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The Canterville Ghost (1996)
I enjoyed the story, and the beautiful English locations used in filming, but the main American characters (especially the parents) really were annoying. The smarmy dad blustered on and on about "physics" and ignored the obvious supernatural events, and the whole family,with the exception of Neve Campbell's character, seemed more or less like the kind of obnoxious, selfish tourists that blunder all over Europe and scream at people for not speaking English. They openly mock the beliefs and legends of the inhabitants of the village (and of the people who've lived in the home for generations) and never apologize for their boorish behavior even after it's been shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that the "ghost stories" were true the entire time. They basically invade a foreign country and then trash it for not being just like home, which is the kind of cultural tantalization Americans are (in)famous for. One wonders why the smug dad doesn't demand that they tear down the house and put up a Holiday Inn and convenience store, so little respect does he show to the area and its inhabitants.
I realize when this story was written, the idea of "modern" Americans tackling the problem of a ghost must have seemed fresh and funny. Now, though, the film only highlights why so many other countries hold us in contempt. Indeed, the only sympathetic characters in the film are the ghost and the native British inhabitants; the loud, smug Americans, so arrogant that they fail to see that THEY are the deluded ones who ignore a very real ghost, come across like fingernails on a chalkboard: grating, painful, and woefully out of place.
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Horrible, doesn't hold a candle to the "real" one from 1947. WAY too many sappy close-ups of Mara Wilson's would-be "cute" expressions (of which she has exactly one, used ad nauseum in both this and Mrs. Doubtfire) and brings in a completely bizarre and irrelevant Christian angle to the end. As others have pointed out, "In God We Trust" was NOT originally on currency, and was only added in 1957. It was a sign of the times and should not be assumed to be a government endorsement of religion. Americans believe in literally thousands of "gods" and yet only one Santa Claus, so his "god" argument was ridiculous and nonsensical.
It's no wonder Macy's didn't want to be associated with this film. Treacly sentimentality, mawkish pandering to religious fanatics, and lackluster acting make this movie more akin to a made-for-TV film than a remake of a classic. If you want to watch "Miracle On 34th Street," then watch the real one. Give this gooey, inferior imitator a wide berth.
When a Stranger Calls (2006)
A Refreshing Change
I can't believe all the bad reviews I'm reading on this. I thought it was great. It had something most modern "horror" movies don't have; atmosphere. Instead of torture porn, and gratuitous buckets of blood thrown everywhere, this movie instead scares by what you DON'T see. What's lurking in the shadows, what might be hiding behind the door....this is so much more frightening than cheesy gross-out scenes. With very little gore, this film managed to be terrifying because it seemed like something that could really happen. The only beef I had with it were a few scenes where the Jill character acted in ways I didn't find believable (if she thought there was someone crazy spying on her, would she REALLY leave the house to go investigate the dark and spooky outdoors?) but overall I found it a spooky and highly enjoyable watch.
Diana Rigg proves she's still got it in these wonderful and atmospheric mysteries. Her Adela Bradley is an eccentric woman of strength and character, an accomplished author and expert on psychoanalysis and criminology during a time when women of her class were content to sit around and look pretty. After divorcing her "boring" husband, she travels about with her trusty driver and indulges her interests and curiosities, prying into the darker side of human nature. Rigg is wonderful in the role; few women could pull off that severe bob and yet still look so inviting. It's hard to imagine a better actress for the part.
In this episode, she investigates a murder at the posh finishing school she herself attended decades before. Someone, it seems, has killed the art teacher during a performance of a Gilbert and Sullivan play. Adela sets out to solve the case, but more murders follow and there's a subplot involving jewel theft and illicit love. A cast of colourful characters (look for David Tennant) and absolutely beautiful 30's-era set design and automobiles makes this a treat on every level. It's too bad this series didn't last. It fits right in there with the much more successful Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries.