Death and Demons: A Precursor to Halloween
by Chauncey Telese
Halloween is approaching and am I excited. This year I am going as The Green Hornet and unlike last year (I went as Bill Clinton and was in character all night), I plan to not load up on candy and make it through the night. Theatrically this year, Halloween offers us the final “Saw” movie (yeah right), Clint Eastwood’s take on the afterlife (we’ll get to that) and a sequel to one of the better horror movies to come around in a while (again we’ll get to that).
First though, let me say that in honor of honoring the dead allow me to give an official moratorium to baseball as our national pastime. More people tuned in to see a 30-3 blowout game between the Titans and Jaguars (two teams in small markets), then watch Cliff Lee destroy the Yankees (the number five and number one television markets respectively), and on the flip side, the Phillies and Giants series (number four and number six respectively) is losing to “NCIS”, “Modern Family” (no complaints on that one, I love that show), “Cougar Town,” and “Criminal Minds,” yet it boasts a plethora of marquee pitchers in Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels, and Lincecum (who always inspires me to watch “Dazed and Confused” because he is the spitting image of Mitch Kramer).
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So this is a unique turn of events considering the NFL looking bad with the recent concussion and helmet-to-helmet hits, Favre roughing up his image (the cell phone will bring down many more prominent people, I promise), and the labor issue. You’d think baseball could counter but then again this is the same league that will have a Hall of Fame without the greatest hitter of all time, the guy who holds the all time record and one of the best pitchers of all time because they want to sweep their tainted legacies under the rug. Okay, enough talking about the dead let’s get to “Hereafter.”
“Hereafter”: Loneliness and Death = Clint Eastwood Oscar Bait
Clint Eastwood has had one of the best records of the last decade. He was nominated for nine Oscars (winning two), having a career best at the box office (“Gran Torino”), and has done all this at the age of 80. That’s pretty impressive. He has done a plethora of different types of movies over the years, yet this is the first time that he’s really done anything this out of his comfort zone. He crafts a movie that, judging by the trailers, was a sentimental take on three people and how they deal with the knowledge that we as human beings are cursed with knowing (no I’m not referring to Don Draper foolishly marrying Megan or that the cast of the “Jersey Shore” exist), I’m referring to the fact that we’re all on borrowed time. With “Hereafter” Eastwood doesn’t set out to help us understand what may or may not lie on the other side or even deal with death directly but instead he tells us three different stories that set out to tell us how people try to connect with others that are alone and incapable of coping with the sadness that surrounds death.
The first story that we are introduced to is Matt Damon’s George, a factory worker that used to be a world famous ghost whisperer who could no longer cope with the sadness that surrounds people seeking his services. His sleazy brother, played by Jay Mohr, gets him to do one more reading. This leads George to meet Melanie (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is interested in George and while he tries to live a normal life, Melanie has him give her a reading which ultimately proves to be a bad idea.
The second story that we observe is that of brothers Jason and Marcus (played by Frankie and George McLaren) who have a junkie mom living at death’s door and when she decides to get clean, she sends the boys to a pharmacy to get her pills to help her. Tragedy strikes and Marcus is out of the house and running away from various foster homes and then misses boarding a subway that would be bombed.
The third story is of French journalist Marie (played by Cecile de France) who temporarily dies during a tsunami and has subsequent visions following the tsunami. Marie goes on a sabbatical and writes a book about death and people’s reactions to that subject.
The film was written by “Frost/Nixon” writer Peter Morgan (he also wrote “The Queen,” “The Last King of Scotland,” “The Special Relationship” and others), who does a great job not going over the top with anything supernatural and while I guess they needed to bring all of these people together at the end it really doesn’t come off as cheesy. Nor does it go over the top in dealing with death which a lesser writer and director would have gone Lifetime TV movie with it and made there be excessive ghosts and forced reconciliation.
Eastwood also makes sure that everything is grounded and gets some great performances out of his actors. Matt Damon proves yet again just how talented he is (he is also moonlighting as Liz Lemon’s pilot boyfriend Carol on “30 Rock,” that show’s live episode should be up for multiple Emmys), in fact, all of the actors do a wonderful job conveying the loss and heartbreak that they endure in their lives. Expect for this to be mentioned come Oscar time, but it still won’t beat “The Social Network.” Still, for Eastwood to have three (possibly four) movies up for Best Picture in the last 10 years is pretty impressive.
This concludes the sincere look at the supernatural, let’s now turn our attention to the Halloween rendition of the supernatural!
“Paranormal Activity 2”: The Best Theatrical Experience You Can Have on Halloween
I don’t know if I beat the point into the ground last week but sometimes a movie is fundamentally better in theaters because of the crowd you are with. Horror movies used to exemplify this because of all the “Don’t go in there” moments, but as time has gone on the modern day horror movie doesn’t do that anymore. I blame the “Saw” franchise for that because they replaced scares with gore and as disgusting as gore is it isn’t scary.
Last year, however, a small independent movie titled “Paranormal Activity” became a throwback to the classic Halloween experience because it tapped into the apparently common fear of demonic possession (as I said before my friend Katie is incapable of watching anything involving demons) and cleverly used the “found footage” style of filmmaking and low budget effects to cause audiences everywhere to freak out for the first time since “The Blair Witch Project” (though for the record “Blair Witch” was as overrated as “The Big Bang Theory” or Carson Palmer).
Wednesday night/Thursday morning Armando and I had the privilege of attending the Hollywood premiere of “Paranormal Activity 2” at the Arclight. The movie was a well done prequel to the first one and makes the scares bigger and better.
This film takes place 60 days before Katie (Katie Featherstone, whose birthday was the night of the premiere and she actually came off as genuinely nice) would murder Micah. The found footage revolves around the home movies of Katie’s sister Amber, her husband David, his daughter Allie, and newborn Hunter. Like the first film, we slowly learn about the family through small comedic moments.
Then the family experiences what appears to be a break-in, though nothing is stolen, just severely damaged. This prompts David to install cameras all over the house and then we see what the camera sees over the course of 21 days. We see Amber and Allie’s experiences with things they can’t explain (doors slamming, the pool skimmer needing to be cleared out of the pool etc.) and as time goes on, David is the only one who doesn’t see what’s going on.
Allie researches and we get a pretty good idea what is going on. I don’t want to spoil anything because half the fun of the movie is being surprised at what happens when the demon decides to wreck havoc. The other half of the movie’s allure to me is the fact that because people are legitimately freaked out over demons and what not so seeing people freak out loudly is worth the price of admission by itself.
The first one had the novelty factor working for it being a small independent film that caught on through viral word of mouth. Sure while people may have joked that “Paranormal Activity” was proof of how much a guy was willing to put up with if his girl is, as Armando puts it, “smart,” and that the demon would’ve been better off just being direct instead of being subtle because it would’ve saved a lot of time.
It became a mega hit and then they announced a sequel and many predicted that we’d get another “Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows” on our hands. However, the people behind the movie proved that they were smarter then that and instead of giving us an irrelevant sequel that dealt with the aftermath of the first film’s events and then the demon magically reappearing to attack a new family. This film serves as a bridge and an explanation to the first film’s events and they knew what worked and what didn’t. I hope the film is as successful as the first (which shouldn’t be hard because of the lack of horror movies plus this one was made super cheap) and I hope that this is the last installment because otherwise they’d become another “Saw”.
If this isn’t what you’re looking for there is the documentary “Inside Job,” the action film “Red” (a lot of fun by the way) and “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” (also fantastic).
Thank you for reading and instead of reviewing “Saw: The Final Chapter,” I instead have a special Halloween treat for you guys. Remember you can see these and other fine films at your local Edwards.