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Ringing Hollow

The strange obsolescence of Rings and Neruda

by and



RINGS. Much has been made of Rings being the sequel no one asked for. I'm not opposed to sequels and I fondly remember The Ring (itself a remake of the Japanese original): It was dark, mysterious, original and terrifying — probably the scariest movie I'd seen up until that time, largely because of the dread it inspired from the first frame.

Rings, on the other hand, is the cheapest of imitations, a Canal Street knockoff, the seams which are so bare as to offend the sensibilities.

Rings begins on an airplane as a young man nervously counts down the minutes, the apparent fallout of having watched the mysterious video at the heart of the series. A young woman attempts to console him but the eerie black and white image flickers on the backseat screens and the plane plummets out of the sky. Cut to two years later and the woman is shopping at a thrift store where she stumbles across a VCR — another customer explains it belonged to a young man who died in a plane crash. That other customer, a college professor, takes the VCR home, watches the tape and the cycle begins again. The narrative shifts once again to high school sweethearts Julia (Matilda Lutz) and Holt (Alex Roe). The half-handsome couple split ways when Holt (HOLT!) heads off to college. There, he's immediately caught up in the aforementioned professor's dark experiments into the Ring video.

Therein lies the only compelling concept in Rings — the morally dubious experimentation on people in search of answers about the video. But after the easily preventable death of one college test subject, the movie quickly abandons this plot arc, never deciding if the professor is a villain or a hero.

Instead, Holt (HOLT!) and Julia half-act their way from well-trod Pacific Northwest trope to trope, following a series of broadly telegraphed clues until an unsatisfying ending of highly dubious morality. And each of the characters is so clumsily introduced that the story is a jumbled mess from the beginning.

Rings relies completely on a viewer's understanding of the rules of the video: its viewers die a horrible death one week after watching the video and the only way to survive is to copy the tape and show it to someone else. It was an intriguing message in a time when bootleg VHS tapes represented the free flow of underground art, when snuff films and cult ephemera were preceded by rumors and it took real effort to track down the curiosities that inhabited the world's dark corners. Nowadays, there are no barriers, no gatekeepers to cinematic oddities. But rather than write a Ring sequel that acknowledges this and plays with the concept of a viral Samara, Rings embarrassingly shoehorns old concepts into a new movie. Aside from the lingering glamour shots of Apple hardware, the only technological advances portrayed in Rings are the ability to copy/paste a file and ... email.

I was surprised at the low turnout for the opening night screening until I remembered that the studio's demographic wasn't even born when The Ring came out. With no modern hook, Rings must feel absolutely archaic to today's young horror fans. The movie's only scares come from predictable startles amid its atmosphere of spray-painted plywood. Rings is unintelligible despite being expository and derivative, but worst of all, it's no fun. It's cheap, and nobody wants a cheap ring. PG13. 102m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

NERUDA is a dreamlike offering from Chilean director Pablo Larraín that peers at several years in the life of Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda. But it's no introduction to the poet or the troubling times he lived in — the film would benefit, no doubt, from a comprehensive understanding of Chile's history and the writer's works.

Neruda opens with the titular poet (Luis Gnecco) arguing with a breathless swarm of politicians in the chambers of Chile's government. It's several years after the end of World War II and Neruda is a senator representing Chile's Communist Party. The political situation is rapidly deteriorating into totalitarianism, we are left to understand. As a result, one of Neruda's apparently notorious bacchanals is interrupted by the news that he will have to go underground. He, his wife Delia (Mercedes Morán) and his handlers take up residence in small homes around the country, while policeman Óscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal in a well-suited mustache) is tasked by the Chilean president with tracking Neruda down.

But the otherwise provocative story – a caged bohemian whose restlessness and desires are poised to sink his cause – is muddled by unclear motivations. The violence and terror of a state falling into dictatorship — the rounding up of union leaders, communists and dissenters — is explicit but strangely benign, and the threat to Neruda never feels particularly realized. That uncertainty is compounded by his dismissive attitude toward his wife, his frequent drunken visits to brothels and his anger at being forced to abandon his bourgeois lifestyle.

The movie begins to play with its own constructs partway through, when Peluchonneau begins to doubt his own existence. His struggles with his own artistic desires are never fully realized, and we are told that perhaps he's simply a character in Neruda's own grandiose story about himself.

Ignorant of Neruda's story and writings as I am, I'm unclear what Larraín and writer Guillermo Calderón are trying to accomplish with the unflattering portrait of the poet. Not that a hero treatment would be preferable but Neruda paints Chile on the brink of fascism as colorful and warm — its inhumanities, perhaps, even the delusions of a dramatist. R. 107m. MINIPLEX.

— Grant Scott-Goforth

For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.


FIFTY SHADES DARKER. Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson reprise their roles in the BDSM romance novel adaptation so you can have more awkward conversations with Carol at work. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.OSCAR LIVE ACTION SHORTS. Nominated films of 2017. MINOR

OSCAR ANIMATED SHORTS. Nominated films of 2017. MINOR

SALESMAN. Married Iranian actors (Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini) rehearsing for Death of a Salesman struggle with the aftermath of the wife's brutal assault. PG13. 125m. MINIPLEX.

2017 OSCAR DOCUMENTARY SHORTS. Nominated films of 2017. MINIPLEX.

JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2. Keanu Reeves suits up again as a hit-man out of retirement, perforating an army of international baddies out for the price on his head. With Laurence Fishburne and Ian McShane. R. 122m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE. The plastic Dark Knight (voiced by a gravelly Will Arnett) takes on a partner in this brick-filled animated feature. With Micheal Cera. PG. 104m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.


A DOG'S PURPOSE. Watching the dog die in any movie is the most gut-wrenching part, so let's do it over and over until we are dry husks devoid of tears. PG. 120m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

THE FOUNDER. Michael Keaton stars in the story of Ray Kroc and how he turned a burger joint owned by a pair of brothers into the McDonald's empire. PG13. 115m. MINOR.

HIDDEN FIGURES. Indelible performances Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer carry this compelling story about the black women whose calculations were vital to the space race. Still, it lacks style and scenes of daily racism and sexism amid the Civil Rights movement come off as mild and toothless. PG. 127m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

LA LA LAND. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone make real movie magic in this lush, candy-colored and sublimely giddy musical about an aspiring actress and jazz-loving pianist in Los Angeles. PG13. 128m. BROADWAY, MINOR.

LION. Dev Patel stars in the genuine, moving and beautiful true tale of a young adopted man searching for his roots and his family in India. PG13. 118m. BROADWAY, MINOR.

RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER. If only it were true. Then Mila Jovovich could move on from these slapdash rehashes and the poorly edited, hard to see action sequences. PG13. 116m. BROADWAY.

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY. This Death Star-era prequel about a young rebel and her motley crew features character complexity yet unseen in the Star Wars universe, plus a stellar cast, impeccably choreographed battle sequences, good jokes and the best droid yet. PG13. 113m. BROADWAY.

SING. A koala trying to save his theater holds a singing competition with a menagerie of hopefuls in this animated musical. Starring Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon. PG. 108m. BROADWAY.

THE SPACE BETWEEN US. A boy born on a journey to Mars finally visits Earth in his teens, where the atmosphere isn't compatible with his physiology. PG13. 121m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

SPLIT. James McAvoy plays a kidnapper with multiple personalities and who is probably already dead in this M. Night Shyamalan movie. PG13. 116m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill


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