Elias Koteas

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).


The Last Days on Mars (2013, Ruairi Robinson)

The Last Days on Mars is nothing if not bold in what it rips off. Director Robinson and screenwriter Clive Dawson don’t even bother disguising the primary influences–Alien, Aliens, The Thing, Ghosts of Mars–the last one is probably coincidental. You can only do so many stories about zombies on Mars and have it be original.

The film does have extraordinary special effects, great music from Max Richter (who also borrows from the mentioned films in tone, without abject plagiarism) and decent photography from Robbie Ryan . A lot of Mars is set in the dark and Ryan does well giving the audience just enough to see.

Oh, I forgot. Star Trek II. They rip off Star Trek II a little bit.

Sadly, Robinson isn’t even creative enough to turn these lifts from other, very famous science fiction films, which makes them odd choices for such obvious lifts, into a wink to the audience. He fully seems to expect his audience not to have seen a film before this one.

Even if one had never seen a single film before, Mars would still be lame. Robinson’s not just unoriginal when it comes to his compositions, he can’t direct actors and Dawson’s script doesn’t give them anything to do either.

I suppose Liev Schreiber and Romola Garai are okay in the leads. Elias Koteas is good as the captain, Olivia Williams is decent as a determined scientist. None of the acting’s actually bad except Yusra Warsama.

Mars’s just a bad film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ruairi Robinson; screenplay by Clive Dawson, based on a short story by Sydney J. Bounds; director of photography, Robbie Ryan; edited by Peter Lambert; music by Max Richter; production designer, Jon Henson; produced by Andrea Cornwell and Michael Kuhn; released by Magnet Releasing.

Starring Liev Schreiber (Vincent Campbell), Romola Garai (Rebecca Lane), Olivia Williams (Kim Aldrich), Johnny Harris (Robert Irwin), Goran Kostic (Marko Petrovic), Tom Cullen (Richard Harrington), Yusra Warsama (Lauren Dalby) and Elias Koteas (Charles Brunel).


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990, Steve Barron)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles uses Central Park as an establishing shot for an apartment at 11th and Bleecker. I’ll let you Google Map that one.

The film’s worth talking about for four reasons—the amazing animatronics, the editing, the anti-Japanese sentiment and Judith Hoag. It’s also amusing to watch for Sam Rockwell sightings, but that one isn’t so much a discussion point.

For people who care about puppetry and animatronics, the work the Jim Henson workshop does in Turtles is phenomenal. They create five entirely believable creatures. It’s so effective, in fact, I’m glad Josh Pais both did the voice and the costume work for his character… so I can identify him as the film’s worst performance.

There are some terrible performances from the regular actors here, but Pais is atrocious. His characterization seems like a mix between James Cagney and George Jefferson. If Turtles weren’t a stupid movie with a bad script, he’d be the one ruining it.

Switching up the list a bit—Judith Hoag. While Elias Koteas (as her romantic interest) is okay, she’s great opposite all the costumes and animatronic nonsense. She makes the fantastical nature work… at least until her character disappears to give more attention to the lame fight scenes.

The great editing—in the fight scenes and not—makes Turtles mildly tolerable. The anti-Japanese sentiment is bewildering but captivating.

Awful performances from James Saito and Obata Toshirô—the only Japanese actors—don’t help.

Turtles is terrible. Hoag aside, there’s nothing “good.”

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Barron; screenplay by Todd W. Langen and Bobby Herbeck, based on a story by Herbeck and a comic book by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird; director of photography, John Fenner; edited by William D. Gordean, Sally Menke and James R. Symons; music by John Du Prez; production designer, Roy Forge Smith; produced by David Chan, Kim Dawson and Simon Fields; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring David Forman & Brian Tochi (Leonardo), Michelan Sisti & Robbie Rist (Michelangelo), Leif Tilden & Corey Feldman (Donatello), Josh Pais (Raphael), Judith Hoag (April O’Neil), Elias Koteas (Casey Jones), Michael Turney (Danny Pennington), Kevin Clash (Splinter), James Saito (The Shredder), Obata Toshirô (Tatsu), Raymond Serra (Chief Sterns) and Jay Patterson (Charles Pennington).


I Come with the Rain (2008, Tran Ang Hung)

I Come with the Rain is a strange one. I doubt I can even give away how weird without spoiling the… surprise (it’s one of the two surprises to take the problematic but brilliantly made–not shot, bad DV–picture into the dumps). But there’s enough weirdness without spoiling.

First and foremost… the movie’s in English. There’s no reason people can’t speak Chinese to each other and English to top-billed Josh Hartnett. I’m trying to figure out what Hartnett’s doing in this one. I mean, I know Tran’s a well-respected director and Hartnett probably wanted to see Hong Kong and the Philippines, but those aren’t convincing arguments. He does get a couple good monologues and his scenes with Elias Koteas (how did no one realize he’d make a great serial killer before?) are something to see. They’re… singular.

That element of the film, the serial killer investigation trauma, is like Tran decided to make a Manhunter sequel–Manhunter goes to Hong Kong. The Manhunter comparisons go far–down to certain physical realizations of Blake-like painting subjects.

But the movie really belongs to Tran Nu Yên-Khê and Lee Byung-hun. It’s about their relationship, he the vicious gangster, she the heroin addict with the heart of gold. Kimura Takuya has a role about as big as Hartnett’s, but really doesn’t… it’s hard to explain how Kimura works in this one.

Fundamentally, I think Tran’s just got pretentious intentions and can’t lucidly pull them off.

Great music though.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Tran Ang Hung; director of photography, Juan Ruiz Anchía; edited by Mario Battistel; music by Gustavo Santaolalla; production designer, Benoît Barouh; produced by Jean Cazes, Jean-Pierre Marois and Fernando Sulichin; released by TF1 International.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Kline), Tran Nu Yên-Khê (Lili), Lee Byung-hun (Su Dongpo), Kimura Takuya (Shitao), Shawn Yue (Meng Zi), Elias Koteas (Hasford) and Eusebio Poncela (Vargas).


Zodiac (2007, David Fincher)

If Steven Spielberg used to be “the kid who’d never grow up,” I always figured David Fincher would always be “the disaffected teen who never grew up,” which is why Zodiac is so surprising. It’s a mature, thoughtful work, one I wouldn’t have even associated with Fincher if I hadn’t known. It’s calm and thoughtful, opening with the old Paramount and Warner Bros. logos, with a score from David Shire–the goal doesn’t seem to be to emulate a 1970s movie (the hit-heavy soundtrack wouldn’t have happened yet), but to reorient the viewer into that time period. When Fincher gets to the early eighties, he’s got this establishing shot at an airport and a plane takes off and there’s something really beautiful about it. Planes take off, whatever, three a minute and on sunny days, like this day in the film, it probably looks really nice… but I’d spent two and a half hours with the Zodiac killer, so it really jarred me. Made me appreciate Fincher not as an aesthetically pleasing director, which he’d always (ideally) been, but as one who could find the extraordinary in the everyday, which he’d never been.

Zodiac shifts its attention between the crimes, the reporters, and the police. For a while, it’s all the crimes and the reporters and for a while it’s all the crimes and the police. It seems like, at the beginning, it’s going to follow Jake Gyllenhaal–he’ll lead the viewer through the story–but then he disappears and, even before he does, it becomes clear Zodiac‘s not following a character-centered narrative. It’s not even about the effects of obsession on the characters. It shows the effects, but it’s really just a very straightforward narrative–first of the Zodiac killings from the San Francisco Chronicle‘s point of view, then from the investigating inspectors (I love how San Francisco calls them inspectors), then from the book writer (Gyllenhaal) as he does he research. It ought to not work, since that narrative model is mostly gone these days. In some ways, the roving narrative and the music, it reminded me of Summer of Sam while watching it, then I had to correct my interior dialogue not to defame Zodiac with such a comparison.

Of the actors, Ruffalo is the best. He’s first billed, but his character remains the most–not enigmatic or sketchy, but off-center–then he has a little scene towards the end and I realized his story throughout the film occupied a whole layer of the narrative and it was great and he was doing some amazing work. Amazing Ruffalo work is, probably, the best acting there is to be seen anymore. As the Chronicle lacky then book author, Gyllenhaal’s good, maybe even excellent, since the film makes no bones about his character not exactly being relatable. He’s supposed to be a little lame. It’s the closest the film comes to making any judgment on its characters. Robert Downey Jr. really doesn’t have an above the title role, but he’s great when he’s in it, which is no surprise. It’s Anthony Edwards who gives the most surprisingly good performance, just because it’d never occurred to me he could be so good, which has more to do with me… well, no it doesn’t. It has to do with “ER,” but whatever.

I kept having to remind myself during the film, it’s not a good example of modern cinema. I was ready to skip down the street and sing the praises of American filmmaking like it was 1999 or something, then reality kept knocking, so I had to accept I’d just have to get Zodiac on DVD… It’s rather indulgent, I just realized; Fincher submerges the viewer and holds him or her down in that bathtub, not letting them loose until the final epilogue card fades. It’s an unbelievable achievement for him, a significant one for twenty-first century American cinema, and just a lovely experience.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Fincher; written by James Vanderbilt, based on books by Robert Graysmith; director of photography, Harris Savides; edited by Angus Wall; music by David Shire; production designer, Donald Graham Burt; produced by Vanderbilt, Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Bradley J. Fischer and Cean Chaffin; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal (Robert Graysmith), Mark Ruffalo (Inspector Dave Toschi), Robert Downey Jr. (Paul Avery), Anthony Edwards (Inspector Bill Armstrong), Brian Cox (Melvin Belli), Elias Koteas (Sgt. Jack Mulanax) and Chloë Sevigny (Melanie).


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