Arts & Events

Eye from the Aisle: VIDEO REVIEW--If you’re looking for a video or three…

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday April 12, 2011 - 09:56:00 PM

A month or so ago, I got my cable pulled (by my own hand), and, boy, was it painful!

So my methadone was Netflix with which I can “stream” lots of movies onto my computer and/or my 50” beautiful boob-tube. And they gave me a month for free, thereafter about $10, so I’m saving about $100 a month off Comcast, and it gives me a lot more time to download my brain into reviews like these. (I went to Best Buy and dropped about $189 on a Blu-Ray DVD player with built in Netflix and Hulu capability; if you haven’t seen a Blu-Ray video, then you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.)

So here are two films and a series that are my picks for this month: 

If you like French films, then I recommend a very American movie--CHLOE 

It stays with you for days, and furnishes lots of discussion about motivations and character. 

It has very sexually bold homoerotic scenes between Julianne Moore, the queen of cinematic exposure, and, ironically cast, blonde young Amanda Seyfried. The casting is ironic because we originally know Ms. Seyfried from “Big Love” where she played a Mormon teenager in a polygamous family. I call Ms. Moore the queen of exposure since her memorable debut was in Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts” with a scene with Matthew Modine where she appears naked from the waist down and puts to rest any speculation about her being a true redhead; then there was “Boogie Nights” with Mark Wahlberg in which she played a porn star. 

This time Julianne is a doctor with concerns about the fidelity of her very sexy music professor husband Liam Neeson, and hires Amanda Seyfried’s call-girl character to test it.  

It is written by Erin Cressida Wilson, an excellent theatrical playwright, screenwriter, and professor at UC Santa Barbara, whose work attracts the cream of American actors. She wrote “Fur: an Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus” starring Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey, Jr., and “Secretary” with Maggie Gyllenhall and James Spader. Her work is intriguing, surprising, startling, kinky, and very rich. 

CHLOE is directed by the king of the American noir sex drama’s Atom Egoyan (“Exotica,” “The Sweet Hereafter”). It is set in Toronto, mostly in the family’s very modern home, painted red with many see-through walls, making it rife for symbolic/semiotic speculation. 

It is the sort of movie with the kind of quality and depth that usually has subtitles attached.  


I’ve spent far too much time pondering about death in my life. Growing up Catholic and an only child will do that to you. I lost my father five years ago with whom I was very close and very attached, and that’s only amplified my thanatopic contemplation. 

So when I tripped over DEAD LIKE ME which was a series on Showtime in ’03 and ’04, I was wary of watching until I saw that Mandy Patinkin was in it, and, hell, I used to watch crappy “Criminal Minds” just to see him

It’s a brilliantly imaginative premise: a morose, 18 year old college drop-out is harangued by her neurotic, witty, anal, pushy mom into getting a job. On her first temp assignment, out of the blue comes a piece of jetsam from the disintegrating Mir Russian space station—specifically a toilet seat—which lands in mid-town Vancouver and incinerates her. Just before she gets vaporized, a stranger strokes her arm on the street, at which she recoils; he smiles, and she hurries on to her fate. A moment after her calamity, she is standing to the side surveying her own cataclysmic demise with Mandy Patinkin beside her, assuring her that yes, she’s dead. When she inquires about the afterlife, he says that while there definitely is one waiting—but about which he knows little—she has been selected for extraordinary duty as a “reaper.” “As in grim?” she inquires. He explains that their mission, whether or not she chooses to accept it, is to remove the soul from the body before death to spare the doomed the agony of facing death alone and painfully. 

Every morning, the squad of reapers meets at the local breakfast diner for their assignments distributed on post-its with the name, place and time of death, and they better be there or face the consequences. 

It is a character-driven serio-comedy with four extraordinary if little known actors and Mr. Patinkin: Jasmine Guy an ex-dancer who is now a meter maid, Laura Harris who was a promiscuous starlet in the 30’s, ex-‘60s rocker/druggie Callum Blue, and our heroine Ellen Muth, the “toilet-seat girl” as she is known in the afterlife. It deals with a plethora of existential conundrums, and this imagining of the “other side” imparts a little fantastical hope for us non-believers who will admit to now seeing through the glass darkly.  

The hour-fifteen minute pilot was extraordinary, but the next two installments did not live up to its promise. Seems there was consternation with the show’s creator Bryan Fuller who left the series early. The next 11 episodes in season one did live up to expectations and just kept getting better; season two’s 14 episodes were even better than season one. Each episode is between 39-51 minutes, it’s like reading a novel in a month if you watch one per day, but my guess is you’ll end up cocooning for the weekend and devouring them (and Chinese take-out or pizza). They neatly wrap it up at the end of season two, so there is no playing it till it is dead and starting to stink like so many other series. 

Not to be confused with “Dead Like Me, the 2009 movie” that brought back many of the cast, but not Mandy and was a real stinker, from which, as your consumer advocate, I warn you away. 

And while we’re on the afterlife… 

If you are attracted to “Dead Like Me,” and want More of the Same speculation, there is the very good and hopeful drama HEREAFTER directed by American master Clint Eastwood with an international cast of Matt Damon, Belgian actress Cecile de France (who won “most promising actress 2002” at the Cesar Awards which are France’s Oscars), and two 12-year-old Cockney twins Frankie and George McClaren. Matt Damon is a psychic—the real McCoy—a condition which was brought on by a childhood illness, but has quit giving readings because he wants a normal life, and now works in a factory. Ms. De France’s character is a popular French newscaster who is in Indonesia when the tsunami hits and has a near-death experience. Set in Paris, San Francisco, and London, the backdrops are engaging, the script entertaining and suspenseful, and the message one of hope everlasting without straining disbelief. 

Maybe this genre is picking up the slack for the non-religious without being dogmatic, sort of the way I understand the Jews and Greeks saw the afterlife: pretty much think there is one, and if there is one we only maybe have a little intuitive glimpse of it, but hope never dies. Believing in something you don’t have any evidence for contradicts a lot of our epistemological and normative ethical systems (sorry, former philosophy major here)—that is, how we decide what we believe and our moral code. And in a nation where 60% don’t believe in the established fact—not a theory, I repeat not a theory—of evolution, it is a sort of heresy and betrayal to hold out any hope that there might a “spaghetti monster” as noted evolutionary biologist and notoriously outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins calls God. But hell, hope dies hard. I had a couple of experiences. Have you? Makes you think. Good to talk about intimately with close friends.  

Anyway—it’s an enjoyable film that won’t give you nightmares or keep you up like all the tragedies, psychological thrillers and shoot-‘em-ups tend to.