Let the Right One In

Eli, the vampire next door

Eli, the vampire next door

Let the Right One In is not a horror film. It really isn’t. Sure, there’s a vampire. You’ve got me there. And people get killed. And it isn’t pretty. Still. Let the Right One In is less about horror, and more about finding someone who will stick by you. No matter what. It’s about connections between people that transcend everything.

Let the Right One In is a Swedish film based on a 2004 novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist and centers around the budding friendship between Oskar, a bullied twelve year old, and Eli, the vampire who moves in next door. The film is shot on a stark, snowy Swedish landscape, creating a heightened sense of isolation throughout.

I’ve heard a lot of folks say that Let the Right One In is what Twilight should have been. That’s pretty much bulls**t. Twilight is what it is–a teen romance starring sexy, romanticized vampires. It’s a fantasy. And it’s pretty damn good fantasy at that.

Oskar considers the school bully.

Oskar considers the school bully.

Let the Right One In is something else completely. Sure there’s a vampire. That’s about where the similarities end. The relationship that forms between Eli and Oskar is not idealized. It is not romanticized. It is not sexy. I can’t even say for sure that it’s beautiful. But it is real. And it is honest. And for that reason, the film transcends the trappings of the vampire genre. You don’t have to be into vampires or horror to love this movie. And the cinematography and score alone are enough to make any film lover drool. Combined with a fantastic script, and brilliant acting from the two leads, and it all adds up to something quite special.

Let the Right One In is playing in the CinemaSalem screening room starting March 27th.

Slumdog Millionaire

slumdog-millionaire-fl-01Slumdog Millionaire, co-directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, and Sunshine) and first-time Indian director Loveleen Tandan is a touching, sometimes brutal tales of love, family, and destiny that takes place in modern day India.

Without giving away too much of the plot, Jamal Malik is a young man who has been a slumdog all of his life – living off next to nothing, never really having his own home and constantly traveling the country chasing after his one true love. Jamal appears on the Indian version of the poplar game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire , and using past life experiences is easily able to answer the questions he is given. Of course, being that he is from the slums he is not supposed to know the answers to the questions. Before long he is taken into police custody on suspicion of cheating. The film is much deeper and complex than that, delving into family conflict, gang crime, and race and religious conflicts.

Slumdog Millionaire is, hands down, the best film I’ve seen this year. I will even go as far as to say it’s the best film I’ve seen in the last few years. Boyle is a brilliant director, working with a bunch of no-name and child actors and getting Oscar worthy performances out of them. Boyle and Tandan craft a beautiful epic that is equal parts suspenseful, harrowing and tear-jerking touching. The beautiful cinematography coupled with excellent choices in music really bring the story to life and help the viewer to really connect with the characters and understand what they’re going through. Danny Boyle, an English director exquisitely captures the heart of India and reels you in. Danny Boyle, while always a good director, has really stepped up his game with this film and proven that he really can make any kind of film and work in almost any genre.

I honestly can’t recommend this film enough and I urge everyone to see it, even if the premise doesn’t interest you. Slumdog Millionaire is an almost perfectly crafted film and one that will stay with you for a long time.

More Asian Cinema, a.k.a. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is superhuman (minor spoilers)

So I’ve been watching lots of Asian cinema recently. Not sure why it’s been such a heavy concentration lately. But there you go.  Here’s a quick run down:

Hard Boiled. Always heard it was an action masterpiece, so I decided I better watch it. The film is directed by John Woo and stars Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. Chow Yun-Fat’s character is a trigger happy cop nick-named Tequila whose parter gets killed during the investigation of Triad gun runners. In the course of the film he hooks up with Tony Leung Chiu-Wai’s character, an undercover cop named Alan, who’s in deep with the gun-running underground. That’s the setup, and I don’t plan to give another single thing away, because if you like action films, you have to watch this movie. John Woo demonstrates how it’s done. But kick-butt action scenes aside, what really works about this movie is Alan. Undercover work hasn’t been kind to him. He’s a guy who’s had to compromise everything he stands for to sell his cover. And it isn’t pretty. Hard Boiled is an action extravaganza with a substantial body count. But it’s also the story of a guy who got in deeper than he would have liked, and the toll it takes on him.

Hey, it's Tony Leung Chiu-Wai again!

In the Mood for Love. Not an action film. Quite the reverse. Directed by Wong Kar-wai and starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (yes) this film is set in Hong Kong in the 1960’s. The movie follows a romance that blooms awkwardly and a bit painfully after the two main characters discover their spouses are having an affair. Together. They vow never to behave like their cheating spouses, and even as they fall in love with each other, keep their relationship chaste. What I loved most about this movie was how it’s shot. Kar-wai shoots the film so that we end up being voyeurs, peering at them from inside a closet, or through a door. I felt as if I was viewing something personal and private, and it connected me to the characters, while at the same time heightening my discomfort over their awkward situation. The actors contribute an achingly subtle and understated performance, which combined with a stunning soundtrack amount to a beautiful film that explores the often complicated and dissonant relationship between the emotion of love and the social institution of marriage.

Lust, Caution. I meant to see this film when it came out, because I heart Ang Lee. But I was, frankly, stupid, and I decided to wait to get the DVD because I got wind of some less than stellar reviews. Pish Posh. That usually does not stop me, and I don’t know why it did in this instance. At any rate, I watched it recently and was bowled over by how completely entranced I was watching this film. Set in China during the Japanese occupation, the larger plot of the film follows a resistance cell as they plot to assassinate a high-ranking official in the collaborationist government. We follow this story through Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei), a young college student who becomes involved with the resistance. She is to lure the target, Mr. Yee (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, surprise!) to an unguarded location where the resistance can kill him. Easier said then done. In the course of infiltrating Mr. Yee’s home, we watch Chia Chi (now posing as “Mrs. Mak) descend deeper and deeper into a troubling relationship with Mr. Yee. And while Lust, Caution is, on the surface, a film about espionage and resistance, it is also about the transformation? destruction? liberation? of Chia Chi. Which is it? Is it all three? I will be adding this film to my DVD collection. I hardly noticed the long running time (although most negative reviews gripe about it) and highly recommend the film.

Grave of the Fireflies. This film is Japanese, and does not star Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. But that’s okay! All I have to say about this film is: Just see this movie. Show it to your kids. It’s heartbreakingly sad, but its intensely personal portrayal of the horrors of war make it a film everyone should watch. Written and directed by Isao Takahata, adapted from the semi-autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka, Grave of the Fireflies is an animated tale about a young boy and his sister who are left to fend for themselves after their town is firebombed in a WWII air raid. The animation is not as stylized as most anime, favoring more realistic renditions of people and the environment. The animation adds a strange realism to depictions of bombers flying overhead, dropping incendiaries on various towns. Perhaps it’s because seeing that kind of thing for the first time must seem a bit unreal. So the animation capitalizes on that fact, and every time I saw a shot of the bombers flying over head, I felt fear, and even found myself wondering what it would feel like to see bombers flying over Salem. That’s not something a film has ever made me stop and think about. This film is kind of a kick in the chest. On the one hand you watch this young boy (Seita) looking after his little sister (Setsuko) and you get what love is. The film is a tear-jerker for sure, but there are a lot of moments where the film will make you feel genuine happiness and overwhelming joy. On the other hand it takes place during a war. A nasty one. And on a large scale, we all know why war sucks. But it’s the small scale consequences of war that are easy to forget, and sometimes, when faced with them, the hardest to bear. Because on a small scale war isn’t about the ideologies that that nations fight over. It’s about the people who are trying to survive. So add this film to your Netflix queue. You’ll blow through a lot of tissues watching the film, but in the end you’ll probably be glad you did.

And finally, we don’t talk about television on this blog as a rule, but since this is a post about all the Asian stuff I’ve been watching lately, I might as well give a short mention to Samurai Champloo (roughly meaning Samurai Mash-up). It’s a 26 episode anime series written and directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, who also directed the anime hit Cowboy Bebop. It follows a young woman who, after saving a reserved ronin (Jin) and a extroverted loose cannon (Mugen) from execution, presses them into helping her find a samurai who smells of sunflowers. So far it’s pretty hilarious and has had some great fight scenes. Although I usually recommend Cowboy Bebop or Wolf’s Rain to people who want to try a little anime, I think Samurai Champloo would be a good starting point as well. Like Cowboy Bebop, the characters are fun and the soundtrack is always great!

Coming up: 2046, a sequel to In the Mood for Love.  I hear it features time travel, which I would normally be into, but find strange since In the Mood for Love did not feature any such sci-fi mainstays. But Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, that stud of Chinese film, reprises his role. He is pretty dreamy. And a damn fine actor. So that’s a big plus. We’ll see how it goes. ;-) Until next time!

Man Bites Dog & Eyes Without A Face

While I was partying at All Tomorrow’s Parties in New York this past weekend, I was able to catch a couple of movies. Criterion had a room where they were playing a wide variety of movies they’ve released over the years. Both of the ones I saw happened to be black and white French movies and very very weird.

The first one I saw was Man Bites Dog (aka It Happened In Your Neighborhood) and it was easily one of the most bizarre movies I’ve ever seen. It’s filmed as a documentary but it certainly doesn’t portray facts. And as much as I hate this term, there’s no denying it gets the point across: Man Bites Dog is a mockumentary. The premise is simple. A small film crew follows around an eccentric serial killer, Benoît. Most of the time, Ben talks at great lengths about everything under the sun: art, family, society, music, and in the opening scene, the best way to keep a dead body submerged under water. Very often, the crew films him as he murders and rapes various people and even though you know this isn’t real, it still brings to mind many questions. How can they possibly make an unbiased movie? Should they ever intervene to help the victims? If they don’t help, are they automatically accomplices? The lines are very blurred and the questions aren’t easily answered. The way the creators of Man Bites Dog make these questions easier to swallow is that the movie is a comedy. It’s easy to brush off such heavy topics when you’re laughing. “Of course this isn’t real. So why bother thinking about it?” Apparently, this was very controversial when it came out in 1992 and won the SACD Award at Cannes. I give this film a high recommendation.

Eyes Without A Face is a French horror/thriller that conjures terrifying images from the title alone and the DVD cover only helps to provoke those fears. It’s about a doctor who is experimenting with strange skin grafts and when his daughter has an awful accident that, um, removes her face, he attempts to put a similar looking woman’s face skin on his daughter’s. This movie has made it into many critics “Top Horror” lists and with good reason. It is by far one of the creepiest movies ever. It’s a horror film that would be ridiculously unsuccessful if it came out this year. It’s not the kind of movie that really scares you or makes you jump and scream. It’s actually really hard to describe. Instead of watching it with your hand over your eyes, it’s more like you stare at the screen wide eyed with your jaw hanging open. That’s the best I can do. Trust me, Eyes Without A Face is a true horror movie but likely not one that you’re used to. And even with the occasionally cheesy effects, this is still a very worthwhile movie.

I’ve Been Watching Movies, I Swear

So it’s been quite a while since I’ve reviewed any movies but I assure you it’s not because I haven’t been watching them. Just the opposite, actually. I’ve been watching a lot of stuff but for the most part, I’ve been watching things that I don’t really think are worth reviewing. But I figured I must have at least a few words for each of the movies I’ve been watching, so I’ll play catch up now.

There were a couple of stupid screwball/slapstick ’90s comedies I watched (Jury Duty with Pauly Shore and Beverly Hills Ninja with Chris Farley), which were hardly worth the time. I remembered liking them when they came out, but then again I was about 12 years old. I no longer have any nostalgia for them after re-watching them, and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.

Dandelion was an indie flick that fell flat, for reasons I can’t specifically remember. It starred Vincent Kartheiser (remember him?) and it looked pretty but the story and acting were so sub-par. It was cheesy and cliche. Not something I’d recommend.

Nothing was written and directed by Vincenzo Natali, the same guy who did the original Cube (which I recently reviewed here). It sounded like it had amazing potential. Sadly, it didn’t work out. It’s about these couple of guys who are in serious trouble and wish the world would go away. Then (surprise), it does. Outside of their house is nothing. Literally. Sounds kind of cool, right? Like maybe a contemporary version of My Dinner With Andre? Wrong. These guys don’t talk about anything worthwhile and worst of all, the characters are ridiculously annoying. Two things you really can’t have in a movie about nothing.

I watched the last James Bond movie, Casino Royale, and it was my first James Bond movie ever. I thought Daniel Craig fit the role to a T. It was great, I really enjoyed it, and I really look forward to the new one coming out soon, Quantum Of Solace.

I got to see this movie called The Man From Earth which is about a college professor who reveals to his colleagues on his last day of work that he’s actually a caveman and he’s been alive for hundreds of thousands of years. Definitely an interesting enough premise to watch it, even if it’s bad (kind of like Nothing). I liked the movie enough, but it was kind of boring with everyone sitting by the fireside asking the “caveman” questions the whole night. Not much more than that. Tony Todd and Richard Riehle were in it so that was a plus. The ending was a little too literal, explaining things a little too much and I could have done without that. But otherwise it was a fun thought experiment.

I also watched my first Pedro Almodóvar recently, Volver with Penélope Cruz. It was very weird, with the whole spiritual/ghost thing going on. A couple of criticisms would be that they didn’t wrap up that restaurant side story and the fact that Cruz got a Oscar nomination for it. I’m not saying she was bad in the movie, but rather non-spectacular. I feel like there must have been some other actresses that deserved a nomination more than Cruz for her role in Volver. Oh well.

And finally, I’ve been watching the Alien series for the first time. I saw Alien: Resurrection when it came out a while ago and up until now, that was the only Alien movie I’d seen (although I don’t think it really counts). I’ve watched the first and second so far, with the third coming up soon. Man, these movies are amazing. Sigourney Weaver kicks so much ass. and who knew Paul Reiser had any talent? He plays the perfect scum bag. Aliens is Godzillamonster’s favorite movie ever (I think) and with good reason. But because these are such famous and popular movies, I felt like there wasn’t much I could say that hasn’t already be said, hence no proper reviews. Suffice it to say I truly love Aliens.

And there you have it. A complete update of almost every movie I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks. I’ll be away until next Tuesday, so I won’t have any full reviews until sometime after that. I hope this will tide you all over until then.

6ixtynin9

A funny story about 6 and 9

A funny story about 6 and 9

I’ve seen a decent amount of Asian cinema, but nothing so far from Thailand. And my first foray into Thai cinema did not disappoint. Ruang talok 69, or in English 6ixtynin9 (a more accurate translation appears in the subtitles: “A Funny Story about 6 and 9”) follows a young professional who is laid off from her job. From there it’s a horrifyingly amusing chain of events set in motion by the loose number 6 on her apartment door that occasionally turns on the single nail holding it in place and becomes a 9. Add gangsters in sweatsuits and a missing noodle box filled with money, mix well and watch everything explode.

I don’t want to spoil anything, because anyone who’s into dark comedies should check this film out. Let’s just say there’s a body count. A respectable one. And plenty of sight gags and clever dialog to keep viewers laughing throughout.

The main character, played by Lalita Panyopas, seems to be completely defeated by life in general and her financial woes to boot, and her actions are the result of an almost disinterested kind of desperation. Panyopas’ decidedly understated performance is the main source of the film’s hilarity, but also serves to shock the viewer on the rare occasions when she shows some emotion. A fine job by director and actor alike.

Also of note: I found myself appreciating the lack of gratuitous gore. The film certainly had opportunities to go in that direction. But the director chose to leave a lot to our imagination. As such, the few gag worthy moments score on a psychological level.

But I think what I enjoyed most about the film is that each character walks into the film’s crazy plot and makes conclusions about what is going on, and while they’re all completely reasonable conclusions, they’re all wrong. So what you end up with is this fantastic collision of people who all have slightly different assumptions about the way things work, and added together, they equal a nearly perfect mix of comedy, drama, and thrills.

The one gripe I had was that the subtitles were TERRIBLE. This isn’t completely unexpected, and in a few instances the grammatical errors added to the comedy in the film. To some extent, bad subtitles are part of the package when it comes to Asian cinema. Even so, the mistakes were irritating and added a element of shoddiness that took away from an otherwise well-shot film. I’m guessing the distributor is to blame for the bad subtitling, and there’s no excuse for it. It wouldn’t be terribly expensive to hire a native English speaker to create an English adaptation of the translation and edit it for spelling and grammar.

I plan to check out some of director Pen-Ek Ratanarung’s other films and will gladly report back. Until then, I highly recommend this film.

Son Of Rambow


Films that have children dominating the movie are a dime a dozen. The difference between all of those other movies and Son Of Rambow is that Rambow isn’t a kids movie. What was the last movie like this? Maybe Stand By Me? That was over 10 years ago. It’s prime time for everyone to see a whimsical story about a couple of British boys who want to make a movie.

First of all, let me assure you all that Son Of Rambow has (almost) nothing to do with that Sylvester Stallone franchise. Rather, it’s about a do-gooder named Will Proudfoot who accidentally gets caught up in bad-boy Lee Carter’s shenanigans. They form an unlikely friendship that mixes Will’s crazy imagination with Lee Carter’s equipment and know-how so that they can submit a film inspired by the original Rambo to the BBC’s Screen Test competition. The best parts of Son Of Rambow are when we get to watch Lee and Will perform all sorts of crazy stunts and watching this movie-within-a-movie fold out.

Son Of Rambow is a really solid movie. The acting is superb, it’s cute, funny, and very down to Earth. I can safely say it’s a film that many people would enjoy and I’m a bit surprised that it didn’t take off as well as I hoped it would. My guess is that it got overshadowed by all of the big Hollywood blockbusters. It had a limited release in the US the same weekend Iron Man came out and it probably just went downhill from there. That’s not reason it shouldn’t be seen, though. If it’s still playing in your area, by all means go see it. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until it comes out on DVD in late August.