adaptation

Youth In Revolt

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I actually kind of blame this movie for crumbling my will to review movies for a record-breaking dry spell. When I saw Youth in Revolt, I was unaware of its original source material; it seems that C.D. Payne’s novel is actually much more adventurous and deviant than just a sweet boy acting like a sociopathic jerk to make a girl like him. I’m glad I was ignorant, actually, so I could enjoy the twin pleasures of Michael Cera as his trademark unrequited shyboy Nick Twisp and Michael Cera as disco-clad lothario Francois Dillinger. Every time his hilariously over-the-top alter ego is on screen, the movie comes alive. The little things he does to prove to us that he’s a bastard are smaller and therefore funnier and a little more unexpected than something say, James Spader might have done during his douchey 1980’s period. If Sweet Cera and Wicked Cera are sharing the screen, Youth in Revolt flirts with brilliance. I do have a predilection for novel ways of sharing someone’s inner monologue, and we never quite know which body is actually the body in use.

The rest of the time, Revolt presents us with that post-Napoleon Dynamite sort of plodding study of eccentricity and wackiness for wackiness’ sake, poky and mildly random and totally detached. I wonder how many 19 year old hipsters are frantically combing the thrift stores for white pants and loafers. Here and there, filmmaker and TV veteran Miguel Arteta drops in some cute and varied animated bits, reminding us maybe too much of Paper Hearts (also featuring Cera) and not enough of something relevant to the story arc Cera’s real character is meant to be traveling. Watching a sweet lad wreck his life in pursuit of an unappreciative girl is nearly as off-putting (when he’s not Duckie) as watching him succeed in this way. The escalations of Francois Dillinger server only to try and shock and then succeed in chasing the audience away, even if this one girl is worth it.

I am not one who complains of Michael Cera fatigue, but I would have preferred him to be in an all-Francois-Dillinger role rather than continue to go to the milquetoast mine so resolutely. If they really follow through on this Arrested Development movie, what made George Michael so winning is going to be something we all have seen too much of, which does a disservice to Cera’s real depth of skill and talent.

From what I read about the source novel, it sounded brutal and horrible. The 14 year-old reviewers on Amazon.com insist it nails the persona. Be that as it may, as a lady who could be the mother of these kids, I don’t disapprove, I guess I am just not all that interested. Youth in Revolt does have a fabulous soundtrack, so I can recommend that pretty highly.

MPAA Rating R-sexual content, language, drug use

Release date 1/8/10

Time in minutes 130

Director Miguel Arteta

Studio Weinstein Company

Nine

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I didn’t really know what to expect, walking into Nine. Well, I kind of knew what to expect from director Rob Marshall (Chicago), and I knew Nine was sexy and kind of based on someone’s mental state, so I probably expected a little Chicago magic again. For those confused by my review of 9, here I am speaking of the live-action musical and not the animated post-apocalyptic thing. Maybe the lead character’s state of mind is a little post-apolcalyptic, but I digress. Nine is set in Italy in 1965, that groovy frontier between girl group femininity and crazed hippie abandon.

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Guido Contini, a famous film director and walking id. Day-Lewis plays Guido with a cultured Italian accent, a good singing voice, and plenty of angst. He has made himself quite a career playing tortured men, and his customary level of actorly dedication therefore requires him to pretty much have a full-on nervous breakdown on screen. While this is not often the stuff of musical comedy, Nine isn’t either. Guido is difficult to like, which seems more like a failing of the original musical than of this production of it. Nine is not as good a show as Chicago and the filmgoing experience reflects it, but it definitely wrings all the best out of it that it can — and in gorgeous coastal Italy smothered in beautiful women.

Guido’s muses alternatively fuel him, torment him, love him, inspire him, arouse him, and nurture him, and in his mind, all exist only as fully as their usefulness to him extends. The women who surround Day-Lewis all turn in great performances, with some that took me by surprise. Who thought Kate Hudson could rock her Laugh-In genes on the only original song of the film? She doesn’t dance much (neither does anyone except Fergie) but she sells it. Marion Cotillard we already know can act and sing and she’s breathtaking here. Penelope Cruz, whom I usually really dislike, was awesome — though I hope her father never sees this film. Gentlemen, wear loose pants. Nicole Kidman doesn’t surprise us with what she does so much as remind us that she can still play a sexpot screen siren at 42 like nobody’s business. Fergie/Stacy Ferguson gets the big jaw-dropper number as far as I am concerned and tears up the screen even with a zillion backup girls in a long-ago but salient part of Guido’s psyche. Hers is the song you will be humming as you leave the theatre. And of course Judi Dench. As always, Dame Judi takes a little screen time and runs with it — her number is wonderful.

Marshall has always been marvelous at painting with bodies and light, and this film benefits from that touch immensely because of the abstraction of most of the songs. He uses static lighting like a stage production and as a result gets tons of gorgeous depth on screen. I would like to see this film in full Avatar 3-D to float in the spaces of light and dark and layers of people Marshall builds. Costumer Atwood proves she’s a force to be reckoned with but even her mastery cannot give Nicole Kidman boobs. Nine is about religion and morality and love and intimacy and inspiration and objectification and intimacy and superficiality and it’s a solidly-made film. It may not make you a fan of the show, but it should make you a fan of Rob Marshall.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 12/25/09

Time in minutes 118

Director Rob Marshall

Studio Weinstein Company

Sherlock Holmes

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You may have watched the preview for Sherlock Holmes and thought, “This looks like Long Raging Bull Goodnight: Die Harder.” I suppose we have Hollywood to blame for that. Over the years they took Arthur Conan Doyle’s brilliant deductionist who had training in fisticuffs and made him an effete snooty cartoon — more in line with the anti-intellectualism we see everywhere today. Well, director Guy Ritchie is taking back the rough-and-tumble Holmes. He went younger, scrapper, and more eccentric than fey: Robert Downey Jr. (as in so many things) is a brilliant choice to play the famed inspector. Downey as Holmes has a wonderful distracted, confident, mental patient air about him. Someone whose brain catalogues and cross-references details so constantly and meticulously would probably today be diagnosed with some nervous disorder or tic. Downey’s Holmes has an ADD-like concentration and wide scatter of the net, and a disdain for the distracting requirements of polite society. He already floats a little above our plane of reality with his survivor’s eyes and keen intelligence, and here it’s put to marvelous use.

Jude Law as Downey’s partner in life and in crimes, Dr. Watson, is also a fantastic choice. He’s groomed, urbane, exasperated, arrogant, playful – and smart enough not to bore Holmes. They have sparkling old friend chemistry and an eye-rolling true affection for each other that borders on hostility. I confess I adore this pair and I do hope for a mini franchise, just for the pleasure of being longer in their company. Yeah, I said it. Of course I said the same thing about the ensemble in Pirates of the Caribbean and look where that got us. Rachel McAdams is the unnecessary but still enjoyable sexy American petty criminal who joins the fun and of course becomes key later. Judging by her scenes in the preview cut from the movie, she was the first sacrificed on the altar of the brisk 90 minute running time.

The adventure story of the film is a classic — it could be Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot, or Scooby Doo. A criminal (Mark Strong) terrorizes the city for his nefarious and ambitious plans. He does so in an inexplicable and therefore seemingly unbeatable fashion, and all are powerless to stop him. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for these bickering, brilliant kids. Keep in mind, this is still directed by Guy Ritchie, so we have some exciting James Bond-worthy action and a nailbiter climax, and yet it’s all kept very feasible and well within period limits. The wonderful Industrial Age details and technology of society as a whole, the machines and lab equipment and exciting new inventions, the opportunistic weaponry and beaten-looking citizenry, these all prevent Sherlock Holmes from feeling like someone just made another action movie and dressed it in Beloved Icon drag (for a bad example of this, see Star Trek: Nemesis). Holmes feels very of his time and very relevant at the same time. Sherlock Holmes is a solid, enjoyable film with a fun score, a great use of sound and environment, and a trio of confederates you will want to know more of.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 12/25/09

Time in minutes 90

Director guy Ritchie

Studio Warner Brothers

Crazy Heart

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Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) lives up to his nickname. He smokes and drinks and bangs groupies and slops around his existence like an exhausted walrus. When he gets on stage, however, his music sings to the heart and the sky, his clear voice full of life and emotion and genuine affection for his fans — and his small but devoted audiences applaud wildly. Blake is a broken-down legend, the Wrangler of Love driving his 1978 Silverado Bessie across the Southwest to play in bars and bowling alleys for whiskey money. His protégé Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell, believe it or not) is living large with trucks and roadies and stadium shows — and nothing but affection for Blake, who won’t have it.

When Blake agrees to an interview with local reporter Maggie Gyllenhaal, his life begins to shift under his feet. The plot parallels of Crazy Heart and The Wrestler are difficult to ignore, but country music exacts a different price from a man than pro wrestling does. I would even argue that Bad is even more self-destructive than Randy. Gyllenhaal sees the man inside the shell that Blake has become and they strike up a sort of random but intense and lonely relationship. When we finally meet Farrell (his songs sung by Ryan Bingham, though Farrell’s Texas accent is impeccable), he really seems to be as Sweet as Blake is Bad. We can’t begrudge him his success when it’s increasingly evident that Blake’s decline is his own choice. People really still love him, but it’s not enough. He hits snooze on so many wake-up calls that I began to turn a little on him too, right when I should have been rooting for him.

Watching alcoholics stumble through their lives is sometimes a little boring, though Jeff Bridges is a warm and detailed enough actor to keep us interested and full of hope for him. Perhaps Thomas Cobb’s novel lets us into Blake’s mind more than the film, because I had trouble connecting to him – much more trouble than Bridges alone could manage with all his talents. The epilogue lacks the punch it could have had as a result. Perhaps director/screenwriter Scott Cooper wanted us to feel how people who are close to alcoholics feel: wary, unwilling to trust, shut out. If so, well done — but it builds walls around the actors the audience cannot scale.

Jeff Bridges is wonderful to watch and the gorgeous photography by Barry Markowitz evokes the wild beauty of the Southwest vividly. The songs are very nice and Ferrell does a great job being a Texas country boy made big. It’s worth seeing.

MPAA R-language and brief sexuality

Release date 12/16/09

Time in minutes 111

Director Scott Cooper

Studio Fox Searchlight

A Single Man

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A Single Man has such a simple premise, but one that is so ripe with promise, that it didn’t even need the added attraction of Colin Firth. George is a gay man (Firth) in 1961 who loses his lover, and copes in secret. It sounds sad, and it is. During the height of the Cold War, the precipice of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the tail end of McCarthyism, to be a gay man was to live in and be an object of fear. Through the haze of societal hate and ignorance, from within his ever so tastefully appointed closet, George has a loving partner in Jim (Matthew Goode) until that tragic event. To be compelled to mourn a loss so great in a society that cannot even admit your love, never mind the seriousness of feeling, is lonely and deadening. Invisible Communists, invisible Jews, invisible homosexuals, invisible atheists — a huge segment of the population lived in terror of discovery while the “normals” lived in fear of these unknown monsters. And of course all that terror was manufactured by people who want things a certain way, and is still today. As a professor, George has a platform to teach his students that causes for hatred are not always real, but created — but even safe in his own home, he never really reveals himself to anyone. Even his longtime best friend Charly (Julianne Moore) doesn’t really understand what it is to be a man who loves men. She thinks it’s just a substitute, a phase, a fetish; yet her life was never so normal and happy as his was with Jim.

George’s house is a stunning modernist ramble of minimalist dark wood and glass surrounded by trees — a manly yet delicate structure which gives those inside the illusion of being outdoors and in the open (when they cannot) and yet affording wonderful privacy. It’s a perfect setting. George is careful, meticulous, and of course, inconsolable. His heart is broken literally as well as metaphorically — he pops a Bayer at every tightening twinge in his chest. He cannot mourn his “friend” as one should be able to mourn a spouse — he has no community support, no time off from work, just more to stuff inside himself. Firth carries the weight of George’s loss and his perpetual fear in balance on his face and in his body. When he stumbles across a fellow invisible, his aching to just be able to speak about or to be his real self was so great that my companion and I could only hold our breaths hoping he would do so. When George starts to take his destiny into his own hands (it involves a sleeping bag) it is both heartbreaking and even a little funny in his considerate, not-wanting-to-be-a-nuisance way.

Julianne Moore slathers on some fabulous 1960’s duds and a British accent for her wonderful scene of closeness and distance with Firth. They need and love each other in irreconcilable ways, and these two excellent actors make the most of their moments together. Goode of course is mostly an idealized memory, like any lost loved one, but he’s perfect for it. And yes, you’re seeing Nicholas Hoult from About A Boy looking all devastating in angora in that classroom.

Every clock ticks one more moment in George’s life, one more second since he last had Jim, one more second he has to try and be “George” for everyone else. We get to see a wonderful multitude of fabulous clocks (my favorite is the one in his dashboard) as well as the sartorial delights of 1962. The film was shot with loving, dreamy artistry by Eduard Grau; I have not heard of his previous work but I suspect that won’t be a problem for long. He may have tried a little hard to make this look like A Classic – he shot Firth looking desaturated and then cut to youth or beauty with full dewy color, which was more obvious than necessary – but it’s lovely. The soundtrack too is evocative and dreamy.

First-time director/producer Tom Ford adapted the screenplay from Christopher Isherwood’s novel. His passion for this project is evident by the number of times his name appears in the credits. Ford, a notable fashion designer, clearly knows about look (his menswear line provided Firth’s costumes) but he also has a facility for pace and mood with only a few odd over-arty touches thrown in. Hey can be forgiven for these few (they figure prominently in the preview but serve no real purpose in the narrative) because they are so visually striking but do not interrupt the melancholy tone.

The performances are wonderful, the story is ever so sad and so sweet, and the detail is gorgeous. I dearly hope people can come see it to sympathize with the universal pain and to empathize with these cruel circumstances we have perpetuated in the not-so-distant past.

MPAA Rating R-disturbing images, nudity, sexual content

Release date 12/11/09

Time in minutes 99

Director Tom Ford

Studio Weinstein Company

Me and Orson Welles

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A week in the life of a player in 1937, those early days of Orson Welles’ famed Mercury Theatre, might sound like it can’t encompass much, but you may be forgetting just what a towering figure Welles was.  After seeing this film, you won’t seen forget it; nor will you soon forget Christian McKay who plays him.  Zac Efron, as the young actor swept up into the maelstrom of the Mercury Theatre, may be the lead in this film, but McKay is most definitely the star.  McKay has the ungovernable fire, the burning eyes, the imperious tone, and the ticking brain box of Welles down.  In this script he is endowed by every other character with a panoply of larger-than-life qualities and he portrays them all without ever turning into a cartoon.  His performance alone merits a viewing.

Efron seems to me to be beginning to travel the Johnny Depp career path, and I hope he is as fortunate as Mr. Depp in doing so.  After High School Musical (21 Jump Street, anyone?) he has generally made choices that demand he produce more than just another singing dreamboat.  In this film, no one responds to him as if he is anything special, as if he doesn’t have a laser-cut facial structure, and we get to see him act.  His interactions with a young, ambitious writer (Zoe Kazan) aren’t about him charming her off her feet, but her passion inspiring him.  His Richard is earnest, eager, young, positive, and full of trust.  We care about this kid and he humanizes the surreality of his adventure in Welles’ orbit.  Claire Danes warns him to guard himself from Welles, but not from her charms.  She plays her part with a mellow, womanly confidence and wise resignation, it’s an interesting fence between self-actualized and beholden that she straddles.  Ben Chaplin plays George Coulouris, a real-life actor who went on to be in Welles’ seminal 1941 film Citizen Kane.  Chaplin nails that particular transatlantic cadence that marks the period (he, like Coulouris, is British) and gives us a sense of the rest of the cast in the shadows of their director and star.

The film centers around the week before opening of Welles’ daring production of Shakespeare’s (Julius) Casear.  He takes very modern artistic liberties during the very fecund 1930’s and defines his career and character thus.  A member of my audience actually saw this production when he was a child.  He said he didn’t remember much, but he did recall the impact of the uniforms.  I am still jealous.  The late 1930’s was such a rich time for the arts, with the WPA and the responses to WWI and the Depression and Black Friday and the news coming over from Europe about fascism on the rise.  It’s an exciting time in history and an exciting week in Richard’s life as well.  Me and Orson Welles speaks of the transformative power of creating art and the power of those who can create it over others.  It’s also a little coming of age, a little romance, and a lot of enjoying the spectacle of Welles and Caesar.

Robert Kaplow’s novel was inspired by a photograph from this play of an unknown actor playing lute next to Welles in a scene.  The film isn’t pat, it isn’t aimless, and it isn’t epic.  It’s just a nice tidy wondering about that bit player and what his life must have been like, with the sweet aftertaste of a fable.  What surprised me the most about this film is that it was directed by Richard Linklater, a man whose work almost universally bores me.  All my usual issues with Linklater (dialogue, pacing) are gone here and as a result I got to really enjoy the story.  I thrilled to my geeky bones over all the delicious period details and the visceral emulation of the chaos of a disorganized theatre production.  Me and Orson Welles taken as a whole isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it is a well made, nicely-performed fable about art and self-actualization and theatre.  It’s worth a look.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 12/11/09

Time in minutes 109

Director Richard Linklater

Studio CinemaNX

The Lovely Bones

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To prepare for this film, I read Alice Sebold’s dreamy novel, written from the perspective of Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) after she has already died. The novel wastes no time getting to the point of how she died, either. The rest is her watching Earth, trying to point her parents in the direction of her killer, of closure, of justice, and to tell them somehow that she loves them, and goodbye, and to wistfully watch her sister and friends growing up as she will never get to do. The premise is so lyrical and personal, I was sure that Peter Jackson, the director of Heavenly Creatures, would know just what to do with it. I fear that he did not.

First, the great. The transitions between Susie’s inbetween afterlife and that of the still-living are beautifully handled — it’s perfectly clear and poetic. At times the vistas veer dangerously toward too much (for an example of too much, see The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus), but generally Jackson reinterprets Susie’s world in a tender way. Casting Stanley Tucci as the skeevy neighbor Mr. Harvey (complete with eerie blue contacts and a wispy blonde comb-over was surprising genius. Tucci’s whole persona is normally so warm and Italian and boisterous that it is hard to imagine him being creepy and reclusive. With Vera Farmiga’s eyes, Tucci can mix his natural nonthreatening aura as an actor with the meticulously choreographed practices of a predator who knows how to deflect suspicion. It’s also clear that he read the novel to provide the depth that the script denies him. I fear no one else on screen did bother to read it. Surely if a script leaves so many gaps in a character sketch, one would do some research to help with the role.

Mark Wahlberg plays Susie’s father beautifully with what he was provided, as does Rachel Weisz as her mother and Rose McIver as her sister. Ronan has the angelic innocent look her 14 year old Susie needs, but she is relegated mainly to gazing nakedly off camera. The movie seems to be about something very else than the book. Maybe I misread it, but honestly — it just felt wrong and weird most of the time, like a clumsy cover of a well-known song.

Some moments are wonderful, notably the most effective ones in the book, and Susie’s passing through from life to not-life. One great moment is the last few moments of her life, and the other, the last few of Tucci’s anonymity — both involve Tucci really getting to roll around in the muck of his character. While I am no fan of a certain kind of violence against women, completely eliminating that very important element, even by implication, is tantamount to reducing all the players’ actions and suffering to little more than a terrible accident. I was happy not to have to actually watch it, but wow, it was totally excised. Of course in 2009, one immediately assumes that a creature like Mr. Harvey would play with his victim before chopping her up; in 1973 when this story takes place, I can tell you, people still didn’t believe people would actually do that to a child. Otherwise the setting feels arbitrary.

Act III, except for a key heart-pounding scene, is weird and off-pitch. Like the novel, it goes to one sort of dumb place and another unresolved place. Between that and the sanitization of the crime, I was left a little cold. The Lovely Bones is definitely worth watching with your book group to discuss with the novel, and to enjoy Tucci’s performance and the delicate membrane between life and afterlife, but HBO will suffice for your investment in it.

MPAA PG-13

Release date 12/11/09

Time in minutes

Director Peter Jackson

Studio Paramount Pictures

The Blind Side

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If this wasn’t a true story, it would seem incredibly pat and manipulative and impossibly rapid.  The Blind Side was based on the book Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, by Michael Lewis, and follows the amazing story of Michael Oher from the underbelly of society to the spotlight.  The story seems rushed, fueling its sense of unreality, but it did take place over a surprisingly short period of time.  Perhaps if they had downplayed the short time span it would have been less distracting somehow.

Michael Oher, played by Quinton Aaron as a gentle grizzly bear, is a basically homeless “ward of the state” who has clearly dropped through the cracks.  He’s not even tracked by the foster system any more.  Not unlike Precious, the people in authority see only one deeply incorrect thing when they look at him: an unteachable lummox clogging up the system for the kids who actually care about school. Aaron has a handsome, open face, with a soft smile and a voice to match — he’s a massive person just trying to stay invisible, to not court trouble, a diamond in the rough.  Just athletic ability isn’t enough, though it shines the light on him — he has will and heart as well.

Through one coach’s greed for his piddly private school’s athletics program, Oher gets a chance to turn his life around for himself, and is put in the path of Leigh Ann Touhy (Sandra Bullock).  Tuohy is an F5 feisty, rich, charitable, meddling, loving spitfire of a woman, and Bullock is up to the task.  Her husband (Tim McGraw) is the quiet, supportive “yes dear” who writes the checks and trusts her judgment.

Bullock has a terrific no-nonsense attitude and crisp matter-of-factness that sells what could have been a prickly, bossy character.  She and McGraw have terrific couple chemistry; they understand each other and navigate smoothly and lovingly through their personality traits.  These three actors, too, sell the unbelievable story. It’s sweet but squirmy white-guilt-inducing to see Leigh Ann witness the other side of town, Hurt Village, the aptly named and very low-income demographic that subsists on her husband’s cheap fast food and allows them to live in luxury.  She can’t even begin to grasp what all Oher has not had in his life.  We’ve all seen slums and unfit mothers in the movies, but when she really sees where he’s from she really appreciates the enormous gift she is bestowing on this one boy.

It was somewhat disheartening for the take-home message of the film to seem to be “sports opens doors for the underprivileged” when it could have leant more on the value of kindness and faith in another human being and trust and love being more powerful than where one comes from.   During Oher’s first days in school, teachers are already throwing up their hands.  Thanks to the level of attention possible in a private school, the cracks he would have normally slipped through are much narrower.

Of course “blind side” refers to many things — the side of town we ignore, the vulnerable area of a football player’s visibility, and a sudden revelation smacking you across the head.  The film blindsides us in Act III right when it seems its most predictable.  I wasn’t crazy about this section — the problem seemed overblown and the solution too simple, but overall I enjoyed the sweet tale of a kid being given a chance when he seemed all but lost, and the performances of Bullock and Aaron.  It’s worth a look.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 12/5/09

Time in minutes 120

Director John Lee Hancock

Studio Warner Brothers

Up In The Air

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Up In The Air

Matinee with Snacks

Who better to play a man ho eschews human connections and possessions than George Clooney, career bachelor and ladies man? His character, Ryan Bingham, is an axeman for hire — sensitive to the toll of his work, but shielded by his own capacity to live as an island. Up In The Air is kind of the comedic flip side to The Messenger — neither delivery brings joy, the deliveryman can’t get involved, and it sucks for them as well as the bereaved. Clooney’s rakish charm and domestic jetsetting adventures keeps this ever-so-timely story fun and airy.

Enter Anna Kendrick, an ambitious Wired Generation go-getter with plans to streamline the firing process through remote teleconference. Off the clock, she believes in love and the messiness of life, but is blind to the pain her impersonal methods can cause. Clooney can do without what he perceives as the albratrosses of life — family, loved ones, photographs, but he still gets the profundity of what he does to people for a living. Clearly these two are going to teach each other a thing or two about life — or are they? A third element sidles in, a sexy, ideally casual female version of Bingham with freaky robot eyes, Vera Farmiga. Her being so similar to him probably throws him for more of a loop than Kendrick’s oppositeness. Bingham is great at his job and brings sincere dignity and even hope to the process. Kendrick is cold and efficient (yet more shaken by the aftermath) and yet doesn’t even wake up to her harsher methods when technology turns on her.

Sprinkled throughout these cross-country commutes are the folks being terminated. Some are real people with their real stories and reactions. Some are actors portraying such people when more is called for, but it all smacks of truth. It’s painful to see these folks’ responses to losing their jobs, especially knowing how many of those conversations are happening every month across the country. The fact that Reitman could make a comedy about people getting fired in this climate is impressive, I have to say. Reitman keeps things breezy with Clooney’s stubborn solo charm, his elite status ambitions, and his wonderful flirtations with Farmiga. Kendrick’s prickly humor plays well off Clooney’s warmth and confidence.

By the time we attend a wedding, we see the plot’s flight schedule and who has what ticket, but the journey is still the pleasure. Like Thank you For Smoking, Up In The Air’s writing is down to earth and crisply witty, with cynicism and optimism as seasonings. Reitman has a deft hand making his words work on the screen. Frequent travelers will enjoy Bingham’s survival techniques for traveling 9 months out of the year, and we all hope some may take these tips to heart. This movie has great things to say about the vitality of human connection and how to be a better traveler through life, but it mercifully does it with no Message and a somehow satisfying lack of resolution.

MPAA R-language, some sexual content

Release date 12/4/09

Time in minutes 109

Director Jason Reitman

Studio Paramount Pictures

The Men Who Stare At Goats

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While apparently some of the characters in The Men Who Stare At Goats are composites and other narrative short cuts, this film asserts that “more of this is true than you would believe.” I found it fun to keep that in mind as the narrative went from kooky to wacky, from improbable to impossible. You’re never quite sure how much all the characters believe what’s going on either, which challenges your own credulity.

Basically, Ewan McGregor is a journalist who stumbles scross the history of a Vietnam-era black op involving training soldiers to be psychic peacekeepers, gentle warriors of the mind. Regardless of your own level of belief in the possibilities of ESP, remote viewing, telekinesis, and so forth, the fun is watching McGregor run the gamut from sheer disbelief to mostly buy-in. George Clooney is his window into that hippie brigade, relating stories of the training, the complicity of the army, the abuses, and so on. It was clearly a significant time for all involved; the program takes credit for things we commonly know today, which grounds them in Well Maybetown, or else eye-rolls us to No Waysville. Watching Clooney lecture erstwhile young Ben Kenobi on the ways of being a Jedi warrior is amusing but distracting. The real pleasure is watching McGregor interact with Clooney’s demonstrations of his powers, and watching original Jedi Jeff Bridges channel a sort of Fisher King Dude in his character.

Sometimes the movie cannot get past being merely smile-inducing, but it’s a gently funny story of belief in one’s inner potential and in the general goodness of most people. Well,, I guess it’s also about perception on many levels, be it extra-sensory or just interpersonal emotional intelligence. The Men Who Stare At Goats is based on Jon Ronson’s book of the same name which appears to have been written by McGregor’s character, Bob. It sells itself as a mostly true story, but it’s hard to divine which parts are.

I don’t know how faithfully Clooney portrayed his character, Lyn Cassady, but for the sake of the yarn, he’s a perfect choice. Clooney carries that peculiar and charming mix of complete self-confidence, almost cockiness, blended with detachment from those around him, and genuine earnestness. I miss seeing him in funny roles and it was pleasant to travel with him here, mustache and all. McGregor had long ago perfected his naïve, wide-eyed “I want to be convinced” brand of gee-whillikers, and he shines that one up real good for this one. Add in Stephen Root as a vaguely unstable but harmless kook, Jeff Bridges’ groovy alpha male, and Kevin Spacey as a cold, calculating egotist, and the film feels more and more like something you have seen before. In this sense, perhaps not…and then you recall “more of this is true than you would believe,” The yarn starts to get a little long, though it generally clips through its 94 minutes at a pleasant pace. I may forget I ever saw it, but I had a pretty good time nonetheless.

MPAA Rating R-language, drug content, brief nudity

Release date 11/6/09

Time in minutes 94

Director Grant Heslov

Studio Overture Films