A Will Smith vanity project in which the actor co-stars with his son Jaden Smith in a leaden sci-fi adventure that delves through all the cliches of father-son relationships. While Smith the elder produces an acceptable minimalist performance as an elite soldier paralyzed in a post apocalyptic Earth with his son, Smith the younger is unable to carry the heavy burden of the wildly nonsensical roadtrip across a hostile landscape to get some sort of beacon that will save them. The fact that this film is directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who has made some of the most willfully self-indulgent and silly movies of the 21th century (The Last Airbender, Signs) should be warning enough that After Earth isn’t going to provide anything as sustaining as a solid genre-type adventure, laden down as it is with aspirations to plumb all sorts of emotional depths. Even the action sequences manage to be profoundly unexciting.
After the Flowers (Hana no Ato)
Directed by Kenji Nakanishi from a story by Shuhei Fujisawa, the author who also provided the material for Yoji Yamada’s samurai trilogy, The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade and Love and Honor, classics of the samurai genre. This fact is recommendation enough. The film starts off unassumingly, with Ito (Keiko Kitagawa), the exquisitely kimonoed daughter of a clan official, meeting with Magoshiro (Shuntaro Miyao), a handsome low-ranking samurai, while on a trip to enjoy the cherry blossoms. Ito is trained in swordsmanship, and the two hit it off, but are bounded by all kinds of social constraints that make the story of star-crossed lovers predictable enough. The story is rooted in human behavior mediated by a rigid social code that brings alive a world that is very different from our own.
The Place Beyond the Pines
A beast of a movie with huge ambitions, some excellent acting, and a roller-coaster of emotions that is constantly in danger of derailing. Whether you think it does or not depends on how you approach it, either as a flawed masterpiece, or just as a horrendous mess of macho posturing. Ryan Gosling is Luke, a stunt motorcycle rider who has strong echoes of his role in Drive, a comparatively safe and tightly structured film. He finds himself resorting to robbery to support his son by waitress Romina (Eva Mendes), but is taken down by rookie cop Avery Cross, (Bradley Cooper). Cooper is moving into new territory with this role, and is almost unrecognizable as a policeman who rises to district attorney after his path briefly crosses that of Luke. Director Derek Cianfrance works too hard to tie up a complex web of stories, and ultimately the 140-minute film becomes weighed down by the weight of its ambition.
Michael H. Profession: Director
A made-for-TV movie about the director Michael Haneke directed by Yves Montmayeur. As is usual with such documentaries, interviews with the subject are intercut with talking heads that include the great and good of European cinema, including the likes of Juliette Binoche and Isabelle Huppert, who speak with great respect for the man and the difficulties of working with such a driven and relentless director. There are many rewarding insights into the Haneke’s work although the director is a notoriously difficult interviewee. That said, the film does well in presenting something a little more than just the cold, clinical and controlling side of his personality. Some familiarity with the Haneke’s work is probably a requirement for this film.
What Maisie Knew
Based on a novel by Henry James, and directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, What Maisie Knew is a contemporary adaptation of a once avant-garde novel that has polarized critics, some gushing over the outstanding performances and the “rightness” of the story for contemporary society, while others see it as just a depressing soap about people it is impossible to care for. The film introduces Onata Aprile, whose performance as the young Maisie, caught in the middle of a horrendous tug-of-love between divorced parents and their new partners, has been uniformly praised as an outstanding portrayal of childhood’s mix of knowingness and innocence, and the adult cast, which includes Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan and Alexander Skarsgard are generally excellent.