Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Review: "Saw IV"

Jigsaw supports single payer health care.
"Saw VI" attempts to be current by addressing the health care debate. This injection of reality is meant to justify its existence. Otherwise, there is no reason for us to confront one more elaborate plot by Jigsaw.
The movie begins with two bankers who made bad home loans being forced into a macabre race to see who can slice off more of their flesh before 60 seconds is up. Later on, we find the latest victim, who is in insurance and is forced to make decisions up close and personal about who deserves to live and who deserves to die. The death of Jigsaw several sequels ago also plays a part as he is denied experimental medical procedures.
"Don't talk to me about money," he growls to his future victim, via a flashback. "I am money. This is about principle."
The fact that he is puppeteering these huge, labor-intensive traps from beyond the grave means that we are supposed to sympathize with Jigsaw. I agree with the moral of this story: that making money off human suffering is fundamentally wrong. I just wish there was a better spokesperson for this point of view than this.
Beyond the ripped-from-the-headlines facet, this diamond is very included. There are no surprises and the wooden, two-dimensional characters might as well be cardboard cutouts with plastic bases to hold them upright. Director Kevin Greutert moves them from scene to scene, loudly announcing, "oh no! WHAT might happen to them next. What sort of CHOICES will they have to make?" Also: "What does it all MEAN?"
It means that "Saw VI" cost $11 million to make and pulled in $62 million domestically at the box office. And that was the lowest grossing entry in the series.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Movie Review: "Up In The Air"

"Up In the Air" can be viewed as a perfect allegory for the state of the newspaper industry.
Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is print media and his rival, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) is online. (Their boss Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) even refers to her work as "new media.")
Clooney fires people for a living, flying from city to city and delivering the pain so the resident bosses at whatever company he's at don't have to. This is cruel work, but at least he does it in person.
[On a side note, I will continue to refer to Bingham as Clooney because there is absolutely no mistaking the performance for anything else. I've seen a lot of Clooney movies and this is as Clooney as it gets. An acceptable subtitle might as well have been: "Clooney...Unleashed!" You've never Clooney be quite this Clooney before. I've always been a fan and this is nothing but a good time.]
Fresh off the college campus Natalie has a new plan that would ground Clooney for good. She wants to implement video firing so that all operations can be centralized. The soon-to-be-former employee is asked to take a seat in front of the monitor and camera and a packet of transition information is placed in front of them.
As terrible as this sounds, it is not unlike the idea that my former boss, MediaNews Group CEO Dean Singleton, expressed in a recent speech.
Via USA Today:
Newspaper publishers should consider consolidating and outsourcing news operations — even overseas — to save money as revenues continue to shrink, the head of a major U.S. newspaper company said Monday.
MediaNews Group CEO Dean Singleton, who also serves as chairman of the board of The Associated Press, told the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association that papers should explore outsourcing in nearly every aspect of their operations.
"In today's world, whether your desk is down the hall or around the world, from a computer standpoint, it doesn't matter," Singleton said after his speech.
MediaNews publishes The Denver Post, The Detroit News and 52 other daily newspapers and is well known for cost-cutting efforts, including combining many operations of its papers near San Francisco.
Singleton said sending copyediting and design jobs overseas may even be called for.
"One thing we're exploring is having one news desk for all of our newspapers in MediaNews ... maybe even offshore," he said during the speech.

Sounds like utter foolishness, right?
It is, but until Natalie's theory (and by metaphor Singleton's) is put into practice they refuse to believe that some jobs can be squeezed any further.
According to IMDb, Ellen Page was considered to play Natalie. Also, apparently Steve Martin would have been Clooney if he had said "no". The mind boggles.
Another interesting fact courtesy of IMDb:
With the exception of the famous actors, every person we see fired in the film is not an actor but a real life recently laid off person. The filmmakers put out ads in St. Louis and Detroit posing as a documentary crew looking to document the effect of the recession. When people showed up, they were instructed to treat the camera like the person who fired them and respond as they did or use the opportunity to say what they wished they had.

The script was also written eight years ago, but timing-wise the premise couldn't be more prescient. People are getting fired all over the place. This gives the entire proceedings a grounding effect that's refreshing.
In fact, if "Up In The Air" was playing right now on a Pandora playlist, it would have "Thank You For Smoking" right before it and "Wall Street 2" right after it. (This film made me want to see Oliver Stone's next movie even more.)
Being the chronological follow-up to "Juno" and "...Smoking", I've come to the conclusion that I just really like Jason Reitman's movies. He really knows how to put an entertaining show together. The look of his films is very warm and effectual to characters that most people wouldn't give a second look with a sympathetic eye.
Also, this movie has an excellent soundtrack, just like "Juno". In one party sequence we are taken from Naughty By Nature's "O.P.P." to "Good Times" to a live rendition of Young MC's "Bust a Move".
Still, clocking in at a healthy 108 minutes I feel that there could have been at least 10 minutes aggregate salami-shaved off this movie. Clooney makes it all worth sticking around for, but we could have definitely gotten to the point in a clean 90 minutes and called it a night.
But then again anything that's worth doing is doing right. Sometimes that means a little more investment of time and emotion. The quick and the cheap yield results that are just that.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Movie Review: "Crazy Heart"

[Editor's note: Ash has rights to first mentioning the association between these the following four films. Consider this the extended dance remix.]

To understand "Crazy Heart" there are three other films that are prerequisites:
We have to talk about "The Big Lebowski".
We have to talk about "The Wrestler".
And we have to talk about "Walk the Line".
This Neapolitan ice cream of a movie couldn't exist without these ingedients. Yet despite being obviously derivative, the connective tissue are the stellar performances of Maggie Gyllenhaal and especially Jeff Bridges.
Bridges won an Oscar for his turn as washed-up country star Bad Blake, but like almost every Academy Awards cycle they're busy playing catch-up. There's any number of roles he should have won for prior to this one. The upside of that is the fact that is an incredibly solid film.
The flick starts with Bad arriving at his latest gig, at a bowling alley. Right away we have visual references to "Lebowski" with this theme. Bad grumbles about this fact after emptying onto the ground a carton of the urine he presumably contributed on the drive. Here we have a several facts that also recall His Dudeness: a 70's automobile with some slight rust discoloration (not unlike The Dude's 1973 Ford Gran Torino), urine (as was used to soil El Duderino's rug) and we never see Bridges bowling even after he's offered all the free games he wants (we never see the deadbeat Lebowski bowl either despite his team membership).
The "Walk the Line" connection comes straight from one T-Bone Burnett who had his pawprints all over both films. In the Johnny Cash biopic he forced Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon learn to play their guitars and autoharps for real. In addition, they sang all the classics again instead of being obviously overdubbed. It could have come out horribly, but thanks to Burnett's ear this is not the case. In "Crazy Heart" he has the unique challenge of creating from scratch songs that sound as if they've been part of the country-rock cannon for decades.

"Falling and Flying"

"The Wrestler" thread is probably the strongest of any of these. Without "Walk the Line" or "Lebowski" "Crazy Heart" could still exist, it just would have been radically different (almost certainly for the worse). But without "The Wrestler" this would absolutely not exist. There are almost too many parallels to name so I won't lest I spoil either movie for the uninitiated. Just keep it in your head that this is the second story of the house Mickey Rourke built.
The only part I could have done without here was Colin Farrell as the ponytailed, fake-serious neo-country protege of Bad. He does a fine job with both his acting and singing duties, but his role is unnecessary. Either he should have been a more consequential part of the final outcome or he should have been drastically downsized.
The fact is: "Crazy Heart" is comfortable and unsurprising.
The answer is: So?