Saturday, March 20, 2010

Capsule Reviews of Current-ish Releases!

Up in the Air (d. Jason Reitman) - Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner's adaptation of Walter Kirn's novel picked up a huge amount of critical support when it first began playing festivals, but by the end of last year it had come to seem almost forgotten. And I think I can see why. Up in the Air is -- and I have no question about this -- a good movie, with a strong, and unavoidable, dark soul beneath the romantic comedy trappings. The acting is very solid, and George Clooney, even though he occasionally reverts to his comfort zone (which, honestly, is sort of what the whole film is), brings a sharp and genuine sadness to his role as Ryan Bingham, a man whose job -- which is to fire people -- demands that he spend almost his entire life on planes or in airports. Which is, finally, the problem, I believe. Up in the Air is so current, with several references to our country's "climate" of corporate lay-offs, that it's in danger of feeling, a number of years down the line, like a relic. I don't mean to sound overly optimistic -- I'm not, actually -- but instead want to remind everyone that films that manage to successfully capture a time in history often don't do it quite so directly. But boy, that sure sounds like nit-picking, and complaining just to complain, because I did quite enjoy the film, appreciating especially, as I often do, the small touches, such as brief moment between Bingham's two sisters (Amy Morton and Melanie Lynskey), one about to be married, after Bingham is told that he's too late in his offer to walk her down the aisle.

Dorothy Mills (d. Agnès Merlet) - It is my belief that if you're going to make a horror film that goes out of its way to remind its audience of earlier genre masterpieces, you had better have something of your own tucked away that will make your film seem something other than a pale waste in comparison. In Dorothy Mills, the masterpieces being foregrounded are The Exorcist and, to a lesser extent, Hardy and Shaffer's The Wicker Man, films of such stature that I was really rooting for co-writer-director Merlet to unleash something really strange and original. But she doesn't. In this story of a psychiatrist (Carice van Houten, who is very good) who travels to a secluded Irish village to discover why young Dorothy Mills (Jenn Murray) abused a child she was babysitting, most of what we're given to react to is just an abbreviated rehash of what happened in those earlier films, and what is original to Dorothy Mills is, frankly, a little dull. But after the Satanic voice of Mercedes McCambridge spews the vilest of obscenities from young Linda Blair's mouth, hearing the thick country Irish voice of a teenage boy saying "Fuck you" and "Bitch", issuing from a surly teenage girl's mouth, I couldn't help thinking that something more was required from Merlet. I suppose I should be grateful that she didn't decide to try and one-up Friedkin and Blatty in the blasphemy department, and I am, but as the film progressed from The Exorcist to settle into its own story, all I could think of was the great heights of cinematic horror achieved by The Exorcist, and how rapidly I was now descending.
2012 (d. Roland Emmerich) - For a film that belongs to a genre that is traditionally perceived to be trashy to be called a "classic of its type", I believe it needs to be well-written. I believe the dialogue should live, and be as effective and as memorable in its own right as whatever more obvious spectacle is being offered up. Here is, in all honesty, what I consider to be the most memorable line of dialogue from 2012: "We have to get on the other side of the freeway!" So that's not good, and I doubt if decades from now 2012 will be considered a classic of its type, although who knows. Off-hand, I can't remember any dialogue from The Towering Inferno, and frankly this whole set of criteria I've set up for this gleefully low-brow genre is starting to sound pretty bone-headed, even to me. Even though, in theory, calling 2012 the "best Roland Emmerich film I've ever seen" is to write a series of words that together mean less than nothing, when I say it in fact, as I shall now do by inference, I actually mean that I did kinda have a good time with this. The all-star cast looks frequently embarrassed (except for John Cusack), and everything about the story is just plumb stupid, but the mayhem is extreme, various, regular and photogenic. If I thought that by spending four dollars to rent the new film by the guy behind Independence Day, I somehow deserved something more than that, then I'd be a fool.


Kevin J. Olson said...

I'm getting ready to watch Up in the Air with the missus in about 30 minutes. I'm looking forward to it, and I have a feeling I'll have the same reaction as you (it's funny that a film so hyped during the festival circuit kind of fizzled out at the end of the year).

Also...I watched Halloween II last night (the connection I'm making here is that you reviewed that the last time you did these great capsule reviews) and I didn't love it nor did I hate it. I'll have some thoughts up on the blog Monday.

Great stuff as always, Bill. I love the capsule format.

bill r. said...

Thannks, Kevin. UP IN THE AIR is a good movie...I just couldn't help but think about what Greg and Marilyn, and others, have said recently about seeing highly acclaimed movies, enjoying them, and never wanting to see them again. I feel UP IN THE AIR is probably going to turn out to be one of those.

I will definitely check out your thoughts on HALLOWEEN II.

Bob Turnbull said...

I quite enjoyed the middle third of Up In The Air - ie. Vera Farmiga. Before that is was fine and at the end it fizzled in how it approached its otherwise appropriate ending.

I liked Dorothy Mills more than you did - I don't disagree with your comparisons, but I still felt it was effective if not the most original story ever. I'm not sure why I'm giving it all that leeway, but it looked great, flowed well and had good performances so that helped...

I'll probably get to 2012 later this week - against my better judgement, but I simply want to see stuff blow up good.

Doniphon said...

With the release of Repo Men and all this is the second time this week I've seen van Houten mentioned. I hope this is a sign she's making it. Black Book is such a great movie.

As for Emmerich, I mean The Patriot wasn't a very good movie, but it was almost one. Way more than 2012.

bill r. said...

Bob - I actually really liked the ending of UP IN THE AIR, and thought Reitman and company handled it pretty well. Maybe not so much Anna Kendrick's part -- that character overall was a bit thin. And her performance, while good, could have been handled almost exactly the same by any number of actresses.

DOROTHY MILLS just bored me, though. I was expecting a lot more from it, based on who recommended it to me, and I suppose I appreciate the fact that it was a sincere effort, but I just didn't think it amounted to anything very interesting.

Lots of things blow up in 2012, so if that's your reason for seeing it -- and what other reason could you have? -- you should be fine.

Doniphon - Carice van Houten SHOULD make it, but I don't think she's there yet. This is not her fault, at least I doubt it is, but REPO MEN is, I'm guessing, going to bring no positive notoriety to anyone, and who's rushing out to rent DOROTHY MILLS?

I hated THE PATRIOT when I saw it in the theater. I doubt I'd like it much more now. But I'm not exactly prepared to go to the mat for 2012, either. I just thought it came closer to hitting the mark Emmerich was aiming at the anything else he's done.

By the way, I came to the uncomfortable realization earlier today that I'm pretty sure I've seen everything Emmerich has made (save GODZILLA, which I've only seen part of, because it's unwatchable). How in the world could I let that happen?

Greg said...

Bill, I liked Up in the Air very much but want to concentrate on 2012, so I shall.

I had a good time watching what I believe to be one of the dumbest movies of the year, and that's exactly what I was expecting so I wasn't disappointed. At this point, I'm not sure what to think of anyone who is disappointed by one of these films. I mean, what were you expecting, you want to ask. To answer the question for myself, I was expecting lots of CGI footage of the world getting destroyed, and I got it, in spades!

Now that you've seen it, I also want to remark on how utterly amazing that hydraulic hose sequence was. Here's a door about the size of a football field that could, in the real world, crush a 2x4 made of iron with its hinges, and a fucking hose, a rubber fucking hose, stops it dead in its tracks! Hahahahahahaaaaaaa!!! Oh my God! That hose would have been flattened to a micrometer within a second. It's that kind of forced, fake, unreal, we-just-pulled-this-out-of-our-ass dramatic tension that really makes movies like this sing.

And "no more pull-ups"? Come on. That's a closing line you remember!

Greg said...

And I've never, ever made it through Godzilla either. How, I ask, how is it possible to make a Godzilla movie that one can't finish watching? How?!

bill r. said...

Greg, I forgot about the pull-ups line. And the thing is, that's vintage Roland Emmerich, so the fact that it slipped my mind is amazing to me. However, I still think I prefer "We have to get to the other side of the freeway!" That one just has a lot more punch.

And yeah, it's dumb. The hose thing, which I was hoping I'd find as stupid as you did, after you alluded to it on FB, was indeed moronic. Apart from the fact that what is, essentially, a garden hose would have been mauled by that door, why wouldn't they think to have any technicians or mechanics down there, manning the equipment, in case anything went wrong? These arks, if they're ever needed, are going to be pretty important. Maybe hire a small crew to take care of the up-keep.

They could have reached that very same crisis more plausibly if they'd just thought a little bit harder. They invented this whole scenario, including these arks, so they could have made something up completely if they'd wanted to, and nobody would have noticed. "Oh my God! One of the borcelator has de-sparked, so, naturally, the engines won't fire!" See? Who cares? I don't even understand what you just said, and as a result I'm right there with you. Now hurry up and re-spark that borcelator!

But they didn't really care, and God bless them for it.

And I'll tell you how you make a GODZILLA movie that is totally unwatchable. You pack it full of wacky lines and goofy characters that behave like they should be in a Three Stooges short, and not one of the good ones. Like, Joe Derita-era Stooges.

Greg said...

"Oh my God! One of the borcelator has de-sparked, so, naturally, the engines won't fire!"

Exactly! I thought the same thing (not the borcelator specifically, obviously). I mean, all this shit is super-duper made up crappola so, WTF? You couldn't come up with something better than the hose?! And so, in a way, AWESOME!

I also like the super-mega tsunami coming through DC at night. That actually was an artistic choice that succeeded. It made it very eerie and creepy.

Bryce Wilson said...

Glad you caught that moment between the two sisters it was my favorite bit as well.

It's probably the best capturing of sibling telepathy I've seen on film, with "Well what did he expect." being decoded and answered with "I know its not your fault let it go." In about two seconds.

I seem to be the only one who thinks that the ending was at least semi optimistic. Bingham might not get what he wants, but at least he can admit now that he does wants something.

Tony Dayoub said...

Oh my God! One of the borcelator has de-sparked, so, naturally, the engines won't fire!

Just speculating here, since i haven't seen the movie yet, but here's another way to look at this. Why go through the trouble of coming up with some technobabble to explain it at all. In a movie built on one preposterous event after another would the filmmakers really care about the believability of a rubber hose stopping said door. I actually think it adds another level of fun/cheese to contemplate.

bill r. said...

Bryce - That mmoment between the sisters was easily the best-observed bit in the whole film. I loved Lynskey's reaction, all sadness and unearned-guilt.

I can see a certain optimism in the ending. Kendrick's character has obviously moved on to something better, and I can see what you mean about Bingham. But it's still bittersweet, to say the least.

Tony - Yes, that's all true, but I can't imagine Roland Emmerich intended that. I think he wanted something that worked on a plot level, and he didn't succeed. It might still work for people like you, Greg and me, but not in the way I believe he intended.

David N said...

I guess its not a bad thing, but "Up In The Air" was just too neat and on-the-nose for my liking. Solidly made and nicely acted with a good soundtrack but the most middlebrow film I've seen in ages. So tasteful.

For me, the best moment was the aerial views of city grids and fields over the opening credits, with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings over the top. The rest of the movie was a disappointment after that.

Adam Zanzie said...

Initially I liked Up in the Air quite a bit, but as the days went by I realized that as a cinematic accomplishment it is actually very insignificant, and remarkably underachieving for a film that Ebert claims is "for our time". Ryan was talking about this at his blog: did Jason Reitman honestly believe that this movie would make people affected by the economic crisis feel better?

I skipped out on 2012. Even though I work at a movie theater and seriously considered seeing this one for free, I guess it was the unreliability of Emmerich that finally kept me away.

Good reviews here, Bill. Now, how about a review of The Ghost Writer, eh?

bill r. said...

David N - Those were great shots. They had a life that I honestly wasn't expecting to see from the film. I don't know, I may have lowered my expectations for UP IN THE AIR over the months without realizing it, and was therefore able to get caught up in it. The ending was a bit neat, but I honestly don't think it was too neat. There are some things left hanging, and I even thought the suicide call-back worked. It shouldn't have, maybe, given how quickly it was dealt with, but I did think it worked.

Adam - If you never see 2012, you'll probably be okay, but I thought it was fun.

As for UP IN THE AIR...when Ryan questions if Reitman thought the film was going to make anybody feel any better, well, I don't know, but I also don't think that's how we should be judging the film. If Ryan, or you, were to find out that UP IN THE AIR did in fact make some people feel better, would that make you decide that it was, indeed, a good film?

I'd have to see THE GHOST WRITER in order to write about it, and that probably won't happen for some time.