The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
By John Beifuss The Commercial Appeal
1 photo: "Sam Raimi bypasses shocking visual effects for stark simplicity in A Simple Plan"
Brief mention of XENA in an article about Sam Raimi's movies, For the Love of the Game and A Simple Plan.
The most eye-popping (literally) moment in Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn occurs when an eyeball shoots from a zombie's head like a cork from a bottle of champagne and lands right in a young woman's open, screaming mouth. "AAAAAIIIIEEEEEE - urggh.'' Twelve years later, director Sam Raimi is sending something more prosaic through the air - namely, baseballs. Raimi currently is at work on For Love of the Game, which he describes as "a love story, really,'' starring Kevin Costner as an aging major league pitcher. Raimi said he will not follow the baseballs visually in their flight with any sort of "baseball-cam.'' He said that - for now at least - he is eschewing the "eyeball-cams'' and other crazy point-of-view visual tricks that made his trilogy of Evil Dead films so memorable. Moviegoers this weekend can judge the success of Raimi's first exercise in restraint as A Simple Plan - a tale of greed, suspense and murder starring Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton - goes into wide release. A Simple Plan, based on the novel by Scott B. Smith, takes place in snowy, isolated, rural Minnesota. Raimi's direction matches the stark simplicity of the environment. While some of his past films were explosions of excess, A Simple Plan hearkens to the cinematic classicism of suspense directors like Hitchcock and Fritz Lang. "I come from the horror movie, and when I make those pictures, we're trying to present the supernatural, and to present something on screen that evokes another world,'' Raimi, 39, said Tuesday, in a telephone interview from the Marina del Rey, Calif., set of For Love of the Game. "It's a great opportunity to experiment with camera angles and lighting and sound, and really explore the medium. "In Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, I'm trying for wild visuals and shocking the audience in presentation. It isn't a problem in those films that the audience says, 'That's a neat shot.' "But in A Simple Plan, the story was so great and the actors were so talented, the goal was really for me, as the director, to remain invisible, and the camera to remain invisible, and for the actors and script to tell the story. So I tried to put the camera not in the most exciting place, but in the proper place. "It was all about understanding my job as a storyteller,'' he said. "I really do believe I stayed back and tried to be modest in my storytelling technique. '' Raimi, a native of Franklin, Mich., achieved cinematic notoriety in 1982 with the release of The Evil Dead, the blood-drenched if surrealistically comical tale of a supernatural cabin in the woods. The movie was filmed on a shoestring budget by Raimi and his Michigan friends in East Tennessee near Morristown, using a cabin that local legend claimed really was home to a ghost. Whatever spirit haunted that cabin has only brought luck to Raimi and his collaborators, however. The Evil Dead became a cult smash. Raimi followed the film five years later with Evil Dead 2; Army of Darkness, the third film in the series, was released in 1993. He also has directed Crimewave (1985), which was co-written by his close friends, the filmmaking brothers Joel and Ethan Coen (whose Fargo would make a good double feature with A Simple Plan); Darkman (1990), starring Liam Neeson as a disfigured masked avenger; and The Quick and the Dead, a comic book- style Western with Sharon Stone and Leonardo DiCaprio. At the same time, he has appeared as an actor in such films as Indian Summer (1993) and The Flintstones (1994), and has achieved great success as the executive producer of the hit TV series, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, which are overseen by Raimi's longtime ally, Robert Tapert, who has worked with Raimi since the The Evil Dead. Raimi credits Smith's script, the cinematography of Alar Kivilo, and the production design of Patrizia von Brandenstein (Amadeus, Ragtime) for helping to inspire him to do his best work on A Simple Plan. "We tried to make the film as stark as possible, and as crisp as possible, '' Raimi said, given that "the snow adds a diffusing quality to the light.'' He said the off-and-on snowfalls were unpredictable during filming, so that digital snowflakes and other tricks sometimes had to be used to ensure consistency. "Our goal was to make it stark and bleak,'' he said. "It really was a morality tale of good and evil.'' When the Billy Bob Thornton character says " I feel evil,'' Raimi said, "it's like he had eaten too much chocolate and his stomach hurt, and he was made sick by swallowing this dark corruption.'' John Beifuss can be reached at 529-2394 or by E-mail at beifuss@gomemphis. com
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