Posts tagged “Hollywood

Moonlight (2016)

moonlight-2016There’s a reason why Moonlight (2016) won last night at the Oscars, even after the result was fudged up by Faye Dunaway and her old pal Warren Beatty did their best during the biggest blunder of the ceremonies 89 year history. Even before the result was corrected on the stage that saw the award go to La La Land (2016) I knew in my heart that it should have gone to admittedly the stronger of the two films – Moonlight. I’d like to use this as my argument for why it should and rightly so have been awarded Best Picture.

At first I wasn’t really fussed by seeing the film, know it was something special. It took reading and listening reviews for me to change my mind and check it out. A 3 act film that follows one Black guy from child to manhood, not so different on the surface they have been urban films before, but none that tackle homosexuality and so sensitively too. A social urban film that doesn’t play up to the stereotypes of African-Americans for a white audiences. Its story is ultimately human which has allowed it to transcend the barrier of colour. The humanity in La La Land’s restricted within the confines of a couple who are striving for their own dreams. Far more selfish than most those in Moonlight. Maybe it’s that we follow Chiron played by three different actors allowing us to spend so much time with him, it’s far more intimate.

La La Land is essentially a love letter to Hollywood by the machine that produced it, a musical that loves musicals. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, however it feels constructed with the intent to win votes for last night. I know that’s not the case, with a release and campaign doing that job for the film. With Moonlight the love is for the a hard-won emotion that Chiron who begins his journey with us under 10 as Little (Alex R. Hibbert) a cute and shy kid who has far more on his mind than most kids. Picked on for being different, but why is he different, at his tender age he begins to look in on himself to consider he maybe gay. Supported ironically by drug lord come mentor Juan (Mahershala Ali) (who rightly won best supporting) who is the cause of Little’s mum Paula’s addiction. Herself played by a dazzling Naomie Harris who filmed her scenes in 3 days in between promotion for the latest Bond film.

You feel nothing but sympathy for Little’s struggle on the street, at school, at home and with his own identity. Finding strength in his young friend Kevin (Jaden Piner) who we follow also throughout Chiron’s life. All you want to do is reach into the screen and hug the little man who has so much to deal with and nowhere to turn. Juan is the only father figure in his life, who is not wanted by Paula as we later learn.

Moving onto high-school and we meet Black (Trevante Rhodes) the teenage Chiron whose grown slightly in confidence, yet still painfully shy. Still friends with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) who will play a pivotal role in Black’s sexuality and future. As we have seen before in film, high-schools harsh world for some, filled with social pressures to conform as you leave childhood to become adult. You really get a sense of the angst that has been building up before it explodes after a fight on the playground that pits friends against each other. It’s nothing short of being a painful watch for the audience. In a way you see it coming, all the pent-up rage being unleashed after a moment of tenderness’s matched with one of betrayal before violence follows.

The final act sees an incredible transformation for Chiron (Ashton Sanders) who is now a drug dealer, beefed up and wearing bling to suit the life he has fallen into. On the surface it gives him power and confidence on the streets, no one questions him, the fear he can incite into those below him. It takes a few minutes to realise this is the same guy who we saw only moments ago. We are also bang-up-to-date in terms of period. La La Land does have a character transformation with that clever and controversial twist. Here in Streets of Atlanta, Georgia you could say Chiron has come full circle, taking on the role of his once father figure who took him under his wing. Yet its all a facade that takes one phone call and two visits to his mother and Kevin.

The last third sees everything come to a close, making sense of what has just happened, he’s come so far yet has not developed emotionally to have a romantic relationship, too insecure, too damaged by his past and his position prevents him from being truly happy. Very different to Seb (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) who made personal sacrifices to fulfill the creative ambitions, their dreams come true at great cost to each other. In Miami and Georgia reality is against Chiron, his economic, family, social and sexual background are not in his favor. Its a much richer, human drama that wipes the floor with La La Land, which is a completely different film.

Now does this show a change in Oscar voting and ultimately American films, or is it simply a fluke that 3 Black films had prominent nominations in multiple catergories. For me, its a good start to see a much more varied mix of films to enjoy and celebrate, different stories to tell and share with audiences. It’s really too early to tell if this progress is here to stay or just simply lip service, lets hope this year sees more progress, more diversity whilst still exciting stories to

Arizona (1940)

Arizona (1940)About a week ago I tried to watch a very early film with William Holden and Glenn Ford Texas (1941) which I just could sit through, it hadn’t aged well at all. You could see in-experienced actors trying their best to work of each other. Just stumbling around, I left it alone after 10 minutes, yes I’m brutal (or unfair) with some films. However a film from the same period – Arizona (1940) with the same production values, caught my attention and very early on. Even with my suspicions of Jean Arthur in the lead role of a Western, a brave move indeed, which actually paid off. An actress who was actually no stranger to the genre, having previously played Calamity Jane in The Plainsman (1936) opposite Gary Cooper who were a great screen pairing. Not only that having a rare female lead role in a Western as early as 1940 is something I never thought would have happened. I am still learning about this genre, even a few years in my exploration. It wouldn’t really be until the 1950’s with Rancho Notorious and Johnny Guitar (1952 and 1954) and not forgetting the gigantic Forty Guns and The Furies (1957 and 1950) with Barbara StanwyckWas it too soon for a female lead to own a western for audience, having to wait another decade for the psychological side to come oozing out.

From the first time we see Phoebe Titus (Arthur) on-screen she is wearing the clothe’s of a man, she is not defined by her sex, instead defined by the surrounding she chooses to live in. Even though she was the only American woman in the town or even territory, probably to spice up the film and sexual tension that her position might create. She runs an open bakery but is not a push over, even to the self-proclaimed judge Judge Bogardus (Edgar Buchanan) who has to wait at least an hour for his pie. She fills some of the criteria for a frontiers woman, yet is able stand alongside the men in her character. To be honest she has to as the film progress.

Another surprise is that Arthur was around 40 when the film was released, which shows that her screen image was more powerful than her own age. Paired opposite Peter Muncie (Holden) 18 years her junior. You just can’t the difference in age if you judge her by this film and not her long career in film already. She leads the film, even as much as it’s a vehicle to push Holden, they are still holding back with him. When they share the screen age looses all meaning, both appearing to be in their 20’s. It’s the power of youth being portrayed on-screen.

Moving onto look at what the film is really about, which took sometime. history is very much being played fast and loose with here as a territory in 1860 that apparently aligns itself with the Confederate states of America, which made no sense as it’s on the other side of the country and it wasn’t really involved in the Civil War (at least on-screen). After doing a little research it was in fact a divided state that supplied troops to both sides. It did indeed request protection from confederate troops from Apache’s. More historical than I first thought, yet still not going in to detail, ultimately this is a film and not a documentary, fact is only used as a backdrop for the birth of the state and a romance to be place upon. Arizona is not really mentioned in the more classic films that depict the War, instead focusing on the really Southern states.

So onto the plot which took sometime over this lengthy film that looks really at self-preservation from the Apache’s. Wanting protection of the Union who they were yet to join. The army moves out leaving them vulnerable to attacks. Now this is 1940, another world war has just begun and America is in a state of isolation. Pearl harbor is over a year away too, so they are not exactly ready to take up arms. However Hollywood was making films subtly that talked about the War, where they should stand, away from their allies or alongside them. Now this is just a theory as the people of Arizona want protection from the other, who could be Nazi Germany who are only an ocean away.

There are always a few who take advantage of the situation when Titus and Solomon Warner (Paul Harvey) join up to form a wagon train that delivers goods comes under attack by Apache’s who are working with Jefferson Carteret (Warren William) and Lazarus Ward (Porter Hall) who want control over the market. Could these be seen as a metaphor for the unknown German enemy who is working to support the Nazi as American ships travel the Atlantic. Move that to the wagon train route on Arizona and you have a Western. Its pretty clever and very simple too. Allowing for the romance to playing on the back-burner for a while as Muncie joins up with the Union army (not sure when he does) coming back to marry Titus and live the American dream that they found is under threat by two men.

A pleasant surprise for a very much forgotten Western that for a while tries to do away with the woman playing the weaker role, being more dominant. She is still taken advantage of but not for long. Even wearing the odd dress, its however all on her terms which makes this all the more interesting. Maybe it took a maturer actress to take on the role that requires more confidence in not just her clothes but the performance that you really believe in. Here Holden is playing the lesser role which we rarely see in the genre, which makes for an oddity in a genre dominated by men.

Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

Birdman (2014)I think I would have enjoyed Birdman (2014) if I hadn’t seen a trailer for Whiplash (2014) with all the drumming I wouldn’t be thinking of that instead of enjoying this fascinating fast-moving film about a washed up superhero film star trying to find relevance and meaning in his life. Still that’s more down to the trailers that were shown. It’s hard to say that it didn’t hinder of only a smidgen.

Putting that aside I was lost inside this backstage world of hopes and desires. I was drawn by the cinematography that was constantly moving. seamlessly moving from scene to scene with no real cut. Each scene blends into another with only the transition. A single camera follows the cast around like a fly on the wall capturing these actors at their most vulnerable. Placing a washed up Hollywood actor at the centre with a superhero past that he just can’t shake.

Unlike Michael Keaton whose own past roles only built up his reputation in varying roles from Batman (1989) and Beetlejuice (1988) a career that has seen his own high and lows, coming back to prominence more recently, especially with this role as Riggan that has seen undefinable actor back into the limelight. I don’t think that Keaton hears the voice of his past roles haunt him at his most vulnerable moments as he prepares for his Broadway debut. Birdman a past role mirroring Batman even in the voice he takes on for his superhero alter-ego.

Also backstage are a band of actors who are getting to grips with Riggan’s play, an adaptation of a classic. At the beginning they need a new actor to step in at the last-minute, enter Mike (Edward Norton) an all or nothing method actor who is all or nothing as we see over the film, a Marlon Brando you could say needing realism on stage. Unlike his personal life and relationship with actress Lesley (Naomi Watts) who is making her own Broadway debut, there’s a lot on the line. Whilst manager Jake (Zach Galifianakis) is holding everything altogether, without him nothing would happen, everyone relies on him as he pulls his own hair out. One of Galifianakis best roles, toning down his usual comedy to fit into this dark comedy drama that can’t stand still. Whilst the other actress Laura (Andrea Riseborough) has is having a fractured relationship Riggan who is fighting his demons.

It’s all about Riggan with the other actors around the side, more so Mike and Riggan’s daughter Sam (Emma Stone) not long out of rehab. I have never seen Keaton in such a meaty role, usually being in a  supporting role more recently, as if he’s taking what he can get to pay the bills. That’s not to say he’s desperate there’s a nervous exciting energy almost weird which comes alive here. We don’t know what we will get from scene to scene in Birdman, his past role has a supernatural hold over the acting who can;t seem to escape his past. A role that made him is almost killing his career. Working opposite a stage actor who he is in awe with yet cannot control. A critic who threatens to crush his dreams, the odds are stacked against him. 

There are moments of disbelieve towards the end of the film that leave you guessing, wondering if we have left reality altogether. Has he given into his past, embracing it and forgetting the consequences, we leave reality to a world of fantasy where could all go. His delusions takeover, nothing makes sense, leaving the audience in a sense of sheer confusion and wonder.

A very strong film, focusing the vulnerable world of the actor, trying to make it big, to break out and start over again. Hearts and careers are on the line, which is built up in the drums in the background, the beat of the street, the pressure is made real. Something that could have been lessened at times for the sake of tension. I’ve read a few times that this film is not original, the soul of an actor laid bare, the dreaded comeback, maybe its the new superhero spin that makes it’s compelling to watch, more relevant and fresh, with all the superhero films being pumped out every year, schedules running into the next decade almost, some actors careers are secured. Whilst older actors live on past glories they cannot shake, becoming typecast, something most hate to happen. Also the fresh cinematography keeps the film moving and the pace too, moving between reality and those surreal and brave moments, to me it’s fresh.

Bugsy (1991)

Bugsy (1991)Don’t mistaken Bugsy (1991) with the all singing all dancing Bugsy Malone (1976) which may have taken the title from the infamous gangster. The is however a rare chance to see the usually not seen Warren Beatty on-screen, known for being very particular in the roles he takes. Working intermittently since making it as part of the American New Wave in the 1960’s. Here we see him take on a role that I first thought would suit a younger actor, yet the more I saw of Ben (Bugsy) Siegel he gets away with it, already in his early fifties this is very much a mature gangster, usually a genre that is the exclusive of the younger man, seeing only the older men who have been playing the right cards in the business.

Taking place during the WWII period of Hollywood, yet never really touches the film industry after the idealistic gangster who is already feared by his enemies visits his friend in the business George Raft (Joe Mantegna) who has made a small success. Not the usual line of work for a member of the mob, wanting to keep a low profile. Still enjoying the lavish lifestyle that goes with being in that part of the world. All this attract Bugsy (don’t call him that or you may end up with more than a bloody nose) who throws money around to get what he wants. Money is no object, practically lined with dollar bills. Even getting the girl, he wants, a film extra Virginia Hill (Annette Bening) whose morals are questionable.

You can see why Beatty chooses his roles carefully, he puts so much effort into his performances, developing little quirks that flesh him out, from the wild temper to the tongue twister he repeats, with n particular reason. He really does his homework to create a flawed individual who as powerful and successful that he was, was also his own down fall. As we follow him from getting his own schemes off the ground. Ideas of killing the Italian leader Mussolini that were just crazy, all his friends knew he was mad, trying to control him the best they could. More so for old friend Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley) who still loves the liability that Bugsy has become.

It’s his final idea that is something I knew very little about, having a last impact on American culture, the transformation of the Nevada desert into a 24/7 land where gambling and entertainment become part of the culture. All built on the dirty money that came from the mob. When you think about it’s not so mad. Part of the American dream to have it all at your finger-tips, to win big whenever. Part of the hedonistic culture we have today, began with the Flamingo Hotel that has come along way since its construction which takes up a good half of the film, an idea that seemed mad back then, but today is unthinkable, fuelled by the then newly completed Hoover dam. The men around him who fund this incredible venture see things spiral out of control, even when Bugsy is arrested briefly. The curtains are slowly closing on Bugsy’s life, a decline he was too blind to see.

Bugsy is a slick film that takes you into the darker side of Hollywood’s history, much like Chinatown (1974) and LA Confidential 1997) spending more time with the crime than the glitz and glamour. We still had the madness that goes with that world, the people who lived among it all. A semi-film noir in colour, heavily stylised, making use of the lighting wherever possible in this dirty underworld populated with powerful and very flawed people.

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The American (2010)

The American (2010)I first saw this a few months ago, but the recording cut short of the ending that I discovered may have been a let down (which I’ll get to later). I held out to finally see The American (2010) in full which I was quite taken with, latching on to the thriller aspects and the lack of dialogue, which is rare in Hollywood films, something that obviously hasn’t put off its star George Clooney as the worn out assassin Jack/Edward who has lost his edge. Clooney has the clout now with his production company to make whatever he wants really as he uses this to his advantage. Going to Europe adopting the film-making style that makes this little film really stand out.

After Jack/Edward kills an innocent woman who he was staying with, which comes out of nowhere, we are not catching him at his best. Deciding to go into hiding, first meeting up with his boss Pavel (Johan Leysen), who is angry with the botched killings who gives him keys to a car and a house to hide out in.  He takes the car and makes off to anywhere but the chosen location, throwing out all the kit he has been given, relying solely on himself.

Staying in the quiet Italian village of Castel del Monte where under the instructions to not make any friends he does the just the opposite in the local priest Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) who can feel that Jack is carrying a heavy burden, having sinned many times. And a local prostitute Clara (Violante Placido) who forms more than a client-prostitute relationship with. Both of these see him start to open up, yet always on the edge of breaking, he is reclusive even to these two.

He decides to take on one last job that would see him free of the assassin life that has begun to eat away at him. Much like Colin Farrell‘s  character Ray in In Bruges again riddled with guilt but a far worse sin of killing an innocent child. In the assassin business there is no room for mistakes as we later learn. Concentrating on the tailor-made gun for his client Mathilde (Thekla Reuten) a woman who sees this as a transaction and a job, nothing more. Jack just gets on with the job the best he can, placed into awkward positions at times. More so when he finds a gun in the purse of Clara is everyone around him set on killing him. He feels his life is on the line as we learn and feel in the short running time that constantly knee jerks the tension in this quiet country town.

Moving onto the ending as the transaction is finalised and money is being handed over I felt as the double-crossing is happening you can imagine the dramatic ending is in sight. Instead we are given a quieter finale as he basically drives to his death. Did he get his just deserves or not? I’m not sure he did, he does the job and lives by his wits in order to escape his old life. I’m left frustrated by this ending that fails to really deliver what could have happened. Was director Anton Corbijn going for man goes to the woods to die in peace like an old dog? If that’s the case it doesn’t live up to what I expected. We all know that assassins never have an easy life so why make this death so easy?

I was left with one final thought after watching the behind the scenes of doc, which made the comparison to a western, which I can see. It’s very subtle here, a lone man does ride into town with a dark past. Befriending the preacher and local prostitute, only 50 years ago the Clooney ‘part would have been played by Gregory Peck or more suitable Robert Mitchum. Making this a neo-western only by coincidence really for me, its subtly done and well too. It’s a European thriller neo-western with an American lead, which allows for a bigger audience engage with this tight film, I just feel let down an ending that should have delivered more.

It’s a Wonderful Nightmare

full_17652_168035Last night I was looking to see what news was happening in the film world, nothing much to interest me usually, until I came across one of the worst ideas since a sequel to Casablanca (1942) was reported. I believe once again that died a quick death.

Hollywood has now turned it’s attention to the Frank Capra classic It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), it has been has been revealed that the plot will take up with the Bailey children, now probably in their 80s and 90’s, focusing on the youngest Zuzu (Karolyn Grimes) returning “as an angel who shows Bailey’s unlikeable grandson (also named George Bailey) how much better off the world would have been had he never been born.” The very idea of this is quite shocking for a sequel at the very least. When in the original it was George Bailey (James Stewart) who himself wished he hadn’t been born because of a series of events that saw him become a broken man.

There is also talk to cast once more “Jimmy Hawkins, who portrayed Tommy Bailey, and Carol Coombs,who played Janie Bailey, to reprise their roles as well.” The release date for this poor thought through sequel in December (2015). It’s a new low for Hollywood as the scrape the barrel looking for a money spinner, which this time may and should backfire big-time. A classic such as this should be held in high-esteem to not be touched or altered. It has an audience who love and appreciate the film worldwide.

Hollywood has no real respect for the classic, instead of re-releases that would produce decent returns, they have to see what more can be made. I will not be seeing this film, out of respect and love for a true classic that tied up all the loose ends when everyone donated to the Bailey family on Christmas day. That is where it should and be left. Also out of respect for both Frank Capra and James Stewart who held this film in high regard. Hopefully the search for a director will prove so hard they give up the idea. Then again they’re maybe one so desperate to make a name for themselves they’ll make this awful film a reality.


Captain Phillips (2013)

Captain Phillips (2013)You can tell the awards season is well and truly upon us with films such as Captain Phillips (2013) hitting out cinema screens. And the first time in over a decade that its more or less guaranteed that Tom Hanks will be on the nominations ballot papers, either for this powerful performance as Captain Richard Phillips or later this year in the Hollywood friendly Saving Mr.Banks as Walt Disney, It’s just too early to make-out which he’ll be up for.

Going back to the thriller directed by Paul Greengrass that was adapted from the real-life events on the cargo ship Maersk Alabama which was hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009 it was inevitable it would make it to the silver screen sooner or later. Since the release of the film it has been reported that the events have been portrayed in favour of Captain Richard Phillips, however coming from his own book “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS, and Dangerous Days at Sea”, it’s hard to really tear away from the source material. Which would sideline the help from the crew. A crew that we see do their best to recapture their ship from the hands of pirates who fail to hijack the ship. It’s obvious who is getting the attention, a A list actor surrounded by actors who I’ve never seen on screen, who can hold their own, but only in a supporting role. They do fade into obscurity once the action leaves the ship.

Visually it took me a while to adjust to the rough hands on hand-held cinematography which really creates a sense of naturalism in the open waters of Africa where the action takes place. It seems out of place on land when we see Phillips saying goodbye to his wife, we are being prepared for a rocky ride ahead.

The build up to the events is as we all know inevitable, and we all know that he comes out alive. That’s not the point though, it’s the events in between which make this such a thrill ride of emotion and action. We know that Phillips is aware of piracy in the area, preparing the with drills as what feels like forever at almost documentary pace, we are on the bridge with Phillips as he paces the deck waiting to know everything s running smoothly. There’s no sense of urgency until something appears on the radar. This is on of the few films where the trailer gives away the film in just under 3 minutes of carefully chosen clips. Leaving us the real meat for the screening.

Things are now starting to heat up for the crew of the Maersk Alabama as they are being pursued by two boats, the know what’s going to happen and get themselves ready for a rocky ride. We wait tentatively for when and how things start to go wrong for Phillips and crew, who work together to remove the pirates from their vessel. Full of tricks by both the ships crew and captain as they deal with pirates lead by Muse (Barkhad Abdi) who wants to prove himself to the elders who sent him out to get a massive reward. A reward they wont give up on, in whatever form it takes. Hoping for millions they discover that there is far less, they carry on unwilling to give in easily to the crew.

All this happens on the ship, the real action takes place on a far smaller lifeboat, something audiences may no little about unless they followed the story in the news or read Phillips account. This is where the real drama takes place, within the confined space of an orange vessel, a captain outnumbers 4 to 1 as they travel back to Somalia, a reward in a new form. Something the U.S. Navy wont let happen, throwing open the action from the lifeboat to people we don’t really care about but are vital to the telling of the film, so we accept them as the heroes of the piece. However the hero, if you can call Phillips that is a man who survive a brutally short period in his life that could have brought his life to an abrupt end. Throughout it all he remains strong enough to talk to his captures, at first he tries to persuade them to give up and go home with the little money they had. Before he spoke more truthfully with them, talk of his survival, the odds of which he thought were slim.

Which brings us to a traumatic ending that with pent up emotion and action as the Navy Seals arrive on the scene to bring down the pirates and save the day. It’s the much needed release from all the tense action that seas an honest man brought to the edge. What was a once routine shipping job became his worst nightmare, something the auidience shares with. Hanks gives a strong performance of a confident man, living by his wits to survive, we see a human broken yet still holding on, if he hadn’t we would never see his story.

King Kong (1976)

King Kong (1976)I wanted to watch this merely out of interest to see how the classic ape of Hollywood translated to a mid 1970’s audience, made just over 40 years since the original hit the big screen, it was in need of being updated for a more sophisticated audience. Even the basic plot of King Kong (1976) is different from the original, instead of a director wanting to make his next epic adventure on skull island, it’s now all about oil with tycoon Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin), far more plausible than the now farcical idea which has heavily dated and shows a lack of original thinking on the film-makers part.

The biggest change is modern man that stows-away on the ship that is in search of the oil, in the form of Jeff Bridges as Jack Prescott who slows everyone down and bringing them back to reality, grounding everyone, a professor who looks beyond the scent of greed to see the bigger picture.

The most important role to fill – the girl, a role made famous by Fay Wray, now in the hands of Jessica Lange as Dwan the classic role that helped define an era in film. It seems not much has changed in 40 odd years since when you look at both Wrays and Langes roles, both scream their lungs out. However there is more heart in Lange who overtime forms an emotional connection to the beast that is Kong.

There just was no time to really explore such themes in the original, with a running time of around 90mins that focused more on the pacing of events that lead up to the iconic finale. Here we have issues surrounding the culture that is on the island, whose religion is questioned and shook up by the invasion of the foreigners who capture the beast.

The once monster ridden island is now reduced to just a laughable giant snake which shows how much of the budget was spent on special effects. Which focused on Kong who was more of a man in a complex costume and a mechanical arm. It seems that stop-motion animation was either too expensive or seen to not be in tone with the film. We do have a more human Kong instead of the meticulously animated beast of Willis O’Brien. There is still a great amount of time devoted to Kongs soften over the duration of the film, expanded more so even.

The key events are still there, just changing locations to make is look fresh and more exciting. Of course it’s a remake, which is concious of what it’s doing, wanting to preserve the original, taking it’s own spin on events for a new generation who may not have seen the classic film that created it’s own genre. It’s not a better film, it’s different, nothing can take away from the original, not that it ever wanted to. I wonder now, looking on to Peter Jackson’s take on the classic is like?

Up in the Air (2009)

Up in the Air (2009)The more I see of George Clooney‘s work the more I respect him as a an actor, no longer just a pin-up for the ladies, actually a credible actor who can hold a film. Also his choice of films is not your average Hollywood blockbuster or epic, but something with an edge that makes them stand out in the indie film world. Even on Up in the Air (2009) he isn’t credited as having any creative influence in the making of it. There is probably a bit of his work behind the camera going on.

As the poster reads, from the director of Juno (2007) we are given a more adult film that focuses on the life of Ryan Bingham (Clooney) working for a company that are hired by others to do the dirty work of firing their employees. Something that most of us would avoid. Somehow this works out to be the prefect lifestyle for Bingham as he flies all over the country, clocking up the air-miles, The people he fires become blur, they are just apart of his job, running off a script that he has perfected for years.

All this begins to change when a new employee back at the company’s base in Omaha comes up with an idea that could ground them all forever. Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) with a fresh pair of eyes and her life ahead of her has devised a computer program that will save the company millions in times of recession as industry are loosing money. It’s their time to cut costs and use a two-way interface via the internet to fire people. The process is becoming so efficient it’s taking what humanity was in the job out of it. It’s as easy as breaking up with someone with a text, cold and heartless. At least when you are sat opposite a person there is some dignity and respect to the role, as hard as it maybe.

Bingham naturally doesn’t like this threat to his life that sees him up in the air for 200 odd days of the year, living in hotel rooms and out of a suitcase. A life he has gotten down to a T, with his loyalty cards that allow him an easier life, free from the stresses of waiting and wasting time. Predictably both Bingham and Keener are paired up show her the ropes of how tough the job is, to sit in front of a person and how to cope with it, learning to detach yourself to be as professional as you can. Something that comes with experience. Keener goes on a learning curve of how what she expected out of life can be thrown back in her face. To not plan and just let things happen. Her desire for the perfect life are soon tested when she suffers a break up. Something that Bingham until now has no real experience of. Taking up with a woman Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) with an equally busy life, enjoying the freedom that comes with their lifestyle. Both have life experience, something that really shows in the face of Keeners youthful outlook and aspirations of the white-collar life she wants yet falls short of.

It’s the casual relationship which makes Ryan start to question his own as he sees love being lost, he feels he has found something that gives him what he has been without. This is the heart of the film which sees a hollow life above the skies begin to seem not so glamorous after-all, wanting more than before.

A slick and fun film that combines the corporate world of business, showing the jet set life of a busy worker on the road to not be all it’s cracked up to be. To have more than just money in your pocket and making the most of what you have. Seeking out and wanting more to make it richer in ways that money can never really do. This isn’t preached, its more a learning curve for both Ryan and Natalie who both change as the film progresses. Change is good when you least expect it, shaking up what you are comfortable with and seeing what is really out there. Darkly funny at times, this is a fresh and clever film that doesn’t take itself seriously, with the right cast to make it work.

Argo (2012)

Argo (2012)After being stuck in what seemed like the 1950’s for my film viewing recently, I needed to be pulled almost bang up-to-date with something that I had been finding the right time to watch, which this time was Argo (2012) this years Oscar winning film, after being snubbed in all the major categories bar the really important one – best picture, which is won. Somehow after getting up from it, I would have gone for Life of Pi (2012). I can see how it won however, the old Hollywood loving itself number which they pull out every-so-often. And it allowed actor/director Ben Affleck to still pick up one of those trophies. I could spend the review trying to argue why it shouldn’t have won, in place of Ang Lee‘s masterpiece of storytelling, but that argument has probably been had by now.

Instead I’ll focus on why it won beyond the point I just made which is blinding the obvious as C.I.A agent Tony Mendez (Affleck) is given the job of providing the best worst option of rescuing 6 hostages from Iran in the 1980 when Iranian and American relations were at their worst when America was offering asylum to one of their leaders. Add to that the coup they helped to pull off with the U.K. years before didn’t really help matters.

The idea that Mendez brings to the table is as crazy as it gets, to set up a fake movie, complete with crew as a cover-up in order to get the 6 U.S workers out of the country to safety. At first the idea is seen as a joke, the only joke that is serious enough to be given the green light. Allowing Mendez to fly off to Hollywood and set up this fake film. Which sounds odd when you think about it. (I could go on forever explaining the falseness of the film, when films are just illusions). Where he meets make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) who finds the idea exciting, believing he will fit right in. Knowing that if they are to pull this off they need a fake crew and production company. All the back-story and material to make this all seem real. Even going as far as having a script reading at a convention. There is a clear counterbalance between the madness of the idea and the political tension that leans to madness in Iraq, needed to ease the situation. Turning then to find a producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) who would be mad enough to go along with it all. I’m not sure why Arkin was nominated for his supporting role which was more deserved by Bryan Cranston who had more screen-time and was with Mendez the whole way on the operation.

Once the plan is set-out and in motion in Hollywood, it’s time to head over to Iran to meet and train the hostages in order get them out with plausible stories, knowing their aliases inside-out and back to front. There’s a leap of trust that needs to be made by all of them, something that comes easier to some rather than others, especially Joe Stafford (Scoot McNairy) who first persuaded them to leave the U.S. embassy when the riots began. his judgement is questioned when he fails to trust what is essentially their last hope to exit the country alive. If we didn’t have this tension the film would lose its attraction and become predictable. The rest of the hostages are more willing whilst still scared, especially when they go on a location scouting trip where things really heat up for the team.

The sense of danger is always there, even when we don’t see it, we feel it in the other scenes making all the more believable. The look of the film with the blend of new and archive footage is not that of seamless, instead an acknowledgement that this really took place, just being adapted slightly for the screen ratio. Whilst other footage is sewn more seamlessly to create the atmosphere of the time. Of course theirs a sense of nostalgia which goes with any film set in another period, mainly in the fashions and the set design. It all works perfectly.

Why did this win the best picture Oscar then? It was because Hollywood was part of a successful C.I.A mission and they wanted to celebrate that fact, It’s also a fun film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s not too flashy and not too dark. Even with Affleck in the lead role he doesn’t come across as he owns the picture and no one else can touch it It’s about the hostages and how there were saved, giving them ample time. Whilst its competitors which I saw had their strengths, Life of Pi in the art of story telling and the use of C.G.I, whilst Lincoln was a superb depiction of Abraham Lincoln’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) to abolish slavery and end the civil war, it was too long and taxing on the audience with all the speeches which can overshadow the grand and classic performances. Whilst I never saw nor was interested by Zero Dark Thirty, the discussion of torture may have hindered any real prospect of getting that all important award. Leaving it between Argo and Life of Pi for me.