank, who made quite the impression with his début directing Chronicle, and possibly tying into the sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man.

He’s coming right at you!

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Tangled Webb: The Amazing Spider-Man and Doing Twilight Right…

A lot has been made of the argument that The Amazing Spider-Man is a superhero movie for girls. Indeed, comparisons have been made to Twilight of all things, suggesting that The Amazing Spider-Man has been constructed in such a way as to appeal to younger female audience members. I think that’s a fair point, even if mentioning the “T-word” inevitably provokes fanboys to foam at the mouth. Gwen Stacy, as brilliantly portrayed by Emma Stone, feels like a much more central and important part of this film than any female character in any major superhero blockbuster produced over the past few years. However, there’s also a sense that while there are some quite conscious and deliberate similarities between the Twilight franchise and this “new and improved” superhero reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man manages to fulfil all these tropes and conventions without resorting to the uncomfortable sexism and stilted emotional responses that have prompted a lot of critics and viewers to so loudly criticise Stephenie Meyers’ vampire franchise.

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Non-Review Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man is a jumble of clever ingredients thrown into a pot, stirred for two hours and yet never managing to produce that ideal flavour. There are moments in Marc Webb’s adaptation that are fantastic, as good as anything Raimi brought to the best of his films in the series, Spider-Man II. However, there’s also simply too much going on here for its own good. Running for two-hours-and-a-quarter, the film feels like one-part origin to two-part stand-alone adventure, unsure whether it should it is trying to rush through the motions of one of the most iconic origin stories ever told or if it’s trying to bring something a bit deeper to the table. When it gets going, it’s a solidly entertaining piece of film that does try to do something just a little new with the superhero formula, but it suffers from the same identity crisis as its lead and struggles to really find its own voice.

Peter’s not quite on top on the world…

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