Grudge Match

from email 1 July 2008

Hello again,

I wanted to do a little update / refresher regarding some of the movies I’ve written about.  I rented The Grudge (2004), which I’d heard good things about (probably good because it was the film’s own marketing).  It stars Sarah Michelle Gellar in a potential rejuvenation of her career, though I don’t think that ever took off.  Really like her a lot (see my write-up of I Know What You Did Last Summer), but this film, basically a haunted house movie, is a dud.  But it does serve a very important point, in fact it makes the point of everything I’ve been writing about: I don’t recommend bad movies.  I only recommend very good movies that are not easily forgotten, ones that stick with you a bit.

So with The Grudge – I could not help comparing it to The Ring all through viewing.  Like The Ring, it is a remake of an original Japanese production.  And like The Ring, which preceded it, The Grudge has a scary ghost-girl, and adds a scary ghost-boy.  Except they aren’t really scary.  The Grudge attempts scary “atmospherics”, but does not pull them off particularly well.  In short, The Grudge is a waste of time, and hi-lights the difference between a mediocre movie and a great one.  Thinking of theses two pictures, it really colors in my admiration of The Ring, and makes me realize what a masterpiece of its genre it is.

I’ve said I’ll stick to writing about only those films I recommend, so why waste my time writing about The Grudge?  Well, as I said, for comparison’s sake.  What I’m getting at is that I saw I Am Legend in the theater.  Did I recommend it?  No.  Did I even mention it?  I don’t think so.  Enough said about I Am Legend.

The DVD cover of The Grudge proclaims the critical response, “More terrifying than ‘The Ring’.”  Not even close.  Stick to Mark’s Recommended.  There’s too many really great films out there to watch the klunkers like Jumper – another disappointment which I group with I Am Legend, something that started with good promise but could not get past the half way mark.  These films have some good sequences but leave you feeling hollow, as with so much cotton candy – all fluff, little substance.

It seems I have not yet recommended The Ruins, in the theater earlier this year.  IF you liked Vacancy and The Mist, watch The Ruins.  It’s not as good as those other two by a long shot, but it’s a fun quick-moving entertainment which ‘got under my skin.’  I wonder if the effect would be the same on the home screen – I fear not.  See it for yourself and let me know what you think.

* * *

On the same lines, but going more the psychological thriller route, I purchased Secret Window (2004) some time back because of a good price and a bit I caught on one of the indy film channels (IFC, Flix & Sundance).  A very effective thriller about an author (Johnny Depp) who is accused by a stranger of plagiarism.  This film again points out the weakness of something like The Grudge or The Transporter (a James Bond-type ‘thriller’ with little to thrill, and surprisingly even little style after the first dialogue exchange occurring in the first minute or two of the picture).  Secret Window works from the very first frame inside Depp’s car.  I wasn’t crazy about the eventual development of the story, though at least it does not go in the predictable way.  Highly recommended if you want something taut.  Also stars John Turturro as the no-messing-around antagonist.  Something to look for: Depp, after some initial hesitation, reads the first line of the allegedly plagiarized work.  What a great opening line for a story!

There’s a comparison of Secret Window to the “magnificent” (as Laura aptly put it) Mulholland Drive.  We can discuss after the interested parties have seen both.

I finally watched from beginning to end Gothika, 2003, Hale Berry & Robert Downey Jr., as it was being shown in HD on the tube (think I used the DVR).  This is hardly a masterpiece, or even really a ‘great’ film, as I define it, and it has a number of flaws.  But it does go places that no other film has.  The plot is that Hale Berry, a psychiatrist in a criminal mental institution, wakes up in the very same institution as an inmate accused of murdering her husband.  A dark, atmospheric picture, as I said flawed – for instance, there doesn’t seem to be any police or court involvement in her sentencing – but a good, maybe the perfect film if you’re in that kind of mood.  A ‘personal thriller’ akin to The Butterfly Effect, though of course Butterfly sets a tall bar that most films cannot reach.  Its darkness reminds me of the Alien franchise.

Along these lines is a Canadian film I touched on earlier, Cube, 1997.  Plot: a small group of people find themselves caught in a series of cube-shaped rooms, connected to one another on each face, all within one giant cube.  Each room contains some type of boobie trap or trick.  The objective: get out alive!  A very good, taut, well acted and technically well made thriller with a little French Delicatessen feel to it.

I am going to recommend a film I have not seen all the way through: Cure, Japan, 1997.  This is a Japanese thriller that was not remade in English, as least not yet that I know of.  It’s about an interesting serial killer who leaves this “X” pattern cut into his victims’ chests.  Compelling psychological drama, excellent from what I did see.

* * *

Finally, on a completely, refreshingly new and different note, I went Saturday to Irvine to see The Fall (2006, but shown in limited release just this year; no actors you’ve heard of), directed by an “acclaimed” director, Tarsem, or Tarsem Singh.  I put “acclaimed” in quotes because he’s only made one other film, The Cell, 2000, of which I know nothing except I think it has J-Lo.  Maybe The Fall was six years in the making.  In any case, this is a fabulous, colorful, playful film shot in locations around the globe in fantastic settings.  It does not have the gripping plot of the films I write about above.  Rather, it is a beautiful, “movie”-like movie, that is it reminds you of what movies are all about, nicely taking its pace – though it never drags.  A terrestrial Fantastic Voyage (no italics), if you will.  Recommended if you want something a little along the lines of a modern Wizard of Oz, though not at all feeling like shot on a sound stage as Oz was – the exotic locales abound in this one.  Somehow another story comes to mind, Around the World in 80 Days.

It’s just closing in theaters, so it will be a little while before available on DVD.  If you can see it in the theater do so.  Good idea to check out the preview: [warning: Bad link? – otherwise just look at via IMDb or Google it]

Really a wonderful film, hurt somewhat by its, I’ll say, goofy, ending.  But maybe goofy in a good way.  And I love the beginning / end musical theme: 2nd Movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony.  Add to the queue – movies like this do not come along often.

Got more movies buzzing around in my head, at the top is Donnie Darko, a masterpiece of its genre (ultimate brooding teen angst), but they’ll have to wait for another time.  And I mentioned it to Pop, but for some reason when I think of I Am Legend I think of another, vastly superior New York movie, the personal drama Reign Over Me (2007) with Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle – an absolute delight.  More on this one later, but go ahead and queue it.


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