UP, written and directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson, 90 minutes, rated PG.
According to the new Disney-Pixar collaboration “Up,” things are looking up for the housing market. Way up. Especially if you attach a roaring mass of helium-filled balloons to your house, let them rip through the chimney and thus assist you in floating away to wherever your heart leads you.
In this case, the heart in question belongs to Carl Fredricksen (voice of Ed Asner), a former balloon salesman and elderly widower who appears to have no heart at all. He was happy as a young man, but now he’s a bitter curmudgeon who misses his dead wife, Ellie, so much (the film’s early scenes of observing the couple in their youth is the movie at its best), he plans to sail away to Paradise Falls, Venezuela. It’s there that he and Ellie once promised they’d visit (they didn’t), and it’s there that Carl now will enjoy new adventures before death pays him its unwanted visit.
Trouble is, well — trouble abounds. You can’t just strap balloons to your house and expect it to float away without a snag. Not long after Carl and his house lift off for a new life on a new continent, a knock comes at the door. Behind it is 8-year-old Russell (Jordan Nagai), a terrified boy who needs just one more badge to become a full-fledged Wilderness Scout. Achieving such a badge involves helping the elderly, which Carl wants no part of, but who wants to bet that he acquiesces and allows Russell inside to safety?
If there’s a quibble with “Up,” it is, in fact, its predictability, something that wasn’t the case with Pixar’s last film, the Academy Award-winning “Wall-E.” Still, the movie can be surprisingly moving, its attention to detail builds a groundswell of admiration, and the action is brisk and intense.
Taking a cue from “Wall-E,” “Up” is initially filled with long stretches of silence, where the story is told visually and beautifully without the need for words. Toward its midhalf, convention settles in as Carl and Russell nudge toward their inevitable bond. Joining them are a talking dog named Dug (Bob Peterson), a giant bird named Kevin and the evil explorer Charles M. Muntz (Christopher Plummer).
As a boy, Carl once championed Muntz, but now he becomes his adversary in ways that have everything to do with Kevin. Muntz wants her — yes, Kevin is a she — for his collection of rare species, something Carl, Russell and Dug won’t allow, and so they fight to protect Kevin, which gives the movie its run of adventure.
Visually, “Up” is just as spectacular as you’d expect from Pixar — no studio comes close to achieving its visual highs (the film also is being shown in 3-D, unseen by me). The wry moments of humor also are spot-on, as is how the script handless death and loneliness. Its refusal to sugarcoat either deepens its appeal, with Carl’s longing for Ellie so palpable, few won’t be moved as the film wends along its harrowing way.
Also in theaters
DRAG ME TO HELL, directed by Sam Raimi, written by Raimi and Ivan Raimi, 96 minutes, rated PG-13.
Apparently, the foreclosure crisis is far worse than anyone imagined. According to Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell,” Satan is involved — there’s a surprise — which poor Christine (Alison Lohman), a loan officer in California, learns at the start in a series of events that go horribly (and hilariously) wrong.
Raimi co-wrote the script with his brother, Ivan, and what they created is a return to form for the director, who in some circles is best known for his “Spider-Man” movies than he is for his early cult films, including such horror classics as “The Evil Dead” series, “Army of Darkness” and the lesser-known “Within the Woods.”
Raimi also directed 1998’s terrific “A Simple Plan,” 1990’s “Darkman,” and 2000’s supernatural thriller “The Gift,” all of which get to the breadth of what he’s capable of achieving onscreen. Sure, a few stinkers litter his backyard (“For Love of the Game,” anyone?), but when Raimi directs, it’s mostly good.
“Drag Me to Hell” is beyond good. Armed with a delicious sense of humor, the movie had the audience at my screening either howling or cringing in ways that I haven’t seen in a horror movie in years. Watching the film is almost enough to erase the memory of slogging through all of those rotten “Saw” movies, their bloody knock-offs and the glut of Japanese horror remakes whose entrails we’ve been wading through since “The Grudge” (which Raimi produced) hit the scene in 2004.
What we get in “Drag Me to Hell” is a horror tale told well.
Sweet-natured Christine is jonesing for a job promotion. Faced with stiff competition in a cruel co-worker, she decides to delight her boss by turning down an elderly woman (Lorna Raver) who no longer can afford her house payments. Though Christine could give the woman a final extension, she wants this promotion so badly, she declines. At once hurt and infuriated, the woman falls to her knees, glares at Christine with her bum eye, waves some voodoo hoodoo her way, and puts a curse on Christine that wreaks havoc on her life over the next three days.
With Justin Long as her bewildered boyfriend, Clay, Christine is forced to battle a bevy of Beelzebub beasties, all of which want to steal her soul away into a crypt of fiery rottenness. How will she fight back? That would involve this vegetarian slaughtering small animals, her participation in ground-shaking seances, and a whole host of other unmentionables that often are played as much for laughs as they are for horror.
This is a movie about backbone, and if Christine is going to keep her soul, she’s going to have to find hers, usually while caked in mud or some other form of goo. What ensues is a solid horror movie that features such big laughs, you come away wishing that most comedies were consistently as funny and as bright.
WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.