Sunday, 24 January 2010

Up In The Air

It was a series of mishaps that led to me seeing this film, I don't think I would have watched it otherwise. I had originally intended on seeing 'It's Complicated' with my Mum - she will only watch romcoms and feels 'cheated' if the story isn't neatly wrapped up in a happy ending, so a bit of Meryl Streep getting it on with her ex-husband seemed to fit the light-humoured bill. However, we arrived at the cinema a little late to find that a lot of other people had had the same idea and there weren't any seats left! Quickly scanning for any films that were starting soon I noticed 'Up In The Air' and vaguely remembered an advert featuring George Clooney on a plane. There isn't a mother-pleaser on Earth quite like George Clooney, so I figured he was a safe bet.

Expecting a run of the mill romantic comedy I settled comfortably into my seat for a couple of hours of perfectly nice, if predictable, viewing. But I didn't get it. In fact, when the credits finally rolled I actually felt a little sad and confused. Directed by Jason Reitman, who created the much loved 'Juno', there are quite a few quirky touches, as well as some great scenic shots and some comedy moments that ring true to real life. So what is it about? Well, George Clooney plays the part of Ryan Bingham - high flying corporate businessman? Sort of. Sure, he's got a lot of airmiles, not to mention an impressive collection of loyalty and reward cards for hotels and car hire companies, but the job that has fuelled this collection isn't exactly glamorous. Ryan Bingham works for a company that bosses hire to fire their employees, they try to put a positive spin on redundancy and persuade whichever unlucky soul they are talking to that everything they need to carry on can be found in a handy information pack. As everyone knows, Clooney's good looks and velvety smooth voice make him a perfect calming influence, but it is not the job that he loves, Ryan himself says it is when he is in the airport and on the plane that he is 'home'.

While jumping the queues with a loyalty card and flying business class has a certain amount of prestige and comfort, it's true, but even Clooney can't sell recycled air, plane food and living out of a bag as being a great way to live. The real aspect of his lifestyle that Ryan loves is the fact that being on the move means he makes no ties - to people or places. When your closest relationship is to an automated welcome message voice, you are untouchable. What would cause a person to want to live like this? That's a little hazy; the snapshots of disjointed family life show how Ryan has distanced himself from his two sisters (the elder of which is a rather angry, masculine creature) and hints suggest that the family dynamic has gone pear-shaped since the death of their parents. This is a really sad aspect of Ryan's life, which, by the end outweighs the positives of his seemingly carefree, comfortable existence.

Ryan's solitary way of life is shaken up, first by meeting Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), a travelling businesswoman who claims to be 'the female version' of him; she's pretty, sexy, and the only person Ryan seems willing to keep in touch with. The biggest bombshell, however, is when Ryan's only constant - his work - decides to save money and keep its employees grounded so they can fire people via webcam. The great thinker behind this move is a young, uptight, business-minded if naive young woman, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), who may as well be Ryan's opposite. She looks for spending cuts, the use of technology, and believes in love, marriage and settling down; everything Ryan is against. Through an ill-matched business pairing, the two manage to learn a lot from each other. That, and the fact that Natalie's dreamy view of love is shattered when she gets dumped via text message. Well, at least it wasn't Facebook!

The film is full of genuine laughs and sentiment, and shows the different ways modern life - technology, putting your job first, lack of family values - has on the traditional idea of romance. All of these make it very different from your average romcom. So too does the bittersweet taste you're left with when you leave the cinema. But, at least my mum didn't feel totally cheated by it.

Up In The Air - 3.5/5

A Belated Happy 2010...

...Or an early Chinese New Year? Luckily blogging more wasn't my resolution or I would've already failed miserably. As for my actual New Year's resolution, well, okay I haven't done that either - my car is still a dusty mess littered with piles of car park tickets, leaves and CDs. Oh well. As I'm not intending to reach for a sponge or hoover any time soon, so here I am at my blog!

Over the Christmas break my dad, brother and I did our usual family bonding trip of sitting in a dark room not talking to each other; we went to the cinema. To see 'Avatar'. With 3D goggles and premier seats! (Dad was paying.) I would have had to have been living under a large rock for the past few months to have not heard about this mysterious film that was already being credited with 'forever changing cinema as we know it', featuring strange blue people with long hair. The trailers didn't give a lot away, and anyone I'd spoken to who had already seen it weren't really selling it to me. The truth is, telling someone about humans going to a different planet and then turning into blue aliens who can jump really high and have weird tentacles coming out of their hair doesn't make the majority of people rush to the cinema. But I do like a bit of sci-fi, and my brother claimed it had taken the number one spot of his all time favourite films, so was curious to give it a try. I took my brother's recommendation with a big pinch of salt though, as 'Borat' had previously been his epitome of cinematic brilliance.
James Cameron, who gave us the epic 'Titanic', which - love it or hate it - is always fun to re-enact whenever there's a cold day - 'Jack, Jack wake up! There's a boat!' Anyway, since making steamy car sex scenes, story has it he's been waiting for technology to catch up enough to do justice to this film. Now, they did the same thing for the first three 'Star Wars' films and I think everyone wished they hadn't bothered, but I don't think Cameron made the same mistake here. The special effects are incredible, the integration between what is real and what is CGI is practically seamless.

I sat in my marginally comfier-than-normal seat sporting the fetching 3D glasses (that I still think were way better when they were cardboard and you got one red eye and one green eye, but there you go!) and I have to agree that this movie gives you an experience quite unlike anything else. Making 3D viewing an option is in vogue right now, but this movie has really been made for that purpose - to immerse the audience in the enchanting world of planet Pandora. Us human scum have decided to invade this planet to mine and extricate precious minerals, waging a war against the indigenous people (Na'vi - they're the blue folks) for inconsiderately getting in the way. Very cleverly, a couple of these Na'vi have somehow been grown, as it were, as avatars for humans to psychologically link with them and live through them. Think along the lines of 'The Matrix' and you're on the right track.

Main man Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a wheelchair bound war veteran unexpectedly finds himself with his very own avatar, and a mission to be accepted by the Na'vi to learn from them and find a way to stop them being a nuisance so the humans can steal all the minerals. Sounds easy enough. That is, until Jake finds being a Na'vi is actually pretty fantastic - and this is where the film comes into it's own. The detail, the beauty, the sheer vivid imagination that has born such a place is impressive - despite a few strange, scary monsters, it makes Earth look like a shit heap. And therefore humans like the parasitic, dirty flies. The Na'vi are gentle, dignified, and at one with their natural environment - they physically bond with their fellow creatures through strands coming out of their hair. Humans stomp through, not bothering to understand the environment, or care about the effects their actions might have. Combine this with the fact that Jake is normally so trapped and frustrated by his ill-working body and military procedures, and a rather hot lady Na'vi might just be interested in him - who would ever choose being human?

Conflict ensues, and the audience ends up hating their own species even more. For the British and American viewers, it's not really a time to be proud of your heritage, as invading and destruction has so often been the business of the day and it's just not pretty. Colonel Miles Quaritch seems to be a butcher, louder version of George Bush - with one speech, 'fighting terror with terror' sitting uncomfortably close to reality.

There's a lot that is good about this movie - it's different and stretches cinematic boundaries, Sam Worthington gives a great performance and provides some much needed moments of comic relief, and Pandora's luminous flowers and floating mountains are beautiful and breathtaking. But, contrary to what some reviews might say, it's not all good. Sigourney Weaver is basically re-hashing her Ripley role from 'Alien' - being all grumpy and masculine, and the story line itself is a little slow in parts and pretty predictable - just don't tell my brother, he's been to see it another four times since!

I think the good outweighs the bad though, and it's worth a watch even just to see what all the fuss is about.

Avatar - 4/5