Doug Davison

Doug Davison

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Oldboy Review


OK

Moviegoers who know nothing about the iconic 2003 Korean thriller will perhaps enjoy this half-hearted remake. It lacks the subtlety and irony of Park Chan-wook's deranged masterpiece, but Spike Lee brings a certain technical sleekness that holds our interest. Especially as the complex plot begins to twist and turn, gleefully pulling the rug out from under us.

It centres on Joe (Brolin), a drunken loser who blows his last chance at his job by coming on to a client's wife. The next morning he wakes up in a sleazy hotel room that turns out to be a locked cell where he'll be held for the next 20 years. He's shown news updates on how he's the prime suspect in his wife's violent murder, and he watches his daughter grow up in an adoptive family's home. Suddenly focussed on revenge, he plots his escape and then is caught off guard when he's inexplicably released. With the help of his old friend Chucky (Imperioli) and helpful nurse Marie (Olsen), Joe tracks down his flamboyant jailer (Jackson) and then the creepy man (Copley) who paid the bills and now demands that Joe understands why he did it.

Yes, the plot is a big puzzle, and watching the various pieces fall into place keeps us riveted to the screen, even if nothing is particularly involving. Lee's mistake is to play everything dead straight, with only the odd hint of black humour or underlying madness. Instead, we get bigger action fight scenes (cool but choreographed) and a variety of surprises and revelations that often make us gasp. And all of this is played with razor-sharp intensity by Brolin, who gives us just enough emotion to keep us engaged with his journey.

Continue reading: Oldboy Review

Abduction Review


Weak
There's an intriguing premise to this snappy action thriller, but it's never properly developed by the inane script and bland direction. Director Singleton and writer Christensen are far more interested in macho posturing and nasty violence than characters or plausibility.

Nathan (Lautner) is a lively Pittsburgh teen with even livelier parents (Isaacs and Bello), although he sees a shrink (Weaver) to keep his anger issues in check. While working on a school project with childhood crush Karen (Collins), he stumbles across a missing-child website with a picture of him at age 3.

Suddenly he doubts who he really is, and indeed he and Karen have uncovered a secret involving a foreign agent (Nyqvist) and a CIA boss (Molina) who are both desperate to get their hands on some important information.

Continue reading: Abduction Review

Quarantine Review


OK
With innovation such a scarce commodity, Hollywood should really stop remaking foreign films. Aside from their almost universal track record for underachieving, there is something so basic about experiencing a movie in its native tongue that no translation (or poorly scripted dubbing) can match. This past August, the sensational Spanish thriller [REC] -- as in the "record" button on a video camera -- caused an uproar in New Zealand when one beleaguered audience member soiled themselves during a screening. Naturally, Tinseltown already had its version -- relabeled Quarantine -- ready to jump on such publicity. As found footage/first person POV style shockers go, it's pretty good. You can leave your adult diapers at home, however.

Viewed through the lens of her accompanying cameraman Scott (Steve Harris), reporter Angela Vidal (Jennifer Carpenter) prepares for a night following the exploits of an LA fire company. Quickly introduced to Jake (Jay Hernandez) and George (Johnathon Schaech), she learns that the hook and ladder life isn't always emergencies and heroism. When a call comes from the tenants of a rundown apartment building, the guys treat it as routine. But Angela and Scott soon uncover something horrifying -- people in the complex appear infected with a kind of super rabies. And the city, state, and national governments are closing off the building, locking everyone -- the sick and the healthy -- within. While trying to get out, our news crew discovers an even more shocking truth. The ill have gone insane and are attacking and killing the living.

Continue reading: Quarantine Review

The Strangers Review


Good
The strangest, most intriguing thing about The Strangers is that the two main characters are already dead -- before the masked psychopaths even show up outside their door. (Don't worry, that's not a spoiler.)

Kristen (Liv Tyler) and James (Scott Speedman) are metaphorically dead. Their relationship is on the rocks; there isn't a trace of love or joy between them -- or in either of them, for that matter. It's clear they've sucked each other dry and they're staying together out of habit. This is how the film draws us in: We pity the characters, and it'd be great to see if they can kick-start their relationship -- provided they can avoid getting stabbed to death first.

Continue reading: The Strangers Review

Shutter Review


Terrible
The horror genre has imploded. Wrought with remakes, horror is being strangled to death by a lack of creativity on the filmmakers' part and interest on ours. Having run out of worth-while Japanese horror (J-horror) and trampled on American classics, Hollywood has now turned to remaking other Asian horror (A-horror) flicks; the early quarter of the year brought a remake of The Eye (2002) and a redo of Takashi Miike's fantastic One Missed Call (2003). The latest in the downward spiral of remakes is of the forgettable Shutter.

Throughout both J- and A-horror, technology plays a role in connecting us with the dead -- whether it be something as complex as a cell phone or as simple as a camera. Shutter depends on the latter to carry its tale of a Y?rei (the traditional tortured Japanese spirit with a pale complexion and dark hair) haunting a newlywed couple on their honeymoon in Japan. Of course, the spirit is rooted in the past and Jane begins to investigate her new husband Ben's earlier years. But just like every other American remake of Eastern horror, the subtext is lost in translation -- turning the Y?rei into a horror gimmick rather than the thematic embodiment of a disillusioned soul. Whereas the spirits terrified in Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse (2001) due to their desperation in death, their American counterpart in films the likes of Shutter do nothing but skulk around, making creepy noises and staring endlessly.

Continue reading: Shutter Review

The Grudge 2 Review


Grim
Low cost and high quality: Japan is king when it comes to assembly line production ethos and Grudge 2 director Takashi Shimizu takes that manufacturing approach in constructing this latest edition in the Grudge series. Block by block, shock by shock, he builds a movie that runs fine and looks slick. It's a solid product in terms of celluloid, but there is no soul, no artistry, in the merchandise. What went wrong? Enthusiasm. Shimizu seems to take pride only in the technical proficiency of his work. Actors be damned. Plot be damned. While there's nothing wrong with a really well-made but vacuous art-horror film (Dario Argento's entire canon fits this mold), there is no art in the Grudge 2, just cleverly staged shock shots stapled on to the other like the reels of skin in Sion Soto's Suicide Club (had to plug some good J-horror here somewhere.)

Perhaps this calculating demeanor is because Shimizu's essentially made the same film six times now. The first Ju-on in 2000. The second in 2000 as well. Then he did both of them again in 2003. Then the American remake in 2004. That makes Grudge 2 the sixth version of the same film made in only six years. (In between he made the similar Marebito and Rinne.) It's not surprising that the film feels mechanized, paint by numbers. Shimizu has either got it down so pat that he can operate on autopilot or he's just bored senseless.

Continue reading: The Grudge 2 Review

The Grudge 2 Review


Grim
Low cost and high quality: Japan is king when it comes to assembly line production ethos and Grudge 2 director Takashi Shimizu takes that manufacturing approach in constructing this latest edition in the Grudge series. Block by block, shock by shock, he builds a movie that runs fine and looks slick. It's a solid product in terms of celluloid, but there is no soul, no artistry, in the merchandise. What went wrong? Enthusiasm. Shimizu seems to take pride only in the technical proficiency of his work. Actors be damned. Plot be damned. While there's nothing wrong with a really well-made but vacuous art-horror film (Dario Argento's entire canon fits this mold), there is no art in the Grudge 2, just cleverly staged shock shots stapled on to the other like the reels of skin in Sion Soto's Suicide Club (had to plug some good J-horror here somewhere.)

Perhaps this calculating demeanor is because Shimizu's essentially made the same film six times now. The first Ju-on in 2000. The second in 2000 as well. Then he did both of them again in 2003. Then the American remake in 2004. That makes Grudge 2 the sixth version of the same film made in only six years. (In between he made the similar Marebito and Rinne.) It's not surprising that the film feels mechanized, paint by numbers. Shimizu has either got it down so pat that he can operate on autopilot or he's just bored senseless.

Continue reading: The Grudge 2 Review

The Lake House Review


Weak

Director Alejandro Agresti's The Lake House, based on a South Korean film called Il Mare, takes the premise that launched movies such as Back to the Future and Frequency and asks, "What would a good boyfriend do with these powers?" The powers in this case involve a mystical mailbox that connects two would-be lovers who are living two years apart. Unfortunately, the answer to that question ends up being "Nothing interesting enough to last for almost two hours."

Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves) is an architect living in Chicago who has recently bought the lake house built by his cold, uncaring father (Christopher Plummer). Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock) is a doctor living in Chicago who has recently moved out of the same house. She leaves a note in the mailbox for the next tenant, which is received by Alex who, puzzled by the note's references to objects that aren't there (yet), writes back. Eventually the two figure out that they are, in fact, living in different years - Alex in 2004, and Kate in 2006. She doesn't bother to tell him how the election turned out.

Continue reading: The Lake House Review

Dark Water (2005) Review


Good
As perhaps a concession to the modern age, the haunted-house story Dark Water is set not in some gloomy old mansion but in the claustrophobic confines of a dank apartment building, and it's all the better for it. But in many other ways the film is a fairly classic scary story, albeit one that heightens a mood of mournfulness over incessant spine-straightening scares. Fresh off the wide acclaim for his young Che Guevara travelogue The Motorcycle Diaries, director Walter Salles seems an odd choice for this, his first Hollywood project. But it's a similar transition to that taken by another South American, Alejandro AmenĂ¡bar, who he came to Hollywood and made The Others, another solidly classical spooker gussied up with sharp talent and moody atmospherics.

And Dark Water (a remake of Hideo Nakata's 2002 film Honogurai mizu no soko kara) is nothing if not moody. It begins in the gloom of a divorce, with just-separated Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) and Kyle (Dougray Scott) fighting over who is going to live where - shared custody of their young girl Ceci (Ariel Gade) making commuting a big issue. Righteously furious Dahlia needs a cheap place near a good school and so ends up looking at a place on Roosevelt Island, the apartment-block-choked strip of land in the East River that makes most Manhattanites shudder and think, "There but for the grace of my broker, go I..." She and Ceci tour a grim apartment there with a chatty manager (a spot-on John C. Reilly) who tries to talk up the depressing view of rain-shrouded towers and smokestacks and the building's neo-Fascist architecture; only Reilly could say "Brutalist" with such perfectly smarmy cheer.

Continue reading: Dark Water (2005) Review

Doug Davison

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