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Up in the Air (2009)
George Clooney finally won me over two years ago with Michael Clayton, but Ryan Bingham from Up in the Air may well be his performance of a lifetime (let's hope there's more where this one came from) and certainly represents his best work as an actor yet. BA nomination is secured, and who knows, he may even finally get it this year.
Up in the Air is a fantastic film that serves up all the clichés only to shatter your expectations and turn the aforementioned clichés upside down. In the process the excellent screenplay brings the grim reality of life and how it *really* plays out most of the time to the screen, from where the actors' work projects it back onto the viewer in a wonderfully poignant way. The saddest thing of course is that Up in the Air is not going to win the Best Picture. The reason for that is the Academy will once again as it usually does (note: not always, but in most cases) vote something that is considered an *important* film instead, i.e. something that is not a Sideways_esque portrayal of regular people in their lives, more bombastic, pretentious, and preferably directed by a big-name icon. Inevitably dwarfed in the shadow of that big Oscar juggernaut will end up Up in the Air, a film that can be compared to Sideways and Juno as far as its relatively unpretentious approach to film-making is concerned.
Yet here is a motion picture that is thousands upon thousands times more profound. And as far as being pretentious, the layers of depth are so many, there will be much to ponder as you think back to the misleadingly simple story's intricate texture. Anyone who has ever... stopped and given some thought to the backbone of most of our lives - things like love, and marriage, and kids, and the endless running around until one gets old, is going to have an emotional response to this film, it is rather impossible not to. The amazing thing is that these responses will come in many ways as opposed to just one. The film accomplishes an amazing treat of discussing different philosophies and somehow reconciling them in the end... in the process of doing so, the screenplay uses the recurring (but by no means suffocatingly predominant, The Terminal this is not) airport setting as a means of situating the story, and its characters, against the backdrop of an environment that symbolizes diversity, portraying life as it is... that is, as anything but black and white.
All of the cast must be credited with what simply is a phenomenal job. I had admired Vera Farmiga's work for a while, and Anna Kendrick is a revelation (no, I have not seen the Twilight films and have no intention to, so this is my first acquaintance with her work). You have to look for the cameos. The humor is excellent and the scary parts... well, I will spoil nothing for you, but anyone who has ever been in a very dark place as far as losing faith in humankind is concerned is going to find something here. I can't think of a single dull or throwaway scene, and even the soundtrack is spot on. In the center of it all, however, towers George Clooney's performance. Subtle, to the point where some critics will without a doubt still attempt to confuse it with bleak, Clooney's work here is loaded with wonderful shades of depth. Yes, he plays a stereotype, but in the process of doing so, as all the greats have at one point or another, Clooney enables the viewer to recognize parts of that stereotype, if not the whole of it, in themselves.
So far, my pick for the Best Picture and it's not even close. A marvelous surprise and an absolute must-see. Bring on the nominations!
And the Oscar goes to...?
Let me start by saying that this year's Oscar nominated pictures are, contrary to the popular argument, by no means weaker than the films we heard about so much last year. In fact, the opposite seems true.
Last year's battle was truly one of the giants - between Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood, Johnny Depp and Leo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx and... Jamie Foxx, Hilary Swank and Kate Winslet. All relatively, most indisputably big names, and not too many surprises at the end of the day (unless one counts MDB's eventual triumph, predicted by Ebert the night before).
That being said, we all know that the Big Five are more about the issues they raise than the people they feature, and last year the issues tackled could not have made a greater contrast with the big names behind the production. The best picture candidates studied the life of a peculiar individual, individual struggle with death, an individual's quest for identity, the life of a peculiar individual, and an individual struggle with death. Of course, one might and probably should further try to differentiate - Million Dollar Baby and Finding Neverland deal with the issue of life and death in a drastically different fashion, even as Ray and Hughes were two different and distinctive characters. Yet the sight that emerges reveals more than slight a tendency for intimate storytelling, or films that are interested in one's personal struggle rather than larger-than-life issues.
This year the direction of research and acknowledgment go the other way.
Among the Big Five, only Capote appears to look inward. Brokeback Mountain, Crash, Good Night and Good Luck, Munich all study issues critical to our day and age, i.e. life in our complex world in general. BM relates a story of two American men living a lie - a tragedy readily applicable to a number of gay people in this country, Crash studies racial stereotypes, while GN&GL masterfully reapplies a past conflict in the present situation by merely retelling a modern legend and letting the viewer's mind do the math.
Which brings us to Munich. I must say that Spielberg has been a disappointment to me lately. The man has far too much greatness and vision to be wasting his time on the likes of Minority Report, Catch Me if You Can, or War of the Worlds. There are a number of directors who could have done those and fared at least as well. To complete the picture of an utter waste of talent which Spielberg the director has been for precisely seven years now we'll say that, in spite of their occasional glimpses of greatness, The Terminal and A.I. both fared rather poorly in achieving their goals.
With Munich Spielberg repeats what he had already once accomplished with Saving Private Ryan (how that movie lost the Best Picture to an amusing, but totally inferior to it Shakespeare in Love, will forever remain a mystery), and that is an unbiased look at the events that, once having touched millions of lives, continued to change them in dramatic ways beyond repair and to the point of no return.
A brilliant study of an historical event with its consequences and ramifications, Munich wastes no time on individual actors' efforts. That is not to say that such efforts are not readily encountered courtesy of Eric Bana who wears his character every step of Avner's downward journey, or Daniel Craig who seems to be warming up for his first 007 outing, but merely that the circumstance they and other characters find themselves in is one of such magnitude that it becomes simply impossible to dedicate too much attention to these more than mildly interesting individuals.
As Saving Private Ryan once was, Munich too is chalk full of scenes of sheer and utter brilliance. A dialog between Avner and a Muslim springs to mind: one of the men yet does not know that the other is his greatest enemy and speaks freely on certain matters, meanwhile the other's face is a case study of generations that have lived through a war. There is no way I will hereby spoil Avner's eventual change reflected via, in perhaps more than one way a climactic scene, but I will say this: the pain of millions of people has never been documented out in a manner as frighteningly beautiful as that single scene.
Two things need to be said about Munich, as this motion picture begins to gather pace in the Best Picture race. Unlike Brokeback Mountain and Crash, two incredibly beautiful, thought provoking, and masterfully executed films, Munich strikes one with its lack of partiality. It does not criticize, but neither does it support any single decision that we watch its characters make. While Brokeback Mountain and Crash suggest alternatives (and Crash goes as far as implement such, too), Munich has really nothing to say with regard to its subject matter. Rather, when all is said and done, the viewer is left stunned and wondering if they agree with Avner's choice, or even if Avner himself sees it as right. This remarkable impartiality is, however, not the greatest thing about Munich.
The greatest strength of this film is its status of an eyewitness of the events far surpassing the suffering of the gay people in the present day United States, or the pain of the immigrants and people of color who often find themselves subject to life-long humiliation. The pain documented out in Munich surpasses that suffered by the above groups of individuals because the movie portrays death in such an ordinary way, and human life as worth so little a price, that the viewer cannot help but wonder if the whole affair might be one giant exaggeration.
It is not. And that is why on the night of the 2006 Academy Awards, after all is said and done, Munich will emerge with a single award - but one it deserves the most: the Best Picture.
Æon Flux (2005)
Are you kidding me. This was so bad my I couldn't contain laughing towards the end, and one of my friends (there were 5 of us) had to say something like "quit laughing you @*sshole" but even so he himself soon started laughing and eventually we rolled out feeling better than American Pie or whatever movie it is that forces you to laugh could ever make us.
If you're looking for that "oh i'm so stupid, I just blew $15 on tickets and popcorn FOR THIS" feeling, expect great laughs, because just when it seems that this movie cannot possibly get any worse it DOES.
Recommended to whoever watched LXG (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) or Catwoman 10 times and cherishes these two in their collection.
Good morning, here is your captain with no name speaking. Folks, this is official. People have proved they are in need of a serious intellect injection.
Let me start with the following: Gladiator (for some reasons often compared to "Alexander") was one of the most undeserving and generic movies of the year 2000, in every way possible inferior to "Crouching Tiger", which should have received that danged Oscar in the first place. In fact, so generic that this summer's "Troy" (another generic historical film, yet lively enough) is more deserving of the mentioned award.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise that most people just won't get what our "Alexander" is all about. A "sandals and sword epic"? Forgive me Mr. Ebert if I applaud Oliver Stone's refusal to make a "Gladiator 2", with Alexander the Great dying in the age of 60, having what, conquered much of the known world? Or dying in the battlefield, with his noble warriors surrounding him? But people, that's just not what great victories are made of. Truly Sting was right, singing "history will teach us nothing".
"Alexander" is a film about a great dreamer (all great warriors are), shaped by other people's (in this case, his mother's) dreams, ever fighting his fears and a possibility of falling short of the history's expectations. Watch closely people, here is your hero - conquering much of the known world, only to die misunderstood and blissfully unaware of the fact that the known world has a nasty habit of falling apart, Oliver Stones seems to tell us with his "Alexander".
He also seems to tell us that the way we are brought up already makes us marionettes in history's great dark hall of fame. He seems to remind us that our dreams are worthy of being pursued only as long as one realizes that the dreams always remain such. He seems to warn us that somewhere along the way everyone encounters a rusty "stop" sign, and that passing it by means to pass by one's happiness, in other words, is the beginning of the actual defeat.
Oh well. Cut to the chase, shall we. Many reviewers have mentioned the supposedly bad quality of the battle scenes. All I have to say is, don't watch "Saving Private Ryan" then. It doesn't get more real than that. Or than Oliver Stone's "Alexander". I love "Troy", but if we're talking historicity, I could honestly care less about Brad Pitt singlehandedly taking on a dozen of Trojans on that beach.
Some reviewers have mentioned the "eagle shot" interrupting Alexander's pre-battle speech, as annoying. Just another example of Oliver Stone's genius here. Instead of (indeed) feeding us another sappy speech, the director makes Alexander's voice fade and elevates the viewers above the soon-to-be battlefield, letting the viewers feel the momentariness of the change at hand. Throughout the movie I've felt that the eagle actually symbolizes Alexander's dreams, ever culminating in death - both at Gaugamela and in India, and, of course, on his deathbed. Any viewer who's loved Zemekis's "feather flight" in "Polar Express" will appreciate Oliver's eagle. It's so genius, it is impossible not to appreciate. It's postmodern.
All of the actors did a great job. Angelina Jolie's accent is fake and really funny, okay, so what? She does a surprisingly great job in her role (and that from a person who loathes "Tomb Raider").
Colin Farrel is wonderful as Alexander. Don't listen to the nay-sayers who will giggle at his, indeed, occasionally awkward attempts to portray a bisexual person. Anyone who deems his performance to be worse than that of Russel Crowe's in "Gladiator" is likely to have their eyes torn out and used as plugs in a, hmm, rather dark and uninteresting place.
And just what's up with Anthony Hopkins's spoken intro and interludes? Oliver Stone probably knew a whole lot of people with low intellectual demands would make even less sense of what was going on in his movie without an interpreter at hand.
Which reminds me, people have complained at the movie zipping back and forth in time - well it does ONCE folks. Once. And it does in the right place, namely when Alexander remembers just what has brought him to India. I will say no more, but it is really not THAT hard to figure out.
Okay, let's take on the floppy breasts kiddies. Just so you guys know, I'm not a gay. And this movie has done nothing to alter my conviction. NOTHING. In other words, "Alexander" has not made me shed a single tear over gay lovers. That being said, it has not made me shed a single tear over "regular" lovers either. It just isn't a movie about lovers... of any sort. Get it? It is a historical movie, and we all know that women in ancient Greece were considered a lower cast, in other words, not good enough to fall in love with. Or do we not? May I ask you where did you study your history, then? What Oliver Stone's "Alexander" does, is, in fact, ignore the historical context. So save those comments, will ya?
Summing it all up, I must admit that I haven't seen a more intelligent historical movie lately. In fact, "Gladiator" is to "Alexander" as "Die another day" is to "Bourne Identity". If that's saying anything, of course.
Peace out people. God bless ya, and before you judge a wonderful movie by what others have said, go see it first. "Alexander" is all about powerful dreamers and their place in history's hall of fame. It is also about what we can learn for our lives, and the high expectations we normally have for ourselves and our "miracle" children (yes, Alexander was a miracle child). If you're an intelligent person you cannot possibly regret spending those 5 bucks on this film.
National Treasure (2004)
not too bad... not bad at all!
Okay, so we've got Indiana Jones (the greatest action trilogy ever), we've got Tomb Raider (like, one of the worst, hopefully WANNABE trilogies, ever), and now we've got National Treasure.
Jerry Bruckheimer teams up with Nick Cage again, 'bout time actually. Or maybe, Nic Cage teams up with Jerry again, go figure. Anyways, you probably know what you're getting when you're going to see a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Occasionally it is really bad (think this summer's stinking King Arthur), mostly ,however, it is pretty decent summer entertainment (think "Pirates of the Caribbean", "Enemy of the State" etc). Though silly and naive, "National Treasure" is one of them winning Jerry Bruckheimer flicks - an energetic score, sexy cast, nice cinematography, some pretty spectacular action, spiced with wit - all elements of the formula got right.
Now one thing - this ISN'T Indiana Jones. Do not go, if you hope to see Indiana Jones IV. When it comes to the action factor, "National Treasure" does not, ummm, exactly overwhelm you. However, after two Tomb Raider "masterpieces" and this year's real stinker "Van Helsing", this actually is a good action movie, perhaps, precisely because it doesn't go over the top. Another pleasant surprise: "National Treasure" is as much about the treasure seeking as it is about a bunch of handsome actors simply having fun, and hoping that you do too.
I did. 7/10.
What Women Want (2000)
Grows on you
I didn't like "What Women Want" the first time I saw it. Just didn't work for me. I guess over the four years that have passed since it came out I have learned that a WHOLE LOT of what the movie portrays in a jokish sort of way is actually true.
Mel Gibson and Holly Hunter are awesome. Not just Mel Gibson, as many reviews seem to emphasize. Stunning as his performance may be, Mr. Lethal Weapon (a different sort of in this movie, well, since you're here you probably already know what I'm talking about) actually comes out this good because of other actors, surrounding him with unbelievably true and real characters, and more often than not stealing the show. We have our "not quite what she seems to be" successful careerist, a "Hollywood actress wannabe" waitress looking for THE guy, an "indeed more than you think" teenager, a "no one gives a further thought about me so I guess I'll just go commit suicide" associate nobody, and a BAD guy being cleansed... by learning to understand women's logic. Oops, I just gave it away. Here's something that will justify your 8 dollars though: unlike in tons of other clichéd romantic comedies, the way these characters are realized is likely to make you care about them.
Besides, admit it: you want to see Mel Gibson do Fred Astaire to IL' Blue Eyes against the most beautiful skyline in the world, lie about his orientation, and... epitomize just what most of us men want.
You do? Then whatcha waiting for? Go out, like, today and rent it! An unbelievably kind and clever flick, "What women want" does not only make one feel good, in a pleasantly unobtrusive fashion it leads the viewer to reflect on his/her part in this life. For a while. But then, like a good ole record, you can always give it another spin.
The Polar Express (2004)
Just saw it yesterday
...and it's amazing, just really, fabulous. This is a film for all ages, about growing up and not losing the child within you. Tom Hanks has been criticized by some, as was the animation.. ye folks of little faith, "The Polar Express" has the best animation to hit the silver screen yet. You will believe in miracles when you see the train conductor imitate each of Tom Hanks's facial expressions.
The train ride was a roller-coaster. I doubt "The Incredibles" are going to stay on top of the box office this weekend. Mine, and I'm sure most viewers' main concern with "The Polar Express" was it would be silly and generic, like you know, most Christmas movies. Well, joy to the world and kudos to Robert Zemeckis are in order, for IT ISN'T. The film's got its share of thrills, its share of laughs, and some good ole spookiness. Given time, this one is more than likely to become a classic.
Go see it today. Believe me, you'll wanna see it again when your kids cherish this flick.