Tuesday, February 24, 2009


LÅT DEN RÄTTE KOMMA IN
(LET THE RIGHT ONE IN)
(Review)


“Let the right one in,
Let the old games fade,
Put the tricks and schemes, for good, away…”
-- Morrissey
“Let The Right One Slip In”


1982, Sweden: Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is 12 years old, bookish, bullied, and quite possibly just a wee bit maladjusted. And when he gets some new next door neighbours—who are definitely more than what they seem—Oskar’s world opens up in ways he could never have anticipated.
That’s Tomas Alfredson’s Låt den rätte komma in (Let The Right One In) in a nutshell, and it’s quite simply a fascinating and darkly alluring cinematic experience unlike any other.


Now, if you’ve already heard of Låt den rätte komma in, chances are, you already know what supernatural creature is at the centre of its narrative. And if this is the first time you’ve heard of the film, then I really should let you try and see it as unaware as you can possibly be, to further enhance the piece’s striking originality.
(Suffice it to say that said creature is—as is the cyclical way of these things—currently enjoying a renaissance, most visibly on the big and small screens.)


Despite it’s having that supernatural element though (which, by the way, has all the romanticism others have imbued it with totally stripped away), Låt den rätte komma in is also about how the bonds of friendship and love can form from a mutual longing and loneliness (as well as need; there is that, too). It’s about the painful and cruel world of adolescence. It’s about learning to be free of the oppressor, without becoming one yourself. It’s about making the distinction between the need to inflict injury, and the want.


Låt den rätte komma in is decidedly one of the most unique horror films I’ve seen in quite a long while, with a pair of exceptional central performances by Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson, both newcomers found in open castings. (There are no professional child actors in Sweden.)
And while the film may have some perhaps familiar elements, Alfredson and John Ajvide Lindqvist—who adapted his own debut novel for the screen—never quite play with them the way you might expect.
One of Alfredson’s most interesting choices is to juxtapose Oskar’s roiling adolescent angst with the frigid setting and Hoyte Van Hoytema’s coolly controlled cinematography, creating a feeling at once both unsentimental, yet strangely moving, and giving us the intimation of something very dark and unsavoury lurking at the heart of Oskar, waiting to flower into something particularly venomous.
Which all then leads to an ending that can be read as either completely liberating, or merely the doorway to a terrible prison.


If you’re a horror fan and you haven’t seen this one yet, you really do owe it to yourself to seek it out, particularly since it’s already on its way down the Hollywood English-language remake road.*
And hey, there’s that title. I mean, Morrissey. Come on. You have to check it out now, right?


“Let the right one slip in…
Slip in…
Slip in…

“And when at last it does,
I’d say you were within your rights to bite
The right one and say, ‘What kept you so long?
‘What kept you so long?’”
-- Morrissey
“Let The Right One Slip In”



* Actually, the Hollywood version—to be brought to us by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves—will actually be another adaptation of Lindqvist’s novel, as opposed to being an English-language redux of Alfredson’s film.

Parting shot: Amongst a deluge of honours, Låt den rätte komma in—which quickly grew to be a darling on the festival circuit and within numerous critics’ circles—won Best Narrative Feature at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. (I tracked the film in some Afterthoughts past, which can be found in the Archive, alongside a review of Cloverfield)

(OS’s courtesy of impawards.com; images courtesy of beyondhollywood.com.)

Monday, February 23, 2009


AFTERTHOUGHTS (105)
WELL, IF IT ISN’T OSCAR 2009



For the record, going into the awards night, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire had 10 nominations spread over 9 categories (it had 2 of its songs going up for Best Original Song), and by the time Wolverine brought the show to a close, it had 8 to its name.
Brilliant!
That’s…


Slumdog Millionaire
Best Motion Picture of the Year
Achievement in Directing (Danny Boyle)
Adapted Screenplay (Simon Beaufoy)
Achievement in Cinematography (Anthony Dod Mantle)
Achievement in Film Editing (Chris Dickens)
Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures [Original Score] (A.R. Rahman)
Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures [Original Song] (“Jai Ho,” Music by A.R. Rahman, Lyric by Gulzar)
Achievement in Sound Mixing (Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke, Resul Pookutty)


And in the one foregone conclusion of the night, Heath Ledger was awarded a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his hypnotic work in The Dark Knight.

In some of the other performance categories, Kate Winslet took home the Best Actress award for Stephen Daldry’s The Reader (it should be noted that Daldry also directed Nicole Kidman to her Oscar for The Hours), while Sean Penn was honoured with Best Actor for his work on Gus Van Sant’s Milk (Van Sant also steered Robin Williams to an Oscar as well).*
Dustin Lance Black’s Original Screenplay award for Milk should also be noted at this point.


On the awards night itself, it certainly had a different feel to it, with its own fair share of priceless Oscar Moments (Boyle’s Tigger bit; Kate Winslet’s da’s whistle).
So, congratulations, not just to everyone involved with Slumdog Millionaire, but also to Hugh Jackman (The Reader bit in the opening musical number was hilarious), Bill Condon, and Michael Giacchino. Good on all of you! (And to Winslet, for giving Peter Jackson that shout-out in her speech.)

* I recommend both Milk and The Reader, making a point to see the latter also doubling as a very nice cinematic way of bidding adieu to Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella.
Additionally, reviews of Slumdog Millionaire and The Dark Knight can be found in the Archive.

Parting shot: Though I’m an avowed David Fincher fan (who’s still greatly miffed about the past Oscar shut-out of Zodiac), I’ve still to see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, thus, my non-mention of its specific wins above. (How do I know if I’m happy about the wins if I haven’t seen the movie yet?)

Parting shot 2: It was neat seeing Janusz Kaminski (and his Oscars) in the Pineapple Express comedy short, even if the short itself was pretty uneven.

Parting shot 3: I just have to wonder why the “live” broadcast over ABS-CBN 2 was edited, leaving out (among other things) all 3 shorts categories and the end credits…

(Images courtesy of AMPAS and latimes.com [Oscar statue, photo by Albert Watson], impawards.com [Slumdog Millionaire OS], time.com [the Joker image from The Dark Knight], and ew.com [Oscar night images].)

Monday, February 16, 2009


TRUE BLOOD
Season 1 Episode 4
“Escape From Dragon House”
Written by Brian Buckner
Directed by Michael Lehmann
(WARNING: SPOILERS)


This is gonna sound really bad, but with Dawn winding up dead, one of the things that popped into my head was: hey, we get to see more William Sanderson and Chris Bauer! And The Nine’s John Billingsley too, who debuted a couple of episodes back as the local coroner, Mike Spencer.
Her death also turns into a lookie-loo circus which then serves to showcase the community and its morbid reaction to the most recent death.


Once again, Jason comes under suspicion, and, finding himself in a cop car with a vial of V juice in his possession, he panics, and downs the whole thing (when Lafayette warned him to take a drop or two at the most).
That action then develops into another amusing subplot involving horndog Jason, as he develops a bad case of priapism, which Tara helps him out with.


Meanwhile, Gran asks Sookie to “listen in” on people in an attempt to clear Jason’s name, a request which leads Sookie to the vampire bar in Shreveport, Fangtasia, which Dawn used to frequent.
Sookie asks Bill to escort her there (“this is not a date”), and it’s a nice little sequence which introduces Eric Northman (Generation Kill’s Alexander Skarsgård), apparently one of the oldest vampires in the area.


But the most disturbing scene of the episode has to go to Sam, writhing on Dawn’s bed, smelling the sheets.
Eurrr…
So first, Jason’s the murder suspect, and now, we’re given another character to look at a little more closely.
Whether or not Sam did kill Dawn though, he’s clearly more effed-up than we were first led to believe…

(Images courtesy of fanpop.com.)

TRUE BLOOD
Season 1 Episode 3
“Mine”
Written by Alan Ball
Directed by John Dahl
(WARNING: SPOILERS)


“Honey, if we can’t kill people, what’s the point of bein’ a vampire?”
-- Malcolm to Bill


Well, now.
Far as I’m concerned, True Blood has just kicked into high gear.


Right up front, we get a great helping of the show’s vampire mythology, particularly the social structures and hierarchy involved, as well as the differing opinions regarding the race’s having come out of the coffin.
It’s an added plus that the performers playing the vampire nest—Andrew Rothenberg, Aunjanue Ellis (from Justice and E-Ring), and General Hospital’s Graham Shiels—are splendid additions to the show’s cast.
Rothenberg’s Malcolm, older than Bill and a petulant bastard, runs the nest, which includes Ellis’ Diane (who apparently had sex with Bill back in the ‘30’s), and Shiels’ Liam, who’s the bald bloodsucking mofo we saw on the video with Maudette.
These are the down and dirty vampires who could give a rat’s a$ about co-existing with humans, and of course, will undoubtedly spell trouble for Bill and Sookie and the rest of the breathers on the show.


Then there’s what could be the second victim of whoever offed Maudette, poor Dawn.
Again, as with Maudette, the victim’s someone who’s, a) been bitten by a vampire, and b) just been in a sexual relationship with horndog Jason, who, by the way, is exhibiting more and more signs of his vampire fixation.
Concerned about his, erm, performance, Jason tries to score some Viagra off Lafayette, who instead sells him some V-juice, for, uhhh, an interesting dance. (Strange and hilarious scene, one of the best of the show yet…)


There’re also some great discussions in here, from Bill and Sookie’s dialogue regarding magic and vampires, to Tara and Sam’s heart-to-heart, which leads to them mutually ending their months-long sexual droughts.
Speaking of Tara, her tumultuous relationship with her alky mom (American Dreams’ Adina Porter) also gets a spotlight.
All that, plus the possibility of a divine reason for Starbucks, and the punchline to Gran’s story about Uncle Frank.
Priceless.

Parting shot: O.C. fans may appreciate the brief appearance of Nicholas Gonzalez (Marissa’s Season 2 poolboy paramour, D.J.), as Malcolm’s boytoy, Jerry.

“You know what I really wish would come to Marthaville? Huh? Buffy. Or Blade. Or any one of those bad-a$$ vampire killers to take care of Mr. Bill Compton. That’s what I wish.”
-- Sam to the Mystery Dog


Parting shot: Given the particularly delayed, post-Golden Globe nature of this review’s posting, I would be remiss if I did not congratulate Ms. Anna Paquin, for her Globe win.
Of course, given my still not-completely-won over status regarding Ms. Paquin, let me just say that if she won, then, for future reference, certain other cast members need to be Globe-acknowledged in the Supporting categories as well. (Please stand up, Rutina Wesley.)
Hear that, aitch-ef-pee-ey?

(Images courtesy of fanpop.com.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009


DEAD SET
(Review)


“I suppose most TV is a distraction from something or another. That's kind of a theme in the show, we're kind of distracted by a lot of entertainment in this day and age, and obviously in vaguely making that point, what I've really done is create a zombie-romp that will further distract people from whatever might be more important in their lives. I've basically made the problem worse.”
-- Charlie Brooker

“I mean, you know, what is TV anyway? It’s just a big fat arrow pointing away from the problem. Especially shows like this.”
-- Joplin



So the zombie television outbreak may have been blocked on American shores with the Babylon Fields pilot not getting picked up to series, but across the Atlantic, the ravenous undead hordes have besieged the small screen via the gripping Dead Set.
It’s Day 64, 2:36pm, at the Big Brother house. It’s an Eviction Night and the studio’s going just a bit madder than it usually is.
And wouldn’t you know it, but what initially seems to be rioting and random acts of violence—news coverage of which threatens to preempt the show, much to the annoyance of producer Patrick Goad—turns out to be a full-fledged zombie plague.


Featuring the recently discovered genus of the running zombie—first seen in Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead redux, whose deadheads in turn took a cue from the Rage-infected of Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later—and employing a handheld camera aesthetic courtesy of DP Tat Radcliffe, Dead Set is the unholy marriage of two media trends that have, for the most part, outstayed their welcome on the pop culture landscape: reality television and the zombie movie.
What at first sounds like a gimmicky conceit though—what happens to the isolated and insulated Big Brother housemates should a zombie outbreak occur?—turns out to be a particularly vicious and feral specimen in the still alarmingly burgeoning ranks of zombie cinema.
For that, we have to thank comic writer Charlie Brooker and director Yann Demange, for not shying away from giving us all the oozy, gory bits any self-respecting zombie movie should have. Also upping the tension is the skillful slicing of editor Chris Wyatt, who takes Radcliffe’s shots and employs the frenetic cutting employed by Chris Gill in 28 Days Later and its sequel, to excellent effect. (Demange, Radcliffe, and Wyatt had all previously worked together on Secret Diary of a Callgirl.)


There’s also an effective cast here, which includes Jaime Winstone, daughter of Ray, who’s also seen in Olly Blackburn’s Donkey Punch, Muay Thai champ-turned-actor Warren Brown, and Adam Deacon (who’d previously worked with Winstone on Menhaj Huda’s Kidulthood).
But the truly unforgettable one onscreen is undoubtedly Andy Nyman, who was the annoyingly endearing Gordon in Christopher Smith’s Severance, and who plays “hard-nosed, ambitious and shouty” Patrick.
If nothing else, Patrick will go down as the most excruciatingly irritating character ever to grace a zombie movie. (You know the one; the character you just can’t wait to get chomped on, the one whose death scene you’ll be cheering wildly.)


Ultimately, Dead Set is an absorbing (and quite welcome) entry amongst the more recent zombie romps, which makes a number of nods to Romero’s original Dead trilogy, from lines, to a climactic death scene (blood and guts galore!).
And not only does it pump up the grue quotient to ridiculous heights, it also takes a bloody swipe at the inanity of reality television and those who choose to partake in it, with former Big Brother housemates and presenter Davina McCall along for the ride.
It’s a thrilling and gory look at the collision of catastrophe and entertainment, where the idea of reality television as goldfish bowl is taken to its bleakest extreme.
There’s also a nasty bit of fire extinguisher work reminiscent of Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, so what’s not to like, really?


“I’m not even saying there is a God. But if there is, maybe all this is happening because He… or She… or It… is judging our culture, and spiting us accordingly.”
“Yeah, but why be such a c*nt about it?”


(Originally aired on E4 October last year, all 5 episodes of Dead Set are available on DVD.)

Parting shot: Incidentally, Chris Wyatt also edited Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book, Shane Meadows’ This Is England, and E. Elias Merhige’s Shadow of the Vampire.
Reviews of the latter two films can be found in the Archive, where reviews of a whole host of zombie films, as well as Severance and Donkey Punch, also reside.

(Dead Set DVD cover art courtesy of dvdactive.com; images courtesy of e4.com.)

Thursday, February 12, 2009


SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
(Review)


Being a Danny Boyle fan, it was with some anxiety that I tracked the fortunes of Slumdog Millionaire, a film I looked forward to with relish, feeling that the tandem of Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (who’d previously proven his adeptness at championing the underdog in his scripts for films like The Full Monty and Blow Dry) had the potential to produce something truly special.
I say “anxiety” as there was that period of time when the shuttering of Warner Independent left the film—much like its protagonist Jamal Malik—without a home. Bereft of a theatrical distributor, it seemed, at one point, that Slumdog Millionaire would be sent straight off to the DVD shelves.
But Fox Searchlight came to its eleventh hour rescue, and, just like in a Beaufoy script, the film then went on to become a frontrunner on the critics’ lists, and, at the time of this review’s posting, is also a strong contender for Oscar gold, already having made an impression at the DGA, PGA, and WGA awards.
Having been disappointed by Boyle’s most previous effort, Sunshine, it is with a tremendous sense of elation and relief that I can say Slumdog Millionaire is most certainly worth all the fuss.


With the help of his Indian co-director Loveleen Tandan (who also had a hand in the film’s casting*), Boyle captures the electric life on the streets of Mumbai, through the lens of frequent collaborator, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle.
Supplying the frenetic rhythms of the city’s corrugated tin sprawl are editor Chris Dickens (who’s worked on Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) and composer A.R. Rahman, who make tangible in sight and sound, the pulsing, exuberant heartbeat of this triumphant story of love and destiny, where even during its most exultant moments, the very real ache of sadness and loss is acutely palpable.


The film’s cast must also be recommended, particularly Dev Patel, whose earnest and sincere portrayal of the resolute Jamal Malik, is the lynchpin of this piece.
Never once wavering from his belief and his chosen love, Patel’s Jamal becomes the symbol of hope to an entire, downtrodden populace, proof that the gravity of poverty and circumstance can be defied.


Without a doubt, Slumdog Millionaire is Boyle’s most heart-wrenching and emotionally satisfying work, marrying the visual bravura of all of his films, with the touching and potent narrative of a Beaufoy script, a script that artfully exploits the structure of an installment of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and parallels the evolution of a game show episode with the evolution of a life.
It also makes particularly extraordinary use of one of the most dubious of Bollywood staples, to stirring effect.


Ultimately, Slumdog Millionaire is a heartbreakingly uplifting tale that tells us that love can indeed conquer all, that similarly-led lives can still veer off onto vastly different tangents, that the ties of family can often be the best and the worst things in our lives, and that any dream—no matter how seemingly remote—can come true, if we only have faith in it, and in ourselves.

* Tandan has also cast Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding and Vanity Fair.

Parting shot: At the time of this review’s posting, Slumdog Millionaire has also just taken home 7 awards from the previous weekend’s BAFTA night: Best Film, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Music, Cinematography, Editing, and Sound.

Parting shot 2: Reviews of Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave and Sunshine, as well as 28 Weeks Later (which Boyle produced), can be found in the Archive.
28 Days Later is also discussed in the article "Revelations (Getting at the Truths of Apocalypse Cinema)," which can likewise be found in the Archive.

(Slumdog Millionaire OS courtesy of impawards.com; images courtesy of empireonline.com, ew.com, and latimes.com.)