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Reeling It In: Now showing on the small screen ...

Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Let Me In"

EFTI

1 hour, 56 minutes

"Takers"

Screen Gems

1 hour, 47 minutes

Despite the fact that I'm sure I could come up with some witty rejoinders describing a certain tweeny pop sensation's new film, I'm afraid I have yet to catch Bieber-fever. I can't name one of his songs, and I'm frankly astonished that the fame cycle has sped up to the point that we're having retrospective biopic concert films about the life and struggles of a 15-year-old who failed to win Best New Artist of the Year at last week's Grammys. "Never Say Never?" How about "Never Give Me Advice About How To Make It In The World If You're Barely Out Of Middle School."

Also, I couldn't see paying the 3D price to see that mop of hair sweep off the screen at me, so, needless to say, I didn't go see the Justin Bieber movie this week. Instead, I decided to catch up on a couple of films from last year that I wanted to see but just never got around to. They proved to be a mixed bag, but they had to be better than watching 10-year old girls weeping at the glory of The Biebs.

"Let Me In" is the American re-make of the very well-regarded Swedish vampire movie, "Let the Right One In." Adapted for the U.S and directed by "Cloverfield's" Matt Reeves, the story is basically the same in both movies. A 12-year-old boy, Owen, quiet and shy and the target of bullies at school, befriends the new girl in the apartment complex, Abby. Abby happens to only come out at night and goes barefoot in the snow, but the two hit it off nonetheless.

Unfortunately for all involved, Abby is also a vicious bloodsucker, a fact that complicates things somewhat. In place of a family of her own, Abby has a guardian of sorts -- a man who travels with her, and delivers her the blood she needs to survive. Basically a serial killer, the guardian dispatches his victims quietly and discreetly, draining their blood into plastic jugs for delivery to Abby. While horrible, this is considered the better option, because when Abby goes hunting for herself, things get messy.

I actually liked this film a lot, and more than the Swedish version, which probably means I'm not a real cinematic purist and will get drummed out of the Honorable Society of Snooty Film Critics. I don't usually go in for horror films, but I do like monster movies, and vampire stories kind of bridge the gap. The acting in "Let Me In" is very well done. The supporting performances are all fine, but the story really rests on the shoulders of its two young leads.

Kodi Smit-McPhee is perfect as the waifish, big-eyed Owen partly because he looks a little alien. He seems so small and vulnerable, and the terror of school life plays palpably on his face. I believe a kid like that would befriend a vampire -- not because he's got dark impulses, but because he needs a friend, especially a tough one.

Chloe Moretz, as Abby, turns yet another startlingly good, and possibly age-inappropriate performance.

We last saw her as the foul-mouthed and lethal Hit Girl in "Kick Ass," and she's every bit as good here, though more subtle. And less foul-mouthed.

The reason this film, to my mind, surpasses the original is that Reeves wisely decided to excise the implicit, and at times explicit, sexual component from the Swedish version. Yes, Owen is probably in love with Abby, but in a 12-year-old BFF kind of way. Also gone is the creepy scene of child nudity from the original -- a scene that plays an important part of the story, but just seems wrong. I know the Europeans think we're all prudes over here, but I think we have to have some standards for what we ask children to do in front of the camera. Without this baggage, "Let Me In" is an intimate story, very dark and yet sweet at the same time, of two lost children and the lengths they will go for friendship.

Grade: B+

On the other hand, "Takers," a gangster/heist film starring Matt Dillon and Hayden Christensen, among others, is nothing but surface area. I was looking forward to this film because I typically like crime dramas, and this looked just eclectic enough to break the mold.

Nope. The story of an elite gang of thieves who get talked into one last heist by an ex-member just released from prison has no surprises, no subtlety, and some of the worst dialogue of the year.

The acting is passable, but the direction swings wildly. At times, shots seem to capture the dark coolness of bank robbers in L.A., but most of the time it's a hand-held, digital mess. I knew things were going awry when, early in the film, the robbers are discussing the logistics of a major armored car heist.

First, they describe the robbery as an "Italian Job." Really? I know the movie is about thieves, but are we just blatantly stealing entire plot elements, by name, from other, better movies? (Apparently, an "Italian Job" is when you blow up the street under an armored car, dropping it into the sewers where you relieve it of its bounty. See the Mark Wahlberg 2003 version.)

Then, when it becomes apparent that the risk is too high, and some of the gang are waffling, leader Idris Elba intones in his growly cockney accent, "We're takers, gentlemen. That's what we do. We take." OK ... well, I know the name of the film -- I rented it after all -- but how does this solve the problem?

For basic cops and robbers shoot 'em up stuff, I guess you could do worse, but you could do a whole lot better, too.

Grade: C

"Let Me In" is rated R for grisly scenes of violence, brief nudity and sexuality, and language. "Takers" is rated PG-13 for violence and language.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.



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