INTERVIEW with Matt Reeves

Remaking a beloved film can be a risky proposition. Just ask the guys who remade “Planet of the Apes” or “Psycho”. And if Tim Burton and Gus Van Zant have trouble pulling those off, just imagine how nervous director Matt Reeves was remaking the more recent international hit, Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In” into “Let Me In”, which has its highly-anticipated debut this week. While it might be an obscure Swedish horror film to some, since its release in 2008 Let the Right One In has become a cult classic among the fanboys. (It also won the Founders Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.)

However, any misgivings Reeves might have had going into the project were assuaged once he read the original novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. It was a story to which he immediately related and one which he understood to be a love story at its core; one not wholly unlike the play that his film’s main character Owen is reading for school, Romeo and Juliet.

We were delighted to sit down with Reeves this week and discuss the risks of remaking a film, casting his young leads (Chloe Moretz as Abby and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen), and how he unexpectedly ended up relating more to the story than he anticipated.

Tribeca: Whenever a filmmaker remakes a popular film, they’re going to be under some fire.  Was this something that concerned you going into “Let Me In”?

Matt Reeves: Yeah, of course. I saw “Let The Right One In” in January of 2008, right as Cloverfield came out. I was at a distributor about another project I was trying to get made. They asked me to look at Alfedson’s film because they were interested in remaking it. They weren’t so interested in the film I was bringing to them. I said, “I don’t know that I’m really that interested in doing a remake.” Then I watched the movie, and I was totally blown away. I literally called them up the next morning and said, “You know, that is a great movie. I don’t know that you need to remake it.” They said, “Yeah, but we really want an opportunity for it to get to a larger audience because not everyone will see a foreign-language film.”  All this was even before the original had even come out.

Then I read John Lindkvist’s novel, and I really fell in love with the story. I wondered if there was somewhere new to take this. And so, without in any way trying to step on the toes of the original, I began to think about how to translate it to an American landscape.

Tribeca: What was it about Lindqvist’s book that inspired you?

MR: Well, I saw the book was really about Lindqvist’s own childhood. He grew up in Sweden in the ’80s around the same time I grew up in the U.S. And I wondered if there was a way to build on that concept. So I embarked on a screenplay but, again, this was all before the acclaim of the first movie. Then when the original came out in the United States in October 2008, by which time I had already finished my first draft, I thought, “Oh my gosh, what have I done?”

Tribeca: Panic set in?

MR: Momentarily. Then I thought, well, it’s a great movie, of course people are going to love it. I had to remember to just keep my head down and remember that I’m a fan and I love this story. It was a labor of love. We weren’t making a big budget retread. This is a Hammer Film.

Tribeca: Did you have any contact with Lindqvist during the process of writing the screenplay?

MR: I actually wrote to him and explained why I wanted to make the movie. I wrote that not only is it a great genre story—which it is—but more so because I connected to the coming-of-age story which is at the heart of the book.

He actually wrote back, and he was very kind. He wrote that he was actually excited when he heard that I would be making the film because he really liked “Cloverfield”. He said, it was a fresh spin on a very old tale, which was just what he was trying to do with the vampire myth in Let the Right One In. He was happy that I got the personal side of the story, because it really was a tale of his childhood.

Tribeca: So, you bonded?

MR: Yeah, we bonded. He was very supportive throughout. He offered to help while I was adapting the script, to call him if I had any questions, which I took him up on. He was a very generous resource. I went to SXSW and spoke about the movie right after we stopped shooting. There were a lot of skeptics there, and I was answering some questions on a panel. [Lindqvist] sent me an e-mail, and it said, “You know, I had faith in you in the beginning, and hearing you speak I have faith still.” So, I hope he likes the movie.

Tribeca: Let Me In is not strictly a horror movie. The horror is there, obviously, but like Mark Romanek’s “Never Let Me Go”, the genre elements are very integrated into the film. Your film certainly has its share of blood and gore, but if you think about it, it’s really a love story.

A major example of this is Abby’s guardian, played by Richard Jenkins. His actions, no matter how horrific, are born out of a deep sense of love for Abby. Even the villain of the movie, the bully Kenny (Dylan Minnette), seems to carry the scars of not having been loved enough.

MR: Absolutely. While all these characters are doing these terrible things, there’s an attempt to understand the humanity. And I do think that’s true for the bully, too. And that’s why I cast Dylan Minnette. It was hard casting that role because I didn’t want someone who was one-note. I mean, he was certainly cruel, and I know that people will hate him. But the cruelty was stemming from some level of pain. You wonder, what is wrong with this kid?

Tribeca: And Owen is reading the iconic love story of all time throughout the movie.

MR: Exactly. That’s in the book, by the way. There are many references to Romeo and Juliet. It’s the perfect metaphor for Abby and Owen’s relationship: an ill-fated love story.

Tribeca: Let’s talk about the casting. The casting of Kodi and Chloe is what really elevates the film.

MR: I agree completely. I always felt the pressure to make this movie worthy of the Lindqvist’s novel.  When I found the two of them, I felt relieved. They impressed me in such a deep way. I hadn’t had the opportunity to see “The Road” [Kodi’s first role] or “Kick-Ass” [Chloe’s recent hit film]. Nobody could show them to me, [but] both directors spoke very highly of them. Kodi came in and read the scene from where he was on the phone call with his father. It was a very challenging scene, very emotional. I was worried about it being melodramatic. But he was so real, I was just blown away. Also, the kids in the original were so good, I felt the added pressure to cast actors who were as good.

Tribeca: Were you ever concerned that the subject matter was just too intense for the young actors?

MR: As you mentioned, the horror part of is just contextual. We didn’t focus on that. It was really an adult story and the emotional complexities that falls on two 12-year-olds. Who could do that? Kodi and Chloe did, and that was very exciting to see. They hadn’t had an opportunity to meet before filming started, but I had a feeling they would have chemistry. And during rehearsals they really connected.

Then I ended up shooting all of the jungle gym scenes, which is most of the central arc of their story. I shot those scenes in the first three weeks, because I figured I could shoot them as they were really just meeting each other for the most part and getting closer. And I knew that at the end of those three weeks we’d have the potential that this movie could really be something or we’d be in real trouble. I was very excited at the end of those three weeks.

film review: FREAKONOMICS

Based on the book by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Directed by Alex Gibney, Rachel Grady & Heidi Ewing, Seth Gordon, Eugene Jarecki & Morgan Spurlock
Executive Producer: Seth Gordon
Magnolia Pictures
93 minutes. USA.

[Article originally appeared:]

When one thinks back on the omnibus movie format, such classics as “New York Stories” or “Coffee & Cigarettes” will usually come to mind. Well, now the documentary form gets the treatment with “Freakonomics”.  The outcome is a fairly enjoyable albeit slick treatment, not so surprising considering the blue chip doc directors involved. Anyone who read the best selling non-fiction book from which the movie is adapted, and which includes its two co-authors, rogue economist Steven D. Levitt and the journalist Stephen J. Dubner, braiding together its five segments (directed by the film’s executive producer, Seth Gordon) will be in familiar terrain.

This reviewer had the opportunity to listen to the audio book on a cross-country trip some years ago and, as a result, felt a sense of déjà-vu watching the documentary. This is probably the result of Gordon’s loyalty to the book, a wise thing considering what a phenomena it has become. Doubtless, the viewer will feel they are in quite capable hands.

Filmmaker Morgan Spulock; photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) covers the first chapter called A Roshanda By Any Other Name. He carefully, and successfully, manages to navigate the class and race-sensitive issue of whether names can impact a person’s future.

Next up, Oscar-winner Alex Gibney (“Taxi to the Dark Side”) gets the meatiest segment with Pure Corruption. Drawing a correlation between Wall Street corruption and the seedy underbelly of the sumo wrestling culture in Japan, Gibney’s chapter is quite watchable. Read more

film review: NEVER LET ME GO

Directed by Mark Romanek
Produced by Andrew MacDonald & Allon Reich Written by Alex Garland, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro
Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures
UK/USA. 103 min. Rated R
With Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley, Charlotte Rampling & Sally Hawkins

Director Mark Romanek’s new film, adapted from the best-selling novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, is a science fiction film that feels like anything but a science fiction film. So integrated are its unfolding futuristic plot elements that it comes across more like a romantic thriller. Yet those points, essential to the story line, make it difficult to review the film without giving away its pivotal secrets. Nevertheless, we will forge ahead trying to minimize the spoilers.

At Hailsham, a boarding house in England, students are raised for a very particular purpose. In the film’s early scenes, the young naives at its center are ignorant to that which makes them so special. When the startling news is finally delivered by a new and sympathetic teacher, the young charges accept the information without blinking an eye. They accept their fate. However, the divulging teacher (Sally Hawkins from Happy-Go-Lucky) is promptly sacked by the school’s icy headmistress, Ms. Emily, played by the always reliable Charlotte Rampling. But as far as the children are concerned, the notion of otherness is completely foreign. They only know what they they’ve been taught, being so secluded from the modern world outside the school’s gates.

l to r: Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly & Andrew Garfield; photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight

The film mostly focuses on the love triangle involving Kathy (Carey Mulligan), her best friends Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield). As first portrayed by child actors, we first see the budding romance between taciturn Kathy and a simmering Tommy (he’s prone to fits of rage). Jealous of their affection, Ruth intervenes, and taking advantage of Tommy’s neediness, she steals him from the naïve and trusting Kathy. Read more

film review: JACK GOES BOATING

Directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman
Produced by Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub, Beth O’Neil & Emily Ziff
Written by Bob Glaudini, based on his play
Released by Overture Films
USA. 91 min. Rated R
With Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Ortiz, Amy Ryan, Daphne Rubin-Vega & Tom McCarthy

[Article originally appeared:]

Oh, the very thought of Philip Seymour Hoffman finally at the directorial helm. Critics piled into the screening room, nary an empty seat to be seen. That one of America’s finest and most respected stage and screen actors was releasing something under his own imprimatur was most highly anticipated. The results are an uneven film, but one with gusto and flair. If only he hadn’t acted in it. His portrayal of Jack, a lonely sad sack limo driver who gets his first chance at love, is Hoffman’s most understated… or, more accurately, most under-performed role yet. And if you saw him in either Love Liza or Owning Mahowny, you might wonder how this is possible. It is.

Jack’s only friends are Clyde (John Ortiz), a fellow limo New York City driver, and his girlfriend, Lucy (Daphne Rubin-Vega), a dynamo in heels. The couple obviously cares a great deal for Jack and opens their apartment to him for regular dinners, where Jack has settled in comfortably as the third wheel. That is until a setup with Connie (Amy Ryan), a new hire at Lucy’s office, over Chinese at their apartment. An eclectic collection of neuroses, Connie notes in Jack something she can trust, which catches Jack off guard. After he walks with Connie in the snow to hail a cab, she divulges her desire to go boating in Central Park—in the summer. Jack agrees to that and awkwardly asks her for a subsequent dinner date, which Connie mistakes for an offer to make her dinner. Rather than admit that he has no culinary skills whatsoever, Jack takes up an offer of taking cooking lessons from a chef at the Waldorf, a man who also happens to play a role in Lucy and Clyde’s eroding relationship. Meanwhile, Clyde decides to make teaching Jack how to swim his own personal project. If Jack can get over his terror of drowning, he can take Connie for that boat ride in Central Park. It appears that the idea Connie planted in his mind represents so much more to Jack. Read more

film review: ENTER THE VOID

Directed & Written by Gaspar Noé
Written by Gaspar Noé and Lucile Hadzihalilovic
Director of Photography: Benoit Debie
Camera Work by Gaspar Noé
Edited by Gaspar Noé
Cast: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy & Oly Alexander
IFC Films, 137 minutes, France

[Article originally appeared:]

Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) is a petty drug dealer and consumer, a young American living in Tokyo. His younger sister, Linda (Paz de la Huerta) has recently joined him there after a period of estrangement.

Most of Gaspar Noé’s latest film, “Entering the Void”, is told from Oscar’s perspective. In the film’s first segment, the camera is Oscar’s eyes, something which recalls Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and The Butterfly” (2007). Then the camera becomes a window into Oscar’s brain as he experiences a psychedelic trip, interrupted by a business call that requires him to run to a local club called The Void. What takes place in the club sets the rest of the story into action.

Director Gaspar Noé at Lincoln Center; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2011

Like Noé’s “Irreversible” (2002), a much grislier film to be sure, “Enter the Void”, too, plays with time. The camera/Oscar glides through the city of Tokyo, hovering one moment, swooping the next, as it ties all the history of that which brought Oscar to this moment. Noé’s camera is the ghost of Christmas past, present, and future in a Dickensian tale only appropriate in this new global age of filmmaking. And the reference to Dickens is not at all arbitrary. Read more