Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Ring


I managed to tear that odious Doreen Scrawcrunch's wig from her head, before being hustled off the stage of the Teatro Estrella in Barcelona. I also managed to pen letters to all the leading local newspapers about how she was a wanton hussy and a cheap imitation of a true American legend before the Spanish police politely, but firmly, escorted me to the airport and asked me to return to the United States. Fortunately, I had completed all of the location shooting necessary for Goodfollies and was due back at the studio in Los Angeles anyway. I am having Joseph, my manager, contact the cultural affairs office of the Spanish government to offer my services on a future concert tour of the country, allowing the poor, benighted Spaniards, who have been flocking to see that witch Doreen, to see what real talent is all about.

On the plane back to Los Angeles, I amused myself by reading a new script that's being considered as a possible Broadway comeback for me. It's entitled Papa-Pia and is an original musical about the Pia Zadora /Meshulan Riklis marriage. Instead of an original score, the authors have cleverly worked in twenty-three of the greatest hits of The Captain and Tennille, including a fifteen minute full tap Act I finale to 'Love Will Keep Us Together'. It should be a sensation. I'm also fond of the 1982 Golden Globe Awards sequence to 'Muskrat Love'. I think it has possibilities but it's success would depend entirely on finding the right actor for the male lead to star opposite me. I called Joseph from the plane telephone to have him inquire with Don Ameche's people as to his availability but he seems to have turned up dead. Well, there's always Mickey Rooney.

I had some time between planes at Newark so I snuck out to a local Cineplex for a film before boarding the next flight. Faced with a plethora of choices for films of which I knew nothing, I settled for The Ring, a new film from Gore Verbinski about an evil videocassette. Anyone who has ever owned a VCR knows that these appliances are inherently evil. They don't record the programs you want, rather reruns of Hee-Haw; they tape over your only copy of Aunt Gertie's wedding video; and they eat your rental video half way through so you never know how the plot comes out. I'm surprised it took Hollywood this long to cover this seemingly natural idea.

The Ring is a remake of a 1998 Japanese horror film entitled Ringu, one of Japan's most domestically successful post war films which has already spawned both sequel and prequel. In adapting it for American audiences, screenwriter Ehren Kruger wisely kept the palpable feeling of dread inspired by weather by shifting it from misty grey Japan to the misty grey Pacific Northwest. I have not seen the original, but knowledgeable sources tell me that the American remake is faithful in structure and tone to the Japanese film.

Naomi Watts plays Rachel Keller, a reporter at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. (Unlike most films set in Seattle, this one gets the city details right.) Rachel has an ex-boyfriend, Noah (New Zealander Martin Henderson), a photographer and also a disturbing young son, Aidan (David Dorfman). In a brief prolog, a young woman, who turns out to be Rachel's niece, and her friend, scare each other with what sounds like an urban legend about a cursed video tape. If you watch it, you die exactly one week later. The girl (Amber Tamblyn) has seen it and it's not surprising to the audience when she soon turns up deceased. Her grieving parents ask Rachel to find out what happened to their daughter and she soon tracks down the story of the video, watches it herself, and makes a copy to show to Noah who is a photographer. When little Aidan starts communing with the dead and Rachel starts to probe more into the video's history, she becomes convinced that the curse is real and that she is marked to die unless she can uncover who made the tape and why. Soon she and Noah are running around rural Washington uncovering mysterious horse sicknesses, disturbing lonely old coots (Brian Cox) on half deserted farms, and thumbing through old psychiatric files.

The cursed video, which we see in part, resembles one of David Lynch's more experimental films. There's a lot of symbolic and dreamy imagery intercut with shots of death and decay which is somewhat discomfiting to watch. Many of the images stay with you, and as Rachel and Noah race to piece together the mystery, they come back to haunt you as objects and places are discovered.

The film is competently made. Director Verbinski, who also made Mouse Hunt and The Mexican has an intuitive feel for camera placement for maximum effect. He composes some shots that simply seep dread and minimizes the shock moments. There are a few of these, and they're doozies and act more as punctuation than anything else. He's helped by Bojan Bazelli's drear cinematography and Hans Zimmer's jangling score. Unfortunately, he's done in ultimately by Kruger's script which piles on explanation after explanation in the final half hour. Some mysteries are best left unexplained. I wonder if there's some ham fisted editing at work here.  Also, as a minor character from early in the film makes a late appearance in a newspaper photograph that is shown in loving close-up but never alluded to by the actors, we get the feel that significant stretches of film were left on the cutting room floor. The script provides a false ending, twenty minutes before the real one which seems somewhat odd in terms of structure.

The performances are journeyman. Nothing special but nothing problematic either. Naomi Watts has been on the verge of being the next big thing for a decade and it's nice to see her carrying a mainstream studio film. Her Rachel is spunky, but human and she's quite affecting in her scenes with her young son. Martin Henderson, a new face to me, is pretty, but vapid. The best moments belong to veterans Brian Cox and Jane Alexander in what amount to extended cameos.

The film ends up entertaining and creepy, but not the be all and the end all of modern horror that some would like it to be. I can think of worse ways to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon. And you might not look at the VCR in quite the same way when you return home.

Rustic cabin. Stupid card tricks. Compulsive coloring. Gratuitous ferry boat accident. Horse Carpaccio. Branded tree design. Gratuitous country doctor. Ominous ladder. Waterlogged corpse. Bathing appliances. Coffee cup ring.

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