Friday, February 26, 2010

Up In The Air

This review is part of the ongoing feature The LAMB Devours the Oscars. Read all of the articles on every Oscar category and all ten Best Picture nominations.

Rarely can a film be both timely and timeless, contemporary and classic, heart warming and
heart wrenching, heavy, humorous, that combines comedy and drama, scope and introspection, romantic, yet real.

Up In The Air is such a film.

George Clooney turns in what may be the best performance of his career as Ryan Bingham, career transition counselor. His job title is pure euphemism as Bingham is a hired gun brought in from the outside by companies forced to do mass layoffs. Bingham's matter of fact attitude about his work belies his entire outlook on life. He forsakes his sparsely furnished apartment in the Midwest to spend most of his life on the road, on the job and, of course, up in the air. He moonlights as a motivational speaker, sharing his philosophies with like minded business types, truly believing in every word of his speeches, imploring them to leave unnecessary attachments by the wayside. He streamlines his personal life as effectively as his daily routine, cutting back on baggage, personal or otherwise, and finds comfort in airport lounges, business suites and the exclusivity of frequent flier miles. But, his comfort zone is threatened when a young ingenue, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), is hired on by his company to take the business into the future. Her plan to cut costs and fire people face to face over a computer monitor will ground Bingham permanently and he finds himself taking her on the road with him as they attempt to learn about each other's methods and prove themselves more effective. They learn from each other, share their personal ambitions, like Ryan's goal of ten million frequent flier miles and form a bond that is the emotional core of the movie. Along the way, Bingham finds a like spirit in the form of Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) who shares his lifestyle, life experiences and through their similarities, Bingham begins to look more at himself. He solicits her counsel when Natalie is heartbroken, he takes Alex to his sister's wedding and when he gets the call that he doesn't need to travel anymore, he wants her to be part of his new life.

Based on the novel of the same name by Walter Kirn, writer/director Jason Reitman pushed through the flashes of brilliance he displayed in Thank You For Smoking and Juno, by crafting a story that is much more subdued and serious, but without sacrificing the warmth and humor that is his family hallmark. He skillfully moves the action around the main force of Clooney while constantly keeping the story heading forward to it's ambiguous conclusion. The performances from the three leads are impressive enough to garner them all Oscar nominations, as feat accomplished by such films as The Philadelphia Story, The Graduate and Raging Bull. The supporting cast is peppered with familiar face Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, Zach Galifinakis and Danny McBride as well as using real people recently laid off from their jobs at the time of filming. That human touch, that sense of connection the audience feels to the characters, the world they live in and how closely it resembles our own, guided by Reitman and embodied by Clooney is what helps make Up In The Air the best picture of the year.

It's Here, Big Mike's Movie Podcast!

Yes, I have taken the plunge and recorded a podcast! I am still working out kinks, figuring out scheduling, content and guests, so please give it a listen and I am soliciting as much feedback as possible, so tell me what you think!

In the first episode, my best friend, Graham Greenlee and I discuss the everything Oscar this year. We talked for so long that we actually had to break it up into two episodes, then because I'm dumb, I lost the second part and forced us to re-record. It's been a labor of love for me so far, but I'm really pleased with what we have. But, we really analyze the Oscars and dissect the nominees as well as we can, giving you our picks for the awards show on March 7. You can download your official Oscar ballot to make your picks and check out the sites we mention which include Awards Daily and The Film Experience, both excellent sites.

You can find my podcast at on podOmatic at Big Mike's Movie Podcast and it will be available on iTunes soon as well. Of course, if you're on Facebook, you can follow Big Mike's Movie Blog on Networked Blogs and there are plenty of ways on the sidebar to the right for you to subscribe and share my blog.

So, to sum up, looking for feedback, content and guests and above all else, enjoy!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Who's More All-American than John Krasinski?

Rumors have circulated on the interwebs that the upcoming Captain America movie is narrowing the search for it's star. One of the names that has risen above the fray and is causing the most chatter is that of John Krasinski, star of The Office.

Let's look at this logically for a moment and put aside our heated devotions to both a recently deceased superhero who made his name fifty years ago and to pseudo-documentary sitcoms as well. John Krasinski is a great choice for Marvel to place a new franchise upon. Fanboys will say that he's not a big enough star, he's not tough enough or they won't be able to 'buy him' as Steve Rogers. Face the facts, not only do most people not even know Captain America's real name, Brad Pitt cannot play everyone and Cool World was a loooong time ago. Krasinski, on the other hand, is a younger actor, on the rise in both television and film and will bring an established fan base to the movie that might not otherwise see it. I am, of course referring to the tween audience who idolize Jim Halpert and have helped to make such schlock as New Moon open as big as The Dark Knight. Financially, it's a smart move for Marvel. Get him on the cheap and watch him blow up in the summer of 2011. Furthermore, Krasinski is recognizable without being a huge star. This is key for a very important factor. Fanboys, pay attention - if you want to see an Avengers movie anytime soon, Krasinski needs to play Captain America. The studio already has it's huge movie star to lead the franchise, and now they need someone to play off of him.

The casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man was not without some skepticism as well and I think we all know how that turned out. But let me tell you about another man. He was an actor, mostly known for his comedic roles and not though of as an action star. He was cast as one of this country's most iconic characters amongst outrage and disbelief from fans worldwide. He ended up becoming, in many people's mind, the definitive version of the World's Greatest Detective. That man was Michael Keaton.

Fortune favors the bold and bold casting makes for interesting movies. Love them or hate them, you had to like either Eric Bana or Ed Norton as the Hulk. Was Christopher Reeve an action star? When you cast those actors in these roles, you get Dolph Lundgren as the Punisher, Sylvester Stallone as Judge Dredd, and basically every single one of the Fantastic Four. John Krasinski as Captain America makes as much sense to me as Ryan Reynolds as the Green Lantern, Eva Mendes as Selina Kyle (my personal casting choice) or Heath Ledger as the Joker. Cast an actor who can bring something different to the character and watch them make magic.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

No Leaving Shutter Island

In the film Shutter Island, the characters are trapped on a small island in the Boston harbor that is home to a 'mental institution... for the criminally insane'. A monstrous storm pounds the island making it impossible for anyone to leave. But, director Martin Scorsese has crafted the film in such a way, that audiences will find it difficult to leave Shutter Island themselves.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays US Marshal Teddy Daniels, investigating a disappearance on the island with his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo). They are offered little to no assistance from the institution's administrator (Ben Kingsely) or doctors (Max von Sydow) and Teddy is tormented with migraines and images of his murdered wife (Michelle Williams). To go anymore further into the plot is to give away clues in a mystery that includes so many subtle nuances that, the ending aside, the film almost demands multiple viewings. Suffice to say that the movie taps directly into the era of the 1950's with it's Cold War paranoia, flashbacks of World War II and just being a simpler time when people still trust in the decency of mankind.

Like in The Departed and The Aviator, DiCaprio's performance carries the film. The character of Teddy Daniels is determined, troubled, clever, suspicious and human all at the same time. He has his own reasons to investigate Shutter Island and his own demons to exorcise. By becoming emotionally compromised, he becomes an unreliable narrator, but it is through his eyes that we view this story. Which makes it all the more compelling because as you identify with Teddy, you want him to be right about everything that is wrong. You want him to break from protocol, avenge his wife's death and unravel the vast conspiracy that evades the innermost secrets of the island. It's a strangely exciting ride, for how dark and macabre the film becomes, but it's a testament to both actor and director that you can care so much for a deeply disturbed and violent man.

The supporting cast in in excellent form as well, including the aforementioned actors, as well as Patricia Clarkson, Jackie Earle Haley and Elias Koteas. While most of them only appear for a single scene, they make the most of their time on the screen, in captivating shots lensed by Robert Richardson. Additionally, the flashbacks of Teddy liberating Dachau in World War II only make me salivate at the thought of a Martin Scorsese war movie.

Of course, no review of a Scorsese film would be accurate without mentioning the director. Shutter Island becomes a loving homage to films of the period, from the horror movies of Val Lewton and Jacques Tourner to the suspenseful psychological thrillers of Hitchcock. Replete with references and nods to these films and more, Scorsese gets the most from DiCaprio by utilizing his movie star power to not only mine the richer payoff of DiCaprio the actor, but by bringing to a larger audience his special craft at filmmaking, his respect and affection for cinema history and his knack for keeping it all so very entertaining.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Arrested Wednesdays #10

Well, I still haven't heard anything on that audition I wrote about last week (which you can read directly below this post.), which makes me think that maybe I should have done some more research first.