Monthly Archives: October 2002

The Ring (2002)

So have you heard the one about the videotape where you die seven days after you watch it? No it isn’t a new late fee ploy by Blockbuster. It’s the great premise for the entertaining new horror movie The Ring. After you watch this eerie video your phone rings. A raspy voice on the other end tells you that you have seven days, then, one week later to the minute, you die. How cool is that?

Seattle reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) learns of this urban legend at the funeral of her teenage niece, who died suddenly and mysteriously. Through research she observes that her niece’s three friends all died at the same hour on the same day, though through different circumstances. She recovers pictures of the four of them at a campsite, where they had watched the video, except their faces are blurred in pictures taken after they had watched the tape.

The Ring has its shares of creepy scares but midway in it makes an unexpected turn. Rachel, being the good journalist she is, goes to the camp and pops in the dreaded videotape. She watches it and makes us watch it too! Afterwards, working against the death clock here, she tries piecing together clues left on in the tape’s grisly and stark images to solve the mystery of who is behind it. It’s at this moment that The Ring turns into an extended beyond-the-grave episode of Law & Order.

As with most mysteries, the intrigue and questions are more interesting than the eventual answers. As Rachel’s investigation picks up steam we start to lose interest. Of course it wouldn’t be a supernatural thriller these days without a Sixth Sense-like twerpy kid. This one features Rachel’s son (who looks like the lost Culkin child) who has premonitions of death.

Watts, who wowed critics with her breakout role as the good girl/bad girl in Mullholland Drive, is luminescent as a leading lady. Watts can deliver parts passion, fright, curiosity and concern without blinking an eyelash. She is an exciting actress to see develop.

The Ring is directed with a vibrant sense of foreboding by Gore Verbinski (The Mexican). He delivers some definite cover-your-eyes moments but also creates a wonderful atmosphere of fear throughout with illuminating visuals. There is an absence of gore and any real violence, just an emphasis on intense atmosphere like what the classic horror films would achieve.

The scares that The Ring can conjure are genuine and the film has a nightmarish undertone to it. This Hollywood remake of the Japanese cult classic can stand on its own legs with confidence, even with an overextended ending that you may require initiating another person to explain to you. So, anyone want to watch a killer movie?

Nate’s Grade: B

Sex and Lucia (2002)

“Put lots of sex in it. That’s always good,” says a character in Sex and Lucia, the steamy Spanish import now playing. And Sex and Lucia is true to its very title. There are many scenes with Lucia, our heroine, and there’’s also oodles of sex. This is the type of movie where if people can walk around without a stitch on, they will. This is the type of movie where a babysitter will masturbate to her mother’’s porno. This is the type of movie where shower heads are not used for their intended purpose. No wonder this movie went unrated.

Sex and Lucia is a genuinely erotic movie. And when it comes to eroticism in cinema, the Europeans make us look like sickly amateurs. After exploring whatever late-night stimuli is offered on Showtime or Cinemax you’ll get an idea of how poor American eroticism is. Usually they involve an adventurous couple, or a sex therapist, or a Jacuzzi/swimming pool, or a lonely stewardess/waitress/secretary and usually Shannon Tweed stars. What disarray the state of our erotic union is in. But for all its shocking and stimulating moments, Sex and Lucia is an intriguing tale of loss, love and sexuality, of course, even if it’’s told rather obtusely.

Lucia (Paz Vega) is a waitress in Madrid. She enters into a fiery relationship with a writer named Lorenzo (Tristian Ulloa). Their passion seems to burn as fast as the many cigarettes in the film. Their relationship is full of joyous sex, impromptu strip teases, and blindfolded foreplay. But Lorenzo has a secret he hides from Lucia. Six years ago he fathered a daughter he has never seen when he had a tryst on the beach of a Mediterranean isle. The mother has sent their daughter, Luna (named after the full moon on her conception), into the care of a former porn star and Belen, her randy teenage daughter, in Madrid. It’s here that Lorenzo first meets his daughter and then Belen starts coming onto him.

After learning some disconcerting news about her boyfriend, Lucia leaves to take some refuge on the same sunny Mediterranean island where Luna’’s mother lives. Lucia actually takes refuge with her and looks back upon her stormy relationship with Lorenzo. The island has many deceiving holes that fall into caverns all along its beach, directly echoing the rabbit hole for Alice.

This, believe it or not, is the most easily understandable part of the movie. I’’ve told you what took place but after seeing it even I don’t know what happened. The story has several moments, even entire subplots, that could be the truth, fantasy, sections of Lorenzo’’s story, an exaggerated dream, or maybe all of them combined. Your guess is as good as mine, reader.

Writer/director Julio Medem utilizes about every narrative trick in the book to create an alluring puzzle. He washes out the colors of the film (also seen in Three Kings) and seems to correspond to the surreal quality of many story lines. The cinematography is a gorgeous delight. Vega has a smolder and can act circles around her Spanish competition. She gives a brave performance, partially for being as nude as often as she is, and also for displaying the fragile emotions of Lucia so well.

Sex and Lucia is indeed quite sexy but it’’s more than just art house porn. The film’’s story is an intimate tangle that just might stimulate the largest organ: the brain.

Nate’s Grade: B

The Rules of Attraction (2002)

The Rules of Attraction is based on Bret Easton Ellis’ hedonistic 80s novel about boozing coked-out, aloof teenagers and their rampant debauchery. Roger Avary was Quentin Tarantino’s writing partner for years, with an Oscar sitting at home for co-writing Pulp Fiction. As a director Avary lays the visual gloss on thick utilizing camera tricks like split-screens and having entire sequences run backwards. While Ellis’ source material is rather empty, echoing the collegiate friendships bonded over substances or social lubricants, Avary does his best to represent the dazed world of college.

We open with Lauren (Shannyn Sossamon) getting raped by some drunk “townie” while the film buff she had her eyes on videotapes it. She’s just broken up with the bisexual and apathetic Paul (Ian Somerhalder), and both are interested in the sociopath Sean Bateman (James Van Der Beek), a self-described emotional vampire. Lauren keeps a picture book of venereal diseases to ward her from her wayward sexual urges. Her roommate Lara (Jessica Biel) needs no such book. Our introduction of Lara has her dancing down a hall, liquor bottle in each fist, bedding an entire sports team. Some attractions connect, many don’t, but the fun is watching the characters interact in their own seedy yet often hilarious ways.

The best thing that The Rules of Attraction has going for it is its about-face, against-type casting. The film is populated with the WB’s lineup of clear-skinned goody-two-shoes getting a chance to cut loose. Van Der Beek broods like a predatory hawk and bursts with spontaneous rage. Biel sexes it up as a cocaine-addicted harlot who asks if she’s “anorexic skinny” or “bulimic skinny.” Even Fred-Wonder-Years-Savage shows up briefly to shoot up between his toes! The adults of this world are no better than the kids. Eric Stoltz has an extended cameo of a duplicitous professor offering a higher GPA if any coeds are willing to go down on their morals. Swoosie Kurtz and Faye Dunaway show us that pill-popping ditherheads may likely breed drug-addled teenagers.

Attraction may have the most disturbing suicide I’ve ever witnessed in film. After having her advances rejected a woman slips into the bathtub, razor in hand. The scene is as unsettling as it is because the camera hangs on the poor woman’s face every second and we gradually see the life spill out of her as the music becomes distorted, not letting us escape the discomfort.

Some of Avary’s surface artifice works perfectly, like Victor’s whirlwind account of an entire semester in Europe. Some of the visual fireworks are distractions to the three-person narrative but the film is always alive with energy, even when it’s depressing you. What The Rules of Attraction does get right is the irrational nature of attraction. Each character is trying to fill an inaccessible void with what they think is love but will often settle for sex, drugs, or both. The Rules of Attraction is made up of unlikable, miserable characters that effectively do nothing but find new ways to be miserable. It constantly straddles the line of exploitation and excess but maintains its footing. The movie is entirely vapid but it is indeed an indulgently fun yet depraved ride. If you’re looking for degeneracy instead of life-affirmation, then The Rules of Attraction is your ticket.

Nate’s Grade: B

Bowling for Columbine (2002)

Documentary filmmaker, political activist and corporate pot-stirrer Michael Moore prefaces his latest film Bowling for Columbine by admitting his lifetime membership in the National Rifle Association (NRA). He even received a marksmanship award as a teenager in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. Bowling for Columbine is Moore’s sprawling and hilarious search for answers among America’s zealous gun culture and alarmingly high number of homicides. It’s the tangents Moore just can’t help but take along the ride that add some of the more fun moments.

He opens a checking account at a Michigan bank that’s offering a gun for new customer accounts. Moore astutely asks an employee, “Do you think it’s a good idea handing out guns in a bank?” Moore travels to Canada to find out what reasons exist that make our cultures so different when it comes to crime. After hearing from citizens about how they don’t lock their doors, Moore decides to go door-to-door and see for himself. Sure enough, he walks into half-a-dozen homes.

Moore is better at pointing the finger than fathoming real answers. He touches media sensationalism, our nation’s bloody history, corporate greed, past military involvement, and an environment of fear being developed by those who profit from such actions. The sobering truth is that there are no easy answers to be debunked. The film’s climax involves an impromptu sit-down with NRA president Charlton Heston. Moore questions the sensitivity of the NRA after it held support rallies days after the school shootings in Littleton and Flint. Heston becomes weary and walks out of the interview after five minutes.

The film demands to be seen. It’s complex, challenging, and thought-provoking. Not only is Bowling for Columbine the most important film of 2002, it’s also one of the best.

Nate’s Grade: A

Red Dragon (2002)

The following is a conversation overheard between two studio producers:

“Person #1: So this Hannibal movie made like a ton of green. What else can we do to squeeze out some more money?”

Person #2: “Hey, do you remember a movie called Manhunter based on the first Lector novel?”

Person #1: Nope.

Person #2: That’s fine because nobody else does.

It’’s official folks: Hannibal Lector, America’’s favorite cannibal, is now more comical than scary. See the element that 1991’’s Silence of the Lambs carried with it was a stealthily gripping sense of psychological horror. It hung with you in every closed breath you would take, surrounding you and blanketing your mind. I mean, there aren’t many serial killer movies that win a slew of Oscars. And while the follow-up, last year’’s Hannibal, gleefully bathed in excess at least Ridley Scott’’s sequel was so over-the-top with its Baroque horror that it was entertaining. So what’’s Red Dragon, the latest Lector flick based on Thomas Harris’ first novel like? Well it’’s like the bastard child of Lambs and Hannibal after a drunken one-night-stand neither would be proud of in the pale light of morning.

In an extended prologue we see the capture of the good doctor with a good appetite, Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins, completing his trilogy of the character). FBI Agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) seeks his advice on a profile of a serial killer, not knowing that Lector more than fits the bill. A violent struggle ensues that leaves Graham with a long scar across his abdomen and Lector locked away for nine consecutive life sentences.

Turns out there’’s another madman on the loose. The “Tooth Fairy,” dubbed by tabloid journalist Freddy Lounds (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), has butchered two families in their homes and inserted shards of broken mirror into their eyes. The FBI coaxes Graham out of retirement to try and track down the “Tooth Fairy.” But it seems in order to make any significant ground he must seek help from an old advisor –– Hannibal Lector.

The crux of the film follows Graham’’s attempts to figure out the identity of the “Tooth Fairy,” which we learn fairly fast is pretty boy Ralph Fiennes. Seems Fiennes has a cleft palette and years of physical and sexual abuse to toil over. He desires to transform into a mythical Chinese creature known as the Red Dragon. But wait, the lonely Fiennes is befriended by a lovely blind woman (Emily Watson) who identifies having people look differently at her. Can her affections melt the cold heart of a cold-blooded killer? Well, if they did there’d be no other half of this movie.

What Red Dragon feels like is more of a checklist of what we expect to see in a Hannibal movie than anything of creative nourishment. It’’s like a slimmer version of Lambs plot. Once again there’’s an FBI agent who recruits Hannibal for advice on tracking down a serial killer. Once again there’’s a disturbed killer trying to transform himself. Once again Hannibal Lector scares the crap out of anyone at will. Check, check, and check. Creative stagnation? Double check. The most disappointing aspect is the rudimentary feel this whole exercise has. Even though Red Dragon is a prequel it still seems like it’’s begging to meet our expectations of two earlier films.

The first stab at the Red Dragon novel was in 1986 by director Michael Mann (Ali, The Insider) with the thriller Manhunter. William Peterson (before his work at CSI) was a more brooding Graham, Tom Noonan was a spookier “Tooth Fairy,” and the tension was stacked better. There were no comparative expectations.

Norton is the finest actor of his generation but has certain trouble breathing life into Graham. The character is far more straight-laced than what we’’ve been told is an expert at delving into the minds of killers. Graham’s relationship with Lector doesn’’t have any of the complexity, or interest, that Jodie Foster’’s Clarice Starling had. He can even be very flat-footed in his detective work for a specialist. He stares at the home videos of the two slain families for about an hour wondering what the connection is while we in the audience shout it out to him. Let’s go to the videotape Ed!

Anthony Hopkins returns as the devil in the flesh and seems to have another grand old time. Lector worked in Lambs because he was caged up, like a wild animal not meant for four glass walls. You never knew what would happen. He’d get in your head and he would know what to do with your gray matter — not that he didn’’t have a culinary degree in that department with Hannibal. With Red Dragon, Hannibal is just window dressing to another serial killer. He’’s a supporting character in a story that he has nothing to do with. He’’s reduced to comic relief with his sudden attacks of chattering teeth and velvety voice. The amazing supporting cast of actors all do well, especially the beaming Watson who will shine in anything you put her in. Just try.

Ultimately the story of Red Dragon is far from flawless and meanders for quite a while. It would have been a marginally competent movie had it not been trying to replicate Silence of the Lambs so damn hard. So, is this the last you’ll see of Hannibal Lector? No as long as clinging cash registers can still be heard. Cue evil laughter.

Nate’s Grade: C+

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