Monday, November 18, 2013

Deep Rising

A cruise ship gets attacked by a giant sea creature.  Shortly thereafter a group of mercenaries boards the ship to rob it but run into said creature and have to fight for their lives. 

Finnegan (Treat Williams (The Substitutes)) and his crew are the escorts that take the mercenaries to the ship.  They get caught up in the bullshit and don’t want to have anything to do with the heist.  Finnegan is our hero and he’s very Han Solo-ish.  He doesn’t care about what he’s transporting as long as he gets paid (his slogan is “if the cash is there, we do not care”), he acts cool in every situation, is smooth and snarky as hell.  He’s actually fairly good action hero material except his hammy-ness gets a little annoying.  In other words this is classic Treat Williams, loveable but surprisingly irritating for ninety minutes.

So this is essentially Predator which is a little weird because it doesn’t really feel like Predator at all.  It’s not as serious, well-made or innovative.  And having the protagonist not be one of the mercenaries I think makes things feel different.

In terms of the action, it’s alright.  Most of it is fun but it’s repetitive.  There’s a lot of running and shooting at the tentacle monster.  In fact almost every action scene involves a gun of some kind so there’s not a lot of variety there.  Even the Jet Ski part at the end Finnegan uses a shotgun to shoot open elevator doors (?!) so he can pass through them.  It’s all shot and edited clearly though so that’s good (I probably didn’t need to mention that since this came out in 1998 but it’s a force of habit now).

The sea monster is made up of bad 90’s CGI most of the time but there were a few moments when it looked almost as good as today’s shit.  Wait, did I just faintly praise CGI?  Look, I don’t hate CGI but I think it’s kinda overused.  There’s still room for practical effects in my opinion.  The thing is CGI simply costs less to do whatever your imagination desires.  It’s also convenient as shit.

You know what though?  It was smart to not show the creature until more than half way through the picture.  They show the aftermath of a bloody and wrecked ship, walls buckling, the floor being torn up, an elevator going haywire but held off giving you a glimpse of this thing for a long time (minus the brief part during the opening credits).  Most of the gags used were probably because of the size of the budget available but I’ll give kudos anyway.  They still made it work.

My favorite part was when our group ends up in a hallway filled with skeletons, blood and goo.  Then the walls start being crushed inwards first at the far end and then moving up to meet Finnegan and co.  It’s great because of the imagery of the carnage left behind by the creature and also because the collapsing walls are more effective than showing the actual monster. 

It was also kinda badass when Finnegan says “what’re you looking at?” right before he shotguns the mammoth creature in its huge eye.  Man that must’ve stung.

One strange and sorta interesting thing is the R rating this carries.  It feels more PG-13 than R most of the time.  There are maybe two “fucks” and definitely one “motherfucker” in the language department.  But in terms of blood and gore there’s only one part that’s a bit nasty and that’s when one of the mercenaries gets an ax to the head.  Ouch.  There’s also a part where we see a guy dissolving slowly, presumably from the creature’s stomach/body acid.  Other than those couple of items this is a light R.  The filmmakers could’ve easily made a couple of changes to put this in PG-13 territory but decided not to.

As creature action movies go this isn’t a top one.  Others like Predator, Aliens and Starship Troopers are better.  But I like that it’s a very boy’s-adventure story.  It’s something that any boy aged five to at least fifteen would come up with if asked to pitch a movie concept.  They would give you some shit about a group of guys with guns fighting off a ridiculous looking creature (or multiple creatures) in either an exotic or desolate locale.  It’s every young male’s dream.

So in the end this film is like a piece of candy.  It gives you a sweet fix but doesn’t provide any nourishment.  Or another way you could put it is that Deep Rising isn’t very deep.  Really it rises to be rather shallow.  The title mimics the experience where it sounds cool at first but if you think about it for more than five seconds it starts to seem kinda dumb.  Is that enough metaphors for you guys? 

Nothing about this movie is particularly interesting.  The characters are likable but somewhat hollow, the action while very coherent isn’t the greatest, the premise is fine but not genius and the cinematography isn’t anything special.

Stephen Sommers (The Mummy (1999), Van Helsing, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) wrote and directed this one.  He doesn’t have a very good track record and is pretty hacky but I have to admit I had fun watching Deep Rising.  It doesn’t really let up once things get rolling, which doesn’t take long.  So I’d say check it out if you’re into creature action pictures.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Spring Breakers

First and foremost this is a film of excess.  The drinking, drug taking, boasting and everything else is plentiful.  This goes for the production as well.  Many scenes, shots, whole portions of dialogue, etc. are recurrent.  The repetitive nature of the girls partying mirrors the repetitive filmmaking and editing (I have to give credit to a friend of mine that pointed part of this out to me).

This movie is made up of contradictions as well.  It’s put together in a very arty way with almost constant montages and characters talking over them in a real serious tone.  At the same time they show out of control spring break parties and Alien (James Franco) showing off all of his guns and wealth which seems to undercut the gravity of the many monologues.  So the entire thing feels pretentious on one level but the subject material and the way it’s portrayed is so silly that it takes a bunch of that pompous edge off.  And of course, partying is supposed to be a fun thing but this picture makes it feel not fun, like I would never want to witness let alone experience any of the disgusting parties shown here.   

What’s weird though is the lead girls (Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine) aren’t likable but I wanted to see them get away from Alien and make it out of spring break alive anyway.  For all the dumb and bad shit that these broads do I still didn’t want to see them get hurt, or at least killed.

Alien on the other hand I didn’t have that connection with.  He’s certainly a wacky character and kinda entertaining but he’s also creepy as a motherfucker.  The constant praising of the girls, the endless bragging about how rich he is, the sly smiling, it’s all so cringe inducing yet like a car crash I can’t look away.     

The movie may present an impression that it’s deep but I’m not buying it.  I’m pretty sure there isn’t a whole lot below the surface.  It’s gross, loud and gaudy as all hell.  This might be the gaudiest film I’ve ever seen. 

It’s also intense.  Not only is it head shaking how much relentless partying these kids do but there are so many slow motion shots of this shit and often times in bright vivid colors.  It’s an absolutely beautiful picture to look at with each scene presenting a different color palate.    

Just to throw one more contradiction in here, the film may look tacky and maybe even amateurish at first but if you take a step back it was really executed very well.  Of course the slow motion shot of beer being poured on a set of jiggling tits is somewhat outlandish but the scene where the girls rob the diner and it’s all done in one long take inside the getaway car as it’s circling the building is not only fucking badass but clever filmmaking.  Harmony Korine (Gummo) definitely knows what he’s doing.  There’s too much technically proficient and competent story telling shit in here to put this in the so bad it’s good category.     

“Spring Break, spring break forever.”  Actually that shit don’t last forever.  In fact it looks like a short lived time in your life no matter how you slice it; either you get your fill of partying or you get murdered.    

There’s a part of me that liked this quite a bit but all the alcohol guzzling, weed smoking, coke snorting and gun toting got tiring after a while.  Sure I get it, it’s spring break where this is all you do day in and day out.  But man it definitely starts to grate on you.  One friend that I saw this with said he doesn’t think he could ever see it again.  As for me, I think I’ll eventually re-up on it.  I mean not for a long time but I’ll get there.

This reminds me, I don’t have any plans for spring break next year.  Hmm…

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ringu and The Ring

Here’s some more post Halloween shit for you.  What I did this year was a mini Ring-a-thon.  I saw Ringu and The Ring back to back.  In case you didn’t know Ringu (or just Ring) is the original 1998 Japanese production based on the book of the same name (Ring that is, not Ringu; in fact I think I should be calling this thing Ring but I’m gonna stick with Ringu because it’ll be easier to differentiate).  From what I can tell the book and the movie are quite different with the book being more of a science fiction thriller and the movie taking it in a horror direction while also simplifying the storyline and characters.  The American remake follows the Japanese film but makes a significant number of changes (this was so audiences in the States would find it more appealing).  The first remake actually was a Korean one done in 1999 that’s supposed to be more faithful to the book but I haven’t seen it so I can’t comment on it.  I’d like to get around to it one day though.  In the meantime there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into comparing Ringu with The Ring.

Before we dive in though I’d like to give you all a little background on where I’m coming from.  This is now the third time I’ve seen these two pictures back to back, or at least very close to each other.  In 2002 (if memory serves) I saw Ringu a couple of days before checking out The Ring during its theatrical run.  That first time I only thought Ringu was slightly better.  Then in 2010 I saw the two together for the Halloween season and thought Ringu was definitely better but The Ring was still very enjoyable.  Finally here we are, 2013.  Once again, back to back and belly to belly.  So my point is that this has been a long time in the making.  You may want to grab a cup of coffee or a bottle of grain alcohol or some shit, this might take a while.

Spoilers everywhere.  Although I feel like by this point everyone knows who’s responsible for the murders and what happens at the end of day seven.  If you really don’t know then I do think it’s something worth saving up for.

Ok, let’s start with the female lead (there’s no need to explain the plot, right?).  Ringu has Nanako Matsushima (Japanese shit) as Reiko Asakawa and The Ring has Naomi Watts (Tank Girl, Le divorce) as Rachel.  Asakawa is a hard working journalist single mother.  She takes it upon herself to find out what happened to her niece, Tomoko, because she died mysteriously.  So she’s self-motivated, caring and an all around good person.  Matsushima does a good job and carries the movie fine. 

Rachel on the other hand is much more of a brassy dame.  One thing about the American version in general is that it’s sorta belligerent in its attitude (if a movie can be belligerent) which is missing from the Japanese one.  Rachel is no exception.  We’re introduced to her by overhearing her threaten to poke someone’s eye out on the phone.  This leads to her exclaiming “shit!” in front of her eight year old son, who she’s late picking up from school by the way.  This is a pretty different character from the reserved Asakawa.  A couple other things about Rachel is that she’s apparently not a very good reporter because her boss wants to fire her (if that scene was a joke it didn’t really come off that way) and she doesn’t look into her niece’s death on her own like Asakawa.  Rachel’s sister asks her to do it.  What’s kinda funny about that is Rachel wastes no time as she starts questioning her niece’s friends about what they know in the very next scene.  Anyway, Rachel isn’t a bad person or a bad mother but the American filmmakers felt she needed to be more headstrong and less reticent.  Watts pulls off the role and does fine.

The ex-husband characters are even more different.  Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada (The Wolverine)) is kind of like Rachel in that he has more of an attitude and is determined as hell.  He also has just a touch of ESP.  Not a lot but enough to have some backstory flash in his mind towards the end when he touches a guy.  Sanada does well here too, especially at the end when he’s being frightened to death.

While Ryuji may be very orderly in his approach Noah (Martin Henderson (Windtalkers)) on the other hand is anything but.  This guy I find irritating.  He’s an immature doofus who doesn’t believe in the curse until about half way through the film.  The purpose of this character is extremely minimized in The Ring.  Noah does almost nothing to help uncover the mystery of the tape.  When he knocks over the marbles in the cabin that pools to show where the well is that was an accident.  And when he sees that there’s something hidden behind the wallpaper in Samara’s room in the barn he doesn’t know what the tree image means.  When he looks through Anna Morgan’s medical files he doesn’t discover anything new and when he goes to find Samara’s institutional video tape it’s missing.  Ryuji does just as much leg work as Asakawa making him a vital component to the story.  Noah exists essentially so we can see Samara kill someone off at the end of the movie.  He’s our guinea pig for finding what happens at the end of day seven.  But I can’t fault Henderson for his performance.  If this is what the character was supposed to be then he nailed it.

The sons, Yoichi and Aidan, aren’t dissimilar but they’re used in different ways.  Yoichi in Ringu is a smart, emotionless, independent little boy.  Aidan is the same except he plays a bigger role in the overall plot.  When Yoichi sees the video nothing happens (I mean he gets the curse but that’s it).  When Aidan watches it Samara speaks to him (off camera) and he helps Rachel more than Noah to figure shit out.  He tells Rachel about the barn (and even draws a picture of it) and he tells Rachel that finding Samara’s bones isn’t the end of the curse.  Yoichi is a delight because he’s not in the film very much and doesn’t help with the investigation.  Aidan’s annoying because that shit he babbles on about Samara talking to him, knowing stuff about the curse and Samara (maybe or maybe not through ESP) and him calling his mother “Rachel” isn’t necessary.  Rachel could’ve just looked in the barn on her own, gotten a call from Noah that the curse was still on and using “Rachel” instead of “mom” isn’t awful but just comes off as kinda stupid.  The dialogue they give this kid is absolutely fucking terrible which doesn’t help either (ex: (in a whisper talking tone) “don’t you understand Rachel…she never sleeps”).  This glassy eyed little prick gets more frustrating with every viewing.  Yoichi doesn’t call his mother by her first name.  Take a lesson from him.

How about that tape itself.  Ringu’s is fairly short and creepier in my opinion.  The images are softer and not so clear.  The Ring’s video is at least twice as long and tries to go for more shocking material like quivering severed fingers in a box, insects, bloody red water, etc.  It doesn’t play as well though.  The Ring’s is clearly trying too hard to come up with scary images.  Of course this is a subjective thing but I think Ringu’s is more effective.  It’s more mysterious and mesmerizing than an upside down spinning chair and a tall ladder.

Next is the phone call.  You’ve seen the video so someone’s supposed to call you up and tell you you’ll die in seven days.  In Ringu you don’t hear anything on the other end of the line.  Asakawa picks up the phone, listens for a sec and then slams it down.  In The Ring we actually hear someone say “seven days”.  Not “you will die in seven days” or “you have seven days to live” but only “seven days”.  If you didn’t already know the rumor about the curse you’d probably have no fucking clue what that meant.  But it was better the way they did it in Ringu.  Sure it’s a small thing in the scope of the big picture but it’s worth mentioning.  This is the ol’ what-you-imagine-is-scarier-than-what-they-actually-show-you device.  How do you make a voice telling you your imminent doom sound scary?  That’s very tough which is why it’s probably better left to the imagination.  Also, we have no idea if you get the phone call everywhere or just inside that one cabin.  In Ringu you would only get the phone call in the cabin because that’s where the well was located.  But in The Ring Rachel never picks up the phone when it rings in her apartment after people see the video there.  So it could’ve been Samara slotting those folks in for an appointment in seven days or a telemarketer trying to sell her a timeshare.  Maybe they sort that out in the sequels?  (Actually I’m pretty sure it doesn’t come up in the American version of The Ring Two)

The backstories of the little girl and her mother are where the biggest differences between the two are found.  For the Japanese one the mother was clairvoyant and had a daughter that was way more powerful than her.  Little Sadako could wish someone dead and would do so at the drop of a hat.  This was too damn much for dad so he knocked her over the head and dropped her down a well.  Now this psychic bullshit is not something that Americans were gonna go for so they came up with an altered explanation of events.  Here’s what we got: the mother gave birth to an evil child, so evil that she affected the town where she lived.  Fishing went bad, horses died off, etc.  The mother has her institutionalized but that wasn’t good enough so she slips a plastic bag over the kid’s head and drops her down a well.  And even though when you boil it down it’s just as simple of a story as the Japanese version it feels more complicated when you’re watching it for some reason.

I don’t have a problem with either story.  What I do have a problem with is how the daughter is handled in The Ring.  Sadako is kept in the dark more in Ringu and I think that helps to make things more intriguing.  In The Ring we see Samara as a human a bunch and we also see her old room in the barn and it dampens her creepiness significantly for me.  With Ringu she’s a monster through and through.  We never see her face.  It’s always a mess of long black hair.  Plus since we’re talking about a cursed video tape and supernatural shit here the ESP angle works better than just an evil kid that wants revenge.  It makes more sense (I guess you could say) that Sadako would be able to kill folks from beyond the grave because she had mystical abilities to begin with.  It’s more of a stretch with Samara because of the plain vanilla evil motivation.        

Finally, we come to the end of the picture.  The big reveal.  I think you can sense a pattern here and it should come as no surprise that I thought Ringu’s ending was executed better than The Ring’s.  In The Ring when Samara steps out of the TV she still flickers and has resolution problems like an old tube TV or VHS tape.  Why?  Why wouldn’t she turn into her human form?  Why would she still look like an image from the tape?  It was a poor stylistic choice because they’re implying that Samara is this video now.  But that doesn’t jive with her supposedly being a bigger malevolent presence (horse suicides, etc.).  I thought she was like the Devil’s child or some shit and not a fuckin’ flickering TV image.  In Ringu Sadako’s human, I mean a totally evil human but a human, when she attacks Ryuji.  She doesn’t perform any weird CGI movements either like when Samara teleports closer to Noah causing him to crash into some metal shelves.  It’s a lot creepier if you have this thing that’s steadily moving towards you that you know you can’t stop. 

Truthfully though I would accept The Ring’s finale if it wasn’t for Samara’s frowny face.  The thing that’s supposed to scare you to death is a girl making a pouty face at you.  With Ringu you only see one eye and it’s a bizarre looking eye too with only half the pupil showing.  It’s more effective than giving us the whole face. 

Look, I’m not saying show me nothing.  There has to be some sort of payoff.  I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again, you have to be smart about what you show and what you don’t show.  Giving us the whole angry girl face is not frightening at all.  That one fucked up eye is all you need.

To round this behemoth out here are a couple of other things I noticed: 

- Japan likes their media stylized; it’s a signature part of their culture.  The Ring however is the more stylized movie between the two.  Ringu goes for a plainer and more realistic production while The Ring is more surreal in its approach.
- The well scene at the end is handled in completely opposing manners in each film.  Rachel and Noah find the well at the end by accident and Rachel gets knocked in (by Samara?).  Asakawa and Ryuji know exactly where to look for the well (even though they don’t have any clues that tell them to look specifically under the cabin as opposed to in the surrounding area) and the two of them voluntarily climb down into the well.

- Gore Verbinski must’ve been heavily influence by David Fincher because it has the same dark and glossy yet gritty look that Fincher is known for.  He even tinted the whole thing a blue-green-gray-ish color instead of the usual yellow that Fincher likes to use.

- Brian Cox’s suicide in The Ring was obviously supposed to be more gruesome but was clearly edited down for the PG-13 rating.

- Does anyone know what that scene was about with Ryuji starring at someone’s white shoed feet and saying to himself, “was it you?  Did you do this?”  It’s never brought up again.  Kind of a strange scene that seemingly didn’t need to be in the movie.

- There’s an odd continuity issue in Ringu when Asakawa goes to check the cabin for the first time.  You can see when she enters that she’s holding the key in her hand for that particular cabin but where did she get it from?  She snoops around the cabin before she meets with the guy at the front desk.  It doesn’t look like the key is waiting in the door of the cabin either.  In The Ring this problem doesn’t exist.  Rachel goes to the front desk first before entering the cabin.  My guess is the Ringu filmmakers felt there was pacing problem.

- (This one isn’t something I noticed but just a fact)  Ringu gets its title from the curse being cyclical (in order to live you need to make a copy of the tape and show it to someone else).  For some reason The Ring made it into a visual thing where there are rings everywhere in the movie and Rachel even says something like “you see the ring before you die”.

The Ring gives an explanation as to why seven days.  They say that Samara lasted for seven days when she was thrown down the well before dying.  This isn’t mentioned at all in Ringu.

- There’s no blood in Ringu but they did add some for The Ring.

- The characters in Ringu accept the curse from the onset while in The Ring Rachel and Noah are skeptics that need to be convinced.  Interesting cultural divide there. 

Alright let’s wrap this shit up.  The idea for these films is unconventional horror material which is part of the reason why I find them particularly fascinating.  And it’s unconventional because, as I said earlier, the book is supposed to be more thriller than horror.  So what we have here isn’t a slasher or ghost story in the typical sense.  There is a vengeful spirit but even if you find out who and where she is she can’t be stopped.  That angle of it is one of the aspects I enjoy the most.  The only way to survive the curse is to infect someone else with it.  That’s pretty fuckin’ nasty and cruel as a bitch.

Overall I like Ringu better than The RingRingu is actually less of a horror picture but at the same time the imagery and the atmosphere I find to be spookier.  And with how they handled Sadako coming out of the TV at the end looks amazing.  It’s one of the best horror scenes ever put to film in my opinion.  With The Ring the filmmakers felt they had to add more horror-y type stuff to make it more appealing to American audiences.  So that’s why you get scenes like the horse killing itself, a little girl being interrogated in a mental institution, Brian Cox killing himself, noses bleeding, etc.  They’re all elements that don’t necessarily improve the story.  They’re there simply to have more things happen so the audience won’t get bored.  Plus the filmmakers thought we wouldn’t go for some magical ESP crap in this country.  Maybe they were right ‘cause The Ring was a big hit.

The Ring does almost nothing better than Ringu.  It feels kinda dumbed down, a lot cheesier and almost aggressive by comparison.  The characters are less likable, the big ending wasn’t done as well and despite being a pretty film to look at it doesn’t feel as scary.

But to be fair here are some things I liked better in The Ring: numbering the days so we know exactly how much time we have left, I really dig Verbinski’s cinematography (his films always look good), killing the daughter with a bag over her head (instead of being bludgeoned) and that was cool when Rachel pulls one of those small round medical pads out of her mouth.

Looking at these two specific movies side by side is a really fun experiment.  They’re similar yet different enough so that it doesn’t feel like you’re watching the same picture twice.  There are plenty of big and little things to notice and mull over.  The cultural differences are also pretty stark which makes this project very interesting just on that level.  For example, in the opening scene the niece and her friend are portrayed way more innocently in Ringu as opposed to these two characters in The Ring where one calls the other a “ho” and asks where the Vicodin is.

Comparing these two is also a good exercise in what makes something scary.  Let’s take a look at the brief moment when the niece’s corpse is revealed.  In both films we first have a wider shot of the whole body and then a close up of the face.  The difference is in The Ring the corpse’s head nods down, in Ringu the head stays still.  Which do you think is creepier?  It’s such a little thing but I think that shit goes a long way.  You could also look at the video tapes.  Which images get to you the most?  Is it better to be longer and show more or shorter and show less?

Ringu is one of the best and most unique horror films ever made.  It’s relatively simple yet there’s a lot to uncover if you dig into it.  This film only keeps getting better with every viewing.  Unfortunately The Ring keeps getting worse.  It’s not a bad picture, it really isn’t.  And I would definitely like it more if there weren’t other versions to compare it to but that’s not the case.  I think it’s more interesting in the context of this comparison than it is on its own.

If you haven’t seen either one then why the hell did you read this whole thing?  Whatever, I don’t really give a shit.  But you should definitely check them both out.  You don’t have to do them back to back but they do lend themselves very well to that scenario if that’s something you’re interested in. 

Boy that took it out of me.  I’ll just relax by watching this unmarked tape that’s been sitting on my counter for a while.  Jees, anytime I pop one of these in the only thing that’s on there is an old episode of Sex and the City.  Well at least that doesn’t carry a curse…oh shit, does it?!