The Descendants: with his wife in a coma and a complex real-estate deal on the horizon Matt King has to hold his dysfunctional, crumbling family together. Despite the ukuleles, sandals, crazy shirts and knockout scenery this isn’t just heartache in Hawaii; it’s very down-to-earth and there’s not a whole lot of glamour. Even though there’s no single major traumatic scene, the entire film plays as a long, touching human drama – you don’t even know the wife, but every time the characters speak of her, it just gets you right there…Clooney‘s good, really good – and Matt is a well-written, complex, character – but I would argue that it’s not much above what he’s done in other films recently. The older daughter (Woodley), didn’t really need the “must be wearing bikinis / skin-tight clothing” clause in the contract, she could act like a boss. Robert Forster was also spellbinding and only the comic relief surfer friend felt a little out-of-place – but he was necessary. Unassuming, and maybe a little too chilled out, The Descendants places the emphasis on family and love, and although it doesn’t pull any fancy tricks or big punches through the 110 minute runtime, only heartless people could leave the cinema unshaken – I for one was uncharacteristically emotional when I walked out. A fantastic, modest, bittersweet human drama.
Ides of March: a brief glimpse behind the cameras and curtains of American politics as an idealist media mogul and presidential candidate get dragged through the dirt on a campaign trail. This has a serious political-thriller script and so many (old and new) big actors involved – which is why it’s unfortunately one of the dampest squibs of the year. The plot is strong, and a good insight into modern politics and politicians… but they’re somewhat of an easy target these days. There’s some great acting on display… but you’re still left wanting more screen time from the likes of Hoffman, Giamatti and Clooney. The direction’s good… but it’s nowhere near as slick or smart as direction of a political film needs to be. With all of these ‘buts’ The Ides of March is definitely weaker than it should be – sorely missing that additional thump that makes good films great, and political stories engaging.
The American: after a failed attempt on his life a master gunmaker accepts one final high-profile job, but must lay low and avoid other assassins. The plot’s a stripped down spy/thriller; almost like a bare-bones bond film – action, girls, locations… Clooney is fantastic for such a one-man show; all about the physical acting, but resists exaggeration – a massive pitfall when dialogue’s this sparse. The story and script are water-tight, every single line is spoken for a reason or explained later. The film’s extremely well-made, with lots of striking, bold and memorable shots/scenes and what little action unfolds is skillfully executed. It’s hard to miss the European style – down to the awesome nudity! – although the side-effect of such slow pacing is something that will alienate some viewers. it’s a great character piece, and Clooney keeps reminding us that he’s one of the finest, and most diverse, actors out there at the moment. Everything about the film is minimal, clean and genuinely believable – very enjoyable and rewarding.
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut: Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny get their first feature-length musical where they must save the world, watch their language, and find the clitoris. Musically, this film’s got so many great and memorable songs: Uncle Fucka, Blame Canada, What would Brian Boitano Do?, I’m Super and my personal favourite, the La Resistance medley. And it’s not just the musical numbers – the entire score is top-notch. It wouldn’t be South Park without an endless string of satirical stabs at pop culture and celebrities – it even parodies the backlash against the TV show. BLU takes vulgarity to the next level, but it’s always tongue-in-cheek: reaction to lines like “I just don’t trust anything that bleeds for 5 days and doesn’t die” is a rarely experienced contrast of horror and laughter. This is one of the best things that Matt and Trey have written – with gag after quotable gag that puts the current, churned out, episodes to shame; and while the gags are rapid-firing there’s so much attention to detail in the background. They ran wild with it and it totally worked, I guess it was a build-up of ideas they wanted to put on TV but couldn’t. It’s a great film, and well over 10 years later it’s still hilarious
Up In The Air: focuses on ‘lonely’ a guy who spends +320 days a year flying all over the ‘States with his company – that specialise in firing people. It seemed to have two contemporary themes: firstly it’s a critique of the direction that society’s heading in; social capital decreasing and technology making interaction easier but more impersonal. It didn’t seem to be overly for or against it the lifestyle, just a balanced account – which was quite refreshing. The second theme was that it also depicts both sides of recession-hit America: illustrating that companies can cash in on the misfortune, negated with the the ‘your fired’ scenes, which hit home pretty hard as it’s everyone’s worst nightmare. It’s pitched as a quirky comedy, but there aren’t many laughs – in saying that, you won’t be disappointed because it’s a tour-de-force in the drama department – very believable, humane and the last section is superb. It takes a while to really get going as the time’s used for adding remarkable depth to Clooney’s character – in general the entire cast notch out top-drawer performances. Some of the camerawork was suspect as it jumped from ultra-slick to shaky amateur cam. Slick film, great story and I think this should be mandatory viewing for all ‘career’ people!
Burn After Reading: black comedy from the Coen brothers about a bunch of exceptionally dumb people going through their mid-life crises; adult-themed hilarity ensues. More than anything this film’s great for letting us see long established actors like Brad Pitt / George Clooney playing absolute idiots. Pitt is especially funny, playing an air-head who’s sheer idiocy ensures he commands every scene he’s in. The plot seems fairly absurd until the last half hour when it comes together nicely, and the CIA meetings between JK Simmons and David Rasche are phenomenal. It’s technically sound, but above the comedy there’s not much else on offer. Coen fans will definitely love this but unless you like or ‘get’ black comedy it will probably just seem like a failed Adam Sandler-esque film. The fantastic cast definitely keep this film watchable.