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.
Adapted from a King short story 1408 centers on renowned author Mike Enslin (John Cusack) who writes books about haunted places—houses hotels graveyards etc. He doesn’t believe in any of the mumbo jumbo since he hasn’t ever seen anything paranormal but he is happy to cash the checks anyway. When Enslin finds out about a haunted suite number 1408 at the notorious Dolphin Hotel in New York he does some research and discovers it indeed has had a grisly past. He decides he just has to stay there much to the chagrin of the hotel’s manager (Samuel L. Jackson) who hasn’t let anyone near the room in years. Anyone whose been in the room for more than an hour kills themselves you see. The manager tells Mike it isn’t necessarily because he cares about him he just doesn’t want to clean up the mess afterwards. But Mike is undeterred—and so sets out on the longest journey of what could be his short life. Save for the tense exposition scene between him and the always-good Jackson it’s mostly Cusack’s show—and he nails it. He displays that certain affability we’ve loved in films such as Serendipity but then demonstrates some real chops when it gets down to the nitty gritty adeptly alternating between jaded cynicism bewilderment bereavement and finally full-blown terror. See the room isn’t just a place where ghosts materialize and de-materialize. Its pure evil and manifests itself into whatever personal turmoil the occupant is going through at the time. For Mike this means reliving the death of his young daughter (Jasmine Jessica Anthony) and his further estrangement from his wife played convincingly by Mary McCormack (The West Wing). In Cusack’s capable hands Mike is one tortured soul but can he be strong enough to survive the odds? It’s not an easy thing to turn a Stephen King story into a movie. John Cusack aptly puts it in the production notes “I don’t know how he knows how to scare people so intensely or where those impulses come from but King is definitely channeling some spirits and demons.” Boy does he ever but as his loyal readers know his horror doesn’t necessarily mean gore (although his books do have that stuff in spades). In fact much of the terror King’s characters experience happen right inside their own heads which is frightening to read but really hard to translate to film—and many filmmakers have failed at it with exception to Rob Reiner who got it right with Misery. Now along with Reiner there’s Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom (Derailed) who understands how to take King’s internalizations in 1408 and bring them chillingly to the forefront with little to no CG effects or gimmicks. Rather the director plays with the audience making them guess whether they are watching real ghosts or just what’s happening inside Mike’s psyche. Hafstrom says he hopes viewers will wonder “What would happen to me in 1408?” I wouldn’t want to find out that’s for sure.
Top Story: Barrino Takes Idol Title
The vivacious, gospel-trained Fantasia Barrino became the third American Idol winner Wednesday, claiming the victory for her 2-year-old daughter. "I fought so that my child can have the best," said the 19-year-old single mother from High Point, N.C., who had a 1.3 million-vote edge over rival Diana DeGarmo, The Associated Press reports. When asked backstage about those who might be critical of her single parenthood, Barrino replied: "I feel like a good mom. I'm a strong woman now. ... Don't look down on me. Pray for me because I'm trying." The usually acid-tongued judge and music producer Simon Cowell had only glowing things to say about Barrino, telling America they got it "100 percent right." He also added after the ceremony, "There aren't many other artists in America right now that I'd prefer to have on my label." Runner-up DeGarmo said backstage, "I'm definitely recording an album," adding with a smile, "And Fantasia, you better watch out because I'm coming with one." The top 10 performers from the show's third season, including Barrino, DeGarmo, George Huff, La Toya London, Jasmine Trias, Amy Adams, Jennifer Hudson, Jon Peter Lewis, John Stevens and Camile Velasco, will hit the road for a national summer tour.
Jackson's Lawyers Want Evidence Turned Over
Lawyers for Michael Jackson claim the prosecution in the child molestation case still needs to turn over some 300 items that were seized in sheriff's raids at the pop star's Los Olivos home and other locations last November, the AP reports. In a May 13 motion made public Tuesday, prosecutors indicated they had turned over more than 1,100 pages of documents, including police reports and summaries of witness interviews, 51 audiotapes and two videotapes since January, but added that some items are not available because they are still undergoing forensic examination. Jackson's lawyers are requesting the judge set a deadline for prosecutors to turn over the materials and warned the volume of evidence they want to examine could force a delay in the trial, which the judge has said he wants to begin this year.
MTV Nixes Super Size Me Ads
Music cabler MTV refused to air advertisements for Super Size Me, a documentary that takes a critical look at the health impact of a fast-food-only diet, Reuters reports. According to a statement released by film's distributors, Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films, MTV called the ads "disparaging to fast-food restaurants." But an MTV spokeswoman disputed the claim, saying the network was willing to run the commercial but the distributors turned it down. She did not, however, provide details of the negotiations. Super Size Me has been a hit at box offices by documentary standards, grossing $2.9 million in ticket sales and earning filmmaker Morgan Spurlock the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary director at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
NAACP Honors Haysbert, Smiley
PBS talk-show host Tavis Smiley and actor Dennis Haysbert, best known for his role as the president of the United States on Fox's political drama 24, were among those honored at an annual awards dinner held by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Tuesday night, AP reports. The dinner was in honor of the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in "Brown v. Board of Education," the historic ruling that heralded the official end of segregation in education, housing and work.
Missing Last Samurai Novelist Found
The Last Samurai novelist Helen DeWitt was found in good condition Wednesday by Niagara Falls, N.Y., police--the same day she was reported missing by New York City's police department. DeWitt had been missing since Tuesday morning when she was last seen near her Staten Island home, prompting police to ask for help in finding her. Later on Wednesday, New York City police said the 46-year-old author was found in good condition by the Niagara Falls Police Department and taken to a hospital for evaluation, the AP reports. No other details were immediately available. Her critically acclaimed debut novel The Last Samurai (unrelated to Tom Cruise's latest movie of the same name) tells the story of a single mother and her 4-year-old son, who obsessively watches the classic Japanese film Seven Samurai.
Judge Dismisses Attempt to Evict Bianca Jagger
Judge Anthony Fiorella Wednesday dismissed a New York landlord's attempt to evict Bianca Jagger, who is suing her landlord, Katz Park Avenue Corp., over mold she says was making her four-room Park Avenue pad uninhabitable, Reuters reports. Jagger, the former wife of Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger, was served with an eviction notice earlier this month while pursuing the $20 million lawsuit. She claims she has been living out of suitcases at friends' homes for almost three years because of a mold infestation in the apartment. The judge dismissed the eviction proceeding and also indicated it would be inappropriate for the landlord to refile an eviction proceeding against her, at least until Jagger's lease expires next February.
Sarah Jessica Parker To Star in Gap Ads
Sarah Jessica Parker, who played columnist Carrie Bradshaw on the hit HBO comedy Sex and the City, will appear in a marketing campaign for Gap set to debut in August, the AP reports. The choice isn't a surprising one, considering women nationwide imitated the TV fashionista's eclectic sense of style and over-the-top sexy ensembles. "Gap has always been about individual style, and no one represents this philosophy better than Sarah Jessica Parker," Gary Muto, president of Gap, said in a statement Wednesday. "She looks as amazing in jeans as she does in couture." The company said this is the first time it will be working with a celebrity on a broader scale than a one-time appearance in a print or TV ad campaign.
Role Call: Cattrall Turns Down Sex Movie, Paltrow in Dietrich Film
Kim Cattrall , meanwhile, said no thanks to a feature film based on the hit HBO comedy Sex and the City, prompting the cabler to drop the project. According to Variety, some of the sticking points in the negotiations were that Cattrall wanted script approval, which her co-stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis were denied. The trade newspaper also reported Cattrall wanted the same fee as Parker--the show's central character--and was rejected ... Gwyneth Paltrow will produce and star in a feature film based on the biography Marlene Dietrich, written by the German screen siren's daughter, Maria Riva. There is no start date yet for the project, whic
Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) never aspires to become one of the youngest people ever to make the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List--it just kind of turns out that way. His adventures begin in 1967 when he runs away from home at 16 just as his parents are divorcing. He finds himself alone in the Big Apple unsuccessfully trying to cash fake $20 checks. One day Frank notices how much respect is given to two airline pilots and he decides impersonating a Pan Am co-pilot might be just the ticket so to speak. Thus begins his brilliant three-year run as a master of deception. After infiltrating Pan Am he changes careers--he's a pediatrician then a lawyer--all the while perfecting his forgery skills. Cashing fake checks all over the country Abagnale amasses millions and quite literally becomes a kid in a candy store buying sports cars and fancy suits losing his virginity and pretending he is James Bond. Still the fact remains Frank is just a kid. Even after all these adult experiences his main objective is to get his father Frank Sr. (Christopher Walken) a down-on-his-luck store owner hounded by the IRS back together with his now-remarried mother (Nathalie Baye). Frank's nefarious activities eventually catch the authorities' attention and Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks) a no-nonsense FBI agent in charge of the bank fraud division is soon hot on Frank's tail. But Frank doesn't mind. Part of him wants to get caught and he baits Hanratty to never give up the chase. Hanratty never does and finally brings his man to justice.
Catch Me's acting ensemble shines. Given the fact DiCaprio is in two high-profile movies this holiday season--this one and Gangs of New York--puts the actor back on the radar after a hiatus (perhaps he was licking his wounds after starring in the disastrous 2001 The Beach). Yet if you were to match the performances DiCaprio's stellar turn as Abagnale definitely stands out as the better of the two (the Golden Globes feel the same recently giving DiCaprio a nod for best actor in a drama). He fits the part like a glove--all at once charismatic childish vulnerable and deadly intelligent. DiCaprio easily shows how Frank isn't necessarily a sociopath but more a needy kid looking for acceptance. Say what you will about DiCaprio's movie star qualities he still has the acting chops to make it work. Walken as Frank Sr. also gives one of the better performances of his career playing a sad man who knows the apple doesn't fall from the tree but who is too proud to admit his mistakes--even to his son. Hanks is superb as well (is there anything this man can't do?) playing the by-the-book Hanratty completely devoid of emotion--but making us laugh anyway every time he comes on the screen. He doesn't mean to of course but to see Hanks play something so obviously straight somehow brings out the humor in the situation even more. Just don't ask Hanratty to tell you a joke. TV's Alias honey Jennifer Garner also makes a nice cameo as a prostitute--watch out folks she's heading for the big screen.
Based on the real-life memoirs of Frank W. Abagnale Jr. Catch Me If You Can is a fascinating study of a brilliant mind which isn't by nature criminal--just slightly misguided (ironically the real Abagnale now in his 50s is a legitimate businessman who also acts as an consultant for the FBI's bank fraud division). Under the skillful hands of director Steven Spielberg Catch Me has a great deal of fun going for a very '60s tongue-in-cheek Pink Panther feel from the opening credits to the ease at which Frank goes about his merry way conning everyone including himself. The motto of the film has to be "never deny." Frank accepts everything and things just fall into his lap. Even when Frank tries to tell the truth to the father (played by Martin Sheen) of a woman he wants to marry it works to his advantage. Yet the meat of the film is Frank's inner turmoil at the breakup of his parents of wanting his family back together again and of his need to come clean. Frank secretly wants to be disciplined told what to do and that's why Hanratty becomes so important almost a fatherly figure to him. The film probably plays about a half hour too long especially in explaining what happens to Abagnale after he gets caught but otherwise it totally engages you.