Daily Film Thoughts: Hello Hollywood

I’m writing up my post for TIFF Day 0 right now and decided to take a break from the serious writing and do a few capsule reviews on some fun Hollywood flicks that I’ve seen as of late. None of them great, but certainly nothing I would avoid viewing again.

First up is the highly praised (but hardly anticipated, personally) comedy/horror Drag Me To Hell by master of the mash-up Sam Raimi. Considering I loathed the trailer and vowed never to view the film in my life, I had little to no expectations for this movie – the only reason I bothered to see it was because a few people raved about how much fun it was, as did critics.

The story, as you may have gathered from the inane trailer, is about Christine (Alison Lohman) a fairly young, fairly attractive woman who works at a bank as a loan officer. She struggles through the banality of her daily routine along side her boyfriend Clay (Justin Long), a fine suitor for our main character, but with begrudged parents on his back to lose Christine and ‘find a more committed, intelligent choice’. When she finds out that she’s up for the assistant managers position, but is hindered only by her lack of leaving her emotions at the door when she walks into the office (in that she’s too caring with her customers). Her boss decides its down to her and the new guy, even though she’s been with the company about 25x longer than her competitor. However, he knows how to make the tough decisions and she does not. This leads into her next customer being an elderly and (for lack of a better word) weird woman… who turns out to be a witch of sorts. She declines the witch a 4th loan, she gets cursed, here’s the plot.

Now our protagonists daily routine has changed drastically. She walks up to bugs flying around her stomach, has nightmares about hornets infesting her bedroom, becomes delusional to the people around her – you know, typical horror shtick. The entire film is tongue-in-cheek, so any cheesiness you experience is fortunately deliberate (see: The Happening) and therefore works in the benefit of the feature.

The main issue is that the story holds back on the horror and relies on humor throughout the entirety. Whereas films like P2 contain both parody and tension, this only contains parody with intentions to frighten its viewer that seldom connect. A very entertaining spoof on the genre, but not the latest great installment in horror as director Raimi stated.

Wildly fun, but hardly impressionable (apart from the ending) Drag Me To Hell is noble in its intent to please. A virtuous ride to the pits of hell. [6/10]

Halloween2

One of my most anticipated sequels of the year: Halloween 2. Two years ago, Rob Zombie reinvigorated the Halloween franchise; taking the story back to its roots that originated in 1977, a classic to all horror fanatics.

The story begins where the last ended – Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) is laying dead in front of his childhood home, a frantic Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is screaming bloody Mary and is in terrible condition. Myers is taken to a hospital – Laurie, a different one. Michael is pronounced dead and is taken to the morgue by two cops – a filthy one contemplating necrophilia with one of Laurie’s newly deceased friends and a more mature, elder cop that is disgusted by such joking, but eventually resigns his previous stance and jokes about it. Michael, of course, isn’t dead, so when the cops crash into a cow, he kills them brutally. What I enjoy about this take on the series by Zombie is his Myers – he’s a ruthless and trenchant killer. He’ll stomp someone to death – he doesn’t always need a knife. It’s this characterization that aligns more intelligently with his childhood upbringing and I appreciate the intellectual effort on Zombie’s half here.

In a parallel and equally as important storyline, Laurie is losing her grip on reality. After being physically battered almost two years ago to the day, she’s only now having nightmares about the upcoming anniversary of the attacks on her and her friends. This two year anniversary brings with it nightmares, delusions, worriment and phantom pains from what she experienced all those months ago. She stays with her friend Annie (Danielle Harris) and Annie’s dad, Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif) – both of which know the destruction that follows the thought-to-be deceased Myers.

Contrasting the stories of devastation and frailty play out well, if a bit cinematic. In this case, cinematic is a negative connotation because all cinematic horror films seem trite in structure. What keeps this film from being another horror misfire is the psychological imbalance imbued in the characters. We know Myers’ past from the first, so this is aimed more at Laurie’s quaky being. Even around friends she is anxious of what’s to come. The foreboding symbols don’t help her cause either; another tiny aspect I appreciate in any film. One that decides to go beyond the script and plant little hints for those willing to look.

It’s a bit less fun than the first, so it gets a lower mark. Both are on the exact same level of building plot, suspense and climax – although the way the climax plays out in this one is pretty ineffective, the conclusion was a treat.

If you appreciated Zombie truculent stylings of the first expect to like this about the same. It has plenty of problems, so if you’re looking for anything that’s meant to be more than 90 minutes of fun, look the other way. The violence is obscene, there’s dark humor exploiting the over-the-top scenarios of previous slasher flicks and it’s meant for you to just watch and smirk at occasionally. What really impressed me was the cinematography – it set a brooding, yet beautiful atmosphere for the tragic events to play out amongst.

A fine installment into Zombie’s revamped Halloween series – his take on the material is the opposite of what you’d expect from a man named Zombie; a jolted addition into a drudging and dying franchise. [5/10]

The final film – and most recently released – of this post is Extract, the latest feature by American comedy success Mike Judge. Ten years after the cult hit Office Space – a film that has now gone from that status to a typical name brought up when mentioning top comedy films – and just winding down with his fourteenth and final season of King of the Hill, Judge has nothing to prove at this point and has established a reputation as positive as Obama’s first approval rating (high, but not perfect, if you’re wondering). With Extract, he opts to explore the same human condition from his ’99 feature, but from the bosses perspective rather than the employees. Of course, the boss Joel (Jason Batemen) isn’t as strident or shrill.

The story takes on two major forms. One story is told through the eyes of the boss – rather, 95% of the story is. The other few minutes of perspective are given to an otherwise commonplace antagonist in the sexy thief Cindy (Mila Kunis) – just to give more a perspective into what Joel’s extraction plant is set to face-off against when she makes her assured arrival.

Joel’s under a lot of strain in the film: he’s got sexual frustration in his marriage (is lucky to get laid once every three months), one good friend that is more pro-drug than a hippie in Dean (Ben Affleck) and a company he started from the ground up that he wants to sell think it’ll change his life. General Mills wants his company, but Cindy’s intervening in the ‘ball losing’ matter later on in the film cause for a sales disturbance and Joel is put in turmoil’s way once again.

The humor is generally for everyone – well all men at least. It doesn’t try to be overly intelligent (Frasier), overly hipster (like most new comedies) or overly stupid (like the rest of them) and finds itself in a humdrum place of its own. There are no one-liners to remember, but a few fairly developed characters that no one will forget.

The best scenes the film has to offer are the interactions between Dean and Joel. Ben Affleck turns in yet another great performance this year after mildly impressing in State of Play (a film in which both Affleck and Batemen played vital roles) showing that’s he’s finally got his head in the game after the ’03 fiasco in Gigli. Bateman is serviceable in the leading role, but is fleshed out to a point where nothing he does is sporadic enough to incite much laughter, whereas characters like the male gigolo Brad (Dustin Milligan) are mysterious enough that everything said gets a laughter from the viewer.

Considering that I’m one of the few anti-fans of Office Space, I’m quite surprised I took to this as much as I did. It isn’t going to be remembered as one of the best comedies of the year for me, nor does it have any eye-opening dialogue like a lesser Woody Allen feature… it just is. Another good 90 minutes spent in which I got more than I expected. See if just for the films uproarious supporting cast – I guarantee they’ll extract at least few giggles from you. [6/10]

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