“Let The Right One In”
 
            Everyone expects the much-anticipated “Twilight” to be a big hit with the huge U.S. teen market, but the Swedish version managed to get itself released first. ”Lat den Ratta komma in” (“Let The Right One In”) is a reference to (an unwritten?) vampire rule that you have to first invite a vampire into a room before he/she can enter.  Whatever.  Really, this is more of a twisted little children’s fable.  A lonely 12-year-old boy named Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) fantasizes in the snow-filled yard outside his apartment house that he is exacting his revenge on the bullies at school who torment him.  A 12-year-old girl suddenly appears behind him, with no winter clothing, but she claims she’s not cold.  She’s says she’s “more or less” 12.  We later learn that that means she has been 12 for a very long time.  Eli (Lena Leandersson) also seems lonely, and a bit strange.  The two prepubescent misfits seem like a good match for each other, but there are some weird things happening around the neighborhood.  Unexplained violence.  People bewildered about their friends suddenly turning up missing.  Or dead.  So how can we manage a sweet, tender, first-love pre-teen fantasy in the midst of bloody carnage?  Somehow, the foreign-ness helps.  The frozen tundra backdrop.  We realize we are in a strange and different world, and we have no idea what’s going to happen next.  No, it’s not slick Hollywood .  But it’s urban myth done gently.
            “Frost/Nixon” deals with another kind of urban myth:  that Richard Nixon ever admitted any wrongdoing.  Well, he does say “Mistakes were made.”  And he does say that he “let down the American people.”  And he also wallows in the obvious: “My political career is over.”  The context is an extraordinary in-depth interview held after Nixon resigned, and had already begun his exile in San Clemente .  David Frost, a British talk-show host known for his flair for entertainment, but hardly as a heavyweight political commentator, manages to find some funding for a one-on-one with the disgraced former U.S. President.  Of course his handlers are gleeful, that they will finally get the confession out of “Tricky Dick” that they feel the nation was deprived of because of Gerald Ford’s pardon.  Thus, there was no trial, no guilty verdict, no punishment, and no evident remorse.  Nixon, for his part, felt he was letting the right one in.  He seemed to welcome the opportunity to “set the record straight”:  clearly, he thought he could out-maneuver this lightweight Little Lord Fauntleroy in front of him, and thus begins the battle of wits, and agenda-setting, and air-time grabbing.  Yes, they had a contractual agreement, carefully hammered out by their respective advisors beforehand.  But something happened in the course of the interviews; something that caused a strange, unpredictable connection between the two unlikely protagonists.  By the end, Frost is much more unafraid to ask the hard questions.  And Nixon is remarkably candid, at least for him.
It’s a bit of television theater that is now well-preserved for posterity.  Ron Howard’s deft direction , and a stellar supporting cast, give just the right focus to Frank Langella’s tortured portrayal of an anguished man fallen from both power and from grace;  neatly offset by Michael Sheen’s preening, distracted, but not unaware, David Frost.  Anyone who lived through Watergate, and the devaluing both of a President and his office which followed, will be mesmerized by this well-documented reminder that greed begats a multitude of sins.  That’s why there’s a 10th commandment.
            Soul Men” is a fictitious story about a couple of backup singers who enjoyed a brief success in the 1970’s, then faded into obscurity, and now, with the death of their lead singer, are asked to participate in a tribute show at The Apollo Theater in New York.  Sounds like one of those self-indulgent valentines to established actors:  “See, I can really sing, too!  And even dance a little!”
            But “Soul Men” is more than just watching older actors doing expensive karaoke (backup band live, instead of pre-recorded), because they can.  Samuel Jackson and Bernie Mac liven up this tired old plotline into something that begins as raunchy comedy, morphs into transformational road trip, and ends with a sappy tribute.  Along the way, they fight about their tumultuous past, and finally come to terms with it, but they really make progress when they let the right one in to their relationship.  Yes, this turned out to be Bernie Mac’s last show, as he died unexpectedly just after filming.  And after the credits, they really do a kind of eulogy/tribute.  But the movie in the middle has more substance than expected, as well.
 
Questions For Discussion:
1)      Why do vampire tales persist in our culture?
2)      What did you think of Nixon while he was in office?  Has your opinion changed since then?
3)      When have you “let the right one in” to your life?
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas