Dear Zachary earns its right to engage us on a primal level, but it comes on the heels of so many films that don’t, movies that exploit the deaths of kids to prey on modern fears and inflate third-rate material to the plane of tragedy. The only defense is to harden ourselves and cultivate cynicism: “Ho-hum, another dead-child movie.” I don’t want to be that person. Do you?
It is perversely gratifying in this climate to watch a child prey on grown-ups, even if that involves ripping open jugulars and chug-a-lugging blood. Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In is a delightful mix of high and low: It’s a genuine genre vampire picture; and it’s Swedish, winter-lit, Bergmanesque. A lonely, beleaguered-by-bullies blond boy has a new neighbor in his apartment complex, a darkish girl of rather ambiguous sexuality and even more ambiguous humanity. She is also subject to deep tummy rumbles that trigger feral outbursts. In their like estrangement from the world, they bond. A gay-outsider metaphor? Maybe. Doesn’t matter. The emotional climate is authentic, while the killings are nice and splattery. Swedish vampires are such a natural I’m surprised there haven’t been more. True, everyone looks anemic, but the winter nights are long, and you gotta love the way they all say bluude.
Jean-Claude Van Damme goes arty—and meta—in JCVD. He plays himself, past his prime, impoverished by alimony and child support, back in Belgium to recover his human equilibrium—and suddenly caught up in a hostage situation in a bank. Van Damme largely sits there, helpless, while people wait for him to do something heroic. At one point, he delivers a long, tortured soliloquy about his alienating stardom to the camera in a single take. It’s the most amazing piece of acting I’ve ever seen by a martial artist. But the film itself doesn’t rise above the level of a good try. For no clear reason, director Mabrouk El Mechri has drained off the color; the brownish-yellow palette is not just hard on the eyes, it reinforces the monotony. In the absence of Godardian wit, JCVD needs more kickboxing.