Film Review: Let Me In


Film Review:
Let Me In–R
Directed by Matt Reeves
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz,
Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas
115 Minutes, Feature Film
Hammer Films

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The American film remake sub-genre is, generally speaking, a film industry cop out. Take an inspired (or uninspired) original source–films generally carrying the word “classic” in their notoriety–and present a new and updated version to an audience that studios predict will pay money to see a film they have already seen. While exceptions can be found, most remakes fail to best their source material, the horror genre being the best example.

In the past decade we have seen remakes of more than a dozen universally lauded classics in the horror and thriller genre. Most appeared to be nothing more than opportunities to cash in on a film’s preexisting reputations; seldom did these films shed new light on the classic story. To this end a remake of the 2008 Swedish vampire/coming of age film, “Let the Right One End” seemed pointless and actually offensive to a perfectly fine film that just happens to have subtitles.

Matt Reeves “Let Me In” is a surprisingly rare breed of remakes. Its source material is indeed from foreign soil, which, too, is another sub-genre within the remake sub-genre of horror. Following in the footsteps of such successes as the wave of Japanese ghost story remakes like “The Ring” or “Dark Water,” “Let Me In” hopes to attract a new audience, one not expected to have sat through the subtitles of the original, to this refreshingly unique take on vampire lore.

It’s also a rare breed of remakes in that scene for scene “Let Me In” is almost a direct retelling of its predecessor. Its flow is uniform as are many of the original’s memorable shots. Like its source material, “Let Me In” is set in a cold, empty place (here, Los Alamos, New Mexico, filling in for the desolate suburb of Stockholm). It’s an understandably bleak environment for what on the surface is a terribly bleak story, one that has climaxes that are both triumphant and despairing.

Owen (“The Road’s” Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a young, lonely and bored boy. He spends his days fleeing from bullies; avoiding his overly preachy, wine-o mother; spying on neighbors through his apartment’s very own “rear window;” and indulging in the one thing that seems to bring him comfort, his Now & Later fruit chews.

When a young and mysterious girl named Abby (Chloe Moretz) arrives one frigid night observed walking barefoot through the snowy courtyard, Owen’s world suddenly becomes all the more interesting.

The friendship that forms is the essence of what makes this story (the original was based off a best-selling Swedish vampire novel) so unprecedented in vampire iconography. This isn’t the 90201-themed love triangle of the “Twilight” series, nor does it attempt to be a clever comment on society a la HBO’s breakout hit series, “True Blood.”

“Let Me In” is a love story like “Harold and Maude” is a love story. It is a coming of age story in the same austere way Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic novel, “The Road” is. More to the point, it doesn’t glamorize the vampire lifestyle, but rather shows it as a cruel infliction on everyone involved, both physically and mentally.

While some alterations are made from “Let the Right One In” (a strange scene from the original involving a pack of wild cats is smartly removed this time around) the filmmakers respectfully mirror the original, swapping for a Reagan era small town U.S.A setting and throwing a larger budget to the production (a particularly effective shot from the back of a car as it slides out of control stands out).

Director Matt Reeves drops snippets of Reagan’s famous, “Evil Empire” speech early on in the film, a speech in which the former President acknowledges evil’s existence in the world. This is not merely a way to present the setting. Whether or not the characters believe or know there is definite evil in the world is beside the point; they don’t understand it. In “Let Me In” things aren’t as black and white as good and evil.

Religion is hinted at throughout the film, primarily with the word evil being tossed around. Owen’s mother is hardly seen or heard from in this film because she is not entirely there for her son. She is struggling with her own beliefs and her weakness for the bottle. She sees and believes in the evils of the world but yet doesn’t care enough to protect her own son who ultimately turns to violent acts to solve his own confrontations with the evil that hears about but doesn’t quite understand.

We see early on where his character is headed in terms of his budding kinship to Abby who, as she puts it so eloquently, has been twelve years old for a very long time. To say much more would spoil the film’s intrigue. To tread lightly, this is a film that leaves the viewer wondering about the decisions made by its characters after the credits roll.

“Let Me In” features a stellar cast including the great character actors Elias Koteas (“The Thin Red Line”) as a curious, soft spoken policeman, and Richard Jenkins (HBO’s “Six Feet Under”) as Abby’s mysterious father-like caretaker. Here both men play somber and serious men who don’t quite understand what is happening around them, but are drawn into the fold nevertheless. In one scene Jenkin’s protector character pleads with Abby not to see Owen again. It’s a simple exchange of words that manages to tell so much about his past with her and his understanding that after he’s gone she will still be.

“Let the Right One In” is a masterful little horror film that should be seen by all fans of the genre. On its own, “Let Me In” stands up surprisingly well but ultimately feels like an easy way around trying one’s hand at a foreign language film. It’s a far more insightful film than anything else you might see this Halloween season and hopefully will pique the curiosity of its viewers enough to seek out the original.

Fall Movie Preview


The Dark Knight fever is beginning to die down. Arguably the most anticipated and biggest film of 2008 has made its splash and now the question is, what’s next? Is there another upcoming film this year that will be as well regarded as The Dark Knight? Will Heath Ledger get those posthumous awards everyone is buzzing about? While financially the newest Batman flick will undoubtedly be the victor of ‘08 there are some intriguing films left for this year, especially before Christmas when the slew of Oscar bait films are unloaded. Here are ten fall films to look forward to.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona – Release Date August 15: Woody Allen found his new muse back in 2005 when he cast Scarlett Johansson in the sly, out of left fieldMatch Point. Since then she appeared in the less than desirable Scoop and nowBarcelona, which takes Allen and company to the Iberian Peninsula. Teaming up with recently applauded Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz (both native Spaniards), and the wonderful character actor Patricia Clarkson, this has potential to be one of the better comedies this year.
Hamlet 2 – Release Date August 29: Sure the title is just begging to be scoffed at but the one thing going for this comedy about a high school drama production of a sequel to a Shakespeare classic is the great British actor/funnyman Steve Coogan. This little indie supposedly features raunchy political incorrectness galore but also appears to stretch its message to the free speech debate. If anything just seeing what the writers came up with for a Hamlet sequel is enough to warrant a viewing.
Burn After Reading – Release Date September 12: How do you follow up an Oscar sweeping action drama about a psychotic killer and a money chase gone wrong? Why with a screwball comedy of course. The Coen Brothers have walked down this path before with the brilliant O Brother, Where Art Thou?The Big Lebowski, and even the admirable Intolerable Cruelty. This time the brothers team up yet again with George Clooney and Frances McDormand but also with the intriguing likes of John Malkovich, character actor J.K. Simmons, Tilda Swinton, and Brad Pitt. Little is known about the plot, which involves a computer disk with crucial CIA intelligence falling into the hands of nitwits but who cares, it’s the Coens. Nuff said.
ImageMiracle at St. Anna – Release Date September 26: There has been a lot of hoo-hah in the news lately regarding Spike Lee and World War II. The outspoken, controversial filmmaker had a lot of negative things to say about Clint Eastwood’s two Iwo Jima films not including an African American point of view. Now Lee has a chance to tell his side of the war. Anna is set in Mussolini’s Italy during 1944, a part of The War seldom chronicled on screen and from the trailers it appears to be about an all-black unit trapped behind enemy lines. With a staff including Derek Luke, John Leguizamo, the return of Lee regular John Turturro, and the up and coming Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this could be a fresh side to the overworked WWII genre.
Blindness – Release Date October 3: For those who have read José Saramogo’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel about a blindness epidemic sweeping an unnamed country you’ll know it is one bleak story to film. Saramago uses this hypothetical apocalyptic setup as a vehicle for discussing how we as people treat and view each other. The film adaptation was directed by the great Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles whose film City of God and The Constant Gardener were two of the finest of decade and has a promising cast including the always strong Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover and Gael García Bernal in a tasty villainous role. Whereas 2006sChildren of Men asked what would happen if we as people could no longer procreate, Blindness ponders how we would survive without the sense of sight, something we often take for granted.
Religulous – Limited Release Date October 3: This film was originally planned for a release last Easter. Then it was pushed back till the summer. Now it appears to be a fall release. While the scheduling crisis is a bit concerning, this satirical look at all major religions from political humorist Bill Maher, one of the few outspoken “rationalists” who isn’t afraid to make a splash, could be one of the bigger documentaries this year. With Borat director Larry Charles at the helm, this has the potential to be as big as The Passion of Christ, this time around with jokes. Whatever happens it’ll be interesting to see the reaction from the organized religion giants comedian Bill Maher takes on.
RocknRolla – Release Date October 31: After his pair of clever genre rejuvenating British Gangster films–Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch–it seemed that director Guy Ritchie might be the next Tarantino. Then he made a bomb with Swept Away followed by another bomb with Revolver. Only time will tell whether or not RocknRolla will be this slick filmmaker’s return to form. The one thing in its favor is the film’s cast, which includes new leading man Gerard Butler of 300 not to mention the great Tom Wilkinson (who appears to be in every movie these days), Jeremy Piven, Ludacris (who continues to prove he can act) and The Wire’s Idris Elba. Even if it bombs we can expect lots of guns, loud Brit pop music and fascinating British dialects that are foreign to American ears.
Changeling – Release Date October 31: Clint Eastwood directs Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich. Not a whole lot else is needed after that. Still this period piece/thriller about a kidnapping was a favorite at this year’s Cannes fest and will no doubt be just what Angelina Jolie needs to take the spotlight off her personal life and back onto her acting chops.
The Quantum of Solace – Release Date November 7: The title of the new Daniel Craig 007 flick is a bit curious but after the success of Casino Royale, which dealt with Bond’s beginning one can only expect Solace to be for the 007 revival what The Dark Knight is for the new Batman series. At least one can hope. Little is known about the plot (which is just fine) but the lead villain is the wonderful French actor Mathieu Amalric who wowed audiences with last year’s restrained performance as a paralyzed writer in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – Release Date December 25: The idea of David Fincher directing a fantasy film based on a F. Scott Fitzgerald short story of a man who ages in reverse is not only puzzling but also terribly exciting. The trailer is already floating around the internet and the cast is ripe with talent. Fincher is a filmmaker who continues to surprise us with his maturation and from the looks of this film this should be yet another great to add to his canon.
HONORABLE MENTIONS
Choke (September 26), Zack and Miri Make a Porno (October 31), Australia (November 14th), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Road (November 26), Milk (December 5), Doubt (December 12)
 

McCarthyism


When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping behind him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world.


So begins Cormac McCarthy’s bleak, Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road, soon to be a major motion picture. The veteran American author, whose prose is often compared to the likes of Faulkner, Melville and Joyce, has been a household name in the literary world for a number of years but is just starting to move into the mainstream spotlight thanks to some recent and upcoming page to screen adaptations.


It’s been a surprisingly busy past couple years for the mysterious author. The observant moviegoer might recognize McCarthy’s name from last year’s No Country For Old Men, the Coen Brothers’ Academy Award winning film adaptation of the author’s 2005 novel of the same name. Though the film was very much in the Coen tradition the story, complex dialogue and underlying message/critique of violence in society was all McCarthy.


NCFOM was not the first film to take on McCarthy’s literature, nor will it be the last. Billy Bob Thornton directed a not-so-well-received screen adaptation of McCarthy’s most critically acclaimed novel and National Book Award winning, All the Pretty Horses, in 2000. An adaptation of McCarthy’s second novel, Outer Dark, is supposedly in production according to Imdb.com. Next fall fans of the author will get to see The Road, the author’s latest novel, come to life on the big screen and there’s also a proposed and possibly worrisome film adaptation of McCarthy’s most brutal but arguably his finest work,Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West, slated for a tentative 2009 release.


Those familiar with McCarthy’s varied canon–starting with his Tennessee Appalachian period, followed by a move to the Southwest where he would take on the Western genre–will know that NCFOM and The Road, the author’s last two novels, were the most celluloid friendly. They lacked the author’s usual dense and sometimes cumbersome flow and were both dealt with a current or not so far off time period.


The Coen’s take on NCFOM was respectful of McCarthy’s original text while also adding a bit of the filmmakers’ signature sense of style, use of quirky supporting characters and sly dark humor. The Road, McCarthy’s haunting post-apocalyptic thriller just finished production and has the potential to be yet another successful film thanks to a unique, lesser-known director and a perfectly assembled cast of strong character actors.


The post-apocalyptic film has morphed into its own genre over the years with horror films ranging from 28 Days Later to this year’s I am Legend, not to mention past sci-fi staples such as the Mad Max trilogy and James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which used the threat of nuclear proliferation as its canvas. Where McCarthy’s The Road differed from the more extreme stories mentioned above is in its chilling sense of realism and constant reminder of hopelessness, page after page.


The New York Times recently ran a story about the filming of The Road and the difficulties of recreating a desolate American landscape in today’s world (the crew settled on Pennsylvania and the Lake Erie region for it’s crumbled America backdrop). The film was directed by the rising Aussie filmmaker, John Hillcoat, whose gritty take on the Western set down under in 2005s The Proposition, just so happened to be one of the closest film portrayals of the brutal violence depicted in McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. With The Road, Hillcoat directs Viggo Mortensen and newcomer child actor Kodi Smit-McPhee as a father and son walking a mysterious unnamed road through a desolate and crumbled post-disaster America.


Joining Mortensen is Charlize Theron as the Wife (who in the novel is only mentioned in back story), Robert Duvall,The Proposition’s Guy Pearce, Michael K. Williams aka Omar from HBO’s late series The Wire and possibly one of the best character actors working today, Garret Dillahunt, who had a small but memorable role as a slow-witted deputy in NCFOM. Aussie musician Nick Cave, who scripted and scored The Proposition, is also hard at work on the soundtrack for the film.


While normally a story as dark as The Road might turn moviegoers away, the post-NCFOM Oscar sweep and the fact that Oprah picked McCarthy’s novel in her book club two years ago gives the film version of the book the potential to be one of 2008s best films.


Then there’s Blood Meridian, quite possibly the white whale of film adaptations. Little is known about this project other than the fact that the film’s scribe is William Monahan, a rising name who won an Oscar two years ago for The Departed, and the person helming the director’s chair is veteran Ridley Scott. While both talents backing this film are notable and have the filmmaking chops (Scott has proved time and again that he has a knack for onscreen violence) there is a greater underlying question of whether or not Blood Meridian should make the leap from page to screen.


It is rarely the case that films best the books that they’re based on. That goes without saying. With Blood Meridian many believe the story is simply too densely written and overly violent (even for today’s standards) to come alive on the big screen. Others argue that if done well it has the potential to be one of the best and most historically accurate portrayals of the “real” Wild West ever seen on film.


For those unfamiliar with the story McCarthy tells the stomach turning tale of the Glanton gang, a group of weathered, blood-thirsty soldiers just out of the Mexican-American War in the mid 19th century who are contracted to travel through northern Mexico collecting the scalps for a price. Led by a larger than life character known as the Judge (if you thought Javier Bardem was creepy as Anton Chigurh in NCFOM read about the Judge to see what true heartless evil really is) the gang of misfits roam the desert landscape leaving a sanguinary trail of destruction behind them.


While the violence in the book is often unimaginable it serves as a reminder of the horrors our American forefathers unleashed on the North American natives and of the blood that built this country. To justly recreate the sort of mayhem McCarthy weaves in Blood Meridian it’s safe to say a film adaptation of this tale has the potential to be one of the most violent films ever made, making Mel Gibson’s biblical lesson in torture seem tame in comparison. To give you a taste of the madness McCarthy unleashes on his readers during one early scene the gang stumbles upon a tree riddled with the corpses of infants and children. This brings up another dire question about the making of this film: is there an audience for such brutal, in-your-face violence? Should a story like this, no matter how historically relevant, be brought to life for the movie going audience? If so, how do you stage a scene like the one just mentioned?


John Hillcoat’s The Proposition took the concept of Western film iconography and turned it upside down with its portrayal of Australia’s brutal, blood-soaked past. The film was, again, a reminder that the chapters in history aren’t always pretty. Ridley Scott has too dabbled in violent historical fiction with Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, but unlike Hillcoat’s more subtle and refined style, Scott seems stuck in the big budget Hollywood spectacle mindset, which is exactly what Blood Meridian the film should avoid.


McCarthy fansites and message boards have been flooded with dream casts/directors for Blood Meridian with many saying the only true filmmakers to tackle the project would be the late John Huston or Stanley Kubrick or someone like Terrence Malick, all of which could bring to life such an epic story. Many worry that Scott will destroy the project’s potential by opting for a movie star filled cast with the likes of someone like Russell Crowe. Perhaps the film adaptation just wasn’t meant to be.


For fans of Cormac McCarthy the recent production news and photographs from the set of The Road is a breath of fresh air since the project seems to be in good hands and will most likely be worthy adaptation. It’s hard to say how many more books McCarthy has in him as he–he just turned 74 this year–but hopefully his new foray into the mainstream eye might encourage curious minds to check out this literary master’s collection of tomes. His work is difficult to read and sometimes stomach but his style and comprehension of the English language is unprecedented.

Film Review: Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Film Review: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada-R
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Julio Cedillo
Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones

As Melquiades Lays Dying

One of William Faulkner’s best books, “As I Lay Dying,” tells the story of a family who go on a mission to bury their recently deceased mother in her hometown. The family embarks on a hard and treacherous journey through America’s deep South carrying their mother’s decaying body. Along the way they hit a number of snags, meet some interesting characters and face numerous conflicts among each other. The book was riddled with the darkest of dark humor but at the same time was an honest and moving look at simple people who just want to please their mother’s final wishes. Tommy Lee Jones directorial debut film, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” is in no way an adaptation of Faulkner but would have made the brilliant American author proud nevertheless.

Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo) is a Mexican cowboy who crosses the border illegally in search of work. He is befriended by Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones), a soft-spoken, somber cowboy who sees Estrada not as a “border hopper” or “wetback,” as local police officers and border patrolmen call them, but as just another caballero working in the beautiful southwest. After an unfortunate accident involving a smug and careless border patrolmen from Ohio, Mike Norton (Barry Pepper), Estrada is shot and killed.

Fueled by a promise made to Estrada to bury his body in his small Mexican hometown, Perkins kidnaps Norton and takes him on a slow and arduous horseback journey across the border with Estrada’s decaying body riding with them.

“Estrada” is a film that is all about journeys. On the surface it is about the physical journey that Norton and Perkins undergo, navigating through the rough and unforgiving Mexican desert, however, the story is truly about the emotional journeys they take inside.

Norton is on a personal journey of accepting and understanding life in the Southwest and Mexico while Perkins’ journey is gaining an understanding of his duties to his dear friend.

“Estrada” was written by Guillermo Arriaga, a rising name in world cinema whose previous films “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams” both shared the same non-linear editing format that “Estrada” does. The film is wonderfully shot and directed proving that like so many other successful actor turned directors of the past (Clint Eastwood comes to mind) Jones has a promising career ahead of him.

Watching “Estrada” one can’t help but draw comparisons to authors like Faulkner and the more modern Cormac McCarthy or filmmakers like Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah. However, the film is unique in the fact that Lee manages to put his own personal touches in it. The film has its share of dark humor and melodramatic scenes, but above all it revels in themes of pure humanity and friendship at their finest.