Cinema News and Reviews for the Rest of Us

Archive for October, 2010

Tom Hardy to have major role in the next Batman

The rumors of an actor from Inception being cast in the next Batman film appear to be true, although the specific actor has changed.  Though Joseph Gordon-Leavitt was the source of early talk, now it appears  that Tom Hardy will be the guy, almost certainly in the role of whatever new villain Christopher Nolan chooses for his film.

Hardy is still a very underrated actor, and he was superb in Inception.  If you’ve seen him in films like Bronson, you know that he can bring a blend of gruff physicality and sly intelligence to a role, which further backs up the likelihood of him being the next Gotham bad guy.  Could make for a very interesting Riddler (still the frontrunner for the primary villain), but could also slip into a variety of characters from the Batman universe.  This is definitely positive development for the project, but there’s no reason to doubt Nolan or his Batman decisions by now.

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DVD Round-Up: What I’ve Been Watching

Me And Orson Welles

One of the blander and more emotionally distanced of Richard Linklater’s films, but one that’s lifted by a powerhouse performance from Christian McKay as Orson Welles.  He’s uncanny as the legendary wunderkind, and he manages to bring life to the character without simply relying on our caricatured memories of the famously obnoxious and famously brilliant artist.  Zach Efron is serviceable as the doe-eyed lead, but he’s not given much to do with a shallow part.  McKay, on the other hand, should have gotten an Oscar nomination.  (3 STARS)

The Killer Inside Me

I never read Jim Thompson’s famous noir novel, but I can see how it could be a brilliant foray into a truly disturbed mind.  On the screen, however, the director’s lack of distinct style and his cold distance from the characters make the brutality and misogyny onscreen just lie there with nothing to jusitfy their extremism.  The fist-beating of Jessica Alba is as brutal as rumored, and a game Casey Affleck just can’t do as much as he’d like with a potentially fascinating character.  The result of all this is a beautifully shot, well acted piece of pop trash.  (2 STARS)

Youth In Revolt

I liked this film way more than I thought I would.  Michael Cera’s dweeb schitck was growing stale, but the script knows just what to do with it and the film takes Cera’s character downs paths that are constantly surprising.  This is a crazy film, and all of the pieces don’t exactly hold together as well as I’m sure they did in the novel, but the entire runtime is entertaining and marked by some refreshingly sincere teen-movie performances.  (4 STARS)

Crazy Heart

A decent little 3-Star film overall, but raised up a notch by the cinematic force of nature otherwise known as Jeff Bridges.  He owns every second he’s on screen, which I believe is the entire film.  That Oscar was very much deserved, and I can’t wait to see what he does with the character of Rooster Cogburn in the Coens’ remake of True Grit.  (4-STARS)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

This a “kids movie,” but I enjoyed the hell out of it.  The film has an infectious energy for its first half hour, and though the plot kinda stagnates as it goes on, the proceedings are kept engaging by a compelling 6th grade protagonist.  He’s much more complex than your average kiddie film lead, and certainly more shaded than the other cut-outs in the film, and it’s both painful and very funny to watch his early encounters with the cruelty of expectations being slammed head-first into reality.  A charming and lively kids’ flick.  (3  STARS).

The White Ribbon

Doctoral theses will be written about this film in coming years, so it seems fruitless for me to try to flesh it all out here.  For such a small-scale and quiet film, there’s just so much at play, and the themes are some of the most disturbingly profound of director Michael Haneke’s career.  Not to mention it’s one of the most beautifully shot black-and-white films in decades.  Something is very wrong in this little German town in the years just before World War I, and a dark societal upheaval is taking place underneath the surface that will threaten the entire world twenty years later.  And Haneke doesn’t shy away in interviews from theorizing a similar trajectory for our current culture.  Unnerving stuff that will churn in you long after the film is over.  (5 STARS)


Review: Let Me In

There was certainly reason to cringe when Hollywood announced its plans to remake the majestic Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In.  The track record for remakes in general is spotty, but the track record for English-language remakes of terrific foreign films is abysmal (it aches my heart whenever I think about the awful Keifer Sutherland rendition of The Vanishing).  I loved Let The Right One In.  I even included it in a draft of my Top 150 films ever made.  But as it turns out, the beautifully spare  storytelling had some cracks in it that a talented American filmmaker could use to make something truly special for himself.  I had absolutely no reason to expect it, given historical precedent, and that’s probably why I was so floored when I saw what Matt Reeves managed to do with this material.  He’s fashioned a gorgeous retelling of a powerful narrative, and he’s refined the themes in such a way as to make his Let Me In not only a compelling piece of cinema, but an important one as well.

The story is essentially the same, as are many of the scenes.  This is still about a young alienated boy who finds companionship only when a girl vampire moves in next door.  It’s hard to get an original out your mind while watching a remake, which makes it doubly hard to give the new filmmaker credit for what you see onscreen.  But Reeve’s own style, the heightened insistence and consequence he’s given to those characters and their decisions, they grab you and enable you to get lost in a new film.  Recognizing the scenes will make you smile as you wait to see what he does with them, not cringe as you anticipate how those scenes will be butchered.  The changes may seem relatively minor, but in crafting the themes of the film, they are significant.

The most effective change is how Reeves positions the film’s sympathies.  I felt sorry for the little Swedish boy in the original, and sympathized with his plight, but the performance was cold and rather inaccessible.  By contrast, the vampire blossomed through the film as an alluring presence, a guardian angel whose penchant for murdering innocent victims to drink their blood seemed like a forgivable means to an end.  Because of the way the two characters were presented, the monster became the good guy, and though the poetry of the overall presentation painted that dynamic in a touchingly tragic Romeo and Juliet light, it also made for some artistically dangerous lack of clarity.  If the original has one distinct flaw, it is its occasionally excessive ambiguity.  Characters’ natures and motives are clouded beyond the point of narrative purpose, and that leaves the viwer is much the same haze of moral uncertainty as the character.  And I don’t think that’s what the filmmakers necessarily intended.

Reeves aims to sharpens this up, and he does it by switching the sympathy.  He used a wonderful performance from Kodie Smit-McPhee to make the lonely boy a much more sensitive and appealing character, even if he does still fantasize about bloody vengeance against his classmates.  The vampire, via another terrific performance from Chloe Morentz, is still provided a compelling melancholy and a protective inclination, but Reeves never lets us forget that this is a monster.  When on the hunt, she transforms into a horrific demon who swiftly climbs up trees to descend on innocent victims and rip them to shreds.  There is nothing positive about what this creature does.  Yes, she is lonely and miserable and protective, and this keeps her a compelling character.  But she is the evil in the film, an evil much more dangerous to the soul of an innocent then a pack of sadistic schoolyard bullies.  She has already seduced and doomed one man to a life of slaughter and damnation, which was implied in the original but is deftly solidified here, and there is no reason to think this young boy awaits a different fate.

It is by clarifying the moral compass of the narrative that Reeves makes him film something unique, and something of social and artistic importance.  He begins with a brilliant choice of setting: Los Alamos, New Mexico, 1983.  It snows there in the winter time, and the town is just as chilly and forsaken as that village in Sweden.  But here, Blue Oyster Cult croons their foreboding music on the radio, and Ronald Raegan speaks on television about the reality of good and evil.  And I found it startling and effective that Reagan’s words are not used ironically, as they would be in almost any other Hollywood film.  Here, no matter what your opinion of that president or your political leanings, the guy is saying something important.  This film takes place at the beginnings of a “post-faith” America.  We’ve lost faith in our government, our religious institutions, and each other.  And Reeves views his setting as a very, very dangerous place for a child to grow up.  The old moral constructs have been upended, for good reason in some cases, but they haven’t been replaced with anything.  When the boy calls his father to ask if there is evil in the world, his father sighs and tells him to stop listening to his mother’s “religious crap,” as if any delineation between right and wrong must be rooted in religious dogma.  This boy is coming of age in a world with no moral compass, a world with no respect for good and evil, a world where it’s possible for a decent boy to view a ravenous monster as a figure worthy of devotion and servitude.  It’s a scary time and place to be a child, and the world has only continued along that slide into  moral ambiguity.

There are many great scenes, including some that are clear departures from the original.  This is far from the “shot-for-shot” remake some are ignorantly claiming.  It’s marked by its own pace and its own visual style.  The opening shot is one of the best I’ve ever seen in a horror film, a stark nighttime vista of the snow-covered desert landscape as the flashing lights of an ambulance come into view and glide along a winding road.  A botched abduction attempt resulting in a car crash makes for one of the best single scenes of the year, the crackling tune of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Burning For You” eeking painfully from the radio as predatory brutality leads from one tense beat to the next until the scene’s chaotic resolution.  And that scene is new, a step up from a somewhat contrived corresponding scene in the original.  The savagery of a certain law enforcement official’s murder is also amped up, and the scene makes a key decision by the protagonist all the more chilling and tragic.

The film is filled in with the ominous string-and-key combos of Oscar-winning composer Michael Giachinno, who has once again delivered one of the year best original scores.  His softly menacing music underscores the drama and reinforces the themes without being overinsistant (common in horror films), and the results are often disturbing and devastating.  Perhaps the only technical flaw with this film is some iffy CGI work on some of the vampire attacks.  It’s meant to look swift and inhuman, and it does, but not always in the most convincing fashion.

It’s always hard to give a filmmaker total credit for a great remake.  We often feel as though the work’s brilliance is mitigated by the existence of its predecessor.  But to my eye, this idea doesn’t hold water when the orginal is based on a novel.  Why should the original get more credit if it’s based on a preexisting narrative?  Well, it should, because adaptations are art if they are a distinct vision of their creators.  The original film was an artist’s imagining of a very potent story, and Let Me In is an equally artful vision of that same tale.  The greatness of both films speaks to the incredible power of this narrative, and you could set this story in places all over the globe and get many superb yet distinct takes, none lesser for building on what came before.  All art builds on history anyway.  That’s how it mirrors and advances the development of the human race.

I guess what I’m trying to say is…I give this film full credit for its brilliance.  This is a magnificent adaption of a great story that has been sharpened and retooled to make a resonant statement about where we are as a people, and where our descent into anarchic moral ambiguity may lead us.  The author of the novel, John Linqvidst, said it well:  “Let The Right One In is a great Swedish film.  Let Me In is a great American film.”

The world of horror cinema is lucky to have them both.

 


Peter Jackson WILL direct The Hobbit

Well, this story has been going around in circles for over a year now, but now it appears that Peter Jackson WILL in fact direct the Hobbit films.  Guillermo del Toro backed out during the summer due to the instability of the film’s funding.  But it looks like Warner Bros will likely take over for the bankrupt MGM and finally get the ball rolling on these movies.  3D appears to be an inevitability, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering Jackson has already embraced the gimmick with Steven Spielberg on the TinTin movie.  A 3D overhaul of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy is imminent as well, following on the heels of George Lucas’s announcement that the 6 Star Wars films will get the 3D treatment.  Gotta refill the coffers, I supposed

Anyway, the Peter Jackson thing is good news.  It’ll still be a couple years at least before we see the first of these films, but at least they may finally be clawing their way out of Development Hell for the first time since they were announced.


No surprise here: ‘True Grit’ looks really damn good

The full-length trailer for the Coen Brothers’ remake of True Grit has been released, and it comes as no shock that the film looks fantastic.  The last time the Coens tackled the Western genre, they came away with a bushel of Oscars and one of the greatest films of the past decade.  Here they tackle the older West, and from the looks of this trailer, their visual and thematic handle on the genre looks ultra-sharp.  Jeff Bridges is going to own the role of Rooster Cogburn, the part that won John Wayne his only Oscar.  And though the original True Grit was far inferior to John Wayne’s The Searchers, it was based on a superb novel by Charles Portis that clearly had the Coens salivating.  If they stick to making this their own vision of that incredible book instead of a re-imagining of the John Wayne film, this could be really special.