Found myself awake at 2:30 this morning, and while flipping around the TV I came upon the above scene, from the 2001 film The Lady and the Duke, about the relationship between an expatriate Englishwoman, living in 18th century France at the time of the Revolution, and the cousin of the deposed King Louis XIV. At the very least, it was an involving character study in a period setting...but the most interesting thing to me were the unusual visuals, which combined digital manipulation with hand-painted backgrounds (on all outdoor scenes; all indoor scenes were filmed on sets) which gave them an odd, almost eerie look, something like old postcards from that time period. People fade into the distance, horses and carriages blend in and out...see the photo above for an example. She actually hides behind that log in the foreground at a later point. It makes the film a fascinating one to watch, and it's a conceit which, with a lesser hand at the helm, could have become old fast but 81-year-old director Eric Rohmer still had the imagination and skill to make sure this didn't happen. Some critics that I've read since watching this complained that the film, despite the distinctive visual style, was talky and dull but it didn't seem that way to me at all...and if a talky dull film doesn't put me to sleep at four in the morning, then it must have something going for it! Another thing I thought cool was the fact that it was based on a written-long-ago and mostly-forgotten-now memoir of the real-life Lady Grace Elliott.
I also watched last year's hit film The Ring, which was a remake of a Japanese film (haven't seen it) called Ringu. In Ring, people watch a weird Nine Inch Nails video (or at least something like one), then get a phone call from a mysterious voice informing them that they will die in seven days. This happens to a skeptical reporter, who, investigating her niece's death at the request of her sister, foolishly views the tape. A somewhat convoluted race against time to find out who made the film and why follows as her son and his estranged father also foolishly watch the video and receive death sentences as well. At first I wasn't sure whether I was going to be able to hang with it, because it was such a smorgasbord of modern horror flick cliches- a little I Know What You Did Last Summer here, a little David (Seven) Fincher there, and a whole lot of Sixth Sense ambience everywhere (is there a law stating all modern horror films have to feature spooky kids who act like they're on a lithium? I blame Christina Ricci in Addams Family)...but it still built up a good tense head of steam, and I became caught up in it about halfway through in spite of myself. Of course, and I hope I won't spoil it for you too much, it has one of thise irritating false endings- you know, just when you think everything's gonna be all right- OH NO! I suppose people crave this sort of thing out of their horror movies these days, but I just find it annoying. I also had a hard time figuring out exactly what happened with the family that lived on the island that was at the root of the whole mystery, which the director didn't help by editing out a couple of scenes which helped explain what was what and who was who. On DVD, these are available as a bonus feature. Still, I liked The Ring OK, once it got going...but I wish the execution had been as fresh as its premise.