Posted tagged ‘Movie Cliches’

Up in the Air – Review

December 22, 2009

Remember, I generally hate movies.

And Up in the Air is no exception.

One thing that plagues this film is actually not the movie’s fault.  It was while watching this movie that I realized that George Clooney has joined the short list of elite cinema icons who are always immediately larger than their roles.  Like Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep before him, Clooney has now achieved a level of fame that makes it impossible to ever quite achieve the suspension of disbelief necessary to see him as his character rather than as George Clooney.  It’s not his fault – his performance was the lone bright spot in a movie otherwise filled with lackluster performances.  But Clooney has achieved that rarified status of being a star who simply transcends any one film.

I became painfully aware of this during Up in the Air in large part because almost everything else about the movie is so forgettable.

The plot is pretty typical romance fare.  Clooney (his character’s name is irrelevant) lives a lonely life flying around firing people for a living.  He spends so much time “up in the air” that the notion of settling down is unthinkable to him.  Unthinkable, that is, until the dual force of an intriguing woman and a young up-and-comer who wants to conduct business via the internet threatens the lifestyle that he’s used to.  So, he has to start reevaluating things.  It doesn’t help that the young up-and-comer, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), travels with him for a bit to help her learn the business and she, of course, questions his lifestyle at every turn.  At the same time, frequent encounters with his new-found love interest, Alex (Vera Farminga), start to put some new ideas into his head.

Based on that premise, I’m sure most movie-goers can figure out how the next hour and a half unfolds.  At first he’s frustrated about having Natalie tagging along and wants to keep his relationship with Alex purely physical.  As time wears on he comes to form a bond with both women, and cracks start to appear in his emotional armor until, of course, we come to find out that he’s really a big, sensitive, Hugh Grant of a man.

Meanwhile, the film references our country’s current economic troubles in an effort to appear topical.  There were some potentially interesting ideas there for the taking: the ethics of a business that actually booms due to economic collapse or the irony of Clooney making a living out of firing obsolete employees only to then become obsolete himself, for instance.   But instead of going into these issues, we get a predictable story and weak attempts at humor, like when Clooney thinks the flight attendant is asking if he wants “the cancer,” but is actually asking if he wants “the can, sir,” or the moment when he turns the size of his frequent flier account into a euphemism for his penis.  Even as the film seems to beg for an investigation of some of the complexities that arise, the first nine tenths of the movie adamantly refuse to go beyond its laughably predictable surface.

But then, the movie takes an interesting turn.  I won’t say exactly what happens, but I will say that the final fifteen minutes or so were not at all what I was expecting.  They take the romance/date movie genre and turn it on its head – there were still some really predictable aspects to how everything unfolds, but overall it took me by surprise.

Unfortunately, the surprise just wasn’t enough to warrant the previous hour and a half of cliches.  If the director hadn’t held back, if he’d just let on that this film was a deconstruction of the romance genre right from the start, and played with that concept throughout, I might have been interested.  But he didn’t.  Instead, he wasted the film’s potential on over-worn plot devices and bad jokes, while saving all of the film’s interest until the end, at which point it was too late.  In fact, had it not been for Clooney’s undeniable charisma, I might not have even stuck around to see the final twists and turns.  In the end, I did stick around, and the final few scenes were worth the fifteen minutes or so that they were on the screen.  They weren’t, though, even close to being worth the hour and thirty four minutes that I had to invest to get there.

Advertisements

Why Halloween is an Over-Rated Pile of Dung

October 31, 2009

Remember, I generally hate movies.

Since today marks the greatest day of the year, I thought it only appropriate to celebrate that day by decrying the awfulness of the movie that shares its name.

In many ways, Halloween exemplifies several of the things that I generally don’t like about movies.

As I’ve mentioned before, one reason I hate movies is that they set me up for disappointment, and Halloween was no exception.  In addition to being named after my favorite holiday, the movie also gets off to a tremendous start – we get a first person perspective of a murder, only to eventually learn that we’ve been looking through the eyes of a young boy; a young boy who hacks people to death with knives.  Even I will admit – that’s good cinema.

But after such a promising start, the movie quickly goes downhill.  Of course, after starting with momentum, the movie has to slow down and catch its breath for a while.  However, over the course of the next hour or so the movie manages to catch its breath, lower its heart rate, and eventually take a nap on the couch (which is what I ended up wanting to do).  Cars driving down the street slowly and young women looking nervous and peering over their shoulders doesn’t build tension, it isn’t interesting, and it isn’t scary.  It’s boring.  For most of this movie I had to fight the temptation to grab the remote and just fast forward.

When the movie finally does start to pick up, another of my pet movie peeves rears its ugly head.  When Jamie Lee Curtis is running away from the incredibly slow, plodding psychopath, does she bolt down an open street, looking for crowded places with people who might be able to help her?  No, she runs to her own empty home, goes upstairs, and nullifies her greatest advantage: speed (of course, she does finally do the sensible after she’s fallen down the stairs and hurt her leg, thus nullifying the one thing she had going for her).  Then, when she still somehow manages to survive the attack by Michael Myers, and ends up stabbing him a few times, does she do the sensible thing and make sure he’s dead and take the knife with her as a precaution?  Of course not.  Instead, she walks away and lays the knife down next to the still living body.

When I point these things out to fans of the film, though, I tend to get one of two responses: either “you’re missing the intentional silliness of the film – it’s supposed to be a little ridiculous” or “those things seem stupid now because they’ve become horror movie cliches, but this was the film that started them.”  As I’ve said before, these excuses just don’t fly with me.  I am a huge fan of ridiculousness, but, as I pointed out long ago, there is a big difference between the ridiculous and the inane and Halloween is definitely an example of the latter.  If this movie is supposed to be a little bit awful, then shame on it for accomplishing its goal.

And to claim that we should forgive Halloween for using these inane, contrived devices because it was the first to do so is equally absurd.  After all, the Beatles introduced plenty of musical ideas that have, over the years, become cliches.  But, in those old Beatles recordings, these ideas really work – only after years of repetition in the hands of lesser musicians have these cliches become annoying and tiresome.  And even then, when I go back and listen to those old Beatles recordings, those ideas still feel fresh despite the baggage that now accompanies them.

But after watching Halloween I didn’t feel that I was witnessing the inspired birth of a set of conventions that have devolved as a result of over use by lesser artists.  Instead, I felt that I finally knew who to blame for inflicting a bunch of contrived nonsense on horror audiences for the past few decades.  I think no more highly of the creators of Halloween for introducing these stupid contrivances than I do of early American settlers and slave traders for setting the tone for centuries of racism.

Instead, like racism, I wish this movie had just never existed.