Thursday, November 04, 2010

Movie-interlude: Never Let Me Go/Stone/Hereafter

There are a few films out there right now that deal with the topic of religion and ethics. Here are brief comments about the three and you may want to check them out.

In descending order of their story-telling quality:

Never Let Me Go:
This is a thoughtful film about a society where kids are raised to be organ donors. It is based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro and it is smart enough not to descend into moralization nor into a romantic melodrama. Instead, it subtly asks us about what makes us humans? Is it art? Is it the ability to fall in love? Is the freedom to choose a path in your life? By implication, what can we say about our society and our own lives? In terms of its intellectual heritage, this is Gattaca meets Solaris.

This is not an action-flick. And yet, the early part of the film, set in a school, has a spooky feeling to it. The school looks almost normal - but then there is something off about it. This feeling is created in a masterful way - but without ever being heavy-handed. My only complaint is that the preview for the film is awful! It makes it seem like a tear-jerker. It is not. Instead, this belongs in the thoughtful science-fiction category, and I hope people go and see it. Oh - and for absolutely ridiculous reasons, this movie is rated R. Don't believe it. This is a PG13 film - and rating system is completely !@#^&%-up (yes, this post, on the other hand, is now rated R :) ).

Here is the trailer for the film (remember the movie is actually better than the preview):


Stone:
I had a chance to see this with Turkish subtitles. There were four other people sitting in the audience. One couple left after an hour, and the other 20 minutes before the end. Okay - so may be they were expecting a Robert De Niro - Edward Norton action flick. Instead this is a psychological thriller, with mostly Norton and De Niro talking. The movie is also full of religious references. In particular, it is interested in asking the question of free-will and the notion of sin. Are we really responsible for our actions? How do we explain the existence of evil in the world? The movie is set in the mid-west and it plays on some of the extreme sermons you hear on the radio over there (oh - yes, I tune into AM if I get a chance and if I'm looking for some firebrand entertainment. Some of these guys are fascinatingly crazy).

Why should you see this movie? If for nothing else, go and see it for acting, with De Niro and
Norton absolutely at the top of their game. De Niro plays a parole officer close to retirement and Norton plays a convicted arsonist who is up for parole. They play against their types and are a lot of fun to watch. But, in general, if you go in there with reasonable expectations, I think you will enjoy it. Oh - and this movie is appropriately rated R (and yes, you see a lot of Milla Jovovich - even in Turkey. I would have been quite pissed had the movie been censored there - but pleasantly, it wasn't).

Here is the trailer for the film:


Hereafter:
Okay - so I have a bias here. I like Clint Eastwood - and the movies he has directed recently have been phenomenal (Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima, etc. Yes, I know some of his most recent films are missing from this list...). He is a thoughtful filmmaker who takes his subject matter seriously - irrespective of the topic. So here we have him take a serious look at the topic of death from three perspectives: a journalist who had a near-death experience, a kid who lost his twin brother in an accident, and a "real" but reluctant psychic who sees dead people.

Now Clint (yes, I can call him Clint - but you should stick with Mr. Eastwood) is over 80! So it is no wonder that he is thinking about this topic. As usual this movie is very well made and he does a fantastic job of developing characters. Plus, the opening 10 minutes, showing the Asian tsunami, are absolutely breathtaking. But then he falls for some unnecessary pseudo-babble. A MILD SPOILER ALERT: The problem is that instead of keeping the existence of hereafter (versus the belief in hereafter) ambiguous within the framework of the film, the movie - via the "real" psychic - makes a definitive and positive claim. Yes, he does not put much stock in the standard religious views of the afterlife and exposes most psychics as charlatans. Nevertheless, he falls for some hoakiness with the character played by Matt Damon.

I think this would have been a fantastic film about death and how people deal with it. Now this a very good but equally frustrating film. C'mon Clint!

By the way, this reminded me of how I felt after seeing Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence: AI. It was an excellent, dark and brooding film (probably because of Kubrick's storyboard) and should have had a perfect ending under water (with David - the android-boy - trapped underwater but forever staring at the statue of the Blue Fairy) . Unfortunately, Spielberg couldn't leave it there and had to add 20 minutes of unnecessary feel-goodiness, and it spoiled the whole damn thing. Forget about the Director's Cut. I want an Audience Cut for the film!

Oh...sorry, I got a little side-tracked (and emotional) by AI here. But here is the trailer for Hereafter (it is rated PG13):

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