At first glance, it doesn’t seem like there’d be much intersect between HUGO — the fanciful film based on Brian Selznick’s vividly illustrated novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret — and director Martin Scorsese. It’s set in a Parisian railway station circa the 1930’s, so there’s little opportunity for Brooklyn accents; it’s about an orphan boy (Asa Butterfield) who tends to the clocks in that station while hiding out in its secret passages, so there’s little chance we’ll be seeing Joe Pesci kick someone’s ribs in; and it’s driving force is an automaton that contains within its works a secret about the station’s not-so-kindly toy vender, Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), so forget about hearing any of the traditional, four-letter-word-laced dialogue this time around. It’s only when you find out what that secret is that you realize not only why Scorsese is the perfect choice for this film, but why this may be the film he’s been waiting his entire career to make. beabetterbooktalker.com‘s Andrea Lipinski joins Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons to explore how a tale about the founding father of fantastic film has stirred a legendary director to create his sweetest and most enchanting work, and how it in turn pays tribute to those who seek to instill the sense of wonder in audiences around the world.
Also: Andrea gives her take on THE MUPPETS. Plus: What’s coming in theaters.
If LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) – the excellent Swedish vampire film – was an exhilarating rush of cinematic ecstasy – the kind of shot to the nervous system that reminds you why you enjoy the horror genre – watching the Americanized remake LET ME IN is a bit like taking a second hit and finding you don’t reach the same high. The experience is still a pleasant one, but there is a faint whiff of nostalgia in the air, a reminder of better times. Those who never experienced LET THE RIGHT ONE IN should be satisfied with the remake; fans of the original may be pleasantly surprised to find that LET ME IN is a worthy successor that retains the essential virtues of its progenitor.
The 1980s setting has been retained, but the location has been shifted to Los Alamos, New Mexico. (If any thematic resonances are intended, regarding the creation of the atomic bomb, they elude me.) The story remains much the same: Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a lonely boy tormented by school bullies, meets a mysterious new neighbor named Abby (Chloe Moretz) as a series of murders begin. It turns out that Abby is a vampire, and her “father” (Richard Jenkins) is actually a sort of Renfield character, helping procure victims to ease her thirst for blood. “Father,” however, has outlived his usefulness; making sloppy mistakes, he is eventually caught, opening the door for Abby to find a new companion in Owen. The creepiness of the tale lies in the way the audience is invited to identify emotionally with the two leads, even though Abby is a homicidal predator and Owen seems like a psychopath in the making (we sympathize with his victimization, but it seems to be lighting a quench for vengeance and violence in his soul). Ultimately, whatever the ambiguities of the characters (does Abby really like Owen or does she simply need a replacement helper), LET ME IN comes across like a love story about two lonely souls who find each other and bond for reasons that are symbiotic rather than parasitic.
Writer-director Matt Reeves (CLOVERFIELD) shows a sold understanding of what made LET THE RIGHT ONE IN a great film, and he transplants those qualities to LET ME IN without embalming them; as close as the remake is to the original, it does not feel like a complete carbon copy but a film in its own right.
There are some missteps. Before flashing back to the main story, LET ME IN opens with a prologue in which the “Father” is driven to a hospital, where he takes a tumble out an open floor window. The strategy is clearly use ambulance sirens and a memorable visual to capture the attention of bored American viewers who might walk out of a film with a slow start; unfortunately, the sequence sets the wrong tone, suggesting the film will be a mystery explaining how this situation came to be. Really, the story is about the relationship between Abby and Owen, and anything distracting attention from that is a mistake.
Also, it is not entirely clear why Owen is introduced in a sequence that apes REAR WINDOW, with the boy spying on his neighbors’ activities from his bedroom. This may provide another reason to view Owen as a slightly suspect character even before Abby arrives, but the scene adds little to the narrative.
Some bad computer-generated effects are used to depict Abby’s attacks on her victims, which end up resembling discards of Golum from LORD OF THE RINGS. Especially disappointing is Abby’s ascent up the hospital wall – a surreal and unnerving moment in the original, it lies flat and lifeless in the remake. (Those who criticized the CGI cat attack in LET THE RIGHT ONE IN should really go ballistic over the effects here.)
One might also question the resources of the Los Alamos police: as depicted here, the force seems to consist of one lone officer (Elias Koteas) despite the alarming body count in his jurisdiction. There has not been a police department this understaffed since the Boston PD in PIECES way back in the 1980s (although NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN came close).
Whatever its deficiencies, LET ME IN is not the disaster one might have feared. As far as remakes of foreign films are concerned, it ranks well above the standard J-Horror do-over. It does not surpass the original, and it does not rank as a genre masterpiece, but it overcomes any critical reservations one might have had about a remake, standing on its own as an interesting variation on a memorable theme.
GENDER CONFUSION OR THE LACK THEREOF
One issue in LET ME IN deserves separate discussion. The remake’s only major omission is the confusing suggestion of the vampire’s self-castration that flashed by without explanation in the original. In both films, the mysterious new neighbor looks like a prepubescent female, and she asks her new friend whether he would still like her if she were not a girl. The audience assumes this is a reference to the character’s vampire nature, which renders her genderless in traditional terms (i.e., like Claudia in INTERVIEW with a vampire, she is not going to develop into a woman who can bear children).
However, in LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, there is brief shot of Eli’s genital area showing a scar meant to suggest that “she” is actually a castrated male. The glimpse is so brief that it could just as easily suggest female circumcision or some other surgical weirdness. The audience has no idea what to make of it: apparently Eli decided there would be advantages to going through eternity looking like a girl, but there is no way of knowing whether the change was made before or after becoming a vampire. And it doesn’t really make sense: since vampire neither age nor mature, it is not as if castration was necessary to prevent masculine characteristics from developing as the years passed. And there is the issue of healing: both Eli and Abby are shown recovering from heavy-duty hemorrhaging, yet for some reason Eli’s scar remains, presumably for decades. Considering the somewhat androgynous look that Moretz adopts as Abby in LET ME IN, we imagine that this element of gender self-reassignment was originally intended to be included; the equivalent of the revelation scene even exists in the final cut, minus the confusing insert shot. Fortunately, this confusing tidbit was deleted, and the remake is better for it. Abby’s status of “not being a girl” remains rooted in her vampire nature, where it belongs.
One other note: both LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and LET ME IN suggest that Owen (Oskar in the original) is a replacement for the discarded “Father” character, and the audience is let to wonder whether Owen will eventually come to a similar fate. Yet this is not inevitable. Both films clearly show that Eli/Abby is capable of changing her victims into vampires; therefore, it is at least possible that Oskar/Owen is not necessarily fated to grow old until he is no longer of use to his vampire mistress. LET ME IN (2010). Directed by Matt Reeves. Screenplay by Matt Reeves, adapted from the screenplay for LET THE RIGHT ONE IN by John Ajvide Lindqvist, based on his novel. Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Cara Buono, Elias Koteas, Sasha Barrese, Dylan Kenin, Chris Browning. Ritchie Coster.
Overture Films releases this rather unnecessary remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, the wonderful Swedish vampire film from 2008. Kodi Smith McPhe plays unhappy 12-year-old, bullied at school, who finds a new friend when the mysterious Abby (Chloe Moretz) moves in next door. Matt Reeves (CLOVERFIELD) wrote and directed LET ME IN, officially based on the source novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas, Sasha Barrese, and Cara Buono fill out the cast; plus there’s someone named V.J. Foster playing the “Original Vampire,” a character not seen in LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.
LET ME IN was produced by the recently reborn Hammer Films, a new version of the company that changed the face of horror in the ’50 and ’60s with their robust and colorful Gothic thrillers like HORROR OF DRACULA and KISS OF THE VAMPIRE.
Release Date: October 1, 2010
The week of Tuesday, August 3 offers a hidden bat cave full of horror, fantasy, and science fiction films on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD – everything from contemporary costumed crime-fighters to Corman Cult Classics. Up first is Lionsgate’s release of KICK-ASS, starring Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong. Chloë Grace Moretz, Clark Duke, and Nicolas Cage. Available to rent or own via Video on Demand, KICK-ASS is also being offered on DVD and Blu-ray disc. The DVD is offered as stand-alone purchase and as part of the Blu-ray three-disk set, which also includes a digital copy of the film. Check out more details below:
BLU-RAY DISC SPECIAL FEATURES*
Ass-Kicking Bonus View Mode (Blu-ray Disc Exclusive) – Synchronous with the feature film, this innovative multi-media presentation incorporates video and audio commentary, behind-the-scenes clips and illustrative graphics with Co-Writer/Producer/Director Matthew Vaughn, plus cast and crew providing an all-access perspective on Kick-Ass
“A New Kind of Superhero: The Making of Kick-Ass ” documentary (Blu-ray Disc Exclusive)
“It’s On! The Comic Book Origin of Kick-Ass” featurette
Audio Commentary with Writer-Director Matthew Vaughn
“The Art of Kick-Ass” gallery
BD Touch and Metamenu Remote
Lionsgate Live™ enabled, featuring extra content for Internet-connected players
Enhanced for D-Box™ Motion Control Systems
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES*
Audio Commentary with Writer-Director Matthew Vaughn
“It’s On! The Comic Book Origin of Kick-Ass” featurette
“The Art of Kick-Ass” gallery
*Subject to change
If that’s not enough superhero action for you, then check out HEROES: SEASON FOUR, available on DVD and Blu-ray disc. The DVD offers numerous four featurettes, deleted and extended scenes, a screen-saver gallery, and audio commentaries on the episodes “Once Upon a Time in Texas,” “Shadow Boxing,” “The Fifth Stage,” and “Brave New World.” The Blu-ray disc replicates these bonus materials along with bios on the characters and and additional feturette (“Behind the Big Top”), plus the usual array of interactive features for which the format is known: BD-LIVE, pocket BLU, Advanced Remote Control, Video Timeline, Mobile-To-Go, U-CONTROL, PICTURE-IN-PICTURE, and more.
THE GHOST WRITER also hits store shelves in DVD and Blu-ray editions. Though not a horror film, Roman Polanski’s excellent adaptation of the Robert Harris novel, is thematically consistent with the director’s classic horror films, ROSEMARY’S BABY and DANCE OF THE VAMPIRES. The story follows a ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) helping a former prime minister (Pierce Brosnan) write his memoirs; unfortunately, sinister forces are interested in the contents of the manuscript, whose previous ghost writer drowned under mysterious circumstances. THE GHOST WRITER generates more than enough paranoid tension to qualify as a “scary movie,” even if the scares are of the thriller variety. AFTER.LIFE – which stars Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, and Justin Long – arrives on Blu-ray and DVD and having had a limited theatrical release earlier this year. Despite an intriguing premise, this morbid little indie horror film with art house aspirations is ultimately disappointing. Bonus features include a theatrical trailer, an interview with director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, and an eight-minute featurette somewhat pretentiously titled “Dwelling Into the After.Life: The Art of Making a Thriller.”
Roger Corman’s Cult Classics is at it again, offering elaborate DVD and Blu-ray releases of exploitation titles of the type that do not normally receive the lavish treatment. This time out we have PIRANHA on Blu-ray and a Lenticular Cover DVD, HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP on Blu-ray and DVD, and a double bill DVD of DEATH SPORT and BATTLE TRUCK. The later of is only marginal interest, but HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP deserves its place in history for taking the implications of old monster movies (which inevitably had the monster sweeping the leading lady off her feet) and seeing them through to their logical conclusion. Both Blu-ray disc features a new high-def transfer of the uncut international version; deleted scenes; trailers, TV and radio spots; an interview with producer Roger Corman; and a making-of featurette. The DVD duplicates the bonus material, with standard-def video quality. PIRANHA is one of the best films ever to come out of Corman’s New World Pictures, a fun and fast-paced horror thriller about scientifically altered killer fish, starring Bradford Dillman and Heather Menzies. (It is highly doubtful that the upcoming 3-D remake will be an improvement.). The film was previously the subject of a special edition DVD. The Blu-ray ports over the old features (audio commentary, behind-the-scenes footage, bloopers) and adds some new ones: a making-of featurette, still and poster galleries, radio and TV spots, and additional footage that was inserted into the version of the film broadcast on network television. As with HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, the DVD duplicates the bonus features; both discs offer a new anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.85), but of course the Blu-ray features higher video quality.
As for the rest:
JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH comes out in a new Blu-ray release that ports over the old DVD bonus features, adding only higher video quality and a new game.
PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, the 1951 film version of the classic story about the immortal sea captain, starring James Mason and Ava Gardner, arrives in a new Blu-ray release.
I AM LEGEND is resurrected in an Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-ray set.
A handful of other titles: METALSTORM: THE DESTRUCTION OF JARED-SYN; HOBOKEN HOLLOW (with Dennis Hopper); and OPEN HOUSE.