The Discovery


Robert Redford’s let his hair go.

(2017) Sci-Fi Drama (Netflix) Robert Redford, Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, Riley Keough, Jesse Plemmons, Mary Steenburgen, Ron Canada, Brian McCarthy, Connor Ratliff, MJ Karmi, Kimleigh Smith, Willie Carpenter, Wendy Makkena, Adam Morrison Khaykin, Paul Bellefeuille, Richard O’Rourke, Rosemary Howard, Lindsay Schnebly, Sigrid Lium, Ally Looney. Directed by Charlie McDowell

 

What lies beyond death has been a central mystery in human existence. Religions have been formed around what happens to our consciousness after our bodies die. It is something that both fascinates and terrifies us. Is there an afterlife? Or do we just stop existing, our consciousness switched off like a light bulb that’s burned out?

Dr. Thomas Harbor (Redford) has discovered the answer to that question – there is an afterlife. He’s proven it beyond a shadow of a doubt. Today, he’s granting his first interview since the discovery that has changed mankind profoundly. The interviewer (Steenburgen) has a difficult task on her hands; what do you ask someone who has essentially thrown the entire outlook on existence into disarray? Well, as it turns out, not much.

After the shocking turn of events that took place during that interview, Dr. Harbor has retreated to a remote island in New England where he is continuing his research, as well as taking in a sort of cult of people who have attempted suicide and loved ones of those who have successfully killed themselves. You see, in the wake of the discovery, the suicide rate has jumped dramatically; millions of people have taken their own lives and one would imagine Dr. Harbor feels some responsibility in this.

In the meantime, two people ride a deserted ferry headed for the island. One is Will (Segel), the neurologist son of Dr. Harbor who has been estranged from his father. The other is a platinum blonde named Isla (Mara). The two exchange acerbic japes and Isla seems to delight in taking Will down a peg or three. They get off the ferry, expecting never to see each other again. Of course, we all know that’s not going to happen.

It turns out that Dr. Harbor has invented a machine that will allow us to go to the other side and then return – with video, no less. But what is the nature of the afterlife? Is it reincarnation, or a more Judeo-Christian version of heaven? Or is it something totally different? Whatever it is, the machine may hold the key to a lot of questions that are plaguing Will about Isla, whom he has fallen deeply in love with.

The premise is fascinating; what would happen to society if we knew that there was life after the body died. The filmmakers could have focused on how society reacts; would there be mass suicides? Would people be eager to move on to the next life, being dissatisfied with this one? Would society become more kindly if people realized their actions in this life affected their standing in the next? There are all sorts of ways this movie could have gone.

Instead, the filmmakers decided to look at a specific family – coincidentally that of the person who discovered the irrefutable evidence of life after death – and turn the movie into something of a romantic thriller. I can understand why the filmmakers would want to leave the nature of the afterlife vague but we’re left to explore Will’s daddy issues and Isla’s guilt rather than explore the bigger picture. In short, a great premise is used as a springboard into a fairly pedestrian thriller.

That doesn’t mean those in front of the camera are to blame. Redford remains one of the most magnetic screen personalities in the history of film. Even at his age, he owns the screen whenever he’s on it. This is a little different than the roles he’s played; Dr. Harbor is a bit vain, brilliant and arrogant but also possessed somewhat of tunnel vision regarding his discovery. Although he doesn’t admit to responsibility for the suicides, he certainly feels somewhat responsible for them.

Mara, an actress who is always interesting, shines in a role that plays to her strengths. The acid-tongued Isla is maybe the most fascinating character in the movie and one of the better-developed. The sad thing is that her chemistry with Segel, who has shown himself to be adept with dramatic roles, is virtually zero. Segel’s Will is so white bread and homogenous that it might lead you to want to munch on a ghost pepper just to get some taste.

I know that the filmmakers are going for a thinking person’s genre film and there have been a lot of good ones lately. Sadly, this doesn’t quite reach the heights it aspires to, sabotaging itself by taking safe roads when they would have benefited from riskier choices. The movie could have been an interesting jumping off point for discussion on the afterlife and philosophy, but loses momentum after the first five minutes which, to be fair, are about the best first five minutes of a movie I’ve seen in a long time.

REASONS TO GO: Redford remains a magnetic screen presence even now. Isla’s acerbic demeanor is perfect for Mara.
REASONS TO STAY: A very interesting concept is squandered.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, some disturbing images, violence and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Sharp-eyed viewers might recognize the chateau-style mansion that is used as Dr. Harbor’s compound as the same house that was used for the exteriors of Collinwood, the mansion in the seminal horror soap opera Dark Shadows back in the 60s.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/13/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 43% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brainstorm
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Hare Krishna!

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The Lazarus Effect


Olivia gets a little Wilde.

Olivia gets a little Wilde.

(2015) Horror (Relativity) Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Sarah Bolger, Evan Peters, Donald Glover, Ray Wise, Scott Sheldon, Emily Kelavos, James Earl, Amy Aquino, Sean T. Krishnan, Ator Tamras, Liisa Cohen, Jennifer Floyd, Bruno Gunn, Scott L. Treiger. Directed by David Gelb

There was a horror movie back in the 60s that was somewhat ironically titled Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. In the decades since, we have learned that adults pretty much shouldn’t either.

Zoe (Wilde) and Frank (Duplass) are young doctors in love. Well, actually they’re more like medical researchers than actual MDs but you get my drift. Along with young researchers Clay (Peters) and Niko (Glover) they have created a formula that, with judiciously applied electricity (shades of Frankenstein) can extend the life of the dying, allowing doctors more time to repair what is killing the patient and saving lives. They bring in a comely videographer named Eva (Bolger) to document their impending breakthrough.

Except it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. Instead, it revives a dead dog. Brings it right back to life, and even cures the cataracts which were the cause that the dog’s owner had their pet put down for in the first place. Cause to celebrate, no?

Well, not quite yet. For one thing, the dog is moody, refuses to eat or drink and is mostly lethargic except for bouts of absolute mother humping menace that have the researchers freaked out, particularly the e-Cig puffing Clay who is normally the prankster of the bunch. He’s a little freaked out by the pooch who certainly looks to have a bit of the devil in him.

Well, their research also has the effect on the marketplace as well. The small pharmaceutical company which underwrote their research at the university has been gobbled up by a bigger one who really want their Lazarus formula. The smarmy CEO (Wise) shows up to collect it, which because Frank, the author of the grant proposal, didn’t read the fine print on the contract, is entitled to lock, stock and barrel, although the comely videographer manages to spirit Fido away before the vivisectionists get hold of him.

Frank is quite properly cheesed off about the whole situation and in a fit of pique, decides to recreate the experiment while their equipment is still in the lab. So late one dark and stormy night – well, it’s a night anyway – they sneak into the lab and attempt to revive one last frozen but dead dog.

But something goes horribly wrong and if you’ve seen the trailer, you know exactly what it is and without going into too much detail, they are forced to conduct human experiments a little sooner than they had intended to. However, what they don’t realize is that the Lazarus formula plucks the soul right out of the afterlife and if that afterlife happened to be Hell, then the thing that comes back isn’t quite human and isn’t quite happy about it. A childhood trauma becomes the basis of a hell all of the team is going to go through, alive or not and before the night is over there will be a lot more bodies available to use the Lazarus serum on.

This is a short but sweet little thriller clocking in at well less than 90 minutes which is a good thing because I don’t think the story could have sustained a whole lot of extraneous business. Most of the action takes place at the lab (although a few scenes take place in the lobby of the building, in the office of the dean and in the apartment that Zoe and Frank share) which may be the most underlit medical lab in the history of college research facilities. You half expect the Boogie Man to reside here on a permanent basis.

Duplass, who has become something of an indie film darling for the movies he’s co-directed with his brother Jay (Baghead, The Puffy Chair) as well as his television work on The League and more recently the HBO series Togetherness. He’s actually pretty charismatic as an actor and he works really well with Wilde, who has been on the verge of breakout stardom for awhile now. In a lot of ways it’s frustrating to watch Wilde who is so very good in most everything she does and she’s just so close to making the next level but the right role to put her over that hump eludes her. This isn’t the movie that will do it, although she is very, very good in it.

The movie was made for next to nothing and relies more on practical effects than on CGI for the cool factor. Horror fans are going to find this a bit light on scares, although there are a couple of good ones. What is to be commended is that there is a great deal more character development than is typical for low-budget horror movies. What is to be condemned is that the film’s plot relies overly much on smart people – these folks are educated after all – doing dumb things. Even the scientifically challenged like myself could have told Frank and Zoe that their bright idea of recreating the experiment so that they could prove that the research was theirs would end badly.

There’s stuff here to like, but there is also a lot of stuff here to not. My big problem is that the atmosphere of fear that is vital to any horror film just isn’t pervasive enough. I can forgive a movie that starts slowly and builds to a roller coaster of a climax, but The Lazarus Effect is more of a kiddy coaster that could have used a few inversions and taller lift hills to give its audience a better ride.

REASONS TO GO: Duplass and Wilde make an attractive pair. Does a whole lot with a little.
REASONS TO STAY: Smart people doing stupid things. Not as scary as I might have liked.
FAMILY VALUES: Gruesome subject matter, intense horror violence, some sexual references and a surprisingly small amount of merely mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was actually filmed in 2013 and was scheduled to be released by Lionsgate. However, internal management changes at the studio led to the movie being shelved for a year and a half with Lionsgate selling the U.S. distribution rights to Relativity although they did retain the overseas rights.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/12/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 14% positive reviews. Metacritic: 31/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Flatliners
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Home of the Brave

R.I.P.D.


Gunfight at the OK Corral

Gunfight at the OK Corral

(2013) Supernatural Comedy (Universal) Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, Robert Knepper, James Hong, Marisa Miller, Mike O’Malley, Devin Ratray, Larry Joe Campbell, Michael Coons, Christina Everett, Michael Tow, Lonnie Farmer, Piper Mackenzie Harris, Ben Sloane, Catherine Kresge. Directed by Robert Schwentke

Just because we’re dead doesn’t mean there aren’t any rules. When you die, you depart this mortal coil and drift skyward into the next realm where you will be judged and your final destination assigned. A lucky – or unlucky, depending on how you look at it – few are yanked out of line because they have certain skills. They become part of an elite law-keeping force – the Rest in Peace Department.

Nick Walker (Reynolds) is a Boston cop and up until now, a good one. He and his partner Bobby Hayes (Bacon) stumbled onto some gold during a routine drug bust and now are keeping the stuff out of evidence. Nick, who wants to build a better life for his wife Julia (Szostak), is having second thoughts however. He just can’t bring himself to be a dirty cop. Bobby has no problem with it however and just to show Nick what a good sport he is about it he shoots him in the face.

Nick’s trip to judgment is interrupted (as you might guess from the first paragraph) and is yanked into a sterile-looking office where a bored-looking functionary named Proctor (Parker) basically tells him what’s what and offers Nick a 100-year contract with the R.I.P.D. Or, of course, he can go ahead and face judgment.

Nick isn’t quite ready for that so he accepts and is assigned to Raycephus Pulsipher (Bridges), better known as Ray – a cantankerous Wild West sort that would have been played (or at least voiced) by Slim Pickens a few decades back. Ray’s none too happy about having a partner – particularly a green-behind-the ears (literally) rookie. However, he shows him the ropes albeit reluctantly.

The job of the R.I.P.D. is to locate souls who had somehow stayed on Earth after death and bring ’em back for judgment. Apparently earth and death don’t mix and the souls begin to rot, developing a stank (as Roy puts it) that can be noticed by electronic glitches, unusual amounts of rust, rot, mildew and dead plants and of course human-looking people who when confronted with cumin suddenly transform into fleshy, putrescent masses of rot that have superhuman strength, can bound about like a kangaroo on steroids and generally wreak havoc. These rotting souls, which are called Deados, need to be kept from human attention in order to keep the universe in balance. Oh, and R.I.P.D. officers on Earth don’t look like their earthly selves; Nick appears to be an elderly Asian man (Hong) and Roy a smoking hot underwear model (Miller, who happens to be a smoking hot underwear model).

In a case of cosmic serendipity that only a Hollywood screenwriter could hatch, Nick’s first case involves a Deado named Stanley Nawlicki (Knepper) who – wonder of wonders! – has pieces of gold just like the ones Nick was keeping. That leads him to investigate his old partner who he still has some unfinished business with which leads to a conspiracy to turn the one-way portal to the afterlife into a two-way street using an ancient artifact (there are always ancient artifacts in these stories) called the Staff of Jericho which if activated will literally create Hell on Earth as the Dead overwhelm the living. Or it could just be this week’s episode of The Walking Dead.

Based on the 2001 Dark Horse comic of the same name, R.I.P.D. has a clever title and a not-bad premise to work with. Schwentke provides some pretty cool visuals, from the Men in Black-esque headquarters to the Ghostbusters-esque monsters. But therein is the rub – the visuals, while cool in and of themselves, remind you of something else. I don’t have a problem with borrowing – even borrowing liberally – from other visual looks but I don’t recall anything in the movie that looked especially unique.

Reynolds has gotten a lot of flack lately for his appearances in subpar movies (much as Ben Affleck did a few years back) which I think is patently unfair – Reynolds is charming and appealing but his character doesn’t really play to those strengths. Here he’s kind of grim and obsessive and that really isn’t his forte; when Reynolds is at his best he’s a bit of a smartass, like his work as Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (and when is his Deadpool movie coming out 20th Century Fox executives? We’re waiting!). Had his role been a lot lighter, the movie would have been better. Instead, he’s essentially a straight man for Jeff Bridges.

And there’s no shame in that. Bridges is a terrific actor and he hams it up here for all its worth, which is considerable. He goes on and on about having a coyote gnaw on his bones after his demise which gets a bit tiresome but then his character is supposed to be tiresome. Kevin Bacon knows how to be a smooth, vicious baddie and he pulls it off here.

The worst crime this movie commits though is a lack of energy. There’s no sense of fun here, like the cast and crew were performing a chore rather than having a good time. This is the kind of movie that should be made with a twinkle in the eye and a sly wink to the audience but you don’t get that sense here. The elements are all there for a really good summer movie but the whole doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. It’s not as bad as the critics say it is – but it isn’t as good as it could have been either.

REASONS TO GO: Clever premise. Bacon and Bridges do some fine work.

REASONS TO STAY: Feels flat. Derivative.

FAMILY VALUES:  A lot of violence, much of it of the Looney Tunes variety. Some sexuality and a bit of language (including some suggestive dialogue).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This marks the fourth film based on a comic book that Ryan Reynolds has appeared in to date.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/29/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 12% positive reviews. Metacritic: 25/100; the reviews were dreadful, coming as a surprise to no one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Beetlejuice

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Fruitvale Station

After.Life


After.Life

Who knew the dead could be so hot?

(2009) Horror (Anchor Bay) Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long, Josh Charles, Chandler Canterbury, Celia Watson, Luz Ramos, Rosemary Murphy, Malachy McCourt, Shuler Hensley, Alice Drummond, Sam Kressner, Erin Ward. Directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo

Dead is dead, or so conventional wisdom would have it. Once we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, the party’s over. What happens then is highly up to speculation.

Anna Taylor (Ricci) is a beautiful young teacher who has the world opening up to her on the horizon. Her boyfriend Paul (Long) is about to propose when they go out to dinner but they get into an argument. Anna storms out of the restaurant and drives off, angry and emotional, the rain falling in sheets. Inevitably, she gets into a nasty accident.

When she wakes up, she’s in the morgue, attended to by Deacon (Neeson) who informs her that she’s dead. Deacon has the special gift of being able to communicate with the dead under his care, able to help transition them from this life to the afterlife. Anna finds this difficult to accept. Deacon counters that most of the newly dead find their new situation hard to accept. They always whine that they have so much left to do, so much unfinished business.

Anna feels alive though and nothing Deacon can say or do will dissuade her. She wants to call her  boyfriend to rescue her from this maniac keeping her against her will in this terrible place; but from his point of view he’s trying to help her accept her fate and move on to her final rest. But is she alive as she asserts that she is, or dead as Deacon maintains that she is?

This is an intriguing concept that has a “Twilight Zone”-esque quality to it. First-time director Wojtowicz-Vosloo doesn’t always know what to do with it. Her job, as I see it, is to keep audiences off-balance without giving away the answer to the question “is she or isn’t she” and for the most part, she succeeds. Occasionally though she stumbles, sometimes failing to maintain the inner logic of the situation. Of course, that’s more the fault of the script than the direction but as she also co-wrote the script, she doesn’t really have that out.

Ricci is lustrous here, spending a good chunk of the movie nude (and also a bluish shade which kind of increases the allure) and her trademark gothic waif look is perfect for the role. Her physical charms notwithstanding, she also gives the part a certain amount of emotional wallop, going through stages of grief (denial, anger, fear) while never becoming shrill.

She has some great chemistry with Neeson, who is such a great actor that even a role like this which doesn’t really push him all that much he still manages to imbue with his charisma and invite the audience to get invested. The movie’s main selling point is to make it ambiguous as to whether Deacon is a kindly guide or an evil monster. Neeson pulls it off so that either option is possible.

I’ve mentioned “The Twilight Zone” and that’s not necessarily a bad thing – but the movie here, rather than paying homage to the show tries to emulate it a bit too much. There is not so much a Rod Serling influence rather than an attempt to bring him back from the dead and the corpse doesn’t smell too good to be honest.

That aside, the concept is good and the acting solid enough so that it gets a pass for all its flaws. Sometimes critics such as myself just have to get past what a movie could have been and accept it for  what it is. No doubt this could have been a whole lot better – but it is as is good enough for me.

WHY RENT THIS: Spooky and atmospheric. Ricci and Neeson have some great exchanges.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The script should be more ambiguous and let the audience figure out whether or not Anna is dead. Too much Rod Serling here.

FAMILY VALUES: The whole theme is pretty disturbing; there’s also some nudity and sexuality as well as a buttload of bad words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The prop knife used by Ricci during the film is the same one Glenn Close used in Fatal Attraction.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $2M on an unreported production budget; in all likelihood this lost money or broke even at best.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Ides of March

White Noise 2: The Light


White Noise 2: The Light

Katee Sackhoff is thrilled that fans think "Battlestar Galactica" is better than "Firefly;" Nathan Fillion isn't so sure.

(2007) Supernatural Horror (Universal) Nathan Fillion, Katee Sackhoff, Craig Fairbrass, Adrian Holmes, Kendall Cross, Teryl Rothery, William MacDonald, Josh Ballard, David Milchard, Tegan Moss. Directed by Patrick Lussier

I don’t often review direct-to-home video releases; they are almost always uniformly bad. I caught this one because it was initially going to get a theatrical release but was pulled and exiled to direct-to-video land instead. I expected the worst; instead, I actually was rewarded.

Abe Dale (Fillion) has a wonderful life that becomes shattered when his wife (Cross) and son (Ballard) are murdered before his very eyes while taking breakfast in a local diner by a psycho named Henry Caine (Fairbrass) who then turns the gun on himself. They had just been sitting down to pancakes; the crime was as senseless as it was brutal.

Understandably, Abe is distraught and eventually becomes overwhelmed by grief. He takes a bunch of pills with the intention of easing his pain permanently but his best friend Marty Bloom (Holmes) discovers what he’s up to and rushes him to the hospital. There Abe dies and experiences travelling through a tunnel of light where he sees his wife and son waiting for him, but it is not to be. His heart is re-started and he returns to the operating room.

He wakes up in a hospital bed and things don’t look quite right. He is administered to by a sympathetic nurse named Sherry Clarke (Sackhoff). Dr. Karras (MacDonald), his attending physician, writes off his enhanced eye-sight as a by-product of the trauma to his system, believing the effect will go away after a few days. Abe can see electrical auras, discharges from iPods and cell phones, even the auras of people. The horror is that the only auras he can see are in people who are about to die.

He also discovers that he can prevent those about to die from expiring and when he does, their auras go away. However, he then discovers to his horror that three days after their lives are saved they are possessed by the Devil and go on a murderous rampage. He also is shocked to discover that Henry Caine is still alive and moreover had the same ability as Abe does. It becomes his mission to get to the bottom of it and discover how he can prevent the devil from possessing the saved – because one of those he saved was Sherry, whom he has developed a certain attachment for.

Director Patrick Lussier makes some really smart choices here, going for more of an atmospheric thriller and distancing the movie from White Noise, a surprise hit horror film that concerned itself more with Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) and wasn’t nearly as good as this is.

Much of the reason this works so well is Nathan Fillion. I think he’s one of the most underrated actors out there; he is just so damn likable, even when he’s playing a scoundrel (as he does in Serenity). I’d be willing to bet that Katee Sackhoff is going to join him on that list. She’s as far off from Starbuck (her “Battlestar Galactica” character) as it’s possible to get, and she’s actually very likable here.

The problem with the movie has to do with a couple of elements. First off is the ending of the movie. I don’t mind a movie taking a leap off the deep end into fantasy, but when it does so sideways and in a manner that defies logic, I take exception. Without going into much detail, Abe – who’s shown himself to be a smart fella throughout the movie – does some pretty dumb things. That’s a screenwriting sin that just absolutely drives me crazy; changing a character for the sake of advancing the climax. Write better is the only advice I have in this case.

For the most part, this is well-directed, well-acted and well-conceived. While it fails when it tries to combine science with the supernatural, it nonetheless is a solid bit of horror entertainment (although I somehow doubt most would qualify this as a horror film – it’s more of a supernatural thriller). And as for a direct-to-video sequel outshining the original? That in itself is a feat worth recording.

WHY RENT THIS: Fillion is one of my favorite actors right now. There is a pretty good concept here that deserved a better fate. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending dives into the deep end of the preposterous pool.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some fairly disturbing images and a few instances of blue language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Dr. Karras character’s name is an homage to Father Karras, the priest played by Jason Miller in The Exorcist.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: While deleted scenes are a home video staple, there is more than half an hour’s worth of them, making this an abundance of unseen footage. There is also a nifty featurette on Near Death Experience survivors.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Surveillance

Hereafter


Hereafter

Despite how it looks, Matt Damon is NOT sleepwalking his way through this movie.

(2010) Drama (Warner Brothers) Matt Damon, Cecile de France, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jay Mohr, Richard Kind, Thierry Neuvic, Lyndsey Marshal, Derek Jacobi, Steve Schirripa, Rebekah Staton, Declan Conlan. Directed by Clint Eastwood

There are three things we all have in common; we were all born, we all are living our lives and all of us will eventually die. The last is perhaps the most terrifying thing in our reality; when we die our existence is over…isn’t it?

Marie LeLay (de France) is a popular French television journalist who is on assignment (or is it vacation? The movie isn’t too clear about that) in an unnamed South Pacific/Indian Ocean coastal city. She is there with her producer Didier (Neuvic) whom she is also romantically involved with. He’s a bit of a lazy slob; it’s their last day in paradise and he hasn’t gotten gifts for his children. Good-naturedly (and perhaps wanting one last crack at the marketplace) Marie goes downstairs to the town to shop.

As she is shopping, she is startled to see a wall of water coming at her – the town is being hit by a tsunami. She tries to run, but there’s no outrunning a wave like this. She is sucked under and dragged out towards the sea. She fights with all her strength to try and get a handhold anywhere, but she is struck in the head by debris and sinks to the bottom. Game over, no?

No. A pair of men pull her out of the water and try to revive her. She eventually comes to but only after having an experience she can’t explain, one with white light illuminating darkness, strangely familiar figures in the light and a sensation of peace.

The experience shakes her up. After reuniting with Didier (who was on a high enough floor in the hotel to not even get his feet wet), she goes back to Paris to resume her duties and finds herself distracted. Didier urges her to take some time off and write the book on Francois Mitterrand that she always wanted to write. Realizing she isn’t at the top of her game, she reluctantly agrees.

In London, a pair of twin brothers Marcus and Jason (the McLaren brothers, who alternated in the two roles) are desperately trying to keep social workers from discovering that their mother Jackie (Marshal) is messed up on drugs and alcohol again, knowing that if the authorities discover the truth they’ll be taken away from their mother for sure. With a bit of luck they are able to fool the social workers. Relieved, Jackie sends Jason, the more outgoing of the two, to the chemist’s to pick up a prescription, one that will finally begin the rehab process for her. Jason and Marcus are absolutely overjoyed.

That joy is short-lived. A group of young street thugs spy Jason talking on a cell phone and they want it, as well as the drugs he’s carrying. They chase him down the street, and Jason runs into traffic to escape, directly into the path of a lorry. He’s killed instantly despite Marcus’s pleas to come back (Marcus heard the whole thing over the phone and went running out to save his brother, fruitlessly as it turned out).

In San Francisco, George Lonegan (Damon) is annoyed at his brother Billy (Mohr). Billy has brought over a client named Christos (Kind) for a reading. Not the book kind of reading; you see, George is a kind of a psychic. His readings involve communicating with the dead, and Christos wants to talk to his late wife in the worst way.

The trouble is, George has given the life of a psychic up. He was once fairly well-known – a book was even written about his gifts – and he had a thriving business with a website and everything. However, the cost to George’s soul was too great, and he yearned for a normal life. He is setting out to provide himself with just that, taking a job in a sugar factory and taking Italian cooking lessons from a chef (Schirripa) in a local learning annex, meeting a sweet and somewhat chatty girl named Melanie (Howard) in the process. He is just beginning to really fall for her when she discovers the nature of his talents, which leads to him discovering something about her that she had wanted to keep buried.

All three of these people, touched in one way or another by death are on paths that are getting ready to intersect. What will happen when they do is anybody’s guess.

I had very high hopes for this movie. After all, Eastwood has become the most consistently high-quality director in Hollywood, and writer Peter Morgan has such acclaimed works as The Queen to his credit. The subject matter is also intriguing, to say the least.

Unfortunately, I was left feeling kind of flat by the whole thing. There doesn’t seem to be much insight going on, other than to say that most people who spend too much time thinking about death are forgetting that they have a life. While Damon and de France are solid in their parts (particularly Damon who turns into one of the most compelling performances in his career), the McLaren brothers – who are amateur actors – seem a bit overwhelmed by what they’re doing. Unfortunately (and I hate to criticize child actors), they were terribly inconsistent in their performance. At times there seemed to be some talent there; at others, they seemed completely lost. Eastwood deliberately cast non-professionals in the role because he didn’t want veterans of “Child Acting 101” to deliver an unbelievable performance. While I agree with the sentiment, unfortunately he needed someone along the lines of a young Haley Joel Osment or even an Abigail Breslin to really make that part of the movie work.

The opening tsunami sequence is absolutely astonishing, giving viewers a you-are-there feel and is some of Eastwood’s best filmmaking work to date. Not known for big special effects shots and computer imaging, I thought this scene had enormous power and really set the movie up quite nicely.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t really go anywhere and the ending kind of peters out. Eastwood has said in several interviews that he didn’t want to create an afterlife movie, but rather begin a conversation about the afterlife and whether or not it exists. The movie seems to opine that some sort of consciousness remains when the body dies but whether or not this is Heaven, Valhalla or just the brain shutting down is left up to the discretion of the viewer and in that sense, the movie works marvelously. Still, I felt a bit let down at the end and while perhaps I just wasn’t on the same page as Eastwood for this one, I think it fair enough that my reaction be part of the review. Eastwood is a master craftsman and this movie certainly reflects that craft, but it left me feeling…well, nothing.

REASONS TO GO: The opening scene is nothing short of jaw-dropping, and Damon puts on one of the performances he’ll be remembered for.

REASONS TO STAY: The ending is a bit vague, and leaves one wondering what the purpose of the movie is.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing images regarding death and the afterlife, and a few bad words here and there but for the most part, suitable for older teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scenes depicting the tsunami were filmed in Lahaina, Hawaii.

HOME OR THEATER: The opening scene should be seen on the big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: MegaMind