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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Up in the Air, Star Trek, and Julie & Julia

As Oscar season heats up, I'm doing my best to fit in all the 2009 contenders I can Hooray for my upcoming holiday break! Here are my latest viewings.....

Up in the Air

Up in the Air is probably the front-runner for Best Picture, and I can see why. It's a movie so carefully written, directed, and acted that all the pieces seemed to fit into place. This is no small feat since there are several narratives within the movie. George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man who goes to other companies to tell their employees they are laid off. So part of the movie is about that and is a commentary on our economy. Another part is about his casual (or not?) relationship with another business traveler Alex (Vera Farmiga). There is also his young protege (or nemesis?) Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick). And by the end, you also learn a lot about Bingham's relationship with his family.

The fact that all these threads are woven together with laugh-out-loud and lump in your throat moments are testament to the great screenplay and the lead and supporting actors who pull it off. I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is George Clooney's best performance. He does always kind of play a similar suave character, but he plays it well, and in this movie he adds depth and complexity to the character. The two supporting actresses are absolutely outstanding. Vera Farmiga, best known from her great role in the male-centric The Departed, is great as a counterpart to Clooney's businessman. The two definitely set off sparks in their moments together. Anna Kendrick is also excellent as a young go-getter who finds her views widened in her time with Clooney. The female roles here always feel like fully formed characters, and not tools for Clooney's character development.

This is the kind of movie I don't want to tell too much about, because much of the pleasure to be found is in the directions it takes. Do I have quibbles? Sure, but they are few and minor. There's a little too much indie-rock towards the end of the film when it really doesn't need the extra emotion, and I would have appreciated a touch more closure on a plot point or two. But all in all, this is easily one of the best movies of the year. See it.

Grade: A

Star Trek

When I was a young preteen, I loved the old Star Trek. I remember watching them with my brother on summer evenings and enjoying the kitschy trips to other planets and the sense of opportunity aboard the Starship Enterprise. I also remember being put off by Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was too modern-looking, too serious, and just not as fun.

The good news about Star Trek is that it definitely has the spirit of the old show and not The Next Generation. It's bright, fun, fast-paced, and shot through with a dose of good feeling. It basically sets up the backstory of how Kirk, Spock, Scotty, and the rest of the gang came to be aboard the Starship Enterprise. I really enjoyed seeing the origin and seeing Kirk and Spock's relationship develop. The time-travel plotline with Leonard Nimoy is also a lot of fun. The cast is young, attractive, and easy to watch.

All in all, it's definitely a fun popcorn movie. My biggest complaint is that is has a bit too much action near the end and not enough character development. The other quibble is that it sometimes seems more like a setup for future sequels (which I'm sure there will be) and less like a movie aware of its own strengths.

Grade: B

Julie & Julia

Meryl Streep hits it out of the park as Julia Child. You could call what she does overacting, with her whoops and mutterings and physicality, but when you watch videos of the actual Julia Child it actually feels like Meryl is dead on. The scenes detailing Julia's life in France with her diplomat husband (the wonderful Stanly Tucci) are also charming and delightful. You see Julia fall in love with food and find her passion, and Meryl takes you along for the ride.

Unfortunately, this charming story is paired with a pedestrian story of Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a Queens blogger who attempted to cook all the recipes in Child's cookbook in one year. The concept is interesting, but the character of Julie is rather bland. Whenever the movie switches back to her story, you know it is going to move in predictable directions. It's not exactly "bad," and Amy Adams does her best in the role of Julie, but the story only holds so much dramatic material. The ending of the movie is also a let-down. You're waiting for some kind of climax where everything comes together, and it never really comes.

Still, this movie is definitely worth seeing for the Julia Child half of the movie, and especially Meryl Streep's performance, which may finally win Streep her third Oscar. If I ever watch it again, I certainly know which parts will get the fast forward button.

Grade: B-

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