Portishead is, I think, mainly known for “Sour Times,” their mournful, ringing-bells tune from 1994 with the mopey chorus, “Nobody loves me/It’s true/Not like you do,” but the rest of the group’s music — a heady mixture of orchestral noodling, dub-synth and trip-hop — isn’t nearly as much of a downer as that tune might suggest. Buoyed by Beth Gibbons’ haunting vocals and Geoff Barrow’s drum and deck work, this 16-song concert disc from New York City’s Roseland Ballroom in July of 1997 (which also served as the basis for the quartet’s live album release of the same name) is full of robust arrangements and gorgeous supporting string instrumentation; it’s also a great way to get to know the band.
The disc comes housed in a clear, plastic Amaray case, presented in 1.33:1 full frame, with English language Dolby digital 2.0 stereo and Dolby digital 5.1 audio tracks. Several short films written by various members of the group are also included, the most interesting probably being To Kill a Dead Man, a 10-minute noirish spy flick in which an assassin assembles his rifle and takes out a target from a rooftop, only to have interesting bits and pieces of a conspiracy come ebbing into the proceedings as he flees and his wounded hit is rushed to a nearby hospital. Still, the main points of interest are the music itself, and the videos for songs like “Numb,” “All Mine,” “Only You” and, yes, “Sour Times,” of course. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. B+ (Concert) B+ (Disc)
Clearly delighting in a return to roots, Sam Raimi downshifts a bit
from the high-flying theatrics of the billion-dollar Spider-Man
franchise with Drag Me to Hell, a slickly made, engaging horror film that evokes the spirit of much of the director’s early work, particularly the Evil Dead series. Mixing different modes of horror storytelling with dark touches of humor, Raimi hits story beats colorfully and with a heavyweight boxer’s precision, proving gore isn’t necessary for a cathartic horror-thrill ride.
Los Angeles loan officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) has a good life; she’s happy with her boyfriend, Clay Dalton (Justin Long), a young professor at a nearby college, and seems to have the inside track on a promotion. In an effort to impress upon her boss (David Paymer) that she can make tough-minded decisions with an eye on the bottom line rather than human compassion, Christine denies a third extension on the home mortgage of an old woman (Lorna Raver), which means certain foreclosure. Feeling that she has shamed her, the woman viciously attacks Christine after work in the parking lot, and places upon her a curse. Feeling creeped out, Christine consults with a psychic, Rham Jas (Dileep Rao), and learns the specifics of the gypsy curse: that she will be tormented for three days by a spirit that will eventually come to claim her soul. Increasingly panicked attempts to alter that destiny ensue.
Drag Me to Hell trades in an aggressive sound design; the movie is constructed and mixed like a Michael Bay action film. In winking fashion, it also includes plenty of conventional horror signifiers — creaking windows and wind-slammed garden gates, mewing cats and clattering pans. Yet the movie also exhibits a smart sense of exacting construction. Working from a script with his brother Ivan, a frequent collaborator, Raimi seeds his story with alternately small and amusing details (farmgirl Christine used to be overweight, which quietly feeds her insecurity and anxiety over being accepted by Clay’s rich parents) that help give the movie the feeling of an anchored drama. Overall, the emphasis is definitely on the thrills, and horror, but comedic grace notes are interwoven throughout too.
Raimi proves himself, too, to be a master manipulator of genre mood, efficient with effects both practical and computer-generated. Ominous shadow play and a handful of low-angle tracking shots are intermingled with other trademark Raimi flourishes, like his resurrected fetish, from Evil Dead, for wildly over-the-top, hand-to-hand violence perpetrated by and against seemingly possessed old ladies. These low-fi bits help give the film’s artificial visual effects greater punch and value.
Drag Me to Hell may be rated PG-13, but it’s unlikely that most horror buffs will feel cheated. Raimi gleefully dispenses with the usual sacred cows (neither children nor kittens are safe), and also leans on wild gross-out moments to goose his audience. There are effusive sprays of slimy phlegm and vomit, as well as one comedic blood-gushing sequence, all of which would make Monty Python’s Mr. Creosote proud. For the full, original review, from Screen International, click here. (Universal, PG-13, 99 minutes)