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movies / October 26, 2010

hereafter9-14-10

Clint Eastwood’s latest, Hereafter, looks at the life-after-death question. I went to see it because I like it when movies plunge into the life-after-death question, which so often involves ghosts and paranormal weirdness and crazy psychic visions and mystic hoo-ha and all that kind of stuff movies can do really well. I was surprised that Eastwood decided to take it on. So loopy and lurid, I mean. Not Oscar material, as a rule.

But you guessed it, Eastwood found a way to turn the whole thing into a big drag. Possibly an Oscar-worthy drag!

Maybe I should mention I’m not a big fan of Clint Eastwood, filmmaker. He seems like an earnest director of human-interest dramas, with messages so big you can see them galumphing toward you from miles and miles away. Invictus deals with apartheid, and Million Dollar Babymakes people cry over euthanasia, and Gran Torino highlights racism and the generation gap, and even Unforgiven, the best of the Eastwood-directed lot, has a chewy American Violence issue for concerned citizens to get their teeth into if they really must.

I realize most people like that kind of stuff. It wins the awards, and people say afterwards, “It really made me think.” (Just don’t ask, “About what?” It’s a real conversation-stopper.)

In Hereafter, Matt Damon plays George the sad psychic, who’s trying to stay out of the lucrative ESP racket because, ironically, he connects so intensely to his clients’ inner lives it destroys his chances for “normal” connections with people. (Note to screenwriter regarding the moldy cliché about psychics suffering from supernatural over-connection: “normal” connections with people are rotten and unenviable, as a rule. Look around. Paranormal connections would almost have to be more rewarding, or more interesting, or at least no worse than regular ones. Just saying.)

So George the sad psychic is trying to go mainstream by working a blue-collar job that requires wearing a hardhat. Who knew that those jobs were readily available for ex-mediums, when most actual blue-collar workers in this country can’t land them anymore?

George also takes an Italian cooking class. Screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon) has the oddest ideas about normal life in America.

While we’re following this mopey series of non-events, we track two other equally morose story-lines involving lives touched by the “hereafter”: a fetching French reporter (Cecile de France) who almost drowns in a tidal wave and has a near-death vision, and a melancholy Brit boy trying to communicate with his deceased twin brother (both played by twins George and Frankie McLaren). You have to wait a long time for the stories to intertwine, and when they do it’s at a book fair.

Eastwood endeavors to neutralize anything onscreen that might get exciting. It’s a movie that starts with a tidal wave and then doggedly course-corrects so it can arrive at a book fair. It’s a movie about a guy who’s a real psychic but is determined not to have any more psychic visions, which threatens to make it a movie about…a guy.

Not that it’s impossible to make an exciting movie about a guy who doesn’t want to be a real psychic. If you ever get a chance, see the 1948 film noir Night Has 1000 Eyeswith Edward G. Robinson, based on a typically loony Cornell Woolrich novel.

Old Eddie G., king of the great ugly actors, plays a charlatan with a successful fake-psychic act who suddenly develops true mediumistic powers right in the middle of a phony public reading. From then on he’s plagued by visions of how and when everyone he meets will die. Then he starts to wonder if he’s the catalyst–if by seeing people’s deaths he somehow makes them happen. So he hides out for a while in seedy noir poverty—hard-hat jobs weren’t so readily available to ex-mediums then, I guess.

But he can’t avoid everybody all the time, which is a problem even us non-psychics can relate to. He meets Gail Russell and sees that she’s about to be murdered, and Gail Russell is so beautiful no one could let her be murdered without putting up a struggle, so he has to test his powers to derail the fate he envisions.

Anyway, the point is, it can be done. Interesting movies about reluctant psychics, I mean.

Halfway through Hereafter, the elderly Asian couple sitting in the row behind me fell into a restful slumber, both snoring in pleasant contrapuntal harmony. That was quite a cinematic feat, I thought. I’ve seen movies that put one old person to sleep, but two? Never before.

hereafter_movie_poster_01

Since I stayed awake throughout, it was actually a pretty strenuous viewing experience, trying to will the movie to be better. Actors clearly like working with Eastwood, who by all reports let’s them do what they want as long as they can nail each scene in one or two takes. So he gets affecting moments out of gifted actors like Matt Damon. Certain scenes would gel around him for awhile, and I’d find myself mentally urging those scenes away from obvious pitfalls. For instance, Damon has several scenes with Jay Mohr, playing his brother Billy (both of them distractingly beefy, in “regular guy” mode) who keeps urging him to go back into the profitable psychic-reading business. George explains why all that profit doesn’t make up for the torment of knowing too much about other people.

“But it’s a gift,” his brother says.

At that point I pray to the movie gods, “Just don’t let George say, ‘It’s not a gift, it’s a curse.’ Any other line but that one!”

Then George says, “It’s not a gift, it’s a curse.”

And just to rub it in, Damon has to say the same line twice more later on, as if it were the freshest, most insightful thing ever written for an actor playing a psychic. And Eastwood allows this to go on!

Eastwood and Morgan are like twin souls in their mutual love of cliché. For instance, the fetching Frenchwoman is the Frenchiest Frenchwoman alive (though I understand the actress is a Belgian, her name, Cecile de France, shows that she knows how to market herself), practically wearing a beret and saying Ooh-la-la. When the she’s about to be caught in the tidal wave, she interacts briefly with a little girl holding a stuffed animal, and thus it’s instantly obvious that the girl’s DOA, and the stuffed animal will be seen floating symbolically adrift, like the little girl’s disembodied soul. Done and done. Then there’s the wistful, sensitive piano music that comes in on cue every time some lonely character walks through the streets of Paris or London or San Francisco thinking otherworldly thoughts. This piano music sounds like the generic downloadable kind available to all amateur filmmakers. “Wistful Piano Music for the Lonely Character Walk Through the City.”

The urge to shout “Shoot the piano player!” gets pretty intense by the end.

Really accomplished actors can get through an amazing load of triteness unscathed. But Hereafteris remarkable for the sheer range of performance ability, from the excellent (Damon, the McLaren twins, Richard Kind as someone who gets a psychic reading, the woman who plays the heroin addict mother of the twins) through the pretty good (Cecile de France) to the iffy (Jay Mohr) to the stinking rotten (Bryce Dallas Howard).

This is as good a time as any to recommend that Bryce Dallas Howard be done away with. She’s the most grating actress of her generation, which is saying a lot, and no matter how many M. Night Shyamalan flops she stars in, her career sails on. Daughter of Ron Howard is an excellent gig in Hollywood, obviously. But there’s no reason why she can’t be hit by a speeding van while crossing a street in L.A., is there? IS THERE?

hereafter-movie

In HereafterB.D. Howard takes up a ridiculous amount of screen time as a silly woman Damon meets in his cooking class and tries to have a “normal” relationship with. Anyone could take one look at this wacko and know enough to sidle away, but Damon has to pretend to be charmed by her shrill giggle and acting-school flutter of tics. Eastwood films her relentlessly in close-up, too, so that we’re forced to study her pale spacey eyes and the batty way she oversells every expression and gesture. There’s a painfully boring blindfolded food-tasting scene with Damon and Howard that’s supposed to be mildly erotic, and Eastwood lets the camera run on her as lovingly as if Ron Howard stood just offscreen holding the photos of the bestial orgy he and Eastwood attended together back in the ’80s.

(Lordy, not the erotic blindfolded food-tasting scene! Not that!)

The film had a few promising angles Morgan and Eastwood could’ve developed if they hadn’t both sunk into too-rich-to-care torpor and said the hell with it. For example, George is supposed to be a huge Charles Dickens fan: he has the author’s portrait on the wall and he’s always listening to his books on tape, finding some sort of specific escape from the torments of ESP in Dickens’ novels. As it happens, I’m a big reader of Dickens myself, so I was all over this. But it just sort of dribbles along pointlessly.

Eventually George goes to London where he tours Dickens’ house and sees a familiar picture called Dickens’ Dream, showing the author in his study with a cloud of his characters billowing out of his head. And this is clearly supposed to resonate somehow with George’s headful of psychic visions of his clients’ dead relatives who tell him all about his clients’ inner lives, and possibly also with Frenchy Frenchwoman’s afterlife vision of human figures standing around in a bright white limbo. Okay.

But what the link is, exactly, might’ve been a lot of trouble for the filmmakers to clarify. So they didn’t. You’re free to ponder this and other sketchy points, though, on the ride home.

Finally George goes to a reading of Little Dorrit by actor Derek Jacobi at the book fair, and he really likes the reading. He even gets a signed copy of the CD. And he meets up with the other main characters. And uh…well, that’s about two hours’ worth of film by then, so it ends.

Take a gander at the accompanying photos for a good sense of the film’s energy level. I especially like the one showing Clint Eastwood slumped in his director’s chair looking eighty years old, which he is. Retirement party, anyone?

Clint-Eastwood-Hereafter

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28 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. vortexgods  |  October 26th, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Thanks for reminding me about Night Has a Thousand Eyes, it has been a dogs age since I’ve seen that one, I’ll try to “scare it up” for Halloween at my folks.

  • 2. rick  |  October 26th, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    Guy can’t direct. Even when he has a great script and great acting (Unforgiven). Ron Howard too. Penny Marshall as well. Come to think of it any Hollywood actor turned director has no directing talent. The best they can deliver is a good play, which admittedly could be good. Hollywood is creepy these days, though: almost no wholly original material is ever, ever produced (sorry screenwriting classes), so this is actually like a freakshow movie, not to have a concrete marketing angle.

  • 3. E.G. Robinson  |  October 26th, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    God I so wish I was like Eileen, so perceptive, funny and entertaining to read! If you need a slave, EG Robinson is YOUR man!

  • 4. Joe  |  October 26th, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    There is no “Hereafter”; well, there is, but you’re just not there. If you want to know what it is like after you’re dead, just remember what it was like before you were alive. It’s the same fucking thing.

  • 5. Glenn  |  October 26th, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    Harry Callahan was probably the inspiration for more sociopathic mutant minded males walking among us in America than any single overdone film character in history — save all his other characters. The source that spawned cops and security types whose wet dreams are carried out on the streets emulating their authority fantasies.

  • 6. hosswire  |  October 27th, 2010 at 12:40 am

    I took a writing class with Bryce Dallas Howard a couple years back in LA.
    She was no great shakes as a writer, but not a bad person, relative to how she could have been.
    Imagine the typical self-consumed dullard that is drawn to the idea of making faces in front of a camera for a living. But subtract out the usual frustration, rage and bitterness that the typical actress develops from their continuous round of teases, fuckings and dumpings they literally and figuratively undergo. So she was surprisingly sweet.
    She did, however, feel the need to tell us that when she started in acting she went to auditions as merely Bryce Dallas in order to make her own way, without any favor because of her lineage. As if the agent and manager who set up the audition would not have dropped that little tidbit of knowledge at some point in the conversation.
    I’d actually find it refreshing if some Hollywood brat would come out and say that they struck it rich by having famous parents and just hoped to ride that wave until it broke onto shore.

  • 7. Kyle  |  October 27th, 2010 at 3:44 am

    Damon’s character sounds like a rehash of Will Hunting.

  • 8. Lavrentij "Anarchy99" Lemko  |  October 27th, 2010 at 3:47 am

    Shades of Howard Hughes? Check out the Pittsburgh/The Conqueror double feature on Netflix for an entertaining good/bad movie and piece of social history. With the latter movie (The Conqueror), half of the cast later contracted cancer since the film was made in a nuclear testing area with heavy fallout in the Utah desert. Take that, Duke!

  • 9. Flatulissimo  |  October 27th, 2010 at 5:24 am

    That was sure a lot of words to write about a movie that people who read this site were probably not going to see anyway.

  • 10. Not Retired  |  October 27th, 2010 at 6:47 am

    Flags of our Fathers was decent. Dealt with wartime propaganda in a more sobering way.

  • 11. mikefromArlington  |  October 27th, 2010 at 11:13 am

    Is this another let down like “The American?”

  • 12. GARY  |  October 27th, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    eastwood is one of the most overated actor/director in hollywood..hasn’t had a good movie since bronco billie

  • 13. Lavrentij "Anarchy99" Lemko  |  October 28th, 2010 at 10:36 am

    “Every which way but loose” was pretty good. Why doesn’t Clint resuscitate the forlorn simian-trucker genre?

  • 14. mijj  |  October 28th, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    clint eastwood = stale coot wind

  • 15. Michael  |  October 29th, 2010 at 2:18 am

    It sounds like the value of this film was accurately portrayed in the trailer I saw for it.

  • 16. MQ  |  October 29th, 2010 at 2:31 am

    But he can’t avoid everybody all the time, which is a problem even us non-psychics can relate to.

    I really think this has got to be Dolan. Real women aren’t this anti-social.

  • 17. Cernunnos  |  October 29th, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    @ #2

    “Come to think of it any Hollywood actor turned director has no directing talent.”

    Someone hasn’t seen Night of the Hunter directed by Charles Laughton.

  • 18. Larry  |  October 30th, 2010 at 1:18 am

    “HEREAFTER I WILL AVOID CLINT EASTWOOD FILMS”

    Good. Because judging by your clueless assessment of Eastwood’s film that’ll be doing us all a favor.

  • 19. dermotmoconnor  |  October 30th, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    “Come to think of it any Hollywood actor turned director has no directing talent.”

    Paging Mister Welles. Paging Mister Welles.

    Put down the jug of Gallo wine Mister Welles. We have a cleanup on aisle 3.

  • 20. jim karr  |  November 1st, 2010 at 12:32 am

    hey youse guys!—lay offa eastwood–we went to see this movie shes69–I’m 72–we heard he discribes what its like to be dead–well this film gave us a good idea–and we woke from our nap very refreshed!–the asshole in front of us was talking to himself and taking notes–fookin people-young people should go see SAW-9 or whatever–

  • 21. jinxmap  |  November 1st, 2010 at 12:39 am

    Then you’ll have the good fortune to miss “Invictus” as well… even worse Eastwood/Damon…

  • 22. Donovan Moore  |  November 1st, 2010 at 8:38 am

    I like Clint Eastwood films. so there.

  • 23. Carl  |  November 4th, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    “Just saying.” This is a stupid phrase, please stop using it.

    Also, the ridiculous speculation about the authorship of posts is annoying. Stupid conspiracy theories should be confined to the World Trade Center and JFK, and not involve the Exile.

  • 24. Kate  |  November 11th, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Your decrepit sense of humor has preceded you. Gran Torino was hilarious. Take your pretentious movie snob escutcheon and review garden state well.

  • 25. joel  |  November 21st, 2010 at 8:17 am

    This is my first comment here, so I hope I’m not committing a faux pas, but you all seem to be ignoring the elephant in the room, namely, that Mr. Eastwood is old and he is making a movie about dying.

  • 26. john b  |  November 28th, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    If Clint Eastwood retired, you’d be out of work.

  • 27. Jyp  |  December 23rd, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Hey, I’m a psychic. No, really. I spend lots of time slogging around in the Hereafter. I call it the “Hear-after”. Tell you why. Dead people are a huge pain the ass. The problem is they don’t understand that they’re dead. So they wander around all the time whining that nobody listens to them. Just like old people. Just like Clint. Nobody listens to him. The Unforgiven was clearly about American gangster fascism at the typical grassroots level. Did anybody notice that? Naw. Nobody. Not even the dead folks over in the Hear-after. What they like over there is that one where Clint is a dead guy cowboy revenge killer. Oh yeah, he did that one a lot.

  • 28. mark c  |  July 28th, 2011 at 10:43 am

    i’m tired of the same estwood company of actors. he uses them from one movie to the next. in the 70’s and 80’s he used the same group of actors. now, it’s morgan freeman and matt damon all the time.


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