LITTLE EVIL (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Directed by: Eli Craig

Written by: Eli Craig

Starring: Adam Scott, Evangeline Lilly, Sally Field, Clancy Brown, Bridgett Everett, Tyler Labine, Carla Gallo & Owen Atlas

Eli Craig made his feature directorial debut with TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL, a hilarious horror comedy that spun the slasher stereotypes on their head. Craig has now followed up that acclaimed indie hit with another horror comedy spoof, but this flick is receiving a lukewarm reaction from most folks and has gone straight-to-Netflix. Rest assured, LITTLE EVIL is a good time. This film has its flaws, but I was giggling and cracking up from beginning to end. Craig has made a pitch-perfect OMEN parody that has lots of laughs, fun, and a couple of unexpected surprises.

Gary Bloom (Adam Scott) has recently married his new wife Samantha (Evangeline Lilly) and life seems to be going pretty swell for him. However, he is struggling to be a new stepfather towards Samantha’s creepy son Lucas (Owen Atlas). Lucas has a goat puppy and seems to have a (literally) painful influence on people around him. After his teacher impales herself on the school fence and a birthday party clown attempts to burn himself alive, Gary becomes concerned that Lucas may be the antichrist and attempts to solve this unusual parenting problem before any more bodies pile up…or worse, the end of the world arrives. As you might imagine, many laughs and nods to classic horror flicks ensue.

I didn’t exactly have high expectations for LITTLE EVIL. I loved TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL, but the response that Craig’s sophomore effort has received thus far was a tad disheartening. After sitting through this horror-comedy, I walked away pleasantly surprised. LITTLE EVIL has a few jokes that fall flat and mostly follows a predictable line of storytelling, but there’s also an oddly heartfelt center and goofy laughs that legitimately work. I was constantly engaged through the perfectly paced 95-minute running time and had a lot of fun watching this film.

Adam Scott is usually hit or miss for me. When he’s in the right material (NTSF: SD: SUV and STEP BROTHERS), he’s a show-stealing delight. When he’s in the wrong material (HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2), he’s aggravating to behold. LITTLE EVIL very much gives Scott a likable protagonist to work with. This main character is saddled with a long list of conflicts that all ensue from his new antichrist stepson, like: feeling responsible for deaths and injury, being seen as a possibly abusive parent, facing almost certain death at the hands of his stepkid, and possibly having to kill a child and ruin his marriage forever. You can’t help but feel sorry for this guy and Scott gets a lot of mileage out of this as a result.

On the supporting side of things, Evangeline Lilly is hilarious as Lucas’s oblivious mother who views her child’s more sinister traits as personality quirks, sees his demonic drawings as creative art, and is quick to blame everybody except her own satanic spawn. There are scenes in which Lilly’s character gets the biggest laughs in the entire movie. Owen Atlas nails the soft-spoken 6-year-old antichrist, coming off like an exact clone of THE OMEN’s Damien. Tyler Labine is in one hilarious scene as a concerned wedding photographer, another clear nod towards the original OMEN. Though they aren’t in the film much, Sally Field is quite funny as a family counselor and Clancy Brown is fun as a strange reverend.

The moments where LITTLE EVIL falls flat are mainly due to Bridget Everett as Gary’s insufferable best friend, co-worker, and fellow “stepdad.” Everett just seems like she’s trying way too hard to get laughs and her character is obnoxious beyond belief. Though she might elicit chuckles from certain viewers, I just found her annoying and she sucked some joy away from certain moments. Everett isn’t the only problem though, because most of LITTLE EVIL is fairly predictable. You can pretty much see where this is all going, because it’s following the plot of THE OMEN with a few changes. Two of these changes are cool twists that move things in a different direction that I wasn’t expecting at all, but these don’t occur until the film’s final third.

I imagine that viewers familiar with THE OMEN, the original POLTERGEIST, and THE SHINING will likely enjoy LITTLE EVIL more than viewers who are uninitiated to those titles. This is a goofy horror spoof that has many funny scenes and keeps things upbeat with an oddly heartwarming turn. The plot is predictable for the most part, save for two twists that make the film more enjoyable. Everett’s character is painfully unfunny, but nearly everybody else nails their roles and earn laughs as a result. LITTLE EVIL is a simple, entertaining horror comedy and I recommend it to horror fans who also want some laughter during this Halloween season!

Grade: B

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 22 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Sci-Fi Action/Violence

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Directed by: Marc Webb

Written by: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci & Jeff Pinkner

(based on the SPIDER-MAN comics by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko)

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field, Chris Cooper, Martin Csokas, B.J. Novak, Martin Sheen, Chris Zylka, Denis Leary & Felicity Jones

Sony’s questionable decision to reboot SPIDER-MAN wound up in the 2012’s mixed bag THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. I appreciated that the reboot was attempting to take things in a more serious direction, but the tone was schizophrenic to say the least. The first half of the film and the second half didn’t mesh well at all, not to mention that the Lizard was a poorly constructed villain. It’s two years later and 2014’s summer movie season is kicking off with THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2. Though the general consensus from critics has been slightly lower than that for the 2012 installment, I found this sequel to one-up its predecessor in every possible way. There’s a more cohesive story being told. The villains are far better developed and the viewer is given reasons to feel for Peter Parker’s struggles. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a solid kickoff for Summer 2014 and a sequel that could ultimately shape this new series into being one of the better superhero sagas out there.

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Peter Parker has just graduated from high school and his relationship with Gwen Stacy is on shaky ground. Peter made a promise to her dying father that he would keep Gwen out of his life, due to the risk that comes with his crime-fighting. Naturally, Gwen is sick of their on-again-off-again status and breaks up with Peter, which gives him a whole lot of mixed emotions. Meanwhile, an old childhood friend (Harry Osborne) has returned to town and has taken a special interest in the web-slinging Spider-Man. To make matters even more dangerous, a new villain has been (accidentally) created. This glowing baddie is named Electro and has bad feelings towards Spider-Man. Peter Parker must choose where he wants to stand with Gwen, all while battling the electrifying Electro and another emerging menace found in the mentally unstable Harry Osborne.

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I doubt a Spider-Man film will ever be completely serious. The material doesn’t lend itself well to being a dark gritty tale like THE DARK KNIGHT. It can result in a good popcorn flick that will thrill audiences of every age. That’s squarely where THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 falls. Spider-Man does have his usual sense of humor (which I found a lot more enjoyable this time around) and there are comedy relief scenes. Most don’t stick out like a sore thumb (as they did in the 2012 film) and actually lend themselves to the story being told. One example of this comes in Peter Parker stalling a few henchmen in a hallway. The tone is serious enough to create a lurking sense of danger for both Peter and those around him.

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With a total of three villains presented in THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, one might assume that it would suffer from the same overcrowding that killed SPIDER-MAN 3 (though that film also had many other problems contributing to its terrible quality). Rhino only appears for a total of about 5 minutes. Ironically, he was the villain I was looking most forward to seeing in action. I’m sure he’ll be back for some sequels, because Paul Giamatti is clearly having a blast as this Russian-accented thug. Electro and Green Goblin are the centerpiece bad guys of the story. I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Electro (he’s one of the lesser villains in my eyes), but Jamie Foxx did a competent job playing him. The special effects are pretty good, but he does get cartoony in the big showdown (going as far as to play a dubstep version of the Itsy Bitsy Spider).

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Finally on the evil side of things, there’s Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborne/Green Goblin. We’ve seen this villain before portrayed by both William Dafoe and James Franco. Let it be known that I consider DeHaan’s Goblin to be far superior to either of the previous incarnations seen in Raimi’s trilogy. The motivations driving what eventually becomes Spider-Man’s biggest nemesis make complete sense and I loved where they went with Harry’s turn into the psychotic Goblin. The molding of this character contained some of the best scenes in the entire film, though this isn’t to discredit the competent handling of Electro as well.

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As to be expected Andrew Garfield has become a lot more comfortable in the skin of Peter Parker and the suit of Spider-Man. He inhabits the character fully this time around. Emma Stone has great chemistry with him and the complicated relationship is done in a fashion that’s worth paying attention to. This didn’t feel like filler in the slightest, but an integral piece of the story. Some ballsy moves are made near the end that might propel the entire franchise into a brand new world for the web-slinger (there is serious build up for the Sinister Six, which have been announced to appear in a future film).

Emma Stone

The noticeable irks came in some silly looking effects (near video game graphics) in the final showdown between Spidey and Electro. There are a couple of eye-rolling moments in some failed comedy relief, but only a handful this time around. I didn’t completely believe how pieces of the mystery around Peter’s absent parents were revealed. One of the most ridiculous scenes of exposition is featured in an entirely unnecessary stretch that felt like the filmmakers were trying to cram a little too much into this sequel. However, these flaws can be easily forgiven due to just how good everything else winds up being.

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THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 does what many (including myself) weren’t quite expecting. It’s a superhero movie that mixes realistic teenage angst into the traditional comic book formula and does it very well. The villains were far better than the schlocky Lizard. There was clearly more heart/creativity thrown into this sequel and its way more exciting/interesting than the 2012 reboot. This is solid superhero entertainment. Will it be the best comic book movie of the year? Not even close (CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is leagues better than this), but it’s a highly enjoyable ride! Well worth the price of admission!

Grade: B

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 16 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Action and Violence

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Directed by: Marc Webb

Written by: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent & Steve Kloves

(based on the SPIDER-MAN comics by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko)

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan & Chris Zylka

The decision to redo Spider-Man seems like a stupid one from the start. Rumors circulated about how everything went down with Sam Raimi’s failed attempts to create SPIDER-MAN 4 (featuring Lizard and Vulture as titular villains). Despite all the outrage from fans and the dumb marketing for the new version of Peter Parker’s web-slinging alter ego, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN opened in July 2012 to become a big success. As a whole, it’s a bit odd to be throwing this more campy costumed hero back onto the big screen when the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy have shown just how awesome superhero movies can be. The real fault of this 2012 reboot comes in an unbalanced tone. Sometimes, the story wants a darker vibe. Other times, it’s just plain cartoony. With this major flaw taken into consideration, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is just serviceable enough as a superhero flick that probably would have been far more impressive if it hit multiplexes somewhere back in the early 2000’s.

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After his parents up and leave, Peter Parker is raised by his Aunt May and Uncle Ben. As a teenager, Peter is picked on at school and constantly made to feel inadequate to his peers. When he finds some clues about his missing father that lead back to the huge company Oscorp, Peter sneaks his way inside and is bitten by a mutated spider. This bite bestows some unusual gifts upon the awkward adolescent (including the ability to crawl on walls, a sense for danger, quick speed, and super strength). Soon enough Peter Parker has become Spider-Man. As he finds love in classmate Gwen Stacey, a monstrous madman is on the loose in the city and the police are after Spider-Man for his vigilante actions.

Andrew Garfield

That’s the basic outline for THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and it sounds similar to the first SPIDER-MAN flick that hit theaters in 2002. Some details have been changed and inclusions of certain comic book characters that were merely background noise in the original trilogy (Gwen Stacey was a mere side character in the disappointing SPIDER-MAN 3) have been upgraded to front and center protagonists. One plot thread that I did enjoy watching a lot was how the cops were after Spider-Man himself, which glimpsed over three mere scenes in Sam Raimi’s 2002 film. Denis Leary as Gwen Stacy’s father and the police captain adds an extra spark that wasn’t in the first trilogy. I greatly appreciated that addition.

Rhys Ifans

The romance between Peter and Gwen has some charm to it. It also seems rushed in a couple of places, but the teenagers in this film act like real teenagers. Even the supposed clichéd jock stereotype is shown to have some humanity later on. I felt that Marc Webb’s reboot of Spidey nailed almost every character in a more believable way than Raimi’s 2002 version. However, there’s one character that isn’t quite given the menace he needed. This would be Dr. Connors (a.k.a. The Lizard). Rhys Ifans can make for a great villain. Watch ENDURING LOVE for proof of how scary the man can be. As Connors, Ifans just hams it up. There’s no realistic motivation for the Lizard that hasn’t been seen a dozen times and a switch up in his personality near the end that doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense.

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The effects bringing the Lizard to life look extremely cheesy too. This doesn’t appear to be a villain that Spider-Man should be fighting, but a creation for Syfy Channel original movies. The CGI bringing Spider-Man to life looks pretty cool and I liked the suit a lot better this time around. Where things feel forced is in the comic relief moments. There are a couple of very funny scenes (one of which involves Emma Stone making up an excuse to her father), but the quips Spider-Man constantly says grate on annoying. It almost feels out of character for the Peter Parker we’ve watched develop over the film and that’s where a major problem of the messy tone comes in.

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Sometimes AMAZING SPIDER-MAN wants to be a goofy comic book film and then it mostly seems to be playing things off as a sort of BATMAN BEGINS for Spider-Man. This becomes as confusing as it sounds. There are some laughs seen in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but it always maintained that serious sense for the comic book movie. Lately, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Avengers series) has been evolving into the same thing. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN tries to have it both ways and comes up a tad short for this sole reason. The writing is stellar is some places, but falls victim to a downright silly villain and some bad jokes.

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There are some big things to praise about AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and those mainly concern the good characters/acting on display. Some of the writing is great and if it had a slightly more focused script then this very well could have been the next Batman trilogy. However, the goofy moments and laughable villain take the whole thing down significantly. I am looking forward to seeing what the future films in the franchise bring, but also hope that the big flaws will be cut down and eventually eliminated. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN winds up being a serviceable superhero flick that pales in comparison to a decade full of outstanding ones thus far!

Grade: C+

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