Sunday, January 17, 2010


I've seen three theatrical films so far in 2010. That's more than I usually see in an entire year. In UP IN THE AIR, George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a jet setting middle-aged man employed by a firm hired by top level executives to do the dirty deed of firing employees. He spends most of his time shuffling credit cards and putting away martinis in airports and planes and flies around the country dropping into cities to deliver the bad news to unwitting working stiffs. His graceful, tactful manner in which he boots them out the door is like a good doctor delivering news of a terminal illness. His home base in contrast is a nondescript small condo that looks unlived in. He'd much rather be on a plane up in the air where he loves his life. You may never see another movie character more pleased with living than Clooney is here as the John Wayne of flight bound executives. If the film was a musical he'd be singing zip-a-dee-do-da in an airport lounge. Enter top rated recent college grad Natalie played by Anna Kendrick. She has this new idea of how to revolutionize the industry of firing. Do everything by computer. Why fly around the country to terminate an employee in Des Moines, Iowa when you can give 'em the bad news via face to face hookup, (it doesn't seem like a particularly genius idea.)? Clooney's boss, (Jason Bateman, yes the former child star), likes the idea, Clooney is livid that a new bee is about to knock him off his high cloud. The boss pairs the two of them up, - she is to fly around with him learning the business of job termination, he is to accept the termination of the old way of doing things. But just when you think the movie is about to launch into a Doris Day - Rock Hudson pillow fight, it takes a few unexpected turns, both modern movie chic and old-fashioned nostalgia, over shoots it's expected results, and ascends to its serio-comic conclusion as assuredly as a jet leaving a runway. It's a film that is hard to classify. A comedy, yes but if tragedy can be deathless, this is it. In its lighter than air theme ( we are to understand we are merely dust particles in the ultimate cosmos), it becomes almost as insignificant as a feature film offered on a continental flight, yet with a life supporting oxygen mask dangling at our side to remind us of our mortality. Most of the poor saps getting the employer axe are played by non-professional actors who answered an ad placed by the movie makers looking for recently fired people to participate in a documentary. Imagine the renegotiation when it was understood the 'documentary' starred George Clooney. Here is a preview of UP IN THE AIR.

As portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., SHERLOCK HOLMES is a bit of a boob in the new Guy Ritchie film. He's a drunken eccentric, the laugh of Baker Street, a real character who joins street boxing bouts to get his ass kicked in because he bloody well likes it. His Baker Street residence is a cross between a mad scientist's laboratory and a squatter zone, his relationship with Dr. Watson is more man-crush than gentlemanly and his deductive reasoning is rattled off as if it's a do-good pledge from a Marvel superhero. He often appears as if he's savoring a lung full of opium although the movie never indulges in that Sherlockian trait, (it may have sent poor Robert right back to rehab). I love Sherlock Holmes. I've read the stories, seen all the old movies, all the TV shows, hell if there was a Sherlock Holmes board game, I'd be playing it, a Sherlock Holmes brand of tuna, I'd be buying it. So with a slight degree of reluctance, (where does Sherlock go for blow and gay sex if not Dr. Watson?), this movie is a rowdy but welcome addition to the Holmes repertoire, somewhere between Basil Rathbone in 1939's "The Hound of The Baskervilles" and Gene Wilder in 1975's "Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother". Downey makes a discomforting yet strangely identifiable Sherlock and Jude Law nails a patient control in what is a difficult role for actors as second fiddle Watson. I can't think of another pulp fiction over 100 years old that still fascinates readers today and this spin on Sherlock is ... well it's elementary my dear Watson.
Basil Rathbone

Pedro Almodovar is one of only a few movie directors whose work can get me into a movie house, and Penelope Cruz starring in his new film, BROKEN EMBRACES makes my attendance a certainty. She plays Lena, a struggling former actress and occasional prostitute working as a secretary to one of the richest business tycoons in South America (huh?). Anywa, Ernesto, (Jose Luis Gomez), the old billionaire has super hots for Lena, and she eventually allows him to help her financially support her oppressed family who are burdened by her father's terminal stomach cancer. Got that? She then becomes mistress to Ernesto living the life of luxury with him in his mansion until boredom and a lack of interest in house hostessing causes her to renew her acting career, (apparently she sucked acting too). She then has an affair with the director of a picture she's to star in. Almodovar puts a suspense spin to all this, as Ernesto has the couple followed and watched on film and the movie becomes a Hitchcock maze with little mystery and groundless heightened intrigue merging with a 1950s soap opera like "Back Street", with artsy comments on film making. The movie resonated cerebrally with me, it's got a visual velvety flow, but I was always expecting the film to suddenly reveal it's true core in a crucial scene but to no avail. It just sort of goes on like this. It's a thick comfy pillow supporting a vague careless dream told in flashback and forth. You can watch a preview of BROKEN EMBRACES here.

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