2009 Movie Reviews

Up In the Air

…takes the road less traveled. Not in an obvious way, but the direction that the film takes is not completely unpredictable and yet not what one would expect to see. It’s all very subtle and in no way draws attention to itself, which is why it works so well.

Ryan Bingham (Clooney) has a job most people would hate. 1) He travels 90% of the time and 2) he fires people for a living. Bingham’s character is very well rounded and not at all clichéd. It’s plain to see that he loves being on the road but you don’t get the sense that he necessarily loves the work. He doesn’t relish in his victim’s misery. In fact, he goes beyond his job description to provide the slightest hint of comfort for them. However, he lives out of a suitcase and that keeps him happy. He loves the isolation. He loves not being tied down with family or love, but he’s not cold-hearted. He loves being on the road, but he doesn’t mind a little company now and then. Coupled up with Bingham is newbie hot-shot Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) who, when compared to Bingham, is the polar opposite. Her new ideas for the company mean less travel time for the employees, which is threatening to Bingham’s setup. The two go on the road together as he shows her the ropes. She loves the idea of family and does not understand Bingham’s choice of lifestyle and it’s this contrast between the two characters that gives the film its “Odd Couple Road Trip” feel.

Bingham meets Alex (Vera Farmiga) who is the female version of himself. They orchestrate their schedules so that they will be in the same city at the same time. There is obvious physical and emotional chemistry between the two. They are both the product of a career’s worth of work and travel and they both seem to have come to a point in their lives where they might be wanting something a little more than what life on the road can offer. With a slight push from Natalie, Bingham decides to take it to the next level and makes a surprise trip to Alex’s home in Chicago only to find that she has a husband and kids. Bingham’s reaction is one of a quiet realization; sitting in an airport tram looking down at the ground contemplating his situation. Clooney plays his character at this point with the slightest trace of naivety and of one who has finally taken down the barriers and is now suffering the consequences. Bingham doesn’t go off the deep end and let this outcome justify his lifestyle. Neither does he over-react emotionally and denounce love altogether. Clooney plays the part of someone who has been heart-broken and who is now seeing the big picture. He is studying his whole life in hindsight, its effect on his relationship with his sisters, and how he’s missed out on a normal life.

This is why Up in the Air doesn’t follow a predicable path. It goes its own way. It’s not the best of the year, but is most definitely one of the best. There were some moments in the film that were meant to be funny that I thought missed the mark, although I laughed a good bit. Anytime you can watch a film starring George Clooney without constantly thinking about the actual person, George Clooney, then it’s a good performance. Kendrick is great as the naïve newbie with insightful words of wisdom. Look for Clooney’s Best Actor nomination and probably a Supporting Actress nod to Anna Kendrick and/or Vera Farmiga. In a year with 10 Best Picture nominations and about 3 movies actual worth the consideration, look for Up in the Air to be the frontrunner for a win.

Inglorious Basterds
…is set up quite nicely with a brilliant opening scene in which the German Nazi Col. Hans Landa and a French milk farmer have a conversation about whether or not there are Jews being hidden there. They wade through the usual Tarantino-style “Royale with Cheese” dialogue before they get to the crux of the issue. From here you have your classic Tarantino revenge story. We are then shown a small band of American Jews being sent to France to kill Nazi’s by their leader, Lt. Aldo Raine, but I couldn’t help but remind myself that it was Brad Pitt because he stands out. The film is called Inglorious Basterds, but you’ll only get to see this group at work for a few moments because the movie becomes overly fascinated with a more important military plot to end the war; a plot run by Mike Meyers playing a tweak of his character called Goldmember. The original story that was set up in the beginning becomes lost around the halfway mark, but still manages to pass as an exceptional storyline. Tarantino is a master at making us all laugh while we clinch our fists nervously with his casual dialogue draped over intense and suspenseful situations. However, “Basterds” is full of these dialogue-based scenes, except now they are overly-long and not as interesting; as if the film is aware it is directed by Quentin Tarantino and knows it must meet its quota of quirky dialogue. This causes for some pretty drawn-out scenes which make the scenes’ end slightly anti-climactic and also slows the story down. This film seems to rely on this trademark dialogue instead of being improvement by their timely and few appearances. Overall, the film is very good. It’s full of humor and surprisingly infrequent instances of gore, but every instance will satisfy your blood thirst.

Christoph Waltz as Col. HansLanda carries the film. He speaks 4 different languages throughout and his performance is patient, conniving and seemingly all-knowing; biding his time to release his wrath. Some of the minor characters were throw-away.

The Tarantino style and story-telling are very prevalent in the film. Technically, the film is amazing. Most scenes were shot on sets, so the film in general has a claustrophobic feel to it, which is fitting given the way it ends. In an effort to not compare Basterds to any other Tarantino film, in its own right, this film is very well done and I highly recommend it, especially if you’re a fan of QT.

District 9
…starts out as a documentary style retrospective look at one Wikus Van De Merwe, an MNU worker, whose mission is to present all of the alien inhabitants of District 9 with an eviction notice. These aliens crashed on Earth 20 years ago and are unable to leave. They are being quarantined by MNU. The camera crew follows Wikus around as we are given naration by a few interviewed persons involved with MNU and Wikus, himself. Something bad happens and Wikus is sprayed by alien juice. Just as things start to go wrong, this documentary miraculously turns into a regular summer blockbuster where the main character is Wikus and we follow him around like a normal movie. After the style switch we see just how corrupt MNU is when they do experiments on him and take him prisoner. He manages to escape and by some pretty uneven and selective editing, we see that he turns up back in Disctrict 9. After some dealings with a rogue Nigerian mob embedded in District 9, Wikus teams up with the alien, Christopher Johnson, who will be able to launch the space ship as well as cure Wikus eventually. They go on a suicide mission Rambo-style and end up in the heart of the MNU building. They dodge gunfire from all directions and retrieve the canister that they need. Another editing trick or two later and they pull into District 9 in a military vehicle that they have stolen. I’ll skip over a the writer-interfered effort to elongate the plot and just say that there were a lot more action and gunfire right up until the end of the movie.

Despite the rave reviews, this movie is mediocre at best. Unique and with decent effects, the film has some identity issues. I get the feeling that it’s trying to send a message, but the message itself is not clear. It’s uneven, disconnected and poorly edited. What starts out as a unique and creative film with the same possible implications as that of The Blair Witch Project, sadly transforms into a, well, film comparable to Transformers.