Rugby at 28,000 feet

Note:  This is a film review of two current releases, Warner Brothers’ Invictus and Paramount’s Up In The Air.

Think about this for a moment, please:  When was the last time you went to the multiplex (not your local art-house cinema, presuming you’re lucky enough to have one) to see two well-made, intelligent pictures for adults?

First, Invictus, written by Anthony Peckham, who also typed the current Sherlock Holmes that’s minting money, so, well played, and directed by Clint Eastwood, who seems to direct films that way most vintners make wine:  They just get better as he ages.

You may have seen my fine work in "The Bucket List."

Now, I know next to nothing about rugby, except to say I’ve seen my brother-in-law Domhnall O’Cathain play it (with a name like that, I think he’s contractually obligated to) and it seems brutal.  And perhaps the only thing I know about less than rugby is South African apartheid, outside of the plays of Athol Fugard (Google it if you didn’t study theater), but Peckham and Eastwood have crafted a finely-made, intelligent, never-pandering movie that truly captivates with subjects you may not think you give a damn about.  They risk a bit of sentimentality here and there, but Eastwood’s such a skilled filmmaker at this date that to me, he pulls it all off.  I’ve heard other people, with their other opinions (How dare other people have other opinions?!) harp about the entry point of the security detail, but to me it was an ingenious hook into the story.  And while we can all smell the ending coming (friend-of-the-blog Seth Parker likened the second half of the flick to Bad News Bears), again, I think you’ve so fallen that you just don’t care.

You may have enjoyed my work in "Mystic Pizza."

Freeman and Damon pull off tremendous performances (I mean, half the world knows these guys, even if they’re somewhat obscured here in the States), and the film treats the subjects intelligently, with haunting images, and doesn’t insist on the usual Hollywood romantic subplot.  If I have one fault with the film, it’s that it points out the gaping sadness about rooting for a Major League Baseball club, as I fervently do:  At the end of the day, it’s a collection if uniforms, of made-up traditions.  At stake in Invictus is a nation.  So, kudos to all on this one.

Now, to Up In The Air, with Sheldon Turner and Jason Reitman doing the typing, and the latter doing the lensing (ah, Variety-speak!).  Much has been written of this film based on the Walter Kirn novel (published in 2001, but far more relevant now), and some of that ink spilled even outside of The Times, but since I only read The Times, here’s A.O. Scott comparing him to Dickie Fox’s protege and here’s Frank Rich using it as a jumping off point for a political piece. But forget, for just a moment, the timing of this flick and consider:  It is a damn good picture, reminiscent, yes, of the best of Wilder and Cameron Crowe and James L. Brooks (and if you know me, that’s high praise indeed) but quite capable of standing on its own.  I won’t give anything away plot-wise, but the writing is superb (dialogue sparkles, and several discussions, not the least of which is Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick’s on what women are looking for and what they’re willing to settle for, are truly top-notch) and speaking of acting, wow.  The female cast (the fetching Farmiga and the Twilight flicks’ Anna Kendricks) is excellent, as is, of course, Mr. George Clooney.  In fact, is should be noted:  Does any movie star take the creative risks Clooney does?  I think this is one of his top performances, up their with Michael Clayton.  And we haven’t seen the level of Clooney / Farmiga chemistry in a while; it’s reminiscent of Cary Grant and…  well, everyone.

I hope you enjoyed my work in "Up In The Air."

I don’t want to gush too, too much about this picture, but to me, it’s the rarest kind of picture (no explosions, not a ton happens, it’s a dramedy), and I can’t wait to see it again.  It’s that most humane of films that you can watch repeatedly.  And it’s an exciting harbinger of where Jason Reitman’s already impressive career is going.

So, two great films in a row, and from where?  Studios.  Perhaps intelligent, well-made, medium budget filmmaking isn’t quite dead in Hollywood, even if it takes the likes of an Eastwood or a Clooney to get ’em greenlit.  Memo to La-La-Land ,though:  It would be nice if they weren’t all released at the same time, though.

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