‘Up in the Air’ review

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Jason Reitman’s new film, ‘Up in the Air’, is hard to categorize. Romantic, intelligent, hilarious, heartbreaking. I think that it’s above all, relevant. The film stars George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a man who travels the country frequently, firing people whose bosses don’t have the guts to say it to their face. He also is very, very close to his goal of obtaining 10 million frequent flyer miles. The screenplay from Sheldon Turner & Reitman is pitch-perfect: Easily moving from cynical to tragic to uplifting, without ever once seeming phony, this is the one to beat for the Best Screenplay Oscar.

Vera Farmiga plays a woman named Alex who shares Bingham’s jet-setting lifestyle. The two ultimately fall for each other, and Farmiga & Clooney’s fantastic chemistry together makes this sub-plot work.

Anna Kendrick plays Natalie, a protege at Bingham’s company, who intends to put a halt to his jet-setting lifestyle, and to begin firing people via tele-conference as opposed to meeting them in person. This development startles Bingham, who takes Natalie onto the road to demonstrate the superiority of his methods.

George Clooney gives his finest performance here, and ‘Twilight’ actress Anna Kendrick has proven herself to be amongst Hollywood’s finest young talents with this film. Directed by Jason Reitman, ‘Up in the Air’ is a film that will likely be remembered for decades to come. It paints a perfect portrait of this chaotic time for our nation, but weaves a fascinating story into it as well. And the ending? Perfect.

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‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ review

avatar1‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ has such personality, such boldness, such heart, that it’s somewhat impossible not to love it. Directed by Wes Anderson, who’s done ‘Rushmore’ and ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’, ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ was made with stop-motion, a pain-staking process of making a clay environment and moving it slightly for each frame of film.

Based on Roald Dahl’s childrens book, it’s the story of two con foxes, Mr. & Mrs. Fox, voiced by George Clooney and Meryl Streep. After a near-death experience, they decide to settle down and raise a family. Years later, they’re living underground with an awkward, angry son named Ash (voiced perfectly by Jason Schwartzman). They live near a farm run by three sadistic farmers, Boggis, Bunce & Bean. Mr. Fox decides to plan one final con: To rob the farmers of their produce.

I can’t praise the writing for this film enough. Wes Anderson has always been a master of witty, offbeat dialogue, and he is in top shape here. The visual style is gorgeous. Not one second of the film looks authentic, but every second captures your imagination. The faux world is so incredibly detailed, so ruggedly beautiful. George Clooney and Meryl Streep make great voice actors, lending personality and charm to their respective characters.

‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ is really entertaining, extremely well-written, hilarious, and best of all, gorgeous to look at. An animated masterpiece. 35

‘Invictus’ review

blind-side1‘Invictus’ is the newest film from director Clint Eastwood. In the past 6 years Eastwood has given us not only his finest performances as an actor (Gran Torino, Million Dollar Baby) but also directed some of the decades’ best films (Letters From Iwo Jima, Mystic River). ‘Invictus’ is somewhat unique in that it has a very well-known subject, Nelson Mandela, but it’s not a traditional rise-and-fall biopic of Mandela, like other filmmakers would make. Instead, ‘Invictus’ focuses on one of his greatest achievements, uniting the racially-divided nation of South Africa through the game of rugby.

The year is 1995. South Africa is sharply divided into whites and blacks, following the apartheid debacle. Nelson Mandela is released from prison and is elected the President of South Africa. Mandela intends to unite the country, using a nationally-adored activity: rugby. Mandela teams up with the South African rugby captain, Francois Pienaar, to try and win the World Cup and inspire a nation.

Morgan Freeman is fantastic as Mandela. He is warm and charming when the scene calls for it, vulnerable in some, but always commands the screen, and thrilling to watch. Having seen little footage of Mandela himself, I can’t really judge how well Freeman emulates his mannerisms, but Freeman speaks a flawless South African accent here. Matt Damon plays rugby captain Francois Pienaar, and despite all the praise he has received for this role Damon doesn’t really have anything to do. He plays a vital role in the plot, for sure, but the role demands very little of him. He has two modes: “Inspired by Mandela” mode, and “Playing rugby” mode.

The film itself has excellent production values. Cinematography is expertly framed, the script is tight and witty, and the musical score is minimalist, yet unmistakably beautiful. There’s a scene where Pienaar visits Mandela’s jail cell (which is actually used in the film) that is fantastic. The final rugby match itself is tight and tense, although most people probably know the outcome.

‘Invictus’ is a very well-made film, sporting a fantastic performance from Freeman, great cinematography and a great script. The problem with the film lies in that it plays it safe far too often: It consistently portrays the characters as saints, Matt Damon is way under-used, and at its core it’s basically a traditional Cinderella-story sports movie. Not particularly memorable; however very entertaining.
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‘Avatar’ review

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‘Avatar’ is, according to some reports, the most expensive film ever made. Records say the film cost $350 million, and every penny shows on screen. This may be the first film that creates a fictional, but living, breathing, new world that you entirely believe in. Not one moment of the film looks fake.

This is director James Cameron’s first film since 1997’s ‘Titanic’, so expectations are huge. Ignore the somewhat clichéd advertisements for ‘Avatar’: This isn’t just some other action blockbuster; ‘Avatar’ is truly different from any other film you’ve ever seen. It was filmed using motion capture technology, which is basically where you act on a blank stage while computers track your movement and record it. However, the triumph of ‘Avatar’ lies not in the revolutionary way they told the story, but in the fact that the way they told the story never distracts you from the story.

The film is set in 2154 on a nearby planet called Pandora. Earth’s natural resources are being depleted and Pandora has a massive deposit of a special mineral that will solve the crisis. However, a tribe of tall, blue beings called Na’vi is living on top of the deposit. Our military wants the Na’vi off their settlement. To accomplish this, they develop ‘avatars’, where humans control a genetically-engineered Na’vi with their thoughts. (Rather confusing, I know) A paralyzed ex-Marine named Jake Sully takes control of an avatar, and ventures out into the Pandora jungles. Along the way, he falls in love with a Na’vi named Naytiri.

I won’t lie to you – ‘Avatar’ is a flawed film. The general premise is recycled from other films. Dialogue in this film is a very mixed bag: One moment, it may be complex and interesting, other times it’s brief and blunt. The thinly-veiled attempts to provide parallels between Pandora’s crisis and our current energy crisis are somewhat pathetic, and solely drag down the film. However, I thought the story was well-told overall, blending an old-fashioned (and interesting) romance with futuristic science fiction. Sam Worthington as Jake somehow makes the dialogue believable, and believe me there’s a lot of un-plausible lines. Zoe Saldana as the Na’vi woman is excellent, showing just how much emotion motion-capture technology can display.

The film easily has the greatest special effects ever made. It takes skill to create an explosion, but to create an entire fictional world goes above and beyond traditional effects films. The fictional creatures are imaginative, and surprisingly the computer-created Na’vi look stunning, even in close-up camera shots. ‘Avatar’ is stunning any way you see it, but if you see it in 3-D, it’s an incredible experience. The 3-D adds a depth to the film that you can’t get with a traditional screening.

‘Avatar’ is alot of fun. It has some problems with the script and some of the intended undertones, but you’ll be too entertained, too enthralled, and too awe-struck to really care. Easily one of 2009’s best.
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‘The Blind Side’ review

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‘The Blind Side’ is one of the most conventional, bland sports film ever made. And in a genre as cliched as sports movies, that’s something of an achievement. (Mind you, not a good one) There is absolutely no scene in this film that has not, in some form, been made before. There is no emotion or expression from the characters in this film that have not, in some form, been shown before. It’s based on the true story of Michael Oher, who in 2 years went from homeless, illiterate teenager to college football star. (Oher now plays for the Baltimore Ravens) Oher’s improvement
was greatly aided by a Southern family named the Tuohys, who gave him a room, food, and education.

Although ‘The Blind Side’ is essentially a true (albiet embellished) story, you learn almost nothing about the characters that are in this film. There’s a conservative, Christian woman, LeAnn Tuohy (played by Bullock) who learns nothing, who teaches nothing throughout the whole film. We’re supposed to root for her, basically because she’s Sandra Bullock in a wig. There’s a 17-year old teenager who essentially doesn’t speak the whole film. We’re supposed to root for him, basically because he’s challenged both in his home life and academically. There’s no denying that the story of Michael Oher is inspiring, but the film never really has a scene that demonstrates just what a miracle it was that Oher turned his life around.

Bullock has recieved critical acclaim and a Golden Globe nomination for this role, but in no way deserves it. She’s not exactly bad in the role, but all she does in the film is cheer for Oher and deliver the occassional metaphor relating football to life. Sandra Bullock’s son in this film, S.J., is really annoying. His role is fairly large, too, and the child actor’s delivery of the dialogue never once feels real.

‘The Blind Side’ is definitely a film people will enjoy. It’s certainly an interesting story, one that probably would have been better had the film given the characters more depth, had the dialogue not been so bad, and if the film simply wasn’t so similiar to so many that came before it. D

‘Brothers’ review

Tobey Maguire is known to most people as Spider-Man in the eponynomous trilogy, but in ‘Brothers’ he gives a fantastic performance, one worthy of an Oscar nomination. He plays a U.S. marine, Sam Camill, who is deployed into Afghanistan, leaving behind his wife Grace, daughters, and ex-con brother, Tommy. Sam’s helicopter crashes and is presumed dead by his family. Trying to move on, Tommy cares for the children and Grace. But then Sam returns, unexpectedly. The family is happy, reunited. But Sam has seen and done things that both haunt him and the audience, and it takes a toll on his mental health, personality, and family.

Tobey Maguire is fantastic, exhibiting range that he’s never shown as an factor. In the middle of the film, he is captured by the Taliban, and watching his transformation from all-American family man to paranoid, profane psycho is heart-breaking. One minute he’s cuddling and joking with his daughters, the next he’s smashing dishes with a crowbar. Maguire is, simply put, terrifying in this role. Natalie Portman as his suffering wife is great as well. Jake Gyllenhall’s part doesn’t really require much range as an actor, but he turns in a strong performance. It’s fairly impressive how they casted three big-name actors, yet all three are convincing as a Mid-western family.

A problem with the film is that it presents no clear purpose. It displays quite clearly that war can rip apart families even without someone being killed, but it never brings anything new to the table in terms of ideas. The filmmakers tried (and succeeded) to bring an interesting story and narrative to the screeen, but in a film like this there tends to be some sort of point and/or moral. Maybe that’s for the best, seeing as most war films can get bogged down by these.

Overall, ‘Brothers’ is an excellent film. All three lead performances are excellent, particularly Tobey Maguire, and the script is both well-paced and written. The fact that it somewhat lacks a purpose is counter-balanced by its fascinating look at a man’s inability to reciprocate any emotion. A-