The Morning After: Aug. 5, 2013

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

The Song of Bernadette

The portrait of a young woman who sees a vision that no one else can see leads a small French town to fracture over differences in faith and perceptions of reality. Jennifer Jones turns in a star-making and Oscar-winning performance as the titular Bernadette.

The film itself doesn’t break new ground in terms of style or story, but it has a deeper resonating element that questions the tenacity of the faithful and showcases how even the most devout believer can question what they perceive to be the willful delusions of a young girl. It takes to heart its opening statement that to the faithful, the mystery can be understood, but to the unfaithful it cannot. While this positions the film as an attempt to cast doubt on those with no belief or faith, it also takes supposedly holy persons and displays how even they can abandon the principles on which they found their beliefs simply because of their human desire to accept only what they can see and not rely on faith.

Charles Bickford portrays a compelling figure as the local priest who doubts young Bernadette and struggles to balance his view of what the truth is and what his own religious beliefs dictate. Vincent Price is quietly vicious as the town’s prosecutor who spearheads the city’s attempts to discredit or disprove the rabble rouser. There are also solid performances from Lee J. Cobb as the town physician, Gladys Cooper as the distrusting nun, and Anne Revere and Roman Bohnen as Bernadette’s impoverished and questioning parents.

The Wolverine

After the dismal failure of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men franchise producers and masterminds took a step back and re-drew their vision for the series. In doing so, they crafted one of the better entries in the franchise to date exploring Logan’s (Hugh Jackman) desire to die and forget the pain he has inflicted on others.

Set in modern Japan, Logan is brought to the bedside of a dying man whom he saved at a prison camp outside of Nagasaki at the end of World War II. There he is offered the chance to have his immortality removed and be awarded a swift and desired death. Not believing it can be done and not entirely certain it’s his wish, Logan leaves Yashida’s (Haruhiko Yamanouchi) side shortly before his untimely death. At Yashida’s funeral, a group of Yakuza thugs attempts to abduct Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko (Tao Okamoto), forcing Logan to intercede and attempt to protect the young woman.

But something’s wrong and his regenerative capabilities have been suppressed and he learns that he must accept the help of others or face an untimely death. Jackman gets the chance to showcase his acting chops, something not as evident in his prior outings. He explores guilt, regret, stubbornness, vengeance and vanity, giving the audience a deeper and more intense examination of the character. He’s supported ably by a strong cast of Japanese actors including Yamanouchi, Okamoto, Will Yun Lee as Okamoto’s childhood paramour Harada, Rila Fukushima as Okamoto’s prescient childhood friend Yukio, Hiroyuki Sanada as Okamoto’s father, and Brian Tee as a corrupt government official whose been betrothed to Okamoto. Famke Janssen makes a compelling return as Logan’s memory of Jean Grey whom he killed at the end of the third film of the original trilogy, playing his guilt masterfully. Add in the deliciously malevolent Svetlana Khodchenkova as the biochemist working as Yashida’s doctor and you have a thoroughly enjoyable cast working hard to ground The Wolverine is a fascinating reality.

World War Z

One part 28 Days Later… and another part Contagion, World War Z delivers endless excitement and a fascinating, if hole-riddled narrative about a deadly disease spreading rapidly across the globe.

Brad Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, a retired UN investigator whose family finds themselves caught in the middle of a burgeoning contagion that infects anyone bitten by the ravenous horde of zombies that grow like cancer in an unnerving and exhilarating race through New York City and Newark, New Jersey before Gerry, his wife Karin (Mireille Enos), his two daughters and a fleeing young boy escape by helicopter to a group of warships off the Atlantic coast. Finding little hope in the news that’s emerging around the world, Gerry is coerced into accompanying an eager virologist in a globe-spanning pursuit of answers to the origins and potential cure of this terrifying epidemic.

After taking the audience on a thrilling chase sequence down the Eastern Seaboard, the film settles into a straight-forward action disaster epic that provides plenty of excitement but never returns to the level of adrenaline-filled tension of its first thirty minutes. Pitt delivers a satisfying performance, though it’s nothing we haven’t seen from him before. Enos adds a touching level of pathos as she desperately clings to hope that he will return to her. Daniella Kertesz is a strong companion for Pitt as she joins him during a segment set in Jerusalem, and Matthew Fox has a brief, but memorable appearance as an American soldier in South Korea whose disdain for outside intrusions and risks to his team’s lives give him some room to stretch after too many straight-laced performances.

Director Marc Forster hasn’t had the best history as a director. His Quantum of Solace was a disappointing follow-up to the brilliant Casino Royale and the much celebrated Finding Neverland was a pale imitation of Peter Pan. While World War Z is far from Oscar-calibre territory, it’s an engaging drama that borrows too heavily from films like Danny Boyle’s excellent genre-bending 28 Days Later… and Steven Soderbergh’s character drama Contagion while carving out its own successful approach to blended genres.

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