Review: Avatar

avatar
Once you go blue...
  • What’s Good: James Cameron’s dedication to the material is admirable. His ability to sell this half formed, totally unoriginal sci-fi story is masterful.
  • What’s Not:“A New World” meets “Dances with Wolves” meets “Aliens” meets “Princess Mononokie” meets “Fern Gully in Space.” A lot meets here. What there are not a lot of however is new ideas. Cameron’s inability to make the aliens ALIENS is confounding. Cameron is like a sane version Michael Bay who fetichizes the military war complex while denouncing it it at the same time. I’m also sore that Michael Biehn and/or Bill Paxton are not in this movie but Sigourney Weaver is so that’s cool.

Science Fiction has enjoyed its most prosperous year of the young century. The genre has not been this fecund since the year “Matrix,” “Princess Mononokie” and “Star Wars: Episode I” came out. It has also not been this overrated in years though I must admit that the sci-fi purist in me fears mainstream involvement in this genre so I’m naturally defensive. This year though: first “Star Trek” crammed that cocky, shit eating Kirk (Chris “I’m awesome!” Pine) down our throats. Then “District 9” turned a story of alien apartheid into an inept retelling of “Transformers.” Then, um, yeah, the bland “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” came out and, astoundingly, was not as bad as everyone made it out to be. Now “Avatar” has come to rule them all.

There is very little doubt that this 300-500 million production will not only make a tidy profit but may go on to become the third or even second highest grossing film in U.S. history right below James Cameron’s other blunt edged epic “Titanic.” “Avatar” is a vivid contradiction that poses the question of how could something so stark and visionary can be so unoriginal. Easy, it’s made by Cameron. Aww, nah man, I kid, I kid, the dude’s earned my respect many times over; Cameron’s work in this genre includes masterpieces like “Terminator,” “T2” (his most overrated film but still good by any other standards) “The Abyss” (his most underrated), and “Aliens” (an A+++++ film) are unparalleled in genre defining qualities that, “Abyss” aside, shoot first and ask questions later. That Cameron’s reputation precedes him is perhaps why I expect more from him especially given his decade long, post “Titanic” hiatus. The expectations are not so much in the storytelling department but in the powerful ways in which he is usually able to approaches stories. The result here is a mixed bag full of minor technical miracles and major storytelling blunders and a curious lack of real danger posed to the protagonist.

This save-the-rain-forest adventure set on a planet known as Pandora (that’s, uh, symbolism, right?) brings virtually no new ideas to the table. Instead, it grafts new technology over old ideas.  The ground it does tread it treads competently, but with all the narrative grace of one of the film’s tree smashing mega bulldozers. What we get here is a hearty retelling of a good vs. evil, man vs. machine, and nature vs technology tale in which an ex military grunt, working as a Backwater-esq soldier for hire, goes undercover and, before he knows what hits him, goes native. The central gimmick is that humans are now able to fuse human and alien DNA to harvest bodies known as Avatars. These proxy creatures can be possessed via cryo-sleeping humans! In their dreams! Nonsense! Yet nonsense that Cameron is able to sell effectively because everything else is so meticulously mapped out. Avatars are essentially flesh based video game characters and the hero, Jake (another original Cameron hero name–totally more original than Jack), gets a mean case of chosen-one-itis when he puts this new body to use. This avatar concept in one sense gives the film a semi-original approach(if you don’t count the other Avatar-ish “Surrogates” this year) while at the same time removes me from an investment in the immediacy of the hero’s situation since he’s not really there. The Avatar driven hybrids and, for that matter, indigenous aliens known as the Na’vi (which sounds like a snazzy name for a laptop or mp3 player) look convincing and at times posses flawlessly rendered realism but their design is a bit awkward. Their flat noses, strange heads, stupid tribal marks and grotesque bodies gave me, among other things, really bad “Antz” flashbacks.

The plot is so far from exceptional that it gives a new name to the term space opera. There is a lot of politics (and politicking) and tropical/topical parallels to imperial America, sure, but really this is just an space set “Romeo and Juliet” story involving a boy trying to win the heart and mind of the girl and her community. He is accepted by the alien clan all too easily and masters their ways in a manner of weeks. This story element takes up about two hours of the film so expect lots of iridescent plant life, prancing about and forced moments of adventure (Jake trying to tame one wild animal or another). There are enough 90s era Disney cliches here to fool me into thinking characters are on the verge of breaking into a show tune any minute. Lucky they don’t; unluckily, though, James Horner does and his score and it’s full of tritely recycled melodies.

The rest is of the film (and entire third act) is vintage Cameron hoorah military hokum. Humans invade a peaceful, nature loving planet rich in precious minerals whose value to the  new, resource depleted Earth is never fully explained. I’ve always loved sci-fi for the ways in which it is able to encode progressive message into the text. These days all sci-fi subtext has become text because we’re obviously too stupid to get the  message if it’s in any way subtle. While Cameron is being  praised for creating a new world, all I see here is “A New World.” While the romance is nothing new, the post colonial aspects are even more worn. First off, I mentioned that the hero enters this community like a space age Jesus (or Tom Cruse or Kevin Costner etc.) and that undercuts a lot of the supposed autonomous integrity these “savage” creatures have. In addition to that the cultural tropes are obtuse. I have no idea why people bash George Lucas’s anthropological aliens when this film’s egregious mess of Earth based stereotypes gets received with near unanimous approval and cultural cache. These creatures are Ewok’s squared. The peaceful and simple subaltern alien race (Others are aliens, get it!) are a crude amalgamation of African, Aboriginal and American Indian cultures and icons. What bothers me is that Cameron makes no attempt to make these alien underdogs actually alien. I just can’t understand how something so ambitious can be so lazy. Is this a prime example of  unintentional leftist racism or just bad writing? Whatever the case, the humans of “Avatar” are just as one dimensional (ironic that this is 3D then, huh?) with bullheaded military men, egg headed business men, even headed mentors and a Jarheaded hero played by Terminator Salvation’s Sam Worthington.

While I could go on about what bothers me there’s a lot to admire in “Avatar.” Sure, the visuals pop with a musty green brilliance and eerie fog but what I like most about the film is the way it inverts the sci-fi cliche of making humans the evil invaders (weare aliens) while having the viewer relate to the little (actually, large) blue space men. Heading up the invading force is a wonderfully wicked performance by Stephen Lang (“Public Enemies”) as the evil, Duke Nukem looking Colonel who steals the movie through the simple act of bringing some color, dimension and fire to a morally black and white story universe. Too many characters, yes even my dear Sigourney Weaver as the all too noble scientist in charge, are cardboard cut outs that this bad ass Colonel shreds to hell with his his twenty foot mech’s giant-sized machete. Now, as to why a fricken mech needs a big ass knife is something I’ll have to add to the pile of things I don’t get about this movie. Anyways, after all this inane, semi-incoherent ranting I’m going to put aside my objections and give “Avatar” a (barley) passing grade. I do so with caution and the illogical self awareness that I don’t always need to like a science fiction movie to like it.

Grade: B-

Review: Nine

  • What’s Good: The question of what’s good need not be asked when Daniel Day Lewis is in a movie.
  • What’s Not: The music. Being that this is a musical, that’s a big thing to not get right.
  • Nine?” Uh, not quite, more like a six or seven. The best thing this musical remake of Fellini’s “8½” did is remind me of how good the original is. Broadway/Hollywood’s update is a glitzed out and dumbed down version of an original that parodied the very same spectacle that “Nine” has become! I guess the the original Broadway writers and Hollywood director/producers of “Nine” missed that; “8½” is a foreign film after all and that means you have to read subtitles so it make sense that the nuances went over their heads. That huge contradiction aside, this film doesn’t work as a remake because it doesn’t work at all as a musical. No amount of new wave Italian visuals, “Citizen Kane” ripped cinematography and sparkly costumes can mask the taste of bland-ass music. I went with a friend and soon after the film ended she mentioned that she like the song where the beleaguered protagonist played by Daniel Day Lewis sits in a corner while his wife gets her revenge on him through a musical number where she is stripped bare right in front of him. Within minutes of seeing the film this conversation happened and while I could remember the image of a scruffy Daniel Day Lewis and a beautiful, wide eyed Marion Cotillard singing, I could not for the life of me recall what she was singing or, for that matter, just about any other song in this movie! That’s a bad sign.

    This is one of those rare musicals in which the story is better than its set pieces. I called it dumbed down and it is but it’s also something of a curious interest to fans of the original because here we have a crudley parsed version of a hallucinatory masterpiece. The predominant theme of male anxiety in Fellini’s version is hard to approach or understand at first but by end you’re infected with it. “Nine” is the cliff notes version where the anxiety of the lead character is quite literally spelled out for us (no flying dreams and only one childhood flashback) while notions relating to the elusive nature of art that Fellini captures so artfully (to describe it is to demystify it is the film’s point) is far from elusive with its big and bright quotation marks that are on display like a gussied up whore. Daniel Day Lewis is the right actor to play the part of Guido if only because he looks so cool when he’s tormented (I need not remind anyone of his past performances). But he’s also a bit too over the top this time.  He does lots of angsty pacing here as well as sitting crouched over with his hands up against his face like a tortured version of  The Thinker sculpture. Lewis, like Marcello Mastroianni, plays the Guido as a filmmaker who has nothing but decisions put in front of him and yet is incapable of making even the smallest one. A big difference is that Mastroianni was playing a version of Fellini while Lewis is, um, well he’s definitely not playing a version of thisfilm’s director Rob Marshall because the character in “Nine” is actually considered a great director by his peers and the press and is even called “Maestro.” At any rate, each decision and commitment, no matter how trivial, bears down on Guido like a runaway train and each is avoided at all costs, which, considering the budget of the film he’s not working on, is a lot. “Directing a movie is an overrated job. You just have to say yes or no. What else do you do? Nothing” the non-film’s costume designer, an Edith Head looking Judi Dench, tells the perpetually smoking Guido who clearly hears and perhaps even agrees but just can’t take that proactive plunge both as an artist and as a man. This is a classic struggle that is mirrored with very little mystery in “Nine.”

    Marshall, like his character, also seems incapable of making a choice with his film because the music is not only forgettable and antiquated but unnecessary. Marshall wants to make a musical adaptation of a play that was adapted from “8½” and that’s fair game I guess but he goes ahead with this endeavor without the support of the music part! Marshall’s Oscar winning “Chicago” worked because the music numbers made sense within the context and reality of the story world; they were the lavish day dreams of crazy killers and depraved men. “Chicago” also worked because the music was good and, when not good, catchy at the very least. The music in this film, like “Chicago,” occurs outside the diegetic story space but that’s as far as the film is willing to go with them. Guido will be dealing with one of his many mistresses/feminine infatuations (Nicole  Kidman the international actress, Kate Hudson the American reporter, Penelope Cruz as the mistress, Fergie the vamp from Guido’s past, Sophia Loren the mother etc.) and suddenly someone get a music number dedicated to how they’re feeling. Is he imagining it? Are they? Are we? I feel, though I’m not sure who agrees, that one of the jobs of a film musical is to accommodate the music itself. To find a home for it within the aesthetics as well as being pleasing in its own right. In that regard the music of “Nine” is not only tone deaf but homeless.

    I mixed feelings about “Nine.” The lead performance is strong (perhaps too strong) and the cinematography, while not visually original, is even more beautiful than all the women. And even if the refashioned story goes against the philsophy of the original I found it compelling when the music wasn’t getting in the way. Is that enough? Depends. Those who really like musicals might give this a shot, and might like it. Those interested in classic art house foreign films may also want to see it, but will probably not like it. Everyone else should just stay home.

    Grade: C+

    Well, here lies another high profile release that failed to live up to the hype. While I found the year as a whole to be amazing the winter movie season is the most underwhelming in recent memory. It’s as good a time as any to put this review season to bed. I will be catch up on all the stuff I missed (Avatar, I’m coming to get you!) and of course pulling my best of the year picks out of my arse. Video Games will come first next week, then music then movies, then best of the decade lists. Gwah, exhausting.

    Review: Lovely Bones

    Gandalf the White will come come out any minute.
    Gandalf the White will come out any minute.
  • What’s Good: Stanley Tucci as the killer next door is the best thing about this movie.
  • What’s Not:Stanley Tucci is the only good thing about this movie.
  • Lovely Bones is really, really, really, really, really… bad. I mean really bad. Really. Bad. Rrrrrrrrrrreally bad. In case you didn’t read the book, it’s better than the film version. Big surprise. “I’m Sally Salmon and this my story” we are told in this movie about a dead girl narrating her life from her after life. Her family grieves for her as the murderer sits in a room right across the street (IRONY!). As time passes she prances about in her very own Candyland… or purgatory, or something, I couldn’t actually tell and this film was not about to tell me so Candyland it is. What she does there and how that relates to what’s happening on our earthly plane is never explained, which actually might be a good thing seeing as how clumsy the film’s narrative is. Better to not explain than to to so badly.

    As poorly constructed as the somewhat similar 2007 mystery “The Invisible” is, at least the dead protagonist in that story took on the role of a detective who investigates his mortal death and, accordingly, can only be revived or go to heaven (I forget which; again, not a good film) once the killer is caught. Dumb, yes, but at least there’s some measure of internal logic at work. Not here. The dead girl played by the promising young actress Saoirse Ronan (“Atonement”) has no control or agency. She’s dead in other words. So then what function does she serve other than standing around and watching us earthlings with bittersweet wonder? None. The film is more interested in giving you goosebumps and being sentimental (father lights a candle atop a ship in a bottle for daughter to see in the dark storm of night ::gags::, father cries, girl’s not-quite-lover writes her poetry) than exploring notions of death, cosmic justice, fate, and the after life. Not being analytical about this stuff is all well and good in many cases (“Ghost Town” for instance gets a pass) but being that the sentimentalism falls flat while the exploration of the physicality of one’s death is not even a concern there came a time during this film when I wondered, and not in the existential sense, what the point of all of it was. Again, there is none. The film is nonsense, a hollow spectacle of style over substance over common sense that displeases to the core.

    Peter Jackson put his name on this film and I feel sorry for him. It bears his trademarks both pre and post “Lord of the Rings” which is as much of a blessing as it is a curse; there are swamps, there are horrible underwater effects (fans blowing on actor’s faces), there is death, there is evil there is good and there is fantasy. Oh, and there is also a lot of bull shit. I am officially done with this filmmaker because I see no future for him. I also pity Jackson because he seems to be in a similar (creative) limbo as his main character in this movie. After “Rings” Jackson wants to be known as a serious filmmaker on “Lovely Bones” when he tries to be that here his creative expressions end up more far fetched than any fantasy world he’s ever conjured up. The movie magic and visual mastery Jackson tapped into with thedecade defining “The Lord of the Rings” series has been negated by a duo of agonizing follows ups “King Kong” in 2005 and now “Lovely Bones.” A problem is that Jackson does not seem to have an emotional compass sharp enough to depict the real world. Fantasy and sloppy comic horror (“Dead Alive”) is what he’s able to do and do very well but anything else comes across as corny and amateurish. When he attempts to blend the two, as evident here, it’s a disaster. Where Jackson was once an clever innovator (“Forgotten Silver” and “Meet the Feebles”) and a cynical genus (“The Frighteners”–his other film about ghosts), he is now a schmaltzy middle class appealing hack that could match wits with Spielberg any day. (Spielberg produced this movie by the way and it shows.) More than anything though “Bones” is a lesser version of Jackson’s own early gem called “Heavenly Creatures,” a film that also involves murder, young girls and the fantasy world they escaped to.

    This film’s visual pallet contains almost as much darkness as it does heavenly color. Providing that darkness is Stanley Tucci’s George Harvey character, the killer of the girl who dwells in his Golem like layer that, on the suburban outside, looks perfectly normal, perhaps too normal. Tucci brings George to life with ticks, dorky speach mannerisms and creepy hobbies (crafting doll houses and making outdoor traps for ducks) and is certainly a potentially interesting presence of evil. What undercuts that potential is the fact that his evil is EVIL without equivocation or hesitation. By extension, the afterlife he sends his victim(s) to is the AFTERLIFE. While there’s a lot of talk of in “betweens,” there’s ironically very little of that in the moral or thematic sense. The metaphysical realm, full of rainbows and flowers and coronas of white light so bright I was half expecting Gandalf the White to pop out, is handled with such awkwardness, bombast and intellectual meaninglessness that the movie plays more along the lines of a Mitch Abom/Oprah book club selection than a gritty drama. “You are in betweeeeeeeeen” the dead girl’s spirit medium tells Sally when she asks where she is. Another line that had me howling was “We’re in HEAVEN, YAAAAAY!” and I shit you not, that yaaaaay part is in there too. In this Candyland giant boats in bottles (a blown up symbol of Sally’s father’s hobby) crash against mountains while night, day, snow, water, sun and the moon are all able to exist in the same frame. She’s EVERYWHERE, get it? Sally can’t really communicate with the living but in one scene a dead flower on earth springs back to life when the father holds it (what does that even mean?) and that seems to be the dead girl’s only real power and it’s as lame as it sounds. While the sentiments are all Hallmark TV Movie and Spielbergian drek, the painterly onanism on display in the “in between” reminded of something else, something far, far worse. The late nineties saw a unspeakable film called “What Dreams May Come,” another film about dead people prancing about like dandies in a celestial CGI world. I also happen to resent that film because it’s as empty as it is pretentious. The qualities of emptiness and pretentiousness is a total contradiction in terms but that’s what we’re dealing with here.

    Okay, so the fantasy is a big fail. But this is really a mystery one could just as easily argue. But, even there, as a murder mystery the film does not fare much better because in this world cops are inept, the mother splits town and the co-lead, a father played by Mark Wahlberg (as guilty pleasure bad here as he was in “The Happening”), sulks in his den, not letting his daugher’s memory go as he growing scruffier and more introverted by the day (which, for Wahlberg, is tough to endure because he’s so low key to begin with).

    Just about the only thing I learned from the director/writer on this movie is his fondness for extreme close-ups of fingers. What am I talking about? Fingertips, that’s what. Jackson cuts to them all the time be it characters skimming the dead girl’s journal, other characters skimming the killer’s journal or the killer coldly touching a charm bracelet piece he got off the girl. Yup, lots of finger action for those potentiometer fetishists out there. Why fingers? I have no idea but that makes about as much sense as anything else in “Lovely Bones.”

    Grade: D

    Golden Globe Nom Reactions

    The Golden Globes kick off what’s going to be a very boring year for awards.

    Maybe We Dont Suck
    Maybe Our Movie Doesn't Suck

    Good:

    • Kathryn Bigelow nominated for Hurt Locker… against ex husband James Cameron. Hahaha. Seriously, that’s historic!
    • Basterds!!!!!!!!!
    • Invictis not getting a best pic nomination. I haven’t even seen the film and I love Clint, so why does this make me happy? Probably because it looks like just another biopic. 
    • The Hangover. Yup.
    • Hum, maybe Avatar won’t be bad after all.
    • Star Trek not nominated for best pic.
    • Michael Stuhlbarg nominated for A Serious Man is cool. Still not sure he’s going to get an Oscar nom so this is something at least.  
    • Three words: Joseph Gordon Levitt.
    • White Ribbon nominated for Foreign film (but sadly not picture). 
    • True Blood nominated for Best Drama. Thanks for going where the Emmys were afraid to go.
    • Jane “Hung,”Jane “Hung,” Hane “Jung.” 
    • John Lithgow nominated for his amazing performance as a killer in Dexter. Far too few people remember how good Lithgow was playing killers in the Brian de Palma films Obsession and Raising Cain.

    Um, Not So Good:

    • The headline Up in the Air leads Golden Globe Nominations. Couldn’t have happened to a more overrated film. Well, it could have, Lovely Bones, but that wasn’t nominated thank god.
    • Ponyo misses the cut for best animated film. Don’t worry though, that fucking Meatball movie made it.
    • Composer James Horner gets nominated for Avatar. Have not seen the film, or heard it, but my ears are already bleeding. Wishing now that Horner stayed where he belongs, in the 90s!  
    • Tobey Maguire nominated for “acting”…
    • … and Jeremy Renner (so good in Hurt Locker) was not. Fuck that noise, yo!
    • Oh, and Viggo got shut out too. Viggo, Viggo, where are you? Can you hear me? Viggo???!!!
    • Christian McKay not nominated for playing Orson Welles.
    • I can’t wait to see It’s Complicatednow ::sarcasm:: because I’m sure the best screenplay nod for Something’s Gotta Give 2 this film is justified. Argh.
    • THREE double nominated actors:  Sandra Bullock, Matt Damon, Meryl Streep.
    • Did I mention Sandra Bullockwas nominated TWICE. And one of them was for THE PROPOSAL!!! Since the Globes is all about star fucking how ever did Ryan Reynolds miss out?   
    • Julia Roberts? Duplicity? What? Oh, yeah, more star fucking.
    • Lost not nominated for Best Drama. The nominated House is way better and is not like the same ever season.
    • Um, where’s the Bryan Cranston and Breaking Bad nominations? I forgot, House is soooo better and more innovative.   

    Review: Up in the Air

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    Hey, let's talk about luggage!
    • What’s Good: Clooney can do no wrong, even…
    • What’s Not:…when his film can. How so? Well, it’s pretentious, it’s tedious, it’s shallow and it’s predictable. That probably means this is going to be a beloved film this year–a film that will win awards and a film that you’re neighbors and casual acquaintances will respond to with “Have you seen Up in the Air, ohmygod it’s sooooo good!” Up in the Air has its share of nice moments I but came away from watch the film resenting it.
    • Faux Peter “hack” Travers Quote: This film will have you flying high on humor and emotion. It is a first class ticket to free-flight bliss. Check your emotional luggage at the door.

    The more institutionalized, mainstream, critically accepted or, to put it another way, the more Steven Spielberg like Jason Reitman, the more annoyingI find his films. “Juno” was irritatingto be sure but it was also sincere and winning while Reitman’snew film is all that minus the sincere and winning part. In fact, I don’t see any sign that the director is even trying anymore because why should he? Clearly, charm and the illusion of heart are able to get his films past the finish line and into audience/critic’s, um, hearts. By that definition, “Up in the Air” is his most calculatingbest film to date. Reitman’s feel good road trip formula (actually, it’s a flight plan trip but never mind) is patronizing and relies too much on individually pre-package sentiments to get its bittersweet message across.

    If “The Terminal” and “Away We Go” were slightly more bearable and slightly less patronizingthey’d be “Up in the Air.” You see, “Up” –I wish it was “Up”– “Up in the Air” I should say is a romantic comedy that half thinks it’s changingthe world so it doesn’t have to be that funny or romantic due to the pretence of dramatic importance heaped on with a great and obvious sense of awareness but no true integration into the material. It bothers me that this film gets a pass by the press and public on actually exploring any of its serious themes (lonleyness, joblessness, Clooneyness) because, hey, everyone will claim that it’s not it’s job but, rather, a bonus. No. The story follows a man hired by corporations to facilitate the firing of large amounts of useless corporate employees; “What am I going to tell my kids?,” “What am I  going to do now?,” “‘Sorry’ doesn’t put food on the table mister!,” “How do you sleep at night,” and my favorite “I’m going to jump off a bridge” are non emblished blurbs from what are essentially talking head “every day” Americans. Oh boy, that’s Serious Stuff, but it’s just propped up to give the film a sprinkle of context and flavor.

    George Clooney plays a well dressed nomad that enjoys the life of the road and, yes, the metaphor of a man literally flying from his personal responsibilities is that obvious. His boss (Jason Batemen doing the rounds by being in every single movie this year), looking to cut costs on the business of firing (really?), teams the old business shark with a up-and-comer straight out of college and “top of her class.” “Twilight’s” Anna Kendrick plays her without ever expanding on being that character, i.e. the challenge of youth posing a threat to the antiquated (but human) ways of the older man. She is a product of the new American business machien while he is the result of it. Personality wise, this sidekick also seems to be modeled after Reitman’s character Juno in, um, “Juno” except this sassy gal’s a walking cliche that possesses a flat sense of wit and very little empathy. The actress seems unsure if she’s supposed to be funny (her cryingscene) or serious (giving Clooney shit for not being able to “grow up”) and quite frankly so was I so I can’t blame her all the way. Faring slightly better is Vera Farmiga (“The Deparated”) as Clooney’s casual fuck buddy he meets in an airport and compares business credit/frequent flier miles (as well as fluids) with. At least this character talks from the heart (rather than the screenwriter) and also does an interesting job at selling one of the film’s only redeemingmoments with a cool plot twist at the end. I like this character because she’s the one thingin the movie that’s doesn’t remind me of nailed down furniture. She’s original (and has a great ass!!!)! Nothing else seems to be.

    The plot is dull because it thinks it’s more interesting and socially relevant than it is and the filmmaking is routine because Reitman has no real flair or vision. Even the music is wrong. First, the whimsical original score (Rolpe Kent who also hammed up the sounds of “Sideways”) makes what’s on screen feel like a sitcom (because it is!). But worse than the musical Mickey Mousing (aka John Williams-ing) is the wretched song cuts that play over the film to a point where they should be credited for co-writingit. The film sounds like a b-sides Juno CD which, given the plot, is totally off the mark. And nothingbothers me more than when the EXACT RIGHT SONG plays duringthe the exact right moment, thus taking me out of a movie even more because I’m no longer watchinga crafted work of art or storytelling but, rather, a commercial.  Hey, something sad’s happening, quick throw up some Elliot Smith. Lazy, lazy, lazy.

    As I watched George Clooney jet from one city/hotel/rental car to another I kept thinking of a moment in “Fight Club” of all things. Ed Norton’s deliberately lifeless (compared to Clooney’s unintentionally lifeless–jeez, is Reitman capable of making a film without voice overs?!) narrated montage about the absurdest prefab universe of travelingfor a living. I wondered for a moment what it would be like if that sequence was extended into an entire feature length film and realized that, holy hell, I WAS watching that movie albeit a neutered and crowd pleasing version. It’s as if we too are stuck in the travel purgatory of the film’s character.

    Purgatory is a good word. The production design gets old very fast. A better director would have found a new way of visualizing shots of people in lines, people sitting, people at airport bars etc. and I know that’s possible because I was just mentioning David Fincher’s “Fight Club” and he did it! That being said the pervasive flatness would have been intolerable without…. George. Ah, yes, Mr. George Clooney. I love em’ as much as any straight guy could. I mean, Clooney can hold a movie as good as anybody out there, even a movie that’s not very good with is a real feat. Here he anchors the whole picture with likability and delivers what’s expected except he also delivers his most grab-happy, attention seeking performance  to date (and, yes, I’ve seen “Syriana”).

    I fear Clooney had a lot to do with the emphasis of reaching out to middle America in the scenes where the film shows and puts a face to the economic fallout. I can’t stress enough how insultingthis aspect of the film is. The film contains no less than three extended sequences (boringly shot of course) of “everyday” people getting fired and blubbering by a staid looking Clooneyand befuddled Kendrick and each time Captain Your Fired spoke in his gravely voice I wanted to scream because it felt so damn self serving and unearned. But it’s not even like the rest of the film is good enough to be ruined by this social approach; it just means a bad film is being made worse by good intentions. Clooney is a lone wolf but humanist! He’s an island but really loves people! He’s, um, George Clooney. But he’s also a wounded child that finally gives into his softer side when he admits that settlingdown is more than something “other people do”–now give him an(other) Oscar, damn it! Look, George Clooney is great at being himself but what’s funny if seemingly impossible is that he’s been better and being himself! He usually smarter than the material but this time only seems to be pandering to it.

    Grade: Oy Vey (C- actually)