DVD Picks: Monsters, Skin, Let Me In

March 17, 2011

Pick of the Week

Monsters

Science fiction drama; rated R for language; also available on Blu-ray

The Gist: Six years after a space probe crash, giant tentacled aliens have infested northern Mexico. During a particularly bad “outbreak,” cynical photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) must escort pretty rich girl Sam Wynden (Whitney Able) through the infected zone.

The Lowdown: One of the best science fiction films of the last few years, “Monsters” is a marvel of inventive, sophisticated, low-budget film making. Director Gareth Edwards’ background is in computer-generated visual effects, and he works wonders here with – according to the press materials – two PCs and some Adobe software.

Maybe more impressive is how skillful Edwards proves to be as writer and director. “Monsters” is truly unlike any alien invasion movie you’ve ever seen. The love story between Able and McNairy – both impressive in their feature film debuts – stands on its own as compelling romantic drama. By the time the critters arrive, we care very much about these two, and that heightens the emotional impact of the creature feature sequences.

Overall, Edwards displays impressive restraint with the effects. The creatures are usually only seen in glimpses, or in the distance – until the final scenes, where we get a real eyeful of the titanic, terrifying and oddly beautiful monsters. Ten-story bioluminescent squids, basically, but no description can really do them justice. Edwards’ creations go into the pantheon of great movie monsters.

The Extras: The single-disc edition has some deleted and extended scenes, a short production doc and a commentary track with the director and actors.

The Bottom Line: Inventive, scary and fun, “Monsters” is an impressive debut from a very promising new director.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: Fans of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft will recognize the literary inspiration for these beasties. Cthulhu lives!

Skin

Drama; Rated PG-13 for thematic material, some violence and sexuality

The Gist: Based on a true story, “Skin” tells the fascinating story of a black South African child born to white parents unaware of their own ancestry.

The Lowdown: Set in Cape Town during the apartheid era, “Skin” stars Sophie Okonedo (“Hotel Rwanda”) as Sandra Laing, a troubled teenage girl whose remarkable journey would become a symbol of apartheid’s insanity.

Sandra’s parents were white Afrikaners, descendents of South Africa’s original Dutch settlers. But Sandra’s dark skin and hair suggested African blood, and in fact she was classified by the government as “Coloured” and prohibited from attending school with white kids. Her father, played here by Sam Neill, would eventually appeal to South Africa’s highest court to have her classified as white.

“Skin” is an artful retelling of the story, and much of the drama – and sadness – comes from following Sandra as she grows into adulthood, torn between two worlds and trying to forge authentic relationships with her parents and her country. Okonedo is simply terrific in the lead role, and director Anthony Fabian delivers some surprises with his narrative choices.

The Extras: Deleted scenes, outtakes and a behind-the-scenes featurette

The Bottom Line: A moving and fascinating historical drama, delivered with skill and care.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: “Skin” has won more than 20 international festival awards since its premiere in 2008.

 

Let Me In

Horror thriller; rated R for strong bloody horror violence, language and a brief sexual situation; also available on Blu-ray

The Gist: A sad young boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee, “The Road”) meets a sad young girl (Chloe Moretz, “Kick Ass”) who also happens to be 200-year-old vampire. Things get messy.

The Lowdown: Like a lot of people, I wasn’t expecting much from “Let Me In,” seeing as how it’s a remake of the near-perfect “Let the Right One In,” the 2008 Swedish film generally considered the best horror film of the last decade.

But writer-director Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”) does a nice job here, preserving the elements that made the original so effective, and soliciting great performances from his two young leads. Reeves also expands on several themes from the first film, concerning gender, identity and the perilous terrain of childhood intimacy.

This may all sound rather heavy and artsy, but above all “Let Me In” is a very effective scary movie. Not so much jump-out-of-your-seat scary, although there are some moments in the vein (heh). Instead, the film trades heavily in cold, lingering sensations of eeriness and horror. Watch how Reeves uses a chilly gray-blue color palette to saturate his scenes with icy dread. This director knows how to get under your skin

The Extras: The DVD version features director’s commentary, three short making-of docs, several deleted scenes and a comic book prelude story written by Reeves.

The Bottom Line: A very good horror film with a dead serious approach to vampire mythology.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: Indispensable character actor Richard Jenkins plays the young vampire’s ambiguous adult “guardian.”

 

Quick Picks: Disney’s original animated classic “Alice in Wonderland” gets the old Anniversary Edition treatment, with a ton of great extras. “A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop” is a fun Chinese remake of the Coen brothers’ “Blood Simple.”


Also New This Week: “Never Let Me Go,” “Conviction,” “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2,” “The Tillman Story,” “Mean Girls 2,” “White Wedding,” “Ronald Reagan: An American Journey” and TV-on-DVD sets from “Airwolf,” “I Spy” and BBC series “Garrow’s Law” and “Blue Murder.”

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