Thursday, September 30, 2010

Baddest Next-Door Neighbor. Ever.

When I first saw the promotional material for the American remake of Let The Right One In, the Swedish film of now almost mythic proportions, I wasn’t terribly optimistic. Fact #1: I don’t usually go for horror films, and Let Me In looked nigh terrifying. Greetings and salutations, flaming hospital beds. Fact #2: American remakes of foreign films are often unnecessary, not to mention insulting. Ah, so those little American idiots can’t keep up with a couple lines of white text at the bottom of the screen? No problem! Let’s stupefy the things that made the idea work in the first place and make everything ten times bigger, louder, and more incoherent. No big deal.

Having gotten some (a mere fraction!) of that veritable load off of my chest, I’m pleased and somewhat surprised to put forth that Let Me In is actually quite good. As I have not seen the original, I was able to go into the film fresh, with only a basic understanding of the premise to guide me.

In the current climate of films like The Twilight Saga, The Vampire’s Assistant, and so on, Matt Reeves’ direction is remarkably elegant and, for the most part, restrained, choosing a wonderfully classical style of shot construction that eschews a lot of camera whirlygigging for the beauty of careful composition. Instead of piling on the camp, the story takes the idea of a young boy’s encounter and eventual friendship with a vampire trapped in the body of a 12 year old girl very seriously. To its credit, by sticking with a real-world setting and lived-in characters, Let Me In allows the viewer to experience the fantastical world of the film on its own terms, without a ridiculously over-arching series of convoluted vampirical mythology to deal with. Kodi Smit-McPhee deserves particular merit for his strong turn as Owen, the film’s emotional anchor. He may only be 12, but this kid’s got range and the potential for a bright future.

Unfortunately, the film’s not perfect, with the chief problem being several poorly executed VFX shots of Abby in full vampire mode. Some early comments have noted that she looks like Gollum, although I contend that Gollum looked better. A lot better. I would have much preferred that Reeves had simply cut from one location to another without feeling the need to show exactly how she arrived there. One of the film’s best moments involves Abby arriving at a second-story apartment and, when pressed as to how she got there, she simply says, “I flew.” I’d have much rather seen more of those moments instead of unnecessary, second-rate attempts at digital trickery. While these moments don’t torpedo Let Me In, they certainly slow the film’s momentum, which is unfortunate, given the wonderful balance between reality and fantasy that much of the film strikes.

In lesser hands, Let Me In might have been another gorefest of a bloodsucker flick, or even worse, another overwrought exploration of teenage angst as filtered through the vampire tradition. While it'll certainly be bread-and-butter to folks who love vampires, this film is a rare thing. Let Me In is a genre piece that appeals to a wider audience without (much) compromise, a modern action film that pays the viewer the respect of actually allowing him/her to see what's going on, and a genuinely entertaining experience.

Recommended: 4 stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

We have someone on the inside!

The Toronto International Film Festival is upon us! Their line-up is wonderful, their festival awesome, and their city a joy, but I will not be there. Fortunately, Amanda, a colleague of mine, will be! What's more, she'll be blogging from the Festival with updates on the films she's seen and her impressions of the grand shindig.

TIFF's program this year contains almost every single film that I've been excited to see for the remainder of 2010, and I'm eager to hear Amanda's thoughts. You can link directly to her site here.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Don't Say Much and Carry a Big Knife. You'll Do Fine.

On a hot summer night several years ago, a group of dudes sat around a card table with a superior stash of booze and a lot of time to kill. One of the dudes, Robert (it’s his house, see) says to the group, “man, somebody should make a movie about a disgraced Mexican dude who used to work for the U.S. government on stuff too dirty for them to risk their own people on.” His idea gets instant support from the bleary-eyed duderage assembled around a pretty boring game of 5 card stud. QT, already close to passing out, says, “YEAH! And he should carry around a huge machete and kill people with it!” Again, props come immediately. You’d have a tougher time getting an amen in a Pentecostal church than you would saying anything to this group.

If this isn’t the way that the idea for Machete was conceived, then it’s got to be pretty close.

If you read this blog, you know that I'm pretty particular. I'm not going to go and just see anything that's out. If a film doesn’t appeal to my taste/sensibilities, I’m not going to go out of some sense of obligation that I need to see “everything.” But you probably know much (if not all) of this already.

Look, dudes. Machete ROCKS. I hadn’t planned to see it, but found myself on an outing with a friend and it was one of the only films on the marquee that I hadn’t seen that seemed at all interesting.

Robert Rodriguez is a bit of an outsider as far as Hollywood goes, and that’s a good thing. The concept and title character for Machete debuted as one of the fabled fake trailers in the underachiever that was Grindhouse. Expanded to feature-length, Machete is one of the more enjoyable films I’ve seen all year, and just might sneak its way onto my Best of 2010 list. No promises.

Now for the laundry list: the performances service the film pretty well. Look, if you’d told me beforehand that I’d see Steven Seagal AND Lindsay Lohan in a film and actually be able to look at them without feeling an unbearable sense of sadness, I would have disagreed. Possibly strongly so. Robert De Niro has a lot of fun with the role of a ridiculously corrupt senator with a penchant for approving hilarious campaign ads. And Cheech Marin almost steals the movie as a wonderfully colorful man of the cloth. He’s got a line of dialogue that’s one of the best I’ve heard all year. I’d reproduce it here, but kids and Catholics visit this site.

Danny Trejo manages to sell almost every inch of the Machete character by playing the guy completely straight. There are no winks or nods to the camera here, thank goodness. I am in awe of the way that a grizzled, tattooed, (dare I even say) ugly man manages to spend quality time with Michelle Rodriguez, Lohan, Alicia Rachel Marek, AND Jessica Alba within the stretch of 1 hour and 45 minutes. Jerk. I am curious, however, about the remarkable ability of an unmanned movie camera’s ability to zoom in on some of the hanky-panky. An aside? Yes, but still something I noticed.

Another thing that’s worth noting is the film’s political bent. Think you’re just going to watch a movie about a lot of splatter? Rodriguez is NOT happy about the situation at the Southern border of the United States, and he’s not shy about it. That said, Machete is not without a sense of humor at the expense of all involved, which is great, as the somewhat preachy quality of the politics gets offset by some inspired sight gags.

Machete is a gory, hilarious, rip-roaring throwback to the grand tradition of the B picture. Your $11 (or less, if you’re a not a city slicker) could be spent much, much worse. My hat is off, my shortest, squattest digit is upraised, and my understanding of the human intestinal tract has been expanded. What more could you want from a movie like this?

4 stars (out of 5)