Review- Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Geerasak Kuhlong in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Strand Releasing)

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a film that first really came to my attention as a film that was picked as Cahiers du Cinema, the famous French film magazine which once was home to most of (if not all) the founding members of the French New Wave, as the best film of 2010. This film was named on all ballots. Then upon reading about it I found that it won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, also worth noting that the Jury last year was headed by Tim Burton. These two facts are mentioned because the source is worth noting. Both Burton and the French are supporters of the notion that the unusual and lack of easy answers can be preferable to a transparent plot and easy escapism.

As is the case with any film I will endeavor to render, as clearly as possible, my opinion of the film. My best advice to you is to read up on Uncle Boonmee before you decide to seek it out at Art Houses or on home video. Many reviews will discuss the film with words like “opacity” and “paradoxical” but also have very positive things to say about it even without reaching very definitive conclusions.

I will not be too different than those. There is an absolute reverie in Magical Realism that abounds throughout this film. Ghosts and mythological beings weave their way into the tapestry of the story in a wonderfully unobtrusive way. Yet the weaving is something that is not so very apparent. Things are set up early on left aside and then revisited later.

It’s as if Weerasethakul were setting up a math equation, or four, and omitting the sum or at times even the operation. An example, is the Ghost Monkey. It is an image and a concept that is first made known to us with a very frightful closing shot, and moment of genuine horror, of the prologue. This is not fully explicated until the spirit world is introduced in full when a very casual dinner conversation is held with Huay, Boonmee’s dead wife. Similarly the Ghost Monkey also turns out to be a relation, however, those are examples of where the equation is laid out before you and all you have to do is add it up.

There are two more extended sequences in which the answers, if there are any, are much harder to decipher. Not that this necessarily makes the film less enjoyable but it is worth noting. In both cases it is possible to develop one’s own theory as to what the significance of the segment was. There is one case in which you have no time to decode within the film because the film ends immediately following it so you are asked to contemplate after its conclusion.

While these portions are slightly out of step with the narrative, such as it is, they do not run counter to the approach of the film. Even the few easily discernible plot points, in a more traditional sense, are disseminated in an unconventional way. At times they occur before the scene in question and off-screen. This is sort of a distanced approach to the narrative that invites the viewer to examine the surrounding environs of these people’s lives and examine possibilities that are not apparent or necessarily logical.

This narrative choice is also reflected in the visual approach of the film as well as it relies heavily on long takes and wide vistas rather than quick cuts and close-ups. The framing and lighting of these shots is typically meticulous and they are also generally well lit.

Uncle Boonmee is the kind of film that may or may not get better upon a second viewing but it seems to be inviting one too. While it doesn’t reward the viewer with overwhelming amounts of escapism it does provide much food for thought. It is the kind of film that will occupy the viewer’s mind long after its completion. It is one of the matter-of-fact and deftly handled interpretation of the Magical Realist cinema I’ve seen and that alone makes it worth viewing and is one of its redeeming qualities. Having these apparitions occur with characters incapable of dealing with it would’ve been insipid and trying of the audience’s patience.

7/10

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Review- Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Zachary Gordon and Devon Bostick in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules (20th Century Fox)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is a better film than its predecessor. This was something I rather anticipated, however, I don’t believe its to the detriment of this installment that it is second. There is not too much shorthand used and the narrative is accessible enough that that much enjoyment will not be stripped away if you are walking into this one cold.

This film benefits from a more unified and less episodic plot than did its predecessor as well. Not that it still doesn’t reap the benefit of humorous and well thought out subplots but they weave their way into the larger narrative with more finesse than before. These tales like Chirag’s invisibility, the new girl, the teacher with a vendetta are all well-handled and add to the film but do not ever threaten to overtake the film from what the central conflict is.

The conflict being that of sibling rivalry, which is handled very well because you see a relationship in stasis go from just about as bad as it can possibly get to become rather functional. It also contains the peaks and valleys that are requisite for such a struggle and even more of a credit to the film it goes from being borderline cartoonish in its animosity to being rather real and honest in the handling of the themes of both resentment and insurmountable hatred that sometimes accompany such relationship especially when the age difference is large.

These discussion points come first to illustrate that despite its varying brands of humor, there is a point to be made in the film and its not just silly comedy. As for the styles comedy it does do a wonderful balancing act again. As this is a homey tale there is more parent-child and husband-wife comedy than before.

Again Steve Zahn brilliantly plays a dad who wants to be as hands off in parenting as he can and also is a typical guy in some regards and not just your typical distant patriarchal archetype. He is countered wonderfully by Rachael Harris. They are funny enough, however, the comedic quotient in this film is amplified greatly when you consider that the talented and previously under-ultilized Devon Bostick gets to step to the fore in this film. He is astonishingly good in this film and rarely delivers a line that doesn’t elicit some sort of response whether it be a laugh or one that connects dramatically.

Zachary Gordon’s character Greg is somewhat mellowed this time around not as hellbent on achieving popularity and other superficial means of acceptance but glimmers of that self appear even in a more rounded character that he creates just as easily, if not easier than he did before. His honesty in situations that in tandem can be seen as absurd are what carry the film and make it something you can connect to sympathetically rather than watch as a disinterested observer.

This film moves along at a very healthy clip, not only are there some fun and creative editing choices like “Disappointed” montage for Mom but things cut swiftly within scenes such that the whole things seems like its done in a blink and not in a disappointed I-Can’t-Believe-They-Call-That-A-Feature kind of way but in a fun and escapist, easily re-watchable way.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules allows the narrative, characters and young performers to grow and evolve from where we left them and you can call it an experiment if you like but if you do it is surely a success. Those who were there are better, more confident and comfortable in their roles and those who are new like Peyton List, who carries off the important role of Greg’s love interest with uncanny ease, blend in perfectly.

It’s funny, fun, must-see.

10/10

Review- Winter in Wartime

Martijn Lakemeier in Winter in Wartime (Sony Pictures Classics)

If one simply looks at the synopsis for Winter in Wartime then one might not be tremendously struck by the concept but upon seeing the film the one thought that kept occurring to me was “How did this film get passed up when it was submitted for the Oscars?” It just goes to show you that one, there are issues in the selection process and two the films submitted every year are worthy of finding as this film is absolutely outstanding in every facet of its production.

It is a film that tells of a young man Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) who is by chance brought into the resistance in World War II Holland. This does not even begin to convey how fascinating and compelling this tale is and how well it is told. The film starts right away with us seeing a plane crash and very creative confrontation between a British, Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower), and German soldier. This does not immediately fold itself into the thrust of the tale but does eventually.

What works is that Michiel’s character is established as well is his family life before he starts being drawn in further and further. What’s even better is that events conspire to involve him not just natural childish curiosity. A curiosity that never seems unnatural and leaves you shaking your head. It plays naturally and doesn’t ever seem contrived, which is of paramount importance in this film such that disbelief remains suspended. The matter-of-fact nature by which some others are caught and punished also adds to this.

The story is constantly delivering twists and turns at a naturalistic pace and methodically raises the stakes. It eventually ratchets things up to a become a fantastic tragic tale that never goes over the top and keeps you involved and makes it something you can relate to. As the the plot thickens and becomes more involved so does Lakemeier’s character become further developed and more and more demands are made on him as an actor, which he meets and exceeds. Principally in his cool nervousness at the end and also his frantic fear during a climactic slow-motion sequence. The rare variety of such sequence that actually augments the actor’s performance rather than rendering it comical.

It’s a portrait of the war at home without being in your face and full of histrionics but you still can’t help but feel the impact of watching a child’s world start to crumble about him and for the first time in his life he is compelled to act by a sense of responsibility rather than desire.

The gravitas that the tale carries through a bulk of the tale is beautifully scored by Pino Donaggio. The score combined with the sure-handed direction of Martin Koolhoven help this film leap right off the screen and take you into the tale more effectively than any 3D film could ever hope to.

The film isn’t a one-actor showcase nor is it a one-trick pony. Yorick van Wageningen has a tremendous two-pronged performance as the enigmatic Uncle Ben. Then there’s Melody Klaver whose relationship with Michiel changes as she too gets brought into the plot. Jamie Campbell Bower also is rather impressive as the wounded Brit, typically an English-speaking actor in a foreign language film doesn’t get too much to sink his teeth into but he does and takes advantage of it.

A testament to the wonders of this film is that one of the twists within this tale is rather large, the kind that a lesser film would hang its hat on. Not only does the whole film not hinge on this revelation and how it is handled but it is improved and propelled by it. It leads to a breathtaking climax that is even more artistically rendered than was the previous twist.

Upon walking out of the theatre the only things I was able to say that expressed the impression this film made on me was an internet acronym (OMG) and the very repetitive statement that (“I love, love, love this movie”). The reasons stated above are just some of them. Koolhoven establishes himself as a director to be followed and this film, is the best I’ve seen this year to date.

10/10

The Trouble with The Magician’s Nephew

The Chronicles of Narnia (Scholastic)

So yesterday the beans were finally spilled that it will be the Magician’s Nephew that is the next book in The Chronicles of Narnia that will be adapted into a film. Now I had been one of a select group of fans who had adamantly supported The Silver Chair as the next book that should get adapted and not just for continuity’s sake, as Eustace, played by Will Poulter, in the only character that crosses over to that book from Dawn Treader.

The fact that this debate exists is interesting and indicative of a few things that are unique about the Narnia series as opposed to other fantasy properties.

First, it needs to be acknowledged that the chronology was always likely to be fractured. Those seeds were sewn by C.S. Lewis himself. For it was Lewis himself who wrote The Magician’s Nephew after the other six installments and pleaded, mostly to no avail, that it be read before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As a child I did not read it as such. When the first film was about to be released I searched for information on reading order and finally took the tales in properly.

Of course, we all know The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was the first film and subsequently that the producers decided that it was to be the Pevensie tales would be told first. Whereas in other fantasy properties you typically have a continuity in the personages populating the tale. Lewis, however, is true to the name of his series and this series are about the stories and about the land rather than a particular lead or group thereof.

If one adheres to Lewis’s reading plot the books that have been adapted thus far are numbers two, four and five. The decision to go to The Magician’s Nephew, an origins tale, at this point is a curious one on a few accounts.

Firstly, I find it a bit of a curious business decision. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader just crossed the $400 Million mark in international box office receipts and it is a film that took the somewhat unusual path in this day and age of building by word-of-mouth. Due in part to the disappointment most felt in Prince Caspian it didn’t break out of the box strong but had staying power when people realized this one is very good indeed.

With a franchise redeemed, at least in a financial sense, it would seem like the most obvious decision in the world to go next to the one tale that had any sort of connection.

Will Poulter in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (20th Century Fox)

Furthermore, it needs to be noted that while the film doesn’t make it explicit I assumed Will Poulter is playing quite a few years younger than he is in Dawn Treader. Given some time off he may not look the part of Eustace as much as he does now. Not that I think he’d be replaced but it just might seem a bit awkward or need a bit of a re-write when the Silver Chair‘s time does come.

With this sort of momentum I even entertained the wild fantasy that funding would be sought for both potential next films to shoot simultaneously and release one shortly after another. The fact of the matter is the remaining volumes need not all have the same director as each has its own sensibility.

Pipe dreams aside, personally I would’ve liked Silver Chair next not just because I prefer that story but because it made more logical sense. The series has already pleasantly surprised me in two of its three installments so I am more than willing to withhold judgment but as I said it strikes me as odd.

With Narnia being by its very nature a more fragmented series it does raise some doubts as to what its cinematic future is. Let us assume the tale works as well as possible and the marketing draws in enough fans new and old, then what?

After The Magician’s Nephew the books that remain are: The Horse and His Boy, book number three, a more introspective tale than any of the others. It always struck me as having a Carol Ballard’s Black Stallion vibe, which would make it rather an artistic venture and as such it’s a gamble. I can’t see the producers gambling twice in a row so I predict this book would be the 6th film of the series.

The Silver Chair being the runner-up this time around would thus be the 5th film adapted and naturally The Last Battle would close out the series.

If films four and five connect then I think it’d be safe to assume they could afford a gamble and a closing chapter.

When it started there were no guarantees, and there still isn’t, that this series would see completion. It’s an older property than the other big budget films and has Christian overtones, which do not appeal to some but it’s never been about that to me it’s been about great storytelling.

In conclusion, I do like The Magician’s Nephew and definitely think there’s potential there with new cast members and story which re-examines some familiar motifs. I am just not sure it was the right choice as the next film. However, if it does well this series will be one step closer to following in Harry Potter‘s footsteps, proving you can plan a massive series and achieve it. If you consider that I believe two of the first three Narnia installments trump Potter it is very exciting news regardless of which novel they chose to adapt next.

Review- Paul

Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in Paul (Universal)

The first thing that needs saying about Paul is that it’s the first comedy I’ve seen in a while that struck me as one that will likely get better upon being re-viewed. However, unlike Pegg and Frost’s previous films, those which were pairings with Edgar Wright this film is more homage than homage/parody. There isn’t really that delightful and subtle transition that occurred in the initial installments of the Blood & Ice Cream Trilogy to elevate this one but it does not stop this film from being very funny indeed.

The lack of subtlety translates a bit to the humor of this film as well. Not that it ever really hits a discordant note comedically but it doesn’t have the well-hidden jokes or the built-in verve that the earlier films do. What it does have is a tremendous spirit and a genuine love for all things in the overarching genre that can best be called Fanboy. Whether it sci-fi, comics or anything else you can find at Comic Con this film loves it an embraces it.

It’s that spirit that really propels the film. There are a few things that become a bit too present like the mysterious boss, who is seeking to capture the alien (the eponymous Paul voiced by Seth Rogen), which is just an overly elaborate set-up to a short-lived cameo by Sigourney Weaver which has already been spoiled by the marketing department- see it does factor in sometimes.

Then there are the dueling chasers: the underling Agent Zoil (played by Jason Bateman, and yes there’s a great joke made about the name) and his subordinates Haggard and O’Reilly (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Trugio) who are kept in the dark to an extent about what this chase it really about. As if that subplot wasn’t enough the chase becomes even more cluttered adding Moses Buggs (John Carroll Lynch) whose daughter Ruth (Kristen Wiig) ran off with them, to the mix.

That is not to say that these things don’t fit, aren’t funny and don’t add something to the mix but they remain a bit separate and don’t represent a realistic threat until very late so most of the time it’s additional comedy added and more time allotted than is maybe needed. These elements aren’t folded in as neatly as they could be.

In this day and age when any animated character that exists is automatically endangered when there isn’t a name attached to play the role the concept of invisibility is very important, which if you haven’t read an animated review of mine before means the ability of the actor to blend into the film and become his character such that we don’t think of his face when we hear his voice. This was a huge hurdle for Despicable Me that was eventually cleared and in this film it was one of its greater struggles. Rogen’s voice is not only very distinctive but also rather inflexible such that until the character builds sufficiently it’s hard to not think of him.

The CG does help pull it through, however, as always it seems to be the case that when there is only one major project that the animators need to deal there seems to be greater attention to detail paid. Paul looks quite real some of the time and perhaps more importantly blends in with his surroundings very well.

The cast overall does an outstanding job. In the end Rogen does manage to make Paul rather an endearing if different extra-terrestrial than those we’ve come to know. Nick Frost and Simon Pegg show that they are the world’s premiere comedic duo at the moment and show no signs of slowing down. Kristen Wiig adds just the right amount of zaniness to the mix and be prepared to be surprised but an important, moving and hilarious supporting turn by Blythe Danner.

What is always very apparent with films that involve Pegg and Frost as both writers and performers is that you know their material comes from a place of genuine affection despite the spoofing and jokes. As a film fan it will remind you some of your very favorite films but also tell a tale of its own which is very worthy of your time.

8/10

Review- Beastly

Mary-Kate Olsen and Alex Pettyfer in Beastly (CBS Films)

Beastly is the kind of film that’s not going to waste your time to help you decide whether or not you’re going to enjoy it. This film starts with such a ridiculous, unrealistic and disingenuous tone that my mind was made up almost in record time, however, there is a point its trying to make it just goes about trying to make it with the subtlety of a roundhouse kick to the jaw. There is not a piece of the dialogue or acting within the first few minutes that I believe for a second. Whether it be the over-the-top-look-at-me-I’m-a-modern-day-Dorian-Gray dialogue by the film’s protagonist Kyle (Alex Pettyfer), the incredibly crass ‘Embrace the Suck’ slogan and the preposterous Hey-I’m-A-Witch acting and cinematography revolving the film’s antagonist, Kendra (Mary-Kate Olsen).

That’s just a small sampling of the ridiculousness that ensues in this film right off the bat. It’s hard enough to sell an audience on a Beauty and the Beast plot in the modern day when you set the film up with this lack of realism. The witch comments really aren’t a throwaway. The film wants to waste no time and get right into it and it’s very obvious the outcast character, Kendra, is actually a witch but it sacrifices any semblance of realism to do so.

The dialogue never really sparkles but really struggles in this portion of the film such that it’s painful to listen to. It’s extraordinarily hard to understand, get behind and in any way identify with these characters.

Things do improve from this pathetic start, however, not nearly by enough. Not in the slightest. An example would be that while the makeup and prosthetic work is rather good when looked at in isolation, within the context of this narrative it fails the film also. It doesn’t do enough to camouflage who this kid really is, as the love interest Lindy (Vanessa Hudgens) is supposed to not be able to recognize him. Not only that but it virtually screams who he is by scrolling the words “Embrace” and “Suck” where his eyebrows used to be.

As if this wasn’t enough there are the other instances where the film decides to try our patience and and think logically far too much. There is a long conversation between Kyle and Lindy at a party where they do not look at each other, there is the fact that structurally Kyle’s face is the same as is his voice yet he is never recognized or suspected and Lindy believes his cover until he’s healed.

Even some of the better touches are counteracted by miscalculations such as when Kyle is trying to woo Lindy, and is of course trying to pick meaningful rather than expensive gifts, he gets her a case of Jujy Fruits. Yet, “How did you know I liked these enough to get me ten?” is a question that is never asked.

The one thing that consistently raises the level of this film ever so slightly are some of the performances. Mainly that of Neil Patrick Harris in a supporting role where he does his best to add true comic relief to the film. That being said Alex Pettyfer is also better with a more believable American accent than in I Am Number Four, he just has a lot less material to work with.

There isn’t a lot in terms of redeeming qualities in Beastly, which is even more unforgivable when you’re building the story on a tried and true template and at times makes it an infuriating and frustrating experience. It is likely to go down as one of the worst of the year.

2/10

Review- The Adjustment Bureau

Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in The Adjustment Bureau (Universal)

Frequently, it is mentioned that one should disregard the marketing of a film when analyzing it. I agree with that principle, however, when there is a germane marketing point to be made I feel it is worth mentioning as an aside I will include it. The fact of the matter is all film’s have a pre-life. You hear about the concept, see the trailer or what have you. You know of a film before you see that and you decide “Oh, I want to see that” or “I might see that” and so on. When the projector starts up that’s when your preconceived notions must go away but everyone forms some opinions and at times, to our delight or chagrin, we are wrong.

The ads for The Adjustment Bureau don’t misrepresent the film at all. Why it bears mentioning is that in seeing the trailer, in conjunction with that for the forthcoming Limitless, they both seem like the kinds of concepts that are interesting but may eventually spin out of control.

The Adjustment Bureau never does that. It does deal with the concept of fate and who is the puppetmaster of our destiny and what if anything we can do about it but what it never does is get too absurd or grandiose. It manages to do this by focusing solely on our protagonist and his very simple goal: to be with the woman he loves.

Even though those pulling the strings are abstractions of higher entities and there is a bright and lofty future intended for both our protagonists we never have flash-forwards that open up a Pandora’s Box or make these characters less identifiable to the common man.

In the single-minded obsession of our protagonist a film with some heady notions stays somewhat grounded. Slowly but surely the hierarchy and what these figures do and do not understand about the plan is revealed. There are some awkward moments along the way but ultimately you find that you are allowed to “beat the system” it’s just very difficult.

Of course, the grounding of this tale would be impossible without affable and talented leads and this film has that indeed. The first mention goes to Emily Blunt. Who is one of the more electric, charismatic, talented and under-hyped young stars of the cinema today. She plays perfectly in to the refreshing no B.S. love story that is crafted for her. Adding humor, warmth and personality to it in spades.

Then there’s Matt Damon whom cuts through a lot of the red tape set up by the character and script. There is a long sequence at the beginning of the film which gives us his characters’ political past replete with many cameos by figures of the political world. We meet the image before the man and we come to know the man as the film moves along. He faces hard choices as he has stumbled upon a secret that most will not and debates how he should respond and how much he is willing to risk to get what he wants.

This is also the kind of film with effects work that is likely to get overlooked because it’s not the “Look At Me” variety but rather the functional variety wherein they only come into play to display locations that cannot possibly exist behind the doors that are opened. They are, however, very well done.

By keeping the story close to the vest suspension of disbelief becomes very easy even with some rather unbelievable things happening throughout. What is also helpful is that there is a humorous element to the story that is acknowledged and embraced by the film which raises its level somewhat from where it otherwise would’ve been.

The end of the film while not breathtaking after a rather action-filled film is proper and puts the last few questions to bed. It fits and is earned and that’s all that can be asked for in truth. The Adjustment Bureau is a fun and intelligent film of the kind there are far too few of these days.

9/10

Review- Battle: Los Angeles

Aaron Eckhart in Battle: Los Angeles (Columbia Pictures)

As is sometimes the case I will lead with the few negatives I have to say about a film to accentuate the positives afterward. This is what I will do for Battle: Los Angeles because I did walk away very pleased and rather impressed in the end, my tweet reaction being: “An enjoyable theatrical double feature today. Say what? Battle: LA revives invasion films with moments of symphonic brilliance.”

I have found that tweeting a knee-jerk reaction to a film can be quite helpful to the review process it allows you to encapsulate your overall view of the film and then explore why you feel as such later on. It also illuminates that this film ends rather strongly after a rather plain start.

First, this one of the rare films wherein a frame doesn’t really serve the story well. The film starts with footage which is in medias res of the alien invasion and then backtracks to a day before. This does a disservice to the film by dulling some good foreshadowing that is done prior to the attack. The foreshadowing is left without impact due to the fact that the table has been set likely for the impatient audience member.

The other thing that needs saying is that there are a fair amount of cliché used to construct it. There is the character who is handing in his resignation and we view his “I’m getting too old for this crap” scene, there are young soldiers, a teased virgin, one who lost his brother, the tough broad aptly played by Michelle Rodriguez as always. As with anything, however, it all boils down to execution. Cliché without execution in insufferable, cliché that gets stripped down, that eventually leads to individualized characters that you can identify with in a vehicle that works is a whole other story.

What I’m talking about in my tweet is the synergy that exists when the battle really gets underway, a synergy of the cinematic elements such as the edit, the cinematography and score to make the stakes of the tale hit home. One of the traps of the invasion and/or apocalyptic film is that the stakes couldn’t be higher but at times we could care less. This story is one of a more hand-to-hand combat, a more guerrilla style, which lends an immediacy to the tale. Also lending to the atmosphere is that, as much as it can be, this film is a microcosmic tale. You get a sense of the larger destruction around the world and how many major metropolitan areas are in the same boat but the film only shows you glimpses of it. You are watching this small battlefield and invested in these characters and it does affect you viscerally first and foremost.

It being a war movie in essence makes it one of the few cases when wildly flailing handheld camerawork is preferable but in trying to lend this film a modicum of reality it never forgets its intended audience and makes everything visually intelligible, which is no small feat or backhanded compliment, it truly is something to communicate chaos with clarity.

What is also good to see is that the battle is ultimately decided by perseverance and human intuition and there’s no fortuitous break that salvages mankind as there in the granddaddy of invasion stories War of the Worlds. The film also ends on a realistic and level plane. There is the exaltation of victory but no happily ever after moment. Merely we see the characters who survive moving on and we have the knowledge that other cities now have a blueprint to get through this but we don’t see that.

Michelle Rodriguez in another great action performance already got her due in this review, and she seems to get more great turns in the genre than most these days, however, what really carries this film is Aaron Eckhart. Eckhart who if he was an athlete would likely be referred to as sneaky good. He’s the kind who tends to get overlooked but then you see him in something you weren’t expecting him to do and are blown away all over again. This is different than him in The Dark Knight, Thank You for Smoking or Erin Brockovich. This film also has something a little different than Stunt Casting, for lack of anything better to call it let’s refer to it as Diamond Casting, which means when you spot someone you recognize some one from a long ago film (there’s that glimmer) but you can’t put your finger on a name. Here it happened in a few cases and that would be with Noel Fisher, Will Rothaar, Taylor Handley and Lucas Till. There are also two fantastic performances by young supporting actors namely Bryce Cass and Joey King.

At times it can seem like any alien invasion film coming out can seem most tired but every once and a while one of these films will surprise you. In my estimation Battle: Los Angeles is such a film. It is most definitely worthy of your viewership.

9/10

Review- Hereafter

Cécile De France and Matt Damon in Hereafter (Warner Bros.)

Clint Eastwood over the last decade has emerged as one of the pre-eminent American filmmakers on the cinematic landscape. Part of the reason behind his emergence is his belief in tried and true classical storytelling techniques. They are the kind of techniques that form the foundation of film and have become almost outdated due to their simplicity. This straightforward approach is avoided by most not only for aesthetic reasons but also because you have little to no margin for error when you are this direct. Some may call it ham-handed or on the head but that just indicates a personal disconnect with the material what best describes it is direct.

Why this analysis of his style is even worth mentioning is because he has now applied it to many different genres and/or styles of tale within close proximity to one another. In this tale, however, there is a little something missing from it. It’s almost as if the subject of the hereafter needs a little bit of an arcane approach to be as effective on screen as it could be.

There is, of course, also the concern of the limited omniscience that is rendered this tale. We are left examining people who are touched by death but none who actually die. We don’t follow them we follow the living, which makes it a much more mundane human drama, which can be as interesting if not more so. Of course, it ends up being a tale about life but there is no major insight or revelation offered save for some reassurance that there is something to look forward to in the big sleep.

It tells a three-pronged tale which will predictably intertwine and much like You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger it could’ve used some more judicious edits to make the story it tells just a bit tighter. One example is the trip that Marie, played wonderfully by Cécile De France, takes to Switzerland. She is only there to get files from a doctor. Yet there is quite a bit of her walking about and witnessing melodramatic deathbed scenes before she meets with the doctor. In tandem with that both her scenes with her publisher run a bit long and could’ve been shortened. The eventuality of the intertwining becomes apparent at some point so the journey needs to be truncated somewhat.

The acting overall is very strong and carried the movie through its doldrums. Matt Damon in particular is quite effective especially when he is doing readings on people which he approaches tentatively.

This film is also proof that films don’t necessarily need to be replete with incident but at least information such that the story moves on. Both Marie and Marcus have their very clear inciting incidents which are huge but the rest of their respective journeys are filled with a lot less fireworks but no less interesting just a bit longer than necessary.

Eastwood in this film is tackling a bigger subject with much the same approach he has faced others except musically. If there’s one thing that sets Eastwood apart from most is that he typically also scores his own films. In this film, however, the score is never noticeable. Which is good because it doesn’t call attention to itself but it also doesn’t enhance the film greatly.

All that said this film does have its moments of surpassing quality. Particularly the ending and the much anticipated reading. It does give us wonderful visuals in the rare glimpses of the afterlife we do get and does acknowledge the enormity of its subject matter and gives you some food for thought.

6/10

Hereafter is available on home video starting today.

Review- Unknown

Liam Neeson in Unknown (Warner Bros.)

OK, so here comes another one. Unknown is a film that to review properly, in my estimation, requires a few disclaimers:

1) SPOILER ALERT. I feel it’s important to get this one out of the way as soon as possible. I try to avoid it as much as I can but on occasion there will be a film that will leave you with little to no choice in the matter. I haven’t compelled to spill as much of the beans to make my point since I saw Orphan.

2) This is a hazardous film for me to review as a filmmaker. We are all guilty of armchair direction. Meaning we sit there and debate how we might’ve handled shots or the story. Part of my delay in writing this was to get past all the “I would’ve changed that” moments. I think it’s true in any form of criticism. Most notably food, I hate when a critic on a food shows alters the dish so greatly as to change it. Then it’s totally different and you’re not judging what’s on the plate. There are plenty of issues with “what is on the plate” in this story so I’ll leave it at that.

Without much further ado, Unknown.

This is another in a long line of films to have a pretty big twist due to either the fallibility of its protagonists memory or perception of reality. Unlike, say Shutter Island, the film doesn’t hinge entirely on the twist but the twist illuminates other issues.

The twist that Liam Neeson’s character is an assassin who after an accident has started to believe his cover story is his reality. In and of itself that’s a pretty darn good premise, however, in bringing that to fore there are many issues. Now one case of I wish that I will employ in this review is that while the coil is wound tightly you’re not necessarily expecting the criminal underworld to play into it and it’s a more effective story there.

The problem with the execution of the concept is that once the cat is out of the bag there is ample time for you to think back and realize how inconceivably unbelievable some of this film is.

Example: Neeson’s would-be wife, and actual assassin, is dumb enough to let his bag get lost which sets up the inciting incident. If there are crucial documents and information in their luggage why not handle it whenever possible? Secondly, the doctor immediately assumes that he is confused and misremembering things rather than coming to that conclusion in a reasonable amount of time. Memory and the functions of the brain are still so mysterious such that it’s difficult to believe that someone’s adverse reaction to trauma can be that easily guessed.

Then there’s this lovely little cliché: everyone Neeson runs into, practically, is in some way involved in this plot and trying to stifle his paranoid rantings. He happens across more people by chance who are involved than those who are not and it’s annoying and hard to swallow.

As a viewer I am one who tends to suspend disbelief rather easily so bear this in mind before I describe the next “I just didn’t buy it” moment. When Neeson is knocked out of the equation he is quickly replaced by his back-up. The problem here is that he is supposedly a noted scientist and no one notices his photo changing on a website, no one has ever seen this man just talked to him and over the course of a single year he’s developed a big reputation as a botanist.

It’s all a bit much. Neeson for the most part does a fine job in this film. He does manage to stick with his American persona without too many chinks in the armor but he’s also not given a great deal to work with. He said “I am Doctor Martin Harris” so many times it was a punchline amongst viewers both during and after the screening.

The bottom line is this: too many films are overly concerned with “fooling the audience” because they fear being too predictable, however, more often than not this has lead to films which are so ridiculously far-fetched they border on being laughable. For an example see the film Shutter. Yes, it’s horror and it’s difficult to be “believable” and original there but there’s a motif revealed at the end which fooled me, yes but also made me laugh when I saw it.

People have no problem with predictability believe it or not. We just want good. If you find me a person who walked in to The King’s Speech who having read the synopsis didn’t know what to expect I have a bridge I need to sell. It’s somewhat predictable nature doesn’t stop it from being a damn fine film. It’s just good we want, not tricks, which are after all for kids.

4/10