Volume 4, Number 42
This Week's Reviews: The Ring.
This Week's Omissions: Abandon, Children on Their Bithdays, Formula 51, Just a Kiss, Tuck Everlasting.
Repertory Review: The Naked Kiss.
Capsule Reviews: The Transporter, Trapped.
What Lies Beneath
BY: DAVID PERRY
A friend of mine once received a mysterious VHS tape in the mail. It was addressed to her name and delivered to her box in her college dormitory but the return address was from Michigan, where she knew no one. Incredibly curious, I took the tape and watched it, only to find a grainy recording of a Thursday night of NBC programming. Other than giving me a chance to glance at missed episodes of Seinfeld and Friends, this tape was completely useless, a mysterious present sent to my friend from someone a thousand of miles away.
The VHS tape at the center of The Ring, though, is not quite as innocuous. Viewers of this mysterious tape (from an equally mysterious sender) are not as lucky as I was: viewing this tape means death in seven days. The film opens with two girls speaking of this tape -- one has only heard of rumors of its fatal effect, the other watched it seven days earlier. Through the eeriness of a television that turns itself on and a pool of water coming from nowhere, the latter girl soon dies of a heart attack.
Her mother is distraught -- how can a teenage girl with no health problems suddenly die of a violent coronary? Enter Rachel Keller (Watts), the girl's aunt. Using her work as an investigative reporter for a Seattle newspaper, Rachel begins searching through the reasons why her niece died, soon coming upon the theory that a video tape might have been to blame. Discovering the death of other kids who had seen the tape, the ever-intrepid Rachel traces her way to the tape and watches it. Of course, by doing this, she gives herself just seven days to save her own life.
The film takes a long series of sidetracks, most of which seem to be forced until the film begins to explain the imagery within the video. Had the images not seemed like a bad student film, though, these distractions might have seemed more important.
At its worst, the film tries to institute a romantic relationship between Rachel and her video techie ex Noah (Henderson), whom she makes a copy of the video for (some people sue their ex-lovers for property, others give them lethal video tapes). At its best, though, the film introduces oddly compelling characters like horse rancher Richard Morgan (Cox). Holding up the films domestic moments is the always interesting young actor David Dorfman as Rachel's son. Dorfman was last seen in Henry Bromell's underseen Panic, where he perfectly anchored the familial malaise of William H. Macy; here he correctly accentuates the film's already growing feeling of eeriness.
One of the biggest complaints is that the film film seems to drag on in a constant attempt to find an ending. There are three moments at the end of the film that seem to be simple preparations for the cradits scroll. The actual finale does pack some punch (though not near as much as the filmmakers seem to think it has) but it would have meant more had the film not already provoked people to prepare to leave twice before.
The Ring comes from the Japanese thriller Ringu, which has been heralded as a masterpiece of atmospheric filmmaking. That film has not had an American release in anticipation for the American remake and, thus, cannot be used as a comparison. However, it can be said that the new film does create an incredible atmosphere (whether it is of the same height as the Japanese version is still to be seen). The film is not necessarily scary (though the movie does attempt a few scares) but it is saturated in creepiness.
The Ring is able to rely heavily on this
atmosphere for much of its duration. However, the contrivances that kill its final moments
help to hamper what is essentially a strong work. Unlike The Sixth Sense, this is
a good film with a bad ending -- the exposition is truly satisfying, but the end product
is unfortunately lacking. Director Gore Verbinski deserves credit for creating one of the
year's most intensely weird films even if he has no idea how to sufficiently conclude it.
The Deep End
The Ideal Husband
Snow Falling on Cedars
Twin Falls Idaho
|The Naked Kiss
BY: DAVID PERRY
[NOTE: Since this is more an analysis than a review of The Naked Kiss, major plot points including the end are given away. It is recommended that it only be read after watching the film.]
David Lynch has long been considered the supreme filmmaker of the secret, ugly side of society. But these worlds of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks come from an idea that had been explicitly dealt with by Sam Fuller in The Naked Kiss two decades earlier. Lynch's works may be a perversion of Fuller's film -- an indirect product that comes from marrying the ideas of Sam Fuller with the style of Luis Buñuel -- but they also serve as a reminder of the seedy little civilization that survives on everyone's moral digression. Both filmmakers seem to have one silver lining: only the good at heart can bring these ugly worlds to a brief end.
Hence the reason that Kelly (Towers) serves as the only real hero that can survive the underworld of Grantville without being corrupted. A prostitute on her way to finding a decent line of work, she serves as both matron and savior to the people of Grantville. Her dream is that her ascendancy can occur peacefully in this little town; her reality is that the good-natured façade of the place is a mere cover for the hostile environ living underneath.
And yet she remains oblivious to the impossibility of saintliness for the sinner in Grantville. The first person she meets is the corrupt Captain Griff (Eisley) who calls on her expertise before threatening her should she remain in the community. Griff is meeting his occupational duty of cleaning up the streets even if it means that he was one of the polluters of its moral sanctity. Kelly, nonetheless, remains a more virtuous member of the community -- when she takes a job that calls for taking care of the others (as a nurse in a crippled children's hospital), she never reverts to the carnal side that welcomed her into town. Griff represents the two-faced façade and Kelly, to Griff's dismay, seems to be able to easily ignore the deprivation she glimpsed on her first day in Grantville.
All this is part of her dream life -- a lilywhite world that frees her from her past. The story she tells the children in the clinic about a swan wishing to be a real boy comes in correspondence to her own metamorphosis. Unlike the ugly duckling story, she, like the swan in the tale she imparts, was already beautiful before changing; the idea of becoming a real boy comes in relation to the idea of becoming a real person, not the women of the night who are disregarded because they work at the brothel outside of the town (a terrific touch by Fuller that gives additional realistic edge to The Naked Kiss over Alfred Hitchcock's similarly themed Shadow of the Doubt -- the most unseemly place around Fuller's Grantville is a brothel, the most unseemly place in Hitchcock's Santa Rosa is a library). Fuller chooses to accentuate the dream by portraying it in all its bright and happy glory. Kelly drops the drab nurses costume for a dress and the children regain their ambulation -- it is the exact type of joyful world that Kelly seems to think she is on the verge of attaining in Grantville.
If Griff serves as Kelly's reminder of the inaccuracies
of her dream life, then Grant (Dante) serves as the demon waiting to destroy it. The main
reason that his actions are the most damaging are that they come from a citywide
canonization -- he is the benefactor of the community harboring a secret
"abnormality" that could destroy the decent core of Grantville. The entire
community wants to be of his level and yet only Kelly, a person who is, unlike the rest of
the community, a survivor of the lowest level of society, can find the indecency within
him. When she finds him molesting a small child she has just walked through the sunny,
happy milieu of Grantville. After killing him, Grantville (from the point of view of a
prison cell) seems drab and artificial. The people of the town were so intent on the
façade Grant created that when it is destroyed -- by a prostitute no less -- they seem
unable to survive. They, like Kelly before the discovery, have come to see their dream
life as reality and, pained by the unsightly nakedness of the truth, cannot bring
themselves to believe it. The dream has just been too beautiful.
(Dir: Corey Yuen, Starring Jason Statham, Qi Shu, Matt Schulze, François Berléand, and Ric Young)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Few international action auteurs produce an excitement at
their collaboration as Luc Besson and Corey Yuen. So it is all the more disturbing that
their first collaboration is a hunk of waste like The Transporter. British actor
Jason Statham is added to the mix as a supposedly ultra-cool black-market transporter with
moves that would make Chow Yun-Fat waver. Unfortunately, the Guy Ritchie favorite hasn't
any of the compassion or artistry that makes Yun-Fat or his Asian contemporaries so
amazing. Instead the film wallows in an unending deluge of international politics framing
fight sequences. Few films have seemed this restless and this sedate at the same time.
(Dir: Luis Mandoki, Starring Charlize Theron, Kevin Bacon, Courtney Love, Stuart Townsend, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Dakota Fanning, Steve Rankin, Garry Chalk, and Gerry Becker)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Kevin Bacon, Cortney Love, and Pruitt Taylor Vince create
an American variation on Michael Haneke. Instead of plotting their suburban nightmare in a
single household, though, they take various roles in the kidnapping of a child (Fanning)
and the coaching of her rich parents (Theron and Townsend). Not a fun film, but when has
Luis Mandoki made a film that was even lightly entertaining? Where Haneke found the horror
of the scheme, Mandoki seems to only find the boredom.
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