Can Brad Pitt Save the World?

Now Brad Pitt’s in a zombie movie? Really? Isn’t this genre starting to get played out already? How many more spins on the zombie story can we really stomach? I think it’s time to try moving into some other horror sub-genres. Not only is the zombie wave beginning to bore me, but the zombie apocalypse is just so 2002. This whole trailer for World War Z, in fact, feels an awful lot like I Am Legend revisited.

Can’t we start moving on to lesser used horror sub-genres than vampires and zombies? Vampires had a run for a good while, then zombies took over our movie screens and TV sets; what about werewolves? It seems like they’d be a logical next horror fad in the trajectory. I actually think I’m on to something here; notice how werewolves pop up randomly now in movies (e.g. Dark Shadows), and take supporting roles in others (e.g. Underworld, Twilight). It’s time for a full moon folks.

Advertisements

Let The Right One In

There’s only so much you can do with a vampire movie before it lapses into familiar territory. Fortunately, this is not so much the case with the Swedish thriller Let The Right One In. Just off the bat, the thing that stands out the most about this film is its use of the rather obscure (or, at least, rarely referenced) vampire lore that they have to be invited into your home, if they come calling. It’s odd because other than Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I can’t think off hand of many vampire films that throw in this interesting catch. Coppola’s film, much to the dismay of many of my readers – I’m sure – was one of my favorite vampire films. Albeit, I was a kid when I saw it, and the stylistic interpretations of Stoker’s novel (which I had only just been exposed to through high school) were something that always stayed with me. One thing you can’t say was forgettable about that movie was the look, the feel and Gary Oldman’s haunted performance.

Soon thereafter, I was further enamored by the lady-magnetizing effects of Interview With The Vampire – having seen this multiple times at the theater was equal parts film appreciation and the pointless adolescent hunt for girls. Banderas, Slater, Pitt and Cruise made sure the aisles were stacked with girls who needed someone to, at turns, hold them when they were frightened and hold their popcorn when they were not. Blade stood out for a while if not only for its New Order-beat, sprinklers-of-blood-at-the-club opening scene. As I got older and craved more unique film-fare, it was the Pixelvision Nadja and Innocent Blood that I found to be my faves. The Hunger didn’t really stick with me until I saw it again in my twenties at which point I was confused as to how I had never appreciated it before that, especially given my love of Bauhaus. It occurred to me that it was likely due to the central themes of aging and the typical Scott-style overblownness which as a high schooler I found myself rebelling against.

So, I say all that, and take you on that journey, to say this: Let The Right One In is my new favorite vampire flick.

It’s a very predictable storyline, and a very slick production, so it seems almost antagonistic to any kind of art film, but I would even go so far as to say this is art-horror. The story is more about the life of the lead character, a little boy named Oskar who is 12 years old living outside Stockholm. He is constantly bullied at school for being introverted and book-smart and he lives with his mum in a towerblock with tiny, square windows that look into each apartment. Next door to him is a new resident who lives alone with his little girl Eli. Although, as she repeatedly reminds Oskar, she is not “a girl.”

Oskar quickly develops a friendship/romance with Eli, for a while never realizing her unusual behavior as something of a red flag. That’s what’s so great about him, he is pure innocence on one level, yet on another he identifies with the basest of emotions. Identifies is the key word here though, because Oskar himself is not prone to dark character traits. More like a psychiatrist-in-the-making, he is able to observe objectively from the outside of his emotions and still connect to relevant moral and social standards. This makes one hell of a complex 12-year old and one hell of dramatic character. You can never pre-suppose what Oskar will do or say, because unlike many 12-year old characters in the movies, he is at odds with himself.

The subtleties of Eli’s character as a vampire are also a nice touch to the film. As most vampire lore is now urbanly recognized, there are some traits we expect in her to be reflected. They are inherent  expectations in the audience member, basically. There’s no way you can watch a vampire movie and not think, well they can’t come out in the daytime – unless of course you’re watching one of those daywalking vampire movies. As noted above though, it’s less obvious lore such as the inability to enter a home uninvited that may sneak up on you. The film knows how to use these obscure traits to its advantage. For instance, sometimes we catch a glimpse of Eli as a withered old woman, thereby indicating her age (as she quips) is really “more or less” 12 years old.

The most attractive use of lore for me is again, what the whole film is sneakily built around, the fact that she can’t enter the home uninvited. What’s more, she reveals just what will happen if she was to enter uninvited – furthering the lore to detail for us that it’s not her inability, rather the pain which it will ultimately cause her if she does it – bleeding from every orifice and through the pores in her skin after she enters.

Shot from the stellar denouement of the film Let The Right One In

Eventually it becomes clear where the film is going, and the final scenes reaffirm what we expect to happen all along, so it’s nice that the film takes a unique approach at depicting the obvious. The film takes itself very seriously, and with a careful hand the director Tomas Alfredson crafts it perfectly. Every scene is exacted with a flawlessness that is beginning to be more prevalent in much European cinema, especially dramatic features. The film has been critically received very well and even received a number of awards, so I guess there’s no reason for me to run on and on about how great I think it is here on my lowly blog, but I will say that as vampires evolve in cinema (as I’m sure they will), I’ll be on the lookout for my next favorite – I have a couple of ideas brewing myself – something that will bump Let The Right One In right out of place.

Twilight and Mis-education

I never thought I’d write about Twilight. Much less enjoy the films to begin with, but once again I have been tricked by my unpredictable pop sensibilities into thinking this franchise might just be palatable. It has problems; I’ll get to those in a minute, but on the whole I can plainly see how it’s a coming-of-age person’s dream series. For the girls there’s the main character’s insatiable fascination with the unconventional. What’s brilliant about her character though, and certainly a reason that every young girl who reads these books or sees these films will identify with her for, is that she still fits in. Not reclusive or easily embarrassed, but also not trapped in the one role she feels forced to play out, it’s no wonder Ysabella is every adolescent woman’s idol character. Oh, and she’s also got the heart of two boys.

Two extremely opposite boys, that is; and yet, another reason this film does so well with its young age demographic. It’s soap opera plus teen horror flick. The young men who complete the triangle with Bella are Edward and Jacob. They both have the perfect identity crisis’ to fill them out, Jacob is Native American and goes to school on a reservation, so he is already disassociated from society to a certain degree. Edward is transient (much like Bella) and purposely disassociates himself from the other students (for obvious vampire-like reasons). Both boys have to deal with ostricization on some level, but on very different levels. High school is the breeding ground of ostricization and for this reason, no writer or filmmaker can go wrong with a teen flick dealing with such issues.

What’s great about the Twilight series is that the films have done it really well up to this point. They know how to not go overboard, but still utilize the pain, uncertainty and esteem issues through which every young adult will undergo. It’s the decisions the characters make throughout the film that are important to watch (though not so much in the last book). The story is impossibly simple. It’s a basic love triangle – two boys and a girl – but the girl is some sort of thought-blocking savant (really though, what girl isn’t?) and the boys are conflicted, classic monsters.

Plot holes seem to abound in the films, the worst of which just angers me. In Twilight Bella is bitten on the wrist during a fight with another vampire, James. Yet, when she’s in the hospital for the broken leg and the lacerations, there is no mention of the bite mark by the doctors or her family. Her wrist is clearly bandaged up, so a doctor must have looked at it, but we’re supposed to think that it’s a doctor who can’t determine the circular, teeth-marked wound is a bite!? Why wasn’t that reported to her family by the doctor? Why is this very integral piece of information that could lead them to determine what their daughter has been up to, not divulged? It’s preposterous. Why would a doctor not question a bite mark when the patient supposedly fell down some stairs and through a window?

Struggling to overlook that I worked my way to watching the second film, New Moon, in the series as well, and have since seen Eclipse. I’m not overly impressed with the latter two films, but they certainly provide more enriching action sequences. Wolves are always fun too. But why are they four times the size of their actual human form? I mean, I’ve seen a lot of Werewolf movies over time, and I know they grow larger than their human form, but Twilight-size is just silly.

The vampire interactivity – the communal scenes anyway – are akin to Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, but modernized. I remember the first time I saw Interview with the Vampire how it was the routine-ness of their lives that I was impressed by being put on film. It was the first time I had seen vampires do anything in a film other than just walk about at night and suck blood from necks. Nadja may actually be a better example (and a far out film) of how seemingly mundane vampire life can be put to film sometimes. But, having said all that, like a Tarantino film, Twilight knows how to use the best parts of vampire movies (and the legend) and ramp it up for the kids.

So, yes, intentionally so far in this post I haven’t mentioned the infamous (loved/hated) daylight sparkle. Honestly, it doesn’t bother me. I mean, I find it more realistic actually than say when Blade walks outside and simply wears sunglasses. Think about it, in the vampire legend and in most vampire films, when you see one killed by sunlight they basically burn, right? So it seems only legitimate that something would happen to their skin when they walk in the daylight, but yet are impervious to its rays. Logically, it makes sense. It’s like they want to cook, but have a good built-in SPF.

Here’s what doesn’t make sense: the last book. Well, I haven’t actually read the books, ok, but apparently Bella is pregnant for Edward and believe it or not, she has a little vampire baby. If this is in the film, I’m refusing to review it. Whatever happened to teaching kids safe sex? Isn’t this series followed primarily by pre-teens? And yeah, I know she’s graduated high school and I guess is over 18, but really? Just teaching our children to wait till they’ve got a high school diploma and are emancipated before they have unprotected sex seems really disappointing. Looks like Team Jacob really is the winner!

People are so consumed now by this whole pre-teen novel movement. There’s even a section for it at the local book store conglomerate. Why though? I mean the catch-22 here is that if I start ranting about how bad I think this movement is and how terrible I think it is that parents are just excited that their kids are even reading at all, I start to look bad. But I’m sorry, that is deplorable. Give your kid Catcher in the Rye or War and Peace next time they want to read a book. Get them to start thinking. Sadly, I even regularly see adults reading these teen novels now-a-days. I asked a woman recently who was deeply entrenched in her Dark Flame novel (or something like that) why she was reading a teen’s book. She actually sheepishly laughed a little and reluctantly told me, “It’s easier. The sentences are shorter.”

Nadja

When Nadja, the rebellious, parentally oppressed vampire weightlessly glides through the empty Pixelvision streets around her and causes an unsuspecting male to bleed from the inside out, just by looking at him intently – all to the score of the maliciously depressing Portishead – I can’t help but think this is quite possibly the best updated vampire tale filmed to date.

Almereyda’s (dare I call it) piece of art is shot in part using an obsolete Fisher Price Pixelvision camera. This, first of all, is just unique in and of itself. Secondly, the film retains it weirdo, indie cred by having an executive producer by the name of David Lynch (who also appears as the receptionist in the morgue), because c’mon folks – even if he had final cut on this, it’d still end up being surreally amazing! Go ahead and add me to your list of bloggers who are Lynchians, I know it’s nothing surprising.

Nadja is a modern horror story with a classic taste. Nadja is not happy with her life as a vampire (are they ever?), and it comes from being part of a dysfunctional family of them. With her father’s death, Nadja is finally free of the restraints of her seemingly in denial-that-they’re-vampires vampire family. No one’s going to tell her when and when not to suck the blood of the living, be damned! The best brush stroke-of-genius either Lynch or Almereyda or somebody had was the artistic caress that softens the blow of an otherwise hard-to-swallow (or rather, conceptualize) modernized vampire film. The haunting images transformed into a black and white mosaic are a veritable flashback to the chiaroscuro horror of Begotten.

Vampires have always symbolized an expression of humans innermost desires, reducing us to mere blood cells. Nadja, in all her Fisher Price expressionism, literally reduces humans to blood cells.