Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hereafter

This morning I saw Hereafter, starring Matt Damon and C├ęcile De France.

George Lonegan (Damon) is a retired psychic with a gift that won't stop giving. His brother Billy (Jay Mohr) is an enterprising businessman who convinces him to do just one reading for a Greek client going through a rough time. As a result of this spot-on reading, word gets out of George's abilities and Billy pressures him to return to his craft.

A few months prior, Marie (De France) survived what we must assume was the Sri Lankan tsunami, and has a tough time re-adjusting to life after her out-of-body experience during the tragedy.

As this is happening, Marcus (Frankie McLaren), a young British boy with a drunken mother, loses his twin in an auto accident.

Both Marie and Marcus go searching for answers following their respective events as George retreats into a solitary life of factory work.

Damon plays George so cold and guarded, he would be difficult to like if he weren't so appealing. That said, when faced with a burden of former fame, it's easy to sympathize with someone who doesn't want to confront death on a daily basis.

All of the stories are fleshed out well except the cameo by Bryce Dallas Howard, which still leaves me scratching my head. The overall topic of the film is engaging whether or not you're a believer in the afterlife, and the opening scene where the tsunami hits rivals any great action scene in recent memory.

But where director Clint Eastwood somehow misses the mark is in the quiet contemplation of each main character. Those suspended moments of thought and revelation don't need to be as long as he makes them, nor does the slow pace necessarily serve the screenplay well.

This film is like a beautiful piece of scenery captured by a camera that is just slightly out of focus, yet still pleasant to watch.

~~~

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Paranormal Activity 2

Today I saw Paranormal Activity 2, starring Sprague Grayden and Molly Ephraim.

I've arrived at the point where I cringe when I hear the announcement of a sequel. In recent years, very few sequels (save for Toy Story) have lived up to my expectations, and when I like the original film so much, I fear a bad second one will tarnish my memory of it.

That wasn't the case today when I saw the second installment of this independent horror success story. Today's film was more of a prequel than a sequel, but since it ends after the first one, I guess it's still technically a sequel.

Anyway, in this one we spend time with the sister, Kristi (Grayden), of the original star Katie (Katie Featherston), who makes a few appearances too.

Kristi has recently given birth to the first son on her side of the family in many generations. Her stepdaughter Ali (Ephraim) learns of this fun fact after she begins researching demons due to weird occurrences in their home. Doors open and close on their own, the dog reacts to 'nothing' and the automatic pool cleaner moves out of the water each night.

Dad (Brian Boland) believes nor witnesses any of it, but when the house is trashed and nothing is stolen, he installs surveillance cameras to try to catch the intruders. This footage point of view is how the audience sees the film 90% of the time.

Without giving anything away, the same tension and delayed jolts permeate this film the way they did the first, and surprisingly the effect is not diminished by anticipation. Though the plot is similar, even involving some of the same characters, at the heart of the plot the question "Why?" keeps everything interesting.

Why does this family have to endure this torture? What is the root reason of their link to the paranormal world? Will we ever know exactly what happened in the family's fire years ago?

The ending leaves all of these questions without answers, but remains satisfying because of the authentic feel of the cast and the less-shaky camera-work, which was a welcome improvement from the original.

All in all, this is a great movie to see if you want to stay spooked.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Back to the Future

Today I saw Back to the Future, starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd.

As many of my readers know, Back to the Future is my favorite film of all time. I was 9-years-old when it debuted in June of 1985 and since then, I've seen it over 90 times. Yes, that's 9 - 0.

To me, it's a perfect film.

For those who have lived under a rock for a quarter century, Back to the Future tells the story of Marty Mcfly (Fox), a high school student in 1985 who befriends a 'mad scientist' named Doc Brown (Lloyd) and ends up accidentally being the first human traveler in his new invention: a time machine.

Marty goes back to the year 1955, when his parents were in high school, and unintentionally messes with the space time continuum, causing his mother to fall for him instead of his father. He spends the rest of the film trying to undo this error and get back to 1985.

The charming parts of the story re-visit what was cool about the 50s: the novelty of television (a new invention), bobby socks, poodle skirts and a universal innocence that has never been duplicated.

The serious parts of the story examine common themes that everyone can relate to: bullying, first loves, protective parents and rejection.

Combine those two major elements with excellent acting by the perfectly cast ensemble, a witty script by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, and good old-fashioned heart-stopping action at the end, and you have a film that stands the test of time.

As a child, I loved it primarily because of my crush on Michael J. Fox; as a teenager, I identified with the restrictions Marty's parents put on the kids; as an adult I enjoy witnessing the nostalgia of my parents' era and my own as a child of the 80s.

At the end of the 25th anniversary presentation of the film I saw today, everyone clapped and cheered. I gave it a standing ovation.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Waiting for Superman

Today I saw the documentary Waiting for Superman, directed by Davis Guggenheim.

American public schools are in trouble and each day leaders like Geoffrey Canada and Michelle Rhee do their best to fight against a broken system that refuses to right its wrongs.

In this film we meet those reformers, along with a small sample of underprivileged children from across the nation who all have one thing in common: a desire to learn.

One girl's mom cleans hospitals while dad stays at home searching for a job; another boy's grandmother has stepped in to raise him because her son (his father) died from drug use. These aren't easy times for anyone.

But the children wake up each day, wash their face and head to school because they're determined to make a better life than the one they were born into. They all come from families who recognize the importance of education and for that reason we come to find out they're all entered into separate lotteries to try to gain acceptance into better schools.

The numbers are dismal: the US ranks near the bottom of the list for developed countries in nearly every subject. The cost of keeping a prisoner incarcerated for four years turns out to be more than the cost of an exceptional private education. Why can't our country do the math?

Waiting for Superman turns out to be more of a wake up call than a call for action (many of the situations seem hopeless from what they've shown us), and it has already succeeded in angering a large portion of the good public school teachers who feel they are getting a bum rap.

The presentation of the issues was engaging and well done, but proposed solutions for how to solve the problem would've been more powerful.

~~~

Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Social Network

Today I saw The Social Network, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake.

It will be the topic of Cinebanter #98, so tune in for our review (coming soon).