Sunday, April 25, 2010

Up In the Air

Up In the Air (Jason Reitman, 2009) [5]

Let's stop all the bullshit with this being some 'film of the moment.' From accounts, Reitman had been working on making this film before the economic meltdown and he fortunately stumbled into such a series of events that somehow makes it seem like he has the pulse of the current climate. In fact, Up In the Air fits perfectly into the current anxiety but like all Reitman's material, never actually manages to say anything important about what his film's are supposedly talking about. What you have here is a story of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a smug guy whose job consists of going around the country firing people. In his frequent flier world, he has built up his own walled-in philosophy, the one element of the film that makes the most sense. His world gets thrown into turmoil by two events; one being a young hotshot (Anna Kendrick) convincing the company to fire people via video-conference, and the other being a romance with a fellow traveller (Vera Farmiga) who makes Ryan question the philosophy he's laid out for himself. The "prescient moments" of people being fired talking to the camera have really nothing to do with story. The biggest error Reitman makes is that almost all these scenes don't directly address the Clooney and Kendrick characters. This displacement loses any credibility that the film wants to have about having a message. With that particular hurdle out of the way, there are moments in the film that are not bad, especially Clooney and Farmiga together near the end. Anna Kendrick is the only real character that you could say works in the moment; she's a smart, pro-active idea person with no idea how the complexities of what she's doing will affect her or other people. That is something which could have been used more effectively. Jason Reitman is a competent director but he has a habit of taking socially relevant material and making it less effective for my liking. If everyone would get off thinking 'this is an important film' bandwagon, Up In the Air could have been an alright character study. But if you want this extra baggage attached to your film, than this is not what everyone thinks it is.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Broken Embraces

Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodovar, 2009) [8]

Hitchcock has always been in Almodovar's back pocket and Broken Embraces is probably the most overt homage that the man has made. This is also the strongest Almodovar film since Talk to Her, in a highly productive decade of solid filmmaking. At this point in my film-viewing career, the main elements of Almodovar's work come shining through: a focus on female characters, lush, colorful visuals, Hitchcockian plot twists and an adaptation of Sirkian melodrama. This film has all of that as the story centers around a blind former film director (Lluis Homar), whose intense affair with an actress, Lena, (Penelope Cruz) led to his blindness and her death. Complicating matters is Lena's husband, an industrial magnate with a dangerous obsession with her straight out of Hitchcock. We also come to learn that Harry/Mateo the director is just as obsessed with Lena as her husband and the film gets entwined in a series of events that lead to the main characters' demise. The first two-thirds of Broken Embraces is expertly constructed, perhaps the best filmmaking that I've seen from Almodovar. The only issue is the last third, which delves a little too much into syrupy melodrama and tepid revelations that it take some of the punch out of the ending. Almodovar has a way working with Penelope Cruz that is at times spellbinding, and he always manages to get the best of out of her performances. Here she ranges from being incredibly sexy to vulnerable and tortured by a horrendous marriage with ultimate confidence. Almodovar always has a way of writing strong female leads and Broken Embraces is no exception. It's not quite a great film but in the hands of Almodovar, is something better than almost anything else working with the same themes and genres.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Some quick reviews to prove I'm still here

There have been some difficulties here of late but none the less, I'll make a quarter-assed effort to get some reviews out there.

Post Grad (Vicky Jenson, 2009) [3]
I like Alexis Bledel. I try to hype myself up into believing that she can pull off a good performance outside of the rigid Gilmore Girls universe. Her performance in this doesn't help matters much. Everything about this is borderline insufferable, hacky, and pretty much not funny. It sums up everything I hate about studio comedies; instead of trying to meet their audience with a shred of intelligence, it has to dumb down everything to try to attract a general audience, all the while creating a film no one will like. Someone give Alexis Bledel a role that doesn't make her some innocent over-achiever. And why the hell can't Michael Keaton do better than this? He was Batman, for fuck's sake!

The Informant! (Steven Soderbergh, 2009) [6]
This is one of those Soderbergh projects that becomes so ingrained to a particular style that it almost becomes taxing. From Matt Damon's rambling voice-overs to the lilting Marvin Hamlisch score, The Informant! adds a lighthearted gloss to a story that has a lot of serious threads running through it. Upon a little reflection, the story of Marc Whitacre blowing the whistle at ADM because of his own delusions makes a little more sense but the collision of the the tone of the film and what actually went on doesn't sit that comfortably with me. The film plays so much like a 70s picture like The Sting that it's hard to see beyond its stylistic structure. It's all impressive on a certain level but it never comes across as a much more than a film stuck playing between genres.

Both of these films are extremely strange in that they have an abnormally large number of pretty funny comedians in them. Post Grad has Fred Armisen, Demitri Martin, and Kirk Fox while The Informant! has practically every supporting role filled with them, from Paul F. Tompkins to Patton Oswalt to Tom Papa. I'm not sure if it means anything or not but it's certainly an interesting coincidence.