31 Days to Scare ~ The Ring (2002)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A journalist must investigate a mysterious videotape that seems to cause the death of anyone one week to the day after they view it.

Stars: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Brian Cox, Jane Alexander, Lindsay Frost

Director: Gore Verbinski

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: There’s nothing like seeing a movie in a packed theater.  Nothing.  I don’t care if it’s a high octane action adventure, a period drama, or a raucous comedy, the energy that comes from being shoulder to shoulder with a group of people all having the same shared experience is not something that can be duplicated at home.  That’s especially true with horror movies because often it’s hearing the shrieks of others that add to the engagement of the crowd – maybe you chuckle at the screamer for jumping at such an obvious moment or perhaps you nervously laugh because it could have been you that let out that great big yelp.

I vividly remember being jam-packed into a theater for an early screening of The Ring in October of 2002 and feeling a palpable tension before the movie even began.  The trailer for the movie was pretty freaky and while the general plot of the movie was known, not much more had been revealed so unless you were familiar with the original Japanese novel by Kôji Suzuki or 1998 movie you likely were going into the film without any idea of what you were in for.  Being a remake of a Japanese film, this isn’t simply an outright horror gore fest but a mystery with terror elements coming into play as the protagonist gets closer to the truth.  Even rewatching it recently, I was pleasantly surprised how well it held up after all these years…especially the scares.

An investigative reporter (Naomi Watts, Luce) looks into the death of her niece and uncovers a supernatural evil that follows her home.  A videotape exists that, once watched, will start a cycle of death and madness that must be stopped before seven days have passed.  When her son (David Dorfman) is exposed to the tape she works with her ex-boyfriend (Martin Henderson, Everest) to find the origin of the VHS, eventually tracing it to a family haunted by secrets living on a remote island.  As the days tick away and an evil presence grows closer, the journalist must figure out how to break the curse before it comes for her.

It’s nice to remember that of all the remakes of Japanese horror films, The Ring was the first out of the gate and is the most successful of the lot.  Director Gore Verbinski (The Lone Ranger) and screenwriter Ehren Kruger (Dumbo) have taken the original 1998 film Ringu from Hideo Nakata and nicely transplanted it to Washington state in addition to other easy adjustments for US audiences.  It’s lacking in some of the subtleties that helped make Ringu so frightening but it achieves its own share of scares that are often as memorable.  Verbinski’s film looks great and I’d only wish the performances were a bit more even-keeled throughout.  Watts makes for a strong and competent lead but she’s prone to jump into wild-eyed mode at the drop of a hat.  Less successful are Henderson and Dorfman as the two men in her life…both are kinda duds and feel like they get in the way of Watts when she’s trying to keep the picture chugging along.

Inspiring an uninspired sequel (that brought back director Hideo Nakata) and an even worse third film that barely got released, I’m dreading the day when I hear this is going to be remade in a similar fashion to The Grudge.  Another US remake may improve The Grudge which was never that strong to begin with but The Ring got it right out of the gate so there’s nothing to be gained from restarting from the ground up.  I enjoy this movie for its craftsmanship and high scare factor – no improvement needed.

31 Days to Scare ~ In Dreams

The Facts:

Synopsis: A suburban housewife learns that she has psychic connections to a serial killer, and can predict this person’s motives through her dreams.

Stars: Annette Bening, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea, Robert Downey Jr., Paul Guilfoyle, Margo Martindale

Director: Neil Jordan

Rated: R

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I wanted to say right off the bat that I’m giving In Dreams a higher score than it probably deserves…or even has rightly earned despite some good intentions. While the overall movie feels like a bit of a clunker by the time is gets to its overblown third act, leading up to it there are some interesting ideas and certainly some intriguing performances.

Based on the novel Doll’s Eyes by Bari Wood (but supposedly wildly different in plot) this one comes to us via Neil Jordan, the writer/director of The Crying Game and screenwriter Bruce Robinson (Jennifer 8). Jordan takes a page from his cult favorite The Company of Wolves and frames In Dreams as part fairy tale, part horror show. Starting strong with visuals of a town that was flooded to make way for a reservoir that’s now the dumping ground for a psychotic killer, Jordan spends the first 45 minutes slowly building the tension but loses his grip when the line between dreams and reality get too blurred.

In the same year she’d go on to receive an Oscar nomination for American Beauty, Annette Bening (Girl Most Likely) is kinda a mess as a wife and mother who discovers she has a psychic link to the person that’s been abducting little girls and leaving their bodies underwater. Bening has grown into such a dependable presence on screen, especially in these last 10 years, but In Dreams was released when she hadn’t quite found her zone yet. She’s either cool and collected, purring her lines to her befuddled husband (Aidan Quinn, Blink) and skeptical shrink (Stephen Rea who should never, ever, attempt the New Yahk accent he tries out here) or she’s totally unhinged, laugh-crying her way through Robinson and Jordan’s chuckle inducing dialogue.

Her performance isn’t even the most bizarre one on display. No, that would be Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge) as the serial killer toying with Bening and her family. With his hair dyed red and peering at us from behind green contacts, Downey Jr. nails the creepy part of his role but can’t make head or tails of what else he should be doing. This was long before Downey Jr. had his Marvel renaissance and the actor seems fairly adrift here.

There’s some decent atmosphere created, scenes shot in the town underwater and a sinister apple orchard are nice showcases for Darius Khondji’s (Magic in the Moonlight) cinematography and Bening’s visions are nicely done. There’s even an ominous staging of Snow White in the forest starring the actress playing Bening’s daughter and about a three dozen other cherubs. It all adds up to a movie that looks great and has some spooky moments but one that eventually makes absolutely no sense at all…especially a poorly thought out finale that feels like it was reshot late in the game. In reality, In Dreams is a bust but there’s so many good people involved it’s worth watching at least once.

The Silver Bullet ~ Bridge of Spies

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Synopsis: An American lawyer is recruited by the CIA during the Cold War to help rescue a pilot detained in the Soviet Union

Release Date: October 16, 2015

Thoughts: Director Steven Spielberg (JAWS) has been pretty quiet lately. The last film he released was 2012’s lauded Lincoln but while he was attached to any number of rumored high-profile projects he’s making his return with this Cold War thriller starring Tom Hanks (Saving Mr. Banks, Captain Phillips, Cloud Atlas). Reteaming with Hanks for the fourth time, Spielberg seems like a good fit for this period piece that could be thinking man’s action film after a summer of brainless blockbusters. With a script from Joel and Ethan Cohen (Unbroken, Inside Llewyn Davis) and supporting cast that includes Alan Alda (Wanderlust), Billy Magnussen (Into the Woods), Amy Ryan (Birdman), and Mark Rylance…expect this one to attract a lot of end of the year awards talk.

Movie Review ~ The Hundred-Foot Journey

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The Kadam family clashes with the proprietress of a celebrated French restaurant after they open their own nearby eatery.

Stars: Helen Mirren, Manish Dayal, Om Puri, Charlotte Le Bon

Director: Lasse Hallström

Rated: PG

Running Length: 122 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: Before the screening I attended of The Hundred-Foot Journey, producers Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg took a minute to introduce the film and use various food metaphors to describe the experience they had reading the book and seeing it transition from page to screen. Both seemed a little too earnest in their praise, making it feel like we should like the film because they liked it so much…were it only that easy.

I’ll say that The Hundred-Foot Journey is a rare case of a film knowing exactly what kind of viewers it wants to target. It’s the Oprah Book Club members, your moms, your third grade teachers, and the AARP members that may not be able to travel to the South of France but will surely queue up for a movie involving a displaced Indian family opening up a restaurant across the street from a hoity-toity French eatery. The trouble is, once Spielberg/Winfrey get audiences in the door, they don’t have a main course to satiate our hunger.

Nicely (if pedestrianly) directed by Lasse Hallström (The Hypnotist, also at the helm on another okay-ish foodie orgy film, Chocolat, in 2000), The Hundred-Foot Journey has been slyly marketed as a battle of the restaurants with Indian patriarch Papa Kadam (Om Puri, The Reluctant Fundamentalist) setting up shop too close for priggish Madame Mallory’s (Helen Mirren, Hitchcock) comfort. Actually, the film spends little time on this plot, instead feeling content to pinball between numerous arcs before settling on the least interesting one of the lot.

Ah, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself, something the script by Steven Knight (adapted from the novel by Richard C. Morais) could never be accused of.

Hallstrom and Knight pack a lot into 122 minutes and if only more of it were as engaging as Mirren and Puri are in their supporting roles. The film engages these two only when conflict or comedic relief is needed before shuffling them off to the side in favor of blander ingredients. That would be Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon as, respectively, Puri’s son and Mirren’s sous chef. Though Le Bon manages to impress with charms suggesting a Gallic Winona Ryder, Dayal is stuck in the weeds as the character we should be rooting more for. When the film switches focus (again) to Dayal for the latter part of the film, it falls completely flat and never recovers.

Thinking back on the film I kept landing on several opportune occasions and characters that, for whatever reason be it script or novel, are just flat out ignored. Though Papa has five children only three are given any sort of screen time and even then two of them eventually evaporate into the background. Taking place in a quaint French village, the foodie mayor and his disapproving wife are shown often but their quirky interaction is never fully explored.

A major complaint I have about movies set in a foreign land is the insistence on speaking English in situations where no one believably would. Mirren runs a high end French restaurant with, it’s insinuated, a fully French staff. So why does she stop in the middle of a lesson to make a point in saying “In English please, so we can all understand.”? I looked around to see if she was referring to us because who else would need to hear it in any language other than French? Though Mirren makes the most out of a role surely intended for Meryl Streep, she can’t get away from the truth that the character is reduced to a plot device rather than feeling like a flesh and blood creation.

Staying two reels (or, courses) too long, I didn’t love this journey…but I did overhear the lady sitting next to me exclaim to her friends “I would have watched the movie for another five hours!” So, Ms. Winfrey and Mr. Spielberg…you might just have a savory sleeper on your hands. I’ll pass on seconds, though.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Hundred-Foot Journey

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Synopsis: A story centered on an Indian family who moves to France and opens an eatery across the street from a Michelin-starred French restaurant run by Madame Mallory.

Release Date:  August 8, 2014

Thoughts: Targeting the crowd that gleefully checked into The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel back in 2011, The Hundred-Foot Journey looks like a welcome late summer sleeper hit.  It’s the kind of film that appears to be blessedly uncomplicated, allowing the audience to just sit back, laugh, and not worry about radioactive lizards, transforming robots, talking apes, or Tammy.  At this point, I’d watch Helen Mirren (Red 2, The Door) not only read the phone book but write one out longhand so having her front and center as a snooty chef feeling put out by the Indian family restaurant that opens mere feet from her own established venue gets my spidey senses tingling.  Directed by Lasse Hallström (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Hypnotist) from the novel by Richard C. Morais, I’d walk at least a few miles for this one.

The Silver Bullet ~ Need for Speed

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Synopsis: Fresh from prison, a street racer who was framed by a wealthy business associate joins a cross country race with revenge in mind. His ex-partner, learning of the plan, places a massive bounty on his head as the race begins.

Release Date:  March 14, 2014

Thoughts: I’ll admit the first time I saw the preview for Need for Speed I feared we had lost star Aaron Paul to the Nicholas Cage darkside of films.  The more I saw it though (and I’ve seen it a LOT lately) I’m intrigued by what looks to be a popcorn flick (ala Fast & Furious 6) wanting to emulate those grindhouse-y films from decades ago but filtered through a modern lens.  It’s hard to balance a retro-feel with an updated approach but I find myself cautiously optimistic that this will deliver the goods.  Bonus points for having the intriguing Imogen Poots (That Awkward Moment) and Michael Keaton (Gung-Ho, also in the RoboCop reboot) on board in supporting roles.

The Silver Bullet ~ Delivery Man

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Synopsis: An affable underachiever finds out he’s fathered 533 children through anonymous donations to a fertility clinic 20 years ago. Now he must decide whether or not to come forward when 142 of them file a lawsuit to reveal his identity.

Release Date:  November 22, 2013

Thoughts: If all goes as planned Vince Vaughn will have a nice little summer hit with the enjoyable The Internship, putting him in a good spot for audiences to welcome another comedy later in 2013 that’s a remake the well-received a 2011 Canadian film Starbuck.  Both movies were directed by the same guy (Ken Scott) that could pose a potential problem because history has shown that sometimes it’s easier to provide a shot-for-shot remake rather than truly remake the film from the bottom up.  From what I know of Starbuck, Vaughn may be the best man in Hollywood for the job and based on an appealing turn in The Internship I’m putting this one a little higher on my list.