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

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

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

Directed by: Rupert Wyatt

Written by: Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver

Starring: Andy Serkis, James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo & Tyler Labine

A prequel to 1968’s PLANET OF THE APES sounded like a big gamble, but Fox wisely poured money into this project. Thanks to passionate writing from screenwriter team Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, alongside steady direction from Rupert Wyatt, masterful motion-capture work from Andy Serkis, and an all-around great story, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES has gone down as one of the best prequels to ever hit the big screen. This origin story of the primate uprising hits strong emotional notes, playing out like a prison drama combined with a tale of self-discovery…all with intelligent monkeys. If you haven’t seen RISE yet, you’re missing out on one of the best opening chapters of a series in the 21st century!

Scientist Will Rodman (James Franco) is working on a potential cure for Alzheimer’s disease and his lab tests have moved onto monkeys. When his star test subject is gunned down whilst protecting her baby, Will takes the ape to his house to raise it and possibly give his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father Charles (John Lithgow) a pet. However, the ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) proves to be far smarter than Will anticipated and functions with beyond-human intelligence. Soon enough, Caesar is questioning his place in the world and his tragic quest of self-discovery reaches a breaking point when he’s sent to an abusive primate shelter. Humans had their chance on this planet and now, it’s time for super smart apes to rise!

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES has three distinct acts. The first has the relationship between Will and Caesar. The second has Caesar’s captivity at the primate shelter, which plays out like a mostly dialogue-free prison drama. The third (and final) act brings us the uprising/revolution that was frequently shown-off in the film’s marketing. The film isn’t exactly unpredictable, because we already know where everything will end up…as a planet of intelligent apes awaits us in the future. However, the emotional depth of the ape characters and an action-packed primate vs. human revolution make this entire film well worth a watch.

Andy Serkis dominates the screen as Caesar. The special effects on this ape protagonist are amazing to behold, but they are heightened by Serkis’s expressive performance that was brought to life through tiny dots on his face. This technology was used for Gollum in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and the titular giant gorilla in KING KONG. These effects and the unique style of acting has reached its highest point yet with the APE prequel trilogy. Serkis more than deserves an Academy Award nod…though the Oscars will seemingly never acknowledge the art of motion capture performances. Caesar is a fleshed-out protagonist who’s given a deep story arc (discovering his monkey place in a human world) and we understand his motivations, even though they will lead to humanity’s eventual downfall. Serkis’s powerful performance doesn’t have a single spoken word for two-thirds of the film. When he does eventually speak, it’s simple and powerful.

As far as human characters go, John Lithgow elicits some real sadness as the Alzheimer-stricken father and gives his best performance since his stint as DEXTER’s Trinity Killer. David Oyelowo does a damn fine job as the film’s central human antagonist, even if his villain is a bit thin. Meanwhile, Brian Cox and Tom Felton will make you hate them as the abusive staff of the ape shelter. RISE’s only lackluster performances come from James Franco and Freida Pinto as a human couple that are given an ample amount of screen time for the first third as they bond with Caesar and then carelessly thrown to the side as afterthoughts for the rest of the film. Franco’s Will occasionally shows up to make a sad face at Caesar’s captivity and Freida just sort of timidly stands in the background.

RISE’s rousing final third has excellently crafted set pieces as apes use improvised weapons, their climbing skills, and their natural strength against loads of people (mostly humans trying to capture or kill them). I never thought I’d be so happy to watch animals ferociously take humans down…until I saw RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. The emotion injected into Caesar and the natural progression of his prison-like revolution make the adrenaline-pumping action so much more satisfying and powerful than if this were simply a B-movie level approach of nature vs. man. Be sure to watch the mid-credits scene to get a brilliant plot development in this series too. Though not every element of its script works (mainly Franco and Pinto’s characters), RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is one of the best reboots and prequels of the 21st century!

Grade: A-

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO (2008)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Crude Sexual Content including Dialogue, Graphic Nudity and Pervasive Language

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Directed by: Kevin Smith

Written by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson, Jason Mewes, Traci Lords, Jeff Anderson, Katie Morgan, Justin Long, Brandon Routh, Tyler Labine & Tom Savini

Kevin Smith is one of those filmmakers whose stories either work for you or they don’t. Some people love his dirty-minded movies with a heart of gold and others see him as a bit of a so-so storyteller. Personally, I’ll try everything this man does at least once. CLERKS II and RED STATE were his last two great films in my opinion as some of his output has been a tad lackluster in the last decade. ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO is a prime example of a movie that has spurts of comic brilliance, but ultimately falls victim to Smith sticking too close to a familiar formula playing out in predictable fashion.

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Zack and Miri have been friends since elementary school and live together strictly as roommates. The two have no interest in forming any kind of romantic relationship and sex is off the table. After circumstances get dire and they find unpaid bills stacking up to an insane degree, the two buy into a crazy idea of filming their own pornography and banking on it to save themselves from the impending possibility of being homeless. The process of making this no-budget adult film requires enlisting a crew of colorful characters (some of which are played by real-life porn stars). Zack and Miri’s friendship gets more complicated as they discover there might be unexpected feelings between them. The plot plays out in typical rom-com ways, even if the idea of making your own porn isn’t necessarily a staple in this genre.

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I’ll get the good qualities out first. Fortunately, there are a lot of positives in this flick. Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks have great chemistry together. I bought them as lifelong friends and could understand why they wouldn’t necessarily want to risk screwing their friendship up with sex. They seem feed off each other and the cast members around them. The other performers include Craig Robinson, Jeff Anderson (who does not play his usual Randall character from CLERKS or anything resembling him). Jason Mewes steals the show in the role of a low-IQ, but sweet-natured porn star enlisted for Zach and Miri’s little endeavor. One of the best scenes in the film is in the opening 20 minutes and involves a hilariously graphic conversation with a briefly glimpsed Justin Long. This is the nicest thing I can say about this movie: Everything works perfectly in setting up the scenario and Smith’s witty dialogue is in full form…for the first 25 minutes or so. The rest of the movie doesn’t live up to how strong this film opens.

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Two main things keep ZACK AND MIRI from reaching potential greatness or even stacking up with better comedies in the new millennium. The story falls victim to the rom-com formula and there are stretches of the film that didn’t even get a chuckle out of me. From the start, everyone watching the movie pretty much knows where Zack and Miri will be at the end of the film and Smith doesn’t necessarily do anything to derail those expectations. To be fair, CHASING AMY and CLERKS II didn’t hold any surprises in this way either, but they did provide awesome plot threads and keep the viewer rolling with laughter. ZACK AND MIRI doesn’t do this as well. The handful of long stretches not containing a single laugh also put a damper on the whole scenario. It should also be noted this is a really dirty movie, as if you couldn’t guess that from the title. Smith fully pushes the R rating to its limits in sexual content and graphic dialogue, more so than in something as gross as CLERKS II.

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ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO isn’t Kevin Smith’s finest hour and it was intended to be the film that pushed him into more mainstream success. Instead, the film starts off very strong, then drags for a bit, and ends with a satisfying climax (pun fully intended). I had fun watching this film and it’s a good date movie, if your date doesn’t mind a whole lot of crude humor. The biggest issue is that the rest of the film couldn’t live up to the level of its opening 25 minutes. ZACK AND MIRI ends up being a decent rom-com weighed down by the two major problems already mentioned.

Grade: B-

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