Monday, December 28, 2009

Fly Me to the Moon

Every year, Ryan Bingham travels to the moon and halfway back: in frequent-flyer miles, that is. Jason Reitman, director of indie fave Juno, is back with a bang. Up in the Air stars George Clooney as a anti-social jetsetter who works for a company whose sole purpose is to fire employees around the U.S. Set in the present-day, they are one of the only companies that stands to profit from the economic downturn.  

Spending almost all his time on the road, Ryan Bingham (Clooney) has no personal relationships, no family (besides his sisters he never visits) and no problem admitting that he loves living out of a suitcase. However, when a young college graduate aptly named Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) arrives and informs them that video conferencing their terminations could save them millions, Ryan feels his lifestyle is in jeopardy. He decides that Natalie needs to see what it's really like to fire people face-to-face, and convince her that her method is tragically flawed. Meanwhile, he has frequent romantic rendezvous with fellow frequent-flyer Alex (Vera Farmiga), who he believes to be the female version of him. Sexy, detached, and turned on by status.  

As his mentorship of Natalie continues, however, Ryan begins to realize that his backwards mentality about living with out attachment has left him alone, and without any one to catch him when he falls, or keep him company when he finds himself grounded in his "hometown" of Omaha. The premise of this film can seem daunting, but it is the exact opposite. We float along on a well paced trajectory with Clooney as he bumbles his way through his non-existent personal life and excels in his professional life. If there were a firing olympics, he would win hands down. The film slows down noticeably near the end, which feels mildly frustrating until you realize that you are meant to feel like Ryan does: stuck. Where do we go now? The film is a real study of American society during a recession, which is interesting considering Reitman is a Canadian. It is a document of the fall of capitalism, the games that people need to play and what happens when the rules change completely. Reitman is able to simultaneously make you chuckle and cry, a tragic comedy of the errors of the bureaucratic world. At its heart, however, the film is an examination of how important the people we love can be, however much we feel they may hold us back or weigh us down. In the end, when the markets have crashed and the economy is failing, all we are left with his the clothes on our backs and the people along for the ride beside us. 

The Murphy Mystery Continues

After the suspicious death of actress Brittany Murphy, rumours are circulating around her husband Simon Monjack, British film director. Accusations of heavy debt, shady business dealings and expired work visas are starting to throw the actresses unknown husband into suspicion. Monjack claims there is no possibility his wife overdosed, calling reports to the contrary "rubbish". Murphy was found dead in her bathroom by her mother Dec. 20 and police found a wide array of prescription drugs in her home, including a substantial amount of pain killers, anti-anxiety and depression medications. She was known to have suffered from anorexia and diabetes. Although the information remains suspicious, the upcoming toxicology results will hopefully shed some light on the reasons for this tragedy.  

Friday, December 25, 2009

Mikey Pops the Question!

Mike Fisher, one of the stars of the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club (Go Sens Go!) announced yesterday that he had asked his girlfriend Carrie Underwood to marry him, and she said YES! Not really a shock though. He's a super cute, rich, Canada sweetheart. Carrie Underwood, in case you live under a rock, is the American Idol winner turned Country Superstar who has torn up the airwaves with her powerballads and girl-power rants for the past few years. (I know for a fact women have been inspired to dig their keys into the side of pretty little souped up 4-wheel-drives because of her).  


At last nights Boston vs. Ottawa game in Ottawa, Carrie (accidentally?) flashed the rock while sitting in her suite with a friend. HUGE! I guess that's what happens when all-star Canadian hockey player marries a Nashville superstar. I hope she moves to Ottawa, and doesn't steal our Sens Star over to crappy Nashville. I'll see her around town, and it's too cold for paparazzi.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother

CAUTION: This film should have a 3 drink minimum.  

There are very few films out now that deal with the issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the trials of those left at home during wartime. Brothers does just that. Directed by Jim Sheridan, the film stars some of the greatest actors of my generation: Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman and Tobey Maguire. Although the trailer suggests this film will involve a torrid love affair between Grace Cahill (Portman) and her husband's brother Tommy (Gyllenhaal). Perhaps if this was true, the film would have been easier to bear, but rest assured this never comes to pass. What we get instead is a first hand account of what the war in Afghanistan can do to a family. Capt. Cahill (Maguire, in a Golden Globe Nominated Performance) is a highly skilled Marine stationed in Afghanistan. When he and his friend Private Willis are involved in a helicopter crash, they are missing presumed dead. In reality they have been captured and are now Prisoners of War. These sequences of the film are expertly filmed and acted, although they probably were filmed in the Arizona desert or in Canada. They really do give the feeling of a war zone, and Maguire's performance is calculated perfection.  

The real drama does not occur on the battlefield but at home in the US. Grace and her children Isabelle (Bailee Madison) and Maggie (Taylor Geare) believe their father is dead, even having a funeral. Help arrives in the form of  Uncle Tommy  (Gyllenhaal), Capt. Cahill's ex-con brother. He takes care of Grace and the kids, re-doing the kitchen and taking them ice skating (what a winner). When Capt. Cahill is found alive and returns to his family, it becomes clear that he is not the man they remember. Cold and detached, he begins to suspect that his brother was doing more than ice skating with his wife. The torment of the acts he was forced to commit to escape his captors haunts him, and he begins to lose his mind. He has the most tension with his brother, of course, but also his oldest daughter Isabelle. Bailee Madison's performance in this film is heartbreaking. She shows emotional depth far beyond her years, and will no doubt grow into a fantastic young actress. Needless to say, this film is not the happiest out there. But it is one of the most realistic, daring and honest films I have seen about the war in the Middle East.  Just take a Valium before you go in. I was not at all prepared...  

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ones to Watch

It's not always good for a film's reputation to precede it, but some films are likely to be worth your time this holiday season. Here's an insider tip: Walk softly and carry a big purse (to smuggle in baked goods). Nothing says Christmas like ill-gotten cookies and Robert Downey Jr.

The Lovely Bones 

Peter Jackson is a personal hero of mine, however he hasn't had a hit film as a director since King Kong in 2005, and even that paled in comparison to his larger than life rendition of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Now Jackson, with the help of Rings writers Phillippa Boyens and Fran Walsh (his wife), is tackling another novel adaptation, The Lovely Bones. Written by Alice Sebold, the novel is a bestseller and a personal favourite of mine (although I'm not done yet!). Not necessarily the most cheerful of holiday flicks, it centers around the story of a young girl who is murdered by a neighbor, and watches her family struggle to deal with her loss from heaven. Click here to watch a trailer; it looks like another technological marvel from Jackson and a definite attempt to bait the Academy. Throw in the all-star cast of Saoirse Ronan (pronounced seer-sha) from Atonement (2007), Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Mark Wahlberg and Susan Sarandon, and this is sure to be worth your while. 


The King of ridonculous budgets, James Cameron (Titanic) is making a big comeback with this special-effects ridden, seemingly allegorical tale of human army's attempting to decimate an indigenous alien tribe in order to steal their resources. Check out the trailer here and tell me you don't think this looks out of this world (pun intended). I'm willing to forgive the casting of Michelle Rodriguez (I find her unsettling and obnoxious) for the promise of amazing special effects and slightly hilarious, winking-at-the-audience casting of Sigourney Weaver. Plus James Cameron is nothing if not a showman.  

Youth in Revolt  

Canadian comedian Michael Cera has made millions from playing the exact same character (and doing it well) since his debut on TV's Arrested Development. This has gotten a little tiresome after the glow of Juno wore off, and Paulie Bleeker became the most popular men's Halloween costume of 2008. Finally, Cera has decided to have a little fun with this character in Youth in Revolt, a film about a kid ... basically about Michael Cera getting bored being Michael Cera and creating an alter ego named Francois who is dangerous and has an awesome mustache. He gets laid and lights things on fire. This promises to be a hilarious romp with Cera testing his limits and talking to himself for 50% of the film. Check out a trailer here.  

Sherlock Holmes  

Robert Downey Jr. is shirtless. And naked. A lot. I think Rachel McAdams and Jude Law are in it too. I feel it isn't necessary to explain this any further. But here's a trailer What movies are you excited for this holiday season? Notice how I included no holiday movies. Why? Because they all suck and are grubbing for my money. There. I said it. If I have to watch another movie about Scrooge, or It's a Wonderful Life, or a blatant copy of either of those films, I'll puke up my Who Hash.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What Would Jesus Do?

I think that Christians should be very angry at George Bush. There I said it.  

I'm a Christian, and I think the guy ruined it for the bunch of us. Now when I say Christian, think about the first thing that pops into your head. I think Bible Thumping terrors like the stars of the documentary Jesus Camp, thanking Jesus for Dubya's wonderful management of their nation. I actually wept in fear. Anywho, it has become less and less likely to find a movie that displays good Christian folk doing good Christian things without seeming sanctimonious or false. The Blind Side, starring Sandra Bullock, seems to be a recent exception to this rule. Funny, charming, and chock-a-bock full of good deeds and good vibrations: I was pleasantly surprised. 

The story is made even more smile-inducing when you realize that it is based largely on the true story of Michael Oher, 2009 Draft Pick for the Baltimore Ravens (that's the NFL, you canucks). His rags-to-riches tale was already the topic of a 2006 book by Michael Lewis entitled The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, and the film by John Lee Hancock (The Rookie) is now at #2 in North America. The film follows Michael through the changing moment in his life- the day his now adopted mother Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock) decided to let him sleep on her couch when he had no where else to go. She didn't know the boy, she had no ties to him whatsoever, but something about him drew her to decided to take him in permanently, and finally legally adopt him (his biological mother was a chronic drug addict living in poverty). While the film does have moments of triumph out the wazoo, there is very little real conflict. Never did I find myself thinking- well, this can't end well. Is that because I already knew it did? Either way, I didn't mind much. Sometimes watching a 2-hour happy ending is a good enough way to spend an afternoon. Many have called this the best performance of Bullock's career. I certainly wouldn't go that far, but it sure ain't bad.  

This film is an obvious attempt, however, to "pull and Erin Brockovich". A lot of actresses do this in an attempt to reinvent themselves: Julia Roberts, obviously, did it with Erin Brockovich and won an Oscar. Charlize Theron did it with Monster and won an Oscar. Gain weight, gain cleavage or gain more blonde locks, in any combination, bolstered by the integrity of a "true story" and BAM: Golden Statue. Bullock is helped by the supporting talent of Tim McGraw as her husband, Kathy Bates as tutor Miss Sue and relative newcomer Quinton Aaron as Michael Oher. I was nearly swayed against this film if not solely for the incredibly annoying performance of pint-sized baby brother SJ (Jae Head) but luckily he eventually is reeled in. Thanks be to God. 

Truly Fantastic

There are always an unending stream of animated features hitting theatres every few weeks. It can be hard, especially since I've swapped my sippy cup for a martini glass,  to decide which ones are worth the time and trouble. Intrigued from the trailer (below) I decided to drag my friend Lydia to Fantastic Mr. Fox, a stop-motion flick based onthe novel by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory writer Roald Dahl and directed by Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic). Boy, am I glad I did (and I think she is too....). I like to gauge my opinion of films partly by how I feelimmediately after the lights come up. My exact words were, "Again, again!". That was my first clue that Anderson might be on to something. This is one of the most creative, quirky, hysterical, and far-out animated films I have seen in my entire life. Yes, my LIFE. Albeit that is only a few decades, but this film has the potential to become and instant classic. With voice talent such as Meryl Streep, George Clooney and Jason Schwartzman (click here for a full list), it's no doubt that I was laughing through the entire thing.  

The only fear I have is that no everyone will get it, or it will be so far from what they're expecting that they will decideto hate it. No one else seemed to laugh in the theatre at first. I looked to my left to see if Lydia was, almost to see if it was okay. She was... perhaps everyone felt like I did. Is this for real? This is ridiculous! It is. and that's what makes it great. No one has done anything like this before. Although it looks like and could be categorized with the comic duo Wallace and Gromit, it is in a league of its own. When weeding through the movie times don't forget about Mr. Fox. I am certain you won't hear the last of him, especially when Mr. Oscar comes to town.  

My Chatham Trip


Last week I mentioned that I am attempting to write a book about my great Aunt Adeline. Book spoilers, I'm sorry to say, will follow!  We're on a fact finding mission to Chatham, ON (we being my mother and I) this week to find out more about her life, where she lived, to see her grave, etc. Today, after leaving at about 8 AM from Ottawa, we drove... and drove... stopped for Wendy's and drove some more. I slept some of the time. I know I'm thrilling you. Finally we arrived in Chatham around 3:45 PM, to our hotel. It is BEAUTIFUL! So quirky and upscale without feeling pretentious. By far the coolest hotel in the area. We then went to a cemetery that we knew had the grave of several relatives, and the man who murdered my aunt (the subject of my book). I then proceeded to walk around this massive old cemetery, which was so nifty I felt like I had been taken back in time, for about an hour trying to find this douche-bag's grave. I kept chanting, "McDonald, you asshole, where they put you?". Finally, a toothless undertaker (who was adorable in a strange kind of way) told me I can get the location of his grave from the Lie-bary in the computer. Super. So that's where we're headed tomorrow. Until then, I have to assuage my need for gravestone booty with the few other recognizable names I found, including Chatham's former Chief of Police in charge of Miss Adeline's murder investigation. I promise to only visit the graveyards during the day, as I am afraid of Zombies. I left my sawed off shotgun at home.