Review: This week's new films
Effortless, that pretty much describes everything about Up In The Air, the latest comedy drama from Juno director Jason Reitman, which gives George Clooney yet another impressive vehicle to show off his devilish charm. Plus: 44 Inch Chest
UP IN THE AIR (15)
Effortless, that pretty much describes everything about this latest comedy drama from Juno director Jason Reitman.
Based on Walter Kirins' novel, the film manages to be slick and smart without ever breaking a sweat and gives George Clooney yet another impressive vehicle to show off his devilish charm.
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Here he plays Ryan Bingham, an executive who flies from city to city firing people from companies too scared to do it themselves.
The travelling means Ryan can avoid burdens like family and relationships, while getting it on with a fellow traveller (Vera Farmiga) and reaching his life goal of five million frequent flyer miles.
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But Ryan's free and easy life is set for a little turbulence in the shape of efficiency expert Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who wants Ryan grounded permanently.
Witty and topical - the film includes brief interviews with real redundancy victims - Reitman avoids formulaic life lessons by focusing on poignant and, in some cases, unexpected character revelations. It's helped by a witty script and the playful chemistry between the cast, but this is Clooney's show, and he turns what could have been an annoyingly smarmy character into man of charm and depth. Sure, the film bungles the landing - though it earns points for refusing an easy happy ending, the ambiguous finish isn't all that emotional - but for the most part, this is a soaring success.
44 INCH CHEST (18)
An expletive-sodden, British gangster tryst starring a philosophising group of criminals debating what to do with a kidnapped Frenchman they have locked in the cupboard. All similarities to any Guy Richie films end there, however. Phew.
Ray Winstone is Colin Diamond, a man whose reaction to his wife's infidelity involves rounding up his violent and verbose friends, kidnapping his wife's lover, and then having a massive emotional breakdown.
Director Malcolm Venville has channelled Reservoir Dogs with this set-up and the bunch of fine actors as his leads - but he's failed to emulate that film's explosive dynamic.
Venville's crooks all feel the same, so the beautiful acting can't eliminate the suspicion that it's a smidgen pointless. All criminal gangs inhabit a lawless world, so the big life-and-death questions aren't that dramatic.
It's almost like Venville decided to concentrate on the institution of marriage instead, but you don't feel much sympathy for a man who throws his wife out of window in an argument anyway, so this also doesn't contribute much.
THE ROAD (15)
As grey as a rainy autumn afternoon in Bognor, this apocalyptic drama is a slow-burning trek through relentless gloom.
And for the most part, that's no bad thing. Based on the book by Cormac McCarthy, who also wrote No Country For Old Men, the quietly powerful film sees father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi McPhee) struggling to survive in the ash-covered ruins of America after some unexplained major disaster.
Flashbacks to sunnier times serve to fill in the pair's past while in the present, the duo press on, avoiding gangs of killers, to reach the coast in a bid to give their lives - and the film - a semblance of purpose. And that's the problem. While the film looks great and the acting is top notch, director John Hillcoat fails to inject any pace or forward momentum into proceedings. Hillcoat was also responsible for the astonishingly tense and violent cowboy flick The Proposition but he refuses to flex those particular muscles here.
When the hero's gun contains just two bullets - reserved for putting himself and his son out of their misery when the time comes - you know not to expect a thrill ride. Instead Hillcoat creates a mellow meditation on father-son relationships and humanity in general after the laws of civilisation have crumbled, complete with striking apocalyptic visuals and strong performances from Mortensen and young McPhee.
There are moments of strong drama but it also feels so flat and muted at times that you're left with the feeling that this particular road is leading nowhere.
SEX & DRUGS & ROCK & ROLL (15)
The latest indie Brit-flick on the block is the raucous rock-biopic about the life of urban poet and godfather of punk Ian Dury.
The film follows Dury's rise from gigging musician to punk-stardom with The Blockheads, and his descent into drink and drug addiction that came with the territory in the hedonistic 1970s.
But this is more than your standard rockumentary. The film also traces Dury's father-son relationships - his idolisation for his often absent father played by Ray Winstone and his unconventional relationship with his own son Baxter, played with hearty rebellion by Bill Milner.
Layered on top of this is another plot-line about Dury's disability - he famously wore a calliper and walked with a severe gait after the left side of his body was withered by childhood polio. And it is the ambition of cramming this many plotlines into one film that is the failing of an otherwise fascinating biography. It is just too long.
There are lengthy live music scenes for the Dury fans, flashbacks to set up the father-son relationship breakdowns and make-ups, quirky pop art cartoons to add a touch of authentic punk anarchy and, despite its scream from the screen energy, it is all a bit too much.
Andy Serkis as Dury however turns in a perfect character performance. He gets to the heart of Dury's many contradictions, is physically transformed with his lilting gait and maintains the mystery of this anti-hero. Dury fans will no doubt love it, and for everyone else the film is worth seeing for Serkis' performance alone.
IT'S COMPLICATED (15)
2010 may only be a week old but the romantic comedy genre is already on the ropes. After Hugh Grant's dire Did You Hear About The Morgans, this rom-com about middle-aged people and their impossibly beautiful homes, delivers the knockout blow.
Director Nancy Meyers wins points for casting older actors in the lead roles but that doesn't mean her flick leaves Hollywood fairytale land. On the contrary, this is a world where the sun always shines, home vegetable gardens produce deliciously big tomatoes and characters laugh heartily at their own shenanigans.
Meryl Streep is the worst offender.
She plays giggling Jane, an enterprising baker who ends up back in bed with ex-husband Jack (Alec Baldwin) despite his new marriage to a much younger woman and Jane's growing relationship with architect Adam (Steve Martin).
For all the experience of its stars, Myers relies on formulaic set-ups involving naked bedroom slapstick and contrived dope parties for weak gags while Streep reheats her characters from Mamma Mia and Julie and Julia to play chuckling Jane.
Like one of Jane's pastry treats, the film's fluffy and far too sweet but the performances almost win you over, and even if the bedroom antics aren't particularly complicated, they are mildly diverting at least.