We tried to find an economical way to cover all the films that needed to be discussed this week, but somehow talking about a movie where Matt Damon takes a racing plane up to the sixth moon of Jupiter to discover that Jody Foster is the illegitimate daughter of Greek gods who’s fighting zombies who have been crafting jugs with the faces of sacrificial offerings in a small Southern community felt just a little… nonsensical. So instead we’re doing two shows: This one will cover ELYSIUM — Neill Blomkamp’s science-fiction, action allegory in which Matt Damon plays a working shlub desperate to get to an orbiting, upper-class Valhalla to cure his terminal illness — and EUROPA REPORT, Sebastián Cordero’s scientifically accurate drama of a doomed mission to discover life off-earth. Which space race is worth the airfare? Dare we say, maybe both? PLUS: What’s coming to theaters this weekend.
Don’t miss the follow-up podcast, featuring reviews of PLANES, PERCYJACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS, COCKNEYS VS. ZOMBIES, JUGFACE, and an obituary for Karen Black.
Break out the Purell, Steven Soderbergh is in mainstream thriller mode and he’s decided to get under your skin — almost literally — with a tale about a virus that doesn’t know when to quit. CONTAGION follows Soderbergh’s TRAFFIC template, spinning a world-spanning drama of people trying to survive the ravages of a fast-acting and deadly disease. Caught up in the turmoil: everyday dad Matt Damon; asshole blogger Jude Law; CDC doctors Jennifer Ehle, Kate Winslet, Demetri Martin, and Marion Cotillard; and government officials Laurence Fishburne, Bryan Cranston, and Enrico Colantoni.
Join Cinefantastique Online’s Lawrence French and Dan Persons as they examine Soderbergh’s skill at applying an indie film’s spontaneous production approach and incisive worldview to the dynamic momentum of a mainstream drama, debate whether the globe-hopping scenario does a disservice to the film’s characters, and consider whether it’s advisable for mature film critics to engage in a little social research by faking coughing fits during screenings (short answer: probably not).
Also: A celebration of the 45th anniversary of STAR TREK’s debut; plus what’s coming this week in theaters (spoiler: nothing) and home video.
Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski don their Fedoras and go door to door, exploring the ins and outs of fate and free-will in their free-wheeling examination of THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, writer-director George Nolfi’s combo of paranoid science fiction and romantic fantasy, inspired by Philip K. Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team.” Matt Damon and Emily Blunt star as star-crossed lovers, whose blooming romance is threatened by a mysterious group calling themselves “The Adjustment Bureau.” Their task: to keep peoples’ lives on the path laid out for them in the grand design, pushing them back on track whenever chance or free will leads them astray. Is this a brilliant conflation of speculative fiction and popular film-making, or is THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU a great idea ruined by focus group alterations? Listen in for the grand debate – and hold on to your hats.
Universal Pictures distributes this paranoid science-fiction thriller, in which a secret organization “adjusts” your life to make sure everything goes according to plan – whether or not you approve of the plan. Matt Damon and Emily Blunt star as the couple who meet accidentally – a meeting that was not intended to take place – and finds themselves at the mercy of the Adjustment Bureau, in the person of Terence Stamp, who wants to nip their unplanned romance in the bud. George Nolfi wrote and directed, based on Phillip K. Dick’s short story “Adjustment Team.”
Clint Eastwood is one of the hardest working 80-year-old men on the planet, releasing a new film for nearly every year of the last decade, and collaborating on several others. Eastwood’s work ethic, multi-hyphenate status (director, actor, producer, composer), and choice of subject matter constantly raise the question, “What drove this man, this living legend, to pick this project?” His latest film, HEREAFTER, finally provides a reasonable answer: he’s simply getting older.
HEREAFTER contains three international, separate storylines bound to intersect: Matt Damon plays George Lonegan, a San Franciscan psychic who actually communicates with the dead; Marie Lelay (Cecile De France) is a French reporter whose near-death experience during a tsunami forces her to contemplate her life; and London-based Marcus (Frankie & George McClaren) is a boy whose twin brother Jason is killed in a tragic car accident.
George has long since stopped giving psychic readings for money. He considers his ability is a curse, but his brother Billy (Jay Mohr) talks George into doing a reading for an important client. The chain of events set off by George’s reading, as well as his relationship with a beautiful girl in his cooking class (Bryce Dallas Howard, who looks nothing like her uncle Clint), pushes George to reconsider his own isolation. Marie, we see, also finds her life spiraling out of control post-tsunami, so she leaves her job as a sexy and famous news reporter to become a sexy and famous author. She begins to write a book, conveniently titled Hereafter, and speaks to Nobel Prize winners about what really happens when we die. Marcus, the son of a heroin addict and an empty soul without his twin brother, is shepherded to foster parents that he simply ignores. He desires most to communicate with his brother, looks things up on Youtube like “What happens when we die”, and steals money from his caretakers to speak with professional psychics and “communicators”. Marcus learns very quickly that he is surrounded by frauds and charlatans, but somehow one day stumbles upon George Lonegan’s outdated website – if only he could meet this man that might just be the real deal… Finally, all these characters’ quests for understanding what happens post-mortem lead them to a climactic book fair, where Derek Jacobi performs the most unnecessary but lovely cameo since Springsteen appeared in HIGH FIDELITY.
It may not seem necessary to include such a full summary of the film, but Eastwood spends so much time on the minutiae of their lives and the events leading up to the book fair that it only seems apt.
The script by Peter Morgan, best known for his brilliant representations of true stories in THE QUEEN and FROTS/NIXON, does not shy away from exploring important questions. What really happens when we die? Are there people out there who can communicate with spirits? What’s the relationship between coincidence and fate? Under Eastwood’s direction, the drama plays like a slower recombination of 21 GRAMS and THE LOVELY BONES, but the final sequence brings to mind sci-fi romantic-dramas like THE LAKE HOUSE. Eastwood is contemplating the HEREAFTER as he films it, and whether or not he has answers to Morgan’s questions is irrelevant; it is his characters’ journeys that are important.
At eighty, I suspect mortality is on Eastwood’s mind more than it may be for either of the McClaren twins or for Damon. This is evident, sometimes veering the film into sentimentality and melodrama, and it’s easy to get disoriented in a film that begins with a devastating (and masterfully realized) tsunami sequence. Performances, too, switch between powerfully affecting (de France’s turn will earn her a career in Hollywood if she so desires it, and it’s a treat to see Richard Kind in his second great role in as many years) and a bit flat (Damon’s Oscar film of 2011 will have to be the Coens’ TRUE GRIT).
Critics and fans alike continue to ask, “Is HEREAFTER an Academy Award contender?” and I suspect that people will be divided, since the film is uneven in it’s direction, screenwriting, acting, and even Eastwood’s tender score. But really, when considering with talent and strength of vision the idea of a hereafter, is that question even relevant?
HEREAFTER (October 22, 2010). Directed by Clint Eastwood. Written by Peter Morgan. Cast: George Lonegan – Matt Damon. Marie Lelay – Cecile De France. Marcus/Jason – Frankie McClaren. Marcus/Jason – George McClaren. Melanie – Bryce Dallas Howard. Christos – Richard Kind. Billy – Jay Mohr.
Take a journey into the HEREAFTER on this week’s edition of the Cinefantastique Podcast. Special guest John W. Morehead, of Theofantastique, joins Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski for an in-depth discussion of Clint Eastwood’s drama of people confronting the afterlife, scripted by Peter Morgan and starring Matt Damon. Is this another Oscar-worth contender from the director of UNFORGIVEN and BILLION DOLLAR BABY, or does it disappoint? Listen in and find out. As always, the Cinefantastique Podcast also includes a round-up of recent news, events, and home video releases – everything you need to know in order to be in the know.
Warner Brothers Pictures releases the latest film from director Clint Eastwood, a supernatural thriller written by Peter Morgan, that focuses on three characters, affected by death, whose lives gradually converge around their belief in what might exist in the herafter. Matt Damon, Cecil De France, and Bryce Dallas Howard star; Jay Mohr, Richard Kind, Jenifer Lewis, Mylene Jampanoi, and Marthe Keller fill out the cast.
Director Eastwood gave his take on the story to the LA Weekly:
“There’s a certain charlatan aspect to the hereafter, to those who prey on people’s beliefs that there’s some afterlife, and mankind doesn’t seem to be willing to accept that this is your life and you should do the best you can with it and enjoy it while you’re here, and that’ll be enough. There has to be immortality or eternal life and embracing some religious thing. I don’t have the answer. Maybe there is a hereafter, but I don’t know, so I approach it by not knowing. I just tell the story.”
Release date: October 22
I’ve been a big fan of director Terry Gilliam for a long time, but THE BROTHERS GRIMM is the worst thing he made since his terrible solo (i.e., non-Monty Python) debut, JABBERWOCKY. The script by Ehren Krueger is terrible: the story is muddled, confused, leaden, and uninteresting. And Gilliam’s patented visual style only makes things worse, weighing everything down, dragging out dull scenes with excess flash that only reminds us how empty and unimaginative this fantasy film is.
The special effects are a near disaster. Gone is the hands-made approach of previous Gilliam films, which not only looked good but suited his overall visual style, lending his fantasies a distinctive touch of personality. Instead, we get lame, impersonal digital work – which is bad enough, but much of it is also totally unconvincing. In fact, the CGI is so phony you keep thinking, “Well, it’s supposed to be like a fairly tale, so it doesn’t have to be realistic.”
However, the tone of THE BROTHERS GRIMM is decidedly not a fairy tale at all. It’s filled with severed heads, bisected bodies, and other repellent violence. The whole thing is so goofy that the gore doesn’t really horrify; it just feels repulsive because it’s so out-of-place and inappropriate. The film starts off as if it wants to be a light-hearted romp, then turns murky, muddy, and uglier by the second.
The stars keep acting as if the whole thing is good fun, but they can’t convince us, no matter how hard they try. Jonathan Pryce (who appeared in previous Gilliam films BRAZIL and THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN) gives it his best shot, but it’s a hopeless effort. And Peter Stormare is tedious in a supporting role. Long before THE BROTHERS GRIMM is over, you will wish the whole thing had come to a merciful end.
It’s not hard to see why the subject matter might have interested Gilliam: THE BROTHERS GRIMM offers another collision of fantasy and reality, with lots of opportunities for interesting visuals. But the lead characters in this story (unlike TIME BANDITS, etc.) are not imaginative dreamers; they’re con men who exploit people’s beliefs in myths and legends. So Pryce’s character (basically a reprise of his villainous voice-of-reason martinet from MUNCHAUSEN) doesn’t work very well as an antagonist, because he’s basically right. Consequently, it’s impossible to identify deeply with the story or care how it turns out.
If this is the best that Hollywood will let Gilliam do, he should just quit making Hollywood films. I know he dreams big and wants the budgets to see those dreams realized, but this isn’t worth it. The only redeeming feature is the hope that his salary from THE BROTHERS GRIM will help him set up a good, old-fashioned Gilliam film, in the tradition of his excellent early work.
THE BROTHERS GRIMM (2005). Directed by Terry Gilliam. Written by Ehren Kruger. Cast: Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Peter Stormare, Jonathan Pryce, Lena Headey, Monica Bellucci.
Copyright 2005 Steve Biodrowski