Film Review: Let Me In (2010)

This is the second part of a three part look at the Swedish film “Let The Right One In” and it’s American remake “Let Me In.”  Part one is a review of “Let The Right One In,” and part three looks at both together.  I plan to do my best to keep the two film reviews independent of each other, but do forgive me if I fail.  I would also like to acknowledge that I have not read the original novel, though I plan to in the future.  This commentary is based solely on the films and some trivia found online.

Let Me In (2010)
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Matt Reeves, based on the novel and screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Rated: R

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Let Me In (2010) We open on a snowy landscape outside Los Alamos, NM, with the blue and red flashes of sirens silently moving down a road.  An ambulance is delivering a man with severe burns on his face to the nearest hospital.  Once stabilized, he is grilled by a detective about his possible involvement with a Satanic cult.  When the detective leaves, the man scribbles “I’m sorry Abby” on a sheet of paper and hurls himself out the window to his death.

Rewind a few days.  In a low-rent apartment complex, the young Owen (Smit-McPhee) is struggling with his day-to-day life.  Bullies at school regularly taunt him, sometimes to the point of embarrassing side effects.  The lead bully, Kenny, calls Owen a “little girl” and take every possible opportunity to humiliate him.

One evening, Owen is watching his neighbors through his bedroom windows when he sees a young girl arrive with an older man.  They quietly and inconspicuously make their way to the apartment next to Owen’s.  The next night Owen meets the young girl, Abby.  She is strange: she doesn’t wear shoes and no coat, yet the cold doesn’t bother her.  He lets her borrow his Rubik’s cube, which she quickly solves.

As Owen and Abby’s bond grows, people end up murdered in the town.  The older man that moved in with Abby is out collecting blood – because Abby is a vampire.  Unfortunately the man has become sloppy in his work, ending with one of the most amazing car wrecks I’ve witnessed on the screen.

The bullying at school gets worse, as well.  Owen’s confidence in himself grows the closer he gets with Abby, and he ends up confronting the bullies one fateful afternoon, nearly tearing Kenny’s ear of in the process.

As with the review of Let The Right One In, I don’t want to spoil too much.  The performances from the child actors are amazing, and it is their innocence that saves this film.  I had already seen both of them in other roles where I was equally amazed at their performances (Moretz in Kick-Ass and Smit-McPhee in The Road).  My only complaint here is that Moretz is sometimes too downtrodden, rather than just disconnected.

The visuals in the movie are striking, and the cinematography is well done.  It’s not at all what I expected from the director of Cloverfield.  The move is subtle and even, which are two words that don’t often describe American movies these days.

Unfortunately, mixed in with the truly great – such as the car wreck scene, which I feel a need to mention again as it was gut-wrenching and perfect – are moments of the “Aw, really?” variety.  In one scene, Abby runs in distress and climbs a tree, except she’s clearly CGI and the effect really ruins the emotion of the moment.

The original Swedish version is clearly the winner between both, but the American version has a different perspective on the tale, and brings in several unique items that the Swedish version didn’t offer.  In all, you actually can’t compare the two apples to apples.  It’s a worthy stand-alone film that deserves its own place on the horror movie collectors shelf, even if it is right beside the original.


Deleted scene and interview with Matt Reeves: Exclusive Deleted Scene: Let Me In; Matt Reeves Explains Why the Intense Sequence Was Cut

Film Review: Lat den ratte komma in (2008)

This is the first part of a three part look at the Swedish film “Let The Right One In” and it’s American remake “Let Me In.”  Part two is a review of “Let Me In,” and part three looks at both together.  I plan to do my best to keep the two film reviews independent of each other, but do forgive me if I fail.  I would also like to acknowledge that I have not read the original novel, though I plan to in the future.  This commentary is based solely on the films and some trivia found online.

Låt den rätte komma in (2008)
Starring: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar
Directed by: Thomas Alfredson
Written by: John Ajvide Lindqvist, based on his novel
Rated: R

Rating: 5 out of 5

Låt den rätte komma in (2008) Let The Right One In is one of those rare films that comes along every few years.  It’s been described as “transcending genres” and it truly does.  At it’s heart, it’s a coming-of-age story for a 12 year-old boy outside Stockholm in 1982.  It’s about the girl who gives him the confidence to make that lead towards manhood, and their incredibly unique relationship.  It’s also about that girl, and her unique situation – she’s a vampire.

To get it out of the way right now – yes, the story does have gore and violence.  What is unique about it is the portrayal of the violence.  It’s not a central aspect to the story – the fact that the violence occurs is extremely important, but the violence itself isn’t.  So few filmmakers actually understand that difference anymore.  When violence happens on-screen, it’s hidden in shadows and behind object.  It’s just as violent, but not as graphic.

Oskar (Hedebrant) is a 12 year-old boy living outside Stockholm in 1982.  His parents are separated and Oskar’s relationship with both is strained.  His father is an alcoholic and his mother is barely there for him.  He spends his days alone and getting bullied at school by Conny and his two cronies.  At night, still alone, Oskar pretends to exact revenge on Conny with a small knife and a tree.  He stabs the tree violently, telling it to “Squeal like a pig,” just as Conny does to him.

Into this solitary existence comes Eli (Leandersson), a mysterious girl who moves in next door with an old man, Håkan.  Eli and Oskar meet one night on the jungle gym in the courtyard.  The meeting is quiet, uneventful, but a strong attraction is immediately formed.

The next night Oskar shares his Rubik’s cube with Eli and it, essentially, becomes their first date.  As Oskar and Eli grow their friendship, Håkan is attempting to collect blood to feed Eli – being a vampire and all – but he is old, and getting sloppy.  His first attempt fails when he is almost discovered by a pair of hikers.  Eli is furious and murders one of the neighbors.

Håkan’s mishaps continue, increasing tension amongst the neighbors and setting in motion a series of events that could end up destroying Eli.  Oskar runs into more severe bullying at school, and at Eli’s urging hits back at Conny, nearly tearing Connys ear off when he does so.  Eli works to stay alive while building her relationship with Oskar.  Then Oskar discovers that Eli is a vampire.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the movie, because it is very unpredictable.  Though “unpredictable” isn’t quite the right word – it’s something to experience.  It’s a unique film-going experience to live part of the relationship between a 12 year-old boy struggling to become a man and a vampire struggling to stay human.

The performances of two young actors are amazing.  They are more subtle than most performances these days, and the fact that both actors were 12 or 13 when it was filmed makes it even more amazing.  Hedebrant is especially good at portraying the conflicted Oskar.  The inner struggle with loneliness and trying to be noticed by the right people is there in his stance, his facial expressions, the way he talks.

The direction is what makes the movie a real gem.  The pace is even, which builds just the right amount of tensions at the right moments as you wait for the event to unfold.  Alfredson takes some amazing risks with his camera angles and perspective, often leaving the vast majority of the frame out of focus, or moving the camera to a position where the action is outside the frame.

In the end, the film is one of the few that actually live up to the title of “transcending genres.”  It is a coming-of-age tale.  It is a vampire tale.  And it’s surprisingly touching.

(As a side note, to those who are looking to purchase a copy of the film, make sure you read the article below regarding the subtitles and pay attention to what release you are purchasing.  There is a drastic and unfortunate difference in the UK/European and American releases.)


The subtitle controversy:

Film Review: Clash of the Titans (2010)

Clash of the Titans (2010)
Starring: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes
Directed by: Louis Letterier
Written by: Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi
Rated: PG-13

Rating: 1 star out of five

Clash of the Titans (2010) I grew up on the original Clash of the Titans (1981).  It’s corny by some of today’s standard, but the movie still holds up overall.  The story sticks remarkably close to it’s mythical roots, though it does take it’s own creative embellishments along the way.  Ray Harryhausen’s effects work is still amazing to me.

I can watch the original over and over.  I will never watch the remake again.

Perseus (Worthington) is discovered in a coffin at float in the sea by a meager fisherman.  The fisherman raises the young boy as his own.  Many years later, Perseus and his adoptive father are fishing when they witness a giant statue of Zeus be toppled into the sea by an army of men.  Hades (Fiennes) appears and destroys everyone around except for Perseus – after all, he is a demigod.

The few remaining soldiers drag Perseus to Argos, where he meets King Cepheus and Queen Cassiopeia.  It is here he learns that Cepheus and his Queen mean to end the time of the Gods and bring about a new Era of Man – his subjects have ceased praying to the Gods, which is causing them to weaken.  Cepheus is planning an overthrow of Mount Olympus.

Zeus (Neeson), angered by the loss of love from man, gives Hades approval to scare mankind back into a loving submission.  Hades appears at Cepheus’ court, demanding that the princess Andromeda be sacrificed a the eclipse to the Kraken, or Argos would be destroyed.

Hating the Gods, specifically Hades, for killing his adoptive family, Perseus sets out with some warriors from Argos to find a way to destroy the Kraken, save Argos and Andromeda, and beat the Gods.

I won’t touch on the utter destruction of Greek myth (Acrisius is Calibos?  The Kraken defeated Zeus?  Cepheus wants to destroy Zeus?) but it’s quite bad.  The 1981 film took some liberties, but overall it’s storyline was commendably close to the original myths.  The 2010 version takes too many unnecessary liberties that harm the story more than help.

The one drastic deviance I’ll note here is one I just don’t understand.  The filmmakers included the Djinn, an Arabic myth featured prominently in Islam.  The djinn are, depending your source material, one of the three creations of God (along with angels and humans).  They were forged from smokeless fire just as man was made from clay.  In Clash of the Titans, the djinn are warriors in the desert who have replaced their limbs with charred wood to live forever.  What?

The other notable failure of the film is, surprisingly, the special effects.  There are times that the animation sequences are no better than what Harryhausen created by hand with clay.  I was sadly disappointed in the giant scorpion sequence.  Medusa herself was a bit of a let down too.

I can’t really express how disappointed in this movie I was.  I was so excited when the original trailer came out, with it’s awesome looking action and heavy rock soundtrack.  It’s too bad the actual film didn’t turn out like the trailer.  Why they are making a sequel is beyond me, and it’s a frightening prospect.


For the record, I still think this trailer is bad-ass.

Film Review: The Wolfman (2010)

The Wolfman (2010)
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self
Rated: R

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The Wolfman (2010) What I wanted when I sat down to watch The Wolfman was quite simple: some gore, a good (no, great) effect when transitioning, and some gothic imagery.  What I got was exactly that – and nothing more.

Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) is a well-known actor in London, currently playing Hamlet to sold out crowds.  Lawrence has been estranged from his father for some time; his mother committed suicide and the family didn’t hold up well in the aftermath.  After a performance, a beautiful young woman, Gwen (Blunt), interrupts his cast party with terrible news.  Lawrence’s brother has been found brutally murdered.

Gwen is apparently attractive enough to lure Lawrence back to Talbot Hall where he makes little attempt at reconnecting with his father, John (Hopkins).  Lawrence is bent on finding his brother’s killer and begins making rounds through the town.  Rumors of an awful creature, a fell beast, are whispered.  The gypsies have made a stop in town and with them comes curses and monsters.

Lawrence (on a night with a full moon of course) heads to the gypsy camp to investigate and gets mauled by the beast as it attacks the camp.  Though the wound should have been fatal, Lawrence is back on his feet in a surprisingly short amount of time.  As Lawrence’s fated transformation into a wolf progresses, Scotland Yard sends along Inspector Abberline (Weaving), fresh off the Ripper case, to calm the town’s fears and catch the killer.

The rest is details.  There is a particularly interesting scene in a mental institution in London, and some chases in between.  There is a twist – one I didn’t see coming until the last minute – but not a great twist.  There’s a lot of fog and dark images in the forests and empty manse’s.  There’s some gore, some arterial spray.  Details.

Del Toro was an interesting choice to play the lead role, but he does so with obvious admiration for the material.  Hopkins relishes the role and is the best part of the movie, with his interesting stares.  On the other hand, Blunt and Weaving seem to drift through the script.  I cannot say whether it was lack of substance or effort, but neither part is particularly interesting even though they should have been.

The movies best moments are, naturally, the grotesque transformation scenes.  An American Werewolf In London was instantly famous for it’s cutting edge special effects.  Since then, not many werewolf transformations could top it.  I believe that Rick Baker and his team have done it, though – the bone crunching VFX are well-done and make you twinge a little in pain.

I also asked for gothic imagery and got my fair share of it.  The cinematography is well done – not award winning, and it makes a great overuse of post-production effects, but still manages to evoke the right emotions.  That is high praise for the cinematographer, who’s last big-screen effort was The House Bunny.

I must admit that I enjoyed myself throughout.  Yes, it’s mindless, and brought nothing new to the story.  But it was fun, violent, and dark.  If you like the story of the the Wolfman, then check it out – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.


Film Review: The Road (2009)

The Road (2009)
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall
Directed by: John Hillcoat
Written by: Joe Penhall, from the novel by Cormac McCarthy
Rated: R
Rating: 3 (out of five)

The Road

The vision of the world after apocalypse is nothing new to cinema.  Nor was it to books when McCarthy’s original book was published.  A gray world that is desolate and foreboding, ashy and violent.  Gangs run amuck, taking hostages; few good men still exist, the hardships of their new life taking obvious tolls.  The difference with The Road is that it’s personal and up-close.

Through flashbacks we are told the history of our two protagonists.  The Man (Mortensen) immediately begins hoarding goods and becoming a guardian to the Woman (Charlize Theron), his wife, who is carrying their child.  The Boy (Smit-McPhee)  is born into the apocalypse and raised in the danger.  After the death of the Woman, the Man and the Boy begin working their way south towards the coast.

The days are cold, the nights even colder.  The world has been dead for so long that food and clean water are had to come by.  Plant and animal life has been obliterated, existing cities crumbled.  The only true infrastructure left in the world is the long, flat pavement of the interstate highways – the roads.

We see the world and the action through the eyes of the Man.  He view the Boy as the last hope for the world, the Boy is God.  He does not mean this literally; the Boy, good natured and decent and kind, has the power of God in the empty world.  The power to restore hope, even if it’s only restoring the Man’s hope and not humanity’s.

During their journey they encounter various people on the road.  From violent gangs to cannibals, they work to avoid these Bad Guys as well as they can and still survive.  The need for food leads them into dark houses and places they probably otherwise shouldn’t be going.  Threats are constant, and the single pistol the Man carries two bullets for a reason.  Part of the Boy’s education is the proper way to commit suicide.

There is something horribly disturbing in that image – the father pushing a pistol into his son’s mouth, then moving it to his own so he can demonstrate the proper aim.  You can’t aim too low or you’ll fail.  There is also something horribly familiar, and a terrible, terrible sense that this could be you.

The Road is that real, thanks largely to it’s source material.  I feel almost like I’m writing a review of the book rather than the movie, because the two are so close together.  The images are there and the characters are played to perfection (and I do mean perfection) by Mortensen and the supporting cast.  Smit-McPhee is amazing as the Boy, evoking for me exactly what McCarthy’s written representation of the Boy was.

Something is lacking in the movie, though, something the book has.  Roger Ebert’s review delves into McCarthy’s work and boils down the difference to the prose.  I would have to agree.  The book is like poetry.  Take away those words and you’re left with just imagery; without the words, you’re left with tying virtually unfathomable thoughts into a few seconds of screen real estate.

Penhall and Hillcoat have done, I think, as good a job as could be.  The movie stands on it’s own quite well.  It’s just missing the depth and introspection that the novel had.  If there was a way to accurately communicate those details in a film we’d probably never see another critic complain about unfaithful adaptations.

What The Road managed to do was take the essence of the book and present it to us successfully on the screen.  Much was lost in translation but what was presented was true and powerful and extremely well done.  No other movie about the apocalypse is quite as moving, truthful, or hard to watch as this.


Interesting review of the book:

Film Review: Bakjwi (Thirst) (2009)

Bakjwi (Thirst) (2009)
Starring: Kang-ho Song, Ok-bin Kim
Directed by: Chan-wook Park
Written by: Seo-Gyeong Jeong and Chan-wook Park, inspired by “Thérèse Raquin” by Émile Zola
Rated: R
Rating: 4 (out of five)

Bakjwi (Thirst)

With the teenage vampire craze under way it’s hard to find a good vampire movie any more.  (Although I’m not really certain I can blame Stephanie Meyer for it, good vampire movies were hard to come by before.)  This is one that makes a valiant, original attempt at reclaiming the genre.

Chan-wook Park is best known for Old Boy, the violent revenge yarn about a man who has been help captive for years for no good reason.  His horror movies are unique, just as Old Boy was unique for a revenge story.  There is an interesting perspective brought to them, and an interesting exploration of raw human nature.  Few other horror films are as deep.

Thirst is about a Roman Catholic priest.  He works at a hospital performing last rites to it’s dying tenants.  He’s a good, humble, pious man, seeking to do good for his fellow man in any way he can.  Blessed with a healthy body and not able to help beyond praying, he volunteers for a radical medical experiment that is attempting to cure a deadly virus.  It fails, and the priest dies.

During the resuscitation attempt the dying priest is given a blood transfusion, and it’s blood from a vampire.  The priest is resurrected in the morgue, becoming the first human to successfully fight off the deadly disease.  A cult following forms around him, people begging him to heal them without realizing what he’s become.

The priest begins to struggle with his new affliction – his new self – and still retain his previous moral code.  He leaves the seminary and the hospital to find a new place in the world and begins spending time with a childhood friend of his, Kang-woo, and his young wife, Tae-ju.  The priest can’t hold back his carnal needs, amplified after his transformation, for Tae-ju.  He struggles with these new actions and his previous vow of chastity; she, on the other hand, yearns to escape her boring marriage and willing accepts the priest, vampirism and all, into her arms.  The urges become too much and both are soon entangled in a mess of blood, murder, revenge, and self-loathing.

An interesting idea of the vampire is that they do things out of need, not out of want.  The first half of the movie is a fascinating look at how someone as pure as good priest would cope with becoming vampire.  The budding love (or lust) between the priest and Tae-ju is equally fascinating.  The film makes a point of placing the vampire into a moral conflict rather than a physical one, framing it within the real world.

Unfortunately, the film turns a little too grotesquely comedic in the middle of the second half for it to have been a brilliant picture.  Any philosophical exploration was tossed aside for a bloody and graphic interlude.  It fits within the construct of the story, but losing that depth of character momentarily is enough to drag the movie down.

It’s taken a while for this movie to grow on me.  Had I written this review immediately after viewing it, it would have been much more negative and lower rated.  The movie has stuck with me and has planted some lingering thoughts in my about the classic vampire mythos.  To anyone I said “Don’t bother” to – I take it back!


Film Review: The Hangover (2009)

The Hangover (2009)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Written by: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Rated: R
Rating: 3 (out of five)

The Hangover

I had little to no interest (closer to no interest) in seeing this movie until I watched the Golden Globes.  People had recommended it, but they also recommended other comedies that turned out to be only mildly amusing.  Then the Golden Globes played a clip during their broadcast …

Stu: She’s got my Grandmother’s Holocaust ring!
Alan: They gave out rings at the Holocaust?

I still can’t really explain why, but that moment is extremely funny to me.  So I rented it.  And very much enjoyed it.

Doug is getting married.  So Stu and Phil throw him a bachelor party in Vegas.  Doug’s fiancée’s brother, Alan, tags along.  When they wake up, severely hung over, Doug is missing and no one can recall what happened during the night.  The story really is that simple.  There is nothing more to it.  The best situational comedies are simple.  Look at “Seinfeld,” for instance.

We start with a terrible phone call from the best man to the bride – a bloody, dirty, tired, and worn out looking best man, calling the pampered, immaculate looking bride.  Phil tells her there’s no way the wedding is going to happen in five hours.

Flashback 48 hours earlier to beginning of the escapade.  We meet Phil (Cooper), a teacher, ready to get out and let loose.  We meet Stu (Helms), a dentist, tied down by an over-controlling girlfriend who is thoroughly very pleased that the bachelor party isn’t happening in Vegas (he tells her their going to wine country).  And Alan (Galifianakis), Doug’s soon to be brother-in-law, who is his own kind of loner (“a one-man wolf pack” who definitely provides the most awkward moments of the flick).

They toast on the rooftop of their hotel, then head down to the streets.  When they wake up the next morning, Doug is gone, the hotel room is trashed, chickens peck around through the mess, a tiger is trapped in the bathroom, and a baby is found in a closet.  Oh, and Stu is missing a tooth.  That’s only the start.

The trio begins a long hunt for their friend by working backward through the night’s events, trying to find out where Doug went by discovering where the tiger came from and why Doug’s tooth is missing and who’s baby that is.

I can’t say that this movie is great character study, or extremely well written.  But it is hilarious throughout.  What makes it rise above other generic comedies of late are the characters.  They actually have personalities and problems, and the night’s events provide a form of therapeutic treatment for them.  The characters feel real, not created simply because a comedic moment was needed.  The comedy comes from this sense of sincerity.

You care a bit about each.  Will Phil grow up and quit stealing kids money?  Will Stu shed his girlfriend and spread his wings?  Will Alan’s wolf pack ever grow?  You even care a little bit if they find Doug or not.

From these characters comes dialog that is witty and genuine.  It doesn’t feel like it’s pieced together from comedy cliché’s and predictable reactions.  Of course it’s there to get a laugh, but the character isn’t saying this line simply for the laugh.  The line comes from the character, from the story, driving the plot forward.  It’s a strongly written film.  Because of this, it easily rises above.

It’s hard to call a movie about a killer hangover smart, but this one actually is.  It’s getting rare to see a mainstream comedy that is these days.


Film Review: Coraline (2009)

Coraline (2009)
With the voices of: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Keith David
Directed by: Henry Selick
Written by: Henry Selick, based on Neil Gaiman’s novel
Rated: PG
Rating: 5 (out of five)

CoralineCoraline is the third stop-motion film from Henry Selick, the mastermind behind The Nightmare Before Christmas.  (I will admit that I thought Corpse Bride was his handy-work too, but it turns out I was very wrong there.)  It is nothing short of brilliant.  When an animated film is so good that you forget you are watching animation, the creators have really accomplished something.  When they manage to do that against what seems like all odds, they’ve created something truly amazing.

Coraline Jones (that’s “CORE-a-line” not “CARE-o-line”) has just moved to a new apartment with her parents.  They are horticulturalists of a sort, but lately they’ve been putting aside actually cultivating a garden in favor of writing.  Her father is authoring a catalog that he hopes to be his magnum opus that will feed the family.  Coraline doesn’t care in the least and is more interested in having adventures.  Their new neighbors, Mr. Bobinsky, Miss Spink, and Miss Forcible, though colorful, aren’t enough.

On her first foray into her new surroundings she meets the son of her apartment’s proprietor, Wybie.  And a sly black cat.  Bored with their lack of creativity, she retreats back into her house and begins cataloging everything she finds.  Which includes an curiously small door that has been wall-papered over.  After sufficiently pestering her mother enough that she gives in, the door is opened, only to reveal a brick wall.

That night Coraline is awoken by a jumping mouse whom she follows through the house.  To the curiously small door.  Through the curiously small door.  And into the Other World, where she meets her Other Mother, and her Other Father, and the Other Wybie, and that strange cat.  Everything is perfect at first glance.  Her mother is baking tasty meals and her father is full of life and energy and all they want to do is please Coraline.  It takes her a few minutes to notice that their eyes are mere black buttons sewn onto their faces.

Retreating back to into the Real World, Coraline is once again faced with the sheer monotony that she feels makes up her life, and she quickly finds herself venturin g back into the Other World and becoming more and more at home there.  As is the case with these stories, it’s not long before she discovers that the black buttons are there for a reason, and that hiding under all the shiny facades of fun is something evil.

Coraline is a story about youth.  It’s about youth itself learning to embrace life and finding adventure.  It’s about youth’s influence on adults.  It’s about the adults lusting after youth in dangerous ways.  It’s about adults finding their youth again and their lives brightening and adults not leaving their youth behind.

Gaiman’s writing is always rooted in myths and folk tales.  What Gaiman always does well is to make these common tales uniquely his own.  Coraline is no exception to this.  And I hate the fact that I haven’t read the book!  (Though the movie, I hear, is sufficiently close to the book, there are some variances.  Notably Wybie, who isn’t in the book at all.)

More than being a great modern folk tale, Coraline is an amazing visual feast and an incredible technical achievement to boot.  I’ve linked an article at the bottom that was eye-opening.  Who knew that the Other Mother morphing into her real self was such a painstaking shot to produce!

All in all, this film deserves a spot on anyone’s shelf and is a great movie to get the whole family together.  Perhaps I have a dark vision of what family movies should be, but I still think it’s a great film.  Technically, creatively, visually – all of it comes together perfectly.


Great article on the making of:

Film Review: Surrogates (2009)

Surrogates (2009)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Ving Rhames
Directed by: Jonathan Mostow
Written by: Michael Ferris and John D Brancato, based on the graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele
Rated: PG-13
Rating: 2 (out of five)Surrogates (2009)

A few years ago, Alex Proyas’s I, Robot (2004) came out.  It deconstructed Isaac Asimov’s phenomenal “I, Robot” stories and turned into an action vehicle for Will Smith.  I enjoyed the  movie but it definitely wasn’t good science fiction.  It was just good action.  That’s about the best thing I can say for Surrogates.

I have not read the graphic novel so I cannot make any comparisons in that regard.  There are some moments in the movie that are obviously painstakingly recreated from the frames of the novel.  Those are unfortunately few and far between.

14  years from now we have the technology to create and control “surrogates.”  These are lifelike androids that experience life for us while we remain back at home, lying in a pod that allows our minds to control the surrogates.  The great part of surrogates is that you get to feel everything they feel and have none of the side effects.  Sex has gone up, but STI’s have gone down.  The aging process is almost non-existent in the real world.  Surrogates don’t age, just their controllers do.  But also virtually non-existent in the real world is human connection.  There are reservations of humans — “meat bags” – where no surrogates are allowed to enter.  These havens of humanity are run by The Prophet (Rhames) who aims to restore life to it’s natural roots.

We open with a murder.  Someone on a motorcycle fires a pretty powerful weapon at two surrogates.  It causes their surrogates to fry – which isn’t new, as bullets through electronic components can cause some serious damage – but it also causes their controllers to fry as well.  The surrogate/controller who is killed is none other than the son of Dr. Cantor, the man who invented surrogates.

This sparks the first real homicide in years (surrogates kill other surrogates, people don’t kill people anymore).  Lt. Greer (Willis) and his partner (Mitchell) are brought on to solve the case.  Much is unique about it:  why did the safety mechanisms fail and cause the controller to die when the surrogate was fried?  What weapon is powerful enough to do that?  Why would someone do such a thing?  Is The Prophet involved?  They then get wrapped up in a conspiracy that takes us through to the movie’s inevitable ending.

Mostow also directed Terminator 3.  He hasn’t grown much as a director since then.  (On a funny note, I see that his next project is a re-tell of the Swiss Family Robinson – interesting change of scenery from sci-fi).  The movie is rather derivative as far as it’s production goes.  The action isn’t bold, the explosions are only “big,” the suspense is barely there.  This is true of a lot of movies that Hollywood churns out these days, and I can openly confess to liking a lot of them.  I even liked Terminator 3!  The real issue with this movie isn’t the production.  It’s the story.

Again, I haven’t read the graphic novel, and don’t intend to at this point, but the story here is what is wrong with this movie.  Re-read the paragraph above explaining the future society presented in this movie.  The one thing this story does is a great job of tantalizing us with these little, realistic details of how surrogacy has affected future society and humanity as a whole.  It only hints at it though, and only for the first few minutes as the credits roll.  It blatantly ignores, and even sometimes purposely avoids, parallels to our current society’s addiction to gadgetry and the “zoning out” it causes.  This movie is completely devoid of any social context whatsoever.  And that is it’s problem.

I’m not looking for this to be a social critique of technological advances and their effects on humanity.  I think it would have been a wrong choice to have done that.  What I’m asking for is a sense of what’s happened and the realization that this has a profound effect on how the characters would have gone about daily life.  Instead we get one single moment where Greer walks through the streets as a meat bag instead of a surrogate for the first time.

Look at District 9.  It’s not meant to be a social commentary on Apartheid, it’s not meant delve into social injustices, but because the story was borne of those conditions, it’s effects are directly presented on-screen.  I again think that it would have been the wrong choice for that film to have been a true social commentary, but at least it wasn’t afraid of the idea it projected.  Another brilliant example is Blade Runner.  The film doesn’t truly attempt to be a critique, but instead delivers us into a fully realized world that serves as it’s own critique, completely apart from what the filmmakers were filming.

A brief hint of what this movie could have been was provided by some early teaser posters.  Take a look here and here to see what I mean.

Action.  Check.  Some pretty explosions and car crashes.  Check.  A real world to set the story in?  Nope!


Prof. Ishiguro and his “Geminoid” twin:

Film Review: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans (2009)

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans (2009)
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmer, Eva Mendes, Xzibit
Directed by: Werner Herzog
Written by: William M. Finklestein
Rated: R
Rating: 4.5 (out of five)

This review contains possible spoilers!  The final paragraphs contain what may be considered spoilers.  While I do not consider them spoilers, as I don’t think they actually spoil anything, some may take offense.  Consider this fair warning.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans It’s now been over 72 hours since I watched Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans.  There’s a reason this review is going up significantly later than my viewing.  I didn’t know what to say.  I’ve decided that is actually a good thing.  Maybe even a great thing.

When I first saw the listings for a movie called “Bad Lieutenant 2” I couldn’t help but laugh.  I’ve not seen the original Bad Lieutenant (1992) starring Harvey Keitel.  Then I saw Herzog was directing and I was flabbergasted.  Why would he remake something like that?

Turns out it’s not a remake nor is it a sequel.  Herzog claims to have never seen the original, and the only reason the phrase “Bad Lieutenant” is in the title is that the producers felt it would boost the film’s profile.

Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant follows Terrence McDonagh (Cage), a veteran cop in New Orleans.  The film is set in the aftermath of Katrina.  In the opening scene, Terrence takes a leap into a flooded landing to save a criminal.  For his heroism, he is promoted to Lieutenant and left with an irreparable back injury that causes him severe pain.

As Terrence’s pain worsens the Vicodin his doctor prescribed just isn’t enough.  As a cop, he has access to the store rooms where the confiscated drugs are.  Guess what happens?

Terrence begins a terrible slide into hardcore drug usage.  His girlfriend, Frankie (Mendes), is a prostitute, and assists Terrence get his fix when he needs it.  His father and step-mother are alcoholics, though his father is trying to go through AA again.

In one of the more uncomfortable scenes I’ve ever watched, Terrence follows a young man and his “date” out of a nightclub into a vacant parking lot.  Flashing his red and blue lights, he explains to them that they “match a description” and to give him all their drugs.  They do, and as the young man pleads with him to not report anything, Terrence begins to rape the woman.  And he forces the young man to watch.  And Herzog forces us to watch.

Then the hallucinations begin.  Iguanas and alligators and breakdancing souls begin distracting Terrence as he tries to do his day job.  Although it’s not clear if it’s really a “job” to Terrence any longer.

Throughout all this, tying all of it together, is a high profile murder case, taking Terrence deep into the underground drug scene in New Orleans.  The murder story is a MacGuffin, something to keep the viewer interested in something that seems normal.  This is the great irony of Bad Lieutenant: a horrible murder seems acceptable and commonplace next to Terrence.

In some ways this film seems almost like a retelling of Shakespeare’s Richard III.  Terrence develops a hump and almost limps.  He plows through obstacles with ruthless efficiency, setting up the pieces well ahead of time.  His insanity and instability grows the further he digs himself.

Cage is absolutely phenomenal as the drug addled Terrence.  His portrayal of addiction and violence (both against others and against one’s self) is frightening.  There is not a single moment where you look at this sad figure of a cop and think “Hey, that’s Nicolas Cage!”  One of the best performances of the year without a doubt.

This is not an easy movie to watch.  It is hard, in your face, unrelenting, and uncompromising.  Herzog has found a great partner with Cage.  They have no qualms about getting dirty and taking you right down with them.

The first shot is of a water snake swimming along and a convict near drowning.  It ends with Terrence slumped in front of a giant glass aquarium of swimming creatures with the convict he saved sitting beside him, the fish circling endlessly in their tanks.  Did we just go through two-hours of personal hell only to begin again?  Is this the beginning of the end?  The beginning of another downfall after what was almost a successful return to normalcy?  At one point Terrence asks “Do fish have dreams?”

Herzog isn’t afraid to leave us wondering.  Are you?


Herzog on Bad Lieutenant, Singing Iguanas, and Prop Cocaine: