By Sarah Sluis
The must-see movie of this weekend is Pixar's Up (3,700 screens). The opening night selection at Cannes, the PG-rated film will appeal to all ages, and rack up box-office dollars from audiences of every demographic. Pixar usually keeps its plots mysterious--our Executive Editor Kevin Lally points out that "the subject matter...might seem a dubious bet until you see what's been rendered on-screen," so I'll be sparing with the exposition. Ellie and Carl meet each other play-acting adventurers in an old house, reminiscent of the one in It's A Wonderful Life. They fall in love, marry, fix up the house, and, in a touching montage, share life's joys and disappointments, namely their inability to have children or visit Paradise Falls, where they planned on following the footsteps of famous adventurer Charles F. Muntz. Ellie dies (a fact whispered in clarification to a younger sister during the screening I attended), and as you wipe your eyes from under your 3D glasses you realize that the beautiful house they've fixed up is now surrounded by high rises, in an image first drawn in The Little House (a Caldecott winner by famous children's book author Virginia Lee Burton).
While it's taken me a paragraph to explain the moments leading up to Carl's balloon-aided escape from urbanism, Up astounds with its economy: it trusts its (young) audience, and isn't afraid to give them quiet moments. The moments it returns to and repeats, like peeks in the scrapbook Ellie kept of her life, are raps, not hammering reminders. Its creatures (especially the talking dogs) are humorous, and the eight-year-old Wilderness Explorer stowaway, a non-acting child that director Pete Docter said they would tickle or ask to do jumping jacks before reciting his lines, to coax out the best reading, is a charming complement to Carl's stodgy shtick. Up will almost certainly win opening weekend, and make strong showings at the box office weeks after its release.
Sam Raimi, who launched his career with the Evil Dead series and revived it by helming three Spider-Man films, has returned to horror with Drag Me To Hell (2,400 screens), which has received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, who tend to recoil from the genre. The "diabolically entertaining" film, according to critic Michael Rechtshaffen, contains an allusion to the mortgage crisis. Alison Lohman plays a bank officer who denies a loan extension to a woman, who in turn places a curse on her. As she tries to avoid being dragged off to hell, she enlists the help of her boyfriend, Justin Long. With "old-school puppetry and prosthetic makeup combined with some judiciously used CGI," Raimi appears to have created a horror film with broad appeal, that will provide counterprogramming to those who'd rather not go Up.
On the specialty side, the film to check out is Departures, the Japanese-language picture that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Our critic Maggie Lee called it a "popular gem�thematically respectable, technically hard to fault, and artfully scripted to entertain and touch audiences." The movie follows an unemployed cellist who signs up to be a "journey assistant," preparing dead bodies for their funerals. Delving into the world of death reminds him of his opposite: "The scene of him wolfing down fried chicken suggests his appetite for life is eventually whetted by confronting mortality daily�a reconnection with nature's cycle."
On Monday, I'll check up on just how high-flying Up was at the box office, and how much money Drag Me to Hell could scare up, so circle back as summer movie season moves into full swing.