Let Me In (R, 2010, Anchor Bay)
You can howl until your jaw falls off about how 2008’s “Let the Right One In” didn’t need an Americanized remake, and you can point out that while the film was in Swedish and people hate subtitles, there was a perfectly good English dub on the DVD. But it doesn’t matter, because “Let Me In” exists. And while those who see it after seeing the original have countless reasons to dismiss it as a gutless imitation with 1980s Americana piled on, those who go into it without prior knowledge of or prejudices induced by that first film are in for a treat regardless. “LMI” is a vampire story, but the vampire in question is a 12-year-old named Abby (Chloe Moretz) who befriends another 12-year-old, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who up to then is a friendless loner and relentless bully target. Like the original, the remake is more about the unsettling friendship between two emotionally damaged children than it is a traditional horror movie, and like the original, it’s bound to alienate those in search of something that burns faster than this does. But “LMI” affords a quality of character development that’s practically unheard of for two 12-year-olds, and while it burns slowly, it pays off handsomely in the third act. “LMI’s” highs and lows are measurably dulled when compared to the bolder original, which remains the recommended destination for anyone who only wants to experience this story once. But if this is the path you take, it’s a significantly more fulfilling road than the naysayers might lead you to believe it is.
Extras: “Let Me In: Crossroads” comic book insert, director commentary, deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, poster gallery.
My Last Five Girlfriends (NR, 2009, Tribeca Film)
Duncan (Brendan Patricks) has mentally checked out of life, and as “My Last Five Girlfriends” kicks off, he’s about to physically do the same. The cause of his fatal agony? It’s women, and before Duncan leaves us, he wishes to regale us with stories about the five women who transformed him from a perfectly content man into a hopeless mess. Happily, this doesn’t translate into 87 minutes of vapid whining. To the contrary, “Girlfriends” is genuinely funny for all the right reasons — full of little details that make Duncan’s experiences acutely relatable but never tired nor cliched. At the same time, “Girlfriends” isn’t afraid to be completely silly, occasionally interrupting the story for an impromptu skit one moment and a completely goofy illustration of Duncan’s mind another moment. The diversions are inventive as well as funny, and again, they manage to touch nerves without saying the same thing a million other romantic comedies already said. We may not have it as bad as Duncan feels he has it, but we’ve all been through some facet of his story, and “Girlfriends” demonstrates an awareness of this with every impressive move it makes. Michael Sheen, Naomie Harris and Kelly Adams also star.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted/extended scenes, outtakes, cast/director interview, behind-the-scenes feature, special effects compilation.
Skin (PG-13, 2008, Entertainment One)
Movies about racism — and in this particular case, Apartheid — aren’t exactly uncommon. But “Skin” earns a special distinction, because the true story of Sandra Laing (played as a child by Ella Ramangwane and as an adult by Sophie Okonedo) takes the blue ribbon in the competition to illustrate just how absurdly backward Apartheid truly was. Sandra was born to two white Afrikaner parents (Alice Krige and Sam Neill) but is, by any eye test you can conjure, a black woman. But through science, testing and reasoning only a frightened politician could love, she was classified as a white woman anyway — free to enjoy the perks other whites simply because an ID card said she was above prejudices that were artificial enough without this development’s help. Further piling on this ridiculousness is Sandra’s father, who forbids her black daughter, as a white woman, to explore a relationship with Petrus (Tony Kgoroge), who is a black man by every metric. “Skin” is a dependably good biopic that’s lifted by good performances and the usual ingredients of an award darling, if not an entirely inventive storyteller. But that’s plenty good enough, because the laughable circumstances don’t need little creative intervention to leave their intended mark. If this was fiction, it’d be a farce.
Extras: Deleted scenes, outtakes, behind-the-scenes feature, script development workshop.
Never Let Me Go (R, 2010, Fox)
Kathy, Tommy and Ruth (played as adults by Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley, respectively) knew as young students at Hailsham Boarding School that they were special. But they had no clue what “special” meant until a rogue teacher spilled the big secret — that they’re cloned from other people and raised solely for purposes of providing healthy organs for donation before passing away in the prime of their lives. That’s a horror movie premise — or at least a creepy “Outer Limits” episode — if ever there was one, but “Never Let Me Go” takes a wholly different tack with its premise. Instead of terrifying, it’s melancholy, and instead of watching our three leads plot a means to escape their fates and live out longer lives as regular people, we’re watching them bargain with their fate, address regret, define love and grasp what their lives ultimately mean while the notion of full-on escape don’t even receive acknowledgement. That last point will drive some nuts, but it’s clear this, or even the details behind the advancements and ethics that brought us to this point, aren’t the point. That’s “Go’s” choice to make, and it justifies it by delving so deeply into normal human nature through a fresh perspective that its clever premise makes possible.
Extras: Half-hour behind-the-scenes feature, photo gallery, two art galleries featuring artwork used in the film (makes more sense once you’ve seen its place in the movie).
Inspector Bellamy (NR, 2009, IFC Films)
Famed police inspector Paul Bellamy (Gérard Depardieu) is supposed to be on holiday with his wife Françoise (Marie Bunel). But when a mysterious stranger (Jacques Gamblin as Noël) seeks him out in the wake of a crime, his interest is piqued, and by the time Noël explains that the crime in question is a murder he committed but didn’t exactly really commit, Paul’s already halfway down the rabbit hole. Don’t assume, though, that you have this one figured out, because “Bellamy” isn’t yet another movie where an affable detective loses himself in a case while his marriage, mental composure and ability to do his job fall into ruin. To the complete contrary, “Bellamy” is almost startlingly pleasant, its arguable best scenes consisting of Paul lazing around the house between clues while Françoise lovingly pokes at him for dirt on the case. Noël is nearly a sympathetic figure in spite of his contemptible story, and a persistent conflict between Paul and his brother Jacques (Clovis Cornillac) handily outpaces the case as the primary source of tension. The unusual pace will doubtlessly aggravate some who came to see a completely different kind of movie, and “Bellamy” errs by developing a sudden sense of urgency and cramming a handful of pretty significant twists into the last batch of scenes. But the unique pace at least makes those twists a little harder to guess than if “Bellamy” had stuck to the same old templates, so award one point to trying something different. In French with English subtitles.
Extra: Behind-the-scenes feature.
Hatchet II: Unrated Director’s Cut (NR, 2010, Dark Sky Films)
Isn’t it funny what completely flattened expectations will do? Witness “Hatchet II,” yet another movie about a crazed killer who brutalizes all who cross his path and who appeared
to have been effectively thwarted by the first movie’s primary would-be victim (Danielle Harris, taking over for Tamara Feldman, as Marybeth). But “Hatchet II” isn’t just another movie, because it actually has a believable (if not intelligent) reason for Marybeth to return to Honey Island Swamp and confront the psychotic Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder) a second time. More impressively, the movie actually makes an effort to color in the details of Victor’s life and offer an understandable (if not wildly original) reason for his murderous leanings. “Hatchet II” even achieves the surpasses-dampened-expectations trifecta by outfitting Marybeth with a supporting cast (Tony Todd, AJ Bowen, Parry Shen) of likely victims who are more interesting than the usual crop of stand-ins. They’re even, in some cases, likable. The movie follows the slasher template pretty faithfully in terms of essentials, and nothing it does can hide the fact that its primary reason for being is to show us some pretty savage murders we can see coming from a mile away. There’s nothing wrong with that, because we don’t watch horror movies for the enlightenment. But the extra effort does wonders for making “Hatchet II” enjoyable rather than simply bearable when the action slows down.
Extras: Crew commentary, cast/director commentary, behind-the-scenes feature.