Friday, December 3, 2010

Double Reviews: “RED” and “HEREAFTER”




Below are reviews of two movies I have recently seen - ”RED”, which stars Bruce Willis, Mary Louise Parker, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren; and ”HEREAFTER”, stars Matt Damon:


Double Reviews: “RED” and “HEREAFTER”




”RED”

Loosely inspired by the three-part DC Comics comic book series created by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, ”RED” told the story about a former black-ops C.I.A. agent named Frank Moses, who reassembles his old team in a last ditch effort to survive a series of assassination attempts on him. Thanks to one member of his team, Marvin Boggs, Frank learns that a mysterious figure is sending both assassins and a C.I.A. black-ops agent named William Cooper to wipe out all members of a secret mission in Guatemala that Frank participated in back in 1981.

”RED” turned out to be a pretty solid action-comedy film that greatly benefitted from veteran cast members that included Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Brian Cox, Ernest Borgnine and Richard Dreyfuss. The cast also included the likes of Mary Louise Parker, Julian McMahon and Karl Urban. Surprisingly, the only members of the cast that seemed to have a persistent presence throughout the movie were Willis (the main star), Parker, Malkovich and Urban. Everyone else seemed to be making cameo or guest appearances in the movie. Regardless of the amount of time spent in the movie, each cast member gave a first-class performance in the movie. I was especially impressed by Willis as the weary ex-agent who is stimulated back into life at the prospect of learning the identity of the person behind the assassination attempts upon him. Malkovich gave my favorite performance as the paranoid Marvin Boggs, who seemingly ridiculous theories about any potential danger end up being correct. And I also enjoyed Helen Mirren as a former MI-6 assassin Victoria, who seemed just as thrilled as Frank to be back in action.

German-born Robert Schwentke displayed a quirky sense of humor in his direction of ”RED”. I had expected some humor in the movie, but Schwentke stylized the violence in a way that reminded me of movies like ”PAYBACK” or ”SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD”. Scribes Jon and Erich Hoeber did a solid job in adapting Ellis and Hammer’s comic tale. Some fans of the comic novel may have taken umbrage at their loose adaptation. But since I have never read the three comic books . . . . it did not bother me that much. However, I found the showdown inside the Chicago hotel parking garage rather confusing. The overall action did not confuse me, but the main villain’s reasoning and personal actions did. This did not ruin the movie for me, but it came damn close. Overall, ”RED” was a pretty solid movie, but I have seen better comic films.


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”HEREAFTER”

Clint Eastwood reunited with Matt Damon for ”HEREAFTER”, a fantasy drama about three people who are affected by death in different way in parallel stories. Damon portrayed a San Francisco factory worker named George who is able to communicate with the dead. Belgian actress Cécile de France portrayed a French television journalist who barely survived a tsunami, while on vacation. And twin brothers Frankie and George McLaren portrayed Marcus and Jason, an English boy and his elder twin brother, who is killed in a car accident.

I wish I could say that I loved ”HEREAFTER”, but I would be lying. I did not hate it. I found myself mildly interested in the stories of George, Marie and Marcus. Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan provided enough pathos in their stories – especially Marcus’ story – to make me somewhat interested in their fate. ”HEREAFTER” had two outstanding scenes that knocked my socks off. One of the sequences centered on Marie’s harrowing experiences with a tsunami, which was featured in the movie’s opening scene. The other centered on the disastrous ending of a potential romance between George and a fellow cooking school student portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard, when her curiosity over his ability forced her to face a dark secret from her past. I also found myself moved by Marcus’ inability to recover from his twin brother’s death. But despite these virtues, ”HEREAFTER” did not strike me as one the year’s more interesting movies.

The major problem I had with ”HEREAFTER” centered on the film’s pacing. I found it so damn slow. Really. About seventy minutes into the film, I found myself struggling to stay awake. I thought that Eastwood had finally overcome his penchant for directing slow-moving films. Apparently, I was wrong. Another problem I had with the film was that the three storylines really had nothing to do with one another. Each of the plotlines could have easily been a single episode from an anthology television series about death and the afterlife. The movie’s conclusion at a book fair in London held the three plotlines together. And quite frankly, I was not that impressed by it. The plot device that Morgan used to connect the three main characters struck me as incredibly contrived . . . and weak.

If there is one thing I can say about ”HEREAFTER” is that it lacked bad performance. The entire cast did a solid job, with one or two outstanding performance. Although they came off as a bit stiff in one scene early in the film, the McLauren brothers did a solid job in portraying the grieving Marcus and his dead twin, Jason. Cécile de France ably conveyed Marie’s emotional journey from the successful television journalist, to a traumatized woman, whose near death experience during a tsunami led her to slowly question her existence. Matt Damon gave an excellent performance as George, the factory worker who used to be a professional psychic, thanks to ability to communicate with the dead. I thought he was very subtle as a man desperate to live a normal and not deal with the emotional impacts of his clients’ reunions with dead loved ones and the exposures of family secrets. The best performance, in my opinion, came from Bryce Dallas Howard, who portrayed a fellow cooking school student name Melanie, to whom George becomes romantically attracted. She was emotional and superb as her character first goads George into reading her memories and eventually regrets her actions, when he unexpectedly exposes the sexual abuse her father had inflicted upon her as a child.

Like Eastwood’s 1997’s opus, ”MIDNGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL”, ”HEREAFTER” is interesting enough for someone to watch at home . . . on a rainy day. But its slow pacing, fractured storylines and utterly contrived ending made me realize that I would never consider it a masterpiece, let alone one of my favorite movies.

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