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Up in the Air (2009)

The stars will wheel forth from their daytime hiding places; and one of those lights, slightly brighter than the rest, will be my wingtip passing over.

— Ryan Bingham

Jason Reitman’s latest film is getting considerable awards attention as of late. I was surprised that it was playing at my local theater. Going into the movie, I didn’t want to have too much expectation of it, because I might be disappointed with it. Ultimately, the movie is a wake-up call that people cannot live a solitary life.

Based on the book by Walter Kirn, Up in the Air tells the story of Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), an “executive efficiency expert”, which is a fancy term for a mediator that a company hires to fire their employees without doing the firing themselves. He is ultimately content in his life living from Hilton hotel to Hilton hotel, renting cars from Hertz and living out of one nicely packed carry-on. He travels 322 days out of the year and he wants to rack up many flier miles that he can so he could reach his ultimate goal of ten million miles that six people accomplished before.

His life takes a detour at a hotel bar when he meets the vivacious Alex (Vera Farmiga) who literally charms the pants off of him. She is on the same boat as Ryan. They both enjoy the allure of racking up frequent flyer miles and keeping up with multiple membership cards. They both have an understanding their relationship is strictly casual to where they intersect on their different travel schedules.

His boss, Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman), calls Ryan back to home base at the Career Transition Corporation, where he lets the other experts knows that their face-to-face methodology is obsolete. A young Cornell grad student named Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) shows the experts that a better way to be more efficient is to fire people via e-conference.

This does not sit well with Ryan, whose whole livelihood is built around not being grounded in one place for too long. Craig thought that it would be best for Ryan is bring Natalie along on his firing runs so she could better prepare the technology before Ryan becomes irrelevant.

For a man that doesn’t want to have anybody is his life, these two women, Alex and Natalie start to become a chink in his armor. He slowly begins to realize that his life is all that is it cracked up to be. He needs to face reality and have a human reconnection with somebody.

The movie is like a plane taking off. Sorry for the metaphor, but go with me on this. When it gets off the ground, it’s a little bumpy. It steadily gets better as it progresses toward the end. I did have a problem with the motivations of Alex. I can’t explain it here. Watch for it in the spoiler section.

The performances were solid across the board. Clooney was basically playing himself expect he was more cold and distant about how he doesn’t care about the countless lives that he change. Farmiga showed subtle exuberance in her approach of the love interest that tickles Ryan’s fancy. Kendrick was a small fish going into a ocean full of piranhas, but she is a scrappy girl that is not afraid to tell it like it is.

Judgment: This movie is a relevant take on if bad things happen, good things come around the corner.

Rating: ****1/2

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Underrated Actors Spotlight #1

I would like to start another running feature on this blog. Highlighting those actors that delivers outstanding performances in each one of their movies, but nobody in Hollywood would give them a chance to showcase their full potential. You have hacktors actors and hacktresses actresses out there that are getting the good roles and the accolades for mediocre work. I want to talk about one actor and one actress in each subsequent post.

Peter Sarsgaard

Peter Sarsgaard

Peter made his big screen debut in Dead Man Walking. He got his big break in Boys Don’t Cry, playing John Lotter in 1999. Afterward, he starred is mostly supporting roles in Garden State, Kinsey, Flightplan and Jarhead. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his role of Chuck Lane in Shattered Glass. He is currently in the movie, Orphan with another actor spotlight, Vera Farmiga. He is also starring in the upcoming movie, An Education with Carey Mulligan.

With every role, you believe that this person existed. There is never a false note with his portrayal. If he plays a killer, a bisexual assistant, a damaged Iraqi soldier, an adoptive father of an evil child, you believe everything about his performances.

Check out Peter’s IMDb profile: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0765597/

vera_farmiga261

Vera Farmiga

Vera has been in the acting game for over a decade. She made a big splash on the national stage with her role in Oscar winning film, The Departed. She also starred in Iron Jawed Angels, the 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, Never Forever, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and aforementioned Orphan. She was nominated for Critic’s Choice Award for role in Nothing but the Truth. She is co-starring in Jason Reitman’s follow-up to Juno, Up in the Air with George Clooney.

Vera delivers a raw, enriched performance in every role that she plays. If you she is playing, the clueless wife of Nazi sympathizer, the tortured psychiatrist, a member of the suffrage movement or a CIA agent whose cover in blown, she brings and intensity that no other actress could ever do.

Check out Vera’s IMDb profile: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0267812/

These are great actors. They don’t need to be mediocre drivel like Orphan to get their name out there. Give them a chance to shine and they will blow you away.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

boy_in_the_striped_pajamas

We’re not supposed to be friends, you and me. We’re meant to be enemies. Did you know that?

— Bruno

Everyone knows about my hang up with Holocaust movies. I think that they are done to death. No pun intended. Every year, there has to be a dozen movies about the Holocaust trying to grab an Oscar. Everyone knows that’s true. I put my feelings aside to watch writer/director Mark Herman’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

Actually, this particular movie was playing at my local Landmark Theatre alongside Milk and I’ve Loved You So Long. I was standing in line to purchase my matinee ticket to Milk.  Two older gentlemen  standing behind me were also in line for the same movie. They looked at the start times and one of them talked about this movie about it was good with a sad ending. That revelation kinda spoiled the ending for me. Somewhat.

Based on the 2006 novel of the same name by John Boyne, the movie focuses on an innocent eight-year-old boy, Bruno (Asa Butterfield) that is uprooted from his life in WWII Berlin to a home in the countryside.

His father, Rafe (David Thewlis) is a SS officer that is transferred to a post in Auchwitz. Elsa (Vera Farmiga) knows that he is an officer, but she doesn’t know the extent of his duties. There are SS officers all around the house. Being so young Bruno doesn’t know what is going on around him.

Bruno is bored with the country life. One day, he sees a man in striped pajamas working around the house, Pavel (David Hayman). Bruno asks him why he is peeling potatoes. A former doctor, he helps bandage Bruno after he falls out of a makeshift swing. His family doesn’t want Bruno to associate with anyone in striped clothes, but they don’t tell him why.

His father wants Bruno and his older sister, Gretel (Amber Beattie) to have an education. The tutor, Herr Liszt (Jim Norton) comes and teaches the children Nazi propaganda. Bruno doesn’t understand what he is being taught, but Gretel takes to the lessons to transform into a Nazi sympathizer. Elsa doesn’t want her children to be taught like that.

Going into the woods in the back of the house, Bruno sees a concentration camp in the distance that he thinks is a farm with weird people in the same striped pajamas. He befriends another eight year old boy that sits alone by the electrified fence, Shmuel (Jack Scanlon). They becomes instant friends.

Every day that Bruno talks to Shmuel, he realizes some of what is happening to the people in “the farm.” He sneaks food out of the house to give to Shmuel to eat.

I was feeling lukewarm with the movie until there is a scene at the dinner table that turned the entire movie on its head. I knew that the sad ending was going to happen, but I had no idea of the magnitude it would affect me.

I have implore that Vera Farmiga is vastly underrated as an actress. She gives Oscar caliber work every movie that she is in. She was terrific as a glamourous Berlin socialite, a concerned mother and total basketcase. Wonderful work.

Lastly, I have a problem that a prisoner could walk up to the fence and now get shot. From what I heard when that couple on Oprah that met at a concentration camp would not happen, because anybody going up to the fence will be shot on sight.

Judgment: If you are looking for a movie that wasn’t made for Oscars, I would suggest this movie to you.

Rating: ****

The Departed (2006)

departed

When I was growing up, they would say you could become cops or criminals. But what I’m saying is this. When you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?

— Frank Costello

The winner of Best Pictures in 2006, The Departed won four Oscars including, Best Director for Martin Scorsese, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing. It currently at the time of this posting #52 of the Top 250 of all time on IMDB.

I have not watched this movie in its entirety before last night. I tried to watch it one time a couple of months ago when it was on the cable. I was so annoyed by the overwhelming Bostonian accents that I shut it off. I don’t know why, but I have a hang up with the Bostonian accent. It bugs the hell out of me.

This movie was the American remake of the 2002 Hong Kong thriller, Infernal Affairs that I haven’t seen yet.

The plot revolves around two cadets, Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon). Costingan is recruited to go undercover by Capt. Queenan (Martin Sheen) and Dignam (Mark Wahlberg) to help take down crime boss, Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson).

Sullivan is secretly working for Costello who help raise him from when he was a little boy.

As the two men go deeper with “Who is the rat?” and “Who is the mole?”, revelations come out that lead to tragic consequences.

I have seen some of Martin Scorsese’s movies. I don’t think that this movie is his finest work. I have some issues with Jack Nicholson’s laughable characterization, the quick cuts, the convenient plot twists that I saw from mile away, the last shot of the film and numerous others.

I was bored during the first hour of this 2 1/2 hour opus. A whole bunch of talking that needed to trimmed are jettisoned all together. When the plot twist that happens at the hour mark, then I was invested in the film. It was uneven to me.

Judgment: If you want to see smart characters, a head shot extravaganza and Jack Nicholson’s hilarious performance, I would suggest this film.

Rating: ****

Nothing But the Truth (2009)

Who was your source?
— Patton Dubois

It is a tragic story about the fate of Nothing But the Truth. It played in couple of theaters in New York and LA at the end of last year before the producing company, Yari Film Group went bankrupt. Thus, sent the film in limbo. It’s in limited release now, and we’ll go to DVD soon. Kate Beckinsale and Vera Farmiga were nominated from their performances in the movie at the Critics Choice Awards.

The story centers around Rachel Armstrong (Beckinsale), a reporter for a local Washington, D.C. newspaper, exposing a CIA operative Erica Van Doren (Farmiga) to the world in her column after there was an assassination attempt on the president’s life.

The story is published to wide response to the media and the government who detains Rachel if she doesn’t reveal her source that leaked secret intelligence to her. Patton Dubois (Matt Dillon) gives Rachel chance after chance to reveal her source, which she denies disclosing.

She is thrown in jail for contempt of court until she reveals her source. Her unwillingness to disclose her tears a wedge between her husband, Ray (David Schwimmer) and her young son, Timmy (Preston Bailey).

A couple of attorneys, Avril Aaronson (Noah Wyle) and Alan Burnside (Alan Alda) try to get Rachel out of jail.

When I saw the trailer for this movie, I was intrigued that it would be a solid thriller. The first part of the movie was intense, I loved it. When an irrevocable action takes place in the middle of the movie, I was taken out. I did not have sympathy for Rachel and her plight. She deserved every action that was dealt to her. The ending was so stupid. It didn’t make sense. I was shaking my head, pissed at this movie.

The performance were fine. Kate was fine. Vera was good in this movie. Noah Wyle was atrocious. Why was he in the movie?

My judgment: Watch the first hour of this movie and leave. You will thank me for it.

My rating: **

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