Making an earnest cinematic argument for the immortality of the soul and the existence of an afterlife without delving into mushy sentimentality is a difficult task for even the most gifted and “serious” of filmmakers. Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson discovered as much last year when his sappy grandiose adaptation of the ethereal bestseller The Lovely Bones opened to scathing reviews. Critics by and large tend to bristle at movie renderings of what may or may not await them in that Great Arthouse in the Sky.
And yet filmmakers seem determined to keep trying. The latest to make the attempt is Clint Eastwood who throughout his celebrated directorial career has certainly demonstrated a firm grasp of the death part of the equation. His filmography with a few notable exceptions practically revels in it: of his recent oeuvre Invictus is the only work that doesn’t deal with mortality in some significant manner. With his new film Hereafter Eastwood hopes to add immortality to his thematic resume.
The film's narrative centers on three characters each of whom has intimate experience with death and loss. Their stories in true Eastwood fashion can ostensibly be labeled Sad Sadder and Saddest: Marie (Cecile de France) is a French TV news anchor who’s haunted by disturbing flashbacks after she loses consciousness — and briefly her life — during a natural disaster; George (Matt Damon looking credibly schlubby) is a former psychic whose skills as a medium are so potent (the slightest touch from another human being triggers an instant powerful psychic connection a la Rogue from X-Men) they’ve left him isolated and alone; Marcus is a London schoolboy who retreats into a somber shell after losing his twin brother in a tragic car accident (both brothers are played rather impressibly by real-life twins Frankie and George McLaren).
Humanity offers little help to these troubled souls surrounding them with skeptics charlatans users and deadbeats none of whom are particularly helpful with crises of an existential nature. Luckily there are otherworldly options. Peter Morgan's script assumes psychics out-of-body experiences and other such phenomena to be real and legitimate but in a non-denominational Coast-to-Coast AM kind of way. Unlike Jackson’s syrupy CGI-drenched glimpses of the afterlife Eastwood’s visions of the Other Side are vague and eery — dark fuzzy silhouettes of the departed set against a white background. Only Damon’s character George seems capable of drawing meaning from them which is why he’s constantly sought out by grief-stricken folks desperate to make contact with loved ones who’ve recently passed on. He’s John Edward only real (and not a douche).
Marie and Marcus appear destined to find him as well but only as the last stop on wearisome circuitous and often heartbreaking spiritual journeys that together with George’s hapless pursuit of a more temporal connection (psychic ability it turns out can be a wicked cock-blocker) consume the bulk of Hereafter’s running time. We know the three characters’ paths must inevitably intersect but Morgan’s script stubbornly forestalls this eventuality testing our patience for nearly two ponderous and maudlin hours and ultimately building up expectations for a climax Eastwood can’t deliver at least not without sacrificing any hope of credulity.
It should be noted that Hereafter features a handful of genuinely touching moments thanks in great part to the film's tremendous cast. And its finale is refreshingly upbeat. Unfortunately it also feels forced and terribly unsatisfying. Eastwood an established master of all things tragic and forlorn struggles mightily to mount a happy ending. (Which in my opinion is much more challenging than a sad or ambiguous one.) After prompting us to seriously ponder life’s ultimate question Eastwood’s final answer seems to be: Don’t worry about it.
Chris Brown finally speaks out about allegedly beating up girlfriend Rihanna.
The 19-year-old R&B singer, who surrendered to Los Angeles police on Feb. 8 and was released on $50,000 bail after being booked for investigation of making a criminal threat, a felony, said Sunday he is "sorry and saddened" by what happened and is seeking counseling from his pastor and loved ones, the Associated Press reports. He also said much of what has been reported of the incident is untrue, although he did not elaborate.
"Words cannot begin to express how sorry and saddened I am over what transpired. I am seeking the counseling of my pastor, my mother and other loved ones and I am committed, with God's help, to emerging a better person," Brown said in a statement issued through publicist Michael Sitrick.
"Much of what has been speculated or reported on blogs and-or reported in the media is wrong," he added. But he said he couldn't discuss that in detail until his case is resolved.
He also said he has not posted any comments about the incident on Facebook or any other Web site. "Those posts or writings under my name are frauds," he said.
Brown's biological dad, Clinton Brown -- a 44-year-old corrections officer who spoke to People magazine from outside his home in Tappahannock, Va., not far from where Brown's mother, Joyce Hawkins, lives -- says he spoke to his son Thursday. "He needed some time to get his thoughts together and regroup."
"He's very concerned about the situation and he wants to make sure that [Rihanna is] okay. This is unfortunate -- this stumble, this situation. Hopefully, he will get past it. We all have our shortcomings. We all trip." Clinton Brown adds that his son is "very remorseful."
Rihanna, 20, was released from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Monday after being treated for injuries that Brown has been accused of inflicting and has been cooperating with the authorities in the investigation. She postponed concerts scheduled for Thursday and tonight in Jakarta, Indonesia and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Clinton Brown told People he thinks Chris' true fans will stick by him through this ordeal. "If you are on his side, you are on his side," he said. "Just because someone trips, if you are truly a fan, you are not going to demonize him instantaneously."
But he added, "This music industry is very unforgiving when it comes to having indiscretions. He will continue to be a good person. He loves people. And like most of us, most humans, things will occur. And hopefully a person won't be judged simply on that alone."
The repercussions are already taking effect. Wrigley Gum pulled all Doublemint ads featuring Brown earlier this week, and the avid basketball fan also canceled his scheduled appearances at the NBA All-Star Game festivities this weekend.
MORE NEWS: Peter Gabriel Protests Oscars?
Grumpy curmudgeon Harvey Pekar (Paul Giamatti) is a file clerk at a Cleveland Pa. V.A. hospital with little ambition little hope and little joy in his life other than what he gets from reading listening to his beloved jazz records and scouring garage sales for that rare 25-cent find. It is at one such garage sale Harvey meets Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak) a fellow comic book fan and jazz enthusiast who is on the way to becoming a famous underground comic writer/illustrator. Harvey not only admires Crumb's work he also despairs of leaving this world without making his own mark on it so he takes a stab at writing a comic book that Crumb illustrates for him. Titled American Splendor Harvey's book is different than any other comic seen before; rather than focusing on superheroes or fictional characters his is an adult-themed series about his life and the working-class people he knows. The series' unsentimental hard-boiled humor finds a following and by the late 1970s Harvey had become an acclaimed underground comic book writer in his own right--he even becomes a regular guest on The David Letterman Show. Eventually he meets and marries one of his fans the sardonic and anti-establishment Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis) who faithfully supports him through their financial difficulties and Harvey's bout with illness. All the while Harvey's still toiling at his day job (the real Harvey Pekar didn't retire until 2001).
Character actor Giamatti single-handedly carries this film with great grouchy aplomb even as he switches from the character Harvey to an actor playing Harvey (it's done documentary-style with voiceover and appearances by the real Harvey Pekar who narrates the story Giamatti acts out). His dry ornery one-liner delivery is priceless and he fits the irascible foot-dragging Harvey to a T. Pay special attention to one brilliant scene in which Harvey a Jew himself comes close to losing it at the market while waiting in line behind an old Jewish lady with a fistful of coupons and a bone to pick with the cashier. Davis too embodies the neurotic Joyce who gently mocks but deeply loves and endlessly supports her prickly misfit husband. Also good is Judah Friedlander as Harvey's co-worker Toby a self-proclaimed nerd with a bizarre way of speaking.
Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman were drawn to Harvey's story because of its Everyman appeal and their vision of it comes through in the film's grimy rust-belt environs and grainy naturalist '70s-movie feel. The directors tell most of this tale via the dramatization starring Giamatti but cleverly interweave comic cartoons moments of imagination and even old footage of Pekar himself from his Letterman appearances into the narrative. Even the real Harvey Pekar and the cast of characters from his life in Cleveland make an appearance. This all makes for one overlong albeit highly creative movie and also makes the character of Harvey more interesting than one suspects he would have been had the film been done in a straight biographical style. Problem is the story's niche appeal just doesn't live up to the collage of techniques used to tell it. Harvey understandably grim and depressed given his bleak circumstances simply isn't as fascinating a guy as the filmmakers would have you believe and all the creative devices in the world can't convince you he is.
With a tagline that reads "Steal All You Can Steal," it was bound to set off sparks. Miramax's Buffalo Soldiers, a satire about corruption on American military bases, is set to bow in theaters July 25, but its humor is being lost on military representatives and right-wing consumers who have sent complaints about the movie's negative depiction of U.S. Army conduct to Miramax and corporate parent Disney. Helmed by Australian director Gregor Jordan, the film stars Joaquin Phoenix as a wily Army clerk running a profitable sideline in black-market heroin and arms dealing. According to Variety, when Buffalo Soldiers screened at Sundance in January, an audience member was so incensed by Jordan's views on the military during a post-screening Q&A that he threw a bottle at the director, narrowly missing Anna Paquin, one of the film's stars. Miramax acquired the film at the Toronto Film Festival on Sept. 10, 2001, but held back on the film's release after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Steve Harvey Claims Black Actors Make Less
While promoting his WB fall series Steve Harvey's Big Time, actor-comedian Steve Harvey told TV critics at a meeting of the Television Critics Association that advertisers pay less for programs that attract black audiences--even when the ratings are equal to or better than those of other shows, The Associated Press reports. According to Harvey, advertisers reason that it is easy to reach blacks across the television dial because they are among TV's more trusty customers. Jamie Kellner, WB's chairman and chief executive officer, agreed: "There is a truth in what he's saying, that advertisers are trying to find people that they can't get easily. And they do pay a premium for those people."
Beals Takes Lesbian Role
Jennifer Beals, who rose to fame with the 1983 movie Flashdance, will play a lesbian in the upcoming Showtime television series The L Word. But the straight actress told the Television Critics Association that the question of her sexuality has come up since the show started filming. "What becomes interesting is to think about how easy it is for a heterosexual actress or actor to play someone who is homosexual, how that's somehow permissible, but for a homosexual to be out and portray a homosexual character it becomes sort of much more problematic for an audience to accept." The L Word, which also stars Pam Grier and Mia Kirshner, debuts in January.
Buena Vista's Compay Dead at 95
Cuba's Compay Segundo, the frontman for the Buena Vista Social Club group known for his trademark Panama hat, died Sunday of kidney failure at his home in Miramar, Havana, Reuters reports. He was 95. Segundo, whose real name was Francisco Repilado, won a Grammy Award in 1997 for the album Buena Vista Social Club, which was produced by American guitarist Ry Cooder. The group gained further recognition with the release of German director Wim Wenders' 1999 documentary Buena Vista Social Club. Segundo gave concerts until May this year, when his health deteriorated.
Jazz Luminary Benny Carter Dies
Legendary jazz pioneer and big-band leader Benny Carter died on Saturday at Cedars Sinai hospital in Los Angeles at the age 95. According to Reuters, a family friend said Carter had been hospitalized for about two weeks after complaining of bronchitis and fatigue. In a career that spanned seven decades, Carter was one of the first black composers and arrangers to work on mainstream Hollywood films such as Stormy Weather and played with jazz stars such as pianist Willie "The Lion" Smith, Fats Waller, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. He is also credited with launching Ella Fitzgerald's career by introducing her to bandleader Chick Webb. He is survived by his wife, Hilma, a daughter, Joyce Mills, a grandchild and a great grandchild.
Role Call: Schwarzenegger in Big Sir, Diaz and Carrey Reunite
Arnold Schwarzenegger is in negotiations to star in New Line Cinema's family comedy Big Sir. The Terminator star also has the sci-fi remake Westworld on his acting slate and is developing a sequel to Conan the Barbarian, to be produced by Larry and Andy Wachowski ... Cameron Diaz and Jim Carrey, who starred together in 1994's The Mask, will reunite for Columbia Picture's remake of the 1977 comedy Fun With Dick and Jane. Joel and Ethan Coen will rewrite the screenplay for director Barry Sonnenfeld.