Notes From The Back Row 

Seeking inspiration in Japan, comics

Hollywood is struggling. Box office sales have been down for the past four months and the big blockbuster of the summer just hasn’t materialized. Actually, the best "American" movie out this week is Dark Water , a Japanese horror film remade by a Brazilian director.

Walter Salles ( Motorcycle Diaries) directs Jennifer Connelly in a psycho thriller chock full of inner conflict but lacking some of the standard horror movie scares we might expect from the trailer. Source writer Hideo Nakata also wrote the Jap-horror hit Ringu so expect more of that creepy-cool Japanese vibe that’s so hot right now.

Connelly, who seems to get better and more beautiful with age, stars as a mother enduring a brutal divorce who moves her daughter into a damp, rundown apartment in rain-soaked New York. Containing a single dilapidated bedroom and a living room big enough to be considered "dual purpose" the apartment also seems to leak water from above as well as contain a token creepy child ghost. Themes of urban isolation and abandonment ring through the picture as Connelly, high-strung and migraine-plagued, struggles to keep her sanity. Is she having a nervous breakdown? Is her cheating ex-husband framing her in order to win custody of their daughter? Is she just paranoid, imagining everything?

Acting-wise, Connelly is absolutely perfect in the role, proving she deserves her 2001 Best Actress Oscar (she should have got another one for the ass-to-ass scene in Requiem for a Dream ,). But Dark Water also boasts three more Oscar nominees, including Tim Roth and John C. Reilly, who totally nails the creepy fake cheer of a realtor.

Black secrets and brown water flow throughout, building Dark Water into a near-perfect screw-with-your-mind picture, but much of the subtlety is washed away with an overdone ending the brass in Hollywood must have demanded to ensure the movie didn’t get too intelligent for all of us horror fans. Someone needs to teach those guys how to properly plagiarize.

Maybe I’m too hard on the Hollywood shot-callers. Maybe they can’t help it. Maybe all those big-money cell phone calls turned their brains into leaky tumours. Or perhaps California has been hit by a wave of solar radiation and judgment loss is the first symptom of total transformation. Oh wait, that’s actually the plot of Fantastic Four the next comic book adaptation, opening Friday at the Village 8.

Comics make good movies because both mediums are visual and similarly structured. Batman Begins , now playing, is really good. Sin City translated the comic almost frame by frame and absolutely ruled. Fantastic Four takes a few liberties and suffers for it. The story goes like this: five people are aboard a space station when cosmic radiation hits them and, once back on earth, they’re infused with super powers. One guy turns into evil Dr. Doom and the other four, well you get the picture. The main problem is that director Tim Story ( Taxi) is not very good although Fantastic Four does have a decent special effects budget for him to play with.

As for the four: Jessica Alba is hot and capable, the Human Torch steals every scene, Ben Grimm looks more like a piece of popcorn than a man of stone, and Reed Richards, as rubber-limbed Mr. Fantastic, well he was never that cool anyhow, even in the comic. Dr. Doom looks good but sounds about as menacing as a 14-year-old girl.

While it’s better than Daredevil and the even crappier Elektra , Fantastic Four really ought to be renamed The Okay Four, or The Could Have Been Worse Four.

At least Hollywood’s got another remake up for next week, though Charlie and the Chocolate Factory promises to be a movie with a bit more merit. These days, one can never have too much merit.

AT VILLAGE 8 July 8-14: Dark Water; Fantastic Four; War of the Worlds; Madagascar; Bewitched; Batman Begins; Mr. & Mrs. Smith; Herbie Fully Loaded; Star Wars III.

AT RAINBOW THEATRE July 8-14: Lords of Dogtown.


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