Archive for May, 2009

Sam Raimi’s ‘Drag Me to Hell’ is wicked fun and scary

Posted in Reviews on May 28, 2009 by Steve Mesa

If a curse is placed on you and you have three days until you meet an undeserving fate, how far are you willing to go to break free from the curse? That is a question that will linger in moviegoers’ minds as soon as director Sam Raimi’s (the Spider-Man movies) new film, Drag Me to Hell, is about to be unleashed.
The film opens in 1969 California where an exorcism is taking place with a young Mexican boy that results in the boy being pulled underground by unseen forces to hell. We flash forward to the present where we are introduced to the main character, Christine Brown (Allison Lohman). She is an ambitious Los Angeles loan officer and has a healthy relationship with her charming professor boyfriend Clay (Justin Long). One fateful day, Christine is caught in a pickle when she is approached by an old gypsy woman named Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) and the gypsy begs her to give an extension on a home loan. Christine feels bad for her, but she in order to get a leg-up on a promising promotion, she denies Mrs. Ganush an extension. Later that day, Christine is attacked by Mrs. Ganush, ensuing in the funniest fight sequence to take place on the silver screen and all in the confines of a car.
Following the smack down took place in the car, the crazed gypsy places the powerful curse of the Lamia on Christine, which starts to torment her and wrecking havoc on her life over the course of three days. She seeks the help of a seer (Dileep Rao) and a psychic (Oscar-nominee Adriana Barazza) who had an earlier encounter with the Lamia in order to take the curse off her. If Christine does not find a way to get rid of the curse, she will meet the same fate as the Mexican boy in the beginning.
Drag Me to Hell marks the return to the horror genre of Sam Raimi, where he cut his teeth with low budget films that resulted to creating The Evil Dead trilogy with his brothers (Ted and Ivan) and his old high school buddy, Bruce Campbell, in the 1980s. He wrote the script with his brother Ivan, which places a traditional horror story in the modern world. The movie also has some humorous moments to restrict this film from being taken seriously, including a spontaneous geyser of blood and a fight with a haunted handkerchief. These slapstick moments made Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness hilarious, which in turn was inspired by the Three Stooges. Raimi was also able to sneak a cameo of his car (a yellow 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 dubbed “the classic”) as Mrs. Ganush’s car. The story is also considered a morality tale in which the main character finding herself in a situation where she could do the right thing, but instead she kicks an old woman to the curb to further advance in her career. This proves to be the worst mistake in her life.
It is up to the writer and actor to create a likable main character that would make the audience to care about the trials and tribulation that occurs to the character. Sam and Ivan Raimi were able to pull it off thanks to the help of the lead actress of Drag Me to Hell, Allison Lohman. The Raimis have the ability to make us, the movie-going audience, care about what happens to the main character as the two collaborators explore accidental, reluctant warriors in this film as well as past film they have collaborated on. Like Evil Dead’s Ash Williams and Spider-Man’s Peter Parker, Christine is an average person who is thrust by consequence into a fantastical world that she does not comprehend. Lohman’s approach to the role is incredible as her range goes from nice and sweet in the beginning to being pushed to the proverbial edge with encounters from invisible demons and bug-spewing old women.
To accomplish a horror story of this magnitude as far as the special effects is concerned; Sam Raimi got the help of Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger, who worked with Raimi on Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness, to help create the monsters and make-up effects of the movie. Nicotero and Berger’s work have range from the Kill Bill movies to Planet Terror and they do not disappoint at all with their work in Drag Me to Hell. They manage to showcase their talent by creating different incarnation of Mrs. Ganush that haunt Christine, a exorcism sequence with the Lamia take possession of several people and a farm animal and a Loony Tunes-inspired that involves flying eyeballs and an anvil.
The tremendous special effects, characters and the return of Sam Raimi to the horror genre makes Drag Me to Hell a fun and scary ride that makes it one of the best made horror films of the year.
5 stars out of 5

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‘Every Little Step’ interview with co-director Adam Del Deo

Posted in Features on May 18, 2009 by Steve Mesa

In 1974, Michael Bennett came up with the idea of A Chorus Line, the Broadway play about performers describing their lives and their decisions to become dancers.
A year later, it will go on to win nine Tony Awards and the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In 2006, the play was revived and directors/producers James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo recorded the casting process of the revival and the history of the play in the documentary Every Little Step, which opens on Friday at Regal South Beach Cinema 18.
The Beacon interviewed co-director and co-producer of Every Little Step, Adam Del Deo, at the Shore Club in South Beach.
Del Deo got involved making the documentary when he was contacted by John Breglio, who was the executor of Michael Bennett’s estate and one of the producer of the revival, called his directing partner to see if they were interested in making a documentary with A Chorus Line.
“He also told Jim and myself that (John) had the original Michael Bennett audio tapes”, said Del Deo. “Jim called me, we talked about it and we thought this might be an interesting opportunity here for a film”.
One of the most difficult aspects in producing the film was in post-production with the editing of the film.
“It took us a year to edit the film and trying to create a film that we felt had the right chemistry and right balance between the historical aspect of the film and the contemporary aspect of the film,” said Del Deo. “We were trying to create parallels between the past and the present.”
Del Deo was also trying to find transitions and information points in the film that allowed him and Stern to go back and forth within the documentary.
When it comes to balancing the duties of being the director and producer of a film he is making, Del Deo said that he and Stern likes to be hands-on in their movies because they had both roles as directors and producers.
“It helped us because it was a different process then a feature film because we have a much smaller crew and smaller cameras”, Del Deo said.
When it comes to the co-directors, Del Deo said that he would work on the hands-on filming aspect of making a documentary and Stern will do most of the sit-down interviews.
“I believe all of our films are better directed together as oppose to directing them individually”, Del Deo said.
When it comes what Del Deo wants the movie-going audiences to take way from Every Little Step, he wants the audience to realize how many sacrifices dancers make to do what they love to do and an overall respect and dignity for the life of a Broadway dancer.

‘Star Trek’ revamps an old franchise for a new generation

Posted in Reviews on May 6, 2009 by Steve Mesa

Just like how Batman Begins and Casino Royale resuscitated the absurdly fading Batman and James Bond franchises, J.J. Abrams (creator of Lost and director of Mission Impossible III) bring life into a 43-year-old franchise that boldly went where no man has gone before with Star Trek.
The film begins with a spectacular twelve minute prologue where a spaceship, led by a vicious and vindictive Romulan known as Nero (Eric Bana) attacks the USS Kelvin, which was captained by George Kirk He sacrificed himself in order to save other ships that were evacuating from the USS Kelvin, including a pregnant Winona Kirk (Jennifer Morrison) who gave birth to George’s son, James Tiberius Kirk.
Several years later, Kirk (Chris Pine) grows into a young and rugged man from Iowa and is convinced by Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) to join the Starfleet Academy. Meanwhile, Spock (Zachery Quinto) faces discrimination for being half-human and half-Vulcan and struggles to suppress his human emotions. Kirk’s journey to the USS Enterprise leads to introduction to the Star Trek characters Kirk’s flirtatious attempt to hit on the sexy Uhura (Zoe Saldana) at an Iowa bar to a funny introduction to Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban). Among the introductions, Kirk finally meet Spock in hostile encounter via Kirk reprogramming the Kobayashi Test, a program that Spock had developed in order to challenge future up-and-coming Captains. Among all this, Nero reemerges from the past to wreak havoc upon the Federation and it will be up to Kirk and Spock to put all differences aside in order to save the galaxy.
The movie is truly amazing and one of the best movies of the year as it not only a science fiction effects-driven movie, but also a character-driven movie. It explores how the lives of Kirk and Spock have changed forever due to an incident that happens in the future. This event causes a small hole in the space-time continuum and Nero’s destructive mission to destroy the planets Vulcan and Earth. While this could be consider a character-driven science fiction movie, the movie also contains hilarious moments that include between McCoy gives Kirk an allergic reaction to an injection and a scene in which between Russian Starfleet cadet Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and the ship’s voice recognition computer.
Chris Pine plays a great young Kirk but making the character his own and not imitating William Shatner’s portrayal of James T. Kirk during the series’ television run. Pine plays Kirk more like an accidental hero mix of Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Known for his role in the television series as Syler in Heroes, Zachery Quinto is really tremendous playing Spock as a confused young man who is not sure which world he belongs to more and becomes overcome with emotions when something tragic happens to him. Kirk and Spock could have fallen into the category as cheap imitations of the television series by unknown actors, but Pine and Quinto pull it off well. One great thing that Star Trek included was the blessing of one of the original members of the television series by coming back to a role he has not played since 1991, Leonard Nimoy as the older Spock. While this could have been a wasted cameo, Nimoy’s role in the movie as Spock is important because it is Spock’s action that causes a riff in the space-time continuum that puts the Star Trek universe on its head and resetting for what is to come in any upcoming sequel.
What Star Trek manages to do is to not isolate any moviegoers that will be new to the Star Trek universe and appease to the Trekkies at the same time. The movie also pays tribute to the original Star Trek television series and movies. Bruce Greenwood plays Captain Christopher Pike, who was the commanding officer of USS Enterprise in the unaired original series pilot episode. The actor who played Pike, Jeffery Hunter, was recast and replaced by William Shatner and a second pilot was aired with Shatner as James T. Kirk. Captain Pike is considered Captain Kirk’s predecessor in the mythology of Star Trek a plot line is played out in the film. The villain Nero places Ceti Eels inside his hostage’s ears to force him to tell the truth, which was the same thing the villain Khan did to Chekov in the 1982 movie, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Composer Michael Giacchino uses the original Star Trek theme by Alexander Courage near the end of the movie. Those are examples of several nods that are too many to list throughout the film and shows that the writers themselves (Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman) are Trekkies as well.
Star Trek is the first great summer movie of the year and on my list so far as one of the best movies this year with the perfect casting, several nods to the 43-year-old franchise and a couple humorous moments.
STAR TREK: 5 stars out of 5