Last Sunday I had a sort of Dante’s journey, as I went from Drag Me To Hell at the remodeled Los Feliz 3 to Up at ArcLight Sherman Oaks. (My purgatory was the 101.) I’m glad I did the movies in that order.

Drag Me To Hell

This grim, poster-inspiring, fable from writer/director Sam Raimi and his brother co-writer Ivan Raimi is about a bank loan officer (Alison Lohman) tormented over the course of three days by a gyspy woman and demons she summons in a ‘curse of the lamia.’ Depending on your outlook, it’s either a brilliantly-realized B-movie or a dull exercise in jump moments. I’ll lean towards the former — the movie is about as terrifying as it could conceivably be, features economical storytelling that connects one scare scene to another, some Sam Raimi comedic touches (an anvil?!?), quality special effects and an ending that, well, the less you know the better (that includes skipping watching the trailer).

Since all I want to talk about is the ending, I’ll put the rest of my thoughts on Drag Me To Hell after the jump…

Continue reading Drag Me To Hell (major spoilers)…

Jump to the Up review instead…

Still here? Okay, what the F? As much as the movie was set up to end with bad news for Christine Brown, I was just not ready for the total middle finger to joy and lightness that it was. I’m still reeling, and I’ve decided that’s good. This also might be, despite the mortgage crisis in the headlines, the wrong time for a movie with such a depressing ending, as the disappointing box office for the movie seems to show, despite no horror competition, great critical reviews and strong word of mouth. In this economic climate, the public doesn’t want a downer.

Of course, there’s still a sizable sector of people who are going to love this movie. I can only stand back and appreciate the movie. It’s just too grueling an experience to love. I think I left the theater with muscle cramps for sitting so tensely.

And I’m seriously looking forward to the sequel where Justin Long is tormented. As much as his performance here didn’t bother me, I still believe that for past transgressions, there’s a special place in Hell reserved for him.

Up (in Dolby Digital 3D)

What can I say about this wonderful movie? Before seeing it all in one complete form in glorious three dimensions, I’d seen it in bits and pieces, including partially completed and partially in story reel form. (I worked on some of the marketing materials for the movie.) It remains fresh and funny on repeat viewings.

The opening sequence, where Carl meets, marries and says goodbye to Ellie is another PIXAR mini-masterpiece. If there’s any criticism of the film, it’s that this is the emotional climax — the Carl/Russell dynamic is tender but not moving. But it’s also hella funny. In any case, the South American adventure that ensues when the old man tethers his house to helium-filled balloons and Russell the Wilderness Explorer (don’t you dare mention Boy Scouts) tags along while they float to a tapui, or isolated ecosystem on the top of a high Venezuelan plateu. (The PIXAR people actually did a research trip to one, the footage from which I imagine will make for a fun DVD bonus feature.) They meet a rare bird and a pack of talking dogs, the two of whom are brilliantly voiced by the movie’s co-writer/co-director Bob Peterson.

You really gotta hand it to PIXAR for making their main protagonist not only an old man, but a mean one. That’s ballsy, and against marketing conventional wisdom, as this Tad Friend New Yorker article put it:

The only thing marketers can’t pull off, Sella acknowledged, is “selling old to young”—persuading kids to see a movie like “Driving Miss Daisy.”

PIXAR balanced this by making his sidekick follow demographic wisdom. From the same article:

Why have a four-year-old character, when one who is ten will prompt ten-year-olds to find him “relatable,” and four-to-nine-year-olds to look up to him?

Come to think of it, has PIXAR discovered a secret to getting the whole family into a movie: make your characters’ ages as far apart as possible?

All kidding aside, I have a few other notes. The short, “Partly Cloudy”, was decent, but it was too long for the payoff and I wasn’t enamored with the character designs. With its deep vistas from up in the sky, it was a smart short to use to warm up the audience for Up in 3D. (Lord knows that the 3D trailers for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and G-Force were not good lead-ins.)

I complained about some of the effects of Dolby Digital 3D before in my review of Coraline 3D. This experience, while better, still was plagued by color iridescence if my head was tilted slightly off angle and, because the screen was curved, the edges had it no matter what way I tilted my head. The Dolby glasses didn’t fit comfortably over my glasses. (I don’t wear contacts, but next time I’ll bring a slimmer pair of glasses and see if those work.) I also notice the judder or strobey-ness in movement during fast-moving scenes, although significantly less than I did with Coraline.

As I mentioned, I saw this movie at the ArcLight, which is the highest-quality movie theater experience you can pretty much get anywhere, and they do charge more for it: $14.50 is the base price. It was nice to see the surcharge for 3D was only a dollar more where as most theaters add $5. $15.50 at ArcLight compared to $16 at AMC? No brainer.

Except you would expect the ArcLight, as obsessive as they are about picture and sound quality, to spring for the more expensive but far superior RealD 3D technology (reflective screen, polarized lenses for no iridescence and 120fps – 60 in each eye – which they must do to reduce that judder). If you live in a major metropolitan area, you probably have a choice in which 3D system you can view 3D movies. I recommend RealD, and I doubt I’ll see anything in the Dolby Digital 3D any more unless I don’t have the option.

In terms of PIXAR’s use of 3D – they have their own team of people who, with the directors, decide how much depth each shot should have – it was beautifully understated. When Carl is with Ellie, it’s very deep (but always behind the plane of the screen – not in your face); when he’s alone, it’s flatter. As he goes out on his adventure, it gets deeper again. Simple, subtle, effective. The images, which I’ve seen many times in great detail on large HD monitors, are that much more engaging in 3D. Sure, the physics of the roly-poly characters doesn’t jibe with real life, but it’s a cartoon. It kinda seems odd that it’s only just now we’re getting these 3D-animated movies in 3D viewing experiences.

A final note: The only two major critics to have trashed the film, Armond White of the Our Town New York and Manohla Dargis of the New York Times have now exposed themselves as emotionally-stunted and maybe even as psychopaths. I hope the men in white come for them soon.