Category Archives: 2010

Let Me In (2010, Matt Reeves)

Let Me In is ponderously stylized. Director (and screenwriter) Reeves approaches the film–about a twelve year-old boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who befriends the new girl in his apartment complex, also ostensibly twelve years old. Chloë Grace Moretz is the girl. She’s not just a girl, she’s a vampire. Reeves shoots it kind of like “She’s a Vampire, Charlie Brown,” with Smit-McPhee’s always present mom never actually seen (in focus) on screen. It’s similar with the other adults, except Moretz’s keeper (Richard Jenkins in a glorified cameo) and an investigating cop (Elias Koteas). The rest of the adults are mostly shown in long shot; they’re residents in the same apartment complex and Smit-McPhee is a bit of a peeper.

Yes, the distance does help make the audience understand Smit-McPhee’s isolation, but Reeves keeps a big stretch of narrative distance to Smit-McPhee too. Reeves has a distinct angle to Let Me In; look at these things, don’t look at these things. Within those constraints, the film’s an easy success. But those constraints are… really constrained. It’s like a fairytale… but not. It really is like a twisted Charlie Brown TV special. A beautifully made one, with an excellent performance from Moretz. Just no one else. School bully Dylan Minnette is really good. Smit-McPhee is fine. But he’s just got to be slightly creepy and very moody, which makes complete sense since his mom is a pass-out drunk. Not just a pass-out drunk, but also a Jesus freak.

Let Me In is based on a novel (and a Swedish film adaptation of that novel), so who knows how far Reeves wants to stray. But he sets it in 1983 New Mexico, with lots of pop culture references; so he’s definitely willing to stray. Whatever.

Jenkins, in that glorified cameo, might be fine. It’s very hard to say given he doesn’t have many onscreen lines; his most important ones are muffled through the wall, while Smit-McPhee is eavesdropping on his new neighbors. Similarly Koteas might be fine, but he never gets enough of a reaction to what’s going on around him. Person bursts into flames in front of Koteas? He’s great at acting in the crisis of the moment, but there’s no reaction from him.

So I guess the most impressive thing about the film is how Reeves basically has a bunch of caricatures but is able to make it not matter, not the way he’s telling this story.

Good, occasionally over-stylized photography from Greig Fraser. Decent cutting from Stan Salfas. Excellent score from Michael Giacchino. Reeves heavily relies on the photography, editing, and music to get Let Me In done. In almost every scene. Unless it’s with Moretz opposite Smit-McPhee. Those scenes Reeves handles differently, like he trusts the material more. Or he just trusts Moretz more, which is weird since Smit-McPhee’s the protagonist.

He’s just a very distant protagonist.

The movie’s exceptionally well-paced too. The first ninety minutes sail by. There’s a flash forward with Koteas opening the film (and kind of suggesting he might have a real part in the narrative as opposed to being a moveable piece in the plot), then backtracking to introduce Smit-McPhee and his situation. The present but out of focus mom (Cara Buono, who truly shouldn’t have been credited). Then in come Jenkins and Moretz. It all moves real smooth; it helps it’s not clear the opening flash forward isn’t just cutting to the end of the movie too (Koteas showing up in the flashback kind of gives that development away).

Reeves pretends Let Me In can make it just on being some kind of a tone poem and you can sort of pretend along with him (until the third act anyway).

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Matt Reeves; screenplay by Reeves, based on a novel and screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist; director of photography, Greig Fraser; edited by Stan Salfas; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Ford Wheeler; produced by Tobin Armbrust, Alexander Yves Brunner, Guy East, Donna Gigliotti, Carl Molinder, John Nordling, and Simon Oakes; released by Overture Films.

Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee (Owen), Chloë Grace Moretz (Abby), Elias Koteas (detective), Dylan Minnette (Kenny), and Richard Jenkins (guardian).


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Even the Rain (2010, Icíar Bollaín)

Even the Rain has a particular narrative distance as it starts, then changes to another one a little later on. Director Bollaín doesn’t transition gradually between these two vantage points; she keeps the pacing of scenes and how they flow into each other, just from the new distance. The film has an ambitious narrative juxtapositioning to convey, one based somewhat on surface comparisons, but the film succeeds through how Bollaín, writer Paul Laverty, and the cast navigate through that comparison.

The film starts with an introduction to filmmakers Luis Tosar and Gael García Bernal. Tosar is the efficient, callous, cheap producer, García Bernal is the moody, but dedicated director. During the first half of the film, there’s also quite a bit with Cassandra Ciangherotti, who’s along to film a documentary about the movie they’re making. It’s a Christopher Columbus picture, only focusing on the people who realized maybe it was wrong to enslave the native population.

Initially, there’s enough through Ciangherotti’s camera to help Bollaín with that initial narrative distance. It’s a movie about making a movie. There’s the drunken star (Karra Elejalde), who has some trouble learning his lines, but he’s still an astoundingly good actor. Bollaín’s first of many jawdroppingly masterful scenes involves Elejalde immediately going into character during a table read and mesmerizing everyone around him. Including his younger, full of it, costars, played by Raúl Arévalo and Carlos Santos.

The character relationships drive the film through the first act. Tosar and García Bernal, with Ciangherotti a frequent third, have a definite bond, even though the two have completely different ideas about how they should be making the film. Especially given they’re going to be using local native populations as extras.

García Bernal’s casting of one of those natives, Juan Carlos Aduviri, in an important supporting role changes the film in the film’s production, as well as everything else. It turns out Aduviri isn’t just any local, he’s leading the protests against the government’s water privatization.

And instead of his involvement materially affecting García Bernal’s experience, it’s Tosar’s. The first act plays pretty loose with defining one character as a protagonist. It’s like Rain keeps pushing off having to decide and when it finally reveals Tosar in that position, the film ramps up its ambition. Bollaín, Laverty, and Tosar keep aiming higher, making their targets, keep aiming higher. Throughout the second act, the film just impresses more and more….

Then the third act takes it even further. The characters become accutely aware of the juxtaposition of exploited peoples in the sixteenth century and the twenty-first they find themselves in, with most of the cast essaying glamorless shifts in Laverty’s script. Meanwhile, Tosar and Aduviri find themselves reluctantly bound together.

Rain is a phenomenal collaboration between Bollaín, Laverty, and the actors. Bollaín directs the actors through rough introspective, then immediately switches over to gorgeous, epical filmmaking. Alex Catalán’s photography is wondrous, Ángel Hernández Zoido’s editing keeps perfect timing with Bollaín’s pace. Bollaín perfectly combines the overtly cinematic, movie in the movie, movie about making a movie, with the intense character drama.

Tosar’s performance is subtle and overwhelming. Once he gets his first scene to himself, away from Ciangherotti’s video camera, it becomes clear he’s going to be the protagonist sooner or later. With the depth of his performance, he just has to be the lead.

García Bernal’s good, in a very different kind of part from anyone else in the film. He’s sort of a cipher, but for different reasons than Tosar. Tosar reveals himself through his character development, García Bernal reveals himself through the plot progression and his reactions to events. The two are fantastic together, though nothing compared to Tosar and Aduviri.

The only reason Aduviri doesn’t walk off with the film is because it’s not this expansive look at these (real life) water riots. He too remains something of a mystery, but only to Tosar and García Bernal. Aduviri does have the hardest part in the film, just because in his first scene, everyone discusses what he’s going to do in the movie in the movie but due to his nature demeanor, not acting. It sets up the character–and Aduviri’s responsibilities–quite differently from anyone else.

Elejalde is awesome as the drunken, old actor, bringing much needed comic relief. He’s able to defuse tension, both through the part in the script and just how well Elejalde acts it. Because Bollaín knows just how to direct him.

Even the Rain is a spellbinding film. Bollaín and Tosar (and everyone else) do something spectacular.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Icíar Bollaín; written by Paul Laverty; director of photography, Alex Catalán; edited by Ángel Hernández Zoido; music by Alberto Iglesias; produced by Juan Gordon; released by Haut et Court.

Starring Luis Tosar (Costa), Juan Carlos Aduviri (Daniel), Gael García Bernal (Sebastián), Karra Elejalde (Antón), Cassandra Ciangherotti (María), Milena Soliz (Belén), Raúl Arévalo (Juan), Carlos Santos (Alberto), and Leónidas Chiri (Teresa).


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Temple Grandin (2010, Mick Jackson)

The best thing about Temple Grandin is Claire Danes’s performance. She even gets through the parts where she’s thirty playing fifteen. It’s a biopic, there a lot of flashbacks. Director Jackson tries to use a lot of visual transitions for them, but they really succeed because of the teleplay and the performances. To give some credit to Jackson though, it’s not like there’s a lot of de-aging attempts. Temple Grandin’s stylistically simple, but Jackson does seem to understand Danes is the whole show and do everything he can to facilitate her performance.

In a way, having Danes portray the character or is it person when talking about a biopic–anyway. Having her play in the flashbacks forces the viewer to think about the actor, think about her performance. Jackson’s so bland, you’re not even considering it as a creative choice. Instead, the film creates another narrative track. Where’s Danes performance going?

Christopher Monger and Merritt Johnson’s teleplay has a lot of detail, but not a lot of exposition. The information dumps are sudden and big. There’s barely any time spent enjoying or appreciating. It’s functionally fluid, pragmatically plotted.

Then sometime in the second half, after all the flashbacks are done, Julia Ormond–playing Danes’s mother–comes back into the film. Even though Ormond and Danes don’t have any relaxed scenes together for the first third at least, gradually–after Ormond is off-screen for a bit–it becomes clear there’s a similar performance. Danes’s performance is off Ormond’s performance. And then when they’re together more often in the second half, there’s so much more of it to see. It’s really cool and, you know, phenomenal acting.

David Strathairn’s great as Danes’s mentor. Catherine O’Hara’s good as her aunt (and Ormond’s sister). They’re both functional parts, but Strathairn gets a lot more to do. By the second act, O’Hara’s only around to tell Ormond what Danes is doing or not doing. Like I said, it’s a functional film. Very functional.

There aren’t any other standouts in the supporting cast because there aren’t many distinct characters. There are likable caricatures and unlikable ones. No one has a role so much as a function–give Danes something good to play off. And they all do.

Temple Grandin is an superior television biopic. (It’s not TV, it’s HBO). But Danes, Ormond, and even Strathairn and O’Hara could’ve done a lot more if they’d had an ambitious director. Still, Jackson does understand how to showcase his actors. So the performances don’t suffer, they just deserve the same level of filmmaking. And, like any biopic, it helps the real Temple Grandin’s got a terrific life story.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Mick Jackson; teleplay by Christopher Monger and Merritt Johnson, based on books by Temple Grandin and Margaret Scariano; director of photography, Ivan Strasburg; edited by Leo Trombetta; music by Alex Wurman; production designer, Richard Hoover; produced by Scott Ferguson; aired by Home Box Office.

Starring Claire Danes (Temple Grandin), Julia Ormond (Eustacia), David Strathairn (Dr. Carlock), and Catherine O’Hara (Aunt Ann).


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A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010, Samuel Bayer)

Watching A Nightmare on Elm Street, I can’t believe remake director Bayer ever saw any of the original movies. Because he doesn’t even want to borrow the better techniques of those films. He instead goes with a thoughtless approach to the film. Specifically, the dream stuff. He doesn’t have any interest in it. Not just as narrative possibility or narrative tricks to play on the audience, things to get them to think about to get a built-up scare instead of a jump scare. Bayer doesn’t even have interest in the effects. He’s cashing a check and doesn’t have the professionalism to feign interest.

The script’s terrible, but it’s clear Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer are familiar with the original movies. They try to make it more realistic and try to exploit little kids. They succeed with the latter, which makes for an unpleasant viewing experience (though it’s “funny” how prime time procedurals desensitized audiences better than slasher movies ever could have). The script just uses tragedy to fuel the characters because they have nothing else. The film’s universally badly acted, but there’s not a single well-written part.

Also, the script’s arranged poorly. Strick and Heisserer try to show off plot feints, but they’re obvious ones. Maybe if Bayer were doing anything but he’s not, except dressing Katie Cassidy like an eighties Barbie doll. It’s the only time in Nightmare I actually thought Bayer was trying, but I’m not sure. Maybe it was coincidence. Anyway, with the eventual reveal, it’s clear the film should’ve at least had a more natural flow.

So real bad acting from the following–Kellan Lutz, Thomas Dekker, Katie Cassidy. Bad acting but in completely the wrong part from Kyle Gallner and Jackie Earle Haley. These two are exceptionally miscast. It’s kind of hilarious how little anyone actually tried making this movie any good.

And Rooney Mara’s almost okay. She goes from really bad to not as bad to deserving of pity. She and Gallner’s arc is rough going as far as what Mara gets to do with scenes.

There’s no reason a Nightmare on Elm Street remake couldn’t be good. This film’s problems are all ones it intentionally, maliciously and not, brings to the table on its own.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Samuel Bayer; screenplay by Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer, based on a story by Strick and characters created by Wes Craven; director of photography, Jeff Cutter; edited by Glen Scantlebury; music by Steve Jablonsky; production designer, Patrick Lumb; produced by Bradley Fuller, Michael Bay and Andrew Form; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Rooney Mara (Nancy Holbrook), Kyle Gallner (Quentin Smith), Thomas Dekker (Jesse Braun), Katie Cassidy (Kris Fowles), Kellan Lutz (Dean Russell), Lia D. Mortensen (Nora Fowles), Connie Britton (Dr. Gwen Holbrook), Clancy Brown (Alan Smith) and Jackie Earle Haley (Freddy Krueger).


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