#2: After Life

After Life (1998)

One Line Synopsis

A group of guides help their guests choose one memory to take with them after their deaths.

What Did You Miss?

It’s not surprising that the great films most will miss are sad, small budget, foreign dramas that are crafted with precision, passion, and love. While I am by no means, an expert (or lover) of Japanese films in general, this gem has just about everything you want from a truly memorable film watching experience.

Do not confuse this film with the supernatural thriller from 2009 After.Life starring Liam Neeson and Christina Ricci despite the similar titles

Sadly, this is one movie that you wouldn’t stumble over copies at Blockbuster (when it wasn’t bankrupt) or get recommended along aside every other choice your add to your Netflix queue. While I believe the film is available from Netflix on DVD, it is otherwise only available for purchase for about $30 bucks.

Director Hirokazu Koreeda does the masterful job of creating a realistic, graceful, understanding post-existence locale. The film takes a delicate matter of pondering what happens to people after they die. A cross-section of characters of all ages and types have to literally view their lives on film, relive their whole lives visually and select a moment that portrays its essence. The fallout from that choice is that they lose everything else. It is an ingenious premise that is adeptly portrayed like no other film that I have ever seen.

Recently, there was an article, I believe in Esquire, that asked why there were no good movies or scenes about heaven. They are always lame and cloudy. Hell is much more fun, apocalyptic, and worthy of a shoot-’em-up action flick. What kind of action would happen in a place that most people consider perfection? A place where there is supposedly no strife, bickering, or dealing with the minutiae of daily life. There may not even be days. How do you envision a place like this and more likely to make it dramatically intriguing? To me, filmmakers have portrayed heaven often when there are portraying characters dreams, worlds of alternate existence. A film like Inception or What Dreams May Come or The Matrix or Waking Life deal with it as alternate/subconscious dream states yet no matter what the darkness, fire and decay of hell seep in.

But for After Life, the threat is not there. This is a place of solace, understanding, and yet a burdensome task to those who are employed to assist in it. So to me, After Life is the most moving, realistic portrayal of the penultimate out-of-body experience, a film that truly makes you think and ponder what will be on your video hard drives when you make the next step.

#1: In The Company of Men

In the Company of Men (1997)

One line synopsis

Two misogynist businessmen (one played by Eckhart) cruelly plotting to romance and emotionally destroy a deaf woman.


Why Should You Watch It?

Not to be confused with the recent, decent Up In the Air-light The Company Men starring Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, and Coach from the 90’s ABC sitcom “Coach,” In The Company of Men is is the of genesis of two notable careers in film. Aaron Eckhart and director/writer/playwright Neil Labute  met at Brigham Young University.

Eckhart’s role of scheming Chad is the perfect exhibition of hiss acting skill, a role that requires the perfect amount of charm with possibly the healthiest dose of nastiness-per-moment-on-screen. Eckhart has gone on to a wide array of roles from Erin Brockovich to Thank You For Smoking to this weekend’s Battle of L.A. but every time I see him pop up on-screen the first thing that comes to mind, “I should watch In The Company of Men again.”

Scene from In The Company of Men

The man who supplied this perfect role is Mr. Labute. Originally performed as a stage play, Labute took two weeks on a $25K budget and created celluloid gold coming in at a brisk running time of 97 minutes. I think it’s about time for a clip. (Note: this clip has quite a filled with off-colored language but it still fucking hilarious.)

Labute followed this film up with a few interesting and entertaining productions such Your Friends & Neighbors with Ben Affleck and Eckhart again as well as the overlooked Nurse Betty with Renee Zellweger. How quickly things can a promising start can turn to crap?

Labute is still making movies although none that most people would want to watch unless your idea of a good time is watching Nicholas Cage in a remake of The Wicker Man or Chris Rock in an even less unnecessary remake of Death at a Funeral. Maybe one day Labute will come back from the dark side but at least there is one gem in his filmography.

 

Some More Thoughts (mostly random mental connections):

– My hopes for Labute’s career were very high coming off this film but after some entertaining and interesting work on his follow-up

The film seems heavily influenced by David Mamet’s fantastic Glengarry Glen Ross, which also was a stage play adapted to the screen. If you’ve seen the film, try to remember back how many sets there were. Off the top of my head I remember the office and the bar outside of those two the film takes has a few random exteriors. It’s story driven by dialogue and character. Note to aspiring filmmakers, the best way to make an excellent film on no budget is take notes from Men and Glengarry Glen Ross. Here’s a famous clip from the movie. If you can write something a monologue like this, and get someone to masterfully deliver it like this much-younger version of Alec Baldwin, then you’re already on your way to stardom. Good luck with that.