Saturday, 6 February 2010

What I've Been Watching - Cinema

5A945D68-AB35-4DF0-B6B0-C2AC1C1571CB.jpgUp in the Air
Directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking, Juno), Up In The Air stars George Clooney as a man who's job it is to fire people. Companies hire him to tell people they're no longer doing. This suits him down to the ground, (or should that be up in the air?...) since flying from city to city in America means he has no time to make any human connections. Clooney prides himself on having no baggage to weigh him down.

Up in the Air is primarily an examination of the need for human relationships: Is it possible to live a fulfilled life alone? Through Clooney's relationship with a young college graduate who threatens to change his unique lifestyle, it also examines how our expectations for life change as we grow older. What is it that will sustain us? What is it that we will strive for?

Through a great script, and great performances from its leads, I felt as though Up in the Air was a complete success. Balancing depth and humour in a way I've now come to expect from Reitman's movies. The lead character was surprisingly unique. He had a point-of-view few can relate to, without being a complete jackass, or being in apparent need of a radical life change.

Spoilers for the ending of the movie
Critics like Mark Kermode have critised the movie's ending for succumbing to what he sees as the character 'learning a lesson' and 'undergoing a life change'. I, however, believe it was in-keeping with the first two thirds of the movie, where we're lead to believe neither he nor his new girlfriend always had this lifestyle. To me, the ending gave a lot more depth to the character, forcing me to think what past events led him to being the person we meet at the start of the movie. If one sees the film like that, it leaves the events of the last fifteen minutes a lot more open to interpretation, since Clooney's experience may not lead to any radical changes in his life, but merely be a confirmation of what he believed all along.

Brothers is a remake of a Danish film. It stars Tobey Maguire as a man married to Natalie Portman, who's about to go serve his country in Afghanistan. His brother, Jake Gyllenhall, has just been released from prison, and is aiming to rebuild his life now he's free.

The movie gives us an examination of their relationship, and how the expectations on both of them have influenced who they are. We also see the importance of having somewhere they belong, as tragedy strikes in the first third of the movie.

It's difficult to go into very much more detail about the plot, or even its themes without spoiling the movie. Some critics have said the original movie was better. I haven't seen the Danish version, however, since I feel the story was the weakest part of the movie, I find this hard to believe. In fact, it would have been nice to see a different film with the same characters/relationships/dialogue without the type of story Michael Bay would have been proud of.

I'd still recommend the movie, since its well-formed characters did give me a way-in to the sentiment of the film. Like Gone Baby Gone it's a movie which succeeds despite its ill-conceived plot twists, but rather because of the underlying truth to the emotion they're experiencing.

My father often recounts the time when our Youth Fellowship was taken to an evening event one Sunday for all the Presbyterian churches in the area. At the event, a bunch of 12-18 year olds were shown some fairly harrowing clips from Schindler's List: the scene where the bodies are piled on top of one another and burnt, with vast clouds of smoke consuming a vast area surrounding it. Afterwards, a minister from another church spoke about hell: and how that's what it was like. Of course, no one remembers what he said because the images were too powerful, and instead the only thing on our minds was the nature of suffering, and how anyone could be so cruel.

Films often carry images/scenes/dialogue that become ingrained in your consciousness for various reasons. The problem I had with Precious, is that I got the impression there was a message I was supposed to pick up about never giving up; the importance of education; and the importance of having people to support you. Although these messages came through on the periphery, the main feeling I had was one of despair and sympathy for the main character, and everything she's had to put up with. Precious may want to be a meaningful human drama, but in my opinion, it ended up being more like a horror movie: it's most harrowing scenes being ingrained in my mind.

It's failure in impacting me, isn't because of a lack of effort by the director, but rather a lack of understanding of what audiences will make of what they're being shown. Schindler's List works because its message fits its images: no society should ever let anything like the holocaust happen. Precious doesn't seem to be questioning the role of society, but rather the individuals responsible for the acts of brutality. It asks us to celebrate someone who didn't give up despite having every reason to do so. The problem is I don't feel much like celebrating.

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