Saturday, March 20, 2010

UP IN THE AIR - Review

Directed by Jason Reitman, Starring George Clooney, Vera Farminga & Anna Kendrick

Ryan Bingham (Clooney) is the type of man who appears to have it all figured out.  His life is concise.  So concise in fact, that he even gives seminars about how to fit your every need into a carry on duffle bag.  But that is just moonlighting.  His primary job is to fire people for employers who lack the guts to do it themselves.  In these lean times, business is booming.

Bingham spends a great deal of time on planes.  His apartment is empty, his duffle bag is full.  He finds comfort in his routine.  When a man seated next to him asks where he is from, he responds: "I'm from here".  Everything is temporary.  This status quo is eventually shattered when he is partnered with Natalie, a young up-and-comer with a big idea about how to revolutionize his industry: firing people over the internet.  No fuss, no muss.  It is hard to tell what disgusts Bingham more; the impersonal brutality of her new method or, the fact that it would mean permanent grounding for him.

This is a fine role for George Clooney.  It allows him to show us a side we rarely see through his sometimes snarky, cool exterior: vulnerability.  I believe this to be one of his best performances.  He is supported by a stellar female duo in Vera Farminga and Anna Kendrick.  Farminga is cool, funny and smart.  She is the character we are used to seeing Clooney play.  Anna Kendrick has a natural charm about her, akin to Amy Adams.  She attempts to convey her vulnerability with careful calculation, but when it rains, it pours.

I have a great appreciation for films that convey a sense of change as opposed to wrapping things up in a nice, tidy package.  People are not perfect.  They soldier on.  They try.  Bingham may not make a complete one eighty in the end, but at least he knows he can turn around.


9 - Review

Directed by Shane Acker, Starring Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly & Christopher Plummer

There is a burst of green light.  A curious looking creature, skillfully stitched together and goggle-eyed, crumples to the floor.  Eventually those goggle eyes flutter open to gaze out at the devistated world it now resides in.

So begins "9", created by Shane Aker, based on his short film of the same name.  It is the story of the title character's search for a little meaning and prupose.  Where did 9 and his other numerically named coherts come from?  What has left the world in it's current apocalyptic state?  All the while they battle a self-replicating machine made of scrap metal and bones.  It is a remnant of mankind's war-mongering and, since man seems to be an extinct species, it is now someone else's problem.  It is a relatively simple story, occassionally reducing itself to a run-and-hide formula that flirts with, but never quit reaches tedium.

But let's not kid ourselves, the real draw here is the visuals and they are stunning.  From the camera work to the lighting, "9" has a compelling look all its own.  Each incarnation of the machine is both clever and terrifying.  It is a film worth seeing.  Perhaps not for it's passable story, but certainly for its amazing imagery.


Monday, March 15, 2010


Directed by Joel & Ethan Coen, Starring Michael Stuhlbarg, Fred Melamed & Richard Kind

"Receive with simplicity everything that happens to you" - Rashi

When your wife is requesting a divorce, your brother will not get off your couch and get a job and one of your students is simultaneously bribing and blackmailing you, that's easier said than done!  But such is the life of Larry Gobnik (Stuhlbarg), standing in awe at the turmoil that surrounds him with no end in sight.

It is almost moot to reference the films obvious link to the Book of Job, but there it is.  Larry is tested and tested again.  To what end?  That is for Hashem to know and for you to find out.  Or not, as appears to be the case here.  It is really all about the question, isn't it?  Larry stumbles from rabbi to rabbi seeking an absolute, only to be met with more questions and confusion.  Rabbi #1 tells him that it is all about perception, citing the shul parking lot as an example (insert film quote).  Rabbi #2 tells him the tale of a dentist who discovers the words "help me, save me" in yiddish on the back of a goy's teeth.  When Larry asks what happened to the goy at the end of the story, the rabbi's response is at once frustrating and completely reasonable.  And what of Rabbi #3, you ask?  You will have to see where that ends up for yourself.

The Coen brothers have a reputation for being almost frustratingly vague and, "A Serious Man" is no exception.  It is the nature of the beast.  The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away.  In the bible, Job professes his innocence and faith even in the face of great torment and detractors.  Larry merely whines a lot.  And there is also the matter of the ending, which most people will find to be abrupt and unsatisfactory.  Those familiar with the story's origins will probably see it coming. 


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spread the word

For those interested, I will now be contributing to a fantastic site called as well as Four Inches of Dirty Water.  My reviews will most likely duplicate there with a few minor format and title differences.  I will also be expanding to more essays & film theory.


Monday, March 1, 2010


Directed by Breck Eisner, Starring Timothy Olyphant & Radha Mitchell
I am far removed from George Romero's original, "The Crazies", having only viewed it once and with little interest.  It wasn't specifically that it was too talky (it most certainly was); it was that it was too shouty, if that is a word (it most certainly isn't).  Must everyone shout about everything?!  But I digress...

Breck Eisner's fine remake features better acting and far less shouting.  Not that there isn't plenty of cause for shouting given that something is making the residents of Ogden Marsh, Iowa go insane at an alarming rate.  What might that something be? Somebody dropped something into something?  Someone accidentally flipped a switch on the something or other?  Somebody ate a radioactive sandwich?  It is pretty inconsequential, actually.  There are zombies.  Well not exactly zombies, but let's not split hairs.

The story is pretty clearly defined by its three-act structure.  The first act involves the town's deterioration, the second an attempt to contain the virus and third its post-apocalyptic aftermath.  It is not entirely successful at any of these three scenarios, but much of that has to do with its 101 minute running time and not its execution. 

There are several, highly effective set pieces here.  For example, there is a chilling scene where the town doctor, played by Radha Mitchell, is strapped to a gurney surrounded by several others suffering from various stages of the virus.  One of them giggles relentlessly as another of the crazies slowly shambles amongst them with an already bloodied pitchfork.  You can infer he is not looking to bale hay.  Another is one of the scariest scene I can remember taking place in a car wash.

It is funny to see a film that is so completely conventional in its approach and entertaining despite that.  Bottom line:  If you have seen one zombie movie, you have seen them all.  This one happens to be pretty good even though there are no zombies in it; hair splitter.