Friday, November 26, 2010

White Material

Having only seen "35 Shots of Rum," a pretty good but also pretty overrated film, I was a little skeptical of hugely admired director Claire Denis. However, her new "White Material," a film about the end of stability and trying to continue afterwards, is a great work. This is a movie that grows and grows, one that I had doubts about at the beginning that were answered by the end. It is a piece to relish and (it has been said, believably so) to see more than once. It will not have a unanimous appeal, that's for sure. For example, it has a twisty, hard-to-follow composition (beginning at the near-end and cycling in and out, through past and present) that has been criticized. I, though, find it entirely inherent to the film and its success. The film also seems to be about very little, but in its quietly sprawling nature, it rises above.

Maria Vial (Isabelle Huppert) is an unsuccessful French coffee proprietor staying in Africa even though her country's army has left and her workers have abandoned her. She's caught in the middle of a standoff between officials and rebels, personified by José (Daniel Tchangang) and the on-the-ropes and bleeding Boxer (Isaach de Bankole). Her ex-husband André (Christophe Lambert) is trying to sell their plantation to José and her son Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is a slacker whose supposed streak of "insanity" is exposed after he gets robbed and stripped naked.

Anyways, the film shows Vial as she presses on, trying to carry on her normal life as it is starting to crumble. I won't say much more on the plot than that, as there is not a lot to say, other than that it travels familiar roads with transcendent results. What must be mentioned and praised is the excellent work by cinematographer Yves Cape (who's shot for Bruno Dumont before). Whether it be a stationary spread, a shaky follower, or a swift tracking shot, Cape does it right. (And although it seemed dubious to employ, as has been said before, Dardennes-like close-ups, they are well validated.) Stuart Staples and the Tindersticks' score (similar to the one by Wasis Diop in "A Screaming Man") is also first-rate. Finally, Huppert, in a much-lauded role, is always solid with some amazing moments (for example, the scene where she berates her son in his bedroom). "White Material" is the type of film that many are bound to turn off early or to not even bother with. That's their loss. A

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Leaving the Parlor: Facebook and The Exterminating Angel

I saw Luis Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel" two nights ago, an intense and draining film considered by many to rank among the best of all-time. It left me a little cold, but it provided me with very profound insight. The situation in the film, that of people who psyche themselves out of leaving a parlor and who go on to consider the simple act of walking away impossible, strikes me as relevant these days. After about a year and a half (with a couple of breaks in between), I tossed my Facebook account.

Excuse my heavy-handedness when I say that Facebook is the veritable Parlor of the Internet. It works much the same way as Bunuel's, based on the same "herd mentality" (as Zadie Smith noted) and desire to keep the status quo. It's hard to quit: why leave when no one else is leaving? To stay may seem innocuous, as Facebook is "free." But is it really? Monetarily, yes. But there are other things one can lose by continuing to be a member of the site, such as time, and, most disturbingly, dignity. For the latter: consider Facebook Stalking. This is defined by as "a covert method of investigation using; good for discovering a wealth of information about people you don't actually know." Would a good person do this in real life? Probably not. But Facebook is transformative, just like Bunuel's parlor, and people aren't who we think they are. It is tempting to say that they "aren't themselves" online, but who is to really know? Maybe this is the "real them." When the options are available, people are capable of a lot of things.

Friends have seen Smith's New York Review of Books article "Generation Why?" and Gary Shteyngart's novel "Super Sad True Love Story" as effective anti-Facebook advocates. But I find the parallels between the website and Bunuel's film especially chilling. There are people who fancy themselves casual users of the site. Of these, there are some who actually are. But then there are those who say that they are just staying the morning, and who end up there a whole lot longer. For them, a wake-up call (or a piano piece played again) is necessary.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

These Will Be the Winners: My Early Oscar Predictions (November 2010)

Having read websites such as The Film Experience and In Contention, I have a pretty good idea of what the field of play is going to be like at the Oscars (pre-nominations). So here goes:

Best Picture: The Social Network

I have a strong feeling about Toy Story 3 as well. Inception may have an outside chance.

Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King's Speech

Best Actress: Natalie Portman, Black Swan

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter

Best Supporting Actress: Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit

Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network

Best Original Screenplay: Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg, The Kids Are All Right

Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network

This is a lock. People haven't stopped talking about Sorkin's script, and even if The Social Network doesn't come out on top on Oscar night, this most certainly will.

Monday, November 22, 2010


With excellently done blown-up photographs and stop motion animation, Jeff Malmberg makes viewing the town of "Marwencol" as absorbing for the audience as it is for its creator Mark Hogencamp. This is a good first documentary, flawed (it can be aimless, repetitive, and a bit trite) but well-deviced and observant all the same.

Hogencamp was accosted by people in a bar (apparently after he revealed his penchant for cross-dressing). This assault impaired his brain functionality and wiped all memories of his life before out. (It also, beneficially, did away with his alcoholism.) After he recovered his motor skills, etc., he set to work on building Marwencol, Belgium, set during the Second World War and a convergence of soldiers forced to be kind with one another. (The Nazis, whom Mark equates to his drinking problems, invade at times.) He filled this with replicas of his acquaintances, which of course creates a strange parallel with the people they represent. Not only is his mom there, but also the married woman he developed a very strong attraction to (and married in Marwencol) and waitresses at the restaurant at which he works (when he kills off one of them, the person in question is a little perturbed).

Hogencamp took very meticulous photography of the miniature town, which eventually got its own art show. We see two people who expose the work to the broader world: a photographer (who's also Mark's neighbor) and a magazine editor. The photographer sees the pictures without patronization. The magazine editor purveys condescension, noting that there's "no irony" in Mark's shots. Malmberg and his film admirably for the most part lean towards the photographer's perspective.

The film paints a big picture of Hogencamp. It sometimes shows him as a bit unusual (what with his marriage to a doll and his fictionally-realized relationship with his married neighbor). It also allots him commentary, which is unabashedly sentimental. These things, both of which could be seen as negative traits (the former as exploitative, the latter as slightly truistic), balance each other out, and the film with both is altogether better. "Marwencol" should have been granted a spot on the Academy's documentary shortlist; it's not formally polished, but what it does makes up for that. B

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

With "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," director Edgar Wright deftly mixes and matches the plot points of Bryan Lee O'Malley's moderately indelible comic book series to come up with a workable but ultimately far too hurried adaptation.

But there is much to be said for it. Wright shows his capabilities as an accomplished director here; this is his best film to date (I say this only having seen his in my opinion mediocre "Shaun of the Dead"). How he plays the world of the spaced-out Scott is superb. In the book, Scott is notably at the mercy of time, but this isn't quite as intense for the reader. In the film, Wright excellently accentuates this to the point that the scenes slide and slam together. And, in his script with Michael Bacall, he does a great job of filtering the book's sardonic and eccentric humor through a cinematic lens.

The actors fit the characters' shoes admittedly to varying degrees of success, but at least they're all on the high end of the spectrum. Michael Cera, who I had doubts about in the role of the title character, does well, as do Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona, Kieran Culkin as Wallace Wells, and Jason Schwartzman, delightfully glib if slightly over-the-top, as Gideon.

For the uninitiated (who, to me, will be much better off when viewing this film as they won't have the books to think about in the back of their minds), Scott Pilgrim (Cera) is a Toronto-based layabout without a job who's floating in the world just outside of college, living in a crappy apartment consisting of stuff mostly owned by his roommate Wallace (Culkin). He's got a band (Sex Bob-Omb) and a girlfriend in high school (Knives Chau, played simultaneously as worthy and as pathetic by Ellen Wong) who he's not serious about but who's serious about him. He sees a hot girl in his dreams (much better explained in the book; I'll leave it at that), who comes into his life soon afterwards as an American moving to Canada for some quiet time. This is Ramona (Winstead), and according to those on the party scene, she's too much for him. But this is not the case, as they come to a relationship.

Not as simple as that, however. Scott is faced with the challenge of having to dispatch a whopping total of 7 "evil exes," who make up a sort of "league." They range from flames she had very minor encounters with in grade school to the one that she's still not over. I agree with the speculation of at least some that these battle scenes were dense and probably should have been wider spaced. Wright would have had to make a film 2 and half to 3 hours to do that, but still: except for the first two, which are meticulously re-created, the rest are sped through, cutting off huge developments (one wouldn't understand the true power of Envy Adams' devastation from this film) as the film goes headlong towards the ending. This is on some level good: I disliked the drawing-out of some of the conflicts in the book and it would be a pain to see them played out again on-screen. But overall, it's a bit slipshod.

The second half plays as if Wright took apart the end of the series, threw it in a box, and blew it up with dynamite. Strands of the plot are all over the place, as the film is very simplified. As I said before, this is well-done by Wright but, of course, disconcerting for the observant reader. The construction of the ending is completely foreign to that of the book, simultaneously refreshing and bizarre, using Knives Chau to a very profuse extent. She feels like an intruder in the messily observed climax and ending. It works at times, but it is not exemplary craftsmanship on Wright's part. Also: his decision to dance around the book's emotional pieces nicely lightens the mood but backfires in that it shuts out very important content.

As a gamer and a jester, Wright is able to do an admirable job with much of this film. He makes "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" absorbing and at times even surprising for me as a previous reader. But he didn't entirely make it work. Although I may be slightly off, I think those taking in this story for the first time will appreciate this film version better. However, if you were going to pick between the comics and the feature, I'd say go with the reading. B-

Friday, November 19, 2010

127 Hours

Danny Boyle (as Mike D'Angelo noted) subjects all of his films to the same "hyperkinetic" (as it has been called) style. With "127 Hours," his follow-up to "Slumdog Millionaire" (which I have very mixed feeling about), this proves to be a faulty decision. This is a film about an adventurous hiker named Aron Ralston who falls down into a cavern, getting his arm stuck, as the title of Ralston's memoir states, between a rock and a hard place. If there ever was a story deserving of Romanian New Wave-level realism or a POV treatment, it was this one. But instead, Boyle turns it into a movie resembling Van Sant's "Gerry" on stimulants, continuously spiraling away from the center, charting Ralston's thoughts instead of his experiences. It's an understandable approach, but considering, as D'Angelo also noted, what an audacious filmmaker could have accomplished, it's a path of cowardice.

The film opens with Ralston setting off on his fateful trip without, importantly, telling anyone where he's going. We see him as the reckless, brash guy who takes shortcuts to cut off time from "what the guidebook says." Early into his excursion, he meets two fellow backpackers (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn, stiff and stepping on pretty much every line), who I suppose are there to be his final connection to the outside world. The fun they have furthers the extremely breezy tone of the beginning, which is jarred completely when, a few minutes after they part, Ralston slips and plummets.

As you might expect, Boyle is pretty focused, showing Ralston trying to chip at the rock with his low-grade knockoff multi-tool (as the prologue shows, he's left his Swiss Army Knife at home). That is, for maybe a good 30 seconds. Then, he breaks away, enough times that one could argue that more time is spent outside of Ralston's fix than in. Boyle compromises, when he should be uncompromising. The method works in a way: it shows us visually what he's thinking, and offers (if extremely confusing and half-cooked) exposition. (To it's detriment, it also overloads on massively sentimental imagery.) In my opinion, if it had really wanted to be effective, it would have viewed Ralston as someone who would have found him would have viewed him: as a man who's fighting against deterioration, mental and physical. The scene where he imagines that he's on a talk show could have been more interesting if it had not contained itself (i.e. added the applause in the background).

James Franco is the actor who takes on Ralston, and he does well. If there was an actor who could have played this part better, Franco makes us forget. (In a more intensive version of this film, he may still have been the go-to guy, though in large doses I feel he could be a little annoying, meaning that Boyle's guerrilla editing regiment maybe benefited Franco). However, the real character of Ralston is underexposed. Whether that's the fault of Boyle or Franco is unclear, but what is certain is that the film does not go far enough in its look at the man.

Of course, since this is a Boyle film, there is technical show-offing which (as they say) gets your adrenaline pumping. But this is not the film for it. This is the film where you sacrifice being bravura for being getting in touch with your subject. In this way, Boyle is not a mature filmmaker. He has all the control in the world when it comes to the small aspects of his mise-en-scene (if you can even grant that level of sophistication to his direction), but it doesn't occur to him that the right idea may be to switch the game-plan altogether. C+

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cannes Competition Distribution Report 2010

Competition Films With American Distribution:
Another Year (Mike Leigh) - Sony Pictures Classics
Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois) - Sony Pictures Classics (Gran Prix)
Outside the Law (Rachid Bouchareb) - Cohen Media Group
Biutiful (Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu) - Roadside Attractions (Best Actor, Javier Bardem; tied with Elio Germano)
A Screaming Man (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun) - Film Movement (Jury Prize)
The Princess of Montpensier (Bertrand Tavernier) - IFC Films
Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami) - IFC Films (Best Actress, Juliette Binoche)
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) - Strand Releasing (Palme d'Or)
The Housemaid (Im Sang-Soo) - IFC Films
My Joy (Sergei Loznitsa) - Kino Lorber
Poetry (Lee Chang-dong) - Kino Lorber (Best Screenplay)
Outrage (Takeshi Kitano) - Magnolia Pictures
Fair Game (Doug Liman) - Summit Entertainment

Competition Films Without American Distribution:
Tender Son - The Frankenstein Project (Kornel Mundruczo)
Route Irish (Ken Loach)
On Tour (Mathieu Amalric) (Best Director, Mathieu Amalric; FIPRESCI award)
Our Life (Daniele Luchetti) (Best Actor, Elio Germano; tied with Javier Bardem)
Burnt By the Sun 2 (Nikita Mikhalkov)
Chongqing Blues (Wang Xiaoshuai)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Four Lions

"Four Lions" is a sloppy movie that shows in every single scene that it is the work of someone experienced with television and not feature films. Christopher Morris is apparently very famous in England. I see from his IMDb page that he's only written and directed television shows, like "Nathan Barley" and "The Day Today." This is a great way to build up a fan base, but it may leave you out of touch with cinematic instincts. That's what's happened to Morris. For example, he uses a lot of establishing shots and thus makes the film come off as episodic. As I said in my review of "Hereafter," this reeks of a sitcom. A real filmmaker puts their faith in the audience and segues right in with regular shots.

But I wouldn't care about this as much if the film delivered. Let me tell you: it really doesn't. This is a British comedy and satire that is reported to produce many laughs. Nearly all of mine were forced. When these types of films don't work (like Winterbottom's "Tristam Shandy"), they can be very middling, and that's exactly what this is.

This film barely even has a plot: we follow a group of inane terrorists as they try over and over again to orchestrate a suicide bombing. Omar (Riz Ahmed) is very serious about it all, the most diehard of the group. Barry (Nigel Lindsay), a sometime panelist, is hellbent on blowing up a mosque so that he can get Muslims to rise up. Waj (Kayvan Novak) is basically a puppet, who can be easily swayed ideologically with the promise of going on theme park rides when he's in heaven. Fessal (Adeel Aktar) earnestly buys chemicals at the same store with "different voices," and one of the more minor members of the group. And finally, we have Hassan (Arsher Ali), who joins the group later on after he pulls an audacious but senseless stunt in the audience of one of Barry's talks. We follow them through their mishaps, in terrorist training camp, videotaping themselves, and sometimes just blowing up microwaves for good measure. This is all put together in a way devoid of sense, somehow not developing characters enough to really make us care about them. It must be said, though, that at a certain point, I stop finding people failing and arguing about silly stuff humorous. There are people that do like this kind of thing, and they will be satiated. However, they won't be enriched by a quality film experience.

When we get to the ending, set during the London Marathon, Morris doesn't flinch at surprising violence. But even this he ends up making repetitive. He struggles a bit with tone, which doesn't help. It's really not his business. He's in it for setting up the music and the image, as that's what I assume he does with his television programs.

Morris hits some nice marks with his jabs at the faulty ideology of the terrorists. They completely misunderstand the meaning of jihad. Omar feeds it both to Waj (through the whole theme park meme) and his own son (through a story about "The Lion King") in misleading ways. There is also the idea of "following your heart," which is brought up in a scene between Omar and Waj where Waj obviously has doubts and where Omar has to convince him that "his brain really is his heart."

I will finally speak of the acting, which is a maker or a breaker in a comedy. Sad to say that "Four Lions" gets let down on this front. Ahmed in the lead role admirably plays a straight man, but he's not very good at delivery of jokes and this costs the film. Also underperforming is Lindsay, who swings and misses when it comes to making an endearingly annoying character and ends up just with the latter half. I didn't much like Novak either and had mixed feelings about Ali (who is admittedly better than his lookalike Aasif Mandvi, which is not saying a whole lot). Good work is given in my opinion is by Aktar making a comical character out of Fessel (providing salvation like David Rasche did in "In the Loop"), but he's such a small part of the film that it really doesn't matter that much.

I don't tend to get into the groove of cult films that cause unstoppable laughter. That was why for me "Four Lions" was a dissatisfactory movie. It definitely has an audience, which you may be a part of. Speaking for myself, though... C

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Town

Ben Affleck didn't know how to end "The Town." Considering that the rest of the film is as atmospheric as Peter Yates' similarly Boston-set "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" and twice as good, this is a shame. Pre-ending, it's entertaining, evocative, satisfying, and just about worthy of Affleck's "Gone Baby Gone." It wouldn't have caused the same sort of philosophical debate that resulted from that film's ending, but it would have been mighty fine. However, Affleck sends the film down maybe the wrong road, trapping himself in a corner only escapable through a terribly sappy resolution.

This film focuses on a neighborhood in Boston called Charleston, where (I believe) "Gone Baby Gone" was also set. Tragedy is in the air every second, since a ton of criminals operate from here. Ex-hockey-player Doug MacRay (a good Affleck) is one of them, along with his friend from childhood James (Jeremy Renner, playing a character similar to the one in "The Hurt Locker") whose drugged-up and promiscuous sister (Blake Lively) he dated and had a kid with, and a couple others (Owen Burke and Slaine). They work for Fergie Colm (Pete Postlethwaite, in a nice bit part), a mob boss who has a long history with Doug and his prison-sentenced father Stephen (Chris Cooper).

Doug and his cohorts are considered experts by the police. They are extremely meticulous in all of their robberies, making sure to wash their DNA off the crime scene and to deal with any dangerous witnesses. They take on a bank at the film's start, and are forced to kidnap the bank manager and release her at the water. This is Claire (Rebecca Hall), who is unsettled by the ordeal. She talks to the FBI (namely Adam Frawley, played solidly as a Landa-esque passive-aggressive by Jon Hamm) but doesn't say much.

Doug, who stole her license at some point during the robbery, follows her from her house to a laundromat and ends up carrying on a conversation with her as just some guy. She brings up her horrible situation, and he must contain his knowledge while comforting her. This encounter escalates into having a drink, and then further. This is a love that is bound to collapse, but Doug is not thinking as the levelheaded robbery planner that he is. This provokes relevant thoughts and doubles as a look at love in the information age.

As the relationship progresses, Doug wants more and more to back out of his dangerous activity. The jobs get increasingly riskier, from robbing a truck to stealing from Fenway Park (which is an anti-American and -Bostonian offense on top of a federal one, if you ask me), with the gunfights taking place in more and more closed spaces. This arc is a bit hard for Affleck to handle. Maybe he bit off more than he could chew. All I know is that he did a very nice job with the ending of "Gone Baby Gone," and that here he turned to schmaltz. B

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fair Game

"Nothing But the Truth" by Rod Lurie viewed the revealing of Valerie Plame's CIA status behind a fictional lens and from the perspective of the person who wrote the explosive article. That was a disappointing and confused film, but, despite my objections, I feel ultimately that it had more going on than Doug Liman's "Fair Game." I fully expected that Liman (also his own bravura cinematographer) was going pull something much better off with this Cannes Competition entry, what with his choice to make it a fly-on-the-wall biopic rather than a fictionalization. But instead, the result is dreary, repetitive, and unsatisfying, a film that really doesn't go anywhere.

I have my qualms about Naomi Watts (chosen due to her close resemblance to Ms. Plame) in the lead role. She's tediously solemn, the polar opposite of Vera Farmiga's overacting in "Nothing." It's decent and everything, but it does the film no favors. We see her going off to a ton of different countries, like Malaysia and Iraq, trying to get lists of people involved with projects, always under an innocuous cover before she turns all CIA on the person she's with. She's a workaholic, often absent from home, to the detriment of her marriage to Ambassador Joe Wilson (Sean Penn).

Wilson makes dinner parties and social gatherings less fun with his inability to keep himself from speaking his mind ("Have you ever actually been threatened by Saddam? Then you don't know what you're talking about."). He's also unable to contain himself after he's gone to Niger to investigate White Cake uranium. He hears Pres. Bush's State of the Union saying that there is indeed this sort of uranium in Africa (and thus a threat of nuclear weapon production), and must do his duty as an American to tell everyone that this stuff isn't there (in a New York Times article). He isn't thinking about what consequences will come from writing this. This isn't the article that brought Plame to her demise (although it definitely had an indirect effect), but one would be forgiven for thinking that, because the whole Judith Miller aspect of the scandal (the subject of "Nothing But the Truth") is left basically unexplored.

The film is at points moderately expansive, detailing relations in Iraq between Plame and a doctor and her brother (which ultimately and shatteringly fall apart) and also covering inside the government (with both Scooter Libby and, awkwardly, Karl Rove portrayed). Liman can't avoid an erratic tone in these portions. However, they do provide more stimulation than the reacting-to-television-clip and picking-up-the-phone scenes (unfortunately not like this) that are interspersed throughout. The film, parading Sam Shepard around on the way, drags to a conclusion that could easily be called a cop-out. When we're speaking in these terms, we know we don't have a success on our hands. C

Friday, November 5, 2010


Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter" is something that his past three works really weren't: interesting, at least a bit. In portions, it's still pretty tedious, but it definitely has some allure. That's definitely an advancement for Eastwood, who made some of his worst films with "Changeling," "Gran Torino," and "Invictus" (his best, a word that should be used lightly, since "Letters From Iwo Jima," but also his most mundane). This new one at times rivals all of them in its badness, but at other points it propels itself above. It raises some actual questions, intentionally or not. And it manages to prevent the viewer from feeling incredibly annoyed, which, considering the mistakes that Eastwood makes here, is worth something.

The film has a monotonous structure: it's divided into 3 sections, which cycle back and forth in the same order, using so many establishing shots it feels like a sitcom. Eastwood somehow makes this feel strangely comforting (evidence of his small degree of magic), but there are definitely better ways to do this. One example I believe would be Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Amores Perros," which isn't entirely successful but pretty close with its more segmented approach.

(POSSIBLE SPOILER: One thing that must be said: "Hereafter" seems to rip one of its strands right out of "Perros," that of Marie LeLay, who mirrors many traits of Inarritu's Valeria (Goya Toledo). The bit with the posters I think takes it one step too far.)

Marie LeLay (Cecile De France) is a French newscaster who is on vacation. She's having an affair with her producer Didier (Thierry Neuvic), and, as she goes to get souvenirs for HIS kids, disaster strikes. It's Sumatra, and this is that tsunami you heard about. Can you say ripped-from-the-headlines (screenwriter Peter Morgan, who also wrote "The Queen," can, also including the London subway bombings in a not-so-pivotal scene)? Marie tries to save a girl who she was buying a necklace from, but she cannot, as she is struck by a floating car. She dies, or gets especially close to dying, because she can see the next world in snippets. She survives the incident, but is completely shaken. She may seem fine, but it's only a matter of time before it consumes her and she's writing one of those crazy manuscripts, to the chagrin of a publisher who wanted her to write about an influential French politician.

Across the pond in San Francisco, we cut to George Lonegan (Matt Damon), a true psychic being bothered by his money-hungry brother (Jay Mohr, who's flat-out awful) to do readings (viewers in the know will catch Richard Kind of "A Serious Man" as one of the people he does give a reading to). Lonegan is a person who has Character Traits: he absolutely loves Charles Dickens (who had epilepsy, a fact that the movie is quietly referencing) and he's taking an Italian cooking class. He has a mildly interesting backstory beyond that, but it's sad that even someone as reputable as Morgan still fashions characters like this. Lonegan does at one point have an embarrassingly obvious and extremely labored Meet Cute at the cooking class with Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard, terrible), and that doesn't end well. I was surprised that Eastwood and Morgan showed some restraint in not bringing her back at the end of the film. (They actually do something worse, but let's give them a hand while we can.)

We go back to Europe to complete our cycle: Jason and Marcus (Frankie and George McLaren, who each play both of them) are twin brothers living with the sort of irresponsible alcoholic mother that often populates sad British films. Child care knows about this, and they come to break it all up. The twins manage to stave them off, until a couple of deus ex machinas strike (SPOILER: Jason gets hit by a truck and dies) and the mother is carted off to an institution. Marcus, the "quiet one," falls into the foster system, given to a couple who he has absolutely no warmth for. He wanders off looking for psychics to connect him to his brother. This is shown in a well-done montage satirizing the fakers in the "after-death" industry and perhaps the whole business altogether.

I speak with perhaps a little too much harshness. "Hereafter" in some ways is special, and that should be recognized. But still, it's too formulaic and has too many pitfalls to be worth a recommendation. C