Category Archives: 2010

Movie Review: Barney’s Version (2010)

A bit of a delay in this review, but I guess better late than never.  I wasn’t quite sure going in what to expect from Barney’s Version, a drama starring Paul Giamatti as a man who, based on the snippets from the trailer, likes his ladies.  That was pretty much all I knew.

Well, I admit I was surprisingly impressed with Barney’s Version by the time the credits rolled.  Based on the 1997 novel of the same name by Mordecai Richler, Barney’s Version is a crafty, captivating film bolstered by some superb performances.  Paul Giamatti is brilliant as Barney Panofsky, an unlikely ladies’ man who recalls his unusual and highly interesting life through various flashbacks dating back to the 1970s.  I won’t say much more about the plot because it’s the type of film where you don’t really know where it’s heading but you just go along for the ride.  There’s lust, romance, friendship, betrayal and an intriguing mystery too, ensuring that there’s hardly a dull moment in the lengthy 132 minute running time.

What surprised me about Barney’s Version is that I enjoyed the film despite the immensely flawed and unlikable protagonist.  Barney is a fascinating character but he’s a complete douche no matter which way you look at it.  Nonetheless, Giamatti’s performance makes Barney human and almost sympathetic at times.  I was shocked to discover that I was actually touched by Barney’s story towards the end.

Of course, it’s not all Giamatti (who won a Golden Globe for his performance).  The supporting cast was also amazing and it is a travesty that not more acting nominations were garnered.  Dustin Hoffman was a standout as Barney’s father.  Rosamund Pike, Minnie Driver, Scott Speedman and Bruce Greenwood were also fantastic in their respective roles.

I understand some of the complaints about the film — that Barney was too much of a prick for the film to be enjoyable, that Giamatti was too fat and ugly to attract such pretty ladies, that it was misogynistic, etc etc — but I think they are missing the point.  For starters, the film is called “Barney’s” Version for a reason, and although the format doesn’t quite capture the ‘unreliable narrator’ of the book as well as I thought it should have, this was Barney’s story from his perspective and his memory.  Besides, there are far less attractive men with more attractive women in the real world, and in any case, I personally thought Giamatti’s persistence and zest for life did give him a peculiar charm (but hey, what would I know?).

Ultimately, I found Barney’s Version to be a lovely film about the ups and downs of life and its moments.  It’s not perfect but it’s one film I’ll likely remember years down the track.

4 stars out of 5

China DVD Movie Blitz: Part II

Yes, there is a Part II.  For Part I, click here.

Here are the rest of the DVD movies I acquired in a recent trip to China.

Stone (2010)

Even though I didn’t know what it was about, I really wanted to watch this one when it came out at the cinemas, but I’m glad now that I caught it on DVD instead.

I thought it was going to be a smart, slick thriller, but Stone is essentially a character-driven drama about sexual politics featuring three sensational actors: Edward Norton, Robert De Niro and Milla Jovovich.

It’s a stylish film, an interesting film in many respects, but not exactly what I was expecting or hoping for.

3.25 stars out of 5

I Love You, Phillip Morris (2009)

It seems like the world still isn’t ready for a rom-com about a homosexual couple, because I had never heard of I Love You, Phillip Morris despite the fact that it features two big stars in Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor.

To be fair, apart from the intentionally full on gay jokes, Phillip Morris is not all that different from some of the other slightly farcical, somewhat strange/awkward (The Cable Guy comes to mind) comedies out there.

I did find certain parts quite funny, but there wasn’t anything apart from the unusual premise that made this film stand out.  And it did get a little tedious towards the end.

3 stars out of 5

 

Gulliver’s Travels (2010)

I’ve loved the story since I was a kid, and so I was kind of excited about the Jack Black version, even though to me Black is a bit of a hit and miss comedian.

Unfortunately, Gulliver’s Travels was pretty much all miss.  It had a great cast, including Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet and Billy Connolly, but the jokes were mostly infantile and unfunny.  A fair attempt at a modern retelling with updated pop culture references but even as a children’s film it missed the mark.

2 stars out of 5

 

Season of the Witch (2011)

 

If this film made it to the cinemas then it must have been pulled off pretty quickly, because even though I saw ‘coming soon’ posters months ago, I don’t ever recall seeing the film screening at cinemas.

After watching it, I can kind of understand why this film was a flop (or went straight to DVD).  On the other hand, there are far worse films making it to the cinemas.

This was a Middle-Ages fantasy film (which I usually like) with Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman as two warriors tasked with escorting a suspected witch to a monastery.  It started off okay but the middle section was a bit of a bore and the final part, as usual, fell apart.  A shame, because as uninspiring as it was, I thought there was some potential.

2 stars out of 5

 

And yes, there will be a Part III, though I haven’t watched them yet.

China DVD Movie Blitz: Part I

As documented on this blog, I visited China a couple of months ago.  Apart from the Great Wall, China is also very well known for its DVD stores.  I visited a couple of these while I was there, and they are amazing.  For some reason, these stores stocked all the latest movies and TV shows some that weren’t even out at the cinemas yet!  And they were all perfectly packaged.  No wonder they say the future of the world lays in China’s hands.

I bought a few to sample and they were the real deal.  Here are my reviews.

The Warrior’s Way (2010)

I saw the trailer for this on the Internets and was intrigued because it was one of those Asian martial arts fantasy films with a Western backdrop.  Led by Korean ‘superstar’ Jang Dong-gun, the film also featured the likes of Hollywood stars such as Kate Bosworth (whom I hadn’t seen since Superman Returns), Geoffrey Rush (talk about a man willing to be in absolutely anything) and Danny Huston.

I can’t really remember much except that the Korean dude was some super swordsman that went to America with a baby, and there were lots of sword/gun fights.  I didn’t expect much from it but I did expect it to be slightly more fun than it was.  Visually it was impressive, even more fantastical than films such as House of Flying Daggers, The Promise and Hero, but like those films the engagement factor was pretty low.

2.5 stars out of 5

Waiting for ‘Superman’ (2010)

This was an interesting documentary about the crippled education system in America.  It was expectedly scathing when it came to public education and the quality of teachers, but for me the most compelling part was watching how various families pinned all their hopes on their child getting into a particular charter school through a student lottery.

I had no idea what charter schools were (basically an alternative to public schools and can have their own system of rules and regulations that hold both students and teachers more accountable for their performance) and I was fascinated by this idea of a child’s entire future riding on luck.  If they get into a charter school, their future looks bright.  If they don’t, they’re stuffed.  That was how the film conveyed it anyway.  As a result, he lottery scenes towards the end of the film had me riveted.

It’s not an exceptional documentary (too many numbers and slow bits) but it’s an important one.

3.25 stars out of 5

The Killer Inside Me (2010)

I’m trying to think of a good feature film with Jessica Alba (in a significant role) that was any good.  If Sin City doesn’t count (because she was hardly in it) then I can’t think of any.

The Killer Inside Me was barely okay.  It stars Casey Affleck as some sick psycho and Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson as the women in his life.  It’s a stylishly shot film set in the 1950s (I think) and has some confronting moments that are brutally violent, but I didn’t get a connection with any of the characters. It was 109 minutes but felt like 3 hours.

PS (SPOILERS): I read somewhere that the film was criticised for being misogynistic, which is stupid.  Watching Alba and Hudson getting the crap beaten out of them was one of the less boring parts of the film.

2 stars out of 5

And Soon the Darkness (2010)

I always wondered why Odette Yustman (star of Cloverfield and The Unborn) was not a bigger star.  Unfortunately, And Soon the Darkness will definitely not make her a bigger star.

Yustman and Amber Heard are two young American girls backpacking in Argentina, in an area where young women have gone missing.  Yada, yada, yada, they get in trouble, stuff happens and people die.

I suppose there were a few entertaining moments in this film (which also stars Karl Urban as the ‘is he the bad guy or not?’ guy) but it was impossible to like either of the annoying girls whose stupidity and lack of common sense made me want to see something bad happen to them.  But then again, if they weren’t so moronic none of the things in this film would have happened.

2 stars out of 5

Qantas In-Flight Movie Blitz!

I need to get this one out quickly because all of the movies are fading fast from my memory.  On my trip to China a couple of months ago I saw 2 movies on the flight there and 2 on the way back.  Keep in mind that I was under the influence of anti-anxiety medication for all 4 films.

Thanks to Qantas for having such a terrific collection of reasonably new films, even in economy.  I’ll let all the safety issues slide this time.

The Switch (2010)

Huge fan of Jason Bateman (largely because of Arrested Development) but not much of a fan of Jennifer Aniston.  Unfortunately, the Aniston factor overrode the Bateman factor on this film about a dude (Bateman) who switched the sperm sample used for the artificial insemination of his best friend (Aniston).

This was a strange film.  The main problem is that while it’s an interesting idea, there’s just nothing fresh about it.  Its biggest sin is that it’s supposed to be a comedy but it’s not particularly funny.  Damn you, Aniston.

1.75 stars out of 5

Conviction (2010)

This was one of those inspirational true stories starring Hilary Swank.  She plays Betty Ann Waters, a remarkable woman who went to law school and became a lawyer just so she could prove her brother’s innocence.  That’s dedication for you.

While Conviction was good, anchored by the usual strong performance by Swank and also by Sam Rockwell as her brother Kenneth, it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be.  It was dramatic but occasionally slow, heartfelt but occasionally melodramatic.  Good but not great.

3.25 stars out of 5

SPOILERS: By the way, this was not mentioned in the film, but Kenneth Waters actually fell off a wall and died just 6 months after his release from prison (where he spent around 20 years).  That’s just so brutal I’m lost for words.

Tamara Drewe (2010)

I recently checked out the comic book from which this film was based, and I must say I found it a little boring.  The film, on the other hand, was a surprising delight.  It’s one of those well-made little films that explores human nature.  It stars Gemma Arterton as the titular character, who returns home to a small village in England to sell the house she inherited from her deceased mother.

I guess a part of the reason I liked the film was because Tamara is a journalist and the film is set around a writers’ retreat, which provided many opportunities for clever humour.  It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but Tamara Drewe was probably the best film out of the 4.

3.5 stars out of 5

Morning Glory (2010)

This was a coming-of-age film about the morning television industry and the crazy stuff that goes on behind the scenes.  I really like Rachel McAdams and she does a great job here as the young up-and-comer on the show ‘DayBreak’.  Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton are also both very good as the anchors.

It’s a charming film because of the characters and performances but unfortunately not as enjoyable as I thought it would be.  Even though there haven’t been very many films with the same subject matter, I somehow felt like I had seen it all before.  Perhaps all such films have the same formula?  Or perhaps I’m just not really into the world of morning TV?

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Never Let Me Go (2010)

Award-winning, English-Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro is one of those writers that I keep hearing about but haven’t had the chance to read.  So I guess the next best option was to check out an adaptation of one of his better known books, Never Let Me Go.

I went into this film having no idea what it was about except it starred Carey Mulligan, Kiera Knightley and new Spiderman Andrew Garfield (from The Social Network).  The poster and the title suggested a moving romantic drama, a tear-jerker, if you will.  After all, Ishiguro’s best known work is probably Remains of the Day, so I thought I knew what kind of movie to expect.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised and a little shocked to find that Never Let Me Go is actually a science-fiction film, and a weird one at that because it didn’t look or feel like your typical film of that genre.  It’s still a moving romantic drama and a tear-jerker, but the entire premise of the story is firmly grounded in sci-fi.

I don’t want to give away too much, because part of the joy of the film is figuring out just what heck is going on, but basically it’s set in an alternate reality, where in 1952 there was a medical breakthrough that allows humans to extend their expected lifespans beyond 100 years.

The film has gotten some rave reviews, but I found it more fascinating (because of the premise) than anything else.  Anchored by strong performances from all of the leads, this was a slow-moving, often confusing, sometimes frustrating, occasionally touching and ultimately haunting film (gave me the chills, in a good way).  I liked how it ended but it was a bit of a struggle at times.  I think it’s the type of film that has the power to really move people and make them think about love, life and death, but it didn’t quite get there for me.  It just felt like something was missing.  Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood.

3 stars out of 5

PS: I also found it interesting that Keira Knightley was purposely made to look ‘plain’ by the film’s director.  Great job, because this was the ugliest I have ever seen her!  I was wondering why she looked so horrible.

Post Oscars Film Blitz

I was supposed to review these films one by one, but I really couldn’t be bothered.  So I decided to lump them into a ‘post Oscars’ film blitz, as all of these films were a part of the Oscars.  Kind of.

Here we go…

Rabbit Hole (2010)

I’m not usually into depressing films, but I was in a good mood and thought, why the heck not?  And seriously, they don’t get much more depressing than Rabbit Hole (I haven’t seen Blue Valentine yet, might add it to the list later).

For those who don’t know what it’s about, let’s just say it’s about profound grief and loss, and how to deal with it and move on.  It stars Nicole Kidman in her Oscar-nominated performance, Aaron Eckhart, Diane Wiest and Sandra Oh.

It’s an extremely powerful film, I’ll admit that, and it has some surprisingly amusing sequences, but on the whole, Rabbit Hole is a pretty rough 91 minutes to sit through.  I don’t know what else to say without giving away too much.

As for the performances, I know Kidman got all the kudos, but it beats me how after so many years she still can’t pin down that American accent!  In all honesty, I preferred Eckhart.  I found his scenes more engaging and wondered how Kidman got the nomination and he didn’t.

3.5 stars out of 5

Inside Job (2010)

I rushed out to see Inside Job after it won the Oscar for Best Documentary.  It’s essentially a film that attempts to explain how the Global Financial Crisis (ie the one we’re still recovering from) happened, and tries to apportion the blame to the various parties involved.

Ultimately, despite learning a great deal about the history of the financial markets, the financial instruments, and the GFC itself, I was a little disappointed.  Props for making this film because I know a lot of people (myself included) would like to know just what the heck happened, and how it happened.  However, I did find it somewhat dry in parts and a little too preachy, especially towards the end.  Just listen to director Charles Ferguson’s acceptance speech at the Oscars and you’ll get what I mean.

I am by no means trying to defend the greed and the corruption that plagued the system and led to the collapse, but I think it would have been good to see more of the human side of the crisis.  Rather than simply painting them as the ‘bad guys’ in all of this, I wanted to see what was going through the minds of these bankers and executives as they raked in the money without regard for the consequences — and I wanted to see how the crisis affected the lives of people on all levels of income and wealth.

It was an interesting film and an important one, but apart from a lot of anger and frustration, I didn’t get the deeper emotional connection and understanding I was expecting.

3.5 stars out of 5

No Strings Attached (2011)

This film was obviously not nominated for an Oscar, but the star, Natalie Portman, did win a Best Actress Oscar for another film (Black Swan), so I guess that’s my Oscar connection to justify this film being in the post.

I remember before the Oscars there were people saying that No Strings Attached is potentially so bad that it might derail Natalie’s Oscar chances.  Well, it turned out to be much ado about nothing.  And besides, No Strings Attached was not that bad anyway.  It was just average, which is not horrible considering that most rom-coms these days are.

Portman’s Emma and Ashton Kutcher’s Adam met when they were teenagers at some camp, and kept bumping into each other over the years.  Then Adam’s dad, played by Kevin Kline, does something despicable and sends Adam into a bender and eventually Emma’s house.  Yada, yada, yada, you know what happens, but they decide to have a ‘no strings attached’ relationship.  And yada, yada, yada, you know what happens in the end.

The film started off promisingly enough.  Director Ivan Reitman (pretty mixed bag as a director) infuses the story with quirky humour and likable characters (essential for a good rom-com).  There are some genuinely amusing moments and one-liners littered throughout, though mostly at the beginning.  Kutcher is kind of always the same — with that cheery, but mopey/dopey looking dude-face, while Portman gets to show her less serious side (with shades of her Saturday Night Live performances?).  The chemistry is there, which I must admit surprised me.

As usual, the rom-com shifts from comedy to romance as it strolls along to the predictable finale, and that’s where No Strings Attached fails to bring something fresh to the table.  And for what is really a sweet film at heart, it is inexplicably and unnecessarily dirty — I blame that on all the Judd Apatow films in recent years.

3 stars out of 5

Love and Other Drugs (2010)

The Oscar connections are getting more tenuous.  Love and Other Drugs features Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway, the latter of which…hosted the Oscars this year!

Anyway, this is one of those films that I liked more than I should have.  It was marketed as a laugh-out-loud, silly rom-com about two promiscuous people, but that’s really only half true — because the second half, which is completely different to the first, is kind of a depressing ‘disease romance’ (I just made that up).  To me, both halves were pretty good, even though that does make for a fairly uneven film.

What I liked about the first half was the insight into the pharmaceutical industry and in particular medical reps who try and sell drugs to doctors.  And the start of the Viagra craze is always a fascinating thing to relive.  I think the film handled that part very well.  As for the second half, while the laughs died out quickly, I did find myself unexpectedly moved by the story and the emotions of the characters.

So yeah, I enjoyed it.

3.75 stars out of 5

Burlesque (2010)

Mmm…Cher once won an Oscar, and let’s face it, Christina Aguilera never will.  And it won a Golden Globe (a pre-cursor to the Oscars) for Best Original Song.  Oh, and Cher got a Razzie (the opposite of the Oscars) nomination for it this year!

Using the typical ‘small town girl in big city’ template, Burlesque follows Christina as she finds herself working in a burlesque bar (called ‘Burlesque’) where she’s just waiting to be discovered.  Cher is the owner, Kristen Bell is the rival, Eric Dane is the tempter, and Cam Gigandet is the potential love interest.  Fill in the blanks yourself and toss in a bunch of musical song and dance numbers from Christina and Cher, and that’s the movie in a nutshell.

Is it horrible?  No.  I actually expected a lot less, though I would have preferred it if they just went along for the ride and not taken themselves so seriously (because the unintended effect is quite comical).  At the end of the day, Burlesque is a Christina vehicle, and it certainly shows off her spectacular voice and not-too-shabby acting abilities.  It’s campy, musical and melodramatic, just as you would expect it to be.  And while it’s certainly nothing special, it is better than the Britney equivalent (Crossroads).

2.5 stars out of 5

Pre-Oscars Movie Blitz (Best Picture)

The Academy Awards are upon us once again, and this year I vowed to watch all the Best Picture nominees before the ceremony. With the list of nominees extended to 10 for the second straight year, this was more difficult than I had anticipated. Fortunately, I had seen most of them already, so there were only three outstanding: Winter’s Bone, The Kids Are All Right, and 127 Hours.

Here goes!

Winter’s Bone (2010)

There’s usually one powerful independent film in the Best Picture mix and this year it’s Winter’s Bone, which has gotten rave reviews from just about every respectable critic out there.

The story feels complex but it’s actually very simple. In an extremely poor rural area, a meth cooker has disappeared while out on bail and his daughter Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is looking for him — she has to, because she has two young siblings and a catatonic mother, and their house is collateral for the bail. But the more Ree snoops around the family business, the more trouble she gets into.

I suppose I would call it a gritty drama-thriller. A slow burn with moments of genuine suspense and horror. It’s the perfect example of a well-made indie film — low budget but compelling and well-acted — but I’m not sure I would put it in my top 10 list for the year (and hence Best Picture nominee).

My problem with it is that it rarely gets out of first gear, and all the mumbling makes some of the conversations difficult to decipher. That said, I was intrigued even through all the slow bits, and it was a very bleak and harrowing depiction of rural meth country.

Nevertheless, this film will likely make Jennifer Lawrence (nominated for Best Actress) a big star (she’s already nabbed the role of young Mystique in X-Men: First Class, and had an Esquire photo shoot that was rumoured to be the source of many ‘Winter’s Boners’). It was a knockout performance, subtle and utterly believable. Her co-star John Hawkes (also nominated, for Best Supporting Actor), was also very good.

Overall, a very good film, an excellent indie film, but perhaps because of the lofty expectations I came away slightly disappointed.

3.75 stars out of 5

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

I had no idea what this film was about before I saw it and I didn’t really care — it just didn’t look like the type of film I was interested in. But it’s a Best Picture nominee so I forced myself, and came out pleasantly surprised.

If there’s one movie I would compare The Kids Are All Right to (in terms of style and feel), it would have to be American Beauty. It’s one of those quirky dramas about suburban life in America, with genuine dramatic elements but also plenty of witty laughs and awkward moments.

Without giving away too much, it’s about a lesbian couple (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore), their kids (Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) and Josh Hutcherson) and the sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo). As usual, the less known the better.

I would say this is a borderline deserving Best Picture nominee if we’re talking about a list of 10 (which is still pretty darn good in a relatively strong year). It had a fabulous script with terrific dialogue that’s amusing while remaining strangely realistic, plus killer performances by all involved. The standout for me was Mark Ruffalo (Best Supporting Actor nominee), who was just such a fantastic character.

Even though I wouldn’t consider this a classic or a particularly memorable film, I still really enjoyed it.

4 stars out of 5


127 Hours (2010)

I was vary wary of watching 127 Hours, and it’s not just because of the gruesomeness most viewers knew they were about to encounter. It’s because it’s a story where it’s predominantly one guy in one place (think Buried, which a lot of people loathed) and you knew exactly what was going to happen at the end because it’s a true story.

But my concerns were absolutely unfounded. 127 Hours is hands down one of the best films of 2010 and a deserving Best Picture nominee (even if there were just five instead of 10). Full credit to Danny Boyle (who won for Slumdog Millionaire a couple of years ago) for overcoming all the obstacles I thought this film would have and delivering such an emotionally involving, jubilant, triumphant motion picture.

Just in case you’re one of the three people on earth who don’t know the story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), I won’t say much. I just wonder how I would have received the film had I not known about his amazing story, but the impressive thing is that I was still completely absorbed by the film despite that dreaded feeling of inevitability.

I thought there was going to be a lot of extended flashback sequences, but to Boyle’s credit, there were surprisingly few. Some clever use of sound and sporadic dream sequences pushed the plot right along and kept it interesting and eventful for the entire 94 minute running time.

Of course, you can’t talk about this film without mentioning the ‘masterful’ performance from James Franco (a strange word for the guy from Pineapple Express), who has become one of my favorite actors. Is there anyone in Hollywood more affable than him right now?  Who else could have carried a film like this from start to finish?  It’s a shame he’s going up against virtual lock Colin Firth this year.

I loved this film and can’t believe I passed up two advanced screening opportunities last month.  If I redo my Top 10 Films of 2010 this would probably be in the top 5.

4.5 out of 10!

Movie Review: Faster (2010)

Faster is a strange film.  It has the feel of a classy production.  The director (George Tillman Jr — who directed Notorious) seems to know what he is doing.  There is a certain dark, noir-ish mood infused throughout.  It features a star studded cast — Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (looking bulkier than in recent times), Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, Moon Bloodgood and Maggie Grace.  And yet, I found the whole thing incredibly uninspiring and forgettable.

Perhaps it’s the couldn’t-be-any-simpler plot — a guy (The Rock)  is just released from prison and decides to go on a killing rampage against the people that put him there in the first place (oh, and killed his beloved big brother).  There’s cops (Thornton and Gugino) chasing him.  And a hired assassin.  You get the drift — kill, chase, investigate and repeat until final climax.

Speaking of which, perhaps it’s the silly subplot with the beautiful genius assassin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and his lovely girlfriend (Maggie Grace) that spoiled it.  The dude is supposed to be some super-overachiever who needs a challenge to keep himself going — but they tried to be too cute with it and it came off looking contrived.  And besides, Jackson-Cohen can’t act.  He looked good but was horrible.

But perhaps the worst part was that the whole time, the secret mastermind behind everything was so obvious it stuck out like dog’s balls.

Accordingly, I had the bizarre feeling when watching Faster that I should be watching something that’s a lot better than what’s before my eyes.  It wasn’t awful, but it kept me wondering what all these stars saw in the script.  The gun-fight scenes were okay, as were the obligatory car chases.  Ultimately, however, I suppose the title of the film is apt, because I wanted it to end ‘faster.’

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Hereafter (2010)

Sure, Invictus was just okay, but it seems to me old Clint Eastwood can do no wrong these days.  There is a quiet confidence in his approach, a lovely subtlety in his pacing and pauses.  And no matter what, he manages to evoke powerful, genuine emotional responses from his audiences (I mean, come on — Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima, Changeling, Gran Torino…).

Eastwood’s latest effort, Hereafter, is no different.  It’s a dangerous project because, as the title suggests, the film is about death and what comes after, which makes it prone to soppy melodrama and manipulation.  And of course, the afterlife is a topic often subject to ridicule and parody, so there’s the additional hurdle of keeping the film serious without tipping it over the edge.

Somehow, some way, Eastwood delivers.  Pound-for-pound, Hereafter is perhaps not one of Eastwood’s greatest films, but it’s certainly one of his better ones — and it holds great potential to be one of his most popular films.

It tells three separate stories about three different characters — Marie (Cecile de France), a well-known French television journalist; George (Matt Damon), an American factory worker who just gave up on his old job; and Marcus (Frankie McLaren), a British boy with an older twin brother and a crackhead mother.  I won’t say much more than that except that each of their lives is touched by death and what lies beyond.

Perhaps it’s just my fascination with the film’s themes and/or my appreciation for Eastwood’s direction, but I was totally engrossed by Hereafter from start to finish.  Sceptics might have a natural bias against the film because it lays quite a lot out on the table (similar to say atheists towards The Passion of the Christ or fundamentalist Christians towards The Da Vinci Code — even though it’s fiction), but those who keep an open mind will find it hard not to be moved by at least one of the three stories in the film.  It’s a shame that many people will simply scoff at this film because of its subject matter and try to discredit it on other grounds.  I’m just glad religion played an almost non-existent role in all of this.

Anyway, I loved it.  Eastwood butchered the ending in my opinion with a pointless sequence but apart from that I found it beautiful, absorbing, poignant, and ultimately very satisfying.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: True Grit (2010)

They say remakes seldom better the original, but it’s hard to imagine the 1969 John Wayne classic (which I haven’t seen) being better than the new version from my favourite filmmaking duo.  True Grit is vintage Coen Brothers, more No Country For Old Men than The Big Lebowski but still funny and quirky.  And when it comes to dialogue, human interactions and suspense, few can compare with Joel and Ethan Coen.

Based on Charles Portis’s 1968 novel of the same name, this version of True Grit is supposedly truer to the original source.  It tells the story of young Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a wise-beyond-her-years 14-year-old who seeks to avenge the death of her father by tracking down and killing Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin).  To do so, she seeks the assistance of Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a merciless but drunk and out-of-shape Deputy US Marshal.  Tagging along for the ride is Texas Ranger LaBoeuf (Matt Damon), who is chasing Chaney for an unrelated crime.

I’m not usually a fan of Westerns, but True Grit had me hooked from the beginning.  It moves with at a pace similar to No Country, which might be on the slow side for some, but whichever way you look at this film — whether it’s the screenplay, the performances or the direction — it’s top notch.  And all through out was that trademark Coen Brothers touch, that unexpected, random hilarity that I can never get enough of.

Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon were expectedly excellent (as were Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper in smaller roles), but it was the remarkable performance of young Hailee Steinfeld that carried the film from start to finish.  Good to see that she received an Oscar nomination, but how it was for Best Supporting Actress as opposed to Best Actress (considering she was in just about every scene) beats the hell out of me.

My only complaint was that it felt like the film needed subtitles at times because of the excessive mumbling (mostly by Jeff Bridges) which made the conversations difficult to follow.  But apart from that, an awesome experience.

4.25 stars out of 5