HEREAFTER

There's a reason why Clint Eastwood invokes Dickens in his quiet,
meditative movie about death. Like Chuck, Clint here creates a full
compliment of well-limned characters in an emotionally-direct,
melodramatic tale with multiple plotlines and a big theme. HEREAFTER
carries you along so far that when it sputters so surprisingly at the
end, you're almost prepared to forgive. Unlike life (and death) this
movie is a journey without a destination. Eastwood marries his
craftsmanship to his humanism and until the last few minutes makes
hardly a single misstep. When has Matt Damon ever been better? His
gentle, lovely underacting is crucial to making the hard-to-believe
believable. But ultimately, the entire film feels like a broad-canvas
set-up for a conclusion that never comes. The blessing/curse that
Damon wrestles with throughout is merely dropped, and even that is not
fully explained, since all of the “readings” that Matt gives seem to
end with the dead telling the living to Have a Nice Day (or at least
to forgive them). I would love to have sat in on the story conferences
as the filmmakers decided (debated?) how to wrap things up. — Jeff
Schultz

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2

A new house, new characters connected to the (returning) couple from
the first film, and a climax that nicely ties the two movies together,
this will scare the crap out of you. Like the first one, PA2 is part
of a new crop of scary movies that are essentially monster-free and
whose scares come as much from increasing dread as from things-that-go-
bump just beyond the doorway. (The Last Exorcism is the most recent
example.) Here is a case where a sequel's bigger budget does not mean
a watering-down of the original's frightfulness. The shuttling between
six mounted security cameras, from shot to shot to shot, gains an
almost ritual power — as each night's unsettling events grow in
intensity. This is certainly helped by acting so natural and
unmannered it doesn't seem like acting at all — right down to the
baby and the family dog, both key players. The worry was that a second
iteration would end with something as ridiculous as Blair Witch 2. But
this time, they did it right. — Jeff Schultz

MAD MEN SEASON 4 FINALE

After watching the season finale of Mad Men, I don’t know which Draper I pitied more: Don or Betty. Dick’s on the fly popping of the question to find what he thinks will be happiness…or Betty’s lashing out at everyone around her because of her inability to be comfortable in her own skin. Don found someone who loved him for him in Doc Miller…but didn’t get it and told her about his engagement over the phone. Once again, the series went in directions both expected (American Cancer Society, Betty blaming everyone but herself, strange little boy hitting Betty with the truth “Just because you’re sad doesn’t mean everybody has to be”!) and unexpected (Don becomes the new Roger?, Joan keeping the baby, a partner jumps ship). There’s hope for Don at the end…but as his ex told him over the phone, “make sure she knows you’re only good at beginnings.”  guess we’ll see next year. A fantastic season finale to a fantastic season.   — Stormy Curry

As we stepped up to the end of the greatest season yet, I wondered if Matthew Weiner might quit while he was ahead — and abruptly end the series on the highest of notes by shutting down the disintegrating Sterling Cooper Draper Price and sending his characters into the unknown. I needn’t have worried! With a marvelous set of twists that leaves us already drooling for the next round, MM is at once re-energized and up to its old dramatic tricks. Don’s sudden engagement is surely being argued over by fans, but it makes sense: his frayed emotional state leaves him open to impulse, and the relationship was presaged by Roger’s earlier 2nd marriage, as wisely pointed out by Joan in her bitch session with Peggy after Don reveals to the office what he and Megan are about to do. The final scene with Don and Betty (their first extended encounter since the break-up) was heartbreaking. And so pregnant with possibility. Is there the ghost of a chance they will reunite? Add that to Joan’s pregnancy and the company’s resurgence thanks to Topaz Pantyhose — and you have the potential for a just-as-magnificent Season 5. Bring it on! — Jeff Schultz

I’m not going to rehash what Jeff and Stormy have already said about “Tomorrowland”. It was another absolutely wonderful finale for the best drama on TV. There were a few scenes that struck me as examples of that excellence. The spilled milkshake scene was one. Don starts to react as Betty would have wanted him to– with unbridled rage and recrimination. But you can see how startled he was when Megan just brushed it off as an accident and began cleaning it up. The look on Don’s face was one of shock and really spoke to how he fell in love with her. Another was Don’s phone call to Faye Miller.. Her line was probably the most cutting of the episode. OUCH! Henry calling Betty on her shit. Glenn calling Betty on her shit. Carla calling Betty on her shit. She got a lot of shit called out in an hour. Looking forward to what Matthew Weiner has up his sleeve for Season 5. — Alan YUdman

HEREAFTER

What happens after you die? Heaven? Hell? Worm food? HEREAFTER doesn't get into the theological debate. It assumes there IS something other than blackness. The question is how does one deal with it? Or in the case of the latest Clint Eastwood film, how do three people deal with it? One is a French journalist who gets caught in the Indonesian tsunami. The second is a small boy whose twin brother is killed by a van while running from bullies. The last is Matt Damon, a psychic who is able to communicate with the dead. If you were expecting a Matt Damon movie (as I was based on the trailers), you'll be disappointed. Each story line gets it's full third of the movie. Eastwood jumps back and forth between the story lines, but it's easy to follow what's going on. Cecile de France is wonderful as the journalist. Matt Damon is great as usual (can he turn in a rotten performance?). Eastwood gets the best out of all the actors. But as you must have noticed by now, I haven't really said whether the movie as a whole worked or was any good. It works on some level, but it leaves too much unanswered for my taste. Damon's character continuously claims his ability is a curse rather than a gift, but we never really get why he feels that way. He claims it keeps him from leading a normal life and *SPOILER ALERT* he does come to peace with it at the end. The boy searches for answers after his brother's death, but does he ever really come to terms with it? The journalist's therapy is writing a tell all expose that claims science knows there's a Hereafter, but is covering it up. By having to service three stories, none gets its due and leaves the audience with a lot of questions to be answered by their own assumptions. That's not necessarily a bad thing, movies should make us think. But these are more along the lines of plot holes that could have been filled in. This doesn't compare with Eastwood's best (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River, Gran Torino, Changeling and The Outlaw Josey Wales are better). But even average Eastwood is better than half of the dreck in theaters these days. — Alan Yudman

I’M MAD AS HECK…AND THAT’S A BUMMER.

Do you remember the day network dramas died? I sure do. It was May 23, 2010. That night, ABC aired a two hour finale to a series that ran six years. LOST fans were promised by the show’s creators that it would be okay, they knew where the show was going all along, “trust us”. Well, we did…and we shouldn’t have. The finale failed, many fans were stunned, and the trust between television networks and viewers was “lost” forever.
In an age where cable television has cornered the market with hour long dramas, the networks are more concerned about quantity rather than quality. The hubris of the people behind LOST became the final nail in the coffin of original thought provoking dramas to come. Any doubts? Okay, who’s watching NBC’s “The Event”? Keep in mind, NBC also ruined another great show (Heroes) the same way. How about “No Ordinary Family”? Let me remind you that same network killed another smart show (Flash Forward) in record time, and didn’t even try to wrap up loose ends for the 7 of us still watching. When ABC had original shows like Pushing Daisies or Eli Stone that underperformed, they were given a death sentence and banished the remaining episodes to summer.
BBC gives shows a 6 to 10 episode run per season and usually end them it after 2 or 3. The Office. Knowing Me, Knowing You. Life On Mars. Being Human. These shows worked because each episode was quality and none wore out their welcome. How funny that the networks have remade three of those and only one has succeeded.  
Hawaii 5-0, CSI, Law & Order: SVU, these shows are fast food and will do well because there’s a formula that will be followed every week. That’s fine, nothing wrong with that. But when I’m craving something more substantial, I’m ordering from AMC (gimme an order of Mad Men and Breaking Bad please, hold the Rubicon) , Showtime (Dexter please!), FX (Sons of Anarchy, Rescue Me, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia). If you eat at a place and get food poisoning once and the manager promises it won’t happen again and it does, do you tempt fate a third time? Probably not. i will finish what’s on my plate right now and hope it doesn’t make me sick (Supernatural, Fringe, etc), enjoy my value meals in the future (Human Target, Family Guy), but when it comes to something more, I’m heading to USA, AMC, FX, ETC.
I’m not a TV snob by any means, but when some of my favorite shows fall apart on a week by week basis, it becomes too frustrating to continue watching them. And why start what may be the best show of the year and have it dropped 2 episodes in because it didn’t deliver “Dancing With the Stars” type numbers…I’m talking to you “Lone Star”.
If you need me, I will be relishing the new season of Dexter, riding with the Sons of Anarchy, and running with AMC’s The Walking Dead on Halloween.  
Storm Curry

THE EXPERIMENT

Far from a classic, The Experiment delivers exactly what you expect. A group of people are paid to take part in an experiment that involves locking them up in a closed down prison. A few are told to be guards, the rest prisoners. A small list of rules is handed to the guards, ones that must be followed or enforced. This sets the stage for a “evil that men can do” type of lesson. Adrien Brody does a fine job with a predictable role and no one plays a guy going down the road to Looneyville better than Forest Whitaker. A great buildup leads to a climax one wishes went a bit further…after watching i got the feeling the original German film probably had sharper teeth. This experiment is a success for the movie fan looking for an entertaining 90 or so minutes…much better than Brody’s last few flicks. 
-Storm Curry

MAD MEN – Season 4 Finale

As we stepped up to the end of the greatest season yet, I wondered if Matthew Weiner might quit while he was ahead — and abruptly end the series on the highest of notes by shutting down the disintegrating Sterling Cooper Draper Price and sending his characters into the unknown. I needn’t have worried! With a marvelous set of twists that leaves us already drooling for the next round, MM is at once re-energized and up to its old dramatic tricks. Don’s sudden engagement is surely being argued over by fans, but it makes sense: his frayed emotional state leaves him open to impulse, and the relationship was presaged by Roger’s earlier 2nd marriage, as wisely pointed out by Joan in her bitch session with Peggy after Don reveals to the office what he and Megan are about to do. The final scene with Don and Betty (their first extended encounter since the break-up) was heartbreaking. And so pregnant with possibility. Is there the ghost of a chance they will reunite? Add that to Joan’s pregnancy and the company’s resurgence thanks to Topaz Pantyhose — and you have the potential for a just-as-magnificent Season 5. Bring it on! — Jeff Schultz

MAO’S LAST DANCER

Permission requested to make an un-PC joke: they could have retitled
this Birry Erriot. But while MLD has numerous similarities to that
earlier dancer-goes-from-boy-to-man drama, it adds an overcoat of
history and politics. It's a true story that works because of a
wonderfully diverse cast, most especially Chi Cao, who is foremost a
dancer, but who is both convincing and moving as the (grown-up version
of the) peasant boy taken out of his Shandong Province village,
groomed for the ballet and “lent” to Houston's renowned company, where
he then defected. Also a standout: Bruce Greenwood, in a rare part
that lets him really show off his talent. (A nice touch: his character
is gay, but there's nary a mention of it; it's just organic.) And
many of the smaller Chinese roles are played by actors you hope will
return after their scenes end: the parents, the first dance teacher,
the Houston consul. The backdrop sometimes feels like a CliffsNotes
version of Modern China and the movie's feel-good qualities can turn
sentimental. But sometimes it feels good to get a little choked up. —
Jeff Schultz

RED

It was once said 'better off dead than red.” In this funny, fast paced action movie, RED equals dead. These retired spooks are targeted for assassination because of some obscure mission in Guatemala almost 30 years ago. Bruce Willis is trying to lead a normal life (if you count tearing up pension checks just to talk to the wonderful Mary Louise Parker normal). Morgan Freeman is dying of cancer. Helen Mirren runs a bed and breakfast (and takes the odd freelance assassin job on the side). And John Malkovich is paranoid beyond all belief. There's a lot here that's familiar and by the numbers. But the actors are so likable and Malkovich and Parker are so good, it's hard to not enjoy this movie. It's not great, but it's one of those films that you'll stop and watch 10 years from now when you see the 300th rerun on AMC. — Alan Yudman