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Only Loves Sprung from Only Hates.


Also in today’s trailer bin, a UK teaser for Joss Whedon’s guerrilla adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, featuring a number of the usual Whedon suspects, among them Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion, Fran Kranz, Reed Diamond, Amy Acker, and Alexis Denisof. (An earlier, peppier US trailer — without the benefit of that awesomely ethereal and catchy cue from Anna Karenina — is here.)

This reminds me – I didn’t post it earlier because the trailer was so drab, but Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey has also brought forth another version of Romeo and Juliet, with Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Damien Lewis, and Paul Giamatti. Steinfeld was a real find in True Grit, but I’m otherwise not seeing the point of this.

Do Not Wake the Dragon.


So, David Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a well-made and suitably unpleasant experience, I suppose, and I expect it will send the very impressive Rooney Mara right to the top of the A-list. (Not to beat a dead horse, but the difference between her and Knightley on Monday was striking.) But I have to question why it was even necessary to make this movie in the first place.

For starters, with the exception of a Nine Inch Nails-y music video credit sequence (set to that ultra-catchy cover of “Immigrant Song” from the teaser), this film is no different in tone or content than, nor does it improve on, the Swedish version that came out all of two years ago. (Ironically, that film’s two stars, Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, are also on-screen this weekend in Sherlock and MI: Ghost Protocol respectively.) To be honest, I don’t even know why Fincher bothered to make this film, except for the paycheck: He already covered this sort of ground in Se7en, and went well beyond it with Zodiac. And even Matt Reeves’ Let Me In was further afield from Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In than this is to Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 film.

If anything, Oplev’s 2009 version was more elegant in many ways. You definitely don’t need to see them both. There, the clues snapped together better as the story progressed — Here, it’s occasionally unclear how our two intrepid investigators, Lizabeth Salander (Mara) and Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) have made the intuitive leaps they have. There, the post-case coda was briskly covered — Here, the extended ending approaches Return of the King-levels. And, perhaps most importantly, in the 2009 film, there was more than one bleedin’ suspect in the movie. Here, even without the obvious casting tell, the eventual murderer is pretty much the only person we meet over the course of the investigation. (Fincher should’ve paid Willem DaFoe and Christopher Walken just to show up and skulk around.)

Now, in my Let Me In review, I was rather tolerant of that film being a note-for-note remake of the Swedish version, while here, not so much. What’s the difference? Well, for me, it’s mainly because Let the Right One In was a novel take on the teenage vampire story, i.e. a story worth telling. But both versions of Dragon Tattoo are, in my humble opinion, puerile, sadistic trash. Honestly, what does it say about us that this brutal, rapey, not-particularly-interesting revenge-pr0n thriller was the #1 best-selling book in America for many moons? The only interesting subtext here is of buried secrets festering rot, which registers in both the national history of Sweden (who, as a neutral nation, had its share of Nazi sympathizers during the war) and the personal history of the author (who apparently wrote these books as penance for ignoring a horrible crime.) Otherwise, I find these films to be ultra-violent, serial-killer crapola.

And speaking of indications of how screwed up we are as a country, why was Steve McQueen’s Shame rated NC-17 if this movie got an R? Shame had a lot of consensual (if pained), not-very-appetizingly-filmed sex, and, ok, full-frontal nudity from Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. (Yes, Virginia, adults have mommy and daddy parts). Meanwhile, this movie has beatings, murder, rapes, torture, eviscerations, disembowelments, Stellan Skarsgard…oh, heck, let’s just give it an R. Honestly, the MPAA’s priorities are nothing short of bizarre. (I’m not advocating censorship of this film — Bring the kids if you’re so inclined. It’s the ridiculously messed-up priorities that rankle.)

I’ll concede that, in general, I find serial-killer movies to be abominably stupid. (They’re not even frightening. In that regard, I much prefer supernatural horror. Other than Silence of the Lambs, American Psycho, Zodiac, the original Vanishing, and, if you want to count it, A Clockwork Orange, I can’t even think of any films in the serial killer genre I like.) So if the Dragon Tattoo books were your cup of tea, but not so much so that you didn’t bother to catch the Swedish movie, then perhaps you’ll find The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo worthwhile. The movie is definitely competently directed and made — Fincher isn’t going to put out bad product. But I found this an unnecessary remake of a grotesque and ludicrous story in the first place, and I’m kinda annoyed with myself for spending money on it.

Don’t Trust the Neighbors.

Two new remakes in the trailer-bin: Anton Yelchin doesn’t cotton much to Mom Toni Collette’s potential new boyfriend next door, Colin Farrell, in Craig Gillespie’s 2011 edition of Tom Holland’s Fright Night, also with Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Evil Ed and — though he’s not seen much in this clip — David Tennant as Peter Vincent, Vampire Killer. As I said here, Fright Night was one of my Halloween standbys growing up, so I hope this one works out.

And, also out today, James Marsden and Kate Bosworth run into some trouble with Alexander Skarsgard and the local yokels in Rod Lurie’s remake of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Even with the switch from Hammer Horror England to the Deliverance South, I’m not sure Straw Dogs needed to be remade — and it seems doubtful that Screen Gems is the studio to improve on the disturbing original. We’ll see.

West, End, Girl.


When is the remake of a movie classic actually a good idea? When the brothers Coen are at the helm. (Let’s just say The Ladykillers is the exception that proves the rule.) Both laugh-out-loud funny and tinged with melancholy for the disappearing West, the brothers’ impressive adaptation of True Grit feels like the unearthing of a forgotten piece of Americana, and it makes the 1968 Charles Portis serial from which both movies are based feel as quintessential an American coming-of-age story as To Kill a Mockingbird. Whether you love, hate, are indifferent or just oblivious to the John Wayne-Kim Darby-Glen Campbell version of 1969, this is one remake that’s worth your time.

I should say that I haven’t seen the original movie, which I remember as more family-friendly and Old Yeller-ish than this version, since I was a kid — younger even than Mattie Ross, True Grit‘s 14-year-old protagonist. I do remember liking the film, and I’m pretty sure it was my first-ever exposure to John Wayne, Movie Star. (At the time, I had no idea that the Duke as Rooster Cogburn was basically stunt-casting.) Nor have I read the source material, so I really can’t tell you how faithful the Coens are being to Portis’ novel either (or for that matter, Night of the Hunter, which the brothers — and Carter Burwell’s score — apparently reference early and often in this film.)

Word is the brothers have gone the extra mile to keep Portis’ prose front and center in this version, and that may well be true. Still, there are more than enough wry conversations, colorful eccentrics, and sudden spurts of violence here to suggest that, at the very least, Portis is a spirtual ancestor and kindred spirit to the Coenverse. (Maybe it’s just a coincidence that Mattie seems to channel The Big Lebowski‘s Walter in one of her first scenes, when she complains about the high cost of burying her father, but the wandering frontier dentist in a bear suit had to have been a Coen creation, yes?)

In any case, in this telling of the tale, Mattie Ross (newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, a find) is considerably younger than Kim Darby was in 1969, and she, not Rooster, is the heart of the film. As True Grit begins, her father Frank lies dead in the Arkansas snow, shot down by a no-good lout named Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), who’s since gone on the lam in Cherokee territory. And since no one else seems to care, it falls to the young, headstrong, and remarkably worldly-wise Ms. Ross to make arrangements. That means paying for the funeral, putting her father’s things in order, and finding somebody to hunt down Chaney and bring him to justice. (“The wicked flee when none pursueth,” admonishes the title card by way of Proverbs 28:1. If Mattie gets her way, that won’t be a problem.)

And so, to track down her father’s killer, Mattie enlists the services of the meanest (and drunkest) US Marshall she can find — an ornery, one-eyed old cuss named Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges, leaving the Lebowski-ish affectations back at Encom.) Also along for the ride, on account of an earlier crime by Chaney down in Texas, is Mr. LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), a well-meaning but slow-witted Ranger who’s at turns goofus and gallant. So, a little girl, an old drunk, and a nincompoop: It’s not exactly the most promising posse in the world, particularly once word comes that Chaney is hanging with Lucky Ned Pepper’s gang (here played by Barry Pepper — a descendant?) Still, the codger may still have a few tricks up his sleeve yet, and, as she shows time and again, Mattie is nothing if not a force of will.

If you’ve seen the original film, you know the hunt for Chaney is mostly a chance for this posse to get to know each other over a series of conversations and episodic vignettes. And that’s how it plays out here, too, except both LaBoeuf and Cogburn are less heroic and more conflicted buffoons this time around, and Mattie has to figure out over the course of her travels if these two are — literally and figuratively — straight shooters. It’s a tough call: LaBoeuf can assuredly be a preening, condescending, and self-aggrandizing schmuck at times. And for every twinge of conscience Cogburn displays, he definitely has his darker side too, and especially once the bottle gets involved. (Just ask the Indian kids he sadistically pummels for taunting a mule.)

Mattie ultimately finds her quarry are multifaceted folk too — However mangled his teeth, Lucky Ned Pepper in particular has a weird streak of nobility about him. Heroes can be dastardly and villains can be chivalrous: It’s the type of real-life nuance that the Old West shows of Mattie’s later life, with their white hats and black hats, could never quite capture properly. And it’s one of the many truths she learns over the course of her occasionally harsh adventure — her coming-of-age in the last days of the West. (As the aforementioned ursine dentist attests, there are shades of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man here too.)

True Grit isn’t my favorite Coen movie. That remains Miller’s Crossing. And it’s not my second favorite Coen either — There, the Dude still abides. But like No Country, A Serious Man, and Fargo, True Grit — even after only one viewing — seems like another top-shelfer from the brothers and one of the best films of the year. May they continue to ride high.

Let the Same One In.


If you’re looking for a quality film before the coming holiday deluge (or, if you’re like me, and can pretty much tell from afar that [the fourth] Twilight likely won’t be your bag), look no further than [Matt Reeves’] taut, eerie vampire flick [Let Me In]…A[n American remake of a] Swedish import that combines elements of the age-old vampire mythos with My Girl, My Bodyguard, and Morrissey (hence the title), [Let Me in] moves and feels like a particularly well-crafted Stephen King short story (or perhaps a bleaker version of one of Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish Civil War fairy tales), and definitely makes for a compelling nightmare before Christmas if you’re in the mood for it.

Particularly given how far behind I am on reviews these days, I am tempted to keep playing Mad Libs with my December 2008 take on Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In — which ultimately ended up at #38 on the decade list — all the way down the pike for this one. And the shoe would fit: While watching Matt Reeves’ American adaptation of this story, I was almost irritated by how similar Let Me In turned out to be to its Swedish source material. At times, it feels like the exact same movie, to the point where, months or years down the line, one might forget which scene was in which flick.

But, upon further reflection, isn’t that exactly what you want from a remake? (I mean, decent jobs like The Ring aside, it could be and usually is worse: Even as good a director as Christopher Nolan didn’t do much with his Americanized version of Insomnia, and just think of how botched George Sluizer’s US version of The Vanishing turned out to be.) So, if you’ve never seen the original Let The Right One In, and/or if you take the extreme similarities here to the original to be a feature rather than a bug, Let Me In actually turned out rather well. It is not an embarrassment by any means.

Let me go ahead and get the “haters gonna hate” portion of the review out of the way first. The ads and end-credits note that this film was “written for the screen and directed” by “Matt Reeves, the director of Cloverfield,” (Why they’d keep bringing up that awful flick as a selling point is anyone’s guess.) Well, maybe if by “written for the screen,” you mean “transcribed the subtitles from the original.” Otherwise, that’s a pretty blatant resume-padder. Just moving the story from a socialist-style housing complex in Sweden to wintry, northern New Mexico in the 80’s does not on its own make this a deeply original enterprise.

Ok, there are a few small differences, I guess. For no particularly compelling reason, Reeves starts this version in the middle of the story, with the grim fate of “Hakan” (Richard Jenkins — The character isn’t named in this version), the long-suffering companion to and handler of the strange new girl in town, Abby (a.k.a. Eli a.k.a. Hitgirl, Chloe Moretz.) Reeves also leaves out some memorable moments from the original film (the cat-attack, Abby’s scar) and, presumably because we Yanks are a touch simple and all, spells out exactly what the eventual ending means for our young, bulliied protagonist, Oskar/Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) (Owen stumbles on some old pics at one point that close the implied circle of the story.)

Otherwise, this is basically exactly the same movie as the one that was in theaters less than two years ago, albeit now without subtitles. Reeves’ most promising new flourish is early on, when the sound drops out of Reagan’s Evil Empire speech, playing on a hospital television, at an ominous moment. (“And if America ever ceases to be good…“) And between that and the Los Alamos setting (i.e. home to the Manhattan Project), I initially thought Reeves might be trying to inject an ambitious new flavor into the story here — that Owen’s eventual love for Abby, despite her committing clearly evil deeds, is not necessarily as strange and alien to us as we would want it to be. But, no, this is really just Let the Right One In all over again, now with a goofy joke about Now and Laters.

And, y’know, in the end, perhaps that is a good thing. Sure, Reeves does not build on the original film, really. But he doesn’t sell out to the Twilight crowd either. In fact, he does an impressive job of capturing the original’s essence and distilling it for an American audience. The movie looks right and feels right. It too has a strong sense of place, and it benefits from two child actors who succeed in selling the coming-of-ageless relationship at its core. Moretz is a name at this point, and so not as innately creepy as the unknown Lina Leandersson in the original. But she’s still self-possessed enough to convey Abby’s otherworldliness. And, Smit-McPhee plays the damaged, lonely Owen as well as Kare Hedebrant in the first one. (Although, between this and The Road, I hope for his sake that Smit-McPhee isn’t as needy and whiny in real life.)

So, the upshot is this: If you caught Let the Right One In recently and are looking for some sort of value-added to sit through the remake, I would skip this one or wait for Netflix. But, if you think Swedish horror movies with subtitles are for film snobs, or happen to live in a place where the original never got any run, well, this American doppelganger version isn’t a bad adaptation by any means. It may not break any new ground, but at least this Let Me In is haunted by the same wintry sadness as its source.

Hallows, Four, Speeches, Grit, and Sky.

In the trailer bin of late:

  • Death comes to Hogwarts, and young Master Potter must beat it back one final time — but not before moping across the English countryside for two hours — in the full trailer for David Yates’ first installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with the usual gang (and Bill Nighy) in tow. Not a big fan of the 7th book, but let’s face it, we’re all pot-committed at this point.

  • I was a Teenage Alien? No, it’s the teaser for D.J. Caruso’s I am Number Four, with Alex Pettyfer, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Kevin Durand and Timothy Olyphant. Mr. Seth Bullock notwithstanding, that bland, Twilight-y cast and the February release date suggests to me this is eminently missable.

  • King George isn’t mad, per se. But he does suffer from a rather serious stammer in the trailer for Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, with Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Jennifer Ehle, and Guy Pearce. The trailer looks a bit too inspirational-true-story! and Oscar-baitish to me, but word of mouth on this has been g-g-g-g…well, ok, very good.

  • And, saving the best for last, a young girl — younger even than Kim Darby — (Hailee Steinfeld) enlists the services of one Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) for an Old West mission of vengeance in the first trailer for the Coens’ remake of True Grit, also with Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper. You know how I am about the Coens. I’ll be there.

  • Update: One more for the pile: Independence Day meets Cloverfield in the trailer for the Straus brothers’ Skyline, with Donald Faison, Eric Balfour, David Zayas, Scottie Thompson, and Brittany Daniel. Eh, the FX look rather impressive, if nothing else.

The Girl Next Door.

With only Richard Jenkins and a Rubik’s Cube to entertain her, Hit Girl Chloe Moretz slogs through her (500th) Year of Winter in the international trailer for Matt Reeves’ Let Me In, the potentially needless American remake of Let the Right One In. Well, “from the director of Cloverfield” still doesn’t inspire any confidence, and it seems like Kodi Smit-McPhee is going to simper and whine here even more than he did in The Road. But it’s not a bad trailer, and always good to see Elias Koteas getting work.

From the Annals of the Rebellion.


WITNESS the battle for the ice planet! BEHOLD the invasion of the cloud city! GAZE upon fascinating outer space dangers!” As part of the recent 30th anniversary festivities (which even drew Harrison Ford out of his shell), Cinematical and Star Wars.com post this spiffy fan-made trailer for the Empire “pre-make.” [Insert your own snarky and/or wincing sigh over the state of the actual prequels here.]

Slings and Arrows.

I’ll give it this: Ridley Scott’s high-minded, lavish, and more-than-a-little-dull take on Robin Hood, which I sense slipping from memory less than a week after I saw it, was actually better than I had expected going in. In fact, if you go for medieval sieges and Anglo-French intrigue and whatnot, the movie is even vaguely pleasant for most of its run, in a well-made-but-snoozy, BBC-production sort of way. But, with the possible exception of seeing another late-career turn by Max Von Sydow (who has more to do here than in Shutter Island) I just can’t find a reason to recommend spending two-plus hours of precious life watching this film.

For that matter, I can’t figure out the point of making this sort of Robin Hood in the first place. On its face, what we have here is one part superhero origin-story, a la Batman Begins and Casino Royale, and three-parts “the real story behind the legend,” like Troy and King Arthur. To which I say yet again, why not go Liberty Valance with it and just print the Legend? Sure, when it comes to actual, honest-to-goodness events like The Alamo, I prefer the historical approach. But this is Robin Hood — wHy sO sEriOUs? Do we really need all these grim, earnestly realistic, edutainmenty muckrakes through the fiction and folklore of the past? Who enjoys them?

In its favor, Robin Hood doesn’t feel as notably bereft of its legend-y elements as Troy-without-Gods and King Arthur-without-wizards did. Still, the movie is so committed to its Serious Purpose of telling-the-untold-story that, even with occasional flashes of Chaucerian ribaldry — like Von Sydow happily noting his rare “tumescent glow” and Little John (Kevin Durand) insisting he’s “proportionate” — the tale feels mostly robbed of its usual vagabond charm. Simply put, these Men are not Merry. As such, this iteration of Robin Hood ends up feeling a lot like Ridley Scott’s last well-intentioned-but-plodding historical-siege epic with high production values, a cast of hundreds, and no pulse: Kingdom of Heaven. (FWIW, I’ve never seen the much-hyped director’s cut of Kingdom — I saw the deeply boring “Two Towers-knockoff” theatrical version.)

To be fair, the tendency of Robin Hood to read 21st-century mores back into medieval Christendom works better than the exact same failing did in Kingdom. (For one, Robin Hood always was a wealth-redistributor and subverter of authority, albeit not a teabagger. For another, Robin’s nemesis King John really did sign and renounce the Magna Carta. As for Maid Marian turning into Eowyn…well, Joan of Arc‘s only a few centuries down the road, I guess.) But otherwise, Kingdom and Robin Hood are pretty much two peas in a pod — Both are well-made, well-meaning, historically-minded bores.

Given the general lack of inspiration here, one has to wonder what happened to Nottingham, the Robin Hood film Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe said they were making, where the famous tale would be told from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s point-of-view (and where Crowe would be playing both Robin and the Sheriff.) Not only does that sound like a more intriguing project, but, let’s face it, Crowe is more of a Sheriff-of-Nottingham kinda guy. As it is, he’s too grim and lumbering to bring much magic to this Sherwood Forest (and, yes, his accent is all over the place.) Yes, Crowe can be a very good actor at times, but he’s just miscast here. (Fwiw, the Sheriff is now a foppish, throwaway character in this telling, played for laughs by the most recent Mr. Darcy, Matthew MacFadyen.)

Still, others fare better. As Marian, Cate Blanchett handles some really clunky writing with her accustomed grace. Mark Strong, late of Sherlock Holmes and Kick-Ass, adds yet another rogue to his gallery as French-loving mini-boss Sir Godfrey and, while his motivations don’t make much sense, he’s still a presence onscreen. I thought Oscar Isaac (who with Strong is a Ridley Scott veteran from the under-appreciated Body of Lies) was particularly solid as the spoiled but not entirely clueless King John.
And, along with the aforementioned Max Von Sydow, the venerable Dame Eileen Atkins is on hand as Eleanor of Aquitaine to give Robin Hood a further touch of class. (In the debit column, Mark Addy is actually fine as Friar Tuck, but, every time he showed up, he made me wish I was watching Red Riding instead. And, for whatever reason, I just can’t take William Hurt seriously anymore. He’s hammier than Walken to me.)

Still, the acting here can’t deflect attention away from the fact that Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is misconceived in fundamental ways. To take another example, the movie begins and ends with two large battle setpieces. First, a French castle is besieged by Robin and the army of King Richard the Lionheart (the seemingly ubiquitous Danny Huston — hey, he does gravitas for cheap!) on the way back from the Crusades. And, in the final reel, Robin and varied English forces try to repel a French invasion in a big and rather nonsensical beach battle. (Question: Why have Robin — an archer — lead a cavalry charge right into the thick of the battle, particularly when the English were already busy decimating the Gauls from the high ground with arrows? Ah, yes, for movie purposes.)

Sure, both of these battles are well-shot and well-executed, as one would come to expect from the director of Gladiator and Black Hawk Down. But why are they even part of this story? When did the tale of Robin Hood ever involve large-scale warmaking, or, for that matter, the 13th century version of Saving Private Ryan? Here’s the thread: Bandit steals from rich, gives to poor, makes merry, meets Marian. Rinse, repeat. That’s all you gotta do, people. The story of Robin Hood has endured for centuries now — You don’t have to improve on it or muckrake it to death. Just tell the darned thing well.

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