Hereafter (Clint Eastwood, 2010). Clint Eastwood will often dismiss anyone trying to read too much subtext of grand personal artistic statement in his films. They’re just pictures to the steely-eyed director. Certainly this ponderous rumination of mortality holds no added passion or weight that might be expected from a guy entering into his eighties and, therefore, maybe a little interested in considering what might be out there beyond this mortal coil. Instead Eastwood plods through a notably facile script from Peter Morgan bringing together multiple story threads in ways that would strain credulity to breaking if they weren’t so completely uninteresting that any audience interest in gauging narrative veracity likely withered away like a malnourished sapling. Matt Damon is particular adrift, utterly unconvincing as a man with a genuine capacity to communicate with the deceased. Damon plays it with all the gravity of a guy with an uncommon knack for Sudoku.
Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965). Polanski’s psychological horror film about a lovely young Belgian woman who gradually but assuredly goes mad when she’s left alone in her apartment is a vivid piece of directorial genius. Practically ever frame of the film sparks with the energy of restless, confident creativity. Polanski teeters between the woman’s troubled, troubling visions and the hard reality of a life deteriorating from the inside out with all sorts of repugnant debris around the living quarters as evidence of the tragic destruction. Catherine Deneuve plays the woman, and it’s entirely possible that she never had a better cinematic vehicle for her natural onscreen paradoxical appeal of iciness intertwined with irresistible allure. The film is dark, shocking and morbidly funny. Best of all, it’s consistently brilliant.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt, 2011). I think it’s a measure of how rotten the general output of Hollywood studios has gotten, especially during the summer months, that this fresh attempt to reboot the quintessential nineteen-seventies film franchise was greeted with exultant appreciation. The screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (previously responsible for pure junk in the nineties) does a reasonable job of imagining how the topsy-turvy future of the original films came to pass, right up to news coverage of the launch of a rocket that presumably has Charlton Heston aboard. But there’s very little that’s truly inspired about it and they leave a few plot holes big enough for a hefty chimpanzee to ride a tire swing through. Director Rupert Wyatt maintains an odd tone that’s a hybrid of bruising seriousness and tongue-in-cheek play that admittedly has its moments, especially when the painfully dull human characters cede the storyline completely to the fast-evolving simians. Too often, though, it’s dumb without being dumb fun.
The Killers (Robert Siodmak, 1946). Terse, nasty and completely convincing in its bleak depiction of small, crooked American lives, The Killers served as a helluva debut for Burt Lancaster, who looks for all the world like an impenetrable brick wall that became sentient and strode onto a movie set. Adapted and freely, insightfully expanded upon from an Ernest Hemingway short story, the film concerns a hood whose past catches up with him. Most of the film is told in flashback, tracking his descent, and Lancaster plays the man repeatedly staggered by life with a feverish certainty. Director Robert Siodmak drenches the film in stark, moody foreboding. There’s not a moment when the danger of a tough, uncompromising world isn’t fully present in the storytelling. Ava Gardner, also in one of her earliest starring roles, is called upon to do little more than play a woman so achingly beautiful that she can effortlessly convince men to make choices that run directly against their own sense of self-preservation. Unsurprisingly, she’s up to the task.
The Drowning Pool (Stuart Rosenberg, 1975). Nearly ten years after playing detective Lew Harper, Paul Newman returned to the role for this sleepwalking sequel. A cinematic revolution took place between the two films, but there’s no indication of that whatsoever as director Stuart Rosenberg presents every bit of the film in the most pedestrian manner possible. Even pairing Newman with wife Joanne Woodward couldn’t lend a spark to the proceedings. A movie’s in real trouble when its most interesting portion is an opening sequence in which the protagonist silently, grumpily futzes around with a car in an airport parking lot. The film also features a young Melanie Griffith as a sexually precocious teenage girl blithely wandering into danger because that’s just what she did then.