Back from the weekend with a passel of movie reviews.
"The Grudge". Had no interest in seeing this until my brother wrote in his blog how terrified this movie made him. You can read it here, and then make fun of him in the comments. No offense to my brother, but I was right to have avoided this film for this long. Not good. Peggy put it nicely when she turned to me about two-thirds through the movie and said, "You get the feeling they're just making this up as they go along?" And she's right as she is about most things -- there's a haphazard, incidental quality to this movie that makes it difficult to suspend disbelief. The basic premise is goofy, and we only get the whole, surprisingly pedestrian backstory when the movie's nearly over. [If you haven't seen it yet, I'm going to figure you don't care if I give anything away in this here post.] Here's how the ghosts got that way: In life, the Japanese woman ghost was obsessed with a professor played by Bill Pullman (I know! What the hell's he doing in this?). The woman's husband finds out and in a violent rage he drowns his son and kills her. Because the mom and son were so pissed off at the moment of death (I don't remember the pages of titles they flashed at the beginning too good), the grudge they carry stays in the house. Anyone who comes into the house will be hounded by these annoying Japanese ghosts for the rest of their lives. Uh, what?
How many millions of people have died in crime of passion murder-suicides? Why aren't all their houses cursed with Grudge-style ghosts? When I heard their story, the ONLY reaction is, "So?" I mean, it's sad and all, but in the pantheon of violent deaths, it's not really unusual, is it? Contrast their untimely death with Samara's, the girl from "The Ring". Now that girl went out of this world in a bad bad way -- in "The Ring", you totally understand how her death could have psychic implications that extend beyond the physical world. In the Japanese Scary Ghost-Girl movie genre, if your central violent or horrifying death isn't worse than, or even on par with Samara's, you got to keep brainstorming. A second draft would have been a real plus in this case. Anyway, I could go on, but I'll leave it at that.
"High Tension". We went into this one not knowing a lot about it, which was good. In case anyone else wants to check out this French slasher movie, I'll try and keep you in the dark, too. I can't say I really liked this movie, but I enjoyed watching it play out. If you like grisly slasher movie deaths, this one has a few keepers (I especially like the one involving the bureau). But by the end of it, though, I was scratching my head right when all was supposed to be illuminated. Summary: Not bad for what it is. Doesn't make a lick of sense.
"The Queen". We saw this at our local art theater last night. The reviews have been uniformly excellent and Oscar buzz for Helen Mirren, who plays Queen Elizabeth the Second, has been intense. She's fantastic in it, as are the other actors, so I'd say she's a lock for a nomination. The plot of the film is set in 1997, and deals primarily with the aftermath of Princess Diana's death, specifically the royal family's reaction. Tony Blair has just become Prime Minister only days prior, and at the time he was widely hailed for his pitch-perfect public response; one of the tabloids calls him "The Mourner in Chief" because he read the public mood so astutely. The royals on the other hand, particularly Queen Elizabeth, opt instead for the "stiff upper lip" style of grieving, and their seeming indifference to Diana's death provoke a bitter reaction in the public. Much of the film is taken up with a fascinating exploration of how the royal family's Old World sensibilities are out of step, for better and worse, with our over-televised, overexposed modern age.
Mirren does for Queen Elizabeth in "The Queen" what Anthony Hopkins did for Richard Nixon in "Nixon": the actor's performance begins to eclipse their real-life counterpart until they seem to actually become the person they're portraying. Though we'll never get a Barbara Walters-style interview with the current Queen of England, after seeing this movie I feel as though I know the woman pretty well. By the end I felt as sympathetic to her plight (relatively speaking, of course), as I did to Diana's, if not moreso. Technically, everything about the film is, as Christian Bale says in "The Prestige", "top notch", but it's the subtle touches here and there that give you both the basic humanity of the Queen while reminding you that she is the descendent of an awe-inspiring lineage going back centuries and centuries. For instance, Queen Elizabeth mentions in her first conversation with Tony Blair, almost in passing, something her "great-grandmother, Victoria" once said. "Holy shit!" I thought. "She's talking about Queen Victoria!" It's then you realize how rare a thing the English royal family is in this modern age -- a known and predictable quantity that represents a living link to a grander era in British history; kind of like what the Pope represents for Catholics. Anyway, an excellent movie, one I expect to end up in my top ten of the the year.
And it is now 10PM.
[Ed. note: since I wrote all this, Peggy's been on-line reading about what "High Tension" was all about. Some aspects do seem to play out logically, but other movies have plowed similar terrain with a lot more success.]
And I'm out.