Posted on 12/20/10 12:28 AM
I'll never understand how a film that was widely ignored by moviegoers could receive so much negative feedback for merely existing. For one thing, the math of the situation doesn't compute no matter how I add it up. For another, I see many projects that are much more deserving of pre-emptive hate than an english-language remake of an obscure Swedish vampire film. You know, like another Transformers movie. In 3-D. And that's before we even get to the part where I point out that "Let Me In", recipient of the premature hate, is good. Really good. As in, "my new favorite vampire movie of all time" good. Seriously, did I miss something? When did the quality of the film stop being what really mattered? This makes my brain hurt...
I gave "Let Me In" a shot because of positive critical reception and the casting of Chloe Grace Moretz, a young actress good enough to steal "Kick-Ass" from the title character in less than three minutes. "Let Me In" was put in the hands of writer/director Matt Reeves, who directed "Cloverfield". (Posters and the trailer felt the need to point that fact out, which was a silly idea. Sure didn't do anything to convince me to see it.) The marketing push was non-existent, and the cast lacks A-list talent. In other words, this was about as low-profile as a wide release can get. With that in mind, its box office numbers are hardly surprising.
The original story's setting is shifted to Los Alamos, New Mexico, in the early 80s. The film begins with a pretty intense sequence, with the local police escorting a badly injured man to the hospital. It turns out there have been killings in the area, and a police officer (Elias Koteas) thinks the man may be involved in a satanic cult. But before the cop can extract any useful information, the man seemingly falls several stories out the hospital window to his death. (Worst. Night. EVER!)
The film then backtracks two weeks from this event to introduce us to the main character, a 12-year-old boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee). His is a tragic and lonely existence. He's bullied mercilessly at school, and his home life is even worse: his parents are getting a divorce. His dad is gone. His mom might as well be. But Owen's life gets turned upside down when two people, a little girl named Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her guardian (Richard Jenkins), move into the apartment next door. Abby tells Owen that they "can't be friends", but after Owen offers her a Rubik's Cube (a seemingly unprecedented act of kindness to her) the friendship is off and running. Owen seems to sense that Abby's life is just as lonely and secluded as his is, and he's right. He doesn't suspect the real reason why: Abby is a vampire, forced to kill people for blood and move from place to place to escape the attention that those killings inevitably bring. Quite the vicious cycle.
Chloe Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee have more to do than just portray their characters. They are tasked with carrying the film, always a risk when dealing with child actors. Here, it works phenomenally. Chloe takes the vampire role and knocks it out of the park, which should come as no surprise. What did surprise me was how much emotion and humanity she brought to the role. Her performance isn't just believable; it turned Abby into a character I cared about when I might not have otherwise. For his part, Kodi does great work as the tormented Owen, both with his voice and his expressions, helping viewers connect with Owen's struggles. He isn't quite as good as Chloe, but he's good enough that he never gets overshadowed by her, which is an achievement by itself. Kodi and Chloe do much more than just carry the movie; they take it to a new level. As for the supporting cast, Richard Jenkins is a terrific choice to play Abby's guardian, and the underrated Koteas being involved in the proceedings is just made of win. I really liked him as Casey Jones in the original "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", and 20 years later he's still got it.
Now, I can't properly review "Let Me In" without addressing the anti-remake crowd. Yes, "Let the Right One In" is a really good movie, and the argument that it didn't need to be remade is legitimate. But we aren't dealing with a shot-for-shot remake, or even a scene-for-scene remake. The core story beats remain the same, and even much of the dialogue is similar, but it's more than just an americanized copy of the original. "Let Me In" focuses a lot more on Owen and Abby, so many of the original's supporting characters are either pushed to the side or cut out entirely. The four main characters also are different (vastly different in some cases) from film-to-film. Shots in most of the shared scenes are different, and this change in appearance is amplified by the color schemes. The original was heavy on blues and whites, while the remake opts for warmer and darker colors. These may be minor differences, but as Sherlock Holmes tells us, the minor details are often the most important. Watching the remake felt much different than watching the original, and the small details contributed a great deal to the experience. (Note: I will not mention "Let the Right One In" after this paragraph, mostly because I refuse to let this review degenerate into a series of comparisons between the two movies. Not gonna happen. No. Effing. Way.)
"Let Me In" only has one glaring flaw, and that's the CGI used to enhance Abby's kills. It just looks bad. Beyond that, the film looks incredible. It's beautifully shot, and Reeves does some pretty good work with the camera. One scene that stands out is a car crash. Reeves keeps the shot inside the car as it flips, and the result is awe-inspiring. (Reeves clearly has a little Hitchcock in him.) The film's atmosphere is enhanced further by the music, which does a great job of adding the right mix of sweet and creepy. It's touching in some places and haunting in others.
And as bad as the CGI was, the film's scares impressed me.I won't describe any of them to avoid spoilers, but I will say that I liked them as much for what they *didn't* show as for what they did show. That is representative of the film as a whole. Many plot points and events are colored in shades of gray and invite the viewer to think. Is character A manipulative, or caring? What is happening off-screen during a given scene? What is the significance of a certain line of dialogue or facial expression? The ending in particular, where Abby and Owen's arc is concluded, has inspired several different interpretations of events in the film and what will happen to the characters after. Most films don't stick with viewers like that, but "Let Me In" isn't most films.
The thing I liked most about "Let Me In" was the relationship between Abby and Owen, and the emotional buttons that were pushed along the way. Owen is living through one of the darkest periods a kid can endure (parents divorcing), and Abby is the friend he desperately needs. As the film progresses, she helps him confront the problems he faces and he becomes stronger as a result. Abby's arc, on the other hand, is less about changing and more about being "reborn". As she befriends Owen, she seemingly rediscovers what she once was and gradually becomes more like the 12-year-old girl she appears to be. When you watch this film, pay close attention to her physical appearance in her first few scenes as opposed to what she looks like in the last third of the movie; there's a significant difference, and it isn't for nothing. I also liked how the narrative juxtaposed the sweetness and innocence of their relationship with the darker aspects of the story.
As much as I love this movie, I can't give it a full recommendation. For better (in terms of artistic quality) and for worse (in terms of ticket sales), "Let Me In" does not cater to all tastes, or even most. Its slow pacing requires a little patience. The child vampire angle and the ages of the main characters may turn some viewers off. But if you are one of those people who are sick to death of "teen vampire movies" (like I was and still am), you should definitely give this film a shot. You may be surprised at what you find. I sure was, in ways I never would have thought possible. "Let Me In" is a lock for my top five of 2010, and it more than earned its place.
Posted on 6/18/10 12:57 PM
So many Pixar movies have left me saying "I never saw that coming", but none have done that quite like "Toy Story 3" has. While we often trivialize the strong attachments we had with the toys from our childhood, the Toy Story franchise has used this unlikely avenue to send the memories rushing back and to tug at our heartstrings, but never with more effectiveness than they did here. After giving us two movies that were nearly flawless, Pixar has given us a third installment that is somehow even better. A cinematic triumph in every possible way, "Toy Story 3" is a film that celebrates family, love, friendship, and the power of imagination.
Where do I rank it among Pixar's filmography? Probably a tie for the top spot with WALL-E, which was one of the most adorable movies I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. "Toy Story 3" is that good. I honestly can't decide which of the two is better and, frankly, I don't know if I really want to. For me to place one over the other I'd have to try and find something I don't like about one of them, and that's something I'm not prepared to do.
It's been over a decade since we have seen these characters, so it was important for the film's opening sequence to not just pull us into the story, but to remind us of what we have been missing all this time. There's the cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks), the spaceman Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), the cowgirl Jesse (Joan Cusack), Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris, respectively), the green dinosaur Rex (Wallace Shawn), and the piggybank Hamm (John Ratzenberger). We see all of them in the first ten minutes, and the action sequence they are thrown into us up there with what Brad Bird did with "The Incredibles". It's a visual treat, and its execution could not have been more spectacular. This might have been the most thrilling opening sequence Pixar has ever put to film.
However, unlike last year's "Up", "Toy Story 3" just keeps getting better and better as it goes along. There are also some new notable characters. There's Barbie (Jodi Benson) and Ken (Michael Keaton), and the incredibly huggable stuffed Bear commonly called Lotso (Ned Beatty), whose backstory really helped make the emotional backbone to this film even stronger. The montage of his past was one of the darker and more emotionally compelling portions of the movie, and that's saying something. There's also a grown-up Andy (John Morris), about to head to college.
The plot? You know the plot, don't play that game. Besides, a comprehensive (or even partial) recap would be a total waste of space. It's a reliable Pixar formula. There's the opening, the grand journey to a brand new place, the villainous toys plotting to keep them at the new place, the daring action-packed escape attempt, and the conclusion.
And what a conclusion. In my "Up" review, I call the opening montage the most powerful piece of cinema Pixar has crafted. But with the conclusion to "Toy Story 3", they have topped themselves once again. I had to hold back some to keep from bawling like a baby. But the thing is, it's a happy cry. For Woody, Buzz and the gang, the end of their grand journey has arrived. We don't want Andy to grow up and let go of them, just the same way that all of us didn't want to have to grow up and let go of what we once treasured. The way Pixar handled it will leave you walking out of the theater happy for all of these characters, and it's a scene that is likely to have an impact on all of us. Three hours after walking out of the theater, I'm still getting misty-eyed just thinking about the last 10 minutes or so of this movie.
I've never done this in a review before, but I feel the need to say a big "thank you" to Pixar for this movie. It's the conclusion that I wanted to see for these characters back when the first one came out. I counted my age in single digits back then, and this movie is made for people who are around my age. People who were little kids like Andy when the first one came out, who can still fondly remember those childhood experiences with our favorite toys like it was yesterday. I'm about a year away from graduating college and going out into that adult world I dreaded for so long, but for two hours today, it was like I was 9 years old again.
Will the Toy Story gang have a fourth installment? I certainly hope not. "Toy Story 3" wrapped up the loose ends left by the first two brilliantly, and the ending was literally perfect. Apologies to "Return of the King", but this is the best threequel ever made, and I also don't have a problem if someone wants to call this the best trilogy ever made.
It pushes all of our emotional buttons (excitement, tension, sadness, joy, sadness AND joy) and does so better than just about anything that has come before. "Toy Story 3" is easily the best film of the year so far, and I can't see anything topping it.
To Woody, Buzz, Rex, Hamm, Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, Jessie, and Bullseye: It was an incredible run. Thanks for all the memories.