Love, loss, and Swedish vampires.

When Oskar and Eli meet, it is love at first sight.  Being that they’re both 12 years old, their courtship is naturally limited the icy playground in the middle of their apartment complex.  Oskar gives Eli the love and companionship that she needs, while Eli gives Oskar the strength to stand up to the classmates that constantly bully him.  The only thing keeping their romance from taking the next step is the inconvenient fact that Eli is a vampire.

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In 2008’s Let The Right One In, director Tomas Alfredson makes the audience feel every inch of isolation that the characters feel on screen.  The buildings look like government housing, and the streets are cold and mostly deserted. The sets are minimal and economic yet full of texture.  Visually, I would compare it to The Coen Brothers’ Fargo, but stripped down to its essence.  John Ajvide Lindqvist adapted the script from his own novel, and he chooses to tell a simple story framed around two compelling leads rather than use any fancy plot twists or tricks.  As Oskar, Kare Hedebrant lets his subtle emotions show through his eyes and facial expressions.  As Eli, Lina Leandersson somehow manages to fuse jaded sadness with precocious youth.  Their connection and unlikely chemistry is the main reason why the film succeeds as well as it does.  It must have been difficult to find young actors that could be both restrained and emotional simultaneously.

Potato peeling is a hobby of mine, after all.

Potato peeling is a hobby of mine, after all.

When the film was released, it was compared to Twilight, by virtue of the fact that it is also about a human child and a vampire child falling in love.  Once the Twilight fans get their fill of The Cullens and their pseudo-vampiric wackiness, they should immediately look toward their nearest rental establishment and pick this film up.  Although the story could be considered a coming-of-age allegory, it delivers enough tension and inventive gore to satisfy fans of the horror genre.  The film transcends all expectations because the idea is so fresh.  It is more than simply a horror film, as it more than simply an allegory.  This is a film also about alienation.  It is a film about two people finding each other, and the deep love that they share.  It isn’t a dramatic, passionate love like we read in romance novels.  It is the kind of love that lights up our hearts so that we may escape the darkness inside our minds.  I very much recommend Let The Right One In to any horror fan, any fan of Twilight, and any fan of film in general, because this is a truly original story that will remain in your mind long after the screen goes black.

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The rise and fall of the rise and fall of Cadillac Records

cadillac records

When watching our Netflix copy of 2008’s Cadillac Records, we get through the opening credits before my cell phone rings, and I have to pause the film.  I wanted to get off the phone as soon as possible, because I was so pumped up by the first five minutes of the film, and was looking forward to being transported to the universe that the film was setting up.  The opening credits sequence is as bright as the glare coming off of a freshly polished Cadillac Sedan De Ville.  This may be due partly to the fact that there are many, many Cadillacs that grace the screen in just a few minutes.  As the classic cars flash across the screen, classic blues riffs set the mood, the Chess records logo spinning in the background, and then Cedric The Entertainer comes out…what?  Cedric The Entertainer?  That Cedric The Entertainer?  Yes, that one, and it turns out that he is going to be the narrator in this little odyssey, and I wasn’t sure if I was on board.  But Cedric was basically playing himself, just without his trademark glasses  and stylish hats, so I was still on board with the film…oh, and then the cell phone rings…

…so I take care of that, and then we can finally get into the film.  The first real scene in the film introduces the audience to the closest thing that this film has to a main character: sharecropper and future blues superlegend Muddy Waters.  Played by heavily underrated actor Jeffrey Wright (Basquiat, Casino Royale), Muddy is a complicated, seductive individual who rides up north to try and make a name for himself in the music business.  At this point, I am on board with the film.  As Muddy meets the musicians who would make up his band, we are then introduced to the second closest thing this film has to a main character: Leonard Chess, played by Oscar winner Adrien Brody, is a former bar owner turned record mogul in the form of his own company titled simply Chess Records.  What follows is a string of events that chronicle the rise and fall of one of the first and brightest blues record labels to ever cross over into the mainstream.  The film has drawn comparisons to 2004’s Ray, and it takes a page out of their book in the visual department.  From the muted pastel colors to the  cars to the costumes to the copper glow that gives the film its bittersweet nostalgia, Cadillac Records certainly looks like a worthy successor to Ray.

Then the film starts to slowly roll downhill from there.  The acting was all over the place on all fronts.  Adrien Brody seemed to have his acting permanently set on “Cool 50’s Rebel” throughout the film, which may resemble a compelling performance, but never actually connect with him.  Jeffrey Wright has the easiest time with the film, wearing a perfectly sculpted 50’s pompadour and perfectly sculpted suits to match.  His character is the only one in the film that is allowed to change at all.  I would say that Wright’s performance nearly saves the film, but we could not understand half of what he was saying in the quieter moments, because Wright gives his Muddy Waters such a drawl that it crossed over into unintelligible.  He could have been trying to growl Chinese backwards, because I would have never know the difference.  Halfway through the film, Beyonce Knowles and Mos Def enter the film as legends Etta James and Chuck Berry, respectively.  These people all deserved their own film, but instead they all get jammed up together in the same redundant narrative that keeps these characters (and these actors) in the same emotional places.  Etta gets reduced to an angry junkie, Chuck Berry becomes a black Jerry Lee Lewis (although that’s not too far off, in my opinion), and Muddy Waters is nothing more than an exceptional blues man who cheats on his wife and has kids out of wedlock.  These details of their real lives that become dramatized on screen are supposed to provide insight, but they fall flat because the film itself does not know which character to develop, so they all just come off as third rate impersonations. Honorable mention does go to Mos Def for giving the film a semblance of the fun that came from early rock and roll, because it certainly broke the monotony.

The Beach Boys stole his riffs, but he got even...

The Beach Boys stole his riffs, but he got even...

The film insists on simply retelling of true events strung together by scenes of drama and stock footage, but it never comes together into a film and we don’t really care about any of the characters (except Muddy Waters).  It felt like the HBO Films version of Ray, so I would say skip this one on video, and just wait for HBO.

Put it in the win column, Mr. Cage.

Nicolas Cage is charged with the fate of the world yet again, this time it revolves around a time capsule that has been dug up at his son’s elementary school. In it is a note filled with seemingly random numbers.  These numbers predict disasters — some that have already occurred and others that are about to — that lead him to believe his family plays a role in the much larger events that are about to unfold.

You think you know...

You think you know...

As I was leaving the theater Saturday afternoon, a feeling came over me after watching Nic Cage and company in the new film Knowing.  It didn’t feel like frustration, although I was certainly racking my brain.  It wasn’t disappointment, yet I wasn’t smiling all that much afterward.  In fact, the part of my brain that loves movies, the part that runs on 24 frames per second and craves digital sound, was spinning almost completely off of its axis trying to process what I had just watched for two hours.  After all, the logical part of my brain knows that this film doesn’t cover any new ground, and some of the dialogue has cheese on it so thick that it should be covered in wax and sold in supermarkets.  Right about now, I’m sure you’re feeling safe to assume that this review is going to be another addition to the laundry list of negativity that follows the latter half of Nicolas Cage’s career.  I went in to Knowing with the assumption that, at best, I would have a fun time watching Mr. Cage ham up another pseudo-blockbuster at a cheap matinee theater.  If I left this film with anything, it was that assumptions count for nothing.  This film was very good.  Surprisingly good.  Dare I say, really good?  Possibly.

The movie opens with a flashback sequence that brings the audience up to speed on how the prophetic numbers come to be.  Right away, director Alex Proyas sets an ominous tone, using iconic 1950’s imagery and bathing everything in permanent twilight.  If the audience only saw the first 10 minutes of the film, they might mistake it for some lost sequence from Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures.  At this point, I am surprised by just how engaging the movie is.  But when the movie jumps to present day, Mr. Cage graces the screen, and I brace myself for the worst.  It never came.  I kept waiting for Cage to veer off into “phoning-it-in-from-another-galaxy” territory as per usual, but he remained in control and somehow turned in one of his best performances in recent years.  In this film, Cage is every bit the movie star that his paycheck claims he is.  On the page, his character is not much more than a father on a mission to keep his son safe, but Cage brings a grounded realism to his character’s haunted intensity.  He isn’t a hero in the square-jawed sense, but Cage makes you root for him just the same.  Newcomer Chandler Canterbury, last seen in December’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, does an exceptional job as Cage’s young son.  He has some of the cheesiest lines, but Canterbury infuses the right amount of emotional depth, so the character never becomes distracting or cliche.  He and Cage have a very authentic father-son connection that is the heart and soul of this film.  Aussie actress Rose Byrne (TV’s Damages, 28 Weeks Later) turns in another strong supporting performance as a woman who may be connected to the mystery behind the numbers.

Hold on, hold on, I can still get this baby down...aww crap.

Hold on, hold on, I can still get this baby down...aww crap.

It may be Cage’s name about the title, but the success of Knowing rests in the capable hands of its director.  Having helmed such sci-fi classics as The Crow and Dark City, Alex Proyas brings a steady, imaginative hand to the familiar material, and still manages to pack as much tension and suspense as possible into every frame.  In fact, The Whisperer characters could have easily been alternate versions of The Strangers from Dark City.  The film has the familiar “event movie” beats: sweeping helicopter shots of major cities about to perish horribly, big flashy disaster set pieces, “end of the world” trailer lines, and one hero caught in the middle of it all.  But the execution is nearly flawless.  Just the plane crash scene alone elevates the movie to “enjoyable” status, and reminded me of the larger action scenes in Cuaron’s Children of Men.  But the moments in between the action are where the film really shines.  This is also due in part to the moody, foreboding score composed by Marco Beltrami.  As the plot thickens, the tension builds, and seeing Cage’s character slowly unravel is even more effective because the audience knows that Cage knows the truth, and we feel alienated along with him when no one believes him.  I can’t give away the end, but I will say that the film ends on a spiritual note that has to be seen to be believed.

This film could easily become a sleeper hit, because though it has its faults, Knowing is the film that M. Night Shyamalan has been wanting to make for the better part of a decade.  I highly recommend this film for fans of classic end-of-the-world blockbusters, and it also renews my faith in Nicolas Cage, until he makes another Bangkok Dangerous.