DIRECTOR MATT REEVES!
So what do you say friends, are you all about checking out DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES this weekend? If the success of the RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is any indication, yes you are! Such a surprise hit, both critically and commercially, was the 2011 summer blockbuster that it only makes sense to have grand expectations for DAWN - a bigger, bolder and hopefully better sequel. And you know who's helming DAWN OF THE APES, don't you? None other than Matt Reeves, J.J. Abrams' techno-protégé that directed the viral hit CLOVERFIELD back in 2008. Seems like a wise choice for the job, right? Hell yeah it is, and not just because of the big-scale spectacle Reeves is able to deliver, but also for the granular character work he has incorporated in all of his work - both writing and directing - dating back to the mid 90s. Don't believe us? F*ck it, let's go ahead and get clinical by Dissecting the still-budding career of Matt Reeves while the moment is opportune!
Based on the gargantuan cultural and marketing impact it had, not to mention jumpstarting his directorial career in big-budget motion pictures after a period of toiling in TV - CLOVERFIELD has to be considered as Reeves' best work to date. Now that's not to say it's necessarily his finest made film, but when considering the entire package, the ancillary benefits afforded on a personal and professional level after the film was released, it's hard to argue otherwise. Granted, a lot of the viral advertising CLOVERFIELD relied on was due to the producorial genius of J.J. Abrams and company, but still, if we're talking about a movie that profoundly shaped not only the filmmaker's career, but also changed the landscape of online film marketing...yeah, CLOVERFIELD is a wildly successful a double coup in that regard!
Of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't address the aesthetic impact CLOVERFIELD had as well. Using new media like mobiles and camera-phones to document an on-the-fly found-footage storytelling device...CLOVERFIELD really popularized that kind of format in a way that hadn't been done since maybe THE BLAIR WITCH PROEJCT. Difference is the budget. Quite a gamble for Reeves and crew to tackle such a mega-monster-movie in a major metropolitan city like NEW YORK and doing so using a grainy, shaky, hand-held visual motif. And thank goodness it worked!
Well, for the most part it did. The same jarring hand-held techniques that created a frenzied immediacy is the same that created a rash of headaches among moviegoers. Also, too much of a JAWS technique was used, as was the case in the recent GODZILLA redo, where the monster is shown very little until the final third. And as a point of wide release, the flick was rated PG-13 when it could easily have been beefed up in the carnage department to warrant a legit horror movie R-rating. All small critical gripes these are though, many of which forgotten about once Reeves and company turned a $25,000 million budget into a cool $80 million domestically. Payday son!
Yikes! I'd imagine the least we say about Reeves co-creating the schmaltzy WB college girl series Felicity, the better. After-all, this is a goddamn horror site! Pretty shocking actually, to see Reeves so instrumental in the creation of not only a TV series, but one so diametrically opposed to the material he'd become somewhat known for. I mean, only one other credit in Reeves' resume doesn't have some sort of genre tinge, so I suppose that, since he also co-wrote the flick I speak of, we could just as easily call the 1996 romantic comedy THE PAULBEARER as Reeves' worst work to date. But really, I don't want to talk about that pile of shite any more than you want to hear about it. All you need to know is it stars Gwyneth Paltrow and David fucking Schwimmer. 'Nuff said!
So it's then by process of elimination that we arrive at Reeves' very first directorial effort as his weakest. Any of you see the 1994 sci-fi-horror anthology FUTURE SHOCK? Anyone at all? Well, Mr. Reeves happened to helm the segment "Mr. Petrified Forrest," which is about as asinine as it sounds. Granted, the flick somehow secured the presence of Bill Paxton, Brion James and Martin Kove (Sweep the Leg!), but wow, what a listlessly forgotten piece of mid-90s dreck!
Given the limited sample size, it's a bit difficult to pinpoint recurring motifs in Reeves' work. That said, I think what makes the dude such a standout talent is his ability to aptly marry the emotional with the spectacular. CLOVERFIELD and DAWN OF THE APES are no doubt large spectacle event films, yet they never devolve into empty, soulless Michael Bay stylings littered with one-dimensional Gap models who call themselves actors. As displayed in LET ME IN, Reeves seems just as interested in the human side of storytelling, and when he's able to do that at the highest level in conjunction with the large set pieces and rampant visual FX, that's when he's in his wheelhouse. Hell, my man even co-wrote UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY back in 1995, fleshing out the script with enough humanity to attract the likes of Eric Bogosian, Morris Chestnut, Katherine Heigl (as Seagal's daughter), Jonathan Banks (mike from Breaking Bad) and Everett McGill. Okay so it's hardly Chekhov, I just wanted to make damn skippy y'all know that Reeves co-wrote UNDER SIEGE 2. Dude's a pimp like that!
Truth be told, I believe LET ME IN is Matt's finest, most mature movie in his oeuvre. I just wish audiences responded to it the way they did for CLOVERFIELD. Alas, the flick grossed less than $15 million in the states after two weeks in theaters. Not what you're looking for from the masses! That said, LET ME IN - the bittersweet remake of the sterling Swedish vampire tale LET THE RIGHT ONE IN - won all sorts of critical plaudits upon release and in the immediate aftermath. It's a truly wonderful movie, boasting as much heart on its sleeve as it does horror in its celluloid. Much of this has to do with Reeves' delicate script work and tireless effort to make a seamless translation from Swedish to English. Also, the brilliant casting of two relatively unknown child actors who've gone on to do great things - Chloe Grace Moretz and Kodi-Smit McPhee - proved to be one of the major reasons why the movie sang so harmonically.
If you've not seen the flick, first off, shame on you. Secondly, what's so unique about both the original and Reeve's deftly told remake, is how the horror naturally derives out of the character's inherent situation. Nothing feels gratuitous or phony, it doesn't pander to the sensibilities of a rabid horror crowd. Instead, it takes its time telling a movingly emotional tale about a little girl that, despite her own vampiric nature, reaches out and makes a deep personal connection with a human boy her own age. And aside from the gorgeous, slow-burning 70s style cinematography - LET ME IN at once plumbs the depths of a preteen angst film, a tender love story and a vampiric revenge tale. It's a perfectly struck tone between the three subgenres, one I really wish more people tuned in to when it was expressed back in October of '10. Thankfully, through word of mouth and the like, LET ME IN has started to gain the love it deserves!
As you know by now, Reeves is all set to unleash DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES this Friday. Oddly however, it's the first flick since CLOVERFIELD Reeves has directed that he isn't at least credited for writing as well. I wonder how that will turn out, especially considering how Matt has already been announced the man to both write and direct the third APES movie in the franchise, currently untitled. But before we put the horse in front of the carriage on that front, let's rerun what we can expect from DAWN when drops on the 11th. Peep it:
A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth's dominant species."
Sounds killer, right? Thankfully the great Andy Serkis is back to reprise his role as Caesar, getting support from an even more impressive cast this time around, including Gary Oldman, Judy Greer, Jason Clarke and Reeves' old pals Keri Russell (Felicity) and Kodi Smit-Mchee (LET ME IN). With a Meta-score of 90 and a current IMDB rating of 8.8, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES sounds like a sure-thing summertime hit!
Steadily building a two-decade career as both writer and director - through various genres of TV and film - it's safe to say Matt Reeves has earned the right to be a name to keep an eye on right now. We can start immediately this Friday, as DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is likely to run roughshod over the box-office (I still say it should have just been called DAWN OF THE APES). But let's not forget that Matt has been grinding away since 1994, when he co-wrote and directed a leg of horror anthology FUTURE SHOCK. Then, after taking a few more generic writing gigs and eventually meeting J.J. Abrams on Felicity, a show he also co-created, Reeves found mainstream movie success with CLOVERFIELD in '08. But dude's far from a one-hit wonder. After the success of CLOVERFIELD, Reeves wisely dialed it back a notch while refining his talents with the superb remake LET ME IN...likely his most qualified film to date. Here's hoping Reeves keeps the trend moving upward with his newly snatched reins to the APES franchise!