Monday, March 07, 2011

Catch As Catch Can

These days my wife and I don't get a chance to see many movies other than kid's fare. And we end up seeing each of those movies multiple times. We usually know everything there is to know about movies involving animals and animation, but when it comes to anything else that's played at the local Cineplex in the last five years or so, we're in the dark.

So when I travel for work I take advantage of the opportunity afforded--on planes and in hotel rooms--to catch up on Hollywood's latest--as in anything released in the last five years--offerings. I was afforded ample opportunity on my most recent bidness trip when I spent over thirty hours on airplanes. I don't sleep well when flying so other than reading, watching movies is really the only other way to pass the time.

Here's a brief summary of the films I finally caught up to:

The Social Network--The only Oscar nominated best picture I saw other than "Toy Story 3." (A quick aside, sure to be regarded as sacrilege by some. TS3 was a good not great movie. Like Pixar's "Finding Nemo," it was a fine film somewhat marred by an unnecessarily extended finish. I've now watched TS3 at least a dozen times and I still want to scream "Just end it already!" every time it enters the home stretch.) Whether "The Social Network" might have played a bit fast and loose with the truth or not is irrelevant to the fact that it's a heck of a well-told and well-acted tale. Given the subject matter, it's easy to imagine that a story about the origins of Facebook would be either a relentlessly dull or implausibly overblown movie. Instead, "The Social Network" manages to be both intriguing and believable.

Easy A--A modern day version of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" this film tells the tale of a high school girl whose little lie to a friend soon ends up coloring her reputation. "Easy A" has some clever moments and its mockery of high school culture is usually witty enough to generate laughs. The stereotypical and gratuitous portrayal of fundy Christians was neither clever nor funny and you have to wonder if the writers actually have ever met a real Christian in their lives. Still, it's Hollywood so what do you expect?

In Brugges--This film was released in 2008 and I've been meaning to see it ever since. Definitely worth the wait. The story of two hit men hiding out in the majestic medieval city in Belgium develops slowly, but is a pleasure to watch. The city's gothic buildings serve as an extraordinary backdrop as the dark tale of sin and redemption unfolds. The music is also well-suited to the slow build of tension. Throw in a strong cast and you have a very good movie.

Up in the Air--Another movie that caught my interest when it was originally released. A couple of lukewarm reviews had tempered my expectation, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed "Up In The Air." George Clooney plays a hired gun who travels the country doing the dirty work of laying people off. When he finds love in an unlikely place he must decide whether to give up his lone wolf lifestyle for a chance at a new life. The portrayal of his frequent flying experiences and obsession with raking up miles were spot on and amusing. The trying to send a serious message about how losing their jobs impacts people's lives not so much so.

The American--George Clooney plays a hired gun who travels the world doing the dirty work of rubbing people out. When he finds love in an unlikely place he must decide whether to give up his lone wolf lifestyle for a chance at a new life. Okay, so the parallels with "Up In The Air" are exaggerated, but with that film, "In Brugges," and "The American" there definitely were some threads. As in "In Brugges," the Italian town and countryside where Clooney's assassin character holes up in "The American" is a big part of the movie. The scenery is spell-bending and if you don't have a desire to visit an Italian mountain town after seeing this movie, you have no sense of adventure. Some reviewers had complained that the pace of "The American" was too slow and that there wasn't enough action, but I enjoyed the leisurely plot development.

After watching these last two movies, I also realized that I've really come to like George Clooney as a leading man. I can't think of too many others in Hollywood today who can combine his popular appeal with genuine acting chops. He can carry a film today as the likes of Redford or Newman could in their heyday. And he can do comedy, romance, action, and drama while playing a variety of characters.

By contrast, I tried to watch "Valkyrie" on one of the flights. The subject matter is of great interest to me and I had every reason to expect that I would enjoy. Well, every reason except one. I just couldn't get past the notion that Tom Cruise's character--Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg--was actually the leader of the plot to assassinate Hitler and not Tom Cruise. I don't think Cruise is a terrible actor and I've actually enjoyed some of the things he's done. But this time I just wasn't buying it. I couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to not see and hear Tom Cruise when I should have been immersed in the World War II storyline. Sorry Tom, you're no George Clooney.

The Nihilist concurs: I imagined that Chad's description of "relentlessly dull" would exactly fit a movie plot that consisted of testimony about Facebook lawsuits. Man was I wrong!

Likewise, Tom Cruise as a brash young officer with the moxy to take on the greatest villain in history left me confused. Should I root for Tom Cruise (and he is playing Tom Cruise, not Claus von Stauffenberg) or should I root for Hitler? I'm still not sure.