Friday, February 27, 2009

There Will Be Blood: Swedish Import “Let the Right One In” is a Fascinating Vampire Tale

“Let the Right One In” is being hailed as one of the best vampire movies ever made. I’m not so sure that’s the truth but it’s certainly close. It is certainly one of the most original and beautiful films about a vampire ever put on celluloid. Sort of a reverse “Twilight” with more artistic aspirations, “Let the Right One In” tells the story of a young Swedish boy around age 12. He gets picked on at school and he’s dealing with his parents divorce. Some new neighbors have just moved in to their cold, snowy town and suddenly the murder rate has sky rocketed. He makes friends with a young girl named Eli. Who just may happen to be feeding off of human blood.

“Let the Right One In” succeeds in spades due to its exquisite camerawork and beautiful photography. Of course the story is interesting as well, but nearly every frame is a piece of carefully crafted artwork. Director Tomas Alfredson uses some fantastic techniques to instantly get us hooked. From the opening frame of snow falling relentlessly, we know we’re in for a dark cold and bleak story. The cinematographer purposely gives us drab, washed out colors (save for a few shots of the red stuff). We feel the cold watching this film. Our young hero Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a pale boy (what do you expect he lives in Sweden) with blond hair. He blends into his snowy surroundings rather well. He spends his nights attempting to overcome his fear that the school bullies are going to intimidate him and push him around. While out playing on the playground of his mother’s apartment complex, he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson) who is friendly, oddly strange, and yet seems to be the ying to his yang. They form an instant bond and soon Oskar thinks he’s falling in love.

Of course what Oskar doesn’t know is that Eli is a vampire. She feeds off human blood. I enjoyed learning about the life of a vampire. Like when they haven’t fed on blood in a while they start to smell bad. We see what happens when a vampire is exposed to sunlight. We see what happens when a vampire enters a person’s home without being invited in. call it a sort of vampire 101, although I didn’t spot any garlic, crosses or holy water. This film is too good for those clichés. The film has some disturbing sequences which add to the beauty of the film. Eli has a father figure who finds victims, hands them upside down and drains their blood so that she could feed without having to go around attacking people in the dark of night. Of course things don’t always go as planned, such is the life of a bloodsucker.

As Eli and Oskar’s friendship grows and he becomes more suspicious of who she really is, we are totally sucked in (parden in the pun). We’re completely fascinated with Oskar and Eli’s friendship and we wonder what exactly she might have planned for Oskar’s tormentors. It all comes together at the end in one of the film’s most brilliant and disturbing sequences.

“Let the Right One In” is simple, beautiful, disturbing and scary and yet you never for one second dare to look away. I guess the rumors are true; it is probably one of the best vampire tales ever. I urge you to check it out when it's released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 10th. GRADE: A-

Friday, February 20, 2009

UPDATED - Oscar Forecast: The Curious Case of Slumdog Millionaire

Well what a predictable night. I only got three predictions wrong: sound mixing, foreign film, and documentary short (darn those cleft palates!). Overall the eveing was exicting and Hugh Jackman made an entertaining host who mixed jokes with enjoyable musical numbers. Wow this guy can be an action guy and a musical guy whenever he wants to be. Talk about mass appeal. Although, in terms of the winners, it was sort of sad that the biggest surprise of the evening was Slumdog's near sweep of 8 awards (instead of the predicted 7) which included a win for Sound Mixing. Ben Button picked up three awards and Dark Knight followed with two as did Milk. And by the way, how on earth am I not being paid by Entertainment weekly? I had more predictions correct than they did. My total predictions: 21/24 correct (winners are below in bold)

It’s one of those years. There’s almost one guarantee come Sunday evening that I’m willing to place money on: Frost/Nixon is not going to win a thing. Sure there are the obvious choices: Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight! WALL-E for Best Animated Feature! Best Documentary goes to Man on Wire! In fact, the most obvious thing that is going to happen on Sunday is Slumdog Millionaire turning AT LEAST half of its nominations into wins. Good luck to The Reader, Milk, Frost/Nixon and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, it was nice to have known you all.

Who Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire.
You’d have to be living under a rock to not know that this is the most likely candidate in this category. “Slumdog” is the most winning film of the year. It won the Golden Globe, BFCA, BAFTA, WGA, SAG, DGA and even won the editing, cinematography, and costume design guild awards. If it didn’t win it’d be the biggest shock since “Crash” won over “Brokeback Mountain.”
Who Should Win: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Speaking of "Brokeback Mountain," it would be just plain cool if "Milk" won, but I almost can’t see that happening. I did love “Frost/Nixon,” but I don’t think it should win the top prize. “The Reader” was watchable and has good qualities but it’s not Best Picture. I’m not the biggest fan of "Slumdog" to be honest (save for that catchy dance number), but I understand why people love it so. That leaves me with “Benjamin Button,” a sprawling epic that everyone just seems to feel indifferent towards. I have to hand it to the Academy for finally nominating a long-ass film that is hardly a snooze-fest; at least to me anyways.
Should Have Been Nominated: Revolutionary Road

Will Win: Kate Winslet, The Reader.
Ok so I’m not extrememly positive she’s going to win but I’m like 85 percent sure. There’s so much talk about Meryl winning, but I think that’s mildly hullabaloo. Besides she’ll have another shot next year when she plays Julia Childs. Who knows, maybe Kate and Meryl will split the vote and allow someone else to come through? But with 5 previous nominations and no win, and with “The Reader” being nominated for Best Picture, you can tell the Academy overall likes the movie and her. She should finally take it!
Should Win: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married. Ok before you jump down my throat, I WANT kate to win really badly. And I would probably still vote for her if I was in the Academy. However, going on pure performances, I have to say I was most surprised by Hathaway’s gritty turn in “Rachel Getting Married.” I’m not quite sure if she’ll get many shots in the future, but I’d hate to see Kate go empty handed again. Besides Kate gave 2 amazing performances last year, and Anne only gave one (And for the record, “Bride Wars” came out this year).
Should Have Been Nominated: Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky

Will Win: Sean Penn, Milk.
I’m note quite as confident here as I am with Best Actress. I’d say I’m about 60 percent sure. Actually, I’m kind of not sure really. Mickey Rourke could easily take this (and I wouldn’t mind, see below). Yes it’s true he’s “already won” but he’s well respected and if Daniel Day Lewis could win two Oscars why couldn’t Penn? Besides most voters still are fuming over Prop 8 and “Milk” has a Best Pic nod, which shows overall support. However, I wouldn’t be shocked to hear Rourke’s name called.
Should Win: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler. Ok I honestly liked Penn and Rourke’s performances pretty equally. And since this is supposed to be Rourke’s big “comeback,” (even though his comeback was 3 years ago in “Sin City”) why not give him the Oscar? His acceptance speech at the BAFTA’s was great. And besides his Chihuahua just died. Hasn’t he suffered enough?
Should Have Been Nominated: Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino

Will Win: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
I surprisingly wasn’t the biggest fan of this film, and neither was the Academy as it failed to even pick up a Screenplay nod for Woody Allen, and yet I thought Cruz was amazing. She really brings the film to life and steals every scene she’s in. And that is a great Supporting Actress. She had the most buzz going into awards season and it’s stuck with her. Until word of Viola Davis started spreading and her couple of scenes in “Doubt.” Davis could easily take this, as could anyone really, as this is the “wild card” category.
Should Win: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I actually liked everyone in this category and you know I’m a “Button” fan so I even like Taraji. I’m so sure what the big deal with Davis was. I mean she was amazing, but like Ruby Dee last year, I think people are seriously overplaying a small performance and making it seem like the second coming of Christ. Cruz instantly made her film better and that makes her worthy of an Oscar.
Should Have Been Nominated: The Academy actually got this category right.

Will Win: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight.
Did you see this movie? Enough said.
Should Win: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight. Did you see this movie? Enough said.
Should Have Been Nominated: Brad Pitt, Burn After Reading

Will Win: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire.
Director and Picture almost always go together. Since Slumdog is going to win Best Picture, Boyle is the next logical win. Boyle is the reason that most people love this film. To think anyone else has a shot would be lunacy.
Should Win: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire. Even though I’m more of a Button fan, I’m willing to share the wealth. David Fincher is equally responsible for the mesmerizing visuals in “Benjamin Button,” yet he’s also responsible for making people hate that movie, which I don’t really understand. So I guess I sort of have to blame him for the “Button” backlash.
Should Have Been Nominated: Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight

And the rest:

Original Screenplay: Milk

Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire

Animated Feature: WALL-E (duh)

Foreign Language Film: Waltz with Bashir Departures

Documentary Feature: Man on Wire

Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire

Costume Design: The Duchess

Film Editing: Slumdog Millionaire

Make-Up: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Original Score: Slumdog Millionaire

Original Song: Jai Ho, Slumdog Millionaire

Sound Editing: The Dark Knight

Sound Mixing: The Dark Knight Slumdog Millionaire

Visual Effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Animated Short: La Maison en Petits Cubes

Live Action Short: Spielzeugland (Toyland)

Documentary Short: The Witness – From the Balcony of Room 306 Smile Pinki

Friday, February 13, 2009

Voorhees a Jolly Good Fellow: This New Jason Re-imagining Doesn’t Quite Feel Like “Friday the 13th” But It’s Still Enjoyable

Original Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham has said that when he was developing an idea of a Friday the 13th horror movie, the main reason it got made was because he wanted to rip off “Halloween.” “Halloween” had been a big horror hit and many in Hollywood were itching to recreate that success. I really don’t even mind that “Friday the 13th” was a blatant attempt to cash in on the slasher craze, in fact, the success of “Friday the 13th” proved that this slasher thing wasn’t just a phase, but rather a cultural phenomenon. Now here we are nearly thirty years and ten sequels later and we’re handed the Michael Bay-produced “re-imagining” of everyone’ favorite hockey mask wearing killer with “Friday the 13th.” I can’t help but think this is just a blatant attempt to cash in on all the other horror remakes of lately, most notably “the Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (also produced by Bay) and “Halloween” (equally destroyed and revamped by Rob Zombie). It wouldn’t really be a Friday the 13th is “rip-off” wasn’t the original intent is what I’m getting at here. But is this latest franchise reboot worth it?

There are positives and negative to director Marcus Nispel’s (“Chainsaw” remake) take on the new Jason Voorhees. First of all the movie seems more like a remake of Friday the 13th Part 2 in that the film opens where the first film ends (with Final Girl decapitating deformed Jason’s mother Mrs. Voorhees). Everyone remembers (except for Casey in the first “Scream”) that in Friday the 13th Mrs. Voorhees is the one offing sexually active camp counselors. Jason doesn’t kill any one until Part 2. Writers Damian Shannon and Mark Swift (who also penned “Freddy Vs. Jason” in case you care) must of thought it best to have Jason be the killer since having a middle aged woman be the killer is so over done. It’s not? What do you mean? Ok ok, so having Jason be the killer is the first thing this remake is sort of getting wrong, but that’s ok.

Everyone who has seen any of the Friday films will notice the sheer lack of production values (at least in numbers 1-8). Sure they were distributed by Paramount but you can really feel the low budget whenever you watch one of those flicks. Slick is not a word you’d use to describe them. Here with this new film slick is the only word used to describe it. Daniel Pearl’s (whose first film was the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” cinematography can best be described as beautiful. The look of the film is inspired and almost seems unnecessary seeing as though this is supposed to be a “Friday the 13th” movie. The film looks like it was made for 60 million bucks which instantly doesn’t make it feel like a Friday film. And besides random people like Kevin Bacon and Crispin Glover, who were unknowns, before appearing in parts 1 and 4 respectively, this new film is chock full of (mostly) TV actors and faces that you may recognize. Look it’s the guy from “Supernatural” who plays Clay who is looking for his missing sister Whitney who was Seth’s aunt on “The OC.” Clay clashes with Trent (the blonde douche from “Transformers” and “Accepted”) and his group of college friends who are spending the weekend at his rich parent’s house in the woods. Unbeknownst to them, Jason is out in the woods, waiting to kill off as many horny idiots as he can get his hands on. And speaking of which, he is keeping Whitney locked up in his underground lair, ala Leatherface, because she supposedly looks like his sister. I smell BS. I appreciate the film trying to be different and treat Jason as a real human being, but getting a peek into Jason’s alternative lifestyle is of no real interest to me. In fact humanizing him is probably the biggest mistake they could have made. (And don’t even get me started on the fact that the plotline doesn’t even come close to having anything to do with the original. There’s not a single character that appears in the remake save for mother and son).

Ok enough of this fanboy’s bitter complaints. Besides a few slips (like where the heck are the homages to the original that I found so enjoyable in Zombie’s Halloween?) I feel should have been mentioned this new Friday flick is actually rather enjoyable. It has all the standard slasher elements you’d expect in such a film like ample nudity, sex, violence and drug use. I appreciate the casting director for finding good looking guys and gals which always makes it more fun to see arrows rip through their foreheads, or axes go through their backs, or machetes go through their heads, or boats being driven over their faces. I counted lots of original bloody kills (thirteen if I’m not mistaken). There’s a few tense sequences, but nothing to cause nightmares by any means, just plenty of sharp objects being thrown at the good looking cast.

This reboot is sure cause discussions amongst rabid fans. Anyone who is into horror films is bound to enjoy it. And don’t get me wrong it’s totally enjoyable. If you know the original film and its sequels really well, I would advise trying to forget about them for 95 minutes and just enjoy this movie as its own separate entity. I mean it could have been worse; they could have set the film in space or something like “Jason X.” Mrs. Voorhees must be rolling around in her grave. GRADE: B-
PS - They could have integrated the famous "ki-ki-ki, ma-ma-ma" score a little more don't you think?

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Parent Trap: The Visually Scrumptious Tale “Coraline” is Mostly Sew Sew

I am a fan of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas. I am a fan of Alice in Wonderland (the Disney cartoon of course). I am a fan of stop-motion animation. I am a fan of 3D. I can quite say I was a fan of “Coraline,” the animated film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s award winning novella of the same name. Every element seems to come together with “Coraline:” it has a great voice cast, the animation is beautifully (and creepily) conceived by director Henry Selick (who also wrote the screenplay) and it’s one of the more original stories I’ve seen from the movies in a while. The problem is, I didn’t really care much about what was going on.

Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) is a little girl who moves to a new apartment complex with her mother and father. Her parents are too involved in their work to give Coraline much attention so of course she develops a knack for exploring as children tend to do in stories like this. She discovers a tiny door in her house that had been covered up by wallpaper. Her mother uses the key and shows Coraline that the door is sealed off and doesn’t lead to anywhere. That is until Coraline notices the door is opening one night and our curious little heroine wanders inside. At the other end of this dark tunnel is an exactly duplicate of her house. She discovers she as an Other Mother and an Other Father who pay attention to her and cook delicious food for her. It seems like a dream come true. Except her “Other” parents have buttons sewed to her eyes and they insist that if Coraline wants to say in this world permanently she’ll have to sew buttons over her eyes as well. What kid wouldn’t want to do that?

I think the biggest problem I had with “Coraline” is that it takes its sweet time in creating any sort of conflict. Some films are interesting enough because they have interesting characters or some other fascinating element in which conflict doesn’t seem important. But the fact is, I couldn’t care less about Coraline, in fact she was sort of whiny if you ask me. It wasn’t until nearly an hour into the film that Coraline becomes trapped in this world and has to escape. I was waiting for that and waiting for that. Meanwhile Coraline would go into the “other” world, and then wake up in her bed in her normal world. And then the next night she’d go back again. I was like, seriously, enough already, just get her trapped in there and get this story moving already.

Not to mention that the film features some loony characters right out of a David Lynch movie. Coraline has three neighbors. She visits Mr. Bobinsky who is a foreign acrobat with hairy shoulders and very skinny arms and legs. Then she has Miss Spink and Miss Foricble who seem like the scary aunts from “James and the Giant Peach.” There is one scene where Coraline visits these two women who are performers in which they perform to a crowd of dogs. I was waiting for Coraline to show up at Club Silencio from “Mullholland Dr.” next. There are sequences in the film that almost bored on tedium due mostly to the fact that I just didn’t really care much about Coraline and her wacky misadventures.

Now let’s get to the part of the film that truly makes it worth seeing: the animation. I could simply eat the screen the movie looks so delicious. This style of animation, I feel, is so much more “animated” than the CGI animation we’ve all come to love. It feels more “real” and yet it is so simply unreal. And you certainly have to appreciate the time and effort it takes to make a 100 minute movie in which every frame is painstakingly shot. The film does get rather creepy towards the end which is definitely the best part of the film. When coralline’s Other Mother reveals her true form it is certainly something out of a nightmare. Little kids who see this movie won’t probably sleep for a week.

The film works as a gorgeous piece of stop-motion filmmaking, but I honestly wish I could have felt more involved in Coraline’s adventures. Even being shown in 3D, which doesn’t really feel at all gimmicky, didn’t help involve me too much more. It’s really weird and twisted and that didn’t really turn me off because I was expecting it to be weird and twisted. In fact the film is sometimes so dark, I almost felt as if Coraline wouldn’t even make it out alive. Now that’s what I would call a happy ending. GRADE: B-

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Dating Game: I’m Just Not That Into “He’s Just Not That Into You”

“He’s Just Not That Into You” is a romantic comedy. I suppose. However, I hardly found it either romantic or comedic. There were plenty of people laughing their heads off in the theater. And ooohing and awwwing at just the precise moments. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a dude, and I can certainly enjoy a romantic comedy, but I just found this film to be predictable and just not that funny. Is it so hard to ask for a romantic comedy to be slightly suspenseful? I realize that a Hollywood studio film about love is going to end happily and conventionally, but is it so hard to at least create a little suspense or throw in a surprise or too? If you’re expecting this film to be predictable and you enjoy watching women try anything in their power to get a man to like/notice/marry them then by all means enjoy “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

The best part of this film, and its selling point for me at least, is its impressive ensemble cast. I guess you could argue that the movie stars Ginnifer Goodwin, as Gigi, who is waiting for a call from Conor (Kevin Connolly). They went on a blind date and Gigi insists that it went well. In the world of dating a girl is supposed to sit worriedly by the phone waiting for a call from the guy who would then ask for another date. Gigi works with Beth (Jennifer Aniston) who has been committed to Neil (Ben Affleck) for seven years. He doesn’t want to get married and she does. Neil is friends with Ben (Bradley Cooper) who is married to Janine (Jennifer Connelly). It turns out that Ben and Janine’s marriage isn’t exactly solid, because Ben pines for Anna (Scarlett Johansson) whom he met at a convenient store. Anna is friends with Conor. Conor is also friends with bartender Alex (Justin Long) who dispenses dating advice to Gigi while she pathetically attempts to “run into” Conor one evening. And I forget, but somehow Drew Barrymore, as Mary, figures into all of this. She has an amusing line about My Space (which we’ve seen in the trailer) which is probably the funniest part of the film.

The point of all of this is to have plenty of characters so that when you get bored with one’s complaining about the love interest we can jump to see what another character is up to. I actually sort of enjoyed the elliptical way all the characters are connected. It’s sort of like “Crash” without the racism and with more schmaltzy romantic boo-hoo-hooing. I don’t get why in these movies the only thing these people talk about is reltionaships. If anything, I’d at least like to see them talk about something else, anything else. Heck, I’d even take the always fascinating “which way do you wipe?” conversation.

The alpha and omega rule in a romantic comedy is that you root for the couple to get together. I can’t really say that here. Gigi is almost disturbingly obsessed with the tool Conor for some unknown reason except that she thinks their date went well. And that’s all. I had no idea why she was so obsessing over him. Of course by her going out to the bar alone she meets Alex who we instantly, once he starts telling her about dating from the guy’s point of view, realize is the one she really digs. I can’t even count how many times I wanted to punch Gigi in the face. She acts like a pathetic whiner, and I feel bad for women who go to this movie and have to actually attempt to identify with her. I have to admit that Gigi and Alex would make a nice couple, but I’m not so sure it’s worth waiting over two hours for it to happen. And I actually thought the biggest twist (spoiler alert) is that Bradley Cooper’s character had been smoking the whole time.

In the end, if you have a uterus, you’ll probably enjoy everything that goes on in “He’s Just Not That Into You.” You’ll probably even enjoy the quick testimonials about dating that director Ken Kwapis employs to help give the film a When Harry Met Sally… sort of feel. It feels like an attempt to be “different” but comes off as more of “why can’t I just be watching ‘Annie Hall’ right now?” come on ladies, wake up already. You are too smart for this stuff, now please agree that the wittiest thing about this film is its title and go see “My Bloody Valentine 3D” if you need a Valentine’s Day movie to share with your loved one. GRADE: C