Sunday, May 31, 2009

"Drag Me to Hell" / "Fanboys" / "Valkyrie"

Drag Me to Hell - Directed by Sam Raimi, starring Alison Lohman, Justin Long, and Dileep Rao - Rated PG-13

The Kurgan would thoroughly enjoy this one.

Why did Sam Raimi do this to us? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the Spider Man movies (even the third one, which is crapped on constantly, though it is my least favorite), but if Raimi could’ve been making movies like this for that last eight years then I would have much rather had someone like Brett Ratner taking over Spider Man so Raimi could embrace his roots. Drag Me to Hell is an example of what Sam Raimi does best: a freaky, goofy horror film that is as fun as anything I’ve seen in the last five years.

Let me get into the story before I explain the whole “fun” statement. The story is about loan officer Christine (Alison Lohman), who forecloses a creepy gypsy lady’s house to prove that she’s worthy for a promotion. Obviously the creepy gypsy lady is not pleased, so she curses Christine with a demon that will torment her for a few days, then…drag her to hell. Along for the ride is her devoted boyfriend Clay (Justin Long) and a psychic (Dileep Rao, who does a very good job). That’s the short and skinny of it, now let’s get to why this is enjoyable.

First off, if you see this in the theater, then the audience is key. I saw it in a packed theater with tons of girls screaming at every scary part (of which there are many). Now, this was kind of annoying at first, but it really amplified the experience of the movie. I’m usually not one to jump at a cheap scare, but Raimi piles so many of them into each scene it’s hard not to be tricked by him once in a while. And the screams from audience members around you add to the jump factor. The point is: this movie is an experience with an audience.

But it’s not all cheap scares. If you’ve seen Raimi’s earlier works, such as the Evil Dead series, then you know what’s coming. You get the rattling doors, the screeching demons, and the comedic scares. Any fan of the Evil Dead series will be all smiles during a séance sequence featuring voice work reminiscent of Raimi’s earlier films. The comedy doesn’t cheapen the horror quality, though. It simply adds to the overall enjoyment of the film.

This is a movie willing to do things that other movies would only imply. There are plot elements that would normally have you thinking: there’s no way they are actually going to do that. But as soon as you think that, they follow through with it. I would love to give examples of this, but I don’t want to spoil it. But for those who have seen it, here’s the main SPOILER that I’m talking about: I was not expecting Christine to sacrifice the cat at all. I just thought it was a funny scene when she considered it. When it cut to her burying the cat, I could hardly contain my laughter.

Let’s not get out of hand here, though. This movie is not a masterpiece or anything. It’s just an example of what Sam Raimi is capable of (and a damn good example at that). There are some very goofy things that happen in this movie, like talking animals, spraying blood, over the top gross out elements, etc. The ridiculous factor is way up for this, but would you expect anything else from the man who blessed us with Army of Darkness? I got exactly what I wanted from this. The only thing I want now is more of the same.

Fanboys - Directed by Kyle Newman, starring Sam Huntington, Jay Baruchel, Seth Rogen, Dan Fogler, and Kristen Bell - Rated PG-13

Breaking the rules here a bit since this is not a perfect film, but I can't pass up the chance to award a Vader to a Star Wars fanboy movie.

Fanboys is a movie for Star Wars fans, plain and simple. I believe there could some enjoyment from a regular audience, but only Star Wars fans will really get into this one.

The story takes place in 1998, a year before The Phantom Menace is released. Four friends, one of whom has cancer, decide to go to Skywalker Ranch (home base of George Lucas) to watch the rough cut of the movie before it's released and before their friend dies. This might sound like a bit of a downer of a story (a factor which pushed back the release date of this film about a hundred times), but it really adds emotion to an otherwise outright comedy.

This is basically a road movie filled with Star Wars references. Hutch (Dan Fogler) drives a van filled with memorabilia (complete with an R2-D2 replica sticking out of the top) featuring sound effects comparable to the Millenium Falcon at times, not to mention the Chewbacca roar for a horn. The references, along with the cameos (Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Kevin Smith, William Shatner) make this an extremely enjoyable experience for the fans. Oh, and for those of you who don't care for Episode I (I like it, myself) or Jar Jar Binks in particular (not a fan, really, but I don't hate the character or anything), there some great jokes dealing with the expectations of that movie compared to subsequent critical beat down the movie took upon release.

Adding to the fan service is a subplot about the battle between fanboys and trekkies. The absurdity of the idea of Star Wars and Star Trek fans engaging in physical combat is quite hilarious, and it helps that the trekkies are led by a nerded out Seth Rogen (one of three roles for him in this film).

Now about the delay for the release of this film. I can remember seeing previews for this almost three years ago. What happened was that there was a positive buzz going for this film, so the Weinsteins decided to throw some money at it and re-shoot some scenes to make it friendlier for mass audiences. At one point a new director was even brought in to change the scenes dealing with the cancer plot (apparently mainstream audiences would have refused to watch this movie if the word cancer was involved). Some of the footage that director (Steven Brill, Without a Paddle) shot is still in the finished film actually, but I only know that from doing a little research, so it didn't ruin the film or anything. If you're wondering, the scene I'm talking about is when Danny McBride is interrogating the group. So the battle over the cancer plot waged on, with the original story remaining intact. But by then, the studio didn't want to put much support behind it, so it was released in a handful of theaters and finally released on DVD a couple weeks ago. So that's the behind the scenes story about the movie made for Star Wars fans. It's ridiculous that it took this long to release this film, but thankfully the long wait is over because this is a very entertaining comedy.

Valkyrie - Directed by Bryan Singer, starring Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy, and Kenneth Branagh - Rated PG-13

The Kurgan knew how it was going to end, but he was still pulled in by the suspense.

This will be my one-paragraph review for this week. This movie, about a failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler, had an uphill battle. First off, it's about a failed assassination attempt on a very famous historical figure, so everyone watching knows that it isn't going to work, which means everyone already knows the ending. Secondly, it has Tom Cruise in it. I am a Tom Cruise fan and I could care less about his religion as long as he doesn't start forcing aspects of into his movies. So far, he hasn't done that and I've enjoyed his recent work. Other people, however, are dead set against him from the start based on his personality. I can look past that and if other viewers can as well, then they'll find that his performance here is very good. Cruise is backed up admirably by his British co-stars and the script actually creates suspense even though the outcome is already known. I would sometimes forget that all the planning and strategy would end up being almost pointless. But the real point of the movie is that people tried to stop Hitler, I suppose. Either way, it's entertaining to see all the stages of a well laid plan and watch as things go wrong and characters are forced to adapt. Just try to forget that you know what's going to happen and enjoy.

Next: I'm going to skip the article this Wednesday and write a few reviews instead. I'll also have a new Crappy Classic for Wednesday as well.


  1. I totally concur on your drag me to hell review. Also it's great to hear someone with the same views on "Da Cruise" as I have.

  2. I went to see Drag Me to Hell last night and loved it. As a fan of Sam Raimi I have been looking forward to seeing this film for ages! It is full of references for the fans and is packed with trademark photography. More like this please Mr Raimi!

    I went to see Valkyrie earlier in the year and really enjoyed it. I wasn’t expecting much as it had average reviews at best here in the UK but I went along anyway. Anyone with a small knowledge of history knows the basic idea of the plot to kill Hitler but they still managed to build suspense and tension into the plot.

    Unfortunately Fanboys hasn’t seen the light of day over here yet!

  3. Chelsey StrasserJune 8, 2009 at 3:46 PM

    I also really enjoyed Valkyrie. I ordered it off amazon (for a pretty great price) and was very impressed with the blu-ray quality and the special features, especially the 40 min documentary. I thought Cruise gave one of the better performances of his career and was well supported by some outstanding actors (especially Nighy and Brannaugh). I'm looking forward to some more WWII movies as I have come to really love this genre. You can get Valkyrie at