The Monuments Men

During World War 2, it becomes evident that the Nazis are not only collecting countries, but famous pieces of artwork too. Not only that, but if Hitler is killed he has ordered that some of the hoarded pieces will be destroyed as well. In order to prevent this, a small team of art experts – none of whom are overly fit for duty – are sent in to retrieve and save the art. Continue reading

The Descendants

This review was originally written for French Toast Sunday, as part of my USA Road Trip series.

When his wife suffers a boating accident and is thrown into a coma, wealthy land-owner Matt King (George Clooney) finds himself having to deal not only with his wife’s tragedy, but also their two daughters, an important land deal and some revelations about his wife’s life. Continue reading

Red Surf

Well, we’re still in George Clooney’s pre-E.R. days, so even if this film has a few more recognisable faces in some of the main roles, the fact that a then-no-name Clooney headlines this film should be some clue of how terrible it is. There’s still a few films to go before I get to From Dusk Til Dawn, the first film on his list that I know I like, so my hopes aren’t high for the films inbetween, but hopefully they’ll be better than this one.

Clooney plays Remar, a surfer/drug smuggler who, along with his small gang of friends, including Doug Savant, attempt to set up one last deal before heading their separate ways and going clean. The problem is, Remar is getting too hooked on the drugs, and his girlfriend Rebecca (Dedee Pfeiffer, Michelle’s younger sister) is pregnant, and doesn’t want him to do anymore deals. Also, one of Remar’s cohorts, True Blue (Philip McKeon, I swear it’s really Stephen Baldwin) has got himself arrested for dealing, and gives the cops the details of the guys they’re doing the deal with, who understandably want Blue dead. 
This film is a mess. There is little to no explanation for most of what happens, characters appear and disappear within the same scene and we’re never really introduced to any of our characters or their lives. The opening sees Remar and Savant’s Attila (also, the names are stupid) involved in a prank that doesn’t really go anywhere, but requires their car to be launched off a cliff and ultimately destroyed, for no real purpose. The supply of cocaine that Remar and the gang sell from appears to be stored in a buoy in the middle of the ocean – though where it comes from we never know. Characters behave stupidly and irrationally, generally at their own risks and with no regard for either themselves or their friends. After his arrest, Blue willingly gives up the names of the dealers, despite knowing that anyone who crosses the guy they are dealing with usually gets fed to the pit of wolves he keeps under a trapdoor in his house.

The dialogue is terrible (“You’re pregnant? That’s bitchin’!”) and the police behave in a manner completely unfitting to the situation, presumably in order to make them appear to be the bad guys over Clooney and his band of miscreants. There was a chuckle when the arresting officer told some criminals that they “have the right to do whatever I damn well tell you to do,” but it was only a small chuckle. I think most of the film’s budget went on skintight dressed (apparently, drugs and pretty girls go together, according to the script), sleeveless t-shirts, leather jackets and a seemingly endless supply of denim, as that’s all anyone wears in this film. Were loose leather waistcoats really ever in fashion? Also, for a film supposedly about surfers, there is only one, very short, scene featuring anyone even in the vicinity of a surfboard, and that’s not until 45 minutes in. 

Clooney has never been less likable than here, where is Remar is a selfish, pig-headed addict who wants to do right by his girl and unborn child, but in the worst way possible. He goes surfing instead of taking Rebecca to a doctor’s appointment, and he doesn’t really have any redeeming qualities, other than not wanting to kill the friend who got him into all this trouble in the first place. When he’s given a way out of this mess by his friends, with no risk and no responsibility put on him, he decides to go ahead and get himself in deep anyway.This results in one of the most poorly shot chases I’ve ever witnessed, involving a speedboat and jet skis in the middle of the night. It’s impossible to make anything or anyone out, and generally sees people spinning around in circles until someone explodes. 

The finale at the dealer’s house is clumsily staged and poorly choreographed, and his wolf pit seems to have magnetic powers, with people being drawn in despite being nowhere near it. If you really need a reason to seek this film out, it’s only passable blessing is that I’ve now seen Gene Simmons kill a man with his bare hands. There is literally no other reason to watch this film.

Choose life 2/10

Return of the Killer Tomatoes

There are some films where it’s impossible to go in with a completely open mind. Whether it’s because it’s a sequel to a film you’ve seen a hundred times, it’s the work of a director or actor you’re very familiar with or you’ve been bombarded with a relentless marketing campaign, there are many factors that can influence your opinion of a film before you go and see it. And, of course, there’s the title. The one inescapable truth about this film is that it’s called Return of the Killer Tomatoes, and is therefore not going to be anything even close to highbrow or arthouse, and might just about scrape the underbelly of being entertaining.

Now, unlike the last no-budget comedy-horror flick featuring George Clooney and starting with the word ‘Return,’ this one is actually a sequel, to 1978’s Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, which I’m fairly sure doesn’t star anyone of note, so I’ve no intention of ever watching it. The 4.4/10 rating on IMDb doesn’t help either. Without doing any extra research (I’m on a deadline here, I need to go to sleep in an hour) I can tell from Return, in which they recap most of the plot and actually make a point of a viewer complaining about them recaping the original plot, that there was some kind of mysterious science plot in which monster tomatoes were created and vanquished using music. Something similar takes place in Return, but here the scientist (John Astin, I knew I recognised him, only just realised it’s from The Addams Family), Dr. Putrid T. Gangreen, is creating tomatoes that take on human form, any form, and he plans to take over the world by creating a tomato version of the president.

Since the first film’s plot, a whole new generation has grown up without knowing the glories of tomatoes, as they were outlawed by the government. There is a fairly healthy tomato racket on the black (or red) market, but the pizzeria in which our hero Chad Finletter (Anthony Starke) works makes pizzas by substituting the tomato sauce with raspberry jam or boysenberry, and accompany it with toppings ranging from gummy bears and peanut butter to something called the famous deep fried fish pizza, which sounds disgusting. Chad works as the delivery boy, and has the hots for Tara, the beautiful assistant/lover of Dr. Gangreen, but has never really been able to strike up the courage to talk to her. Also, she’s a tomato. That’s pretty clear from the start, seeing as she’s been created as the ‘perfect woman’ in every respect, apart from she hates music and bathes in fertiliser. Chad’s uncle Wilbur (J. Stephen Peace) owns the pizzeria (he’s the hero of the first film), and Chad’s room mate Matt (George Clooney) works there too, inbetween scams to have sex with every woman he comes across. 

In case you haven’t guessed, this film is pretty ridiculous. The plot is insane, the production value is non-existent and the acting equally scarce. There’s a creature called F. T. (which stands for either Furry Tomato or Freak Tomato) who is quite clearly a cuddly toy being wiggled by a stick or strings. But this all adds to the home-made feel, and in fact attention is brought to how terrible the film is by more meta than I can really handle. The film even begins by being shown in someone’s lounge (they initially start showing a film called Big Breasted Girls Go To The Beach And Take Their Tops Off, but thankfully this is stopped early on), and there are phone calls from viewers peppered through the film, and halfway through the camera pans out to find the director telling everyone they have to stop filming because they’ve run out of money. Ridiculously, there’s two more films in the Killer Tomatoes franchise; Killer Tomatoes Strike Back and Killer Tomatoes Eat France, both also directed by John de Bello and who appears as himself in at least Return, but I can safely say I won’t be seeing either of those films ever.

There were quite a few moments in the film that I can recommend though. Gangreen assistant, Igor (Steve Lundquist) is an aspiring news anchor who keeps on turning to the screen and saying things like “We’ll be right back, after this…” which I found to be consistently ridiculous enough to be entertaining, and the script contains such straight-faced gems as “I thought you were ketchup!” and “The girl of my dreams is a vegetable!” (at no point is the tomato correctly identified as a fruit). Some bits go a bit far into the stupid though – when Wilbur comes to the rescue, it’s dressed as a paratrooper with a deployed parachute that drags along the ground, along with a man permanently dressed in scuba gear who communicates with title cards even over the phone, and a severely overweight man in a Lone Ranger costume. 

It’s a very immature film that I would have doubtlessly enjoyed 10-15 years ago, but I’m proud to say I’m now too mature for it (when sober, at least). On a drunken Friday night with a group of mates it might be worth a punt, but seeing as I watched it at 7:00 am on Saturday morning it didn’t really hit the spot.

Choose life 4/10

Combat Academy

George Clooney strikes again. Looking up his C.V., I’ve got at most four more films I have immediate access to until I get to one that’s even half decent (From Dusk Till Dawn), and that’s skipping six I can’t find yet! My god his early career was appalling. And then straight after Dusk I’ve got the one-two double punch of One Fine Day and Batman and Robin. I am really beginning to regret this decision, but its too late now.

Anyway, Combat Academy. In case you hadn’t guessed from the title and the 1986 release date, this is an attempt at a rip-off of the hugely popular Police Academy, down to copying the poster style and title typography, but this time set around a military school. However, the key area they failed to take inspiration from is in the use of colourful, quirky characters, engaging yet entertaining performances, and the inclusion of actual jokes. There’s even a commanding officer with a tank-bound pet. They can’t even blame it on coincidence either, as director Neal Israel was on script duty for Police Academy.

Two high school pranksters, Perry and Max (Wallace Langham and Keith Gordon) are kicked out of school on the first day back from summer vacation, and are sentenced to spending a year at Kirkwood Military Academy, due to having 238 separate acts of hijinks each on their permanent records. Two hundred and thirty eight. I’m pretty sure some point before the 50th time he found a herd of pigs in the library their headmaster would have instilled some discipline, contacted the authorities or just flat out killed the little shits. Anyway, the kids’ parents are disappointed in their kids (Perry’s dad is John Ratzenberger! Hell yes!) and don’t mind too much to see them be sent off to learn a few lessons in obedience, but the guys themselves are less than happy with the situation. However, seeing as Max at least is one of the least likable leads I’ve ever watched in a film, I had to agree with the parents. Max is a dick. Plain and simple. He incessantly causes havoc around himself purely for kicks, and doesn’t give a moment’s thought to repercussions to himself or those around him, particularly the stuttering, nervous Perry whom he drags down with him wherever he goes. And Keith Gordon is certainly no Steve Guttenberg, and his overuse of obnoxious, predictable and hokey one-liners just makes him all the more detestable. Perry on the other hand is somewhat likable, but is such a wet fish that he fails to register.

The two rub their commanding officers, George Clooney and Kevin Haley, up the wrong way early on, but by this point I’d stopped paying too much attention to the meagre plot – there’s a thief in the academy, some visiting Russian cadets, Perry falls in love and Max is trying to pull a Mahoney and get himself kicked out – and focused instead on the terrible performances on display here, particularly from Kevin Haley, who is possibly the most wooden an actor I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t help that he’s partnered up with Clooney for several scenes, but still. In fact, none of the actors seems to be in the same film as one another, at least in the sense that for the entire 96 minute runtime there isn’t a drop of chemistry between any of them, including the two leads who have apparently been best friends for over a decade.

The closest the film comes to a comical character is in the academy’s science teacher Col. Long (Richard Moll), who aims for eccentric but overshoots to certifiable. Amongst the rest of the cast, look out for Danny Nucci (Titanic‘s Fabrizzio), Elya Baskin (Spiderman‘s landlord) and Sherman Hemsley (George Jefferson). Of the leads, Keith Gordon went on to become a TV director, working on the likes of Dexter and House, whilst Wallace Langham played Kirby, the guy who signed in the Hooper family at the pageant in Little Miss Sunshine.

Elsewhere, the film suffers from an outrageous 80s soundtrack and the worst effects shot in any film, ever, when Max attempts to show off some kind of stunt during a paintball match that probably was supposed to involve him throwing his gun high in the air and catching it again, but which he clearly fumbled so they used the footage of him throwing it, then played it backwards for 2 seconds to make it look as though he caught the gun again. Did director Neal Israel, who directed the Tom Hanks classic Bachelor Party, really think he was going to get away with that? Not on my watch, bucko.

There are plenty of missed opportunities for comedy to be mined too. Firstly, the pranks the pair pull are all either incredibly tired or have no resounding effect on anything – lockers explode whilst people standing nearby remain oblivious, and switching the signs on the restrooms is just hokey, pre-teen nonsense. 
So, is there any reason at all to watch this film? If so, I can’t think of it. It is entirely devoid of anything approaching humour, features some very heavy handling of moral issues – Clooney’s Major Biff Woods (yes, that’s his name) just wants to please his Daddy – suffers from a hastily tied up resolution via an out of character rousing speech, hideous acting and completely and utterly fails to be comparable to even Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow.

Choose life, 1/10

Return to Horror High

Given the cinematic journey I’ve chosen to peruse, I don’t often get to watch truly terrible films. Sure, there are some on the 1001 List that I’m not necessarily a fan of, but they tend to have some kind of artistic merit or historical value that justifies their position. I also tend to make an effort to avoid films I think are likely to be awful, as I probably won’t enjoy them, and there are so many other films I’m sure will be better. I think the last awful film I reviewed was Big Trouble in Little China, and that was only because Empire readers inexplicably voted it the 430th greatest film of all time, despite it having almost no redeeming features whatsoever. It was refreshing then, as I begin my exploration through George Clooney’s career, to go out with a mate, have a few drinks, plays some Call of Duty and settle in to watch this goddawful slice of tripe.
The plot is reminiscent of Scream 3; a film crew is shooting a horror movie based on the killings that occurred in a school some years earlier. To add to the realism, they are shooting the film on the site of the school, and some of the parts are being played by the people involved in the actual event. A few days later, a police investigation is being undertaken as almost everyone involved in the film has been found dead outside the school, except for the writer, who is recounting the tale to two police officers. This scenario has potential to be a half-decent horror flick, I mean I’ve heard a lot worse, but alas this is not the case, as what little plot there is deteriorates into a hashed up mess fairly early on.Clooney, for he is the reason I’m watching this, has a miniscule role as an actor eager to break his contract early so he can start filming on a TV series.He succeeds in leaving his role, only to be killed moments later, in one of those moments where the intensifying score clearly signposts exactly what will happen. You know, when they’re walking down a dark corridor, and the ominous music only plays when they’re slowly making their way forward, then the music stops when they do. To be honest, it’s probably for the best that Clooney died when he did in this film, his hair is atrocious.

As far as I can tell the rest of the cast is of little note – hardly surprising when you look at the acting on show – with the exception of Maureen McCormick, whose turn as a cop that becomes alarmingly aroused by dismembered body parts proves to be all the more bizarre when you discover she played Marcia Brady on The Brady Bunch. Now I’ve never seen that show for two reasons: a, I’ve always lived in the UK, where I’m fairly sure it’s never been aired, and b, I’m under the age of 35, but I’m fairly sure Marcia never came on to her superior officer after discovering a severed arm, or clawed seductively at her blood-splattered breasts whilst she retold her exploits involving sliding down a gruesome hallway.

My main problem with the film was the plot, especially the last ten minutes, which features not one but two of the worst twists I’ve ever seen. The first, involving a Mission Impossible-style removable face mask, is ridiculous enough, but the second is of such sweeping idiocy that it beggars belief, and doesn’t withstand even a second’s worth of examination. Up until that point I had forgiven most of the film’s other flaws – of which there are many – on the basis of the director’s lack of experience (this is his only film credit) and budgetary reasons (although great films have been made for far less than this film cost), but the film’s ending is just so ridiculously inane that it turned me off the rest of the film completely.

So what else is wrong with it? Well, it uses the age old filming-a-scene-but-not-telling-us-they’re-filming-a-scene schtick at least three times, and the it’s-all-a-dream thing once, there’s a sex scene illuminated by someone welding something quite far away from the first floor window of the room in which the coitus is occurring, no-one actually finds the bodies mounting up, yet people are clearly scared of a suspected killer they have no reason to suspect, and there’s one of the worst uses of a Schwarzanegger-esque one-liner I’ve ever seen (“Class dismissed.”)

On the plus side, the script the script does have some gems, including a conversation about explosive breasts (“There will be no exploding tit shot!”) and possibly the greatest worst special efect I’ve ever seen in a shot of an axe beheading someone in silhouette through a frosted glass door, with the axe swinging down, followed wiftly by a clearly fake head being thrown far too enthusiastically up in the air. Needless to say, my friend and I were in stitches at this, and it received a good few rewinds before we were done. If I knew how to embed mpegs you’d be watching this for the rest of the day.

So, all in, this is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. At times it wanders into so-bad-its-good territory, but for the most part it’s just terrible. I will not be returning to Horror High any time soon.

Choose life 2/10

Top 5… Films of the Film-Makers I’m Watching

I know what you’re thinking: “A Top 5? On a Monday? Madness!” and you’re correct. However, this isn’t any old Top 5. No, it’s a Top 5 that’s actually five Top 5s, all of which are likely to change over the next few months. Basically, as regular readers will know I’ve recently decided to watch all of the films by some of my favourite film-makers, but I thought I’d give you all a taste of my opinions of them before I completely submerge myself. So, below, are my current Top 5 lists of the films of George Clooney, the Coen brothers, Alfred Hitchcock, Steve McQueen and Kate Winslet. I’ll re-do each person’s list once I’ve finished all of their films. Chances are, if you’re favourite of their films isn’t on any of the lists then I haven’t watched it yet. Or you’re wrong.

The Descendants

I’ve had The Descendants, currently the only Blu-Ray I own, sat on my shelf for a few weeks now, ever since I won it from the Empire Podcast, by answering a question about E.R., even though I’ve never seen a single episode. All praise IMDb. I’m something of a fan of Alexander Payne, and both Sideways and Election are just wonderful, so I’d been looking forward to sitting down and watching this, especially with all the Oscar buzz it had garnered earlier this year. The Descendants was nominated for five awards in all, including Best Picture, Director, Editing and Actor, and eventually won for Adapted Screenplay.

George Clooney, the aforementioned acting nominee, is Matt King, a wealthy landowner living in Hawaii,  and on the brink of a massive retail deal, in which his family’s historic heritage is to be sold, as requested by many of Matt’s less wealthy cousins. As if life weren’t stressful enough, Matt’s sporty wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) suffers a horrific speedboat accident, leaving her in a coma, and Matt boosted from his former role as ‘back-up parent’ to the sole guardian of their two children, 10-year old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-year old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), and soon becomes lumbered with Alexandra’s lunkheaded friend Sid (Nick Krause).
There’s a certain level of expectation for an Alexander Payne movie. The ones I’ve seen (not including Citizen Ruth or Inside Out 1 and 3) have all dealt with a story with dour aspects – be it failure, adultery, fraud, unhappiness or Kathy Bates’ backside – yet the sadness has been all but shrouded in comedy, yet here Payne’s reputable light touch is fighting against a brick wall of melancholy with the probable impending death of a spouse and mother. Such a morbid topic is no match for any level of wit, and the film almost always retains a depressing tone. This isn’t to say its a bad film, far from it in fact, its just that I was expecting a much more enjoyable watching experience that didn’t leave me deeply moved and my girlfriend literally in tears.
Payne made exactly the right casting decision in Clooney as Matt. The character is, let’s be honest, a bit of a dick. Yes, he’s a hard worker with a balanced head on his shoulders (he believes in giving his children enough money to do something, not so much that they’ll do nothing) yet he is practically absent when it comes to being a father and husband. Frequently away on business, he has little-to-no knowledge of his daughter’s lives, and it comes as no surprise to learn that prior to her accident, his wife was having an affair. It’d be a heartbreaking moment in most other actor’s hands, but Clooney breaks the tension with a ridiculously stone-faced flip-flop run. Under his command Matt is almost likable, and definitely relatable, even though he’s obscenely wealthy. Clooney is, in my opinion, a thoroughly under-rated comedic actor, and in one memorable scene (pictured) he has some genuinely hilarious eyebrows. Matt always seems to do the right thing and have the best of intentions at heart, yet his methodology and timing aren’t necessarily sound.
The revelatory performance of the film however is Shailene Woodley as Matt’s eldest daughter Alex, who lives on a different island to her father both literally and figuratively. Woodley is perfect in the role, her first in a film after appearing regularly on television since 1999, aged 8. Here she captures the exact transition from petulant teenager to woman-of-the-house, becoming a surrogate mother to her younger sister and a confidante to her father. Nick Krause is also great as Sid, a cliched dumbass who still gets to set up some of the film’s funniest moments. His first interaction with Matt’s father-in-law is just genius.
Beau Bridges and Judy Greer crop up in small roles, and Matthew Lillard does surprisingly well as a guy you really should hate deeply. The script has subtlety – offhand remarks to Elizabeth’s alcoholism and Alex’s drug taking – and definitely deserved at least the Oscar nomination, and whilst much of the action is fairly predictable, there are still a few unexpected turns along the way. This is still probably the least enjoyable of Payne’s films that I’ve seen – mostly due to the subject matter – but it’s still moving, well acted and performed, and all the locations are stunning.
Choose Film 8/10

The Ides of March

Ryan Gosling is Stephen Meyers, assistant campaign manager to Governor Morris (George Clooney, who also directed and co-wrote), who is currently locked in a battle with opposing democratic candidate Senator Pullman to win the Ohio Democratic Primary and eventually win the nomination as the next potential president. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti are their campaign managers, Marisa Tomei the Times reporter out for inside information, Evan Rachel Wood a young intern with her eye on Gosling’s big man on campus, and Jeffrey Wright is the senator both sides are eager to please.

In the past few years there have been a number of talky, ‘important’ films with predominantly male all-star ensemble casts, with generally well written scripts dealing with issues whose effects can have life or death ramifications. From The Company Men, Moneyball, Margin Call and Wall Street 2, they all have something else in common – I haven’t seen them yet. It’s not that I don’t want to see them (Moneyball and Margin Call are in my LoveFilm queue and The Company Men is sat on DVD form on my shelf – Wall Street 2 will take me a while as first I must get past a hatred for Shia LaBeouf) it’s just that I don’t have many opportunities to go to the cinema, so I use them for seeing movies with a certain sense of spectacle, ones that will make the better use of a gigantic screen and that, should I happen to miss a line of dialogue from a fellow patron’s ringing phone, screaming child or popcorn-chomp, I can still follow the plot amidst the explosions and giant robots. The more dialogue-heavy, less action-y films are saved for DVD. This even applied to such masterpieces as The Social Network – I saw Toy Story 3 instead. Please don’t have a go at me about this. Rest assured that if I had the time (and the money) to see the other films at the cinema too, then I would, and there have been difficult decisions made in the past as to what must be sacrificed for a smaller screen some months down the line.
And so it is that it’s taken me a little while to watch The Ides of March, though it was well reviewed, I’m a fan of 5 of the principle players (Gosling, Clooney, Hoffman, Giamatti & Tomei) and The West Wing has made me at least interested in the ins and outs of American politics, more so than I am in the British trivialities. Plus, my girlfriend could be described as being more than a fan of Gosling (I’m still receiving backlash from my rant on The Notebook).
Now this isn’t a bad film, but I got the feeling that every actor involved was retreading ground they’d walked down many a time before. They all performed well – though Gosling goes a bit glary-eyed on a couple of occasions – but no-one really showed anything new. This is kind of a testament to the acting talents on display. Nobody does cynical schlubs like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, but they’re settled into a well formed groove, and who is Clooney’s smoothly persuasive senator than a slightly more ambitious Ryan Bingham from Up in the Air? Only Gosling gives something of a fresh performance, but only in terms of him being something of an impressionable blank slate of contradictions. His Stephen has supposedly worked on more campaigns by the time he’s 30 than most of his peers ten years his senior, yet it sends him reeling when he discovers that the world of politics is more than occasionally played with cards to the chest and the odd stacked deck.
At times the plot goes a bit overly dramatic. The outcome from who is the presidential candidate already has the potential for phenomenal consequences, yet the scriptwriters felt the need to show the devastating effects this can also have on individual people, with the fate of Evan Rachel Wood’s intern Molly being particularly distressing. It hits the point home, but does so in too severe a manner. I feel that there was greater scope for exploring the characters of Gosling and Clooney being two sides of the same coin twenty years apart. Had equal time been spent on their stories, rather than instead focusing more on Gosling – who I never really believed in as a masterful campaign manager sought after by everyone – then this could have been more interesting. The whole poster campaign was set up to show them, and their freakishly symmetrical faces, as being the same person anyway, yet this seemed completely lacking in the film.
Were this the first film I’d seen with most of these actors in I’d no doubt have been floored by the incredible performances on display. I don’t mean to take anything away from them – they are all consummate professionals who are incredible at what they do and I look forward to seeing them do it again – it’s just I’ve seen them all do it before.
Choose life 7/10

Up in the Air

Jason Reitman’s third directorial outing, after the stellar Thank You For Smoking and the good-the-first-time-you-watch-it Juno takes two done-to-death plot conceits – the business-set rom-com and road movie odd-couple – and reinvigorates them to be not only modern, but impressively timely.
Up in the Air is much more in keeping with the structure of Smoking, as we follow a successful, charming but morally dubious and emotionally detached businessman discovering that his perfect life may not be as ideal as it seems once women step a little too far into it. Previously it was Aaron Eckhart’s fast-talking cigarette peddler Nick Naylor, here it’s George Clooney’s professional corporate downsizer Ryan Bingham, jetting around the country to fire people when their own superiors don’t quite have the balls. And with the economic climate and unemployment rates where they are now, no other film could be quite so prescient.
But it isn’t just that this film rings true with modern times. Clooney channels his inner Cary Grant in the role he was seemingly born to play, whilst Vera Farmiga is wonderful as his female equivalent, Alex. The real surprise though is Anna Vendrick. Formerly most famous as Bella’s best friend in Twilight, here she shows real comic ability and acting prowess as Natalie, the bright young whippersnapper brought in to downsize the downsizers, aiming to revolutionise the business by doing it all online.
The cast is rounded out by some Reitman regulars, including Jason Bateman, J. K. Simmons and Sam Elliott, as well as Danny McBride, Melanie Lynskey and Zack Galifianakis, and a gaggle of non-actors portraying essentially themselves when they were fired, with Reitman instructing them to dwell on their own experiences in some moving moments.
The best scenes involve the principals just sitting down and talking. Be it Ryan and Alex comparing the weight of their loyalty cards, or Natalie learning that, as you get older, your expectations of life lessen to more realistic goals, the script is insightful, sparky and above all else funny. I was a little annoyed at seeing Sam Elliott in the opening credits, and seeing his cardboard-cutout as the Chief Pilot in an airport signposting that, at some point, his character was going to crop up somewhere, but that’s another of those things that only really hurts the film nerds.  Some of the metaphors are a little heavy-handed (at one point Ryan’s family literally doesn’t fit into his suitcase) and the ending feels like a series of devastating gut-punches that kind of spoils the mood, but each one feels perfectly justified and necessary.
If you don’t settle too deeply into the subject matter this is a fun comedy with a great script, and even if you do it’s still thought-provoking and entertaining stuff. I await tracking down Reitman’s latest offering, the Charlize Theron starring Young Adult, with anticipation.
Choose film 8/10