The Ring (15) <br></br>Moonlight Mile (15) <br></br>The One And Only (15) <br></br>Japon (18)

Anthony Quinn
Friday 21 February 2003 01:00
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In the horror movie The Ring there's something nasty on the telly, and we're not talking Wife Swap. Naomi Watts plays Rachel Keller, an investigative reporter pursuing the story of a mysterious videotape that allegedly brings death to whoever watches it: once the telephone rings, the viewer has exactly seven days to live. Stuff and nonsense, thinks Rachel, until she has her own look at the video – a bizarre sequence of images resembling a student film-maker's surrealist debut – and then (eek!) the phone rings, her face starts to blur on film like a Francis Bacon head portrait, and the seven-day countdown is on.

The idea of the phone as a portent of doom is reminiscent of Scream, but The Ring avoids any of its coy postmodern ironies – it really is out to jolt you, and with Hideo Nakata's terrific 1998 original as its source there's every chance it will. Gore Verbinski handles the remake duties with blameless competence, particularly in the early stages as the atmosphere of dread begins to gather. Naomi Watts, great as the obscure object of desire in Mulholland Dr, is plausibly spooked as the journalist, and David Dorfman as her young son has a wise-owl stare that might make him a contender for the next Haley Joel Osment. The film stumbles in the final reel when writer Ehren Kruger tries to elaborate upon the original, dragging wild horses and Brian Cox into a plot that has no need of either. What's more, while the masterstroke of Grand Guignol in the Japanese film scared the bejesus out of me, second time around it didn't have the same horripilating charge. If you don't know what to expect, however, be afraid, be very...

Set in the early Seventies, Moonlight Mile is an awkward tragicomedy about bereavement that features a strong cast but a feeble script. Responsibility for the latter is down to director Brad Silberling, whose last effort, the undelightful weepie City of Angels, should indicate the toxic levels of Californian preciousness circulating within. The film tries too hard to "ache" as nice guy Joe (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his fiancée in a random shooting, then moves in to comfort her distraught parents (Susan Sarandon and Dustin Hoffman) and assuage his own guilt. Silberling has written Joe as sensitive but directionless, a sort of younger brother to Hoffman's uncertain hero from The Graduate 35 years ago, but Gyllenhaal, whose acting I've admired up to now, comes across as merely dull and doltish. Having kept an infuriating silence for most of the movie, he gets a big courtroom speech that's so overwritten and embarrassing and irrelevant that you want the judge to interrupt and say, "Just answer the question, son". Pleasing to see Holly Hunter back, albeit in a minor role as the family attorney, but there's little else to cheer.

Given that it comes from a director (Simon Cellan-Jones) and a writer (Peter Flannery) who proved their mettle with Our Friends in The North, it's hard to know why the Tyneside-set romantic comedy The One and Only should be hobbled by such poor workmanship. There's barely a scene that feels true or a line that doesn't go clunk. Richard Roxburgh (the evil Duke from Moulin Rouge) and Justine Waddell fall in love at first sight but both come burdened with unsatisfactory spouses – his a gimlet-eyed scold (Aisling O'Sullivan), hers a philandering Italian footballer (played with excruciating "comedy" malapropisms by Jonathan Cake) – and a raft of child-raising concerns. A dismal farce of mistaken intentions plays second fiddle to the issues of pregnancy and adoption, prompting a dash from delivery room to train station and the sort of finale I'd imagined romantic comedy had wearied of.Cellan-Jones, whose feature debut Some Voices promised so much, has come a real cropper here; let's hope this misfire is his one and only.

Mexican cinema, recently distinguished by the headlong youthful energy of Amores Perros and Y Tu Mama Tambien, now shows a rather less feverish side in Japón, Carlos Reygadas's enigmatic debut. An anonymous man (Alejandro Ferretis) leaves the city for a remote scrubland canyon, where he meets an elderly peasant woman (Magdalena Flora) who gives him shelter. The man, who came intending to kill himself, spies a flicker of hope in the company of this modest but enduring old soul. Reygadas switches between shaky handheld camera and slow panning around the parched mountain landscape, creating a meditative torpor that may lull you into a small nap.

Yet some of his images are eerily impressive, like the extraordinary postcoital stillness of two horses, itself prefiguring one of the weirdest sex scenes in cinema as the old woman politely follows the man's coaxing instruction on a narrow truckle-bed: the earth moves, too, though not quite in the way either expects. From this bemusing sequence the film flies off on another tangent, this time a sort of docudrama about peasant workers and their ancient bonds of camaraderie, featuring a folk song "performed" by perhaps the drunkest man in Mexico. What does it all mean? Damned if I know, but I was intrigued.

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