Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Up in the Air" / Mini-Reviews - "(500) Days of Summer" / "Che" / "Gallipoli" / "It Might Get Loud" / "Humpday"

Up in the Air - Directed (and co-written) by Jason Reitman, starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick - Rated R

A Chigurh for this funny, thoughtful film.

Up in the Air, the latest from Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking), is a funny, thought-provoking, borderline existential film that has much more to say than most comedies. But then again it isn't necessarily a comedy. I suppose the correct term these days is "dramedy." But I don't particularly like that word. Let's just call it a film, and a very good one at that.

The film is about Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man who spends nearly his entire life flying from city to city. Bingham's job is to fire people for other companies because they are afraid of the reaction they might get from the axed employee. This may sound like the set up for a very depressing film, but it is really much more light-hearted (for the most part) than you would think. For starters, Bingham loves the traveling that comes with his job. He has no "real" life so to speak, though, in his words, he is "surrounded" by people to connect with. There is nothing long term in his life and he likes it that way.

A wrench is thrown into the works when Bingham's company decides to take the advice of a rising star at the company, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick). Natalie thinks the company can save a ton of money if they start firing people in an even more impersonal way, through video conferences. Bingham isn't a fan of the idea since it would force him to settle down, but he convinces his boss to take Natalie on the road for one last trip to show her the ropes and how important it is to fire someone in person.

This set up allows George Clooney to break down the rules of quick and easy travel and this is when Up in the Air is at its best. Clooney plays the know-it-all to perfection and Anna Kendrick plays off of him well. Their banter makes for some of the funniest scenes in the film. But make no mistake, this is Clooney's film. In fact, your opinion of Clooney will make or break this film for you. I'm a Clooney fan, and this is one of his better performances. I got the feeling that he was playing himself (both he and his character are not exactly tied down), but I think that's the mark of a good performance. When you can believe that the actor is exactly like the character, then he's done something right and will most likely receive a nomination for the role.

Clooney is not alone, however. Vera Farmiga does a nice job as Clooney's love interest. The rest of the notable cast basically consist of cameos. Zach Galifianakis and J. K. Simmons have short but sweet roles as recently fired workers. Sam Elliott's appearance made for a good scene near the end. It was good to see Danny McBride show up in a semi-serious role since he's usually cast as a ridiculous, over the top character. There are more, but these appearances stuck out to me and, in the case of Galifianakis and Simmons, made the firing scenes easier to sit through.

The firing scenes are not necessarily meant to be funny, though (and certainly a couple are meant to be completely depressing). What makes some of these firings depressing and authentic is that the filmmakers got recently fired regular people and told them they were making a documentary about layoffs. They were told to treat the camera like the person who fired them and recreate their experience or say what they wish they had said. It adds a reality to the film that can get to you at times. Listening to these real people and hearing Clooney's responses get to the heart of this movie.

That brings me to the message of the film. Up in the Air asks the audience what is truly important in your life. Is it your job? Is it living life with no strings attached? Is it settling down and having a family or someone to be with? These are the kinds of questions that any adult can relate to and that is what makes this movie almost existential. Danny McBride's character asks late in the film, "What is the point?" Clooney isn't sure at first, but who is? Who hasn't asked him/herself this question at least once in their life after a bad day or an argument with a loved one? Up in the Air can't give a definitive answer to that question because it can only be answered by the individual. The film can, however, make you think about what the point is, and you might laugh a bit while you consider the answers; and maybe that's the point.

This is something new I'm going to start doing. I tend to watch plenty of DVDs through the week and I never write anything about them and many of them do not warrant a full review either because they are old movies, or because I just didn't feel like writing a full review. I'll try to keep them as short as possible, giving a concise synopsis followed by a sentence or two of opinion.

(500) Days of Summer - Directed by Marc Webb, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel - Rated R
This movie is about a relationship from beginning to end. It's been compared to Annie Hall and I think that is a fair comparison. I really enjoyed this one. It felt like a new breed of romantic comedy, one that both a man and a woman could enjoy. Let's hope this is the beginning of a new trend.

Che (Parts 1 and 2) - Directed by Steven Soderbergh, starring Benicio Del Toro - Rated R
I'm not exactly a fan of Che Guevara. When I see kids wearing t-shirts with his face on them I want to approach them and verbally berate them. But then I calm down, because I realize it would infuriate Che even more than me to see the American youth wearing his image, expecially if that image is on a $30 shirt. Anyway, I watched this lengthy biopic (the two parts equal about 4 and 1/2 hours) because Soderbergh makes interesting films. This film has its moments, but they are few and far between. The filmmakers didn't take a strong stance one way or the other with Che and I think that hurt the film. I just didn't have much of a response to this film one way or the other. I will say, though, that Benicio Del Toro is absolutely perfect for the role. I've heard complaints about his accent, but as far as the look goes, he was born to play Che. But even his performance does not warrant a viewing of this film.

Gallipoli - Directed and co-written by Peter Weir, starring Mel Gibson - Rated PG
I don't know why but it took me forever to get around to watching this historical film about the Australian soldiers fighting in Turkey during World War I. It is a very solid and devastating film and I suggest checking it out if, like me, you have left it off your list.

It Might Get Loud - Directed by Davis Guggenheim, starring Jimmy Page, Jack White, and The Edge - Rated PG
Let's face it, if you're into rock music you'll probably want to check this out for Jimmy Page alone. If you're not into rock, you should skip it because this movie consists of these three guys sitting around talking about guitars and playing a bit here and there. I enjoyed it, though I thought it could've been a bit better. I guess I expected them to play together a bit more or something. But it is still very cool to see these three together, even though The Edge is kind of a whacker.

Humpday - Written and directed by Lynn Shelton, starring Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard - Rated R
This is definitely one off the beaten path. It's about two lifelong friends who feel they haven't accomplished anything substantial in their lives. So they decide to make a gay porno film of themselves, even though they are both straight. I thought this film was quite funny and it understands male friendship in the way that a Kevin Smith movie does. So don't be scared off by the porno aspect of the film, because the film isn't all about that. It's more about getting older and trying to do something with your life. And it's definitely about how awkward such a situation could be.

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