After Earth

May 31, 2013 by  
Filed under Ashley, Reviews

Starring: Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan (“The Happening”)
Written by: Gary Whitta (“The Book of Eli”) and M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense”)

How two-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan went from directing and writing one of the best horror-suspense films of all time with 1999’s “The Sixth Sense” to holding down the fort at the Golden Raspberry Awards should continue to boggle the mind of every moviegoer. One day, if we’re all lucky enough, he’ll get his head out of the clouds and return to form. “After Earth” isn’t the film to knock him back on track, however. Reprising his gut-wrenching trend of calamitously-made movies, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Shyamalan hits Raspberry gold once again with “After Earth.” At least he won’t be alone. Will and Jaden Smith are almost guaranteed to have a seat right next to him.

After a crash landing leaves stern General Cypher (Will Smith) of the peacekeeping organization, Ranger Corps, and his rebellious and audacious son, Kitai (Jaden Smith), stranded on Earth, the father-son duo must work together to retrieve an emergency beacon located in the tail of a ship to stay alive. Badly injured, General Cypher is forced to sit idly by, guiding his son through the treacherous terrain, which is filled with evolved species and an alien creature that killed his only daughter.

“After Earth” kicks off with a disorienting introduction and the 100 minutes that follow don’t get much clearer. Had the audience not been forced to endure the film’s ill-executed sci-fi elements and Will and Jaden Smith’s laughable performances, it could’ve scraped by with a tolerable father-son storyline. Instead, Shyamalan damages the film beyond repair with trite dialogue and melodramatic one liners, which make for good albeit unintentional laughs.

With so much chaotic back story and information throughout the entire movie, it doesn’t take long for the audience to realize how paper-thin the narrative actually is. Scenes where Jaden Smith attempts to carry the film alone don’t work. As if that isn’t bad enough, the film tries to contribute some sort of substance through flashbacks, but never reveals anything but the same scene from different angles.

At times, “After Earth” feels like a sci-fi themed episode of “Lost” starring Will and Jaden with horrible accents. If you’re used to Shyamalan disasters like “The Last Airbender” and “The Happening,” this won’t come as a big disappointment. What is disappointing, however, is the fact that the film studio is already discussing a sequel. If the Smith men can’t wait to get back on the screen together, why not try “The Pursuit of Happyness 2” instead? It couldn’t be any worse than Shyamalan’s latest debacle.

The Secret Life of Bees

October 23, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson
Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”)
Written by: Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”)

Dakota Fanning’s no longer the cutie-patootie we all remember from movies like “I Am Sam” and “Uptown Girls.” She’s all grown up with a bright future still ahead of her. Luckily, it seems the beginning of her journey through adolescence will not follow the same path as Haley Joel Osment in “Secondhand Lions.” After “The Secret Life of Bees” Fanning is sure to find more acting work.

In “Bees,” Fanning plays Lily Owens, a young girl living in South Carolina in 1964 who runs away from home to find the truth about her deceased mother. Traveling with her nanny Rosaleen (Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson), who she helps escape from police after they arrest her for a run-in with some short-tempered racists, Lily is determined to know more about her mother’s life before Lily, at the age of four, accidentally shoots and kills her.

It’s a heavy burden to live with knowing you are responsible for your own mother’s death, but deep down Lily believes there is more to the story. It’s a story, unfortunately, her emotionally abusive and neglectful father (Paul Bettany) refuses to tell her. Without any real memories of her mother, all Lily has left is a pair of her white gloves and a photo with the word “Tiburon” printed on the back. Tiburon turns out to be a small town in South Carolina, so, on a whim, Lily and Rosaleen hitch a ride to see what a change in locale has in store for them.

In Tiburon, they find the home of the Boatwright sisters: June (Alicia Keys), May (Academy Award nominee Sophie Okonedo), and August (Academy Award nominee Queen Latifah), who are well known in the South for the amazing honey they produce as beekeepers. Here, Lily and Rosaleen make a temporary home by telling little white lies so the Boatwrights will allow them to stay in their guest house.

Once safe inside their new home (or metaphorical beehive) director/screenwriter Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”) is able to effectively capture the emotional struggles the women are experiencing in their personal lives and during an era where hatred is consistent. We especially see that in Okonedo’s May, whose hypersensitivity always gets the best of her. This character reminded me a lot of Wes Bentley’s persona in “American Beauty” because of how they both wear their hearts on their sleeves. While Bentley’s Ricky Fitts becomes choked up with all the beauty there is in the world, May reacts the same way to all of life’s drawbacks.

Yes, the film does pull at the heartstrings, but not in a contriving or melodramatic way. Instead, the ensemble cast of “Bees” depicts some powerful characteristics and does so without overstating their motives. It’s a breath of fresh air when we see real African American characters that mean something more than the cliché, thoughtless material Tyler Perry usually flings at us twice a year.