Though I still like the occasional crappy movie, somewhere along the way I became an actual critic, at least in terms of sensibility.
I've said it a hundred times, but "good" and "enjoyable" aren't always the same thing. It isn't all about taste. I'm saying that just because you like something doesn't mean it's any good. But that applies to me, too, and sometimes in reverse.
Stuff like Drag Me to Hell I just have no patience for. Up, sure. Drag Me to Hell, forget it.
I'll save Up for last because it's the good movie of the two. I'm embarrassed I have to review Up in the same column as Drag Me to Hell. I'd hate for the general crappiness of the latter to rub off on the Pixar flick.
Anyway, this week I did something I rarely do. I read someone else's review of a movie before I wrote my own. As it happens, I completely disagreed with the guy. I won't tell you where the review was. Let's just say the guy gave Drag Me to Hell a 9 outta 10, which is preposterous.
Wasn't it supposed to be a horror movie? Wasn't I supposed to jump just a little? Be scared? Hell, be surprised?
The whole thing was corny, which, you know, sort of rounds the edge.
The story goes something like this...
Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) is a loan officer at a bank. She really wants the vacant Assistant Manager position, but her boss, Mr. Jacks (David Paymer), hasn't made up his mind who gets the job. It's either going to be Christine or her slimy co-worker Stu.
He tells Christine the job is about making tough decisions.
Christine is pondering her future when an old gypsy woman shows up at her desk asking for a third extension on her mortgage. Christine wants to help, but that's when Mr. Jacks tells her it's a tough decision.
Seeing the flashing clue sign, Christine declines to give the old woman another extension. The old woman is the definition of a hag. She has one fake eye, squishy-sounding mucus coming out of all her visible orifices and some really nasty dentures. She drops to her knees and begs Christine to reconsider, going so far as to kiss Christine's skirt.
Christine freaks and calls security, and then the old woman really flips out. Mr. Jacks tells Christine she did a good job.
But when 5pm rolls around and Christine makes her way to the parking garage housing her car, the old crone is waiting for her and we get a ridiculous battle royale between the two. The end result is the old gypsy woman giving Christine the curse of the lamia, which is basically this: for three days the evil spirit will torment Christine, then on the fourth day it'll carry her off to hell. Literally. A hole will open in the ground and nasty demon hands will suck her into the fiery depths.
Oh yeah! Justin Long plays Christine's boyfriend.
So here's the short version of what I hated about Drag Me to Hell... The story was so predictable I didn't jump. I figured out the "twist" ending 45 minutes before we got there, and I'm not one of those viewers who tries to figure out a film before the end. I generally just let them happen. I also couldn't decide whether or not it was bad acting or bad writing that made Alison Lohman's performance what it was.
I saw very little in the movie that was good, to be honest.
That other review. It mentioned the "fun" factor. I'm assuming the "fun" he spoke of was the slapstick--lots of gooey mucus-like substances, anvils being dropped on heads, getting bitten by a toothless old hag, etc.
The whole thing was silly.
Isn't the point of a horror movie to scare you?
There's a difference between comic relief and general silliness. Comic relief is just that. Something that gives the audience a breather from the tension in the form of a laugh. Thing is, in Drag Me to Hell, there is no tension. Even the parts when the audience is expected to jump were all but telegraphed.
The whole thing is amateur hour.
I know Raimi's thing is sort of slapstick horror; I just don't like it. You know what I want from a horror movie? I want it to scare the shit out of me. I want it to climb in my head and keep on scaring me for days afterward.
The Skeleton Key is similar to Drag Me to Hell in terms of subject matter, and though it's not very good, I'd rather watch the former.
I can think of another "funny" horror movie I liked much better than this, Slither. That one had better characters and at least looked like it was helmed by someone who wanted to make a feature.
Drag Me to Hell looks like it was shot on the cheap as part of an HBO series. Who's to blame for that? Raimi. The bad writing? Raimi. The unimaginative story? Raimi.
Why people worship this guy I have no idea.
Spider-man 3 was a cinematic traffic accident and they're still letting him make Spider-man 4 and Spider-man 5. What people seem to be attracted to in his movies I tend of think of as bad filmmaking.
Thing about the Evil Dead movies, they're so awful you find yourself laughing. Is that the yardstick we're using here? This doesn't come off like those films did. This comes off as uneven and corny, and not in a good way.
But what the hell do I know? He's making movies. I'm writing reviews in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
I heard the audience laugh here and there. Hell, I laughed, too, a couple of times, because what I was seeing on screen was so damn dumb. I generally do that with scenes of such blatant incompetence.
So, what's the verdict here? Different strokes? Raimi fans are going to like it, everyone else won't? Possibly. Thing about horror films. They're generally not "good" movies. It's never highbrow entertainment. I think maybe you'll get out of this movie what you expect, whatever that is.
Pixar movies are the only sure things in Hollywood. They are good every time. The worst Pixar flick is probably A Bug's Life, and it wasn't that bad.
Consider this list: Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille and Wall-E. Not only are there not any stinkers in that list, those are all pretty much great films, especially last summer's Wall-E, which garnered some serious awards buzz during the season.
Pixar's track record is astounding. One would think there's some sort of secret ingredient--that these guys know something most of the filmmakers in Hollywood don't.
Well, there is. Pixar films are based on two rock solid things: a great story and character development.
Okay, well both of those things are really one thing, good writing. The studio is uncompromisingly dedicated to good writing.
So many movies in Hollywood these days sacrifice quality story on the altar of spectacle. They cash in character development for twist endings and pacing. Hell, two of the big films of the summer are disasters because the stories are terrible (I'm pointing at Wolverine and Terminator). Okay, Wolverine made its money, but the Terminator flick is on pace to make less money than Terminator 3 did, and that was pretty much universally panned.
Why can Pixar get this right while everyone else gets it wrong again and again? I just don't understand. Pixar is successful because it makes fantastic films. Pixar doesn't have to wonder if a movie is going to make back its budget. There's no crossing of fingers.
And so it continues with Up, which like Wall-E last summer will no doubt be one of the best films of the entire year, not just of the summer movie season.
But enough of that. We're here to talk about Carl Fredricksen and his flying house.
We pick up with Carl when he's but a wee lad watching the news reports at his local movie theater with wide eyes. Leather pilot's hat and goggles over his head, hanging on every word about his hero, Charles Muntz and his zeppelin, The Spirit of Adventure. Like Muntz, Carl wants to be a great explorer when he grows up.
On his trip home from the theater, Carl stumbles across fellow would-be adventurer, Ellie. Where Carl is careful with his words, Ellie is a motormouth who's afraid of nothing. It's love at first sight.
And I won't ruin the rest of the opening sequence of the movie for you. It's one of those things that's too special to screw up with a synopsis. It's the story of Carl and Ellie, and it's a love story.
When we catch up with Carl later, he's alone in his and Ellie's house, but the house is no longer surrounded by the quaint little neighborhood of their youth. Instead, monolithic high-rises block out the sun and cacophony of construction ruins Carl's serenity.
Of course, they want his house. Their house, his and Ellie's. But Carl isn't selling. How could he?
Carl finds himself accosted by both smarmy real estate developers and an overly enthusiastic Wilderness Explorer (Boy Scout analog) named Russell.
Russell needs to help Carl do something to earn his last merit patch. Carl sends him on a snipe hunt.
And then Carl has a bad run-in with a construction worker, braining the guy with his walking stick. The developers take Carl to court and basically get him evicted from his home, sent to live at a retirement community because he's a public nuisance.
On the last night in his home, Carl decides he's going to do what he always promised Ellie they'd do--take the trip to Paradise Falls in South America, the last known location of their childhood hero, Charles Muntz.
When the guys from the retirement community come to collect Carl, he puts his on-the-job training to good use. Carl's profession? Balloon salesmen at the community zoo.
As they wait out on the curb for Carl to say his goodbyes, hundreds of colorful helium-filled balloons shoot into the sky, taking Carl and the house with them (and Russell, who was under the front porch looking for the elusive snipe).
Things play out from there. There'll be talking dogs, brightly colored pre-historic birds, zeppelins, chases and aerial dogfights. It's a fun ride with just the right amount of, well, everything. Where the end of Wall-E was sugar-coated goodness, this one just feels right.
I came out of it thinking Wall-E was the better film, but I'm not so sure. Up might just beat it out. It's fantastic stuff, and if you haven't seen it, you'd better put it on the to-do list. It's not optional.
Enjoy your weekend.
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