Labor Day

In a small town in Massachusetts in 1987, young Henry (Gattlin Griffith) lives alone with his fragile mother, Adele (Kate Winslet). She hasn’t been the same since the boy’s father left, and her depression has intensified to the point of her becoming a shut-in, only venturing away from the house once a month to collect groceries. On one such trip they encounter Frank (Josh Brolin), who has just escaped from prison and is in need of somewhere to lay low before he catches the next train out of town. Adele reluctantly helps Frank – who quietly yet forcefully insinuates harm will come to them if they do not help – but due to it being a holiday weekend and a lack of trains, Frank is forced to stay with this fractured family, and soon finds himself and Adele getting closer than he had intended.  ????????? Continue reading

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

Portal 2

Let’s take a moment to stop watching films off the life-impeding list, and talk about video games. Although I don’t get to play on the PS3 as often as I’d like, when I do I like nothing better than to settle down with a bout of Portal (or Half Life 2) widely believed to be one of the greatest computer games of all time. A sequel has been supposedly in development for many, many agonising years, and now it would appear that a release date has been set. “But wait!” I hear you cry, “surely this is a blog about films? I mean, the blog has the word ‘film’ in it, and every post to date has mentionned nothing but them!” and yes, I would admit that you are correct, but I feel this post complies within these rules, as recently it was announced that Portal 2 will feature the voiceovers of both Stephen Merchant and, epicly, J.K. Simmons, one of my favourite character actors, of whom I have been a fan from his work in the Spiderman films and the work of Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In the Air). Upon it’s release (April this year, but I think that’s just in America) you can expect my Challenge watching to decrease for a little while, but fear not, I shall do my best to keep watching and letting you know if they’re any good or not, as well as probably updating you on the hopefully-awesome game.

Juno

I live my life by a predetermined set of rules. These rules are not written down, and they are frequently adapted to however I fancy, but one rule that remains is that a film cannot be added to a list of favourites until at least 6 months after its release, and at least two viewings. Upon its release many people of a relevant age, including several acquaintances of mine against my frequently versed opinions, elected Juno to the hallowed status of their favourite films, thereby explaining it’s presence upon the list.
Ah, Juno, yes, you won the Oscar for best original screenplay, but really, did you deserve it? Although witty and endlessly quotable (“Honest to blog”, “Your eggo is preggo”), the main character is very unlikable and rude. Yes, she’s supposed to be a teenager, so these characteristics are entirely suitable, but I find her to be very annoying, although I’m sure she wouldn’t mind that at all.Choose life 5/10