Ring (1998) Review

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Ring, or Ringu as it’s called in the US, is a 1998 japanese film that helped kick off the J-horror craze of the early 2000s. Directed by Hideo Nakata, Ring is not only the highest grossing horror film in Japan, but it’s also one of the creepiest and most atmospheric films ever made.

Ring is the chilling tale of Asakawa, a reporter, who’s investigating the mysterious urban legend of a videotape that curses you to die in seven days if you watch it. Asakawa locates the tape, but upon watching it must team up with her ex-husband Ryuji in order to save her life. As they investigate the history of the tape they discover the tragic history of a psychic named Shizuko and her even more powerful daughter Sadako.

Japanese horror differs greatly from Western horror in that it relies less on action and gore, and more on mood and tension. Thats not to say the two are mutually exclusive, but the Japanese films that have been popular in the West all share this quality. Ring is most certainly no exception. It takes its time, letting the tension and distress settle in. Even individual shots will pause to convey a lack of comfort. For example, when Ryuji visits Asakawa’s apartment to see the tape he pauses when he enters, giving us the impression that something is off without using dialogue or a dutch tilt.

Ring is also a very smart film, making sure not to over-explain to it’s audience what’s going on. Important details like Ryuji being Asakawa’s ex are not mentioned until half an hour past him being introduced and even then in a random line of dialogue. It could be said that it under-explains some things, like how Asakawa’s son Yoichi saw the tape, but the story of the film is still coherent and the ending makes sense. The core mystery of the film is an intriguing one, but accentuated by the progressive discoveries we make about the characters investigating, it becomes incredibly engaging.

Don’t expect jump scares or an action-packed climax, since Ring has neither of those things. If you do prefer those in your horror movie then check out the American remake The Ring (2002). It’ll serve you nicely. Ring on the other hand is a quiet, dwelling, and uncomfortable film that explores themes of urban legend and paranormal phenomena in modern society in a foreign, but relatable way. Like the best of J-horror, you won’t be hiding behind the couch as you watch, but you will have chills on the back of your neck for the rest of the night, especially after the film’s shocking ending.

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The Faculty (1998) Review

The supernatural teen drama can come in many forms, such as the cheesy super hero styled Smallville, the melodramatic shit-fest Twilight or the slow-ass “thriller” Disturbing Behavior. The supernatural teen “insert genre here” really started to take off in the late 80s-early 90s. The Faculty is yet another one of these and I swear I didn’t plan these two to be together, but it seems to be a much better version of Disturbing Behavior. It’s by no means perfect, but there is an endearing charm to it that I can’t help but feel attracted to.

The Faculty is the story of a high school whose teachers begin to act strangely and soon Elijah Wood and his friends discover that this is due to an alien invasion. So the chase is on to somehow stop the invasion, but that’s pretty tricky when all your classmates, teachers and parents are against you. Oh and there’s some teenage drama character stuff but nobody gives a shit about that.

The story of The Faculty is definitely the product of its time, relying heavily on tropes and themes we’ve seen before. It even throws in some meta-sci-fi referencing cause, you know, Scream was a thing. The story requires some intense suspension of disbelief and even then there are still plenty of plot-holes and stupid decisions that will have you groaning. Nonetheless there are still a few genuinely good moments of suspense, but I think we can mainly attribute that to director Robert Rodriguez. The plot does seem to be weirdly paced, picking up a lot at the beginning and then slowing down a lot after that. However, unlike Disturbing Behavior, the story does keep moving forward during these parts. The flashforward at the end is probably the most objectionable part of the story (and that’s saying a lot) with characters ending up in downright impossible situations. Speaking of which…

The characters are all stereotypes… to an extent. Like in a Hughes project, the characters all start out as their respective clichés, but then as we get to know them, we find they aren’t that cut and dry and we inevitably find ourselves actually slightly invested in them. They certainly aren’t memorable, but for the duration of the movie you won’t hate them (which is a plus compared to the horror/thriller movies of today). The acting ranges from good to bad, with mediocrity being the standard. The adults mostly ham it up, and the kids either do a good job or overact. Elijah wood and Josh Hartnett and Jon Stewart (fucking what!) are highlights in my opinion.

The technicals are all pretty solid. The actually directing/lighting/sound/etc… are all fine. It’s the effects that are going to bother people. Now there is a mix of CGI and practicals, which is nice, but the CGI looks really dated. In my opinion, practicals couldn’t have done much better, so either way you’re stuck with a distraction. This is a nitpick, but the introduction of the characters have each of them with their names on screen. This is stupid since their names are said quite quickly after or repeated a lot over the course of the movie.

The Faculty is, above all else, fun. Its mediocrity is evident, but it nonetheless manages to partially captivate and completely entertain. If you’re a fan of Buffy, Smallville, or Roswell then this will be familiar and comfortable territory for you. It’s sure as shit superior to Disturbing Behavior on every level, but then again that’s not saying much. The Faculty is available from Amazon, iTunes and Netflix instant for your popcorn munching pleasure.

Disturbing Behavior (1998) Review

Disturbing Behavior is an inept thriller, completely lacking in thrills, a solid story and any sense of pacing. But before I get too ahead of myself I should probably say that Disturbing Behavior is the 1998 sci-fi thriller starring James Marsden, Katie Holmes and Nick Stahl and is brought to us by a good chunk of the X-Files crew, including director David Nutter.

Behavior brings us the story of Steve whose family has recently moved to island town Cradle Bay. New to the school, Steve finds himself thrown together with Gavin, UV, and Rachel, three rejects who show him around and warn him about the Blue Ribbons, a group of A+ students who suck up to adults and look down on everyone else. Gavin tries to convince the others that these Blue Ribbons are brainwashed former students who now occasionally go batshit crazy whenever they get turned on. After Gavin gets turned into one of them, Steve and Rachel start to investigate the mysterious project of Dr. Caldicott.

Behavior really does feel like an X-files episode. And not a good one. The script itself seems like a rejected episode and the actual content of it probably would fare better in the 45 minute time slot. It has the same formula of an opening scare and an ending cliffhanger, but without any of the charm of our favorite FBI agents and with the same flimsy supporting characters taking up more screen time.

As stated before, the script is incredibly flimsy with the story really only taking up about half of it and the rest easily being superfluous. Sure you could call it character development, but then I’d have to laugh in your face. The pacing is ungodly slow, with the actual investigation of the mystery not starting until an hour into the movie. The first hour is just the characters stewing in this predicament and it slowly getting worse, but they still refuse to do anything until the movie pulls a Scream 3 and they find a videotape of Gavin reiterating what he already told them, but this time it gets them off their asses. There are entire scenes and sequences that could be removed and no one would care. For example the scene with the girl going insane because she really what to fuck Marsden doesn’t fucking matter. The whole subplot of the janitor doesn’t need to be there, he just needs to be a genius, that’s all. The subplot of the horny Blue Ribbon hitting on Rachel serves its purpose in that it adds “scares” but if the plot was actually more substantial, it wouldn’t need to do that. The actual investigation/climax moves at such a quick pace you almost get whiplash and it becomes incredibly obvious that the writer did not think it through. There are tons of plot holes and the “resolution” of the story is so poorly explained, that we know there are still Blue Ribbons out there before the movie itself pulls that dumbass twist. Now this could have worked in an episode of X-Files, because you don’t notice such things as easily during a TV show, but its so painfully obvious here because any suspension of disbelief got thrown out two jock fights ago.

The acting ranges from hammy/campy to mediocre/flat. James Marsden occasionally presents a real emotion, but for the most part he just walks around looking at things. Not that I really blame any of the actors, since the character flaws are very script related, and to be honest their goofy performances did make it more entertaining.

The movie is solid on a technical level, extremely indicative of it’s crews origins. Alas if only they had the story to back it up. I would have loved for The X-Files to kick off an era of really good sci-fi/fantasy thrillers, but alas Dangerous Behavior is just another example of how that rarely works out. If you’re looking for a fun riff, I might recommend this movie, but for anybody else steer clear and just watch X-Files on Netflix. Dangerous Behavior is only available on DVD, not that you should go looking for it.

Psycho (1998) review

A young female embezzeler arrives at the Bates Motel which has terrible secrets of its own

The 1960 Hitchcock film Psycho is renowned for being one of the best horror films of all time. It’s a truly unique entry into cinema that stands out especially when compared to the dull remakes we’re bombarded with these days. However, remakes of films often times get passed off as shit before they’re even given a chance, purely based on the loyalty of the audience to the original. The bigger the fanbase, the more the remake gets torn apart. Which means that 1998’s Psycho had no chance in hell of getting very many good reviews. Often times any changes or artistic liberties that the director takes in these movies are reprimanded by hundreds of screaming fanboys saying that he/she pissed all over the original. We don’t like things different, but isn’t that the point of a remake? To offer a new perspective or different version of a classic story and its characters. Luckily/Unluckily 1998’s Psycho takes very few liberties, mainly because it’s a shot for shot, line for line remake, but without the tension, power, or style of the original. It’s a fascinating example that serves as a martyr for directors who like to shake things up in remakes.

Psycho (1998) and Psycho (1960) share 90% of their shots, 90% of their writing and about 30% of their quality. To see why the copy and paste format doesn’t work, one merely needs to watch about 30 seconds past the identical opening credits. The film steals the Re-animator music, I mean reuses the old Psycho score and opens on a beautiful helicopter shot of Pheonix, Arizona. What’s not beautiful is the awkward feeling you get looking at 1990s Pheonix, and more specifically a 1990s movie, while listening to the overdramatic 60s score. The entire movie mashes together 60s and 90s filmmaking, but instead of creating a retro experience creates an awkward clusterfuck. You can’t use a 90s camera and use 60s cinematography. Sure it works fine a good chunk of the time, but Hitchcock’s more iconic and stylistic shots are so foreign in 90s cinema that it’s hard to look at. It’s not helped by the gaudy lighting, which is far too bright and glowy, not using shadows at all. There should be some forgiveness since this is filmed in color and even in the 90s lighting specialists who knew how to light Black and White style were rare, however this film doesn’t even try, instead going for an overly contrasted light scale that doesn’t end up creating dark shadows, but just creates bathrooms that look like the gateway to heaven.

Another of the major 60s/90s conflicts that dominate this movie involves the acting. The dialogue is almost entirely copied from the original, with only a few 90s twists to replace the 60s would-be-anachronisms. The actors struggle monumentally with this dialogue, often times delivering flat performances. It’s clear the director is trying to go for the 60s acting style, but none of these actors were trained that way and can’t pull it off. What we’re left with is a weird mix of hamming to the camera and bland performances. There is also a lot of miscasting in this movie, but the most blatant of them is Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates. Vince Vaughn is not the guy for this role. He’s a funny, outgoing guy and completely without any of the neuroses that Anthony Perkins had and brought to the role. He isn’t even physically built for the character, being far too bulky. When Norman showed up in the original he completely stole the movie and it wasn’t until he left the screen that the audience realized that the whole stealing plot was a thing. Vaughn has none of this power, instead leaving you bored and confused by what he’s trying to do. Instead of portraying Norman Bates he’s portraying Anthony Perkins portraying Norman Bates, but to be fair everyone in this movie copies their predecessor and all of them fail miserably.

There’s not much left to say about this film, mainly because it doesn’t have much to it. I’ve been harsher on this movie then others because it’s almost completely void of creativity. Sure it has its own moments, but everything it adds is superfluous garbage, failing to bring anything to the movie. The last thing I needed was to hear Vince Vaughn jerk off and I most certainly did not need to have random artistic images thrown at my face, especially if Hitchcock didn’t think it pertinent. It’s not worth anyone’s time. Anyone who has seen Psycho (1960) has already seen this movie and anyone who hasn’t would be a thousand times better off watching the original since this one can only taint your enjoyment of that.