Thursday, October 28, 2010


“HEREAFTER” (Matt Damon & Cecile De France)

I’ve enjoyed Clint Eastwood more as a director than an actor. In other words, I like elderly Clint much more than Spaghetti Western Dirty Harry With An Orangutan Clint. His first match-up with Matt Damon was the rather disappointing ‘Invictus’, but ‘Mystic River’, ‘Gran Torino’ & ‘Million Dollar Baby’ are among may favorite films of the 21st century. I guess I’m setting this up because I have mixed feelings about ‘Hereafter’; parts of it I liked - parts of it I did not.
I don’t believe in a ‘hereafter’, but I do enjoy a good fantasy tale if woven intelligently. ‘Hereafter’ is woven intelligently but that doesn’t mean it works in every aspect.
Time for another set up; I don’t go to the movies to read. I read in bed to prep my mind before attempting to shut it off. So when a film forces me to read the dialogue, my brain thinks it’s sleepy-by time & starts to doze off.
Warning – 1/3rd of ‘Hereafter’ is in French & 1/3rd of it is in that ‘Cockney’ British language – they provided subtitles for the French third / none for the Cockney.
Now, to the actual film. It opens with a fairly impressive tsunami sequence which makes you think you’re about to see another '2012'. I remember thinking, “I never expected to see anything like this in a Clint Eastwood film”.
Marie Lelay (Cecile De France) a French woman on vacation with her boyfriend/boss is swept away by the catastrophic waves and drowns. So much for Marie’s segment.
George Lonnegan (Matt Damon) is a construction worker who looks a little too clean & polished to be an actual construction worker. That’s because George is trying to lead a normal life after spending too much of it contacting dead people... Think of George as Haley Joel Osment from the ‘Sixth Sense’ all grown up. 2 TV actors show up at George’s doorstep (Jay Mohr & Richard Kind) George’s brother, Billy (Mohr) begs him to give the guy who’s had to settle for a career in commercials a break by contacting his dead wife.
The third plot is set in England where young twin brothers Marcus & Jason (Frankie & George McLaren) ‘care’ for their drug addicted mother by trying to keep Child Protection Service workers from removing from the hubble that passes for the apartment they live in. Death pays a visit to the twins as well, thus setting up the trilogy of stories that take place simultaneously during ‘Hereafter’.
The part that didn’t capture my interest at all is the one with the most intriguing opening; after Marie’s near-death experience she decides to write a book about it that no one seems to be interested in. I don’t blame them, this segment is what causes the story to drag.
The one I liked the best throughout most of the film was George’s (Maybe due to the fact that it was the only one I could understand, thanks to the characters speaking in American) But no, it wasn’t just that - I was extremely impressed with the pairing of Damon with Bryce Dallas Howard – two actors that I never would have called ‘impressive’ prior to this. Adequate, competent, but not ‘great’. Their chemistry sparkled in every scene they were in and I had never seen Howard more relaxed and natural in any previous role.
George meets Melanie at cooking class where the teacher (‘The Sopranos’ Steve Shirripa) matches them as class partners. When Melanie turns to shake George’s hand, he pretends not to notice the move since touching someone’s hands is how George makes a connection to their dead loved ones. When Melanie discovers this, she thinks it would be ‘fun’ to have him ‘do’ her. You soon learn that Melanie was thinking George’s ‘reading’ would be a hoax; “You will meet the man of your dreams in cooking class...”
But the storyline that slowly becomes the most effective belongs to the English twins. It is downright heartbreaking to watch what Marcus goes through.
Despite a very hokey intertwining at the end, I still felt ‘over-all entertained’ by ‘Hereafter’ for some rather odd reasons – It didn’t follow the path I expected (which has been a staple of Eastwood’s better films) and at first I was disappointed, but soon realized that by not following the formula, Clint has created something unique. Even though he does take the route to hokum-ville to wrap the three tales together, But by the time he does that, I was thinking, “Well, I never expected Eastwood to do something as corny as that!”
So once again, he threw an unexpected twist at me by playing the time worn intersecting trilogy ploy...
In a very weak year, I have 'Hereafter' in my Top 5, but I don't expect it to stay there.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


“SECRETARIAT” (Diane Lane & John Malkovich)

I was going to like this movie no-matter-what. I was on the verge of turning 18 in May of 1973 when Secretariat began his historic run to the Triple Crown & had been a horse racing fan for a little over a year. What has bothered me about other reviews I have read has been that they tell the reader in detail ‘how’ he did it (& no, it wasn’t ‘Impossible’ as the ad campaign emphasizes because he DID IT, you morons) Like everyone planning to see this movie was alive & cognizant in 1973 & knows all the details of Secretariat’s amazing feat. True, I knew & it didn’t bother me ‘BECAUSE’ I witnessed it as it happened – what Secretariat did in the Belmont was, to this writer, the most incredible athletic feat I have ever seen in my lifetime & I’m relatively sure I’ll never see anything close to topping it. That was all that needed to be revealed to those who only knew the name ‘Secretariat’ was one of the most beloved in all horseracing.
To the movie itself – I was apprehensive about 2 things; it being a ‘Disney’ production; and the fact that John Malkovich would be acting in a ‘Disney’ production (The 2 just didn’t seem to go hand-in-hand, if you know what I mean)
Malkovich playing disagreeable trainer Lucien Laurin would seem to be a good fit in an R-Rated version, but ‘Disney’? John pulls it off though, he is the obnoxious, bull headed, do it my way or the highway French Canadian trainer without resorting to colorful curse words & phrases. Doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been a better film with them, but Malkovich’s performance almost makes you certain that he did drop several expletives during the film.
Pretty much everyone else is cookie-cutter characterizations & that suits this story just fine – the stars are the horse & the owner & in that this movie hits the mark to perfection.
Diane Lane as Penny Tweedy should get an Oscar nomination – Not that she showed outstanding acting abilities but because she ‘added’ to the story instead of detracting from it by being the ‘simple homemaker from Colorado who takes over her dad’s horse breeding farm once her mother passes away & dad begins to lose control of his mental faculties’. Even though I thought the film should have been called “The Penny Chenery Tweedy Story” instead of “Secretariat” for the first hour or so – Once the gates open for the Kentucky Derby & Secretariat ‘does what he was born to do’ the film will bring back grand memories for all of those who witnessed it originally & hopefully for those who weren’t around, they’ll get an idea as to what a marvelous experience it was.
‘Big Red’ wasn’t ‘just another racehorse’ in the same sense that Muhammad Ali wasn’t ‘just another boxer’ – when they say in the movie that Secretariat is ‘posing’ for photos, that isn’t made up – that’s exactly what he would do. Other horses would trudge out onto the race track – Secretariat ‘strutted’ onto the track with his head up high & ears pricked.
Don’t be too quick to dismiss people who say, “Secretariat KNEW what the Triple Crown was - & he KNEW how important winning the Belmont Stakes was. I believe he did. I also believe he is the only horse to EVER know those things, so I’m not just some horse lover that thinks they’re ‘special’ animals – just THIS ONE was.
And the irony of it all is that I have no interest in horseracing anymore. Haven’t for many, many years, though I spent a great deal of my late teens & early twenties at Longacres (Where I witnessed the Belmont in 1973)
There were a few instances that soured me on the sport of kings, but I believe one of the reasons I stopped attending the races is due to the fact that I knew I had seen the greatest horse run the greatest race of all time and there was nowhere to go but downhill from there. And the one thing that makes this film spectacular are the recreation of those races, especially the Belmont – it was eerily similar to what was going on in the lower clubhouse at Longacres as everyone crowded around the television sets to witness history. The comments from the crowd in the movie were the same that were made in the clubhouse. When the crowd went silent in the movie & jaws began dropping open; ditto the clubhouse. Jaws dropped. Followed by tears of joy. And guttural screams that one emits when one has witnessed something miraculous. It was one of the most memorable days of my life – and trust me, THAT horse knew what he was capable of doing. And he did it. Impossible? No. Amazing. Incredible. Unbelievable. Insurmountable. UNFORGETTABLE? Indubitably.


“IT’S A FUNNY KIND OF STORY” (Keir Gilchrist, Zach Galifianakis & Emma Roberts)

Good title. It IS a funny kind of story. Funny on different levels though. It isn’t funny that the lead character, Craig (Keir Gilchrist) is a teenager who contemplates suicide on almost a daily basis so he checks himself into a mental ward instead of riding his bike to the bridge and jumping off like he planned that morning. But it IS funny when the first person he comes in contact with is a scruffy looking doctor whose questions become more odd as the ‘interview’ proceeds. When said ‘scruffy’ doctor turns out to be a patient named Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) you realize that you’re not going to be viewing your ‘normal’ teenager-with-an-I don’t-fit-in-complex tale.
Craig, put in with the ‘mentally disturbed’ adults because the teenage wing of the hospital is being renovated, quickly decides he made a poor choice & asks to leave. He is informed that once you check yourself in as a potential suicide victim, you’re locked in for five days. “But I have an important test at school tomorrow,” Craig whines. “Should have thought of that before deciding to end your life,” his ‘Doctor-while-committed replies.
Without going into detail, I can relate to this situation – not having suicidal tendencies, but being labeled ‘emotionally disturbed’ when I was 15 & being sent to a ‘home’ for such – So I enjoyed this film quite a lot, though I could easily see where ‘normal’ people may not be able to relate to it as well. So as I go singing the praises of everything about it, keep that in mind – I don’t want anyone telling me ‘you’re nuts for liking this movie so much!’ – I’m already aware of that fact, thank you.
Emma Roberts plays Noelle, another suicidal teen kept in the adult ward, who bonds with Craig after the boy makes a generous offer in an attempt to help Bobby. She mopes and does her best Kristen Stewart impersonation, but then she actually snaps out it and becomes sweet & likeable (Which is why they didn’t hired ‘one-note’ Stewart for the role)
Lauren Graham & Jim Gaffigan play Craig’s parents, who, if anything, are the complete opposite of the type of parents you would expect to raise a suicidal kid.
The only actor that didn’t impress me much was the Oscar nominated (for ‘Doubt’) Viola Davis. She plays Dr. Minerva, the in-house psychiatrist and I thought she misfired on practically every scene she was in. Inappropriate grins are what annoyed me the most. Okay, WE know ‘it’s a funny kind of story’, but as a shrink dealing with people that have suicidal tendencies, you shouldn’t be so amused by your clients when they’re spilling their guts out to you... Another of those little tidbits that bugged me.
I actually believe that Zach Galifianakis will receive an Oscar Nod for his performance here; not that he stood out all that much, but SOMEONE from this cast HAS to get a nomination & he was the best of an excellent bunch.
And Gilchrist will be interesting to watch – this is HIS movie and the kid held his own, though Craig doesn’t change all that much, it’s the people he comes in contact with that make him see his worth – for a young actor to carry a good film in virtually every scene is impressive.
To express the one thing that I felt the film lacked would be a complete spoiler, so it’s best that I leave that criticism out. Just remember, I liked this film a lot... but I was also once cuckoo for Coco Puffs...



While I thought ‘Marmaduke’ was unfairly bashed by critics, this one pretty much deserved the trashing it took. The original was a heartwarming story with a cute puppy that finds himself in the middle of a dog vrs. cat war that secretly rages on without human awareness. The remake offers Chris O’Donnell instead of a young boy and instead of an adorable beagle puppy, the hero is an adult German Shepherd... loses major points in cuddle-ability with that switch.
Although I liked it, the original was only brought back to mind by viewing a replay on TV – Oh yeah, NOW I remember, the one where Jeff Goldblum played a scientist that was trying to find a cure for dog allergies! It was then I realized that the villain cat was called Mr. Tinkles, not Kitty Galore – So the title of the sequel confused me.
Mr. Tinkles has a cameo in #2 which only served to remind me how much better at being annoying he was than Kitty Galore (voiced by Bette Midler)
Next to nothing works, even on a kiddie-flick level here – the dogs aren’t ‘cute’ because they’re almost totally CG’d – ‘Lou’ the original beagle is back, but they didn’t put any effort whatsoever into making him look like the dog from the first movie – they didn’t even try to get someone who even vaguely sounded like Tobey McGuire to voice him.
& speaking of voices – Nick Nolte as Butch, the lead spy dog, sounds like he should be in a rehab kennel detoxing instead of saving the world from a bald pussy. A new character is a ‘stool’ pigeon that acts so 1940’s ‘Negro’, there should have been 2 of them & they should have been called Amos ‘n’ Andy – it was that embarrassing to listen to.
The cuteness factor they decided on was to have Diggs, the German Shepherd (A washed out police dog that is given a second chance as a spy) partner with a female cat – the premise being dogs & cats must join forces to stop the dreadful Kitty Galore (A shaved pussy owned by an inept carnival magician) Being a ‘dog person’ I can tell you straightaway – it doesn’t work – it should be dogs vrs. cats & never the twain shall meet...
The fact that they end with a ‘Silence of the Lambs’ parody which hints there will be yet another sequel showed that the filmmakers were optimistic about #2’s success at the box office (I wonder if those plans have been squelched yet?)