DAVE DAVIES, host:
Opening in theatres this week are Pixar's latest animated feature "Up," shown in 3-D in many theatres, and Sam Raimi's horror flick "Drag Me to Hell." Film critic David Edelstein reviews them both.
DAVID EDELSTEIN: The contrast is irresistible. In this corner, a Pixar 3-D animated feature with a thrust defiantly heavenward. In that one, a Sam Raimi gutbucket-horror picture crawling the opposite way. And so we have "Up" and "Drag Me to Hell." I love them both. Think of this review as a Spanish sentence, one exclamation mark points up, the other down. That's not to say that "Up" is all sweetness and light. In fact, it's Pixar's way to open a movie with a grim shock, like the predator in "Finding Nemo" eating the fish's hero's wife and kids, or "Wall-E's" trash heap Earth.
Director Pete Docter quickly lays out the lives of Carl and Ellie Fredricksen, bright-eyed kids with a spirit of adventure who marry and discover they can't have children. They age, she dies. He's alone in the house amid rising skyscrapers. Things hit bottom when the old man, voiced by Ed Asner, bashes a contractor and elicits blood in a cartoon and is sentenced to finish his days in a retirement facility.
When he escapes by ripping his house from its moorings, with the aid of an immense tutti-frutti bouquet of balloons, and high-tails it for a fabled South American waterfall he and his wife always dreamed of, our sad hearts surge. The first half of "Up" is all demented free association, with a dream logic both baffling and hilarious. The second half is inventive but more formulaic. A riotous Jules Verne-like melodrama with a villain voiced by Christopher Plummer at his most suavely sinister.
Mostly, this is the story of Fredricksen and Russell, a roly-poly boy scout caught on the porch when the house lifts off, who irritates the old man as they pull the house and balloons toward the falls.
(Soundbite of movie, "Up")
Mr. JORDAN NAGAI (Actor): (As Russell) I'm t-i-r-e-d. And my knee h-u-r-t.
Mr. EDWARD ASNER (Actor): (As Carl Fredricksen) Wretched knee.
Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) My elbow hurts and I have to go to the bathroom.
Mr. ASNER: (As Carl Fredricksen) I asked you about that five minutes ago.
Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) Well I didn't have to go then. I don't want to walk anymore.
Mr. ASNER: (As Carl Fredricksen) Oh.
Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) Can will we stop?
Mr. ASNER: (As Carl Fredricksen) Russell, if you don't hurry up, the tigers will eat you.
Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) There's no tigers in South America, zoology. Oh-ho.
Mr. ASNER: (As Carl Fredricksen) Ah, blah, blah, blah.
Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) Oh.
Mr. ASNER: (As Carl Fredricksen) Go into the bushes and do your business.
Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) Okay, here. Hold my stuff.
EDELSTEIN: We know Fredricksen will eventually assume the role of surrogate dad, but Asner has perfected this growly-curmudgeon persona. His tender heart will never be on his sleeve. The look of "Up" is simple as only artists with a genius for complexity can achieve. The characters vaguely resemble Cabbage Patch dolls. Fredricksen has a big square head and big square glasses and a big round nose. The geometry is basic, the impact startling. By all means, see "Up" in its 3-D incarnation. The cliff drops induce vertigo. And the scores of balloons, bunched into the shape of one giant balloon, look pluckable as berries.
"Drag Me to Hell" is like 3-D without the glasses. Demons leap into the screen while their shrieks cut right through you. This is a delicious old-fashioned scare picture. It gets right to the point and drives it single-mindedly home. The heroine, Christine, is played by Alison Lohman, who has the look of a washed-out B-movie blonde but a tremulous soul all her own.
She's a loan officer with a good heart. But alas, when she's desperate for a promotion, she turns down a plea for more time to pay from an old gypsy woman with a glass eye. The horror here is born of economic desperation. And after much screaming, clawing and emission of bodily fluids, Alison winds up with a hellacious curse on her head. Director Sam Raimi began his career making gory, goofy shriek shows like "The Evil Dead," before graduating to more conventional thrillers and finally "Spider-Man."
Welcome back to the grindhouse, Sam. We missed ya. In "Drag Me to Hell," he proves he's a master comic-book director. His frames have the punch of the best panels. Kinetic, hyperbolic, manic. You almost hear a cackle under every cut. Above you, below you, beside you, even inside your head it seems, comes moaning, hissing, screaming, gnashing of demon teeth. If "Up" suggests that balloons are a natural for 3-D, "Drag Me to Hell" proves that seances kill in surround-sound.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. You can download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.