Saturday, June 27, 2009

Abbreviated Reviews -- "Drag Me to Hell" and "The Hangover"

Drag Me to Hell
directed by Sam Raimi
written by Ivan Raimi and Sam Raimi
starring: Alison Lohman, Lorna Raver, Justin Long, Dileep Rao and Adriana Barraza

Drag Me to Hell delivers on its title. Our heroine, Christine (played with rapt intensity, pitch-perfect for a horror film by Alison Lohman) is a bank clerk who refuses to grant a mortgage extension to a gypsy woman (Lorna Raver) and is cursed. She will be dragged down below in three days, but not before all hell breaks loose up on earth. This woman curses (and I mean curses) our poor little Alison Lohman (an aside: I'm so glad that they decided against first choice Ellen Page for the role. Alison Lohman is nearly thirty and she's still hard to buy as an adult sometimes.) This is about the most fun a diehard horror fan can have watching a PG-13 movie. It's very much a hearkening to the earlier days of Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead series being an obvious example), that mixes horror and off-the-cuff humor in a delightful blend that's sure to entertain. I was considerably...let's just say (ahem) altered while watching this film. But the details are still very vivid, and there are moments that offer up genuine scares. For instance, when Christine goes to see spiritual medium Shauna San Dena (Adriana Barraza), who saw the curse take a young boy to hell many years ago, watch how ominously the chanting of San Dena builds in perfect lockstep with Christopher Young's creepy score and Peter Deming's cinematography. Simple, obvious, yes. Creepy, still yes. Perhaps if the film had been rated-R, the audience would have finally gotten a glimpse of hell itself. But then again, we aren't the ones who denied some crazy old broad a mortgage extension on her house.

Grade: B
(I'm really glad the movie resisted the temptation to turn into a meta-commentary on the recession and how it drives people to desperation to save their livelihood...or maybe it didn't. Once again..."altered")

The Hangover
directed by Todd Phillips
written by Scott Moore and Jon Lucas
starring: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms and Heather Graham

It is rare for me to find a comedy like this (frat-packy, very male, very heteronormative for its own sake) to be genuinely funny all the way through. The Hangover is already in the IMDB top 250 of all time (*sigh* what a reactionary list that is...) and probably doesn't deserve to be there. But it is a perfectly suitable and serviceable comedy, leagues better than I would have ever expected from the director of Old School, a film whose comedy is spotty and uneven at best.
No one is unaware of the film's premise at this point. Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms play a trio of groomsmen who, after a night of hard partying in Vegas, find themselves unable to remember the previous evening's events, and unable to find the groom. That's the setup. It wasn't destined to be funny, but it's dedication and commitment to comedy that saves this film from being another Jr. Fratpack entry. These are shallow characters, who may as well be wearing their archetypes as nametags on their shirts. Bradley Cooper is the foxy, narcissistic leader of the pack, Ed Helms is the straightman and Zach Galifianakis is the comedic oaf. That's about all we ever find out about these people, but it's to no major detriment to this film (or rather, the type of film it's trying to be). And the three leads play their roles so well (especially standout Ed Helms, who manages to actually be the funniest of the three, even though his lines and his character lends itself to that distinction the least).
There are a few moments in the film that led to more beard scratching than out-and-out laughter. The Mike Tyson vignette, for instance. I don't know that I can get behind Mike Tyson poking fun of himself in this way, when he is such a...terrible person, for lack of a better phrase. I'm not sure what it is. Maybe if the entire segmant itself had been written funnier, I would have been more forgiving. I chuckled a few times, but don't feel as if I would have been at any kind of loss had it been omitted. Also the flamboyant, effeminate(?) Chinese gangster, who garnered some big laughs from the audience, but also left me scratching my proverbial beard a bit. I couldn't really peg what they were going for there. I laughed, but I didn't feel good about myself. Just because something garners laughter doesn't mean it's always earned, if that makes sense. I feel the same way about tears in movies (I'll talk more about this when I review My Sister's Keeper.) Also, the bride to be, in the cutaways between the wedding preparations and the groomsmen riding back to LA for the wedding, seems to be getting assisted by some sort of mammy...though I may just be projecting. Funny movie, though!

Grade: B

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