Overture Films

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).


Brooklyn’s Finest (2009, Antoine Fuqua)

When Richard Gere gives the best lead performance in a film, it’s definitely a problem. Gere doesn’t bring any gravitas to this role–a retiring police officer–and, when it gets to his redemption, it’s not clear why he needs redeeming. The film calls him a failure a lot, but it’s never clear why he’s a failure, especially when he’s being juxtaposed against two dirty cops.

Don Cheadle’s at least an undercover cop who’s experiencing morality qualms as his superiors support one drug dealer over another, but Ethan Hawke’s just a scumbag. The film loves to use Catholic as an excuse for anything, like why Hawke and Lili Taylor have an endless supply of kids, one for whenever the film needs to emphasis Hawke’s money troubles.

Fuqua manages to keep Brooklyn’s Finest on schedule, if not on track. His Panavision composition doesn’t fail and, for a time, it seems like the film might squeak out one honest moment (the script’s a collection of movie cliches). But every opportunity it has, it squanders–most of these opportunities go to top-billed, non-lead Gere, whose story has at least two threads left unfinished, though only one of them really deserves any attention.

The supporting cast–Vincent D’Onofrio has a great cameo–is weak. Will Patton’s terrible, as is Ellen Barkin. Wesley Snipes plays a caricature, but is better than most of those around him (surprising since they’re all “Wire” alums).

Too bad they didn’t hire a “Wire” writer for a rewrite.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Antoine Fuqua; written by Michael C. Martin; director of photography, Patrick Murguia; edited by Barbara Tulliver; music by Marcelo Zarvos; production designer, Thérèse DePrez; produced by John Thompson, Elie Cohn, John Langley, Basil Iwanyk and Avi Lerner; released by Overture Films.

Starring Richard Gere (Eddie), Don Cheadle (Tango), Ethan Hawke (Sal), Wesley Snipes (Caz), Jesse Williams (Eddie Quinlan), Will Patton (Lieutenant Hobarts), Lili Taylor (Angela), Shannon Kane (Chantel), Brian F. O’Byrne (Ronny Rosario), Michael K. Williams (Red) and Ellen Barkin (Agent Smith).


The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009, Grant Heslov)

The Men Who Stare at Goats, as a film about men–their relationships with each other, in an Iron John sort of way–comes up lacking. There really isn’t any personality in the friendship between Ewan McGregor and George Clooney and there would have to be for it to work. In a lot of ways, Goats is McGregor’s worst performance. He’s totally and completely passive. There might also be something about a Scot playing an American in a movie about Americans torturing people. And goats. Can’t forget the goats.

But as a smart comedy, the film’s fantastic. Clooney turns in a great comedic performance, this time retaining some of his charm (in a non-ironic way). Jeff Bridges does some great work in one of the smaller roles, as does Kevin Spacey. Spacey’s something of a surprise, because he apparently found the sense of humor he so desperately needed as Lex Luthor. It’s his best performance in many years.

There’s a sort of running meta-joke of McGregor having played a Jedi in a film where they call the good guys Jedi. It’s never really funny because it’s impossible to think of McGregor in those terms. He’s not iconic from the Star Wars prequels. In fact, I kept wishing Clooney had played Batman like he plays these roles.

Heslov’s a good intelligent comedy director. It’s a little unfortunate there’s nothing else to it, but who cares? It’s a thinking person’s popcorn movie, which is fine. It’s a genre in need.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Grant Heslov; screenplay by Peter Straughan, based on the book by Jon Ronson; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Tatiana S. Riegel; music by Rolfe Kent; production designer, Sharon Seymour; produced by George Clooney, Heslov and Paul Lister; released by Overture Films.

Starring George Clooney (Lyn Cassady), Ewan McGregor (Bob Wilton), Jeff Bridges (Bill Django), Kevin Spacey (Larry Hooper), Stephen Lang (Brigadier General Hopgood), Nick Offerman (Scotty Mercer), Tim Griffin (Tim Kootz), Waleed F. Zuaiter (Mahmud Daash), Robert Patrick (Todd Nixon) and Rebecca Mader (Deborah Wilton).


Pandorum (2009, Christian Alvart)

A lot of Pandorum is the best thing producers Jeremy Bolt and Paul W.S. Anderson have ever had their names on. It falls apart, after a weak open no less, at the end. The very end. It reminded me of Outland, the exit is so stupid. It totally invalidates the trials the protagonists went through for two hours. Very disappointing.

The film takes forever to get going–I think it’s about a half hour in before we hear anyone talk besides Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster.

Foster manages to apply his acting skills to what’s either a lame action hero role or a miscast character actor role. He turns it into something special, a self-reflective protagonist. He’s excellent.

Quaid’s good too, especially considering he spends most of his time talking into a radio to Foster.

What’s so nice about Pandorum, which is really just a b sci-fi movie made with modern special effects (in Panavision), is how it manages to actually have a surprise ending. It doesn’t set it up at all, it doesn’t hint at it at all–there’s some diversion going on, but the diversion seems a lot like it’s going to be the surprise ending. It’s great. Then it goes to pot with the exit.

There are some good supporting performances–Antje Traue and Eddie Rouse in particular. The only bad performance is Cam Gigandet, who’s just godawful.

Alvart’s direction is fine, but someone like John Carpenter probably could have done wonders with the script.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Christian Alvart; screenplay by Travis Milloy, based on a story by Milloy and Alvart; director of photography, Wedigo von Schultzendorff; edited by Philipp Stahl and Yvonne Valdez; music by Michl Britsch; production designer, Richard Bridgland; produced by Paul W.S. Anderson, Jeremy Bolt, Robert Kulzer and Martin Moszkowicz; released by Overture Films.

Starring Dennis Quaid (Payton), Ben Foster (Bower), Cam Gigandet (Gallo), Antje Traue (Nadia), Cung Le (Manh), Eddie Rouse (Leland) and Norman Reedus (Shepard).


Traitor (2008, Jeffrey Nachmanoff)

Traitor is the Superman IV of terrorism movies. I suppose I need to explain. I think Tom Mankiewicz once told Christopher Reeve you couldn’t have Superman messing around with the real world. Traitor is a Hollywood terrorism movie–in the vein of Telefon, The Assignment, Nighthawks or even The Jackal–except it takes 9/11 into account. The result is a goofy concoction–one I’m sure the filmmakers think is well-intentioned, but comes off as one of the most xenophobic things I’ve seen in a long time.

Simply put, in the world of Traitor, all Muslims–except one or two–are terrorists ready to kill innocent children, even if they have innocent children of their own. These Muslims tend to be Middle Eastern–Traitor has a ludicrous sleeper cell plot point with a female suicide bomber who would have been inserted long before women became suicide bombers–but there’s also a couple Africans. Not African-Americans, who the film has an awkward relationship with, but African immigrants. Not to be pointing fingers at writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff, but I think Louis Farrakhan would have done a much more even-handed tale of a black American Muslim who discovers himself (working for the U.S. in Afghanistan in the 1980s with Osama Bin Laden no less) and finds his Middle Eastern brothers a little confused when it comes to the articles of faith.

As for the film’s approach to religion… another pitfall. It really tries hard in some ways, but it can’t escape its active contention (i.e. ninety-three percent of Muslims are heartless, unthinking mass murderers–worse, they all dream of some day getting to be mass murderers), so it’s laughable in the end. But there’s a lot to laugh at in Traitor, starting with its handling of the FBI.

Since 9/11, common knowledge of what American intelligence agencies do has skyrocketed. So when FBI agents Guy Pearce (he’s an Arabic languages PhD who couldn’t find another job… really) and Neal McDonough (he’s a big tough mean agent, who doesn’t know his partner is a PhD) wing around the world–Yemen, France, Canada, maybe England–it seems somewhat unrealistic. They don’t appear to have a boss, either.

Pearce’s performance is somehow good and somehow not. Technically, it’s a great performance, but the character’s so insanely stupid it’s hard to take him seriously. McDonough is bad. Cheadle’s decent–I kept wondering what the filmmakers would have done if they hadn’t signed him–if bland. As the only Arab terrorist with any elements of humanity, Saïd Taghmaoui is amazing–he gives the film’s best performance and if it’d been about him, it would have been something. As the heartless terrorist–who doesn’t even follow Islam’s basic tenets–Alyy Khan is awful. The rest of the cast is, generally, fine.

The first twenty or thirty minutes of Traitor is good. Until the last couple scenes, it’s on a steady decline but it takes a huge plunge at the end.

Nachmanoff’s direction is better than his writing–it’s fun to see them work cross-purpose. Nachmanoff goes the steady-cam route here (for realism, I’m sure), but he’s got tons of goofy Hollywood dialogue.

And Mark Kilian’s music is good. So good I’m surprised I don’t know his name.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff; screenplay by Nachmanoff, based on a story by Steve Martin and Jeffrey Nachmanoff; director of photography, J. Michael Muro; edited by Billy Fox; music by Mark Kilian; production designer, Laurence Bennett; produced by Don Cheadle, David Hoberman, Kay Liberman, Todd Lieberman, Chris McGurk, Danny Rosett and Jeffrey Silver; released by Overture Films.

Starring Don Cheadle (Samir Horn), Guy Pearce (Roy Clayton), Saïd Taghmaoui (Omar), Neal McDonough (Max Archer), Alyy Khan (Fareed Mansour), Archie Panjabi (Chandra Dawkin) and Jeff Daniels (Carter).


Righteous Kill (2008, Jon Avnet)

I don’t know when I first realized De Niro and Pacino had never been in a movie together (really together)–it was long before Heat; their pairing doesn’t exactly seem obvious (both were always leading men), but something about their acting pedigree just made it seem natural. For example, Pacino’s never made a film with Scorsese and nothing feels off about it. Righteous Kill is a kind of passive movie event, thirteen years after Heat, thirty-four after The Godfather: Part II. Is there a reason for another pairing? No. Does anything substantive come out of this one? No. Is there a good reason for using rhetorical questions? Well, I’m trying to stay positive.

The big problem with Righteous Kill is the script. Russell Gewirtz manages a surprise ending–one very similar, actually, in form to his Inside Man ending–but there’s nothing in between. The perfect screenwriter for Kill is, as I think about it, Richard Price. He would have done the aging detective (something Gewirtz avoids in one of the script’s stupider moves), he would have done the New York setting (something else Gewirtz avoids–I’m amazed none of the movie shot in Canada), and he would have done an actual mystery. Gewirtz’s trick ending depends on a narrative with a constant absence of suspense (Jon Avnet being a wonderful directorial accomplice for that feature). The trick ending’s kind of neat, the way Gewirtz pulls it off and all, but it’s still a hollow gimmick ending. The movie has no meat to it, which might be the point. Righteous Kill was rumored to be headed straight-to-DVD and there’s nothing about it, past the leads, to make it special. Avnet shoots it 2.35:1, but it’s Super 35… so they could have just as easily printed it for anamorphic DVD.

With the script so failing–it’s amusing in parts, but most of my time was spent trying to imagine how I’d experience if they’d just told a straight story–there’s not much the cast can do with it. De Niro phones in his typical performance and Pacino phones in his. They’re in the same room, both on the phone at the same time, but there’s no reference to their pairing and the novelty of it. Had they referenced Godfather and Heat, at least the self-awareness would earn them some slack. Of the two, Pacino has more visible fun. De Niro’s can’t hide his boredom.

The supporting cast, which seems great, really isn’t. Carla Gugino is goofy in the kind of role she always plays now. Both John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg are good. Brian Dennehy doesn’t work, mostly for the same age problems De Niro and Pacino have… it’s never believable these guys are still just detectives. The movie doesn’t acknowledge their age.

Alan Rosenberg shows up for a second and is, unfortunately, unimpressive. In a similarly small role, Melissa Leo is good. Trilby Glover is good in a small part… but Gewirtz neglects the character after a while.

With the last Pacino and Avnet pairing–88 Minutes–I bemoaned the state of Pacino’s career (I just hadn’t been seeing enough of his recent stuff, I’m sure). Righteous Kill will now be another bewildering entry on both he and De Niro’s filmographies. I keep thinking it should have been good (or better), but maybe not. Pacino and De Niro as old cops… eh.

If Price was busy, what about Mamet? Mamet could have directed too.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Avnet; written by Russell Gewirtz; director of photography, Denis Lenoir; edited by Paul Hirsch; music by Ed Shearmur; production designer, Tracey Gallacher; produced by Avnet, Avi Lerner, Boaz Davidson, Randall Emmett, Daniel M. Rosenberg, Alexandra Milchan, Rob Cowan and Lati Grobman; released by Overture Films.

Starring Robert De Niro (Turk), Al Pacino (Rooster), Curtis Jackson (Spider), Carla Gugino (Karen Corelli), John Leguizamo (Detective Perez), Donnie Wahlberg (Detective Riley), Brian Dennehy (Lieutenant Hingis), Trilby Glover (Jessica), Saidah Arrika Ekulona (Gwen Darvis), Alan Rosenberg (Stein), Sterling K. Brown (Rogers), Barry Primus (Prosky), Melissa Leo (Cheryl Brooks), Alan Blumenfeld (Martin Baum) and Oleg Taktarov (Yevgeny Mugalat).


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