June 5th, 2009

TORN CURTAIN (1966) ** ½

A brilliant physicist (Paul Newman) gets slighted by the American government so he defects to East Germany.  His clueless wife (Julie Andrews) decides to tag along with him and eventually learns that her husband is actually a double agent.  After he murders an enemy agent that is hip to his deceit, the good doctor must get out from behind the Iron Curtain with his wife in tow.


I’m not really a fan of director Alfred Hitchcock’s espionage tinged thrillers, but for me, Torn Curtain wasn’t too bad.  Newman is pretty pimp in this movie and his formidable screen presence helped to hold my interest whenever the pace slowed down (which was often).  Andrews looked quite foxy and her exquisite yumminess served the film well.


It’s pretty amazing that Torn Curtain works as well as it does given the fact that Hitchcock’s heart wasn’t really in it.  The studio forced the two leads on him, made him change the score, and ordered several rewrites of the script.  The film’s centerpiece is the incredible scene where Newman tries to kill the agent in the farmhouse.  It’s a shame that Hitchcock didn’t bring as much energy to the rest of the movie because this scene is some of the best stuff that he ever put on celluloid.  Newman and a homely broad put this guy into several choke holds before breaking off a knife in his neck.  Then the chick whacks him with a shovel and when the guy still doesn’t go down, they stick his head in an oven.  Tight.  But for every scene that works (Newman and Andrews also take a pretty tense bus ride), there’s one that just fizzles (How much suspense can you get out of writing equations on a chalkboard?).    


Look for Hitchcock early on holding a baby.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) ** ½

A Swedish weakling albino towhead named Oskar gets his ass handed to him by a bunch of bullies in the schoolyard.  When he meets a young (and I use the word “young” very loosely) girl named Eli, she teaches him to be assertive and stand up to the bullies.  Of course, Eli knows all about assertiveness because she’s a vampire that’s been feeding off the local alcoholics in the neighborhood.


This flick has been getting heaps of praise for its “realistic” portrayal of vampires but I got to say, it left me kinda cold.  At nearly two hours, Let the Right One In takes its sweet old time to get started and never really starts to kick ass until the final reel.  Also, way too much screen time is spent on irritating supporting characters like Eli’s caretaker and the inconsequential town drunks. 


Let the Right One In does have moments of fun.  There’s a nifty scene where a vampire burns up like a Buddhist monk in sunlight, a cool acid-washed face, and a couple of severed heads and arms too.  The coup de grace though is a thoroughly awesome scene where a bunch of cats flip out and attack a potential vampire.  Unfortunately, all the movie really has is “moments” as the Boy Meets Vampire story is way too thin to justify the inflated running time.


What’s worse is that the film, which comes from Sweden isn’t even indicative of its native homeland.  Never once do we see a character eat a Swedish meatball, listen to ABBA, or put together some IKEA furniture.  Next time Sweden, when one of your filmmakers decides to make a film, they need to EMBRACE their heritage, not deny it.