I’ve falling behind on the reviews part of the site, so I’m going to go ahead and knock two in one post here. I’ll make them short and leave out the nitty gritty details. Well, at least I plan to. We’ll see once I start writing them.
Drag Me To Hell
If you’ll look back at that list I posted two days ago, you’ll see that one of the cliches I’ve seen too many times was ‘Horror films: Their Entirety.’ I then list a few of the gimmicks used in horror films today. I then saw Drag Me To Hell, which utilized some of those gimmicks, plus three thousand others common to horror films, including eerie gypsies, fortune tellers, and talking goats (okay, that last one is pretty new). The point is, the night after I wrote an article critiquing a lot of movie cliches, I saw one that was ridden with them. And I loved it.
Let me explain. I once had a language teacher who, in describing a certain grammatical phenomena, listed out the absurd abundance of rules specific to this very particular structure. I can’t recall if it had something to do with noun/verb agreement, tense, declension, etc., but I just remember her listing ten-thousand rules on this rather isolated incident. After she finished she told us she would be looking for those mistakes on tests. She told us, however, that if someone were to manage to break every single grammatical rule for that specific portion, that person would automatically get a perfect score. Her explanation was simple: the only way you could possibly accomplish this was if you knew every rule backwards and forwards. And nobody ever dared take the challenge.
Such is the way with Drag Me To Hell. They knew they were making a movie riddled with some of the most common conventions of old horror stories, and therefore did it in a witty, tongue-in-cheek sort of manner. In a nutshell, a bank loan officer denies an oldy gypsy woman a third extension on her mortgage, so the gypsy puts a curse on her that sends an evil spirit to torment and frighten her for three days before literally dragging her to hell. Are you serious? How could this movie not be cliched? But it knows it is, and it does it in a manner that somehow makes the hackneyed seem, well, original.
It’s not a movie that will haunt you when you’re done, really it’s not all that frightening. It’s what I would say is the equivalent to a roller-coaster ride. There will be some scary thrills and surprises, you’ll jump every now and then, but once you’re back on ground you wont be affected. I’d much prefer this from horror movies, rather than those that keep me up all night and double checking to make sure there’s nobody at the foot of my bed.
But you will jump. There’s a lot of the sudden, loud noise to make you scream. It’s also pretty damn funny, and a great gross out film. Not gross out like Saw or Hostel, which make you cringe and want to vomit. There’s really not all that much blood or violence. But there is a point where the gypsy lady’s rotten dentures fall out, and she gums the chin of the main character. And another part where she vomits maggots all over her. And another where an anvil crushes the gypsy’s head, which sends her eyes flying into the protagonist’s mouth. Gross? Yes. Scary? Kind of. Funny? As hell. In fact, a lot of the gross outs come from horrible things going into star Allison Lohman’s mouth. You’ll laugh and pull back into your seat, moaning “Oh my God, that’s gross,” as you watch, but you’ll probably enjoy yourself immensely.
MASSIVE SPOILER. The ending was pretty great. It used another cliche, “That minor plot point that you didn’t think mattered? Yeah, it just got real important.” But once again, it uses it well. If I hadn’t known there was a twist ending, I wouldn’t have been looking out for it, and probably would have been surprised shitless. Unfortunately I saw it coming, so I knew something like ‘that’ would happen. Soon I think I’ll post some of the alternate ideas I had during the movie, once I realized what was going on. Some of them, I think, would have worked just as well.END MAJOR SPOILER
All in all, this is a movie that you’ll thoroughly enjoy seeing. It’s a well acted, well directed, well written 80s B-movie horror film in the style on Sam Raimi can do. Lorna Raver plays crazy gypsy woman perfectly, and the more I see Justin Long, the more I like him. He doesn’t have a lot to do in this movie, but his presence was appreciated. There was a part where they zoom in on his iPhone ringing as he sits in the background. Pretty good product placement, and rather hilarious to have Mac’s figurehead in the shot with it. I can only assume this was intentional.
Take a friend, or better, take a date. It’s a fun popcorn film that will make you jump, laugh, cringe, scream, laugh again, and leave smiling.
Angels and Demons
I didn’t hate The Da Vinci Code as much as so many did. Yeah, Tom Hanks hair looked like a dead ferret, but I thought it was pretty entertaining and a decent adaption of the story. Angels and Demons, however, was the superior movie, just as its book the superior novel.
Robert Langdon (Hanks) finds himself once more swept up in Catholic lore. This time, the Illuminati, an ancient, scientific secret organization with a vendetta on the Catholic church, seems to resurface after centuries of dormancy. After the pope passes, they seem to have kidnapped the four most likely successors, and threaten to murder each one of them for four hours, until midnight. Once midnight strikes, they have a more dastardly plan. They’ve stolen a substance called anti-matter from CERN, which is held up by electromagnetism. Once midnight strikes, the battery will run out, the anti-matter will touch regular matter, which would result in a cataclysmic explosion that would level the Vatican City. So the Vatican Police call Robert Langdon, due to his knowledge of the society, and he, scientist Vittoria Vetra, all the pope’s horses and all the pope’s men set out on the Path of Illumination, hoping to save the cardinals and find the bomb before it’s too late.
It’s a movie that delivers exactly what you expect it to. There are plot twists and daring saves, an exciting movie that has some absurdities you just have to accept. Tom Hanks does a fine job as Langdon (thank God for the haircut), the rest of the cast is relatively stale, with the exception of Ewan McGregor as the camarlengo, the assistant to the pope (I think. I don’t know Cathloic…) But McGregor is a real scene stealer here, with so much compassion and religious zeal it makes your heart start to bleed.
The movie takes some enormous liberties on the book. It keeps a lot in, for sure, the plot isn’t changed all that much, but there are still quite a few differences. (I tread a fine line here, I don’t want to spoil it for anybody). Characters names are changed, some from the novel are combined into one head for the movie, some characters take on the roll of their novel’s counterparts… If I had been aware of this, I probably would have been overwhelmed. Fortunately I read the book two or three years ago, and only remembered the big generics. A friend of mine, however, leaned over during the movie and (at my behest) pointed out a lot of the differences. For one, the assassin the movie (the hassassin in the book) is no longer middle eastern, but a white guy with some indiscernible accent. It could have been a mix of French, German, Austrian, and Puerto Rican, but I just can’t be sure. Apparently, having a middle easterner brand and murder Catholic bishops just isn’t P.C. anymore. I can understand the alteration: they were already going to get flack from Christian religious groups, no need to piss off Muslims as well. Also, in the novel the camarlengo is Italian, in this he’s Scots-Irish (I believe). But if that means Ewan McGregor gets to play him, it’s another change I’m willing to accept.
There were some changes I actually liked a lot more than the book. One of them is, in fact, the camarlengo’s story line. It is much more believable here, and the movie alters the ending in way that makes it much more satisfying and believable. There’s also a particular incidence with a helicopter from the novel that is altered strongly from the book, and for the film’s benefit. I also thought that, due to some of the movies alterations, the big finish isn’t as predictable as I thought it was in the novel. They do it quite well, so I think a lot of people will be genuinely surprised.
It’s true, the movie is ridiculously lax on the scientific aspect, but I can’t smite them too strongly. Also, any hint of romance between Langdon and Vetra is completely removed, and Vetra’s roll is generally toned down. I didn’t really miss it that much, to be honest. Though we do miss out on a killer line about sex with a yoga instructor that graced the last page of the book.
The much-lamented CGI does detract from the film at times. They weren’t allowed to film on location (apparently stories about pope-icide aren’t popular at the Vatican), so they decide to use computers for a lot of those scenes. And it doesn’t always work right. But Ron Howard still directed a relatively good looking movie, and I appreciated what he tried to do.
Don’t expect to be moved to tears or to come out questioning your inner beliefs. If you want a good, suspenseful thrill ride, Angels and Demons delivers pretty strongly.
A note on movie scores: you cannot always cross compare my scores to denote what I find a better movie. Movies are judged on their own merit, not compared with others to see where they fit in.