Back to the show.
Brothers is a rare film that suffers because of its trailer. As such, I won't be linking it here. The reasons why the trailer fails is twofold. First, the trailer walks you through the ENTIRE plot of the film, sparing you no twist or scene. Second, the scenes shown in the trailer (and this poster frankly) make the film seem like a bizarre love triangle (the brotherly kind), which in fact is very minor subplot. The story surrounds Tobey Maguire's Sam (a Marine) and his ex-con brother Tommy played by Jake Gyllenhaal. While in Afghanistan, Sam's helicopter is shot down, and he is mistakenly pronounced dead. Jake Gyllenhaal attempts redemption by helping Sam's wife (Natalie Portman) and children get their life together. Maguire and Gyllenhaal are give great performances here, shedding any conceptions that had nagged them from their earlier work (Donnie Darko, Spiderman). They show a callous intensity that I've never seen from either before. Natalie Portman on the other hand, is going to have to work a little harder if she wants people to believe that she's the mother of two children and not the manic-pixie dreamgirl we're used to. The film is most successful as a study of how the atrocity of war can haunt a man, and less so when it dips into Sam Mendes-level suburban/familial angst.
With show-stealing turns in 3:10 to Yuma and the otherwise forgettable Pandorum and Hostage, little Tucker James (Ben Foster) has slowly risen up the ranks from child star to respected actor. The Messenger pairs him with Woody Harrelson as Casualty Notification Officers, a fancy name for the men who inform soldiers loved ones of their passing. It's a thankless, soul-crushing job, but as they say, someone's gotta do it. Foster brings a sense of detached gloom to the role, clearly not 100% (physically or mentally) after serving a tour of duty in Iraq. As expected, the job weighs on him heavily, and he shoulders this burden in interesting ways, struggling to infuse some humanity into the sterilized procedural. Woody Harrelson is the yang to Fosters ying, adhering strictly to protocol and deflecting any weighty dialog with women and booze. It really resonates without resorting to pandering or quaint resolutions, a refreshing change of pace for this sort of film.
Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs
With every film adaptation of a classic childrens book, I cringe and shake my head, resigned to a terrible formulaic abomination until I hear otherwise. Miraculously, 2009 has been a pretty awesome year in this capacity, with The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Where the Wild Things Are doing justice to the source material and in some ways even adding depth. Add Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs to this honorable club, although calling it an 'adaptation' is a bit of a stretch. The film revolves around an ambitious young scientist named Flint Lockwood who invents a Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator after his prior inventions (Ratbirds, Spray-On Shoes) failed to catch on. Taking requests from the townspeople, Flint's machine rains cheeseburgers and ice cream on the town until things start getting out of hand. Brilliantly imaginative, hilarious (see the scene below), and insightful without being preachy, it has everything you look for in a children's film (or any film for that matter).
Up In The Air
Jason Reitman's new film (Juno, Thank You For Smoking) features George Clooney as Ryan Bingham, a 'career transition counselor', a fancy name for a simple job. He fires people for a living. And he's good at it. The difference between Clooney here and the protagonists in 'The Messenger' I reviewed above, is that his strength and resolve is fortified with empathy and the assurance that things will get better. When a young upstart coworker tries to phase him out, he takes her along with the hope that he can get her to change her tune. Of course, the story is much more complex than this and goes unexpected places, but the central conflict is between Ryan and the world around him. He's flaky with his family, flighty with love, and fights tooth and nail against setting down any sort of roots. I'm in the middle of reading 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' right now, and Kundera's writing has really made me view Ryan's philosophy in a different light, though it doesn't make his decisions any less frustrating to watch. Reitman tries to wring a bit too much sentimentality out of some scenes while others fall flat, but the film as a whole works well. It raises some thoughtful questions and shows the effects of decisions bluntly without taking sides.
I had heard good things about this film, but was staggeringly disappointed in the end. Director Drew Barrymore(!!) traipses out every cliche and generality she can think of under the guise of 'girl-power'. The characters are obnoxious (Barrymore and Juliette Lewis especially), the central conflict between Ellen Page and her parents is laughable, and the Roller Derby scenes are a snooze to watch. There are much better ways of empowering women than giving them a pair of kneepads and a mouthguard.
To be reviewed:
The Invention of Lying
A Serious Man