Category Archives: Now Showing

AFTERMATH

Producer: Sylvia Caminer, Thomas Chestaro, David Kitay, Anthony Michael Hall and Michalina Scorzelli
Director: Thomas Farone
Writer: Thomas Farone
Stars: Anthony Michael Hall, Chris Penn, Tony Danza, Frank Whaley, Elisabeth Rohm, Jamie Harrold, Lily Rabe and Leo Burmester
Studio: Freestyle Releasing

D-

Richard Linklater took twelve years to make “Boyhood” and produced a masterpiece. Thomas Farone lavished eight on “Aftermath,” and most definitely hasn’t. The crime melodrama, which its makers have dubbed a “black comedy thriller,” has a few oddball moments but is never funny, and it certainly isn’t thrilling.

To be fair, the long gestation period for the movie wasn’t intentional; it resulted from a real-life tragedy, the death of one of its stars, Chris Penn, during filming in 2006. To complicate matters further, another cast member, Leo Burmester, died in 2007. That resulted in reshoots and re-editing that have dragged on until now. Sad to say, all the effort wasn’t worth it.

Anthony Michael Hall stars as Tom Fiorini, a successful housing developer in upstate New York whose beautiful wife Rebecca (Elisabeth Rohm) is pregnant with their first child. A hard-driving fellow who’s tough on his workers, he pressures his foreman Matt (Jamie Harrold) to keep on schedule, which leads Matt in turn to put the heat of ex-con Tony (Penn), his chief framer, to speed things up. Tony, a big man with a violent streak whose wife Liz (Kent King) is also pregnant and whose high-strung cousin Eric (Frank Whaley) is a rather unproductive member of the crew, responds by attacking Matt, who promptly disappears, leaving his wife Samantha (Lily Rabe) searching for answers.

Concerned that Tony may have killed Matt, Fiorini fires him but fears that the guy will retaliate. So he not only enlists the help of the local sheriff (Burmester) to harass the guy, but buys a gun from local goombah (Tony Danza), whom he also pays to put pressure on Tony. The result is very different from what Tom was hoping for, and leads him to take more drastic action himself, especially when Tony uses his influence to deal with Danza’s preening hitman and his minions.

One can sympathize with Farone for wanting to cobble a finished product from whatever material he’d shot before Penn’s death (perhaps Hall, who’s listed as one of the producers, was anxious to see things through as well), but his effort only results in messiness—the picture is divided up into chapters which are then subdivided into days, but the chronology is sporadic, and the title cards are presented against a backdrop of comic-book panels that seem to have reference to nothing at all. The structure is further complicated by narration, which begins with a “Sunset Boulevard” sequence before the movie lurches into what might be termed bargain-basement Tarantino mode—a sequence that tells you how things are going to turn out at the very beginning. A closing twist about Matt’s fate—which strains for irony—isn’t very surprising, either.

The performances are nothing special. Hall does a decent enough job, but his character’s motives are ever especially clear, while Danza’s sterotype seems to come from an entirely different movie altogether and Whaley just reverts to the space-out hophead routine we’ve witnessed from him before. The most interesting turn is certainly Penn’s, just because it’s a swansong. By 2006 the actor had put on so much weight that he puts Victor Buono to shame, and he doesn’t look at all well. (His brother Sean attributed his death to his bulk.) He handles most of the dialogue well enough (much of it in close-up), but when movement is required—as in his scene with Danza—he seems to have some serious trouble. The end result, unhappily, is that his presence here appeals more to morbid curiosity than to any desire to celebrate a life cut sadly short. Technically the picture is, apart from its rather clumsy construction, mediocre, though it’s difficult to ascribe the murkiness of much of the camerawork to anybody in particular, since Scott Beardslee is listed as cinematographer along with Farone, who presumably took care of the reshoots himself.

The opening credits of “Aftermath” are printed in weird letters of varied shapes and sizes that make the names very difficult to decipher. Given the way the movie’s turned out, that might be considered a blessing.

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART 1

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C

This is obviously Lionsgate’s attempt to reap even more profits from the lucrative young adult franchise spawned from Suzanne Collins’ bestselling young adult trilogy by following the formula made familiar from the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series by dividing the final book into two pictures. (“Mockingjay Part 2” is scheduled for release a year from now.) But the result is a dark, rather dreary picture that’s all wind-up and no delivery, a tedious time-filler that merely takes up space between the superior “Catching Fire” and what one hopes will be a return to form with next year’s conclusion. Simply put, this third edition of the “Games” is likely to leave you hungry for more action.

In this curiously pallid installment indifferently directed by Francis Lawrence, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself in Panem’s District 13 after being rescued in the aftermath of the Quarter Quell. There she finds rebellion simmering against the Capitol and its cruel President Snow (Donald Sutherland)—a movement that has coalesced around District President Coin (Julianne Moore). Coin and her confidantes, publicity specialist Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and scientific genius Beetee Latier (Jeffrey Wright), plan to use Katniss as the Mockingjay, the symbol of revolution who will inspire the people of all regions to unite and rise up against the injustice represented by Snow

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Unfortunately, Katniss is so distraught over the fact that Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the boy she came to love during their time together in the games, remains a captive in Snow’s evil hands that she refuses to cooperate—until, of course, she does, but only under the condition that an effort will be made to rescue him.

Much of the rest of the film consists of Katniss alternately making propaganda commercials for the rebellion while sniffling over Peeta, who periodically appears on Capitol television urging her to lay down her arms. With the exception of a few forays outside, she’s ensconced in a bunker-like structure with the population of District 13 as well as her home-town pal Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), a hunk who’s obviously smitten with her, and Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), an erstwhile rival from the games who’s also bemoaning the capture of his love Annie (Stef Dawson) by Snow. Old standbys like her former trainer Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and erstwhile press escort Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), both now in the rebel camp, also make appearances, mostly to offer her words of encouragement

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But the claustrophobic nature of the setting, continually shot in gloom, leaves the picture feeling as stranded as the rebels are. There is one sequence when Katniss, Gale and a film crew headed by hard-nosed Cressida (Natalie Dormer) venture out to a rebel field hospital which is then bombed by two of Snow’s aircraft (the sole occasion when our heroine unleashes one of her arrows), that offers some genuine excitement. But another, in which the base is attacked by a fleet of bombers, is meant to get the pulse racing, but it’s mostly dull stuff since the assault is shown entirely on radar screens )a means of saving money on special effects, perhaps, but a pretty cheesy one). It’s also undone by an absurd digression about Katniss’ dull-as-dishwater sister , appropriately named Prim (Willow Shields), who puts herself in danger by going off to save her pet cat as air-raid sirens are wailing. Will she make it back to the lower level before the huge metal doors close, stranding her outside the safe zone? This ridiculous scene is intended to generate suspense, but is more likely to cause you to stifle a laugh. A final attempt to excite—a special-ops mission to free Peeta led by Gale—also fails because it’s photographed in almost total darkness and explained afterward. And the concluding twist is so predictable it barely deserves the name.

Under these circumstances Lawrence, who’s invigorated the previous installments in the series, comes across as little more than a weepy lass pining away for her fellow, and the rest of the cast is similarly ill-used, with Moore forced to deliver a passel of high-minded speeches while Hemsworth puts on the stalwart pose of a jilted suitor and Hutcherson is reduced to brief periodic appearances designed to make Katniss weep a bit more. (The last of these, incidentally, seems at odds with what’s ultimately revealed about the character, but one supposes it’s necessary to preserve the story’s sole surprise.) On the other hand, Claflin makes a fairly strong impression, especially toward the close. Among the remaining adults Harrelson, Banks, Sutherland, Wright and Stanley Tucci (as TV MC Caesar Flickerman, who appears with Peeta on his broadcasts) seem to be coasting here; only the late Hoffman juices things up a bit by adding a bit of elfin humor to his delivery.

Technically the production is solid if unexceptional; the earlier installments gave far greater opportunity for outstanding visual work, but cinematographer Jo Willems and production designer Philip Messina do what they can within the limitations imposed by the narrative. James Newton Howard’s score is forgettable.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” can be summed up in a line that Coin speaks to Heavensbee as the Capitol’s assault on District 13 begins. “It’s going to be a long night,” she tells him. The movie may actually only a bit over two hours, but it seems to drag on longer than “Gone With the Wind.”