I’m back with another run of Netflix Notes – having spent the last few weeks catching up on some more flicks from my queue. I seem to be averaging 2 – 3 flicks a week, and yet my backlog always seems to hover in the 90’s. Either I’ve got to stop adding films to the queue or Hollywood has to stop making them.
Anyway, this week’s installment hits all over the place. I have Stifler, B-Movie horror, feel-good family fantasy and Norwegian vampires represented. You can’t get this kind of courage anywhere else – only in Ed’s Head.
Enough jabbering. Roll film.
1. Let the Right One In
If the Ebert Heads don’t convince you that this is quality, check out IMDB. This late 2008 release is already in the Hollywood remake queue – with JJ Abrams set to produce an Anglo version of this nifty Nordic horror flick.
And I know some of you bristle at the mere mention of horror. No other genre seems to polarize viewers more. But, I assure you that the horrific elements are largely kept off screen and instead, we have a coming-of-age drama infected with a slight taste of blood lust.
Let the Right One In tells a vampire tale but gives it enough of a twist to show these dark beings in a different light. The flick opens on Oscar, a bullied 13 year old latchkey kid, living with his mother in a tight tenament, who befriends the odd little girl, Eli, that recently moved in with her guardian. It’s no secret that the little girl is a vampire and she tips Oscar to her supernatural origins early on by telling him “I’m as old as you are. But I’ve been this old for a very long time.”
Anyway, they strike up a friendship and the film follows Oscar through his days where separated from Eli, due to obvious reasons, he endures the escalating attacks from the bully pack to his nights where he is free to be himself – feeling more normal the closer he comes to his supernatural companion.
While the film doesn’t reinvent the vampire mythos nor offer new rules, it does a nice job of reintroducing those time-honored chestnuts of what vamps can and cannot do in some fresh ways. Also, the film benefits from its chilly Norwegian backdrop – with a bright, white blanket of snow providing the perfect contrast to the stark, cold dark nights that Eli and Oscar find themselves romping through. That white snow also provides a nice canvas for the splashes of arterial spray that occasionally color the pic.
What I really like about this film is that it is more interested in showing the birth of an unusual friendship than it is about focusing on a fright night. Although there are some chilling sequences, the coming of age tale wouldn’t be out of place in a flick like My Girl – assuming lil’ Mac rose from his bee-induced death and finished that flick off as Zombie Culkin.
The film also ends on two killer moments. The first, set in a vacant community pool, provides the cathartic climax poor Oscar deserves. The sequence is short yet harrowing. That’s followed by a coda that sends the viewer off into the night rethinking the exact relationship between Oscar and Eli. I’m really hoping some of you check this flick out so I can test out my interpretation of those final moments.
This is a haunting film and one of the best films from last year.
2. Role Models
I continue to bang the drum that comedies are best experienced with a group of like-minded numbskulls – ready to bust their gutt every time some dude talks from his butt. Which means if a flick has me laughing out loud, when home alone in the confines of my quiet home, then it’s really doing something right.
Role Models is one of those films that could have been sabotaged by its premise. Short story: two buddies get in trouble and are court-ordered to act as big brothers to some neglected kids. Oil meets water and eventually they learn a lesson and find the maturity they were once lacking.
That’s the plot we’ve seen a billion times before. Next to a 40 year-old dude swapping bodies with his 17 year old former self, it’s the same damn plot that’s trotted out every few years.
The difference here is writer-director David Wain (MTV’s The State) who takes a cookie-cutter story and absolutely goes balls out with his un-PC rendition of the tale. And it’s that willingness to nail anything for a laugh that gives this a fresh coat of paint.
Playing the two malcontents are Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd. Important to a tale like this is chemistry and these guys have it. (In fact, that’s the same thing that elevates Pineapple Express which I’ll cover in a later post). These guys feel like buddies, despite their differences.
Rudd has become the go-to-guy for comedies of late – having been drafted by the Apatow Comedy Crew – and he does a nice job here playing the early-thirtysomething guy looking to burst from the slipstream his life led him towards. And the more he rages against the machine, the funnier he is.
Then there is Seann William Scott who really has done a decent job of shedding Stiffler. In the American Pie flicks, he was the cocky jerk. Scott has evolved. Now he’s just cocky – and I mean that as a compliment.
What really makes the film work are the kids, particulary the little hooligan Ronnie that Sean William Scott gets saddled with. Picture the love child of Gary Coleman and Chris Rock. McLovin is also in the flick and I am absolutely convinced that this poor bastard will be type cast for life.
Anyway, this is a very funny flick with some huge laughs.
Danny Boyle might be my favorite filmmaker working today. I’m just absolutely impressed at how deftly he can switch genres delivering flicks that stand uniquely apart form each other yet when stacked end to end are absolutely 100% a Danny Boyle film. You could pick them from a line-up.
He first hit the radar with the indie-thriller Shallow Grave, where he showcased an abundance of style in his creepy roommates from hell flick – coming on strong like Sam Raimi From Across the Pond. He followed that with Trainspotting. As the years went by, he gave us the seminal contemporary zombie flick, 28 Days Later, the woefully underrated sci-fi flick Sunshine, and then the little engine that could, Slumdog Millionaire.
Prior to Slumdog, he belted out this fantastic family flick, Millions. And while the story of two adolescent English school children finding a secret cache of cash couldn’t be more diametrically opposed to Boyle’s grubby Trainspotting junkies, it’s amazing how taut the ties that bind his characters really are. Essenitally Boyle trains his lense on the working class and then puts them in some extraordinary circumstances.
This is a family flick in the purest sense of the word. In other words – it’s good for all ages, yet it absolutely never panders and it doesn’t sacrifice the story or the art for cheap laughs. The humor in this flick is genuine – growing from the situations and the organic camaraderie that blossoms between two gifted young actors who really feel like kin.
In Millions, these two boys, still grieving the loss of their mother, move with their Dad to a new sub-division in the London suburbs. One day, the youngest boy comes across a large duffel bag jam packed with British pounds. In this ‘fantasy’, Britain is going forward with the transition to the Euro, so the boys have mere days to spend it all. One wants heaps of toys while the more sensitive boy – who claims to receive visitations from dead Saints – wants to follow his conscience and donate the money to help people.
Films like this prove how fortunate we are to have master storytellers like Danny Boyle. His film always feels fresh and while it leans towards whimsy at times, he always rights the ship with slaps of reality. And his style is on full display with him finding new and inventive ways to stage even seemingly mundane scenes as two boys talking on cell phones leading to some visually arresting moments. His dramatization of the heist that sets the plot in motion is a highlight.
I absolutely cherished this flick.
4. The Ruins
If I absolutely fell in love with the last flick, this one had me covering my eyes – a feat that no horror film has ever done. Now, this is not the scariest movie I have ever seen (in fact, it’s not that scary at all) but there is an extended sequence of impromptu outdoor surgery that I literally couldn’t watch and ended up fastforwarding through. Truly wrenching stuff that no matter how much I told myself it’s all make believe, I still couldn’t stomach.
This is a lean and mean thrill machine (hey, I’ll say any cliché to get The Ed Zone on a movie poster) based on the novel by Scott Smith. Smith wrote one of my favorite stories of the last decade – A Simple Plan – and here he adapts his own novel, crafting a tight chiller flick that uses its B-movie trappings to twist the audience nerves. We know what’s coming and Smith knows it and he delights in drawing out that suspense.
In the off chance that you don’t know the secret that lurks in The Ruins, I’ll just give you the set-up. 4 American tourists in Mexico decide to follow a fellow German traveler into the jungle to explore some mysterious ruins. When they arrive, they are confronted by violent, indigenous people who seem determined to keep them from leaving the sanctity of the pyramid. These people guard a secret that lurks within. The story then begins to work on multiple levels, a survival story set against the backdrop of environmental horror.
And make no mistake. It’s a B movie tale but the young actors (including Jena Malone and Shawn Ashmore) completely commit to their roles. This is told irony free which is refreshing in this era of lukewarm teen scream flicks. In fact, it’s the type of film that Jaws set out to be – elevating above its genre. It’s not in the same league as Jaws but it is a capable thriller all its own.
The DVD also offers a great extended ending, providing me with one of those truly bleak epilogues that I love exiting a theater pondering.