Thursday, June 18, 2009

Drag Me to Paradise Falls or Drag Me to Hell

Club Silencio is back with two brief film reviews for two new-ish films. What I lack in being current or prolific, I often make up for with poorly timed innuendos and swearing. Welcome to the Club!

Movin' on Up to a deluxe townhouse in the sky.

Pixar is like the fine dining of children's entertainment. There's always something fresh on the kid's menu, but you can stilll depend on their classic mac and cheese and tater tots because they too are so often cooked to perfection. Up is another refined but youthful dish; a whimsical fantasy that sidesteps the crass fart jokes and trite musical numbers we as a culture have become accustomed to shoving down our kids throats.

It's a bit of a filmmaking marvel really - not much different from the logistics of a house tied to balloons. Up manages to float effortlessly over topics like divorce, miscarriage, the disenfranchisement of the elderly, the falsehood of childhood idols... Amongst talking animals no less! But it's these nuances that highlight Pixar's most profound worth: making entertainment for all ages of emotional maturity. They're films that can truly grow with their audience. We can go from laughing at that dog with the funny voice, to sobbing over the ravages of age and wayward childhood dreams. Fun all the same, for the young and dangerously old. Even so Up is never a downer. Tinged with sad moments -- a montage of our hero's greatest love and loss is especially surprising and touching -- there's a hope and reach behind this otherwise lighthearted fare.

As retired Carl Fredricksen finds himself old and alone, his only hope in his waning years is to give his wife the adventure she always wanted and a home at the edge of Paradise. (Well, Paradise Falls in South America.) The youthful spirit of exploration finds Carl tying balloons to his home with the unknowing help of an adorable young camper, Russell. Together they ascend to Paradise Falls where they befriend rare birds, talking dogs, and a maniacal explorer hellbent on finishing his life's work. In summary the film sounds explicitly superfluous, but that discredits a big and genuine heart, and enough laughs to surpass most live-action adult fare this summer.

Fair enough the "talking dogs" element never quite works for the movie, but it never really works against it either. By the time Carl lifts off we're in a fantasy world, beyond the city and beyond the clouds to a place known as Disney Logic. Animals must be cute, lovable and verbose... at least all but one of them who is mean and will be punished or humiliated by Act III. Fantasy is fantasy and the film embraces it with more extremes as the film progresses (dog fighter pilots), but then it also never loses its humor about it (dog fighter pilots steering with chew toys). There's more than enough sweetness and sentimentality but it always feels earned, and it's always cleverly undercut for laughs or the next thoughtful development.

Pixar's hot streak continues (off-roading only once with anthropomorphic cars), and it's with a kid's movie about the elderly, which is something of a comfort in these oft-jaded times. Nemo's mom died and so did Grandma Ellie, but life still goes on and so do the dreams that take flight in childhood - much like a house floating into the heavens and landing in unexplored lands.

What gets gypsy out of your hair?

Obvious, protruding exposition seems a worthless criticism when we're dealing with gooey gypsy curses and lethal handkerchiefs. Even if it's easily choreographed, Sam Raimi's slapstick stew still keeps boiling with just enough hellish heat, if mostly because it seems so aware of its all-nonsense approach. There's a thoughtful undercurrent to Drag Me to Hell that's perfect for our economic woes, and the tried and true lesson that one should always help others in need - no matter if it's an old woman losing her home or a powerful gypsy with ties to a goat demon. There's a purpose behind all of the film's ridiculousness, but it never aims to be anything more than a demented good time. As fans of Raimi's Evil Dead films should know, we're here to see something nasty thrown in our lead character's face. Thankfully Alison Lohman seems up to this sweet-to-savage challenge, and that includes plenty of icky obstacles (maggots, toothless old women) that should make Bruce Campbell fans retch with glee.

Christine Brown (Lohman), once the county fair "Pork Queen," sees potential for personal growth that includes finally meeting her lover's pompous family and seeking a promotion at her bank job. With personal gain comes some casualty when a desperate elderly customer is refused by Christine, her sights set on Assistant Manager. If only Christine knew she was dealing with a gypsy (didn't she SEE the handkerchief and costume jewelry) and her bank's parking garage was patrolled by security. A bitch of a curse is soon placed on her head (or the button of her jacket) and soon Christine will be... dragged to hell. Simple, stupid, and lovingly so is Raimi's return to horror.

It's nice not only to see an original horror film in theaters but one that has this much fun with itself. Here Raimi wants his audience to feel each jolt of his absurdity and revel in bad taste. Mind you we do have a few modern drawbacks that are all too common. There's a feeling the film drew back for its PG-13 rating, which isn't a hindrance necessarily since the film isn't driven by excessive gore but by excess alone. Besides that there are too many crucial shock bits cluttered with clumsy CGI. That's what three Spidermans will do to you I suppose, but Raimi's visual trickery is joyous enough without all that pixelated plasma. One can take pleasure in seeing people stapled in the face, corpses sucking face, uprooting the dead... but this kind of flagrant CGI is just vulgar.

Drag Me to Hell is best described as a Harvest Cake. It's a gritty blend of questionable taste, and while I wish the ingredients were even a bit more surprising, it sure is a delightful waste of calories.

* These reviews were clearly written in extreme hunger. Instead of comments, leave snacks.


Pax Romano said...

Have not seen Up for DMTH; all I can say is , "Here kitty".

Loved it (or as Alvy Singer once said, "Lurved" it).

Adam said...

One of my favorite bits was Christine trying to be nonchalant about what happened to her cat.

I also thought of that quote from Simpsons in regards to her "Hang in there, baby" poster.

"Copyright 1968? Hmm... Determined or not that cat must be long dead."