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Oddball Review: Western Thriller Triple Feature

Apple and I recently took a break from our usual Asian-flavored horror movies to watch a handful of thrillers of decidedly more Western origin: The Number 23, Transsiberian and A Haunting in Connecticut (2009 remake edition). Since I was not enamored with any of them enough to post a detailed, screencap-infused writeup like this, I decided to combine three capsule-style reviews into the first Oddball Review Triple Feature. Good? Bad? I’m the guy with the gun. (Whatever; I get random sometimes. Just keep reading.)

The Number 23

Jim Carrey stars in this decidedly overhyped thriller which you’d think would be about numerology, but in the end, actually has nothing at all to do with it. In fact, the entire premise was one big red herring designed to distract us from the central issue, which is that (spoiler alert!) Jim Carrey’s character was once a raging psychopath. The reason he’s not anymore is because he hit his head and forgot who he was, then spent the next 15 years of his life as a meek dogcatcher with no friends. The ending almost, almost had me so incredulous with disbelief that I would have ejected the DVD, thrown it into the Netflix sleeve and hurled it into the mailbox, but somewhat redeemed itself at the last minute. The story felt like it had gone ’round the block a few times and wasn’t exactly a fresh idea. Could have been worse, but overall didn’t cover any new territory.

From a technical standpoint, the film was rife with what I felt were bizarre stylistic choices. There were numerous flashback scenes done in a noir style that I first thought were taking place in the sixties, right down to the vintage police car, but which also included more modern vehicles and items which couldn’t possibly exist then. At one point the 9/11 catastrophe and the Oklahoma City Bombing are mentioned when those events had not yet occurred in the timeline! Just a mess.

Then there was that distracting little problem of Jim Carrey being typecast, to the point where in all of his scenes I expected him to spontaneously break out into some goofy face and make strange noises.

Oddball Verdict: Don’t bother with this one.

Transsiberian

From director Brad Anderson, who brought us Session 9 (one of my all-time favorite thrillers ever, if only because it was shot on location at the former Danvers State Hospital), comes this suspense drama about an American couple taking the Trans-Siberian Railway from Vladivostok to Moscow. The couple meets up with an outgoing Spaniard and his quiet American girlfriend who start acting a little on the suspicious side, and pretty soon things really start going to hell in a handbasket, complete with brutality from the scaaaaary Russian police.

Delivered on Blu-Ray Disc by Netflix, the picture quality was stunning, and the movie was loaded with amazing imagery that really made you feel like you were there. In fact, the feeling of culture shock was conveyed pretty well through the film. The story, however, was very slow to get started, to the point where it seemed nearly half of the movie was behind us before the tension really started to build.

The whole second half is a real edge-of-your-seat affair, its tension stemming from the age-old mechanism of watching the protagonists running with agonizing slowness from a lethal pursuer. It did resolve a bit more neatly than I expected it to, leaving us with a decent sense of closure. Overall it was a pretty good film, but unlike Session 9, it’s not one I’d be compelled to watch again.

Oddball Verdict: Mildly recommended.

A Haunting in Connecticut (2009 remake)

We put this on our Netflix queue while we were still in Thailand. The film had just come out then, and it looked interesting enough to merit a rental. Apple and I both like ghost stories, which this seemed to be at its core — plus I had heard of the original source material, which was a made-for-TV movie if I recall correctly.

This is definitely a modern remake, filled with the kind of jump-scares, bloody imagery and disturbing viscera that American horror is known for. Given the cliche nature of its story and presentation, I personally felt that the acting was unusually good for a film like this. There were no annoying cannon-fodder characters who exist only to be murdered by a malevolent entity halfway through the movie, although the central protagonist Matt (Kyle Gallner) spends nearly the entire picture being tormented in some form or another. Most of the imagery itself was too over-the-top, yet pointless, for Apple to enjoy and she promptly went to bed with a huge headache. I found myself digging it a bit more.

I was fairly annoyed with the character of Matt’s father (Martin Donovan), who seemed to serve no purpose at all except to behave in a predictably “rotten husband” fashion, then go on a drunken rampage meant only to scare the audience and about which nothing was ever mentioned again. Later, there was a somewhat cloying scene where he and Matt’s mother reconciled upon learning that Matt was close to death, but it felt forced and insincere. Overall, I think this character’s presence in the film was entirely unnecessary.

Along the lines of my particular obsessions, I’d like to make a special mention of the time period in which the film’s story took place (1987) and the automobiles chosen to appear. The creators seemingly did their best to find period-accurate cars for the film, but their efforts were stymied in some places. Matt’s mother is seen driving a Pontiac 6000 wagon, but the car appears to be a circa-1991 model and not a pre-’87. At one point, Matt’s father sells his vintage Ford pickup and replaces it with a clapped-out Buick Regal, but the Regal shown couldn’t have been more than a couple years old in 1987 and the level of deterioration it exhibited was borderline unrealistic. Most egregious was the mid-’90s Ford E-series ambulance shown outside a hospital — way too new!

Freaky tie-in trivia: Virginia Madsen, who played Matt’s mom, also starred as the wife of Jim Carrey’s character in The Number 23. OoooOOOOoooOOOOoooo.

Oddball Verdict: If you’re bored, walk, don’t run, to the video store for a rental.

Next Time…

Join us here at Oddball Update in the near future for a review of 2005 Thai horror film Ghost of Mae Nak, based on a popular Thai legend.

8 thoughts on “Oddball Review: Western Thriller Triple Feature

  1. I’ll probably wait until your next review to spew a bit more, but I’ve seen Ghost of Mae Nak.

    SPOILER: I wasn’t too impressed. It was okay in spots, but it seemed to drag on far longer than it should have, and kind of meandered about too much instead of sticking to the plot.

    I have not seen any of the movies in this post, though. However, I always thought The Number 23 looked silly from the previews.

  2. Have you seen Art of the Devil (Khon len khong)? I was thinking of reviewing that too, although I watched it several weeks ago now. It was on Netflix’s instant streaming thing, so I could always revisit it for a refresher. But I’d rather not. Which probably gives away my overall opinion of that one.

    “Silly” is perhaps the best word for The Number 23. It is also perhaps the only word the film needs.

  3. Yeah, I’ve seen that one — and its sequel (I think Reaper has both of them on DVD, but I rented them a while before he bought them). I recall being not too impressed by the first one (waaaay too many “coincidences” and corny gotcha moments, from what I recall). I seem to remember liking the sequel a little bit more, but that shouldn’t be construed as being a recommendation.

    But those two, like Sick Nurses, are ones that I haven’t seen in quite a while, so the details are sketchy in my mind. I liked Ghost of Mae Nak more than Art of the Devil and its sequel, though, if that’s any indication.

  4. The first Art of the Devil did nothing for me, really. Badly shot, badly lit, badly written, badly acted. I did want to see the sequel (which Netflix also has), if for no other reason than it’s not related to the first one in any way but its name.

    Another Thai thriller we saw recently was The Victim. I thought that one was pretty good.

    Out of curiosity, where did you say you were finding these things to rent? Our local brick & mortar stores barely carry anything from Japan, let alone Thailand.

  5. I haven’t seen The Victim (shock!), but my video store does have it. I think I was a bit burned out on Asian horror when that particular flick came in, so I never bothered to rent it. Tartan was pretty good around releasing non-Japanese stuff (I think they released The Victim, and I know they released Ghost of Mae Nak over here, along with tons of Korean movies), so that’s how I saw a lot of that stuff.

    It’s that local video store, by the way, that I rent all this stuff from. For a little place, they have a surprisingly large Foreign section (including a good 70-80% of Tartan’s output). Of course, since Tartan went belly-up — and since the Western market has shied away from Asian horror after the recent horrible Hollywood remakes (have you seen the remake of Shutter? Ugh) — new releases have slowed to a trickle. And most of the stuff that does get released seems to have an obvious Western influence — i.e. lame gorefests instead of the kind of stuff we’re used to seeing.

  6. In going back to Netflix’s website to look up the listing for The Victim, it made me want to review it. I thought it was better than Sick Nurses (really, though, they’re two different things entirely) and pretty much all of the other Thai horror movies I’ve mentioned on here of late. But it’s not available as an instant stream, so I’ll have to rely on my memory from mid-June, which is when we watched it. 🙂

    That’s pretty cool that your local independent shop has such a selection. Quite unusual. The owner / manager / whoever must be a fan of the genre.

    I haven’t seen the remake of Shutter (doesn’t it star Joshua Jackson, of all people?), with the exception of I believe the last five minutes. Based on what those minutes contained, they may be all I need to see. Although interestingly, Apple’s sister saw it and thought it was pretty good.

    Which reminds me, she loaned me a copy of Wanted. That was like watching a live-action comic book, complete with over-the-top silliness. I watched it through to completion, but it was a little too ridiculous in many parts.

  7. Yeah, the Shutter remake stars Joshua Jackson; it also stars Megumi Okina, who played the main role in Ju-on, as the ghost/malevolent spirit. I saw most of it, and I thought it was kinda goofy. But admittedly, that could just be me comparing it to the original, which I like very much.

    I saw the last five minutes of Wanted; when Angelina Jolie warped the bullet to make it encircle the room to kill everyone in attendance — followed by the main character killing Morgan Freeman from apparently another time zone — I decided I didn’t need to see the rest of it.

  8. It’s hard for me to imagine how the original Shutter could be improved upon, so on principle I would have considered a remake to be a bad idea. The remake might be an okay film on its own merits, but I’m forever spoiled now. 🙂

    Wanted had such scenes as the horde of rat-bombs (exploding rats with Casio wristwatch detonators strapped to their backs), the aforementioned Angelina Jolie and her circular bullet-firing, a ’65 Mustang using an ’88 Corvette’s wedge-like front end as a ramp to launch itself 12 feet in the air (after which both cars kept going), and my personal favorite: The Big Reveal™ that the secret society was getting their orders on whom to kill by interpreting the random patterns woven by a magical loom.

    Just no.

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