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Knight at the Movies: Hereafter; DVD round-up; film note
by Richard Knight, Jr.
2010-10-20

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Clint Eastwood's movies have become ubiquitous entries in the annual year-end Oscar derby. And the weighty Hereafter—with its serious subject matter ( communing with the dead Over There ) ; serious leading actor ( Matt Damon ) ; and serious, large-scale approach—is his latest contender. But the result, from a convoluted script by Peter Morgan ( The Queen, Frost/Nixon ) and directed by Eastwood in his signature, stultifying pace, is a leaden mess. Filled with promising elements, wonderful actors and occasional bright spots, Hereafter is ultimately nebulous and mundane—so empty-headed and pretentious that it collapses under its own "prestigious" weight.

The movie's best sequence comes right out of the gate: Marie, a gorgeous French TV journalist ( Cecile De France ) and Didier, her equally gorgeous French hottie boyfriend/producer ( Thierry Neuvic ) , are caught in a devastating tsunami ( captured by Eastwood in true Irwin Allen disaster style ) . Marie momentarily drowns, glimpsing the hereafter; upon her return to France, she begins to experience flashbacks of what she encountered. Meanwhile, in the United States, a renowned psychic named George Lonegan ( Damon ) has renounced his abilities to hear messages from the dead and is trying to make a new life for himself. But his brother ( Jay Mohr ) only sees dollar signs and won't let him. Finally, one of a pair of cockney English twins is tragically killed in an accident and his surviving brother, Marcus ( Frankie McLaren ) , won't rest until he connects with his brother "on the other side."

Eventually, of course, all three of these stories will connect, but Morgan's script and Eastwood's glacial pacing won't find that happening until long after the 100-minute mark—long after any interest in these characters who are haunted by their connection to the "other side" has evaporated like so much ectoplasm.

The bulk of the blame goes to Morgan's script, which promises a lot more than it delivers. Weld that to Eastwood's bland direction and the result is a movie consciously reaching for "greatness" and falling far off the mark. This "we're all connected under the skin" stuff worked wondrously in a movie like Babel but Eastwood's flinty, no-nonsense approach has none of the lyricism that director Alejandro González Iñárritu unforgettably displayed in that marvelous film. Eastwood resorts to visual metaphors ( claps of thunder arrive on cue each time something momentous is about to happen ) , lets scenes run on too long and, worst, persists in writing yet another of his wooden, signature music scores ( single notes plucked out on piano or guitar ) for a movie that desperately needs a film composer with musical versatility and passion. ( Rarely has a score irritated me as much as this one has. )

In the end, Hereafter is just so much smoke and mirrors, and has the same effect as an encounter with a phony physic—it keeps delivering just enough to tantalize you, never has a real payoff and eventually makes you realize with sadness and/or anger that you've been conned. What a lot of hooey.

DVD round-up:

Two of my favorite films this year—the sumptuous I Am Love, a collaboration between star/producer Tilda Swinton and director/co-screenwriter Luca Guadagnino, and the thrilling sci-fi horror movie Splice, which stars Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley—are out on DVD and will be of interest to queer movie fans. The first, a masterpiece of sensuality set in Italy, features a lesbian character and plenty of homoerotic subtext—both integral to the tragic, melodramatic outcome of the film. In the second, Brody, Polley and Delphine Chanéac ( as Dren, the hybrid human-animal creation ) pull off a gender-bending high-wire act under the inspired direction of Vincenzo Natali ( who co-wrote the script ) that has to be seen ( and reveled in ) to be believed. Both films signal the arrival of bold, enthralling filmmaking talents to be reckoned with.

For fans of classics, the Warner Archives' DVD on Demand service is giving us the long-requested A Stolen Life. This 1946 plot-boiler features Bette Davis as twins ( one saintly, one nasty as hell ) and handsome young Glenn Ford for them to fight over. Consistently over the top, the movie's an entertaining women's picture that marked the first and last time Davis took a hand in producing her own films. The Warner Archive has also released the 1971 black-comedy murder mystery Pretty Maids All In A Row, starring the late gay movie star Rock Hudson as a married high school athletic coach who has flings with several of his comely, female students and resorts to murder when his wanton ways become threatened. Angie Dickinson plays a substitute teacher who has a fling of her own; the Osmonds sing the theme song; Telly Savalas plays a detective; and James Doohan ( "Star Trek's" Scotty ) and Roddy McDowall are in the supporting cast. Only in the '70s! ( Get those orders in quickly to www.warnerarchive.com for a copy autographed by Dickinson. )

Prince of Persia, one of last summer's semi-successful action blockbusters, is out on DVD and Blu-ray. Though it's not as entertaining as its Arabian Nights movie forebears, there's enough diverting action and special effects—not to mention the sight of the buffed-up Jake Gyllenhaal, sporting plenty of muscle along with a pretty good British accent—to make this okay action movie worth seeing.

Film note:

It's fall in Chicago, which means film festivals—and one of the largest is the Chicago International Children's Film Festival. Kicking off Oct. 22 and running through Oct. 31, this year's lineup is the largest in the fest's history—a whopping 270 movies ( representing 40 countries and including 90 Chicago premieres ) . Don't let that number overwhelm you—many of the entries in the fest are cartoon-length shorts programmed together as in the Friday, Oct. 22, opening-night program at Thorne Auditorium, 375 E. Chicago, that kicks off at 6 p.m. and features seven short films hosted by WTTW's Geoffrey Baer along with entertainment by Radio Disney's Party Patrol.

More than 100 filmmakers will attend the festival, which in addition to screenings will include lots of kid-friendly workshops and activities. Movies for children of all ages ( from 2 through 13+ ) which will screen at a variety of Chicago venues, including the Center on Halsted. Complete festival information is available at 773-281-9075 or http://www.facets.org/kids.

Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter website.


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