Catching Up on the DVDs: ‘Conviction,’ ‘Never Let Me Go,’ and ‘Let Me In’

Conviction

Kenneth Waters was incorrectly charged with murder based on his reputation and antagonistic relationship with the chief of police. His sister, Betty Ann Waters, went on an eighteen year quest to free him. She began as a mother of two young children without a complete high school education. She ended as a reputable lawyer, which she remains to this day. They say truth is stranger than fiction and this story gets a respectable treatment that puts to shame Hallmark attempts falsify inspiration.

Kenny is played by Sam Rockwell who I assert has practically earned a lifetime achievement award in my book yet recieved exactly zero nominations from the Academy. The chemistry between he and Hilary Swank (who earned a surprise nod from the SAG) is palpable and real. It is the heart of a movie that has a sense of humor and the balls to get down and dirty with the story it tells. I genuinely found this film to match the artistic integrity of many of this years much higher praised films (although I was pleasanlty surprised to see how many critics held my opinion).  Here is a film that may have succumbed to Hollywood cliches, but instead remains true to reality. The events don’t seem overdramatized, I believed every minute of it. While one may argue that the film still doesn’t bring much new to the table, I would argue that the chemistry between the leads alone is worth the price of a ticket and now the price of rental. It held up well in its second viewing from my perspective.

The features are pretty slim this time around. The only notable offering is a small featurrette between director Tony Goldwyn and Betty Ann Waters, the real heroine. The most intriguing seperations between reality and the film here is the fact that Kenneth Waters died shortly after his release in a tragic accident (a detail not changed but merely excluded) and Kenneth was a larger man with a very different disposition than Rockwell. However despite this difference Betty Ann Waters felt that Rockwell carried the film and captured the heart of the movie. An impressive feat, too bad the supporting actor category was packed this year.

All in all, it isn’t a masterpiece but it is a film that sticks out to me even now. If nothing else, I will admit that I have respect for the film and it’s hard to imagine someone flatly disliking it.

Never Let Me Go

I have only seen this once and I find it very hard to turn my impression into words. In many ways it has the feel of classic cinema, but it never seems to come together as smoothly as I would like it too. The emotional punch was not quite what I wanted. It is as if I appreciated the entire film without loving the end result. But it is a film that may possess the kind of nostalgic knowledge of its characters and subject matter to grow on me. But for now, I can say “appreciate” is the accurate choice of praise.

Having prefaced the undecided nature of my opinion regarding the film, I suppose I should say a little about it. Never Let Me Go is based on a novel that has a cover that you undoubtedly saw in Wal-Mart many times in the past few years but never (at least in my case) bothered to pick up. It tells the story of a school of clones that exists for medical purposes to assist the outside world of “real people.” It becomes something of a parable for social discrepency. The film really feels like a work of literature and is very narratively driven. I can’t say for sure, but I feel like Alex Garland (28 Days Later…) gave a very faithful adaptation, but one that ironically feels soulless at times. Perhaps this is just a deliberate choice of tone, but it made the film feel mildly sedated to me.

All that aside, the film has a wonderful cast that includes Andrew Garfield, Carey Mulligan, Kiera Knightly, and Sally Hawkins. Each perform solidly except for Mulligan who once again goes way beyond the call of duty. The DVD is a slim offering that destroys the beautiful poster-art and replaces it with a photoshopped montage of red haze and floating heads.

The film is worth checking out, and I am guessing is worth checking out again since I find myself utterly out of words other than to warn viewers that it is more science fiction and less classical human drama than one might expect. I look forward to watching it again before establishing a full opinion. But for now, my praise goes to Carey Mulligan for giving a power-house performance. That’s a star on the rise if I’ve ever seen one.

Let Me In

The 2008 film, Let the Right One In is one of my top ten films of the past decade, so I am biased. But Matt Reeves is, like Carey Mulligan, a star on the rise. He took a great film and brought it across the pond in an artistically sound fashion without distorting the original with Americanized film traditions. But did he add anything to it? Yes, I believe he did.

The film tells the story of a young, socially awkward twelve-year-old who meets a girl of potentially similar age. But she is a vampire. They fall in love (as much as twelve-year-olds can) in a truly beautiful but tragic analysis of what it is like being a child. while many have criticized the film for being a shot for shot remake, I disagree. Reeves set the film in the 1980s to accurately recreate the tone of the original in an American setting. The differences are minimal, but they are key to the film’s success.

But American cinema is markedly different from swedish cinema. American cinema likes to hit things right on the head so to speak. The brilliance of Let the Right One In was subltety. Reeves’s film tries to replicate that, but it can only go so far within the confines American cinema. It is a more blunt film that becomes at times merely a recreation. The changes he makes are necessary to make the film succeed in its new environment without really changing it. And there’s nothing wrong with that. And quite honestly there is a large audience that will prefer this film and I totally respect what Reeves has done. But I still prefer the sublte and suggestive nature of the original.

The cast and crew does a solid job discussing what the film is really about: bullying. And it really is evident that this is a remake that understood why the original was great, but it still loses some of the magic if you ask me. Also, they had some great posters at the cinema. This cover with a hand sliding down a window looks horrid.

Other Ventures

Well I could not have possibly hated It’s Kind of a Funny Story more, but Zach Galifianakis fans will probably have a field day with that film. Thelma and Louise gets a nice anniversary treatment. I consider it to be one of Ridley Scott’s finest and it is an excellent throwback to countless forms of classic cinema… and it might be feminist. Still Walking and Amarcord went Criterion, both excellent. One of my all-time favorite films, All About Eve has an excellent blu-ray release as does the finest written film of all time, Network.  You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (my second favorite movie-title from 2010, after Hot Tub Time Machine) was released last week alongside Unstoppable, of which I have heard only good things.

I apologize for getting behind in this column, that covered most of what caught my attention, but I know I skipped around as well. The Oscar season is coming to an end, so the DVDs are flaring up. It’s mid-winter and a good time to catch up. There is plenty to go around.

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  • I’m absolutely dying to see “Never Let Me Go”. The book is one the greatest books I have ever read, and the adaptation looks excellent. “Conviction” looks pretty good. I want to see “Let Me In”, but before I want to read the book and see the original.

    Also, I wasn’t huge fan of “Its Kind of a Funny Story”. I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t very funny, and some scenes were wildly out of place and just silly, namely “Under Pressure”. Pretty average, and almost forgettable. B-

  • Jose

    I heard that the best way to see “Let Me In” is by not seeing the original first, because then you’re going to be too busy comparing both movies while watching the remake that its better going in with an open mind (and whats so bad about the one with the hand sliding down the window? Sure its not as great as the teaser poster, but its still pretty good.)

    Am also interested in “Never Let Me Go”, thankfully enough of the regulars here know of the plot so there so “OMG You spoiled the twist for me!” but I’m sad that I have yet to read the book, maybe I can rent it sometime this month along with Paranormal Activity 2.

  • I tend to be skeptical of remakes, but I really liked Let Me In. And I’m looking forward to Never Let Me Go and Conviction.

  • @Jose, I feel like one could equally say that the best way to see Let the Right One In is without seeing Let Me In. So I would still recommend saving the best viewing expirience for the one that is most suited to you, which is unfortunately a hard thing to discern without seeing either.

    And I guess I just think that poster looks incredibly fake, and I love the teaser poster with the snow angel.

  • Jose

    Did you remove the cover? It reveals a dark silhouette of Abby with glowing eyes.

    And the teaser poster I was referring to was the one where Abby and Eli have their hands on the opposite sides of their wall.

  • Yeah, the glowing eyes is better but still somewhat bizarre and fake looking as if it belongs to some bad syfy channel special (and anyone using Netflix or renting it will never see that).

    That is another great teaser poster that remains unused.

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