Enchanting ‘Up in the Air’ plus Meryl and Mr. Holmes
It is catch-up time this week after I presented my favorite flicks of the year and of the decade. One of the best films on my favorites list was Oscar frontrunner Up in the Air. The film features the finest performance of George Clooney’s career. His character, Ryan Bingham, fires people for a living. When corporate executives don’t have the guts to do the dirty work themselves they hire Bingham’s firm. He does his work with compassion and understanding, qualities that seem lacking in his personal life. He spends most of his time on airplanes and has turned air travel into an art form. He is a man who loves air travel far too much and relationships on the ground far too little.
Bingham is paired up with a new employee at the firm, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), who has come up with the fabulous notion that you can save time and air travel expenses by firing people via a video conference.
Bingham is unhappy about the thought that he would be permanently grounded. Keener is young, ambitious and has no idea about the emotional stake that people have in jobs that keep their world stable and their families safe. Bingham must school her on the humanity of job loss as they hit the airways together.
While he introduces Anna to the agony of job loss, he also finds a romantic partner in Alex (Vera Farminga), a frequent flier who shares his passion for air travel and shallow, sexy hook-ups.
While Ryan shows Anna the ropes, he begins to see the folly of his high-flying lifestyle and contemplates looking for something deeper. That search provides new insights and the pain that comes from letting one’s emotions loose.
The brilliant writer-director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking, Juno) has expanded his emotional range with this enchanting blend of ripped-from-the-headlines downsizing, romantic entanglements, family relationships and mentoring. Ryan’s teacher-pupil relationship with Anna, and his smoldering affair with Alex, sends his life in directions he never expected when he was ensconced in his safe cocoon of emotional distance.
Perfectly timed to comment on the current economic crisis, Up in the Air is also sexy, funny and chock full of great acting and insight.
It’s Complicated was designed for the Baby Boomer generation. With all the tent-pole movies dominating the landscape, we’ll take it, even if writer-director Nancy Meyers’ “affair with the ex-husband plot” goes over-the-top and is sloppy here and there. You can’t beat having Meryl Streep as a woman, divorced for 10 years, who starts having an affair with her childish ex (played by Alec Baldwin). Meanwhile, she has caught the romantic attention of her architect (Steve Martin) and her soon-to-be son-in-law (John Krasinski) figures out what is going on. There are some big laughs in this movie, mostly provided by Baldwin and Krasinski, that make up for the conventional clichés that abound.
Hyped Up ‘Holmes’
As much as I enjoyed the notion of a Guy Ritchie-directed mash-up of his British gangster style (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and the polite Victorian milieu of Sherlock Holmes, Ritchie leaned too much on his modern action style for my taste. I enjoyed Robert Downey’s more physical Holmes with his cerebral side as an after thought, and Jude Law as Dr. Watson was a perfectly splendid casting decision. However, the silly villain Lord Blackwood was a bit much, and wasted the talent of Ritchie regular Mark Strong. The entire plot is hard to follow and unspools at such a breakneck pace you never have time to contemplate what is happening; when we are talking about a Sherlock Holmes movie that is a fatal flaw. That said, the film had plenty of fun but the fun was fleeting and the film is ultimately forgettable.
Up in the Air ***
It’s Complicated **1/2
Written & directed by Nancy Meyers
Sherlock Holmes **
Directed by Guy Ritchie; rated PG-13
I was one of those who complained that there was too much 'Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' and not enough Victorian milieu in Robert Downey’s Jr. first foray as the world’s most famous detective. With 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows' I’m drinking the Kool Aid.
Before we get to the good stuff next week, when I announce my best films of the year list, here are the 10 films that either disappointed me, were flat out awful or that frustrated me because they could have been better.