If you're looking for something other than brain-dead film fare this coming weekend, visit a local video rental store. Opening Friday, June 5, is The Hangover, a comedy directed by Todd Phillips (School for Scoundrels) about, as the title suggests, a wild bachelor party in Vegas wherein one of the celebrants fails to appear in the morning. Surprisingly, the alcohol-soaked brains of the other bingers can't remember what happened the night before. What a novel and promising premise. Rated R for pervasive language, sexual content including nudity, and some drug material. 100m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.
If that doesn't float your boat, there's Will Ferrell in another alleged comedy, Land of the Lost, based loosely on the 1974 children's TV series. It seems "scientist" Rick Marshall (Ferrell) is sucked (the scientific term) into a space-time vortex and ends up in an alternate universe populated by such strange creatures as dinosaurs. Marshall is hopelessly clueless, but luckily a redneck and a cute, brainy research assistant named Holly (Anna Friel, Pushing Up Daisies) are sucked along with him. As of 2 p.m. June 1, Ferrell doesn't make the cast list in IMDB. What do they know that I don't? Look for Leonard Nimoy. Boy, am I missing Portland. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and for language including a drug reference. 93m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
UP. As I was about to undertake one of my relatively infrequent visits to an animated film, I was heartened by the almost universally positive reviews. Entertainment Weekly actually gave the film an "A" and I was sure its critic would never steer me wrong even if the magazine seems aimed at somewhat immature 20-somethings. Unfortunately, I believe I have been spoiled by such truly superior fare as Ratatouille, a nicely animated film that actually has an interesting story for adults while still appealing to a younger audience.
Pixar/Walt Disney did manage to produce its usual superior animated images (I saw the 2-D version), but the other qualities seemed sadly lacking. I can't speak for the under-10 audience, but this curmudgeonly geezer found little of interest in the one-dimensional characters or the narrative development.
It is not, however, totally without redeeming qualities. As often happens, the premise of the film is more interesting than its fleshing-out. The opening expository section of the film focuses on Carl Fredricksen, a young boy who dreams of following in the footsteps of explorer Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer), even after Muntz is disgraced by accusations of faking a discovery in South America. In quick succession, the viewer watches Carl (Edward Asner) age. He marries his childhood sweetheart, Ellie, who has the same dream as Carl: to go to Paradise Falls in South America and build a house there.
Unluckily, reality continually frustrates their dream and eventually Ellie dies. Carl's sadness and loneliness becomes frustration and anger when a huge construction site surrounds his house, and he dismisses the attempt of a young explorer scout named Russell (Jordan Nagai) to help him, a task that would earn Russell his final merit badge. The final straw comes when Carl is sentenced to be put in a retirement home. Having once sold balloons at the local zoo, he conceives the idea of tying his house to a huge number of helium balloons. When the retirement home people arrive he releases the balloons and, in one of the film's finest moments, his house breaks away from its foundation and floats away, along with the unexpected stowaway Russell.
Those of us old enough to have parents or elderly friends faced with the same situation will find that this aspect of the film resonates. And who among us has never dreamed of escaping our everyday, sometimes dreary existence? It's the rest of the film that disappointed me, as the story degenerates into set action pieces in South America, along with the standard cartoonish (if somewhat surprising) villain.
I appreciated the depiction of how older people are often treated by those younger, and the idea that it's never too late to fulfill your dream (even if it's not the same one you thought it was) is an apt moral. It's too bad these themes couldn't be embodied in a better script. Oh yeah, the dogs were a lot of fun as well. Rated PG for some peril and action. 96m. At the Broadway (2D & 3D), Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna (3D)
DRAG ME TO HELL. Another "A" from Entertainment Weekly. I'll never trust those guys again; they're even worse than the Salt Lake City Weekly critics.
Since there are so few of them, I'll deal with the positive aspects of the film first. Unlike the majority of recent horror film releases, Drag Me to Hell is not a bland remake of an Asian (mostly Japanese) horror film; it's actually an original script, co-written by director Sam Raimi and his brother Ivan Raimi. As such, it has genuine American references, such as the protagonist who was raised on a farm in the Midwest and talks about gaggles of geese and what time of the year their eggs are the richest (the better to make desserts). This background actually works well in the film, because the gypsy curse that is at the center of the story is all the more foreign to the usual mid-Western stereotypes (but watch out for those corn fields and log chippers).
Sam Raimi may be best known today for the three Spider-Man films, but in a way this film is a return to his roots. He made a short horror film in 1978 while still in college and in 1981 directed The Evil Dead, a successful horror film that gave him his start as a commercial director.
Indeed, the premise of Drag Me, while not novel, is intriguing. The film begins with a scene where a young Spanish boy is dragged to Hell after stealing from a gypsy group while failing to be saved by channeler Shaun San Dena.
Years later, the film focuses on farm girl Christine Brown (Alison Lohman, Things We Lost in the Fire; Beowulf), now an up-and-coming bank loan officer in a California city. She's one of two finalists for promotion to assistant manager, but is told by her boss that she has to prove she can make tough decisions. Enter an old woman gypsy woman named Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver), who needs a third extension on her house loan in order to avoid eviction, and we have our story's premise.
The film has some nice touches but the trite plot disappoints. I suppose there are only so many horror films elements, and this is a standard curse narrative fleshed out by a séance wherein Shaun San Dena gets a rematch. Despite its narrative weaknesses, though, the film would have been infinitely better had a competent actor played Christine. It's hard to care about a character played by an actress who acts and sounds like an immature, petulant teen.
I will say that the film ultimately fulfills both its genre expectations and its title, and perhaps that's enough for the typical fan. My constant filmgoing companion, however, left just before the kitten incident, thereby missing the goat incident. Take your choice. Rated PG-13 for sequences of horror violence, terror, disturbing images and language. 99m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
17 AGAIN. Middle-aged father wakes up one day as a 17-year-old, so he tries it on for size. Rated PG-13. 102m. At The Movies.
ANGELS AND DEMONS. In schlocky Da Vinci sequel, swashbuckling religious historian (T. Hanks) travels through pop history to rescue the Catholic church. Rated PG-13. 139m. At the Broadway and Mill Creek.
DANCE FLICK. Street dancer from the wrong side of the tracks and a beautiful woman are brought together for one reason: an epic dance battle. Rated PG-13. 83m. At The Movies.
GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST. Spirits of dumped babes open can of Dickensian whoop-ass on barechested rake. Rated PG-13. 100m. At The Movies.
MONSTERS VS. ALIENS. Ragtag crew of monsters must combat an alien robot to save Planet Earth from imminent destruction. Rated PG. 94m. At The Movies.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN. Museum exhibits come to life leading to a history-packed battle of good versus evil. Rated PG. 105m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
STAR TREK. Get the action-packed backstory on Kirk and Spock's rivalry-ridden relationship. Rated PG-13. 127m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and the Minor.
TERMINATOR SALVATION. Young John Connor (C. Bale) leads human resistance to robotic overlords But first he must solve a mystery! Rated PG-13. 115m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. Film leads up to events of X-Men with story of Wolverine's epically violent and romantic past. Rated PG-13. 107m. At The Movies.