Monday, January 26, 2009

Leave it to the Imagination and Review of "Let the Right One In"

I have recently been reading a book called The Shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho: Creating Cinematic Suspense and Terror by Philip J. Skerry. The book gives an in depth look at the shower scene in Psycho. There is a chapter in which he is interviewing Janet Leigh, the star of the first half of the movie before she is killed in the famous scene. The author asks her about her thoughts on contemporary cinema “showing” the audience every detail of sex or violence and whether or not the ending of The Production Code in 1968 contributed to what Janet Leigh thought of as films taking away imagination: “An audience doesn’t have to think anymore, isn’t given the privilege of imagining anymore.” The Production Code was a set of moral guidelines that censored what movies could show that the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) adopted as what we now know as the Motion Picture Association of America’s film rating system which uses a rating system (G through NC17). The author and Ms. Leigh thought that movies today show all and the audience isn’t required to fill in the blanks with their imagination. For instance you are shown a brief glimpse of a knife coming down toward the girl in the shower and then another shot of it coming back up and then a shot of a mouth open and screaming. There is no shot of the knife going into flesh. We fill in those blanks with our mind, our imagination. When I was talking about this with one of my friends she said “whatever is in your imagination is always scarier than what is on the screen”. I agree with this. In contemporary horror you see the knife enter flesh you see it tear skin, and you also almost always see the monster, whether creature or human. Of course the ending of the Production Code was a good thing and filmmakers should have full control over what they show and not show the audience, and showing a graphic scene doesn’t automatically devalue a film or the filmmaker’s art by any means. It is just interesting to me that the more horrifying movies I have seen only give you hints and glimpses of a monster or murder. I’m going to get more into this later. But first this brings me to my second review of a movie that only gives us hints and glimpses, subtly and at the same time violently.

White, cold snow and silence in Blackeberg a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden is the set of Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In”. This is a quiet, subtle, beautiful yet brutal/violent movie about two twelve year old children and their found bond with one another. The two children are a boy who is lonely, bullied, and has golden hair and a pale face and his friend, a girl, who isn’t actually twelve at all, just stuck in a twelve year old body and mind. She is a vampire. Eli the vampire, played by Lena Leandersson, has an incredible and beautiful face. Her eyes are huge and they have an eerie gleam to them. When you first get a close up of her face you know at once she is a monster; not all human. Oskar, the boy played by Kare Hedebrant, is tormented at school by bullies and finds friendship with the vampire Eli who moves in next door. She has a companion, who is an old man, and they share a strange relationship that later turns sad and lonely as the film unfolds. This vampire isn’t a romanticized one who is seductive or who has the trademark fangs like in “Twilight” or even “True Blood”, the two more recent additions to the vampire genre. She is more creature-like, a monster. There is no full showing of her as the monster however. We only get beautiful hints….

Whenever Eli moves she has these subtle actions or gestures that make her look like she is an animal, quick and light. It seems that gravity does not have any effect on her at times. There is one scene where the two friends walk into a completely dark room and before Oskar turns on the lights you see her eyes glowing as they try to get used to the light. Or, when the boy cuts himself so they can be “blood buddies”, drips blood on the floor. She lets out an inhuman growl like sound and ravenously falls to the floor to lap it up with a tongue that is too long to be human. Eli vows to protect Oskar and tells him to stick up for himself. Her love and protection of him springs out of her an intense vengeance that culminates into such a fierce ending, that after the last shot, I felt an unlikely cross between strong feelings of fear and happiness. This isn’t just a vampire movie, it is so much more. Please, please see this movie. Don’t let the label of horror genre keep you from seeing this quiet, lonely movie about true friendship at its most extreme.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette

For my first review I thought I would go with something difficult. A love it or hate it film. A 49% on the Rotten Tomatoes list, Sophia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette”. Before seeing this movie I had already decided I would not like it, being that I am not a fan of Coppola’s other films. Then while flipping through cable, I recently came across it and gave it a chance. I was entranced. This film is not really about Marie Antoinette and not really about the rich heiresses that engulf our modern media. It is about both. Marie Antoinette was born and later married into a world of money, power, food, clothes, and popularity. What was a young girl to do?

You know in period pieces where there is a party scene and it isn’t quite convincing as a party, well normally scenes like this are very structured and performed for the camera, separating the audience from the feeling of being there. There is always the dance and some conversation. Here we see the characters act like they are at a party, drinking, laughing, kissing, the place is packed and full of energy. This was the only time I felt like I was watching a real party in a period movie; this is what people probably acted like. Of course in the characters time it was contemporary to them so why can’t it come across to modern audiences as real? Another example that separates this film from others in the same category is the “carriage scene” where you watch characters get in, then see it leave, and then the shot of the carriage arriving at the destination. Where in the beginning of Marie Antoinette it puts us in the carriage with her and her companions along for the ride, where we see them sleep, play cards, and look out the windows. This among the party scenes and others removes the film from a period piece, giving it a more contemporary feel. It brings the audience closer, more familiar with the characters and action. You are watching them on a more personal level. The whole movie is a period piece that doesn’t play like one. It is refreshing. This movie shows what her private life might have been like; leaving out the political and social workings that would have changed the entire idea and mood of the film. Coppola is not necessarily kind or sympathetic to her character. She shows her as this teenager with all this stuff to play with and who is oblivious to everything going on around her. When she falls for the hunk in the movie there is a scene where she lies on her bed grasping at her chest and looking wistfully at nothing with big blue eyes. I have felt that ridiculous giddiness before as a teenage girl and it comes across so easily in this film. The ending is wonderful. Instead of showing her beheading which would have thrown the movie off course, there is a last frame of the film that shows her bedroom ransacked and destroyed. It signifies her death in a quiet, motionless, serenity. The soundtrack is fitting. It consists mostly of 80’s new wave at its height, which works great, moving along with the feel of the film.

Kirsten Dunst, who plays Marie Antoinette, does the job of looking as if she’s made of sugar along with the costumes and set. There is a sly, pretty, simpering look on her face most of the movie. The little dialogue she has is weak, and her speech is unsteady. Jason Shwartzman is so unconvincing as Louis XVI that it is just silly. This does not make me dislike the movie; it actually makes it more likeable to me. Let me describe it this way…

A candy apple has a shiny red candy shell, super sweet, but the apple inside is usually stale and soft. Marie Antoinette is like a candy apple, frivolous, sweet, fun, and satisfies your sweet tooth. It is somehow satisfying, but superficially. Yes this movie is frivolous and yes that might be the point. But, it is also a unique portrayal of a historical figure. Instead of an intense historical period drama you get a quiet, light, atmospheric story of Marie Antoinette or any teenage heiress whose obliviousness gives her nothing to do but eat cake.