Ian Fleming’s great spy, James Bond, once said, “Once is chance; twice is coincidence, and three times is enemy action.” Tailoring that reasoning to filmmaking: a director making one great film could be chance – a confluence of events that captures lightning in a bottle; a director making two great films [let alone two in a row] could, conceivably, be a coincidence, but a director making three great films in a row – and to start his career, no less? Not a fluke.
Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air is a great film – as were Thank You For Smoking and Juno. He’s not only the real deal he’s quite possibly the most consistently excellent new filmmaker of the decade. What makes Up in the Air so remarkable isn’t just that it’s timely and brilliant – it’s that it started out to be one thing and then, when the world’s financial climate changed radically, Reitman adapted it to fit the times in a way that is, topically at least, irony free – a first for him.
Continue reading MOVIE REVIEW: Up in the Air Makes It Three Straight Great Films For Reitman!
One day you will meet Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) in your office. You never sat next to him in a cubicle. Nor have you shared the latest gossip with him over your coffee break. You did not even invite him to happy hour for drinks. However, he does play an important part of your job. He is the person your boss hired to inform that you have been terminated. He is a downsizing expert from Omaha whose job is to offer options to recently laid-off employees. Bingham might be the man you cry over, be mad at, or loathe, but he might end up being the one who has set you free to change your life forever. Ryan’s job has its perks. He can easily get through the check-in lines at the airports in no-time. The airline employees know his name by heart. He always travels first class as he is close to his ultimate goal of ten million miles saved for one airline.
Continue reading MOVIE REVUE: A Good Situation thats Up in the Air
Grant Heslov’s The Men Who Stare at Goats opens with the disclaimer: More of this is true than you would believe. Based on the non-fiction book of the same name, it is a film that looks at the U.S. Armed Forces’ attempts to explore the possibility of using paranormal abilities for war.
The framing story for the film follows minor league reporter Bob Wilton [Ewan McGregor] as he attempts to find a meaningful story to justify himself to his wife – who has left him for his editor. When he stumbles onto former soldier and “Jedi Warrior” Lyn Cassady [George Clooney], he finds himself in the Kuwait desert on a direct line to the story of the century: the Army trained psychic super-soldiers! Between the moments of the on the-road/buddies part of the movie, Wilton watches Cassady burst a cloud and run into the only boulder in sight – in any direction. And things just get loopier from there.
Continue reading MOVIE REVIEW: The Men Who Stare At Goats Made Me Laugh!
When alcoholic CIA analyst Osborne Cox [John Malkovich] refuses to accept a demotion because of his drinking problem and quits, he sets in motion a series of events that enmesh a number of not terribly bright characters in what could safely be called an anti-thriller thriller. When the notes on his memoir are accidentally left behind in a gym, they fall into the hands of gym employees Chad [Brad Pitt] and Linda [Frances McDormand] whose attempt to return them is mistaken for an attempted at blackmail.
Even though the files are worthless, Chad and Linda somehow get the Russians to show some interest – thoroughly confusing Ozzie’s former colleagues [David Rasche and his boss, J.K. Simmons]. At the same time, a federal marshal named Harry [George Clooney] is having affairs behind his children’s books author wife [Elizabeth Marvel] with Osborne’s wife [Tilda Swinton].
As the mistakes pile up, the CIA boss becomes so exasperated that he orders his subordinate to “Come back when this makes sense!” Alas, for them, it never will. In fact, it probably won’t for any of the characters – though one of them comes out of the whole thing less badly than the others.
All the elements of a Coen Brothers film are present in Burn After Reading. Odd angles [especially low-angles]? Check! Character arcs that bend and twist back on themselves? Check! Dialogue that stays with you after you’ve left the theater? Check! Unexpected moments of violence? Check! Expected moments of violence? Nope! If you’ve ever watched early Coen Brothers movies like Blood Simple and Raising Arizona, much of Burn After Reading will resonate with you. It’s that kind of film. If not, you might wonder if there’s anything actually going on in it.
Although none of the characters is terribly smart, some [especially Pitt’s Chad] project a kind of endearingly dim earnestness, which allows us to actually become involved in the movie. And some characters – like J.K. Simmons’ CIA boss – are there mostly to serve up unexpectedly humorous reactions. There’s even enough paranoia to give the humor even more of an edge – as Hitchcock once said, when a character notes, in the first act, that he’s never had to discharge his weapon, he had better do so in the third. The Coen Brothers use that device deftly enough that we don’t believe it when it happens because it’s simultaneously tragic and hilarious. Even the Fugs’ song over the closing credits works to the film’s advantage. After No Country for Old Men, Burn After Reading comes across as the Coen Brothers’ version of a romp. For the most part, it works.
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Final Grade: B+