Traveling at Warp Speed and in Need of a Rosary: Reviews of ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Drag Me To Hell’
If you’ve seen the TV spots for the new Star Trek movie you might mistake it for any other interchangeable Jerry Bruckheimer-esque action blockbuster. But you can’t always judge a book by its cover. Director J.J. Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have done the unimaginable with the relaunch of the classic series. They have managed to make it hip and funny, with punchy dialogue and swirling, lens-flared camerawork. Abrams tries hard to satisfy both the Star Trek purists as well as the newbies who don’t know a Klingon from a wing ding. Die-hard trekkies may be disappointed with this new version’s accessibility, but, coming from my outside perspective, it seems as if Abrams made the right choices. Not once did I compare Chris Pine‘s rendering of the iconic Captain Kirk to the great William Shatner‘s original blueprint because I was too busy being entertained.
Star Trek is a prequel to the original TV show and much of it is a setup to what I imagine will be another long running series (especially based on the box office of this one). The film begins with what seems like a convention of most prequels: we’re introduced to the legendary Spock and James T. Kirk characters as children in a highly dramatic fashion that seeks to give the audience a wink. “Let’s name him Jim”, the about-to-perish George Kirk says of his son. Soon enough we see the two kids come of age. Kirk’s a rebellious punk and Spock is a Vulcan genius whose only weakness is that he has human mother. She’s played by Winona Ryder in a small role that reminds us all that it’s been a lifetime since Beetlejuice and Heathers. These early scenes are a yawn but, luckily, they’re handled quickly and efficiently. In a flash, the characters are finally ready to board the S.S. Enterprise.
By this point, Kirk (Pine) is a cocky and brash, young adult, not unlike Tom Cruise circa Top Gun. And Spock (Zachary Quinto) is as brooding as ever (sample line: “The logical complexity of human pranks escape me”). The Enterprise eventually lifts off and the film turns into a CGI infused space saga. The casting and dialogue choices sometimes makes this new Star Trek feel like an intergalactic version of Gossip Girl, but that’s not necessarily such a bad thing. At least the material feels alive. Abrams has fun squeezing laughs out of hokey lines like, “Damnit man, I’m a doctor, not a physicist. Are you out of your Vulcan mind?”
A sub-plot involving time travel that sprouts up in the second act doesn’t make much sense but it doesn’t really have to. It exists as a way to feature an old-aged Spock, played gamely by Leonard Nimoy, who originated the role. This is the ultimate wink to trekkies, who can now rejoice because they may have found a savior in J.J. Abrams.
Drag Me To Hell is the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a long time. It’s a hybrid horror-comedy in the best sense. It opens in the 1960s with a seance gone wrong and the tongue-in-cheek campiness of it sets the tone for the rest of the film. We then flash forward to the present, where we’re introduced to Christine (Alison Lohman) whose insipid job as a loan officer at a small-time bank is a real thorn in her side. She works hard, but her stern boss (the always dependable David Paymer) tells her that he may be awarding the assistant manager position to somebody else; somebody “who’s willing to make the tough decisions”. The scenes setting up her desperation for the promotion are so pitch-perfect that when you see the awful old woman enter the bank and walk towards Christine’s desk, you get a thrill of anticipation of what’s to come.
The old woman wants another extension on her loan so that she can keep her house, but it’s the third one, so Christine decides to make the “tough decision” of throwing her out on her ass. This naturally leads to Christine being hexed with a supernatural curse. Her life turns into an absolute living hell, literally. The evil forces follow her around and force her to commit unspeakable acts , none of which I will give away here (I’ll give you hint: if you like cute, little kittens then stay away from this film!).
Sam Raimi, taking a breather in between his obscenely expensive Spiderman sequels, seems to relish the chance to work in a less restricted environment than those films. Hell has an effortless, light touch and it features some of the funniest scenes in recent memory. Lohman, who played a pop star in the underrated and overlooked Tom Dicillo film Delirious, shows a great flair for comedy. I laughed hysterically when Christine’s hapless boyfriend Clay (a well-cast Justin Long) brings her home to meet his parents for a very awkward dinner that ends with her hawking up a fly.
The ending scenes, again involving a seance, are a bit of mess, but it’s forgivable since the rest of the movie is such a great ride. And I enjoyed the allusions to Evil Dead. It’s a not a Raimi horror film without one of the characters being inhabited by foul-mouthed demon.
I left the theater feeling fully satisfied. And judging by the loud gasps and uncontrollable bursts of laughter coming from the audience, I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.