Let Me In: The opening shot, of deep darkness gradually broken by flashing police sirens, comes as a surprise and as a relief: Matt Reeves, who for the life of him couldn’t hang on to an image in Cloverfield, has an eye! Transposing the Scandinavian anguish of Tomas Alfredson’s modern vampire classic Let the Right One In to wintry Los Alamos, N.M. circa 1983 is a daunting affair, but Reeves finds his footing early on with a glimpse of our very own Nosferatu Ronnie gassing on the telly about the difference between good and evil. Chloë Grace Moretz, also vastly improved from her previous attention-grabber (Kick-Ass), plays the barefoot waif who has "been 12 for a very long time" and hungers for blood; she materializes on a jungle gym next to the pale runt (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who’s pitilessly bullied at school, and an unsettled friendship grows. Adults in the film’s damp, cold world are out-of-focus faces and disembodied voices, none sadder than the young vampiress’ middle-aged guardian (a splendid Richard Jenkins), fatigued by reluctant decades of grisly service. The car crash sequence filmed as a tumbling single-take stuns indeed, though Reeves’ inventiveness is just as strong in the unexpected way light enters the frame, the thematic and visual use of reflections, addictions and circles of pain, in the Franju-like awareness of horror borne out of acts of love. Visceral, corroded, tender.
Fair Game: With its release coinciding with Dubya’s history-rewriting book tour, a dramatization of the Plame Affair scarcely starves for relevance. But it takes more than uranium McGuffins to arrive at Notorious, and Doug Liman has no idea what to do besides mindlessly transposing the jittery panning shots from his Bourne flick to drab Washington, D.C. conference rooms. Naomi Watts, always good at shading sexy intelligence into steely roles, suspends her Valerie Plame between all-business Mata Hari and working mom, undercover for the CIA in Kuala Lumpur one minute and trying to steer hubby Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) away from dinnertime political squabbles the next. Her secret? "Know why you’re lying, and never forget the truth." Bush and Cheney are media images, degraded like old kinescopes, ginning up the public; when Wilson attacks the war’s falsities in his op-ed piece, the administration zeroes in on the whistleblower’s wife as the perfect weapon of mass distraction. Information is the currency of spy games, and the continuous sense of data gained, suppressed, manipulated and distorted deserves better than the film’s exposition-laden flatness and Penn’s speechifying. Sanctimonious, schematic, and so bereft of insight that it never notices the performative similarities between secret agents and married couples. (Even Liman’s putrid Mr. & Mrs. Smith got that.)
Unstoppable: Tony Scott, glossy hack and unconscious experimental aesthete: "Ready for a little tug of war?" Re-watching his recent movies, I’m struck by how often Scott’s hyper-active style, with its promiscuous lens-shifting, darting zooms and screens within screens, glowing control rooms and tons and tons of helicopter shots, leans toward abstractions of tinted movement. Their adrenaline addiction can be weirdly beguiling, at least until they slow down and you notice the bruises and marks from all the infected needles. Trains are intensely cinematic figures, but that’s not enough for him -- the runaway locomotive here, an unmanned behemoth with a toxic cargo and headed for fiery collision, is given a majestic introduction before being morphed into a digitalized blur boogieing on the rails. Denzel Washington and Chris Pine are the proles amid the machinery, bonding over familial and economic troubles and improvised heroism; Rosario Dawson turns up as the World’s Hottest Control Room Manager, describing the mechanized villain as "a missile the size of the Chrysler Building." A technocrat’s corrida, very rousing if not the surreal amalgam of The General and The Working-Class Goes to Heaven that Scott the closet avant-gardist might be capable of making if he had at least one eye not glued to box-office receipts.
Easy A: "Whatever happened to chivalry? Does it only exist in ‘80s movies?" Finally getting a film all to herself, Emma Stone validates my theory that Superbad would have been ten times brighter had it followed the girls instead of the guys. Knowingly making her way through the funhouse, her California high-school Hester Prynne -- throaty, lynx-eyed, bristling with amused intelligence -- remains my favorite comic performance this year. Will Gluck’s jamboree of comically chill parents, closeted gay mates and budding campus Palin-ites is ungainly but fleet, generous and, in between quips, alert to youthful discovery. The late Robin Wood, that great connoisseur of teen-movie subversion, would have dug it.
Reviewed December 15, 2010.