It’s not too surprising that in recession-era Hollywood, where only the surefire box-office earners are getting made, a rom-com with the name Meryl Streep in the top billing was one of January’s big releases. When you add director Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give) to the mix, it was virtually a written guarantee to fans of the genre that you’re in for an enjoyable 90 minutes. And with Meyers’ generally sharp and incisive writing, it might even be a cut above your average brainless rom-com. It’s Complicated certainly delivers on the first count, but whether it does on the second is debatable.
Enter Up in the Air, the latest romance-comedy-drama from Juno director Jason Reitman, and starring perhaps the most universally idolised and desired movie star of our generation, George ‘Smooth As Silk’ Clooney. The prospect of such a dream team was always going to be a hotly anticipated one, and we’re pleased to report that this is one of those few wondrous instances of a film living up to its press.
Based on two memoirs set more than 50 years apart it’s a story about self-discovery, relationships, the art of French cuisine and how to boil the perfect egg. We cut between the 1950’s and 2002 where Meryl Strepe and Amy Adams show us the way around a kitchen and how food can make or break a relationship.
It’s always refreshing when a thinking person’s rom-com comes around. An Education is not only beautifully constructed, but with wonderful performances, a tight script and questions of love that are difficult to wriggle out of, it’s a film that really grips its audience. Charming, sleek and funny, it’s hard not to be won over by this twisted romance. Just be careful, if we’ve learnt anything, its the danger of the power of seduction.
Whatever happened to Matt Dillon? He was going great guns in the ’90s with Wild Things and There’s Something About Mary, then dropped off the scene with the sort of speed usually reserved for people who, well, died. Turns out he’s now starring in this armoured-car heist thriller from competent (if b-grade) action maestro Nimrod Antal. Maybe he shouldn’t have bothered coming out of premature career retirement though – Armored is predictable, missable and forgettable, floundering in the wake of the action genre’s more intelligent January offerings.
Turns out the hope we held out for Brothers wasn’t unwarranted. This tragic portrait of the effects of war on young lives brims with real emotion and powerhouse performances from its lead actors, particularly Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman. For the most part, despite the potential for cheese in its subject matter (man goes off to war, brother steps in to fill his shoes on the home front, man turns out not to be dead and returns to awkward situation in family), the narrative avoids cliche and leaves you with a real, confronting sense of heartbreak. It’s a harrowing film experience that hits you right in the guts, and it could well be the resurrection of Maguire’s post-Peter Parker career.
The Boys are Back doesn’t work as well as it thinks it does. By all accounts, it should be a stand-out for the drama genre this year – a teary but heart-warming memoir of an absentee dad thrust into single parenthood, brought to the screen by the king of the subtle dramatic performance, Clive Owen. Add in some lovely scenic shots of the South Australian coast and acclaimed Shine director Scott Hicks at the helm, and you should be onto a winner. While it’s an interesting look at what loss can do to a family, it’s not exactly a warm-and-fuzzy tale for the ages.
It’s nice when documentary filmmakers come up with new angles to the ‘poor underdog’ theme. Since the genre first became commercial enough for cinema release, we’ve had our heartstrings pulled every which way, to the point where the concept’s getting old. But Joe Berlinger’s new release Crude, which centres around a class action by a group of Ecuadorian tribes against a US oil giant, manages to raise some unusually interesting points about the nature of the environmentalist movement and just who is right and wrong in a case like this.
We’re pleased to report that Up in the Air lives up to its press. This romance-comedy-drama from Juno director Jason Reitman is intelligent, soulful, keeps you laughing, keeps you guessing, and leaves you with that lump-in-your-throat feeling that you’ve experienced a truly lovely moment in cinema. Clooney’s emotionally detached jetsetter is perfectly (and surprisingly) matched by Twilight newcomer Anna Kendrick, and Reitman’s narrative expertly weaves witty comedy into beautiful moments of poignancy. If you only see one film this month, make it this one.
Warning – don’t go and see this film expecting another Twilight. The vamps in Daybreakers belong firmly to the old school of demonesque bad guys who have overrun the earth and must be hunted down with machine guns, exploding crossbows and other such gore-porn paraphernalia. The action is set 10 years in the future, where the human population has been infected with vampirism and blood has become as big a business as Coca-Cola. It’s up to Ethan Hawke’s erstwhile hematologist to save the population from themselves, but mostly he just ends up shooting a lot of stuff.