that the radio? Keaton in White Noise.
by Geoffrey Sax
A quasi-realistic horror film along the lines of the Japanese
cult thriller Ringu (and its American adaptation, The
Ring), White Noise concerns EVP, or electronic
voice phenomena—the psychic phenomena du jour that holds that
you can hear dead people amid the static of electronic transmissions.
And if you’re really patient and don’t mind a bad case of
eyestrain, you can see them, too. Written and directed by
TV alumnus Niall Johnson and Geoffrey Sax, White Noise,
about a widower who sees his wife’s image in the blur
of a detuned TV screen, gradually ratchets the tension
to a promising level and then abruptly discards its own internal
Jonathan Rivers (Michael Keaton) is the widower whose adored
wife, Anna (modelesque Chandra West from NYPD Blue),
vanishes without a trace. Jonathan is a successful architect;
this is important because his house, an angular modernist
structure in sterile white, provides a key setting, while
his income allows him to spend lavishly on TV sets, computer
rigs, and other pricey components necessary for a home EVP
station. But that comes after he makes the acquaintance of
Raymond (weirdly vivid Ian McNeice), an empathetic EVP specialist
who has been receiving transmissions from Anna. A day later,
Anna’s body washes up on a riverbank. After hours of listening
to tapes played backward through Raymond’s high-end equipment,
Jonathan is able to make out Anna’s voice. He also hears some
other voices, and they are not amused at being intercepted,
growling and hissing with disembodied menace. On a monitor
behind him, three wraiths flicker in the static like a backup
choir for Marilyn Manson. As the film makes spookily evident,
communiqués from beyond the grave come at a price.
As the news of Anna’s death plays on TV-news stations, it
seems that White Noise may be working around the idea
that a dead person’s electronic remains—such as videotapes
and phone recordings—could give them a whole new vocabulary
with which to speak from the other side—surely an advance
over sputtering candles, slamming doors, or waiting for someone
to get out the Ouija board. But no, Anna’s shadowy appearances
are meant to warn Jonathan of impending doom for other grieving
people. To help him interpret her cryptic messages, he visits
a clairvoyant, who is alarmed by what she intuits. Jonathan
doesn’t seem to believe in good ol’ ESP, however, which puts
him in danger.
Most of the film’s suspense comes from the glowering cinematography,
which concentrates on cold, modernist interiors and bleak
industrial backdrops that are as devoid of comfort as a lunar
landscape. Eerie monitor images provide a few jolts, and there’s
a well-done scene involving a car crash and a telephone pole
that rains down sparks. But after this creepy high point,
the film is unable to sustain its mood of ephemeral, paranormal
dread, and drifts into increasingly bewildering and out-of-bounds
phenomena. Understandably, Keaton’s performance goes flatline.
Noise certainly isn’t the only movie with a tense and
atmospheric buildup that leads to a cut-and-paste resolution.
But what does distinguish this post-millennium thriller is
how its carefully cultivated atmosphere of sadness turns into
a David Fincher-style downer (complete with instruments of
torture) simply to provide a shock (actually stock) ending.
It’s as if the filmmakers suddenly had their channel changed.
but happy: Vega in Spanglish.
by James L. Brooks
The holidays are over, gentle reader, but the holiday movies
linger on. If a recent visit to the multiplex is an indication,
Adam Sandler’s latest attempt to recalibrate his image, Spanglish,
is still drawing respectable weeknight crowds.
only knows why. The film is smug, self-satisfied and offensive
to a degree one would not think possible, even allowing it
was made by smug, self-satisfied, overpraised writer-director
James L. Brooks.
As the title suggests, it’s all about the mingling of cultures.
Or, that’s what it pretends to be. It’s hard to tell; see
what you think. Mexican illegals Flor (Paz Vega) and her teen
daughter Cristina (Shelby Bruce) are making a new life for
themselves in El Lay. Flor, who speaks no English, gets a
housekeeper-nanny job with the Claskys. John Clasky (Sandler)
is a loving, caring dad who also happens to be the greatest
chef in America. His wife Deb (Téa Leoni) is newly unemployed
and in full crisis mode. Their kids Bernice (Sarah Steele)
and Georgie (Ian Hyland) are more-or-less normal; Deb’s mom,
Evelyn Norwich (Cloris Leachman), is an amusing drunk.
Flor and her daughter are well-adjusted, poor but hardworking
and delighted to be Latino. The Clasky family are dysfunctional,
wealthy and—like most white folks—unaware that they belong
to any group other than “us.” That’s about it for trenchant
social commentary; every other plot point related to race
or class is a hopeless muddle. Example: When John tells Flor
that he’s concerned his daughter will be affected by her snooty
private school, Flor reassures him that she won’t, because
Bernice has “heart.” Yet, when Flor has the same reservations
about her own daughter (who has just as much “heart” as Bernice)
being among Anglos, the movie presents Flor’s attitude as
correct. Does this mean it’s good for white kids to learn
to become ruling-class assholes, but Latinos should not? Maybe
Brooks is just reassuring himself that his own help are happy
as they are.
The film’s biggest crime, however, is wrapping itself in the
holy mantle of Protecting The Children. (Warning: spoilers
ahead.) Flor is a good mom; Deb is a horror who makes her
daughter feel bad for being fat and, also, cheats on her husband.
John is a good dad; Flor’s absent hubby is a deadbeat. Flor
and John have the hots for each other, the film seems to suggest,
because they’re such good parents. But they can’t get together
precisely because they’re good parents.
Bullshit. Deb is a complete monster, and easily the most repulsive
female character put on film in recent memory. She’s selfish
about everything, from other people’s children to her own
orgasms—and Brooks, in an act of filmmaking misogyny rare
outside of snuff films, allows her no redeeming qualities.
None. There is no way that Deb is anything but a plague on
her children, and the idea that the Sandler character should
stay with her amounts to child abuse.
Brooks wants us to think that his film is “serious” because
it honors self-sacrifice and family values. But the characters
are so shallow that his serious aspirations are laughable.
The only way Spanglish would have worked is if John
kicked his rotten wife and her drunken mom to the curb and
married Flor. That, however, would have made the film a conventional
romantic comedy, and Brooks thinks himself too good for that.
He’s a hack who doesn’t have the balls to be himself. That
fact needs no translation.