New Release Roundup
"Let Me In," "Never Let Me Go," "Monsters" and a trio of stand-out documentaries highlight the week's marquee releases
You might say that genre films take a turn for respectability this week. "Let Me In" (Anchor Bay), an American remake of a moody and inventive Swedish horror film, is if anything even more measured and artfully executed than the original, and it's one of the best American films of the year despite what the Academy Awards say (read my full review here and see it on MSN's Best of 2010 lists here).
On a much lower budget comes the ambitious "Monsters" (Magnet), almost DIY guerrilla monster movie set in a near future where an infection from outer space has spawned a veritable Jurassic Park in Northern Mexico and the most of the country has been quarantined off. Director/writer Gareth Edwards is also the cinematographer and visual effects man and thus can take full credit for the impressive visual creation. Not just the aliens (which look like an unholy mutant offspring of squid, lobster and crustacean) but the whole atmosphere of military occupation, post-war devastation and losing battle against what appears to be the next dominant species. Even the mother of all border fences isn't going to keep them out. And yes, the metaphors abound, they just don't always work as well as those in "District 9." But give Edwards props for making the effort, and for so effectively creating a convincing portrait of the world under siege from a slow, evolutionary invasion.
The supplements on this disc are all about the physical accomplishment, which is at it should be: this should be a primer how and why to use special effects on a resource-starved film. There's commentary, a 70-minute documentary that follows the shoot practically day-by-day and a 34-minute featurette on the visual effects among the toybox of supplements. See Glenn Kenny's review on MSN.Never Let Me Go" (Fox), which plays like one of those oh-so-tasteful works of literature in the guise of science fiction, by an author more interested in symbolic representation than making sense of the concept. Mark Romanek's film based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, is a study in willful conformity that works as far as it does thanks to terrific performances by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley and Charlotte Rampling. MSN's James Rocchi likes it better than I do, so by all means check out his take as well. The DVD and Blu-ray includes a half-hour making-of featurette.
Three of the more interesting documentaries in a year full of fine documentary filmmaking arrive this week. "The Tillman Story" (Sony), which was a favorite going in to the Academy Award nominations but missed getting a slot, follows the infamous story football star turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman and the cover-up of his battlefield death to reveal both the man behind the story and the military machine that privileges image over truth. Features director commentary. "Client 9" (Magnolia) profiles (in the words of the films' subtitle) "The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer," the New York Governor whose political career was felled by a prostitution scandal but (the documentary suggests) may have been the target of a conspiracy to get him out of office. Features commentary and bonus inteviews. "Freakonomics" (Magnolia) is an anthology-style documentary adaptation of the non-fiction bestseller with sections directed by Alex Gibney, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, Seth Gordon, Eugene Jarecki and Morgan Spurlock. Features two commentary tracks and additional interviews with the authors.
Given that I kicked off the column with an American remake of an acclaimed European film, it's kind of fitting to end the highlights section with a Chinese remake of an American crime movie. "A Woman, A Gun And A Noodle Shop" (Sony) is Zhang Yimou's reworking of the Coen Brothers' debut film "Blood Simple," relocated to a noodle shop isolated in the painted desert hills of 19th Century central China. I like to think of this as the Coens reimagined by way of "Dragon Gate Inn," complete with slapstick comic relief, Chinese Opera showmanship and converging plots crisscrossing with one another, often without the principles realizing it. Zhang just has fun with it all. The DVD and Blu-ray releases both feature over a dozen short featurettes and interviews.
Also new this week: "Conviction" (Fox), with Hilary Swank and a marvelous performance by Sam Rockwell, "Welcome to the Rileys" (Sony) with James Galdofini, Kristen Stewart and Melissa Leo, "Night Catches Us" (Magnolia) with Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington, "Down Terrace" (Magnet) from the UK and "Skin" from South Africa and featuring Sam Neill, Alice Krige and Sophie Okonedo.
For more releases, see the new incarnation of the weekly DVD listings here.